Monday, August 27, 2012

“What’s The Point?”


A sermon based upon Genesis 1: 24-31
Dr. Charles J. Tomlin, Pastor
Flat Rock-Zion Baptist Partnership
Disciple Series, Sermon 2 of 15, August 26, 2012

My first pastorate was less than ten miles from my home, where my parents were still living.   The road we frequented to my parent’s house would take us through a heavily wooded area known as Allison’s woods.   When we traveled the road late in the evening we would often see deer, even before deer became prominent most everywhere.  One night, I hit one.  It was a large doe and the impact did quite a bit of damage to the front of the car.  To verify to the insurance company that that I hit a deer, I called the Highway Patrol to make an accident report.  The next day, I asked my whether or not my insurance would cover the damages.  The agent answered, “Why of course.  This is covered as an “Act of God”.

That was the first time I had ever heard an insurance agent using religious language.   As I reflected upon the matter, I thought it quite interesting that insurance companies would invoke such religious language about God for an accident.   But really, when you think about it, by invoking the name of God the insurance company declared that it wasn’t “just” an accident.   In their language, the insurance company had a need to find a reason and cause for the crash.   They said what some people want to believe.  Even accidents are not accidents.  Everything happens for a reason.   

I can’t say whether or not my crashing into that deer was an “act of God”.   Today it would probably just be called a “no fault” accident.  But I’m glad the insurance company could say whatever it needed to say in order to pay for the repair of my car.   I don’t believe that God caused that deer to hit my car, and I also can’t simply believe that everything happens “for a reason”.  As a preacher, I just can’t say that.   I think you can understand why.  I just can’t tell you that God took your baby.   I just can’t tell you that God gave you cancer.   I even can’t tell you that God made you healthy.  You can thank God for it.  You can pray for God’s help when bad things happen.  But I just can’t declare that I know everything that God is up to.  Ever since I came to fully understand what Isaiah the prophet uttered in the 8th century BC, my words and ideas about God become have much more humbled: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the LORD.  For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts (Isa 55:8-9 NRS).  Words like that are powerful enough to shut the mouth of any loud mouth preacher or person who says they know exactly what God is doing in this world.

However, there is something we should think about when Insurance companies call accidents “acts of God” and when people declare their faith by saying “everything happens for a reason.”   The theology in such expressions would surely be matter of fierce debate in most seminaries today, both so called conservative or liberal ones, but behind these words is something that faith believes is true, not only about God, but also about ourselves.  I believe that the “reason” or the “cause” of everything is what the very first words of the Bible declare with most impressive words: “In the Beginning God created the heavens and the earth….”  

WITH GOD AS OUR CREATOR, THERE IS PURPOSE
These very first words of the Bible are words of faith, not “provable” facts.   Facts are something you can prove, put in a book and store away on a shelf and then forget.   Faith is something you have to keep alive, struggle with, wonder about, ponder again and again, even question or doubt, and then you must decide, not just once, but every day in your heart (Remember how Mary, upon the birth of Jesus, “kept and pondered these things in her heart.” Luke 2.19).   It is surely no accident that the Bible does not open by arguing whether or not God exists or by giving us proofs.  The Bible assumes and affirms who God is because of what God does---He creates the world and he created us.  Theologians, philosophers and even many Scientist marvel at such words.  Listen to what agnostic and scientist Dr. Robert Jastrow wrote way back in 1982, not long after the “Big Bang Theory” became a proven, scientific fact.  In his book, God and the Astronomers, Jastrow wrote:   “Now we see how the astronomical evidence supports the biblical view of the origin of the world….  Astronomers now find they have painted themselves into a corner because they have proven, by their own methods, that the world began abruptly in an act of creation to which you can trace the seeds of every star, every planet, every living thing in this cosmos and on the earth.  And they have found that all this happened as a product of forces they cannot ever hope to discover (by scientific methods). For the scientist who has lived by his faith in the power of reason (alone), the story ends like a bad dream.  He has scaled the mountain of ignorance; he is about to conquer the highest peak; as he pulls himself over the final rock, he is greeted by a band of theologians who have been sitting there for centuries.” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Jastrow).

The Bible is not science nor scientific.  Science is human knowledge.  The Bible must put its words into human ideas and thoughts, but the Bible is also the written Word of God.  The Bible takes us where no Science can ever hope to take us; to answer the most fundamental human question of all: “Why are we here?” and “Why is there something and not nothing?” What’s the point?  In this opening word of the Bible, “In the Beginning God….” we have this dramatic assertion that the world was created by God on purpose and for his purposes.  These words come to us by faith, through the heart, not only in the head, as a mere fact of science.  As the writer of Hebrews confirmed much later, “By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was made from things that are not visible (Heb 11:3 NRS).  

Right now, on the planet Mars, an unmanned spacecraft is conducting experiments, taking pictures and even shooting laser beams.   That spaceship was sent there by NASA not only to learn more about Mars, but it was sent because humans want to know more about life.  Even with the Bible in our hands, even after landing on the moon, and even after telescopes can show us more than we’ve ever seen, people are still not satisfied with what they know, and are still wondering why, as well as, how life happened.

This question of “Why” is a powerful and motivating.  It not only asks hard questions, but the question of “why” gives a definitive answer about who we are in this world.   “Why” is one the very first questions a child will ask.  Parents know all too well, children don’t just start with the easy questions, but they like to ask the hardest ones.  “Why is the sky blue?”  “Why do you have to shave?  “Why do you always leave your socks on the floor, Dad?”  Why? Why? Why?   Isn’t it very interesting that humans are the only living creatures who ask this question of purpose about our lives?  “My God, why is the question Jesus asked on the cross and is the question every reasonable person will ask in their heart.  Why are we here? What’s the point?

This story of creation would rather show us “why” than tell us.  In this story of “why” it is the Spirit or Wind of God that is hovering over the deep, dark waters of chaos and nothingness.  In the midst of all that darkness, God speaks and calls for light.   Then God divides the waters and makes what we would call the atmosphere so he can command the seas and the earth to “bring forth life”  (vs. 11, 20, etc).  It’s as if God gives his creation the “why” of his “Word” and the earth itself allowed to work out the “how”.  The point of this story is not meteorological, astronomical, geological nor biological.  As Galileo rightly said long ago, Science tells us how the heavens go, but only God can tell us how to go to heaven.”   The point of this story of creation is not to tell us exactly “how”, but “why” so it will answer our deepest, most fundamental question, which no human can ever answer: “What’s the point?”  The answer in Genesis is that God is the point, or there is no point at all.   And this picture of creation much more than God created the world, but it is a picture of God creating the world as his natural temple, so that “the whole earth can be full of his glory”(Is. 6.3).  God creates his world, not just so we can live in it, but so his presence can live in us and in this world which is his great temple.


WITHOUT GOD AS OUR CREATOR, THERE IS A GOODNESS
Not only does Genesis creation story tell us God is the purpose for life, which is the only purpose which can ever be known through faith, but this creation story gives something else to wonder about.   When God creates the world, he is the only one who can call it “good”.   “And God said, let there be….” quickly gives way to the next foundational word, “God saw that it was good.”  How can we call life “good”?  How do we even know what good is?   That’s not as easy of a question as it sounds. 

Saying that “life is good” does not mean that life is “fun”, nor does it mean that everything that happens in this world is good, nor is life always way it is supposed to be.   There is pain in this world.  There is suffering.  There are earthquakes, storms, floods, fires and many other tragic, life stealing events.   Even the innocent suffer.  Good people have bad things happen to them and bad people have good things happen to them.  How can anyone, even the writer of Genesis, look at this world as it is, and still call it “good?”  On a good day, we might consider it and be thankful, but on a bad day, even on some normal days, if we look around long enough and see how things really are, and how bad things can become, it can seem impossible for us to say that “life is good.”  That wealthy Film maker who made the movie Top Gun and recently jumped off a bridge to his death, made his point about how bad life can seem.   We may not want to admit it, but if we been around long enough, we too can understand how people can lose faith and say to themselves “life is not worth living”.  How can the Bible say that life is good?
But this is exactly what the creation story declares, isn’t it.  “And God made the land and seas…and saw that it was good (v. 10)  “And God brought forth grass, whose seed was in itself…and saw it was good” (12).  “And God made to great lights…to rule over the day and the night….and saw it was good” (18).  “And God made every living thing in the sea, air, and on land…and saw that it was good (vs. 21,25).  Finally, God made “humans”, and we are told that he made them “in his own image” and saw “everything he had made” and “behold, it was very good” (31).  Life may not always look good, we may not always look so good ourselves, but the Biblical word says, in spite of how things seem, at least at the beginning, “God saw…everything” and “it was good!” 

 This biblical word does make you wonder, doesn’t it?  It makes you wonder how everything that looked and worked so good, could get so quickly messed up.  That’s another story, we’ll get to in our next message.  But for now let’s just consider this one:  What does it mean that God calls this world “good”?
Last week comedian Phillis Diller died.  She was 95 years old.  Her family said: “she died during the night in her sleep with a smile on her face”.  God rest her soul.  But Mrs. Diller, wouldn’t appreciate me saying that.  If you know anything about Mrs. Diller, she did not believe in God.  Sometimes, in her comedy, she was quite vocal about it. Once she said, “There is no God, you idiot!” and another time she quipped, “So, God made man in his image… No,” she continued, “we made God in our image.”  That’s the problem.   Diller was right about one thing, if we make God in our image, we are all in trouble.  I can appreciate Diller’s humor and how she used her humor to make a living and feed her family.  But what did you ever do beside make people laugh.  Laughing is certainly a good thing.  It is good, but is it good enough?
Unless God has the final word on what is good, and what good is, there is no moral foundation for life now, nor is there any hope of justice to come.  This would is unfair and it will not only stay that way, you will die and no ultimate good will come out of anything you or I have done.   Oh, yes, people can be good, live longer, help others, but unless God’s goodness and value comes into play, Shakesphere was right: “life is but a tale told by an idiot, full of fury and signifying nothing.”  For you see unless there is a God who created life to be good, and will one day “put this world to rights” in the world that is still to come, we are all idiots.  Phillis Diller was funny, but if her word is the last laugh, we all should be crying: “Unless God has given life its value and unless he made us good for his own good, then, Phillis Diller at least half right, you and I are idiots.”

In this book, The Brothers Karamazov, one of Dostoevsky’s characters, Aloysha has a brother who does not believe in God, nor that life is good, nor even that he should do or be good.  In one moment of their discussion, Alyosha tells his brother his greatest fear; “If there is no God, then everything is permissible.”   That childhood prayer which says, “God is good”, is the hope of our world.  Even if we can’t explain exactly, precisely what God’s goodness means, just aiming for it changes everything, but without aiming for God’s goodness, changes nothing.   Several years ago, a school in Germany, which had once been a catholic school that survived communism, was now closed and was taken over by German state schools.  In this area of Germany, Brandenburg, they were following the American form of education, and not teaching religion in the schools, but trying to teach ethics and morals without Jesus.  I asked one of the teachers how the new experiment was going.  “It’s not going, he told me.”  Ethics just doesn’t work without a personal example.  Jesus was our best human example of the kind of human being we should be.  Without him, without the personal dimension of faith and religion, teaching ethics in school is simply a waste of time.  The students don’t care and the students don’t get it.”

WITH GOD AS OUR CREATOR, THERE IS RESPONSIBILITY, CARE AND EVEN MORE
 This brings us to our final word of word of wonder about creation.  With God, there is purpose and with God there is goodness, but without God, there is no ultimate foundation for either.   But we finally put the spotlight on us: What are we here for?  What’s the point of us?  If God creates the world, holds the ultimate purpose for the world and also gives the world its goodness and moral value, then, what is human life about?   Why did God make us “in his image”?

In the “creation stories”, humans are created by God to be both “free” and “responsible.”  Humans are given “dominion”, but they are not given “free reign” over the earth, but are given freedom within God’s limits of responsibility.   Even this word “responsibility” implies that humans must “respond” properly to life as a gift from God.   What is the most basic human responsibility?  In the second version of the creation story, we are told that humans are put here for even a bigger reason than to “rule, have dominion” or to “multiply and fill the earth”.  Humans are put on this earth to take “care” for life, as if it were our very own garden.  This is why it was called “the Garden of Eden”.

And if I’m reading Genesis right, the point of life is not just that we learn how to “care” for the earth, but the story means that we are created to grow up and learn how to care, period.   Maybe this is why later, the forbidden fruit will kill humans, but it’s not all bad.  It’s the fruit of the “knowledge of both good and evil.”   It is this knowledge of “good and evil”, this learning how to live and learning how to care that can also kill us, but it also makes us very much alive in this world.   We are given life by God to learn how to care, even if it hurts.   Caring for this earth means that we are not to misuse or abuse this earth for our own sake, but we are to care for it and become stewards or managers of it, both for God’s sake and for our sake, and also, for the sake of those who come after us.  We are to care, even if it hurts and kills us.  And of course, this caring includes God’s most important creation; humanity, us, each other.  We are to care and be responsible for the world and how we rule over it, and we are to learn to be responsible for each other, and how we serve each other.   “No greater love has anyone, than to lay down his life for his friends.”   This could just be the main point.  Caring and learning to care, just could be the greatest purpose, the greatest good, and it may be exactly what it means to become the responsible human person who has been given life in God’s world.  

Last Sunday evening, I told the discipleship class about the story of a man in the small town of Corbett, Oregon, who was featured on CBS’s Sunday Morning program.  The man, they called “Woody”, who was not wealthy, but he always was doing the things to care for the people in his community.  He helped people all his life. Whenever people offered him money, he wouldn’t take, even when he needed it.  He wasn’t rich.  His life was simple.  But this was the kind of man he was.  A few months ago, Woody discovered that he had ALS, Lu Gary disease.   He was dying.  But this man still rode around in the community, visiting people, doing whatever he could, always waving at everyone he met on the road.  Just before he died, he wiped away tears, saying how he was glad he was dying slow, so he could say farewell to all the people he had helped.   When he did die, they laid him in a simple wooden box, covered with the signatures of the people he cared about, who also cared about him.  As they brought his body through town for burial, people lined the streets to wave farewell, mimicking his signature wave.  His son Clint said, Bill Gates could have come to this town and had not been able to have outpouring of love people repaid to him.   “You just can’t buy the love they’ve poured out for Dad.”   http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-18563_162-57495803/oregon-town-says-goodbye-to-man-who-spent-life-helping-neighbors/.  Amen.

Monday, August 20, 2012

“THE BIBLE’S POWER FOR LIFE”


A sermon based upon 2 Timothy 3: 12-17
Dr. Charles J. Tomlin
Flat Rock-Zion Baptist Partnership
Disciple Series, 1 of  15, August 12, 2012

You can get into all kinds of trouble when you read, believe, live or teach the Bible.  A.J. Jacob’s, in his book, The Year of Living Biblically, reminds us of all kinds of Bible texts we had better not put into practice today, such as “the stoning of stubborn and rebellious children” . (Deut 21: 18-21).  There are many more.  

In our text Paul reminds Timothy right up front: “In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted”(12).    To live “a godly life in a world that is not convinced nor sold out on God’s “revelation” of righteousness (Romans 1:17) can cost you.    It might cost you a friend.  It might cost you your job.  It might cost your reputation among some.  It might also cost you money and, but hopefully not, it could, as it does in some places, even cost you your life.     

The recent Chick-Fil-A controversy is a case and point to the “cost” of living “biblically”.   The controversy has not about using cows in advertising, nor eating chicken, and not even about eating fast food, but it has been over America’s continued stewing over what defines a marriage or a family.  It all started when son of Chick-Fil-A founder, Truett Cathy, made a bold statement recently in the Biblical Recorder stating how his company stands for the “biblical definition of the family unit”.   (http://www.brnow.org/News/July-2012/%E2%80%98Guilty-as-charged,%E2%80%99-Dan-Cathy-says-of-Chick-fil-A).

Stating that his company operates on “biblical principles” is a great witness to truth as “revealed” in the Bible, but it was when Cathy went from witnessing to “preaching” on a news talk television show that he got into trouble.   “…I think we are inviting God's judgment on our nation when we shake our fist at Him and say 'we know better than you as to what constitutes a marriage' and I pray God's mercy on our generation that has such a prideful, arrogant attitude to think that we have the audacity to define what marriage is about." (http://www.goodasyou.org/good_as_you/2012/07/audio-chickfila-president-coo-dan-cathy-says-arrogant-same-sex-marriage-shaking-fist-at-god-invites-god-judgment.html .

When you move from selling chicken in the world and to “preaching” the worldview of the Bible to the world, you are asking for trouble.   As Paul says in our text, “Scripture…rebukes, corrects and instructs.”  Here, already, Paul knew what Dan Cathy now knows, the “world” cannot always receive, understand nor appreciate biblical values.  If you speak up for what you believe in the midst of the moral, spiritual and the increasing societal confusion of today’s “culture wars”, people will take shots at you.  Even if you are trying to say what you are for, rather than trying to be against anyone, as Cathy later explained he was doing, (He was not anti-gay, but pro-marriage).  Even though New York’s mayor Bloomberg, who disagrees with his Cathy’s view on marriage, defended Cathy’s constitutional right of “free speech” (www.nypost.com), the truth of matter is that speech is never completely free.  The words of God in the bible aren’t free either.  

The problem the Chick-Fil-A controversy depicts the greatest problem humans always have with the Bible.   Mark Twain once commented, “It ain’t the parts of the Bible I don’t understand which trouble me, but it’s the parts of the Bible I do.”   We can come to understand even most of the difficult parts of the Bible, but will we?  How do we actually receive, learn, believe, and hopefully, come to live the words of the Bible?  

READ THE BIBLE---- LIVE A GODLY LIFE IN CHRIST
If you want to find the power and authority for life in the Bible, it will require effort and learning on your part.  Paul tells Timothy to “continue in what you have learned …”  (14a).  The way of a Christian disciple is based upon the fact that you have “learned” the truth about Jesus Christ, and that you still need to “continue” learning, as the old hymn says, “more about Jesus.”  In fact, the very word disciple means “learner”.   A true follower of Jesus Christ continues to be a “life-long learner”, as you can only “grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ” when you keep learning, one day at a time.

But we surely can’t “continue” in what we haven’t learned, what we haven’t really read, what we aren’t reading, or haven’t studied.  The foundation of living the godly life revealed to us in Jesus comes from taking time to read, meditate upon, and pray Scripture.  Are you part of a regular Bible Study?  Are you daily reading and learning what God has said, and what the Spirit still says?  I know this sounds elementary (my dear Watson), but you can’t beat simplicity for grasping the truth.  You can’t know, find, discover, or learn God’s eternal truth for yourself unless you take time and effort to read and learn the saving story of Bible for yourself.  

The Bible is expansive in its scope, substance and subject.  It’s made up of two major sections: The Old and New Testaments or Covenants.   It’s tells about the History of Israel and the Coming of Jesus in that history to redeem them and us.   The Bible was written over a period of over 1,500 years detailing both religious experience, religious progress including religious failure, so that it can be now be “received” as a guide for faith and the “supreme revelation” of God’s redemptive truth in history.  In more recent Church history, scholars like John Wycliff and William Tyndale were hunted down and burned at the stake because they believed you and I should have a Bible to read for ourselves.   And do you know who hunted those men down and killed them for translating and printing the Bible?  Strangely enough, it wasn’t the world, but it was “church” that didn’t want people reading the Bible.  There was a time when the church assumed it could make up its own “authority”, just like people do today, rather than following the word of Scripture.  

So, at the very heart of learning the way of discipleship begins by learning the Bible, especially learning the Bible as children.  Paul reminds Timothy how “from infancy he has learned the Holy Scriptures” (3.15).  It is his learning of the Bible that will give Timothy the ability to endure, grow and continue following the way of Jesus.   Everything young Timothy has learned and will continue to learn about Jesus is grounded in the ‘authority’ of the Word of God.

BELIEVE THE BIBLE----KNOW THE GOD WHO GIVES LIFE
The second word Paul advices Timothy is to “continue…. in what you have become convinced of.”  
 When we speak about the Bible having “power or authority for life” we know that the word “authority” has become negative for our much of our culture.  Beginning in the 1960’s the prevailing mood of western society became anti-establishment and anti-authority, which continues in subtle and more obvious forms of protest today.   Ask many people what is their ultimate “rule” or “authority” in life and many will tell you “they don’t know” or “don’t have a clue” or that “they are their own authority” as they are “making up the rules as they go.”   As Jay Leno’s Jay Walking segment has shown, when asked what are the names of the writers of the gospels, you will get all kinds of answers, like the one person who answered, “Paul, John and George and Ringo.”  In this world where there are so much ignorance about the Bible, so many beliefs, so many angles for truth, and so many choices.   In a world where there is so much ignorance about the Bible, how can we, make a claim of ultimate saving, spiritual truth found in the words of the Bible?

I know there are many arguments for affirming the “truth” in and of the Bible.   Arguments never work to convince anyone.  But let me simply ask you: WHAT EMPOWERS YOUR LIVE?  What gives you the confidence and assurance to face each day?  Do you have the “authority” to live the kind of life that keeps on giving life and hope?  Some people pick and choose a lifestyle that drains them rather than sustains them.   In contrast, the Bible’s authority is based upon living by a set of truths, boundaries and rules which empowers love and life.  

On the very first pages of the Bible, we have an unforgettable image of God's claim on our lives.  In the second chapter of Genesis, we find that life is not absolutely free life without conditions, moral boundaries and God-given limits.  For human life to flourish and to continue on earth, humans must bow to the ultimate authority of God.  As the text in Genesis says:  “And the LORD God commanded the man, "You are free to eat from any tree in the garden;  but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will certainly die." (Gen 2:16-17 TNIV).  The gift of God’s life-giving “yes” comes with a death preventing “no.”  As the giver and gate-keeper of life, God warns that there are lines we humans must not cross.  If we reject God’s word of truth for life, we choose death.    

Interestingly, on the very first pages of Scripture, God not only gives life, but God also puts our own lives into our own “human” hands.   Our God-given power to choose life or death, becomes even clearer with Moses, as he charges the Israelites with the God-given conditions for life:  “The word is very near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart so you may obey it.  See, I set before you today life and prosperity, death and destruction…. (Deu 30:14-15 TNIV)…. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the LORD your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. For the LORD is your life… (Deu 30:19-20 TNIV).   When I read such powerful words, already, even in the first books of Law, called Torah, it’s no wonder many Jews still say the “Torah tells us the truth all need to know about life.”  From the very beginning and continuing until the full revelation of God’s truth in Jesus, God has given his people the power and authority for life.   By giving us Scripture, God has put the choice for life into our own hands.  

LIVE THE BIBLE---GOD GIVES LIFE THROUGH SCRIPTURE
Finally, we can see this direct connection between God's life giving Spirit and the God’s life giving Word by comparing two unforgettable biblical images, one from Genesis and this one from Second Timothy.   Do you remember how God creates Adam?   The text graphically describes how God “breathes into Adam’s nostrils the breath of life.”   Even though Adam is only made from the dust of the earth, God breathes his own life-Spirit into Adam so Adam can live (Gen. 2.7).  Now, in today's text, the same kind of life-giving picture returns in Paul’s words about Holy Scripture.  Scripture is “God-breathed” or “inspired” by God (16).  This means that Scripture does not have a life of its own, nor is it limited by human words.  No, when Paul tells Timothy that God has breathed God’s life into Scripture, he says the “written Word” points us back to the life of God himself.  When we read, believe and live the true ‘word of God’ in Scripture, God gives the same “God-breathed” or “inspired” life he gave life to Adam, to Moses, to Timothy, and now makes available for us.  It is this very life-giving word from God’s own life, based upon God's on authority and power for life, the Bible becomes “useful” for “teaching”,  “rebuking” for “correcting” and for “training” in “righteousness” to help “God’s people be equipped for every good work”.   As sure as the word reveals God’s divine life, God continues speak the very words of life through Scripture.    

Notice once more, with a keener eye, the most basic truth Paul is reminding Timothy in this text.   He is speaking to this young Timothy who has known the Scriptures since birth, who is already a follower of Jesus, and who is studying to be a minister and missionary along with Paul.   Paul writes to this one who has known the Scripture all his life, even since infancy, these words: “But as for you, CONTINUE IN WHAT YOU HAVE LEARNED and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, WHICH ARE ABLE TO MAKE YOU WISE FOR SALVATION THROUGH FAITH IN CHRIST JESUS. (2Ti 3:14-15 TNIV).  Do you grasp the meaning here?  Timothy needs to “continue” in the Scriptures not because Timothy can lose his salvation, but Timothy needs to stay in the Scriptures because God has not given all of life or salvation to Timothy yet.  God still gives the life-saving, and life-renewing conditions for life and hope through God’s revelation of himself, particularly revealed in life of God's Son, Jesus Christ.

This brings back to the word “authority”.   It also brings us back around all the hot button issues about who can rightly define marriage, or even about whether or not one should “eat more chicken,” ---or any other question a person might put to the Bible.   If God’s word  of truth found in Scripture “rebukes” or “corrects” our thinking, and hopefully “trains us” us about God’s “righteousness”, then the living Word of Scripture is only considered “useful” for the purpose of making people “wise unto salvation”.   We must not “use” or misuse Scripture for proving our own points.  Scripture already has a purpose and a point.   As followers of God’s word and people of the book, we don’t have to defend Scripture to the world, nor beat people over the head with its revealed truth about marriage nor even about its most important revelation of Jesus as God’s son.  The living Spirit of truth is perfectly able to protect the truth and judge the world.   Spurgeon, the great Baptists preacher of another age used to say, “The Bible is like a lion, just turn it loose and let it go.”   

So the question about God’s authority for life revealed in Scripture put to us is not “how we you using the Bible”, but do we let the Bible’s message find us?  Do we let the message of Scripture useful for “making us wise unto salvation” in Jesus Christ?  In the moral confusion of our times, sharing Christ’s love is how we show the life-giving power and authority of the Bible.  The apostle Paul gave us all way to express the ultimate “saving” message of the Bible, when he pronounced this final blessing.  In his second letter to the Corinthians, Paul closes with this prayer: “May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.”   (2Co 13:14-1 TNIV).   When we “continue” to mediate upon the “grace of our Lord Jesus” and “continue” to learn more of the “love of God” “for all”, and when we study the Bible, not alone, but in the “fellowship of the Holy Spirit”, we gain the very life of God.   This ongoing experience of grace, of love and of fellowship, is how God continues to inspire and instill the power of life and the authority for life in us and through us.   Amen.  

Sunday, August 12, 2012

"Great Omissions"


A sermon based upon Matthew 28: 16-20 (NIV)
Dr. Charles J. Tomlin, Pastor
Flat Rock-Zion Baptist Partnership
Disciple Series: Introduction, August 12, 2012

We’ve all forgotten something.   I guess “forgetting” can have a good purpose, like “forgiving and forgetting. But most of the time forgetting can be quite frustrating.   Maybe we forgot where we put our car keys.  Maybe we forgot our doctor’s appointment.  Worse of all, we occasionally hear how someone has forgotten and left their child in their car seat or worse.  

One man told about his grandmother, who practically raised him, while his mother worked.  His grandmother is now 96 and her short-term memory is gone.  It’s sad, but sometimes you have to laugh, he said.   Recently his grandmother had been leaving pieces of cookies around the house.  She would eat a bite and then forget she was eating it and leave it lying somewhere.  On one occasion she found the cookie and brought in back into the kitchen, where his mother was fixing supper.   “Who left this cookie lying on the table?”   The 96 year old grandmother complained.  Her daughter answered carefully, “Uhm, Mom, I believe it was you!     
The grandmother responded with a gruff: “I always get blamed for everything!”

In the Hebrew Bible, God warned his people that when they arrived in the promise land, they could “forget the Lord, thy God” (Deut. 8. 11-20).   “If you ever forget the Lord”, God reminds them, “you will be destroyed” (Deut. 8.19).  Those are sobering words. The recent movie starring Denzel Washington entitled “The Book of Eli,” told of a culture in the future where the Bible was forgotten, but later rediscovered and fought over like people starving for bread.  Are the arts trying to tell us something?

In today’s text we encounter one of the most important passages of Scripture in the Bible, known as The Great Commission.  It’s a well-known text, but upon closer examination, we may see “omissions”, certain specific instructions from Jesus that we seem to have forgotten in the way we do church today. 

Authority Is Given To Jesus, Not To Us.
Before we get to this text in the last chapter, turn to the second chapter of this Gospel, where Matthew depicts a group of mysterious figures from the East -- the magi -- who find their way to the infant Jesus.  As they present their precious gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh, we read: “On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him” (Matthew 2:11 NIV).

This is a quite stunning image written by a Jew, whose first rule of faith was: “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one (Deu 6:4 NIV) and “thou shalt not have any other gods before me.”   But here, as Matthew opens, we find a very human infant named Jesus receiving worship, worship that rightly belongs to God alone.   Throughout Matthew’s gospel, he has stated Jesus unique authority throughout.  Jesus taught, he tells us, “as one who had authority” (7:29).  He also claimed that “the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins” (9:6).  So, now when the risen Jesus asserts that “all authority in heaven and on earth is given to me,” he is making the same bold claim he has made since his opening lines.

God has vindicated his only son and “raised him from the dead” giving Jesus “authority” not just as the true Messiah for the Jew, but also Jesus is being clearly revealed as “Christ” for the whole world.  What Matthew says here is made even clearer by Paul’s melodic words to the Philippians: “ And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death-- even death on a cross!   Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name,  that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth,  and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father  (Phi 2:8-11 NIV).  Now, all of us are invited to bow before the authority of this man Jesus----something no Jew would have ever dreamt of doing before.  This “world-wide authority, given to Jesus the Son by God the Father, forms the basis for the missionary commission which was given to the disciples then, and now includes us. 

We should note, however, that the text does not say, “All authority is given to us; therefore, go.”  If it did,   Brian Stanley has rightly written, “we would have a text that implied that God has handed this whole enterprise of world mission over to us, lock, stock and barrel.   It would then mean that converting the world would then be OUR business, not God’s, and it would be A business, a simple matter of employing the right methods with sufficient resources.  Our understanding of mission should never degenerate into that kind of business mentality. It is the greatest of omissions, to forget that all “power” belongs to Jesus alone, not us. (http://www.faithandleadership.com/sermons/brian-stanley-great-omissions-the-great-commission).

But neither does this text say, “All authority is given to me; therefore, there is no need for you to go.”   If this  text said, “Jesus will do everything for us”, then we all be hyper-Calvinist logic, which is very popular today among some Southern Baptist.   It would be a commission which invited the church to sit on its backside and simply do nothing, go nowhere, waiting on God to make the first move.  But that kind of “misunderstanding” of the Bible and of Calvinism, omits the fact wait God has already made the “first move” in the sending Jesus who, when lifted up “draws all people” toward himself.   God did make the first move, but we still need to go.

Many years ago, in 1792 William Cary wrote a historic pamphlet “An Enquiry into the Obligations of Christians to Use Means for the Conversion of the Heathens.” At that time, Carey, a Missionary Baptist, was endeavoring to refute those Particular (i.e. or Calvinistic) Baptists who believed, “That if God wants the heathern to be converted, then let God do it  himself.”   But Carey, the evangelical Calvinist he was, had it exactly right when put the “omission” of “going” back into the commission: “All authority is given to me -- therefore, you go.” 

But there is one more thing we must also remember, right up front.  This Jesus who has been given “authority” in heaven and on earth; who commissions us as church to “go into the world” and not just to “come” to church; this Jesus who already has been given authority “in heaven” by God the Father, only has “authority” on earth when we give it to him.  Just as Jesus did not “demand” authority, but “humbled himself to death on the cross” and waited in that tomb for the Father to raise him up and exalt him, this same Jesus never forces himself on anyone.   Jesus will not assume “authority” over us, unless we give him authority, by making him Lord of our hearts, our lives, our churches and our world. 

And if we decide to be Church without obeying his great Commission to “go”, we can still do church.  This can be “your” church just like you want it, but just remember that if it is “your” church, it won’t be his church, it won’t be his body, nor will we be part of the “bride of Christ”.  Yes, we can do our own thing as churches, but do you think it will work?  Doing your own thing won’t work in any other relationship, will it?  Some have learned that the hard way.  And doing church on our own terms will not make us the kind of church “the gates of death or hell” won’t knock down either! 

So, if we omit the main part of his commission to “go”, can Christ commit his grace and power to us?   Do we even dare imagine the answer, if he Jesus really does have “authority” to say, what Matthew has him saying “with authority” (7.29): “Many will say to me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?'  Then I will tell them plainly, 'I never knew you. Away… you evildoers!' (Mat 7:22-23).  If we omit the mission Jesus has commanded us, Jesus does not have to commit himself to us either.  Now, that’s authority!

We Are Also To “Make Disciples”, Not Converts
Some people have made very bold claims about the mission Christ gives us, when they’ve got all wrong.  I recall when I was in language school in Germany and a new pastor was being inducted to become the pastor of the English speaking Baptist church in Cologne.   After the charge, he stood up to give and acceptance sermon.  He went on to challenge the church, saying, that he would lead this church to “win the whole city to Christ.”  Do you think he’s done that?  The biggest problem was that he couldn’t even speak German.  Cologne does have 10,000 English speaking citizens, but it also has over one million, who only speak German.  How does an American, English speaking church, win a city that can’t understand its message.

Many churches mean well when they are constituted.  They have an idea of the “big picture” of the mission of Jesus, but they often start too big.   Churches would do much better taking the gospel to the world by first focusing on the specific place and people, where they are.   Bill Hybels, the pastor of the now famous Willow Creek outside Chicago, once suggested the best evangelistic approach was simply “to walk across the room.”  

Interestingly, however, Jesus did not tell his disciples to “win the world” nor to “convert” people.   Jesus told his disciples simply to “make” other disciples.   But have you ever see a church with a plan to do exactly what Jesus said: “Teaching them to observe what I commanded you?”  Church have a lot of plans and programs, but I don’t know a single church that has a program to specifically teach and train people to follow and obey exactly what Jesus commanded, do you?  How did we miss that?

You see, the main mission of the church is not just to “preach”, but to “teach” people to obey what Jesus commanded.   This is actually what the Great Commission commands.   And it is a “command”, not a “suggestion”.   The word “disciple” means “one who learns from a master”.  Learning what Jesus commanded does not mean simply listening to sermons, going to Sunday School, participating a Bible study, or even going on a mission trip, but being a disciple actually means learning to obey Jesus in your life now, and even being held accountable for actually obeying and living what Jesus taught.  

Are we doing this?  Isn’t it here, as plan as the words on a page that we are not!  One thing we have done, to make such an omission with this Great Commission, is churches today stopped doing what the early church did when people wanted to follow Jesus in Baptism.  The early church did not immediately “baptize”, but would first demand that candidates for baptism, called catechumen, were instructed how to be “disciple” and how to follow Jesus, before they were allowed to be Baptized. Baptisms were normally held only once a year on Easter, so that people would have time to prepare, learn, and prove they were going to “obey” Jesus. 

What happened?  Why did the church and most all churches stop “making disciples” before Baptism and now we have so few, disciples in our churches today?  There are many ways to historically analyze this.  You could go into all kinds of details about what happened in what scholars call Constantinian Christianity.  But my mother had a good expression for what happened:  She would say the church simply got “too big for its britches”.  It forgot who it was and what it was supposed to be doing as it was doing other things.  It made some great and bad omissions from the original great commission.  So, the question for us is how can we return to being the disciple making church we were commissioned to be?  

Christ's Presence Is Promised In Doing His Mission
 Do you know anything about “cat” and “dog” theology?  When I was in the bookstore recently, I came across a book with this title.  Since then, I’ve done some research on the subject.  This form of popular “theology” is the brain child of Bob Sjogren and Gerald Robison.   They do seminars in churches across the world, helping them to strengthen a living relationship with God. Their entire ministry is based on an old cat and dog joke that goes something like this:  A dog says, you pet me, feed me, shelter me, and love me.  You must be God.  A cat says, you pet me, feed me, shelter me, and love me.  I must be God.”  The cat says, “You exist to serve me”, but the dog says, “I exist to serve you.”   Now which one do you think is more like a true follower of Jesus?

As you can clearly see, “cat theology” has taken over too much of the church of Jesus.  But the true nature of the mission of the church is not to be like cats who are independent, finicky, and self-absorbed; but we are to be like dogs, obedient, faithful and cooperative.  Could such “cat theology” be part of the reason why there are so many omissions in the great commission?  Could it be why we often don’t know, experience or sense the presence of Christ in the church?   Instead of making church a place to learn genuine discipleship so we can follow Jesus and make disciples who serve God, we have made church a place where there are too many cats who say: pet me, feed me, shelter me, and love me, so we can say to ourselves: It’s all about me. I’m God.     

What can we do about all this?   Nothing.  We don’t have to do anything.  If we want our “house” built only on the sand of our own opinions, whims and wishes, then we can let “whatever” happen.  The winds will come, the rains will fall, and the waves will rise and the house will eventually fall.   But if we want to build our house on the rock, a rock that can withstand the rains, winds and the waves of life and of death, then we must build our house on the authority of Jesus, not our own.  We must make disciples not converts.  We must know Christ is with us, because we are with him.  We must be “doers” of the word, not “hearers only”.  We must hear the word and “put it into practice” so we can build God’s house “on the rock (Mat 7:24).  For all other ground is sinking sand.  Only when follow Christ’s mission without any omissions, does Jesus promise to give us his presence, staying with us, as we stay with him, until the very end.  Amen.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

“Let Your Heart Be Troubled”



A Sermon based upon 2 Samuel 11: 25-12: 13a
Dr. Charles J. Tomlin, Pastor
Flat Rock-Zion Baptist Partnership
August 5, 2012

Most of us can recall the sick feeling we had in 1998, when the Monica Lewinsky scandal became public.  
Even the most die-hard republican did not like learning that a sitting democratic president had disgraced the honorable position of President of the United States.   What made the matter even worse is that the whole matter didn’t seem to publically trouble President Clinton at all.   He even lied about the ordeal.  “I did not have a relationship with that woman….”, he said.  But he did.  Clinton’s boldface lie still rings in all our ears.  It was a dark time for the American presidency.  Let your heart be troubled.

There must have been similar “sick feelings” among the people of Israel when word got out about David’s illicit affair with Bathsheba.  To be honest, the situation then was much worse.  David was a popular military hero and promising political figure among the people of Israel.  The prophets even said, “He was a man after God’s own heart.”  David’s dramatic defeat over Goliath was the stuff of storybooks.  It gave hope and great expectations for future glory.  David could do no wrong.  Like a good boy scout, David seemed physically fit, mentally awake and morally straight; not to mention politically promising and militarily invincible.  That’s how thing appeared until…. the Bathsheba affair.   After that, David seemed as weak and vulnerable as anyone.  Israel’s hearts were troubled, very troubled.  

But it gets worse.  According to our text today, it was bad enough that the much beloved public figure had an affair with a married woman.   It was also sad to see him, like President Clinton, trying to cover up the affair, by commanding violence; even engaging in murder by sending her patriotic husband Uriah to the front lines and then ordering all others to retreat.  This is all very sad and troubling.  But the most troubling of all comes when David’s receives the military report of the casualties.   When word comes back to David that the battle was over and there were many killed, including Uriah, David does not even blink nor seem “troubled” at all.  “Say this to Joab”, David tells the messenger, “Don’t let this upset you… (11:25), these things happen.  

WE DON’T WANT TO BE TROUBLED  
This is a sordid tale.   It’s tragic.  It’s a biblical soap opera.  Maybe you heard about the woman who came to prayer meeting and made a prayer request for one of the stars on the T.V. show, “As the World Turns”.   She knew more about what was happening to her soap character, than what was going on in her own family.   That woman wasn’t living in reality, but what is before us in our text happenned.  No one can dream up stuff like this.  This is sin.  This is war.  This is unjustified violence.  This is murder.  This is adultery!  Just to read about it ought to “trouble” us all over again.   

But David is not “troubled.”  David is fine with how things are.  David has succeeded with his cover up.  These kinds of things happen in life and in the world, so let’s not be get upset, he says.  When people look out at the world,  at the brokenness of families,  the divisions in our churches,  the kidnapping and suffering of children, the mass murdering of innocents, and the continual darkness and impasse in American political life;  and then when someone suggests: “Oh, don’t be upset”, “This is just how things are”, “Everything is going to be just fine”; This is when I know for sure that it is time for us to “Let our hearts be troubled.”

Most of us don’t come to church to be troubled.   We’ve got troubles enough already.  Our children can be hard to handle.  Our jobs can be stressful and overwhelming.  The economic outlook is grim.  There are always “wars and rumors of wars”.   People come to church today with a great need to be “comforted”, not troubled.  We can understand this.  Didn’t Jesus say, “Let NOT your heart be troubled….?   How dare the preacher turn these beautiful words into “let our hearts be troubled”?   If you want to have people in your church today, you’d better tell them how “fine” they are and everyone is.  “I’m O.K. and Your’re O.K—that’s the watchword.  Haven’t you heard Joel Osteen preach?   You don’t get to be pastor of the largest church in the United States, with a congregation of over 20,000 in attendance every Sunday by troubling people with the truth of how things really are.  When Joel Osteen preaches, his constant theme is more like that cowboy tune “Home on the Range”….Where the deer and the antelope play.  Where seldom is heard, a discouraging word, and the skies are not cloudy all day.”  Now, to many people today, that’s preaching!   Encouraging is what people want. 

People are not looking for church to be a sanctuary, but they want church to be a retreat.  They go off to camp and come back and want to make church exciting!   We want to make everybody happy.  We want our children to have “fun”.   Some churches today work real, real hard to make sure everybody is happy.  We want the atmosphere of our worship to upbeat, positive and serene.   Most Baptist churches did away with the Prayer of Confession many, many years ago.   “This needs to come from the heart,” Baptists said, “so let’s not put that in the service or bulletin”.  Now, Confession of Sin is no longer in the Baptist service at all.   Who wants to come to church to confront our sins?   All this “sin” business is too troubling.   People want the worship and the pastor’s sermon to put a more positive spin on life just like the politicians do.   It’s doesn’t matter whether or not it’s true.   “Don’t worry, Be Happy!”   This is exactly what David is saying, isn’t it?   He living in constant denial of how things really are, and he’s putting a positive spin on sin, war, violence, and adultery.  He says to his general, “Don’t let this upset you!”  It’s all going to be O.K.  Just go out there and keep doing what you’ve been doing.  “Press the attack against the city and destroy it.  Say this to encourage Joab” (11:25b).   How better to a general than to tell him to go out, attack and kill somebody? Do David’s words trouble you?    

Many years ago, as a teenager, I read Sinclair Lewis’ book “Elmer Gantry”.   It’s about an evangelist who goes around the country drawing big crowds, but in his private life turns out to have a bad side, much like David.  But before Gantry falls to his bad side, he is planning to evangelize a mid-western town.  He does some research on the town and presents the local pastors with a list of addresses for those questionable places in town which he feels needs to be exposed…all the “bars, the speakeasies, and the brothels.”  He tells them he intends to read the list from the pulpit.  “I don’t advise it”, says, Dr. Binch, one of the pastors.  “It seems that all the buildings where these bars, speakeasies, and brothels are housed are owned by the prosperous Christian citizens who contribute money for the revival“.  “No,” says Dr. Binch, “it seems wiser to me and more Christian just to attack the vice in general.” (From “Blessed are the Troubled” by Patrick Wilson, www.goodpreacher.com, as quoted in Sinclar Lewis’ Elmer Gantry (New York: Harcourt, Brace and Co., 1927, p. 205).   That’s how most of us like it, isn’t it?   Preach against sin, but let’s not get too specific and trouble anyone.  We don’t want anyone to get upset.

GOD IS TROUBLED EVEN WHEN WE ARE NOT
Sometimes the Bible’s message comforts the afflicted, but other times it afflicts the comfortable.  David doesn’t want anyone to get upset, but there is someone who does get upset.    

When Bathsheba hears that Uriah was killed in battle, she mourns for a month.  She’s a little troubled, or at least acts like she was, but it doesn’t last long.  When the time of mourning is over, David sends for her, and she readily obeys, proving that she is not that “troubled”.   David is still not troubled either.  He has not contemplated nor considered the consequences of his actions.  He tells his general not to be troubled.  He doesn’t allow Bathsheba to be troubled as he makes her his new wife.  No one is troubled over the matter at all, if they know about it, until the storyteller says: “But the thing David had done displeased the Lord” (27). 

God is troubled.  God is very troubled by the actions of the King he has “anointed” to be King “after his heart”.  Because of our “sex crazed culture” and what is on television, at the movies, or in books these days, we are apt to focus mostly on the hanky-panky that went on between David and Bathsheba.  But this is only part of David’s “sin” and may not even be the main part.   
The worse part of David’s sin is not what he has done wrong, but what he has not done right.  David HAS FORGOTTEN WHO HE IS AND WHO HE IS SUPPOSED TO BE.   David was anointed to be the Shepherd King of Israel, but now he has become nothing more than another “predator” among the sheep.   Instead of being a “blessing” to his people, David has become “a person of death”.   God has a stake in what happens to his King and his people.  David was anointed to show compassion and declare God’s justice, but now David has traded the “things”, “the calling,” and the “anointing” of God and traded them in for satisfying his own desires.   David should have known better.  David had other options.  He could have dealt with his desires in other ways, as all kings had their harems.   But no, David follows his desires and does his own thing.  When people follow their desires and forget who they are, “let your heart be troubled”.     This troubles God the most.  

When someone like David, like Clinton, or like person lets us down, most of us give up and turn on them at once.   We don’t like to entertain the thought that a person can be “good”, even “great” and capable of such evil at the same time.   We want our heroes to stay heroes.  But more than this, we don’t want to think that we might be able to do the same.   Carlyle Marney, the late Baptist preacher, used to preach that he was always preaching both to “basement” people and to “balcony” people in his congregation.   Life can pull any of us in either direction at any time.   None of us are exempt from this pull in life.   No matter how good we think we are we might sit in the balcony today and in the basement tomorrow.  WE CAN FORGET WHO WE ARE!

To show how troubled he is about all this, God sends his preacher Nathan to David’s house.  He’s not a general, only a preacher.  What can a preacher do to influence a king?  And what can a King do to a preacher who gives him trouble?  Nathan is taking a big risk.  The scene is has parallels to an earlier scene.  This time, however, the roles are reversed:  Nathan is the unprotected, vulnerable “David” figure and David has become the powerful, threatening, imposing “Goliath.”  See how quickly everything can change!  All it takes is a couple of missteps and we can suddenly find ourselves opposing God.  LET YOUR HEART BE TROUBLED!

Nathan, the preacher begins with a story.  He’s careful and cautious.  He tells a simple story of a rich man who had all the sheep he needed.   It goes: When special guests come for dinner, instead of slaughtering one of his own sheep, a rich man takes a little ewe lamb which belonged to a poor man, who has made the little lamb into a pet.  Without thought of the poor man, the rich man takes the lamb and kills it to prepare a meal for his guests.  As David heard the story, his sense of justice is offended.  “How dare this rich man do this!”  “This man deserves to die for doing such a thing!”  “Has this man no shame, no pity?” “He must repay that poor man 4 times over!” After a moment of silence, Nathan looks David square in the eyes, saying: “David, You are that man!”  “This is what the LORD says, I anointed you King over Israel…I delivered you from the hand of Saul…I gave your master’s house to you…. I gave all kinds of wives into your arms… And if you had asked me for more, I would have given you more.”  So, why did you “despise the word of the LORD by doing what is evil”?  “You struck down Uriah the Hittite….and took his wife….  You killed him with the enemy’s sword… Now, the sword will never depart from your house, because you despised me and took Uriah’s wife.” (12: 7-10).

Why do humans do the dumb things they sometimes do?  Doesn’t David know better?  Don’t we?   Why do we humans attack and hurt each other?   Why do we fight more with our brothers and sisters than with our real enemies?  Why do we refuse to ask and trust God for the things we need.  Why don’t we try to talk to each other and work things out?  Why do we refuse to consider the consequence of our actions, and why do we insist on being our own god and guides?  Do we not realize there will be consequences?  Do we not know that whatever we do in secret will one day come to light?   Do we not realize that when we go against the moral laws of life and love that we will end up opposing God?  What this will do to us and to our families, and most of all to our children?   Do we not realize that if do whatever we want in life; and if we drag others into our deceptions, we invite a war of the soul that will follow us all the rest of our lives?  Are our hearts not the least bit troubled?   Are we not troubled at the sick games people will play?

BECOMING TROUBLED CAN SET US FREE
David could have killed the preacher too, and no one would have known.  In a made for TV movie entitled “The Story of David,” it is at this time that one of David’s generals draws his sword to take Nathan’s life for insulting the king in his own house.  But then something amazing happens.  David stops him.  He suddenly becomes troubled within himself.  He could have evaded the issue.  He could have denied the charges.  And of course, he could have had Nathan silenced or worse.  But what David does is incredible and redemptive.  David does not protect himself from being troubled.   He does not turn away from the troubling truth about himself.   David acknowledges and admits that the truth.  “I have sinned against the Lord.” (13).

Those are simple words, but we make them so complex and complicated.  The truth is something both Kings, politicians, and too many people fear.   We fear that moment of self-discovery which troubles us with the truth about ourselves.  We’d rather hurt other people with lies than admitting the painful truth.  Self-knowledge can be painful.   It is hard to hear someone say to us, “You are wrong!”  “You are the one!”  But David does not fight it anymore.  Now, David welcomes the pain into himself, saying “Yes, I am the one…I am the man!  I have sinned against God and against others.”  Now, thank God, before this story ends, we see the true integrity of David’s personality come through.  He’s certainly not God, but he’s finally the man he should be, the man after God’s heart.  He finally comes back to his senses and allows himself to become a troubled.  He lets himself be troubled over his own sin, so troubled that he is ready to admit and confess what is true.

Everyone has a “defining moment” says, Mickey Anders.  David’s defining moment was not his sin, but rather this immediate repentance when confronted with the truth.   Most of us remember from the news a few years ago, the Atlanta woman, named Ashley Smith, who was taken hostage by Brian Nichols in 2005.  She had two defining moments in her life.  One was her decision to use drugs, which got her addicted and into bad company.  The other defining moment was when she decided to say no to drugs, during her kidnapping.  When the kidnapper took her drugs from her and offered her some, she refused.  Since the ordeal, she’s been clean ever since.  She did much better than President Clinton, whose defining moment was, not his affair, but to lie to himself and to the nation, saying, “I did not have relations with that woman.”

Our defining moment today is that we too can become troubled about where we are and where we aren’t in relation to God and in relations with others.   When we let our hearts become troubled over the right things, we can rid so many troubles over the wrong things.  When David became clean about his sin, it was the beginning of new level of opportunity and growth as a human being.  There is no greater words in the entire Bible than those words of confession he wrote in Psalm 51: 10-12, 17: “Create in me a clean heart, O God.  Renew a steadfast Spirit in me.  Do not take your presence from me nor take your Holy Spirit.  Restore to me the joy of my salvation and give me a willing spirit….MY SACRIFICE IS A BROKEN AND CONTRITE HEART.  Let your heart be troubled and you will find a new peace within.  Amen.