The Cart Before the Horse

Have you ever heard of the proverbial expression that speaks of putting the cart before the horse? To put the cart before the horse is to have things out of order. It is the failure to put first things first! It is the act of trying to pull what should be pulling! To literally put the cart before the horse is an act that will only breed frustration and failure; for the cart has no power of its own! The cart cannot even pull itself! Therefore, the idea of putting the cart before the horse is absurd indeed!

Nevertheless, that is how many people are living today! They are living their lives, filled with frustration and failure because they are pursuing riches, fame, wealth, and prosperity, not realizing or understanding that those things are not ‘horses’ but rather, they are ‘carts.’ In Matthew 6:31-33, Jesus is recorded as saying: “Therefore, do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” (ESV) Now, just prior to this statement, Jesus had emphasized the point that if God takes care of and has made provisions for the lesser (the birds and the plants) things of creation, how much more will God take care of and make provisions for the greatest of His creation: humanity?

Let’s take a moment to analyze the text. In this section of the discourse, the KJV translation has Jesus discouraging the idea of “taking thought” in verses 27, 28, 31 and 34. The Greek word behind the translation has the connotation of worry, anxiety, or being anxious. Therefore, Jesus was not saying; don’t even think about those things, but rather he was saying; don’t be anxious, worried, or filled with anxiety about them! Isn’t it ironic that this is the very thing that most people are doing today? Doctors, hospitals, and pharmaceutical companies are getting rich because of people immobilized by anxiety, depression, diseases, and psychological disorders that can all be traced back to the fact that they are constantly worried and anxious about what they are going to eat, drink, and wear!

In verse 32, Jesus says: “For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.” The reference to the ‘gentiles’ was a reference to people who were outside of the covenant that God had with His people. In other words, Jesus was saying to his followers: “When you constantly worry and are anxious about these things; you are acting like people who are strangers to the covenant! You are acting like people who are heathens! You are acting like people who don’t know God! You are acting like orphans who don’t have a father to take care of them!” In view of that statement, it is interesting to note that much of what is being heard in some church-circles these days is really just worldly talk in religious dress! People in the world are anxiously pursuing wealth and riches while many people in the church are ‘faithfully’ (I say this with tongue in cheek!) pursuing Divine favor and prosperity! But Jesus said to his followers in this text: “If you are anxious and worried about your survival; you are acting like unbelievers!” 

Then he said, “Your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.” Now, here’s an interesting point: Jesus said that your heavenly Father knows that you need them all, but he didn’t say you should ask your heavenly Father for them! Instead he said: “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” The ‘but’ served as a contrasting conjunction. Jesus was saying that instead of anxiously pursuing the things that the people who don’t know God pursue, his followers were to pursue or seek the Kingdom of God and His righteousness. He was saying that the believer should seek the Kingdom of God and His righteousness with the same intensity that people who don’t know God seek food, shelter, and clothing! 

Seeking or pursuing the Kingdom of God and His righteousness should be the believer or the follower of Jesus’ first and far-most priority! Now, Jesus was not talking about seeking to get the Heaven! The term; ‘Kingdom of God’ in the context of the passage is not a reference to Heaven, but rather it is a reference to the authority, rule, and reign of God in a person’s life! It is a reference to the government of God. The term ‘righteousness’ refers to the state of a person being as he ought to be, in right-standing. Jesus was saying that our first and far-most priority should be to seek, that is, find and experience the rule and authority of God; the government of God in our lives and to be in right-standing with that government or authority. We’ve made it so ‘religious’ but actually, Jesus is talking about government! To be ‘righteous’ is to be in right-standing with the Kingdom (Government) of God. To be ‘righteous’ with the government of the United States, means to pay taxes and obey the law of the land. Therefore, Jesus said, our main pursuit and priority should be to seek the rule and authority of God in our lives and to seek to be in a state of right-standing with that rule and authority. When we do that, ‘all these things will be added.’ All what things? The things that the people who don’t know God are seeking and pursuing! 

Now this is where we have really placed the cart before the horse! Jesus said that if we would seek the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, all the things needful for life would be added unto us! According to the Bible, all the things that many people in the world today are seeking and pursuing, should actually be seeking and pursuing them! Instead of us seeking and chasing after blessings; blessings should be seeking and chasing after us! Deuteronomy 28:1-2, Moses said to the people: “And if you faithfully obey the voice of the LORD your God, being careful to do all his commandments that I command you today, the LORD your God will set you high above all the nations of the earth. And all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you, if you obey the voice of the LORD your God.” (ESV) Do you see that? He told them that if they faithfully obeyed the voice of the LORD (If they sought the Kingdom of God first) and were careful to do all his commandments (sought to be in right-standing; His righteousness) …. then all those blessings would come. . . and overtake them! If the blessings were to come upon and overtake them, it would not be because they were pursuing the blessings, but rather because the blessings were pursuing them! We’ve got it all wrong! We’re putting the cart before the horse, because what most of us are chasing is supposed to be chasing us!

Another case in point is found in Psalm 23:6, where David said: “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever.” (ESV) We normally think of the word ‘follow’ in this verse as a passive shadowing or tagging along. But the Hebrew word for follow; ‘radaph,’ in this text is an aggressive word! It means; to be behind, to follow after, pursue, chase, persecute, run after. This is not a picture of goodness and mercy following after David all the days of his life like innocent little puppies wagging their tails. No! This is a picture of goodness and mercy, pursuing and chasing after David like two ferocious dogs trying to catch their prey! Again! We are not supposed to be chasing after the blessings; the blessings are supposed to be chasing after us!

So then, it is because we are out of order, it is because we have placed the cart before the horse, that our lives are filled with frustrations, anxieties, worries. For just as the cart was designed to be behind and pulled by the horse and not in front of the horse, so were the necessities and the abundance of life designed to be added unto us as we seek the Kingdom of God and His righteousness first and far-most in our lives.

The “Latter-Day” Saints

This, my 200th post, is a combination of a two-sermon-series preached at the New Hope Baptist Church in Covington, GA several years ago. Your comments are welcomed.

“The Latter-Day Saints” (part 1)

“This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come. For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, Without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good, Traitors, heady, high-minded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God; Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away. For of this sort are they which creep into houses, and lead captive silly women laden with sins, led away with divers lusts, Ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth. Now as Jannes and Jambres withstood Moses, so do these also resist the truth: men of corrupt minds, reprobate concerning the faith. But they shall proceed no further: for their folly shall be manifest unto all men, as theirs also was.”  II Timothy 3:1-9 KJV

          Let me begin by saying that this sermon does not and will not have anything to do with nor will it in any way intentionally speak about the Mormon Church, which is officially known as The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. No, I am not talking about nor am I referring to “those” latter-day saints. But, of all the times that I had previously looked at this text, it wasn’t until I was browsing through this neighborhood of the scriptures the other day that I made, what was for me, an alarming discovery! You see, all the other times that I read this text and heard it preached and expounded upon, I just assumed that this was a listing of the character traits of people in general in the last days. I mean after all, when you go through this list, it looks pretty grim and hopeless, therefore I assumed that it must be describing people, who obviously know nothing about God! But, the other day, when I looked at this text more closely, I was shocked to discover that Paul was not describing how the people of the world would be in the last days! No! This is a description of the people who will claim to know God in the last days! This is a description of church folks in the last days! Hence, this is how I arrived at my subject, for this is a listing of the character traits of the latter-day saints! It’s right there in the text in verse 5! Paul said that they would have a form of godliness. In other words, they will go through the motions of having church! They will be in regular attendance at the Divine Order of Service and Bible Class. They will claim and proudly wear the name: Christian! But Paul says that although they will have a form of godliness, they will deny the power thereof. In other words, they will pray prayers without believing in the power of prayer! They will be hearers of the word but will not be doers of the word. They will go to church and even support the church, but they will deny the power and purpose of the church. That is why Paul said that the times would be perilous! In the last days, the majority of those who will claim to be Christian will be Christian in name only!

          Now, it is interesting to note that the Greek word that is the basis of the English word “perilous” is the same word that is used to describe the two men possessed with demons in Matthew 8:28. The word means, “dangerous, difficult the deal with.” In the last days, the times will be difficult to deal with and here’s the reason why! First, it will be difficult times because men will have misplaced affections. In this listing, the first two characteristics in verse 2 and the last two characteristics in verse 4 deal with what men will be loving. Jesus said of those days; “And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold.” Bobby Blue Bland said some years ago: “Ain’t no love in the heart of the city! Ain’t no love in the heart of town! Ain’t no love, and you know it’s a pity! Ain’t no love cause you ain’t around! Yes! The last days will be fierce, dangerous and perilous because even those who will claim to be Christians will have mis-placed affections.

          The first trait listed in the list of the characteristics of these latter-days saints is that they will be “self-lovers!” In the last days, there will be an obsessive preoccupation with the self! Although the greatest commandment is; to love LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might. The worship of the Holy Trinity: The Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost will be usurped with the worship of the unholy trinity of “Me, Myself and I!” In the last days, the affection and devotion due to God will be given to self. Therefore, “self” will be the “god” of those who will be lovers of self. Well, I think I ought to pause here and tell you that I believe the last days are upon us! Most of the problems that occur in the church today are rooted in selfishness! Everybody insists upon having their own way! Instead of praying and reasoning with one another for the good of the body, people try to tear up the church when they can’t get their own way! The root of most marital problems, problems in professional and personal relationships can be traced back to the domineering demands of self; the ego! That’s why the first requirement of true discipleship is the denial of self! When God is not properly worshiped, honored and given his rightful place in a person’s life, he is usually replaced with the self!

          Now, in the KJV, the second characteristic on the list is “covetous.” However, this is really an incorrect translation of the word Greek behind the text. The Greek word is “philarguros” which literally means “silver-lover.” This is not the same word that is normally used for “covetous.” One can actually be covetous without loving money, they do not mean the exact same thing. Friberg defines the term as, “having a greedy disposition loving money, wanting to be rich.” The term is found in the NT, only in this text and in Luke 16:14. The latter-day saints will be “lovers of themselves,” and “lovers of money!” All one has to do is just flick though the channels of so-called Christian television or browse through the bookshelves of any secular or for that matter, Christian bookstore today and one will find that “self-development, “self-realization,” “money,” “wealth,” “prosperity,” and “financial blessings” are the buzz words of the day! In the last days, the latter-day saints will be obsessed with pleasing themselves and obtaining money and material wealth!

          The next trait is that they will be “boasters.” The word literally means “empty pretender.” It is one whose mouth is bigger than his body. One who talks a big game, but is unable to back up his talk with supporting action. This is one who arrogantly presumes too much about himself. Akin to this is the next character trait. They will be proud with an overwhelming estimate of one’s means and merits, despising others or even treating them with contempt. Don’t you see this trait among the so called latter-day saints today? The spirit of humility is almost non-existent! Many church folks today are not bragging on Christ, but rather they are bragging on themselves! There are Pastors who are bragging about how many members they have and about how big their budgets and buildings are! However, while the emphasis is on building budgets and buildings, the ultimate calling of building people has been neglected and ignored! There is really no time and energy left to lift up Jesus because they are too busy lifting up themselves!

          Well, I’m just about to run out of time, so I guess I will have to break this sermon up into parts and try to finish the list the next time! So, let me close today with the blasphemers. Please note that according to the Bible, to blaspheme is not just speaking against God, but to blaspheme is to speak against God, Jesus, and the things and/or the people of God! So, when church folks talk slanderously about one another that’s actually blasphemy! How can you speak against of the people and/or things of God and not be guilty of speaking against God? The Lord has always identified himself with his own! The Bible says that the king shall say in that day: “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.”

          Well, I really need to leave you alone now, I’ll pick up here next time! But, you need to check yourself to see if you are one of these latter-day saints! As for me, I believe I’ll be like the song the old folks used to sing! Just give me that old time religion! It was good enough for the Hebrew children! It was good enough for old man Daniel! It was good enough for Paul and Silas! It was good enough for my mother and my father and it is good enough for me!

“The Latter-Day Saints” (part 2)  II Timothy 3:1-9 KJV 

          Again, I would like to say that this sermon is, in no way, meant to cast any kind of negative light upon The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, also known as the Mormons. No! We’re not talking about those latter-day saints! But, as we look at this text, we discover that Paul is not listing the characteristics of the world, but rather of people who will claim to be saved! People who will be associated with the church and will wear the label; Christian! People who will have a form of godliness but will deny the power thereof. So, with that being said, let’s continue with the list. 

          We left off last time in the middle of verse 2 with blasphemers, so let’s begin today with the next characteristic. The text says that these latter-day saints will be disobedient to parents. In ancient society, respect for parental authority was extremely important, disrespect and disobedience to parents was not tolerated. Listen to how disobedient children were handled according to the Law in ancient Israel, “If a man have a stubborn and rebellious son, which will not obey the voice of his father, or the voice of his mother, and that, when they have chastened him, will not hearken unto them: Then shall his father and his mother lay hold on him, and bring him out unto the elders of his city, and unto the gate of his place;  And they shall say unto the elders of his city, This our son is stubborn and rebellious, he will not obey our voice; he is a glutton, and a drunkard. And all the men of his city shall stone him with stones, that he die: so shalt thou put evil away from among you; and all Israel shall hear, and fear.” (Deut.  21:18-21 KJV). In ancient times, there was zero tolerance for parental disrespect and disobedience, but these latter-day saints will be continually non-compliant and rebellious to parental authority. The next characteristic is that they will be unthankful! They will be ungrateful, unpleasing and ungracious. No matter what they received they will never be thankful. Next, it says that they will be unholy. According to the Analytical Lexicon of the NT, this speaks of those who reject religious obligations, having no regard of duty to God or man. The Greek word used here is only used here and in I Tim. 1:9 in the NT. Hence, in context, the verse speaks of the time when those who are supposedly Christian will make no distinction between that which is holy and that which is not. They will make no separation of holy things and will treat holy thing as common. Then the text says that they will be without natural affection. The NASB says that they will be unloving, the NRSV says that they will be inhuman. According to Louw-Nida, this word pertains to a lack of love and affection for close associates or family. They will be without family love! For the latter-days saints, blood will not be thicker than water! The KJV translation of the next term is really a bad translation. The word truce-breaker means one who makes a treaty and then breaks it. But the Greek term that is behind this translation denotes not those who make a truce or treaty and then break it, but rather those who refuse to make a treaty period! The modern translations render it as, irreconcilable, unforgiving, implacable. The Greek word literally means, “without libation or drink offering.” Hence, it is indicative of one who is strictly unwilling to make a treaty, hence irreconcilable and unforgiving. The absolutely irreconcilable person, who, being at war, refuses to lay aside his enmity or to listen to terms of reconciliation. This person is unwilling to be at peace with others. The latter-day saints will be false accusers or slanderers! The root of the Greek word is the same as the term for the devil. The term is used to describe those who are given to malicious gossip. They will be incontinent, which means they will be without self-control, lacking in moral restraint. They will be fierce, untamed, not gentle, brutal and salvage. And then they will be despisers of those that are good. Not only will they not want to do right, but they will hate those who will want to do right! I’m talking about the latter-days saints! They will be traitors, meaning they will deliver without justification a person into the control of someone else. They will be betrayers and will abandon in times of danger. They will be heady, which means that they will be rash, reckless and thoughtless. They will be high-minded, which means that they will be conceited, thinking of themselves more highly than they ought. And then the text says they will be lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God. Their main pursuit will be entertainment and relaxation, things that comfort and pleases the flesh, to the neglectful detriment of the spiritual and the things of God. The Louw-Nida Lexicon renders the definition as, “pertaining to being fond of pleasure and enjoyment – given over to pleasure.”  

          At this point in the text, the main list of the characteristics concludes. Note that the list began with the characteristic of being lovers of themselves and lovers of money and ends with the characteristic of them being lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God! Yes! The main problem with the latter-days saints will be that of misplaced affection! They will have a love for self, money and pleasures but have no love for family, others or God! Now, all the while they are doing this, Paul says that they will have a form of godliness! In other words, they will not quit coming to church! They will not stop offering up praises to God! They will go through the motions and the rituals of godliness. They will have a form of godliness, but it will just be a show! They will perform the rituals of the faith, but they will deny the power of the faith. Now, Paul warns Timothy to disassociate, to turn away, avoid, having nothing to do with such people. Those who are sincere are to withdraw themselves, as much as possible, from those who are hypocrites! 

          Now, I’m not going to deal with verses 6 and 8 because I really need to finish this today! So, let me comment on verse 7 and then I will conclude with verse 9. In reference to the women mentioned in verse 6, Paul describes them as, “Ever learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.” I believe that this is a description of the latter-day saints also! The latter-days saints will run from conference to conference, from workshop to workshop, from church to church, from this class to that class, always learning.  But, because they will be determined to remain in their sins, they will not be able to come to a full, saving, knowledge of the truth. People often erroneous apply John 8:32 which says, “And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” But when you really look at that verse, the very first word is “And.” That means that it is connected and predicated on what precedes it. The quote is only part of what Jesus said. The whole of what Jesus said is this, he said: “If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed; And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” You can only be free unless the truth makes you free! The truth will only make you free if you know the truth! And you will only know the truth if you continue (remain, abide and dwell) in his word, thereby proving yourself to really be his disciple! 

          Paul concludes by saying that these latter-days saints will only go so far because their folly will be exposed for all to see! It will not be difficult to tell who is saved and who is not because the Bible says that a tree is known by the fruit it bears! Jesus said, “By their fruits ye shall know them!” Now, we don’t need to know them for the sake of judging them, we need to know them for the sake of knowing the real from the fake, the sheep from the wolves, the real saints from the latter-day saints!

Inadequate Representation

Lately, I have notice a particularly distasteful condemnation of God, Jesus, Christianity, and the people of God by those who would claim to have a more “enlightened” knowledge of how life really works. I think part of the problem is that many of these people are judging God, Jesus, and Christianity based on how the proponents or adherents of God, Jesus, and Christianity act and live. And to be honest about it; if all I had to go by was the way some people who claim to be Christians represent God, Jesus, and Christianity, I would be disillusioned and disgusted also! For you see, although many of these people say they are rejecting God, Jesus, and Christianity, what they are really rejecting is the inadequate representation of God, Jesus, and Christianity. And the sad thing about that is that their rejection of the inadequate representation will cause them to reject the opportunity to truly know God for themselves!

Now of course, this is nothing new! God has always had a problem with inadequate representation. And many times, it was and is not just a case of inadequate representation, but more so, one of false and unauthorized representation! There are and have always been people who claim to represent God who don’t even know God! They use the name of God for their own selfish ends! And then, there are those who truly know God, but because of human imperfections, they often fail to adequately represent God in a correct and positive fashion. The Apostle Paul cites Isaiah 52:5 in the Book of Romans, saying: “For, as it is written, “The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you” (Romans 2:24 ESV).  Those of us who are Christians must constantly be aware that our life and interaction with the world is more about the God we represent than about us! We serve as ambassadors for Christ and the Kingdom of God in this world. In the world of diplomacy and diplomatic relations, an ambassador never states his or her own personal opinions or views in an official capacity. As an ambassador, an ambassador only states the official position of the government he or she represents. Much of the confusion that is going on today is because too many Christians are stating their own personal opinions instead of the official position of the Government they are supposed to be representing!

There are many Christians who seemed to be embarrassed by the seemingly antiquated standards in the Bible. They suggest a more relaxed interpretation of the strict moral codes set forth in view of the current cultural climate. Some critics of the Bible even say that it is utterly ridiculous for modern man to be governed by principles from an ancient document! I find that argument a little humorous since many of those same critics have no issue with being governed by another old document called the United States Constitution and many of laws and ideas found in the Constitution came from the Bible!

But at any rate, I just want to say to those who are judging God by His children: “Just because some of His children act bad, that doesn’t mean He’s bad! In fact, some of the ones who are claiming to be His children are not His children at all!” And to those who are really His children: “Be more conscious of the fact that you are representing Him! All you do and say is a reflection upon Him! Don’t be like the people the Apostle Paul wrote about! Don’t be the reason the name of God is blasphemed (spoken ill of and cursed) among unbelievers in the world!”