Archive for March, 2012

Faithful God, Forever pt. VI

Spiritual Discipline: Faithfulness (Truth)

Jeremiah felt deceived by the LORD, and useless to his people—they would not change, despite his divine proclamations! Known as the “weeping prophet,” he cried out to God, “The word of the Lord has brought me insult and reproach all day long. But if I say, ‘I will not mention him or speak any more in his name,’ his word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones. I am weary of holding it in; indeed, I cannot” (Jeremiah 20:8-9). Jeremiah proclaimed God’s word to a people who returned his convictions with insults and persecution. The Israelites would not change their ways despite the truth Jeremiah declared to them from Yahweh.

All too often, I get weary and frustrated when I teach or tell others what the Bible says about a certain situation, and they still will not change or take the necessary steps to draw closer to God based on what I just told them. In these times I can feel useless, thinking, “What does it matter if I teach or speak biblical truth? Why bother? They’ll never change.” But maybe, it was I who needed to change.

In the Old Testament, Yahweh spoke through prophets to guide adulterous Israel back into a right relationship with Him. These faithful prophets proclaimed truth time and time again, yet the people’s hearts were so hardened, their pride too severe, their adulteries too pleasurable for them to repent of their ways and turn back to Yahweh. Their disregard of the truth and of those whom Yahweh sent to proclaim it resulted in exile, familial disorder, persecution, and God “divorcing” his people (although because of His faithful love and covenant promises, he redeemed them later, despite their adulteries).

Truth is a gift, just as love is a gift. Truth convicts, and most often doesn’t feel like a gift at the time it is received. In most instances, truth dictates the severance of a relationship, or habit, or some sinful practice, and this is something many of us do not have the strength or desire to do. Justifications may set in as to why the lies are more acceptable, or one may find ways to validate, “This is from God!” And they cannot be convinced otherwise, regardless of biblical truth. Sadly, when they choose their own way, refusing to heed correction when it is offered in the form of biblical truth and prayer, sin snowballs until it reaches a pinnacle to where many lives are affected, and the damages can sometimes become irrevocable (but always redeemable).

Just recently, God exposed to me the truth of my hardheartedness and pride. For so long I had lived in bondage to control. My sin was in my expectations of others to change according to my insights from the Bible and from God. Their change had to take place my way, on my timetable, and with my “divine” assistance. And I grew discouraged that no one changed as a result of my convictions. I left no room for the Holy Spirit to take over once I spoke what was revealed. I even expected God to work in the way I wanted Him to work. Control dominated me. The moment God revealed to me that even my love for others was based on how they responded to me, I was heartbroken and confessed my hardhearted and unloving tendencies to God. He lovingly showed me that people are not under my authority, they are under His. I am simply His conduit of grace, truth, and love. God isn’t setting me free from these sins and rebellion, today His grace has set me free.

God convicted me that I am not called to change people—I am called to preach, teach, and model the gospel, I am called to a life of obedience and transformation, I am called to speak redemptive truth into a world deceived by the enemy—but I cannot change anyone! Change and transformation is the work of the Holy Spirit. As disciples, we partner with the Holy Spirit as we speak and preach the truth found in the Word of God. Once truth is delivered, it is then up to the person to want to, or choose to change based on the truth he or she has received. If the person refuses to change, it is not our responsibility to make them. God doesn’t even make people change. He desires that they would seek Him and repent of their ways, but He will not force anyone.

Oswald Chambers says, “If the Spirit of God detects anything in you that is wrong, He doesn’t ask you to make it right; He only asks you to accept the light of truth, and then He will make it right. A child of the light will confess sin instantly and stand completely open before God. But a child of the darkness will say, ‘Oh, I can explain that.’ When the light shines and the Spirit brings conviction of sin, be a child of the light. Confess your wrongdoing, and God will deal with it. If, however, you try to vindicate yourself, you prove yourself to be a child of the darkness.”

Jeremiah was deeply troubled by his people’s rebellion and adultery, he longed for them to heed his prophetic convictions and turn back to Yahweh. What we may not realize is that since Jeremiah was the voice of Yahweh, it is likely that Jeremiah also possessed the heart of Yahweh (just as disciples of Christ possess the Spirit of Christ)—and Yahweh was deeply troubled by His people rejecting truth and change, and so we have our “weeping prophet.” When we justify sin and disobedience we break God’s heart.

I, too, despair as Jeremiah did over the moral decay ravaging our churches, our culture—even Christ’s disciples. It burdens me how we choose to break God’s heart over bringing Him pleasure. My desire for us, as disciples, is to speak truth into sin, to proclaim and live the gospel of Jesus Christ—but our attitudes and expectations must be subject to Him. The discipline of submission means I do not need to have my way to love. God’s Spirit indwells me, so His truth burns within me to where I must proclaim it. But the outcome, the change, the transformation, that’s the Holy Spirit’s job. How freeing it is to love and speak truth, expecting nothing in return, thereby releasing the Spirit of God to do His work.

Challenge: Prayerfully consider if there is a truth God is trying to show you. If so, spend the next week researching Scriptures to see what God is saying, and consider what area(s) He may want to change and transform in you.

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Love’s Eternal Covenant

Posted: March 18, 2012 in Uncategorized

Faithful God, Forever pt. V

Spiritual Discipline: Faithfulness (Love)

“Let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another” (1 John 4:7-11).

The three most cherished words to hear from someone are “I love you.” I. Love. You. When delivered with sincerity, not one word is omitted. “Love ya!” or the like, is not an expression of perfect love, rather this contemporary phrasing is one of fondness. Or, “I love chocolate.” Do I truly love chocolate, or do I simply enjoy it? The word “love” has been reduced to describe something we enjoy, or someone we enjoy, or lust playing the role of love. But, when the Bible talks about how God loved His people, how Christ loves the church, how a husband and his wife are to love  one another, how close friends are to love each other, this definition takes on a whole new meaning.

Love is a gift from God. It has an intended purpose: to bring into intimate union. Christ came into the world so that we might “live through him” in oneness with Him, and with each other. God loved His people, Israel, but He could not force them into intimate union with Himself. He did everything to show His love for them—He provided for them; protected them; chose them; cherished them; counseled them; and so much more. And yet, they rejected God by their actions, by their adultery. But God, in His persistence and faithful love, continued to pursue His people, and why? Because He desired a relationship of divine love with them.

To love as God loves means exposing the most vulnerable part of our being: the heart. Song of Songs (or, Song of Solomon) is a book of the Bible that demonstrates the divine expression of love—love between a husband and his bride, amongst friends celebrating the gift of love, between Christ and the church. When we read this book through pre-fall eyes, we experience love as beautiful, passionate, pure, faithful, celebratory, significant, and deeply divine. God gave us this book to express the wholesome pursuit of divine love. In it, God exposes His heart of love—and He risks our perversion of the book, and our rejection of His divine and loving pursuit—in the hope that we will accept His love and seek to love Him and others with the same intimacy and union as he gives to us.

But, this does not happen. God’s love is most often met with adulterous rebellion. To love as God loves means risking our very selves to inexpressible pain and rejection. Israel rejected God for the sole purpose of pursuing what made them happy in the moment. Isn’t that what adultery is all about? One spouse ceases to make the other happy in some way, so the slighted spouse (or both spouses), with unmet needs, seeks what they crave in the form of an inappropriate relationship with someone they are not in a committed, lifelong relationship with. We live, and have always lived under an entitlement philosophy that is not from God. Love is not how one person can make “me” happy. There are a few nonnegotiables to love: faithfulness, covenant, and commitment. To love someone means I remain faithful and committed to that person, under the covenant we, together, established before a God of divine love. Among friends, under the union of the Church as the Body of Christ, it means despite how my friend responds to me, I will still love.

How “happy” do you think Jesus was to go to the cross? Or, who was meeting His emotional or physical needs when He chose to die for those He loved? The answer: no one. He was rejected, repeatedly. But, He loved nonetheless. He pursues nonetheless. He gave Himself up so God would never give up on us. Consider how many times, in one minute, God is rejected by the people He loves. And then consider how many times He continues to pursue those who reject Him.

One does not have to be married to experience rejection from someone they love. How many close friendships, or family relationships are ended due to unmet needs? However, when one continues to love, continues to pursue the relationship, despite the other’s rejection, this persistent pursuit demonstrates the love of Christ. Rejection is hard—from a spouse, from a close friend, from a family member—we have all caught a glimpse of the pain God must experience minute-by-minute. Love is hard, but it is so rewarding when the love is lived out through Christ. I’ve heard it said once, love is a choice. One can choose to love despite another’s rejection. Or, one can choose to sever the relationship—in which case, was it really love?

To experience and demonstrate divine love means that though I may expose my heart to pain and risk rejection, the persistence and faithfulness of unconditional love will always be present for me to give. To love means I’ve received an eternal gift. A gift of joy, of union, of faithfulness, of divinity, of preparation for eternity comprised of selfless giving. Love is selfless. If I love, expecting something in return that will make me happy, then my self-made delusion of love will disappoint me every time. To learn what it means to love, look at the Trinity, look at the cross, look at God. And then, risk loving in such a way that no one can sever the gift that has been given to you. Persist in love, not under the worldly entitlement and adulterous version of “love” (a.k.a. lust), but through the One who is love—Christ Jesus.

Challenge: Read Song of Songs and 1 Corinthians 13. Contemplate what godly, eternal, and Christ-like love is. And then ask yourself, is this how I love?

Faithful God, Forever pt. IV

Spiritual Discipline: Faithfulness (Marriage)

Marriage not only declares the Gospel, it is the Gospel. How one views and honors marriage is oftentimes how one views and honors the Gospel of Jesus Christ. And, because this covenant represents God, Satan has declared an all-out, since time began assault on the marriage covenant. Steve DeNeff, senior pastor of College Wesleyan Church, said, “When you got married it was so you could have on earth what the Triune God has in heaven.” We’ve somehow reduced the Gospel to a simple transaction between God and man, yet it’s so much more! The Gospel is about a marriage covenant within the Triune God, and His relationship with us. Honor marriage, honor God. Dishonor marriage, dishonor God.

Read Ephesians 5.

Though the entire chapter is rich with related material depth, verses 21-33 are of notable significance. In these verses, Paul talks about the relationship between a husband and a wife in relation to Christ and the church. In order to be “imitators of God,” we must understand the nature of God and that which He instituted as most representative of His relationship with us.

The husband is the head of the wife, just as Christ is the head of the church (his body). The wife is to submit to her husband in everything, just as the church is to submit to Christ in everything. The husband is to love his wife as he loves his own body, just as Christ feeds and nourishes his body, the church, whom he loves. In fact, Christ loved the church enough to give Himself up for her. Paul quotes Genesis 2:24 when he says that “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” The Son left the Father to save His bride, the church, so that the two would be united as one flesh (see John 14, 17)—this is a “profound mystery.” No one is to separate the Bride (church) from Christ, just as no one is to separate the husband from the wife. Marriage is sacred.

In his book, God’s Unfaithful Wife: A Biblical Theology of Spiritual Adultery, Raymond Ortlund says, “From the beginning, the institution of human marriage embodied a message of divine romance pursuing a human response. As God called Hosea to the tragedy of a broken marriage to symbolize Yahweh’s love for wayward Israel, so the gospel calls a Christian husband and wife to ‘one flesh’ authenticity to symbolize Christ’s love for his devoted church. … And every human marriage is truest to itself when it points beyond itself, representing something of Christ and the church in their perfect union (Ortlund, 159).” The strength of Christian marriages, and especially the restoration of struggling marriages, declares to an immoral, impure world the redemptive power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

As a single person, why do I care so much about the marriage covenant? The answer, though more complex to state here, is that Jesus Christ restored me to Himself and into a devoted relationship within His body, the church (this is true for every Christian disciple). I honor and revere such redemption. Marriages that are struggling, adulterous affairs (emotional or sexual), and divorce break my heart and my spirit. Over the years, I’ve come to understand what marriage is to God, and I’ve seen how people caught in the midst of separation, adultery, and divorce, have been under an all-out assault from Satan—and the casualties have become too numerous. As the church, the body of Christ, it is our responsibility, our calling to help restore marriages and to stop allowing Satan so much leeway and victory. I was restored—just as all disciples of Jesus Christ have been restored—so I long to see marriages restored because they represent God.

In the coming weeks, as I continue this series on God’s faithfulness, I will be taking this marriage theme even deeper into the biblical text. I will talk about God’s wayward wife, Israel, and His devotion to her despite her adulteries. Such adulteries are present in our culture today as we see in our political system, in entertainment, and in broken marriages. I will talk about Christ’s relationship with the church, His bride. I will talk about divorce and marriage. I am not at all indifferent to the extreme sensitivity these topics represent. Redemption and healing are available, by God’s grace, to all who’ve undergone the pain of separation and divorce, especially when the divorce was not wanted by one of the spouses.

Finally, my intent is not to cast judgment, for as Paul said in 1 Timothy 1:15-16, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life.” In other words, I am not in a position to judge anyone, rather I long to see marriages healed, people restored, and the love Christ has for the church exposed to a broken world. I rejoice with strong, flourishing marriages and the powerful testimony they are of the Gospel, and the much needed model they serve for our adulterous culture. My goal in all of this is simply to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ and His love for us, and to ignite a passion in each disciple to unite with the church by loving, honoring, and revering our God in heaven.

Challenge: Read and compare Genesis 1-2 with John 17. By comparing these chapters, do you come to a better understanding of the sacred one flesh union between a husband and a wife, within the Triune God, and between Christ and the church? Finally, pray daily for at least one strong, vibrant marriage—encourage them. And then, ask God to reveal a struggling marriage that you will commit to praying for as well.

Spiritual Discipline: Faithfulness (Covenant)

Are you in a covenantal relationship with God? If so, what are the terms and conditions? What is the symbol of that covenant? What is it that others see in your life that tells them that you belong to God? For example, whenever I see a wedding ring on someone’s finger, I know that they are vowed to someone and in a covenant relationship with that other person. The wedding band is (or should be) a permanent fixture on their hand that tells the world, at all times, I am committed to someone for this lifetime. So, what is it that tells that world, at all times, that you and I—as Christians—belong to God for eternity?

A rainbow is one of the most beautiful mysteries in all of creation. Words cannot do justice to the magical display of colors that decorates the sky when this symbol of God’s covenant appears. Whenever I see a rainbow, I remember that God has put this enigma into being as a symbol that the earth belongs to Him. Examine the importance of this first covenant that God established in Genesis 9:1-17. In the creation story, God created the earth first, before man. In this particular covenant with Noah, God vows to never again destroy the earth by flood. Noah was a part of this covenant, but the covenant was made with the earth, with all the creatures of the earth, and with all of life (see Genesis 8:21; 9:1-17). This is significant when we examine the next phase of the covenant process and how closely it resembles the creation story/covenant.

In Genesis 17:1-22 we read of the covenant established between God and one man, Abram. Throughout this discourse between God and Abram, God repeatedly makes it clear that this covenant is between Him and Abram, and Abram’s descendants. God says, “I will confirm my covenant between me and you … This is my covenant with you. You will be the father of many nations … Your name will be Abraham, for I have made you a father of many nations. I will make you very fruitful; I will make nations of you … I will establish my covenant as an everlasting covenant between me and you and your descendants.” Just as God did with the first man, Adam, so he does with Abraham. And the symbol or sign of this covenant? Circumcision. This is a covenant with the flesh of man. Once circumcised, the person belongs to God. God made more promises to Abraham, based on their mutual covenant, and Abraham, though a bit skeptical, obeyed God and honored the covenant.

Next, in Exodus 19:3-6; 24:3-18; 34:1-14 God establishes a covenant with a people. The previous covenants that God made with the earth, and then with the one man, are both still to be honored, but here, God extends His covenant to a people. This flows from the original mandate to multiply and fill the land. God was developing a nation of priests, a people to be His very own. And the sign or symbol of this covenant was the Book of the Covenant, or, the Ten Commandments (see Exodus 20:1-17). Whereas circumcision deals with the flesh, or, the inner man, the Ten Commandments deals with the external, or behavior—what is not acceptable behavior for a people belonging to God.

As with all groups of people (we see this in the church today), when different personalities and ambitions collide, there is bound to be conflict, misunderstandings, and struggles. Before this covenant, God was dealing with lone, willing, and attentive individuals. Now, it was with a people, with Moses as their mediator to God. So, the instructions of this covenant had to be conveyed much more dramatically, and in much more detail—not to mention, extremely time consuming (it covers the books of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy).

Go now to Deuteronomy 4:1-40. God is establishing Himself as the One true God and His people are to be witnesses and representatives of His glory, majesty, and power to all the other nations of the world. (Makes me wonder, do other nations fear the U.S. based on our representation of, and devotion to, the One true God?) And Moses’ warning to the Israelites was to “be careful not to forget the covenant of the Lord your God that he made with you … For the Lord your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God.” (Note: in later posts I will describe God’s relationship to His people as that of a husband to a wife. This verse in Deuteronomy is probably the basis for Proverbs 6:34 when it talks of the adulterous wife, “For jealousy arouses a husband’s fury, and he will show no mercy when he takes revenge.” The same fury will apply against the nations that Israel and Judah take up with when they commit adultery against God.)

To recap the covenantal relationship with God and His creation: First, a covenant with the earth. Second, with the one man and his descendants. Third, with a people. The symbols: a rainbow, circumcision, the Law. Why? To be fruitful and fill the land, God’s land, for God’s glory. God is creating a land, a man, a people for Himself, in relational covenant.

In the next few posts, I will discuss the covenant relationship of marriage, a union instituted by God between a man and woman, as a representation to the marriage covenant between God and His people, and within the union of God Himself.

The one question I will leave you is the same one I started this post with: are you in a covenantal relationship with God? If so, what is the symbol of that relationship? What are the terms and conditions? And, what is it that tells the world that you belong to God?

Challenge: Read the above Bible references. Then, write your covenant with God based on the guidelines He set forth in His Word.