Tuesday, June 25, 2019

“He’s got the whole wide world in His hands”

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Downtrodden Paths
By Henk Moorman
 
I want to talk with you today about something that could be called “Down-trodden paths”  Let me read first some verses from the book of Hebrews.
 
 
Hebrews 2: 10-18
 
10In bringing many sons to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the author of their salvation perfect though suffering. 11Both the one who makes men holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers.
12He says,
“I will declare your name to my brothers; in the presence of the congregation I will sing your praises.”
13And again,
“I will put my trust in him.”
And again he says,
“Here am I, and the children God has given me.”
14Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death, that is the devil,
15  and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.
16  For surely it is not angels he helps, but Abraham’s descendants.
17For this reason he had to be made like his brothers in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people.
18Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.
 
What can we learn from this? This morning you have heard – it rang through everything -  that we are in the process of discovering how God really is. We are changing in our thinking, in our minds,. At the same time you discover that it is not always an easy process. You think: “These are thoughts we have heard for at least ten years”, and yet it seems that they are still so difficult. It is as if they just will not enter into your mind, not become part of your thinking; how eager you would like it and how much you are trying.
 
It made me think of the parable of the sower in which Jesus tells us the reason why a big amount of seed that is sown does not bring forth any harvest at all.
The first thing that goes wrong is that some of the seed falls on the road. It is not a road paved with asphalt. Such roads didn’t exist in those days. But they are the footpaths that wind their way through the fields. They have become paths because people have been walking there, again and again on the same track and through the years they have become established, hardened, down-trodden paths. The seed will fall on it, but it does not find receptive soil. And immediately the birds are there to pick it up, says Jesus. It has no effect, there is no result.
 
“Down-trodden paths”, I think that you can find them in the minds of people as well. You can have down-trodden paths in your ideas, in your way of thinking, in yourself, because you have heard certain things so often. Because you have been brought up with certain ideas in your spiritual upbringing in the church or in some group where you have learned about the Gospel, about the Good News. There may be down-trodden paths in your life because you have been made to accept certain teachings, not of your own free will, but by force. I can still see myself sitting with my little note-book in which I would write and note down all the things I heard. You had to study that and put it into your head, so that you would understand exactly how things worked and were fitted together.
 
On the one hand there is nothing wrong with wanting to teach how spiritual things function and to study this. But what matters is the atmosphere in which this is done and the spirit that causes people to drive this into you. Why is that necessary? If a person is honest and recognizes a certain teaching as the truth, he will accept that truth joyfully. There is no need for force or urging or endless repetition.
If however, this is the method that is used, then you will get ‘down-trodden paths’ in your mind. And when other seed is sown on these paths, the seed of freedom, you discover that it doesn’t get a chance to germinate, because the ground is so hard!
Often there is something else behind it as well, the thought that believing means accepting a system of thinking, accepting a whole parcel of teachings and truths,  a whole set of thoughts and statements of how God is and how reality fits together. And you say about that whole packet: “Yes, that is what I believe.”  And that becomes your ‘faith’ It is handed to you as a parcel and you say: “Yes, I accept that.”
 
You often notice that people who believe in that way, don’t say: “I believe”, but  “we believe” or  “in our church we believe that it is like this or like that.”
That is what I call a ‘package-faith’. It has been offered to you as a whole packet and it has been drummed in to your head, just as you did with the arithmetic tables. It is a matter of endless repetition and then it will be stuck into your mind. And it will be hard to get it out of your mind again.
 
What are these down-trodden paths? May be you can think of some examples yourself. What I just mentioned, the idea that believing is a matter of accepting a set of truths and get them well fixed into your mind, that is a down-trodden path.
 
Another example. A God who demands obedience from people. His role is to speak the word and man has to obey, to say “yes” and “amen”. That is a down-trodden path. How deeply it is ingrained that this is the way things work between God and man!
But if you look at Abraham, the ‘Father of all Believers’, you notice that it is different, that God is different. When Abraham heard that two towns were to be totally destroyed, he starts a discussion with God,. Abraham doesn’t say to God: “God, you have spoken en I am sure there will be a reason, so be it. Who am I to say anything to the contrary.” No, Abraham goes into a discussion with God. Read it for yourself in Genesis 18. And Abraham is not even very polite and careful. He does not say: “Excuse me God, I don’t want to be rude, but would it be possible for me to say something about this?”
No, after the men who brought the message about the towns Sodom and Gomorrah had left, it just says: “And Abraham remained standing before the Lord and approached Him and said: Will you sweep away the righteous with the wicked? What if there are fifty righteous people in it? Far be it from you to do such a thing, to kill the righteous with the wicked, treating the righteous and the wicked alike. Far be it from you! Will you not the Judge of all the earth do right?”
Actually Abraham tells God: “You can’t do such a thing Lord, You are not like that!” Such a dialogue is very different from saying ‘yes’ to everything that is said. That is having a discussion with God. I like that! It seems Abraham was not troubled by down-trodden paths yet, at least not on that issue.
 
There are other examples of down-trodden paths:
The idea that a Christian always has to be positive and agreeable and nice. As if it is unchristian facing issues and talking about them or setting boundaries and making your standpoint clear.
Here is another one: The idea that God exists to solve all my problems, especially the physical ones. And if that doesn’t happen, you start to doubt whether God can be trusted or that something is not allright with you.
 
There are more such down-trodden paths in people’s minds.
What should you do with those paths?  I would say: “plough them over!”
Make them into good, receptive soil, in which the seed of the freedom and the healing and the love of God can germinate.
If you try to do that you will discover, that it is not always very easy. Why not? I think it is because fear maintaines those paths and keeps those thoughts alive.. That is why I read those verses from the book of Hebrew. Fear keeps them where they are and fear enslaves a man to a certain way of thinking, to system-thinking. No doubt about it. That is always the way a man is kept down, under control, by making him a slave of system-thinking. No matter what system. Every system is the enemy of life. That is why God loves people who dare to think independently, free from any system.
 
In the story of the three friends of Daniël, Shadrach Mesach and Abednego, you can see how this works. Do you remember the story of the huge statue which King Nebuchadnezzar erected for himself? The whole crowd falls to the ground in worship, because the messengers of the King have just been around to tell them: “When you hear the sound of the horn, the flute, pipes and all sort of music, you must fall down on your knees and worship the image of gold that King Nebuchadnezzar has set up.”
Everybody falls down, because the next thing the messengers told them was:
“Whoever does not fall down and worship, will immediately be thrown into a blazing furnace.”
Just imagine the idea of putting up an oven straight next to such a magnificent statue!! It shows that Nebuchadnezzar knew very well, that without this threat the people would say: “we won’t kneel down for such a statue. We want to keep our self-respect.” But if you have to choose between going on your knees and going into the furnace……… So everybody goes down to his knees, except the three friends of Daniel. Ultimately out of fear of death, for that was the choice: kneel and submit to the system, or die.
 
The statue was in fact very imposing, about 30 meters high, like a ten-storey building. That is how high it was. Those enormous measurements were not accidental. They were chosen to make a big impression, to make you feel small and insignificant and vulnerable. It is typical for the character of the gods/ demons who are behind this, of the way of thinking of the enemy of God who always wants to intimidate and to domineer. Satan always wants us to have an picture of God in which God is big and very high, so immensely high that in fact, it is  impossible for man to reach Him.
 
And then, look at our God, who also makes an image: MAN, according to His image He made him, about 1 meter 80. No need to make him higher. What a different Character, our God!
 
In the story we see that fear of death makes people submit themselves. Not a normal kind of death, no death in the fiery furnace. You could say: in hell. There are some religions that say: “We can’t frighten people enough with death only, we need to make it a more fearsome: we will add fire! We will impress upon the people that they are going to hell if they don’t obey. That way we are sure that they are really afraid and we can keep them enslaved to the system.
 
Do you remember Gideon? Another wonderful story. You will remember Gideon and how he drove out the enemy with a small army of 300 soldiers. Those were the Midianites who had put up their camp there, and Gideon and his 300 men with their torches and horns put a whole army of more than a hundred thousand people to flight!! Not because they were such wonderful fighters. The Midianites were driven out without even a battle!. Gideon and his men didn’t have to lift a finger against them. And this Gideon said, at the time when God called him to go out and drive out the Midianites: “My clan is the weakest in the tribe of Manasse and I am the least in the family.”  Gideon was  not a strong man, not an imposing figure. And yet God could work through him in this way and that was because he had done something else before. He had broken to pieces the altar dedicated to Baal and cut down the sacred pole in his village. God had told him to do so.
That was not nothing. That was not a small thing.
The sacred pole was very tall, you had to look up to it. And that pole was looking down on you, you felt very small. It was something you would leave well alone, it was dedicated to a deity. So you had to keep your hands off it. You could’t query it at all. It was disrespectful if you even doubt it. More than that, it was considered sacrilege. You can certainly say that there was fear behind it. For whoever dared to touch on this, dared to ask questions, would naturally evoke the anger of the deity. So you better kept off the subject.
 
All the same, Gideon is going ahead with the destruction. He takes with him 10 friends and is doing it at night, “out of fear for his family and the townspeople”, it says.  Because he thought: “They are not going to like this, as soon as they see this, everybody will be against me.”
This fear of ‘what people, my family, my neighbours are going to think or say’ is such a strong force, that it causes people not to do what they would have wanted to do. Gideon was a little scared, yet he did it, he really did it! 
But the next morning the sun came up, it became light and the people woke up and said: “What? The altar is gone, the sacred pole is gone. What is happening?”
They start to investigate and very soon they have discovered that it was Gideon who did this. So what do they do? They are not going to Gideon, but to his father. They call him out and say: “Joas, bring out your son. He has to die.” 
You see: there he is again: Death, the fearsome one, terrifying people: “Gideon has to die”, because he has cut down the pole and destroyed the altar. You can see the threat very clearly, the death penalty that keeps the system alive and makes people afraid to free themselves from the bondage to its way of thinking.
 
I love the way in which Gideon’s father reacts. He does not try to calm people down and keep the peace by saying that it is probably not as bad as it looks,  like:
“Well, you know how it is with young boys when they  are out partying with their friends. Probably it was late and things got out of hand a little bit.” 
No, he doesn’t make any  excuses, none at all!
He says: “Look folks, listen here. Let Baal look after himself, let him fight for himself. If you touch my son, if you fight for Baal, you will be put to death yourselves.”
That does not sound very polite, but it is straightforward and clear!  I think that this father is a beautiful picture of God. Just imagine, having a father who fights for you and backs you up like this. Wonderful!
 
Gone is the altar, gone is the sacred pole! So it is possible to ask questions and to have a different meaning about that pole and the altar! You can even cut them down, away with it! There are lots of ‘sacred poles’, thoughts and teachings you are not supposed to question.
The whole idea that God is completely different, that he is not that mighty person, who sits so high above you that you feel as if you are nothing, you can’t share that idea everywhere.
Or think about the teaching that you have to obey the leaders of the church in everything! To become a member, they like you to sign a paper which also states that you will submit to the leaders. Well you can’t question that in every church, you are touching their sacred pole! And someone like Gideon will say: “I am going to cut it down, I am not letting fear stop me to do it.” I think that he had come to understand enough of God to know: “The Father is behind me, I can fall back on Him. He won’t let me fall!”
 
And if we talk about fear and systems, what about the Israelites in Egypt? They were building for the Egyptians, under threat and abuse and out of fear and ill-treatment, it says. They had to make bricks and build big buildings, huge constructions. Another religious construction. They didn’t do that because they liked it, no, they did it just out of fear. They were kept in fear, because at a certain stage the Pharaoh had said:
“Those people don’t want to listen and what’s more, they are growing too fast.
“If we don’t watch out, they will become stronger than we are.
“You know what? We will kill all the little boys as soon as they are born.”
Thatwill keep people afraid all right!! Again the threat of death. IN actual fact is says in Exodus: “All sons will be killed.” All that is male. That has nothing to do with man of woman, it has to do with all that is male, masculine  in a person. So that typically male reactions can be nipped in the bud, destroyed before they had a chance to develop.That has to do with all that in a person that wants to rebel, that wants to get up and say: “I am not accepting this any longer, this slavery.” If you can keep down this strength of mind, this urge for freedom in a person, then you have a slave. Then you know that you will continue to be in control. All sons will be killed, so that there will be no rebellion.
 
And then Gods comes with a solution in Hebrews chapter 2 (verse 15): Jesus has come and given His life, so that through His death everyone would be set free, those, who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death. That is the whole key. God says: “Here you are, I am setting you free,  free from all that slavery, from the fear that makes you continue to walk on the well worn paths, - because they are so safe and you avoid risks – I am setting you free, I am releasing you, because I have thought of something that enables you to say: “Death???  I will not see death anymore, never, not in eternity. I do not need to be afraid of death anymore.”.
 
‘To be set free from a slavery which is the result of fear of death’,  that makes me think that it might be good to talk about death more often. You don’t like to talk about it, but why not? Does it still give you the idea that it is fearsome and you like to stay away from it? You may say that it is not a subject that makes you happy, so why talk about it?
Isn’t it so that there is a very naïve idea behind it, the idea that ‘if you don’t mention it, it is not there’, so you don’t raise the subject?
It is possible that there is still a lot of fear behind it. Possibly because there is a lot still uncertain and not clear to you.
For me it was very enlightening when I heard somebody say: “Everybody knows that there comes a moment when you leave your earthly body. But you can look at it from two viewpoints, because departing also means arriving. Someone who departs from here, is going somewhere else. And when you look at it from the other side, it means that somebody is arriving. That is what passing away, dying, is all about:  not just departing, but at the same time arriving. It depends from which viewpoint you look at it.”  What matters is that we set dying free from the climate, the idea of fear. Fear holds a man in slavery.
 
Jesus sets free from fear of death and hell. In this God showed His love for men in the first place. Love is much more than a warm and deep feeling for somebody. Love is doing something for another person that enables him to move on again and continue with his life. God has set you free from slavery. You don’t need to bow down anymore. What’s more: God bows down to you! He has to, because He is so much bigger than you and the stronger one adjusts to the weaker one. He is a God Who leans over to you, Who is devoted to you. That is what I find so striking in the gospel, so wonderful in the Lord Jesus. Things work exactly opposite from the way they work in the world.
 
Jesus sets free. Jesus reconciles your sins, it says here. This is a wonderful word: Reconciliation.
It says: “Jesus is reconciling you with God because He has forgiven or carried away your sins and nailed them to the cross.”
Jesus says: “I am reconciling you to God”. 
And this clearly shows the character of God: He is always bringing things together, things which belong together. Man and God. But also man and his divided inner being, so that he becomes one again and is at peace with himself.
That is peace on earth!
 
The work of God’s enemy is always to tear apart what belongs together. And the work that God did in Jesus is,  to bring together what belongs together
To reconcile is to bring together, to make peace. Jesus reconciles you to God and that means: everything is right again between God and you.
 
The next question is: “Are you reconciled with yourself? Are you at peace with yourself?” These two belong together, they cannot stand alone.
‘To be reconciled with yourself’, what do I mean by that?
On the one hand I am thinking of how you would like to be, or how you think that you should be, or how you would like to be in the eyes of other people, or how you would have to be in order to reach God’s standard.
And on the other hand I am thinking of how you are now, in your daily life, with all your lacks and failings. With your ‘ever so human’ sides, with your pride, your vanity, even selfishness every now and then, with the way you need to be treated and handled, your faults . With all those things you are ashamed of.
Those two: your ideal self and your real self, have they been reconciled a bit? For if those two are very different, you have to maneuver between the two. That gives division and tension in yourself in the end.
And let me tell you, here is the wonderful message: In Jesus those two, the person you would like to be and the person you really are, come together. They become one in Jesus. And that is why you can say the your ‘self’, - the person with all the daily failures - , that ‘self’ is acceptable for God.
So live your life in this knowledge, don’t try to crawl into the skin of your ideal self and don’t show yourself differently from who you are.
 
Jesus brings the two together and that begins with forgiveness. That has made the love of the Father visible. He loves you unconditionally, just as you are. That means, just as you live your life now and not as it would be if God first took away all the things that don’t measure up to the ideal.  So come out, show yourself (!), just as you are, without seeking your own approval, wondering: “Am I good enough for God, or do I come up to His ideas and high ideals?”
If you share your life with God, these things will fall into place. They are a result of living with Him.
 
Yes, reconciliation! When I think of it, I am also thinking of uniting the old and the new man. People often differentiate between them. Many people have made a switch in their lives and minds at the time when they were converted.  They talk about; “before” and “after” conversion. Before your conversion you talk about your old nature and after your conversion you talk about your new nature. And there is a kind of enmity towards the old nature, towards the person you were before your conversion. It was said: “You are starting a new life now and that means that you have to deny your life as you have lived it up till now. You have to leave it behind, because it was wrong.”
 
Yet all those things that you have experienced from your early childhood, have formed you! Of course in certain ways they have also deformed and damaged you. That is absolutely true, but don’t forget,  they have also formed you. You are who you are through all you have experienced, the positive and the negative things. That is a fact.  Undoubtedly things have happened in your life that have hurt you and which have possibly given scars which you still carry with you.
But the Psalm-writer says: “Put my tears in your bottle.”  This is said because you know that God was there with you, in all you experienced in your old life.
God says: “I was there, I have seen it. Those tears you shed are not lost, I put them in my bottle. I have not forgotten them. One day we will have to do something with them. All that pain will have to be completely healed.”
 
And without a doubt, a lot of good things have happened besides the negative things. Most people have had parents or others who with a lot of good intentions and yes, with all their shortcomings, did their very best and gave what they had in bringing them up. Be thankful for this. That too has made you what you are and who you are today. Forgive them, just as you heavenly Father has forgiven you.
 
By accepting forgiveness and by forgiving others, we work out reconciliation.
And by this way we break down the old principle of God’s enemy, which says: “divide and rule.“ We do this by the new principle: “Unite and let live”.
 
I am glad that together and with God’s help, we are more and more able to bring things together and make them one, putting together what belongs together.
Be reconciled by the love of the Father, that , according to the Word of God, is the perfect love that drives out all fear.
If you do that, it becomes a lot easier to accept new thoughts, new ideas, to make them your own and start using them, without fear.
And you yourself will have to test each seed that is sown, each word that is preached whether it is indeed the seed of freedom, whether it comes from  God or not.
For even when you are thinking about these new teachings or ideas, it is important that you do not accept them as a whole package of teaching, lock stock and barrel. Because if you do, before you know it, you are trying to drill them into your mind and you get a down-trodden path again. Don’t do that. Believing is not a matter of saying ‘Yes’ to the next system that is handed to you, but it is an adventure of going on a journey with God and discovering who He is, discovering who He is for YOU.
That is how simple it actually is. 
 
Amen.
 
 
 
 
Let us pray
 
Father, thank you so much that you are a Father like Gideon’s father. You are behind us! You are proud of us and happy with us, when we are working on cutting down the sacred poles bit by bit, when we are discovering new ways together with You.
Thank you too, that you delivered us from all fear. We know Lord, that there is still a little bit of fear sometimes. But you have really set us free from every reason to be afraid, by dethroning death. It is wonderful that we can grow in a climate of peace, grow to become a person in your image and likeness. I want to thank you for that from my heart.
I am also glad Lord, that you are busy in  the process of healing everything in every way, between you and us, within ourselves, and also between people. What a wonderful gospel this is.
Lord, we want to thank you for that, from the bottom of our hearts.
 
Amen.