Sorry, the recording started a couple minutes late. David D.
I arrived at the church building Monday morning, and there was a snake in front of the door. I am not a snake guy so I didn’t know if it was dangerous or harmless. After a momentary pause, I figured I could get by him easily enough. I know that the building isn’t the church, but the symbolism is striking. There was a snake between me and the church.
The obvious example of the danger of slithering critters is in Genesis 3. We have heard the Adam and Eve story, even with the unbiblical finger-pointing at the apple, all of our lives. We know it well, but do we recognize the serpents that are still lurking? Everyone has one, maybe more than one, that present an obstacle to fully obeying the word of the Lord. It is sometimes hard to hear over the hiss.
They are never obvious, sort of like the wolves in sheep’s clothing. They masquerade in harmlessness waiting to deliver a venomous fatal strike. They swoop in and take the word of God away from the unsuspecting. They fill the pulpits and television screens with feel-good messages that have no biblical content. Viewers are emotionally charged and spiritually empty. They might hear a verse or two but it quickly slips from their mind. Jesus described it as a seed sown on the road (Mark 4:15). The snakes are always hiding in the nearby grass.
They may come at us with the reaction of the world to our beliefs (Mark 4:16-17). Godly principles are under attack from every direction, and those who stand up for them are subject to ridicule or worse. The snakes are expert liars (After all, Satan is their father!), and they describe our ethics as hate-speech and our morality is narrow-minded. It is easy to wilt under the pressure to conform to society, and that’s is one more victim for the snake.
They might come at us as worldly worries (Mark 4:18-19). God expects us to work, but jobs and careers can become an obsession that squeeze Him to the margins of our lives and then out altogether. Our occupation is an opportunity for us to put our biblical principles on display and glorify our Father, not disregard Him. And possessions…well…it’s all temporary. The great danger is that we will not recognize the extremely poisonous snakes in our own garden. Some Christians identify them and chop their heads off before they do extensive damage. They listen carefully to the word of God, accept what it says and produce the fruit that follows. “Good soil” is what Jesus called them (Mark 14:20). They are not “snake-bit.” They are what God has made, and then re-made, them to be. Just be careful. There are snakes between us and the church.
It was the crowning achievement of God’s creation. It was all good, but this was very good. Humanity! There is nothing that can compare. Birds fly, fish swim, cattle graze, but humans were specially made in the image of their Designer. We were created to reflect our Creator. It is nobility at its finest. There is a spark of divinity within each of us.
It is not easy to see. Often it is so obliterated that it is not visible at all, but it is still there. Sin distorts and obscures it to such a degree that we may doubt its presence, but it remains. Beneath the layers of worldly grime and the devil’s dirt is a handcrafted likeness of God in need of restoration.
Jesus came to open the door for that renovation. He stepped down from His heavenly existence to show us the way. It was a dramatic act of love rather than condemnation. We deserved the latter. He chose the former. He could see beneath the damaged exterior to the original product. Our eyes see the corrupted version with all of its obvious blemishes. Thankfully, His vision penetrates much deeper.
It is a collaborative effort. God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are all involved in this incredible mission. Sin is more damaging than we could ever imagine, and the full force of Deity is engaged in restoring the image. The plan, execution and follow-through are all part of the process that gradually replaces all of the broken parts. He works, and we cooperate.
Born again. We are blessed to be able to start all over, but that old scarred person keeps wanting to resurface. We see it throughout the word of God. The Ephesian Christians had apparently slipped back into their old worldly ways (Ephesians 4:17-24), and there were consequences. Their thinking was affected. That, in turn, penetrated deeply and expressed itself in actions which again tarnished the image in which they had been created.
The old lifestyle has got to go. It must be dealt with dramatically and finally. Christians have been given another opportunity, and we must not squander it. It was too costly to neglect. We have been united with Christ in our baptismal burial and resurrection. That brings not only forgiveness but responsibility. We join forces with the Lord to have that image emerge once again. We are new. Now, we must live like it. God made us as a representation of Himself. He gave us minds for noble thoughts and lives for good deeds. We mustn’t settle for less. He made us and remade us for His purposes and to show the world what our Creator is like. We must not misrepresent Him. We can still be the crowning achievement of His wondrous creation. It is our privilege. He made us for such a time as this.
It might seem to be fairly insignificant. We come together each Sunday to worship God, remember the Son and His sacrifice, to encourage one another to love and good deeds, and in the midst of that we sing. Sometimes our minds wander through the events of last week or the coming demands on our calendars. Life is so busy; it makes it easy to disengage and thoughtlessly sing the words. We make sounds with our lips while our hearts are sleeping.
It’s just singing. We might read the bulletin, write a check, make a grocery list or simply daydream. None of those are bad things but inappropriate for the important assignment of singing. God notices, “’THIS PEOPLE HONORS ME WITH THEIR LIPS, BUT THEIR HEART IS FAR AWAY FROM ME. ‘BUT IN VAIN DO THEY WORSHIP ME, TEACHING AS DOCTRINES THE PRECEPTS OF MEN (Matthew 15:8-9.’” It is a thought brought forth from Isaiah. If Jesus addressed a problem that God through the prophet pointed out hundreds of years before, it must be significant to Him.
Singing is much more than just an attempt to be melodious. “And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord…(Ephesians 5:18-19).” The very first indication of a Spirit-filled life as described by Paul is singing which hardly makes it inconsequential. Skill is not emphasized. In fact, it isn’t even mentioned, but the heart is. The Lord is listening. Are we?
No, not to how well others produce a melody but to the words that are traveling off the page and out of our lips? Are they coming from within or are we offering them superficially? “I will sing with the spirit and I will sing with the mind also (1 Corinthians 14:15).” Do we? Are we soul-searching as we sing? Do we really mean it when we sing, “All to Jesus I surrender?”
The Lord’s people must pay close attention to His message lest we get off track. Drifting is subtle, dangerous and awfully easy (Hebrews 2:1-4). Singing is one of the safeguards against it. “Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God (Colossians 3:16-17).” Embodying His word, sharing it with others and filling our hearts with gratitude are all powerful measures to maintain our focus.
Singing may seem to be just punctuation between the other elements of our assembly, but that is not an eternal perspective. Our audience is far larger than those in the room with us, and He is listening intently to our hearts.
A talking bush is a pretty big clue that God has a special assignment for you, especially when that shrub is on fire but not burning up. Suddenly, the ground on which Moses stood was holy. The Lord has a way about that, turning the ordinary into the extraordinary. After all, He took dust and formed a human. Who can begin to imagine what He can do with a person?
This baby-in-a-basket was all grown up. He had bounced around from the royal household to murderer to fugitive to shepherd, and now vegetation was telling him that he would be the great liberator of his people. Life’s experiences had prepared him for this moment, but he didn’t think so. His was more of a “Who me?” response. He felt woefully inadequate for such a task. So, God’s chosen deliverer lacked confidence; not exactly what we look for in a hero.
He resisted as he pulled out every excuse in the book. “What do I tell them when they ask who sent me?” “What if they don’t believe me?” “I’m the wrong man. I am not a very good speaker.” The Lord met every objection and pushed him out with Aaron, a more polished spokesman. Next stop: Pharoah. Surely, a mission from God’s own lips will meet with immediate success.
Well, not exactly. In fact, it was quite the opposite. Conditions for the slaves grew worse. The work was made even more difficult. Here is a hesitant, insecure freedom fighter and his sidekick confronting the power structure at God’s direction, and they instantly failed miserably. That was not exactly a confidence booster nor a situation that would build support among the people.
The slaves quickly turned on the liberators. The burdens became heavier, and everybody grew grumpier. Pharoah called the Israelites lazy as they looked at Moses and Aaron as the cause of their headaches. All-in-all, this has the appearance of a horrible failure of a mission. An unwilling leader and suspicious followers. These are God’s people and this is His plan? Seems doubtful.
Moses wondered, “Why?” His assignment had turned out all wrong. Why had the Lord hurt these people? Why was he sent? Nothing made sense. He offered words of reassurance but their discouragement and cruel bondage deafened their ears. That was about as low as it could get. Four centuries of slavery. A hard-hearted pharaoh. A beat-down people. And an old man who didn’t want to be there to begin with who had no support among the slaves. This is what God intended?
The rest of the story is even more amazing. The Lord stepped in with a dazzling demonstration of His power. He showed with increasing ferocity that He would free His people. It looked impossible, and it was…without divine intervention. It always is. Salvation demands a heavenly solution which only He can provide. For the Israelite slaves. For us, too.