Half-Hearted Disaster

“Half-Hearted Disaster”

November 12, 2017

By John Partridge*

 

Joshua 24:1-3a, 14-25                       Matthew 25:1-13

 

 

There’s a tall tale about a soldier who wanted to stop the fighting during the American Civil War, and as he thought about how he could go out onto the battlefield and address both sides, he dressed in a Confederate jacket and Union Blue pants and boots.  But as he went out onto the battlefield, rather than finding welcome, he discovered that he was being shot at from both sides and quickly had to choose which side he wanted to run toward to find safety.

 

In a similar, but much more serious bit of history, we remember when Emperor Nero began a focused persecution of Christians in Rome and many of them were hunted like animals.  During that time, some people, after their arrest, were given the opportunity to recant their faith in Jesus, swear allegiance to the Emperor, and save their lives.  Some did, others refused and were burned at the stake or worse.  But history records that in some circles, the church felt that there had been a benefit to their persecution.  Despite the fear and the terror, the some people believed that the church was stronger in the end because the people whose faith was half-hearted had all left, and those that remained behind were, in their assessment, true believers.  Today we acknowledge that some people with real faith in Jesus did what they felt they needed to do to save their lives and the lives of their family, but it remains an interesting perspective and this might be something we want to keep in mind as we read our scripture this morning.  We begin in Joshua 24:1-3a, 14-25 as we hear Israel’s leader, Joshua, address the people and ask them which god they really want to follow.

 

24:1 Then Joshua assembled all the tribes of Israel at Shechem. He summoned the elders, leaders, judges and officials of Israel, and they presented themselves before God.

Joshua said to all the people, “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘Long ago your ancestors, including Terah the father of Abraham and Nahor, lived beyond the Euphrates River and worshiped other gods. But I took your father Abraham from the land beyond the Euphrates and led him throughout Canaan and gave him many descendants.

 

14 “Now fear the Lord and serve him with all faithfulness. Throw away the gods your ancestors worshiped beyond the Euphrates River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord15 But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”

16 Then the people answered, “Far be it from us to forsake the Lord to serve other gods! 17 It was the Lord our God himself who brought us and our parents up out of Egypt, from that land of slavery, and performed those great signs before our eyes. He protected us on our entire journey and among all the nations through which we traveled. 18 And the Lord drove out before us all the nations, including the Amorites, who lived in the land. We too will serve the Lord, because he is our God.”

19 Joshua said to the people, “You are not able to serve the Lord. He is a holy God; he is a jealous God. He will not forgive your rebellion and your sins. 20 If you forsake the Lord and serve foreign gods, he will turn and bring disaster on you and make an end of you, after he has been good to you.”

21 But the people said to Joshua, “No! We will serve the Lord.”

22 Then Joshua said, “You are witnesses against yourselves that you have chosen to serve the Lord.”

“Yes, we are witnesses,” they replied.

23 “Now then,” said Joshua, “throw away the foreign gods that are among you and yield your hearts to the Lord, the God of Israel.”

24 And the people said to Joshua, “We will serve the Lord our God and obey him.”

25 On that day Joshua made a covenant for the people, and there at Shechem he reaffirmed for them decrees and laws.

 

Joshua tells the people that they are not able to follow God because our God is a holy and jealous god.  If the people were to forsake God and serve foreign gods then the God of Israel would bring disaster and would bring an end to them.  Choosing to follow the God of Israel was not something to be taken lightly.  One of the most powerful things is what Joshua says next: “throw away the foreign gods that are among you and yield your hearts to the Lord, the God of Israel.”  The point that Joshua makes is that the true heart of the people is what is important.  God wants to know, where your heart is and God insists that if you choose to follow him, that you follow him whole-heartedly.  Joshua warned that following God but keeping an alternative in reserve, “just in case,” was a recipe for disaster.  Not only would God not accept such half-hearted devotion, God would bring disaster upon those who did so.

 

And, just in case you were thinking that the God of the Old Testament seems harsher than the God that we see in the New Testament, Jesus doesn’t cut us any slack either.  In Matthew 25:1-13, Jesus tells us this story:

 

25:1 “At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish and five were wise. The foolish ones took their lamps but did not take any oil with them. The wise ones, however, took oil in jars along with their lamps. The bridegroom was a long time in coming, and they all became drowsy and fell asleep.

“At midnight the cry rang out: ‘Here’s the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!’

“Then all the virgins woke up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish ones said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil; our lamps are going out.’

“‘No,’ they replied, ‘there may not be enough for both us and you. Instead, go to those who sell oil and buy some for yourselves.’

10 “But while they were on their way to buy the oil, the bridegroom arrived. The virgins who were ready went in with him to the wedding banquet. And the door was shut.

11 “Later the others also came. ‘Lord, Lord,’ they said, ‘open the door for us!’

12 “But he replied, ‘Truly I tell you, I don’t know you.’

13 “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.

 

This story takes a little background to understand completely, but even if you don’t know the background, you should still understand the core of the story.  In the time of Jesus, much like we learned in the Christmas story of Mary and Joseph, young men would be betrothed, or contractually pledged, to be married to a young woman.  After the betrothal, the young man would generally return home with his father, continue to learn a trade, and at the same time begin building an addition on his father’s house where he would eventually bring his bride and start his own family.  And so, for a year or more, the bridegroom would be working, earning money, and building their future home.  When it was all finished, and the wedding feast prepared, only then would the bridegroom go back to the town where the bride was waiting for him.  The bride, and her friends had no idea what month, or what day, and certainly not what hour that the bridegroom would return.  Except that, one of the groom’s friends or some family member might run ahead and shout a warning that he was coming.

 

And so, although they had months, perhaps even years, to prepare and to plan, five of the bride’s friends just grabbed a handy lamp from a tabletop at home and ran out into the night to await the arrival of the bridegroom.  The other five, had planned more carefully.  They had thought about the coming of the bridegroom, and they had prepared for the eventuality that he might come in the middle of the night, that he might be delayed, or that the trip to the wedding feast might be longer than they expected, and so they had prepared in advance.  These wise young women were fully devoted to their friend the bride, and they did everything in their power to make sure that they didn’t miss her special day.

 

And Jesus says that those who were not prepared were locked out.

 

The warning in both stories is the same.  Half-hearted devotion, or half-hearted faith, half-hearted preparedness, or however you choose to name it, is an open invitation to disaster.

 

Our God is a holy God; he is a jealous God.  If you forsake the Lord and serve foreign gods, or serve money, or power, or your own selfish desires, or in any other way serve God half-heartedly, it will be a half-hearted disaster.  God will turn and bring disaster on you and make an end of you, even after he has been good to you.  We all need to look in the mirror from time to time and ask ourselves if we are giving all of ourselves to God or whether we are holding back something… “just in case.”

 

May we, just as the people of Israel did, rededicate our lives to God and give him…

 

…our whole heart.

 

 

 

 

_________
Did you enjoy reading this?
Click here if you would like to subscribe to these messages.

Click here to subscribe to Pastor John’s blog, Crossfusion.

_______________

 

 

U You have been reading a message presented at Trinity United Methodist Church on the date noted on the first page.  Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Trinity of Perry Heights in Massillon, Ohio.  Duplication of this message is a part of our Media ministry, if you have received a blessing in this way, we would love to hear from you.  Letters and donations in support of the Media ministry may be sent to Trinity United Methodist Church, 3757 Lincoln Way E., Massillon, Ohio 44646.  These messages are available to anyone regardless of membership.  You may subscribe to these messages by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at subscribe@trinityperryheights.org.  To subscribe to the electronic version sign up at http://eepurl.com/vAlYn.   These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.wordpress.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.

 

The Heart of God’s Lover

“The Heart of God’s Lover”
August 30, 2015
By John Partridge

Scripture: Song of Solomon 2:8-13          1 John 3:2-4          Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23

Have you ever been to a wedding? Certainly, almost all of us have and of all the things that we always remember at every wedding is how beautiful the bride was. It doesn’t really matter what kind of a wedding it is either. It could be a traditional wedding, a country and western wedding, a formal wedding, an informal wedding, they are all the same in that the bride does her very best to look beautiful. I once performed a wedding in which our church secretary got a phone call from the court house, in the morning, from a couple who was there getting their wedding license. They wondered if the pastor could marry them that afternoon so that they could be done and home before the kids got home from school. It seems that they had been living together for eight or ten years and the groom was finally in a mood to get married, and so the poor woman knew she didn’t want to waste her chance. They dashed off to the courthouse, got a wedding license, came down to the church with another couple as witnesses, and got married in my office. And even then, the bride took the time to stop at home and make sure that her hair and make-up got a little extra attention.

At any wedding, it is the love that the bride and groom have for one another that makes them want to look their best for the one that they love.

It is that principle that I want you to keep in mind.

Throughout scripture, God’s redeemer and rescuer, the Messiah, is described as the bridegroom. The prophet Isaiah said that (Isaiah 62:5) “As a young man marries a young woman, so will your Builder marry you; as a bridegroom rejoices over his bride, so will your God rejoice over you.”

In Matthew 9:15, Jesus describes himself as the bridegroom saying, “How can the guests of the bridegroom mourn while he is with them? The time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them; then they will fast.”

And in John’s Revelation the bride is revealed to be all of those whose names have been written in the Lamb’s book of life, that is, the followers of Jesus Christ, his church.

It is these sorts of lessons that bring the Old Testament into sharper focus. We always knew that the Old Testament was full of interesting stories but aside from revealing things about the basic morality of the Israelites, a bit of history, and a lot of weird stuff about the old system of worship and sacrifice, we often had a hard time understanding it. But, with the arrival of Jesus and the fulfillment of prophecy, we can go back and revisit some of those books that we thought were old and dusty, and see them in an entirely new light. We can see them differently, because we can now see them through the lens of Jesus.

For example, let’s look at the Song of Solomon. We always knew that this was a great book about love and sex, but if we think about Jesus as the bridegroom, our understanding of the story changes completely. (Song of Solomon 2:8-13)

8 Listen! My beloved!
Look! Here he comes,
leaping across the mountains,
bounding over the hills.
9 My beloved is like a gazelle or a young stag.
Look! There he stands behind our wall,
gazing through the windows,
peering through the lattice.
10 My beloved spoke and said to me,
“Arise, my darling,
my beautiful one, come with me.
11 See! The winter is past;
the rains are over and gone.
12 Flowers appear on the earth;
the season of singing has come,
the cooing of doves
is heard in our land.
13 The fig tree forms its early fruit;
the blossoming vines spread their fragrance.
Arise, come, my darling;
my beautiful one, come with me.”

It’s easy to picture a bridegroom peeking through the lattice at his beloved, singing with joy, but when we re-imagine that scene where it is God that is peeking at us, where God is filled with anticipation of being with us, because of his passionate love for us, then the whole thing takes on a completely different, and amazingly wonderful, flavor.

If God loves us in this deep and passionate way, then we are more than simply loved by God, we are the beloved of God or, in other words, we are God’s lover.

But if God is in love with us in this amazing way, then how are we, as the Bride of Christ, to prepare ourselves for our wedding? What does it look like for us to, spiritually, do our hair and make-up and beautify ourselves for our bridegroom?

If we look, we can find the answer directly from the lips of Jesus. In Mark chapter 7 the Pharisees take issue with the behavior of Jesus’ followers because they are not following “the rules” of the law and so are living lives that are unclean. Because of this, these church leaders attach Jesus. (Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23)

7:1 The Pharisees and some of the teachers of the law who had come from Jerusalem gathered around Jesus 2 and saw some of his disciples eating food with hands that were defiled, that is, unwashed. 3 (The Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they give their hands a ceremonial washing, holding to the tradition of the elders. 4 When they come from the marketplace they do not eat unless they wash. And they observe many other traditions, such as the washing of cups, pitchers and kettles.)

5 So the Pharisees and teachers of the law asked Jesus, “Why don’t your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders instead of eating their food with defiled hands?”

6 He replied, “Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written:

“‘These people honor me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me.
7 They worship me in vain;
their teachings are merely human rules.’

8 You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to human traditions.”

14 Again Jesus called the crowd to him and said, “Listen to me, everyone, and understand this. 15 Nothing outside a person can defile them by going into them. Rather, it is what comes out of a person that defiles them.”

21 For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come—sexual immorality, theft, murder, 22 adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. 23 All these evils come from inside and defile a person.”
The issue for Jesus, you see, is, and always has been, an issue of purity.
In 1 John 3:2-4, John puts it this way:

2 Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. 3 All who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.

The way that we beautify ourselves for our bridegroom is to purify ourselves and Jesus wanted to be sure that we understood that purity isn’t about washing our hands before we eat, or rinsing cups or kettles, or blindly following old traditions.

Purity is all about the heart.

Purity is all about what’s on the inside.

As we prepare ourselves for our beloved, and for our wedding day, our goal isn’t to get rich, or to elect the right political party, or be famous, or to do so many other things that our culture thinks are important. Instead, as James (James 1:27) taught us,

“Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”

God loves us deeply and passionately and our goal is to prepare ourselves for the day that he will call us to live with him in his pure and perfect home. To do that, we must deal with a serious heart condition. We must purify our hearts, filling them with the word of God and other things of purity, and we must do the things that God has called us to do.

Because the heart of God’s lover…

…is our own.