Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Resting in God's Salvation

“You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the LORD your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the LORD your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath day.”

(Deuteronomy 5:15 ESV)

            During the season of Lent, we’ve been focusing on the Ten Commandments at Prince of Peace.  This last week, we looked at the Third Commandment.  However, there’s another aspect of this command that I did not bring out.

            We see the Commandments listed for us a second time in Deuteronomy 5.  And the above passage is connected to this Commandment.  We’re told in this passage that the Sabbath reminds us of our redemption.

            As he commands the people of Israel to remember the Sabbath and to rest on this day, he reminds them of their bondage in Egypt.  It's taught by many that this explained to them the reason for allowing rest even to their servants on the Sabbath.  However, although this is true, I believe it's for something more.

            He goes on to remind them that God brought them out of captivity by his power.  The people, themselves, had played no role whatsoever in their salvation.  And, for this reason, he says, they’re to remember the Sabbath.

            This day of rest, then, did something more than simply provide for them a day of physical refreshment.  It reminded them that their redemption from Egypt was an act of grace on the part of God.  He had done everything necessary to free them from their bondage.  They had done nothing to accomplish this great blessing.

            The Sabbath also gives the same reminder to us.  We weren’t saved from bondage in Egypt, like the Israelites.  However, we were freed from the bondage of sin and death.

            And, just like the Israelites, we played no role in this great work.  God accomplished it all.  He alone did everything necessary that we might have the forgiveness of sins and everlasting life.

            It was God who sent Jesus into the world to save us.  It was Jesus who died on the cross, paying the penalty of our sin.  And it was Jesus who rose from the dead, defeating the power of death.

            We receive this great blessing through faith in Jesus.  Yet, even faith is not something that we do by our own power.  We are brought to faith, faith is created in our heart, by the work of the Holy Spirit.

            For this reason, as we take a day of rest each week, we’re reminded of this important truth.  We’re reminded that God did the work of redeeming us from our sin.  We’re reminded that, if we’re to be saved, we must simply rest in him.

            This truth is brought out also in Hebrews 4:10, which says: “…for whoever has entered God's rest has also rested from his works as God did from his.” As people who have received the redemption provided by Christ, we no longer strive to earn our salvation.  We are, instead, able to simply enjoy the result of this great work of God.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Why Do the Good Suffer?

"None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one." 
(Romans 3:10-12 ESV)

There’s a common way that many of us struggle with our faith.  There is a difficulty that many believers encounter. And this struggle comes in to play as we see much of the suffering in our world.

We often witness friends and acquaintances suffer in terrible ways.  Perhaps it’s an illness, or a series of setbacks in their career.  Maybe it’s family problems.  Maybe it’s an unexpected death.  And we tell ourselves that it’s just not fair.  We tell ourselves that they don’t deserve this.

We think the same way when it comes to suffering in our own life.  As we experience hardships, we tell ourselves that we don’t deserve this.  We tell ourselves that it’s not just of God to allow a good person like us to suffer.

The same mindset also strikes us when it comes to the gospel.  We understand that we’re saved through faith in Jesus.  But, then, we begin to wonder: What about those who have never heard the gospel?  What about those who haven’t had the opportunity to believe?

We once again tell ourselves that this isn’t fair.  It isn’t fair that they should be condemned when they live in culture in which the gospel is absent.  And we ask why God would condemn all of these good people to hell.

One of the first things we must remember, and it’s also one of the primary things we remember during the season of Lent, is that we are not good people.  This is made very clear to us in the above passage.  And these truths, stated by Paul, are actually drawn out of the Old Testament.

In other words, this was not a new discovery that Paul was relating to the people.  It was not a new revelation.  It had been one of the foundational truths, given by God to man, for centuries.

For this reason, whenever I begin to think that someone doesn’t deserve the pain they’re enduring, whenever I begin to think that their suffering is unjust, and whenever I begin to think of someone as a good person (even if that person is myself), I’m drawn back to this truth: No one is good.  No one is righteous.  And we do, in fact, deserve all of the suffering we face in life.  In fact, we deserve so much more.

If God gave us what we deserved, none of us would be here today.  If he gave us what we deserved, we’d all be in hell at this very moment.  We’d all be facing an eternity of torment, separated from God and his blessings.  And there would be no possibility of forgiveness or salvation.

It’s only by God’s grace that I’m alive today.  It’s only by his grace that I possess the things that I need.  It’s only by his grace that I’ve received the forgiveness of sins and everlasting life.

For this reason, instead of accusing God for every last bit of suffering we experience, or for that experienced by others, we should praise him for his love and goodness.  We should thank him for the unmerited favor he has lavished upon us.  And we should seek to make the good news known to others that they too might escape the suffering and the punishment they so clearly deserve.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Watch Your Mouth

“Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.”

(Colossians 4:5-6 ESV)

            As we talked about the Second Commandment on Sunday, we noted that language, in our culture, has grown increasingly vulgar and irreverent.  Cursing and insults have become a part of our everyday speech.  Vulgar jokes have become the norm.  And, as this practice has become more common in society, it’s also become more common among us as Christians.

            We think that we must talk in this way as a demonstration of strength.  We believe it reveals to others that we’re not to be trifled with.  We will not be a doormat.  We will not allow ourselves to be trampled upon.

            Yet, in the above passage, God calls us to something different.  He tells us to walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of our time.  He then goes on to say that we’re to let our speech be gracious at all times. 

            What does this mean?  Grace, as we know, is unmerited favor.  This tells us that we’re to speak to people not according to what they deserve.  We are to speak favorably to them, no matter how they are behaving toward us.

            I don’t mean by this that we can never say no to anyone.  I mean that we’re to speak lovingly, even when their speech is unloving.  We’re not to hold their wrongs against them, but speak to them in a way that demonstrates mercy and compassion.   Our speech is to reflect the love and the grace that God has demonstrated toward us and all mankind.

            This does not make us weak.  It, instead, points people to Christ.  It reveals to them the love of God which has been given to us and which he offers to them.

            Our natural tendency is also to blend in with the world around us.  Our tendency is to speak as they speak.  And we do this so that we’re not made to feel different.  We do this that we might not be excluded.

However, we’re told in this passage that our speech is to be seasoned with salt.  In other words, it’s to be distinct from that of everyone else around us.  It’s to stand out from the rest of society.  And, again, this is done as a testimony.  It reveals to others that there’s something different about us.

This, then, guides us in our response to others.  We are to speak to them as God would speak to them.  We are to share his heart for those around us, desiring their blessing and salvation.

I realize that this is easier said than done.  After all, we’re not Jesus.  We’re not perfect.  We continue to possess a sinful nature.  And that sinful nature often spills out of our mouth.

It’s for this reason that we seek the mercy of God.  It’s for this reason that we ask him to work in our heart.  And it’s for this reason that we ask him to speak through us, as we interact with the world around us. 

Thursday, February 16, 2017

The Sins of the Father?

“…for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.”

(Exodus 20:5-6 ESV)

            The verses above come at the tail end of the First Commandment.  God tells us that we’re to have no other gods before him, and that we aren’t to make for ourselves an image and bow down to it.  He then informs us that he’s a jealous God, that he will not share us with another.

            We all understand this command.  But, at this point, he says something that causes many of us to struggle.  He says that he visits the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generation of those who hate him.

As we read this, we begin to wonder what this means and why he would do this. It initially sounds to us like God is promising to punish children for the sins of their fathers.  It sounds as though they will be condemned for the sins of their father. 

However, God tells us elsewhere in Scripture that this is not the case. In Ezekiel 18, starting in verse 19, we read:  "Yet you say, 'Why should not the son suffer for the iniquity of the father?' When the son has done what is just and right, and has been careful to observe all my statutes, he shall surely live. The soul who sins shall die. The son shall not suffer for the iniquity of the father, nor the father suffer for the iniquity of the son. The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself.”

            God tells us clearly in this passage that we aren’t punished for the sins of our father.  We are punished for our own sins.  So what is this whole business of generational sin talked about in the Ten Commandments?

            It reminds us, first of all, that children will often bear the worldly consequences for the sins of their father.  For example, if dad has a gambling problem, it may leave his children in poverty for years to come.  And if one spouse chooses to break up the family, it can have a lasting impact upon their children. 

            We, then, must consider how our actions will impact our children.  We must consider how our sins might influence the generations to come.  Might our sins cause a lasting impact to fall upon those we love?

            However, it also brings us to a place where we must search our heart.  We must recognize the fact that our sins are often inherited.  I don’t mean they’re inherited in the sense that they’re genetic.  They’re inherited in the sense that they’re learned behavior. 

The sins of our father are normal for us.  And, in the same way, our sins become normal to our children.  And, because it’s normal, because it’s what they know, they tend to act out in the same way.  This is why we see that children of alcoholics have a greater tendency to become alcoholics themselves.  This is why we see that those who grow up in an abusive home have a greater tendency to be abusive.

We can all likely recognize certain tendencies that we picked up from our father and our mother.  This can be true of simple mannerisms.  But it can also be true in terms of sin.

The question we must ask ourselves is this: What sins are a regular part of our life?  What sins might our kids be learning from us?  What sins might we be normalizing for our children in the way that we live?

This is a difficult question.  None of us want to think that we might be teaching our children to sin, even if it’s inadvertent.  However, we’re all guilty of this in some way.

This passage also reveals to us that, if we aren’t following the Lord, it’s not likely that our children will follow him either.  If they learn from their parents that the Lord isn’t important, this is likely how they’ll live their life.  It is, of course, possible for God to intervene through another person.  However, the influence of a parent is great.

It’s essential that we confess our sins and repent for our own sake.  It’s essential that we might receive God’s mercy.  However, it’s also important that we do this so that we don’t lead our children into sinful behavior and into a life of unrepentance.  We don’t want to be the cause of our children’s rebellion and their ultimate judgment.

That being said, we also receive a great comfort in this troubling phrase.  We see that God’s grace is greater than his punishment.  Although he visits iniquity on the third and fourth generations of those who hate him, he pours out his love to thousands of those who love him and keep his commandments.

Tuesday, February 07, 2017

A Reminder to a Politically Charged Era

“Woe to those who go down to Egypt for help and rely on horses, who trust in chariots because they are many and in horsemen because they are very strong,  but do not look to the Holy One of Israel or consult the Lord! And yet he is wise and brings disaster; he does not call back his words, but will arise against the house of the evildoers and against the helpers of those who work iniquity. The Egyptians are man, and not God, and their horses are flesh, and not spirit. When the Lord stretches out his hand, the helper will stumble, and he who is helped will fall, and they will all perish together.”
Isaiah 31:1-3

As I’ve been reading the news, and as I’ve been surfing social media, just about everything is politically focused.  I honestly thought that, once the election was over, this would die down.  But apparently I was wrong...very wrong.

Frankly, it's driving me nuts.  I believe that people on both sides of the political aisle have been making a serious mistake. I'm guessing that they don't even realize it. And this is true of people in the church as well.

The mistake they've made is that they're placing their trust, not in God, but in man. They trust in political leaders to keep them safe and to preserve their rights. They look to alliances for security. They look to the government to ensure that their needs are provided for.

Although I realize that our government has a huge impact on world affairs, and although I realize that our political leaders have enormous influence on our nation as a whole, we fail to recognize the sovereignty of God.  We fail to realize that he is ultimately in control of everything that happens in the world around us.  And, for this reason, we must trust in him, and in him alone.

This is something about which the Lord warned the people of Judah.  They were facing the threat of the Assyrian Empire.  And, for this reason, they sought safety in an alliance with Egypt.  

God warned those who went down to Egypt for help.  He warned those who relied on horses and trusted in chariots.  He warned those who did this rather than looking to the Lord.

He reminds them that the Egyptians were mere men.  He reminds them that horses are mere flesh. They are not God.  They were not deserving of the people’s trust.

He then gives a threatening statement.  He says that, when he stretches out his hand, when he acts in judgment, both the helper and the helped would fall.  They would perish together.

This is a warning that we must heed today as well.  Those placing all of their hope in the Republican or the Democratic party, those placing their hope in NATO or in the United Nations, must recognize this truth.  Those in whom we are placing our trust are mere men.  Their armies are mere flesh. And trusting in them will lead to our downfall.

We must trust in the Lord, and in the Lord alone.  He alone can provide for us.  And he alone can ensure our safety.

I understand that we want those in leadership who best reflect our values.  I understand that it’s desirable to have those in office who we believe will lead our nation down the right path.  And I would encourage all citizens to vote.  But, at the same time, we must bear in mind who they are.  

We must bear in mind that even the best of them are fallen sinners.  And no matter how good their intentions, no matter how wonderful their promises, and no matter the influence they seem to have, it’s the Lord in whom we must trust.  Trusting in man will lead only to our downfall.