The Soil & the Seed
Thank you for that song, it’s not hard to see why that would be a favorite song. Is there anything more straight to the point as we began 2001 The Year of the Character Family at Anchor here in Houston? I don’t know of anything that would say it more specifically than, “I know whom I have believed and I know that He is able.” That being the case, we called Him the Lord of our lives, it is imperative then that we know what it means to be attentive to God. Because if He is Lord and we know whom we have believed and He is able, then we’ll want to know what He has to say.
Which leads me to give a little plug for our reading through the Bible in one year. I want to encourage you to either get the outline we have for you or a “Through the Bible in One Year Bible” that makes it simple. You’ll find it takes about 15 – 20 minutes to read the daily readings. If you haven’t already started, you could get on this plan and get caught up this week. Fifteen to twenty minutes a day is not much, folks, especially if we say we want to be attentive to God, if we say that God is important. I also want to encourage you to get a little notebook of some kind and make a couple of notes as you go along. I only make one or two notes a day, had one day I didn’t make any. The idea is not to take a notes on all you read in the Bible, because you won’t get through in 15 –20 minutes, but I want you to do two things before 1) pray before you read the 15 or 20 minutes and ask God to show you something that He wants to show you that day. 2) Have that notepad there and just whatever it is just make a little note, even if it is just a reference that you can go back to later. But you’ll find that it will be a very great wisdom search throughout this whole year. It will be a great thing to be able to minister to us personally as well as others.
Open your Bibles this morning as we begin talking about Attentiveness. The title of the message this morning is “The Soil and the Seed.” I’m going to read from Mark 4:1-8, 13-20 — the parable of the sower:
1 And again He began to teach by the sea. And a great multitude was gathered to Him, so that He got into a boat and sat in it on the sea; and the whole multitude was on the land facing the sea.
2 Then He taught them many things by parables, and said to them in His teaching:
3 “Listen! Behold, a sower went out to sow.
4 “And it happened, as he sowed, that some seed fell by the wayside; and the birds of the air came and devoured it.
5 “Some fell on stony ground, where it did not have much earth; and immediately it sprang up because it had no depth of earth.
6 “But when the sun was up it was scorched, and because it had no root it withered away.
7 “And some seed fell among thorns; and the thorns grew up and choked it, and it yielded no crop.
8 “But other seed fell on good ground and yielded a crop that sprang up, increased and produced: some thirtyfold, some sixty, and some a hundred.”
9 And He said to them, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear!”
I included verse 9 there included because we’re going to talk about that before this month is over, also. That’s another aspect of being attentive. In verse 13 He goes to explain the parable to those closest to Him, because in verse 10 it says, “He was alone with the 12 around Him.”
13 And He said to them, “Do you not understand this parable? How then will you understand all the parables?
14 “The sower sows the word.
15 And these are the ones by the wayside where the word is sown. When they hear, Satan comes immediately and takes away the word that was sown in their hearts.
16 “These likewise are the ones sown on stony ground who, when they hear the word, immediately receive it with gladness;
17 “and they have no root in themselves, and so endure only or a time. Afterward, when tribulation or persecution arises for the word’s sake, immediately they stumble.
18 “Now these are the ones sown among thorns; they are the ones who hear the word,
19 “and the cares of this world, the deceitfulness of riches, and the desires or other things entering in choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful.
20 “But these are the ones sown on good ground, those who hear the work, accept it, and bear fruit; some thirtyfold, some sixty, and some a hundred.”
Jesus loved to teach in parables. In fact the verses that we didn’t read there He says something very amazing, He says I’m talking and teaching in parables because unless you have the ears to hear, you won’t be able to hear it, but I want these messages to get out to people who are going to follow me, people who are going to have those ears that I want them to have that will be attentive to me and will follow through on these things.
Of all the parables that Jesus gave, this one has some very special significance. It helps us to understand a couple of things that some of the other parables don’t help us to understand. For one thing, it helps us to understand why some folks get saved and others do not. It also helps understand why some Christians “grow” in the Word of God, and some do not. It helps us to understand why some Christians find answers to their life’s problems, and get help in dealing with those problems and others do not. I want us to dissect the parable and Jesus’ explanation piece by piece.
If you go back to verse 3 and then to verse 14, we’re going to see what this parable is all about. Jesus pictures a farmer, or a sower, now they didn’t have the implements that we have in this day and time. They would carry bags on their shoulders and dip into the bag with their hands and toss the seed as they walked, that’s how they sowed the seed.
We have all kinds of fancy things, our farmers today even have air-conditioned tractors that they can sow seed in. We have the nice push-behind things that you can never figure out which setting to set it on in order to put out the seed or fertilizer or whatever. The other day I was reminded of Brian Davis, an old friend of mine who lives out in Seattle, Washington now, but Brian put out some winter grass seed one time and he had one of those fancy machines, but he couldn’t get it set just right and he had a mat that looked like Astroturf that was about two foot wide and about 4 foot long, until he got that thing set up to where it would spread out. We would laugh when we went by there and see his “mat” because the seed tumbled out at one time and the grass was so thick.
Anyone who knows about the life of plants knows that the life of plants is in the seed. In other words, the seed has got to get into the ground in order for life to spring forth. The Bible tells us that in several other places. And it produces a plant according to the type of seed that is sown. Another thing that is very interesting is that seeds are very small. The plants coming out of a seed can be very huge. The Bible talks about a mustard seed being as tiny as can be, and yet a mustard plant is very large. So the resulting crop comes from the seed. That’s the point. If you have no seed, you have no plant; if you have no plant, you have no crop. So you have to sow the seed. If someone is going to get saved you have to sow the seed. You need to understand that we are going to reap the same as what we sow. If you sow watermelon seeds, what are you going to get? You’re going to get watermelon plants. If you plant okra seeds, what are you going to get? You’re going to get okra. . If you plant cucumber seeds, what are you going to get? You’re going to get cucumbers.
And so Jesus explains what He was trying to picture, here’s the story of a farmer sowing his seeds that has a spiritual application to the way that His kingdom works. And the way spiritual life operates. He says that the farmer, the preacher, the Christian, is called upon to sow the Word of God. The seed is the Word of God, and every time we see the Word of God or hear the Word of God, Jesus is saying that a seed is sown. Now here’s some good news, just as the farmer’s seed has power in itself to create a crop, this seed — which is God’s word has power in itself to produce fruit. So we have something here that’s very powerful, that the reason why we must sow the Word. You just can’t go about “doing church” and go about “doing Christianity,” if you are not going to use the Word. That’s why we are encouraging you to read through the Bible, so that you’ll have the seed to be able to take. God is going to plant a seed in you. And then that seed is going to produce fruit, and then the only way it can product fruit in your life and my life is to have the Word of God in our life. Now once the word of God gets into our hearts and into the soil, as in this picture; when we receive it, and believe it, it produces something supernatural. And that’s why it’s so important to us. And so this means as believers it is our job is to sow, to sow, to sow, to sow, to sow the seed.
Now you may be wondering, “What does this have to do with Attentiveness, Pastor?” Well there is something very interesting about this parable, there are four different results from the sowing of the same seed. The seed – which is the Word of God – has the power to produce results. But Jesus in the parable is saying I want to show you four different results from sowing the same seed. Even though the “sees” is so powerful, in 3 out of 4 soils, there is a negative ending. It doesn’t produce the results that God intends for it to produce. So we’re not talking about Good Housekeeping, and we’re not talking about Texas Parks and Wildlife and we’re not talking about Sports Illustrated, we’re not talking about Ladies Home Journal, we’re not talking about Redbook, we’re not talking about Tide Magazine, which talks about fishing down on the Gulf Coast, we’re talking about the Word of God. The Holy Scriptures. And yet three times out of four there is a negative ending. And I want to say to you again, the reason why is that it all has to do with Attentiveness.
Now the definition as you look in our Character book, Achieving True Success – How to Build Character as a Family the basic definition there of Attentiveness is, Showing the worth of a person — “or of a person’s word” — or a task by giving my undivided attention. Now I want you to see how we can be distracted, which is the opposite of attentive. As Jesus pictures the different soils of the hearts, that the seed, or the Word of God is sown upon.
Listen carefully, depending what kind of soil the seed falls in, can the seed show its power. There’s bad soil and there’s good soil. There’s bad dirt and there’s good dirt. There are bad hearts and there are good hearts. But keep in mind now, the seed never changes. Jesus is talking about different hearts. This explains why some people can sit in the same service and one is blessed and receives something from God, and somebody else, in the same service, same preacher, same message, same songs, same building, same everything and walks out unchanged – in any kind of service that goes on in any kind of church this morning. Have you ever wondered about that? I have. For years I’ve wondered, how in the world we can have the same service, same message, same Word of God, same songs, same buildings, same everything and somebody walk out and say “Oh man, God really spoke to my heart this morning”, and other people walk out of here and never look back in terms of moving on with God. See one person’s life is totally transformed, and another person unmoved, nothing happens. One person can’t believe the service is over, and another person didn’t believe it would ever end. It’s the soil of our hearts.
So let’s look at those four soils and each one is very important. Soil #1 in verse 4 is “the wayside.” Now since most of us don’t walk very often when we go somewhere, I want to see if I can picture what kind of ground this is. If you’ve ever been to a golf tournament, they have the ropes where the crowd stays behind. And the crowd staying behind there and they just tromp up and down, up and down there by the thousands. There use to be high grass in the rough, use to be lush grass out there, would have been just as high and thick as the rough is between the fairway and the ropes, but there have been so many people walking on it that it has been trod, that’s the wayside. And it’s so trod down that it’s hard packed. Hardly any grass whatsoever. Nothing would even grow there. It takes months of watering and cultivating to get the grass to grow again. A lot of golf courses don’t even want tournaments to be held there because they know that the wear and tear is going to be incredible.
We were putting out the flyers about Attentiveness and about our Character studies, and I noticed on a lot of homes, the way they are designed, depending on the size of the drive way and how many cars there are in the driveway. You get out of the car, and if you’re going to walk up to the door, especially walking around the car you’ve got to get off the drive and onto the grass. You don’t want to, but you have to, and then you look down and say, “my goodness they’ve all had to,” because there’s just a little path there. How well does the grass grow in that little path? It doesn’t grow very well at all because it’s been trod on. And that’s what it’s talking about, the wayside is this area that has been walked on and trodden down. Jesus said, every once in a while, when they are sowing the seed some seed gets on the wayside. And why does the sower sow on hard ground? Well, “why” is not the issue. The issue is “it happens” as you sow seed, period. If you are fertilizing your yard and you’ve got one of those little paths from the driveway over to the front, do you stop and put up some kind of guard against putting seed there so that it doesn’t get on that hard path? Do you put up some of that black stuff that they have in construction now so that none gets on the sidewalk? When you sow seed, Jesus is saying you are going to find some hard ground. You’re going to find some “wayside people” out there. The issue is not how does it get on the hard ground, the issue is that some hearts are so hard that the seed doesn’t have a chance to take root. And the seed, Jesus said, just lays on top of that ground. And the birds come and they get the seed and it’s gone. No plant, no crop, but it’s the same seed. In verse 15 Jesus tells us that these are the ones where Satan comes immediately. We’re not talking about just about any ‘ole bird, we’re talking about the devil himself. He wants to steal the Word of God. He is known as the thief and he takes away the Word. Jesus saying that these soils represent four different kinds of people, four different kinds of hearts in people. This kind of person hears the word but never really concentrates on it, their hearts are too harden. They sit in church and they never open their hearts to receive what God has to say to them. And Satan comes in and steals away God’s word.
Now let me encourage you to do one thing – I mentioned awhile ago that as you start to read through the Bible each day, before you do so, sit down and pray for a couple of minutes. It doesn’t take a long and drawn out prayer, Jesus said you don’t need to get vain and repetitious, just say “God, I want to get something out of these next 15 or 20 minutes I’m committing this time to you, I want to get something out of it. I want it to be different in my life when I sit down and invest this time, and you plant that seed, your word in my life. I want it to be different.” That all you’ve got to say. The same thing ought to be said, folks, before we come up here on Sunday. Before we go to any kind of worship service or any kind of conference or whatever, we ought to say a prayer and say “God, open up my heart, my heart is a little hard maybe right now I don’t want it to be hard, soften my heart, I want it to be to the point where I can receive your truth.” Otherwise, Satan will come in and steal away the Word. If my mind is wandering around on other things, if I’m in such a hurry that I’m rushed and I get here late and I don’t have time to get ready and prepare my heart for the service, guess what I’m going to miss. I may even miss the first song, and the first song may have been the most important thing God had to say that day. And so God says if you don’t watch it, your heart could be hard, harder than you think it could be, because there has been some trodding along on life’s way and you won’t receive and can’t receive the things of God.
The number one thing Satan wants to steal from you today is God’s Word. He doesn’t want to steal your car, he doesn’t have any trouble getting around. He doesn’t need your house, he’s got a place to stay. He doesn’t need a lot of things that we have and guard against and insure against and take time to take care of these things each day, but do we take time to guard our hearts, do we take time to invest in the one thing that God wants us to have – He wants us to have Jesus Christ. If you are here this morning and don’t have Jesus Christ in your heart, then you’re in deep trouble. The Bible says you are one heartbeat away from going to hell. It’s that simple. But the Bible also says that once your saved and once you have the holy spirit of God living in your life that if you would receive the things that God has in His word that He would speak to you about the things of this life, about the things of this day. Satan though wants to steal away the Word. It is very easy for him to do that, the Bible tells us, if our heart is hard and the seed has no place to take root.
Soil # 2 in verses 5 and 6, Jesus called that “stony ground”. There’s some ground He says, but not much. The sun comes up it scorches the ground, it scorches the young plant and because it had not much root, because roots want to go down deep and this ground is stony, it’s rocky, it has not much root, what happens, he says, “The plant withers away.”
Now because there is some soil, the seed germinates and it starts to develop into a plant but it can’t survive because of the rocks that are mixed in. In other words, it has too many rocks per square foot. Do you know what the difference is between grass growing in East Texas and grass trying to grow in West Texas? Too many rocks per square foot. Have you ever been out in the Hill Country? Have you ever been to some of the places that are so rocky that only an ‘ole rough weed will come up through the rocks. And that’s one of the biggest problems with having a rocky heart is that you are going to get a lot of weeds, but you’re not going to get very much of the productive plants.
Jesus says in verses 16 and 17, this person has a little soil, but a lot of rocks – and let me tell you something that is very important for us to understand, that sometimes those rocks can be hidden. Sometimes the thin layer of top soil looks really good . . . but you go down and start trying to plant something and find there are some rocks underneath, a lot of rocks underneath, and Jesus said, the person with a little bit of soil and a lot of rocks, received the Word with gladness, maybe gets really excited about the idea that I can be saved, maybe gets really excited about the idea that God can take away some addiction that I have, maybe really excited about something that God can do in my life or change my family’s life or whatever, but there’s not enough roots to develop and the rocks keep this from happening and they endure for only a short time. You see, this person hears the gospel that you can go to heaven when you die and you don’t have to go to hell, and they don’t want to go to hell this person hears that God will help you get a job, this person hears that God will watch over your children, this person hears all the good news but when the tough times come, when the rocky times come in live, what happen? They wither. They fade.
They don’t realize that to follow the Lord will mean good times, but will also mean bad times. It’ll mean some persecution. It’ll mean some difficult moments. It’ll mean some rejection by family sometimes. It’ll mean having to separate from family sometimes. Jesus said when tribulation or persecution comes on account of the Word, immediately they stumble. Isn’t that interesting? They can look pretty good, because of the topsoil, but there are rocks down underneath. And when some of these situations in life come that are very different, very rocky, immediately, on account of the Word, because the seed is the problem and the seed comes and it wants to take root and wants to develop in their lives, it want to show them some them a perspective that God says, it wants to give them a problem in their life, but because of the rocks they stumble. Because of shallow roots they can’t take the heat. They can be involved for a short time but they don’t endure with the word. You see, Jesus is saying what it really mean is giving up our plans for our lives and taking up His plans. It means that wherever He leads, I’ll follow. And some people will say, “Oh no, I just need a job . . . I just want my family back! You said that Jesus can do this in my life.” He can, but He also said, follow me, and stick with me and go on with me.
And so you have that hard wayside ground and you have the stony ground and then you have soil #3, which is the thorny ground in verse 7. Some seeds fell among thorns and the thorns grew up and choked it and it yielded no crop. Jesus indicates that there is some dirt there and some it might be pretty good dirt. But the seed fell among the dirt that had a lot of thorns in it and the thorns grew and – that’s those weeds, how many of you know that weeds will choke out good stuff? – weeds will take over if your’ not careful.
Now listen again to Jesus’ explanation as it applies to you and me in verses 18 and 19. He says that this kind of person hears the Word but the cares of this life, the cares of this world, the deceitfulness of riches, and the desires for other things inter in and choke the word and it becomes unfruitful. The lies that money tells us is that we’ll be happy, secure and taken care of on a “rainy day.” This is all lies, because only God brings fulfillment and only God can take care of a “rainy day.” And this is not just for “rich people.” Many poor people have a greater desire for riches than a rich person ever had. Jesus says that the deceitfulness of riches the cares of this world, the desire for other things entering in choked the word and it becomes unfruitful.
Jesus said that these things are so strong, that even though the word of God is so powerful, these things can choke it out. Isn’t that something? You see, these people don’t grow and don’t go on with God, because there are so many other things competing with their time and attention. You see, we have to fight to keep it, we have to make sure that we keep our hearts softened. The Word of God, the things of Christ, have to be everything to us. We need the roots to go down deep, we need to clear out all the rocks that would make us shallow. We have to get rid of all the thorns that compete with the Word of God. And you know what, the Holy Spirit – if He hasn’t already done so this morning — will show you right now those things in your life that compete against the Word of God. You know why I know that? Because He’s shown me in my life. He’ll show you in your life, the things that are competing against His Word. You see, many times we pray, “God bless the preaching of the Word”, but I want to say to you this morning Brethren, we’ve got to start praying, not only bless the Word of God, and the preaching of the Word, but God, prepare our hearts, and especially prepare my heart. Because if the “soil” is not right, even though the Word goes in, it won’t do a thing.
Wait a minute . . . Jesus said there’s one more type of person . . . Soil #4 (v. 8) The “good ground”. There is the same sower, same seed, same Word of God, same service, same everything . . . but some of the seed fell on “good ground.” Jesus said in verse 20, these hear the word, receive it . . . accept it and bear fruit. Some 30-fold, some 60-fold, and some 100-fold. What is “good ground?” It is a soft, tender, prepared, reachable, teachable heart. “Good ground” is ground with no “rocks” to make it shallow and no competing growth. This would be soil that is cultivated, fertilized, prepared. When we talk at being attentive, it doesn’t mean giving a passing glance at the Word of God. It means showing the worth of the Person and showing the worth of His Word. And making sure we have “good dirt”, a good heart, a heart that is always tiled and softened, no rocks, no thorns always cultivated and maintained, always handled with care that opens up and receives the good seed. Suddenly, all kinds of fruit can come out of that life!
Let me ask you, “Is that Attentiveness?” I sure think it is. It’s a matter of showing the worth of a person or that person’s word. How much does the Word of God mean to you? Are you willing to give up Sundays to God? Are you willing to give up some things during the week to get enough sleep and still have time to read God’s Word every day??? How many of us need a little “ground work” in our life today? Let’s pray.
Attentiveness – A Four-Minute Sermon
Contributed by Pastor Lee McDowell
Pastor Anchor Baptist Church, Houston, Texas
Preached January 7, 2001
Their Ears Were Attentive
I think we have come to agreement that there’s no substitute for Christian Character. No matter how much talent and training we may have, if we don’t have character, we don’t have anything. Life is built on character, but character is built on decisions. This month we’re talking about deciding to be “Attentive” . . . to have the character quality of “Attentiveness” ingrained into our lives and the lives of our children.
Last week we talked about “The Soil and The Seed.” We saw in parable of the sower that Jesus told us about four different kinds of “soils,” each representing a different person with a different kind of “heart.” The same “seed,” i.e. the Word of God, is spread about with different results . . . three negative results, and one positive result. We must be careful about the condition of our hearts (the “soil”) and how receptive (Attentive) we are toward God and toward His Word. I prayed this morning for God to prepare our hearts so that we would be Attentive to what God has to say to us.
This week I want to talk about “ears” . . . and Attentiveness and the same Word of God. Our text is Nehemiah 8:1-12. Here’s the picture before chapter 8, in chapter 1 Nehemiah has a desire to rebuild the wall, and in chapter 2, he has a dream to rebuild. With the King’s permission, he undertook a dare in chapter 4. That dare was to build in the face of opposition. Also in chapter 4 it talks about his dedication and that the people had a mind to work. And in chapter 6 upon “completing the task,” the Bible says that even the people who opposed their efforts knew that God had been a part of it. Then in chapter 8, after completing the task, the people received a new “direction.” The message title from verse 3 is, “Their Ears were Attentive.”
- “Now all the people gathered together as one man in the open square that was in front of the Water Gate; and they told Ezra the scribe to bring the Book of the Law of Moses, which the Lord had commanded Israel.
- So Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly of men and women and all who could hear with understanding on the first day of the seventh month.
- Then he read from it in the open square that was in front of the Water Gate from morning until midday, before the men and women and those who could understand; and the ears of all the people were attentive to the Book of the Law.
- So Ezra the scribe stood on a platform of wood which they had made for the purpose; and beside him, at his right hand, stood Mattithiah, Shema, Anaiah, Urijah, Hilkiah, and Maaseiah; and at his left hand Pedaiah, Mishael, Malchijah, Hashum, Hashbadana, Zechariah, and Meshullam.
- And Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people, for he was standing above all the people; and when he opened it, all the people stood up.
- And Ezra blessed the Lord, the great God. Then all the people answered, “Amen, Amen!” while lifting up their hands. And they bowed their heads and worshiped the Lord with their faces to the ground.
- Also Jeshua, Bani, Sherebiah, Jamin, Akkub, Shabbethai, Hodijah, Maaseiah, Kelita, Azariah, Jozabad, Hanan, Pelaaiah and the Levites, helped the people to und3rstand the Law; and the people stood in their place.
- So they read distinctly from the book, in the Law of God; and they gave the sense, and helped them to understand the reading.
- And Nehemiah, who was the governor, Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who taught the people said to all the people, “This day is holy to the Lord you God; do not mourn nor weep.” For all the people wept, when they heard the words of the Law.
- Then he said to them, “Go your way, eat the fat, drink the sweet, and send portions to those for whom nothing is prepared; for this day is holy to our Lord. Do not sorrow, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”
- So the Levites quieted all the people, saying, “Be still, for the day is holy; do not be grieved.”
- And all the people went their way to eat and drink, to send portions and rejoice greatly, because they understood the words that were declared to them.”
- In verse 1 “all the people gathered themselves together” . . . how many is that? In Nehemiah 7:66 we’re told the number is 42,360 (What kind of sound system would be needed?!!).
The Hebrew word for attention means, “to prick up the ears.” Our textbook materials give excellent examples of animals such as the deer, the horse, and the donkey that illustrate how important their ears are to their safety, and their well-being. Kids, “Have you ever seen a deer, a horse, or a donkey ‘prick up their ears’???”
I did a brief study on “ears.” Ten times in ten verses is the phrase “ears to hear” is mentioned. Jesus used the phrase several times in the gospels, and the phrase “he who has an ear, let him hear . . .” is used 8 times in 8 verses in Revelation. All told the word “ear” or “ears” is found 270 times. Almost 250 of those times it is referring to “giving ear,” i.e. to listen, to hearken to, to pay attention to, to be Attentive. The scripture has a lot to say about listening.
I remember soon after I got saved hearing sermons preached by Dr. C.L. Jackson, who preached for years and years near downtown Houston. He’d say “You don’t hear me now . . .” or “do you hear me now?” Then he’d stop and the people would respond. Have you listened to Charles Stanley on the radio? What does he say? “Listen . . . Listen . . . Listen!” God wants us to listen, to pay attention.
In verse 4, Ezra, the scribe, stood on the pulpit. In verse 5, all the people stood up when he opened the book. They stood from morning to noontime. They were ready to hear God’s Word, so they stood out of respect and stood in order to be attentive. Just as the people stood that day, we need to give attention to what God has to say.
In verse 6 Ezra prayed and the people answered, “Amen, Amen,” with lifted hands and bowed heads then Ezra preached and he had others who took turns reading and preaching and then in verse 8 – a key verse – the leaders “read distinctively” from the book, the Law of God.
They also “gave the sense.” It is very important for this whole process of attentiveness that people hear and get the sense of the meaning. That’s why I always try to apply the message. If all we do is hear the message, but don’t apply it, then we are in deep trouble. We know from the discussion of soils last week that it will go in one ear and out the other. It will come in and won’t find good soil, won’t take root – part of attentiveness (part of that good soil) is that we are going to meditate on that Word, we are going to dwell on that Word.
That’s why we are going through one character quality per month. That sounds like a long time, but it takes a while for it to sink in and we’re meditating on it and chewing on it and we’re looking at it from different angles. Isn’t God’s Word so wonderful that you can turn from one book in the Bible to another one and find Him repeating Himself? We often miss that God is very repetitive. God knows that it is difficult for things to “sink in” with us and He doesn’t mind being repetitive. So we shouldn’t mind being repetitive either, because we want people to get the sense.
Then in v. 8 and they “helped them to understand the reading.” Understanding God’s Word is like the light bulb coming on, it’s like God has reached us and touched our hearts and can change our hearts, when we finally get His understanding. No question . . . “understanding” is a real key component here. But the question is: How did the people get understanding? Was it just the scribes . . . or, did the people have something to do with it? I want to say to you, Church, the people did have something to do with them getting understanding. Because no matter how hard your S.S. teacher may try to persuade you, or no matter how much the Preacher may prepare and preach and “give the sense” and help you to understand – unless you and I are participating with God, we’ll not understand.
And what does “understanding” have to do with attentiveness?!? Let’s look closely in this short passage and see three things that took place among the people that did have any effect on their “understanding” the Word of God.
#1 Understanding comes by being “ready” to hear. In verses 2 and 3, the Bible says “all that could hear with understanding.” Does that mean that only the “old enough” should come to church? It’s been a tearing in my heart through the years in the ministry that too many of God’s people say that children are not old enough to hear or understand, so let’s play games and entertain them and when they get older they’ll be able to understand.
But Jesus said the little ones can understand and believe. As a matter of fact, Jesus said, “unless you become as one of the little ones, you’re not going to enter the kingdom of God.” We need to be like little children who can understand and are usually hungry to understand.
We also need to prepare to have understanding. We need to pray to be prepared. It’s not a matter of what the Pastor can say that I’ve never heard before. It’s a matter being prepared and asking God to show us something in the scripture that we’ve never seen before. It’s a matter of wanting to hear, and praying before you come and asking God to speak to you. “Being ready” is a conscious choice. In verse 1 the people told Ezra they wanted to hear from the Book of the Law of Moses. The people said, “We want to hear some preaching and reading today”. . . We want to hear what God has to say . . . It’s been so long since we’ve had the freedom to worship God.
In Proverbs 2:1-5, Solomon writes about “receiving.” He stresses that “if” you will . . . make that conscious choice, then you will understand. “Being ready” also reflects our priorities as in Matthew 6:33. Back in verse 6 of our text reveals their worshipful spirit and in verse 9 their weeping shows their “readiness” to hear.
#2 Understanding comes by being “receptive” of what you hear. In verse 3 “the ears of all the people were attentive to the Book of the Law.” Being receptive includes being “focused” on a specific object. In this case, the people were focused on The Book of the Law – The Word of God.
“Being receptive” includes avoiding distractions (Matthew 14:22-32), diversions (Romans 1:18-32), and deceptions (Genesis 3:1-8; 1John 3:7).
#3 Understanding comes by being “responsive” to what you hear. The thing that is missing in most of our lives when we hear the Word of God is accountability to what we’ve heard. We can hear . . . and want to hear . . . and enjoy hearing, but unless we are responsive to what we hear, it is of no worth to us. The people were emotionally responsive to God’s Word. They wept as they heard the teachings of the Word of God which had been void in their lives.
We should also experientially respond. In verses 12-18 we are told that they built booths and followed the feast written in the Law. And it didn’t end here! They were moved with emotion. They were moved to experience what God told them to do. Why? Because they understood the words that were declared unto them. And how did this understanding come? They were attentive in the first place! They were attentive in the first place because God meant something to them! What God had to say meant something to them! In our definition of Attentiveness, which says, “Showing the worth of a person or task by giving my undivided concentration,” we need to ask ourselves, “How much does God mean to me? . . . How much does His Word mean to me?”
Attentiveness – A 4-Minute Sermon with Sermon Outline
Faith Committee, Character Council of Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky
Contributed By Pastor Lee McDowell
Pastor, Anchor Baptist Church, Houston, Texas
Preached January 14, 2001
Discerning Spiritual Things
I was thinking during the special music of the overwhelming sense that not only are we pressing on the upward way to higher ground, but it is holy ground. Let’s stop for just a moment and think, we’re talking about Attentiveness this month and what a privilege to have that relationship with God, to have that opportunity to talk to God, and the opportunity to hear from God.
I simply say as we come to the close of the month and this emphasis on attentiveness, without it, you go nowhere with God – we’re either attentive to Him or we’re not. We have the availability of being attentive to Him, we have the opportunity to hear from Him, speak to Him, to hear back, to communicate, but if we don’t, we’re going nowhere with God.
Next month we’ll be talking about Obedience, which probably is the catalyst to going on to great things with God. Once we hear from Him, we decide whether or not we are going to obey Him. Whether or not we are going to really trust and obey. Jesus said, “if you love me, obey my commandments”. And so these two characteristics are the bedrock foundation of a relationship with the Lord.
Now I want to say to you this morning, that apart from being saved and possessing eternal life, which is secured by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, and having available the power of the Holy Spirit, to get to live the victorious life today . . . I can’t think of anything that’s more exciting, more stimulating than to possess the capacity – through the same Holy Spirit of God – to be able to discern Spiritual things.
Did you hear what I said? I can’t think of anything more exciting, more stimulating apart from those previous things I mentioned – than to possess the capacity, through the same Holy Spirit of God, to be able to discern Spiritual things.
In other words, He gives me and He gives you, as a child of God, the spiritual capacity to be spiritually attentive. And what I want to focus on this morning is two of the more precious jewels of being spiritually attentive, and the first one is this: The capacity to grasp spiritual things, period.
In John chapter nine, there’s a story — all of it is about a blind beggar, and that blind beggar, the Bible tells us, is born blind from birth. The Scribes and the Pharisees have brought this blind beggar before them and say, “Now tell us again about this guy that supposedly took away your blindness”, and all of these kinds of things, you know, and they accused him of being a sinner before birth and maybe it was his mother and father that were sinners or whatever. Look at verses 24 and 25, “They again called they the man that was blind, and said unto him, “Give God the glory! We know that this Man is a sinner, (they’re talking about the Lord Jesus, and then He answers them . . .) He answered and said, ‘Whether he is a sinner or not, I do not know. One thing I know: that though I was blind, NOW I SEE.”
It’s an awesome proclamation! And he’s saying, “I now have the capacity to grasp spiritual things. I have the capacity to see”. I know we are talking about the physical eyes here, but it is also a story that brings us back to the idea of the spiritual eyes. The bottom line here is that when you get saved, you were once blind, but NOW you can see. And you have to see in order to grasp, so, let’s go on.
In Acts chapter 9, we have a story about Saul, who was the persecutor of the church at that point in time. He was the key persecutor of the church. And in this chapter, Acts chapter 9, Saul gets saved – Saul becomes a Christian — but in verses 17 and 18 we see something that takes place in Saul’s life that is indicative of something much like what took place with the blind beggar — only a little bit more so from the spiritual standpoint. OK? And here it is, it says in verse 17:
17 Ananias went his way and entered the house; and laying his hands on him he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you came, has sent me that you may receive your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.”
18 Immediately there fell from his eyes something like scales, and he received his sight at once; and he arose and was baptized.
Now again, he had been blinded, but the removing of this — whatever this was – that was as scales, it gave him the capacity and the ability to see, it was at a moment when he became a born-again believer in the Lord Jesus Christ and had the capacity to grasp spiritual things. So what do these two things amount to, this being able to see . . . being able to see things spiritually? Well Saul, who later became Paul, the Apostle Paul, wrote in first Corinthians chapter 2, what I think is one of the most profound passages of scripture. 1 Corinthians 2:7-16. We find something in this passage of scripture that you and I must never forget. We must never forget it from the standpoint of who we are, and we must never forget it from the standpoint of who an unsaved person is. And what’s going on in all these spiritual things. It says, starting in verse 7:
7 “But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God ordained before the ages for our glory.
(See, he’s talking about a hidden wisdom. It’s there, but people are not able to see it, people are not able to grasp these spiritual things)
8 which none of the rulers of this age knew; for had they known, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.
9 But as it is written: “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, Nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared from those who love Him.”
(But look at verse 10 here)
10 But God has revealed them to us through His (What?) Spirit. For the Spirit searches all things, yes, the deep things of God.
11 For what man knows the things of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so no one knows the things of God except the Spirit of God.
12 Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God.
13 These things we also speak, not in words which man’s wisdom teaches but which the Holy Spirit teaches, comparing spiritual things with spiritual.
(Now listen to verse 14 because this talks about the unsaved person. This talks about you and I back before we became Christians. It says . . .)
14 But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, (listen to this) because they are spiritually discerned.
15 But he who is spiritual judges all things, yet he himself is rightly judged by no one.
16 For who has known the mind of the Lord that he may instruct Him? But we have the mind of Christ.
Isn’t that incredible?! We have the capacity to grasp spiritual things. Listen church, I want to tell you, that’s an incredible privilege, that’s an awesome privilege, when we talk about attentiveness and we have that definition – it’s showing the worth of a person — and we learned all the “I wills” the bottom line for you and I is that we have the opportunity to hear from God and to understand. You and I have a capacity that an unsaved person doesn’t have. What a tragedy to throw away the opportunity to hear from God, by not hearing from God. What a tragedy to throw away the capacity to grasp spiritual things, by not getting into spiritual things, by not reading the Bible . . . perhaps, by not getting somewhere where we are going to hear spiritual things. Because the Bible has said “The Spirit searches all things, yes the deep things of God. No one knows the things of God, except the Spirit of God.” And when I mentioned that when we get saved and get the Holy Spirit of God, one of the greatest things that happens is through the Holy Spirit of God you and I can see, and you and I can grasp the spiritual things. I believe that’s a precious jewel, I certainly believe that’s a precious jewel when we talk about attentiveness. Don’t forget the opportunity that we have and the ability that we have.
There’s a second precious jewel, and that is the capacity, not only to just grasp, but to be alert to spiritual and non-spiritual things going on around us. We would use the word, discernment. You and I need to guard against anything that would take away our discernment. You and I need to guard against anything that would dull our discernment, because we have the capacity to grasp spiritual things and to hear them in the first place and to get an understanding but once we have that we have to put them to use. And one of the precious jewels of attentiveness is to put those things to use and by being attentive and being able to be alert to spiritual and non-spiritual things going on around us.
Turn with me if you would to Matthew chapter 16, verses 1-12, listen to something here:
1 Then the Pharisees and Saducees came, and testing Him asked that He would show them a sign from heaven.
Now listen to what He says to the Pharisees and Saducees:
2 He answered and said to them, “When it is evening you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red’;
3 “and in the morning, ‘It will be foul weather today, for the sky is red and threatening.’
Now let me stop right there, how many of you have ever heard, “Red sky in the morning, sailors take warning; red sky in the night, sailors’ delight”? That’s a well-known saying. You know what blesses my heart as much as anything in this life? Day by day, is to hear somebody make some kind of statement like that, then go the Bible and say, “That’s where they got it!” Isn’t that something? How many non-Christians are there out there are saying “Red sky in the morning sailors take warning; red sky in the night, sailors’ delight” and they don’t have a clue where it came from? Isn’t it awesome that God has said some of these things hundreds and hundreds of years ago? Then He says I want to tell you something . . . you say those kinds of things and you really don’t have a clue. In fact he says to the Scribes and Pharisees:
3 “Hypocrites! You know how to discern the face of the sky, but you cannot discern the signs of the times.
4 A wicked and adulterous generation seeks after a sign, and no sign shall be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. And He left them and departed.
And then in verse 5 it says:
5 Now when His disciples and come to the other side, they had forgotten to take bread.
And the reason that says that there is, you go back up into chapter 15, they just got through feeding a bunch of people – thousands. But they forgot to take some of that which was left over in the baskets and it says:
6 Then Jesus said to them, “Take heed and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the Saddles.”
Now here’s where it comes into play, folks, these are children of God, snuggled up to God, right there with God, walking with God, talking with God, hearing from God, and they say:
7 And they reasoned among themselves, saying, “it is because we have taken no bread.”
They’ve come up with this idea, after they’ve reasoned among themselves, and all these guys get together and say, “Hm-m-m what’s He talking about? Well, here’s what He’s talking about” … then they come up with this ‘discernment’, “Oh!, it’s because we have taken no bread. We’re out here and we had all those baskets left over and we didn’t bring any bread with us. We just got through saying that . . . then He made that statement . . . that’s what He’s talking about, it’s because we have no bread.”
Look at verse 8:
8 But Jesus, being aware of it, said to them, “O you of little faith, why do you reason among yourselves because you have brought no bread?
Now, why would He make that statement, do you think? Look at verse 9:
9 Do you not yet understand, or remember the five loaves of the five thousand and how many baskets you took up?
10 Nor the seven loaves of the four thousand and how many large baskets you took up?
11 “How is it you do not understand that I did not speak to you concerning bread? – but to beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.”
12 Then they understood that He did not tell them to beware of the leaven of bread, but of the doctrine of the Pharisees and Sadducees.
Now let me tell you something really neat about this, they missed it the first go-round, but when they heard it again and he talked to them again, they had the capacity to see it, to grasp it, to discern these things.
I tell you, it’s awesome to have that ability. It is good to go to Sunday School, and to sit in there and get a little discussion going on and to get different ideas and maybe we come up with a wrong idea, or somebody does, or several do, but then someone comes along and says, ‘Wait a minute, I’ve heard someone else talk about this before and this is what God is really talking about.’ “ And we learn to discern and we can be aware of the capacity to discern.
So let’s just look quickly at some of the real gems that are available to us for discernment. Discernment — the capacity to be alert to spiritual and non-spiritual things going on around me.
The first one is this: The lost don’t know they’re lost. In 2 Corinthians 4, verses 3 and 4 the Bible says, “. . . the god of this world has blinded, who do not believe, lest the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, . . . should shine on them.”
Now, when I say discernment here, I’m saying that you and I, as the saved, need to know that the lost don’t know that they’re lost. It’ll certainly change our attitudes towards witnessing to them. It might even change our attitudes and our discernment toward understanding where they might be when we ask some key questions and we get some answers that just don’t line up. Like the answer that Jesus got back from the disciples, “Oh, we didn’t bring bread”., No, no, wait a minute, you missed it. And so, we have an opportunity as Christians to discern . . . the lost don’t know they’re lost. Listen they don’t know they’re lost, they’re blind, they can’t see. The Bible says they can’t receive the spiritual things of God.
There’s something else about that, though, the saved know that they’re saved. As well as the lost don’t know that they’re lost, the saved know that they’re saved. In I John, chapter 5, verses 10-13, the Bible tells us that God has given a testimony of His Son and He says, anybody who has the Son, has life and anybody who does not have the Son, does not have life. And if you don’t believe the record that I’ve given of my Son, then you make me a liar and on top of that, there is a witnessing side of every believer that witnesses to this and the Holy Spirit led John to write and say, “These things have I written that you may know that you have eternal life.” Listen, it’s incumbent upon you and I as Christians, to know that we are saved.
Let me tell you the reason why, there is a third one here and that’s the confused. The confused are full of doubts. And it tells us that in 2 Peter chapter 1, verses 5-11 where it talks about adding to our faith, virtue and to virtue knowledge and all those other things on that list. And it says that if these things are in you and abound, then you will be fruitful in the knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ, but if they’re not there and don’t abound in you, then you will be as one who is blind and who has forgotten that his old sins were purged.
I’ve said it a hundred times at least, I believe that’s one of the best definitions of somebody doubting their salvation as you’ll find in scripture. The most scriptural definition of a doubter. Because when you start talking to somebody who has been saved, but because they haven’t added those other things that are on that list, then so many times you run across somebody who is doubting whether or not they are saved, or not. And then you start to talk to them and going into things and they say “Well, I’ve done that, and I’ve done that. But I haven’t done this, this and this,” and the Bible says that when you don’t add those other things, you become as one who has been blinded and has forgotten that those sins were purged. Listen, if those sins were purged, what does that mean? There’s only one way that you can get purged — that’s through the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ, period. Now the saved need to know this, there needs to be a discernment on our part as a part of those gems that we are able to interact with these people and to help them if that’s the case.
Now there’s another thing and that is the saved who know it, are the only ones who can help the lost and the confused. Now that’s a gem! That’s a gem that we ought to think is worth something. We’re the only ones who can help the lost and confused. Discernment gives us the awareness of what is going on and the need for help. Now isn’t that awesome, isn’t that a privilege? An opportunity?
There’s another thing, the saved know then that there is spiritual warfare going on — the unsaved are clueless. In essence, Satan has anesthetized them. They’re clueless, but we can’t be clueless, we’ve got to have discernment. We’ve got to exercise that capacity and that privilege to know that there is a war going on. Why else would the Holy Scripture say to us in Ephesians chapter 6 . . . and just reading the first couple of verses there in this passage, verses 10, 11, and 12:
10 “Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might.”
One thing that might indicate to us is that we can be weak in the Lord, because He’s admonishing us to be strong in the Lord, but to be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might. It says:
11 Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles (or the scheming) of the devil.
12 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities against powers against the rulers of the darkness of this age. Against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.
Now listen to me very carefully, you and I have got to be so aware of the spiritual war that is going on constantly. The Bible says very clearly, it’s not flesh and blood that we war with. Why do we all get caught up in flesh and blood wars? God tells us. We ought to grasp that; we have the Holy Spirit. We ought to have the discernment to grasp it, to be alert and to say “wait a minute, wait a minute my battle is not with this person, my battle is with something greater than that.” Rulers, principalities, powers and the rulers of the darkness of this age against spiritual host of wickedness in the heavenly places. That’s why he says take up the armor.
Turn back over to 2 Corinthians, chapter 10, verses 3 through 6:
3 For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh.
4 For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal (or the flesh, in other words) but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds,
5 casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ.
6 and being ready to punish all disobedience when your obedience is fulfilled.
Did you hear what he says there? We’re in a war! But, glory to God, we have weapons of warfare that are mighty to the pulling down of strongholds, to the casting down of arguments, and anything and everything that is high, that exalts itself against the knowledge of God. Now that’s incredible, but that takes discernment, that takes being spiritually alert and exercising the capacity to have this spiritual discernment in things. Is this something that is exalting itself against the knowledge of God? If so, then I’ve got a war going on here and I want to recognize that. It’s not some other issue that’s being purported; it’s the issue that is really there. What’s really there? Discernment. And when we don’t exercise discernment, guess what, we miss the war altogether. In fact, we can create all kinds of havoc. It’d be like the generals saying, “Hey I want us to attack here, attack here, attack here, do this,” and we say, “Oh wait a minute, I don’t think that’s really the battle, they’re over here.” And either we are AWOL – Absent without Leave — or we’re just rebellious and going to go off on our own direction and not get in the war, not fight the war, not have a chance to win the war, if we’re not fighting the real enemy. So he says that we have weapons, and we need to use those weapons. We have a lot of people who say that, “when I was saved, I was told that all would be peace and joy and prosperity” – somebody didn’t tell you about the war. And there’s a war! And we need to be aware of that and discerning that that’s what it is.
Then there is a sixth thing: The saved realize that the enemy is constantly around. Not only that there is a war going on, folks, but he’s going to constantly be here. Have you ever stopped to think and say. “I wonder when life’s going to get easier, I wonder when things are going to get better? I wonder when easy street gets here . . . and I’ve arrived as a Christian.” I’ve got some news for us, there is no Easy Street in this world . . . maybe in the next world . . . but not in this world. The enemy is constantly around, even at church.
Look at Matthew, chapter 13, one of the parables. Jesus spoke, verse 24, the parable of the wheat and the tares. Now this is one of my favorite parables, but not for any reason that you might dream of, but it goes back years, and years, and years ago. And it became a favorite of mine because I really believe that God showed me in one of my first thoughts beginning my walk as a Christian that I had the capacity to discern some things, to hear what He’s saying:
24 Another parable He put forth to them, saying: “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field;
25 “but while men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat and went his way.
26 “But when the grain had sprouted and produced a crop, then the tares also appeared.
27 “So the servants of the owner came and said to him, ‘Sir, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have tares?’
28 “He said to them, ‘An enemy has done this.’ The servants said to him, ‘Do you want us then to go and gather them up?’
29 “But he said, ‘No, lest while you gather up the tares you also uproot the wheat with them.
30 ‘Let both grow together until the harvest, and at the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, “First gather together the tares and bind them in bundles to burn them, but gather the wheat into my barn.” ’ ”
Now let me tell you what happened long, long ago . . . probably within the first year or so after I was saved. I heard an evangelist preach on this parable, and we got to talking about people who came to get saved and they said, “Well I was saved (at such and such a time), but, man I tell you, when he said, ‘You can’t tell the wheat from the tares . . . ’ “ Now somewhere along the line (and I’m not a biologist, or a zoologist, or criminologist or whatever it takes to find out the difference), somebody had said that these things look so close to being the same that it’s difficult to tell them apart. But this evangelist, was literally going from place to place and seeing hundreds of people get saved because he was preaching to church members and saying, “You know your life is not indicative of what a Christian is and you’re a tare instead of a wheat, because it says it right here, ‘sowed right among them’ ”. I tell you, there is no way, absolutely no way, that a servant could come in from the fields and say to the master, “Master, I though you sowed only good seed?,” if you couldn’t tell the difference between the wheat and the tares. Pray, tell me how anybody could come up to you and say, “I though you bought a Chevrolet, but it’s a Ford?,” if you couldn’t tell the two apart? Why would they come and say I thought you only planted good seed? Does wheat seed yield tares? Not at all, we know that from the scriptures, what you sow you reap, and a tare in scripture is a noxious weed. And the Bible makes it very clear here what the real point of this is: that if we sleep, the enemy comes and sows tares among the wheat.
The master sowed only good seed. The scripture tells us that plain and simple . . . he only sowed good seed . . . because he said the enemy came and sowed the tares. Now folks, I want to tell you something, when you read that, and you want to discern things, and you have the capacity to discern things, we need to exercise that capacity. Because if we don’t, we are going to miss something. Not only are we going to miss something, we might have somebody lead us astray.
It’s like when I was in seminary, I had a professor say, “Now I’ve been out there before, I’ve been pastor before and I’m back here at the seminary now teaching all you young guys that are going to go into the ministry. I know is abortion is wrong. But let me tell you something, when you get out there you can tell John-Q-Member that their daughter can’t have an abortion unless they want to break scripture, but you won’t be able to tell that to the Chairman of the Deacons . . . or the Chairman of the Finance Committee . . . or the Chairman of the Pulpit Committee, or somebody high up on the ladder.” You know what I said? “Hey, if abortion is wrong, abortion is wrong and you’ve got to tell the Chairman of the Deacons as well as John-Q-Member.” And I said that is situational ethics. To which he replied, “You are going to have a hard time passing this course”.
So being attentive you’ll be able to tell the wheat from the tares, being attentive you’ll be able to be on the alert, instead of being asleep. And that leads me to the last thing and that is this:
The saved realize the enemy is constantly trying to commingle bad seed with good seed and the buzzword of today in spiritual circles is “tolerance”. Tolerance. Maybe some people would say “politically correct.” But tolerance would be a little bit better word for us. ‘Cause many are pushing for tolerance of all religions and all religious beliefs. The Bible clearly says that Jesus is the way, the truth and the life. And somebody might say, “Well Pastor, how can you be so narrow-minded?” I’d say, “just like your schoolteachers.” Kelly is a schoolteacher, Martha is involved in the school, and somebody else here may be a schoolteacher. How many teachers did you have that allowed you to say 2 + 2 = 5? Pretty narrow minded of them, wasn’t it! 2 + 2 are 4! Isn’t it funny, how no one argues with that narrow mindedness, but when it gets down to spiritual things, there’s argument, upon argument, upon argument, upon argument, upon argument.
You see the label is not the point of disagreement – and when I say the label, I’m talking about the denomination. That’s not the point of disagreement. The belief is the issue for all that are saved.
Now open your Bibles to Exodus chapter 6 for a warning as we close. Exodus 6 — the story here – we don’t have time to read the whole scripture, but you can go back and read it – we’re talking about the time when God has appeared to Moses, and he’s told Moses, “Now you go in to Pharaoh and you tell him, ‘Let my people go’ ”. And Pharaoh is saying, “unh-unh.” And the reason he said “unh-unh” is because God says, “I’m going to tell him to say, ‘unh-unh.’ I’m going to harden his heart. I’m going to make it difficult for him to say ‘uh-huh.’ He’s going to say ‘unh-unh.’ “ And in that story it’s really kind of interesting because Moses, right off the bat, just to show you how easy it is for us to lose it, he cries out to God and says, “God how come Pharaoh said that? All the people have gotten mad when he wouldn’t let us go, why did he say that?” Well, duh?! He just got through saying to Moses, “Moses, He’s going to say, ‘unh-unh,’ because I’m not going to let him say ‘uh-huh’ because I’m going to harden his heart.”
Look down at verse five:
5 “I have also heard the groaning of the children of Israel whom the Egyptians keep in bondage, and I have remembered My covenant. (Now this is God speaking to Moses)
6 “Therefore say to the children of Israel: ‘I am the Lord; I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, I will rescue you from their bondage, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great judgements.
7 ‘I will take you as My people, and I will be your God. They you shall know that I am the Lord your God who brings you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians.
8 ‘And I will bring you into the land which I swore to give to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; and I will give it to you as a heritage: I am the Lord.’ ”
Now if this was the first time that the people had heard this it’d be one thing. But this is not the first time. You go back and read a couple of chapters before that, they’ve heard the same song, this is just a second verse, or a later one, but listen to what it says in verse 9:
9 So Moses spoke thus to the children of Israel; (Now listen to the last part of the verse) but they did not heed Moses, because of anguish of spirit and cruel bondage.
Flip back to chapter 4 verse 31. Here they are, here’s where we are going to see that this song has been sung before, all the truth has been there before. Verse 30:
30 And Aaron spoke all the words which the Lord had spoken to Moses. Then he did the signs in the sight of the people.
31 “So the people believed; and when they heard that the Lord had visited the children of Israel and that He had looked on their affliction, then they bowed their heads and worshiped.”
Now Moses comes in, Aaron comes in with him and they say, “God is going to deliver us” and they throw down the rod, it becomes a snake, they do the thing about the water and the blood, they’ve given them signs and given them all the words and they go “Wow! O great God is going to deliver us.” And they bow down and they worship. And Moses goes in, and Aaron goes in and Pharaoh says “unh-unh,” instead of “uh-huh.” And in one fell swoop the people cry out, “Oh why, oh why, oh my goodness, what happened?” And God meets with Moses again, Moses comes back and God said he’s going to do it. Then we go back over to chapter 6 “Moses spoke thus to the children of Israel, but they did not heed Moses because of anguish of spirit and cruel bondage.”
Here we have a picture of the people on the one hand they had the capacity to hear. They had the capacity to grasp, they had the capacity to discern and they were all excited and did so, then when some things didn’t change immediately, their tune changes. And it says because of anguish of spirit and cruel bondage.
Let me wrap up this whole month with a warning to us. The contrast between the reception of communication in chapter 4 and here in chapter 6 can only be accounted for by the change in circumstances. Now you’ll have to read the whole story to get this, but what happened was from the first time to the second time, is that when Pharaoh said “unh-unh,” he not only said “unh-unh,” but he said, “Hey, let’s step up the punishment a little bit, let’s let them go out and get their own straw to come back and make their bricks. These guys had it too easy, that’s why they are complaining. They’ve had it too easy.” So he says go out and get their own straw. The leaders came back and said, “Whoa, wait a minute, this is too much, this is too much. Not only do we have to make bricks, but now we have to go out and get our own straw.” And the thing that was really a kicker they said, was that Pharaoh said, “You have to make as many bricks each day as you were making before hand. You gotta’ still go out and get the straw but you gotta’ continue to make as many bricks.”
You see in chapter 4, the captivity wasn’t too severe, and the people had become accustomed to their lot in life. And they were sufficiently free in the spirit to long for deliverance. But in chapter 6 they had suffered what they deemed in their hearts to be cruel punishment and they were quit absorbed by their misery.
So listen to me, we can’t let our circumstances keep us from being attentive to God, or to what’s going on around us. I don’t know what’s going on in your life, totally. I may know a little bit about some of you. You don’t know what’s going on in my life, totally, you may know a little bit about it. All I’m saying to us today is this . . . that God has given us the incredible capacity to grasp things as Christians. He’s given us an incredible capacity to discern spiritual things going on around us and that non-Christians don’t have that capacity. But we’ve got to be on guard and not let circumstances keep us from being attentive — because that’s what happened to the people of God. The punishment got too cruel. Life got a little too tough, and the Bible says, that because of anguish of spirit and cruel bondage they did not heed Moses. We can’t let our circumstances keep us from being attentive to God and to what is going on around us. There is so much wonderful that is available to us. Guard your hearts, don’t miss anything spiritual.
Attentiveness – A Four-Minute Sermon
Faith Committee, Character Council of Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky
Contributed by Pastor Lee McDowell
Pastor, Anchor Baptist Church, Houston, Texas
Preached January 28, 2001
This material is published by the Faith Committee of the Character Council of Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky. Reproduction and Adaptation is encouraged.
Attentive to Human Life
Today is “Sanctity of Human Life” Sunday in the Southern Baptist Convention. All across our convention there will be lots of preaching on abortion, euthanasia and the “ills” of a society gone awry of the “Sanctity of Human Life.” But abortion is not the issue . . . Attentiveness is. Euthanasia is not the issue . . . Attentiveness is. You see, abortion and euthanasia and other issues are “surface” issues. Attentiveness is the “root” issue . . . the “heart” of the matter. Do you know what the word, “sanctity,” means? It means holiness. It means purity. It means the state of being consecrated to a deity. It means being regarded as sacred.
Now let’s face it, there is a decline in the “sanctity” of human life in America today. There is such a great disregard for life. This disregard is seen in recent court decisions on RU486 and partial-birth abortion, in physician-assisted suicide, in cloning issues, and the killings . . .. mass murders and “drive-by shootings.” All of these are pictures of the decline of the sanctity of human life. Now here’s the “kicker” . . . Any attack on human life is an attack on God Himself. THAT’S the root issue.
So, open your Bibles to Genesis, chapter 1. I want you to listen with spiritual ears and see with spiritual eyes as we see how attentiveness applies as I read Genesis 1:1 through 2:3.
- In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.
- The earth was without form, and void; and darkness was on the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.
- Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light.
- And God saw the light, that it was good; and God divided the light from the darkness.
- God called the light Day, and the darkness He called Night. So the evening and the morning were the first day.
- The God said, “Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters.”
- Thus God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament; and it was so.
- And God called the firmament Heaven. So the evening and the morning were the second day.
- Then God said, “let the waters under the heavens be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear”; and it was so.
- And God called the dry land Earth, and the gathering together of the waters He called Seas. And God saw that it was good.
- Then God said, “Let the earth bring forth grass, the herb that yields seed, and the fruit tree that yields fruit according to its kind, whose seed is in itself, on the earth”; and it was so.
- And the earth brought forth grass, the herb that yields seed according to its kind, and the tree that yields fruit, whose seed is in itself according to its kind. And God saw that it was good.
- So the evening and the morning were the third day.
- Then God said, “Let there be lights in the firmament of the heavens to divide the day form the night; and let them be for signs and seasons, and for days and year;
- “and let them be for lights in the firmament of the heavens to give light on the earth”; and it was so.
- The God made two great lights: the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night. He made the stars also.
- God set them in the firmament of the heavens to give light on the earth,
- And to rule over the day and over the night, and to divide the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good.
- So the evening and the morning were the fourth day.
- Then God said, “Let the waters abound with an abundance of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the face of the firmament of the heavens.”
- So God created great sea creatures and every living thing that moves, with which the waters abounded, according to their kind, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good.
- And God blessed them, saying, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth.”
- So the evening and the morning were the fifth day.
- Then God said, “Let the earth bring forth the living creature according to its kind: cattle and creeping thing and beast of the earth, each according to its kind”; and it was so.
- And God made the beast of the earth according to its kind, cattle according to its kind, and everything that creeps on the earth according to its kind. And God saw that it was good.
- Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”
- So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.
- Then God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of thee air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”
- And God said, “See, I have given you every herb that yields seed which is on the face of all the earth, and every tree who fruit yields seed; to you it shall be for food.
- “Also, to every beast of the earth, to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, in which there is life, I have given every green herb for food”; and it was so.
- Then God saw everything that He had made, and indeed it was very good. So the evening and the morning were the sixth day.
- Thus the heavens and the earth, and all the host of them were finished.
- And on the seventh day God ended His work which He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done.
- Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work which God had created and made.
Attentiveness is our character quality for the month and is defined as, “Showing the worth of a person or task by giving my undivided concentration.” How can attentiveness and human life be connected? Easy. “Showing the worth of a person (a human life) by giving my undivided concentration.” What do you think God wants us to “hear” or “see” today? What do you think God wants us to “give our undivided concentration” to today?
Let me suggest four things . . . (#1) “In the beginning – God . . .” Have you ever stopped to think that God is not “introduced” . . .God is not “explained? . . . No effort is made to prove His existence. The Bible is God’s revelation to man. It simply asserts, “In the beginning – God . . .” Anytime “God” is mentioned . . . It’s time to “sit up”! It’s time to “listen up”! It’s time to be attentive! The first verse of the first chapter of the first book in the Bible puts us on notice: we are about to encounter the self-existent, pre-existent . . . God Himself.
“The fool has said in his heart, ‘There is no God’. “That’s a strong accusation, preacher .. .” I was just quoting God as the Holy Spirit led the Psalmist to write in Psalm 53:1.
(#2) God is our creator. God spoke . . . it was created. By the utterance of His Word, He created the universe . . . including man. This whole passage is about creation (especially verses 3, 6, 9, 11, 14, 20, 24, 26, 28) All life . . . human life . . . is given by God. Look at Genesis 2:7, “And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.” We not only encounter God, we encounter God as the creator, our creator. So the question is, “Does the testimony of Scripture warrant “Attentiveness” to life, especially human life”? Yes, absolutely! Scripture says wee are to be aware, attentive to life. We need to be aware to the things going on in our country has it regards human life. We need to take a stand for things of God pertaining to human life. Because God is God and the creator of every human being.
God cried out to Job, “Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? Tell Me, if you have understanding.” Or, as David the Psalmist said, in Psalm 8:1-5,
- O Lord, our Lord, How excellent is Your name in all the earth. Who have set Your glory above the heavens!
- Out of the mouth of babes and nursing infants You have ordained strength, Because of Your enemies, That You may silence the enemy and the avenger.
- When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, The moon and the stars, which You have ordained,
- What is man that You are mindful of him, And the son of man that You visit him?
- For You have made him a little lower than the angels, And You have crowned him with glory and honor.
God is the giver of life. Life is worth something. Human life is worth more than we can imagine.
(#3) God is our sustainer. Look back at Genesis 1:28-30. God says, “have dominion over, I have given you . . . food, I have given . . . food.” What does God think about life? He has provided for our sustenance. He has provided for our protection. He has provided for our procreation. Gad cares a whole lot about life! Gad cares a whole lot about your life. There is not one boy or girl in this room that God does not care a whole bunch about. Because God created you, He cares about you teenager, and about you, adult. He gave you your life. God cares about my life . . . and every life He gave.
If I could sing right now, I’d break out and sing “His Eye Is On the Sparrow.” It talks about what scripture has to say about God’s care for little birds. How much more valuable we are. God says He knows all about the sparrows, but one individual human life is so much more precious to Him. Was all there was to God’s plan in creating mankind in His own image . . . to just “create” us? NO. His plan is also to “sustain” us. Human life is that important to Him. (Psalm 71:5-6, Psalm 22:9-10, Isaiah 46:3-4)
There’s one last thing this morning . . . not only is God, God. God is our creator and God is our sustainer, but (#4) God . . . is also our judge. God is the giver of life (creator). God is the sustainer of life. And God is the taker of life (our judge). Hebrews 9:27 says, “And as it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment . . .” You say, “Pastor, wait a minute . . . How can God value human life if He takes it? Pastor, why didn’t God design life to be lived ‘forever’?” I’ve got some good news . . . He did . . . just not here. There are two judgments on the horizon. One is called the Judgment Seat of Christ. This judgment is described in Romans 14:10-12 and II Corinthians 5:11-15, as Paul writes to Christians to tell them that there will be a judgment. God wants us to pay attention to our life as we live it as a Christian.
There is also the Great White Throne Judgment as described in Revelation 20:11-15. You see, if your name is found written in the Book of Life, the Bible says there will be the Judgment Seat of Christ, to judge the things done on earth whether they were for eternity, or not. Then there is a Great White Throne Judgment for those not found in the Book of Life. Many times we confuse being a Christian with doing the works. But, you cannot become a Christian by works any more than you can become a car by spending the night in the garage. It just doesn’t “work” that way! God says, “I loved you enough to send my Son, Jesus, to die on the cross for you to pay the penalty for your sin and that’s the only payment that I’m going to accept. So, if you will accept My words – I’m God, remember, ‘in the beginning’. . . God – no explanation . . . no introduction . . . you either believe me or don’t believe me. And if you will believe the record I’ve given of my Son and put your faith and trust in Him, I will give you eternal life and your name will be taken out of “the books” (plural) and placed into “the Book” (singular) of Life.”
What an awesome thought! God loves life not only for now, but for eternity and He wants us to live life eternally with Him. We’ve got to make that decision, we’ve got to put our faith and trust in Him, in Jesus Christ and Him alone.
Does God “value” life? You bet your life, He does. But, do you really want to gamble with your life? In Leviticus 17:11 the Bible says “the life of the flesh is in the blood . . . it is the blood that maketh an atonement for the soul.” What can wash away my sin? Nothing. Nothing, but the blood of Jesus . . . not baptism, not being a member of a church, not being a good person . . . just the blood. Have you ever been washed in the blood? Have you ever trusted in Christ and His work on the cross, and let God cleanse you with the blood of Jesus Christ? Then you can have life eternally and see the great plan that God has for life. Then you can see how valuable life really is.
Attentiveness – A Four-Minute Sermon
Faith Committee, Character Council of Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky
Contributed by Pastor Lee McDowell
Pastor, Anchor Baptist Church, Houston, Texas
Preached January 21, 2001
This material is published by the Faith Committee of the Character Council of Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky. Reproduction and Adaptation is encouraged.