Friday, February 20, 2015

A Comparison Between Kings

Est 4:1  When Mordecai learned all that had been done, Mordecai tore his clothes and put on sackcloth and ashes, and went out into the midst of the city, and he cried out with a loud and bitter cry. Est 4:2  He went up to the entrance of the king's gate, for no one was allowed to enter the king's gate clothed in sackcloth.

One of the things we see as we go through the book of Esther is a contrast between the King who is mentioned a lot in the book and God who isn’t mentioned at all.  We find out that the King who has about as much earthly power and as is possible fails to do anything other than what the non-mentioned God wants to happen.  This, then, becomes a realistic view of life from our viewpoint.  We don’t see God’s outward glory nor do we detect him as he moves providence along but nothing is happening apart from his eternal decrees.  As with Esther, he is taking care of his people using the lost even as they are going about doing whatever they want to do.  So while things look out of control often, they are very much in the Lord’s control.

As I studied through the text above there is another contrast that struck me.  It was not unusual in these days for a Monarch to command that no one to dare come before him without being specifically invited and they were not to come before him with a sad countenance on their face.  They were to convey to the king how wise his rule was because they were happy being under his rule and all their needs were being met whether they were or not.

Praise the Lord that he has opened up permanent access to him through Jesus Christ.  Not only can we come anytime we want but we are encouraged to come to him in the very worst of times.  With Esther’s king, Mordecai had to wallow in the ashes hoping that somehow word would get to the king that he was in great need.  Our Lord knows what we need before we ask and says come anytime, for any reason and he even tells us to come all the time.  We might say he says there is profit in nagging him until the answer comes.  We read of this in Luke.

Luk 18:1  And he told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart. Luk 18:2  He said, "In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor respected man. Luk 18:3  And there was a widow in that city who kept coming to him and saying, 'Give me justice against my adversary.' Luk 18:4  For a while he refused, but afterward he said to himself, 'Though I neither fear God nor respect man, Luk 18:5  yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will give her justice, so that she will not beat me down by her continual coming.'" Luk 18:6  And the Lord said, "Hear what the unrighteous judge says. Luk 18:7  And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them? Luk 18:8  I tell you, he will give justice to them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?" 

How unlike man our God is that he cares for us as a father cares for his child.  Truly we are blessed to be in his kingdom because all our needs are met.  But while we have cause to rejoice always, yet when we are afflicted and our “countenance is sad” we have a King who will give us whatever we need. 

Friday, February 13, 2015

Waiting for the Spirit's Prompting, Part 2

Exo 25:2  "Speak to the people of Israel, that they take for me a contribution. From every man whose heart moves him you shall receive the contribution for me.  Exo 35:5  Take from among you a contribution to the LORD. Whoever is of a generous heart, let him bring the LORD's contribution: gold, silver, and bronze;  Exo 35:21  And they came, everyone whose heart stirred him, and everyone whose spirit moved him, and brought the LORD's contribution to be used for the tent of meeting, and for all its service, and for the holy garments.

A couple of articles ago I wrote of the prompting of the Holy Spirit in our hearts and that his first prompting came through the written Word and he never prompts us to do something contrary to the Word nor should we wait for him to move us if he has already told us to do something in the Word.  Another thought came to me as I was considering the above passage with regard to the inward prompting of the Holy Spirit.

Now in Exodus 35 it never says that the Holy Spirit moved them but instead if their own spirit moved them or if they have a generous heart they were to give.  But too often we attribute to the Holy Spirit what is actually just our own heart moving us.  I hear on a regular basis people saying that God or the Spirit told them or moved them to do or say something that clearly is contrary to the Word of God.  So it is clear that in such cases it was just their own minds at work. 

One reason I believe we are way too quick to attribute to the Spirit what our own hearts have devised is because the Spirit’s work in us is not easily discernable if they are discernable at all.  For the most part we can’t tell the difference whether it is our mind or the Spirit producing ideas and since the heart is deceitfully wicked we very easily, and I believe most of the time, attribute to God thoughts that he did not put there.

Another problem with all this is we have the mindset that it is the Holy Spirit’s work to plant thoughts in our mind; that this is how he leads us.  I want to point out what I believe to be a fundamental error in that type of thinking.  While the Bible mentions a few times that Jesus was led or Christians are led by the Spirit, it doesn’t say that this is merely an impression or thought that comes to us.  God spoke in dreams and visions or outright appearances, but I am not aware of Paul or someone ever saying that some subjective thought was the Lord leading them.  Unless we read of the Lord speaking directly to them it seems that for the most part they were just obeying the revelation they already had the best they knew how.  Can the Lord lead us by planting ideas in our heads?  Sure, and I am not saying he never does but as I hope to show that there is a much better way we are led by the Spirit. 

In the above passage in Exodus I believe what God wanted were freewill offerings that were given because the people loved the Lord and understood the importance of the Tabernacle and so gave for those reasons.  To me, this is a better motive than the Spirit planting the idea or prompting one to give.  If I give because God tells me to that is all well and good but is it not better that I give because my heart stirs me to give because I love the Lord and I want to help?  One can become mere duty but not necessarily from a desire to honor the Lord.  Do you give to the church because it is your duty or because it is your delight? 

Let me try to illustrate this.  Often we hear of someone who comes into contact with another person and they will say something like, “The Lord told me or led me to speak to that person about Christ”.  We all know that what they mean is that the thought crossed their mind to speak to that person.  Since it was in their opinion a good and spiritual thought they assume it was the Lord leading them.  But if this is true then all this encounter becomes is the Lord being concerned for that person, not the Christian, and so he prompts him to say what he wouldn’t have on his own; and I see this as a problem.

Let me give another explanation for such a scenario.  Here is a Christian who loves the Lord because the Lord came down while he was a rebel and gave him a new heart and by grace forgave his sins and promised eternity in his presence.  As he has grown in grace under the power of the Holy Spirit, his burden for those without Christ has also grown as has his desire to honor the Lord in every situation.  He is looking for ways to serve the Lord and he “happens” to come across this person and his spirit moves him out of love to speak to him about his soul. 

Has the Lord been part of getting him to that point, both in mind and in the encounter itself?  Yes, but is not the Lord more honored by us obeying because our hearts are prompting us rather than having to be told every move to make? Is there not something wrong with our minds if the only reason we serve the Lord is because he keeps having to “prompt” us?    

Yes, the Lord leads us because he is orchestrating all things, he empowers us, he causes us to grow in him, and he puts people in our paths.  But he does this so that we can freely serve him by coming up with our own ideas.  I would like to think that I am capable of having spiritual thoughts not just because the Spirit has to put them there but because by the Lord’s grace and strength, I am concerned enough to come up with my own ideas of how to obey him.  Just read through one of the many passages like 1 Cor. 16 where we see Paul and others making plans, changing them and making different plans to serve the Lord.  He didn’t need the Holy Spirit telling him every move to make because the love of God compelled him to serve the Lord and others.

So just like the Lord didn’t plant feeling in those Israelites to give whether they really wanted to or not, so I don’t think his usual work is to give us thoughts but he gave us the Word and works in us “both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”  He gives us new hearts that we might serve the Lord out of love that arises from our own thinking; he doesn’t do our thinking for us.

Don’t take any of this as saying that the Lord isn’t perfect sovereign in every detail.  The greatest mystery in the Bible is his sovereignty and our responsibility and this is my attempt to see both and not just one or the other.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Are You Legalistic?

Joh 9:1 As he passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. Joh 9:2 And his disciples asked him, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?" Joh 9:3 Jesus answered, "It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.

We might define legalism as the attempt to do something to earn God’s favor.  It has many forms and some have rightly said that we are all born legalists.  I think the very nature of sin demands that we are born legalists because sin causes us to think that we don’t need God and are capable of pleasing God on our own and that we actually deserve good things.

We tend to think of a legalist as someone who thinks they can do enough good in order to attain unto salvation or someone who thinks the Christian life is basically following rules that speak to the outward man while ignoring the inward heart.  And these are certainly examples of legalism.

My contention is that legalism remains part of who we are even after God converts us and makes us new creations.  It is very hard for us to start thinking and living by grace; instead we still want to live in a world in which we can earn God’s blessings.  To be clear, there are blessings to be had in honoring the Lord.  A home that honors the Lord as they love one another and do all for the glory of the Lord will generally have a better family life than a family that doesn’t.  (At the same time though, that home might suffer any number of afflictions.)  But that is not what I am referring to in this article.

The above text shows us an example of the legalism that the disciples lived by at that time in their lives.  Their assumption was that when bad things happened to someone it was because they had done something wrong.  Jesus’ answer very clearly exposes their mistake in thinking but unfortunately we have a very difficult time accepting this.  How often is our first thought when catastrophe comes to ask why me or why did that happen to him; he is such a “good” Christian?  Behind this is a legalistic mindset that everything that happens to us is directly connected to how well we behave.  It is the health and wealth, Joel Osteen gospel that says if we live right God will treat us better.  But it is not the gospel of grace found in the Bible it is just another destructive form of legalism.
At the heart of the problem with the disciples’ question and with us when we ask this same question when we see someone going through difficult times is that it assumes that we have not done whatever it is that they did.  It assumes we are in a better position than those that are suffering trials.  The disciples thought this poor blind man had done something they had not.  And this type of arrogance can destroy the Lord’s work and Christian love. 

We cannot look at possessions and circumstances as a spiritual score cards that indicate to everyone how spiritual you are or how much you are pleasing the Lord compared to others.  None of us please the Lord apart from his power and when we do anything that honors him we have merely done our duty.  A friend of mine recently pointed out that only Jesus ever did anything beyond what was required of him.  He alone earned the Father’s favor in and of himself.  And in his work he earned whatever favor we will have from God.  This is why grace is sometimes defined as “unmerited favor”!

To be sure sometimes the Lord chastens us for our sins and we suffer and are blessed according to how we live but it is the grossest arrogance and legalism to think that God is merely keeping a score card and doing to us as we deserve.  That would be justice and the last thing we want is justice.  What we want is mercy and grace because we would all wander away from the Lord and into gross sin unless he restrains us by his Spirit.  Are we to assume that those suffering for being a Christian or who have been martyred for the Lord have not lived as holy as those of us who are not suffering?

Hopefully what will happen to us when we stop asking why this or that happened to us or them is to be compassionate to those in need because we know that we deserve no better and that all of us experienced the grace of God while we were sinners; while we were in rebellion.  God came to us and gave us what we did not deserve when he saved us.  I am thankful that I am not receiving what I deserve because I deserve God’s wrath and it is only removed because Christ has endured it for me.  Living in a legalistic world will soon bring one to despair and cause us to elevate ourselves above our brothers and sisters instead of seeing ourselves as merely sinners saved by grace. 

I serve the Lord not in the hope of gaining something but because I already have all things in Christ!  And yet I am always fighting the tendency to think God owes me something.