Thank You God For Pain!

-Enslaved By Our Idols!

Did you know that God will allow our idols to enslave us in order to drive us back to Himself? It’s true! In the Old Testament book of Judges, it says that God, “…sold Israel to their enemies around them, and they could no longer resist their enemies. Whenever the Israelites went out, the Lord was against them and brought disaster on them, just as He had promised and sworn to them. So they suffered greatly” (2:14).  You may find that disturbing that “…the Lord was against them”; and, that He “…brought disaster on them.” Or, perhaps you can relate! Have you ever felt like God was against you & that He was bringing disaster into your life? Well, He might be! But, if He is, it’s only temporary & He means to use the disaster to encourage you to repent, over your sin, and return to the Lord!

-All Idols Are Frauds!

That’s what He did with Israel! He meant to show them that their idols were all frauds! That the idols that they bowed down to would never satisfy or deliver them! Only God can satisfy and deliver! We see the pattern in the next chapter of Judges:  “The Israelites did what was evil in the Lord’s sight; they forgot the Lord their God and worshiped the Baals and the Asherahs. The Lord’s anger burned against Israel, and He sold them to Cushan-rishathaim…” (3:7).  When their idols failed to deliver, v.9 says, “Then the Israelites cried out to the Lord. So the Lord raised up Othniel…as a deliverer to save the Israelites.”  So, from an application standpoint, we need to look at pain & struggles differently!

-Ask God To Reveal Your Idols!

Some times, we need to thank God for pain! When you’re facing difficulties, in life, ask God to reveal any idols that you may be depending on— money, health, education, leisure, etc.— and, confess it as sin if you’re guilty! And, then, turn back to the Lord! It’s His goodness that leads us to repentance! Otherwise, when we fail to repent, God’s absence from His rightful place in our life can lead to shocking moral depravity! There’s a story, in Judges 19-21, that is one of the most unbelievable in all of Scripture.  A Levite, who was supposed to be a religious leader in Israel, has a concubine! Do you know what a concubine is? She’s someone who voluntarily enslaves & sells herself to a man primarily for sexual pleasure— kind of a “friend with benefits” as has been popularized in our own immoral culture! So this Levite has broken some of the clear commands that God had given Israel, through Moses, way before they even entered Canaan land. The concubine didn’t have an equal status as a wife; so, when she got angry, with her situation, she left the Levite & went home to her parents. After awhile, he goes to see her, they make up and return home!

-Shocking Moral Depravity!

On the way home, they spend the night in an Israelite city. The text says, “…perverted men of the city surrounded the house…and demanded of the owner that he, ‘Bring out the man who came to your house so we can have sex with him” (19:22). When they couldn’t  have the Levite, they took his concubine, raped & abused her all night, leaving her for dead! So, the Levite took her home, cut her up into 12 pieces & sent her body parts throughout the 12 territories of Israel! Shocking, right? I can’t even come up with an English word that adequately describes that story! God doesn’t sugar-coat the atrocities that sinful men are capable of! God’s absence from our lives; or, from the conscience of a nation, can lead to shocking moral depravity. Let’s learn to be thankful when God interrupts our sin with some pain to get our attention! And, then, let’s confess our idols as sin and repent!

Is God Really Good?

-Doubting His Wisdom & Plan!

The Old Testament book of Numbers provides a picture of how God disciplines His own children when they fail to trust Him! When they doubt Him & His word! It pictures a people who’ve been freed from the bondage and slavery of Egypt; but, haven’t reached Canaan land yet! That is a lesson we need to learn from the book of Numbers— like Israel if you had the faith to follow God out of the bondage of your slavery to sin; but, you’re still whining & complaining it’s because you’re doubting His wisdom & plan for you! You’re not resting in God’s Spirit!

-Rest In His Sovereignty!

Canaan land is a picture of the Spirit-filled life that God intends for you to enjoy! To rest in His Sovereign control & to quit complaining when things, in life, don’t work out the way you planned them to go! Beginning with chapter 11, it says, “Now the people began complaining openly before the Lord about hardship” (v.1).  Now let’s just pause and consider that for a little while! We might understand, humanly speaking, a little bit of their hardship! Every day packing up their tents & belongings; and, heading out to the next campsite! Every day hunting for food and water! And, they were traveling in a blazing hot desert! We might understand their hardship to a degree! I mean, they were on a perpetual camping trip! But, let’s put this in perspective!

-It Had Only Been 3 Days!

Flip back a chapter to Numbers 10, v.33, “They set out from the mountain of the Lord on a three-day journey with the ark of the Lord’s covenant traveling ahead of them for those three days to seek a resting place for them.” How long had it been? 3 DAYS! Say, what? It had ONLY been 3 DAYS! And, here they were complaining! I’ve found that it doesn’t take very much time or very much trouble for some people to begin grumbling! But, let’s see God’s response! Back to chapter 11, the end of v.1, “…When the Lord heard, His anger burned, and fire from the Lord blazed among them and consumed the outskirts of the camp.” God was angry with their whining & complaining because it revealed their failure to trust Him! We need to take a personal application from this incident! When we complain & grumble God is angry because it reveals that we have doubts about His character! It reveals that we doubt His love, His mercy & His grace! We’re ultimately expressing doubt that He’s really a GOOD God! Have you ever considered that? It’s true! We doubt the wisdom, of His plan for our life, when we complain!

-Where Complaints Come From!

So, let me warn you! When you murmur & complain it reveals something about you & your faith in God! Like Israel, it means you’re doubting God’s character & His benevolence toward you! When we doubt, we begin to complain! Read the rest of Numbers! Many of the Israelites spoke as though they thought God was out to get them! He was bringing them out of Egypt to kill them in the desert, they said! When we doubt God’s goodness, it offends His Name & His reputation! And, our doubt doesn’t generally end with our ingratitude! Doubt & a lack of trust, in God, will fuel a spirit of rebellion in us! When we doubt God, we open ourselves up to a spirit of rebellion! There’s a progression to Israel’s sin! Their doubt turned them into complainers; and, rebellion against leadership followed closely behind!

 

Serving Those Crushed By Circumstances!

-The Unwanted & Discarded!

I grew up, in a home environment, where I never doubted my parent’s love for me! I never felt abandoned or neglected! But, there are those, in the world, who have experienced the pain of being unwanted and discarded! Most of the 153 million orphans, in the world, have been forsaken by their parents! They’ve been shunned and left to fend for themselves! So, when James addresses this matter, in Scripture, he says, “Pure and undefiled religion before our God and Father is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress” James 1:27.  This is what “pure religion” looks like, he says.

-Look After Orphans In Their Distress!

Pure, or genuine, faith, in Jesus, takes care of orphans who’ve been crushed by abandonment! That’s what it means to “…look after (them)…in their distress.” For the orphan, they’re distressed or crushed by the fact that they’ve been abandoned by the very people who are supposed to care for their well-being at any cost! One, or both, parents abandon their children because of custom—baby girls, for example, are considered undesirable in many non-Christian cultures. Many are killed just for being born as a little girl! The fortunate ones are just abandoned! I cannot even begin to comprehend the pain and distress that would bring these precious little ones! Some have become orphans because a war has separated them, from their parents; or, their parents were killed and they were spared!

-Look After Widows In Their Distress!

Whatever the reason, these orphaned children have been crushed by the weight of their situation.  And, those who have pure, genuine faith, in Jesus, will be moved to take care of them as much as we can. I don’t know about you; but, I don’t feel like I’ve done enough! But, James doesn’t limit his description, of a pure religion, to caring for those children who’ve been crushed by abandonment! He also says that genuine faith, in Jesus, takes care of widows who’ve been crushed by spousal loss! Again, I’ve never experienced the painful loss, of a spouse, to death! I have, however, observed it enough to know that it’s a crushing blow to the spouse left behind! It’s distress, in their life, that they never quite get over! The separation is devastating for many!

-Proving Faith By Caring For The Hurting!

The church shows genuine faith, in Jesus, by taking care of the widow who’s been crushed by the loss of their mate. We may need to sacrifice our own time to spend time with them in fellowship! We may have to sacrifice financially to help meet their needs! That’s why the ministry to orphans & widows is very much like Jesus’ 3 1/2 year ministry here on planet earth. No one ever cared more for the broken & the hurting, for the abandoned & the marginalized than Jesus! So, how do we apply this? There are ministries to get involved in, especially, in the area of orphans! Become foster parents! Find something to do! Remember, pure religion is not the result of good deeds; but, results in good deeds!

 

Is God Pruning You?

-Pruning Produces More Fruit!

My parents used to grow grapes; and, there were times when they had to cut away the dead branches that produced no grapes! But, they also cut back “living” branches; so, the vine would use it’s resources to produce more “fruit”—GRAPES! In the timeline, of John 15, Jesus is preparing His disciples for life after His death, resurrection & ascension. He begins with these words: “I am the true vine, and My Father is the Vinedresser. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit” (vs. 1-2).

-Things To Come!

As you move, through the rest of the chapter, Jesus tells them that 2 things will come after his departure. First, He says there will be defections from inside the faith; or, inside the church body! People, who claimed to be followers of Jesus, will walk away from “the Faith.” They’ll quit! It’s not for them! And, second, Jesus tells them there will be persecution from the outside! Bogus faith inside the church & suffering from the outside! And, He uses the metaphor of a vine, a branch; and, the fruit produced, to illustrate the difference between a true disciple of Jesus and a fraud! Jesus is the Vine! The Father is the Vinedresser! And, there are 2 different kinds of branches here—ONE that bears NO FRUIT! And, the Father REMOVES it! And, the other—that produces FRUIT! And, the Father prunes it so that it produces more fruit!

-Responding To God’s Pruning!

So, here’s the bottom line—It is our RESPONSE to God’s pruning that proves what kind of branch we are! Are you a dead branch that produces no fruit? Or, a living, healthy branch that responds to the painful process, of pruning, by producing more fruit? Let’s talk about some of the points that Jesus makes, about fruitfulness, through His use of the metaphor of the Vine & the branches! First, He clearly indicates that fruitfulness is expected from every genuine disciple of Jesus. In the first 3 verses, of John 15, He says that if you don’t bear fruit, it’s because you’re “not abiding” in the Vine! In other words, you’re NOT “IN CHRIST.” So, what kind of fruit should we expect to see growing in the life of a follower of Jesus? While several passages answer that question; perhaps, none better than Galatians 5.

-The Fruit Of The Spirit!

The Apostle Paul, inspired by God’s Holy Spirit, wrote the Church of Galatia to tell them that the indwelling Spirit will produce fruit in their life that looks like this: “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit” (vs. 22-24). That’s some of the low hanging fruit that’s produced by those who belong to Jesus! The Spirit produces it! If you’re a believer, Jesus invested His life in you! And, He expects a “return”— or, FRUIT— from His investment! We’ll come back to this next week!

Don’t Worship God Empty-Handed

-Bring An Offering!

So, my last few posts have focused on King David’s communication to Israel, in 1 Chronicles 16, about the proper way to worship God.  It’s never acceptable to worship God according to our own homespun rules! We must worship Him in the way that He demands to be worshiped! One way, that David commanded the congregation to worship God, was with an offering! “Ascribe to Yahweh the glory of His name; bring an offering and come before Him. Worship the Lord in the splendor of His holiness” v.29.  In other words, do NOT come to worship God empty-handed!

-We’re Not Owners!

Remember that we’re stewards of God’s “stuff.” Nothing, we have, actually belongs to us! We’re not really an owner of anything! We’re managers of a portion of God’s estate! God owns it ALL; and, proper worship includes a return, of a portion of His blessings to us, in the form of an offering! He’s the Creator! He’s created all the wealth, in the universe; and, He lends it to us! So, worship God because He’s the Creator! That’s how David continues his admonition to the people of Israel:  “…the world is firmly established; it cannot be shaken. Let the heavens be glad and the earth rejoice, and let them say among the nations, “The Lord is King!” Let the sea and everything in it resound; let the fields and all that is in them exult. Then the trees of the forest will shout for joy before the Lord, for He is coming to judge the earth” v.30-33.

-All Creation Worships God!

All of creation—the heavens, the earth, the sea & everything in it; the fields and all that is in it; the trees of the forest—ALL creation worships Him! Finally, David concludes with a charge to worship God NOW because it’s what we’ll do for all eternity:  “Give thanks to the Lord, “ he says, “for He is good; His faithful love endures forever. And say: “Save us, God of our salvation; gather us and rescue us from the nations so that we may give thanks to Your holy name and rejoice in Your praise. May Yahweh, the God of Israel, be praised from everlasting to everlasting” v.34. Clearly, it’s a sign that a believer has not spent a lot of time in prayer & the Word when they express a fear that heaven may be boring!

-We Can Only Imagine!

After a billion years, in heaven, we’ll still not know God entirely! No amount of intimacy, with Him, will close the gap in our knowledge & understanding of an eternal, infinite God! I’m certain that I’ll find Him more fascinating than all the Super Bowls and Star Trek reruns I’ve ever watched! Then all the people said “AMEN” & “Praise the Lord” v.36. And, there was great joy as God dwelt with His people as His Glory descended on the Ark of His Covenant with His people! One day, the book of Revelation says, “God will dwell among us”; literally, “He will pitch a tent among us.” Joy flows from worship! If we’re genuine God worshippers, we won’t be able to hide it! It’ll show on our faces! Grumpy Christians just aren’t worshipping God as they should! So, worship God! It’ll change your life! It’ll change everything!

 

Worship God Rightly!

-Not All Worship Is Truly Worship!

It’s been my experience that many, who claim to be followers of Jesus, do not worship God rightly! I’ve found many who claim to be worshipers; but, their worship fails to resemble what God commands worship to look like in Scripture.  A great example, of Biblical worship, can be found in King David’s Holy Spirit inspired message, to Israel, about proper worship. Just open your Bibles, to 1 Chronicles 16; and, you’ll see what I mean.

-Worship God With Offerings!

Among other things, David commands the congregation to worship God with their “offerings”—“…ascribe to Yahweh the glory of His name; bring an offering and come before Him. Worship the Lord in the splendor of His holiness” (v.29). Don’t come to worship God empty-handed! Remember that we are “stewards” and “managers” of God’s stuff, not OWNERS! God owns ALL of our stuff! We’ve been given the responsibility to manage a portion of “God’s ESTATE.” God is the owner of it all! And, worship has always included an offering!

-Worship God For His Creation!

David also led Israel to worship God for His creation—“…the world is firmly established; it cannot be shaken. Let the heavens be glad and the earth rejoice, and let them say among the nations, ‘The Lord is King!’ Let the sea and everything in it resound; let the fields and all that is in them exult. Then the trees of the forest will shout for joy before the Lord, for He is coming to judge the earth”(v.30-33).  ALL of creation—the HEAVENS, the EARTH, the SEA & everything in it; the FIELDS and all that is in it; the TREES of the forest—ALL worship Yahweh, David says! At Jesus’ triumphal entry, into Jerusalem, when the Pharisees told Him to rebuke His disciples for giving Him honor as Messiah, Jesus told them that “…if they kept silent, the very ROCKS would cry out…”  We are called to worship God for the wonder of His creation AND for the wonder that all creation worships Him!

-Worship God Now!

And, then, David instructs Israel to worship God NOW because they’ll be worshiping God for all eternity—“Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; His faithful love endures forever. And say: “Save us, God of our salvation; gather us and rescue us from the nations so that we may give thanks to Your holy name and rejoice in Your praise. May Yahweh, the God of Israel, be praised from everlasting to everlasting” (v.34). We don’t know a lot about heaven; but, worship will be part of it!

-Worship Beyond Imagination!

It’s a clear sign that a believer hasn’t spent a lot of time in prayer & the Word—seeking after God—when they express fear that an eternity in heaven may get boring!  After a BILLION years, we’ll still not know our God completely! But, I’m certain I will find Him more fascinating than all the Super Bowls & Star Trek reruns I’ve ever watched! As David finished his sermon, the text says that all the people said “Amen” and “Praise The Lord” (v.36).  And, there was great joy as God dwelt with His people. The disciples also had great joy as God, the Messiah, dwelt with them during his 3 1/2 year ministry leading up to the cross. And, in heaven, Revelation reveals that “God will dwell among us”; and, forever we’ll worship Him!

 

What Fruit Does Your Life Produce?

-Your Happiness Depends On It!

Your happiness is contingent on the kind of “fruit” that your life produces! That’s what the writer of Psalm 1 tells us. In vs. 1-2 he says, “How happy is the man who does not follow the advice of the wicked or take the path of sinners or join a group of mockers! Instead, his delight is in the Lord’s instruction, and he meditates on it day and night.” Don’t be surprised that God wants you to be HAPPY! But, He qualifies what it means to be “HAPPY”! It’s not the “happiness”, of this world, that’s generally tangled up in sinful conduct; and, while it may provide momentary pleasure, leaves you empty and facing lingering painful consequences! The happiness that results from delighting “…in the Lord’s instruction…” leaves no “bad aftertaste”; and, culminates in a fruitful life that is eternal in duration!

-Every Life Bears Fruit!

In v.3, the writer says that the person who rejects the advice of the world & delights in God’s Word & meditates on it day and night, “…is like a tree planted beside streams of water that bears its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers.” Every life bears fruit! Your life bears fruit! My life bears fruit! The Psalmist points to 2 different kinds of people who live their lives in 2 different ways; and, who bear 2 totally different types of fruit. The Apostle Paul uses similar language, in his letter to the Church of Galatia, when he says that the life lived in Christ produces the “fruit of the Spirit” like “…love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness & self-control”; but, the fruit produced by “the flesh” is “… sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies and things like these.” (Galatians 5) Choose wisely who you listen to!

-Contrasting “World Views”!

The writer, of this Psalm, concludes, in v.5-6, with the FINAL END of the contrasting “world views”—“… the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous; for the LORD knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.” In this life, the way of the righteous & the way of the wicked may appear to run parallel. In fact, the way of the wicked often looks pleasant & fun! But, a Day of Judgment is coming, the writer says!

-A Day Of Reckoning!

There is coming a day of reckoning; when, those who took their advice & counsel from God’s Word; and, delighted in it; and, meditated on it, will be gathered into a glorious congregation around the throne of God, in eternal HAPPINESS! While, the wicked will face the Great Judge, of all the earth, who will give them exactly what they always wanted—an eternity without God! The Lord promises to watch over you if the advice you follow & the things you take delight in & the content of your meditation bear the fruit of God’s Holy Spirit! Are these the things you delight in? If not, you need help! You need to pray for Holy Spirit help; and, you need to make yourself accountable to someone; or, a group, who will encourage you! Only in the Truth, of God’s Word, will you find real, genuine, eternal HAPPINESS; and, a relationship with God!