Monday, November 24, 2014

Standing Tall, Falling Hard

Week 10: The Story
This week we celebrate Thanksgiving.
And each Thanksgiving we remember the Pilgrims who were searching for religious freedom.
By definition, a pilgrim is one who is on a spiritual quest.
And in some ways, the people of Israel were pilgrims and so are we.

So let me ask you today, “What kind of pilgrimage are you on?
We are all traveling somewhere we don’t have to get on an airplane to go someplace.
We are moving from where we are, to where we will be in the future.

So where are you going?
What are your passions?  What are the things you live for?
Where will your current path take you?

Because deep down, we know that not all paths lead to life.
Some are deeply selfish.   Some are life-giving. 
Some are about us, and some are ultimately about giving God the glory.

This morning we turn to Chapter 10 in The Story, and we meet a woman named Hannah.
Hannah is living for God.  She’s a faithful woman. 
She’s married, and she so desperately wants to have children,
and so she cries out to God, asking “please, let me have a child.” 

It was a prayer, that was even too deep for words,
a pouring out of her soul,  before the Lord.
Maybe in different circumstances you also, have poured out your soul before the Lord.

Well when Eli, the priest at this holy place, saw her praying
he didn't realize at first that she was praying because her lips were moving, but she was praying silently.

After she explained what was happening, that she was pouring out her soul to the Lord, he comforted her, and counseled her, and prayed for her.  To make a long story short, she went home and became pregnant, and had a boy. And she named him Samuel, which means, “God has heard us”

In fact, Hannah is such a faithful woman, that the path she is on,
and the path she wants her son to be on, is the path of God.

Samuel grows up and becomes this great priest and prophet and judge, the last of the judges of Israel.   And Samuel led the transition from the time of judges to the time of kings.

Samuel’s life isn't going to be easy. Following God, often is not easy.
And Samuel’s life becomes a perfect case in point.
His life becomes very challenging because he is taking this road of obedience, this pilgrimage with God. Because as a prophet, he is a messenger from God, 

and he has to challenge people and tell them things they don’t want to hear.
He says, “you’re living for the world and not for God.”

You want to have a king, like all the other nations around you,
you want what your neighbors have. You want to fit in, instead of letting God be your king.
Because the Lord not only has been your king.  He is your King, and He is faithful.
Put your trust in Him, and be obedient to His Word, and humble yourselves before this Holy God. That’s the very challenging message that Samuel has to proclaim to the Israelites.
They don’t want to hear it, and it can’t be easy for Samuel to say it.
But he does, because he’s on this pilgrimage with God.

That’s the road, where God brings His light, and with his light, comes God’s presence and God’s power.

Samuel lived the life for which he was created.
And so my question for you today, is  “Are you?”

Are you living your life for God, and for what God created you to do, and to be, and to carry out?  And I’m not talking so much about your career, although that might be part of it,
I’m talking about where you heart is.
I’m talking about what you live for, the kind of pilgrimage you are on.
Because when we live or lives for God, it doesn't necessarily fit in with what the world will praise.

The challenging thing for any Christian, is to be torn between the things in this world that feed our ego, and the things in this world that are focused on the good of others.
And like we see over and over again with the people of Israel, they often tried to blend together the path of God and the path of the world and synthesize them.

It was as if they were saying, “We can be just like our neighbors six days a week
and then on the seventh day, we’ll worship God.”

How did that work out for them?

“You can’t do that” God says, “because you won’t be able to give me your whole heart.”

Jesus put it this way,
“These people, they honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.”
They say the right things, they say they I believe in God. But they don’t live that way.
They don’t live with their hearts wide open to me.
They don’t live with their hearts all in.
They are living for the world. 

Just this week at church, we received a magazine in the mail, a magazine that describes itself as
The one and only high end magazine that features your friends and neighbors from front to back!”

It’s what you would call a “lifestyle magazine.”
Now I’m used to seeing all kinds of “Home Improvement” advertisements from companies that would like your business.  And I understand, you have to get your name out there to find customers.

But what shocked me about this Lifestyle Magazine was a page inside,
with a profile on the publishers and the staff that produce the magazine.

The profile was in a Q &A format, and the very first question, was: “What are you coveting this Christmas?”

Can you believe that? 
I suppose the next question could have been, “What are you lusting after this Christmas?”

Seriously though, isn't that quite a reflection on the culture we live in, right here in this community?

Now on the one hand, we can push this off, and say, that’s just the “Desperate Housewives” crowd, but I want you to stop and think for a minute,
and ask yourself if any of the advertisements you see this time of year:
advertisements for new clothes,  or the newest phones, or new cars (the ones with the bow on top), or new flat screen TV’s, or  new things for your home,  or things you've seen your neighbors adding to their homes – do any of those things,  leave you feeling just a little dissatisfied with what you currently have?

That’s what the best ads do?
If we see enough of them they’ll start to have an effect on us.

How else do you think the generations that followed Joshua,
came to do, “whatever they thought was right in their own eyes”?
They were shaped, by the culture around them.

They forgot who the Lord was, because they were spending six days a week being shaped by their neighbors and influenced by the culture around them.

This week, I don’t know how many of you read some of the other chapters in 1st Samuel,
but if you did, you would have read more about Eli’s sons.

Here Eli was a priest at the Holy Place called Shiloh.
And you would think his sons, would see his faithfulness, and want to follow in his footsteps.

But in 1st Samuel, chapter 2, it says:
     “Eli’s sons were scoundrels; they had no regard for the Lord.”

One of the things they would do, was to take the offerings people brought to the temple,
sometimes by force! 
Can you imagine if our ushers did that as you arrived here on Sunday morning?

And then listen to this:
  “Now Eli, who was very old, heard about everything his sons were doing to all Israel and how they slept with the women who served at the entrance to the tent of meeting. 23 So he said to them, “Why do you do such things? I hear from all the people about these wicked deeds of yours. 
24 No, my sons; the report I hear spreading among the Lord’s people is not good. 25 If one person sins against another, God may mediate for the offender; but if anyone sins against the Lord, who will intercede for them?”

So with Eli’s sons,  it wasn't just their materialism, their love of money and personal comforts.
It was everything about them, it was what they worshipped.
It was their business ethics, how they treated other people. Their neglect of the poor. 
And as if to illustrate the height of their depravity it was also their sexual ethics
how sex was not honored in the context of marriage.

We see plenty of that in our community too.

But let me ask you, “How did Eli’s sons get to that point?
How did their consciences get so calloused?
How did they get so far from God’s purpose for their lives?

Remember what we said a few weeks ago?
Time and time again, the people of Israel turned against God,
when they forgot the Lord, and everything God had done for them.

And that can happen to us as well.
Our memories of what God has done for us, can be awfully short.
Our thankfulness, and our desire to live for God can easily be drowned out, when our thoughts are focused elsewhere, when we take God for granted.

Into this story of Eli’s sons, comes the story of Samuel, the son of Hannah, that faithful woman of God who poured out her soul to the Lord.
Hannah’s heart was wide open to God.
She was the very picture of what it means to
“Love God with all your heart, and all your soul, and with all your strength
God heard her prayer, and God blessed her.

And in her son Samuel, we see a new chapter in the history of Israel.

The story of Samuel begins when he was a boy.

And I want everyone here this morning who is under the age of 18 to listen very closely to this:
(and if you are over 18, you can listen in too)

You are already on a pilgrimage.  
You are on a journey, to find your path in life.

And won’t hear this anywhere else:  
·         Not in most schools
·         not in popular songs, or on TV ,  or in movies
·         not anywhere in our popular culture
·         and you won’t hear it if you aren't listening

But this is the truth:  “God is calling you.”  
God has uniquely made you.
No one else in this world is exactly like you.

And God has given you gifts and talents, and not so that you can just go out there  
and be like everyone else.
God is calling you for a holy purpose.

And whether you end up using your gifts in engineering, or teaching,
or in medicine, or music, or in social work, or any other field
it will make all the difference, if your heart is open to God. Like Hannah or Samuel.

Did you know there is a difference between a doctor who is living for this world,
and a doctor who is living for God?

Did you know there is a difference between a lawyer who is living for this world,
and a lawyer who is living for God?

I could tell you stories about people I know in both of those fields,
who could tell you in some very moving ways,
that life is not about money,  life is not about power or control,
life is not about having other people praise us.

Life, rather, is found in only one place.
Life is found in knowing Jesus, in making Jesus the center of our lives, and worshipping Jesus as our Lord and King.

Yes, we are sinful and flawed,
yet, in Jesus, we are more loved and accepted, than we ever dared hope.

God’s love, and mercy, and forgiveness changes everything.

Like, Hannah and Samuel, our hearts will be open to God. 
We will hear God’s call.

And out of our love for God,
we will love and serve everyone we meet.  Amen.

Monday, November 17, 2014

The Faith of a Foreign Woman

Week 9: The Story

When we are reading a book of the Bible sometimes, we find some important clues right at the beginning of a story that give us a glimpse of what’s coming next. 
I want to share with you what I found when I opened up Chapter 9
and read the very first two sentences:

In the days when the judges ruled] there was a famine in the land. So a man from Bethlehem in Judah, together with his wife and two sons, went to live for a while in the country of Moab.

Did any words jump out at you in those first two sentences?
How about the word Bethlehem?
Did anything important happen in Bethlehem?    

So here’s a clue, that the story of Ruth is connected to the story of Jesus.
And we’ll come back to that later in this sermon.

Any other clues?
How about the phrase:  “in the day of the judges”?
Why was that time period significant?

Last week we talked about something I called, the sin cycle.
And so when you hear the phrase, “in the day of the judges”
that should trigger for us this period of history:
when the people of Israel:   “did whatever they thought was right, in their own eyes.”
And what happened every time the people walked away from God?
When the people sinned, they lost God’s blessing.
And God allowed them to be overpowered by neighboring armies.
And they experienced a time of Judgment, and they either became slave
or what did God allow to happen in this story, in the time of Naomi and Ruth?
He allowed a famine, right?

So here, was Israel…
·        the people God had rescued from Egypt
·        and brought safely out of the wilderness  into the Promised Land
Now being, forced to leave the Promised Land and go to all places Moab.

That word Moab is also a clue to something very important in this story.
Naomi’s husband was named Elimelek, whose name means: “my king is God.”
But he has to leave his hometown of Bethlehem, which in Hebrew means “house of bread”

Just think about that:  they have to leave a place called, “house of bread” because of a famine
To any Hebrew speaker the message was clear:
God was bringing judgment on Israel for breaking the covenant, by worshipping false idols
And to amplify that judgment, they are have to go to Moab.

The people of Moab, had descended from an incestuous relationship between Lot and his daughter.  And so Moab represented a people who were far from God, and they were constant threat to the Israelites.  In every way they symbolized the dangers and the temptations God
wanted his people to avoid.

So why, in this story is God bringing his people to Moab?  Yes, it was a sign of God’s judgment, but could there be another reason?

Could it be that God can transcend all circumstances to accomplish His will?
Could it be that even though Moab was far away from God,
could it be that God’s saving purpose was not for Israel alone?

When people who are not Christians, read the Bible,
one of the things to which they commonly object, is this idea of God’s chosen people.
It strikes them as being exclusive and unfair that God should choose one nation, one people, to bless and favor.

And certainly, God did choose a one people, a particular nation.
And He made a covenant promise to them, and gave them His Commandments to follow and govern life and worship.
But God’s purposes, ultimately, are not for just one people or just one nation.
God has chosen this particular people, to be the messengers of His universal offer of salvation.
We saw this back in the story of Rahab, the prostitute from Jericho,
who recognized  that the God of Israel, was real.

She caught a glimpse of who God is, and she was saved, along with her family
and honored to be included in as an ancestor of Jesus.

We see the same thing happening in the story of Ruth.
With the death of their husbands, in that culture and in that time, Naomi and Ruth were left with nothing. They had no means of making a living, no social safety net, no future.
In fact we hear in The Story that Naomi’s pain was so great that she had lost hope!
In her pain, she believed that God’s hand had turned against her.

This week, one of our members sent me an email with this interesting observation.
“Can you even imagine changing your name from Naomi which in Hebrew means "pleasant" to Mara which means "bitter"?

When I read this email, it made me think of my Grandma Sylvia.
When my dad was 12 years old,  his younger brother Denny, came down with Rheumatic Fever.
And my Grandma Sylvia, held her 10 year old boy, as he died in her arms.

Then when while my dad was in college,  my Grandma watched as young husband,
began to suffer from a disease, that took away his ability to work.
A slow disease that destroyed the communication between his nervous system and his muscles,
until he couldn’t even feed himself. We know that disease today as A.L.S. or Lou Gehrig’s disease.

And I thought of my Grandma, as I read this story about Naomi losing her husband.
And I can imagine her pain and grief, because I saw that grief in my Grandma’s face as she told me her story.

But into the middle of Naomi’s story of pain and bitterness, comes a surprise.
Ruth, from Moab, becomes a messenger of hope.

Into this tragic scene, where Naomi is urging her to turn back to her people and her gods.
we see Ruth doing something unimaginable.  
 “Look,” said Naomi, “your sister-in-law is going back to her people and her gods. Go back with her.”
But Ruth replied, “Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if even death separates you and me.”

What an amazing glimpse of what the Old Testament calls “Hesed”
or God’s steadfast  loving-kindness.
Right when Naomi was feeling most abandoned by God.
God came along beside her, through the faithfulness of Ruth.
Again I connected this story with the story of my Grandma Sylvia,
because, when her son died,  and again when her husband died,
when she could have felt most abandoned by God, she found out that she was not alone.

In Fairmont, Minnesota, God chose to come along beside her through the people of Grace Lutheran Church.

And then when she moved to Faribault, Minnesota, once again, the women in her circle Bible study, surrounded her with God’s loving-kindness.
And one of those Bible studies was called the Ruth circle.
Not by accident.

Let me ask you this,  “Out of all the books in the Old Testament, why do you think the Book of Ruth, still captures such attention today?

It’s true some people want to dismiss Ruth, or downplay its message, because God is barely mentioned. God is behind the scenes.

But I don’t agree.  

In her book, The Gospel of Ruth, author Carolyn James writes that Ruth’s “loyalty to Yahweh … carries early hints of the teaching of Jesus.”
James goes so far as to say that Ruth herself “embodies the utter difference the gospel makes in us and in our relationships with others, generations before Jesus was born.”

Here’s just one example.
You may remember how Ruth goes one day to glean in the fields of Boaz.
The ancient welfare system of Israel dictated that Israelites were to leave the corners of their land and the edges of their field un-harvested for widows, orphans and aliens.
While many people in the days of the judges had long since abandoned keeping this aspect of the law, Boaz had not.  

Now Ruth has sworn herself to care for her mother-in-law, and so she goes to Boaz’s field and does something bold: she asks Boaz’s foreman if she can glean behind the harvesters as they worked. When informed by his foreman what Ruth was doing, Boaz certainly could have kicked Ruth off of his land.  Instead, he talks to Ruth and allows her to gather grain with his own servant girls.

As James writes, “Sometimes newcomers have a way of showing us we’ve settled into a narrow, precise obedience—a tidy conformity to the law—that falls far short of what God really intends.”

James goes on to show us that Jesus, another outsider to the religious establishment, did exactly the same.

“The Sermon on the Mount,” she writes, “knocked down the walls that religious living had constructed around God’s law and pointed to a way of living that goes beyond the letter of the law to the spirit.”

While the letter of the law in Ruth’s day simply permitted the poor to glean, the spirit of the law was that the poor and the vulnerable should have enough to eat.

“God meant for landowners like Boaz to wrestle with such basic questions as, ‘How big is a corner?  How wide is an edge? How much will I leave behind for the poor?’ ”

Into the midst of tight-fisted legalism, Boaz explodes on stage and gives Ruth permission not only to glean among the workers, but he offers her the protection of his field hands and the privilege of drinking from his wells.

In fact, he speaks God’s blessing on her. Do you remember that scene?
He blesses her in God’s name.

And then finally, towards the end of the story, we see in Boaz  a reflection of Christ himself.
Boaz risks everything, his good  name, his whole estate,
to be Ruth’s guardian-redeemer.

In that society, it was considered a duty to provide for a relative.
but Boaz’s generosity went far beyond duty.

Like Jesus, he gave everything.
His generosity knew no bounds.

In Ephesians, chapter 2 we hear:

But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.

Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth  — remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world.

But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ.

My prayer for you today, is that when you go through hard times,

  •    that you would experience the love of Jesus through people like Ruth
  •    and that you in turn would come along beside others in their bitterness and grief
  •    that you would reach out to anyone who feels alone,  or outcast and surround them with  a love that is so steadfast, so faithful, and so full of loving-kindness hat they would see Jesus in you.

And I pray that for anyone who feels far off, separated from God
who feels as if God has chosen other people, but not them,

I pray that that if that’s you 
that you would feel so enfolded and loved
into the presence, and the power, and the truth, who is Christ Jesus
your guardian Redeemer

that you would know  that you have already been chosen and 
brought near,  and made a member of God’s family.   Amen.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

A Few Good Men and Women

Week 8: The Story


Before the service started this morning, we had a chance to see a video
that quickly summarized the first eight chapters of The Story.  And now leading into this sermon, I’d like to show you a short video that summarizes just Chapter 8, which is a condensed version of the book of Judges.  As you watch it, I want you to ask yourself: “What is God teaching us today through this story?”  Sometimes when we read the Old Testament we ask ourselves, “What does this have to do with today?” So ask yourself that question as you watch this. (review of the major themes in the book of Judges)

How many of you noticed a pattern or a repeating cycle, in this story?
Albert Einstein once said that insanity is, “doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.”

Right at the beginning of the book of Judges we learn what happened to the people of Israel after Joshua died.  And this helps answer the question:  “Why did the people turn away from God?”  
10 After that whole generation had been gathered to their ancestors, another generation grew up who knew neither the Lord nor what he had done for Israel. 11 Then the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord and served the Baals. 12 They forsook the Lord, the God of their ancestors, who had brought them out of Egypt. They followed and worshiped various gods of the peoples around them.[i]

So why did the people turn away from God?  So why did this generation after Joshua completely walk away? 

“Another generation grew up who knew neither the Lord nor what He had done for Israel.”  They had forgotten the story, right?

I don’t know if you had the same reaction that I did as I read this chapter but I started getting a little weary of this same cycle repeating over and over again.  It happens six different times in the book of Judges.

Let me try to illustrate it for you: 

Sin  ð   Oppression   ð  Cry Out   ð  Rescue

So the first generation after Joshua forgets about the Lord… evidently their parents didn’t teach them the story… and they didn’t know what God had done for them bringing them out of Egypt.  And so like we said a couple of weeks ago, when we forget God, or when we take Him for granted, we break His commandments, right?  So the first part of the cycle is Sin.
Sin  ð  
So when they forgot about God they started worshipping false gods, their neighbor’s goods, their friends gods, and they intermarried.
And if you look at the archeological evidence from that period you find all this little statue gods, gods of fertility, gods of agriculture, rain gods and sun gods, and you name it… they just bought into this idea that that’s how you make a life.  You worship these gods and you will have good luck.
Sin  ð   Oppression   
But sin always leads to brokenness.  And brokenness leads to weakness.  And their enemies took advantage of their weakness.  And God allowed them to be overpowered until they became slaves once again.
So they began to experience the consequences of their sin.  And what happens to us when we experience the consequences of our sin?  We suffer, right?  We experience pain.

So out of their pain and out their suffering we see the next part of the cycle.  They began to cry out.  And we hear how the people of Israel finally remembered God, and they called out for help.
Sin  ð   Oppression   ð  Cry Out  

And then what was the last part of the cycle?  What happened after they cried out?  Did God hear them?  That’s right, not only did God hear them, He took mercy on them, and God rescued them.  At that point in history, God rescued them by raising up Spirit-filled leaders we call judges.  God sent them a rescuer, someone who would lead them to follow God’s ways.

Sin  ð   Oppression   ð  Cry Out   ð  Rescue
And what would was the result?  Just like we talked about last week, instead of experiencing suffering and pain they would begin to experience God’s shalom – this full deep, flourishing of human life.  And for another generation they experienced the blessings God meant for them, the blessings God gave them so that they might share those blessings with those around them, to be a light to the nations.   And so that’s the cycle we see all the way through the book of Judges. 

So when you ask yourself, what is God teaching us today, what would you say?
Do we see this cycle repeated throughout history, and even today?

One observer of history has stated that:
“The average life of the world’s greatest civilizations has been about 200 years.  During this period each has progressed through the following stages.
1.   From bondage to spiritual faith.
2.      From spiritual faith to great courage.
3.      From courage to liberty.
4.      From liberty to abundance.
5.      From abundance to selfishness.
6.      From selfishness to complacency.
7.      From complacency to apathy.
8.      From apathy to dependency.
9.      And the last stage:  From dependency back to bondage.[ii]

Just think for a moment about the history of our own county. What would you say has made this country what it is today?  Is it our cherished freedoms?
            I think a lot of people would agree with that.

But what happens to freedom in a vacuum?
What happens when freedom has no context, no story, and no purpose?
What if the people who enjoy freedom define it only in terms of freedom to do whatever you please?  That’s what we hear throughout the book of Judges.  The people forgot God, and they did whatever they thought was right, in their own eyes.  They used their freedom, but they used it inappropriately.  They used it to do whatever they pleased.

Before his death on July 4, 1826,
Thomas Jefferson left explicit instructions for what the epitaph on his tombstone should read:
“Here was buried Thomas Jefferson, Author of the Declaration of American Independence, of the Statute of Virginia for religious freedom, and Father of the University of Virginia.”

Yet within a few years of his death, his beloved University of Virginia was in deep trouble, and what would wind up saving it would have been a shock to its founder.
Jefferson’s vision for UVA was that of an “academic village” and a “forward-looking community with no religious affiliation.”[iii]  It was to be a place where “Virginia’s best minds could go to study with the world’s best scholars.”

But within a few years after its founding, UVA was none of these things. The level of violence at UVA during its first decades is difficult for the modern mind to fathom. The young men at this University had “hair-trigger tempers” and the slightest insult was to set off fights that employed every conceivable weapon: teeth, fists, rocks, knives, firearms, and even bombs.  One student even murdered a professor!

Researcher Carlos Santos writes “every attempt by the faculty to reign in the culture of violence and disorder “failed miserably.”

The violence at UVA literally brought Jefferson to tears and had him, as well as the faculty, concerned for the future of the university. It called into question Jefferson’s controversial vision of a secular university where the pursuit of truth would be unencumbered by religious dogma.

Virginia taxpayers questioned whether their money should go to pay for this failed experiment.
Well as we know years later, the Univ. of Virginia survived and went on to thrive.
But why?
Because, as UVA historian Peter Onuf put it, UVA students didn't get enlightened—“they got Jesus.”
Have you ever heard about the Second Great Awakening?   It was a spiritual revival that swept through this country and changed cities, and towns, and institutions, because it changed the people in all those places.

Well, the Second Great Awakening also swept through Charlottesville and changed the culture of the University of Virginia.  And even though some students were still “acting out,” Onuf says there was also “the beginning of a new culture on the campus–a more evangelical, religious culture.”

Sometimes one generation takes God for granted.

Maybe the parents of those first UVA students were Christians,
but in those days,  and even in our own, we sometimes are hesitant to share with our children what we believe.  Faith is a personal thing. Faith is deeply personal.

But what happens when one generation, just assumes the next generation will follow in their footsteps? What happens when parents don’t share with their children in words and deeds 
who God is, and what a difference God has made in their lives?

Why did Moses, towards the end of his life, when he gave his farewell address
why did he place such an emphasis on teaching the next generation?

When he said:
“These commandments that I give you, today, are to be on your hearts.
Impress them on your children.   Talk about them when you sit at home
and when you walk along the road, when you lie down at night,  and when you get up in the morning.”

Let me share a story with you:

A father took his four-year-old daughter Anna to the dry cleaners.
The lady behind the counter thought she was so cute, she gave Anna a dollar as a gift. 
Anna was so excited that as soon as they arrived home she ran into the house to tell everyone about it. 

Abigail, her six-year-old sister, was not excited, however— it really bothered her that there wasn’t a dollar for her as well.
So the father sat down with Abigail, and said: “You love your sister, right?
Then you should be happy when good things happen to her.” Through her tears, and in all sincerity, Abigail replied, “I know I should be happy for her, but I just can’t.”
There’s a real difference between knowing the right thing to do and doing it.
There’s a big difference between knowing about this cycle, of sin, 
(show diagram)
and not falling into the same trap, over and over again.
Let me quickly share with you four things, that won’t help, and then two things that will.
Our culture would say that the answer to producing good behavior is to do these four things:

  1.             Add rules

This is a favorite of politicians and some parents.
They believe more rules and regulations may make unethical behavior more difficult to engage in, but children and adults who lack virtue tend to simply find new ways of getting around rules.

          2. Offer incentives
The idea here is to bribe people and companies to comply with certain standards of behavior. The problem is that when the incentives go away, often so does the “learned” behavior. Besides, in our culture there’s nearly always more incentive to something wrong than to do something right.

        3. More education
“If only people were enlightened through education, they would clearly recognize the value of being a good person.” 
We try to do this in our schools with character education.  We assume you can teach good character without the religious or spiritual foundation that undergirds character and gives it shape and meaning and purpose.
And as we learned in the history of the University of Virginia this is not very effective.
Throughout history, some of most educated individuals have often done the most damage to cultures and people.
Now the fourth one at least appears to be a good idea.  We see it in self-help books, and we hear from afternoon television hosts.  And it goes something like this:

4     4.   Just look within, and find YourselfIf you really get in touch with who you are, you’ll find out that you are a good person, and it will help you find the right path in life.
To thine oneself be true.  I’m okay, you’re okay.

But the reality is that we are not okay.  Our human nature is bent or turned inwards. That’s what sin is, to be turned in on ourselves, to desire our own comfort, and our own plans, to forget God, and God’s purposes for our lives.
And into this story of our own brokenness, our own cycle of sin, God did something to interrupt history.  God did something worthy of the word, “revolutionary.”
Because God broke this cycle.
God turned this world upside down or rather right side up.
We are not alone.
We are not defenseless against the temptations that come at us.
God gave us a Savior, his very own Son, a Rescuer who lifts us out of this cycle by the strength and power of his death and resurrection!
In the past, God heard his people cry out and God interrupted that cycle, temporarily, by calling Spirit-filled judges  to restore Shalom.
But in his Son Jesus, God has once and for all time, broken the power of sin.
Sin and death have no power over us.  
Knowing this story and sharing this story breaks the power of sin.
God whose love never fails, invites us into a relationship, and then Christ goes to work on our hearts and minds, and transforms us from the inside out.
So keep these two things in mind as you walk with Jesus.
1     1.  Jesus promises:  “Abide in me and I will abide in you.”
Invite Jesus into your life every day.  Walk with Him through your day, in your morning, devotions, in your prayers throughout the day.

Fix your eyes on Jesus.
Because the more we look to Jesus, the more we look like Jesus.
“Abide in me, and I will abide in you… and you will bear much fruit.”
As Jesus lives in you,   Jesus will live through you. 

And second, remember this:   
Not only fix your eyes on Jesus and abide in Him, but remember this:

2.       Jesus promised to send us His Holy Spirit. 

He told his disciples before He ascended to Heaven.
  “I will not leave you as orphans”
  “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you  
   forever— the Spirit of truth.”

So in your prayers, ask God also to send you His Holy Spirit.  Invite the Holy Spirit to guide you in the truth, to help you discern which ways to walk, not to walk in the ways of the flesh, but to walk in the Spirit. 

And ask God to give you a sensitivity to promptings from the Holy Spirit
and a heart that is tender and ready to be corrected.
If you feel like you've walked away from God, or your heart is calloused
It’s never too late. God is always pursuing you in love.

Even now, God may be calling you.
Listen to His voice  and let Him in.                    Amen.

[i] Judges 2:10-12
[ii] Commonly known as the "Tytler Cycle" or the "Fatal Sequence" Its first known appearance was in a 1943 speech by Henning W. Prentiss, Jr., president of the Armstrong Cork Company, delivered at the February 1943 convocation of the General Alumni Society of the University of Pennsylvania.
[iii] As Carlos Santos and Rex Bowman tell us in their book, “Rot, Riot and Rebellion: Mr. Jefferson’s Struggle to Save the University That Changed America,”