Now, in a mature mind both are important. And we start out with the concrete. Little kids think in concrete terms. When they grow and mature, they should start developing the ability to think and reason in the abstract. Little kids think in terms of my dog, Spot. They don’t think in terms of dogs in general, or being dog-like. They get to that. They grow into that. And a little child, or an immature mind, has difficulty grasping what is not physical, tangible, practical and immediate. When you live in the world of the concrete, it has to be physical and tangible. It has to be practical. It has to be immediate.
Now children, as they grow and as they go through their teenage years, develop the capacity – or they should develop the capacity – to begin to not only think in abstract terms, but have abstract concepts be part of their reasoning process. In other words, when they are doing problem-solving, they can go beyond the immediate, concrete, physical and think in terms of foresight, planning. They can reason and use judgment. They can have insight. And it’s interesting…sometimes someone, who has matured in their mind and developed those qualities, can suffer a brain injury in an accident, and they lose some, or much, of their capacity – even though they are an adult, they lose much of their capacity – to think in abstract terms. They go back to the concrete. A lot of therapy helps them regain the capacity to think in abstract terms.
If a person has lost their ability to think in the abstract, they don’t have the same level of foresight. Their judgment is impaired. Oftentimes they act impulsively without forethought or thinking about the consequences. Their creativity, their problem-solving, their mental flexibility – all these things – are reduced. And a lot of that is the difference – if you think about it – between a little child and a mature adult. Little kids don’t think about the consequences of their actions. They don’t have the ability to use foresight. Their judgment, we think, is immature. They can see something, but not have the same level of insight that a mature mind has. And it’s not either/or. We use thinking in the concrete and we use thinking in the abstract as a mature individual. But you don’t get it overnight. Little kids have to grow. And it’s a progression. It’s a series of steps in understanding. And even education is designed to kind of help them start thinking that way. They give them props and support and things that encourage that type of thinking, and then they begin to take away those props so the person learns. They integrate that way of thinking into their minds.
Question: How do you think about the Feast of Tabernacles. In concrete terms? Think about it. When you think about the Feast, what comes to mind? Food. Friends. Family. Fun. Those are what? Very concrete things, right? You can see them. You can touch them. They occupy space. They’re very real. They’re very immediate. The abstract: well, it’s the Kingdom of God. The millennial reign of Jesus Christ on the earth. World peace. Now think about that. What’s concrete? What’s abstract?
In very real terms, because the Kingdom of God, in it’s fulfillment, is not here…. You know, the disciples said, “Is this the time you’re going to bring the kingdom?” They asked Jesus that several times. One time they were going to make Jesus the king – not the immediate twelve, but the all of the throng of people – and He had to withdraw Himself. It wasn’t the right time.
When we think about the differences between the concrete and the abstract, then we realize that candidly – I mean, let’s be candid – a lot of what we talk about with the Kingdom of God is future. It’s big. It’s broad. It’s abstract.
Now, it’s interesting what motivates us as people. Does the abstract motivate as well as the concrete? Years ago they did a study – in fact, it was long-term and wide-ranging study – a longitudinal study over time – of a group of kids that they offered a marshmallow immediately – some treat – or, if they waited a certain amount of time – they would get more marshmallows than just one. Now think about this. Those, whose thinking was locked into the concrete, could not see a future benefit from withholding gratification, so they “glommed down” that marshmallow – or whatever the treat was. Another group, though, waited the prescribed amount of time – and whatever the circumstances were in the experiement – and they got more treats. And they followed those people through the years. Interestingly, those kids that, even at a very early age, had some inclination towards more abstract concepts, manifested more mature behaviors throughout their lives. You see, when you think about it – and again, being candid – what is more motivating? The marshmallow now? Or the long-term payback? The fact is, concrete rewards are very motivating. Let me give you an example.
We were talking about some of these differences – you know, one and justice and lawlessness. If we’re talking about lawlessness – oh, lawlessness is on the increase; oh, lawlessness is terrible – and you’re sitting there nodding your head and, “Oh yeah, that’s terrible,” and you look out the window – and you can’t see it here, but if you had a window over there in the parking lot – and you happen to see somebody come up to the side of your car with one of these jimmy-sticks and jimmy the lock…. From the perspective of motivating your immediate behavior, which would be more motivating? Hearing some discussion about lawlessness? Or seeing somebody trying to steal your car? You’d jump up out of your seat, you’d run up to the window, go out the door, scream at the person, dial 911, because it’s your car they’re stealing! Concrete can be very motivating.
Another example. We’re talking about anger, and anger control, and how you need to be more mature with your anger versus somebody getting right in your face, yelling at you and threatening you. Now which excites our personal emotions, which kick in the adrenal glands – which make us either want to fight or flee – the old fight or flight? It’s the concrete. The abstract is absolutely useful – it’s important – but it’s not as motivating as doing something right now. True?
So, the Kingdom of God. Is it abstract? Or is it concrete in our lives? So you say, “Well, wait a minute, Guy. The Kingdom of God is in the future.” True. “Jesus hasn’t returned yet.” True. “You haven’t been resurrected yet.” True. “And so there’s no reason to act in a concrete manner with regard to the Kingdom of God today.” Or is there?
Do you know how many people suffer from a severe case of being demotivated when it comes to their faith? Do you know how many people – what a large percentage of people who profess a faith in Jesus Christ – have their faith for a couple of hours a week? And I’m not just talking about people who worship on one day versus the other. You know, having our faith as a vital, motivating part of our lives…. If God, if the Feast, if the kingdom, if all these things are really abstract to us, and there’s nothing concrete – or very little concrete – I would be very comfortable placing a wager – being in the gambling capital right around here (although I won’t do it) – that the people who think about God, about their faith, about the kingdom, about the Feast in the abstract, and have nothing concrete, suffer from very poor motivation.
The good news is the Kingdom of God is not intended to be some abstract concept. God and Jesus intended for it to be real in your life and in my life today. You know, Jesus did say this in John 18, and verse 36. He said:
Jn. 18:36 – My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, My servants would fight to prevent My arrest by the Jews. But now My kingdom is from another place.
We need to acknowledge there are aspects of the kingdom that we’re foreshadowing – that we’re looking forward to. But we can also not feel guilty that some of those things that we’re looking forward to – you know, the beating of the swords into plowshares, and not learning to make the implements of war and all these things – that those things may not as motivating today as they will be when they become a reality.
Have you ever heard somebody talk about something in the future, and they’re so excited about it, they’re so motivated about it, and you look at yourself, and you say to yourself, “Well, I don’t really care that much. I mean, it’s nice, but….” and feel guilty? You know, what God has given us to do right now for the kingdom is some pretty neat stuff. We’ll get into it in just a moment. If the Kingdom of God – what this feast foreshadows – the return of Jesus Christ – if these things are not motivating to you right now, it is healthy to accept that – acknowledge it – not sweep it under the carpet – not say, “Oh, I really am that way” when we’re not. But now let’s look at how the Kingdom of God can be real in concrete terms with us today.
First, I want to ask three questions. Number one. When John the Baptist, Jesus, the seventy, Philip, the apostles…. You know, when we read about the Bible accounts, and they go out and they proclaimed the Kingdom of God, there were immediate results. People repented. Thousands of people repented at their preaching. First question: Why don’t people respond like that today?
Second question: If the Kingdom of God does not motivate us today – or motivate us in the way that we think it should – is there something lacking in our understanding that needs to change? In other words, is there something that we thought, that we have acted on, that we have believed, that needs to change? Is the Kingdom of God so abstract that it does not connect with us in any meaningful and concrete way today?
Number three: If we are truly going to be kings and priests in the Kingdom of God – is that a concrete or an abstract idea…? What do you know about being a king? What do you know about being a priest? Chances are, for us today, it’s a highly abstract concept. It’s future oriented. It’s not something that we can look at and we can touch and feel today. Now, you could put a little crown on, or something like that, but it’s not quite the same thing. So, if this concept of becoming a king and a priest in the Kingdom of God – this highly abstract concept – if it is what we’re going to be, would God the Father and Jesus leave us with little or no opportunity to learn and practice being a king and a priest today? Now, if the answer is yes, hey, we’re all off the hook. Let’s have fun, family and all this stuff and not worry about the Kingdom of God in our lives today. I think the answer is that God does give us an opportunity. And if we lack motivation about the Kingdom of God, it’s a good chance that we’re not capitalizing on those opportunities. We’re not seizing those opportunities. We’re not acting in those ways.
You know, God, I don’t think, intended for us to be perennially preparing and never doing, never leading. You know, we can learn about abstract concepts of leadership, but if you never lead, you never gain understanding – not in the same way. I don’t think God intended to let just a few people figure out all these things, and the rest of us just sit there and – as Martin Luther said – pray, pay and obey.
Now there are some – in the contingent of Christians – that look forward to the Kingdom of God that have kind of a Harry Potter – kind of a magic wand approach – to how the Kingdom of God is going to happen. Jesus returns, there’s this monumental battle, Satan is grabbed by that tail and thrown into this abyss, Jesus waves this wand and tells everybody, “Here’s the law of God! Now do it! And everything’s good. First of all, Zechariah 14 seems to say something different. Zechariah 14 – at the end of the chapter – talks about what’s going to happen if the Egyptians don’t go up and keep the Feast of Tabernacles. They’re going to have this drought, bad things are going to happen to them. And I don’t think Zechariah was given that understanding without the likelihood of something like that happening. By the way, if just telling people what they need to do in order to be good Christians – good people, mature adults – if just telling them works, how’s that working for you? How’s that working for your kids? I mean, if you just tell them once and that’s all they need, we’d all be perfect. It doesn’t work that way.
Now, if the Kingdom of God was concrete to us, if there was some aspect of the Kingdom of God that was real, tangible, immediate, today, would it change our motivation. Is there something that Jesus gave us to do that would bring the kingdom home – that would make it real?
I want to go through four passages and then a fifth at the end. There are four passages of scripture that give some insight into this. The first is in Luke, chapter 16. My mama must have read this chapter, because she always used to tell me about this. In Luke, chapter 16, it says:
Lk. 16:10 – Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with very much.
Now guess where my mom was coming from when she told me this – not that I have ever used this with my children. If you’re trustworthy in a little, then you can be trusted with much! If you’re dishonest with very little, you’ll also be dishonest with much.
V-11 – So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches? And if you have not been trustworthy with someone else’s property, who will give you property of your own?
Now, everybody’s heard this principle, right? If you haven’t, you just heard it, therefore you should know and act on it and everything will be fine from now on. If you’re faithful in little, you’ll be faithful in much. If you’re dishonest in a little, you’ll be dishonest in much. What is that saying? Doesn’t say that God is using concrete experiences to build for a future that is to us, today, abstract? Is that kind of the principle? God uses concrete things – practical, tangible, physical. He gives us those experiences now, because He knows that they will prepare us, they will engage us, they will help us to develop an insight, a foresight, a good sense of judgment. They’ll prepare us for something that He has that is bigger and greater in the future. Remember the parable of the pounds and the talents? They get a few things and then they make a lot out of it. They get one, now you have ten, then they get ten cities. This concept of God using the concrete to prepare us for something today is very abstract.
Next scripture: Mark, chapter 1, and verse 38:
Mk. 1:38 – Jesus replied, “Let us go somewhere else – to the nearby villages – so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.” And so He travelled throughout Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and driving out demons. A man with leprosy came to Him and begged Him on his knees – just think about this; this man with leprosy gets down on his knees and he begs Jesus – and he says, “If you are willing, you can make me clean.” Filled with compassion, Jesus reached out His hand and touched the man. And He said, “I am willing. Be clean.” And immediately the leprosy left him and he was cured.
What do we get from this? Think about this. Jesus had compassion for people in need. Now, which comes first? The chicken or the egg? We have a chicken over here? Do I have any eggs? Which comes first? The chicken or the egg? Which comes first? Having compassion for someone in need or meeting the needs of someone in need developing compassion in us? Or do they both kind of feed, in a positive way, off of each other?
Now, what man can say that he has the love of God if he see his brother destitute and says, “Be warmed and filled.” Think about this. Compassion for those in need was typical behavior with Jesus.
Next scripture. Luke, chapter 7, verse 20.
Lk. 7:20 – And when the men were come unto Him, they said, “John the Baptist has sent us unto you, saying, ‘Are you He that should come, or look we for another?’”
Now, you remember, Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist. They were kin, if you will. They grew up, probably, knowing each other. But when it came time, John the Baptist went first preparing the way for the Lord. He preached the Kingdom of God. He preached repentance. And finally Jesus came to him and was baptized. But before Jesus was baptized, John said, “No, no, no, no. I should be baptized by you!” And Jesus said, “No, let’s do it this way.” This is the right thing to do. After John was taken into prison, I don’t know what he heard – I don’t know what rumors he heard – but for some reason, he sent some of his disciples to Jesus, and asked Jesus, “Are you really the Messiah?” He had some doubts. Something got to his mind. And Jesus had those disciples just stand there – maybe He let them sit down – I don’t know – but He had them “cool their heels” and watch. And in the time that they were watching, it says this happened.
V-21 – And in that same hour He cured many of their infirmities and plagues, and of evil spirits, and unto many that were blind He gave sight. Then Jesus answering said unto them, “Go your way and tell John what things you have seen and heard – how that the blind see, and the lame walk, and the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and to the poor the gospel is preached. And blessed is he, whosoever shall not be offended in Me.
Then Jesus went on and talked about John. And talked about John as being someone who had such a wonderful gift – what a wonderful contribution he was making – how he was greater than so many, but one of the least in the kingdom would be greater than John.
Now think about this. To John the Baptist, the proof that Jesus offered that He was the King in the Kingdom of God was what? What was the proof He offered to John the Baptist? Now we know there was another proof offered to others, which was the three days and the three nights in the tomb. But to John the Baptist, what was the proof that He gave to John, saying that, “Yes, I am the King?” The blind saw, the lame walked, lepers were cleansed, the deaf heard, the dead were raised and the gospel was preached to the poor. How Jesus treated those in need, Jesus felt, was proof enough that He was the King.
Isaiah 58, and verse 6. The first part of Isaiah 58 talks about people who claim to be religious, but with whom God has no relationship. Isn’t that true today? Aren’t there a lot of people who claim to be religious – who talk in religious terms – but with whom God the Father and Jesus the Christ have no relationship. They’re pretending – they’re play-acting – about their faith. And in Isaiah 58 – the first five verses – it talks about people who are like that. They fast and God doesn’t hear them. Then God told Isaiah – and Isaiah recorded this:
Isa. 58:6 – Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen? To loose the chains of injustice, and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry, and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter, and when you see the naked to clothe him, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
Let’s step back a minute. How abstract is this? This is pretty concrete, isn’t it? When somebody is hungry, you meet the need. When somebody is naked, you meet the need. When someone is oppressed, you meet the need. When someone is in bondage, you meet the need. How concrete is that? It is a very low level of abstraction here. This is very practical, very tangible, very immediate. This is very concrete behavior.
V-8 – Then – the next verse says, If you do this… – then your lights will break forth like the dawn and your healing will quickly appear. Remember we were talking about which came first? The chicken or the egg? Which came first? The compassion? Right? I wonder how much of that really is tied together. And the more we do the acts of compassion, like Jesus did…. We say, “Wait a minute. I can’t heal. I can’t raise the dead. I can’t make the blind see.” Well, if you can, good. If you can’t – not everybody has those gifts – what did Jesus tell you you could do? What did God the Father tell you you could do? Well, right here. It’s an if/then. You computer programmers – you know, if/then elfs. If you do this, then this will happen. If you are authentic in your behaviors toward people in need – just like Jesus did – then, it says, your light will break forth like the dawn and your healing – we need healing – will quickly appear, then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the LORD will be your rearguard. Your rearguard is the guy who’s got your back. If God has your back, how cool is that?
V-9 – Then – another “then” – you will call and the LORD will answer. This is exactly the opposite of what they were doing in the first five verses – you know, “We fast and we do all this stuff and You don’t hear us.” Well, He says, “You’re not doing the concrete things that I intended for you to do.” Then you will call and the LORD will answer. You will cry for help, and He will say, “Here am I.” If you do away with the yoke of oppression…. We shouldn’t oppress others. And should we help those who are oppressed? If you do away with the yoke of oppression, and with the pointing finger and malicious talk, and – this one really gets me – this next verse – and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed…. I’m here to tell you, for decades I have been a donor. I have been a donor to the needs of others. Spending myself is an entirely different concept. It has taken me to places that I never ventured before. It’s a much better way. If you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry – just think about what is rolled up in that sentence right there – spending yourself in behalf of people in need – and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness and your night will become like the noonday. The LORD will guide you always. He will satisfy your needs in the sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden – like a spring whose waters never fail. Now, does God love people? Does God want to support people? Does God empower people who share the same values, the same vision, the same viewpoint that He has? This is His viewpoint. And if we share that viewpoint, He is right there with us – right behind us. Then it says:
V-12 – Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins and will raise up the age-old foundations. You will be called repairer of broken walls, restorer of streets and dwellings. What a great thing to be said of us. But it only happens when we leave the abstract – not forever, but we leave the abstract – and focus appropriately on the concrete. It’s not that we don’t want the abstract, but the abstract, without the concrete – the words without the actions, the faith without the works – is dead.
So there are practical things we can do, even if we can’t heal the sick, or give sight to the blind or raise the dead. We can feed the hungry. We can spend ourselves on behalf of the hungry and those in need. We can clothe the naked. We can free the oppressed. It’s good when we’re not contributing to the wickedness of others. It’s even better when we’re compassionate to the poor.
In Isaiah, chapter 61 – this is actually quoted by Jesus in Luke 4 – and I mention this often, because I think one of the great problems that the Churches of God have is we don’t know what our purpose is…. We really don’t grasp it. We have such an abstract concept of what our purpose is that we’ve lacked the concrete steps to get us where Jesus is leading us. These are the words that Jesus quoted when He came back to His synagogue in Luke, chapter 4, and verse 16. And when He came back home – to His home synagogue, this is what He said about His mission. He said:
Isa. 61:1 – The Spirit of the sovereign LORD is on me. Remember in Luke 4:17, He unrolled the scroll to the place where this is said? It says: The Spirit of the sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. Here’s the poor coming up again. Remember when John the Baptist sent those disciples to find out if Jesus really was the one? What were those things? The blind see, the lame walk and the gospel is preached to the poor.
Now let’s just take a second. I have preached in a lot of places to a lot of different people. I have visited I don’t know how many hundreds of people in their homes. To the well-to-do – to the people who have money – it’s like – for them to realize what true faith is about – is sometimes like breaking through this huge brick wall. Having spent more time recently, working with the poor, they know. They are so much more open, because they can’t hide behind this false facade of wealth. They live in a much more rough, rotten and wicked world. I grew up in a pretty okay community. I purposely put my family in safe communities with good schools. I don’t regret that. But what I didn’t do enough of was cross the borders. I didn’t do nearly enough of that. Jesus went to the poor. Now that doesn’t mean He didn’t talk to the rich, He didn’t talk to the wealthy, but He went to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives, and to release from darkness the prisoners – this is Isaiah 58 again – and to provide for those who grieve in Zion.
Then it goes on in verse 4:
V-4 – They will rebuild the ancient ruins and restore the places long devastated. They will renew the ruined cities that have been devastated for generations. Aliens will shepherd your flocks. Foreigners will work your fields and vineyards.
Then it says this:
V-6 – And you will be called priests of the LORD, and you will be named ministers of our God. You will feed on the wealth of nations and in their riches you will boast.
You know, if Jesus did it – and it seemed to work pretty well for Him – and, if in the future we’re going to do it – you know, look out for the poor, bind up the brokenhearted, give freedom to the captives, relieve the oppressed – if Jesus did it and, in the Kingdom of God we’re going to do it, is there something that says we shouldn’t be doing it now? Or is what God is saying – that He has given us a very concrete path of physical, tangible, immediate things that we can be doing that will engage us in such a way that we will learn what it means to be compassionate? We will learn what it means to be a leader? We will learn what it means to relieve the oppressed?
Remember, Jesus talked about using little things – being faithful in little things now – as a means by which He could develop in us the understanding, the wisdom, the foresight – really, the capability for mature, abstract thinking – He could develop those things in us with little practical things now that will enable us to do things in the future – to do things the way that God would do them and to share the values that God has.
One final thought. How many of you have given – and you don’t have to raise your hand – it’s a rhetorical question – but how many of you, in the last six months, or in the last year, haved shared your faith with someone else? How many of you have shared your faith with two someone elses? Or five someone elses? Now I’ll guarantee you two years ago, four years ago, my number would have been really small. I’m not talking about preaching in front of people who are already believers. I’m talking about people that aren’t believers. And why is that? Well, my family, my friends, my congregation, a good number of the people that I employ are believers. My circle is filled with believers. My friends on Facebook are believers. For the first time ever, when I woke up in the middle of the night, because my wife woke up…. For those of you who aren’t on Facebook, this is really abstract – forgive me – but for those of you who are, you know how the little chat thing…there’s always people there. Well, the other night, there was none. It was because it was a holy day. Nobody was there. I said, “Jennifer, look over here. That’s my circle of friends, you see. All my friends that would be on Facebook…they’re all gone to the Feast…and they haven’t found their wireless connection in their new house yet.”
Let me just share something with you. Since we – in Common Ground Christian Ministries – in our congregation in Indianapolis – since we have started connecting with a very poor neighborhood – and we’re doing a lot in that neighborhood – let me tell you some things that have happened. A couple of weeks ago, we had – and our little group is about a dozen – we had thirty people from this neighborhood – most of them kids – sitting down and listening to stories about the Bible, because they haven’t heard stories about the Bible. They’re ignorant about it. Three of our ladies have kind of pioneered this – we all support it; we’re all there to help out, but three of them have really pioneered this – and we had thirty kids – I should say, kids and adults – there were about twenty-six kids and four adults – sitting there for a couple of hours, listening and participating and doing everything with us. How cool is that? Do you know what started it? We went into a poor community.
We’ve got people now…some of my better friends are now ex-addicts, ex-drug dealers (I hope their ex…they are)…. And I’m awfully good friends with some who are not ex-addicts. I can walk down the street, and they come over, and they shake my hand. They say, “Hi” to me. I could never have preached to the poor unless I had gotten the poor’s attention.
Now, how do you get the attention of a poor person? I’ll guarantee you this works. You take money – guarantee you that that works. I just don’t have a whole lot of money. But we’ve used a little bit. And it does get their attention. But just throwing money at them…that’s not the kind of connection that I’m talking about. It’s working along side of them. It’s meeting their needs. That’s what connects! And when we meet their needs in an authentic, legitimate way, it draws them to us and it causes them – and I have been asked this question – to ask, “Why do you act the way you do? Why do you do this? Why are you different?”
I spoke to a thousand prisoners a little over a month ago. There was a connection made because of the work we’re doing in the poor neighborhood.
I just want to close with this concept. The Feast of Tabernacles – and I think, sometimes, God uses the abstract to help us have a foretaste, a vision, a sense of what our overall purpose is – gives us continuity with what we’re doing now and it’s going to lead to something even better. But let’s not omit the things that we should be doing, could be doing, that are concrete and practical. Jesus got the attention of people when He walked into a town and they knew that a healer was there. They went to get their physical need addressed. And Jesus did that, and did that, and did that, and did that and He preached to them.
So, if we want concrete things in our lives to motivate us, if you want to wake up and feel good about the day, if you want to have a sense of purpose and a drive and a determination – like Bill was mentioning the other night – if you want to have something that is invigorating – work that fills you with energy, versus work that saps your energy – I just want you to stop and look at what Jesus did, look at what the apostles did, look at what God tells us in Isaiah to do, and then think about what we can do concretely today in small ways that can help us be prepared to do big things in the future.