His Presence

             I.      Introduction

Our scripture for the week was supposed to be Exodus 39 & 40.  It’s starts with these verses,

Moreover, from the blue and purple and scarlet material, they made finely woven garments for ministering in the holy place as well as the holy garments which were for Aaron, just as the Lord had commanded Moses.  He made the ephod of gold, and of blue and purple and scarlet material, and fine twisted linen.

 So I’m thinking one lesson we can learn is what sort of clothes we should wear to church.  This description of clothing goes on for like the entire two chapters of Exodus 39-40.    We should always wear our ephods of gold, blue, purple and scarlet.  And I ask a deep theological question of the Lord: Lord, please reveal to me, what is an ephod? 

Here is a traditional ephod:

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So then I asked, Lord, is there a deeper theological message, other than a church dress code?  If I understood God’s answer correctly, today we will discuss God’s relationship with His people through history, the functionality of God’s temples and the duties of His royal priesthood.  And ephods.

But let’s start with this:  Where does God live?

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When I want to speak to God through prayer, I look up.  As though God was in a particular direction, and if I looked in that direction, I’d see Him.  Is He close?  Is He far away?  Where does God live?  And what does He look like if I see Him?

Does He look like George Burns?  Morgan Freeman?  And how does any of this tie into Exodus 39?

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Our bible study today centers on Exodus 38 through 40 which begins with a description of the first temple and the clothing to be worn by the first priests.  There are a great many instructions on what to build and what to wear.  We could spend a long time reading the description of the temple and the clothing, but I want to get into the purpose, so we’re just going to hit a few verses.  Turn your bibles to Exodus 38.    Here’s how God instructed the altar to be built starting in Exodus 38:1 –

Then he made the altar of burnt offering of acacia wood, five cubits long, and five cubits wide, square, and three cubits high.  He made its horns on its four corners, its horns being of one piece with it, and he overlaid it with bronze.  He made all the utensils of the altar, the pails and the shovels and the basins, the flesh hooks and the firepans; he made all its utensils of bronze.  He made for the altar a grating of bronze network beneath, under its ledge, reaching halfway up.  He cast four rings on the four ends of the bronze grating as holders for the poles.  He made the poles of acacia wood and overlaid them with bronze.  He inserted the poles into the rings on the sides of the altar, with which to carry it. He made it hollow with planks.

This goes on for 31 verses, and my second question (does anybody remember what the first question was?  Right, “What is an ephod?”).  My second question was, “what the heck is a cubit?”  That part was pretty easy to figure out, I guess they didn’t have a Wal-mart nearby to go pick up a ruler, so a cubit was simply the length from the back of the elbow to the tip of the finger, about 18 inches.  The final altar looked like this:

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And then, as if the altar instructions weren’t complex enough, there was some weird fashion show one had to wear before one was allowed to come near. 

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Church dress codes have certainly relaxed since biblical times.  Now we wear Astros gear.  I wonder why they don’t make Astros ephods?  That would be perfect.

Exodus 39 beginning in verse 1,

Moreover, from the blue and purple and scarlet material, they made finely woven garments for ministering in the holy place as well as the holy garments which were for Aaron, just as the Lord had commanded Moses.  He made the ephod of gold, and of blue and purple and scarlet material, and fine twisted linen.  Then they hammered out gold sheets and cut them into threads to be woven in with the blue and the purple and the scarlet material, and the fine linen, the work of a skillful workman.  They made attaching shoulder pieces for the ephod; it was attached at its two upper ends.  The skillfully woven band which was on it was like its workmanship, of the same material: of gold and of blue and purple and scarlet material, and fine twisted linen, just as the Lord had commanded Moses.  They made the onyx stones, set in gold filigree settings; they were engraved like the engravings of a signet, according to the names of the sons of Israel.

And then this description goes on for another 43 verses.

What’s the purpose for all these instructions?    The Lord told Moses how the Aaron and the other priests were to dress when ministering in the Holy Place.  The Lord had specific instructions to Moses about a great many things before the Lord would, as Dr. Young says, “tabernacle among them.”

But when I was studying this chapter, it felt like I was reading a book out of order, and not even reading the entire book.  Like picking up a novel, reading a couple of chapters from the very middle of the book, then closing the book.  And afterward, I’d be asking myself, “How did the story begin?  How did it end?”  I dunno.  I’m only reading the middle part of the book.

I don’t know how many lessons I begin with Genesis 1, and many times I end in Revelation.  Today is another one of those times, so we’re going to have to study the entire bible today.  Shouldn’t take too long, right?  So let’s turn to Genesis, chapter 1, verse 1. 

          II.      Genesis 1:2, The Spirit of God

Genesis 1:1-2,

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In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.  The earth was formless and void, and darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters.

 To fully understand where God lives, well, that’s beyond our study.  But we can study what God has revealed to us in His Word about His Presence, and see how and when God reveals Himself to us.

When God created the heavens and the earth, it was perfect.  How could it be otherwise?  There is no presence of sin, no rebellion, nothing opposed to God.  God’s will is everywhere, God’s will is perfect.  And the Holy Spirit moved over the surface of the waters.  And this is important, God is in direct contact with His creation.  And at the end of the sixth day, God creates man and woman and places them in the Garden of Eden.  And there was still no sin.  In Genesis 2:15, scripture says,

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Then the Lord God took the man and put him into the garden of Eden to cultivate it and keep it.

In other words, God dwelt with man and interacted with Him in a perfect sinless environment.  But then mankind messed it all up, and disobeyed God by eating from the Tree of Knowledge.  And sin entered the world. 

This is important an important change in our relationship with God.  Sin entered the world.  You and I tell little lies and gossip and steal office supplies and get mad at each other, but we live with each other and learn to get along.  But God is not like you and me.  God is holy and pure and good.  He’s omnipotent and full of justice, and when He sees any injustice or sin, God will destroy it.  How can a holy God be otherwise, so see evil and just say, “well, that’s not so bad, I guess I can accept that.”  No, God promises to make all things right.

After man at the fruit of the tree of knowledge, what happened to the relationship between God and man?  God drove the man and woman out of the garden, no more in direct contact, lest God be compelled to destroy the evil within.

       III.      Exodus 38-40 God Dwells in His Temple

But God is also perfect love, and God still loves His flawed, sinful people.  How will God dwell among those He loves without destroying them in the process?   In the Old Testament, God prescribed a method, sort of like a Martian airlock. 

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I’m not sure the altar of the Lord has ever been described like a Martian airlock, but let’s go with it.  The purpose of an airlock is to keep the Martian atmosphere on one side, and the earthly atmosphere on the other, with an intermediate area to transition from Earth to Mars and back again.

So sinful man cannot simply walk up to the presence of the Lord without being destroyed by His holiness.  So the altar was devised by God for God to indwell, and the priestly garments, like a Martian spacesuit, was worn after the priest was purified and temporarily pure for approaching the presence of the Lord.  All of the clothing was symbolic for being set apart for God’s work of atoning for sin.  The dress code was mandatory.  Noncompliance was sin, and the wages of sin is death, so getting dressed up for church was a good idea.   God says that this is the Martian airlock method of separating His Holiness from our sinfulness so we won’t die, in Exodus 28:43,

They shall be on Aaron and on his sons when they enter the tent of meeting, or when they approach the altar to minister in the holy place, so that they do not incur guilt and die.

 So even noncompliance with the dress code was a problem.  Forgetting to wear a tie to the altar was imperfect, a sin, and like all sin, no matter how big or how small, was punishable by death.  In Exodus 28:31-35, the Lord tells Moses to add little golden bells on the hem of the priestly robe –

“You shall make the robe of the ephod all of blue.  There shall be an opening at its top in the middle of it; around its opening there shall be a binding of woven work, like the opening of a coat of mail, so that it will not be torn.  You shall make on its hem pomegranates of blue and purple and scarlet material, all around on its hem, and bells of gold between them all around: a golden bell and a pomegranate, a golden bell and a pomegranate, all around on the hem of the robe.  It shall be on Aaron when he ministers; and its tinkling shall be heard when he enters and leaves the holy place before the Lord, so that he will not die.

That’s a pretty sophisticated Martian airlock with all the bells and whistles.  And there’s meaning in the robe;

  • The blue represents heaven and water, the pristine state of the earth when God created it.
  • The gold represents, well, gold.  It’s pure and it’s rare.
  • The scarlet represents the blood; Leviticus 17:11 tells us that life is in the blood.  And this is important to the sacrificial system.  Since the wages of sin is death, sin requires atoning by blood, but God’s sacrificial system allows innocent blood of a lamb to be substituted for our sins.
  • The purple is the mixing of blue and scarlet together, mixing of the heavenly, of God and man, and indicated royalty.
  • The bells are because the Israelite must make noise to come before the Lord.  One of the words for praising God is the Hebrew word, ruah which means to make an ear splitting sound. The sound of the bells prevent the death of the priest when he comes before the Lord. While it is true that man needed to hear the bells to know that the priest was still alive, the bells actually seem to be protecting the priest from death.

Also, you may have heard that the priest also had a robe tied around his waist or around his ankle so that when the tinkling stopped, the people outside would know he had died and could pull the rope and retrieve the body.  I hate to say this, but that’s probably not true.  I checked on Snopes.com.  Actually, I checked a source by Dr. W.E. Nunnally, Associate Professor of Early Judaism and Christian Origins at Central Bible College and Adjunct Professor of Hebrew at the Assemblies of God Theological Seminary ( https://www.jerusalemperspective.com/author/w-e-nunnally/  ) who researched this, and it’s an urban legend, though one that’s been around for a very long time, probably starting around 600 or 700 years after Christ.   Dr. Nunnally says,

“The rope on the high priest legend is just that: a legend. It has obscure beginnings in the Middle Ages and keeps getting repeated. It cannot be found anywhere in the Bible, the Apocrypha, the Dead Sea Scrolls, Josephus, the Pseudepigrapha, the Talmud, Mishna, or any other Jewish source. It just is not there.”

I mean, this professor is so smart, he knows what the Pseudepigrapha is and he’s read it.  So the story of the robe around the ankle is just not listed in scripture anywhere. 

I continued following the rabbit trail about the bells on the hem of the robe, and look at this last line we just read a moment ago –

It shall be on Aaron when he ministers; and its tinkling shall be heard when he enters and leaves the holy place before the Lord, so that he will not die.

 But then if we jump over to Leviticus 16:2-4, it says,

“Tell Aaron your brother not to come at just any time into the Holy Place inside the veil, before the mercy seat which is on the ark, lest he die; for I will appear in the cloud above the mercy seat.  “Thus Aaron shall come into the Holy Place: with the blood of a young bull as a sin offering, and of a ram as a burnt offering.  He shall put the holy linen tunic and the linen trousers on his body; he shall be girded with a linen sash, and with the linen turban he shall be attired. These are holy garments.  Therefore he shall wash his body in water, and put them on.

 These are two different places, even though the words are similar.  The second location is inside the veil, often called the Holy of Holies.  The first one, the Holy Place, is outside the veil, where Aaron ministered to the Israelites.  Notice that the robe with the bells is worn outside the veil, but not inside after he’s been washed and purified.

That’s the end of the rabbit trail regarding the bells and the robe and the ankle, so let’s go back to the Martian airlock and recap the purpose of the altar and the priestly robes –

  • God desires a relationship with His people
  • God is holy
  • Man is sinful. 
  • The wages of sin is death, but God implemented a sacrificial system to allow innocent blood to be shed for the guilty.
  • The temple and the robes provides a purified exposure of sinful man to a holy Lord that separates man from the wrath of God.

The priest ministered to the people, collected their sins, made a sacrifice on their behalf, purified himself, then if everything was pure and holy, the priest would walk into the Holy of Holies to communicate with the Lord.

          IV.      The Temple of the Lord: What Changed?

Where is our temple today?  Why don’t we purify ourselves and sacrifice and asks a priest to intercede for us today?

The answer is Jesus.  Jesus changed everything.

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When Adam sinned in the garden, God put into a plan to save man from his sins.  It begins with Genesis 3:15 where God tells the serpent that Eve’s offspring will eventually crush the head of Satan, continues through the prophecies of Isaiah and Ezekiel and Daniel for the salvation of God’s people.  The purpose of the temple before Jesus was described in Exodus 25:8-9,

Let them construct a sanctuary for Me, that I may dwell among them.  According to all that I am going to show you, as the pattern of the tabernacle and the pattern of all its furniture, just so you shall construct it.

But the book of Hebrews tells us that the temple was just a copy of better things to come in Hebrews 9:23-24,

Therefore it was necessary for the copies of the things in the heavens to be cleansed with these (blood sacrifices), but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these.  For Christ did not enter a holy place made with hands, a mere copy of the true one, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us.

 What this verse is saying is that the Jewish temples constructed for the Lord’s presence were copies of Heaven, examples.  These old temples required earthly blood regularly sacrificed because man sinned repeatedly, and so the sacrifices had to be repeated.  But this verse in Hebrews says Jesus didn’t come to cleanse a copy of the temple that represented heaven, but Jesus entered heaven itself, once and for all and for many.  This verse in Hebrews 9:25-26 goes on to say,

nor was it that He (Jesus) would offer Himself often, as the high priest enters the holy place year by year with blood that is not his own.  Otherwise, He would have needed to suffer often since the foundation of the world; but now once at the consummation of the ages He has been manifested to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself.

 In other words, the sacrifice of Christ is a permanent solution for all sin, past present and future.  His sacrifice was God Himself pouring Himself out for all of us on the cross.  And when Jesus breathed His last, His sacrifice to take away the sins of the world was perfect, and with His final breath in John 19:30, Jesus said, “It is finished.”  And this was not defeat; this was victory, for Matthew 27:50 says Jesus cried this out in a loud voice.  It is finished; sin has been defeated.

If you recall the purification of the priest, it enabled the priest to be temporarily purified so that he could offer sacrifices for our sins to God within the veil.  But the role of priest has also been fulfilled by Jesus, Hebrews 4:14-16,

Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession.  For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin.  Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

 Because Jesus is a permanent sacrifice and also sinless, additional sacrifices are no longer necessary.  Jesus is the last priest we’ll ever need, and with His sacrifice, 1 Peter 2:5 says that all believers are now part of the royal priesthood, chosen to proclaim the praises of Jesus who called us out of darkness and into the light.

So what about the temple?  The same temple built by Herod with the Holy of Holies where God would dwell and accept sacrifices from the purified priests wearing fancy schmancy garments? 

Jesus, again, changed everything.

For one thing, the veil that separated us from God fulfilled a purpose; it kept sin out.  But Jesus defeated sin with His final sacrifice, and this veil od separation was no longer necessary.  After Jesus’ cry of victory, well, let’s look at Matthew 27:50-51 says,

And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice, and yielded up His spirit.  And behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom; and the earth shook and the rocks were split.

The veil was torn by God from the top.  Remember that veil that separated the Holy Place from the Holy of Holies?  Aaron wore the robe with the bells on the outside of the veil, but before he would go inside the veil, he’d had to purify himself before entering the presence of God.

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In Jesus’ day, Moses’ tabernacle was long gone, replace by Herod’s temple in the exact location, but the concept was the same.  A thick veil separated all from God except for the High Priest who would sacrifice for the sins of the people and purify himself before entering the Holy of Holies.

But because of the perfect sacrifice of Jesus, the protective veil that separated God from Man was no longer necessary.  Man now had a permanent sacrifice, a savior.  Jesus is our permanent sacrifice.  So what do we need a temple made of stone for if sacrifices are no longer needed?  We don’t.

In fact, Jesus knew this, and prophesied the temple of Herod would be torn down and no stone would be left unturned.  And in 70 AD, Romans soldiers overturned the temple and it’s never been rebuilt.  For Christians, the temple isn’t needed, because we are the temple.  1 Corinthians 6:19 –

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Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own?

 Jesus changed everything.  We are his priesthood and He is our greatest priest, the sacrifices are finished, the veil that separates us from the Holy of Holies is forever torn, and when we accept Jesus as our savior, we become the temple of the Holy Spirit.  The separation between us and the Lord is forever eliminated for those who accept Jesus’ atoning death.

             V.      The Temple Yet to Come

But this isn’t the way the story ends.  What about any future temple?  Let’s head to the end of the bible and check Revelation for any, um, revelations.

There are two main temples discussed in Revelation, and I want to dismiss the first one pretty quickly.  The dimensions of this first temple are prophesied in Ezekiel 40-47, and Daniel 9:27 says this temple will be built on the Temple Mount by Jews eager for their Messiah to return which, of course, already happened 2000 years ago.  Sacrifices in this temple begin again, but then in 2 Thessalonians 2:3-4 the antichrist desecrates the temple in the middle of the Tribulation and declares himself to be God.   Ultra-orthodox Jews are already prepared to build what they call the Third Temple.  While important to understand this third temple when studying end times eschatology, I don’t believe it to be a temple directed by God.  Why would we need sacrifices to begin again?  This temple is a misguided effort by Jews and orchestrated by man.  And when Jesus returns, this temple is destroyed by earthquake in Revelation 6:12-17.

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But for believers, we can read a little further to Revelation 21:22-23, a beautiful description of our glorious future.  John is describing what he sees as a new heaven and a new earth with a new Jerusalem:

I saw no temple in it, for the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb are its temple.  And the city has no need of the sun or of the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God has illumined it, and its lamp is the Lamb. 

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God, the Holy Spirit, Jesus, and us will all dwell together in His glory where there is no sin, no pain, no tears.  That’s something to look forward to.

          VI.      Conclusion

I started off preparing for this lesson reading about what Levitical priests wore when going to prepare sacrifices, but there was a lot more to learn than just biblical fashion statements.  We learned that the role of temple was to be like a Martian airlock that separates our sinful self from the holiness of God who has vowed to destroy all evil.  We learned that priest purified themselves before offering sacrifices, but this had to be repeated every time a sacrifice was made.

And we learned that Jesus changed everything, who became our Great High Priest and we all became members of a royal priesthood with our bodies being the very temple of God where the Holy Spirit dwells today.  There is no longer a separation between us and God because Jesus forever intercedes for us.  And we learned that at the end of time, there will be no need for a temple at all because we will dwell with the Lord forever, just as the Lord originally intended when He created the Garden of Eden for Adam and Eve.

In the meantime, there is no need to look up when we look to see where God live.  God dwells inside each one of us.

Jesus changed everything.

To God be the glory.  Amen.

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Exercise Confidence

I think I can, I think I can, I think I can.

Do you recognize those words? The Little Engine That Could, carrying a trainload of toys over the mountain. The load was so heavy and the journey was so long, the Little Engine was ready to give up. Defeated. I can’t do this, the load is too heavy. Then what happened? The Little Engine found courage, confidence, and strength to carry on. I thought I could, I thought I could, I thought I could.

We’ve spent the last two months learning how Jesus is better. Better than angels, better than Moses, better than Levitical priests, a better sacrifice, a better covenant. We’ve listened to how we should place our faith in Jesus because He is better than anything else we can know. Hebrews chapter 1 through the middle of chapter 4 tells about God’s Word. From there to about the middle of chapter 10, we learned about God’s Work.

With this faith in Jesus, how shall we live? The next four weeks in the month of November, the rest of the book of Hebrews answers the question, “So what?” So what if Jesus is better? What does that have to do with me? And today’s lesson will describe the confidence we find when we totally give ourselves to Jesus, our perfect sacrifice and advocate in heaven.

Diane has to listen to my occasional complaints about work; I try not to complain too much, but I find sharing some of my struggles with her builds me up and makes the rest of the day easier. Work can take a toll on us. But it was easy compared to what the Hebrews were going through. As new Christians, they were being fed to the lions by the Romans and being stoned by the Jews. As you can imagine, this can cause a little pessimism because of all the persecution. My work day seems a little easier by comparison. The writer of Hebrews tells the Hebrews to be confident. As they have accepted Christ, they know how the battle ends; the Christians win, one to nothing.

All of us here may struggle with being a confident Christian. I overheard a table at a restaurant the other day; the woman was saying she was getting married and asked one of the 3 guys if he was thinking about marrying his girlfriend. He said, “Why would I want to do that? It’s just a ring and it’ll just cost me a lot of money.” Perfect opportunity to speak up about God’s plan for a man and a woman to cleave and become one flesh and how Christ treats His church is our model for how a husband should treat his wife. And… I just sat there. Part of it, of course, is because I inadvertently eavesdropped, but a bigger part, if I am to be honest, is that speaking up uninvited to a table of strangers was intimidating, scary. What was I afraid of? Was it not God’s plan for all of us that I wanted to share. Was it a lack of confidence?

We profess to be the children of Christ, and among us children we are not afraid to discuss our faith in the Lord. Think back on this last week. Where are places where we could have spoken up, but didn’t? Work? Gym? Grocery store? What keeps us from speaking up? Are we like these early Hebrews, even if the obstacles to sharing God’s word are so much easier to overcome?

We’re going to walk through this part of Hebrews one part at a time and discuss it, so let’s open to Hebrews 10:19-21:

Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God,

Dr. Young likes to remind us that when we see a “therefore,” it’s a conclusion for all that came before it. When we see a “therefore,” we ought to remember what it’s there for. The author calls these young Christian Hebrews “brothers,” and reminds them what we have been studying the last 2 months. We’re told to have confidence because Christ is superior to the Old Testament system of offering sacrifices for sin over and over again. Christ’s sacrifice is once and for all sufficient for all of our sins. Confidence to do what?

Hebrews 10:22-25:

let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

Christians are encouraged to do 5 things, 5 exhortations here –

  • Draw near to God
  • Hold unswervingly to the hope we profess
  • Consider how we may spur one another on towards love and good deeds
  • Don’t give up meeting together
  • Encourage one another

Just like the ancient Hebrews that were questioning the cost of becoming a Christian, the writer tells them they can have confidence by practicing these five simple things.

First exhortation, we draw near to God. We do this in 4 steps –

First step, with a sincere heart. When we come to church to worship the Lord, we must focus on God’s desire for us. We all want to approach God for help; “God please do this for me. God, please give me a promotion at work. God, please make me healthy. God, please smite my enemies, and here’s a list of who they are.” But that’s not a sincere heart. A sincere heart is, “God, please show me your will in my life. Please use me for your glory. Let me be your servant at the job you have provided me. Let me show your glory when you heal me, or let me show the joy in have in you in suffering. God, show me how to turn the other cheek and love my enemies.”

Second step, in full assurance of faith. In full acceptance of the sacrifice Jesus made for us. In full acceptance of the sacrifice Jesus made for *me* personally. I don’t have to seek out a Levite preist and ask him to intervene for me in the holy of holies. Jesus died for me and I can approach him directly. He is my advocate and intercedes for me at the right hand of God. I have confidence knowing that Jesus did these things for me, and knowing how much He must love me.

Third step, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience. When we accept Christ, our sins are forgiven. Are we still walking around like beaten dogs? Goodness knows I can look back on my life and see many, many things I regret. The disrespectful things I’ve said to my parents growing up. The trouble I got into as a youth. The times I’ve cheated and lied. But Christ has forgiven me, and the Lord God says He will remember my sins no more. Why should I continue to remember my sins? Paul tells me in 2 Corinthians 5:17 that if I am in Christ, I am a new creation. The old has gone, the new has come! Why should I walk around defeated? I am free of my guilty conscience and I should live boldly for Christ and stand up to challenges. I don’t have to be embarrassed because I’ve done wrong. I can stand up and proudly say that my Lord has forgiven me. How great is the Lord that can do that!

Let me remind you that for our sins to be forgiven, we must confess those sins and repent or turn away from that sin. When the adulterous woman was brought before Jesus to be stoned, his words to her were “then neither do I condemn you. Go, and sin no more.” Jesus didn’t say her sin was ok with him. He was showing us that we should turn from sin in front of Jesus, and he promises to remember that sin no more.

Fourth step, having our bodies washed with pure water. Think back to the day you first gave your life to Christ. What was one of the first acts of obedience you did as a new Christian? Thats right, you were baptized. The Greek word, baptizo, means to immerse, to plunge, to dip, or be buried in water. Romans 6:3-5,

“Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.”

I believe this “bodies washed with pure water” is an admonishment that we also called to be obedient to God’s word, starting with baptism.

Our second exhortation is to hold unswervingly to the hope we profess. Why? For He who promised is faithful. When we studied Malchizedek a few weeks ago, we studied how God is faithful through the ages. He promised Abraham many children, He promised Israel the Promised Land, and He promised us a savior. When God makes a promise, God fulfils His promise. What is the greatest promise God has given us? The gift of salvation! God has made this promise to us that we know He will fulfill, and because we know this, there is reason for our hope!

What’s our third exhortation? To spur one another towards love and good deeds. Spur us! Craig what happens when you spur a horse? I bet it hurts, and I bet it makes that horse move a whole lot faster, doesn’t it? As children of Christ, I believe God has a purpose for each and everyone of us. When we’re actively involved in the ministries of Christ, God works in us and through us. When we’re praying for the health of someone ill, when we’re volunteering for Angels of Light, when we’re using any of the spiritual gifts of hospitality or mercy or administration or teaching or giving or healing or discernment or whatever, God is working in us.

Remember that parable about the man who gave his servants a sum of money, and one of the servants buried the money for safekeeping? The master was outraged when he found out and took the money away from him and gave it to another that had already doubled the money? Everyone who has, more will be given. Those that have nothing, even that will be taken away from them. And so we are to serve the Lord with the gifts we have been given and spur our brothers and sisters to do the same.

Our fourth exhortation, “Don’t give up meeting together.” Go to church, go to bible study, go to social and mission activities, do things together as Christians. We have strength in numbers and when we’re together we can spur each other towards love and good deeds. When we separate, when we are away from our bothers and sisters, we seem to lose confidence in our faith. That’s why when we’re at work, at the gym, at the grocery store, when we’re next to a table of people saying that marriage is just an expensive ring so why bother, we just sit there without saying anything. We’re told that whenever two or more of us are gathered in His name, Jesus is with us, so let’s remember that when we’re making our plans for the week.

Our fifth exhortation is the encourage one another. Notice how positive this message is. It doesn’t say, “Criticize and backbate each other when you don’t think they’re doing a good job.” It doesn’t say, “if you don’t like a brother, smack them upside the head with a family-edition bible.” We are to be positive, to spur our brothers and sisters towards love, toward good deeds. There’s no room in this exhortation for criticism. There’s a good reason for that, we don’t respond well to criticism. I know I don’t, so don’t even think of starting that with me. Tell a brother how well he is doing something, and you can be sure he’ll do more of it. Positive spurring towards love, positive spurring toward good deeds.

At this point, the writer of Hebrews reminds us in very scary language worthy of Halloween why we are to live our lives this way. Let’s read Hebrews 10:26-31:

If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God. Anyone who rejected the law of Moses died without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. How much more severely do you think a man deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God under foot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified him, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace? For we know him who said, “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” and again, “The Lord will judge his people.” It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.

Let’s remember that the writer of Hebrews is talking to Christians. These were recently converted Jews who were considering rejecting Christ in order to go back to being Jews again. So the writer says, “remember all that stuff I told you about Christ being the complete and perfect sacrifice forever and ever? The old system is dead. There is no other way to be saved.”

The Lord’s judgment is perfect. We like how that sounds when we think about evil people like murderers and thieves. When we see “It is mine to avenge, I will repay,” we think, “Alrighty, then Lord, come smite mine enemies, and I want a front row seat!” When we admit that we ourselves are sinners, we’re not too thrilled with the idea of an almighty, all powerful, all seeing omnipotent being determining what sort of judgement we deserve. “Lord, I ain’t so bad. Smite somebody else, will you?” This passage reminds us that Christ died for our sins, but it’s not a free pass to go on sinning. It’s sort of like asking Christ to die for us, over and over, to pay for our continuing sin. Those without the covering blood of Jesus have no hope in salvation, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and raging fire.

When I read this, I am reminded that often we act like part-time Christians. We’re Christian on Sunday, then go home and email some raunchy joke to a friend. We’re Christian on Sunday, then say something critical about our spouse when he or she is out of earshot. We’re Christian on Sunday, then cuss at a co-worker and take the Lord’s name in vain. We’re part time Christians. Matthew 7:13-14 says,

“Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.”

How narrow is this gate? Why do we continually try to see what we can get away with, instead of trying our hardest to walk dead-center down that narrow road? How do we walk down the middle of the road? By continually re-examining our thoughts, actions, and words to be in line with God’s will.

The last part of this chapter of Hebrews returns to an encouraging note again, Hebrews 10:32-34:

Remember those earlier days after you had received the light, when you stood your ground in a great contest in the face of suffering. Sometimes you were publicly exposed to insult and persecution; at other times you stood side by side with those who were so treated. You sympathized with those in prison and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property, because you knew that you yourselves had better and lasting possessions.

These are some of the light and momentary afflictions we Christians can expect if we are to boldly proclaim the good news of Christ. These Hebrews stood their ground in the face of suffering, insulted, persecuted. They joyfully accepted the confiscation of their property. Joyfully? I suppose once you come to grips with the fact that you can’t take it with you, then you can be joyous. You don’t get to keep in anyway.

Let’s conclude with Hebrews 10:35-39

So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded. You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised. For in just a very little while,
“He who is coming will come and will not delay.
But my righteous one will live by faith.
And if he shrinks back,
I will not be pleased with him.”
But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who believe and are saved.

If we are confident in our faith in Jesus, we will be richly rewarded. If we persevere by doing the will of God, we will receive our salvation. We can be confident because we know our eternal destination has been promised to us. We should be confident – we have direct access to God through Jesus. Romans 8:31, if God is for us, who can be against us? And Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”

The most stirring example of confidence I can find in the bible is the story of David and Goliath. I got to see the statue of David in the city of Florence Italy several years back by Michelangelo. You know, until that trip, I had no idea that statue of David was the same David that faced Goliath. And when I saw the statue up close and saw the sling over David’s back, it finally dawned on me. Goliath and David faced each other and Goliath was thinking to himself, “What the heck is this little fellow doing? He’s naked as a jaybird!” *Thwack* he gets nailed in the forehead by a rock.

In 1 Samuel 17, the Philistines lined up for war on one hill, and Saul and the Israelites were on the other. Neither side wanted to go first because they’d have to run down into the valley and would be target for the archers on the other side. Then Goliath of the Philistines came out to challenge them. Verse 4, and I’m going to use the version from The Message –

A giant nearly ten feet tall stepped out from the Philistine line into the open, Goliath from Gath. He had a bronze helmet on his head and was dressed in armor — 126 pounds of it! He wore bronze shin guards and carried a bronze sword. His spear was like a fence rail — the spear tip alone weighed over fifteen pounds. His shield bearer walked ahead of him.

Goliath stood there and called out to the Israelite troops, “Why bother using your whole army? Am I not Philistine enough for you? And you’re all committed to Saul, aren’t you? So pick your best fighter and pit him against me. If he gets the upper hand and kills me, the Philistines will all become your slaves. But if I get the upper hand and kill him, you’ll all become our slaves and serve us. I challenge the troops of Israel this day. Give me a man. Let us fight it out together!”

When Saul and his troops heard the Philistine’s challenge, they were terrified and lost all hope.

No confidence. Terrified at the giant before them and ready to give up. David shows up at this point, just in time to hear Goliath’s challenge, and volunteers to fight. They tried to put armor on him, but it was too heavy and David could hardly walk. So he took all the armor off. I don’t know if he was naked, but he didn’t have any armor on him. Instead, he picks up 5 smooth stones.

When he walks toward Goliath, Goliath taunts him again. “Come on,” he said. “I’ll make roadkill of you for the buzzards. I’ll turn you into a tasty morsel for the field mice.”

David didn’t shrink back. David answered,

“You come at me with sword and spear and battle-ax. I come at you in the name of God-of-the-Angel-Armies, the God of Israel’s troops, whom you curse and mock. This very day God is handing you over to me. I’m about to kill you, cut off your head, and serve up your body and the bodies of your Philistine buddies to the crows and coyotes. The whole earth will know that there’s an extraordinary God in Israel. And everyone gathered here will learn that God doesn’t save by means of sword or spear. The battle belongs to God—he’s handing you to us on a platter!”

God blessed David for the confidence David had in God. We are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who believe and are saved. For Christ, I think I can, I think I can, I know I can.

Pay Attention

For the rest of this year, our bible class will be deep into the Book of Hebrews. Most scholars believe the Book of Hebrews was written by Paul to the early Christians who had converted from Judaism, and we’ll find excellent instruction these next few months on what Christian living is all about. So, let’s dive right into it, shall we?

Who was, and is, Jesus? I kept studying this first paragraph of the book of Hebrews, trying to find a way to explain it, reword it, but this was written so beautifully 2000 years ago that I can only read it out loud, just the way it is. Paul is explaining to the Jews how superior faith in Christ is over anything previously offered in the Old Testament. Let’s read Hebrews 1:1-4.

In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven. So he became as much superior to the angels as the name he has inherited is superior to theirs.

Wow. In these few verses, we are reminded that
— Jesus is God’s all-powerful son and the exact representation of God’s nature.
— Jesus sits at God’s right hand, a position of power, and is the heir of all things, seen and unseen.
— Jesus speaks for God.
— While God spoke to people through prophets in the past, Jesus is better than any prophet who has ever lived.
— God made the world through Jesus and Jesus is the Creator.
— Jesus sacrificed himself so that we may be made pure in front of God.
— Jesus is the only thing that never changes and will last forever.
— Jesus is better that any man who has ever lived.
— Jesus is a better sacrifice than man has ever known.
— Jesus is better than angels.

Is there anything better than Jesus? Chocolate maybe? No, Jesus is better than everything, including chocolate, including angels.

What are angels, anyway? Have you ever looked into what the bible says about angels? I always think of angels as these beautiful creatures, dressed in white, big old wings way out to here. If Jesus is better than angels, I wanted to know what he’s better than, so I hunted around to find out. I’m going to hop around the bible, no need to hop around with me, but let me know after class if you want these references.

— Angels guide us. In Genesis 24:40, Abraham’s servant was sent to Laban’s family. An angel was sent with him to make his journey a success. And in Acts 8:26, an angel appears to Philip and tells him to go down from Jerusalem to Gaza.
— Angels announce God’s message. In Luke 2:9-10, an angel announces the birth of our savior, and then in verse 13 a whole company of angels appears, praising God.
— Angels celebrate. In Luke 15:10, Jesus says there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.
— Angels pray for us. In Zechariah 1:12, an angel prays to God for mercy for Jerusalem.
— When God passes judgment, he uses angels to deliver His wrath. In 2 Kings 19:35, a single angel of the Lord killed 185,000 Assyrian soldiers. We think of angels as using flaming swords to deliver God’s wrath, but in Acts 12:23, and angel of the Lord struck Herod with a sickness who was then consumed with worms and died. Yuck.
— Angels protect Christians, like guardian angels. Psalm 34:7, “the angel of the Lord guards all those who fear Him, and He rescues them.” And at the moment of our death, our angels carry us to God’s presence as in Luke 16:22.
— Children have their own angels. Matthew 18:10, Jesus is telling us to treat children well, for in Heaven, their angels are always in the presence of God.
— Churches have their own angels. So some angels protect individuals, other angels protect groups. The book of Revelation tells us that there is an angel for each of the Asia Minor churches. It’s comforting to know we have a Second Baptist angel. I thought about calling the switchboard and asking to speak to him, but he’s probably really busy and I thought it better not to interrupt him.
— Some angels look like people. In Acts 12:5-17, an angel of the Lord leads Peter out of prison, his guardian angel perhaps. When he arrives at Mary’s house, they mistake Peter for an angel. In Hebrew 13:2, we are told to entertain strangers because sometimes we are entertaining angels and we don’t even know it.
— Sometimes they don’t look like people. In Daniel 10:5-6, the angel had arms and legs that resembled polished metal and precious stones and a face like lightning. In Ezekiel 10, the cherubim, a type of angel, had eyes all over their bodies, including their hands, back, and wings, and each had four faces: an ox, a human face, a lion, and an eagle.
— Angels can be terrifying. In Luke 2:9 when the angel appeared to the shepherds at the birth of Christ, they were terrified. In fact, when an angel appears, his first words are usually, “Fear not.” In Matthew 28:2-4, the angel that rolled back the stone from Jesus’ tomb resembled lightning with clothes as white as snow., and the guards that saw him were so afraid they shook and became like dead men.
— There are different types of angels. The most powerful is the archangel. In 1 Thessalonians 4:16, the rapture begins when the Lord Himself comes down out of heaven with a loud command, the voice of the archangel and the trumpet call of God. I don’t know how many archangels there are; the bible only mentions Michael the archangel by name. The only other angel mentioned by name is Gabriel, so he may be an archangel. The book of Revelation describes 7 angels with 7 trumpets who stand before God, and these are probably archangels. And although the bible doesn’t specifically say so, most scholars believe that Lucifer was an archangel that turned to the dark side.
— There are seraphim angels, guardians of God’s court, according to the vision Isaiah had in Isaiah 6:1-2. These angels each had 6 wings, 2 to cover their faces, 2 to cover their feet, and with 2 they were flying.
— A cherubim angel in Genesis 3:24 stands at the east side of the Garden of Eden with a flaming sword guarding the way to the Tree of Life. Those cute little pictures of children with wings and cute chubby faces are probably not accurate pictures of cherubim, unless the children get flaming swords to play with.
— Angels sometimes have wings, like the vision Isaiah had. In Daniel 9:21, the angel Gabriel came to Daniel in swift flight. Other angels most definitely did not have wings, like in Genesis 28:12 where Jacob sees angels climbing a stairway from the earth to heaven.

So let’s look back at Hebrews – you forgot we were studying Hebrews, didn’t you? – and pick up where we left off. In Hebrews 1:5 –

For to which of the angels did God ever say, “You are my Son; today I have become your Father”? Or again, “I will be his Father, and he will be my Son”? And again, when God brings his firstborn into the world, he says, “Let all God’s angels worship him.” In speaking of the angels he says, “He makes his angels winds, his servants flames of fire.” But about the Son he says, “Your throne, O God, will last for ever and ever, and righteousness will be the scepter of your kingdom. You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness; therefore God, your God, has set you above your companions by anointing you with the oil of joy.” He also says, “In the beginning, O Lord, you laid the foundations of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands. They will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like a garment. You will roll them up like a robe; like a garment they will be changed. But you remain the same, and your years will never end.” To which of the angels did God ever say, “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet”? Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation?

Why compare Jesus to angels? How important are angels and why is it important to understand that Jesus is not an angel? The Old Testament tells us that angels are the most powerful and wondrous creatures in heaven except for God. These angels are continually in God’s presence. But angels are God’s servants, called to specific duties by God for specific purposes, and they see and hear God’s commands directly. We don’t hear God’s commands the same way; we are called to walk by faith. And we do not become angels after death; angels are a completely separate creation by God for His purpose. We will have access to God’s presence like the archangels do, but we don’t become angels.

We are not to worship angels; in fact, in Colossians 2:18, we are warned not to be tricked into worshipping angels. The angels themselves specifically tell us not to worship them; in Revelations 22:8-9, John falls down at the feet of the angel that was showing John the revelation, and the angel goes, Woah! Not one of the three woes in Revelation, but a woah! The angel said, “Do not worship me! I am a fellow servant with you and with your brothers the prophets and all who keep the words of this book. Worship God!” As awesome as angels are, angels are God’s servants, and angels serve Christians. Christians in turn serve Jesus.

Hebrews 1:14 reminds us that angels are ministering spirits, sent to serve those who will inherit salvation. A lot of people believe that they have a guardian angel just sitting around waiting to jump in and help, but this verse makes it clear that angels help those who will inherit salvation. Jesus is superior to any other heavenly spirit, the angels minister to Him. Jesus is greater than angels.

Why is it important to know who Jesus is, what Jesus’ role in the heavens is, and why Jesus is so great? Because if we don’t realize how great Jesus is, greater than anything we could possibly know, something else might look better. Something like –

— Money – our love of our job and the stuff we can buy with it.
— Power – the thrill we get if we can push somebody around.
— Popularity – self-idolation, exalting ourselves to be somebody.
— Fun – partying, playing, vegging out in front of the tube.
— Even love of our spouse or our family. We are in danger of letting something else replace Jesus as most important if we don’t remind ourselves our important Jesus really is.

So why is this important? What does it mean to me?

Throughout the Old Testament, God was constantly telling Israel to wake up and pay attention. God leads them out of Egypt, away from Pharaoh, parts the Red Sea, provides manna in the desert, and Israel is like, yeah, but what have you done for me lately? The Old Testament is a history lesson of God’s patience with Israel while God was telling Israel over and over again to listen and obey. God is telling us the same thing today. Wake up. Listen. Obey. Pay attention to what? Let’s look at Hebrews 2:1-4:

We must pay more careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away. For if the message spoken by angels was binding, and every violation and disobedience received its just punishment, how shall we escape if we ignore such a great salvation? This salvation, which was first announced by the Lord, was confirmed to us by those who heard him. God also testified to it by signs, wonders and various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.

We are warned that as Christians we should be careful not to drift away from God. The actual word for “drift away” is the Greek “pararrhueo” and it’s a passive verb. It means it slips away from us, it slips my mind. We don’t actually drift away; it drifts away from us. It’s like we’re sitting on a river bank, and floating in the water is a message in a bottle containing God’s salvation. We watch the bottle bobbing up and down, we’re focused on it. We’re not going to let salvation pass us by. We’re going to… ooh, look, a bird. Birds are pretty. It’s getting late in the season, shouldn’t that bird be heading south for the winter? Perhaps this type of bird… hey, where did the bottle go?

What’s in this bottle? What is it’s message? Salvation, the Word of God. Instructions on how to have a personal relationship with the almighty Jesus Christ – and he’s almighty, we just studied that, pay attention. Instructions on how we are to love one another and how that love glorifies our Lord.

If we drift away, we’re told exactly what we’re missing.

Verse 2, the message spoken by angels was binding. The word of God is binding upon us. It is the Word of God that explains what salvation is, how to obtain it. The bible is not just a guidebook, it is the Word of God that explains how you will spend eternity. It’s binding, it’s unalterable. Like it or not, this is the way it is. There aren’t any special rules like collecting all that money if you land on “Free Parking” in the game of Monopoly. God has made the rules and given us the rulebook, and this is how our lives are played.

Also verse 2, every violation and disobedience received its just punishment. Can you see how our puny efforts at living a righteous life cannot obtain salvation? God cannot allow anything but perfection into Heaven, and we are not perfect. We’re not even close. When I taught the 3rd graders, I used the example of a chocolate milkshake. A perfect chocolate milkshake that we really, really wanted. Your mouth is watering as you watch this milkshake being made. First, the vanilla ice cream, two scoops. A cup of milk. A tablespoon of vanilla, then a huge bottle of Hershey’s chocolate syrup just squeezed into the blender. A handful of chocolate chips tossed in. And just before the blender starts up, the soda hop tosses in a cockroach. What’s wrong with this milkshake? Compared to all that good stuff, it’s a tiny little bug. That one tiny little bug, though, makes the entire milkshake unacceptable. Our lives, even if do our best to live a perfect life, will fall short of perfection, and God will not tolerate imperfection in Heaven. But the blood of Jesus is a perfect sacrifice acceptable to God, a just punishment for our violations and disobedience. The bible is unalterable and with consequences for our actions and inactions.

Verse 3, how shall we escape if we ignore such a great salvation? The salvation is offered to us, but not forced upon us. We’re free to choose or ignore this gift. It is an inescapable truth to the saved.

Also verse 3, This salvation, which was first announced by the Lord. God didn’t make this word subtle. He became flesh and come and told us of this plan of salvation with his own human lips. Spoken by the Lord Himself.

Verse 4, was confirmed to us by those who heard him. The Lord’s message was confirmed by the apostles who heard Him. God also testified to it by signs, wonders and various miracles. Authenticated at the time with miracles to make sure we knew it was the Lord speaking. And gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will. This gift of salvation is continually given to us by the Holy Spirit.

What could possibly go wrong?

We can drift away. A few weeks ago I passed along some advice not to be a Polish hotel. Perhaps we can’t remember why we’re not supposed to be a Polish hotel, but being told not to be a Polish hotel sure sounds familiar. This week I want to talk about not being a French airport. I was finishing my business trip to Europe and Diane was accompanying me. I’d spend the day in a conference room, Diane would spend the day touring Paris, and at night she’d show me the pictures so I’d know what a great time I had. Every day or two, though, we’d pack everything up and move again. After 19 days of living out of a suitcase, we were sort of tired of all the moving around, especially when we’d return to a hotel that we’d already been to before but now we had a different room. This looks familiar, maybe we’re on the 5th floor. Was it the hallway to the left or right? We were ready to come home.

We get to the Paris Charles de Gaulle airport, wait in line for an hour among all the pushy shoving people, check in our luggage, wait in line through passport control, then another line for security where we took off our shoes and our belts and soon we’ll be taking off our pants, no doubt. With 20 minutes to go before boarding, we make it to the business class lounge. Ahhh.

The flight information board tells us the status of all the flights. Some are “now boarding,” some are “expected on time,” some are “delayed.” We plop down in some comfortable chairs where we can watch the monitors, and after 20 minutes we hear an announcement that our flight to Houston has been delayed for at least 20 minutes. We grab a newspaper – I don’t know what it said, it was in French – and a cappuccino, and chill. And wait.

After 20 minutes, I ask a flight attendant, are they boarding? No sir, not yet, we’ll make an announcement.

After another 20 minutes, I ask again. Are they boarding? No sir, it shouldn’t be too much longer.

After another 20 minutes, I hear an announcement. “Last call for Mr. and Mrs. Meyer.” Yup, they’d been boarding our flight for 40 minutes, and we were the last ones. The flight information board never changed, and it still says “expected on time.” Not only that, we were in the lounge at the far end of the terminal, and our gate was at the other end, so we had a hike to get there. We almost missed our flight, just sitting there, casually enjoying a cappuccino. Our flight almost left without us. It almost drifted away from us.

How could we possibly let salvation drift away from us? It’s such a great gift, how could we let it get away?

We don’t pay attention to what God is telling us. We get complacent. What we’re doing is “good enough.” Then, a little less is “good enough.” Then doing nothing at all is “good enough.” We miss the mark. That’s what sin is – it’s an archery term for “missing the mark,” missing the target. We don’t have to consciously commit a sin, we can simply neglect our spiritual faith.

Neglect is a subtle destroyer. You don’t have to go on a wild spending binge to destroy your finances; you can destroy your finances just by not paying attention. Forget to pay bills, forget where you left that credit card. Leave your wallet at a restaurant – by the way, lunch today is at Café Express. You can destroy the lives of your children just by ignoring them, leaving them to fend for themselves, neglect to give them wisdom and guidance. I know a set of parents from my office who don’t want to teach their children to be Christian. Sure, they’ll teach them about Jesus, but they’ll teach them other stuff, too, and let their children decide on their own. Listen, if parents don’t teach their children, the world will teach them worldly values. They’ll get their morals from Desperate Housewives reruns. If you don’t want your children to grow up to be adulterers, swindlers, thieves, embezzlers, crooks, then you’d better teach them right from wrong. Don’t neglect them.

Who here thinks their marriage will thrive or even survive if you neglect your spouse? Forget your spouse’s birthday or your anniversary, forget to call if you’re coming home late, forget you’re married when you meet somebody handsome. Your marriage will not survive on neglect, it requires a living, active presence, paying attention to your spouse’s needs.

You can lose your relationship with Christ if you neglect Him. Stop reading your bible, stop praying, stop attending church, stop serving others or never start in the first place. Casual Christians become Christian Casualties. There are a lot of Christians believe that all you have to do is go to church every week, or at least at Christmas and Easter, and you get to go to heaven. There are a lot of Christians who believe that going to church is preparation for accepting Christ in their lives and the day they accept Christ is the pinnacle of their faith. The joy they felt that day they accepted Christ, why, how could it get any better than that? But the day you accept Christ is not the peak, it’s the beginning. It’s the day you begin a wonderful, lifelong journey into spiritual maturity. How do we grow? We pay attention. God calls us to prayer, to study, to serve, to share, and to love. We grow in Christ and this sanctification, this purification is a wonderful gift.

And why does it matter? Let me tell you a story about a man, let’s call him Henry. Henry never intended to die in a sinful state. He just never got around to taking care of spiritual things like he did physical things. He was always busy with work or busy with family or busy fixing up that car. It’s not that Henry didn’t believe in God, of course he did. He learned in Sunday school growing up all about God. He believed in Jesus, and when Easter and Christmas came around, he was moved by the stories of Jesus’ birth, death, and resurrection just like everybody else. Henry just never made the effort to accept Jesus personally and to accept the sacrifice that Jesus provided.

Henry went to church now and then, attended almost every midnight Christmas Eve service. And when things got rough in his life, Henry spent extra weekends at church. And Henry even went to a Christian concert and was so moved he almost accepted the invitation to give his life to Jesus, but he was with some buddies and he thought it looked awkward. Now is just not a good time. Larry heard God calling, he just never quite accepted the call. Larry was a very moral person, but somehow he felt that giving everything to Jesus was just too steep, Larry had his pleasures and he was afraid Jesus would take them away.

And then one day, Larry was dead. And he stood alone before the throne of God, and God said, “Away from me, I never knew you.”

And Larry protested. “But Lord, I always believed you existed. I tried to be as good as I could, and I helped people often, and I tried not to hurt people. I’m faithful to my wife, and I never cheat on my taxes. I know a lot of bible verses. Lord, I want to be with you.”

And the Lord said, “I . . . never . . . knew . . . you.”

God wants us to come home with Him. God wants us closer to him. God wants us to choose Him. How do we do that? Seek. Seem Him actively. Seek and ye shall find Him. We can’t just sit and wait, we have to seek, or salvation will just drift away from us.

As a final though this week, I want you to remember that your salvation requires active participation from you, to seek, to pray, to learn, to serve. As a parting thought, I want to leave you with those words from the great prophet Simon and Garfunkle.

God only knows, God makes his plan
The information’s unavailable to the mortal man
We’re working our jobs, collect our pay
Believe we’re gliding down the highway, when in fact we’re slip sliding away

Slip sliding away, slip sliding away
You know the nearer your destination, the more you slip sliding away.

May God bless each and every one of you this week.