That is why Sunday after Sunday I declare that there is nothing you have ever done that is unforgivable. If you've been attending here for the past twenty-eight years, perhaps you're tired of hearing that phrase. I'll guarantee that there is someone here this morning who is hearing it for the first time. It's a liberating word. It gives encouragement, because that person is fearful that they've committed the unforgivable sin. That's what Satan wants to accomplish. He wants to enclose you in a maze of defeat. Jesus wants to liberate you and encourage you.

Third, this prophetic gift also provides a word of consolation. Another translation of this word would be to comfort. However, whenever a few people come together, there will always be someone who is hurting. In the sanctuary this morning, there are a number of broken hearts. Within this Christian fellowship, there must be the possibility of finding what William Barclay refers to as ". . . beauty for their ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, and the garment of praise for the spirit of their heaviness."

I must keep this in mind every time I step before you. The word may be a hard word of rebuke or discipline. That's part of prophetic utterance. But the primary purpose is to deal with the truth revealed to us in Scripture in a way that is upbuilding, encouraging, and consoling.

This summer I read two books that were very helpful to me as I personally struggle with this.

One is a book titled Deadly Detours by the late Bob Briner. Briner, at the very outset, notes the importance of truth and the high standards of God's Word that would underline the importance of each of the following topics. But he warns that, if the church of Jesus Christ becomes known primarily for its "culture wars" battle on these topics, we will minimize our possibility of reaching out in love to a hurting world; and we will self-destruct within our own communities by elevating matters of importance, but second-level importance, to eclipse the first level of importance item — conveying the love of God expressed in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, calling men, women and children to repentance and trust in a God who loves them and yearns to forgive them and give them a fresh start.

So through seven chapters of his book, he deals with what he calls seven "Deadly Detours": Squabbling Over Prayer in Public Schools; Making Jesus a Right Winger; Thwarting the Homosexual Agenda; Fighting Other Christians Over Doctrinal Purity; Shutting Down the Abortion Clinic; Cleaning Up Christian Television; and Fighting for Family Values. Now I dare not be misunderstood. The Bible speaks prophetically to each of these topics. And there are moments in which prophetic preaching speaks a word so firm that it produces martyrs. But the countenance of the prophetic preacher should be one of love for God and others, not anger and, even on the face of the one being burned at the stake, tears of a heart that yearns for the upbuilding, encouragement and consolation of others.

Another book I read was Blue Like Jazz written by Donald Miller and published by Thomas Nelson Publishers. It's a hot book among young people these days. Donald Miller, whom Christianity Today refers to as "Anne Lamott with testosterone," describes his evangelical upbringing to which he remains faithful. Yet for several weeks, he lived in what some of us would describe as a hippie commune of young people who had no understanding of the Gospel, none of the biblical mores. Instead, they were functioning in such an environment of free thinking and free sexual expression that, far from arguing with him about his viewpoints, they simply accepted him and showed him love that went far beyond any he had ever experienced in a Christian church or community. A chapter in his book is titled "Love." I'd love to read it to you in its entirety. How sad it is when people, confused, with no moral bearings on life, living with the limiting consequences of life with no restraints, actually model for the church that "unconditional love" that is supposed to be the bottom-line understanding of God's love for us and our motivation in mission.