I want to do something – as Monty Python used to say – “completely different”. A couple days ago I walked into one of my favourite coffee shops to buy some grinds and – after one thing lead to another – one of the managers asked me to review a new coffee making product! I can’t tell you how excited I was! I love writing, coffee, Keurig, and new gadgets, so this was perfect!
It (sort-of) fits with this blog’s mission too because our Christian worldview gives us more reason than anyone to take care of the planet God gave us. One of the ways we can do that is to think and act in environmentally sensitive ways. The Keurig K-Cup system, however, is very environmentally unfriendly. See here too. And here. And, ironically, here. So what to do? My answer has been to use a reusable coffee pod-system.
I love my coffee and I love my Keurig. It’s fun, fancy, super convenient, has a bazillion flavours, and the sounds it makes after I push the button gives me the illusion that I’m a fancy-schmancy barista. But there’s no getting around it – it’s the most wasteful and environmentally unfriendly way to make a cup of coffee. That’s why I’ve been exploring more eco-friendly options. So far I’ve tried three different reusable systems.
The KiennaCUP is definitely the worst of the bunch. It’s annoying to use, messy to clean, and still makes garbage by using a tea-bag-type system. On top of that, none of the three coffees I tried tasted very good (Columbian Supremo, Canadian Maple, & Hazelnut).
The system I’ve used for the longest time is the Keurig My K-Cup. It’s simple to use, easy to clean, and can use any type of grinds. I didn’t like it at first because the coffee was weak, but after some internet research and tweaking I was able to adapt it to make a decent brew. I’ve been happy with it for a long time.
I recently went to get some Mufferaw Jo from Equator Coffee Roasters Inc. and was asked to review a new, Canadian system called the EZ Way Pod Filter. It’s similar to Keurig’s My K-Cup but with two important differences. First, rather than having its own housing it fits into the existing K-Cup Holder, which is nice because it eliminates a step. Second, it can be pre-filled and stored, which might make bleary-eyed, pre-coffee mornings a little easier.
But, is it better than the Keurig My K-Cup? Here’s my comparative review:
- EZ’s system is a couple bucks cheaper than Keurig’s. Advantage: EZ.
EZ Way is a small, Canadian company from Trois-Rivieres, QC. Keurig is a huge, American company. Advantage: EZ (Go Canada!).
- Both are easy to use. Keurig has a twist lid while EZ uses tight silicone topper. Advantage: Tie.
- EZ doesn’t make me take apart my Keurig machine to use it, but its design means EZ’s filter basket has a 3mm smaller diameter than Keurig’s. It’s not much, but millimeters matter when you’re trying not to spill precious grinds. It also means that you fit less coffee. Advantage: Keurig.
- EZ’s filter basket has a much finer mesh than Keurig’s, therefore I didn’t have to adapt it to get a stronger flavour. However, it came out slower and the coffee was a little bit colder. Advantage: Tie.
EZ’s storage system is probably a cool idea if you buy a few of them and fill them in advance. However, since I only had one, it was quite a pain to clean (literally, since the filter was quite hot) so I could make a second cup for my wife. Advantage: Keurig (Unless you buy more than one, then Advantage: EZ.)
- Because of EZ’s smaller size and extra fine filter, it is also harder to clean than Keurig’s. I had to rinse and rinse and brush and scrub to get all the coffee out, something I never had to do with Keurig’s. Advantage: Keurig.
- I can’t comment on EZ’s longevity since I’ve only had it for a short time, but its open design and silicone topper don’t feel as sturdy as Keurig’s hard plastic system. Potential Advantage: Keurig.
- But how’s the coffee?! If I hadn’t adapted the Keurig My K-Cup, EZ would win hands down. However, with the fix, they are about the same. Advantage: EZ.K Cups will always be more convenient than a reusable system, but not by much. I’ve made the switch and I’m not going back. Whichever one you use, I hope you ditch the K-Cups and switch to a reusable, eco-friendlier system right away. It will help the environment and you’ll get to experience a lot more types of coffee that aren’t available for the K-Cup system.
So there you go. K Cups will always be more convenient than a reusable system, but not by much. I’ve made the switch and I’m not going back. Whichever one you use, I hope you ditch the K-Cups and switch to a reusable, eco-friendlier system right away. It will help the environment and you’ll get to experience a lot more types of coffee that aren’t available for the K-Cup system. I’d love to hear some feedback from you about this article. How do you make coffee? Which system do you like? Did you agree with my review? Should I do more things like this? Let me know by e-mail or in the comments section on the blog. Thanks for listening!
We’re getting back into the Gospel of Mark today, but as we step back into it – into Chapter 4 – I want to do it by way of a mini-series, of hopefully only two or three sermons, about something that is very near and dear to my heart – meeting God through bible-reading and devotional journalling. I’ve preached on “how to study your Bible” a few times, but this is different. This is about listening to God speak to you, individually, every day. This isn’t about studying God through His book, but listening to God as He speaks to you from His book.
God Still Speaks
My premise today is that God still speaks, and we need to be careful to listen. I hope you can appreciate what I just said. I hope that fills you with awe, and wonder, and hope and fear. “God still speaks.” I don’t mean “God wrote the bible, and we need to read it” or “I’m preaching so you better listen to me because God’s speaking.” No, what I mean is that “God Himself still communicates with His people, in special ways, on an individual level.”
The Creator of everything – the One who holds all things together – who writes history, knows the beginning and the end, formed the oceans, the moon, the stars, the mountains and even you yourself in your mother’s womb. I believe, with every fibre of my being, that He still communicates with people on an individual basis, in special ways, today.
Don’t Misunderstand Me
I realize that what I have just said is an incredible statement. One that can be misinterpreted and turned into something very dangerous. I’m not saying that God is giving new Bible books to people. No, we believe that the providence of God has given us the full counsel of scripture – what theologians call “the closed canon of scripture.”
I’m also not saying that God always speaks audibly to everyone. Clearly, that’s not the case. There’s no biblical reason that says God wouldn’t speak audibly today, and we certainly have enough proof in scripture that He has. Over the course of the 1000s of years of history the Bible covers, God speaking audibly only happens a handful of times, so clearly this is the exception, not the rule. And even then, it’s not always clear that it’s not just an “inner voice” or a “mental impression”. (Got Questions)
What I’m saying is that if a Christian is paying attention to God, He will communicate with the believer regularly and specifically.
God speaks “Regularly”, meaning that we’re talking something that happens all the time – in daily devotions, during special prayer times, during times of crises, during worship times, or after asking for wisdom and guidance.
God speaks “Specifically” meaning that it’s He doesn’t just speak in general principles, but gives unique and clear answers to current and relevant situations that believers face every day. He may point to a principle, or to a general rule, but it will apply to the specific need in the believer’s life.
Only Special People?
I’m not sure that most Christians really believe that God speaks regularly or specifically though. I haven’t met many who do, anyway. Sure, they believe that Jesus died for their sins, and that they need to be renewed, and that God gives really good principles for living, and even listens to our prayers… and even answers our prayers. But I don’t know many Christians who really believe that communication with God is a two way street – or have experienced it.
There are some Christians who will say that God still speaks today, but just not to them. God speaks to foreign missionaries, and people like Mother Theresa, but He doesn’t speak to everyone… does He? I believe that He does! I believe that God’s voice is available all the time, that He is sowing seeds all the time, and that it is not He who has stopped speaking, but we who have stopped listening.
We read stories like Moses and the burning bush, or the young boy Samuel hearing God when he was in bed, or Job hearing God’s 70 questions to him, or the appearance of the angel to Mary, or the tongues of fire coming on the people at Pentecost, or Paul’s Macedonian dream… and we think in our heart of hearts… “Why doesn’t God come like that anymore? If I could just have that kind of experience, then my life would be changed!” My message today is that the experienceyou are longing for is available today, and you can truly hear from God regularly and specifically, if you are willing to listen for Him.
That’s where my passion for this topic is coming from. I’ve experienced the difference in my life that comes from hearing God speak regularly and specifically in my life, and I want that for you.
Imagine how radically different your life and ministry would be if you heard from God regularly and He was addressing specific issues in your life. Imagine how different the churches, families, marriages, and communities around would be if people were coming to God for direction, listening to what God was saying, and then obeying Him in what He told them to do! What a world this would be!
Access Isn’t The Problem
I believe that God is always speaking, but most don’t listen. It’s like a radio station. It’s always on, the waves are in the air, but most people aren’t tuned in. Or, to use an illustration from Jesus, God is constantly sowing seeds, throwing them everywhere, easy to find, but people are not allowing that seed to penetrate the soil of their hearts, let it germinate in their souls, and grow and bear fruit in their lives.
We live in a time that is literally called the “information age”. We are inundated with messages all the time. We can access information on anything, at any moment, almost anywhere. If I want to know the capital city of Uganda, I can pull it up on my phone while waiting for the bus. If you can’t remember the name of a song, there is software that you can hum the tune into and it will tell you what song you are humming. People anywhere in the world can connect with people anywhere else in the world instantly!
And we who are seeking God’s will, and who want to hear from Him, not only have access to him in prayer and Christian friends, pastors and counsellors, but we have access to more Bibles, commentaries, preachers, teachers, schools, retreat centres, nature walks, Christian book stores, internet sites, blogs, songs, radio stations, than any culture in history. We can pray everywhere about anything. There are dozens of churches and pastors and elders and Christian counsellors around to ask questions of, and a zillion other resources that can help us understand God’s word.
We have more time-saving devices and technological help than any generation before us, but we are busier and more stressed out than ever. Our work has become easier and more efficient, but we remain anxious and overwhelmed. God has given us the time to be able to do exactly what He wants us to do, and the energy to do it – and access to Him for the wisdom, resources and help to get it right – but our society is more distracted, relationally distant and addicted than ever!
What’s the deal? It’s because we aren’t connected to God every day. We are lost, and at the end of our means and abilities, and instead of turning to God for help, comfort and sustenance – we go elsewhere. We get busier.
God voice can be heard all the time, everywhere. He speaks externally to our eyes and ears, and internally to our hearts, minds and spirits. The question is simply… are we listening? The need to hear His voice and feel His presence is desperate, and we all feel it, so then, why don’t we do it?
The Parable of the Four Soils
Please open up to Mark 4:1- 20:
Again he began to teach beside the sea. And a very large crowd gathered about him, so that he got into a boat and sat in it on the sea, and the whole crowd was beside the sea on the land. And he was teaching them many things in parables, and in his teaching he said to them: “Listen! Behold, a sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seed fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured it. Other seed fell on rocky ground, where it did not have much soil, and immediately it sprang up, since it had no depth of soil. And when the sun rose, it was scorched, and since it had no root, it withered away. Other seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it, and it yielded no grain. And other seeds fell into good soil and produced grain, growing up and increasing and yielding thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold.” And he said, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”
And when he was alone, those around him with the twelve asked him about the parables. And he said to them, “To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside everything is in parables, so that “they may indeed see but not perceive, and may indeed hear but not understand, lest they should turn and be forgiven.”
And he said to them, “Do you not understand this parable? How then will you understand all the parables? The sower sows the word. And these are the ones along the path, where the word is sown: when they hear, Satan immediately comes and takes away the word that is sown in them. And these are the ones sown on rocky ground: the ones who, when they hear the word, immediately receive it with joy. And they have no root in themselves, but endure for a while; then, when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately they fall away. And others are the ones sown among thorns. They are those who hear the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches and the desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and it proves unfruitful. But those that were sown on the good soil are the ones who hear the word and accept it and bear fruit, thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold.”
I know that there have been times in my life where I have chosen not to listen, been too distracted to let it take root, or allowed negative thinking or worldly gain to become more important than God’s voice — and there have been times when I have listened very carefully. And I can tell you that during those times when I really want to hear from God, He has never let me down, and is always there to tell me something, show me something, or let me experience something that tells me more about who He is, explains something I’m going through, or where He simply allows me to know that He is near and draws me closer to Him.
But that doesn’t happen when I allow my heart to get hard. And I believe, based on scripture, the hardness or softness of our hearts is based on the choices that we all make.
How Does a Heart Harden?
Hardness of Heart is something that happens as a result of our decisions and by the will of God. Both are present in scripture. When a person’s heart gets hard, two things are happening. First, the individual is rejecting the Word of God. They have sinful habits or attitudes like pride, hatred, lust, addiction, gossiping and it produces a condition where their hearts are not as soft towards God. While at the same time God is allowing this to happen as a consequence of their sinful attitudes. Their hard heart is their decision, and God is allowing it to happen. Let me read you a few scriptures.
In Hebrews 3:8 we read an exhortation from God saying, “…do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion, on the day of testing in the wilderness.” Here, God is saying that just like the Israelites wandering in the desert, our own bad attitudes, frustrations and grumbling about our situation can harden our hearts towards God.
A couple verses later Hebrews 3:13 we read, “But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called ‘today,’ that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” Before it was our attitudes, but here, our decision to sin causes the further hardening of our hearts.
Both of these imply that the hardening of our hearts… or from the parable, the condition of our soil, is a choice we make.
Our desire for sin allows satanic birds to land in our hearts and steal away what God is trying to say before it ever really reaches their ears. Our lack of listening to God means we are probably listening to other voices – and that allows anxiety and fear to take over as the primary voice in our life. Or, our hearts move from loving God to loving the world and we start to believe the “deceitfulness of riches and the desire for other things enters in” and we are no longer listening to Jesus who says, “…one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” (Luke 12:15) and our soil gets harder and God’s words about simplicity, generosity, and storing treasures in heaven don’t take root.
Confusing Verses in the Middle
Which helps us understand the somewhat confusing verses that come in between the parable and the explanation in verses 11-12, which I want to look at first. It says,
“And he said to them, ‘To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside everything is in parables, so that ‘they may indeed see but not perceive, and may indeed hear but not understand, lest they should turn and be forgiven.’”
What is Jesus saying? And why is it here? He seems to be saying that He tells these simple stories, these parables, no so that people will understand and get saved… but so they won’t understand and they won’t get saved! What does that mean?
Well, this goes right back to the condition of our hearts. We’ve all asked the question, “Well, if God really wants to make Himself known, why doesn’t He just show up in the sky? Write a big message on the moon, or take over all the tv’s and show us that He’s there. Make the ocean freeze over, or turn the Rocky Mountains upside down or something. Why doesn’t He make it obvious?”
What Jesus is saying here is part of the answer. Jesus says that the reason that God doesn’t do these things is to show the conditions of people’s hearts. To those who are listening, and who want to hear, and want a saving relationship with Him, His Word is available loud and clear! For them, these parables unveil truth, open up mysteries, change their lives, and let them know God better. But to those who are like the Pharisees, with hard, rebellious hearts, these simple stories are mysterious, confusing and frustrating.
Think of it this way. It’s like going to a 3D movie. Imagine if some of the people knew it was 3D and got the glasses, but others didn’t. For those with the glasses – the eyes to see – the movie would be jaw dropping, beautiful and interactive – a great experience. They would tell their friends, and would want to go back and see it again! But for those who did not get the glasses, who didn’t have the eyes to see – their experience of the same movie would be blurry and confusing and they would walk out complaining, confused and want their money back. Same movie, but only some had the eyes to see.
I believe that today, the movie is playing all the time… God is speaking all the time… but He does in a way that expresses the condition of a person’s heart. Only those humble hearts that desire His voice… quiet minds that want to listen… repentant hearts that know they have done wrong… broken people who know they need mending… lost people who know they need finding… sinful people who are desperate for cleansing… only they have the soft heart to listen.
That’s why Jesus speaks in parables and why God wants us to come to Him humbly. It shows Him, and us, the condition of our hearts.
Which Soil are You?
But there’s not just one condition of our hearts – and not just one way that our hearts get hard. In Jesus parable there are four kinds of soil. That’s an amazing thought. Even though Jesus is the sovereign Son of God, with power over every atom in creation, He does not take over our freedom to make a choice. He allows us to choose. He opens the door, and invites us to walk through. He sets out the food, and invites us to eat. He brings out the signed adoption papers, but asks us to put our name on the line. He sows the seed, but we are the ones who control the condition of our soil… and there are four types of responses.
1. The No-Growth Response
First there will be the No-Growth response. There are people who will walk around the gospel and the message of salvation, who will have the scriptures and the love of God available to them, who will have access to the voice of God… but they will not listen. Verse 15, “And these are the ones along the path, where the word is sown: when they hear, Satan immediately comes and takes away the word that is sown in them.”
This has less to do with the birds and more about the condition of the soil. God speaks something to them. either through a person, a book, a song, a billboard, or into their heart, their mind or their spirit… , something that specifically address their deepest need, that tells them exactly what they need to hear to find peace and joy and hope… and as soon as they hear it, even though it is absolute truth that can change their lives forever… they have a hardened shell of emotional or intellectual barriers that simply won’t let God’s voice in. Their wills are set against repentance. They may hear it, but there is no way that they are going to change their minds, or turn around and go the other way with their lives. So the seed bounces off and goes nowhere. They outright dismiss the wisdom and guidance of God.
You can hear these folks, and perhaps you’ve even done this in your mind. A truth comes in like “You need to put that down… you need to admit your wrong and ask forgiveness… you need to submit to that authority… you need to soften your heart… you need to be generous with that blessing…” and immediately it’s countered with “NO! That’s mine! I don’t want to! I earned that! It’s their fault! I need it! That’s crazy! That’s too hard!” And our hard heart causes God’s voice to bounce right off, the seed takes no root, and no effect happens at all.
This is most often what happens when unbelievers hear the Gospel message, but their hearts are hard towards God. They won’t listen to the Gospel. But this also happens to Christians who are caught in habitual sin or are distant from prayer and reading their bibles. God’s voice gets quieter until it has no effect. And it happens so gradually to believers that sometimes they don’t even notice! They don’t realize they’re ignoring God. He’s been speaking, but they’ve been tuned out.
What does one do about this? This requires a miracle, so we must pray. No matter how much seed we scatter on dry ground, it won’t take root until the rains come. We must pray that God sends rain. If you sense your heart getting hard, then pray and ask others to pray for you. If you know someone who has a hard heart, who won’t listen to God, who is falling away and is despising the word of God… the only response is prayer. No matter what you say, it won’t penetrate. Only God can change a hard heart into a soft one.
2. The Shallow Growth Response
Second is the Shallow-Growth response. These are the ones to whom the voice of God is like seeds “…sown on rocky ground: the ones who, when they hear the word, immediately receive it with joy. And they have no root in themselves, but endure for a while; then, when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately they fall away”
So God is speaking, and these people hear what He says. Their soil isn’t dry and hard, but it’s full of unhelpful things. At first, God’s message is very exciting to them, but it doesn’t go deep. They hear of Jesus dying on the cross for their sins… but they don’t repent of their sins. They hear that God has a plan for their life, but they don’t make Him their Lord. Their love for Him doesn’t captivate their wills, change the way they see life, reorient their hearts, and put them onto a totally new path. They are emotionally affected, or intellectually stimulated, but it doesn’t impact the rest of their life. They don’t grow in maturity. For them, a relationship with God is about what they get from Him… not about knowing Jesus as their Lord, Saviour and Friend.
These are the folks that are “born again” at a revival, or turn to God during a tough time in their life, or they feel something during a powerful moment of someone sharing with them… and they are interested in a time, but it doesn’t go anywhere. They never get involved in a church. Or if they go to church, and they stay on the periphery. They don’t share their burdens or sins or temptations with others, and never go deep with the Christians around them. Their prayer life is scattershot, their bible reading is sparse, and when they do pray it’s more like a list for Santa Clause, or like a note to the suggestion box, telling God what they want and don’t want, rather than the deepening of a relationship with someone who loves them.
And so when tough stuff happens they don’t have a substantial relationship with Jesus which can sustain their spirit. They never anchored themselves to Him, and are still adrift. They don’t have the answers to tough questions like “Why does God let bad things happen?” and “What do I do when I’m tempted?” or “Does God still love me when I sin over and over?”, or someone starts to mock them, or challenge their faith… they don’t know what to do. So, they fall away out of guilt, or shame, or fear. God isn’t saying what they want to hear, so they go back to the voices they used to listen to… and their spirits shrivel up.
This happens to a lot of church people, and most people I know who claim to be Christian are in this position. They like the idea of God’s love and forgiveness, but not of His wrath, judgement and requirement of obedience. Being a real Christian becomes too demanding for them. Jesus asks for too much. He wants full commitment, but the cost is too high. They were fine when it was about being saved and going to heaven, but when Jesus starts asking them to give up their idols, their addictions, their comfort, their relationships… it’s too much. They love being forgiven by Jesus… but granting forgiveness is another thing. So they say no.
So they come to church, sing the songs, but when anything tough comes, they walk away – join another church that requires less of them and talks less about sin, they stay home for a few weeks, or quit coming altogether. And they form a Jesus in their own image that does things the way they want him to.
How do we combat this problem with having soil that is too shallow? The answer is commitment. We need to commit ourselves wholeheartedly to God. Fish or cut bait. No lukewarm faith. In or out. It means going all in with Jesus as our Saviour and our Lord and our God. Not dancing on the outsides in cultural Christianity, or religious feel-goodness… but saying to God, “I’m all yours and I will do whatever is necessary to obey you!”
Have you made that commitment yet? Is Jesus your Lord? Your Boss? Your Commander? Combat shallow faith by committing wholeheartedly to Jesus.
3. The Stunted Growth Response
The third response are those who have Stunted-Growth. This is where God speaks, and is received, and their heart is affected, and they want change… but they have a divided mind. They are seeking to worship two gods, live two lives, have two sets of priorities, and it kills their faith.
These are the ones who Jesus says the voice of God is “…sown among thorns. They are those who hear the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches and the desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and it proves unfruitful.”
These people become a large plant, they have deep roots, emotional faith, intellectual faith, good standing in the church, and may even have a regular prayer life. They really try to listen to God… but their heart is divided. Their trying to grow two things at once in their soil – fruit and thorns – and hoping they will coexist.
They have worries and concerns about all the other things in their life other than the kingdom of God. They want financial security, a good job, comfortable living, a good reputation, lots of friends, an easy life, new things… or something else they value as much as their relationship with God, so they forfeit times of spiritual growth so to ensure they get it.
If you ask them about their faith, and they can tell you their testimony, when they were saved and baptised, and all about the scripture they read that week. And with the same energy, though usually more, they can just as tell you all about their job, their boat, their stock options, retirement plans, sports teams, tv shows, the clothes in their closet, the car in their shed, favourite hobbies, exercise routines… and all these other desires choke out the priority of hearing God’s Word. They are distracted by these other good things, and they lose out on the greatest thing.
Yes, they have deep roots, but when it comes to bearing fruit, they can’t. Lots of height, lots of depth… no fruit. This is another group of Christians I meet in the churches I’ve pastored. People that can quote bible verses and attend every event, but they don’t share their faith with anyone. If you ask them for a story of something God has done in their life, the stories they tell are decades old – because they haven’t seen fruit in many years.
They are nice, but they don’t sacrifice their time for others. They are happy enough, but they don’t spread joy. They sing songs and serve in church, but there is no passion in their hearts. They give out of their excess, but never at great cost to themselves. Their time is divided between their worldly interests and the Kingdom of God, and if push comes to shove, the Kingdom comes in second. Their money and energy are tied up in gathering toys or building worldly security, so it cannot serve God’s purposes, and they bear no fruit.
They will attend a dozen business meetings and talk about whether to spend 50 or 100 dollars on something… but there is nothing in their life that God is using to change their neighbourhood. They will get elected as teachers, deacons and elders because they’ve been around, know their Bibles, and are willing to take the position… but they have not borne fruit, are overwhelmingly dispassionate about ministry, and skate over the surface of everything they are involved in. They don’t prepare for teaching, or meetings, or anything because after all “it’s just the kids, it’s just small group, it’s just the church”… and all the people they affect are equally dispassionate… because the church follows their leaders.
Their branches grow high for all to see… they have roots in God and will be saved in the end… but they bear no fruit because they have two loves – God and the world. Whenever God tries to steer them towards Kingdom things, in their hearts the Kingdom is put at the same level as the world, and the voice of God is choked out.
What must we do to solve this? To have our priorities straight. Jesus said it this way,
“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”(Matthew 6:19-21)
“But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” (Matthew 6:33)
“I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance, and how you cannot bear with those who are evil, but have tested those who call themselves apostles and are not, and found them to be false. I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name’s sake, and you have not grown weary. But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent.” (Revelation 2:2-5)
“I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.” (Revelation 3:15-17)
It is not that we ignore material things, but they must come after Kingdom things. Our anxieties and worries are not to be ignored, but they must be seen in the light of our faith. Our other pursuits may be of value, but they must come second place to the kingdom. Our other interests are often gifts from God, but they can be used by Satan to distract us from His voice, and become so important to us that we are unwilling to obey what God wants from us.
Jesus says in John 15 that God prunes us so that we will bear more fruit. But if we love the world too much, we will not submit to that pruning – we won’t let go of the things that are stopping us from bearing fruit – and we will become a dead branch.
4. The Full Growth Response
Let’s end on the good news. The Full-Growth response. “But those that were sown on the good soil are the ones who hear the word and accept it and bear fruit, thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold.” (vs 20)
I hope that today, you are able to say that you are fertile ground, accepting the seeds that God is saying casting onto your heart. I hope you’re tuned into his station. It is my deep prayer that you are receptive, listening, not distracted, and soft enough to embrace what He is saying and do what He is asking you to do.
That’s my prayer for my life. That I would hear God’s word, accept it readily, and then go out and bear much fruit. The only way that I, or anyone, is going to be able to be able to hear the words “well done my good and faithful servant”, is if we are willing to give it all up for His sake. To listen and obey. To till the soil of our hearts and be open to whatever He desires.
And over the next couple weeks, I hope to give us a tool to be able to do that.
Have you ever had a bad week? I had a tough week this week, and I’m sure that some of you did as well. Holy Week is a tough week for Christians. There’s a lot on the calendar, a lot of emotional ups and downs, and of course there always seems to be a stronger spiritual opposition. Maybe you sensed it too. As you tried to concentrate on God, or enjoy time with your family, things seemed to go wrong. Everything was a bit more tense, a little more difficult, and a little more emotional. I’ve been in a funk all week long, and I’m sure some of you know how I feel. It’s not a sin to have a tough week though. The question is: What to do when we have one?
A Little Perspective
As a Christian I believe that God is in control, that He takes care of all things, knows what He is doing, and that He loves me. I believe that from the core of my being. But during a bad week, that belief gets challenged. When things don’t go my way, other things get in the way, stuff goes from bad to worse, it’s sometimes hard to remember that God is in control. But my faith tells me that God has a plan and that this is part of it.
And then, I pull myself from my navel-gazing and take a look around at the rest of the world and try to put my troubles into perspective.
I read of people in other countries who are fighting for their lives, as their “leader” sends troops to shoot and bomb his own people… while in my country, the elected leaders are arguing about how to make my life better. Countries around the world are literally going bankrupt and millions of people are out of work… and I have an amazing job, surrounded by wonderful people, in the greatest country in the world.
I watch news coverage of earthquakes, tsunamis, floods, mudslides, heat-waves and tornadoes…. And I’m complaining because spring hasn’t come quickly enough. There are thousands of people dying every day because they don’t have access to clean water and basic medical supplies… and I have access to clean water at the turn of a tap and universal health care. People around the world are starving to death… and I’m overweight and because I eat too much. And then, I start to think about the problems of abortion, human trafficking, rape, murder, wars, and then I turn on the news and see that this week commemorates the 1 year anniversary of the Boston Bombing… oh yeah… terrorism.
Now, instead of feeling better, I feel worse. Now I’ve compounded my week’s frustration with sadness, confusion, powerlessness and a huge pile of guilt. Instead of this new perspective helping me feel better about how much better off I am, I now feel besieged — overwhelmed by the problems of the world. I don’t know where to even start praying, let alone helping. Who do I pray for first? Who do I help first? What is God doing? Why is there so much evil in the world?
Reactions to Evil
Have you ever felt that way? Ever had a bad week where it all piles up like that? What do you do? Here’s a few ways that people go:
Some people go the way of the ostrich. They bury their heads in the sand and pretend that bad things don’t happen. All negative is in their minds, so they change their minds. Evil is merely a perception, so they change what they’re looking at. They are confronted with something they don’t like and say to themselves, “I don’t want to think about that”.
They’re told that if they don’t change their habits, their health will suffer. A storm is coming and everyone is warned to get prepared and take shelter. A friend does something foolish and is in trouble and needs help. Their solution is to turn on the tv, watch their show, and order a pizza. If they ignore it long enough, maybe it will go away.
Some go the way of the lemming and just keep walking. They’re broke and lost, their relationships are falling apart, they’re about to lose their job, the world is in crisis, but they’re “making believe” that it’s not and just keep walking. It doesn’t matter that there’s a cliff at the end, they’re pretending there isn’t. They’ll keep going to the mall, but just use the other credit card. They won’t tell anyone and maybe it’ll work itself out. They know it’s dangerous but they want to live the same life they lived yesterday and act as if everything is ok.
Others go the way of the spider and try to catch as many people in their web as they can. They love to suck people in and spread the drama. If their life is falling apart, then so must everyone else’s around them. If they have that bad week, it becomes all-consuming for them.
They Facebook and tweet about it – usually some passive aggressive attention grabber like these ones I found online:
- “Wow, some things really make you find out who your real friends are…”
- “I’m fed up with the people who like to feed on gossip and like to spread rumour about stuff that isn’t true… stop doing it! You all definitely know who you are.”
- “I should have known better.”
Then they look for other miserable people with similarly miserable stories and eat ashes together. Soon no one else exists unless they are willing to talk about their issues. Every conversation is steered towards them. Every silver lining has a cloud. They infect everyone around them with their dread. They spread the lie that they have been abandoned… no friends, no family, no God, no hope. And beckon others to join their hopelessness. The ironic thing about these folks is that they will talk to everyone about their problems except God.
On the other side of that coin are those who think they are Superman. Something goes wrong, and they are compelled to take up the fight. They join support groups and picket lines, and sponsor a child. They go on a diet and start exercising while changing their spending habits, getting a hair-cut, starting that hobby they’ve wanted to try, and updating their resume so they can get a better job. They ramp up their recycling habits, get politically active, and start a blog to express their opinions and feelings. They write letters and plan a trip overseas to join the protests. All good stuff, but in their mind they’re thinking: if God won’t do save these people, then I will!
And because you asked, I’ll tell you what I do with this kind of week. I do a little of everything. It’s not the end of the world for me, and certainly not the end of my faith, but I spend a little time eating ashes and moping about life… whining to my wife and a few friends that will listen… but I also keep talking to God about it. I also make plans and decisions to try to improve things, but I also remember that I’m not my own saviour. I stick my head in the sand a bit and watch some TV, but not nearly as much as I used to. If there’s one way I lean, it’s toward the lemming – I just keep going. Hopefully as much as an act of faith that God will work things out, rather than an abandonment to my fate (though there’s some of that too).
A Mature Reaction
One thing that’s changed over the years is that when I am confronted with evil, I’ve learned to turn to God. There are still times that I forget, but God has helped me to see that I can have a very tough week, and instead of having it push me away from God, it causes me to press harder into Him.
It’s taken a long time, and a lot of very poor reacting, but when I am confronted by something bad, I’ve learned to understand what Paul is talking about in Philippians 4:11-13 where he says,
“I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”
How? How was Paul able to say that? How is Paul able to “be content”? He’s not sticking his head in the sand and denying his problems. He’s not just moving forward hoping it will all get better. He’s not drawing people into his drama and spreading misery. He’s not trying to save himself in his own strength… he’s “content”! Where does that come from?
Let’s look at another scripture to get a clue about that. Let’s read from 2 Corinthians 12:7-10,
“So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
Do you see that? Paul knows that God sent something difficult into his life, on purpose… “a messenger of Satan to harass” him. And he says he knows why. To keep him from becoming conceited. There was a purpose to the evil he was facing every day.
He asked God to get rid of it. Why? Because only God can do that. But God said to him, “Paul, I’ve given you grace… undeserved favour… and it is exactly what you need. It is sufficient for you. I want you to be perfected, Paul. I’m giving you something that will show you my power, that will help you, that will give you greater access to me. My power, for you, is made perfect, in weakness.”
You see, we are not the ones who sustain our spirits. We are not the ones who hold onto God. He is the one who holds on to us. It’s not about us reaching deep down and finding more strength, but all about knowing that God is strong enough. It’s not about us being smart enough to find our way out of bad situations, but about us being humble enough to accept what God is doing and trust Him to guide us through it. It’s not about trying to rally enough willpower to cheer ourselves up – to fake it until we feel it. No, when we are overwhelmed with concerns, needs, fears, pain, anxiety, or hunger, the answer isn’t to look inward, but to lean more heavily on Him.
If you’ve been with God for a long time, then you know what I’m learning what Paul means when he says “When I am weak, then I am strong.”
I don’t have a lot of money… that gives God more room to work miracles of provision.
I don’t have a very good attitude… that means that whatever joy I have comes straight from God.
I don’t feel strong and healthy, and my body fails me… that means that whatever can accomplish, God gets the credit because He has given me strength.
I don’t feel confident in my abilities – in fact, more often than not I feel completely out of my depth… that means that in order for anything good and meaningful to happen, God HAS to show up and work miracles.
“When I am weak, then I am strong”… because when I think I’m strong, I’m actually only working out of my own limited abilities instead of God’s unlimited resources. My weakness and incapacities allow me to have a front seat to see what God is capable of doing, often despite my weakness and failures. That’s a very encouraging thought.
Can We Be Sure?
But how can we be sure that God is going to come through? That He hasn’t forgotten me? That He has our best in mind? How can we be sure that the bad things in our life are gifts of grace and not just God being mean or punishing me? How do I know that God is good?
I think some of you need to hear this today. You need to be reminded of the promises that the Bible makes to you about why you can have a bad day, a bad week, a bad month, a bad year, and you feel like junk, like a failure, like a nobody, powerless or dirty, beyond help or hope. You need to be reminded about how we can be sure that God is good, and that He has the best interests of His children at heart – because you don’t feel like that right now.
I want to spend some time going through one more set of verses that remind us who you and I are in the eyes of God. Today is Easter Sunday, which is the last day of a week the church has set aside to commemorate Passion Week. We remembered Palm Sunday, the day when people celebrated Jesus as their coming king – only to turn on Him on Good Friday. We remember the crucifixion, death, and burial of Jesus Christ, as the most important event in history. And we celebrate the resurrection of our Saviour Jesus Christ. We do that every Sunday morning all year long, but it is appropriate for us to do it in a special way today.
Holy Week reminds us of the love Jesus has for us, how special we are to Him, and how He demonstrated that love in the most powerful way. When you have a bad day, and you start to wonder what God is doing and whether God cares anymore, this is where I want you to go: Romans 8:22-38.
The Source of Hope
These are the words of a suffering servant named Paul. These are the words of someone who has had a very, very bad week. These are words of a prisoner, a cast-away, one who has been beaten, rejected, abused and insulted in the name of Jesus. Who has watched his friends turn their backs on him, seen his faithful servants fall away, and has been living an incredibly difficult life.
“For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first-fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.” (v. 22-23)
See how he frames the problem. Our eyes are seeing nothing but bad stuff. That’s what we’ve been talking about. Creation is groaning in pain. Nations are groaning in pain. Families and individuals, groan in pain. We ourselves, we who know God, we’re groaning because we’re not with Him yet.
We can’t wait for the time when we are free of the mess and sin of our world, free from temptation, and the curse’s effect on our bodies. Free from the wars of this world, and the wars within us.
“For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.” (vs 24-25)
That’s the difference between we who are saved and those who are not. We have hope. Hope that one day, by the grace of God and the work of Jesus Christ, we will no longer be groaning, but will be fully redeemed. We do not fully see it yet, but we are waiting for it. It’s hard, but every day we pray, and read our bibles, and hang around other believers, keeping our eyes on the hope that we haven’t seen yet. We know there’s more. It’s hard to remember sometimes, and even harder to see, but we know deep in our hearts that everything that we see around us isn’t all there is. There is far, far, far more to life.
“Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.” (Vs 26-27)
“Likewise”, it says, “the Spirit helps us.” In other words, the Spirit of God Himself is groaning and hoping with us. This is why we need to turn here when we have that bad day, bad week, bad month. God is experiencing our pain with us. And when don’t have the words to speak, He speaks for us. When we are so overwhelmed by evil that we cannot even express our pain, He is praying for us. When we don’t know where to start, what to say, where to turn, who to pray for, when it will end, and we are simply overcome – the Spirit is there with us, praying for us, interceding and helping us. He brings to mind sins to confess, scriptures to give us hope, knowledge of the Gospel of Jesus, reminders of the presence of God, reasons to trust, and words to say.
God knows we don’t know, which is why He gives us His Spirit within us, to pray for us, pray with us, and to help us to trust God. He searches our hearts, cleans out our spiritual trash, organizes our thoughts, will, and emotions, and brings them into accordance with God’s will. That’s His promise to believers. We will not be left alone in pain and confusion, but God Himself will sustain our spirit.
If you’ve learned to turn to God during those times, then you know what happens when we allow the Holy Spirit to minister to us. This isn’t something that can be taught – it has to be experienced. You must stop yourself. Shut your door. Come to God, and just wait on Him. He will always, always come.
Now let’s read verse 28, which many of us know, but too often, which we wrongly apply.
“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” (vs 28)
This ties together what we talked about in Philippians and 2 Corinthians, but it is misapplied by people who are afraid of lamenting, or sadness or pain. The context doesn’t allow us to say that “God is going to make everything all better for you soon.” That’s not what Paul experienced, that’s not what Jesus experienced, and it’s often not what we experience.
And when someone comes up and misquotes this verse, taking it out of context, we want to say, “Really? All these things are for our good? All this pain comes from love? All this mess has a purpose? Really? My loss, my suffering, this messed up world full of suffering is ‘for the good’?”
I’m sure you’ve felt that way too. So, how can we be sure? Because of Easter.
Where Easter Comes In
Let’s read from verse 28 and see that the only way we can believe verse 28 is because of the Easter Story which is told in verses 29-39.
“For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified. What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, ‘For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.’ No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Do you see how the love of God is demonstrated by Him sending His beloved Son to us – to we who are in rebellion, in slavery to sin, idolaters, under His wrath, and who have made ourselves His enemies – for us Jesus came to die.
Because of the work of Jesus Christ, all those who he “foreknew” are saved. You did nothing to earn his love. You were on His heart before you were born. If you are saved today, then you are part of His royal priesthood, His favoured ones, and “he predestined” you (which means He chose you advance) “to be conformed to the likeness of His Son.”
He works every day to make you more like Jesus. He wants you to be conformed to perfection in every way possible. He wants you to have a Father/Child relationship Him. H wants you to be like Jesus. To live eternally, to serve others, to have a strong character and a beautiful spirit, to suffer well, to be imperishable, free, and righteous.
If you are a believer, then you are one of the called. You are “justified”. You don’t need to earn the right to come before God, because you have already declared to be right by accepting Jesus as your Lord and Saviour. And not only are you called, presdestined and justified, but you are also glorified. Every day, God is making you more like Jesus. In your suffering, you are made more like Him. In your obedience, you are more like Him. And soon, you will be perfectly glorified when you enter the eternal presence of the living God.
That’s why Paul those rhetorical questions. If you have a bad week and Satan is whispering in your ear that God hates you, He’s abandoned you, He’s punishing you, you turn here. Paul says, “What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?”
If you ever doubt God’s love, know that He is so for you, so on your side, that He was willing to trade Jesus for you. What more must He do to demonstrate the depth of His love?
Charles Spurgeon wrote something profoundly encouraging about this and I want to pass it on to you. Close your eyes and listen to this with me as we close:
“This morning let us hear the Lord Jesus speak to each one of us: “I will help you.”
“It is but a small thing for Me, your God, to help you. Consider what I have done already.
What, not help you? Why, I bought you with My blood.
What, not help you? I died for you; and if I have done the greater, will I not do the less?
Help you! It is the least thing I will ever do for you; I have done more, and will do more. Before the world began I chose you. I made the covenant for you. I laid aside My glory and became a man for you; I gave up My life for you; and if I did all this, I will surely help you now.
In helping you, I am giving you what I have bought for you already. If you had need of a thousand times as much help, I would give it you; you require only a little compared with what I am ready to give. ‘It is much for you to need, but it is nothing for me to bestow.’
Help you? ‘Fear not! If there were an ant at the door of your granary asking for help, it would not ruin you to give him a handful of your wheat; and you are nothing but a tiny insect at the door of My all-sufficiency. ‘I will help thee.'””
Then he turns his attention to the prayer of our hearts.
“O my soul, is not this enough? Do you need more strength than the omnipotence of the United Trinity? Do you want more wisdom than exists in the Father, more love than displays itself in the Son, or more power than is manifest in the influences of the Spirit? Bring here your empty pitcher! Surely this well will fill it. Hurry, gather up your wants, and bring them here—your emptiness, your woes, your needs. Behold, this river of God is full for your supply; what else can you desire? Go forth, my soul, in this your might. The Eternal God is your helper!” (From Morning, January 16, updated by Alistair Begg)
It is my deep prayer that your hope is fully and completely rooted in the truth of the Easter season – the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the Son of God? If not, there is little wonder that you feel hopeless and helpless all the time. If you are putting your hope and security elsewhere, they will fail you, if they haven’t already. There is only One who is truly good, gracious and mighty to save. And He is the Lord God – Jesus Christ. I plead with you to come fully to Him, to ask His forgiveness for your sin, to make Him your Lord, and then to come to Him with your every need.
As the sun gets warmer and the trees start to bloom, I find myself looking forward to summer vacation. I’ve heard of one place that sounds nice… but I’m not sure that I’d ever go there for a holiday. I think you’ll understand why once I tell you about it.
A Not So Lovely Vacation Spot
Behind the University of Tennessee Medical Center is a lovely, little wood-lot on a hillside where people are often seen lying in the sun or reclining in the shade, as squirrels and other little forest creatures play in the trees.
It is out on this hillside where a man named Arpad Vass, a scientist at the University’s Anthropological Research Facility, works every day. All those folks spread out there in the Tennessee heat didn’t get there on their own. They are not lying down because they need a tan, but because they’re all very much dead — they are cadavers, sprawled out intentionally as a way of studying modes of human decomposition.
They are the lifeless bodies of people who have donated their bodies to science, and it is Doctor Vass’s job is to evaluate how these bodies decompose under various conditions: buried in shallow graves, stuck in car trunks, wrapped in plastic bags, submerged in a man-made pond, just to name a few. He figures out all the different ways the human body can be disposed by a murderer. The data collected helps detectives throughout the world catch murderers.
Maybe you’ve heard of this. There is a TV show that I used to watch called Bones. At its core, Bones is a drama about forensic science. Each episode focuses on solving the mystery behind someone’s murder by examining the remains. They are brought to Dr. Brennan’s forensic anthropology team at the Jeffersonian Institution, and by studying whatever is left over of the person, they are able to figure out ‘who-dun-it’. The series is somewhat based on the life and writings of a real life forensic anthropologist named Kathy Reichs.
The truth is that in the 21st century, death has been almost thoroughly sanitized for our protection. We simply don’t like to think about death. We don’t even like to say that someone died. We’ve come up with all sorts of nicer ways to say it. They “Passed away”, are “deceased”, have “ceased to be”, are “no more”, have “gone to the other side”, , “shuffled from this mortal coil”, “gone into that good night”, are “in a better place”, have “crossed over”, are now “asleep”, are “dearly departed”, “pushing up roses” or have simply “kicked the bucket”. We’ll come up with any way to say it other than, “They died.”
Consider funerals. Many people spend thousands of dollars to pay an expert to prepare the body for us, so we don’t have to see it. We get them to put makeup on the body so they will look like they are only sleeping and not really dead. Then we pay them to put the dead person into very nice clothes, complete with jewelry and a new hairdo, and lay them into ornately carved, plush box full of silken pillows. Then after paying all this money to dress up the body, we close the box so no one has to see it, cover the box in flowers, so we don’t have to think about the box, and then we bury it in the ground — and put up a very expensive, beautifully carved piece of stonework to mark the spot. Even the hole we dug for the body gets decorated.
And sadly, people don’t even have to be dead for us to put them out of sight. It seems that anyone that reminds us of death is locked up and sent away. The elderly, the sick, the dying are stuffed away in special hospitals and homes, away from eyes of our society, so we don’t have to think about death – especially not our own.
Easter & Death
The way we celebrate the Easter season points to our phobia about death. These days, when most people think of Easter, their minds are filled with pink bunnies, new bonnets, marshmallow chicks, plastic grass, colorful eggs and candy! Even crosses – the symbol of the bloody death of Jesus Christ – is sanitized and decorated to make it easier on the eyes. We want to fast forward to Easter Sunday – and forget about the crucifixion.
But, scripture teaches us that as important as new life in Christ is – and the wonderful truth of the resurrection – it doesn’t overshadow the death of Jesus. Please open up your bibles to 1 Corinthians 15:1-8:
“Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.”
Nearly every year since it came out I’ve watched “The Passion of the Christ.” Not because I like the movie, but because it remind me of the price that Jesus paid for my sin. It shows me courage Jesus showed on His march to the cross. It reminds me of the love our Heavenly Father has for us, that He would send His Son to go through that for our sake.
Think back to you you’ve done on Good Fridays in the past, and how you’ve responded to Holy Week – from Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday. Have you taken the time to remember what happened – to acknowledge the death of Jesus Christ – or do you avoid thinking about it in favour of more pleasant things?
The thing is, if we had to pick a decoration theme that the Easter season, it wouldn’t include flowers and bunnies – it would more resemble Halloween! There’s a corpse, burial clothes, embalming, a tomb, ghosts, screaming, torture…
I hope you come to the Good Friday service this week. Even though I don’t have control over what all happens there, I do get to preach, and it is my hope to remember the Amazing Grace of God and the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on Good Friday that was necessary because of our sins.
Why? Because, as Paul said to the Christians in Corinth, it is of “first importance.”
You see, along with our discomfort with death comes the same kind of discomfort with Good Friday. We know the story and want to skip to the good part. We don’t like the part where Jesus is wrongly arrested, falsely accused, beaten, tortured, abandoned, crucified, stabbed in the heart and then placed in a borrowed tomb, alone. We want to skip to the good part on Easter Sunday.
We like to forget that the disciples and the women who went to the tomb on Sunday morning were fully expecting to the dead and already decaying body of their friend and teacher, Jesus. They did not go to His tomb to see His resurrection. They intended to make certain that the body of their friend, their mentor and their rabbi was properly and respectfully prepared so that it could decompose quickly and with dignity. That’s what the spices they were carrying were for. And then, later, the bones could be taken and put in an ossuary or “bone box” and then buried somewhere else.
We can make no mistake. The women and disciples expected to find a corpse. Although Jesus had told them of His resurrection all the time, they really didn’t get it. Even though He said that He would rise in 3 days, they didn’t really believe it. Jesus said in John 14:1-3,
“Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.”
Jesus said it over and over, but on Easter Sunday, there was absolutely no doubt in the minds of the women who were coming to the tomb (Luke 23:56-24:1, 10), that that when they arrived they would find the lifeless body of Jesus… and they wouldn’t need a forensic scientist to tell them how He died. Most of His followers didn’t have the stomach to stay and watch, but they knew. He’d been on a Roman cross – and while you go up on a cross alive, you always come down dead.
That’s why they panicked! Let’s read the story from John 20:
“Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, ‘They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.’ So Peter went out with the other disciple, and they were going toward the tomb. Both of them were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first.
And stooping to look in, he saw the linen cloths lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen cloths lying there, and the face cloth, which had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen cloths but folded up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that he must rise from the dead. Then the disciples went back to their homes.
But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb, and as she wept she stooped to look into the tomb. And she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet. They said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping?’ She said to them, ‘They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.’ Having said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?’ Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, ‘Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Mary.’ She turned and said to him in Aramaic, ‘Rabboni!’ (which means Teacher).”
In a lot of translations there’s exclamation point there on “Rabboni!” That’s possibly the most under-rated exclamation point in the entire Bible. Seeing Jesus alive was the most incredible thing that she had ever seen – and the last thing she would ever expected!
And that’s the point the apostle Paul drives home in 1 Corinthians 15 when he writes to the church about 20-30 years later. Verses 3 and 4:
“For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried…”
You see, back then there was no funeral homes to preparing bodies for burial. Family and friends were the default morticians. Their culture knew what death smelled like, what death looked like, what death does to a body. Tombs were closed, barricaded by large rocks and stone, but everybody knew what was happening inside the darkness of the sealed tomb. In fact, before Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, Martha reminded Jesus of how much it would smell.They knew what tombs were like, and what went on in them.
When Easter happened, those first witnesses saw something unprecedented in the history of human remains. The material, fleshly body of Jesus of Nazareth, somehow became a former-dead-body! They had seen Lazarus come to life after 4 days, sure… but that was Jesus healing someone else. What they were seeing here was different. This was someone actually bringing himself back to life! No one performed a miracle. There was no doctor, no prophet, no prayers. But He came back!
Even modern science hasn’t found a way to change dead bodies into live ones. They can take the parts from a recently dead body and transplant them into the living – like heart or lung…. but they can’t raise the dead.
The Miracle of Resurrection
When Paul is writing this to the Corinthians he’s addressing something that was being wrongly taught in the church. Some people were saying that there was no resurrection from the dead… no life after death. Even people today have a problem with that concept. But the church in Corinth had people who were teaching that there was no such thing as someone rising from the dead. Paul’s whole point here… his whole reason for writing this section… is to give proof and testimony to the fact of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, which is a critical, uncompromising part of the Christian faith. It is the central part of the Christian faith – that DEATH HAS BEEN OVERCOME!
Paul hammers this message here: Jesus was dead, and then He was alive. And Jesus, as a live, post-crucified person, was seen by numerous individuals whom he lists in verses 5-8.
“…and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.”
The disciples did not make the resurrection up. To them it was a crushing defeat. Peter returned to fishing… the disciples has scattered… the followers of Jesus knew He was dead. They were not just gullible witnesses who were testifying to a hope that they had… they were people who were telling the story of the hard evidence that had stood right in front of them!
Resurrection = Hope
Here’s why it’s important: Look at verses 16-19 of this same chapter:
“For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.”
This is how monumental the death of Jesus is to Christians. Our salvation is only possible if Jesus died and rose again. As Hebrews 9:22 says,“… without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.” That’s a restatement from the Law of Leviticus 17:11, “For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it for you on the altar to make atonement for your souls, for it is the blood that makes atonement…” Jesus had to die.
If Jesus didn’t die, our sins wouldn’t be paid for. And if He didn’t die, then he couldn’t be resurrected. And if there is no resurrection, then we have no hope.
If Jesus wasn’t raised, if the tomb isn’t empty, if death can’t be reversed somehow, then, as verse 14 says, “your faith is futile”. If Jesus’ death didn’t pay our penalty for sin… then we “are still in our sins.” If There is no resurrection, then all those who have died before us… no matter what they did… “Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished.” They’re dead in their sins because “the wages of sin is death, and the gift of God is eternal life, through Jesus Christ …”(Rom 6:23)
Paul says, “If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.” If the only reason that we are Christian is because of the perks we get while we are alive on earth… then we are to be pitied. One of my commentaries says it this way:
“If all the preachers lied (15:15) and no one will be raised, then not only is faith meaningless for this life, it is meaningless in death. Those who believed in Christ believed a lie; those who died because of persecution for their faith perished for no reason. The consequences of believing the lie that there will be no resurrection shake the very foundations of the Christian faith…. If the only promise of the Christian faith applies to this life, then why believe in it? Why believe in a faith that brought –in this culture and even still in many places in the world – persecution, sorrow, death, ostracism, separation? Without the resurrection, there would be no hope for final judgment and justice or hope for a final dwelling place with God. There would be nothing but death to look forward to. If the end is the same for everyone, then why not live like the pagans in sensual pleasure (15:32)? Why deny oneself? Why be miserable if the other choices bring the same result?” (Life Application Bible Commentary – 1 & 2 Corinthians)
The bodily death and burial of Jesus is truly of “first importance” and is the very linchpin of human history. His dead body, coming to life, has made all the difference, and has given hope everyone who believes.
Three Things to Remember
So there are three important things that I want us to remember during the next week of the Easter Season, and they are found in 1 Corinthians 15:3-4.
1. Jesus’ Death was Always the Plan
First… Jesus died for our sins “according to the scriptures”. The death of Jesus as the substitute for our sins wasn’t something that the church or the Apostles came up with. It’s wasn’t something that God came up with on the spot. The crucifixion of Jesus was always God’s plan to save humanity from the consequence of sin, right from the beginning.
The Phrase, “according to the scriptures” refers to the Old Testament prophecies regarding this event that would come true in the future. Plans that God wrote into every book of the Bible. Plans He would carry out.
The People of Israel were waiting for God to send them a Saviour, and the reason they were waiting was because of the prophecies about the Messiah that would come, that God would send!
It is so important that we know that Jesus’ death as a sacrifice on our behalf wasn’t a way to make good of a bad situation. It was exactly the way the scriptures said He would save us – hundreds and thousands of years before.
2. Jesus Was Buried
The second thing I want us to remember is that Jesus was “buried.” The fact of His death is revealed in His burial. Everyone in Paul’s day there were false teachers of trying disprove the death of Jesus Christ.
But Jesus did die on the cross and was buried in a tomb. It’s a historical fact. Some have tried to say that Jesus only passed out… usually called the “swoon theory”. But consider that it was a Roman Soldier who told Pilate that Jesus was dead… not a follower of Jesus or someone with a political agenda.
And remember, they didn’t break His legs because they knew He was dead. They even stabbed Him in the side, right into his pericardium (his heart sac), making “blood and water” pour out of Him (John 19:34). Then Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus took him and wrapped his whole body in traditional fashion and placed it in the tomb themselves (John 19:38-42). Then the enemies of Jesus, the Pharisees, stationed a round-the-clock guard so no one could mess with the body. Jesus did die.
Consider for a moment the lives of the apostles after they saw Jesus alive. One theologian (David Strauss) said this, “It is impossible that a being who had stolen half-dead out of the sepulchre, who crept about weak and ill, wanting medical treatment, who required bandaging, strengthening and indulgence, and who still at last yielded to His sufferings, could have given to the disciples the impression that He was a Conqueror over death and the grave, the Prince of Life, an impression which lay at the bottom of their future ministry. Such a resuscitation could only have weakened the impression which He had made upon them in life and in death, at the most could only have given it a [mournful] voice, but could by no possibility have changed their sorrow into enthusiasm, have elevated their reverence into worship.”
3. Jesus’ Resurrection is a Historical Event
And the third thing that I want us to remember is that it is this week, as we gather together to celebrate and remember Holy Week, is that Jesus Christ was raised from the dead. Permanently. He did not die again.
This is not just a belief, but a historical fact. Jesus said Himself that He would be in the tomb for three days and rise again… and even though no one believed Him… He did. He was seen in the flesh by many people, and even ate and taught publically only days after his very public crucifixion. Hundreds of witnesses attested to this fact. Look at 1st Corinthians 15:6. Paul seems to be saying, “If you don’t believe me ask one of these other 500 or so people. Don’t take my word for it… go ask one of the witnesses who had seen Him live, die, be buried, and then come back to life!”
Believe it or not, there are those who doubt that Jesus rose from the dead. And there are lots of supposed “arguments” against the resurrection.
Some say that the women went to the wrong tomb… but they were present when Jesus was placed there and new the area well. (Matthew 27:61)
Some say that the followers of Jesus stole the body and then pretended He rose again.… but no one questions that there were soldiers stationed there to guard against that.
Most of the disciples ran away like scared little girls when the guards came to get Jesus in Gethsemane, so it’s hard to believe that they would suddenly became so brave that they would be willing to face a detachment soldiers to steal Jesus’ body and fake a resurrection.
Some say that Jesus’ resurrection was some kind of group hallucination, but it’s hard to believe over 500 people had the same hallucination. Not to mention that if it was all in their minds, there would be an actual body that could be produced to discount their story.
We simply cannot get away from the fact the historical evidence points to the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Sure, the details of the crucifixion, burial and resurrection of Jesus is a subject of debate among scholars, historians, philosophers and theologians… I admit that. You almost get the sense in reading chapter 15 that Paul himself was trying to describe a process that is somewhat mysterious to even him. But the bottom line is that somehow, at God’s initiative, and through the resurrection of Jesus, death became a lot less about blood and guts, bodies and decay, and a lot more about the power of new life – and the very temporary, unscary nature of death – now that Jesus has defeated it.
After His resurrection, Jesus invited His disciples to check him out — to put their hands in the wounds, feel inside, touch him. To be sure that it was Him, and that He had conquered death. It was a proclamation to everyone that this secret, dark world of the grave had been exposed — the gruesomeness of Friday had turned into the glorious light of Sunday morning.
For a while there’s still a lot of darkness in this world, but believers have the promise that it won’t always be that way. The cure for death has been found — and we learned it from the only One who could teach us… from the one who Himself died… and was buried… and rose again… so that we might live with Him.
Last week I gave a talk to an AWANA group to help them understand that no matter how different they feel, God made them special, with a purpose, and doesn’t make mistakes.
People Can Do Amazing Things
Did you watch the Olympics this year? What’s your favourite sport to watch? Mine is hockey, but I watched a lot of the events this year and each one reminded me how amazing God made people. Just look at them! See how fast, and far, and high they can go. How strong they are! What they can do is truly special, truly incredible! And as amazing as these people are, they only scratch the surface of what people can do! Check out these other amazing things.
That’s pretty cool, but that’s not the only way that God created people to be amazing. Think of all the smart scientists who have cured diseases and made telescopes that can see to the other side of the universe. Think of the engineers who created machines that could blast a human to the moon! Maybe some of you are going to become scientists one day.
And that’s not all. Think of how amazing the people are who God created to be able to make art! Right out of their brains they can come up with movies that make people laugh and cry, sculptures from wood or stone that make people think in new ways, paintings that look like dreams or nightmares or something never seen before, they take pictures of places we’d never be able to visit, write music and create instruments that can make us feel happy or sad or excited or even concentrate better on our homework. Maybe some of you will be amazing artists one day.
Or think about the amazing writers and thinkers who help us see what’s going on in the world or explain things ways that everyone can understand. Some people are amazing thinkers who come up with mathematical formulas, hilarious jokes, write books and stories that change the world. Maybe some of will grow up to be great thinkers.
I’m also amazed by how tough God made us. Think about it — humans have the ability to live through some pretty crazy stuff. There are people living in Arctic cold and in desert heat. We build homes on land, in trees, on mountaintops, in caves, and even and floating on water. We can live without food for days. We can suffer great pain in our bodies, minds and hearts, and still keep on going! Maybe some of you will live lives where you get to use the strength of your body to help people.
God Created Us to be Amazing
Why am I telling you this? Because I want to remind you that God made you to be amazing! Genesis 1:26 says that God created us in His “image”, in His “likeness”. That means that He didn’t just build robots that do whatever He wants, but created us to be partners with Him. He gave us creative, ingenious, unique, imaginative minds… strong, delicate, graceful, careful, explosive bodies… deep, powerful emotions… and a Spirit inside of us that has an echo of the Spirit of God. People are amazing because God is amazing!
When You Don’t Feel Amazing
But what about when you don’t feel that way? Some of you might not feel very amazing right now. You’re not the biggest, or the strongest, or feel like you’re the smartest or the most helpful. You try to remember things, but you still forget. Sometimes you try things and they don’t work out. You try to make something and it doesn’t work, so you feel frustrated. Sometimes you break things accidentally. You try really hard to set the table, or help with dishes, or take care of your doll or your special toy, but it accidentally breaks. Sometimes you cry and you’re not sure why — or get really angry, more than other people and you feel embarrassed – or it seems like everyone around can do more than you and you feel left out.
Or, maybe God made you different – you need glasses, or you were born with a part of your body that doesn’t look like or work like some of your friends. Or maybe you have a hard time concentrating and homework is hard, or you are shorter or taller than other people your age.
Sometimes we don’t feel very amazing and maybe during those times you wonder why God built you that way – that maybe you were an accident, or He wasn’t trying as hard when he designed you, or that you did something wrong to deserve to be different. Do you ever feel like that? Sometimes I feel like that sometimes.
I need glasses and I’m always itchy. When I was your age I was shorter, younger, and smaller than any of my classmates. And when I grew up a bit, I had lots and lots of zits and people made fun of me. My family moved around a lot, so I didn’t have very many friends. I was a Christian and I loved computers, but no one else did, and that made it even harder to make friends. Sometimes on the way home people would throw rocks at me and call me names.
I often wondered why God built me the way He did, and sometimes I wished He would have done it differently. But today, I understand that He made me special, and I want to share with you the part of the Bible that taught me that.
God Doesn’t Make Mistakes
Psalm 139:13-16 says,
“You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body and knit me together in my mother’s womb. Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex! Your workmanship is marvelous—how well I know it. You watched me as I was being formed in utter seclusion, as I was woven together in the dark of the womb. You saw me before I was born. Every day of my life was recorded in your book. Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed.”
Do you hear what God is saying in these verses? Let me tell you.
First, it says that that God designed you to be exactly the way you are and made no mistakes. He “knit [you] together” and He “saw [you] before [you were] born”. That means He put you together the same way an artist paints a picture and a scientist makes an invention. He chose every little piece of you exactly the way He wanted it. When you do something amazing, God cheers for you because He built you to do that! And when you have a tough time, God isn’t disappointed or surprised because He built you that way.
Second, it says that God made you “wonderfully complex” – that means he made you special, with millions of parts, unlike anyone else, because He wanted you to be that way. From how you brain works, to how fast you can run, to the colour of your eyes and hair, the sound of your voice, to your fingerprints and the things that make you excited – God designed every part. So, when you look at all your parts, no matter how different they are from other people, you can think “That’s there because God put it there, on purpose – and it is wonderful!”
Third, it says that God’s “workmanship is marvelous”. That means that when God looks at you He sees something He specially built with His own hands, and He think’s it’s really, really good. You’d never look at a bouquet of flowers and think, “Those all need to be exactly the same”, right? In the same way, God doesn’t want all of us to be exactly the same!
Maybe you can’t sing, or maybe you can’t jump. Maybe you can’t throw a baseball, or maybe you can’t read very well. Maybe the words on the page are all jumbled up for you, or you don’t see colours the way others do. God never ever, ever thinks, “Oops, I made a mistake! I should have done that better.” He always thinks, “My child can’t do that because I didn’t need them to. I have something else planned that’s just for them!”
How do I know? Because the Bible says, “Every day of my life was recorded in your book. Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed.” What does that mean? That God knows exactly what your whole life is going to be like.
Before you were born, God knew exactly how long you would live, what you would look like, gave you the parents and family you have, knew every tear you would cry, everything you would build, every good deed you would do, and every sin you would commit. He knows you better than anyone, and He loves you, very, very much.
How We Should Live
So, knowing that… let me share with you a few things to remember:
1. Know that Everyone is Special. Every baby in every mommy’s tummy is special. Every old person, even when they are tired or sick, is special. Every person is special – even the ones that are mean or rude. Even if they aren’t listening to God, since God made them, they are still special and deserve our love.
This also reminds you that no matter what, you are special too. You are deeply loved. Not because of anything that you do, or any good deed, but even when you were a baby, God loved you very, very much.
2. We should listen to our Creator. If you make up a game, and you write all the rules, then people should listen to you when you tell them how to play it, right? If you make a piece of art, then you know which way it hangs on the wall, right?
It’s the same with God. If God knows us best, loves us most, and has the perfect plan for our life, then it only makes sense to listen to Him, right? That’s why we need to read His book, the Bible. That’s why we need to talk to Him all the time. That’s why we spend time with people in His Church. So that we can hear what God wants to say to us.
3. We should Give our life to Jesus. People are amazing. And we are all pretty amazing when we are born, but God says we have a sin problem. When we are born, we don’t have everything we need to be who God wanted us to be.
So in order to fix that, we need to know Jesus. We need to ask forgiveness for all the times that we have gone against what God wanted, against who God created us to be – and God promises that because of what Jesus did on the cross for us, that He will forgive us. Jesus was extra-super-amazingly-perfect and He never sinned! He obeyed God perfectly, every day. And that means only He could take the punishment for our sin – He didn’t have any! He makes it so that we can get back together with God.
And when we ask His forgiveness for all our sin, and make Jesus our Lord (which means our Boss), then He comes and lives in our hearts, guides us, teaches us and helps us be the amazing person He created us to be.
How Do You Devo?
Devos, Daily Devotionals, Quiet Time, Private Meditation, Time with God, 1-on-1 with Jesus, Daily Prayers — there are lots of names for it and likely as many ways to do it. And I want to know yours!
I recently filled my very first prayer journal and got a shiny new one to celebrate (pictured above). God has been doing amazing things during these times with Him. Every day God answers my concerns, points out new insights, convicts me of sin, reveals my heart, and gives me comfort. My time with God is very important to me and I want to spread the joy by sharing what I do.
But not only that, I want to know what you do! I searched for years to find a personal way to connect with God. I tried dozens of guides, systems, studies and techniques, but none captured my heart. Eventually I came up with my own and it has been truly incredible.
I know I’m not the only one who has struggled with this. Many Christians struggle to have a consistent, daily time with God, and one repeated reason is that they “don’t know how”. The mission of this blog is to “give you the tools and inspiration you need to pursue a deeper, consistent and more meaningful relationship with God” and I believe that sharing how we do our personal devotions is a way to help accomplish that mission. Once I gather some I intend to put together a special training night on “How to Journal Using Scripture as Your Guide” using insights from those who share! Then, for those who can’t be trained in person, I’ll post it on my blog.
Will you join me in helping others to spend more time with God?
My Devo Setup
I’ve made a commitment that the first thing I do when I sit at my desk is to take away the wireless keyboard, put on the isolation headphones (playing classical and jazz music), and open my prayer journal. I begin by writing out the prayers on my heart, asking forgiveness for sin and sharing the troubles that are on my mind. Then, I open up the Bible. I have 5 bookmarks in my tattered NIV and I journal a reflection after each chapter. As I read and pray I search for what God is saying to me for that day. I believe He will speak through His word, and He does!
Sharing Your Setup?
So, what’s your setup?
To share, follow these steps:
- Write a brief synopsis sharing where you are and what tools and methods you use.
- Take a picture of your environment and tools.
- Use the comment section below and link to your picture OR Send the comment and picture to my email (firstname.lastname@example.org)
- Pass this post along to your Christian friends so they can contribute too!
Thanks in advance to all who participate.
I’m so proud of our Sunday school kids, and the teachers, for taking the time to memorize the Romans Road to Salvation over the past few months. Memorizing of scripture takes time, concentration, and energy – and it is a way to worship God. That time is never wasted and these kids will be amazed at how many times in their life God will keep bringing these verses up in their minds during times of crisis and trouble. When they are in a tough spot, or need encouragement, God will bring these verses to mind because they have stored them where no one can get them – in their hearts.
In doing this they have echoed the praises of Psalm 119:9-16. Let’s turn there and talk for a moment about what happens when we study, memorize and meditate on scripture.
A Pure Path
An old German version of the Bible has a great title for Psalm 119. It calls it “The Christian’s Golden ABC of the Praise and Love of the Power and Profit of the Word of God.” That’s exactly what Psalm 119 is. The author of the psalm uses the letters of the Hebrew alphabet to create an intricate, acrostic poem in thanks and praise for – and commitment to –the Word of God. Each section has its own theme and takes apart that theme in 8 lines – and each line starts with the same letter. It’s a beautiful piece of poetry about the “vital ministry of the Word of God in the inner spiritual life of God’s children.” (Warren Wiersbe – Be Exultant)
“How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to your word. With my whole heart I seek you; let me not wander from your commandments! I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you. Blessed are you, O LORD; teach me your statutes! With my lips I declare all the rules of your mouth. In the way of your testimonies I delight as much as in all riches. I will meditate on your precepts and fix my eyes on your ways. I will delight in your statutes; I will not forget your word.” (Psalm 119:9-16 ESV)
Notice it starts with a question. “How can a young man keep his way pure?” The two key words there are “way” and “pure.” The word “way” can also be translated “path”, “highway”, or even “caravan”. The word “pure” can also be “clean” or “clear” or “blameless”.
How can someone without experience, keep their path clean, their highway clear?
The picture the psalmist is painting for us is a young man setting off on the journey of his life, starting out from his door and looking ahead at the horizon to the endless expanse in front of him. He looks back at his parents, knowing he is now too old to be under their full-time guidance and it is time for him to make his way in the world.
He steps forward, opens the gate, and looks up to God and says, “God, how can I make sure the path I’m walking on is the right one? How can I keep from stumbling? How do I keep from getting lost? How can I keep my life pure so that I can hear your voice and know I’m heading the right way? How can I be confident in the way I’m going? How can I live a life where all the problems come from outside me – not from a bunch of dumb things I bring on myself? Lord, how can a young man keep his way pure?”
And the rest of the section – in fact the whole of Psalm 119 – is an answer to that question. See what his answers are.
Setting up Guardrails
First, as we look at verse 9, he says that he needs to guard his way according to God’s word. In other words, for a person to walk in a straight line, not get lost, and be assured of his destination, he must set up safe-guards on the sides of the road; guardrails all the way along, so that when things start to go wobbly in life, there is something there to bounce off of so one’s life doesn’t careen over the edge.
I’ve driven on some fairly precarious mountain roads, and I’ve been very thankful for the guardrails along the sides. They give me a sense of security that if I blew a tire, or lost control that I wouldn’t go over the cliff, but would bounce off the guard rail. Sure there would be some damage, but it wouldn’t be catastrophic. That’s the first benefit of studying, memorizing and meditating on scripture – it tells us where to set the guardrails in our life.
People in this world believe that what really want is “freedom”. They say that in a perfect world there would be no rules and everyone would be able to do whatever they wanted free from oppression and outside influence – and the world would thrive. You’ve probably heard that a lot.
Think of the words to John Lennon’s song “Imagine”. “Imagine there’s no heaven, no hell, no countries, no religion… imagine all the people living life in peace.” That’s the definition of freedom for a lot of people: no God, no government, no rules. But that’s not freedom, that’s anarchy. The human heart is not able to deal with that kind of world – it’s simply impossible. Every nation that has eliminated God didn’t find a time of peace and freedom, but instead saw the rise of oppressive leaders who devastated and oppressed the people. Think Joseph Stalin, Mau Zedong, Pol Pot, or Che Guevera. Their atheism didn’t spawn a life of “peace”, but chaos.
The Broad Road
Jesus would call the kind of “freedom” that Lennon sang about “the broad road”. A life, without walls, without guardrails, without rules. And he says this: “…wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” (Matthew 7:13-14 NIV)
The “broad road” “leads to destruction”, not life and peace and flourishing. It is the heart that seeks God, which is guarded on both sides by the Word of God that finds life.
Even as I write that I realize how difficult it is to understand, much less apply. To agree with Jesus about choosing the narrow road requires a movement of the Spirit of God. And often, it requires that a person travels the broad road for a while, has their life spin out of control, and then careens of the edge and explodes. That’s the testimony of so many men and women I know.
“I was on the broad road. I was living for myself and I didn’t care what people thought of me. I did what I wanted. And it lead me to sin, and sin more and more, darker and darker, and then I realized what I thought was freedom was actually a trap. I wasn’t controlling my life, it was controlling me. My addictions, my desires, my appetites, my way of life was controlling me. I was captive to my ‘freedom’ and I couldn’t get free. And then things really started to spin out of control. I lost my closest relationships, my friends turned out to be enemies, everything I thought was secure fell apart – and I hit rock bottom. It was only there that I finally looked up and saw Jesus offering me forgiveness and life.”
And their testimony almost always ends the same way: “I’m telling you all of this horrible stuff that I went though because I don’t want you to go through it! Don’t make the mistakes I did. I’m trying to teach my kids not to do what I did. Not to even start down that path. I want them to walk the straight and narrow – to flee the broad road to destruction that I went down.” (Go to “I am Second” for a long list of inspiring testimonies)
In fact, much of the wisdom literature in scripture (Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, and more scattered throughout the other books) is written to try to warn people away from taking the broad road that leads to destruction. Look at the beginning of the book of Proverbs.
“Hear, my son, your father’s instruction, and forsake not your mother’s teaching, for they are a graceful garland for your head and pendants for your neck. My son, if sinners entice you, do not consent. … my son, do not walk in the way with them; hold back your foot from their paths, for their feet run to evil, and they make haste to shed blood.” (Proverbs 1:8-10, 15-16)
Can you hear the pleading of the parents to their son to stay on the straight and narrow? The rest of the book of Proverbs is a series of sayings meant to help an immature person find maturity the easy way – without having to crash and burn to learn it. How many of us wish that we would have learned the lessons from our parents and not had to repeat their mistakes?
The very beginning of the Psalms starts the same way, right from the first verse: talking about choosing the right path to walk on in this life.
“Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night.” (Psalm 1:1-2)
All through the Bible you can read the voice of the Prophets, and the voice of God, saying “Here’s how life is meant to be lived. Follow these rules and you will have peace, and flourishing, and joy, and righteousness and purity, and know the heart of God! You will avoid much suffering and pain if you just follow this path.” And chapter after chapter is stories of people looking at the narrow path and saying, “I want to go my own way.” And then walking down the broad road – which leads to their destruction.
The prayer of the Psalmist is:
“With my whole heart I seek you; let me not wander from your commandments! I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.” (Psalm 119:10-11)
The first benefit of studying, memorizing and meditating on scripture is that it gives us the guidelines for how to thrive in this life. Having it in our minds keeps it ready for us. Here is how I’m supposed to deal with anger. Here is how I find the will of God. Here is how I flee temptation. Here is what I say when Satan shows up. Here is how I should pray. Here is the kind of friends to have. Here is how I should spend my time. Here is how I should treat my money.
Learning and Teaching
“Blessed are you, O LORD; teach me your statutes! With my lips I declare all the rules of your mouth.” (Psalm 119:12-13)
The second benefit of memorizing scripture is that as we study and learn and remember, the Holy Spirit uses that time to teach us, and then gives us the words to teach others.
When Jesus was about to be crucified His followers were quite worried about losing their teacher and connection to God. But Jesus looks at them and says something very important. Turn to John 16:4-14.
“I did not say these things to you from the beginning, because I was with you. But now I am going to him who sent me, and none of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’ But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your heart. Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.
I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you.” (John 16:4-14)
This is what happens when we spend time reading, studying and memorizing scripture. The Holy Spirit of God comes in and teaches us about sin and righteousness. He gives us insight into the ways that Satan works. He expands our minds so that we can tell truth from falsehood. He teaches us how to glorify God and what true worship looks like. And then gives us the words to speak when we are sharing the gospel or in a spiritual battle.
God Breathed Answers
“All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16-17)
Some people are afraid to share their faith because they might get questions they don’t have answers to. Others think that there is no real way to know God and they speak as though He is some great mystery. But Scripture, the Bible, has been “breathed out by God” and given to us “for teaching”, so that we can be taught the ways of God, the thoughts of God, the plan of God, the will of God. Between the Bible and Holy Spirit is inside of us, we can have a pretty good idea of who God is. And when we are sharing our faith with others, the Holy Spirit promises to remind us of what God has said about Himself and His plan of salvation.
Some people say they aren’t sure what God thinks about certain things – they can’t really know what is good or bad. Scripture has been given to us “for reproof”, or “for conviction”, or “for rebuking”. That means that within the Bible is everything we need to be able to expose false teachers and expose personal sin. Right and wrong, good and evil, wisdom and foolishness isn’t a grand mystery. Scripture has the power to point out mistakes and clarify how we can make it right.
Some say that they aren’t sure if they can ever know they are truly saved. But the scriptures were given “for correction” which is a word that means it tells us “how to restore ourselves to a right place before God.” In other words – the Bible tells us how to correct this problem of sin and death. It’s only the Bible that gives us the good news of hope in salvation through Jesus.
Some say they don’t know what to do with their life. What should I do? Where should I work? How should I parent? What should I do with an empty nest? What should I buy? The scriptures were given “for training in righteousness” so that we can know how to live a holy life. The Bible is an instruction book for life. I’m convinced that 99% of everything we need to know about how to live in this world is captured within this book – and the Holy Spirit will give us special knowledge about the other 1% when we need it.
That’s why the Psalmist says to God in Psalm 119, “Blessed are you, O LORD; teach me your statutes!” He knows that the only way he can live well is if God is his instructor.
Delighting in God’s Word
The third benefit of memorizing, studying and meditating on scripture is that it brings delight! Let’s read Psalm 119:14-16:
“In the way of your testimonies I delight as much as in all riches. I will meditate on your precepts and fix my eyes on your ways. I will delight in your statutes; I will not forget your word.”
This is something that a lot of people simply don’t agree with. Using words like “memorizing”, “studying” and “meditating” in the same sentence as “delight” makes no sense to them because it all sounds like work. And it is work.
But once you have experienced the Spirit of God entering into your life in a new way, guiding you in life, protecting your spirit, battling for your purity, teaching you new things about yourself and God, reminding you about the love you have in Jesus Christ – you can start to see how the psalmist feels.
Psalm 119:97-104 says it this way:
“Oh how I love your law! It is my meditation all the day. Your commandment makes me wiser than my enemies, for it is ever with me. I have more understanding than all my teachers, for your testimonies are my meditation. I understand more than the aged, for I keep your precepts. I hold back my feet from every evil way, in order to keep your word. I do not turn aside from your rules, for you have taught me. How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth! Through your precepts I get understanding; therefore I hate every false way.”
I like learning – but there’s something special about my time with God. It’s more than learning – it’s experiencing the presence of God. I understand what the psalmist is talking about! The Word of God comes alive for me when I read it in the mornings. There are times when I’m studying for a sermon and insights that I never had considered start flowing into my mind. I start welling with emotion, getting excited, or sometimes it hits me and I feel a terrible sense of conviction, sadness or anger. Reading, studying and meditating on scripture is an experience for me.
There are times where I walk away from a time with God, and I’m literally breathless because of what I’ve just learned from Him. There are times when God brings to mind a scripture and it protects from doing something harmful, and I am so thankful that he did that for me – because I watch others around me crash and burn because of that same error. There are times that reading the Bible depresses me because I start to feel God’s heart on a particular subject – and He shares His grief with me.
It breaks my heart how distracted most of us are – me included. The cares of the world, finances, fears, entertainment, and so much more, draw us away from the Word of God. We go to so many other things for life, knowledge, peace, joy, hope, help, guidance, and peace. But it all comes up short. Why do we keep going back?
When we lose sight of the word of God, the temptations start to grow, fears start to creep in, unrighteous anger fills our stomach, jealousy and bitterness take root – and a time of meditating on God’s word, in the presence of the Holy Spirit, wipes so much of that away!
Examples of Delight
Consider what the children recited today, and think of the hope, the joy and the wonder that they will have in their hearts for the rest of their lives as the Holy Spirit brings that back to them.
They start to think, “I’m a good person. I don’t need Jesus and all this religion. I don’t need a saviour. I can save myself. God saves everybody because we are basically good and God loves everyone, right?” And the Holy Spirit says,
“Remember Romans 3:23, ‘For all have sinned and have fallen short of the glory of God. and Romans 6:23, ‘For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.’’”
Satan comes in and says, “God doesn’t love you because you sinned. You need to earn your salvation! You haven’t done enough to impress God. You need to be better! God’s disappointed in you! You don’t have enough faith. You need to be a better person and clean up your life before you come to God.”
And the Holy Spirit says, “Remember Romans 5:8, ‘But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.’”
Satan tells them to keep quiet. “Don’t share your faith. Keep it to yourself. It’s between you and God. Religion is personal. You don’t have to be uncomfortable. Just keep it to yourself.” And the Holy Spirit says,
“Remember Romans 10:10, ‘For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.’”
And then, when they eventually fall into sin, the backslide, and Satan turns up the heat and starts to condemn them. “God hates you now. You’re dirty. God says He loves you and then you turn around and do that? You let him down over and over! He’s done with you. He’s not listening to your prayers anymore. There’s no point in reading your bible. He’s heard you confess that sin so many times that He’s sick of it! Maybe you were saved before, but you just lost it. And you’ll never get it back.”
And, the end of the Romans road comes from Romans 8:1 and 38-39.
The Holy Spirit says, “Remember, ‘There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus… For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.’”
That’s where delight comes from. That’s the power of memorizing and studying scripture. I hope you know that delight.
Valuing the Bible
Do you value having a Bible? How much do you value having study guides and thousands of hours of sermons and books to read about the bible? Can you imagine, for a moment, what it would be like if you didn’t have a copy of the Bible? If you knew Jesus, and were saved, loved the one true God, but you couldn’t read about him every day, how different would your life be? What would your life be like if there was no bible in the English language? Would it be different? I hope so.
We are so fortunate. So blessed. Let’s close by watching a short video, but let me set it up first.
True Christianity is “illegal” in China, but it is spreading like a wild-fire there. Some estimates are that there are 20,000 conversions per day. Police will search homes, confiscate CD’s, bibles, song books and calendars, and then arrest people who have “illegal religious gatherings” (The Empty Cross Pg 14) . I read this week that “In China, believers often share one copy of the Bible. Each person receives a page, and when they have memorized it, they get back together to exchange their portion of the Bible.” (Bible Smuggling) What you are about to see is a group of Chinese Christians receiving a bible in their own language for the first time.
Life is a Battlefield
We’ve all felt it. We all experience it. Life sometimes seems like a war. We are in a daily battle for our family’s security, our personal purity, our relationship with God, our attitudes, our church and the spread of the gospel. God has specially charged men with the responsibility to bear the burden of stepping into the fray for the sake of others – particularly their wives, children and church. In order to win these battles, we need to be close to God (from whom we get understanding and strength) and in the company of other men (from whom we gain support and accountability).
One reason that we started this men’s ministry (PK@BBC) is because we have noticed that too many men are trying to fight the battle on their own and with the wrong equipment – us included. Most men don’t know their Bibles well, so they fall for the lies that Satan is telling them. They don’t know how to pray, so they lack spiritual strength and wisdom to answer the many demands that are placed on them. They are addicted to money and sex, so they live in a constant state of fear and shame. And many are locked in a state of perpetual adolescence, lacking the courage, conviction, and resolve that it takes to be a real man. Our churches are predominately female, run and attended by mostly women.
We want our men’s group to change that. We’ve seen the battles, and we’ve experienced them. It seems to us that the best way we can fight against what this world is trying to turn us into (which is weak, useless, immature, immoral, cowards) is to have a company of good men surrounding us, supporting us, and holding us to the standard for which we fight. Men who will consistently remind each other about the grace of God, the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, and the provision of the Holy Spirit. Without other men we are lone soldiers, and we won’t last long in battle. PK@BBC intends to answer this need. We want to be a body of troops, a group of soldiers, a brotherhood of men. As Promise Keepers is so fond of saying, we want to be a group where “no man is left behind.”
This week I was reminded, and inspired, by the story of Caleb, from Numbers 14. The way he is described in the bible is the kind of man I want to be – and the kind of men I want around me. You likely know the story.
“When the Hebrews came to the outskirts of Canaan, the land they believed had been promised them by God, after having fled slavery in Egypt, Moses sent twelve scouts into Canaan to report on what was there–one spy representing each of the twelve tribes. Ten of the scouts returned to say that the land would be impossible to claim, and that giants lived there who would crush the Hebrew army. Only two, Joshua and Caleb, returned and said that God would be able to deliver Canaan into the hands of the Hebrew nation. The Bible records that, because of the testimony of the ten scouts, the Hebrews chose not to enter Canaan [and take the Promised Land]: for this disobedience, God caused them to wander in the desert for forty years before being allowed to enter Canaan and conquer it as their home. It is said that the only adult Hebrews allowed to survive these forty years and enter Canaan were Joshua and Caleb, as a reward for their faith in God.” (Source)
After almost the whole nation had refused to take the Promised Land, even saying that they would rather stone Moses and Aaron to death and then go back to Egypt and be slaves rather than obey God and cross into the Land, God says this:
“The Lord said to Moses, ‘How long will these people treat me with contempt? How long will they refuse to believe in me, in spite of all the signs I have performed among them? I will strike them down with a plague and destroy them, but I will make you into a nation greater and stronger than they.'” (Numbers 14:11-12)
God seems ready to destroy them and start over, until Moses intercedes in prayer and talks to God on behalf of the Israelites. And then, in Numbers 14:20-24, God says this:
“The Lord replied, ‘I have forgiven them, as you asked. Nevertheless, as surely as I live and as surely as the glory of the Lord fills the whole earth, not one of those who saw my glory and the signs I performed in Egypt and in the wilderness but who disobeyed me and tested me ten times—not one of them will ever see the land I promised on oath to their ancestors. No one who has treated me with contempt will ever see it. But because my servant Caleb has a different spirit and follows me wholeheartedly, I will bring him into the land he went to, and his descendants will inherit it.”
I want us to be men like Caleb. We are men who serve under the Commander of the Angel Armies, Jesus Christ, and we have been commissioned as soldiers of His kingdom. We are surrounded by cowards and weaklings who have no spiritual fortitude. They are too scared and weak to do battle for their souls, families and churches. They want to be enslaved by sin rather than fight for purity. They would trade the Promised Land for Egypt. I don’t want to be like them. I want to be like Caleb. Let me take apart how Caleb is described.
A Different Spirit
It says he had: “a different spirit” – I want to be different than the ungodly, cowardly men around me – both in the church and in the world. I don’t want to see the giants that we have face in this world (you know what your giants are) and walk away defeated, without even trying to fight. I don’t want to turn tail because I don’t have faith in God to see me though.
I want us to be men who know that listening to God and obeying the Bible will set us apart from the rest of the world – and trust God when He says that we can face these giants and defeat them in His name. The 10 other men who went into explore the land had no confidence in God or themselves. They spread the message of hopelessness and cowardice. Caleb believed… and he set himself apart by saying so. I want us to be like Caleb, who is like Jesus, and follow God’s standard, living differently than the world.
A Whole Heart
It also says that Caleb “follows me wholeheartedly” – I know that none of us follow Jesus like we should. We all sin. But what I want – and what I believe all Christian men want – is to say that despite all the ways we mess up, that we are sold out to Jesus. We don’t want divided hearts, but whole-hearts.
I want to be surrounded by men who are willing to pour themselves into the battle for their lives, families, purity and God’s Kingdom. We are all sick of being around men who can’t be counted on, who stand for nothing, who waffle back and forth never taking a stand, who lack courage and conviction, and who are so distracted by the world that they are no good to anyone. And we don’t want to be that kind of man. Caleb was 85 years old when he said in Joshua 14:11, “I am still as strong today as the day Moses sent me out; I’m just as vigorous to go out to battle now as I was then.” I want to be like that! A wholehearted, sold-out, warrior for God.
A Dependant Man
Because of Caleb’s faithfulness God promised saying, “I will bring him into the land he went to.” Even though we sometimes struggle to be faithful to God, we know that He is always faithful to us. The Bible says that when we are faithless, He is still faithful. Even when we don’t keep our promises, God does.
I want to be a man who believes in the faithfulness of God and knows that I can’t conquer the enemy on my own. And I want to be around men who are dependent on God. Too many of us try to fight by ourselves.
- We tried to conquer lust and porn – but it still draws us in.
- We’ve tried to change our schedule so we have more time with God and our family – but we keep getting sucked back into work.
- We’ve tried to get excited about reading our bible and praying – but it’s still boring and difficult.
- We’ve tried to come to church to worship and learn – but we are still distracted and frustrated.
- We’ve tried to be the husband that our wife needs – but no matter what we do it still feels the same.
Something inside of us cries out for change, but every time we try, we are defeated and slip back into the old ways. Which makes us want to stop trying.
We have to realize that it is not we who will bring ourselves into the land, but God. It’s not our power, but His. What’s amazing is that God will often show His power by using the men around us. We need to be dependent on God, but we also need each other – it’s built into humanity to need other people. Jesus Christ will never let us down, will always lead well, and will give us every resource to win every battle, if we ask Him, follow him and trust Him. Sometimes God will miraculously change the circumstances to save us. Most often he will change our hearts so that we grow into stronger people because of the problems. And sometimes He will answer our prayers by using others to minister to us – and in the same way – he will use us to answer the prayers of others.
Whatever He does, the absolute truth is that I can’t win the battles or bring myself into the land – He has to do it His way and in His time.
A Future Sight
And here’s something powerful to me. The promise wasn’t just for Caleb, but God say “and his descendants will inherit it.”
We are not an island. Yes, we have our own individual battles, and they are of critical importance – but the fight we fight today isn’t just for us. Whether we have kids or not, we are also fighting for the next generation of believers. We are creating a spiritual inheritance for our children and the believers around us.
We want to be men they can look up to, so when they do, we can point them to Jesus. We want to be men who hand down a life of faith that isn’t full of holes, and that we can be proud of, because we are living like Jesus.
Most of us have scars from the poor heritage we inherited from our own earthly fathers. Some were absent, others angry, and others were addicts. Most fathers don’t pass along any kind of spiritual inheritance to their children – and we don’t want to be like that. Whether it’s next generation of our own family or to the men and women that we are actively mentoring at work or at church, we don’t want our descendants to be lost. We want to fight the battles, take the land, and hopefully win them a time of peace. Let ours be the body that is scarred in battle so they can inherit the land. Or, if they are not to have peace, then we want to be the kind of men who train our spiritual children to be good warriors of God.
Let’s start with a couple of short stories:
I remember, a while back, going to a fancy restaurant on my parent’s 25th anniversary. We had a great meal, and my brother had bought a bottle of Dom Pérignon, which was pretty good too. After the appetizer we were served a small bowl of orange sorbet. I thought, “Wow! An appetizer dessert! That’s a good idea! I love this restaurant!” My mom told me that the reason they served it was not for dessert, but because a citrus based sorbet would cleanse the palate so I could properly taste the main entrée.
Another short story: A while back, my wife and I were shopping for perfume. We went to the store together to try a bunch of different scents and see what we would like. They took the sampler, sprayed it on a little piece of paper, and then we would smell the paper… and we did this a whole bunch of times. By the 10th little piece of smelly paper we were both getting a headache, and everything was starting to smell the same anyway.
The problem was something that is apparently called “Nasal Fatigue”. Our brains and bodies were overcome by too many scents and it was hard to discern what was good and what was not so good. Then I saw a small container of coffee beans on the counter. I remembered reading somewhere that coffee beans are good at cleansing the palate between smells. So I took a deep breath of the coffee beans, and gave my wife the container. And sure enough, it worked. I could smell again.
A Calloused Heart
Why am I telling you this? Because within these two short stories is an important lesson. If we don’t take the time to cleanse our senses with a purifying agent, they get dulled and everything starts to taste and smell the same. They get overloaded with stimuli and lose the ability to discern the subtle differences in our environments. Left unchecked it could become dangerous because we wouldn’t know the difference between good and spoiled foods, good air to breath and bad air. We need to keep our senses sharp.
I think the same thing can happen in our spirits. We are inundated with stimuli all the time. Between our online life, the TV, books, magazines, newspapers, friends, coworkers, teachers, preachers, sportscasters, billboards, and every other voice and attention grabber around us, I believe it’s easy to get overloaded and lose our ability to discern things in a godly way.
Things that used to be considered to be sin, become normal, even celebrated. Things that used to make us flinch and recoil, don’t affect us anymore. News that should rend our hearts and bring us to tears has no effect, or worse, becomes a joke. Our relationships become more distant as virtual things become our preference. Our ability to trust falls away as we listen to voices that tell us to distrust everything. Our greed and pride grows by inches, and lust becomes common place. A callous grows over our heart.
Consider the “normal things” you’ve seen this week… things you might not even notice anymore. Television commercials and programs continually sexualize younger and younger men and women. You watch your favourite comedy show and ¾ of the characters are sleeping around and having sex outside of marriage. You watch your favourite action or drama and you tune-out the foul language, get used to witnessing murders, find yourself cheering for the corrupt police officer, and hope that the married character will leave their spouse so they can finally be with their “soul mate”. If you hear these kinds of sins enough times, they start to become normal… and excusable. That husband is a jerk… she belongs with the other guy.
Consider how many times you’ve been told how much “you deserve” this week. You deserve fast, excellent service, great taste, multiple choices, a great body, happiness, success and the car / house of your dreams. If you hear that you are the centre of the universe enough times, you start to believe it.
Consider how many things you’ve been told to be afraid of. They start the news by telling you that there are at least 4 horrible things happening right now, and they will tell you more soon. With dramatic music and graphics, and a clever title like “The end of everything you’ve ever known…” they explain about 10% of the problem. Then they squeeze in some “experts” that were available today who tell you how bad it’s going to get. Then they tell you that they will “bring you more as the story develops” – or they might completely drop the story and never mention it again if it turns out to be nothing.
Then, because they need you to keep watching, the next segment starts to tell you why you need to be afraid of your veterinarian, how the global economy is collapsing, why you should never by hot-dogs, and how your toothbrush could be killing you. It doesn’t matter if it’s all misinformation and half-cooked stories because you’re watching. And — if you’re told enough times that you need to live in fear, then you’re going to start believing it.
Spiritual Palate Cleansing
What we need is a spiritual palate cleansing. We need to have some way to reset our hearts, minds and spirits so that we can tell the difference between right and wrong, distinguish wisdom from foolishness, and be able to see, hear, and experience things as they really are.
During my devotionals this week I came across a book by Andrew Comiskey called “Naked Surrender” where he talks about this very thing. He says,
“I believe that we are living in a time of unprecedented… idolatry. The moral ozone layer has burned off. … We used to flinch…. We stopped flinching. Idols sear our skin, and we no longer feel it. Desensitized by all manner of evil…. Idols empower all the wrong things; they awaken lust and deaden conscience. We then act badly, in ways that rob us of clarity and virtue and leave us unfit for real relationships.”
Our damaged palate, our desensitized soul, our callous hearts, have deep effects on our lives, our families, our church, and our relationship with God.
Our Spiritual House
Why am I making this a big deal? Because I believe this is a big deal to Jesus. Turn to 1 Peter 2:1-9. You’re going to notice a similar theme to what we talked about during the Christian Integrity series, but I want to take it from a different angle.
“So put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander. Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation—if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good. As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For it stands in Scripture: ‘Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious, and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.’”
Once again we are talking about what makes up our spiritual house. And in this scripture we are reminded that Jesus is the capstone, or the foundation stone, the One on whom we are built. He is precious to us, necessary. If He moves, we all move. And, as we said before, He cares very much, and takes an active role, in how we are built. Peter says we “are being built up as a spiritual house”. In 1 Corinthians 3:9 we are called “God’s Building”. In Hebrews 3:6 we are called “God’s House.”
Let’s keep reading from verse 7:
“So the honor is for you who believe, but for those who do not believe, ‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone,’ and ‘A stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense.’ They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do. But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.”
Unbelievers stumble over Jesus, the cornerstone. Instead of building their lives on Him, they see it as a hindrance. Maybe you’ve felt this too. Before you were saved you saw a relationship with Jesus as a hindrance – something that would get in the way of your life. Too many rules, too much baggage, not enough freedom. So you avoided Jesus and Christianity because you saw “the cornerstone” as a “rock of offence”.
This is what we are like before we are saved – and it’s what we do when we sin. People try to find a good, solid foundation to build their lives on, right? So they start digging down and searching for something solid. All at once they hit a huge, gigantic boulder under where they want to build! That’s Jesus. Some people see that and say, “Wow, that’s awesome. I’ve never found anything so stable, so secure, so helpful, so perfect in it’s ability to keep my house secure.”
But others look at it and instead of building on it, they try to dig it out. They resent its placement. They want their house over here, not over there. They don’t like the shape of it, and they want to form it in their own image, but it’s too strong. Having a stone like that as a foundation means they won’t get the life they want, so they try to chip away at it with bad doctrine and excuses. They get the large backhoes of world religions to try to dig it out, but they can’t move it. This huge foundational stone goes on and on and it forces them to either build there or leave it altogether. This stone, that should be their foundation, becomes a hated thing to them. But for those who have been chosen, who were destined to believe, that is the most precious stone in the world.
You are a Holy Place
Listen to Ephesians 2:19-21 as it echoes what Peter is saying:
“So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.”
You see, this image is all over scripture. It’s corporate – we are God’s house – and it’s personal – you are God’s House. There are many ways to describe a believer, but one way scripture uses is to call us God’s Building, God’s Temple. The church corporately is God’s Temple. But also, each individual Christian is a Temple, built stone by stone, by the Holy Spirit as a special place for the person of God to indwells. That makes the soul of each believer a holy place, just like Mount Sinai when the bush was burning, or the Holy of Holies in the Tabernacle. You’re heart and mine – all believer’s hearts – are a holy tabernacle.
Listen to 1 Corinthians 3:16-17:
“Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.”
God takes you, His temple, very seriously. If someone tries to corrupt His temple with false worship, with idolatry, with false doctrine, they will be destroyed. Anyone who takes on a believer will face the wrath of God. He loves His People, His Household, His Children, His Holy Place where He dwells. Within you.
Cleansing the Temple
Now, having established that we are the Temple of God, and I want to turn to how seriously God takes His temple — which is your body, your spirit, and this body of believers, let’s watch this.
This is the big idea that blew my mind this week. That I can get so plugged up with what the world gives me, things that I’m unquestionably shovelling into my life, that I lose the sensitivity to the voice of God, and the Holy Spirit inside me. I allow things into my mind and heart which pollute my relationship with God, and offend Him deeply. To the point where I don’t never know what’s right and wrong anymore. I can’t tell the difference between things that God finds offensive, and what pleases Him. I can’t tell an idol from the true God. I can’t understand His will, and I am indifferent to His presence and His word.
The money changers and those selling the animals for sacrifice had become a common site in the temple. In fact, even after Christ cleansed the temple at the beginning of His ministry, they moved right back in and He did it again at the end. It had become normal and excusable! People needed to exchange their foreign money for local currency. People needed to buy animals for sacrifice locally, instead of bringing them from far away. This made sense. No one cared. No one made a fuss. Not the religious people, not those buying, certainly not those making a profit. Who cares?
The Cathedral of our Heart
Let me another part of Andrew Comiskey’s book that really struck home for me,
“One of my favorite passages involves Jesus cleansing the temple. Here [Jesus] is at his least tolerant and inclusive. Here his radical love rids God’s house of all within that does not manifest him. Jesus does not dialogue with these detractors—he whips both man and beast and drives them out, overturning tables and shouting: ‘Get out!’ He cares about what goes on in the temple because the temple represents God to others. It is, after all, the house of the Creator.
[Now listen to what he says next because it’s the point that we’re making here.]
“…I am God’s house. …My ‘cathedral’ is still vulnerable to housing… idols: … gods and goddesses that have power to defile the temple and cripple my capacity to love others well…. ”
I love that word He uses – “My ‘cathedral’.” When was the last time you thought of yourself as a cathedral built for the honour and glory of Jesus? When was the last time you looked into a mirror and saw a cathedral? A beautiful work of art full of halls and rooms and intricacies that only few have ever seen, intricately planned and uniquely made, infinitely precious and incredibly powerful, the home of many holy things. When was the last time you considered yourself to be a house of God?
That’s how God sees you. Jesus is within the walls of your heart. And I believe He is just as passionate today about the condition of your heart today as he was about the Temple then. I believe He is just as angry, ferocious and violent about the sin that is housed in our hearts, and all the corrupt things that distract us and keep us from Him.
We don’t think it’s a big deal. It’s just a tv show. It’s just one night. It’s just a joke. It’s my culture.
But Jesus sees them as very big deals. We embrace the sin, play with it, roll it around our tongue, caress it with our hands, gaze at it with our eyes and store in our minds… as though it’s no big thing. We keep it in a special place in our cathedral. And Jesus sees it and wants to destroy it because it is corrupting His Father’s Temple!
How I wish that I had the vision of sin that Christ has. I wish I could hate it as much as He does. But I’m steeped in it. I’m used to it. My palate is too clouded to discern the things of God very well. My heart is still to calloused, my eyes and ears too used to profanity, my mind so full of garbage it’s hard to distinguish the sacred from the worldly. Sure, I can see better than I used to, but I still don’t see it the way Christ does.
We excuse it. We talk to others and they say it’s no big deal, that it’s part of our personality, that everyone is doing it… and because because we haven’t been cleansing our palate with the pure Words and Spirit of God, it doesn’t even taste wrong to us … so we ingest more and more, and we grow sicker and sicker.
This is why a season of fasting, repentance and renewal is such a critical time in the life of a believer! This is why the church fathers created the season of Lent as a time to practice giving up lesser things and cleansing ourselves from worldly influence. It gives us a chance to evaluate how we are treating our body, mind, eyes, hands, feet. It makes us look twice at what we put into our mouth, what we read without thinking about it, what we touch every day. And we realize that it’s a very big deal to Jesus, because it may be profaning His temple.
Now let’s read 1 Corinthians 6:12-20. Before we start, I want you to notice all the quotation marks in the first few verses, this is Paul quoting back to the Corinthians some of their favourite slogans and excuses for why they don’t need to worry about what they are doing with their bodies.
“‘All things are lawful for me,’ but not all things are helpful. ‘All things are lawful for me,’ but I will not be dominated by anything. “Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food”—and God will destroy both one and the other.”
In other words, the Corinthian church had separated their spiritual lives from their physical lives. They disconnected their bodies from their souls and figured that you could do whatever you want with your body and it wouldn’t affect your mind, heart and soul. Have you ever heard that? “It’s just physical?”
They said, “Since I’m saved by grace, and everything is God’s, I can do anything I want.” Paul says, “Sure, but not everything has benefit”. They said, “But I’m free from religion and my soul is secure forever and now I can enjoy all the pleasures of this world!” Paul says, “Yes, but don’t let it dominate you. Don’t let it become your god… your idol… your master.”
Then it goes deeper and more sinister. You’ve heard this before. They said, “Food for the stomach and the stomach for food”, or in other words, “if my body says it wants it, then it’s obviously what I need to do.”
“My body says, ‘Eat!’ and I need to eat, therefore I’ll eat what and when I want to. It’s just food.”
“My mind wants distraction because I’m tired of concentrating. So I can watch whatever I want. It’s just TV.”
“I’m angry and my body wants to hit something. It’s not my fault that’s how I’m built. I’m just a violent person. I’m just doing what comes naturally.”
“My body says has natural, sexual desires and wants release, therefore I’ll get it wherever I want however my body wants it. It’s not my fault if I have natural desires! It’s just sex.”
And Paul replies, “And yet both are from God, and God can destroy them if He wants to.” In other words, “God designed you with desires. You get hungry so you can feed yourself — but that doesn’t mean you should eat addicting garbage. And you have sexual desires too, but that doesn’t mean you can fulfill them however you want. He gave them as good things, but wants you to use them in a healthy way. He wants you to experience joy and love and pleasure and grow closer to your spouse. He created it. He designed it. He knows how it works. Don’t use it in a destructive, sinful, harmful way.
Continue in verse 13 and see how this ties into what we’ve been talking about with our bodies as Temples of God
“The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. And God raised the Lord and will also raise us up by his power. Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never! Or do you not know that he who is joined to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For, as it is written, ‘The two will become one flesh.’ But he who is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with him. Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.”
Any kind of sin is incompatible with our unity in Christ – they all divide us from Him – but sexual sin is particularly evil. The word there is “PORNEIA” which includes all sexual activity conducted without your heterosexual marriage partner. That includes everything from adultery to masturbation. God brings out sexuality as special because sex has a uniquely spiritual component. You literally become “one” with the person. It’s not just physical. It’s not just a biological release – it’s a spiritual tying, and emotional connection. That’s why adultery – whether it’s with another person or in your mind though sexual imagery or sexual stories – is so damaging. It tears the soul – divides the oneness of the marriage.
And it profanes your body, which is a temple of the Holy Spirit.
A Disgusting Sanctuary
Think of it this way. You would be very surprised if you came in next week and found pornographic posters hanging all over the sanctuary, right? You would be offended, distracted, and probably never come back. Then why do you hang them in the temple of your mind where Jesus dwells? It’s the same to Jesus.
You probably wouldn’t bring your favourite porn star, pin-up girl, or someone who you are in an adulterous relationship to church with you because you’d be ashamed how people would look at you… but you’ll take someone online, or in a book, or at work, or in an old memory, and fanaticize about them – which lets that person into your heart – which is the Temple in which Jesus dwells. What’s the difference?
You’d probably have a problem if you came into church one day and the walls looked like a truck-stop bathroom stall… full of dirty limericks, swear words, filthy pictures, and profanity. And yet you will readily accept much of that into your own heart, and into your own temple. You might have a problem if the decorations in here were tributes to dollar bills, bloody violence, and revenge… all surrounding a golden recorder full of all of the gossip and bitter slander you could ever want to hear…, but is that what the walls of your personal cathedral look like? When Jesus walks through the cathedral of your heart, what does He see?
When he comes to sit with you at the communion table in your heart, does He have to sit next to a pile of your money and favourite possessions? What is there to eat? Good, healthy spiritual food, or do you only offer him the same bitter root that you’ve been chewing on for such a long time? Is your personal cathedral dedicated to comfort? No rough edges, nothing to bother you, no annoying people, no annoying rules, and at the centre is a you on a pillow – and Jesus can come in as long as He’s quiet, doesn’t disturb anything, and only gives you things that make you more comfortable?
Perhaps, in the cathedral of your heart is a cross – the symbol of the Christian faith. What other symbols are beside it, competing for importance? Maybe the make of your car, or your favourite technology? Is there a sports-team logo next to the cross? You identify yourself, in the cathedral of your heart, as Christian – and what? Is there a place of worship next to the cross, where you spend your time, your money, your energy, and your attention. Jesus gets part of your worship, but the other idols demand a sacrifice too.
You’ve been to lots of people’s houses and they all have sayings on their walls, on the fridge, in their bedroom. So, as Jesus wanders the halls of the cathedral, what is written on the walls of your heart? The scripture you’ve memorized, the prayers you repeat, the lyrics to a worship song pictures of your family and friends, concerns for your community and the world … right beside the dirty jokes you’ve been reading on the internet and the lyrics to hundreds of songs that celebrate hate, money, alcohol and sex, and all of the harmful, lying, abusive self-talk that you are so used to speaking to yourself as you call yourself stupid, ugly, worthless, and hated. Not the words of God on the walls of your cathedral, but the words of Satan, and you read them over and over.
And in a special place, all on its own, is the ornate carving of your favourite four-letter-word? The one you use in your mind constantly, and which slips out when you feel stress.
Has Jesus found the room you have dedicated to memories of your old girl or boyfriends where you like to spend time when you feel rejected or lonely?
What inhabits the cathedral of your heart?
Maybe you’re feeling convicted right now and you need to talk to God about the mess in your heart. You need to ask forgiveness and ask Him to start clearing that stuff out. You’ve tried, but it only gets worse. You need to ask Jesus to do it, and start replacing all of that garbage with holy things.
What the Church is Made Of
Here’s something you’ve perhaps never thought about: Whatever makes up your cathedral, is what our church is made of. This church is not made of stone and wood. It’s not decorated with paint and pictures. Our church isn’t our music or preaching style, the size of the building, or a weekly event. If we think that any of these things are what bring glory to God, improve our worship, or draw people closer to him, we’re dead wrong.
Our church is built out of the hearts and minds of the people that attend it. We have built this church day by day, deed by deed, decision by decision, sin by sin, idol by idol, fight by fight, prayer by prayer, sacrifice by sacrifice, act of love by act of love, over the history of this church. This is what we are made of, what inspires our worship, what God judge us by, and determines our blessings or need for discipline.
What we see when we are here together and behaving ourselves for an hour on Sunday is only the tiniest part of what we would call “church”. The church God sees, and is really concerned with, is the cathedral of our hearts. He’s concerned about what we are doing in our minds as we sing the songs and listen to the sermon. He’s concerned about what we think when we see the people around us, or think of the one’s not here. He’s concerned with the things we do when we are alone in our room, what we do when we hear of a need, what we communicate in our phone calls and e-mails. That’s what makes up our church.
Our church is built seven days a week out of our private thoughts, our actions and inactions, our secret good deeds, our personal worship and devotion, our love for one another, our sacrifice for each other and God… and it’s built from our private sins, our personal idols, our prejudices, our hate and our hypocrisy. That determines whether we are living by the power of the Holy Spirit, or are grieving Him. That’s why we need to take care of each other.
Jesus Hates Hypocrites
Jesus had some incredibly harsh words for the Pharisees who looked good on the outside, were amazing in their religious obedience, were pillars of the community and great church goers — but were absolutely corrupt on the inside. He said,
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence…. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness. So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.” (Matthew 23:25)
“Well did Isaiah prophesy of you, when he said: ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me…” (Matthew 15:7-9)
There are so many scriptures against hypocrisy that it is truly overwhelming.
Looking at Your Cathedral
Let me close with this question: What does the cathedral of your heart look like? Listen to Jesus speaking into your heart about your faith. Listen to what the scripture says about having your insides match your outsides.
“But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.” (James 1:22-25)
Some of us need a palette cleansing today because we have so filled ourselves with compromise and sin that we no longer even know right from wrong. The only way to know the condition of your heart, and to purify your cathedral, is to cleanse your palette through repentance and confession, and seek purity. Look deep inside for that which is dividing your heart.
Or in the words of 2 Timothy 2:20-22, which speaks about cleaning up the cathedral of your heart:
“Now in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and silver but also of wood and clay, some for honorable use, some for dishonorable. Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from what is dishonorable, he will be a vessel for honorable use, set apart as holy, useful to the master of the house, ready for every good work. So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart.”
This week people all over the world celebrated St. Patrick’s Day. For many it is a time to pretend they are Irish, get drunk on green beer (or Guinness for the purists), take in a parade, and dress like a leprechaun. Ironically, though they celebrate with a passion, most people have long forgotten the actual story of St. Patrick. (For example, most people think he was Irish – but he wasn’t!)
St. Patrick has been one of my heroes for a long while, and what I want to do today is remember this story. St. Patrick was one of the most successful missionary pioneers in history and his story is full of lessons for us to remember and reminds us of the power of depending on God. His impact is still being felt today around the world. And I believe that the secret to his success wasn’t just about the work he did, but in his relationship with Jesus and the attitude of his heart.
Taken as a Slave
Early in the fifth century, a young man and his family walked along the shores of Roman Briton. As they walked together they noticed a fleet of fifty longboats weaving their way toward the shore. He was only 16-years-old, the son of a civil magistrate and tax collector, but even he had heard stories of the Irish raiders who would storm upon the shores capturing slaves to take with them “to the ends of the world”. As his eyes scanned the longboats, there is no doubt that he began imagining the worst.
The Roman legions had long since deserted Britain, so there was no military to protect them – and Patrick knew that his town was woefully unprepared for attack. The Irish warriors, wearing helmets and armed with spears, descended on the pebbled beach with a furious, terrible shout. The braying war horns struck terror into Patrick’s heart, and he started to run toward the uncertain safety of town.
With hardly an effort the warriors quickly demolished the village, and as Patrick darted among burning houses and screaming women, he was caught by one of the men. He struggled, but there was nothing he could do against the huge barbarian who dragged him aboard a boat bound for the east coast of Ireland.
Faith as a Slave
He was now a slave without any rights or freedoms, able to be sold to the highest bidder. And he was. Patrick was sold to a cruel warrior chief, whose favourite decoration was his opponents’ heads which sat atop sharp pikes on the fence surrounding his land.
Patrick was to take care of his master’s pigs. There was no comfort in this position or care from his master. He lived like an animal himself, enduring long bouts of hunger and thirst. Perhaps worst of all, was the loneliness. Not only was he a slave in a foreign land, but he was isolated from other human beings for months at a time.
His father was a deacon and his grandfather was a priest, but Patrick was, by his own admission, only a nominal Christian. As his situation grew more desperate, the hunger pains worsened, the loneliness grew, and the days wore on, he finally turned to the God of his fathers for comfort.
“I would pray constantly during the daylight hours,” he later recalled. “The love of God and the fear of him surrounded me more and more. And faith grew. And the spirit roused so that in one day I would say as many as a hundred prayers, and at night only slightly less.”
Patrick changed in remarkable ways, growing physically and spiritually in his time there, but as God’s love grew in his heart – so did his love of the Irish Celtic people. He learned their language and their culture – and he even came to love his slave masters. He began to identify with them and to hope and pray for their reconciliation with God.
After six years of slavery, Patrick heard a mysterious voice, a supernatural messenger, saying. “You do well to fast. Soon you will return to your homeland.” Patrick obeyed, and fasted and prayed even more fervently. Before long, the voice spoke again saying: “Come and see, your ship is waiting for you.” Patrick knew that this was his moment to escape and so he fled. He ran 200 miles to a southeastern harbor where he saw a ship, probably carrying Irish wolfhounds to the European continent. With some difficulty he convinced the traders to take him with them.
They sailed for three-days, Patrick recounting his story and sharing his deep faith with the men. They landed in Gaul (which is modern-day France). When they stepped from the boat they found only devastation. Goths or Vandals had so decimated the land that no food was to be found in the once fertile area. They walked for days trying to find something to feed themselves, but there was nothing.
“What have you to say for yourself, Christian?” the ship’s captain taunted. “You boast that your God is all powerful. You tell us of his great provision for you! Now we’re starving to death, and we may not survive to see another soul.” Patrick answered confidently. “Nothing is impossible to God. Turn to him and he will send us food for our journey.”
And at that very moment, a herd of pigs appeared and blocked their path. The men shouted, and Patrick instantly became “well regarded in their eyes,” — but to his sadness, his companions offered some of their new-found food in sacrifice to their pagan gods. Patrick, of course, did not partake in the sacrifice.
After a few years wandering the continent, he made his way back home to his family in England, and Patrick set his heart toward becoming a full time minister. He was trained to be a priest, immersed his mind in the scriptures, and grounded himself in theology. He served for some years as a faithful priest to the congregations of England.
It was during this time of faithful service, at age forty-eight, that Patrick had another vision. This one was like the apostle Paul’s at Troas, when a Macedonian man came to him in a dream and pleaded, “Help us!”
Patrick describes what happened this way: “I had a vision in my dreams of a man who seemed to come from Ireland. His name was Victoricius, and he carried countless letters, one of which he handed over to me. I read aloud where it began: ‘The Voice of the Irish.’ And as I began to read these words, I seemed to hear the voice of the same men who lived beside the forest of Foclut, which is beside the western sea – and they cried out as with one voice, ‘We appeal to you, holy servant boy, to come and walk among us.’ I was deeply moved in heart and I could read no further, so I awoke.”
When he awoke he knew beyond the shadow of a doubt that God had called him to take Christianity to Ireland. Now, Ireland was a deeply pagan land. There is only one record of a Christian missionary to Ireland, a man named Palladus, who was unsuccessful in converting anyone and may have been martyred there.
Patrick appealed to the Bishops and to Pope Celestine to send him and a group of priests, seminary teachers and a few others, to Ireland. They affirmed his vision, ordained him as a bishop, and he returned to Ireland, this time as a missionary of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
The mission was hard, and Patrick showed himself to be wise, brave and faithful. After beginning his mission he wrote back, “I dwell among gentiles, in the midst of pagan barbarians, worshippers of idols, and of unclean things.” He loved the people, and spoke to them in their own language, but all the time he faced opposition from the druids (priests and magicians of the Celtic religion) who were very well educated and politically connected to the Irish kings. Much of Patrick’s time in Ireland was spent trying not to be killed by the druid priests.
The Celtic warriors were a difficult bunch as well. Before a battle they would strip bare and rush at their enemies wearing only their sandals, carrying a sword and a shield, while howling as possessed by demons! During the battle they would decapitate their enemies and perform human sacrifice to their various gods.
“Daily I expect murder, fraud or captivity,” wrote Patrick, “but I fear none of these things because of the promises of heaven. I have cast myself into the hands of God almighty who rules everywhere.” There is a prayer of protection on the famous “Patrick’s Breastplate” which perfectly expresses the very prayer he may have repeated over and over:
“God… save me from… every fierce merciless force that may come upon my body and soul; against incantations of false prophets, against black laws of paganism, against false laws of heresy, against deceit of idolatry, against spells of women and smiths and druids.”
Patrick was as fully convinced as the Celts were that the power of the druids was real – but that it was a demonic power – and that the God he served was stronger. At one point Patrick had a powerful confrontation with the druids (though most scholars doubt that it was as magical as the stories recount) which was something like when Elijah contested against the prophets of baal on Mount Carmel, or Moses against the magicians of Egypt. It happened in a place called Tara where each side worked to outdo the wonders that the other was working. Legend says that Patrick “won” as God killed several of the druids and soldiers. The king was greatly enraged because of this, but Patrick said to the king, “If you do not believe now, you will die on the spot for the wrath of God descends on your head.”
In that moment “the king summoned his council and said, ‘It is better for me to believe than to die.’ And he believed as did many others that day.”
Patrick almost seemed to delight in taking risks to spread the gospel. He once wrote, “I must take this decision disregarding risks involved and make known the gifts of God and his everlasting consolation. Neither must we fear any such risk in faithfully preaching God’s name boldly in every place, so that even after my death, a spiritual legacy may be left for my brethren and my children.” And what a legacy he has.
From Kingdom to Kingdom
He spent much of his time moving his missionary team around the country’s one hundred or so tribal kingdoms. He knew that if the king became a Christian, the druids would lose power and the people would be more open to the message.
But Patrick didn’t come in as a conquering hero. He came in with humility. He would ask the king for permission to camp near their settlement and then gradually send team members to engage the people in conversation and help them in their daily lives. They would pray for sick people, help the demon possessed, give counselling and mediate conflicts. Patrick would take questions from the people and then speak publicly to give the answers. They would do open-air speaking, telling stories and parables, singing songs, using visual arts, and even drama to capture the Celtic people’s remarkable imaginations.
The most famous of these visual arts is the Shamrock, the three leafed clover, which is said to have been used to illustrate the doctrine of the Trinity. This doctrine, with God as the unity of three persons, bound together in love, became a foundational model for the Celtic Christian model. God was a family of persons and invited us to join his family. God in the Trinity, is always a companion, a friend, a partner.
This strategy was a success. As kings and townspeople converted, they would give their sons to Patrick, in an old Irish custom, for educating. They became his disciples. Eventually, many of the sons and daughters of the Irish were persuaded to become monks and nuns, priests and missionaries.
Patrick moved from kingdom to kingdom working much the same way. Once he converted a number of pagans, he built a church – not a large, Roman church, but a Celtic one. He was always sensitive to the needs of the people he had grown to love. He wasn’t trying to turn these “terrible barbarians” into “good Romans”, but used their beautiful culture to share the good news of Jesus Christ. His style of ministry almost cost him his position as bishop when some of the British bishops were offended that Patrick was going beyond his “role” and spending most of his time with “pagans”, “sinners” and “barbarians.”
One of his new disciples would be ordained as a deacon, priest, or bishop, and left in charge of the new church. If the chieftain was gracious enough to grant a site for a monastery as well as a church, it was built too and functioned as a missionary station. Before departing, Patrick would give the new converts (or their pastors) a compendium of Christian doctrine and the canons to guide them.
One ancient document called “The Annals of the Four Masters” says that, through Patrick’s team, 30 or 40 of Ireland’s 150 tribes became Christian, 700 churches were planted and 1000 new ministers were ordained.
But no matter how much success he had with the kings, Patrick saw the greatest enemy as one he was intimately familiar with – slavery. He was the first Christian to strongly speak out, and fight against, the practice. But it wasn’t just the Irish who were taking British slaves – but also British who were stealing people from Ireland. Patrick himself wrote a letter excommunicating a man named Coroticus who had carried off some of Patrick’s own Irish converts into slavery.
“Ravenous wolves have gulped down the Lord’s own flock which was flourishing in Ireland,” he wrote, “and the whole church cries out and laments for its sons and daughters.” He called Coroticus’ deeds “wicked, so horrible, so unutterable,” and told him to repent and to free the converts.
We don’t know if Coroticus ever did free his slaves, but we know that within his lifetime, Patrick ended the entire Irish slave trade.
Self-Doubt and Great Faith
One thing that comes as a surprise to many is that despite his amazing legacy, success as a missionary, his bravery before the druids and kings, and his deep faith in God, Patrick was terribly self-conscious and never felt adequate to the task – especially regarding his educational background. He once wrote about the frustration he felt when trying to explain things to more educated people, “I still blush and fear more than anything to have my lack of learning brought out into the open for I am unable to explain my mind to learned people.” But he didn’t let his lack of education, or inability to articulate his thoughts stop him. He gave thanks to God, “who stirred up me, a fool, from the midst of those who are considered wise and learned in the practice of the law as well as persuasive in their speech and in every other way and ahead of these others, inspired me who is so despised by the world.”
Over and over again, Patrick wrote that he was not worthy to be a bishop. And he wasn’t the only one with doubts. Despite how difficult the mission was, and how successful Patrick was being, at one point, his ecclesiastical elders in Britain sent some men to investigate his mission. These men brought up many concerns and accusations – including a rash moment of (unspecified) sin from his youth. These concerns may have even been made public to his missionary team. Patrick reeled from the accusations. But he wrote back about God’s provision during that time, “Indeed he bore me up, though I was trampled underfoot in such a way. For although I was put down and shamed, not too much harm came to me.”
These men didn’t have to tell Patrick that he wasn’t fit for the position – he knew that. He never felt that he was truly equipped for the job God had given him. But what he lacked in formal training, he certainly made up for with a strong prayer life, a deep dependence on God, and a real sense of God’s presence in his life. He wrote, “I have known God as my authority, for he knows all things even before they are done. He would frequently forewarn me of many things by his divine response.” His self-doubt kept him closely dependent on God.
In fact, Patrick recorded eight dreams which he saw as personal messages from God. Scattered throughout his writings are tributes to God’s goodness to him during times of trouble, confusion and fear. He would say things like, “Tirelessly, I thank my God, who kept me faithful on the day I was tried, so that today I might offer to him, the Lord Jesus Christ, the sacrifice of my soul. He saved me in all dangers and perils….So, whatever may come my way, good or bad, I equally tackle it, always giving thanks to God.”
We don’t know for sure where or how he died, but according to the recorded history of Ireland, Patrick’s mission to Ireland ended in his death in 493. He would have been in his seventies. There are three different Monasteries that claim to house his remains. The day we know as St. Patrick’s day, March 17th, has been a day of feasting in his honour since as early as the year 797.
Though it is sometimes to separate fact from fiction in the stories of St. Patrick, everyone agrees that he has an amazing legacy. He was the first great missionary to bring the gospel outside of the boundaries of Romans civilization.
He was the ultimate model for Celtic Christians who would follow him in his work. Hundreds of Irish monks left their homeland, just as Patrick had, to spread the gospel to Scotland, England and Europe. But they didn’t just model his mission – they followed his faith.
Patrick was a man of continuous prayer, enraptured by God and deeply in love with Scripture. That love didn’t stay with the book, but was lived in service to others as a preacher, teacher and practical missionary. He had a rich, poetic imagination, and a special openness to listen to God in dreams and visions. He appreciated and enjoyed nature and creation.
He is most worthy of the title “saint”, which means “set apart”, because certainly had a divine mission and became an inspiring example. Let us take his example, as he ran the race well, following the footsteps of Christ, and become men and women of courageous faith.
Note: My seminary profs would have my hide for this because of the way I adapted and outright copied from the sources below (though I noticed they did the same to each other, so I don’t feel too bad), but if I sited every single part I used then this post would have become an unreadable mess of punctuation. Let’s just assume that I assembled the story, adapted some of the language to make it easier to read, but I will take credit for none of the research.
- “Patrick The Saint – The Story Behind The Legends”; by Mary Cagney – CHRISTIAN HISTORY MAGAZINE
- Galli, M., & Olsen, T. (2000). Introduction. In 131 Christians everyone should know (p. 230). Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers.
- George G. Hunter. (2000), The Celtic Way of Evangelism, Abingdon Publishers
This is the final week we will be spending on Psalm 15. We have been going through it for nine weeks now, and it has been a challenging, and hopefully encouraging, piece of scripture to study. I know it has been for me! And from the responses I’ve heard from some of you, God has been working on your heart too. And for that I’m glad.
Let’s open up to Psalm 15 together, and let’s read it one more time from beginning to end.
“O Lord, who shall sojourn in your tent? Who shall dwell on your holy hill?
He who walks blamelessly and does what is right
and speaks truth in his heart; who does not slander with his tongue and
does no evil to his neighbor, nor takes up a reproach against his friend;
in whose eyes a vile person is despised, but who honors those who fear the Lord;
who swears to his own hurt and does not change;
who does not put out his money at interest and does not take a bribe against the innocent.
He who does these things shall never be moved.” (ESV)
Throughout the series, we’ve been using the illustration of a house that God is building our spiritual house (our lives) into. If you remember, each part of the psalm speaks about a different column that holds up the roof, which is our Integrity. All of this is built on the foundation of our relationship with Jesus Christ.
If we are going to have Christian Integrity, then these 5 characteristics will describe your life: You will Speak the Truth, Love Your Neighbour, Honour the Faithful (which included Rejecting Hypocrites (Part 2)), Be Trustworthy and Generous (which means we Use Wealth Well).
The Psalm says that “He who does these things shall never be moved.” In order for this house to be secure, all of these parts have to be there holding up the walls. You cannot build your life on another foundation other than Jesus Christ because all other foundations we build our life on, no matter how strong we believe them to be, will falter and fail when the storms come.
At the end of the Sermon on the Mount, which is the longest recording of a sermon Jesus preached to His followers, He tells this story:
“Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.” (Matthew 7:24-27, ESV)
There are so many foundations out there that people will build their lives on – where they will seek to find hope, strength, security, and peace: Their Government, The Economy, Themselves, Other Religions. But all of these things are insecure. The only solid foundation is Jesus Christ. He is the only immovable, unchangeable, all powerful One who can weather all storms. Therefore, before all else, we must make sure that we have a strong relationship with Jesus Christ.
But to have a strong spiritual house, the pillars must be there too. Jesus doesn’t move – He will never leave you, forsake you, and you can be sure in your salvation – but our pillars can shift. We call this sin.
A person of Christian Integrity wants to be a fully functioning, healthy disciple of Jesus. And God works in them to build them into a strong spiritual house. But when we lie, act in an unloving way, embrace hypocrites, ignore fellow Christians, don’t keep our word, hold onto our money like Scrooge, or waste it on frivolous things, we are willfully making our spiritual house insecure. We are shaking our pillars, shrinking them, and chipping away at them.
What this series has been about is causing us to evaluating our relationship with Jesus (are we built on the right foundation) and then to test strength of our pillars. If we want to people who “stand firm”, “never be shaken”, and “never moved”, then it means we must be diligent about keeping our Christian Integrity.
I hope you understand this. We talked about it in the first sermon and referenced 1 Corinthians 3:11-17:
“If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light [that is the day where we all stand before the judgment seat of Christ]. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work. If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames.”
God will test our spiritual house. He will judge our eternal destination – heaven or hell – based on our foundation, our relationship with Jesus. Then He will judge Christians based on their obedience to His word – he will judge the columns.
When you sin, it doesn’t mean that you have lost your faith, or lost your salvation. No, the biggest difference between someone who is a follower of Jesus is that when they fail in these areas, they are convicted of their sin, come to God for forgiveness, and then ask Him to change that part of their life to be more like Jesus. A non-believer doesn’t see their sin… and if they do, they don’t hate it. They excuse it or blame someone else.
Testing the Columns
So I want to do something a little different today. What I want to do is go through some of the questions we’ve been asking for the past number of weeks, and give you a chance to talk about them together during the week. My hope is that over the next week or so you will gather together with a Christian friend, your spouse, or your small group, and go through these questions together. To reflect on them and test the strength of your spiritual house.
But before we do that I want to tell you why this is important.
Not Be Shaken
The reason I want to do this today is because of that last line in the Psalm. “He who does these things will never be shaken.” I don’t want you to be shaken. I want you to be able to stand firm no matter what happens. I want this church to be able to stand firm, and I believe the secret of the strength in your life as an individual, in your relationships, in your work life, in your home life, and in this church, is found in Psalm 15. If you get just this psalm right, you will be a huge step closer to living a life without regrets, without fear, without doubts, and without worries. This is the formula. It’s not perfect, but it’s pretty good. “He who does these things shall never be moved.” That sounds like a promise from God to you and me.
It reminds me of another favourite passage of scripture of mine and many others: Ephesians 6:10-19. Would you turn there with me and listen to what it takes in order to be able to “never be moved”.
Listen closely because this isn’t about gritting your teeth and trying to do your best. This isn’t about showing God how holy you are by how miserable you can make your life. It’s not about thanking Jesus for saving you and then saying, “Ok, I’ll take it from here.” This is about depending on Jesus every day, living by His strength and not yours. It’s about putting down your own ideas about how life should go, and picking up His plan and putting Him in charge of how to build your house. It’s about not doing things in your own strength, but asking God to use His strength through you. There’s a huge difference between doing things for God, doing things with God, and letting God do things through, for, in and around you.
Fight the Right Battle
“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil.” (vs 10-11)
Do you see that? The strength comes from “the Lord”. The “might” comes through a closer relationship with Him. The “armour” comes from God and is given to every person in His kingdom who asks for it. And your primary enemy is not you, or the world – the enemy is spiritual, it’s Satan.
That’s critical to realize or you will spend your life running from column to column, trying to hold up your own house, and feel like a complete failure when your life ultimately collapses. And if you think this is a battle against yourself, or against your enemies in the world, then you won’t even be on the right battlefield! However, if you realize that this is a spiritual battle, and your strength comes from a spiritual source, then you will come to God for the weapons you need to build, rebuild and defend your house.
Fight the Right Opponent
“For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” (vs 12)
That’s important to know. When it comes to your Christian Integrity: being truthful, loving people that are different, knowing the difference between right and wrong, keeping your vows even when it’s hard, living generously… we have to realize that the enemy hates that, and He will fight tooth and nail, pulling out every trick in his book to stop you. And you don’t have the power to withstand him. All of the decisions you make to be truthful, loving and the rest are all made in your spirit, way before they happen in the real world. The battle doesn’t happen when you are faced with something that tests your integrity. The battle is fought before you ever get there – in your spirit – as you contest with pride, jealousy, covetousness, idols, and the temptation to put yourself in the place of God.
If you have the chance to lie, that’s not the first strike – it’s the final blow of the battle. That question has already been answered. Did you come to God and commit yourself to Him? Are you living in His spiritual strength? Are you feeling weak and entitled and selfish? Have you asked for the strength to be truthful, and told the devil that you are not one of his people – you are not a liar! Either way, you already know how you will answer the question.
The battle whether or not you will keep your vows has more to do with your view of God then it does with the circumstances that happen to you or the person you made promises too. The decision to break your word isn’t just a human decision, it is one that is fought in your heart. The spiritual forces of evil are seeking to corrupt you, through temptation and fear, to break your vows, and they are giving you every excuse in the book. And when you break them, they know it has ripple effects that will harm many people, mar the image of God, and hurt the reputation of Jesus and His church. It’s a spiritual battle that happens way before the bad days come.
It’s the same with the decision to be generous, or loving. It’s not based on whether or not the person is worth our time, worth helping, worth our money… it is about whether we are seeing through God’s eyes. Do we recognize the generosity and grace that has come from His hand? Satan doesn’t want you to see that, so he will do everything he can to distract you from it. He will fill your mind with reasons why you don’t have enough, why you deserve more, why you’ve already loved enough and it’s someone else’s turn. He’ll tell you that people aren’t worth the trouble, that it won’t make any difference, that you’re too busy, and that you don’t need to love them if they don’t love you back. I know you’ve felt this spiritual battle.
And so Paul says this in verse 13. Since it’s a spiritual battle…
“Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm.” (vs 13)
The only way you will be able to stand against all of these schemes, to see straight, and to have the sensitivity to know what’s really going on, is to have the full armour of God on. When the day of evil, the day of temptation, when that spiritual battle rages in your heart about who you are, who God is, whether to be obedient, selfish, generous, loving, honest… if you are not wearing the full armour of God, you will not be able to stand.
Be careful to see how it is written. Who puts on the armor? Does God put it on you? No, you put on the armour. The day of evil is coming – the day of temptation, of fear, of anxiety, of death – and you stand your ground because you chose to put on God’s armour. He’s willing to suit you up, make sure the armor is strong, and give you the power to fight, and when it’s all over, to “stand firm”. But He wants you to come to Him to put on the armour. It’s called dependence.
What’s the difference between the one standing, and the one who is lying dead on the battle field? It’s not who was carrying the sharpest sword, or biggest gun. It is who had the best armour. The one who could take what the enemy dished out, and then turn the battle around. Satan is a coward and a bully and fights like a terrorist or a sniper. You don’t often get to see the battle coming before he’s on you. You won’t have a chance to take a swing with your weapon – you’d better have your armor on.
There’s an old sports quote that says: “Offence sells tickets, but defense wins championships” Our spiritual armour is the difference between having a strong spiritual house, or a weak one. It’s the difference between being “moved” or standing firm.
Testing the Pillars
Let’s talk about these pillars.
For a long time my father worked as a pipefitter at the mill in the town where I grew up. It was his job to fix the pipes that were broken. Then they gave him a different job: he was in charge of maintenance and safety. Instead of fixing things, his job was to make sure things didn’t break and no one got hurt. He would inspect machines, check the fire suppression system, order parts in advance, make sure things were up to code, shut things down that weren’t working properly, and schedule time to fix little problems before they become big problems.
That’s what I want to do for the rest of our time here. Let’s do a maintenance and safety walk around our spiritual house – using Psalm 15 as our guide. Let’s inspect these five pillars that hold up Integrity and see what we need to work on, what we need to pray about, and what areas of our life God is going to be challenging us in over the next while. Maybe some parts need a little fix, and maybe some need an overhaul.
What I’ll do is give you a quick intro, some questions for you to discuss, and then a little time to consider your answer – maybe even write it down.
Are You Truthful?
The first pillar of Christian Integrity is to be Truthful: “Who speaks the truth from his heart and has no slander on his tongue.” Here we talked about how people really don’t like “right and wrong”, but instead like to talk about “differences” and how nothing is ever anyone’s fault. In contrast, Christians should realize the importance of truth, and be able to speak the truth in love to one another.
We said that truth is under attack from Relativism, Scepticism and Pluralism… and that people who tell the truth are probably going to get into trouble at some point. Jesus told nothing but the truth, and he was hurt, rejected, slandered and murdered.
So, here are the questions:
- Do Christians have the right to enforce the standards of scripture on one another? How have you handled this responsibility?
- Which attack on the truth do you encounter most? Relativism – there is no absolute truth. Scepticism – we will never really know the truth. Pluralism – all truths are equally valid? Which do you struggle with?
- Do you struggle with always telling the truth? In what ways have you been hurt by lying or being lied to? How have you been because you or someone else told the truth?
Are You Loving?
The second pillar of Christian Integrity is to Love people. “Who does his neighbour no wrong and casts no slur on his fellowman.” Here we learned we need to love everyone! We believe that all people are created in the image of God, that they are objects of divine love, and there are no divisions between us based on race, nationality, culture or social status. We have no reason to hate anyone simply because of how they look, where they are from, or what their customs are. Specifically, we are to do no wrong (no evil) to anyone, or slur (meaning despise or dishonour) someone. Especially other believers!
This is where we looked at Bikers, Goths, Emos, Rappers, Hip Hop Culture, Body Builders, and Metal Heads, and said that in Jesus’ eyes, these people are also objects of grace, and can be Christian ministers within their own culture – and even went as far as to say that we are missing out when we have so much division in the church.
So here’s some questions:
- What does it mean to love every member of the human race? Is that even possible? Do you?
- Have you, or someone you know, ever been discriminated against because of your race, nationality, culture, or social status? Has it ever happened among Christians? Did you respond in a godly way?
- Do you think you could go to a worship service at a biker church, a goth church, a hip-hop church? Which would be hardest / easiest for you? Why?
Are You Honouring?
Next we took a couple of weeks to look at the third pillar which was based on the part that says a Christian “despises a vile man but honours those who fear the LORD”.
Here we spent some time looking at what it means to reject the person who claims to be a believer but has clearly rejected what God is saying in His word – and to give weight and respect those who obey God and treat Him as Lord of every area of their life. On one hand we give VIP status to other Christians. Love them, serve them, forgive them, speak kindly to them, and do all the other “one another” verses to them.
We said, based on 1 Corinthians 5, that there are 3 ways we get this wrong. First are those who are claiming to be Christians, but who are openly sinning and don’t care. Second is the group that is enabling, or even encouraging that person to sin. And third are those who know about it, know it’s wrong, but who avoid dealing with it because they don’t want to get involved.
This is where we brought in Matthew 18:15-17 where we learned that Jesus commands us to get into the business of other Christians who are sinning. And if they don’t listen to us, to take some friends along and try again. And if they still don’t listen, to get the pastor and elders involved. And then if they still are unrepentant, to turn them over to Satan and treat them like a hypocrite and an unbeliever.
So here’s the questions:
- Are you an Unrepentant Sinner, Enabler, or Avoider? What do you need to do about it?
- Have you ever gone through the Matthew 18 process? What was it like? If not, is it because you’ve avoided doing it?
- Why would God command us to treat a hypocritical Christian like a non-believer? What benefit could come from being “handed over to Satan?” How do you deal with hypocrites?
Are You Trustworthy?
The fourth pillar of Christian Integrity is to be Trustworthy. “Who keeps his oath even when it hurts.” The concept here is simple to grasp, but sometimes hard to practice. Jesus said that we need to take what we say very seriously – and follow through, even when it hurts. He said we should let our “yes be yes and our no be no” and that “anything beyond this comes from the evil one.” We should have the kind of reputations that when we say something we don’t have to add disclaimers for why might not do be trustworthy.
So here are the questions:
- Can people trust you? Do you struggle with trusting others?
- Do you ever add a bunch of disclaimers, explanations and excuses to things you say because you’re not sure if you’ll follow through? Why?
- What vows have you broken, and what are you going to do to make it right?
Are You Generous?
The final pillar of Christian Integrity is Generosity, or Using our Wealth Well. “Who lends his money without usury and does not accept a bribe against the innocent.” Here we talked quite a lot about the Amazing Grace of God, and how His grace and generosity should be the driving force for us to be gracious and generous with others.
We said that this has two sides. Those who have more should not take advantage of the people who have less by being selfish or using their resources to harm those who are poorer than them. And those who have less should not try to get money in a way that harms someone else. We then talked about some ways we can be selfish like: not tipping, valuing a possession over a person, or trading physical, psychological or emotional health for worldly wealth.
So here’s the questions:
- In what ways have you acknowledged the Amazing Grace of God this week?
- Have you ever taken advantage of someone by being selfish or using your wealth to cause harm?
- Have you ever done something wrong in order to get (or keep) more money or stuff?
That concludes our walk around our spiritual home. It is my deep hope that you were helped, and that this week you will draw closer to God, depend more on Jesus, and have a new understanding of the presence of the Holy Spirit in your life. For the areas that you have done well, thank God and give Him praise for helping you. In the areas that you have sinned, talk to God about that this week, ask forgiveness, receive forgiveness, and then spend more time putting on your spiritual armour so you will be able to stand firm.
We are saved by Grace. We cannot know God, be forgiven, get to heaven, or be saved from our sin, unless God is willing to give us grace.
Graceless Amazing Grace
The song Amazing Grace says, “Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me.” Now listen to this article I found online:
“In recent years, the words of the hymn have been changed in some religious publications to downplay a sense of imposed self-loathing by its singers. The second line,’That saved a wretch like me!’ has been rewritten as ‘That saved and strengthened me’, ‘that saved a soul like me’, or ‘that saved and set me free’…. Part of the reason for this change has been the altered interpretations of what wretchedness and grace means. Newton’s Calvinistic view of redemption and divine grace formed his perspective that he considered himself a sinner so vile that he was unable to change his life or be redeemed without God’s help. Yet his lyrical subtlety… leaves the hymn’s meaning open to a variety of Christian and non-Christian interpretations. “Wretch” also represents a period in Newton’s life when he saw himself outcast and miserable, as he was when he was enslaved in Sierra Leone; his own arrogance was matched by how far he had fallen in his life.”
No it doesn’t! I’m guessing that John Newton would lose his mind after reading something like that! Actually, yes, he did believe that he was “a sinner so vile that he was unable to change his life or be redeemed without God’s help”! That’s why it’s called “AMAZING GRACE”! He didn’t deserve it. He had no power, no ability, no good, no righteousness, no positivity, no merit, and could not have be redeemed except for the GRACE – the undeserved favour of God who gave His Son Jesus Christ as an atoning sacrifice for His sins! That’s the whole point of the song!
He was lost and blind – he had no way of knowing his own plight, no way of finding his way out, no way of seeing clearly – but now, because of God’s grace, he had been found and his eyes were opened! It was God’s grace that showed him that relieved his fears – not his own strength. It was God’s grace that brought him through many dangers, toils and snares – not his own intellegence. He knew that one day, “the earth will dissolve like snow, the sun forbear to shine”… it will be the end, nothing more to be done, everything utterly destroyed – except for those who are saved by God’s Grace. What makes this so Amazing is that God didn’t have to do any of it. John knew that all of the blessings, the protection, the renewal wasn’t something John deserved, but that God did out of His love. And it blew John Newton’s mind! What. Amazing. Grace!
Grace Cannot Be Achieved
I hope you have experienced this, because it is the fuel by which we live. It is the motivation for our good deeds, our worship, our sacrifice, our evangelism, our fellowship, our church, and any forgiveness we give to others. Once we realize the weight, the depth, the depravity of our wretchedness, we begin to understand enormity of the grace of God and the cost of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross!
I want to read a bit more of the article because it talks about the reason that people don’t like to sing the word “wretch”:
“The communal understanding of redemption and human self-worth has changed since Newton’s time. Since the 1970s, self-help books, psychology, and some modern expressions of Christianity have viewed this disparity in terms of grace being an innate quality within all people who must be inspired or strong enough to find it: something to achieve. In contrast to Newton’s vision of wretchedness as his willful sin and distance from God, wretchedness has instead come to mean an obstacle of physical, social, or spiritual nature to overcome in order to achieve a state of grace, happiness, or contentment…. The secular popularity of “Amazing Grace” is due to the absence of any mention about God in the lyrics until the fourth verse…, and that the song represents the ability of humanity to transform itself instead of a transformation taking place at the hands of God.”
That’s simply ridiculous! The song definitely, DEFINITELY, does not say that transformation is in the hands of humanity! The song says that before God’s Grace we are “wretched, lost, blind, and afraid”. The grace and power we need to be saved, changed, transformed, cleansed, and holy, cannot come within. We do not have the capacity.
Take a broken, addicted, strung out junkie off the streets, poke out his eyes, and drop him into the middle of a jungle. Then tell him to figure out a way to heal himself, feed himself, get healthy, grow new eyes, and find his way out of the jungle – alone. That’s what these fools are singing. It’s utter nonsense.
The Gospel of Jesus Christ, in the Bible, says that every human being is a sinner by nature, and by choice. Our sins carry the penalty of death – physical death, and spiritual death. The bible says:
- “Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned…” (Romans 5:12)
- “For the wages of sin is death…” (Romans 6:23)
- “…dead in our trespasses and sins.” (Ephesians 2:1)
Let me revise what I said before. Take a broken, addicted, strung out junkie off the streets, poke out his eyes… SHOOT HIM DEAD… and drop him into the middle of the jungle. Then tell him to heal himself and find a way out.
Romans 3:10-20 gives us a picture of what God sees when He looks at humanity:
“None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one. Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive. The venom of asps is under their lips. Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness. Their feet are swift to shed blood; in their paths are ruin and misery, and the way of peace they have not known. There is no fear of God before their eyes.”
And the problem with being dead is that means you cannot do anything any more. Until we are made alive by Christ, we are essentially lifeless zombies, alive in body, but dead in spirit, only able to do things that God sees as disgusting. That’s why our good deeds, charitable works, positive vibes, striving for goodness, worldly gain, moral behaviour – all these things that people do to earn God’s favour, merit, and grace – all the things they believe will give them credit with God so that He owes them a place in heaven – carry no meaning with God before we are saved by His grace. He wants nothing from anyone who doesn’t come in the name of Jesus Christ His Son.
So not only are these people wrong in changing the song by saying that salvation is in the hands of humanity, but they are also wrong because they say you can do good things in order to earn grace. For them, grace is available to those who earn it. You’ve heard it before – “God helps those who help themselves.” Garbage! Grace, by its very nature – by definition – cannot be earned. If it is earned, then it is a payment, not grace! Grace is “undeserved”.
People want to be able to say that they did something to achieve their own salvation. They want to be proud of themselves for what they’ve done. They conquered, climbed, outwitted, outplayed, outlasted… and God was so impressed that He opened up heaven to them. James 4:9 says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”
Despite what most of the world believes, God is not up in heaven with a scorecard, or a tally sheet, weighing the good and bad things in the life of all humans. He does not say that if you have more good than bad then you get to come to heaven and have a good life. Also, unlike some religions and what almost every movie or tv show about angels claims, there is no the magic-salvation trump card… like martyring yourself, giving away lots of money, helping someone, or anything else… that makes it so God owes you one and He has to let you into His presence! Nothing could possibly be further from the truth according to Scripture! We are saved by grace.
Grace is “one of the distinctive features of the religion of the Bible. No other system of religious thought, past or present, contains an emphasis on divine grace comparable to that of the Bible.” (Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible.)
- “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:23)
- “Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation…” (Colossians 1:21-22 NIV)
- “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” (Ephesians 2:4-9)
We need to understand our wretchedness, and how much we don’t deserve what we have been given by Jesus, before we can understand the love and grace of God.
How This Ties to Psalm 15
Now, lets go back to Psalm 15: “LORD, who may dwell in your sanctuary? Who may live on your holy hill?”
These traits that we have been going through are a picture of what a life looks like after God has gotten a hold of it, not before. This is what a life looks like after God has taken a sinner, who could not save themselves, who loved sin and self more than God, who worshipped created things rather than creator, who made themselves enemies of God, and – even though they don’t deserve it one little bit –showed them their sin, brought them back from the dead, and then accepts them on the basis of the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ as payment for all of their sin. This is the picture of a person who understands wretchedness and grace.
Anyone who believes and accepts this is given a new nature that no longer loves sin, but hates it. Yes, they still fight with their old nature, old habits, temptations, and the world… but they have a new perspective, and new desires, that they’ve never had before. They are now a member of the body of Christ, part of God’s family. They desire to love as they have been loved, serve as they have been served, and worship and obey the one that created and saved them. That desire and the knowledge of the grace of God, helps is be people of Integrity.
It helps us be Truthful. Why? Because Jesus always tells us the truth.
It helps us be Loving. Why? Because “God is love” (1 John 4:8) and as we come to Him to be filled with love, it overflows and spills on those around us.
It helps reject vile things and Honouring the faithful. Why? Because God has given us eyes to see right from wrong and has given us honour when we had no honour.
It helps us be Trustworthy. Why? We don’t let people down because God never lets us down.
Use Wealth Well
And the final trait, which we are looking at today, is that a Christian uses their money and possessions in a Godly way. One “…who does not put out his money at interest and does not take a bribe against the innocent.” (vs 5)
I took time to go through the gospel again this morning because I believe it is the the key motivation to using our wealth well. We see our money and possessions much differently when we realize how much grace we have received from God. Without an understanding of our wretchedness, and our grace, there is no way we can be generous, because we will think that all we have is ours. We’ll think that we earned it. That it belongs to us. That we control it. That we get to decide what happens to it. That we get to keep it, sell it or destroy it if we want to, because it’s ours! Knowing our own wretchedness, and experiencing the grace of God gives us a radically different perspective.
A person who understands the grace and generosity of God looks at their money and stuff and says, “None of this is mine. It’s all God’s.”
I know what my heart is like. I know that, if left to myself, I would be selfish with this and it would cause me and others harm. I would worship it, and become addicted to it. I would use it for my own pleasure and to hurt those I don’t like. I would stack it up in great piles, and sit back and look at it and think of how wonderful I am, how powerful I am, how rich I am, how self-sufficient I am.
Or, if I didn’t have enough, I would look at the emptiness of my pockets, and I would despair, and sell out, and do any number of things just to get some. I am thankful that this is God’s and not mine. Were it not for my knowledge that God is the great provider and that I deserve nothing, I would be jealous of those who have more than me or feel pride for being better than those who have less. And if I did give some away, it would be so I would feel better, so I would get the credit, so I could show everyone how wonderful I am.
Don’t Use Wealth to Take Advantage
There are two parts to this verse. One “…who does not put out his money at interest and does not take a bribe against the innocent.”
They are two sides of the same coin. First, is that a believer lends their money [which also includes their things] without “interest”. In other words, if you are a “have”, then don’t take advantage of the “have nots”. But it is more than that. It also means that we are generous.
The Law of Moses said that in a time of crisis, a Jew could lend money or things to another Jew, but wasn’t allowed to charge interest. It was a way to make sure that the poor weren’t taken advantage of. A believer deals generously and fairly with all people, and never uses their wealth as an unfair advantage.
Wealth is not a bad thing, and there are many times in the Bible that God blesses people with great wealth. A poor person is not more holy than a rich person. This is all about the heart. What the Bible does warn about is how difficult having wealth makes it for a person to be in a right relationship with God. Jesus Himself says in Mark 10:23, “How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” He also says in Luke 16:13, “No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.”
Money and stuff can be very distracting to a person’s spiritual life and relationship with God, if the heart isn’t kept in check. But that doesn’t mean that a wealthy person cannot be a believer. It simply means that they will be exposed to different temptations than a poorer person would be. For example, they will find having total dependence on God harder. They may have a hard time practicing the discipline of patience because they can just go out and get what they want when they want it.
God Commands us to Be Generous
God is extremely concerned about the poor, and how the poor are treated. This is where generosity kicks in. It’s not just about not using your wealth to take advantage, but being proactive in helping those in need. Being Generous was commanded in the Law. Deuteronomy 15:7-8 said:
“If there is a poor man among your brothers in any of the towns of the land that the LORD your God is giving you, do not be hardhearted or tightfisted toward your poor brother. Rather be openhanded and freely lend him whatever he needs.”
That wasn’t a suggestion, or a pithy thought – it was the law.
Not being a cheapskate was in the Law too:
“And when you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap your field right up to its edge, nor shall you gather the gleanings after your harvest. You shall leave them for the poor and for the sojourner: I am the LORD your God.” (Lev 23:22)
What God was teaching the people of Israel was that, to be a worshipper of His, meant to be generous. When he looked at the nation of Israel in Isaiah 58:6-7 he saw that they were doing all the right religious acts, like fasting, praying, and keeping the special days… but acting religious wasn’t what God wanted. Being religious is no substitute for being godly.
“Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?”
Jesus said, “Blessed are the merciful” (Matthew 5:7), and “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” (Acts 20:35) . He told the parable of the Good Samaritan where a man generously helps out another man, even though they were enemies, and then said, “go and do likewise.” And very importantly in Luke 6:38 He said:
“…give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.”
If you are one of the wealthy, which some of you are compared to others in Canada, and all of us are compared to others in the world, then Jesus commands us to be generous. Remember, I’m not talking about your tithe here. This is over and above your tithe. What we’re talking about is Generosity. My guess is that if you are not tithing, then you’re probably not generous either, and money and stuff is your idol and you need to repent. Jesus says generosity isn’t a single action – a one-time thing you do to feel good – it’s a lifestyle.
The other part of this verse is says we are to “not accept a bribe against the innocent.” Here we see the others side. This is speaking to those who are not burdened with the problem of having too much wealth. This is for those who don’t believe they have enough. The temptation for the rich is to be selfish or to use their money in a sinful way that hurts people. The temptation for the poor is to… be selfish or try to get money in a sinful way that hurts people.
A poorer person may be tempted to do something shady or illegal so they can or get paid – even if it means doing something that harms someone else. A believer values people over money and stuff, because God values people over money and stuff, and would never trade a possession for a person.
Examples of Selfishness
People do this in big ways and little ways all the time. Believers too. Here’s some examples of ways that we are selfish, and maybe we don’t even recognize it:
Not Tipping: They don’t tip their server, even though they know she’s on minimum wage and essentially lives off of their tips. There’s lots of excuses, but think about it: not tipping is basically trading that little bit of money in your pocket, for the dignity, worth and work of a person who served you. It’s only a few bucks to you, but if it’s repeated over and over by many people, that server won’t make enough.
I’ve had friends that have worked in restaurants as servers and they said that they hated working Sunday afternoons because that’s when the Christians would come in after service. They always had the most complaints, cause the most problems, and tipped the least.
Selling Junk: Another way to be selfish is to junky or overpriced products. Have you ever sold something to a garage sale or online that you knew didn’t work right? Have you built a reputation for doing good work, but started to slip because you wanted to make a little more? That’s selfishness.
So is trying to get people locked into a multi-level-marketing thing so you can make some cash off of them. When you know it’s just a scam, but you convince them to invest anyway because you want the money – and trade your friendship and reputation for some money – you are being selfish.
Prizing Possessions: Some people have valued possessions that they rank above people. No one can touch it, hold it, play with it, or even see it… because that possession is more valuable then the person who wants to look at it. And if that thing ever got broke, they punish the person, hate the person, scream at the person who did it. That trading card, that tv, that porcelain plate, that watch, that china cabinet, that car, that boat, that ipod, that dog or cat, that dvd collection, that craft, that shirt, that piece of memorobelia… is NOT worth more than your relationship with any human beings. Can you have something special and take care of it? Sure… but where does it rank in your heart?
Trade Health for Wealth: Another way to be selfish is to your health – or your family’s health – so you will have more. This is the person that want’s more stuff, a better vacation, a new car, a bigger house, more toys – and to do it, they make their spouse and kids eat poor quality food, not buy vitamins, not get a gym membership – etc. They trade health for wealth.
Selling products that are addictive (tobacco and drugs for example), is a form of selfishness. It elevates your gain over people’s health and wellbeing. You are using them for money.
Trade Family for Wealth: Other people will trade having more money for their family members. It’s too costly to keep that family member in their own home because of the lifestyle change, the extra equipment, and someone might have to work less (or stop working) and that means less money and less time. So they put their family member into a government home somewhere, or in a cheap place doesn’t take care of them, because they want to use their money for other things. That is a terrible sin. 1 Timothy 5:8 says, “But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.”
Abortion is an example of this selfishness. Put aside the very small percentage of babies conceived in rape and incest, and you’re left with the vast majority of babies who are murdered because they would be an inconvenient expense to the mother or father (usually the mother). They murder their baby so they can have more freedom, more money, keep their job, keep their status, keep their career, their lifestyle – they trade their baby, a precious gift given by God, for worldly wealth. It’s sickening.
Trade People for Wealth: Some people will trade other people (or their very selves) — their bodies, their sexuality, their morality, their psychological and emotional health, their future, or someone else’s future for money. They will do horrible, evil, soul scaring things, for the sake of gaining wealth.
Slavery, human trafficking, making, using and buying pornography, are all forms of selfishness. Trading a person’s dignity – someone else’s or your own – for financial gain is demonic. You, and they, are created in God’s image and have great worth (Gen 1:26) and deserve your love and respect. To sell yourself or another to sin, to trade your very heart for wealth, is so very wrong.
God has NEVER EVER condoned racial, man-stealing, slavery or human trafficking – He hates it. Exodus 21:16 says,
“Whoever steals a man and sells him, and anyone found sin possession of him, shall be put to death.”
Paul, in the New Testament, condemns “Enslavers” and kidnappers. To do so is to commit the worst form of theft. God can provide. Selling yourself or selling someone else is never the way to freedom.
Jesus Wouldn’t Trade You for Anything
So the application here is simple. Just like the rich, even the poorest of the poor can be selfish and sin in pursuit of money and possessions.
God desires that we live our lives and our wealth in the light of the Amazing Grace of God, and His boundless generosity. Is there anything that Jesus has not given for us? He offered His own life for our sake.
Romans 8:31-32 says:
“What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?”
Is there any limit to His grace and generosity? No! He is a good Father, infinitely wealthy, and used His resources to create us, redeem us, and continues to help us. He gave us His Son. He values us very highly, and so we are to value ourselves and others highly. Which means we live a generous and unselfish lifestyle.
Consider this. At His temptation Jesus, Satan offered Jesus a lot of things in exchange for our souls – but there was nothing that he could give that Jesus would trade for us. Satan offered Him every kingdom of the world if He would choose to not go to the cross and suffer for us. “Here’s the whole world! All you have to do is not die for these ungrateful, sinful, wretches.” But there was no amount of wealth that would buy Him off. He loved us. He traded His life for ours.
In the same way, we are to prioritize people, and will never take anything from anyone if it means that it will hurt someone else. Let us live our life in the light of God’s Amazing, Generous, Abundant Grace!
Here’s the Audio for this sermon:
For the past while we’ve been studying the characteristics of a person and a Christian of integrity. We’re asking the question, “what does it mean to look and act like a Christian, and a Christian church?” It all starts with the first verse, the question that is asked at the of the list, “LORD, who may dwell in your sanctuary? Who may live on your holy hill?” In other words, what do the people of God look like? What does a believer act like?
Let’s read the rest of the Psalm together. I’m reading from the ESV now.
“He who walks blamelessly and does what is right and speaks truth in his heart; who does not slander with his tongue and does no evil to his neighbor, nor takes up a reproach against his friend; in whose yes a vile person is despised, but who honors those who fear the Lord; who swears to his own hurt and does not change; who does not put out his money at interest and does not take a bribe against the innocent. He who does these things shall never be moved.”
What we see in Psalm 15 are some very important words that describe what Christian Integrity looks like. We all want to be – we want our children to be – people of Christian integrity. We want to work with, compete against, and have friends who have integrity. But what does that look like? Psalm 15 tells us 5 critical things that we need to have in order to say that we have integrity. These are perfectly shown in the life of Jesus, who is our model for life.
If we are to be his people, then we must always be Truthful (we tell the truth all the time), Loving (we love all people and never discriminate based on outward differences), Honouring (we reject hypocrisy and hypocrites, but honour people who are working out their faith every day), we are Trustworthy (we never break our promises) and we are Generous (we use our money well). This week we are looking at the second part of verse 4 where it says that a man or woman of God, “…swears to his own hurt and does not change;”. I like the NIV translation of this verse which says, “…who keeps an oath even when it hurts, and does not change their mind;” or the New Living Translation which says, “…and keep[s] their promises even when it hurts.”
A Multivitamin Psalm
I’m amazed that this short psalm is so encompassing. It’s like a multivitamin — small, but full of important things we need to live. And in a way it’s also like a multivitamin because if we let it get inside us, it can do well, but sometimes chewing on it can taste pretty bitter. Psalm 15 covers our everyday actions (what we do), the motivations of our heart (why we do what we do), the importance of how we use our words, how we treat believers and non-believers, how to protect our reputations, and how we use our money. You can’t live on multivitamins though, which is why we are going to the rest of scripture to get a balanced diet – to help us understand more about what’s going on and how we can obey God’s word.
Divided in Heart, Soul, Mind and Strength
Integrity is rooted deep in the heart of all believers. To have integrity means being a whole Christian – worshipping and serving God all of our heart, all of our soul, all of our mind and all our strength (Mark 12:30). Not just our minds, or just our hands. It means not being divided between two things – ourselves and God, or the world and God. It means not being split in our hearts, which causes us a lot of grief.
If you are a believer, then I’m sure you’ve felt this. You are faced with a choice, and the pulling in your heart begins. You love God, but you also feel emotionally attached to something else… or you know that obeying God means you will feel bad for a little while, or lose a friend, or look bad in front of people. And so your heart is divided.
Or you feel a division in your soul. Part of you wants to pray, but the other part wants to pretend God doesn’t exist – to watch TV, sleep, read a favourite book. Every time you are tempted to sin, you feel that division in your soul – part wanting to obey God, part wanting to reclaim your soul to yourself, to give it back over to the devil so you can experience some worldly pleasure. And it causes you pain because you have a divided soul.
Or you have a divided mind. Your thought-life sometimes feels like a game of racquetball, your thoughts bouncing around from worship songs to sexual sin, from bible verses to jealousy and bitterness, from love to fear and worry. You want to devote yourself fully to God, but moments later you are fanaticizing about what you could do if you won the lottery. Right in the middle of a time of prayer you start to make a grocery list. A divided mind, and it causes you to feel guilty and frustrated.
Or divided strength. The same hands you used to help someone, that you raised in worship, that turn the pages of your bible, that hug your children, within hours are used in private sin. The natural talent you have allows you to worship God in a special way, but it is also a way to elevate yourself above others so you can feel superior to them.
Everyone feels this. Not one person in this world has perfect integrity. Not even the most dedicated monk, living in the most distant monastery thinks about God all the time. Not even the Apostle Paul could! Listen to him wrestling in Romans 7, the same way each of us does:
“For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:15-24, ESV)
Jesus as Our Model and Strength
Paul is caught up in the same spiritual warfare as we are, daily battling our fleshly/worldly desires and our spiritual ones. Who will save us from this body that wants to eat spiritual death, walk the path of death, enjoy spiritually dead things, revel in demonic, hell-spawned sin, hang around spiritually dead people? Who can save us from this divided heart?
We can’t save ourselves. Paul answers the question this way in verse 25, “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” What is required to save us from this divided heart, this “body of death”, is that someone live a perfect life, be a perfect model, and then go through death, be killed, and then destroy death by rising from the dead! Who can kill death? Who can save us from this body of death? The one who destroyed death once and for all, Jesus Christ!
In other words, when God saved us, we became His people. As Psalm 15 says, we “dwell in his sanctuary”, we “live on his holy hill.” He saved us. He adopted us into his family and since we are his, we have access to the same privileges as Jesus Christ. We are not alone in the struggle for integrity. We have the Holy Spirit inside of us, convicting us of sin, reminding us of our hope, showing us our Father, giving us new wants and desires. And when we listen to Him, we will have what is needed to combat our divided hearts.
Stay Close to Jesus!
This is why every mature believer since the beginning of time has said the same thing over and over – it has not changed!
Stay Close to the Word of God: Read, study and meditate on the Word of God. If you want to live a wise life, go to the source of all wisdom. If you want to be like Jesus, read about Jesus.
Stay close to Jesus: Talk to Him all the time – be in prayer in the morning, the afternoon, the evening, about all things. If you want to be protected, strengthened and encouraged, stay close to Jesus.
Stay around Jesus’ People: Love and be loved by other believers. Serve and be served by other believers. Don’t try to draw strength from hypocrites, unbelievers, and people who play for Satan’s team. Lean on your Christian friends and Elders in the church.
It hasn’t changed for millennia!
This is what God said to Adam and Eve – Listen to my word, stay close to me, take care of each other.
This is what God said to Israel – Listen to my word, stay close to me, take care of each other.
This is what God said to every prophet – Tell them my word, tell them to draw close to me, tell them to start taking care of each other.
This is what Jesus told Paul and Peter and James and John to write to His churches – Tell them to stay in my word, tell them to stay close to me, tell them to take care of each other.
And that’s what Jesus came to do for us and to model for us – Jesus perfectly obeyed God’s word, Jesus was in perfect union with God, Jesus cared so deeply for people that He gave His life for them.
And He gives us access to His Spirit when we obey Him!
God Makes Promises and Keeps Them
Using this as our stepping off point, let’s talk for a little bit about this idea of being trustworthy and how our ability and desire to be trustworthy comes from God. God has made a lot of promises and it would be counter to His very nature, since He is God and can do anything, to break a promise. He can always keep His promises because of who He is.
Listen to some of these:
- 1 Corinthians 10:13, “God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.”
- 2 Thessalonians 3:3, “But the Lord is faithful, and he will strengthen and protect you from the evil one.”
- John 10:28-29, “I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand.”
- John 14:3, “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.”
- (And my favourite verses) Romans 8:38-39, “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord”
- (And perhaps the most comforting promise) 1 John 1:9, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”
We live and die by the promises of God. We believe that He will follow through on them. He is not a liar. He does not go back on His word. Whether we realize it or not, when Christians are in trouble, we echo the words of Psalm 119:154, “Plead my cause and redeem me; give me life according to your promise!” When we worship God, foremost on our minds are his promises, like in verse 162, “I rejoice at your word [“promise” NIV] like one who finds great spoil.” When we read and remember all of the promises He has given us, and his ability to follow through, it’s like looking over a vast treasure. They are our sure inheritance.
Keep Your Vows
And so what God is concerned about here in Psalm 15 is our reputation for being like Him, like one of his people – to be trustworthy. What we say is always what we do. A person of integrity doesn’t break their promises. We are not liars. My ESV Study bible says this, “Vows must be kept because God keeps his promises and desires that his people imitate his moral character.” Therefore God takes what we say very seriously.
And if you made a vow to God, it was very serious business. Listen to part of the Law from Deuteronomy 23:21-23,
“If you make a vow to the LORD your God, you shall not delay fulfilling it, for the LORD your God will surely require it of you, and you will be guilty of sin. But if you refrain from vowing, you will not be guilty of sin. You shall be careful to do what has passed your lips, for you have voluntarily vowed to the LORD your God what you have promised with your mouth.”
Remember the vow of Jephthah from the book of Judges. He was facing down an enemy army, and even though God had already promised Him the victory, He panicked and made a rash vow to God that if God let him win, when he returned from battle, anyone or anything that came through the door of his house would be offered as a sacrificed. Of course God kept His word and Jephtheh won the battle, but the one who came through the door was his daughter. And He dedicated her the service of God and that she would never marry, ending his own bloodline. His life is a lesson in rash vows.
A person must be careful with what they say, especially to God. And when they do make a promise, they need to fulfill it quickly, and no delay. Why? Because God will hold everyone accountable to their actions, and to their promises. Even the rash and foolish ones. He wants to teach us that words matter.
Turn to Ecclesiastes 5:2-7 and read another warning,
“Be not rash with your mouth, nor let your heart be hasty to utter a word before God, for God is in heaven and you are on earth. Therefore let your words be few. For a dream comes with much business, and a fool’s voice with many words. When you vow a vow to God, do not delay paying it, for he has no pleasure in fools. Pay what you vow. It is better that you should not vow than that you should vow and not pay. Let not your mouth lead you into sin, and do not say before the messenger that it was a mistake. Why should God be angry at your voice and destroy the work of your hands? For when dreams increase and words grow many, there is vanity; but God is the one you must fear.”
Scripture teaches us that we need to be careful with our worship, our prayers our words, and our promises when coming before God. God will hold us accountable to these things. He says that it is the fool who comes before God with many words, and many promises, but doesn’t keep them.
In verse 6 we see the messenger coming to collect on the vow and the person who made the vow saying, “Oh no… I didn’t mean it. It was a mistake. I was just in the moment. I didn’t mean to. That was just part of the song I sang. I was desperate. I was afraid. I was caught up in emotion.” And God still holds them accountable.
Proverbs is right when it says in 20:25 says, “It is a trap for a man to dedicate something rashly and only later to consider his vows.”
Now, just so we don’t think this is an academic exercise that only applies to ancient Israel, let’s ask the question: Can this happen today? We don’t make blood sacrifices any more, and I can’t remember the last time I took an ephah of grain to a temple because I needed a new set of oxen, so can we make a vow before God today?
I believe we can, but it’s different for us, because I believe that God takes what Christians say today even more seriously.
You’ve probably heard people say, “I swear to God!” “I swear on my mother!” “I swear on the Bible!” People did that back then too. They used to swear by all sorts of things: By earth, heaven, the temple, the alter sacrifices, the gold in the temple… but like good Pharisees, they had all these little rules about it.
In Matthew 23:16-21 Jesus looks at the Pharisees and teachers and talks about this very thing. He says,
“Woe to you, blind guides! You say, ‘If anyone swears by the temple, it means nothing; but if anyone swears by the gold of the temple, he is bound by his oath.’ You blind fools! Which is greater: the gold, or the temple that makes the gold sacred? You also say, ‘If anyone swears by the altar, it means nothing; but if anyone swears by the gift on it, he is bound by his oath.’ You blind men! Which is greater: the gift, or the altar that makes the gift sacred? Therefore, he who swears by the altar swears by it and by everything on it. And he who swears by the temple swears by it and by the one who dwells in it. And he who swears by heaven swears by God’s throne and by the one who sits on it.”
His point is that everything is God’s so no matter what you are swearing by, it is all holy! You are accountable for all your words and vows, no matter what you swear on, because everything God has done is sacred. Even the hairs on your head belong to God. You can’t even swear by your own head, because you are not your own! Therefore, all vows are holy and need to be kept.
A Higher Standard
But Jesus went even farther. In the Sermon on the Mount we read Jesus talking to His followers about being trustworthy and careful with our words. And, as Jesus always does, He pushes beyond the Old Testament Law. Turn to Matthew 5:33-37.
“Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not break your oath, but keep the oaths you have made to the Lord.’ But I tell you, Do not swear at all: either by heaven, for it is God’s throne; or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King. And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black. Simply let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.”
He said to His followers that they need to be so well known for their trustworthiness that they don’t even need to make an oath or a vow. It should simply be… “Oh, that person’s a Christian? They follow Jesus? Well, then I can trust them because everything they say is true.”
People used to use these oaths, and vows, and pledges, to get around things. They tried to find loopholes and ways to get off the hook. “Oh, I vowed by the temple, and not the gold… so it doesn’t count.” “I vowed by the alter and not the sacrifice, so it doesn’t count and I don’t have to do it.”
Jesus always took the Old Testament Law and then raised it up to a higher standard. As one of my commentaries said, “Instead of letting people off the hook, he set the hook deeper. Jesus spoke about oaths in order to point out that they were not the main problem – integrity was. A liar’s vow expresses a worthless promise. But when a person of integrity says yes or no, that person’s simple word can be trusted.”
I think what affects me the most is this verse in Matthew 5:37,
“Simply let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.”
The first thing that grabs me is that this is supposed to be simple. And it really is. Just do what you say. When you say something, mean it. When you say you’ll do something, do it. When you say you won’t do something, don’t do it. Keep your promises.
But the other part is, “Anything beyond this comes from the evil one.” I think what this means is that we shouldn’t be adding a bunch more words to our words. People should just be able to trust what we say, without a bunch of extra explanation, excuses, justifications, pretexts and rationalizations.
For example, if someone comes up and says, “Will you do this?” We should be able to say, “Yes, I will.” And leave it at that. It’s when someone is a known liar and can’t be trusted, that more and more words start coming. People only need oaths when there is a possibility that the other party is lying! That’s why we have such a proliferation of contracts in our world. We can’t trust anyone! Believers know that every word they speak will be held accountable by God, and so they simply do what they said they would do, or don’t do what they said they wouldn’t do.
So, in keeping with what Jesus has said, and what the Psalm has said, let me pull two simple applications out of this.
First, and this is obvious, Christians need to be careful with what we say. And this means both “yes”, and “no”. If you don’t plan on doing it, then don’t say YES. If you don’t want to do it, then say NO. If you don’t have the time to do it, then say NO. If you are already way over committed, then just say NO. If a telemarketer calls you on the phone and asks for a pledge, and you aren’t going to, don’t lead them along, or pretend… just say NO.
If someone asks you to do something that you cannot accept, you shouldn’t need to launch into the 20 minute explanation of your schedule, your health, your family problems… and all the reasons why you can’t say yes. Simply say “I’m sorry, NO, I can’t.” If you have a good reputation then they know you’re not being rude, or blowing you off, they know you can’t because you said so.
And when you learn to say NO, when you say YES to something, it will mean so much more to you and the people around you! You’ll be known as a person who is able to follow through. You will have integrity.
So the first thing is that we need to be careful what we say, and what agreements we make. Just let our YES be YES, and our NO be NO, and let that be that… anything else is evil.
Modern Vows You May be Breaking
The second application I’d like to make, is that we need to keep the vows we make — the YES’s and NO’s we’ve already got. I’ve been thinking about this, and this may hit home for some of you. We, as Christians who will stand before God, and who know that all of His things are holy, even us… must fulfil our vows, pledges and promises. He takes them very seriously because our integrity reflects His character, His Kingdom and His Son.
So let me ask you this. Are you fulfilling the agreements you’ve made? Are you looking for a way out? Or, are you breaking any? Remember the Psalm. “LORD, who may dwell in your sanctuary? Who may live on your holy hill?” One “who keeps his oath even when it hurts”. Here’s some examples of some promises that we make today. How are you doing on these?
Rental / Lease agreements. You promised to pay your rent on time, take care of the place, not sub-let, to report things that go wrong, and to clean up after yourself. How are you doing?
Copyright Agreements. Every movie and CD you’ve ever bought has had a copyright in it. In Canada you are not allowed to copy music or movies you didn’t pay for. Not even for “private use”. You can’t borrow from the library and put the music onto your computer. It’s illegal. Have you broken that agreement? Are you clean in this area?
If you have Netflix then you are only allowed to watch programming available in your region. Changing your computer to get the “American Netflix” breaks your terms of service agreement. It’s the same with American Satellite systems. They are illegal in Canada.
Business agreements. Are you fulfilling all of your business agreements? Are you doing good work, done on time, without gouging the customer for extra profit, cutting corners, using inferior products, and all the rest? Are you a trustworthy business person?
Employment contracts. When you started your job, you probably agreed to certain things when you signed an employment contract. You promised not to steal anything from work… not even a pen or a paperclip. You agreed to use your sick days when you are sick… not other times. You may have signed a confidentiality agreement. Employees, are you keeping it? And if you are an employer, then are you following your agreements? Paying on time and in proportion to their work, granting them their time off without guilt or frustration, making sure they get their break times, that they are trained and understand their job.
Visitor Agreements. When you bought that that day-pass to the zoo, the park, the campus, the hotel, or whatever, you probably accepted a visitor agreement. You agreed not to take pictures of certain things, not to take anything home, not to pick any flowers, to clean up after yourself, to stay away if you feel sick, and many have the agreement to “not make unreasonable demands”. Are you abiding by your agreements?
Loan or Credit Card contract. When you agreed to take their money, you promised you would pay it back. Are you? Or are you trying to find all sorts of ways around having to pay back what you owe them? People think that they are just big, evil corporations… but you made a contract with them. God takes that very seriously! Are you keeping your end of it?
Store agreements. When you bought that thing from the store, you agreed to pay for it. Did you pay the right price for it? If they made a mistake and gave you too much, did you go back and tell them and pay more? When that poor, underpaid, overworked cashier told you “I’m sorry, that’s not our policy”, did you freak out on them? You agreed to purchase it there. You paid for it. The return policy is written on your receipt, on the wall, on the website. Do you expect special treatment? Are you asking them to break their own rules, to make their YES into a NO, for your sake?
Church Membership. When you became a church member you agreed to certain things. You agreed to support the church financially, and with your time and abilities. You agreed to be actively involved in votes and meetings, even when they are boring.
When you voted for last year’s budget, they whole church raised their hands to say they would allow the deacons to spend the money, and that they would give in proportion. Have you been living up to that agreement? We have a large financial deficit this year, so either we agreed to spend too much, or people aren’t supporting in the way they agreed to.
There are people who used to attend this church, who agreed to support it during good and bad times, but left others here to pay the bills and fulfill their ministry responsibilities in their place. They broke their promise to the church.
When you voted for the elders and deacons you agreed to submit to the eldership, support new ministries with your work, attendance and finances. As a Church Member you agreed to be active in your spiritual development, and practice church discipline. If you are a member, are you doing these things, even when it’s inconvenient, or difficult… “even when it hurts”?
Marriage agreements. A vow taken before God for life. Even when it’s hard… when it’s next to impossible to see how it’s going to work out… are you willing to stay together and seek reconciliation? Are you putting effort in? Serving for, suffering for, loving, caring, and pursuing your mate like you are supposed to? Husbands, are you being Jesus to your wife? Wives are you respecting and caring for your husbands? Or is there a point at which you believe it is ok to break your covenant because it is too hard. Maybe not divorce, but merely avoid each other – live separate lives. Do you have that thing in the back of your mind that says, “If they do that again… I’m out of here… I’ll never forgive them!” Or, have you said to yourself, “I’m going to love them and serve them and keep my vows, no matter what!”
I could go on, but you get my point. Is your YES YES and your NO NO? Are you sticking to your contracts, agreements, and covenants… even when it hurts? Or are you like the world that seeks to blame others, wants special treatment, makes excuses, breaks promises, and walks away when it’s too hard?
You are a child of God who has the Holy Spirit within them, a new creation that does not love the things of the world anymore. Are you leaning on God and drawing from His strength so you can obey Him in this way?
Here’s the audio for the sermon:
You may have noticed that I changed the title of this series. Instead of being “Being People of Integrity”, I’ve simply called it “Christian Integrity”, and that’s because I believe that it’s important to distinguish the fact that we are specifically talking about the characteristics of a person and church of faith. These things don’t universally apply to everyone in the world.
Worldly Vs Christian Integrity
If “integrity” is simply taken as being honest and consistent, then there is a worldly kind of integrity. The non-Christian mechanic or plumber who doesn’t overcharge can have integrity. The school teacher who loves their students and sticks to the textbook has a form of integrity – even though they could be teaching falsehoods. The soldier who is sold out to their country and willing to die could be said to have high integrity by their superiors – even though they represent an evil nation.
Christian Integrity is a higher form of integrity. It is a supernatural thing, beyond simple honesty and consistency. Christian Integrity requires being a person who has God as their Father, Jesus as their Lord, and the Holy Spirit guiding their thoughts and deeds.
In this series, we are taking apart Psalm 15 which begins with the question, “LORD, who may dwell in your sanctuary? Who may live on your holy hill?” What do the people who dwell with God look like? When people join the Kingdom of Jesus Christ, what are the expectations? What can they expect when Jesus rules the hearts of people?
What we see in Psalm 15 are six descriptors of a functioning, obedient, growing Christian. This is obviously not an exhaustive description, but it is a good place to start. The first was Integrity, and we said that it is the roof of the house, which is built on the foundation of our salvation through Jesus Christ.
Our Integrity is held up by the other five traits of being Truthful, Loving, Honouring, Trustworthy and Generous. We’ve already looked at being Truthful and Loving, and for the last couple weeks we’ve been in verse 4 as we’ve discussed the flip side “Honouring the Faithful”, which is “Rejecting the Vile”. This week we are looking at the second part of verse 4 where it talks about Honouring the Faithful. A Christian “despises a vile man but honours those who fear the LORD”.
Finding an Honourable Person
Remember that the word “honour” is a word that means “to be heavy or great”. It is a word that means that when you a certain person, their presence has great meaning to you, and their words have a special weight and significance to them. You honour them, respect them, treasure them, and highly esteem them. In your life and heart, they are given VIP treatment.
Most of us don’t have a lot of people like this in our lives. Especially with the advent of the internet, social media, the 24 hour news cycle, and other technologies, it’s hard to find someone who has strong Christian integrity. It’s hard to trust anyone these days. Who do we look for to find a strong marriage with statistics that say most are unhappy and over half of them ending in divorce? Who do we look to for Christian leadership when so many preachers and pastors have crashed and burned in their ministry? Who do we look to be an example to us in the godly use of money when most people are up to their eyeballs in debt? It’s really hard to find an “honourable” person these days.
Which makes it so much sweeter when you find one. When you find that teacher who has been consistently loving God, defending the faith, and strong in their convictions for the long-haul. RC Sproul is one of those men for me. He celebrated his 75th birthday this week and is still going strong. If you type the words “RC Sproul Controversy” into Google, nothing comes up! Yes, there are people who disagree with him, but all in all, he has a stellar reputation and a great Christian man and strong Gospel teacher.
Personally speaking, there are only a few people in my life who I would consider to have Christian Integrity, and they are a great blessing to me. My wife is one of them. When they speak, I listen. When I get an e-mail from them, the world stops and I read it. When they recommend a book, I read it. When they correct me, I listen and try to change my behaviour.
I hope you have someone like this in our life, because they are a great blessing! I do hope that you are able to honour these people in your life because they are a great gift from God.
Elevating Fellow Believers
But I want to be clear that Psalm 15:4 is not only talking about the kinds of believers who have earned the right to be given special treatment. RC Sproul has spent years developing his reputation, and he deserves to be listened to. This verse is talking about something a little different. God is not saying “Honour those who deserve it…” but “Honour those who are believers…” It says, “…honours those who fear the Lord.” That’s all beleivers, no matter what stage of maturity they are in. It’s talking about elevating the view of Christians in our life.
This is hard for us because we have so many of our priorities messed up. Matthew Henry, in his commentary on the Bible says that a Christian
“…values men by their virtue and piety, and not by the figure they make in the world.”
Let me give you an example of how I came face to face with this in the past week.
As you know, the Olympics are on, and of course I’m cheering for Canada, but I love watching these men and women do their best in their events and am in awe of their skill. I cheer for them as they compete and am happy for them when they win. I was honouring them.
However, this week I read something about the Olympic village that makes me remove my honour from them. It was an article entitled “Olympic Village brimming with love for Valentine’s Day” that changed my mind.
I don’t want to get into the graphic details, but it begins like this,
“… love is in the Sochi air this Valentine’s Day. What do you expect when you ram beautiful, young and fit athletes into a confined space, and allow their emotional highs and lows to be released in a fit of competition. Oh yes, the athlete’s village is a physical place —if you catch my drift.”
The rest of the article goes on to describe the unbridled lust (not love) the alcohol fuelled parties, nudity, and general lasciviousness that is part and parcel of living in the Olympic Village. It gives me a new view on these athletes. I don’t want to paint them all with the same brush, but this is being described as the norm.
This is what Matthew Henry and Psalm 15 are describing. Don’t misplace your honour. Don’t honour the dishonourable. The true value of a person is in their character, their piety, and their virtue when they are in front of people and when they are not. We should not be fooled by people who look good on the outside – but give honour to people who are in relationship with Jesus Christ and are seeking to be more godly every day.
Again, not perfect people, or only great preachers and missionaries, but the average believer who is walking in daily obedience, struggling with temptation, maybe inconsistent in their walk, but growing in God more and more as the days go by.
I would rather honour a junkie who has turned their heart over to Jesus and is in a daily spiritual battle with addiction and their old life-style, than a gold medal athlete who competes for their own glory, gives their body over to lust, and doesn’t give Jesus a second thought.
We Don’t Do This Well
God is very serious about how Christians treat one another. If there is one place, one group, on family that should know how to love one another… it’s the family of God. And yet, our track-record of getting along as believers is quite terrible.
We have sects, and divisions, and denominations. We even have a term for what happens when people in a church can’t get along and then start two separate church – we call it a church splits. I’d love to know the statistic comparing church plants (on purpose, missional, evangelistic minded, celebrations) to church splits. Even within the church we have cliques, gossip sessions, and back-room meetings. We smile at someone on Sunday, and then slander them on Monday.
The Christian church has a history of killing one another in the name of Jesus Christ! Instead of embracing new ideas, different ways of thinking, and uniquely gifted people, more often then not the Christian church freaks out, ostracises them and then attacks. Like Martin Luther who was chased down, exiled and nearly killed because he dared to challenge the church authorities to defend some of their practices. Or William Tyndale was burned at the stake because he wanted to print the bible in English.
Those are extreme examples, but lesser crimes happen all the time, in many churches around the world, in our city, and even within these walls. And God takes this very seriously.
God’s Kids Fighting
Parent’s understand why God feels this way. I often go to the park with my kids. Sometimes I play with them, other times I stand back and watch. And almost every time we go, there’s some kind of disagreement. And those problems come in three different forms.
First is when two kids I don’t know start to fight. How do I feel about that? Well, I don’t like it, but I’m not really emotionally invested in the kids, and I’m not their parent, and unless they start to really hurt each other, I don’t really get involved. It doesn’t grip my heart.
Second is when some strange kid starts a fighting with one of my kids. What happens then? Then I step in! I find out what happened, I tell my kid to apologize if it was their fault, and if it wasn’t [which it usually isn’t because my kids are awesome] then I protect my kid, maybe get the other parent involved, or tell my kid they need to be gracious and kind and let it go. If my kid gets into some kind of conflict, then I get emotionally invested and I jump in to protect my kid, teach my kid, and parent my kid.
The third scenario is when my kids fight each other. This happens more often. My kids start to fight, one isn’t being fair or hurts another – on purpose or accidentally – and now I react a much different way. I jump in. I grab them both and pull them aside. There might be discipline involved where one has to apologize, ask forgiveness and sit on the side for a while. Sometimes, it’s serious enough that we have a long talk about it. And if it’s a big enough deal, we leave the park, talk about it in the car, and then maybe even carry though some disciplined at home.
It’s a bigger deal when it’s two of my kids! I don’t want my kids fighting! They are a family. They’re supposed to love each other and work together. I have a totally different reaction to when my kids are fighting with each other, then when strangers are involved. Why? They’re mine! I love them! They know what I’ve said about how to act. They know the standards of our home. And I hate it when my kids fight! Not just because it’s noisy… but because it shows me there is something wrong with their heart.
I think God feels the same way when His kids aren’t getting along. When two people outside the church are sinning against each other… that’s to be expected. They are sinners, who love to sin, and who don’t know God. When a non-Christian is in conflict with a Christian, God gets more involved and will protect the Christian, or might discipline the Christian.
But when two of His kids are sinning against each other, I believe, because of my reading of scripture, He takes it very seriously, and it hurts him very deeply. Why? Because it shows how far His children’s hearts are from Him!
What’s Behind Christian Conflict?
Let’s Look at what James 4:1-4 says is going on behind the scenes when Christians fight. When God looks at a family of believers who is not honouring one another, He doesn’t just see the surface issues we see like arguing over what song to sing, who should be doing what, or what color the carpet is in the sanctuary. He sees something much deeper.
“What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you?” (vs 1)
In other words, when Christians argue, it’s almost never for a good, holy, righteous reason. Rarely is the fight over bad doctrine, disregard for scripture, or unholy living. It’s because one of them, or probably both, is being selfish. It’s a heart problem. Passions and desires out of control.
I want a certain style of music or type of ministry because they like it best. IO feel like I should have some kind of leadership position and not someone else. I want to be heard because I think I’m important and me opinion counts for more. I want it done my way, because I’m always right.
“You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask.” (vs 2)
That’s the root of most problems between believers. They aren’t arguing over core theologies or anything truly important to the kingdom. Most of these issues have nothing to do with what is on God’s heart. It’s just two people being selfish. They want something and aren’t getting it, so they fight.
Often, God’s not even involved, because they know as soon as they go to God, He’s going to show them how petty it is, and how prideful they are being, and how they need to submit to one another in love… but they don’t want to hear that.
“You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.” (Vs 3)
This selfish mindset affects our prayer life. We ask God for things that are not good for us, that are wrongly motivated, that will elevate us instead of him, that will bring shame to others or harm others who we feel deserve it. We “ask wrongly” for these things because they are not motivated by our love for God or to Honour the Faithful Christians in the church… but to spend on our passions. We want to feel good, look good, have more, gain more power or prestige. And God doesn’t answer those prayers.
“You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.” (Vs 4)
When Christians fight, argue, quarrel, gossip, slander, hurt or sin against one another, they show themselves to be people who act like the world – not children of God. Christians that fight with other Christians about non-essential issues are called “adulterous” – which means they have left their first love, God, and are now embracing a new love – themselves. In fact, when Christians fight, divide and sin against one another, they are not only acting like the world… but are, in fact, acting like the enemies of God.
It is the enemies of God who fight against Christians, who make church a difficult place to be, who gossip and slander against believers, and hurt and abuse Christians. It is the enemies of God who make Christians stressed out and miserable. That’s Satan’s job! Christians shouldn’t be doing that to each other! It is literally satanic for Christian’s to fighting against one another over non-essential issues.
Dealing with Problems Among Christians
So what do we do when problems come up? Do we burry them in the sand, sweep them under the rug, and just pretend to get along for 2 hours each week. Everyone smiling fake smiles, no one arguing or getting close to one another, no one changing anything, no one saying anything that could be a criticism for fear we learn we have an argument? No, of course not. What God wants us to work through our issues (which we talked about last week) and “honour” one another.
If something between two believers, they should treat each other with “honour”. The fact that this person is a brother or sister in Christ should have great meaning, because this person has great meaning to Jesus. Jesus gave His life for that person. Their tears and frustrations, their complaints, their encouragements should have a special weight and significance to them, because it’s possible that the Holy Spirit is speaking through them. They are worthy of respect because they are a man or woman of God. They should be treasured because God treasures them. They should be highly esteemed because they are children of the Most High God, adopted into the Creator’s family, are co-heirs with Christ, and will one day judge angels! Ask yourself, “in your life and heart do you honour other believers?”
The “One Anothers”
I want to show you what that looks like. Consider what would happen if your favourite celebrity, or a famous teacher, or someone you respect were to offend you. Your love and admiration makes it a little easier to give them grace, be patient, give them a chance, forgive them. But it doesn’t come so naturally within the average Christian relationship.
We’ve talked about this before. Do you remember the “One Another” verses. There are at least 54 “one another’s” in scripture. They are wonderful descriptors of how Christians are to honour one another, and they all flow out of what Jesus said to His disciples in John 13:34-35, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.””
How? How do we do that? How do we “love one another”? The bible spells it out in great, great detail through the “one anothers”. Most simply say “love one another”, but others are very specific. Listen to some of these:
- Romans 12:16, “Live in harmony with one another.”
- Romans 15:7, “Accept one another,”
- Romans 16:16, “Greet one another”
- 1 Corinthians 1:10, “…agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you…”,
- Galatians 5:13, “…serve one another”,
- Ephesians 4:2, “…be patient, bearing with one another in love.”,
- Ephesians 4:32, “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.”,
- Ephesians 5:21, “Submit to one another.”,
- Colossians 3:16, “…teach and admonish one another …”,
- 1 Thessalonians 5:11, “…encourage one another…” ,
- Hebrews 10:24, “…spur one another on toward love and good deeds.”,
- James 4:11, “do not slander one another.”,
- 1 Peter 4:9, “Offer hospitality to one another”,
- 1 Peter 5:5, “clothe yourselves with humility toward one another”,
These “one anothers” are all talking about how we relate to other believers. How we live out Psalm 15, “honour those who fear the Lord.” That’s what it looks like. That’s how we are to act towards each other. This is the heart we are to have when something comes up between us, or when we are serving with one another. It’s our default position when in relationship with other Christians.
Let me pause and ask, as you look at this list, and how you have conducted yourself over the past while – have you been doing this? How have you been treating the favoured ones of God? How have you been treating God’s kids, your brothers and sisters in Christ?
Bear With One Another
Let’s read Colossians 3:12-17. I want to focus in on something that I think is important to us, and will give us a key phrase to grab onto when dealing with people in the church. Start in verse 12,
“Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.”
The Bible says, God says, that we are to “Bear with each other”. It’s the same word used in 2 Thessalonians 1:4 which talks about enduring persecution for the faith. Same word. Sometimes being part of a church is going to be difficult. When those times come, we are to “bear with each other.”
What that means is that when conflict happens, you go through it together. We don’t take off, pretend it didn’t happen, reject the person, or find a new church. It means we stick together through thick and thin, work it out even when it’s hard, figure it out even though it’s confusing, make it work even when it seems impossible, and let God take over the situation to make the impossible possible.
“…as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.”
Do you see that? What kind of forgiveness did Jesus give you? Did He forgive some of your sins… but couldn’t get over certain things, so He still holds them against you? Did He forgive you… but then keeps bringing them up and making you feel guilty all the time? Did He forgive you… but then go behind your back and tell a bunch of people? Did He forgive you… and then never speak to you again, refusing to sit with you or acknowledge you? No! Our model for forgiving one another is the forgiveness we received through Jesus Christ!
“And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body.” [Other translations say, “… since as members of one body you were called in one body.”] (vs 14)
What that means is that we are supposed to think of our church in the same way we think of our body. It is strange to think of our body at war with itself. When a person’s body fights with itself, we call it an auto-immune disease. It’s an allergy, it’s cancer, it’s Chrohn’s, it’s eczema, it’s Lou Gehrig’s Disease, it’s MS. When the body starts to attack itself, something is very wrong. We don’t want some parts of our body to fight against other parts of the body. We want our body bound together in “perfect harmony”, and at “peace”.
When Dr. God looks at a group of Christians who can’t get along… it’s not a small deal… it’s a major disease in the body. Jesus wants his church to be a healthy body that works together to build up the rest of the parts, not a sick body that harms itself.
4 Practical Steps to Christian Harmony
Let’s close by looking at verses 16-17 which gives a bit more practical advice and helps us to know what we need to work on so that we can be a united body, honouring each other, living out the “one anothers”, and growing in love with the believers around us: (Start with the last part of verse 15):
“And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”
If you are struggling with loving other believers, here’s how to pray and what to do.
1. “Be thankful” for them. This is the first step in changing your heart. Pray, “Thank you, God, for this person. They are different from me, but that’s ok. I don’t understand them, but you do. You built them, created them, chose them, equipped them, and are working in their heart. They irritate me, but they love you and you are working on them. They are my brother or sister who I will spend eternity with. Make me thankful for them, who you made them to be, and help me treat them with honour.”
2.Let the Bible guide you. “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teaching and admonishing one another with all wisdom…” (3:16a) Not guided by your heart. Not your own wisdom. Not your friends. If you are struggling to love someone, go to the Word. If you’ve got a problem with what another Christian is doing, check out what God has to say about it first. Use the Bible as your guideline (not your hammer, your guideline) for your attitude and behaviour. You might be surprised to find that it’s not them that needs the attitude adjustment, but you! And if the person is going against scripture, then you bring them the word of God, not your own opinion.
Kid’s do this naturally! They invoke my name as the authority. One comes to me and says “Daaaaad! So-and-so is doing this!” Then I say, “That’s ok, I asked them to do that. I’ve got something different planned for them that you don’t understand right now.” Or I say, “Thank you for telling me, you’re right, they shouldn’t be doing that. Tell them that Dad says to quit it or they’re in trouble.” It is not my kid who has the authority… I do. I’m the Dad.
3. Be Gentle and Persistent. In this passage it says we should be able to be “…singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.”
This tells us two things. First, a loving church is full of people who can sing and worship together. They sing the same song. People who don’t get along can’t worship God together very well. The animosity creates a barrier between us and them, and us and God. This also tells us that we need to be persistent in working through our problems, so when we are on the other side, we can be singing the same song.
If you say, “I can’t worship with that person in the room”, and you are not working towards a solution to whatever is harming the relationship, then you are not obeying God’s will to reconcile with your brother. If the presence of that person is causing you to not be able to worship God, the fault is not with them… it’s with you. Something is wrong with you. Nothing should stop you from worshipping God. And if that person is a believer, and has demonstrated themselves to be a person of faith, then you should be working through Matthew 18 so you can, if at all possible, sing the same song. We talked about how to do that last week.
Consider the words of Jesus when he said in Matthew 5:23-24,
“So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.”
God desires we be reconciled, before He desires our worship.
4. And finally, “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”
All of our actions should be able to be done “in the name of the Lord Jesus” Christ. When dealing with our brothers or sisters, in our minds we can think, “In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ… I…”
- forgive you…
- love you…
- serve you…
- ask your forgiveness…
- will put myself second to you…
- will love your family…
- will walk with you…
- will help you…
- will do it your way…
- will keep at you until you repent…
- won’t stop loving you…
You can’t say, “In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ… I…”
- gossip about you…
- hate you…
- will never speak to you again…
- will sin against you…
- will slander you…
- will ignore you…
- will give you a dirty look when I pass by.
That’s not Jesus.
I know this is hard for some people, but we are called to so much more. Let me end by reading Ephesians 4:1-6 which is Paul’s urgent appeal from his prison cell to a group of Christians who had some relationship issues, and needed to put Jesus back at the centre:
“As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to one hope when you were called— one Lord, one faith, one baptism; 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.”
I gave a talk to a group of AWANA kids this week. It was “Heart Night” (celebrating Valentine’s Day) and I spoke on Love. I used some animated gifs in the powerpoint, which is where all the giggling at the beginning comes from. I linked to a few if you want a giggle too.
Here’s the audio (12 minutes):
How many of you are good at opposites? Let’s start off with a quick quiz.
Since tomorrow is Valentine’s Day I want to talk about some of those opposite words.
Jesus taught a lot of things that seem opposite to us. He said things like: Help people without telling anyone (Matthew 6:3), lend things generously but don’t ask for them back (Luke 6:35), if someone hits you, let them hit you again (Matthew 5:39), if someone steals your shirt, you should give him your jacket too (Matthew 5:40), and He even said to “love your enemies and do good to those who hate you.” (Luke 6:27).
That’s a little confusing isn’t it? It’s not what we hear from most people. It’s easy to love our friends, but how can we love our enemies? The whole problem with an enemy is that they are someone who is trying to harm us! They trip us when we walk down the hallway, take our things, break our stuff, pull our hair, blame us for things we didn’t do. How can we love them?
The Fox and the Scorpion
Let me tell you a story about someone who trusted their enemy. It’s the story of the Fox and the Scorpion.
Once, long ago, in the vast lands of the desert, there was a great river that had to be crossed for so the animals could get food and water. One day, Fox came to the river and was looking for a place where it was safest to cross. As he searched, Fox’s lifelong enemy Scorpion crawled up on a rock near him and began to speak.
“Fox, I’ve been walking along this river bank, looking for food, and I noticed a very easy place to cross the river – where the water is not so deep and not so swift. I would like to cross over myself, but I am so small it would be impossible! Would you be willing to take me across if I show you the place?” asked Scorpion,
Fox replied, “Why would I take you across!? How could I trust you not to sting me since we are lifelong enemies?”
“Why would I sting you? For if I stung you it would mean that we would both drown!” said Scorpion.
Fox thought it over, keeping a distrustful eye on Scorpion, but eventually said, “Show me where this place is, and I will take you across.”
When they got to the place, Fox bent down to allow Scorpion to climb on his back. And as Fox was swimming across, when he reached the middle of the river, he felt a sharp STING on his back! As the poison filled his veins Fox cried out, “How could you sting me? Now we will both drown!”
Scorpion replied, “It is better that we both should perish, than that my lifelong enemy should live!”
That’s the problem isn’t it? Many people would hear this story and think, “Yeah, once I have an enemy. If I don’t like someone, or they prove that they don’t like me, then I shouldn’t ever be nice to them. I should stay away from them. If they are in trouble, I should walk away.” They make us mad! We want to hurt them back. We want to cry. We want to punish them.
But Jesus says that we need to love our enemies! Why? Why would He say that? Does Jesus want us to keep getting beat up? Does Jesus want us to be wimps? Does Jesus want us to be cowards? Doesn’t Jesus want the best for us? Of course He does! And He knows people a lot better than we do.
So, may I share with you three reasons why I think Jesus wants us to love our enemies?
1. Love Conquers Hate (Romans 12:17-21)
The first reason is that love conquers hate. Have you ever heard someone say, “You have to fight fire with fire”? What that means is that when someone does something bad, you should do something bad to them. But what happens when you fight fire with fire? You only get more fire! Everything gets burned up.
What should you fight a fire with? A fire extinguisher! Put out the fire! Hating and hurting our enemies won’t defeat our enemies. It will just create more, and stronger, enemies. When we love our enemies, it’s like pouring water on a fire, or blasting it with a fire extinguisher. We put out the hatered.
Romans 12:20-21 says, “…if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink… Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
Can you imagine what would happen to your enemy if you helped feed them when they were hungry? If you shared your lunch with them when they didn’t have one? If you gave them your juice-box when they were thirsty? What would happen then? They might become your friend! At the very least they would change how they think about you. You don’t overcome evil with more evil… you overcome evil with good!
2. Love Changes People (Luke 6:27-28)
Here’s another reason to love our enemies instead of hating them. We can’t change them – only God can. And the way that God changes people by us loving them and by His Spirit working inside of them.
If we do good to people who hate us, God can use our love to change their hearts. And if we pray for them, then God promises to answer prayers and change the world for us. He promises that when we pray, He will answer. Maybe He will make that person kinder. Maybe He will give you more patience when talking to them. Maybe He will help you know what to say next time they do something, or help you be strong and kind when they do something mean again. God does amazing things when we love people and pray for them.
That’s why Jesus says in Luke 6:27-28, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.”
3. Hate Is Like Poison
Here’s another reason Jesus taught us to love our enemies instead of hating them.
Have you ever felt angry with someone, and you wanted to hurt them and get back at them – and you had hate in your heart – and you felt so upset that you ended up treating people that you love badly? They didn’t do anything and now you’re mad at them too!
Maybe you have a bad day at school, or fight with your brother or sister, or someone said something mean to you – and instead of forgiving, you decide to stay upset and let hate into your heart. What happens when later? You yell at your mom. You’re grumpy with your friends. You are angry with yourself and stomp around. Hate has become like a poison in your heart.
The Bible says in Hebrew 12:15 to “Watch out that no poisonous root of bitterness grows up to trouble you, corrupting many.” (NLT) If someone hurts us, and we choose not to forgive them, not to pray for them, not to do good to them, not to love them… the hate inside of us acts like a poison – and that poison gets bigger, and can hurt many people.
Love Comes from Jesus
So, how can we do this? Loving our enemies is really hard, isn’t it? Here are two things to remember that I use to help me love my enemies, and I think they will help you too.
First, pray about it. Remember when Daniel was in the lion’s den, surrounded by hungry lions? What did he do? He prayed! So what should we do when we are surrounded by enemies? Pray! You’ve probably memorized lots of Bible verses about asking God for help. You are learning these because they are true! If you are having a hard time forgiving and loving, ask Jesus for help and He will help you.
And second, remember that love comes from Jesus. This is what Jesus did for us. The Bible, in Romans 5:8-11, says that even though we are sinners and enemies of God, that God sent Jesus to come and die for us! Jesus traded his life for ours because He loved us, even when we were his enemies. And then 1 John 4:19 says, “We love because He first loved us!” So, since Jesus loved us, even when we were His enemies, and once we become His friends by believing in Him, He will teach us and give us the strength to love our enemies too.