What The Church Can Learn From A Bunch Of Comic Retailers Getting Together

So this last week, I flew off to Portland for a ComicsPRO meeting. It's the only comics meeting put on by comic book retailers. Publishers come. Distributors come. Creators come. And it has a purpose: to create better brick and mortar comic retail stores. You know those friendly, neighborhood stores that sell comics every day of the week and help people find a story that they can love. Stores like the two that I own with my brother.

I wear these two hats in life: Being a pastor and being a comic book retailer. Once in a rare moon they seem to ruffle against one another, but most of the time they make things better and give me a perspective that pastors don't have and comic book retailers don't have. So those two hats intermingle in my mind all the time, hopefully, making me better.

With people at the meeting knowing my day job as a pastor, I get some interesting conversations. People share with me their faith journey. Some have grown up in religious families and rejected that life. Others share how they still go to church. And others share how they never did and don't even believe in God.

I realized this though. The church doesn't have the corner on making lives better. People like you do that where you work. Do you love others? Do you try to make this world a better place? When Jesus taught that the greatest commandments were to love God and love one another, he was tearing down religious precepts that we think make us right with God. And when the church becomes about something other than Jesus' greatest commandment, people start, justifiably so, hating the church. They'll go to their comic shop to find love. They'll go to the bar to find love. They will go wherever love is to be found.

I had this strange conversation with a homeless guy who meandered into the hotel lobby. He was once in law enforcement. He then was heartbroken by a lover who cheated on him. He was craving a fix of some sort. He didn't make the most sense, but he still needed to feel loved.

In a way, we're no better. We may have reached that point of brokenness and had someone around to help us through. Or maybe we haven't reached that point yet. But I was reminded in that conversation that we all need love. We need to be surrounded in love. We need communities of love. Without a community of love, that homeless person is what we all become. I understand the issue of homelessness is extremely complex, but in the midst of it is this desire to be loved. We are all made to be loved and belong.

This is what I liked about the meeting of retailers. Whether it was guests or retailers ourselves, we all shared a common mission, we all knew that we went through the same trenches together, we all knew that we are the fortunate ones whose businesses are still open. And we get to do this selling what we love. We all have stories of how comic books made us better. How we explored ideas while thinking about Genosha. Traveled to other worlds on a silver surfboard. Dreamed of community like the Bones shared. Desired to be teammates like the Justice League. Explored the atrocity of the holocaust through a tale of mice. We have seen heroes live and heroes die. We've learned to be empathetic through living hundreds of different lives vicariously. But we sort of share this common bond. Knowing that the thing we sell made us better. And we want to pass that along.

My friends in comic retailing weren't just discussing how to sell more comics although that is essential for us to stay in business and prosper. We were exploring how to sell more comics so that our stores can get books into people's hands that will help them connect with one another and dream of a better tomorrow. And we aren't shy about our different views, but we are optimistic that we can be this retail outlier in a world of so many brick and mortar stores closing. Through it all, we connect with other people who share common interests and dream of a better future together.

True, Walking Dead doesn't quite do that. Or does it in some way? Does it, through exploring the monstrosities we can become, show us what really matters in life? In looking at monsters and villains, do we truly see how to live?

Then I think of the church. Preferences can't be catered to in a church like they can in a comic shop, but people expect that. The church should be a place of refocus and hope. A place where all can feel loved. It should be a group of people on such a common and passionate mission together because we have been transformed in a way far greater than any comic book can achieve. We have surrender our lives to a loving and sacrificial king. That's not everyone's experience though. It's often just smoke and mirrors, hypocrisy and disguised hate. It's heartbreaking rather than life giving.

Do we love people unconditionally? Or do they have to meet a criteria to be loved? Do we offer hope to the hopeless? Or do they have to conform to have hope? Do we offer friendship? Or is that thrown away at the first disagreement? How did we mess it up so much?

In a world where the church should be a beacon of the things of God, the church messes it up so much at times that people go elsewhere to feel loved. It baffles me - and I'm still trying to digest how I felt that more at a comic retailers get together than I often do at church. It may not be comic retailers for you. It may be some other group. No matter what group it is, this is messed up. Although I'm thankful to experience it with my retailing peers

Love God. Love one another. Unconditionally. With every part of my being. The church should be living that everywhere. But this week I saw the comic retail community living it while in the church I feel attacked and hated at times. That may be your experience too.

We were all made to feel loved. The church was made to love people. Let's get to doing that no matter what our day job is.

An Attempt at a Theologically Conservative yet Compassionate Take on the Issue of Homosexuality

When young outsiders are asked their perception of Christians, the top two thoughts are that Christians are judgmental and that we are anti-homosexual. Interestingly, these are the same perceptions that young churchgoers have of Christians as well (unChristian 28, 34). I don't think these views are unwarranted.

So I think this, like the issue last week – maybe even moreso with this one – needs to be thought through and dealt with truthfully and kindly.

The issue is nothing new. Unlike some issues that the Bible doesn’t address, this is one that the Bible clearly addresses. As it was a prevalent practice in the Roman Empire, the early church wrestled with the issue of homosexuality too. We see Paul write about it in three separate places. The first that we will look at is in his setup to his letter to the church at the heart of the empire of the day, the church in Rome.

“But God shows his anger from heaven against all sinful, wicked people who suppress the truth by their wickedness. They know the truth about God because he has made it obvious to them. For ever since the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky. Through everything God made, they can clearly see his invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse for not knowing God. They know the truth about God because he has made it obvious to them. For ever since the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky. Through everything God made, they can clearly see his invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse for not knowing God.

Yes, they knew God, but they wouldn’t worship him as God or even give him thanks. And they began to think up foolish ideas of what God was like. As a result, their minds became dark and confused. Claiming to be wise, they instead became utter fools. And instead of worshiping the glorious, ever-living God, they worshiped idols made to look like mere people and birds and animals and reptiles.

So God abandoned them to do whatever shameful things their hearts desired. As a result, they did vile and degrading things with each other’s bodies. They traded the truth about God for a lie. So they worshiped and served the things God created instead of the Creator himself, who is worthy of eternal praise! Amen. That is why God abandoned them to their shameful desires. Even the women turned against the natural way to have sex and instead indulged in sex with each other. And the men, instead of having normal sexual relations with women, burned with lust for each other. Men did shameful things with other men, and as a result of this sin, they suffered within themselves the penalty they deserved.

Since they thought it foolish to acknowledge God, he abandoned them to their foolish thinking and let them do things that should never be done. Their lives became full of every kind of wickedness, sin, greed, hate, envy, murder, quarreling, deception, malicious behavior, and gossip. They are backstabbers, haters of God, insolent, proud, and boastful. They invent new ways of sinning, and they disobey their parents. They refuse to understand, break their promises, are heartless, and have no mercy. They know God’s justice requires that those who do these things deserve to die, yet they do them anyway. Worse yet, they encourage others to do them, too.
Romans 1:18-28 (NLT)

What we see here is a common, rhetorical approach. A way to give a speech that is convincing. Paul is building up in this letter to the church in Rome to a point where he declares us all sinners (Romans 3:23) and to explain that God is transitioning His chosen people from being the nation of Israel to being the church (Romans 9:6-7, 30-31). Yet Paul doesn't start with the lead. He is trying to persuade people. In doing so, he starts with something that they all would view as a sin, homosexuality. That's his lead. From there he goes on to expand the list of sins. What we can conclude here is that Paul felt that people would agree with homosexuality being a sin. That issue was the gimme that the crowd would all go “yep” on.  It was the easy agreement before the hard stuff. That was what Paul was trying to do. He's trying to bring them along to his conclusion. But then he hits the hammer down and tells them that they are also all sinners. We're all sinners, and we can't just point our finger at others and declare them sinners.

In another letter, Paul includes homosexuality in his list of sins to the church in Corinth.

“Don’t you realize that those who do wrong will not inherit the Kingdom of God? Don’t fool yourselves. Those who indulge in sexual sin, or who worship idols, or commit adultery, or are male prostitutes, or practice homosexuality, or are thieves, or greedy people, or drunkards, or are abusive, or cheat people—none of these will inherit the Kingdom of God. Some of you were once like that. But you were cleansed; you were made holy; you were made right with God by calling on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.
1 Corinthians 6:9 (NLT)

And here it is mentioned in his letter to his young protégé, Timothy.

We know that the law is good when used correctly. For the law was not intended for people who do what is right. It is for people who are lawless and rebellious, who are ungodly and sinful, who consider nothing sacred and defile what is holy, who kill their father or mother or commit other murders. The law is for people who are sexually immoral, or who practice homosexuality, or are slave traders,liars, promise breakers, or who do anything else that contradicts the wholesome teaching that comes from the glorious Good News entrusted to me by our blessed God.
1 Timothy 1:8-11 (NLT)

These are the verses you should go to if someone wants to know the church’s stance because using the Old Testament story of Sodom, despite its prevalence in discussions about this, is not a great analogy against homosexuality. The prophet Ezekiel gives that story a different meaning and says Sodom was punished because they didn’t help the poor and needy. Nor is it a good approach to pull out the Old Testament law as we talked about last week. Because then you’re left with why did you choose to pick this one out while eating a shrimp or crab dinner with them. Awkward. There is no reason to stretch and include those sections because there is enough biblical evidence in other places without the baggage. People can't relegate the teachings of Paul to being in the Old Testament Law. Paul’s teachings that we read earlier are clear teachings in the New Testament.

Nowhere in the Bible is homosexuality shown as being okay. The argument to make homosexuality biblically permissible has to start by saying that the authors of Scripture don't say what they are clearly saying. The authority of Scripture and the historical methods of interpretation have to be attacked.

This is a method that some are willing to use. William M. Kent, at one time a member of a committee assigned by United Methodists, who are now going through a split over this very subject, to study homosexuality, declared that “the scriptural texts in the Old and New Testaments con­demning homosexual practice are neither inspired by God nor otherwise of enduring Christian value. Considered in the light of the best biblical, theological, scientific, and social knowledge, the biblical condemnation of homosexual practice is better under­stood as representing time and place bound cultural prejudice.” (http://www.albertmohler.com/documents/homosexualitybible.pdf)

The debate over this particular issue goes much deeper than the issue at hand as it attacks the inspiration of all of Scripture to get to the point. To go down that road, we can then make the Bible say whatever we want it to say. Critics may claim that Christians already do that, but I would argue that we don't. We have methods of interpretation that are generally accepted across denominational divides, and we try to follow the Bible’s teachings as best as we can, even when we don’t like what it is teaching.

There are certain issues in the modern church where we wrestle with Scripture (like women's role in the church for instance) and people can come to different conclusions based upon what verse and concept they choose as their starting point. Homosexuality really isn't an issue like this. The view in our society is changing; the view in Scripture isn’t.

Another approach people take is to say the Jesus himself never dealt with the issue of homosexuality. My friend, Samuel Long, who is the academic dean at Great Lakes, my alma mater, and has spoken here, wrote this: "Although Jesus does not discuss homosexuality, and it does not come up in the New Testament with any regularity, when it does, it is clearly done so in a negative way. If God had intended homosexuality to be a viable sexual alternative for some people, He would not have condemned it as an abomination. It is never mentioned in Scripture in anything but negative terms, and nowhere does the Bible even hint at approving or giving instruction for homosexual relationships. Proponents of homosexuality have to start by saying that the Scripture doesn’t say what it clearly says. They have to start attacking the authority of Scripture. And while we can interpret and apply passages differently, discounting clear teachings out of hand make the Bible less than what it is."

Approving homosexuality, biblically speaking, always comes back to disregarding Scripture and reading it in ways that are not good Bible study methods. I have read the most prominent books pushing a pro-homosexuality reading of the Bible. I have read articles doing the same. In the end, it always comes back to this.

So biblically speaking, I do not think we can make a case using historical Bible study methods that homosexuality is not a sin. Yet that still doesn't make it an easy issue.

Now, if I lost you during the Bible study portion or have upset you, please give this message another chance from this point forward.

Issues like homosexuality prove extremely difficult. Because we don’t want an issue like this to keep people away from Jesus or church. I even fear that preaching this sermon could stop my ability to minister to some of you by you withdrawing from the church because you adamantly disagree.

I get it. First, it does hurt a person with any sort of empathy to tell people who disagree or are kind, loving, and monogamous homosexuals that homosexuality is a sin. It hurts to alienate them over this issue. It just hurts to be what comes across as mean. I wish I could just tell people that homosexuality is okay for them if that is what they want. But that just isn’t what the Scriptures teach. I surmise that the Scriptures don’t teach it is okay because homosexuality, like all sins, is not what is best for a person’s life. Can I explain why that is? Nope. I wish I could explain it convincingly, but I can't.

Second, saying that homosexuality is a sin goes straight in the face of what we are taught by our society to teach. And wrestling with our society is difficult on any issue.

There is a tide that we are swimming against when we teach that the Bible teaches homosexuality is a sin. A tide that I would rather not swim against because swimming against the tide is never fun or easy, but I can't if I still hold that the Bible is the inspired word of God. For some, they will just reject the Bible. Others, may just reject God. I am not comfortable rejecting either.

But even if homosexuality is a sin, does that mean that we automatically leap to wanting our earthly nation to legislate our morality. This seems to be where a lot of the conflict in our society over the issue comes from. For many American Christians, the United States has almost become synonymous with the church. This is dangerous and heresy of the greatest sort, but in making this mistake a lot of missteps are made.

I want to propose a different approach for the church. What if we focused on God’s kingdom rather than the kingdom of the United States? Now if you were an elected official making legislation at the state or federal level, this conversation would be different. None of us are in that position, so I’m not going to explore the role of a Christian in those position. Instead, let’s focus on our role in society.

Our teaching that homosexuality is a sin yet we love all sinners becomes a problem in our mainstream culture when we try to make our moral stance a political position, so we have to be very careful when we decide that we should become politically active on any issue, not just this one. Is it possible that in trying to push Christian living onto nonChristians through using the power of the State we are hampering the cause of Jesus?

Politics and our faith can get sticky. Often people just make the leap from "that's wrong" to "we must legislate our position." This ignores a whole discussion that must happen in the middle of those two questions. We must really ask ourselves whether our position is helping the oppressed and those who can't use the instruments of power to help themselves. In those cases, I believe we should pursue helping those who can't help themselves, but I also know good Christians who disagree with me on this.

This is really an issue that I don’t feel we can win in our current society. I still call homosexuality a sin because the Bible clearly teaches that. And that doesn't make one of the sides in our society happy. They want to me to affirm that homosexuality is not a sin, not just accept a homosexual as a fellow sinner. They want me to promote it as just one of many valid lifestyle choices.

Nor do I make the religious crowd happy with my approach. They seem to want to bash homosexuals. The religious don't want to recognize that their lives are lived in such a way that they are equally separated from God and are only able to have a right relationship with God because of His grace. This is the point of Paul in Romans.

I have a NOT SO SATISFYING SOLUTION. It’s the only approach I can come up with that has both truth and love.

What if Christians and local churches became places known for their grace and love and not for their judgment? Do you think that would be attractive?

Years ago, when we passed the communion trays, I had a gay friend coming to church. He has since moved away. He wanted to help serve the Lord's Supper. At that time, the trays holding the emblems of the body and blood of Jesus were carried by four people and passed among the congregation. My gay friend became one of those guys. And one person became upset because a gay person was handing out the Lord's Supper. He told me, “I don’t want us to be known as the gay church.” I told him that I want our church to be a place where gays, whores, drunks, and sinners like me are welcome. He didn't like my reply because there is this tendency to make homosexuality a greater sin than other sins. Here is the thing. As a pastor, I have sacred knowledge of a lot of your sins. And I also know my own sins. We are committed to loving you despite your sins, and I hope you are committed to loving me despite my sins.

Homosexuality is not an issue I like to address regularly. It’s not beneficial. It has been years since I have talked about this from the pulpit. But if you are interacting with nonChristians this will come up in conversation, and I want you to be prepared and have a grasp on the issue. If we have homosexuals who come to our church (and I hope homosexuals feel comfortable coming to our church), then that is an issue we will discuss in relationships and counseling, not bash them on the issue from the pulpit.

If we have a proper understanding of the role of the church and the role of the state, we will realize that we do not have to relegate our moral thinking to the State. Just because the State says something is right or wrong, doesn't make it right or wrong. Likewise, just because we firmly believe something is right or wrong doesn't mean that we should automatically move to legislate it. So we shouldn't spend our time fighting the political battles of our day. Instead, we should lead out in our society through love. We should focus on the things of eternity.

What happens when the church gets hung up in trying to change the state is that the purpose of the church gets neglected. The mission of the church will not get done if the people of the church don't do it. We have a finite amount of time and we have finite energy. Do we spend it fighting gay marriage or world hunger? Do we spend it outlawing homosexuality or spreading the gospel and love of Jesus?

As I think we all recognize, the recorded teachings of Jesus and the life of the early church show that oppressing others isn't why the church was established. It was established to love others and be a place for God's will to be done on earth as it is in heaven. This mission cannot be neglected to win the game of politics, no matter how alluring that power may be.

Unfortunately, oppression seems to be the magnetic pull of any organized beast or collective group. Most groups -- from Communists to Libertarian, from Republican to Democrat, from black to white, from atheist to Christian, from American to North Korean -- want to denigrate those who disagree with them. Jesus taught an alternative way to the sectarianism of the world. I can understand the desire to ignore His teachings because His followers are ridiculously bad at actually living out this radical life that we are called to live.

What Jesus taught was countercultural, in His time and ours. We can see beautiful reflections of His teachings throughout the church's existence. People loving where there is no love. People helping in the midst of situations that inspire selfishness. People being fed where there is no food. People being giving light in the midst of great darkness, hope in the midst of hopelessness.

However, one doesn't have to throw out believing in right teachings to still be the church. It's those right teachings that should lead us to freedom and empower us to be loving. People who claim to follow Jesus just have to love those who we believe are misguided. There is no us and them. Only people like us who need the grace of God to be right with Him.

All of this does not ignore the complex issues surrounding such topics as homosexuality. But it does mean that we have a new and different starting point for our attitudes and actions: love and grace. Why? Because “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom 5:8). Are we willing to follow his example? Are we willing to live for others while they are still sinners? Are we willing to love and eat with sinners? A person stopping to sin is never a prerequisite for us to love them.

We need to have a biblical stance on homosexuality, but we also must realize that this is not one of the large issues. It’s only an issue we are talking about here today because this will be a subject you get challenged on time and time again when talking with nonChristians. Even so, we need to figure out how to never let the biblical stance on homosexuality overshadow our call to love one another, to love the poor, to share the message of Jesus with the world. Unfortunately, with homosexuality, we do disagree with the world. We have to if we are going to take the Bible seriously. But that doesn’t mean we have to be obnoxious or hateful over the issue. Even in our disagreements, we need to always show love.

The Law WAS a Guardian - A look at the Old Testament without unhitching it.

In talking with people who aren’t Christian or are moderately Christian, I get asked some strange questions, but there are some regular questions that pop up over and over. One of them happened again this week. It’s a strange but regular one. “What about clothes of different fibers? Or shell fish?”

This is a common attack that people use on Christianity. It stems from, what I feel, is an inappropriate explanation of the issue of homosexuality – same conclusion just the wrong approach, but I wanted to lay the foundation for the way that is explained.

I want us to be armed with a defense to the concerns that seem to come up the most when talking to nonChristians about Jesus because we don’t want them to get hung up on any of the lesser issues. We want to get them to Jesus, and then Jesus will help them through their questions.

So what about clothes of different fibers? Or shell fish? It seems like a silly question but it is a crafty, insidious attack.

The Law says:
“You must obey all my decrees. Do not mate two different kinds of animals. Do not plant your field with two different kinds of seed. Do not wear clothing woven from two different kinds of thread. Leviticus 19:19 (NLT)

Now, if you look into the clothing you are wearing today, you are probably breaking this law.

And the shell fish one:
“Of all the marine animals, these are ones you may use for food. You may eat anything from the water if it has both fins and scales, whether taken from salt water or from streams. But you must never eat animals from the sea or from rivers that do not have both fins and scales. They are detestable to you. This applies both to little creatures that live in shallow water and to all creatures that live in deep water. They will always be detestable to you. You must never eat their meat or even touch their dead bodies. Any marine animal that does not have both fins and scales is detestable to you." Leviticus 11:9 (NLT)

So if you ever eat crab, lobster, of shrimp – to name some popular ones, you are disobeying the Law.

And we are fine with disobeying these laws. I doubt you have ever heard a sermon against wearing clothing woven from two different fibers or eating shrimp. We don’t think that matters with us being right with God.

Often, we, as Christians, just ignore that the Old Testament has these weird and crazy laws. But you know what? Atheists don't ignore them. Nonbelievers don't ignore them. Typically, when you are talking with them about Christianity, these ridiculous laws from the Old Testament are things that come up. They come at us with an opinion on how we should be reading them. So I think it is useful to have a good understanding of how we deal with the Law. For you to know and to explain to them.

We could take the approach of the Seventh Day Adventists or similar groups in Christianity who still believe that we should hold to the law. You will notice that they still honor the Sabbath, literally, as the Old Testament taught and the rest of us don’t.

Some Christians still believe that we should celebrate the Old Testament festivals. I see some benefit in doing this. I spent one year here celebrating each one, yet Christians are under no obligation to do this. It can be a good learning tool, but it’s not a biblical mandate.

The most popular method, one of which we are more likely guilty of, is that we pick and choose which laws we want to keep and which laws we want to ignore. We disregard the laws we think are silly like the ones on shellfish and different materials in our clothing. Then we keep the laws we like. But this is really a totally intellectually dishonest way to deal with the law. What is the process for picking and choosing anyway?

This arbitrary method doesn't really make any sense. We accept the laws we like and reject the ones that seem a little weird. This also isn't the way we should go about it.

In all this talk about the law, I want us to understand that the law was very important.

Paul taught:
"So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith.  But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian,  for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith." Galatians 3:24-26 (ESV)

The law was the guardian until Christ came. It played an important role.

If you were living in the world before the Hebrews were brought out of Egypt and Moses was given the law, you would recognize that it was a vicious world. Maybe no more vicious than some of the places in our world today. Places that would benefit from the law just like the Hebrews benefitted from the law.

When you encounter a teaching like "an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth," which goes against Jesus and Paul’s teaching to love our enemies; it helps to understand the world that teaching was given to. [As an aside, last week we talk about Jesus’ teaching of obeying the commandments. And then we used local context to understand that. Key Bible Study principle. Reading something through the context of the original audience is also another one of those key principles.] God works with people where they are at, and God gave that teaching to prevent people from chopping off someone's head for stealing. It was a step in the right direction, limiting retaliation and implementing this would stop the process of escalating violence. The maximum punishment for a crime could not be greater than the crime. This was a law of restraint, not a law of violence – although an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth feels that way these days among a people who have a Christian foundation and have been practicing enemy love and forgiveness for millennium - although poorly at times. This teaching’s purpose, at the time it was given, was reining in a chaotic world.

The Law was intended to shape the people into who God wanted them to be, but it didn't always work. The people didn't follow the law the way God intended.

Jesus taught:
“Don’t misunderstand why I have come. I did not come to abolish the law of Moses or the writings of the prophets. [And that’s where most people like to stop] No, I came to accomplish their purpose. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not even the smallest detail of God’s law will disappear until its purpose is achieved. [and it’s purpose was achiveved, as it says Jesus was going to do, in Jesus on the cross. When he says, “It is finished,” I feel it is fair, in light of this teaching, to apply that to the Law and the fulfilling of it.] So if you ignore the least commandment and teach others to do the same, you will be called the least in the Kingdom of Heaven. But anyone who obeys God’s laws and teaches them will be called great in the Kingdom of Heaven."

“But I warn you—unless your righteousness is better than the righteousness of the teachers of religious law and the Pharisees, you will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven!" Matthew 5:17-20 (NLT)

Jesus is teaching that the law will end when all is accomplished. But it's ending with its intended completion. He’s also pointing out that our righteousness, if we are living by the Law, must exceed the righteousness of the most righteous people of the day if we are to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. In other words, the Law cannot get us into the Kingdom of Heaven. We cannot be more righteous than the most righteous, but there is hope in Jesus.

Other translations will use the word “fulfill” here where it says “accomplish their purpose.” It’s not ending abruptly or prematurely. The "all is accomplished" in Jesus. The law is fulfilled. The word in the Greek is typically used for reaching one’s desired destination. The law was just a guardian to get us to the point where Jesus fulfilled it. Jesus was the Law’s destination. Because the law could never totally fulfill its own purpose. It needed Jesus to do that.

Christianity is not a bunch of laws. Jesus came to fulfill the law and bring the law to its intended ending. He came to bring something better. As we talked last week, the commandment we are supposed to obey if we love Jesus is to love one another. Jesus transitioned the Law to this.

But there is an allure to and a problem with laws. If we think Christianity is a group of laws that we must follow, then we will figure out ways to legally get around those laws. What is the minimum that I must do to get saved? Is it law that I must be part of a church? Who do I have to love? How many times must I forgive? That minimal approach to Christianity, despite being prevalent, is so wrong.

As the writer of Hebrews says:
"When God speaks of a “new” covenant, it means he has made the first one obsolete. It is now out of date and will soon disappear. Hebrews 8:13 (NLT)

According to the writer of Hebrews, the Old Testament law is obsolete, out of date, and is disappearing. But the prevailing thought of modern Christianity makes us feel uncomfortable saying exactly this. The writer of Hebrews is stating that we don't have to follow the law any more. We are no longer under it.

Law is needed when there isn’t love. We wouldn't need laws in our society if everyone loved each other. Nearly every law is there to prevent people from behaving in ways that are not loving to each other.  

So when a nonbeliever asks me about the Old Testament Law and tries to hold me to them. I explain how I am not a Jew following Torah. If I was, I would have to defend those laws. I serve a Jewish revolutionary named Jesus who fulfilled the Law of the Old Testament, revolutionized the Jewish faith, and has given us the Holy Spirit in its place.

Paul described it as:
"So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus. And because you belong to him, the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you from the power of sin that leads to death. The law of Moses was unable to save us because of the weakness of our sinful nature. So God did what the law could not do. He sent his own Son in a body like the bodies we sinners have. And in that body God declared an end to sin’s control over us by giving his Son as a sacrifice for our sins." 
Romans 8:1-3 (NLT)

We now have the Holy Spirit guiding our life. What we should and shouldn’t do now comes through a relationship based on love, learning to listen to God’s guidance.

The Holy Spirit knows what you should be doing this afternoon, and He is going to prompt you. You need to obey that prompting. The Holy Spirit knows what you should say to encourage your friend, and He is going to prompt you. You need to follow through on that. The Holy Spirit knows what you should tell your spouse, and He is going to prompt you. We must ask ourselves, "Are we willing to listen?" "Are we willing to follow?" “Are we willing to put our own desires aside and do what God wants?”

A wife posted on Facebook, "Made honey-do list for my hubby today to accomplish after his dentist appointment this morning. And he did everything on the list and more."

To-do lists are good. The husband excelled with the to-do list from his wife. He jokingly responded that he did it because he just wanted to eat.

Likewise, we often want to follow the law just to get the benefits that the law brings. The Pharisees followed the law because they wanted to be God's people. We sometimes follow the law to prevent ourselves from going to hell. We want benefits. And when we are just looking for benefits, we miss out on the blessing of being God's children. Of living a life guided by the Holy Spirit, dwelling in the presence and work of God all the time.

God wants us to be more than just people who follow the law. He wants us to be in a relationship with Him. He wants to dwell in us and guide us.

The gospel can only bring life - its benefits - when you truly surrender your life to Jesus.

It's like when you love your wife. If you bring home flowers for some manipulative reason and she found it out, the flowers wouldn't count. But if you brought flowers home just to show her that you love her - not for any ulterior motives whatsoever, then they have their worth. Or chocolates. Or jewelry.

It's the same thing with God, except He knows our heart and can't be deceived. If we do what the law teaches and don't give Him our heart, it doesn't work. Being right with God is not about checking off a list. It’s about being in a relationship with Him and letting Him guide you. Letting Him live through and transform the world through you.

I had a great high school baseball coach. He would take time to correct me when I would be doing something wrong. He would see my mistakes and take me aside to teach me how to improve. I would be pitching and do something wrong; he would tell me what to change. One of those times that he pulled me aside he said, "You know, I spend a lot of time correcting you, Regan, because I believe that you can be better. I don't spend time correcting [and he pointed at a teammate] because he's not going to be better." God spends a lot of time prompting us because he knows we can be better. And unlike my coach, he thinks we all can be better. Our lives. Our family. Our church. Our town. Our world. He’s prompting us all. Are we listening? If we aren't listening, we will not become any better. Things will not be transformed and improve. We believe in a God who does not force His will but waits on the faithful to transform the world.

The great danger is that the less we listen to the promptings we hear, the more we shut off the pathways to hearing God. It's like a person who has had a stroke. They have to work on rewiring everything so that they can once again do all the things that they previously did. They have to develop different neural pathways to laboriously do the things that once came easily to them. Sometimes we are like that with God. We have hardened ourselves to His promptings so much that we no longer hear His voice. He doesn't give up on us though. He will continually try to get past the hardness of our hearts. He is always willing to guide us, but it is up to us to listen to God and be the people that He wants us to be. So pick those callouses off your heart that life has given you and open yourself up to God’s leading.

Be all that God has destined you to be. It is up to you to live the life that God wants you to live. Nobody else can live it for you. No amount of listening to teaching will do that. No amount of singing songs in worship will suffice. You have to be the one listening to His voice, and then acting on it. God is going to tell you what He wants you to do with your life. My role as a pastor is to encourage you to listen to God, help you to test your promptings with Scripture, use Scripture to open your hearts, pray for you, and challenge you to be who God wants you to be with your life.

No church will be a healthy church unless the people in the church are focused on listening to the Holy Spirit and doing what the Spirit wants them to do with their lives. A church will not receive the blessing that God wants to give it unless it is filled with people who are trying to be who God wants them to be. Likewise, a person will not receive the blessing that God wants to give them unless that person is trying to be who God wants them to be.

Your relationship with God matters.

The desire to know God rather than adhere to the law. Those are all things we would benefit from having more of. The question we are all faced with is whether we are going to continue to grow closer to God throughout our lives or are we going to drift away. The choice is ours. Whether we will replace relationship with legalism. We can cling to the Law and die – and our Law can be some other law than even the Old Testament Law, or we can grow closer to God, learn to listen to the Spirit, and act upon who He is guiding us to be.

Christian culture will continue to try and convince us that the way to do that is through following laws. It's wrong. Laws are not going to get you closer to God. You could be the most moral person around, yet you could be just as far away from God as the most immoral person you know. God wants you to be close to Him. He wants you to acknowledge Him as Lord of your life. There are no laws that if we followed would bring that about. It only comes through a willing heart, a willingness to listen, a willingness to let that Spirit lead you, a willingness to act on His promptings, and a willingness to be different when God wants you to be different. That's what God wants in our lives. He wants you to say yes to Him.

The law has been fulfilled. The law has been made obsolete. The Holy Spirit has been given to us in its place. May we grow closer to God through our lives. May we not stray into an unhealthy dependence upon laws. May we learn to listen to Him every day of our life.