Put On Your Work Clothes (Part Two)

Armor of God_final (2)(Image by James Best, (C) 2019, https://www.behance.net/gallery/82544295/Sermon-Illustrations-2019.)

Please read Ephesians 6:10-20 in your Bible.

CONTEXT = The Apostle Paul used the word FINALLY (v. 10) in the same way some preachers do; not really meaning they are coming to an end.  They give you hope it’s about to end, but when all is said and done, the word “finally” fell in the middle of their time.  To satisfy my own curiosity, I looked it up and found that Paul used the word FINALLY seven times.  In Philippians he used it twice!  Three times, it appears in the middle of the letter, four times in the last chapter, but never in the last paragraph.

Here in Ephesians, the word FINALLY indicates Paul is getting to the last important subject.  The actual end of the letter is personal greetings and a blessing.

Our struggle is spiritual, not worldly.

  1. True strength and power is a gift from God. (10-13)

In verse ten it is written, BE STRONG IN THE LORD AND IN HIS MIGHTY POWER. In the original language, the verb translated as BE STRONG is in what’s called “passive voice.”  This means the word itself indicates the source of this strength is not from within us; it is received, not generated.  Our part is to seek God and trust in His strength rather than rely on our own personal strength.

As Paul made clear in the next phrase – IN THE LORD – God gives us strength.  In fact, Paul is so eager to reinforce this point he added IN HIS MIGHTY POWER.  Aware of human nature to trust in ourselves, Paul tripled down on this emphasis.  POWER and STRENGTH are the same words Paul used in Ephesians 1:19-20 to explain how God the Father raised Jesus Christ from the dead.

The word FULL (complete) used in reference to the ARMOR OF GOD in verses eleven and thirteen is important.  The intent is to reassure us that when God promises to strengthen us for battle, we are FULLY prepared, not partially.  His strength is all we need.  It is a call to spiritual maturity using language akin to the FILLING of the Spirit.

Our STRUGGLE is properly understood as resistance against spiritual evil (verse twelve).  The word STRUGGLE is borrowed from sports and pictures two wrestlers grappling with one another.  Though people do evil and oppose God, mere FLESH AND BLOOD do not provide their own spiritual power.

Instead, people who do evil are powered by spiritual evil. RULERS and AUTHORITIES are two words Paul commonly used for beings of spiritual evil.  He has already done so twice in this letter (see 1:21; 3:10). Paul referred to the POWERS OF THIS DARK WORLD.  The expression “world powers” was widely used in all cultures of Paul’s day to refer to spirits or demons.  Paul added the word DARK to signify these are evil beings who influence people to do sinful things.

Bible writers saw two spiritual kingdoms at work in the world, unseen except for their interactions with people.  There was the Kingdom of God on the one hand and the kingdom of Satan on the other.  While these kingdoms are in conflict, they are not equal in power and the kingdom of Satan is doomed to destruction.

Paul also described them as SPIRITUAL FORCES OF EVIL IN THE HEAVENLY REALMS.  The phrase SPIRITUAL FORCES OF EVIL refers to all demonic and evil spirits of all types.  It may surprise us to read they exist IN THE HEAVENLY REALMS, where we expect to find peace and tranquility.

There are two ways of looking at this seeming contradiction.  One, HEAVENLY REALMS refers to the “spirit world,” the reality that exists alongside our physical reality.  It is a more general term while “heaven” specifically refers to the place where God is enthroned.  Two, in accord with John’s Revelation, we see the current version of heaven is not a place of idyllic peace and quiet, but is a place of conflict between spiritual beings of good and evil.  The conflicted condition of earth reflects the conflicted condition of heaven.  That version of heaven will be replaced by the NEW HEAVEN and NEW EARTH described in Revelation 21-22.

According to verses thirteen and fourteen, the goal of our STRUGGLE is simply to STAND.  The word appears four times in this passage, according to our English Bibles.

Paul warned a DAY OF EVIL was coming.  Though he refers to it as a single day, Paul doesn’t necessarily mean one DAY OF EVIL for all people, but whenever a time of STRUGGLE arises in a person’s life.  We needn’t be too literal here.

In the face of what would otherwise be an overwhelming spiritual force, God makes us able to STAND our ground, resist temptations and enduring trials.  AFTER YOU HAVE DONE EVERYTHING refers to the alertness commanded in verse eighteen.  Prayer is the means by which we PUT ON THE FULL ARMOR OF GOD.  This underscores our need to prepare for a DAY OF EVIL by maturing in our spiritual life.

Paul said it again: we are to STAND FIRM.  God doesn’t expect us to win the war for Him, just to survive it with our faith intact.  The word means “stand against” or “resist.”

  1. Symbols of the implements of spiritual warfare. (14-17)

#1 = THE BELT OF TRUTH BUCKLED AROUND YOUR WAIST.

This image appears first in Isaiah 11:5: “He shall be girded with righteousness around the waist and bound with truth along the sides.”  The TRUTH includes but is not limited to biblical teaching, as all truth comes from God.

Being prepared to resist evil requires us to learn, accept, and use the truth about ourselves as well.  Spiritually maturing people are humble and humility is an accurate self-understanding.  Humble people are not self-centered; they do not think too highly or too lowly about themselves.  More importantly, they know their giftedness, their role, and all the strengths God has provided them.

It’s possible that Paul listed the TRUTH first because that’s the first thing the Enemy will try to corrupt.  As did the serpent in the garden, the devil will try to cloud our understanding of what God said and what His will is.

#2 = THE BREASTPLATE OF RIGHTEOUSNESS.

Isaiah 59:17 depicts God as the Divine Warrior with this detail of His appearance: “He put on righteousness as his breastplate.”  RIGHTEOUSNESS is moral integrity; conformity to the will of God.

The lack of righteousness puts sinners at a distance from God (see Isaiah 59:14) but nothing is closer to your heart than a BREASTPLATE.  This is a symbol of close fellowship with God.  To PUT ON this BREASTPLATE requires us to seek to live in moral purity and wholeheartedly commune with God.

#3 = FEET FITTED WITH THE READINESS THAT COMES FROM THE GOSPEL OF PEACE.

Paul may have thought about Isaiah 52:7, which says, “How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, ‘Your God reigns!’” One’s footwear takes on obvious importance when the objective is to STAND.  Paul does not specify any particular kind of footgear, so that’s not the point.  The point is preparedness, as indicated in the word READINESS.  In this case, it is READINESS to be a witness to the Good News of salvation in Christ, which is THE GOSPEL OF PEACE.

It’s ironic that Paul uses the word PEACE in this teaching about spiritual warfare.  However, speaking the word of God, telling people the Good News of Jesus Christ, these things bring about peace.  Peace is the heart of the Good News.

The best way a believer can oppose a lie is to tell the truth.  Also, if people know the truth, they will be better equipped to resist a lie.  In John 8:44, Jesus described Satan as “the Father of all lies.”  When the truth is told, Satan is directly opposed.

Followers of Jesus PUT ON this piece of armor by learning the word of God.  Concentrate more on the word itself, less on what people have said about it.  By studying and memorizing the word of God, you will be prepared to speak the word of God at every opportunity.

#4 = THE SHIELD OF FAITH, WITH WHICH YOU CAN EXTINGUISH ALL THE FLAMING ARROWS OF THE EVIL ONE.

FAITH is trust in God, being convinced and assured that He keeps all His promises: we are in His hands.  A physical shield is defensive equipment, held in one’s hands.  A Roman shield was four feet high, two and a half feet wide and several inches thick.  It provided complete protection from arrows if the soldier set the base on the ground and knelt behind it.  If he stayed behind the shield he would be safe from slings and arrows.  This image explains Paul’s comment about the devil’s arrows.  Notice Paul’s assurance that the SHIELD will defend against ALL the devil’s arrows.

In the Bible, God is described as our shield (Genesis 15:1; Psalm 5:12), but there is no Old Testament passage that shows God employing a shield in His role as “divine warrior.”  The image of FLAMING ARROWS is biblical: in Psalms 7:13 and 144:6, God is the one who shoots them.  Among weapons of the time, a flaming arrow was the most feared because it delivered a fiery material that could not easily be put out; it was a devastating weapon against wood structures.

In our experience, trials and temptations involve human beings and/or material things, but Paul identifies the archer as THE EVIL ONE.  This is a reminder of v. 12.  This is essentially a spiritual war.  Our chief opponent is a spiritual being whom we can resist, if we fight with God’s weapons and His strength.

A SHIELD is an apt symbol of FAITH because it is our knowledge of the truth and our trust in God that empowers us to withstand our enemy’s trials and temptations.  Faith is trust in God as our protector; we are safe as we stand behind Him.

#5 = THE HELMET OF SALVATION.

While the SHIELD OF FAITH image was original to Paul, the HELMET OF SALVATION is part of the description of God as the Divine Warrior in Isaiah 59:17: “He will put…the helmet of salvation on his head.”  God not only fights on behalf of His people but he also makes His divine armaments available to his people.

1 Thessalonians 5:8 was Paul’s first use of THE HELMET OF SALVATION.  There it was a more forward-looking view of salvation as the congregation in Thessalonica was concerned about salvation connected with Jesus’ Second Coming.  Here’s Paul’s pastoral concern is centered in the immediate moment, in how our SALVATION enables us to STAND amidst our present STRUGGLE.

A helmet offers much-needed protection of the head, but a trade-off is it often restricts the wearer’s peripheral vision.  To PUT ON this piece of armor, the believer needs to focus his attention on Christ, ignoring distractions and non-essentials (see Hebrews 12:2).

#6 = THE SWORD OF THE SPIRIT, WHICH IS THE WORD OF GOD.

A SWORD is the only offensive or attacking part of this spiritual armory.  The fact that is a symbol of the Scriptures means that believers are to use God’s word to resist every experience of spiritual evil.  (Evangelism is an example of this use of the SWORD.  It takes the fight to the devil because we are using the word to convert enemies into friends.)

On the other hand, a SWORD was also a defensive weapon, used to parry or block attacks by an enemy.  The symbol is just as flexible, so we understand that the word of God can also be used to answer all attacks on our faith, in both the physical and spiritual worlds.  (The study of how to rationally defend our faith is called “apologetics.”  This is an example of a defensive use of the word.)

This symbolic SWORD is said to be OF THE SPIRIT because all Scripture has been revealed by the power and action of the Holy Spirit (2 Timothy 3:16; 2 Peter 1:21).

The use of the WORD OF GOD in Isaiah 11:4 employs a ROD instead of a SWORD, but it shows how the WORD is to be used in attack mode; “He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth; with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked.”

Jesus’ followers take up the SWORD OF THE SPIRIT as they apply God’s word to their lives.  Biblical literacy is an essential part of discipleship.

  1. Prayer is where spiritual warfare is won or lost. (18-20)

(NOTE: Paul does not list prayer as a separate implement of war.  Instead, prayer is the means by which the implements listed are PUT ON.)

Verse eighteen is a general call to prayer.  In chapters one and three, Paul has modeled prayer for them.  Here he develops the quality and quantity aspects of prayer.  The command to PRAY IN THE SPIRIT calls us to a quality of prayer which is made possible only in connection with the Holy Spirit.                 Prayer is not a performance or a ritual.  It is more than conversation, it is communion with God (see Romans 8:26-27).  The phrase WITH ALL KINDS OF PRAYERS AND REQUESTS indicates that the form of prayer is not at all at issue.  There is no room for legalism or judging other people’s prayers. This is also an important point for the Ephesians who needed to know the distinction between incantations and prayers.  God knows every heart, what is actually in a person when they pray.  so what we can see and hear is only the surface.

Paul also addresses quantity of prayer in the following phrases, each of which is quantified by the word ALL.

– ON ALL OCCASIONS means “at every opportunity.”  One of the most appropriate questions we can ask is “May I pray for you?”  It reflects 5:26, MAKING THE MOST OF EVERY OPPORTUNITY, BECAUSE THE DAYS ARE EVIL.

– ALWAYS KEEP PRAYING FOR ALL THE SAINTS includes a couple versions of the word “all.”  When prayer is not bound by legalities, one is free to pray at any moment, in silent communion with God, even in the midst of a crowd.

– The object of our prayers is for one another: ALL THE SAINTS.  Our prayers to PUT ON the armor are not just for ourselves, but for each other to be similarly clad and ready for battle.

WITH THIS IN MIND refers to Paul’s teaching on spiritual warfare as a motive to pray, being alert to the signs of the conflict all around us.  In Mark 14:38 Jesus called His disciples to “watch and pray” to avoid falling into temptation.

To be ALERT or watch requires we believe something is going to happen.  The more immanent the event seems, the more motivated we are to watch out for it.

Verses nineteen to twenty are Paul’s call to prayer for himself, to not be intimidated into silence by his imprisonment. Paul requested prayer specifically for his speaking: WHENEVER I OPEN MY MOUTH.  In the phrase, WORDS MAY BE GIVEN ME Paul brings to mind Jesus’ promise to His followers that when they are persecuted and drug before the rulers of the land, He will give them powerful words (see Luke 21:14-15).

SO I WILL FEARLESSLY MAKE KNOWN THE MYSTERY OF THE GOSPEL. PRAY THAT I MAY DECLARE IT FEARLESSLY AS I SHOULD anticipates Paul’s opportunity to appear before the Roman Emperor.  Imagine the intimidation factor of standing before the man who ruled the empire that spanned the known world!

Remember Paul has used the word MYSTERY to refer to the Good News of salvation in Jesus Christ.  (This is the seventh time in Ephesians he’s used the word!)  It is synonymous with “Gospel” and refers to the revealing of God’s plan of salvation.

Paul’s prayer concern was that he would fulfill His mission as an AMBASSADOR of the Gospel in spite of the limitations of his CHAINS.  Paul endured imprisonment in Rome for two years and for a similar length of time prior to being brought to Rome.

As he indicated in Romans 1:16-17 and 2 Timothy 1:8, Paul was never ashamed of his imprisonments, because he knew he was God’s AMBASSADOR; the highest status available to a human being and more importantly, because his message was eternal life from God.

Our struggle is spiritual, not worldly.

Reflecting on the state of the Church in America and our church, I see two problems with this topic of spiritual warfare.

One, we act as if there were no war going on at all.  The Church has been “unequally yoked” (see 2 Corinthians 6:4) with our culture.  That worked OK in earlier generations when the influence was primarily in favor of the Church.  However, in the last two generations, American culture has come to exert greater influence over the Church.  The Church and the culture are virtually indistinguishable and are headed in the same self-destructive direction.  As the Church takes very little pains to be counter-cultural, we are being drug down with them.

Thus, one step in this war with spiritual evil is to stop allying ourselves with worldly evil.  The Church must throw off its yoke, end its association with a “post-Christian” culture that increasingly hates and blames us.

Two, we act as if we have no idea who the enemy is.  Inside the walls of local churches, we too often treat one another as the enemy.  In petty disputes over worldly things like letters and numbers, we divide and deride and attempt to dominate one another.

There are, no doubt, persons in every congregation, who have no good business being there.  This is indicated when we treat one another as competitors or enemies, forgetting our struggle is against evil spiritual powers.  Our brothers and sisters are supposed to be our allies.

In short, we are the Israelites all over again.  We befriend the pagans and take on their ways instead of loving one another.  We accept idols and reject the living God.

For all these reasons we must heed Paul’s call to preparedness for war.  In part, living is struggling.  We need to heed God’s word and know with whom we are to struggle and with whom we are to be allied.  Whenever the Israelites followed God into battle, they were victorious.  May the same be said of us.

 

RESOURCE:

Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, Clinton E. Arnold

Someone IS Watching and it DOES Matter

Sheep and Goat

Please read Matthew 25:31-46.

Our works will come under scrutiny on Judgment Day.

                The picture of the lamb and goat above were rendered to emphasize the “cute” anthropomorphic aspect of this parable.  Jesus chose to tell a parable that substituted animals for people.  Everyone hearing it understood this was a metaphor because Jesus made that clear in verse 32.

Having preached this passage three times previously in my 30+ years of preaching, I have always wondered why Jesus chose to substitute animals for people.  Part of the reason is that He often starts parables with a familiar scene and then veers off in an unexpected direction. But this one is blazing a new trail from the first verse.  Something else is going on, and that answer has never really satisfied my curiosity.

Another answer was revealed to me in a nightmare three days ago.  The details of the nightmare are gone from my memory, but I recall lying awake in bad silently crying as the Lord made it clear to me.  The use of animals and the tedious repetition of the good deeds is designed to set an emotional counterpoint to the fact that this is a nightmarish scene on the left hand of the Shepherd King.

Life is serious, folks.  To die and then face Judgment Day is most serious.  Jesus brilliantly told this parable the way He did because it emphasizes the horror of sin and its deadly consequences.  The parable packs a greater emotional punch because it was told the way Jesus told it.

The glorious light of the Son of Man on His throne is not a gentle glow, but the blazingly bright searchlight that reveals the insides of person.  Like an x-ray, it exposes human personalities, laying bare guilt and innocence.

The contrast of the sheep going to heaven and the goats going to hell reveals this scene is not just a throne room, it is more than a court room, it is also a slaughterhouse.  To make the contrast even more visceral, the condemned are sentenced to eternal conscious torment.

When you strip away the anthropomorphic metaphor and realize these are human beings – not “goats” – who are finally and eternally rejected, the scene becomes as frightening as it should be.

Let’s not confuse the Gentle Shepherd of John 10 with the Shepherd King of Matthew 25.  They occupy opposite ends of the emotional spectrum.

One more thing to consider: both the sheep-people and the goat-people are surprised by the Shepherd King’s verdict.  This passage is meant to slap self-confidence right out of our heads.  This was Jesus’ last word to His disciples before His death.  It is a provocative one, meant to motivate us to be ruthlessly honest with ourselves and prepare to meet our maker.

  1. The context and the one main point. (31-33)

All parables in chapter 25 deal with Judgment Day.  Understand that Judgment Day is not a trial; it is a sentencing.  God knows all and he knows all of us perfectly.  At this point the issue of heaven or hell is already decided; this is a sentencing hearing.

Of the three parables in chapter 25, this parable is the only one to describe Judgment Day.  It is written; THE SON OF MAN will be IN HIS GLORY, seated on HIS THRONE IN HEAVENLY GLORY.  In His glorified state ALL THE NATIONS WILL BE GATHERED BEFORE HIM.  All people who have ever lived will be gathered, and then separated one final time.  God will bring to pass the end of all evil.

The separation of the people is described in verse 33, the purpose for it in verse 46.  In verse 33 we see the SHEEP will be gathered to His RIGHT hand.  The GOATS will be gathered on His LEFT hand.  Verse 46 reveals that the purpose is to pronounce judgment: to reward the sheep and condemn the goats.

These parables come between Jesus’ teaching about the last things in chapter 24 and His arrest and trial in chapter 26.  Jesus would experience His own “last days.”  There is an ironic similarity between these teachings and what comes next in Jesus’ life.

The main point of the parable is this: our works are important on Judgment Day.  If all you knew was this parable, you’d think works are the determining factor.  Note that the parable doesn’t actually say that, it simply does not mention any other factor.  Parables are, by their nature, narrow in their focus, designed to reinforce the one main point. Because we have the entire Bible, we know works are a secondary factor.  The primary factor of judgment is each person’s acceptance or rejection of Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.

The secondary factor of works is evidence of the primary decision about Jesus.  They are proof of what’s truly in a person.  The works are evidence of God’s justice: God is right to exclude the GOATS and include the SHEEP, as their deeds demonstrate.

  1. He will keep the sheep. (34-40, 46)

The Shepherd King pronounces a blessing on those at His right (34).  There are six facts to be noted about the blessing.

One, He invites them to come into God the Father’s presence.

Two, He urges them to take their INHERITANCE, a place in God’s KINGDOM.

Three, their blessing has been in the works SINCE THE CREATION OF THE WORLD.  This highlights God’s sovereignty.

Four, their reward is ETERNAL LIFE (46).

Five, in biblical culture, the RIGHT side is the side of intimacy and influence.  After He ascended to heaven, it was the place of honor Jesus occupied when He ascended to heaven.

Six, Jesus used SHEEP as a symbol of God’s faithful people because that was a biblical image.  God is symbolized by a Shepherd.

The reason given for their blessing: they helped the needy (35-36).  Six different kinds of needs are listed.  Jesus offered these as a representative sample, not as a preferred or exhaustive list. These are everyday needs involving people in ordinary situations.

Who are THE LEAST OF THESE BROTHERS? In the Bible, God identifies Himself with disadvantaged people.  That usually meant the poor, widowed, orphaned, and foreigners.

The reaction of the sheep-people to the blessing is surprise (37-40).  The text identifies them as THE RIGHTEOUS.  Their benevolent actions are evidence of their righteousness.  Their surprise is a measure of their innocence.

They had done all these things out of the love in their hearts.  They had no expectation of reward because their motive was love; they acted without any hint of a mixed motive or desire for reward.  In other passages, heavenly rewards are promised for godly living.  Acting to earn such rewards is an approved motive.

  1. The goats have got to go. (41-46)

The King pronounces a CURSE on those to His left (41).  We note four features to the CURSE.

One, He orders them to DEPART.

Two, they have no place in God’s kingdom but are exiled to a place of ETERNAL FIRE.

Three, as was the case with the sheep-people, the place of the goat-people has also been prepared, but it was created for someone else; THE DEVIL AND HIS ANGELS.

Four, their condemnation is described as ETERNAL PUNISHMENT.

The Shepherd Kings gives the reason for their cursing: they did not help the needy (42-43).  The same set of six needs is listed four times here and always in the same order. This attention to detail underlines God’s justice; He is comparing “apples to apples;” He is judging them fairly.

The reaction of the goat-people is also surprise, but for a reason entirely opposed to the sheep-people’s surprise (44-45).  The goat-people failed to do these things because neither the love of God nor the love of neighbor was in their hearts.

Their protest might be paraphrased as follows; “If we’d known it was You, we would have done these things.”  They are surprised to hear that Jesus identified Himself with people they dismissed as lowlifes, bums, and human trash.  They judged their fellow man as unworthy of charity; in response, Jesus will judge them as unworthy of a place in heaven.

Our works will come under scrutiny on Judgment Day.

Anyone who reads this parable and does not come away with a healthy fear of the Lord has missed the point of this parable.  The stark contrast between the sheep and the goats ought to have every one of us rethinking how we are using the magnificent gift of life.

Proverbs repeatedly tells us fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.  Job 31:23 puts into words the form wise fear should take: FOR I DREADED DESTRUCTION FROM GOD, AND FOR FEAR OF HIS SPLENDOR I COULD NOT DO SUCH THINGS.  This is Job explaining his personal motivation for being a good guy and doing the right thing.

Persons who hoard their gifts, legalize their definition of neighbor, or have a flip attitude about Judgment Day are in peril of being unpleasantly surprised on that Day.  Jesus warned of the peril of hypocrisy in Matthew 7:21-23.

Proverbs 11 delivers a similar warning about wasting God’s gifts on selfish pursuits.  Verse four states, WEALTH IS WORTHLESS IN THE DAY OF WRATH, BUT RIGHTEOUSNESS DELIVERS FROM DEATH.  In verse 6, it is written; THE RIGHTEOUSNESS OF THE UPRIGHT DELIVERS THEM, BUT THE UNFAITHFUL ARE TRAPPED BY EVIL DESIRES.

The refusal to do good is sin (James 4:17).  Sin has deadly and eternal consequences.  Only the intervention of Jesus Christ will save us from the fate of eternal separation from God.

Let us spend our days vigilant for opportunities to do good to others.  Be willing to speak up, offer help, and do right by those who need you.  The consequences of failure are too nightmarish to accept.

 

RESOURCES:

Messages #1169, 685, 33

Smith & Helwys Bible Commentary, Ben Witherington III

Pursuant to Peace

peas

Please read Psalm 34.

Peace comes to those who pursue it.

          In days gone by, a young boy was driving a hayrack down the road when the wagon fell over.  It tipped backwards right in front of a farmer’s house. The farmer came out, saw the young boy crying and said, ”Son, don’t worry about this, we can fix it. Right now dinner’s ready: Why don’t you come in and eat and then I’ll help you put the hay back on the rack.”
The boy said, ”No, I can’t. My father is going to be angry with me.”

Trying to soothe the boy, the farmer said, ”Now don’t worry, just come in and have some lunch and you’ll feel better.”

The boy said, ”I’m just afraid my father is going to be very angry with me.”
The farmer finally convinced the boy and they went inside to eat lunch. Afterwards, as they walked outside to the hayrack, the farmer said, ”Now, son, don’t you feel better after that great meal?”
The boy said, ”Yes but I just know that my father will be very angry with me.”

The farmer said, ”Nonsense. Where is your father anyway?” The boy said, ”He’s under all that hay.”
CONTEXT = According to the heading, this was NOT a peaceful time in David’s life.  It refers to a time when he was being pursued by King Saul, who really was crazy and wanted to kill David.  In 1 Samuel 21, David pretended to be crazy so he would get kicked out of a city rather than be put in custody and fall into Saul’s hands.  The fact that David could write a song about peace during a time like that says a lot about the depth of his spiritual life.

COMMENT = Four points to be made in looking at the psalm from the peace-making perspective.

  1. Pursue peace by continuous praise. (1-3)

“Continuous Praise” is indicated in verse one.  The words ALL TIMES and ALWAYS clearly indicate worship is not limited to Sunday mornings but is meant to be a feature of daily life.  This virtue is challenging to practice; indeed, it would be impossible to do without the Holy Spirit.  Consider this: doesn’t a life of praise make sense if we are truly grateful for what God has done for us?  Wouldn’t praise come to mind more often if our focus is truly on God?

“Continuous Praise” is also indicated in the verbs in verses one to three.  There’s little difference between these words; they are synonyms.  And yet, they are all here in God’s inspired word, presumably to give us a full-featured definition of continuous praise.

EXTOL = “bless, praise, give thanks.”

PRAISE = “glorify; tell of God’s excellence; an act of worship.”

BOAST = “cheer; display positives.”

REJOICE = “be glad, delighted, happy.”

GLORIFY = “make great; honor; lift up.”

EXALT = “express pride; raise up.”

  1. Pursue peace by praying for divine deliverance. (3-7, 17, 19-22)

God answers all prayers. Note the personal pronouns in vs. 4-7; David speaks here from personal experience.  May all of us have this quality of personal experience of God.  I SOUGHT THE LORD: Jesus commended seekers in Matthew 7:7-8, promising a successful outcome to their search for God.  Deniers and evil-doers have no hope.  HE ANSWERED ME: there is no such thing as “unanswered prayer;” God always answers, even if it is “Hold please.”  THOSE WHO LOOK TO HIM: people who look to the LORD expectantly have sound reason to hope and be satisfied.  THIS POOR MAN CALLED AND THE LORD HEARD HIM: David thought of himself as a POOR MAN and even so, the LORD HEARD his prayer.  THE RIGHTEOUS CRY OUT, AND THE LORD HEARS THEM (17) = RIGHTEOUS folks have good reason to hope the LORD hears and heeds their prayers because they are His children.

God delivers those who seek Him.  The psalm is rife with promises of deliverance.  HE DELIVERED ME FROM ALL MY FEARS (3): Worry is one of the two big opponents of peace.  Anxiety is surrendering our God-given peace without a fight.  They are RADIANT (5): what a great picture of joy!  Those who know the Lord have reason to have a certain “glow” about them.  They are unashamed (5): whether it’s true of false, guilt is also a roadblock to peace.  The righteous are SAVED from all their troubles (6+17+19): if we stop and think about it, we can all testify to God’s deliverance from something.  They are protected by God’s angels (7): Angels operate inconspicuously, so we are most often unaware of their assistance.  But many believers can recount a time when the received some kind of miraculous assistance.  None of their bones will be broken (20): in John 19:36, this promise is seen a prophecy fulfilled at Jesus’ crucifixion.  In general, it is a metaphor of God’s care for His people.  THE LORD REDEEMS HIS SERVANTS (22): to REDEEM someone was to buy them out of slavery.  This image was taken up by Paul in the New Testament as a way of explaining how Jesus saved us.  NO ONE…WHO TAKES REFUGE IN HIM…WILL BE CONDEMNED (22): looking ahead to Judgment Day and in agreement with Paul in RMS 8:1, those who trust in God will escape His wrath.

WICKED people are slain by the EVIL they practice (21).  Life in this world and the next can be understood as choices and consequences.  Justice will be done.

  1. Pursue peace by trusting God’s provision. (8-10)

God provides more than refuge for those who take refuge in Him (8+22).  The word REFUGE implies a place apart from the pressures and problems of life; a spiritual retreat from the world to rest in God and commit ourselves to Him.

God’s goodness can be tasted and His provision proven (8).  To “taste” something means to have a real and personal experience of God.  Merely agreeing with a set of Bible teachings is not the sum total of faith.  God must be known in one’s head and heart.

The LORD’S saints LACK NOTHING (9).  Hearing that, we might be tempted to list all the things we feel we’re lacking right at the moment – that’s human nature.  Truth be told, God provides all we need all our lives.

Even LIONS can get famished, but people who seek the LORD will LACK NO GOOD THING (10).  The LIONS here in verse ten are a metaphor for rich or strong people; those who have much in worldly terms but are poor in the things of God.

  1. Pursue peace by righteous living. (11-20)

Aspects of righteous living in these verses include fear of the Lord, virtuous speech, seeking peace, and having full-featured godliness (avoids evil and does good).  FEAR THE LORD (9+11): In Proverbs, fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.  FEAR refers to awe and reverence, but it also includes the kind of wary respect that the all-powerful Creator of the universe deserves.  KEEP YOUR TONGUE FROM EVIL AND YOUR LIPS FROM SPEAKING LIES (13): of all kinds of sin, sins of the tongue are the most pervasive and the most overlooked.  They are the quickest way to ruin peaceful relationships.  TURN FROM EVIL AND DO GOOD (14) are the two sides of righteousness.  Some folks pride themselves on the obvious evil they don’t do and mistakenly believe they have exercised their duty to God.  However, the truth is, that’s only half of being a godly person.  When we fail to do good, that’s sin.

SEEK PEACE AND PURSUE IT (14).  This is our keynote verse on this Peace Sunday.  Peace is something God gives to those who promote it; who are peacemakers, not peace-breakers or peace-fakers. To PURSUE something indicates a deep commitment, a motive to work at it and perseverance to stick with it.

Psalm 34 promises six rewards for righteous living.  Long life (12) may not mean living to old age, for the unrighteous do that.  It more likely refers to a quality of life, a blessing of one’s days.  The LORD is sensitive to the righteous (15+17): God’s EYES and EARS are sensitive to the plight of His people.  Their suffering is not lost on Him.  The LORD is against the unrighteous (16). According to Matthew 7:23, God will turn away from all evil people, saying, “I NEVER KNEW YOU.  AWAY FROM ME, YOU EVILDOERS.”  According to verse eighteen, the LORD saves hurting people.  The words BROKENHEARTED and CRUSHED IN SPIRIT describe people who look honestly on their flaws and troubles.  They are not defeated by them, but neither are they able to find victory in their own strength.  Instead, as this psalm repeatedly says, they trust in the Lord for the strength to overcome trials and temptations.  Deliverance from all troubles (4, 17+19): the word deliverance is used a lot in this psalm.  In His grace, God lifts us out of our discouragements, giving us victory.  Physical protection (20) is a metaphor of surviving this world, being delivered whole into God’s eternal presence.

Peace comes to those who pursue it.

          Norman Vincent Peale said, ”The word ‘worry’ is derived from an Old Anglo-Saxon word meaning to strangle or to choke. How well-named the emotion – it has been demonstrated again and again in persons who have lost their effectiveness due to the stifling effect of anxiety and apprehension.
A story is told about a man who came face to face with the dangers of worry: Death was walking toward his city one morning and the man asked, ”What are you going to do?”
”I’m going to take 100 people,” Death replied.

”That’s horrible!” the man said.
”That’s the way it is,” Death said. ”That’s what I do.”
The man hurried to warn everyone he could about Death’s plan. As evening fell, he met Death again in the same spot outside the city limits.
”You told me you were going to take 100 people,” the man said. ”Why did 1,000 die?”
”I kept my word,” Death responded. ”I only took 100 people. Worry took the others.”

Our peace can be threatened and broken by others; we have no control over them.  What we can directly manage is our own inner state.  Peace is something we receive by faith because we are God’s children.  There are some things we can do to preserve and promote peace within ourselves, then encourage it in others.

  • Most importantly, forsake worry. Trust in God instead.  Anxieties occur when we don’t trust God to keep all the promises in His word.
  • Second, forsake anger. An over-emphasis on self promotes anger, so spend your days in continuous praise and your temper will improve.
  • Third, guard your tongue. Your own peace is disrupted and the peace of others threatened when your tongue is too loose in your head and you say ungodly things.
  • Fourth, pursue peace. Your devotion to peace will be measured by the things you give up to possess it.  A God-centered heart will pursue peace instead of railing about one’s rights.
  • Fifth, seek justice. Treat others right and expect right treatment from them.  Work to see justice practiced in your home and in our community.  Let love guide you.

 

RESOURCES:

The Daily Study Bible Series, George A.F. Knight

The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Willem A. VanGemeren

Zondervan NIV Exhaustive Concordance

https://www.sermonsearch.com/sermon-outlines/22695/finding-peace-in-anxious-times/

 

All Good Things

Please read Psalm 85 in your Bible.  I used the NIV to prepare these remarks.

Jesus is Keeper of all God’s promises, the Giver of all good things.

One part of the process of maturing is setting aside the myths and mistaken thinking that comfort and guide us when we are young and/or immature.  For example, the inevitable moment in growing up when we set aside the Santa Claus myth.

In his book Searching for God Knows What, Donald Miller tells the story of when he first realized that Santa was not real.  He was eight years old at the time and at the mall.  Needing to use the restroom, he went inside and was awestruck to see Santa himself, standing there using the facilities.  He thought it an honor to see jolly ol’ St. Nick, even though he was outside of his usual environment.

Santa finished what he came for, turned around and caught young Donnie staring at him.  He said, “Ho, ho, ho, kid.”

There were no words in young Donald’s mind and nothing came out of his mouth.   Santa shrugged & walked out of the bathroom.

After being starstruck wore off, Donald realized that Santa had left the men’s room without washing his hands.  Yuck!  He could not believe that someone with Santa’s reputation for fussiness about keeping naughty and nice lists could be so lacking in simple hygiene.  It was then and there that Donald decided there was no such person as Santa Claus and the guy with germy hands was just someone trying to earn some extra money during the holidays.

He left the restroom to join his family who were already in line to see Santa Claus.  He asked his mother to be excused.  He sat down in the lingerie department and consider the ramifications of this important decision.

(Searching for God Knows What, Donald Miller, 2004, pp. 22-25.)

This process is not just for children, however.  All our lives we are supposed to continue maturing, continuing to put away the myths, superstitions, and half-truths that have made us comfortable but are wrong.

Jesus came, in part, to keep God’s promises.  He became one of us to give us the whole truth about God and set us free from the untrue things that hold us back from real life with God.  Psalm 85 is packed with “adult words” and encouraging promises.

  1. The key words in these promises.

FAVOR (v. 1).  The object of God’s FAVOR is the LAND.  The Promised Land was one of the chief points of Jewish theology, it was a sign of God’s love for His people.

Restoration (v. 1+4).   The historical object of restoration was to be returned to their LAND, to end their 70 years of captivity.

Forgiveness is named and described in four different ways.

God forgave and COVERED ALL THEIR SINS (v. 2).  True forgiveness requires some forgetting, putting away the offense.  When God forgives, He forgets completely.  We must do the same.

The psalmist pleaded with God to forgive and SET ASIDE ALL YOUR WRATH AND TURN FROM YOUR FIERCE ANGER (v. 3).  Forgiveness requires giving up one’s right to seek revenge or punish.  To truly forgive, both the forgiver and the forgiven need to humble themselves and make some sacrifices

He also pleaded with him to PUT AWAY YOUR DISPLEASURE (v. 4).  Forgiveness does not allow grudge-holding.  Love does not keep a record of wrongs.  This truth is expressed twice in verse five, in slightly different ways.  (Do not BE ANGRY WITH US FOREVER, and do not PROLONG YOUR ANGER THROUGH ALL GENERATIONS.)  They show a concern for the future and a desire to move forward.

Revival (v. 6).  To “revive” something is to restore or renew life; to spark vitality where life is ebbing.  This is a gift from God, another act of grace.  Asking for and receiving God’s forgiveness is the first step toward revival.  Every revival has begun with intense times of conviction of sin and repentance.

LOVE (v. 7).  LOVE is an Old Testament virtue.  It may not be as obvious as it is in the NT, but it is true that throughout the Bible, LOVE is the greatest virtue.  This verse is as accurate and abridged statement of the Gospel as you’d hope to find in the NT.  LOVE has always been God’s thing.

RIGHTEOUSNESS (vs. 11+13).  We think of RIGHTEOUSNESS in moral terms and that’s true, but not the whole truth.  The origin of RIGHTEOUSNESS is not in our moral willpower.  It comes with the Holy Spirit.  It is another grace God gives us.  The Bible says that any righteousness we can achieve is inadequate to save us.  As v. 13 makes clear, the human form of RIGHTEOUSNESS was expressed in the living and teaching of Jesus.  We follow His example.

  1. The results of the promises kept.

REJOICE IN YOU (v. 6).  Joy is supposed to be our “default setting.”  If life is characterized by anger or gloom, something must change.

SALVATION (vs. 7+9).  It is likely the original readers/singers of this psalm saw restoration, revival, and SALVATION as returning home from Babylon.  For us, SALVATION takes on a more eternal perspective.  We think of SALVATION as our going from earth to heaven.

PEACE (v. 8).  This is REAL peace, the kind that passes human understanding (see Philippians 4:7).  More than the absence of conflict, this is an emotional stability that exists in the face of conflict, a contagious positivity and ease.

HIS GLORY will DWELL IN OUR LAND (v. 9).  God’s presence is His glory and is manifest in light.  God is among His people and in the LAND.

The combined virtues of LOVE and FAITHFULNESS, RIGHTEOUSNESS and PEACE become possible (v. 10).  We know it is difficult to be loving AND faithful at the same time.  God will sometimes require us to do the faithful thing and someone will feel like we’ve been unloving.  Doing the right thing will put us at odds with people doing the wrong thing, or doing nothing.  When your choice is between doing God’s will OR anything else, pick God’s way.  Be obedient to God first and let the people sort themselves out.  We have to answer to God.

THE LORD WILL GIVE WHAT IS GOOD, the LAND WILL YIELD A HARVEST (v. 12).  Whether or not we recognize it at the time, the LORD will do what is GOOD for us.  What we HARVEST depends on what we have planted (see Galatians 6:7-8).

  1. Our part in receiving these promises.

We must LISTEN TO WHAT THE LORD GOD SAYS (v. 8).  On a practical level, this means two things.  First, listen to the LORD, not the world and CERTAINLY not the devil.  Second, as James 1:22-23 states, don’t just listen to God’s word and then go out and do whatever you please.  Apply the word.

Be FAITHFUL SERVANTS (v. 8).  Pride can get in the way of being a SERVANT, but you must serve others if you want to serve the LORD.  God’s will is that we should serve each other, not be individuals unconcerned about each other, or worse, in competition with each other, or worst of all, in conflict.

TURN NOT TO FOLLY (v. 8).  FOLLY here refers to claiming to be a child of God but behaving like a worldly person, not following the way of God.  It is the worst kind of FOLLY to see the life that God offers and then reject Him.

FEAR HIM (v. 9).   FEAR of God means at least three things.  One, feeling awe for God; being overwhelmed by His glory and goodness.  Two, having respect for God; complying with His will because you recognize His authority.  Three, it is legitimate to have a healthy FEAR of God.  A healthy fear is based on knowledge that God has all power and that one day we will have to stand before Him in judgment.

Verse 11 lists two virtues and describes their different points of origin.  FAITHFULNESS is something we practice: that’s why it SPRINGS FORTH FROM THE EARTH.   To be faithful, we must make our daily decisions based on the guidance we receive from God’s word; it involves our will.

RIGHTEOUSNESS is a virtue we receive from heaven: that’s why it’s said to look DOWN FROM HEAVEN.  To be righteous, we must allow the Holy Spirit within us to guide us into the right things to say and do.

  1. Jesus was born to keep these promises.

This truth is affirmed in the Gospels.  In Matthew 1:21, an angel declared to Joseph one reason for the birth of Jesus; “[Mary] WILL GIVE BIRTH TO A SON, AND YOU ARE TO GIVE HIM THE NAME JESUS, BECAUSE HE WILL SAVE HIS PEOPLE FROM THEIR SINS.”

To Mary, the angel Gabriel declared a different purpose, “YOU WILL CONCEIVE AND GIVE BIRTH TO A SON, AND YOU ARE TO CALL HIM JESUS.  HE WILL BE GREAT AND WILL BE CALLED THE SON OF THE MOST HIGH.  THE LORD GOD WILL GIVE HIM THE THRONE OF HIS FATHER DAVID, AND HE WILL REIGN OVER JACOB’S DESCENDANTS FOREVER; HIS KINGDOM WILL NEVER END.” (Luke 1:30-33).

Paul affirmed Jesus was the keeper of God the Father’s promises (see 1 Corinthians 1:30-31).  He is our RIGHTEOUSNESS, HOLINESS, and REDEMPTION

Jesus is Keeper of all God’s promises, the Giver of all good things.

Don’t be content to just hear the words; be ambitious to do them.  The world needs godly people ambitious to do God’s will.

Right from the Beginning – #5

(Please read Genesis 2:1-3 in your Bible.  I have used the NIV to prepare these remarks.)

Lewis Sperry Chafer, in his book Grace, told the following story:
“One man challenged another to an all-day wood chopping contest. The challenger worked very hard, stopping only for a brief lunch break. The other man had a leisurely lunch and took several breaks during the day. At the end of the day, the challenger was surprised and annoyed to find that the other fellow had chopped substantially more wood than he had.

“’I don’t get it,’ he said. ‘Every time I checked, you were taking a rest, yet you chopped more wood than I did.’

“‘But you didn’t notice,’ said the winning woodsman, ‘that I was sharpening my ax when I sat down to rest.’”

<Retrieved from http://www.sermonsearch.com/sermon-illustrations/5615/i-was-sharpening-my-ax/ on 10/27/16.>

This little parable tells us that constant activity is not a guarantee of success.  Workaholism is no more noble an addiction than any other addicted behavior.  To be faithful and successful, periods of work must be alternated with periods of rest.

In our study of Genesis, we have arrived at the final day of creation, a day when God did no more creating.  It is so significant that the creation account ends in this way and yet it is probably the most under-utilized passage of Scripture in the Church.  God set for us an example we are to follow by taking a day of rest following His six days of work.

In Jesus’ time, God’s people went to crazy extremes of legalism about keeping the Sabbath.  There were hundreds of interpretations of what it meant to cease from work.  In our time, God’s people have pretty much gone to the opposite extreme, where keeping a Sabbath is something virtually ignored.  We think that keeping the Sabbath is accomplished by spending an hour or so in church once a week.  In the process of cheating God, we’ve cheated ourselves out of the blessing of knowing what a Sabbath is and how to observe it in a way that pleases God.

For a year now, I’ve had an “infographic” on my desk that shows religious observation in the United States.  The data was assembled by the Gallup organization and has limited usefulness, but offers a snapshot of the religious life of our nation.

The data shows the total WEEKLY attendance of a church, synagogue, or mosque in 2014.  The state with the highest attendance was Mississippi, which notched 47%.  The state with the lowest attendance was Vermont, with just 17%.  South Dakota is smack in the middle of those extremes at 31%.  Just one third of peoples of faith honor the Sabbath on a weekly basis.  Never mind which faiths or which day of the week, lump them all together and that’s the best we can come up with.

Did God intend His people should take the Sabbath seriously?  The answer is yes.  In Exodus 20, it is the fourth of the Ten Commandments and easily the lengthiest Commandment.  In Exodus 31:14 the LORD said, “OBSERVE THE SABBATH, BECAUSE IT IS HOLY TO YOU.  ANYONE WHO DESECRATES IT IS TO BE PUT TO DEATH; THOSE WHO DO ANY WORK ON THAT DAY MUST BE CUT OFF FROM THEIR PEOPLE.”  Sabbath violators were to receive the death penalty.  I’d say it doesn’t get any more serious than that!

While we as Christians are not bound to the Law of Moses in the same way as our Jewish forebears were, the command to observe the Sabbath remains.  We are not free in Christ to ignore the Sabbath, but we are free to observe it in ways that are appropriate to us individually.

REVIEW

  1. Before creation: Only God existed (1:1-2).
  2. Creation, Day One: Separating day and night (1:3-5).
  3. Day Two: Separating sky and sea (1:6-8).
  4. Day Three: Separating the sea and the land; growing plants on the land (1:9-13).
  1. Day Four: Creating heavenly lights (1:14-19).
  2. Day Five: Creating animals for the sea & sky (1:20-23).

NEW

  1. Day Seven: Instituting the Sabbath (2:1-3).

GOD HAD FINISHED THE WORK HE HAD BEEN DOING (1).  God declared His creation VERY GOOD (1:31).  Part of what that means is that it was complete.  It was finished.  One of His purposes in instituting the Sabbath was to give His people a weekly reminder that we are creation, He is our Creator.  He is worthy of our worship and devotion.  The Hebrew word for WORK here occurs three times in this passage and is the usual word for our ordinary operations.  It’s ironic that such an ordinary word is used to sum up the supernatural work of creation, but creation is what God does.

ON THE SEVENTH DAY HE RESTED FROM ALL HIS WORK (2). The Hebrew word sabbat (“rest”) is qualified by the phrase FROM HIS WORK.  It means that He ceased the creative labors.  God stopped doing what He had been doing.

We noted last week that one of the eight things about the creation of humans was that He created us to work.  On the 7th day we learn He also created us to rest.  REST involves several things:

– Ceasing from our usual labor.

– Being inactive long enough to restore health; getting enough sleep.

– Restoring balance to our lives.  We are not just workers and this world is not our home.  We need to be reminded of our true selves and rightly ordered priorities.

– Finding a place of safety.  We make take adequate food and shelter for granted, but not all people do; observing a Sabbath reminds us to be thankful.

– Sabbath activity must serve only sacred purposes.  We have six days to live in the world; we need one to cleanse ourselves of the world’s influence and reset.

– Get back to nature: pay attention to creation, and, by association, our Creator.

THEN GOD BLESSED THE SEVENTH DAY (3).  In 1:31 God declared creation was VERY GOOD.  Of all the days of creation, this is the only one God BLESSED.  This makes it special and worthy of note.

AND MADE IT HOLY (3).  HOLY in this case means set apart to be used for divine purposes only.  Of all the days of creation, this is the only one God MADE HOLY.  That also makes it worthy of note.

BECAUSE ON IT HE RESTED FROM ALL THE WORK OF CREATING THAT HE HAD DONE (3).  One of the things we did not talk about related to the IMAGE OF GOD is assumed in this passage: one way we function as the IMAGE OF GOD is by following His example.  In this case, Sabbath-keeping is one of the ways we follow God’s example.

Half of observing the Sabbath is ceasing from doing all the other stuff that is part of our typical work week.  Here’s what God said on the subject: “FOR SIX DAYS WORK IS TO BE DONE, BUT THE SEVENTH DAY IS A DAY OF SABBATH REST, HOLY TO THE LORD.  WHOEVER DOES ANY WORK ON THE SABBATH DAY IS TO BE PUT TO DEATH.” (EXODUS 31:15).

Our Sabbath observance is taking time away from our regular stuff in order to repurpose it as a gift to God.  We cease our usual labors in order free up time.  We spend part of that time resting, more of it in righteous activity.

Our observance of a weekly Sabbath is for Rest and Righteousness.  (The BEST kind of “R&R.”)

As God RESTED, we are to devote a day to rest. This means to CEASE from the labors that occupy us during the rest 0f the week.  In every way you care to mention, we need at least a day a week to get away from all the stresses and labors that are typical to our lives on the six non-Sabbath days.  Part of the wisdom of observing a Sabbath are the benefits we derive from it.

As God declared the day to be HOLY, we are to devote a day to righteousness. Righteousness is, in part, activity that draws us closer to God, to one another, and to a better understanding of ourselves.

Righteous activity is NOT the worldly entertainments and occupations we practice the other six days of the week.  We observe a Sabbath by ceasing what usually holds our attention to give it to God instead.

I’ve had to limit my remarks to this one passage and not the subject of the Sabbath because there is a lot of biblical material on the subject and a mountain of interpretation, Jewish, Christian, and Islamic, on what it means to keep the Sabbath.  This message serves to only begin a conversation by scratching the surface. Let’s review what we take away from this text alone.  Here are the “talking points.”

– Our practice of observing the Sabbath is based on the historical fact that God Himself rested one day out of seven.

– Of all the days of creation, God deemed the seventh most important because He BLESSED the day and decreed it to be HOLY.

– Observing the Sabbath requires we plan to REST and engage in RIGHTEOUS activity only.  To REST means ceasing from our usual labors.  To be RIGHTEOUS we replace time usually spent on our labors with time spent on ways that draw us closer to God, closer to His people, and into a more godly view of ourselves.

The experiences and teaching of the New Testament persons, especially Jesus, is that making Sabbath-observance a law just doesn’t work.  In the same way you can’t force anyone to love, you can’t force anyone to keep the Sabbath.  If it’s not there in your heart to begin with, it won’t be genuine.  If it’s not genuine, it’s not worth doing.

On the other hand, we need structure.  We need a place to start thinking about how we can really set aside an entire day for only two things: Rest and Righteousness.  While the following will sound legalistic, it’s not: it’s only a suggestion.  Our human nature is such that we need to make a rule and follow it until we do it because we love it.

STEP ONE: DEFINE YOUR SABBATH DAY

– You must set apart a definite period of time, not just “Sunday.”  Be sensitive to job and family demands.  Make it a time you can keep every week.  Make it 17-24 hours long.

– Some suggestions:

Sundown Saturday to Sundown Sunday.

Midnight Saturday to midnight Sunday.

Noon Saturday to noon Sunday.

– Specify, notify the people around you, especially your family, and ask them to help you stick to it.

STEP TWO: PLAN YOUR SABBATH DAY

– “Failure to plan is planning to fail.”  That’s human nature. Make an hourly plan of how you’ll spend your Sabbath.

– Your plan must include only activities that meet 2 criteria.

The activities must be restful or righteous; they must not be worldly or secular activities.  Let me elaborate on those criteria.

As God RESTED, we are to devote a day to rest.  This means to CEASE from the labors that occupy us during the rest 0f the week.  Suggestions: in your plan, include times to sleep.  Plan to get a good night’s rest AND take a nap.  We’re planning activity and INactivity!  Rest is more than sleep; it’s a refraining from physical activity in order to do mental/ emotional/

spiritual activity.  So, prayer, Bible study, reading and meditation are all appropriate as restful activities, especially in connection with sleep.

As God declared the day to be HOLY, we are to devote a day to righteousness.  Here we are planning the more active hours of our Sabbath.  If you are going to do manual labor, make sure it isn’t the kind you do through the week and that you are praying or serving others while you do it.  The Bible says that we are to work the other six days.  Part of our planning is to get our work done before our Sabbath so we’re not distracted by leftover work.

The primary kind of righteous activity draws us closer to God.  This would include worship, stewardship, prayer, Bible study, fasting.  The secondary kind of righteous activity draws us closer to one another.  This includes worship, fellowship, service, discipleship, witness; things that center on meaningful conversation and relationship-building.  Face-to-face encounters are to be preferred, but anything that facilitates conversation is great.  Give church and family priority.  The tertiary kind of righteous activity helps us understand ourselves and our place in creation.  This includes solitude, private prayer, exercise, journaling, Bible study, hobbies, reading, and meditation.

Refraining from all worldly entertainments and activities is one of the simplest ways to be righteous on the Sabbath.

STEP THREE: KEEP YOUR SABBATH DAY

Start with prayer, end with prayer.  Keep a record of your plan, how you did, and what you did.  Give yourself plenty of grace, but learn from your mistakes.

(If you would like to see and hear this message preached, look us up on YouTube at EBCSF.)

 

 

 

“What’s in Your Wallet?”

(Please read Jeremiah 9:23-26.)

Samuel L. Jackson want’s to know, “What’s in Your Wallet?”  You can tell a lot about a person by what’s in their wallet, but what’s in their hearts is what really counts.  What’s needed in our hearts is the humility to forsake self-sufficiency and instead embrace dependence on God.

MESSAGE: Self-sufficiency is one of the biggest roadblocks to a godly life.

CONTEXT: The previous 21 verses of the chapter have been spent in pronouncing woe upon Jerusalem, similar to what we heard Jesus doing a couple weeks ago.  So this set of four verses sounds a little out of place, but t point is that in desperate days we’ve an even greater need to rely on God.

COMMENT:

  1. Do not rely on any worldly thing (23, 25-26).

Why we should not rely on worldly things.

– They will not ward off trouble or tragedy.

– Trusting in worldly things is a subtle idolatry.

– It pleases God if we rely on Him & trust Him.

– The problem with all forms of worldly self-sufficiency is that they can blind us to our need for God.  In that blindness, we fail to seek God & are thereby not saved.

– The world honors its scholars, athletes, warriors, and wealthy, but their assets will not save them.

Jeremiah gives four examples of worldly things that have been proven untrustworthy.

Do not rely on your WISDOM (v. 23).  Man’s wisdom is not God’s wisdom – not even close (see Psalms 111:10; Proverbs 1:67; 9:10).  We have a tendency to self-deception and can be deceived by others – only God is always true.

Do not rely on your STRENGTH (v. 23).  Neither physical might nor any other form of worldly power will have the spiritual and moral strength that God’s righteousness endows. Worldly STRENGTH will fail us.

Do not rely on your RICHES (v. 23).  Jesus told us that only treasure kept in heaven is safe from thievery and decay – all kinds of loss (see Matthew 6:19-21).       Jesus pointed out how hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of heaven (see Matthew 19:23-24).

Do not rely on your religious credentials (vs. 25-26).  In the Old Testament, circumcision was the ultimate religion credential.  It was the physical sign that distinguished men of God from everyone else.

But Jeremiah dismissed any notion of privilege based on circumcision: “I WILL PUNISH THOSE WHO ARE CIRCUMCISED ONLY IN THE FLESH.”  While it is stated in the Old Testament, the people often missed the fact that keeping the Law was not about the letter of the Law as much as it was changing the heart.  So being circumcised only in THE FLESH was a way of describing the kind of hypocrisy that can occur with people who observe only the letter of the Law.  The Apostle Paul dealt with this same issue in Romans 2:25-29 and also observed that true circumcision is a matter of the heart, done by the Holy Spirit. This is a recurring them in Jeremiah:

– 4:4 calls Judah to circumcise their hearts.

– 6:10 condemns “uncircumcised ears” that fail to listen to the LORD’s commands.

The only thing all the nations listed in v. 25 have in common is that they are going to be punished by the LORD.  (It’s easy to dismiss others as irreligious, but to truly seek God is not.)  So, in spite of the spiritual advantages God gave them, in spite of all the grace He had shown them, His people continued to trust in their worldly wisdom, strength, and riches instead of God.  Ironically, this is when God’s gifts become perverted into idols.  What He gives to empower godliness can sometimes become substitutes for Him.  When we worship the gifts and not the Giver, we sin.

As an alternative to worldly priorities, God wants us to value the following – this order:

– Dependence on God.

– Interdependence on each other.

– Independence and self-support.

In our culture we often have these backwards, don’t we?

  1. Rely on the Lord alone (24).

The LORD is the only one worth boasting about.  Our highest good is relationship with God.  Understanding Him is an intellectual experience.  Knowing Him is a spiritual, emotional, and moral experience.  From this primary relationship flows true wisdom, power, wealth, and religious relevance.

The life of faith is a matter of knowing what delights Him and DOING IT.  This is one way to demonstrate a real faith-relationship with God.  Jeremiah offers three virtues that characterize a life in which God delights:

– KINDNESS.  This Hebrew word is hard to translate into English.  It refers to an inner attitude good will to people whether it’s expected or deserved.  “Steadfast love” is an alternative translation.  It is the kind of love God has shown to us, the example He has set and we are to follow.  This is GRACE – the single most important way to demonstrate love.

– JUSTICE.  This is a far-reaching term; it describes a society where good people are protected from evil people so that they are free to continue to do good.  One of the sins condemned by the prophets is the oppression of the poor.  God rejects all forms of injustice as a violation of His will.  Those who are blessed in worldly things need to be careful to use their wealth to lift up those not as endowed in worldly things.  For examples, see how Hosea 5:4; 6:3; 8:2 called the people to know God and His justice.  See Micah 6:8 and 7:18 to find activities that please God.

– RIGHTEOUSNESS.  Similar to justice, this term describes a culture in which doing the right thing is the predominant, normal, expected behavior.  As with all God’s standards, the bar of behavior is set at its highest.  “Righteousness” involves doing the right thing at the right time in the right way.  God sets His standards impossibly high to force us to rely on Him.

– We rely on His forgiveness when we fail.

– We rely on His Spirit to succeed.

– All of our life experiences are supposed to direct our attention to Him and deepen our relationship with Him.

Self-sufficiency is one of the biggest roadblocks to a godly life.

Do not rely on your WISDOM (23).

THE PROBLEM: People who are intellectually self-sufficient insist on forms of evidence they can verify with their five senses.  Whether well-educated or not, they take God’s gift of intelligence and turn it into an idol.  They proudly believe they’ve got it all figured out.

THE SOLUTION: The remedy for intellectual self-sufficiency begins with 1CT 3:18-20 = DO NOT DECEIVE YOURSELVES.  IF ANY ONE OF YOU THINKS HE IS WISE BY THE STANDARDS OF THIS AGE, HE SHOULD BECOME A “FOOL” SO THAT HE MAY BECOME WISE.  FOR THE WISDOM OF THIS WORLD IS FOOLISHNESS IN GOD’S SIGHT.  AS IT IS WRITTEN: “HE CATCHES THE WISE IN THEIR CRAFTINESS” AND AGAIN, “THE LORD KNOWS THAT THE THOUGHTS OF THE WISE ARE FUTILE.”

The remedy continues by a reliance on the guidance of the Holy Spirit.  This individual grows in faith by trusting the subjective, intuitive guidance of the Spirit and experiences divine wisdom as they respond immediately.

Do not rely on your STRENGTH (23).

THE PROBLEM: This kind of self-sufficiency represents all the resources that an individual has WITHIN themselves.  This power may take the form of their physical, political, economical, egotistical, or circumstantial power.  They exert their will over others based on the prideful notion they have the right to do so.  “Might makes right” leads to sin.

THE SOLUTION: The remedy for strength self-sufficiency  starts with PSS 20:7-8 = SOME TRUST IN CHARIOTS AND SOME IN HORSES, BUT WE TRUST IN THE NAME OF THE LORD OUR GOD.  THEY ARE BROUGHT TO THEIR KNEES AND FALL, BUT WE RISE UP AND STAND FIRM.

The remedy deepens as the individual pays more attention to the Giver than the gifts.  They need to do the hard work of being more responsive and less reliant on their own plans.  They need to purposely seek ways to worship God and serve people that are outside their usual powers.

Do not rely on your RICHES (23).

THE PROBLEM: Money is not the problem; it’s the LOVE OF MONEY.  RICHES represents all the resources we have OUTSIDE of self.  These are the things we own that we think we’ve earned or somehow deserve.  They can easily become a point of pride and an idol.  Money is one example.

THE SOLUTION: The remedy for this kind of self-sufficiency starts with LKE 12:13-21, the Parable of the Rich Fool.  In this parable, Jesus tells of a man blessed with wealth whose sole concern is making more wealth.  “BUT GOD SAID TO HIM, ‘YOU FOOL!  THIS VERY NIGHT YOUR LIFE WILL BE DEMANDED FROM YOU.  THEN WHO WILL GET WHAT YOU HAVE PREPARED FOR YOURSELF?”

The remedy continues when we take a spiritual view of things; increasingly seeing the world as God does.  For example, “Savers” need to stop relying on money in the bank for their sense of security.  It’s better to trust in God than in the FDIC.  On the other hand, “Spenders” need to stop relying on material things to bring them joy.  Give less time to your toys and more time to your relationship with God and the people around you!

Do not rely on your religious credentials (25-26).

THE PROBLEM: This kind of self-sufficiency is based on the notion that religious acts can earn salvation or authority.  You’ve heard people suppose they’re good enough to get into heaven.  You’ve heard people recite their good works in church and/or community.  Each are equally false.  True good works begin with a heart of love for god and people and have no such strings attached.

THE SOLUTION: The remedy starts with having the attitude shown by Isaiah when he encountered the glory of God in the temple.  He said, “WOE TO ME!  I AM RUINED!  FOR I AM A MAN OF UNCLEAN LIPS, AND I LIVE AMONG A PEOPLE OF UNCLEAN LIPS, AND MY EYES HAVE SEEN THE KING, THE LORD ALMIGHTY,” (ISH 6:6).  The Lord, in response, cleansed the prophet of his sins, preparing him for divine service.

The remedy deepens when our focus is on the Lord and not on ourselves and when our motive is love and heavenly riches, not worldly gain.  We practice the three virtues characterize a life in which God delights: KINDNESS, JUSTICE, and RIGHTEOUSNESS.

High Altitude Attitudes – The Beatitudes (2 of 3)

(Please read Matthew 5:1-12, NIV.)

Message: The “Beatitudes” are Jesus’ plan for a happy and blessed life after major adjustments have been made.

In his book Daddy’s Home, Greg Johnson told this story:

“The first day of family vacation on the Oregon coast, we slept in and headed down to the beach around 9:00 am, looking for washed-up treasure: a perfect sand dollar, one with no chips or cracks.  Though we searched hard, we were skunked.  The next day the same thing happened – nada.

“On the third day, I saw a woman with a bag full of shells – many whole sand dollars – waling up the beach.

‘Where’d you find all those shells?’

‘Down the beach a mile or two.’

“Aha!  I wasn’t going far enough!  Then I realized, Someone’s already beat me to the good shells.  But if I get up earlier, I’ll find the treasure.

“Next morning, we arose at the crack of dawn.  After walking almost a mile down the beach, we’d found only one or two.  But a hundred yards farther on, we hit the mother lode: a dozen whole sand dollars in one 30-foot patch.  We continued on, eyes fixed on the sand – and collected more than 125 perfect sand dollars!

“Later, during my quiet time, the lesson hit me: We wanted treasure.  We got up earlier and traveled farther – and exceeded our goals beyond our wildest dreams.”

<Quoted from “Men of Integrity,” July/August 2002 edition, August 18th devotion.>

We’re continuing today on the subject of blessing, something we all want to experience.  We have often prayed for the Lord’s blessing, but do we often consider how we must work to be a blessing.  It is grace, but grace is not without effort on our part.

REVIEW

  1. High Altitude Attitude Adjustment – Spiritual Poverty (3).
  2. High Altitude Attitude Adjustment – Mourning (4).
  3. High Altitude Attitude Adjustment – Meekness (5).

NEW

  1. High Altitude Attitude Adjustment – Righteous Ambition (6).

Our attitude is selfish ambition.  The sin nature causes us to crave things for selfish reasons.  Though that part of us is crucified with Christ after we’re saved, our human nature

can cause us to fail to have righteous ambition.

We can fail by giving up too soon: Jesus appreciated those who showed their faith by not giving up at the first setback.  In Luke 5:18-26 we see how the friends of the paralyzed man broke a hole in the roof to lower their friend to Jesus.  He commended their faith and healed their friend.  In Luke 11:5-13 Jesus illustrated the benefit of perseverance with the parable of the man who banged on the door until his friend answered.

We can fail by accepting false ideas of what God’s will is.  When we are physically hungry and thirsty we don’t always seek food & drink that is good for us.  Likewise, when we have a craving to do God’s will we sometimes accept things as true which are not.

We can fail by not holding out for all the blessings God planned to give us.  Sometimes we’re too easily satisfied; our motivation is lost though there is work yet to be done for the king (see Isaiah 55:2).

The Jesus beatitude is righteous ambition.  RIGHTEOUSNESS is a huge biblical concept that includes moral purity, justice, equity, obedience to God, holiness, wholeness, consecrated to God.  Remember these beatitudes are God-given in grace, not by human effort; so RIGHTEOUSNESS must not be according to a merely human standard.  It must not be a legalism.

The adjustment is the experience of hungering and thirsting for righteousness.  This describes a state of spiritual maturity that is so integral and so intense that it becomes as regular and real a craving as physical HUNGER and THIRST. This is a powerful analogy because HUNGER AND THIRST are some of our strongest motivations.  When you truly feel these, you can think of little else until they are satisfied.  We may have rarely felt this urgency, but it’s real.

Jesus is our example of this level of maturity.  He said, “MY FOOD IS TO DO THE WILL OF HIM WHO SENT ME AND TO FINISH HIS WORK.” (John 4:34)

The reward is being filled with righteousness.  One symbol Jesus used for the Kingdom of God is that of a feast; the ultimate experience of getting HUNGER and THIRST satisfied.  (See Matthew 8:11; 22:1-10; Luke 22:30; John 6:26-59 for examples.) Biblically, to be FILLED is to be satisfied but not exhausting the unlimited resources of God.  As we do with natural hunger and thirst, we do not stay satisfied, but regain our appetite.  There should likewise be cycles of satisfaction and appetite in our spiritual life.  In order to receive a satisfying level of righteousness, we must trust God fully & exclusively.

  1. High Altitude Attitude Adjustment – Mercy (7).

Our attitude is vengeance.  We can couch it in legal and moral-sounding terms, but revenge is never a God-approved motive.  The urge to avenge is most often a product of a person’s sin or human natures.  It’s a worldly solution that simply leads to more problems (i.e., the death penalty.)  Rules are not made to be broken, but real justice demands the possibility of exceptions and adjustments.  The most important thing is that the punishment fits the crime. The most important source of information is the context in which the offense occurred: are there any extenuating circumstances.  This is NOT making excuses!

When we are hurt, feel wronged, or experience loss, we naturally want someone to blame and someone to join us in our hurt.  The sinful nature can cause us to overreact vengefully, escalating the conflict.

The Jesus beatitude is mercy.  In these situations we are keen to talk about “rights,” especially when we’re looking out for ourselves, but there’s more at stake here than that.  Mercy is not getting what we deserve, but what we need.  The law and mercy are not opposites, but two sides of the same coin.  Indeed, it is impossible to have one without the other.  The law moderates acts of vengeance (distorted sense of justice), but mercy moderates them even further.   The desire for mercy is a motive for keeping the law and encouraging others to do likewise.

The adjustment is empathy.  Mercy is possible only by taking the other person’s place.  It is sympathy and empathy; an emotional exercise of imagination.  Since mercy is not usually part of our human nature, it must be built into our spiritual nature by God’s Holy Spirit and a study of the word; it is also God’s gift.

The reward is the experience of being shown mercy.  Let’s face it – we are all going to be in a situation where we need to receive mercy.  Despite all our plans and good intentions, circumstances change and we make a mistake or somehow find ourselves in the wrong.  In that moment we don’t need to have the book thrown at us, we need people who understand and are willing to forgive.  Being shown mercy helps us move toward forgiveness and restoration; closure of the offense.

All of that is on a human scale – how much more we need mercy from God!  Fortunately, He has acted in mercy toward us in Jesus Christ & forgiveness of our sins.

6. High Altitude Attitude Adjustment – Purity (8).

            Our attitude is impurity.  God’s standard is simple: “Be holy even as I am holy” (1 Peter 1:16).  Unfortunately, it’s also impossible: “There is no one holy like the Lord; there is no one besides you; there is no Rock like our God.” (1 Samuel 2:2).

If God were to leave us there it would be a very unjust situation.  Instead, He has provided us a means to become pure again; the forgiveness of Jesus Christ.

The Jesus beatitude is ­­purity in heart.  Purity is obviously a moral state; to be free from sin.  When God forgives us, He cleanses us from all sin.  He restores our purity.  (See 1 John 1:9.)

Jesus attaches a qualifier to this: IN HEART.  What does that mean?  One Bible scholar, named Wheeler Robinson, counted 851 uses of the word HEART in the Old Testament.  One-third of these referred to the personality as a whole, the remainder to the emotions.  This acknowledges the fact that purity also speaks to our motives, our priorities.  When God is truly first in our daily living, we can be said to be pure.

As well as moral and spiritual blamelessness, purity also means to be singularly devoted to God, not allowing sin or self or the world to distract us.  James 1:6-9 identifies the peril of allowing doubt to distract us from being whole-heartedly devoted to God.

The adjustment is repentance.  In this life we are going to make mistakes.  We do not think or behave perfectly.  What’s necessary is a means of restoring an offender when an offense has been made.  The means of restoration God has provided is repentance.  When we are guilty of sin, we confess it to God and ask for His forgiveness.  As we’ve seen, God shows us MERCY and forgives us completely.  This leads to a cleansing of the guilt of that sin, restoring our purity.

So when we say, “Nobody’s perfect,” that’s only true in a practical sense.  When God forgives us, He makes us perfect in His eyes.  And who are you to argue with God?  Purity is a gift from God and we need to see it as precious, guarding it by resisting temptation and doing right.

The reward is the experience of seeing God.  Seeing God is a very big topic in the Bible.  After crossing the Red Sea, the Hebrews were afraid to see God because He is so holy, so pure, that they were sure He would destroy them on sight.  To see God was to be granted a special honor.  Since holiness is part of God’s nature, He will not tolerate any unholy or impure thing in His presence.  That means he must purify us, making us holy before we can live with Him in heaven.

The ultimate outcome to this matter of purity and of life in general is to SEE GOD.  This means to be invited into His presence, to live with Him for all eternity.  In this life we also SEE GOD, but our vision of Him is veiled, indirect.  We see or sense God in nature, in the Bible, in the Church, and in prayer; all through the Holy Spirit.  This is what the PURE IN HEART wanted all along! Psalm 24:3-4 expresses this truth beautifully: WHO MAY ASCEND THE HILL OF THE LORD?  WHO MAY STAND IN HIS HOLY PLACE?  HE WHO HAS CLEAN HANDS AND A PURE HEART.

In her book, Teacher’s Touch, Marlene LeFever told a story that I think illustrates how blessings can sometimes emerge from difficult times.  They are completely invisible in the moment and may take time to unfold, but they are God’s gifts just the same.

Fifty years ago a church in Philadelphia watched as three nine-year old boys were baptized and joined the church.  Not long after that, unable to continue because of dwindling membership, the church sold their building and disbanded.

Years later, one of the three boys was doing research on the church and looked up the record of his baptism in the denominational archives.  Near the record of his baptism someone had written, “It has not been a good year for your church.  We have lost 27 members.  Three joined and they were only children.”

Let’s pause for a moment and imagine how the person who wrote that note felt at that moment.  He certainly sounds discouraged doesn’t he?  Ready to give up?  Remember, the church folded shortly after this note was written.  The writer must’ve voted for quitting.

What happened to those three boys?  Here’s where we see the blessing in disguise.  One of them was Dick White, who became a missionary.  Another was Bart Newman, who became a professor of theology at a seminary in Africa.  The third was Rev. Dr. Tony Campolo, a professor at Eastern College and seminary, a man of legendary proportions in American Baptist life.

<”Men of Integrity,” July/August issue, July 9 devotion.>

This is an example of a delayed, but great blessing.  Can we trust God to bring blessing to our lives even when we can’t see in the moment what He is doing?