Monday, July 17, 2017

Listen


You shall follow the Lord your God and fear Him;
 and you shall keep His commandments, 
LISTEN to His voice, 
serve Him and cling to Him.
Deuteronomy 13:4


There are a lot of voices in your head.  It sounds like just one, but the truth is there are a lot of competing influences that ring in your mind and it's hard to determine which ones are good and which ones are bad. The world is pretty loud and our flesh is pretty strong, so how do we know if the voice we are listening to is God's?

Let me start out by pointing out that God's initial command here is to FOLLOW, then FEAR and KEEP.  After these things, He says to LISTEN.  Unfortunately we tend to do these things in the wrong order.  We want to hear the voice of the Lord and then we'll decide whether or not we want to follow Him.  But it doesn't work that way.  The choice to follow must come first; a strong walk in surrender to His will, built on a healthy foundation of awe and respect for His character - these things must be in place in order for you to hear the voice of the Lord.

I had a woman once approach me after a Worship on the Waterfront concert I had been involved in.  I was directing a children's choir and our concert included a live band and adult praise team, plus 70 children.  This woman praised my efforts and told me that God had told her that because men were not stepping up and leading the way God had called them to, God was done with male leadership in the church and He was now going to raise up strong women to fill the void.  She had heard His voice and was His messenger.  The problem was that her message was contrary to God's Word.  If I didn't know the Word and understood God's design for church leadership, my flesh might have embraced this woman's message.  But I knew the Word and knew the voice she heard was not from God. As politely as I could I explained that to her and she didn't take it well.

We must know the Word, we must be actively walking closely to the Lord before we trust the voices in our head to be from God.  And even then, we must learn to listen and compare, before we act.

I know a gal who was very close to the Lord.  She walked with Him daily.  She relied on Him for her every need.  Her marriage was built on Him and I really don't know any other woman who lived in God's presence the way that she did.  Then one day she met someone...well, actually it was a talking snake...who told her that God was keeping something from her.  Then she assessed the information for herself and decided that he was right, and she broke her relationship with the Lord.  As a matter of fact, her actions along with her husband brought great destruction into the world.  

How did this happen to Eve?  She was in full fellowship with the Lord and didn't even have a sin nature to distort things!  The problem was that the voice in her head was not the Lord's and instead of comparing what God said to what the voice said, she acted on the voice.

When we listen to the voice of God, we must know His Word so that we know it is from Him.  All too often I hear people explain that they are hearing from the Lord and what they are hearing is contrary to His Word.  This is why FOLLOWING, FEARING and KEEPING must come first.  Then hearing will be a natural response to what we know about Him.

The flip side is this:  we just spent 8 months watching videos at church of people who listened to the voice of the Lord and had gospel moves all over the place!  The Lord would lay on their hearts to pray for hurting people around them, or to ask forgiveness when they were difficult at work, or to stand up for God's truth in a class, despite the negative response.  These are true examples of listening to the voice of God and acting on it.  By faith, they knew who God is and what His Word teaches, they knew the Gospel and what it means in life, and when the Lord nudged them to act, they obeyed.  What a wonderful example of LISTENING for all of us!  (to see the videos:  click here)

So what voice do you hear in your head and what is your process to determine if it is from the Lord or not?  We are commanded by God to listen to His voice, therefore we must commit to knowing His Word and surround ourselves with godly influences to determine if the nudging is from the Lord or from another source...

Monday, July 10, 2017

Keep


You shall follow the Lord your God and fear Him;
 and you shall KEEP His commandments, 
listen to His voice, 
serve Him and cling to Him.
Deuteronomy 13:4


As we work our way through this verse, we have already seen the call to willingly place ourselves under God's authority (surrender at salvation) and the healthy fear of the power of God.  Today we are going to talk about "keeping."  The full instruction is "you shall keep His commandments."  

We tend to cringe when we hear the word "commandment."  That's for a few reasons.  First of all, we like the concept that we are free in Christ but commands do not equate to freedom.  In our mind, freedom equals the ability to do whatever we please, so the instruction to live within boundaries seems stifling.  Another reason is that keeping commandments sounds like we are earning our salvation and deep down we know we cannot perfectly keep God's commandments, so why is He telling us to do so?

I want to address both of these concerns.  First of all, we must understand what freedom in Christ means.  It DOES NOT mean that we are free to do whatever we want.  That would be foolishness.  That's what got us in trouble in the first place.  Remember, at salvation we are choosing to place ourselves UNDER GOD'S AUTHORITY - which means He is the boss of you.  Freedom in Christ means that we are no longer in bondage to sin, but have the freedom to please the Lord in whatever we do.  And what pleases the Lord the most?  Obedience to His commands. (I"ll explain why in just a minute...)

Secondly, the concern that God is instructing us to earn our salvation when He says that we are to keep HIs commands is inaccurate because of timing.  Remember, we are first called to FOLLOW - that's our salvation.  So how can this instruction save us more than what we already are?  Keeping God's commands has several purposes, but salvation is NOT one of them.  As Hebrews 11:1 tells us that the Law can never make us perfect, so there must be another reason for it.

So, why should we obey God's commands?  Let me give you three reasons. First, God's commands are in our best interest.  Just as a parent lovingly puts boundaries around their child for their protection, God places boundaries around us.  Sexual purity is a great example.  Do you know how simple it is for two virgins to marry?  There's no concern for disease and illness.  There's no partner baggage that comes into the marriage bed.  There are no competing memories or guilt trips.  There aren't any unwanted pregnancies or emotional and physical residue from abortions.  I have heard it said that high school girls who break up with boys they've slept with experience similar emotional loss to a divorce.  Purity guarantees none of that.  And yet, this is a boundary that no one wants to keep.  It's outdated, old fashioned and unreasonable.  Really? 

God's commands are a protection for us.  He is the author of life; He knows what is best.  To keep the commands of the Lord shows that you trust His goodness and love for you.

Second, it's a way to receive blessing from the Lord. Psalm 1 tells us that the person who walks in the ways of the Lord has abundant fruit.  Psalm 119 (all 176 verses) tells us of the blessings and benefits of walking in the Word of God.  Galatians 5 tells us that the flesh produces immorality, impurity, idolatry, jealousy, anger, fighting, envying, drunkenness and things like these, but the fruit of walking in the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness and self control.  I would call those blessings.  If we keep God's commandments, deny our flesh and walk in the Spirit, blessing follows.

Finally, it's a way to show our love for Him.  Jesus said in John 14 that if we love Him, we will keep His commandments.  It's really that simple.  If you have WILLINGLY placed your life in His hands, why wouldn't you obey Him?  It just doesn't make sense to buck against His instruction.  In light of the price paid for our eternity, keeping the commandments of God should flow from an obvious trust in His character.  Would He sacrifice His Son only to leave you with ridiculous instructions to follow?  Come on, friend, we've got to think bigger than that!

So the logical question is this:  what are the commands of God?  Oh, dear!  There are many.  So get in the Word and find them yourself...read the Law of Moses, that's a good place to start!  In the Law you will see the heart of a holy and loving God.  Read the Epistles (the letters at the end of the New Testament) - there are tons of instructions there.  Or just read through a gospel - Jesus gave a lot of commands.  Oh - one more!  Why not just start with the BIG TEN?  You've got to start some place!

Follow.  Fear.  Keep.  

Halfway done.

Monday, July 3, 2017

Fear



You shall follow the Lord your God and FEAR Him;
 and you shall keep His commandments, listen to His voice, 
serve Him and cling to Him.
Deuteronomy 13:4


True or false:

God is scarier than this world.

Is He scarier than terrorists?  Is He scarier than public opinion? Is He scarier than your teachers or your nemesis or your neighbors or your boss? Is He scarier than the thugs that walk down the middle of the road? Is He scarier than your own father?  What do you think?

How you answer that will tell me if you understand what the fear of the Lord truly means. Most will tell you that to fear God is to have an awe and respect for Him, just as you would respect your earthly father.  Um...kinda but not really.  It goes much deeper than that.

When we relate our respect for God to our respect for another human, we're just not in the same ball park. We might do it as a reference point, but it's a pretty simple word picture, compared to reality.

So how do I explain what it means to fear the Lord?  It starts with recognizing Who He is.  I'm not talking about the God who destroyed the world with water, or the God who sent fiery serpents into Israel's camp, or the God who says He'll send hailstones mixed with blood and fire to the earth in the last days.  I'm talking about the God who said, Let there be light and suddenly reality was filled with bright, radiant whiteness.  The God who filled the seas with creatures beyond our wildest imaginations and the heavens with some of the most beautiful aerodynamic wonders.  The God who placed the earth on the exact orbit, in the exact position in our solar system, so that life could exist, who spoke the world into existence, who created humanity in His own image to live forever.  

When we realize that God is not in our category, that He's not a fallible man, with unreasonable outbursts and selfish ambitions, then we need to acknowledge our longing to know Him.  Like an orphan longs to know where he came from, God has set eternity in our hearts and created a longing that only the One whose image we bear can fill.  Not only can we see our Maker's handiwork in all that surrounds us, from the microscope to the stethoscope to the telescope, but we can see Him clearly in His Son.  The life He led, the path He took, the teachings He told, the miracles He performed all pointed to the heart of a loving God.

So, none of this is overly scary, is it?  Why do we call it "fear of the Lord" if it's not a little scary?  Truth be told, there is a scary aspect to it.  Because of our sin, we are born into eternal death.  Death is our destiny, eternally separated from our Creator, in torment, suffering for the rebellion in our hearts against Him.  The flooding, snake-infesting, hail-dropping God is still a reality, but we have to understand that His wrath is a consequence of our rebellion. 

Upon salvation, the wrath of God is appeased because Jesus' sacrifice is sufficient payment.  But we still live in a broken world, where sin and consequences abound.  Sometimes we bear the burden of other people's brokenness, but all too often we bear the consequences of our own sin.  As we walk in the Lord, growing and applying what we are learning about our God and His will for us, we become more vertical in our mindset, knowing that God blesses our obedience and He disciplines our disobedience.  

Knowing that God is loving and kind, gracious and merciful, patient and long-suffering, we can choose to live lives that bring Him glory because we also know He is completely present and involved with us on a daily basis.  Why would we choose to walk in rebellion when we know the goodness of the Lord?  Better yet, why would we choose to walk in rebellion when we know how God deals with sin? 

As believers, we must never forget the awesome power and magnitude of the Lord's strength.  We must not put ourselves even in the same category as Him.  We may bear His image but we are not made from the same materials.  He is God.  He is holy. He is awesome and He is to be feared.  Yes, it is awe and respect, but there is an aspect of understanding His power in His wrath, that although we will never experience it, we still are in fear of it.  This is why Christians are called "God-fearing" people.  We know that God will not sit idly by while sin rules and reigns, and because we fear the Lord, we choose to live lives that are honorable and God-glorifying. Because we fear the Lord, we don't cheat on our taxes or steal from our employers.  We don't cheat on our spouses and we don't lie to each other.  We know God is watching and we desire to live lives that bring glory to Him in all things.

So, is God scarier than terrorists, thugs or others?  He is scarier because He is more powerful and though incredibly, sacrificially loving, He is holy and will pour His wrath out upon sinful man.  Proverbs 9 tells us that fearing this God is the start of true wisdom.  Deut. 13 says that after choosing to follow God, we must fear Him - see Him as He truly is.