This program aired on KIUN 1400 AM in Pecos, TX on August 23, 2017.
The third week of August 2017 in Texas was one for the record books. It began with a total solar eclipse, and was followed by some small earthquakes in the oil patch. Temperatures reached 100+ in many parts of the state, and then Hurricane Harvey hit the southeast Texas coast. Days after Harvey made landfall huge sections of the greater Houston area were under water and it was still raining as the storm slowly moved toward Louisiana. The devastation from the hurricane and the flooding is catastrophic. Some say the damage will exceed that of Katrina in 2005.
Our collective hearts are broken as we view images of those whose homes and possessions have been destroyed, and whose lives have been devastated by this event. While many are resolved to return to their homes and rebuild both them and their lives, others, no doubt, are hovering on the brink of despair. Some may even wonder where God was while all this was going on. Admittedly, it is difficult to maintain one’s composure and one’s faith in the face of such destruction, but this is exactly what we must do.
As devastating as Harvey was, it was nothing compared to the flood that God sent to cleanse the world in the time of Noah. In that flood, the rain fell for forty days and nights, the waters rose to a height of about 22′ above the highest mountains, and they remained on the earth for 150 days (Gen. 7:17-24). This flood was indeed an act of God, purposely done in order to cleanse the world of sin. For the nearly 100 years that it took Noah to build the ark, he appealed to mankind to repent and enter the ark in order to avoid the impending destruction. No one did so, and they all perished, except for Noah and his family. When this cleansing was completed God brought Noah and his family out of the ark and promised them that He would never again destroy the earth with a flood (Gen. 9:8-17).
God promised Noah that the rainbow in the sky would be the sign that He would never again bring a worldwide flood on the earth. Every time it rains today, even during events like Harvey, God’s rainbow is there, keeping His promise. This is the good news that more than offsets the devastation of natural disasters such as Harvey. As terrible as such events are, God is still in control and will not allow the earth to be destroyed by these things. We need to take hope from this promise and not lose faith in our creator.
The imagery of a flood perfectly captures how we sometimes feel in our spiritual walk. In 1995 a group called Jars of Clay wrote and recorded a song entitled, Flood. It captures the helplessness we feel when we are overcome by sin, by depicting a man being overwhelmed in a flood. In the refrain of this song, the man turns to the only one who can save him. He cries out to the Lord, “Lift me up, when I’m falling; lift me up, I’m weak and I’m dying; lift me up, I need you to hold me; lift me up, and keep me from drowning again.”
Like the people outside Noah’s ark, we have no hope as the flood waters of sin engulf us. However, if we turn to our Savior and Lord in obedience to His will, we have the assurance that He will indeed lift us up by the blood of His cross. If we surrender to Him, then no flood waters will ever threaten our spiritual house. Like the wise man who built his house on the rock, the rains will fall, the floods will come, and the winds will beat on our house, but it will stand because it is founded on the rock of our Savior Jesus Christ (Mt. 7:24-27). In the spiritual floods of life we have only one reliable resource to rescue us. Therefore, as we anticipate these floods, let us turn to the Lord in obedience to the gospel, and cry out, “Lift me up!”
The first total solar eclipse to traverse the continental United States since 1918 occurred on August 21, 2017. The rarity of this kind of event lends itself to incredible hype and excitement. Millions of pairs of special glasses were sold so people could safely view this wondrous celestial phenomenon. The total eclipse was only visible in a small swath of the continental U.S. Even so, one source estimated that the economy lost nearly $700 million in productivity due to the large number of workers who left their jobs to observe this event.
An eclipse occurs when one celestial body passes between the sun and another body, thus blocking the sun from that body’s view. A solar eclipse occurs when the moon passes between the sun and the earth. A lunar eclipse occurs when the earth passes between the sun and the moon. Whether the eclipse is partial or total, the effect is that the view of one body is obstructed. In the areas in which the recent eclipse was total, the sun was fully blocked by the moon. Only a “halo” was visible around the edges of the moon at the most complete point in the eclipse.
All those who wished to view this phenomenon were warned to only do so with protective glasses or by means of a device that projected the image onto another surface. Anyone who failed to obey these warnings ran the risk of permanent eye damage from looking at the sun with the naked eye. Fortunately, most people were wise enough to heed the warnings and take proper precautions to view the eclipse.
As we stand in awe of events such as this, there is a spiritual lesson that may be drawn from it. As believers we are called to keep our eyes on our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ as we go through life. In Heb. 12:1-2 the scripture says, “Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”
Sometimes, however, our view of the Lord can be eclipsed because we allow something else to get between us and Him. This can happen in many ways. When we allow ourselves to pursue the passing pleasures of sin, we have allowed those desires to eclipse our view of the Lord. When we put work or school or hobbies or friends or family before our devotion to the Lord, we have let these things eclipse Him in our sight. When we fail to give our very best in His service, whatever the reason may be, we have let the Lord be eclipsed in our lives.
In Mt. 6:24 Jesus said, “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.” When we consider this statement in conjunction with the admonition to fix our eyes on Jesus (Heb. 12:2), we see that we must not let Him be eclipsed in any way. He is the author and perfecter of our faith, who went to the cross to pay the debt for our sins. For this reason nothing can be more important to us than our Lord and Savior.
If we allow anything to eclipse the Lord in our lives, we run the risk of permanently damaging our souls. If we face Him this way in judgment, the darkness into which we will be cast is total, terrifying, and eternal. Therefore, let us keep our eyes on Jesus, and let us not allow anything to obstruct our view of the Son.
World War II raged from 1939 to 1945. It was truly a global conflict, with battles being fought from Europe to Africa to Asia and in virtually every sea. Amazingly quick victories by the Germans and the Japanese in the early days of the conflict left their opponents reeling. In time, however, the tide began to turn. By early 1944, it was evident that the Allied nations would ultimately be victorious. At this point the leaders of the Allied nations met to discuss how to conclude the hostilities. While they squabbled over some of the details, they agreed on one point. The Allies would demand the unconditional surrender of the Axis powers.
Unconditional surrender meant that the defeated nations reserved nothing for their own control. They had to give up all right to self-determination, or to dispute or resist anything imposed on them by the victorious nations. They could place no conditions on their decision to lay down their arms. The defeated nations must place themselves completely at the mercy of the victors. This insistence on unconditional surrender was a prudent measure. The Allies did not want to leave their defeated enemies with any means to undermine the peace or to resume the conflict.
In the context of spiritual matters, the principle of unconditional surrender is just as valid as it is in the context of human warfare. The scriptures teach us that our sins make a separation between ourselves and God (Isa. 59:2). This separation is characterized throughout scripture as rebellion against God. When we persist in our sins we are, in effect, at war with the Creator of the universe. It is a war that we cannot win, of course, and the consequences of losing this war are too great to bear. Rev. 20:11-15 tells us that at judgment those whose names are not in the book of life will be thrown into the lake of fire, which is the second death.
All who fight against God until judgment face this fate, but there is an alternative. In Col. 1:19-23 Paul explained that God offered peace to mankind through the blood of the cross of Jesus Christ. The Lord’s blood paid the price for our sins, and thus gives each of the opportunity to be reconciled to God. There are terms, though, but why would we expect otherwise? God is the victor in the great battle between good and evil. As the victor, it is His prerogative to establish the conditions for peace.
God’s terms are simple and they are unequivocal. We must obey the gospel, and we must be faithful to Him until we die. Our Lord Jesus declared God’s terms as clearly as anyone could. In Mk. 16:16 He said, “He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved; he who has disbelieved shall be condemned.” In Rev. 2:10 the Lord told the Christians of Smyrna, “Be faithful until death and I will give you the crown of life.” That’s the long and short of it.
However, we will never obey these commands until we unconditionally surrender to the Lord’s will. We cannot place any conditions on our obedience. If we wish to be saved, we can no longer reserve any aspect of our lives for our own control. We have to run up the white flag and let God have His way with us. We must place ourselves at His mercy. Anything less than this is unacceptable to Him.
Our Lord Jesus showed us how to do this throughout His ministry, and especially on the night before He was crucified. In the garden He asked that this cup might pass from Him, but then He prayed that the Father’s will be done and not His own (Mt. 26:39). If the Son of God unconditionally surrendered to the Father’s will, how can we do any less?
As the unknown author of 1 Kings summarized Solomon’s great wisdom, he said that it surpassed that of all the sons of the east (1 Kgs. 4:30). Then in 1 Kgs. 4:32 he said, “He also spoke 3,000 proverbs, and his songs were 1,005.” The book that we call Proverbs very likely contains most, if not all, of his wise sayings. Most of Solomon’s proverbs are short statements that compare the benefits of wisdom with the consequences of foolishness. The primary theme of this collection is to seek and to retain wisdom. Those who are not willing to do so are characterized as fools and are warned of the danger of such folly.
Some of the proverbs are difficult for us to comprehend because they are steeped in the culture and the practices of the ancient Hebrews. Others, however, are easily understood in any generation and in any place. One of these timeless proverbs is found in Prov. 15:1. Solomon said, “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up strife.” This is a theme that resonates with us because most of us have actually witnessed the truth of this statement.
How often has a simple misunderstanding or a minor disagreement escalated into a raging argument because the individuals involved spoke harshly to one another? Such things have happened often enough in most people’s experience that we are not surprised when they do. Too many times we allow our hurt feelings or our pride to spark angry words that just make the situation worse. A Cold War-era cartoon perfectly captures what so often happens. It showed a figure in a fireman’s suit spraying liquid on flames. The caption said, “Again the Russian fireman rushes to the scene. In his eyes, determination. In his hose, pure gasoline!”
We generally expect that most people are going to respond in kind to any slight committed against them. Although we expect it, we all know that it isn’t the best way. We even have an adage to the effect that one can draw more flies with honey than with vinegar. Even so, many people are unwilling to let such things go. We think we must get our licks in, as it were, in our own defense, if nothing more. The wise man Solomon would shake his head in wonder at our foolishness.
The counsel of the wise man is that we should respond in gentleness in order to avoid further unpleasantness. This, too, is something most of us have experienced. We have watched in awe as an angry situation is diffused by a calm and gentle response. We have gone away from such incidents impressed with the wisdom and humility which kept things from getting out of control.
While all people can appreciate this principle at work, those of us who are Christians have an obligation to practice it. We must do so, not only because it is the wise way of handling conflict, but also because of the example of our Lord. Many times during the course of His ministry His enemies made scathing accusations against Him. In none of these cases did the Lord lower Himself to the kind of slanderous words that were spoken against Him. Instead, He always remained in control, and responded with words that made His opponents, and the people who witnessed these confrontations, think about what they had said and done.
The Lord could have called twelve legions of angels to His defense as He hung on the cross. Instead, He prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Lk. 23:34). If the Lord could give a gentle answer as He was being crucified, surely we can give a gentle answer in all our petty conflicts.
The largest single collection of the Lord’s teachings is found in the gospel of Matthew. In chapters 5-7 Matthew recorded what we call the Sermon on the Mount. In chapter 5 the Lord contrasted the standards which He expected His disciples to live up to with what they had heard from their teachers. In every case His disciples were called to a higher standard than the common practices of first century Judaism. In chapter 6 the Lord called upon His disciples to practice their faith sincerely, and to not be consumed with worry about their daily needs. In chapter 7 the Lord exhorted His disciples to correct their own sins before correcting others. He urged them to enter the narrow gate that leads to life, rather than following the crowds traveling down the broad way that leads to destruction. He also taught them how to recognize false teachers, and warned them that only those who do the Father’s will are going to enter heaven.
In the midst of chapter 7 is one of the most basic principles of the Christian faith. In Mt. 7:12 the Lord said, “In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” (NASB) In this simple command the Lord revealed the core of what it means to love one’s neighbor as oneself. In Mt. 22:35-40 the Lord said that the greatest commandment was to love God with all one’s heart, soul, and mind. The second most important, He said, was to love one’s neighbor as oneself.
We call Mt. 7:12 the Golden Rule, a term that apparently was coined by Anglican theologians in the 17th century. Skeptics sometimes point out that Jesus was not the first to express such a philosophy, but in so doing they ignore the fact that all other expressions of this principle come from a negative perspective. For example, Confucius said, “What you do not wish for yourself, do not do to others.” In the first century B.C. Rabbi Hillel said, “What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow.” The Greek philosopher Sextus said, “What you do not want to happen to you, do not do it yourself either.”
Although all of these statements predate the Lord’s ministry on the earth, they all fall far short of the standard to which the Lord called His disciples. Followers of Christ are commanded to be proactive in a positive way toward others. We are to do to them, and for them, what we would like done for ourselves. By treating others with the love, kindness, courtesy, respect, and goodness that we desire for ourselves, we follow the Lord’s own example and honor Him by our obedience. At the same time, our actions may draw the lost to salvation in Christ, which is the best thing we can do for anyone.
Nearly everyone is aware of the Golden Rule. Very few, it seems, actually live by it. We should not be surprised that unbelievers do not live by it. After all, they are still in their sins, and have no concept of the kind of sacrificial living to which Christians have been called. Even so, the Lord requires His disciples to follow this principle in their dealings with everyone, whether they are believers or not.
This being the case, how much more so ought Christians to live by the Golden Rule when dealing with each other? In Gal. 6:10 Paul said, “So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith.” We cannot be acceptable to our Lord if we do not treat others in the way that we would have them treat us. We can be doctrinally correct in every detail, but if we do not live by the Golden Rule, it means nothing. Therefore, let us be “golden” in all our relationships.