United by Pastor Abidan Shah

UNITED by Pastor Shah, Clearview Church, Henderson

UnitedIntroduction: Have any of ya’ll ever walked into an establishment like a restaurant where the waiters or waitresses didn’t get along? The meal was good but the atmosphere gave you a heartburn! Have any of you ever been to someone’s house where the family members didn’t get along? The house was beautiful but it was not a home. Have any of you ever attended a church where the members did not get along? They shook your hand but you didn’t feel welcome. They sang but it was not worship. They preached but it was not a message. What was lacking? Unity was lacking. Something else was lacking. God’s blessing was lacking. Disunity negates God’s blessing in a business, in a family, and, especially, in a church. Unity invites God’s blessing.

Psalm 133     1“Behold, how good and how pleasantit isfor brethren to dwell together in unity! 2It islike the precious oil upon the head, running down on the beard, the beard of Aaron, running down on the edge of his garments. 3It is like the dew of Hermon, descending upon the mountains of Zion; for there the LORD commanded the blessing—Life forevermore.”

Question: How is unity in your life, in your family? Are you promoting unity in this church body or are you eroding it? Are you part of the body of Christ? Are you saved?

Context: The psalm we just read is attributed to King David. Unlike some of his other psalms, this one is kind of unusual. It’s a song of worship but it reads more like a proverb. Although it talks about God, its theme is the importance of unity among God’s people. A few weeks back, when I was praying over what God would want me to preach after we get into the building, he laid this psalm on my heart. Clearview exists to magnify Christ but we cannot do it without unity in our church family. You can also apply this message to your family, your workplace, and your community. 3 things about unity:

I. UNITY IS UNCOMMON. 

1“Behold, how good and how pleasantit isfor brethren to dwell together in unity!

Background:The reason David says this is because it is natural for brethren not to dwell together in unity. Ever since the beginning of time, brothers have been fighting. Cain killed his brother Abel. Esau wanted to kill his brother Jacob. Joseph was sold into slavery by his own brothers. If it was David who wrote this psalm, his brothers hated him as well. It probably began when Samuel the prophet came to their home to anoint the next king of Israel. Samuel thought the oldest one, Eliab, would be the king but God told him in 1 Samuel 16:7“. . . Do not look at his appearance or at his physical stature, because I have refused him.For the LORDdoes notseeas man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” Six more brothers passed by in front of Samuel but God kept refusing them. Finally, David was called in from the field where he was keeping sheep. When he walked in, God said to Samuel in I Samuel 16:12“. . . Arise, anoint him; for thisisthe one!” Question: How do you think the brothers felt? We find the answer in the next chapter with the Goliath incident. David’s three brothers (Eliab, Abinadab, and Shammah) were on the battlefield and their father, Jesse, sent David with some food for them. When David got there, he saw Goliath the Philistine giant taunting the armies of Israel. David was filled with the Spirit of God and he asked the soldiers why somebody wasn’t doing something! Listen to what happens next – 1 Samuel 17:28Now Eliab his oldest brother heard when he spoke to the men; and Eliab’s anger was aroused against David, and he said, “Why did you come down here? And with whom have you left those few sheep in the wilderness? I know your pride and the insolence of your heart, for you have come down to see the battle.”Wow! Talk about talking down to someone! Talk about resentment and bitterness! Talk about judging someone! When David wrote those words, his eyes probably welled up with tears.

Application:Did you grow up in a home where people didn’t get along? Did you grow up in a situation where harsh words were spoken, grudges were held, and motives were judged? Don’t think that you are the only one. Disunity is natural. You have to work at unity. By the way, people bring the same attitudes to church and they spread the disease of disunity.

II. UNITY IS SACRED. 

2“It islike the precious oil upon the head, running down on the beard, the beard of Aaron, running down on the edge of his garments.”

Background:To explain what unity feels like, David draws a word picture for us from the time of Moses and Aaron. It comes from Exodus 30   30And you shall anoint Aaron and his sons, and consecrate them, that theymay minister to Me as priests. 31“And you shall speak to the children of Israel, saying: ‘This shall be a holy anointing oil to Me throughout your generations. 32It shall not be poured on man’s flesh; nor shall you makeany otherlike it, according to its composition. It isholy, andit shall be holy to you. 33Whoever compoundsanylike it, or whoever putsanyof it on an outsider, shall be cut off from his people.”In the verses following, God gave the exact concoction of this sacred oil and again warned against using it for anything else. In other words, this was a very sacred oil. Any abuse or corruption was punishable by banishment. Then in Leviticus 8the actual ceremony did take place when Aaron was anointed with oil. At the end of this 8-day ceremony, it says in Leviticus 9   23 “. . . Then the glory of the LORD appeared to all the people, 24and fire came out from before the LORD and consumed the burnt offering and the fat on the altar. When all the people sawit,they shouted and fell on their faces.”

Why did David use this imagery to describe unity? Just like the sacred oil, unity should also be treated as sacred. Any abuse and corruption should also be punishable by banishment. Don’t mess with unity. There are people in church who say things and do things that are detrimental to the unity of the church family. We should think twice about doing that! Don’t misunderstand: We can have different opinions and ideas but let nothing, except for the truth of the Word of God, divide us.

Application:How sacredly do you guard the unity in this church family? How sacredly do you guard unity in your family, your workplace, your community?

III. UNITY IS A MUST FOR GOD’S BLESSING. 

It is like the dew of Hermon, descending upon the mountains of Zion; for there the LORD commanded the blessing—Life forevermore.”

Background: Once again, David draws a word picture for us but this time from the climate and the land. Dew was and still is absolutely essential in Israel. From April to October there is little rain. So, dew is absolutely essential for the vegetation. What is dew? It is moisture condensed from the warm air by the cold ground. Mount Hermon sits on the North of Israel and its about 9000 ft high. The dew from Mount Hermon flows down and brings life to places all over Israel. It is the source of life. Without it, even Mount Zion would be barren. What is David saying? Just like the dew from Mount Hermon brings life and sustenance to the mountains of sacred Zion, so also unity gives God the opportunity to bless his people. The blessing is “life forevermore.” Show me a church that is lifeless and I will show you a church lacking in unity. Show me a family that is lifeless and I will show you a family where relationships are fractured. Show me a workplace, neighbourhood, or community that is lifeless and I will show you a place that does not have unity.

Application:Is there lifelessness where you are? Are relationships dying? Is growth struggling? Unity is the problem.

So, how do you achieve unity?

  1. Be discerning. Don’t get sucked into someone’s wrong agenda.
  2. Know the difference between unity and uniformity. Just look around.
  3. Love fervently. It will cover a multitude of sins.
  4. Focus on our common bond. What matters.

Ephesians 4    1“I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called,2with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love,3endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.4There isone body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; 5one Lord, one faith, one baptism;6one God and Father of all, whoisabove all, and through all, and in you all.”

Do you have this bond? Are you saved?

Life Between Posts (Article) by Abidan Paul Shah

LIFE BETWEEN POSTS (Article) by Abidan Paul Shah

(Published in the newspaper Daily Dispatch, Henderson on July 7, 2018)

IMG_2578You’re scrolling through your favorite social media and you see the perfect picture with perfect smiles and perfect clothes with a perfect background. To top it all off, its accompanied by a perfect caption, including hashtags like #lovinglife #love #loveus #happiness #sohappy #perfectday #forever #natural – What do all these hashtags and the posts and pictures that accompany them have in common? They are deceiving. They only give a partial, wishful, and concocted glimpse of life. I wish people would also add these hashtags to their posts and pictures– #pleasethinkImhappy #pretendwithmethatallisfine #IwishIfeltlikethispicture #Iwishwecouldalwaysbethishappy #justhadafight #abouttohaveafight #tookme20triestogetthispicture.

Unfortunately, many of us buy into and perpetuate the lies communicated by those pictures and posts with their unrealistic hashtags. I have seen young people fall into depression because they felt that others were having a great time and they were doomed to a life of misery and loneliness. They don’t stop to consider that those pictures were re-taken twenty times! I have seen marriages fall apart because one partner felt that they were not as happy as others and that the grass was greener somewhere else. They don’t realize that the grass is always greener by the septic tank! I have known people who refused to get help because they thought a few likes on social media would solve their problems. They don’t understand that hearts on a screen can never fix the heart of their problems.

Am I suggesting that we stop posting happy pictures and take on a morose view of life? Absolutely not. It’s perfectly fine to share our joys with others. Social media is a wonderful tool to keep up with family and friends. But, please don’t confuse a perfectly angled selfie with a perfectly aligned life. Be discerning. Here’s a reality check from the oldest book in the Bible – “Man who is born of woman is of few days and full of trouble.” (Job 14:1) Before you envy someone else’s perfect life, remember that even Jesus – the perfect Son of God – had a few bad days. Imagine all your besties deserting you and letting you die for crimes you didn’t commit! Ironically, we call it “Good Friday.”

Ultimately, we need to ask ourselves – What causes us to crave this approval and admiration of others? Why is it that we want others to think that our life is so flawless? Where did this desire to cover up our blemishes and failures come from? It goes all the way back to Adam and Eve who tried to cover up their sin by using fig leaves. Refusing to face up to our problems and pretending that all is fine is an old family trait. Just like our first parents, we also hide in our proverbial gardens instead of confessing our sin before God and seeking his help and forgiveness through Jesus. Thinking that someone else has it better than us also runs in the family. Cain was envious of his brother Abel because he saw that God approved his brother’s offering. Instead of changing his ways, he killed Abel.

Here are a couple of questions to consider before you post that perfect picture with the perfect quote: What is your true motivation for posting? Who are you trying to impress? Will this uplift someone or bring them down? If you are posing with someone, do they really believe that about you? Does that person feel used? What is the real issue that you are avoiding? How does God feel about your post? Jesus rebuked those who rejected him, saying, “How can you believe, who receive honor from one another, and do not seek the honor that comes from the only God? (John 5:44)

True life is what happens between posts. #Lifebetweenposts – there’s a hashtag that should go viral!

Train Up a Child (Article) by Abidan Paul Shah

TRAIN UP A CHILD (Article) by Abidan Paul Shah

(Published in the newspaper Daily Dispatch, Henderson on March 31, 2018)

Proverbs 22:6 “Train up a child in the way he (she) should go, and when he (she) is old he (she) will not depart from it.”

Train Up a Child (1)The world is upside down. We have become W.B. Rands’ “Topsy-Turvy World” where “three times one was nine…the pony rode his master…the cats were afraid of the mouse…and the mamma sold her baby.” Now right is wrong and wrong is your right. The good guys are the bad guys and the bad guys are the heroes. Sin is freedom and morality is intolerance. As the late pastor Adrian Rogers would say, “sin that use to slink down the back alley now struts down the main street.”

As bad as all that is, we’ve hit a new low when children are being made to lecture adults on what’s right and what’s wrong! Now kids are being held up as spokespersons and activists against time-honored foundational values. There are some who are celebrating this but I believe that it will prove to be devastating to our kids as well as to our society and future. It is no different than giving those same kids a wire-stripper and setting them loose in an electrical panel or giving them a scalpel and letting them do critical surgery.

Train Up a Child (2)Don’t think for a moment that I am talking down about children. To the contrary, I am repulsed by the adage – “Children are to be seen and not heard.” Jesus welcomed children. He compared the reception of his kingdom to the humility of a child. He threatened those who would hurt children with the severest punishment. Repeatedly, the Bible commands us to treat children with the utmost respect and care. This requires that we understand that what they truly deserve and desire from us is right training. Proverbs 22:6 lays out the 4 non-negotiables in this process:

  1. The Child – The Hebrew word is “nahar,” which can mean anywhere from an unborn child to a young person. From the context, it is obvious that the training has to begin as early as possible. Delay in training will diminish the promise. Children are like a garden. The longer you let it go, the harder it is get it back.
  2. The Way – There are only 2 ways in life. The first is God’s Way and the second is the Sinful Way. One leads to life and the other to destruction. Once on the right way, you cannot keep going back to the wrong way and still expect to get to your destination.
  3. The Training – Read Deuteronomy 6:6-9. It is not a one-time event but a 24/7 job. It is not accidental but intentional. It is not irrational but logical. It is not authoritarian but empathetic. It is not cherry picked but balanced. It is not harsh but firm. It is not disheartened but patient.
  4. The Trainer – Training is more caught than taught. In other words, it’s not enough to just preach at your kids. You have to practice what you preach. Doing immoral and unethical things and warning your kids not to does not work. Dropping your kids off at church as you squeal your tires out of the parking lot does not cut it. As someone wisely said, “whatever you do in moderation, your children will do in excess.” You want your kids to follow Christ, then you follow him. If you do those 4 non-negotiables correctly, then only the promise is that those kids may lose their way but they will be back.

If Neil Postman was right that “Children are the living messages we send to a time we will not see,” what message are we giving to our kids? I see a bright future ahead as more and more parents are rising up and taking their rightful roles as trainers and models to their kids.

Changing Seasons of A Marriage (Article) by Abidan Paul Shah

CHANGING SEASONS OF A MARRIAGE (Article) by Abidan Paul Shah

(Published in the newspaper Daily Dispatch, Henderson on February 3, 2018) 

Genesis 8:22 “While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, winter and summer, and day and night shall not cease.” Ecclesiastes 3:1 “To everything there is a season…”

Changing Seasons of a MarriageWe all have our favorite seasons. Many of us love the Fall with its changing leaves and beautiful colors. Some of us love Winter with its cooler temperatures. I know a lady in our church who left Florida because she got tired of the warm weather! She makes it a point to remind me that a perfect forecast is when they’re calling for below freezing! Personally, I love Spring because it’s a glimpse of the resurrection that awaits us. And, what can I say about Summer! Long days, beach trips, and the yellow inferno, which some call “the Sun.” No matter how much we love one season more than another, we cannot hold on to our favorite ones or skip over those we don’t like. They all change in due time and each one is essential for the next to arrive. Without Spring, there would be no Summer and Summer prepares us for Fall, which in turn ushers in Winter. In the same way, a marriage also has different seasons. We may prefer one over the other but we cannot hold on to any or skip over the ones we don’t like. I want to briefly explain the various seasons of a marriage and how that understanding can enhance your relationship. My information is coming from two books that have helped me greatly in my pre-marital and marital counselling: “Passages of Marriage” by Minirth, Newman, and Hemfelt; “Seasons of a Marriage” by H. Norman Wright. Altogether, there are five seasons in a marriage:

  1. “Fall Season” – It is romantic love filled with captivating colors and perfect temperatures. The air is full of expectations that the colors will never fade and the temperatures will never change. Unfortunately, the leaves start falling, the temperatures start dropping, and only the barren woods and brown grass remains. Unfulfilled expectations can sometimes lead to hurt, anger, and bad choices.
  2. “Early Winter Season” – It is marked by a growing realization that love is not enough to face the dropping temperatures. Bills, mortgage, and car payments have to made. But, it’s not all bad. It can also be a time of much joy and excitement with the arrival of new members in the family! New roles and adjustments have to be made but it is fulfilling. Warning: It can also be a time when silk sheets get replaced with flannel!
  3. “Late Winter Season” – With no Punxsutawney Phil in sight, the days seem depressing and meaningless. Being locked up indoors, the defects in each other become more distinct and annoying. Cabin fever can sometimes drive people to venture out to re-discover themselves. Someone cleverly called it the “go-away-closer disease,” where the spouse wants to be closer and yet pushes the other person away. If properly handled, it can actually lead to deeper intimacy and commitment.
  4. “Spring Season” – Just when it seems that winter would last forever, the leaves start budding, the flowers start blooming, the birds start singing, the temperature starts rising, and “love is in the air.” Having weathered the harsh winter of life, people become more realistic and mature. Don’t take this as some “as good as it gets” life. Instead, it brings a far richer love and appreciation for one another.
  5. “Summer Season” – Far from being the “last years” of a marriage, these can be the “masterpiece years.” Michelangelo began his work on the Sistene Chapel at 76 and created the architectural plans for the Church of Santa Maria degli Angeli at 88. Having been through the hurricanes of the Fall, blizzards of the Winter, hay fever of the Spring, and other unexpecteds of life, you are well-qualified for a masterpiece marriage.

Remember: “Winter, Spring, Summer, or Fall; All you got to do is call” on God and he will see you through any season of your marriage.

HOW TO HANDLE TOXIC PEOPLE – Part 2 (Article) by Abidan Paul Shah

HOW TO HANDLE TOXIC PEOPLE – Part 2 (Article) by Abidan Paul Shah

(Published in the newspaper Daily Dispatch, Henderson on October 14, 2017)

How to handle toxic people - Abidan ShahMy last article, “How To Handle Toxic People,” drew more responses than any of my pervious articles! Evidently, it touched a nerve and God used it to meet a real need. Thank you for all the words of appreciation! Some of you raised a question that I feel the answer may benefit others as well – “Daily we go through minor toxic encounters that leave us feeling upset to one degree or another. Does that mean that for each of those incidents we have to go through the same process of praying for 20 days until we are free of the toxin?” Of course not. Toxic people and minor toxic encounters are two different things. The first are individuals who perpetually cause us to feel miserable and the second are chance happenings that inject just enough toxin in us to ruin our spirit. Although the latter are not as harmful as the former, don’t assume that they are completely harmless. If left untreated, those emotional fender-benders can cause us to ruin others’ spirits as well. Let me explain below.

Imagine several scenarios: a kid at the drive-thru messes up your order; someone cuts you off on the freeway; someone fails to thank you for your hard work on some project; and you wave at a friend who doesn’t wave back with the same energy. Or, how about the big one: You put a post on Facebook that you think should go viral and only 3 people like it…What do you do next? Each of those encounters have the potential to initiate an unhealthy conversation within you. For the kid at the drive-thru: “Kids these days are so disrespectful.” For the person who cut you off: “I hope he/she gets caught.” For the friend who didn’t seem that excited to see you: “I’m looking the other way next time.” For those who failed to appreciate your hard work: “I am not appreciated.” And yes, for Facebook, one of those: “If you are my true friend, you’ll comment below and repost.” Such negative self-talk will surely ruin your attitude and keep you from living up to your potential. Unfortunately, such unhealthy conversations don’t stay locked inside for long. Sooner or later they spill over on to the unsuspecting individuals in your lives. In other words, your quest for justice will not rest until someone is convicted, sentenced, or punished. Since you cannot prosecute the original perpetrators, you will substitute those innocent, weak, and docile individuals in your life. Your kids, your husband, your wife, your church family, your neighbor, and your best friend will pay for a crime they did not commit.

What is the solution? First, recognize when your spiritual equilibrium has been disturbed. In other words, acknowledge the gnawing feeling that some wrong may have been committed against you. Second, immediately take charge of your internal conversation. 2 Corinthians 10:5 reminds us that we should be “bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ.” A runaway thought is like a runaway train. There will be casualties. Third, refrain from judging the motives of others. 1 Corinthians 2:11 “For what man knows the things of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him?” Ultimately, only God knows the true intents of each human heart. Fourth, pray for that individual. Nothing will neutralize hate and anger faster than sincere prayer. Follow the example of our Savior: Luke 23:34 “Then Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.’” Don’t misunderstand. There may be situations where more than prayer is called for but there’s a big difference between restitution and retaliation. Fifth, practice the lost art of the unsent angry letter. Abraham Lincoln would often write his “hot letter” but postpone sending it until he had cooled down. He never sent most of them.

 

HOW TO HANDLE TOXIC PEOPLE (Article) by Abidan Paul Shah

HOW TO HANDLE TOXIC PEOPLE (Article) by Abidan Paul Shah 

(Published in the newspaper Daily Dispatch, Henderson on August 19, 2017)

It was a perfect end to a busy week. I had accomplished everything on my agenda, which is rare. Now it was time to head home and catch up on some well-needed family time. My face was smiling, my shoulders were relaxed, my mind was clear, my steps were unhurried, and I was humming Old Satch, “What a Wonderful World.” Then it happened. In a matter of seconds, the smile vanished, the shoulders became tense, the mind turned muddy, the swag was gone, and I think I began humming Old Hank, “I’m so Lonesome I Could Cry.” The family time was nothing like I had envisioned. If truth be told, it was a rather miserable weekend. You ask, “What brought such sudden and miserable change?” Well, I ran into a toxic person. You know the type who pushes you into Bunyan’s Slough of Despond, the fictional bog in which a person sinks under the weight of sin, guilt, shame, and discouragement. Have you ever been a victim of a toxic person? Let me share with you how to handle them:

First, recognize them for who they are. Toxic people come in all types. Dr. Travis Bradberry (double PhD in Clinical and Industrial-Organizational Psychology from the California School of Professional Psychology and author of the best seller Emotional Intelligence 2.0) identifies 10 kinds of toxic people: The Gossip, The Temperamental, The Victim, The Self-Absorbed, The Envious, The Manipulator, The Dementor, The Twisted, The Judgmental, and The Arrogant. Most of these designations are self-explanatory except for maybe the Dementor and the Twisted. The former are the kind who suck the life out of the room by their negativity and pessimism and the latter are out to hurt you, make you feel bad, or get something from you. Bradberry warns, “toxic people drive your brain into a stressed-out state that should be avoided at all costs…Toxic people don’t just make you miserable—they’re really hard on your brain.”

Next, always be prepared to face toxic people. To think that we can avoid them completely is unrealistic and naïve. They might be in the family, neighborhood, workplace, or social organizations (even church!). Trying to ignore them or keep them at arm’s length will only aggravate the situation and attempting to mirror their behavior will only lead to disaster. Instead, learn their behavior patterns and establish the appropriate emotional boundaries in your mind. Don’t get smug like me and stumble into a bad weekend. Also, avoid any toxic song, show, movie, book, or event in your life. Such things only add unnecessary toxicity to your life.

What if the damage has been done? Many years ago I allowed a toxic person to steal my joy. It took a toll on my health, family, and spiritual life. God in his mercy sent a mature person into my life who immediately recognized my distress. He pointedly asked, “Do you want this toxin out of your system?” At first I pretended to be fine and then the Holy Spirit convicted me of my pride. This godly person told me that he too struggled with it and he found help in Jesus’ words in Matthew 5:44 “love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you.” He said, “Start praying that God would bless this person who has been toxic in your life. Pray for the next 20 days for physical, spiritual, and financial blessing in their life. Be aware that the first time you pray that it will be impossible to mouth those words. Do it again the next day and you might feel sick to your stomach but don’t stop. Eventually, it will become easier and easier. Then, there will come a day when you will pray and actually find yourself praying sincerely as if for a friend. Somewhere towards the end of the 20 days, you’ll wake up one morning and realize that you are free. The toxin has cleared out of your system.” Guess what! It actually worked!

Ultimately, sin is the toxin and only the grace of God through Jesus Christ can heal your life. Give it a try today.

Facing Old Foes by Pastor Abidan Shah

FACING OLD FOES by Pastor Shah, Clearview Church, Henderson

Facing Old FoesIntroduction: There have always been famous rivalries. In ancient times it was Athens vs. Sparta. In sports there are plenty of rivalries – Alabama vs. Auburn, Georgia vs. Georgia State, Duke vs. Chapel Hill. In soft drinks, Coke vs. Pepsi. There have been family rivalries like the Hatfields and the McCoys. But the worst kind is when it’s within the family. Sometimes our very flesh and blood can be our worst foes. This morning we will learn how to face old foes.

Genesis 32   6 Then the messengers returned to Jacob, saying, “We came to your brother Esau, and he also is coming to meet you, and four hundred men are with him.” 7 So Jacob was greatly afraid and distressed…9 Then Jacob said, “O God of my father Abraham and God of my father Isaac, the LORD who said to me, ‘Return to your country and to your family, and I will deal well with you’: 10 I am not worthy of the least of all the mercies and of all the truth which You have shown Your servant…11 Deliver me, I pray, from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau; for I fear him, lest he come and attack me and the mother with the children.

Question: Who are you afraid to face? More specifically, who in your family are you afraid to face? What has happened between you and this person that the very mention of his/her name fills you with fear? The very thought of coming face-to-face with this person makes you sick to your stomach. It may not necessarily be a fear for your life but it’s a kind of a mental and emotional fear. Are you saved? Paul says in 2 Timothy 1:7 “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.” If you are saved, God can help you face this foe with power, love, and a sound mind.

Context of the Message: If you remember from last time, Jacob had enough of Uncle and Father-in-law Laban in Haran and he was headed back to his parent’s home with his wives and children. But coming home was complicated. He didn’t exactly leave on good terms. In fact, his last exit from home was more of an escape for his life. Twenty years had passed but his old foe Esau, his brother, was still there and, if I may add, stronger than ever. I’m sure Jacob had not forgotten Esau’s last words for him – “The days of mourning for my father are at hand; then I will kill my brother Jacob.” Isaac, their father was still living but Rebekah, his mother, the one who always stood up for him and protected him, was dead. Jacob wanted to go home. He needed to go home. But, going home meant facing his brother whom he had deeply offended 20 years ago. As Proverbs 18:19 says, “A brother offended is harder to win than a strong city…” This message will help us learn from Jacob how to face the old foe.

Let’s begin in Genesis 32   1 So Jacob went on his way, and the angels of God met him. 2 When Jacob saw them, he said, “This is God’s camp.” And he called the name of that place Mahanaim. If you remember, 20 years ago when Jacob was running for his life, he had a vision of a ladder with the angels of God ascending and descending on it. So he woke up next morning and named the place Bethel, the house of God. Jacob was struggling with homesickness and God reminded Jacob that even though he was far away from the steps of his earthly home, he was always near to the steps of his heavenly home. In other words, when Jacob was away from his home, God gave him the key to his own heavenly home. But this time he calls the vision the “Camp of God.” Keep in mind that this camp was not like a tent in the woods. This was the base camp of the angelic army of God. Because Jacob was afraid for his life and family, God gave him a glimpse of his power and his presence all around him.

Application: What fear is plaguing you today? Jesus can meet you right where you are. He will replace your fear with his presence if you ask him. Have you done that?

Even after the vision of God’s army camp of angels around him, Jacob is still afraid of facing his brother Esau. So he begins to do several things to appease him. I’ve heard many messages condemning Jacob for his fear. Here’s the problem: The Bible never condemns him for doing what he did. What does he do? Genesis 32   3 Then Jacob sent messengers before him to Esau his brother in the land of Seir, the country of Edom. 4 And he commanded them, saying, “Speak thus to my lord Esau, Several things are worth pointing out here: First, Jacob addresses Esau as “lord” or “master.” That does not mean “god.” It’s simply a designation of respect and honor. When it comes to facing an old foe in the family, watch how you address them. If you begin by calling them a name or treating them with disdain or reminding them of how you’re better than they are, it will only cause them to despise and resent you even more. Proverbs 15   1 A soft answer turns away wrath, But a harsh word stirs up anger. 2 The tongue of the wise uses knowledge rightly, But the mouth of fools pours forth foolishness.

This is very hard for people today who are living in the social media world where every post, picture, and snap chat is meant to make our own self look better than we are.

What else did Jacob say? 5 “I have oxen, donkeys, flocks, and male and female servants; and I have sent to tell my lord, that I may find favor in your sight.’” Jacob is offering gifts to appease his brother Esau. He is doing what Solomon tells us to do in Proverbs 12:14a “A gift in secret pacifies anger…” But the word still comes back to Jacob that Esau was coming to meet him with 400 men. 7 “So Jacob was greatly afraid and distressed…” I would be afraid too because that was a sign of battle. So he divides up his livestock and the people into different groups, hoping that if Esau attacks one, the other may be able to get away. Here’s a question: Is Jacob failing to trust God by doing all this? Not really. He is doing all he can to protect the promise of God to his grandfather Abraham. How do we know? Listen again to his prayer in Genesis 32   11 Deliver me, I pray, from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau; for I fear him, lest he come and attack me and the mother with the children. 12 For You said, “I will surely treat you well, and make your descendants as the sand of the sea, which cannot be numbered for multitude.’” His prayer is focused on the promise of God.

Principle: Prayer is indispensable in times of crisis.

How does God answer Jacob’s prayer? Genesis 32:24 “Then Jacob was left alone; and a Man wrestled with him until the breaking of day.” How strange! Just when you’d think that God would send a cool breeze and give Jacob a good night sleep with dreams of angels protecting him and fighting for him, a stranger jumped on him and tried to pin him to the ground! This went on all night and when the stranger realized that he couldn’t win against him, he touched the socket of Jacob’s hip and it went out of joint.

What in the world is God doing? This stranger is none other than the pre-incarnate Jesus. He’s wrestling with Jacob for several reasons. First, to test him and see if he still wants the blessing of being part of the promise of God to his grandfather Abraham. Jacob refusing to let go until the stranger blessed him proved that he still wanted it. Next, it was to break him. God knows that if Jacob went out there looking all big and bad, it would only aggravate Esau more and this time he would really kill him. What’s the outcome? Instead of making him strong, he made him weak. Why? Same reason that he made Paul weak in 2 Corinthians 12   7 And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure. 8 Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me. 9 And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong. God way is through brokenness and weakness.

What was the result? Jacob is now sleep deprived, physically exhausted, and limping in incredible pain. 31 Just as he crossed over Penuel the sun rose on him, and he limped on his hip…Genesis 33:3 Then he crossed over before them and bowed himself to the ground seven times, until he came near to his brother. You can see the silhouette of a truly broken man. What was Esau’s reaction? Genesis 33:4 But Esau ran to meet him, and embraced him, and fell on his neck and kissed him, and they wept. What a beautiful sight! He even refuses the gifts that Jacob had sent to him but Jacob insists and Esau reluctantly takes them. But when Esau offers to hang together, Jacob refuses because he knows that ultimately Esau was not on the same page as him.

Here are some suggestions in dealing with an old foe:

  • Trust God’s Presence
  • Show humility
  • Offer gifts
  • Pray
  • Be willing to be broken
  • Don’t compromise God’s plan for your life

Are you saved? Are you a foe of God? He is willing to reconcile with you

Love is Liberating by Pastor Abidan Shah

LOVE IS LIBERATING by Pastor Shah, Clearview Church, Henderson

Love is LiberatingIntroduction:  If you keep up with politics, I’m sure you’ve heard of Congressman Sam Johnson from Plano, Texas. He has served in the House since 1991 and will be retiring next year. He is an Air Force Veteran and a POW in Vietnam for 7 years at the infamous “Hanoi Hilton,” also known as “Hell’s Hole.” In recalling his experience, he said, “Starvation, isolation and torture were constant companions. There was no news from home, and the enemy worked hard to make us feel alone and forgotten.” He describes one of the torture treatments – “I could recall nothing from military survival training that explained the use of a meat hook suspended from the ceiling…During a routine torture session…the Vietnamese tied a prisoner’s hands and feet, then bound his hands to his ankles—sometimes behind the back, sometimes in front. The ropes were tightened to the point that you couldn’t breathe. Then, bowed or bent in half, the prisoner was hoisted up onto the hook to hang by ropes. Guards would return at intervals to tighten them until all feeling was gone, and the prisoner’s limbs turned purple and swelled to twice their normal size. This would go on for hours, sometimes even days on end.” The torture and malnutrition made Johnson stoop-shouldered and mangled his right arm, besides a cracked back and broken arm when his plane went down. After 42 months in a dark solitary cell with rats and filth, he was finally released and he remembers the sweet embrace of his wife Shirley and their three kids. He said, “I got through those hellish years by the grace and mercy of God.” Our final message in this series on love is titled, “LOVE IS LIBERATING.” There’s no true love in hate-filled, torture like environments. True love flourishes where there is true freedom.

I Corinthians 13   4 Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails…13 And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.

Context: At the heart of all the problems in the Corinthian Church was the problem of love. They didn’t know how to love each other properly. Paul wrote this letter to teach them how to love each other the way Christ loves us. In today’s message, you will see that Christ never exposes, never suspects, never discourages, and never threatens.

Question: How do you love people? Do you at times expose the weaknesses and failures of the ones you love? Do you constantly suspect and doubt the ones you love? Do you discourage and steal hope from the ones you love? Do you give up on or threaten the ones you love? Are you saved? Have you truly experienced the love of God in Christ?

Let’s look at the words in Greek: The first is “love bears all things.” The Greek word for bears is “stegei.” It comes from the noun “stegei,” which means “roof.” I’m sure the Corinthians knew what this word meant. Archaeologists have found evidence that by the 7th century BC the temples and houses in Corinth had started replacing thatched roofs with fired tiles. Why? Because thatched roofs were a huge fire hazard, especially in a growing city like Corinth. These tiles were heavy, weighing about 60 plus pounds but they were durable, long-lasting, and protective from the rain, sun, heat, snow, and cold. The word “stegei” took on the idea of covering, sheltering, protecting, keeping out, and keeping in. When Paul says, “love bears all,” he is really saying, “love always covers and never exposes.” Meaning: Love does not find pleasure in exposing others to harshness. Love does not get joy in watching the other person squirm in fear or shame. In the Corinthian culture, it might have been okay to expose your enemy but not in Christianity.

Application: Do you cover people or do you expose people? In the Greco-Roman world, sometimes when the renters would not pay on time, the landlords would remove the front door or even strip off the tiles from the roof. Does that sound familiar? Someone is bound to say, “Are you suggesting we hide someone’s sin?” No. I’m simply saying what Peter also said in I Peter 4:8And above all things have fervent love for one another, for ‘love will cover a multitude of sins.’” Even though Peter uses a different word for “cover” than roof, the idea is the same. Love does not get pleasure out of exposing the other person but wants to help them in their moment of weakness and shame.

The second statement: “Love believes all things.” The Greek word for “believes” is “pisteuei,” which has the idea of trust in others. Again, the Corinthian culture was very competitive and status seeking. They were constantly striving to get ahead of one another by whatever means necessary. You always had to watch your back. Unfortunately, this mindset of distrust and suspicion had also entered the church. Even Christians didn’t trust each other. When Paul tells them “loves believes all things,” he was really saying, “love does not live in the zone of perpetual suspicion but is willing to trust others. It is the foundation of all relationships.”

Illustration: When God called me into the ministry, I went to Nicole’s dad and he helped me with my decision. I asked him if he would also help me find a good seminary. He took me to one. On the way, he told me that one of his good friends was a pastor nearby and he wanted to come visit with us. That sounded fine to me. This man came and after they caught up, he turned to me and began telling me how terrible people were and how they would stab me in the back and how they could not be trusted. He spent the next hour or two emotionally vomiting. I didn’t know what to think. I wasn’t naïve about church ministry. My dad was a pastor and still is. But I didn’t know how to take what he had just told me. After he left, Nicole’s dad said to me, “Don’t pay attention to anything he said. He must be going through some mess. Without trust, you cannot minister to people.”

Here’s the point: If you constantly operate as some kind of a KGB agent, always frisking people, always looking over your shoulder, always questioning their motives, you will never be able to love people. Your relationships will always be sporadic, seasonal, and short lived. By the way, get used to the idea that people will fail you. They will break your trust. If I may add, many times, people will rise or fall to the level of your expectations. If you keeping suspecting them, they will become suspicious. Trust is the foundation of all relationships. Without it, there’s no true love.

The third statement: “love hopes all things.” The Greek word for “hopes” is “elpidzei,” which has the idea of expectation and wish. People often confuse faith with hope. They are related but they are not the same. They are related in the sense that they are both looking to something that is invisible and unprovable. But they are different because just a few verses later Paul says in verse 13 “And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” What is the difference between faith and hope? Faith is what you can’t see but you are standing on. Hope is what you can’t see but you are looking for. If faith is the foundation that you can’t see but you are standing on. Hope is the window through which you are looking for what you can’t see yet.

Illustration: In the past few years, the Robertson family from West Munroe, Louisiana has become a household name. You’ve heard of their show – “Duck Commander.” They came from very humble background through some very difficult times. In the book “Duck Commander Family,” Willie Robertson writes this in the prolog: “The dinner table is where I learned to follow my dreams. This is where Dad told us he was going to start Duck Commander, and where I told my family I was getting married and heading off to college. Our hopes and aspirations were never shot down, never debated, only encouraged. We might have been eating fried bologna at the time because that was all we could afford, but there was hope that one day we would be feasting on a big fat rib-eye steak.” Would you agree that they are loving family? Would you agree that their hope has become more than a reality?

Here’s the point: You can have all the covering and all the trust but if you don’t have hope, you will shrivel and die. When a marriage loses hope, when a friendship loses hope, when a church loses hope, when a community loses hope, when a nation loses hope, it is the beginning of the end of love.

Application: Are you a hope giver or are you a hope stealer? Do you open the windows to your loved ones’ dreams and goals or do you lock them up like Congressman Sam Johnson in a dark, hopeless prison cell?

The fourth and final statement: “love endures all things.” The Greek word for “endures” is “hupomenei,” which carries the idea of being patient, remaining, and enduring. In other words, “love does not give up, doesn’t run out when things get tough.” In a transient culture like the Corinthians, when things didn’t work out with one person, move on to the next. If it doesn’t work out again, move on to the next. You don’t have to take anyone’s mess. How do we know this? Think about the different groups in the Corinthian church. I Corinthians 1   12 Now I say this, that each of you says, “I am of Paul,” or “I am of Apollos,” or “I am of Cephas,” or “I am of Christ.” 13 Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? The Corinthians had moved from one group to another when things didn’t work out with one.

Let me clarify: There are times when you may have to cut relationships because of physical or mental/emotional abuse. Having said, we need to learn to bear with others and their faults and failures. Listen carefully: When you love somebody, be prepared to be hurt. Hurting people will hurt people. But if you drop them, they will never get the chance to heal. In your marriage, family, church family, community, neighborhood, and workplace, you will come across people that you have to be patient with.

Application: Are you willing to endure? Are you willing to look over their failures and hang-ups? Are you willing to cut others some slack?

How can you have this kind of love? First, understand how God loves you. Remember, you can substitute Christ for every time love is mentioned in this verse – “Christ bears all things, Christ believes all things, Christ hopes all things, Christ endures all things. Christ never fails.” Second, understand how to love people. Begin today by setting people free. Think of yourself as a prison warden with keys to 4 cells:

  • Cell #1 Exposure (Remember, love covers all. Let the inmates know that you will always cover them.)
  • Cell #2 Suspicion (Remember, love trusts others. Let the inmates know that you will never doubt them.)
  • Cell #3 Pessimism (Remember, love gives hope. Let the inmates know that you see a bright day in the future.)
  • Cell #4 Threats (Remember, love endures all. Let the inmates know that you will never give up on them.)

True love will being to flow when you set the captives free.

Are you free? Are people in your life free? Are you saved

Love is Disarming by Pastor Abidan Shah

LOVE IS DISARMING by Pastor Shah, Clearview Church, Henderson

love-is-disarming

Introduction:  Today’s message is titled – “Love is Disarming.” In other words, love allows you to drop your guard. Have you been around people who have their guard up – they’re always tense and uptight, they have a defensive perimeter around them? Have you been around people you have to be really guarded with – what you say, how you say, when you say? What is the common problem in both situations? Lack of trust. Why? Maybe at some point in time trust was violated. Something personal or private was shared, some weakness or vulnerability was exposed, and now it is used against the person. During counselling, the wife will say – “He’s so shallow.” Then the husband will reveal – “I messed up years ago or I told her something privately and now she brings it up every time we have an argument and has told everyone about it.” The wife is provoking her husband and he is arming himself. Other times, some people are just easily provoked. Nothing is being done to them but because of their personality or their past experience, they immediately react. Like siblings in the backseat – “She’s touching me!” but the other child is 3 feet away. Love creates a safe zone where no one provokes or is being provoked, where people trust each other and disarm.

I Corinthians 13   4 Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails…13 And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.

Context: The Corinthian Church had many problems. One major reason for their problems was their nature of provoking and being provoked by each other. Their culture of jabbing and poking each other had come into their church body.

Question: Are you a person who is easily provoked? Are you the person who is provoking someone? I am talking in the context of marriage, family, church, neighborhood, workplace, and community. Do you feel like you are in an unsafe zone? Are you causing an unsafe zone? Are you saved? Without Christ, you are in the unsafe zone. He is the one who can bring you in the safe zone with God.

Let’s look at the words in Greek: “Love is not provoked.” The word is “paroxunetai.” It has the idea of “to irritate and to exasperate someone.” It means poking and jabbing someone in a subtle way that they finally react. It doesn’t immediately lead to full-blown rage but it does make a person feel “wounded or punctured by some sharp point.”

Paul also adds to this“love thinks no evil.” The verb “think” in Greek is “logizomai.” It can have several layers of meaning. It can mean “to count or to evaluate,” like Paul says in Romans 6:11 “Reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” It’s like “thinking and mulling over a matter.” In some contexts, it can go a step further and have the idea of “planning or plotting evil.” In our context, it may have a double meaning of “sitting around and suspecting your neighbor of evil or sitting around and plotting evil against your neighbor.” There is one more meaning, a secondary one – “giving value or making much of.” This is especially strong when it is in a negative context like the one we are looking at. It has two implications. First, it means that you focus a lot on the evil you see in your neighbor. Second, it also means that you pay a lot of attention to the evil done to you by your neighbor.

Why did Paul bring this up in his description of true love? Because there was a lot of irritation causing behavior going on in the Corinthian church. There was a lot of poking and jabbing each other that was happening. History tells us that this was kind of common in the Corinthian culture. Let me give you one example. As you know, about a month ago Nicole and I were in Corinth, Greece. One of the most interesting sites is on the west side of the Agora, the marketplace, known as the Babbius Monument. It was a circle of Corinthian columns set on a square pedestal. What is very interesting is the inscription on the band above the columns. It says, “Gnaeus Babbius Philinus, aedile and pontifex, had this monument constructed at his own expense, and he approved it in his official capacity of duovir.” There are many monuments in the ancient world but not like this. You have to read between the lines to know what is really being implied. First, his name is a slave name. Apparently, he was a freedman who rose to power and became an aedile, a city manager. His job was to maintain the roads, supervise the food and water supply, organize the local games, among other things. He was telling those who were looking down on him for being a former slave – “I am no longer a slave. I am the city manager. Show me some respect.” But he doesn’t stop there. He adds another title to his name – pontifex, which means priest, probably to the patron god of the Isthmian games. Now, he was telling those who might be treating him like an outsider, “I am also the priest. I have spiritual authority now. You better show me respect.” Then he adds the line – “had this monument constructed at his own expense.” Apparently, people were spreading rumors that Babbius stole the city’s money to build the monument. This was his way of firing back – “Stop saying that. This is my own hard earned money.” The final line is really odd – “and he approved it in his official capacity of duovir,” which was a chief magistrate. Someone must have said – “He ain’t gonna last. Once he gets fired, we’ll take down his monument.” Babbius was sending a warning to them, “Don’t you think even about taking down my sign. I am the chief magistrate now.” This was a threat. By the way, he put a similar sign in four other places in the city! Every time people walked through the marketplace, they had to see those signs. This was part of the Corinthian culture – people were being provoked and they knew how to provoke others.

Now, there is a similar inscription nearby that we did not get to visit. It reads, “Erastus, in return for his position as aedile, laid the pavement at his own expense.” Again, this man Erastus was also a former slave who became the city manager. He was also sending a message to his critics that he did all this of his own money. Here’s something interesting – We don’t know about Babbius but Erastus was actually part of the Corinthian church. Paul actually mentions him by name in Romans 16:23 “…Erastus, the treasurer of the city greets you…” (Keep in mind that Paul wrote Romans from Corinth.)

Here’s my point: Provoking and being provoked was not only part of the Corinthian culture. It was also in the church! Paul mentioned this because there was a lot of jabbings and pokings going on in the church. You would hear a lot of – “Did you see how he looked at me?” “I know why she said that to me.” “One of these days, I am going to show her.” There was a lot of thinking and mulling over and planning and plotting evil happening. People didn’t trust each other. They only saw the evil in others. They only remembered the evil others had done to them. The Corinthian church was not a safe zone.

Sadly, this is true even today in churches, marriages, families, community, workplace. People are constantly constructed their subtle and not so subtle Babbius monuments and their Erastus inscriptions to provoke each other or respond to someone’s provoking. Are you the one who is provoking someone? Are you the one who is being provoked by someone? Are you the one who is constantly looking for the bad in others or thinking about the bad others have done to you? You constantly have your guard up.

What is the solution? To start with, remember how God loves you – He gives you a new identity in Jesus Christ. Listen to what Paul says in I Corinthians 7:22 For he who is called in the Lord while a slave is the Lord’s freedman. Likewise, he who is called while free is Christ’s slave.  If the world calls you a slave, God calls you free in Christ. If the world calls you free, God calls you his slave in Christ. Either way, God has given you a brand-new identity. You don’t have to live by your past or what the world says about your past.

So how are you to love others? 23 “You were bought at a price; do not become slaves of men.” In other words, stop giving in to the opinion and treatments of others. Stop worrying about what they are saying or thinking about you. If you have a lot of time on your hands, guard your mind. If not, you will pout, get upset, and start problems and then refuse to stop until those problems are resolved according to your personal satisfaction. You will become paranoid and build a Babbius monument to yourself. I’m not suggesting that you drop your guard against evil people. Instead, learn to be vulnerable. Disarm. Admit when you’ve messed up. Admit when you’re frightened. Admit when you’re lagging behind. Admit the truth about yourself.

For e.g. Swindoll gives the illustration of Uncle Zeke from Muleshoe, Texas. One of Uncle Zeke’s buddies was the blacksmith. They would spend time together and talk about stuff old guys talk about. One day, the blacksmith was working on a horseshoe before Zeke got there. He kept sticking it in the fire, pulling it out and hammering it. He did it again and again. It wasn’t cooperating so he tossed it on the sawdust on the ground just about the time Zeke walked in. Zeke didn’t know it was hot. He walked in, looked around, saw the horseshoe, reached down, picked it up, and dropped it right away. The blacksmith said – “Kinda hot, ain’t it Zeke…” Zeke said, “Nope, Just don’t take me long to look at a horseshoe.” How true that is of so many of us… Instead of saying, “Yeah, that was kind of dumb of me to pick that up” or “I should’ve checked with you first,” we say something similar that keeps us from looking vulnerable.

I think about Erastus who had his inscription on the ground. Why didn’t he remove it after he got saved? This is just my imagination. One day, Erastus and Paul were walking through the Agora and they came to that inscription on the ground. It was filled with bronze and fastened with lead. Erastus turned to Paul – “Paul, every time I look at it, it reminds me where God has brought me from. That’s how I used to think and live. Always telling my opponents how great I was and how I had climbed the ladder of success and power. But now, I walk on it and I remind myself that God has called the foolish, the weak, and the base things of the world so that ‘no flesh should glory in his presence.’” Later that evening when Paul was finishing his letter to the Romans and warning them to “note those who cause divisions and offenses, contrary to the doctrine which you learned, and avoid them” (Romans 16:17) and as he lists the names of his fellow ministers – Timothy, Lucius, Jason, Tertius, Gaius, he says, “Oh yes, Erastus, the treasurer of the city greets you.” If he wasn’t a changed man, God would not have included him in his Word.

Are you saved? Are you provoking or easily provoked by others?

 

OUT OF THE GRAVEYARD (Article) by Abidan Paul Shah

OUT OF THE GRAVEYARD (Article) by Abidan Paul Shah

(Published in the newspaper Daily Dispatch, Henderson on January 7, 2017)

bef00a78-d76b-461a-be58-7037520c4569This is the time of the year when many people struggle to keep their New Year’s resolutions. According to some surveys, about 70% are broken by the end of January. This is especially true when it comes to spiritual resolutions like growing in Christ, reading the Bible, praying, serving in church, etc. Another year comes and goes and there’s zero progress. In Luke 9 Jesus met three such individuals who were buried in the graveyard of excuses. Let’s see if we can learn something from their encounters:

  1. Grave of Comfort – Verse 57 “…Someone said to Him, “Lord, I will follow You wherever You go.” At first glance the speaker looks like an eager disciple willing to follow Jesus anywhere. In actuality, he was a young man looking to tag along Rabbi Jesus for a low risk, easy life with minimal sacrifices. Jesus knew his heart and bluntly challenged his assumption about being his disciple – 58 “…Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.” Don’t misunderstand. Jesus was not calling him to give up his Sleep Number bed or his Tempur-Pedic pillow and wander around and live under some tree like a hermit. If that were the case, we’d all be in trouble. Instead, Jesus was telling him – “To follow me, you have to choose the uncomfortable life. Previously, it was comfortable to tolerate some old sin, habit, grudge, behavior, or desire in your life but following me will require giving them up. How much are you willing to sacrifice?”
  2. Grave of Obligations – Verse 59 Then He said to another, “Follow Me.” But he said, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.” What a strange request! Was the man’s father dead at home, waiting to be buried?! No. What the man was really saying was “My father is up in age. I need to be there for him. Once God calls him home, then I will follow you.” He was using a very common excuse – “I’ll follow God, when things settle down.” Again, Jesus knew this man’s heart too and responded trenchantly – 60 “…Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and preach the kingdom of God.” How could Jesus be so harsh?! Was he actually suggesting that this man ignore his duty to his aged parents? The answer is “Yes.” Again, don’t misunderstand. The Bible is always about honoring our father and our mother. But in this situation, the man was using his obligations to keep him from obeying God. Jesus was telling him – “Life will never settle down. There will always be another obligation. Follow me now or never.”
  3. Grave of One Last Glance – Verse 61 “…Another also said, ‘Lord, I will follow You, but let me first go and bid them farewell who are at my house.’” This sounds like a reasonable request, doesn’t it? – “At least my loved ones deserve to know that I’m leaving.” Again, Jesus knew this man’s real intention. He wanted to take that one last look to make sure that this was a right decision. Unfortunately, the world is full of people who took that fatal glance and like Lot’s wife turned into a pillar of salt. What do they see? Some see pain and feel they can’t leave until they’ve healed; some see regrets and feel they can’t leave until they’ve fixed things; some see failures and feel their past would repeat again; and some even see the disappointed faces of their loved ones and feel they can’t let them down. Jesus warned him – 62 “No one, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.” Many years ago when I preached on this passage, a farmer in our church told me that when he used to plow with a mule, he would find a fixed point in front and keep his eyes on it. When he looked straight ahead, he had straight rows behind him but if he turned back, he was all over the place. If your spiritual life is all over the place, it’s time to look ahead to Jesus.

By the way, before you can leave your grave of excuses to follow Jesus, you have to come out of the grave of sin and death by asking him to be your Savior. Happy Resurrection!

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