Wednesday, July 17, 2019

BEING A SANCTUARY CITY FOR GOD

     
Over the last few years, we have been hearing a great deal, in the press, about sanctuary cities. Sanctuary cities are cities who have made a conscious decision to not turn illegal immigrants over to the government for deportation.  These cities are safe havens for those who have broken the law by the very act of coming to America. 

       Depending on your view of illegal immigration, you may or may not support the idea of Sanctuary Cities. What you may not know is, the idea of Sanctuary Cities dates back to the earliest days of the nation if Israel. While the concept has been twisted a bit, the idea is certainly not new.               

      Imagine you are out somewhere and you accidentally kill someone, whether it be by neglect, stupidity or just plain happenstance.  Obviously, you would want a chance to clear your name and not be labeled a murderer.  Imagine, also, the person you killed has a close relative who, legally, could hunt you down and kill you in retaliation and the only recourse you have is to flee to a City of Refuge where you will be protected until you can stand trial and clear your name.  

     This was a very real scenario in ancient Israel.  God differentiated between pre-meditated murder and accidental death.  If an Israelite killed another person without intent, he could flee to one of the Cities of Refuge and plead his case.  If the Avenger of Blood, usually a family member of the deceased, caught the killer on the way, the AV could legally kill him.  If the killer made it to the City of Refuge, he would stand trial, and if cleared of murder, could safely live in the City of Refuge, but could not leave as long as the current High Priest lived.  If the man cleared of murder stepped out of the City of Refuge before the current High Priest died, he was fair game for the Avenger of Blood.

       Like everything God did with Israel, there is a spiritual connection to our relationship with Jesus Christ.   Isaiah 1:18  “Come now, let us reason together, says the LORD: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.   

        These Cities of Refuge served as a type of Christ, a place where one could receive absolution from an accuser.  Today, we face an accuser, Satan, who, scripture tells us, accuses the saints before God's throne, day and night.  Alas, we find refuge in Christ.  Jesus serves as the advocate of our righteousness, a righteousness He purchased for us on the cross.

          Right now, we are surrounded by a multitude of guilty people who have no one to advocate for them. Our role, now, becomes similar to a Sanctuary City in as much as we are to provide safe haven to sinners as we introduce them to the one who can bring them the same absolution given us. We do this by looking beyond the sin and seeing the need, as Jesus did.  

           When Jesus walked among man, He loved on people and then addressed their sin from the context of His compassion and power.  Within the religious community, Jesus was very harsh with those who should have known better, pointing out hypocrisy and sin.  The church seems to have this backwards today.  We excuse all manner of sin within the congregation, yet we are quick to point out sin and pronounce gleeful condemnation on the lost.

            Should we not, as Galatians 6 commands us, gently hold our brothers and sisters accountable for sin while seeking the lost in order to bring them to Jesus for forgiveness?  We forget, the lost are not gong to hell because they sin, the lost sin because they are going to hell.  John 3:18  Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. 

            Clearly, unbelief is the cause of damnation.  Who among the saved does not sin every day?  

              The role of the believer in this world is to serve as a City of Refuge, a Sanctuary City, where the lost and hurting can learn the truth and meet the One who can clear them of all guilt before they, one day, stand judgement.  As in scripture, not all who fled to the City of Refuge found absolution.  There will be many we invest in, love on and with whom we will share truth, who will, ultimately, reject the message of God's grace.  

                Scripture tells us there is a point where we no longer invest in someone who refuses to respond to the message. Matthew 10:14  And if anyone will not receive you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet when you leave that house or town. This is, however, a decision we come to after much prayer.  Each situation is unique, there is no formula or set timetable.  The key is, we want to give opportunity to the lost.

             Our message is not popular and we should expect a degree of ostracisation from a world bent on serving the flesh.  Looking at what the Apostle Paul suffered for the sake of the Gospel will inform us, we should expect no better.  We must avoid the trap of thinking God owes us something for our obedience.   

             How do we serve as Sanctuary for unbelievers? Here are some practical steps we can begin taking today:

1. Be right with God - we cannot serve as a guide for others if we 
are not moored to the Father, this means an active prayer life            with daily time in the Word.  Think of yourself as a lighthouse,        fixed and strong.

2. Live a life worthy of your calling - Ephesians 4:1  I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love 

3. Be nice to people - 2 Timothy 2:24  And the Lord's servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.  Rude angry evangelism drives people away.  Remember when Jesus used to stand on the corner of His home town shouting, "Repent you Whoremongers!"  Yeah, me neither. Our evangelism must be born out of love and concern for the lost, lest we drive them away from the Savior whom we have poorly represented.

4. Know what you claim to believe - 2 Timothy 2:15  Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth. Study your Bible. You will schedule what is important in life.  When was the last time you missed dinner because you didn't have time to eat?

5. Be approachable - Galatians 6:3  For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself. It does not matter what title you have, what degree you have or what position you hold, what matters is you love others. Jesus called scholars (Saul) and fishermen (Peter) to serve Him and all did so by being available to others.

          The bottom line is, the church is not to try to convict the unbeliever for specific sins, instead, we shed the light of scripture on those sins and allow the Holy Spirit to convict the heart of the sinner. Remember, sin is the symptom of the disease of unbelief. We can treat the symptom and leave the patient dying or we can bring the dying soul to the Fountain of Life, Jesus Christ.

            No sinner is beyond God's love and reach. People are messy and as we involve ourselves in the lives of messy people, we may get a little mess on ourselves as well. Jesus was willing to be covered in wounds, blood and spit for us.  

             Be open to God's direction and calling. Be a person the lost can come to and feel safe when life falls apart for them.  Lead them to the Savior, be a Sanctuary, a safe haven in the time of storms. 

Now, go live as Christ... and give the devil hell!





             

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

GOD, THE RESTORER OF BROKEN LIVES

             
  A skilled auto maker once built a car for himself.  He put great care and love into building this car and when it was finished, he felt he had created a masterpiece.  One day, a very wealthy man came along and fell in love with the car.  After much persuading, the wealthy man prevailed and the car builder, won over by the man's enthusiasm and very generous offer, agreed to sell his creation.  Over the years, the car builder missed the car he considered his greatest achievement and often regaled his son with stories about the car and how much he had loved it.  Photos of the car were plenteous around the house.

      Years later, the son was out driving past a house and saw a wreck of a car, up on blocks and surrounded by weeds, rusting away in a yard.  The son recognized the car from his father's photos and went  to the house to inquire about the car.  "That old piece of junk?" the owner replied.  "That thing's broken beyond repair and worthless."  The young man offered to buy the car, happy to get it off his property, the owner accepted.  The young man brought the destroyed vehicle to his father, the master car builder.  When the car's maker saw the condition of his labor of love, he wept over it.  Over the next days and weeks, the brokenhearted car maker began to lovingly restore his precious creation until one day, it sat sparkling like new in his driveway, ready to go for a long mountain drive.            

  Have you ever seen a neglected or abused vintage auto or  a piece of furniture go through restoration, only to come out looking as good as, or even better than, new?  It can be fascinating to see the before and after photos of a beaten up item, once it has been expertly and lovingly restored.      

               Even more exciting is to watch a life beaten by life or destroyed by poor decisions expertly and lovingly restored by God.

       Of all the promises God makes in scripture, the promise of restoration may be one of the most undeserved.  The idea of restoration indicates a return to something which once was.  If something is to be restored, then, necessarily, there was damage done.   Often the damage done in our lives is the result of poor decisions, wrong behavior, and the recklessness of others.

          I have seen some restoration projects go bad.  Not everyone is equipped to restore a car or home or even a piece of furniture and sometimes the end product is worse after the project is complete. However, if the original builder or manufacturer does the restoration, all the love and care put into the making would be put into the fixing, with the original purpose in mind.

        This is the same with God.  God is our original manufacturer.  He designed us with loving care and with purpose. Maybe life has been tough.  Maybe poor decisions, poor treatment, or bad habits have damaged you to a point where you feel broken beyond repair.  Know this, nothing is beyond the repair of the Master Builder. 

           Like the car in the above story, we were lovingly crafted with care by a Master Builder.  We are all designed with purpose and hope.  Also like the car, sometimes we fall into the wrong hands or live destructively and end up feeling or deemed useless.  

            Our Master Builder has a son named Jesus Christ who has already paid the redemption price required to bring us back to His Father for restoration.  The Father weeps over your brokenness and desires to lovingly restore you to the purpose for which you were designed.  God does not view you as broken beyond repair nor does He see you as worthless because you have been fearfully and wonderfully made. Psalm 139:14  I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. 

           God is not angry or disgusted by you. Your heavenly Father may hate some of the things you do, but He loves you.  God may weep over your broken condition but He also loves you too much to leave you that way.  

            Are you willing to place yourself in the hands of the Master Builder?  Are you ready to allow your Father to lovingly restore you to your purpose in Him?  

            If you have ever seen a restoration project, you know it may not be a pleasant experience, especially at first, but the results are so worth it.  Romans 8:18  For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. 

                  The restoration process may be painful, God may reveal things about you which you would rather not face.  God may remove things from your life you never thought you could live without.  At the same time, He will add good things.

              Have you ever seen a Smith craft a fine sword?  First it goes into fire, then it gets hammered but then, it goes into the cool refreshing water where it is cleansed and cooled. The fire purges the metal of impurity and makes it pliable. The hammer shapes and forms the metal into something with purpose.  The water cools the metal so it keeps it's shape and purpose.  Then the Smith will apply oil and refine the blade, giving it an edge.  

               Our process of restoration is not unlike this. We are purged and shaped into an image God can use.  The process can be agonizing and lonesome.  Then, about the time you believe you can take no more, God will bring refreshing and you will be able to see the progress you have made and the work He has done in and through you.  Refining and remaining conditioned are lifetime processes but the ability to serve according to your purpose and design will fill you with such joy and peace, it will all be worth it.  

             Do not fear the restoring hand of the Master Builder.  Nothing good comes easy in life.  The path of least resistance, though often my path of choice, leads to hardship and loss.  

             God may stretch you past your comfort level but He will never push you past your breaking point. Psalm 103:13-14  As a father shows compassion to his children, so the LORD shows compassion to those who fear. For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust.

             Every diamond starts as a piece of coal and experiences extreme pressure which leads to transformation.  Coal is suitable for burning and little else.  Diamonds, as they say, are forever.  You may see yourself as a worthless lump of coal, or you may have been lead to believe you are such.  God sees the diamond you can be in His powerful and loving hands. God designed you to be a diamond.

             Life does not always go as planned.  Dreams are crushed, potential is sometimes squandered and obstacles can block our path at every turn.  The good news is, the God I serve is a God of second, third and even fourth chances.  Proverbs 24:16  for the righteous falls seven times and rises again, but the wicked stumble in times of calamity. 

            As stated above, God is not angry nor disgusted with you. Though He may abhor some of the things you do, He loves you.  The Bible says, "while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us."  This means we do not have to clean up to call out to God.  God will reveal to you the things He hates and lead you to repentance.  

              Right now, God simply waits for you to call out to Him: Psalm 86:5-7  For you, O Lord, are good and forgiving, abounding in steadfast love to all who call upon you.   Give ear, O LORD, to my prayer; listen to my plea for grace.  In the day of my trouble I call upon you, for you answer me. 
          
               You may feel you have gone to far, even for God.  Even if you have burned every bridge, damaged every relationship and driven anyone who ever cared for you away, know this, you are not powerful enough to make God stop loving you.  Romans 8:37-39  No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. 
                 The key line in this is, "nor anything else in all creation".  Not you, not your parents, not your spouse, not your friends, not even Satan himself is powerful enough to cause God to stop loving you.  

              Please do not resist Him. God calls out to you, even now, come just as you are. Call out to Jesus, accept His redemption, allow Him to bring you to His Father, the Master Builder.  

               The Son has paid the price of your redemption. You are precious, valuable and important to the Father.  

Now, go live as Christ... and give the devil hell!