Sunday, May 29, 2016

Learning Repentance

None of us like being rebuked, but how we react to rebuke says a lot about what we believe about God and ourselves. Last year my pastor had to confront me for not handling a disagreement in a biblical manner. The rebuke was well deserved and his goal was restoration, not condemnation. Recognizing this and seeing his love for the church made it easier for me to repent and seek reconciliation.

The Bible tells us about two kings who were rightfully rebuked. Comparing their stories helps us to avoid pitfalls and to respond wisely when we need to repent.

The first king I would like to examine is Saul, who unlawfully offered a burnt offering because the people were scattering from him (1 Sam. 13:10). Pleasing his people was more important to him than obeying God's word. The prophet Samuel rebuked Saul by saying, "You have done foolishly ... Your kingdom shall not continue." (1 Sam. 13:13-14) Saul reacted pridefully. Rather than seeking God's glory, he set up a monument for himself (1 Sam. 15:12) and continued in sinful disobedience, so that Samuel had to confront him a second time: "Why did you not obey the voice of the Lord?" (1 Sam. 15:19). Still, Saul remained obstinate, not wanting to own up to his wrongdoing. "I have obeyed", he lied. To Saul, saving face was more important than being repentant: "I feared the people and obeyed their voice (15:24). "I have sinned; yet honor me now before the elders," he demanded. (1 Sam. 15:30)

Saul had always been a hider. When the people wanted to make him king, he had "hidden himself among the baggage." (1 Sam 10:22)  Now, just like Adam and Eve had done, he hid himself "from the presence of the Lord God" (Gen. 3:8) when he was called to be accountable for his actions.
Saul remained in a posture of pride, people pleasing and hiding from God for the rest of his life. Therefore "the Spirit of the Lord departed from Saul and a harmful spirit from the Lord tormented him." (1 Sam. 16:14)

Now let's look at King David, a man who knew God intimately and practiced seeking God's glory above his own. In contrast to Saul, who erected a monument to himself, David desired to build a temple for the Lord. When he came under discipline, David responded in a God-fearing, humble manner. "The Lord sent Nathan to David, He came to him and said to him ... 'Why have you despised the word of the Lord, to do what is evil in His sight? You have struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword and have taken his wife to be your wife'" (2 Sam. 12:1, 9). David immediately repented and confessed: "I have sinned against the Lord" (2. Sam. 12:13). His relationship with God was restored: "I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover my iniquity; I said, 'I will confess my transgressions to the Lord', and you forgave the iniquity of my sin" (Ps. 32:5). Instead of inheriting Saul's harmful spirit, David asked God to "renew a right spirit within" him (Ps. 51:10). He learned that "the sacrifices of God are a broken spirit" (Ps. 51:17), not the self-serving sacrifices of Saul.

The three postures and underlying lies that kept Saul from reacting with humility, as his successor David did, are the same that many times hinder us from running to God. We can learn to identify the lies that keep us captive and replace them with the truth.
1. Fear of man vs. Fear of God
       Lie: It is my job to make everyone happy.
       Truth: If I am still trying to please man, I cannot please God.
       Lie: My value depends on what others think of me.
       Truth: God gives my life value.

2. Pride vs. Humility
       Lie: God is not concerned with my best interest.
       Truth: I can completely trust that God's way is the best for me.

       Lie: My goal in life is to achieve fame and riches.        
       Truth: My goal is to glorify God with my life.

       Lie: God does not have a special plan for my life.        
       Truth: God has a special plan for my life.

3. Hiding vs. Living in God's light
       Lie: God does not really love me.                        
       Truth: God loves me and nothing I do will change that.

       Lie: God likes to make me feel bad about my sins because He does not want me
               to be happy.
       Truth: God wants me to feel bad about my sins so that I will repent and have a                                       restored relationship with Him.
       Lie: God cannot redeem all the bad things in my life.    
       Truth: God can and will redeem everything for my good and His glory.                                    

Because David believed that God is who He says He is, Satan's lies did not stand a chance with him. And like this "man after God's own heart," when we replace Satan's lies with God's truth, we will run to Him who can "create in us a clean heart" and "restore unto us the joy of His salvation" (Ps. 51:12).

Sunday, May 22, 2016

It is not About Being Impressive

"What was to be the value of the long looked forward to ... wisdom of age? Had they deceived us or deceived themselves?" These are questions posed by author T.S. Eliot in "The Four Quartets," as he expresses his disappointment over the realization that old age does not necessarily bring wisdom and is not automatically bestowed upon us with the advent of grey hair.

In fact, the Bible instructs people of any age to actively hunt for wisdom. In the book of Proverbs we are urged to call out for insight (2:3) and to seek it like silver (2:4). God promises to reward those who pursue wisdom and He generously bestows it on those who ask (James 1:5).

But what is wisdom?
While the world looks for impressive words and the display of one's greatness through riches, titles and positions, this kind of "wisdom" is folly with God (1 Cor. 3:19), because it is fading and has no eternal value. Rather than being measured by our mental capacities and verbal capabilities, Biblical wisdom is reflected in our behavior, what we do on a day-to-day basis. This is most clearly stated in Deuteronomy 4:46, which says that keeping God's rules and statutes is our wisdom.

This truth is also expressed throughout the book of Proverbs. Here, wisdom is described as being disciplined; working hard and then honoring God with one's earnings by tithing and giving alms; staying debt-free (3:9); and protecting the weak and less fortunate. It includes learning contentment, rather than being eaten up with envy (3:31), humbly remembering that God made us and everything that we are blessed with (3:21). Humility is a central theme, as the wise willingly accept discipline from the Lord and reproof from man (3:11). Proverbs also echoes the Ten Commandments by revealing the wise person as truthful (4:24), faithful (6:32) and a blessing to his neighbor (3:25).

God's agenda is completely opposite to that of those who are wise in their own eyes. While the worldly wise desire to flaunt their own greatness, followers of Christ who value Godly wisdom are to pray for a spirit of wisdom that we may know the hope, the riches and greatness of God (Eph. 1:17). God is looking for humble hearts and actions that reflect His character through understanding His riches and greatness. It is not about being impressive, but about being impressed by God.

T.S. Eliot came to the same conclusion in his poem, "The Four Quartets": "Do not let me hear of the wisdom of old men... The only wisdom we can hope to acquire is the wisdom of humility: humility is endless."

Thursday, May 12, 2016

A Call to Sacrificial Love

"I feel sorry for everyone who is married." These words of mine as a teenager were not a lopsided endorsement for the gift of celibacy, but born out of disappointment and hurt from having encountered so many broken marriages. I also liked making decisions for myself and 1 Cor. 7:4 seemed like a daunting thought to me: "For the wife does not have authority over her body but her husband does." (ESV)

"My future husband should have authority over my body?!" I questioned. "What if he chooses to be harsh and unkind?"

So how on earth did I ever get married? First, I had to make an active choice to believe that God's plan in marriage is good, instead of giving way to fear. Repeatedly during our engagement, my fiancee patiently reminded me that we were "first generation" -- the first believers on both sides of our family. God had made a difference in our lives and He would make a difference in our marriage, also.

Today, 18 years later, 1 Cor. 7:4 is not scary to me anymore. Rather than reading into this verse a license for selfishness, I have come to realize that Paul means quite the opposite. The New International Version (NIV) translates it this way: "The wife's body does not belong to her alone but also to her husband." This is actually a beautiful invitation for the husband to love sacrificially. Beyond the husband's calling in Eph. 5.8 to love his wife as his own body, he is even to consider her body his own. He naturally looks out for his own physical needs for nourishment, rest, covering, shelter, comfort, and protection and would never dream of unnecessarily inflicting pain on his own body. So in giving myself to my husband I can assume that he will love my physical body as his own, looking out for my best interests.

God is concerned about our everyday lives, which makes the Bible wonderfully practical. The context of this verse is focused on our human sexuality with it's God-given drives and desires. By putting 1. Cor 7:4 into practice, we shore up our marriages against abuse on one side and neglect on the other. This verse calls us to love sacrificially and selflessly; a misinterpretation could lead to unbiblical domination or abuse, but any such misunderstanding of Paul's message should be dismissed. This is especially true since the Bible verse goes both ways: "In the same way the husband's body does not belong to him alone, but also to his wife." (1. Cor 7:4 NIV) As a wife, I am also to love my husband by longing to meet his needs, considering his body my own.

When confronted with our own human weakness in fulfilling this call to sacrificial love, we need to look to Christ for strength, just like my husband reminded his fearful fiancee many years ago: "God makes a difference."

"I can do all things through Him who gives me strength." (Phil. 4:13)