Sunday, June 28, 2015

Scourged...but Saved

No discipline at the time seems joyous, but grievous;
however, afterward, it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness
in those who have been trained by it.
Therefore, straighten up the listless hands and the feeble knees,
and make straight paths for your feet, lest that which is lame be turned aside,
but let it be healed instead.
Hebrews 12:10–13

From a 2006 sermon by Pastor John on Slander.

Carnally-minded people whom Paul described as “natural men” frequently speak of what God will or will not do.  One such man, a professor of the New Testament, once declared to us seminarians that God would never take the life of an innocent child.  When this brilliant but foolish theologian told us that, King David came to my mind, and what God did to his new-born baby after the prophet Nathan confronted David about his  adulterous affair with Bathsheba:

2Samuel 12
13. And David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the Lord!”  Then, Nathan said to David, “The Lord has put away your sin; you will not die.
14. Nevertheless, because by this deed, you have caused the enemies of the Lord to blaspheme, the son that is born to you will certainly die.”
15. And Nathan went to his house.  And the Lord struck the child that Uriah’s wife bore to David, and he was very sick.
. . .
18a. And it came to pass on the seventh day, that the child died.

God is not a big one of us, and His ways and His thoughts are so far beyond us that without His help, we cannot comprehend them.  God will do whatever He pleases to do, without regard to what humans think He should do.  In a parable, Jesus described God as “austere” (Lk. 19:21–22); Peter warned us that the trials God appoints for us can be very difficult and confusing (1Pet. 4:12); and the author of Hebrews went so far as to say that God “scourges” His children (an extraordinarily painful event) and that only those who humbly submit to the scourging will be saved in the end (Heb. 12:6).
James did say that God does not tempt anyone (Jas. 1:13), but in context, what James clearly meant is that God does not tempt anyone with evil.  For example, God tempted, or tested, Abraham (Gen. 22:1), but what He tempted Abraham to do was good, not evil.  
Old and New Testament writers alike made it absolutely clear that God tests His people (e.g., Jer. 17:10; 1Thess. 2:4), and the Psalmist even revealed that the opposite of being tested by God is to be hated by Him (Ps. 11:5).  James also said that when those who are being tried by God resort to evil, it is not that God has led them into sin but that they have yielded to the ungodly desires of their own fleshly nature (Jas. 1:14).  In other words, it is not that the test God gave them was too hard (that is never the case –1Cor. 10:13); rather, it is only that they failed the test.
You can overcome anything you face in this world because your heavenly Father, who loves you with all His heart, designed that trial for you, knowing you could overcome it.  Yes, at times, He has more confidence in our ability to overcome than we have, but He is always right.  You can win.  You are going to win.  Nothing can separate you from your heavenly Father’s love and care.  Every creature in heaven is on your side, and best of all, God and His Son are on your side.  You will be tested, but after you weather the storm, you will know God – and yourself – better than you ever have known Him.  That will make you a happier and wiser person than you ever were before, and when that happens, you will feel a very deep joy, and gratitude for the awful test that you had to go through.

Being Cut

God is looking for fruit from you.  And if you bear fruit, Jesus said the Father would prune you, so as to enable you to bear even more fruit.  That may sound harsh, but Jesus added that if you do not bear fruit, the Father would cut you off completely (Jn. 15:2).  This means that you are going to be cut on, one way or the other.  You are going to be cut on or be cut off.
Those who bear fruit to God earn the blessing of receiving another level of holy discipline; they have earned the privilege of being scourged and perfected.  He scourges every son who will be judged worthy to escape eternal damnation.  Every child of God who will be saved in the end will have submitted to His scourging – after they had borne good fruit!  Every one of them!  If you never receive that kind of scourging, it is because God considers you to be a bastard (Heb. 12:8).  He will not even consider you to be a son because you did not receive the Father’s correction.  When Israel failed to receive correction, God commanded Jeremiah not to pray for them anymore (Jer. 7:16).  Tender-hearted Jeremiah must have kept on praying for Israel after God told him to stop because God had to tell him at least twice more not to pray for them any longer (Jer. 11:14; 14:11).
If you receive no correction from God, you get no comfort from God.  If you receive His correction, He has oil to pour on your wounds.  As the prophet said, “He has wounded us, and He will bind us up” (Hos. 6:1).  “The wounds of a friend are faithful,” said Solomon (Prov. 27:6), and Jesus is the friend who sticks closer than a brother (Prov. 18:24).  How precious to have your wounds bound up with the balm of Jesus!
When your wound is bound up by Jesus, you find that you have a submissive, grateful attitude similar to my father’s attitude after he had been scourged by God with cancer.  He often referred to the disease as “that blessed cancer” because he felt that he would not have been prepared to meet God in peace had he not been afflicted with it.  “Uncle Joe” Murray was the same way.  He looked back on the days of his affliction as a good time, when his fellowship with God was perfected.  Given sixty to ninety days to live by physicians, no one on earth could help him, no matter how much they loved him.  Nobody on earth could do anything, either for him or against him.  He was altogether in God’s hands.  God had him all to Himself, with Uncle Joe’s future in the balance.  And when Uncle Joe met God’s expectations, an angel came to him and anointed him to be healed, and Uncle Joe’s sixty-to-ninety-day death sentence was transformed into thirty-seven healthy, happy years!
I know how it feels to be in a place where no one can help you.  You can feel the love that people have for you, and their desire to help, but when God puts you in that place, there is absolutely nothing anyone on earth can do.  God may give them credit for wanting to help, but He will not allow them to do a thing.  It is you, alone with God, where the hottest fires burn and the greatest amount of dross is burned out of your soul.  However, as lonely and hard a place as it is, it is still a very good place for God to have you, for it will make you cry out to God as you never have before.  It will make you spend some nights on your knees, but when God has gotten the fruit from you that He is looking for, when you have done the will of God to His satisfaction, when the heart is perfected, you will lift your battered head and say from the heart, “Thank you, heavenly Father, for loving me enough to have put me through that.”
Of course, those who do not humble themselves and render to God the desired fruit will become bitter at what they went through.  They will always see themselves as victims and will never be able, from the heart, to thank God for their trial.  But every person who accomplishes God’s purpose for the trial will end up thanking God forever for every bit of the suffering He put them through.  There will be no bitterness in their souls.  They were scourged, but in their time of hurting, they gave God what He wanted from them, and in His presence, they will be full of joy and peace.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

True Humility

“My thoughts are not your thoughts,
and your ways are not my ways,” says the Lord.
“For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways,
and my thoughts than your thoughts.”
Isaiah 55:8–9

Being humble before God includes humbling ourselves to labor because to labor was God’s original curse on humans for their sin.  What this means is, a lazy man is a rebel against God.
Being humble before God also includes humility in the face of natural disasters, disappointments, and inconveniences because they are just more of God’s ordained consequences for our sin.
Being humble also means standing up for the right, even if few others have the courage to do so.  Moses was the humblest man on earth, according to the Bible (Num. 12:3), and yet he stood fast with God and the truth through some very perilous situations, even daring to smash the people’s beloved golden calf to very tiny bits – and then making them drink it!  Jesus was even meeker than Moses, but he became furious when he saw his Father’s house being used by men to make money, and he overturned their tables and drove them out of the temple (Jn. 2:13–17).  Jesus once said, “I am meek and lowly”; at the same time, he always “called a spade a spade”, and he would boldly stand up for the helpless against the powerful who were abusing them (e.g., the hapless woman caught in adultery).
Men can appear to be humble by making a show of their humility.  But be careful.  Before judging someone to be humble, let us pause to consider what God thinks humility is.  His thoughts are not our thoughts, and He is not fooled by appearances, as we so often have been.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Worth More Than Half

Herod, on his birthday, made a feast for his chief officials, the captains of a thousand, and the leading men of Galilee, and the daughter of [Herod’s wife] Herodias came in and danced, and she pleased Herod and those banqueting with him.  And the king said to the girl, “Ask of me whatever you desire, and I will grant it to you.”  And he made an oath to her: “Whatever you ask of me, I will grant you, up to half of my kingdom!”  So when she went out, she said to her mother, “What shall I ask for myself?”  And she said, “The head of John the Baptizer.”  And immediately, she hurried in to the king and made her request, saying, “I want you to give me, right now, the head of John the Baptizer on a platter.”  And the king was deeply grieved, but because of the oaths and those feasting with him, he would not refuse her.  And so, the king sent an executioner and commanded that his head be brought in at once.  And he went out and beheaded him in the prison, and carried his head on a platter, and gave it to the girl, and the girl gave it to her mother.
Mark 6:21–28

If Herod wanted to give this dancing girl anything up to half of his kingdom, it was no one’s business but his.  It was perfectly lawful and permissible for him to do that, even if it was foolish for him to make such an offer because he enjoyed someone’s dancing.  Herod was probably drunk, having been at his birthday bash for a while before the girl danced; but again, the King was well within his rights as king to make that offer.  Even one of Jesus’ parables upheld the legality of a man doing whatever he wanted to do with what is his (Mt. 20:15).
But it was when the young girl, after being advised by her wicked mother, asked for the head of John the Baptist that Herod showed what a great fool he really was.  A sane response to the girl’s insane request would have been that John the Baptist was worth more than half his kingdom, more even than all of it.  God certainly thought so.  That is why He warned His people, “Touch not my anointed, and do my prophets no harm!” (1Chron. 16:22; Ps. 105:15).
But Herod was a fool.  He did not value John as he should have, and so, he foolishly fell into his wife’s trap and assented to the ungodly request.
The apostles warned us that there are people around us like Herod’s wicked wife who will also lay traps for our souls.  They hate the truth as she did, and those who speak it, and if we get drunk on the things of this world, they will take advantage of our weakness and get us to agree with something that we should not agree to.  Our safety is in esteeming the things of God above everything in this life, all we have and even all that we are.  When the love of God fills our hearts as it did the prophets, Jesus, Paul, and others, nothing can move us to say or do anything which does not please God.  We will please God in everything, and keep our victory over sin. 

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Comparing Yourself to the Giants

Moses sent [twelve men] to spy out the land of Canaan, and he said unto them, “See the land, what it is, and the people that dwell therein.”  So they went up, and searched the land.  And they returned from searching of the land after forty days.  And they came to Moses, and to Aaron, and to all the congregation of the children of Israel, and said, “We came unto the land to which thou sent us, and surely it flows with milk and honey, and this is the fruit of it.  Nevertheless the people be strong that dwell in the land, and the cities are walled, and very great, and moreover we saw the children of Anak there.”
And Caleb stilled the people before Moses, and said, “Let us go up at once, and possess it, for we are well able to overcome it!”  But the men who went up with him said, “We be not able to go up against the people; for they are stronger than we!”  And they brought up an evil report of the land which they had searched unto the children of Israel, saying, “The land, through which we have gone to search it, is a land that eats up the inhabitants thereof, and all the people that we saw in it are men of a great stature.  And there we saw the giants, the sons of Anak, which come of the giants, and we were in our own sight as grasshoppers, and so we were in their sight.”
– excerpts from Numbers 13

The spies whom Moses had sent out to scout the land of Canaan were troubled.  God had already done the impossible for the Israelites.  He had delivered them from Egyptian slavery and taken them safely across the burning sands of the Sinai Peninsula, miraculously feeding them every day with manna, the sweet wafer-like substance that David called “angels’ food”.  Now, here Israel was, just about to be given the whole land of Canaan, but the spies discouraged them, telling them they could not take Canaan, and they convinced their fellow Israelites that they should all return to Egypt.
Two of the spies, Caleb and Joshua, did not agree with the other spies.  Caleb and Joshua believed God and were thrilled that He was about to give Canaan’s land to Israel.  But because they were thrilled about it, and because they told their fellow Israelites that they could take the land, the other spies and Israelites set about to stone Caleb and Joshua, and they would have succeeded if God had not miraculously appeared and stopped them.
God was so angry with the ten spies who discouraged Israel that he struck them dead.  Then, He cursed Israel by sending them all back into the desert wilderness to wander about until that whole generation died.  Forty years later, a new generation of Israelites did take the land, including old Caleb and Joshua, whom God spared because they had put their faith in Him and did not fear the giants of Canaan.
This was the kind of faith Preacher Clark was exhorting us to have when he said in a sermon in 1972, “Don’t compare the giants to your own strength.”  The giants of this world can indeed defeat us.  We are small, and they are big.  But God has promised to be with us, and to give us the victory.  And as Paul said, “If God be for us, who can be against us?”  That is how Caleb and Joshua felt, and because they felt that way, they were allowed to enter into the Promised Land and to possess a portion of it.  If we believe God as they did, if we look to God instead of the giants that oppose us, we, too, will enter into the Promised Land and be given our portion, with all the rest whose faith is in God instead of in the giants.