The Difficulty in Obedience

In the past month, our student ministry has studied the first three Psalms. We went a little out of order by studying Psalm 3 before the first two, but often I’ve found that God uses His Word and the randomness of my mind to go through some awesome studies with our students. In conjunction with our pastor teaching through the “Becoming a Contagious Christian” study, the first three psalms have been an awesome springboard into equipping our students for taking the gospel to their friends. I’m so grateful for God’s Word and His providence in so many different ways in our lives. All three psalms contain such a similar focus that encourages us to look to God for our all. The choice is presented clearly for us to make, the result of choosing unwisely is described, and the encouragement to seek refuge in our Almighty God is exemplified by David.

We are constantly surrounded by choices, all day er’day, as some of my students like to say (and I have been known to mutter). Psalm 1 presents us with two choices that we have to make. Psalm 2 shows us how nations and leaders tend to think when God is removed from the guiding hand. Psalm 3 shows a king running for his life from his own son’s desire for power. In all three psalms, the choice was available to go with what is easy (Psalm 1), accepted culturally (Psalm 2), and to completely shut down in fear (Psalm 3). Being obedient means making the really frustratingly tough choice sometimes, and in each of these first three psalms the choice seems pretty clear to make. The fact of the matter though, is that the choice can be incredibly hard. We’ll look at why each choice is hard to make, and where we can find encouragement in the midst of the decision making process.

[cryout-pullquote align=”left|center|right” textalign=”left|center|right” width=”33%”]Jesus doesn’t stress us following a checklist to stay out of hell, He stresses a relationship with a loving, heavenly Father.[/cryout-pullquote]When it comes to our day to day choices, nothing gets us more discouraged than when our choices may mean we might lose some friends. Peer pressure in the form of losing compadres has been, in my experience, the leading cause of students and even adults to fall back into a life of disobedience. Let me clarify again that obedience to God is not obeying to avoid punishment to the Christian. Jesus doesn’t stress us following a checklist to stay out of hell, He stresses a relationship with a loving, heavenly Father. In Psalm 1, we see the result of choosing the temporary, easy way of living. When we live this way and forgo following Jesus, we cannot claim allegiance to Him. James addresses this very topic in James 3:9-12. In the study of “Becoming a Contagious Christian,” the statement of our lives being a sermon to the world brought about a change in perspective for me. Was/Am I preaching a consistent and authentic sermon with my life? Are the words that I speak matching up to the actions that I take part in? This is where the difficulty comes in for the personal choice, is the sacrifice worth the reward? In my life, I’ve found that the reward is more than worth the sacrifice that may come as a result of that choice. This is because I have the hope and joy in Christ because of my relationship with Jesus. Without that relationship, the struggle can, and usually  will, be almost impossible to make. When I see my students and peers struggling with what choice to make, I try to encourage them to spend time in prayer and seek Godly counsel and wisdom before making a choice. Sometimes that advice is heeded, others it is not. My constant prayer is that our students, peers, and I will make a decision to honor God over self.

Psalm 2 addresses the nations and leaders dishonoring God and basically saying He is “cramping their style.” We see the result of this as well, and it is not pretty. We also see that our nation, along with many other nations are taking a cultural road away from God’s design. God laid out what His expectations for life were, and our world has deemed it to be a restrictive way to live and shunned the wisdom behind those standards. The result of this has been, from the beginning of humanity, death and destruction. Our desire to be our own god has led to nothing but misery. There may be temporary happiness and satisfaction tied into living for ourselves, but there is no true joy present. The feeling of satisfaction doesn’t happen until we’ve relinquished control of our lives and chosen obedience to Jesus. Until leaders of a nation turn back to Christ for guidance, there will be no return to morality in a government. Before leaders of a nation turn back to God for guidance, the people in that nation need to get on their knees and seek God on behalf of those leaders. Not that we will change their minds, but that the Holy Spirit will work on the hearts of those who are in authority over us. No matter how much we don’t like a political party or individual, we are subject to their leadership because our fellow citizens elected them, and that leadership needs to be bathed in prayer! So many of my fellow Christians spend so much time criticizing and bashing the leaders they “don’t approve of” that they seem to forget that these men and women are in need of a Savior just as much as they themselves are. There are certainly stinkers in every single political party and corner of national leadership, and that should motivate us to pray for them instead of attacking them! Take heart, friends, the Lord can do amazing works in and through anyone! Even if our country doesn’t turn back to God for guidance, we still retain that hope and certainty that our relationship with Jesus brings!

Psalm 3 addresses David fleeing from his own son! Some of us have been betrayed, and it is an absolutely heart and gut wrenching feeling. How many of us, though, can say that our lives were legitimately threatened by our own flesh and blood? Some can certainly say that, but the majority of us, I’m guessing, cannot. In the face of absolute terror from his own son, David didn’t turn to alcohol, women, gambling or any of these other distractions that humans tend to turn to when we are scared, he turned to God. He turned to the One who he knew could and would take care of him. He obeyed what he knew to be true in his own life, that his God would deliver him. Having this faith, akin to the faith that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego had in Daniel 3, that no matter what the outcome of the situation was, his true hope was in the salvation he had through his relationship with God. When we pursue that relationship, we have the hope and knowledge that we can live in confidence of our eternity.

The difficulty in obedience comes when we worry about the outcome of life. But I’ll leave you with a passage that continually encourages me in the midst of the storm of this life. Jesus is giving the disciples a heads up as to what is to come in John 16, and has told them that He will soon be gone and that the Holy Spirit will be coming. His final words in this chapter are so powerful, and evoke such a joy in my heart.

29 His disciples said, “Ah, now you are speaking plainly and not using figurative speech! 30 Now we know that you know all things and do not need anyone to question you; this is why we believe that you came from God.” 31 Jesus answered them, “Do you now believe? 32 Behold, the hour is coming, indeed it has come, when you will be scattered, each to his own home, and will leave me alone. Yet I am not alone, for the Father is with me. 33 I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” John 16:29-33

 

Rebellion in the Face of a Loving God

I like to think I have it all together. Most of the time, I can get away with it looking like I do. When I try and control how my life goes, however, God has a way of reminding me that I’m not the boss of me. In studying for our student Bible study over Psalm 2, I came to the realization that I have a tendency to be like the kings of the earth and rulers described in the text. My attitude toward God becomes one that feels inconvenienced because of God’s call to obedience. The call to obedience, at least for me, is normally one to let go and quit trying to do everything. If you know anything about me, I’m a fixer. When things are going rough for someone, I usually throw some advice out there. The person that ends up telling me to be quiet most often, is my sweet wife. I don’t always understand that maybe she’s just trying to share her feelings with me and isn’t looking to gain any of my “profound” insight. I use the word profound in a very tongue-in-cheek way because I tend to think I know the best way to go about things. This leads me back to why I sometimes rebel against God’s call in my life. I rebel for the simple reason of wanting control of every aspect of my life, and I don’t have the rights to that. Before you start thinking about personal sovereignty or liberty, please don’t misunderstand what I’m saying here. As a believer in the truth of the Bible, I believe that my life is no longer my own. It became a life that is to be directed for God’s purposes in all areas, not my own. Do I always follow this? No, but that’s part of the journey. Let’s see what warning we have in Psalm 2 about the rebellious mindset.

In Psalm 1, we saw that there are two pathways in life we can take. The result of one is completely opposite the result of the other. Psalm 2 goes through the result of a nation choosing the way of rebelling against God. The question asked at the start is one of disbelief. The psalmist asks “Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain?” He already knows that rebellion against the Holy God is pointless, and that joining each other in counsel only causes more fruitless instigation. In verse 3, they (the rebellious leaders), refer to the laws of God’s love as “bonds” and “cords.” Those “bonds” and “cords” were put in place that people might have relationship with a Holy God who would not have any part of sin, not to restrict or hold back anyone from living their life to the fullest. Their response to His provision wasn’t a surprise, but it was still an offensive action and behavior to Him. God’s response in the following verses shows us His view on willful rebellion and disobedience.

“He who sits in the heavens laughs; the Lord holds them in derision.” I looked up what the word derision meant…it’s not a good thing to be held in derision by our Creator. Basically, God said that they were about to be shown what it meant to actually be restricted and held back on living life to the fullest. Because of their desire to rebel against Him, He would loose His righteous judgement on them. In our society and world today, so many people will look at this judgement that is handed down and question how loving God really is. The stark warning in this psalm is one that brings attention to the wrath of God. From an outside point-of-view, this makes believers look like they obey just so they don’t get punished or out of the fear of punishment. Let me clarify that a believer in Jesus believes and follows out of a love for a Savior who provided a way to have relationship when one wasn’t deserved. We are compelled to that obedience because of what has been done for us, and is continuing to be done in our lives daily.

Another part about this particular psalm is the fact that it is referring to a nation/nations rebelling against God. One of the common denominators I see in the strife that exists in not only America, but the world, is the fact that Christianity and the Bible and God are looked at as being restrictive. There is also the thought that we are “old-fashioned” in our thinking, and we’ve been compared to those who thought the earth was flat. The truth of this situation is simple. God is the same as He was at creation, He’s the same today, and He’ll be the same until He decides it’s time for the world as we know it to cease to exist. Therefore, His law and expectations will never waver or change regarding sin. Where is the hope in this? The hope comes from the fact that God gave us a way out of eternal death through His Son, Jesus. He desires for us to have a relationship with Him, not to turn our backs on Him. When we try to change God, as I believe our nation has tried to do, we see the results being compromised doctrine and theology. We have become the silent majority in so many ways that the Truth of God’s Word has been drowned out by the loudest sources of entertainment and news. I believe that a shift back to Jesus will come, and we are seeing some of that where I am in south Texas now, but we must keep a focus on God and His Word.

The times where I try to hold it all together by myself are the times when the Lord will prune and cause me to examine where my dependance truly lies. Where are you rebelling in your life and how can you become fully dependent on Christ alone? How do you think we can impact our generation and generations to come for the name of Jesus?

Which Path to Walk?

Every day we have choices. Each particular choice has it’s own end result. Last night in our Wednesday night Student Bible study, we went through Psalm 1, which talks about two ways of living. When it comes to our decisions regarding Jesus, there are two possible end results: 1. Life in eternity with Jesus and 2. Life in eternity without Him. There is no consideration for pragmatism. There is no consideration for apathy. There is no consideration for feigned ignorance. I take that back, there is consideration, but none of those things are “taken into account” when it comes to determining our final resting place once our earthly bodies die. That result, that consideration, the eternal one, is black and white. I’m afraid that many want to ride on the thought that “God knows my heart, so He’ll understand why I feel the way I do and He’ll let me in because I’m a nice person.” Terrifying, especially because we are all there at some point in our lives, and there’s not a much bigger lie out there.

The choice regarding eternity that we have to make, is to choose to walk in the way of the wicked, or to walk in the way of righteousness. That is why the results are black and white. The predetermination of the end result of each choice is based on the fact that a Holy God cannot look on sin. Do we have sin in our lives? Yes, yes we all do! Not a single one of us is holy, righteous, clean, perfect, stainless, you get the picture, on our own. The only hope we have of being blameless is because the God who created us and pursues us gave His only Son to take that sin. When we choose to look the other way to satisfy and pacify ourselves and seek what temporarily feels good, we run away from a loving God who wants us and pursues us, but doesn’t need us. Do we understand that mindset? Some of you guys who read my blog are parents whose children have gone astray, despite your best efforts, and it’s heartbreaking and mind-boggling to try and understand why they’ve chosen that. We, as parents, try to provide the very best for our kids and sometimes they act like they just don’t care. The heartache that comes with that is compounded when we treat God like that when He’s already provided the very best for us, but we spit in His face as a “thank you.”

Psalm 1:1 tells us that “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers;…” The psalmist lines out very plainly what a person who is “blessed” does not do. The term “blessed” here is referring to someone who knows God, follows God, who has redemption and salvation in his or her life. When that redemption is present, there will be temptations to follow the advice of those who don’t know salvation. The one who has redemption will have to make the choice to follow the world, or to follow the One who gives the redemption. How do we know which choice to make? That all depends on where our time is spent and where we draw our advice from. Verse 2 tells us that the “blessed” delights in the law, or instruction, of the Lord, and that he meditates on it day and night. How much easier are our decisions when we spend large amounts of time meditating on God’s Word? They become exponentially easier, in my opinion, when we spend time seeking God instead of taking advice from those who desire to pacify us. I used the analogy of who to go to for relationship advice as an example of where to find wise counsel. I asked my students, who are predominantly middle schoolers, who they go to for relationship advice, their best friends or to a couple who has been married for a few decades? Guess who they chose. Their “best friends, of course!” I asked them how many years of consistent and constant relationship advice their friends had. Then I asked them how much experience the older couple who had been married for many years had. Next, I posed the question “Why do we go to our best friends for advice instead of those who have experience?” I saw a ton of shoulders shrug after that. The next question is where wheels seemed to start turning, which was “Will your friends give you an objective answer, even when it might hurt or be the answer you don’t want to hear?” Most said “no,” a few said “yes.” You see, our friends will tickle our ears, give us the easy answers about how to live our life because conflict is not popular. We sometimes want someone to justify our actions and decisions, and because of that, we go to who will give us the advice we want. Sometimes we need that hard answer or response about the decisions we are making. How hard is it to follow Jesus, but how much more beautiful are the results of those difficult choices? Praise God that He gives us His Word to study in order to glorify and honor Him!

“Relationship, with anyone, comes from constant and consistent contact and time spent with that person. the same goes for our relationship with Jesus.”

When we read verse 3, we see what happens when we stay in God’s Word, seeking His wisdom and guidance instead of seeking what will temporarily satisfy. “He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers.” As water is the physical life-source for humans, animals and plants, so the Word of God is for the Christian. Trees grow to their fullest potential when planted by a constant and consistent water source. Think about that for a minute. If we expect a pine tree to grow to 70 feet tall in the shortest amount of time while planted in the middle of a prairie, are we having reasonable expectations? Then why do we expect or hope to grow in our relationship with Jesus if we treat the Bible like a crash diet? Relationship, with anyone, comes from constant and consistent contact and time spent with that person. The same goes for our relationship with Jesus.

All of this may sound like I’m describing a “works-based salvation,” but I assure you that this is not the case. Our salvation comes from Christ alone, so that I cannot boast about myself or anything that I may have done. The fact is, because God loves us so much, He gave His Son selflessly for us because He desires relationship with us. Does that make God a weak God? No, it makes Him an amazing Father! What the psalmist is writing about is the direction we are to follow to honor and love our amazing Father, not about a checklist of things to do for grace to occur. He includes the warning of living by the advice or “wisdom” of the world as a reminder of what happens when we reject a Holy and just God. The question then tends to come up “Why would a loving God send me to hell?” The short answer is that He won’t send you to hell, but you get the option to choose your final resting place. Put faith in Jesus’ sacrifice and God’s never-ending love, grace and mercy and celebrate eternity with others who made the same decision. Put faith in finding your own way, your own salvation, your own merit and celebrate death, pain and never-ending torment with others who made that decision as well. The decision is ultimately yours, God isn’t going to force you to love Him, that’s not love.

If you are living an unsatisfied life and trying to satisfy something with what the world gives you, you’ll continue to search. Even if you’re living a life that’s not “bad,” even by “church standards,” treating people great, donating to charity, being the nicest and most moral person that you know how to be, you’ll continue to search how to fulfill that empty feeling. The only solution to that lack of satisfaction, is Jesus. You’ll never find fulfillment in your spouse, friends, your children, your job, money, pornography, adultery, or anything else that isn’t in pursuit of Jesus. Fortunately, God gives us His Word as a beautiful resource to look to the examples of many before us who have found fulfillment and satisfaction in Jesus.

What are some of your thoughts about how we can encourage our friends, family, and even complete strangers to seek Christ? In a culture that has a tendency to run away from God, how can we put focus on living in the satisfaction of Jesus? I’d love to hear from you and discuss with you on your thoughts!