walking in obedience

What emotions stir up within you when you hear the words obedience, submission, and leadership? For many these words conger up anger, skepticism, disappointment, even rebellion. We live in a culture that bucks against authority, challenges leadership, and grumbles against submission.

Yet can you imagine a world without leadership? Homes without parents leading their children. Businesses without managers overseeing production. Nations without government protecting people. Churches without pastors caring for their flock. It may be delightful for a moment, but in the end it would be chaos.

On the flip-side, leadership can be a lonely responsibility because you have to do hard things, deal with difficult people, and lead by example. A leader has a great responsibility. Leadership is not a position with special perks and privileges. In the words of Scripture, a leader “watches over your soul.” (v.17a)

“Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.

Pray for us, for we are sure that we have a clear conscience, desiring to act honorably in all things. I urge you the more earnestly to do this in order that I may be restored to you the sooner.” – Hebrews 13:17-19, ESV

The shepherd terminology in this text is crucial to understanding leadership. The Bible often calls Christians sheep. Sheep are prone to wander. Jesus was known as the Great Shepherd knows all his sheep by name and brings them to himself (John 10:1-18). Jesus even cares to bring the one lost sheep home (Luke 15:1-7).

Pastors and leaders are essentially under-shepherds of the Great Shepherd. They, like Jesus, have the job of watching and protecting their flocks from harm. It is a job they will give an account to God (v.17b). So leaders submit to Jesus as Jesus submits to his Father. By obeying our leaders and submitting to them we are helping them to do their job with joy (v.17c). For a joyful follower makes a joyful leader.

The author of Hebrews gets personal. As a leader himself he asks prayer for a clear mind and honorable life (v.18). He feels the weight of his responsibility. He knows his weaknesses. He is is okay being vulnerable. He wishes he could be on the other end of the letter with the recipients, which shows his shepherd-heartedness (v.19).

It is wonderful when leaders seek the prayer of people they lead. Prayer is a huge ministry to leaders—entrusting them to God. This is the first step of walking in obedience.


Questions for Reflection:

  • Why are leaders often under a lot of scrutiny and criticism? Why is our culture so anti-authority or submission? What is your response to leadership?
  • Why are leaders necessary for the church? How can you encourage the spiritual leaders in your life? How can you pray for your leaders?
  • How is the term shepherd a fitting term for a leader? How is the term flock a fitting term for the church? How do shepherds watch over your soul?

Jesus offers rest to rebels

Western culture has made rebellion an “in” thing. Just listen for a few seconds to the news media talk about the nations leaders or watch how Hollywood portrays the bad guy as the likable hero. Rebellion isn’t just the product of the Roaring 20’s or Rockin’ 50’s and 60’s, but youth and adult alike from every generation are prone to private and public disrespect of authority.

Israel had been slaves in Egypt for hundreds of years. Yet God did not forget them (Ex. 2:23ff). In fact, he showed them immense mercy by raising up Moses to lead the people of Israel out of Egypt through extraordinary miracles. It didn’t take long for the people of Israel to forget all the miraculous things God had done to free them from the hardships in Egypt. You’d think after all they saw God do it would be enough to keep them on the straight and narrow, but within three days they were already complaining. Their hearts became hard. And for 40 years they wandered in the Wilderness until they reached the border of the Promised Land. Many, including Moses, did not enter “[God’s] rest” because of the people collective rebellion (vs.7-11, 16-19)

Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says,
“Today, if you hear his voice,
do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion,
on the day of testing in the wilderness,
where your fathers put me to the test
and saw my works for forty years.
Therefore I was provoked with that generation,
and said, ‘They always go astray in their heart;
they have not known my ways.’
As I swore in my wrath,
‘They shall not enter my rest.’”

Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end. As it is said, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.”

For who were those who heard and yet rebelled? Was it not all those who left Egypt led by Moses? And with whom was he provoked for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the wilderness? And to whom did he swear that they would not enter his rest, but to those who were disobedient? So we see that they were unable to enter because of unbelief.” – Hebrews 3:7-19

When the author of Hebrews says, “Take care,” it is meant to be a warning to all generations who follow Jesus (v.12). Like Israel, we are prone to wander. Our hearts gravitate towards hardness and anti-authority. We are bent towards unbelief in God’s character and promises. No one is exempt.

At the heart of every problem is the problem in the heart. The heart grows hard. Yet there is a cure: a tender teachable heart. Intentionally surround yourself with brothers and sisters who will frequently challenge and correct your heart and be open to changing the attitude of your heart (vs.13-14; 10:23-25). If not we will fall into the same mindset as Pharaoh, who heard from God’s servant and saw many supernatural wonders, but rejected God flat out and became hardhearted.

A rebels heart is never at rest. Rest is found when you joyfully trust God, willingly submit yourself to the community of faith, and lovingly exhort one another. Enter his rest.


Questions for Reflection:

  • What is the meaning of “rest” (v.11)?
  • Why are people, even Jesus followers, prone to wander, hardheartedness, and bent on unbelief?
  • What leads to a hard heart? What are the dangers of developing a hard heart?
  • Why is the responsibility of all Christians to share the load in encouraging one another to have a tender and teachable heart?  Who do you allow to ask tough questions of your heart?
  • How can we exhort one another every day, stir one another in their faith and confidence, and share the load of helping one another not to be hardened by sin?

God Is

Part 1 of 3 Why Worship Matters

We live in a culture [as others before us] willing to worship anyone and anything. We will pack arena’s to sing our favorite songs from our favorite band. We will be first in line at the movie theatre to see the next biggest summer blockbuster. We will pack sports stadiums and worship teams and players with loud cheers and waving our banners. Last December Sarah and I went to our first fridged Packer game at Lambeau Field. There was some worship going on that day! Later we thought, as great as the game was, “Heaven is going to be awesome!”

We are about all worship. It is not easy to define real worship in a culture that readily worships anyone or anything. Worship is about what we live for [who we are]. Every day, all day, everywhere you go, you worship. It’s what you do. It’s who you are. You can’t stop it or live without it. Worship is a way of life. It is a whole-life response to God’s greatness and glory. You are a worshipper before you are a father, mother, sister, brother, boss, employee or student. Worship is simply about value. Worship is our response to what we value most.

Why does worship matter? Why must worship matter to me? Why is it so important? Worship matters because GOD IS and His character demands my worship [Isaiah 6:1-3].

God is alive.

Isaiah says, “I saw the Lord.” Uzziah is dead, but God still lives. “From everlasting to everlasting, You are God” [Psalm 90:2]. God has no beginning or end. He does not depend anything or anyone to exist. God was alive when this universe banged into existence. He was alive when the Buddha and Muhammad walked the earth. He was alive when JFK was shot. He was alive when a tsunami sweep away Indonesia, and earthquakes rocked Haiti and Chile. He will be alive ten trillion ages from now when all the puny people in power are long forgotten. But not God, He always has been and always will be alive.

God is authoritative.

“I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne.” He is the Supreme Court, the Legislature, and the Chief Executive. Heaven is not coming apart at the seams. He holds it together. He sits on a throne. He rules with peace and control. He has authority over our lives even though we may never acknowledge Him.

God is omnipotent.

“I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne high and lifted up.” God’s throne is higher than every other throne signifies God’s superior power to exercise His authority. No opposing authority can nullify the decrees of God. What He purposes, He accomplishes. “My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose” [Isaiah 46:10].

God is majestic.

“I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne high and lifted up, and the train his robe filled the temple.” You have seen pictures of brides whose dresses are gathered around them covering the steps and the platform. What would the meaning be if the train filled the aisles and covered the seats and the stage, woven all of one piece? That God’s robe fills the entire heavenly temple means that he is a God of incomparable splendor and honor. His creative fullness spills over in excessive beauty. God loves to wow us.

God is revered.

“Above him stood the seraphim; each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew.” No one knows what these strange six-winged creatures are [not some chubby winged angel babies], and they never appear again in the Bible. When one of them speaks, the foundations of the temple shake [v.4]. These are magnificent creature that most of us would be wowed by, but God wows them.

God is holy.

“And one called to another, ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts!” God is in a class by Himself. When asked for His name in Exodus 3:14, He said, “I am who I am.” What is God’s holiness? [Hebrew Qadesh, Greek Hagios, separate/different] 1 Samuel 2:2, “There is none holy like the Lord, there is none besides You.” Isaiah 40:25, “To whom then will you compare me, that I should be like him? says the Holy One.” Hosea 11:9, “I am God and not man, the Holy One in your midst.” And repeated throughout the Scripture is the theme: “YHWH alone is God” [Ex.22:20; 34:14; 20:5].

God is incomparable, unfathomable. It determines all that He is and does and His ways are not determined by anyone. His holiness is what He is as God, which no one else is or ever will be. Getting a glimpse of God’s holiness will rock your world to the core. There is no way to scale mountain and heights of God’s holiness [not even in this message or our lifetime]. “The Lord is in his holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before him” [Habakkuk 2:20].

God is glorious.

“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts, the whole earth is full of his glory.” The glory of God is the seen of God’s holiness. God’s holiness has gone public in His glory. When God shows himself to be holy, what we see is glory. In Leviticus 10:3 God says, “I will show Myself holy among those who are near Me, and before all the people I will be glorified.”

Worship matters because GOD IS. His character demands my worship.

the Word

Why has God placed His authority over us? God’s authority is like an umbrella that protects us. What is the umbrella? It is God’s Word, the Bible. The Word of God is His wisdom for us. Sometimes we just wish God would chisel His plans for us in stone, paint what He is up to in our life in the sky, or speak to us for real in a loud voice. What we often fail to realize is that He does, in God’s Word.

The Bible describes itself as God’s Word [over 4,000 times from Genesis to Revelation]. It is obviously God’s Word to you and me. Yet people have many views about the Bible. Here are a few false beliefs about the Bible:

First, some deny that God wrote a book. However, it is what it is. You cannot deny gravity as being true. It is what it is, and the Bible is what it is, the Word’s of God to us. Second, some distort the Bible to fit their personal opinions, false religions or make it mean something other than what God intended. Third, others dissect the Bible like a lab rat testing its validity against science, psychology, history and archeology. As history shows the Bible affirms science. Fourth, the most common view of the Bible is to disregard its authority in their life right now [i.e. obey your parents and employers, Eph.6:1ff; anger and adultery, Mt.5ff]. You cannot just pick and choose the verse you like and throw out hard passages you do not like. It is like tearing pages out of the Bible, you cannot do that without consequences. An incomplete Bible equals an incomplete life. So what is the right way to view the Bible?

The Bible is a Love Letter. It is what it is [Jer.31:3]. I remember when I was dating Sarah we would write letters to each other weekly and sometimes more. I craved getting letters from her. I would check the mail each week with enthusiasm waiting to read what her hand penned. When I would get a letter from her I would read them over and over, almost memorizing them. I could never get enough of Sarah’s love letters. Most of the time she would draw a picture and I would put them all over my bedroom. Once she includes a glamour shot that I would carry with me everywhere. Sarah did not have to write it in the sky or sound the air siren that she loved me. It was obvious. She told me. You know God has done the same for us. The Bible is God’s love letter to us. Like a good love story is has a villain [Satan], hero [Christ] and clear message [Jesus saves]. The Bible shows God’s tender love and tough love at the same time. The Bible is tough because it reveals your true condition [sin/hell]. Sometimes we view the Bible like a pile of bills that cost us big bucks and if you don’t pay the creditor is hunting your head. Not true, it is a love letter.

The Bible is a Light. It is light a flashlight that helps us see the path before us [Ps.119:105; Prov.6:23]. Sin darkens our understanding, but God shows us the Light who is Christ [1 John 1:5-10]. The Word is like a lighthouse protecting you from the dangerous rocks that will ripped your life apart and send you sinking to the bottom. The authority of God’s Word protects us from a world of hurt.

The Bible is a Lunch. We must feed ourselves to a fill on the Word of God [Jer.15:16]. Eat this Book! The Bible is like a carbo-load that gives you energy to do as He says. How many meals do you eat a day? What if you did not eat? Not good. So it is when we neglect to dine on the Word of God.

The Bible is alive. This book is able to change a life and get to the deepest part of a person [Heb.4:12; 2 Tim.3:16-17]. Like a defibrillator the Bible is able to awaken your dead in sin soul and able to make you alive in Christ through faith in Him. By submitting to the authority of the Word of God we see that we have a great need that cannot be reached by my goodness, rather I have a great Savior.

How does the Bible come alive? Study it through. As you read it, it reads you. You see that you are a great sinner, but Jesus is a great Savior. If you are unsure where to start, begin with reading John or Romans. Pray it in. Ask God to help you understand, to be and do what you see and hear. Live it out. The Bible is not information, but it was written for your transformation.  We live it out, by obeying it. Pass it on. Show others that you are walking in the light as He is in the light. You might be the only Bible someone reads.

rebel without a cause

This week I have been watching the Olympics on TV. It is interesting to watch the Olympians take the podium with their bouquet and medal. What does copper, silver or gold look like before it becomes an Olympic medal? It is an ugly rock covered with mud. Before it becomes a beautiful medal you wear around your neck it must first become chiseled and purified. This is often how God uses authorities in your life. He puts parents, teachers, bosses, pastors, and authorities in your life to chisel and shape you into precious metals. You have to be willing to get under authorities in order for God to you them in our lives.

The Fall of Saul and Us All [1 Samuel 13:11-12] Saul was a bold, brunette and a beautiful man [i.e. the Brawny Man]. On the outside he was the man for the job. He was a tall, intimidating [6’6’’ to be exact], muscular warrior king of Israel. He was anointed by God to be the political, economic and spiritual leader of God’s chosen people. Though Saul was king he still had authorities to get under: God and Samuel [God’s spokesmen]. Every time the people were to go into battle Saul had to wait for Samuel to make a sacrifice to God.

One day Saul was camped at a place called Michmash. The Philistine enemies were pressing in and Saul was freaking out with fear. Saul sent for Samuel and was asked to wait seven days. After the seventh day Saul had a conniption and couldn’t wait any longer so he took matters into his own hands. He made the sacrifice himself. [Side note: going through the motions of worship never pay off spiritually] It wasn’t long after the smoke from the sacrifice cleared that Samuel showed up and asked Saul, “What have you done?”

“When I saw that the men were scattering, and that you did not come at the set time, and that the Philistines were assembling at Michmash, 12 I thought, ‘Now the Philistines will come down against me at Gilgal, and I have not sought the Lord’s favor.’ So I felt compelled to offer the burnt offering.” [1 Samuel 13:11b-12].

Does this sound familiar? When I rebel against authority I usually rationalize by saying “I saw…I thought…I felt…” We are kings and queens of excuses: I saw someone else do it, I thought it wasn’t that bad of an idea, or I felt compelled even though it was not right. Despite Saul’s disobedience God gives him a second chance.

Can We Try this Again? [cf. 1 Samuel 15:1-19, 20-22] How do you think Saul responded? Did he learn his lesson? Saul was given one command: destroy everything. Samuel showed up after the battle and not everything was leveled. Saul gives an academy award winning response, but truly lame excuse [1 Sam.15:20-21]. Saul blames the soldiers, and then says he is going to give all the remaining stuff to God as an offering. Sounds admirable, eh? God is not impressed [1 Sam.15:22].

What are the Consequences of Rebellion? [1 Samuel 15:23] We take ourselves out from under the protection of God. The prophet of God Samuel says to Saul, “Rebellion is the sin of witchcraft.” [1 Samuel 15:23] What is witchcraft? It is the same as saying you putting yourself under the authority of Satan. Rebellion is having the spirit as the devil that allows him to rule our lives.

God works through authority. You are a link in God’s chain of command. God always works through authority. You have to find where you fit and place myself within that chain. If we take ourselves out of that chain we will never discover the greatness God has for us. Saul missed out on God using him personally and professionally.

What if my authorities are or ask me to do things that are illegal, immoral or unbiblical? This is a good question. What if some in authority over me are doing drugs, promoting sexual or verbal abuse, stealing money, lying to cover up, and more? I know what it is like to live daily under an authority that treats you unfair and is against you for no reason at all. In school, I had this teacher that hated me. She would send me to the principle just for smiling or raising my hand. This really tested my view of authority. Here is how God says to deal with authority:

1) Pray believing God can change hearts. You are accountable and responsible to obey God first and foremost [1 Peter 2:16-23]. 2) Confront in love and humility: Be like Samuel and call sin what it is [Matthew 18:15-20]. Humble and joyful submission to authority is a root to intimacy with God. Submission sounds like a dirty word, but when we submit to God it is the most delightful thing we can do. Submission to God is not easy, nor does it promise an easy life. Sometimes getting under authorities and obedience to God might require sacrifice, require you to surrender, and/or require you to suffer. The question is: will you allow God to use the authorities [even the bad one] in your life to chisel, mold and purify you as gold? [cf. Job 23:10]

you can’t tell me what to do

What do you think of when you hear the word, “rebellion”? I think of Darth Vadar. He is doctor of rebellion. How would you feel if he were your father?

Whose authority do you struggle to submit to? Could it be an unfair teacher that everybody agrees has unrealistic expectations, an abusive parent, a coach who will not play you, a boss who doesn’t listen and shows favoritism to others, or a friend who is trying to help you? How do you react to their authority in your life? We live a day when it is cool to be rebellious. You hear people say, “I am the boss. I call the shots. I will do what I want to do, when I want to do it. This is my life. I make my own choices. I…I…I… me…me…me…You can’t tell me what to do.” You’d think people were trying out for the selfish opera.

Why do we think like this? Why are some people so rebelliousness? There are many reasons why people are prone to rebellion: jealous for control, delusional from a false view of authority, ungrateful for the place God has put them, stubborn, disappointed by their situation, or simply untrusting of anyone. In that last few generations we have seen an enormous upswing in rebellion against authority. Rebellion didn’t start in the “rebelutionary” 1960’s. It began in the beginning [Genesis]. Rebllion is the oldest sin in the Book.

The story of Satan is rebellion against God: also known as the me, myself & I monster. Satan was the worship leader of heaven. He didn’t like his gig. He wanted to be the top dog and run the show. He wanted to usurp God’s authority or so he tried [cf. Isaiah 14:13-14, “I will ascend to heaven, above the stars of God I will set my throne on high…I will make myself like the Most High.”]. This story sounds like a lot of people I know, myself included. When I rebel I try to take the place of God in my life.

Throughout the Bible we read story after story of rebellious people. In 1 Samuel, we read the story of Saul, King of Israel, who is the poster child for having authority issues. The prophet of God Samuel says to Saul who repeatedly disobeys God commands says, “Rebellion is the sin of witchcraft.” [1 Samuel 15:23] What is witchcraft? It is saying you are on the same team with Satan. Rebellion is having the spirit as the devil that allows him to rule our lives. Let’s see how God deals with this in the Bible:

Summary of Rebellion in the Bible:
Genesis 1—God sets up His authority over mankind and makes man in His image
Genesis 2-3—man rebels and listens to the serpent [Adam & Eve]
Genesis 4—man rebels again with an unworthy sacrifice [Cain & Abel]
Genesis 6—man rebels with worldwide wickeness [Noah]
Genesis 10—man rebels trying to aspire to God [Tower of Babel]
Exodus-Deuteronomy—man rebels by complaining in the wilderness [Moses]
Rest of the OT—man rebels against the prophets message [i.e. Jonah]

So are you wondering where authority issues lead? It should be somewhat clear from our summary of Scripture. Satan is cast out of heaven, Adam and Eve are cast out of the Garden, the children of Israel are cast out of Promised Land, Jonah is cast out of the boat, and we will be cast out of the presence of God for rebellion. There is a common theme of rebellion in the heart of man and common response by God: cast out.

If you look in the word authority the word “author” is in its beginning. God is the author of authority. What does good authority look like? Sovereignty: His rule in our lives. God has established His authority in our life from the beginning. He shows us and teaches us what good and godly authority looks like.

Jesus is the author and finisher of our faith [cf. Hebrews 12:1-4]. He is submitted Himself to the Father even to the point of death. Jesus submitted to God’s authority and the authority of man [Mt.22:21 “Give to Caesar the things that are Caesars and God the things that are His.”]. Lack of submission to authority is cowardly. The world thinks just the opposite. However, the manliest man in the entire world submitted Himself to sinful authorities that forced Him to carry the cross to His death. He did this for your example and your salvation.

Paul thought he was the authority of his own life. He was brilliantly smart, fanatically religious, came from a strong family, and was respected by his compadres, which fueled his pride and rebellion against God [cf. Philippians 3:4-8]. One day on the Road to Damascus he came under the submission of Christ. He finally realized what true authority was all about [cf. Romans 13:1-2]. God has appointed authorities in our life for our good. So what are we to do?

We need to get under the things God has put over us, so we can get over the things God has put under us.

Why does God put authority over us? First, to protect you. God want us to live under authority for our protection. He is like an umbrella that protects us from harsh elements. If I take myself out from under His authority I am vulnerable to all sorts of pain, temptation and mess. Second, God desires to mature you. As I look back in my life God has used some authorities in my life to help me grow up in my faith. Even those some were unfair, ungodly or abusive; they were placed there by God to mold me like clay into the person He wanted me to be. Third, God desires your worship. I am made in the image of God [cf. Gen. 1:26-28, You are a dominioneer]. Everything I do is about worship. 24/7 I am worshiping someone or something, and God desires that it be He alone.

Again, whose authority do you struggle to submit to? Is it a parent, spouse, mature friend, teacher, coach, boss or God? Do you believe God’s authority can transform the way you submit to the authorities or Darth Vadar’s in your life?

a lesson on authority: my president

Tomorrow is the inauguration of our new president Barak Obama. It is an exciting time with a lot of anticipation, especially in tight economic uncertainty. There are mixed reviews about the outgoing president and moving in of the new. I have a lot of respect for our new president. I may not agree with his policies or all that his party stands for, but he is my president. I might be tempted to speak out in disagreement and debate of his choices or character, yet he is my president. I am going to honor, respect and pray for him.

photo-19Many cringe and snicker at the thought of authority in their life possibly because those authority figures were abusive or didn’t live up to expectations. It is difficult to watch the news stations because they become so critical of those in authority. They tear down all that these leaders are trying to build up. President Bush has the lowest approval rating in recorded history. He has been the brunt of late night comic relief (of which my favorite were David Letterman’s “Presidential Speeches”). Sure his decisions and demeanor have added to this dismal ratings, but it gives us no right to down him as man.

Parents come to me often and ask, “Why doesn’t my child listen to or respect my authority?” I will ask them questions in return that usually reveals their answer, “What do you say about your boss around the dinner table? What do you communicate about your president to your children? Do you speak negatively about any other authorities in your life?” Children watch closely how their parents honor authority in their lives and will reflect that character in their own lives. More than likely if a parent bashes authority, their children will bash theirs. Let’s stop bashing authorities in our lives for the sake of our future generations.

See Romans 13:1-6; 1 Peter 2:13,14; Hebrews 13:17.