Thursday, July 17, 2008

Hind's Feet on High Places

“God is sovereign, and invariably good; we are morally responsible, and frequently evil.”
-D.A. Carson

This was the quote I read in my devotional this morning and I feel like it is the best summary of my study in the prophets this summer. Even more, it is an accurate summary of all scripture. As such, it is the summary of all mankind for all time and within this statement is the beauty of the gospel message.
For there is none righteous, no not one. All, like sheep, have gone astray. We are dead in our sin, slaves of Satan and under the power of the Prince of this world. The wage of our sin is death and we are all without excuse. Frequently evil and morally responsible. (Rom 3:10, Is. 53:6, Eph 2:1, Jn 3:16, Rom 1:20)
But God, while we were yet sinners, because of His mercy and love, made us alive in Christ. There is therefore no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus. He works all things for good for those who love God and who are called according to his purpose. He protects, seals and delivers us from the enemy who once controlled us. We serve a sovereign God who is invariably good. (Eph 2:4, Rom 8:1, 28, Ps. 62:2, Eph. 1:14)
So often when we read the Old Testament and we see the repeated failure of the Israelites, their inevitable compromise, their eventually apostasy and syncretistic idolatry – and we shake our heads in disbelief. How can they so consistently do what God has so clearly told them not to do? How many times will God rescue such a stubborn and stiff necked people?
May we have eyes to see – this is the repeating story of all God’s people throughout all history (i.e. we are no exception!). God is sovereign and invariably good; we are morally responsible and frequently evil. God is rich and mercy, slow to anger and not wanting any to perish (2Pet 3:9). We, on the other hand, are easily convinced to follow false idols and the lure of the world often speaks louder than the voice of God (James 1:6, 1Jn 2:15).
What a great and mighty God we serve who is faithful to His promises and one day will stand to judge the earth. In that day, there will be no more compromise as the hearts of man will be laid bare. And those who have trusted in Christ will share in the glory of God beyond all possible comprehension. There will be a new heaven and new earth. A new predisposition for those who have been redeemed - No longer frequently evil, but like God, invariably good.
In our new reality, we will be eternally worshipful having been faithfully redeemed. May we fix our eyes on this hope. May the world and its lure fade by comparison. May we live, not day to day, but with great anticipation for the fulfillment of the promise made by our sovereign and invariably good creator God. May this blessed hope of tomorrow along with God’s faithfulness in the past, give us great strength and boldness of faith to live today with all joy and peace and assurance in Christ Jesus. (Rev 11:18, 20:11, Is. 45:23, Phil 2:10, Rev 22)
My brother, Jay understood this well. In the midst of his cancer he was asked about the source of his strength and faith. He responded with strong conviction, "I know I will be healed."
At first, we were concerned. Could this be a false hope? What if God does not remove his cancer?
Yet, Jay went on to explain, "You need to understand. I don't know if it is on this side of heaven or the other. All I know is that God has promised that I will be healed and I have faith that He will carry this through."
Blessed hope of tomorrow along with God’s faithfulness in the past, give us great strength and boldness of faith to live today with all joy and peace and assurance in Christ Jesus.

"Yet I will exult in the Lord, I will rejoice in the God of my salvation. The Lord God is my strength, And He has made my feet like hinds’ feet, And makes me walk on my high places. (Habakkuk 3:18-19)

Sunday, July 13, 2008

What I Learned from Jeremiah

During my study of the Old Testament Prophets this summer, I have been intrigued by the testimony of Jeremiah. I could not even begin to encapsulate all of what I am learning in this brief entry; however, I would like to reflect on one of the truths that has impacted me recently.
As you know, Jeremiah is commonly known as the "weeping Prophet". Although it is a good memory tool, this description is not entirely accurate. In fact, this attribute of mourning and sensitivity toward an unrepentant people was something that God had to develop in Jeremiah's heart. As he began his ministry, it was not his first thought. When opposed by the people, he responds by saying:
"But you know, O Lord, all their plots to kill me. Do not forgive their crimes or blot out their sins from your sight. Let them be overthrown before you; deal with them in the time of your anger." (Jeremiah 18:23, NIV)

Not exactly weeping for his enemies, right?! Yet, as his ministry progresses, God works in the heart of Jeremiah. He teaches him to persevere through difficult circumstances and to preach to a people who will not listen. Instead of a callous indifference, Jeremiah learns to look at people through the eyes of God. To the point that he weeps when he learns of their impending judgment.
"Therefore I wail over Moab, for all Moab I cry out, I moan for the men of Kir Hareseth. I weep for you, as Jazer weeps, O vines of Sibmah. Your branches spread as far as the sea; they reached as far as the sea of Jazer. The destroyer has fallen on your ripened fruit and grapes." (Jeremiah 48:31-32, NIV)

Notice that these are not even the people of Israel. The Moabites are the enemies of Israel. And yet, Jeremiah still looks upon them with sadness when God declares their coming judgment. What an amazing transformation.
Here is the thought that struck me this week: In the life of Jeremiah, we find a balance that we should do well to notice. First, he does not avoid sharing truth, as difficult as the news may be. In other words, Jeremiah does not compromise his message.
So often, in a world that is unrepentant where truth is relative, we soften our message and call it grace. We don't speak truth into people's lives because we don't want to offend them or chase them away. All too often, we avoid the conviction of God's word because we don't know it our self.
Yet, Jeremiah teaches us that we are a people called to speak the uncompromising truth of God's word through our mouth and through our lives. At times, the message is difficult. People don't want to hear that God hates divorce or materialism is idolatry or apathy is the same as blasphemy. And yet the consequence of disobedience is far greater than any momentary discomfort we might have in sharing God's truth. Our God is holy. As His people, we are called to live holy lives. May we never shy away from this commitment or apologize for the devotion God requires of his people.
Yet, on the other hand, Jeremiah teaches us not to give up on people. Our tendency (my tendency) is to speak truth to people and if they don't respond to the message, I often give up on them. Their heart is too hard and it does me no good to continue counseling this person. They are not married, they continue to live in sin. Oh, they may show occasional signs of repentance but then they go right back to their old ways. They don't get it and I'm done.
Not Jeremiah! For a lifetime he preaches to a people that will not listen. In fact, God tells Jeremiah that the people will never receive his message - yet, he was to continue preaching. We too should not grow weary of doing good. The change in another person's heart never has been, nor will it ever be a result of our personal persuasion. We sow, we water, but only God can cause change and growth in another person's heart.
May we live the balance seen in the life of Jeremiah. Let us live a life that proclaims the uncompromising truth of God's word in a compromising and relativistic world. And may we do so with great perseverance and sensitive hearts never growing weary of doing good in the eyes of the Lord whom we serve.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Fool Me Twice, Shame On Me

You would think I would have learned by now, but apparently I continue to be a little slow on the uptake. Or maybe it is because I want it to be different but reality says its really not. Here is my situation:
So often, I encounter someone, particularly in the church (but not always), who I will pursue and attempt to get to know them. As I do this, I will routinely invite them to join in on opportunities of fellowship such as a Men's Group, a Sunday School class, or maybe a worship service one Sunday. Most often I hear the same type of response, "Oh sure. That sounds great. I would really like to do that sometime."
On occasion, when the desire for growing in their faith is genuine, they will follow through and meet other people and begin to form meaningful relationships. However, more often than not, there is verbal ascent to the offer but no true evidence of a desire to experience fellowship with other believers in Jesus Christ. The excuses take a variety of forms
"We're so busy."
"Oh, was that last night?"
"We're not sure we fit in."
"We live so far away."
Up until now, my assumption was that they are just private people who prefer to fly solo. Or maybe they are a couple who has trouble making new friends and so they stay isolated. Or maybe they do live to far away...but not anymore! Here is my new default position:
If people are invited to live in fellowship with other followers of Jesus Christ and give verbal ascent of a desire to do so and yet never follow through and choose instead to maintain lives of isolation - SOMETHING IS WRONG!
Too often now I have chalked it up as the personality trait of a person or a couple who simply does not want to live in the context of community. They are "private people" I would tell myself. But my personal experience is teaching me that it is most often not a personality issue, but a sin issue. And here is my Biblical basis for this new default position:

"If we say we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth; but if we walk in the light as He Himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin." 1John1:6-7

People who chose to live in isolation usually have something to hide. To live in the light of fellowship with other believers will expose this sin and so they choose to live apart from authentic community. Even if you are not trying to hide something, living in community - by God's design - will expose issues of sin which inhibit your growth and maturity in Christ. That is one of the important purposes of the church: Sanctification of the Saints to the glory of God. Living apart from this fellowship is at worst a deliberate attempt to hide sin and at best a selfish choice to remain in control or self protect ultimately and inevitably resulting in stunted spiritual growth.
"Oh, but I read my Bible or I watch this great preacher on TV or I don't like church because of all the hypocrites."
"If we walk in the light as He Himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another..."
Need another one? How abut this:

"Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; and let us consider how to encourage one anther to love and good deeds, not forsaking our gathering together , as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as the day draws near." Heb. 10:23-25

As we prepare for Christ's return, may we fight against the influence of the world which continues to isolate our lives from one another as so poignantly made clear in the new Pixar movie Wall-E. Left to itself, and by the design of the enemy, this is the natural course we will take. Yet, God calls us to walk in the light of authentic community with other Christians and even more as the day draws near. Today is nearer than yesterday and tomorrow may be the day!