Forward!

street-arrow

Deuteronomy 1:25-27 “Taking with them some of the fruit of the land, they (Israel’s spies) brought it down to us and reported, ‘It is a good land that the LORD our God is giving us.’ But you were unwilling to go up; you rebelled against the command of the LORD your God. You grumbled in your tents and said, ‘The LORD hates us; so he brought us out of Egypt to deliver us into the hands of the Amorites to destroy us.’”

“Backwards” is the opposite of progress. Backwards ways of doing things are inefficient and don’t accomplish what they are supposed to. A backwards person isn’t very intelligent. If you pull your shirt on backwards, it’s on wrong and it looks funny. You need to turn it around and get it on right.

Backwards can be a bad direction for us spiritually as well. “Backsliding” leads us away from God and closer to sin and unbelief. Anyone who puts his hand to the plough and looks back is not fit for service in the kingdom, Jesus says. Don’t forget what happened to Lot’s wife when she looked back.

When the Lord led Israel from Mount Sinai more or less directly to the southern border of Canaan, the Israelites sent spies into the land to get an idea of what they were up against. They didn’t like what they saw. Then the nation rebelled against God’s command to go up and take possession of the land. The Lord had no intention of playing real estate agent. He wasn’t going to show them place after place until they found one with just the features they wanted. This was their new home. It wasn’t optional. God was sending his people forward to take possession of the land, but they were refusing to go.

Today our Lord has broadened the scope of his people’s work. He sends us forward to take possession of the entire world, but not in a political or military way. He is sending us to capture hearts for his kingdom by telling others the good news about Jesus. Our congregations support this world-wide conquest through our gifts and offerings to missions. But part of the campaign goes on right in our back yard. The inhabitants of the land he wants us to conquer live next door to us. They go to work with us and shop in the same stores. God still sends us forward to take possession of hearts and souls that need Jesus.

And that is not an option. Neither as a church nor as individuals does he allow us to shop around for a different mission: “I’m sure that winning souls is great, Lord. But I’m not much into that sort of thing. What else have you got?” No, “You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” He has not decreed specific roles we have to take. They may be different according to our individual gifts. But we are not to hide behind the walls of our homes and churches, frozen where we are. God sends us to possess the hearts and souls of our neighbors.

Is that a reason to complain? “You grumbled in your tents and said, ‘The Lord hates us; so he brought us out of Egypt to deliver us into the hands of the Amorites to destroy us.” Compared to the desert they had left behind in Egypt, Canaan was a rich and fertile land. Compared to the slavery they had left behind in Egypt, this was chance to experience freedom and prosperity. For Israel to stare at this rich and undeserved gift from God, and then accuse him of trying to kill them, has to be the worst kind of blasphemy. Imagine how you would feel if you poured yourself into finding an expensive, extravagant, yet completely practical gift for someone you loved deeply. You made sure that it fit them to a “T.” Then your friend not only snubs your gift. He accuses you of trying to hurt him. It’s no wonder the Lord threatened to wipe the whole nation out for the second time since leaving Egypt. Moses had to plead to have them spared.

Do we complain about the privilege of our mission? Here we are, people for whom our Lord sacrificed his only Son to pay for our sins and save us from death. He has graciously shared this good news with us and led us to faith. Now he has equipped us to make our family of faith even bigger, to be surrounded by more people who love us and whom we can love in return. Are we tempted to look at all this grace and mutter, “The Lord hates us. It costs too much to support. It takes too much of my time. He has brought me into this faith and into this church just to drain my resources and deny me the pleasures and treasures I have worked so hard to earn and enjoy”? God give us mercy to see past our own comforts and interests to recognize the incredible gift and opportunity we have been given. Don’t go backwards. Forge ahead. The mission itself is designed to bless you.

Who Is He?

Who

Matthew 22:42 “While the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them, ‘What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is he?’ ‘The son of David,’ they replied.”

Jesus’ question about the Christ was more than a Bible trivia question about his ancestry. He wanted the Pharisees to think about what kind of person the Christ is. What kind of a being is he? That makes all the difference in what kind of Savior you expect him to be.

You see, if the Christ is a descendant of king David, another man in the royal house of Israel, that limits your options for what kind of Savior he could be. One option was that he could be a political Savior, a national deliverer who saves the country or makes it great. That’s what most of the Jews were hoping for. Then Jesus’ name might be mentioned in the same breath with men like Cincinnatus, Caesar, Charlemagne, George Washington, Admiral Horatio Nelson, Mahatmas Gandhi, and others.

Or the Christ might be a great moral Savior, a man whose charisma and character could inspire people to love their neighbors, control their passions, even form a great world religion. Then his name might be mentioned in the same breath with men like Confucius, Buddha, Socrates, Mohammed, and others. As you know, that is just the group that we often hear Jesus associated with.

But Jesus was asking this question, “Who is the Christ?” “Who is the Savior?” because he knew the answer went deeper still. “He said to them, ‘How is it then that David, speaking by the Spirit, calls him ‘Lord?’ For he says, ‘The Lord said to my Lord: Sit at my right hand until I put your enemies under your feet.’ If then David calls him ‘Lord,’ how can he be his son?” Any Jewish child who paid attention in synagogue school knew that Psalm 110:1 was a reference to the Christ, the Messiah. Any Jewish person understood that the Messiah was a descendant of David. Think of the shouts of the crowds on Palm Sunday, “Hosanna to the Son of David…”

How then could David call a distant grandchild of his, someone who would be born nearly 1000 years later, his “Lord”? How could he speak about him in the past tense, as though he already existed? How could a human descendant of David sit at the right hand of God in heaven, entrusted with divine power and authority? Obviously the psalm Jesus quotes tells us the Christ is something more.

Although Jesus phrased this as a question, he is really giving the answer here. The Messiah, the Christ, the Savior is divine. And that would not be necessary for him if all he did was save a nation from its enemies or become a great moral role model.

But it would be necessary if the Savior were going to provide more than a decent example, but an absolutely perfect fulfillment of God’s law from start to finish. If he came not so much to show us what to do, but to do it for us as our substitute, then he must be something more than human. Our Savior is David’s Lord, who used his divine power to live the life of love God now gives us the credit for.

Divinity was necessary if our Savior were going to give his life to save not just a person, or even a nation, but the entire world from their sins. “No man can redeem the life of another,” the psalmist writes. “No payment is ever enough– that he should live on forever and not see decay.” But God himself, who can do all things, can make that payment with his own life. Our Savior is David’s Lord, who used his divine value to pay the penalty for every sin ever committed with his death on the cross.

And divinity is necessary if we aren’t just going to copy the Savior, or follow him into battle, but entrust him with the fate of our souls for all eternity. Who is Jesus?  God’s own Son, the Savior in whom we can put our faith.

Crucify It!

Crucified Hand

Galatians 5:24 “Those who belong to Jesus Christ have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires.”

The New Testament utilizes a variety pictures to illustrate how we deal with the sinful nature warring inside of us. Sometimes the picture is that of taking off dirty, ragged clothes. In one place the picture has to do with throwing out the garbage or shoveling away the manure. In several instances it speaks of putting the sinful nature to death. Here Paul reminds us that our sinful nature has been crucified. All of these things are pictures of repentance. God doesn’t say to the Christian, “Try harder!” He says, “Repent!” And the picture of crucifixion is particularly apt for a number of reasons.

First, crucifixion is something you do to the worst of criminals. It means you have judged the crucificial victim as a horrible, dangerous person. You want nothing to do with him. That is what happens each time we repent of our sins. We no longer see some sin as a good thing we desire. We see it as a crime, and the sinful nature which produced it is a criminal. We find it repulsive and disgusting, and we want nothing to do with it anymore.

Second, crucifixion is a slow, painful way to die. Death doesn’t come in an instant. And the sinful nature which we have crucified hasn’t died immediately, either. It keeps struggling and writhing. We feel the pain as we give up the sins that have captivated us for so long.

Third, crucifixion ends in death. The body of the one crucified is drained of all life and power. Earthly relationships come to an end. The work of our repentance is finished when our sinful nature dies with our body. Then it will finally be drained of every last bit of life and power. Then every last vestige of our relationship with the sinful nature, which we have already condemned as a criminal, will be gone.

Last, crucifixion reminds us of the work Jesus did for us, which is the most important part of winning this war! The message of Jesus’ love for us, dying on the cross to pay for all our sins and rising from the dead to promise us eternal life, sends the Holy Spirit into our hearts. That gives us a new spirit to fight with sin. It makes us different people, people who belong to Jesus Christ. The more we hear about how high and how wide and how deep is the love of Christ, the stronger our faith grows, and the stronger the spirit inside of us becomes. Christ’s love continues to inspire and strengthen our life of love. Living in Jesus’ love is the winning strategy for the inner war we fight in faith each day.

We Have Met the Enemy…

Soldiers Run

Galatians 5:16 “So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature.  For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want.”

Since the day you became a Christian, you have been involved in a war. On one side we have our sinful flesh, our sinful nature. Some Christians seem surprised that they still have a sinful nature after coming to faith. They thought that sin would now be a thing of the past for them.

Actually, your sinful nature didn’t change at all when you became a Christian. It is the same rascal it has always been. It is 100%, undiluted, pure rebel, and that is the way it will be until the day you die. The only difference is: now it has some competition.

On the other side of this war is the Spirit within you. Whether you take Paul’s words to mean the Holy Spirit, or whether you take him to mean your own believing, converted, Christian, human spirit where the Holy Spirit lives, will make little difference for understanding his urgings to us here. These two are devoted allies. They fight the same battles. At the time we are fighting the urge to sin, we are not able to tell a difference between the impulses of the Holy Spirit and those of our Christian spirit, anyway.

These two, flesh and Spirit, are waging a war within us. They are locked in a battle to the death. Since they are opposites, “the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature.” There can be no compromises, no cease fires, and no surrender on either side. This war continues until either the sinful nature drives faith and the Spirit completely out, and we cease to be Christians; or until physical death delivers the final blow to our sinful nature, and we are free of it forever.

In the meantime, if we are going to live by the Spirit, it is important that we acknowledge this battle. It is the reason we continue to sin. “They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want.” Have you found that you can’t be as good as you want to be? Do you still find yourself slipping up? If that is not the case, check on one of three things: have you lost your faith altogether, giving the sinful nature total control? Do you find it difficult to be honest with yourself? Or, do you still have a pulse?

As we struggle, there is a temptation to look outside ourselves for the reason. “I would live a better life if only Satan didn’t press me so hard and single me out for such unique and difficult temptations.” “I would live a better life if the people around me weren’t always getting me into trouble.” But neither Satan nor our friends put a gun to our heads and force us into sin. They may tempt us, but they don’t force us. To win this war, we need to recognize where it is happening, and who the enemy is.

A second temptation in this battle gives too much credit to our corrupt hearts. Many voices tell us man is noble at his core. Our minds and thoughts may lead us down the wrong path if try to analyze things too carefully. But if we follow our feelings, they won’t steer us wrong. Follow your heart.

After all, God made me this way, and if I am physically attracted to some other person, why should I deny myself the pleasures of their body– no matter that I am already married to someone else, or that we have no marriage commitment to each other, or that we are of the same sex. It just “feels” right. People apply this same kind of thinking to how they vent their anger, rationalize drug use, or selfishly spend their money, to name a few examples.

The heart is not a safe guide. It is often allied with the wrong side. Winning the battle, Paul says, involves “living by the Spirit.” That is more than a matter of personal effort. It requires more than a rededication to Biblical standards of right and wrong. Earlier in this letter Paul asked the people, “I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by believing what you heard? Are you so foolish? After beginning by means of the Spirit, are you now trying to finish by means of the flesh?” (Galatians 3:2-3). In other words, go back to the Spirit, where your Christian life started. And you don’t get the Spirit by performing moral acts. He comes to those who hear and believe God’s word.

Specifically, the Spirit comes to those who hear the good news. Listening to and believing the gospel, where we find Jesus dying for our guilt, forgiving every sin, rising to promise us life, seeking us out to claim us as his own by faith, and now ruling the universe for our benefit, is the big weapon for winning the spiritual war within. We can’t live by a Spirit we don’t have. But if the Spirit’s place in our hearts grows with faith in the gospel, his place in our behavior will grow as well. Then more of the spiritual battles will start to go our way.

Watch Out for Counterfeits

Monopoly Money

Matthew 7:21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.”

In Romans 10 the Apostle Paul tells us, “If you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (vs. 9). The people Jesus is describing here have it half right. They call upon Jesus as their Lord. But the believe-in-your-heart part is missing. That is the most important part. Confessing that Jesus is Lord is valid only when it expresses a deeper and fuller faith in our heart.

I have known people who “know the formula.” They can recite, “Jesus is my Lord,” or “Jesus is my Savior,” or “Jesus died on the cross to pay for my sins.” But they do so like a trained parrot. There is nothing behind it. Words like these are not a secret password to tell the angel at heaven’s gate so that he will let you in. When we get there, no one will open a little peephole and whisper, “Hey, buddy, what’s the password?” Claiming Jesus as Lord is meaningful only when it reflects the faith of our hearts.

Nor does Jesus mean to suggest that good works will lead him to recognize us when he says, “…but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” The false Christians have impressive works on their resumes: “Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’”

Doesn’t God want people to prophesy in Jesus’ name? Doesn’t he want them to drive out demons? Is there anything wrong with performing miracles? On the surface, all of these things line up with doing the will of the Father in heaven. What’s wrong?

First, these people are not lying. Jesus does not accuse them of making any of this up, even where they require supernatural powers. God once used the unbelieving prophet Balaam to deliver his message. The book of Acts mentions the seven sons of Sceva who were unbelievers, yet drove out demons in Jesus’ name. Numerous people, from Bible times to the present, have claimed to do miracles in Jesus’ name. Still, in the case of many it is hard to imagine they had any real connection to him.

Second, it appears these people are completely sincere about their religion, whatever it is. They didn’t think of themselves as deceivers. They fully expect Jesus to accept their argument, even on the day of judgment.

What, then, is missing? The main thing is true, saving faith. “Without faith it is impossible to please God,” Hebrews tells us. That is true even if you are preaching, healing people, and driving out demons. In the absence of faith, even those apparently good works become sins, because Paul tells us, “Everything that does not come from faith is sin.”

You see, where there is no true faith, there can be no true love, and love is the fulfillment of the law. We are never doing the will of the Father in heaven when unselfish love does not stand behind what we are doing, however helpful it might be to someone else.

Paul furnishes some great examples in his great love chapter of 1 Corinthians, “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing” (1 Corinthians 13:1-3).

The false Christians standing before Jesus on the day of judgment cannot work their way into heaven any more than we can. But a heart that grasps God’s gift of forgiveness by faith does save us. This faith makes itself known in a life that does the will of the Father: repenting of our sins, trusting solely in Jesus for our salvation, and striving, however imperfectly, to live a life of love. As for the false prophets, Jesus won’t recognize them as his own. “Away from me, you evildoers!”

Jesus speaks some strong words about a “spiritual” life devoid of faith, but he does so because he loves us. You are the dearest thing he owns. You are the costliest purchase he has ever made. You are the one thing that he would do anything, and has done everything, to keep. Don’t fall for a counterfeit faith.

Watch Out!

Wolf

Matthew 7:15 “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves.”

False prophets come dressed in deceptive camouflage. Jesus’ picture of sheep’s clothing suggests a couple of things. First of all, Scripture often refers to us, God’s people, as his sheep. False prophets try to make themselves look they are part of main stream Christianity. They want us to believe that they are just one of us.

Sometimes people have the idea that Jesus means to warn us about the prophets of some obvious, far out false god. And it’s true that the message of such people would be false. But Scripture usually uses this term to refer to prophets who claim to be representing the true God, the God of the Bible. For example, in the Old Testament, the prophets of the false god Baal aren’t called false prophets. They are called prophets of Baal. There was no “sheep’s clothing” covering them.

The false prophets were men who claimed to speak for the Lord, but who made up their own messages. They were the kind of men Jeremiah once described: “I am against the prophets who wag their own tongues and yet declare, ‘The LORD declares’” (Jeremiah 23:31). They were the kind of men the Apostle Paul had in mind when he warned the elders of the church in Ephesus, “I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth to draw away disciples after them. So be on your guard!” (Acts 20:29-31).

When we are watching out for false prophets, we need to keep our eyes trained on the Christian church, and even our own congregations! In fact, I don’t take offense when people keep a close eye on me to see whether I am a sheep, or merely dressed in sheep’s clothing. It’s what Jesus tells us to do.

The second thing to note about Jesus’ “sheep’s clothing” picture is that sheep are rather harmless animals. When I was a little boy and visited my grandparents’ farm, they always warned me to watch out for the buck if I visited the sheep pen, because he might knock you down. But by and large, sheep are not dangerous, and false prophets do their best to look as safe and harmless as they can, too.

Maybe that’s why we are tempted not to take Jesus’ warning too seriously. All the religious leaders we know seem like nice guys. They are people persons. They are warm, sincere, and caring. They are interesting to listen to. I’m not saying that there is anything wrong with those traits in and of themselves. But they can lead us to lack a proper dread of what is false. We are sinfully lackadaisical when we ignore the danger to our own souls.

That’s why Jesus’ picture illustrates the need to recognize them. “They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves.” Even city slickers know that sheep and wolves are natural enemies. Wolves don’t just hurt sheep. They are more than an annoyance. They want to have them for dinner. Wolves kill.

And so do false prophets. They are spiritual murderers. Not everyone who hears their messages may be lost. Wolves don’t catch every sheep they stalk, either. But Jesus’ picture makes it clear that watching out for false prophets could be a matter of spiritual life and death.

Jesus didn’t give up his life to pay for the sins of the world just to let false prophets keep us from enjoying that gift. He freely gave us spiritual life to spare us from the spiritual murderers. He invested himself in doing everything necessary to make us members of God’s flock to protect us from the wolves who want to chase us back out again. He warns us about false prophets not to make us judgmental, but to make us safe. His words are no idle warning. They are a necessary consequence of his seeking love. Watch out!

His Weightless Burden

Burden

Matthew 11:28-30 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Have you ever worked on a project on which you made absolutely no progress? A number of years ago I went camping with my dad. As we sat around the camp fire, he blew up his air mattress by mouth. He would puff and puff, and then talk a little, and puff and puff some more. After an hour he was exhausted from blowing, and the mattress was no further along than when he started. We discovered it was full of leaks. That’s what it is like for the person trying to save himself. He works and works, but all he gets is tired. Jesus says to such a person, “I will do all the work of saving you. You come and get some rest.”

Sometimes even we who know that Jesus has paid for all our sins have trouble shaking the guilt when we have committed a real “doosie.” We feel so disappointed in ourselves. Maybe that’s because we haven’t wanted to accept the depths of our own personal corruption. We haven’t understood the full significance of what Paul was saying when he said, “There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” There is no difference. We knew that we needed a Savior just like everyone else, but deep down inside we still believed there was a difference. I was just a little bit better than your common sinner.

Somewhere Luther warns about not being a painted sinner, because then we will find only a painted Savior. Instead, understand that we are real sinners, who in turn have a real Savior. Sin is nothing we should ever pursue or embrace. But there is great relief that comes when we admit that ours is just as real and terrible as anyone else’s. Denying our guilt, hiding our guilt, or minimizing our guilt are just ways by which we force ourselves to carry that guilt. Jesus invites us, “Come to me with the whole thing, as real and as bad as it is, and I will take it to the cross for you, and forgive you, and you will find rest for your souls.” When you know Jesus, then you know your soul’s rest.

But doesn’t Jesus’ method for giving us rest sound strange? “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” Doesn’t a yoke sound like more work, like trading one source of weariness for another?

Understand the picture. The rabbi’s used the word “yoke” as a picture of belonging to one of their schools. To be under Jesus’ yoke, then, is to have him as our Master and Teacher and learn from him.

And what kind of Master do we find? “I am gentle and humble in heart…” Jesus is no drill sergeant screaming at us to shape up, driving us to hurry up to do better. “You’re not there yet! You’re not there yet! You’re not there yet!” No, he is gentle, and mild. He recognizes that even when we try to look tough, we are fragile. He handles us in a way that convinces us he cares and expresses his love.

He is humble in heart. He doesn’t issue decrees from his ivory tower, but he stoops down to help us. He is not too great to put on flesh and blood and become part of the human family, experience our misery first hand, suffer our temptations, or even be accused of our sins and die for them. Everything about the way he treats us in inviting. We know that we can approach him safely and confidently.

“For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Under our Master and Teacher, what do we learn? What does he “lay on us?” A promise of God’s grace, access to the Father, forgiveness of sins, life after death, comfort for our sorrows, strength under our crosses. As Luther once said, this a yoke that bears its bearer. It doesn’t weigh us down. It picks us up and carries us. So Jesus invites us to take the yoke and carry the burden that gives our souls rest.

Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader?

Fifth Grader

Matthew 11:25 “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children.”

In the previous verses Jesus pronounced woes upon the towns and villages of Galilee that had received his ministry, seen his miracles, and yet the majority of people had not put their faith in him. They saw Jesus, saw him with their own eyes, but they didn’t see God’s Son. They didn’t see their Savior. The truth about Jesus was hidden from many. They failed to understand the true meaning of Jesus.

Nor was it necessarily an advantage to be “wise and learned” to understand these things. They were the very people from whom Jesus’ person and purpose were hidden. It’s not that God the Father was trying to prevent them from knowing Jesus. The problem was that they would accept Jesus as Savior only if he met their criteria. And by nature anyone who knows anything believes that the only way to be saved is by your good works, and that the only reason for a Savior would be to show you how. All the world’s great minds have thought that way. In order for these people to see Jesus as Savior, then, God would have to change his plan of salvation. He would have to abandon grace, and that wasn’t going to happen. So Jesus’ real identity and purpose were hidden from them.

There is nothing wrong with great learning in and of itself. Ignorance certainly doesn’t serve the purposes of Christianity. But man’s pride turns his great learning against God. He starts to think he has it all figured out. You often hear people promote “thinking outside the box.” Spiritually, the “wise and learned” create a box for themselves out of all their knowledge. They think they know more than they do. They can’t think outside a box of their own making, and they end up imprisoning themselves in there. When God’s word comes along with a different idea, they can’t accept it. When Jesus comes along as God’s Son and Savior, they can’t see it.

But the Father has revealed Jesus to little children. Their minds aren’t so cluttered with skeptical ideas, or so full of pride in their own opinions. Have you ever seen the musical You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown? There is a scene in which Lucy is teaching her little brother Linus “little known facts” about the world, and Linus is just soaking it all in. She tells him that fir trees give us fur for coats, hydrants grow out of the ground on their own, the stars and planets make the rain, and the snow comes up out of the ground like the grass, then it blows around to make it look like its falling. Linus doesn’t question her. He believes every word just because she says so. He takes it all with a child-like faith.

Of course, our God would never deceive us like that. But he reveals Jesus to little children, and the child-like who believe every word just because he says so. “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so,” is not a theology of which they feel a need to be ashamed, nor a theology on which they feel a need to improve. They know Jesus because of God’s revelation.

Are we the wise and learned, or are we the little children? Does it offend us to be thought of as simple? Does it embarrass us if others suggest that we have an “unsophisticated” approach to the Bible because we simply believe what it says? When one of our African missionaries took a call back to the United States, and he got some of his first experiences with counseling here, he was shocked by the reaction of some he counseled. In Africa if he quoted Scripture, that counsel was taken with unquestioning acceptance. Some of those with whom he counseled here just looked at him as though those words meant nothing at all.

None of us wants others to think of us as simple or unsophisticated. We certainly don’t want to believe that we are evil to the core and need God’s grace.  “Wise and learned” sounds more like a compliment to us. It makes us sound good. “Little children” sounds more like an insult.

But if we know Jesus, it is not because we are so smart. The world’s kind of wisdom and learning lead us in a hellish direction away from knowing Jesus. You know Jesus because God’s word convinced you that you need a Savior from sin, and that Jesus is just the Savior you need.

Comedian Jeff Foxworthy has exposed the ignorance of many adults on his quiz show Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader?. Jesus exposed the spiritual ignorance of many learned adults throughout his ministry. But the little children know. Don’t try to be smarter, because “the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”

Fulfill Your Destiny

Yoda

Jeremiah 1:6-8 “‘Ah, Sovereign Lord,’ I said, ‘I do not know how to speak; I am only a child.’ But the Lord said to me, ‘Do not say, I am only a child. You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you.”

Public speaking is said to be the greatest fear people feel, greater even than their fear of death. Jerry Seinfeld has quipped that, if that’s true, the majority of people at a funeral would rather be the man in the coffin than the man giving the eulogy. Jeremiah isn’t the only prophet who ever tried to excuse himself from serving because he couldn’t speak well. Eight hundred years earlier Moses had used the same excuse.

“I don’t know what to say,” “I don’t feel comfortable talking to other people about my faith” are still common excuses for not speaking up about our faith. Is that true? Do we really not know what other people need to hear from us? We know that it all boils down to man’s sin and God’s grace in Jesus Christ. Have any of God’s messengers ever felt completely comfortable telling others what the Lord has to say? Isn’t this another way of saying, “I don’t want to suffer the negative reaction people often have to talk about Jesus?” But isn’t a willingness to suffer just that reaction one of the crosses he expects his disciples to bear?

Jeremiah’s other excuse, “I am only a child,” also finds its way into the thinking of Christians. Jeremiah did not mean that he was an immature little boy still living at home with his parents. The Hebrew word translated “child” here can refer to a young person all the way until age 30. Jeremiah’s point was, “I don’t have years of experience. I don’t have the trust of older people. I’m still relatively young.”

Is the absence of many young adults from the active life of Christian churches evidence of the same kind of thinking today? Is the difficulty in getting younger men and women to accept positions of responsibility and leadership in part because they think that their youth excuses them?

Note that God didn’t excuse Jeremiah from service. He doesn’t accept our excuses, either. Instead, he confronts our attempts to escape the purposes for which he has made us. “But the Lord said to me, ‘Do not say, ‘I am only a child.’ You must go to everyone I send you and say whatever I command you.’”

Note that he doesn’t simply give up on the hesitant and write them off for unwillingness. Whether excuses come from laziness, fear, or a simple lack of faith, he forgives. He removes our sin for Jesus’ sake. And then he makes us confident, because he sends us with his promises: “Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you.”

Little David understood who was with him when he took on the giant Goliath. We have an infinitely larger giant backing us up. What perceived lack of skill will trip you up when God is present with all this power and gifts? Paul promises, “My God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19). As long as God is on our side, we have an unlimited source of confidence for our tasks.

And if we find ourselves in trouble of some sort, he promises to rescue us. Rescuing his people is our God’s specialty. He has driven the entire course of world history in order to save us from our sins and death. In a hundred little ways he has rescued his people from the forces of nature, from sickness and disease, from hunger and need, from temptation to sin, from personal enemies, and from their own foolishness. His rescue may not always look the way we envisioned it. Ultimately it may mean leading us through death to life in heaven. But the Lord will not leave the people who serve him in a jam. That makes us confident to serve, confident that his promises make it possible to fulfill our purposes.

Are you a fan of the Star Wars movie series? Throughout, there is a lot of talk about characters fulfilling their destinies. Each one has a purpose in a mission to save the universe. God has given each of us a destiny, a real one. We play an important role in his mission to save the universe. Our part may not look glamorous or glorious. But somehow or another we have a part in passing salvation along to others. Let God’s promises make you certain and confident to fulfill your destinies.