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Sunday, January 19, 2014

Humans are Sinful

Breaking the Cycle (Judges 2:6-23)
Sunday, January 19, 2014

            Every person exists in a story world that is full of meaning and meanings.  Everyone does not live in the same story world as everyone else, but everyone lives in a story world.  You might ever live with different reference points than those identified by someone in your own home. 
A young man receives Jesus into his heart, abandons his wild living, and changes the entire direction of his life.  He’s pointed toward Jesus.  His story is about Jesus and everything else in his life is understood as it relates to his walk with Jesus.  His brother, also a young adult, stays in the party life that involves, drinking, gambling, one-night stands and frequent brush-ups with the law.  When the first brother, the Jesus-follower, says the word ‘redemption,’ he is talking about how Jesus saved him from the death that sin inevitably brings.  He is redeemed for God.  The second brother also loves the word redemption, but when he says it, he means he redeems his winning lottery ticket and gets the cash.  Both brothers have points of reference that define and are defined by the stories in which each lives.
            Early in 2014, we are striving to live within the Bible story so that we are defined by and identified with the God of the Bible.  The Bible becomes the source for our stories as humans created in God’s image and created for relationships of love with God and with each other.
            Last week, we were confronted with the reality that the God we meet in the Bible is complicated.  God loves sinners and forgives us, but also, God punishes sin.  Both are true.  God knows all, yet from our perspective, it certainly appears that God reacts to what we are doing.  Both sovereignty and freedom are God’s and God won’t give up either. 
            God is over all and free and in God’s power and freedom, God chooses to love us.  The supreme expression of God’s love is God coming in human form as Jesus and dying on the cross and rising in resurrection.  The emphatic note of the Bible is that God is love. 
That’s what the Bible tells us about God.  But what does the Bible say about humans?
            It says we are sinners and sin brings pain and death.  From my second semester of Old Testament studies as a first year seminary student, one of the lessons I remember most vividly is the “Judges cycle” found throughout the book of Judges.  We might call it the sin cycle or the sin wheel, one we cannot escape.

Judges 2:16-23 Contemporary English Version (CEV)

16 From time to time, the Lord would choose special leaders known as judges.[a] These judges would lead the Israelites into battle and defeat the enemies that made raids on them. 17 In years gone by, the Israelites had been faithful to the Lord, but now they were quick to be unfaithful and to refuse even to listen to these judges. The Israelites would disobey the Lord, and instead of worshiping him, they would worship other gods.
18 When enemies made life miserable for the Israelites, the Lord would feel sorry for them. He would choose a judge and help that judge rescue Israel from its enemies. The Lord would be kind to Israel as long as that judge lived. 19 But afterwards, the Israelites would become even more sinful than their ancestors had been. The Israelites were stubborn—they simply would not stop worshiping other gods or following the teachings of other religions.

20 The Lord was angry with Israel and said:
The Israelites have broken the agreement I made with their ancestors. They won’t obey me, 21 so I’ll stop helping them defeat their enemies. Israel still had a lot of enemies when Joshua died,22 and I’m going to let those enemies stay. I’ll use them to test Israel, because then I can find out if Israel will worship and obey me as their ancestors did.
23 That’s why the Lord had not let Joshua get rid of all those enemy nations right away.

            I am struck by verse 19.  ‘The Israelites were stubborn – they simply would not stop worshipping other gods.”  Throughout the book of Judges, the cycle repeats endlessly.  Israel turns a back on God and worships idols.  God allows the people to fall into the hands of enemy tribes, who kill and enslave.   In misery, battered, knowing they are in their wretched state due to their own choices, the Israelites cry out in desperation. 
            God’s anger subsides and God raises up a hero – those called ‘judges’ – and the hero delivers the people.  Communal life and opportunity for prosperity are restored.  Deborah, Gideon, Jephthah, Samson and others are the heroes of God in the book of Judges.  The cycle always goes – sin, fall, cry, deliverance.  The cycle repeats throughout the Old Testament and into the New.  We see it in the life of the Apostle Peter.  Paul writes about it.
            Sin – it will not release us from its grasp.  Paul says that the “wage of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). 
His frustration screams from the pages of the Bible, specifically, Romans 7.

“I have been sold as a slave to sin.  In fact, I don’t understand why I act the way I do.  I do the things I hate.  … I am not the one doing these evil things.  The sin that lives in me is what does them” (Romans 7:14, 15, 17).

            Think of sin as behaviors that harm us, harm others, and cut us off from God.  Sometimes the harm is indirect.  If you spend many hours staring at pornography, you might be tempted to claim it is a victimless crime.  But is it?  The girl in the photograph does not know you are lusting after her.  But you do.  And you know God does.  You know this one is not some naked body, a piece meat for your entertainment.  She is a daughter of God, whether she believes it or not.  You staring at her contribute to her degradation and to yours.  And to your spouse’s.  Or, if you are single, you have cheapened yourself for your future wife.
            I came to face-to-face with sin’s long, damaging reach this week.  I was talking to a recovering addict.  She was proud that had gone a couple of decades “clean,” no drug use.  However, she was so afraid of her addiction that when she had to have a tumor removed, she would not take any narcotic pain medication.  She was afraid the Percoset would trigger in her a desire for stronger drugs. 
            Someone, somewhere had to produce the cocaine; a sin.  Someone else would have to sell it to her; a sin.  She had to have been at a place where for the first time, she knowingly took a deadly, illegal drug; sin. 
            OK, people have said to me, I don’t do drugs and never look at porn.  I don’t get drunk and I have not committed murder.  Do you give completely loyalty to God?  If not, then to what?  Do you treat those around you with grace and love?  Always?  Don’t you sometimes come down hard and manipulatively or abusively on others?  Ever lie?  Can we really lump mild deception, a bit of foul language, and mean words in with murder and drug dealing?  Well, the damage each sin does is different, but when live through the Bible, then we realize that God is holy and anything short of his holiness cuts us off from him.  To be cut off from God is to live apart from God. 
            When Cain killed Abel, God banished him.  Cain said to God, “This punishment is too hard. … You’re making me live far from you” (Genesis 4:14).  In the Bible, the worst possible fate for a person was to be cut off from God.  That’s what our sins do – cut us off from God.  The Bible insists that all people are sinners. 
            Our sin nature, though, does not define God.  God responds to us, but in doing so, God remains God – holy, forgiving, loving.  As we cut ourselves off, God chases after us.  We sin.  God pursues.  The Father in the Prodigal Son story is one of many Biblical pictures of God’s stance toward us in our sin.  The son had thrown away everything, but when he turned back, his father ran to embrace him.  That’s God, arms outstretched, running to us.
            Look again at Judges 6.  Note the relational dynamic.  The Lord says in verse 22, “I [will] find out if Israel will worship and obey me.”  God knew evil was in the world.  When Noah’s family came off the ark after God had wiped out evil in the flood, God received the worship Noah offered and observed that “the inclination of the human heart is evil from youth” (Genesis 8:21).  Still, God watched over Israel, appeared to individuals in Israel and reached out to the people.  Time and time again, God called his people back to the lives of holiness he intended for them and for us.  God stuck with this people. 
            When we read the Bible, we accept God as the Bible presents him.  We also come to grips with the reality about ourselves.  We are sinners.  But thank God for Jesus and his sacrifice on the cross!  It means that while our story is marked by sin, those marks have given way to something new – the new creations we become in Christ.  Paul says it well in Romans 3.

Romans 3:22-24
Contemporary English Version (CEV)
22 God treats everyone alike. He accepts people only because they have faith in Jesus Christ. 23 All of us have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory. 24 But God treats us much better than we deserve,[a]and because of Christ Jesus, he freely accepts us and sets us free from our sins.

Paul’s matter-0f-fact assertion shows the bottom line: in Christ we are free.  The prophet Hosea, who lived in the sinful century prior to the exile, speaks God’s hear.  This is what drives God to continue with humans after we have turne from him to sin.  After we have walked away from God, violated his commands, hurt each other, after we’ve done it 1, 10, 1000 times, this is God’s way with us.

Hosea 11:8-9 Contemporary English Version (CEV)
Israel, I can’t let you go.
    I can’t give you up.
How could I possibly destroy you
as I did the towns of Admah
    and Zeboiim?[a]
I just can’t do it.
My feelings for you
    are much too strong.
Israel, I won’t lose my temper
    and destroy you again.
I am the Holy God—
not merely some human,
    and I won’t stay angry.

            To get into the Bible and to get the Bible into us, we have to accept what the Bible says about humans, about you and me.  We are made in God’s image.  But, we sin.
            We also accept what is said about God.  He loves us.  In Christ, we are finally free from sin, free to live in holiness and love.


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