Wednesday, December 17, 2014

"Ask for the Old Paths" - a Lesson From 2 Chronicles 11

There always seems to be push to abandon the old ways and rush forward to embrace that which is new and exciting. Things that have been around for a while lose their appeal, especially for folks who are obsessed with pleasure. And that's our society today, isn't it?

It's also the case that the old ways - the "traditional" institutions, you might say - have been around long enough for us to discover all the flaws. The up-and-coming system of thought or institution still looks perfect to us, or at least better than the old.

From fashion styles to social movements, from diet plans to philosophies, short-sighted people obsessed with the here and now choose the excitement of what's coming over the wisdom and experience of the past.

In 2 Chronicles 11, we see a major transition taking place in the kingdom of Israel from what we call the "United Kingdom" (of Saul, David and Solomon) to the "Divided Kingdom" (Israel in the north and Judah in the south). When it was time to appoint Solomon's son, Rehoboam, to be king, the people warned Rehoboam that if he didn't agree to make certain changes, they weren't going to support him as their king. When he failed to comply, they said, "What share have we in David? We have no inheritance in the son of Jesse. Every man to your tents, O Israel! Now see to your own house, O David!" (2 Chron. 10:16). Granted, Rehoboam handled the whole situation poorly, but the people were quick to abandon their loyalty to the Davidic line - the royal line God promised to bless  - in favor of something new and "more promising." They went on to make Jeroboam their king.

But here's what I find fascinating.

When this transition took place - and when it became clear that Jeroboam was not going to be a godly king - "those from all the tribes of Israel, such as set their heart to seek the Lord God of Israel, came to Jerusalem to sacrifice to the Lord God of their fathers" (2 Chron. 11:16). This included the Levites and priests as well as an untold number of people who were committed to truth.

I'm not suggesting that we should cling stubbornly to traditions, nor am I saying that new ideas never have a place at the table. What I am suggesting is that, like the Hebrews in this text who migrated to Jerusalem, we shouldn't be so quick to embrace what is new simply because it looks and sounds better. Rather, we should be willing to take a firm stand upon truth, even when it is couched in a system that seems outdated and drab.

I'd rather cling to the proven truth of old, even if there are traditions and people surrounding it that are flawed (i.e. Rehoboam) than hastily embrace the glitz and glam of the present (i.e. Jeroboam) that not only lacks truth, but will eventually develop the same warts and blemishes that I might find so repulsive with the "old" now.

We have to develop foresight and maturity like this or we will be like "children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine" (Eph. 4:14).

I can't help but agree with the prophet Jeremiah who once said, "Stand in the ways and see, and ask for the old paths, where the good way is, and walk in it" (Jer. 6:16).

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Uplifting Lessons From Romans 8

I'm currently studying through Romans and cannot help but be thoroughly impressed and uplifted by the inspired words of the apostle Paul. Yes, this is a difficult book. Yes, it is misinterpreted and abused by a great many religious people to support teachings that are both false and destructive. But if you will take the time to really study this epistle, your faith will be edified in more ways than you can begin to imagine.

Take, for instance, Romans 8. For me, this has always been one of the more difficult chapters in the book. But even amid the difficulties, there are so many uplifting concepts being taught to us by our Lord.

Consider a few of these concepts with me...

"There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit" (vs. 1). The point is not that Christians are unconditionally, eternally secure. Notice that the promise of "no condemnation" is tied to an ongoing lifestyle of walking "according to the Spirit." But even still, this is an insanely uplifting promise, is it not?!?! I must admit that it frustrates me when I see God's children walking about unsure of their salvation and status with God. This verse alone should propel us into a state of confidence. And with confidence come real hope and real peace.

"For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, 'Abba, Father.' The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God" (vs. 15-16). What a profound notion, that God has adopted us to be His children. As a result, we can now have intimacy with our heavenly Father! Yes, it's true that we are also called "slaves" of God in places like Romans 6 (this merely describes a different aspect of our relationship with God), but that doesn't take away from the fact that we are God's sons and daughters through Jesus Christ. I find it insane that the God of heaven and earth has asked me to be His precious son. "What is man that you are mindful of him?" Indeed! What a humbling concept.

"For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that shall be revealed in us" (vs. 18). This is what we Christians call hope, and biblical hope is not a wishy-washy thing; it's defined as confident expectation. It's this hope that puts gas in our engine and makes us go. It's this hope that animates us and drives us forward. I'm not suggesting that this life doesn't matter, because it absolutely does, but it's eternal life that takes precedence in a Christian's heart...and a simple study of the New Testament will make it abundantly clear that "heaven will surely be worth it all."

"And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose" (vs. 28). Now, Paul isn't saying that everything we do will work out - i.e. our business ventures, financial investments, dreams and life-goals, etc. In context, Paul acknowledges the sufferings and hardships that Christians endure. The ultimate point here is that if we love God and put Him first, that God's purpose for us will be accomplished. But this doesn't make the verse any less potent. If you really trust God's wisdom, then you must desperately long for His purpose (not your own) to be accomplished in your life...which means that this verse is unbelievably encouraging.

"What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?" (vs. 31-32) If this doesn't embolden you, nothing else will. And what I love about this passage is that God cements our confidence by reminding us of the gift of Christ. In other words, if God went through all the trouble of implementing, carefully guiding, and completing this incredible scheme of redemption in Christ, and if He sacrificed His own Son for you, does it not make sense that He cares for you? And does it not make sense that He is going to do everything He can to provide for your needs? I'm reminded of the Israelites who, after seeing God's miraculous provision time and time again, still complained and still rebelled and still thought that Egypt had more to offer than God. Really? But are we that different?

And finally, "Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord" (vs. 37-39). Nothing can take you away from God. Nothing can overpower God's love for you. God isn't going to avert His gaze or let go of you because He's distracted, or weary, or fickle. But notice that in the list Paul provides, he doesn't mention YOU. In other words, he doesn't say that YOU can't separate yourself from the love of God. Dear reader, it's important for you to understand that God has done everything and IS doing everything even NOW to nurture your faith and guide you back home to be with Him forever...and that the only thing - THE ONLY THING - that can ruin everything is you. Not the devil. Not your friends. If you stop believing, stop trusting, stop following and stop hoping...there is nothing that God can do to keep you from choosing to do so. This should simultaneously serve as a gentle reminder to us to "work out our own salvation with fear and trembling" (Phil. 2:12) and as a faith-builder in the power and love of God.

I hope that these few thoughts from Romans 8 have encouraged you today. Don't give up. Don't lose sight of God's abundant blessings. And don't forget that you're just a sojourner passing through a foreign country on your way home...home to be with your Father.