19 November 2018

The LORD Your God

As a family we have been reading through the book of Leviticus, and I was struck by the repetition of God saying, "I am the LORD" to punctuate His righteous commands.  God did not repeat this phrase because He was forgetful or enjoyed pumping Himself up.  The Law is righteous, a reflection of God's holiness which undergirds His statutes.  Because God is the LORD, the almighty, self-existent One, it was fear of God and faith in Him which urged people to walk in obedience before Him.  Here is a passage as an example in Leviticus 19:1-18:
"And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, 2 "Speak to all the congregation of the children of Israel, and say to them: 'You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy. 3 'Every one of you shall revere his mother and his father, and keep My Sabbaths: I am the LORD your God. 4 'Do not turn to idols, nor make for yourselves moulded gods: I am the LORD your God. 5 'And if you offer a sacrifice of a peace offering to the LORD, you shall offer it of your own free will. 6 It shall be eaten the same day you offer it, and on the next day. And if any remains until the third day, it shall be burned in the fire. 7 And if it is eaten at all on the third day, it is an abomination. It shall not be accepted. 8 Therefore everyone who eats it shall bear his iniquity, because he has profaned the hallowed offering of the LORD; and that person shall be cut off from his people. 9 'When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not wholly reap the corners of your field, nor shall you gather the gleanings of your harvest. 10 And you shall not glean your vineyard, nor shall you gather every grape of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and the stranger: I am the LORD your God. 11 'You shall not steal, nor deal falsely, nor lie to one another. 12 And you shall not swear by My name falsely, nor shall you profane the name of your God: I am the LORD. 13 'You shall not cheat your neighbour, nor rob him. The wages of him who is hired shall not remain with you all night until morning. 14 You shall not curse the deaf, nor put a stumbling block before the blind, but shall fear your God: I am the LORD. 15 'You shall do no injustice in judgment. You shall not be partial to the poor, nor honour the person of the mighty. In righteousness you shall judge your neighbour. 16 You shall not go about as a talebearer among your people; nor shall you take a stand against the life of your neighbour: I am the LORD. 17 'You shall not hate your brother in your heart. You shall surely rebuke your neighbour, and not bear sin because of him. 18 You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the children of your people, but you shall love your neighbour as yourself: I am the LORD."
Typically when phrases are repeated they lose impact, however in this case the opposite is true.  The repetition of "I am the LORD your God" or "I am the LORD" points back to God's character, wisdom, knowledge, and sovereignty as the reason to obey.  For instance, in verse 3 God directed children to honour their mother, father, and keep His Sabbaths and concluded with, "I am the LORD your God."  God had provided each child with a mother and father.  Men were not created for the Sabbath, but the Sabbath rest for man.  God met the needs of children to be nurtured, trained, and provided for, and even set apart a day for them to rest from their labour.  Knowing God supplied our every need should compel us to be thankful, obedient, and trust Him.

In verse 14 God told His people to not curse the deaf or placed a stumbling block in front of the blind "...but shall fear your God:  I am the LORD."  The deaf could not hear the curses hurled at them, nor could the blind see the obstacle placed before them - but the God who hears all and sees all would perceive the wickedness of His people.  The God who formed the ear can hear Himself, and He who designed the eye can see all things with immaculate clarity.  It was a gracious reminder given to people who can hear but do not always heed, and can see with their eyes yet can be senseless to the feelings of others.  The fear of God keeps us from evil, and knowledge of the LORD our God's ability to hear, see, speak, and do mightily aids us to walk uprightly.

As an exercise, I encourage you to read through the portion from Leviticus once more, taking special note of every time God said, "I am the LORD."  Consider in light of His commands why He would remind them of His divine sovereignty and character each time.  Meditating on this will open your understanding of how great and awesome our God is, and how He is worthy to be praised and feared above all.  Often our reasons for seeking to do good or avoid evil is limited to the benefit of others or keep ourselves from trouble, but how good it is when we do the right thing for the right reason:  because God is our LORD!

18 November 2018

Empowerment by Submission

In this fallen world things which seem to be freeing actually place us in greater bondage.  A common lie perpetuated today is how throwing off the shackles of biblical morality and propriety results in "empowerment."  The feelings of self-empowerment may be euphoric at the beginning, but they ultimately sour after the brief honeymoon stage.  The bankruptcy of soul is often covered up by what we can acquire or achieve, numbed with alcohol, or drowned out by new pursuits. There is no enduring empowerment to be found in adulterous affairs, one-night stands, stripping, prostitutes, or pornography.  The sickly sweet sense of empowerment ends up being bitter poison in the end, putting a wounded soul at the mercy of an increasingly cruel taskmaster.

There is a temporary sense of godlike-euphoria in doing whatever you want, and the devil knows this well.  But there is no sustainable, enduring hope in self.  The body flaunted today can be dead tomorrow, and all illicit loves create wounds time cannot heal.  The so-called "sexual revolution" of the 60's was really nothing new, and the fallout of broken marriages, families, and lives continues in the Tinder-hookup era on a global scale.  The world says it is empowering to assert your dominance, to fulfil sexual conquests, to take off your top to make a statement, to make demands and take no prisoners, but like all things of this world it cannot deliver on a single promise.  The stuff we work will pass to others and decay into ruin.  We still have to live with our own consciences, consequences, and the niggling thought there is a God we will be required to stand before naked and sober on the Day of Judgment.

The Bible makes the unique claim the world pushes against at every turn:  real empowerment comes through total submission to God.  It is only when I believe in Jesus, repent of my sin, and submit to God He graciously endows me with His power and strength.  Man's power is limited in scope and duration, but God's power is infinite and eternal.  The power God grants is not to improve my self-esteem, to feel more confident or better about myself, but so I can joyfully live in the way that pleases God.  Self-esteem and self-confidence is a snare which enslaves, but slavery to God is liberating from sin, self, the values of the world, and the opinions of other people.  Having power is not the reason why we submit to God, but is the result of believing in Him, loving, and obeying Him.

Today people mistakenly believe they are the master of their own destiny, they can do anything, and be anyone.  Yet no body modification, surgical augmentation, workout regimen, or preferred pronoun can touch our eternal souls:  like it or not, God has made us as He intended.  We can do many things with the bodies and minds He has provided us, but there is nothing we can do to cleanse ourselves of sin.  There is nothing we can do to wash ourselves clean of the lies, rebellion, selfishness, and deceit.  But God has given all the ability to decide if we will receive Jesus Christ as our LORD and Saviour, to believe in Him as a child trusts his parents.  We can be born again and made new creations by the power of God!  Speaking of Jesus it is written in John 1:11-13, "He came unto his own, and his own received him not. 12 But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: 13 which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God."  On our own we are absolutely powerless, and how incredible it is God grants those who believe power to be adopted as His children, forgiven of sin, and receive eternal life.

It is not in asserting self we are empowered, but in submission before our holy God.  Our bodies will all go the way of the earth and moulder away, yet as many as humble themselves before Jesus as King and receive Him are given power to live forever in heaven.  Praise God for the exceedingly great power God has exhibited in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and we are His beneficiaries (Eph. 1:15-23).

16 November 2018

James Montgomery Hymn

Occasionally I read through an old hymnal and was blessed to read words written by James Montgomery written in 1825 which touched my heart.  One of the joys of being part of the Body of Christ of which He is Head is how love, grace, unity, and purpose of God's redeemed have not changed from the beginning.  The aim and desire of saints now in glory we can share and perpetuate with great praise to our eternal and almighty God.  Perhaps this hymn will minister to you as it did me, and let us make it a prayer to our Saviour.

Spirit of the living God!
In all Thy plenitude of grace,
Where'er the foot of man hath trod,
Descend on our apostate race!

Give tongues of fire and hearts of love
To preach the reconciling word;
Give power and unction from above,
Whene'er the joyful sound is heard.

Be darkness, at Thy coming, Light;
Confusion, order in Thy path;
Souls without strength inspire with might;
Bid mercy triumph over wrath.

O Spirit of the Lord! Prepare
All the round earth her God to meet;
Breathe Thou abroad like morning air,
Till hearts of stone begin to beat.

Baptise the nations far and nigh;
The triumphs of Thy Cross record;
The name of Jesus glorify,
Till every kindred call Him Lord.

(Palmer, Roundell. The Book of Praise. Macmillan and Co., 1867. pages 194-195.)

15 November 2018

Without Controversy

"Receive one who is weak in the faith, but not to disputes over doubtful things."
Romans 14:1

This morning in my devotional reading I saw Proverbs 10:12 which says, "Hatred stirs up strife, but love covers all sins."  Love esteems others higher than self even when people have convictions or beliefs which differ from your own.  In context the people to whom Paul refers are not outsiders but fellow followers of Jesus Christ in the church.  People were divided over what was appropriate to eat or drink, and Paul urged believers not to dispute over such things.  In the second part of 1 Corinthians 8:1 he also said on the subject, "Knowledge puffs up, but love edifies."  Knowledge has a way of puffing us up with pride, but love seeks to build others up.

There are many beliefs and practices genuine Christians disagree over, but we ought not to be divisive concerning them.  This especially applies to what Paul refers to as "doubtful things."  Even when Christians disagree about a doctrine or practice, there is likely much common ground they share regardless of their level of maturity.  The NIV rendering of the Romans passage puts it in a different light:  "Accept him whose faith is weak, without passing judgment on disputable matters."  This provides an easy illustration of the different translations of the Bible Christians prefer.  Because I prefer one translation does not mean I should rail against others who do not share my view.

We might imagine ourselves to be strong in faith and on the side of truth, but if we are the offended party, disputing, stirring up strife, and passing judgment on the intelligence or faith of others, perhaps we are the one weak in faith!  We are called to give more grace, trusting in God's power and ability to open eyes of the blind and change hearts too.  Haven't our eyes been blind at times?  Haven't our hearts been hard?  Haven't we been the one who internalised bitterness or exploded with anger over a doubtful dispute we refused to let go?  May the LORD increase our faith in Him and His Word, to not only know the truth but practice it as we walk in love.

There is no shortage of potential controversy in the church, but God's Word has been given to teach us how to conduct ourselves - not "how to change others."  Paul wrote to Timothy in 1 Timothy 3:14-16:  "These things I write to you, though I hope to come to you shortly; 15 but if I am delayed, I write so that you may know how you ought to conduct yourself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth. 16 And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifested in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen by angels, preached among the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up in glory."  There is much revealed in scripture that is not controversial, and may these divine revelations have a powerful impact upon each of us.  God has come to us!  Our crucified and risen Saviour Jesus Christ has been preached among Gentiles and has ascended in glory!  Let us fix our faith upon these rock-solid truths rather than dividing over doubtful things.