Do you feel good today? I hope so. It’s nice to feel good, but we have become a society that strives to always feel good. We expect our doctors to make us feel good. We look to our politicians to give us what we need to feel good. Teachers want students to feel food about themselves, and even some churches advertise that they make people feel good about coming. God never promised that we would always feel good. Certainly, there is nothing spiritual about feeling bad. That is not the point. But nowhere does God give us a promise that we would always feel good. He does, however, promise that He will never leave or forsake us; that His strength and grace are sufficient for all our needs; and that we can have His peace and joy regardless of our circumstances. That is a far better promise than just making us feel good.
Learning to know God is uncomfortable! If we read the Scriptures for what it is, God’s holy Word, it makes us uncomfortable. The whole purpose of God coming among us was to change us. If we didn’t need changing, if we had been good people just as we are, then there was no real point in His going to such great lengths to make Himself one of us. But we do need changing. Our hearts are far from God, and our natural inclinations reject His truth. This has been true since the first time we listened to the serpent in the Garden. Isaiah wrote about his people, “They tell their spiritual leaders, ‘Don’t bother us with irrelevancies.’ They tell their preachers, ‘Don’t waste our time on impracticalities. Tell us what makes us feel better. Don’t bore us with obsolete religion. That stuff means nothing to us. Quit hounding us with The Holy One of Israel.’”(30:10-11 from The Message) In our natural state, we can never be of service to our Lord in His eternal Kingdom. He did come to change us, and that is not comfortable. It challenges our preconceived notions, and forces us to let go of things to which we cling. Making us comfortable or happy is never God’s purpose, but bringing us into the depth of His joy and peace is. This is a far greater blessing.
In our world of ever increasing tolerance, both outside and within the Church, a principle that one is to love the sinner but hate the sin is rejected. In modern terms we are to love the sinner and accept everything he does as a normal or simply an alternate way of life. Christians often have Jesus’ words, “Do not judge and you will not be judged”,(Luke 6:37) thrown up to them any time they speak out against some sin. But if this is true, then all I wrote yesterday about Christians being different is meaningless, and further, it negates much of the Bible. God created mankind in purity and declared all that He had made “very good.” But we rebelled from God and blackened His purity, especially that which is in our hearts. God’s original holiness is the normal. What we have done, and gotten completely accustomed to, is not normal. It is evil, and separated from God. Unless God had come to us as the Redeemer we would all be lost and separated from Him forever. Christians are to judge right from wrong. Where we see wrong in a brother or sister Christian we are to “speak the truth in love”(Ephesians 4:15) so that we continue to live lives that show others a better way of life.
When reading the Bible many people will ignore the Old Testament book of Leviticus. It is full of ancient laws that are meaningless today, they say. Beside Jesus fulfilled the law for us. Certainly Jesus fulfilled the law, and we are not bound by these old statutes, but the Levitical laws are not meaningless. Some will take a passage like Leviticus 19:19 “‘Keep my decrees. “‘Do not mate different kinds of animals. “‘Do not plant your field with two kinds of seed. “‘Do not wear clothing woven of two kinds of material.” to mock the Bible as being God’s word. But understood rightly, even passages like this apply to us. Israel was called to be a holy and different people. They were not to mix with foreign peoples and get into their idolatrous practices. They were to be God’s people who could ultimately lead all peoples of the world to a true and saving knowledge of the Lord. They could not do this if they lived just like everyone else. The object lesson was given even in the close they wore. We certainly are not bound by this law, but we are very much guided by this principle. Christians are to be different people, showing the world a new kind of life through faith in Jesus Christ.
Just north of Washington, D.C., off of Route 270, is the U.S. Bureau of Standards and Technology. Everything done there involves exacting values. From maintaining the precise values for measurement, inches, feet, meters, kilograms and so forth, to the testing and research they do on high tech devices. Everything is precise. Most everything we come in contact with in daily life, from the way our home is constructed, to the car that gets us around town, to the smart phones that are now everywhere, can only be useful because of the exact standards to which they have been made. And we honor their makers by using them that way. But when it comes to people, the most complex of all beings, somehow we feel that values don’t apply. We say, all values, all standards, all faiths are equally valid. We fail to honor the One who brought us into being. Something seems amiss. Ancient Israel had this same problem when Moses asked, “Is this the way you repay the LORD, you foolish and unwise people? Is he not your Father, your Creator, who made you and formed you?”(Deuteronomy 32:6) Maybe it is past time we take a serious look at our world, and compare it again to the values God has given us in His Word.
“It’s me, it’s me, it’s me, O Lord. Standing in the need of prayer.” So says the words of an old Gospel song. It is easy to pass some of these songs off as sentimental, or bed theology, but some do contain real truth. We do stand in the need of prayer. Oh, we certainly know this for health issues, or for difficult situations of life. But even more than this, we need prayer to offer our hearts completely to the Lord. We need prayer to remind ourselves that He is the Potter and we are the clay. We need prayer to overcome temptation, and yield to the Holy Spirit as He works to mold us into the likeness of Christ. It is easy to pray for (or maybe against) those bad people over there. It’s much harder to pray for this bad person, pointing to our own heart, asking Christ to root out of us all the evil He finds, and to replace it with His Holy nature. But that is when we find the joy of His pure grace, and the peace that passes understanding. We are standing in the need of prayer.
I made part of our living by running a woodworking shop for thirty years. I’ve made a lot of furniture, built in cabinets, and done refinishing and repair work. I did some good work, but the jobs that I remember most are the ones I messed up, the ones where I didn’t make the customer happy. Sins are like that. Things we’ve done in the past, we wish had never happened. But it is just here that the grace of our God is such a blessing. “When we confess our sins He is faithful and just to forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”(I John 1:9) We have the assurance that, in the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, God does not hold our sins against us. “I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more.”(Isaiah 43:25) Our memory is still there, but through the forgiving grace of God our guilt is removed. The power of Satan to use our past against us is broken. We may have to deal with the consequences of our past actions, just as I had to make the jobs done for customers right, but their power to bind us is gone. “As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.”(Psalm 103:12) This is the freedom and true joy we have in our relationship with our Holy Lord.