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    Roots of the Western Malady

    Sabbath Day Sermon: Saturday 17 July 2003

      "Whether you turn to the right or the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, 'This is the way; walk in it'" (Isaiah 30:21)

    To this very day I can remember vividly an image I saw in a documentary film about snakes. I remember a little bird sitting on a tree sitting motionless whilst a cobra, its canopy spread open, simply towered above it, and paralysed the animal with fear. With its courage gone, the bird - who could easily have escaped - became helpless prey.

    Two weeks ago I reminded you of a saying of the late Winston Churchill: "Courage is rightly esteemed the first of human qualities because it is the quality which guarantees all the others". I'd like to develop that thought a little further today.

    Courage is the power or quality of dealing with or facing danger, fear, pain, and so forth. We all need it. You cannot escape life that does not involve confronting such things. The world has many heroes - men and women of valour. We tend to put them on pedestals and would secretly like to imitate them. And yet every single one of these heroes, in order to be courageous, had to overcome a fundamental weakness in the human make-up to achieve what they did - they had to overcome fear. The reason the snake was able to kill the bird was not because it was a faster mover but because it succeeded in striking fear into it.

    I do not want to suggest for one minute that we should all go away from here and conquer all fear. Some types of fear are healthy. They have been put there by Yahweh. The fear of punishment if we do wrong is healthy. The fear of being killed, or killing someone else, if we drive recklessly in our car is healthy fear. The fear of offending a good person by an act of selfishness or carelessness is healthy fear. So I am not saying that the removal all fear should be our goal. A person who fears nothing is quite likely dead inside. A person who no longer has the sensitivity to restrain himself from unnecessarily hurting someone, has lost something very precious indeed. When we lose our fear of not doing good we have lost a vitally important safety net. It is from such that tyrannical dictators, psychopaths, megalomaniacs, and manipulators are born. And we all know they are not healthy. So there is good fear and bad fear.

    The scripture I chose this morning reminds us that Yahweh, our Father in Heaven, seeks constantly to guide our lives in the right way. And even though we may shut that voice out by an act of will, or dull it through sin, it is still there, no matter what path of iniquity we may choose to tread. This voice of the Divine comes with one thing, and one thing only: Truth. And the message of Truth is always the same: 'there is only one safe way for you to go: take it.'

    This life has been so structured by Yahweh as to force us to make important choices. There is no single living person who will not face truth-issues, no living person who will not face moral issues, no living person who will not face choices to walk down the King's Highway or his own, even if he does not know the Name of the King. To believers and unbelievers alike, Yahweh is calling. Whether you have rejected or accepted Him, He is still calling you from behind, saying: "This is the way; walk in it".

    Many people believe that once they have consciously defied Yahweh that He will shut up. And if they don't believe that, they at any rate assume that He ought to, and so expend a great of energy trying to deny Him out of existence. They also have this idea that free agency means that He must shut up. What scripture tells us, though, is that He never forces His way into our lives but that He is constantly knocking seeking admission in, as any decent parent would watching His child heading towards disaster. And as any decent parent will tell you, they are forced to overcome the fear of being rejected and perhaps even being hated by their children because they have this instinct within them to save their children from harm.

    Because listening to the voice of Yahweh requires spiritual training, most people would rather go elsewhere for advice. Not that there is anything wrong with good advice from people. Indeed, we are told that a wise man will seek counsel from many. But before he makes a decision - especially an important one that will set the direction of his life like marriage, career, or church - he really does need to check with the voice of the divine who is always willing to speak to him.

    A lot of choices we have to make in life are without doubt difficult, and some of them agonising. As a minister I receive hundreds of letters each year from people facing hard decisions. If the truth be known, most of them would like me to make the decisions for them so that they can blame me if it turns out to be the wrong one. That's another area we as humans are weak in - taking responsibility for our choices, and blame-shifting.

    Many Christians have this idea that we are to make decisions without concrete heavenly guidance. They complain that the guidance has not been forthcoming so they have to 'intervene' themselves and choose. The fact of the matter is, though, that when we are in difficulty, and there are lots of people urging us to make this decision or that one, we tend to act too hastily. We are impatient. Scripture makes it very plain to us, however, that we are to wait until Yahweh has clearly spoken. The Israelites wanted to attack Jericho there and then. If they had had their way, they would have attacked and been defeated. Instead, Yahweh made them wait, and wait, and wait, until precisely the right hour. And then He told them to act in a way they would never have dreamed - instead of using swords they were to march around the city blowing trumpets and finally, on the last day, to give a mighty shout.

    Same with Sarah. She waited, and waited, and waited for her promised child. And when he didn't come according to her timetable, she acted rashly and tried to have the boy by proxy. When Judah was in a tight spot centuries later, facing a numerically superior enemy, instead of sending troops out they sent choirs. The enemy was defeated by songs of praise.

    We are commanded to wait on Yahweh, as Joshua did, until we get our instructions. That's the way Yah'shua (Jesus) did it. He only ever did what He was told. Should we behave in any other way? When we call Him 'Lord' we are saying that He is our Commander. Soldiers don't go off and start battles on their own. They wait for their commander to give the orders to go.

    To make a proper decision - a correct decision that is not going to cause you unnecessary suffering or waste years of your life - do what Torah directs you to do. Study His Word with devout attention. Wait in expectant prayer without 'pushing' things. Get alone with Yahweh in an atmosphere devoid of human opinions - an atmosphere of silence and expectancy, and be willing to accept whatever He says. Then - and only then - will you hear that voice behind you and the will of Yahweh will be made clear to you. You will then have deeper insight into His nature and love.

    One of the reasons people don't get answers is because they lack active faith. Now let me ask you this question: when Yahweh commanded the children of Israel to leave Egypt, were they sitting in their homes in Goshen when the Red Sea parted? Did a messenger come running to them and say: "Hey, guess what! The Red Sea has parted! Pack your bags and let's go!" Did that happen? It didn't even happen after they had left their camps and were heading east. The miracle did not happen in advance. Neither was the manna waiting for them in the desert when they got there. Why not? The reason is faith. True faith demands that we go along the way that Yahweh has appointed for us without knowing what lies ahead. True faith demands that we go to the very backs of the Red Sea before the waters part. Truth faith requires that we take one step into the raging water before that same water is cut off. It also happened at the River Jordan under Joshua, didn't it? Joshua didn't say: "Look, you fellows! The river has parted! Cross over!" The Levites carrying the Ark of the Covenant, fully dressed, advanced on the river and it parted as they stepped into it.

    Please, please note this well. Saving faith is faith that steps out in obedience into the unknown. It does not wait for 'signs' before it acts. Signs follow afterwards. If Yahweh speaks, it is enough. His Word is reliable, whether written or spoken. If He has said do something, do it unquestioningly. Don't wait for your own conditions to be met because He doesn't work like that.

    Take Yahweh at His word and go forward, even if you cannot see how it will work out. The only reason people balk (stop short) at difficulties is because we expect to see them removed before we try to pass through them. That is a fatal mistake. We have to move on in faith and then the way will be opened for us. We have to go forward as though there were no obstacles.

    Out of loving kindness, Yahweh frequently brings us into a situation where we have no choice but to trust. The Israelites before the Red Sea were one such critical choice. They had to, there and then, confront their fear. The enemy was pressing behind them and the sea lay in front of them. Fear swelled up in them. They knew that if they were enslaved again their task masters would be even harsher. Only they didn't know whether they would be enslaved or killed. They could only guess. And that's what fear does - it leaves you guessing because there are never any answers in fear, especially not disobedient fear. Going back seemed the easier way - it seemed easier many times during their journey to the Promised Land. So many of them wanted to go back to slavery because they believed a lie - and that lie was that certainty is better than uncertainty. They believed that slavery was a better option than not knowing in advance. They would rather not stake all and take a risk - even though Yahweh had already demonstrated stupendous power and tender care up to that point.

    We suffer today from the same disease as the ancient Israelites - the Western malady, if you like - we want scientific proof before we will act, because that's what we've been taught to expect. We want data to process. But Yahweh doesn't work like that. Sorry, but that's the truth. And He doesn't work like that because any other way does not build up character. It does not cause us to grow. And it does not cause us to lean on the source or true security.

    Whatever Christianity is, it's not a sugary version of worldliness. You can't substitute one set of gods for the True One and carry on without changing your habits. Whether we like it or not - and the sooner we realise it the better off we will be - everyday life is a front line war against the devil. He won't go away just because we send God away.

    Those of you who know your history of the Second World War will remember that after Poland was conquered by Hitler there followed what was called the 'Phoney War'. Although Britain and France were at war with Germany, they didn't do a thing. For several months nothing happened and people began to believe that the war would just go away. It didn't. Suddenly it struck with a violence which never diminished for five long years. And yet during that 'silent' period the enemy could have been defeated. In fact, Hitler could have been easily defeated many, many times in all the crises that took place before. Because the West was careless, Hitler was given the time to build up his strength.

    If you have rejected God and everything seems to be fine, beware! Suddenly, right out of the blue, when you start waking up to reality, the enemy will descend on you in a fire storm. Those decisions and battles which you have postponed because you felt they weren't important will cost you dearly.

    I repeat, we are front-line troops and the enemy has not declared a truce. He is fighting a war he means to win. And even if he can't, he can win a lot of battles in the meantime and take a lot of people down with him. Appeasing sin does not work. It stores up trouble - a lot of trouble - as the French and British discovered to their dismay in 1939.

    That little bird could have flown away. It did not need to be paralysed by terror by the cobra. The Second World War did not have to take place. Hitler could have been defeated easily. People like Churchill warned the politicians but nobody listened. The cost of that carelessness was tens of millions of lives and a devastated continent. Yet what happened in the Second World War is but a symptom of a weakness of carnal nature. And that weakness is that we refuse to let Yahweh Himself decide where each of us is to fight and when. Instead we stupidly cry, "Peace! Peace!", and the short time we win doing things our way only stores up wrath for us afterwards. We cannot choose the battlefield we prefer. We cannot run away from the storms of life. We are required to face them. Planet earth is not a vacation resort. Planet earth is a war zone. And I suppose most people won't make much progress in charting out their lives until they recognise that truth. Like trees on a mountain, we must take whatever the weather brings. The only real choice we have is to put down spiritual roots as deeply as we can and get ready to withstand whatever the enemy sends our way. Defence is something deep and invisible.

    Unfortunately we are possessed of a bad quality called reckless abandon. We are filled with the vain confidence that comes from believing in illusions and lies. I was astonished when, the other day, I was reading some Times newspaper columns from 1939. Even after hearing lies so openly, even having demonstrated such treachery, even after having gone back on his word and subjugating Austria and Czechoslovakia, the British newspapers were praising Hitler! You see, what happened was, Britain and France had suffered so badly in the First World War - so many were killed - that the thought of another world war was just too ghastly to contemplate. So the majority refused to believe that anyone in their right mind would go and start another one. They had, as they believed, fought the "war to end all wars". And it's true - the vast majority of Germans did not want another war either. What nobody had reckoned on was the fast that Hitler was demonised. Behind the dictator was Satan.

    As ever - and I will repeat this to my dying breath - the issue we face is one of Truth vs. Lies. It doesn't matter what the lie is. Every lie we believe in means we are hearing the voice of Satan and not "the voice behind you, saying, 'This is the way; walk in it'". Ours is the unpleasant but absolutely necessary task to expose all lies so that people can once again hear Yahweh and walk with Him. We must all meet temptation. The tempter comes so suddenly that if we cannot instantly identify him, and repel his assault, we shall be foiled.

    So will you come with me and set your foot into the waters of the Red Sea? Yahweh tells us: "Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified ... for Yahweh-Elohim goes with you; He will never leave or forsake you" (Dt.31:6). When we make the decision to listen to Him and obey Him, He is right there, even if you can't see Him. Then suddenly, as your foot touches the sea, the miracles begin to happen - but not before. We can face any danger or difficulty with Him because His hand is invisibly holding ours. And it is very wonderful how much a hand speaks when it touches.

    Fear produces anxiety and restlessness. Thus Paul could say: "Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to Eloah (God)" (Phil.4:6). To be perfectly at peace amidst all the troubles of life is a secret worth knowing. What is the use of worrying? It never made anyone strong and it never made a way of escape out of perplexity. Worry spoils lives which should otherwise be useful and beautiful. Did you know that restlessness, anxiety and care are absolutely forbidden by Yahweh? You all know what Yah'shua (Jesus) said:

      "Do not worry, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' "For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble" (Matt.6:31-34, NKJV).

    This does not mean that we should be careless - we are to use planning and method to provide for such needs. But we are not to worry about them. People know you live in the realm of anxious care by the lines on your face, the tones of your voice, and minor key in your life, and the lack of joy in your spirit. Only when you abandon yourself to Yahweh will these things disappear. We need to be sensible about our priorities - and not making Yahweh our first priority is not sensible.

    By doing my best to walk close to Yahweh I have an edge on the enemy. I can defeat him before he even gets started. Three nights ago at 4.30 a.m. I awoke and saw a vision of several people in my home being spiritually attacked. I went to their rooms where they were sleeping. There one of my sons was wrestling and groaning in the middle of a nightmare. I laid hands on his head, bound up the enemy, and blessed him, and he was at once peaceful.

    Often members of the family will tell me of nightmares they have had at time when I have been interceding in prayer for them. Most never know that I sometimes wander into their rooms in the middle of the night to bless them and pray for them. As the head of my household I am acutely aware of the invisible war that is being fought by the enemy against my loved ones so I must be on the alert for them. Even when they are awake I am usually aware when danger is threatening and members of my household will tell you how I have often been seen rushing into a room to intervene during the day. Mostly I am alert, but sometimes my guard slips. I know, from personal experience, that an invisible war is being waged.

    I cannot underline the importance of dealing with truth and fear issues. In families especially, because we are connected by various bonds, the problem of one can become the problem of the others. We all influence each other, visibly and invisibly. And you know the saying that if Satan can't get at you he'll get at your family.

    May I encourage you, therefore, to take this opportunity to really start trusting Yahweh by responding in obedience to His every command, and not to fear when he doesn't turn up when we expect Him to. You will never meet El Elyon, the Most High God, until you go to the water's edge with Him and step in. Then, and only then, do the miracles start happening.

    This page was created on 14 August 2003
    Last updated on 14 August 2003

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