The Proof of Love

I’ve been thinking quite a bit lately on living everyday life in faithful and joyful obedience to God. While reading Psalm 26 this morning, I was struck by what David says in verses 2-3:

“Prove me, O LORD, and try me; test my heart and my mind. For your steadfast love is before my eyes, and I walk in your faithfulness."

Just for a bit of context, David is writing this song quite possibly because he has been the victim of some undeserved wrong. He declares his determination to follow God “without wavering” (v.1). The Hebrew verb means “to slip, slide, totter, shake.” In spite of mistreatment, David is resolved to trust God without slipping or sliding under the burden.

In verse 2, David is opening up himself to the Lord. He invites the Lord to “Prove…try…test” his inner being (see Psalm 139:23-24). David wants God to scrutinize his very heart, to make an examination of his motives and desires. When wrong comes David’s way, he turns to God to test his character so that he does not give in to sinful attitudes or responses. He is trusting that God knows his innocence in light of this mistreatment.

David continues to in verse 3 by declaring his commitment to remember God’s “steadfast love” and to live obediently in God’s “faithfulness.” No matter what comes along, David is resolved to view all of life through the lens of God’s steadfast love. When tough times come, David’s eyes on are on the Lord’s love, and his guide is the Lord’s truth.

David is declaring his willingness to obey God no matter what. The proof of David’s love for God is his obedience to God. Remember what Jesus says about the proof of love for him?

“If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15)
"Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him” (John 14:21)
"Jesus answered him, 'If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him'” (John 14:23)

Our love for God manifests itself in faithful and joyful obedience to God. Our obedience to God is motivated by God’s love for us in Jesus.

“But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8)

Our willingness to obey is coupled with our ability to obey because we have the Spirit empowering us to obey.

"Whoever keeps his commandments abides in God, and God in him. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit whom he has given us” (1 John 3:24)

No matter what you’re facing today, resolve to walk in faithful and joyful obedience to God. Mediate on his steadfast love toward you. Saturate your heart with his faithful promises found in his word. If you’re struggling to obey, ask God to transform your heart to learn to walk in his ways in step with the Spirit (Galatians 5:25).

The Great Sympathizer of Our Suffering

Several years ago I worked as an administrator in an alternative high school. This was a job I had spent years dreaming about, furthering my education to obtain what I thought would be the job I always wanted. What I found was that this job crushed me. It seemed like an utter disaster and a waste of a year of my life. From the very first day on the job I had my life threatened, my iPod stolen, a parent cuss me out, and a severe migraine. It only got worse from there.

I would drive to work in a flood of tears, crying out to God, “Why did you allow me to take this job? Lord, I am in despair! I hate this! Are you listening? Do you care? This isn’t what I signed up for!” Some days I would sit in my car in the parking lot unable to walk through the front door of the school. I was completely paralyzed. I was so overcome with fear and despair that I literally couldn’t move. In those sickening times I truly questioned: “God, are you there?”

To be honest, it was one of the darkest times of my life. I lost over twenty pounds. I fell into a deep depression. I felt like I couldn’t lead my wife well. I felt distant from my kids. I was trying to lead a Missional Community and help lead a church. I felt like a complete failure. I felt like God didn’t love me very much because the darkness seemed to prevail over me. Not only was my health deteriorating, but my spiritual health was being attacked from all sides. Was it Satanic? Possibly. Was my own sin involved? Certainly. Was God in it all, even when I couldn’t see it? Definitely.

What kept me going? What sustained me in those times when I felt like throwing in the towel and quitting it all? In my depression and anguish, what was it that enraptured my soul and spoke to my heart when all seemed hopeless? It was God’s promises.

During this year, my wife would write a bible verse on an index card almost every week and would place the verse in my lunch bag or in my car. Many of the verses spoke of God’s love for me and his promises to see me through suffering. Sometimes the verses spoke of how I fail to trust God, but also reminded me that his faithfulness would always prevail. Most often, the verses pointed me to the truth that God is exalted in all things; through trials, temptations, and tribulations in this life. One verse told me that Jesus suffered more than I could imagine so that I could have eternal life:

“In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence. Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered. And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him…” -Hebrews 5:7-9

Jesus “learned obedience through what he suffered.” Have you considered this truth before? Until this trial in my life, I really hadn’t. What’s important to note is that Jesus, in his incarnate state, had to learn lessons of obedience that could only be achieved through suffering. He certainly wasn’t disobedient prior to this! As God, he needed to learn nothing. Jesus did not need to learn how to obey because it would be impossible for God to be disobedient. Rather, as the God-Man in human flesh, he had to learn what was involved in obedience. In this way, he identified with us.

Jesus was “made perfect.” This doesn’t mean that Jesus was imperfect before his sufferings. The idea was that Jesus was made to go through the crucible of suffering so that he could perfectly identify with the human race, and demonstrate his complete human, temporal obedience to his heavenly Father.

By being made perfect, Jesus brought God’s redemptive purposes to their fulfillment. This enabled him to become our perfectly equipped high priest, who not only became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him, but also the great Sympathizer of his people:

“Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” -Hebrews 4:14-16

In my time of suffering and pain, I had to go to the throne of grace. I needed God’s mercy and grace more than ever. I needed his word. I needed his promises. I needed to remember the hope that I had in the perfect Jesus who knew everything I was going through and who could sympathize with my every emotion.

I still carry those index cards around with me. They may be in my car or in my pocket. Most of them I’ve memorized. They are a constant reminder that during my darkest hours, God has never left me. What seemed like a waste of a year of my life ended up being the greatest time of dependence on Christ Jesus. In my fear, I learned faith. Through my suffering, I learned how to trust in him. I learned to repent of my sin and fall face first before the throne of grace. I began to learn what Paul meant when he wrote:

“For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.” -Romans 8:15-17

I’m still learning how to walk in obedience through my sufferings. Some days it’s a tiring walk. But my Abba—my Father—promises that in my suffering he is making me more like Jesus in order that I may be glorified with him. This is a profound and difficult mystery, but a glorious truth.

The 4 Gs

Have you ever heard that all you need to do to change your life is to simply try harder? If we’re honest, not only have we heard this lie, but we’ve believed it to be true. No doubt, effort is required for change to occur in our lives; but true change—beautiful and life transforming change—does not begin by working harder. It begins by believing better. True and lasting change comes when we we place our faith in Jesus Christ. We are saved as we turn to the truth of the gospel, believing that Jesus alone is the way, the truth and the life (John 14:6). We are changed as we continually turn to the truth of the gospel, allowing the promises of God to sink into our soul, nourished in righteousness by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Many Christians remain cemented in patterns of sin because they focus on their outward behavior instead of fighting the unbelief that lies below the surface. They work hard to change, but all their effort goes into working harder instead of believing better. In other words, they believe lies instead of believing God’s truth. And behind every sin is a lie about God.

Looking back into God’s true story, we see that this has been true since Adam and Eve. God had commanded that Adam and Eve not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 2:17). God loved Adam and Eve, and he knew what was best for them. His command for Adam and Eve was good. All they needed to do was trust that God was good, showing their trust and love by obeying God’s word.

Then the serpent came along and convinced Adam and Eve to believe a lie about God. What was the lie? That God was not good. That God was holding out on them. That they could be like God himself.

"But the serpent said to the woman, 'You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.’” (Genesis 3:4-5)

Eve is convinced that God is not good. She believes the lie of the serpent instead of holding fast to the truth of God. Once she believes the lie in her heart, she acts upon it:

"So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate.” (Gen. 3:6)

Behind every sin is a lie about God. Adam and Eve believed the lie that God was not good. They disobeyed God’s word and death entered into the story.

For life transforming change to take place in our lives, we must reject the lies we’re told and believe the truth about God.

In his book, You Can Change, Tim Chester identifies four liberating truths about God:

God is great - so we don’t have to be in control God is glorious - so we don’t have to fear others God is good - so we don’t have to look elsewhere for satisfaction God is gracious - so we don’t have to prove ourselves

Chester noted that underlying all our sinful behavior and negative emotions is a failure to believe one of these truths at a functional level. Embracing, believing, trusting and delighting in the appropriate truth about God has the power to set us free from sin – though we need to recognize that this typically involves a daily struggle – the fight of faith.

But it’s not a fight we take on alone. In fact, we can’t fight the lies and believe the truth about God without the power of the Holy Spirit working in us. The Holy Spirit reveals the truth about God to us, for he is the Spirit of truth (John 15:26). The Spirit reminds us of Jesus’ words, which are truth (John 14:26). The Spirit points us to God’s truth and empowers us to reject the lies that plague us and to embrace the truths of God that free us.

Through the Spirit, we are brought to repentance and faith. Repentance is turning from the lies about God and the sin that comes from those lies. Faith is believing the truth about God and living in faithful obedience because of that truth. We experience true and lasting change as we live in a posture of continual repentance and faith in Jesus Christ.

For the next four weeks we’ll be exploring these four liberating truths about God—what we call the “4 Gs.” These four liberating truths offer a great diagnostic tool for addressing sin in our lives and in the lives of others. Our prayer is that God will nourish our souls with his truth, bringing about life transformation for his glory and our good!

Walking in Obedience

I often hike the H-Trail at Thunderbird Park and stop to look at the stretch of city that can be easily viewed from the trail (Have you ever looked at it? If you haven’t, you really should. It’s amazing). Last week on my hike, my eyes were drawn to Lubben Mountain, which lies just north of the trail. At the foot of the mountain are several neighborhoods, along with GCC’s north campus. I’ve seen this view a hundred times, but this particular time, I had to stop and take a picture. I wondered if the people who live and work close to the mountain ever stop to look up at the creation before them. Do they enjoy looking at the mountain? Do they think it’s beautiful or drab? Do they wonder who created this? Do they hike this mountain? Does it go unnoticed?

As I thought of these questions I couldn’t help but think about that time in Exodus 19 when God finally had Israel to himself at the foot of Mount Sinai (go ahead…read it again!) God enters into a covenant with his people, promising to be their God and they his people. On one hand, this relationship would be full of God’s blessing and sovereign rule over Israel. On the other hand, this relationship called Israel to loyalty and obedience to God.

Remember that this covenant was based solely on what God had done for Israel—he had redeemed them from slavery in Egypt (see Exodus 19:4-6). God’s grace and redemptive action came first. Israel was to respond in faithful—and joyful!—obedience to the law and covenant. Their obedience would be motivated by grateful response to who God is and what he had done for them. Their obedience would also enable them to be the holy people God desired them to be as they lived among the nations of the world.

And now that God had his people close to the mountain he was going to show them his awesome power and holiness. God was going to come down on the mountain to show the majesty of his presence and to give Israel his Law and covenant. But first, Moses was to set limits around the mountain, and Israel would have to consecrate themselves for two days by washing their garments and abstaining from sexual relations. The point of this was for the people to present themselves before a holy God with "minds ready unto obedience" (John Calvin). The mountain was designated holy ground, and Israel needed to be made pure and set apart. They needed to be ready with obedient minds and hearts to hear God’s covenant and Law.

Do you remember what Israel said when Moses told them all that God had said? “All that the LORD has spoken we will do” (Exodus 19:8). The people were willing to obey God. They were willing to consecrate themselves in order to meet God. They were ready for faithful action!

As I stood on the H-Trail I wondered if the people who gather around Lubben Mountain—in their neighborhoods, in the classrooms, on the hiking trails—have ever said the same. Have they experienced the presence of the holy God in their lives? Have they experienced the redemption that comes through Jesus the Christ? Are they walking in faithful obedience to the God of the universe?

And then I wondered the same of our Missio family. Is the presence of God set before our eyes? Does his majesty move us toward faithful and joyful obedience? Are we seeking to be a family of missionary servants sent to make disciples?

Do we read Peter’s words to the church and believe the same of us?

"Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, 'You shall be holy, for I am holy.’” (1 Peter 1:13-16)

The God who called Israel at Mount Sinai to faithful covenant is the same God who calls us today to walk in faithful obedience to him. Although Israel had the willingness to obey, they lacked the ability to do so faithfully and perfectly (just read the rest of the Old Testament story!).

But Jesus entered into the Story and obeyed God’s law faithfully and perfectly, becoming the “mediator of a new covenant” (Hebrews 9:15), a covenant which God promised way back in Jeremiah 31:31-34:

“Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the Lord. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”

And now, those of us who have believed in Jesus have been redeemed by Jesus and have the new covenant written on our hearts. Now, our willingness to obey is coupled with the ability to obey—for the power of the Holy Spirit equips us to live obediently before the One who has brought us "redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace” (Ephesians 1:7).

Are you walking in faithful and joyful obedience to God? If not, what is keeping you from doing so?

Take some time today to reflect on who God is and what he has done in Jesus to redeem us from sin’s bondage. Remember and mediate on the truth of who God has called you to be in Jesus (Ephesians 1:1-14 is a good place to start).

And then take a hike on the H-Trail and take in the view…and praise God for all he’s done to make us his covenant people.