What the Lord Requires in Times Like This

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“And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God require of you, but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to keep the commandments and statutes of the Lord, which I am commanding you today for your good? Behold, to the Lord your God belong heaven and the heaven of heavens, the earth with all that is in it. Yet the Lord set his heart in love on your fathers and chose their offspring after them, you above all peoples, as you are this day.

Deuteronomy 10:12-15

As I sit here writing this, I find myself continuing to think about the most recent acts of mass assault against innocent people that our nation has had to endure over the last month alone, Las Vegas, New York, and most recently, Sutherland Springs, Texas. Dozens of people killed in just a little over a month in senseless acts of violence. More pain, more trauma, more arguing over what to do next and how to stop this madness.

Some say the answer is in stricter gun control regulations and laws. Others say the issue boils down to mental health problems. Some say that the problem is in how we raise our kids with an obsession of violence in video games and on the television. I’m not going to try get into any of  those arguments, they are all so politically charged that no one really is listening to each other in these things anyway.

But what can we do in such times as this? Should we throw our energies and efforts into the fight for gun control or better care for the mentally ill? Maybe, that’s up to you and your conscience before the Lord, but there is one clear call to us from God’s word that we ought to heed. It seems to me that the call to the Christian in our culture today is the same call that every generation of God’s people has had. Our passage above was written to Israel many generations ago and to a different culture, but through it we ought to be reminded of how the Lord would have us live in our own dangerous and divisive times. Here are three principles to guide us in such times as this.

  1. Be in right relationship with your Creator (vs. 12). We are told to fear the Lord because this is the beginning of wisdom and understanding (Proverbs 9:10). We should not fear the troubles of this world, but place our fear in the only appropriate place, in the Lord Himself (Isaiah 8:13). We are also told to love and serve the Lord with all our hearts and with all our souls. Every ounce of our being is meant to be used in pursuit of a relationship with our God, pleasing Him and honoring Him in all we do. Steering our fears of the dangers of this world, and steering our hopes and affections to Him re-orients our perspectives and gives us hope in a world of chaos. We must turn our eyes to the Lord and rest our hopes and fears squarely on Him.
  2. Obey the heart and ways of your Creator (vs.12&13). Many today seem to minimize the need of obedience to the character and will of God. We have cheapened God’s grace to the point that we have no fear of His wrath and no fear of the consequences of sin. Disobedience to God always brings death(Romans 3:23). We see and suffer the consequences of sin everyday. While salvation comes only as a gift of God’s grace found in Jesus Christ, we also have the responsibility to live in a way that honors God and gives Him glory. When we obey the heart and character of God in this fallen world, we show off His great glory and goodness, and offer a better hope to those who see our trust in God through our actions.
  3. Remember that all things are in God’s hand (vs. 15). Lastly, we need to see that God is the Sovereign Lord over all things. Both heaven and earth belong to Him and He holds all things together. More than that, if you are in Christ you are one of His chosen people. The Lord has set His love on you from all eternity. There is nothing or no one who can tear you away from this love. God’s sovereignty should be a great source of comfort and confidence as we live through these fearsome and distressing times. No matter what happens in life or in death, the Lord is still on His throne and He will accomplish righteousness and justice in all the earth.

Be encouraged by the promises of God in His Word. Embrace Him through Jesus Christ, live in His ways by faith, and trust in His good plans for you and the world. This is how we ought to live in times such as this.

Grace and Peace.

Joy that Seeks Me through Pain

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“And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord. Your clothing did not wear out on you and your foot did not swell these forty years. Know then in your heart that, as a man disciplines his son, the Lord your God disciplines you.” –  Deuteronomy 8:3-5

 

This past Sunday at Church we sang the song by George Mattheson, “Oh Love that Will not Let Me Go.” The third verse of this song always gets me. It seems to pierce right through and confront my expectations of how God ought to work with me in my life and ministry. I seem continually to wrongly assume that God is in the business of solving all my problems and alleviating all my pains, but Mattheson has a different take. He says….

“O Joy that seekest me through pain,
I cannot close my heart to thee;
I trace the rainbow through the rain,
And feel the promise is not vain,
That morn shall tearless be.”

    This verse of this great song reminds me that the Lord has far more good in store for me than a pain-free existence. I’m reminded of my natural and sinful expectation that  God should deliver me from all my problems in this life, which is not at all how He works. Joy comes through pain, not the easy life. Joy comes through hoping in God’s future promises even as we endure temporary trouble. More than that, the Lord is using this process of our learning to trust in Him through our pain to make us more faithful to Him and, more importantly, for us to know Him better.

Deuteronomy 8 teaches us this same principle. Moses tells the people that the Lord has been responsible for their hunger and their thirst. It was the Lord Himself that led them into discomfort and need and not the random forces of the world. The Lord was working to bring pain into their lives that they may learn a very valuable thing, that man does not live on physical provision alone but ultimately on the Word of God. In their pain, God was shouting to Israel that real life and joy come not from being provided for but in being in relationship with the God who had chosen to save them.

So often I grumble against God like Israel did. Times get tough financially, and I grumble. Relationships are strained and I get lonely, I grumble. Ministry efforts don’t go as I think they ought to, and I grumble. This shows that the same faithless heart full of misguided expectations resides in me as it did the nation of Israel, and if I know anything about human nature, it resides in you too. We are people prone to seeing God as a vending machine who we expect to spit out our wants and needs when we demand them, rather than a personal Father who loves us enough to give us what we need rather than what we want.

Here are some principles from Deuteronomy eight that we need to keep in mind when we are in the midst of pain and troubles of all kinds.

  • God brings pain into our lives for good, not harm. Notice that Israel was in need of correction, as we very often are ourselves. The Lord was using temporary hunger and thirst as the context by which He would humble them, discipline them, and make them know the true source of life and joy.
  • For God’s people, pain is a temporary condition that is answered by the Lord’s goodness. The pain and trouble of this life are often unbearable, but at the same time, they are always temporary. It will end. More than that, the Lord promises to be with us in our pain. It is in our pain that we most profoundly see the goodness of the Lord through His provision for us and presence with us.
  • Though we may be in pain in one area, the Lord is still active in providing for us and keeping us in others. Notice How the Lord had led Israel to a place of need and dependence and met them by keeping their clothing from wearing out for the forty years of their wandering. Though the Lord may inflict us, He will never utterly abandon us.
  • Pain teaches us the most valuable of lessons: to fear the Lord and to walk in His ways. The whole process of God’s humbling of His people and leading them to hunger ultimately was to drive them away from their faithlessness and sin and towards the goodness and trust of God. Proverbs 15:16 says,

“Better is a little with the fear of the Lord than great treasure and trouble with it.”

    What troubles, pain, or hunger are you facing today? It would be good to see this time as the Lord’s work in your life for your good, to draw you to Himself, and to teach you to trust and fear Him more. I know that pain and troubles are at times horrible. We should not be dismissive of the pain in our lives by pretending before others that it doesn’t affect us. Instead, we ought to acknowledge pain for what it is, a terrible reminder of how far we all have fallen from our Creator and of our desperate need to turn our hearts and fears back to Him. He is the only Joy in life or in death. He is the only Sustainer in plenty or in want. He is the only Healer in sickness and in health. He is the only Redeemer from sin and misery. The sooner we learn these lessons in our pain, the sooner we taste and see the goodness of the Lord and know His, “Joy that seekest us through pain”.

Grace and Peace.