Love God With Your Mind
(Mark 12: 28-34)
The human mind is an amazing thing. Its millions of cells form an intricate insturment which is more complex than any man-made computer. Yet we don’t often think of it in spiritual terms, so it seems a bit odd for Jesus to tell us to love God with our minds. We can handle loving with the heart or the soul, and certainly with strength, but how do we love God with our minds?
The word Jesus uses for mind was a common term used in that day. It carried several senses, and these can help us uncover the challenge Jesus offers.
I. Loving God With Your Mind Involves Your Intellect
One of the most common meanings of that word “mind” involves the thought process, or human rationality. The ability to think, to reason, is a gift of God, and using it is an act of worship.
Some people seem to believe that a good Christian must put the mind in neutral. One preacher was asked what he’d preach the next Sunday, and replied, “I never prepare ahead of time. When I stand up to preach, God himself doesn’t know what I’m going to say!” Failure to use one’s brain is hardly reason for bragging!
God wants us to use our minds to His glory, not turn them off as a gesture of misplaced spirituality. There is no need to be afraid that using our minds to the best of their ability will damage our relationship with Christ; all truth is God’s truth, and the more we develop that gift He has given the more He can use it in our lives for His glory.
II. Loving God With Your Mind Involves Your Attitude
Kittel tells us that one common sense of the word for “mind” used by Jesus is to describe a “way of thought” or “disposition” — a person’s attitude about life. Christ says these attitudes or persectives should be turned toward God.
A phrase common to the 1960’s was “consciousness raising.” It meant increasing our awareness and sensitivity in a certain area. When we come to Christ, we undergo a divine consiousness raising. The Greek term for repentance literally means “a change of mind.” As Christians we think differently because God has given us a new mind.
Our attitudes are reflected in the things we say and do. That’s why we laugh at the irony of Linus saying to Charlie Brown: “I love humanity. It’s people I can’t stand.” What is on the inside will inevitably surface in our words and actions.
III. Loving God With Your Mind Involves Your Will
Several ancient Greek writers used this word “mind” to describe the will — the volitional aspect of our lives. That’s the part that makes decisions; the part that says “yes” and “no”.
Loving God with your mind involves decision. It involves a commitment of your life, a surrender of your will to Christ as Lord of your life. That means accepting his authority over your life. It’s an act of will, a decision to let Christ give direction and purpose to your life.
Giving That God Loves
(Mark 12: 38-44)
Perhaps you’ve heard the story about the pastor who was urging his flock to stronger stewardship. Reminding them of all God’s gifts, he exclaimed, “Shouldn’t you respond likewise? Every member of this church ought to give a tenth of his income to the Lord.” One member was so inspired that he interrupted: “Ten percent is not enough! Every one of us should give a twentieth!”
Such inspiration is rare. We tend to avoid discussions of giving wherever possible, yet the Bible is filled with references to the issue of material possessions and our attitude toward them. In fact, there are more than 2,000 verses in the Bible, and 500 in the Gospels alone, which deal with the subject of money.
In this text, Jesus offers insight into the kind of giving that pleases God — the kind of giving that is authentic.
I. Authentic Giving Is Properly Motivated
The Pharisees were highly religious, but many of them had motives which were suspect. Jesus points out that much of their religious activity was done purely for show — to impress others with their exhibitions of piety. He illustrates their vanity by pointing out the way in which they wore long, flowing robes, which were a sign of nobility (since they were not functional for work). Jesus also cites their greed and corruption, as seen by their willingness to exploit widows for their own purpose.
In contrast was the widow who came quietly to give her gift. She came and went with no show, unnoticed by anyone — except God.
II. Authentic Giving Is Sacrificial
The ‘widow’s mite” was a coin called a lepton. That literally meant “a thin one.” It was the smallest coin in circulation, and two of them dropped in the collection were together worth only a small fraction of a penny. Yet it was all this woman had, and she gave it sacrificially to God.
It’s not the amount of the gift that pleases God, but the cost of it to the giver. As one commentator has noted, God does not count the amount on the face of the check, but the balance left in the checkbook. Are we willing to give sacrificially? What pleasure are we willing to do without in order to support some part of God’s work through His church?
III. Authentic Giving Is Done In Faith
Can you imagine what it must have been like for this poor woman to take the last tiny coins she owned and give them to God? Few of us can, because we usually make sure there’s plenty left after we give. Yet she gave in faith, trusting God to provide for her needs.
The farmer’s wife was furious. Her husband had just taken the last three dollars in his pocket and placed them in the offering plate, and she could barely restrain herself until they got to the car. “How could you do that?” she demanded. “We’ve got to buy milk for the baby, we’ve got to buy food!” He quietly replied, “I felt it was something we should do. The Lord will take care of us.” “Well, He won’t be buying milk for the baby,” she grumbled. The next day, weeks before it was expected, an insurance check was placed in that mailbox. God does provide when we respond in faith.
What we give is not as important as how we give it. Will you give sacrificially, give in faith, not for show but out of love and thankfulness to the one who has given all for us?
Preparing For His Coming
Do you remember from your childhood what your home was like when the preacher was coming to dinner? The whole family was drafted into a task force to clean, dust, polish and thoroughly prepare for this special guest. There was a great desire to make a good impression.
In the text we draw from the Olivet Discourse, we are assured that an even more special guest is coming. In verses that touch on both historical and eschatological issues, one point is made clear: there will come a day when Christ will return to bring the Kingdom of God to its full consummation. In Jesus’ death and resurrection the Kingdom has come, yet it is still coming now, and will ultimately come in its fullness.
As with any Scriptural references to Christ’s return, the purpose is not to simply describe future events or to arouse excitement or fear; the purpose is to encourage us to prepare. How do we prepare for His coming?
I. We Can Watch
Most of the world goes on without any sense of anticipation that Christ will return. As Christians, we are challenged to a heightened awareness of His return. We are to watch for it.
One preacher told his congregation: Don’t do anything you wouldn’t want to be doing when Jesus returned. Though such advice could easily lead to a fearful, guilt-ridden attitude toward life, there is truth there: if we live in the light of Christ’s return, it will affect our lifestyle and priorities.
II. We Can Wait
A few years ago, national news attention was focused on a house filled with members of a cult group convinced that Christ was returning within a matter of days. How sad it is to see persons who are led into such situations, and who are often disillusioned with all of the Christian faith in the discouragement that follows. Christian history is filled with groups that have been convinced they had determined the time of Christ’s return, only to find they were wrong.
How much better it is to adopt the attitude of Jesus, who said, “No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father” (v. 32). Let’s leave the predictions to the supermarket tabloids and trust God to act in His own time.
III. We Can Work
If we do believe that Christ will return, then there is much to do as we prepare for His coming.
We must prepare ourselves. There are things yet to do in our personal walks with God. We must keep on growing in our relationship with Christ.
We must prepare others. Millions around us still do not know the fullness of life in Christ. What better preparation for His coming than to share the good news of His love?
God’s Nature – Our Hope
Many preachers over the years have learned that announcing a study of Revelation is like offering free money. Folks flock in to get the inside word on when Jesus will return, which political leader might be Antichrist, or how their credit cards will contribute to one-world government. The success of Hal Lindsey’s The Late Great Planet Earth a few years ago is ample evidence of the fascination such topics hold and the desire for some word about the future.
Yet the Revelation is so much more than a peek into the future. In it we gain a new understanding of who God is and how He wants to work in our lives.
I. We Learn What God Is Like
He Is Complete. Note the description of God as “him who is and who was and who is to come,” then see it echoed in verse 8. There is here a sense of completeness, of fullness. No matter what our need, God is sufficient.
He is Sovereign, the description of Christ in verse 5 as “the ruler of kings on earth” emphasizes His sovereignty in history. Unlike the temporal rulers of earthly kingdoms, His rule is complete and eternal.
There is great assurance in knowing that God is in control of history. No matter how desperate human events may seem, we can find peace in the knowledge that God reigns over it all.
He Is Almighty. Though this word is only used one other place in the New Testament, John uses it nine times to describe God’s power and greatness. For him, God was great beyond description.
Imagine our world hurtling through space as it circles our sun, along with the other planets that compose our solar system. Then imagine millions of other solar systems, larger than ours, also propelled through space, making up galaxies of unimaginable size. And then try to grasp that the same God whom we serve is the creator and sustainer of it all. What a powerful, almighty God we serve!
That’s why it’s so amazing that God would take a personal interest in you and me. Yet through John’s Revelation…
II. We Learn What God Does For Us
He Gives Grace and Peace. Grace is undeserved favor that God extends to us through Christ. We don’t deserve salvation, we can’t do anything to earn it, yet He gives it freely out of His infinite love.
Grace produces peace — not an absence of struggle, but an assurance of God’s presence in struggle. Peace is that quality that allows us to weather the storms because we sense God’s hand upon our lives.
He Abides With Us. The number “seven” has great meaning for John. In this book he will talk about a variety of sevens — candlesticks, stars, lamps, seals, horns, eyes, thunders, angels, plagues, vials. For John the number seven represented completeness.
So in writing to seven churches there is a sense in which John is writing to the entire church of which these seven were symbols. And in talking of the seven spirits, it is likely he refers to the Holy Spirit as it is manifested with each of the seven churches. Thus we see the presence of the Spirit of God working alongside the people of God — helping, supporting, sustaining, interceding.
He Frees Us With His Blood. The earliest and best Greek manuscripts indicate that, in verse 5, John refers to Christ freeing or loosing (rather than “washing”) us from our sins by His blood. Because Christ gave His life for us, we can be set free from the bondage of sin and death.
August Heckscher once said, “In one sense freedom is always in crisis.” That is true in the spiritual realm as well: the fact that we have been freed from sin presents us with the opportunity for choice. The challenge of this hour is to decide to live for the One who gave His life for you and me.
The four Sundays before Christmas constitute the Advent season, the beginning of the Christian year. These Sundays afford the opportunity to prepare for Christmas by hearing a variety of texts that relate to the birth of Christ. The passages follow the progression of promise, preparation, and fulfillment. They give us a sense of historical, prophetic, and spiritual dimensions of the coming of the Lord. Preaching the lectionary texts in the Advent season provides a rich opportunity for a fuller and more complete understanding of the Christ event.
THE FIRST SUNDAY
The first Sunday of the Advent season reminds us of the prophetic tradition and the Old Testament idea of covenant. The prophet Jeremiah, speaking in hard times where political and social conditions seemed to indicate the absence of divine presence, called for renewed faith in God and His promises. God is a covenant God; he has made a promise of blessing to His people Israel that remains valid even in the midst of turmoil and chaos. Jeremiah’s words:
1. God will fulfill His promises. (vs. 14). The covenant is based in part on the nature of God, a loving and just partner who will not forsake even though His people forsake Him. The divine character had been forgotten by Israel, as they had gone after other gods. Jeremiah reminds that the promise will be kept, and God’s people will be blessed.
2. The promises will be fulfilled through the lineage of David (vs. 15) A “righteous branch” will come forth from the Davidic line and re-establish the kingdom, and bring forth justice and righteousness in the land. There was a great hunger among the people for justice and righteousness, the political and economic conditions of the day were so strikingly unjust and corrupt that surely the promise of a strong one who would deliver from these realities was thrilling.
3. Salvation will come to the people in the form of the righteousness of God. (vs. 16). The name the “Lord is our righteousness” implies the deliverance by a great man from the power of unrighteousness. This ruler will be a man of peace, justice, compassion and mercy. He is to be awaited with hope and urgency. Israel waited for such a Messiah, and in the coming of Jesus Christ, God fulfilled that promise. Many failed to see Him because they were looking for a warrior and a conqueror. But Jesus was what God promised-, in His life, death and resurrection, He executes judgement and brings forth righteousness. He conquered the powers that enslave.
Peace and justice do not yet characterize our world. In fact, conditions often seem beyond our control. Vast political and economic problems plague our modern world. Nuclear war threatens our destruction. The deep pessimism that can so quickly engulf us must be confronted with the prophetic words of Jeremiah. God has, and will continue to fulfill His promises; in Jesus Christ the righteousness of God is made known, making hope and peace possible, even in a nuclear age.
THE SECOND SUNDAY
The Second Sunday of Advent introduces us to John the Baptist, the forerunner of Jesus. John’s purpose is clearly stated: He is one “crying in the wilderness,” proclaiming the coming Messiah and calling for people to prepare for His coming. That preparation was an arduous and unpleasant task. It involved the painful discipline of repentance, the precondition for forgiveness of sin. Christmas is not usually thought of as a time where repentance is emphasized; yet Luke clearly understands John’s prophetic ministry to be a part of the coming of the Messiah, thereby giving John’s message prominent place in setting the stage. The words of the Prophet Isaiah originally referred to the redemption which God brought to the people when they returned from their exile. In referring to John they emphasize the appearance of one through whom God speaks, summoning people to preparation through repentance.
Repentance, in Isaiah’s imagery, encompasses two important realities:
1. Repentance is turning away from sin. Jesus Christ never forces His way into a person’s life. None who are unwilling or unprepared can receive Him. He will not overcome the barriers of a human heart by compulsion. It is the person who has prepared the way through confession and contrition that is able to receive and appropriate the grace of God. Every life is marked by “crooked places” that have been warped by sin and its consequences. All of us have the “ravines and hills” of hatred, jealousy, greed, and pride. The Lord enters only as we make ready His way by the act of repentance, the turning away from all that would block Him.
2. Repentance is a turning toward the righteousness and holiness of God. There is a great healing in repentance. We cannot change ourselves by our own efforts; the crooked places cannot be straightened out by acts of our own will. However, when the way is made for the coming of the Lord through the process of repentance, the miraculous occurs. The crooked places begin to straignten; the jagged, rough roads are made smooth.
Our lives begin to take on the quality of righteousness as hurts are healed, deficiencies made whole, and new life takes shape. These are the effects of salvation, and are wholly the work of God. Yet we have a part in the relationship when we leave behind the self-defeating behaviors of sin and open ourselves to the life-giving presence of the Lord Jesus Christ.
John the Baptist’s preaching provides the content of the sermon on the third Sunday. John was blunt and outspoken, given to direct statements and colorful phrases. His messages were not essays or theological treatises; they were short and very much to the point. He literally confronted people with their sin and their need of repentance. John’s preaching set the stage for Jesus’ coming by creating a moral climate for the hearing of the gospel. His words prepared the people by presenting them with hard realities:
1. In God’s sight, your ancestry doesn’t matter, (vs. 7-9). They protested that John’s harsh condemnation failed to take into account their descent from Abraham. Perhaps they weren’t perfect, but as Abraham’s children, they surely had some merit, didn’t they? John’s answer was a ringing no! Even now God is testing the trees, seeing if they are bearing good fruit.
The prevalent attitude of many is that external qualities such as ancestry, social status, proper behaviour, or community activity will somehow count for something in God’s accounting. John’s preaching reminds us that the fruits of righteousness are not external, but from the heart.
2. The gospel carries an ethical demand, (vs. 10-14). The people asked what would be expected of them, and John responded clearly. God demands that justice and equity be a part of every persons life. Each person has a different circumstance and opportunity, but all have the same responsibility. Whenever people are touched by the grace of God, they respond with a lifestyle of sharing, giving, and doing justice.
3. An inevitable part of Christian faith is judgement. (vs. 15-17). For many of us judgement is an unpleasant subject, avoided whenever possible. Yet, can the coming of Christ fail to bring judgement? The life of perfect righteousness, the perfect reflection of the holiness of God, can only bring judgement to our incomplete and fragmented lives. For some this judgement is to be feared; they see not the hope of restoration but the terror of destruction. However, the coming of Christ is redemptive rather that vindictive. His advent brings judgement, but it also brings healing and new life wherever the corrosion of sin has been.
On the way to the manger we must first pass by the desert where John the Baptist is preaching. His words sting, but they prepare us for the glad tidings of great joy. Let us then hear them willingly.
On the Sunday before Christmas, the text reminds us of the humble and inauspicious circumstances of Jesus’ birth. Mary was a young peasant girl, who by her own admission was one of very low status. Yet the incredible events now taking place in this very common life were a part of God’s eternal redemptive purpose. The startling contrast of the divine entering human history, and the response that event evokes, is nowhere better stated than in Mary’s song, “the Magnificat.” The song breaks into three parts:
1. God’s gracious and wondrous notice of a lowly and common person (vs. 46-50). Mary exhalts in the Lord, because the God of Israel has chosen her to be blessed. God had done great things for her. God’s mercy was evident in her life. It is hard to miss the awe in Mary’s words. There is no explanation for God’s choice; there is simply the joy of receiving His unexpected favor.
2. The paradox of God’s mighty acts in history (vs. 51-53). God has consistently shown His power not through the grand and glorious events of human life, but through the lowly, the poor, and the humble. His work in history began with nomads like Abraham; it took shape in the nation of Israel, formed from a band of slaves; it would come to focus in the lonely and painful death of Jesus on a Cross. But, through these seemingly insignificant events, God’s redemptive power is demonstrated. God’s actions are never easily understood by those who see life in terms of wealth, power, and success.
3. God will remember His promises, (vs. 54-55). God follows through on His promises to the lowly. Those whose only recourse or consolation is in the Lord will not be disappointed. In Christ, His promise to Abraham is fulfilled; the whole world is blessed. The Cross, as humiliating as it was, signaled to the beginning of new life for all who would call on his name.
Advent is a time to celebrate, for it reminds us that God is for us and not against us. God “takes notice” of all his people, meeting their needs and blessing their lives. One does not need to achieve a certain status to be worthy of God’s favor; it simply cannot be earned. It is only to be received joyfully, and thankfully remembered. That’s what Christmas ultimately is all about.
THE FIRST SUNDAY AFTER CHRISTMAS
The only incident from Jesus’ childhood that is recorded in the New Testament serves to connect the birth and infancy narratives to the beginning of His public ministry. It is illustrative of ordinary Jewish life in the first century, and therefore gives us insight into Jesus’ development as a person. During the course of a normal religious festival, young Jesus is separated from his parents. After an anxious time of searching, he is discovered to be in the Temple with the teachers, asking questions and learning. His response to their inquire as to His whereabouts, (“Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”), indicates a deep and abiding relationship to God even as a child. His manner of life produced a vigorous and healthy self development, and brought Him a high degree of endearment to those around Him.
This text is informative and inspirational at the point of Jesus’ personhood. When we are tempted to detach Jesus from normal human life, this text can help us.
1. Jesus’ life was lived in common circumstances. He lived as an ordinary Jewish boy. He participated in normal rites of passage. He participated in a full family life, cared for by his parents as any other child. He was obedient to them, later taking on His father’s trade. These facts remind us that the miracle of incarnation took place not in extraordinary times or circumstances, but within a human context much like any other.
2. Jesus was himself a disciple. It is paradoxical for many, but it is true that Jesus was a learner. The text says he was in the Temple listening and asking questions. How else is a mind and heart to be trained? Jesus’ unique relationship to the Heavenly Father was the product of disciplined obedience to that which He learned. When we become complacent in our learning or weary in our discipleship, the image of Jesus sitting with His teachers can shake us.
3. Jesus’ development was based on His relationship to God. The picture painted by the text is of a young man whose life was full and whose relationships were many. The young Jesus must have been extraordinarily healthy and happy. As He grew physcially, He also grew in wisdom, and in favor with God and with others. Obedient relationship with God orders priorities in such a way that the fullest and the best of life is possible. Jesus’ human life is a pattern to be followed, for He fulfilled what all of us are to be.
The Advent sermons were prepared by Rev. Cliff Lyda, pastor of First Presbyterian Church, Palatka, Florida
The November text sermons were prepared by Dr. Michael Duduit, editor of Preaching.