Nov 12 - I Will Reap What I Sow

The Principle Of Return: I Will Reap What I Sow

November 12, 2017

Obadiah 1:2-4,10-15

 

 

THE PRINCIPLE OF RETURN:

I WILL REAP WHAT I SOW

November 12, 2017

Obadiah 1:2-4, 10-15

 

The title of our sermon comes from a passage in Galatians 6:7 where the apostle Paul writes:

 

Do not be deceived:  God cannot be mocked.  A man reaps what he sows.                              Galatians 6:7

 

The agricultural principle is straight forward.  If you sow wheat seeds, you’ll grow wheat, not barley.  If you sow barley seeds, you’ll grow barley, not something else.

 

When Paul spoke of reaping that which is sown, he meant that good actions lead to good results, while wrong actions lead to bad results, in particular when it comes to our eternal destiny.[1]

 

A very similar point with regard to the Law of Return or the Law of Reciprocity, is made in the OT:

 

When they sow the wind they will reap the whirlwind.                                                                                          Hosea 8:7

 

To use a more recent, if older idiom, what you do will come back to you in spades.[2]  Here are a few more passages:

 

Then Jesus said to him, “… all those who take up the sword will die by the sword.”              Matthew 26:52

 

He who digs a hole and scoops it out falls into the pit he has made.  The trouble he causes recoils on himself; his violence comes down on his own head.  Psalm 7:15-16

 

So you may not know that you are quoting the Bible when you say:  Those who live by the sword die by the sword.  He who digs a pit will fall into it.

 

We see the principle of reciprocity in even the simplest things - for example, “you are what you eat.

 

The concept of reaping and sowing may seem very similar to the way that people understand Karma today, but it’s not quite the same.  The actual concept of Karma is, that how you live your present life will determine who you will be in your next life - if you presently live good, you will born into a higher caste.  If you presently live bad, you will you be born into a lower caste. If you live really bad as a man, you might come back as a woman.  If you live really, really bad, you may come back as an animal or maybe even a plant, never to be reincarnated back to a human.[3]    

 

Stated another way, whatever caste you are born into is determined by how you lived your past life or your past lives. 

 

Logically then, you deserve whatever your personal status is.  If you are poor and mistreated, it’s because you’ve made a lot of bad decisions in your previous life.  If you’re rich and privileged, maybe even to the point where you don’t have to work, you will have been a prince of a person in your previous life.

 

The belief in Karma often results in a general lack of compassion for people who are abused and hungry and suffering - after all they deserve whatever they are being dished out in this life. 

 

Karma is also considered an inviolable law that will always hold true no matter what, while the concept of reciprocity as found in the Bible is like a proverb ... it is something that generally holds true.   Karma is NOT the same as the biblical concept of reaping and sowing.

 

Once in a while it may seem that we can “get away” with things, ... that we do NOT sow what we reap. 

 

For example, most of the time when we speed there are no negative consequences.  However, if driving 20 km/h above the speed limit is something we do often, then eventually, inevitably you might say, we will get a speeding ticket. 

 

Or it may seem that our volatile temper is simply accepted by our family members or co-workers but eventually, those relationships will suffer, one way or another.

 

This principle of reaping what we sow can be seen in 100 different ways in the biblical stories.  Today I want us to briefly look at just one example, during the time of the prophet Obadiah. 

 

Obadiah is a biblical book not easily found.  It is one of the so-called 12 “minor prophets” (“minor” in that they are shorter than the “major” prophets).  Obadiah is the shortest of these, in fact, it is THE shortest book of the Old Testament – a whole 22 verses long.  In most of your Bibles Obadiah will consist of just one or two pages between the books of Amos and Jonah. 

 

The name, Obadiah, literally means “servant of YHWH” or “worshipper of YHWH”.  It was a common name - a number of men mentioned in the OT had that name.[4]  Consequently, scholars aren’t sure which Obadiah wrote this brief message. 

 

The content of Obadiah seems to indicate that the book was written close to the year 587/86 BC, the year that Jerusalem fell to the Babylonians. 

 

The message of the book was directed at the kingdom of Edom, a nation just South-East of Judah, on the far side of the Dead Sea.  The nation of Edom was considered to be the descendants of Esau, the brother of Jacob.

 

After the first invasion by the Babylonians around 605 BC, Edom began expanding into the southern portion of the kingdom of Judah.  They took advantage of Judah’s weakened position due to the Babylonian conquest of Judah.

 

So this is God speaking to Edom through the prophet Obadiah.  I’ll be reading vv.2-4 and vv.10-15.

 

2 “See, I will make you small among the nations; you will be utterly despised.  3 The pride of your heart has deceived you, you who live in the clefts of the rocks and make your home on the heights, you who say to yourself, ‘Who can bring me down to the ground?’  4 Though you soar like the eagle and make your nest among the stars, from there I will bring you down,” declares YHWH. …

 

10 “Because of the violence against your brother Jacob, you will be covered with shame; you will be destroyed forever.  11 On the day you stood aloof while strangers carried off his wealth and foreigners entered his gates and cast lots for Jerusalem, you were like one of them.  12 You should not look down on your brother in the day of his misfortune, nor rejoice over the people of Judah in the day of their destruction, nor boast in the day of their trouble.

 

 13 You should not march through the gates of my people in the day of their disaster, nor look down on them in their calamity in the day of their disaster, nor seize their wealth in the day of their disaster.  14 You should not wait at the crossroads to cut down their fugitives, nor hand over their survivors in the day of their trouble.  15 The day of YHWH is near for all nations.  As you have done, it will be done to you; your deeds will return upon your own head.”

 

Perhaps you’ve been to the country of Jordan and are a bit familiar with the topography of what once was Edom. Especially in its Eastern portions, Edom was a very mountainous region. 

 

Maybe you’ve visited the ancient city of Petra.[5]  Also on the overhead map is the location of the capital city of Bozrah.  The reference in Obadiah v. 3 speaks of the safety that the mountains afforded the nation of Edom:

 

... you who live in the clefts of the rocks and make your home on the heights, ....                              Obadiah 1:3

 

The clefts of the rock bring to mind the fortress-city of Petra, which archeologists did not discover until 1812, just over 100 years ago. 

 

It is really a marvelous place. After traveling through a narrow fissure in the rock, an open space appears where temples have been carved out from the rock cliff with doorways 30 feet high.

 

It was a place that was easily defended.

 

Obadiah also mentions that the Edomites made their homes in the heights, that they thought would guarantee them safety.   In fact, their capital city, Bozrah, was on top of a mountain – yet nothing remains there today but a few ruins.

 

Despite the topography of the land, in the past, during the reigns of Kings David, Solomon and Amaziah (802 - 769 BC), Edom had been under Israel’s rule.  (As such, Israel was a traditional enemy).  However Edom shook itself loose from Israel when King Ahaz reigned in Judah (732 -716 BC), never to be subjugated to Judah again.

 

The prophet Obadiah issues a clear and brief appraisal of the performance of the nation of Edom.  And Obadiah’s message is simply this:

 

You are gloating over and participating in the destruction of the nation of Judah by taking advantage of the situation.  Stop it or you will be destroyed as well.

 

There are a few questions that came to my mind as I read through the book of Obadiah, and particularly the passage we read this morning.

 

Let’s quickly review verse 3 again:

 

The pride of your heart has deceived you, you who live in the clefts of the rocks and make your home on the heights, you who say to yourself, ‘Who can bring me down to the ground?                                    Obadiah 1:3
 

1.  The negative consequences of PRIDE

 

Let me qualify here.  It is OK to feel good about an accomplishment – about having created something of beauty, or fixed something.  It is OK to feel good when our children do things that make us proud and it’s good to praise them for doing something well or unselfish. 

 

Pride =

 

  • arrogance,

  • conceit,

  • vanity,

  • self-importance

 

The pride that the Bible condemns is arrogance, conceit, vanity, and self-importance.  It is the kind of pride that makes us feel that we are somehow better than others, that we have it more together, that we know better, that we’re always right, that gives us the right to treat others poorly or with contempt … that kind of pride. 

 

It’s the kind of pride Edom felt, safe in its mountains, while Babylon repeatedly invaded Judah and finally conquer Jerusalem.   And God says to Edom: “The pride of your heart has deceived you” (Obadiah 1:3).

 

In other words, the pride that you feel about your own position, the pride that makes you feel that you are better off than your northern neighbours, is giving you a false sense of your own security.  And that will end up biting you.

 

Here is a verse out of Proverbs that tell us that pride will have negative consequences in our lives.

 

Pride goes before destruction, a proud spirit before a fall.                                                                        Proverbs 16:18

 

You sow pride, you reap a fall.  The pride of the Edomites went before their destruction as a nation. 

 

On a personal level, if we think that we’re so great, that we are so much better than others, that we have the right to constantly judge others or put them down, or to tell them what to do, ultimately, people will lose respect for us.  They will stop trusting us.  They will even begin to resent us or avoid us

 

A few years back now I read an article about people who have to work under domineering and abusive bosses.

The point of the article was that people who work under managers who are proud and loud and a bully, log many more sick days and are much less productive than those who have good managers or bosses. 

 

Pride also leads to conflict.  Inevitably.  You sow pride, you reap conflict.

 

Pride only breeds quarrels ....     Proverbs 13:10

 

Take two people with big egos, who both feel entitled, and both are used to getting their own way ... and have them get married to each other.  How many fights do you think will ensue?  Why do you think that celebrity marriages are notoriously short-lived?  It’s because pride leads to conflict.

 

In Proverbs 6:16-19, there are seven things listed that God specifically hates – that he absolutely detests. 

 

Lying,

Murder,

Corruption,

A willingness and desire to do evil,

Giving false witness in court, and

Creating conflict among others.

 

But what heads the list of what God detests is Pride. 

 

Why?  Because it often leads to all those other things – it leads to exaggeration, lying, violence, abuse and conflict.  

 

Pride hardens us, not only toward others, but also toward God.  It causes us to think we’re right, that we know better.  It makes us judgmental.  It causes us to feel self-important and conceited and arrogant. 

 

Pride is really a sign of emotional immaturity ... and it makes us act and react in immature ways.  Which is one of the reasons that we have such a hard time recognizing it in ourselves.

 

Pride has negative consequences in my life because it negatively affects my character, negatively affects my relationships, and negatively affects all of the decisions I make.  It does lead to conflict and a fall. 

 

Edom was not only guilty of pride.  But it was also guilty of Schadenfreude over Judah’s plight.

 

2. The negative consequences of SCHADENFREUDE

 

Schadenfreude is a German word that speaks of feeling delight or joy at the misfortune of another person.  Maybe the closest English word is “gloating over” someone else.

 

You may not think that you experience Schadenfreude.  But think about what would make you smile at the following pictures?

 

Aren’t you are embarrassed for the girl holding the “go” sign up-side-down.  But you’re still smiling.  What about the following pictures.

 

Aren’t you happy for the fork-lift operator that the bomb didn’t go off?  But that’s not why you’re smiling, is it? 

 

Maybe when it comes to kids and animals we won’t experience Schadenfreude ... or will we?  By the way, the cat is photo-shopped into the picture.  You didn’t seriously think a parent would allow their kids to bring along the family cat tubing, did you?

 

The point is that most people stop feeling Schadenfreude at some point.  Often it is when something REALLY bad happens to someone else.  If not, there is a very dark side to their joy at the misfortune of others. 

 

I thought about some of the photos I’ve seen where of people being overjoyed when they heard about 9/11. 

 

Yesterday was Remembrance Day.  Do you think that anyone, even Pacifists, would stand for someone haranguing a war veteran for his service - or feeling any joy at the physical or emotional scars that a veteran might carry? 

 

Some things civilized people wouldn’t wish on their worst enemies.  In a war situation they may wish the enemy soldier dead so their own life and the lives of their fellow soldiers are spared, but they generally do not wish them to suffer.

 

Now Edom was not at war with Israel.  And yet, they rejoiced at the calamity that had befallen Judah.  They were happy at their misfortune.  They gloated and felt good about it all. 

 

The Bible actually speaks to the issue of Schadenfreude at the real misfortunes of others.

 

Do not gloat when your enemy falls.  Don’t allow yourself to be happy at their misfortune.

                                                            Proverbs 24:17

 

The one who is glad at the misfortune (calamity) of others will not go unpunished. Proverbs 17:5b

 

Proverbs does not spell out what that punishment would consist of. 

 

The Edomites not only were happy at what was happening to Judah, they also actively made things worse.  They invaded the country.  They looted the homes left behind.  They robbed and killed those fleeing on the roads or returned them to the Babylonians to be killed or enslaved. 

 

And they were told what would happen as a result ... their own nation would be destroyed permanently. 

And that is what in fact took place.  The Edomites were displaced by the Nabateans and ended up abandoning their towns and migrating, never to be heard from again.[6] 

 

3. What does the concept of reciprocity mean for ME

 

As I already read, but want to repeat again, in v.15 of Obadiah, we find the concept of reciprocity:

 

As you have done, it will be done to you; your deeds will return upon your own head.

 

As I already have pointed out, many similar statements are found throughout the Bible.  Here are three more on the results of having a short fuse when it comes to our personal relationships. 

 

A hot-head will provoke conflict while a patient person will calm a situation.                         Proverbs 15:18

 

Just like the churning milk will result in butter and a punch to the nose will result in a nose bleed, so being angry will result in conflict.                Proverbs 30:33

 

Whoever troubles his own family will inherit the wind.                                                                              Proverbs 11:29a[7]

 

So the positive side of the law of sowing and reaping:  if we treat another person with love and respect – generally speaking we will be treated likewise, at least, it will positively impact our relationship with that person - unless they are incredibly selfish or have no ability to empathize.

 

On the negative side, if we treat another person with distain or in a hateful manner – generally speaking we will be treated likewise, or at least it will negatively impact our relationship to that person - even if they seem to put up with it and don’t hate us because of it. 

 

This is why Jesus told us that we should treat other people the way we would want to be treated ourselves. 

 

This is why Jesus said numerous times that if we show mercy and forgiveness toward others, God will likewise show us mercy and forgiveness, but if we judge and condemn others, God will likewise judge and condemn us.[8]  

 

For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.                                      Matthew 7:2

 

We reap what we sow.  There are consequences to our actions and attitudes. 

 

We can sow discord, contempt, a lack of forgiveness, stubbornness, hurt, gossip, sarcasm, impatience and condemnation, and we will reap within ourselves a harvest of anger, bitterness, loneliness, frustration and unhappiness.

 

We can sow to our flesh, our desires, our whims, our selfishness, and our greed, and we will reap worry, addiction, sickness and guilt. 

 

Or we can sow courtesy, forgiveness, mercy, loving honesty, understanding, patience, gratitude, respect and appreciation, and we will reap within ourselves a harvest of joy, peace, contentment, and happiness.

 

We can sow to our soul, to God’s Spirit, to that what is best within us, and we can reap a harvest of goodness, integrity, character and self-respect.

 

But there is also an eternal dimension here as well, one which Jesus often alluded to.  Paul also wrote:

 

God will give to each person according to what he has done.  To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honour and immortality, he will give eternal life.  But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger.                                                                           Romans 2:6-8

 

I don’t think Paul was being unkind or harsh or judgmental.  He was simply saying that there the principle of reciprocity holds true even when it comes to our eternal destiny.   I once heard it said that there won’t be anyone in hell who didn’t chose to be there.

 

Many of us forget that we have a choice here.  We can live a life without God, be self-seeking and follow only our whims and desires, and reap an eternity without God.  Or, we can live a life with God, we can sow to God and goodness, and reap an eternity with God.  In each case there is a choice and there is a consequence.  We reap what we sow. 

 

By the way, I don’t think the principle of reciprocity should be our primary motivation when it comes to making good choices in life.  We shouldn’t simply be motivated by fear of punishment or desire for blessing – even though in essence that is what Obadiah is telling the Edomites.   

 

I think there have to be more profound reasons to do what is right.  Let me give you three:

 

Love for God.  If we are full of the love that God has for us, we will respond in love to Him.

 

Love for others.  If we cherish the people in our lives and the relationships we have, we will seek to treat them with love and respect.

 

Love for myself.  By this I don’t mean a self-centered, self-absorbed, narcissistic love, but the ability to genuinely like and care for and even cherish ourselves. 

 

I will always have a hard time treating others right if I dislike myself.  Part of the maturing process is getting to the point where we accept and like ourselves.  But even that depends to a large extent on the choices that we make in life.

 

IF SO MUCH OF MY OWN HAPPINESS AND THE HAPPINESS OF OTHERS DEPENDS ON THE CHOICES I MAKE – WHERE IS GOD TELLING ME I HAVE TO MAKE DIFFERENT CHOICES?

 

What do you need to do in order to weed out pride in your life?  What do you need to do when you gloat over the misfortune of others?  What do you need to sow into your life so that you will reap goodness and integrity? 

 

Or maybe the real question has to do with your life with or without God. 

 

[1] Paul goes on to contrast sowing to the “flesh” and sowing to the Spirit, the first leading to corruption, the second to eternal life (and consisting of doing good at every opportunity).

[2] An expression from the card game Bridge.  If you have something in spades you have a great abundance of it. 

[3] This is the reason why Hindus believe that animals (and plants) have souls.

[4] 1 Kings 18:3ff.; 1 Chr 3:21; 7:3; 8:38; 9:16,44; 12:9; 2 Chr 17:7; 34:12; Ezra 8:9; Neh 10:5; 12:25.

[5] Petra may not have existed at the time of the Edomites as it may have been built by the Nabateans.

[6] Nabateans were an Arabic people group, mostly nomadic or living in tents, whose first city and capital was Petra.  It is unclear when they displaced the Edomites.  They were firmly established prior to the time of the Maccabean revolt, possibly as early as 300 or 400 BC.  

[7] This last one could be understood to state that a nasty child won’t receive any inheritance, literally, or it could be pointing out that the person who causes trouble in his own family will end up on his own.

[8] Matt 6:14-15; 18:23-35; Mark 11:25; Luke 6:37

Nov 05 - Afraid Of Missing Out

Afraid Of Missing Out

1 Samuel 8

November 5, 2017

 

AFRAID OF MISSING OUT

1 Samuel 8

November 5, 2017

 

By and large, most humans would like to be free to do as they please.   But generally, there are a number of factors that will keep them from doing so. 

 

1. There are rules that are imposed on us by our physical limitations.  I’ll never be able to slam-dunk a basketball. 

 

There are limitations to how fast a human can run.  Back in 2009, Usain Bolt topped out at 44.72 km/h, the fasted speed on record.  In that race he ran the 100 m at 37.58 km/hr. 

 

A black bear can run as fast as 53 km/hr., a grizzly bear up to 56 km/hr.   Yeah, they’d catch Usain. 

 

2. Then there are rules external to ourselves that limit what we can do. 

 

There are rules of engagement. 

Rules of attraction. 

Grammatical rules. 

Rules of parliament. 

Rules of etiquette. 

Rules of acquisition. 

Rules of the road. 

Rules of professional conduct.

Rules of interference. 

The rule of thumb.

There are Roberts rules of order. 

Game rules in sports. 

 

Some of these rules may be put in place to control us to our own detriment – possibly in a totalitarian state – some are there to safeguard us and others.  Here’s just one example.

 

Of course we can choose to ignore external rules.  However, there are usually methods in place to encourage us not to do so.  In the case of speed limits, there may be speed bumps, road side radar, and speeding fines that double in construction and school zones.

 

The Bible is full of external rules, such as the 10 commandments.  By the way, some people think of God’s will only in terms of prohibitions – don’t do this, don’t do that - the “thou shalt nots”. 

 

But the reality is that the most important rules that God sets for our lives have to do with commissions, things that we ought to do, the “thou shall’s” – be kind, forgive, show compassion, work for justice, treat your spouse right – and so on.

 

3. There are also rules that are internal  - inside of us - that will affect our behaviour.

 

These are personal convictions.  For example, you might feel that you personally could never fight in a war, or you may be convicted that you have to enlist to make the world a better and safer place for others. 

 

[Regardless of their personal conviction, however, most people do not have an issue when it comes to honouring those who were killed or injured serving their country as well as those who are currently serving on Remembrance Day, which is this coming Saturday (Nov 11th).]  ??

 

When we transgress our personal beliefs, ethics and morals, we experience a sense of guilt, which is kind of like an internal check or compass that encourages us not to do what we believe to be wrong. 

 

While some people beat themselves up over stuff that either isn’t their fault or that isn’t really wrong, there is a healthy guilt, which indicates when someone has erred in some way ethically, morally or relationally.  Healthy guilt is like pain, because it serves as an indicator that something is wrong. 

 

Our conscience prods our hearts and minds so that we stop harming ourselves or others.  It is designed to warn our souls of impending danger: “Stop.  Go back.  Don’t do this again.  Correct the situation.” 

 

Sometimes there is an overlap between rules that are external and those that are internal to us.  There may be an inner resonance that makes us realize that an external rule jives with our own conscience.  

 

However, even when external rules and internal conviction are in harmony, we often still don’t do them because there is another force called “desire” or “craving” or “appetites” that pull us in another direction.  

 

Desires may include such things as

  • being greedy for possessions or money,

  • overeating,

  • being lazy,

  • shopping

  • needing to be in control,

  • having status,

  • being accepted,

  • indulging in fun, alcohol, pleasure or sex,

  • thrill seeking, … the list goes on and on.

 

And so we can make decisions that we know are stupid or irresponsible or unhealthy or hurtful or ungodly –

  • decisions that will hurt us or someone else in some way,

  • decisions which will end up causing us or others problems,

  • decisions which will invariably end in conflict,

  • decisions that will dishonour God in some way or another. 

 

Today’s story is about a group of people, actually the leaders or elders of a nation, who made a bad decision based on their desire to be just like the other nations around them. 

 

We are dealing with a time before the monarchy in Israel.  During this time, God raised up individuals who were called judges for two reasons:

 

First, they would rally Israel when there was a threat from other nations and lead them into battle

 

Second, they would decide how disputes would be handled.  No jury, no attorneys – individuals would present their case and then the judge would make a ruling.

 

The judge I want us to think about today is called Samuel (Schamu-el), whose mother had brought him to serve at the Tabernacle und the high priest and judge Eli

 

After Eli’s death, Samuel had become the judge over Israel.  Like his mentor Eli, Samuel was cursed with two rotten sons, whose names in Hebrew were Yoel and Abiyah.  And like Eli, Samuel had a blind spot when it came to his sons and ended up appointing them as his co-judges.

 

What is unusual about this, is that up to this point, it was God who had called judges to their office and the previous judges were all from different families and clans.  Samuel changed this by appointing and installing his sons himself

 

This led to the unfortunate event I want us to look at today, because Samuel’s sons, Yoel and Abiyah, were corrupt.  They could be bribed, bought to pervert the course of justice.  The rich would go free, the poor would be convicted, regardless of who was guilty and who wasn’t. 

 

Samuel, had not so much as taken a dime from the people of Israel for his services as judge (1 Sam 12:3-4).  But his sons were profiting from their position.  And apparently Samuel did nothing to try to correct this situation, even though he must have heard the people complaining about his sons. 

 

So we pick up the story in v.4 of 1 Samuel 8. 

 

… All the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah.  They said to him, "Look, you are old, and your sons do not walk in your ways.  Now appoint for us a king to judge us, such as all the other nations have."                                                          1 Samuel 8:4-5

 

The transition from the old order of the judges to the new order of the monarchy in Israel was an extremely painful experience for Samuel, because he was asked to pack it in because he was old. 

 

Instead of asking for a king who would, in essence, replace Samuel, the elders of the various tribes could have told Samuel to seek God’s help in finding a godly co-judge to replace his sons and to become the primary judge after Samuel’s death. 

 

In essence they told him in no uncertain terms that he, personally, was not wanted anymore even though Samuel had served self-sacrificially and with distinction for a very long time (1 Sam 7:2). 

 

6 But when they said, "Give us a king to judge us," this displeased Samuel [typical understatement - he must have been royally ticked].  And Samuel prayed to YHWH.  7 And YHWH told him: "Obey all that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me from being king over them.  8 As they have done from the day I brought them up out of Egypt until this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are doing to you.  9 Now, obey what they say; but warn them solemnly and let them know what the king who will reign over them will do." 

 

In essence God was telling Samuel that the request by the elders was personal.  Yes, they rejected Samuel, but more significantly, they rejected God as their ruler. 

 

They rejected God and his love for them because they no longer wanted to be different from the other nations, but exactly the same.  It was as if they were worshipping foreign gods and goddesses.

 

This was such an important point, it is reiterated twice more in 1 Samuel, in chapters 10 and 12.

 

Today you have rejected your God, who saves you out of all your calamities and distresses, and you have said, 'Set a king over us.'                                               1 Samuel 10:19

 

… you said to me, 'No, we want a king to rule over us' - even though YHWH your God was your king.                                                                                         1 Samuel 12:12

 

God’s kingship simply wasn’t good enough any longer.   The leaders of Israel ignored God’s goodness that had evidenced itself in the past as he sent judge after judge to help them.  Instead, they would rather have a fallible mortal rule over.

 

In 1979, during Bob Dylan’s overtly Christian phase, he wrote a song called “You’ve gotta serve somebody.”  In it he gives a list of what individuals live for:

 

  • power,

  • gambling,

  • dancing,

  • sports,

  • status,

  • music,

  • drugs,

  • sex,

  • career,

  • education,

  • titles,

  • laziness,

  • money, and

  • spirituality.  

 

In the refrain he says:  “It may be the devil or it may be the Lord, but you’re gonna have to serve SOMEBODY.

 

Dilan’s point was obvious.  Everyone, but everyone has to make a choice whether or not they will serve God. 

 

For some reason, John Lennon was really upset about this song.  In response he wrote, “Serve yourself,” a song filled with obscenities stating that all religious belief leads to violence and therefore you should only serve yourself since no one else will.  In essence John Lennon replied to Dylan that, since there is no God, you better put yourself on the throne – you better be the king of your life.

 

Lennon is right in thinking that unquestioning religious fervour can lead to violence.  We are reminded of that again with terror attacks in Germany, France, Spain, Somalia, Egypt, Syria, or Afghanistan.   

 

So far in 2017, there were 1,747 Islamic attacks in 57 countries, in which 12,438 people were killed and 12,427 injured.

 

Religion, like politics, can always be perverted. 

 

Nevertheless, I still think that Bob Dylan was right.  Even if people are not aware of it, every person who ever lived has to make a choice for or against God – a choice which becomes evident in who or what they serve. 

 

God’s response to Israel’s rejection of his rule indicates that God will not force himself on anyone.  He gives everyone the choice to either seek or forsake him, to walk with him or walk away from him, to serve another person, their own desires, possessions, or God. 

 

God gives each one of us the freedom to make bad and selfish choices.  In the case of Israel, God knew that human rulers, human kings, would be corrupted by the power they possess. 

 

10 Samuel told all the words of YHWH to the people who were asking him for a king.  11 He said, "This is what the king who will reign over you will do: He will take your sons and make them serve with his chariots, to be his horsemen and run in front of his chariots.  12 Some he will assign to be commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and others to plow his ground and reap his harvest, and still others to make weapons of war and equipment for his chariots. 

 

13 He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers.  14 He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive groves and give them to his attendants.  15 He will take a tenth of your grain and of your vintage and give it to his officials and attendants.  16 He will take your male and female slaves, the best of your young men and your donkeys for his own use.  17 He will take a tenth of your flocks, and you yourselves will become his slaves. 

 

Notice what God is telling the nation of Israel.  The kings will be much a hundred times – a thousand times - worse than Samuel’s sons ever could be.   If they think that the corrupt nature of those judges was bad, just wait until they experience what a corrupt sovereign whose word was law could do to them.  And this is followed with a final warning:

 

18 When that day comes, you will cry out for relief from the king you have chosen for yourselves, but YHWH will not answer you in that day." 

 

The Law of Moses states in Deut 17:14-20, that a king of the nation of Israel is not to accumulate possessions, wives, and wealth.  The passage goes on that a king is to read the Law of Moses every day and carefully follow all it says.  Further, he is to be humble and not think that he’s better than anyone else

 

None of Israel’s kings, not even king David, lived up to that ideal.  Every king exacted lots of taxes, every king became extremely wealthy, everyone accumulated possessions and wives, everyone thought that they were special.  Power corrupts.

 

[This portion of scripture reminds me of a fable attributed to Aesop (c. 600 BC), about a group of frogs who repeatedly demanded a king from Zeus.  Zeus first threw a long into their pond to be their king, but the frogs were not satisfied and wanted a living king.  Zeus then sends them a stork to be their king,[1] but the stork began to eat them. 

 

The frogs called out to Zeus to save them but he refused, telling them they now had what they wanted and would have to face the consequences. 

 

The moral of the fable can be worded a couple of ways:

 

  • Be careful what you wish for.  That lottery win might actually ruin your life.
  • Bad consequences will follow bad decisions.  You made your bed and now you have to lie in it. 
  • Dictatorships, like absolute monarchies, usually do NOT work for the best interest of the people.

 

God was right up front with the people of Israel.  You do this, you reject me as your ruler, you make a mere human your king, then be aware that you will suffer the consequences.

 

By the way, all political structures and systems suffer from the same problem: the human nature of those in power.  Capitalism is a system where man exploits man.  In communism the reverse was supposed to be true, but as it turns out, it still meant that humans exploited other humans.   

 

Cynics have explained every form of government with cows.  You’re probably familiar with some if not all of these.

 

Communism: You own two cows. The government takes them and puts them in a place with everyone else’s cows.  You take care of the cows.  The government takes all milk and gives you back enough to survive.  You steal back as much milk as you can and sell it on the black market.   

 

Capitalism:  You own two cows.  You sell one and buy a bull.

 

Monarchy:  You own two cows.  The king takes one, and you have to give him 80% of the milk from the other.

 

By the way, if you’re politically correct, you never own two cows.  Instead you are associated with two bovines of a non-specific gender

 

The whole premise of democracy is that humans are inherently corrupt and greedy, so the common people need to be protected as much as possible from the ruling elite. 

 

But even in democracies, because the primary goal of any political party is to stay in power, not to actually do what’s right, election promises are somewhat of a sham.

 

Some of you may remember back to 1993 when the Reform Party members advocated cuts to MP’s gold-plated pensions.  52 Reform MP’s opted out of it in protest.  Ironically, all of them opted back into the pensions after a short time, with the notable exception of Preston Manning and one other Reform Party MP.  

 

Maybe you will remember the election promises of the liberal party prior to the 2015 national elections.  Senate reform.  Free votes in parliament.[2]  Cutting taxes and curbing government spending.  Election reform.  More open and transparent government.  Revamping Bill C-51 because of all the potential problems associated with it.  Extra funding for public transport.  Decreased annual deficits.   

 

None of that has materialized, in fact, the very opposite has been true.  Bill C-51 was passed un-amended.  Deficits are rising.  No meaningful senate and election reforms took place.  You get the picture. 

 

And it isn’t that the Liberal party is in any way different from any other political party when it comes to honouring its election promises.

 

Human nature is prone to corruption – and politicians will always be tempted to leave their personal convictions behind in order to be re-elected or move beyond being a sidelined backbencher.

 

So it wasn’t as if the leaders, the elders, of Israel weren’t warned about the consequences of having a king.  So we continue to read in 1 Sam 8:19

 

19 But the people refused to listen to Samuel.  "No!" they said. "There will be a king over us, 20 so that we will be like all the other nations, with a king to judge us and to go out before us and fight our battles."  21 When Samuel heard all that the people said, he repeated it before YHWH.  22 YHWH answered, "Listen to them and give them a king."

 

This is the second time that the elders of Israel told Samuel that they wanted a king because they wanted to be like the nations that surrounded them.  They had no desire to be God’s chosen people any longer.  They no longer needed judges who are appointed by God.  It was OK to bypass Samuel in favour of those who would take advantage of them. 

 

So the elders of the nation of Israel wanted their nation to be more like the kingdoms surrounding them.  I pondered the reason for this desire to be out from under God’s rule ... what is the root cause?  I thought that maybe it had to do with the underlying worry that being under God’s rule will may mean missing out on what others are enjoying.

 

  • What potential benefits are we missing out on with God and not a human king to rule over us? 

  • Will that give us greater freedom? 

  • Will it make our courts more liberal? 

  • Will the king take responsibility for potentially bad choices?

  • Will it make my life easier? 

  • What are other people (nations) doing and experiencing and enjoying that I’m not? 

 

The problem was that NOT having kings was actually to the benefit of the nation.  Being a monarchy didn’t bring with it any true bonus points, but many, many negative ones. 

 

But Christians can get FOMO as well.  They can ask themselves:

 

  • If I follow God’s rule, His will, then what desires will I not be able to fulfill? 

  • Will the selfish and self-centered choices I want to make be frowned upon by God? 

  • Are the retaliatory or hurtful words I want to say not OK with him?   

 

Back in 2010, a book came out called “Almost Christian:  What the faith of our teenagers is telling the American church”.

 

In the book, the author writes about the fact that most youth in churches actually believe a mutated form of Christianity. 

 

God is no longer the unimaginably awesome creator of the universe, but is reduced to a divine therapist whose only concern is to have people feel good and be happy.  God is a safe God because he would never ask for any kind of sacrifice or risk. 

 

According to the author or the book, the result is that most teens in The Western church are indifferent and inarticulate about their faith.  There simply isn’t enough for them to be passionate about. 

 

Further, this kind of faith has been modeled to them by adult Christians, in particular their own parents, who basically live self-serving lives where faith in God has little significant impact.  The parents and their youth are in fact pagan Christians

 

Maybe that is one of the main reasons why people don’t want God to be the king of their lives.  They only want to worship God as long as he doesn’t impact the way that they live
 

One of the most common concepts that Jesus spoke about was “the Kingdom of God,” the place where God is king, where God’s rule is established.

 

Over and over again, Jesus taught his followers about the nature of God’s Kingdom, God’s rule: 

 

  • Repent (turn around) for the kingdom of God is near (Mark 1:15). - Get right with God, because God’s rule will soon be initiated.

  • [If I cast out demons using God’s finger, then God’s Kingdom has come upon you (Luke 11:20).]  Jesus said, “The Kingdom of God is in your midst” (Luke 17:21)]. - God’s rule, his kingdom begins within us.

  • Pray:  Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven (Matt 6:10). - May your rule, O God, be manifested perfectly in my own life and in the lives of others who follow you.

  • Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness ....  Instead of being so concerned about externals, I need to be concerned the most about seeking to have God’s rule and his will established in my life.

  • Not everyone will enter the Kingdom of God, but only the one who does the will of my heavenly Father.

  • Only the one born of water and Spirit can enter the kingdom of God.

  • Jesus: I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God (Luke 4:43).

 

Looking back on history today, whenever we speak or think of the good news, it is very likely revolving around what the death of Jesus accomplished for us and for humanity in general.  

 

But many of these passages are speaking of a good news that was proclaimed prior the suffering and death of Jesus.   

 

Jesus preached the good news of God’s kingdom and he sent out his followers, his students to proclaim the good news of God’s kingdom, years before his death.[3]  

 

Jesus called his own message about the KG “good news”[4] (Luke 4:43) and, quoting from Isaiah 61:1, he said that he has come to proclaim the good news to the poor.

 

So what did they speak about?  What was so good about the message about God’s rule, God’s kingdom?  (That God’s Messiah would return soon and inaugurate the rule of God on earth?)

 

Getting back to the point Jesus made about the fact that the Kingdom of God, the rule of God, can already be a present reality when God is made the ruler of our lives.  In order to take that step, trust is needed.  Without trust, there will be all kinds of reasons to deny God access into our lives and hearts.

 

WHY I DON’T WANT GOD TO RULE MY LIFE:

 

Most people reject God, not because there is no evidence for his existence, but because they don’t want to be miss out - FOMO. 

 

They don’t trust that God always has their best interests in mind. 

 

Those who don’t make God king, don’t want to live in a universe governed by God because that would mean that God could interfere in the choices they make – he would be, to quote Al Gore – “an inconvenient truth.” 

 

It is a great solace to some, that they won’t be judged for their lies, greed, cowardice and betrayals.  If you really want badly enough not to believe, you will find a way not to.  God may be the king of the universe, but he will not be the king of your life.

 

Having God as king means adopting an internal set of standards to live by.  You make a decision about your sexual standards before you’re in the back seat of a car. 

 

Having God as king means that it is more important to us to please him than to be popular or have our self-esteem determined by doing things others tell us to do.  If we don’t, we will be very apt to do nearly anything a group of our friends tell us to do in order to feel accepted. 

 

Having God as King means that we recognize that happiness is a decision about enjoying the moment, not something to be achieved by increasing our money, possessions, leisure or pleasure. 

 

Having God as king is practicing our ability of self-discipline.  It is putting important decisions on hold, praying about them, thinking them through, and asking ourselves whether or not this is really something we should be doing or buying or saying. 

 

Those who have God as king learn to say “no” to themselves.  They learn to delay gratification.  Otherwise they will continue to serve their emotions and feelings and desires. 

 

Having God as King means that we try to live a balanced life

 

Most of us have a hard time to do it all on any given day – exercise, have a quiet time, keep the house clean, mow the yard, run the kids to sports, date our mate, work and balance the cheque book.  But we can shoot for a weekly balance. 

 

And that means learning to say “no” to interruptions, to the temptation to procrastinate, to others pushing their agenda on us.  It is being able to connect with God despite our business because we have learned to set priorities. 

 

Having God as King means getting beyond our tendency to be self-centered and make all of our decisions based on what we want.  If we don’t get beyond ourselves we will never know what it means to have God as King.  History is full of stories of people who made it big but failed to make it good. 

 

In our journey with God, money tends to be the final frontier, the last thing we actually give over to him, because it most closely represents the seat of our priorities and it has the power to control our destinies.  Some people call God their king, but really they are addicted to and serve money. 

 

Having God as king, means accepting the forgiveness he offers so that we can overcome the guilt associated with having done something wrong.   It means confessing what we have done wrong, determining with the help of God to do better, apologize or make restitution where possible, and accept that justice has been served and that we can be forgiven through what God has done on our behalf through Jesus Christ.  When God is King and we accept forgiveness, then we move on, without constantly beating ourselves up. 

 

Having God as king means we invest time with our Creator because this simple action will help to bring direction and inner strength and change. 

 

And so, like the Israelites, each and every one of us will need to come to a point of decision.  Who will be King of our lives?  Will it be God?  Or will it be ourselves, our desires, money, power, entertainment, our career?  Who will we serve?  Will we be self-serving or, as Jesus said, will we serve God by showing compassion for those who have the least?

 

To paraphrase Joshua’s words to the Israelites:

 

 If you think that serving God isn’t desirable, that’s up to you.  Today, choose for yourself someone or something else to serve – to be your King.  But as for me and my household, we will serve God – he will be our king.   

Compare Joshua 24:15

 

Some people think that they only have to make that decision once in their lives.  I made a choice for God when I was 8 years old.  That’s wonderful, but putting God in control of our lives is a daily decision.  It is something that we have to decide on every day.  God is giving us that same challenge every day.  “This day, today, make a choice.  Choose a king for yourself.”  Figure out who will be in charge of your life.

 

IS GOD IN CHARGE OF MY LIFE?

IF NOT, WHAT IS THE REASON?

IS IT TIME TO MAKE A DECISION ABOUT REMOVING WHAT’S TAKEN HIS PLACE?

 

[1] Originally a water snake.

[2] Of course that does not include liberal platform issues, the budget, or anything to do with the Charter.

[3] Luke 9:2 - He sent them out to proclaim the KG and to heal the sick.  Matt 10:7; Luke 10:9 - Go preach this message, ‘the KG is near.’ 

[4] Luke 4:43; 8:1; cf. Matt 4:23; 9:35; - I must preach the good news of the KG

Oct 29 - Will God's Love Heal My Deepest Hurts?

Will God's Love Heal My Deepest Hurts?

October 29,2017

Luke 5:12-16; Isaiah 53:3-6

 

 

WILL GOD’S LOVE HEAL MY DEEPEST HURTS?

October 29, 2017

Luke 5:12-16; Isaiah 53:3-6

 

Last week I spoke on the way that we view ourselves, how we define ourselves, and sometimes the struggles we have of actually knowing who we are. 

 

Today, I want you to use your imagination and try to put yourself for a minute or two into the shoes of someone who is nothing like you. 

 

Imagine for a moment that you were born near a small village in the countryside of India into a family that belonged to the untouchables or outcastes.  You may be known as a Pariah or a Chandala, but you call yourself a Dalit, which means “oppressed one.” 

 

You are completely segregated with other Dalits in a slum outside of the village.  When you entered village, you are only allowed to do certain jobs that are considered unclean, like working with human waste, removing garbage, cleaning latrines, getting the dead ready for cremation and working with cow hide.  Chances are that you are a bonded laborer, forced into working for others without even getting paid.

 

 

You are not allowed to enter the house of a caste member or any of the temples. 

You’re not allowed to attend a school where children of caste members attend. 

You may not be able to walk on the same paths inside the village as cast members do.

You are not allowed to sit anywhere near them. 

You can’t ride a bicycle inside the village.

You are not allowed to wear clean, bright or trendy clothes, wear glasses or open an umbrella in town. 

You are not allowed to touch anyone.

You have to be careful that even your shadow doesn’t fall on a caste member. 

You are not allowed to sell produce in the town market.  And because of your standing, you will

never get a good job,

never be able to afford good clothing,

or medical attention

or an education. 

 

Worse  of all, you live in constant fear of being mistreated, tortured, raped or killed with impunity by the upper castes and the police – without recourse to justice. 

 

Thankfully there have been some changes regarding the systematic abuse of the Dalit in India, especially in the larger cities.  But in the country side, the caste system is still alive and well.

 

If you are like me, you will have a hard time imagining what it would be like to be viewed as less than human, as unclean, as untouchables, as outcastes, and be mistreated in horrendous ways.

 

But in some ways, the same was true of those with contagious skin diseases and leprosy in biblical times.  For example, the rules were laid out in Leviticus 13 and 14.  We read there in part:

 

The leper who has the infection must wear torn clothes, let his hair be unkempt (or: uncovered).  He must cover the face below his nose and cry out, 'Unclean! Unclean!'  As long as he has the infection he remains unclean.  He must live alone; he must live outside the camp.                                                                                    Leviticus 13:45-46

 

In Jesus’ day, Pharisees would pray: “I thank you God that I was not born a Gentile, a slave, a ‘leper’, or a woman!”  A leper was one of those categories of people who had no standing in ancient Jewish society.

 

The Hebrew term Tsara’ath, was translated as Lepra in the Greek OT and so as leprosy in the English.  But the word was used in the OT to refer to all kinds of infectious skin diseases, including what is known today as Hansen’s disease or true leprosy.  Hanson’s disease is a chronic bacterial infection that causes lesions on the skin, leading to bumps, swelling, open sores - to the point of disfigurement, particularly the face.  True leprosy deadens nerves to the point where a person cannot notice being injured - which usually leads to loss of limbs.  Leprosy attacks membranes and so can result in blindness, the loss of the nose, and kidney failure. 

 

Without access to antibiotics, either in Jesus’ day when they did not exist, or today when they are not accessible or affordable, the disease ends up blinding and disfiguring people.

 

Leprosy can be passed from person to person through inhaling or touching droplets expelled from the nose or mouth of an infected person.  While it cannot be transmitted through casual touch, people did not know this and were deadly afraid to get anywhere near a person who had it.

 

But whatever the condition that a person had, it resulted in being an outcast, someone who was not allowed into the city or town, who was considered contagious and therefore unclean.

 

In biblical times, if you were in the unenviable state of having being declared unclean, you were segregated and your torn clothes, unkempt or uncovered hair, and covered mouth were sure to identify you as an outcast.  As if that wasn’t bad enough, if anyone came near, you had to shout at them that you were unclean – warning them not to come near. 

 

You were avoided like the plague.  Crowds parted when you came along.  People moved to the other side of the road.  Children may throw stones at you and ridicule you, shouting after you, “unclean, unclean.”  You may NOT have endured the same mistreatment as the Dalit, but like them, you were shunned, had to live off what others threw away.  Money had little worth because no one would take it from you. 

 

These pictures are of a few poor individuals in the developing world who suffer from Hansen’s disease or leprosy. 

 

Being a leper was an awful state of existence – then as it is now (depending on where you live).  No one would have dared come near you, talk with you or ever think of touching you.

 

And then we read our passage in Luke 5 that Jesus in fact did all those things.

 

While Jesus was in one of the towns, a man came along who was covered with leprosy.  When he saw Jesus, he fell with his face to the ground and begged him, "Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean."  Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man.  "I am willing," he said.  "Be clean!"  And immediately the leprosy left him.

 

What Jesus did was completely out of the norm.  Others would have thought that he put himself in huge danger of being infected by getting near the man and then touching him.

 

Then Jesus ordered him, "Don't tell anyone, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer the sacrifices that Moses commanded for your cleansing, as a testimony to them."  Yet the news about Jesus spread all the more, so that crowds of people came to hear him and to be healed of their sicknesses.  But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.

 

If a person with an infectious disease somehow got well again, he had to send for a priest to examine him outside the town.  If the priest agreed that the person was no longer diseased, then the person had to shave himself from head to foot, bathe his whole body, but still remain seven days in quarantine.  On the eight day a variety of offerings were made at the temple and the person was anointed with oil on his head, and with blood and oil on the right earlobe, the right thumb and the right big toe (Lev. 14).  This is what Jesus told the healed man to do.

 

As I thought about this truly remarkable encounter, Jesus touching someone who was covered with lesions all over his body and so likely had true leprosy, I was struck mostly by the thought that in some ways, you and I are like that leper, and in quite another way, Jesus himself would become a leper as well.

 

This might seem like quite a stretch – from Jesus healing a leper to thinking of Jesus as being another type of leper or outcast.  But what was true of the leper, the fact that he was rejected in society at large, also would be true of Jesus, in ever-increasing ways. 

 

Jesus was rejected by the religious leaders, the Pharisees and the powerful families of the high priest and his cronies.  He was considered an outcast, a target, eventually to be arrested by them and dragged in the middle of the night to the Roman governor in order to be declared a rebel against Rome and executed the next morning.

 

In another sense, Jesus is rejected and an outcast in our own society as well.  You hear his name mentioned often enough, but not in a good way.  It’s as if his name has become a byword, something filthy.  Or an exclamation when something is really, really aweful.

 

In part, Jesus is derided and rejected today because of the failings of those who call themselves his followers – using his name to get rich off the gullible or to be hateful toward others.

 

In part, Jesus is rejected today because he calls people to repentance-  and many people in our society do not want to repent or turn away from following their own desires and turn toward God and directing their lives according to God’s will. 

 

Few people want to be told what to do and Jesus made it clear that being in the kingdom of God means allowing God’s will to reign in our lives.  So many reject Jesus because they cherish the freedom to do as they please.

 

The prophet Isaiah spoke about an individual, a servant, a shoot, who would give himself for a guilt offering for others even though he himself would not be guilty of any transgressions.  In part, we read in Isaiah 53 ...

 

He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering (literally: grief / sickness).  Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.  Surely he took up our infirmities (literally: griefs / sicknesses) and carried our sorrows, yet we ourselves considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted.             Isaiah 53:3-4

 

Jerome, the Christian translator who produced the Latin Vulgate from the Hebrew, translated the term “stricken” into “leprosum.”  If you translated the Latin into English, it would read,

 

“we considered him, as it were, a leper, and as one struck by God and afflicted.” 

 

Jerome knew full well that this passage was applied to Jesus.  He also knew full well that Jesus was not a leper in the clinical sense.  But he used the word on purpose because he also were aware that Jesus WAS considered, as it were, an outcast, a reject, as someone unclean.

 

That may not be obvious in our passage in Luke 5, where people were flocking to Jesus in order to see this new miracle worker and be healed by him. 

 

However, already back in chapter 4 of Luke, when Jesus read from the scroll of Isaiah in the synagogue at Nazareth, his own former neighbours turned on him and tried to kill him when they felt insulted by what he had said.

 

Let me continue to read from Isaiah 53.

 

 But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his scourging we are healed.  We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and YHWH has laid on him the iniquity of us all.                             Isaiah 53:5-6

 

While the previous two verses in Isa 53 speak of the suffering servant carrying the sufferings and sicknesses, the sorrows and griefs, of the people, that is, external healing, ...

 

... these verses speak of an even deeper need that people have, and that is being forgiven and freed from their sins, healed from their past and their mistakes, in other words, inner healing.

 

Comment:  God has laid all of our sins on the suffering servant, much like the scape goat on the Day of Atonement was to carry the sins of the nation away into the desert.

 

It seems that Jesus had compassion on those who were outcasts in his society or those looked down upon by others – the lepers, the tax-collectors and so-called “sinners”, women, children, and non-Jews or Gentiles.

 

But what about us?  Are we in some ways like a lepers as well?

 

I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty aware of my failings and short-comings.  As a result, I can easily be my worst critic.  I spoke last week about the potential of disliking myself, thinking poorly of myself.  Sometimes I marvel that God continues to love me. 

 

Those of you who are perfectionists, or who were told that you were useless or worthless, may also consider yourself like a leper in your own mind, someone who is outside of the reach of God’s love or forgiveness.

 

But that is not true of everyone in our society.  There are enough people who do not seem to have, what used to be called, “a God-shaped vacuum” inside them.  They think that they are doing quite well on their own.  They feel no need to be saved, from themselves or from anything else for that matter.  As such, to suggest that they may have a flaw, something leprous about them, may be considered a misrepresentation of what they feel like.

 

The bad news is that we in fact can walk away from God’s love with our attitudes and actions, in part because we feel no need for him.

 

The good news is that for those of us who feel that we may be outside of the reach of God’s love and forgiveness, Jesus’ life and teaching made it clear that he did not think this to be so. 

 

Jesus said that the sick need a doctor, not the healthy, and that he came exactly for those who know they aren’t perfect and need to be saved from themselves, from their sins. 

 

That does not mean that we are smarter or more important than others.  Christians cannot think of themselves as part of an upper caste, worthy of God’s blessings in ways that others aren’t. 

 

If we have that attitude, we can become overly critical and negative about other people.  We turn into those who are attempting to remove a speck from the eye of another, all the while being unaware of the log in their own. 

 

A while back while when I was at the Panorama Rec center, I overheard a diatribe by a young woman as she went on and on to a coworker about how lazy and inept someone else at work is.  Venom just continued to pour from this girls’ mouth and it felt as if there was a negative cloud emanating from her, souring the whole atmosphere.  It almost felt oppressive.

 

And I was reminded how easy it is for me to bring down people who I am with when I display a negative or critical spirit – which is especially easy to do when it comes to my own family. 

 

Also a while back I spoke with a group of pastors who have moved into this area, one from the US, one from Alberta, one from Ontario.  They all mentioned that they had a hard time adjusting to the tendency of Christians in their churches complaining about this and that, that is, the general grumpiness of people living in this area.

 

As I thought about this comment, I thought about myself, and perhaps that we have it so good here that it breeds a spirit of discontentment.

 

It seems to me that a negative disposition or grumpiness is a contagious disease that can infect those around us.  We have the potential of either spreading peace and goodwill - and so our relationships are blessed - or spreading discontentment and criticism and finding fault with others, with the result that our relationships suffer. 

 

The other thing that happens is that if we fall into the general grumpiness of our society, when we are chronic complainers or critical of others, not only will others around us become more negative, but some will avoid us because our spirit causes them to feel bad. 

 

I believe that all of us are lepers in the sense that we all need to be cured of something, and I’m not speaking about physical diseases.  We all carry with us, emotional wounds or illnesses, past injustices, rejection, bullying, neglect, abuse.  We all carry with us spiritual wounds or illnesses, a propensity toward sinful attitudes or behaviours, past actions that have injured our conscience, our inner moral compass. 

 

Whether emotional or spiritual, often those things results in us doing or saying things that are hurtful.   

 

Many people are blissfully unaware of this.  If there are problems in their lives, it is always someone else’s fault.  They never take personal responsibility and they are always able to justify themselves or make excuses for themselves, even when their actions and choices are incredibly selfish. 

 

This kind of sickness is not as obvious as the external sores and lesions, or damage to the extremities of hands and feet due to leprosy, but it is real never-the-less. 

 

We may not think we need Jesus’ touch, but really we all do.  We may think that those who want God in their lives are weak without realizing our own weaknesses, our own inner brokenness. 

 

I would venture to guess that a fair number of you have watched the movie the Matrix with Keanu Reeves that came out 18 years ago in 1999.  I’m not advocating that you watch the movie, but let me describe to you the situation in it. 

 

It is around the year 2200.  Most of humanity is enslaved by thinking computers, sentient machines.  Human bodies are kept in stasis inside of pods as the heat and electrical energy of their bodies are used as living batteries to produce energy for the machines.

 

Meanwhile their minds are kept busy living in a simulated reality – an illusionary construct by a huge computer of what earth was like in the 1990’s – this construct is called the matrix.  In effect, humans are enslaved.  They are in bondage without even being aware of it, without even knowing that the reality created for them is only to keep them from finding out the truth.

 

At one point in the story, the main character, Neo, is given the choice of swallowing a red or a blue pill by a character called Morpheus. 

 

If he chooses the blue pill, everything would be as it was before.  But if he took the red pill, Neo would find out the truth by being physically removed from the Matrix. 

 

The choice came with a warning: "Remember, all I'm offering is the truth. Nothing more." In other words, what you think you’ve built your life on, what is comfortable and known, will no longer be there for you.  Things will be changed forever.  The journey with the red pill is a lot harder than the journey with the blue pill.  Are you sure you want to swallow it? 

 

Neo chose the red pill.

 

Inside the Matrix, you could eat steak and drink wine, even though neither steak nor wine was actually real.  Outside the matrix, you were relegated to eating a nutritious sludge and drinking water. 

 

The villain in the movie is called Cypher, and Cypher is willing to betray Neo and have hundreds of thousands of people who live outside the Matrix in a city called “Zion” killed by the machines, only so he could be plugged back into the Matrix where he wanted to be a person of importance that can live the high life. 

 

In one sense, he’s exactly like Judas Iscariot.  At another point in the movie, Cypher admits that ever since he left the Matrix he’d been thinking: “Why, oh why didn’t I take the blue pill?”

 

Some of us think of our own choice between God and our own will along the same lines.  If we live for ourselves, we can enjoy all the good things in life.  We can be selfish and live only to please ourselves. 

 

But if we chose to live for God then it means a life of self-denial, something we’ll be sure to regret. 

 

So, why should we come to God, accept the offer of forgiveness through Jesus,  when we could just live our lives like everyone else – no need to change anything - wouldn’t that be so much easier?

 

There is a reason why sometimes people will only choose God when they’ve reached the very end of their rope, when their lives have bottomed out, when they have lost their families, their jobs, when they are at death’s door.  It is only then that they become open to the possibility that they are separated from God and that they carry within themselves the disease of unforgiveness, sinfulness, and spiritual death. 

 

It is only then that the benefits of being changed, of being healed, outweigh the discomforts and sacrifices that may come along with doing so.

 

If we come to the point where we realize that we need to be forgiven of our past, to be healed of our emotional wounds, to have our minds renewed from our negative assessment of ourselves or others, to be freed from the chains of our addictive and self-centered personalities, to overcome our negative habits and propensities, to be reconnected to God - then we have to come and approach God, just like the leper approached Jesus, who fell with his face to the ground.   There is no pride at this point, only humility. 

 

We need to be willing to have Jesus touch us with his love and compassion.  But it is our choice – and we had better be aware that there are consequences of what it means to make that choice.

 

Jesus’ act of touching the leper is what the love of God is all about.  God, in his love, desires to touch us, heal us, comfort us, save us, change us.  Some of that salvation we experience right away, but mostly it is a process which the Bible calls sanctification, and some of that salvation we can only appreciate after we die and enter God’s presence. 

 

So how do we experience God’s healing touch, how are we changed for the better?  It begins with what I just mentioned ... a humble desire to be forgiven.

 

Beyond that, God heals us in a number of ways.  At times, God brings healing and wholeness through some circumstance in our lives.  It may even be something that others don’t consider good, such as physical illness or pain or sorrow. 

 

At times, healing takes place as the Holy Spirit motivates us to take action ... to change jobs, to eat differently ... to do whatever is necessary to improve our circumstances or attitudes. 

 

It may be through experiencing something life-changing, like a young man I had in my office some years past who spent a month working at an orphanage in Haiti.

 

God can speak to us and touch us and heal us sometimes through the words or actions of others – friends and family who support us, who tell us they love us or care for us or are proud of us. 

 

Sometimes it can be a spiritual mentor or a counselor through whom we experience God’s healing touch. 

 

At times God will touch us through something as mundane as a movie or a book.  I know there have been some movies and books that have indelibly impressed themselves on my mind so that they have made me a better person. 

 

Sometimes we experience God’s healing touch when we come to him and ask for him to change us.  Sometimes we only need to ask once and the change is immediate.

 

For example, God may give us the ability to locate that inner switch in our minds that controls our anxiety and turn it off.  We are somehow able to make the decision to live more calmly, to no longer over-dramatize, to no longer catastrophize, to no longer live a fearful life or create unnecessary anxiety for ourselves.

 

However, most often, it means bringing the same issue to him again and again, laying it at his feet, asking him to intervene, to change us, to forgive us of our past, to heal us of the things that cause us to trip up again and again. 

 

I find that when I pray many times during the day, thanking God for all that I have, for the people in my lives, even for being able to speak with him, miracles of change happen inside of me. 

 

One of the most important changes that can take place when we come to God, is that our hang-ups and hurts do not have to determine who we are.  We do NOT have to become hardened, cynical, jaded, uncaring, critical, negative, or selfish at heart.  Part of receiving Jesus’ healing touch is that we are no longer condemned to live with guilt or a critical spirit, of self-condemnation or self-righteousness. 

 

It is more than unfortunate if we are quick to judge, quick to find fault, quick to take offense; if we allow the actions or words of others to rob us of our own peace and sense of well-being; if we are put out and grumpy simply because others don’t live up to our expectations.

 

As Isaiah put it, Jesus took up our infirmities, His death brought us peace, his suffering brought us healing.  He became an outcast, a leper of sorts, so we don’t have to be.

 

It is God’s love that we emulate when we proclaim our love to someone else, someone who isn’t perfect, who makes mistakes, who may even hurt us at times.    But even more so, it is what we emulate whenever we “touch” someone else with some act or word of kindness or mercy. 

 

One person who worked extensively with lepers in India was Mother Teresa.

 

I see God in every human being.  When I wash the leper's wounds, I feel I am nursing the Lord himself.  Is it not a beautiful experience?                                Mother Teresa

 

Yes there are still colonies of lepers in different parts of the world, even today.

 

And there are believers willing to minister to them.  Becky Star, founder of Rising Star Outreach, writes this:

 

One of the most healing things we do with the leprosy-affected people of India is simply to touch them:  to give them "high-fives", hugs, handshakes, and kisses.  Greater than the suffering caused by their disease, is the suffering caused by society's declaring them to be untouchables. 

 

But maybe you and I will never see a person with leprosy because in the Western world the bacteria which cause leprosy can be treated with antibiotics before they damage the nerves, eyes, and skin. 

 

Never-the-less, we are surrounded by family members, friends, acquaintances, and every other human being on this earth, who have faults, shortcomings, foibles, and insecurities, and who face problems and suffering .  

 

So, on the one hand, there is not one human being on this earth who does not have the potential to disappoint us, and there isn’t one of us who is not able to disappoint others. 

 

On the other hand, there are few people on this earth who would not want to receive a smile, an encouraging word, a compliment, a kind deed, a prayer – simple things we can all share with them – and with each other.  In fact, the small acts of kindness or thoughtfulness, can transform those around us for better.

 

Our words and actions have the power to hurt, to heal, to open minds, to change someone’s world. 

 

AM I WILLING TO CHOOSE “THE RED PILL” OF TRUTH?

IF YES, WHAT DO I NEED TO DO?

 

INTO WHOSE LIFE CAN I BRING HEALING SIMPLY THROUGH MY WORDS OR ACTIONS?

 

If Jesus could touch a leper and bring healing, can’t we touch those around us who are hurting and bring a healing, encouraging, comforting touch into their lives?

 

Jesus put it this way:

 

Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.    Luke 6:36

 

May that be true of you, of me.

 

Prayer:

 

Heavenly Father, I come to you in utter humility as the leper did to Jesus.  I know that you can heal all of my wounds, all of my short-comings, all of the hurt and pain and the sin I carry with me.  I know that you so desire to do this, but that I need to be willing to lay aside myself, to place myself in your hands, to follow you with all my heart and life.  This I now do.  Help me to do so daily.

 

And God of love, fill my heart with so much gratitude and contentment and peace, that wherever I may go, wherever I am, I would be able to speak peace and healing and comfort into a hurting world.  May I rise above the mundane of every day life and keep my eyes focused on you.

 

Open my heart, my eyes, to the needs of others, and open my mouth that I may speak at the right time.

 

Oct 22 - Who Am I?

Who Am I?

October 22, 2017

Proverbs

 

WHO AM I?

October 22, 2017

Proverbs

 

One of the questions that probably all people asks themselves at some time during their life is with regard to their own identity – “who exactly am I?”  That’s especially true when we are in our teens, but it can happen at various periods in our lives.  Some people end up ditching all their responsibilities and morals in an effort to find themselves.

 

When we do ask ourselves that question, “who am I?”, the hope is that IF we can figure out who we are, then maybe we will have an easier time to figure out life itself and how we fit into it.   The hope is that when we will feel comfortable in our skin, then we might know what we should study, who we should date or marry, what career we should pursue, or what we are capable of. 

 

For some people, the question about identity is answered by the image that they project to others.  They believe that their clothes, looks, cars, possessions, who they associate with, the number of friends they have on face book, how popular they are, reflects who they are.  So much of their identity is wrapped up with their body, how they look, with what they wear, what they drive, who they are seen with, and what they possess or are able to purchase. 

 

We may appear to be cool, successful, and nice.  But people who put such a high stock on image realize instinctively that it's really just a facade.  Maybe it's an attractive facade, but it isn't who they really are. 

 

Deep down there’s this realization that image and substance are NOT the same.  External image does NOT equal internal reality.  But regardless of this fact, many people still attempt to feel good about themselves by being the kind of person who is popular or who impresses others. 

 

The Bible tells us that while people judge by externals, while people look on the outside, God looks at the heart – he knows what is really going on inside (1 Sam 16:7; cf. 2 Cor 5:12).  We are told, what’s inside is what really matters to God, and it should really matter to us as well.  If we are all wrapped up with projecting a certain image, we really haven't discovered yet who we truly are.

 

There are some people who tend to avoid the subject about identity, about who they are, because they already have made up their mind that whoever they are, they aren’t good. 

 

Maybe they were told as kids that they’re stupid or ugly or fat or not worthy of love.  Maybe they were told they can never measure up, never be good enough.  And when they grow up, they will tend to repeat those very same messages to themselves. 

 

In essence, they are allowing those negative messages to define who they are, even though it's a lie, that isn't their true identity. 

 

This woman pays a visit to her psychiatrist.  She’s attractive but says, “Here’s the thing doctor.  I think everyone in the world is staring at me because I’m a big fat ugly pig.”  The psychiatrist says to her, “I can tell you right now, quite objectively, that this isn’t true.  You’re smart and attractive.  If anything, you look a bit thin and tired.  You might want to think about the root cause of your feelings.”  The woman breaks down in gentle sobs, nodding in agreement.  She wipes her eyes, blows her nose and says, “You’re right, you’re right ... I pack on the weight because I feel so bad about needing a nose job.

 

Some people believe they’re too tall or too short,

too ugly, too dumb, too young, bad at sport.

Their ears are too big, their hair's too stringy,

their belly's too fat, or their arms are too skinny. 

They simply know they can’t do much that's right,

It is hopeless to conquer a bad habit, why fight?

They are haunted by all the mistakes of the past.

In this race called life, they think they’re dead-last.

 

A person who is filled with these kind of negative messages, would rather be someone else - someone who looks better, is smarter, is stronger, is more athletic, richer, more successful, more glamorous, more popular, someone without hang-ups, bad habits or a sordid past. 

 

Stupidest song by Meghan Trainer:  If I was you, I’d wanna be me too ....  (she also wrote “it’s all about that bass.”)

 

When people allow their short-comings, perceived or real, to defines them, they too have not yet discovered who they truly are. 

 

When some of us reach middle age, and we realize that half or more than half of our life is over, that we’re about to move into what, in our teens, we used to consider old age, there is often an identity crises. 

Our bodies are beginning to show the inevitable signs of aging, our parents are in poor health or dying, and our children are leaving home, and no matter how successful we appear to be, we still think life is passing us by and we haven’t accomplished the stuff we thought we would when we were young. 

For some people, this is a really tough time of life.

 

If we don’t have a strong sense of self or don’t like who we’ve become or what we’ve accomplished with our lives up to that point, it causes us to enter this period of dramatic self-doubt commonly called a mid-life crisis. 

 

A midlife crisis often causes a person to try to redefine themselves, sometimes by making some significant changes.  They may make a career change.  They may try to find a more supportive or attractive or younger partner.  They may make major purchases like a sports-cars.  They may try to rejuvenate their physical appearance with hair implants, botox injections, face lifts or tummy tucks.  They may drop all responsibilities, leave their families, their jobs, and go somewhere to find themselves.  They go out to “find themselves”, because they don’t like themselves as they are, and in the process often irreparably hurt those who love them.

 

Ultimately, our identity, who we are, is not something that is external to us, something we can purchase or wear.  It’s not even our physical appearance.  It isn’t our ethnic or socio-economic background, our family of origin, our upbringing, our education or lack thereof, our career, even though all those things affect us and are part of us.  But when it comes right down to it, who we are is actually defined by our true inner beliefs, convictions and thoughts.  My identity is found in what goes on in my mind.

 

My identity is found (or based) on what goes on in my mind:

 

Am I who I think I am?

Am I who I think others think I am?

Am I what I think about?

 

[So Paul warns Timothy of individuals in the church whose mind is corrupt (1 Tim 6:5)[1].  In Romans, Paul notes that a mind that is set on the desires of the flesh will result in a life that is in rebellion against God (Rom 8:5,7), whereas the mind that is set on following the voice of God's Spirit will result in someone seeking to live in harmony with God and others.  By the way, in Hebrew thought, the heart is considered to be the seat of emotion as well as the seat of reason, belief, decision and will.  Because of that, we will find expressions in the Bible such as “the thoughts of the heart” (Gen 6:5; Luke 2:35; Heb 4:12) or “the plotting of the heart” (Prov 24:2), or “the plans of the heart” (Ps 33:11; Jer 23:20; 30:24).]

 

In part, my identity, who I am, the core of my being, is revealed by what I say, what comes out of my mouth, either on a regular basis, but also in unguarded moments, moments of stress, because it sometimes exposes what’s going on in my mind.

 

Jesus said that,

 

Out of the overflow of the heart (mind) the mouth speaks. 

Matthew 12:34

 

Being foulmouthed on a regular basis shows something about who we are. 

 

I don’t know if you remember a man named Abu Hamza (formerly Mustafa Kamel Mustafa), the former cleric of the Finsbury Park mosque who preached ongoing hate-filled sermons that called for acts of terror against the western world. 

 

If a kafir (non-muslim) goes in a muslim country, he is like a cow.  Anybody can take him.  That is Islamic law. ... You can sell him in the market.  ... Even if they don’t do anything ... just kill them.  ... That’s in the Muslim books.

 

Thankfully Mr. Hamza is in prison without any chance at parole and so no longer able to spew his hate and venom.[2]

 

Because of the realization that what we say in some way reflects who we are, Paul writes to the Ephesian believers that individuals who are God’s holy people should demonstrate that reality by refusing to say anything, including jokes, that are filthy, foolish, or crude (Ephesians 5:3b-4). 

 

My true identity, who I am, my heart, also reveals itself, in part, by my actions, by what I do on a regular basis.

 

Jesus said,

 

By their fruit you will know them. ... Are figs gathered from thorn-bushes?                                        Matthew 7:16

 

Thistles produce thistles.  Fig trees produce figs.  What Jesus meant is that bad people generally do bad things and good people generally do good things (Matt 7:16-20).  Whatever actions are characteristic of us exposes our true identity, who we truly are, and what we truly believe. 

 

The Bible is full of verses that point out this truth.  For example, in the OT, the author of Proverbs points out that ...

 

Even a child is known by his actions.         Proverbs 20:11

 

Or the author of the book of James, notes,

 

I will show you my faith by my actions.     James 2:18b

 

This last verse was written in the context of practical deeds of compassion.  Doing acts of kindness demonstrates what the person believes, in other words, they prove that his faith is genuine.

 

Based on the fact that our identities are tied to our beliefs and thoughts, Paul writes to the believers in Rome that the only way we can experience transformation, the only time when we can change, is when our minds are renewed, when our thinking, our attitudes, our beliefs, our hearts are changed (Rom 12:2). 

 

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of you mind, ...                            Romans 12:2

 

Let me give you just one example of how that works.  God gave each one of us a conscience, he gave most of us a Bible or the ability to get one, and, if we are believers, He gave us the Holy Spirit – all of which he wants us to use to discover who we can be in relationship to God, to others and to ourselves. 

 

So we read in the Bible that God loves us, that he is seeking to connect with us, and that he has provided a means through Jesus Christ, whereby we can connect with Him and become, not only a part of His creation, but a part of His family. 

 

If that is something that we genuinely believe, that we internalize, so that it becomes part of our world view, the way that we think about and look at life, then it will cannot but affect every area of our lives:

 

  • the way that we speak,

  • the way that we act,

  • the way that we react,

  • the way we spend money,

  • the goals we set for ourselves,

  • how we cope with difficulties.

 

Literally every area of our life will be changed, transformed.

 

[In that process, our conscience plays an important part, the Spirit of God will play an important part, and the Scriptures can play an important part because in combination they will speak to us and, if we listen and are truly convicted, changes the way we think about something (changes our world view).

 

This is why we read in Hebrews 4 that God’s Word can penetrate our very being and expose, affect and even judge the thoughts and attitudes of our hearts (4:12), the very thing that defines who we are.[3]  

 

It is why we read in 2 Timothy 3 that the Scriptures, if we

 

  • know them,

  • properly interpret them (cf. John 5:39), and

  • heed them ...

 

they will, among other things, make us wise, lead to our salvation, and will help us to be equipped for every good work (3:15-16).[4]

 

The end goal, as Paul tells the Corinthians, is that we have the mind of Christ (1 Cor 2:16),[5] in other words, that we get to the place where our attitudes and thinking and beliefs reflect Jesus’ mindset.  When that happens then our lives will reflect this.

 

If you have been following everything that I have said up to this point, I hope that you will have recognized that God has given you the ability, not only to discover who you are in relationship to Him – a child of God who is loved by Him – but He has also given you the ability to define who you are, or, in some cases, the ability to redefine who you are.  But that can only happen if you allow your thinking, your attitudes, your core beliefs, your mind and heart, to be renewed. 

 

At this point, I could go to any passage in the Bible and find principles that, if internalized, would give me the ability to define myself better or, perhaps, even to redefine myself.  For today, I want us to look to the book of Proverbs because it speaks into our lives in practical ways. 

 

Just to give you a bit of background, Proverbs are sayings that are to guide a person into living a wise life, which begins with ? .... the fear of or reverence for God.  A single Proverb is a saying that generally holds true.  There may be some exceptions to the rule.  (Ecclesiastes challenges the idea prominent in Proverbs that good people will have a great life and bad people will have a terrible life).

 

Proverbs are sayings that speak of consequences.  Virtuous actions, words and attitudes will have good results.  Bad actions, words and attitudes will have bad results.

 

For example, there are many proverbs that speak of what happens if you never discipline your children: 

 

Correction imparts wisdom but a child left to himself will end up disgracing his mother.                            Proverbs 29:15

 

Many other proverbs speak of what happens when a person is lazy:

 

A sluggard does not plow in season; so at harvest time he looks but finds nothing.                                     Proverbs 20:4   

 

A slack hand causes poverty.                      Proverbs 10:4   

 

Someone who only talks and doesn’t work will be poor.”  

Proverbs 14:23  

 

An idle person will suffer hunger.               Proverbs 19:15

 

We have to understand that these proverbs were written at a time when there is no social safety net.  It generally does not hold true in our society, although there are many kids who go to school hungry.

 

Proverbs are virtually useless if we read them, say to ourselves, “yup, that's a nice sentiment,” or, “that is true,” but deep down we think that we are the exception to the rule.  My kids will turn out wonderful even if I spoil them rotten.  I will win the lottery or I will inherit a bunch of money, so I don't have to be wise with my finances.

 

If we don’t bind the truth and wisdom contained in a proverb on our heart (mind), as Proverbs 3:3[6] tells us we should, then we shouldn't be surprised if there is no transformation of life-change.  Our actions, words and attitudes will not change. 

 

So let me quickly share with you just a few proverbs that spoke to me this week.

 

He who follows useless pursuits lacks sense.                                                                                                        Proverbs 12:11

 

As I read this particular proverb, what caught my attention was the whole idea of “useless pursuits.”   But immediately I ran into a problem.  What exactly constitutes a useless pursuit?  Watching sports?  Playing video games?  Spending time on facebook?  Reading a novel?  Doing Sudoku?  Writing a sermon?

 

So I thought of it in a different way.  I asked myself, “what are the things that I really want to do, but I never seem to get around to”? 

 

And there were a number of things that came to mind.  This is my list, yours likely is different. 

 

In theory, I want to finish writing the book I've started – it is something I tell myself is really important. 

 

I think I want to finish some projects that need to be done around the house.

 

I want to be more consistent when it comes to exercising.

 

I want to have more time to visit with people.

 

You get the idea.  Now, instead of trying to “find the time” to do these things, which I always struggle with, I simply had to start doing them – and as a result, almost automatically I wouldn't do the less important things.  To borrow the Nike slogan, “just do it.”

 

So whether that means getting to the pool or writing or driving the motorcycle, or getting a reno project finished, I needed to do them in the time slots that I usually reserved just for down time. 

 

So here's the first principle I want to internalize, to write on the tablets of my heart. 

 

  1. If I Want To Stop Useless Pursuits, I Need To (stop talking about things that are important to me and) Just Start Doing them

 

Here are another few verses that spoke to me. 

 

Whoever walks in integrity walks securely, but he who makes his way crooked will be found out.  Proverbs 10:9

 

The integrity of the upright guides them.  Proverbs 11:3

 

[What jumped out at me from those verses was that word “integrity.”  Integrity speaks of being consistent, honest, trustworthy and possessing a high moral character.

 

In the past, people would be able to seal a business deal with a handshake because it was taken for granted that a person's word was his or her bond – integrity was assumed.  Nowadays, you would be considered a fool if you entered into an agreement because values have changed. 

 

One of the things that I thought of, was the need to actually speak the truth.  Someone can say, “I phoned my mom,” even though he realized immediately after the words leave his mouth that it was actually his mom who had phoned him. 

 

A second principle that I want to internalize, to write on my heart.

 

2. If I Want To Be A Person Of Integrity, I Need To Correct Myself Immediately Whenever I Say Something That Isn’t 100 % True

 

As I continued reading through proverbs there were a huge number of verses that kept repeating virtually the same theme – something happens when I give to the poor or when I show kindness to someone in need.

 

The man who is kind benefits himself but a cruel man hurts himself.                                                   Proverbs 11:17

 

Blessed is he who is generous to the poor.           

Proverbs 14:21[7]

 

He who is generous to the poor honours his Maker. 

Proverbs 14:31[8]

 

Whoever pursues … kindness will find life …                                                                                                         Proverbs 21:21

 

What spoke to me wasn’t just the case that if I demonstrated kindness and gave generously to the poor I would benefit, be blessed, honour God, and find life, but it raised the whole question about what it means to be “generous to the poor,” a question I dealt with in part last week. 

 

So who exactly are the poor?

 

SLIDE 22 - And who exactly are the poor? 

 

As I thought a bit more about this particular issue, I realized that “the poor” are, first of all,

 

They do not have a social net to take care of their most basic needs.   Those are the ones, of whom Proverbs 3:27 says:

 

Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to do it.                                Proverbs 3:27

 

I also realized that “the poor” are also those who are struggling emotionally – particularly those who are desperately lonely or deeply distraught.  As Mother Teresa once said, the greatest poverty is being unwanted, unloved and uncared.

 

Whatever “Being generous,” entails specifically, I figured out, that it means that the help I provide will cost me something – personally. 

 

It can cost me financially.  It may mean that I will not be able to go out for a meal this week, or that I won’t be able to purchase something I want, or I won’t be able to take that trip I was planning on.  Giving generously simply implies that I will do without in order to give to someone in need. 

 

Being generous may mean that I will have to give of the most precious of all of my commodities, and that is my time

 

In fact, I think it is harder to be generous when it comes to our time, then when it comes to our money.  I find that the cost is much higher when I give of my time, because it has such drastic consequences.

 

If I spend time on community volunteering, it usually means that I have to work evenings or that I won’t have the time to do some of the things I’d really like to get done.

 

Generally speaking, I pay a much higher price when I’m generous with my time than when I’m generous with my money. 

 

Nevertheless, I’m called to do both.  And that is a constant struggle, because being generous means it will cost me – financially or with my time. 

 

I thought I would throw this in just as a reminder of what I spoke of last week:

 

So here is a third principle that I want to internalize and actually live out.

 

3. If I want to be generous, I need to deny myself something once a week and use the time or money gained to help someone in genuine need

 

To borrow another slogan – no pain, no gain. 

 

And then, because I can be impatient at times, I noticed a whole bunch of proverbs that spoke about the problems with having a thin skin.

 

One given to anger causes much transgression.  One's pride will bring him low.                                          Proverbs 29:22-23

 

When a fool is annoyed, it is known at once, but the prudent ignores an insult.                                            Proverbs 12:16

 

He who is slow to anger has great understanding, but he who has a hasty temper exalts folly.                  Proverbs 14:29

 

He who has a cool spirit is a man of understanding. 

Proverbs 17:27

 

It isn’t that I’m struggling so much in this area as much as I have in the past, but it just reinforced the need to be so secure in who I am, that I can have a thick skin and don’t have to react to any slight, real or imagined, - and so I do not have to use anger as a way of getting my own way or manipulating others.

 

I have personally found that the times when my skin is at its thickest is when I am close to God, when I am filled with gratitude, and when I find my self-worth in His love rather than in what others do or say. 

 

So here’s another principle that I hope is becoming more and more real in my life.

 

4.  If I want to be slow to anger I need to constantly remind myself of my worth to God and draw close to Him with thanksgiving

 

Concluding Remarks

 

There may be verses in proverbs quite different from any of those I mentioned.  Maybe your issue has more to do with thinking that you are smarter than other people.  Proverbs has a lot to say about this.

 

How long will the scoffers delight in their scoffing and fools hate knowledge.                                               Proverbs 1:22

 

A scoffer does not listen to rebuke.            Proverbs 13:1

 

Do you see a man who is wise in his own eyes?  There is more hope for a fool than for him.                      Proverbs 26:12

 

A scoffer is someone who treats other people with distain and contempt.  He ridicules others, makes fun of them – in the belief that he himself is always right and always knows best.  

 

That is what he has in common with the person who is wise in his own eyes.  People who are scoffers and who are wise in their own eyes will never find real wisdom because they’re too busy thinking they are always right and others wrong.   

 

The scoffer cannot take correction and is too arrogant to actually learn from others.

 

Application?

 

If I asked those closest to you about the kind of person you are, what characteristics do you think they would say defines you as a person?

 

My hope is that if not now, those closest to me will be able to say that I am someone who is focused on the important things in life, who is a person of integrity, who is generous, and patient.  Maybe I’m not all the way there yet, but that is who God is challenging me to be. 

 

For you and I to become all that God would want us to be, we will have to have a strong sense of self-worth.  Without it, we will never get to the point where we can be content within ourselves while being honest about our strengths AND our weaknesses, our good AND our bad points, our virtues AND our faults. 

 

Only then will we come to the point where we don’t have to pretend to be perfect or always right. 

 

We don’t have to posture or try to appear “cool.”  We don’t have to be controlling or hyper-sensitive or judgmental.  We can admit faults, confess them, ask for forgiveness … and then move on and try to do better.  We fall neither in the trap of pride nor in the trap of self-hatred.

 

Only when we have a strong sense of our identity will we take every opportunity to improve ourselves and not constantly beat ourselves up about our mistakes.  We will realize that, with God’s help, we can become better, kinder, more joyful people.  We can experience change and renewal.  We will have the power to define or redefine ourselves.

 

AM I THE PERSON WHO I WANT TO BE?

IF NOT, HOW WILL I REDEFINE WHO I AM?

 

 

[1] Those with a corrupt mind think that they can use religion to get rich.

[2] 2015 sentenced in the US and imprisoned in a super secure prison in Colorado (ADX Florence) along with terrorists, spies, cartel leaders, cult leaders, serial killers and organized crime figures, almost all of which are serving multiple life sentences.

[3] The Word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.

[4] From childhood you have been acquainted with the holy writings that are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.  All Scripture is breathed out by God and is profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness. ...

[5] Who has understood the mind of the Lord?  But we have the mind of Christ.

[6] Let not steadfast love (hesed) and faithfulness forsake you.  Bind them around your neck and write them on the tablet of your heart.

[7] Similar in Prov 22:9.  Prov. 11:25 - Whoever brings blessing will be enriched, and one who waters will himself be watered.

[8] Whoever is generous to the poor lends to YHWH.  Prov 19:17

Oct 15 - Doing Good For Nothing

Doing good For Nothing

October 15, 2017

Luke 6:27-36

 

DOING GOOD FOR NOTHING

October 15th, 2017

Luke 6:27-36

 

What did I preach on last week?  Thankfulness.  Gratitude.  Were you able to integrate more gratitude and thankfulness into your day?  If you have, keep it up!

 

Today I want to speak about the possibility that our charity and our compassion may actually be counterproductive.  A few books on that topic have been written, for instance, Toxic Giving, and Killing With Kindness. 

 

I would venture to guess that some of you are familiar with the concept of “effective altruism.”  Altruism, like charity, can be defined as self-less and sacrificial concern for others

 

The core belief of effective altruism is that smart and informed giving will save or improve lives, while dumb or uniformed giving does not make a positive difference and may even be harmful to the very people that are supposed to be helped.

 

There are certain questions that we can ask about a charity that will help to make an informed decision.

 

1. “Is the charity completely transparent?

 

Does the charity have and is willing to share their financial statements?  If not, there may be a chance that there is something they do not want the donours to know.[1] 

 

By the way, it should be telling that most televangelists refuse to divulge how much income they make or how they spend it.  Another question is …

 

2. “How much of the funds given actually reach the intended target?” 

 

How much overhead does a charity burn up? 

How much do they spend on advertising?  I saw a list of charities that spend at least 90 cents for every $ they raise on advertising. 

 

Many CEO’s of charities make six figure salaries, some, like the CEO of Goodwill and United Way, in the high six figures.[2] 

 

Mind you, a very low overhead may indicate that there isn’t enough oversight and follow up to make sure the funds are used properly and effectively and not sidetracked by some corrupt individuals oversees.

 

By the way, this is a huge problem.  Many goods sent by well-meaning people end up being sold on the black market by those more interested in enriching themselves than helping their own people. 

 

A large chunk of the so-called aid sent to the third world by the Western world ends up the pockets of politicians, generals, bureaucrats, and criminals.  Sometimes the aid is diverted to purchase armaments.  And there is virtually no accountability.

 

For example, Canada sends $ 6 billion in “aid” around the world every year.  This includes just about every country on the African continent. 

 

Every year, Canada sends Ethiopia (208 million - 3.24 billion), South Sudan (121 million - 1.7 b; Sudan - 1 b.),[3] Tanzania (181 million - 2.6 b.), Mali (125 million 1.2 b).  [Haiti also received 204 million - 1 b.].  (world giving in US $ for 2015)

 

While these are some of the poorest nations on earth, they are also among those most opposed to the West and a place where Muslim radicals thrive.

 

Over 100 million is sent each to Bangladesh (2.6 b.), Vietnam (3.16 b.), Afghanistan (4.24 b.) and Pakistan (3.8 b.) – every year![4] 

 

Does the person on the street see any benefit for that money?  I read that in the past much of Canada’s country to country aid ended up in the Swiss bank accounts of foreign dictators.  And that there seems to be a direct correlation between how much foreign aid a country receives and how corrupt its officials and politicians are.

 

Canada also donates to economic superpowers like China and Russia. With economies of $8.2 and $2 trillion respectively, it begs the question: do they really need our money?

 

Sending containers of used or even new shoes and clothing after a natural disaster is by and large a wasted effort because that’s not what’s needed.  It’s easy for people in the third world to get cheap clothes. 

 

A lot of people donated or sent old or useless stuff after the 2004 Asian tsunami and the 2010 Haitian earthquake. 

 

People sending clothing to third world countries can bankrupt the textile industry in such a country. 

 

Let me relate what one aid worker in Haiti noticed:

 

[Prior to the earthquake], a solar panel company in Haiti was selling about fifty street lights a month. And after the earthquake, they sold I think five streetlights in six months…So, here’s basic economics, right? There’s an earthquake; the demand goes high for solar panels because electricity is out. And the local solar panel company actually loses money. Well, why? Because NGOs came…and they started ‘giving the stuff away for free.’ And they actually crowd out local business.              Michael Matheson

 

MoM – FCC just sent a larger gift to the orphanage.  I’m totally sold on it because I know that very little is wasted on administrative costs … in fact, Daniel’s salary is funded from a completely different source.  Every cent goes to pay for food and clothing for the kids, for salaries of nurses at the clinic, nannies who look after the kids, and teachers at the school.  Nothing is wasted.   

 

Another problem with foreign aid is that even if most of the funds do make it to the intended target, that does not mean that it actually makes a positive difference.  Which brings us to our third question:

 

3. “Is the charity helping people to become independent?” 

 

Some charitable work is simply promoting an ongoing lifelong dependency by discouraging work or promoting a destructive lifestyle.

 

More money per person has been donated for those living in the Gaza strip than anywhere else in the world.  But the people are worse off now than they were 20 years ago.

 

Lots of people have written good books about being good for nothing.  Jonathan Martin – killing with kindness (2008);

 

Robert Lupdon, who was active in charities for 40 years wrote this:

 

For all our efforts to eliminate poverty—our entitlements, our programs, our charities—we have succeeded only in creating a permanent underclass, dismantling their family structures, and eroding their ethic of work. And our poor continue to become poorer.                            

 

Our free food and clothing distribution encourages ever-growing handout lines, diminishing the dignity of the poor while increasing their dependency.

 

Short-term mission trips involve expenditures of between $2.5 - 5 billion annually, yet produce little lasting change, often displace local labor, and distract indigenous church leaders from more important work.

 

The money spent by one campus ministry to cover the costs of their Central American mission trip to repaint an orphanage would have been sufficient to hire two local painters to do the work, and two new full-time teachers for a year, and the purchase of new uniforms for every student in the school.

 

“Religious tourism,” as some call it, has become a growth industry. The Bahamas, it is estimated, annually receives one short-term missionary for every fifteen residents.

 

Most work done by volunteers could be better done by locals in less time and with better results.

 

Robert Lupdon personally witnessed just how quickly recipients’ response to charity devolved from gratitude to expectation to entitlement, which then leads to resentment.

 

A drug addict was begging downtown.  As a couple walked toward him, he called out, “May the blessing of the Lord, which brings love, joy, wealth, and a fine family, follow you all the days of your life …”  When the couple passed his outstretched arm without contributing, he shouted after them, “… and never catch up to you!

 

 

A charity may seem to be doing lots, but they may only patch up the symptoms, not the causes of a problem.  Even if they target the cause, they may do a lot of things but are not reaching their stated outcome. 

 

By providing essential services, it absolves the government of that country to continue in its corrupt and uncaring attitude toward its own population – although, given that the only alternative to genuine change is armed revolt, that may be the lesser of two evils.

 

Ultimate aim of any charitable work should be to get the recipient off aid.  Think movement from charity to rehabilitation to development

 

MoM –  Are we simply perpetuating the need to pay to look after children who never will amount to anything?   Daniel and MoM gets the odd sack of rice from the local government official.  Schools are closing all over Nigeria because the teachers are not getting paid by the government.  And yet, Canada alone sends about $ 80 million to Nigeria every year.  The total amount they receive in foreign aid is almost US $ 2.5 billion.  This is a country that has vast oil reserves. 

 

The fact is that Daniel knows that only education will help give the orphans and half orphans at the orphanages any future.   

 

Provide education for all of their children, from elementary through to graduation from high school.  Used to pay to have kids attend public high school.  Many of these are closing because the country does not have the funds to pay its teachers, even as politicians get incredibly wealthy.

 

Yes, the orphanages are not self-sustaining, although Daniel is trying to raise funds and foods internally, chickens, goats, pigs, fish, cashews … it is just that they have way too many kids to care for and educate.  But it is something that needs to be encouraged more and more.

 

4. “Is the charity using high pressure tactics to solicit funds?” 

 

I know that some charities try to solicit funds by showing children crying, by sending people to solicit, by constantly mailing plea after plea, and the like.

 

Even when Daniel is desperate for funds, his appeals for funds are incredibly low key, in part, because he’s just as loathed to ask people for money as I am. 

 

There are organizations, such as “givewell.org,” that specialize in evaluating all charities and recommending a few where the giver gets the most bang for their buck, that is, where money is spent most efficiently and has the greatest impact.

 

So having said all that, I want us to look at a passage where Jesus seems to be promoting the kind of charity that is not smart at all.   I’ll be reading from Luke 6:27-36 (parallel passage in the sermon on the mount in Matt 5). 

 

I say to you, that is, those of you who are really listening to me: love your enemies;

do good to those who hate you;

bless those who curse you; pray for those who abuse you. (Matt: who persecute you)

 

To the one who strikes you on the cheek (= gives you the greatest personal insult), offer the other cheek as well. 

(Do not resist the one who is seeking to harm you). 

To the one who takes your cloak from you, give your tunic as well.  Give to anyone who asks from you. 

 

From the one who takes something from you, do not demand it back. 

(Whoever forces you to go a mile, go a second mile with him)

Whatever you want others to do to you, so do to them.

 

What does it benefit you if you only love those who love you?  Even bad people love those who love them. 

What does it benefit you if you only do good to those who do good to you?  Even bad people do the same. 

 

What credit do you receive for lending to those who you know will repay you?  Even bad people lend money when they hope to get everything back. 

(What credit is there if you greet your brother?  Even the pagans do this.)

 

You, however, should love your enemies and do good and lend, even when you expect nothing in return.  Then your reward will be great, and you will be the children of the Most High, because He too is kind even to the ungrateful and to bad people.

(Matt adds that God lets the sun shine on both the bad and the good, and God lets it rain on both the unjust and those who do what’s right)

 

Be merciful even as your Father is merciful.

(Matt: Be perfect as your Father is perfect)

 

So if we take literally his teaching, what exactly is he saying?

 

One Literal Interpretation

 

1. Love, bless, pray for and do good (even) to those who are your enemies.

 

In this instance, we can track with Jesus to a certain point.  I mean, it’s within the realm of possibility that I bless and pray for those who hate me or wish to harm me.  However, the rub comes when it comes to doing something good for them.  Personally, I’m not very inclined to do this.

 

I’m not at all inclined just to give away money to those who are my enemies, who are out to do me harm in one way or another – the bully in the office, for example. 

 

2. Always lend money to your enemies and to those who cannot repay you.

 

Interesting.  So I’m supposed to lend money to someone who is certainly not going to repay me.  That’s NOT a loan, is it?  That’s a gift.  Well, maybe I only have to give away money to someone only once.  But then there is Jesus third point.

 

3. Always give to whoever asks you for something (anything?), without expecting anything in return.

 

Hey Spencer, I want your house.  Spencer I want everything in your savings account.  Spencer I desperately need your car.  Spencer, I’m short this month, so I want your paycheque. 

 

But maybe I’m thinking too radical here.  Maybe Jesus only meant that I was to give a few bucks and only to those who are in genuine need. 

 

Even if that’s the case, the Greek simply says, “Give to everyone who asks you.”  It does not stipulate that the person has to be in need, and the implication seems to be that I am to give them whatever they ask for.

 

So how long will it take for others to find out that I’ll give them anything I have if they ask for it?  What is the inevitable result if someone gave in to every possible demand or request?

 

4. Always allow yourself to be taken advantage of

 

This includes being taking advantage of by those who are seeking to harm us, who insult us, who are intent on taking something from us, or who are forcing us to do something for them. 

 

In Matthew’s account, Jesus says, don’t resist the one seeking to harm you.  What does that mean?  Should I let a robber rob me?  Should I let the violent beat me?  Should I let the vicious hurt me?  Should I not protect my family?  That goes against anything that I think of as just and right and acceptable. 

 

5. Treat others as you want them to treat you.

 

On the surface, this is a rather innocuous statement.  It is known as the Golden Rule.  The problem with it is that it is sometimes turned around – treat others as they would want to be treated

 

But either way, because in our fallen humanity we are often selfish and greedy, we want others to treat us in ways that are actually not good for us. 

 

I don’t want to work, so I want someone else to support me.

I want others to accept everything I do and say as valid, no matter if it is morally right or wrong.

I want others to empower me in my addiction.

I want to have everything NOW.

 

So is Jesus saying that I need to do anything others want me to do for them, even if it will ultimately be bad for them, because, given their situation, I would want the same?

 

Now if we take Jesus teaching, as I’ve summarized it, and tried to apply it to our lives, what would the result be?  Well, even for the person who has lots it will mean abject poverty.  And once poverty is reached and that same principle is followed, it could lead to nakedness, hunger, and exposure … and in the end, to starvation.

 

It would also lead to gross social injustice since those who do not want to work can freeload off those who do work, and those who are violent can simply do what they want, and those who are corrupt and rich can take advantage of those with less.

 

What To Keep In Mind When Interpreting This Passage

 

1. Jesus himself did not fully live out this ethic

 

Keep in mind that Jesus himself did not live out this ethic in the way that I’ve outlined it. 

 

Yes, he was a pacifist and he did not resist when he was arrested.  But as far as we know, Jesus never gave away his clothes to the needy and walked around naked. 

 

He didn’t have a lot of money since his disciples and he lived from the support of others during his 3 year ministry - they had to be sparing when it came to their charitable giving. 

 

At times Jesus refused to give people what they asked for, for example more food, or a miracle. 

 

2. Jesus often taught in hyperbole (purposeful exaggeration)

 

A college student wrote an email to her parents,

 

Dear Mom and Dad. 

 

Sorry I haven’t written earlier, but there was a fire in our dorm and we had to evacuate.  I had to be taken to the hospital and the doctors said that my eyesight should be back to normal sooner or later.  I decided to move in with my boyfriend, Chuck, until the dorms are open again.  He drives a Harley and says he’s an angel.  I thought you wouldn’t mind since we will be having a baby next year.  Oh, and could you send me $ 5,000 because I need to buy a new laptop and new clothes.  Love,  Charlotte.

 

PS.  There was no fire, my eyes are just fine, I don’t have a boyfriend, I’m not pregnant and I don’t need money.  However, I did get a D in French, and I wanted you to keep that in perspective.

 

Do you think that Charlotte caught her parent’s attention? 

 

Many of the things that Jesus said and taught he did so in stories, called parables, or in exaggerated statements that were meant to shock his listeners into paying attention and to help them retain what they heard him say. 

 

Jesus made such outrageous statements as: 

 

It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.” 

 

As the disciples rightly pointed out, if taken at face value, the implication of this statement would mean that it is impossible for anyone to actually make it into heaven, because some poor people are just as heart hearted as the rich. 

 

Jesus replied to them that with God all things are possible – even the seemingly impossible.  So with God’s help, a rich man can in fact enter God’s kingdom. 

 

When asked about divorce, Jesus, made the shocking statement that a divorced woman cannot remarry without committing adultery.  Not only that, both the man who divorced her and the man who remarries her are just as guilty as her. 

 

The disciples rightly suggested that if this was taken literally, it would be better not to marry in the first place.

 

Jesus had admitted that divorce and remarriage is indeed possible under the Mosaic Law, and he replied to his disciples, that not everyone can actually live out the ideal he was speaking of.

 

Many of Jesus’ statements can be misapplied if they are taken literally.  For example, cults have used Jesus’ hyperbolic statement, that his followers have to hate their family members, as a proof text that allows them to isolate the cult members and keep them from anyone who might try to talk sense to them.

 

The church father Origin castrated himself because he mistakenly applied literally Jesus’ statement, that some men make themselves Eunuchs for the sake of God’s kingdom. 

 

If we interpret everything that Jesus said literally, we might as well blind ourselves and cut off our hands, although I don’t know of anyone foolish enough to do so.

 

So let’s go back to our passage.  I want to pull a few principles from it that I would like us to consider.

 

Principles To Consider

 

1. Lead a life without resentment and retaliation

 

Jesus did in fact promote an ethic of non-violence – there is no denying this, even though violence has been committed in his name.  We are to be those who are peace-makers, that is, those who are not angry, aggressive, or spoiling for a fight.

 

If possible, as far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.

                                                                        Romans 12:18

 

Since life is unfair, we have to come to accept this and move on. 

 

So the divorce settlement, or the way your spouse treats you, or the way your kids take everything for granted, or the way that the boss takes credit for your accomplishments, or the way that genuinely lazy people can sometimes make it through life by taking advantage of others, or the wage disparity, or life in general isn’t fair. 

 

Injustice is common and we will experience it in one way or another.  It can make us bitter and resentful.  It can haunt us for years or decades.  Or we can accept it as part of life.

 

2. Do to others what is in their best interest

 

This is a rephrasing of the Golden Rule and ask the question, “what is the truly loving thing to do?”  If someone asks you for money, maybe buying the person a meal will be more helpful.  Do not allow yourself to become a victim of fraud, because that only encourages the perpetrator to continue in a life of crime. 

 

  1. Never do for the poor what they can do for themselves;

  2. Limit one-way giving to emergencies;

 

3. Recognize that true charity will involve real sacrifice

 

This is just a principle that we can discover by thinking a bit more about the possible implications of Jesus’ teaching. 

 

Most of us think of giving in terms of what we may have left over after all our needs, wants and wishes are satisfied.  Normally that approach results in giving pocket change. 

 

I think that Jesus teaching, and that doesn’t just include our passage, points to sacrificial giving of ourselves and our resources. 

 

That said, I don’t think that our desire to help and make a difference has to destroy us or lead us to financial insolvency or personal poverty.  There is a balance in all of this.

 

4. Treat even the underserving with kindness

 

Since God treats even the undeserving with kindness, as his child, I should reflect his attitude and actions.

 

This is the main point that Jesus was trying to bring across in our passage.  If we only look out for ourselves and those closest to us, we have done nothing of merit.  Everyone lives their life in this way, no matter how good or bad they may be.

 

Also, if we are generous, but know that the person we give to will return or repay the money we lent, then we’re not being charitable.  Our actions is simply not worthy of mention nor is it something of merit.

 

The real miracle is, when we can treat even those who directly oppose us or harm us with charity.  That is truly divine and reflects the main verse in our passage.

 

Be merciful even as your (heavenly) Father is merciful.

 

When it comes to what is good in life, God blesses the good and the bad.  For Jesus, the ability to be like God, to display the divine, has to do with this issue of being merciful even of the undeserving – in his day, the so-called sinners and the tax collectors and those who did not take their faith seriously.

 

5. Err on the side of compassion not indifference

 

It’s easy to close our heart, even to those who are in much greater need than we are for no fault of their own.  Of course there will always be those who will try to hoodwink others, they will lie without blinking an eye, telling the most heart wrenching stories just to dupe someone into giving them money.  Therefore we should be wise and do some research. 

 

So I want to reiterate what I started with.  Toxic giving doesn’t help the other person, it may actually hinder them or breed dependency, resentment, laziness, lack of initiative,

 

So what can I take with me, what can you take with you, into the reality of our day-to-day lives?

 

WHAT, IF ANYTHING, IS GOD SAYING TO ME?

 

Maybe God spoke to you about making sure that the charity you support is truly effective. 

 

Maybe he spoke to you about not mistake to take Jesus’ teaching literally in all points. 

 

Maybe God spoke to you about your propensity to resent and retaliate when you feel taken advantage of, taken for granted, or when life isn’t fair.

 

Maybe God spoke to you about being more able to see life from another person’s perspective. 

 

Maybe God spoke to you about doing what is truly in the best interest of others, not just about what they want you to do.

 

Simply about being more compassionate and altruistic rather than keeping everything for yourself. 

 

Whatever it may be, don’t let it pass by.

 

 

 

 

[1] I could not find any figures on the amount of transfer payments to first nations or just how many are on social assistance

[2] http://www.snopes.com/politics/business/charities.asp

[3] http://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/marie-claude-bibeau-south-sudan-famine-war-1.4167473; https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/DT.ODA.ALLD.CD

[4] http://cidpnsi.ca/canadas-foreign-aid-2012-2/  - The largest recipient in 2016 was Ethiopia, overtaking the Ukraine and Afghanistan. Total assistance to Ethiopia was CAD$190 million, a decrease of approximately CAD$3 million from 2015.  Others among the top 5 are: Afghanistan – CAD$159 million; Ghana – CAD$136 million; Tanzania – CAD$130 million; Mali – CAD$125 million; and Bangladesh – CAD$123 million.

 

Oct 08 - Gratitude

Gratitude

October 8, 2017

1 Thessalonians 5:18

 

October 8, 2017

Thanksgiving Sunday

 

The reality is that humans by and large take for granted the things that make them happy.  Being actively grateful will make us more aware of what is good and right and wonderful about God, about others, about ourselves. 

 

However, when I thought about the ability to practice gratitude and thankfulness and appreciation on a daily basis, I questioned whether this is possible when things are really tough.

 

CAN I BE THANKFUL WHEN LIFE IS REALLY TOUGH?

 

What if I was born into the third world, possibly growing up in a war zone, or in a refugee camp – a tent city - with no electricity, very limited health care – and no opportunities for education because of the poverty?

 

What if I’m still struggling to overcome the negative and self-limiting thoughts that resulted from being raised in an abusive home?

 

What if I am struggling with clinical depression? 

What if I received a bad diagnosis? 

What if I am dealing with constant pain? 

What if my child dies or I lose someone close to me?

What if I lose all of my possessions?

 

Is it even possible to practice thankfulness in and through those situations? 

 

The apostle Paul seemed to think it is.  He often wrote about having an attitude of gratitude in and through all possible situations in life.

 

Give thanks in all circumstances because this is the will of God….                                              1 Thessalonians 5:18

 

Always give thanks to God the Father for everything in the name of Jesus…                          Ephesians 5:20

 

Whatever you do or say … give thanks to God the Father through Jesus. …                                        Colossians 3:17

 

Give thanks in all circumstances … for everything … whatever the situation, and most importantly, ALWAYS, that is, at all times, whenever you speak or do anything. 

 

That’s quite a statement.  Paul also writes that whenever we pray, our prayers should be filled with thanksgiving. 

 

Be alert and filled with thanksgiving in your prayers…    

                                                                        Colossians 4:2

 

In every circumstance pray and petition God with thanksgiving…                                             Philippians 4:6

 

Here it is again.  In every circumstance our prayers are to be full of expressions of gratitude.

 

Is Paul perhaps being a bit optimistic or idealistic?  Some of the people he’s writing to are not having the easiest of times.  Does Paul even know what it means to express thankfulness all the time, for everything and in every circumstance?  He can’t really be serious, or can he?

 

I think Paul was dead serious.  He wrote his comments about thankfulness when he was going through very tough times.  One of the passages we just read was written when Paul was imprisoned and in danger of execution.

 

Paul gives us some hint of what his life was like when he wrote to the church in Corinth.  It was a pretty messed up church and some people who attended it were saying that Paul, the founder of the church, didn’t have it right.  They actually said things like the following:

 

  • Paul.  First he promises to visit us, then he doesn’t come.  He’s unreliable. 

  • And look at him.  He cuts an unimpressive figure.  He can barely see. 

  • He likes to speak but he’s anything but eloquent. 

  • And He also likes to throw around his apostolic authority in his letters, but does nothing of consequence when he does visit. 

  • In fact, he is likely not on the same level with other apostles who actually were with Jesus when he was alive, and shouldn’t use this title for himself. 

  • Besides, we have greater knowledge of spiritual things than he. 

 

And on and on it went.

 

Paul was being attacked in the very church he founded by people who thought of themselves as more profound, eloquent, theologically astute, better looking and more authoritative than Paul.  As part of his defense, Paul speaks of the kind of things that happened to him:

 

You seem to gladly put up with fools, thinking you are smart.  They enslave you, take advantage of you (or: exploit you), assert control over you (or: violate you), act arrogantly (or: lord it over you), and insult you deeply (lit. hit you across the face).  …

 

Paul goes on to compare himself to these people:

 

I worked much harder, was in jail more often, beaten countless times, often to the point of death.  Five times I received from the Jews the thirty-nine lashes.  Three times I was beaten with rods.  Once I was stoned.  Three times I was shipwrecked – (one of those times) I floated a night and a day in the sea.  I journeyed often and was in danger from rivers, robbers, my own countrymen, and non-Jews.  I was in danger in the cities, in the wilderness, and on the seas.  And I was in danger even from false Christians.                                            2 Corinthians 11:23-26

 

I have endured hard labour and hardships, many sleepless nights, hunger and thirst – often having no food at all while freezing and without shelter.  Apart from all these things there is the daily pressure I face and my anxiety for all the churches.  2 Corinthians 11: 27-28

 

You tell me, if he had an easy life.  Not at all!  And yet, he always retained an attitude of gratitude.

 

In the introductory comments to this particular letter to the Corinthians, Paul praises and thanks God for the comfort that he has received even though he faced great suffering, total exhaustion and potential execution in the Roman province of Asia. 

 

And he points out that he is filled with hope that God will continue to rescue him and that his current escape from death would result in thanksgiving among many believers.  (2 Cor 1:3-11)

 

A few years ago I listened to a lecture by a woman by the name of Katia Sol, who 10 years ago, in the winter of 2007 had moved to a new city in order to start doctoral studies.  It was very cold, tons of snow on the ground. 

 

She had a one year old son, was in a relationship that was falling apart, and was struggling with deep depression.  She struggled every day to just get out of bed and she tried to find something to hold on to when life seemed completely overwhelming. 

 

She started out by trying to find just one thing that she could be thankful for on any given day, be it her son, or the morning coffee … just one thing!  And as she did, life began to become just a little bit more bearable.

 

Her first thought in the morning would be, “wow, another day, what a blessing.”  It became a daily practice, the most humble and positive prayer she called it.  And for her it became an affirmation of life itself. 

 

She would get a coffee at a coffee shop and say to herself, “wow, I’m so grateful for the smile of the person on the counter.”  And over time, thankfulness became a central part of her life.

 

So today, even if she finds herself in a very difficult season in her life, she knows that if she is rooted in gratitude, she can carry on, she can make it through. 

 

She also said that the daily practice of thanksgiving gave her an opportunity to reclaim the hard moments.  So when something is wrong, she can find something that’s good even in that situation. 

 

Can we be thankful when life is REALLY tough?  I think we can learn to be.  But it takes practice.  It takes some presence of mind.  It takes a decision made once or, better yet, many times a day.

 

ARE THERE BENEFITS TO PRACTICING THANKFULNESS?

 

The answer to this question is an unequivocal Yes.  An attitude of gratitude turns our focus from what is wrong to what is right.  It gives us a new lens on life. 

 

Studies have shown that it is actually possible to change the way that neurons fire in the brain by being appreciative, by dwelling in gratitude.  As our brain rewires itself, there is a noticeable shift from being negative and judgmental to being positive and accepting.

 

Various studies, whether done at the University of Zürich, the University of Miami, or the University of California, have found a direct correlation between the attitude of thankfulness and better health and happiness.  People who are consistently thankful, who are committed to thankfulness, sleep better, are healthier, have more energy, are more optimistic, feel better, and on and on.

 

Relationally, thankfulness makes a huge difference.  The Gottman Institute can predict a successful marriage with a 90% certainty by looking at how couples interact.  In relationships where there are 5 or more positive encounters for every negative encounter there is almost a guarantee that these relationships will flourish.

 

And so Dr. Gottman recommends, with regard to how to apply the research practically, that couples need to decide to express gratitude and appreciation 5 or more times for every negative interaction that comes up if they want to have a marriage that lasts. 

 

When we have a grateful heart, it connects us to ourselves.  When we are grateful to and for others, it connects us to them.  When we are grateful in and for all things, it connects us with God. 

 

I know that when I consciously have an attitude of gratitude, when I make it a practice to thank God, not just on Thanksgiving, not just at mealtimes, not just when something good happens, but specifically when I first get up in the morning and when I go to bed at night, and better yet, consistently throughout the day … something happens to me. 

 

I am at my most loving, most thoughtful, most patient, most forgiving, most giving, most positive, most happy, most content.  I don’t take the day or anything good for granted.  And maybe you’ve experienced the same. 

 

So if we know all of the positive things that happen to us if and when we are grateful, why is it that we do not practice it?  If gratitude leads directly to joy, why are we slow to make appreciation a daily habit?

 

WHY AM I SLOW TO MAKE GRATITUDE A DAILY HABIT?

 

Why don’t we express gratitude in our work place?  For the work we have … for our co-workers … for the challenges we face? 

 

Why don’t we express gratitude to our spouse and kids when we get home from work? 

 

Why aren’t we thankful for the person who serves us at the store, at the bank, at the coffee shop? 

 

Why aren’t we thankful for the measure of health we have? 

 

In my case, it’s fairly easy to focus on health issues.  Those of you who know me, know that I sometimes complain about insomnia, diabetes, back pain, and a host of other issues, many of which are associated with a reduction in life expectancy.  When I dwell on these things, it is possible that I become somewhat melancholy (Melan-colly Megamind). 

 

But when I see the kind of obstacles others face, whether lacking limbs, dealing with cancer at a young age, facing the limitations of progeria, it puts all of my issues into perspective.

 

Just this week I listened on YouTube to a TED talk by a young man with Progeria, Sam Berns, given in early December 2013.  This was just a few months after he’d turned 17 [Oct 23]).  He spoke about the reasons why he was happy, positive, thankful and in the process of pursuing his dreams, despite the momentous obstacles that he is faced with. 

 

What made the talk poignant is knowing that Sam died 38 days after he gave this talk [Jan 10, 2014].  And when I think about Sam’s life and attitude, it helps to put things back into perspective for me.  If someone facing those kind of obstacles is positive and thankful, why is it that I’m not?

 

So maybe we’re not thankful because we are busy or preoccupied.  Gratitude is just another spiritual discipline I am being asked to squeeze into my already too busy daily schedule.  If it’s just another thing I am supposed to feel guilty about if I don’t do … who needs it?

 

Maybe we are not thankful because we take for granted the people in our lives.  We assume that they should know if we are grateful to them or for them.  You know, I told you 20 years ago you’re a good cook –there’s no need to repeat myself, but I’ll let you know if things change

 

Maybe we’re not thankful because we are focused on our problems

 

Maybe we’re not thankful because we compare ourselves to those who have it better than us, for one reason or another. 

 

Maybe we’re not thankful because we think that our success is due to our own doing, not God’s.  Why should I thank him for my accomplishments?

 

Maybe we’re not thankful because we are focused on success, competition, winning, getting ahead.

 

Maybe we’re not thankful because we are selfish.  We’re just focused on ourselves and what we can get out of life.  

 

Maybe we’re not thankful because we think that gratitude is something inside of us that we don’t have to express verbally.  That’s simply not true.  There is a difference between feeling thankful for something or someone and actually expressing thankfulness.  

 

If you’re not practicing daily thankfulness, I hope that this sermon is just a reminder of something you likely already know.  Thankfulness is an amazing opportunity for renewal, joy and contentment. 

 

I hope it reminds you that thankfulness is a joy, not a duty or a chore.

 

So maybe you’re here and life is peachy keen.  Everything comes up smelling roses.  Or maybe you’re here and life is hard and difficult.

 

The apostle Paul said that he has learned the secret of being content regardless of what life is like.  And I think that secret is an ongoing thankful heart. 

 

Paul seems to think that, given the human condition, suffering of one sort or another is inevitable.  He describes himself and others in 2 Corinthians as clay pots, a picture of human frailty and physical weakness.

 

But we carry this treasure (of God’s light) in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power comes from God and not from us.  We are pressed down from every side, yet we still find room; we are confused, yet we are not in despair; we are persecuted but not forsaken; we are struck down but not destroyed.  Always we carry in our bodies (the suffering of) Jesus in his death, so that our bodies will also manifest his life.

                                                            2 Corinthians4:7-10

 

We are all cracked or broken to one degree or another – although we’re often loathe to admit it.  We like to keep up the image of having it all together.  But the reality is different, and deep down we know differently. 

 

The issue is not that we’re completely whole.  The issue is how we view our cracked-ness or our brokenness.  Do we feel that we are useless?  That we are only good enough to be discarded on the rubbish heap of life? 

 

Or do we feel that we are of worth and value, despite the fact that there are some fractures in our lives? 

 

Maybe we even get to the point of realizing that we can bring comfort and life to others, that we can be used by God, for the very reason that we aren’t perfect, that we are damaged goods, so to speak!

 

So if suffering is inevitable, if bad things happen to everyone to one degree or another, if we all have cracks, again, to one degree or another, then it should be possible to step away from the false expectation of having to have a perfect life, a life without problems, a life without suffering, and be thankful regardless.

 

While there will be many times when things are going really well, all of us will all face seasons of sorrow and pain.  We all face times when we’re wounded, weak or vulnerable. 

 

It is at these times that an attitude of gratitude will be most powerful.  It will become the link between God and us, between our weakness and His strength.  It is where our inner self is transformed so that our outer world is transformed through us.

 

Thanksgiving – celebrating a thankful heart for what we have – especially our loved ones – is an awesome practice.  But much more important is learning to live a life of DAILY thankfulness and gratitude. 

 

WHAT EXPECTATIONS DO I NEED TO PUT ASIDE FOR ME TO BECOME THANKFUL FOR MY LIFE, FOR OTHERS, FOR GOD’S LOVE?

 

WHAT IS ONE THING THAT I CAN INCORPORATE INTO MY LIFE TO INCREASE MY ATTITUDE OF GRATITUDE?

 

Some people start off every day with a prayer of thanksgiving.

 

Others take a few minutes toward the end of the day to write down some of the things or people or events that they encountered that day for which they are thankful.

 

Again others make it a practice to thank other people … sincerely … for something that they did or said.  To acknowledge them.

 

Others just get into the practice of thanking God throughout their day

 

 

PRAYER: for all of us to become those who deliberately include thanksgiving in every day for each day - for the small wonders, the things of beauty, the daily blessings – especially when things are tough and we’re struggling, knowing that when we are weak … you are strong.