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5. Obedience, Feb 4, 07 TEMC

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Obedience

TEMC, Feb 4, 07

What does it mean to be obedient?  I am reminded of the movie “ The Ten Commandments” – it is an old movie. Charlton Hesston is the actor who plays Moses. He tries to communicate to the Egyptian king that God commands him to obey? The king is surprised, embarrassed, and offended that anyone would dare challenge him to obey anyone. In many lands the ruler of the country was served as a god. We still like to be served as if we are god. We are born with a desire to have it all our way. Our tendency is not so much that we want to obey, as that we want others to obey OUR wishes.

What would the circumstances have to be for us to be fully obedient?

Most of us are partially obedient. We do some things we should – perhaps many things we should, but we also do something we know we should not do. At different times we all rationalize why we don’t do more right than we do. We have excuses for NOT doing some good deed. We are not ready – we are not sure – we are waiting , for something.

For some of us we would be obedient if……. Life was better for us? Many people are selectively obedient. If there is something that they enjoy doing, they are gladly obedient. If there is something they don’t like doing, - well they seem to find ways to explain why it is to God’s glory that they should not do this or that work.

Here is how it goes…. I would be more willing to pay taxes IF the government was more honest – right?
I would treat my wife better IF she was a more willing spouse, right?

I would treat my husband better IF he was a better man . Right?

Where do we get this idea from that the joy of our obedience is dependant on the circumstances around us? How did we get to a point where we seem to have a right to do wrong because someone else is doing wrong?  This happens early in life. Little children make demands that suit them with no regard to what those demands may do for others. I have on occasion watched little children threaten their parents. They want mommy and daddy to do something for them, and if they don’t, they throw a fit.

I find it amazing how obedient parents are to their children these days. G.K. Chesterton, a writer in the mid 20th century once paid a visit to the U.S. He came back to England and said: “ Of all the things that amazed me in America, what amazed me the most was how well the parents obey their children.

What is happening around us these days is that children are not being trained by the parents for the simple reason we as a society have bought into the lie that children are little adults. We don’t say it that way, but we live it that way. My hat is off to those parents who have the courage to take their God given role as a mother and father and stand up for what is right for the little people God has entrusted into their care. God never gave children to parents so the parents could use them as toys, or to spoil them. God blesses parents with children in order to train these little ones to grow up and live lives that glorify and honor God.

More and more our society is geared toward a society where the desires of the child become the command of the society. I find it ironic that before a child is born, the government will pay you to get it killed, it you should so choose, but once the child is born, you severely restricted. If there is so much as  a hint of abuse, you will be held responsible by the government. I am not judging the government for making sure parents don’t abuse their children. It is a good thing making sure children are protected. What is wrong is that the whole idea of child raising has become “ What does the child want?” The question should always be: “ What does the child need?”

As a nation we are promoting a selfish attitude in our society. We are teaching the young generation that they are number one and the world owes them a life. They grow up and believe that. Then later on in life when they find out that it does NOT work like that, these children who have now become young adults find it so hard to accept the reality that they need to give in order to be satisfied. They have to unlearn what they were taught as babies. Instead of everything now being about them, they now have to learn that they are here to give something back to society. It is a totally reverse thinking than what they have learned.

What happens in simple language is this: “They have not learned obedience.” They have learned selfishness.

Even in churches I see more and more this ugly fruit coming out. Think for a minute. How much do you and I do out of a selfish motive? How much of what you and I do, is something that we do because we want to honor God? How much more don’t we think , Ah, this will help ME have it easier, this will make me a more successful person?  

Unless we learn to be obedient, we can’t even  be followers of Jesus Christ. We find it very easy to be obedient to our selfish nature, but hard to be obedient to God’s word.

The writer to the Hebrews makes it clear that we need to be careful to obey the warnings of God.

Hebrews 3:7-19

7 So, as the Holy Spirit says:

“Today, if you hear his voice,

8 do not harden your hearts

as you did in the rebellion,

during the time of testing in the desert,

9 where your fathers tested and tried me

and for forty years saw what I did.

10 That is why I was angry with that generation,

and I said, ‘Their hearts are always going astray,

and they have not known my ways.’

11 So I declared on oath in my anger,

‘They shall never enter my rest.’ ”

12 See to it, brothers, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. 13 But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness. 14 We have come to share in Christ if we hold firmly till the end the confidence we had at first. 15 As has just been said:

“Today, if you hear his voice,

do not harden your hearts

as you did in the rebellion.”

16 Who were they who heard and rebelled? Were they not all those Moses led out of Egypt? 17 And with whom was he angry for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the desert? 18 And to whom did God swear that they would never enter his rest if not to those who disobeyed? 19 So we see that they were not able to enter, because of their unbelief.

The verses previous to this passage mention that as Moses was faithful in all God’s house, so Jesus too was faithful, and because of his ministry deservers more honor than Moses. And while Moses was a servant in God’s God’s house, Jesus was faithful as a Son I n God’s house. And on top of that, we are God’s house, if we hold on to our courage which we claim to have.

Obedience is urgent.

There is a sense of urgency in our call to obedience.  Today.

How had they – Their forefathers heard and hardened their hearts? If you read the story of Exodus, you find again and again that when they faced hard times, they did what?   – complain. Never once do we find that those Israelites faced difficulty as though it was an opportunity. It seemed every time there was a challenge, a struggle, the first thing they did was complain.

Instead of doing what they were told – trusting God for provision, they complained. Before we are too ready to just agree – yeah, they complained too much- we are no different. Those people didn’t have half the conveniences we have, we should not be surprised that they complained.

They traveled on foot – no automatic, cruise control airconditioned cars driving on a four lane highway  in the desert. They traveled for days, weeks and months at a time. Imagine their life – they didn’t stop at the Holiday inn every night, get a shower, and lie in a soft bed in an airconditioned room – no. They slept in tents made of animal skins, there were no hot showers, no soft beds – they lived a very rough and simple life. -  Every day they would get up in the morning, roll up their tents, get their stuff together bundle up the rolls, and begin walking. Instead of riding in a nice airconditioned minivan, with dvd, and cool drinks on the way -  It was dusty, It was hot, it was boring, there were no nice green rest areas  - there was nothing. They lived like that for a long time, several years. And then, when they finally came to the promised land, they got scared. They thought they would not be able to get in because the people in that land were too powerful.

God got angry. He had been angry many times before already and sometimes was ready to just kill all them all off. But each time he again was merciful. But this time he said; ‘allright, that is how you want it. You don’t believe you can do it, good. You won’t go in. all you who complained will die in this desert. You will wander in this desert for forty years until the last complainer is dead.

V 10.  10 That is why I was angry with that generation,

and I said, ‘Their hearts are always going astray,

and they have not known my ways.’

11 So I declared on oath in my anger,

‘They shall never enter my rest.’

It was not that these people had not seen God do miracles. They had seen God do many of them. They had been slaves for many years. They complained and cried out to God for help. God sent Moses to them. Through Moses God  set them free. That was in itself a huge miracle. The King of Egypt had not been able to keep them. He had to let them go.

Then God saved the a second time when they walked through the red sea. Then they were happy. But a short time later they ran low on water. “we can’t shower anymore.” No, that was not it – “ We are thirsty”   Some time after that they ran low on food. Again they complained. God gave them manna from heaven. When God gave them the ten commandments, they couldn’t wait till Moses came down from the Mountain. They made themselves an idol of gold. God was angry and was ready to destroy them. But Moses prayed and God was gracious again. This went on again and again.

Then, finally in the end all the people who were 21 years old an up who had left Egypt, all of them had to die in the wilderness because of their unbelief.

What does it take, will it take for us to remain close to God? How easy to we walk away? Remember, today if we hear his voice – don’t harden your hearts.

Hardening of the hearts is a very easy thing to do. To harden one’s heart, we simply have to do NOTHING. It will harden by itself. We can’t use the excuse – well, if we saw miracles, THEN we would believe. These people saw miracles – it didn’t make a difference. It would not help us either.

Whether or not we believe is simply a decision. If we want to wait until we have guidance from God to do what we ALREADY know is right, we are tempting God. That is not obedience. That is already rebellion.

Rebellion is not so much doing the wrong thing, as it is not doing the right thing.  Being faithful to God, listening to his voice is simply doing what we already know is right. If we don’t do that, we are in rebellion. And lets not deceive ourselves by thinking that if we saw miracles, then we would have an easier time of obeying.

Seeing miracles and wonders is no garuntee that we will remain faithful to God. Remaining faithful to God has to be deeper than outward things. It has to be a matter of the heart. Remaining faithful to God has nothing to do with how many blessings God gives us. Some people are of the opinion, that if God would only do for them what would make them happy, they would worship God more. It is not true. They would just take more advantage of him.

Ill ( I shared this one at a bible study last year)

Company President

Imagine, if you will, that you work for a company whose president found it necessary to travel out of the country and spend an extended period of time abroad. So he says to you and the other trusted employees, "Look, I'm going to leave. And while I'm gone, I want you to pay close attention to the business. You manage things while I'm away. I will write you regularly. When I do, I will instruct you in what you should do from now until I return from this trip."

Everyone agrees. He leaves and stays gone for a couple of years. During that time he writes often, communicating his desires and concerns. Finally he returns. He walks up to the front door of the company and immediately discovers everything is in a mess--weeds flourishing in the flower beds, windows broken across the front of the building, the gal at the front desk dozing, loud music roaring from several offices, two or three people engaged in horseplay in the back room. Instead of making a profit, the business has suffered a great loss. Without hesitation he calls everyone together and with a frown asks, "What happened? Didn't you get my letters?" You say, "Oh, yeah, sure. We got all your letters. We've even bound them in a book. And some of us have memorized them. In fact, we have `letter study' every Sunday. You know, those were really great letters."

I think the president would then ask, "But what did you do about my instructions?" And, no doubt the employees would respond, "Do? Well, nothing. But we read every one!"

Charles Swindoll, Living Above the Level of Mediocrity, p. 242

What does this obedience look like?


The face of obedience:

12 See to it, brothers, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. 13 But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness. 14 We have come to share in Christ if we hold firmly till the end the confidence we had at first. 15 As has just been said:

“Today, if you hear his voice,

do not harden your hearts

as you did in the rebellion.”

Are there any sinful, unbelieving hearts among Christians today? I know there are. There are many today who are turning away from God. Again, let me be clear. There are two ways this is happening. The one is very clear. Those who live in flesh, those who live in open sin – that is clear. That was the sin in the O.T among the people of Israel. That was judged then, and it will be judged again. But there is another picture we need to see, one that is not so easily spotted.

It is very easy to harden our hearts in a way that nobody can see it, except God, and we will never fool him. This is so easily done, that it is  very hard to detect because it doesn’t look like anything bad. It looks like something good. Let me use an illustration out of Matthew 25

31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

40 “The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’

41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’

44 “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’

45 “He will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’

46 “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”

As we can see, there are only two kinds of people, saved and lost. And there is a rewarding and a judging. But notice where this judgment is focusing on.

The people who are judged and sent to hell ( v 41) - they are not judged for the wrong things they did. They are judged for the right things they didn’t do.

The question here is not so much about being judged for how much wrong they  did, it is more about how little right they did. Isn’t this amazing how easily we label a person by the wrong things they do? We look at the sins of a person and we form an opinion. Again, please don’t go and say I have nothing against sin. I do. But there is an even higher standard than just doing wrong things. Simply stopping the wrong things is not where it is at. If we are going to be obedient, we will be doing the right things.

If we have excuses for not doing right, if we allow our hearts to become hard with rebellion, we will get what they got. There is much in the scriptures that makes us squirm, that makes us uncomfortable.  Hebrews chapter 3 is one such passage. Some people have a solution for that – remove it or disregard it. Many people today are busy taking out of the bible everything they are not comfortable with. If you will listen closely, you look closely, there is much hardening going on today. Many churches are becoming hard. They are self serving. In the end, all those churches that do that, they all die. There may still be  a meeting going on, but it is only a social club. You can spot a church that becomes self serving. At one church in the parking lot was a sign that said “ Pastor’s parking, all others will be towed.” Imagine the church calling a tow truck because a visitor parked in the wrong spot.

Obedience will make us strong.

V 14: “ We have come to share in Christ if we firmly hold till the end the confidence we had at first.

If we decide to obey God, then it won’ t matter if people approve of us or not, what will matter will be what God thinks.

Illustration. Obedience brings us strength.

A man was sleeping one night in his cabin when suddenly his room filled with light, and God appeared. The Lord told the man he had work for him to do, and showed him a large rock in front of his cabin. The Lord explained that the man was to push against the rock with all His might.  So, this the man did, day after day. For many years he toiled from sun up to sun down, his shoulders set squarely against the cold, massive surface of the unmoving rock, pushing with all of his might. Each night the man returned to his cabin sore and worn out, feeling that his whole day had been spent in vain.  Since the man was showing discouragement, the adversary (Satan) decided to enter the picture by placing thoughts into the weary mind:  "You have been pushing against that rock for a long time, and it hasn't moved."  Thus, he gave the man the impression that the task was impossible and that he was a failure.  These thoughts discouraged and disheartened the man. Satan said, "Why kill yourself over this? Just put in your time, giving just the minimum effort: and that will be good enough."  That's what the weary man planned to do, but decided to make it a Matter of Prayer and to take his troubled thoughts to the Lord.  "Lord," he said, "I have labored long and hard in your service, putting all my strength to do that which you have asked. Yet, after all this time, I have not even budged that rock by half a millimeter. What is wrong? Why am I failing?"  The Lord responded compassionately, "My friend, when I asked you to serve Me and you accepted, I told you that your task was to push against the rock with all of your strength, which you have done. Never once did I mention to you that I expected you to move it. Your task was to push. And now you come to Me with your strength spent, thinking that you have failed. But, is that really so?  "Look at yourself. Your arms are strong and muscled, your back sinewy and brown; your hands are callused from constant pressure, your legs have become massive and hard. Through opposition you have grown much, and your abilities now surpass that which you used to have.  "True, you haven't moved the rock. But your calling was to be obedient and to push and to exercise your faith and trust in My wisdom. That you have done. Now I, my friend, will move the rock."  At times, when we hear a word from God, we tend to use our own intellect to decipher what He wants, when actually God wants is just a simple obedience and faith in Him. By all means, exercise the faith that moves mountains, but know that it is still God who moves the mountains. 

It may seem to us sometimes that we are not getting anywhere with doing the right things. That is ok. In the long run, we will see the reward. Obedient Christians are strong Christians. If we persist in doing what God shows us, take advantage of our opportunities to serve, in time we will become more and more Christlike and God will use us to bring him glory.

There are no shortcuts or substitutes here.

In almost every area of life now we have a few easy steps to do whatever we want to do. Gain strength without effort. Lose weight while you eat your favorite junk food. Learn while your lazy, - there are tons of gimmicks out there that tell us we can have it all without sacrifice. We truly live in an instant, me focused country.

This me focused mind set has even crawled into the churches. Writers are advertising how we can with a few minutes a day become spiritual giants. We are told with 10 minutes a day, we can grow spiritually. Let me repeat, there are no shortcuts to spiritual growth.  I suggest if you are serious about becoming a solid Chrisitan, stay away from everything that promises easy growth, and a pain free Christian life. Even prayer is not a replacement for obedience. God delights more in obedience than sacrifice. We can come to all the prayer meetings we want, and still not be in obedience to God.

Prayer is important and we emphasize it. It is safe to say that anyone who prays to God for a need, for  an answer to something – but in his heart is not devoted to God, or is not committed, that person has not really prayed.

There are many people who weep before God for things to change, for miracles to happen, and nothing happens. There is disobedience among the people of God. We are not doing everything we know is right. Why do we expect God to answer our prayers when he has given us all we need to do the will of God?

A.W. Tozer had this to say about obedience. 

Revival: Not Just Intensity of Prayer

He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he 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

Intensity of prayer is no criterion of its effectiveness. A man may

throw himself on his face and sob out his troubles to the Lord and

yet have no intention to obey the commandments of Christ. Strong

emotion and tears may be no more than the outcropping of a vexed

spirit, evidence of stubborn resistance to God's known will....

No matter what I write here, thousands of pastors will continue to

call their people to prayer in the forlorn hope that God will

finally relent and send revival if only His people wear themselves

out in intercession. To such people God must indeed appear to be a

hard taskmaster, for the years pass and the young get old and the

aged die and still no help comes. The prayer meeting room becomes a

wailing wall and the lights burn long, and still the rains tarry.

Has God forgotten to be gracious? Let any reader begin to obey and

he will have the answer. "Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he

is the one who loves me. He who loves me will be loved by my Father,

and I too will love him and show myself to him" (John 14:21).

Isn't that what we want after all?  The Size of the Soul, 20-21.

Today, if we hear his voice, lets’ not harden our hearts. Lets obey.

Obedience in doing the right thing is what God commands us. We need to grow in that area. I want to encourage all of us to begin by doing one thing we know is the right thing.

If we don’t do what we know is right, we can’t expect God ever to answer any of our prayers.

In the O.T. God judged the people because they refused to do as they were told. We are a privileged people. We have more than they had. We have the Holy Spirit who is there for us to give us strength.

Lets translate that now in one area where perhaps some of us could do something. I will use one example; children.

Why is it that children’s services are asking for foster parents? Whatever the reasons for children being removed from homes, the fact is some children are removed and  need homes.

In the last Messenger Wally Doerksen writes about ‘faith in action’. Wally & I know each other well. We are friends and share a lot of the same concerns. He writes about what happened in Winnipeg last November. 

Perhaps you saw the small ad sponsored by the SCC in the December 20, 2006, issue: It showed a nativity scene and carried the caption: When it comes to a foster child, is there room in your inn? When we hear the words above we usually think of the Son of God, who was born in a stable, because the inn was occupied by more important people. In November of last year the same heading played out in Winnipeg. The Grey Cup game, one of the most important sporting events of the year was being held in Winnipeg, and all the hotel rooms were needed for the people who were coming to the city to watch and participate. This displaced over 70 children who were wards of the Winnipeg Child and Family Services organization. WCFS was keeping these children in hotel rooms because there were not enough families wishing to foster or adopt these children. There were some raised eyebrows at this situation and some radio talk shows tried to stir up some interest in this state of affairs. The Grey Cup game came and went, and the interest in the situation blew over. Two months after the fact things are back to normal. Over 60 children are back living in hotels. The question is not whether the inns have room. They do. The question is do the homes have room? Are there homes within the Christian community that could accommodate some of these children? Is there a place within EMC circles for them? We could question the system for failing badly here. We could rail at our socialist government for not being socialist enough. We could point at the terrible society we live in that fosters family break ups—one where children have no respect for adults. We could look all around for scapegoats or reasons for this tragedy, or we could look at ourselves.

 We could remember that Jesus talked about children being the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Someone who causes these children to sin might as well have a large millstone hung around his neck and be drowned in the sea. If we treat the least of these kindly, Jesus said, we are treating him kindly. So how do we want to treat Jesus? How do we think these children should be treated? Where is the preaching that we do or the healing? Jesus did both. Are we about to engage in our society the same way? At the end of the day I might pat myself on the back for seeing this injustice, for taking the time to bring it to the light of readership, and for trying to make a difference. But that does not let me off the hook. I need to ask myself one more question: What is it that Jesus wants me to do? Wally Doerksen is chair of the EMC Social Concerns Committee.

There are so many ways to listen to the voice of God, that we will never run out of ways to do right. Just listen to God’s voice to what he is already telling you.

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