Opportunistic Evangelism

witness

The best witness follows God’s lead.

          “A little boy built a model ship, glued all the pieces together, and worked on it for hours.  It was perfect.  Every detail was correct, down to tiny sailors standing on the deck.  He put it in a glass case.  He wouldn’t let his brother play with it in the bathtub.  He was going to keep it perfect by keeping it safe.

“His parents bought a real boat so they could spend the weekends sailing out on the harbor.  They loved it.  At first.  It was a lot of work to maintain.  Boat owners will tell you that the day you bought your boat was the happiest day of your life, and the day you sold it was the second happiest.  At first, they used it a lot.  But then they used it less.  It was expensive.  After a few months, they went to spend a day sailing and found barnacles growing on the side, algae all over it, and a dead motor.  A real boat is only kept in shape by being used.

“The two boats worked in opposite ways.  The model was preserved by being kept safe.  The real boat was preserved by being used.”

<James Miller, found at https://illustrationexchange.com/illustrations?category=631.&gt;

CONTEXT: This is the last word in Matthew’s Gospel, the last thing Jesus says to His disciples, His final instructions before returning to heaven.  They were gathered on a mountain top in Galilee, their home territory, for this final encounter.  Incredible as it seems, Matthew honestly reports that some of the disciples WORSHIPED Jesus, but some still DOUBTED.   Let’s begin there.

For those who DOUBTED, the words of Jesus had no immediate meaning.  His promises of His authority and abiding presence were not for the doubters.  They weren’t committed and at that time, had no part with Him.  The promises were not for them.

Instead, Jesus’ promises were for those who had faith and WORSHIPED Him.  They knew and believed that He commissioned them under the AUTHORITY that had been given to Him by God the Father.  They knew and believed His promise to be with them ALWAYS was perfectly reliable.  They would count on His abiding presence to inform and empower their obedience to His commands.

And so it is for all of us in this very moment.  This passage is for everyone who worships Jesus as Lord of their life.  It will sound like mere words in the ears of those who have not crossed the threshold of faith.  Do you have a model faith or a real faith?  Know which you are as we begin.

  1. This passage has been misunderstood.

Matthew 28:19-20 is known as “The Great Commission” and is frequently cited as a call to evangelism.  On this basis we have been sending missionaries to foreign lands for over 150 years.

Preachers love to cite the four verbs as imperatives to soul-winning.  GO has been understood as being assertive in seeking out t unsaved, creating our own opportunities to tell others about Jesus.

MAKE DISCIPLES has been taken as a call to “soul winning,” a term that never appears in the Bible.  The emphasis is lopsidedly on making converts.

The fact that the word BAPTIZING appears here has been taken to mean that baptism is somehow necessary for salvation.  The evidence in Scripture points to baptism as a demonstration of salvation, not a means of obtaining it.

TEACHING is the most obvious of the four verbs and Jesus Himself explained the aim of our teaching ministry; “TO OBEY EVERYTHING I HAVE COMMANDED YOU.”

The usual use of this passage creates problems.  If Jesus’ Great Commission makes every disciple responsible to assertively create opportunities to witness, then we all bear responsibility for every human contact we make throughout the day.  This is a massive responsibility that none of us is capable of undertaking.  It is not biblical, not Jesus’ intended understanding of the Commission, and produces a lot of guilt about the subject of evangelism.

  1. How this passage should be understood.

At the risk of sounding like I am splitting hairs, a correct interpretation of the passage requires translating the word GO properly. We first need to observe the order of the words.  In the Greek, the word GO has emphasis because it comes first.  Here’s how a direct translation reads: “GOING THEREFORE DISCIPLE YE ALL THE NATIONS, BAPTIZING THEM IN THE NAME OF THE FATHER AND OF THE SON AND OF THE HOLY SPIRIT, TEACHING THEM TO OBSERVE ALL THINGS WHATEVER I GAVE COMMAND TO YOU; AND BEHOLD WITH YOU I AM ALL THE DAYS UNTIL THE COMPLETION OF THE AGE.”

Second, we must observe the nature of the word: GO is a verb and we are commanded to it, but it is assumed we are going already.

As translated above, GOING THEREFORE is not a command to get moving, but to do something as you are moving.  As you live, put your real faith to work.  To put it another way, Jesus said, “As you go, make disciples.  Baptize them and teach them to be obedient.”

Now we can move to application of the rest of the commands.

The word DISCIPLE means to make new converts and to mature those who have accepted Jesus.  Discipleship is a life-long process where followers of Jesus help each other to mature spiritually.  I believe Jesus had Deuteronomy 6:6-7 on His mind as He gave this teaching.

THESE COMMANDMENTS THAT I GIVE YOU TODAY ARE TO BE UPON YOUR HEARTS.  IMPRESS THEM ON YOUR CHILDREN.  TALK ABOUT THEM WHEN YOU SIT AT HOME AND WHEN YOU WALK ALONG THE ROAD, WHEN YOU LIE DOWN AND WHEN YOU GET UP.

Even though the word GO is crucial for our understanding of this passage, in the Gk it is the word DISCIPLE that is the main verb.  It can be said that GO, BAPTIZE, and TEACH are all explanations of discipleship.  If you live for Jesus, the reason you draw breath today is so that you can disciple and be discipled. That’s the bottom line.

The word BAPTIZE is important to all Christians but not all of them will agree with the way I am about to define it.  Baptism is an action that is both a proof of a real faith and a means of discipleship.  It serves the purposes of witness and maturing a person’s faith.

Throughout the centuries, the Church has recognized this dual role of baptism and has historically used it as a means of maturing new believers.  For example, in the first century church, candidates for baptism had to go through THREE YEARS of preparation before they were baptized.

Finally, the word TEACH takes in all forms of instruction in Scripture and spiritual disciplines.  Because the main ingredients for maturing followers of Jesus are prayer and the Bible, it will always be necessary to be taught.  Folks who figure they have no more to learn reveal they have a “model” faith, not a “real” one.  A faith that works and is not just limited to display purposes is a growing faith.  There is always more to learn.

What we teach and learn draws us closer to God.  We grow by book learning and by life experience; we must not rely on one or the other but seek both.  Teachers teach by setting an example to follow as well as by passing along information, illustrating it with personal experience.  Teachers are lifelong learners.  In this life, we are both teachers and learners.  This is our greatest duty.

The best witness follows God’s lead.

We usually see witnessing as something we initiate, an opportunity we create by being assertive.  Worse, what often motivates us to witness is a false sense of guilt when we aren’t assertive, leading us to approach people in ways that aren’t genuine.  The result is often an awkward, unproductive encounter that may cause more harm than good.

This passage in Matthew’s Gospel indicates a better biblical way to approach witnessing.  Witnessing encounters start with the knowledge that God is the Initiator.  He will guide us to persons on occasions where He has already prepared their heart and ours.  He will give you words to say.

The second step is ours.  We need to listen to the Holy Spirit for the urging to speak and the words to speak.  Awareness of a God-directed opportunity to witness will come to us quietly, a gentle urging that can be easy to ignore or overlook.  What’s needed is active hearts, eyes and ears to sense the opportunities as He sets them in front of us.

The third step is also ours.  We must speak up, say something.  What’s needed here is obedience, not eloquence.  These opportunities are time-sensitive immediate obedience is necessary.

The final step involves the witness, the other people, and God.  We need to fully see and hear the others as we enter into conversation with them, so we can find points of connection to them as people and points to connect them with God.  We need to be awake and aware of the Spirit’s guidance as the dialogue develops, and follow His lead.  In these instances, our book learning (the Bible) and our experience (testimony) will be useful, so we need to be prepared to talk about both of them.

Be forewarned.  These opportunities will not arise in moments convenient or comfortable for you.  Your adult skills of flexibility, risk assessment, and sensitivity will be required.  It will be tempting to “pass by on the other side” ala Luke 10, but you will not be obedient if you do so.

If you have never sensed God leading you in this way, then something is wrong at the center of the faith you’re claiming.  Persons with a “model” faith will not sense God leading them in this way; they’ve schooled themselves on how to ignore it.  Persons with a “real” faith will want to have this experience and will grow from it when they take a chance that Jesus’ promises of authority and abiding presence are true.

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Prayer that Wakes the Dead

Pray-First-1

Real prayer changes things.

          A visiting farmer stopped at a city restaurant to eat lunch. When he was served his food he bowed his head and gave thanks to the Lord. Some teenagers sitting at a nearby table noticed the farmer’s prayer and shouted, “Hey, pops, back where you come from does everybody pray before they eat?”

Their laughter was silenced when the unmoved farmer answered, “No, the hogs don’t.”

Prayer is appropriate before mealtime and any time we can turn to God.  Because we can see their effects sooner, we mistakenly think our own efforts are more important than prayer.  That’s exactly backwards.  We’ll learn this morning that prayer is partner with action.  We don’t pray and then wait around for something to magically fall from the sky: we pray and then proceed in the direction God points out to us.  Prayer precedes action; it does not replace it.

CONTEXT: You’d assume a book named “Kings” would be about kings, but this chapter is part of a section that centers on the prophet Elijah and his successor, Elisha.

SHUNEM was one of the cities given to the tribe of Issachar (Joshua 19:18). An early church leader named Eusebius said Shunem was five miles south of Mount Tabor, which was in the northern part of Israel, near Nazareth and the Sea of Galilee. The name meant double resting-place, which is very appropriate to this account, as it was a place where Elisha received great hospitality from a woman of the village.

  1. The gifting of a child. (vs. 8-17)

The prophet was warmly welcomed in a prominent local woman’s home (8-10).  In that culture, hospitality was needed and expected, but this gal went the extra mile.  This is apparent in a couple ways.

First, she sought out Elisha and URGED HIM TO STAY FOR A MEAL.  This became a regular thing when the prophet was in the area.

Second, while a room on the roof may sound uncomfortable to us, it was one of the choice places at night when the heat of the day raised the interior temperature of the home.  The Shunnamite made sure the room was fully equipped.

In gratitude for her hospitality, Elisha offer to pull some strings to get her some unspecified favors.  This offer was met with polite refusal.  She showed independence in a deferential way proper to a woman in her culture.  In modern terms, she said, “No thank you, we country folk take care of our own.”

The prophet asked his servant, Gehazi, for advice.  He replied that the woman had not borne a son and as her husband was an old man, it was unlikely she ever would.  Since she is not called “barren” or “childless” we can assume she had only birthed daughters.  This culture valued sons as the inheritors of the father’s estate and a sign of God’s blessing.

From her reaction to Elisha’s pronouncement (16), we can infer she was disappointed about this.  Sometimes we can become so thoroughly disappointed we’re reluctant to allow ourselves even to have hope.  However, just as Elisha had predicted, she gave birth to a son about a year later.  Hope was realized.  A son was given.

  1. The re-gifting of the child. (vs. 18-37)

Something very tragic struck the child and he died (18-21).  Several years passed; enough time for the boy to become old enough to go be with his father and his workers at harvest time.  Suddenly he cried out with head pain and he was carried to his mother.  Imagine the tragic scene where the boy died, sitting on the lap of his mother.

The Shunammite woman sought out Elisha to either protest his death or see if the prophet might somehow save him (22-28).  This lady went into determined action immediately.  She laid her dead son out on the prophet’s bed and immediately left to find him. Elisha was at Mt. Carmel about 20 miles away.

When her husband asked why she was going to find Elisha, she did not even tell him their son was dead. His reference to a NEW MOON OR THE SABBATH were the usual times you’d want a prophet around, conducting a worship service.

Curiously, her reply was only, “It’s all right” (23), an English phrase translating the Hebrew word shalom.  As this is what she also said to Gehazi (26), it makes me think she think she wanted only to talk to the prophet.

The Shunammite woman’s emotions become plain when she finally sees the prophet.  Elisha can see for himself she was in BITTER DISTRESS, even though God gave him no insight into the reason for it.  She TOOK HOLD OF HIS FEET (27), a sign of surrender to his authority.  Her taking hold of the prophet’s feet reminds me of how the women took hold of Jesus’ feet at his Resurrection (MTW 28:9).  These were two extremely emotional situations as well.

Her BITTER DISTRESS was evident when she cried, “DID I ASK YOU FOR A SON, MY LORD?  DIDN’T I TELL YOU, ‘DON’T RAISE MY HOPES?’”  In effect, she is protesting the turn of events; “Why give me a son only to take him away?”

At first, Elisha tried to affect a resurrection by “remote control” but it didn’t work (29-31). This is a curiosity to me.  I don’t know why he sent the staff with his servant, instructing him to lay it on top of the boy, but there are three possible explanations.

First, in the Bible, inanimate objects are sometimes imbued with divine power, like Moses’ staff.  Elisha may have expected something similar to happen here.  In Acts 19:11-12 we read that cloths that Paul had touched cured illnesses and exorcised demons.

Second, it would keep them from burying the boy before they could get there: no one would dare to touch the prophet’s staff or move it off the body.  No one would dare touch the prophet’s staff.

Third, Gehazi was a kind of trainee or apprentice in the school of prophets, so this may have been on-the-job training.  This also explains why Elisha constantly spoke with the Shunammite through Gehazi.

However we understand Elisha’s reasoning, the boy’s mother was not having it.  She was entirely focused on Elisha as the cure.  She vowed she would not leave his side (30).  The text is not clear whether she was blaming him or had faith in him.  Whatever her motive, the woman and Elisha left for Shunem together.

Gehazi traveled to Shunem as quickly as he could, but Elisha and the woman went at a pace more reasonable to an older man.  The servant got there much sooner, attempted the instructed cure, and still had enough time to meet Elisha and the boy’s mother on the road to Shunem.  He reported the attempted cure failed: he got no response from the boy (31).  As “sleep” was a polite euphemism for death, he said, “THE BOY HAS NOT AWAKENED.”

When he went there to pray in person, God gave a miracle (32-37).  All three of them went to the rooftop room, but Elisha shut Gehazi and the mother out of the room.

Verse 33 is key to the passage.  Elisha PRAYED TO THE LORD.  All that follows is a product of prayer.  However, the prophet did not only pray, he did something.   Though some would look at Elisha’s actions to see if there is some medical explanation, some scientific reason why his laying atop the boy’s body would help him, they are missing the point.  These are symbolic actions.  Like circling around the city of Jericho, the action cannot be a cause of what happens.  The outcome is entirely up to God.

This account is very similar to Elijah restoring the son of a widow who lived in Zarephath (1 Kings 17:17-24).  On that occasion, the prophet also laid atop the boy’s body.  Elisha may’ve been familiar with that account and attempted something similar.

I believe that occasionally God tests our obedience by requiring us to do things that don’t make sense in our earthly wisdom.  Elisha’s actions seem weird to us.  The strange action had to be repeated before the boy’s life was restored. Elijah had to do it THREE TIMES to restore the widow of Zarephath’s son!

The boy “awoke” with a sneezing fit (seven, the number of completeness) and opened his eyes.  You’d sneeze too if you awoke to find a bearded old prophet lying on top of you!

After expressing her gratitude, we read an understated account of the  touching reunion of mother and son in vs. 36-37, a great end to the story.  I probably should repeat this sermon on Mother’s Day!

Real prayer changes things.

This account perfectly illustrates the principle of prayer we want to take home with us.  When first confronted with the problem, the prophet Elisha didn’t want to have to do anything himself.  He attempted to have God do a miracle without any effort on his part.  We saw that didn’t work at all.

The prophet was face to face with a determined woman and that wasn’t going to be good enough for her.  She vowed she would not leave his side until he got off his fanny and went to her son.  After sending his servant with his staff in hand on a fast horse, the prophet himself reluctantly rode with the mother back to Shunem.

It was when he arrived that Elisha got involved.  The text tells us the first thing he did was pray to the LORD!  Then he went into action.  It was not his actions that restored the boy’s life; it was his attention to prayer and obedience to what God showed him.

What we learn about prayer here is encouraging: pray first then act.  Don’t wait until after you act and then have to plead with God to “bless your mess!”  Make prayer your priority and then see what God will do through you!

 

RESOURCES:

Expositor’s Bible Commentary, R.D. Patterson and Hermann J. Austel

The Daily Study Bible, A. Graeme Auld

Zondervan Bible Commentary, F.F. Bruce (Ed.)

Advent Attitude:Obedience

Advent 3

Please read Matthew 1:18-25 and Luke 1:26-38 in your Bible.  I used the NIV (1984) to research these remarks.

            If you haven’t discovered it yet, please take a look at the website Bible Gateway.  It is a handy way to do research on the Bible and you can read from many different Bible translations without requiring loads of Bibles in book cases.

Bible Gateway reported last week the most often-searched Bible verse of 2018: “Out of more than 2 billion page views conducted by visitors to Bible Gateway during 2018, the most popular verse for the year was Jeremiah 29:11: ‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’”

https://www.biblegateway.com/blog/2018/12/this-is-the-most-popular-verse-in-2-billion-pageviews-during-2018-on-bible-gateway/?utm_source=bg&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=weeklybrief&spMailingID=58037004&spUserID=MTI3ODAxOTkxODkwS0&spJobID=1541969998&spReportId=MTU0MTk2OTk5OAS2

You would not want to read too much into this one factoid, but 2 billion is a big number, except in comparison to the federal debt.  So it may be safe to infer from this choice of Jeremiah 29:11 that people are looking for some reassurance.  We who believe need to be reminded from time to time that the trust we put in God is well-placed.  We need to be encouraged to continue to be faithful that our obedience to God is making a difference.  We need to hold fast when trials discourage us.

Obey God especially when it costs you.

  1. Joseph obeyed God (Matthew 1:18-25).

He was the type of man who you’d expect to obey God.  Matthew lists five obedient qualities Joseph evidenced.

He was a RIGHTEOUS MAN (v. 19).  Normally, we think of RIGHTEOUS as obeying God’s law.  However, in this situation the “righteous” thing for Joseph to do was to divorce Mary.  Jewish custom required divorce to break an engagement where adultery had been committed.  The little word AND figures large in this verse.  Joseph was RIGHTEOUS and yet, he did not want to make a public issue of Mary’s pregnancy which was assumed to be the result of adultery.  So there’s something deeper at work in Joseph’s heart than legalism.  Love is there, too, and it tempered the legal response.

He did not want to EXPOSE Mary to PUBLIC DISGRACE (v. 19).  The Greek word for PUBLIC DISGRACE is fourteen characters long.  It meant to punish someone by exposing them to the contempt of the community.  The punishment was shunning; making the person an object of scorn and ridicule.

Adultery was supposed to be punished with death by stoning (Deuteronomy 22:23-24 and John 8:3-5), so there’s a greater danger to Mary than that of a broken heart.  The point is that Joseph was looking for a way to obey God, keep his honor, and not punish Mary.  He was merciful instead of being vengeful.

In the original language, the phrase AFTER HE HAD CONSIDERED THIS (v. 20) means that Joseph came to this decision after a lot of thinking about it.  He did not act rashly.

But when it came to being obedient, Joseph did not take his time; he obeyed immediately (v. 24).  The text plainly points out that when Joseph awoke from the dream, he brought Mary into his home as his wife.  He brought her under his protection.  He accepted her shame as his own and defied the customary response to cases of adultery.

Joseph obeyed the angel’s instructions and, on his own initiative, went beyond them (v. 25).  Matthew points out that Joseph gave up his  conjugal relations with Mary.  He was not instructed to do this, so it may have been something he felt honor-bound to do.  He may have had the foresight to know that any relations between them might cause some to say Jesus was his son.  This way, it is historically clear Joseph was not the birth-father of Jesus.

Obedience in this matter would cost him.  Matthew identified two costs Joseph paid for His faithfulness to the angel’s message.

To accept PUBLIC DISGRACE with Mary.  As far as anyone else knew, Joseph was the injured party here.  Mary had wronged him; she had been unfaithful to him.  As a man and as the innocent party, Joseph held all the cards and Mary’s life in his hands.  He chose mercy before God explained the real reason for Mary’s pregnancy.  After that, Joseph changed his mind about the marriage and proceeded with it.

It cost him what most people would consider a “normal” marital relationship, the customary way to consecrate a marriage.  The Bible confirms the marital rights of husband and wife.  It is an important aspect of the relationship.  Their marital relationship began under a cloud of suspicion.  Instead of the week-long celebration most Jewish couples enjoyed, Joseph simply set aside custom and took Mary into his home immediately.  And, as Luke tells us, one of the first things they did as a couple was to pack up and make the long journey to Bethlehem.

  1. Mary obeyed God (Luke 1:26-38).

She was the type of person you’d expect to be obedient to God.  Luke details five virtuous aspects of Mary’s character.

As the text tells us several times, Mary was A VIRGIN.  Mary had been moral and observed God’s command to have sex only in the marriage relationship.

She was HIGHLY FAVORED by the LORD (v. 28).  This Greek word (charitoo) literally means “full of grace.”  It is used of all believers in Ephesians 1:6 and indicates we are recipients of God’s grace, not dispensers of it.  The use of this word shows that Mary is on the same gracious status as the rest of us; she should not be made semi-divine.

THE LORD was WITH her (v. 28).  This explains the grace we just mentioned.  God is gracious by being present with us and by working His will in us.

She identified herself as THE LORD’S SERVANT (v. 29).  Mary’s faith was mature enough to make her humble.  She knew her place in relationship to her Creator.

Though the angel’s message GREATLY TROUBLED Mary (29), she was obedient.  The appearance of the angel and the greeting alone prompted this reaction and caused her to WONDER what this was all about.  Gabriel’s response was to answer her questions and try to calm her fear.  (In the previous section, Zechariah questioned the angel that appeared to him and was disciplined by being rendered mute.  Mary does the same thing and is not disciplined.  There is no obvious difference between the questions, so the difference my lay in the people.  Zechariah must have disbelieved the angel but Mary believed him.  She asked a question out of curiosity, not out of disbelief.)

Her obedience in this matter would cost Mary.  Luke’s Gospel and a little reasoning reveal four ways in which agreeing to carry God’s Son would require sacrifice on Mary’s part.

We go back to the PUBLIC DISGRACE we mentioned in regard to Joseph.  As the apparently offending party, and as the woman, Mary would have suffered a greater share of the DISGRACE.  Contrast the DISGRACE the people of Nazareth threatened with the grace God offered Mary in v. 28.  Remember our comment on the phrase HIGHLY FAVORED?

As we noted with Joseph, there is the problem of starting a marriage under these adverse conditions.  This initial awkwardness was expertly portrayed in the film “The Nativity Story.”  I recommend it.  (Incidentally, the two leads would also appear in Star Wars films.  From the Star of Bethlehem to Star Wars – it’s a fun bit of trivia – look it up!)

Mary would have to face the physical and emotional conditions associated with pregnancy and childbirth.  We can’t assume that just because she was carrying the Savior that she was spared morning sickness, getting kicked, labor pains, etc.  The conception was supernatural, but we can assume the rest of it was natural and typical.

This is not affirmed in Scripture, but I think we can assume that both Joseph and Mary were concerned how Jesus might be treated by their family and the people in Nazareth.  In that culture, an illegitimate child would probably have to bear that stigma and be treated cruelly.

This happened once when Jesus returned to Nazareth after beginning His public ministry.  In Mark 6:3 someone referred to Him as “Mary’s son.”  This might be taken as an insult, that Jesus was no son of Joseph.  While we know that was biologically true, it’s unlikely this remark referred to His divine father.

Thankfully, this was not always the case.  Luke 2:52 reports, the boy JESUS GREW IN WISDOM AND STATURE, AND IN FAVOR WITH GOD AND MEN.

Obey God especially when it costs you.

Obedience that costs us nothing is not going to be worth much.  Being faithful while trying to take control isn’t a great act of faith at all.  Obedience to God is risky, difficult, and in some places in the world, downright dangerous.

Mary and Joseph are examples of obedience that was costly.  Mary’s obedience took her all the way to the cross.  That was a sword that cleaved her heart in half.

In a December, 2012 article for Relevant magazine, Nick Price wrote, “As we approach Christmas, let us not forget the faithfulness of Mary and what she was willing to risk. In her story, we are reminded that following Christ often leads to persecution and rejection by the world. Sometimes the price we pay for obedience is rejection. We must ask ourselves, What are we willing to surrender to God? Are we willing to be used for His purposes in the world? Are we willing to trust Him to provide for us when the rest of the world may turn its back? Mary models for us what obedience in the face of rejection looks like.”

There is a place where you have not really said “yes” to God.  There is something He’s called you to do and you haven’t yet obeyed.  Advent is an especially good time to begin a life-long habit of obedience.

 

RESOURCES:

One Perfect Life, John MacArthur

The Bible Knowledge Key Word Study, Darrell L. Bock

Bauer, Arndt, Gingrich Greek Lexicon

Symbols of a Working Faith

vets day

Three kinds of workers illustrate a working Christian faith.

Please read 2 Timothy 2:1-7 in your Bible.  I use the NIV (1984).

From a sermon by Jeff Strite, “Til Death Do Us Part” 2/15/2009: “Every year, hundreds of Civil war buffs get together and put on mock battles. They don uniforms that soldiers of the North and South would have worn back then.

“During one reenactment, it was a hot sweltering day. The civil war buffs are sweating as they maneuvered into position for their battle, facing the usual frustrations involved in setting up such a display. However, one of the ‘Rebels’ got so tired, hot, and frustrated he threw in the towel and headed for the refreshment tent. As he tugged off his wool uniform he was heard to grumble: ‘I quit. We’re not going to win anyway.’

And, of course — he was right! Here was this civil war buff — who knows HOW everything is going to turn out. He’s tired, hot, and discouraged. He KNOWS his side isn’t going to win anyway… so he quits.”

Christian, we are in a similar situation.  The Bible tells us (as we learned last Sunday) who will win the war of good versus evil.  God wins!  How can we consider giving up when we know we’re on the winning side? I know from our vantage point it may appear we’re losing this particular battle, but the outcome of the war is not in doubt.  God calls us to soldier on.  That was Paul’s message to Timothy, too.

The passage begins with Paul calling Timothy to be STRONG, but not in his own strength, in the strength that God’s GRACE provides.  In this way – only in this way – will Timothy be able to keep his calling as a pastor.  His task is to pass along the faith to those who are spiritually mature and share in his work of preaching the truth about Jesus.

Paul uses three illustrations to show Timothy that endurance, obedience, discipline, and perseverance are going to be required to accomplish this work.  If we will faithfully exhibit these marks of integrity God will faithfully make our work fruitful.

  1. Two things distinguish a soldier’s work: endurance and obedience (vs. 3+4).

The first virtue exemplified by a soldier is Endurance.  The phrase ENDURE HARDSHIP is a new word created by Paul, combining the Greek words for “suffer,” “bad,” and “together.”  Normally, we think of endurance as being something we do solo, gritting our teeth and getting through.  Enduring together is a better and more godly way of thinking about it.

The second virtue illustrated by a soldier’s life is Obedience.  A GOOD SOLDIER’s priority is pleasing his COMMANDING OFFICER.  All followers of Jesus have God the Father as our COMMANDING OFFICER. This Greek word literally meant “the one who enlisted us as a soldier.”

In Philippians 2:25 & Philemon 2 the word for GOOD SOLDIER is translated as FELLOW WORKER, referring to Paul’s associate ministers of the Gospel.

With that priority, a GOOD SOLDIER avoids getting INVOLVED IN CIVILIAN AFFAIRS, which are “business, occupations.”  A soldier temporarily sets aside interest in a career as it would distract him.  Instead, he focuses on being a soldier, fulfilling his CO’s orders.

  1. One thing distinguishes an athlete’s work: discipline (v. 5).

His priority is receiving the VICTOR’S CROWN.  This is stephanos, the crown made of laurel leaves that was given to the winner.  It was a kind of “key to the city,” as the one wearing it was treated like a hero all day.  The word for the kind of crown worn by royalty was diadema; headgear that gave the wearer a different kind of celebrity.

With that priority, an athlete COMPETES ACCORDING TO THE RULES – that is – he exercises discipline.  An athlete demonstrates discipline while preparing for competition, devoting time and effort in training.  When he competes, an athlete who truly wants to win competes within the rules of the game.  We’ve seen lots of notorious examples of people who cheated and ultimately lost the big prize.

Self-discipline is difficult, but it is always more satisfying and easier than discipline exerted on us by others.  Paul specified what self-discipline meant for pastors in vs. 23-24.

  1. One thing distinguishes a farmer’s work: perseverance (v. 6).

His priority is receiving a SHARE OF THE CROPS.  In fact, Paul wrote that the HARDWORKNG FARMER deserved FIRST SHARE OF THE CROPS he raised.  Paul wrote in 1 Timothy 5:18, THE WORKER DESERVES HIS WAGES.  As a culture, we’ve gone from being farmers to being gardeners to ordering our food delivered to us.  In these transitions we’ve lost our personal connection to the land and the patience that working the soil demands.  We have to turn to the remaining farmers to learn perseverance.

With that priority, the farmer works hard; he demonstrates perseverance.  Seed does not grow overnight and it will not grow as productively if it is not tended.  The farmer plants the seed with the hope of a good harvest to follow.  While he waits, the farmer tries to reduce the effects of things he can’t control (weather) by doing things he can control (seed selection, weed control, irrigation).  In the field, there is no such thing as “fast food.”  It all takes time.

Three kinds of workers illustrate a working Christian faith.

At the end of our passage (v. 7), Paul did not over-interpret these figures of speech, but instead called on Timothy to REFLECT on them, certain that God would supply him with personal INSIGHT into their meaning.  Similarly, when any of us read the Bible, we need to take time to pray and think about what we’ve read to gain a personal application of the truth.

A chaplain was speaking to a soldier on a cot in a hospital. “You have lost an arm in the great cause,” he said. “No,” said the soldier with a smile. “I didn’t lose it–I gave it.” In that same way, Jesus did not lose His life. He gave it purposefully.

https://www.sermoncentral.com/sermon-illustrations/10716/christian-disciplines-by-paul-fritz?ref=TextIllustrationSerps

RESOURCES:

Sermon #534

The Expositor’s Bible Commentary

The Daily Study Bible Series

Zondervan Bible Commentary

Seven Modern Maladies and God’s Solution (5 of 7)

#5 = Lust/True Love

Lust (impurity) violates God’s command to honor Him with our body.  True Love keeps His commands.

Anyone OVER 50 years old needs no introduction to

ginger

“Ginger Grant” (the “movie star”); a character on the “Gilligan’s Island” TV series.

The actress who portrayed Ginger on the show was Tina Louise, an actress who had an impressive acting resume on stage and screen.  In fact, her acting career started at age two when she appeared in an ad for her father’s candy business!  In 1958 the National Arts Council named her the Most Beautiful Redhead.  (What has that got to do with ART?)  She and cast mate Dawn Wells are the only two survivors of Gilligan’s Island.

Ms. Louise won the role after Jayne Mansfield turned it down.  She became increasingly unhappy with the role, claiming it typecast her and ultimately ruined her career.  Her dislike of the character might be implied in the fact that she turned down every chance to reprise the role in subsequent Gilligan’s Island movies.

On the other hand, there aren’t many roles that come along that make an actor a “pop culture icon.”  In fact, in 2005, a TVLand special program ranked Tina Louise as second only to Heather Locklear as TV’s all-time sex symbols.

Because the character of Ginger was written to be beautiful and glamorous, it is an obvious choice to link the character with the vice of LUST.  Additionally, Tina Louise traded on her good looks to encourage LUST, appearing twice in “Playboy” magazine.  This means both Ginger and Tina are good choices as symbols of the modern malady of LUST.

  1. The vicious vice of IMPURITY (Matthew 5:27-30).

What are the sins of impurity, including lust?  First of all, sexual impurity violates God’s will.  God’s will in sexuality simply expressed: a husband and wife may enjoy sexuality together.  In any other relationship, sex is “adultery;” the Bible term that includes all the other variations on sexuality you can name.

In a culture drowning in sexual sin, we especially need to maintain a healthy balance on this subject.  Adultery is only one sin of many.  In the mind of God, it is no better or worse than any other.

Adultery is condemned in the Seventh Commandment: in Exodus 20:14 we read, YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT ADULTERY.  In the tenth commandment (Exodus 20:17) a man is not co covet your neighbor’s wife.  The similarity of these prohibitions lead to the misconception that ADULTERY was a form of thievery, reflecting an attitude toward women that they are the property of a husband or father.  We need to make a distinction between the two: the sin of coveting involves property, not people.  Though it may feel similar, the sin of lust involve people, not property.

Jesus broadened the definition of adultery to include lust. In Matthew 5:27 He compared the Old Covenant with the New Covenant He was making, introducing the topic with “YOU HAVE HEARD IT SAID.”  Under the old definition, adultery was misidentified as being a version of theft, motivated by covetousness.  This combination of the 7th & 10 Commandments.

This was wrong in two other ways: it placed the responsibility for the sin on the woman but gave the authority to resolve it to the man.  It put a wife on the level of other property.

As with all kinds of sin, sexual impurity has deadly consequences.   In Jesus’ time, they understood it as a physical act of unfaithfulness, not as an attitude of unfaithfulness.  However, in v. 28 Jesus supplied a new, larger, and more challenging definition.

His new and better way was to understand adultery as being sinful as a physical act AND as an emotional/mental act as well.  Jesus condemned LUST as marking a person as being just as guilty of adultery as persons physically committing it: “ANYONE WHO LOOKS AT A WOMAN LUSTFULLY HAS ALREADY COMMITTED ADULTERY WITH HER IN HIS HEART.”

This word LUST is to be understood as a prolonged look while mentally considering a sexual act.  In the Greek, there is more to LUST than meets the eye.  (Pun fully intended!!)  The word LUST included a consideration of the physical act, even planning how to do it.

What’s true of ADULTERY is also true of other sins.  An act is sinful because it takes a sinful thought and/or perpetuates it in an evil act.  The process is explained in JMS 1:13-18.  Let me be clear about what Jesus taught; ADULTERY is just as much a lustful look and/or thought as it is a physical act.

Morally speaking, we are not responsible when temptations come to us spontaneously.  We are responsible for tempting ourselves, but we are in all cases responsible for our reaction to temptation.  If we keep looking at it, keep thinking about it, or dwell on it, we are responsible for turning temptation into sin.  If we avert our eyes, dismiss it from our thoughts, pray, and in any other way resist the devil, we are not guilty of sin.  We need to resolve, as Job did, to look away from temptation and thereby avoid sin.  In Job 31:1 it is written; “I MADE A COVENANT WITH MY EYES NOT TO LOOK LUSTFULLY AT A YOUNG WOMAN.”  This is an example of a simple and practical means to minimize the frequency and depth of temptations.  As ever, Jesus’ standard is higher; it is not enough just to refrain from the physical act, but one must also avoid the heart-attitude to avoid being guilty of adultery.

Avoiding the temptation and repenting of it is the more important thing.  One measure of the deadly consequences of sin is the lengths to which one is willing to go to prevent being guilty.  In vs. 29-30, Jesus sets a high value on avoiding adultery.  The seriousness of a crime is determined by the seriousness of its punishment.

I don’t know about you, but I value my RIGHT EYE and my RIGHT HAND pretty highly.  Jesus said these are worthless compared to life after death. In this teaching, Jesus is on the same page as Jewish rabbis of the time, who taught:

“The eyes and the hand are the two brokers of sin.”

“Woe to him who goes after his eyes, for they are adulterous.”

Some people think Jesus is exaggerating here a bit or using metaphoric language.  It doesn’t make sense to them that Jesus would really advocate self-mutilation as an alternative to self-control.

I disagree.  I believe He was being literal.  In this teaching, Jesus puts a high value on the deadliness of sin and on the worth of eternal life with God.  When you think about it, what He said is true: it’d be better to give these body parts up than lose one’s entire self to hell and eternal death.  Two counterpoints: One, sin is serious.  It is deadly.  With this sin and with others, we’ve got to stop winking and making excuses.

Two, heaven is so wonderful, it’s worth everything in this world.  There is nothing we can give up to earn salvation, but if there was anything of this world that we might have to give up to obtain eternal life the trade would be a no-brainer.  Jesus made this point again in 16:26; “WHAT GOOD WILL IT BE FOR A MAN IF HE GAINS THE WHOLE WORLD, YET FORFEITS HIS SOUL?”  As we read in verse 29: it is far better to sacrifice earthly things than lose heavenly blessings.

ADULTERY, like all other kinds of sin, often has consequences in this life.   There are consequences to every decision we make; some of them occur naturally and others are chosen (”structured”) for us by God and/or others.  In the case of ADULTERY, the natural consequences can include diseases and relationships broken by feelings of betrayal.  The structured consequences are intended to end the sin, enable repentance, and restore relationships by means of forgiveness.

A fourth warning about sexual sin is that it is a perversion of true love.  Based on Jesus’ teaching, any part of love we’ve promised to our spouse that is given to another is ADULTERY.  A look, a thought, a flirtation – anything that is outside the blessing of marriage can be ADULTERY without any kind of physical contact involved.

The devil can’t use the things of God to tempt us, so he uses copies.  Like a reflection in a broken mirror, these are false and distorted versions of the truth.  In this case, LUST is a distorted version of LOVE.  A person guilty of LUST is entirely wrapped up in themselves.  A person in LOVE is wrapped up in their beloved.  The difference is obvious.

A fifth reason to understand IMPURITY as deadly is that it defies God’s commands to use our body to glorify God; ADULTERY is doing the opposite.

A couple examples summarize this command to use our physical selves to point others to God.  In 1 Corinthians 6:18-20 we read, FLEE FROM SEXUAL IMMORALITY.  ALL OTHER SINS A MAN COMMITS ARE OUTSIDE HIS BODY, BUT HE WHO SINS SEXUALLY SINS AGAINST HIS OWN BODY.  DO YOU NOT KNOW THAT YOUR BODY IS A TEMPLE OF THE HOLY SPIRIT, WHO IS IN YOU, WHOM YOU HAVE RECEIVED FROM GOD?  YOU ARE NOT YOUR OWN; YOU WERE BOUGHT AT A PRICE.  THEREFORE HONOR GOD WITH YOUR BODY.  Romans 12:1 teaches, THEREFORE, I URGE YOU, BROTHERS, IN VIEW OF GOD’S MERCY, TO OFFER YOUR BODIES AS LIVING SACRIFICES, HOLY AND PLEASING TO GOD – WHICH IS YOUR SPIRITUAL WORSHIP.

  1. The vital virtue of TRUE LOVE (JHN 15:9-17).

What makes love “true?”  True love has its origin in God’s love.   In John 15: 9+10, Jesus urged His disciples to REMAIN in His LOVE.   In verses 12+17, He made it a command; we are to love one another as He loved us.  Merrill Tenney’s comment on this verse is instructive: “Unity instead of rivalry, trust instead of suspicion, obedience instead of self-assertion must rule the disciples’ common labors.”

In verse eleven we find that true love for God is revealed in obedience.  Love is being wrapped up in God, not self.

Obedience is putting God’s will ahead of my own.

Obedience is surrendering my freedom to do evil in return for the true freedom to do good.

Obedience is leaving slavery to sin to call God our true Master.

Obedience is the source of COMPLETE JOY in our lives.

True love for others is revealed in the sacrifices we make in order to witness to them about Jesus and serve them in His name (v. 13).  Love shows preference for the beloved.

Verses 14-16 warn that the world does not know or practice TRUE LOVE.  Our culture settles for the lesser goals of “tolerance” and satisfaction.  Why settle for mere tolerance when love is a deeper commitment?  Why make self-satisfaction our goal when satisfying the will of God gives COMPLETE JOY?  These verses call us to the deepest kind of love as our first love.

Since sexuality is limited to the husband-wife relationship, we benefit by asking, what are God’s purposes in marriage?  Why did He create it?

One divine purpose for marriage is the foundation of families, which are the building-blocks of civilization.  From the beginning of the Bible and throughout its pages, God instituted marriage as the fundamental human relationship, the source of life and the organizational principle.

Another divine purpose is that marriage be a source of blessing to husband and wife.  Because they are one in Christ, they are to bless all around them.  When He made the world, God declared all of it good, except for one thing: the man’s being alone.  God completed Adam’s manhood by complementing it with Eve’s womanhood.  And so it has always been that the two become a fuller version of the one.  The other blessings of marriage include:

Physical pleasure in sexual ways, but in all the other worldly senses as well.

Emotional pleasure; companion-ship is supposed to be part of marital relations.  Whenever people are in right relationship with one another, COMPLETE JOY is to be the result.

Spiritual maturity is the highest expression of love.  The family founded on husband and wife is supposed to be a relation-ship of mutual support and growth in grace.

A third divine purpose in marriage is to create a place to learn about true love and to train others (children especially) in true love. God’s word reveals that the ideal in God’s institution of marriage is that the two become ONE FLESH (Gensis 2:24).  This is where families begin: at marriage, not at childbirth.  Deuteronomy 6:4-9 makes it clear that the family is, in God’s plan, the primary means of passing the faith along from one generation to the next.  This is the priority in family life, training children in godliness.

The primary relationship in families is that of husband and wife, NEVER parent and child.  When we make marriage our priority, family life improves on its own.  It is the child-centered parenting of the last 2-3 generations that has created so many disastrous things in our culture.

Fourth and finally, God wants marriage to be a foretaste of heaven and a symbol of the relationship between God and His people.  Isaiah 54:5; 62:5; Jeremiah 3:14; Hosea 2:19-20; Revelation 19:7 are samples of the scriptures that utilize the metaphor of God as the Groom and His people as His bride.

Its a good metaphor: marriage is an institution created by God, a relationship that is created by entering into a covenant.  So is God’s relationship with His people.  Marriage is a voluntary covenant where two parties motivated by love join together.  Marriage is, ideally, the relationship we know as being the deepest, most joyous celebration of love.

Anyone UNDER 50 needs no introduction to

tinder

“Tinder,” a photo sharing app used as a dating service.  On the surface, Tinder is an app used for sharing pictures.  Users post pictures and look at other posts by swiping a finger across their phone screen to move from one picture to another.  Though it is not billed as a dating service, Tinder is nonetheless used to search for possible dates and initiate conversations.

Tinder has been selected as a symbol of LUST because the pictures posted are sometimes lewd and because with nothing more than pictures to see, people are deciding with whom they want to hook up for casual sex or pursue lasting relationships on the basis of what they see.  People will swipe from picture to picture until they find someone visually appealing and then initiate a conversation with that person.  In this way, Tinder is the EPITOME of LUST!

To understand the scope of Tinder and other sites like it, I offer two bits of data.   The first, from Wikipedia; as of 2015, there are 1.6 billion Tinder users.  “More than 8 billion matches have been made since Tinder launched in 2012.”  The second, from a website called “The Bustle,” citing a study by a marketing service called “Simple Texting,” 13.6% of dating app users have made matches that result in engagement or marriage.  The third, from the Wikipedia again; the biggest group of users of Tinder are in the 16-24 years old range.

Tinder enables people to make life-changing decisions on the basis of a single picture.  In this way, it works very much like LUST; on just one look.  To use this app is to treat love like a slot machine.  Gambling with your life is even more foolish than gambling with your money.

Seven Modern Maladies and God’s Solutions (3 of 7)

Gluttony/Temperance

Gluttony is the vice of over-indulgence.  Temperance keeps need from becoming greed.

Anyone OVER 50 years old needs no introduction to

skipper

“the Skipper” from “Gilligan’s Island.”

          Of course, “Skipper” is a nickname and a title: extra points for anyone who can tell me the character’s actual name.  (A: Jonas Grumby.)  The Skipper and Gilligan are characters reminiscent of screen legends Laurel and Hardy.

The actor’s name was Alan Hale Jr.  (Can you imagine calling a man his size “JUNIOR?”)  In the show, the Skipper was easily the strongest man and probably the tallest character too.

Before Hale was cast in the role, actor Carroll O’Connor was considered for the part.  Thinking about Archie Bunker as the Skipper is almost too much for the mind to handle isn’t it?

A side note: in 2003 film and TV critic Thomas Carson wrote a book, Gilligan’s Wake, which supplied a back story for the Skipper, where he served with JFK on PT-109 and Captain McHale (Ernest Borgnine) from the “McHale’s Navy” TV show.  Blending history and fiction, the book was well-received.

I chose this picture of the character because its’ the one that best shows off the Skipper’s sizable paunch.  It’s true that a guy like me has no right to fault the Skipper’s figure.  The point simply is that the Skipper is our best symbol of gluttony because the evidence is piled up above his belt.  Hale was also a seafood restaurant owner, so no reason to limit dinners.

When he died in 1991, Alan Hale Jr.’s ashes were sprinkled over the Pacific Ocean, a fitting end to a character who spent 30 years on “Gilligan’s Island.”

  1. The vicious vice of GLUTTONY (Luke 12:13-21)

What is “gluttony?”

– An obsession over satisfying any physical appetite beyond what’s needed.

– A perversion of need into greed. Billy Graham wrote: “Gluttony is a perversion of a natural, God-given appetite.  We must fix in our minds the fact that sin is not always flagrant and open transgression.  It is often the perversion and distortion of natural, normal desires and appetites.  Love is distorted into lust.  Self-respect too often is perverted into godless ambition.  When a God-given, normal hunger is extended greedily into abnormality…it becomes sin.”  (7 Deadly Sins, p. 75.)

Overeating is a common example of gluttony, but it takes many forms.

– A thirsty person needs to drink.  Consuming too much of some kinds of drink leads to drunkenness.

– A hungry person needs food.  Too much food leads to obesity-related issues.

– A hurting person needs medication.  We’ve heard a lot about how opiod addiction has hurt so many people.

– A poor person needs to work, but workaholism hurts relationships and one’s physical health.

– A bored person needs activity.  We spend so much time and money on amusements, they can be addictive.

– An ambitious person needs achievement. Too much of self sacrificed to being #1 reduces relationships to superficiality.

What’s needed is moderation.  Take eating as an example, the Old Testament Law set aside days of feasting and fasting.  In both cases, the issue was never food; the issue was love for God manifest in obedience. The feasting and fasting were both commanded by God and were good.  In our day and theirs, sin intervenes when we do too much of either or do any of it out of an ungodly motive.  “Gluttony” is over-doing anything that is otherwise necessary and/or good.

Why is gluttony deadly?

– It is an expression of materialism. Where are your thoughts most of the day?  How often are you thinking about God and what He wants you to do?  How often do you cross the line between need and greed?

– It is another form of selfishness. Whenever we try to justify abundance and ignore the need of others, we are guilty of sinful self-centeredness.  Whenever our own pleasure becomes the most important thing, we’ve gone over into gluttony.

– It is a subtle version of idolatry. The maxim, “we eat to live, not live to eat” is a reminder that we’re not to let anything in this life take the place of God.  While we may not bow down and pray to a sandwich, it can still be idolatry.

– It violates God’s commands to honor Him with our bodies.  1 Corinthians 6:19-20 and Romans 6:13 are two examples of God’s commands to offer ourselves, body and soul, in service to Him.  Reminding ourselves that all things belong to God is one way we avoid gluttony.

Jesus gave a fictional example of the deadly reality of gluttony.  The context of the passage is Jesus’ refusal to be brought into a family feud (vs. 13-15).  He had the spiritual insight to know that the real issue was GREED and he wisely avoided taking sides.  Never one to waste, Jesus turned the incident into a “teachable moment.”

The main point of the parable: it is foolish to have an insatiable appetite for worldly things and neglect God. How do we know that?  We look at the specifics.

The man expressed the point of view typical for a glutton (vs. 16-19).  Rather than see his abundance as a blessing and honor God, the RICH FOOL’s only thought was how to hoard it and keep it for himself.  Rather than see his abundance as God’s supply to enable him to help others, he only made plans how to have more.

God condemned his point of view in v. 20.  Morally & spiritually, he was a FOOL.  In the Bible, ungodly and evil people are foolish.  Their problem is not a lack of intelligence, but a lack of attention to the things of God.  Evil deeds are the result.  The man in the parable is not condemned as foolish because he had wealth, but because he made the decision to waste it on himself. God grants us the ability to create wealth (see Deuteronomy 8:18) for two reasons; so we can care for ourselves, not depending on others, and also so we can help others who find themselves in need. On a practical level, he wasted time and money on himself: death would cheat him of all he’d stored up.

It is better to be RICH TOWARD GOD than well-stocked in worldly things.  Jesus ended with a stern warning in v. 21; “THIS IS HOW IT WILL BE WITH ANYONE WHO STORES UP THINGS FOR HIMSELF BUT IS NOT RICH TOWARD GOD.”

  1. The vital virtue of TEMPERANCE (Daniel 1).

What is temperance?  It is an attitude of moderation in regard to satisfying physical appetites.

– It is using worldly things without being used by them or getting too used to having them.

– It is owning things without being owned by them or forgetting that God is the true owner of all of them.

Temperance involves acts of self-control that disciplines one’s self by self-denial.  Moderation is only possible when we exercise our intelligence, practice self-discipline, and rely on the Holy Spirit. Falling into extremes requires less of these virtuous things, often resulting in a loss of truth and ruination of relationships.

God’s preference for moderation in all things is clearly revealed in Ecclesiastes 7:18 = IT IS GOOD TO GRASP THE ONE AND NOT LET GO OF THE OTHER.  THE MAN WHO FEARS GOD WILL AVOID ALL EXTREMES.  How much better would our American society be if all extremists took this line of thinking?

Obedience to God’s commands requires us to put Him before all worldly things.  Love for God is manifest in obedience.  Actions convey love for God.

Obedience is also required because God is self-identified as “jealous” of us.  God will not share you with the world.  We must be His; first AND foremost.

Why is temperance a vital virtue?  First, because temperance recognizes that our liberty in Christ is boundaried by our responsibility to obey God and bless others.  Human nature seeks to satisfy self first and take the path of least effort to do so.  Our new divine nature seeks to obey God first and bless others by pointing to God.  People who are prompt to insist on their rights and/or ignore their responsibilities reveal a heart in rebellion against God, making an idol of self.

Second, temperance seeks to avoid sin by keeping things in perspective; God’s perspective.  Temperance is founded on seeing the world as God does; flawed by sin, one day to be replaced.

Daniel is a great example of temperance.  The context of Daniel 1 is the historical fact of the “Babylonian Captivity.”  Daniel was one of many deportees from Judah.  In ancient times, the winners of a war took captives from the conquered people to be slaves.  The intent was to inculcate them with the victor’s culture and then send them back home to spread the influence of the conqueror to the subject nations.

Daniel was one of a group of especially promising young men who were going to be renamed, retrained, and put to work in government offices (v. 4).  Daniel is one of the most godly men in the Old Testament.

The place Daniel demonstrated the vital virtue of temperance was – unexpectedly – in his diet. The people serving in the king’s palace were naturally used to the very best food (v. 5), probably lots of it.  This was the king’s will and that was not a thing to be trifled with (v. 10).

Daniel’s objection to the king’s diet was spiritual!  We choose to diet for physical or emotional reasons.  But v. 7 says Daniel RESOLVED NOT TO DEFILE HIMSELF with the king’s food.  Though it might be used in an emotional sense, the word DEFILE is a spiritual term.  To defile something was to compromise or impugn its holiness.  We see the spiritual/religious/love-as-obedience-to-God aspect of Daniel’s dietary designs in three inferences.

– One, the food had probably been offered to idols first, which meant that to eat it made Daniel a participant in idolatry, even if it was “after the fact.”

– Two, the Babylonians did not observe Jewish kosher laws and thereby put food on the table that the Law had forbidden.

– Three, gluttony was probably encouraged at every meal.  Then – as now – conspicuous consumption of food is something for which the wealthy and powerful are notorious.  (Ask me about Roman vomitoriums and using bread as napkins.)

Daniel did not act in rebellion, but reasonably asked for an exception to the royal table. He overcame his handler’s hesitation by suggesting a test: a ten day veggie diet (vs. 9-14).  Eating veggies only was the only sure way to avoid eating meat offered to idols, so this is not a vindication of vegetarianism.  This situation came up because Daniel and his friends insisted on following God’s law, not man’s law.  If you choose to be a vegetarian or vegan, you are free to do so for other reasons; please don’t cite this chapter as justification.

The result of the ten day table test was that Daniel and his Jewish friends were healthier than the guys who bellied up to the “Royal Buffet” every meal (vs. 15-16).  Daniel’s instructor approved their special meal plan and God did too, as indicated by two stamps of “divine approval.”

– In v. 17 we see that God gave Daniel something like the Spiritual Gift of Discernment in his ability to interpret VISIONS and DREAMS OF ALL KINDS.

– In v. 20, God gave Daniel and fellow Jewish superior wisdom, making them TEN TIMES more able than ALL THE MAGICIANS AND ENCHANTERS in all of Babylon.

How do we practice temperance?  We can follow Daniel’s example.  Don’t follow the crowd.  The world will mislead and distract you from following God’s will.  This will result in sin and a life less than what God has chosen.  Don’t compromise God’s standards as you understand them.  In this situation, God did not give Daniel a new command to be a vegetarian or reward Daniel for that kind of diet.  Instead, we see Daniel used his brains and followed the Spirit to figure out a way to avoid idolatry.  Similarly, we must be creative to see God’s path.  New solutions may be needed!

We must recognize self-control is a biblical virtue and one area that needs control is our impulse to please ourselves.  Our spiritual nature must control our human nature.  We must be more concerned about pleasing God than pleasing ourselves.

Practice moderation in all things is a biblical virtue; simplify your life by practicing it.  Moderation has very few advocates and it is more difficult to achieve, but almost always puts you closer to God.

If you can’t do push-ups, practice your “push-aways.”  As in “push away” from the table.  More importantly “push away” from things that will tempt you to deny God.

Anyone UNDER 50 needs no introduction to

glut yelp

“Yelp,” a website and app that allows users to post and read reviews of local businesses, especially restaurants.  Yelp was started in 2004 by a couple of former PayPal employees.  At the end of last year, users had posted 148 million reviews, using a five star rating system.  Most of the people who use Yelp live in major metropolitan areas and are doing so on a mobile device.

Studies have shown that Yelp carries considerable clout.  A study showed that restaurants gain 5-9% more reservations for every star in their Yelp rating.  Of course, this kind of success attracts criticism and some have claimed the system is flawed and abused.

I suppose it is because of the connection to restaurants that Yelp was chosen as the symbol of gluttony.  However, given the amount of criticism Yelp receives each year, it may have been chosen because use of the site are “gluttons for punishment!”

At an entirely different site, Trulia.com rated Las Vegas, Nevada as the most gluttonous city in America.  Vegas’ rating of 113 (most other cities scored in the 20s) was probably based on the number of buffet restaurants, the number of plastic surgery offices (0.94 per 100,000 residents), obesity, drinking, and smoking rates.  If Vegas really is the capital of gluttony, then not EVERYTHING that happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.  Some of it comes home on one’s tummy and thighs.

Gluttony is the vice of over-indulgence.  Temperance keeps need from becoming greed.

Gluttony is the sin of abuse and over-use of things that God created for our good.  It has deadly spiritual consequences and does our health no good either.

Remember, gluttony is not limited to food and drink.  Anything in this world can be a means of gluttony.  Part of our daily life must be making decisions that exercise self-control so that God’s good gifts never become a substitute for God Himself.

What NOW?

NBS 13

Take a moment to read Numbers 13+14 in your favorite Bible.  I used the NIV (1984) to research these remarks.

I think it’s something that happens to all of us at one time or another.  We’ve prepared for something, enjoyed success, felt elated and satisfied…and then we wake up the next morning and realize that thing is over.  There’s an obvious hole where that thing was, and we wonder, “What now?”

It’s the feeling Simon Peter had the day after the resurrected Jesus appeared to him and even Thomas was finally on board.  Being a man’s man, Peter met the “morning after blues” head on and said, “I’m going fishing.”  Look it up.  It’s in John 21:3.

This is a twice-yearly feeling for pastors, one that is felt most keenly the day after Easter.  Andy Fuqua described it pretty well in an article entitled, “The Post-Easter Blues.”

“You might think that a large attendance, a big production, a chance to passionately share the gospel, and an opportunity to rejoice because Jesus is alive would mean that pastors go home from Easter Sunday on cloud nine.  It may come as a surprise to learn that many, many pastors contemplate quitting the ministry the day after Easter.  The ‘post-Easter blues’ aren’t logical, but they are real.”

(Read the whole article at andyfuqua.com/2016/03/28/post-easter-blues/.)

When dealing with “morning after” moments and the other disappointments of life, the bottom line is this:

Don’t give up on God.

This morning we’ll take a quick look at one instance where the people of God gave even before they got started.  They gave up on God, suffering devastating consequences. We can learn from their mistakes.

  1. 12 spies had 40 days of fruitful research. (13:23-27)

The first half of chapter thirteen details the first committee formed in the Bible; the twelve men sent in to scout the Promised Land.  This was a 40 day trip; pretty extensive searching and a rather daring thing to do considering they didn’t know any languages or cultures.

The last half of the chapter deals with the report they filed.  They brought along physical evidence; a CLUSTER OF GRAPES, with POMEGRANATES and FIGS.  This collection of fruit was so great it took two men to carry it.  They said, “WE WENT INTO THE LAND TO WHICH YOU SENT US AND IT DOES FLOW WITH MILK AND HONEY!  HERE IS ITS FRUIT.”

  1. 10 spies gave up on God’s promise. (13:28-33)

After attesting to quality of the land and its produce, the majority gave up on the LORD when they got around to describing the people who lived there.  “THE PEOPLE ARE POWERFUL,” they said, and embellished on that with, they are “DESCENDANTS OF ANAK (28), and THE NEPHILIM (33).  You might read Genesis 6:1-4 to find out who these legendary characters were.  But please don’t ask me to explain; we don’t have enough room for that.

It seems to me the majority is making excuses; “ALL THE PEOPLE THERE ARE OF GREAT SIZE” (32) and “WE SEEMED LIKE GRASS-HOPPERS IN OUR OWN EYES, AND WE LOOKED THE SAME TO THEM (33).”  These exaggerations are bent on disguising the fact that it was their fear of the size of the task that motivated their pessimism, not the size of the people.  The true comment is added almost as an afterthought:  their “CITIES ARE FORTIFIED AND VERY LARGE (28).”

The two dissenting members were Joshua and Caleb.  Caleb voiced the minority opinion in verse thirty, trying to impart some faith-fueled  confidence to these cowering characters.

  1. 40 years and 1 generation later, they would finally enter the Promised Land (14:1-45).

The majority worked their tale-spinning until the whole COMMUNITY spent the night grumbling and bawling (14:1-4).  They were ready to elect someone to lead them back to Egypt and a return to slavery!

Moses, Aaron, Joshua and Caleb tried to talk them out of this dumb idea (14:5-9).  They gave four excellent reasons for obeying the LORD and entering the Promised Land.

Verse seven: The “LAND IS EXCEEDINGLY GOOD.”

Verse eight: The “LORD…WILL GIVE IT TO US.”

Verse nine reveals two “do not’s.”  One, “DO NOT REBEL AGAINST THE LORD,” and the other, “DO NOT BE AFRAID OF THE PEOPLE OF THE LAND.”

The people’s reaction was violent (14:10).  To make room for new leadership, they decided to stone their current leaders to death!

But God Himself intervened and the GLORY OF THE LORD APPEARED AT THE TENT OF MEETING.  From the beginning (see Exodus 20:18-21), the glorious appearing of the LORD had filled the Hebrews with fear.

God’s reaction sounds extreme (14:11-12).  He was justifiably angry and said to Moses, “HOW LONG WILL THESE PEOPLE TREAT ME WITH CONTEMPT?”  Adding, “THEY REFUSE TO BELIEVE ME IN SPITE OF ALL THE MIRACULOUS SIGNS.”

How could they be so slow to believe?  Not for the first time, God threatened to strike them all down and start over with Moses: “I WILL STRIKE THEM DOWN WITH A PLAGUE” (v. 12).  That was not an empty threat.  Though the nation was spared total destruction, the ten negative spies were NOT spared and, in 14:36-38, died from a PLAGUE.

Moses interceded in prayer for the nation (14:13-19).  Here is Moses’ reasoning: first, killing the entire nation would undo what God had done, causing the nations to disbelieve (14:13-16).  Killing the entire nation would also be contrary to God’s character.  God is love: He is “SLOW TO ANGER, ABOUNDING IN LOVE AND FORGIVING SIN AND REBELLION” (14:17+19).  God is holy, too, demanding justice for the sake of the victims of sin: “HE DOES NOT LEAVE THE GUILTY UNPUNISHED” (14:18).

God forgave the people, but did not tolerate their sin (14:20-38).

According to verse twenty, the LORD had already forgiven them.  Regardless of how it may appear, this conversation is not Moses talking God into forgiving the people as He’d already done it.

But forgiveness does not always mean the offender avoids the consequences of his offense.  Indeed, avoiding discipline or the natural consequences of one’s actions is a shallow perversion of love, not the genuine thing.

That generation of adults had repeatedly been guilty of committing serious sins against the LORD.  In this situation, they had:

DISOBEYED and TESTED Him (22).

Treated Him with CONTEMPT (23).

GRUMBLED against Him (27).

Enacting love and holiness, God gave Moses new orders: “Go back the way you came” (14:25).  This is ironic justice: they’d been plotting to return to Egypt, so God sent them in that direction.

God’s wrath would take 40 years to satisfy.  That complaining, disobedient, and contemptuous generation did not enter the Promised Land; they wandered the wilderness until every member of that generation died (14:26-31).

The people suddenly repented but disobeyed the LORD again and got a whuppin’ for their foolishness (14:39-45).  The death of their ringleaders (36-38) put the fear of God in the nation.  When Moses repeated all God had to him, they MOURNED BITTERLY (14:39).

After what was probably a sleepless night, they were all ready to repent and obey God’s original instructions (14:40).  But they were too late.  This illustrates the principle of “obedience in time” as essential to complete obedience.  When we delay, make excuses or procrastinate, we are being disobedient.  Complete obedience requires doing what you’re told and doing it right away.

Talk about stubborn!  These people thought they’d avoid God’s justice by disobeying Him AGAIN (14:41-44).  The first time they disobeyed Him by refusing to fight.  Now they disobeyed the LORD by refusing to leave, insisting on a fight.  In verse forty-four the writer rightly identified their sin as PRESUMPTION.

Moses warned them a battle now would end with a number of deaths (14:43), which was the awful outcome (14:44-45).  When are we going to learn to obey?  When will we learn going our own way results in calamity?

Notice that in verse forty-four neither Moses nor the Ark of the Covenant was involved in this doomed military expedition.  This battle was not the Lord’s doing & He didn’t assist them.

Don’t give up on God.

You may’ve wondered earlier if I got the “post-Easter blues.”  Not an extreme case, but a little.  I pursued an unusual cure.  I went to a public library and pulled a book from the shelf that expresses some very critical views of the Bible.  I spent the afternoon reading that book and I hope very soon to post a rebuttal on our website.  It sounds weird, but this guy’s heretical opinions set me on edge and that got me out of any sense of the “blues.”

The better part of the experience is being reminded that Easter is not the end of Jesus’ story nor is it the end of ours.  There is a lot of living, loving, and serving in the days ahead.  We might as well be grateful for what God gave us on Easter and get on with it.

That’s a little bit of what Jesus said to His disciples just before He returned to heaven.  To paraphrase just a bit, He said, “It’s time to get to work.  There’s a whole world out there and everyone in it needs to learn about me.  We’ll go together.”

The God who began that work in you will surely see it to completion.  Just don’t give up.