Acts: New Beginnings – Part I

Defining Church

This summer we are going to begin a series based on the growth of the Church in the Biblical book of Acts.  Acts picks up where the Gospels left off and tells the story of God’s new movement in the Church.  Today we are going to look at the way Jesus defines “church“.  Quite honestly, I’m sure that we define church in ways that have little to do with the way Jesus defines church.

As a side note: Galloway Church has had an interesting history that has been marked by a series of building projects.  The first was a church built of reclaimed lumber on route 417.  That home was abandoned for the brick church on the corner of Cherry Tree and Seysler Road, put into service in 1962.  Growth of the congregation led to two further building additions. We have been worshiping in the present worship center for ten and a half years.  It is a good time to reflect on our mission and future goals.  Sometimes it helps me to wrestle with questions like that by asking what we would do if we were starting from scratch in an empty room.  I invite you to do the same as we begin.

How do we define church?  If we look at the way people view membership in a church we might get insight into what we really think church is about.

Years ago, an elderly couple reached out to confirm that they were listed as members of a church I pastored.  Their concern centered on the desire to be able to have that membership acknowledged in their obituary when they died.  Scarcely anyone in the church knew or remembered these people as they had not participated in the church in a very long time.  What does this tell us about our view of membership and the meaning of church?

Another experience left an indelible mark on me regarding church membership.  In another church that I pastored, we were recognizing people who had been long term members.  We’re talking people who had been members of that church for more than 40 and 50 years!  As we were situating the group of honorees for a picture, one of the elderly women struggled to her feet to move to another seat in order to avoid sitting next to another woman.  Members together in the same church for 50 years and yet they could not be seated next to each other for a picture!  What does that say about membership and the meaning of church?

Some churches and individuals treat membership like an exclusive access to certain privileges and services, like a club membership.  One of the most grievous examples of this I have seen is in churches were ministries like VBS are exclusively for their members.  I’ve heard churches and individuals declare that they did not want kids whose families don’t attend and more importantly, don’t support the church and its programming financially.  I’m so glad that here at Galloway, our VBS, Mega Sports camp is intentionally shared with kids and families who don’t go to church.  We know that our resources are given to the mission to offer others the gift of Jesus.  But what does it say if membership means that we are now in the club?

Now, let’s look at how Jesus defines church.  We can look to a number of different scriptures to help us.

Matt 16:18 NLT Now I say to you that you are Peter (which means ‘rock’), and upon this rock I will build my church, and all the powers of hell will not conquer it. (note that I named the wrong chapter and verse in the sermon)

Jesus says that he will build his church, which is not a building but a group of people, based on the faith declaration Peter had demonstrated in Jesus.  He declares that these people with have power to overcome the powers of hell.

Matt 28:18-20 NLT Jesus came and told his disciples, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations. baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

Here Jesus again described the church as a group of people, his disciples, whom he empowered to go and make disciples.

Acts 1:4-8 NLT Once when he was eating with them, he commanded them, “Do not leave Jerusalem until the Father sends you the gift he promised, as I told you before. John baptized with water, but in just a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”….But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

Jesus more specifically tells us that the power that he gives will come from the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit is so important for his power to be in them that the disciples are told to wait until they had it before trying to do anything.  This emphasizes the importance of Pentecost as the launch of the church for that day is the day the Holy Spirit was first poured out.

Peter replied, “Each of you must repent of your sins and turn to God, and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. Then you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. This promise is to you, to your children, and to people far in the future—all who have been called by the Lord our God.”

In his sermon on the day of Pentecost, Peter again emphasized the importance of the gift of the Holy Spirit for all Christians.  He declares that being a Christian begins with repentance of sin and faith in Jesus Christ.  Peter declares that all who repent and declare their faith (in baptism) in Jesus will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.  This reminds us of Jesus conversation with Nicodemus (John 3:3-7) where he explained that we are born again (begin a new life) through the power of the Holy Spirit.

The gift of the Holy Spirit in the believer is so defining that when Paul met some students of John the baptist and wanted to clarify their identity as Christians, he asked if they had received the Holy Spirit.  (Acts 19:2)

With all that these scriptures offer, perhaps the best summery of Jesus’ plan and purpose for the church is found in a prayer he offers in John 17:20-24 NLT:

I am praying not only for these disciples but also for all who will ever believe in me through their message. I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one—as you are in me, Father, and I am in you. And may they be in us so that the world will believe you sent me.
I have given them the glory you gave me, so they may be one as we are one. I am in them and you are in me. May they experience such perfect unity that the world will know that you sent me and that you love them as much as you love me.

Jesus prays for you and me to have an intimate spiritual connection with him that in turn produces a close bond with other Christians that then multiplies to others.  These are the three things that define church:

  1. An intimate spiritual connection with Jesus. Through the Holy Spirit, Christ deals in us just as he prayed.  How is your connection with the Savior.  Does the Holy Spirit guide and motivate you when you pray? Do you gain insight and inspiration for life in God’s word? Do you love Jesus with all your heart? Are you living in faithful obedience and sacrificial service to Christ?
  2. A close bond with other Christians.  Do you love people in the church and love sharing life with them?  Are you rooting for others in the church and helping them to grow in faith and love? Is there anyone in the church that you can’t sit beside for a picture? Are you deeply committed to the mission and ministry of the church? Are you more than a group of people who show up at the same time and same place for a program on Sunday?
  3. Multiplying to others. Are you passionate about others getting to know Jesus or do you think that is someone else’s thing? Do you seek to share you faith with others? Are you investing in anyone-in prayer, in service, in friendship-to lead them to encounter Jesus?

This week as the Holy Spirit searches your heart, begin to pray Jesus’s prayer.  Ask the Lord to fulfill his prayer in you.  Pray each of the three aims and meditate on how God can make that happen in you.


Happy Father’s Day!

This Father’s Day as always, I want to acknowledge that the day is not the same for everyone.  For some it is a celebration of a good dad or grand dad with whom you were blessed or it is the celebration of the gift of being a dad or grand dad.  But for others it is mixed with grief by the loss of that special person in their life.  For others it is a day that reminds them that they never had a dad or were in some way abandoned.

So today I have two main emphases.  First, is that all of us have a Father in heaven and that all of us may celebrate that this Father’s Day.  Second, is the importance of the influence of dads in kids lives.  Paired with this is the tremendous opportunity every man, whether a natural father or not, has to fill some aspect of that role in other people’s lives.

So you have not received a spirit that makes you fearful slaves. Instead, you received God’s Spirit when he adopted you as his own children.  Now we call him, “Abba, Father.” For his Spirit joins with our spirit to affirm that we are God’s children. Romans 8:15-16 NLT

God has not identified himself as “the man upstairs” but God has identified the father – child relationship as a primary image for us to engage with God.  Although some people have difficulty with this because of the broken image of fatherhood they have experienced, it does not invalidate that image.  It does tell us that many people need to gain a fresh understanding of fatherhood as God expresses it.  This is an image that is meant to give us permission to approach God in a manner that only a child can, open hearted, with simplicity and trust.

Fathers are spoken to explicitly about the influential role they can have in their children’s lives in Ephesians 6:1-4 NLT:  Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger by the way you treat them.  Rather, bring them up with the discipline and instruction that comes from the Lord.  Often we try to turn this into a general statement to parents, but on this Father’s Day, I feel it is important to allow the focus to remain on dads.  In fact, I want to emphasize that fathers do have a distinct and important impact on kids lives. Numerous studies have been done in the last half century concerning the effect of fathers being absent from children’s lives.  These indicate that the impact of a father is so important that the absence of a father can be devastating.  One such study enumerates nine devastating effects of absent fathers:

1. 5 times the average suicide rate:
2. Dramatically increased rates of depression and anxiety:
3. 32 time the average rate of incarceration:
4. Decreased education levels and increased drop-out rates:
5. Consistently lower average income levels:
6. Lower job security:
7. Increased rates of divorce and relationship issues:
8. Substantially increased rates of substance abuse: and
9. Increases in social and mental behavioural issues:


I would add to this list one more, that is, that it makes it difficult for a person to believe in God as a good father.

How should we apply this call to fathers to treat their children in a way that does not merely exasperate them and ultimately turn them away?  Let’s go back to the source of fatherhood.  Psalm 103:8-18 describes the character of God invested in us like a child of his own.  God is slow to get angry and quick to get over it, not harsh or accusing but forgiving.  God is invested in a way that extends loving purpose to generations beyond. This is God’s model of fatherhood for all men to follow.  I say all men because even if you are not a dad, you can be a man of influence and fill in gaps for those who are missing a dad in their lives.  You can give them a someone who will help them to believe in God and a model of faith they can grow into.

This Father’s Day, I received the one of the best gifts ever from my little sister!  Her husband walked out on her and her two daughters many years ago when my nieces were just preteen.  I lived next to them.  We all gathered around as a family to fill in the gaps.  This Father’s Day my sister sent me (and my brother-in-law, married to our older sister) a thank you for being there for them through the years.  YOU can be a man of influence for many people in your life!

Reflect on these ways you can put this into action.

  1. Be present.  Even if you have gone through a divorce or other life changes, be present.  Make time for your kids, talk to them, listen to them, and be there.
  2. Be engaged.  The article referenced above indicates that fathers who are emotionally disengaged have the same negative effects as fathers who physically walk away.  In Deuteronomy 6:4-9, describes the instructive role of parents as something that requires continual involvement in all phases of life.
  3. Be Demonstrative.  Psalm 103 describes God’s character as demonstrated by both positive actions and restraint of negative actions.  Many years ago I was inspired by the loving expressions I saw between another dad and his daughter.  I realized I had stopped saying, “I love you” and showing affection with hugs and kisses to my young daughters.  I changed that.  According to Gary Chapman there are five love languages: affection/touch, words of affirmation, quality time, gift giving, and acts of service.  Use them, show your love.
  4. Be a model of faith.  The greatest challenge and the greatest calling any of us has is to be a model of faithful living that gives a kid someone they would want to grow up to be.  Be that kind of inspiring mentor.

Gideon’s Army

Gideon’s story is found in the 6-8th chapters of the book of Judges in the Bible.  Gideon is one of a series of people raised up by God to lead the people of Israel during a period when they did not have a king.  The need for their leadership frequently arose out of the people’s departure from the direction of God.  The people often began integrating with the culture around them, adopting their gods and ethical practices.  God would leave them to their own designs without his protection and care until problems overwhelmed them. Then, like many of us, when troubles overwhelmed them, they would call on God for help.  This is what happened that gave rise to Gideon’s call to battle.  The Midianites along with others had been perennially raiding and pillaging the Israelites.  At last they called out to God for help.  God sent an angel to call on Gideon.

The coolest thing about Gideon is that he is not cool.  He didn’t come from an important family or place.  Even within the ranks of his own family, he was the low man on the totem pole. When the angel came to Gideon, Gideon could not imagine that he was being asked to do anything important because he felt powerless.  The mess that the people were in further discouraged him from believing that God could work miraculously.  Even so, God was able to call Gideon to trust him. In fact, Gideon became a vessel through which God led his people to trust him again.

When God sent Gideon into battle, he started with an army of over 30,000.  God said it was too many because if they won with that many, the people would believe it was their own doing.  They needed to know that they could absolutely trust in God.  So God took them into battle with just 300 men.  They had to trust and follow God into battle with a plan that, well, was not militarily sound.  There was no doubt in the end that God gave them the victory!

What an incredible story of God’s deliverance!  We need to apply this in our lives right now.

Here at Galloway we have gone through a lot of transitions that have given us lots of ups and downs.  When I arrived the church was going through a crisis, loss of members and money.  Since I began here as pastor we have had a fairly stable attendance averaging @ 275 or more. Then fall, our attendance never rebounded from our summer lull.  So our attendance if averaging more like 250 per Sunday.  That can be very discouraging.  That was a time when we experienced a change in leadership in our children’s ministry.  That led to cancellation of our Wednesday night children’s ministry.  Perhaps we lost momentum as a result.  Perhaps people felt that we were no longer focused on kids as in the past.  This morning it occurred to me that another change at that time was the creation of our volunteer covenant for kids and youth ministry volunteers. In it we defined certain sexual relationships that conflict with our Biblical view of marriage, family, and morality.  These actions would disqualify someone from working in those ministries.  Perhaps some people found those too restrictive and did not want to accept them as standards for their own lives.  I don’t know, but I know that is when it changed and those are things that changed at that time.  That is helpful to a degree but it doesn’t remove the discouragement of lower attendance.

Yet, at the same time, I see God moving among us.  I hear people talking about our future with anticipation.  That’s when God hit me with it.  We are Gideon’s Army.  Now every Sunday, I am claiming the promise of this scripture.  Every week I am looking out and refusing to be discouraged.  Instead I look out and see Gideon’s army.  Smaller for the moment, preparing to follow God for his glory.

I just heard a speaker say that there are times that God must stop our forward moment, even take us backward, before we can go forward.  Why? If we experience nothing but unstoppable forward progress, we can begin to believe in our own forward moment to carry us along. What if God brings us to a complete halt and forces us to reset our focus of faith. What if we have nothing but God to trust, then God moves!

Take some time to reflect on these points and discuss them with someone else.

  1. How have you experienced set backs in life?
  2. Has a set back ever helped you reset your focus of faith, and set you up for God to move in your life?
  3. In the church, is God moving?  Listen it is undeniable that we have experience some declines in attendance, I’m not just trying to put a positive spin on a negative.  I said in my message that it would be easy to say that if we don’t grow this year I will go next year.  It’s possible that practical issues could call for that, but I can’t live this year packing my bags. God has given me a positive sense of him moving in the church that anchors my hope.  What about you?  Are you seeing God move? Does that motivate you to trust God? Does it motivate you to look ahead to what God is doing?


Love Overcomes

This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus.  There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. 1 John 4:17-18 NIV

God’s Spirit doesn’t make us slaves who are afraid of him. Instead, we become his children and call him our Father.  God’s Spirit makes us sure that we are his children.  His Spirit lets us know that together with Christ we will be given what God has promised. We will also share in the glory of Christ, because we have suffered with him….In everything we have won more than a victory because of Christ who loves us.  I am sure that nothing can separate us from God’s love—not life or death, not angels or spirits, not the present or the future, and not powers above or powers below. Nothing in all creation can separate us from God’s love for us in Christ Jesus our Lord!  Romans 8:15-17, 37-39 CEV

This week we celebrated Communion and Pentecost Sunday.  Pentecost is a Jewish holy day.  What makes it important to Christians is that it was on that day that the Holy Spirit was first poured out on the Church as the believers were gathered in an upper room in prayer and worship (see Acts 2).  Communion is celebrated every month in our church as the testimony of God’s love and forgiveness given to us in Jesus.  Romans 5:8 tells us that God proves his love for us by Christ dying for us on the cross.  Communion recounts that demonstration of God’s love for us over and over again.  But rather than leave us with only a remembrance that is merely symbolic tokens of bread and wine, God gives us his Holy Spirit to dwell in us.  What communion symbolizes is internalized to our lives by the presence of the Holy Spirit.  Through the Holy Spirit we are able to know without a doubt that we belong to God as beloved children.  When the love of God and his forgiveness is real in us and we in turn love God…when those two things come together, it’s perfect and perfect love drives out fear!  

This sets the stage for God to work in our lives, inwardly and outwardly, in ways that are truly miraculous. I have pondered Romans 8:37 for many years trying to find a way to express what it means to be, “…more than conquerors through him who loved us.” (NIV) Recently, I heard the story of a funeral. How many of us have attended a funeral that was a family reunion of sorts? You see people you haven’t seen in years and haven’t spoken to for just as long. In some cases you haven’t spoken to those people on purpose. Conflict of some sort has separated you more than time and distance. Well, the story of this funeral was one I have heard before. In the context of a funeral, people came together in a way that bridged the gap.  No apology was made, no money was repaid, no one was vindicated for being right or punished for being wrong but they simply came back together. In the context of a funeral, life’s petty issues were suddenly overcome and the value of the relationship of family and friend was brought front and center.  You may wonder if this is fair or just. No, it is grace. What if you win the argument and you are right? What if you push and push until you win, but lose the closeness of a friendship or make your spouse feel beaten down by the pressure to concede victory to you. What if you are paid back the money you were owed but then still have no relationship, what do you truly own? What if you finally force an apology from someone flawed and at fault, but still have no peace? These, I must acknowledge, are not completely universal statements.  There are times when debts must be collected and apologies need to be made but there is a point to be made.

Jesus wants to make sure that we get the bigger victories in life that that only grace and the love of Jesus can accomplish.  In the context of a funeral, family members faced wth death, realized that a relationship with each other was more valuable than winning arguments or getting paid back. They simply stepped past all those obstacles, covering over a multitude of sins, and embraced each other. What if in the presence of Jesus, we can do the same.  What if being more than a conqueror means simply that in the grace and love of Jesus he doesn’t want us limited to the lesser wins.  Rather than just winning arguments and paybacks, if there is more? Jesus asked what it would profit a person to win the whole world and yet lose their own soul. Many have lost their soul in bitterness, unforgiveness and never healing woundedness. Jesus arranges everything needed to make us more than minor victors. He has made it possible for us to be connected to the love of God in a way that nothing in all of creation can separate us from. That allows us to go on to these greater victories without actually losing anything.

Take time to reflect and discuss these thoughts with someone this week.

  1. Have ever experienced a reunion like the one I described?  One women told me about her sons who had not spoken for years.  Then, suddenly, one became ill and his brother came to his aid and they were once again, brothers.  Have you ever experienced something like that?
  2. Have you ever found yourself the winner of an argument but the loser of a friend? Has you spouse ever complained that you always have to win? Are you winning the argument at the expense of something more valuable?
  3. Is there someone in your life that you are estranged from?  Is it your fault or theirs? Do you even remember? What would it be worth to be reconciled?
  4. The starting point for all of this is in Jesus Christ who loves you and died for you.  Jesus died for you because you are a sinner, not because you were good.  Have you opened yourself to surrender to Jesus? Do you have the inner peace of the Holy Spirit letting you know that you belong to God as a forgiven and beloved child?


Memorial Day

Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.  John 15:13 NIV

I read this week, an article that said you should not wish a veteran, “happy Memorial Day.”  This is because Memorial Day in not just a long weekend, camping and cookout celebration of spring.  Memorial Day is a day of memorium, a day to remember those who have died in service of our country.  When in one church service, I asked those who had a friend or relative in military service, those who had a friend or relative who had died in service to our country to stand, well, everyone had to stand.  It drew attention to the personal nature of this holiday we observe each year.  Most people know someone who presently or in the past, served our country in military service. Of those, many have lost someone who died offering their full measure of devotion, giving up their life.  My wife’s father served in WW II and one of her mother’s brothers died in WWII.  We reminisced with stories father told and a drawing of her uncle done by a fellow soldier before he died.  This is a holiday in which we celebrate sacrifice.

Our nation was born in revolutionary war.  It’s founding fathers had to fight and sacrifice for our liberty.  Soldiers ever since have continued to lay down their lives in the cause of liberty.  As Christians, we too are a people founded on sacrifice, not our sacrifice, but that of our savior, Jesus Christ.  In fact, to many of those who were founders for our nation and those who followed them, Christ’s sacrifice was their model and their motivation to “lay down their life for a friend.”  We value and embrace sacrifice because of the way in which God, in Christ Jesus, acted to save us by laying down his life for our sin.  Though we are a culture often proving itself by acting as profit driven, over achievers, we measure true greatness by the degree to which one will and die serving their friends, neighbors, and families.  By this standard, true greatness is not a commodity owned by the rich and famous.  Anyone of any age, race or social status can of the full measure of devotion to others even in the supreme sacrifice of living or dying, but always laying down their life for a friend.

Take inspiration this memorial days from those who have given the the last full measure of devotion and give glory to the one who died for us for our salvation.  So whether it is in living or dying, give your all and give your best to be a blessing.

Believe in Me

Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread through the whole countryside.  He was teaching in their synagogues, and everyone praised him.  He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:  “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free,  to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”  (Luke 4:14-30 NIV)

Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his own town, among his relatives and in his own home.”  He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them.  He was amazed at their lack of faith.  (Mark 6:1-6 NIV)

In these Scriptures Jesus shows us how important it is that we believe in him and in each other in order to experience the fullness of God’s work in us. People in his hometown had heard about the miracles and wonders that Jesus had done in other places. They were impressed by his teaching and wanted to see him do the same things in their town that they heard he was doing elsewhere.  However, they did not believe in him for who he is.  They just wanted him to come and do his program for them.  Even when they saw him to do miracles and heard him teach and marvelous ways they could not cross that line into belief because they thought they already knew who he was.  He was just one of them.  They knew where he had grown up, they knew his family, they knew all there was to know about him, or so they thought.  Because they could not believe in him, he could do only a few miracles.  So, the first lesson for us is that we must believe in Jesus for who he is in order to gain the fullest expression of his Grace and power through the Holy Spirit.

The second lesson for us is the importance of believing in each other for the work of Christ to be complete in us.  This must begin with faith in Christ.  That faith allows us to believe what Christ’s Grace can do in an through others.  It enables us to believe in God’s calling on another’s life.  We can declare, I believe that you can do all that Christ has called you to do and to be.

If you and I would share the gospel with someone else, we must believe in the power of Christ to save and transform that person.  In a sense, we must believe for them in order to open the message to them that they might believe.  Sometimes we have to believe in someone before they can believe in themselves.  Others can step out into something new based on their belief in their abilities, their product, their plan, etc., and launch out boldly into the future.  Even then, eventually someone else must believe in them in order to gain success.  The empowerment to faith and action when we believe in Christ and the work of Christ in each other is immense.

I began to realize the power of believing in someone else when I was in high school.  In ninth or tenth grade I happened to be seated next to two different students who were always low scoring/failing students.  I realized they did not have anyone at home helping them with homework and pushing them to try hard.  So I began to encourage them as we talked.  I always was at the top of my class and did well in academics.  If they confirmed an answer with me, they gained the confidence to put their hand up.  It was awesome to me to watch them try for the first time to give an answer.  However, the teacher’s in both of those classes routinely ignored them when they had their hand raised.  Worse, the one teacher seemed to make a point of calling on that student when he did not raise his hand and ignored him when he did.  It almost guaranteed his failure.  It confirmed that the teacher did not believe in him and reinforced the message that he should give up.

When we believe in Christ and believe in the work of Christ in each other it opens us to seek and pursue the fullness of Christ.

Who has done that for you?

Who are you doing that for?


Sin: A Sensitive Subject

Recently the news brought some very terrible revelations to our community.  Two school teachers were arrested for having sexual relations with students, one in Franklin and one in Oil City.  This has far reaching impact.  Students in both schools, families who feel a renewed fear for their children’s safety, persons who have experienced sexual abuse as children have wounds reopened and all of us lose again our sense of innocence and peace.  In addition, there are four families, (families of the two students and the two offending teachers) who are affected.  These families are filled with innocent people who are now caught up in a whirlwind of confusion, fear, and pain.  Many of these family members will suffer as if they are guilty by association.

As pastor I sought to speak to these events in this Sundays message (listen to it at  I couldn’t just mention this in passing inviting everyone to pray.  I also could not talk about it as if it concerned people we do not know.  I do not know the identity of the students affected nor do I know who is related by family ties or friendship to them.  I do, however, know the men who were arrested for their actions.  These men are both connected to our church.  They have been part of our ministries in the past. Their immediate families are deeply involved in our church family.   As pastor, I wanted to make sure that our congregation was aware of that. I didn’t want some neighbor or coworker giving them that information. I wanted us as a congregation to wrestle with how to be God’s people in the midst of such a crisis.

Even though we talk about sin at church fairly routinely, sin is too often something we discuss like an abstract idea. Sin becomes a much more sensitive subject when it is personal.  Sin that affects a wide circle of people becomes an even more sensitive subject. Sin is never a victimless act. There is always harm done to more than just yourself by sin. Yet, when we declare that Jesus Christ died to offer forgiveness of sin, we immediately realize a tension between justice, forgiving sinners and caring for those harmed by the sin of others. It can feel like walking a tight rope trying to balance truth, righteousness, and justice on the one hand, with mercy, grace, and forgiveness on the other. When we try to address sin that does great harm to individuals and impacts a large number of people, the tension between those elements becomes even more intense. Any discussion of forgiveness for sinners can immediately seem like we are diminishing the harm done to others. One thing that I have tried to emphasize is that pursuing forgiveness and redemption in a sinner in no way shape or form means that the harm that their sin has done to others is lessened or that the pain and suffering others endure is any less significant. There is endless compassion for those harmed by sin.

In this Sunday’s message I reminded us that sin is more than just breaking a rule and redemption is more than just an effort on our part to stay under the speed limit in order to avoid a ticket. James 1:13-15 describes in simple terms the way that sin develops out of our own natural desires through which we are tempted to turn away from God in order to indulge and fulfill those desires. The Apostle Paul describes our inner struggle and makes it very clear that sin is a force to be reckoned with that we cannot conquer without the power of Jesus.  This dispels the common myth we hold when we believe that there are good people and bad people.  We foolishly believe that good people don’t do bad things.  The truth is all of us, good and bad, wrestle with sin and good people sometimes do really bad things.

So the central question for us is how do we respond to sin in this present situation? To seek an answer, we looked to Jesus in a situation where he was called, “a friend of tax collectors and sinners” in Luke 7:28-50. Jews under Roman occupation had a visceral hatred of tax collectors.  They were singled out among sinners.  They were people who betrayed a public trust.  They were Jews hired by the invading Romans to rip off taxes from other Jews.  Yet, Jesus socialized with tax collectors and sinners.  This made him guilty by association in the eyes of many, particularly of the religious Pharisees.  What they did not recognize is that Jesus was not approving of the wickedness of tax collectors or other sinners by associating with them. Jesus was seeking their redemption and life transformation.  The religious leaders saw only the damage done by these sinners and had given up hope on them. They saw no redeeming hope for them.  Therefore, they simply rejected and avoided them.  Jesus was thus called a friend of sinners as a severe criticism.

Luke gives us a clear depiction of Jesus purpose and attitude by telling the story of “women who had lived a sinful life” who interrupted a dinner at the home of Simon, who was a Pharisee.  The uninvited women slipped in and bowed at Jesus’ feet where she wept until her tears wet his feet.  She dried his feet with her hair, poured perfume on them and repeatedly kissed his feet.  In response to this amazing act of contrition, Simon was only concerned that Jesus did not recognize her sinfulness and reject her.  Jesus called out Simon, however, pointing out that, as his host, Simon had not shown him any descent hospitality.  Simon had not provided any normal means of allowing Jesus to “freshin’ up” by washing his feet or putting oil in his hair.  He hadn’t kissed Jesus, which would be like not shaking hands.  Jesus told Simon that those who are forgiven much, love much.  Clearly this woman loved much, but Simon did not.  This is Jesus cause for being a friend of sinners, their forgiveness and redemption to new life.

While I am deeply sensitive to the pain and harm done by sin, I will be a friend of sinners.  Confession and repentance are an absolute necessity.  If a Christian who has fallen in sin does not display these, then there is little I can do for or with them.  In some cases it is best to walk away until there is a change of heart.  But when there is a willing heart to confess and repent of sinner and take instruction, it is our task as Christians to seek the redemption and restoration of their lives.  This in no way diminishes the impact of sin, it acknowledges it and takes responsibility for it.  I invite anyone hurt by this kind of sin to reach out to me and allow me the opportunity to demonstrate the compassion and grace of God to you for healing and hope in your life.

This is a balancing act that can be very challenging.  But truth, righteousness, and justice balanced against mercy, grace, and forgiveness are what the Gospel is all about.  Jesus died for sin because it is bad.  Jesus died for sinners to save us.  Jesus is a friend of sinners so that they can receive new life.  I don’t want to be in the seat of the Pharisee.  I want to be a sinner saved by Jesus, who like Jesus, is a friend of sinners.