Sunday, March 23, 2014

How Big is Your God?

1Co 10:7 Do not be idolaters as some of them were; as it is written, "The people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play." 

In the above text Paul warns Christians not to fall into some of the sins that Israel committed while in the wilderness.  They must be sins that Christians can commit which makes us take a look at the first one listed which is idolatry.  No real saint would give a second look at a stone or wooden idol and actually bow down and worship it but giving our love, attention and energy in living for things alongside of Christ is an easy trap to fall into.  As we consider what led Israel to idolatry in Exodus 32 we see that this is something we very easily commit.  Much of this has everything to do with how big our God is.

Exo 32:1 When the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people gathered themselves together to Aaron and said to him, "Up, make us gods who shall go before us. As for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him."… Exo 32:4  And he received the gold from their hand and fashioned it with a graving tool and made a golden calf. And they said, "These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!" 

Perhaps the key word in the Exodus passage is in verse 1, “delayed”.  We know that the calf Aaron made was not supposed to be an entirely different god than Yahweh but one that represented him as vs. 4 says, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt”.   What was their great sin that led them to fashion this “new and improved” god?  They didn’t like waiting and wondering; living by faith was hard.  Sitting there for forty days not knowing what was happening with Moses on the mountain wasn’t sitting well with them.  They wanted a God they could control, who worked on their timetable, according to their agenda. 

Of course the problem with this god is that while he might let you do whatever you want to do, he isn’t a god worth our worship, adoration, obedience, much less our time.  This is not a god who is in control of things and so it is difficult to spend much time praying to him since one has little confidence that a god you can control actually controls the events of your life.  We can’t have it both ways can we?

I would think this explains Numbers 14 which is probably what Paul is referring to in 1 Cor. 10:10 when he says not to grumble as Israel did.  Here the ten spies came back and described the people of Canaan as giants too big to overcome.  Why did the people believe the ten spies and not the other two?  Because they still thought of the true God as a sweet, little, golden calf.  Next to these giants he didn’t look so big.  Here is what they said to Moses, Num 14:2 And all the people of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron. The whole congregation said to them, "Would that we had died in the land of Egypt! Or would that we had died in this wilderness! Num 14:3 Why is the LORD bringing us into this land, to fall by the sword? Our wives and our little ones will become a prey. Would it not be better for us to go back to Egypt?"

Their idolatry caused them to have little to no faith in the Lord and so God gives them their wish and he marches them out into the wilderness and lets them die there.  I think if you follow Paul’s line of reasoning in 1 Cor. 9-10 he is saying that if we fall into this type of idolatry we will be about as useless to the cause of Christ as those Israelites.  

I once was told that I preach the sovereignty of God too much.  I would vigorously argue that statement on any level but surely one big problem the church has today is that many of the pulpits proclaim a God who is not big enough, holy enough, and sovereign enough.  There are few things that are more practical and important for us than to have God exalted in our eyes.  A big God gives big faith, but I would have a hard time trusting a little God.  A big God warrants service and worship.  A little God makes us look to ourselves just like those Israelites did and all that does is incur the wrath of the Lord.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

The Wisest Statement Ever Spoken?

Isa 2:22  Stop regarding man in whose nostrils is breath, for of what account is he?

Isaiah is one of the most sarcastic books in the Bible.  Not that there is all that much sarcasm in the Bible but when we do find it, it seems it is usually the Lord speaking to man.  I think we have a little bit here.  To get the full force of the above verse I think it is good to see that he is referring to idolatry.  One of the themes of Isaiah is God condemning the rampant idolatry in the nation of Israel and sometimes the Lord reminds them how silly idolatry is.  We might say he speaks down to us as only he can.  Chapter 44 is probably my favorite example:

Isa 44:14  He cuts down cedars, or he chooses a cypress tree or an oak and lets it grow strong among the trees of the forest. He plants a cedar and the rain nourishes it.  Isa 44:15  Then it becomes fuel for a man. He takes a part of it and warms himself; he kindles a fire and bakes bread. Also he makes a god and worships it; he makes it an idol and falls down before it.  Isa 44:16  Half of it he burns in the fire. Over the half he eats meat; he roasts it and is satisfied. Also he warms himself and says, "Aha, I am warm, I have seen the fire!"  Isa 44:17  And the rest of it he makes into a god, his idol, and falls down to it and worships it. He prays to it and says, "Deliver me, for you are my god!"

It oozes sarcasm.  Here is a seemingly intelligent man who cuts down a tree and makes a fire to warm himself out of some of the wood, cooks some food and while he is eating he sees the stump just lying there unused and says, “Humm, I think I’ll make a god out of that stump so it won’t go to waste then I can fall down on my knees and worship it!”  In any other setting it would be funny, but of course it is anything but funny because it has eternal consequences.  The verses right after this get deadly serious when the Lord tells us that the reason one worships idols is because they are blind, Isa 44:19  No one considers, nor is there knowledge or discernment to say, "Half of it I burned in the fire; I also baked bread on its coals; I roasted meat and have eaten. And shall I make the rest of it an abomination? Shall I fall down before a block of wood?"   It isn’t that he isn’t intelligent; it is because he has spiritual blindness because of his fallen nature. 

The previous verse says that this blindness remains because the Lord won’t take it away, Isa 44:18  They know not, nor do they discern, for he has shut their eyes, so that they cannot see, and their hearts, so that they cannot understand.  And then finally he says that no man is able on his own to decide to not be blind and to believe the truth, Isa 44:20  He feeds on ashes; a deluded heart has led him astray, and he cannot deliver himself or say, "Is there not a lie in my right hand?"  It seems so simple to realize that something we make can’t possibly be worthy of our trust and love but until the Lord opens our hearts this is the plight of all the lost.  The NT hammers this out and we will leave it there.

The first verse I quoted above, 2:22, I believe is a direct reference to idolatry because all idolatry ultimately is worshiping yourself rather than the true God.  Whether it is a piece of rock or block of wood or your job or your family or whether the satisfaction in life is what you have accomplished with your hands; it is all the same.  Chapter 44 makes it very clear that we either bow to the Lord or we turn our love to whatever we have done.  Even if someone worships the Moon, his religion is a result of his rational (or better, irrational) thought; he had decided the Moon can somehow help him. 

Okay, so how does all this apply to Isa 2:22  Stop regarding man in whose nostrils is breath, for of what account is he?   Here is one of the most profound statements in all of Scripture.  The Lord, I think somewhat sarcastically, tells us that it is foolish to regard, to put before the Lord, one of his creatures that breathes!  God created all things, he is eternal and self-sustaining.  He doesn’t have to breathe because he does not need anything outside of himself.

We, on the other hand, are dependent upon the constant care of the Lord to live even a moment longer.  If we fail to get another breath we cease to live.  The Lord has made it so that we are reminded of our complete dependence on him to live.  It is by causing us to have to breathe constantly.  Every breath we take should be a continuous reminder that we are finite, needy and weak and we need the true God.  We are of no account compared to the Lord and to regard ourselves, our wants, our desires, and our glory above the One who truly deserves it is the worst kind of sin. 

The wise of our age consider the Bible to be out-of-date and ancient man to be unenlightened.  But here Isaiah says one of the wisest things ever said and the wise of this world ignore it every day the Lord gives them!

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Sweet Grapes or Stink Fruit

Isa 5:1  Let me sing for my beloved my love song concerning his vineyard: My beloved had a vineyard on a very fertile hill. Isa 5:2  He dug it and cleared it of stones, and planted it with choice vines; he built a watchtower in the midst of it, and hewed out a wine vat in it; and he looked for it to yield grapes, but it yielded wild grapes. Isa 5:3  And now, O inhabitants of Jerusalem and men of Judah, judge between me and my vineyard. Isa 5:4  What more was there to do for my vineyard, that I have not done in it? When I looked for it to yield grapes, why did it yield wild grapes? Isa 5:5  And now I will tell you what I will do to my vineyard. I will remove its hedge, and it shall be devoured; I will break down its wall, and it shall be trampled down.

In the above passage the Lord is explaining to Israel why their days are numbered before they go into captivity and why he will eventually break the covenant he made with them.  Basically they have never been faithful to its conditions so a new one is needed.  Thus all the prophets look forward to the time when the Messiah would come and institute a new and better one in which he keeps all the conditions for us as well as empowers us to serve him from the heart; both of which Israel never really lived up to.

But the thing of interest in this passage is found in vs. 4.  He tells them that there was a reason he chose them from among the nations and made a covenant with them in which he revealed himself to them.  It was to get something from them which was the worship with joy, from the heart of his glorious person.  Ok, some of that is implied but it is clear that his complaint is they aren’t living up to their end of the covenant.  The “wild grapes” have been translated “stink fruit” or “poisonous berries”.  Either way they were not fulfilling their intended purpose and God finds them offensive and ready to be discarded. 

What this makes clear is that the Lord doesn’t go to all the trouble of creating this world and predetermining a plan for it which includes dying for our sins all for just the “privilege” of keeping him company forever.  Just as he had a purpose for redeeming Israel from Egypt so he has a purpose for redeeming us from sin. 

The reason this needs to be emphasized in our day is because many seem to think that all that matters is winning souls from Hell; having your sins forgiven so that once your eternity is secured you can really start to enjoy life.  We add God to our life instead of finding our life in his life.  This can be worked out in a couple of ways.  I was raised in the fundamentalist mentality that all that mattered was saving souls from Hell but very little emphasis was put on what happened after one supposedly got saved.  Since you couldn’t lose your salvation, even though you might backslide into the life you once lived, it didn’t matter since at least you were saved. 

Perhaps more prevalent today is the idea that one gets saved in order to have their best life now.  Following God’s plan for you will enable you to live up to your full potential.  Of course, this is just as man centered as the first scenario and perhaps part of what Israel was guilty of. 

What both of these doctrinal slants fail to understand is that God saves us to be conformed to the image of his dear Son not just in outward obedience but in living to glorify the Father in all things.  This is why Isaiah keeps condemning Israel for lip service and religious observances that did not arise from a heart of love towards the Lord.

God is telling Israel and it applies to us as well that he saves us that we might honor him with our lives and thoughts; that we might glorify the Lord in all that we are and do and think which is merely the first and great commandment.  The great promise of the OT was that under the new covenant God would also supply the Spiritual power to transform those in the covenant.  That is the one thing lacking under the old covenant and without it Israel didn’t serve her purpose and without the Spirit we can’t either.  

So Paul tells us that it is God who works in us both to will and to do his good pleasure.  Every true saint has the Spirit, is transformed and loves the Lord and desires to honor him in the way they live.  We need to be careful of telling someone who professes to be saved that they are saved when they clearly have no use for the things of God.  It goes against everything the Bible says about why God saves us.  We need to always make our calling and election sure.  We are to be a sweet smelling aroma to the Lord, not stink fruit.