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Words That Set the Disciple Free
Scripture: John 8:31-32
Track 7 of 11 in the Life-Changing Words series
Running time: 33 minutes, 11 seconds.
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Chuck Sackett Speaker: Chuck Sackett
Dr. G. Charles Sackett is minister of Madison Park Christian Church.

View all sermons by this speaker.

May 22, 2005 - Words that Set the Disciple Free

At this particular moment you're supposed to be watching a video. Unfortunately, due to technical difficulties, it isn't available. But we can do you one better. We're going to bring you live the person who's on the video. Well, I think he's live. We'll see when he actually gets up here if he's able. Dan Peters spent some time this last week with Dane preparing a testimony that he thought was going to be shown on video because he didn't want to stand up here and talk. This is the Lord's way.

The Lord's way? Most of you know me. My name is Dan Peters. I'm married to a lovely woman named Lori. I have two kids that everybody knows, Lexi and Logan. I spent 30 years on the Quincy Fire Department and retired a year ago December. Two weeks ago Sunday I was out here in this hallway after third service getting ready to go home when I looked up and I seen Chuck Sackett walking a beeline right at me. Well, every instinct in my body told me to turn around and run but for some reason I didn't do it. And he asked me to do this testimonial. He says it's no big deal. Dane will set it up. We'll do it in a room all by yourself and we'll videotape it and edit out all the bad parts and everything. Yeah. Thanks, Dane. So anyway, let's see now. See I did good on the video. He asked me to do this testimonial because of a problem I had years ago. You know I told you I spent 30 years on the fire department. Well, firefighters have a reputation of being, you know, rough, rugged, and a little bit on the wacko side. Well they also have a reputation of partying hard. Well, I was good at all that stuff and I was really good at partying. I got to the point where I could drink beer better than anybody on the department and I'd be the guy that would end up driving them all home because I could still do it. And that and the fact that I was born and raised in a German Catholic family where we had 11 commandments and the 11th commandment was thou shalt drink beer. Every time we got together or anything family, didn't make any difference, we always had beer there. When I was a little kid they'd send me down to the corner with a gallon jug to go down and get some beer and bring home for the evening. So it was just the natural thing to do. Well, I got to the point where I was really getting too good at it and it was hurting my family life and things weren't really going that well. I didn't think I had a problem. I just drank all the time and it wasn't a problem. Well, Lori more or less gave me an ultimatum that I had to choose between my love for drinking and my love for my family which actually was no choice at all. But I didn't think I could stop drinking. I knew I couldn't do it by myself. So I went around telling people...no wait a minute. I left out a part. I also got involved in the youth group out here and my daughter, Lexi, was involved in virtually everything she could get involved in out here. My wife started working with them and I came out a couple of times and thought, wow, this is really cool and fun, so I wanted to do it, too. Well, that went well until springtime when the races started out at Scotties out there again and Sunday night was when they raced. Well, Sunday night is when the youth group met. I was teaching a small group and I was thinking, man, we've gotta get this over with. I gotta get out to the races. Of course, that was just another excuse to drink which I did very well. So it come down to that, and I decided that I was going to have to stop drinking. So I asked Chuck and several other people to pray for me. I told them I was going to stop. Matt Gilchrist at the time was the youth leader and I told Dane and then I made the big step and I went in to talk to Evan Horner, our counselor here at Madison Park, and that helped a lot, too. And I made up a calendar at work and put on my locker. Every day went by I marked it off. I remember telling Dane, hey, it's been a week, a whole week since I've had a beer. And then it was two weeks and before long it was a month. What are you smiling about? And I was standing at my locker when I marked off my first year and I thought man, that was easy. I really did it–a whole year without drinking. And then the truth kinda set in and I couldn't figure out why it was so easy. Then all of a sudden it dawned on me, it was because Jesus loved me. But with His help and all the people around here that helped me and Evan Horner and Dane, and I guess I really wanted to earn the respect of those teenagers because I couldn't do it and be a hypocrite at the same time. But I want to tell you that the 10th of this month has been three years since I've had a beer and I think... (applause). So if anyone here has a problem and it's something they need help with, it's my opinion you can find it, you can solve it right here in this church. Help is here. All you gotta do is want to do it and go get it. Thank you. (Applause.)

We began this series with II Timothy 3, a reminder that the word of God is powerful and useful. It's inspired of God and profitable. The text that we're going to look at this morning is John 8:31-32 in particular. We'll come back and pick up a bit more of that chapter a little later. When Paul tells his young friend, Timothy, that the word of God is inspired and helpful, he's telling us the truth--that when we are willing to put ourselves under scripture and listen to what it says, it has the ability to change who we are–that God works through his word. John 8:31-32 "To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said if you hold to my teaching and you are really my disciples, then you will know the truth and the truth will set you free." Three different times in this particular text Jesus says I'm going to tell you the truth. He says it in verse 34 and he says it again in verse 51 and he says it again in verse 58--I tell you the truth. This text has enormous power in the life of disciples. I suspect all of us at some point or other in our life have found ourselves trying to figure out how to cover a lie and we've learned that it's a lot easier just to tell the truth in the first place.

I had two students take a test together one day. It was apparent that they were cheating on the test so when I called them in to talk to them about it, they had attempted to coordinate their story and, of course, the story was we weren't cheating. The dead give away was when we turned to the map of Africa and they were to identify 10 countries in Africa, when they both identified country #3 as Utopia, I decided probably that they were lying. For those of you not familiar with Africa, there is no Utopia there. I'm quite certain. This text raises for us this idea that the truth has the power to set us free. Scripture stands over against what the world has to teach us. It is almost a constant conflict between the values that the world is trying to propose and what it is that God is trying to teach. Simple truth of this is that the truth of God sets us free from the lies of the world. For example, if you pay any attention at all to what's going on out here in the advertising world, you recognize that the world is trying to tell you that being safe, being healthy, being physically well is worth absolutely any cost. In fact, on an infomercial I saw this week, for $29.95 you can have a book that will tell you all of nature's cures for everything from A to Z. Now I'm sure that the man who is selling that book has profited mightily from that. I'm just surprised that none of my medical physicians have ever recommended that book to me and saved me an awful lot of trouble. We've bought into a system that says that whatever you do, run from illness, fight at every cost any opportunity, any sense that there could be something good coming out of harm. Now I'm not suggesting to you that you shouldn't fight, that you shouldn't go against trying to be ill, that there's anything wrong with medicine. Don't misunderstand what I'm trying to suggest to you. What I'm trying to do battle with is the basic premise in American culture that says there is no value in being ill or in suffering. And we've accepted it. And so we never look for that which could have value for us or for others in the midst of having to struggle with either physical illness or some kind of suffering that comes from being a Christian.

I was sitting in church last Sunday listening to my son-in-law preach when he read this quotation, and I was struck by it immediately. It comes out of World War II. It's a statement made by somebody enduring the Holocaust. Her name was Elizabeth Pulenko. It's a prayer. It's a prayer for those who are persecuting her. She says "Lord, remember not only the men and women of good will but also those of ill will, but do not remember the suffering they have inflicted upon us. Remember the fruit we brought to this suffering, our camaraderie, our loyalty, our humility, the courage, the greatness of heart which has grown out of all of this. And when they come to judgment let all the fruits that we have borne be their forgiveness."

I spent a brief two hours at the Holocaust museum in Washington this last week watching film of the atrocity and thinking about this quotation and wondering how in any human being there could be the ability to forgive, to have reached a place where on the heels of that kind of suffering you could grow so much through the suffering that you had the ability to turn to someone and offer them your forgiveness. In the Holocaust, suffering did one of two things. It either turned people away from God or it turned them to God. Suffering tends to do that in your life. It either draws you closer to God because you are willing to allow that to shape you and mold you and develop you or it stirs within you a spirit of bitterness you turn and you run from it rather than growing in the midst of it.

I've long been fascinated by a little verse tucked away back in the book of III John, where John writes to the church, and he says I am hoping that you have good health even as your spirit is healthy. Do you hear it? He wants him to have some kind of good physical health, the church, but there's greater concern in that context for their spiritual health than there is for their physical health. In Romans 8:18, Paul says I do not consider the suffering of this life to even be comparable, even remotely comparable, to the joy and the glory that is to be attained when Jesus returns. In Hebrews 5:7-8, it talks about Jesus being in the Garden of Gethsemane in preparation for his suffering, and it talks about his great weeping as he sits before God and cries out not my will but yours be done, and the Hebrew writer in reflecting on that experience says Jesus learned obedience through his suffering. We were walking around in Anapolis last week. There is a really remarkable simple memorial there to the book Roots, to Kunta Kinte and his family who landed there years ago as a part of the slave trade. And there is one plaque and on it there is this quotation from Uncle Pompey Botang Boriaka from the book. He says we all suffer. If a man is wise, he learns from it. The world says that there's absolutely no value whatsoever in any kind of suffering, and God says truth will set you free from that fear and that anxiety and will allow you to grow into the likeness of Jesus.

One of the things that strikes me is that all of us tend not to want to take risk with our Christian experience or to allow our children to take risks because of the fear that we have of suffering or of them suffering. My daughter and son-in-law who live in the Baltimore area took a group of students in to the southeast section of the District of Columbia a couple of years ago. They sent Frank over to the local Kentucky Fried Chicken in order to get lunch for the students. You have to get your lunch passed through steel bars at Kentucky Fried Chicken in southeast D.C., and a policeman stopped him on the street and wanted to know what he was doing there, and told him he should probably leave as quickly as possible. If you believe there is no value in suffering, if you believe that good physical health and being taking care of is an appropriate thing and most important in your life, then you certainly don't want your children in that part of the District of Columbia, do you? And if you believe that what's most important is being physically healthy and physically safe, you certainly don't want your friend, Karen Kuo, living in a Communist country like North Korea. Nor would you send a college student like Chrissy Stevens to northern Africa. Nor would you risk talking to your neighbor about Jesus, unless you understood that there is something more important than your physical safety, more important that your physical health. Paul says it this way–for me to live is Christ but to die is gain. The truth is in scripture, the truth that sets us free in scripture is that suffering is not the worst thing that can happen to you. Ill health is not the worst thing that can occur. That which you have in Christ is more important than any single day of good health on this earth. And so the truth sets you free from the fear of physical danger or illness and it encourages you, it enables you to trust him when life is in fact hard. And it is.

Our text says the truth shall set you free. The world would tell you that self-gratification is what leads to life, that pleasure is worth any cost. Therefore, what you should do is buy this or buy that or own this or have that. In fact, as we were driving home from the airport we were listening to the radio that there is a fall festival some place in the world, I forget where it is, New York or somewhere, where they preview this coming fall's television programming and the people that are there to preview it are in fact the advertising industry. At stake is $9 billion in advertising--$9 billion to tell you that you should have this or that or something else. Now again there's nothing wrong with being careful with your health, there's nothing wrong with possessions. Owning things is not an issue–never has been. The only issue is whether they own you. You already know that. But it would be foolish on the part of a Christian not to understand that there are in fact risks that come to us when it comes time to allow the world to tell us that gratifying ourself is the most important thing that we can do. If you were listening carefully to Dan's testimony, you heard it. Do I gratify myself or do I love my family? Do I do what pleases me or do I do what ultimately pleases the Lord and thus, have what it is that God is desiring for us to have? Have you ever noticed how careful you are when you have money in your pocket? I rarely ever travel with cash, but when I do travel with cash, my hand is usually in my pocket, especially if I'm in a big city where, you know, it's really dangerous. Have you ever noticed when you have something important in your car how much more careful you are about locking the doors and thinking about it? Or sitting in your car while somebody else runs into the store because you don't want anybody to get your stuff. It's amazing how much that impacts our life and yet, here is this grave danger that these things begin to possess us and turn us into selfish, user kinds of people. Paul says you didn't bring anything into this world and you're not taking anything out. Jesus said it this way. A man's life does not consist of his possessions. The truth is self-gratification merely produces a selfish person, a greedy person, a person who uses others and doesn't value them. The truth is people have value, ultimate value. And learning to treat people well leads you to be free from yourself and able to serve. Jesus said the truth will set you free.

The world says guard yourself against the way of Jesus. I'm finding that to be more and more a troublesome thing. I don't know if that catches your attention as much as it does mine. I've spent the bulk of my life living in a country where it's okay to be a Christian. Now I know people who don't live in that kind of country. In fact, I sent to the staff and to the elders an email from Andre over in Uzbekistan who is being threatened with his life, and that's not typical for us. But did you catch this on the news? The New Jersey school that wouldn't let the second grader sing Rich Mullins' song, Awesome God, at her class recital at the talent show? They allowed a scene from Macbeth in which they murder and practice witchcraft. They allowed an adult song from Bon Jovi among second graders, but they wouldn't allow a second grader to sing Awesome God because it's a conflict between church and state. The American Defense Fund went to court at the last minute to try to get a stay on that particular order so that she could sing her song. She wasn't allowed. The world says you don't really want to be a Christian. We can't have Jesus in our school system. We can't have absolute attitudes. You can't say Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life. You have to be willing to be tolerant of anything. Unfortunately, in our text in John 8 there is a sense in which these people have gone so far toward intolerance that they have missed the truth being able to set them free. What Jesus is calling the people in this text to do is to have a personal relationship with him ... at any cost. And they can't imagine giving up their past in order to know Jesus. They were Jews, Pharisees. Jesus says you can be set free by the truth and their response is, we've never been slaves to anyone. Have you thought about that? I realize I just said it so you probably haven't had a chance to think about it, but run that by your thought process for just a minute. A Jewish nation saying we have never been slaves to anyone. How about Egypt for 430 years? Would that suffice as slavery? How about 70 years in Babylon? Would that count? How about the fact that they had been under Roman domination for the last several decades? Would that count? How about the fact that they don't even live in a country that they own? It's owned by the Romans and yet they claim we've never been under slavery.

It is man's greatest ability to be self-deceptive. And unfortunately, sometimes we're really good at deceiving ourselves. We can deceive ourselves into thinking that drinking is not a problem. We can deceive ourselves into thinking that because we come to church at a particular building on a Sunday morning that makes us right with God. We can deceive ourselves into believing that because we have a particular heritage as a Christian that that somehow insures that we are right in the eyes of the Lord. We can deceive ourselves into believing that even those things that are good are not binding us to something, away from something better. The truth is Jesus sets us free from our blindness to our own self-deception and allows us to recognize that we want or should want nothing more than to live in a relationship with Christ where he is the one who directs our lives. The call of this text is to be set free ... free from the fear of what the world has to offer, free from its lies, free from the blindness and the binding that the world places in our life, free to just simply follow Christ. To allow him to take all the difficulties of your life and to do something with them beyond what you can do. Now talking to you is about like, and please don't misunderstand this, like talking to Pharisees. Oh, I don't mean you're pharisaic in your attitude, I mean that you're an American and in a month and a half we will celebrate our independence day because we value freedom. If you travel to the northeast and you happen to see a car from New Hampshire, pay special attention to their license plate. It will say in bold letters LIVE FREE OR DIE. So I don't know how many states this is true in, but in New Hampshire there are no seat belt laws, there are no helmet laws because in New Hampshire, we do what we want because we're free. Sometimes we don't recognize our own slavery. Jesus says if you are in me, that will make you free indeed.

I ran across this story a couple of weeks ago. I don't know that I can connect with it in any way other than just thoroughly enjoying it. But I thought it was worth sharing with you. This young lady's name is Kimberly Shumate. She tells her story as she walks into a church for the first time. "I sat down. I silently shot up a desperate prayer. God, please give me someone in this crazy crowd I can relate to. If you don't give me someone, I'm walking out of here. At that moment the pastor told the congregation to stand up and shake a few hands. I introduced myself to Lisa whose dyed red hair and nose ring suggested we might be at a similar place. My black and white hair and spiked belt told her the same. Lisa, a fellow spiritual seeker, and I became fast friends. Looking back I wonder how the church members stood having me in their midst for so long. I was angry and exasperated as I sat listening to their good news. How could there be only one way to God? At the end of the message I marched down the aisle to the pastor and began firing off an onslaught of questions. After three or four weeks of verbal sparring, he humbled the associate pastor's ear. I made my rounds from one elder to another, finally ending up at a Friday night bible study looking for answers. As I sat on the floor in the leader's living room, I felt a peace amidst this group of people who seemed to care about each other. After the study, Lisa sat with me as Scott, the leader, patiently listened to my new age arguments, but one by one the scriptures I'd carefully prepared to punch holes in the gospel came back at me with hurricane force. Scott's words, but especially the bible's words, confounded by view. After we'd sat there for an hour debating, I was exhausted. My hardened heart and my argumentative nature had finally had enough. As Lisa drove me home, my mind ached as I replayed Scott's words. All the old testament and the new testament verses had one oddly familiar voice, one tone, one heart. I wondered how could a book written by so many different people over a course of hundreds of years fit together perfectly as if one amazing storyteller had written the whole thing? The holy spirit began melting my vanity and arrogance with a power stronger than any hex, incantation, or spell I'd ever used. Suddenly the blindfold I'd worn for almost 30 years was stripped away and instantly I knew what I'd been searching for ... Jesus. The same God I'd neglected, whose name I'd used as profanity, whom I'd flat out rejected, was the one who'd sent his son to suffer for me, to take the guilt verdict so I could be found innocent. My eyes filled with tears as I exchanged the darkness with which I'd grown so accustomed for the light of God's truth. It was such a personal moment between the Lord and me that even Lisa sitting next to me in the car had no idea what was going on. I soon realized my life was filled with empty props and it was time to clean house. My first act of obedience was to throw out all my books on witchcraft and the paranormal as well as my tarot cards. But the most important possession and the most difficult to discard was my treasured crystal ball. I called Lisa. She came right over and we immediately drove to the Pacific Ocean. My heart pounded as if the demons themselves were not far behind. We stood at the end of Malibu Pier, our beaming faces reflecting the radiance of a setting sun. I unwrapped the crystal's black velvet cover and light streamed out like rainbows as the thick crystal met the sun's fleeting rays. As I dropped the ball into the deep blue water

[Transcribed by PU4]