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MAY 2010

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Whole-hearted Obedience is True Worship

 

1Samuel 15:14 But Samuel said, "What then is this bleating of the sheep in my ears, and the lowing of the oxen which I hear?"

 

Saul had been told to destroy the Amalekites and everything that they owned. He did all that the Lord asked him to do except he saved the best of the animals which he was going to give to the Lord. Samuel reminded him that he had been disobedient and asked him, "Has the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, As in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, And to heed than the fat of rams (1 Samuel 15:22)." He was like the kid who has been told to wash the dishes and washes some of them but not all of them. When asked if he has obeyed, he obviously will say, "Yes!"

Obedience is a costly thing. Hebrews 5:8 says of the Lord, "though He was a Son, yet He learned obedience by the things which He suffered." I don't think the Lord had to learn how to be obedient since he always did those things that pleased the Father. However, I would think that the word "learned" really means that he "experienced" obedience. His experience was through suffering and came at a great cost. Obeying the Gospel by believing in the Lord, has a cost as well. Some have learned that obedience means the loss of friends and family and in some cases it has been the loss of life itself.

In order to be obedient to the Lord, we have to want to understand what He is saying. Because so many people seem to interpret the Bible differently, it would be possible to throw up our hands and say that knowing what God wants is impossible. As a result, we might just do what "we think is right" like the nation of Israel did when the judges were ruling. A person who devotionally studies the Bible is going to get an altogether different view of God than one who comes to the Bible like a defense lawyer looking for a loophole. In order to understand what God wants we have to believe that "is" means "is" and that "up" means "up" and that "must" means "must." It is not legalistic to assume that when God asks us to do something, that he really does want us to do what he asks.

In Matthew 18:20 we read, "For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them." We often use this verse to define a local church. I would suggest that it really doesn't do that but instead it is a summary of what has been said about dealing with church offenses and discipline. I think He is saying this, "When the two or three involved in this incident do what I ask them to do the way I have asked them to do it then I will honor what they have done. I will sign my name to what they have done just as if I did it myself." However, if we decide that culture is different today so we can't do things God's way or if we decide we may offend someone by doing things the Lord's way, then we can't be sure that God is going to sign His name to what we do. He may consider us to be disobedient just as he did with Saul.

In the old testament, God began to find the feast days and sacrifices to be an abomination because Israel as a nation was not faithful. He said in Isaiah 1:13, "Bring no more futile sacrifices; Incense is an abomination to Me. The New Moons, the Sabbaths, and the calling of assemblies-I cannot endure iniquity and the sacred meeting.

I wonder if our worship has become like that. Have we become so culturally relevant that we are no longer devotionally obedient. Does what the Lord think about us motivate us as much as what people think about us?

The Lord became obedient unto death so that we could be saved from the punishment that we deserve because of our sin. Our obedience to Him will never make us fit for heaven (His blood does that), but if we really love Him, we should want to know and do what pleases Him. That obedience should be whole-hearted. We should be careful to avoid being like Saul or like Israel under the Judges and doing "what we think is right."

 

Meditation for the week of May 2, 2010

The Sacrificial Love of a Mother

 

1 Kings 3:26-27 Then the woman whose son was living spoke to the king, for she yearned with compassion for her son; and she said, "O my lord, give her the living child, and by no means kill him!" But the other said, "Let him be neither mine nor yours, but divide him." So the king answered and said, "Give the first woman the living child, and by no means kill him; she is his mother."

 

Mothers love and protect their children—at least most of them do. Because of that love Solomon was able to determine which of these women had lain on her child and killed it and which of these women was the mother of the living child. It would seem to me that both women might have wanted to to save the living child. But since one of them was willing to sacrifice the child, Solomon knew that the living child belonged to the woman who did not want the child killed and divided.

A mother's love is represented in the Scriptures by mother hens. In Matthew 23:37 the Lord says, "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!" I sometimes jog on a path in the spring time where ducks hatch their young. Most of the year when I come upon a duck, they get out of my way. But if I see a mother crossing my path with her brood following her, I am very careful. I have seen the mother stop and face me hissing and those beaks look like they could do some damage. I know better than to mess with the mother when she is protecting her young.

What must it have been like for Mary, the mother of the Lord, to stand at the cross and to see the anguish that her son was being put through? She had been told this would happen by Simeon in Luke 2:34 and 35. Simeon had said to Mary, "Yes, a sword will pierce through your own soul also." Mary must have found the death of her son to be nearly unbearable.

I think we see this same love when Lot's wife looked back toward Sodom as it was being destroyed. I know she wasn't supposed to look back, and in looking back she turned into a pillar of salt (Genesis 19:26). However, I think she looked back because her children were there and she was concerned about them. Her children had been raised in Sodom and were not worshipers of the living God that Lot worshiped and that I suspect his wife worshiped. In new testament terms, the children and their spouses had never been saved or born again. I have wondered if she turned into a pillar of salt because the fire and brimstone over took her when she looked back, or if she turned into a pillar of salt the moment she turned and saw that her children were dying in that disaster. When some people preach on the passage "Remember Lot's wife (Luke 17:32)", they preach about her disobedience. But when I preach on it, I always think of a mother's love. She lost her children because of a judgment that they didn't believe was coming. When the Lord returns to usher in the tribulation period, there may be many mothers who lose children that they love in the judgments of that time as well.

Yes, a mother's love is one of the few examples in life where we see unconditional love. The other place where we see unconditional love is when God sent His Son to die for our sins. While there are notable exceptions in real life and in Scripture, generally a mother will love and try to protect her children no matter what the circumstances or what they do.

We need to be thankful for our mothers and for their love. Our mothers chose life and because of that we are here today. Our mothers nurtured us and sacrificed for us. We should thank God for mothers who proved their love by teaching us the Gospel and by praying for us.

 

Meditation for the week of May 9, 2010

The Company we Keep is Important

 

1 Corinthians 15:33 Do not be deceived: "Evil company corrupts good habits."

 

The translation of the Bible called God's Word rephrases this to say, "Don't let anyone deceive you. Associating with bad people will ruin decent people." Obviously, it is important to choose our friends and associates wisely since they will influence who we are, what we do and what we believe. Solomon violated this principle when he married foreign women who were not worshipers of Jehovah. In stead of converting them, they converted him at least for a time. Since he wrote the book of Ecclesiastes, he may have been restored to the Lord at the end of his life. However, because of the influence of unbelievers in his life, this wise man lost the confidence of the Lord and caused the kingdom of Israel to be divided.

We often say that "birds of a feather flock together." That seems to mean that we seek out others that are like us. While that may be true, we are all subject to peer pressure and the desire to be accepted. As a result, sometimes we seek out those that we really aren't like but whose approval we want. Then, in order to obtain that approval, we become like them. I have become more and more aware of the fact that the friends that I keep will affect who I am.

When we play tennis, we should play with those who are better than we are. We may lose a game or a set, but we will improve our game. When we play chess, we are told the same principle will improve our game. Playing with those better than we are may be hard on the ego when we lose to them, but in time we may actually learn how to win most of the time. The same principle applies in the spiritual realm. We need to "hang out" with those who are more spiritual than we are. They will challenge us to be more Christ-like in our attitudes and life. Of course we do and should spend time in the right circumstances with those who are unsaved or carnal or less spiritual. However, when we do we need to make sure that they are not going to be influencing our behavior. We need to be influencing theirs.

Today, we are trying to be so culturally relevant in our Gospel outreach and church meetings that I feel that the unsaved and the carnal are influencing us rather than the other way around. We make our meetings of the church such that everyone including the unsaved will feel "comfortable". We change the language of the Gospel so that instead of talking about the lost or the unbeliever, we talk about seekers and the unchurched. When we talk about sin, we fail to make people realize that sin is first and foremost an offense against God. We can redefine it and we can make it socially acceptable, but God still hates it. We don't like to talk about the eternal consequences of our actions any more so we never mention that one of our eternal destinies could be a place where the worm does not die and the fire never burns itself out (Mark 9: 48). We tend to encourage the unsaved to worship with us when they have never been converted, born again, saved, or regenerated. Who is changing whom?

I am beginning to realize how important it is in making close friends to ask the hard question, "Do I want to be like that person?" Do they represent Christ the way I think He should be represented?" I have seen the changes that take place in people's lives when they associate with the wrong people. Non-drinkers become drinkers. Language that used to be becoming to the person becomes rough. Places of entertainment that used to be considered sinful become acceptable. I have seen Christians who used to be gracious and loving become hard and critical. I have seen Christians who had standards and convictions at one time throw them all out and begin living like the world lives.

One of our greatest challenges in life is to choose our friends wisely. I am glad that I do have one friend who sticks closer than a brother (Proverbs 18:24), and who loves at all times (Proverbs 17:7). He proved His love by dying for me. We can't go wrong when the Lord Jesus becomes our closest friend.

 

Meditation for the week of May 16, 2010

Knowing the Lord

 

Exodus 6:7 I will take you as My people, and I will be your God. Then you shall know that I am the LORD your God who brings you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians.

 

What can the Lord do to make believers out of unbelievers? In the old testament, over and over again we have the phrase, then shall you (or they) know that I am the Lord your God. But in most cases, the people that should have known Him really didn't know Him. The idea of knowing the Lord meant more than knowing about Him. It meant entering into an intimate relationship with Him.

In the nation of Israel's case, they were delivered from Egypt in a miraculous way. But even so, not everyone who had a physical deliverance had a spiritual one where they actually came to know the Lord. In Jude verse 5 we read, "But I want to remind you, though you once knew this, that the Lord, having saved the people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed those who did not believe." Over and over again, the children of Israel turned away from the God of creation who proved himself to be their God through signs and wonders to serve idols and pagan superstition. Even the Egyptians who were subjected to the judgments of God because they would not let His people go, thought that their pagan religion could defeat Jehovah. Their army died in the Red Sea because they would not be convinced. Pharaoh had said, "Who is the LORD, that I should obey His voice to let Israel go? I DO NOT KNOW THE LORD (Exodus 5:2)." He became the object of God's judgment after declaring himself to be an unbeliever.

In the new testament knowing the Lord means that we believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. In Matthew 16:15, Peter was asked, "But who do you say that I am?" Peter answered in verse 16, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." Peter believed that the Lord was who He claimed to be and that He was the Savior of the world. He knew the Lord.

I have been wondering why in the Bible as well as in real life it seems easier to turn away from the Lord than to turn away from idols? Is it because some of us haven't been truly convinced that Jesus is the Christ the Son of the Living God and that He is going to be judge of the living and the dead (Acts 10:42)? We know that we aren't saved by what we do, we are saved by Who we trust. But if the Lord is the One we believe in, wouldn't we want to worship Him and only Him in the way He has asked? Should we who have turned from idols to serve the Living and True God (1 Thessalonians 1:9) be turning back to the idolatry of this world as the Israelites often did?

It seems to me that many Christians are assuming that everyone who says they are following Christ have actually been convinced that Jesus is THE ONE AND ONLY CHRIST or messiah or savior. Even if what people believe and practice is not Biblical, we do not want to be considered judgmental and unloving today by asking too many questions. But what is really unloving is to accept people who obviously are not serving the Lord of the Bible without pointing out to them that only those who truly "know the Lord" will be saved from an eternity in the Lake of Fire. We have become so shallow in the way we preach the Gospel that it is easy to assume that everyone who says that they are believers actually believe in (or trust) the Lord.

Those of us who were delivered from the religious confusion of the world to serve the Christ, the Son of the Living God, are grieved when we see people turning back to the idolatry of this world from which they said they were delivered. Today, light and darkness are being mixed since the Bible is not always accepted as the final authority. New age practices are being promoted in many churches. Being spiritual in a mystical sort of way is accepted while being Biblical is considered narrow.

I wonder how many of us have really been convinced that Jesus is the Christ the Son of the Living God? Do we really "know the Lord?"

 

Meditation for the week of May 23, 2010

1Chronicles 12:23 Now these were the numbers of the divisions that were equipped for war, and came to David at Hebron to turn over the kingdom of Saul to him, according to the word of the LORD:

1Chronicles 12:32 of the sons of Issachar who had understanding of the times, to know what Israel ought to do, their chiefs were two hundred; and all their brethren were at their command.

 

Wouldn't it be nice, if a person were President of the United States, to have men in your government who were not only men of war who knew how to defend the country but who had understanding of the times to know what the country should do? David had two hundred men from Issachar like that. Today, people turn to horoscopes and fortune tellers to tell them what to do. But David had men available to him who had the wisdom of God in them. They knew what Israel ought to do.

This weekend we are remembering our loved ones who have died as well as soldiers who have died in battle. I wonder how many of those who have died in battle would say that they followed men who understood the times and knew what to do. Down through the years, those who have died in battle have been honored as they ought to be, but most of them died playing following the leader. They did what they were told to do. In the United States some died in the Civil War, some in WWI, some in WWII, some in the Korean Conflict, some in the Vietnam War, some in the first Gulf War, some in the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and many in miscellaneous operations around the world in addition to the wars and conflicts just mentioned. Obviously, we have never had men who could bring lasting peace to this world through war. So did these leaders really understand the times and know what to do? No leader including King David has been able to bring about lasting peace although his son Solomon came close. Our leaders today need to have men available who understand the times and who can tell them what to do. Likely, President Obama would like to have men who could tell him how to bring the current wars to a conclusion without losing more lives than the conflicts themselves have lost. He just might like to have men who know how to cap runaway oil wells and who know how to clean up the mess left behind when a well goes rogue. He just might like to have men who could tell him how to handle the present budget mess and how to get a handle on medical costs while providing treatment to everyone who needs it.

Knowing that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom (Proverbs 9:10), if I were President I would try to find men like the men of Issachar to give me guidance. I would try to make every decision based on the rightness or wrongness of the decision without considering the possible problem of being reelected. I would keep in mind that even though representative democratic rule is the best men can offer, this system of government assumes that the majority is right. But Biblically the majority is usually wrong so I would try to remember that satisfying the majority will probably not be ethical or right. I would try to not base my decisions on my understanding of prophecy. We don't need to bring prophecy to pass, God can do that fine without our help. I would try to make every decision based on the ethical guidelines of the Bible instead which are summed up in the command to love our neighbors as ourselves.

Obviously, we have had some really good leaders in this country, but I am quite certain that none of them have ever made all of their decisions as I am suggesting. The only One who ever will do this is the Lord Himself when He comes to reign over the world. And yes, the One who died has been raised from the dead and is even now preparing to come again. His coming will be a blessing for true believers since they will be saved from the wrath that is coming on an unbelieving world (1 Thessalonians 1:10). But the Lord will first judge and purify the world of unbelievers before setting up a kingdom that is truly righteous. During that period of time which will last one thousand years, there will be peace. The world's resources will not be wasted on armies and wars (Isaiah 2:4).

My prayer is that our governmental leaders might know that we who are Christians pray for and respect them. Let us give honor to whom honor is due (Romans 13:7). And if our leaders are not saved, maybe they will realize that for their own personal well-being as well as for the well-being of the county, they need to be saved. Then God can guide them in understanding the times and in knowing what to do.

As we remember those who have sacrificed their lives for their country this Memorial Day weekend, those of us who believe in and fear the Lord should also do battle with the forces of darkness. But let us do it the Biblical way by preaching the Gospel and by praying fervently for and by honoring our leaders.

 

Meditation for the week of May 30, 2010