Years ago I had occasion to talk with a man who was driving the wrong direction on a one-way street. While explaining the reason for our chance meeting he responded, “I’m only going one way.” I stood there in unbelief, thinking this man was surely chiding me. This was not the time to jest. His actions put people at risk. It did not take long to realize this chap was being honest with me. Instead of a citation, he received a lesson in our driving laws. You would be amazed who Harrisburg allows on our highways.
This reminds me of God’s laws. There is a one-way street in God’s plan and that is Jesus Christ. “I am the WAY, the truth and the life…” Jn. 14:6. Every one of us is on a journey to eternity. We cannot turn around, we must go forward. But there are several roads which can lead to destruction. An example of an errant course is relying on being a good person to gain Heaven. “For there is not a just man upon earth, that doeth good, and sinneth not”, Ecc.7:20. There are many people going the wrong way on the road to eternity. Most one-way streets are narrow and Jesus said in Mt. 7:14, “Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, that leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.”
Some believe all roads lead to Heaven, but the Bible tells us differently. Others conclude that this is not fair. If God had not provided “The Way” and instructions (the Bible) on how to traverse the true path, I would have to agree with them. In Psalm 37 we find many words that describe the fate of the wicked; such as, cut down, cut off, shall not be, broken, perish, not found and destroyed…we get the picture. Not a future I would be looking forward to; although, prior to accepting Jesus that is exactly the direction I was heading. On the other side, God assures the believer with these words: fret not, dwell in the land (Heaven), be fed, given the desires of our heart and many more. God is good to His own-the righteous in Christ.
God supplies the mileposts to navigate His one-way street. Look further into Psalm 37 and God reveals it. Trust in the Lord (first and foremost we must have a born-again relationship with the Saviour), delight thyself in the Lord (realize what you have in Christ) and commit thy way (give of ourselves, our talents and tithes) and then Ps. 37:40 will be evident in our lives, ”And the LORD shall help them, and deliver them: he shall deliver them from the wicked, and save them, because they trust in him.” When death stays our journey and we face the High-Sheriff of Heaven, we better be going the right direction on God’s one-way street. God entertains no excuses; nor accepts ignorance (Rm. 1:20).
What do Richard Nixon, Tiger Woods, and Jimmy Baker have in common? You can read about Nixon throwing a grown-up tantrum in the White House because of how his family was treated decades earlier. Woods lost some influential and healthy people in his life and found new friends which led him to Sin City and collided with regret. Baker admitted he overextended himself because people idolized him and he didn’t want to fail those expectations even if he had to cut corners.
While you’re at it, you might as well throw Saul of Gibeah in the list as well. These are leaders who rose to prominence, yet crashed and burned. You probably have mixed feelings when you read through 1 Samuel 10-15, but the prevailing emotion is probably grief. Samuel presented Saul as the hope for the nation of Israel. His height, his humility, and his early heroics launched him on the path of legends. He was unassuming, but eventually, intoxicated with pride, Saul loses his lineage, legend, and life. What happened?
One author wrote about the signs of a leadership crash. Some of these indicators are blindingly obvious in Saul’s life. Bitterness, we know, is described as a root in Hebrews 12:15 which will crowd out the beautiful things in your life. Saul was ripe with bitterness, but we only see the first sprigs of it in 1 Samuel 13:3-4. “Jonathan smote the garrison of the Philistines…and all Israel heard say that Saul had smitten a garrison of the Philistines.” Saul would not allow anyone to darken his publicity. Often you will find Saul alone or with a very small band of men. His isolation from healthy relationships contributed to his downfall. He loses touch with why he was crowned king of Israel and begins to live in this robotic, mafia-like world where even his own son was not safe. He is surrounded by a group of people who are intimidated, so instead of confronting him about his weaknesses, they simply say, “Do whatsoever seemeth good unto thee” (1 Samuel 14:36, 40).
The greater you become the larger your shadow and many unscrupulous decisions are made in the shadows. The bigger Saul got, the more space it made in his life for poor decisions. Samuel put his finger on the problem in Saul’s life when he said, “When thou wast little in thine own sight” (1 Samuel 15:17). Paul gives us a similar warning, “Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall” (1 Corinthians 10:12).
In your life, you need a Samuel. You need someone who knows you well, loves you sincerely, and is not afraid of you. Samuel knew Saul and cared deeply for him. You can sense his despair when we are told: “Samuel mourned for Saul” (1 Samuel 15:35). Take inventory of those closest to you. If they are not helping you draw closer to God or if you are pushing away those who are confronting you, then take heed lest your name be added to the list.
I waved him off three times, “I don’t need your help, thank you.” My head was already spinning having gone through airport customs in Antananarivo, Madagascar. Now, this little man with a truckload of initiative insisted I needed help getting my bags and exiting the airport. In the end, his persistence paid off. He grabbed my bags and pushed the cart out with the biggest smile. Before we left he whispered, “If you give a tip, you better do it now.” I handed him a five dollar bill, and off we went. Missionary Dan Brown later informed me I just gave that man nearly a half a week’s wages! “They’ll be eating chicken tonight,” he said.
In America, many do not have the daily concern of whether they will have enough food or not. The concern for daily bread around the world is real and Jesus knew this concern when he said, “Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink…Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they” (Matthew 6:25-26)? Jacob knew about this concern having lived through the worst famine in recent history. For seven years, people were unable to grow enough food to feed their families, tribes, and country. Although his life was characteristically full of “wheeling and dealing,” Jacob finally realized, Someone else was watching over him.
In his final days, Jacob tells Joseph, “God, before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac did walk, the God which fed me all my life long unto this day, The Angel which redeemed me from all evil, bless the lads” (Genesis 48:15-16). Before Jesus spoke the words of wisdom in the Sermon on the Mount, before David ever wrote, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want,” Jacob found this truth in his own life. He thought, in his younger years, he was fairly cunning when he tricked Esau and his father in order to secure the blessing for himself. Jacob thought he was brilliant when he squeezed Uncle Laban for the extra livestock to feed his family. He thought the special gifts he sent ahead to Esau smoothed out the differences between them. However, Jacob came to terms—the God of promises, provisions, and protection shepherded him.
Take a page out of Jacob’s journal. Before you worry yourself sick or pat yourself on the back, remember God is the one who satisfies your most basic, daily needs. He is the one who orchestrates all the circumstances in order to keep his promises. He is the one who purchased you from the slave trade of sin, redeeming you from all evil. “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever” (Psalm 23:6).
I’m sure all of us have been mesmerized at one point in our lives by a good escape story. History is replete with stories of people that escaped concentration or prison camps during one of the World Wars. Or more recently you may have heard of those brave people who have escaped North Korea. Or maybe you remember the popular book and movie, “Escape from Alcatraz”. One of my favorite stories that I heard growing up was the story of a man in our church who escaped communist Czechoslovakia as a teenager by hiding in a truck as it went through customs into a free country. How exciting these escape stories are!
Our reading this morning reminds us of how each of us can experience the joy of an escape. 1 Corinthians 10:13 says, “There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.”
The preceding verses list some sins that the Israelites were guilty of committing, such as idolatry and sexual immorality. Verse 12 then admonishes us to guard against a spiritual pride that we could never commit such sins; but the first part of vs. 13 reminds us that such sins as these, in fact all sins we could commit, are “common to man.” So while I may struggle with a certain sin that you may not, I can rest assured that there are other people out there who struggle with the same things I do.
But then Paul reminds us of one of the aspects of God’s faithfulness. He has promised to never allow us to be tempted with a sin that we cannot escape and have the power to overcome. We don’t have to fall into temptation- the choice is ours! This verse teaches that every temptation also comes with a way to escape it. Maybe that escape is to just keep our mouth shut. Maybe it’s to bring that particular thought into captivity (2 Cor. 10:5) and through God’s help, get that thought and way of thinking out of our minds. Or maybe the escape is to physically run, as we see Joseph doing with Potiphar’s wife.
Either way, every temptation also includes at least one way of escape and God promises the power to take advantage of that escape as we yield to His power. Let’s not fall victim to the thinking that we are powerless. After all, “Greater is He that is in you than he that is in the word”. (1 John 4:4)
“Gold is the best and most wonderful thing in the world,” was Midas’ opinion. In order to challenge his conclusion, he was given the gift of the golden touch. He was not able to wield such a gift. It was beyond Midas’ discretion to possess such power. When his daughter ran to embrace him, she immediately was frozen in gold.
God’s touch is not unwieldy, though. His work with you is careful and compassionate. He has plotted and planned every detail to produce something far greater than gold. The process is the trial. The very thing you fear most is the passageway that proves our complete trust in Him. Job knew he was tried, but he sought court proceedings against God. He believed he would come forth as gold.
Is that all? Gold is such a trivial thing compared to God’s grace. Gold is used as the pavement in heaven. There is something grander than gold. David’s prayer recognized the process of God in his life also (Psalm 17:3), but the end result was much different. Would David be satisfied to come forth as gold? Not nearly enough. His vision was much more enlightened. He would not settle for precious pavement. “I shall be satisfied, when I awake, with thy likeness” (Psalm 17:15).
What a profound purpose God has for you, believer! You are not simply a desired trinket in his possession. You are to be graced with the dignity of His divine character and perfection. “We know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2). Before we are caught up in the divine imagination, pause and consider how great a transformation is necessary for God to do this. What skill and detail, what pain and purpose He must exercise in order to fashion you as such. We are all fascinated with the product of becoming God’s masterpiece, but the value is attained only by the process.
What comfort can be our companion then? “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; And lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, And he shall direct thy paths” (Proverbs 3:5-6). Hide under the shadow of the wing of the Almighty (Psalm 17:8). Even though everything may appear to be in ruin, understand His way is perfect. Rejoice in the Lord and joy in the God of your salvation (Habakkuk 3:18). Come boldly to the throne of grace to help you in your time of need (Hebrews 4:16), for we know His grace is sufficient (2 Corinthians 12:9).