“Back to Square One”
20 February 2000 Sermon
Text: Colossians 3:12-17, 1 Samuel 3:1-19 & Mark 1:14-15
Square One. Jesus came to Galilee preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God. What can this mean except that in hearing the preaching of Jesus people heard from God? They, those who heard this preaching, were at Square One. Square One is where we are when we hear from God. Hearing the word of God as the word of God only happens at Square One. Worship is about getting to Square One. It is a matter of approach. It is a matter of preparedness and openness. It is about listening, not merely with your ears, but with your whole being for the familiar and present voice of your Maker.
Did I say “familiar”? I did. Have you not read where it is written, “My sheep know My voice?” John 10:2-5:
But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. To him
the doorkeeper opens, and the sheep hear his voice; and he calls his own
sheep by name and leads them out. And when he brings out his own sheep,
he goes before them; and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice.
I also said, “present.” There is a present quality to our relationship. The scripture I just shared also plays to the characteristic of “present-ness.” The Lord, our shepherd, is present in terms of verb tense: he enters, he calls, he leads and he goes before them. And he is very present to his sheep, ordering their steps, providing for their needs (for pasturage, protection and still waters). He is able to restore their souls, returning them to Square One because they know his voice, because they follow him.
We are the sheep of his pasture (Psalm 100:3), we are His people. Therefore we utter shouts of joy, serve Him with gladness, come before His presence with singing and enter his courts with praise! We “Know that the Lord, He is God; It is He who has made us and not we ourselves.” No wonder, then, that we are thankful, blessing His Name. “Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the man who trusts in Him. Oh, fear the Lord, you His saints! There is no want to those who fear Him. The young lions lack and suffer hunger; but those who seek the Lord shall not lack any good thing. (Psalm 34:8-10) His pasture is Square One. His pasture is where we not only need to be, but it is where we long to be. Away from His pasture we are lost, lonely, distracted and in danger . . . but in His pasture we are found, in love, focused and protected. I say protected, instead of safe because the word safe implies the absence of danger. We do not live in the absence of danger, we live rather protected in the midst of danger. His lordship depends on it. As it is written:
But I will sing of Your power; yes, I will sing aloud of Your mercy
in the morning; for you have been my defense and refuge in the day of
my trouble. To you, O my Strength, I will sing praises; for God is my defense,
my God of mercy. (Psalm 59:16-17)
Not only is His pasture Square One, so is God’s kingdom. That is the Great Good News which Jesus came proclaiming: “The time is fulfilled, and the Kingdom of God is at hand.” Stop doubting, right now, the present and familiar relationship to God that is offered to you, Jesus says, and turn from your disbelieving ways, right now.
The call of God is always timely. It is present, urgent. It presses us. In a word, it convicts us. The call of God is a spiritual bump in the road. It’s attention getting, notable, disruptive and disturbing. Disbelief is the cruise control of life for far too many so-called Christians. Some live as if God were not, as if they could manage their lives quite fine without divine interference. On this matter of cruise control, I would point out that one distinction between the redeemed and the unredeemed is this: cruise control is only an option for the redeemed. For the unredeemed, disbelief is just the way things are; they are in bondage and cannot see it, or know it. Disbelief is what locks us in to habitual sin. Either we figure that sin doesn’t matter, of that our sin is too trifling a matter to concern God who, we are certain, must be more concerned for the real sin out there. You know the sin that we can identify in others but have such difficulty owning in ourselves. Disbelief characterizes a life lived as if God will never show up, except perhaps when we die and all possibility of escape, or evasion no longer seems likely. So we refer to death euphemistically as “meeting our Maker.” And, instead of being an occasion for delight, this meeting with God our daily shepherd and defender, we make it dreadful, awful and scary. No wonder friendship with God sounds odd, if not perverse. Those who are not familiar with the biblical God avoid this “god of folklore” like the plague.
However, what I want us to look at here is the matter of disbelief. Let me put to you another way. Could disbelief be anything so simple as this: the failure to develop “object permanence.” And, more specifically, disbelief is the failure to develop object permanence with relationship to God as object. It’s easy to understand the concept of object permanence when it comes to child development. What’s new and worth considering is whether or not this concept applies to us on a faith basis throughout life. Part of spiritual maturity is the attainment of object permanence when it comes to God. Spiritual immaturity of course is the inability to keep God in view regardless of our circumstances. Yes, it is faithlessness and unbelief on a certain level, but on another level it is an identifiable condition subject to correction and remediation.
Okay, you may ask, “Is this concept biblical?” I think so. Let’s consider the case of Samuel. Dedicated to God by his mother, Hannah, the boy is ministering to the Lord before Eli. Now the word of the Lord was rare because of the spiritual condition of Eli’s house. We have a spiritual famine directly attributable to the moral sin of the priest, Eli, and his two, priestly sons, Hophni and Phinehas. Let’s be clear that they held the office, but lacked the anointing. They were not at Square One; their lives were testimonies of disbelieving opportunists. Now Eli is sensible enough to question Hannah about being drunk (1:14), but negligent to the wickedness of his own sons. They were gluttons and fornicators. Furthermore, they would not heed their father’s voice (2:16, and 22-25). A prophet came to Eli (v. 27) and foretold judgment on Eli’s household and announced the promise of raising up a faithful priest (v.35).
This brings us to the point where our text applies. We read (v.4) that the Lord called to Samuel and he answered “Here I am!” Samuel runs to Eli, assuming that the blind, old priest had called him. This happens a second time. Then the Lord called yet again, “Samuel!” (v.6) Samuel again runs to Eli because “Samuel did not yet know the Lord, nor was the word of the Lord yet revealed to him.” (v.7) The object, God, has come into view but the young man doesn’t know what to do with it. Object permanence cannot be developed in the absence of the object. Samuel’s experience is duplicated in the life of everyone who comes to faith. Someone has to help us identity the object, and train us in how to sustain a sense of the objects reality apart from our sensory, or immediate awareness of the object. That is why, after the third call, Eli realizes what is going on, and who it is that is becoming present, familiarizing Himself with Samuel. So Eli says, “Go, lie down; and it shall be, if He calls you, that you must say, ‘Speak, for your servant hears.’” (v. 9) Now object permanence for Samuel means that he moves into a relationship with the living God and that from now on, quite apart from his circumstances, Samuel it to honor and acknowledge God in all his ways. Object permanence means that he believes and obeys God because he is living in God’s presence at Square One. This means that powerful, remarkable things will happen in Samuel’s life as the scripture record bears out.
However, this same dynamic is present today for us. Something remarkable always happens when we return to Square One, the place of adoration and listening to God. When we tune in to God, great power and energy is infused into our lives; we are released as it were into obedience! We are familiar with the commercial perhaps that goes, “When E. F. Hutton speaks . . . people listen.” Well, that’s nothing. When God speaks things happen. Worlds are born, life forms are created. God doesn’t mess with little things, like information on the stock market to assist us with financial planning. Still less will He serve us a relational fortune teller to spice up our romantic life, nor will He typically be concerned about which horse wins the race, or teams takes the trophy. No, when God speaks it is not essentially information, gossip, or explanation. He speaks to make things happen in us, around us, through us. His speech proclaims. It is often imperative. Square One is a place of instant understanding that calls or instant response.
The healing of Bartimaeus at Jericho is instructive. What a location! This is where Joshua, a millenium before had launched the campaign to secure the Promised Land. This is where Jesus launches his final campaign, going up to Jerusalem to rout the forces of darkness, religious respectability and disbelief. These three are infernal partners, it would appear. Jericho is a Square One location in many ways. This day it is Square One for a blind man. Bartimaeus is beside the road begging for alms. But when he hears that is Jesus he cries out loudly for mercy, for help. Who wants alms when you can have what God offers? Jesus hears him, stops and calls out to him. There it is: Square One time for Bartimaeus. He leaps to his feet. He is off like a track star, instant at the gun. His response embodies belief. His behavior expresses the quickened cry of his heart:
I have chosen the way of truth; your judgments I have laid before
me. I cling to your testimonies; O Lord, do not put me to shame! I will run
in the ways of your commandments, for you will enlarge my understanding.
Bartimaeus is poised, ready, so that when Jesus speaks that word of invitation, God’s own word, he is launched like a rocket! It is obedience that changes his life. Readiness to repent and commit, to believe and obey—these are energy filled actions which enable us to escape our willful habits and our petty routines. Consider that repentance, as a response of faith, takes us somewhere. It takes us to Jerusalem that we may die with Jesus. Yes, these responses take us to the cross, and beyond the cross to resurrection. So the point of Bartimaeus’ healing is not merely that he received his sight, but that we recover our sight through his example.
Weigh these words of Eugene Peterson: “We do not progress in the Christian life by becoming more competent, more knowledgeable, more virtuous, or more energetic. We do not advance in the Christian life by acquiring expertise. Each day and many times each day, we return to Square One: God said.” God said and it was so. But we, we are always beginners. And we are always beginning again. This could be part of what Jesus meant when He said, “Unless you turn and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 18:3). Object permanence becomes, in Peterson’s phrase, subject permanence because it is not proper to view God as an object. We adore and listen to a person, not an object. Subject permanence, it turns out, is the heart of the Christian life. The Christian life is what God does for us!
This spiritual insight has the potential to change your life. It simplifies things. You have no need to read more, read less. Don’t strive to do more, do less. Realize that what the world needs more of is God, not more of you. Let Him increase, and you decrease. Truly, your friends need more of God and less of you. Live out this truth that the Christian life is more what God is doing for us, and less of what we are doing for God. Can we be content to be sheep? Are we content to let Jesus be our shepherd and to allow ourselves to be shepherded? Will we finally allow God to be God?
Now we can begin to appreciate more fully the meaning of “let the peace of Christ/God rule in your hearts” (v. 15) and, again, “let the word of Christ dwell in you richly” (v. 16). If we will but allow God to do His part, then we shall be “holy and beloved.” And we will indeed be remade in the image of the new man. Our part is to abide in Him, to remain in the truth, and to be remade by the truth. His part is to change us, to heal us, to give us our sight! In this abiding, through this indwelling, His qualities take root in us, grow in us and, eventually, work themselves out of us and into the body as the perfect bond of love. The Christian life is what God does for us.
Square One. The gospel of the Kingdom of God. Jesus came preaching. Are you listening? He says, “Repent and believe.” Could this be a word for you? Did He just call your name?