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.

 

On Faith: Who’s doing the Choosing, Man or God?

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     “For you are a people holy to the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth.  It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the Lord set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples,  but it is because the Lord loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers, that the Lord has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt.” — Deuteronomy 7:6-8

Back in 1992, after graduating from high school, I met this really pretty and fun girl who captured both my eyes and my heart and who later, by God’s grace, became my wife. At the time I was a “churched unbeliever” with strong Baptist roots but no real faith in Christ. Lanaea was a believer in Jesus and was attending a Presbyterian Church. I knew very little about the Bible and even less about this Reformed Faith that I was hearing so much talk of, but there were a couple things that really bothered me about what these Presbyterians believed about the Bible. The most offensive to me at the time was their doctrine of election. This doctrine says that God has sovereignly and lovingly chosen some to rescue from their sin and misery and has left others in their unbelief, rebellion and judgment. I remember thinking that this doctrine made God out to be unfair, and unjust while making people out to be mere robots. But as I studied the Bible for myself I came to embrace Jesus as my Savior and quickly understood that He had chosen me long before I had chosen Him.

I was reminded of this time in my life when I read the passage above recently. Moses is continuing to remind God’s people of who they are in the Lord and that therefore they should obey and honor Him. This pattern is often referred to as the “indicative-imperative” pattern where the writer is rooting the people in who they are as an encouragement to live up to their identity. Paul uses this pattern often in his letters to the church and can be summed up as, “You ARE God’s people, so act, live, and talk like God’s people”. Notice how different this pattern is to the natural tendency of the human heart which says, “If you want to be one of God’s people, then start acting like it”. The former is a Gospel pattern, the latter is a lie from Hell.

Here are few thoughts on what Moses declares about the identity of the nation of Israel as he is imploring them to obey their God.

  • The Lord’s people are a chosen people (vs 6). I have heard it said so many times, and even said it myself in the past that it is unjust and unfair for God to choose some and not others. We must be careful of what we say because it is quite clear from this passage that God is in fact in the choosing business. He had chosen Israel out from the other nations to save them and bless them. Was He unfair or unjust to do that for Israel? Why then would He be unjust or unfair to do it for us?
  • The Lord intends for, and declares that, His chosen people will be holy as He is holy and are His treasured possession (vs 6 and 7). This is such a key point for us to grasp. Our righteousness, holiness and standing with God comes from His choosing to place those things on us, not by us trying to attain them by our own effort. In short, men are only holy, righteous, and good because God has chosen them to be so and declared them to be so. You cannot attain right standing with God by trying hard to obey Him. Stop your striving and receive the righteousness of God in His Gospel alone!
  • The Lord’s choice of people is not because they are better than everyone else but because He has set His love on them (vs 7& 8). Some accuse Christians like me, who believe in God’s election of some for salvation, of being arrogant, that we believe we are better than others and that’s why God would choose us. Nothing could be farther from the truth! God saves the weak, the small, and the unimpressive. There is no room for arrogance in that! (See 1 Corinthians 1:26-31 for the same idea.)

I could go on with these but this is a blog and not a sermon. I would like to finish with one last important point, though.

  • God’s chosing of people does not make them robots but frees them to willingly obey Him with all their hearts. Look at what Moses says later in the passage.

“You shall therefore be careful to do the commandments and the statutes and the rules that I command you today.” Deut. 7:11. 

I hope you can clearly see the Gospel driven principle of Moses’ words. God’s people are to obey Him because that is who they already are. Their identity is that they are chosen, holy, and beloved by the Lord. Their response is to willingly and gratefully obey His voice and live according to their God-given identity. There are no robots here. God’s sovereignty does no harm to human choice or responsibility, rather His sovereignty undergirds and motivates the human will for obedience!

I pray that you all see this principle not only in Deuteronomy 7 but also throughout the rest of Scripture. I pray that you would choose to worship freely and truly the God who has freely and lovingly chosen you. If you are not a believer and you are wondering if the Lord has chosen you or not for salvation, hear this. The only way we can know if the Lord has chosen us as His own is that we have repented of our sin and trusted in Jesus as Savior. This choice of ours shows us that the Lord has chosen us and has been long working to bring us to Himself in love. Embrace Jesus today and so show yourself to be chosen by God! If you are a Christian then obey Jesus today! Not that you would be more loved and accepted by Him, but precisely because you are already infinitely loved and accepted by Him!

So, does God choose us or do we choose Him? The answer simply is Yes….