Probably one of the least favorite events that happen to us is to be woken out of a deep sleep, particularly if it is in a very loud and sudden way. As part of my job, I have to be a part of an on-call rotation and about once every few months I will get a call in the middle of the night. Everyone can probably relate to the “who am I”/”where am I” thoughts that initially go through my head while I try to gather my wits enough to answer the phone.
Our reading this morning brings us to a passage that challenges us to “Wake Up!” Romans 13:11 reads, “And that, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep: for now is our salvation nearer than when we first believed.”
Paul is reminding these believers that because their (final) salvation was nearer now than when they believed, they needed to wake up or “snap out” of their current situation and mindset. Paul goes on to explain what they needed to address in their lives. Verse 12 states they needed to, “cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armor of light.”
This stark reminder is also very relevant to us today as well. All too often we allow sins to creep into our lives, sins that sneak in with an “I’m not that bad” label to them. Whether it be anger, bitterness, dishonesty or jealousy, these and other sins can easily take up residence in our hearts if we aren’t careful.
Paul’s admonition is to not sleepwalk through the Christian life but to instead get serious about the things of God. Whether we are young or old and even if Christ should tarry, our lives will be over in a “vapor” as James reminds us and we need to be vigilant about making sure our lives are count for Him. Perhaps there is an area of your life that you need to “wake up” about?
I heard the question hundreds of times from my children. It’s hardwired into their development. Studies show children ask hundreds of questions a day, and I believe it! However, by the age of 18, the volume of questions has tapered down to only two or three questions a day. Do we know everything there is to know after adolescence?
“Canst thou by searching find out God? Canst thou find out the Almighty unto perfection? The measure thereof is longer than the earth, And broader than the sea.” (Job 11:7, 9)
Have we exhausted all there is to know at such a young age? The answer is, “No”! So why do we stop searching? The answer to this question is an indictment of our pet God.
In 2017, a joint research effort aimed to discover whether practicing Christians had a Biblical worldview. Simply put, do they answer life questions with Biblical answers? The results are shattering! Barely 1 out of 5 practicing Christians (17%) has a Biblical worldview. Nearly 2 out of 3 (61%) have a blend of the Bible and what is called “new spirituality” which is a conglomeration of eastern religions, New Age, and paganism! To demonstrate such wayward thinking among believers, the researchers asked some questions. One such question was whether they agreed with the following statement: “All people pray to the same God or Spirit, no matter what name they use for that spiritual being.” It’s a shocker, but nearly half (49%) of practicing Christians agree!
Another statement was presented: “If you do good, you will receive good, if you do bad you will receive bad.” Almost 1 out of 3 (32%) agreed. This is the karmic statement Job already laid to rest early in his struggle. “What? shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil? In all this did not Job sin with his lips” (Job 2:10). When we stop exploring the ways of God, we start accepting contrived notions about God. The itch of a question is scratched with worldly reason, and we are satisfied. Like Job’s friends, we think we have the answers, but we are terribly heretical and dangerously simplistic when we fit God into a man-made box.
His ways are past finding out! This means we have much to learn. Take all you know about God and fact-check it with the Word of God. Start asking questions again and find the answers in His Word. Stop accepting the world’s fabricated assumptions as truth. Explore the wonder of God’s ways. At times, you may not understand His plan, but you can always trust His longsuffering hand.
“Know therefore that God exacteth of thee less than thine iniquity deserveth.” (Job 11:6)
“LORD, who shall abide in thy tabernacle? who shall dwell in thy holy hill” (Ps. 15:1)? This verse gives me a strong sense of the omnipotence of God; after all, He spoke the world into existence (Gen. 1:1). I am reminded of life as a young boy. Back then small things were big stuff to us. We were enamored by the simplest of things. We had no electronic games, cell phones or social media (I pray our children/grandchildren could know of a simpler life).
We made snow caves, forts in the woodlot, made mud pies, skipped to school (not skip school) and loved using our imaginations. One playtime favorite was king of the hill. Whenever we found a large construction-site dirt pile, we would make the top of it the most treasured place in our world. Who was to abide on top of this hill?
Notice the use of the word, “abide” as in the aforementioned Bible verse. To abide was to stay temporarily. Not one of us could hold the title of “king of the hill” long. Everyone would climb to the top, pushing and shoving their way past each other. When, and if, you made it to the top, you would begin tossing the intruders off as they tried to dethrone the current king. Bodies were constantly rolling down the “mountain.” We boys (and a few girls) would then go home full of dirt.
I remember my mother washing the dirt out of my hair; all the while giving me the dickens. I was “the” king a few times, but each time I went home, it was not long until I realized that Mom was my king and she sat on the throne. But her reign only lasted until we found the next dirt pile.
Nowadays, I recognize the King of the Bible as the One who reigns supreme. The One who sits on the Heavenly Throne (Is. 6:1). The Bible asks, in our Scripture reading today, two important questions: Who shall abide and who shall dwell? Abiding pertains to a temporary nature as our life here on earth and dwelling would be speaking of our eternal resting spot, after this life.
Here is the picture, we all get soiled by the unrighteous things of the World. Every one of us is contaminated by worldly dirt (Ecc.7:20, Rm. 3:10). So the first steps are to ask God’s forgiveness, be cleansed from sin and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ. He will lovingly cleanse us and forgive us (1 John 1:9), and will not scold us as our earthly parents so rightly did. Moreover, we must follow the admonitions found in the remainder of Psalm 15. In so doing, we can be assured of His protection here on earth and an everlasting dwelling place, with Jesus, when we slip the bonds of our earthly tabernacle.
Do you cringe as you read the book of Judges? If you’ve read through it before, then you know the disappointments and the depravity. So much goes wrong in this book. You may be tempted to ignore it, but why? Maybe because it’s too poignant a reminder of our lives.
Have you heard of “negative freedom”? It is freedom without constraints. With this model of society, everyone can live as he chooses as long as it doesn’t harm another person’s freedom. Is this true freedom? If you have been a student of society recently, you realize it is not true freedom because the definition of “harm” is too vague. As one author said, “To have any kind of livable society some choices have to be restricted, some authorities have to be respected, and some individual responsibility has to be assumed.”
Freedom is not attained when we can choose anything or everything. Freedom is when we are enabled to embrace the greatest good over every inferior choice which is an enemy of the best. It is about “finding the right, liberating restrictions.” Someone is reported to have asked a concert violinist in New York’s Carnegie Hall how she became so skilled. She said that it was by “planned neglect.” She planned to neglect everything that was not related to her goal.
The Book of Judges retells the story of negative freedom, “Every man did that which was right in his own eyes” (Judges 21:25). Jesus unmasked the villain of freedom in John 8. The Pharisees thought he was crazy because they “were never in bondage to any man” (John 8:33). Jesus said, “Whosoever committeth sin is the servant of sin” (John 8:34). So what is freedom?
Then said Jesus to those Jews which believed on him, “If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed; And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:31-32).
Jesus gives the formula for freedom: Continue in his word as his disciple through strict obedience to the truth and you shall be free! Someone said, “The ultimate bondage is the rebellion against the God who made us…shameful self-centeredness, an evil and enslaving devotion to created things at the expense of worship of the Creator.” The Book of Judges is the living test tube of this moral failure. The negative freedom, shirking the God-given restrictions, led to bondage. The aim in life is not to eliminate all restrictions, but to evaluate and embrace the God-given restrictions which counterintuitively give you great freedom.
If you don’t find yourself holding your breath while you read your Bible, then you might not be reading it right. If you don’t get lost in the intrigue and thrill of today’s passage, then you are missing the story!
The distasteful ending of Genesis 19, when Lot has two illegitimate children with his daughters, is a foreshadow of the desperate position Abraham finds himself in Genesis 20. He tells Abimelech, “Sarah is my sister” (Genesis 20:2). Abimelech adds Sarah to his harem, pays Abraham a handsome dowry, and receives a nightmarish message, “Thou art a dead man” (Genesis 20:3)! Such high stakes. What could it mean? It had only been a matter of months or even weeks previous when the Lord, while visiting Abraham and Sarah, promised, “I will certainly return unto thee according to the time of life; and, lo, Sarah thy wife shall have a son” (Genesis 18:10). The promised child—the one with whom God said he would raise up a nation which would bless all nations—the promised child for whom Abraham and Sarah had waited nearly 25 years to meet, was almost conceived. If Abimelech has Sarah, how can the promise come to pass?! Quite the mess Abraham made.
How often do our “brilliant” ideas actually put us in a terrible mess? David hides in the Philistine town of Ziklag, Jehoshaphat establishes a treaty with Ahab, Ananias sells some property, and Peter warms himself by a fire. So many choices in Scriptures seemed so simple and harmless but suddenly become tragic. When we try to blend convenience with God’s ways it becomes a recipe for self-destruction. God’s ways cannot be diluted with our ingenuity. The purity of his ways cannot suffer any tarnish of our reason. Check your life. Have you mixed reasonability in with God’s instruction? You may have set your course for self-destruction! Take a warning from Abraham’s life, follow God’s ways without discrimination or diversion and you can avoid self-destructive behavior.