relationships

Church Relationships Can Get Complicated

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Welcome to the 60th sermon in of our study of the Apostle Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians! We started this series in April of 2016 and we’ve covered a lot of ground over the past couple years, but after long last, we’ve reached the final section where Paul is wrapping up the letter with his final greetings and instructions. Let’s open up there and read 1 Corinthians 16:5-24.

“I will visit you after passing through Macedonia, for I intend to pass through Macedonia, and perhaps I will stay with you or even spend the winter, so that you may help me on my journey, wherever I go. For I do not want to see you now just in passing. I hope to spend some time with you if the Lord permits. But I will stay in Ephesus until Pentecost, for a wide door for effective work has opened to me, and there are many adversaries.

When Timothy comes, see that you put him at ease among you, for he is doing the work of the Lord, as I am. So let no one despise him. Help him on his way in peace, that he may return to me, for I am expecting him with the brothers.

Now concerning our brother Apollos, I strongly urged him to visit you with the other brothers, but it was not at all his will to come now. He will come when he has opportunity.

Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. 14 Let all that you do be done in love.

Now I urge you, brothers—you know that the household of Stephanas were the first converts in Achaia, and that they have devoted themselves to the service of the saints—be subject to such as these, and to every fellow worker and laborer. I rejoice at the coming of Stephanas and Fortunatus and Achaicus, because they have made up for your absence, for they refreshed my spirit as well as yours. Give recognition to such people.

The churches of Asia send you greetings. Aquila and Prisca, together with the church in their house, send you hearty greetings in the Lord. All the brothers send you greetings. Greet one another with a holy kiss.

I, Paul, write this greeting with my own hand. If anyone has no love for the Lord, let him be accursed. Our Lord, come! The grace of the Lord Jesus be with you. My love be with you all in Christ Jesus. Amen.”

This is one of those sections of the Bible that, on the surface seems like a weird one to study. What sort of life-changing message can we get from some 2000-year-old travel plans, a list of weird Greek names, and a signature? This seems like one of those sections that we should skim through and move past to get onto meatier stuff. After all, we’re only one page-flip away from 2nd Corinthians which is chock full of memorable and life-changing verses.

But, as Christians, we believe that when 2 Timothy 3:16 says, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable …” it means that even sections like this one – and other boring ones like genealogies and number lists – are also somehow “profitable” to our souls. This isn’t addendum, but is, in fact, the Word of God meant to teach us about something.

So, as we read it we must open ourselves to what God wants to say, pray about it, do a little study, read a couple of commentaries, and then a whole lot of things start to spring forward.

The Church is God’s Gift

Actually, the more I dug into this one the more I got out of it. It was tempting to turn this section into a mini-series of its own, but I won’t. Though I think it would be interesting, I think it’s time to be done with 1 Corinthians and move on to something else.

If I had to summarize this final section, the general message, and the application of it for us today – though there are many others – I would say it this way: church relationships can get complicated.

When we come into a personal relationship with Jesus as our Lord and Saviour, we are given a lot of gifts – freedom from sin, the presence of the Holy Spirit, a new outlook on life, spiritual gifts – but one of the biggest gifts we’re given is the church itself. All through the Bible, we see that when God gets hold of someone’s heart He not only restores them to Himself, but also to His people. At the birth of the Christian church in Acts, we see the Holy Spirit empower the disciples to spread the message, but the message of salvation doesn’t lead merely to individual life changes but the creation of a new society. The Acts 2 believers didn’t just have a new, personal faith in Jesus, but devoted themselves to each other.

Jesus said to His disciples in John 13:34–35,

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

And then 1 John 3:14 says,

“We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers.”

“The brothers” there refers to our church family. One way we know we love Jesus is that we love our church family. And a few verses later we read the same concept started in the negative. In 1 John 4:20 it says,

“If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.”

So conversely, one way we know that someone doesn’t actually love Jesus, or isn’t really saved, or is in unrepentant sin, is that they distance themselves from or even talk negatively about other Christians.

When the church started to face greater persecution and started falling apart, which we read about in the book of Hebrews, one of the first things that started happening was that the believers started distancing themselves from each other. As the flock was disbanding out of fear and inconvenience, the author of Hebrews says in 10:23-25,

“Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”

He says, “Don’t give up hope, don’t give up the faith, trust in God – and one way to demonstrate that faith is to take care of each other, encourage one another, and keep meeting together. And as things get worse meet together even more!

Museum vs Hospital

But this isn’t often our natural inclination, is it? We live in a radically individualistic society already, one that doesn’t want to submit themselves to any groups – whether they be marriage, schools, political groups, or churches – but when it comes to days of trouble or trials or dealing with difficult people many people’s usual habit is to back away, isn’t it?

When trouble comes to us or to those around us, one temptation that often comes is to run away. We go through a difficult time and lock ourselves in our room and refuse to come out. Men and women go from partner to partner unwilling to face tough times with them. Couples go to their own wedding with a prenuptial agreement in their back pocket outlining what happens if they decide to leave. Men abandon pregnant women because being father is too hard. We join a club for fun and leave when things don’t go our way. A friend starts to become too needy, too dramatic, too complicated, and we stop asking how they’re doing, stop taking their calls, and hide them on our Facebook feed so we don’t have to see it. Most people tend to run from what they perceive as “negativity”.

This happens with Christians too as people hop from church looking for one feeds their wants and desires, but has zero drama and costs them nothing. “Church hopping” or “church shopping” is so popular that the Christian satire blog, “The Babylon Bee” has dozens of articles making fun of it.

One was entitled, “Local Family Commutes 700 Miles To Attend Church That Meets Their Exact Specifications” Another gave “8 Steps to Finding the Right Church” and includes things like, “Make sure the worship band plays only the genre you like”, “If the preacher doesn’t have 20,000 twitter followers, you’re in the wrong place”, but it was number 7 that jumped out at me. The satirical advice was, “Pick a church where everyone pretends to be happy. If anyone breaks down sobbing or insinuates that they need prayer for some sort of malady or ill fortune, everyone will understand if you excuse yourself to check out the other church down the road. You want a place where no one will burden you with their personal struggles. You don’t need that negativity in your life!”

The reason that satire works is because there’s a hint of truth in it. People tend to run from sickness, sadness, and “negativity”, but the truth is that the church is full of it. I know that’s not a popular statement, and it’s easily misconstrued, but it’s the truth.

Remember Luke 6:27-32 when the Pharisees saw Jesus hanging out with the tax collector named Levi, the one who would later be called the Apostle Matthew? Turn there. It says,

“After this he went out and saw a tax collector named Levi, sitting at the tax booth. And he said to him, ‘Follow me.’ And leaving everything, he rose and followed him. And Levi made him a great feast in his house, and there was a large company of tax collectors and others reclining at table with them. And the Pharisees and their scribes grumbled at his disciples, saying, ‘Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?’”

To eat with these people told everyone that Jesus considered them to be important, good contacts, even friends, and that blew minds of the men who were supposedly experts in religion and God’s Law. They wouldn’t be caught dead at that table! But how does Jesus answer?

“And Jesus answered them, ‘Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.’”

In other words, Jesus didn’t come to gather a bunch of hypocritical people who, as the Babylon Bee article said, “pretend to be happy”, He came to call to Himself those who admit that they are sick. And what do you call a building where a bunch of sick people gathers in order to get well by a physician? A hospital. The church is a hospital.

Some people see the church as a museum, a clean place full of precious pieces of untouchable art. Each individual person and family protected from the other behind glass/ Everyone standing with their hands in their pockets because they don’t want to negatively affect anything around them. As each person look around all they see is rules, signs, protective ropes and security systems. Each family, each person, each artwork putting on their best face, trying to project an image that looks good so more people will want to come to the museum. That’s the mission of the museum. House perfectly preserved, untouchable beauty to attract people.

And that’s how a lot of folks see the church. They think, “The only way people are going to be attracted to Jesus is if I look good, look on top of things, look financially successful, look like I’ve never been tempted, never sinned, never had a bad thought, never argued with anyone.. that I serve perfect, act perfect, that my kids are perfect, my clothes are perfect – and then God will be happy with me, happy with the church, and send more people to our museum.”

And what happens when people come into that museum? Have you ever taken a kid to the museum? What are the rules? Dress nice, hands in pockets, don’t touch anything, don’t talk too loud, and pretend like everything in it is interesting even though it’s actually boring, confusing or weird. Has any kid you’ve ever met ever wanted to go to the museum for their birthday party? (The Children’s Museum in Gatineau doesn’t count!). Why? It’s uncomfortable.

Another question: What happens if you sneeze at the museum? You apologize, you feel awkward as your indiscretion reverberates off the walls – people give you the stare to think, “Hey, don’t you know that we’re in a museum! No noise! No sickness! No nothing! Just walk around with your mouth shut and look happy!” Sometimes the way we do church sends the same message.

But Jesus didn’t come to gather pieces of art for display, he came to call the sick and heal them. The church is not a museum. It’s a hospital full of people that need care. What happens in a hospital? Chaos. People with all kinds of maladies, from broken bones to cancer to mental illness to addiction are all stumbling through the door in need, desperately trying to get help. People come in their grubbiest sick clothes because they really don’t care how they look – they just want help. They aren’t trying to look cool, they’re not hiding their pain, they’re not pretending, they know that if they want help they need to say what’s wrong.

How do you feel in a hospital, surrounded by sick people? If you’re like me you feel a few things. Sometimes, if you’re really sick, you don’t really care what’s going on. You’re so worried about your own mess or whoever you’re looking after that you don’t really care about other people. You couldn’t care less that you haven’t showered or you’re carrying around a bag of barf and a urine sample. Pride is out the window. You just want the physician to come to help you.

Sometimes, when it’s not so urgent, you band together with the other people in the waiting room, right? You share stories, you ask what’s going on, you empathize with the mother who has the colicky baby, or the poor guy that came limping in, or the old person that is having a hard time with their documentation. You’re not judging anyone, you’re not mad at anyone for being at the hospital. Your pain brought you to a place where you need help, but it surrounded you with people who also need help – and it’s natural to start to realize that some of them are worse off than you and it should compel the empathy inside you to grow.

Have you ever sat in a clinic where you are brand new and come across someone who has been going there a while? You go to chemotherapy, or physio, or some kind of medicine or treatment for the first time and you’re nervous, confused, hopeful, scared, and you wonder if anyone has ever gone through this – and then someone sits next to you and says, “Hey, are you in for the same thing as me? Yeah, I’ve had that treatment, I’ve been on that medicine a couple times. It was no fun at first, but it works. I found it easier to take if I mixed it with juice. And don’t forget to drink water because I forgot and that messed me up. Oh, and it’s going to make you sore and tired, so be prepared for that. But after a while it really does work.”

There’s no judgment, no pride, no competition, is there? No, just two people that admit they need help from the same doctor coming together to share and support.

There are a great many illustrations for salvation, but one of the best is that our sickness is sin, the diagnosis is terminal, and Jesus is the Great Physician who is not only the doctor, but the cure. The only requirement He has is that we admit that we are sick and come to Him alone for the remedy. He does not save those who do not admit that they are sick. He despises hypocrites who put on the holier-than-thou, “I’m fine”, museum act.

Which means the people Jesus calls together are going to become a hospital church full of people in various stages of sickness and treatment, right? So it makes sense to treat each other as such. I’m in need of Jesus, you’re in need of Jesus. I’m a sinner, you’re a sinner. And sometimes, just like sick people, we need to give more help, more time, more love, more patience than other times. If someone limps in the door and says, “I’m sick.” We welcome them, introduce them to the Great Physician, and then help them, right? We don’t tell them to go fix themselves before introducing them to the doctor, right? We don’t turn away or pretend we’ve never been sick! We embrace them because that’s what Jesus did for us.

Travel Plans

What does this have to do with our passage today? I want you to take a look at the subtext of what Paul says here. Turn back to our passage in 1 Corinthians 16:
In verses 5-9 we read about Paul’s travel plans. What’s going on there? Remember, the Corinthians have just sent envoy after envoy, with question after question, because their church was in crisis after crisis, and they needed Paul to come. What does Paul say, “I want to come but I can’t right now. I will come and stay for a while, but for now I need to be in Ephesus. There are a lot of good things happening and a whole lot of problems, and I need to be here.”

That’s not what the Corinthians wanted to hear, was it? Sometimes people don’t come when we call – even the Apostle Paul to Corinth. Paul needed to stay in Ephesus? Why? Because God was working and so was Satan. The Corinthians had to be patient.

Sometimes our whole world is falling apart and the person we call on to help doesn’t come. That can cause bitterness, anger, resentment, to grow in our hearts. We get mad at God for not making that person help us, we feel foolish for asking the wrong person, or angry at the person for not coming, which tempts us to react in a sinful way.

  • “I was in trouble and the pastor or deacon or small group leader didn’t come – so I’m going to gossip about them and call them names behind their back.”
  • “I needed help and I reached out to my friend, but they said they couldn’t right now – so I’m going to never speak to them again.”
  • “I pulled away and no one noticed soon enough – so that proves no one cares and I’ll do something to harm myself.”

It’s hard sometimes, but the truth is that the only person we can really count on to show up when we need Him is Jesus. The only one who knows what we’re going through and promises help is Jesus – but He requires that we admit that we’re sick, that we need Him, and that means prayer, reading scripture, worshipping, and waiting on Him.

Timid Timothy

But what did Paul do? He sent Timothy. That’s a good thing, right? “I’m sorry, I can’t help you right now, but I’ll send along someone that will be able to.” But look what it says about Timothy in verse 10:

“When Timothy comes, see that you put him at ease among you, for he is doing the work of the Lord, as I am. So let no one despise him. Help him on his way in peace, that he may return to me, for I am expecting him with the brothers.”

Paul was strong, powerful, authoritative, respected. Timothy was, in a word, fragile. This wasn’t a warning to protect Timothy from the bad people in Corinth – but a warning to the church themselves to be nice to poor Timothy! He was young, timid, and had been through a lot already in his young life. He was the son of a mixed marriage, his father died when he was young, and he was chosen by Paul at a very young age. Timothy became one of Pauls’ right-hand guys, but his job often meant heading to troubled places either before Paul could get there or after Paul had stirred the pot. And it had gotten to him. He was a stressed out dude that even had stomach troubles. I feel for Timothy because I’m a lot like him right now.

As you all well know, sometimes church leaders, or parents, or teachers, even though they know what they’re doing, even though they are trying to do the work of the Lord, end up becoming very fragile because of things going on in their life. They used to be stronger, but now they can’t take a lot of pressure. They fall apart more easily. They need more naps and less confrontation. They need to be treated more gently. You can almost hear Paul saying, “Timothy is a godly leader and he’s going to say some things you don’t like, but I know how mean you guys can be. So be nice to Timothy! I want him back in the same condition I sent him!”

Isn’t it interesting that the Corinthian church, which had so many troubles and needed so much strong leadership, was sent timid Timothy? And that, with a warning! Oftentimes it’s the fragile, weak leader, or weak parent or weak friend that God uses in our lives the most. They aren’t ever-present, they aren’t super-strong, and they get overwhelmed easy – but they’re exactly the right person and God uses them. Why? Because they know they need Jesus. They’re not going to try to be Jesus for you, they’re going to point you to Him. They’re going to know how you feel. They’re going to be able to sympathize with your struggles like no one else. And in their weakness, they realize how much they need the Great Physician to do the work for them. They don’t have confidence and strength in themselves, they aren’t going to tell you to buck-up and try harder – they have learned to put their faith and gain their strength from someone greater than them – and that’s what you need.

Awesome Apollos

And look at verse 12,

“Now concerning our brother Apollos, I strongly urged him to visit you with the other brothers, but it was not at all his will to come now. He will come when he has opportunity.”

Apollos was the exact opposite of Timothy. The phrase “now concerning” meant that the Corinthians asked about Apollos. I wonder if it was, “Hey Paul, if you can’t come, can you send Apollos?” Apollos was actually from Corinth and was not only an amazing preacher, but a super-popular travelling speaker, very smart, powerful in speech, and bold in his demeanor. He had actually gone on tour, defending Christianity and teaching all over the place. He was like Ravi Zacharias from last week. He was so good that some people thought that Paul was jealous of Apollos because he was so popular.

What is so interesting here, and sort of funny, is that the Apostle Paul “strongly urged” Apollos to go to Corinth and Apollos said “No! Well, maybe I’ll go if I feel like it.” I find that amazing. Timid Timothy was Paul’s shell-shocked, PTSD ridden foot soldier, sent into battle after battle – while Apollos was more like a James Bond style spy, wandering around in fancy hotels, hanging out with cool people, and doing whatever jobs came up.

Sometimes, even when you’re the Apostle Paul, people don’t do what you want. Sometimes the one you think would be right for the job says no, and you end up with someone you wouldn’t have chosen. And that leads to temptation, right? You want to resent the Apollos you wanted and dump on the Timothy you didn’t. You resent the teacher, the parent, the child that doesn’t meet your expectations. You asked God for an Apollos spouse, an Apollos friend, an Apollos partner, but you got a Timothy. Which leads to sinful comparisons: “Apollos wouldn’t have done that. Apollos wouldn’t have said it that way. Apollos would have listened to me. Apollos would clean his room. Apollos would let me use the car. Apollos would treat me the way I want to be treated. And here I am stuck with you, timid, Tummy-Ache Timothy.”

But the truth is that God didn’t want Apollos there. God wanted Timothy there. Tummy-Ache Timothy was the right person for the job. Your weak or sick parent, child, teacher, pastor, brother, sister, friend, husband, or wife – is the right one, and God can use them to do things that Apollos never could. The question is whether you trust that God knows what He’s doing.

Conclusion

There are, of course, more names there, but let’s close with verses 13-14,

“Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love.”

This is the end of the letter and a final summary of what he’s been saying. He addresses them like soldiers on the battlefield, or for our illustration today, nurses and fellow patients on the ward.

“Be watchful” means “stay awake” or “be on guard”. They had let all kinds of sickness and infectious and germs into their hospital church because they weren’t paying attention, weren’t on guard, weren’t doing best practices, and had fallen asleep on the job, and people were getting spiritually sicker and sicker. The command here is to wake up.

“Stand firm in the faith” means “Remember the foundation of the gospel.” They had not only let infections and germs run rampant among them, but they had lost the medicine! God the Father, Jesus the Saviour, and the Holy Spirit were always available to them but they had gotten so distracted by sin and had put their faith in so many other remedies that they had forgotten Jesus. Paul says, “You know the only treatment is pure faith in Jesus. Go back to that.”

“Act like men” means “stop being such a chicken and start doing the right things”! These caregivers had become too afraid, too distracted by sin, too overwhelmed by the enemy, to be able to help anyone. When they tried, they failed, because they were trying in their own strength – so they stopped trying. So Paul says, “Get back in there and help some people! Pray like you mean it, serve like you mean it, love like you mean it, worship like you mean it, study like you mean it!”

“Be strong”, means not in yourself obviously, but in God. This isn’t about pulling up your socks, it’s about reorienting yourself to the One from whom you get your strength. Remember one of the first things Paul said in chapter 1, “God chose the foolish, weak, and low things on purpose.” (1 Cor 1:26-31) In other words, God works most among the sick because that’s where He gets the most glory because that’s where people know they need Him most.

And if there was any doubt about where the strength comes from we see it in verse 14: “Let all you do be done in the love.” Our greatest strength isn’t in our personality, our bodies, our cleverness, or our words, it’s in our ability to love God and love others, because He first loved us.

5 Commitments to Prevent Divorce in Your Marriage and Promote Unity in Your Relationships (Mark 10:1-12)

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GOM 35 - 5 Commitments to Prevent Divorce

“And he left there and went to the region of Judea and beyond the Jordan, and crowds gathered to him again. And again, as was his custom, he taught them. And Pharisees came up and in order to test him asked, Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?’ He answered them, ‘What did Moses command you?’ They said, ‘Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of divorce and to send her away.’ And Jesus said to them, ‘Because of your hardness of heart he wrote you this commandment. But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.’ And in the house the disciples asked him again about this matter. And he said to them, ‘Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her, and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.’” (Mark 10:1-13)

Jesus is very clear about his teaching about divorce. It happens as a result of sinful, selfish actions and hard hearts. Like too many people I’ve talked to, the Pharisee came to Jesus looking for all the loopholes in God’s law that would allow for divorce. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been asked that. I think I’ve been asked, “What does the Bible say about the reasons to get divorced?” more than “What does the Bible say about how to prevent divorce?” They come thinking, “Is this thing my spouse did a biblical grounds for divorce?” rather than “How can I find forgiveness, restoration, counselling and healing for this relationship now that my spouse has done this thing?” People are looking for the way out of their relationship– not the way to fix it.

And I don’t begrudge them the question. When “the D word” starts to come up in our minds, it comes from a place of great pain and hurt. No one goes into a marriage thinking they will one day get divorced. No one wants the anguish, shame and cost of divorce. But it’s happening more and more today.

We all know people, and perhaps we are this person, that can’t sleep at night because of disagreements both past and present. People with broken marriages – or who have come close – and who don’t know where to start to repair the relationship. We know people who have left churches, left home, left their jobs or schools, or even their home town, because they didn’t know how to resolve conflict. The hurt was so bad that they felt their only solution to end the pain was to leave. But that’d doesn’t solve the problem, does it? Many of us carry deep scars from unresolved hurts.

Now I don’t want to go into a diatribe against divorce or the pornified, messed up, hook-up culture around us. I also don’t want to talk about the ways that God allows for divorce, because when Jesus was asked the question He didn’t answer it with “Ok, here’s what the Law says: If your spouse cheats, or abandons you because of your faith, and a good case could be made that spousal abuse is a reason too… if they didn’t do that then you’re stuck.” No, He got to the heart of the issue… literally talking about the heart of the person asking the question. He essentially said, “The only reason that this was put into the Law at all was because you have irredeemably hard hearts. Listen, God gave you to each other so you would ‘hold fast’ [which is literally the Greek word for “glue”] and become “one flesh”, a singular person, and looking to tear apart that flesh is a terrible thing that is going to cause amazing amounts of damage. Marriage is meant to glue two people together so they do not come apart again, and looking for excuses to get divorced misses the point completely!”

Our Heart First

Today I want answer the question I get asked less: “What does it take to stay together when something bad happens in a relationship?”

The principles I’m going to share today are important for married couples, but they also apply to every other relationship we have. These aren’t “how to fix the other person” type principles or even “the steps to go through to reconcile a relationship”. What I want to talk about is how to fix our own heart first, before we even get to talking to the other person. Jesus was very concerned about the heart of the individual asking the question, so that’s where we’re going to park today.

Blowing the World’s Mind

I was listening to an Albert Mohler talk this week where he spoke about the normalization of sexual sin in the church. A secular writer in the New York Times had written that all homosexuals have to do is just wait a little while because very soon all the churches who are against homosexuality will eventually come around. His evidence is that this has happened already with divorce. Churches don’t even talk about it as a problem anymore.

When divorce was on the rise, the same thing happened as we see today with homosexuality. First, churches were shocked, then many mainline, liberal, churches and religions started to accept it. Then, as the culture began to see more and more divorces around them, more and more churches started to redefine their position on divorce. They started to reinterpret scriptures and emphasize Jesus’ “Judge not as ye be judged” removing any interpretations that were hard for divorced people to listen to. Then more and more elders, deacons, pastors, missionaries and Christian celebrities started to get divorced (just as more and more are coming out as gay).

Then, as it became normalized, churches started to talk about how important it was not to ostracize or disrespect or exclude divorced couples. Let me quote from the article by this secular writer:

“A generation ago, many Christian churches followed these biblical admonitions and would not sanction what they viewed as ‘adulterous’ second marriages. Today, in large part because of the power of changing social norms, it is no longer common for most Protestant churches to refuse to marry a woman to a man who had divorced his previous wife. And few churches would exclude or disrespect a couple because either spouse had married before.”

In other words, all the world has to do is wait for us to compromise, and we will. And we have. Divorce among Christians is normal, church splits are normal, grumpy business meetings are normal… every day the Christian church grows to be more and more like the world.

If we get this right in our church, it is going to blow people’s minds. For the world, seeing people get angry, separated, divorced, fighting, back bighting, seeking revenge, gossiping, slandering is normal. It’s how things usually go. But when they see believers respond to relationship problems with grace and forgiveness, treating enemies like friends, humbling ourselves and doing the hard work of reconciliation, it blows their minds. We show how different we really are.

None of us want to be in a church that acts like the world. We don’t want to be in a church with collapsing marriages, power struggles and worldly garbage. We’re supposed to be different – and anyone who comes to our doors should expect us to be different.

It is my hearts deepest desire that when people come into this place they will find people who are full of grace, who love Jesus and the church, who speak words of love, kindness, and encouragement. Whose eyes are filled with compassion and joy, and who are turning to Jesus and pointing others to him.

5 Commitments to Cultivate Unity

So let’s talk about the five commitments we must make in our own hearts so that we can cultivate unity in our marriages, relationships and church. (These points were taken from the book/website, “The Peacemaker” by Ken Sande)

We’ve all heard that “many hands make light work”, or “there is strength in numbers”, or “a cord of three strands is not easily broken” (Ecc. 4:12). They are all simple ways of saying that the sum of the parts is greater than the whole, and that we are stronger when we stay together. We can do more when we work together.

The same is true in marriage, friendship and in the church. The depth of our relationship increases the strength of our abilities. A committed, married couple is stronger than two friends doing the same thing. Two friends working together are stronger than two workmates. A church, united under Christ, is stronger than any group united by a simple cause.

The famous preacher Charles Spurgeon once said, “The devils are united as one man in their infamous rebellion, while we believers in Jesus are divided in our service of God, and scarcely ever work with unanimity.” Unfortunately for many Christians and churches, Spurgeon is right – including in our marriages. We aren’t working together very well.

So, how do we get to working well together as a church and with our spouses? Here are the five commitments we need to make.

Commitment 1: To love Jesus Christ above all things and sacrifice our mini-agendas for His sake.

First we need to commit ourselves to loving Jesus Christ above all things, and sacrifice our mini-agendas for his sake. What does that mean? It means that we need to realize that unity in marriage, friendship or in the church isn’t something that we do ourselves. The Bible reminds us of this over and over – that it’s God who unites us and keeps us together, through the power of Jesus and the Holy Spirt.

  • When the bible talks to husbands about how to love their wives it says, “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her…” (Eph 5:25)
  • When he talks to the wives he says, “Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord.” (Col 3:18).
  • To the church he says we should be “submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.” (Eph 5:21).
  • In Ephesians 4:3 it says, “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.”
  • 1 Corinthians 1:10 says, “I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment.”
  • In Philippians 2:2 it says, “…make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind.”

In all our relationships we are encouraged to always be connected to Jesus first and then others. Our relationship with Him is the foundational relationship for all others. If we are not forgiven by Him, how can we know to forgive others? If He doesn’t show us how to love sacrificially, then how can we love others that require our sacrifice?

Christian unity originates in God: The Holy Trinity of Father Son and Spirit is always united, and invites us to be united to them. The unity we have as Christians is remarkably different from anything the world has to offer. Non-Christians rally around politics, causes, moral issues, environmental concerns, and can built their unity around a singular cause. But the Christian church is not built around a cause, it is built around a person – the Lord Jesus Christ, whose spirit inhabits all believers. And so as we commit ourselves to His name, His will, His promise, His model, His teaching, in His power, that we are able to put aside our mini-agendas.

What do I mean by mini-agendas: I mean setting aside our own desires and preferences because we see the relationship as more important. Yes, we want the dishes done, the food warm, the money situation fixed, our career to take off, the bedroom more exciting, our parenting better, the house cleaner, the toilet seat up or down, the toenail clippings and socks picked up, our in-laws dealt with, and finally get to choose the movie for once… but we set that aside for the sake of unity and because Jesus has told us to stay committed. We don’t let the bitterness take hold, and we ask God every day to help us with it.

Commitment 2: To obey the Word of God in all things.

Our second commitment that will help us maintain unity in our marriage and our church is to realize that God has given us commands and doctrines that we must be committed to. He never sacrifices the truth for the sake of a relationship, but He will always prioritizes a spirit of grace. Truth with Grace.

We commit our hearts to Jesus and our heads to the word of God. Ephesians 4:4-6 says, “There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call—one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.”

Some people think that in order to avoid relationship problems, we have to avoid controversy and hard topics. They think that in order to avoid breaking up, we have to coat our conversations with little, white lies, for the sake of the other person. That’s absolutely wrong.

The Bible says that we need to know where we stand, be honest with God and one another, and then work towards an agreement about our faith, practices, theology, decisions, and everything else we need to work together. Lying causes bitterness and resentment, the truth sets us free.

Now, it’s impossible to consider a relationship, even a marriage, where everyone agrees about everything all the time. That would be amazing, but that’s not the whole point. No, what God wants us to do is be in the life-long process of growing in our knowledge of God and one another. God built differences into us, and that’s ok. It is for our benefit and growth that we bump up against, and marry, people that are very different than us. And lying to ourselves and others about who we really are sidesteps that gift.

A couple needs to be solidly united on the most important things in life: Our faith and theology about Jesus, the authority of scripture, what church we will attend together, whether they want children, where and how you plan on living… but the rest can be up for discussion and compromise. “Are we going to have a TV in the bedroom?”, “Do you put the forks in the dishwasher pointy side down or up?” or “Who makes the bed?” are not critical issues. They can be worked out – or discussed for the entirety of the marriage.

But the couple, and the church, must do the hard work of discussing the critical things in the relationship in an open, honest and Godly way. So your commitment, before you ever step into the conversation with the other person, is that you will be directed by the Word of God, honest in all you say, and gracious about everything that is non-essential.

Commitment 3: To develop Christ-like humility and submission.

Now, the third commitment we have to make before we can have unity in our marriages and church is the commitment to develop Christ-like character: especially humility and submission.

Now, I know that doesn’t sound like much fun – because it isn’t. But I’m convinced that this is where so much of what we are trying to do falls apart. There are many believers who are theologically sound and love Jesus, but they refuse to humbly submit to someone else – whether it be their spouse or a brother or sister in the church. These folks want to be right and see that their mini-agendas get moved forward.

Their pride is what keeps the relationship from being united. They are right, and they will argue with, shout down, manipulate, nag and publically embarrass the other person as much as it takes until they cave. That’s the opposite of Christ-like humility and submission. Philippians 2:3-4 says to each of us – me, the elders, deacons, servants, teachers, musicians, sound guys, husbands, wives, children: “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.”

If we want strong marriages and a strong church then we need to be willing to put our agenda aside as less important than the other’s. A relationship where your ideas are as good as, if not better than, mine. A relationship where you want to listen first and talk second. One where you desire to hear what the other person has to say – all they have to say – because you value them. A relationship where we set aside our own wants and desires because what we want might negatively affect someone else. Even if we really, really want it – and it’s totally within our grasp – we don’t get it or do it because the other person is more important. We show up when we don’t want to because we love the other person and want to support them. Where we spend as much time thinking about the other persons needs as we do thinking of our own.

Commitment 4: To respect and pursue God given diversity.

The fourth commitment we must make is to respect and pursue God given diversity. Just as Jesus accepted us, so we are to accept others. In our marriages this means we realize that we don’t need to turn our husbands or wives into someone else, but respect and love who God created them to be. In the church this means that we love and thank God for the fact that people are different. God doesn’t want us to be the same, but He does want us to work together for the same goal.

Throughout scripture, especially the New Testament, we are reminded that God made us different on purpose. Romans 12:4-8 says it this way:

“For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.”

This is certainly true in the church, but also in marriages. It’s a good thing that one is a free-spirit and the other a control-freak. It’s good that one is a spender and the other a saver, one likes action the other drama, one reads the other likes music, one emphasizes quality the other durability, one wants intimacy more often than the other, one a crier the other stoic, one an adventurer the other a homebody. Those are good things – and we need make the commitment before God that we will respect the differences in our spouse, thank God for them, and then allow God to help us become better people through them.

Diversity in marriage and in church can lead to amazing things. God purposefully puts different people together so He can better grow His kingdom. We need to experience diversity so we can see God work in new ways. It makes our lives, and our church, more interesting, more creative, and stronger.

The other side of this is that instead of envying people’s differences, we embrace our own uniqueness and thank God for it. Romans 15:7 says we need to “accept one another then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.” Our mutual respect for each other brings praise to God! We don’t accept each other’s sins, but we do embrace our differences. God treats us like an orchestra – each instrument of unique individual value and beauty, but blending together under one Conductor, playing complimentary parts of one glorious composition.

Commitment 5: To NOT GIVE UP.

And finally, the fifth commitment that you have to make within yourself, before God, is that you won’t give up. That you will earnestly strive to prayerfully pursue peace, resolve your conflict, preserve the relationship, and stay stuck together like glue, no matter what. The key word is commitment.

Remember the words of the traditional marriage vows – words that people aren’t using anymore because they seem to hard-core:

“I, take you, to be my wedded wife/husband, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death us do part, according to God’s holy law, and this is my solemn vow.”

Those are words of strong commitment before God, and they represent the commitment that Jesus made to you. They almost sound like Romans 8:38-39:

“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.”

Satan is always sowing seeds of doubt, conflict, offence and division among people. He wants our joy diminished, our worship of God to be lessened, and our witness for Christ destroyed. He wants to make our lives difficult so that we won’t be able to work together against his demonic kingdom.

The best way to deal with these seeds is to be committed to being humble and gentle with one another and pursue, pursue, pursue everything it takes for peace! Forgive the little irritations, overlook minor offences, bear with those who disappoint is, and lovingly correct and deal with the sins are too serious to overlook.

Conclusion

As we make these commitments in our own hearts before God we will be able to say:

“Yes, we have conflict in [our marriage and] in our church – who doesn’t? But Jesus has transformed the way we deal with conflict. We discuss our differences candidly and fervently, but we refuse to let them divide us. We will not walk away from our marriages or from our friends. And we will not leave our church just because we’ve been offended or things are not going exactly as we want. Our relationships are a testimony to the reconciling power of the gospel of Christ, and we will strive with every ounce of our strength to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” (From Peacemakers.net)

Let’s work together in this to honour God with our marriages, our relationships and our church.

To Those Who Are Consistently Late For Church

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English: Alarm clock

Ok, I’ll admit that this may come across a little rant-ish, but I want to give a message to those who are Consistently Late for Church.  You may want to print this one and pass it around.

(First obvious question: “Are you talking about a certain person/family?”, the answer is “No. This problem is quite broad spread.” Second obvious question: “Does this apply to new-comers or non-Christians?”, the answer is “Very No. This is for those who have been attending for a while.” Third obvious question: “Does this apply to super-snowy days or when weird, occasional, morning set-backs happen?”, the answer is “No, of course not.”)

5 Reasons Why You Shouldn’t be Late for Church:

1. It’s Disrespectful to the musicians, singers, ushers, servants, preacher, nursery workers, teachers, and anyone else who showed up early to get ready on time and who is working on a tight schedule.

2. It’s Distracting for those who are trying to concentrate on the service. No matter how quiet you think you are, people notice, and it distracts them from what they are trying to do — be attentive to the speaker, worship God in song, run the powerpoint, etc. Though they may not show it on the outside, even those on stage are distracted, Oh, and all the people you are waving at — are even more distracted. There are enough things distracting people from worship in this world. Don’t be one of them.

3. It shows a Consumerist Mindset. You’re treating the church like a restaurant or a grocery store. Showing up consistently late means you believe that this church must meet your needs, your way, on your time. That’s not how a family treats each other. You need to repent of your self-centred attitude ask yourself what you can give and not merely receive from the people around you.

4. It sets a Bad Example for others. You are causing people to stumble. For the children, new Christians, and weaker brothers and sisters who struggle with attendance and complacency, you are a bad example. For the non-believers who wonder if people take this seriously, you are teaching them that certain parts of the service are not important, it’s ok to treat people and ministries like commodities, that you don’t need to take church seriously.

5. It Means you are Unprepared for why you are here. If you are coming late for service you are probably not in any kind of spiritual condition to worship God, serve your church, or hear the message. If you wonder why the music isn’t touching you, why the sermon seems hard to follow, why the people seem distant, and why you aren’t growing in God (“being fed”)… it’s probably because you are not prepared to be at church. You are tired, distracted, complacent, disengaged, not serving, and unprepared. Sunday morning starts on Saturday night.

Honestly, it’s really not that hard to get up a little earlier, show up 10 minutes before service, greet people, come into the sanctuary and ask God to prepare your heart for what He wants to do to you today. Try it and see if it changes how you view God, your faith, and your fellow believers.

Father’s Day “Relationships & Success”

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I’m breaking pattern this week so I can share something I wrote for Father’s Day, a sermon based on Psalm 1:1-2.  It’s challenging and practical, and I hope will help you next time you have the “I’m worried about the path you’re going down” talk with someone.

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“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.
He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither.  In all that he does, he prospers.
The wicked are not so, but are like chaff that the wind drives away.  Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous; for the Lord knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.”
(Psalm 1)

Happy Father’s Day!  This morning I’m going to give you a tool to use as dad’s (and mom’s, and anyone else too, it’s pretty universal), and a challenge for you to look at in your own life.  It’s a tool because after I’m done here you should be able to replicate this little drawing I’ll show you on a napkin while having dinner with your kid, or even an employee, or someone you are mentoring.  It’s a challenge because I also want you to think about these concepts for yourselves.  This morning we are going to talk about Success.

There seems to be an insatiable desire among people to be seen as, and feel, “successful”, no matter what the cost.  And I think the reason is because in a lot of people’s minds, “success” equals happiness… or at least it’s supposed to.  We sacrifice a lot of things to achieve this thing called “success”.  We work hard at school, sacrificing our time, our friends, and sometimes even our health to be top of our class.  Then we get into the working world, and we do the same … whatever that looks like in our field of work.

Is that ok?  I think that the desire to be successful, and happy, productive and pleased with our work, is a God given desire, and therefore is holy and good.  I believe that God made man for happiness – it was His intention to create beings that would be happy, productive and thriving– to have an abundant life.  So it’s a good thing.  And on the other hand, nobody wants to be unhappy, a failure or miserable.  There are some who do things that, in the end, will make them miserable or set themselves up for failure, but no one starts out their life wanting to live that way.

But there’s a problem with our pursuit of happiness and success – or at least the way many people try to achieve it.   One famous theologian (Adam Clarke)  states the problem this way,

“So perverted is the human heart, that it seeks happiness where it cannot be found; and in things which are naturally and morally unfit to communicate it.”

In other words, we have this burning desire to attain a life of achievement, accomplishment, happiness and contentment, but we are so clouded by sin and selfish ambition that we end up going all sorts of wrong places to find it.  And that hurts the individual, and their relationships with those around them, and their relationship with God.  So this morning, I want to talk a little bit about what success really looks like, and to show an important step we must take to attain it.

I started out this morning reading Psalm 1 because I believe it gives us a picture of a successful person… what he looks like, and what he doesn’t.  Take a look at the beginning of this verse.  The first word in the book of Psalms, the song-book of the bible, is the word  “Blessed”.  It’s the Hebrew word ESCHER and it’s the word for “Happy”.  In Latin it’s translated BEATUS which is where we get the word “beatitude”, which is used in the New Testament when Jesus begins longest set of teachings, His Sermon on the Mount, with a list of “Beatitudes”… “Blessed are the peacemakers…”… or “Happy are peacemakers…”  He starts His longest sermon with a picture of what a blessed, happy life looks like.

And that’s what we’re shooting for in life isn’t it?  Happiness.  It’s what we’re searching for.  It’s what we want to provide for ourselves, our children, and those we love.  But what does it look like, and where can we get it?

I think it’s highly appropriate to talk about this subject on Father’s Day, because Dad’s (and of course mom’s too!) need to get this right.  A lot of dad’s mess this part up, and end up having a lot of regrets in the middle or at the end of their life when they realize that what they had worked so hard to achieve, or spent a lot of time pursuing things that weren’t going to make them truly successful.  And I don’t want that for any of you.

So, how does one define success?   Is it something that we get to choose ourselves and direct our life towards, or is there a definition that is common to everyone, that is a quintessential measurement of human success?

People define success in many ways.   Some measure it in wealth.  If you have the most money and stuff, or enough money and stuff to live comfortably, or at least more money and stuff than someone else… then you are doing well – you are a success.   Some measure it in health.  If you can live the longest, or can run the farthest, lift the most, or hit it harder than anyone else, then you are the best – a success.

Some measure it in popularity.  It doesn’t matter how much money you made, or even if you are the best.  If you are known by more people, then you are successful.  There are people today who are famous for being famous, and that is their end goal.  They make nothing important, say nothing important, and contribute very little to society, but they are famous and therefore feel successful.  TV shows and magazines follow them around like mosquitoes, and lots of people will do anything to become famous like them – because that’s success.

I heard a little girl on the radio last week when they were doing a radiothon for CHEO.  This little girl, who had gone through so much in her life, surrounded by amazing doctors, nurses, specialists… The host asked what she wanted to be when she grew up?  Her answer, “I want to be famous.”  That is a very telling statement about what we are teaching our youth about how to define success in their life.

Some define success by their peer group.  Wealth and fame doesn’t matter, as long as they are acknowledged to be part of a certain group.  They work their whole live to get that title.  CEO, Elite Status Member, VIP, MVP, Gold Medal Holder, World Record Holder.  There are people who have actually died trying just to get into the Guinness book of World Records.  One woman died trying to break the world’s Free Diving record… she went 561 feet under water and didn’t come back alive.  Many have died trying to set speed records on land, sea and in the air.  I read that a man from London essentially killed himself because he wanted to set the world record for spinning in circles.  He fell down, cracked his head, and died.  He wanted to be identified with that group called “World record holders” so bad, it cost him his life.

So, how do you define success?  When you look at what you are putting your effort, energy, time, money, strength, attention, life and heart into… what are you trying to achieve?  Happiness, right?  Why do it if it won’t make you happy?  Well, my hope today, dads, moms, and everyone else here too, is that what you are pouring your life into is actually something worth achieving, and will really bring you true, lasting happiness.  And hopefully this is something you can share with others, and can be doing in a way that worships God.  It’s based on Psalm 1:1-2.

Let’s read verse 1 again, and today I’m using the English Standard Version, but it’s really close to the NIV.  “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…”.  “Blessed is the man…” “Happy is the man…” “Successful is the man…”.  He’s showing us a picture here and uses a pretty neat poetic structure to do it.   So here’s your picture.

Bill Cosby once said, “Show me your friends, and I’ll show you your future.”

In other words, the people you are in relationship with, and who influence your life the most, will inevitably dictate its direction.  That’s what it says here too.  When you think of a person, or when people think of you, who do they associate you with?  When people think of you, and summarize who you are at the core… they think… what?

Let me show you the poetic structure and how the psalmist paints the picture of this man’s life.  There’s a pretty neat set of three progressions here.  The first is: Walking, then Standing, then Sitting.  And this is all about commitment to certain relationships.  It’s a picture of how this guy got to be who he is today.

Picture yourself at a party, and it’s easier to understand this.  First you come into the party and you’re walking around.  You’ve still got your jacket on, you’re schmoozing and getting drinks and going to the snack table… you’re not committed to staying, but you’re there.  At least when you’re walking you have some kind of momentum and could turn around and walk out the door, change who you’re talking to, and do something different.

But at some point you stop… now you’re standing.  You’ve found a group to chat with that seems to have something in common, or is someone you want to get to know.  Now you’re not moving and have decided to stick around.  Conversations are had, jokes told, stories shared, advice given… but you’re still standing.  It’s awkward to hold your snack plate, you can’t really have freedom to gesture or you’ll spill something.  You are more committed to this relationship than when you were walking, but you’re not fully comfortable, and could still excuse yourself.

But then comes sitting.  Now you’re not just attending the party, you plan on sticking around for a while.  You’ve gotten to know some people, moved to the couch, taken off your shoes and your jacket, you’re comfortable there, and you are beginning an intimate conversation with someone and it will take a good effort to get up, gather your things and go somewhere else.  This is you at their kitchen table, or in the living room on their couch—this is friendship.

This is the progression of how we build relationships.  Walking, Standing, Sitting.  The Psalmist here is saying, “Be careful who you associate with.  Where you walk, who you stand with, and who you get comfortable around.  Your happiness and success will be built on your associations with the people you end up sitting with at this party called ‘life’.”

Now look at the next progression – Counsel-Way-Seat.   First is “counsel”.  When someone is counselling you, they are talking to you.  This is a picture of who influences this man.  This is the building of influence.  First, it’s talk.  It’s advice.  Take it or leave it, but the voices are there.  This is the lowest level of influence… the voices around us.  Those who we hear as we walk around this life.  Some are louder, but we are not committed to listening to them.

Next comes “the way”.  This is a beautiful word, DEREK, that means journey, path, or direction.  In other words, you’ve now moved from this person or group’s voice being just advice that is floating around your ears, and have appropriated their words as ones which guide your way of life… you are now on the same path as them, going the same direction.  Your journey and destination is the same as theirs.  You go their way.  You’ve moved from them being an outside group, to them being people who actually have enough influence to sway the direction of your life.  These are your friends and partners.

And finally comes “the seat”.  This word MOWSHAB means dwellings, or house, or land or a place to sit.  In other words, now you’re living with these folks.  You sit and eat at their table and they are like family.  They have the highest level of influence in your life.

God’s word here in Psalm 1 seems to be saying that everybody will go through this process.  This is non-optional in life.  We are going to be walking, standing and sitting with someone, or many someones.  And we are going to be influenced by these people, and we will give some of them greater influence over us than others.  The caution, and the secret to success and happiness shown here, is being careful when choosing who these people are, and knowing where and what they are leading us towards.

So who are these people?  This is the third progression – building associations.  This is a picture of who this person IS NOT associating with.  Blessed is the person who IS NOT associating with these people.  The Wicked, Sinners, and Scoffers.

“The wicked” is a term used for unrighteous people.  Now scripture says that we are all sinners, we are all unrighteous, and need God’s grace to be saved.  But this word is not talking about our general condition of being sinners, it is speaking of people who are committed stirring up trouble.  The word picture is of a person who is like the water of a troubled and turbulent sea, constantly churning up dirt and muck from the bottom, never stopping to let anyone see clearly.  They stir themselves up, and they stir up others, and cloud people with sinful chatter.

These are people who are good talkers, and love to counsel people.  They are great whisperers, and backstabbers, and trouble makers.  They might not be folks who necessarily commit crimes that people see… and are usually so smooth that people can’t really pin down what they’ve done wrong… but they are the ones who use their words to tear people down, set people up for failure, and lead others astray.  We all know these kinds of folks, “the wicked”, and have been hurt by them, right?

Next in the progression comes “sinners”. Now again, we are all sinners, and if we were to try to avoid ever being around sinners, we’d not only be lonely, but we couldn’t even be around ourselves.  But this word is an emphatic one.  These people are right out in the open with their sin, even bold and daring about the bad things they are doing.  They don’t even really try to hide it.  They post pictures on Facebook and videos on Youtube of them doing these sinful things!  They brag about it!  The “wicked” are a bunch of talkers… these people called “sinners” are doers.  These are the folks who will even announce their sin before they do it.  “We’re going out to get drunk, start a fight, and probably end up in jail, so get out of my way.”  Or “I’ve figured out a whole bunch of loopholes in my taxes so I can get a bunch of money that I don’t really deserve… and I’ll show you how!”  or “I think pornography and fornication is good, I want to do it, and I think you should join me.”  “I want you to come over to my house and let’s gossip and slander the people we know.”

These people are ok with their sin, and boldly proclaim it.  But then comes the next part of the progression where one moves from listening to bad things, to doing bad things, to actually working against God and those who follow Him.  This is the third group – “the scoffers”.  Proverbs 21:24 defines what the word “scoffer” means: ““Scoffer” is the name of the arrogant, haughty man who acts with arrogant pride.”  This is the person who actually derides, mocks, and openly ridicules God and what God wants.  The “wicked” talk about sinful things… the “sinners” do sinful things… “scoffers” do both of those, and go further to even despise and make fun of the most sacred precepts of religion, piety and morals.  They even invent ways to ridicule God and His people.  They put themselves purposely above God, saying He doesn’t exist, that He is foolish, and what He says doesn’t matter… but what they say does matter.

You give them your ear, and then you follow their path, and then you live with them, and you naturally begin doing what they do.

 

This is the third place of the progression.  Sounds harsh doesn’t it?  But it’s true when you think about it.  You give them your ear, and then you follow their path, and then you live with them, and you naturally begin doing what they do.  You begin by talking about sin… gossiping, backbiting, verbally abusing, sexual talk, joking about cheating, wishing out loud you had someone else’s stuff, even discussing the what-ifs of certain sinful behaviours… and that eventually leads to the action of sinning.  And just like when you stand in a place with a foul smell long enough that you get used to it, you will get used to that kind of thinking and behaviour, and begin to see things from the perspective of those people.  It becomes normal.  Slander, cheating, fighting, swearing, cutting corners, taking things that don’t belong to you, stretching and breaking the laws… that becomes normal.  “That’s just the business world!” we say.  “That’s how it is at work!”  “That’s what has to be done if you’re going to survive in this world!”  “Everybody does it!”  “All your friends are doing it.”  “It’s a natural part of life.”  “It’s biological.” “It’s normal.”

But it goes further.   When sin becomes normal, it also becomes our god.  We take the True God out of our life and replace him with something else – a god that tells us what we want, and lets us do whatever we want.  And as that becomes normal, it’s easier to mock God, His priorities, and His people.  Purity is seen as prudishness.  Pursuing a holy life is considered to be like living in a prison, restricted in movement, and unpleasant to consider.  Worshipping and reading God’s word is considered a waste of time, or even wrong.

Have you ever heard this:

“Churches are just breeding grounds for hypocrites and fakers.  If God really loved this world it wouldn’t look like it does… He must be a horrible God.  Christians have a blind faith is anti-intellectual and is only for stupid people who get fooled into it.  We’ve all moved so far past that old way of thinking.  We are in a new age, a new time, and they are still stuck in the Dark Ages.  All they want to do is control people, condemn people and take their money.  Christianity is for the weak and the dim-witted.”

Easy to see, isn’t it?  We’ve all heard it.  And this picture in Psalm 1:1 is the progression of how we get there.  Some of us came from there and have lived it, others of us still visit there from time to time… and still others are there right now.  You may hear this kind of thing regularly, and that’s why you hesitate to tell people you are Christian, or that you go to church.

 

This is the picture I want you to see and that I want you to be able to draw for your friends, your mentoree’s, and your kids when you have that talk about “the path I see you going down right now”.  You know that talk… when you see someone listening to dangerous voices, doing wrong things, and heading towards some serious problems in their life.  This is what you can draw for them.

 

You can say, “Listen! Success isn’t defined by what you have, what you do, who you know, or who knows you… it’s defined by who you are.  Who you are when no one’s around except you and God.  Who you are in your thought life, your will, your priorities and your desires.  Your character.  Your integrity.”  That’s success!

Verse 2 shows us who this man does associate with, and who he really is.  He IS NOT with the wicked, the sinful or scoffers,  “but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night.”  Some of us hear that and tense up.  Oh great… meditating day and night… reading the bible all day and living on some mountaintop somewhere, eating stewed potatoes and contemplating the complexities of the Book of Job all day long.  That’s not what this means.

In easier to understand language it says — a happy and successful person delights (or enjoys and finds benefit in) what God says in the Bible, and throughout his day, from morning to evening, He makes God’s voice the greatest influence in His life.  When he’s at work, at the gym, out hunting, doing his taxes, playing with his kids, changing the oil in the car, making dinner, cleaning the house, talking to a neighbour or dealing with a problem, He’s allowing God to have the first say in how he reacts and what he does.  Jesus gets first dibs.  He listens to Jesus’ counsel, walks in Jesus’ way, and sits at Jesus’ table.

That’s what a successful life looks like.  When those who are closest to you and know you best (spouse, children, friends) respect you, know you love God, delight in His word, that you love them with all your heart, forgive them of their wrongs, help them to become better people – because that’s what Jesus does for you — then you are a success.

So, to close, I ask you this question: When people think of you, who would they say your number one relationship is with, who your greatest influence is, and who you associate with?  Ask your spouse, your friend, or even your kids, to do some association with you.

Do you ever play word association games?  I say a word, and you say the first thing that pops into your head.

I say “BLACK”, you say…

I say “CAR”, you say…

I say “FOREST”, you say…

I say “REMOTE” you say…

Now… I say [Your Name], you say…

What is your association?  Do this with a friend.  Say your name… “When you hear my name, what is the first word that springs to mind?”

When your kids hear “I’m home”!  “Dad’s home!”, or “Mom’s Home!” or “Grandpa’s Here!” do they associate that with the thought “Yay!  I have to get to the door and get a hug!”  Or is it “I have to hide until I find out what mood they’re in before I go anywhere.”  What about your wife (or your husband, ladies).  What word do they pick?  “Angry”, “Grumpy”, “Caring”, “Generous”, “Cheap”, “Funny”, “Serious”, “Confusing”, “Unavailable”, “Dark”, “Dirty”, “Hard-Worker”, “Godly”.

Is that word a characteristic of the people from verse 1, or the man in verse 2?