Yahweh: Merciful & Gracious!

-Living With Shame & Guilt!

Bettina Goering is the great-niece of Hermann Goering, one of Adolf Hitler’s Nazi leaders, who founded the Gestapo Secret Police & helped organize the holocaust. In a newspaper interview, from May 2016, she revealed how she & her brother were voluntarily sterilized.  “I had my tubes tied at the age of 30,” she said, “because I feared I would create another monster.” Monika Hertwig lives with the haunting memories of her own father, who was the commandant of an Auschwitz prison sub-camp. He was hanged, in 1946, for the murder of 10’s of thousands of people, at least 500 of them by his own hands.  “He liked to shoot women with babies in their arms from the balcony of his house,” she recollects, “to see if one bullet could kill two.” And, then she asks out loud, “How much of the murderer is in me? These are the things that torment me.”

-The Shadow Of Family Sin!

I find it haunting how the relatives, of Nazi war criminals, try and deal with the shame & the guilt they feel. What a tragedy that they continue to live in the shadow of the sins of family members! Could that be, in part, what Exodus 20:5 is referring to when it says, “You shall not bow down to idols or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me.” Could the guilt & shame, their offspring feel, be, in part, the punishment that they endure?

-Yahweh! God Of Compassion!

There’s a similar passage, in Exodus 34, that follows Israel’s breaking of the covenant, with God, when they made an idol, of a golden calf; and, worshipped it! “The Lord came down in a cloud, stood with him (Moses) there, and proclaimed His name Yahweh.  Then the Lord passed in front of him and proclaimed: Yahweh—Yahweh is a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger and rich in faithful love and truth,  maintaining faithful love to a thousand generations, forgiving wrongdoing, rebellion, and sin. But He will not leave the guilty unpunished, bringing the consequences of the fathers’ wrongdoing on the children and grandchildren to the third and fourth generation. Moses immediately bowed down to the ground and worshiped” Exodus 34:5-8.  There’s perhaps no greater example, of God’s grace & compassion, then that passage! Israel broke the covenant with God! They didn’t believe God at the Red Sea! They complained against God & Moses in the wilderness! When would enough be enough? I wanna tell you that you all ought to be glad that I’m not God! I’m equally glad you aren’t; because, none of us have God’s love, grace & mercy for sinners!

-The Way To God!

Sin devastated man’s relationship with God! So, God established the sacrificial system for Israel, His covenant people, as a way for them to worship Him & restore fellowship with Him! It provided for repentance and forgiveness! Hebrews reflects back on the Old Testament sacrificial system:  “According to the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness” Hebrews 9:33. No sacrifice! No forgiveness, God says! If you study each of the 5 sacrificial offerings, in the book of Leviticus, you’ll see how they foreshadow the ultimate sacrifice of Jesus’ life on the cross! Galatians 3:24 says, “The law, then, was our guardian until Christ, so that we could be justified by faith.”  The old KJV says, “The law was our SCHOOLMASTER…” that hands us off to Jesus Christ, God’s ultimate sin sacrifice!

 

Jesus Fulfilled The Law!

-The Law Reveals God’s Character!

The law, of God, reveals the character of God! It speaks to His righteous judgment & His love! Some people want to “judge” God because He judges people! But, His love clearly balances out His judgment:  “…I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the fathers’ sin, to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me,  but showing faithful love to a thousand generations of those who love Me and keep My commands “ Exodus 20:5-6.  He judges & punishes sinners to the 3rd or 4th generation; but, He shows love, His “faithful love”, to a thousand generation those who love Him and keep His commandments! He is a kind, benevolent God!

-But, We Have A Problem!

Our problem, as the human race, is our pride & arrogance that keeps us from being open to God’s revelation about the truth of our sinfulness! The depth, of our brokenness & depravity, is such that we’re not even aware of all the times we sin against God. This is why God gave us the law; to, reveal our sin! The Apostle Paul wrote the Church of Rome:  “What should we say then? Is the law sin? Absolutely not! On the contrary, I would not have known sin if it were not for the law. For example, I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, Do not covet” Romans 7:7.  Paul, under the inspiration of God’s Holy Spirit, says that I wouldn’t even know that it was a sin to covet or lust after my neighbor’s wife if God’s law didn’t call it sin!

-The Law Is A Mirror!

So, the law acts as a mirror, revealing & reflecting our sin back to us! As Israel moves into the land, one sacrifice God tells them, to offer, is for all their “unintentional” sins.  In other words, God points out, to us, that it’s impossible for us to even name & confess all our individual sins because there are so many! God’s law reveals God’s 2 overarching concerns; and, we talked about this last week— Love GOD & Love PEOPLE! In that order! When we get our “vertical” love— for God— right, we’ll get our “horizontal” love— for our fellow man— right! Though God gives us His 10 Commandments, in Exodus ch.20, He actually expands on them in Exodus ch.21. He gave them laws in regard to slavery; and, laws regarding personal injury; and, laws, about theft; and, crop protection; and, personal property. He gave them laws about seducing someone & capital crimes; and, laws about protecting the vulnerable, the foreigner & the marginalized. And, Jesus came to fulfill the entire law!

-The Heart Of The Law!

That’s what He said! He didn’t come to abolish the law; but, to FULFILL it! Jesus loved God & His fellow man perfectly! There was no sin found in Him! Jesus also taught that the “spirit” of God’s law was more about the “heart” than the “letter.” He said, for example, that when we hate our brother that we murder them in our hearts! And, when we lust after someone, we commit adultery with them in our hearts! There is no way we can overstate God’s concern for the way that we treat each other; or, the way we think about one another; or, the way we talk about one another! God is concerned with justice! And, God’s law reveals the principle of “sowing and reaping” also! We’ll talk more about this next post! But, God’s bottom line is that the obedient life really is the best life we can experience! God honors those who honor Him!

 

God’s Purpose For His Laws!

-The Most Important Command?

Jesus reveals God’s intent, behind the law, when he answered a Pharisee’s question, “What is the most important command?” Jesus answered, “Love the Lord Your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest & most important command. The second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets depend on these two commands.” Matthew 22:36-40.  What Jesus calls “…the Law and the Prophets…” is the whole of the Old Testament. He’s referring to the “Torah”; or, the 1st 5 books of the Law. And, the “Prophets” was a reference to the rest of the Old Testament.

-Summarized By Two Commands!

So, Jesus was saying that everything, in the Law & the Prophets (or, the Old Testament) could be summarized by these 2 commands— Love GOD & love your NEIGHBOR! The 10 general commandments; and, the 613 specific commands, that follow, can all be encapsulated in Jesus’ answer to the question, “What is the most important command?” His answer? Love GOD & love your NEIGHBOR! Just look up Exodus 20 in your Bibles.  The first 4 commandments all focus on a loyal LOVE for God:  “no other gods”, “no idols”, “no using God’s name in vain” and “no work on God’s Sabbath.” The last 6 commandments all focus on the way we ought to LOVE our neighbor; or, our fellow human beings:  “honor mom & dad”, “don’t murder anyone”,  “don’t commit adultery”, “don’t steal”, “don’t lie about your neighbor” and “don’t covet anything that belongs to your neighbor.” So, here’s the big picture—  God is teaching Israel how to live now that He’s redeemed them from Egypt! That’s the context in which the 10 commandments were given!

-Redemption First! Then Commands!

He’s “redeemed” or “bought out” Israel from their slavery; and, He introduces the commands like this:  “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the place of slavery” Exodus 20:2.  So, He redeems them; and, now He’s giving them the Law to direct them in the way they needed to live in a broken, sin-cursed world. Never did God intend to use the keeping of the Law as the means to being redeemed! That’s reversing the order! God redeemed them FIRST! He saved them from slavery; now, here’s how redeemed people live! Get it? This is incredibly important as it relates to salvation! God’s law was given TO a redeemed people; not, TO redeem people! God didn’t give Israel the Law to save redeem them! He’d already done that!

-Here’s How God’s People Live!

The principle is the same in the New Testament. James says “good works” FOLLOW our salvation! They don’t save us! So, I think it’s fair to ask what New Testament believers can learn from the Old Testament law? I would start by saying that the law reveals God’s character. It speaks to who He is. For example, He says He is “…a jealous God…” Exodus 20:5. That word “jealous” is used differently, in reference to God, then when we express “human” jealousy. We use it in the sense of being envious of someone because they have something we want. In context, God says He’s jealous when people make idols & worship them instead because He alone is God. It’s like a husband who has a right to be jealous when another man flirts with his wife because he alone has that right.  We’ll pick it up right there on next week’s post!

Favoritism Hurts!

-A Devastated Family!

There’s a story, in Genesis ch.25, about a family that was devastated by the sin of favoritism.  It begins with Abraham; and, it reveals how “playing favorites” is a learned behavior that Abraham passed on to his children, who passed it on to his grandchildren, who passed it on to his great-grandchildren. Each generation continued the same destructive behavior.

-Playing Favorites!

The chapter begins:  “Now Abraham had taken another wife, whose name was Keturah, and she bore him…” (6 kids, if you count them; and, the text lists the names of the generations that followed); then, v.4 “…All these were sons of Keturah.” And, then v.5 “Abraham gave everything he owned to Isaac. And Abraham gave gifts to the sons of his concubines, but while he was still alive he sent them eastward, away from his son Isaac, to the land of the East.” Notice, Abraham gave everything to Isaac; and, some token gifts to the kids & grandkids of Keturah, his 2nd wife.  And, then, he sends them away! Really? What’s up with that? That’s FAVORITISM!

-What Is Favoritism?

Favoritism is showing partiality toward one person or group over others with equal claims! It’s the state of being the “favorite.” Favoritism is prejudice! It’s discrimination! And, it’s favoritism that can escalate into racism or sexism! It’s something that is absolutely devastating to relationships; especially, within families! Abraham passed on this sin, of favoritism, to his kids. When you get to Genesis 26 after his son Isaac married Rebekah, they have 2 boys & the text tells us that Isaac played “favorites” with Esau; while, Rebekah played “favorites” with Jacob. Then, mom helps her favorite son, Jacob, deceive dad; and, his favorite son, Esau, out of the family blessing that should have been Esau’s by birthright.

-Esau Held A Grudge!

What resulted? “Esau held a grudge,” v.41 says, “against Jacob…” because of his deceit! In fact, it says that Esau “…determined in his heart…” that he would kill his brother Jacob after their father, Isaac, passed away. That’s how deadly favoritism can impact a family. It produced envy; and, hatred; and, can lead to murder! But, Jacob didn’t learn from his father, Isaac’s, mistake; who didn’t learn from his father, Abraham’s, mistake. Instead, in Genesis 37, we see Jacob playing favorites with his own children.

-He Loved Him More!

It says, “Now Israel (after God changed his name, from Jacob to Israel) loved Joseph MORE than any of his other sons…”; and, what did that produce? Just what you’d expect that playing favorites produces in a family:  “When his brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers, they hated him and could not bring themselves to speak peaceably to him” Genesis 37:4. I’m not justifying their attitude; but, their envy & jealousy & hatred, toward Joseph, was incited by the fact that dad loved ONE KID MORE than the others! Children know unjust behavior, by their parents, when they see it & experience it! The rest of the children had “equal claims” to their father’s affections. Favoritism destroys family harmony!

 

Prayer Is Not Counseling God!

-We Don’t Know What’s Best!

I’m afraid that many people treat prayer as their opportunity to counsel God on certain matters! We ought never pray like we’re trying to convince God that we know what’s best— As if the eternal all-wise God, who knows the end from the beginning & everything in between, needs our advice for anything! His eternal plans, for creation, were already laid out before the world began! The writer, of Acts, reminds us that  “The God who made the world and everything in it—He is Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in shrines made by hands. Neither is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives everyone life and breath and all things” Acts 17:24-27.

-God Doesn’t Need Our Counsel!

When it comes to prayer, let’s get one thing straight:  GOD DOESN’T NEED ANYTHING… INCLUDING OUR COUNSEL! He didn’t create us because of some deficiency, hoping that we could fix Him! There’s a clear, underlying message in Jesus’ response to His disciples question, “Lord, teach us to pray!” God doesn’t need us! We need Him! According to Jesus’ response, in Matthew 6, prayer is to be “GOD-CENTERED.” “Pray like this,” He says; and, He begins with the “Father.” Not with us! By the way He didn’t tell them to memorize it & repeat it mindlessly— “Our Father, who art in heaven…blah, blah, blah.” But, “…pray LIKE THIS…” He said. This is “how” we’re supposed to pray! It’s Jesus’ model prayer!

-Don’t Try Twisting God’s Arm!

Rather than making prayer our attempt to twist God’s arm over something we want Him to do, prayer should begin with a focus on God, the Father! Start your conversation, with the Creator of the universe, by honoring Him for His character! Praise Him for who He is! Don’t rush into His presence like your schedule is what matters— “Here’s my grocery list of needs, God! Will You go shopping for me?” Show Him reverence when you pray! You’re entering the throne room of Heaven! God transcends so far above anything on your agenda! There’s an order here! You’re kingdom 1st, Father! Our greatest desire should be that God’s name is hallowed, admired & cherished! And, He’s “our” Father too, Jesus says. Never get over that great Doctrine of Adoption— that God has birthed us into His family!

-We Become His Children!

Though we were born children of wrath, because of our sin, He adopts us into His family in Christ! We’re FAMILY! Depend on Him like He’s family because HE IS! We’re brothers, sisters, and joint-heirs with Jesus Himself! And, then, Jesus models prayer by moving from the Father’s  character to His “KINGDOM”— “YOUR kingdom come. YOUR will be done on EARTH as it is in HEAVEN” Matthew 6:10. So, pray like this, Jesus says— Pray for the Father’s KINGDOM & for His WILL!  If we’re praying like Jesus taught us to pray, our primary concern will be for the Father’s Glory! For the advancement of His kingdom! Our prayers will be “GOD-CENTERED.”  Take note of the things you pray for! Are your prayers motivated by your dreams & goals; or, by God’s eternal kingdom & His will & plans?  Mature believers pray for God’s will above their own!

 

Children That Please God!

-Scripture Speaks To Children!

I find it interesting, that, in his letter to the Colossian church, Paul speaks directly to children:  “Children obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord” Colossians 3:20.  In a section of Scripture, devoted to family issues, Paul expects children to read & adhere to his admonition. And, if obedience to parents “pleases” the Lord, we can infer, from that, that God is NOT pleased with children who disobey their parents. Yes, He still loves them! But, He’s not pleased with them!

-Disobedience Produces A Hard Life!

I used to tell our kids, “Hey, I’ve figured out how to never get in trouble with your parents! If you never disobey them, you’ll never get in trouble with them!” I would often remind them that, “The way of the transgressor is hard!” If Paul were writing a letter to your kids today, I think he’d say something like this:  “Your life is going to be hard if you insist on disobeying your parents! Why put yourself through that? Disobedience produces a hard life because your parents are always on you; and, God is not pleased with you! So, OBEY! Your life will be much easier!” Jesus set the example of obedience—both to His Heavenly Father; and, to His earthly father!

-Attitude Originates In The Heart!

Obedience is a matter of the heart. It’s not just about obeying on the outside—your body language can show disrespect even if you did what you were told! Grumbling, rolling your eyes, shrugging your shoulders, stomping off, banging doors, sassing, arguing, justifying your behavior by making excuses, rationalizing with a “Jimmy’s mom doesn’t make him do that…”— all point to a disobedient attitude of the heart! And, to delay is the same as disobedience! When Paul wrote, on the same topic, to the Ephesian church, he told them that honoring your parents will earn a reward of long life. Put the two together— HONOR your parents by OBEYING them!

-Fathers Are Significant!

Back to his letter to the Colossians, Paul also pointed out that fathers play a significant part in raising children that please God— “Fathers, do not exasperate your children, so they won’t become discouraged” Col. 3:21. I don’t believe that Paul is suggesting that mom has no responsibility in the upbringing of their children.; rather, he’s calling out dad for his “headship” in the home! He’s to be the family shepherd & leader!

-Don’t Crush Your Child’s Spirit!

Dad needs to be the leader when it comes to “voluntarily” loving his wife sacrificially (as we noted in our previous post). And, he needs to step up his leadership when it comes to training the children. Don’t exasperate your children, dad! Or, you’ll discourage them! You’ll crush their spirit! That’s what it means to discourage them. Don’t make promises you don’t keep! Don’t change your mind without a very good reason! Don’t withhold compliments! Give them credit for the good things they do! For the times they’re obedient! They’ll remember it forever! But, they’ll also remember when you fail to compliment them for a job well done! Love them unconditionally, mom & dad! And, give them room to grow!

 

God’s Design For The Family!

-We’re All Someone’s Son Or Daughter!

Family & parenting are subjects that all of us can relate to! We’re all part of a family. We’re all someone’s son or daughter. If we’re married, we’re someone’s husband or wife. If not, we’re probably hoping to one day be someone’s husband or wife.  Most of us either have kids; or, we HOPE to have a family someday! Our infinitely wise Creator designed a husband & wife to complement; or, complete each other. And, He’s also designed the family to work together a certain way!

-Something Beautiful Happens!

When the family works the way that God designed it, something awesome and beautiful happens! Families bring glory to God; and, joy to each family member, when God’s design specifications are followed by faith. The Apostle Paul wrote a letter, to the ancient Church of Colosse, that is hated by the world! But, if, by faith, you will believe God’s Word; and, live it out— by the power of God’s Holy Spirit— your family will bring glory to God; and, you will find joy! Your life will be a blessing to your family; and, to everyone you rub shoulders with in life.  “And whatever you do,” Paul begins, “in word or in deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.  Wives, be submissive to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives and don’t be bitter toward them. Children obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord. Fathers, do not exasperate your children, so they won’t become discouraged” Colossians 3:17-21.

-Do It God’s Way!

Whatever you do, Paul says, do it God’s way, according to His design—including husbands, wives & family! That’s the context here! Wives! He begins with wives— if you wanna bring glory to God & live a joy-filled life—Be submissive to your husband! Now, the order has perplexed a number of believers. Why did the Holy Spirit inspire Paul to begin with instruction to the wives? I don’t know! There are a number of differing opinions; and, I do have my own opinion. I think it has to do with the meaning of that word “submit” or “be submissive.” The word, in the original language, meant “a VOLUNTARY attitude of giving in, assuming responsibility & carrying a burden.” The key word is “VOLUNTARY.” The wife VOLUNTARILY submits to her husband.

-Not Meant To Lord It Over Her!

So, here’s the message I think the Spirit wants to convey— the husband is not meant to LORD it over his wife by demanding that she submit! Rather, the wife is to willingly, voluntarily, submit! If the husband were addressed first, we might have read into it that the husbands’ responsibility is to demand that his wife submit. So, God removes any inclination the husband might have, to demand submission, by addressing the wives first:  “Ladies, you need to voluntarily give in to your husband’s lead.” God commands this— not, because the wife is incapable! Not because she’s not his equal! Don’t confuse “submission” with “inequality”! We submit to our bosses at work; not, because of inequality; but, because of order! God designed an order to the home. Even Jesus submitted to His parents as part of the created order!