Monday, February 22, 2010

Being Passionate

Ecclesiastes 11:9 (NKJV)
9 Rejoice, O young man, in your youth, And let your heart cheer you in the days of your youth; Walk in the ways of your heart, And in the sight of your eyes; But know that for all these God will bring you into judgment.

For some weeks now we have been considering the lessons which young men as part of the body of Christ teach us. Solomon reminds us today that young men are full of energy, vision, passion, commitment, goals, dreams and aspirations. And so he exhorts young men to thank God for this energy and enthusiasm. “Rejoice, O young man, in your youth, and let your heart cheer you in the days of your youth.”

The desires to conquer the world, to chart unknown territory, to discover new things – these are good and noble. The reckless abandon with which young men can press ahead and pursue dreams and visions, is a lesson which young men have to teach us as the people of God. Passion is a good thing. So Solomon urges young men to follow these desires. “Walk in the ways of your heart, And in the sight of your eyes.” Take advantage of the passion which God has given you – dream lofty dreams, pursue outrageous goals.

Alongside these encouragements, Solomon delivers one reminder to young men in the midst of your passion: be tenacious in holding on to what is good and right. Too many young men allow their passions to direct them in ways that despise truth, goodness, and beauty. Their passions drive them to seek one more sexual encounter, one more drug enduced euphoria, one more victory at the gaming table. Notice what Solomon says, “But know that for all these God will bring you into judgment.” One day you will give an account for the choices you have made. One day you will answer to God for the way in which your passions have driven you. One day you will no longer be young.

In other words, Solomon is counseling you young men, that your passion can be put to either good use or evil use. If your passion drives you to honor the Living God and uphold His law, then rejoice for you are being precisely the type of young man He wants you to be. If, however, your passion is driving you to despise or ignore God and His statues, then you are in the clutches of the Evil One. Far from being a young man, you are nothing more than Satan’s tool. Too many young men have assumed that just because they feel like doing something, because they are passionate about it, therefore it must be right. Solomon teaches you otherwise. Passion is good – but it must be driven to achieving that which is honorable in the sight of God. Therefore your passion must be regulated by the Word of God.

What then do we as the people of God learn from young men today? Two things. First, the glory of passion. I fear that many of us have forgotten what it is to be passionate. John wrote to the church of Ephesus, “But this I have against you, that you have left your first love.” Have you forgotten what it is to be passionate? Then look at a young man and remember again and imitate him. Second, the danger of passion. We too must ask ourselves, “Have our passions driven us to evil?” Then we too must look at the Word of God and remember what it is we are to be truly passionate about.

Reminded that we have failed to learn the lesson of passion from the young men in our midst, let us kneel and confess our sin to God.

The Way of a Man with a Maid

Proverbs 30:18-19 (NKJV)
18 There are three things which are too wonderful for me, Yes, four which I do not understand: 19 The way of an eagle in the air, The way of a serpent on a rock, The way of a ship in the midst of the sea, And the way of a man with a maid.

Today is St. Valentine’s Day, the day our culture celebrates the affection of lovers for one another. We have been considering the lessons that young men teach us as the people of God. Their strength is a glory, a glory that should manifest itself not only in their physical feats but their spiritual development. But there is perhaps no truth more evidently known about young men than that they begin to develop a rather keen interest in young women.

Solomon reminds us today that this desire is good. After all, it was God who first designed man and woman to be together. He said the man was not complete when alone; He put the man to sleep and pulled a rib from his side; He crafted and shaped the woman; He presented her to the man. God designed the affection that lovers have one for another.

So perfect was the design, that Scripture records the first words spoken by Adam in the Garden, words spoken when this new creature was first brought before him. And these weren’t just run of the mill words. No, they were astonished words, glorious words, affectionate words. The first words of mankind, after all, were poetry:

This is now bone of my bones,
And flesh of my flesh,
She shall be called woman
Because she was taken out of man.

The first couple was designed by God and praised by man. And every couple since has been His handiwork as well. Solomon reminds us that though riches and wealth come from one’s fathers, a good wife is a gift from God Himself.

Evolutionary culture would have us believe that the attraction of a man and woman for one another is a mere matter of biology. We are mere animals and the sight of certain things arouses us. But as Solomon meditates upon God’s gift of love, and the gift of lovers, he confesses that it is all mystery – not biology.

There are three things which are too wonderful for me, Yes, four which I do not understand: The way of an eagle in the air, The way of a serpent on a rock, The way of a ship in the midst of the sea, And the way of a man with a maid.

How is it that a man otherwise taciturn and sullen, suddenly awakens and becomes sociable and amiable? How is it that a man directionless and purposeless, suddenly develops a clear and distinct vision? How is it that a man intent and disciplined, suddenly forgets himself, finds it difficult to focus, and is distracted from his work? And how is it that any man convinces a maid to love him and covenant with him?

All these things, Solomon confesses, are a mystery – but not because they are so petty and foolish, rather because they are so glorious and resplendent. We all shake our heads at some fool who wastes his substance at the gambling table. Sin is a mystery. But this is not the type of mystery that confronts us when considering the way of a man with a maid – no this is a mystery of God’s making. A marvel like eagles in the air, serpents on a rock, ships in the sea.

So, young men, God himself gave you the desire to be with a woman. Desiring to earn the hand of a woman is a good and noble thing. But a woman whose hand is worth having, is a woman who makes you earn it – so be purposeful, be intent, be honorable – and treat all the women in your life with respect until God in His grace and kindness gives you one specific woman upon whom to shower your affections.

And older men, let us not forget the ardor with which we pursued the woman by our side. Let us remember that she is a gift of God – and let us continue to pursue her to the glory of God and the beautification of our bride.

Reminded that we often despise the gifts of God, that we often seek His gifts in unlawful ways, that we often fail to thank Him for the gifts that He has given, let us kneel and confess our sin to Him.

Being Thankful

Luke 17:11-19 (NKJV)
11 Now it happened as He went to Jerusalem that He passed through the midst of Samaria and Galilee. 12 Then as He entered a certain village, there met Him ten men who were lepers, who stood afar off. 13 And they lifted up their voices and said, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” 14 So when He saw them, He said to them, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” And so it was that as they went, they were cleansed. 15 And one of them, when he saw that he was healed, returned, and with a loud voice glorified God, 16 and fell down on his face at His feet, giving Him thanks. And he was a Samaritan. 17 So Jesus answered and said, “Were there not ten cleansed? But where are the nine? 18 Were there not any found who returned to give glory to God except this foreigner?” 19 And He said to him, “Arise, go your way. Your faith has made you well.”

My son and I read a chapter this week discussing the importance of gratitude. It was this story of the ten lepers that served as the theme. Consider our story. These ten men had contracted one of the most dreaded diseases of the ancient world, a disease that numbered these men among the living dead. But something remarkable happens. Jesus crosses their path, they cry out to Him for healing, and Jesus tells them to show themselves to the priests to verify their cleansing. As they go, the lepers are healed, restored, purified. Remarkable! Amazing! And one of them – only one and that one a Samaritan – returns to Jesus, praises God, and gives thanks to Jesus for His act of mercy. And Jesus then asks – “Where are the others? Were there not ten healed? Why has only this one returned to give glory to God?” Jesus then blesses and commissions this one, assuring him of pardon.

As we consider this story, we may be tempted to ask, “Isn’t Jesus being a bit uncharitable?” Perhaps the nine other lepers were thankful in their hearts and just didn’t return to say so. But this is where Jesus rebukes us – true gratitude, true thankfulness, He insists, always manifests itself in action. Jesus tells us elsewhere that out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, etc. A corrupt heart produces corrupt actions. Likewise, true internal thankfulness, a grateful heart, will manifest itself in action. So how does the leper manifest his thankfulness? First, he observed the blessing – he saw that he was healed and did not take this healing for granted. Second, he returned and glorified God with a loud voice, praising God’s mercy to Him. Third, he gave thanks to Jesus, to the One through whom God gave the blessing to him.

Today we have been greatly blessed. The Lord has opened up through the hands of the Seventh Day Adventist Church this facility for our worship. We have received a blessing from the hands of God. If we are truly grateful, how ought this to manifest itself? First, we must notice the blessing, and not take it for granted. And though this is no doubt easy to do today – in the weeks and months to come we will be tempted to accept the gift as routine. Gratefulness, however, is always astonished, always amazed at the gift.

Second, we must turn to God and give thanks to Him. When we first received word from the senior center that we would have to vacate their facility, I certainly did not imagine that the Lord had in store something even better. What of you? But here the Lord has answered our prayers and opened up a beautiful facility. Let us praise the Lord, for His mercies last forever.

Third, we must thank our hosts with our actions – with notes of thanks, acts of service, and respect for their building. It is this last thing that I wish to draw our attention to today. We have been given the gift of using this facility, so let us treat it with respect. Children, you especially need to be mindful of this act of thankfulness – not only today but in the weeks to come – do not run on the pews, do not play in the sanctuary, keep your donuts in their place, listen to your parents, don’t touch things that are not ours. True gratitude manifests itself in action.

Reminded that we are frequently ungrateful, imagining that gratitude is only a matter of the heart, let us kneel and confess our ingratitude to the Lord.

Don't Trust Your Strength

6 As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, 7 rooted and built up in Him and established in the faith, as you have been taught, abounding in it with thanksgiving. Colossians 2:6-7

No sin is more common among those who have a passion for righteousness and purity than to imagine that these things are to be achieved by human striving rather than divine grace. The Pharisees fell into the trap, the Galatians fell into the trap, the Judaizers fell into the trap, Peter fell into the trap, and, according to our text today, the Colossians were in danger of falling into the trap. After all, nothing makes more sense than to say that if we want to pursue the righteousness of God, then we must earn it; we must strive for it; we must achieve it.

For the last several weeks we have been considering the strength that God has placed in young men, the particular gifts that He has given them. Our text today in Colossians reminds all of us, young men included, that native strength is not the key to victory over the evil one – the key is faith, trust in the promises of God.

Paul exhorts us to walk in Christ, to conduct our lives, according to the same principle that united us with Christ in the first place. And what was that principle? Faith. Faith united us with Christ, was the appointed means by which God credited to our account the righteousness of Christ, was the gift that enabled us to emerge from the shadow of darkness into the light of life.

So let us be absolutely clear that we understand what this means. Young men, do not trust in your strength – trust in the goodness of God who has given you strength. What do you have that you have not received? And if you have received it, why do you boast?

Paul urges us to pursue our growth in grace by looking not to our own worth, not to our own deserving, not to our own wisdom, but looking instead to the grace of God, the mercy of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ who has given us all things. And precisely because He has given us all things, we should be the most grateful people on earth, we should be “abounding with thanksgiving.”

And so, reminded that God’s grace is the source of our strength and wisdom; that that which distinguishes us from our neighbor is not our commitment, not our determination, not anything of ours, but rather the completely free grace of God, let us kneel and confess that we often fall into the sin of imagining that it is by our own strength that we serve the Lord and not by the strength which He has supplied.