The Song Remains the Same

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God’s compassion was far greater than Israel’s heart. Because sadly, even after experiencing God’s great compassion and grace, the song remained the same.

This great prayer of repentance and remembrance continues here in chapter 9. As I read through the passage for this week I remembered something my brother and I used to say all the time: the song remains the same.  We said that to each other as a way of conveying the fact that nothing had changed in our lives despite a separation by our living miles apart.

In the passage today, as the people repent and remember the past, we see that in Israel’s history, the song remains the same. Let’s review last week’s article focused on some important points that I want to stress again in order to experience the gravity of this week.

One of the takeaways from last week was that God keeps His promises. We saw this in a couple of actions, first by God then in Israel’s response. The end of this was that Israel entered and possessed the land God promised to them. Israel had acted in faith and followed what God said (after a rebellious generation had passed). So this generation would be on-fire, right?

Not. So. Fast.

The Song Remains the Same

But they were disobedient and rebelled against you; they turned their backs on your law. They killed your prophets, who had warned them in order to turn them back to you; they committed awful blasphemies. So you delivered them into the hands of their enemies, who oppressed them. But when they were oppressed they cried out to you. From heaven you heard them, and in your great compassion you gave them deliverers, who rescued them from the hand of their enemies. Nehemiah 9:26-27 NASB

This part of this prayer begins with a big  BUT. There isn’t a better word in any language to stress how significant a shift has taken place. The Israelites, who had possessed the land God promised, had victories over others as God promised and prospered in their home now decided they knew better than God. Oh boy, here we go again.

Look at what this new crop of Israelites did. First the were disobedient and rebelled against God. The next phrase sums up everything: they turned their backs on your law. You see Israel was now smarter than God – or at least they thought they were. God gave His law to Israel for their protection. He regulated their worship life so they would please Him. God was generous with them. He blessed them. He provided for them. And what did they do in return for all of God’s benevolent gifts? They rebelled. They turned their backs on Him.

But they didn’t stop there. God sent prophets to correct Israel’s path. One would think that Israel would listen to these prophets. But no, sadly Israel did just the opposite. They refused to  listen and then killed the prophets God had sent. But it didn’t end there. Look at what happened: they performed awful blasphemies. They took God’s perfect law and turned it on its head. They did the opposite of What God wanted the to do. So God took them out of the land and gave them to those who would oppress them. God disciplined His people.

But when they repented and cried out, God  heard them and had compassion on them. God sent Israel deliverers. These deliverers took Israel out of bondage and back to where they belonged.  God’s compassion was far greater than Israel’s heart. Because sadly, even after experiencing God’s great compassion and grace, the song remained the same.

 

Israel’s Heart of Disobedience

But as soon as they were at rest, they again did what was evil in your sight. Then you abandoned them to the hand of their enemies so that they ruled over them. And when they cried out to you again, you heard from heaven, and in your compassion you delivered them time after time. Nehemiah 9:28 NASB

I feel I should just copy and paste my first section here! Everything that happened before happened again. What  a sad commentary on their heart. They continued to rebel and refuse to follow what God prescribed for them. The last few words of v. 28 indicates the breadth of God’s compassion: you delivered them time after time.

God’s Abounding Grace and Mercy

You warned them in order to turn them back to your law, but they became arrogant and disobeyed your commands. They sinned against your ordinances, of which you said, ‘The person who obeys them will live by them.’ Stubbornly they turned their backs on you, became stiff-necked and refused to listen. For many years you were patient with them. By your Spirit you warned them through your prophets. Yet they paid no attention, so you gave them into the hands of the neighboring peoples. But in your great mercy you did not put an end to them or abandon them, for you are a gracious and merciful God. Nehemiah 9:29-31 NASB

In these last few verses we see an important indication of God’s character: He pursued Israel, He wanted them to turn back to Him. Look at the time in view – for many years…” This wasn’t a one time ordeal. This went on for years. And years. And years. Still God pursued them. Still God loved them. Still God had compassion on them. God’s abounding grace and mercy is on display here. Look at v. 31:

But in your great mercy you did not put an end to them or abandon them, for you are a gracious and merciful God.

What else could I possibly say about God? He is gracious and merciful. Even with all the disobedience, arrogance, stiff-neckedness that Israel has displayed throughout the years, God still – STILL – showed them mercy. How’s that for a giving God!

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So what does this mean to us? This is all about Israel, right? Well, no it isn’t all about Israel. This is all about God. God reveals Himself as a compassionate, long-suffering and patient God. Regardless of how many times we fail to do what is right – regardless of how many times we fail to obey – if we truly belong to Him He will never – NEVER – abandon us or turn His back on us.

That truth should not encourage us to sin more but to sin less. Because He is so compassionate and willing to endure our up and down behavior, we should be more sensitive to when we fall short. We should want to obey Him more because of who He is. God’s compassion should make us more willing to obey, not less.

How are you doing with that?

True Compassion

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Being loving to the lovable isn’t anything special. Be compassionate on those who are nice is nothing great. But to love the unlovable and be compassionate on the rebellious ones…Wow. Just. Wow.

 

When we remember all that God did to deliver His people from Egypt we should be amazed. God performed miracle upon miracle to get His people out of that place and to glorify His name. One would think that the ones who were delivered would never forget about the wonderful things God did. But they did forget. Boy, did they ever forget!

But they, our ancestors, became arrogant and stiff-necked, and they did not obey your commands. They refused to listen and failed to remember the miracles you performed among them. They became stiff-necked and in their rebellion appointed a leader in order to return to their slavery.  -Nehemiah 9:16-17

Just as the people recalled God’s goodness, they also remembered their ancestor’s rebellion. Look at how they are referred to in this passage. They are called arrogant, stiff-necked and disobedient. They did not listen and did not remember. They chose to go in a different direction than God had for them. They sure were kind of “out there”. Lets look at a few things in this description.

First they became arrogant. Have you ever seen this type of transformation take place? It is a sight to behold. But it is a sad thing to witness too. To see a previous humble servant of Christ get full of himself and believe that everything is all about him is sad indeed. Politicians, singers, bands and writers have suffered through this type of transformation.

Next they became stiff-necked.  Now what does this mean? Well, the best way I can explain it is that they rebelled and rebelled obstinately. So think of someone so set on rebellion that they have no other course of conduct available. That is sad isn’t it?

They disobeyed, didn’t listen and didn’t remember. They were a mess.They chose their path and walked down it. They left God and His precepts. This rebellion led them to their destination. And that destination wasn’t freedom. No, that destination was slavery.

Before we get all full of ourselves and criticize Israel for doing this lets consider how many times we have done the exact same things. Have you ever wandered? Ever refused listen to the Holy Spirit and either doing something or not doing something He is prompting? Me too. Too many times in fact. But we should be encouraged by the person we know as God. Look at the next verse or two:

But you are a forgiving God, gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love.Therefore you did not desert them,   -Nehemiah 9:17

Grace and compassion

God shows His graciousness towards Israel. Notice how God is described: forgiving, gracious and compassionate. Are you known by those words? When I ask myself that question, I’m not too pleased with the answer. I often can be one of those three once in  awhile but I have a difficult time being all three all of the time. Maybe this is true of you too. But thankfully God is not mankind. He is all these things.

The final sentence here is spellbinding to me: Therefore you did not desert them. Think about the statement being made. God had every right to desert Israel. Hey, for that matter, they had already deserted Him! God would have been fully justified in leaving them behind. But He didn’t.

Similarly we wander from God, We don’t listen or obey. We judge, hurt and become proud. God has every reason to desert us – we have already deserted Him. But, just like God’s actions towards Israel, He doesn’t desert us. What a loving and compassionate God we serve!

And what’s more there seems to be no limit to what God endured with the Israelites.

When there were idols

even when they cast for themselves an image of a calf and said, ‘This is your god, who brought you up out of Egypt,’ or when they committed awful blasphemies.    -Nehemiah 9:18

The Israelites, I’m sure you remember, decided to have an idol. When Moses was on Mt. Sinai receiving the Ten Commandments, the people below cast themselves an idol and gave the credit for their deliverance from Egypt to this newly-minted golden idol. That had to hurt.

When they wandered

Because of your great compassion you did not abandon them in the wilderness. By day the pillar of cloud did not fail to guide them on their path, nor the pillar of fire by night to shine on the way they were to take. You gave your good Spirit to instruct them.   -Nehemiah 9:19

Remember the wandering in the desert? That would have been a great place for God to say “I’ve had enough of you. I’m leaving. Figure everything out for yourselves.” But God did not do that. He lovingly and compassionately led them through their sojourn in the desert. He used a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. Interestingly, in the Temple, there was smoke or cloud in the most holy place where the glory of God would reside. Finally, He gave His Spirit to guide them.

These folks had it all. Boy, I wished we had this type of guidance today. But you know, we do. We have it even better. We have the Holy Spirit – God Himself – dwelling inside our mortal body. He guides. He instructs. He leads. Think about that. God Almighty lives in us so that He can guide us. Do we listen and follow like we should?

When they complained

You did not withhold your manna from their mouths, and you gave them water for their thirst. For forty years you sustained them in the wilderness; they lacked nothing, their clothes did not wear out nor did their feet become swollen.    -Nehemiah 9:20

The Israelites complained while wandering in the desert. They complained about the heat. They complained about the food (the Hebrew word Manna means What is it!) It seems they were always upset about something and never thankful for anything. What a bunch of whiners! I bet God really taught them a lesson for all their whining. He did. Just not the lesson that may have popped into your head.

God kept feeding them. God kept giving them water. God sustained them for forty years. An entire generation of people were sustained by God. Their clothes remained in good condition as did their shoes. Their feet never swelled up in spite of all the walking they did. Yeah, God taught them a lesson alright. He taught them  a lesson about love and compassion. How we need that lesson today.

Being loving to the lovable isn’t anything special. Be compassionate on those who are nice is nothing great. But to love the unlovable and be compassionate on the rebellious ones…Wow. Just. Wow.

 

So how are you doing showing compassion and love to everyone around you? Don’t make the mistake thinking loving someone means you never disagree or even rebuke their conduct. Love will be present in those situations. Compassion will be there too. Perhaps God is tugging at your heart as you are reading these words like He is tugging at mine as I write these words. Maybe we need to redouble our efforts to show compassion and others to others in spite of how others are…or how they act.

 

Deflated Footballs, Inflated Egos, and Repentence

Changing our mind toward our sin is key if we ever hope to be more Christ-like.

The current “scandal” involving a American football team – the New England Patriots – has enthralled Americans and taken over the endless news cycle. There has been many discussion with some becoming quite heated concerning whether the Patriots did indeed cheat in a football game. The evidence (at least that which has been released) seems to indicate that the Patriots cheated by using under-inflated footballs for when their team was trying to score points. An under-inflated football is easier to grip when the weather is nasty – and the weather was nasty for this game. The “they cheated” crowd is yelling about the principle of sportsmanship and fair play while the “they didn’t cheat” crowd makes a point that every team cheats in one way or another so, hey, what’s the big deal?

After I reflected on a discussion I participated in where the “everybody cheats” excuse was brought up I discovered why I find this whole event so disconcerting. And you know what? It has nothing to do with the apparent cheating. It also has nothing to do with the fact that cheating is prevalent in society. No, my reason for being so upset had to do with something much deeper and, in my opinion, more important that the cheating itself.

FIrst some facts…

We all sin and cheat

I am not using this as an excuse for anyone else cheating and thus saying their cheating does not matter. No I am observing a simple fact. All of us – you, me, everyone alive on this planet right now – have cheated and sinned.

For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God  – Romans 3:23 NASB

We are all in the same boat. We all do things that are wrong. We all try to game the system. In the parlance of this scandal, we all use under-inflate footballs to gain a competitive advantage. Yes even those reading this that think yourselves as good, moral people. So get over yourself – and myself – already. We are imperfect cheaters who want to win at just about any cost.

We are all helpless to change on our own

I don’t care how much you try to change, you will remain stained with sin as long as you try to change. “Turn over a new leaf” those around you may say. “Take some behavior modification classes” others may offer. Regardless of what you try to do, you will never be able to stop sinning on your own accord. Why? Because we are all as a dead person when it comes to sinning. What can a dead person do to change his condition? Yeah, thats right, nothing.

And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience.  – Ephesians 2:1-2 NASB

So what’s the rub here?

So if we are all sinners and cheaters and we can do nothing to change that fact, why then should we get so upset about the Patriots apparently cheating their way to the Super Bowl? If everyone does, what’s the big deal? It’s just humans being human, right?

It is about their attitude

The Patriots have come out and said they didn’t cheat. They have given implausible (my opinion) explanations about how a football will lose pressure. Their denials actually create more troubling questions for me. Their attitude seems to be of indifference to what they have done. They seem to be trying to dismiss this from everyone’s memory. I don’t think that will work.

So what is the Secret Sauce here?

What would help them get over this scandal and move forward? Simply put, they need to ‘fess up and repent of this mess and then they can move forward. Without that, this will follow them throughout the rest of their history as a team and franchise. And that is a good thing. But what does it mean to “repent”?

Repentance

The Greek verb for repent is metanoeo (meta-no-e-o). It means simply “to have a new mind”. The idea of this word is to have a new mind regarding Christ (for issues of eternal salvation) or a new mind regarding the issues of one’s sin (temporal salvation). Though both aspects are important, I’m mainly concerned with the latter point.

How often do we feel bad or sorry about what we have done that is wrong? Whether what we have done is run a red light, take more than allowed, taken something not ours, or some other act, do we feel a sorrow for having done that thing?

 I now rejoice, not that you were made sorrowful, but that you were made sorrowful to the point of repentance; for you were made sorrowful according to the will of God, so that you might not suffer loss in anything through us. 2 Corinthians 7:9 NASB

The passage above is referring to Paul’s scathing letter to the Church in Corinth that roundly condemned their hedonistic practices and perversion of the Lord’s Supper. If you want a good dressing down about sin, read through 1 Corinthians sometime. read it all at once. I dare you to stay the same after that. But in the selected passage here, Paul refers to the the sorrow that produced repentance. The Corinthians evidently repented of their wrongs when confronted about it. And here in 2 Corinthians Paul is commending them for it and even rejoicing that they did repent.

So what does all this have to do with me or you?

Well, simply put it has EVERYTHING to do with me and you. We have issues confront us every day where we must make a decision to sin or not sin. Every. Single. Day. What we do with that decision indicates where we are in our process of sanctification. If (when) we make the wrong decision and choose to sin or cheat, we suffer loss. Hopefully our conscience confronts us. When our conscience confronts us (as well as anyone else who confronts us) we have choice to either deny it and try to prove that everyone does it or we can choose to change our mind about our sin, agree we were wrong, ‘fess up and move on.

This is much more important than a football game where cheating happened. This has to do with your walk with Christ. Far too often we try to cover up our sin or even deny we did anything wrong. This is a huge mistake. Changing our mind toward our sin is key if we ever hope to be more Christ-like.  HIding behind excuses does nothing but enrage those around us and create further hindrances to our own spiritual growth.

So the next time you cheat, sin, or deflate footballs in order to win a game in bad weather and then get caught at it, don’t deny, obfuscate, or offer other excuses. Change your mind about your sin. Admit what you did, ask forgiveness, and then move on after being a changed person.

Serenity Now!

SERENITY NOW!

SERENITY NOW!

For fans of the show Seinfeld, do you remember this episode? For those who never watched Seinfeld, well, “Serenity now” sounds a little dumb. This is another Seinfeld moment that one must witness to understand fully. But I’ll try to explain it anyway.

A new craze has hit the Seinfeld cast: whenever one is stressed, all one must do is say “Serenity Now!” and all the stress will melt away. A subplot throughout this episode is George’s successful nemesis, Lloyd Braun, who had been the advisor to the mayor of New York, has just been released from an psychiatric institution. All through the episode Kramer is busily trying to make sure Lloyd feels like he is completely sane regardless of the event that is happening. But back to “Serenity Now!”

Through this episode, Kramer and Frank (George’s dad) keep saying “Serenity Now” whenever they get a little over-stressed with a situation. Kramer explains that he has learned this coping technique and finds it to be a wonderful tool. As the episode continues, Lloyd and George team up to sell computers from the garage of Frank Costanza, George’s dad. Predictably Lloyd is completely outperforming George. Well this little fact prompts George to hatch a plan. He’ll hide the computers in Kramer’s apartment, say they’re all sold, claim victory after the competition is over, and then sell them later. Foolproof, right? What could possibly go wrong with this plan?

As it turns out, all that is achieved by saying “Serenity Now!” when stressed is a bottling up of the stress which leads to a major explosion. George learns this fact from one Lloyd Braun who tells him that the reason he (Lloyd) ended in a psychiatric hospital was because of “Serenity Now”. He told George “Serenity now, insanity later”.

George rushes to Kramer’s apartment after the competition ends and finds Kramer flipping out. We hear the sound of glass breaking, things crashing to the floor, all while Kramer repeatably yells “SE-REN-IT-TY NOOWWWWW!” The scene ends with George learning that Kramer just destroyed all the computers George was hiding in Kramer’s apartment. It was great. But I guess you just have to see it to appreciate it. So to refresh your memory or just for the first time, here are the highlights from “Serenity Now!”

 

SERENITY NOW!

So where did Lloyd, Frank, and Kramer go wrong? Is it wrong to seek serenity when times get tough? Well, no it isn’t. But the WAY they sought serenity in the difficult times was wrong. They thought through their effort they could find the peace they needed. But in the end, the serenity they sought eluded them and their situation was worse at the end than at the beginning. Before we judge too harshly, don’t we do similar things? Don’t we sometimes run from the very One we need to run to – to depend on – for our peace of mind and serenity? If we’re honest, we must answer “yes” to that question.

Jesus said “Come to Me all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light” Matthew 11:28-30 NASB

How often do we actually go to Jesus? Yeah, I know, this is mostly about repenting and turning to Him in our salvation. But do you notice the on-going effects here?

His yoke is now my yoke

This means that the yoke that Jesus places on us – His teachings and restrictions – are not as burdensome as the ones we leave behind. This is an on-going condition too. Whatever we face in this life, we’re having it placed on us by Jesus Christ who is, of course, God. So if I am to be burdened, why not have the ones that have their root in the all-knowing, all-loving, all-sufficient God of the universe?

Learn from Jesus

So now this comes into sharper focus. Jesus is talking about discipleship here. He is the One who is teaching me. That is why His yoke is on me and I am tied to Him. He is teaching me all I need to know. Maybe (probably) I won’t know everything that I could know, but I will know everything I need to know. And who better than Jesus to teach me. So are you – and me – being taught by Christ?

Jesus is gentle and humble

Do I really need to explain this? Both genuine gentleness and humility are self-evident. Jesus is the definition of both these traits. As His disciple, I should take on these traits at some point. If you are His, you should too. Are you becoming increasingly gentle? How is your humility? What about those who are your Pastors? Are they gentle and humble? Or are they overbearing, arrogant, and harsh? Take a look at not only the leaders of your local church but those in general authority regarding Christian things. How do they measure on the gentle-meter?

Rest is in Him

Rest. That is one thing we don’t seem to get enough of these days. But it is exactly what Jesus promises us. If we come to Him, strap His yoke on, we will find rest for our souls. How good is that!

His yoke is easy

This refers to how well the yoke fit the oxen or other animal it was on. Jesus is saying He customizes the yoke He places on us so that it fit us well. This is a far cry from the one-size fits all mentality of Israel’s leaders at the time…and some leaders around today. Each of us have a highly-customized and individualized encounter with Jesus. I am not saying that we all get saved in different ways. No, we are all discipled and trained in a way that fits us, not the masses. So Jesus IS concerned with us as individuals with various personalities and differences. He is not looking to treat us all the same…but He does treat us equally.

SERENITY NOW!

So, where are you and your dependence? Are you, like Frank and Kramer, relying on “SERENITY NOW!!” to give you rest and peace from the daily struggles of life? Are you trying to get stress-free through a psychological trick or by denying there is stress in your life? None of the tricks will work. Denying stress won’t work. Heck, even getting out and performing works of righteousness won’t grant you peace or serenity.

Only Jesus can bring you the peace that defies explanation. Only Jesus can give you rest for your soul. If you haven’t come to Him to save you, won’t you do that today? Find peace and rest – Serenity – for your soul…find that He is concerned for you and your well-being.

If you already belong to Him but have been distracted by the stresses of life, stop and spend some time with your Savior. If you have some sin in your life, admit it and move on. Jesus isn’t about to shame His own when they come to Him in sincere repentance. You are never alone in this life. I don’t care if you’re married or not married. You are never alone because God is always with you. Getting weary is part of being human. We complicate things by trying to be busy “about the Lord’s work” 24/7. When we do this and don’t take time to simply experience the presence of Christ, we cheat ourselves and grow more weary by the moment.

If you are weary…if you are weighed down by the rules and regulations someone else has placed on you…come to Christ and find relief. Find peace. Find rest. And find serenity.

And find that serenity now.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ears on my Heart

How often do we listen to God? I mean REALLY listen to God! I’ll bet that we hear God sometimes but listen to Him less than we like to admit. In fact, listening to God is probably one of the most neglected habits we have while we are being progressively sanctified. We hear Him but don’t listen to Him. So what’s the difference? 

I believe the difference between hearing and listening has to do with our attitude. Sometimes there is something blocking us from hearing, so that can be difficult at times. I remember when I was much younger – 16 or so – I was helping my dad in our house. He had been talking to me but I continued to do what I thought he had wanted me to do. The issue was that something had changed, he told me to do something else, and I failed to hear him. When he asked if I was simply not paying attention or if I had not even heard him, I said I was ot paying attention to him. But, in reality, I had not even heard his voice. Eventually I admitted that I was having trouble hearing him and my teachers in school. I went to the doctor and found that my inner ear canal was blocked with something. I was given some medicine to help clear it out. Eventually my inner ears cleared and I could hear again. Listening, though, was another issue! After all I was a teenager and already knew everything!

We treat God like this sometimes, don’t we. We go about what we THINK He wants us to do. All the while He is saying that we need to do something else but we don’t hear Him or listen to Him. Sometimes, like me at 16, there is something in the way of our hearing Him and thus preventing us from listening to Him. This could be sin in our lives, unbelief, or simply being too busy with our own life to hear Him. But sadly I think we are all-to-often too enamored with our own plans to hear Him. You see, much too often we are spiritual teenagers…we already know everything so why do we need to hear God?

But hearing and listening to God is vitally important to our progressive sanctification. If we hear Him and then listen to what He says, we will become progressively more like Him. If we decide to do things our way, we will be, well, spiritual teenagers…we’ll continue to be legends in our own mind! But this should never be! 

You may wonder why I keep writing about “hearing” and then “listening” to God. Well, let me explain.

Hearing” is a simple process of processing sound waves that travel through the air, strike the eardrum, which in turn vibrates some bones which then cause nerve impulses to travel to the brain. The brain then interprets these impulses as sounds and, voila, we hear something! But listening is something else. 

We listen not so much with our ears…not so much with our brain. We listen – at least we should listen – with our heart. We have some really great examples of this in Scripture. I will concentrate on only one.

Let’s look at 1 Kings 3:5-9: 

5 In Gibeon the Lord appeared to Solomon in a dream at night; and God said, “Ask what you wish Me to give you.” 6 Then Solomon said, “You have shown great lovingkindness to Your servant David my father, according as he walked before You in truth and righteousness and uprightness of heart toward You; and You have reserved for him this great lovingkindness, that You have given him a son to sit on his throne, as it is this day. 7 Now, O Lord my God, You have made Your servant king in place of my father David, yet I am but a little child; I do not know how to go out or come in. 8 Your servant is in the midst of Your people which You have chosen, a great people who are too many to be numbered or counted. 9 So give Your servant an understanding heart to judge Your people to discern between good and evil. For who is able to judge this great people of Yours?”

1 King 3:5-9 (NASB) 

In this passage we see that Solomon is now King of Israel. Solomon recounts how God had shown kindness to David in David’s life. God kept His word to place a descendant of David’s on the throne (who is Solomon). Solomon states the reality that he is young and inexperienced (v. 7) and that he has a big job to do governing Israel (v. 8). In verse 9, Solomon responds to God’s question in a majestic way. He responds as we should pray each day. The NASB does a great job translating the Hebrew here in v. 9. I want to zero in on the words “understanding heart”. 

. So Solomon wants to hear with his heart. He wants to have understanding, knowledge, and wisdom in dealing with the governance of Israel. He wants his judgments to be correct and discerning. In short, he doesn’t want to just hear…he wants to listen. 

  (The Hebrew here is leb shema. This means hearing (shema) heart (leb) – the term leb is oftentimes used for the center of mental faculties in the human. However, here I think the context is clearly more than simple mental faculties and employs more than acquisition of knowledge)

We need to listen with our heart to actually hear with understanding as God speaks to us.

This doesn’t mean that we hear God’s voice audibly. I believe the vast majority of the fantastic conversations with God with Him speaking audibly are not true. God typically speaks to us through his word. But we need to understand that listening to God is more than just reading His word. It is more than just praying to God. It is more than just sitting down and emptying our mind of the daily clutter. 

Listening to God means we hear with understanding. That means we both study the Bible on a deep level AND read it on a devotional level. That means that we pray to God asking for wisdom AND walk through the circumstances that bring us wisdom. That means we worship God with our voice AND with our Spirit. When we incorporate understanding into our hearing we have listening. And listening to God is a very good thing. 

When we listen to God we can’t help but grow closer to Him. We can become closer because we don’t simply hear what He is saying to us through His word but we also understand its application to us AND we apply it. Far too many folks just skim the Bible without ever really studying it so that they can apply it to their lives. That is like hearing someone on the phone tell you how to avoid a major pothole in the road then going out and ignoring everything they said. Then, when we drive through the pothole and damage our vehicle, we complain about the pothole. 

If we want to continue to draw closer to Christ – if we want to be progressively more sensitive to sin, more like Him and less like ourselves, we must – MUST –  practice putting ears on our heart. We must listen with our heart and not just our ears and brain. 

No Soup for You!

If we properly understand the purpose of trials, then our attitude about them and about God will change.

I used to watch a TV show years ago titled “Seinfeld”. It was a wildly popular show about nothing. It really didn’t have much of a story line or plot. Most of the time it simply observed the mundane aspects of daily life in New York City. The “best” part of the show were the characters. They were overblown for sure. But they were funny. So very funny.

One character I really liked was called “The Soup Nazi”. This guy, who operated a soup restaurant, had a very particular way he wanted people to order his soup and conduct themselves in his shop. If one failed to obey his policies to the letter that person would be denied soup with a loud “No Soup for You!” and kicked out of the store. I guess you had to see it to laugh.

Sometimes I think that we see God as the Soup Nazi. If we fail to do everything exactly as He wants us to, He will kick us out of His shop with a loud “No Grace for You!” This attitude is fueled by our lack of understanding regarding the purpose of trials.

Trials are a part of the Christian’s life.

We need to understand that trials are essential to our development as Christians. But there are some who profess to belong to Christ who see trials differently because they misunderstand the purpose of a trial. For these, a trial is a sign of judgment from God because of a Christian’s disobedience to Christ. For these folks, if anything but smooth sailing is experienced by Christians then there is something very wrong in that Christian’s life. They could not be more wrong about this. If we properly understand the purpose of trials, then our attitude about them and about God will change.

In James 1 we get to see the purpose of trials. Lets take a look at a few verses in James 1:

2 Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, 3 knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. 4 And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

In v. 2 our attitude should be one of joy. Lets keep this in mind when considering trials. In v. 3 we see that when our faith is tested through a trial, it produces endurance – translated “perseverance” in a previous article. But this is not the purpose of a trial. This is a step toward the purpose of the trial. To understand the purpose of the trial and why we should have an attitude of joy while encountering a trial, we must look intently at v. 4.

in v. 4, endurance has its perfect (or complete) result. That result is that we are “perfect and complete lacking in nothing.” So, when we endure a trial, the result of the endurance is that we get a part that is missing. That missing part, whatever it is, is necessary for us to be Christ-like. SO our experiencing trials, while seldom pleasant, is always necessary to our development. We wont arrive at our “perfect and complete” state in this life. But we will (or at least should) be progressing more and more toward Christ-likeness.

So how are you doing enduring trials? How is your attitude? Do you think that persevering through a trial is because you have done something wrong and the great Soup Nazi in the sky is saying “No Grace for you! Now get out!” If you do think this way, you need to rethink your position.

If you get bummed by trials, think about how God is perfecting you. Think about how He is getting rid of the impurities of your life through the heat of the caldron of trials. And focus on where God is taking you. He is moving you toward perfection. He is making you more Christ-like. More like Christ. More like Him.

“Whatever it Takes”

Hymn by: Lanny Wolfe

There’s a voice calling me
From an old rugged tree
And He whispers draw closer to me
Leave this world far behind
There are new heights to climb
And a new place in me you will find

For whatever it takes to draw closer to you Lord
That’s what I’ll be willing to do
For whatever it takes to be more like you
That’s what I’ll be willing to do

Take the dearest things to me
If that’s how it must be
To draw me closer to thee
Let the disappointments come
Lonely days without the sun
If through sorrow more like you I become

For whatever it takes to draw closer to you Lord
That’s what I’ll be willing to do
For whatever it takes to be more like you
That’s what I’ll be willing to do

Take my houses and lands
Change my dreams, change my plans
For I’m placing my whole life in your hands
And if you call me today
To a place faraway
Lord I’ll go and your will obey.

I’ll trade sunshine for rain
Comfort for pain
That’s what I’ll be willing to do
For whatever it takes for my will to break
That’s what I’ll be willing to do
That’s what I’ll be willing to do

Fahrenheit 1763.4714

The process of refining brings out the beauty of the metal that is hidden by the impurities.

Fahrenheit 1763.4714.

Hmmm. Lets see, what does this mean. It isn’t the title of a new documentary about alleged government cover-ups. It isn’t a song about some nonsensical subject. It isn’t about a new dish to eat or place to go. Fahrenheit 1763.474 isn’t about any of those things. It IS about sanctification. It IS about how we get progressively more like Christ. And, by the way, it IS the melting point of silver. What??! What does the melting point of silver have to do with the progressive sanctification of believers? And what does this have to do with the previous article about trials? Confused yet? Good. Let me explain.

The human condition is an interesting one. On one hand we see ourselves as independent,

self-sufficient individuals. On the other hand we seek the approval of others.

This paradox is one of the most vexing confronting those who study human behavior.

As Christians we seek approval. Sometimes this means we will compromise how we behave or believe. Sometimes we change ourselves in order to get the approval of others. Still other times we will do things we have great reservations about in order to be approved by others. In fact, there is probably no limit to which we will go in order to be accepted and approved of by others.

We also fear the converse: we fear being rejected or disapproved. This is best seen in our relationship with God. Most often Christians mistake trying to curry favor with God for serving God.We desperately seek His approval and try like crazy not to be rejected or disapproved by Him. This is a monumental mistake that leads people to do many weird and sometimes wicked things. We treat God like a mere human with whom we may curry favor with empty words, powerless actions, and vain flattery. We insult God and His holiness and power. We spit in His face by substituting our weak and vain actions for His wonderful and matchless grace.

If we belong to God –  if we have accepted Christ’s sacrifice as the only work that can save us from the flames of hell – we must never fear we will be rejected or disapproved by God.

How do I know this? Well, the answer is quite simple: the Bible tells me so!

In James 1, the word that is translated “testing” is the word dokimion. It comes from the word dokimazo. So, you may wonder, what does that have to do with the title of this article. Well my inquisitive friend, I have an answer for you! The term dokimazo was used in the Septuagint and other literature for the refining process of silver and gold. The idea was to heat up the silver (or gold) so it 1) melts and 2) releases the impurities that were part of the metal.

This process had two consequences. These consequences have a direct bearing on our progressive sanctification AND the use of the term dokimazo in sections referring to our trials. The first consequence of the refining process of either silver or gold is that as the impurities trapped in the metal are released due to the heat the metal is experiencing, that metal becomes more pure. That goes to reason doesn’t it? The fewer impurities, the purer the metal. Which brings me to the second consequence of the refining process. When a metal becomes purer, it reflects its true nature and beauty better. Have you ever seen pure gold? Or pure silver? Pretty impressive, right? The process of refining brings out the beauty of the metal that is hidden by the impurities.

The process is rather straightforward. Lets look at silver. You would take a bunch of it throw it in a pot of some kind and start a fire under the pot. The fire would be fanned and its heat output would rise until the silver melted. Silver melts at 1763.474 degrees Fahrenheit. Ahh, the title makes sense now! Once the silver melted, some of the impurities that were trapped in it would bubble to the top. These impurities are commonly referred to as the “dross”. Then the heat is increased and more impurities come out. This is repeated until the metal releases no more impurities.

How does this relate to our sanctification? Quite simply this IS the process we undergo in order to be more like Christ.

God places heat under us.

He heats us up until the initial impurities bubble up. He removes those impurities. Instead of leaving us there, He turns the heat up again. More impurities come out. He does this again and again until there are no more impurities bubbling to the surface. When does that happen? Why go through all this if we are still surrounded by sinful mankind? Well, not to be cruel, I will post that article next Monday. Until then, think about how you are viewing the trials you are experiencing. Some will say that severe trials are an indication that God is judging you and is a sign of your rebellion against Him. But I don’t think so. God refines those that are His. Those of us who belong to Him can expect to have progressively more heat applied to our lives so that more impurities come out.

After all, isn’t the aim of this life – and God’s call on us – to resemble Christ more and ourselves less.