Monthly Archives: March 2014

God Is Not Your Fairy Godmother — Part 2

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Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us have grace, by which we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear.  For our God is a consuming fire. (Heb. 12:28-29)

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In in the first part of this post I mentioned God’s wrath and talked a bit about the importance of being sons of obedience versus sons of disobedience.  Let’s look at those concepts more closely.

pressure gaugeAccording to the book of Ephesians we once were slaves to Satan, “the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience” (2:2); and we “were by nature children of wrath, just as the others” (v. 3).  When we think of God’s wrath, we often picture it as something that we incur by sinning.  Most people maintain a “fairy godmother” view of God even when they don’t obey; they don’t want to believe that a God who is Love (1 John 4:8) could possibly be wrathful.

However, God’s wrath exists not because of our nature but because of His nature; His wrath must be present as the validation of His righteous justice.  He does not have a “wrath gauge” that starts at “zero” and increases as we sin, waiting to erupt violently when the the full limit is reached.  We all were once sons of disobedience because “through [Adam] sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned” (Rom. 5:12).  As the very definition of holiness, God must uphold the warning He gave to Adam and Eve in the garden that disobedience would be punished by death (Gen. 2:16-17).  Thus, His wrath existed before the creation of the world; it is part of who He is.

But here is the best part: God’s wrath does not merely prove His righteousness and justice; God’s wrath proves His goodness.  His wrath is not an evil thing.  Consider it.  If He displayed no wrath to the disobedient, how could we trust that He has our highest interests in mind and that His ways are best when we live in this broken world?  Without the existence of His wrath, His mercy would be meaningless.  Without the existence of His wrath, there would be no benefit in following Him over following the lusts of our flesh because good men could not receive His favor and wicked men would not receive His condemnation (Pro. 12:2).  Without the existence of His wrath, we would need to take the task of vengeance upon ourselves instead of “giving place to [God’s] wrath” (Rom. 12:19).  Without the existence of His wrath, we could not have faith that good will triumph over evil and that Christ will be fully revealed to reign victorious over the entirety of His creation.  Take a look at these verses, one from the Old Testament and one from the New:

earthen-vessel“The Lord has made all for Himself, yes even the wicked for the day of doom.” (Pro. 16:4)

 “What if God, wanting to show His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, and that He might make known the riches of His glory on the vessels of mercy, which He had prepared beforehand for glory[?]” (Rom. 9:22-23)

These are heavy words, but what they mean is that without God’s wrath, there would be no such thing as blessing or mercy.  God, in the mystery of His eternal and infinite wisdom, planned before the foundations of the earth were laid, to display His goodness to humankind, the prize of His creation.

As “children of wrath” (Eph. 2:3), our inheritance was wrath.  Thus, before we were saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, we were partakers of God’s wrath, but now by the power of Jesus’ blood we have become partakers of God’s gracious and merciful favor, having been chosen by God to receive adoption as His children (Eph. 1:5).  Now, though we were once “sons of disobedience,” we have been made sons of obedience.

 “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.  Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him.  (Rom. 5:8-9)

We now know what exactly we saved been saved from, but what have we been saved for as sons of obedience?  If wrath is no longer our inheritance, what is our inheritance?

We’ll look at the answer in the last part of this post.

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God Is Not Your Fairy Godmother — Part 1

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Sleeping Beauty fairiesPeople often treat God like He is some sort of “good fairy,” sprinkling His “fairy dust” of blessing upon us if we obey and withholding it if we don’t.  But that is a wrong view of the importance of obedience, the wrath of God, and the goodness of God.

Because the Bible is really always the best place to start, let’s first look at the lives of people in Scripture to find out why obedience is so important.

By God’s word to Abraham the Israelites were promised their land long before they received it – that is why it was the “Promised Land.”  Their inheritance was already in place, their destinies mapped out according to God’s plan, but there was one requirement they had to fulfill in order to walk in the good things God already had in store for them: they had to obey.  Of course, we see how this works out: they end up wandering in the desert for forty years while the disobedient, unbelieving generation dies out and a new generation is raised up to inherit through obedience all the promises of God.

‘For we have become partakers of Christ if we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast to the end, while it is said: “Today, if you will hear His voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.”  For who, having heard, rebelled?  Indeed, was it not all who came out of Egypt, led by Moses?  Now with whom was [God] angry for forty years?  Was it not with those who had sinned, whose corpses fell in the wilderness?  And to whom did He swear that they would not enter His rest, but to those who did not obey?  So we see that they could not enter in because of unbelief.’ (Heb. 3:14-19)

Do you understand what happened to the Israelites?  They did not enter into their inheritance because they did not have enough faith to walk in obedience.  Today most of us don’t have a specific piece of land that we have been promised as our inheritance – indeed the whole concept of inheritance may seem rather foreign – but as God’s children we each become heirs of the good things God has planned for us.  Like the Israelites, however, we in our foolishness tend to choose disobedience, rejecting the gifts we have been freely offered and causing ourselves to fall under God’s wrath.

The example of Saul could possibly be even more heart-wrenching.  The nation of Israel wanted a human king, so God did as they asked, though He warned them of the long-term consequences of their choice (1 Sam. 8).  Saul was Israel’s first king, and he ended up making some choices that had dire results.  However, though we may talk about Saul as being a poor king, Saul was the man God chose to reign over Israel (1 Sam. 9:15).  This is where the whole idea of “predestination” comes into play.  It is a rather intimidating word, and there is much conflict in the Church over whether we are “predestined” or have “free choice.”  I do not pretend to understand it all, as even Paul said in Romans that he didn’t comprehend all of the matter, but I would like to offer a couple thoughts.  Numerous passages of Scripture make it clear that God predestines us for certain things – Romans 9 being the major one – but at the same time we were created for freedom, freedom to choose.  We should not think of this as freedom to do whatever we please but rather as freedom to choose what is right.  We are always free to choose obedience. 

The man who obeyed received the kingdom.

The man who obeyed received the kingdom.

Though Saul could have chosen obedience, he chose disobedience.  Because God knows all things He knew what Saul would ultimately choose, but out of love He still gave Saul the chance to do the right thing and obey.  To the Israelite nation God said, ‘“If you fear the Lord and serve Him and obey His voice, and do not rebel against the commandment of the Lord, then both you and the king who reigns over you will continue following the Lord your God.  However, if you do not obey…but rebel…then the hand of the Lord will be against you”’ (1 Sam. 12:14-15).  Obviously the people didn’t take this warning very seriously because the chapter after God issued it we find Saul violating God’s commands and the people allowing him to do so!   God so deeply longed to bless Saul, and Saul cast aside God’s good plans for the momentary ease of disobedience.  After this account, Samuel voices the great sorrow of the Father’s heart: God wanted to establish Saul’s kingdom forever but now could not because of his disobedience.  Instead ‘“the Lord sought for Himself a man after His own heart”” (1 Sam. 13:14).  This man was David, a man who was not perfect and made mistakes but nevertheless earnestly desired to walk in obedience to God – he was a son of obedience.

Continuing Saul’s story from 1 Samuel, after Saul attempted to make up for his unlawful keeping of enemy livestock by saying he was going to sacrifice them to the Lord, the prophet Samuel told Saul, ‘“….To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams”’ (v. 22).  Saul then begged Samuel, “…[F]orgive my sin and come back with me, so that I may worship the Lord” (v. 25).  Samuel, however, upheld God’s word of judgment that Saul was no longer God’s chosen king for Israel.  It was not that Saul made a poor choice so God decided to take away his blessings; it was that Saul had already determined in his heart to disobey God and so was no longer able to take part in the good plans God had for him. Like the Israelites and Saul, we often are sorry after we disobey when we really should have just obeyed in the first place.  We are quick to do wrong but slow to accept unfavorable outcomes, at which point we express our regret in hopes of avoiding the consequences of our actions.

Growing up, whenever I disobeyed and then tried to display my true remorse, my daddy always told me, “I do not want you to be sorry; I want you to obey.”  (Think of this in light of my story about running into the road; there wouldn’t have even been a chance to be “sorry” had I not obeyed.)  Out of love, then, my parents had to discipline me for wrongdoing; and God must do the same thing, for when there are no consequences, we are wont to continue sinning once the initial remorse or fear of punishment wears off.  Hebrews 12:1-13 makes it very clear that “God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness” (v. 10) and that this discipline will result in “a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it” (v. 11).

I can truthfully say that obedience saved my life.  One Sunday afternoon when I was twenty months old (yes, months) I ran into the middle of Burton, which, if you don’t live in West Michigan, is a very busy street.  My daddy shouted, “Sabra, stop!”  And what did I do?  I stopped, because I was taught to always obey Daddy.  I stood there in the exact center of the road, completely still as traffic rushed heedlessly by, until my daddy could stop the cars and come out to get me.

I had to learn obedience through discipline and correction; but had my parents not taught me that, I would not be alive today.  I had to learn obedience as a daughter of my earthly parents, and I must do the same with my heavenly Father.  Even Jesus, “though He was a Son, yet He learned obedience by the things which He suffered” (Heb. 5:8).  Does that ruffle your theology a bit?  It still amazes me that Jesus had to learn obedience.

As fully adopted children of God the Father, we have the privilege of sharing in the discipline even as we share in the inheritance.

Going back to Hebrews 12, we read, ‘“For whom the Lord loves He chastens, and scourges every son whom He receives.”  If you endure chastening, God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom a father does not chasten?  But if you are without chastening, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate and not sons’ (v. 6-8; emphasis mine).  This means that if we don’t receive God’s correction unto obedience, we don’t belong to the household of God.  Illegitimacy cares with it the stigma of not belonging, of not being equal to the true children.  Without obedience there can be no belonging.

The importance of obedience, then, is firmly rooted in this intricate mingling of the discipline and the inheritance.  The problem, however, lies in the fact that most people don’t really have a desire to obey God – and I am talking about Christians here!  Now that we have that established, I am sure you want to know what the consequences of disobedience might be: what’s the big deal with disobedience?  Isn’t it just our free choice?

More accurately we should be asking this question:

If we don’t obey, do we have any inheritance from God?

The next part of this post will explore the answer.

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Crack In the Wall

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I fully admit to being a sci-fi nut.  I was raised on Star Trek: The Next Generation and the classic Doctor Who TV series.  One of my family’s favorite activities is watching shows together and, as we do so, picking out interesting ideas and bits of wisdom for discussion.  We were watching the new Doctor Who series by BBC (at which point I must also admit to being a BBC nut), and something really stood out to me.

At the opening of season six, the Doctor (who, if you don’t know who he is, happens to be the most epic, time-traveling, world-saving, ingenious alien-guy ever) went to the house of a young girl named Amy Pond.  Now, little Amy had a crack in her wall – a scary crack.  It was no ordinary crack; it was a crack in the fabric of reality itself.  It had been there for a long time, and it always made Amy afraid.  As the years went by, the crack widened and deepened.  Amy tried so hard not to notice it, not to think about it.  But this displayed something valuable: brokenness left unchecked only perpetuates more brokenness; simply ignoring brokenness does not bring healing.

The Doctor and the crack in the wall

The Doctor and the crack in the wall

Sometimes our lives look a lot like little Amy’s wall – cracked.  We can ignore the cracks for a while, trying to cover them up or keep them on the periphery, but eventually they will cause problems.  As the years pass the cracks widen and deepen and we numb ourselves to the ongoing effects of our own broken places in an effort to avoid the pain.  Yet our puny efforts to escape reality are futile, for it is the very structure of our reality — our lives, our hearts — has sustained damage.  Unfortunately, we often try so hard to not look directly at our cracks that we can’t always see them for the brokenness that they represent.  Then others come near us they ask, “What is that crack doing on your wall?”  We never know quite how to answer because the crack has been there so long; we have grown used to living with the fear of having others seeing our “cracks” or perhaps even just with the fear of actually acknowledging our own brokenness.  But the question is, are we willing to receive help?  Are we looking for Someone with the power to save us?

Amy: Are you a policeman?

The Doctor: Why? Did you call a policeman?

Amy: Did you come about the crack in my wall?

The Doctor: ….The crack in your wall, does it scare you?

Amy: Yes.

The Doctor: Well then, no time to lose. I’m the Doctor. Do everything I tell you, don’t ask stupid questions, and don’t wander off.

crack in the wallYou see, sometimes we, like Amy, are looking to lesser authorities when the greatest Authority is before us, ready and waiting for us to become so desperate that we rely on Him completely.  Brokenness is not okay; fear is not okay.  Jesus died to take those things away from us.  He purchased them with His blood, so they really don’t belong to us anymore, though we often cling to them because we simply don’t know what else to do.

So I ask you: Are there “cracks” in your “wall” that are incapacitating you?  Cracks that fill you with fear?  Cracks that seem to ooze bad things into your life?  There is good news – our Doctor is here to make us whole.  His name is Jesus, and nobody can heal brokenness like He can.

‘”The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me,
Because He has anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor;
He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted,
To proclaim liberty to the captives
And recovery of sight to the blind,
To set at liberty those who are oppressed;
To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.”‘
— the words of Jesus in Luke 4:18-19 (emphasis mine)

No longer do we need to walk wounded, shoring up the cracks in our “walls” and trying to ignore the brokenness.  There is no better time to claim Christ’s freedom and healing in your life than right now.