Bart Hartemink - Gospel Meeting - West Eyreton, New Zealand - March 29, 2006

Hymns:  47, "Is there anyone can help us?"
             39, "I love to think the way of God"

I was in a meeting like this a few years ago and Jason spoke from Luke 17, the first few verses. I would like to share some of his thoughts because they still mean a lot to me today. It says in Luke 17:1 (Jesus is speaking) - "It is impossible but that offences will come: but woe unto him, through whom they come. It were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he cast into the sea, than that he should offend one of these little ones." Another word for offence is "stumbling-stone." It is counter-productive; it doesn't help us on our journey, it just holds us up, makes us fall.

 

A millstone is something that is useful, productive, it grinds the flour to make bread that feeds us, helps us on our journey. So a millstone is a tool but a stumbling-stone is a problem. Now, a millstone in the wrong place can become a stumbling-stone and that is a danger and that is a warning whereas a stumbling-stone if it is picked up and dealt with and put in the right place, it has the potential to be a millstone, something that can be useful and helpful to us.

 

Paul in writing to the Romans said (6:12), "Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that ye should obey it in the lusts thereof. Neither yield ye your members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin; but yield yourselves unto God, as those that are alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness unto God." So he is speaking of parts of the body and saying, "The things that could be stumbling-stones to you, put them in the right place so that they could become a millstone; deal with the things that could make you offensive in the sight of God and rather yield those things as instruments of righteousness unto salvation." Jesus put it this way, "If your hand offend thee, cut it off; if your foot offend thee, cut it off; if your eye offend thee, pluck it out." Deal with it; don't let any part become a stumbling-stone, don't let things become counter-productive when they could be so useful to you. One example is Judas Iscariot. There was an occasion where a lady anointed Jesus with some very precious ointment and Judas said, "Why was not this sold and the money given to the poor?" He criticised her for what she did and John recording that adding this note, "Judas said it not because he cared for the poor but because he was a thief; he had the bag." In other words, he had access to that money. Where was his hand? It was in the wrong place. That hand that could have been so useful in sowing the Gospel seed was in the wrong place and it became a stumbling-stone to him. Something that could have been a millstone - useful - became a stumbling-stone because it was in the wrong place. "Yield your members as instruments of righteousness.

 

I was thinking about our tongue, our mouth. James when he wrote about the mouth said, "If any man can tame the tongue, he is perfect." "The same is a perfect man and able also to bridle the whole body." James realised it is so easy to hurt people with our tongue. I know what that is all about.

 

Sometimes I see other people preaching the Gospel. I admire them because they have a real struggle to speak. I may not look it, but I am as nervous as anything. With some people, it really shows. I am inspired when I see people like that pressing on regardless, spreading the Gospel story because they love it and they love other people's souls. My problem is the other way round. I sometimes don't know when to keep my big mouth shut. The tongue is like a fire. There is nothing more destructive than a fire that is out of control. It is a terribly destructive thing and it can hurt people. That is what James said - the tongue is a fire - but you put a fire in its right place, you contain it and it is a wonderful source of warmth and comfort and energy. That is what our tongue can be if we put it in the right place. I can't control my tongue but I am glad that God can help me to put my tongue in the right place. I like what Isaiah wrote in chapter 50, "The Lord God hath given me the tongue of the learned, that I should know how to speak a word in season to him that is weary; He wakeneth morning by morning, He wakeneth mine ear to hear as the learned." Here Isaiah was saying that his tongue was controlled by God and it was a means of comfort and strength to those that were weary. His tongue was in the right place because his ears were in the right place. If we want to be helpful to other people we need to be listening to things that are helpful to us. His tongue was in the right place because his ears were in the right place; they were a millstone to him, productive and helpful.

 

I was thinking in particular about our eyes. Jesus said, "Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also." We can say the same thing about our eyes. Where our eyes are, there will our mind be, our priority. Where our eyes are, there will our feet go also. I was thinking about people who proved those things. In the Garden of Eden we read about Eve in chapter 3 being beguiled by the serpent. God had put Adam and Eve in the garden and given them a command not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and then along came the serpent and said, "Hath God said you shall not eat of every tree of the garden?" The woman said, "We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden: but of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God hath said, 'Ye shall not eat of it, neither shall ye touch it, lest ye die.'" In that day, they experienced spiritual death; they knew of separation between themselves and God. The woman looked at the tree and all she could see was the good in it because where our eyes are that is where our mind will be also. How different it would have been if she had been looking at the tree of life, if that had been her focus. The focus in the garden as far as God was concerned was the tree of life and those two people were welcome to eat from the tree of life and how different it would have been for her if that is where she had been looking but she was looking at the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and all she could see was the good in it. Where our eyes are, that is where our mind will be also. We need to make sure that we are looking at the right thing. Don't let your eyes become a stumbling-stone to your mind when they could be so useful, when they could be focused on the right things and help you to think the right thoughts.

 

When Abraham and Lot journeyed from Egypt together at one stage, it says they became too great. They began to have strife because there were too many of them, too many sheep and too many people and the land could not bear them any more. Abraham didn't want strife so he said to Lot, "If you go that way, I will go this way; if you want to go this way, I will go that way." It says that Lot lifted up his eyes and he saw the well-watered plains. That is what he chose. He chose Sodom and Gomorrah and you can read later on what that did for him. It did him no good at all. Where his eyes went, that is where his feet went, also. When Peter talked about Lot in the New Testament, he said, "That righteous man dwelling among them, in seeing and hearing, vexed his righteous soul from day to day with their unlawful deeds." His eyes were in the wrong place and it didn't do his soul one bit of good. It vexed his soul. Later, God spoke to Abraham and said, "Lift up your eyes. All the land which thou seest, to thee will I give it and to thy seed for ever." When Abraham lifted up his eyes it was at the direction of God and what he saw was the Promised Land, something that was so much better than what Lot set his eyes on. Let God control your eyes because where your eyes are, that is where your feet will go also. Don't let your eyes become a stumbling-stone to your feet. "Rather yield your members as instruments of righteousness." Make sure that everything at your disposal you are using to this end – the salvation of your soul.

 

The man who wrote Psalm 73 proved that where your eyes are, that is where your priorities are also. He starts the Psalm by saying, "Truly God is good to Israel, even to such as are of a clean heart. But as for me, my feet were almost gone; my steps had well nigh slipped. For I was envious at the foolish when I saw the prosperity of the wicked." His eyes were in the wrong place. It says that he was looking at the wicked people and he was envious of them because there seemed to be no limits on their life; they could do what they wanted to do, follow the lusts of their flesh and live it up and have a good time. He said, "How come they can do that and I can't?" He was envious; his eyes were in the wrong place. He was looking at life in terms of time. That is all he could see. He was thinking that way until he entered into the sanctuary. "Then understood I their end." It wasn't until he went into the sanctuary that he saw things from eternity's view and he realized how futile their lives were, how pointless, how empty and how base. He even said, "So foolish was I, and ignorant: I was as a beast before thee." He realised his reasoning was just like an animal because his eyes were in the wrong place and they had become a stumbling-stone to him.

 

Jesus said, "It is impossible but that offences will come." What He meant was that there will come a time when stumbling-stones will come into your journey. There will be a time when you will struggle and have hardships, when it will be difficult to serve God. There will be times like that but the good thing is this, we don't need to become offended. It is impossible but that stumbling-stones should be in our way but we don't need to stumble. If we are prepared to let God take that experience and make something useful out of it, we will find that it will actually add to our experience with God.

 

I want to tell you a little story. A man came to Gospel meetings like this in his older age. The Gospel touched his heart and he decided that he wanted to serve God and he made that decision known to other people and he began attending Sunday morning meetings. In the first meeting he attended, there was a man there who had a problem. I don't know what his problem was or where it took place. This man who had just professed stood up and gave just a simple testimony. Then the man with the problem got up and said, "What we have just heard is a load of rubbish." I sometimes wonder when I think about that how I would have felt. That man thought this - "Well maybe it was. I will do better next week." Sometimes offences come and we feel maybe we are owed an apology. I have heard other people say, "Perhaps I owe that person forgiveness." The best way is not to take offence. It is a surety that stumbling-stones will come but they can become useful in our experience. Don't let your hand or eye or foot become a stumbling-stone to you but use them, make them as tools to this end - the salvation of your soul.