Representing God in the World

We are living in trying times. Our country is on the brink of a war that is against an unseen enemy and will last for an uncertain duration. People are nervous. Some who live in big cities have curtailed any but non-essential activities. Many who fly frequently have cancelled their plans for the near future and planes are flying only partially full.  The stock market has steadily declined, job layoffs abound around us, and tension is high.

  1. Never before in our lifetime have people needed to see Christ in us more than they do now. People are searching for answers, looking for hope, trying to find the truth.In the text before us we read the account of Moses when he returned from 40 days on the mountain with God. It had been a very trying time. The future was hanging in the balance as the people waited. While on the mountain Moses asked to see God’s glory and God granted him some kind of glimpse of His goodness. God gave Moses his promise to bless Israel, some instructions, a new copy of the Ten Commandments and then Moses came down the mountain.  When he arrived back in camp I imagine Moses was rather surprised that people didn’t seem glad to see him.  In fact, they seemed afraid of him.  Was it because when he came down the last time he filled with anger and the judgment of God? Certainly he hadn’t been gone so long that they no longer recognized him.  What was going on?

    Moses called to Aaron and the leaders and told them to come to him. They approached tentatively. I suspect Moses said, “Hey, what’s with you guys? Why are you acting so goofy?”  It was then that probably Aaron told him. “Moses, your face . . .  it’s glowing.”

    Having spent all this time with the Lord, Moses was transformed in a somewhat similar way to the way Jesus was transformed on the Mount of Transfiguration.  Moses spoke to the people and then put a veil over his face so the people would not see the glory depart.

    As I read this passage I thought, “this is the way all believers should be”.  In 2 Corinthians 3 we read,

    We are not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face to keep the Israelites from gazing at it while the radiance was fading away. ….And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit. (2 Cor. 3:13,18)

    Paul argues that a Christian should reflect the glory of God like Moses did. This “radiance” should be the common occurrence for God’s people.  With the death of Jesus the “veil” has been removed.

    We have never needed this reflection of God’s glory more than we do now.  The question I raise this morning is a simple one: “How do we reflect the glory of God like Moses did?”

    THE WRONG WAY

    In order to understand the positive we sometimes have to show the negative.  In Exodus 34:12-16 we read these words.

    Be careful not to make a treaty with those who live in the land where you are going, or they will be a snare among you. 13Break down their altars, smash their sacred stones and cut down their Asherah poles. 14Do not worship any other god, for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God. 15“Be careful not to make a treaty with those who live in the land; for when they prostitute themselves to their gods and sacrifice to them, they will invite you and you will eat their sacrifices. 16And when you choose some of their daughters as wives for your sons and those daughters prostitute themselves to their gods, they will lead your sons to do the same.

    The wrong way to reflect the glory of God in the world is to compromise with the world. In an effort to “get along” or to “build a bridge” we may be soften the gospel or lower God’s standards. Because of this human tendency, God told Moses that the Israelites (his people) should not enter into any cooperative agreements with the people in the nations around them.  Instead, they are to root out any remnant of these people.  And then God gives Moses reasons for His command.

    Because God is a jealous God

    This is always a difficult concept when we read it (v. 14).  When we think of jealousy we think of someone who suffocates us with their suspicions.  They are so threatened by others that they read into every situation a threat to their relationship. We think of jealousy as a bad thing.

    However, jealousy is also a good thing. Because we are jealous for our children we will rise up to defend them when they are attacked.  Because we are jealous (or passionate) for our marriage we will get agitated with someone who threatens the one we love, or who threatens our relationship.  That’s the positive jealousy.

    God is jealous for us in that way. He wants us as His own.  He loves us. He doesn’t want anyone or anything stepping between us.  And when something does step between us, God is angry. He calls idolatry spiritual adultery.  And that’s an appropriate image.  God wants us to avoid compromise with the world around us because He loves us and doesn’t want anything to disrupt our relationship with Him.

    Because it Would Lead Them Astray

    This is the flip side of the coin.  The Lord knew that the Israelites would not follow Him fully if they began to adopt the culture of the people around them. Slowly but surely they would begin to water down the law of the Lord to “get along” with others.  And slowly but very surely they would drift from the Lord (and never realize what was happening).  

    The very popular illustration is that of a frog in a pot of water.  The frog will not stay in hot water but will jump out quickly. But if the water is heated very slowly the frog gets used to the water. Before long the frog can’t jump out and is killed.

    There is a discernable cycle of compromise

    Attraction.  We never compromise with something that is disgusting to you. Compromise happens when something attracts us. Something looks pleasant, appears desirable or strokes our ego.  We saw it in the garden of Eden and it continues to happen today.

    • there is the prospect of a more satisfying relationship
    • there is the promise of greater prosperity (and the ability to indulge ourselves)
    • there is the hope of greater popularity
    • there is a promise of increased influence

    The point is, the point of compromise is always in an area that holds out some pleasant promise for us.

    Justification.  This attraction builds and you begin to desire what is promised.  So you begin to justify why this thing is not so bad (everybody is doing it; it isn’t hurting anyone; Since God is good He certainly would not want me to be unhappy and this will make me happy.)

    The Act of Indulgence.  Often our compromise begins in little things.  It’s like the little child. James Dobson tells about the little child at the basketball game.  You tell them they are free to roam up to this particular line on the floor.  And inevitably soon the little child is placing their foot over the line to see if there are any adverse consequences.  If there are none, they will stand on the other side of the line. If there are still no adverse consequences they will begin running around on the floor with the players!

    We get older but our nature doesn’t change. We test God’s commands by just “sticking our foot over the line”.  We “shade the truth”.  We “ignore certain income from our tithe”. We use vile language that is “acceptable”. We “miss a Sunday now and then”.  And if nothing adverse happens we go a little farther.  Before long we have plunged headlong into compromise.

    Re-definition. Now that you have sinned and “gotten away with it” the next thing that happens is you re-define good and evil by your experience and desire rather than by God’s word. We not only re-define sin, we try to persuade others of our definition.  We see this in the media all the time. They push the limits of decency just a little bit.  If no one screams and hollers, they push that limit a little farther. This happens so gradually that we become numb to sin,

    • we shrug at people who live together outside of marriage
    • we begin to adopt the crude vocabulary of the world
    • we think nothing of working on the Sabbath
    • we bring immoral entertainment into our homes
    • we adopt a consumptive lifestyle that believes things will make us happy
    • we work excessively in the drive for success
    • we do very little in our job because we can “get away with it”
    • we turn more to alcohol or other substances to find peace and relaxation rather than prayer
    • we eliminate talk of sin and judgment to make the gospel more “appealing” to others
    • we avoid any talk about the uniqueness of Christ out of fear of offending others

    The list could go on. The bottom line is that we begin to look, talk, and sound like the world. We have lost our difference. We are no longer the influencers, we are the influenced.

    Because They Would be Lead to Worship False Gods.

    God knows that once the people start adopting the culture of those around them, you end up placing your allegiance with someone other than the Lord.

    • your appetites become your god
    • popular opinion becomes your god
    • psychological thinking becomes your god
    • nationalism becomes your god
    • pragmatism (what works) becomes your god
    • other religions become your god

    It happens easier than you’d think. In fact, let me use a controversial illustration. In our current crisis it is easy for us to come to church and sing patriotic songs, and tell patriotic stories. And in effect bow down to America rather than the Lord.  In other words, we come and we cheer, adore, and celebrate our country, rather than the Lord.  That feels good right now.  But it is still idolatry. There is nothing wrong with being good citizens . . . we should be good citizens.  But, we must still worship and serve only the Lord.

    Practically Speaking

    Laura Nash, formerly on the faculty of Harvard Business School did a study of those who seek to bring their Christian faith into their business.  In her book, Believers in Business she listed seven points of tension faced by authentic Christians in the marketplace.

    • the love for God and the pursuit of profit
    • Love and the competitive drive
    • People needs and profit obligations
    • Humility and the ego of success
    • Family and work
    • Charity and wealth
    • Faithful witness in the secular city     (Believers in Business, (Nashville: Nelson, 1995) p. 226-227)

    There is tremendous pressure to conform, not only in business, but also in the church. The world tells us that success is measured by numbers and buildings. If we begin to buy into this notion we will start adopting techniques that are designed to get numbers and money.  Worship no longer has time for quiet, for reflection, for the meditation on God’s Word.  These things don’t “sell”.  Instead we have more fast paced, high powered, performances.  Who is influencing who?

    In this week’s Pastor’s Weekly Briefing from Focus on the Family (9/21/01) there is an article on the churches who have adopted a number of things to become more “attractive” to outsiders.  They have added health clubs, restaurants, Starbuck’s coffee stores and Krispy Kreme donut stores to their church. These things are used to raise funds and “reach out”. Has the church become more successful in reaching the people of the world, or is the church merely erasing their distinctiveness?

    The church is also pressured to be involved in ecumenism. It’s a fancy word that says “all faiths should cooperate together.”  Please understand I’m not talking about the churches of our community working together. We are all Christian churches. We all follow Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord.

    But this becomes a different issue when we are asked to have combined worship with Muslims, Hindus, Mormons, Scientologists, and a wide variety of New Age groups. Certainly we should respect these people as human beings but we must not put ourselves in a position where our cooperation seems to say that their theology is acceptable. It is not. This is the very kind of compromise the Bible warns us of.  New Age teaching is already beginning to reveal itself in the church because we have “slept with the enemy”. 

    THE RIGHT WAY

    We must meet with God

    Notice, that Moses reflected God’s glory because he had just come from God’s presence. He had spent much time with God and it showed in Moses’ face and in his heart.  The glory would fade until Moses met with God again. And the same will be true for us.  God’s glory will be reflected in us in direct proportion to the time we spend in God’s presence.

    I don’t think it is an accident that right after the commands to avoid compromise there are a number of commands regarding worship. God told the Israelites to remember the festivals, and remember the religious rites that were symbols of their relationship with God.  God knows that the best way to avoid compromise with the world is to have a close relationship with the Lord.

    It makes sense. If you spend the majority of your time with the world and very little time with God it should be no surprise that the world is going to influence you more than the Lord. If we want to reflect God to a lost world, we have to spend time . . . significant time . . . with the Almighty.

    Please understand that spending time in church and spending time with the Lord are not necessarily the same thing. You can go through religious ritual without ever opening your heart to the Almighty. You can have an exhilarating experience in a worship service and still be focused only on yourself.  We will not reflect God’s glory unless we spend time . . . quality time, with God. We need to spend time in silence, we must seek God in prayer, we must diligently listen and apply God’s Word.

    We must be honest with ourselves

    In addition to spending time with God, we also need to be ruthlessly honest with ourselves. You and I need to be looking for areas in our lives where we are starting to compromise with evil. We must confront the excuses and rationalizations of our lives. We must be serious about discipleship.

    We know we need to get serious to get ahead in business.  We know we need to be serious if we want to get good grades in school. We need to be serious in our practices if we want to win in a sport or recreational activity.  We must be serious if we want to lose weight or get healthy. We know that we need to be serious about the things that are important in our lives. So why aren’t we more serious about developing our faith?  Why aren’t we more serious about rooting out the areas of compromise from our lives?  Could it be that we are not more serious about these things because we are not serious about our relationship with Christ?

    It’s a painful question, but an important one. We must be willing to ask ourselves: How serious are we about following Jesus? How serious are we about reflecting Christ to a lost world? Are we serious enough to give God real time?  Are we serious enough to change behaviors that are wrong? Are we serious enough to do things God’s way rather than our own?

    AN ACTION PLAN

    I want to wrap things up this morning by giving you some practical suggestions,

    1. Take God’s commands about the Sabbath seriously. I don’t think it is an accident that Moses is told to tell the people to take the Sabbath seriously. The Sabbath was supposed to be a time for worship, rest, and reflection. For the most part we have come to view Sunday as a day of “business as usual”. I believe we’ve made a mistake.  God promises that He will honor us if we honor Him by deliberately setting aside one day for rest, reflection and worship. Look at how you spend your Sunday.  Does God get priority in your Sunday schedule? Every time you feel the need to use Sunday for other things ask yourself, “Do I believe God’s way is right, or don’t I?”
    2. Establish a specific time and a place where you can meet with God daily. Don’t leave it to chance. Make time for God. Set a certain time for prayer. Read systematically in God’s Word. Start at the beginning of some book of the Bible and every day read in that book until you have read all the way through it.  Start with Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John. Once you finish that book . . . go to another.  Listen to God’s standards. Pay attention to how God defines right and wrong. You will never be able to understand the deception of the world if you don’t know what is true.
    3. Do a personal inventory of your life. What behaviors are you justifying? What issues are you calling matters of personal freedom that are really just excuses for sin? Where have you redefined right and wrong? What are you attracted to that you should run from?
    4. Put a little sign on your mirror that says, “Who’s reflection do you see: God’s or the world’s?”
    5. Every time you see a news report that is giving bad news, learn to say to yourself (or maybe out loud), “This is why the world needs to see Jesus in me.”
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