Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Bent But Not Broken

     Rat-a-tat-tat echoes throughout our neighborhood these days as roofers work on repairing what Hurricane Irma took from many of us.  It is an almost daily sound in our area and still there are many more rooftops waiting their turn for help.  Many of our street signs are still bent or missing even after six months have gone by, and while the branches and debris are long gone, there remains scars on the landscape.  In the aftermath of a major storm, we can expect nothing less than the changes brought about by powerful wind.
     On my daily walk, I never cease to be amazed at the number of trees that were bent under the wind but did not break.  As believers in Jesus Christ, we are much like those trees in our lives.  The storms that life brings can be just as powerful leaving us bent but because of Christ, not broken.  Death of a loved one, sickness, depression, broken relationships or financial woes can hit us like a hurricane.  We may think we are prepared for what will come our way, but life here is not always easy or predictable.
     Our Sunday School class is working its way through the sermons on Ephesians given by Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones.  As we opened the last class, we looked at the first verse of chapter three where Paul states that he is a prisoner of Jesus Christ.  This is a verse, quite frankly, that I have read many times without pausing to really consider what Paul was trying to convey.  Dr. Lloyd-Jones pointed out that Paul was in prison when he penned this letter and made a digression at this point to let the Ephesians know that it was for their glory he was there.  He felt compelled by God's Holy Spirit to make it clear that while the Christian life is joyful it is also filled with the tribulations of the fallen world in which we live.  We will face persecution, misunderstanding and trials but God is there with us in it all.
     As we began to discuss this, we thought of others who have faced enormous challenges such as Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Joni Eareckson Tada, Corrie Ten Boom, and the many Scottish Covenanters who died in the Grassmarket of Edinburgh, Scotland for their faith.  There is no shortage of those who faced injustice because of their stand for Christ.  Paul goes on in this chapter to point out that he was in prison because he preached the Gospel to Gentiles.  Due to the outcry of the Jewish leaders, Paul was arrested.  Yes, it was unfair, unjust and a perversion of law, but Paul saw it in terms of being a prisoner of Christ...not the Roman government.  When we consider his imprisonment, we cannot fail to think of how he used the time to write many of the letters in the New Testament that guide us in our faith today.
     Paul was not only imprisoned, but we know he also suffered stoning, shipwreck, and being bitten by a poisonous serpent.  He had lived through it all but he had learned to be content because he knew that Christ was his Redeemer.  Philippians 4:11-13 says:  "11 I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. 13 I can do all this through him who gives me strength."  This is where the process of growing more Christ-like takes place in the pressure and pain of daily living.
     Irma left many scars in our county that are still being fixed, but those bent trees are a testimony to what a deep root system can do when a mighty storm comes crashing into an area.  Likewise, we may face some hard places, but like Paul, we can look to Christ as our Redeemer and Savior in it all.  Psalm 37:24 reminds us:  "...though he may stumble, he will not fall, for the LORD upholds him with his hand."  We are in His hands through Christ our Lord.  No matter what we face He will never leave us nor forsake us.  Selah!

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Have We Lost the Fear of God?

     When the Winter Olympic games were on, my favorite sport was figure skating.  I love to watch the athletes do their jumps.  They make it look so easy.  Of course, if I attempted that without practice, I would be in the hospital.  The interesting thing is that many skaters have been through injuries as there are many falls before you can perfect the moves necessary to compete.  The difference between a competitor and a casual skater is that they get up and try again.  They have a healthy respect for the ice, but they do not let it overwhelm them.  However, if they lose that respect, they could be injured once more.
     In many ways, the Christian walk is very similar.  We are to have a healthy respect, awe and worshipful attitude towards God our Creator.  This is what it means to fear the Lord.  He is holy, righteous, pure, just, good and loving.  Yet, we know from Scripture that He is also a God of wrath who visits judgment on those who turn away from Him.  Proverbs 9:10 tells us:  "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding."  Those who do not fear God often find the consequences painful.  Such was the case of Miriam in the Old Testament.
     Miriam was the sister of Moses, and she and Aaron (the brother of Moses) complained against Moses because of his choice of a
wife according to Numbers 12.  They felt God had spoken to them just as much as to Moses.  Can you see their pride creeping in? Miriam may have instigated the murmuring but it did not go unnoticed by God.  The Lord called a meeting of the three at the tent of meeting.  This is what He said to them:  "And He said, 'Hear my words: If there is a prophet among you, I the Lord make myself known to him in a vision; I speak with him in a dream.  Not so with my servant Moses.  He is faithful in all My house.  With him I speak mouth to mouth, clearly, and not in riddles and he beholds the form of the Lord.  Why then were you not afraid to speak against my servant Moses?'  And the anger of the Lord was kindled against them and He departed" (Numbers 12:6-9).  When God departed, the Bible tells us that Miriam was leprous.  Both Aaron and Moses pleaded with the Lord on her behalf.  They acknowledged their sin.  God answered them and said that Miriam should remain leprous outside the camp for seven days and then, she could return.  All of this happened as the Lord had said.
      What can we take away from this event in the Old Testament?  There are several things we can observe.  Obviously, God is sovereign and whom He chooses to lead the people is a decision not to be taken lightly.  This does not mean that Moses was without sin.  He most assuredly fell short which is why he was unable to enter into the Promised Land.  Nevertheless, the Lord had appointed him to lead the people.  When Miriam began complaining against Moses, the Lord took it personally.  He had established this man as His designated head of state.  We know from the New Testament that we are told to pray for our leaders and those who have authority over us.  God sets kings and rulers according to His good pleasure for His purpose.  If we believe that our Father has our best interests at heart, then we need to trust Him with whomever He selects to rule over us.  We may or may not like him/her but we are told to pray for them and submit to their rule.
     Secondly, we see that Miriam's pride blinded her to her sin.  Undermining Moses, would lead to discord and division.  It also led to consequences for her behavior.  Often, we think we can do something secretly and get away with it.  All we have to do is look at children.  They may sneak a cookie or take a toy, but sooner or later they are found out.  Luke 8:17 says:  "For nothing is hidden that will not become evident, nor anything secret that will not be known and come to light."  Jesus warned us that our sins would surely find us out.  Having a healthy fear of God would keep us on the right path and out of trouble.  For Miriam, it was leprosy for 7 days.  It was her shame for what she had done.  We have to remember that when we sin and confess it we are forgiven, but there may be consequences for our actions that we will have to face.
     Finally, we need to be aware that God hears everything that we say and sees all we do.  As He witnessed Miriam and Aaron murmuring against Moses, He instituted a meeting with the three.  Just because we do not see God in terms of a physical presence, He is with us always.  He knows the thoughts and intents of our heart.  Now that is scary or should be!  This is an important reason to fear God.  If only Miriam had thought about this before she spoke.
     Having a healthy respect for and reverence for an almighty, powerful God will lead to wisdom and understanding as the Scripture tells us.  This is precisely why this event is recorded in Numbers.  All of us can fall into the sin of murmuring against our leaders.  Instead, we need to pray for them.  If we do not care for a particular leader, then work to elect someone else in the future but in the meantime, we are to fear God by respecting those He has chosen to put in authority.
     Keeping our heart humble before the Lord leads to obedience and obeying God is better than sacrifice (I Samuel 15:2).  We will not have to face consequences when we fear the Lord.  My prayer for our nation is that we could regain the precious fear of the Lord which causes divisions in families and among neighbors alike.  Let us pray and not murmur.  In this, God will be glorified.  Selah!

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Holy, Holy, Holy

     Reading through the Bible this year has been a joy since finding a five day program that is easy to follow.  I must admit, though, that reading the book of Leviticus is challenging with all of its lengthy description of sacrifices, rituals and actions that God expected His people to obey.  I have read this portion of God's Word many times thinking how tedious it was until a light bulb turned on in my brain.  In all of this minute detail, there was a clear thread running through the pages.  God is holy, and He has called a people to Himself to also be holy.  Leviticus 20:26 says:  "You shall be holy to me, for I the LORD am holy and have separated you from the peoples, that you should be mine."  Their approach to Him, their worship of Him was to be done in a manner consistent with His purity.  God cannot tolerate sin, and this is why there were so many blood sacrifices required.
     Often, we think of this as an Old Testament mandate and do not realize that Jesus also told us our lives are to be different than before we received Him as our Lord and Savior.  Matthew 5:48 (The Sermon on the Mount), Jesus said:  "You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect."  In our own strength, this is impossible, but as Christians, we have the Holy Spirit applying the imputed righteousness of Christ
.  He is able to do in us what we cannot do for ourselves.
     Peter's letter also reiterates this call to live a holy life for God's glory in I Peter 1:14-16:  "As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, 'You shall be holy, for I am holy.'"  When we consider God's detailed instructions to Israel as well as what we are told by Jesus and the Apostle Peter, we know that living a holy life before God must be very important.
     One of the reasons God calls us to holy living is that we might glorify Him in this world.  Our conduct speaks volumes to those who do not know the love of Christ.  How we run our business, treat other people, care for our family and live out our faith is something others see.  After all, Peter calls us a royal priesthood (I Peter 2:9):  "But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God's special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out."  Our witness in daily living lets others know where we stand that God may be praised.
     In addition to our witness, we also demonstrate holy living when we worship God in fellowship with other believers.  According to Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, "God does not work through big battalions, He is not interested in numbers; He is interested in purity, in holiness, in vessels fit and meet for the Master's use.  We must concentrate not on numbers, but upon doctrine, upon regeneration, upon holiness, upon the realization that this is a holy temple in the Lord, a habitation of God" (God's Way of Reconciliation, pg 376).  As we sing praises, listen to God's Word being preached and enter into corporate prayer, we are demonstrating to the world that we are a people set apart by God to bring Him glory.
     Living a holy life also means that the fruit of God's Holy Spirit will be evident in our lives.  Galatians 5:22 lists the fruit of our lives as believers:  "love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodnesss, faithfulness, gentleness and self control."  Again, we cannot do this in our own strength, but as we grow in our faith, the Holy Spirit will bring forth this fruit in our lives.  Not only will this glorify God, but it will also bless those around us.
     Not many of us think about holiness on a daily basis and yet this is one of the most important characteristics of our Heavenly Father.  Through prayer, Bible study and worship, we will grow to know Him more each day.  As we do this, our minds are changed and we radiate His holiness and His glory.  It is to this end that God has called us that we might be a light in this dark world.
     Let me commend to you an excellent book on this subject:  The Holiness of God by Dr. R.C. Sproul.  It is well worth the time to read this.  May we all strive to live holy lives so that others will see Jesus in us.  Selah!