Thursday, October 20, 2011

Worldly Grief = Death

Have you ever shared the gospel with someone, felt like the person was getting it, and then a few weeks later they seem to have no interest in following Christ? It can be hard to share the gospel faithfully when we continue to see people respond positively, but only for a short period of time. I personally long to see more and more people come to Christ because of my ministry. And I long to see those people follow Christ for the long haul, not just for a few days.

While it can be discouraging to see people reject the gospel, it should not surprise us. Jesus himself had many who heard him teach, yet walked away unchanged and unresponsive to following him. The apostle Paul testified of men he had poured his life into, who abandoned him later in life to return to the things of this world. Many faithful Christians have shared the gospel, only to see people ultimately reject a new life with Christ.

The Bible tells us that this kind of conviction and response is not genuine. II Cor. 7:10 says that some experience sorrow or grief about their sin, but it isn't motivated out of a genuine desire to turn from it so that they can please God. Instead, many people will initially respond to the gospel for fear of hell and punishment. Not that hell and punishment are bad motivations for salvation. But for many, the thought of hell is quickly gone, and after a few days, they become unconcerned once again with the punishment and wrath that awaits them. They initially say "yes" to Jesus out of fear, but once the fear goes away, it is back to loving the things of this world, which will one day lead to death.

Pharaoh, unfortunately, serves as a good example of this type of sorrow. In Exodus 9, God is continuing to pour out plagues on Egypt because of Pharaoh's rebellion and stubbornness. As the hail storm rains down wrath upon Egypt, Pharaoh begins to cry out and acknowledge his sin. He says, "This time I have sinned; the LORD is in the right, and I am my people are in the wrong. Plead with the LORD, for there has been enough of God's thunder and hail. I will let you go, and you shall stay no longer."

This would seem to be the response that Moses and God had been waiting on all along. But this repentance isn't real. This type of repentance only comes because there is regret due to the punishment. Once the punishment is removed, the sin and rebellion comes right back. Moses even says, "I know that you do not yet fear the LORD God."

Don't be discouraged as you share the gospel and see people ultimately reject it. You can expect this to happen, as we see it happen throughout Scripture, but in the Old and New Testaments. But you can also expect the opposite. Lest we forget, the book of Revelation proclaims a scene where people from the entire earth, a number that no one can count, standing before the throne of God in worship. People will be saved. And we can expect it. As we spread the seed of the gospel, remember much of it will fall on good soil that will spring up and last. As Paul says in I Thessalonians 1:1-5, when the gospel comes in the power of the Holy Spirit, true conviction will happen and we will be able to rejoice over real salvations.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Have You Ever Worshipped a Golden Calf?

Exodus 32 reveals a startling picture of how "off" many can be in their worship of God. The children of Israel have just been rescued from 400 years of slavery and bondage to the Egyptian people. And this was no ordinary rescue. This rescue operation had been supernaturally engineered by the Creator of the universe. Yahweh Himself had gotten personally involved in the lives of this people, freeing them from a ruthless Pharaoh through a series of miraculous plagues, splitting open the Red Sea so they could pass right through and then graciously providing both food and water in the middle of the wilderness where there was none to be found. And now this nation of Israel has been led to the foot of a mountain, a scene that the Bible describes as terrifying with smoke, fire, lightening and rumblings all providing the backdrop for where Israel will be given the holy standard of God's Law.

As the days pass the people begin to grow restless. Rather than taking the time to know God through His revealed Word, they craft their own version of Yahweh and decide for themselves how he will be worshipped and known. The account of this is astonishing. Notice that in Exodus 32, this golden calf that is molded from gold is not called Baal or any other foreign god name. This calf is called Yahweh. Aaron leads the people in giving credit to this "created god" for their rescue from Egypt. In addition, a worship feast is played for none other than Yahweh, whom they will choose to worship the way they want to worship him, with pagan dancing and activities that they have learned from the world. They aren't claiming to worship a false god, they think they are worshipping the one true God. These people, in their own ignorance, believe they are worshipping the God who is on the mountain, but their worship and knowledge is based on THEIR ideas, emotions and reasoning, not on God's Word.

Have you ever been guilty of the same thing? Have you ever allowed your understanding of God to be shaped by your own reasoning, your own thoughts, your own ideas and your own emotions? Have you ever heard people disregard truths about God by saying "I just can't believe in a God who would do things that way"? Are you guilty of believing things about God that others have told you but that aren't rooted in His Word? Have you been worshipping a calf in your mind, rather than worshipping Yahweh? Have you chosen to "know" God through your own reasoning, rather than taking the time to search the depths of who He is in His Word? Are you sure what you think about God is the same thing that God says about Himself?

I know for myself, especially over the past 5 years or so, that I have had to wrestle with hard truths about who God is and how He runs His universe. It's hard to believe, at times, in a God who judges people with hell, in a God who allows evil and suffering to wreck lives, in a God who does things differently then I would choose to. One thing I've learned though over the years though, I'm thankful that I worship a God who isn't the type of god I would create. I'm thankful that as I search the Scripture to know God more, He ends up being everything that my sinful, selfish, arrogant, prideful self doesn't want him to be. He is a God who loves holiness, who won't let me stay in my sin, who forgives others as much as He forgives me, who is concerned about His own glory more than He is mine, who is concerned with dealing with Satan, sin, pain and suffering in His own timing. I'm thankful for a God who is infinitely better than anything I could ever craft out of gold in my mind. He is everything that I would do differently. And I'm eternally grateful for that.

Let us not be guilty of worshipping a god who doesn't exist. Let us instead shape our minds, deepen our knowledge and worship in truth as we understand the God who has rescued us supernaturally from sin. Know God through His Word. Be challenged when the God you find is something you didn't expect. Be encouraged when you find God doing things you wouldn't do. A God who is hard to understand at times makes more sense than a god we create.