Isaiah 6:8

8 Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?”And I said, “Here am I. Send me!”

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Stumbling Block or Stepping Stone.....Which One Are You?

My scripture today comes from Mark 9: 38-50
Mark’s Gospel has been giving us excellent glimpses into the character of a true disciple of Jesus Christ. As I prayerfully considered our text this morning two points spoke most powerfully to me. Jesus warns us as His disciples against the pitfalls of stumbling, and He commands us to be salt.  Our Lord has a two-fold concern about stumbling in our text. He does not want any of His disciples to cause another Christian to stumble; but neither does He want any of His us to stumble in our personal walk of faith. He treats both matters very seriously. Just exactly what is a stumbling block? A father shared a personal experience He had with his family in a book I was reading.  He said, “The weather had been rather spring like for the month of January in New Jersey. The unseasonable weather had my boys enjoying the outdoors in ways not normal for winter.  “I came home from work one night and parked my truck out in the driveway, jumped out, and headed up the front walk towards the house. The next thing I knew I’m laying on the ground writhing in pain. One of the boys had left his skateboard right in the middle of the walkway, and it caused me to trip.  “I took a few minutes to gather my composure. Then I walked into the house to find my darling wife and sons sitting in the kitchen talking.  “I said hello and mentioned something about how nice the weather had been all day. Everyone agreed, and then, the truth came out. Rob said, ‘It was so nice today that I even rode my skateboard.’  “‘So,’ I said, ‘I want to thank you for that reminder of what it feels like to fall off of a skateboard.’ He asked what I meant, and I proceeded to show him the tear in my new pair of jeans and the gash in my leg.
“’What happened,’ he asked.  “I told him that he left his skateboard in the middle of the front walk and I had stumbled over it and fell. He apologized and said he didn’t mean to leave it in the walkway” Rob’s skateboard was a stumbling block for his Father. I
n the New Testament the word for stumbling block is the one from which we get our English word “scandal.” It is found only in the New Testament, and is never used by any of the Classical Greek authors. Literally, it means “a trap.” It originally referred to “the trigger of a trap on which the bait is placed.” When the bait is touched by the intended victim, the trap springs and closes around the animal causing its entrapment.” It is similar to our mouse trap. A stumbling block is a trap for weaker Christians; it is anything that would lead a Christian brother or sister astray, into sin, or cause that person to fall away from the truth.  As disciples we are not to be the cause for another brother or sister to sin or fall away from the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  “Food will not bring us close to God. We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do. But take care that this liberty of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. For if others see you, who possess knowledge, eating in the temple of an idol, might they not, since their conscience is weak, be encouraged to the point of eating food sacrificed to idols? So by your knowledge those weak believers for whom Christ died are destroyed. But when you thus sin against members of your family, and wound their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if food is a cause of their falling, I will never eat meat, so that I may not cause one of them to fall.” Jesus takes the threat of a disciple becoming the stumbling block that causes another brother or sister to go astray, fall into sin, or lose faith very seriously. He says, “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe to stumble, it would be better for him if, with a heavy millstone around his neck, he had been cast into the sea.” A millstone was “one of a pair of large, round, flat stones used to grind grain.” Grinding meal was a task usually reserved for women in Palestine; it was regarded as too degrading a task for men. The upper-stone of the Eastern hand-mill was usually only about 18 to 24 inches in diameter; therefore, it could easily be hung around the neck of a person to be drowned. There were large mills, however, that could not be turned by a woman, and a donkey had to do the work. The stones used in this case were so large that brute, animal strength was required to turn them. The millstone in our text may refer to such a large stone, turned by donkey power. The Syrians, Romans, and Greeks sometimes would execute the worst of criminals by weighting them down with one of these heavy stones and drowning them in the depths of the sea. Thus weighted down, those suffering such execution had no possible hope of survival.  If we as disciples cause a brother or sister to stumble, Jesus says it would be better for us if we ”had a heavy millstone around our necks, and had been cast into the sea.” A disciple does not cause a brother or sister to stumble. We all need to guard against becoming stumbling blocks! Paul warns us about this possibility in Romans 14:13 tell us " 13 Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister."   Listen carefully…. “Therefore, let us not judge one another anymore, but rather determine this—not to put an obstacle or a stumbling block in a brother’s way.” Love is the spiritual fruit that will prevent us from becoming stumbling blocks, as John encourages us so well in  “The one who loves His brother abides in the light and there is no cause for stumbling in him.” As we abide in the love of Jesus, the Holy Spirit empowers and enables us to love and not become stumbling blocks to another brother or sister in Christ.  This week I saw a picture in Men’s Health magazine that says it all. Remember the warning of Jesus in our text, “We are not to cause one of these little ones who believe in Him to stumble.” Our Lord is referring back in this case to the young child he exalted as the prime example of the one who is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven in verses 37 and 38 of this same chapter of Mark. In the Men’s Health illustration the stumbling block is smoking, and the picture I saw, said it all,  The picture was of a father figure….standing….with his small son….the man was smoking…and the little boy was imitating him….the ad said “QUIT NOW, AND HE WON’T PICK IT UP!” The short clip was entitled “Do It for the Kids” Researchers at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center found that quitting smoking before your child reaches third grade can reduce his or her odds of becoming a smoker by up to 40 percent. ‘The period of time between the ages of 8 and 20 is when people are most likely to start smoking,’ says Jonathan B. Bricker, Ph. D., the study’s lead author. ‘However, if kids don’t see their parents smoking during this time, there’s a good chance they’ll never pick up the habit,’ he says” Our behavior affects other Christians more than we can imagine. In his December 1985 article in Christianity Today entitled “The Covenant Companion” Lloyd Ahlem declares, “No one’s behavior is entirely his or her own business. . . . In our day of prized individuality and ‘it’s nobody’s business but mine’ attitude, we trip each other up in more ways than we recognize. Stumbling blocks may be unkind words we speak, unchristlike actions we may perform, or questionable habits to which we cling. Is there some stumbling block you have placed in another Christian’s pathway that the Holy Spirit is directing you to surrender to Jesus today?  Disciples are not to be stumbling blocks, but we are to be salt. Jesus closing words in Mark Chapter nine are these: “Salt is good; but if the salt becomes unsalty, with what will you make it salty again? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another” [--Mark 9:50 tells us:  “Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can you make it salty again? Have salt among yourselves, and be at peace with each other.”
Salt was a necessity of life in Israel. I mean…this is true…. “Can something tasteless be eaten without salt?” What is the first thing most of us do in a restaurant after the waiter or waitress brings us our food? We salt it. Salt had many uses in Hebrew worship. The grain offering, burnt offering, and incense all had to be salted. As a sign of fidelity and friendship, salt was used to ratify covenants, including God’s Covenants with His people in the Old Testament. It was used as fertilizer, but in excess, it would also damage the soil…eating too much can damage the body.  Salt purifies, cleanses, and preserves from corruption, and He uses His disciples as agents of purification, cleansing, and preservation in the world. As salt prevents food from decaying, so do disciples of Jesus, we must be agents of the Holy Spirit to reverse the moral decay in our society today by helping bring about His Kingdom and obedience to His will here on earth as it is in heaven.  Jesus warns “if the salt becomes unsalty, with what will you make it salty again? In the Sermon on the Mount from Matthew 5:13 - 13 “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot. Israel’s source of salt was the Dead Sea and the Hill of Salt. The Dead Sea is nine times more salty than the Ocean. The Hill of Salt covers a fifteen square mile area at the Southwestern corner of the Dead Sea. This is the vicinity where Lot’s wife turned into a “pillar of salt.” The salt in this region is of the rock or fossil type. The outer layer is filled with impurities, undergoes frequent chemical changes, and generally lacks flavor. This outer layer was usually destroyed because of its worthless. Likewise disciples, who lose interest in being “salt” for Jesus, can no longer be effective His servants apart from repentance and restoration.  So let me ask you…..Are you a stumbling block or salt in the hands of Jesus? I have always remembered the words of a poem by an unknown author that I have heard in sermons by other pastors. It brings our message home in a powerful way:

“Isn’t it strange that princes and kings
And clowns that caper in sawdust rings,
And common folks like you and me
All are builders for eternity?”

“To each is given a book of rules,
A block of stone and a bag of tools;
And each must shape ‘ere time has flown,
A stumbling block or a stepping stone”

A stumbling block, a stepping stone, salt, which are you?

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