“Ooooops, I cannot believe I did that!”
God’s Word is a rich encouragement to those of us who are reminded of our spiritual flops. Interwoven into the biblical fabric of spectacular miracles, heroic dedication, and victorious faith are the memorable and humbling goofs of those who love God and are called according to His purpose.
Spiritual bloopers serve as a reminder of our humanity and as a challenge to carefulness as we step into the realm of the Holy. The possibilities of a study of this nature are numerous. A series of messages about mistakes along the way of a Christian pilgrimage touches every member. We identify with the humanity of our biblical character friends. Yet, four concerns serve as perimeters in which preparation and presentation must be confined.
On the one hand, all interpretation of Scripture demands our best work. On the other hand, we must be extraordinarily careful not to superimpose the flaws of a biblical character on contemporary situations without precise understanding of what happened then. The risk is making the heroes of our faith less than they are in our minds or exalting a rebellious behavior as a way to notoriety. Proof texting should never be acceptable.
Historical context, word studies, writer’s purpose, and original hearing all contribute to God’s intention of the text for today. Precise interpretation gives the message a sense of believability and a dynamic that is undeniable for modern hearers.
Every text has an inherent divine purpose. Why would you want to preach a series of sermons like this? What value do they have for today’s churchman? Your purpose must be God’s purpose. Write it down. Define, in a brief and concise statement, what is the intention of each message, and then collectively define the purpose of the series.
Once the series purpose can be stated, you can better determine your direction.
Integrity in Illustration
Illustrations are valuable windows through which to see into the heart of the message. But the tendency to dwell on the failures of others is dangerous.
Search for the right illustration. Maintain a high degree of integrity when using stories of other people. These messages should lift the fallen, not pound them deeper into a shared failure with humanity.
Application of these truths is essential. Yet, application must be tied to Scripture. If your challenge is not reinforced with biblical precedent it is likely to be inappropriate. Be pointed. Be hard. Be bold. Be precise. And be certain it is in character with the intention of the text.
Four examples, two from each covenant, are sufficient to illustrate the timelessness of the concept of the spiritual bloopers. Be challenged, and challenge others to be careful with the faith entrusted to them.
Replacement cost insurance is good to have. But beyond the premium you generally have to pay a deductible. Credit life insurance is a kind of replacement cost insurance but there is a higher deductible. You have to die before it can be claimed.
The insurance for cleansing and restoration that salvation provides is a treasured hope for all Christians. But it is not cheap. Moses’ experience in Exodus 32 reflects a series of replacements and the costs they incur. Pull these events together and insert them into place on the mountain of spiritual replacement.
The replacement cost of an exchanged worship hints of a shallow faith. In verses 1, 10-11, 33, the story reveals how Israel exchanged its worship of the one true God for an inferior worship of man-made gods. It must have seemed valid but the cost was expensive. God insisted that those who had instigated the move be eliminated.
Israel’s motto became “Charge it now, and pay it later.” Their religion became plastic as their hope surrendered to their fear. Our fall may not be with the golden images, but certainly is no less significant when life replaces our worship of God with something else.
The replacement cost of God’s law is expensive also. Moses joined the people with a corresponding sense of anger. Holy or not, when Moses threw down the law tablets, he exchanged the law of God for his own sense of justice, or law code.
There was a price to be paid. Remember, Moses wrote the next copy of the law himself, in stone. What God had performed so effortlessly, Moses labored exhaustingly to do. Like so many others, Moses learned the hard way that there is a cost when man’s law replaces God’s law. While the Bible may serve as a source for Sunday’s lesson for some, or as a gift for some particular achievement for another, it is God’s plan for life. To replace its importance is to pay an expensive premium.
There is also a replacement cost for righteousness. Moses pleads with God to forgive the people. In verse 32 he even offers his own life as a sacrifice for them. Moses knew there was a price to be paid to restore divine/human fellowship. Yet Moses’ offer could not satisfy their failure.
Jesus became the sacrifice that Moses could not be. For the need of righteousness in your life nothing but the sacrifice of Christ can cleanse sin’s pollution. Anytime we replace our worship of God, God’s law, or a commitment to righteousness with something else there is a price to be paid. Moses’ folly is our folly.
Everyone fails at some point. As with the people of Israel, the solution is a repentant heart.
A Portrait of Conviction
Conviction is a strong belief, an inner feeling of Tightness or of being convinced about something. Everyone has certain convictions. Moses paints a portrait of a developing religious conviction blessed with God’s victory. The lead figures are Balaam and his talking donkey and Balak. Or is that the whole problem: that God is not the leading figure? Watch the portrait as it is painted on the canvas of your heart.
A portrait of conviction is bordered within a divine call. Two competing calls rival for Balaam’s allegiance early in the story. The Mesopotamian soothsayer sought to mystically lure Balaam into betraying God. But God’s call aligned a non-Hebrew into service to Yahweh, and captivated the heart of a celebrated mystic in a way that he would be governed by the Spirit of God.
Your life, too, is bordered within the call of God. Conviction is like performance anxiety, the tension between God’s expectation and your participation. Recognizing God’s call is the first stroke of the portrait He seeks to paint to express your sense of religious conviction.
A portrait of conviction utilizes the element of surprise. Suddenly, Balaam took things into his own hands, so to say, and literally “rushed recklessly ahead” (vs. 21). God was not angry because he went, but because of how he went. There was a recklessness about his advancement.
To catch Balaam’s attention, God spoke to him through the ass. It is interesting that the animal displayed a more complete obedience than did the man. God had to surprise Balaam like an artist surprises the audience with a bright color in an otherwise calm painting. God still uses the element of surprise to align our lives with His particular will.
A portrait of conviction is defined by contrasting commands. Every painting needs contrast if it is to be believable. Even as Balaam dealt with the contrast between God’s command and Balak’s offer, we deal with the tension between sin and obedience to God’s will. Balaam chose the substantial over the spectacular. And while the grey strokes of tension are noticeable, they give to the brilliant colors of obedience a sense of warmth and genuineness.
A portrait of conviction is shadowed with confession. The canvas comes alive as Balaam confesses and is impelled forward to a higher and more significant eternal investment of his life.
A portrait of conviction is also frustrated through concession. The final strokes of any painting either enhance or frustrate the work. While all seemed to be going well for Balaam., in v. 34 he failed and enticed Israel to worship the Baal gods of the Midianites; in battle, he died in shame. At some point you will apply life’s final strokes, the finishing touches, to your conviction about God. Balaam receded, and rather than enhancing an honorable life with God, he frustrated it with a miserable failure.
A portrait of your life’s conviction is being painted now. It is bordered within a brilliant call, defined by contrasting commands, shadowed with confession and enhanced or frustrated through concession. Will you too live out a spiritual tragedy or will you present a priceless portrait of conviction that honors God?
Jesus’ closing illustration in the Sermon on the Mount introduces two anonymous characters. Like the X and Y symbols of an algebraic equation that can represent any designated values, these two characters represent two universal categories of choice.
You are just like one of these two characters. One was a wise man, the other Jesus called foolish. Each attained his identity by the way he designed his life. One design was sufficient, the other was faulty. In Jesus’ closing words our Lord describes the folly of life’s wrong choice.
A faulty design fails to heed faultless warnings. Our Lord cleverly contrasts these two subjects. Jesus drives home the impact of the faulty life that fails to take seriously His word. That failure eliminates God’s option of a second life after death that has been planned for humanity.
A faulty design neglects basic building principles. Jesus’ sermon declares the Master’s principles for satisfying life. Yet, clearly, the principles He established are principles neglected in this story. Life that is durable, like any building, requires a dependable foundation. Christ is that dependable foundation.
Notice some of Jesus’ topics throughout the sermon. He speaks of life that is framed by the Word of God, electrified by prayer, covered by divine love, furnished by fellowship. To neglect these basic building principles is to insure a faultily-designed life.
A faulty design also expects stressed failure. The New Testament purpose is a plan for the proper management of life under stress. When the torrents of rain fell and the gusts of wind pounded the house, the stress points collapsed. When criticism assails your best efforts like an unnerving thunderstorm, or opposition to your best plans swell around your deepest sincerity, or when your finiteness is exposed by a shaken faith, do you crumble or climax in the moment of the test?
If your design of life fails to heed the faultless warnings of sin’s work and neglects the basic building principles, then you can expect failure at the stress points and critical moments of life. On the other hand, Christ is still available to direct a durable design for you. Like a neon light, the story of the wise man flashes to catch your attention. His testimony is evidence that your greatest dream of life can come true.
An Intercepted Faith
Occasionally, our best efforts to live by faith are intercepted. Simon Peter is an interesting and daring New Testament character. His water-walking scene is evidence of both great spiritual confidence and an intercepted faith.
Following a great spiritual rally, the night brought a storm. As the disciples crossed the sea in the boat, the waves laid seige on the small boat and the rock of their fearlessness, Jesus, was absent. Just as the situation grew critical, Jesus appeared.
An intercepted faith presupposes a launched faith. Peter uniquely placed his confidence in Christ and walked on the water. But notice the pattern of his life. Peter often activated his faith only to falter. Once again his faith becomes a blooper. Yet Peter did launch his faith.
Like Peter we must become launchers of our faith. There will always be logical reasons why Christians should not do this or that. And it is certain, any time faith is activated you will have an opportunity to allow your faith to be examined. But the launching of faith, regardless of the hazards, is your alignment with the divine.
An intercepted faith reveals a defective defense. As Peter walked on the water, he became distracted by the storm. The wind brewed a chilling fear, the lightning illuminated his finiteness, and the apostle of faith sank. Peter’s defense mechanism broke down.
Where is your faith vulnerable? Criticism, peer pressure, finances, jealousy, success? With an unconditional choice for obedience and an unrelenting gaze on the Saviour, we must make our faith unpenetrable to prevent it from being intercepted.
An intercepted faith seeks release. Immediately Peter knew he had blown it. As he was sinking he cried for help. Captured by the consequence of unbelief, Peter sought rescue from Christ. You too can seek release from a captured faith.
Look at Jesus’ posture. Peter stretched for His hand. Jesus went to the very limit to retrieve Peter, and He caught the sinking disciple. His hand is stretched out to you.
Everyone blows it, spiritually speaking, on occasion. A sermon series on Spiritual Bloopers, or Spiritual Follies, can capture not only past failures but liberate present spiritual captives. Direct your congregation toward life that recognizes and experiences the magnificence of grace.
“Ooooops, I cannot believe I did that!”