Obedience

Tuesday Devotional: Malachi 2

bible Read Malachi 2

Malachi 2:16 (NKJV, emphasis added)

 16 “For the Lord God of Israel says
That He hates divorce,
For it covers one’s garment with violence,”
Says the Lord of hosts.
“Therefore take heed to your spirit,
That you do not deal treacherously.”

 Malachi 2:16 (NIV)

 16 “The man who hates and divorces his wife,” says the Lord, the God of Israel, “does violence to the one he should protect,” says the Lord Almighty.

So be on your guard, and do not be unfaithful.

 Malachi 2:9

“…you have not followed my ways but have shown partiality in matters of the law.”

 Teachers, Pastors, Priests, Christians: you are to follow the commands and words of our Lord without partiality.  The words of God are being changed, being softened and manipulated to speak to us in a way we feel we ought to be spoken to.  Both versions of Malachi 2:16 proclaim that divorce is wrong.  If we are to place our hopes in the words of our Lord and Savior promising everlasting life and peace from our strife in this world we are to hear the words of our Lord and God as He has said them without partialityThe nature of sin is to question God’s words, contemplate His motives and intentions and conclude that God could never be that strict and that uptight about how we ought to live.  We are merely human, right?  But He means what He says.  His words are strict to our sinful ears because His ways are higher than our ways. He is Holy and we are not.  His words are as uptight as they sound because the way of Jesus is a narrow gate that few enter because of the costly sacrifice and complete denial of self that following Jesus into eternal fellowship with the Father requires.

2 Timothy 4:3-4

For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.

 Be shrewd as a serpent and gentle as a dove, Christian.  Our Heavenly Father demands that we be Holy as He is Holy.  The sin within us will always seek partiality concerning God’s Holy words.  It will always endeavor to weaken the sting of His rebuke in order to massage our weary soul from its burdensome struggle for Holy perfection and encourage us to seek the desires of our heart.  God is love, right?  And the gospel of Jesus is forgiveness and grace, right?  Yes on both counts.  But Jesus is still the narrow gate that came preaching repentance of sin and complete transformation in his image.  Holiness.  Righteousness.  Obedience to the Father.  Let the words of God sting you.  Let them stab you.  Let them cut you to the heart as a double-edged sword.  Protect and cultivate a relationship with our Lord that welcomes the sting of Holiness and the demands of it on our life.  The sting of God’s Holy words and the self-sacrifice of our sinfulness for the sake of the Gospel of Jesus is nothing compared to the sting of eternal separation from God that Jesus came to save us from.

 

 

Tuesday Devotional: Obadiah 1:15

bibleObadiah 15

As you have done, it will be done to you; your deeds will return upon your own head.

The judgment of God has been a stumbling block for many people.  Many people never make it to the cross of Christ before turning back at the sight of a God who judges.  We prefer a God who supports us, encourages us, forgives us, loves us and provides for us.  Not a God who will judge us.  We perceive His judgment to be unfair or unnecessary.  We believe that to be a good person and to love your neighbor as yourself is the answer to the ills of humanity and the suffering of this world.

But why hasn’t this approach worked?  Have we reduced suffering in this world?  Why is the golden rule truly not sufficient for the world we live in?  The answer is sin.  Sin is not a comfortable word, but in the context of human history, it is the most sufficient explanation for the trajectory of our world’s suffering and pain.

Within us is a desire to be the judge but not to be judged.  Therefore, due to our innate sinfulness, God has no need to judge us according to His standard of holiness.  With our overconfidence in our own authority and righteousness, God simply lets our own standard be the standard we are ultimately judged by.  Every time we think that someone ought to do this or that.  Every time we think that someone should have done this or that.  Every time we make private proclamations to ourselves that we will never do what he or she did.  In these moments we construct our grading scale. This is not a new perspective on God’s judgment.  This is verse 15!  These are God’s words.  When left with this prospect of judgment, what we see is not a God that upholds a standard too high for humanity to reach, but individual men and women with such an inflated view of their own perfection and such a limited ability to exercise grace and forgiveness that none can stand to be judged according to their own standards.

According to verse 15 and an honest reflection of the self we are truly in need of a savior.  We have failed to maintain our standard of righteousness from the very beginning, and we will never successfully uphold it.  Never.  We need a mediator.  We need someone perfect.  We need someone to go before us and plead our case.  Verse 15 has nothing to do with people doing Christian things or not doing Christian things.  Verse 15 has everything to do with people.  It has everything to with the human heart.  It has everything to with our collective sin.  We are all guilty of judging those we have no right to judge.  The perfect God has always had the right and authority to judge an imperfect creation.  We are nowhere as good as we think we are, and God is so much more perfect than we think He is.  How hard is it for you to forgive someone who lied to you?  Just one.  How many more times has God been lied to by His own children?  And is the end now?  No.  Verse 15 says, it is near.  He has waited and waited and waited for us to turn from our diluted state of self-glorification back to His holiness and perfection, as the only means for us to survive our own judgment.  God is not the one with a short fuse and a readiness to judge.  We are.  God is not the one that established unrealistic standards for others to abide by while never consistently abiding in the standards Himself.  We are.  The judgment of God is terrifying, but nowhere near as terrifying as our own.

 

Tuesday Devotional: Judges 17

bible

Read Judges 17

6In those days Israel had no King; everyone did as he saw fit.

What do you do when there is no King?  At first, the absence of a King seems like a gift, a sigh of relief.  No King means no rules.  No King means freedom to do as you please, as you see fit.  However, as the rush of excitement in the face of total freedom to have our own way wears off we’re faced with the reality that we are unprepared, ill-equipped to lead ourselves, and we begin to scramble and guess our way toward what we view as success.

Micah’s mother wanted an object.

 We all have a thing, an object that we either believe will give us peace once we’ve obtained it or gives us peace as long as we retain it.  To some it’s money.  To some it’s education.  To some it’s clothes.  To some it’s a house.  The list goes on and on. Take a second and find yours.  We all have one.  Most of us have many.  Due to our human natures and more importantly our sinful natures we rely on our physical eyes to see and not the spiritual eyes that God, the true King, has promised us.  The promises of God are amazing but, like Jesus, they are in this world, not of this world.  The true gifts that Christ has lavished on us are intangible.  They are not necessarily around us, but are found within us, waiting for us, guaranteed to us in Heaven.  Unfortunately, if we see nothing, most of us believe in nothing.  So as great as those intangible gifts are, we’d simply rather have a thing that we know will make us feel good, no matter how temporary the satisfaction, even if we know full well that our emptiness will soon return and we’ll need a new thing to bring us back our peace.

The Levite wanted a place.

In each of our minds there is a vision of a place that is perfectly made for us.  It’s a place that needs us where we are important and highly valued.  Throughout life we often move from place to place searching for this picture, our place.  In some places we get close, but it’s not quite what we were looking for.  Without a King leading us into our purpose or position in a specific place, we are left to the process of trial and error and are ultimately disappointed in the outcome.  In the same way that our eyes deceive us, our imagination leads us astray.  We strive year after year investing time, money and energy along our vision quest to arrive and we never do.  Somehow, some of us manage to arrive, and soon realize that what we found looked different than what we had imagined. We regret.  Some of us have announced our purpose and destination over and over to the people we know that to admit that we are misplaced is to admit defeat, or look stupid or be wrong, so we fake it until we make it.  Sometimes we force ourselves into a place or a purpose that not only isn’t good for us but could be a detriment to the people around us.  Without the wisdom and guidance of a true King, we evaluate and determine far more than we are made to.

We do our best. God is greater than our disobedience and by His grace there is mercy for our mistakes, but the fact remains that determining our own purpose and place for ourselves always leaves the door open for sin to spread and our distance from God to increase.  While we may feel like we’ve arrived, until the King declares us found, we are still lost.

Micah wanted righteousness.

Why do you go to church?  Why do you read your Bible?  Why are you reading this devotional?  Is it helping you to understand the greatness of the living God?  Is it helping you to understand our sin nature or our need for Christ?  I truly hope so.  Unfortunately, for many people, including myself for many years, the answer to the previous questions would most likely be, “It makes me feel good.”  It makes me feel good because it means that I’m doing what I’m supposed to.  It makes me feel good because it means that I’m doing extra.  It makes me feel good because it makes me feel superior to the people I know that don’t.  As much as we desire an object and a purpose or place to give us value, we also desire to “be good”.  But in the words of Jesus, “…what is good?”  The word “good” is relative. Without a King to define the word for us we are left to define “good” for ourselves.  For many people our goodness is goodness by way of osmosis or by association.  In other words, even though we know that we’re not always doing the right thing, as long as we surround ourselves with things or people that do more good than we do, in turn our goodness increases.  This spirit is rampant in religion.  This IS religion.  Religion is, “I do and therefore I am.”  The gospel and the central message of the Bible is, “God is and therefore I do.”  No matter how many things we do and where we position ourselves we will always fall short of pure goodness or righteousness.  Falling short either makes us feel useless or makes us feel self-righteous.  Neither of these outcomes is the desire of the true King.  God pleads with us to admit that we do not know what we need, where to go, who we are and how to be good.  His response to our helplessness is mercy and truth.  Jesus says, “Come and see.”  Jesus says, “Follow me.”  When we turn to the true King we find what we’ve been looking for. We discover what the living God is willing and able to do and what he deems possible.

Tuesday Devotional: 1 John 5

Read 1 John 5:1-12bible

If we desire change, we must introduce something that has the power to create change.  If we desire a radical change, we must introduce something that has radical power.  We face extreme troubles with insufficient resources, and we desire a change in our limited ability to ultimately overcome and find success. In order to create a change in our limited human ability to overcome the daily trials of this world, we must introduce something so radically powerful and real to give us any hope that the change is possible.  This new agent for change must be more extreme than the obstacles we face if success is possible.

To commit to this process and to hope in this change requires great trust and confidence.  Jesus Christ claims the power to produce the change necessary for overcoming the challenges of this world and providing us with a hope beyond them.  If we approach these promises with anything less than complete submission to their power and reality, we should not be surprised when our progress in this life remains limited by what we try to overcome.  There is no complete healing without complete submission to the healing agent.  If we cannot or will not take the promises of Jesus seriously then we must not seriously hope that we can ultimately be healed.  If we cannot submit to the reality of Jesus Christ’s life on Earth and continued presence in the form of the Holy Spirit, then we must submit to the fact that our problems will remain.

Faith in Jesus Christ is all encompassing.  There is no halfway.  There is no 50 percent.  Faith in Jesus Christ establishes truths that must be foundational, never decorative or supplemental.  These truths include complete submission to his life and death on the cross, complete submission to his resurrection and life in our present age through the Holy Spirit, complete submission to the regenerative power of the Holy Spirit to transform us from sin and self-indulgence to righteous passion and service in the likeness of Jesus Christ.  These truths must be held if the obstacles they promise to overcome shall be in fact overcome. Pretending to take medicine will only result in pretending to be healed.

Tuesday Devotional: James 2

bibleRead James 2:1-18

Submission is at the heart of obedience.  And contrary to popular belief, obedience does not limit or confine, as much as it potentially liberates.  The difference between an obedience that oppresses and an obedience that liberates is in the will of the one who obeys.  If the obedience is ultimately for the sole benefit of the leader at the expense of the one obeying, this obedience will only benefit one party.  If the obedience is for the greater good of the whole and both parties benefit from the obedience, then the obedience can be a means to liberate rather than imprison.  Everything about the life of a Christian revolves around this state of complete submission.  There is no life or union with Christ if there is no submission.  Along the road of discipleship exists only one shepherd with one voice, and the sheep that follow after and listen for that voice have only one choice once they hear it: submit to his authority, and follow. 

This, however, is not a submission or obedience that empowers the one giving directions, while burdening the one following.  The purpose of submission to the authority of God’s voice, spirit and will is his pure desire to free us from ourselves.  Left to our own devices we will recklessly and carelessly destroy everything that surrounds us.  Our human nature is not bent to serve others with the fervor with which we daily desire to serve ourselves.  The human heart has a tendency to overlook more far-reaching implications and consequences of our own actions in trade for more immediate gratification.  We are a horribly near-sighted and forgetful creation.  We learn and then we forget the lesson.  We hear and then forget what we heard.  We follow and then forget why we were following and whom we were following in the first place.

Along with all of this, we are predictably unstable.  We stand firm and then we collapse.  We know for certain and then question everything at hand.  In the presence of God’s word and the life given us in Jesus Christ, being in a state of near-sightedness, forgetfulness or instability is impossible.  The life renewed in Jesus Christ is the opposite of all of those things.  When we allow the words of Christ to enter into our lives, and when we completely submit to him, we are made aware of certain truths that are immovable and unshakable.  When wandering makes our direction unclear, our God leads us through the desert as a pillar of fire and a cloud of smoke that is unmistakable and undeniable.

In these moments the reality of his presence in the desert of our confusion must not be taken lightly or overlooked.  The only way to miss the pillar or the cloud is if we choose to look another way or close our eyes.  Otherwise, it is there, it is real and it directs us where to go.  In times where we are tempted and our flesh prompts us to act as our old life would desire us to, the transforming power of the Spirit must receive our complete submission to turn from our old self and press forward, both with the spirit of Christ and the faith that the impossible transformation is complete in Jesus Christ.  In times of blessing, where we are overwhelmed with peace and joy in our lives, we must never forget that before we were, God already was.  We must never forget that it was his authority over creation that willed us into existence, and all of the blessings that we enjoy had their beginnings far before we ever knew we desired them.  We have been given simply because the authority of the Lord has willed us into a position to receive.  The submission and obedience required by God’s authority is not to establish a hierarchy for the sake of hierarchy.  He desires that we submit to him because if we submit to anything else, we will lose, and lose everything.  He is our protector and provider.  Submitting to his will results in our protection and provision forever, by the only one who has the means to provide what we need.

 

Serving the King: Suffering

Many characteristics may define a Christian life.  Many things may be signs that someone truly lives their faith in correspondence with the Gospel.  In this reflection series, we’ll explore how different Scriptures emphasize service as a defining character trait of the Christian.

Service can be defined as what you do for something or someone.  But in the Gospel context, service is much larger than that.  Service, according to the teaching of Jesus, is a way of life.  More than an aspect Christian character, it IS Christian character.  In these reflections, we’ll discover five elements of service that please God.

Serving with Suffering (Isaiah 53)

In the first section, in 1 Samuel 15, we met Israel’s first king: Saul, a king with human tendencies and human abilities.  Saul demonstrates so well the potential of the human heart to fall victim to power, success, temptation and glory.  In this section we will read one of the most powerfully prophetic scriptures about the Messiah, Jesus Christ.  Isaiah 53 shows another sort of king, a “suffering servant” who is the complete opposite of Saul.  This individual, innocent of sin, is the most glorious and most praiseworthy figure in history, yet received nothing but suffering, disgrace and shame in his mission to save the world.

The Bible can be difficult to digest because it is an ancient text, but it also can be difficult because of what it demands of us.  The Bible and, more specifically, the teachings of Jesus Christ, establish a bar of behavior that is intimidating at best.  Christians are called into a life of service that no human being could ever live up to. Jesus Christ’s depiction of true Christian character seems superhuman and impossibly unrealistic.

Unfortunately, many Christians and non-Christians leave the expectations and frustrations there.  They see expectations and demands and never move beyond the daunting realities that those demands present.  But this mistake can be resolved if we understand Isaiah 53.  In the Gospels we don’t encounter a list of demands and orders from a distant and judgmental deity.  Rather, we meet Jesus.  The suffering servant came into our world and lived alongside us in order to model a way of life so that we could follow him and not simply the commands.  Jesus never preached orders.  On the contrary, Jesus preached repentance, change not to harm us but change that can free us.  Jesus announced “good news,” not “new rules.”

Jesus preached himself because only in him can we truly live the way he expects us to.  He is the savior of Isaiah 53 who did far more than we will ever be expected to do, simply so that we wouldn’t have to.  In Jesus we have a God that suffered, felt pain, and understands us completely.

Why did Jesus choose to come into the world? The question can be confusing.  If we view his life as a platform by which to give orders and make demands, then his sacrifice and the way he lived falls out of order and lacks purpose or rationality.  For thousands of years God spoke through the prophets, like Isaiah, to deliver important messages to his people.  Therefore, what necessity would there be to send someone as valuable as his son to do the same job?  However, if we think about the life of Jesus as he himself proclaimed, his purpose begins to fall into place.  The mission of Jesus Christ was not only to save his children, but to be with them and love them by living alongside them, and finally, by dying for all of them.

In our social lives, the people that we are closest to are typically people who share the most in common with us.  We are drawn to these people; we depend on and trust them.  Therefore, knowing our hearts, God knew that the only way to reach us was to be a “God with us.”  He came as a servant to show us that he was willing to serve in a way we could never serve.  Only through the reception of his life and service as a free gift, undeserving and unearned, will we find the ability to live the life that he desires for us.  Jesus Christ came into our world to serve us with only God’s approval in mind.  Through the life of Jesus we see that God understands us: our trials, our sorrows, our tribulations. Not only has he experienced them all himself, but he can truthfully say that he was tested beyond anything we can possibly compare with.  Lack of understanding and empathy does not emanate from a God who demands too much from us without knowing us.  The lack of understanding is ours, directed toward Jesus, who gave more for us than we could ever give him in return.  He suffered in ways we never will be required to.

Jesus was the teacher of all teachers for many reasons, but one of his most powerful qualities was his ability to lead by example.  He led us into salvation by his example.  All that is left for us is to do is be moved by his life and begin to follow in his footsteps one step at a time.

Serving the King: Obedience

Many characteristics may define a Christian life.  Many things may be signs that someone truly lives their faith in correspondence with the Gospel.  In this reflection series, we’ll explore how different Scriptures emphasize service as a defining character trait of the Christian.

Service can be defined as what you do for something or someone.  But in the Gospel context, service is much larger than that.  Service, according to the teaching of Jesus, is a way of life.  More than an aspect Christian character, it IS Christian character.  For the next five weeks we’ll discover five elements of service that please God.

  • Serving with Obedience
  • Serving with Strength
  • Serving with Suffering
  • Serving with Priorities
  • Serving with Change

 

Serving with Obedience (1 Samuel 15)

In 1 Samuel 15, we are plunged into the moment of no return for Saul, the newly anointed first King of Israel, and his relationship with God.  After Israel demanded a King of their own in place of God, God granted their request and gave them Saul.  Although he began his reign over Israel as a humble-hearted servant, Saul’s character began to change with success and popularity.  As is the case with many of us, Christian or not, the moment we see more of ourselves we see less of everything else.  This is where we find Saul as we enter into Chapter 15.

However, at this point we can’t be too critical of Saul.  Saul still believed that he was doing God’s work and acting in a way pleasing to God.  In the passage, God had given Saul direct orders to deal with the Amalekites completely and conclusively.  With zeal and strength in the Lord, Saul overpowered them with ease and was left with the choice: to see his orders out to the end or to compromise God’s will to pursue his own.  Unfortunately Saul made the same mistake that we often do. He compromised God’s true will in order to follow his own interests and desires.

God ordered Saul to eliminate the Amalekites completely. Although Saul defeated them on the battlefield, his priorities after the fight changed once he let his heart and the people around him influence his decision-making.  As the battle came to a close, Saul had the king of the Amalekites, King Agag, alive and potentially useful for a ransom reward.  Saul also found himself with an impressive financial and material bounty taken from the Amalekites.  As Saul began to listen more to the desires in his own heart, the voice of God faded ever further into the background.  Saul concluded that God would not think critically of his decision to do what he truly desired as long as God’s command was at least partially obeyed.  To Saul, there was large-scale sin and small-scale sin and God would naturally view his as that of the smallest order.  After all, he did defeat the people God ordered him to.  Would God be so displeased if he took a little reward for himself on a part of his dutiful “service” and “obedience?”

Samuel, the prophet who was God’s messenger during Saul’s ruling years, entered the scene as Saul was carrying out these sacrifices.  Noticing Saul’s blatant disobedience, Samuel began to rebuke Saul for his actions.   At this point it is far too easy for us to judge Saul’s actions, shocked that someone could disregard the commands of God in such a manner.  However, as we read this passage in front of the mirror, Saul’s actions following Samuel’s initial rebuke has a lot in common with us.  Saul begins to make excuses as to why he did not do everything God had demanded.  To this Samuel has a powerful, one-word response.  STOP.

As Christians who actively work in the church, or even as Christians who are living our days under the banner of Christ, there are often times when we clearly are aware of what we are supposed to do, yet we hesitate.  For whatever reason, we doubt either our initial calling or the necessity to follow that calling to the exact specifications.  In other words, we all face moments when we want to do one thing and God wants us to do another.

It is never easy to follow a path that seems lead nowhere, or lack a purpose and direction.  However, as Christians, there must be a deeper motivation to our service.  Our service can never be about knowing the destination ahead of time, or the easiest way to get there.  As Christians and God’s children, we must follow and obey because we are aware that the One handing out the orders has our best interests in mind and deserves our service.  The moment we begin to stray from our orders is the moment that we have either lost trust in God’s ability to know how to do something, or lack the faith that he knows how to get us somewhere.  Either way, straying from the will or plans of God shows complete lack of respect.  We are prideful beings who like control and only God can heal this sickness in us.

It’s important to remember that all along Saul thought God would understand and be pleased with his actions.  Saul is not sinning in the pursuit of unrighteousness.  He is under the impression that God’s righteousness can find harmony or balance with our own personal desires.  What we learn from Saul is that, as much as we have been programmed to repent of our sins and all of our unrighteousness, we as Christians need to be ever aware of sins done out of righteousness and “good deeds.”  The one thing that Saul never says is, “I’m sorry,” or “I was wrong.”  He could not believe that God disregarded his efforts and achievements.  How could an obedient servant be criticized for such a trivial deviation from the original objective?

As we carry out duties within the church and society we must always be aware of why we are doing the things we do for God, and if we are serving to be obedient to God or to our own hearts.  In other words, do we obey out of a love for God?  Or do we obey out of a love for ourselves?  As Christians, although our dependence on sin will fade over time, as we are reborn in spirit we must be aware of the never-ending presence of sin in our lives.  Sinful desires can be overcome, but sin will never disappear as long as we are alive.  In Jesus Christ, God is with us, but because of the fall, so is sin.  Even as we go to church on Sunday and serve, even as we share the word of God, we must never forget that none is good but God.  The only “good” person has ransomed us out of our imperfection.  It takes the realization of God’s saving grace through the work of Jesus Christ to find true motivation to serve with natural, genuine obedience to God alone.  We ultimately find the motivation to “be good” only because he is perfect.  Jesus calls us to be servants, not out of the promise of riches or rewards, but out of a desire to be one with him through our sacrifice in the name of obedience.