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Archive for the ‘obedience’ Category

I’ve Been Thinking

Jonah

I’ve been thinking about Jonah lately – the book and the prophet. He was the disobedient prophet and one of the most interesting people in Scripture.

One very clever commentator summed up Jonah in four phrases as if spoken by the prophet himself.

  • “I won’t go.” (Chapter 1)
  • “OK, I’ll go.” (Chapter 2)
  • “Here I am.” (Chapter 3)
  • “I shouldn’t have come.” (Chapter 4)

The book of Jonah is one of disobedience, obedience, and God’s mercy (among other things). Pastor Garrett Kell has these observations:

  • The wind obeys God.
  • The lots obey God.
  • The fish obeys God.
  • Pagans obey God.
  • The sun obeys God.
  • The plant obeys God.
  • The worm obeys God.
  • Only Jonah disobeys God.

Many lessons can be learned from the book of Jonah. One of the biggest is don’t be like Jonah in his obstinate disobedience. Trust God, whose power and mercy is infinite.

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This morning I had the privilege of hearing Pastor Rick Elzinga preach on Psalm 95. Here is a summary of his sermon in one sentence: Our worship should be joyful, thankful, centered on God, which results in a softened heart that believes and obeys God.

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“We’ve missed you in church” (or “We’ve missed you at Bible study”).

“Well, things have been really tough lately. We’re really going through it right now.”

You’ve heard that exchange before. I know I have. Maybe you’ve said either of those lines yourself. But is it right – is it what God wants?

Pslam 119:143-144 says, “Trouble and anguish have come upon me, yet Your commandments are my delight. Your testimonies are righteous forever; give me understanding that I may live.” Life had gotten tough for the psalmist. He describes it as “trouble” and “anguish” Whatever he was experiencing could easily be described as God’s “dark providence,” which could have kept him from God, His Word, and His people. But it didn’t.

Why hadn’t the suffering psalmist drifted from God? Because He was sustained by God’s Word. God’s commandments (His Word, in other words) were his delight in the midst of his troubles. He didn’t succumb to the temptation of ignoring God when things weren’t going well. In fact, when life got tough, the psalmist ran towards God, and not away from Him. In his troubles and anguish, he was sustained by God through His Word. As he poured over God’s Law day and night, He was nourished and strengthened by what he read.

If (and when) we’re “really going through it” and things are tough, we need to be in God’s Word and with His people more than ever, and not away from them. His Word is our delight in trouble and anguish. He uses it to sustain us for His glory and our good!

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It’s the desire of every true Christian to pursue holiness, to live a life that’s pleasing and honoring to God. Psalm 119, which is a 176-verse song dedicated to God’s Word, talks a lot about holiness and the pursuit of it. There’s a direct connection between the two.

Psalm 119:9 asks the question, “How can a young man (or anyone else for that matter) keep his way pure? ” Next comes the answer: “By living according to Your word.” Purity is the result of obedience to God’s Word.

Verse 11 adds action to the truth expressed in verse 9: “I have hidden Your word in my heart that I might not sin against You.” One of the most important ways to pursue a life of holiness is to hide God’s Word in our heart. But what does that mean?

First, it’s a personal commitment“I have hidden” means that I myself and making a decision to do something, and it’s not one-time only but rather an ongoing commitment. “I have, and will continue to, hide God’s Word in my heart.”

Second, it involves God’s Word. Notice the psalmist says, “Your word” which means God’s Word. When Psalm 119 was written, “Your word” meant the Torah (the first five books of the Bible) primarily. Today “Your word” refers to all 66 books of the God-inspired Scripture. What we hide in our hearts is God’s Word, not our own or someone else’s.

Third, it involves the meaning of hiding God’s Word“Hidden” means “treasure” and “meditate,” but carries the idea of careful reflection. Hiding God’s Word doesn’t refer to reading at a service level or even devotionally. It refers to memorizing and meditating on God’s Word in such a way that it becomes hidden in our heart. In other words, we know it “by heart” as the saying goes.

Fourth, it involves the goal. The result is “that I might not sin against You.” Hiding God’s Word in our heart advances our spiritual health and holiness. It will change your thinking which will, in turn, change your behavior. It’s how the pursuit of holiness takes place.

As someone has said, “The Bible will keep you from sin or sin will keep you from the Bible. “

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elijah

The prophet Elijah had just experienced a gigantic “mountaintop” experience (literally – and I mean that literally). God had shown Himself to the people of Israel in great power and glory on Mount Carmel (1 Kings 18:20-40). The prophets of Baal – false prophets all – had come up woefully short in a contest set up by Elijah.

Israel’s wicked King Ahab quickly reported the news to his pagan wife Jezebel, who sent a “watch your back” note to Elijah (1 Kings 19:1-2). She promised to do to him what he’d done to the prophets of Baal – kill him, in other words. The prophet’s mountaintop high turned into a “valley” experience as soon as he heard the note read to him. “And he was afraid and arose and ran for his life and came to Beersheba, which belongs to Judah, and left his servant there” (1 Kings 19:3).

From Beersheba, he continued on to Horeb and hid in a cave. All this time, by the way, God provided everything He needed. At one point, Elijah said to Yahweh, “I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the sons of Israel have forsaken Your covenant, torn down Your altars and killed Your prophets with the sword. And I alone am left; and they seek my life, to take it away” (1 Kings 19:10). He thought he was the only one left in Israel who was obedient to God and zealous for Him. He wasn’t, of course, but that’s how he felt.

Elijah needed some fact-checking, which is exactly what God did. In verse 18, the Lord told Elijah that, in fact, there were 7000 prophets in Israel who hadn’t bowed the knee to Baal. Therefore, even though Jezebel was after him, he wasn’t alone in his devotion to God.

It isn’t hard for us to fall into the Elijah Syndrome, especially when we’ve been on the mountaintop but now find ourselves in the valley. We can think we’re the only person who’s really interested in following the Lord, but He says otherwise.

No, you’re not the only pastor in your town who’s faithful to the Lord. God has others.

No, you’re not the only teacher in your district who’s faithful to the Lord. God has others.

No, you’re not the only student in your school who’s faithful to the Lord. God has others.

No, you’re not the only one in your vocation who’s faithful to the Lord. God has others.

No, your church isn’t the only one that’s faithful to the Lord. God has others.

The list could go on and on, but the point is straightforward: You’re not alone in your faithfulness and devotion to the Lord. He has His people everywhere, and that should be encouraging to us whether we find ourselves on the mountaintop or in the valley.

 

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Grace – God’s unmerited and undeserved favor – is amazing in more ways than we normally think. Titus 2:11-14 illustrates it: For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men, instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus, who gave Himself for us to redeem us from every lawless deed, and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds.” 

“The grace of God has appeared” (verse 11) in the person of Jesus Christ. That grace brought “salvation.” God saves us by His grace and we praise Him for it! He opened our eyes when we were spiritually blind; He opened our spiritually deaf ears; and He gave us a heart of flesh in exchange for the heart of stone each of us have by nature – and He did all of this by His grace! We didn’t deserve it, couldn’t earn it, and, in fact, deserve the exact opposite.

Everyone who has repented of their sin and has believed in Jesus Christ alone for their salvation did so solely because of God’s grace. We’ve been redeemed by grace alone through faith alone because of Christ alone. But does that give us a “get out of jail card free card” with respect to our behavior and conduct as a Christian? Can we live any way we want because we’re saved by grace?

No, it doesn’t and no, we can’t! Still on the subject of “the grace of God” from verse 11, verse 12 begins with the phrase “instructing us.” The grace of God not only saves us, but instructs us (or teaches, disciplines, trains us). To what end? Grace instructs us “to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age.” In other words, grace doesn’t softly whisper in your ear to go ahead and indulge yourself because God doesn’t really care anymore; rather grace teaches us, trains us, and disciplines us to say no to ungodliness and yes to godliness. While we’re at it, we await the second coming of “our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus” (verse 13), who “redeemed us from every lawless deed” on the negative side, and is purifying “for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds” (verse 14). By His grace, God has redeemed us “from every lawless deed” and “for good deeds.” God is just as concerned with our birth (justification) as He is with our growth (sanctification).

God’s grace is truly amazing – through it we’re saved, taught, empowered, and changed!

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calvin

After quoting Romans 12:1-2 (“Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.”), Calvin writes,

This is a marvelous thing – we are consecrated and dedicated to God to the end that we might not think, speak, meditate, or act unless it be to His glory. The sacred can’t be put to profane use without injustice to God.

If we are not our own but the Lord’s, it’s clear what errors we must flee, and what we must direct our whole lives toward. We are not our own; therefore, neither our reason nor our will should dominate our plans and actions. We are not our own; therefore, let us not make the gratification of our flesh our end. We are not our own; therefore, as much as possible, let us forget ourselves and our own interests.

Rather, we are God’s. Therefore, let us live and die for Him. We are God’s. Therefore, let His wisdom and will govern all our actions. We are God’s. Therefore, let us – in every way in all our lives – run to Him as our only proper end. How far has he progressed who’s been taught that he is not his own – who’s taken rule and dominion  away from his own reason and entrusted them to God. For the plague of submitting to our own rule leads us straight to ruin, but the surest way to safety is neither to know nor want anything on our own, but simply to follow the leading of the Lord.

Let then our first step be to abandon ourselves, that we may apply all our strength to obedience to God. When I say “obedience,” I don’t mean giving lip service to God; but rather, being free from the desire of the flesh, turning our minds over completely to the bidding of the Spirit of God.

(A Little Book on the Christian Life, by John Calvin, translated by Aaron Denlinger and Burk Parsons, pp. 22-23; Reformation Trust, 2017.)

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