This is a sermon about tasting - because the Bible talks about tasting. The way of life that God has called us to lead, teachings of His laws and of His commandments, are something that we taste, as we live them; as we prove them - as we experience every aspect of God's way of life - we taste it (Psalm 34:8).
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Did you ever taste some food that you'll never forget? Think about it. What have you eaten in your life... and don't think twinkies! Got to be better than twinkies! They'll come back – trust me! Somebody will make sure that happens. But, think about a taste of food that you've had in your life, that you've never forgotten - a taste that is warm and satisfies, and tastes like nothing else. We might, in some respects, call that "comfort food"; think about what for you might be comfort food. Macaroni and cheese, meatloaf, beef stew...we all probably have our comfort foods, that we kind of go to at the time when we may feel a little bit down, or that's our favorite meal, or something in the winter time. You know what my comfort food is, or my favorite taste is that I've had in my life? My grandmother's chicken and dumplings! Or as I would always say: "Chicken and dumplins" – where I grew up!
My grandmother would make chicken and dumplings for the big family that she had, and when everyone would get together in her log farmhouse, (that I remember), without any plumbing, and some bare electrical wires strung along...but out in the country, and they had twelve kids, and whenever gatherings would take place, grandma's dish that she made was chicken and dumplings. And it was made from a chicken that she had just killed that morning, plucked its feathers and you know, with a little twist of her arms, wrung its neck, and plucked it and skinned it and put it in the pot! And then she rolled out the dumplings and dropped them in, and when I would eat those, I...there was nothing else. And I remember those to this day - the chicken and dumplings from my grandmother's house.
In fact, I've been on a life-long quest, to find a plate of chicken and dumplings that tasted exactly like I had at my grandmother's house! And I have searched far and wide for those. Years ago I was in a Cracker Barrel and I saw chicken and dumplings on the list at Cracker Barrel, and I said, "I'll try these." And they came; they didn't look like grandma's chicken and dumplings, and they didn't taste like them either! I've ordered them once or twice since then, just to see "we'll maybe they got a bad batch", but no, they didn't do it. Once down in Tennessee, we were driving between Knoxville and back up toward Lexington, on Interstate 75...it was on a Sunday...we stopped off at a restaurant to eat lunch, and there was one of these kind of "Mom and Pop" type restaurants, and they had some chicken and dumplings in there that day that were close – pretty close. And then, on one of my trips between Indianapolis and Cincinnati, over the years here, I found a place called Walt's Barbeque, over here on the west side. Some of you may know of Walt's Barbeque. Wednesday night they have chicken and dumplings. Last Wednesday night I took Debbie to Walt's Barbeque, next to the BP station – over here in Harrison, and I said, "You've got to try these." And they were good, and they're close; but they're not quite grandma's chicken and dumplings.
You know, when we taste something that's really good , we never forget the sensation. I haven't forgotten my grandmothers; I will continue my quest for those. I've actually asked my aunts, her daughters, who were still alive...every time I've gone home I've tried to talk them into making me some like grandma had – I said, "What was her recipe?" And they said, "She didn't have one." It's just all made from scratch, from her head. And they said, "We can't even duplicate this." And I thought, "Well, I'm lost." But I will keep trying.
But when we find something, and whatever it may be for you, we usually want more of it, and we will remember things like that fondly. Sometimes we'll remember the place we were, the people we were with, and certain moments help to create those certain tastes, and that's all part of it as well. But sometimes we'll go back and we'll search it out. Maybe we'll ask some people for a recipe – I like to look through food magazines at times, and one of them I see has a column in it that people will write in and say, that "I was at such and such a restaurant, and they had a recipe for this particular dessert, or main dish...can you get it for me?" And they'll get it, and then they'll put it into the magazine...and I've often wondered, "Well it really doesn't taste the same." Because you have to, sometimes, get all the combinations right for that. And it takes an experienced cook at times to do that.
This is not a food sermon, but it is a sermon about tasting - because the Bible talks about tasting. As this is something that has been on my mind because of the recent editorial meeting we had here in the building with Mike and Jamie Snyder, who came over from Indianapolis to consult with us on our media and communication efforts, and the idea of the topic here today I will give credit to Jamie Snyder for introducing to us, and having some discussions in regard to our own messaging within the church as we preach the gospel – the kingdom of God. Turn, if you will, over to Psalm 34 and let's look at a statement that is made here, that speaks to this matter of tasting.
Psalm 34:8O taste and see that the LORD is good: blessed is the man that trusteth in him. See All...: Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good; (Taste and see – the Lord is good.) Blessed is the man who trusts in Him!
The way of life that God has called us to lead, teachings of His laws and of His commandments, are something that we taste , as we live them; as we prove them - as we experience every aspect of God's way of life - we taste it . And here is the way it is put here by the Psalmist, and it's saying taste it; find out that it tastes good! You know, sometimes when we're trying to get a kid to taste something like broccoli, or brussel sprouts, or some other dish...whatever it might be...tapioca pudding - and you have to kind of, you know, coerce them. With my kids it was Star Wars...I would put a piece of food on the fork or the spoon...whatever we were trying to get them to eat and they didn't like it, and I'd say, "This is the Star Ship, coming into port...it's got Obi One on it – open your mouth! And I would try to circle around like that, and that really worked every time! And after a while, they started to eat... tastes pretty good - after I finally talked them into putting it into their mouth! You have to do that with kids – all of us perhaps at times. And even with God's way of life...this is what the Psalm is saying: Taste it – open your mouth. Let it roll around on your tongue; experience the texture – experience the aroma and the taste, and let it go down and you'll find that it is good – it works! It's a good way of life; it is good, sound teaching. And that is what should be behind...not only our messaging and how we portray the truth of God, the gospel through generations today...needing all of that help, needing all of that joy that Rudy was talking about in the sermonette, but also coming to understand that the gospel is a way of life that does work.
The Bible has a great deal to say about this, and it's something that I think all of us should stop and think about as we reflect on our own experience in God's way, in God's Church, with this way of life to which we have been called. And as we talk about it, and as we teach it, and as we understand it, because we do really need to put that down into the depths of our life, as a taste almost like that of my grandmother's chicken and dumplings, that I remember, you'll remember , all of your life – and you will never forget . I literally do not forget what they tasted like – and it's like, in a sense for me, it isn't something that I've carried on over my adult life...and this particular verse and its concept does speak to me that way, because with all the years that I've been in the church, I have taught it, and lived it, come to appreciate it, seen it attacked, seen it slandered...the truth of God, the Bible...defended it as a part of my life, from a young boy, as my adult life in the ministry, and into my period now, I'm teaching it, encouraging it to be taught...doing what I can to support my children teaching their children, and their grandchildren. And that's what we are all involved with, and that is how we are to be looking at the word of God.
Turn, if you will, over to Hebrews 6 – Hebrews Chapter 6 speaks to this as well. And the context in which this phrase comes out here we are going to look at, it has a very stark warning that the writer of Hebrews is bringing out here, as he talks about this way of life – the first two verses of Hebrews 6 talks about basic doctrines, and moving on from that...but:
Hebrews 6:3And this will we do, if God permit. See All... And this we will do if God permits.
Verse 4: For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, (those who wereonce called; those who once saw the light, if you will) - it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit,
Verse 5: And have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come,
The way it is written here, it goes on to say in Verse 6, and if they fall away – to pick up the thought that began in the beginning of Verse 4, for it is impossible if they fall away – but let's look at what is in the middle here, of this statement – because that's what I want to focus on; the other to be for another time and sermon. Just like in an oreo cookie - just another taste sensation – the best part is in the middle, which is like, pull that cookie apart and you lick it, the way we do! A good sandwich – the best part's in the middle. Well, in this verse, the part we want to focus on today is right in the middle: Those who were once enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come... that's us...we've been enlightened.
That is a description of the people of God – one who has received God's Spirit and embarked upon this way of life. We have been enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and become partakers of God's Spirit, having been imparted to us from repentance and baptism, and the receipt of after, the laying on of hands. And the life of God in us, through a lifetime of encouragement, enlightenment, growth and knowledge...it says we have tasted the good word of God and we have tasted the powers of the age to come . That is the world to come; that is the world tomorrow; that is the kingdom of God. That is the world beyond, from Christ's return on, and we know of, from the Bible, you know, and on into infinity, as Buzz Wiser would say...and beyond.
It is that the power of that world to come...we have tasted that , by our enlightenment and by what God had revealed to us. That's an awesome phrase – it's an awesome statement. And it's a positive one. And it's a taste we should never forget, and I'm convinced that those who have really tasted it – by that, I mean those who have really been recipients of the power of the age to come, the Holy Spirit, and have tasted it to whatever degree at one point in their life...I'm convinced that the majority...they don't forget it – they won't forget it. Now, some people stray; some people do, in a sense, "backslide", as some would call it...leave the faith, go off the journey, and go off a different direction for a while. But then we see that people, many times, in many cases, do come back. And they come back for a multitude of reasons. But I think they could be summed up in the fact that the taste that they once had , they didn't forget. And whatever they dabbled with, whatever they tasted from other sources, didn't satisfy - didn't nourish – and they had to come back to that which did. That which was really substantial – whole grain; whole wheat – whether it's eggs or milk, or whatever else. When we came into the church, everything was whole wheat – I kept looking for that "whole wheat milk"! And we learned about whole wheat bread. The Church of God was way ahead of the rest of the world, back in the sixties – we were eating whole wheat – everybody else was eating white "Wonder Bread." And so those were tastes that literally I had to grow accustomed to.
What is this power of the world to come? We could talk a great deal about that in regards to the Holy Spirit, but let's just look at a verse back in Philippians 3, and let's not forget, at least, what we read here in Hebrews 6 – In Philippians 3, beginning in Verse 7, Paul really addresses this power of the age to come, as it pertains to the resurrection of Jesus Christ. He said:
Philippians 3:7 But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ.
Verse 8: But indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ,
Verse 9: And be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law; but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith;
Verse 10: that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death,
Paul said that all that he had he counted as rubbish that he might know Him and the power of His resurrection. This is just one reference – one verse that speaks to the infinite power of that age to come – of which we have tasted. It is the power by which Jesus Christ was raised back to life after three days and three nights of death in a tomb, and raised not back to physical life, but to a transformed spiritual life – as the first of the firstborn. That is the power that we have tasted; it the power by that resurrected Jesus Christ – that it is an awesome power, for good, that can change our lives for the better, and transform us in time as we yield to it, as we work with it – it is at our disposal, and we have tasted that by what God has revealed to us – by His way of life and all that we have come to understand. It is the same power that brought Christ back from the dead. And he said:
Verse 11: if, by any means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.
Verse 12: Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me.
Verse 13: Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead,
Verse 14: I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.
He had tasted that power, and everything in his life up to that point, was rubbish, he said. It is loss; it was worth losing...sell it at a fire sale! Walk away from it – torch it! Don't look back. That's what he did, and he keeps going forward in his life, because he has tasted the power of the age to come – the power of the resurrected Jesus Christ. And that's the power we have tasted, and that is the way of life that God has given to us. And it is a way of life that is not difficult – it is not hard to find, in one sense. I mean, the Bible, it is right here. And people have studied and read it, and many have unlocked its...you know, part of the keys here. There's one great secret that takes God's Spirit to unlock – perhaps more than one – but at least one that Jesus spoke to, in the parable of the sower and the seed. He said that: it is to you that has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of God. The NIV version puts it, is the word secrets of the kingdom of God.
And God has unlocked that knowledge to us, to understand again, that age to come, and the fullness of it – the full dimension of that...and be able to taste of that power of the age to come. But it is a way of life, that once we have that dimension, through repentance, and an acknowledgement of what needs to be counted loss in our life, and we start out, and we continue looking and pressing toward that, God gives us...and we want more. We want more knowledge; we want more experience. We want more of it, and yet if we are yielded to God and letting Him work in us, by and through His Holy Spirit, and it's not that far away from us.
Back in Deuteronomy 30, Moses here explained it his way, as he gave his last discourse to the children of Israel before they went into the promised land...this beautiful passage in Deuteronomy 30, beginning in Verse 11 – He said:
Deuteronomy 30:11For this commandment which I command thee this day, it is not hidden from thee, neither is it far off. See All... "For this commandment which I command you today, it is not too mysterious for you, nor is it far off.
Verse 12: "It is not in heaven, that you should say, ‘Who will ascend into heaven for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?'
Verse 13: "Nor is it beyond the sea, that you should say, ‘Who will go over the sea for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?'
Again, speaking of the commandments, to encompass again a way of life and all of the teachings of God, to which they now were called to be models and examples:
Verse 14: "But the word is very near you, in your mouth – you can taste it – it's not up in heaven; it's not across the sea; it's very near, and it is not a mystery for you – it is in your mouth and in your heart, that you may do it.
Verse 15: "See, I have set before you today life and good, death and evil,
The simplest way probably that was ever put in the Bible, to understand what is before us – two choices - going back to the idea of the two trees: good and evil, life and death. This is the choice.
Verse 16 : "in that I command you today to love the Lord your God, to walk in His ways, and to keep His commandments, His statutes, and His judgments, that you may live and multiply; and the Lord your God will bless you in the land which you go to possess.
Verse 17: " But if your heart turns away so that you do not hear, and are drawn away, and worship other gods and serve them, - something that can happen, and does happen...
Verse 18: "I announce to you today that you shall surely perish; you shall not prolong your days in the land which you cross over the Jordan to go in and possess. – There are consequences, the Lord said, for disobedience...
Verse 19: "I call heaven and earth as witnesses today against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing; therefore choose life, that both you and your descendants may live;
And this is always the epitome, the apex of God's teaching to us, is to choose life – choose blessing over cursing; choose life over death. Always choose life, that you and your descendants may live . This is the summation, through Moses, of what had been put before them. We can write our own summaries I guess, about what God has put before us, and what you have experienced and what you have seen, but it is a distinctive calling – it's a distinctive understanding that has to be revealed by God, and even by His Spirit bringing us to the point of accepting it, and letting it work in our life. But it is a distinctive, in many different ways, when it's all put together.
Thinking about these distinctives that you and I have tasted, I want to go through three different distinctives at this point of my sermon here – just very easy for us to understand. But I think it will also help us to appreciate and to understand what it is that we have tasted, and to understand how to deal with it.
The first is what I call a World View – a World View. You know what a world view is - it's what you and I see through our glasses. It's the way we look at the world through the windows, through the prism of life that has been given to us. And everyone develops a world view, depending upon what they were born into. It will be determined by one's race, one's ethnicity...it will be determined by one's religion, or political viewpoints. I was thinking about this, and coming to live here in Cincinnati in the last year, and began to understand Cincinnati a little bit more...a lot of German influence; a lot of Catholic influence in this town. And one thing I've noticed is that the world view that is experienced through the German-Catholic influence, is something that's different from even what to be the German-Lutheran influence that I used to see up in Northeast Indiana in the Fort Wayne area over the years, and this thing of working up there...German Lutherans and German Catholics. Two different world views, with certain similarities - but nationalities, ethnicities and religious points of view create different ideas for people. Sexual gender creates a distinct world view for some people as well.
The family in which we are raised will create for us a world view, as to how we view people, community, world events, and everything that is around us. I grew up in a family that...Scotch-Irish on both sides; Farmers; tradesmen. My mother and her families were from the south, and it was through my mother I learned, initially, that the south won the Civil War! She never really got over it, and when we would go through Tennessee and stop at some of the battle fields in Tennessee, going down south to visit families, my mother would literally, as we were walking over some of these Civil War battle fields, she would cry for the men who died, because to her, it was a very, very close event in her family, growing up in Alabama and Georgia...not in the immediate post-civil war period, but her grandparents, her grandfathers, fought in the Civil War. So it was just that close to her generation, and I've heard those stories too. So, I had to learn from the books at school, that it wasn't the south that won the war. And the day I told her that I was marrying a girl from Ohio...I had some explaining to do! It wasn't Southern Ohio – it was Northern Ohio too...so, as we know - there is a difference. She had some adjustments to make there. But that was her world view. And of course, she came into the church, and you know, but some things take a period of time.
I once had an adult tell me...a person who had been raised in the church all of his life...that he had just grown to despise the world view with which he had been raised in the Church of God. And he no longer wanted anything to do with it – he despised the world view that he was raised with. In his mind, the fundamentalist religion, cultist perhaps...too many distinctives – too many things that he had to give up – too much that made him different. And so, as he put it, he had grown to despise the world view with which he had been raised. And I thought to myself, you know, it's interesting, because I never looked at it that way – I certainly didn't teach it that way. Because I had a particular world view because of the background of my family and where I grew up, but when I came into the church, my world opened up – literally, in many ways. I learned to see all kinds of new places...like Big Sandy, Texas – more than that too, over the years. But, you know, I learned to see the world through the Bible; I began to develop a Biblical view of the world. As I learned about prophecy, I learned how this world really did work, and what the future really would be, and what was really, truly behind so much of what I'd studied in history, and saw contemporary politics and world events. And I came to understand the world through the Bible, and from God's point of view. That opened my mind up. As a child growing up in the 50's and 60's in this country – that to me was positive!
That to me was hopeful, because when I grew up, we had something hanging around our heads called the Cold War. There was this big block country in Europe called the Soviet Union. And there was this nuclear- standoff, and there was the threat of nuclear war. I well remember the picture of a bald-headed Nikita Khrushchev, the Premier Prime Minister of the Soviet Union, at the United Nations with his shoe off, banging the table saying, "We will bury you." I was thinking, "What does that mean?" This is what I grew up by...I went to physical education class, PE class, in Junior High School...every day, going into PE class, to the boy's locker room, I walked through and into what we called then, a Civil Defense shelter. Something we don't have anymore. But I walked by a sign on the wall, that was a black and yellow sign, and it said Civil Defense. And in the corners of our locker rooms in my Junior High School were piles of sealed food, water, and mats for bedding – and instructions on how to use it all - because it was underground, and in the event of nuclear war, it was a Civil Defense shelter.
This is the world I grew up in. When I came into the church, I began to understand that it wasn't going to end like that, and the phrase that I began to hear out of Matthew 24, that but for the elect's sake, those days will be shortened, became a very hopeful, positive message for somebody like me. That was the world view that I was exposed to, and I began to understand this world different, so when somebody said to me that they despised the world view with which they were raised – it's sad – it's sad. And I recognize, that sometimes is that can be what is portrayed about God's way of life...I read an article a number of years ago that I've always used to illustrate what we don't want to teach our young people, and that is, we want to raise people, children, and teach people that we actually, we don't live in a "low-ceilinged" room – we live in a "high-ceilinged" room. And I've always appreciated high ceilinged rooms, and rooms with plenty of light, and windows to look out and light to come in, and a high-ceilinged room. Did you ever get into a building or a room with a low ceiling, below eight feet...you know, you get claustrophobia. You begin to feel "hemmed in." And if we do teach God's truth as something that's in a, kind of a low-ceilinged room approach, well yeah! People can get the wrong impression. But that's not what is in the Bible – that's not the world view of the Bible. God's world view is a "big ceilinged room", with light and understanding, and truth.
And that's how it all hit me, as I grew up in the church - and contrasting it. And, of course, I was the southern group of the sixties. And the church's moral teaching - which was quite prominently taught in those days. Everything from a booklet called "Modern Dating", which would seem today perhaps to be too moderate – but that was the title of the booklet. And morality ...that gave me an anchor, and gave me a course on which to base my life through the period of the sixties, growing up in that time of social turmoil, that only those of us that lived through it know. But it kept me from making certain mistakes that I could have easily done – because of what I was learning, hearing and exposed to in the church. My world view? It opened up everything to me, and it should open up everything to us - because that's what I tasted. And that was a positive experience for me.
In Jeremiah, Chapter 29, one of my favorite verses, perhaps yours as well, states as well as can be stated, Jeremiah Chapter 29...this is a prophecy that God gave to Jeremiah regarding their captivity...but that they would be brought back. They would go off for seventy years into captivity to Babylon, as it begins to say in Verse 10:
Jeremiah 29:10For thus saith the LORD, That after seventy years be accomplished at Babylon I will visit you, and perform my good word toward you, in causing you to return to this place. See All... For thus says the Lord: After seventy years are completed at Babylon, I will visit you and perform My good word toward you, and cause you to return to this place. (Meaning to the land around Jerusalem.)
And so, as all of prophecy does, there's a warning and there's a prediction for the consequences, but there's always the hope, and this is what Jeremiah holds out here in verse 11, as God says:
Verse 11: For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope.
That's God's world view, and that is at the heart of the way of life to which God calls us, a future of hope and thoughts of peace.
Verse 12: Then you will call upon Me and go and pray to Me, and I will listen to you.
Verse 13: And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all of your heart.
Verse 14: I will be found by you, says the Lord, and I will bring you back from your captivity; I will gather you from all the nations and from all the places where I have driven you, says the Lord, and I will bring you to the place from which I caused you to be carried away capt ive.
Every one of God's prophecies, and the statements of Leviticus and Deuteronomy of blessings and cursing's, in the two chapters there, always end on a positive note ; you have to read through all of them. Yes, there are...there's always a warning, and there's always a description of what will happen if there's not any repentance. But God always ends it with hope. There's blessings and cursing's – and then there's a hope of restoration, and a hope of return. And here, He says : I know the thoughts that I think toward you – they are thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope.
That sums up God's world view – that sums up the world view of the Bible, and this way of life to which we were called, and Moses said: " It's near you – it's in your mouth. " And it all comes down to how we are taught it, and how it's modeled in front of us, and many factors are recognized. But it's not restrictive, and it's certainly not something that should be despised.
The second element of this tasting and what we are called to among the distinctives...we couldn't talk about this without, perhaps, talking about the Sabbath and the Holy Days . Not only...they do they set up apart – we're not the only group of people that keep the Sabbath - we know that. But when you do keep the Sabbath, and you begin to obey the fourth commandment, and then you come to understand the Holy Days , as apart from the holidays of our world, those are distinctives – they do set us apart. And though some Sabbath keepers keep Christmas and Easter - we Sabbath keepers don't! We keep God's Holy Days, which again, further deepens, if you will, the divide that can be there between us and friends and relatives and others in the world, and the life that we were called to live.
But the Sabbath, a test commandment, a distinctive in our teaching and understanding that we know, challenges us from time to time... "Why do you keep the Sabbath?" might be a question sometimes that's put to you. How do you answer that? "Why do you keep the Sabbath – why do you go off and do this Holy Day thing?" We had this neighbor...of course we've just moved into our house in our neighborhood, and someone moved into the house next to us since we'd moved in, and a few weeks ago the wife came over for something, and Debbie was at home, and they got to talking, "What do you do – who are you" – whatever... and this other neighbor mentioned that she was Catholic, and Debbie said, "Well, we're Sabbatarians." And she looked at Debbie and said, "What"! For many, the phrase Sabbatarian, or Sabbath, means nothing to some people. It means everything to us – it means a great deal to us. "Why do you keep the Sabbath?" Perhaps the answer really should be: " Why wouldn't I keep the Sabbath ?" And from that begin to have an exclamation... "Why do you keep the Sabbath?" "Well, why wouldn't I keep the Sabbath?"
Ask yourself if you have come in your life to that point, if you've grown in grace and knowledge to the point where you could give that answer..." Why wouldn't I? " You cannot imagine that your life would be anything but keeping this on every seventh day, and keeping the Holy Days as they come around, because of the way of life that it teaches us. Yes, it does...it's a distinctive. We set apart that twenty-four hour period every week, and it makes a change in our life. But, do we do it because God says to ; but do we do it because we recognize we love it , and we value that? And you come to a point where you would say, "Why wouldn't I keep the Sabbath?" Because it gives you joy; because it gives you happiness – and you wouldn't want to live any other way. I have been keeping the Sabbath myself a long time, as have many of you.
A few months ago I was having a conversation with one of my peers (in terms of age and length in the church.) This person came in the church about the same time I did, his parents and all...and his parents no longer are in the church; no longer keeping a semblance of God's way of life. And he still keeps the Sabbath. We were talking about it at the church one day, and he said, "You know, I love the Sabbath – I can't imagine not keeping it." He said, "My boss wanted me to pull a long shift, an extra-long shift or work on the Sabbath – I just laughed at them. I told them, ‘I'm not going to miss this, because I love to keep this day.' I keep it because of what it does for me spiritually and because of the love for..." - because of what he's experienced. In other words, what he was saying was, that for decades, more than four decades, he has been tasting life as a Sabbath keeper, as a commandment keeper, and the way that he has come to appreciate and love the Sabbath – it is a taste in his mouth that he can't wait to get to, every seventh day. And he wouldn't dream of violating it – compromising himself by it. This is after four decades. He said, "I realize that not everybody's there." But he said, "For me, it's more than a doctrine." And, it is a doctrine, and it is a commandment – the fourth. But he said, "It's part of my life." He's saying: it's part of his DNA. He said, "I can't imagine foregoing keeping the Sabbath; it's an ingrained part of my life."
When you have a conversation like that with somebody, you know you've had a unique conversation. And many of you feel the same way. It's something we have to come to the point where we truly do reflect what it says in Isaiah 58:13If thou turn away thy foot from the sabbath, from doing thy pleasure on my holy day; and call the sabbath a delight, the holy of the LORD, honourable; and shalt honour him, not doing thine own ways, nor finding thine own pleasure, nor speaking thine own words: See All..., where God says:
Isaiah 58:13If thou turn away thy foot from the sabbath, from doing thy pleasure on my holy day; and call the sabbath a delight, the holy of the LORD, honourable; and shalt honour him, not doing thine own ways, nor finding thine own pleasure, nor speaking thine own words: See All... "If you turn away your foot from the Sabbath, from doing your pleasure on My holy day, and call the Sabbath a delight... a delight - the Holy Day of the Lord honorable,
It goes on to say what will happen as a result of that – truly do we call the Sabbath a delight . We could call a bowl of vanilla ice cream a delight. I could call a bowl of good chicken and dumplings a delight! Can we call the Sabbath a delight? Honorable? I've heard the
Sabbath called other things over the years...I've heard it called a burden; I've heard it called a chain; I've heard it called Jewish – I've heard it called Old Testament – I've heard it called unnecessary. I've heard a lot. But God says when we come to the point where we can call it a delight ...then we've moved into another dimension of understanding, and we have tasted something that is of the age to come. And that's what this is all about.
The third distinctive, or of taste that we often may be challenged on and have to come to understand, is that of tithing. We've talked about a world view; we've talked about the Sabbath – let's talk about tithing for a moment. Let's go back to Malachi, Chapter 3, just to look at this one verse that discusses the teaching and the doctrine of tithing, here in the Scripture – Malachi, Chapter 3 - because it does bring us to this thought that we have here. It begins in Verse 8, where the question is raised:
Malachi 3:8Will a man rob God? Yet ye have robbed me. But ye say, Wherein have we robbed thee? In tithes and offerings. See All... "Will a man rob God? Yet you have robbed Me! But you say, ‘In what way have we robbed You?' God replies : In tithes and offerings.
Verse 9: You are cursed with a curse, for you have robbed Me, even this whole nation.
Verse 10 then, God challenges – to the people He says:
Verse 10: Bring all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be food in My house, (this is the temple He's talking about) and try Me now in this ," – try Me; taste it...prove Me now herewith.
Try it; taste it....open your mouth kids! Here comes Obi One - try it! This is what God says about tithing. Forking over ten percent of our income to God...and He says, it's His – it's not ours. It's His. Now He says: Try me - "If I will not open for you the windows of heaven and pour out for you such blessing that there will not be room enough to receive it."
Too often we think about: Just waiting for that bank account...ka-ching, ka-ching, ka-ching!... All the way up, because of that. We think of it only in those terms. And yes, that is part of what the meaning is there. But it's not always the way we think it is - that power ball of life . I heard somebody from my home state of Missouri who won the power ball this week. They announced that, where he was from, I said, "I've never heard of that place." And I thought to myself, "Well, visit him in about five years – I hope his life is better for all the millions that he's won..." So many people who win the power ball – it doesn't always turn out that good for them; but some it does. But that's not always what this verse is talking about. But He says, prove Me now; try Me. Tithing is a way of life; tithing is a teaching; tithing is a doctrine – it's a fundamental belief, as we termed it in our listing of our fundamentals in the United Church of God. But it is a Biblical teaching that is embedded in the Old Testament; the New Testament; Genesis...all the way into the New Testament - all the way to the Book of Hebrews, so to speak. And when we begin to tithe, that is a taste, if you will, that is something that we are buying into that is going to change our life. It begins with Abraham. And with tithing comes a package of faith. That's why it is introduced back in Genesis with Abraham, the father of the faithful, who tithed to Melchizedek. And that's where the story and the teaching of tithing begins, with the father of the faithful. It is a matter of faith. Some people say, "I can't afford to tithe." Some people say, "I can't afford not to tithe "- because they've learned a lesson that comes with that. And they learn the most elementary lesson - that is that Abraham tithed . That's where we find it first in the Bible, and if we're going to be children of Abraham, of that faithful man - then we're going to be doing what he did as well; as he tithed to God. But when it comes faith - it does - and we will have to step out, and we will have to learn at various times that it does mean that the first ten percent goes to God.
With tithing also comes discipline – discipline . I mean, literally you do learn to live within the income then that you have, because you give an apportionment – ten percent....and we all know about the Festival tithes, and that as well. But when you begin to mention a system of tithing, you have to discipline your life then to live within your income. And part of that package of discipline is the avoidance of debt. And we all know what debt can do. Debt has become the modern way by which business is done - is it's the modern way of nations, on conducting corporate financing. I'm not going to bore you with statistics...we all see those every night on Fox news – it's getting where I turn that off anymore... the fiscal cliff, and the fiscal deficits and all...we're confronted with that and it is a very real matter, but it's the way the modern nations work – by debt. And debt is not God's way. Debt works for a while, but you know what? So does Satan's way. I read a book called "Hamilton's Blessing" a few months ago. Alexander Hamilton, the first United States Treasurer, introduced the system of debt way back then, at the beginning of the American nation, the United States. They financed the debt from the Revolutionary War through the system, and he introduced it, as the book Hamilton's Blessing explains...it's a very interesting book, but it explains how debt has been used, and has been a part of our American history all along, and has also gotten out of control. But it is not God's way. It works, and it can even work in the modern world, but only up to a point. There's always a bite in the end , and we're seeing that bite played out right now – we're experiencing the bite of debt today.
The accumulative effect of two hundred years of using the principle of debt to run a world economy – something always has to come and be paid. It has worked as it has for so long in the United States of America, I think, because God honored His promise to Abraham – a man who lived by faith, and a man who tithed. And to whom God made blessings that He has fulfilled in our modern nations, and that's why our debt has worked, and why even it still works with the mountain of debt that we have. Because we live in the choicest land on earth of which to live out this experiment that is called the United States of America. But for you and I, as we look at God's way of teaching finance, personal finance, if we want to build wealth, then we will learn the principles that are embedded in the law of tithing, among which - there are many – but among which are faith, and fiscal discipline. And that too is what we learn by living this way of life.
So, tithing is a distinctive as well, but is something that, as God said through Malachi, we have to test Him on – try Me, and I'll show you that it does open up multiple blessings – and it does work! And it can be a way by which you can discipline and order your life. We were listening, on a trip a few months ago, to Dave Ramsey. I know a lot of people listen to Dave Ramsey, and he's got excellent advice in terms of personal finance. But one of the things he is deaf on, is debt. And I know a number of young people have worked their way out of the pit of debt by following his teachings and his principles. And we listened to him for about three or four hours on a long trip a few months ago, and everything he said was sound. And he does believe in tithing as well...very interesting. But, the principles work – they are living laws. But it's something that we have to taste, and we have to come to find.
I want to go back to Hebrews Chapter 6, and we were reading there that we taste of the good world, of the power of the age to come. And, of course, the rest of that verse in that section goes on to talk about people that have been enlightened, and tasted that, if they fall away then it's impossible to be brought to repentance. They go to a point where they fall completely away. Now when we look at the Bible, when we look at our own contemporary experience of people who have come and gone, within and around this way of life today, we find many examples to show us that, if God's Spirit is there, and if they have tasted of that age to come, and they have not turned completely away from it, it's a taste that's still there that they eventually go look for again. I like to read the Book of Ecclesiastes in that regard, and the way I've always understood it, taught it over the years, is that Ecclesiastes is a book written by Solomon, who grew up in the church, left, and ran a torturous winding road, through all kinds of experiences, physical for a period of time with multiple wives, and all the money that he had, and wove in and out of God's way, in one sense, but then at the very end of his life, as it says in Ecclesiastes 12:13Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man. See All...,14... this is the whole duty of man, fear God and keep His commandments. In my book, he got it all figured out, he came back around at the very end. That's the way I read it and understand the Book of Ecclesiastes, but it was not without a whole life of kind of weaving in and out. And he came to understand: Fear God, and keep His commandments. That's the whole purpose of life – and I think he did. But, we can discuss that...he wandered far and wide; he came back to God in the end. And I think, you know, that that teaches us something about people who have tasted of the good word of God; the powers of the age to come - that there is still a hope.
I marvel today when I see the stories and talk to people who returned to God, who returned to faith, and returned to the Church of God, after many years of being in the wilderness, being as we say, "out of the church", doing whatever they do as they wandered around – some in a spiritual wilderness. I've seen a number of people, and I still see some of their letters, I have them correspond with me - that after seventeen years, still come back to the faith. And in listening to their stories, I realized that they had a hunger for something – what they were feeding on, and their life apart from the truth of God, and the powers of the age to come...what they were feeding on didn't satisfy. They thought that it might, by abandoning tithing, by abandoning the Sabbath...they got convinced into that heresy seventeen years ago – but what they started feeding on didn't nourish, didn't satisfy; they were still hungry spiritually. Psalm 107 talks about that wandering that takes place:
Psalm 107:1O give thanks unto the LORD, for he is good: for his mercy endureth for ever. See All... Oh, give thanks to the Lord, for He is good! For His mercy endures forever.
Verse 2: Let the redeemed of the Lord say so, whom He has redeemed from the hand of the enemy,
Verse 3: And gathered out of the lands, from the east and from the west, from the north and from the south.
Verse 4: They wandered in the wilderness in a desolate way; they found no city to dwell in.
Doesn't that describe people, at times, who have left the faith, left the church... they wander in a wilderness; they find no city to dwell in.
Verse 5: Hungry and thirsty, their souls fainted in them.
Hungry and thirsty; looking to taste something that they had at one time, and maybe still trying to find it, but apart from the truth and apart from God – and they're hungry and they're thirsty – and their soul faints.
Verse 6: Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble, and He delivered them out of their distresses.
Verse 7: And He led them forth by the right way, that they might go to a city for a dwelling place.
Verse 8: Oh, that men would give thanks to the Lord for His goodness, and for His wonderful works to children of men!
Verse 9: For He satisfies the longing soul, and fills the hungry soul with goodness.
Whoever is wise, will observe these things, and they will understand the loving kindness of the Lord. Only the true God, and only His truth, that we have tasted, as being that of the powers of the age to come, can fill a hungry soul with goodness, and satisfy the longing and the aching that is there. Only that taste is what satisfies...once we've tasted that.
I received a letter just a few weeks ago from just such a couple, who after seventeen years of being out in this wilderness, came back to the Church of God – came back to the United Church of God. And they wrote me, and they said this...let me just read a couple paragraphs from the letter: "One day this summer we listened to three UCG sermons, on the Sabbath and the New Covenant, and they were very helpful. We would have some questions answered, and after the first sermon was finished I asked my mates if they would like to listen to the next part, in which they said, yes. After the second part I asked again, can your mind handle another? Yes! God really put a large spiritual appetite in us, to listen, and take in what we were hearing." (This is their words; not mine.) "God put a spiritual, a large spiritual appetite in us to listen. We have been in a desert a long time, and it is so good to be back in the Church of God. God is so merciful and loving. We may have been confused for a while and lost our way, but He was always there and never lost track of us. We need to pray and reach out to the many people still out there that are in the same situation we were in... beautiful water! " Like so many people, these people tasted once of the powers of the world to come, and though they got confused, it was still there. And they then, went on in the letter to explain part of their journey, and none of it satisfied them. And so they got back to the faith once delivered – and that is what satisfied them.
We are called to a good life . Godliness is profitable for all things , Paul wrote to Timothy – he said:
I Timothy 4:8 . Godliness is profitable for all things, having promise of the life that now is and of that which is to come.
Living righteously has promise for this life today, and that which is to come – it works. As Bill Jacobs, one of our ministers said years ago, "God's way works." It became a motto for one of our programs – God's way works . And it works at all times; never goes off. You know, there's one other taste that I have from my grandmother's farm – it's what helped wash down the chicken and dumplings! It was the water from her well, in the front yard. As I said at the beginning, she didn't have...she and granddad didn't have plumbing. They had a well out front. And I always had to take the pail and go out – I loved to do that – bring in a pail of water for dinner. And they always had a cup full of water from the last pumping, because this was the type pump...one of those hand pumps - you had to prime it; pour the water down, and pump that water up from the well. I still remember the taste of that water today. It was cold; it was clear – it was good water. Had a little taste of mineral in it, probably iron...but that along with the chicken and dumplings, the tastes that I've never forgot. Just like I've never forgotten the taste of God's way of life; I hope I never do and hope that you never do, as well. Because we have tasted of the power of the age to come, and it is good, and it works. As Christ said in:
John 4:14But whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life. See All... "but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give them will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water, springing up into everlasting life."
That's what we've been given; that's what we are called to. Let's never forget that. Let's continue to taste the good word of God, and to prove that He is good.
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