Father, we are truly grateful for Your goodness, and Your mercy, and Your love. We thank You for, just, another wonderful day to be alive. We’re truly grateful for our families and our friends, and, just, the opportunity to come together. I ask now that You would really speak into each of our lives. Father, you know what our issues are. You know what we struggle with. You know where we are in this life. And, I just pray that You might use this message in each person’s life, to Your honor, and to Your glory. In Christ’s name. Amen.
This morning, I want to share with you, to begin our time together, an illustration from Steven Covey’s book, The Seven Habits. You may be familiar with it, and from all I can discern, it is a true story. “Two battleships assigned to the training squadron had been at sea on many maneuvers, in heavy weather, for several days. I was serving on the lead battleship, and was on watch on the bridge, as night fell. The visibility was poor, with patchy fog. So, the captain remained on the bridge, keeping around all activities. Shortly after dark, he looked on the wing of the bridge, and reported light, baring on the starboard bow. “Is it steady, or moving astern?”, the captain called out. The lookout replied, “Steady, Captain,” which meant we were on a dangerous collision course with that ship. The captain then called to the signalman, “Signal that ship! We’re on a collision course! Advise you to change course 20 degrees.” Back came a signal, “Advisable for you to change course 20 degrees.” The captain said, “Send this message. ‘I’m a captain. Change course 20 degrees.” “I’m a seaman second-class,” came the reply. “You had better change course 20 degrees.” By that time, the captain was furious. He spat out, “Send him, ‘I am a battleship. Change course 20 degrees.” Back came the flashing light, “I am a lighthouse.” And, we changed course.
You know, Covey uses this illustration to point out that there are certain, natural, and fundamental laws, or principals of life, that are woven into the fabric of every society throughout history. And, it’s important to note, that these principals are not necessarily good or bad. They’re not moral. They are simply true. And, these principals govern life, and they make life predictable. They create the potential for predictable outcomes, and they give life order. Again, listen to what Covey says. He says, “Principals apply at all time and all places. They surface in the form of values, ideas, norms, and teachings, that uplift, ennoble, fulfill, empower, and inspire people. The lesson of history is that to the degree that people and civilizations have operated in harmony with correct principals, they have prospered. At the root of societal declines are foolish practices that represent violations of correct principals. You cannot violate these fundamental principals with impunity. Whether we believe them or not, they have proven effective throughout centuries of human history.”
Now, this morning, I want to share with you a fundamental law or principle of life, that is very simple. But, when you take it, and in essence, you combine it with the principal of the path, which I shared exactly a year ago. If you take these two messages together, you will realize that this is what ultimately determines the outcome of your life. My wife, last year, went through a year-long course through a ministry, called Elijah House, here in Birmingham. You may be familiar with it. It’s become quite well-known in our city. And, from what I understand, it’s a prayer and counseling ministry and helps people deal with, and heal from, the painful struggles of their life. And, it’s a very powerful and effective ministry. But I share this because the foundation of all their teaching, and their understanding of people’s problems, and people’s lives, are built into this principle, or law, that I’m going to share with you this morning.
And, to lay this out for you, I’m going to read you another story. A true story. At 18 years of age, Jane Lacretia D’estaires was talented and beautiful. As she stood on the bank of a beautiful deep lake in Scotland, she pondered plunging into the depths and taking her life. She had lost all hope. The year was 1815, and her husband John had just been killed in a duel. He left her penniless, in a new country, completely by herself, with two babies to care for. Her family was in France, and she was without any kind of support: emotional, spiritual, or financial. As she gazed into the depths of the lake and pondered the pain and brokenness of her life, she looked up and saw a young man on the other side of the lake, plowing furrows on the hillside. He was completely focused on his work. He was not aware of her gaze as he gathered the plow behind the horse with a single-minded purpose. In her moment of despair, she was so impressed with the young plowman’s focus and concentration on doing his work well, that his example in concentration pulled her out of her despair. Suddenly, she was infused with hope. She was also given a timely dose of wisdom. She knew what she was supposed to do. She needed to move straight-ahead, as the young plowman was doing. She, too, had a meaningful task to fulfill. Her children needed her. They had lost one parent already. They didn’t need to experience the loss of another. When she looked at the young man’s example, she was given wisdom. Or, to put it another way, she was given a wise heart. And when her heart became wise, it then became brave to do the right and hard thing. A few weeks after this experience at the lake, Jane came to faith in Jesus Christ. A few years later, she married Captain John Grattan Guinness, who was the youngest son of the famous brewer Arthur Guinness.
The prominent Christian author Os Guinness is the great-great-grandson of Jane D’estaires, and he makes this observation about his great-great-grandmother. He says, “If it had not been for the plowman, the tragedy of the dueling husband would have been followed by the tragedy of the duelist’s widow. My great-great-grandmother was unusual, for several reasons, including the fact that she contentiously prayed for her descendants, down through a dozen generations. Ours is a heritage of faith, which I, for one, am extremely grateful. When 18-year-old Jane was gazing in the deep dark depths of the lake, and pondering death, she couldn’t see five generations ahead, and see Os Guinness, or any of her other descendants. All she could see was that her life was finished. But it wasn’t finished. By looking at a purposeful young man plowing on a hill, she realized there was hope. She could take the path of the lake, or she could take the life of moving ahead, in spite of her mind-numbing emotional pain. She had no idea that Christ would call her to forgiveness and purpose, in just a matter of weeks. She couldn’t imagine that she would have had another husband, who would love her and her children. And, all she knew at that moment was that she could choose death or life. She had a choice to make, and that choice would carry incredible consequences.
You know, over the course of our lives, guys, we all make decisions and choices. And, the quality of those decisions and choices will determine the ultimate outcome of our lives, and, maybe, the lives of our descendants as well. I don’t think we think that way often. You’ve probably heard it said, and I believe it’s true, that your life today is nothing more than the sum of the decisions and choices you have made over the course of your lifetime, which leads me to what I want to share this morning.
You’ve probably heard this before. But I want to, kind of, go deep into it. It’s from the Book of Galatians. It’s Chapter 6:7-9. “Do not be deceived. God is not mocked, for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will, from the flesh, reap corruption. But the one who sows to the Spirit, will from the Spirit reap eternal life. Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time, we will reap if we do not grow weary.”
C.S. Lewis says that one of the problems with modern people is that “We seek to subdue reality to the wishes of our souls.” In other words, what he’s saying is, we look for ways to make life work in accordance with what we want. And, we do this often in defiance of God’s principals. You see, the problem is, guys, is that God’s laws and His principals are set into concrete. They govern life. You can’t change them. It’s impossible to break them. We can only break ourselves when we try to defy them. We reap what we sow. And, yet, I see so many men who’ve made terrible decisions, and it really messed up their lives. And, often, they come to me looking for a quick solution to help them avoid the consequences they’re facing. “Can you get me out of this?” I think, sometimes, this is why people go to counseling. They’ve made a mess of their lives. They go see a counselor, and they expect, in 30 minutes, to have an easy solution, so they can suspend the laws of sowing and reaping.
I read where a nationally-known therapist said she sees more than anything else in her practice, people coming to her, sharing with her, all these things they shouldn’t have done. And, they’re looking for ways to avoid the consequences that they knew were out there, but they were hoping would not happen. She says, “After 20 years of counseling, I can tell you that the main thrust of too many lives is an overemphasis on feeling good instead of doing good. We do wrong because, in our inner battle, morality is lost to immediate self-interest. The reward for that is a moment’s thrill and host of destructive consequences. Yet, people make that trade-off, and then complain bitterly about the price they have to pay.”
And, you see, Lewis saw this coming, that people would seek to solve their problems with easy techniques. I mean, I don’t know that he really saw all this coming the way it has actually come to pass. You can go into a Barnes and Noble bookstore and get a book that will tell you easy steps to accomplish anything in life you want to accomplish. Five Easy Steps to Straighten Out your Teenager. You think that there are easy steps to straighten out the life of a teenager? They would contend, yes. Or, Seven Easy Steps to Get Rid of All Your Debt in Just 12 Months. I mean, they’re all over the store! And, you hear them all the time.
I had a guy come and see me earlier this year. Truly, had made a multitude of bad decisions in his business life, his personal life. And, his life, truly, was in shambles. He asked me, “If I get my life with God together, will that keep my wife from divorcing me?” I said, “I don’t even know your wife! I don’t know how I can answer that.” But, do you see, he was trying to make a deal with God. He was saying, “If I do this for God, will He suspend the laws of sowing and reaping, and all the bad decisions I’ve made in my marriage?” I said, “No, I can’t guarantee you that.” I said, “That’s a step in the right direction.” And, you know what? It’s unfortunate. He never came back. He was looking for something real quick to solve his problems.
Before I really look closely at the principal back in Galatians 6, I want to make a couple of other quick comments. One of the most important lessons that I’m learning right now, as a parent, is that one of the worst things I can do in the development of my children is to suspend the laws of sowing and reaping in their lives. In other words, when our children make poor decisions and choices, we come along and just bail them out, so they don’t have to reap. As a parent, right now, with young children, it’s hard. Because, you love your kids. You see that they’ve made a bad decision, and you see they’re suffering, and you just want to bail them out because you love them. But if you’re not careful, you will truly sabotage their development. It’s the surest path to see your child become an immature, irresponsible adult. I’d also say that if this law is true, then we need to realize something that I’m not sure everybody grasps. In one sense, God is not, ultimately saying, “Follow my ways, or I’ll smack you.” In one sense, he’s saying, “If you don’t follow my ways, you’re going to smack yourself. You’re going to reap what you sow.” And, you see guys, so many of the decisions and choices we make are, incredibly, an assault on our own being. As Solomon says in Proverbs 8:36, “We injure ourselves so often.” In Jeremiah 44:4, God asked the Israelites, “Why are you doing such great harm to yourselves?” And, then I’m reminded of the literary genius, Oscar Wilde, his chilling words right before he died. “Terrible is what the world did to me, what I did to myself was far more terrible still.”
It is quite amazing to me that so many people don’t recognize that there is a divinely established moral and spiritual order. God tells us to love, to forgive, to be generous, to be kind. He speaks of sex inside of marriage. To be honest, to be truthful. Because, this is the pattern or fabric that governs human life and human relationships. And, to go against this, in once sense, is alien to our nature as God designed us. It’s alien to our souls, as God designed us. And, therefore, when we defy God’s moral and spiritual order, we reap.
Now, if you go back and carefully look at the Text, there’s some very important words that Paul uses in Galatians 7. You know, there are only four places in Scripture where God makes a statement. But He begins the statement with the phrase, “Do not be deceived.” Do not be deceived. It’s as if God is saying, “Watch out. Pay close attention to what I’m saying to you. If you’re not careful, you’re going to be deceived.” I think we, as humans, even as Christians, are deceived in our thinking as it relates to sowing and reaping. We have this propensity of believing that we can mock God. It says, “Do not be deceived. God will not be mocked.” We have this belief we can mock God. We can beat the system. We believe we can make bad decisions and get away with it. And, if we believe this in any way, Paul is saying, “You’re being deceived, buddy!” God makes it clear. “I will not be mocked. My Word will not be mocked.”
I heard Andy Stanley share that many Christians employ this strategy in their lives. They go to 1 John 1:9, and it says, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful to forgive us of our sins, and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” And, he says, “We think we can sin as much as we want, and then go confess, be forgiven, and continue that pattern of life.” And, Stanley says, “In effect, we think God must be dumb. Consequently, we mock Him.” Please know this, guys, whatever you put into your life will impact what you get out of it. Every choice, every decision, eventually, is going to come back to you. It’s also important to know, it says, “Do not be deceived. God will not be mocked. Whatever a man sows.” Whatever a man sows. It’s all-inclusive. The law of sowing and reaping is functioning in every man’s life, and in every area of your life. The law of sowing and reaping is functioning in your financial life, from the decisions you’ve sowed in the past. Our nation is reaping financially from decisions that have been made in the past. All of our relationships are reaping from what we’ve sown in the past. Your marriage, right now, is a result of all kinds of decisions that you’ve made; the seeds you’ve sown in your relationship with your wife. Your career. Your spiritual life. Your physical health. Your intellect. Your moral life. And, if you think about it, what you reap will impact those in your sphere of influence. When we make bad decisions, it may impact our marriage, our children, it just cascades out into the lives of other people. And, so, I would say that this law is operating in your life, and in my life today, regardless of your intentions, and regardless of your understanding of it. It remains in concrete. It is operating in your life and in my life today. And maybe you’ve heard people say, “You know, I had no idea that my actions would lead to this consequence. I had no idea that neglecting my wife would lead to this result.” You hear this over and over. It’s as if people are not aware that their lives are subject to the laws of sowing and reaping.
Now, I want to share one more insight on Verse 7, and then I’m going to move on to Verse 8. There is a phrase in the Bible that is used 50 or 60 times, and that’s the phrase “the fear of the Lord.” The fear of the Lord. Now, a number of people don’t like that term, but it’s there, over and over. If you think about this, it shouldn’t really surprise us. Think about in Luke 7, Jesus and His disciples are coming into a town. There’s a funeral procession coming out, to go and bury a young man. And, it says “it was a widow’s son.” She had lost her husband, and it says, “it was her only son.” And, there was great grief and despair, and Jesus sees, and has compassion, and stops the funeral procession. He says, “Young man. Arise.” And, it says, “He sat up, and he began to speak.” And, the Text says, everybody in this funeral procession, it says, “Fear gripped them all.” Fear gripped them all. You see, the two Mary’s go to the empty tomb the first Easter morning. The tomb is empty, and it says, “They ran to find the disciples,” and it says, “and they ran with fear and joy.” Fear and joy, and that’s an interesting combination of emotions. The disciples were in fear when they saw Jesus walking on the water. And, the one that I find most interesting is in Matthew 17. You know, Peter, James, and John go with Jesus up to the Mount. And Peter, if you really read in the Text of the Gospels, Peter was really, very cocky. He was real sure of himself. Jesus takes them up high into the mountains, and Moses and Elijah show up. And Peter’s feeling really good about it. I mean, here I am with Jesus, I’m with Elijah, I’m with Moses. And he said, “Lord, it’s good for us to be here, if you wish, I’ll make three tabernacles here: one for You, one for Moses, and one for Elijah. This is what I’m gonna do. While he was still speaking, a bright cloud overshadowed them and, behold, a voice out of the clouds said, ‘This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased. Listen to Him.’ And, when the disciples heard this, they fell face-down to the ground, and they were terrified.” They were terrified.
You see, guys, when sinful finite man comes into the presence of the Infinite Holy God, there’s a fear. And, it’s a healthy fear. It’s a normal fear. To not fear Him is to diminish Him. But, it’s interesting. This is where I’m going with this. This is what’s interesting. Three or four times, it says, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” You’ve heard that. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. In Proverbs 14:27 it says, “The fear of the Lord is a fountain of life. Proverbs 19:23 says, “The fear of the Lord leads to life.” This, to me, sounds like the fear of the Lord leads to our good. Now, I want to share with you how this is related to sowing and reaping. There’s a direct link into sowing and reaping and the fear of the Lord and the beginning of wisdom.
I don’t know how many of you took psychology in college. I took several courses and it seemed like every time we studied psychology, B. F. Skinner was mentioned and brought up his teaching. He is, kind of, the father of the school of behaviorism. When I was doing a little research, most people consider him the most influential psychologist of the last century. He was a man who did not believe in God. He did not believe in God’s moral law, and he didn’t believe in God’s principals. I share this because Skinner believed that the object of life, he says, “is to gratify yourself without getting arrested.” Think about that. The object of life is to gratify yourself without getting arrested. You see, what he’s saying, the only thing he feared was man’s law. But, in effect, he was saying, you can be as perverse, and as shameless, and as immoral as you please, and you don’t have to worry about the consequences, as long as you don’t get arrested. And, it made me think of this verse in Psalm 36:1 that says, “Transgression speaks to the ungodly within his heart, there is no fear of God before his eyes.”
I share all of this, guys, because I believe there is a vital link between the fear of God, wisdom, and sowing and reaping. Listen to these words from John Riddle, a very wise guy. He says, “Fearing God is a condition of heart that is based on an understanding of God, His character, His capability, and His commitment to His Word. It is the beginning point for walking in wisdom as a way of life.” It means that we realize God is going to fulfill His Word in our lives, based on how we respond to it. How we sow. In one sense, guys, we should fear the laws of sowing and reaping, recognizing that God and His Word will not be mocked. It will come to pass.
Now, it’s interesting, when you keep going in this Text. In Galatians 6, when you get to Verse 8, listen to what Paul says. He says, “For the one who sows to his own flesh, will from the flesh reap corruption.” Certain translations say destruction. “But, the one who sows to the Spirit will reap from the Spirit eternal life.” The NIV says, “The one who sows to please his sinful nature and desires, from that nature will reap corruption and destruction. And, the one who sows to please the Spirit from the Spirit will reap eternal life.” You know, one natural way to make decisions as you go through life, and this is the way most people operate, is to just follow your selfish, sinful nature. Where we think in terms of whatever pleases me because I become first. I am first in this life. And, when we do this, guys, we never asked this question; “How does this impact my soul?” And that word, destruction or corruption, you know what it literally means? An erosion or deterioration of your life. It’s not something quick. It’s slow, and insidious. He is saying that the corruption of a man’s soul happens slowly, over time, as you sow toward your sinful desires. Paul is speaking of a slow deterioration that takes place in our thinking, in our conscience, in our character, and most significantly, in our relationships.
I thought about this, and this is not meant, in any way, to be a political statement. It surprised me when I just read that Al and Tipper Gore are getting divorced after 40 years of marriage. You know, they seemed to have such a good marriage when you saw them on the political stage. And, maybe they did at one time, I don’t know. I think what you see, as you read the article, they just said, “They’ve slowly just drifted apart.” The slow deterioration of a relationship. C.S. Lewis said, “Every time you make a choice, you are turning the central part of you, the part that chooses, into something a little different from what it was before.” Think about that. I was reading a book by a real prominent Christian psychologist by the name of Chris Thurman. The book is called The Lies People Believe. He says, “Have you ever noticed how prominent, it can be a sports star, a businessman, a politician, or even a minister. All of a sudden, they’re leading what seems to be an exceptional life, and then, their life just implodes because of scandal and moral failure.” And, he says, in retrospect, in every case, “We can clearly see the seeds of their downfall sown along life’s way.” He says, “They usually began with a small, seemingly innocuous action here, and other careless behavior there.” He says, “Small seeds of moral carelessness sown along life’s way turned into weeds of destruction with the passage of time.”
And, so a question I would challenge you with this morning. Maybe we all need to ask, because when you see a man’s life, the way we, kind of, comport ourselves and walk around, it seems like everybody’s got it together. But the question I would ask, “Could there be a slow erosion or deterioration happening in my life, right now, because of what I’m sowing in my life?”
Now, real quickly, as Paul says, “If you sow to the Spirit,” it says, “You will also reap eternal life.” But, it’s interesting. If you look up the word eternal life, and I looked at several sources, most significantly, John Stott’s commentary on the Book of Galatians. It comes from the word zoe, which means a full intensity of life now, experiencing it now, and throughout eternity. And, as a Christian, if we are truly investing our time and activities that strengthen the soul, and deepen our relationship with Christ, and if we are doing what Solomon says in Proverbs 4:23, “Watch over your heart with all diligence, for from it flows the springs of life.” If we truly are guarding our hearts from all the garbage in the world, over time, we will reap a brand-new type of life, that most of the world does not experience. Sowing to the Spirit. And, then, Verse 9, “Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time, we will reap if we do not grow weary.”
The question we all should be asking is, “Am I willing to sow in a different direction in my life?” A different direction than what I am sowing right now. Knowing that every decision, and every choice we’re making, is, eventually, going to come back to you. In every area of your life. Whatever a man sows, this he will also reap.
I want to leave you with two final thoughts as we close. If you look at your life this morning, if you don’t like where you are. Maybe your spiritual life, maybe your marriage isn’t where it should be, maybe as a father, maybe your career. You just don’t like where you are. Or, maybe, you fear that this slow deterioration is taking place in your life, and in your soul. Know this, you’re going to have to change something you do daily. You’re going to have to sow in a different direction. And, most significantly, as Paul says, you must sow into your spiritual life on a regular basis, and you’ll reap that full intensity of life that God has for you. Finally, guys, it strikes me, that it always comes down to this. When I think of making good choices and decisions in life, I can’t help but think of the importance of wisdom. Of wisdom. And, what’s interesting, as you read about wisdom in the Book of Proverbs, you often see it personified. It’s as if wisdom is speaking to you as a person. You see it in Proverbs 8. It says, “I, wisdom.” And, then it will share something wise for us to follow. And, what’s interesting, I’m not sure we think about it.
But, have you ever thought that the wisdom of God is someone that you can know, and that you can love? And, if you live in a close relationship with that person, it will make you wise. It will impact the decisions you make, and those decisions is what, basically, leads to the sowing and reaping we’ve been talking about. So, what if there is this person that will make you wise and will help you to make good decisions? This is the New Testament message. And, of course, that person is Jesus. He’s the Light of the world. In John 1:9 it says, “He was the true light, which coming into the world, enlightens every man and every woman.” He comes to enlighten us. He is truly, guys, the one person you should want to guide you through life. And, do you know what the interesting thing is? That’s what He wants to do. I mean, when He sent the Holy Spirit, He refers to the Holy Spirit as “The Helper.” He wants to help us. Why? Because we need help! But He wants to lead and guide us through life. He wants to walk with us through life, as our Heavenly Father. And, so, as you think about all that we’ve said this morning, the crucial choice, as a Christian, that you are faced with is this; do I want to walk through life with Jesus? If not, then I’ll choose to walk alone. And, that’s the choice we’re faced with. And that is the ultimate choice that will lead to true sowing and reaping.
Let me close. Lord, I’m grateful for the fact that You have given us Light to live by. You’ve enlightened us to Your principals, to Your laws that govern this life. And, one of the most valuable things that Scripture seems to indicate that You want to give to us is wisdom. Father, I pray that we would be wise men, and that we would understand the laws of sowing and reaping. And, Lord, maybe there is a deterioration, a slow deterioration going on in our lives, and we haven’t even been aware of it. I pray that you’d make us aware of it, and that we might sow in a different direction. That we might sow to the Spirit. That we might truly begin to seek You, and pursue You, and know You at a much deeper level. Lord, we thank You for all the friendships here in this room this morning. And, we’re grateful, just for Your goodness and Your mercy. In Jesus’ name, we pray. Amen.