I have vague memories of a night in my early childhood that will occasionally come up in family gatherings. I was approximately 8 or 9 and my next youngest brother was around 6. It was during the summer and the spirit of the outdoors was running high in our veins. So what could be better than an overnight camping trip into the neighboring woods. Preparations were made and after dinner the long ¼ mile hike into the woods was completed. Next was the setting up of the tent as we awaited the coming darkness and hopefully a good night’s rest. That said, it’s funny how different the darkness is and feels when you are inside looking out verses actually being in the darkness. At this point my brother’s and my story take two entirely different directions. He recollects me bailing on the campsite and running home while my version of the story has it the other way around. Either way, the darkness was too much for two young boys. Never before did electricity and lights look so good!
Our passage today draws a similar comparison between an unbeliever and someone who has accepted Christ. Colossians 1:12-13 says, “Giving thanks unto the Father, which hath made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light: Who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son.”
Here the conversion that takes place when someone comes to Christ is described as being delivered from the power of darkness and translated into light. What a vivid description! To go from utter darkness where life doesn’t make sense, where one is bumbling their way through an often meaningless existence without any hope to instead a life in which we have the opportunity to see the way God intended for us. A life in which we are able to be led by our Father and have a certain understanding and knowledge of what is going on around us because of the light in which we live.
Thank God for this transformation! Some come from the darkness of a wicked lifestyle, others from a life of pride and self-absorption motivated by ego. Others from a life of adherence to a false religion while others leave the darkness of a “Christian” religion without truly knowing Christ. Whatever our background and whatever God used to bring us to the light- in the end it does not matter. As John Newton wrote, “I once was lost, but now I see!”
We are inundated with signs and warnings these days. There are the normal warnings to not smoke, eat fried food and “must we limit salt intake?” Our doctor’s warn us, as they remove something else from our menu. If it tastes good, spit it out it’s bad for you! Most signs and warnings are there for good reason. But then you have the “knot-head” warnings. A drug ad states if you are allergic to so and so do not take so and so. Why in the world would you take so and so if you knew you were allergic to it? Or do not climb the fence at the zoo. Why would one do that? Look what’s on the other side!
However, there are valid signs and warnings we encounter daily. Failure to heed them has claimed many souls. Most important are God’s warnings though. His Word contains many important signs and warnings. I wonder what my life would have been had I heeded them all my days? I would have been spared much pain and grief; likewise Israel. They ignored God’s law and are paying a price yet today.
Psalm 78 is of a historical nature. It’s designed to remind Israel of their past and what God has done for them; likewise, the consequences of disobedience. Although Israel is the intended audience, it is solid advice for any reader. God is reminding them to pass on this information to future generations and allow it to never be forgotten. “We will not hide them from their children, shewing to the generation to come the praises of the LORD, and his strength, and his wonderful works that he hath done” (Ps. 78:4). We must sing the praises of God and tell of our personal faith-building stories so, “That the generation to come might know them, even the children which should be born; who should arise and declare them to their children: That they might set their hope in God, and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments” (Ps. 78:6,7).
Some say history repeats itself, I don’t believe it; but rather, unlearned lessons oft need repeating. Israel was reminded of the past when it rebelled from God and it wouldn’t hurt to confess our mistakes to future generations. “And might not be as their fathers, a stubborn and rebellious generation; a generation that set not their heart aright, and whose spirit was not stedfast with God” (Ps. 78:8). Our children are counting on us. Teach them our lessons learned. “And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up” (Deu. 6:7). After all, don’t we want better for them? Teach them to obey the signs and warnings of the Bible!
“[Church name] is unapologetically a contemporary music church. We’ve often been referred to in the press as ‘the flock that likes to rock.’ We use the style of music the majority of people in our church listen to on the radio. Years ago, after being frustrated with trying to please everyone, I decided to survey our church. I passed out 3×5 cards to everyone in the crowd service and asked them to write down the call letters of the radio station they listened to. What we discovered is that 96 percent of our people said they listen to middle-of-the-road adult contemporary music… After surveying who we were reaching, we made the strategic decision to stop singing hymns in our seeker services. Within a year of deciding what would be ‘our sound,’ [Church name] exploded with growth.”
This was a prominent pastor’s self-disclosure regarding his search for the most effective form of worship. Many have tried to tweak their forms of worship, but that is just it—it is their form of worship.
We may look at worship and wonder if there is a better way. Frankly, that question does not belong in the discussion of worship whatsoever. God’s way is the only way.
God has just finished expressing that they were not to use this special incense any other way and they were not to use any other incense. This incense was sanctified for worship. For some reason, we see that Nadab and Abihu decide to improve upon God’s plan.
“And Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, took either of them his censer, and put fire therein, and put incense thereon, and offered strange fire before the Lord, which he commanded them not. And there went out fire from the Lord, and devoured them, and they died before the Lord” (Leviticus 10:1–2).
What happens? God responds by saying that He will be respected by those who approach Him.
When we invent our own styles of worship, all of a sudden we are putting our name on the same line as God. All of a sudden, God ‘shares’ glory with a designer. Do you remember God’s description of himself in the second commandment? He said, “I am a jealous God.” This applies also to the fact that He will not share His glory with anyone when it comes to worship.
What are some things that you would classify as passions in your life? Is there anything that you are working hard to improve on? One TV show that my kids enjoy watching is “America’s Got Talent”. I can’t say the show interests me much at all but I will from time to time watch and see what “talents” are on display. I would have to agree there are some pretty amazing acts that people put on. Some are magic-type performances, some physical feats, others musical, etc. And while most of us do not practice certain things to end up on a show like that, most of us do have things that we work to try to perfect. Perhaps it’s a sport like swimming, tennis or hunting. Perhaps it might be a certain craft or skill like crossword puzzles or a musical instrument. And certainly none of those things are wrong to enjoy and desire to get better at.
However, in our reading today, Paul reminds us of what we ultimately need to be striving for. Philippians 3:7-8 says, “But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ. Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ.” Paul is saying that all of things that used to be important to him no longer matter. In fact, he refers to them as “loss” and even “dung”. In preceding verses we see he is referring to his Jewish heritage and the zeal with which he strove to obey the Law. But now he is one goal, one passion-to know “win Christ.” This phrase has the idea of achieving Christ, to experience Him in a thriving relationship. That’s all that really mattered to Paul.
And so while I appreciate the time and energy it takes for people to become great at something, this passage is a stark reminder of what really matters in life. Many years ago I wrote down a quote in my Bible. I can’t remember the setting or who I could attribute this quote to but I have thought about it more than once over the years. The quote is, “my biggest fear in life is not to be a failure, but a success at something that doesn’t really matter.” This is the essence of what Paul is saying and reminding us of today.
I was taught to let others sing my praises. I learned the only time we should blow our horn is during a job interview. Today there is so much horn-blowing, it is a wonder we can hear God on high. Many are literally stealing praise from God. Among the top three things in Heaven for me are: Jesus (that is all weneed), saved loved ones that have gone on and the absence of horn-blowers. We must remember, “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast (Ep. 2:8-9). Thank God there will be none of that and our time will be focused on the One who paid it all!
In our reading, the enemies of God’s people are boasting of their strength. Evidently they did not realize they were calling out God. Many times we see athletes, so-called stars and even ordinary people boast about their accomplishments. I think President Lincoln said it best, “It is better to remain silent and thought a fool; than to open one’s mouth and remove all doubt.” In essence, practice humility and if we have done well God will blow the horn of praise for us. Too many have bragged about what they were going to do only to be defeated and served a dish of “crow”.
Scripture reads, “I said unto the fools, Deal not foolishly: and to the wicked, Lift not up the horn: Lift not up your horn on high: speak not with a stiff neck. For promotion cometh neither from the east, nor from the west, nor from the south” (Ps. 75:4-6). The Almighty says do not “show-off”. So, if you tire from the self-praisers listen to Psalm 75:7-10, “ But God is the judge: he putteth down one, and setteth up another. For in the hand of the LORD there is a cup, and the wine is red; it is full of mixture; and he poureth out of the same: but the dregs thereof, all the wicked of the earth shall wring them out, and drink them. But I will declare for ever; I will sing praises to the God of Jacob. All the horns of the wicked also will I cut off; but the horns of the righteous shall be exalted.” He will pour out His grace upon the redeemed and the dregs on the wicked.
God saves the best for His own and reserves the worse (His judgment) for unbelievers. They shall drink the dregs, the sediments, and the left-overs (floaters). That is like drinking a half-drunk bottle of soda knowing a toddler drank the first half (yuck)! We should follow Him, remain humble (by grace only), and let others speak our praises. And the day will come when we shall drink of the pure Living Water of Heaven.