LIFE ON THE VINE:
And so theres Moses watching the people of God disgrace themselves. God had saved them from slavery by humbling the mighty king of Egypt. They were free and God was putting the finishing touches on the covenant agreement between him and his people. And how do they use that freedom? By becoming slaves to idolatry and disgracing themselves in ways that even their enemies would consider wicked.
God and Moses were mapping out a bright future for these people and the world, but once God heard them debasing themselves and acting like their oppressors, he thought about incinerating them and starting over with Moses, but Moses reminded him of his covenant and how it had lasted for centuries. Of course, God remained faithful.
And so theres Moses who has just stood up for the people. He is holding the symbol of their covenant with God (the stone tablets). These people have spit in Gods face and challenged Moses leadership. No wonder Moses loses his temper and smashes the symbol of covenant. It was already broken before he left the mountaintop.
But the story doesnt end there. Moses returns to the mountaintop. Theres going to be a second chance at covenant. And just so no one will assume that God isnt present among his people, he agrees to draw even closer to Moses. God will reveal his glory to Moses. Moses will not see Gods face, but he will see his back as he passes by. And he does. And God draws even closer by telling Moses his name; and it isnt so much as single name as it is a declaration of who God is ...
"The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation."
Patience is Rooted in the Character of God
How does Exodus 34 describe God? This is the covenant name of God that is remembered throughout the generations by Gods people. It describes Gods character especially in those moments when we, his people, shame him by disgracing ourselves with sin. This name of God that recalls how God is compassionate, gracious, and slow to anger is repeated many times in the Bible. The Psalmists sing in Psalms 86, 103, and 145 that God is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness. Prophets like Joel and Jonah affirm that God is compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness. For leaders like Nehemiah and Ezra this was the cornerstone of their faith. In our wickedness, God did not abandon us! Why? Because the Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness.
This is another way of saying The Lord, the Lord is patient. And as much as it comforts us to know that about God, it challenges us when we know that we too must be patient as God is patient. The fruit of the Spirit is rooted in the character of God, and that is so true of patience. Bearing Fruit of the Spirit means adopting the character of God. How well are we wearing the name of God? If we are to be patient like God, then that means being compassionate and gracioushow are you doing on those?slow to angerhows that going?abounding in love and faithfulness well, hows that going? This is what it means to be patient ...
Why are we so impatient? (Why is it difficult to cultivate patience?)
Its difficult to be patient isnt in an environment that is more suited to cultivating impatience than patience.
- We are a culture of the quick fix rather than the long haul. We are the product of 200 years of the modern scientific age. A lot of good has come from that. But we have picked up some bad habits too. One of the most unfortunate results of the modern age is arrogance. We have assumed that we can solves any problem and along with advances in industrialization and transportation we assume that we can fix anything now. (If anything good is coming of post-modernism, it is that the consequences of our arrogance are now convicting us to be a bit more humble).
In every area of our lives we are often committed to the quick fix. Politics: Why havent we rebuilt the Gulf Coast? Its been weeks! Why havent we won the war on terror? Its been years! Health: Do you want to lose weight instantly? Heres the solution ... People seek out doctors to get the quick fix for whats wrong with them, but they dont realize that health is often the result of how they have been caring for themselves over the long haul. Faith: I want to grow as a Christian and I want to do it now! God saves us instantly, but salvation lasts for eternity. Some of us want to cultivate the fruit of the spirit right now, or at the end of this season. But cultivation is a lifelong process and in an impatient culture that is intimidating, but thats the way the world really is. When we cultivate patience we learn that the best things take time. Olive tree farmers know that. An olive tree will only start to bear fruit in its 5th or 6th year, and doesn't reach maximum yield until it is 30 or 40 years old. When the olive growers in the Middle East plant an olive tree, they say a prayer: "God protect it and make it grow so that my children's grandchildren will benefit from its abundance." Once I heard a story that an olive tree farmer said that he harvests the trees his father planted and he plants the trees his son will harvest. That is patience.
- We are obsessed with speed and productivity. Because of that obsession, some olive trees have been forced to yield maximum harvest in 5 to 6 years. Now think, is that so we can have better olives or is it to make more profit more quickly? Our obsession with speed and productivity is rooted in greed which is the antithesis to patience.
A few weeks ago I was in Silver Dollar City watching the knifesmith. He described our culture as a throwaway culture. Thats why his trade (which is really just a hobby for him) is no more. The way he makes knives is just for collectors and hobbyists, but it used to be for everday work. The knife smith worked in an inefficient and slow way to make a knife that would last for generations. But now knives are pressed on a machine that can turn out thousands in the time it takes the knife smith to make one. That makes the knives cheaper and easily replaceable. But are they better knives? Are they items that can be passed on to your children and maybe even grandchildren?
Our obsession with speed and productivity has put even our faith on the clock. We want to attend to all of our spiritual needs in one hour a week. And God help us the church has sometimes catered to this fixation with productivity. A church in Orange County, California has a slogan Give us 90 minutes of your time and we will change your life. Well, that is a step better than Jesus who asks us to take up our cross and follow him for the rest of our lives. But then we are so much more advanced than Jesus was back in the first century, yes?
- We regard time as a commodity rather than a gift. One of the advancements since Jesus is the clock. (The concept of the second wasnt invented until the 1700s). People have always had means for gauging time, but the mechanical clock allowed us to standardize time. And now we feel that what started as a tool has become a master. We are now a tool of the tool. This is toxic to patience because Our lives have become ordered by an unnatural rhythm instead of the rhythms of Gods created order. God made the world in six days and rested on the seventh. Do you see how God built patience into the natural rhythm of the created order. He gave us the lights in the heavens to order the times and seasons. But we have invented artificial light and weather so that we can order time our way! And we are more impatient and stressed out than ever. Think about it, what is the most common response you get to the question How are you doing? - BUSY!
This busy-ness has changed the way we view time. It is a commodity, not a gift from God. We hoard it and sell it. The language we use with time is unique to our culture. We spend time. We invest time. We waste time. We steal time and take-up time. We have invented the concept of quality time as an excuse to spend less time with people. We are apologetic of intruding on ones time and we are disturbed sometimes when others want to take some of our time. Why? Because we all have the sense that there is precious little time but more because we regard time as my time, my day. It is mine! Now how does that make us patient? How does that help us cultivate the spirit among us that is compassionate, gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love.
How shall we cultivate patience? If we want to cultivate patience we must actively resist the powers that make us impatient.
- Give away time in worship, fellowship and service. Time is a gift from God. We are destined for an eternity, so time isnt something scarce. Spend time with God in worship. Worship with others and lets come to the table as if we are coming to a banquet not fast-food carry out. Lets spend time with one another for no other reason than to know one another. (What I appreciate about our Care Groups and LIFE groups is that so many in our groups, especially our new ones, have said that they want to give up their personal time to spend it with others. They realize that there is a power of selfishness and impatience that needs to be challenged.) If we spend time in service with others, do it just to serve others not to be more productive.
- Appreciate the journey as much as the destination. Our impatient culture wants to convince us that the end product or the destination is all that matters. The quicker you arrive there or produce it the better. In 2001 my family took a trip in an RV to New York, my fathers home. The journey is as much a part of that trip as the destination. In some ways even more so. How will our children remember our faith? By the destination or the journey. When we read the stories of the patriarchs, we see that the journey is even more important than the destination, because the goals werent always achieved in one generation.
- Trust the future to God. - Much of our impatience is rooted in the fact that we do not trust the future to God. We have forgotten the stories. God doesnt abandon us. He doesnt leave us with a set of Tinkertoys and Legos and say build it yourself. He is working in the details to accomplish all things in his own time and his own way.
- Forgive others. (See Matthew 18:23-35) If we truly want to be patient, then we need to be as patient with others as God is with us. This is the point of Jesus vivid parable about the unforgiving servant. You have been forgiven of so much by a God who is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in love and faithfulness. How dare you not be forgiving of others. But you dont understand they did ...! This isnt about them. Its about God. It is about cultivating patience. Its about being like God.
West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Morning Sermon, 16 October 2005
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