Monday, January 2, 2017

Have a Sober New Year


by Dave

2017 is off to an extremely sober start here in Cameroon. Our friend and brother in Christ, Nestor, the only elder-qualified Baka man in our area, lost his wife this morning. She, still a very young woman, has battled sickness off and on, but I do not think anyone was expecting her death. We went to her funeral this evening and listened to the wailing cries of her lost family members. We reminded Nestor of the fact that, as she is in Christ, she is already doing much better than we are. But we reminded him with tears in our eyes, mourning not for her, but for us.

Our pastor, yesterday, preached from the only psalm attributed to Moses: Psalm 90. This has been an important psalm in my own life that was part of what has led me to believe that God wants us to be sober-minded. Moses certainly spent much of his life in dark conditions, leading a people for forty years that were condemned to slowly die in the wilderness. And he too, died in the desert overlooking the Promised Land, but not a part of it.

In Psalm 90, after talking about the brevity of life, Moses prays, “So, teach us to number our days, that we may get a heart of wisdom” (v12). It seems to me that, rather than avoiding thoughts of death, Moses is actually calling us to dwell upon sober realities and to let them change the way the we live.

Sobriety is Characteristic of A Christian
In the New Testament, we are actually commanded by God to be sober-minded. Paul, considering the rapidly-approaching end of this current age said to the Thessalonians, “So then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober. For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk are drunk at night. But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation” (I Thessalonians 5:6-8). Paul even goes so far to tell Timothy, “Always be sober-minded” (II Timothy 4:5).

As Christians we have been given much more revelation than Moses. We are not blind, we live in the light. But what we find in the light is that just as Moses was living in a generation of the condemned, we live in the midst of a dying race. Christ has conquered death and for those of us who believe the sting of death has been removed. However, we still die. We still feel the effects of the Fall. We still have an enemy that goes about like a roaring lion. For Christians, just like for Moses, life is hard, life is short, and we must be sober. Of course, in order to be sober, we must as the question…

What does it mean to be sober?
Sobriety is NOT Drunkenness BUT Hard Work
Not surprisingly, being sober does mean that we are not drunk. The Bible does not lead us to consider death with the despair and hopeless that leads to drunkenness. We ought not say, like the Epicureans, “Eat drink and be merry for tomorrow we die” (I Corinthians 15:32). Dwelling on death did not cause Moses to be casual about life and to feast on all her earthly temporal pleasures. Death is an enemy, a result of sin, a reminder of sin, and it leads to sobriety, not drunkenness.

In Psalm 90, verse 17, Moses says “Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us, and establish the work of our hands upon us; yes, establish the work of our hands.” Dwelling upon his approaching death makes Moses want to live a life of eternal significance. He wants the work of his hands to be established by God. And think about how God answered this prayer for Moses. God used Moses to lead his people out of slavery and then judge them righteously. Moses parted the waters of the Red Sea, delivered God’s law for the first time, and wrote the first 5 books of the Bible! The brevity of life might make the world want to get drunk and hide, but it ought to make us run harder and beg the Lord to use our efforts.

Sobriety is NOT Fear BUT Confidence
Note though, that while Moses was sober about our brief existence, he was not afraid. Hebrews 11:10 tells us that Abraham, “looked forward to a city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God.” Moses, like Abraham, was not looking ahead to a formless afterlife. He was not allowed to enter Canaan because of sin, but he soon found himself in the Promised Land experiencing true rest. His confidence was in God and in God’s promises.

You can hear some of this confidence in 13-17:
“Return, O LORD! How long? Have pity on your servants! Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love, that we may rejoice and be glad all our days. Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us, and for as many years as we have seen evil. Let your work be shown to your servants, and your glorious power to their children. Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us, and establish the work of our hands upon us; yes, establish the work of our hands!”
Moses uses a lot of imperatives there: “Satisfy us”, “Make us Glad”, “Let your work be shown”, “let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us.” Those are not commands, they are requests; bold and confident requests. Moses knew that he was weak, like grass that is here one moment and then gone. But he was not asking these things of a weak God. To the God who has been “our dwelling place in all generations” he confidently asks for joy, favor, and fruit of his labor. Moses was not facing death in fear, but in confidence. And so much less do we fear death who have been explicitly taught of the resurrection and the defeat of death by our Lord Jesus Christ.

Numbering our days means living a life of sobriety. And biblical sobriety works hard in great confidence because of God’s promises.

Sobriety Means Seeking a Life of Weight

I think the greatest challenge to me in Psalm 90, in regards to living a life of sobriety, is in the call to have a life of weight. Moses said “establish the work of our hands.” After calling us to sobriety in Ephesians 5, Paul said “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise.” There is so much in this life that is pulling me to frivolity. The world, flesh and devil beg me to live for comfort, toys, and weekends. 1 John 2:16 says, “For all that is in the world--the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions--is not from the Father but is from the world.” I want to take pride in my possessions! I want to live to please my eyes and flesh. But to do so would be to act as though this life is it. To do so would be to forget to number my days. To do so would be to ignore the fact that everyone I know and will ever know will die, and after death comes judgment.

We sometimes treat thinking about death as a buzz-kill, a destroyer of joy. But I tell you it is not true. There is a time for goofy, slap-stick, joshing around with the buddies. There is a time for fun and silliness. But you will not taste true joy in those moments. This evening I sat on the dirt floor of a small house in a circle with my brothers and sisters in Christ. In the next room lay the earthly body of our brother’s wife. And surrounded by an entire village lost in despair, we sang worship to Jesus as we wept. Surrounded by those who grieved without hope, we grieved with hope. We grieved knowing that Dali’s death was not really death for her, but entrance into true life. The sobriety of the moment did not weaken our worship, but deepened it. And it made me want to spend my 2017 pleading with others to join us.