Monday, March 29, 2010

White as Snow

Preached at Northwest Christian Church

David P. Kautt

Sunday Morning, March 28, 2010.

Isaiah 1:18 – "Come now, and let us reason together," says the Lord, "though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall be as wool.”

1 Peter 1:17-21 – “And if you call on the Father, who without partiality judges according to each one’s work, conduct yourselves throughout the time of your stay here in fear; knowing that you were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold, from your aimless conduct received by tradition from your fathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot. He indeed was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you who through Him believe in God, who raised Him from the dead and gave Him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God.”

What can we say about the weather in North Texas in March? One days it’s sunny and warm – Ah! Spring has finally arrived… But the next day, old man winter, as we call him, blows back through, and suddenly – last Lord’s Day – we have 6 or 8 inches of snow on the ground!

Oh, but let’s stop and think about it for a minute. Next Sunday, one week from today, April the 4th, we will be celebrating the death, burial and resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ on Resurrection Day – you see here all the special things we have planned for that morning. But, listen – on that day, that high-point in every year for us as Christians – on that day we won’t be simply celebrating an event in history – the fact that on Good Friday Jesus of Nazereth died and was buried, and that 3 days later, as he foretold, He was raised to life, never to die again – No! Coming up on that day – really and truly on every day, especially every Lord’s Day – we celebrate in not simply a series of events, but in the significance of those events for our lives! And, so – I come back to the weather, and the snow that fell last Saturday night, and what did we see? What did it remind us of? What did it illustrate for us? You know it, don’t you? The death of Christ, the burial of Christ, the Resurrection of Christ – these events in history, and their significance, their meaning, applied to our lives. As Isaiah put it, “Our sins, though they be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow, though they be like crimson, they shall be as wool!

This morning, as we look forward to Resurrection Sunday – April 4th – we look forward to it, why? Because of the shed blood, the cleansing blood, the atoning blood of Jesus Christ for our sins! Each flake that fell a week ago has a message – perhaps, a series of messages – for you and me, and what are those messages? First of all, that we are dirty! And, that we are dead! The psalmist David – writing a penitential psalm, a psalm, we might say, of repentance – following his terrible sin with Bathsheba, in Psalm 51 he repeatedly, and picturesquely describes the removal of sin and guilt from his life – the reasons for that removal, the results of that removal – and his responses to that removal. Listen again to his words if you would, please:

Psalm 51:1-19 – “Have mercy upon me, O God, according to Your lovingkindness; according to the multitude of Your tender mercies, blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin. For I acknowledge my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. Against You, You only, have I sinned, and done this evil in Your sight-- that You may be found just when You speak, and blameless when You judge. Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity,

And in sin my mother conceived me. Behold, You desire truth in the inward parts, and in the hidden part You will make me to know wisdom. Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. Make me hear joy and gladness, that the bones You have broken may rejoice. Hide Your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities. Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me away from Your presence, and do not take Your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of Your salvation, and uphold me by Your generous Spirit. Then I will teach transgressors Your ways, and sinners shall be converted to You. Deliver me from the guilt of bloodshed, O God, the God of my salvation, and my tongue shall sing aloud of Your righteousness. O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth shall show forth Your praise. For You do not desire sacrifice, or else I would give it; you do not delight in burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and a contrite heart-- these, O God, You will not despise. Do good in Your good pleasure to Zion; build the walls of Jerusalem. Then You shall be pleased with the sacrifices of righteousness, with burnt offering and whole burnt offering; then they shall offer bulls on Your altar.

Each flake of snow that we saw starting to fall last Saturday evening has a message for us – a message from God – “Come now, let us reason together – let us discuss the matter, let us think it through, let us come to the conclusion” – God declares to us through the prophet Isaiah – “Your sins are like scarlet, they are as red – as glaringly obvious – as crimson” – what is the problem with sin? Have you thought about that much lately? I hope you have, we need to – David did, Peter did, Isaiah did. Psalm 51:3, David wrote, “My sin is every before me…” Isaiah, when he saw the Lord high and lifted up, he exclaimed, “Woe is me! For I am a man of unclean lips and I dwell among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty…” Even Peter, the great apostle, more than once during his days of walking in the footsteps of his Master, the Lord Jesus, fell at his Master’s feet and cried, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!”

What is the problem with sin? Why do we need to be whiter than snow? Besides the fact that it makes us – it renders us – guilty before the God who made us, before the holy, holy, holy God who says, “Be holy, for I, the Lord your God, am holy…” Besides the problem of guilt and judgment – just judgment against our sin and removal from nearness to God, and many other things – look at what Peter has to say, in the pssage we read a moment ago. What is the problem with sin? Let’s reason together with the Lord about it, shall we? One of the problems with sin that perhaps you and I would rather not think about, is the problem of a wasted life – my friends, do you know it? God created you for a purpose – a most high and holy purpose – for His pleasure, Revelation 4:11 says, to bring joy to Him! To do His good will! And, then in eternity to enjoy Him forever! But, as each one of those flakes of snow was intended to remind us – sin yields nothing - nothing but a life of aimless conduct, a life lived for no good purpose. 1 Peter 1:18 - Yes, sin, ultimately yields a life of emptiness and futility! Come, now let us reason together with the Lord! Our sins before our righteous and infinitely holy God – they are red, crimson, scarlet red!

Oh, but praise God! The snow has fallen! Beautiful, pure, white flakes came down from heaven above – and, through them our Lord declares, “I can make you clean! I can wash you!”

The snow has fallen – and like that powerful verse in Isaiah tells us, the redness, the glaring ugliness and filthiness of our sin has been dealt with, in Jesus Christ – but what does all of that mean? How is it that Jesus’ blood, His atoning death, takes care of the manifold problems of our sin?

Hear these good news ‘snow flake’ verses again, will you? Matthew 26:28 – Jesus in the upper room with His disciples on the night of His betrayal – in that special moment - He takes a cup filled with the fruit of the vine, and says, “Drink from it… all of you – for this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many, for the remission of sins!”

We love that verse, don’t we? And we read and remember it often, as each Lord’s Day, we gather at this Table to Commune with our Lord and Savior. But stop with me for a minute - reason together with the Lord, will you? Think it through with Him – what does Jesus mean when He says that His blood was to be shed for the remission of our sins? Remission – it’s a rich word, a meaningful idea, if any of you have ever been in debt! Ever owed anyone, anything? Remission – it means cancellation. When Jesus stretched out His arms and died for you and me; when He uttered those powerful words, “It is finished!,” He was declaring for all the universe to hear, our debt of sin has been canceled, remittedremoved! Praise God for the snow flakes!

Furthermore, did you know? Did you know that that word remit – or remission – is used to describe the release of a prisoner? Barabbas – now there’s a character from the Good Friday scene we rarely pay attention to – Barabbas! “Give us Barabbas – Crucify Jesus, but give us Barabbas instead,” the Jews shouted. The scripture tells us that Barabbas was in prison and probably awaiting execution on a cross himself – for insurrection and murder.

Yet, because of Jesus Barabbas was set free – that prisoner, justly condemned and punished – was released!

My loved ones, we are the Barabbases – and yet, because of the shed blood of Christ, as of a Lamb without blemish and without spot – we are the prisoners who have been released, praise God!

How does Jesus’ shed blood take care of the problem of our sin? Crimson, scarlet – our sins can be as wool, as white as snow – how? Through Christ’s blood remitting them. Through Christ’s death canceling and removing them!

One of the most difficult and distressing things about our sin is how it affects our hearts – no – not this organ in our chest that pumps blood throughout our bodies, but our heart – our minds, our conscience. You know, two Sundays ago, your preacher was sick – dizzy, nauseous – and to put it bluntly, vomiting his guts out. And, if you would have looked at me – at my eyes and my face – you would have known, you could tell, “He’s sick!” But, listen – who can detect the sickness of heart, mind and conscience that sin produces? To my knowledge the doctors have yet to come up with a tester or scanner to uncover that problem… But God has – God can and does know what’s in our heart! Verse 6 of that psalm of David we read a moment ago, puts it so very plainly and, even painfully, for sin-sick folks like us. David the psalmist kind, he looked so healthy and so very prosperous on the outside, but then, when he came face-to-face with the hidden condition of his heart, declared, “You, O God, desire truth in the inward parts…”

Yes, my friends, we are sick. But not with the stomach virus, the flu, bronchitis, or even cancer – no! Our hears, our minds, our consciences are sin-sick. Permanently stained with the crimson, redness of our guilt. And God knows it! He does! But is there any cure? Any prescription for this condition? Is it possible for crimson red hearts to be as white as snow?

I love this next passage of scripture – would you find it together with me please? Hebrews 9:11-14. In this passage, the Hebrew writer is contrasting the High Priesthood and the sacrifice of the Old Testament priesthood, with the High Priesthood of Jesus Christ, and His once-and-for-all sacrifice of Himself. Read along, as we consider the question: Is there a cure for hearts, minds CONSCIENCES that seemingly are permanently stained by sin? Can their awful redness be made white as snow?

Hebrews 9:11-14 – “But Christ came as High Priest of the good things to come, with the greater and more perfect tabernacle not made with hands, that is, not of this creation. Not with the blood of goats and calves, but with His own blood He entered the Most Holy Place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption. For if the blood of bulls and goats and the ashes of a heifer, sprinkling the unclean, sanctifies for the purifying of the flesh, how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?

What is the answer to our question about sin-sick hearts? Aren’t you glad, I know I am – aren’t you glad it snowed last weekend?! “Though our sins be as scarlet – as indelible as permanent as crimson-red stain on a white, wedding gown seems to be…” What a marvelous message those little flakes floating down from above bring us – Our sins, though they be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow – as wool!

Last night, as I was wrapping up my preparation for this message, I was struck by one interesting, and rather unique aspect of our God’s message to us in Isaiah 1:18 – Let me see if I can summarize it for you, “Though your sins be as scarlet… though they be as red as crimson…” The idea of those two phrases taken with the rest of the verse, is something like this: Your sins, the thorough-going effect of your sins – may seem to make it impossible for you ever to be clean, for you ever to be pure! But, listen – hear good news! The glorious, Good News declared by Jesus’ outstretched arms is…”Nothing is impossible with God!” Scarlet stains, crimson red blots and spots – our Savior’s cleansing blood has taken care of all of them… That’s right, I said, ALL: OF THEM!

That’s why we call it, GOOD Friday, isn’t is? That’s why we call it Good Friday.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

The Everlasting Mercy of God

Preach at Northwest Christian Church
David P. Kautt
Sunday Morning, March 7, 2010.

Psalm 136:1-26: Oh, give thanks to the LORD, for He is good! For His mercy endures forever.

Oh, give thanks to the God of gods! For His mercy endures forever. Oh, give thanks to the Lord of lords! For His mercy endures forever: to Him who alone does great wonders, for His mercy endures forever; to Him who by wisdom made the heavens, for His mercy endures forever; to Him who laid out the earth above the waters, for His mercy endures forever; to Him who made great lights, for His mercy endures forever–– the sun to rule by day, for His mercy endures forever; the moon and stars to rule by night, for His mercy endures forever. To Him who struck Egypt in their firstborn, for His mercy endures forever; and brought out Israel from among them, for His mercy endures forever; with a strong hand, and with an outstretched arm, for His mercy endures forever; to Him who divided the Red Sea in two, for His mercy endures forever; and made Israel pass through the midst of it, for His mercy endures forever; but overthrew Pharaoh and his army in the Red Sea, for His mercy endures forever; to Him who led His people through the wilderness, for His mercy endures forever; to Him who struck down great kings, for His mercy endures forever; and slew famous kings, for His mercy endures forever–– Sihon king of the Amorites, for His mercy endures forever; and Og king of Bashan, For His mercy endures forever–– and gave their land as a heritage, for His mercy endures forever; a heritage to Israel His servant, for His mercy endures forever. Who remembered us in our lowly state, for His mercy endures forever; and rescued us from our enemies, for His mercy endures forever; who gives food to all flesh, for His mercy endures forever. Oh, give thanks to the God of heaven! For His mercy endures forever.

I was making a list of the things I can count on the other day, and thought I'd share them with you this morning... Se what you think of my list. First on my list, is the weather – yes, the weather. Here in this part of the country we can count on it, can't we, that it's going to be today, what it was yesterday, and tomorrow what it is today! I can count on the weather, how about you? Secondly, I can count on the gas prices – and the grocery prices – from one week to the next, from one stop off at the station or the store to the next, I can be certain that the prices posted, and the amount I pay, will be the same. Third, I can count on what I read in the paper, and what they tell me on the news report to be the fact – plain and simple - just the facts. And, then, last of all on my list of what I can count on – I can count on the politicians – the folks in Washington, Austin and Downtown McKinney, to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth...

I know all of that was in my notes, but – hey – did someone slip that sheet in on me without me noticing it? And, while I'm asking questions, may I ask you this one, too? The weather – in North Texas, in March – the gas prices, the grocery prices, what you read or hear by way of the news reports – the promises and pronouncements of the politicians, even that old car sitting out in the parking lot – are those things on your list of things you are counting on? Are they?!

I ran across this interesting passage – Psalm 136 – again recently, and a little note I had jotted in the margin of my Bible. Take a moment to think about it, as you reflect on what we just read here. My note to myself, beside Psalm 136, went something like this: “In this world nothing lasts – in THIS world I can't – notice I said, I can't – really count on ANYTHING!

I mean, you just think of it with me this way – sort of make up another list than the one somebody slipped in on me a moment ago. In this world, does a person's beauty last? Ever seen one of those distorted-looking pictures on the cover of a grocery store scandal sheet – a photo of a well-known actor or actress who doesn't look anything like he or she did 40 or 50 years ago, when he or she first went to Hollywood?

Beauty doesn't last – neither does youthful vigor – just ask old Arthur, right? “All flesh is as grass” - the Scripture says, “and the glory of man is like the flowers of grass...” Then, what does that passage say? “All flesh is like grass and all man's glory is like flowers of grass, the grass WITHERS and the flowers FADE and FALL...” Youthful vigor – yes, even with vitamins, exercise, good nutrition and 8 hours of rest each night – youthful vigor doesn't last! Have we looked in the mirror lately? Don't remind me, right?!

Earthly treasures doesn't last. Jesus said that such things are subject to moths, rust and thieves – here today, gone tomorrow!

Things we make – things we give or that are given to us – don't last. Have you noticed how many repair and remodel businesses there are these days?

And, perhaps, most gut-wrenching of all, is the sober fact – the sad reality – that many relationships don't last! Marriages fail, yes, even so-call 'Christian marriages'. And families, seemingly solid families crumble and disintegrate!

In this world – like the note in the margin of my Bible says – in THIS world, nothing lasts... Nothing, that is – except God's mercy! God's mercy! Have you ever thought about it, my friends? Consider with me this morning, will you please? What we think we need – what we're convinced is absolutely essential to our lives – youthful vigor, earthly treasure, a car that starts every morning, even the people to whom we are committed – we think we can count on them! Somehow, someway, we find ourselves believing that these things WILL last – but is that the truth? Are these things really the rock solid foundations upon which we should build our lives?

In this world where – despite the 7-year, 70,000 mile warranty's claims – nothing lasts. In this world of false hopes, and empty promises – yes, in this world where only the mercy, the loving-kindness – the covenant loyalty, the steadfast love of God, lasts - what is it that we really need? Take your Bibles with me, please, and let's allow our infinite God and His eternally, enduring word to instruct was and inform us regarding this matter. Once again, this beautiful psalm beings with these words:

Psalm 136:1-3: Oh, give thanks to the LORD, for He is good! For His mercy endures forever. Oh, give thanks to the God of gods! For His mercy endures forever. Oh, give thanks to the Lord of lords! For His mercy endures forever.

The enduring mercy of God – His everlasting faithfulness to His promises, His steadfast love – how do we know we can count on it? How can we know for sure? The psalmist – this unnamed vehicle of God's message to us – focuses our attention on 3 or 4 different, but related, certainties to assure us that, yes, we can count on God's enduring mercy. Let's take a quick look at each of them.

First of all, in verses one through three, God's messenger urges us to bank on God's mercy because we can bank on WHO God is. Cultures and people groups, ancient and modern bank on their 'gods', don't they? In the day and time in which this psalm was written, various nations with whom the Israelites mingled, worshiped and trusted fertility gods and goddesses, gods of wind and fire and war – gods they had made images of bulls and goats and stars and trees. In our day and time, folks like us worship their 'gods', too, don't they? “Where your treasure is – where you invest yourself, your time, talents, resources and energy – that's where your heart is,” that's what your banking on and trusting in.

But, let me ask you: do any of those things wear the name, “The Great I-AM?!” Give thanks to the Lord” - the Great I-AM – are the words with which this psalm begins. My children have a book of names – a list of more than 100,000 names folks like you and me wear. But, listen, have you ever met anyone with the name, “I-AM” - the “Great, I-AM”? Or, how about these names? You won't find these names in any other book I know about - “Give thanks to the God of gods – the Lord of lords – the God of heaven” - for His mercy, His loving-kindness endures forever! Baal and Asherah – Elvis and Michael Jackson – some people call them my 'god' or 'my goddess'. But, which of them is the God of gods, the Lord of lords – the Lord, the King – not of fertility or MTV or rock and roll – but the God of heaven??

In this world, nothing lasts. Nothing – that is – except God's mercy. Why? Because it is founded upon Who God is! He is YAHWEH, Jehovah the Great I-AM. And He is NOT a god, a lord, among [along side of, equal to] other gods and lords, but the one true and living God – capital 'G'. And supreme Lord – capital 'L' – of all!

Secondly, please note with me the connection between the certainty of God's mercy and the stability of His creation – verses 4 through 9. The psalmist writes,

[give thanks] to Him who alone does great wonders, for His mercy endures forever; to Him who by wisdom made the heavens, for His mercy endures forever; to Him who laid out the earth above the waters, for His mercy endures forever; to Him who made great lights, for His mercy endures forever–– the sun to rule by day, for His mercy endures forever; the moon and stars to rule by night, for His mercy endures forever.

Why should we bank on God's mercy? I mean everything else in this world is so unstable, so uncertain – oh, but listen, did you go outside last night to look at the moon and stars? And did you go outside the night before and the night before and the night before? Oh, I know that there are cycles and patterns that relate to the movements of those heavenly bodies – but, listen, are those patterns random and unpredictable? Or, are they consistent? Something that if you were a sailor or an explorer, you could use as a guide and compass for your journeys? Or, think about it – this morning around 6:30am or so, the sun began to peek above the Northern horizon and yesterday, and came up in the south – and last night it went down in the east... You know I'm wrong, don't you? No, my friends, we can bank on God's mercy – we can count on Him to do what, in His covenant, He said He would do – why? Because morning by morning – winter, spring, summer or fall – in His creation, He shows us, He tells us, “You can count on Me!” “You can trust Me!”

This last week I had a couple of experiences that – humanly speaking – left me feeling a little helpless and frustrated. Twice, the phone rang and on the other end of the line were friends of mine, in dire straits – asking for help, “My car's broke down 30 or 40 miles from here, I need some help – could you possible tow my vehicle back to McKinney for me?”... “I'm sorry, my friend, but I can't... I wish I were a mechanic, I wish I had a tow truck – but I'm not, and I don't!”

Second phone call, “David – I'm up here sitting outside the county jail. I've been here since Valentines Day and finally, I'm getting out – can you help me?” “I'm sorry, my friend, but the best I can do is take you home. I'm not a lawyer – don't know any lawyers – wish I could do more for you, but I can't.” Ever had any phone calls like that? What do you do? Oh, certainly you can pray – but, beyond that sometimes, it seems our hands are tied, doesn't it? Sometimes maybe we ought to say – all of the time – instead of relying on these hands, this mind, these resources – we ought to rely on the nail-pierced hands! Take a look, one more time, at our text – the God we can bank on... the Lord, the GREAT I-AM, whose mercy endures forever. The Creator who not only made the world, but upholds and sustains it by His powerful word – what else is He? Who else is He? Verses 10 through 22 – He is our Redeemer. He is the One who brought us up out of Egypt, out of that wasteland of bondage to sin and death – He is our Deliverer, the One who brought us safely through the Red Sea of adversity and made it so that we no longer have to look back over our shoulders in fear! He is our victory – our victory over death and over the ultimate enemy who holds the power of death, the Devil! And, perhaps best of all – verses 21 and 22 – He is our Shield and very great reward (see Genesis 15:1-21).

In this world – this sin-stained world of failed programs, broken promises, and shattered people – is there anything you and I can count on? Anything that lasts?

Psalm 136:1 - “His mercy endures forever.”

Psalm 136:2 - “His mercy endures forever.”

Psalm 136:3 - “His mercy endures forever.”

Psalm 136:4, same thing in all the verses to the end of the passage.

In this world nothing lasts – nothing, except what we really need: God's mercy – so what?

So, give thanks – verse 1

So, give thanks – verse 2

So, give thanks – verse 3

So, give thanks – verse 26

So, give thanks!

Monday, March 1, 2010

Rival Loves and Our Spiritual Health

Preached at Northwest Christian Church

David P. Kautt

Sunday Morning, February 28, 2010

1 John 2:15-17: 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. For all that is in the world––the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life––is not of the Father but is of the world. And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever.

How important is your health? Recently, that question and its answer has hit very close to home for many in this room, hasn't it, as many of us have faced, perhaps still are facing, challenges that pertain to our physical well-being. I know I can speak for my family, and maybe I can speak for yours also – to say that when it comes to our health, the vibrancy and strength of our bodies, there's almost nothing we wouldn't attempt, in order to be strong or regain strength...

But, listen, my loved ones, as important as physical health is – and, believe me, it is important – it's difficult, even very frustrating to want to be actively involved in serving the Lord, if we're regularly having to battle sickness. But, listen, as important as our physical well-being might be, I would suggest to you that there's something even more important for us to consider – something even more vital for us to pursue. What is it? You know what it is, I'm sure... it is our spiritual well-being! Our spiritual health, if you would...

Earlier this month – the month of February – the month we call the month of love, on Valentine's Day we learned again about the great love of God for us and toward us in Jesus Christ!

Romans 5:6-11, read it again with me, would you please? -

For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him. For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. And not only that, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation.

The redeeming, justifying, reconciling, saving love of God – demonstrated toward us when He gave His only begotten Son to die in our place and for our benefit – what a huge part of our spiritual health that is, right? There would be no spiritual health – no spiritual life – without it, because otherwise, we are DEAD in our trespasses and sins.

But, listen – as we close out this month of love, as we call it – what I want you to see and realize with me is that there are other loves - what this Book describes as 'RIVAL loves' that are out there competing for our affection, and inviting and even enticing us to be loyal to them.

Now, here's the big question – please focus with me, right now, if you would, on God's love for us, and these other loves, that [like God's love] invite our loyalty and affection - If our spiritual health could be compared to a love relationship between two people, what do you think the effects would be on our spiritual health, if we were to allow ourselves to be enticed by these other loves – these 'rival loves'?

The flip side of the love of God for us, as demonstrated – as manifested in Jesus Christ – is these other loves – yes! But, what impact does joining ourselves to these other loves have on our spiritual well-being – any? A little? Or, maybe a lot more than we want to admit?

While you're contemplating all of that, allow me to take you to two or three other places in Scripture, to begin to unpack an answer to this probing question about the effects of other loves on our spiritual health...

First of all, underlying this entire discussion is one basic premise – one foundational principle – I'm not going to tell you what that premise or principle is right up front, but I trust you'll immediately recognize it, as soon as I read the following verses, so stay with me, if you would, please. What is the underlying principle or premise that is at the heart of this lesson about rival loves? Don try to answer, just hear what the word of God says:

Matthew 4:8-10: Again, the devil took Him up on an exceedingly high mountain, and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. And he said to Him, "All these things I will give You if You will fall down and worship me." Then Jesus said to him, "Away with you, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the LORD your God, and Him only you shall serve.’"

What is the underlying principle – what premise lies at the foundation of this lesson? Matthew chapter 6, Jesus' words we call the Sermon on the Mount. What does He say there to those would-be followers of His?

Matthew 6:24: No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.

And, while you are there, and thinking about it, notice also what He declares in verse 19 through 21:

Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Matthew 6:19-21)

Don't lay up treasures on earth. DO store up, do invest yourself in heavenly treasures – why? Because where your treasure is, there will you heart be also!

One more passage pertaining to the foundational premise – the underlying principle - we are seeking to understand and build our lives upon. Think about it as we read, this time, from Mark chapter 12. Mark 12:28-34. We're only going to read verses 28-31, but I wanted you to notice the conclusion of that text also -

Mark 12:28-31: Then one of the scribes came, and having heard them reasoning together, perceiving that He had answered them well, asked Him, "Which is the first commandment of all?" Jesus answered him, "The first of all the commandments is: ‘Hear, O Israel, the LORD our God, the LORD is one. ‘And you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ This is the first commandment. "And the second, like it, is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these."

Okay. So, now we've read these 3 passages from Jesus' words in Matthew and in Mark. So, now – what is the underlying principle or premise related to the subject of other loves – rival loves? Two things – first of all, as Jesus indicated in Matthew 6, if you and I are to love – I mean really love the way He's talking about – there can be really, and truly, only ONE object of that love! You cannot - Jesus says, you cannot – it is impossible for you and me to truly love God AND anything, or anyone else! And, then – with that – what's the second aspect of the underlying principle or premise? Listen [to this – in God's way of thinking there is no such thing as love Him AND loving something or someone else – so, what then? Second aspect of the premise: He wants ALL of your love! In fact, my friends, as our Creator, as our Sustainer, as our Savior and King – He DESERVES all of our love! “The Lord your God you shall worship and Him only shall you serve!” Underlying this discussion – this lesson on 'rival loves' - is this foundational principle: you can't truly love more than one; and, God wants to be (in fact, MUST be) that One!

But, then what? Then you and I pick up this Book, and what do we discover? What hard truths do we come fact to face with as we open the Word of God and use it as a mirror? Beloved, we come face to face with the reality that you and I are SINNERS – that though God has said one thing about loving Him and serving Him ONLY – we're going to try to prove Him wrong! We're going to show Him that we can love Him AND something or someone else! And, where does all of that lead? Loving, serving, giving our loyalty to OTHER loves – what effects do such things have on our spiritual health? Do you remember our previous question? Walk along with me through this Book, as we look for some explanations – some illustrations, some answers – to this question.

1 Kings chapter 11 – what does loving a rival love do to one's spiritual well-being? And, is it really that important?

At the height of King Solomon's popularity, prosperity and power – after having looked to God for wisdom to govern – what does Solomon do? What course does he take, and how does it impact him spiritually?

1 Kings 11:1-13: But King Solomon loved many foreign women, as well as the daughter of Pharaoh: women of the Moabites, Ammonites, Edomites, Sidonians, and Hittites–– from the nations of whom the LORD had said to the children of Israel, "You shall not intermarry with them, nor they with you. Surely they will turn away your hearts after their gods." Solomon clung to these in love. And he had seven hundred wives, princesses, and three hundred concubines; and his wives turned away his heart. For it was so, when Solomon was old, that his wives turned his heart after other gods; and his heart was not loyal to the LORD his God, as was the heart of his father David. For Solomon went after Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, and after Milcom the abomination of the Ammonites. Solomon did evil in the sight of the LORD, and did not fully follow the LORD, as did his father David. Then Solomon built a high place for Chemosh the abomination of Moab, on the hill that is east of Jerusalem, and for Molech the abomination of the people of Ammon. And he did likewise for all his foreign wives, who burned incense and sacrificed to their gods.

¶ So the LORD became angry with Solomon, because his heart had turned from the LORD God of Israel, who had appeared to him twice, and had commanded him concerning this thing, that he should not go after other gods; but he did not keep what the LORD had commanded. Therefore the LORD said to Solomon, "Because you have done this, and have not kept My covenant and My statutes, which I have commanded you, I will surely tear the kingdom away from you and give it to your servant. "Nevertheless I will not do it in your days, for the sake of your father David; I will tear it out of the hand of your son. "However I will not tear away the whole kingdom; I will give one tribe to your son for the sake of My servant David, and for the sake of Jerusalem which I have chosen."

Matthew 19:16-22 – refresh your memory on it just briefly with me:

Now behold, one came and said to Him, "Good Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life?" So He said to him, "Why do you call Me good? No one is good but One, that is, God. But if you want to enter into life, keep the commandments." He said to Him, "Which ones?" Jesus said, "‘You shall not murder,’ ‘You shall not commit adultery,’ ‘You shall not steal,’ ‘You shall not bear false witness,’ ‘Honor your father and your mother,’ and, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’" The young man said to Him, "All these things I have kept from my youth. What do I still lack?" Jesus said to him, "If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me." But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.

The Rich Young Ruler as he is called, when faced with a choice – that's really the key word, isn't it? When faced with a choice of love and loyalty, he chose his possessions – his stuff – rather than Jesus! And, the Scripture says, he went away sorrowful.

Luke 18:9-14: Also He spoke this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others: "Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. "The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other men––extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. ‘I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.’ "And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner!’ "I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted."

Jesus' parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector, you remember it? Which one of these two men returned to his home justified – in a right relationship with God? The Pharisee – who clung to his pride, his supposed spiritual superiority, or this humble, repentant tax collector? Take a look at verses 13 and 14 and you'll have your answer!

2 Timothy 4:9-10 – What better, or maybe I should say, what more worse illustration can you think of than this one, to show the effects of deciding to love a rival love? 2 Timothy 4:9-10 – facing the end of his life, at the hands of the Roman executioner, in need of comfort and companionship in his final days – Paul urges Timothy to leave Ephesus, and come as quickly as possible to Rome, to be with him – why? Because Demas – a formerly loyal and helpful companion – like Judas Iscariot to Jesus, “Demas has forsaken me because he loves [notice the key word there] this present world”. One of those other loves this Book warns us about – what has he done? He has left Paul in the lurch, and headed off to Thessalonica!

I mentioned Judas Iscariot just a moment ago – this one who for perhaps 3 precious years of his life walked with Jesus, listen to Jesus, watched Jesus as He performed miracles and ministered to the needy – Judas Iscariot, this 'friend' who ate of the Unleavened Bread Jesus described as 'His body' and drunk of the fruit of the vine, His blood – what does the Scripture tell us Judas chose to do? This thief, this traitor, this son of perdition, chose to love himself, and what he could get out of the money bag, over loving and serving the only One Who could save him!

What are the effects – the implications - for one's spiritual health of deciding to love someone or something other than Jesus?

We read at the outset 1 John 2:15-17, let's go back there in just a minute.

The choice to love 'rival loves' is a alluring, enticing choice, for sure! No doubt about it – we look into this mirror at the Solomons and the Demases and the Judases, at the Adams and Eves – and what do we see? We see ourselves – we see or should see, how strong these attractions really are – but, listen – do we also see have fatal these other loves can prove to be to our spiritual health?

1 John 2:15-17: 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. For all that is in the world––the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life––is not of the Father but is of the world. And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever.

Love for this world – this evil, satanically-oriented system – and love for things of this world, what does it do, what impact does it have on our love for God? Verse 15 – just like Jesus' words, “You cannot serve two masters – you cannot serve God and mammon,” notice how this text puts it. John the Apostle informs us that love for the world and its stuff, AND love for God cannot truly and fully co-exist in our lives. It's either one or the other. And, then – look at what else he shows us, mindful, I'm sure, of the very thing that happened to Judas Iscariot – thinking, I'm certain – of the 1 Kings record of Solomon's infamous spiritual downfall – and, most of all, remembering what Jesus said, and the responses of folks like Thomas after he saw the mark of Jesus' love for him, “You are my Lord, and my God!”

What does the Apostle John teach us about loving God, versus loving any or all of these rivals?

Verse 17 – Like Judas, hanging from that tree of self destruction, John says, “The world and the lust of it, these things are passing away – but, he who does the will of God abides forever!” Forever!

How important is our spiritual health and well-being? Many of us go – or have gone to great lengths to insure or reclaim our physical health – we want to be strong physically, and perhaps for some very good reasons. But, listen – man shall not live by bread alone! Treasures laid up on earth, the moths eat them, rust corrupts them, thieves steal them – the world and its lusts of the eye, the flesh, and the mind – these things don't last! But, loving God, and even more – being loved BY God – such things are eternal! Anything and everything we can do to enhance our spiritual well-being, what can we say about it? It will reap everlasting results!

In that 2 Timothy 4 passage – the Apostle Paul declares that the crown of righteousness is laid up for all who love and long for the appearing of Jesus! Is that what you are loving and longing for? If not, is there anything you can do about it? The Spirit of Jesus speaking through the apostle John to the church at Ephesus has this to say in Revelation 2:4 – If you've left your first love, there is something you can do! Revelation 2:4 – “Remember therefore from where you have fallen!” “Repent – yes, repent – turn your heart and your hands and feet AWAY from that rival love, and return to do the works you did at first!”

Remember – repent and return to God – He's your first love. “Do it!” Jesus says, “or else I will come and remove your lamp-stand from its place!”