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Redemption: New Birth New Life
Scripture: Titus 3:3-8
Track 25 of 27 in the Transforming Story As God Gave It series
Running time: 30 minutes, 24 seconds.
Brad (B-Joe) Rizer spoke for the first 9 minutes before Keith began.

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Keith Ehresman Speaker: Keith Ehresman
Keith is the Family Minister of Madison Park Christian Church.

View all sermons by this speaker.

June 18, 2006 - New Birth/New Life

Jesus went to the gutter. Well, maybe not a gutter, but the gutter. Gary Graff tells the story of Zacchaeus being in the gutter. He describes the event as Jericho was a city bustling with business and there’s this guy named Zacchaeus who was a tax collector and he was in the middle of it all. He was skimming off the top and cheating everybody for money he didn’t deserve. He lived in a relational gutter that was filled with social hatred. The residents of Jericho would see him coming and they’d run away. They would avoid him at all costs. They knew his intentions were to take their money so whenever Jesus came and the multitude into the city, Zacchaeus took notice. Rumors of the recent miracles Jesus had performed had spread like wildfire. Everybody knew who Jesus was. So Zacchaeus had probably already heard about Jesus and who he was. He knew that wherever Jesus went lives were changed. Lonely, socially isolated, and needing change but maybe not knowing it, Zacchaeus approached the crowd of people surrounding the Christ and because of his short stature, Zacchaeus could not see past them. Think about it. Here’s a lost person trying to get a good angle on the savior, but with all the people around Jesus that were probably many of them already knew who Jesus was, he couldn’t see past them and because of his reputation, he wasn’t accepted into the crowd. So desperate and willing to forge his own destiny, the tax collector took off from the crowd, with sweat dripping from his face and his little legs sprinting ahead, Zacchaeus did the action that made him famous. He stopped and climbed up a tree, a tree that lined the city of Jericho’s streets and inching out onto the limb, this prestigious tax collector must have looked undignified, but I doubt he really cared. He’d already admitted he had to see Jesus and as Jesus and the crowd approached, the masterpiece of gutter and the wretched was painted on the canvas of Zacchaeus’ heart. Jesus stopped. Without any apparent reason, Jesus looked up to the tax collector in the tree and Jesus spoke out his name. Zacchaeus, come on down man, I need a place to stay. I need a place to stay for the night. So the religious wanted answers but instead they got a lesson. Jesus had rolled up his sleeves and given the rest of humanity a lesson in Gutter 101–sinner, tax collector, church goer, preacher, pew sitter, brokenhearted, abandoned–Jesus made it very clear what his mission on earth was and our mission is also to be. It is to bring hope into the gutter, even when it’s up on a tree branch. And when Jesus turned toward the gutter, the gutter turned toward him. It took all of two seconds for Zacchaeus to realize where his life had gone wrong and he said look, Lord, I’ll give half of my possessions to the poor right now, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I’ll give them four times the amount I owe. Jesus reached into Zacchaeus’ gutter, and Zacchaeus in turn reached out to Jesus.

Now a gutter, you guys are probably thinking of the thing that hangs off your house or a building that usually directs something like water or dirt or leaves that you have to clean every once in awhile. But today we’re going to be talking about spiritual gutter. Now we all have gutters. My gutter will look different than your gutter and your gutter will look different than my gutter and everybody elses gutter. But whether we realize it or not we are all exposed to the gutters of life. Our text today is Titus 3:3-8. “For we also once were foolish ourselves, disobedient, deceived, enslaved to various lusts and pleasures, spending our life in malice and envy, hateful, hating one another, but when the kindness of God our savior and his love for mankind appeared, he saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness but according to his mercy by the washing of regeneration and the renewing by the holy spirit whom he poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our savior. So that being justified by his grace, we would be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life. This is a trustworthy statement and concerning these things I want you to speak confidently so that those that believe God will be careful to engage in good deeds. These things are good and profitable for men.” So there’s going to be two different gutters that we’re going to look at today. There’s going to be my gutter and there’s going to be his gutter.

Paul says for we were once foolish ourselves and then he goes on to say a bunch of gutters that we could have been in. My gutter is a place that I am least likely to go or inclined to go because the people there are not like me–they’re not Christians. I go to school at Central Christian College of the Bible in Moberly, Missouri, and at Central we’re all Christians pretty much and we all act alike, we dress alike, we talk alike, we look alike and so we’re sort of what’s the opposite of gutter–we’re in a bubble. A bubble is where everybody does the same thing, you know, we don’t really get many gutter experiences. But when we go out into Taco Bell or Wal-Mart, the only two places in Moberly, we act different because we’re out of our bubble and we don’t know how to act in the gutters. And while the gutters may not be Taco Bell and Wal-Mart, but there’s people there and they see us and they see us act foolish or obnoxious and while we’re just having fun like playing tag or something, they see it as obnoxious and it ruins the gutter experience. I’m from Kansas, the best state ever. And so when I go home over Christmas break, it’s like I’m going back to my gutter because at home I have non-Christian parents, I have non-Christian friends, I have non-Christian surroundings and so going home is the least likely place I want to go. I don’t, a lot of times I dread going home just for the fact I know how hard it is for me to get back into that gutter of going home and being there. But do I need to go? Absolutely, because without going there, who’s going to reach those people? Who’s going to tell them this incredible gift that we have in Jesus?

And so, here’s some statistics about people and their gutters. It says of Americans in their mid-20's to their early 30's only 28% regularly attend church and that number dwindles when you look at people between the ages of 18 to 24 when it’s only 8% regularly attending church. It goes on to continue that a generation ago, half our parents and grandparents were dutiful churchgoers but now young, single and well-educated adults are the least likely age group in the USA to attend church. And by the year 2010, four years away, 100,000,000 people who went to church this Sunday will no longer be going to church. These are shocking statistics, just looking around and knowing that a lot of the people aren’t going to be going to church in four years which is not very long. I’m 22 and to realize that I go to Central Christian College, there’s Ozark Christian College, Lincoln Christian College, there’s all these colleges right here in the bible belt and to realize that only 8% of the 18 to 24, the college-age group, is going to church and to realize that half those people probably are in that bible belt. It’s just shocking and it makes me wonder why there are so many people my age and some of your ages not going to church. It could be possible because we are afraid to go to the gutter because we have seen the gutters and we know what it’s like to go back in to them. We were once in the gutters and someone brought light to us so we should be bringing light to other people.

Now Jesus had many examples of going to the gutter. A good example is when he went to the woman at the well. He went to a place where most Jews would not have gone at a time of day when no one else would have gone, and talked to a woman that no one else would have talked to. And so he went into her gutter. Now you may be thinking well, Jesus didn’t really have a gutter–he was Jesus. But Jesus was still a Jew and he was still not supposed, not supposed to go to Samaria and no one really wanted to go at the heat of the day but he still went because Jesus was not afraid of what people thought or how people would react. He knew where he needed to be to impact the gutter and to bring people out of it. And when he told her to go and get her husband, knowing what she would say, he hit rock bottom of her gutter and he helped her find a way out. We’re called to go into the gutter and hit the rock bottom and to bring people out.

There will always be that person in the gutter. When I was in high school, I felt like Zacchaeus climbing a tree. At first I wanted to see who Jesus was and what the fuss was all about but because of who I was and the kid I was in high school, the partier, the bad kid, the kid was really a socially accepted family, I felt like every time I went to church I’d sit in the back row and people looked at me different and people glanced stares and laughed at me. But until that moment when I climbed up a tree and someone came to me and told me that, who Jesus was and that I didn’t need to be in a gutter, someone came to my gutter, and that there’s more to life than hanging in trees. See your gutter is the place where you’re least likely to go, but it’s the place you need to go. Once you go to your gutter, you need to have strong convictions and strong friends because you go to your gutter you’ll fall back into traps of it. So, once you go to your gutter, it becomes his gutter because he covers our past.

This next clip is going to show how Jesus went to a gutter and how he brought someone out of it.

Do you get the picture? Our gutters become his gutters. Even though he was sinless, he came and he took it and he challenged the authorities and religious officials who thought they had it all together and he said there is a freedom and there is a way to be delivered from your gutter. Titus 3:4 says that “when the kindness of God our savior and his love for mankind appeared he saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to his mercy, by the washing and regeneration and renewing by the holy spirit whom he poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our savior so that being justified by his grace we would be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.” It’s the picture that we’ve heard of Zacchaeus, of the woman at the well. It’s the picture that we’ve just seen of that woman who was caught in adultery. And if you turn over into John 8, beginning in verse 2, you read the account and we look at what Jesus was teaching and what he was demonstrating to each of us in our personal gutters. John 8:2, “early in the morning he came again into the temple and all the people were coming to him and he sat down and he began to teach them. The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman caught in adultery and having her set in the center of the court, they said to him, teacher, this woman has been caught in adultery, the very act. Now in the law of Moses he commanded us to stone such women. Then what do you say? They were saying this, testing him so that they might have grounds for accusing him, but Jesus stooped down and with his finger wrote on the ground. But when they persisted in asking, he straightened up and he said to them, he who is without sin among you, let him be the first to throw a stone at her. Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground. When they heard it, they began to go out, one by one, beginning with the older ones and he was left alone and the woman there where she was set in the center of the court. Straightening up Jesus said to her, woman, where are they? Did no one condemn you? She said, no one Lord. And Jesus said, I do not condemn you either. Go now, and sin no more. Jesus went on speaking to them and said I am the light of the world. He who follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” While the woman lay there covering her body, Jesus reached down and he covered her past. And it’s the picture, isn’t it, for each of us? I mean we can all label the different types of gutters that perhaps we’ve been in but the bottom line comes down to that Jesus’ purpose and his plan to come was to redeem us and to say simply, I will take you at your dead end and I will take you from wherever you have been and whatever you are and I will offer you freedom and I will offer you life.

It is the picture of this passage of that woman who, instead of having questions asked now to Jesus, Jesus returns the questions back at them, and he silences those religious officials. Notice it was the older ones who dropped those stones first. And oftentimes I think it comes with that life experience that when we’re young and we’re full of energy and we’re full of life and we’re full of judgments, oftentimes life experience and having to go through gutter experiences ourselves teaches us to not cast stones so quickly. But rather as his church, as his people, we are light and we are Jesus to those people and so therefore, we go to them and we’re challenged to make the difference. Is it possible that the only way that we can get gutter dwellers to find Jesus is that we would go there ourselves? God came in a sense to a cesspool of a world, sinless, perfect, and yet he came. John 1 reminds us and it says that the word became flesh and dwelt among. We beheld the glory of the father full of grace and truth. In him was life, and the life was the light to all men. He came to his own but his own did not receive him. So when his own would not receive him, who did Jesus go to? He would go to Zacchaeus and he would go to the woman at the well and he would go to the woman who was caught in the very act of adultery. You see, Jesus will go to any of us who are willing to simply say I will lay down my stones and I will seek freedom from my dead end and my life.

I’ve heard it said don’t blame the darkness for being dark. Blame the light for not going into the darkness and penetrating it. And that’s what our call is to do as a church, as the church. I listen to those statistics that B. Joe has shared with us today and I look at 8% between the ages of 18- to 24-year olds are going to worship on Sunday. And I think we have to do something. The church has to be the hands and the feet. The church has to go to those places that perhaps we don’t want to go because they’re not coming here and so we must go to them. And we must teach this generation that are future leaders and are future fabric of the society proclaiming the love of Christ that we are different. I look at my own personal life and oftentimes I go, I don’t want to go back to the gutter. I mean, gutter experiences, they’re painful. Gutter experiences, there’s no Christians there. And yet when we look at the tension of I Corinthians that warns us that bad company corrupts good morals, we have to couple that with the promises and the commands that Christ gives us to go out and to be light and to be salt and to be that light that’s up on the hill and it’s something that cannot be hidden. It’s a light that others might see our good deeds and our actions, not to save us, but that it might be drawn to the savior.

I’ve had the privilege of teaching at Central Christian College this past semester. I’ve changed the names to protect the innocent as they might say, but I want to share with you today three testimonies of changed lives. Three testimonies of this age group that have had gutter experiences but are finding God. The first is a young woman, when I met her for the very first time in the classroom, she is strikingly beautiful. She seems on the outside to have it all together. I’ll call her name Lori. Don’t know where I land anymore on this bargaining with God thing because last December she bargained with God as in her early years of teenage years she began with bulimia which led to anorexia because she was empty inside. Though she went to church and though her youth minister and her minister and people at her church prayed for her and encouraged her, she could not find hope. She could not find any source of answers and she could not overcome her gutter. And so last December she bargained with God after treatments and after seeing counselors and all kinds of things and she said God, I’m going to go to a bible college for one semester and if I find you there and you are real, then I will live. And if I cannot find you there, and if I do not find students who will accept me and demonstrate the love of Christ, then I will take my life at the end of the semester. I was thankful of being able to read her final paper that she had found life, that she had found God and that she had found the source to take her out of her gutter. In the hallway one of the last days of school I just stopped for a moment one evening and had a conversation with her and it was powerful because in the sense I said you know what this calls you to do. And she said no, what, because she said I’m loving it. I’ve got this new family, I’ve got these new friends, I’m strong. I’m doing well. I said this calls you to a life of ministry, perhaps to women and young girls who are in that same gutter experience. And she turned to me and she said to me, you know, you’re right. And I’m going to begin looking for those opportunities.

The second one is a young man and I will call him Shane. He came to us from one of the coasts, active in his church and had found hope from two men in that congregation and a counselor who happened to be on their staff. Shane was involved in the homosexual community as a very extreme activist in a secular university. And yet this church took him in and they found him where he was and they came along side of him and they sent him to Moberly, Missouri to Central Christian College of the Bible. Shane had weekly contacts, emails, cell phone calls, with these three key individuals in his life, trying to overcome the gutter experience, the cesspool that he had swum in and wanting hope from. It was in April that he went back to his home church. Some people saw him as failing but if you knew him at all, you knew he was succeeding because his church was strong enough that those key individuals, those men of God that had surrounded and encouraged him and had sent him told him it’s time for you to come home and you need to be with us again and we need to encourage you and we need to strengthen you in order that you might use your life testimony one day but right now you’re not strong enough. And they knew him and they invested their lives and they’re investing their lives in him today that who knows if he’ll be back in the fall or where he will go on in life, but he was strong enough to admit his sin and he was strong enough to come to a church that extended grace and mercy and kindness of our God and father.

The third is a young woman that I will name Sara. As I read her paper, I was overcome with emotion. You see, I think I’m teaching at a bible college. I’m teaching in this normal world and then I’m reminded how sick and sinful our world is. As she writes how her dad is a polygamist, he has five wives scattered across the United States, 14 or 15 brothers and sisters that she’s aware of and I just sit there and I read and I am just awestruck. I’m awestruck because of her attitude in the midst of it. She said at first I couldn’t understand who God the father was and I’m beginning to see him as faithful and I’m trusting in him. But I’ve never been able to trust him because of my life experience to this point. But I was touched because she said this summer I wanted to escape. I didn’t want to return. And yet, she has two brothers and a sister that are in the same atmosphere and the same environment from which she’s come. And so she returned there this summer to take light, to share her gutter experience.

Now I share these three today and thinking we’re just concentrating on this 18- to 24-year olds but it doesn’t have anything to do with that at all. It’s simply an audience we need to aware of, that we need to be concerned about as the church. But I’m also very much aware that each of us has come out of gutter experiences. I’ve known some that maybe that middle class housewife that’s home and that’s fighting loneliness and that feels empty and no self-esteem and no self-worth. And when she hits her dead end, who will be there to minister and to reach out and to care for her? It perhaps is that retired citizen that lives next door to you, who is abandoned in many ways because he no longer has all the physical control that he once had. His wife is gone, his children care for him, but he’s still searching and he’s still seeking and perhaps he’s still looking for that dead end to his gutter that will bring him back to God. It could be corporate greed. I’ve known people who have found it, who have discovered it, who have had the corner office, who have had all the prestige in the world and all the things it can offer, but they’ve had to sell their souls in order to obtain it. And I’ve watched them give it up and I’ve watched them go to other countries and serve in third world capacities because they have found the living hope of Jesus Christ himself.

So we must go, we must shed light. It’s the prayer of Jesus in John 17, not that we would take him out of the world, but that we would be protected in the world as we serve. Do you understand that scripture could not paint more of a dark picture than it paints of what Jesus did by dying for us and coming to us. He asks us to live missionally, intentionally, with a heart and a heartbeat for him. I want to share a story. You’re going to probably become quite familiar with it as I read it, but it’s put in modern-day language and is a story of a young husband and his experiences through his married life. His name is Jose. Jose married his first love and they soon had a child together but as time passed, this newlywed wife became restless. The honeymoon was over. Now their marriage had moved on into the more routine and no longer blossoming newness. The day in and day out sacrifice of mothering children was taking its toll and her mind began to escape back to her past. See before she’d married Jose, she’d spent time in a sexual gutter and now that gutter was looking pretty good. Jose knew about her past but he loved her in spite of it and he loved her still when she began to slip back into her old behavior. She began to seek fulfillment in illicit and fleeting affection of that adulterous bed. Soon she had another baby and then another, neither of which were fathered by Jose, but the extra children did not stop her. Her wanderings in the night became more frequent. Each night after tucking her children in bed she would slip out the back door and into her gutter ready to sell herself to the highest bidder. Jose was essentially alone, left to be a father of children who weren’t even biologically his, but he lovingly took up the task. In the mornings he prepared them for the day and many times as the boys finished breakfast, their mother would stumble through the door, exhausted from a night of hedonistic seduction. Soon she quit coming home altogether. This would be hard to imagine–the husband allowing her to keep being unfaithful. Her prostitution and need for illicit gain only led her into slavery. She could not escape from the shackles of selfishness that kept her in her debtor. The chains of compromise gripped her so tightly she no longer considered the value of her husband or of her children. She walked the streets each night to the marketplace to prostitute herself, to climb onto the auctioning block so men could bid for affection. Jose sought God and saw her behavior as an invitation to the gutter. He was so confused but he wanted to be so obedient. So Jose responded to God’s call, and he made his way to the red-light district. He didn’t know what he was going to do there or what to expect and when he finally arrived, what he saw crushed him. Imagine the pain and the embarrassment he must have felt seeing these men bid for his wife. The man of God stood side by side with men of the world as they groped and placed bids for his beloved and then he did a strange thing–he placed a bid. I know it doesn’t make sense. Why would you bid to purchase what you already have and what already belongs to you, especially the way she’s treated him and their children. To the gutter blinded it makes absolutely no sense. But from God’s perspective, looking into the gutter is just what he called us to do. As the men beside him sought a one-night stand, Jose sought a bride’s faithful hand. Ministry in this environment would confuse the religious. This is not the type of outreach that they teach at bible college or even from the pulpits of many churches. Imagine the humiliation he endured as the religious scorned him for placing his bid. They thought it was a one-night stand, but they were wrong. It was his eternal love. That’s what makes religious people do such things. Oftentimes they stand on the sidelines, critical of situations that don’t fit into their box of understanding. The religious criticized everything Jesus did. Instead they sought perfection. They couldn’t believe a hay-filled manger and a smelly barn or a cruel timber on a garbage dump could produce the Messiah. They did not think these places could become the dwelling places of a savior. The gutter did not simply fit into their box. Jose stood nearly defeated and outbid, wanting to finalize the transaction. He placed one last bid–all he had with him, $15. The religious voices were dry from yelling. Rasping, ear-piercing, hate-filled voices filled the marketplace with judgment. They had to be shocked that a godly man was bidding on a prostitute. Of course, they didn’t know it was his bride. Prematurely aged by the gutter, the once-attractive young lady of earlier years had become worn and faded. But Jose wasn’t bidding on her looks. He was bidding on her position and he won. He bought his own wife at the auction for $15. He sacrificed his pride and his money to bring her home, not as a slave, not as a prisoner, but as the wife, as the lady of the house. Your see, Jose loved his wife more than unconditional. It was extreme unconditional. Even though she had fallen back into sin, he still loved her. He loved her enough to go and to buy her back even though she knew that her husband would remain faithful and he would be criticized by those that he had companionship with.

So do you get it? We all have gutter experiences and what Jesus calls us to do is look at this passage this morning, to live out this passage in Titus 3. In chapter 1, beginning in verse 15 it said “to the pure all things are pure, but to those who are defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure. Both their mind and their conscious are defiled. They profess to know God but their deeds and by them they deny him. They are detestable, disobedient, and worthless for any good deed.” They are those that were so caught up in their own perfection, and their own system, and their own rules, and their own laws, and their own judgments that they missed it. They missed what Jesus had been coming to do and that was to set men free. And it’s the passage in chapter 3 that reminds us in verse 8, “this is a trustworthy statement and concerning these things I want you to speak confidently so that those who have believed God will be carefully to engage in good deeds. These things are good and profitable for all men.”

So I ask you this morning, where’s your gutter? Where’s the gutter that you met a dead end? I used to pray for people and I’ve even counseled people and thought well, we’ll pray that they’ll hit rock bottom. And looking at this passage and looking at this text and really focusing on what I believe Jesus did for us, we need to start praying for people to hit dead ends and for walls to be erected to stop them. And not that they’re out there on their own hitting rock bottom or hitting a dead end, but rather we remember ourselves where we were when we found him. And we pray for that dead end and then we pray that we will be the type of person that will go there and we will extend a hand to them and we will extend mercy and grace and freedom. And it will not be our deeds in which we think we are saving ourselves, but rather it is our deeds that is light to a dark world. It’s the invitation. So today as we stand and as we sing may we reflect how deep the father’s love is for us. May we lay down stones that maybe we have in our hands that we’d like to cast and we’d like to throw at other people and may we take these next few moments to reflect on the depth of his love, to reflect on the sacrifice that Jesus has done for us.

[Transcribed by PU4]