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I’m so glad to be able to recognize our church softball team this morning.  Several of you are church members and several took pity on us and decided to help our team out.  Would you all stand? Since you’re all here, I thought it would be fun to use some softball/baseball imagery to explore God’s Word together. See if you can finish these phrases: Keep your eye on the ___________.  I could have chosen to preach about focusing on what is important in life and that would have made for a great message. Make sure you’ve got your bases _____________.  I could have chosen to discuss priorities and personal responsibility and that would have been inspirational and challenging. I wasn’t anticipating it and he threw me a ______________.  I could have prepared a message about the curve balls life can bring our way and how to prepare for the unexpected and that would have been an appropriate message that anyone could apply to their life. It’s time to step up to the ___________.  I could have spoken about leadership and getting involved in causes that matter.  It would have made for a nice topic.  We all have an opportunity to step up to the plate and exercise our privilege to vote so there would have been an easy tie in to what is going on in our country. But I chose this phrase:  Three strikes and you’re _________.  Because while it may be true in a softball game, it isn’t true in the spiritual life.  I thought the greatest news I could share with you this morning is that no matter who you are, and no matter what you have or haven’t done or how many times you have or haven’t done something, God can and will forgive you!  Isn’t that awesome news? Silent Prayer If anyone knew anything about failure and disappointing someone you love, it was the disciple Peter.  He was a fisherman when Jesus found him.  He left his business and he and his partners followed Jesus. He was the first of the 12 to declare the truth about Jesus.  In Matthew 16:16 when Jesus looked at Peter and asked, “Who do you say I am?”  Peter boldly declared, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.”  It was that confession upon which Jesus said He would build His church.  Ding, ding, ding!  Peter had won final jeopardy.  He had gotten it right . . . that time. Then there was their last supper together. Jesus was explaining that he would have to be going soon. Peter didn’t quite get it.  He asked about it, and Jesus explained what he meant was that he was going where nobody on earth would follow him. Peter finally got the point; then he asked why he couldn’t follow.  “I’ll lay down my life for you.  I’ll go the distance for you and with you.” Peter said.  Then Jesus said something terrible to Peter: “Listen, the rooster won’t crow till you’ve betrayed me three times.”  Jesus was arrested and was headed toward his crucifixion.  After Jesus was arrested, Peter was sitting out in the courtyard keeping warm by the fire. Matthew 26 tells us that 69 Now Peter was sitting out in the courtyard, and a servant girl came to him. “You also were with Jesus of Galilee,” she said. 70 But he denied it before them all. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he said.  STRIKE ONE. 71 Then he went out to the gateway, where another girl saw him and said to the people there, “This fellow was with Jesus of Nazareth.” 72 He denied it again, with an oath: “I don’t know the man!” STRIKE TWO.  73 After a little while, those standing there went up to Peter and said, “Surely you are one of them, for your accent gives you away.” 74 Then he began to call down curses on himself and he swore to them, “I don’t know the man!” STRIKE THREE.  Immediately a rooster crowed. 75 Then Peter remembered the word Jesus had spoken: “Before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times.” And he went outside and wept bitterly. The worst part of regret, I think, is that you know when you’re doing what you shouldn’t be doing that it’s wrong and you’ll pay for it later.  When we say things of our sin like, “It just happened and before I knew it I was sucked in” we’re only trying to deceive ourselves or minimize our poor choices.  Sin doesn’t just “happen.”  Peter knew it and it left him devastated when he realized what he had just done. As Peter cried hot tears of regret, I wonder if his mind went to what Jesus would think.  I wonder if he contemplated what Jesus would do to him.  I wonder if he expected that Jesus would be so mad and angry that their relationship could never be, would never be as close as it had been.  He probably assumed he’d be removed from the inner circle.  He had blown it.  The whole “you shall become a fisher of men” thing that he had been apprenticing for, well, it was no longer even a viable option.  And now Jesus is being killed and Peter likely thinks it’s partially if not all his fault.  Why hadn’t he been faithful?  Why hadn’t he done something to stop it?  Why hadn’t he just been Jesus’ friend when his loyalty was challenged.  Peter, the Rock, as Jesus had nicknamed him, had crumbled.  And crumbed rocks don’t go back together . . . or do they? Peter represents people who know what it’s like to walk with Jesus.  They have walked closely with God at some time in their lives.  They have benefitted from seeing Jesus at work and learning His ways.  They’ve even had a few water walking experiences of their own as Peter did.  And then for some reason, they start to drift away.  Maybe they take God for granted.  Maybe their eyes and appetites just start craving for something other than righteousness.  Maybe they don’t even know the reason why, but little by little they     walk away.  Before they know it, they have denied even knowing Jesus by the way they live.  You know denial isn’t only about what you say . . . It’s about your whole life.  The choices you make, the way you spend your time, where you invest your money, the relationships you seek out, the way you talk to your kids, the secrets you keep . . . all of it says you either know Christ or you deny Him.  Thank God for the example of Peter’s life.  Three strikes, but was he out?  Not at all.  After His resurrection, Jesus appeared on the beach to Peter and the other disciples who were there fishing.  Lost without the direction of the Savior, they simply had gone back to what they knew; the sea and fishing.  Jesus did as He always does when someone is estranged from Him.  He went after them.  You know you don’t just “walk away” from Jesus?  He follows people!  Jesus asked Peter three times in this beach scene, “Do you love me?”  Three times Peter had publicly denied Jesus.  Three times Jesus gave Peter the opportunity to publicly affirm his love for the Savior.  You know, sometimes I don’t think we realize what we have until we lose it.  Once Peter had broken ranks with Jesus, I think the true devotion of his heart broke his heart.  Yes, he loved Jesus . . . deeply.  But when push came to shove, he had chosen himself. I believe it wasn’t until those desperate tears of regret and shame swept across his face that he realized the depth of his love for Jesus, but it looked like it was too late for any wrong to be made right. Church, it is never too late.  As long as you have breath, there is still time to answer the question, “Do you love me?”  Jesus tenderly reinstated Peter during that conversation.  Three strikes, but Peter wasn’t out.  He was back in the game.   I’d like to call your attention to another prominent Bible character.  His name is Paul.  He is famous because of his dramatic conversion, great preaching and boldness even in the face of persecution.  He was INFAMOUS however, prior to his conversion because of the horrible way he persecuted Christians.  He was a murderer.  He was voted least likely to love Jesus in high school.  People were afraid of him.  Acts 8:3 says, “But Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off men and women and put them in prison.” Yet God wasn’t repelled or repulsed by Saul’s actions.  His relentless love that He has for all of us, led Him to pursue Saul.  And when Saul was on his way to Damascus and was thinking about how he could hurt more Christians, God met Saul and Saul’s life was so dramatically changed that he had to have a new name to go along with his new understanding and new way of life.  Saul became Paul.  He didn’t just flip flop.  He was changed!  He went from being a persecutor of Christians to being persecuted for the faith he professed from that day to the rest of his life.  He wound up writing much of the New Testament! Paul represents another kind of person for us today.  Someone who has gone all out to try to do everything possible to get away from God and to repulse God.  Some might say he had sunk so low there was no hope or that he had out-sinned God’s grace.  You might think you are beyond the love and forgiveness of God.  You may think you’ve struck out one too many times and there is no hope for you to get back in the game. God wants you to know this morning that there is no abortion, no drug, alcohol or gambling addiction, no sexual sin, no embezzling of money, no lie or deception, no eating disorder, no cutting behavior, no gossip or slander, no thievery or any other sin or hang up that is beyond the love, grace, and forgiveness of God.  You can’t even cuss God beyond His love for you.  Whatever you’ve done, whoever you are, God has got you covered! He has you covered through forgiveness.  Forgiveness is powerful because even though you have struck out, forgiveness will put you back in the game.  How does forgiveness make it possible for us to stay on the team and to stay in the game?  Forgiveness gives us another batting opportunity because God is the Umpire.  You could argue He is the Originator of the phrase, “Location, Location, Location.” Where He puts our sins is key!  Isaiah 38:17 says, “In your love you kept me from the pit of destruction.  You have put all my sins behind your back.” Isn’t it awesome that when God moves our sins to a different location through forgiveness, two things happen?  One, as long as the sin is in front of God it is a barrier between God and us.  When God puts our sin behind His back, there is nothing to keep God from fully being able to embrace us.  The second thing that happens is that in this image, the sin being put behind God’s back means He isn’t looking at it anymore.  He isn’t counting it against us.  Not only does God put our sins behind His back, but He also puts them FAR AWAY.  Psalm 103:8-11 says, The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love. 9 He will not always accuse, nor will he harbor his anger forever; 10 he does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities. 11 For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; 12 as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.” He doesn’t treat us as our sins deserve.  Our sins shout, “Three strikes and you’re out!”  But God says, “Bring them to me and I’ll send them out of here!  You won’t be able to find them even with a GPS, when I’m done from them.  Google earth won’t be able to track them down!  If you think you can figure out how far the east is from the west, have fun trying to find your sin, but it will be impossible.” Why such drastic measures?  Wouldn’t on the other side of the world be far enough?  They must be completely separated from us and unable to be viewed because as children of God who experience God’s forgiveness, we aren’t identified as sinners.  We don’t wallow in what we’ve done.  We move on with our lives.  We “go and sin no more” like Jesus told the lady who was caught in adultery.  It is done and over when we confess our sins and experience God’s forgiveness.  There is no need to have a picture of our past sin hanging where we can review it.  We’re over it.  Look at your neighbor and say, “You’re over it.” Not only can you be over it, but God is over it.  He wants us to hear the surety of what has happened.  Confessed sin can never interrupt your relationship with God again. Behind the back, far away and the third location where God places confessed sin through His forgiveness is INTO THE DEEPEST SEA. This image is similar to the great distance between the east and west. It speaks of the impossibility of our sins ever being held against us again: they are non-recoverable. Some of the ocean depths can’t even be explored with all of our best and most sophisticated equipment.  It’s impossible.  When Micah records that God ‘will hurl all our sins into the depths of the sea’ (7:19c), he is telling us that God has thrown them beyond our reach. Think about it for a minute.  If the sins were simply throne into an ocean away from where the offense took place, the tide could easily wash them up again and turn them up on the shore.  But to plunge them into the depths of the sea where it is too deep for exploration, too deep for fishing, and too deep for dredging, we experience a permanent relief that whatever we’ve confessed is completely buried and won’t be brought up again.  God isn’t like we are sometimes when we like to bring up the past and recount ways people have hurt or disappointed us.  He doesn’t do that.  The Bible says, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”  Romans 8:1 If you have confessed your sin, God has forgiven you and won’t go deep sea diving to retrieve anything that has been taken care of. Location, location, location.  Confessed sins are behind God’s back, far away, and into the deepest sea because they are NAILED TO THE CROSS! Sometimes when we discipline our children, we suddenly have a change of heart.  We re-evaluate the consequence and we think it’s too tough.  We lesson the sentence or reduce the penalty to a stiff talking to and move on.  No one paid for the offense.  We just try to get them to learn from it.  Not so with God.  He is tough on sin.  He is never soft on sin.  Ever.  “For the wages of sin is death.”  Romans 6:23  Payment has to be made for sin.  Period.  God won’t change His mind about what disobedience costs.  He never elevates love above justice.  He doesn’t compromise His Word or His character.  But what He does is amazing. Instead of having us bear the awful weight and consequence of our sin which is eternal death, He did it Himself.  “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” How does eternal life come through Jesus Christ our Lord?  Because Jesus, the perfect, sinless Son of God took on our sin as it was nailed to Him on the cross.  II Cor. 5:21 “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” God tells us that when he forgave all our sin, cancelling all that stood against us, he did it by nailing it to the cross of Jesus Christ (Colossians 2:13,14). It was customary in the time of Jesus that when criminals were executed by crucifixion a list of the crimes they had committed was nailed above them on the cross. We know that the Roman governor, Pilate, had the sign ‘This is the King of the Jews’ nailed above Jesus. But in God’s mind and purpose, another list was nailed there: my list, and your list, and it was for that list that Jesus died. God nailed our list of sins to the cross of his Son. Because Jesus Christ took our place, bearing the entire penalty for our sin, God can forgive us! My sin, O the bliss of this glorious thought.  My sin not in part, but the whole is nailed to the cross and I bear it no more.  Praise the Lord.  Praise the Lord, O my soul! Location, location, location.  Confessed sins are behind God’s back, far away, and into the deepest sea, nailed to the cross and ultimately under the blood. The Bible gives us the costly requirement for God’s forgiveness: “Without the shedding of Blood, there is no forgiveness” (Hebrews 9:22). Bloodshed represents the ultimate sacrifice, the ultimate payment.  In the Old Testament, the continual sacrifices of unblemished lambs were required to satisfy God’s wrath and judgment. However, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, died on a Roman cross and became the Ultimate, once-and-for-all sacrifice for our sins. Jesus purchased God’s forgiveness on our behalf when he became the Lamb of God and died on the cross for you and me. “For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God” (1 Peter 3:18). “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace” (Ephesians 1:7). So, where are your sins?  Are they behind God’s back, far away, into the deepest sea, nailed to the cross and under the blood or are you still carrying around the guilt, shame, and bondage that come with unconfessed sin?  God has done all of the work necessary and has gone to great lengths to let you know that you can stay in the game-that he’ll take all of the foul balls you hit if you’ll bring them to Him.  The only thing that can be carried into eternity is unconfessed sin.  Location, location, location.  Eternity in heaven with God forever is available to anyone who will just confess their sin and ask God for forgiveness.  Those who carry their sin into eternity have a horrible and terrifying location awaiting them.  All the work God has done won’t amount to anything if you aren’t willing to have Him transfer the location of your sins. A Soapmaker, who was not saved, walked along the road with a preacher one day. He said to the preacher, “The gospel you preach has not done much good. There is still a lot of wickedness in the world, and wicked people, too.” Quietly they walked on. The preacher did not reply to his friend’s comment until they passed a dirty little child making mudpies in the gutter. With this before them, the preacher spoke, “Soap has not done much good in the world, I see; for there is still much dirt in the world, and many dirty people about.” “O, well, you know,” said the Soapmaker, “soap is only useful when it is applied.” “Exactly,” said the preacher, “so it is with the gospel we proclaim.”  You apply the gospel when you confess your sin and ask for forgiveness. In 1942, the New York Yankees and the Washington Senators played in the World Series. It was a very close series. At the end of six games it was tied at three games. The stadium was filled for the deciding game, played in Washington. They came to the ninth inning with the score tied at two. New York was put down in order and Washington came to bat. The home team screamed for one lone run which would win the series and the World Championship. The first two men made outs and it looked like extra innings. Then a player named Goslin came to the plate. Two strikes were called and then two balls. The crowd was watching every pitch. On the fifth pitch, Goslin stepped into the ball and slammed it to left center field. The crowd became delirious; it looked like a home run, but it hit six inches below the top of the wall and fell back into the playing field. Goslin was slowing down for a triple when the third base coach signaled him to try for an infield home run. He ran for home. The shortstop took the peg from left center, spinning to fire the ball to the catcher. Goslin slid into home in a cloud of dust, seemingly a split second before the tag. The umpire made a delayed call and finally as the dust cleared, he raised his right hand shouting, “You’re out!” The Washington fans were furious. Washington managers and players rushed out to argue the call. The umpire announced he would consult with the other umpires. After the four umpires conferred for a minute or two the umpire announced: “Ladies and gentlemen, the batter is out, because he didn’t touch first base!”  First base is salvation through faith in what Christ has done for you.  First base is having your sins forgiven and your slate wiped clean.  First base is having ongoing opportunities to bat even though you’ll still probably swing and miss or hit it into the trees.  You haven’t out-sinned God’s love and forgiveness.  You haven’t disappointed Him.  He’s not mad at you.  He loves you and He wants you to get back into the game. I encourage you to bow your head and listen to this song.  “Come As You Are.”
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