The Red Words #9 Feb. 4, 2019

And He was giving orders to them, saying, ‘Watch out! Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod.’  Mark 8:15

Every woman who’s ever baked bread from scratch knows that without yeast, the bread will come out flatter than a pancake. Yeast is the secret to making bread rise.  Interestingly, it takes only a little yeast to make dough rise and produce a delicious, fragrant loaf of bread.  There’s nothing quite like the aroma of fresh bread in my kitchen.

In the verse above, Jesus uses this natural image to teach a spiritual lesson. It’s not surprising since He had just fed 4000 people with just 7 loaves of bread!  When the disciples first hear this warning, they misunderstand and think He wanted them to bring onto the boat enough bread for all of them.  Instead, Jesus is taking advantage of what they just witnessed to teach them an important lesson.

Since it only takes a small amount of yeast or other leavening agent to transform an entire lump of dough, Jesus warns His disciples – and us – that it takes only a little bit of what the Pharisees and Herod have to offer to ruin a person.

Ruin a person?  Isn’t that a big strong?

Well, no. The leaven of the Pharisees was hypocrisy, a rigorous religious legalism which they imposed on others but which they would not keep themselves.  Their emphasis was on external correctness regarding rituals and the traditions of men.  This emphasis emphasized a ‘works’ mentality and taught that only by keeping every rule to the extreme would a person be righteous in God’s sight.

Jesus described the Pharisees and those who were their disciples as THIS PEOPLE HONORS ME WITH THEIR LIPS, BUT THEIR HEART IS FAR AWAY FROM ME.  Matt. 15:8

hypocrisy

We could say it this way: religion, defined as external performance of one’s beliefs, had become more important to them than relationship with God.  That is not to denigrate the doing of good works but rather to underscore that what God is looking at is our heart, our motivation.

Jesus made the concept very clear in the Sermon on the Mount.  Here is just one of several examples:  You have heard it said, ‘You shall not commit adultery’; but I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.  Matt. 5:27  Sin begins in the mind and it is possible to sit in church week after week and go through the motions, but have your heart far from God.  THAT is what the leaven of the Pharisees produces in a life.  It looks good on the outside but inside is what Jesus referred to as ‘dead men’s bones.’

What was the leaven of Herod?  Herod was meticulous in keeping the laws of Rome while he, himself, lived an immoral and debauched life. The leaven of Herod involves an exalting of civil law above God’s moral law – that is, putting man’s law above God’s law.  The deeper issue is fearing man more than fearing God.

The Bible says that the fear of man is a snare but he who trusts in the Lord will be exalted.  Prov. 29:25

Seen through that lens, the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod have the same root – fear of what other people think and allowing that fear to dictate our behavior.  The Pharisees intimidated the people into a suffocating, legalistic rule-keeping; Herod intimidated the people by threatening them with cruel Roman reprisals for breaking Rome’s laws.  In both cases, the people were held hostage by fear – the fear of how they appeared to others and fear of what men would do to them for transgressing.

The Gospel offers a different message: LOVE, not fear, is to be the motivation of all we do – love of God first and foremost, and love of others. Jesus said, But go and learn what this means, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice: for I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.  Matthew 9:13

Simply stated, hypocrisy is pretending to be something you’re not.  Hypocrisy is closely related to fear of man because that fear of what people think is often at the root of a hypocrite’s decisions and behavior.

Paul wrote to the Galatians: It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery.  Gal. 5:1

Allowing the opinion of others to dictate your behavior is a form of slavery.   Brothers and sisters, we have been set free from ALL slavery to love the Lord our God with a passionate and abandoned love.

Let us ask the Lord to turn His searchlight on our souls and if He finds any hypocrisy or fear of other people’s opinions, let us ask Him to forgive us and to cleanse us from every vestige of entrapment.

 

Joshua, the Man & the Book #19 February 27, 2018

We have now come to the last chapter in the book of Joshua, the servant of Moses and his successor, who led the children of Israel into the Promised Land.  Joshua is 110 years old and close to death as he reviews for the people all that the LORD has done for them and then gives them his final instructions in Joshua, chapter 24.

Now therefore, fear the LORD and serve Him in sincerity and truth; and put away the gods which your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the LORD. If it is disagreeable in your sight to serve the LORD, choose for yourselves today whom you will serve: whether the gods which your fathers served which were beyond the River or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.  Joshua 24:14-15

Choosethisday

Let’s take a closer look at a couple of these verses:

‘…fear the LORD and serve Him in sincerity and truth…’  Many people have a confused idea about the ‘fear of the LORD’ and ask, Why would God tell us to be afraid of Him?

He doesn’t.

The Hebrew verb yare means “to fear, to respect, to reverence” and the Hebrew noun yirah “usually refers to the ‘fear’ of God as a positive quality. It is a reverence and respect for God founded in love which fears offending Him and wants to live in a manner pleasing to Him out of love for Him. It is a fruit of learning and obeying God’s Word and imparts wisdom to the Bible believer.

Joshua is admonishing the people to maintain an attitude of reverence and respect towards the God who has so lavishly blessed and cared for them.  Is this not an admonishment so needed in our world today?  How often do you hear people use the name of the LORD crudely and carelessly, showing no respect?  How prevalent is it now to mock and scoff at morals and values that our parents and grandparents taught us?  How widespread is a spirit of corruption and debauchery?  Truly our society needs a fresh revelation of the fear of the LORD!

“The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom; a good understanding have all those who do His commandments. His praise endures forever” (Psalm 111:10).

Joshua added ‘…and serve Him in sincerity and truth…’   Sincerity is the quality of being free from pretense, deceit, or hypocrisy.  That covers a lot of ground.

To serve the LORD free of pretense completely rules out engaging in prayer, Bible study, financial giving and helping the needy with self-serving motives such as looking good in front of others.  He who truly serves the LORD with sincerity is not concerned with the praise of men, but only the approval of God.

To serve the LORD free of deceit is to avoid being two-faced at all costs.  As has been said, you may fool your fellow man but you never fool God. We can be two-faced with other people but we can also be two-faced towards God by professing our allegiance to His commandments and principles on the one hand yet living in just the opposite way.

To serve the LORD free of hypocrisy is related to the previous comments yet has a nuance of its own.  The word hypocrite comes from a Greek word meaning ‘an actor.’  That’s exactly what a hypocrite is – he pretends to be someone he’s not.  Example: someone who makes a show of his religious practices but is mean and hateful in his relationships.

To serve the LORD in truth is to be real, to be honest, straightforward and without pretense, to be the same person at home that you are in social or work situations,.

We are not perfect; we make mistakes, we sin. To serve the LORD in truth is to be humble enough to acknowledge our weaknesses, repent for our transgressions, make things right in whatever way we can and then pick ourselves up and with God’s help do better tomorrow.

Every human being worships someone or something.  Joshua challenged the people: ‘Choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve..’  In reality there are only two choices: you serve yourself or your serve the LORD.

If anything at all – anything – is more important to you than your relationship with the LORD, you are serving yourself in one way or another.  ‘But I love God…’ someone may protest. You probably do – the question is ‘How much?’

Listen to yourself talk.  It’s quite revealing.  The bible says that ‘out of the heart, the mouth speaks.’  Do you realize what that means? Your words reveal who you really are and what you really love the most.  Listen to yourself sometime.  What you talk about the most is what fills your heart the most.

Do you love Him more than your possessions?  Do you love Him more than your opinions, your attitudes, your ideas?  Do you love Him more than your money, your house, your career?

And here’s the biggest question of all?Do you love Him more than you love your own will and getting your own way?

Application:

To serve God in sincerity and truth is not a choice we make just once in our life; it’s a daily choice to be honest with Him, with ourselves and with others; to be real, to be genuine, to put away from ourselves all hypocrisy, compromise and insincerity.

Who may ascend into the hill of the LORD? And who may stand in His holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who has not lifted up his soul to falsehood and has not sworn deceitfully?  Psalm 24:3-4

Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.  Psalm 51:10

 

 

The Shepherd King – Part 31 January 17, 2017

In this week’s lesson we will review the events recorded in 2 Samuel 15 and see how King David handled himself after facing his own feelings and failures as we saw last week.

Perhaps no one ever felt more guilty than David. Though he was the greatest of Israel’s kings and the only man in scripture ever described as ‘after God’s own heart’, he was, nevertheless a failure morally and for a while, spiritually, for he lived unashamed for two years after committing adultery and murder.

And there were problems with his children as we read last week.  After receiving Absalom back with the help of Joab, his commander, David faced a new challenge.  Absalom had less than honorable ambition.

In the course of time, Absalom provided himself with a chariot and horses and with fifty men to run ahead of him. He would get up early and stand by the side of the road leading to the city gate. Whenever anyone came with a complaint to be placed before the king for a decision, Absalom would call out to him, ‘What town are you from?’ He would answer, ‘Your servant is from one of the tribes of Israel.’ Then Absalom would say to him, ‘Look, your claims are valid and proper, but there is no representative of the king to hear you.’ And Absalom would add, ‘If only I were appointed judge in the land! Then everyone who has a complaint or case could come to me and I would see that he receives justice.’ Also, whenever anyone approached him to bow down before him, Absalom would reach out his hand, take hold of him and kiss him.  Absalom behaved in this way towards all the Israelites who came to the king asking for justice, and so he stole the hearts of the men of Israel.  2 Samuel 15:1-6

This passage describes Absalom’s devious plan for winning the hearts of the people so he could stage a successful coup against his father.  That disloyalty of son to father further exacerbated David’s sense of failure.

Failure is a reality of life; we all fail at times.  How do we cope with it?  Here’s the good news: our God is a God of second chances..and third…and fourth…Listen to what was written by Jeremiah:

Because of the Lord’s great love, we are not consumed, for His compassions never fail.  They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness.  Lam. 3:22-23

He did this for David and He does it for you.

At the end of four years, Absalom said to the king, ‘Let me go to Hebron and fulfill a vow I made to the LORD. While your servant was living at Geshur in Aram, I made this vow: If the LORD takes me back to Jerusalem, I will worship the Lord in Hebron.’ The King said to him, ‘Go, in peace.’ So Absalom went to Hebron.  2 Sam. 15:7-9

This may indeed be the greatest challenge God set before King David – the deceit and rebellion of his son, Absalom.

The issue here is greatness vs. smallness.  We are talking about issues of character.

Absalom was a ‘small’ man, not in stature but in character.  How do we know that? Let’s look at the evidence.

  1. he capitalized on his attractive appearance.  The Bible says ‘In all Israel there was not a man so highly praised for his handsome appearance as Absalom.’ 2 Sam. 14:25
  2. he capitalized on his personality. He knew how to ‘work a crowd’, as the saying goes. He knew just what to do to capture the loyalty of the people – he used flattery.
  3. he made himself look good by making the King, his father, look bad.  Trying to win attention or affection from people by making someone else look bad is gross immaturity at the least and downright prideful and cruel at most.
  4. he went so far as to ‘use’ his supposed relationship with God in his pursuit of power. The Bible talks about having an ‘appearance’ of godliness but not the reality. Absalom is a consummate example of that.
  5. He could not wait for God to exalt him; he was impatient and strong-willed. And because he was a ‘small’ man, he seized the throne instead of being content with his position in life.

There can be no doubt that Absalom’s behavior grieved and saddened his father.  But let’s look at how he responded to the conspiracy against him.

  1. David refused to defend himself.  Then David said to all his officials who were with him in Jerusalem, ‘Come! We must flee…’ (vs. 14) This is completely out of character for the David we have come to know, one of the greatest and most courageous military leaders ever.  But in this situation his attitude is: Whether I lose the throne or not is up to God. I will let Him handle this crisis.
  2. David was reluctant to put others in harm’s way. So the king set out with all the people following him, and they halted at a place some distance away.  All his men marched past him, along with all the Kerethites and Pelethites; and all the six hundred Gittites who had accompanied him from Gath marched before the king. The king said to Ittai, the Gittite, ‘Why should you come along with us? Go back and stay with King Absalom. You are a foreigner, an exile from your homeland. And today shall I make you wander about with us when I do not know where I am going? Go back, and take your countrymen.  May kindness and faithfulness be with you.vs. 17-20  By showing concern for these foreigners, David demonstrated that he was the opposite of Absalom, who thought only of himself and his own advancement.
  3. David let go of what was precious to him – the very thing God had promised him – the kingship.  The whole countryside wept aloud as all the people passed by.  The king also crossed the Kidron Valley and all the people moved on towards the desert…David continued up the Mount of Olives, weeping as he went…vs. 23, 30
  4. David refused to manipulate the glory of God, to ‘use’ the presence of God for his own profit.  Zadok was there, too, and all the Levites who were with him were carrying the ark of the Covenant of God…Then the king said to Zadok, ‘Take the ark of God back into the city.’  vs. 24-25  The Ark of the Covenant symbolized the glory and the presence of God.  If Zadok and the priests carried it out of the city following David, the people would have said,’The ark of God is with David so we should support him instead of Absalom.’  But David said: Take it back where it belongs – to Jerusalem.  He refused to ‘use’ the Ark of God against his enemy.
  5. David submitted himself on the sovereignty and mercy of God.  The king commanded Zadok to take the Ark back to Jerusalem and added: If I find favor in the Lord’s eyes, He will bring me back and let me see it and His dwelling place again.  But if He says, ‘I am not pleased with you’, then I am ready.  Let Him do to me whatever seems good to Him.’ vs. 25-26

Here is a man whose heart was profoundly changed.  He is humble before the LORD.

Humility is one of the clearest signs of spiritual maturity.  He did not say, ‘Lord, why is this happening to me? You sent your prophet to anoint me king, remember?’  Rather, with utmost humility, he walked away from Jerusalem barefoot in sackcloth and ashes.

David lived another twenty years after this and as we will see in the next lessons, God was indeed most gracious to David for the rest of his life.

Application:

Our failures can plunge us into guilt and despair; or, like David, we can learn from our failures, humble ourselves and receive the Lord’s mercy and see His faithfulness.  The difference is repentance and faith; acknowledge and repent that you and you alone are the reason for your failures, no one else; then turn to God in faith that with His forgiveness comes another opportunity to turn your mess into a miracle – to grow you up into spiritual maturity.