Another Sunday is upon us and the church is still having to figure out how to worship together while practicing self-distancing. Awkward and uncomfortable, I know. But I believe our choice to forgo our right to assemble and worship for the sake of the least of these (those who are at greater risk), is proper and prudent. And I believe the Lord will honor the free sacrifice of our own rights for the sake of others.
With that said, the following message is from the first two chapters of the book of Joel. In fact, as we go through Joel together, I think you’ll be amazed and comforted at how the crisis in Joel’s time (locust invasion) parallels the crisis we are facing as a church and a nation today. For me, the most encouraging truth from Joel is the solution to their locust problem then is the same as the solution to our coronavirus problem now. And that solution, as always, is repentance.
We will specifically focus on Joel 2:12-13, which reads:
“Now, therefore,” says the LORD, “Turn to Me with all your heart, (how) with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning.” So rend your heart, and not your garments; return to the LORD your God, (why) for He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness; and He relents from doing harm.”
Note, the first sentence is a statement by God. The second is the application from Joel. And Joel’s words are timeless. They are just as valid and true in his generation as they are today. So take them to heart.
Two Truths About God from Joel
If you read the small book of Joel, you will discover there are two unchanging truths the Lord wants us to know about Himself. It is almost like He is presenting these as an encouragement to His children when they go through trying times and He wants us to rest in these eternal truths. The first one deals with God’s sovereignty.
God is in control of all situations we may face – government intrusion, war, illness, heartache, financial ruin, swarming locusts and the coronavirus. Name your catastrophe, it doesn’t matter. God is in control.
And the second one is even more encouraging.
God responds to repentance. Always and forever. Without fail. No matter how horrible the sin that prompts the repentance.
Or, to put it another way, God loves us as least as much as the best human father we could imagine would love his children. Howie Cunningham, Ward Cleaver, James Dobson, Andy Taylor, Carl Winslow, Philip Banks, you name it. They are great fathers, maybe better than the ones you had as a child. But God is off the charts! Beyond comprehension. So there is no comparison. Period.
As we face an uncertain future, let’s confidently hold fast to our certain God. Rest in Him. Trust Him. Grow in a likeness to Him. And when you do, you’ll find His promises to be true.
My brethren (put your name here), count it all joy when you fall into various trials, (why) knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing. (James 1:2-4).
And remember, you are “complete in Him” (Colossians 2:10).
The following is a study on Repentance, Old Testament Style, as revealed in Joel 1-2.
When Jesus instructed His disciples, and the others, about what it meant to follow Him in Matthew 16:24-25, He spoke of “desire to come after me” and then “let him deny himself.” We looked at desire in our last message, and now we will turn our focus to what He meant by “deny himself.” Note the requirement and sequence in the verse below. First, there must be desire (“if anyone desires to come after Me”). Then, a denial and the corresponding action showing the commitment to deny himself (“take up his cross”). And finally, the invitation to “follow Me.” Jesus shows surrendering to Him must follow in this order. In essence, first meet the conditions, and then come “follow Me.”
Jesus said, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me” – Matthew 16:24-25.
The word deny (aparnéomai) when followed by the pronoun heautón (oneself, himself) means “to deny oneself, or to disown and renounce self and to subjugate all works, interests, benefits, and enjoyments to another.” The word is also translated “to speak against, contradict, to avoid, reject, nullify, to stand firm against, resist, oppose.”
When Jesus said we must “deny” ourselves, the impact of our denial affects all areas of our life.
Deny, Denial, and Denied!
In Matthew 10, Jesus speaks of confessing Him before men or risk having Him deny us before His Father. It is an extremely troubling warning from Christ that left no room for doubt or excuses. He said,
“Whatever I tell you in the dark, speak in the light; and what you hear in the ear, preach on the housetops. And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell” – Matthew 10:27-28.
Who is the One we are to fear? Exactly, the Lord. If so, do you have the fear of the Lord in you? How has that fear changed your life so far?
“Are not two sparrows sold for a copper coin? And not one of them falls to the ground apart from your Father’s will. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Do not fear therefore (the consequences of speaking what the Lord tells you to say); you are of more value than many sparrows” – Matthew 10:29-31.
But then it gets quite serious for those who do not heed the Lord’s warning.
“Therefore whoever confesses Me (where) before men, him I will also confess (where) before My Father who is in heaven. But whoever denies (refuse, avoid, reject, resist, oppose) Me (where) before men, him I will also deny (refuse, avoid, reject, resist, oppose) before My Father who is in heaven” – Matthew 10:32-33.
Can you imagine being denied by Christ before the Father?
Fear and Excuses
But if I confess Jesus, my friends will not include me. Or my spouse will reject me even to the point of separation or divorce. Or I’ll lose my job and source of income. Or I’ll be persecuted, even to the point of possible imprisonment. Or… you choose the excuse. They are all the same, lame. But Jesus anticipated these excuses. He continued:
“Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword. For I have come to ‘set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter in law against her mother in law ’; and ‘a man’s enemies will be those of his own household.’ He who loves father or mother more than Me is (what) not worthy of Me. And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is (what) not worthy of Me. And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is (what) not worthy of Me. (Therefore) He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life (why) for My sake will find it” – Matthew 10:34-39.
Or are you a follower of Jesus according to what works best for you? Have you truly counted the cost of being one with Him? Is He the center of your life? Is He your very life? Do you want Him to be? If so, everything begins at the beginning. And it all begins with desire.
Do you want to follow after Jesus? No matter what? Come what may? If so, then keep listening.
The following is a study on What it Means to Follow Jesus.
The following is from Robertson McQuilkin in the book, Five Views of Sanctification. This was written as a defense of the Keswick view of sanctification and I find his words incredibly enlightening. In fact, I read this as the opening statement before my sermon on How to Surrender Your Life to the Lord that I preached this past Sunday.
I hope it proves to be a blessing to you.
Average is Not Normal
Average is not necessarily normal. For example, the average temperature of patients in a hospital may be 100 degrees, but such a temperature is not normal. The average score for a group of friends on the golf course may be 85 for the day, but par may be only 72. So it is with the Christian life. The average experience of church members is far different from New Testament norms for the Christian life.
The normal Christian is characterized by loving responses to ingratitude and indifference, even hostility, and is filled with joy in the midst of unhappy circumstances and with peace when everything goes wrong. The normal Christian overcomes in the battle with temptation, consistently obeys the laws of God, and grows in self-control, contentment, humility, and courage. Thought processes are so under the control of the Holy Spirit and instructed by Scripture that the normal Christian authentically reflects the attitudes and behavior of Jesus Christ. God has first place in life, and the welfare of others takes precedence over personal desires. The normal Christian has power not only for godly living but for effective service in the church. Above all, he or she has the joy of constant companionship with the Lord.
But what is the average Christian experience? Church members typically think and behave very much like morally upright non-Christians. They are decent enough, but there is nothing supernatural about them. Their behavior is quite explainable in terms of heredity, early environment, and present circumstances. They yield to temptation more often than not, lusting when their body demands it, coveting what they do not have, and taking credit for their accomplishments. The touchstone for their choices is self-interest, and though they have a love for God and others, it does not control their life. There is little change for the better; in fact, most church members do not expect much improvement and are little concerned by that prospect. Scripture is not exciting, prayer is perfunctory, and service in the church demonstrates little touch of the supernatural. Above all, their life seems to have an empty core, for it does not center around a constant, personal companionship with the Lord.
Remember these truths as you go to worship this Sunday. And, for the honor of Christ, please be different than you have in the past. After all, as the mantra goes, “If things are going to change, you’ve got to change.”
There’s a time when the Lord gives us what we want: freedom, autonomy, independence, and to have no authority over our lives but ourselves. That’s right. God gives us over to our selfish, carnal attitudes and allows us to experience the consequences of our sins. It’s like He says, “Ok, you want to go your own way? Have at it. I’ll be here when you come to your senses.” It’s the story of the prodigal son played out in our lives in real time.
This is called the curse of God’s abandonment. It’s when He removes His protecting grace from our lives and our nation and let’s us see how we like life without Him. And the results are catastrophic.
Samson, after having his hair cut by Delilah, woke up to confront his enemies still believing he had the same strength as before because his God was with him. But that was not the case. He said, “I will go out as before, at other times, and shake myself free!” But he did not know that the LORD had departed from him (Judges 16:20). Samson was experiencing the abandonment of God.
God Gave Them Up
In Romans 1 we see three examples of this very act of God’s abandonment:
Therefore God also gave them up – Romans 1:24.
For this reason God gave them up – Romans 1:26.
God gave them over – Romans 1:28.
But who are the “them” in these verses? The lost? The unregenerate? Those nations that reject truth and justice? Yes. But if you will study these verses closely you will find the object of God’s curse of abandonment is also the church. It includes His wayward believers. It includes you and me.
Does this seem strange to you? Maybe hard to believe? Then I suggest you keep listening and find out the truth for yourself. And remember, “judgment begins at the house of God” (1 Peter 4:17). Are you ready?
The following is a study on the Curse of the Abandonment of God.
In Proverbs 4 the Lord reveals to us some promises that come with wisdom. They are simple, direct, pointed promises, and each has a condition that must be met. Fulfill the condition, receive the promise. Refuse the condition, and you walk away empty handed and promise free. It’s that simple.
The Proverb begins with the father once again giving sage advice to his young children. Watch how this unfolds.
Proverbs 4:1-2 – Hear, my children, the instruction of a father, and give attention to know understanding; (why) for I give you good doctrine: (therefore) do not forsake my law.
The father then reminds his children about his own upbringing and the words his father told him that he is now passing on to his own children. He says:
Proverbs 4:3-5 – When I was my father’s son, tender and the only one in the sight of my mother, he also taught me, and said to me: “Let your heart retain my words; keep my commands, and live. Get wisdom! Get understanding! Do not forget, nor turn away from the words of my mouth.”
Get Wisdom! Get Understanding!
The point the father is trying to impress on his beloved children is the importance of getting wisdom and understanding. In fact, you can almost feel the urgency in the father’s words: “Get wisdom! Get understanding!” (Prov. 4:5) Later, he adds, “Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom. And in all your getting, get understanding” (Prov. 4:7).
Wisdom (ḥoḵmāh) is defined as “skill, experience and shrewdness; with the beginning of wisdom and the supreme wisdom being to properly fear and reverence God.”1 Understanding (biynāh) means “comprehension and discernment, which is accompanied by righteous actions and it carries a strong moral and religious connotation.”2 So when the father says “in all your getting, get understanding” (Prov. 4:7), he is imploring his children to add righteous actions to their reverence and fear of God. It’s not a theological point to be debated. It’s not a mere mental exercise. It’s living in real time a life that corresponds to a reverence of God. Like Jesus later said, “But why do you call Me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do the things which I say?” (Luke 6:46). Great question. How would you answer Him?
The First Promise
Then comes the most exciting part of these few verses. Wisdom is now personified as a woman and each of these promises about wisdom (her) is connected with a condition that must first be met. There are three do’s and one don’t. Let’s look at the don’t first.
Proverbs 4:6a – (condition) Do not forsake her (wisdom), and (promise) she will preserve you.
To forsake (ʿāzaḇ) someone is to “leave, neglect, or abandon” them, usually for someone or something else.3 And the idea associated with the word translated preserve (šāmar) means “to keep watch, to guard, to watch over carefully like a mother over her young child.”4
So the first promise from wisdom is that if we do not abandon wisdom or neglect the wisdom found in God’s Word, then wisdom will guard our life and watch carefully over us like a loving mother to her cherished young child. Wisdom will become our protector, our safety, and our security in troubling times of trials and temptations and persecution. She will preserve our life during the attacks of the enemy and reveal to us what is true and trustworthy. And in doing so, we will be strengthened against the schemes of our enemy who speaks to us lies disguised as truth (John 8:44).
Wisdom will also protect us from falling prey to our own ideas about things. She will help us bring “every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ” (2 Cor. 10:5) so we won’t confuse our selfish, carnal thoughts and feelings about ourselves and others and vainly think they come from the Lord. If we hold on to wisdom and do not abandon her to our own self-centered sense of right and wrong, then she will guard us against the temptation of trying to create God in our own image by believing He thinks and feels like we do.
And nothing could be further from the truth. Why? Because He doesn’t. God doesn’t live in our box.
As the Lord says in Isaiah:
Isaiah 55:8-9 – “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,” says the LORD. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts.”
I think that should settle it, don’t you?
There are three more promises granted to those who embrace the conditions associated with wisdom. We’ve only looked at the first one, the don’t.
Tomorrow we’ll continue with the three do’s.
Baker, W., & Carpenter, E. E. (2003). The complete word study dictionary: Old Testament (p. 337). Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers.