Behold Your God — It is Worth It

14 Jun

We are now in the middle of week three of Behold Your God. Many people are really enjoying the study and are growing through it. Others may be beginning to struggle with the daily work that needs to be done to get the most out of this study. Let me encourage you this morning to keep going.

Keep going because you have the time. Almost everybody reading this has the time to do this study. If you are reading this article but say you don’t have the time, stop reading blog articles and that should free up time right there. Set aside one TV program each day and you’ve got it. Set aside social media for 30 minutes and you’ve got it. Take it with you to work and do it at lunch. There are dozens of ways to make it work. You’ve got the time. Will you take the time?

Keep going because you can understand this material. You are intelligent and capable. Don’t sell yourself short. The mind is an amazing thing. It can develop and improve with use. Yes, you will have to think. Thinking is a huge part of Christianity (Rom. 12:2, Col. 3:1). You can do it. There may be things you don’t understand. That is ok. Don’t lose the benefits of the rest of the study because you can’t understand a few things.

Keep going because knowing God is the most important thing in your life (whether we know it or not) and this study can help you grow in significant ways.

Persevere, my friends. Great treasure is found by the one who digs in, not by the one who waits for it to fall into their lap.

 

 

Behold Your God — Week Three, Day Three

14 Jun

“Israel’s measure of God was the measure of their hope — big God equals big hope.” 

How do you have real hope? You must have a real view of the greatness and goodness of God. It must be a view that gets beyond a tired cliche. How can this happen?

Recently I was reading a discussion about a moral issue and the comments were going back and forth and while the participants were all claiming to be Christians they were coming to vastly different conclusions. It was apparent to me that everyone in that discussion had an idea about who God was, but none of them claimed any authority for their ideas outside of their own thinking. Finally, a person far into the discussion entered with a reasonable view of the moral issue using the Bible as the authority. In other words, the person was trying to see what God said about the issue in His Word. Two comments later that person was chided for bringing in a comment from the “Flat Earth Society” (internet comments are not known for their civility). No one engaged the person who started with the Bible in a discussion. Instead, there was just an insult designed to marginalize a view that has been widely accepted for centuries. In our culture, it is becoming more and more common that a person looking to what God has said in the Bible as a basis for living is viewed as naive, stupid, and dangerous.

But apart from knowing God based on what God has revealed about Himself in the Scriptures, what basis for hope do we really have? Politics? Money? Seventy years of fun and then death? Some might say Jesus is our hope, and that is certainly true. But we should be careful even at this point to make sure we don’t make a Jesus of our own. We need to stay close to the revealed Jesus we see in the Bible.

True hope comes from a true view of God. A true view of God comes through giving ourselves to understanding what God’s self-revelation (the Bible) tells us about Him. That is why we are doing this study this summer. We want to see God through the lens of Scripture and be shaped by that, not by conventional wisdom or our own notions or tradition. So every day, when you go to the Bible, Behold Your God. Ask yourself first and foremost, “What does this passage teach me about God?”

 

Behold Your God — Week Three, Day Two

13 Jun

Today’s study focuses on the book of Job. Job has traditionally been viewed as the book in the Bible which wrestles most fully with the problem of suffering, one of the deepest problems of human existence. Through Job’s trials and the dialogues he has with his friends we see the struggle with suffering described and debated, but never fully explained. When God steps in in chapters 38-42 of the book, He comes not to explain so much as to reveal His character to Job. In fact, one of the most fascinating characteristics of the Bible is that it often doesn’t answer our thorny life questions by directly addressing the issue in question. Instead, when times are confusing and life is baffling, the Bible consistently tells us to do one thing: Behold Your God.

When we remember who God is, when we live in the light of His character as described in Scripture, we can know certain things are true which, while not answering all our questions, will give us strength to endure. When we know God will do what is right, when we know He is good, when we know He is all-knowing and almighty, this shapes how we approach our trials. Far from a kind of aimless and wistful hoping that God will do something, we have sure confidence, like an anchor for the soul, that no matter what comes He is real, He is true and He is with us. And that makes all the difference.

 

Behold Your God — Week Three, Day One

12 Jun

“The Bible is just an outdated book written by primitive people.” This line of thinking is common in our world today, and often stated even more rudely than I have written above. The truth is, if all the Bible claimed for itself or all I knew it to be was a collection of writings by ancient people, I would be inclined to regard it as an item of historical interest, but not one of constant study.

But the Bible is not just another historical book. It is the Word of God, inspired by God and profitable for spiritual growth and change. We need spiritual growth and change, and God’s Word is a key element in that change for us, as the Holy Spirit works through the Word to bring us life.

But how can we trust the Bible in a world that is so different than the one in which the Bible was written? Today’s study tells us that the answer to that question lies in the attribute of God we call immutability. God never changes. We must change if we are to have life, because we are sinful. Unless we turn to Christ and walk with Him we will never be what God intended us to be. But God, being perfect in every way, has no need of change. It could even be said that immutability is an essential aspect of His being God, for change inevitably involves the loss or gain of certain faculties or abilities, and God being perfect, would be giving up something of that perfection if there were shifts in His faculties or abilities.

The immutability of God is a key reason we can trust His Word today. Since God never changes, we know His thoughts, attitudes and actions toward people have not changed in the years since the Bible was written. Therefore, we can know that in the Bible we have a reliable revelation of God’s heart.

Behold Your God — Week Three Introduction

11 Jun

The other day, I heard Dan Barker of the Freedom from Religion Foundation in a conversation with Tucker Carlson discussing the constitutionality of an elementary school having off-hours Bible clubs for kids led by teachers. The debate was interesting, but Barker’s statements about the Bible really piqued my interest. Barker said he was against the Bible clubs because of constitutional reasons but really, he couldn’t see why anyone would want to study a book as awful as the Bible anyway, what with all the violence and slavery and the like within its pages. Of course, Barker is being somewhat disingenuous to stir the pot but his view has taken hold in our day far more than we might like to think. Others have followed the theory of the DaVinci Code novels, holding that the Bible has some good things to say, but these things were all shaped by the Catholic Church in the fourth century so that we really can’ t trust what the Bible says or even if we have the real Bible, since there are many books which have been found which were not included in the Bible.

What we believe about the Bible is critically important to our faith. If we believe it is the thoughts of religious people, or a concoction of the Church, or a book by people with primitive ideas, we will be inclined to approach it casually or even regard it with hostility. But if we accept what the Bible says about itself, that it is the Word of God inspired by God, then we will approach the Bible with much more respect and even expect to read valuable truth within its pages.

So we must first settle in our hearts the issue of believing the Bible is God’s Word. Having settled that issue, we then turn to another important issue: what should we be looking for when we read the Scriptures?

Most people are inclined to look for themselves in the Scriptures, or look for behaviors they can imitate. We are hoping for that word of guidance, that word that speaks to our situation. And some of this is good and right. But this week’s study will point us in a different direction. We are called first and foremost to look for God as we read the Bible. The Bible is the greatest gateway to knowing God . . . who He is, what He is like, what He is doing in the world. Through the Scriptures we can know God.

Since this is true, why would we not give serious time every day to reading and meditating over the Bible? Why would we not pray earnestly every time we come to the Bible, “Lord, open my eyes that I might see wonderful things in Your Word”? This week, we will be Beholding God in the Bible, something that just might change your whole life.

Behold Your God: Week Two, Day Five

9 Jun

In my years as a pastor I have become very familiar with doctors and hospitals in my work of caring for church members in times of sickness. One of the truths I have realized is that doctors are often working through a process of elimination when they are diagnosing a patient. Tests, experience, and research factor into a hypothesis which leads to a certain course of treatment. Often, there is a degree of uncertainty in diagnosis. So when a patient is misdiagnosed, there can be real problems. The same truth holds for our spiritual lives. Correct diagnosis is essential. We have already looked this week at the error of knowing God exists without really knowing Him. We have also looked at the error of making a god in our own image rather than trusting in God as He has revealed Himself in Scripture.

Today’s study brings us to a third error which may lead to spiritual misdiagnosis: the failure to approach biblical truth in the right order. This day’s study is all reading (no fill in the blanks). I encourage you to read it carefully, because this day’s study gives us real insight into why our individual lives as Christians and our life as a church is often not all that it could be.

The biblical order for considering truth is as follows . . .

GOD >>  SELF >>  SIN >>  SALVATION

How you view God will influence how you view self. How you view God and self with inevitably affect what you think about sin and salvation.

The examples on page 35 are excellent, especially the one about the prayer meeting. That really is the problem isn’t it? People don’t avoid prayer meeting because it is difficult or uncomfortable or boring. They avoid it because they have forgotten how great God, how needy they are and how ready God is to answer prayer. Making outward changes to the times or format of the prayer meeting won’t make any difference. But if people grasp the truths of God, self, sin and salvation, they will be people of prayer.

I could go on, but I don’t want this article to be longer than today’s study. Take time to read today’s study. It has the potential to really transform your thinking. And transformed thinking can lead to transformed living (Romans 12:1-2).

 

 

 

Behold Your God — Week Two, Day Four

8 Jun

Have you ever heard someone say, “My God is not like that!” or “My God would never do that!”? I always bristle when I hear these words, because it is an indicator that a person has made their own judgment the measure of who God is, rather than seeking to know who God is from considering what God has said about Himself.

Is there any reliable source of understanding about God in this world? To be sure, the creation speaks of God’s existence, power and care. But is there any more specific source? Surely conscience does play some part. People are inclined toward worship. There does seem to be something inside us that longs for the transcendent. But this is only a vague sense, a cloudy kind of reality. Is there any reliable source of understanding about God in this world?

Having learned what we have learned about God thus far in the Behold Your God study, we know God by His very nature is infinite. How could we know an infinite One unless that One revealed Himself to us? The Christian believes that the Bible is that trustworthy source of revelation God has given us of Himself. The Christian further believes that God Himself has come into the world in the person of Jesus Christ, so that God has revealed Himself through Him. So if we are going to know what God is like, we need to look at the written Word, the Bible, and the living Word, Jesus Christ.

The lifetime of the Christian is to be spent in knowing God. We know God through His Word and we commune with God through His Son. And when we come against some truth about God that collides with our sensibilities, we seek to understand it, we don’t write it off as something that can’t be true of God.

We must be careful, even in the midst of a life of religious activities like church attendance, prayer, Bible reading and service, that we do not make a god in our own image. Instead, we must submit ourselves to what God has told us about Himself. This submission to who God is will prove to be a gateway to real and lasting spiritual growth.

Sunday Sermon — Isaiah 53:7

7 Jun

Isaiah 53:7

Like a Lamb to the Slaughter

          In Acts 8, when the Ethiopian eunuch was reading the scroll of Isaiah, the Holy Spirit sent Philip to him. And it was this verse, Isaiah 53:7 that the Ethiopian was puzzling over. Something impacted him so much about the silence of this one who was facing such suffering that he had to ask Philip, “is the prophet talking about himself or someone else?” And of course this gave Philip the open door of opportunity to look at the Scriptures with the Ethiopian to show him how the Savior fulfilled every promise of God. The Ethiopian was saved and baptized and Philip was taken away from this divine encounter to serve elsewhere.

          This passage compels us and for some, it repels us. We think, how could Jesus endure such hardship even though He had all power and was completely innocent? If I am to be like Jesus, does that mean I should endure bullies at school without saying anything? Should I let my uncle abuse me because of the way Jesus did not speak out? Should I let my husband hit me because Jesus was silent? And I want to say NO to all of those questions. Jesus’ silence was in order to accomplish the greater good of our salvation. Jesus’ unwillingness to defend Himself came from a deep desire to rescue us from sin and death. He was a sufferer but He was not a victim. The little child who is abused should speak out in order to accomplish the greater good of calling sin to account. The wife who has been beaten is not being Christlike to remain silent because no good is being accomplished by allowing her husband to continue on his rampages. The student being bullied is not serving the greater good by not reporting his bully. That bully will just trouble someone else down the road if they are never confronted. So let me just get out of the way right from the start the idea that Jesus is calling us to be stepped on for no good reason. To be sure, we should not live for ourselves. But on the flip side, neither should we let injustice thrive by our silence. It is not love to let abusers have a free reign. It is not love to do nothing about the great human rights issues of our day: abortion, genocide, human trafficking. We can’t be fully invested in all of these things, but we should care and we should do what we can locally and globally.

          The bottom line is we should not be repelled by this verse, we should rejoice over this verse. And we should remember that suffering for the greater good is redemptive and right. Most of us would say that those soldiers who landed on the beaches on D-Day and sacrificed themselves were right to do so, because they were serving a greater good.  On the other hand, we would look at someone who came out of the surf at Myrtle Beach and ran out into traffic as a foolish person. So what makes Jesus’ silence both acceptable and admirable is that He was silent for the sake of love. He wasn’t silent just so no feathers would be ruffled. He wasn’t silent because He was fearful. He wasn’t silent to try to protect people. Jesus was silent so that we might be saved. Let’s look at the verse together this morning . . .

 He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth;
like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth.

Hallelujah, what a Savior! Here is Jesus submitting in patience willingly to His Father’s design. We see in this passage what happened to Christ and how Christ responded to what happened to Him.

What Did Christ Endure?

First, He was “oppressed.” The heaviness of this word brings to mind the Exodus account where Pharaoh made Israel make bricks without straw. A life of misery and burden. Jesus was filled with joy in His mission but He was always under the shadow of the cross, of His coming suffering. And He was always being pursued by the religious leaders and other enemies who eventually pursued Him to His death.

Second, He was “afflicted.” Not only did His enemies pursue Him, they also persecuted Him. They humiliated Him, treated Him with contempt, shamed Him, spat on Him, ridiculed Him. All their opposition throughout Jesus’ ministry reached its apex in Jesus’ last week. The mockery is almost unthinkable. The perfect Christ, the righteous One, made out to be a common criminal by a bunch of imperfect, self-righteous leaders. How our sense of justice should be awakened when we consider who Jesus is and how He was treated. If ever anyone should have lashed out against ill treatment it was Him. But then we remember the reason He endures is love. And not just any love, but love for His Father. And also love for US. And then our hearts melt and our faces look down as we realize it was our sin that put Jesus in this place of being beaten and scorned.

Third, we see that He was led like a Lamb to the slaughter. The slaughter is that piercing for our transgressions, that crushing for our iniquities. The lamb is an emblem of meekness and innocence. 1 Peter 1:18, “We are redeemed by the blood of Christ, as of a lamb without spot or blemish.” The lamb is a picture of weakness, bringing home to us the fact that Christ had no beauty or majesty that we should be drawn to Him. Verse 8 tells us that the slaughter leads to death. He is cut off from the land of the living. Jesus knew all His life that this was coming, this cross. All prisoners may feel oppressed and afflicted but I imagine there is a big difference between the prisoner who will be paroled in a week compared to the one who will be executed in a week. Jesus knew all along He was headed for slaughter. Yet He willingly walked the Calvary road.

Fourth, this verse tells us that Jesus was like a sheep before the shearing. And Jesus was sheared. The wool of sheep in biblical times was usually sheared away, cut off, in the springtime. Jesus was cut off from the land of the living at springtime, at the same time that the Passover lamb was being offered in the Temple. Jesus was on His way to Golgotha, where He would be stripped of His clothing and nailed to the cross. He was sheared of all outward dignity, He was sheared of all earthly honor. Yet as He hung there upon the cross, no one could cut away His heart of love for God and for His people. His name will be called Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins. This is what happened to Christ.

How did Christ Respond?

He opened not his mouth. This is the focus. These words are used twice in this one verse and sandwiched between them is the phrase that He was silent. The great patience of Christ is in view. The great love of Christ is in view. He could have spoken in His own defense but this would have interrupted the plan of God.

1 Peter 2:23, When he was reviled, he did not revile in return, but entrusted himself to him who judges justly.

It is true that Christ did speak out at times, to Pilate, to those who came to arrest Him, to Peter to put away his sword. But Jesus was silent when the chief priest made accusations against Him and His words to Pilate were not an effort to defend Himself so much as an effort to testify to Pilate. The silence was concerning those who would accuse Him. In other words, in His speaking, Jesus never spoke in any way as to hinder our redemption. That is what it means when it says He opened not His mouth. You hear people sometimes talk about how a pig squeals when he gets stuck, but you never hear anybody talking about lambs squealing or making noise.

The lamb willingly yielded to be sacrificed for sin. Christ went as sweetly and readily to the work of our redemption as an innocent lamb to the slaughter.

Jesus knew He was going to suffer but He did nothing to prevent it. He willingly walked the road of suffering. Luke 18 tells us Jesus could have commanded legions of angels to come to His defense, but He did not. Jesus’ sacrifice was voluntary. He laid down His life of His own accord. John 18:4 is very clear on this point. When Judas brought the guards to find Jesus, we see the Bible say, “Then Jesus, knowing all that would happen to Him, came forward and said to them, ‘whom do you seek?’” Jesus didn’t turn away from suffering, He leaned in to it for our sake. In the Garden He said, “Not my will but Thine be done” and then He showed that He meant what He prayed by willingly enduring suffering and death.

Even in His arrest, Jesus put a stop to all violence that would seek to deliver him from suffering. He told Peter to put away his sword after he had lashed out at some of the officials who had come to arrest Jesus. And Jesus even healed the ear of one of the officials whose ear Peter had cut off. And then on the cross as Christ suffered, He called on God to forgive His persecutors.

Why did Christ Respond this Way?

Because Christ loved us and washed us from our sins with His own blood (Rev. 1:5) He endured oppression and affliction in silence. Jesus had committed all along to the cross. Philippians 2:8, “He humbled himself and became obedient to death, even death on a cross.” Ephesians 5:25, Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her. Hebrews 10:7, Behold, I have come to do your will, O God.

The Puritan Thomas Manton said, “Christ holdeth his peace, that we might speak and have boldness with the Father, and taketh the accusation patiently, that he might break it off from us. His not answering was to show our guilt; and yet he carried it so that nothing could be clearly proved to impeach his own innocency.”

Christ remained silent and went to the cross to be our Mediator. Manton, Christ went willingly, that his own people might have everything from the heart of God as well as His hand. Jer. 32:41, “I rejoice over them to do them good.”

Christ remained silent and endured suffering to show His heart of submission to His Father, both to fulfill all righteousness and to be an example for us. We often talk about the need for people to accept Christ but we often forget about the first necessity for God the Father to accept God the Son. This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased. He was pleased right to the cross and beyond and rejoices in His Son even now.

How do We Respond to Christ’s Willful Silent Suffering?

First, of course, we worship Him. We should never stop peering into the depths of the cross. The life of Christ should be the lifelong occupation of every Christian. This is why Paul said, to live is Christ, and why Paul’s greatest ambition was not church growth or missions but that He might know Christ. That I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings becoming like Him in His death and so to obtain the resurrection from the dead. Go to hymns or songs, post notes about your house, read and meditate over the gospels, read good Christian books. Join me in April and May on Wednesday nights as we read together and discuss a great little book by Frederick Leahy called The Cross He Bore. Occupy your thoughts with Christ. You may find less temptation to mope around, less temptation to dwell on sinful things, more energy for good.

Second, be empowered for service. This was Paul’s empowerment. He said in Galatians 2:20 that the life He now lived was lived by faith. But what was his motivation? “He loved me and gave Himself for me.” The attitude of Christ empowers our own service. When we feel reluctant, remember Christ’s willingness. 1 Peter 2:21, Christ suffering for us, leaving us an example, that we should follow his steps. Give yourself up with great patience to God. Don’t use reviling words. Don’t be a people of self-defense and railing accusations.

Third, remember the words of Thomas Manton, “Willfulness in sin maketh the heart very sad when it cometh to see it. But, blessed be God, here is an answer to it – you have a willing Savior. Though there be in you much reluctancy against God’s will, and much readiness to offend, yet you could not be so ready to sin as Christ was willing to die for you.”

          Don’t be repelled by the willingness of Christ to suffer in silence. He did it for love. He did it for you and for me. He did it to glorify His Father.

Behold Your God — Week Two, Day Three

7 Jun

Is all sin the same? On one level, yes. All sin is the same because all sin is an offense against God. But on another level, all sin is not the same because there are certain sins which give rise to other sins. The Behold Your God study calls these “root sins.” This is to be distinguished from “fruit sins,” which are the outward expressions of root sins. Both root sins and fruit sins are sin, but it is important for us to target root sins in our battle against sin, because in killing root sins, we are also taking care of many fruit sins at the same time.

Chief among the root sins are pride, unbelief and selfishness.

We see this pattern of root sins in the Bible all the time. Moses’ root sin of unbelief in Numbers 20 caused him to strike the rock in disobedient anger (fruit sin). Saul’s pride got the best of him (root sin) and he directly disobeyed God’s instructions on his military endeavors and on the sacrifices which were to be made to the Lord (fruit sins). James highlights in the fourth chapter of his epistle many fruit sins (quarrels, complaining, infighting) which emerge from the root sin of selfishness (see James 4:1-4).

The reason this is all important in everyday life is that we spend much of our time attacking fruit sins without ever addressing the roots of sin in our lives. We believe if we can remove the stubborn habit (anger, lust, impatience) we will be alright. But we have never addressed the root sins. So we put much effort into dealing with some fruit sin and find success, only to find another fruit sin soon replacing it. Why is this the case? Because if you cut off one fruit sin the root sin will produce another in its place. There are hundreds of sins which can come from the root sin of pride. If we deal with the root sins, we will live much more holy and faithful lives.

So what must we do? We must search our hearts. Is there a lingering pride, unbelief, or selfishness in us? Are these things producing rotten fruit in our lives? When we find ourselves angry or drawn to gossip or lying, might it be profitable to ask ourselves why we are tempted toward these attitudes. Could selfishness or unbelief be lurking under the surface? If so, it is better to address those issues than just try to deal with our anger (although there is a place for dealing with fruit sins as well).

One note of caution — there is a subtle danger in all of this of which we must be aware: the danger of self-obsession. The Bible calls us to examine ourselves but there is a fine line between self-examination and self-obsession. God is to be our Great Attraction and He is our only hope. Only His power can give us strength to root out sin in our lives and only His grace can cleanse us and give us right standing before God. So even as we search our hearts, we look to Christ, because apart from Him even our best efforts are in vain.

Behold Your God — Week Two, Day Two

6 Jun

When I first came into pastoral ministry, I noticed a reality in the lives of some Christians. I call it the great disconnect. There was a sharp difference between the person in the pews on Sunday morning and the same person in the daily life of family, friends, work and leisure. A God that made enough difference to at least get a person to church on Sunday morning seemed to make no practical difference in everyday life.

Now to be sure, all of us have some kind of disconnect. There will always be, this side of glory, a gap between what we believe and how we live. None will live out the faith perfectly. But where there is a large gap between what we say we believe and how we live, it should be a cause for great concern.

Today’s study brings us face to face with the possibility that we might believe there is a God and may even believe certain things about that God are true, but still not know Him.

If we live as if we are king of our life, we probably do not know God. This is the Judges 17:6 life: “Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.”

If we avoid simple obedience to God with careful excuses, we probably do not know God.

If we live for our own desires rather than God’s Word, we probably do not know God.

When we find our deepest life and satisfaction in something other than God, we probably do not know God.

Today’s study is sobering. It shows us that we may be church attenders, even people who read our Bibles and pray and serve, but not know God. No one else can answer for you the question of whether you know God, but the good news is that if you have not been knowing God or have never known God, you can return. Don’t despair. You can know God. The rest of this week we will be looking at how the way can be cleared in our hearts to come back to God.

 

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