Thursday, February 26, 2015

The Will Of God: Search The Scriptures


Recently I had been asked to teach a class at our church about the will of God from the book Just Do Something by Kevin DeYoung. I was to teach the last class on the last two chapters of the book. My first reaction to doing this was a resounding, "NO!" I, like Moses, wanted to back out with, "But I'm not a good speaker." I am shy and introverted and public speaking has never been my thing. Yet, the class, which I was also taking, was about doing just this and, my only real reason for saying, "No," was fear. Since God has not given us a spirit of fear, I, reluctantly said yes.

 Now I had a few weeks from the time I was asked until the time I was to teach to prepare. My poor wife had to put up with me during this time of writing out my lesson, revising it, revising it again - and again - and again. She joked, "You could never be a pastor with as much trouble as you take over teaching one lesson."

Last night, despite the inclement weather, I got to finally teach my lesson. And, guess what?  I didn't use 90% of what I had written. I had prayed beforehand that God would speak through me and I hope that He did because I am super harsh and critical of myself and came home dejected because the lesson I taught wasn't the polished one I'd written.

So, I decide to post my lesson here. I am breaking it into the four steps that the chapter I was to cover used for discovering God's will for our lives. The first was Search the Scriptures, second was Get Wise Counsel, the third was Pray, and last was Make a Decision. Here is my lesson on Search the Scriptures. I will post the others separately at later times.


Gary Haugen once said, "If you're wrestling with some sort of decision, reflect for a moment and ask yourself, Am I being brave, or am I being safe. In the end it depends on whether we think God can be trusted." For those who aren't familiar with Gary Haugen, he was the former Human Rights Attorney for the United States Department of Justice. A Christian, he was reading the scriptures and was bothered by what he saw as Christians ignoring the Biblical injunction to "seek justice, protect the oppressed, defend the orphan, and plead for the widow."  He kept asking God, "Why? Why aren't Christians stepping up to do this?" And each time he was convicted with, "Why aren't you?" So he did. He saw the need to stop human trafficking, such as sexual trafficking and human slavery, and founded International Justice Missions, which is one of the biggest organizations in the world to stop what is a grievous evil taking place all around the globe.

Haugen studied the scriptures. He saw the need, a real physical and spiritual need, and when God asked him to, he said, "Yes."

When I was 10 years old and a Boy Scout, our troop went camping at Crowder's Mountain. It was a crisp, beautiful fall day. The sky was blue. Leaves were in all the autumnal glorious reds, oranges, and golds. But I saw none of this because I was afraid. Why? Because after we hiked up the mountain, we were going to repel down the 150 sheer drop. Now I was terrified of heights and the thought of doing this was overwhelming to me. So much so that I worried endlessly the week before it and, especially, the day of this activity. Other boys were having a blast, but I sat there on a cold rock, sweating, my heart pounding, in terror. The leaders kept trying to persuade me about how much fun this activity was, but I would have none of it. Finally, they tricked me by telling me that all I had to do was try on the harness built. Being a stupid and naive kid, I did and, next thing I know, I'm hooked to that rope and standing on the ledge. That first step off solid ground was the hardest. I don't know how long I stood there before I finally took that step.

But how many of us are like that about the things of God? We stand there, peering over the edge, or skirting around the edge, without ever taking the risk of that first step. We don't fully abandon ourselves fully to God. We are oftentimes too afraid to take that first step because we fear, "What is it going to cost me?"

Why is this?

For many, myself often included, it comes down to an issue of trust. Either we trust God or we don't. He always puts us at a crossroads. First, we have to answer that question that Jesus asks, "Who do you say I am?" If we answer that he is Christ, our Lord and Savior, then every crossroads we come to after that comes down to, "Will you obey me or go your own way?"

I think our fear stems from not fully knowing and trusting the character of God. To fully know Him, we have to spend time in our Bibles because His nature is there from cover to cover. It continually speaks of the "goodness" of God. In Latin, there are more definitions for this word than in English. It can mean beautiful, beneficent, pleasant, loving, and full of mercy and grace.

James 1:17 tells us, "Every good and perfect gift comes from above, coming from the father of lights with whom there is no shadow or variation." The last part tells us that He doesn't change. There are no gray areas with God. Like a loving father, He gives "every good and perfect gift."

But do we truly see God as loving? As tender? Luke 13:34 tells us, "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, which killest and stoneth them that are sent to her, how often would I have gathered the children together, as a hen doth gather her chicks under her wings, and ye would not." It is God who longs to love and protect His children. It is the children who have abandoned Him.

No matter how bad of a day I have had with my two sons, when they are asleep in their beds at night, I always go in there rooms and look on them with tenderness. I cannot help but love my sons. I kiss their foreheads and I say a quiet prayer over them. As their Papa, I would give my life for them - and I am an imperfect, often selfish, and fallible father. Our heavenly Father isn't. And He loves us as we are, not as we are supposed to be.

Oswald Chambers once wrote, "Faith is deliberate confidence in the character of God whose ways you may not understand at the time."

How true this really is.

I often think that life is like a quilt. On the back of a quilt, it's all ugly with knots and seams and it doesn't look like much or make a lot of sense. It's only when we see the front of the quilt that we understand and see the true beauty of the craftsmanship. I think this is how it will be with God when we are finally with him. We will be able to see our lives and go, "Oh, now I get it."

To know his character, we have to daily read our Bibles. Scriptures are there to reveal God to us. The more time we spend in the Word, the more we can see the unchangeable, unshakable, immutable, ever constant, and infinitely holy and loving God. We will see that He is true. He is faithful.

Joshua 1:9 says, "Have I not commanded you? Be of strong and good courage; be not afraid, neither you be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go."

Now I am someone who struggles with depression. This is something I have dealt with since high school and there have been times in my life that reached the lowest depths one could reach. But what kept me from ending my life as so many others who suffer from clinical depression have?

The love of God.

Psalms 139:8 tells us, "If I ascend into heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there." And He was. That's why I love the Psalms. David and the Psalmists keep it real. They often start off with, "Where are you God? Have you abandoned me?" How many of us can relate to that during difficult times in our lives? But the Psalms always end with, "I may not understand, but I will trust You."  During those times of depression, I learned the truth of Romans 8:39 that says, "Neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord." And nothing, not even the depths of utter depression did.

God is always with us. We don't need to fear that if we say, "Yes," to the will of God that He is going to declare, "Gotcha! Now I'm going to send you to be a missionary to the third world!" No, as Frederick Buechner wrote in his book Wishful Thinking, "The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world's deep hunger meet."  How true this is. When He calls us, He calls us to a place where we are capable. So often we build up people like Mother Teresa, Billy Graham, and Katie Davis and put them on spiritual pedestals, but we shouldn't. They are ordinary people falling an extraordinary God. We are, all of us, if we listen to the call, called to be modern day Pauls. These people should not stand out as different from others in Christ, because we should all be striving towards the goal that is set before us.

And God will lead us. It may not necessarily be by a way that we would have chosen or expected, though. Look at how he led the Israelites out of Egypt. He led them to a place where the Red Sea was on one side of them and mountains and a desert were on the other. They had to be asking, "God, did you bring us here so that we would die? Do you want us to die?" No, God doesn't want them dead, he wants them obedient. He put them in a place where they could not save themselves, where only He could and only He would get that glory. He may put us in such a place.

Later God would lead them by a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night.  When God moved, they moved. When He stopped, they stopped. They did not move until He did. Sometimes I think we aren't led because we want to move when He wants us to stand still. Psalm 46:10 tells us, "Be still, and know that I am God." That means, "Stop! I am God." In Latin, "Be still" translates to "Vacate." "Vacate and know that I am God." this is freeing because God is telling us that we are not in control of the situation, nor of the outcomes, and that we don't have to have all of the answers. We are not God. He is.  There is true freedom in trusting God and following His lead. "Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom." (2nd Corinthians 3:17)

He will lead us. That is why we are called His sheep. Sheep have to be led.

Why?

Because they are such stupid animals. That's why you don't see any wild sheep. Sheep wander off and must be found. They must be brought back to the fold. To survive they must be under the protective guidance and gaze of the shepherd. Jesus didn't call us any of the smart animals, like dogs or dolphins. Sheep are wholly dependent on their Shepherd. "The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want . . ." It's all there in the 23rd Psalm.

This goes openly against our culture. It bucks the Emersonian notion of self-reliance. In this culture, we don't want to be led, we want to be the leader. Even Christians can be this way. We too often are under the false impression that we are smart sheep. To follow God's will means we need to let go of our self-reliance, let go of self, and empty ourselves of ourselves and fill ourselves with the love of God.

Why?

Because, as one of my favorite writers, G.K. Chesterton wrote, "When we bind our hearts, we free our hands." What does that mean? It means, when we truly give our hearts to God, we are freed up to do His will. When we know and understand the character of God, we will want to do the will of God. It means that when we are reading our scripture and trusting a loving Father, we will hear His call and reply, "Yes."

For those interested in learning more about Gary Haugen and the work of International Justice Missions, here is a link to their site:
https://ijm.org/

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