Prodigal by Pastor Abidan Shah

PRODIGAL by Pastor Shah, Clearview Church, Henderson

Introduction: Has anyone here ever been lost? Thank goodness we’re living in the age of GPS technology. How did we survive before that! What is worse than getting lost? Its losing someone, especially a child. Have you ever lost your kids? If I’m not wrong, we have lost all of them at least once. One of them we locked in the church, twice! It’s a horrible feeling! There’s a kind of lostness that no GPS can fix and its nothing to laugh about. It is spiritual lostness. It is much more than just losing your way or being temporarily out of sight. It is rushing headlong away from God and towards the eternal chasm. It’s only through Jesus Christ that we can be found or saved before it’s too late. Our message today is titled “PRODIGAL” in our series on the parables of Jesus.

Luke 15     11Then He (Jesus)said: “A certain man had two sons. 12And the younger of them said to hisfather, “Father, give me the portion of goods that fallsto me.’ So he divided to themhislivelihood. 13And not many days after, the younger son gathered all together, journeyed to a far country, and there wasted his possessions with prodigal living. 14But when he had spent all, there arose a severe famine in that land, and he began to be in want. 15Then he went and joined himself to a citizen of that country, and he sent him into his fields to feed swine. 16And he would gladly have filled his stomach with the pods that the swine ate, and no one gave himanything.17 “But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger! 18I will arise and go to my father, and will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you, 19and I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Make me like one of your hired servants.” ’ 20“And he arose and came to his father. But when he was still a great way off, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him. 21And the son said to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight, and am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ 22“But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring out the best robe and putiton him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals onhisfeet. 23And bring the fatted calf here and killit,and let us eat and be merry; 24for this my son was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ And they began to be merry.

Question:  Parables are like mirrors. They expose to us who we are. Who are you in this parable? Are you the lost son? Are you one of the onlookers? Are you seeking the lost? Are you rejoicing over their salvation? If you’re lost, do you hear the Savior calling your name? Take the hand of Jesus and be saved today. 

Context: The parable of the Prodigal Son is one of the most popular parables of Jesus. It’s up there with the parable of the Good Samaritan. Many artists, especially the old Dutch Masters and Baroque painters, loved painting the scene of the Prodigal Son. The story is so simple and so true to life that we cannot help but be moved by it.Unfortunately, this parable is often misunderstood. To understand the true intent of this parable, we need to ask the question – “Why did Jesus give the Parable of the Prodigal Son?” To answer that, we have to understand the context in which Jesus gave this story. We have to back up to Luke 15and verse 1Then all the tax collectors and the sinners drew near to Him to hear Him. 2And the Pharisees and scribes complained, saying, ‘This Man receives sinners and eats with them.’ 3So He spoke this parable to them…” The reason for the parable was the Pharisees’ complaint against Jesus’ eating habits – his frequent dining with tax collectors and sinners (prostitutes, soldiers, business owners, and gentiles). 

Why did the Pharisees have a problem with Jesus’ dinner company? Do you remember when we talked about the “Table Fellowship” of the Pharisees? They called on all Jewish people to live according to the priestly laws, especially with regards to everyday meals. They treated their tables at home as the altar in the temple. They believed that what you put inside you is what makes you holy or unholy before God. Not only that but who you eat with is also very important. Here’s a case in point – Luke 11    37And as He spoke, a certain Pharisee asked Him to dine with him. So He went in and sat down to eat. 38When the Pharisee sawit,he marveled that He had not first washed before dinner.Listen to Jesus’ response: 39Then the Lord said to him, “Now you Pharisees make the outside of the cup and dish clean, but your inward part is full of greed and wickedness. 40Foolish ones! Did not He who made the outside make the inside also? 42“But woe to you Pharisees! For you tithe mint and rue and all manner of herbs, and pass by justice and the love of God. These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone…” What was the response? Now Jesus had 2 groups of people around him: the haters and the fans. The Pharisees hated him even more and the lost people loved him even more! In this tense context, Jesus gave this parable!By the way, it’s not “parables” plural but “parable” singular. It has 2 short stories and one long one:

#1 Lost Sheep – Luke 15      4“What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he loses one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness, and go after the one which is lost until he finds it? Don’t read more into it than is intended. The imagery is of a helpless lost sheep. The shepherd knows that if he doesn’t go after the sheep, it is a matter of time before it is killed or seriously hurt. So also, we are to seek after the tax collectors and sinners as helpless lost sheep. 5And when he has foundit,he laysiton his shoulders, rejoicing. 6And when he comes home, he calls togetherhisfriends and neighbors, saying to them, “Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost!’ 7I say to you that likewise there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine just persons who need no repentance. What’s the point? You should be happy to see the tax collectors and sinners around Jesus!

#2 Lost Coin – Luke 15      8“Or what woman, having ten silver coins, if she loses one coin, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she findsit?Again, don’t read more into it than is intended. The imagery is of a valuable coin. The word for coin is “drachma” which was like a “denarius,” one day’s pay for a laborer. This meant a lot for a common woman in those days. So also, we are to seek after the tax collectors and sinners as invaluable coins to be retrieved. 9And when she has foundit,she calls herfriends and neighbors together, saying, “Rejoice with me, for I have found the piece which I lost!’ 10Likewise, I say to you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” What’s the point? You should be happy to see the tax collectors and sinners repenting before God!

#3 Lost Son –The father had 2 sons: the older who responsibly served his father and the younger one who did everything opposite:

  • To start with, he was rude and ungrateful – 11“Father, give me the portion of goods that fallsto me.”
  • Next, he was immoral and self-indulgent– 13“And not many days after, the younger son gathered all together, journeyed to a far country, and there wasted his possessions with prodigal living.”
  • He was alsoirresponsible – 14 But when he had spent all, there arose a severe famine in that land, and he began to be in want.
  • He was degenerate and shameless– 15Then he went and joined himself to a citizen of that country, and he sent him into his fields to feed swine. 16And he would gladly have filled his stomach with the pods that the swine ate, and no one gave himanything. The Mishnah and the Talmud had forbidden raising pigs. The point is that just like the prodigal son the tax collectors had joined the Romans in fleecing their own people.
  • He finally wakes up and realizes what has happened. He comes with a preplanned confession– 18“…Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you, 19and I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Make me like one of your hired servants.”

What was the Father’s response? 20 “…But when he was still a great way off, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him.”While the son is still giving his confession speech, the father orders the best robe, the family ring, the sandals, and a big feast with a fatted calf.

The story is not over. Here comes the real point of the story. The older son is in the field and hears what the noise and finds out what has happened. What was his response?28“But he was angry and would not go in. Therefore his father came out and pleaded with him. 29So he answered and said to hisfather, “Lo, these many years I have been serving you; I never transgressed your commandment at any time; and yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might make merry with my friends. 30But as soon as this son of yours came, who has devoured your livelihood with harlots, you killed the fatted calf for him.”Who is really disrespectful and ungrateful now? The older son! He knows better. The Pharisees and scribes should have known better but they were disrespecting Jesus.

What was the father’s response? 31 “And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that I have is yours.Again, don’t read more into it than is intended. It does not mean that the Pharisees and the scribes were saved.32It was right that we should make merry and be glad, for your brother was dead and is alive again, and was lost and is found.’” 

Invitation:How many Christians and churches need to hear this parable today! We are so quick to look down on our culture and the depravity around us that we fail to see the lost as the helpless sheep, the invaluable coin, and the unworthy son.

Jesus did not compromise with sinners or condemned them. Instead, he converted them. How about us? Are you the lost sheep, the lost coin, or the lost son or daughter? Come today and be saved.

Divisive Mind by Pastor Abidan Shah

DIVISIVE MIND by Pastor Shah, Clearview Church, Henderson, NC

Introduction: One of my favorite episodes on the Andy Griffith Show is the one where Andy plays the marriage counsellor. Fred Boone and his wife Jennie are some of the nicest people in Mayberry but they have one problem – they can’t get along with each other. They fight all the time. When they run out of words, they start throwing dishes at each other. Andy feels like he can help them out. So, he tries to teach them how to speak lovingly to each other, hoping that in time it’ll become a habit. It actually works but then something happens. Fred and Jennie begin fighting with everybody else in town. That’s when Andy and Barney realize that it is so much better to let them fight with each other, if they want to have peace in Mayberry. Do you know people like that? They are always fighting with someone. For them, its normal to be at odds with someone. They have a divisive mind. Unfortunately, such people are also in the church. Today’s message will help us deal with a divisive mind and exchange it for the mind of Christ.

Philippians 2:1-2“Therefore if there is any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and mercy, fulfill my joy by being like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind.”

Question: Do you have a divisive mind? Do you know what it means to be of one mind with others? Are you saved? Do you have the mind of Christ?

Context: Many of you have shared with me how much the sketch of the volcano and the plant has helped you. So, here it is once again. All of us have certain EXPECTATIONSin life. These Expectations represent our goals in life and how we expect life to turn out through the good times and the bad. These Expectations are motivated by certain ASSUMPTIONSthat we have accumulated through life. These Assumptions come from how our mind has been built by God through our parents, through our upbringing, and through the circumstances in life. What happens when our Expectations don’t turn out according to our Assumptions? We have FRUSTRATIONS. These are usually manifested as Anxiety, Guilt, and Resentment. In the past two sermons I gave you some illustrations from wanting success in life, marriage, and child-raising. Here’s another one from being hurt in life. If your Expectation is that the world owes you for the pain you have suffered in your past, you are in for a lot of Frustrations in life. This false Expectation is based on the false Assumption that life is perfect, that human beings are inherently good, that hurts can be rectified in this life, and that if you are hurt, you are entitled to special privileges. That’s not true. You have to abandon the volcano model for the tree planted by rivers of water. Instead of Assumptions, you have to seek after BIBLICAL TRUTHSi.e. THE MIND OF CHRIST. Instead of Expectations, you have to trust in the PROMISES OF GOD. Then, instead of Frustrations, you will have FRUITS. You will have to believe in the fallenness of human beings, the reality of sin, the necessity of Jesus’ sacrifice, and the importance of forgiveness.

Now back to our message on the Divisive Mind – Listen again to Philippians 2:1-2“Therefore if there is any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and mercy, fulfill my joy by being like-minded..” In order to understand why Paul said those words, we need to take this passage apart and look at it a section at a time. To start with, Paul implores the Philippians – “Fulfill my joyby being likeminded.”The word for joy is “chara” which Paul uses 5 times in various forms in this letter:

  • In Philippians 1:4Paul prays for the Philippians with joy.
  • In Philippians 1:25Paul wants to continue with them for their“progress and joyof faith.”
  • Of course, here in Philippians 2:2 Paul wants them to fulfill his joyby being like-minded.”
  • In Philippians 2:29Paul wants them to receive Epaphroditus, one of his companions in ministry, with joy
  • In Philippians 4:1 Paul calls the Philippians his “joyand crown.”

I don’t have time to look at the related word “chairo” meaning rejoice, which is found about 7 times in various forms. The most famous one being Philippians 4:4Rejoicein the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice!” Why is Paul so obsessed with joy and rejoice in his letter to the Philippians?

Before we answer that question, what is the meaning of this word “joy” and even “rejoice?” Of course, we can go to the Lexicons and the Greek dictionaries but the best way to discover the true meaning is by looking at the context in which those words are used in the Bible. Here is what I have found: Joy is a feeling of deep happiness based on biblical truths.What does this “deep happiness” feel like? C.S. Lewis, in his book Surprised by Joy,describes it as “an unsatisfied desire which is itself more desirable than any other satisfaction.” What Lewis is saying is that true joy never runs out or reaches its goal but keeps multiplying. Furthermore, it is not depended on our circumstances.

Back to our question – Why did Paul use the words “joy” and “rejoice” so many times in his letter to the Philippians? Listen again to Philippians 2:2Fulfillmy joy…” Fulfill implies that at the moment Paul’s joy was incomplete. It had depleted. It was leaking. What caused it to leak? “Fulfill my joy by being like-minded..” Just in case the Philippians were to misunderstand what Paul meant, he clarified it in 3 different ways – “fulfill my joy by being like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind.” Talk about being emphatic! Why did Paul restate this in 4 ways? Because the Philippians were either divided or on their way to being divided. 

Listen very carefully – Nothing will deplete your joy in the Christian life faster than division in your life, your marriage, your family, and your church.

Where do divisions come from? 3“Letnothingbe donethrough selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself.4Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.”Divisions come from selfish ambitions, conceit (excessive pride), sense of superiority (especially spiritual superiority, legalism), and self-interest. If a person has grown up in an environment marred by arguments and fights because of these negative qualities, it becomes a normal “Assumption” for them to live in contention with those around them. It is an unhealthy, evil, and destructive normal. It takes one divisive person to start something and before you know it, the whole body is infected with a spirit of division. 

How do you counteract such a divisive mind?Listen to what Paul says in Philippians 2:14-15“Do all things without complaining and disputing, that you may become blameless and harmless, children of God without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation…”Philippians 4:8“Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things.” What do you do when someone brings negative divisive junk to you? Here’s an example from the Old Testament worth considering – David and Jonathan were best friends even though Saul (Jonathan’s father) hated him. After Saul’s house collapsed and David became the King over Israel, David wanted to do something nice for his old friend Jonathan. He asked if there was anyone left and a servant of Saul by the name of Ziba informed him that Jonathan had a son by the name of Mephibosheth who was lame in his feet. David had him brought and told him not to fear and that he will give him all the inheritance of his grandfather Saul. Wow! Then he told Ziba that he is to serve Mephibosheth the way he served Saul. All sounds great. Jump ahead to Absalom’s rebellion against David, his father. David had to run for his life and Mephibosheth could not accompany him because of his handicap and sent Ziba to help David fight against Absalom. Ziba met David and told David that he has come to help even though his master Mephibosheth has pledged his allegiance to Absalom. David told Ziba that in that case, all that belongs to Mephibosheth is now his. The battle is over, Absalom dies and David is victorious. Mephibosheth comes to congratulate David and David asks him why he did not go with him. He replied that he couldn’t because of his handicap and that Ziba had lied to him.What did David do next? Did he put Ziba on trial? Did he return Mephibosheth his property? No. He said in 2 Samuel 19:29“You and Ziba divide the land.” Why? Even though Ziba had lied, David’s mind was now contaminated against Mephibosheth and he could never trust him again. Factually he knew that Mephibosheth was good but emotionally he couldn’t trust him anymore. This is what happens when you allow a divisive person to speak into your life.

What needs to happen is that your assumptions have to be replaced by biblical truths. Philippians 2:1“Therefore if there isany consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and mercy.” So much I could say about each – Salvation through Jesus, love for one another, Holy Spirit binding us in him and actively showing affection and mercy is need to deal with a divisive mind, whether yours or someone else’s.

Do you have a divisive mind? Do you know someone who does? Pray for them. Are you saved?

Like-Minded by Pastor Abidan Paul Shah

LIKE-MINDED by Pastor Shah, Clearview Church, Henderson

Introduction: Few years ago, we were at a family camp in Bryson City and one of the outdoor activities was canoeing. Nicole and I got into this two-person canoe. She had plenty of experience from her days as a camp counsellor in Texas. I had very little experience and I kept paddling in the wrong direction, which made us go in circles. I had to learn to “paddle in the same direction” and then we were all over the lake having a great time. So also, in life, we have to learn to “paddle in the same direction.” We say things like – get on the same page, sing from the same song sheet, be on the same wave-length, march to the same beat, get in synch, get in step with, see eye-to-eye, fall in, click. The Bible calls it being “like-minded.” It’s a big secret to success in the Christian life. Unfortunately, a lack of like-mindedness is the reason why many people are going in circles, especially churches. Today’s message will teach us how to be LIKE-MINDED.

Philippians 2     1Therefore if there isany consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and mercy, 2fulfill my joy by being like-minded, having the same love, beingof one accord, of one mind. 3Letnothingbe donethrough selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. 4Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.

Question: Husbands, are you paddling in the same directions as your wives? Families, are you singing from the same song sheet? Church, are we in synch? In a few moments we will be taking part of the Communion. Are we in communion? Are you saved? Until you get saved, you will operate from a different mind than the mind of Christ? 

Context: Many of you who have been at Clearview for some time know that I typically preach through books of the Bible. Over a year ago, we began a series on Paul’s letter to the Philippians and we completed the first chapter but then we took a rather extended break and focused heavily on discipleship and other series. Now, once again, we are back in our series through Philippians and I am truly looking forward to it. 

To give a quick background for the benefit of those who weren’t here last year and even for those who were here but may have forgotten– Paul wrote this letter from a prison cell in Rome. How do we know that? Philippians 1:7“…both in my chains and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel, you all are partakers with me of grace.” Again, verse 13 “so that it has become evident to the whole palace guard, and to all the rest, that my chains are in Christ.” Don’t misunderstand: Paul is not in some dungeon. More than likely, he is in a house arrest situation since he is able to send letters and receive friends. Nonetheless, this is every bit as serious. Listen to Philippians 1:20“…as always, so now also Christ will be magnified in my body, whether by life or by death.” What Paul is saying here is that there is a strong possibility that he may not make it out of this prison alive but no matter what happens, he wants Christ to be magnified.

Question: How do you see the good times and bad times in your life? Are you always seeking to magnify Christ? If it’s a gain, Christ is the source of my blessing!  If it’s a loss, Christ is the source of my strength! On the one hand, we can say, “we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.” On the other hand, we can say, “for when I am weak, then I am strong. His grace is sufficient for me.”

The Philippians were Paul’s pride and joy. If you remember, Paul had come to Philippi in response to the Macedonian Call. Acts 16 tells us of 3 transformations through the gospel – first, a business woman named Lydia by the Zygaktis or Krenides River; second, a slave girl who was demon possessed by the spirit of Python; and third was the Philippian jailer and his whole family. Unlike the Galatians who had turned their backs on Paul or the Corinthians who had bad mouthed him, the Philippians had brought great joy to Paul. Listen to Philippians 1:3“I thank my God upon every remembrance of you…”

Question: How do people remember us? Do we bring tears to their eyes or do we bring smiles to their faces? That’s convicting, isn’t it?

What was Paul’s main purpose in writing this letter? When we read it carefully, we find some hints between the lines. The Philippians may have been going through some divisions within the body.That’s why he says the passage we just read. Listen again to Philippians 2:2“fulfill my joy by being like-minded…” Sometimes the stress and struggles of life can draw us closer to one another but sometimes they can tear us apart. The pressure that the Philippians were going through was tearing them apart. In fact, later on Paul identifies by name two women in the church who were not getting along. Philippians 4:2“I implore Euodia and I implore Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord.”By the way, they were not just any ordinary women.3“And I urge you also, true companion, help these women who labored with me in the gospel.” They were Paul’s co-laborers on the mission field.It could be that their disagreements were tearing the whole church apart.

How does Paul appeal to them to get along?

1. He appeals to their spiritual life.

1Therefore if there isany consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and mercy,

Here’s a translation: If your experiences in Christ appeal to you, if love tugs on your heart, if the connection you have with each other in the Holy Spirit leads you, if you truly have love and mercy, then work on getting along. 

2. He appeals to their love for him.

2“fulfill my joy by being like-minded, having the same love, beingof one accord, of one mind.”

Even though Paul prays for them with joy, lately there has been sorrow in his heart because of the contention among them. 

3. He appeals to their new nature.

3“Letnothingbe donethrough selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. 4Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.”

The key here is the word for humility which literally reads “humble-mindedness.”Meaning:It is much more than pretend niceness or temporary kindness. You have to actually take the time to reconfigure your mind as to what you think about others. Self-centeredness is the poison to unity.

Where did Paul get this idea? From Jesus.

John 13     3Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He had come from God and was going to God, 4rose from supper and laid aside His garments, took a towel and girded Himself. 5After that, He poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet, and to wipethemwith the towel with which He was girded. We know how Peter tried to oppose this but Jesus explained to him the importance. 12 So when He had washed their feet, taken His garments, and sat down again, He said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you?13You call Me Teacher and Lord, and you say well, forsoI am. 14If I then, yourLord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. 15For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you.16Most assuredly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master; nor is he who is sent greater than he who sent him.17If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.”

Invitation:That’s the spirit we need in our homes, marriages, communities, and churches. Are we saved? Are we being like-minded?

The Greener Grass Syndrome (Article) by Abidan Paul Shah

THE GREENER GRASS SYNDROME (Article) by Abidan Paul Shah

(Published in the newspaper Daily Dispatch, Henderson on August 18, 2018)Greener Grass Syndrome,

Have you ever driven past a herd of cows grazing in a lush green field and seen that one cow sticking its head through the fence, nibbling in the pasture next to it? Why is it doing that? Is there not enough grass in its own field? Is the grass any greener on the other side? Is the grass any tastier? None of the above. The cow is falsely assuming that the grass must be better on the other side. Humans do the same thing but worse. We buy into the myth that our lives are not as good as others’. We say things like: “I can’t wait to get outta here and move somewhere else,” “It was so much better back home,” “If only I looked like her, I would be so much happier,” “If only I had him, life would be so much better.” We see the perfect selfie and conclude that the person’s life must be better than ours. When in reality, that photo was retaken twenty times and tested by multiple filters. This delusion has become magnified in recent years with the rise of social media. As a result, some people have become paralyzed in self-defeat and some have slipped into the abyss of depression. Others have even walked away from a good job or a marriage, with tragic consequences.

So, how do you combat this “greener grass syndrome?” We can follow the example of God’s people in the book of Jeremiah. They were in exile in Babylon, pining to go back home to Jerusalem. They had forgotten that it was their sin that had caused them to be driven out of the land. Instead of repenting and seeking God’s will, they were wallowing in self-pity and longing for the “greener grass” back home. God sent Jeremiah to tell them to “bloom where they were planted.” Listen to Jeremiah 29:5-7 “Build houses and dwellin them;plant gardens and eat their fruit. Take wives and beget sons and daughters…and seek the peace of the city where I have caused you to be carried away captive…” In other words, “Make yourself at home. Dig some foundations. Get your hands dirty in the Babylonian soil. Become a productive member of the society. Make the place better by your presence.” At first, the people did not want to hear this but God warned them that things would not change for the next seventy years. But, if they were obedient to plant themselves where God had placed them, then his promise to them would be“For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope.” (Jeremiah 29:11) People often quote this promise but neglect to realize that it was contingent on them flourishing where God had sent them.

There may be times when you have to change locations or jobs in order to improve your life. This is not “the greener grass syndrome.” Rather, it’s moving from a famine infested land to a fertile valley. But, just remember, bad habits don’t disappear by changing zip codes or job descriptions. Unless, the old nature has been transformed by Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit, you will still be you even if you move to the other side of the moon! So also, being inspired and motivated by the successes of others is not always bad as long as it doesn’t trap you into envy. There is a fine line between copying and coveting. King Saul crossed that line when he began to despise young David and his successes. It launched him into a horrible depression and provoked within him the desire to kill God’s Anointed.

Ultimately, the challenge to all those seeking the “greener grass” is to make sure that what they think is a better place is not actually astroturf or a septic tank. But, if we let God guide our lives, our Babylon may turn out to be a blessing in disguise.

United by Pastor Abidan Shah

UNITED by Pastor Shah, Clearview Church, Henderson

UnitedIntroduction: Have any of ya’ll ever walked into an establishment like a restaurant where the waiters or waitresses didn’t get along? The meal was good but the atmosphere gave you a heartburn! Have any of you ever been to someone’s house where the family members didn’t get along? The house was beautiful but it was not a home. Have any of you ever attended a church where the members did not get along? They shook your hand but you didn’t feel welcome. They sang but it was not worship. They preached but it was not a message. What was lacking? Unity was lacking. Something else was lacking. God’s blessing was lacking. Disunity negates God’s blessing in a business, in a family, and, especially, in a church. Unity invites God’s blessing.

Psalm 133     1“Behold, how good and how pleasantit isfor brethren to dwell together in unity! 2It islike the precious oil upon the head, running down on the beard, the beard of Aaron, running down on the edge of his garments. 3It is like the dew of Hermon, descending upon the mountains of Zion; for there the LORD commanded the blessing—Life forevermore.”

Question: How is unity in your life, in your family? Are you promoting unity in this church body or are you eroding it? Are you part of the body of Christ? Are you saved?

Context: The psalm we just read is attributed to King David. Unlike some of his other psalms, this one is kind of unusual. It’s a song of worship but it reads more like a proverb. Although it talks about God, its theme is the importance of unity among God’s people. A few weeks back, when I was praying over what God would want me to preach after we get into the building, he laid this psalm on my heart. Clearview exists to magnify Christ but we cannot do it without unity in our church family. You can also apply this message to your family, your workplace, and your community. 3 things about unity:

I. UNITY IS UNCOMMON. 

1“Behold, how good and how pleasantit isfor brethren to dwell together in unity!

Background:The reason David says this is because it is natural for brethren not to dwell together in unity. Ever since the beginning of time, brothers have been fighting. Cain killed his brother Abel. Esau wanted to kill his brother Jacob. Joseph was sold into slavery by his own brothers. If it was David who wrote this psalm, his brothers hated him as well. It probably began when Samuel the prophet came to their home to anoint the next king of Israel. Samuel thought the oldest one, Eliab, would be the king but God told him in 1 Samuel 16:7“. . . Do not look at his appearance or at his physical stature, because I have refused him.For the LORDdoes notseeas man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” Six more brothers passed by in front of Samuel but God kept refusing them. Finally, David was called in from the field where he was keeping sheep. When he walked in, God said to Samuel in I Samuel 16:12“. . . Arise, anoint him; for thisisthe one!” Question: How do you think the brothers felt? We find the answer in the next chapter with the Goliath incident. David’s three brothers (Eliab, Abinadab, and Shammah) were on the battlefield and their father, Jesse, sent David with some food for them. When David got there, he saw Goliath the Philistine giant taunting the armies of Israel. David was filled with the Spirit of God and he asked the soldiers why somebody wasn’t doing something! Listen to what happens next – 1 Samuel 17:28Now Eliab his oldest brother heard when he spoke to the men; and Eliab’s anger was aroused against David, and he said, “Why did you come down here? And with whom have you left those few sheep in the wilderness? I know your pride and the insolence of your heart, for you have come down to see the battle.”Wow! Talk about talking down to someone! Talk about resentment and bitterness! Talk about judging someone! When David wrote those words, his eyes probably welled up with tears.

Application:Did you grow up in a home where people didn’t get along? Did you grow up in a situation where harsh words were spoken, grudges were held, and motives were judged? Don’t think that you are the only one. Disunity is natural. You have to work at unity. By the way, people bring the same attitudes to church and they spread the disease of disunity.

II. UNITY IS SACRED. 

2“It islike the precious oil upon the head, running down on the beard, the beard of Aaron, running down on the edge of his garments.”

Background:To explain what unity feels like, David draws a word picture for us from the time of Moses and Aaron. It comes from Exodus 30   30And you shall anoint Aaron and his sons, and consecrate them, that theymay minister to Me as priests. 31“And you shall speak to the children of Israel, saying: ‘This shall be a holy anointing oil to Me throughout your generations. 32It shall not be poured on man’s flesh; nor shall you makeany otherlike it, according to its composition. It isholy, andit shall be holy to you. 33Whoever compoundsanylike it, or whoever putsanyof it on an outsider, shall be cut off from his people.”In the verses following, God gave the exact concoction of this sacred oil and again warned against using it for anything else. In other words, this was a very sacred oil. Any abuse or corruption was punishable by banishment. Then in Leviticus 8the actual ceremony did take place when Aaron was anointed with oil. At the end of this 8-day ceremony, it says in Leviticus 9   23 “. . . Then the glory of the LORD appeared to all the people, 24and fire came out from before the LORD and consumed the burnt offering and the fat on the altar. When all the people sawit,they shouted and fell on their faces.”

Why did David use this imagery to describe unity? Just like the sacred oil, unity should also be treated as sacred. Any abuse and corruption should also be punishable by banishment. Don’t mess with unity. There are people in church who say things and do things that are detrimental to the unity of the church family. We should think twice about doing that! Don’t misunderstand: We can have different opinions and ideas but let nothing, except for the truth of the Word of God, divide us.

Application:How sacredly do you guard the unity in this church family? How sacredly do you guard unity in your family, your workplace, your community?

III. UNITY IS A MUST FOR GOD’S BLESSING. 

It is like the dew of Hermon, descending upon the mountains of Zion; for there the LORD commanded the blessing—Life forevermore.”

Background: Once again, David draws a word picture for us but this time from the climate and the land. Dew was and still is absolutely essential in Israel. From April to October there is little rain. So, dew is absolutely essential for the vegetation. What is dew? It is moisture condensed from the warm air by the cold ground. Mount Hermon sits on the North of Israel and its about 9000 ft high. The dew from Mount Hermon flows down and brings life to places all over Israel. It is the source of life. Without it, even Mount Zion would be barren. What is David saying? Just like the dew from Mount Hermon brings life and sustenance to the mountains of sacred Zion, so also unity gives God the opportunity to bless his people. The blessing is “life forevermore.” Show me a church that is lifeless and I will show you a church lacking in unity. Show me a family that is lifeless and I will show you a family where relationships are fractured. Show me a workplace, neighbourhood, or community that is lifeless and I will show you a place that does not have unity.

Application:Is there lifelessness where you are? Are relationships dying? Is growth struggling? Unity is the problem.

So, how do you achieve unity?

  1. Be discerning. Don’t get sucked into someone’s wrong agenda.
  2. Know the difference between unity and uniformity. Just look around.
  3. Love fervently. It will cover a multitude of sins.
  4. Focus on our common bond. What matters.

Ephesians 4    1“I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called,2with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love,3endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.4There isone body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; 5one Lord, one faith, one baptism;6one God and Father of all, whoisabove all, and through all, and in you all.”

Do you have this bond? Are you saved?

Life Between Posts (Article) by Abidan Paul Shah

LIFE BETWEEN POSTS (Article) by Abidan Paul Shah

(Published in the newspaper Daily Dispatch, Henderson on July 7, 2018)

IMG_2578You’re scrolling through your favorite social media and you see the perfect picture with perfect smiles and perfect clothes with a perfect background. To top it all off, its accompanied by a perfect caption, including hashtags like #lovinglife #love #loveus #happiness #sohappy #perfectday #forever #natural – What do all these hashtags and the posts and pictures that accompany them have in common? They are deceiving. They only give a partial, wishful, and concocted glimpse of life. I wish people would also add these hashtags to their posts and pictures– #pleasethinkImhappy #pretendwithmethatallisfine #IwishIfeltlikethispicture #Iwishwecouldalwaysbethishappy #justhadafight #abouttohaveafight #tookme20triestogetthispicture.

Unfortunately, many of us buy into and perpetuate the lies communicated by those pictures and posts with their unrealistic hashtags. I have seen young people fall into depression because they felt that others were having a great time and they were doomed to a life of misery and loneliness. They don’t stop to consider that those pictures were re-taken twenty times! I have seen marriages fall apart because one partner felt that they were not as happy as others and that the grass was greener somewhere else. They don’t realize that the grass is always greener by the septic tank! I have known people who refused to get help because they thought a few likes on social media would solve their problems. They don’t understand that hearts on a screen can never fix the heart of their problems.

Am I suggesting that we stop posting happy pictures and take on a morose view of life? Absolutely not. It’s perfectly fine to share our joys with others. Social media is a wonderful tool to keep up with family and friends. But, please don’t confuse a perfectly angled selfie with a perfectly aligned life. Be discerning. Here’s a reality check from the oldest book in the Bible – “Man who is born of woman is of few days and full of trouble.” (Job 14:1) Before you envy someone else’s perfect life, remember that even Jesus – the perfect Son of God – had a few bad days. Imagine all your besties deserting you and letting you die for crimes you didn’t commit! Ironically, we call it “Good Friday.”

Ultimately, we need to ask ourselves – What causes us to crave this approval and admiration of others? Why is it that we want others to think that our life is so flawless? Where did this desire to cover up our blemishes and failures come from? It goes all the way back to Adam and Eve who tried to cover up their sin by using fig leaves. Refusing to face up to our problems and pretending that all is fine is an old family trait. Just like our first parents, we also hide in our proverbial gardens instead of confessing our sin before God and seeking his help and forgiveness through Jesus. Thinking that someone else has it better than us also runs in the family. Cain was envious of his brother Abel because he saw that God approved his brother’s offering. Instead of changing his ways, he killed Abel.

Here are a couple of questions to consider before you post that perfect picture with the perfect quote: What is your true motivation for posting? Who are you trying to impress? Will this uplift someone or bring them down? If you are posing with someone, do they really believe that about you? Does that person feel used? What is the real issue that you are avoiding? How does God feel about your post? Jesus rebuked those who rejected him, saying, “How can you believe, who receive honor from one another, and do not seek the honor that comes from the only God? (John 5:44)

True life is what happens between posts. #Lifebetweenposts – there’s a hashtag that should go viral!

HOW TO HANDLE TOXIC PEOPLE – Part 2 (Article) by Abidan Paul Shah

HOW TO HANDLE TOXIC PEOPLE – Part 2 (Article) by Abidan Paul Shah

(Published in the newspaper Daily Dispatch, Henderson on October 14, 2017)

How to handle toxic people - Abidan ShahMy last article, “How To Handle Toxic People,” drew more responses than any of my pervious articles! Evidently, it touched a nerve and God used it to meet a real need. Thank you for all the words of appreciation! Some of you raised a question that I feel the answer may benefit others as well – “Daily we go through minor toxic encounters that leave us feeling upset to one degree or another. Does that mean that for each of those incidents we have to go through the same process of praying for 20 days until we are free of the toxin?” Of course not. Toxic people and minor toxic encounters are two different things. The first are individuals who perpetually cause us to feel miserable and the second are chance happenings that inject just enough toxin in us to ruin our spirit. Although the latter are not as harmful as the former, don’t assume that they are completely harmless. If left untreated, those emotional fender-benders can cause us to ruin others’ spirits as well. Let me explain below.

Imagine several scenarios: a kid at the drive-thru messes up your order; someone cuts you off on the freeway; someone fails to thank you for your hard work on some project; and you wave at a friend who doesn’t wave back with the same energy. Or, how about the big one: You put a post on Facebook that you think should go viral and only 3 people like it…What do you do next? Each of those encounters have the potential to initiate an unhealthy conversation within you. For the kid at the drive-thru: “Kids these days are so disrespectful.” For the person who cut you off: “I hope he/she gets caught.” For the friend who didn’t seem that excited to see you: “I’m looking the other way next time.” For those who failed to appreciate your hard work: “I am not appreciated.” And yes, for Facebook, one of those: “If you are my true friend, you’ll comment below and repost.” Such negative self-talk will surely ruin your attitude and keep you from living up to your potential. Unfortunately, such unhealthy conversations don’t stay locked inside for long. Sooner or later they spill over on to the unsuspecting individuals in your lives. In other words, your quest for justice will not rest until someone is convicted, sentenced, or punished. Since you cannot prosecute the original perpetrators, you will substitute those innocent, weak, and docile individuals in your life. Your kids, your husband, your wife, your church family, your neighbor, and your best friend will pay for a crime they did not commit.

What is the solution? First, recognize when your spiritual equilibrium has been disturbed. In other words, acknowledge the gnawing feeling that some wrong may have been committed against you. Second, immediately take charge of your internal conversation. 2 Corinthians 10:5 reminds us that we should be “bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ.” A runaway thought is like a runaway train. There will be casualties. Third, refrain from judging the motives of others. 1 Corinthians 2:11 “For what man knows the things of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him?” Ultimately, only God knows the true intents of each human heart. Fourth, pray for that individual. Nothing will neutralize hate and anger faster than sincere prayer. Follow the example of our Savior: Luke 23:34 “Then Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.’” Don’t misunderstand. There may be situations where more than prayer is called for but there’s a big difference between restitution and retaliation. Fifth, practice the lost art of the unsent angry letter. Abraham Lincoln would often write his “hot letter” but postpone sending it until he had cooled down. He never sent most of them.

 

HOW TO HANDLE TOXIC PEOPLE (Article) by Abidan Paul Shah

HOW TO HANDLE TOXIC PEOPLE (Article) by Abidan Paul Shah 

(Published in the newspaper Daily Dispatch, Henderson on August 19, 2017)

It was a perfect end to a busy week. I had accomplished everything on my agenda, which is rare. Now it was time to head home and catch up on some well-needed family time. My face was smiling, my shoulders were relaxed, my mind was clear, my steps were unhurried, and I was humming Old Satch, “What a Wonderful World.” Then it happened. In a matter of seconds, the smile vanished, the shoulders became tense, the mind turned muddy, the swag was gone, and I think I began humming Old Hank, “I’m so Lonesome I Could Cry.” The family time was nothing like I had envisioned. If truth be told, it was a rather miserable weekend. You ask, “What brought such sudden and miserable change?” Well, I ran into a toxic person. You know the type who pushes you into Bunyan’s Slough of Despond, the fictional bog in which a person sinks under the weight of sin, guilt, shame, and discouragement. Have you ever been a victim of a toxic person? Let me share with you how to handle them:

First, recognize them for who they are. Toxic people come in all types. Dr. Travis Bradberry (double PhD in Clinical and Industrial-Organizational Psychology from the California School of Professional Psychology and author of the best seller Emotional Intelligence 2.0) identifies 10 kinds of toxic people: The Gossip, The Temperamental, The Victim, The Self-Absorbed, The Envious, The Manipulator, The Dementor, The Twisted, The Judgmental, and The Arrogant. Most of these designations are self-explanatory except for maybe the Dementor and the Twisted. The former are the kind who suck the life out of the room by their negativity and pessimism and the latter are out to hurt you, make you feel bad, or get something from you. Bradberry warns, “toxic people drive your brain into a stressed-out state that should be avoided at all costs…Toxic people don’t just make you miserable—they’re really hard on your brain.”

Next, always be prepared to face toxic people. To think that we can avoid them completely is unrealistic and naïve. They might be in the family, neighborhood, workplace, or social organizations (even church!). Trying to ignore them or keep them at arm’s length will only aggravate the situation and attempting to mirror their behavior will only lead to disaster. Instead, learn their behavior patterns and establish the appropriate emotional boundaries in your mind. Don’t get smug like me and stumble into a bad weekend. Also, avoid any toxic song, show, movie, book, or event in your life. Such things only add unnecessary toxicity to your life.

What if the damage has been done? Many years ago I allowed a toxic person to steal my joy. It took a toll on my health, family, and spiritual life. God in his mercy sent a mature person into my life who immediately recognized my distress. He pointedly asked, “Do you want this toxin out of your system?” At first I pretended to be fine and then the Holy Spirit convicted me of my pride. This godly person told me that he too struggled with it and he found help in Jesus’ words in Matthew 5:44 “love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you.” He said, “Start praying that God would bless this person who has been toxic in your life. Pray for the next 20 days for physical, spiritual, and financial blessing in their life. Be aware that the first time you pray that it will be impossible to mouth those words. Do it again the next day and you might feel sick to your stomach but don’t stop. Eventually, it will become easier and easier. Then, there will come a day when you will pray and actually find yourself praying sincerely as if for a friend. Somewhere towards the end of the 20 days, you’ll wake up one morning and realize that you are free. The toxin has cleared out of your system.” Guess what! It actually worked!

Ultimately, sin is the toxin and only the grace of God through Jesus Christ can heal your life. Give it a try today.

When God Forgives by Pastor Abidan Shah

WHEN GOD FORGIVES by Pastor Shah, Clearview Church, Henderson

whengodforgivesIntroduction: We have reached the 6th message in this series on the Lord’s Prayer called “Talking to the Father” and today’s message is titled “When God Forgives.”

Matthew 6   9 In this manner, therefore, pray: Our Father in heaven, Hallowed be Your name. 10 Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. 11 Give us this day our daily bread. 12 And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. 13 And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one. For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.

Overall Background: “Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.” This is probably the hardest line in the Lord’s Prayer, if not the whole Bible. “God – show me the same mercy that I show others.” Just when we are tempted to justify and rationalize our bitterness, resentment, grudge, and spite against someone, Jesus comes back with a P.S. (Post script) in 14 “For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” Why did Jesus feel that it was necessary to add this comment? Because Jesus knew the human heart. He knew that this petition would be ignored, compromised, altered, and, flat out, disobeyed. R.T. Kendall said – “this petition has made liars out of more people than any document in human history!”

Here are some questions: Is there unforgiveness in your heart? Who in your life deserves to pay for what they’ve done to you? Do you understand the forgiveness that has come to you through Jesus Christ? Are you saved? It is hard as it is to forgive others as a Christian, but it’s so much harder to forgive when you haven’t received God’s grace.

2 things we will consider in this message on forgiveness and my prayer is that the Holy Spirit will fill your heart with forgiveness – from God and towards others.

I. THE DEBT OF SIN 

12 “And forgive us our debts…”

Background: What is interesting is that when we look at the parallel passage in Luke 11:4 on the Lord’s Prayer, it says, “And forgive us our sins, For we also forgive everyone who is indebted to us.” Here we find the words sin and debt used interchangeably. To complicate matters, the P.S. in Matthew 6 says, 14 “For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. Here we find another Greek word used for sin. Some of you may be thinking – “I don’t care about any of this. Just preach to me on forgiveness.” These things matter because when our young people go off to their colleges, these things are thrown into their faces and they’re told – “your Bible has contradictions. How do you know what Jesus really said?” We have an obligation to give them solid answers so that their faith may not be shaken.

So what’s the answer? Keep in mind that Jesus preached in Aramaic and more than likely He used the Aramaic term “hob,” which can be translated as both debt and sin. Matthew is directed more towards the Jewish people, who understand sin as debt but Luke is towards the Greek audience who don’t have the same understanding of sin.

Why would sin as debt connect with the Jewish people? When we study the concept of sin in the Bible, we find some powerful metaphors. In early times, sin was described as a stain that had to be washed. If you remember the prayer of David in Psalm 51:2 “Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, And cleanse me from my sin.” Then there was the idea of sin as a burden that had to be lifted. Again, David writes in Psalm 38:4 “For my iniquities have gone over my head; Like a heavy burden they are too heavy for me.” There are many more but these are the two main ones. By the time of Jesus, another metaphor had become prominent – sin was being referred to as a debt that had to be paid back. Where did this come from? You see it all over the book of Isaiah. If you remember, the people of Judah had rebelled against God. You could say that they had become spiritually bankrupt and God offered them a deal. Isaiah 1   18 “Come now, and let us reason together,” Says the LORD, “Though your sins are like scarlet, They shall be as white as snow; Though they are red like crimson, They shall be as wool. 19 If you are willing and obedient, You shall eat the good of the land; 20 But if you refuse and rebel, You shall be devoured by the sword…” What was their answer? No deal. We’ll be fine. God sent the Babylonians against them who dragged them into exile and they lost their land, Jerusalem, and the temple. Now they were in debtor’s prison.

But God showed Isaiah the future and said in 40:2 “Speak comfort to Jerusalem, and cry out to her, that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned; For she has received from the LORD’S hand double for all her sins.” Meaning: God not only retrieved His sin debt from His people but He charged them two-fold. That seems so unfair! Why would God make them pay double for their sins? He didn’t. By the way, can we pay for our sins? No. They were disciplined for their sins but they didn’t pay for their sin. Who did? Isaiah 53   4 Surely He has borne our griefs And carried our sorrows; Yet we esteemed Him stricken, Smitten by God, and afflicted. 5 But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; The chastisement for our peace was upon Him, And by His stripes we are healed. Here’s the point: The Jewish people didn’t pay their debt but the Messiah would one day. What could they do? Isaiah 55   1 “Ho! Everyone who thirsts, Come to the waters; And you who have no money, Come, buy and eat. Yes, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. 2 Why do you spend money for what is not bread, and your wages for what does not satisfy? Listen carefully to Me, and eat what is good, And let your soul delight itself in abundance.” The Jewish people knew that they were feeding on God’s nourishment at the Messiah’s expense. I’m not suggesting that all of them realized that but they were supposed to. Isn’t it beautiful how Jesus picks up on this very imagery and reminds them that their very existence was by the grace of God?!

Here’s the point: Sin is a debt that none of us can repay. It cannot be written off because that would compromise the holiness of God. Someone had to pay it and that someone was Jesus. Like that old song – “He paid a debt He did not owe. I owed a debt I could not pay. I needed someone to wash my sins away. And now I sing a brand new song Amazing Grace Christ Jesus paid a debt that I could never pay.”

Application: Has your sin debt been wiped clean? Romans 6:23 “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Have you received the gift of God? Do you realize what Christ went through to pay your debt of sin?

II. THE CANCELLATION OF DEBTS 

12 “And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.”

Background: While the first part of the petition has zero problems, the second part – “as we forgive our debtors” or as Luke puts it “For we also forgive everyone who is indebted to us” – this is where the problem comes in. Is Jesus implying that our forgiveness from God is contingent/dependent on our forgiveness of others? Just when we try to move along to the next topic, Jesus drags us back in with the P.S. – 14 “For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” Does this mean that we have to forgive others before we can receive God’s forgiveness?” “Will God hold back his forgiveness towards us until we forgive others?” Typically, conservative scholars and commentators try to make sure that we don’t make forgiveness of others a condition to receive God’s forgiveness because that would remove grace out of the picture and make salvation “work-based.” So, they do all kinds of hermeneutical gymnastics to prove that Jesus didn’t really mean what He said.

What did Jesus mean? To understand what Jesus meant we have to understand the context in which He said those words. To start with, the idea that God’s forgiveness for us is somehow connected to our forgiveness for others was nothing new among the Jewish people in the time of Jesus. In fact, a Jewish wise man, scribe named Ben Sira wrote two centuries before Christ – “If you forgive someone who has wronged you, your sins will be forgiven when you pray. You cannot expect the Lord to pardon you while you are holding a grudge against someone else.” The Jewish people didn’t have a problem with what Jesus said because it was not about eternal forgiveness but temporal. It was not about judicial forgiveness but relational.

Agriculture in Israel1

Agriculture in Israel1 (All images © 2015 Abidan and Nicole Shah)

Agriculture in Israel2

Agriculture in Israel2 (All images © 2015 Abidan and Nicole Shah)

To understand this we need to maintain the debt metaphor that Jesus used. Most of the Jewish people at the time were under heavy debt. They could not survive without borrowing money at high interest rates. If there was a bad harvest, drought, illness, death, it was pretty much over. To make matters worse, the creditor could change the terms and it would become even worse. God in His word had established certain restrictions on usury. Exodus 22   25 “If you lend money to any of My people who are poor among you, you shall not be like a moneylender to him; you shall not charge him interest. 26 If you ever take your neighbor’s garment as a pledge, you shall return it to him before the sun goes down. 27 For that is his only covering, it is his garment for his skin. What will he sleep in? And it will be that when he cries to Me, I will hear, for I am gracious. So also, God had instituted the Year of the Jubilee, every 49th or 50th year. Leviticus 25   13 “In this Year of Jubilee, each of you shall return to his possession. Meaning: You have someone’s land because they couldn’t pay. You made a lot of money out of that but now return it so that family can have a chance to stand again. 14 And if you sell anything to your neighbor or buy from your neighbor’s hand, you shall not oppress one another… Meaning: You still have your wealth. Your family can buy more but don’t be mean.

Bottom line: You have to forgive their debt:

  • Regardless of how you feel
  • Regardless of whether or not they’ve asked you to
  • Regardless of how much they owe you
  • Regardless of how much you had planned on doing with what they owed you

Agriculture in Israel3

Agriculture in Israel3 (All images © 2015 Abidan and Nicole Shah)

What if you refuse to forgive their debt? 17 …but you shall fear your God; for I am the LORD your God. 18 “So you shall observe My statutes and keep My judgments, and perform them; and you will dwell in the land in safety. 19 Then the land will yield its fruit, and you will eat your fill, and dwell there in safety. If you refuse to forgive their debt –

  • You will not dwell in the land in safety
  • The land will not yield its fruit
  • You will not eat your fill
  • And you will not dwell their in safety

Here’s the point: This petition is not about going to heaven. That has been covered under our judicial forgiveness. This petition is about how you live on earth. It has to do with relational forgiveness. This has to do with God’s blessing in your life. If you refuse to show mercy to others in this life, God will not show mercy to you in this life.

Whose debt do you need to cancel today? Who has failed to pay up to you?

This is so hard because we judge ourselves by our motives and others by their actions.

By the way, you don’t have to go far to find these people. They are right around you.

Let me warn you – it matters how you cancel their debts. Don’t go and tell people – “I forgive you” – unless they need to hear that. Most of the times when people do that, they are using forgiveness as a club.

Jesus gave the best demonstration of debt cancellation on the cross. Luke 23 33 And when they had come to the place called Calvary, there they crucified Him, and the criminals, one on the right hand and the other on the left. 34 Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.

Loving the Unlovables – Part Two

LOVING THE UNLOVABLES by Pastor Shah, Clearview Church, Henderson
unlovables2

Introduction: This morning we are in part 2 of our message – “Loving the Unlovables.” It’s easy to love people who love us. It’s easy to love people who are just like us. But, it’s very difficult to love people who hate us and want to hurt us. If I may say it, it’s impossible to love them without the love of Christ in our hearts.

Matthew 5   43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, 45 that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet your brethren only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the tax collectors do so? 48 Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.

Overall Background: The passage we just read is the crescendo of the Sermon on the Mount. R.T. Kendall, a famous Bible teacher and one time pastor of Westminster Chapel in London, said (I’m paraphrasing), “If the Sermon on the Mount is the Swiss Alps (beautiful and majestic mountain ranges in Switzerland, Austria, Italy, and France) of the Bible, then the passage we just read is the Matterhorn or the highest peak in the Swiss Alps.” The other passages are important but this one is the most difficult of all. Listen again to verse 43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, love your enemies…” It goes totally against our visceral nature, our natural human tendency. Let me repeat what I said earlier – “It’s easy to love people who love us, but it’s very hard to love people, be kind to people, do good to people who do not love us or hate us, or even want to hurt us. Our natural inclination is to payback, to fire back, or to return hate for hate.”

Question: Who comes to your mind right now? Is there someone in your life who is difficult to love? Do they seem to bring out the worst in you? Do you wish that if this person were not in your life, it would be so much better? Again, please don’t misunderstand – this passage is not about bombing terrorist hideouts and fighting back when someone threatens your life, family, or country. This passage is about loving people who are difficult to love. The Holy Spirit has brought you here for a reason. Are you saved? If not, you are an enemy of God. Christ came to reconcile you.

3 questions we will try to answer from this passage on how to love the unlovables:

I. WHO CAN BE OUR ENEMY?

43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 “But I say to you, love your enemies…”

Background: First, who is our neighbor? According to Leviticus 19:18 “You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the children of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Neighbor was anyone who was part of the family of Israel. You were obligated to love them. Enemy was anyone who was not part of the family of Israel. They were outside your blood family or religious family. In other words, you’re not going to see them at family reunions or church service. You are connected to them because of some obligation or need or some situation. You may see them at work, neighborhood, or community but other than that you have no bond with them.

Let me clarify – not everyone who is not blood family or church family is necessarily our enemy. There are people we come across with daily that we get along with. Here’s a positive example: In our flight from New York to Tel Aviv, we got stuck because of the snow. When you are around the same group of people in the same situation for an extended period of time, you develop a bond. I sat next to an orthodox Jewish man and we talked and laughed and got along well. It was positive. But here’s a negative example: On our way back from New York to RDU, our flight was delayed about 7 hours because of the snow. Finally, when we got on board, the airhostess had a very bad attitude. She had a scowl on her face and she snapped at everything and everyone. If I’m not wrong she even called me a name under her breath. She was the enemy. I had no obligation to her. I didn’t want anything from her. I couldn’t wait to get off the plane and get away from her and even report her.

By the way, on a scale of 1 to 10, that’s a 2. But, the enemy could be much worse. A 10 is someone who wants to kill you. Hopefully none of us have any 10s in our lives! When Jesus said those words I can almost visualize hands going up – “Do you mean that I have to love these Romans who desecrate our holy ground, who kill our people, who control our lives?” “Do you mean that I need to love these filthy Samaritans who harassed our ancestors, who don’t believe like we believe?” “Do you mean that I need to love these immoral tax collectors and prostitutes who corrupt our culture, who have no regard for God?” You can almost visualize the crowd thinning out. “I can’t do that. That’s too much. No one can do that.”

Question: Who comes to mind right now? Who do you wish was not in your life? Is it a neighbor, co-worker, someone you came across at the grocery store. Is it because you come from a different cultural, geographical, political, or theological background? Is it because you have different skin pigmentation? Is it because they are envious over your looks? Is it because they are envious over why you keep getting blessed and they don’t? “Why do you have a better life, better education, better job, better home, or a better car? Why does it always work out for you and not for them?” Let me flip that around – Whose enemy are you? Who considers you as a thorn in their side? Both situations are just as sinful – to have an enemy or to be an enemy.

II. HOW SHOULD GOD’S CHILDREN RESPOND TO OUR ENEMIES?

44 But I say to you, love your enemies…

Background: How do people typically respond to their enemies? Our basic response to our enemies is to retreat – just get away from them. Just like I felt towards that airhostess. I couldn’t wait to get off the plane. Sometimes people just try to repress it. Or sometimes it is retaliation. We want to give them exactly what they give us. If they curse us, we want to curse them back. If they hate us, we want to hate them back. If they spitefully use us and persecute us, we want to do the same to them. Sometimes we even apologize but it is false reconciliation. I like to call it “disguised retaliation.” You apologize to someone but add something like this – “I’m sorry for whatever I did to you.” It’s another way of saying – “You are being over sensitive.” Or, like this man who sent me an email – “I just want to tell you that I have forgiven you for all the hurt you caused me.” Then he threw in a couple of verses, preaching to me. The problem is that this man was still angry over a decision I had to make against him. He was still retaliating. I was still his enemy and he was paying me back. The only time you ever say “I forgive you” to someone is if they need to hear that from you.

So how should we respond to our enemies? Listen to what Jesus said – 44 But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you…”

In other words, you cannot ignore them, avoid them, argue with them, gossip against them, or use disguised retaliation against them. You show real, genuine, godly love towards your enemy by blessing them instead of cursing them, doing good to them instead of hating them, and praying for them instead of spitefully using and persecuting them. That’s easier said than done!

Who is your model? Your Father in heaven! Listen to verse 45 that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet your brethren only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the tax collectors do so? Meaning: God is not just a holy God but He’s also gracious. We are to be like Him.

Application: How do you respond to your enemies? Ironically, I was on this passage when this airhostess was being rude. The Holy Spirit convicted me and reminded me to put this into practice. It was hard. First, I had to pray for her. Next, He told me to speak to her on the way out.

III. WHY DOES IT MATTER HOW WE RESPOND TO OUR ENEMIES? 

48 Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.

Background: The Greek word for perfect is “teleios.” Some people argue for sinless perfection but that’s not the meaning here. In fact, James 3:2 counters this very well – “For we all stumble in many things. If anyone does not stumble in word, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle the whole body.” In other words, “We all sin but if anyone can avoid sinning by words, he is a perfect man.” The meaning of the word “teleios” is also mature. What Jesus is saying is that when you begin to love your enemies instead of hating them, bless them instead of cursing them, and pray for them instead of paying them back, you will be like your Father in heaven and be more spiritually mature.

The airhostess was being immature but it was up to me to prove my pedigree. Will I be just like her or will I be truly spiritually mature and prove that God is my Father. The plane landed and the Holy Spirit told me once again to speak to her. So I turned around with a genuine smile and asked her if she’ll be able to make it home. She replied – “I can’t. This one-day trip has turned into a five-day trip. Now, I’m looking for someone to watch my kids.” I wished her well. Thank goodness for this passage or I was planning on reporting her. I’ve been praying for her ever since.

Sometimes things are not that easy. Some years back an individual broke my trust and went on a rampage against me, talked trash about me, and just hurt me. For a long while I was carrying this heavy load. It affected my personal life and spiritual life. One day I was talking to a friend of mine and he told me if I want to be set free from this. I said – “Of course I do.” Then pray for him. “Of course I do. I pray that God will convict him and lead him to repentance and all that.” He said that’s not what he was talking about. “Pray that God will bless him.” It’ll be hard but that’s the only answer. I tried it and guess what it worked! It took 3-4 weeks.

This is what Jesus did on the cross. He prayed Luke 24:34 “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.” G. Campbell Morgan once remarked that he expects to see in heaven the very men who nailed Jesus to the cross. After all, Jesus prayed for their forgiveness.

Invitation: Whom do you need to pray for today? Could it be that you are blessed because your enemy has actually prayed for you? Are you saved?

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