Greg Laurie - The God Who Loves and Forgives
Tonight I want to talk to you about the God who Loves and Forgives. Years ago I used to have a dog. He was a German shepherd. His name was Irlo. He came pre-named. The best dog I have ever owned. I loved that dog. I was taking him out for a walk one evening. A cat ran by. I don't want to say that I encouraged my dog to chase the cat. Let's just say I didn't exactly discourage him. The cat ran off. I said, "Get 'em Irlo". Off Irlo goes chasing the cat. They are going down the street. I am watching. Suddenly the cat just stops. Irlo stops. The cat lifted up its tail. I thought, "What kind of a cat is this"? Then I heard this sound. Something like this. Pshew.
I noticed that cat had a white stripe down his back. That wasn't a cat. That was a skunk. It was a direct hit on Irlo's face. Irlo turns around and starts running toward me. I am running from Irlo because I want to get back in my house. My front door is open. I want to get to the house and shut the door before he comes in because he will stink up my entire house. I am running. He is running. He passes me. Goes through the house. I put him in the backyard. He is rolling around trying to get the smell off. The whole house smelled like a skunk. It was so bad it woke my wife up from a dead sleep. My wife has a supersonic nose so she really noticed it. It took him a long time to get that scent of the skunk off of him.
Maybe you have come in here tonight with a heavy load of guilt? You have tried to get rid of it. You try to talk yourself out of it. You say it isn't real. It isn't something I need to concern myself with. But you know it is real. You try to minimize it. There it is hanging over you. God can change even you. God can forgive you of every sin you have ever committed. The Bible says, "With God all things are possible".
Let me tell you something. Guilt is not always a bad thing. Guilt is a symptom of a deeper problem. The deeper problem is sin. You feel guilty because you have sinned. It means your conscience is working. Sometimes you have to feel bad before you can feel good. Jesus said, "Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted". A more modern translation puts it this way. "Happy are the unhappy, for they will be happy". First you have to see your real condition. Your conscience is telling you something is not right.
Years ago we used to have a smoke alarm in our ceiling. It was the most overly sensitive smoke alarm I have ever seen. My wife would cook up a scrambled egg and it would go off. I would have to pull the broom out of the closet and push the little button. It was ridiculous. You couldn't cook anything in the kitchen because of this overly sensitive smoke alarm. One day it went off. I couldn't take any more. I climbed up on a stool. I ripped it out of the ceiling. That was the end of it. Don't do that to your heart. If your heart is working, if you are feeling bad about some things that you have done that is a good indication.
Here is the bottom line. Every one of us have sinned. What does it mean to sin? A sin means to cross a line. The Bible speaks about being dead in your trespass and sin. Maybe you have walked by a park and you saw that little sign that said, "No trespassing". You went over the line. That is what is to sin. You cross a line. God has given us absolute standards for right and wrong. They are called the Ten Commandments. I love how people say, "I live by the Ten Commandments. That is all of the religion I need". You respond, "Really. Can you name the Ten Commandments"? "Thou shall... Uh no". "And you live by them"?
Here is the bottom line. Nobody lives by the Ten Commandments. We have broken them. We have crossed the line. Then we have fallen short of God's standard which is perfection. We have all sinned. Hence we have guilt. Here is the good news. No matter what sin you have committed tonight I want you to know that God can forgive it and remove it from you forever. You can leave Angel Stadium a different person on the inside than the one you came in as.
Have you ever lost anything in the ocean? Pretty much you can kiss it off. You are probably never going to see it again. Years ago I was scuba diving. I went out and I was cruising along. I could see the bottom there. I was down about 15 feet. The floor was about 30 feet. I went out a little farther. I stayed about 30 feet. Now the floor of the ocean is about 60 feet. I go out a little further. The floor of the ocean is about 80 feet. I am still at about 30 feet. Then I come to this one ledge. It drops off and I can't see the bottom of the ocean. I am still at the same depth but I look down there and it freaked me out and I turned around and went back the other direction. That is a long ways down. If you drop something down there, you will never see it again.
Here is what the Bible says. "God will take your sin and throw it into the deepest part of the sea". He will take our iniquities and cast them into the depths of the ocean. Then God promises your sins and your iniquities will I remember no more. Isn't that good news? God will forgive your sin. He will forget your sin. We should not choose to remember what God has chosen to forget. Our God has a big eraser. When we go to the Lord and say, "Lord remember that horrible sin I committed". God will just say, "Hey man, forget about it". It is forgiven. It is forgotten. It is behind you.
The Bible tells the story of two thieves on the cross. They were there being crucified on the same day Jesus was. By the way, the word thief that is used in the Bible is a much more intense word. They were not just guys that stole stuff. These guys were probably murderers and insurrectionists revolting against Roman tyranny. We might call them terrorists today. That is why Rome would hang people like that on crosses. Here is this thief hanging on a cross. Next to him was Jesus Christ. That thief was hanging there because of his own sins. Jesus was hanging there because of the sins of others. There is Jesus hanging. The crowd began to mock Christ. They say, "He saved others let him save himself if he is the chosen of God".
Both thieves joined in this chorus of mockery. Then Jesus said something that blew one of those thieves' minds. He said, "Father forgive them for they know not what they do". That guy looked at Jesus and said, "Lord, remember me when you come into your kingdom". Do you realize that? He believed right on the spot. Do you know how long it takes to become a Christian? Let me illustrate. How long does it take to snap your fingers? Let's all snap on the count of three. 1. 2. 3. That sounded cool. Let's do that just one more time. 1. 2. 3. That is how long. You can believe in Jesus that quickly. It doesn't take a year. It doesn't take a month. It doesn't take a week. It can happen in an instant. Maybe it has already happened to you. You have said, "I believe this". God can change you just like that. Just where you say, "I understand that Jesus loves me and he came to die on the cross for me".
That man was hopeless up to that point. But he found hope. Jesus says to him, "Truly, truly I say to you today you will be with me in paradise". You want to talk about being at the right place at the right time. Can you imagine how his heart must have leapt with joy? Have you lost hope tonight? We have all heard about the tragic suicide of comedian and actor Robin Williams. I am going to talk about that a little bit more tomorrow night. This is a man who lost hope and was so despondent despite his fame and fortune and despite all of the things that he had he ended his life. Have you lost hope? Maybe some of you have come in here and you have thought about suicide. Some of you have even attempted suicide. It has been said that man can live 40 days without food, three days without water, about eight minutes without air, but only one second without hope. Listen to me. Jesus Christ can give you hope tonight just like he gave to that thief on the cross 2000 years ago.
That guy had what we might call a deathbed conversion. You say, "I will wait until my deathbed and then I will believe. I will party and have fun. I will break all of the rules. Then when I am 10 minutes from death I will believe in Jesus". What makes you think you will have the luxury of a deathbed conversion? Sometimes death comes without warning. The Bible says, "It is appointed unto a man once to die, and then comes the judgment".
We are in a baseball stadium here tonight aren't we? I heard the story about two guys who were big baseball fans probably the biggest baseball fans in America. All they talked about was baseball. It was John and Josh. Baseball. Baseball. Baseball. They made a deal with each other. They said if one dies before the other, he would tell the other who was still on earth if there was baseball in heaven. Sure enough one of them died. John passed away in his sleep one evening. Josh was waiting for news. About a week went by. He hears the voice of John from the other side. John says, "I am here. It is fantastic". Josh says, "You have got to answer the question. Is there baseball in heaven"? John says, "I have got some good news and bad news about that Josh". "Yeah. What is the good news"? "The good news is there is baseball in heaven". Then Josh says, "What is the bad news". John says, "You are pitching Friday night".
That is a joke. Not even a funny joke. It illustrates how life can end unexpectedly. This could be your last opportunity to get right with God. I really want to talk about another man that was in many ways one of the most evil men who ever lived. He was a heavy duty sinner. The man I want to talk about murdered many people. He tortured others. He was not a member of La Cosa Nostra. He was not a made man or a Goodfella. He was just as bad if not worse. This man was known as Saul. He came from the town of Tarsus. Ironically Saul of Tarsus was a religious man. He was part of an elite religious group called the Sanhedrin. They were sort of like the supreme court of their day. They made rulings that affected the whole nation.
Saul made it his business to hunt down followers of Jesus and put them to death. By the way, persecution is alive and well in our world today. We have all heard about this group in Iraq called ISIS. They are hunting down Christians. Torturing them. Even crucifying them. It is hard to believe it is happening in the 21st century. When these ISIS terrorist group members find the home of a believer they put an N on the home in Arabic. It stands for Nazarene. Because these people follow the Nazarene.
Death for the believer is not the end. It is just a continuation of it in another place. Are you afraid to die? Death is going to come. The statistics on death are very impressive. One out of every one persons will die. That does not mean that Christians walk around with some kind of a death wish saying things like, "Man I hope I die today. That would really be cool". I don't think anyone loves life more than a Christian. Do you know what is great? We don't need drugs. We don't need alcohol to make life fulfilling. We have a relationship with God.