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We are looking at Five Marks of Spiritual Renewal trying to see what our Christian lives should look like, and then, I hope, we will each evaluate how we are actually doing.

Last week we focused on the first mark: Complete Yieldedness to God. I showed you how this has to be at the core of our Christian lives. And that’s because without this we remain stuck in our sins, failures and compromises. But with this we are able to move forward and experience the spiritual renewal that God has for each one of us.

Specifically today, we see how completely yielding ourselves to God is the key to restoring our relationships with God and with others. We begin with the first of these . . .

2. Renewed relationship with God

Our unyieldedness to God damages and eventually destroys our relationship with God. Isaiah 59:2 says, “Your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you so that he does not hear.” Our undealt with sin, which we know about and continue to choose, creates an obstacle, a wall, a barrier between us and God.

1 John 1:6 says, “If we say we have fellowship with him (God) while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth.” Its not possible to have a right relationship with God, while there are areas of our life where we choose not to submit to God.

So because of our unyieldedness, our relationship with God becomes distant, stale, and cold. As Paul says, we are “alienated from God” (Ephesians 4:18).

This shows up in different ways:

  • We have little if any sense of God’s presence in our lives. You know, God speaking to us, comforting us, guiding us, fellowshipping with us. God is distant.
  • We have little if any sense of devotion toward God. I’m talking about that sense of deep emotion that is connected with that which has the most value for us in all of life. Think of the devotion you have to your family. You feel strongly about them. Well, when we choose not to yield to God, we lose this for God.
  • We spend little if any time with God, that is, in prayer, reading the Scriptures, Christian fellowship and worship. Oh, we may come to church, but our heart doesn’t enter in. We’re just going through the motions. Its like with a person that you aren’t getting along with. You don’t really want to be around them. And if you see them you just go through the motions.

If this is where you find yourself, here’s . . .

What you should do to renew your relationship with God. As we talked about last week, yield yourself completely to God in every area of your life. And we do this through honest assessment of our lives and making hard choices of repentance.

And then, ask God to forgive your sins, your failures, and your compromises. Jesus’ blood was poured out on the cross “for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Matthew 26:28). And you are a part of that many. He died for you.

The promise to us is that, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (I John 1:9). Through what Jesus has done, and our receiving this gift by faith, the walls of our sin are broken down. The barriers are destroyed. We have –

Restored relationship with God:

  • We come to know and feel the presence of God in our lives. God is close to us, leading us and helping us.
  • We come to feel devotion for God. We have a deep passion and desire for God and to serve God.
  • We want to spend time with God; to be in God’s presence, to soak up all that God has for us from the Scriptures, times of prayer and worship and Christian fellowship. We can’t get enough of it.

This is the second mark of a vibrant Christian life. Renewed relationship with God in all these ways.

3. Renewed relationships with others

Our unyieldedness destroys our relationships with others. And this can happen in two different ways:

  • Our own wrongdoing can destroy relationships
  • Or our unwillingness to love and forgive those who have wronged us can destroy relationships

Either way our relationships with others become distant, stale and cold. They become characterized by things like bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, slander and malice, as Paul says in Ephesians 4:31. If this is where you are at, here’s –

What you should do to restore these relationships. Again, yield yourself completely to God – here in terms of how you have treated others, and how you have responded to those who have hurt you.

More specifically 1) Make things right with the one you have wronged. Jesus said, “So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you (you have wronged them), leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.” – Matthew 5:23-24.

There is no guarantee that they will respond and the relationship will be restored, but do what you can to restore the relationship through repentance and love for them

2) Forgive those who have sinned against you. Jesus said, “If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him” – Luke 17:3.

Again, there is no guarantee that they will repent and seek forgiveness. And without repentance on their part there can’t be restored relationship. But, do what you can to restore the relationship. Show love for them and be willing to forgive if they repent so that there can be true reconciliation.

I would just note here the seriousness of this. In both of these cases our relationships with others, has a decisive impact on our relationship with God.

Matthew 5:23-34 shows that our unrepentance for hurting others affects our relationship with God. Why do we first seek reconciliation? Because if we have sinned against someone and don’t seek to make it right, our relationship with God is broken. There is no need to try to bring your gift to give to God in worship. You have to first make it right with the other person.

Matthew 6:14-15 teaches us that our unwillingness to forgive others affects our relationship with God. Jesus said, “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”

Our horizontal relationships with each other, affects our vertical relationship with God. This is really important. So if nothing else, this should spur us on to the goal, which is . . .

Restored relationships with others. This is when we set aside hatred and love each other from the heart. This is when we set aside bitterness and find forgiveness. This is when we put away hard-heartedness and find compassion and mercy.

As Paul said, “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” – Ephesians 4:31-32.

This is where we love each other and are willing to lay down our lives for each other, to sacrifice for each other. As John says, “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers and sisters” – 1 John 3:16.

Restored relationships mean that we are humble before each other. As Paul says, “Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves” – Philippians 2:3.

And we live in peace with one another – As Jesus said, “Be at peace with one another” – Mark 9:50.

This is the third mark of a healthy and faithful Christian life. I hope that you will look at both of these and evaluate where you are at. Do you have this kind of relationship with God? Do you have these kinds of relationships with others?

William Higgins

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I want to share with you about spiritual renewal for the next few weeks. We are preparing for our time of covenant renewal on October 4th. I would like for this to be a time when we examine our lives and our commitment to God. It should be a time of spiritual reflection on where we are in our life with God.

We’ll focus on Five Marks of Spiritual Renewal. And as we look at these, we will see what our Christian life should look like. And also reflect on what our Christian life often actually looks like. The difference between what should be and what is.

We begin with Complete Yieldedness to God. This mark is foundational, because without it you don’t get anywhere else in terms of faithfulness or renewal.

Another way to say this is that . . .

We are to give ourselves completely to God

  • To be totally committed to God.
  • To hold nothing back.
  • To be obedient in every area of our lives.
  • To yield in every way to what God’s will is for us.

Jesus calls us to this in several different ways: 1) He names this as the greatest of God’s commandments to us: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” (Mark 12:30). Every part of us is to love God. And to love God means at its core, that we keep God’s commandments, as I John 5:3 says.

2) Jesus also calls us to “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness” (Matthew 6:33). The rule and will of God is to be our first priority in all of life. Think of all the other things there are in life; good things. The kingdom is to be first.

3) Jesus told this parable to tell us what God wants from us – “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.” (Matthew 13:44). To be truly submitted to God; to be a part of God’s kingdom and under his rule – it will cost you everything. This man sold all that he had to gain the kingdom. We will have to do the same.

4) A final example is Jesus’ call to take up the cross. He said,  “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” (Mark 8:34). The cross is an instrument of death. We have to deny ourselves; we have to die to ourselves. This is the commitment that is called for; this is the commitment that is required by God.

In all of these different ways, and more, Jesus calls us to complete yieldedness to God.

Now, if we ask, ‘What does this kind of commitment look like?’ The answer is – You just need to look at Jesus.

Jesus is the standard

And he’s the standard because he gave himself completely to God.

  • Jesus was totally committed to God
  • Jesus held nothing back
  • Jesus was obedient in every area of his life
  • Jesus yielded to God’s will. At the time of his greatest testing, he prayed, “not my will, but yours (God) be done.”

1)       He loved God with all his heart, soul, mind and strength.

2)       He sought God’s kingdom first.

3)       He gave up all he had for the kingdom.

4)       He denied himself and took up his cross – literally.

And he is now the standard for us as we seek to do God’s will. For he is the only one who truly and completely did God’s will. So if you want to please God; if you want to do God’s will truly and fully – do what Jesus taught and modeled for us.

This is, in fact, what Jesus calls us to. He said, “Learn from me” – Matthew 11:29. Jesus is our teacher. And so we learn from his teaching how to do exactly what God wants; how to please God in every way.

And Jesus is also our example. As we saw, he said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” (Mark 8:34). What he did, we are to do. Just as he denied himself and took up his cross, we are to deny ourselves and take up our cross.

Jesus is the picture of complete obedience and we are to learn from his teaching and example how to be completely obedient to God ourselves.

Now, this is what we do at baptism. We commit to give ourselves completely to God, like Jesus did. But often it isn’t long until we have gone back on this; we retreat from such total commitment. And that’s because there are many –

Obstacles to complete commitment

And the first obstacle is You. Your own human weakness.

  • Your propensity to do what you want, instead of what God wants.
  • Your tendency to take the easy way, instead of the way of Jesus.

Jesus speaks of our human weakness in Mark 14:38 when he said, “the flesh is weak.” We are weak when it comes to doing what God wants of us.

And then there is the obstacle of the World – all those who don’t follow Jesus or share his values, who pressure us to go along with them instead of following Jesus. This is peer pressure. This is following the crowd instead of following Jesus.

  • The world offers us many opportunities to fail in our commitment. Jesus said, “Woe to the world for temptations to sin!” (Matthew 18:7)
  • The world offers us many distractions to keep us from seeking first the kingdom. Jesus talks about “the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches and the desires for other things” (Mark 4:19)

The world pressures us to fail and to be distracted, along with everybody else.

And in all this is Satan who puts us in tests where we have to make hard choices and then encourages us in our weakness to give in.

The result

. . . of these obstacles so often is that when hard choices confront us; when we are in difficult tests – we compromise; we choose what is wrong. We want what we want, not what God wants. We want the easy way out, not the way of Jesus. We want to fit in with our friends and peers, not submit to God.

And then we start to make excuses. We rationalize our sin. We think of many good reasons why we should do what we are doing. We think of why its OK in our situation. And we can always find someone else who is worse than us.

And then we become apathetic about our Christian life; we stop doing the hard work of denying ourselves and taking up our cross and dying to ourselves. We begin to coast.

And then we begin excusing this. We put our trust in cheap grace, telling ourselves ‘It’s OK if I allow constant patterns of disobedience in my life. I’ll just shoot a prayer up to God for forgiveness and all is well. We deceive ourselves forgetting that without repentance, there is no forgiveness.

What should you do?

First, be honest. Stop living in denial. Take a hard and rigorously honest look at your life. Stop making excuses – if my life had been different, if I were in different circumstances, if, if, if. And stop comparing yourself to other Christians, so that you come out looking good. Well at least I’m doing better than so and so. Jesus is the standard! Compare yourself to him.

Be honest with yourself and before God. God already knows the truth about you, it’s just a matter of whether you have the courage to know and acknowledge the truth about yourself.

  • Where are you holding out on God?
  • Where are you are not fully committed to God?

The second thing you should do is make some hard choices. Where you are compromising, choose to yield to God. Where you are holding out, submit.

1)       Choose to love God fully in every are of your life

2)       Choose to make God’s kingdom first

3)       Choose to give up everything for the kingdom

4)       Choose to deny yourself and take up your cross

And make whatever sacrifices you need to make to keep to this: friends, the approval of others, your privacy by confessing and being accountable to others; access to what leads you to sin. Even though its hard, do what it takes.

Jesus made this point in Matthew 18:8-9 –

“And if your hand or your foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life crippled or lame than with two hands or two feet to be thrown into the eternal fire. And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into the hell of fire.”

Complete yieldedness to God has to be at the core of our Christian lives.

We will still fail. But with this in place we won’t excuse it or tolerate it. We will immediately deal with it.

And with this in place in your life, and in our congregation as a whole, we will be in a place to experience the spiritual renewal that God wants for us.

William Higgins

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In the past year or so, we have looked at several of the stories of the kings of Judah that come from 2 Chronicles: King Asa, King Jehoshaphat, King Joash, King Uzziah and now today we begin to look at King Hezekiah. Specifically the reforms he enacted in 2 Chronicles chapters 29-31 to renew and restore God’s people.

Some basics

  • Hezekiah began to reign when he was 25 and reigned for 29 years – 29:1
  • He “did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, according to all that David his father had done.” – 29:2

Indeed, in Chronicles he is presented as the most righteous king since David and Solomon. And he is also given the most attention since David and Solomon, 117 verses in all.

Background

The northern kingdom of Israel had just been destroyed and taken off into captivity by the Assyrians in 722 BC. And Judah itself was in a precarious position.

King Ahaz (Hezekiah’s father) was horribly unfaithful:

  • He practiced all manner of idolatry, including child sacrifice, and he shut the temple down
  • The results were multiple military defeats and deportations of the population. They were heading down the path of the northern kingdom.

But then comes . . .

A Time of Renewal

This begins in the heart of Hezekiah:

“For our fathers have been unfaithful and have done what was evil in the sight of the Lord our God. They have forsaken him and have turned away their faces from the habitation of the Lord and turned their backs. They also shut the doors of the vestibule and put out the lamps and have not burned incense or offered burnt offerings in the Holy Place to the God of Israel. Therefore the wrath of the Lord came on Judah and Jerusalem, and he has made them an object of horror, of astonishment, and of hissing, as you see with your own eyes. For behold, our fathers have fallen by the sword, and our sons and our daughters and our wives are in captivity for this. Now it is in my heart to make a covenant with the Lord, the God of Israel, in order that his fierce anger may turn away from us.” – 2 Chronicles 29:6-10

How different he is than his father!

First of all 1. He restored the temple – During his first year, in the first month of the year, he acted. “He opened the doors of the house of the Lord and repaired them” – 29:3. (The first month seems to refer to the first month of the calendar – see 30:2-3, but this may have also been the first month of his reign)

– He then charged the priests and Levites to purify themselves – 29:5-15

– And they then proceeded to purify the temple – 29:16-19. It had been ‘trashed.’ So, they carried out the “filth” it says, and they put it in the Kidron valley, the city garbage dump.

– After 16 days the temple was rededicated – 29:20-30

  • they gave offerings to atone for sin to seek forgiveness for Judah and even all Israel
  • and they worshiped with offerings, music, singing and bowing down.

The response of the people was overwhelming – 29:31-35. They brought so many sacrifices that there weren’t enough priests consecrated to handle them, so the Levites had to help the priests.

The result of this reform is articulated in vs. 35–36 – “Thus the service of the house of the Lord was restored . . . And Hezekiah and all the people rejoiced” at what God had done and that it had happened so quickly.

But Hezekiah didn’t stop here, 2. He restored the celebration of Passover

This was certainly appropriate – As 30:9 makes clear. With the dominance of the Assyrian empire, the northern kingdom of Israel was conquered, and many in Judah had been taken away. Passover, you remember, celebrates God as their deliverer from the empire of Egypt. This was an expression of hope and trust in God against all empires that would destroy them.

But there was a problem. Since they didn’t finish cleansing the Temple in time during the first month, which is when Passover is supposed to be celebrated (they were two days too late), they had to celebrate it in the second month – 30:2-4.  (Perhaps they were drawing on some of the provisions for individuals from Numbers 9 about celebrating Passover the next month if you were ritually unclean or not able to assemble.)

– Hezekiah sent out a letter inviting all Israel to come – 30:1; 5-10. Not just Judah, but even those who were left of the northern kingdom of Israel. He was trying to reunite all Israel again. His letter was a powerful call to repentance and renewal.

– “A very great assembly” came. Even though many in the north had scorned the invitation, some did come, and all Judah turned out – 30:11-13

– They put away the idol altars in the city of Jerusalem – 30:14, throwing them into the garbage dump of Kidron to prepare the city.

– And then they celebrated the Passover and the associated feast of unleavened bread – 30:15-16

Then there was another problem, however, many ate the Passover “otherwise than prescribed” – 30:18. That is, they were not ritually clean, especially those from the north. This was an offense that could bring serious judgment (Leviticus 15:31).

But Hezekiah prayed and the Lord answered, “’May the good Lord pardon everyone who sets his heart to seek God, the Lord, the God of his fathers, even though not according to the sanctuary’s rules of cleanness.’ And the Lord heard Hezekiah and healed the people” – 30:18-19. God looked at their intention, even if it didn’t meet the letter of the law, and had mercy.

Again, the response of the people was overwhelming. After the initial seven day feast, they decided to celebrate another seven days – 30:23

The result of all this was . . .

  • Great joy – 30:25-26. For it says “Since the time of Solomon the son of David king of Israel there had been nothing like this in Jerusalem.” Both northern Israel and the people of Judah together worshipping God in the temple.
  • God heard their prayers and blessed them – 30:27
  • As they left the city, the people cleansed the countryside of idol altars – 31:1

Finally, 3. He restored the priestly, Levitical system

– He reorganized them – 31:2

– He himself gave to support the temple – 31:3, providing regular burnt offerings

– He called the people to support the priests and Levites. As 31:4 notes, that they might be free to “give themselves to the Law of the Lord.” He called them to fulfill what Moses commanded concerning material support for the temple workers.

This part of the story may seem anti-climactic to us or mundane talking about priests and finances. But we have to understand that this was to sustain the reforms that had begun.

The priests and Levites could only continue to lead the people in faithfulness if they were supported. This was necessary to maintain the renewal that Hezekiah had begun.

And again, the response of the people was overwhelming. 2 Chronicles 31:5 says, “the people of Israel gave in abundance . . . they brought in abundantly the tithe of everything.”  Notice the emphasis on the word “heaps.”

  • “heaps” – v. 6
  • “heaps” – v. 7
  • “heaps” – v. 8
  • “heaps” – v. 9

The priests and Levites ate all they could and there was still this abundance (v. 10). They are like, ‘What should we do with all these heaps?’ And so Hezekiah ordered them to build storage chambers – v. 11.

A summary of Hezekiah’s reforms

“Thus Hezekiah did throughout all Judah, and he did what was good and right and faithful before the Lord his God. And every work that he undertook in the service of the house of God and in accordance with the law and the commandments, seeking his God, he did with all his heart, and prospered.” – 2 Chronicles 31:20-21

Some Lessons on Renewal

1.We learn how to deal with sin. Hezekiah is an excellent example here.

  • You need complete honesty. He begins right away with a brutally honest assessment of their sin. He said, they “have been unfaithful and have done what is evil in the sight of the Lord.” – 29:6. This is why God’s anger againt them in judgment.
  • You need actions of repentance to make things right.

He was urgent in his actions of repentance: He started right away when he came to power and he observed Passover even though the timing was off. Within seven months it was all done. The temple restoration in the first month; the Passover restoration in the second month; and the gathering of support for the priests and Levites in the third through seventh months.

He was diligent in his actions of repentance: He did not leave it for others to do. He initiated and oversaw each step as the text makes clear at every point.

And he was thorough in his actions of repentance: He dealt with the temple itself, the Passover celebration, and the priestly system to sustain this. He moved from the temple to the city to the countryside even into northern Israel. From the inside, out.

In the same way, when we have sin in our life:

  • We need complete honesty. This is the biggest obstacle to Christian renewal. We are not honest and don’t take responsibility for our wrong actions.
  • We also need actions of repentance. And these actions need to be urgent, diligent and thorough – from the inside out covering every part of us from inner attitudes to outward behaviors.

We need all this in order to be right with God and to receive his blessing.

2. We also learn what renewal looks like. Hezekiah provides the pattern:

  • We get rid of the “filth,” and recommit to God. They got the filth out of the Temple, the city and the countryside and renewed their covenant. So, also, we need to get rid of the filth in our lives and begin again to do God’s will. When you see this happening then you know that renewal is happening.
  • We experience a renewed relationship with God. They found forgiveness from God and worshipped God in the Temple and had joy. So also, we need to find forgiveness, to be in relationship with God through prayer and worship, and to experience joy. When you see this happening then you know that renewal is happening.
  • We reach out to others. They invited the northern tribes to turn back to God. And when we are renewed, we will take a concern for others and their relationship with God. When you see this happening then you know that renewal is happening.
  • We give to God’s cause. Just as they gave many sacrifices and gave an abundance for the priests and Levites that left great heaps, So we give to the work of the kingdom. Renewal, if it is real, will affect our purses and our wallets. When you see this happening then you know that renewal is happening.

3. We learn that God is the source of renewal

First of all, it comes from God’s mercy. God wants to renew us; God is willing to forgive us when we turn and repent.

As Hezekiah said in his letter of invitation to the Passover, “For the Lord your God is gracious and merciful and will not turn away his face from you, if you return to him.” – 30:9. And as an example o this, the Lord was merciful on those who were unclean at Passover, but had a right heart – 30:18-19.

Second, renewal comes from God acting. Hezekiah initiated each aspect of the renewal: the temple, the Passover, and the Levitical system. But in each instance they all had to acknowledge that it was God at work:

  • The temple: With regard to the generous sacrifices of the people, “Hezekiah and all the people rejoiced at what God had brought about for his people” – 29:36 (NIV).
  • The Passover: “The hand of God was also on Judah to give them one heart to do what the king and the princes commanded by the word of the Lord.” – 30:12.
  • The temple support: “When Hezekiah and the princes came and saw the heaps, they blessed the Lord and his people Israel.” – 31:8.

God was the one doing all this, working in people’s hearts.

May God, in his mercy, so act among us, in our individual lives and in our church community, to bring us renewal and blessing. William

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This story comes right after Jesus’ conversation about the two greatest commandments and the story of the good Samaritan – which illustrates the second commandment to love your neighbor. In the same way this story of Mary sitting at Jesus’ feet and listening to him becomes an illustration of what it means to love God. To learn from and be in the presence of Jesus, who makes God’s word and presence known to us, is to love God.

The Martha and Mary story also illustrates the priority of loving God as the first commandment over serving the needs of others – which Martha was doing. We are to do both and there is a time and a place for each, but loving God takes priority.

It is also interesting, in keeping with Luke’s emphasis on the lowly and outcasts, that the illustration that Jesus uses for both commandments is one of these. The Samaritan illustrates the second commandment. A woman illustrates the first commandment. (Alan Culpepper – The Gospel of Luke)

This section of Luke 10 can be seen as an inverted outline (chiasm):

A. The command to love God – v. 27

        B. The command to love your neighbor – v. 27

      `B. An illustration of neighbor love – vs. 30-37

`A. An illustration of loving God – vs. 38-42.

William

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[This is a message from 6/24/01 on the Martha/Mary story]

This familiar story turns on a contrast between two good things: kingdom service/hospitality and listening to the word of the kingdom.

First of all there is kingdom service and hospitality

In v. 4 we are told that Martha “is distracted by much service.” And she was upset her sister Mary left her to “serve alone.”

In Luke’s gospel (and as well his book of Acts) “service” is a good thing:

* In Luke 4:39 Peter’s mother in law was healed and got up to “serve” Jesus and the others in her house.
* In Luke 8:3 there were several women who had been healed, who “provided” for Jesus’ needs while he traveled.

* The word means to provide food and hospitality; to take care of someone’s needs.
* This word is also the same word that is used for the Deacon work described in Acts 6, where the seven served food to the needy in the church.

Earlier in Luke 10:8 Jesus talked about how his disciples are to accept such service as they traveled about preaching. When they were “welcomed” into people’s homes they were to eat what is set before them.

And this is exactly what Martha is doing in Luke 10:38 when she “welcomed” Jesus into her home and was busy with hospitality needs.

Second, there is listening to the word of the kingdom

In v. 39 we are told that Mary “sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what Jesus was saying.” She took up the position of a disciple and was learning his way.

In Luke “listening” is a very important word:

* In Luke 8:8 Jesus says, “let anyone with ears to hear, listen.”
* In Luke 8:18 Jesus says, “pay attention to how you listen.”
* In Luke 9:35, God says of Jesus, “This is my beloved Son . . .. Listen to him!”

Listening is the first and crucial step in being a disciple of Jesus.

This  brings us to . . .

The Point of Contrast

Martha is “distracted by much service” from listening to the word of the kingdom. And not only this, but she intends to distract Mary too; to take her away from Jesus’ feet.

Jesus responds – there “is need of only one thing” – which is listening. Service is good, but the “better part” is learning the way of the kingdom and this “better part” will not be taken away from Mary.

Now lets look at three applications that come from this story:

1. We must beware of the “Martha Syndrome.”  That is, someone who diligently and consistently works for the kingdom, but 
* who is so busy that they are distracted from the one thing that is  needful – listening to the word
* who is so busy that they are distracted from the better part of sitting at Jesus’ feet

This can happen to any of us. We get so busy in serving the Lord that we are drawn away from the very one we desire to bless and please.

2. The role of women in the Jesus movement.

In Luke 9:57-62 Jesus makes it clear that the presence of the kingdom messes up traditional social conventions. For instance in vs. 59-60 when the man asked to go bury his father before he came to follow Jesus, Jesus says that the kingdom takes priority even over this.

So also here. The traditional role for women was to do the hospitality chores; the serving. Martha was fulfilling this role and pressuring Mary to get with it.

But Mary takes up the traditionally male role of a disciple, learning from Jesus.

Jesus is saying in this story that the “better part” of discipleship is also for women. They are not bound to serve the kingdom in only traditional female roles of hospitality and service.

So even though it breaks social convention, Mary’s listening to Jesus and becoming a disciple “will not be taken away from” her. The kingdom takes precedence over such social conventions.

3. In our own church, when these two good things collide – service and listening to the word – we need to make sure that listening wins out.

Now, women still do more service and hospitality at our meals and beyond, than do the men. So women, I say to you especially, beware of this and never let it distract you from listening and worship.

Let the food burn up; let it get cold, let the fellowship meal be late. Choose the better part. Don’t be distracted by much service.

And men this is what I say to you – learn to serve! Never force women into social conventions that distract them from their being disciples of Jesus on an equal basis with you.

William Higgins

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Today I want to pick up a theme we touched on in January when we looked at the Shema. And we begin by looking at Mark 12:29-30:

“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord alone is God. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.”

This is Jesus quoting Deuteronomy 6:4-5. Would you say it with me?

Alright, let me remind you of two things about this –

Call for commitment to God

1) God wants every part of us. We are to love God with our

  • heart
  • soul
  • mind
  • and strength

This covers every part of us, both our inner person and our strength or body. God claims all of us, not just part of us. Everything within us and everything else.

2) God wants all of every part of us

  • not just part of our heart – but all of our heart
  • not just piece of our soul – but all of our soul
  • not just a portion of our mind – but all of our mind
  • not just a percentage of our strength – but all of our strength

God wants every part of every part of you.

But . . . what we actually do is usually far short of what God demands. What we actually give God is, often, just a part of ourselves. We do this in different ways. We have what I call –

Strategies of commitment avoidance

These are ways in which we hold back on giving ourselves fully to God. We will look at several examples of these.

1. We give God the stuff that doesn’t require sacrifice. Honor my parents? Sure! That’s easy. They are good and noble people. But love my enemies – who harm me, slander me, threaten to kill me? No way!

God wants even what seems too difficult for you to give

2. We give God the stuff that makes us look good. Be honest? Well it’s hard, but sure, I’ll get a good reputation out of it. But when God asks me to share my faith with my coworkers? No way! That would embarrass me. They might disapprove of me or make fun of me.

God wants all of you, even if it causes you shame.

3. We give God the religious stuff and keep the rest for ourselves. Sure, I will go to church and say a prayer now and again. But order my private life according to God’s will? You know, let God control who I date, who I marry, my sex life, what career I have, how I run my business, what I do with my money. No way!

God wants control of your private life.

4. We give God the stuff that doesn’t take much faith. Yes, I will serve God here and there. But serve God when it means leaving my family, friends and home for a time overseas or somewhere else, or leave for ever? Not a chance!

God wants you to love him even when it stretches you to the breaking point – beyond what your faith can think or imagine.

5. We give stuff to God when the giving is easy. We give of ourselves when the circumstances are conducive. Sure, I will give some offerings. I’m doing pretty well now. But give sacrificially, when I have trouble paying my bills? No way. Or another example – sure, I will praise you when my life is easy and comfortable. But praise you when I am sick, disabled or poor? Certainly not!

God wants all of you all the time, not just when it is convenient or easy for you.

6. We give God the bad stuff in our lives – our problems, our crises, our needs. Sure God, take all this and fix it for me so that we can keep on living my comfortable life of complacence and half-hearted commitment, just like I always have. But give God my career, my resources, my creativity, my best time and focus. No way!

God wants our best, not our leftovers.

I said “strategies,” but really these are all one strategy. All of these have in common that we give a part instead of the whole. And we hope that that will be enough; and God will be happy with that! We think that we can appease God by giving him a part of us and not the whole of us. But God wants it all!

But you say, pastor . . .

Is God demanding too much?

Well think about it. God is only asking for what is rightfully his, for what God makes, God owns. Psalm 95:5 says, “The sea is his, for he made it, and his hands formed the dry land.” What God makes is rightfully God’s. And this applies to us. V. 6 goes on to say, “Oh come, let us worship and bow down; let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker!” God has made us and we are his. And so, as the verse says, we are to give ourselves fully in worship and submission to our Maker.

God made us and it is only right that we give ourselves fully to God.

Also, God is only asking from us, what he has already given to us in Jesus – everything. Romans 8:32 says, “God did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all.” Thankfully God didn’t hold back with regard to us and leave us hanging. God’s commitment to us is complete. God gave us everything in Jesus. And we should give God everything in return.

Think about in from another perspective. If we are holding out on God we are still in control. If I set the terms, if I tell God what he can have and what he can’t have in my life, then I am still in control – even if I give over most of myself to God most of the time. I am still in control!

Half hearted commitment isn’t commitment. To be committed to God means to give God everything. That’s why he asks for it all.

Finally –

Let Jesus be your example in this

Jesus was like us in all things (except sin). Hebrews 4:15 tells us that he knew human weakness, limitations and temptations. But he gave every part of every part of himself to God.

  • Jesus held nothing back
  • Jesus loved God completely – heart, soul, mind and strength
  • Jesus gave himself fully to God

May God give you the strength and courage to overcome your fears, so that just like Jesus you give yourself fully to God.

William Higgins

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Love God! Deuteronomy 6

We are continuing to look at the Shema this week, the name for Deuteronomy 6:4-5:

“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.”

Last week we talked about how v. 4 of the Shema teaches that there is only one true God. And since there is only one true God we should beware of the lure of false gods, who seek to take away our allegiance with their promises of help and hope when, in fact, only the true God can truly meet our needs.

Today we want to look more at verse 5 and loving God.

1. What it means to “love” God

In America we usually think of love as an emotion. Then we apply this to God. To love God then means that we

  • feel good about God
  • like God
  • have warm feelings for God
  • feel attached to God

In the Scriptures, however, loving God is about loyalty that issues in obedience to God. In Deuteronomy love of God and obedience to God go hand in hand.

  • Deuteronomy 11:1 – “You shall therefore love the Lord your God and keep his charge, his statutes, his rules, and his commandments always.”
  • Deuteronomy 11:13 – “And if you will indeed obey my commandments that I command you today, to love the Lord your God, and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul . . .”

Jesus confirms this connection in John 14:15. He says, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”

John says this – “For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments.” –  1 John 5:3

So love is certainly not just an emotion. It has to do with things like:

  • commitment
  • devotion
  • and loyalty

all of which lead to obedience. It’s a choice we make to do what God says. That’s why we can’t say, ‘I don’t feel like loving God today.’ You choose to love God day in and day out, whether you feel like it or not, by walking in his ways.

2. The Shema calls us to complete love of God

This comes out in the words used in Deuteronomy 6 – “heart,” “soul,” and “might.” This covers every part of us, from our inner person to our physical strength.

Actually, when the Shema gets repeated, the descriptions  of the parts of us change:

  • Deuteronomy 6 – (Hebrew text): heart, soul, might
  • Deuteronomy 6 – (Greek text): mind, soul, strength
  • Jesus in Mark 12: heart, soul, mind strength
  • The scribe in Mark 12: heart, the understanding, strength
  • Jesus in Matthew 22: heart, soul, mind
  • The scribe in Luke 10: heart, soul, strength, mind

Different parts of us are mentioned, with different words and in different orders. The point, however, in all of these is the same – we are to love God with our whole person, with every part of us, however you want to say that.

But not only are we to love God with every part of us, we are to love God with all of every part of us. V. 5 says, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.”Not a portion of each part of us, but all of each part of us.

You can’t say it more clearly. The Shema calls us to complete love for God.

3. The greatest temptation is to try to love Yahweh and another god

It is often not choosing between Yahweh or another god, but between serving Yahweh alone or Yahweh along with another god or gods. A little background here. In a world where there were many gods/idols, you need several gods to get all the help you need; to cover all the bases.

  • one for good crops
  • one for fertility
  • one for warfare
  • one for healing

What this means is that you have to give a part of your devotion to all of these gods, in order to get what you need. Many gods equals many loves.

This is why the Shema is the way it is. V. 4 teaches us first of all that there is one only true God, who can care for all of our needs. Then v. 5 calls us to love the true God will all of our heart, soul, and strength.

Since there is only one God, there is need for only one love on our part. We don’t need to divide our loyalties to this god for this thing and other gods for other things.

This was the constant temptation of Israel – to serve Yahweh, but also another god. They believed in Yahweh but would sneak along another idol for a particular need, where they weren’t sure Yahweh could take care of them.

But we do the same thing, for instance with wealth. God can take care of us, but I will also pile up a load of wealth – just in case.

But as Jesus so clearly teaches us, you can’t be loyal to two gods at once. “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.” – Matthew 6:24. You have to choose. If you don’t you will just end up despising your heavenly Father.

——————-

So I like to say the Shema in my prayer times and in corporate worship, to remind us that we have one true God. And to call us to give our whole selves to this God, who can care for all of our needs. It is a kind of pledge of allegiance for followers of Jesus.

William Higgins

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