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Sermon Transcript by Rev. Ernest O’Neill
God will forgive. We know he will forgive, and we know he’s merciful and his scripture is full of his assurances that he’s merciful. Dan and I bought John Bunyan’s Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners and it’s really his autobiography of his early years. It’s a story of a man who would come continually under false condemnation, or under condemnation and yet God’s Spirit would take a certain verse and light it up to his heart until eventually after years of up and down, up and down, he came through and he knew that God had forgiven him and he rested in it.
And in fact, Joe and I were talking about it on the phone one time and I was saying God has already destroyed us in Jesus; he doesn’t need to destroy us again. He has no interest in destroying us. What he’s trying to do is get us all to believe that and to get us into the life boat. So it’s so untrue and dishonest of us to say, “Oh no, God won’t let me into his life boat.” Yeah he will, he’s just saying to you, “Get into the life boat.”
So while it’s never right for us to say, “Oh, I can’t get God’s forgiveness” it’s always right to say you can’t get forgiveness for sin that is unconfessed or sin that is not admitted. And that’s where I see there is a great need among us, because you may say that you see that and see God is infinitely merciful, but some of us hit the dirt at times and some of us walk okay, and then some of us hit the dirt again. So what do you do? Well, the Father is willing to work with us while we’re hungering and thirsting after righteousness. He’s willing to work with us while we’re hungering after a clean heart, as long as we clearly declare what we’re doing. As long as we declare to each other, “That’s what I’m headed towards.” And if you ask, “How do you declare that?” We know it so well, we’ve been over it again and again; it’s having a penitent heart, a penitent heart.
In other words, if Dan criticizes me and then comes back the next day and says, “Pastor I’m sorry. I know I should not have done that. I criticized you to Martha and I’m sorry. That’s not submission to my leader, it’s not encouraging the leader, it’s bearing false witness against my neighbor. I’m sorry.” Then he’s declaring to heaven and hell and to me by his apology that he is heading for a pure and a clean heart. He is declaring he doesn’t want that kind of stuff in his life. But if he doesn’t do that, if he says to himself, “I can see that wasn’t the brightest, it was a bit of a loss of patience, or a loss of temper, or something that wasn’t too wise. I must try to improve it.” But if he doesn’t ever either repent to God or apologize to me, then the danger is that the level of his life slips down more and more because he gets used to that kind of a low life.
Now that’s why I would encourage you all because I think you can easily come into a conspiracy with each other against God. That is, let’s say if I lose my temper, and I get used to smoothing it over and think, “Okay, well we’re all aiming at the best, we’re aiming at the highest but we’re not quite there yet.” And so we smooth it over. Then that loss of temper becomes the norm. See what I’m saying? That loss of temper becomes the norm and that’s what does harm to seeking after sanctification.
If you ask me, “Doesn’t sin?” Yes, sin does, but at least with sin comes a penitent heart coming after it and it’s declared to all and you know it. Then at least you can keep on going. I mean, you can drive each other crazy so that in ten or twenty years’ time you’re still talking about me. Then after twenty years he has to deal with some things himself about seared conscience. But it seems to me as long as he and I are operating on that open level, then it’s possible for God’s
infinite mercy to bring about results in us. But you remember there’s a piece in scripture that says God’s mercy is meant to lead us to repentance. I think then that happens. But if you go the other way and play games with each other, then I think it becomes very dangerous because you’re preaching these high and holy things up here, yet you’re living away down here. Then we are in real danger of sinking into antinomianism or into shear hypocrisy.
So you can see, that there’s no problem from God’s side. His infinite patience with Pharaoh is obvious. His desire is in every way to try and bring it home to Pharaoh’s heart what he’s doing is obvious. But in a fellowship like ours, if you do not continually hold up to each other the mirror of Jesus, then I think you sink to a level of hypocrisy. So if Joe says to me, “Then do you mean if you (meaning me) are a bit off, do you want me to say that?” Yes. Please don’t say it when I’m in the middle of leading because it takes the feet from under me and it puts me in a bad spot with everybody else. But yes, I’d ask you to pray for me and get from God’s Spirit whether he wants you to share it with me directly or how he wants you to share it. But then I would expect you to come to me and say, “Pastor, do you not think you spoke a little harshly to this person?” Then it’s up to me to examine that honestly and then respond to you and say, “Well, yeah you’re right, I did.” I’ll go and apologize to that person because that was wrong. It was a sin against Jesus’ Spirit and I know that he is able to deliver me from that completely and I’ll commit myself to asking the Holy Spirit to showing me why I did that. Or, similarly I have the responsibility and he has the responsibility too to believe me if I come back and say, “No, I think you misunderstood me. I think as the exercise of God’s discipline here I did have to speak harshly to him. I can tell you I spoke with a clean heart. I didn’t have anything against him myself.”
At least that way we keep things from getting confused. Because it’s very easy for Rick, for instance to see me during a time like we had yesterday when we were joking, and I joke to keep myself going as much as anything — or probably because I’m an Irishman getting bored hammering nails! But we joke about the Irish; we say we have a joke with a jag in it – we mean it has satire or sarcasm. And if one of you comes to me and says “Pastor, do you not think that was a bit hard what you were joking Dan about?” Then similarly I’ve to deal with God on that and be honest about it.
Then the beauty of that is Rick begins to get a clear idea of what holiness is. Most importantly, I begin to be in a position where I can receive God’s word through others and through the body. And that, loved ones, is vital if we’re going to progress as we have been in past years. I’ll tell you, we’ve always in past years had some of us who’ve sensed we were in a clean heart and some of us who’ve sensed we weren’t in a clean heart and so we’ve always been in that spot. And the only way that I can see that you can travel together like that, with a love and a respect for each other, is the way I’m suggesting.
But if you’re not honest with each other, if you won’t speak, if Joanne and Mary, and Trish go out for coffee and Joanne says, “I can’t put up with Myron. I’m working on that PageMaker and he comes in and hits the wrong button and the thing goes bright green and blue and red. He just drives me crazy.” If she goes on like that and Mary and Trish just smile and agree, then that’s the way it’s left. That’s a whole poison that has been started in the family and it’s never dealt with. The poor guy never hears of it and so the poison just goes on.
Actually you deny your Lord if you don’t say something. It’s important for Mary or Trish to say to Joanne, “I don’t want to come heavy on you or spoil our relationship, or spoil any ability you have
to tell me anything in confidence, I’m not going to tell anybody about this, but I’m going to say it to you; I don’t think that’s the spirit of clean heart. I don’t think its respect for your leader. He may be the worst man in the world at PageMaker, but he’s our leader and we owe him respect and we owe him open love.” And if you do that, then do you see what results; we can all live in the light.
I think part of the problem is that light means walking towards truth. Pure light is absolute purity and that is what God wants from us, but light is at least walking towards truth. It is openness and it seems to me if there’s openness among us then you can kind of begin – well, you can’t ease each other onto the cross sometimes, it has to be a thud and you have to get the nails in your hands, but at least you can lovingly help each other up there. But if you do that, then do you see how God’s infinite mercy can lead to repentance? And then he will deal with each one of us in an honest and an open way. But if you don’t do that, you know what happens; everybody represses things; represses like mad.
Now what I wish somebody would do is repress your anger, or repress your wrong words — we could do with a little repression around here! But no, I don’t think repression is the way; its unconscious suppression and we don’t want that at all. But what we do is repress things that we think, and by doing that you’re preventing a consensus about sanctification, you see. You’re actually creating a consensus that “This thing is pretty hard to obtain anyway and let’s face it, we all talk it but we don’t live it.” Do you see? But you can also create a consensus that says, “We’re clear that the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, long suffering, gentleness, goodness and that’s what we’re here for. Now that’s what I’m going for. I may not be there yet, but I’m going for that and I’m going to fight sin every time I see it.” Then there’s that kind of joy.
You think of a bunch of alcoholics; they do not fiddle around. Sandra used to have a Firebird, a lovely Firebird, but she totaled it. She said, “I totaled it going for the last call.” And I said, “What’s the last call?” She said, “At the bar there’s the last call for the last drink and I was trying to make it before it closed.” The result is she hates alcohol. Anybody that has touched poison doesn’t want to see poison around. And that’s what I mean; when you’ve touched sin and you’ve touched hell you don’t want to see the stuff around. You don’t want anything to do with it.
That, I think, is what God is saying to us here in the family, “I am infinitely merciful, I do not desire the death of man. I want you to repent.” But the only way to maintain that with our own integrity is to point out sin every time we see it. And so, often you see it when I don’t. Often Marty will be with Joe and I won’t be there, so there’s nobody else to voice Jesus’ opinion, except for you two guys and it’s very important that you do it. It’s very important that you stay honest with what we are all saying we believe.
So I think that’s one thing that I saw very plainly. There are other dear verses such as 1 Timothy 2:4, and is why, in fact, God kept on going with Pharaoh time after time. 1 Timothy 2:4, “Who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” Why does God keep on with Pharaoh even when he’s already said, “Pharaoh will keep on saying no?” Because God desires all men to be saved; he wants us all to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. He doesn’t want any of us to be lost and so he’s always working towards that.
What we should do now loved ones, is look briefly at the rest of the chapter and I’ll try to explain some of the things that might have brought questions to our minds. Exodus 7:8, “And the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, ‘When Pharaoh says to you, ‘Prove yourselves by working a miracle,’ then you shall say to Aaron, ‘Take your rod and cast it down before Pharaoh, that it may become a serpent.’ So
Moses and Aaron went to Pharaoh and did as the Lord commanded; Aaron cast down his rod before Pharaoh and his servants, and it became a serpent. Then Pharaoh summed the wise men and the sorcerers; and they also, the magicians of Egypt, did the same by their secret arts.”
Snake charming was a widespread practice in Egypt at that time. They trained their serpents to be solid, to just freeze and be rigid, and then they cast them on the ground. But then of course, verse 12, “For every man cast down his rod, and they became serpents. But Aaron’s rod swallowed up their rods.” And so even though they, by a trick, reproduced the apparent miracle, Aaron’s snake swallowed up all of theirs. “Still Pharaoh’s heart was hardened, and he would not listen to them; as the Lord had said.” And it came home to me how often God has kept on with us.
I was telling Martha and Joanne about a poem that John Donne wrote, and it’s really touching. “Wilt thou forgive this sin that I have sinned, and when thou has done, thou hast not done, for I have more.” And he keeps on in each verse, repeating another sin. When you think how good God has been with us, and how continuous and persistent he has been, and how he has kept with us, I do fear a little about that. I do fear – I don’t want to strike terror into you but I do fear about waiting too long. I don’t think you should stand watching Jesus die too long. I think you have a conscience, and do you see that it ties up with what I’m saying about sharing? You have to keep your conscience alive; if your conscience is seared, you’re finished. If you can talk about people critically in this family again, and again, and again, your conscience gets seared and you get seared. If you can sit here and listen to the victorious life preached and just listen, and listen, and listen month after month year after year, it’s your conscience. It’s not that God’s hand is not shortened that it cannot save. God is not reluctant to save you or be merciful but you yourself have to keep your conscience alive.
That’s why I’d far rather Trish would come to me and say, “Pastor, I do this repeatedly. I do it repeatedly.” I’d rather she come repeatedly along the lines of what Thomas a Kempis said, “A saint is not one who never falls, but one who gets up every time he falls.” I’d rather you come continually and at least we’d both stay honest with each other. At least we’d both be saying to each other, “Yes, this we hate. This is sin. This is destroying Jesus.” At least that keeps the conscience clear, it keeps it alive and that’s what needs to be done. Verse 14, “Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Pharaoh’s heart is hardened, he refuses to let the people go. Go to Pharaoh in the morning,’” And this is where God has softened him. Now if you’ve any experience of God it must be surely this — it’s certainly mine; God has kept on keeping on with me. It continues, “Go to Pharaoh in the morning, as he is going out to the water; wait for him by the river’s brink, and take in your hand the rod which was turned into a serpent. And you shall say to him, ‘The Lord, the God of Hebrews,’” you know, make it really clear to him, “The Lord, the God of Hebrews,” these slaves of yours, “sent me to you, saying, ‘Let my people go, that they may serve me in the wilderness; and behold, you have not yet obeyed.’” And that’s God making it dead clear. And I can only thank God for his grace because it seems I have that entire field from about thirteen years of age. And you know the way you have the entire field to run in and you keep running behind different trees of the garden. And then maybe at conversion God cuts the field down to about a third, but you still have a third of it. Then he graciously, if you still want him, corrals you. He corrals you right down until he gets you into a corner and then you can see it plainly; it’s just your own wretched will against his will. And it seems to me that’s what God does with us, he keeps cutting down the size so that we’ll be absolutely clear when we make the final decision that we want hell rather than him, that we’ll know we’re making that decision.
Have you ever thought that’s why things are hard and that’s why the hours seem long? It’s not Myron
or I that have devised it, the Lord has devised it. You could go to half a dozen other places and they’d be easy in some ways but they’d be harder in others. It’s not that. Its Satan making you think, “If I was only in a different situation I wouldn’t have it so hard.” No, God is corralling you. He’s trying to break you, he’s trying to make everything unbearable to you until you finally settle and submit, so we need to be glad of that. We need to thank him for that rather than resent it. And then of course God gives the directions in verse 16, “And you shall say to him, ‘The Lord, the God of the Hebrews.’” Then in verse 17, “Thus says the Lord, ‘By this you shall know that I am the Lord: behold, I will strike the water that is in the Nile with the rod that is in my hand, and it shall be turned to blood, and the fish in the Nile shall die, and the Nile shall become foul, and the Egyptians will loathe to drink water from the Nile.’”
Now actually, there is a time during the year when the red sand comes up and the Nile does get red. It doesn’t get like blood and obviously the fish don’t die, but there is that kind of a physical change that comes in the Nile. It’s important to see that happens so when the liberal critique comes along and says, “Oh that’s a natural phenomenon,” yes, that’s a natural phenomenon, but this is very different. It’s not just red like that, but its blood and the fish actually die. “And the Lord said to Moses, ‘Say to Aaron, ‘Take your rod and stretch out your hand over the waters of Egypt, over their rivers, their canals, and their ponds, and all their pools of water, that they might become blood; and there shall be blood throughout all the land of Egypt, both in vessels of wood and in vessels of stone.’ Moses and Aaron did as the Lord commanded; in the sight of Pharaoh and in the sight of his servants, he lifted up the rod and struck the water that was in the Nile, and all the water that was in the Nile turned to blood. And the fish in the Nile died; and the Nile became foul, so that the Egyptians could not drink water from the Nile; and there was blood throughout all the land of Egypt.” And then presumably the magicians used something of the natural phenomenon.
Pharaoh didn’t really need a repeat miracle, a duplicate miracle; he just needed some excuse for saying no. “But the magicians of Egypt did the same by their secret arts; so Pharaoh’s heart remained hardened.” And they presumably used something of the natural phenomenon to suggest, “We can do the same.” But Pharaoh really didn’t need a real miracle, he just needed the excuse. “And he would not listen to them; as the Lord had said. Pharaoh turned and went into his house, and he did not lay even this to heart. And all the Egyptians dug round about the Nile for water to drink.” “And all the Egyptians dug round about the Nile for water to drink, for they could not drink the water of the Nile.” So often we’re in the same boat; we cannot drink the water of life from Jesus’ hand and yet we persist because we’re so willful and we want to maintain our own rights. “Seven days passed after the Lord had struck the Nile.”
Let us pray. Dear Father, we thank you for your mercy to us over so many years. We have known exactly the experience of Pharaoh, where you have kept on keeping on with us, doing everything possible to bring us to our senses and how we have retreated into a smaller and smaller life, into a smaller and smaller cave where we keep our heads down and hope that the whole thing will pass. And you Lord, know that what we’ve done is dig ourselves a grave and you’re trying to rescue us from it and bring us into life eternal. So Lord, we can only thank you for your goodness to us and we can only oppose Satan wherever we find him here in our family and at work during the day.
Lord, we pray especially for those moments where we’re lifting boxes, or backing up the truck, and somebody says something and we are not Christ like in our reply. Lord, we see that the more often we let that go on, the coarser we become and the more seared our conscience becomes and the harder it is somehow to seek you for a clean heart because even our right word actions do not align
themselves with your will. So we pray Holy Spirit for your light to shine in Proctor Street. For your light to shine there in the cold room, for your light to shine in that little back office, for your light to shine out on the curb where we pile the boxes, for your light to shine in the restroom, for your light to shine out front when the front display is being done. Lord, we ask for your light to shine so that not an unchrist like word will pass, not an unchrist like action will be done.
Lord, we pray that if any are done, we will acknowledge it and point it out to each other. Lord, we pray the same for Victoria. Lord, we pray for Marty that not an unclean thought will go through his mind and if it ever does, that it’ll be acknowledged by him before you and dealt with in a solemn way. We pray Lord, that as he deals with his customers hardness or harshness will not become his trademark, but that he’ll speak with your voice and in a way that makes you glad to be in that shop.
Lord, we pray the same for Museum Street. We pray especially in these days when Joe and others are working there, sometimes long hours. Lord, we know that it’s a sin against you if we do it with an unwilling heart, or we do it with a resentful heart, or a complaining heart, or a critical heart. Lord, we would put those things far from us. We would confront each other on them when they occur and Lord, we would declare to heaven and hell we’re going for cleanness. We’re going for cleanness inside as well as outside.
Lord, we pray the same for the home here; for Mary, and Myron, for Joanne, and then for Lucy, and Trish, for Martha out on the road. Lord, we pray for your light to shine and Holy Spirit that we’ll begin to walk in such white light that it’ll become normal for us. And we’ll begin to live in an elevated way and in a dignified way as Christ-like men and woman and that there’ll be a holy restraint in us that will bring pleasure to you and that will create such a beauty that the world will stop and ask by what power have you done this?
Lord, we thank you that this is your will for us and we give ourselves to obeying it from this day forward in Jesus’ name, amen.