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Saturday, November 12, 2011

Disobedient and Obstinate


Look around the world today.  What do you see?  Is there peace?  Does the world seem in disarray?  Why does it seem like there’s constant conflict?  If there aren’t uprisings against authoritarians then there certainly are protests against incompetent governments.  Or their supposed incompetence.  The fact that so many are unsatisfied with the current events and economic conditions suggests that there are some problems that the worlds’ governments cannot solve.

But is the discontent the fault of the government?  Is it the job of the government to meet everyone’s wants and needs?  I personally do not believe so.  One of the significant differences in the U.S. , for example, is that a century or so ago there was a much greater sense of personal responsibility.  But today our culture is becoming more dependent on a government to solve and take care of its people in almost every facet of their lives.  That seems like a tall order for any system of government and it sounds like a recipe for disaster.

One of the difficulties of any government meeting the needs of its people is the differences of opinions.  Certainly not everyone thinks alike and whether you are a liberal, moderate or conservative, the differences of opinion can mean all the difference.  People are a fickle bunch.  There’s this old saying, “You can please some of the people some of the time, all of the people some of the time, some of the people all of the time, but you can never please all of the people all of the time.”

I go back to the question, “Is it the job of the government to meet everyone’s wants and needs?”  Putting aside the fact that this is impossible, is it even something that should be done?  I believe the answer is no.  I think the world is missing an important truth about who we are.  We are a people created for worship; to worship and bring glory to God due to His infinite worth.  The Bible says that, “For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him.”  Instead of looking to the government, we all should be looking to God.

The question is, are we as a people created by God living out our purpose?  If we think that everything in this world is about us, then the answer is no.  We’re more concerned about ourselves, our comforts, and having what we want when we want it.  If the economy is taking a downturn, we all tend to internalize the issue and worry about how this is going to affect “me.”

God is more interested in things other than our comfort.  God wants us to look beyond the immediate events in our lives.  He wants us to be able to see what really matters in the long-term.   He wants us to have an eternity perspective.

The problem is, I think, is that we are not very good at looking beyond our own selves.  Israel had this problem.  In the Old Testament, we see Israel being chosen as God’s own people; a nation created to represent God to the rest of the world.  God didn’t choose these people because they were better than everyone else.  He chose them to display His glory.  In Deuteronomy 4, Moses explains this fact:

6 Keep them (God’s statutes and rules)and do them, for that will be your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples, who, when they hear all these statutes, will say, 'Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.' 7 For what great nation is there that has a god so near to it as the LORD our God is to us, whenever we call upon him? 8 And what great nation is there, that has statutes and rules so righteous as all this law that I set before you today?

Israel, though, had a difficult time understanding this.  Somewhere along the line they missed the point that God’s deliverance from Egypt and slavery was not about them.  True, God brought them into “a land flowing with milk and honey” and gave them victory to overcome their enemies.  And aside from periods of disobedience where God disciplined them, Israel enjoyed God’s blessings.  Ultimately, though, Israel rebelled so much so that God gave them over to Babylon and they once again found themselves in slavery.

In a way, I see the same thing happening today.  History shows us that the United States was founded on Christian/Judeo principles.  I don’t believe that over time God allowed America to prosper because there was something special or unique about the people.  Rather, I see a country that at its beginnings were people who sought God’s favor.  The emphasis, of course, being God.  They wanted to establish a nation that in many ways was like Israel.  Obviously not everything about America’s beginnings was perfect.  But generally speaking, the people sought to do what was right in God’s eyes.  They included God in nearly every facet of their public and private affairs.  A lot of this can still be evidenced by the writings and documents that the forefathers wrote (the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States, for example.)

However, over the years the hearts of people have turned away from God.  Slowly and meticulously, certain groups of people have sought to remove even the mention of God or Jesus Christ from the public square.  God’s Name has in a sense become offensive and divisive.  What is happening today with the country rebelling and being angry at every little thing is a result of us turning away from God.  It was our decision and God is allowing His presence to be removed.  (God is still ever present, but He doesn’t force Himself on people who want nothing to do with Him…including His blessings.)

Moving forward to the New Testament, in Romans 10, the Apostle Paul explained another important truth that the Israelites missed.  Paul talks about how they were zealous for God, but in the wrong way.  They sought to draw near to God through their own righteousness (or goodness.)  The problem with this is that there is no one who is righteous and that we all fall short of the glory of God.  The Israelites failed to see this too.  Instead, Paul explains that, “Christ is the culmination of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes.”

Paul goes on to tell us that, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”  Paul is explaining here, again, that it’s not about the nation of Israel.  Israel assumed they were special, not because of God, but because of who they were.  Paul, however, shows that even the Gentiles can be saved if they believe and call upon the Name of the Lord.  Paul continues on and shares this very important truth that needs to be said and explained:

14 How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? 15 And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”

 16 But not all the Israelites accepted the good news. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed our message?” 17 Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ. 18 But I ask: Did they not hear? Of course they did:

   “Their voice has gone out into all the earth,
   their words to the ends of the world.”

 19 Again I ask: Did Israel not understand? First, Moses says,

   “I will make you envious by those who are not a nation;
   I will make you angry by a nation that has no understanding.”

 20 And Isaiah boldly says,

   “I was found by those who did not seek me;
   I revealed myself to those who did not ask for me.”

 21 But concerning Israel he says,

   “All day long I have held out my hands
   to a disobedient and obstinate people.”

Although Israel was the first to be given this privilege to represent God and share the Good News about His Salvation, they failed to understand the significance of their role.  In fact, verse 21 tells us that God kept reaching out to them but they were disobedient and obstinate.  So what does God do?  He opens the door for the Gentiles to receive the message of His Salvation.  In turn, they would be the ones to take the message out and share His salvation and glory to the rest of the world.

Again, this shouldn’t be mistaken to say that there was something special about the Gentiles.  And this isn’t to say that all Gentiles would believe.  But it is a point to say that God will find a remnant of people who will follow Him, worship Him, exalt Him, and bring glory to His Name.  This is essentially how the Christian church began.  God opened the door to a new covenant and that covenant brought people to Jesus and the cross.  The cross shows what lengths God would/will go to reconcile a people for Himself.  In the end, God is looking for people who will come and accept Jesus as their personal Lord and Savior.  By taking this step, they chose to follow Him and live for Him through daily worship.

The question, though, for us today is where do we stand in light of God’s invitation of His grace and mercy?  God would have been just if He had done nothing at all.  We would be guilty of our sins and separated from our Creator for all eternity.  (The disarray and confusion we see today would seem like a dream.)  But instead, He offers salvation through His Son, Jesus, who lived, died on a cross, and rose again from the dead to those who believe.  Again, it’s for those who by faith believe.

In the Old Testament God chose Israel to be the nation to represent Him.  In the New Testament, God brings about a “spiritual nation” of believers that will represent Him.  These are to be Christians who will love the Lord with all their hearts, minds, and souls.  But just like with Israel, there will be pretenders.  And God will see through their fa├žade.  Just like with Israel in Romans 10, God is reaching out to the world today and we’re seeing many disobedient and obstinate people.

Is that why there are so many dissatisfied people?  Are people seeking after God?  Or their version of who God is?  And are those who say they believe in God just pretending?  Maybe they want to follow a list of rules and such (and feel good about how good they are) but don’t really want to have a relationship with Him?  God knows of course and He will judge the heart and intents of all people.

We seem to be concerned about the economy, environment and social issues.  We seek peace in the world but we don’t seek peace with God.  It’s all futile.  The Bible speaks on these issues.  Not in these exact words, of course, but Scripture does show us that many will be concerned with worldly matters and miss the fact that God has been reaching out to them and pursuing them.  They’ll miss the point just like the Israelites.

Ultimately, what really matters?  My prayer is that you won’t miss the important truth that Jesus came to seek and save the lost and turn to Jesus today.  Though the world may be falling apart around you, you can take comfort that He will be with you.

3 As he sat on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately, saying, "Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the close of the age?" 4 And Jesus answered them, "See that no one leads you astray. 5 For many will come in my name, saying, 'I am the Christ,' and they will lead many astray. 6 And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not alarmed, for this must take place, but the end is not yet. 7 For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places. 8 All these are but the beginning of the birth pains.

 9 "Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake. 10 And then many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another. 11 And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. 12 And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. 13 But the one who endures to the end will be saved. 14 And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come. (emphasis mine)