When people ponder the question “What is the meaning of life”, in my mind the answer is very simple. Jesus. Now, that may not be a satisfactory answer for many, but it is the true answer. Amos says exactly the same thing this morning – Seek the Lord and Live! What is my purpose, what is my destiny, what is my reason for being on this earth – well, the final answer is Jesus – and when we discover this and embrace this then we discover how that works out in our various roles as husbands and wives, fathers and mothers, sons and daughters; careers and education. The question of who we are and what we are can only be found in Jesus. It was one of the frustrations in doing evangelism; spending time with someone you have never meet before – listening to them talk about their struggles and fears of life and then still rejecting Jesus and the message of the gospel – rejecting the key, the answer to their struggles and fears. Now I have said many times to the point ad nauseum, that becoming a Christian does not mean you have no problems or difficulties in life – or that you are shielded from the tragedies of life. What it does mean, aside from the wonderful message of reconciliation with God and the forgiveness of our sins and our adoption as His sons and daughters is that we get a heavenly and spiritual perspective on life which allows us to see beyond what we are experiencing – to see to our future, assured destiny which is to be with Jesus – and this enables us to walk through the dark valleys of life with peace. But in order to get to this place we have to have faith. Now faith is more than just hoping something might happen. The Bible speaks of faith far more factually – Hebrews 11:1 says Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. Now, when you break this verse down, you can paraphrase this it this way – Faith is the reality of things fully expected, the certainty of things not seen. In other words, people with faith in Jesus have a view of reality which is different to anyone else; an expectation of what is to happen different to anyone else; a certainty about the outcome of the world different to anyone else. And in order to become a person of such faith – to truly enter into this place requires that we fully let go of everything and fully grasp onto Jesus. There is a story of a little boy who got his hand stuck in a very expensive vase. His parents tried everything to remove without breaking it. Finally the father said: “Son, now listen to me – you need to stretch out your hand as fully as you can”. The boy said: “I can’t”. “Why” said his dad. “Because I will have to let go of the penny”. To some extent this is exactly what is going on with Jesus and the rich man in our gospel reading this morning. This man comes and asks Jesus “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” We know this man is young, he is a ruler of some sort – in charge of people, has influence – and that he was wealthy. His question reveals much of where he was coming from: He firstly flatters Jesus – rabbi’s did not allow the word ‘good’ to be applied to them. Only God was good. Now Jesus’ response is not denying he was God – in fact he is affirming it. He does rebuke the man for calling him ‘good’ – he asks the man if he understood why he had called him good, did the young man know what he was saying – or was it just out of flattery. This young man believed he had a right to obtain eternal life. He uses the word ‘inherit’. He was a Jew – a son of abraham – therefore he had a right to it. And yet – by asking this question, the young man knew he did not have it. He did not have assurance that he had eternal life and he is asking Jesus what must I do to get this assurance – this guarantee I will have eternal life Finally, this first question shows that the young man had a very superficial view of sin, and of salvation. He believed that by doing a few religious works, he could settle his account with the Holy god and be set right. His success and and his wealth gave him a false believe that he could accomplish anything either by his own ability or by paying for it. Jesus’ response was to say to him “Let go of the penny”. Jesus says this in two ways to this man. Firstly he tells him some commands, which the young affirms that he has utterly kept. The commands Jesus lists is important – he chooses all the ‘verifiable’ commands – the commands which show outward obedience. And here Jesus is saying – you have kept all these visible commands and yet you come to ask me how to inherit eternal life. The keeping of the law has not given the young man any assurance of salvation. In fact – the law acts like a mirror – it should show you that you are a sinner. This man had kept these commands but has no assurance, no peace that he had eternal life. This man does not see himself as a sinner and he wants salvation on his own terms. Secondly, Jesus then shows him the command he has not been able to keep – it is the final commandment and the one that comes after this list that Jesus quotes – the command not to covet. Jesus does not say it outright but challenges the young man – “You lack one thing; go, sell what you have, and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” Jesus loves this young man. He sees this young ruler utterly lost – unable to see the truth which was right before him – that you cannot receive a gift if you are holding onto something else – you have to let go to receive. And here is the choice confronting the young ruler – do you really want eternal life? Do you really want to receive it – well you need to let go of everything else to get it. The mans love for money broke the commandment of covetousness. And because he had broken a command he needed to repent and be set free. The issue here is not wealth – it’s not an attack against being wealthy – or that Christians should not have wealth – the issue is the internal state of this young man. Was he willing to let go of everything to grasp onto Jesus? Jesus asks this of us. Will we seek God and live. This requires that we grasp onto nothing else but Jesus. Too many Christians have a view that God will one day hold up their good works and their bad works and if their good works exceed their bad works they will get into heaven. No. The scriptures show very plainly that this is not what God says. God says that we must let go of everything – and receive Him completely. The answer to life, the answer to eternal life is Jesus. This wealthy young ruler believed that because he had success and was able to create for himself his success that he could achieve salvation – all he had to do was achieve something – pay for something – his world focused mind set, which said “you can achieve anything”, made him believe he could achieve salvation on his terms. And Jesus’ response to this approach to life is an emphatic NO! In fact it is as impossible as trying to thread a needle with a camel – ridiculously impossible. The irony of this young man is that his wealth robbed him of God’s blessings. Faith requires a huge culture and worldview shift – and it is only possible to do that by the Holy Spirit in us – and that happens when we utterly surrender ourselves to Jesus – coming to him not with clench fists holding onto something but with open hands ready to receive FROM him. Notice that Jesus’ words effect the disciples. The disciples were also still steeped in the worldview of the rich man. They believed that wealth was a sure sign of God’s blessing. Jesus refuted this. Wealth and success is NEVER an indication that the Lord is with you. It may be – but the factors of wealth and success alone are not guarantees that God is with you. And then Peter asks the question – it’s the question which was on the mind of all the disciples – it’s the selfish question of a person who has yet to receive the Holy Spirit – Peter began to say to him, “Lo, we have left everything and followed you.” In other words what will we get! Notice Jesus’ words: Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, 30 who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life. 31 But many that are first will be last, and the last first.” The disciples needed to be re-focused – there is a great reward to come – and along with all the blessings notice what Jesus slips in there – persecutions BUT the end is eternal life. The disciples did reach that point – of letting go of everything in order to embrace Jesus and all that he has to give us. So, my encouragement to us this morning is to open our hands to the Lord – lets let go of the penny – lets receive the gift Jesus has for us – to embrace him with open hands, willing to let go of anything which might be holding us back. Now, lest any of you misunderstand me – I am not saying to sell everything you have – or give away all your money. Jesus’ words to this young man were directed at what this man needed to do to inherit eternal life – it focused upon what this man was holding onto and would not let go to receive God. The ‘penny’, the thing we are letting go of may be very different to money – it may be a career – our pride – our reputation – that we think we are better than everyone else – even our very life. God’s call to us is to let go and trust in God completely. Also, God is not a God who desires to see us poor – or struggling – he wants to bless us – Jeremiah says he has plans to prosper us and not to harm us. God may bless many of us with wealth and abundance – but he wants our hearts to be embracing him and not our wealth – and embracing god by saying – Lord use what you have blessed me with for you. We cannot receive God’s gift – His blessings – all that he has for us while holding onto other things. Let’s let go of the penny and embrace the riches God has for us.
It has been the quintessential thanksgiving day today. The morning was spent outside on a stunning day – sunny and quite warm! Then, in the afternoon, we were invited round to a parishioners house to join 19 others to celebrate the day. Along side the traditional turkey and trimmings we drunk beer and watched Houston pull out a great win over Detroit and the Redskins beat the Cowboys. Turkey, football and a house full of people and children running and having fun…. Happy thanksgiving indeed…
It has become clear to me now that the Episcopal Church is now just like Israel before the exile. The ‘priests’ and ‘prophets’ are doing their own thing despite the warnings from the minority. Jeremiah preached against the abuses of the religious leaders and yet the leaders not only ignored Jeremiah, but they claimed all was well and then tried to shut Jeremiah up.
No amount of rhetoric from the Presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church or those who support the liberal agenda changes the fact that the Episcopal Church is not just advocating unbiblical practices and lifestyles but claiming righteousness in their advocacy. This is tragic. They have departed from the narrow way that Jesus called all to walk and are now encouraging people to walk on the broad way to destruction. And in doing so they claim they are being Jesus centered; doing what Jesus would surely have done, accepting gay and lesbian behavior as normal. The liberals claim they uphold a Jesus centered tolerance and inclusivity for all. And yet in the very next breath they exclude conservative, biblically focused priests and bishops. You cannot claim tolerance and inclusivity and then attack those who disagree with you. You cannot claim tolerance and inclusivity and vilify a conservative diocese like South Carolina and its bishop Mark Lawrence.
The fact is scripture shows us that when ever Israel departed from the ways of God, the leadership thought they were doing fine. When ever they ignored or persecuted a prophet who called them out on their liberal, unbiblical ways, they attempted to silence and remove the prophet.
The Episcopal church has turned away from the clear teaching of the biblical to endorse and embrace that which cannot be endorsed by those who follow Christ. It is that simple.
We know what happened to Israel in the scriptures. God judged them. His judgment was aimed at drawing the people back to him and to obedience to is ways, his laws and his kingship. God will judge all who depart from his ways, he will judge in order to draw people back to him.
In the meantime, may the voices ring out loudly – may the message of the gospel and the truth of a Christ centered, biblical, Christianity which desires to follow, not change God’s ways be proclaimed even in the face of persecution, dismissal and a church leadership intent on traveling a path which leads away from the ways of the Lord.
We have just finished a years study in this fantastic gospel. We meet every wednesday night for about 75 mins. We began our study in October 2011 and finally completed it last week (November 13). It has been a fun journey. The Bible study began a year ago with 3 people and ended last week with some 11 people. It has been exciting!!
What is also a blessing is that I got to read a ton of commentaries cover to cover. Along side some of the standard texts which I read this past year (some for a second or third time such as Don Carson, John Gill, Leon Morris, Andreas J. Köstenberger, William Hendriksen), I read Warren Wiersbe’s two volumes on John , which were really excellent. Wiersbe is an author I have not really read before but his insight and exegetical work was great! Also, I really, really enjoyed Thomas Constable’s commentary on John. Constable, a professor at Dallas Theological Seminary has produced excellent Bible commentary, which also uses lots of quotes from other commentators.
The next year is going to be taken up with Genesis 1-11. Again, alongside the standard commentaries (Gordon Wenham, John J Davis), I am really excited to get to grips with some Messianic Jewish understanding of Genesis, especially in relation to Jewish Roots Christianity. I got Arnold Fruchtenbaum’s commentary on Genesis, and already I am so enjoying it!!
Here in our reading from Mark, Jesus, as clearly as anywhere in the gospel’s, exposes two things about the Spiritual leaders of Israel: (1) the complete ignorance the Pharisees really had of the law and the word of God and (2) the disregard they had for God’s true heart.
Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife. Interestingly, Matthew, in his account adds the words “for any cause.” Now, before I go any further I want to say that this is not a sermon about divorce. And the Pharisees are not asking this question because they have a pastoral concern for the men and especially women who have gone through the heartache of divorce. In the first century women were regarded so lowly that a man could divorce his wife for burning the dinner.
The Pharisees ask this question because they wanted to trap Jesus as well as justify their own actions.
The trap is clear – Jesus is in the jurisdiction of Herod Antipas – the one whom John The Baptist preached against for taking his brothers wife. The Pharisees are trying to lead Jesus to saying something incriminating against Herod so that Herod might arrest Jesus and cut off his head just like John the Baptist.
Alternatively if Jesus simply affirms the law of Moses in the way the Pharisees want then he will endorse the Pharisees theology of the law.
Jesus reminds the spiritual leaders of Israel that the reason that God gave this law was BECAUSE OF SIN. The basis of their attempt to trap Jesus is from a law which was based on the hardness of people’s hearts.The irony is that Jesus reveals the Pharisees’ true heart. The divorce law was there to protect women from being heartlessly and cruelly discarded for no reason. And almost certainly some of the Pharisees had divorced their wives for no good reason!
What is interesting is that the basis of Jesus’ response comes not from the law, which was the focus of the Pharisees, but from creation. Marriage is a creation ordinance – God decreed it and set it’s boundaries before the law was given. Genesis 2 says “It is not good for man to be alone.” Why is not good for man to be alone? Because man is made in God’s image – and God has never been alone because He has been in perfect relationship with the Trinity for all eternity. Therefore if we are created in god’s image it was simply never an option that man was to be alone. So God creates a partner – women. Jesus then emphasizes what this means – marriage – the joining of a man and woman is so intimate, and so important that what God has joined together, let no man put asunder. Notice this – what God has joined together .
Marriage between a man and a woman is a creation ordinance – a holy act, one in which the two individuals become united in an intimate, special, unique way – one flesh.
Now, we know that not all people will get married, or even want to be married. And the Bible clearly tells us that marriage is an earthly state – Matthew 22:30 that there is no marriage in heaven; For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage but are like angels in heaven.
The issue is that marriage is a symbol. It is an illustration of something far greater – it points to a more incredible reality – it shows us the primary intimate relationship that humanity is supposed to have is with God. And these religious experts had utterly missed it.
The Pharisees were a self evident example of the hardness of heart that leads to separation.
The symbolism is powerful and somewhat ironic – they are quibbling to Jesus about what constitutes a divorce when they themselves are in the midst of the ultimate divorce – from God himself – and were trying to lead others into the very same place – something which God had expressly forbidden. What God has joined together let no man put asunder does not just relate to marriage but to all God ordained relationships, the greatest of which is the relationship between God and humanity. And when people try and break or damage such a relationship, as the Pharisees were doing, they are disobeying the Lord.
Of course this was not new. The religious leaders of Israel have regularly done this. It was one of the charges that God brings to them through the prophets:
Ezek. 23:37 For they have committed adultery, and blood is on their hands; they have committed adultery with their idols.
Jer. 29:23 because they have committed an outrage in Israel by committing adultery with their neighbors’ wives and have spoken a lie in My name, which I did not command them. I am He who knows, and I am a witness.” |This is| the LORD’S declaration.
Marriage has always been an illustration, an image of God’s intended relationship between him and us.
A single person, following the Lord with all their heart can receive the intimacy and fellowship a married person has through their closeness to God. Jesus is the ultimate example of this. Equally, many who are married have less intimacy and fellowship because God is not at the center of the marriage.
The message of the gospel is about reconciliation – restoring the relationship between God and us – something we were not able to do – but God did do it by sending Jesus Christ to die for us.
This reconciliation is about intimacy – about a deep and real relationship – a relationship that we were created to be in – each one of us individually and as a whole body being united in Christ. The language of the New Testament is about being one flesh – knowing Jesus is about having the Holy Spirit IN YOU – residing with YOU 24 /7 – until that incredible day when, at the end of time Christ will be married to his bride – the church.
This declaration to the universe that Jesus Christ died for the sins of the whole world and that all who trust in him shall have eternal life and be restored / reconciled to the living God in an intimate and unique way ending in the marriage of Christ to the church – this declaration is a message we must pay strong attention to.
This is exactly what our reading from the Epistle to the Hebrews exhorts us to do – to keep this message close to us.
Now, for some of us, we may have heard the gospel decades ago – some years ago, some very recently. Regardless of when we heard the gospel, the writer to the Hebrews warns us that it is too easy to hear and then let the message drift away.
Now when I say drift away I am not necessarily saying that means you lose your salvation. But it does mean that the closeness, peace, intimacy and bless that God offers us is lost.
Relationships require time and effort. We all know this. And just like a marriage or any close relationship we must pay careful attention to this incredible gospel – to the message we have heard.
If we do not take care of this relationship we will drift apart.
I wonder if any of you have heard of Charles Templeton? He was one of the greatest evangelists in America. In the 1940’s, he and Billy Graham toured Europe together. Templeton grew bigger crowds – up to 30,000 people. People regarded him far more gifted than Billy Graham. But Templeton began to drift away – and over time he lost his faith completely. Billy Graham for a short time was called the new Charles Templeton.
This is the writer to the Hebrews point. The readers of this letter had become lazy, slack, passive in their Christian obedience. They had not woken up one morning and decided to reject Jesus – they were not about to make a life-changing decision to abandon Christ – no – but they were drifting and eventually drifting leads to separation – just like in a marriage – until all of sudden, without deliberate intention, you find yourself in the midst of a divorce. Just as the Pharisees were.
Union with Christ is like a marriage. We must pay careful attention to our relationship – spending time with God – keeping the lines of communication open – being honest with him and being obedient to what he asks of us, which may mean sacrificing our own desires and our own ways. Not that God moves away from us – but we can drift away from him.
Things can get tough in life. Living in the world is not easy. Being a Christian today may bring more issues into your life.
And there are many distractions which can cause us to drift away. And God knows this. He knows we will go through seasons of life enduring suffering, pain, the loss of a loved one, disappointment, heartache. In those times God can take us being angry with him, or disappointed with him for not granting a prayer we have prayed, for the loss of a loved one or for a relationship that has failed.
God can take us shouting at him, or being angry with him or even being disappointed with him.
But here’s the thing. If we remain angry, if we remain disappointed or frustrated with him, then we will begin to drift away from him. We will soon forget the promises of God – we will forget that God so longed to have an intimate relationship with us that he died for us.
The writer to the Hebrews says that EVERYTHING is under Christ. God has left NOTHING not subject to Him. But we do not yet see everything subjected to him. The world does not physically show the Lordship of Christ in it ….. yet. But it WILL.
So, I ask you this morning, do not neglect this incredible intimate, relationship which Jesus made possible through his death and resurrection. Do not let go of the promises that God has revealed to us in the Bible. Do not drift away from the very source of life – the one who through his death destroyed the one holding the power of death – Satan to free those in slavery. Do not drift away from the one in whom all things hold together and one day who will return to restore all things under his rule.
Each day, let us remember this glorious gospel – the incredible reconciliation which Christ has won for us on the Cross, so that we can have the intimate relationship we were created to have with God.
And if you have not known this relationship – then this morning the message of salvation is offered to you – Jesus Christ died for your sins that all who come in repentance to him, trusting in Jesus Christ, will receive forgiveness and eternal life – you will be reconciled to God and begin a relationship which will take you through death into eternity.
This is not a ‘normal’ kind of book. This is a presentation of research which Brian Howell has done on the topic of Short Term Mission trips. At the center of his research is a mission trip which he went on to the Dominican Republic, and his observations, interviews with the team and the process of of what happens AFTER such a mission. Howell’s goal is to examine the role, experiences and effects of ‘STM’s’. One of the fascinating insights and areas which Howell examines is how regularized the language used to describe the experiences of people on STM’s. Were students responding to what they encountered or were the ‘narratives’ shaping their memories?
I read this with great interest. I have done MANY STM’s, both as a participant and as a leader. Over the years through my own experience I have come to regard STM’s as something far less than mission. Often the impact of a team is very minimal to an area. In fact, in my own reading and research of the effects of such mission trips, the impact can be negative upon the community being visited. One example was a team sent to build a house. The job was done so badly that when the team left the community had to re-build the entire house!
STM’s largely serve as an experience for those who go ON them rather than those who on the receiving end. This is because, as Howell rightly observes, STM’s tend to be a hybrid of mission, tourism and pilgrimage. It’s a ‘kill three birds with one stone’ or a ‘vacation with some meaning’.
What is evident is that they have become a phenomenon in their own right, with millions of people spending their own money and time to go on a STM.
Howell is not in any way attacking Short term missions, but he is asking the question of how they should be used to better serve and engage with both the team members and those whom the team serves, so that they achieve what they are able to achieve, and not to pretend to be more than they are.
I think this is a very important book for pastors and church leaders to wrestle with if they are planning or indeed, actively involved with STM’s. Howell’s suggestions towards restricting STM’s narrative towards the end of the book is a must read if you have such trips in your church!
This review was written by Tia Gray – the Music Director of the Church I serve at.
John Jefferson Davis is a professor of systematic theology and Christian ethics at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and has published in both theological and scientific journals. This book may be on meditation, but it is written for the theological scholar, not the lay person; the first three fourths of the book are spent in theological discussion of a highly scholarly type, and his footnoted, erudite writing style is not readily accessible to the lay person. I could only chuckle when, on page 94, he states, “…this is a book on meditation, not a treatise on epistemology directed to academic philosophers…”.
That said, if you can persevere through the professorial apologetics, and you are armed with a working knowledge of words like hermeneutics, logopneumatic, teleology, and soteriology, there are many fascinating concepts to be gleaned. And Davis states that a deep knowledge of the bible and Christian theology is essential ‘background information’ for true understanding of the nature of the Trinitarian God, which will lead us to a richer communion with God when we meditate on Scripture.
Christians who are wary of incorporating Eastern meditation practices should be aware that there is a rich history of Protestant biblical meditation, especially by the Puritan fathers in the 1600s. Davis states that in the Puritan view, without meditation, “preaching won’t benefit us, our prayers won’t be effective, and we will be unable to defend the truth.” He assures the reader that in Christian meditation, the goal is to be filled with the Holy Spirit during meditation on Scripture, as opposed to the Eastern practice of ‘emptying oneself’ during meditation.
I was fascinated by a snippet Davis includes from a study by the Center for Biblical Engagement in Lincoln, Nebraska: the study found that those who read the Bible at least four times a week were less likely to engage in behaviors such as gambling, pornography, alcohol abuse and extramarital affairs. “Time spent in the Word correlates with an individual’s spiritual growth.”
The basic point Davis strives to make is that we approach meditation on Scripture from a very real understanding of 3 foundational truths:
- Trinitarian theology
- Inaugurated eschatology
- Union with Christ
Union with Christ: God’s plan from before creation, promised by Christ during his earthly ministry, and fulfilled by the Holy Spirit during Pentecost. It is not achieved only by saints, but is accessible to every Christian, and it is accessible now, while we still live on earth, not only in heaven. This was Paul’s understanding when he spoke of being ‘in Christ’, or ‘seated with Christ in the heavenly realms.”
Davis is a strong believer in John’s doctrine of ‘realized escatology,’ which he calls inaugurated eschatology: (the doctrine that we are currently living in the’ end times’). We should be more fully alive to the fact that since Christ’s resurrection we have been living in the end times; Paul states in Ephesians 2:6 that we are already in heaven, that we have ‘experiential access to the new creation.’ He meant this literally 2000 years ago, and it is still true today: the new Jerusalem already exists and we have already arrived in it. As Davis quotes from N. T. Wright: It is not we who go to heaven; it is heaven that comes down to earth.
The Trinity: Davis feels that this vital aspect of Christianity had fallen into unimportance in previous years and is now experiencing a ‘renaissance’ in a broad spectrum of the church: Protestant, Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox. The Trinitarian God is inherently relational, and we were created to be inherently relational, not only with God but with each other. Our very salvation is a call, through Christ’s redemption and the Holy Spirit’s indwelling, to be invited into the Trinitarian circle of love, joy and peace.
As Christians, we must approach the Scriptures as part of our personal identity: the stories of the bible are stories of our family: part of our genealogical narrative. The words of our ancestor, brother and savior, Jesus, inform us (give us knowledge of God), form us (change us into faithful disciples,) and transform us (open us up to the indwelling of the Spirit, which brings us into true communion with God).
Davis also points out that according to the Westminster Shorter Catechism: “Q. What is the chief end of man? A. Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.” And if glorifying and enjoying God is the main purpose for which you were created, then worship and biblical meditation are high priorities, not something you might get to if you have a few spare moments.
In Chapter 7, when we finally begin to discuss actual meditation techniques and processes, Davis uses and adapts the meditation process of M. Basil Pennington, a Trappist monk at St. Joseph’s Abbey in Spencer, Massachusetts. This brief section gives a good outline for how to approach biblical meditation in a prayerful, open way, pointing out how important it is to be open to the insights that might come as you read and reread a portion of Scripture, and to be thankful and joyful for the time spent in communion with Christ. He also cautions that even if we might not feel as if God has been present during this time of meditation and study, he is there even when we do not feel his presence. Davis also suggests that we continue, throughout our day, to call to mind the insights received during our meditation, so that our lives may be suffused with spiritual growth. In this way our spiritual journey can become part of our personal identity, and begin to affect how we perceive and react to the world and those around us–and how they perceive and react to us.
Davis briefly discusses three levels of meditation: beginning, intermediate (or whole brain), and worldview. In discussing beginning meditation, he mostly concentrates on keeping the mind focused through the use of centering prayer, since distraction and loss of focus is a universal problem with beginning meditators. In whole brain meditation, he discusses engaging both the right brain (visual) and the left brain (linguistic) by pairing bible passages that discuss concepts with passages that give us a visual reference for that concept, in much the same way Jesus used parables about seed, coins, and lamps as concrete, visual symbols of spiritual truths. Davis’ worldview meditation is probably the most enriching, as he suggests meditating on cycles of Scripture using five ‘practices of right comprehension’: our view of God, our view of reality, our view of ourselves, our view of the purpose of human life, and our view of worship. Approaching scripture through the lens of these viewpoints keeps one focused on the ‘big picture’ of how we live a Christian life.
The chapter on actual meditation techniques is of course the most readily accessible to those truly interested in getting started on bible meditation, and the paired scriptural passages he uses as examples and suggestions are a wonderful introduction to the depth of insight that can be obtained using these thoughtful methods. A lay person might begin—and end– with this chapter. Anyone seeking a deeper knowledge of the foundation of our faith should struggle through the first 6 chapters, dictionary in hand; it will, ultimately, be worth the effort.
The word SIN is a good religious word isn’t it. We christians bandy it around liberally, “You sinner” – “Our sins” “My sin”.
You may already know that the word SIN means to ‘miss the mark’. We miss the mark of the standard God set – which was His law. If we break just ONE law, we have missed the mark and we are unable to have fellowship with God – James 2:10 says For whoever keeps the entire law, yet fails in one point, is guilty of |breaking it| all.
Of course, we know that we have the evangelon – the good news – the gospel, which is that Jesus Christ did not miss the mark – he kept the law perfectly and through his death and resurrection we are reconciled to God – we no longer miss the mark because of Jesus.
And yet we also know that we still sin – we still, daily miss the mark. We are not yet perfected and each day we do, think, say and act in ways which miss the mark.
We also know that we have the wonderful privilege of being able to confess our sins. 1 John 1 – if we confess our sins God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness!
But here is my point this morning – we must hold two things in equal balance – we must realize, accept and rejoice that we are forgive and set free from sin – but equally we must have a realization of the horror and the evilness of sin of our sin and not be blasé about it.
All too often, when we think about ‘serious’ sin, we think of the big ones – murder, lying, stealing – all the ‘thou shalt nots’. And we say to ourselves “Phew! I do not do that”. But then, even subconsciously, we tend to minimize, or think little of our besetting sins – the white lies, the gossip, the speaking badly of someone, the temper tantrum.
Now, please, I am not trying to make you all feel guilty this morning – we are cleansed people today because of the blood of Christ – we are forgiven. We are loved of God. he is our Father in heaven. However, we must understand the seriousness of sin. You have heard the old cliche that if you were the only person on earth Jesus would have died for you. It’s wonderful, but think about what it is saying! Our sin was SO bad, SO serious, SO destructive that it cost the life of Jesus Christ, the living God. And when we minimize it, we minimize the cost Jesus paid.
The Old Testament uses three words in conjunction with sin. Leviticus 16:21 says Aaron will lay both his hands on the head of the live goat and confess over it all the Israelites’ wrongdoings and rebellious acts—all their sins.a He is to put them on the goat’s head and send |it| away into the wilderness by the man appointed for the task.
This passage calls sin rebellion.
The second word is found in 1 kings 13:21: He cried out to the man of God who had come from Judah, “This is what the LORD says: ‘You have defied the word of the LORD and have not kept the command the LORD your God gave you.
This passage calls sin defiance.
The third passage is 2 Sam 12:9: Why then have you despised the command of the LORD by doing what I consider evil? You struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword and took his wife as your own wife—you murdered him with the Ammonite’s sword.
So, the Bible says that sin is to rebel against, defy and despise God.
Every single sin – whether of the smallest to the largest is to rebel, defy and despise God.
Now our readings this morning give us two examples of missing the mark and it’s seriousness.
We see the first example in our Old Testament reading. Despite the incredible miracle of being rescued from the greatest military power on the earth, and had seen the visible manifestation of the pillar of fire going before them and protecting them from behind – and even then, the people of Israel start to complain. They are complaining about God.
They are complaining about and despising the provision God has given them. They want meat – and the manna which is being provided for them every day – the manna which was feeding them, keeping them healthy and being provided for without their toiling or working for it – this manna they are fed up with!
They rebel, defy and despise God in their complaint. They even compare slavery in Egypt MORE favorably than the grace of God who brought them out of Egypt.
Let’s be clear. The Israelites have absolutely nothing to complain to God about. Nothing! And notice where the complaining began. The mixed multitude, i.e. the non Jews, who came out of Egypt with the Jews were the ones who started to complain and the complaining spreads into the people of God. So often that happens with us – with those in the Church. We get caught up in the grumblings and complaining of the world and we bring in into the church and then sometimes even direct it to God himself.
And as a leader Moses is utterly frustrated!
Now, the sections which the lectionary leaves out of Numbers 11 is important. God hears their complaining and says they will have meat – meat for a month – so much meat, God says, that it will come out of their nostrils. And as they ate the meet, v33 tells that While the meat was still between their teeth, before it was chewed, the anger of the LORD was kindled against the people, and the LORD struck the people with a very severe plague.
To miss the mark, to defy, rebel or despise God and provision is a very serious thing.
Our second example is found in the Gospel reading and it hits a little more close to home.
John comes to Jesus and tells him that he had found a man casting out demons in Jesus’ name and had forbidden him to do this.
Now, notice the reason he gives for forbidding him – we forbade him, because he was not following us. Not because this man was doing something wrong, or saying anything bad, or because he was misusing Jesus’ name.
John forbids him because the man was not part of the inner group – he was not part of the ‘in’ crowd – he was not a member of the privileged ones.
Now, look at Jesus’ reply. He tells John that he should not do that – that ANYONE who helps them because they are Jesus’ disciples will be rewarded and then that ANYONE who causes one of these little ones who believe in Jesus to stumble, it would be better if a millstone where tied around his neck and thrown into the sea.
Jesus was referring to John. John, if you by your attitude of exclusiveness or superiority causes one who believes in me to stumble – that is to stop doing something of God and therefore to sin – you should be drowned.
Hey, Jesus, over-reaction buddy!
But no! John had made a mistake. He had missed the mark. He had sinned in his action. And we may look at this and think, “Wow, not the worst sin you might have committed” but it was sin.
Why was it sin. John had despised God. He had assumed that God was not working outside of the 12. That they only were the purveyors of the truth. John was doing exactly what the pharisees were doing – excluding any possible work of God which was not authorized out of their own group. And yet truth is truth – and God is working in the world.
Jesus’ message is very clear – sin is so serious that you should cut it out!!
Now, the imagery, you would be glad to know, is only imagery. Of course He is not telling you to cut parts of your body off. His point is that sin is so dangerous, so bad, so infecting that you must get rid of it at all costs – at all costs.
We must not entertain it, we must not play with it, we must not dabble in it. Because if we do, it will be nasty.
In fact the image Jesus uses of Gehenna – hell – was so vivid everyone knew it.
I am sure many of you know that next to Jerusalem was the valley of Hinnom. It was in Jesus’ day the garbage dump of the city – the place of refuse. It was the location of Israel’s most terrible lapses into pagan worship. It was were Ahaz instituted fire-worship to Baal and the sacrifice of little children into the fire – (2 Chron 28:3). And it was were Josiah, in 2 Kings 23:10 declared it to be an unclean place . In Jesus’ day this valley was constantly smoldering with fire and huge, gross worms bred in the refuse.
When Jesus talks of sin and Gehenna – he is linking the word with a visual example – sin is gross and it is unclean and everyone would do whatever it took to make sure they did not get thrown into the Valley of Hinnom.
Sin is very, very serious and we must realize this.
Remember we must hold the grace of our forgiveness on the one hand, and the realization of the terribleness of sin and it’s power and consequence.
Which is why James exhorts us to Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and he will draw near to you.
As we begin to submit ourselves to God – and to consciously resist the devil – the two go together; when we submit to God we will automatically resist the devil – as we begin to do this we will start to know the power of God lifting us up. We will start to be set free from some of the sins we have struggled with.
When we depart from the Lordship of God, when we begin to sin, even a ‘little’ sin – we begin to walk on very dangerous ground – we walk outside the protection of God – we leave the safety of God’s provision.
When we realize the seriousness of sin, it should drive us harder into the arms of God. It should spur us to keep short accounts with God – to confess our sins regularly and as this happens we begin to keep our distance from the dangerous ground of sin.
I want to end with a quotation from Charles Spurgeon. I found this a wonderful illustration and succinctly encompasses my message this morning. He says:
Have you heard of the minister who complained to the devil for running off with one of his church members? The fiend replied, “I found him on my premises and therefore I claimed him.” I may say “Stop” to the arch-deciever but it will be of no use if he finds you on his territory. Every fowler claims the bird which he finds in his own net. This is the argument, “I caught him in my net and therefore he is mine.” We shall in vain try to dispute this right of property with the arch-deceiver, for possession is 9 points of the law.
The problem with the title of this book is that there will be people who will read it and think that the book will not apply to them. Wrong! This is far more than just a moving, heartbreaking warning about sex addiction and pornography – it is about the struggles and frustrations pastors face in the midst of their sin, any sin.
While this book looks at the cost paid by a pastor who struggled with sex addiction for decades and the unhealthy elevation of ‘sexual’ sin above all other ‘sin’, the book will challenge and remind you that all pastors, indeed all christians, struggle with something and T Ryan’s story of his struggle while married and pastoring a large and growing church, should resonate with all who read it.
A sub-theme of this book examines what the church is to do with pastors who need healing. He writes that the church needs to expect failure in her leaders and lovingly go to every length possible to help them deal with their own brokenness. All pastors are broken to some extent – pastors are not perfect people. And with regards to sex addictions one survey has said that 60% of clergy struggle with some form of compulsive sexual behavior.
The hope of this book is that God’s grace is always available. It is the great lesson that, in the midst of his struggles and pain, Ryan recognizes and grasps onto. God’s grace, God’s forgiveness, His presence can be found even in the darkest of times.
It would indeed be a mistake to pass by this book because you feel it does not relate to you. It does.