2009-06-21 (pm) Lord’s Day 33 Q&A 91 Dying and Living
Have you ever wondered what it was like to live in Israel? Lately I’ve been wondering. This is why:
This week, by a significant majority, Synod voted to recommend to Synod 2012 to adopt the Belhar Confession as a fourth confession for our church. While I was in Grand Rapids, there was an article in the Grand Rapids Press which alluded to the idea that the Belhar Confession is so open to interpretation that it could be used to pave the way for practising homosexual “Christians” to have full acceptance, participation and leadership at all levels in the church.
Now, I happen to hope that this is nothing more than fear mongering on the part of the author. But a part of me remains cynical. Even though the church belongs to Christ, even though we have the Holy Spirit living in us, it seems like we’re hardly more advanced than the Israelites who roamed the wilderness for four decades. Or for the Israelites who so quickly turned away from following God.
But what we lack and what the Israelites lacked was not moral fortitude. The Pharisees really, truly tried to honour God with their righteousness. But their righteousness was based on the wrong thing. They thought that they could earn God’s approval by how they lived.
The teaching of scripture, the teaching of Jesus is telling. In fact, it should solve the dilemma for us. But before we get to that, I want to explore something.
What’s your experience in living for Jesus been like? Have you struggled with doing good? Have you strived hard to do well? have you been frustrated by failure? Do you find yourself, cruising along, doing really well, and then before you know it you’re sinning again?
What about you, children? Do you intend to disobey your mom and dad? Do you intend to react with hitting, or harsh words to your siblings or friends at school?
On the Biblical Training website, just Google Biblical Training or type in www.biblicaltraining.org, they have a lecture series on Spiritual Formation. Now, it seems like spiritual formation is a buzz word these days. A lot of them, unfortunately, appear to be Christianised Eastern Mysticism practises like yoga, some types of meditation.
Now I haven’t listened to any of the lectures yet, but they don’t seem to be focussed on practises at all. Rather, it concentrates on our identity, that is, what’s in our hearts.
The heart of a sinful person is full of wickedness. No amount of dressing up can take care of that. The Pharisees were trying to dress up their wicked hearts with good deeds on the outside. But Jesus called them for what they were, pretty coffins. Nice looking on the outside, but dead inside.
He accused them of washing the outside of the bowl, when what really needed to be done was washing the inside.
Can you imagine that? You eat a bowl of chilli, and when you’re done, you walk to the sink, grab the dish brush, or doukje or cloth and you turn the bowl over, get the outside nice and wet, soap it up, rinse it off, and leave all the leftover chilli stuff on the inside, and put it away. How gross would that be? The next time you want a bowl of cereal, you grab that bowl off the shelf, look inside it and find that’s not just leftover chilli in there. Now there’s some green stuff growing too, and the smell! No matter how good it might look like on the outside, the bowl would be pretty useless to you wouldn’t it? You’d have to go through the hassle of washing the bowl on the inside before you could use it!
The biggest problem with us isn’t how we live, but rather, what’s in our hearts. That’s why David prayed, “Create in me a clean heart.” It’s why Ezekiel prophesied that God “will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them; I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh. 20 Then they will follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. They will be my people, and I will be their God” (Ezekiel 11:19-20).
So, that’s what is happening to us. God is in the process of giving us new hearts. He’s removing our hearts of stone.
My parents live in Westbank, B.C. Part of the way up one of the mountains. Apparently, when the house was built, in order to lay the foundation, they had to blast away a chunk of the mountain. But at least we know that the house is built on something solid!
When it comes to our hearts, God’s truth sometimes has to function as a jackhammer, pounding away at the hardness. Sometimes, God so moves in our lives, that it is more like a blast of dynamite. The purpose though, the result is a heart of flesh.
In the Old Testament, God often punished his people, he disciplined them through famines, pestilences, wars and even exile. The purpose was to humble them, cause them to repent and turn to him. When they did that, their hearts were softened and they were welcomed back into fellowship with God.
How do we know that we’re not doing the same thing? Can we recognise when we’re straying from God’s commandments? Is there a standard by which we can see if we’re straying from God’s will?
This is why we’re looking at Q&A 91this evening.
True faith has the one true God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit as its focus. True faith is remaining in Jesus. Jesus used the analogy of a grape vine. Jesus is the trunk of the vine, we’re the branches. As long as we remain in Christ, we will bear fruit. But as soon we turn to other things, other ideas, other practises, we unplug ourselves from Christ and we will wither and dry up.
So we have to really, really know who God is. This is amazing. Look how few people are here this evening. How many of us really want to know who God is? Why aren’t there more people here, dying to learn more about God? I’m not simply going to blame them, I’m blaming myself too. Maybe I’m not teaching enough about who God is. Maybe we’re not telling people that they can get to know God better by being in church, that it is a good investment of their time. I dunno, what do you think? Is this helpful to you, or are we doing this out of tradition? Well, we’ll get to that in a bit.
We must obey God’s laws. He created us, he knows what makes us tick, and what’s best for us. We think we know better, but we’re most often wrong. We do what we think is right, not often seeking to discover what God’s will is.
But not only do we have to have the right object of our worship, that is, God, we also must have the right attitude. In other words, we can come here, but if our heart isn’t in it, it’s really just a waste of time. In Israel, the kings presented offerings to the Lord, but they did it in addition to worshipping idols on the high places, and with idols alongside God. They did what was required, sure, but they didn’t do it out of obedience. They were merely trying to cover their bets. Some people, maybe some of us here, are only here because we see it as a get out of hell forever card. We’re just going through the motions because we’re afraid of the alternative. We don’t really give a rip about God, but well, you know I’ve been here so long I have to keep up appearances.
Maybe the truth of the gospel has never hit home. We think, “Well I prayed the prayer, I accepted Jesus, isn’t that it?” No! We have to repent, confess and believe every day. The dying away to the old self is a daily activity. The alternative, the fear of hell really is a glorifying of ourselves rather than glorifying God.
In fact, we know from Ephesians that we’re to do good works, and that these good works were created in advance for us to do. We are to do good works because we desire to glorify God. But these good works, what are they? Are they going overseas to do missions? We tend to think of radical things like that, but the Bible is much more reasonable.
Good works are being obedient children. Good works are being faithful employees. Good works include praying before meals. Good works include being a loving spouse, parent or friend.
So, when we stop and evaluate our activities, we have to put them under the test of whether or not it is true to the faith, conforming to God’s law, and done for his glory.
So, getting back to the Belhar Confession, I’m going to be looking at it with those things in mind. I’ll be looking at Synod’s decision, and looking at their reasons for adopting it.
When it comes to determining church attendance, for example, we have to put that under the same criteria. Does it come out of true faith? Does it conform to God’s law? Is it done for his glory? Or is it merely an established human tradition?
I only mention church attendance because it is one area where we take notice of other people’s practises. Coming together for worship is important. So, what’s hindering people from coming? What’s hindering people from coming in the morning? What’s hindering people from coming in the evening?
Is it a symptom of our age? Are we not doing enough? Are we missing something? How’s my preaching?
Now, when we ask these questions, we have to make sure that we’re not just looking at the surface stuff. It’s more than simple personal preference. It’s more than just numbers. Sometimes people come, sometimes they don’t.
History is full of ebbs and flows. But the question before us is this: are we inspiring true worship? Are we communicating true faith? Or are we merely promoting religion?
True faith is God centred. Religion is man centred. You must do this, you must do that, you have to do such and such in order to gain God’s favour.
So often, the easy thing to do as a collective group of people is to promote religion. We break it down to simple bits, even with the best of intentions. But it isn’t about us. It isn’t about what we do, yes, we must obey commandments, make no mistake about that. But we don’t get to the heart by focussing on the outside stuff. We have to get to the heart by addressing the heart.
So, what shall we do? How can we communicate with people’s hearts? How do we ask the tough questions of each other? How do we dare challenge one another? How do we delve beyond surface stuff?
It involves being honest in a winsome way. Jesus was honest. But people flocked to him. However, it is telling that right after the feeding of the 5000, when there was probably closer to 15-20,000 people there, the next day, John records that when Jesus told the people the truth about who he is, that all but the twelve left.
And why did they stay? Peter records the answer for us, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (John 6:68).
Is that what we’ve been missing? Are we missing the words of eternal life? Have we been so caught up in what we think is important that we’re forgetting what really is important?
Let us communicate the truth. Let us demonstrate an abhorrence of sin, and a total delight in doing good.
Here’s how this translates into evangelism. When we talk to people, we readily admit our sin. When we talk to people, we tell them what Christ has done, paying for sin. We describe to them the very real struggle between sinning and doing good. In this, yes, in this we’ll give glory to God, and they will to, either by giving their lives to Christ, or by bowing before him at the end of the age. Amen.