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What Limits Us, What Frees Us

March 6th, 2018

You are not restricted by us, but you are restricted in your own affections. (2 Corinthians 6:12)

What a common complaint this is among Christians of their spiritual leaders – IF those leaders are truly spiritual people – that they restrict the church from doing what it wants to do. You can hear the grumbling in the hallways in many Bible-believing churches, “The pastor (or the elders, or the deacons) won’t let us do this.”

Paul made it plain to the Corinthians, to whom he had written two long letters, that their problem was not with him but with their own hearts. They had not longed for the glory of Christ, for the will of God, for His holiness in thought and action to become theirs. They had instead desired their own ways and had campaigned to get them, and grumbled when they did not have their own way. Their affections were to the world, or to fear, or to their own egos, or to their friends.

The only heart that truly belongs to Christ is one that is wholly given over to His glory and His will, that is obedient in thought and in action. We should be careful with trusting anyone who is expedient for the sake of expediency alone. There is nothing wrong necessarily with being wise to the ways of the world. Christ said, “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves” (Matt. 10:16). Yet the world’s ways must never become our ways, its goals our goals, nor its values our values. “Brothers, do not be children in your thinking. Be infants in evil, but in your thinking be mature” (2 Cor. 14:20).

“Can’t we bend a little here or there?” is often asked. Where there is no command from God on a certain subject, we should be as flexible as possible. Often we can feel too strongly about a matter that is merely a matter of interpretation of scripture, or a cultural application, and not a clear command. We can err when we enforce these rules or insist on them when, in fact, they are more man-made than God-commanded.

But where there is a command of God, where there is clear teaching on a subject, we should hold to God’s command entirely. It is not the command of God that holds us back, nor the desires of holy spiritual leaders for the people to be holy. It is the disease called sin at work in some of the people who wish merely to compromise the holy standards of God.

Graciousness, mercy, forgiveness, and patience should always be the character of God’s people. When someone has confessed and asked for help to overcome a weakness, we should seek to restore him. “Receive the one who is weak in the faith” (Rom. 14:1). “Who are you to judge another’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls. Indeed, he will be made to stand, for God is able to make him stand” (Rom. 14:4).

Yet this should never be bent to twist the truth or to condone what is clearly wrong, what is clearly unholy or likely seen to be unholy. What limits us is our lusts that war within us, that tears our hearts away from the things of God and draws us into the world’s priorities. What limits us is our fears that make us doubt that God is able to bless and to move and to empower. What limits us in the fulfilling of the will of God is the moral pollution of our souls. What limits us is our pride.

What frees us is the Word of God, the obedience to the Holy Spirit, and the common desire and commitment among God’s people that Jesus Christ be exalted. If you have spiritual leaders in whom there is no compromise, who care more about the glory of God than their own popularity, then you are blessed.

Daily Devotions, Leadership

I Tested You

November 17th, 2017

I tested you at the waters of Meribah. (Psalm 81:7b NIV)

The Lord takes responsibility for our testings. To us our lives appear random and our events happenstance, but, as this and other scriptures teach, nothing happens to us in life that does not pass through the permissive will of God. In a mysterious way, what comes into our lives does so by God’s allowance.

There is a difference between testing and tempting. The Lord does not tempt us with evil (James 1:13-15), that is He does not put the evil thought into our minds. But He does test us to reveal to us what is in our hearts, how strong is our faith, and how obedient we are. Passing the test will bring glory to God and lead us on to greater responsibilities, and greater testings. Failing the test will show that we have more need for growth. It may cause us to lose opportunities for Christ, but it does not remove us from God’s eternal family.

The purpose of trials: That does not mean that all that happens to us is pleasant or even good from our perspective – though often good is disguised by discomfort. We too easily equate good with physical pleasures, whereas God sees good on a moral level. It is not the comforts of our bodies that dominates His heart’s desires for us, but the condition of our souls.The Bible teaches that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28-29).

The Bible teaches us, also, that God “does not afflict willingly or grieve the sons of men” (Lam. 3:33 NASB). So God’s goal is not to inflict us for no reason. God is not some perverted sadist in the sky who delights in seeing His creatures suffer. The scriptures teach that, in addition to learning through hardships, we learn also through God’s blessings to us. God’s kindness leads us to repentance (Romans 2:4).

The trial of hardship: The trial was that the people were without water. This happened several times on the Exodus journey. Numbers 14 tell a similar story, and the people cried out to Moses and Aaron, accusing them of mismanaging the entire Exodus event. “Did you bring us out here to die?” they asked. Moses and Aaron fell on their faces before God, possibly asking God the same thing.

In our hardships will we turn against one another in anger, or will we turn to God in prayer? Hardship shows our hearts like nothing else. It is a test to reveal where we stand in our faith, whether it is strong or weak.

The trial of loss: When we lose a loved one, or any significant person in our life, we often wonder if we will be able to go on. What form will life take for me after the death of my beloved? We may ask similar questions when we lose things as well – jobs, positions, investments, opportunities, etc. Our losses cause us to look beyond the person or the earthly thing and look to God. Despite our losses, we have not lost Him.

God led Israel to Meribah, and the story is told in Numbers 20:1-13. It was after the death of Miriam, Moses’ sister. She was influential in the Exodus and no doubt her feminine qualities added some motherly softness to Moses and Aaron. She had raised Moses after he was discovered by Pharaoh’s daughter among the reeds. So she was like a mother of sorts to Moses, and the primary female spiritual leader in the nation, called a prophetess in scripture. After the victory over the pursuing Egyptian army. We read:

For when the horses of Pharaoh with his chariots and his horsemen went into the sea, the Lord brought back the waters of the sea upon them, but the people of Israel walked on dry ground in the midst of the sea. Then Miriam the prophetess, the sister of Aaron, took a tambourine in her hand, and all the women went out after her with tambourines and dancing. (Exodus 15:19-20 ESV)

It was immediately after this that God miraculously supplied water to the nation for the first time at Marah and later at Elim (Exodus 15:22-27). Many might have connected this event to the praising and prophesying of Miriam, as much as to Moses. Moses also was tested at this moment and he too lost his sister.

In our times of loss, that is when we need especially to reach up to God in faith and know that He will never be removed.

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 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. (Rom. 8:38-39 NIV)

The trial of leadership: Not only were the people tested but so was Moses and Aaron. We do not know all that happened in Aaron’s heart, but Moses’ great sin was committed here. He struck the rock and did not speak to it as God commanded. He had an outburst of anger and claimed power that only belonged to God. “Listen you rebels,” he said, “Must we bring water for you out of this rock?” (Numbers 20:10).

In Numbers 14 under similar circumstances, Moses prayed for the people saying:

The Lord is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, forgiving iniquity and transgression, but he will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, to the third and the fourth generation. Please pardon the iniquity of this people, according to the greatness of your steadfast love, just as you have forgiven this people, from Egypt until now. (Numbers 14:18-19)

But here, in Numbers 20, Moses is angry. He does not intercede for them, rather he angrily and proudly shouts at them. And it was this sin that prevented Moses from being allowed to enter the promised land.

Anger, pride, faithless despair, these things lose opportunities for Christ in our lives. Moses did not lose his salvation, but he did lose opportunities. And we too when we are tried as spiritual leaders will reveal our strengths and our weaknesses. The spiritual leader must keep his head at all times and follow the leadership of the Spirit at all times. This is the constant discipline of the spiritual leader. “Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine” (2 Tim. 4:2).

Summary: Spiritual testing comes in periods of difficulty and hardship, in times of loss and grief, and in situations where spiritual leadership is difficult. God allows all of these, that we might learn to depend on Him, to find our strength in Him, and to trust and obey Him no matter what.

Daily Devotions, Dealing with Difficulties, Leadership , , ,