Living Life Over Before It’s Over, Pt. 4
Study Guide, November 29, 2015 – Pastor Clay Olsen
(We don’t have study guides, but since this is a series, we’ll add this one to the next one when we get to that one in our the next study in this series.)
I recently had the joy of putting together a treadmill out of the box. Tempting as it was to do the usual ‘guy thing’ and just start slapping the parts together, I chose to follow the step by step instructions in the manual. That’s always more time consuming at the start, but it does result in the parts actually fitting together and working. I suppose that’s why they call it an instruction manual. But it did lead me to a conclusion: Machines work best when you follow the instruction manual. To which we could add: “Yeah, pretty elementary my dear Watson.” Well, here’s the irony: since this is so obvious a principle for machines, why then is this so oblivious to human beings concerning how we were best made to work?
Actually, there are several reasons, and we have talked about them many times in our studies together. So what we are going to do in this study time today is to discuss not the negative reasons why people reject or neglect following God’s instruction manual for their lives, but to discuss another marvelous benefit from practicing one particular instruction for our lives given to us by our God.
Again, being made in the image of God also implies that we were made to live according to that image, otherwise, it’s like jamming parts of a machine together that do not belong together and expecting the best results. The Bible calls that ‘Foolishness’. On the other hand, even when we do intend to try to live our our lives according our design of being made in the image of God, even that requires more that just good intentions; it requires learning and then following God’s instructions in the Owner’s Manual.
So here’s one particular thing we are instructed to learn and then to do. And when we do learn it and then do that more and more, we will then find ourselves discovering something which is mostly still a ‘secret’ to many people, even Christians, and that is the ‘secret of joy’. And so what is this secret of joy? Since we have been made in the image of God, the secret of joy then is learning to delight in the very things in which God delights. And when we do learn to delight in the very things in which God delights it’s like connecting the right parts in the right way so the the machine, this human machine, we could say, can then operate the way in which we were designed to operate, and to then function the way we were intended to function. (Remember that old ‘Do Lord’ song…’give me umption in my gumption…help me function, function, function…?)
Notice first the instruction of Ps 37:4- “Delight yourself in the Lord; And He will give you the desires of your heart.” NASU My, doesn’t that sound like a good arrangement? He will give you the desires of your heart? We’re all in on that deal, right? Well, just what is the deal? Or, rather; so just what does it mean to delight yourself in the Lord? How do we go about following that instruction?
That’s where we get back to the secret; the secret of joy, because delighting yourself in the Lord is related to this secret of joy, which is learning to delight in the things in which God delights. To delight yourself in the Lord is to delight in those things in which God delights, and by doing so your life then becomes more and more aligned to the image of God in which you were made. And by aligning yourself more and more into the image in which God made you, you then function more and more according to purposes for which God made you, thus reaping the benefits of doing life by the instruction manual for your life, of which one of those benefits is – Joy!
So our next step is to learn what those things are in which God delights, so that we can then learn to delight in those same things, thus aligning our mind and heart more and more to the image of God in which we were made, and thus…experiencing delight and joy. But before we explore more about this let’s point out one thing more for us to ‘ponder’ about what it means to delight in the Lord. To delight in the Lord is not wanting more of the things of this world, but wanting more of the things of God. So now, what are the ‘things of God’ of which we are to want more, and to delight in more?
Recently we opened up a passage in Jeremiah concerning God’s desire that we understand and know Him. And in this passage God revealed something more about Himself, particularly about something in which He Himself delights. And the implied instruction from it is that we are to not only come to understand this about God, but we are to also then come to understand that this is exactly what we are to act upon since we now better understand this about God.
Okay, here’s the passage again: Jer 9:23-24- “Thus says the Lord, “Let not a wise man boast of his wisdom, and let not the mighty man boast of his might, let not a rich man boast of his riches; but let him who boasts boast of this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the Lord who exercises lovingkindness, justice and righteousness on earth; for I delight in these things,” declares the Lord.” NASU
And now here’s what we mean. We are instructed to delight ourselves in the Lord, and three of the things in which God delights are; lovingkindness or mercy, justice, and righteousness. The prophet Micah has an amazing insight about God that is very important for us to understand. So I’ll give it in three versions for clarity purposes.
Mic 7:18- “Who is a God like You, Pardoning iniquity And passing over the transgression of the remnant of His heritage? He does not retain His anger forever, Because He delights in mercy.” NKJV
Mic 7:18- “There is no God like you. You take away people’s guilt. God will forgive His people who survive. He will not stay angry with them forever, because He enjoys being kind.” ERV
Mic 7:18- “Who is a God like you? You forgive sin and overlook the rebellion of Your faithful people. You will not be angry forever, because You would rather show mercy.” GOD’S WORD
God’s mercy toward us has been described as God withholding from us what we deserve, like judgment. And God’s grace has been described as God giving to us what we don’t deserve, like His love and favor. But think about it: Mercy is God’s starting point with us and with others. It is only when God’s mercy is spurned that His justice steps up. In fact, we see that God delights in showing mercy to those who don’t deserve His mercy. He enjoys being kind to those who don’t deserve His kindness. God would rather show mercy than having to mete out justice. So the point, since this is something in which God delights, and since we are to delight in this something as well, can we say that this is true about us? Can we say, “I would rather show mercy to those who don’t deserve my mercy…I enjoy being kind to those who don’t deserve my kindness…I would rather show mercy than to have to give out justice.” Can you say that? (Again, there may be a need for justice, but the point is, what do you start with? Is mercy your default starting point, like it is with God? Do you delight in showing mercy like God does? If not…well, we have just identified how far out of alignment we are with practicing acting in the image of God in which we were made. We have identified what we need to adjust in our lives in order to obey the instruction of ‘Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart.’ Remember, we are to deal with and treat others based not upon who and what they are, but based upon who and what we are. God deals with and treats others based upon who He is, and He delights in showing mercy. Yes, if His mercy is spurned then He deals with them in justice. But He starts with what He delights in first; and that is being merciful. And that is to be true with His children as well. Mercy is to be our starting point…unless something else is needed, and we’ll get to that in a moment.
Again, make note of this: Right delight leads to right desires which leads to right results; wrong delight leads to wrong desires which leads to wrong results. We cannot live contrary to the instruction manual for our life without reaping contrary and conflicted lives. Remember a very important Proverb here in connection with instruction from God: Prov 15:32- “If you refuse to be corrected, you are only hurting yourself. Listen to criticism, and you will gain understanding.” ERV Giving into God’s ways is the only way that God can give you what your soul really craves. Resisting God’s ways only results in harm to your soul and to your life.
(Am I trying to bless you with this or scare you with this? Yes…as they say, “Just sayin’”)
Now then, on to justice. God reveals to us that He does delight in justice. In fact, the prophet Micah informed us that doing justice is one of the requirements of a disciple of the Lord’s. God created a just world. And when injustice invades His world, justice must be done to correct it. ‘Justice’ is a law of the universe as surely as is ‘Gravity’. The Old Testament prophets were champions of social justice. Their message instructed families as well as nations to defend the defenseless and protect others from those who would treat them unjustly. And they warned those who practiced injustice to expect God’s judgment directly from God or indirectly through God’s people. For as we stated; whenever mercy is spurned, then justice must be done.
God’s instructions about justice on Earth came very early in man’s history. Moses’ instructions on how punishment was to fit the crime became an example for justice throughout history. The famous legal principle of lex talionis, ‘the law of retaliation’, is based upon the Biblical principle that made sure the guilty offender was punished, but not punished more severely than the crime demanded. The murderer was to be put to death, but the penalties for other crimes had to suit the offense. But mark it down: Just and swift penalties were to be dealt to those deserving that justice be done.
You know, Throughout history many Christians have failed to obey God in doing justice as much as others have failed in showing mercy. Showing mercy and doing justice is not an ‘either or’ principle; it is a ‘mete out to others what is needed’ principle. Wisdom is to discern what is needed, be it mercy or be it justice, and then act on that need. Many of the perpetual problems in our society are due to the leaders failing to do what God requires; and that is to do justice. One fascinating verse from Eccl 8:11 is: “Because the sentence against an evil deed is not executed quickly, therefore the hearts of the sons of men among them are given fully to do evil.” NASU You see, in the case of a nation, for instance, when justice is not executed swiftly upon offending members of that nation, the result is that it emboldens the offenders and breeds greater offenses.
That’s also why the Apostle Paul gives such specific instructions to the church to carry out church discipline for overt sins and offensive church members. In fact, church discipline is no doubt the least practiced discipline of the Christian Church as a whole. If the Church were to follow the instructions of the New Testament for church discipline in America’s churches two things would happen: 1. It’s members would be much more careful about their testimony and behavior towards each other in the church and towards a watching world outside the church, and 2. There would be much smaller churches in America. We live in a very ‘authority antagonistic’ – ‘in your face’ – don’t tell me what to do’ culture that makes Biblical correction and rebuke very very difficult, both outside the church and inside the church. But we are still required to ‘do justice’ wherever it’s called for.
The Apostle Paul put it this way: 1 Thess 5:14-15- “We urge you, brethren, admonish the unruly, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with everyone. See that no one repays another with evil for evil, but always seek after that which is good for one another and for all people.” NASU The word ‘unruly’ means ‘careless’ and ‘out of line’. It was used to describe a soldier who was insubordinate and insisted on doing things his own way. Now, of course, a church is to encourage the church members in their individual development and their creativity in ministry and service and such, but there are some things disciples are to have in common, like a dedication to Biblical morality and the practice of trying to live and act more like Christ, and practicing the habits of brotherly kindness in how we speak and act toward one another, and in our commitment to guarding the unity of the Spirit and to avoid divisiveness in how the members treat and talk to one another in the membership, and so on.
Without having these Biblical standards and these Christian disciplines a group simply resorts to cultural compromise and chaos and loses it’s distinctive witness to a world that needs Christ and Christ’s call to live under the authority of the Bible as His disciples.
Well, as you can tell, this study is going to be continued. But let me wrap up today by just pointing out that the modern church is not accustomed to thinking in terms of doing justice and carrying out discipline quite as ‘matter of factly’ as previous generations did. I’ll close with the example of a rugged Frontier Preacher named Peter Cartwright. At one time he won a election for the Illinois legislature over a man who would one day become President; Abraham Lincoln. But before that Peter Cartwright often preached in some rough areas of the countryside and usually had to deal with frequent thugs and hecklers in the crowd. And at one of those meetings a certain thug kept heckling him and yelling that he was going to whip him. So Peter Cartwright stopped the meeting and asked the people to wait, and he invited the thug to meet him in the woods. And there he applied a bit of frontier justice onto the heckler…and then returned to a very polite crowd to continue his preaching.
Well, Ecclesiastes tells us that there’s a time for everything, right? ‘A time for peace and a time for war’…we just need to discern what time it is. And now, it’s time to close.
But for now, think about it: The secret of joy is learning to delight in those things in which God delights. And the more things we discover that God delights in and then make adjustments in our lives to align our delights with God’s, He will give us the desires of our hearts, since we will be desiring more of the same things that God desires for us…and one of those things is; ‘the fullness of joy’. And that my friends, is ‘Priceless’!
1 Sam 15:22
22 Samuel said,
“aHas the Lord as much delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices
As in obeying the voice of the Lord ?
Behold, bto obey is better than sacrifice,
And to heed than the fat of rams.
1 Chron 29:17-18
17 “Since I know, O my God, that aYou try the heart and bdelight in uprightness, I, in the integrity of my heart, have willingly offered all these things; so now with joy I have seen Your people, who are present here, make their offerings willingly to You. 1
8 aI delight to do Your will, O my God;
bYour Law is within my heart.”
20 The Lord detests people with crooked hearts,
but he delights in those with integrity.
Holy Bible, New Living Translation ®, copyright © 1996, 2004 by Tyndale Charitable Trust. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers. All rights reserved.
8 The Lord detests the sacrifice of the wicked,
but he delights in the prayers of the upright.
Holy Bible, New Living Translation ®, copyright © 1996, 2004 by Tyndale Charitable Trust. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers. All rights reserved.
26 aGive me your heart, my son,
And let your eyes 1bdelight in my ways.
; 24 but let him who boasts aboast of this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the Lord who bexercises lovingkindness, justice and righteousness on earth; for I cdelight in these things,” declares the Lord .
6 For aI delight in loyalty brather than sacrifice,
And in the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.
18 Who is a God like You,
And passing over the transgression of the remnant of His heritage?
He does not retain His anger forever,
Because He delights in mercy.
23 aThe steps of a man are established by the Lord ,
And He bdelights in his way.
24 When ahe falls, he will not be hurled headlong,
Because bthe Lord is the One 1who holds his hand.
12 For awhom the Lord loves He reproves,
Even bas a father corrects the son in whom he delights.