The Valley of Decision

Read Joel 3: 11-14 to start. 11 Assemble yourselves, and come, all ye heathen, and gather yourselves together round about: thither cause thy mighty ones to come down, O LORD. 12 Let the heathen be wakened, and come up to the valley of Jehoshaphat: for there will I sit to judge all the heathen round about.13 Put ye in the sickle, for the harvest is ripe: come, get you down; for the press is full, the fats overflow; for their wickedness is great. 14 Multitudes, multitudes in the valley of decision: for the day of the LORD is near in the valley of decision.

Let’s talk for a moment about geography. Not about nations and borders, but about land, and topography, the actual surface of the earth. Ever look at a topographical map? It’s a map that shows the land features rather than the political lines, showing the height of hills and mountains, that sort of thing. When you think about valleys, that’s the sort of geography we’re talking about.

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Rulers, Respect, and Responsibility

10 A divine sentence is in the lips of the king: his mouth transgresseth not in judgment. 11 A just weight and balance are the LORD’S: all the weights of the bag are his work. 12 It is an abomination to kings to commit wickedness: for the throne is established by righteousness. 13 Righteous lips are the delight of kings; and they love him that speaketh right. 14 The wrath of a king is as messengers of death: but a wise man will pacify it. 15 In the light of the king’s countenance is life; and his favour is as a cloud of the latter rain.

Who here has ever wanted to be a king? Or queen, or emperor, or president, or any other title you can think of, really, for that matter. I don’t mean any sort of serious intention here, I can’t imagine that anyone has actually taken steps to try to become royalty, but more of a fanciful wish or a dream. We probably all have had that thought. I know I have. Oh, to be king for a day. It sounds so very wonderful. The things you would do, the things you would change. The things you could fix, the problems you could solve. Continue reading Rulers, Respect, and Responsibility

The Perils of Popularity

Who here remembers high school? For some of us, it’s been a while. My own high school 20 year reunion was a couple of years ago, or at least it should have been. I didn’t go. I’m not even sure if it actually happened or not, because, well, I didn’t go, I wasn’t too terribly concerned about going. It’s not like I look back on high school as the best years of my life. Not the worst years, either, pretty sure that would be junior high.

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The Life of the Flesh is in the Blood

Leviticus 17:10 And whatsoever man there be of the house of Israel, or of the strangers that sojourn among you, that eateth any manner of blood; I will even set my face against that soul that eateth blood, and will cut him off from among his people. 11 For the life of the flesh is in the blood: and I have given it to you upon the altar to make an atonement for your souls: for it is the blood that maketh an atonement for the soul.

Sometimes, quite often, in fact, it’s what you don’t see that is most important. Each and every one of us here this morning is alive because we are carrying around somewhere in the ballpark of five litres of blood. Without that, we would immediately die. There is no substitute for blood, you can’t fill your body with five litres of coffee or alcohol or cola or some other fluid, although we probably all know some people who drink those things like they are trying to do that. No, blood is unique, and blood is absolutely essential. The life of the flesh is in the blood.

Blood is also very important to us on a metaphorical and literary level. When we describe how we are connected to a near relative, we might call the other person our flesh and blood, or a blood relative. If we have put a great deal of effort into something, we say that we have invested blood, sweat, and tears. Blood comes first in that hierarchy. Similarly, if we want to describe the high cost of fighting a war, we might say that a great deal of blood and treasure was spent. We equate blood with life, and with good reason.

We also equate blood with salvation. Not even an hour ago we finished a meeting in which we remembered Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, when we gave thanks for the bread, in which is pictured His body, and the cup, which is a picture of His blood. I could reference dozens of scripture verses which equate blood as the price for sin. Hebrews 9:22b comes to mind immediately, and without shedding of blood is no remission. Under the law of Moses there were many varied offerings, and blood is involved in almost all of them. It’s not just the Jewish law, either, blood was shed for Adam and Eve in Genesis chapter 3, by Noah in Genesis 9, by Abraham on several occasions, all of which came well before the law was ever given to Moses. Blood has a long history of being directly connected with redemption from sin. This is probably old news to everyone here this morning.

What got me thinking, though, is that blood is actually an excellent comparison for our relationship with our creator. The more I looked at that, the better an analogy I realized that it was. You see, when I was planning this sermon, I considered drawing parallels between blood and the Holy Spirit, or between blood and the word of God, or even between blood and salvation, or prayer, or the gospel. All of those comparisons work, and so I’m not going to distinguish, I’m not going to just pick one of them. Sometimes it’s convenient to just pick one thing, and to focus on that, but that’s not my approach today.

It’s not like the Holy Spirit exists in separation from salvation, for example. Everything is connected. It’s far more complex and interconnected than we might think at first glance, and really, it’s far more complex than we can easily understand. We like to categorize and separate and pigeonhole things as much as possible, but how we relate to God doesn’t really work like that.

Neither does blood, as it happens. Blood is incredibly complex, it’s not just a red liquid that runs around inside your body. There are many different components, which have different functions, but operate together. The major components of blood are red blood cells, white blood cells, platelets, and plasma, each of which is a complex item itself, and there are other minor components and compounds contained in blood that are no less important, but this is not a university level biology lecture, this is a Sunday sermon. Blood is complex, and the different parts are all necessary. You won’t do well if you are lacking in any one of them.

As Christians, our relationship with God is more complex than might be immediately obvious. Sometimes we like to think that our relationship with our maker is akin to the relationship a bucket might have with a faucet. We go to God to get filled up, then we go on our way, and do whatever it is we do, and we go back whenever we need a refill. Maybe we’re back often for a topup, and we’re careful to make sure that the level doesn’t get all that low, or maybe we let the water line get pretty close to the bottom, and then we do a big refill, or maybe we don’t go back to God until the bucket is bone dry.

Do you like that comparison? It’s easy to understand, but it’s really, really simplistic, isn’t it? It’s an attempt to illustrate one aspect of the Christian life, but it’s really at a level where I don’t think I’d want to preach that to anyone above mid-elementary Sunday School age. I don’t know about you, but I’d like to think that I’m more complex than a bucket. And obviously there is a lot more to our relationship with God than simply in being refilled when we need it. I’ve said in the past that God is not a vending machine, well, He’s not a faucet, either. To think of God like that is to simply focus on one small detail, and not see very much of the big picture at all.

The various aspects of how we can have a relationship with the Almighty are all required. Just as blood has multiple components, so does our relationship with God. For example, His Spirit indwells those who follow Him, those who have put their trust in Christ for salvation. As it says in 1 Corinthians 3:16 Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you? That is an important aspect, but it’s hardly the only one.

God instructs us, speaks to us, largely through the Bible. I’ve heard it said, as a criticism, that we elevate the importance of the scriptures almost to the level of making it a fourth member of the Godhead. While of course that is wrong, in contrast there are a lot of people who would minimize the importance of the Bible, and would say that we don’t need to take it quite so seriously, quite so literally. But all scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness. God relates to us through His word. If you are not reading it, not studying it, and doing so on a consistent basis, then your relationship with God will be severely limited. As well, we communicate with God by prayer. We have been granted access to present our petitions and praises before our maker, and to not do so would be a serious mistake. It’s very difficult to know someone if you don’t communicate with them. Prayer is every bit as necessary as the Holy Spirit and the Word of God. Having a relationship, a real relationship, with God is an exceedingly involved and multi-layered thing.

Let’s turn to Ephesians chapter 2 to read a few verses that illustrate this complexity. Reading from verse 13 But now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ. 14 For he is our peace, who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us; 15 Having abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances; for to make in himself of twain one new man, so making peace; 16 And that he might reconcile both unto God in one body by the cross, having slain the enmity thereby: 17 And came and preached peace to you which were afar off, and to them that were nigh. 18 For through him we both have access by one Spirit unto the Father.

It is through Christ that the gap has been narrowed, that the gulf between the creature and the creator has been removed. It is through His work on the cross that we can have a relationship with God at all, and how we are able to have access to the Father, via the Holy Spirit. It is because Christ died for us that God will hear our prayers at all. In the OT, there was a literal partition, the curtain which separated the Holy of Holies, where was contained the presence of God, from the rest of the temple, and from everyone, apart from the high priest on one day per year. Christ has reconciled God and Man, so that we are able to have a relationship with God. Christ made it possible, the Holy Spirit facilitates it, prayer is the avenue by which we can talk with God, and it is through the gospel, contained it the Bible, where we learn of this. Everything is interconnected.

That’s a quick, superficial look at those aspects of our relationship with God. It would be easy to preach multiple sermons on each of those topics, well, maybe easy is not the right word, but it would be useful and profitable to do so. That’s not what we’re doing today, though. This sermon is looking at the believer’s relationship with God on a larger level, so rather than focusing on one aspect in particular, we’re going to continue looking at multiple components of our communion with God, through the comparison with blood.

Blood is something that permeates our bodies. You can’t see any of it, most of the time, but it’s present throughout. There’s blood in this finger just as there is blood in the finger beside it, just as there is in my head and in my feet, and everywhere in between. If I take a needle and poke a hole anywhere in my body, odds are really high that some blood will come out. All parts of the body need blood to function, they need it to live. If I were to take a string and tie it tight around this finger, it would severely reduce, perhaps even entirely cut off the blood flow. After a few minutes the finger is going to get cold, and it is going to change colour. If I were to keep it tied tightly for several hours, the tissue is going to start to die. Without blood, the cells will not survive. In fact, the finger would eventually have to be amputated because the dead cells, if those made it back into the rest of the body, they could prove to be highly toxic and would cause serious illness, perhaps even death. The body needs blood to survive, the entire body needs blood. As we read to start, the life of the flesh is in the blood.

Even on a much milder scale, if you have ever sat with your legs crossed for an extended period of time, you’ve probably had your foot go to sleep, or perhaps even you entire leg. That happens because the circulation of blood is restricted to an area, and even a partial restriction in blood flow can cause numbness, discomfort, and temporary loss of motor control, and it doesn’t take all that long. I recall this happening to me in school, in grade eight or nine. We had the Easter Seals ambassador coming in, and so they brought everyone to the gym, but there was not enough space on the bleachers, so some of us had to sit on the floor. I sat with my legs crossed for probably half an hour, maybe forty-five minutes, and when I went to stand up afterwards, my legs had stopped working. I fell over and had to hobble back to class. It was confusing and embarrassing, but it makes perfect sense that it happened, knowing how the human body works, and how blood flow works.

Looking back to the verse I read a few minutes ago from 1 Corinthians, we are told that the Holy Spirit indwells us, resides in us as if we were a structure, a temple. The context is that we are not to defile our bodies, we are not to pollute them. Our communion with God is to permeate our lives. We are not to serve two masters, we are not to have a Sunday walk with God and a Monday to Friday walk with the world. If we want to follow God, we don’t get to do that on a pick-and-choose basis. There are a lot of people who would attempt to do so, who would attempt to have some sort of buffet style salvation, taking what suits them, skipping over the rest, the stuff that doesn’t mesh so well with their lifestyle choices. It might sound nice to say “I believe in Jesus, I believe that He died for me, so that I can go to heaven, that part is great.” The other parts of the gospel, such as the part about repenting and turning from our sinful ways, about taking up our cross and following the Lord, that’s something that people want to skip over. If we want to live like that, if we want to follow God like that, that’s not following, not really. Salvation needs to permeate our being. It needs to be complete. That verse I mentioned earlier in 2 Timothy 3 about all scripture being given by inspiration of God, the very next verse explains why. 17 That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works. Perfect here does not mean flawless, but rather complete. It does not say that the man of God might be barely adequate. It does not say that the woman of God should be moderately equipped to perform good works.

If we try to follow God in a haphazard manner, on an only-when-it-suits-us basis, then we are effectively cutting off our spiritual circulation. We should not be surprised when we can’t do what we should do. If we hobble ourselves in this manner, then we should not be surprised when we fall down. Continual communion with God is every bit as essential to the Christian life as blood is to human life.

The complex functionality of blood is what keeps us alive. It is not merely the fact that blood has many components which makes it important, it is the multiple jobs that it does. These operations are what keep us alive.

The functionality of our relationship with God is likewise what maintains us in our Christian lives, what allows us to actually follow God, and to serve Him. Much as we can see parallels in the complexity, the necessity, and the fact that we need to have full circulation of blood and full communion with God, we can also draw parallels with some of the individual jobs which blood performs.

The first thing that most people would say if they are asked what blood does is that it carries oxygen and nutrients throughout the body. The cells in our bodies need those things to operate, they need oxygen and sugar for energy, they proteins and minerals and vitamins to grow and to build new cells. Blood is the medium which carries these things throughout our bodies. Your heart beats every second, and every time it does, blood moves these things through your body, carrying what is needed to where it is needed. If oxygen does not get where it’s needed, the cells will die. That’s why a blood clot can be so serious, it prevents blood from delivering oxygen, or why cutting off circulation to a finger, like I mentioned earlier, could lead to potentially losing that finger if circulation is not restored.

Our relationship with God is essential in order to have a functional Christian life. Let’s turn to Galatians 5 and read a familiar passage which illustrates this. 16 This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh. 17 For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would. 18 But if ye be led of the Spirit, ye are not under the law. 19 Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, 20 Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, 21 Envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God. 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, 23 Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law. 24 And they that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts. 25 If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit.

We’ll end our reading there. Walking in the Spirit, walking in communion with God, listening to Him, following Him, should bring about certain results. The fruits of the Spirit are familiar to us all, I would imagine. They are all attributes which if we exhibit them, they will make us resemble Christ. Love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, self control, these are the indicators of someone who has a relationship with God, someone who is following Him.

Quite the contrast with the works of the flesh, with all the violence, deceit, selfishness and lust. Those are the default behaviours of the human race. People left to their own devices will not become model citizens, they will tend toward all the unpleasant things listed above, the things which bring strife, the things which bring pain, the things which bring death. Is it is the Holy Spirit that directs us away from such things, and directs us to God. If we are not walking according to the Spirit, we’ll inevitably drift back toward the flesh with all the works thereof. The Holy Spirit continually directs us toward heavenly behaviour.

The word of God is also vital in ensuring our consistent communion with God. Reading a few verses from Psalm 119, starting at verse 33 Teach me, O LORD, the way of thy statutes; and I shall keep it unto the end. 34 Give me understanding, and I shall keep thy law; yea, I shall observe it with my whole heart. 35 Make me to go in the path of thy commandments; for therein do I delight. 36 Incline my heart unto thy testimonies, and not to covetousness. 37 Turn away mine eyes from beholding vanity; and quicken thou me in thy way.

Notice how it says in verse 36 “incline my heart unto thy testimonies.” We are to be directed that way, we are to lean that way. It should be a well-worn path that we will naturally be more likely to follow. The Bible equips and directs us in following God. Obviously, we need to know what it says in order to follow it, just as you need to consult a recipe in order to cook something. Much like a favourite recipe, though, we should familiarize ourselves with what the Bible says, we should let it permeate our thoughts, and then it will be continually and immediately available. When I make pancakes, for instance, I don’t generally need to get out the recipe book. I’ve made pancakes enough to know the recipe, to know that it requires three cups of flour, two eggs, two and three quarter cups of milk, etc. I know that for best results, I need to warm up the milk. That being said, even though I know my pancake recipe, I still might look it up in the cookbook from time to time, just to make sure, especially if it’s been a while. My memory is good, but it’s not perfect.

The Bible is not a cookbook, but if we are reading it, studying it, memorizing it, learning from it, then it will come to us as required, just like a much-loved recipe. The Holy Spirit will bring scripture to mind as the need arises, but it has to be in the mind to start with. Our fellowship with God is essential in supplying us with what we need in order to serve Him.

Of course, that’s just one function of our relationship with God, a vital one, but not the only one. Blood distributes needed resources through out our bodies, and at the same time it carries away waste. Carbon dioxide goes to the lungs to be breathed out, toxins and dead cells are brought to the kidneys and the liver to be filtered and removed. Blood supplies, and it also cleans. Communion with the creator is much the same.

You might want to keep your finger in Psalm 119, we’ll be back there in a couple of minutes, but I’d like to read a few verses from 1 John. In chapter 1, we read 7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin. 8 If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

As we read earlier in Galatians, the walk of the flesh is rife with problems, with destructive behaviours, with sin. We need to be cleansed from that, to have that sin cleared away. And as we just read, we all have sin to deal with, and if we claim that we don’t, we are deceived. Whether we are intentionally lying to ourselves, and to those around us, or if we are deluded and oblivious, we all have errors in our ways and shortcomings in our lives, and those need to be dealt with. This is a continual thing, not a one-time event.

I recall years ago, going swimming with my dad, and noticing that he had a pretty big scar on his stomach. I asked him about it, and this is what he told me. When my father was much younger, before I was born, he one time had severe pain in his abdomen, turns out it was his appendix, it was badly enflamed. He needed surgery to have it removed. From that day forward, well, once the incision healed and the stitches were removed, his appendix has caused him no further trouble, apart from leaving an unpleasant scar.

Dealing with sin is not like having your appendix removed. Through Christ, we are saved from the penalty of sin. That is a one-time event. However, we are not delivered from the presence of sin. That is an ongoing process. We all have a sinful nature, we live in a world that is filled with sinners, and is replete with temptations. Much as our blood carries waste materials from all parts of our bodies to the elimination points, so those things can be removed, so Christ will cleanse us and forgive our sins. This is a vital part of our relationship with God. We need to confess our sins, and we need to walk according to how God would have us walk, or this process is not going to take place with any level of effectiveness.

Another thing we need to do is to be in God’s word. Going back to Psalm 119, look up about twenty or so verses from where we read earlier, at verse 9 Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way? by taking heed thereto according to thy word. 10 With my whole heart have I sought thee: O let me not wander from thy commandments. 11 Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee.

It says young man in particular, but all of us, young and old, male and female, need to cleanse our ways. Taking heed to God’s word, reading it, knowing it, and most importantly, living it, is going to help clean up our actions, and is going to purify our hearts.

Not only will filling our minds and our hearts with God’s word act as a cleaning agent, it also acts as an emergency response. This is something else that our blood does, the white blood cells are a key part of our immune system. If there is an infectious agent inside the body, a virus or a bacteria or similar, the white blood cells are designed to deal with that, to attack the infection and to minimize it before it becomes serious, before the infection can spread. If there is a rupture in a blood vessel, the platelets carried in the blood stream act as a plug to seal the hole before too much blood can escape, and there are proteins carried in the blood called fibrin which act to repair the damage. God’s word is much like that. If we have God’s word in our hearts, we have a primary response mechanism to deal with temptation. We will still be tempted, and we may still sin, but the word of God, if we have learned it, if it is in our hearts, gives us the tools to confront it. If we have failed to do so, then we will be ill equipped to handle temptation. And if we have ignored the leading of the Holy Spirit, then we may not even recognize a problem when it occurs. If we are not walking close with God, if we are not striving to follow Christ, then we may not be in much of a hurry to deal with sin. Our relationship with God needs to be healthy, needs to be continual, in order to have an immune response to sin.

I see that time is almost gone, and there are a few more aspects of blood that I would like to compare with our communion with God. I’ll mention again that we all have somewhere in the range of five litres of blood, how much exactly depending on your age and your body size, but we all probably have more than we need to function. Our bodies make more blood as required, as we do lose blood from cuts and scrapes, and blood cells do become damaged and need replacing, much as other types of cells in our bodies. If we are in good health, we can handle giving away some blood. We can share our blood with others who may need it.

Our relationship with God is also something that is shareable. Not in the same direct sense as a blood transfusion, of course, but if we are walking with God, we should be willing to share this with those around us. This includes sharing the gospel with the people around us who do not know God, which is something that we have been specifically instructed to do. Christ told His followers to go into all the world, and to share the good news with all, starting close to home, and then going further and further afield. We are not necessarily required to go halfway around the planet in order to share the gospel, but we should being sharing it. Even if we start right at home, those of us with children and grandchildren are obligated to teach them about their creator, about their need for a saviour, and about Christ’s work on the cross to save them from their sins. As it says in Proverbs 22, verse 6 Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.

We should also encourage and build up those around us who already are following Christ. If we share how God is working in our lives, how He is blessing us, how He is changing and challenging and improving us, that will strengthen others as well. There is nothing more disheartening then to think that you are alone. Elijah, after his success at Mount Carmel, fled into the wilderness, and he was convinced that he was the only person in Israel who was following God, and he feared for his own life. Sometimes we can all get the same sort of feeling, that we’re in this on our own, and it is incredibly discouraging.

Of course, Elijah was wrong. God told him that there were seven thousand people in Israel who were still following Him. That was not a large percentage in a nation of probably more than a million people, but that’s six thousand nine hundred and ninety nine more than just Elijah by himself. We’re not going to turn to the book of 1 Kings, but after this we can see that Elijah operated less on his own, he anointed a successor in Elisha, and we see that there were other prophets and those who did God’s work. There was sharing, there was strength in numbers. Elisha did far more in his ministry, working with others, than Elijah did on his own. The relationship with God is meant to be shared, not kept bottled up.

There one final point I would like to make in closing. I mentioned to start that it’s what you don’t see that is often most important. Sometimes we don’t even realize ourselves how our relationship with God is actually going, how it might not be as solid as it should be. I had no idea that I had diabetes until I was tested, and so I did nothing to treat it. It was only when that was discovered that I could take measures to make sure my blood sugar was under control. If we have a hard time knowing ourselves, how are we to know the condition of others?

Like blood inside our bodies, you take a quick look at a person, you don’t see the state of their relationship with God. It might be obvious if something is deeply wrong, just as it is apparent if someone is bleeding, or if they are uncommonly pale, or highly flushed, but it might not be so obvious, either. You can’t look at me and tell that my blood sugar or blood pressure is too high or two low, for example. We don’t know the condition of anyone else’s relationship with God. We can make an educated guess, but we don’t know. We don’t know if someone is suffering from discouragement, or depression, or doubt, or a multitude of other problems. We don’t know if they are doing uncommonly well, but they are too shy to share it.

Today, I would ask you to look at your relationship with God. How is that going? Is there something lacking, are the various aspects we mentioned all in balance, or has part of it fallen by the wayside? And whether or not you are doing well, or if you recognize that maybe you need to get back on track, there are people around you who need encouragement, who need prayer. As we read earlier from 1 John, if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another. A good relationship with God leads naturally to fellowship with those around us.

The Problem of Anger

Read Psalm 37:1-9 1 Fret not thyself because of evildoers, neither be thou envious against the workers of iniquity. 2 For they shall soon be cut down like the grass, and wither as the green herb. 3 Trust in the LORD, and do good; so shalt thou dwell in the land, and verily thou shalt be fed. 4 Delight thyself also in the LORD; and he shall give thee the desires of thine heart. 5 Commit thy way unto the LORD; trust also in him; and he shall bring it to pass. 6 And he shall bring forth thy righteousness as the light, and thy judgment as the noonday. 7 Rest in the LORD, and wait patiently for him: fret not thyself because of him who prospereth in his way, because of the man who bringeth wicked devices to pass. 8 Cease from anger, and forsake wrath: fret not thyself in any wise to do evil. 9 For evildoers shall be cut off: but those that wait upon the LORD, they shall inherit the earth.

Sometimes I choose a sermon topic a week or so before speaking. This time, I had my subject picked out a while ago, pretty much from the last time I spoke, as it was a topic that’s been on my bulletin board as a possible sermon topic for a while now. So having decided, I looked up a number of scripture verses to act as possible starting points, which is always a good place to start when you are preparing a sermon. Wouldn’t you know it, more than one of the passages I chose has been spoken on, or at the very least referenced, from this platform, since I came up with my list. As recently as last Sunday one of the key verses I had found was featured in the Sunday sermon.

The thing is, there are a lot of verses, found throughout the scripture, going all the way back to Genesis chapter 4. Just because some of the passages I had intended to use have been discussed recently doesn’t use up the supply of verses, if I happened to be concerned about going over the same ground that someone else had recently dealt with. There is plenty of scripture to use on this subject, literally hundreds of verses. Don’t worry, we’re not going to look up hundreds of verses. I had found and taken note of a number of applicable passages, and we’re not even going to look at a quarter of them. There’s that much of it available.

I’d say fortunately there’s plenty of scripture on the subject, but perhaps it is unfortunate that it was necessary for the Bible to include so much instruction on this topic. The Lord knows what we need help with, and the volume of verses strongly suggest that this is one of them. My subject this morning is the problem of anger. We are going to look at some key things about anger, things you might not have realized or understood. Most importantly, we are going to look at what scripture says about anger, and as mentioned, it says quite a lot on the subject.

You might be wondering why I’m calling anger a problem. After all, it is one of the most universal of all human emotions. As well, we are told that God gets angry. Psalm 7 verse 11 says that God is angry with the wicked every day. And all four gospels tell of how Christ himself drove those who sold animals and exchanged money from the temple, saying that they had made His Father’s house into a den of thieves. It’s hard not to hear about injustice, about cruelty, about some deeply offensive behaviours that certain people not only undertake and condone, but work to support and go out of their way to champion these behaviours. It’s hard to hear this, to see this, and not feel anger. How is that a problem?

Righteous anger may not be a problem, but how much righteous anger do you and I actually experience? What percentage of your anger is in any way righteous? If you think that it’s even a measurable percentage than you are far ahead of me. What’s more, the first verse we read from Psalm 37 said not to fret about evildoers. We are not to be focused on anger, righteous or otherwise.

What good would we even hope to achieve by our supposedly righteous anger, I wonder. The other week at Tuesday study we looked at the latter part of James chapter 1, where verse 20 says 20 For the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God. Our anger, our wrath, is not likely to advance God’s work in any useful way. Quite the opposite, in fact. People get upset about things that are wrong with our society, things that go against God’s law, and they take the law into their own hands, and it does not go well. As much as the practice of abortion is offensive, the bombing of a clinic is every bit as wrong, if not more so. Two wrongs are not how you go about making a right. We probably all learned that before we learned how to tie our shoes, but sometimes we forget, we lose sight of that — the two wrongs don’t make a right part, not how to tie our shoes. The wrath of man does not work the righteousness of God.

Even when we are convinced our anger is correct, it is not our responsibility to administer God’s justice, it is not our right to act on God’s behalf. I am not God. You are not God. Sometimes we seem to think that we are, though, or that it is incumbent upon us to get angry on God’s behalf. This can seem like the right thing to do. It says in Proverbs 14, verse 12, there is a way which seems right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death. We may be convinced that we are right in being angry for God’s sake, that might seem entirely right to us, but seeming right does not make something correct. God has asked those who would follow Him to do certain things, being angry is not on that list. The wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God. The verse before that, James 1:19, says 19 Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath. We are not to fly off the handle, we are to be slow to anger, not quick to it. We are to hear, we are to listen, and not to act rashly, if we want to work the righteousness of God, that is.

That might be a pretty big if, though. We’ll talk a bit more about that in a few minutes, but for now, lets talk about anger. Normal, run-of-the-mill anger, not something that we might attempt to label as righteous anger. Anger is common, both in that it is frequent, and it is very widely distributed. People get angry in all manner of situations, in all walks of life, and at every age. Even babies get angry. I know this from experience. Children who aren’t old enough to walk or to talk can easily get angry when they don’t get what they want. They learn this very young. It’s not like they need to be taught how to get angry. Anyone who has children, or who has spent any time with young children, will agree with me on that, or if not, then congratulations, you’ve had the most mild-mannered children in the history of the world.

My own children are not mild mannered. But then again, when I was younger, I had a terrible temper. This might be a little surprising, because I’m halfway decent at keeping my cool now. But that was not always the case. The fact that my children get angry should not be surprising. I get angry now, just not as often. My wife gets angry as well. And as established, my kids get angry. We all get angry. Looking at everyone here today, I know some of you better than I know others, but I’m willing to bet that every person here gets angry at times. Maybe not all that often, or maybe far too often, I don’t know. If that’s not the case, then I’m wrong, and I apologize, but I’d be very surprised if that’s the case.

Because anger is so universal, and because it’s a problem, it’s something that’s important to talk about. It’s something that can often be downplayed, or ignored, or not worried about, perhaps because it is so universal. But that doesn’t mean it’s okay. Anger very often has consequences.

Right now at home we don’t have a little baby, Levi is a toddler, he can walk, he can talk a bit, and wow, he can get angry. He screams and he’ll throw things when he is upset. He can’t really do much damage at this point, but he can express his anger, and it’s not very pleasant. When he doesn’t get what he wants, we all know about it. The other day he wanted to get a toy that his brother was playing with, and when he didn’t get it, he threw a toy car and hit his brother on the head. Direct hit to the temple. There was more anger then, and more tears. It did not go well.

It’s never very pleasant when someone expresses their anger, is it? It’s not a good experience for the person who gets angry, it’s certainly not any better for the subject of the anger, and if you happen to be a bystander, well, that’s not exactly a fun time either. Anger doesn’t improve anything. Quite the opposite, in fact. In Proverbs 29, verse 22, it says that an angry man stirs up strife. Very often getting angry makes things worse, sometimes immediately or in the short term, sometimes in the long term, and sometimes both.

In the verses we read to start, at verse 8 there is the instruction to cease from anger, and forsake wrath. God does not want us to be angry. This is for our benefit, as well as for all those around us. Three times the psalm says “fret not yourself.” We shouldn’t think of fret in the modern sense of the word, as to be worried or troubled about something or other. The word used here is I think much stronger, much sharper than that. The Hebrew word is Charah (khaw-RAW) meaning to burn, and in fact many other times in scripture the same word is translated as kindle. There is a sense of ignition here, of burning. This isn’t a quiet troublesome fretting, this is a pot on the stove that threatens to boil over, this is a smouldering fire that could go roaring into a blaze at any moment.

Anger is like a fire in a lot of ways. Anger, like fire, is a destructive process, it consumes and destroys whenever and whatever it can. Both are also difficult to control, they spread and grow when allowed to do so. How many times have you seen a grass fire that someone set because they thought it was a good idea get rid of some brush or dead grass or something, which is a stupid idea, really, but I digress, and it gets out of control, and causes far more damage than anyone could anticipate? Anger is much the same way, it leads to tremendous harm, and can be vastly more far-reaching than ever expected.

Here’s an example of anger that went much farther than anyone saw coming. It actually the first example that we have in scripture of anger, it comes from Genesis chapter 4, the story of Cain and Abel. It’s no doubt familiar, but I’ll read a few verses from there to refresh your memory, starting at verse 1 And Adam knew Eve his wife; and she conceived, and bare Cain, and said, I have gotten a man from the LORD. 2 And she again bare his brother Abel. And Abel was a keeper of sheep, but Cain was a tiller of the ground. 3 And in process of time it came to pass, that Cain brought of the fruit of the ground an offering unto the LORD. 4 And Abel, he also brought of the firstlings of his flock and of the fat thereof. And the LORD had respect unto Abel and to his offering: 5 But unto Cain and to his offering he had not respect. And Cain was very wroth, and his countenance fell. 6 And the LORD said unto Cain, Why art thou wroth? and why is thy countenance fallen? 7 If thou doest well, shalt thou not be accepted? and if thou doest not well, sin lieth at the door. And unto thee shall be his desire, and thou shalt rule over him. 8 And Cain talked with Abel his brother: and it came to pass, when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother, and slew him.

We’ll end there for now. Cain got angry, and it did not go well. It did not go well for him, if we read the rest of the passage we would learn how Cain ended up going into exile, away from his home and his family. And as badly as things may have gone for Cain, they went far worse for Abel. Cain lost his home, Abel lost his life.

I can’t imagine that Cain got up one morning and thought, “This is a good day to start down a course of action that will culminate in the murder of my brother.” There probably aren’t very many people who would ever have that sort of thought process. But Cain did indeed go down that road, not with that goal in mind, no doubt, but that goal was eventually reached. How did he arrive there? Let’s take a look at what happened.

Both Cain and Abel were farmers, Cain grew crops, and Abel kept livestock. Nothing wrong with any of that, no doubt they were both very good at what they did. Both are honourable and important professions, and no doubt what they did was valued by their parents and their other siblings whose names we do not have. When it came time to present an offering to the Lord, both of them did so, and they did it according to what they produced in their day to day work – Cain brought produce, Abel brought a sacrifice from his flock of sheep.

I have heard it taught on many occasions that Cain’s sacrifice was rejected because it was not a blood sacrifice, whereas Abel’s was. And that might well be true, although this passage does not tell us that specifically. Nor does it say that in Hebrews chapter 11, but rather that Abel’s sacrifice was more excellent, and that is was offered by faith. The common interpretation is blood versus no blood, but that may be in part our understanding thanks to the perspective we have, we can look back at the cross, and at the centuries of animal sacrifices that anticipated Calvary. Cain and Abel had no such perspective. But one was right, and the other was wrong.

It’s possible there may have been additional problems with Cain’s sacrifice, rather than the issue of blood. After all, in the law of Moses there are instructions for offerings of grain, with oil as well. It could be argued that the category of Cain’s sacrifice may not have been wrong. But something was wrong. It may have been that Cain just took whatever was available and offered it up. Abel took of the firstlings of his flock, and the fat thereof. He was offering the best, and he was doing so through faith. Cain, well, we aren’t told anything about faith on his part, which suggests a lack thereof. What Cain offered, he did so not by faith, but according to his own ideas. He offered what he thought would do the trick. Whether that was intended to be just enough to get by, or if it was indeed his best, and it was entirely the wrong offering, he did what seemed right to him.

Once again, as it says in Proverbs 14: 12, there is a way which seems right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death. The offering he brought seemed right to Cain, but God did not agree, and we know that it did indeed put him on the ways of death, quite literally as far as his brother was concerned. Cain was furious that Abel’s sacrifice was accepted while his own was rejected. He was very wroth the passage says. Same Hebrew word, Charah (khaw-RAW), as mentioned earlier, meaning to burn or kindle, this time with a modifying word ahead of it meaning exceedingly. Cain was angry, very angry.

We are told in verses 6 and 7 that God spoke to him, questioned his anger, and advised him to do better. If you do well, you will be accepted. If not, then sin is waiting on the doorstep. Cain was given an opportunity for a do-over. He got at least one second chance that we know about. We don’t know how much time passed here, if Cain smouldered in his anger for weeks or months, or even years, perhaps, or if he acted upon it the next day, but Cain made his choice. He kept his anger, and it wasn’t a case of sin waiting at the door. No, he invited it in and cooked breakfast for it. His anger lead directly to his brother’s death.

Why was Cain so angry? It boils down to one simple fact. He was angry because he did not get to have things his own way. He had a plan, he had an offering in mind, and when it was refused, he became enraged. He didn’t rethink his plan, he didn’t change his approach. He didn’t say, “Well, it seems that God doesn’t want a fruit basket, I should maybe follow Abel’s lead here.” No, he didn’t do that. Instead of re-evaluating and making a change, he stuck to his own ways, and got angry when it didn’t work. How much of that anger was because of jealousy over his brother’s success, and how much of it was anger with God, but ultimately directed at his brother, we don’t know, probably an unhealthy mix of both. But following his own intentions, his own desires, lead him down that path.

That’s the thing about anger. It comes from within. People are quick to excuse anger, and say that someone made me angry, or that they have a bad temper, a predisposition to get angry, so it’s not really all that bad. Well, as it happens we all have a predisposition to all manner of sin, it’s called our sinful nature, so we can’t say that’s any excuse. That doesn’t make it somehow okay. That’s like saying that you have a car that’s built for speed, it has a predisposition for going way too fast, and so the officer shouldn’t give you a ticket for doing 90 in a 50 zone. That doesn’t make it okay, that’s not going to work in a court of law, and it’s not going to work with Almighty God.

As far as someone else making you angry, well, it is true that another person can provoke an angry response. Someone does something contrary to what we want, they thwart our plans, no matter how good or poor those plans might be, and we get angry. But the anger is coming from within, it’s not an external force.

Anger comes from within. Much anger is caused by frustration when we don’t get what we want, when our desires, our intentions, our plans, are unfulfilled. We see something, we experience something, that displeases us, it causes frustration when we are not able to resolve something to our liking, and so we lash out in anger. That’s why Cain became so upset. He didn’t want to bring a proper sacrifice in correct manner, and when that didn’t work out for him, he got angry. He wanted to do it his way.

Sound familiar? The world is full of people who want to do it their own way. Individuality and non-conformity is readily celebrated. Quick, think of two songs by Frank Sinatra. Got two? Is one of them “My Way”? The notion of “I did it my way” speaks to our old nature, the one that doesn’t want to listen, doesn’t want to obey, doesn’t want to follow God. That describes a lot of people, it describes a lot of people who would much rather do things their own way, rather than God’s way. There is a way that seems right unto a man, remember. There is a way that seems right. We know how that ends. When we go our own way, when we seek our own wishes, our own desires, it leads to disappointment, and it leads to anger.

Earlier we talked about working the righteousness of God, and how anger does not accomplish that. If we want to actually do God’s work, if we want to further the progress of His Kingdom, then we should not be angry, we should not be filled with wrath. If we are indeed angry, I would suggest that is because we are not trying to work the righteousness of God at all, it is because we are following our own desires. We are going our own way. And when we do so, we meet with frustration and anger. That is what our desire brings us to. Even when what we desire is perfectly fine, when we our own desires, when that is our focus, it leads down the path to anger.

On the topic of our own desires, let’s flip back to the passage we read to start, in Psalm 37. There is a familiar verse, verse Delight thyself also in the LORD; and he shall give thee the desires of thine heart. Ever wonder what that verse is doing in the middle of a passage that cautions so much about anger, that advises us to cease from anger, to fret not, to not burn with anger? What’s that verse doing there? After all, when we follow our own desires, sooner or later it leads, I would suggest without fail, to unfulfilment. Even when we get what we want we don’t remain content with it for long, do we? That leads to more desires, and eventually when those cannot be satisfied, or when they fail to bring contentment, it leads to frustration and to anger, with all the damage that brings.

And let’s not forget just how terrible what we desire often tends to be. The heart is deceitful and desperately wicked, after all. In Matthew 15 we read that out of the heart proceeds evil thoughts, murders, adultery, fornication, theft, lies, and blasphemy. That which is decidedly evil is not likely to desire good and pleasant and holy things in the first place.

So how then will God give us the desires of our hearts? The key is in the first part of the verse, delight also in the LORD. When you delight in God, that which you desire will change, it will move into alignment with what God wants. When your heart is with God, when you are turned to Him, when you are listening to His word and seeking His will, then the desires of your heart will be quite different.

How do we go about this? After all, it’s one thing to say “Cease from anger” and quite another to do it. Filling our hearts with the fruit of the Spirit is an excellent place to start. As listed in Galations 5:22 and 23, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, 23 Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law. Running down that list, there are a lot of those which are entirely incompatible with anger. It’s impossible to have anger and peace at the same time, for example. Longsuffering, or patience, meekness, and temperance, or self-control, those all are contrary to anger. You can’t have those at the same time. I don’t believe I’ve ever heard of someone who can be exhibiting gentleness and anger at the same time. And love, well, we could probably do an entire study on love, and how love is the opposite of anger.

God loved us enough to send His Son to die for us. Were He merely angry with us, angry with our behaviour, angry with our wicked desires and sinful actions, in His anger He would destroy us all. He has held back His wrath, He has set aside His anger, in His love for us. He has every right to be angry with us; we have transgressed against Him in countless ways. But he chose love instead. Love does not leave a place for anger.

Today, if you recognize that anger is a problem, and I think that it quite clearly is, it’s time to do something about it. This is something that the world is quick to dismiss as unimportant and excusable, but God does not agree. He would not tell us to cease from anger if it were no big deal.

Anger is a big deal. It causes damage to ourselves, it causes damage to those around us, those we care about, and it causes damage to the testimony of Christ. No one has ever looked at an angry person and thought “He has something special, he has something that I would like to have as well.” If our anger gets in the way of someone else coming to Christ, that’s a serious problem.

Saying “Cease from anger,” does not solve the problem of anger, any more than saying “Lose ten pounds” results in weight loss. Recognizing that anger is not okay, and that it comes from the heart, that is a starting point. Realizing that our own desires, and the unfulfilment thereof, are at the root of much anger, is another point to take home from this sermon. Letting go of selfish desires, and instead delighting in the Lord, in His Word and in His ways, that’s an important step, not even a step really, but rather an ongoing process. When we are filled with God, when we are allowing His Spirit to operate, then the fruits of the Spirit will come to the forefront, and there will not be a place for anger.

I know I’ll most likely get angry in the future, just as I have many times in the past. It’s not something I want, and it’s not something I can solve on my own. But I don’t need to get angry, and with God’s help, I can do, I will do far better than I have. I can ask the Lord to change my heart, to realign my desires, and replace them with His. And I can remember that God’s instruction is to cease from anger, to forsake wrath, and to not fret, to not burn. He would not command us to do so if He were not willing and able to help us with it. Let’s close in prayer.

Seeking, Finding, and Following

With it being the 20th of December, preaching a Christmas message seemed the right thing to do when I was deciding what to speak on this morning. That would make sense. After all, Christmas is but a few days from now, we had the Christmas concert last week, we sang carols this morning, and we just read a couple of very familiar passages from Matthew and Luke chapter 2. You would think that this is going to be a Christmas themed sermon, and while it starts out that way, I’m not so sure that it’s really a Christmas sermon. Think of the carol “We Three Kings” which starts off with a Christmas theme, but once you get to the fourth and fifth verses, it’s not talking about Christmas any further, it’s talking about Christ’s death and resurrection. This sermon is a bit like that. It’s all bundled in Christmas themed wrapping paper, but I could get away with preaching a very similar sermon in April or October. Continue reading Seeking, Finding, and Following

Blinded by Science

Read John 3 11-12 to start. 11 Verily, verily, I say unto thee, We speak that we do know, and testify that we have seen; and ye receive not our witness.12 If I have told you earthly things, and ye believe not, how shall ye believe, if I tell you of heavenly things? Then open in prayer.

There is an idea today that faith and science are incompatible, that if you would follow Christ, then you cannot study science, not with any serious effort, at least. And likewise, if you are well educated and scientifically minded, then you cannot possibly believe in something so unscientific as Christianity. This is a commonly held idea today, and frequently one that is supported by those on either side of the science/faith divide. They look at us as being ignorant and backward, and say that if you have science, you don’t need faith. We look at them as cold and deluded, and say that if you have faith, then science doesn’t matter.

On which side of this divide do you fall? Faith or science, which will it be? Have you picked a side? If you have indeed chosen a side, I have bad news for you. You’re wrong. The side you have chosen is wrong.

Continue reading Blinded by Science

The Halloween Costume Mixer

Haven’t settled on a Halloween costume yet? Perhaps you find the conventional options like ghost, witch, or superhero a little mundane and simplistic? If so, it’s time to try the Halloween Costume Mixer. It combines two or more conventional costume ideas into one übercostume, each more scary, horrifying and nightmarish than the last. Just click the button below until you find a costume that is as scary as you desire.

If you actually happen to use one of the costumes from the mixer, please let us know. Feel free to send a picture, we’d love to post our readers’ creativity.

Love One Another, Volume 2

Love One Another, Volume 2

Read John 13:34-35 34 A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. 35 By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another. Then open in prayer

If you heard my sermon last month, you might be thinking that those verses sound familiar. Yes, I spoke on John chapter 13 a month ago. I’m not speaking on the same chapter this time, but I am speaking on the same topic. Think of this as something along the line of picking up where I left off. Continue reading Love One Another, Volume 2

Love One Another

Love One Another

Read John 13. 1 Now before the feast of the passover, when Jesus knew that his hour was come that he should depart out of this world unto the Father, having loved his own which were in the world, he loved them unto the end. 2 And supper being ended, the devil having now put into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray him; 3 Jesus knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he was come from God, and went to God; 4 He riseth from supper, and laid aside his garments; and took a towel, and girded himself. 5 After that he poureth water into a bason, and began to wash the disciples’ feet, and to wipe them with the towel wherewith he was girded. Continue reading Love One Another