SERMON: Coping with Difficulties (Deuteronomy 1:29-36 & John 14:1-14)
1. The Reality of Difficulties
We all face difficulties in life—some of which of our own making, some of which we have contributed to, and some of which have been imposed on us from outside. We can face family difficulties, health difficulties, trouble at work. financial or legal problems, or any number of other things. But regardless, we all face (or have faced) times of trouble.
Of course, some of the difficulties can be of a short-term nature, and others can be much more long term. But whether the problems are one-offs, or it seems that it’s just one thing after another, none of us are exempt from the difficulties of life.
2. Coping with Difficulties
As a consequence, knowing how to cope with them is very important. Because whilst some people just seem to breeze through difficulties, others don’t seem to cope very well at all. And some people just seem to have big heavy chains which they drag around with them.
Now, of course, there are a number of helps that may well be available. But the question, today, is ‘Do we use all the support we can get? And is there a major area of support that is available which doesn’t usually figure in our solutions?’ Because how we cope with difficulties will depend on how we make use of the help that is available.
B. FIGHTING GOD (Deuteronomy 1:29-36)
Now, for many people, there’s nothing better than a bit of Do-It-Yourself. And I think the reason for that is that it is good to be creative. It also feels good when something comes together with little or no help from anyone else. After all, aren’t many things easy enough to do, if only you have the right knowledge and the right tools.
But the reality is that, for many of us, Do-It-Yourself is not the ideal pastime. Because while we might have a picture in our minds of the way things are supposed to turn out. In reality, that’s not the way things often turn out at all. And sometimes we’re just unable to see the faults in what we’ve done.
And whereas we might be good at establishing the problem to start with, we may also be good at glossing over our inadequacies in fixing the problem too. And, indeed, there are television shows dedicated to home-made disasters, where experts are called in to fix up people’s Do-It-Yourself disasters.
But disasters aren’t just the end result of people doing those hands-on practical Do-It-Yourself projects. They can also be the result of trying to fix our own spiritual difficulties too. And the number of Spiritual Expos you can go to these days, where the emphasis is on a kind of Do-It-Yourself spirituality is amazing. Unfortunately, many of those Do-It-Yourself spirituality solutions can leave you worse than you were to begin with too.
2. Deuteronomy 1:29-36
In the passage from Deuteronomy, we are told of a group of people who had a history of God coming to their rescue time and time again. He had rescued them from all sorts of perils. And yet, even though they faced many new difficulties, all they wanted to do was to face the new ones on their own. They had their pride—and they believed they could cope with anything.
Indeed, despite what God had done for them in the past, they thought that they were tough, that nothing would be too much for them to cope with. As far as they were concerned, they could fix up all their future problems themselves. And they certainly didn’t want any outside help—not even from God.
Well you can imagine what was the end result. It was disaster. In the past they had needed God’s help to see them through. But they seemed to have forgotten that. So they refused his help. And as a consequence, the difficulties they faced got worse.
God then stayed on the sidelines, waiting for the people to ask for help. But the people were stubborn. They believed they had what it took to look after themselves. And all they did was make a bigger mess than the problem ever was to start with.
And with God forced to remain on the sidelines, he could do nothing but watch the disaster get worse. The one expert on spiritual matters they could have referred to, was unable to help them. And so not only did their situation remained unresolved—but they alienated themselves from God in the process.
So if we think that some Do-It-Yourself fanatics are crazy—and really shouldn’t be doing things on their own—then the people of God took the biscuit. They were a group of people who were determined to do everything—and I mean everything—themselves. Because they believed that they could Do-It themselves, even with their own spiritual welfare.
3. Fighting God
And we might think that they were quite crazy—that this was just another case of Do-It-Yourself gone mad. But how many people do we know who do the same thing? And, when we go through difficulties, how often do we refuse outside help?
Now, sometimes, it may not be appropriate to see an expert, but sometimes our pride can get in the way—sometimes expert help is exactly what we need. And that is particularly true regarding our relationship with God.
Because to exclude God surely that has to be a kind of Do-It-Yourself madness. Because any situation where we put him aside, and refuse his help, is a recipe not for things to get better but for things to get much, much worse. It not only leaves the problem unresolved, but it effectively alienates us from him in the process.
Do-It-Yourself then doesn’t just relate to the odd jobs around the house that we try to do without too much expert help. It also describes a kind of attitude, and a kind of lifestyle which we can live. And while some people may be good at some things, none of us are good at everything. And yet, how often through pride, wanting a sense of achievement or fulfilment, or some other such motive, do we not allow people in from outside, because we want to try to do everything ourselves.
And, of course, the end result of trying to be an expert at all things—including the spiritual life—is that not everything will come out perfectly. And things may well become far more complicated. With the end result, that we may end up facing a much greater disaster than we ever had to start with.
C. TRUSTING GOD (John 14:1-4)
Doing-It-Yourself, then, can be far more complicated than it appears. Because, to work properly, it also requires you to be aware of your limits, and to know when you need to hand the job over to an expert. And that is particularly true regarding spiritual matters.
2. John 14:1-14
And in the passage from John, the disciples were about to go through a time of great difficulty. But they needed to recognise the need to depend upon a real expert to see them through.
Jesus had just told them he would be leaving them. And Jesus had been the one person on whom they had depended for their spiritual welfare. And with the necessity of his departure, the disciples didn’t know how they would cope. But they had a choice. They could just try plodding along without Jesus—trying to do everything as best they could themselves—or they could take Jesus’s advice and trust in God to guide them.
Now they weren’t experts at any spiritual kind of Do-It-Yourself at all. They knew that—that’s why they had followed Jesus. But they were facing a crunch time in their lives. And obviously they would have had far more control over their lives if they tried to look after themselves.
So faced with the choice, they decided on a compromise. They would accept God’s help but only within certain limits. Indeed, Thomas’s first reaction was to place limits on what Jesus could do for them. And then Philip came up with his own compromise. But Jesus was having none of it. And he assured them that expert help was available, and it was nothing short of help without limit. What was offered was total help, nothing more and nothing less.
It was a tough lesson for the disciples to learn—and I’m not sure any of them really learnt it at that time—but a little later after Jesus’s death and resurrection they learnt it. And then things really began to take off. And all because they shrugged off their independence for a dependence upon God. And they reaped the benefits.
And although certain difficulties never went away, they were given the power to cope with whatever came their way. And it was power that they knew they could not possibly have had on their own.
3. Trusting God
Which again raises the question of our own wanting to do things ourselves. Because whether we want to make things—or whether we want to grow and develop our spiritual lives—the reality is that we don’t have to do things on our own.
When we are looking for help for Do-It-Yourself projects there are a number of sources that we can use. And when we are looking for help of a spiritual nature there are a number of sources of help too.
And the first relates to tools. And prayer would have to be one of the greatest tools that we could have. The second relates to a manual. And the bible fits well with that too. And regarding expert help . . . Not only are there other Christians—hence the importance of meeting together. But there is also THE expert—God himself.
The question is, though, even with all that—with all the day-to-day living, as well as the difficulties we face—are we still trying to do things ourselves without outside help? And are we getting ourselves deeper and deeper into trouble. Or are we willing to ask the expert—God himself—for his help? Are we willing to turn our ‘No’ (regarding outside help) into a ‘Yes’? And are we prepared to knock something off our ‘independence’ and become ‘dependant’ upon God.
One of the things about life, then, is we don’t have to do everything ourselves. Indeed, there are a number of resources available for us to use.
And yet, sadly, regarding spirituality, one of the mysteries is that many people are resistant to God’s help. And as a consequence, they make things worse for themselves by alienating themselves from God in the process.
Because we all face difficulties. And they can come from every aspect of our lives. Some are quickly solved, and others . . . well, they may never seem to go away. And the issue of how to cope with difficulties is one that has been around for a very long time.
But regarding how one copes, is very much the issue of today. And yes, we can try to stay fiercely independent—wanting to do everything ourselves—or we can seek help, particularly from the many experts around.
Unfortunately, the danger is to take a Do-It-Yourself approach to life. And that can end with a greater disaster than the problem encountered in the first place.
Which is why, over the years, God has knocked on many people’s doors. Yet, despite his willingness to help, very few have been willing to open the door and let him in.
And that’s sad. Because not only is eternal life not something we can earn on our own—because we are totally dependent upon God in that regard—but by excluding God’s divine help, we can find ourselves facing a bigger disaster than we ever had to being with.
Posted: 2nd July 2021
© 2021, Brian A Curtis
SERMON: Do Not Add or Take Away (Deuteronomy 4:2, 12:32; Proverbs 30:5-6; Jeremiah 26:2; Revelation 22:18-19)
Whether we like it or not we live in a world of change. And to a large extent that change is of our own making. We change our landscape: we clear trees, we mine for minerals, and we change the balance of nature. We adapt the environment for our own needs and our own liking. We are constantly adapting and developing our own culture: so that the things of the past are no longer as important as they once were, and more modern concerns take on a much more important focus. We are constantly coming up with new ideas: we are inventive and innovative. So much so, that the challenge to better and improve ourselves, often seems to take on a whole life of its own. And as a consequence of all these things, we change our rules and our laws, often, to catch up with the way things have changed and developed.
And whereas some people like change, others fight against it. But even amongst those who like change, the pace at which life changes can still be a real issue. (Never having enough time to adapt to one change before being confronted with another).
But the fact is, that whether we like it or not, we live with change—it’s part of who we are. The challenge for us, then, is what we do with change, with how we manage it.
Having said that, there are some things which are not supposed to be changed? And one of those things is the message from the Lord our God. Yet, despite that, over the years, people have tried to change and adapt that too.
B. DO NOT ADD OR TAKE AWAY
1. Deuteronomy 4:2 & 12:32
For example, when Moses and God’s people reached the Jordan River—and they were about to cross the Jordan into the Promised Land—the first thing that Moses did was to sit the people down. He knew from experience the people’s tendency to “adjust” God’s words to something they found to be acceptable. As a consequence, he needed to revisit where they had come from in their relationship with God.
And in a rather lengthy speech—in which he talked about the seriousness of their relationship with their creator—he talked about God’s law, and the priority of worship and service. And, in doing so, he reiterated these words of God: ”You are not to add to what I command you or subtract from it. Rather, you are to keep the commandments of the LORD your God that I am giving you.”
And, indeed, knowing from experience that many of the people were paying only lip service to God’s words, and that in no time at all, even after all he had to say, that the people would be adapting and changing God’s words to suit themselves, half way through his speech, Moses repeated God’s words again. “Be careful to do everything that I command you to do. Do not add to the commands or take away from them.”
2. Proverbs 30:5-6
Another example is in the book of Proverbs. The writer of this particular proverb was also aware of the tendency of God’s people to adjust the truth to suit themselves—to make faith in God more palatable, and to make observance of the faith easier to express. As a consequence we have in the book of Proverbs this warning: “Every word of God has been tested in the fire; he is a shield to those who seek refuge in him. Do not add to his words, or he will decide against you; you will be found to be a liar.”
3. Jeremiah 26:2
And, a third example is the prophet Jeremiah. Now his life was often at risk because of his faith. But he was ordered by God to face a hostile crowd, with a message that he knew they really didn’t want to hear. Now Jeremiah must have been tempted to leave out particular words of God which he knew would not be welcomed. Because before he even opened his mouth, he was encouraged by God to go ahead, regardless of the consequences. And those words of God to Jeremiah …? “Stand in the courtyard of the LORD’s Temple. Speak to all the people from the towns of Judah, who have come to worship in the LORD’s Temple. Tell them everything I command you. Do not omit a word.”
As you can see, then, in a world of change—and these days it may be the pace of change that’s the issue—there has always been a tendency to adapt God’s message. To make it more acceptable; to make it more comfortable and easier to live with. And God is very aware of this temptation. But, as a consequence, side by side with the temptation to change, has been this constant warning: Don’t fiddle with God’s word. Do not add to it or take away from it.
5. Revelation 22:18-19
Indeed so serious is the need not to adapt the faith, as God has provided, God’s warning is extended to the very last chapter of the last book of the Bible. And we can read the words in the book of Revelation, “I bear witness to everyone who hears the prophetic words of this book: If anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues that are written in this book. If anyone takes away the words of this prophetic book, God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city—the things that are written in this book.”
It’s a solemn warning, that the contents, the message of the book, is not to be tampered with. That the book is more than the product of man’s imagination or human genius. That the words are from no less than God himself. And whilst other things in the world might change and adapt, there is one thing that is constant. And that is who God is, what he has said, and what he has told us to do. And no kind of wishful thinking or wanting to make the Gospel more acceptable can change that in any way at all.
As a consequence, it may be normal to adjust things, to adapt things in this world, to make things more suitable for ourselves. But from the Bible we are given a warning: there are some things that aren’t adjustable. And one of those things is the basics of our faith in the living God.
Despite that, don’t we live in a world, and a society, that constantly tries to adapt the Christian faith to make it more palatable?
1. The Need for a Relationship with God
After all, how often do we hear people talking or acting in terms of God, as being a god you can either take or leave? “Oh! That’s something for the old and the infirm…” “I’ve got more important things to do…” “I believe… but…” “I’ll consider God when I get older…” etc., etc.
People are very good at coming up with excuses why God shouldn’t be number one in their lives. And why family, sport, work, or even themselves are far more important in their list of their priorities.
And yet, regarding God. Moses’s speech on the eastern bank of the Jordan River was firmly focussed on who God was, and on the importance of taking seriously their relationship with God. God wasn’t someone that you could take or leave, without risking dire consequences. And the book of Revelation says the same. Because it reveals God (and the Lamb) upon the throne—as the whole thrust of the book. And in the scenario of judgement day, it reveals the purpose of life: as the need to constantly acknowledge God, and the need to constantly worship his very being.
2. The Only Way to Salvation
How often do we hear people say that there are other ways to God? And that belief in Jesus is not the only way. “I’ve got my own faith…” “I’m involved in a lot of community work…” “I’ve lived a good life, I’ve done enough…” And that is apart from any other religious beliefs.
People are very good at coming up with excuses why they won’t commit themselves to the only true faith, why they want to adapt the Christian faith to cover other alternatives, and why they prefer to do things differently, or on their own.
And yet, regarding other ways to salvation… Moses spoke out that following God leads to life, and that any other way leads to disaster. And Revelation spells that out further. Because in Revelation, it not only reveals a picture of the faithful gathered together in heaven and worshipping God, but it also provides a picture of what happens to the unfaithful. Indeed those whose names are not recorded in the book of life will be thrown into the lake of fire (Revelation 20:15).
3. The Need to Keep the Message True
And how often do we hear things which tend to water down the expression of the Christian faith? “I believe… but I don’t find it necessary to go to church”, “My faith is a private matter…”, “I was baptised and married in the church, and I’ll probably be buried from the church too—but that is as far as it goes…” Or even “I help the church financially…”. (And some of these things may be good in themselves.)
People are very good at coming up with excuses, which require God’s words to be reinterpreted to mean other than as God intended. And that is despite the fact that their reinterpretations clash terribly with the warnings in the bible not to add or take away from God’s message.
And yet, regarding people adding or taking away… Well, whether we consider Moses or the Book of Revelation, the concept of belief being private is totally alien to God’s way. On the contrary, faith is something that is to be openly expressed. The concept of being able to earn one’s place by doing good deeds is also expressly denied, because it dismisses the necessity of dependence upon God and the need for a saviour. And the idea of their being different levels of belief and different outward expressions of the faith depending upon what suits, couldn’t be any further from the truth either. On the contrary, nothing less than full participation in faith, and its outward expression, is what is required of all believers without exception.
Change may be part and parcel of who we are. And regarding our understanding and expression of the Christian faith, hopefully that will develop and grow. But the idea of being able to change and adapt the basic concept of God and his message, to make it more palatable, to make it more easy to accept… Well people may do it. But in reality, it’s not an option for anyone who claims to be a genuine Christian at all.
What that means, therefore, is that we have to be very careful in our beliefs, and the expression of them. Because, we not only need to get them right for ourselves, but we have the great responsibility of not leading others astray as well. That means we need to periodically look at the state of our beliefs and practices, to make sure that they line up with the expectations of God.
The Bible, and the Book of Revelation in particular, is very clear on the fact that God should always be the central focus of all our lives. And that anything less, is not acceptable at all. That there is only one way for salvation. And that there is only one way to restore our relationship with God. And that’s through faith in his Son, Jesus Christ. And the consequences of that faith, mean that we have responsibilities to share our faith, in the things that we do, and the things that we say.
We have to be careful, then, not to add or take away from the things that God has said or given in any way. Because deviating from that path is clearly not acceptable. Indeed, the consequences of us doing so could mean that come judgement day, we may not be lining up with the faithful to receive our reward, but with the unbelievers waiting to be condemned.
So, yes, whether we like it or not, we live in a world that is constantly changing. And to some extent that is something that we have to live with. But, despite that, there are some things that should never be changed. And one of those things is God, his laws, the salvation message that he brings, and our basic responses to the things that he has said and given.
Now in a world of change, that isn’t an easy thing to do. It’s far easier to change God’s words and adapt them, to make them easier to digest, and to make them easier to accept. That was the temptation in Moses’ day, that was the temptation at the time of the writer of that Proverb, and that was the temptation at the time that Revelation was written. But it’s not God’s way. And it should it be ours either.
We have a responsibility today to respond to God’s message, as he has provided it. We also have the responsibility to tell others about it, without changing it in any way. Indeed, without adding to it and without taking anything away.
Posted 30th March 2019
© 2019, Brian A Curtis
SERMON: The Material and the Spiritual (Deuteronomy 15:10-11, Ecclesiastes 5:10, Matthew 10:39 & 1 Timothy 6:9-10)
In many ways it’s quite normal to pursue our own wants and desires: to strive to be totally self-sufficient; to own our own home, to have our own transport, to have enough money to live on; and to have all those other things that have become ‘necessities’ of life. Indeed, it’s quite normal to have standards—and to dream of improving the standards by which we live. And it’s quite normal to pursue our goals: trying to better ourselves; to have nice clothes; and to acquire a few luxuries in life. So that we can then, not only become totally self-sufficient, but retire in great comfort as well.
Of course, how one achieves those dreams varies from one person to another. Because some have the good fortune of getting a well-paid job; some scrimp and save to own their dreams; and others . . . well, their only hope is to resort to gambling in the hope of attaining a better life.
The common end, however, is that even though people may have the desire for possessions—the desire to become self-sufficient; the desire to improve their standard of living—and indeed, it becomes the focus of their lives. And yet, very rarely are people happy with the end result.
B. FOUR LESSONS
And there are reasons for that. And, today, I’m going to suggest four:
1. The Unsatisfying Nature of Material Possessions (Ecclesiastes 5:10)
Because the first of these is that no matter what one acquires or accumulates, generally speaking, it can never be enough. Because wherever you are on the ladder of success there is always room for improvement, there is always another rung just out of reach.
Which is why the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes comments: ‘Whoever loves money never has enough. Whoever loves wealth never has enough income.’
But then pursuing one’s goals is a journey that is often unsatisfying. And in many ways, we can never quite get there. Because even when we get close to our goals, there’s a tendency to move the posts—to just that little bit further away and just that little bit higher—to something bigger and better again.
2. The Alternatives: The Material and the Spiritual (Matthew 10:39)
The second reason is that material possessions are not the only thing in life. We have a spiritual nature to satisfy too. And the words of Jesus are very telling on this point. For he said, ‘Anyone who finds his life will lose it, and anyone who loses his life on account of me will find it.’
a). Anyone Who Finds His Life . . .
And Jesus’s words are a reminder that anyone who is focused on getting the best things in life, whose outlook is on seeking the things that they enjoy and delight in (that is without regard to and other considerations) . . . Well, they might actually find what they are seeking. But at what price?
Now, for Jesus, the point isn’t that of Ecclesiastes—that the pursuit of this kind of lifestyle can never produce satisfaction—rather, his point is that this kind of pursuit is pointless. Because it is a recipe for disaster in regard to a person’s eternal well-being.
In the phrase ‘Anyone who finds his life will lose it . . .’ Jesus is saying that, yes, people might have some wonderful goals and they might acquire as many things as they can, but what’s the point when all these things are only temporary? Because you can’t take them with you when you die.
At the point of death our possessions will be useless to us. We can’t take them with us. On the contrary, they will be left behind for someone else to use or dispose of. But more than that, any emphasis on the material things in this world—to the exclusion of all else—means that during this life our life will have been wasted. We would not have done what was necessary in this world to promote a relationship with God. And as a consequence, we will fall short of God’s criteria for eternal life with him in the next.
In short, pursuing pleasures and material gain in this world (to the exclusion of all else) points to a life lived in empty pursuit in this world. And it is one which will have disastrous consequences in the next world too.
b). Anyone Who Loses His Life . . .
But, of course, the other side of the coin is that anyone who does not pursue a material life now—but willingly forgoes worldly pleasures for the service of Christ now—he (or she) will find life in all its fullest, both here and now in this world, as well as in the life to come. Hence the second part of Jesus’ statement: “Anyone who loses his life on account of me will find it.”
Anyone who follows Jesus in this world will gain a fuller life here and now, because they will not be living in empty pursuit of things that don’t last. And they will have nurtured a relationship with God that will last and develop. As consequence, they will be blessed with all the rich blessings of God—both spiritual and material. But more than that, because the person has chosen to forgo the pursuit of material pleasures—and has chosen a life of devotion to God—they will have prepared themselves for the next life too. And as a consequence, the act of dying itself will be a mere hiccup in the transition between a life with God in this world and life with God in the next.
3. The Material as an Obstacle to the Spiritual (1 Timothy 6:9-10)
The third reason why material things can be so unsatisfying is that the material and the spiritual are not just two alternatives but, at times, they can be diametrically opposites. They can be two alternatives that conflict and clash with one another—with dangerous consequences.
As the Apostle Paul wrote to Timothy: ‘Those who want to get rich, fall into temptation and a trap and have many foolish and harmful desires that cause men to sink into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and some who long for it have wandered away from their faith. They have pierced themselves with much pain.’
But then Paul was concerned not just with the choice of living in the material realm or the spiritual realm, but that those who were pursuing a more spiritual life should be aware of the dangers of the strong and attractive appeal of all things material. Of course, there is a suspicion of this behind Jesus’s words to his disciples. But here Paul specifically identifies this as a problem in the early church, hence needing to share this advice with his fellow worker, Timothy.
The lure of possessions, the attractiveness of worldly things, and the excitement of pursuing one’s material goals may seem worthwhile, but the side effect of it should not be lost. And that is that such practices will have a detrimental impact on a person’s relationship with God. And furthermore, it will not necessarily guarantee a positive outcome regarding the acquiring of earthly possessions either.
Now, of course, at this stage, one could easily get the idea that there is something wrong regarding owning anything at all (that is from a spiritual perspective). However, nothing could be further from the truth. And nothing could be more un-biblical either.
Indeed, in Old Testament times, in particular, there was an expectation that God would reward the faithful, not just in the growth of their spiritual relationship, but by the giving of physical possessions too.
Nevertheless, what the Bible is very strong on, is that nothing should be allowed to get in the way of a proper relationship with God. And possessions, and the pursuit of material possessions, do tend to do that. That’s why the Bible records the very strong line regarding the issue of wanting and pursuing possessions.
5. The Purpose of Possessions (Deuteronomy 15:10-11)
And that leads us to the fourth reason that people might not find happiness in possessions. And that is that possessions are designed to be shared.
Yes, we are supposed to enjoy the things to which we have been entrusted by God. But we need to hold the idea of ownership of property from the perspective of need to share. And that is a perspective that is repeated again and again through-out the Bible. And perhaps is no clearer put than in the book of Deuteronomy: “Give generously to the poor; when you give, do not do so begrudgingly. Then the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in everything you do. For there will always be some who are poor among you. That is why I command you to be generous to your brother—to the needy and poor in your land.’
In other words, the things with which we have been entrusted—the things that many people like to cling on to for themselves, and even want more of—aren’t bad in themselves. But with ownership comes responsibility, and we are to use what we have to make a difference in the world.
The dissatisfaction that many people face regarding possessions, therefore, may simply be because they were not designed by God to be sought after and accumulated (with selfish intentions). Rather they were designed and given to be shared.
And with that sharing there is a paradox. Because the more we share the more God gives. But he doesn’t give us more so that we can collect and accumulate it for ourselves. Rather, he gives us more so that we can give and share more too.
The question of material possessions and pursuit of them, therefore, is of vital importance in the life of every believer. At the heart of it, is the issue: ‘Should we fit God in to our material lives? Or should we be managing our material lives to fit in to our relationship with God?’ In other words, do we arrange our lives around the things we own and want to pursue and then, if there’s time to spare, fit God in somewhere? Or, rather, do we make God our priority first and then, if time permits, add in the rest?
At the heart of the question is our priorities. And the answer that each one of us gives will be the measure of our personal commitment to God.
Having said that, however, there is a catch in this whole material versus spiritual debate. Because Jesus did not intend us just to weigh up for ourselves the pros and cons of each alternative, and then decide on the spiritual approach because the benefits are greater. Because, in a sense, that is still selfish living, and is unlikely to provide the kind of discipleship that Jesus wants.
Rather, what Jesus’ hoped for was that people would be so grateful to God for the opportunity for salvation that he provided, that they would willingly give up the pursuit of the material, and take on the road of self-denial that Jesus did.
And the reason for this distinction is important. Because the response to the Christian faith is not about what’s best for me, and what I can secure for myself here and now (Although it does that too). Rather, it’s about being actively and willingly involved in the service of God and in the service of one’s fellow man—as a natural response of gratitude for what Jesus has done for you and me.
So it’s only normal to want the best. It’s normal to have dreams about improving our situations. But to have that mind set—without the consideration of other factors—opens us to all sorts of issues. Not least of which is to the detriment of our relationship with God.
Regarding possessions and material things . . . We need to get them into perspective. Because if we don’t, we will not only lose our lives in this world—over things that can be unsatisfying and very shallow—but we may also lose our lives in the next world too. Because we haven’t used the opportunity to acquaint ourselves properly with our creator and redeemer.
Posted: 8th July 2021
© 2021, Brian A Curtis
SERMON: The Problem of Sin (Deuteronomy 31:14-18; Matthew 6:25-34)
PART 1: OPENING THOUGHT
From time to time we all face difficulties in life. Some of our own making—or to which we have made a contribution—and others apparently totally beyond our control. Sometimes those difficulties may seem to relate to the one big event, and other times it’s just one thing after another. Sometimes there can appear to be a reason for what we are going through, and other times . . . it’s like we don’t deserve it, or it just doesn’t make sense.
Now, what I want to do this morning is to go through the main issue involved—the main cause of our struggles. After all, it helps to know where things are going wrong. And, after that, I want to examine the resource—the help that is available to us all.
And to illustrate what I want to talk about today, I’m going to use some visual illustrations—some water, a few containers, and a bit of food colouring.
PART 2: THE PROBLEM OF SIN
Now one of the things I’m going to tell you right from the outset is that it is normal to have troubles in life. It’s not normal to go through life smoothly, with absolutely no hiccups on the way. So one of the things that can give us comfort as we struggle though life, then, is the knowledge that we are not alone. That every single person who has ever lived, lives now, or will live in the future will face difficulties in life.
And even the bible confirms that. Because one of the things about the bible is that it is particularly blunt about people and about their relationship with God. The bible tells it like it is, warts and all. And one of the things it tells us is that no matter who we are, no matter what we do, we will all face struggles in life—Christians and non-Christians alike. It’s part of what life has become. It’s not how God created the world, but it has become part of the world to which we belong.
So, if we all have to face life’s struggles—and none of us are exempt—what is the cause? Well the short answer is: every single one of us. And I’m going to use these things I have in front of me to show you why.
B. THE PROBLEM OF SIN (Deut 31:14-18)
Now one of the things that you often hear are the words “I’ve done nothing wrong” or “I didn’t deserve that” or “Why did God allow that to happen?” So what I’m going to do is to demonstrate how wrong all of those statements are, why we all have struggles, and why we all suffer.
1. No One Is Innocent
[Two beakers with water in them]
Now, I want you to imagine that these containers with water in them are two different people. And I’ll leave it up to you decided if they are good people, bad people or something in between.
I also have here some food colouring—and I want you to imagine that the yellow represents the minor things that we do wrong; the blue for when we do major things wrong; and the red for all things in between. And I’m going to show what happens to each of these people every time they do something wrong:
a). Container One – A Good Person
Now the first person has been noted for doing three things in the last week that were wrong.
The first thing is that he brought a pencil home from work the other day—but it was a genuine mistake. But rather than take it back he decided to keep it instead. After all he needed a pencil at home.
Now we need to put a dob of colour in the water to represent his mistake. But which one?
[Yellow – a minor thing, blue – a major, red – in-between]
The second thing is that the other day this same person became aware of someone who was in need. He had the means to be able to help them, but decided that he wanted to keep what he had for himself. And so he did nothing.
[Yellow – a minor thing, blue – a major, red – in-between]
And the third thing is that last Sunday it was a bit cold. And when he woke up he decided it was far too cold to go to church. So he decided to stay in the warm and stay at home.
[Yellow – a minor thing, blue – a major, red – in-between]
b). Container Two – A Bad Person
Now this second person has been noted for doing three things in the last week that were wrong too. The first thing is that on Monday he was involved in a bank robbery—a robbery in which he stole a lot of money.
[Yellow – a minor thing, blue – a major, red – in-between]
The second thing is that the robbery on Monday was an armed robbery, and someone was killed.
[Yellow – a minor thing, blue – a major, red – in-between]
And the third thing is that as he was running away from the bank, he was heard to swear. He was heard to take God’s name in vain.
[Yellow – a minor thing, blue – a major, red – in-between]
Now the interesting thing is that these two containers are two different colours. And yet both stole what wasn’t theirs, both showed a lack of care for human life, and both didn’t give God his proper due.
Now we may treat different mistakes with different degrees of seriousness, but what we should realise is that we call good, bad or indifferent isn’t necessarily what God calls good, bad or indifferent. After all, remember both stole what wasn’t theirs, both showed a lack of care for human life, and both didn’t give God his proper due.
Of course making a mistake isn’t just a one-off event, it has ongoing consequences. Not least of which is the danger of getting into the habit of making mistakes. But making mistakes have other consequences too. And the worst of these is that each time we make a mistake we effectively put a wedge between ourselves and God. So if we think that we are good or even believe ourselves to be innocent, nothing could be further from the truth.
2. Corporate Sin
But you know that’s only the first part of the story—that only explains the problem from an individual point of view. But the situation is far worse than that, as we are about to find out. Because we don’t just live lives on our own, we also live in a community—in fact we belong to many communities. We have our family group, our group of friends, our colleagues, etc., but we’re also part of groups who live in the same town, the same state, the same country, and the same world.
So, as an example, I want you to imagine that this bowl represents the local community in which we live. Now in our community are people—some of whom we might call “good” and some we might call “bad”. And there would be some who would be in-between as well. And what happens is that just as individuals are coloured by the things they do themselves. So is the community coloured by what it does (and doesn’t do) too.
So in our community are some apparently “good” people [pour half of the contents of beaker one]. And mixed with them there are some “apparently” bad people [pour half of the contents of beaker two]. And obviously there are some in-between people as well.
Now in this bowl can you tell the good from the bad? No!
But what happens on a community level is interesting too. Because in the last week three things happened regarding the community too:
And the first thing is that the local council received some money to upgrade their roads. However the council realised it was a mistake—that the money actually belonged to another council. But instead of giving the money back, the council decided that they needed the money for their own roads. So they decided to keep quiet about receiving the money in the hope that the mistake wouldn’t be picked up.
[Yellow – a minor thing, blue – a major, red – in-between]
The second thing is that within the community it became clear that there were people living in poverty—people who just didn’t have enough to live on. But as a community, were people trying to do something about it? No! People just didn’t want to seem to know. All turned a blind eye to what was going on.
[Yellow – a minor thing, blue – a major, red – in-between]
And the third thing is that despite it being a Sunday there was a group of people—sponsored by the local council—who put on all sorts of activities, at a time that would compete with Sunday worship—effectively discouraging people from worshipping God.
[Yellow – a minor thing, blue – a major, red – in-between]
Now one of the interesting things is that just as our individuals make three mistakes, so did the community of which we they were apart. The community stole what wasn’t theirs, they showed a lack of care for human life, and they didn’t give God his proper due either. And we are all part of communities just like that.
Now each of those things that required a drop of colour has a name. And it’s a word we don’t seem to like to use much these days—sins. And each of those drops shows us not only that we have done wrong, but it indicates a wedge we have placed between us and God.
And that is a real problem. Because the problem is that in order for us to be acceptable to God we need to be this colour. [show beaker with clean water in it]. But in reality as individuals we are this colour [show half full beakers]. And as members of a community we are this colour [show community bowl].
You can see the problem.
So let’s get back to the question of why do people suffer? Well it’s principally because of what we do and don’t do as individuals. It is also principally because of what we do and don’t do as members of the various communities to which we belong. And the implications and flow on effects of what we do and don’t do have far reaching consequences.
So who is innocent? No-one! No-one meets God’s standards. So when you hear someone say “I’ve done nothing wrong” you should know that just isn’t true. And when you hear someone say “why do the innocent suffer, when bad people seem to be exempt?” Well you should know that that isn’t true either. Because no-one is innocent.
Furthermore, the distinctions we make between good and bad are not the distinctions that God makes. After all, in all three scenarios each person and the community to which they belonged broke the same principles that God has set. It’s only us human beings who have come up with a system of differentiating between sins—between sins that are more acceptable and sins which are not.
So we have a dilemma—a dilemma that needs a solution. But fortunately there is an answer to our dilemma.
PART 3: HELP IS AT HAND
Of course the reality of the struggles of life is that we need help. It’s not something we can resolve on our own. We need someone to rescue us—someone who can deal with the situation, someone who can restore our relationship with God. And fortunately that’s exactly what we have.
Because throughout the bible God promised his people, that he wanted to be with them in the difficulties of life, as well as in the good times. And underlying that was God’s promise of a permanent solution to the problem of sin. And it’s a very simple solution, which can be very easily demonstrated using our containers, water and food colouring.
B. THE SOLUTION TO SIN
Because if this is you and me [show counter with half coloured water], and somehow our contaminated water could be substituted for clean [show beaker with clean water], then the consequences of sin can be solved.
And you know that’s exactly what God’s solution is. Because God’s solution to sin is about God substituting the things we’ve done wrong, by effectively making us totally innocent all over again. However, for this solution to work it required a person who had done nothing wrong to take on our mistakes, with all the consequences that entailed.
And that person was Jesus [show beaker with clean water]. And what Jesus did was to take on all the muck and gunk which is ours [show beaker with coloured water], and substitute his life for ours [switch containers]. God, then, dealt with all our sin, by sacrificing his son, Jesus, on our behalf.
C. OUR CHOICES (Matthew 6:25-34)
1. Free Will
Now it has to be said that just because God provided a solution to the problem of “sin”, doesn’t mean to say that everyone has accepted it—or will accept it. It’s not automatic. Consequently even if we accept God’s solution, we will still have to live in the “murky mess”, because of others who don’t want to get clean.
And although we might like God to interfere—to automatically put things right—he can’t do that. He created us with a free will—a will to choose for him, and a will to choose against him—and we wouldn’t be human beings without that.
Consequently just because he has provided a solution to “sin”, he can’t impose that solution on anyone—he can’t take away our freewill. Because to do so, we would cease to be human, and become mere puppets. So God’s solution is not automatic—but is a matter of choice.
2. Two Alternative Choices (Matthew 6:25-34)
And what are the choices?
Well we can carry on as we are—be as “bad” as we like, or as “good” as we like—and leave God’s solution out of the equation. And it’s business as usual. We will then continue to sin, and continue to suffer. And that will have repercussions for us in this world, and in the afterlife too.
Alternatively, we can accept God’s solution, and have our sins forgiven (even the ones we haven’t done yet). Now this won’t exempt us from the problems of this world. But with God walking beside us and helping us through, life should be much more bearable. And, when the world comes to an end, we will have life in eternity with God.
3. Ongoing Effects
Having said that, however, simply accepting God’s solution doesn’t mean we will stop making mistakes. Indeed we will continue to make mistakes as long as we live. And we will not be exempt from the repercussions of what we have done, or will do, in this life.
So we may be forgiven by God for what we have done, but we may still have to face up to the consequences of our actions in the communities in which we live.
Now with the two alternatives in mind—carrying on as usual, or accepting God’s solution—the reality is that many (if not most) people still want to hold on to life—as is [show coloured water jars]. Many, if not most, people want to hold on to the world, and are not willing to let go. Very few people choose for God [show clear water beaker].
When life gets tough, then: We should always remember the cause of most if not all of our troubles—sin. We should remember that no one is innocent—that no one can really say “what have I done to deserve this?” We should remember there are repercussions for our actions (and inactions), both as individuals and as being part of a community. And, most importantly, we need to remember that there is a solution. But one that requires us to give up our old ways, and accept God’s solution to our sins.
PART 4: CONCLUDING THOUGHT
From time to time we all face difficulties in life. Sometimes we might think: “I haven’t done anything”, “I’m innocent”, “What have I done to deserve this?” Or even “why has God allowed this to happen?”
The reality is, however, that what we face is invariably the result of our own actions, or the result of the actions of the community to which we belong—and the repercussions may be the result of something that has developed over time.
Now whilst things may seem at times to be very unfair, none of us can genuinely claim to be totally innocent. We all make mistakes—we all sin—and we are all part and parcel of communities that sin too.
The problems and traumas of life, then, are the repercussions of sin, to which none of us are exempt.
However, God has provided a solution—a way to deal with the cause of the problem. His solution is to take away our sin, and treat us as though we have never sinned.
[show beaker with coloured water]
[show beaker with clean water]
It is a way that he can walk with us in the troubles of this life, whilst we wait, and are guaranteed, a trouble free existence in the next. However, it’s a solution that is not automatic. And it is one which we are free to decline.
So we can accept God’s solution or we can reject it. The decision is up to us.
apron, food colouring x 3, 3 jars, 1 bowl, water, card table, tea towel
Posted: 16th February 2016
© 2016, Brian A Curtis