Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Obedience and Blessing

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When I was a kid one of my favorite movies was The Karate Kid. In the movie, a wimpy kid named Daniel who always gets beat up befriends Mr. Miagi, a karate expert. Daniel asks Mr. Miagi to teach him everything the sensei knows about karate. Mr. Miagi agrees, but only under one condition: Daniel must submit totally to his instruction and never question his methods. 

Daniel shows up the next day eager to learn punches and kicks, but Mr. Miagi has him paint a fence with special attention to his form—up, down, up, down.  A few days later Mr. Miagi has Daniel scrub his porch using a prescribed stroke.  Next, Mr. Miagi has Daniel wax three beat up cars with the same attention to detail—wax on, wax off. 

Finally, Daniel reaches his limit and is about to quit, he says, “I thought you were going to teach me karate, instead you’ve made me your slave!” Mr. Miagi says, “I have been teaching you karate. Defend yourself!” Miagi punches at Daniel, who instinctively blocks the punch with the same motion he learned from paining the fence. Miagi unleashes a kick and Daniel deflects it with the same technique he used from waxing the car. Miagi walks away and says, “I teach you karate and you not know it.”     

Daniel’s obedience led to an unexpected result. Even though Miagi’s ways were unorthodox, Daniel obeyed, and only afterward did he gain understanding. That same principle is true in our spiritual lives as well. God doesn’t owe us an explanation or reason for everything He asks you to do. Understanding can wait, but obedience can’t. Instant obedience will teach you more about God than a lifetime of reading theological volumes. In fact, you will never understand some commands until you obey them first because obedience unlocks understanding. C.S. Lewis remarked, “Obedience is the key that opens every door.”

As I have studied the Scriptures, I have found that the people who have learned to obey have seen God bring amazing results. For example:

·         Noah obeyed God like his life depended on it and the Ark saved his family (Gen. 6:22).
·         Abraham obeyed God by placing Isaac on the altar, and just in the nick of time God provided a sacrifice (Gen. 22:10-12).
·         Joshua obeyed God’s marching orders and the walls of Jericho came tumbling down (Josh. 6:15).
·         Peter obeyed Christ and brought in a record catch of fish (Luke 5:5-6).
·         The servants at the wedding in Cana filled the pots to the brim with water, and out came wine (John 2:5-7). 

Obedience is connected to our faith and our love. When we obey, we trust that God’s plan for our life is better than our own, and faith pleases God (Heb. 11:3). Obedience also proves our love to God; Jesus said, “If you love me, you will obey my commandments” (John 14:15). As we obey God our faith grows and our love for Him deepens. We gain confidence as we see the blessings of obedience. As Oswald Chambers said, “The Golden Rule for understanding spiritual things is not intellect, but obedience.”  -DM

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

A Holy God

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In his book How to Be Born Again, Billy Graham tells of a time when he was to be interviewed at his home. Knowing the show would appear on nationwide television, his wife, Ruth took pains to see that everything looked nice. She vacuumed, dusted and tidied up the whole house. When the film crew arrived with all the lights and cameras, she felt that everything in the living room was spic-and-span.

Billy said, “We were in place along with the interviewer when suddenly the television lights were turned on and we saw cobwebs and dust where we’d never seen them before. In the words of my wife, ‘I mean, that room was festooned with dust and cobwebs which simply did not show up under ordinary light.’”[1]

The point is, of course, no matter how well we clean up our lives and think we have them all in order, when we see ourselves in the light of God’s holiness, all the sin and filthiness shows up.

As we study the Bible, we find that God’s holiness is one of His chief attributes. After all, God is all-loving, but the angels around the throne aren’t recorded as singing, “Loving! Loving! Loving!” God is all all-powerful, but none of the worship songs in Revelation have the angels or elders around the throne saying, “Power! Power! Power!” But the cry of the heavenly hosts is “Holy! Holy! Holy!” (Is. 6:3; Rev. 4:8).

Moreover, when people encountered this holy God they all had traumatizing experiences of having their sinfulness being exposed. When Isaiah saw the Lord high and lifted up he cried out, “Woe is me, for I am undone! Because I am a man of unclean lips,” (Is. 6:5). As Moses drew near to the Great I AM speaking from the burning bush he was commanded take off his sandals, for the place upon which he stood was holy ground (Ex. 3:4-5). And when Peter beheld Jesus in his boat he said, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!” (Luke 5:8).    

When we talk about the holiness of God it’s a term that’s tricky to define, because there is no clear reference point on this earth which illustrates the concept. A.W. Tozer has written:

“Neither the writer nor the reader of these words is qualified to appreciate the holiness of God. Quite literally a new channel must be cut through the desert of our minds to allow the sweet waters of truth that will heal our great sickness to flow in. We cannot grasp the true meaning of the divine holiness by thinking of someone or something very pure and then raising the concept to the highest degree we are capable of. God’s holiness is not simply the best we know infinitely bettered. We know nothing like the divine holiness. It stands apart, unique, unapproachable, incomprehensible and unattainable. The natural man is blind to it. He may fear God’s power and admire His wisdom, but His holiness he cannot even imagine.”[2]

The Bible speaks of God’s holiness in two ways. First, is the idea of separateness.  In other words, God is independent and distinct from His creation. In the way that an author is separate from his book, or a painter is separate from his painting, so too God is distinct from creation. In Isaiah 40 we read, “To whom then will you liken God? Or what likeness will you compare to Him? . . . It is He who sits above the circle of the earth . . . “To whom then will you liken Me, Or to whom shall I be equal?” says the Holy One” (v. 18, 22, 25).

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Second, is the idea of sinlessness. 1 John 1:5 says, “This is the message which we have heard from Him and declare to you, that God is light and in Him is no darkness at all” and Hab. 1:13 declares that, “You are of purer eyes than to behold evil, and cannot look on wickedness.” Holiness means the total absence of any taint of evil in His nature. No shadow of sin comes close to His person.

The holiness of God should elicit all kinds of responses in us. First, it should cause to see our own sin and repent daily (Rom. 3:23). Remember the cobwebs in Billy Graham’s house? We may think we are clean, moral people, especially when we compare ourselves to others. But the standard of perfection is not each other. The standard is a thrice-holy God.

Second, it should cause us worship. Jesus, the holy, sinless Son of God was made sin for us (2 Cor. 5:21). Even the holiness of God the Father would not permit Him to look upon the ugliness of His Son as he was engulfed with all the filthiness of sin of man on the Cross (Matt. 27:46). Christ endured the white-hot wrath of holiness judging sin so that we may be declared righteous and holy. That makes the wonder of the Cross that much more amazing.

Third, the holiness of God should cause us to pursue personal holiness. Oswald Chambers said, "Holiness not happiness is the chief end of man." The Bible says that we are to reflect the nature of our God by living holy lives (1 Pet. 1:16). This holiness does not mean isolation from the world, rather it means resisting sin, renouncing the lusts of the flesh and obeying the Word of God rather than the ways of the world. -DM      

[1] Billy Graham, How to Be Born Again (Waco, TX: Word Books, 1977), 126.
[2] A.W. Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy, (San Francisco: Harper Collins, 1961), 104-5.

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

God's Hidden Purpose in Our Pain

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In one of his books, John MacArthur tells the testimony of a lady who found purpose in her pain. He wrote:
            “When I was in college I was asked to visit a girl in the hospital who had been accidentally shot in the neck. The bullet severed her spinal cord and she was paralyzed from the neck down. I had never met the girl but I was told she was a cheerleader at her school and had been very active and vivacious. When I came into the hospital room she was lying on a sheepskin pad, unable to do anything but speak. After we talked a while she confessed that, if she were able, she would commit suicide, because she did not want to face a future of helplessness. I presented Christ to her and, after some questions and discussion, she received Christ as her Lord and Savior. I went back to visit her several times, and one day she said to me, “I can honestly say that now I’m glad the accident happened. Otherwise, I may have never met Christ and had my sins forgiven.”[1]

Without a doubt, the “why?” question is probably the most asked when it comes to the problem of pain.  “Lord, why did you allow this to happen?” Many times, those who suffer never get an answer from God, at least not on this side of eternity. For example, Job did not know that God permitted Satan to take his fitness, family and fortune (Job 1:21). As we read his story of ruin and redemption, we know more than poor Job ever did concerning that cosmic wager between God and Satan.

You may be like Job today—hurting but never knowing “the why.” Or you may be like the paralyzed girl in MacArthur’s story. She saw that providential hand of God in her paralysis and even came to embrace it as a good thing. In this fallen world, some get more light than others and that makes the problem of evil that much knottier to unravel.

Oddly, in the case of the paralyzed girl we see that one of God’s great purposes in pain is to draw us to Himself. We see this happen often in the Gospels as desperate people seek out Christ for miraculous healing—there was the paralytic whose friends lowered him down through the roof to meet Jesus (Mark 2:1-12), there was the woman with the issue of blood (Luke 8:40-56) and the official who had the sick son (John 4:46-54). In each of these instances it was their dire circumstances that caused them to seek the Savior.

This demonstrates a timeless principle—in times of ease, comfort and prosperity we have little reason or motivation to need God in our lives. As long as we have plenty of money in the bank, our health is good, and things are peachy we want to keep God at arm’s length—a spare tire only for emergencies. David said it like this, “Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I keep your word” (Ps. 119:67). However, desperation drives us to God like nothing else.

In his masterful work, The Problem of Pain, C.S. Lewis writes with clarity, “Everyone has noticed how hard it is to turn our thoughts to God when everything is going well with us. We ‘have all we want’ is a terrible saying when ‘all’ does not include God. We find God an interruption. As St Augustine says somewhere, ‘God wants to give us something, but cannot, because our hands are full—there’s nowhere for Him to put it.’ Or as a friend of mine said, ‘We regard God as an airman regards his parachute; it’s there for emergencies but he hopes he’ll never have to use it.’ Now God, who has made us, knows what we are and that our happiness lies in Him. Yet we will not seek it in Him as long as he leaves us any other resort where it can even plausibly be looked for. While what we call ‘our own life’ remains agreeable we will not surrender it to Him. What then can God do in our interests but make ‘our own life’ less agreeable to us, and take away the plausible source of false happiness?”[2]

In other words, God can and does use afflictions to change our affections. Suffering strips away all that superficial so that we might deal with those matters that are eternal and spiritual. Hard times are that icy cold splash that wakes us from spiritual slumber and gets our attention. Pain helps us reorder our priorities and reminds us of our weakness. Adversity exposes our pride and produces humility. Its only when we are lying flat on our back, that we will look up and find God. -DM    

[1] John MacArthur, The MacArthur New Testament Commentary—Matthew 8-15 (Chicago: Moody Press, 1987), 52.
[2] C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain (San Francisco: Harper One, 1940), 94.