A Short Word For The Long Haul
Sometimes the funniest things appear on the signboards in front of churches. They aren’t intended to be funny, but they are. For example, I read about the signboard in front of a large ? downtown church which posted the subject for the next Sunday’s sermon. Consequently, passersby were treated to this gem. The sign read “A Jackass Speaks His Mind—Dr. Moore.” Now I’m certain that Dr. Moore was dealing with the same Old Testament story that I want us to focus on today. It’s the story of Balaam and the talking donkey. The story is actually told over three chapters in the Book of Numbers, Chapters 22-24. However, today I want to deal with the story under three chapter headings of my own choosing.
Chapter One I would entitle “Not For Sale.”
In the Old Testament when the people of Israel were ready to march in to claim the Promised Land, they had to win some crucial battles against the Canaanites, the Midianites, and the Moabites. The king of the Moabites was a man named Balak. Now Balak was an accomplished military leader, and he quickly recognized that the Israelite forces were far superior to his own. Therefore, King Balak, in an effort to try to gain some advantage in the conflict, attempted to enlist into his service a prophet named Balaam. Balaam seemed to possess an ability not only to foretell the future, but also, in a strange way, to influence the future. King Balak’s idea then was to get Balaam to place a curse upon the Israelites, and the king was willing to pay the prophet for his services. When the king’s emissaries approached Balaam and asked if he would accept the money and help the Moabites, Balaam replied, “Let me pray about it overnight, and I will give you an answer tomorrow.” That night Balaam prayed and God told him, “No.” The next day Balaam then sent the king’s men away disappointed. Now for me this is the best part of the whole story for what we have here is a king trying to buy a preacher, and the preacher says, “I am not for sale.” Of course throughout the history of the church, there have always been those who have tried to buy off or intimidate, or pressure the servants of God. Through the years tragically some have yielded, but thank God, there are many who have not yielded, and there are many who will not yield now.
Let me ask you something. Do you know why that for the last fifty ? years, Billy Graham and Bill Bright were the two most powerful witnesses for Christ in our world? I’ll tell you why. It’s because those two men were never for sale. There have been efforts—many organized efforts—to unearth the taint of scandal or self-gain in their lives, all to no avail. Their ministries to the world are fueled by millions of dollars, but those dollars never lined their pockets. They served God with clean lives and clean hearts, and as a result, God blessed their ministries. Let anyone who dares to sully their names or criticize their work, beware of the judgment of God. Billy Graham and Bill Bright were never for sale.
Let me bring this matter closer to home. Let me say very clearly that this servant of God is not for sale either. I will never yield to pressure or intimidation. I will never yield to a spirit of fear. I will never be coerced by anyone inside the church or outside the church to preach any Gospel other than the Gospel that Jesus Christ alone is the Savior and Lord of this world, that the Bible is nothing less than God’s direct, inspired, and infallible word to us and to the world, and that we, as Christians, are called to live lives reflecting the holiness taught by Jesus Christ our Savior and our Lord. I will preach that Gospel, and that Gospel only, no matter the cost, or for that matter, no matter the response, as long as God gives me the breath to breathe. Furthermore the witness of this church to Jesus Christ is not for sale either. I tell you we will never yield to the pressure of those who want to turn the church into just one more political-action group or one more social-service agency. I tell you we will never be coerced or intimidated even by those leaders in our own denomination who seem to want the church to adopt the values and the verities of culture rather than the values and verities of Christ. Here at Providence Church I pray that we will continue in every conceivable way to exalt the Gospel of Jesus Christ without shame, without apology, without hesitation, and without reservation so help you God. So Chapter One in the story ends with Balaam saying to the king, “I am not for sale.”
Chapter Two I would entitle “The Price Is Right.”
King Balak wouldn’t take no for an answer. You see, the king believed that everyone has a price. So he proceeded then to offer a staggering sum of money to Balaam. In the face of that amount of money, Balaam’s resolve began to waver. In fact, he said to the king’s messengers, “I will go back and pray to God again.” Now of course, that’s absurd on the face of it. God is not fickle. God does not vacillate. God does not say “no” today and “yes” tomorrow. God does not change His mind. However, with the temptation of so much money set before him, Balaam forgot that.
There is a true story about a riverboat captain during the Civil War who was approached by agents of the Confederacy offering him money to smuggle arms and cotton down the river. He said, “No.” They upped the ante, and he said, “No.” They offered still more, and he said, “No.” Then they offered four times the amount of the previous offer, and he said, “No,” and he physically threw them off of his boat. They said, “Why did you throw us off of your boat”? He said, “Because you’re getting too near my price.” Well unfortunately, Balaam wasn’t strong enough or wise enough to say that.
Here’s the point—temptation always comes to us at the moment and in the place where we are the weakest. Think about Jesus, for example, in the wilderness. He wasn’t tempted after the first day, or the tenth day, or even the thirtieth day. No, He was tempted after 40 days of privation at the point in time when He was the weakest, the hungriest, the thirstiest. Richard Foster has a book in which he says that the most insidious temptations in this life arise out of money, sex, and power because that is where we are the weakest. Well, the king discovered that Balaam’s weakness was money, and so the king offered Balaam gobs of money. You know the Bible tells us that when we encounter temptation in life, we are to run away from it—to get away from it as fast as we can. Unfortunately, Balaam didn’t do that. He didn’t run away from that temptation. Instead he toyed with it, and ultimately it got the best of him. So Chapter Two ends with Balaam saying to the king, “All right I will do what you ask.” In other words, the price was right.
Chapter Three I would entitle “God Moves In Hilarious Ways His Wonders To Perform.”
And this is hilarious! If you want a good laugh, read this story in the book of Numbers. It’s a scream. Here was Balaam riding on his donkey, setting off to help the Moabites. Now God was so angry at Balaam that He then sent an angel with a sword to block the road. Balaam didn’t see the angel but the donkey did, and as a result, the donkey veered off the road, into a ditch, up against a wall, and in the process smashed Balaam’s foot. Now this is a riot. Get the picture, please. Here is Balaam hopping around crying out in pain over his smashed foot, yelling out in anger over his wayward donkey, and suddenly he cries out at the donkey, “What were you doing”? The donkey responds. The donkey says, “Why are you mad at me”? Balaam replies, “Because you made look like a fool.” This coming from a man who is talking to a donkey, for heavens sake! At that point, God chooses to speak through this donkey, and He delivers a powerful message to Balaam. The message is, “I take you where you ought to go and I do not take you where you ought not to go.”
Thank God for that donkey. Thank God for anything in life that keeps us from going against the will of God in our lives. Maybe it’s a letter or a phone call. Maybe it’s a memento from your childhood or a prayer your parents prayed. Maybe it’s a word of counsel from a friend or a word of warning from an enemy. Maybe it’s the affection of a pet or the melody of a song. Maybe it’s a Bible verse read or a heart-felt promise made. Maybe it’s a sermon. Maybe it is even this sermon. Yes, thank God for anything in life that keeps us from going against the will of God. Thank God for the powerful message God delivers to you, to me, to this church. God says, “I will take you where you ought to go, and I will not take you where you ought not to go.” So Chapter Three ends with Balaam finally opening his eyes to begin to see the wonders and the glories of our God.
There is more, much more, to the story, but you know I think I’m going to wait and hold that for another time because right now I want to share with you some thoughts from my heart. I have a long way to go and to grow in my life. You have a long way to go and to grow in this church. Therefore, I have to tell you that I shall never be content in my own life until I become everything that God has given me the capacity to be. Furthermore, we ought never to be content until this church becomes the most powerful, the most effective, the most transforming witness for Christ it can possibly be. You see, I’ve come to realize that the moment that we feel we have arrived spiritually or in any other way in life, that’s the moment we stop growing. We stop moving forward. We settle for less than our best, and what’s worse we settle for less than God’s best.
There is a great scene in John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress where we are shown a stately and glorious palace. Surrounding the palace are rank after rank of armed soldiers determined to prevent anyone from entering the glory of the palace. In front of those armed soldiers is a man at a table with a book and a pen. Any wishing to try to fight their way into the glory of the palace must sign the book. Suddenly a man walks up to the table and says to the man with the book, “Set down my name, Sir.” With that the man then takes a helmet and a sword and begins to slowly fight his way toward the doorway of glory. It is a fearsome fight indeed. Finally after a long struggle, after giving and receiving many blows and wounds, at long last he makes his way through the doorway of the palace. In that moment the choirs of angels inside, robed in gold, begin to sing, “Come in. Come in. Eternal glory thou shaft win.” Oh, what a scene!
John Bunyan is reminding us that we don’t gain the glory of the Kingdom of Heaven just by wishing for it. We don’t just drift in. We don’t just wander across the line. We have to fight every step of the way. We have to struggle for all we are worth. We have to turn away from those who try to buy us, or pressure us, or intimidate us, or seek to lure us away. We have to resist at all costs the temptations that come to us when we are weak. We have to hold fast to any reminder of God’s way and God’s will for our lives. We have to always be hungering and thirsting for more and more and more of Jesus Christ and the things of Jesus Christ. You see, my beloved people, it’s a long, long haul to glory, but here is a short word for that long haul. The Bible says “Those who endure to the end shall be saved.”
Soli Deo Gloria
To God Alone Be the Glory
Amen and Amen