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(Reference comics and editorials about 2009 ending.)

I feel as though 2009 has been condemned. Like a broken down building with a huge warning sign on it. Like a cabinet of tainted food. Condemned.

It’s ironic that the media should condemn 2009. They were the chroniclers of the so-called disaster and seemed to emphasis the severity of problems. Odd now that they should look back with such condemnation.

Was this year really more horrible than previous years? For some it may have been. For others, maybe not. Economically we’ve been better, but it wasn’t as if we all should have been surprised by it. You have to pay the piper. But economics isn’t everything.

For our congregation, there have been blessings. [We have added to the staff – Youth Minister, Children’s Minister, Interns: These are signs of healthy growth. 15 families, that’s 43 people – placed membership, 11 baptisms – thank God for this.] And yet, we’ve had our challenges too. But to jump to condemnation of the whole year because of challenges and troubles? Why would we do this?

It reminds me of the old story about a man who ran a filling station at the edge of town. People moving into that town would ask the man, “We’re settling into the city. Can you tell us what it is like?” And the man would reply, “Moving eh? Moving from where? What was it like where you came from?” And to those people who said, “We are coming from one of the worst cities. Unfriendly, rude people live there. Everything about the city is so frustrating. Nothing ever goes right. The leadership of the city are inept.” The man would reply, “Yeah, well that’s pretty much what you are going to find in this city ahead of you.” And to those people who said, “We are coming from one of the best cities. Friendly, decent people live there. There’s always something good going on. The leadership of the city is hard working, not perfect, but they have good hearts.” The man would reply to them, “Yeah, well that’s pretty much what you are going to find in this city ahead of you.”

I wonder how those who have condemned the year past can really have a sense of hope about the coming year. One writer said, “It can’t get worse.” Well, I don’t think he’s trying hard enough.

What 2010 will be for you, what it will be for us, will depend on what we do with the spirit of condemnation. What we do with condemnation all depends on whether or not we are in Christ.

Read Romans 8:1.

Can I say again what this text says so plainly: “There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” I need to say this again, we need to speak it to one another because as soon as I say this, some of you will say to yourselves, some of you will hear from others, or some spirit of guilt and cynicism will say, “Well that’s all true, but then there’s this ...” We will make some exception: No condemnation – except me. We have been set free in Christ, but we return to being shackled and enslaved. That’s the spirit of condemnation and guilt. That’s the voice and the work of the accuser.

Some resist this pronouncement of God’s graciousness and freedom. The concern is that people will take advantage of it and do whatever they want. We cannot control people, and the solution is never to limit God’s grace.

God did not set us free just so we could do whatever we want. He freed us from sin and condemnation because sin is not our master. And yet, there’s another way that we run back into slavery. We worry that God’s grace isn’t enough. We shackle ourselves to sin through our worry, our regret, and our failures. We keep digging up the past and trying to resurrect what God has put to death. Instead of living like saved people we worry whether we are saved.

We need to hear and proclaim that there is no condemnation in Christ Jesus because the enemy is tricky. The enemy will accept slavery on any terms. If our self-indulgence and self-gratification enslaves us, that’s fine with the enemy. If our self-doubt and self-incrimination enslaves us, then that’s fine with the enemy. You will find that the enemy accepts any terms that lead to our condemnation.

But there is no condemnation to those who are in Christ! Are you in Christ? Then you are not condemned. Your time, your gifts, your life is not condemned. It is redeemed. If we are in Christ Jesus, then our fellowship, our congregation is not condemned – and there should not be condemnation if the spirit of Jesus rules. Rather we live and sing the song of the redeemed.

So What?

  1. Stop carrying the old junk around. Accept the new life God gives you.
  2. Put First Things First. (More on that next week.)

Chris Benjamin

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Morning Sermon, 3 January 2010

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