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

 

Christ Forgave

It seems as though my blog posts have become about as commonplace as the Dallas Cowboys’ chances of winning the coveted Lombardi Trophy lately, apparently, I don’t manage my time very well (or as David Crowder’s Twitter account put it, manage myself around time effectively).  God has been working on my heart in so many different ways lately, it’s never a comfortable feeling when He does that, especially when He’s working on breaking down the areas of my life that I know I struggle with daily and don’t want to put a lot of effort into dealing with.  Our pastor asked me a while ago to preach on a Sunday night, and that was right in the middle of when God was wrecking shop on my heart on the subject of forgiveness.  So here we go!

When I read this one verse in the book of Luke, I see so much that I need to learn, so far I need to go, how much I need to grow in my relationship with Christ.  That one verse is Luke 23:34.  “Jesus said, ‘Father forgive them, they do not know what they are doing.’ And they divided up his clothes by casting lots.”

Now, we all know that Christ was a very humble and compassionate man.  We also know that he taught forgiveness during his years of ministry, so what makes this verse so profound to me?  Let us consider what all was going on during this time.  At this point in time, Christ was on the cross between the two criminals who were being crucified for crimes committed at an earlier date.  Prior to this, Christ had been through 4 separate trials and was flogged and beaten with a flagellum, had a crown of thorns smashed into his brow, was mocked and forced to carry his cross through the streets. Following that, his hands and feet were staked to the aforementioned cross.  With all of that in mind, also remember that Christ was sentenced to this predicament by Pilate at the requests of the Pharisees and the chosen nation of Israel.  For Christ to ask his Father to forgive them, to us, is crazy talk.  Not only did he forgive them at that moment, but his death upon that cross was for their sins, as well as for everyone’s sins.

How many of us could say that we could forgive in that situation?  How about in

  • Forgiving a disobedient child?
  • A spiteful neighbor?
  • A schoolyard bully?
  • A betraying friend?
  • An entire nation, of people you love, trying to kill you?
  • A friend denying they knew you, even after they swore up and down they wouldn’t and couldn’t?

Christ could, and did.

The closest we come to seeing Christ not go through with his crucifixion and death is in Luke 22:42.  He is praying in the garden and asks God to take the cup if it is His will.  What we see is Christ asking God to let him have a pass on this one if it was in His Divine Will, but if not, then let His will be done.  Christ wasn’t questioning God here, he was simply asking if the possibility existed for another way to grant us forgiveness for our sins, and if there wasn’t, then he was willing to proceed with what the Father was asking.  He put his personal comfort and preferences aside, and was obedient all the way to his death on the cross.  If he can do this, and not question the reason, who are we not to forgive without questioning?

As Christians, we sometimes like to have a bit of a double standard when it comes to forgiveness.  I’ve seen the saying “I’m not perfect, I’m forgiven” on bumper stickers, T-Shirts and banners everywhere, as well as heard and said it myself many times.  How is this saying in any way glorifying or honoring God?  It makes us feel okay about ourselves when we get caught in our own sin, but shows the world that we feel like it’s okay for us to sin because we’ve got our “fire insurance.”  I cringe every time I hear or see that phrase now, because of how much leverage it gives those who despise Christ and are looking for a reason to not believe in him.  We are called to accept that accountability when we sin, and repent and apologize to those we have led astray, or cast doubt into their hearts.  We have to flee from that pride that doesn’t allow us to grow.

Another area I struggle with, and I see other fellow believers struggling in, is feeling like a person is “too far gone” to be redeemed.  The recent shootings in Colorado brought about two ugly sides of humanity.  The shooting, and murder of so many people is one side of the ugliness.  The other is the fact that so many people, even believers, were so quick to condemn this man to Hell (something we have no business doing).  I was convicted by the enormous amount of people that were so publicly calling for his demise, once again, many of these people were believers.  In our carnal minds, we can’t get past the fact that this man killed people, so he deserves to die right now.  My heart was, uncharacteristically for me, sympathetic for this man to know Christ.  Upon vocalizing my feeling on this subject, I received mixed replies from believers and atheists both.  I do enjoy the occasional debate, and this turned into just that.  I feel as though, even for a murderer such as Holmes, until a person has died, we should desire to share the love of Christ with that person, so that they may have the chance to have salvation through Christ’s sacrifice.  Some responded with the same feeling, some were undecided, and some were adamantly against this thought.  If we look at the teachings of Christ, his example shows us that no one is exempt from the forgiveness through his death.  How are we honoring and glorifying God through our condemnation of a person who has sinned?

Are we showing the characteristics of forgiveness and love by defending a right to free speech?  I’m reminded of the situation that arose with Chick-fil-a after founder and CEO of the company was asked about his views on marriage.  His response was not derogatory or inflammatory in any manner or fashion, but he was attacked, however unfairly, by the media along with other special interest groups.  As a result of his response to the question, his company lost toy endorsements for kid’s meals, and endured countless character attacks because of his stance that marriage should remain defined as between a man and a woman.  Upon this reaction, Gov. Mike Huckabee, who is known for his conservative and Christian beliefs, organized “Chick-fil-a Appreciation Day” for August 1st. He encouraged all of those who supported traditional marriage to eat at Chick-fil-a as a response to the attacks on freedom for Dan T. Cathy to express his beliefs and convictions about this subject.  This idea, in theory, was a good one.  However, it quickly became a Christians vs. Sinners fast food theme day.  Not all people who were eating at the fast food restaurant were going with the mindset to be pointing a finger at those who were homosexual or supported same-sex marriage, but those who were going with that intention turned the event into another reason for people to call Christians, as a whole, bigots and hatemongers among other things.  My question through all of this situation is, are we showing the love and compassion of Christ through taking this type of stand?

Are we loving them for their public sin as Christ loves us for our private sins?  Homosexuality is such a hot topic lately, not only because of the media attention from Chick-fil-a, but also because it has been such a battle for Christians to express their beliefs on the matter.  As a Christian, I believe marriage is to be between a man and a woman, no other way, this was the example defined in Genesis.  The bible also refers to homosexuality as an abomination, and defines it as a sin several times throughout the Old and New Testaments.  One of the most prominent references is Romans 1:18-32, and this has been a verse that has caused many debates between myself and others who don’t see things the way scripture teaches.  Simply because homosexuality is a sin, should we hold that sin to a higher level of punishment or seriousness?  Some would argue yes, that it is a lifestyle and that is why it is worse than having a bad temper or using profanity.  I argue that sin such as a bad temper or pride is a lifestyle as well.  We, in our carnal minds, can’t look at sin the same way God does.  We want to categorize it as our justice system does, and put it on a scale.  Romans 3:23 tells us that we all sin, and Romans 6:23 tells us that the consequence for that sin is eternal death.  How can we honor and glorify God if we categorize sin?  How can we honor and glorify Him if we can’t forgive people for their sins and understand their need for salvation, as we needed it too?  The short answer is, we can’t.  We have to be able to put ourselves, as close as we can, into Christ’s mindset and love beyond human fallibility.

Too many people have been “won” by saying a prayer that was prayed out of guilt, overt pressure, peer pressure or a sense of security.  If that prayer was prayed out of insincerity, or there wasn’t a heart change, can we really expect that person’s life to have been changed?  No one knows if a person has truly made that change with the exception of them and the Lord.  One thing is for sure though, if we led that person in a prayer that they didn’t understand, or gave them a false sense of understanding of salvation, we are as accountable for that as we are for the person we pushed away because of their sin?  Their sin is their own, we are called to share the Gospel with them regardless of whether or not we think they deserve the grace we didn’t and still don’t deserve.

We are called to hold other believers accountable for sins, not overlooking our own sins first, in a loving and Christ-like way.  We also like to point out that Christ went into the temple and kicked out the merchants and livestock in righteous indignation, which he did.  Those people that got kicked out of the temple knew better than to be doing what they were doing.  They were knowingly doing things dishonestly inside the temple, and that is why Christ went in and wrecked shop. They had made the temple a place of disgrace and business, instead of a place of worship.  Can we expect a non-believer to automatically know the standards of the bible?  Can we expect them to jump right along and be perfect the first time they are informed of sin?

How soon after your salvation experience did you get everything lined up perfect and quit sinning?  Still working on it?  Yeah, me too.  I’ve been a believer for 20 years now, and I’m still one of the biggest busts when it comes to evaluating salvation expectations met.  If ESPN had one of their Top 10 lists of salvation busts, I’d have to be pretty high up, if not the top guy, and I’ve been at this for more than half my life.  How can we expect a non-believer to just know what sin is?  Our culture isn’t telling him or her what sin is, in fact, they are being informed just the opposite of what biblical standards are for right and wrong.  I liken this concept to parenting.  You parents will appreciate this, I just know it!  How many times did you have to, or have you told your child not to run in the house?  Did they listen the first time?  How about the 2nd?  Did the third, fourth, or fifth time do the trick?  My 5-year-old is still figuring out this one, and I’m pretty sure we’re on number 4,543 for the “DON’T RUN” warning system.  Sometimes it takes kids a long time to figure out they need to obey.  To do this, they have to first go against their selfish human nature they are born with, then, they have to have a clear understanding of why the issue is wrong.  The same applies to us and sin, especially when the surrounding culture condones and approves of sin and tells us it is perfectly normal and acceptable.  That being said, what sin(s) do you struggle with daily?  How easy is it for you to avoid that sin?  The only reason I ask, is because I deal with stuff EVERY SINGLE DAY!  We all do, Paul says that there is no sin that is uncommon to man, and it’s true- we all deal with sin every day, even if we won’t admit it.  What’s the most effective way for you to learn how to move past that sin and grow in the right direction?  Is it with someone continually reminding you of that sin and hammering into your psyche that you are a mess up?  Or is it with someone who encourages you and loves you, and corrects in a loving way?  If we’re talking about my kids, it’s going to be the latter.  If I stand in the doorway of their rooms, threatening to spank them for not cleaning their rooms, you can guarantee a meltdown is on the way.  Part of the meltdown is that we’ll be fighting all night to get 6 blocks picked up off the floor.  The nights that the spoon collects dust, and I get on the floor and help pick up some of those blocks and clothes, and encourage my kids, the room takes no time to get clean.  If we have the spirit of love and forgiveness with new believers, non-believers, and fellow believers, how much more can we help grow and strengthen each other in our walks?

None of what I’m teaching about, or talking about has to do with tolerance or acceptance of sin, by any means, because Christ did not teach that.  He taught tolerance and acceptance of the sinner, which is US! Think about that. He accepted us. You. Me. Everyone.  Can we have friendships with those that our convictions don’t match up to?  Certainly, but we have to let our convictions be known from the start, so we aren’t deceptive in our friendship with them about those things.  Is it our responsibility to share the Gospel with them?  Most definitely.  Is it our place to change their minds about Christ and salvation?  Nope.  Well, if not us, then whose place is it to change their minds?  It is the Holy Spirit’s place, yet we are called to plant the seed into the hearts of people.  When that seed germinates, we are called to nurture that seed to maturity.  The seed we plant has to emerge, or germinate from that hard shell, and the Holy Spirit causes that emergence.  The non-believer becomes a believer, the spiritually dead heart emerges and begins new life.  After that emergence, we begin the process of nurturing, which is discipleship.  We don’t just pray and leave it there with them on their own. As a gardener constantly waters and feeds his plants, we must also constantly water and feed the new believer.  We will fail this process if we cannot have a forgiving heart and accept that they will not be perfect from the word “Go!”.  Christ understands and knows that we all will continually mess up daily, but he also knows that his death on the cross covered that mess up.

So when we look at Luke 23:34, we know that Christ was showing yet another example for us to follow.  No matter what a person does, no matter what they think, no matter what they say, we are to forgive, because Christ did.  He forgave without discretion, and in order for us to glorify and honor our Father, we must forgive without discretion.  Nothing else matters, because when it’s all said and done, Christ Forgave.