Just a little note to say that I am preaching revival services at First Baptist Church, Newport, Arkansas, this week so there will be no sermon audio or manuscripts posted until next week. It has been an honor to be able to spend time in worship this week with this wonderful church, with Greg Dills, their pastor, and with Billy Davis, the Central Baptist Church Minister of Music who is leading the worship team in revival this week. Please pray for tonight’s concluding meeting. We’ve seen the Lord do amazing things!
20 “Behold, I send an angel before you to guard you on the way and to bring you to the place that I have prepared. 21 Pay careful attention to him and obey his voice; do not rebel against him, for he will not pardon your transgression, for my name is in him. 22 “But if you carefully obey his voice and do all that I say, then I will be an enemy to your enemies and an adversary to your adversaries. 23 “When my angel goes before you and brings you to the Amorites and the Hittites and the Perizzites and the Canaanites, the Hivites and the Jebusites, and I blot them out, 24 you shall not bow down to their gods nor serve them, nor do as they do, but you shall utterly overthrow them and break their pillars in pieces. 25 You shall serve the Lord your God, and he will bless your bread and your water, and I will take sickness away from among you. 26 None shall miscarry or be barren in your land; I will fulfill the number of your days. 27 I will send my terror before you and will throw into confusion all the people against whom you shall come, and I will make all your enemies turn their backs to you. 28 And I will send hornets before you, which shall drive out the Hivites, the Canaanites, and the Hittites from before you. 29 I will not drive them out from before you in one year, lest the land become desolate and the wild beasts multiply against you. 30 Little by little I will drive them out from before you, until you have increased and possess the land. 31 And I will set your border from the Red Sea to the Sea of the Philistines, and from the wilderness to the Euphrates, for I will give the inhabitants of the land into your hand, and you shall drive them out before you. 32 You shall make no covenant with them and their gods. 33 They shall not dwell in your land, lest they make you sin against me; for if you serve their gods, it will surely be a snare to you.”
Like so many others, I have really come to appreciate the music ministry of Kari Jobe. There is a sincerity about her songs of worship that really does lead the listener to a place of praise and gratitude to God most high. For instance, her song “I Am Not Alone” is a song that is beautiful in its simplicity but also powerful in what it says about the Christian’s relationship with the Lord God.
When I walk through deep waters
I know that You will be with me
When I’m standing in the fire
I will not be overcome
Through the valley of the shadow
I will not fear
I am not alone
I am not alone
You will go before me
You will never leave me
In the midst of deep sorrow
I see Your light is breaking through
The dark of night will not overtake me
I am pressing into You
Lord, You fight my every battle
And I will not fear
You amaze me
You call me as Your own
I suppose that every believer at one time or another has needed the reassurance of the central message of this song: I am not alone. Why? Because God has gone before us and God will never leave us.
In many ways, we might say that “I am not alone” is a more than apt summary of Exodus 23:20-33. Having finished the preceding section of laws, the Lord now reminds His children that He will lead them into the promised land, that He will be with them, that, if they obey Him, they will find success there, and that they will never be alone.
1 John 2
18 Children, it is the last hour, and as you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come. Therefore we know that it is the last hour. 19 They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us. 20 But you have been anointed by the Holy One, and you all have knowledge. 21 I write to you, not because you do not know the truth, but because you know it, and because no lie is of the truth. 22 Who is the liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, he who denies the Father and the Son. 23 No one who denies the Son has the Father. Whoever confesses the Son has the Father also. 24 Let what you heard from the beginning abide in you. If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, then you too will abide in the Son and in the Father. 25 And this is the promise that he made to us—eternal life. 26 I write these things to you about those who are trying to deceive you. 27 But the anointing that you received from him abides in you, and you have no need that anyone should teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about everything, and is true, and is no lie—just as it has taught you, abide in him. 28 And now, little children, abide in him, so that when he appears we may have confidence and not shrink from him in shame at his coming. 29 If you know that he is righteous, you may be sure that everyone who practices righteousness has been born of him.
There are few things worse or main painful than a church split. Maybe you have been through a church split. If you have not, be grateful. I thank the Lord that I personally never have. We might define a church split as a serious, major schism in a body of believers resulting in a large number of members leaving the fellowship. It is a grueling thing to go through.
I once had a friend go through a brutal church split. All parties involved were Christians who held to orthodox beliefs. This church was fairly large, but eventually the controversy spilled over into the greater congregation. When it did, all manner of ugliness ensued. There was a business meeting that involved screaming from the floor, accusations of dishonesty and wrongdoing, and the breaking of relationships. In the end, a large number of people left. The church is still there but is now a shell of what it used to be. Only now are some of the wounds beginning to heal.
When I was in high school I was in a music store in Sumter, SC, when I noticed an album with a monk on the cover. I was intrigued so I bought it. I was immediately struck by and drawn to the beautiful, meditative music of John Michael Talbot. A great deal of it was simply scripture set to music. Over the years since that time I have listened consistently to the music of JMT, a Franciscan who leads the Brothers and Sisters of Charity at Little Portion Hermitage, an interesting monastic community outside of Eureka Springs, Arkansas.
Now that I live in Arkansas, I’ve made a few treks up to Little Portion Hermitage. I have always been interested in intentional Christian communal experiments, be they monastic or Protestant. Most of these experiments are founded by charismatic personalities like Clarence Jordan and Koinonia, Eberhard Arnold and the Bruderhof, or the Little Portion Hermitage and John Michael Talbot. There were a good number of these efforts in the Jesus Movement of the 60’s and 70’s as well. I do not view such experiments either monolithically or uncritically. There are, in my opinion, strengths and weakness to such things in general as well as strengths and weaknesses connected to the individual expressions of such efforts. All in all, though, I find that most of these efforts originate in a desire to take Jesus and the New Testament picture of life in Christ very seriously.
I was pleased to learn a few months back that JMT would be releasing a new album of original material, his fifty-fifth album. I have personally found his music a bit hit-or-miss as of late, though I never fail to appreciate the artistry and sincerity of what he does. When I began listening to “The Inner Room” I was quickly struck by the fact that here was the music that first drew me to JMT. Having now listened to the album a number of times, I can honestly say it is one of my favorites of his.
There are some strong offerings here. “The Beatitudes” and “Light of the World” are a wonderful start and draw deeply from the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount, a text that is so essential to Christian communities like Little Portion Hermitage and others. “Revive us Now” has some beautiful electric guitar work by (I assume) Phil Keaggy. “Change My Life (Act of Contrition)” to me really captures the tone of repentance, for lack of a better word. Like all good worship music should, that song really led me to consider my own life as I began to learn the words: “I firmly resolve with the help of your grace to repent and to change my life.” I loved the (to me) surprising appearance of the harmonica on the delightful song, “One Thing (Ps. 27).” “Go Now in Peace (Simeon’s Canticle)” is vintage JMT: clean, pure acoustic guitar, strong harmony, a biblical foundation, and the perfect capturing of the sweetness of that scene in the gospels.
This is a really good album. Again, to me, it represents the music that first drew me to JMT. If you are unfamiliar with him, this would be a great introduction to him and to what he does.
25 And there was a woman who had had a discharge of blood for twelve years, 26 and who had suffered much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had, and was no better but rather grew worse. 27 She had heard the reports about Jesus and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his garment. 28 For she said, “If I touch even his garments, I will be made well.” 29 And immediately the flow of blood dried up, and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease. 30 And Jesus, perceiving in himself that power had gone out from him, immediately turned about in the crowd and said, “Who touched my garments?” 31 And his disciples said to him, “You see the crowd pressing around you, and yet you say, ‘Who touched me?’” 32 And he looked around to see who had done it. 33 But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling and fell down before him and told him the whole truth. 34 And he said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”
Lee Jeffries is an amateur photographer who has a very interesting story and who has taken some truly gripping photographs. In a Time magazine article on Jeffries, it tells how he was in London in 2008 when he took a photograph of a homeless person a long distance away. The homeless person spotted him taking the picture, however, and grew irate. Instead of walking away, Jeffries went over and apologized and got to know the person. This experience affected him deeply and soon he began befriending and photographing the homeless with their permission.
If you go online and Google Lee Jeffries’ photographs of homeless people, you will, I suspect, be as struck by the power of the images as I am. One in particular really did grab my attention. It’s a black and white image of a homeless woman. It has no title.
10 “For six years you shall sow your land and gather in its yield, 11 but the seventh year you shall let it rest and lie fallow, that the poor of your people may eat; and what they leave the beasts of the field may eat. You shall do likewise with your vineyard, and with your olive orchard. 12 “Six days you shall do your work, but on the seventh day you shall rest; that your ox and your donkey may have rest, and the son of your servant woman, and the alien, may be refreshed. 13 “Pay attention to all that I have said to you, and make no mention of the names of other gods, nor let it be heard on your lips. 14 “Three times in the year you shall keep a feast to me. 15 You shall keep the Feast of Unleavened Bread. As I commanded you, you shall eat unleavened bread for seven days at the appointed time in the month of Abib, for in it you came out of Egypt. None shall appear before me empty-handed. 16 You shall keep the Feast of Harvest, of the firstfruits of your labor, of what you sow in the field. You shall keep the Feast of Ingathering at the end of the year, when you gather in from the field the fruit of your labor. 17 Three times in the year shall all your males appear before the Lord God. 18 “You shall not offer the blood of my sacrifice with anything leavened, or let the fat of my feast remain until the morning. 19 “The best of the firstfruits of your ground you shall bring into the house of the Lord your God. “You shall not boil a young goat in its mother’s milk.
One of the more difficult questions to try to answer is the question, “What is religion?” Richard John Neuhaus once made an admirable attempt at it after being questioned on the topic.
Religion, from religere, has to do with what is binding, what holds things together. I would venture a definition somewhat along these lines: A religion combines (1) a more or less systematic correlation of beliefs that purports to offer a comprehensive explanation of reality, (2) the practical truths normative for living in accord with that reality, and (3) the practices or rituals that provide a measure of communion with the vital center of that reality.
That is helpful. Neuhaus also offered an interesting definition of “religion” from a friend of his, Marc Gellman.
Marc Gellman, a friend who bills himself as the only pro-life Reform rabbi in the country, is a gifted writer of children’s books and is currently working on a book that introduces kids to the world religions. He thought and thought about what it is that all religions have in common. He finally came up with four components. Everything that we call a religion has (1) a story about how the world came to be and what it is for; (2) a code for living the moral life; (3) an answer to the problem of death. And the fourth? Every religion uses candles. We’re thinking about it.
Again, it is a tricky question, given the wide range of things that claim the title “religion.” It is interesting to note, however, that both Neuhaus and Gellman mention ritualistic elements. Neuhaus’ “practices or rituals” and Gellman’s “candles” refer to the same element of religion: external rites or rituals that communicate something foundational to the faith.
Followers of Jesus believe that there is only one God and that He is the God who revealed Himself first through the people of Israel and then, definitively, through the person and fulfilling work of Christ Jesus. Christians are hesitant to speak of Christianity as a religion. We prefer to speak of it as a relationship with the living God. Even so, both in ancient Judaism and in modern Israel there are elements that are external in their nature, and they do in fact speak of the core of our faith.
In Exodus 23:10-19, we see guidelines for Israel’s ritual observance of the faith. We speak of these in two general ways: first in terms of Sabbath rhythms and secondly in terms of acts of sacred remembrance.
1 John 2
15 Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16 For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world. 17 And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.
I am forever haunted by these words from T.S. Eliot’s “Chorus from ‘The Rock’”:
The Eagle soars in the summit of Heaven,
The Hunter with his dogs pursues his circuit.
O perpetual revolution of configured stars,
O perpetual recurrence of determined seasons,
O world of spring and autumn, birth and dying!
The endless cycle of idea and action,
Endless invention, endless experiment,
Brings knowledge of motion, but not of stillness;
Knowledge of speech, but not of silence;
Knowledge of words, and ignorance of the Word.
All our knowledge brings us nearer to our ignorance,
All our ignorance brings us nearer to death,
But nearness to death no nearer to God.
Where is the Life we have lost in living?
Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?
Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?
The cycles of Heaven in twenty centuries
Bring us farther from God and nearer to the Dust.
These words speak of the emptiness and futility of the fallen world order and the ways in which we keep falling farther and farther away from God even as we try to achieve wisdom and knowledge. This is a description of what John calls “the world.” In 1 John 2:15-17, John cautions us about love for this world and the things of it.
21 And when Jesus had crossed again in the boat to the other side, a great crowd gathered about him, and he was beside the sea. 22 Then came one of the rulers of the synagogue, Jairus by name, and seeing him, he fell at his feet 23 and implored him earnestly, saying, “My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well and live.” 24 And he went with him.
35 While he was still speaking, there came from the ruler’s house some who said, “Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the Teacher any further?” 36 But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the ruler of the synagogue, “Do not fear, only believe.” 37 And he allowed no one to follow him except Peter and James and John the brother of James. 38 They came to the house of the ruler of the synagogue, and Jesus saw a commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly. 39 And when he had entered, he said to them, “Why are you making a commotion and weeping? The child is not dead but sleeping.” 40 And they laughed at him. But he put them all outside and took the child’s father and mother and those who were with him and went in where the child was. 41 Taking her by the hand he said to her, “Talitha cumi,” which means, “Little girl, I say to you, arise.” 42 And immediately the girl got up and began walking (for she was twelve years of age), and they were immediately overcome with amazement. 43 And he strictly charged them that no one should know this, and told them to give her something to eat.
Nothing is quite as exciting as watching your child take his or her first step. I remember well our daughter’s first steps. The first phase of the process was the “Just Drag Her Across the Floor” phase. After seemingly countless times of holding her up and guiding her across the floor, her little toes pointed in terror and confusion downward and barely brushing the floor, we moved to the “This is How You Bend Your Legs” phase. In this phase we held her up while one of us took hold of her little legs and helped her feel what a step would feel like, flexing her legs for her, guiding one foot forward and then another. Then we went to the “Woah…WOAH!!!” phase of holding her up with our hands up under her arms trying to steady her as she leaned back into us whenever we attempted to withdraw our hands in an effort to help her come to terms with her own equilibrium. Next was the “Begging” phase. One of us held her up with each of her little hands white knuckling our fingers while the other knelt in front, just some distance away, begging, pleading, urging her to take a step. And, of course, this might also be called the “We Sound Like Blithering Idiots” stage because the one kneeling in front with arms outstretched just a couple of steps away would affect the most optimistic, exaggerated baby talk one can imagine: “COOOOME ON!!! YOU CAN DO IT!!! COME TO DADDY!!! COME ON!!!” In this stage the child stares with a mixture of awe, amusement, confusion, and terror at the pleading parent.
1 “You shall not spread a false report. You shall not join hands with a wicked man to be a malicious witness. 2 You shall not fall in with the many to do evil, nor shall you bear witness in a lawsuit, siding with the many, so as to pervert justice, 3 nor shall you be partial to a poor man in his lawsuit. 4 “If you meet your enemy’s ox or his donkey going astray, you shall bring it back to him. 5 If you see the donkey of one who hates you lying down under its burden, you shall refrain from leaving him with it; you shall rescue it with him. 6 “You shall not pervert the justice due to your poor in his lawsuit. 7 Keep far from a false charge, and do not kill the innocent and righteous, for I will not acquit the wicked. 8 And you shall take no bribe, for a bribe blinds the clear-sighted and subverts the cause of those who are in the right. 9 “You shall not oppress a sojourner. You know the heart of a sojourner, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt.
A couple of years ago a movie called “The Gift” came out. It turned it out to be something of a minor hit. It is the story of a couple who moves to California near the husband’s, Simon’s, hometown. Shortly after moving, they encounter one of the Simon’s old classmates. This man, Gordo, is awkward and soon begins an uncomfortable process of showing up unannounced when Simon is away and being generally creepy and dishonest. There is a slightly menacing air about Gordo.
As the film progresses, however, you begin to discover that Simon and Gordo have a dark past and that, in fact, Simon had cruelly bullied Gordo when they were children in school. In particular, Simon had told a malicious lie about Gordo, spreading it all around school. As a result, Gordo’s was ostracized from his peers and nearly killed by his own father. All of this happened because Simon bore false witness.
The ending of the movie is shocking and unnerving and the point is powerfully driven home: bearing false witness, especially about somebody weaker than you who cannot defend themselves, is a profoundly cruel and vicious thing to do that can leave deep and lasting scars on the victim. Baring false witness is grossly unjust and should never be done.
The first nine verses of Exodus 23 deal largely with this issue.
1 John 2
7 Beloved, I am writing you no new commandment, but an old commandment that you had from the beginning. The old commandment is the word that you have heard. 8 At the same time, it is a new commandment that I am writing to you, which is true in him and in you, because the darkness is passing away and the true light is already shining. 9 Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness. 10 Whoever loves his brother abides in the light, and in him there is no cause for stumbling. 11 But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes. 12 I am writing to you, little children, because your sins are forgiven for his name’s sake. 13 I am writing to you, fathers, because you know him who is from the beginning. I am writing to you, young men, because you have overcome the evil one. I write to you, children, because you know the Father. 14 I write to you, fathers, because you know him who is from the beginning. I write to you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God abides in you, and you have overcome the evil one.
I recently finished reading a biography of J. Heinrich Arnold entitled Homage to a Broken Man. I can honestly say it was one of the more powerful and beautiful books I have ever read. J. Heinrich Arnold was the son of Eberhard Arnold who founded the Bruderhof in Germany in the first half of the twentieth century. The Bruderhof, which is still in operation in various branches in the United States and around the world, began as an intentional effort at living out the Sermon on the Mount and teachings of Christ in the world. The story follows the ups and downs of the Bruderhof community with special focus on J. Heinrich Arnold and his family.
At a certain point, Heinrich and his wife are sent to lead the Woodcrest Bruderhof community in Rifton, New York. The Bruderhof community they were coming from (at “Primavera” in Paraguay) had been torn by dissension and strife and Heinrich himself had suffered a great injustice there. What the Arnolds encountered in Woodcrest was quite different.
One thing that struck Heiner and Annemarie almost daily was how straightforward people were at Woodcrest. Not always and not everyone, to be sure; but still, there were none of the intrigues and decades-long grudges that had come to poison Primavera. Instead, there was an insistence on open, honest relationships, and people took literally the “First Law in Sannerz,” a brief house rule Heiner’s father had composed in 1925: There is no law but love. Love is joy in others. What then is anger at them? Words of love convey the joy we have in the presence of our brothers and sisters. It is out of the question to speak about another person in a spirit of irritation or vexation. There must never be talk, either in open remarks or by insinuation, against any brother or sister, or against their individual characteristics – and under no circumstances behind their back. Gossiping in one’s family is no exception. Without this rule of silence there can be no loyalty and thus no community. Direct address is the only way possible; it is the brotherly or sisterly service we owe anyone whose weaknesses cause a negative reaction in us. An open word spoken directly to another person deepens friendship and will not be resented. Only when two people do not come to an agreement quickly is it necessary to draw in a third person whom both of them trust. In this way they can be led to a solution that unites them on the highest and deepest levels.