Saturday, May 11, 2013

ULC Sunday Sermon Podcast - Self Examination in the Christian Life (5/12/3013)

ULC Sunday Sermon Podcast [Click Here to Listen]

Introduce ULC Church.  Thanks to Dustin Milam, Leah Pederson, and the rest of the staff.

Shout out to Clinic listeners.

Prayer to ask God to join us.

Let us examine our ways and test them, and let us return to the LORD.

-Lamentations 3:40

Self Examination is the topic I'm going to be discussing today.  And it's more than just a topic for this sunday.  It's a topic for every sunday.  It's a topic for friday too!  And it's a topic for saturday, and thursday, and monday, and all the days of the week.

Self examination is a primary concern in the Christian life.  We're called to change ourselves completely.  And let's not kid ourselves, change isn't easy.  But it's powerful, it's rewarding.  When we give our lives to Christ, which we know is the biggest issue to Biblical christianity, God starts to work on us and change us.

Your Father loves you.  He loves you so much it's hard to imagine.  And I've often struggled with that, and seen people struggle with it.  God's love for us can be a huge motivator in this process.  But we need to understand how far it goes.

I'd like you to close your eyes if you can, and imagine something with me.  And what we're imagining is the truth.

Imagine yourself wherever you are in your minds eye.  See your body and self, wherever you are.  Now I want you to visualize a cloud, or aura of white light surrounding you.  That's God's love for you.  It's always with you, caring for you and protecting you.  This is a fact, as we know scripture is actual fact.  Now scope out in your minds eye, and see the building your in, or the general area.  See it, and now see God's loving white light surrounding that entire area.  It's there.  It's really there.  Caring for the land, the sky, the space in between and the people in that place.  But God's love doesn't stop there.  Scope out for me again, and imagine the town your in.  See it from a bird's eye view.  Look down on it, all the cars flying about, traffic lights, buildings, and fields.  Now see the truth, there it is, God's love, God's light hovering about this entire landscape, caring for it, caring for the people, always accessible, always right with everyone, every plant and animal, every piece of concrete, and hanging light fixture.  It's there.  Believe it.  Scope out for me again if you will.  And see the entire country from orbit.  Our entire country of the United States, or wherever you reside.  There it is.  Millions upon millions of people going about their lives, airplanes, motor vehicles, factories, commercial districts, cities, and states.  And yes, there it is, God's love, his light, his protection and care lighting the entire country from california to florida and everywhere in between.  There it is, caring for this nation.  But no, my friends, no, it doesn't stop there.  Scope out again in your minds eye, eyes closed, and see the entire planet, Earth, where humanity itself resides.  Everything, every country, every ocean, from down deep in the reefs, to up high in the mountains, and floating amongst all of it.. Is God's love.  His light, his energy.. his presence.  It's there, and it's real.  The power of his love is real.  But we aren't done yet folks, scope out again with me.  To the entire solar system, planets, the sun, the moons, the asteroid belt.  And there it is, amongst all that, all the empty space, the serfaces of every planet.. is God's love, that white shining light caring for all of it.  God is in control in this solar system!  But you guessed it, we still aren't done.  Imagine, if you can, the entire galaxy, the milky way galaxy, in which our humble planet resides.. and there it is again, God's light caring for all of it!  And now the universe.. hundreds of galaxies, billions of planets.  God's love extends beyond that.  It extends further than even our entire known universe.  Yes, it goes on past that!  And this is the limit of what as humans can imagine.  But I want you to see that love and light going even further . It's past the universe, into parallel dimension and realities, and further, it's infinite.  It just continues on, forever.  And it's not moving, it's always been everywhere.  All the time, for all the time, and always.  That's how much love God has for the universe he created.  And it's how much love he has for you personally.

Go ahead and open your eyes.  And realize looking around you, that God's love and light is right in the room with you, within you, and around for, expanding outward everywhere.  That's how powerful your God is.  But we don't need to refer to him as just "God" because to you, personally, whos listening now.  He's your Father, he's your Dad.  Your Dad is the CREATOR OF THE UNIVERSE.  He has you in the palm of his hand, and hes caring for you.  So love him back, as much as you can.

So as we're going through this process of self examination, remember, you aren't doing it alone.  Your Dad is guiding you through it.  And he has more than enough to make sure it happens as it should. 

Haggai 1:5

Now this is what the LORD Almighty says: "Give careful thought to your ways."

This is the process of setting our personal to match God's will.  And how do we do that?  We get our ego, and our self out of the way, and consistently in our decisions think about what God would want us to do in any given situation.  

I really really hope this is a primary concern in your personal walk, becoming a better Christian, and if it's not, I'm hoping you're gonna adopt this concern as yours.

And I'll say that I do regularly attend support groups.  What kind of Pastor would I be if I preached a message on self examination and I wasn't actively examining myself?

I want us to be a church that focuses strongly on self examination.  That's a big one, and another big one is I want us to be a church that has no place for judgement or condemnation of our fellows.  And the third thing that's big is I want us to be a church that keeps our pride in check.  A church that remains humble.  Because it's through these principles that those suffering, and in pain, crawling to our doors will be welcomed and not turned away, or pushed away.

If we can't do those things, we don't really have any business being a church claiming to follow Christ.  Christ never turned someone away who was honestly seeking the truth.  He embraced them.

We're all sinners here.  You know that right?  Just because someone sins differently than you, doesn't give you the right to judge or condemn them.  Sadly I see this all the time in the religious communities in my area.  A person walks into a church suffering from the malady of drug addiction, and they're scorned.  Someone walks into a church suffering from sex addiction or anger, and they're hated and turned away.  I don't want that to happen at this church.  I want us to show such people limitless compassion and sympathy.  I know that isn't easy, but it's our charge, from Christ:  to love one another.

Easy to say, and easy to preach, but not so easy to do.

Many people will often try to put an image out there, of being perfect.  This doesn't help anyone around them, it only serves them.  And it tends to make others feel alienated and alone in their problems.  Let's be a church that openly discusses our issues and seeks support as we work on them.

But I digress, let's get back to the issue here.  Self examination and self improvement.  How do we work on these things?

We can learn a lot by journaling daily.  We can journal our thoughts and our actions.  We can also do this without paper, and consciously watch our actions and thoughts, and how they lead us throughout the day.

We can also review our day at night.  Psalm 4:4 says: Tremble and do not sin; when you are on your beds, search your hearts and be silent.

Self examination helps us to serve our heavenly Father better!

God's word is so abundantly clear on this point:

Romans 2:1-4 NIV
1You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things. 2Now we know that God’s judgment against those who do such things is based on truth. 3So when you, a mere human being, pass judgment on them and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God’s judgment? 4Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, forbearance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance?

We must let the holy spirit convict us when we need to make changes to ourselves.  It's a tough process, I'm not going to lie.  It takes a courageous person to tackle their own inner failings.  But it is a required service to our God, who gives us so much.

Let me encourage you to start praying in the morning and at night for guidance from the holy spirit.  Get on your knees before your Father, and ask for guidance in self examination.  When the holy spirit shows us a fault, we work on it.  

If we start to think we're missing things, we ought to go into scripture, the word of God, and read, read, read!  Scripture is useful in so much, and very much in identifying our flaws.

Self examination is indeed self evident in it's need in our lives.  We ought to always be striving to be better Christians.  It is the most important thing in our lives.  And if there is a question as to that fact, we need to ask God in prayer to work on our hearts.  2 Corinthians 13:5 (NLT) says:

Examine yourselves to see if your faith is genuine. Test yourselves. Surely you know that Jesus Christ is among you; if not, you have failed the test of genuine faith.

Hebrews 3:12 says:

See to it, brothers and sisters, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God.

This is our true walk with Jesus Christ.  Once we help ourselves, then we learn to help others.  But do not get on your soap box, and never get prideful about what you have learned.  A tell tale sign of someone attempting to share the message, who has not worked on themselves first, is pride, self importance, and ego.  It always shines through.  And those people end up alienating the ones they would seek to help.

A wonderful way to share the message is speaking from our own experience humbly.  Instead of "You need to do this"  Say it as "So this is what I did, and it really helped me."  It's simple truth that people learn and take on new ways much easier and more openly when we share a message from our own experience.  Then they can own the change, instead of it being forced upon them.  We can offer advice, and instruction if a person is willing, but always remember to do so humbly and without judgement.

I believe pride has become a major problem in the modern church.  We go from being lost, to being saved in Jesus, and we let that puff us up with pride.  How can we draw pride from something that we did not do?  Eternal life, and reconciliation with the Father is a free gift from God.  So the credit must always go to him who saved us.
For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted. Matthew 23:12
I was at a support group recently, a group where people share their problems with others to try and work through these issues.  A Pastor from a nearby church was attending to "observe."  However, when it came to this Pastor to speak, he had nothing to say about his problems.  I spoke to this Pastor afterwards and he made some passing remark about really want to help those poor guys.  And immediately I was reminded of this problem of pride in the church.  Pastors often see themselves as higher than the congregations they serve.  This is not so, and it's not Biblical.  I wanted to say to this Pastor that I think the men in that room are more courageous and humble than you'll ever be.  That attitude of maintaining an image of flawlessness when it is not so may come to harm your church in the future.

We all have things we need to work on.  Pastors and all.  And that's completely OK.  In fact, that is very good.  

Feel no shame for these things.  You are seen as perfect through Christ's perfection.  Philippians 3:8, 9 says:

". . . I count all things but loss. . . that I may win Christ, And be found IN HIM, not having my own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith."

As scripture says we are those being made holy.  The verse I'm referring to is in Hebrews 10:14 and says  "For by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy. "

This implies a process.  So listen to that voice and let the holy spirit convict you to become a better person.

Confession is useful in weeding out character flaws.  Confess to trusted friends, family or clergy.  This wipes clean the past and assists in setting you on a course to redemption.

Self examination is a wonderful process!  Shocking as it may sound, it's FUN!  Because you see yourself growing as a Christian and others see it too.  Your inner peace grows.  Your conscious connection to God grows.  Your caring for others grows.  And eventually you find yourself with peace and happiness that comes from God within.  Once we have this we must remember it came from God, and we have nothing to boast about.  This protects us from harmful pride.

I know it can seem hard to work on ourselves, but we have a pretty big entity who is helping us at every turn with this process!  And that's the creator of the universe, your Father, Jehovah.  Ezekiel 36:26 says "And I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart."

But one last thing.  If you're listening to this and thinking wow, it seems like a really cool process to work on myself.  And I want to.  But I know that later on I won't feel so strongly about it and I won't carry out the process as I should.  I want too, but I'm too busy.  Well that's entirely OK, and it shouldn't be surprising.  Theres a lack of inner willingness, and that's very normal.  If that's the case for you, I want you to do one thing for me.  Get on your knees after this sermon, and go to your heavenly Father in prayer.  Ask him for the willingness and prompting to start work on yourself.  And if need be keep praying for it.  We have a generous Father, I have to believe he'll grant that request when the time is right.  His timing is perfect.

Thank you for joining us at this broadcast, I'm very glad you did, I hope you have a blessed day, and remember your heavenly Father is always with you, loving you and protecting you. Honor him in response.  Have a great day!