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The Spirit of God in Daily Life: In Our Sin

July 10, 2011
Sermon:  The Spirit of God in Daily Life:  In Our Sin
Text:  Psalm 51
 

You have heard me mention before David Tanner, a man I have referred to as my personal philosopher.  David used to come by my house almost every weekday morning.  I often found him sitting on the front porch when I went out to get my newspaper.  We always had the most interesting conversations.  On Monday, we usually talked about church services on Sunday.

One Sunday, I asked, “David, did you go to church yesterday?”

“Oh, yes sir.”

“What did your preacher preach about?” I asked.

“He preached about sin.”

“And David, what did your preacher say about sin?”

“Well, he’s again’ it.”

I asked, “What kind of sin did he preach about?”

“He preached about drinking and gambling and womanizing.  He preached about carousing and smoking.”

Knowing that David dipped snuff, I asked, “David, did he say anything about dipping snuff?”

“No, sir.  He didn’t say anything about that.”

“David, do you believe it’s a sin to smoke?”

“Yes, sir!”

“Is it a sin to dip?”

“No, sir!”

“How can that be?”

He replied, “It’s a sin to burn up anything that tastes that good.”

Isn’t it true that we all have our own take on sin?  Isn’t it true that we tend to be preoccupied more with the sins of others than with our own? 

Four people have been in the news this week: two professional athletes, a former First Lady, and a woman accused of killing her daughter.

Kerry Collins was a quarterback who played with five teams during his career, including Penn State and ending with the Tennessee Titans.  When he was drafted by the Carolina Panthers in the 1995 NFL draft, I will never forget hearing Jerry Richardson talk about how this young quarterback was the future of the Panthers.  He is only one of twelve quarterbacks to have thrown for more than 40,000 yards in his 195 career games.  He maintained a 55.8 completion percentage.  He had 206 touchdowns, but threw many interceptions, 195.  This week when he announced his retirement, a New York newspaper carried the headline:  The Goat of Super Bowl XXXV Retires.  What a way to be remembered, even after a very fine football career!  Kerry Collins battled alcohol abuse his entire career.  Several times he was arrested for DUI.

The second professional athletic you have perhaps heard about this week is Roger Clemens, an outstanding baseball player.  He is the only pitcher in Major League baseball to win seven Cy Young Awards.  He is also the only pitcher ever to have 4000 strikeouts and 1000 victories.  He has been in the news because of a trial that involves DNA evidence, syringes and vials, and the credibility of witnesses that are suspect.  The trial has been pushed in press by Major League baseball, perhaps as much as anything else, to lessen the pressure on them.  Clemens will probably not be convicted of using steroids, but he will be convicted of something else:  lying, perjury, obstruction of justice.  After a stellar career in Major League baseball, it comes to this for Roger Clemens.

Betty Ford’s death has also been in the news this week.  Her husband, Gerald Ford was the first person to assume the presidency without being elected by the people of the United States.  He became Richard Nixon’s Vice-President when Spiro Agnew resigned.  He took up residence in the Oval Office at a time of national crisis after the Watergate scandal.  The people of America were tired of being deceived.  They were looking for decency and common sense.  Gerald Ford brought that to the office of presidency.

Betty Ford, as the First Lady, stunned America with her ordinary way of living as a mother and homemaker.  She was very, very honest in speaking about her breast cancer.  Many people believe that her honesty encouraged other women to seek simple diagnostic procedures that probably saved many lives.  Betty Ford confessed her problem with alcohol addiction and sought treatment.  It is because of her honesty and encouragement that people sought treatment for substance abuse.

Contrast Betty Ford with another woman you have heard so much about in the news lately.  We have had a fascination with the three-year saga of a young woman in Florida, who almost inexplicably, waited a month before reporting her missing daughter.  Finally, this long American soap opera – the Casey Anthony investigation and trial – has ended in Orlando, Florida, with an acquittal.  Of course, we will continue to have lingering questions about this case.  This story will have ramifications.

Casey Anthony is, in some ways, a victim of the internet age.  More than one half million people have followed her story on blogs every single day.  The picture of Little Caylee, her daughter, has been plastered all over every media outlet.  I cannot imagine what the Anthony family will do.  They have been absolutely torn asunder by the testimonies given in this trial.  Though Casey was acquitted, there are other prisons in this world more severe than iron bars.  She will probably be imprisoned for the rest of her life.  She has been judged in the courts and found not guilty.  In the court of public opinion, however, she was convicted long, long ago.

We follow these four stories, and we make judgments.  Looking at the lives of these four American citizens and seeing their sin is a reminder to us that we must look at our own lives.  It is easy to notice the sin of others, but what about the sin in our own lives?  The Scriptures caution us that when another person is caught in a sin, our first response should be to look to ourselves.  The Bible makes it so clear that we, too, are culpable.  We, too, are subject to sin.  “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).  Few want to hear the harsh truth that we have sin in our life.  Sin is in every life.  This kind of sermon is neither easy to preach nor easy to hear, but if we are going to talk about the work of the Holy Spirit in daily life, we dare not omit this topic.  Nothing reveals our sin quite like a mirror.  The book of James says that the Scripture is like a mirror.  When we look there, we see the sin in our lives.

Psalm 51 focuses its attention on King David, a great man, a tremendous warrior, an all-star no less than Roger Clemens.  When it came to writing poetry, David was the best.  When it came to singing, David was called the “sweet singer of Israel.”  When it came to ruling as a king, no one did it better than David.  David saw in his mind’s eye the construction of a temple though he never saw it built. This monarch is responsible for creating the city known as Zion and for uniting all the people of Israel under one crown.  David was a man among men.

The Scriptures tell us that one day David behaved in an unseemly manner.  He stayed home while his army went to war.  It was during that time that he saw another man’s wife, Bathsheba, taking a bath.  Deciding that he would have her, he committed adultery.  When she became pregnant, David brought her husband, Uriah, home from the battlefront.  Giving Uriah the opportunity to have relations with his wife, David thought, would exonerate him.  Uriah was a good soldier, however, and refused to go into the bedroom with his wife.  He slept outside.  David saw no recourse except to order his general to put Uriah on the front line.  Doing so would ensure that Uriah would be killed in battle.  “Oh, what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive.”

David now had a double sin on his hands:  adultery and conspiring to murder.  He thought he had gotten away with sins.  Isn’t that the way it always is?  We play a game of hide-and-seek with God, thinking that we can keep our sin out of God’s sight.  We believe somehow that this secret sin will go undiscovered.  One of the functions of the Holy Spirit is to pursue us in our sin.  David admitted, “my sin is ever before me.”  You notice in the psalm David’s prayer is that God would not take the Holy Spirit from him.  Scriptures say that God gives us the Holy Spirit as a gift.  It is a promise that Jesus made.

Do you realize that God can also withdraw the Holy Spirit from us?  What an isolated feeling it is to know that God’s Spirit has abandoned us.  How does that happen?

Jonathan Edwards, the great Puritan preacher, preached a sermon entitled “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.”  He makes a comparison of someone dangling a spider over a candle to God dangling a sinner over the flames of hell.  God is capricious.  He can drop us at any moment.

I do not have that image of God.  I know that the sin I commit separates me from the Holy Spirit. The Bible talks about that.  We sin against the Holy Spirit when we resist the Holy Spirit.  We sin against the Holy Spirit when we reject the salvation of Jesus.  We sin against the Holy Spirit when we lie to the Spirit of God, when we think we can deceive the Spirit of God.  We sin against the Holy Spirit when we grieve his Spirit by returning to the same sins repeatedly.  We sin against the Holy Spirit when we squelch the Spirit, not allowing the Spirit of God to work in our lives.  It is when we sin against the Holy Spirit that we become separated from the Spirit of God.

Someone called the home, and a little boy answered, “Hello,” whispering in a low tone.

The caller asked, “What’s wrong?”

The child said, “There’s a lot going on at my house.”

“Can I speak with your mother?”

“No, she’s busy.”

“Can I speak to your daddy?”

“No, he’s busy.”

“What are your mother and father busy doing?”

“They’re talking to the police.”

Hearing a lot of noise in the background and then the blast of sirens, the caller asked, “What is going on at your house?  Do I hear the siren of police cars?”

“No, those are the fire trucks.”

“Is there a fire at your house?”

“No, there’s no fire at our house.”

“Why are all those people at your house?”

“Well, I got a bad report card, and I tried to hide it.  My daddy found it, and now I am hiding.  Mama and Daddy and the policemen and firemen are all looking for me.”

What did Adam and Eve do after their sin?  They hid.  What do we do when we are in sin?  We look for the dark places.  We look for places to hide.  What does God’s Spirit do when we sin?  He pursues us.

A rebellious English doctor whose name was Francis Thompson wrote a poem about this very experience in his own life.  In “The Hound of Heaven,” Thompson likens God to a great hound.  Think of a blue tick hound, searching, searching, searching.  Here are a few lines from his poem:

I fled Him down the nights and down the days
I fled Him down the arches of the years
I fled Him down the labyrinthine ways
Of my own mind, and in the midst of tears
I hid from him, and under running laughter.

David hid from God, too.  He thought he had gotton away with his sin until a prophet in his court, Nathan, told a parable.

“David, let me tell you what happened.  A rich man had guests coming for dinner.  Instead of killing one of his own lambs, he went next door, took his neighbor’s only lamb, and killed it.

David said, “Bring that man to me.  He will find justice.”

Nathan did what a good prophet does.  He held up a mirror of the parable, asking, “King, do you see what I see?”

David looked into that parable and saw himself.  He knew he had been caught.

Once we are caught, once we hit rock bottom, once we are discovered, we can do nothing more than to confess.  Consider I John 1:8-9:  “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.  If we confess our sins, God is faithful and just and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

David confessed.  “For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me.  Against you, you only, have I sinned and done that which is evil in thy sight.”  The Holy Spirit brings us to the point of conviction, the point of confession.  David says, “You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.  My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit, a broken and contrite heart.  O God, you will not despise.”

One of our favorite ways to talk about Jesus is referring to him as the Good Shepherd.  Have you ever thought of the Holy Spirit as a janitor, as somebody who comes along and cleans up the mess?  Janitors are little noticed unless they are not on the job working.  The Holy Spirit does just that when we are caught in a sin and we confess it.  David prays, “Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow…Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.”  Once we come to that, the Holy Spirit can begin the process of reconciliation, putting us back into a relationship with God.

David’s prayer continues, “Do not cast me away from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me.  Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.”  When that happens, we are restored.  It is a painful process, and it takes a good bit of courage.  Ladies and gentlemen, there is no other remedy for sin.  We cannot hide it.  We cannot deny it.  We cannot lie about it forever.  Sooner or later, our sins will surely find us out.  We come under conviction, and we confess.  It is by the grace of God, fully revealed in Jesus Christ, that we are restored.  That is what it means to be a Christian.  That is what it means to be saved from our sins.

I love the words of “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing.”

 

Come, Thou Fount of every blessing,
Tune my heart to sing Thy grace; 
Streams of mercy never ceasing,
Call for songs of loudest praise…
 
…Jesus sought me when a stranger,
Wandering from the fold of God; 
He, to rescue me from danger,
Interposed his precious blood. 

 

O to grace how great a debtor
Daily I’m constrained to be! 
Let thy grace, Lord, like a fetter,
Bind my wandering heart to Thee. 
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it, 
Prone to leave the God I love;
Here’s my heart, Lord, take and seal it,
Seal it for Thy courts above.

It is so important to let the Spirit of God work in our lives when we sin, convicting us, leading us to confession, cleaning up the mess, and restoring to us the joy of salvation.

Do you know Christ Jesus as your Savior?  If you have never made a decision to accept him, could I please urge you to acknowledge Jesus as your Savior?  Do not resist the Holy Spirit.  We invite you to respond.

Kirk H. Neely
© July 2011
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