Category: The Attributes of God


The Contemplation of God

Part 2

One of the most valuable books in all of Scripture, in terms of the spiritual food it contains, is the book of Job. At the same time, one of the most neglected books in all of Scripture is the book of Job. This is one of those books that Christians simply do not read. They know the story, because they’ve heard it told, but they don’t sit down and open their Bible and study this book. It is long and repetitive and some think that once you know the ending, there’s little use in reading the details.

But this is a book in which a man’s soul is laid open for the reader; this is a book in which a faithful worshiper of God is made to endure the most painful trials we could imagine. This book is a rich analysis of what it means to know God and what it means to be known by Him.

Throughout this book, Job is asking questions and offering defenses and doing his best to understand what has come upon him. Job asks questions which can only be answered by God Himself. He faces that which has no explanation in his realm of experience, so an explanation must come from God.

The book begins with a description of Job, a man of considerable wealth and spiritual maturity. Job was a man greatly blessed by God in every significant aspect of his life. After this introduction, the writer describes an encounter between God and Satan as the devil complains about God’s protection of Job. Satan argues that Job is faithful only because he has been given so much. God allows Satan to test his theory by granting him access to Job.

Thereafter, Job suffered greatly. He was afflicted physically and witnessed the loss of his possessions and family. Much of the book records the thinking of Job’s friends as they attempt to explain what has happened to this man. They are convinced that Job is a great sinner and that God has punished him as a result. All Job needed to do, according to these men, was repent and confess his sins to God. But Job responds in the only way a righteous man can respond—he declares that he has no sin that is unconfessed. The explanation offered by his friends is misguided, but they maintain that Job is simply proud and not teachable.

Eventually, of course, God speaks to Job and Job quickly realizes how foolish some of his thinking has been. Nevertheless, throughout Job’s interaction with his friends, we find much insight and much that is beneficial when it comes to understanding ourselves in relation to God. One such passage comes after a speech by one of Job’s friends in which the friend once again chastises Job for his supposed pride and urges him to repent:

Job 23:1 Then Job replied, 2 “Even today my complaint is rebellion; His hand is heavy despite my groaning. 3 Oh that I knew where I might find Him, that I might come to His seat! 4 I would present my case before Him and fill my mouth with arguments. 5 I would learn the words which He would answer, and perceive what He would say to me. 6 Would He contend with me by the greatness of His power? No, surely He would pay attention to me. 7 There the upright would reason with Him; and I would be delivered forever from my Judge. 8 Behold, I go forward but He is not there, and backward, but I cannot perceive Him; 9 When He acts on the left, I cannot behold Him; He turns on the right, I cannot see Him.”

One of the themes to which Job returns often is that of desiring an audience with God. Job knows that the perspective of his friends is wrong—he has no sin that he has attempted to hide from God. His suffering is not a result of stubbornly refusing to repent. But he is left without an explanation for all that has come upon him. Therefore, he expresses his longing to sit down with God, as it were, and “make his case,” so to speak.

Job is, however, always reverent in the way he conveys his feelings. He never charges God with injustice, but cannot understand why he has been made to endure such trials. And the constant agitation of his friends with their certain opinions about Job’s spiritual condition makes this an unbearable situation. So, Job cries out and affirms his desire to talk to God.

The agony of Job can be heard in his plea: “Oh that I knew where I might find Him, that I might come to His seat!” (v. 3) From Job’s perspective, this is not an insulting thing to say. He is sure of his innocence in regard to what his friends are declaring, but later Job learns that this kind of statement is full of presumption and is very foolish indeed. God will chastise Job for thinking that he might appear before the Almighty and plead his case as if God were not aware of the suffering of His servant or as if God has somehow made a mistake in bringing upon Job this painful ordeal.

But right now, Job is simply a man trying to understand his circumstances, a man trying to make sense of that which makes no sense to him. And the explanation offered by his counselors is only making matters worse. “There must be another explanation,” Job thinks; “I am an innocent man and these things that have come upon me cannot be God’s punishment for my sin.”

Job is thinking purely in terms of his perspective on the matter, not in terms of God’s perspective—this perspective is revealed to him later. For now, as noted, Job is sure that he could demonstrate his innocence to God were he given the opportunity. Of course, when that opportunity comes later Job is dumbfounded, but now he is expressing his desire to know why all this has happened to him.

“I would present my case before Him,” Job states, “and fill my mouth with arguments.” (v. 4) Job is sure that this would lead to an understanding of his trials; he is sure that God would hear him and reason with him (v. 5). Job is sure that God would not just destroy him, but would listen to what he had to say (v. 6). Again, I’ll point out that Job is reasoning as a desperate man, a man who wants to maintain his innocence in the face of repeated charges of sin, but a man who is not yet ready simply to accept what God has ordained without having his questions answered—and this is the key to understanding the perspective of Job. In time, he will be satisfied with the knowledge that God has ordained his trials for purposes that Job need not understand. But now he is still wrestling with what has come upon him and in an honest and open fashion he expresses his dismay.

As he has said so many times before, Job knows that he is not guilty of living unfaithfully before the LORD (v. 7). And he implies here and elsewhere that God does not afflict the righteous for sin when they have no sin. The upright man can have confidence in that truth, Job indicates. But this still leaves him agonizing over his plight. This still leaves him suffering and having to listen to the misguided analyses of his friends. Job longs to speak to God because only God knows why all this has happened; but he cannot find Him and this only makes him feel more dejected (cf. vv. 8, 9).

This man is in anguish and when we know what he was enduring, we can easily understand why. He has entered the most painful period of this life, literally, emotionally and spiritually speaking. The only explanation he’s been offered has come from his friends and they are convinced that Job is in sin and is experiencing the judgment of God. But Job knows that such an explanation is wrong; but when he makes that point, he’s accused of being prideful and unwilling to submit to the LORD’s chastisement. It is no wonder that Job was in such a state of apprehension and sorrow.

What will comfort this man? What will enable him to continue? How can Job endure this circumstance of physical suffering, emotional distress and ridicule from his friends? There is only one answer—Job will be sustained, as this book demonstrates—by his knowledge of God.

This book opens with the statement that Job was “blameless, upright, fearing God and turning away from evil” (1:1). This man knows something about God. He knows something about the nature of God. He doesn’t understand why all this has happened, but he is going to find a measure of relief and peace as he contemplates God:

23:10 But He knows the way I take; when He has tried me, I shall come forth as gold. 11 My foot has held fast to His path; I have kept His way and not turned aside. 12 I have not departed from the command of His lips; I have treasured the words of His mouth more than my necessary food. 13 But He is unique and who can turn Him? And what His soul desires, that He does. 14 For He performs what is appointed for me, and many such decrees are with Him. 15 Therefore, I would be dismayed at His presence; when I consider, I am terrified of Him. 16 It is God who has made my heart faint, and the Almighty who has dismayed me, 17 But I am not silenced by the darkness, nor deep gloom which covers me.”

Let your heart dwell on that first statement: “But He knows the way I take…” God was aware of Job’s circumstance; these things had not come upon him without God’s knowledge. Job was not caught up in some trick of fate. Job knew that the LORD God rules this creation and that He knows everything that transpires and, in particular, Job knew that God was informed concerning what this man was experiencing. This is where Job’s knowledge of God rescues him from utter despair; this is where Job stops and contemplates God and in his contemplation he realizes that the Almighty knows him and his ways. This causes Job to see his suffering in the proper light—“when He has tried me, I shall come forth as gold.”

What assurance! What comfort! Yes, Job was suffering—beyond anything he ever imagined; and yes, Job has lost every earthly possession—including his children. But there is relief even in such horrible situations and the relief is the knowledge that God knows where I am and God knows what is happening to me and God will bring me through this and when he does, “I shall come forth as gold.” God will take that which is impure and purify it; God will take that which is mixed and remove all but that which is precious.

How was Job able to have this perspective on his dreadful trials? Job had such a perspective because He knew God and here he meditates on what he knew about God. God is righteous and just; God ordains holy purposes; God does not take delight in afflicting His own; God loves His people; God watches them day and night; God is never far away; God is never taken by surprise. All these things are true and they all flood Job’s mind when he pauses and contemplates God. He had no way of knowing about the scene described when this book opened, no way of knowing that God had given Satan permission to vex Job in order to show that Job was, indeed, a man of faith and not a worshiper of the LORD only because he had an easy and prosperous life as Satan charged.

While not even realizing it, Job is glorifying God as he endures. While not even being aware of all the facts, Job is honoring God by refusing to accept the erroneous explanations of his friends but also, at the same time, expressing confidence in the LORD’s righteousness and goodness.

Job doesn’t have all the answers—in fact, at this point, he has no answers at all. But as he meditates on God, he is able to confess that whatever is happening to him will result in his refinement. Job was a man who followed the LORD and lived a life of obedience (v. 11). Job was a man who loved the commandments of God and treasured the words of God more than the food which kept him alive (v. 12). This is the confession of a man who knows God and understands that nothing in life is of greater value than knowing God and nothing in life is more necessary than knowing God.

This man accepts what has been appointed for him even though he is greatly perplexed (v. 13). He has no definitive explanation for what has happened to him, but he knows that God does what He pleases and His ways are not thwarted. It is, I’ll say again, meditation on these truths about God that brings Job some comfort and the ability to endure. Job confesses also that what is happening to him is what has been appointed (v. 14).

What, then, is the ultimate response, or what is the ultimate answer for Job? He must accept what God has ordained because it is right; he must rest in what God has ordered because it is good. He knows that God is so great and so magnificent that he would be “dismayed” in God’s presence (v. 15). Here he uses a word (bahal) that means “alarmed, greatly disturbed.” In spite of his expressed desires to speak to God, Job knows that God is not a man like him. He knows this is not a matter of a misunderstanding as if God has made a mistake.

“When I consider, I am terrified of Him,” Job adds. Job hasn’t lost his reverence for God. He is meditating on the nature of God at this moment and speaking truthfully. That word “consider” (biyn) means “to understand.” “When I understand, when I’m thinking rightly of God,” Job means, “I am terrified of Him.” Job means that when he stops and reflects on God’s nature and contemplates all he knows to be true about God, he is overwhelmed by God’s greatness and majesty and holiness and magnificence.

Who would he be to sit down and speak to God as a man might with another man? Who would he be to question the Almighty? This brief contemplation of God keeps Job’s thinking in check. He would not dare question God’s ways as if something unjust had been unleashed on him; he would not dare charge God with unrighteousness no matter what befell him. Job’s thinking and Job’s reaction to his ordeal were controlled by what he knew about God. Had Job not known God as he obviously did, he would have been destroyed—and that is the point of this story. Satan said that Job served God only because God had blessed Job with so much, but God knew that Job served Him because Job loved God and knew the character of God and was moved to a life of faithfulness by that knowledge.

Finally, Job says what we all know to be true because we know the whole story contained in this book: “It is God who has made my heart faint, and the Almighty who has dismayed me.” (v. 16) It is God who has appointed these days for Job; it is God who has ordained his suffering and pain. But he is sure of God’s purposes; he is sure of God’s goodness. A brief contemplation of the nature of God has brought Job a measure of confidence and peace that will aid him well in the face of this friends’ continuing accusations.

Job’s last words in this chapter indicate that he is revived to a degree (v. 17). He is ready to speak in praise of God. And this he does as the next chapter indicates. He has measured his woes in light of what he knew about the nature of God. He has put his suffering in perspective by turning his attention to the LORD. This did not immediately change his circumstances. His children didn’t rise from the dead; his flocks weren’t returned instantly; his physically suffering was not relieved. But Job’s heart was aligned rightly by this contemplation of God. What he knew about God allowed him to think rightly in this situation. And Job demonstrates that which is of such value to us—he demonstrates the act of interpreting our lives in light of our knowledge of God. Job had no explanation for what he was experiencing apart from what he knew about God. He looked to God and there found confidence as he passed through a time of darkness.

To be continued . . .

 

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The Contemplation of God

Part 1

Protestants trace our theological and historical roots to the sixteenth century when the pure teaching of the Word of God was rediscovered, as it were, and expressed in a movement known as the Reformation. We stand today in the line of those who returned to the doctrines of the apostles; we stand today as descendants of those who rejected a system of theology that robbed God of His glory. We are Reformed Protestants, and we are thankful for the mercy God has manifested toward us by including us in this great theological legacy.

We cherish our system of theology, a system distinguished by many emphases, and a system in which one specific emphasis stands above the rest. In our Reformed system of theology, knowledge of God serves as the foundation upon which we rest; knowledge of God serves as the touchstone by which all other doctrines are kept true and pure. In no system ever devised has knowledge of God played such an essential role as is true in Reformed theology. When I speak of knowledge of God, I am referring to what God has revealed about Himself to us. In our tradition, that knowledge has been centrally significant in the formulations of our beliefs and practices.

John Calvin wrote: “ … it is certain that man never achieves a clear knowledge of himself unless he has first looked upon God’s face, and then descends from contemplating him to scrutinize himself.” (Institutes, vol. I, 37) This quote encapsulates one of the most important principles in our system of theology. That principle is that we know ourselves truly only in relation to our knowledge of God. Unless we know Him, we cannot really know ourselves; unless we know Him, we cannot really understand ourselves.

Knowledge of God is absolutely indispensable; knowledge of God—who He is and what He is like—must come before every other consideration. Knowledge of God moves us and directs us and corrects us and astonishes us and humbles us. Knowledge of God is a prerequisite for understanding anything about this world in which we live. Knowledge of God touches all aspects of our lives—in the church and at home and on the job. You must know God before you can understand why you exist. You must know God before you can understand your purpose. You must know God before you can understand anything about salvation.

If you really know God, you will not worship Him in a light-hearted or half-hearted manner. If you know God, you will not close your heart to those in need. If you know God, you will not be a lazy, unproductive person. If you know God, you will read His Word. If you know God, you will not entertain prideful thoughts about yourself. If you know God, you will not mistreat or gossip about those made in His image. If you know God, you will not harbor grudges or refuse to forgive. If you really know God, you will be quick to confess your sins in repentance. If you know God you will not tell lies or steal. If you know God, you will not spend His tithe money on other things. If you know God, you will not laugh at dirty jokes or watch risqué programs on television. If you know God, you will be struck by His majesty and overwhelmed by His mercy and tremble at the thought of His holiness. If you really know God, then your whole life will be affected and your whole life will demonstrate that you have looked upon God’s face and now, as Calvin said, scrutinize yourself in the light of His glory.

Do you get my point? Everything we think and say and do reflects our knowledge of God. As Reformed Christians, our legacy is one in which knowledge of God is predominant in the way we view everything else. But I regret to say that we live in a day when the knowledge of God, that knowledge that goes beyond a mere academic recitation of God’s attributes, is counted as unimportant. We live in a time when Christians assume it is enough to confess that there is a God and that He has done some good things for His people. We do not live in a time when Christians are distinguished by their knowledge of God; we do not live in a day when Christians manifest evidence that they have encountered the Triune God of the Bible; we do not live in a day when believers yearn to walk with God in intimate and peaceful fellowship.

How do I know this? I know this because our lives are loosely lived and our minds are polluted and we manifest, at best, a mild enthusiasm for the things of God. And I haven’t discovered these facts by meticulous and time-consuming investigation. All you have to do is look at the modern Church and all these characteristics are obvious. Those who know God manifest His holiness and goodness when they speak. Most Christians don’t really know God; we know about Him, but we don’t know Him. We don’t live and breathe God. We go to worship, but we don’t live lives of worship.

We concentrate on many matters in the Church today, but we don’t concentrate on knowing God. We teach our children many things these days and we want them to excel in many areas, but we don’t teach them to know God. What was once the defining characteristic of our system of theology and, consequently, of the lives of past generations, is not being preserved. We are in danger of reducing our faith to formulas of obedience or appearance or denominational affiliation and, consequently, losing the notion that a relationship with God is a relationship. In Christ Jesus, we are brought near to God and we walk with Him and we speak with Him and we wait for His guidance and we give thanks for His provisions and we trust our very souls to His care. We cry out to God when we are grieved and we raise hands of praise when we are blessed. We love Him because He first loved us; we serve Him because He rescued us from damnation. This is what it means to know God.

To be continued . . .

The Gospel in Psalm 130

July 19, 2015

 

Introduction

Psa. 130:1 A Song of Ascents. Out of the depths I have cried to You, O LORD. 2 Lord, hear my voice! Let Your ears be attentive to the voice of my supplications. 3 If You, LORD, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand? 4 But there is forgiveness with You, that You may be feared. 5 I wait for the LORD, my soul does wait, and in His word do I hope. 6 My soul waits for the Lord more than the watchmen for the morning; indeed, more than the watchmen for the morning. 7 O Israel, hope in the LORD; for with the LORD there is lovingkindness, and with Him is abundant redemption. 8 And He will redeem Israel from all his iniquities.

Based on the text of this Psalm, it seems appropriate to begin with some questions. How many transgressions of all the principles and commandments and precepts that are found in Scripture did you violate last week? What would the list look like if all of your sins, up to this moment in time, had been recorded? How would you like to appear before God and see such a list displayed before Him?

The truth is, you don’t know how many times you’ve violated the holiness of God just since you opened your eyes this morning. Even if we attempted to record all of our sinful thoughts and words and actions for just a day, we would miss most of them. We don’t go through life thinking in terms of cataloging our sins—and for good reason. We don’t have to live like that. But that shouldn’t stop us from considering how often we violate God’s standard and that shouldn’t stop us from meditating, at times, on all the ways in which we sin against God. Such times of reflection can be most beneficial, as we are about to see as we turn our attention to Psa. 130.

This obviously is a prayer offered by a worshiper of God; it is a prayer expressing anguish, to a degree, and relief as the writer acknowledges certain facts about God. These facts, as they are recalled, provide him with a much needed encouragement and corrected perspective on whatever it was that drove him to describe himself as being in the “depths.”

I would note that the first truth that stands out is this writer’s apparent conviction that the LORD establishes the standard by which we are judged, the standard by which our lives are measured. This critical truth comes after the writer’s introductory remarks in which he expresses his distress and his desire that the LORD would hear his supplications. In v. 3, the writer asks a question that carries such momentous implications that I fear we will not be able to grasp them all. The writer of this Psalm asks: “If You, LORD, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand?” Before I talk about the most sobering aspects of this question, I want you to notice that the writer automatically assumes that it is the LORD’s place to decide what is and what is not an iniquity; he assumes that the LORD is the One who sets the standard to which all are held.

The writer does not suggest that if the LORD were to be the One with the authority or right to mark iniquities, we might find ourselves in trouble; he assumes that the LORD is the One whose nature is such that He determines that which constitutes acceptable thinking, speaking, and conduct. This fact, in itself, declares to us something vital concerning God’s nature—His nature is the standard of morality. Whatever God is, that is what it means to be morally upright; whatever contradicts what God is, that is what it means to be morally corrupt and fallen.

With this tremendously important assumption operating, the writer asks his question: “If You, LORD, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand?” If God, whose nature is the standard of judgment in this universe, were to “mark iniquities,” no one would survive, the writer asserts. Let me define two words at this point before we continue. First, the word translated “mark” (shamar) means “to keep” as it to preserve something for an indefinite period of time. Second, the word “iniquities” (avon) means “perversity, depravity, sin.” Now, look again at the question: “If You, LORD, should keep or preserve a record of sins or acts of perversity or thoughts of depravity, O Lord, who could stand?”

I already noted that the writer operates with the assumption that the LORD has the authority to determine the standard by which we are judged. Another assumption, which is obviously held by this writer, is that we are a people characterized by that which qualifies as iniquity. He doesn’t speak as though iniquity is a rare thing; he speaks as though everyone on this earth is characterized by enough iniquity to render them worthy of destruction were the LORD ever to decide to call them to account. This Psalm tells us that God sets the standard and it tells us that He is not like us; we are different from God because we are characterized by various elements that are contrary to His nature; therefore, we deserve judgment—that is a clear message from this writer.

We deserve judgment because we commit violation after violation of God’s standard, and yet we do not perish. Why is this? It is because the LORD is pleased not to mark our iniquities, and He is pleased not to keep a list of our sins current right up to this present moment in time is a running count of accusations against us. He is pleased not to call us to account for our transgressions. Now the writer has revealed a truth about God that should leave us astounded —we are creatures of depravity, but the LORD chooses not to hold our sins against us. He chooses not to mark our iniquities. If we could simply comprehend this one primary point, we would have an understanding of the gospel that would change us forever; we would understand the power of the gospel, the beauty of the gospel, and the comfort of the gospel. The LORD does not mark our iniquities because “there is forgiveness with [Him], that [He] may be feared.” (v. 4)

Forgiveness—that is the explanation. We are characterized by iniquities, but the LORD doesn’t hold on to those transgressions and He doesn’t bring them against us time after time because He forgives us. It’s not that we learn to do better and it’s not that God cares less about His holy character as time goes by and it’s not that our offenses are any less offensive the tenth time we commit them as opposed to the first time. The answer is forgiveness. God forgives us, which means, as the writer’s word structure indicates, that forgiveness is the very opposite of marking iniquities. Knowing that God forgives, the writer states, leads us to fear Him. He uses a Hebrew term (yare) that refers to the deep reverence we have when we stand in awe of something. This word is used extensively in the Old Testament to describe a proper attitude toward God. This fear is not that He will harm us, the fear is reverence, respect, standing in all of the magnificent God of the Bible. To meditate on the forgiveness of God leads to this worshipful attitude; it is an attitude of humility and thanksgiving.

The only way for you to understand the richness of your salvation is to first grasp the enormity of your sin. This is the idea here in our text. The enormity of our sin is revealed when the writer says, in essence, that if we had to answer for our conduct, we would perish; the richness of our salvation is revealed when he says that, instead of being called to account for our sins, God forgives us—which explains, by the way, what forgiveness is; it is relating to the offending party without regard for his sins. Here I must make something absolutely clear; what I want to make absolutely clear is how this kind of situation can exist. I want to make clear how it is that God forgives the guilty.

If anyone ever had a doubt regarding the presence of the gospel in the Old Testament, here is a prime example of how the Old Testament reveals the nature of redemption without speaking as directly about Christ as is the case after the incarnation. We know why the LORD doesn’t mark our iniquities; it is because He forgives us. But we also know that God’s holy nature makes it impossible for Him simply to overlook transgressions. The kind of statement found in this Psalm would have led any pious mind to thoughts about what was taught in the Levitical system, namely, that sins are forgiven on the basis of a substitutionary atonement. If there is forgiveness with God, as this writer says, it is because something has been done about our sins—and that “something” is that God has provided Another to bear the consequences of our iniquities.

As I said before, we do not escape answering for our transgressions because God forgets about them or because He knows that we are “doing our best.” We escape because our Savior takes our place. That is the underlying truth of this portion of Psa. 130. Here is a brief, but truthful reminder of what God had been promising for ages; and the writer of this Psalm relates in a simple fashion the reality of redemption.

This Psalm tells us that God determines the standard to which we are held, that He does not count our transgressions against us even though we violate His standard, and that in the place of destruction God provides forgiveness. Consequently, as the writer goes on to teach, God becomes the focus of his hope (cf. v. 5). Because he knows what the LORD has done, because He knows that the LORD forgives and restores, the writer found great comfort for his soul as he faced hardships. We’ll see in a moment the manner in which he describes this hope, but for now the important point is that the way in which God treats His people makes Him the object of their trust and hope.

This Psalm is a wonderful assertion of some of the primary truths of the gospel. Sinners who are condemned and deserving of destruction are forgiven by the very God against whom they have committed innumerable acts of transgression. Imagine the God who would operate in this manner! Imagine His love and His mercy and His patience.

Clearly, as we’ve seen in many of the other Psalms in this current series, this Psalm tells us that these were people who quickly and confidently turned to the LORD in times of distress. Routinely, these Psalms have given testimony to the fact that the worshipers sought guidance, comfort and confidence from the LORD in the many adverse circumstances they encountered. In this case, the writer describes himself as crying to the LORD “out of the depths.” (v. 1) Whenever this word (“depths”) is used in the Old Testament, it normally refers to the deepest parts of the ocean. Figuratively, therefore, it is used to express a state of great anguish and despair.

Although the writer doesn’t provide specific details concerning his situation, we do have some indication of what was bothering him. After expressing such anguish, he begins speaking of iniquities. It is possible, therefore, that the writer was deeply troubled by his transgressions or those of the nation. For some reason, sin and forgiveness were on his mind when he wrote this song. Rightly, as I noted, he turns to the LORD and pours out his distress in those few words found in vv. 1 and 2. This writer is in a position where only the LORD can help him and it is to the LORD that he directs his cry for assistance.

Those who, along with this writer, worshiped the LORD at this point in history knew the fundamental truth that God is the one to whom we turn in times of distress, especially if that distress is caused by the contemplation of our sin. Where else can we turn to find relief for our troubled soul when, upon the contemplation of our depravity, we find ourselves near despair? The very act of meditating on one’s fallen state quickly leads to the conclusion that there is no help to be found in self—self is the problem! We are sinners and when sinners think soberly on their condition, they certainly do not conclude that deliverance from condemnation and the torment of guilt is to be found in their own devices. It is to the LORD and to Him only that we turn in such moments and it is that perspective that is recorded in this Psalm.

This apparent deliberation on his condition led this writer to a sobering conclusion: “If you, LORD, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand?” (v. 2) Realizing, even to a slight degree, how unfit he was to stand before the LORD, this writer confesses the truth that if the LORD were to require an accounting from him for his transgressions, he would be doomed. And, in fact, the way he states the question makes it obvious that he held this same opinion about all of his countrymen. If the LORD were to keep track of our sins, he says, and then require a reckoning from us, we would be lost. We could not possibly stand before the LORD were He to produce a list of our sins.

Imagine knowing that the LORD was, in fact, marking iniquities, was keeping a record and would demand an accounting. This would be enough to unravel any pious person, or any person who truly wanted to walk before Jehovah in faith. But just as such disturbing thoughts occurred to this writer, he adds that astounding statement in v. 4: “But there is forgiveness with You…”

These worshipers were not free of sin and they were not free of guilt before the LORD, but He was not relating to them based on their sin because with Jehovah there is forgiveness. With Him, there is a remedy for sin—because there is forgiveness with the LORD. What a change of perspectives! If the LORD should mark iniquities, these worshipers knew that they could not endure before Him, but the LORD did not keep a record of their sin in order to bring it against them. Instead, He offered them forgiveness; instead, the LORD, the holy One, the offended One, made a provision for their deliverance.

It’s no wonder that the writer goes on to express how he eagerly waited for the LORD (vv. 5 and 6). As he considered his sin and the fact that the LORD forgave him, he wanted nothing more than to be with the LORD who loved him so. The truth of God’s forgiveness was the hope to which this man held as he made his way through life. It was communion with God that brought this man joy and comfort.

The word translated “wait” (qavah) is interesting (cf. v. 5). It’s a term that refers to remaining or abiding in a specific state as you anticipate something beneficial. When the writer says that he waited for the LORD, he doesn’t mean he was expecting the LORD to show up at some point. He means that he was resting in the LORD. And from that perspective, he was anticipating a time of communion with God, perhaps through worship or perhaps through his departure from this life into the presence of God.

In this frame of mind, the writer could urge his fellow-worshipers to “hope in the LORD.” (v. 7) He could assure them that they served a God who is known for His lovingkindness. In Him, the writer declares, there is “abundant redemption.” He presents a picture of the LORD that is completely uplifting and perfectly suited for those who were on their way to worship Jehovah.

At some point, this writer was made aware of his transgressions or something caused him to pause and think about the fact that he was a sinner and his sins were committed against a God of purity and holiness. And as he was going through this thought process, he realized that he deserved destruction. But there he was—alive and well and able to worship the LORD. The contemplation of his sin led, of course, to the contemplation of God’s forgiveness of his sin. Those two realities—his sin and God’s forgiveness of his sin—overwhelmed him and he had to exclaim praise for the LORD.

If God marked your iniquities, if He kept a record of your sins and called you to account, would you be able to stand? If God took note of your transgressions and preserved a list of them, would you be able to appear before Him with confidence? You know the answer to those questions. Our problem is that we don’t face these kinds of questions often enough. We rarely consider the implications of such a question as: “If You, LORD, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand?”

Meditation on such questions leads inevitably to the conclusion that God forgives—otherwise, we wouldn’t be here and we wouldn’t have a life and we wouldn’t know the LORD. Meditation on what God has done for sinners is where God-honoring worship begins.

When the writer of this Psalm thought on such things, he was moved to fear the LORD. How about you? We don’t hear much talk about fearing the LORD these days. To fear the LORD means that you relate to Him as God, as a holy and righteous God. It means that we look to Him with thankful hearts realizing that He is the One who saves us and who watches over us. To fear the LORD is to stand in awe of Him.

These kinds of thoughts come much more easily when we keep before us the fact that God has forgiven us. It was that truth that caused the writer to find hope in spite of his sins. He knew that God had provided for his forgiveness. As I said before, the gospel is portrayed in Psa. 130. There is the undeniable teaching of atonement in this Psalm. There is recognition of sin and there is recognition of forgiveness—the two key elements in redemption.

Therefore, we cannot study this Psalm without being directed to Christ. There is no way to read this Psalm and even begin to have the slightest understanding of it without turning our eyes to Christ. It is impossible for us to think about our transgression and breathe a sigh of relief knowing that they have been forgiven without turning our minds to Christ. He is the explanation for sins forgiven. The Messiah is the explanation for this writer’s conclusion that, although he was a man of iniquity, there was forgiveness with the LORD. Amen.

This great nation may very well become little more than a footnote in a book at some point in the distant future. It will be yet another testimony to the glory of God and what happens when a nation so blessed by His manifold kindnesses and favorable Providence turns its back on Him.

 

Churches may, indeed, soon face more vicious forms of government sanctioned persecution in this country. This is not something new, nor should it surprise us. (Matt. 5:10-12; John 15:20-23) Let us be sure of one thing, however: the Church of Jesus Christ, over which He is Head (Eph. 1:18-23), will never cease to exist on the earth. (1 Cor. 15:22-28) The people of God do not have to have buildings and public meetings to carry on the work of the gospel, which is the one unique and glorious thing about this message– it does not deal only with external behavior, but is the power of God to penetrate to the very soul and no opposition, seen or unseen, will ever succeed in stopping it. (Rom. 1:16; Heb. 4:12, 13) You can forbid people to meet and you can destroy our buildings and you can threaten us all you want, but the gospel will continue to be applied to the human race according to the sovereign decree of God and then it will be over–and not a millisecond before God has done whatsoever He pleases with this world. (2 Pet. 3:3-10) Rave on God-haters. He who sits in the heavens is laughing at you. (Psa. 2:1-4) You are only storing up wrath for that great Day. (Rom. 2:5-8)

Psalm 19:1 The heavens are telling of the glory of God; And their expanse is declaring the work of His hands.  2 Day to day pours forth speech, And night to night reveals knowledge.  3 There is no speech, nor are there words; Their voice is not heard.

http://www.scoopwhoop.com/news/wow-nasa/

 

Some Thoughts on Thankfulness

Psalm 77

Introduction

One of the most difficult challenges we face is that of developing a genuinely thankful attitude. Because we are sinners, the concept of acknowledging a source outside ourselves, a source that is responsible for the things in life that we consider good and desirable, a source that gives but does not require repayment, can be most uncomfortable. To be thankful, we must first admit that we are the recipients of so much that we did not pursue and so much that we could not achieve on our own under any circumstances. The concept of giving thanks also requires us to admit our limitations, especially in light of the fact that we are spiritually crippled by sin.

I believe that developing a thankful attitude, one that endures throughout the year and one that seriously influences the way we think about ourselves and our nation and our relationship with God is of fundamental importance. Living without thankfulness in our hearts produces a false sense of security and a false apprehension of what we are able to do as human beings.

We are, by nature, selfish, self-centered people and we have to train ourselves to be grateful, not only to other human beings, but especially to our Creator. I also want to point out the Bible has a tremendous amount to say about this topic of thankfulness. Based upon this fact and the prominent place given to thankfulness in our development as Christ’s disciples, I believe it is safe to assume that God is pleased when His people behave contrary to their fallen natures and actually raise their eyes to heaven and praise Him for all that He has bestowed upon us.

You probably encounter very few genuinely thankful people when you leave your home during the week. Often, either directly or through the media, you encounter selfish people, people who want everything they have and more, people who think they deserve a better life than what they are experiencing. This is not really a surprising attitude when you remember that we are sinners; and one thing that sin does is make us complainers.

In Psa. 77, the writer provides us with steps which, if followed consistently, will gradually produce and sustain an atmosphere of thanksgiving in our hearts and homes. The historical setting for this Psalm is uncertain. Circumstances were such that the writer was emotionally overwhelmed. It could have been that the nation was experiencing a particularly difficult time or perhaps this Psalm only reflects a personal experience of the writer. Whatever the case, we can learn something about the state of the writer’s mind from the tone of this Psalm.

Psalm 77:1 My voice rises to God, and I will cry aloud; my voice rises to God, and He will hear me. 2 In the day of my trouble I sought the Lord; in the night my hand was stretched out without weariness; my soul refused to be comforted. 3 When I remember God, then I am disturbed; when I sigh, then my spirit grows faint. 4 You have held my eyelids open; I am so troubled that I cannot speak. 5 I have considered the days of old, the years of long ago. 6 I will remember my song in the night; I will meditate with my heart, and my spirit ponders: 7 Will the Lord reject forever? And will He never be favorable again? 8 Has His lovingkindness ceased forever? Has His promise come to an end forever? 9 Has God forgotten to be gracious, or has He in anger withdrawn His compassion? 10 Then I said, “it is my grief, that the right hand of the Most High has changed.” 11 I shall remember the deeds of the LORD; surely I will remember Your wonders of old. 12 I will meditate on all Your work and muse on Your deeds. 13 Your way, O God, is holy; what god is great like our God? 14 You are the god who works wonders; You have made known Your strength among the peoples. 15 You have by Your power redeemed Your people, the sons of Jacob and Joseph. 16 The waters saw You, O God; the waters saw You, they were in anguish; the deeps also trembled. 17 The clouds poured out water; the skies gave forth a sound; Your arrows flashed here and there. 18 The sound of Your thunder was in the whirlwind; the lightnings lit up the world; the earth trembled and shook. 19 Your way was in the sea and Your paths in the mighty waters, and Your footprints may not be known. 20 You led Your people like a flock by the hand of Moses and Aaron.

We can conclude that the writer passed through a time of desperation and doubt. He speaks of seeking the LORD throughout the night (v. 2). His soul was so troubled that he could not sleep and didn’t know what to say (v. 4). The writer thought much about the past—perhaps remembering better times or times when the LORD came to his aid (vv. 6-8). Whatever happened led this writer to wonder if God had forsaken him forever. Would he ever again experience God’s favor? Had God withdrawn His grace? (v. 9) In his intense grief, this man thought that perhaps “the right hand of the Most High has changed.” (v. 10)

For us to gain the most from this Psalm, we need to understand the state of the writer, which is indicated in the verses I just cited. I want to take time, therefore, to define three of the words that are used in these opening verses. This will give us insight regarding the anguish being experienced by this writer as he turns to the LORD for help.

In the second verse, Asaph, the author of this Psalm and one of the leading figures in the establishment and use of Psalmody in the worship of God, speaks of “the day of [his] trouble.” He uses a Hebrew word (tsarah) that refers to severe anguish and affliction. This is not a case of a writer having a “bad day.” This man was experiencing deep distress and his whole life was unsettled as a result.

In the third verse, Asaph states that thoughts of God “disturbed” him. Here he uses a word (hamah) that refers to a loud roar, a frightening clamor, or a threatening growl. At this point in his Psalm, Asaph could not even think about God without great unrest in his soul because his situation made it appear that God had gone away.

And finally, in verse four, we have another word that is also translated “troubled,” but it is not the same one used earlier. This time, the writer states that he was so troubled, that he was unable to speak. The Hebrew term in this case (paam) means “to be persistently beaten.” The picture is that of a man overwhelmed by an adversary who is being crushed under the attack.

With all that in mind, we can now ask an important question: How does one recover from such spiritual and emotional depression? This writer reveals a method of dealing with his circumstances that brought stability. He was able to replace his doubt and depression with thanksgiving. The formula contained in this Psalm can serve all of God’s people. We need not be in the condition experienced by this writer before we make use of his wisdom.

What, then, did this writer do that can be imitated by us? What steps did he take that can be repeated by us? The answers are given in vv. 11-15. Just after the writer tells us how distraught he was, he also tells us what he did to relieve his fear and regain his confidence so that he could respond to his situation as a thankful man instead of a fearful man.

  1. Thankfulness comes when we remember the deeds of God (v. 11)

The writer reached the point where he thought God had deserted him. From this pit of despair come these words: “I shall remember the deeds of the LORD; surely I will remember Thy wonders of old.” (v. 11) This writer could find no comfort in his present circumstances. He had considered various explanations, including the idea that the LORD had forsaken him. But, before he is lost in total despair, he does something that turns his situation around. He begins to think about what God had done for him and his people. He reflected on the past to gain comfort and confidence in the present. Therefore, instead of continuing to dwell on his present misery, he found solace in the past works of God.

This is where the turn-around begins. God’s deeds are spectacular; they are incredible. They reveal a God who rules, loves, and provides, not a God who terrorizes, hates, and withholds. To think that this God would actually care for us while we live out our few years on this earth is also an amazing notion. This is what the writer of this Psalm does. He thinks on these and other truths about God. From this point on, the tone of this Psalm changes dramatically. This passage becomes a hymn of praise and thanksgiving.

The lesson here is obvious. If you wish to maintain the proper attitude toward life and toward God, you must remember the past wondrous deeds of God. You must not forget what He has done for you and your family. You must not forget how He has cared for you and how He has comforted you and how He has given you purpose and understanding. If you wish to create a spirit of thanksgiving, take time to remember the ways in which God has expressed His love for you in the past. Make this a regular practice now and even throughout the year.

  1. Thankfulness comes when we meditate on the deeds of God (v. 12)

An important element is added in this second step. We tend to miss the point when the Old Testament Scriptures talk about something being “remembered.” We think that means to recall something to mind and then be off to the next thought or activity. But in the Hebrew mind, to remember something involved more. And this writer explains this concept clearly when he says that beyond merely remembering God’s past acts, he will contemplate them: “I will meditate on all Your work and muse on Your deeds.”

For the Hebrews, to remember something was to ponder it. The writer means that as he remembered God’s past acts, as he remembered things God had done before, he took the time to linger over them in his mind. This brought satisfaction to his troubled soul.

What is pictured here is a sincere and prolonged reflection. It’s the kind of thing we don’t do very often these days. We are too busy to linger over the promises of God and we are too busy to ponder what God did for us last year or five years ago or twenty years ago. We are not people who mediate on such things for any length of time. And, as a result, we are spiritually poorer than we need be. This man paused long enough to draw lessons from God’s past actions. This is something that takes time and dedication.

As this writer meditated on the past, he recalled that God had always shown Himself to be gracious and compassionate. He had never broken His promise. He had never forsaken His own. Based upon this knowledge, the writer was strengthened. His confidence was renewed. In spite of the trying circumstances he was facing, he was able to compose himself and control how his circumstances affected him rather than being at the mercy of that which he could not control.

  1. Thankfulness comes when we have the proper opinion of God (vv. 13-15)

This third step is actually a product of the first two. When you remember something and then ponder it, you obviously become more familiar with it and gain a more accurate perspective. The same is true with God:

13 “Your way, O God, is holy; what god is great like our God? 14 You are the God who works wonders; You have made known Your strength among the peoples. 15 You have by Your power redeemed Your people, the sons of Jacob and Joseph.

In this Psalm, the writer takes us to the expected result of having meditated on the acts of God in his past. This exercise naturally served to remind the troubled writer of God’s character. God’s character is revealed in His works for His people; this man, who was so distraught at one point, is rescued from that condition by thinking on God’s ways and, thereby, remembering who God really is and what God is really like.

We don’t want to miss this simple truth: God’s past actions reveal truths about His nature. You’ll notice that three chief attributes stand out in these verses. First, God’s past manner showed that His ways are holy (v. 13). The writer’s circumstances are immediately put into perspective when he remembers God’s holiness. God had not been overcome; this man’s plight was not beyond the perfect awareness and control of God. Regardless of how circumstances appeared, therefore, the writer was reminded that all of God’s actions are pure. He cannot be charged with unfairness.

Second, God’s past manner demonstrated that He is a God Who routinely works wonders (v. 14). If anything is going to give you comfort during a trial, it’s the knowledge that God is a God who works wonders. As he thought about past situations, this writer remembered that it is not an unusual thing for God to deliver His people from the most threatening of circumstances. He recalled times when the nation, or perhaps he personally, had been involved in a difficult situation. How did God respond on those occasions?

Third, God’s past ways reminded this writer that God is a God of salvation (v. 15). Imagine that you are surrounded by vicious enemies and imagine that, as far as anyone can tell, this is the end for you. And then you remember that the LORD is the God of salvation. Redemption characterizes all that God does. The restoration of His fallen creation is the aim of God’s activity in the lives of human beings. Even when God’s people suffer, there is redeeming value to it.

This man is fortified with this truth. He learned from the history of the nation and his personal experiences that God brings about trying circumstances in order to refine His people and produce greater glory for Himself in their lives. Whatever the writer was now facing could be viewed in the light of God’s master plan of restoration.

Having a proper opinion of God will always lead to thanksgiving. Those who desire to be characterized by thankfulness must spend time cultivating this proper opinion. In addition to His written word, nothing better educates us about the nature of God than His actions. Remembering them, meditating on them, and drawing lessons about God from them—this is the formula that produces a reverence for God and reverence is inevitably followed by thanksgiving.

Here, then, are three steps that will create an atmosphere of thanksgiving for you and your family. Remember what God has done in past days. Remind yourself of what God has done for you. When you call God’s past acts to mind, take the time to meditate on them. Talk about God’s care with others and help them extract lessons from those experiences.

When this pattern is followed, trials become our instructors and we come away from that testing more confident in God, with a greater understanding of His nature and with a more stable hope regarding the days ahead. And that, as this Psalm teaches us, will nurture a thankful spirit in our hearts throughout the year.

Introduction

We’re all familiar with the concept of making New Year’s resolutions. Sometimes they’re taken seriously, but most people view resolutions as well-intentioned desires that will probably never be fulfilled for any significant amount of time. Even those who do take their resolutions seriously often become much less serious about this activity after they fail numerous times to achieve their goal.

I do think there is a theological reason behind this desire we have to start fresh. As the Scriptures teach, God’s fingerprint, as it were, is on all His creatures. That influence includes a conscience and an innate desire to “do better,” we might say. Because of sin, this God-given tendency to make improvement has been corrupted and it usually manifests itself in some misguided attempt.

Common resolutions seem to fall into one of two categories. The first category is that which relates to us on a personal level and the second is that which relates to us in terms of our relationships with others. Therefore, people will make a resolution as the New Year begins to take better care of themselves or break some detrimental habit. In the second instance, people will vow to give more attention to their essential responsibilities or to aspects of their lives that are creating problems for someone else.

Whatever the resolution might be, they all have one fatal flaw, and that fatal flaw is the fact that such resolutions originate in and depend upon human effort. If what we have determined to do will require real determination or a significant change of lifestyle, then we will quickly discover how difficult it will be to keep a resolution. Our fallen natures vigorously oppose any attempt to achieve true good.

My aim is to provide some Biblical guidance for the coming new year. As I do, I want to say that there is a Christian version of a resolution that, when enacted correctly, can be of great benefit to us. In Scripture, the most successful plans for the future—whether we are speaking of that individual, family, or even an entire nation—begin with the careful consideration of the past. It may be a previous experience or, in some cases, a command given by the Lord at some point in the past. The Word teaches us that part of the process of maturity for a Christian involves a measured concentration on things that have already been said or have already occurred.

As I read and thought about some of the stories in the Old Testament, I concluded that there are three primary categories in which this pattern of future planning based on the past may be observed. The first category that I would like to identify is what I will call monumental events. The Bible puts a lot of emphasis on those epic incidents in the history of God’s people. The emphasis is for the purpose of instruction long after the event itself has occurred.

Monumental Events

Without question, the most significant event in the history of the people of Israel was the Exodus from captivity in Egypt. After approximately 400 years, God spoke to Moses and informed him that He was about to deliver the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. This would be in fulfillment of promises made to those patriarchs.

This led to the unprecedented display of the power of God as He tormented the Egyptians with one plague after another until they finally agreed to let the people go. The devastation and death in the land of Egypt was massive; and when Pharaoh changed his mind and sent his army in pursuit of the fleeing Israelites, God once again intervened and they all perished in a remarkable manner.

Once they were beyond the reach of Egyptians, the people were given direction toward a particular land where God would settle them. We know the story, of course, and the sinful response of the people resulted in a 40 year long wandering in the desert until the generation that came out of Egypt was dead.

On a number of occasions during that lengthy period, the people were encouraged to obey by remembering their deliverance from captivity. Because the rescue from Egypt gave undeniable evidence of God’s regard for this people and how He was able and willing to use His power as He pleased, that event became a touchstone for every generation that lived thereafter. From the mouth of Moses and the prophets, the Israelites were constantly reminded of what God did in Egypt and the purpose of such frequent reminders was to instill courage and trust in the hearts of the people, especially when they were facing some new challenge or a superior foe.

Just after the Exodus, Moses made this declaration to the people: “Remember this day in which you went out from Egypt, from the house of slavery; for by a powerful hand the LORD brought you out from this place.” (Ex. 13:3) When these people faced difficult circumstances in the future, when it seemed that they were going to perish, or when they were commanded to do something that they did not believe they could accomplish, they were to think back to this day on which the power of God was unleashed so that they, His chosen people, might go free. And by remembering this unique display, they would be encouraged and their faith in God would be strengthened.

Beginning in the book of Exodus and concluding in the book of Haggai, there are several dozen references to Israel’s deliverance from captivity in Egypt. For example, in Amos 4 we read:

9 “I smote you with scorching wind and mildew; and the caterpillar was devouring Your many gardens and vineyards, fig trees and olive trees; Yet you have not returned to Me,” declares the LORD. 10 “I sent a plague among you after the manner of Egypt; I slew your young men by the sword along with your captured horses, And I made the stench of your camp rise up in your nostrils; Yet you have not returned to Me,” declares the LORD.

When the people heard of Egypt, they were to recall the awesome power demonstrated by God for their benefit. In this passage, He reminds them that in their recent history they had been subjected to various means of chastisement similar to what they know happened long ago. Ideally, the people would hear this reference and repent and realize that the power of God had been used for their deliverance and protection, and it could just as easily be used for their destruction if they continued in sin.

I’ve mentioned before that I was converted in October of 1975. Without going into all the details, let me say that I knew instantly that I had been born-again and nothing would ever be the same. That episode is my deliverance from Egypt. On countless occasions over years, I have recalled that experience in order to reorient my understanding of who I was and what God wanted from me. Many things have happened to me since that day, but nothing has approached the magnitude of that occurrence.

Not everyone, of course, has the kind of conversion experience I just described because they grow up in a Christian household and are taught to trust the Lord from the very beginning days of their lives. But I believe that as we walk with God during our lifetimes, we will have defining moments during which God tenderly instructs us, patiently comforts us, or mercifully delivers us in some manner.

You might remember a time of intense prayer that was unlike any other time in your life. You might remember a day when you sensed the loving ministry of the Holy Spirit while you were passing through some painful trial. And you have not forgotten that episode, whatever it was. Those experiences define us as believers and bring clarity to our perspective on how we should be living.

If you have had an experience like this or something similar, then I want to ask you how it has affected you since then. Again, it need not be something dramatic or life-altering. It may be that you observed some evidence of God’s activity in the life of a loved one or friend and it was profound enough that the memory remains with you. If there have been those times, have you allowed that defining moment, whatever it was, to remind you of the responsibility to live rightly before the Lord?

And today, as we are about to enter a new year, does that event (or perhaps several events that come to mind) have any bearing on what you hope to accomplish or on how you plan to conduct yourself in the next 12 months? By reflecting on these kinds of occurrences in our lives, we are made wiser—wiser about sin and about the deceitfulness of the flesh and about our own pride and certainly about how we are to use the time God has appointed for us.

If you make a New Year’s resolution this coming week, let it be grounded in those monumental events in your past. And, by the way, the events from which you should draw guidance may include destructive mistakes on your part or times when you fell into sin. Having been forgiven by God for some transgression and having been restored by His mercy; qualify as those monumental events that should forever affect the way you live on this earth.

Admirable Examples

The Bible is full of all kinds of examples, both good and bad. These examples make up the second category that I want to talk about. In this case, the example set by a single character, which brought God’s blessing on the nation, was ignored by those who came after him. I am referring to Gideon.

As much as any other man mentioned in Scripture, Gideon is an example of an ordinary person thrust into extraordinary circumstances according to what God determined should occur. Gideon demonstrated doubt, poor judgment, and fear at times, but an uncommon bravery and solid trust at others. We can learn from Gideon’s failures and his accomplishments. All in all, under Gideon’s leadership, the nation of Israel enjoyed 40 years of peace.

As Gideon’s life came to a close, we read this report:

Judges 8:33 Then it came about, as soon as Gideon was dead, that the sons of Israel again played the harlot with the Baals, and made Baal-berith their god. 34 Thus the sons of Israel did not remember the LORD their God, who had delivered them from the hands of all their enemies on every side; 35 nor did they show kindness to the household of Jerubbaal (that is, Gideon) in accord with all the good that he had done to Israel.

Obviously Gideon led the nation in such a way that there was general faithfulness before the Lord. But as this text says, once the restraint against disobedience was removed, which existed in the person of Gideon, the people quickly returned to idolatry and promptly forgot all the lessons that had been learned, or could have been learned, from the life of Gideon.

Gideon’s experience was not too complicated to understand. It was a matter of seeing God’s blessing upon that man when he was faithful and God’s hand of chastisement upon him when he was not. It was the simplest truth displayed throughout those 40 years and no one who seriously desired to walk rightly before God would have had any trouble learning valuable lessons from the life of Gideon.

But note the text once again: As soon as Gideon was dead, the people returned to idolatry, and “the sons of Israel did not remember the LORD their God, who had delivered them from the hands of all their enemies on every side.” The word translated “remember” is the Hebrew term “zakar,” which means “to remember, to call to mind, to record.” When you examine the multitude of occurrences of this word in the Old Testament, it becomes apparent that in the Hebrew mind, “to remember” was an activity that involved more than simply producing a brief recollection of some event. To remember meant to recall something to mind, yes, but that recollection was for the purpose of instruction. Therefore, when the Jews were told to remember something, the meaning was that they were to take instruction in the present based upon a past experience.

Our text says that those living after the death of Gideon “did not remember the LORD their God.” This doesn’t mean that the people forgot there was a God. The writer means that the people ignored all that God had demonstrated toward them and for them in the past. He states that God had delivered the people from all their enemies repeatedly. That happened under the leadership of Gideon and should have been a powerful influence for good in the lives of Israelites even after Gideon was no longer on the scene.

After Gideon’s departure, men competed for the leadership of the nation. In one case, 70 men from the same family were murdered on the same day to provide for the advancement of one man to the throne. The peace of the past 40 years was replaced with political and moral chaos; murder, deceit, and disorder became the norm. All of this could have been prevented if the men of Israel had determined to follow the example of Gideon.

Becoming acquainted with genuinely godly people, that is, those whose lives are examples of faithfulness to God in every area, is not a common occurrence. Personally, I have met plenty of Christians worthy of respect, but few who could serve as a model for my entire life. Nevertheless, the lessons to be taken from those few examples are quite numerous and have served as guidelines, goals, and corrections throughout my life.

Unlike Israel, we do not want to miss such a valuable resource that God has placed in our lives. Therefore, I will ask: Have you been blessed to encounter someone whose example is worthy of imitation? Is there anyone in your life, past or present, whose walk with the Lord exemplifies what you desire for yourself? One characteristic that most of our examples will have in common will be the manner in which they react to difficult circumstances. It is during such times, that the example of others can provide us with the motivation and guidance that we need.

Think of the person or persons in your experience who fit this model and then ask yourself these questions: Am I sincerely striving to imitate that godly person? Am I able and willing to let those examples change my thinking and action? Does a life that is pleasing to God truly matter more to me then opportunities to express myself and go my own way? How do you plan to implement examples of godliness in your life the next 12 months? Where does your life need correction, the correction of a consistent and mature standard seen in the lives of those you admire most? Do you want to improve the manner in which you respond to a trial? What about love for the brethren in this congregation? Is that an area in need of reformation and, if so, has God put anyone in your life whose pattern may help you?

Let me emphasize that the most critical aspect of what I’m describing is not finding a godly person to imitate; the most critical aspect comes after identifying such a person. That is when you must determine whether you are willing to copy that person’s standard. Depending on the adjustment that needs to be made, you may have a significant struggle against your flesh. But if that change is necessary and if that change is what God commands and if that change is for your good and the good of others, then you simply must dedicate yourself to achieving that goal. And as we begin a new year, you have the perfect time to make this decision and formulate a plan by which it will be implemented.

Divine Character

We come now to the third and final resource upon which the people of God have depended when preparing for the future. This is the resource of God’s character. Since God’s character does not change, which means He is consistent in what He requires and how He responds to us, the better we know that character the better prepared we will be to analyze those areas in need of attention in our lives during this coming new year.

There are numerous examples in the Old Testament where God’s character is recalled and applied in a troubling situation. David does this frequently. In the Psalms, he often describes the threat of some enemy or some circumstance, but then reveals how he was delivered from fear and made bold when he meditated on some aspect of God’s character—it may have been God’s strength or God’s faithfulness or God’s mercy, but God’s character is that resource that completely changes David’s perspective and expectations.

It is not just in the Psalms, however, that we find such passages. Consider this statement found in Nehemiah 4:

“Do not be afraid of them; remember the Lord who is great and awesome, and fight for your brothers, your sons, your daughters, your wives and your houses.” (v. 14)

The context of this exhortation is an alliance of Israel’s enemies who have conspired together to fight against Jerusalem and interrupt the process of rebuilding, which is under the authority of Nehemiah. It was imperative that the work of rebuilding continue, so Nehemiah was not willing to stop in order to deal with this threat exclusively. Instead, he took steps to guard against the coming assault while, at the same time, continuing the work of reconstructing the city wall. Many of the people, however, became fearful because of the size of the army poised to enter the city. Nehemiah realized that he had to do something to stabilize his people so that they would not abandon their work.

Consider what Nehemiah had to offer. He could not assure the people that he had a well-trained army himself ready to defend the city. He could not refer to negotiations that he believed would preserve peace. Nehemiah could not attempt to convince the people that this coming enemy would be merciful. What, therefore, did Nehemiah have at his disposal that would eliminate fear, encourage bravery, and motivate a relatively small number of men to continue the very work their enemy insisted they stop? He needed something that was absolutely trustworthy, something that had been seen in the past, and something he knew would be just as dependable now. The only thing that meets those criteria is the character of God.

Therefore, Nehemiah exhorts the people: “Do not be afraid of them; remember the Lord who was great and awesome, and fight for your brothers, your sons, your daughters, your wives and your houses.” Remember the Lord! That is Nehemiah’s solution to the threat posed by the alliance of his enemies. We have no chance on our own. We cannot make a successful stand. On our own, the city will be taken in the work of rebuilding will cease and we will surely die.

Israel did not have to give up or stop building. What the men did have to do, however, was exercise faith. They had to trust God. They had to look back at previous examples where God came to the aid of His people, even in the most dreadful circumstances, and delivered them. Then they had to realize that God’s character does not change and they are still His people and He will, therefore, fight for them now.

Notice what was at stake: family and houses, which are among the most precious items in life. The coming fight would be for their existence. And, as already stated, what is needed in such a circumstance is that which cannot fail and that which does not depend upon human ability or effort. The Divine character meets these qualifications. The people could be fearless because the Lord is “great and awesome.” He had demonstrated these aspects of His nature countless times in the history of this nation. This wasn’t the first time God’s people were outnumbered. This wasn’t the first time God’s people appeared to have no chance of survival.

There are many more passages like this one in which the character of God becomes the foundation on which His people rest in dangerous surroundings. This single text, however, sufficiently illustrates this third category related to making plans for the future. Just after making the statement in verse 14, Nehemiah reveals that the enemy became aware that God had frustrated their plans. Therefore, “all of us returned to the wall, each one to his work.”

The unchanging character God is, of course, the most reliable basis for our plans for the coming year. Other things, which may have been reliable in the past, may still fail, but God’s nature cannot fail and the love He has shown to you in the past when He delivered you from harsh circumstances or when He removed a burden causing much anguish in your life, is the same today as it has always been. Therefore, any plans you make for this coming year, any resolutions you adopt, any changes you desire to see in yourself, any defeat of sinful tendencies and establishment of righteous practices must, first and foremost, be grounded in the unchanging character of God.

No one here can say that they have no need of correction in any area of their lives. God has provided this opportunity for you to examine yourself and follow the instruction He has given. Decide what aspect of your life needs reformation and then draw strength from one of those important events from your past and focus upon the admirable example of someone you’ve known and, above all, ground your effort in the holy and unchanging character of God. This is how Christians prepare for the future.

All Saints Weekly Devotional

Volume 1 Number 34

September 27, 2012

God’s Lovingkindness

From Pastor Bordwine

 

Surely goodness and lovingkindness will follow me all the days of my life,

and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

(Psalm 23:6)

My goal in producing these weekly devotionals is to provide us with an uplifting thought or two after we are well into our week and have, once again, faced the adversities associated with living for God’s glory in a world thoroughly corrupted by sin. Typically, I concentrate on some aspect of our faith that will encourage us and remind us of the marvelous work God has done for us in His Son. This week, I want us to meditate on God’s lovingkindness.

This term “lovingkindness” (Hebrew: checed) has a particular significance in Old Testament revelation. In passage after passage, this word is applied solely to the redeemed. It is an expression that embraces all that we have received by the grace of God with a special emphasis on His mercy.

Because we face a multitude of obstacles as we seek to honor God, it is easy for us to forget one of the most essential factors of our salvation, which is God’s lovingkindness. We need to keep in mind that our struggle in this fallen environment is not for our survival. We are not responsible for maintaining our standing before God, nor are we charged with earning God’s blessings. We have been chosen and secured by God in Christ and that status can never change.

Regardless of how well or how poorly we conduct ourselves on any given day, we are never in danger of being cast off by God. There is no possibility that He might grow tired of our stumbling and half-hearted efforts at holiness. If we were responsible for maintaining our status before God and if we were required to earn God’s favor by our behavior and if we were in danger of being dismissed by God for straying from the path of righteousness, then the idea of lovingkindness would not exist.

Lovingkindness represents the opposite of self-reliance and personal responsibility for our redemption. Lovingkindness implies another source for our deliverance. Those who experience lovingkindness are those who are acted upon from without—that is, by God through Christ.

Consider Psalm 23, from which I quote above: “Surely goodness and lovingkindness will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” This verse verifies the point I’m making. It is God’s lovingkindness that is responsible for our salvation and, as David says in this verse, for our perseverance through this life and into the next. The lovingkindness of God guarantees eternal life because, once shown, it cannot be withdrawn. Therefore, the state in which the lovingkindness of God puts us continues forever.

We did not call ourselves from darkness into light; we do not sustain ourselves in this condition. It is all of God and all through His Son, our Savior, Jesus Christ. When the pressure of this world’s opposition bears down upon you or when you feel overpowered by your struggles to live according to the will of God, remember the “lovingkindness” of God. Refresh your heart with the knowledge of God’s all-encompassing grace. Take courage in the fact that God’s lovingkindness guarantees that you will persevere through all challenges so that your journey will end in His holy presence.

 

All Saints Weekly Devotional

Volume 1 Number 32

September 13, 2012

Empathy

From Pastor Bordwine

 

 

Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.

(Romans 12:15)

The apostle Paul addresses the concept of empathy on several occasions. For example in Second Corinthians 1, he relates how God had comforted him in his afflictions so that he might be able to extend comfort to others when they experienced affliction. The idea is that Paul would have a genuine empathy for anyone having to endure hardship. In the context of his remarks, Paul is thinking of those who would face persecution for the sake of the gospel. There are other passages, however, in which Paul appears to be speaking in a broader fashion.

In Romans 12, the apostle covers a number of issues and obligations for the edification of believers. Many of Paul’s commands in this chapter are easily applicable to life in general. One of the more interesting exhortations is the one quoted above: “Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.” In essence, Paul teaches that we should take note of and respond to the various experiences of those around us.

When someone is joyful, it is easy for us to join in the celebration and experience a measure of gladness ourselves. Paul does not stop with empathetic joy, however. He also includes our duty to “weep with those who weep.” When someone experiences a tragedy or is passing through some circumstance that causes them much distress, it is possible for us to sympathize with that person. While we cannot experience the exact measure of their grief, we can still comfort them, pray for them, and sometimes do something to lessen the burden of grief.

On Tuesday, Christopher Stevens, our country’s ambassador to Libya, was murdered during a well-planned attack by Islamists. I did not know Mr. Stevens, but I certainly was moved by the report of what happened to him and several others who were filling roles designed to help liberate the very people who carried out this attack. To get to the point, let me say that I immediately felt great empathy for the friends and family of these Americans. The only thing that I could do, in terms of a response, was pray for those who had lost loved ones. And so I did ask God to comfort them and give them peace in their time of mourning.

As noted, praying was the only response I could give, but that doesn’t mean my reaction was insignificant. On the contrary, I think God is pleased any time His people are touched by the suffering of others in this world. I think He is also pleased when we call upon Him to bring relief to those who are grieving. Most of us, at some point in our lives, have been on the receiving end of empathy. We have had people in our lives who came alongside us during a time of suffering and we were greatly comforted by this act and we definitely cherished their promises of intercession.

Empathy is, I believe, a godlike characteristic. This fact is established by the ministry of our Savior. Speaking of Christ, the writer of Hebrews states: “For since He Himself was tempted in that which He has suffered, He is able to come to the aid of those who are tempted.”(Heb. 2:18) The temptation of Jesus was genuine and, as we know, He maintained fidelity to the will and word of His Father. He does understand, therefore, the nature of temptation and is able to serve us as our empathetic high priest. As I said, responding to the troubles of others with words of comfort or prayer amounts to the imitation of Christ in His relationship with us.

The family of Christopher Stevens is experiencing deep and prolonged agony; the same is true for the families of the others who were killed. It is unlikely that any of us have a personal connection to these families, but we can still be of help to them through our prayers in which we seek the grace of God so that they may be blessed and He may be glorified. There are a multitude of issues and questions related to this attack on our embassy, but our primary obligation, I would maintain, is what I just described. Remembering how you were helped by the empathy shown to you in the past, I would urge you to pray for the friends and families just mentioned.