SERIES: CHANGE T LIVE ALL IN' -TELLING OUR STORIES "Meditation"-July 16, 2023.
MESSAGE BY PASTOR ROB INRIG FROM
BETHANY BAPTIST IN RICHMOND, BC.
In so many ways the Bible is a book about stories. Oh, I don’t mean stories like Clive Cussler or John Grisham tell, of fictional adventures or who dun it mysteries but real life stories. Of impossibles only God could do – of a blind man made to see or a lame man made to walk. Or opening up a dry pathway through an impassable sea. All done by command. Stories of changed lives. Physically? Sure but far more than that - changed spiritually - at our core. Changed, getting us ready for everything we long for, to be true. But changed not just for then but for now. It’s stories like these that God calls us to remember written through Moses, where He says,
Ask now of the days that are past … since the day God created man on the earth, and ask from one end of heaven to the other …. Did any people ever hear the voice of a god speaking out of the midst of the fire, as you have heard, and still live? Or has any god ever attempted to go and take a nation for himself from the midst of another nation, by trials, by signs, by wonders, and by war, by a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, and by great deeds of terror, all of which the Lord your God did for you in Egypt before your eyes? then
To you it was shown, that you might know that the Lord is God; there is no other besides him : Deut 4:32-35
God pointing out His stories to them that they might KNOW THE LORD IS GOD. Evidence of God’s power? Yes – to a point. God’s demonstrations of the supernatural? Yes – again, to a point. Power and demonstrations like God speaking out of the midst of the fire and God taking a nation out of Egypt’s grip by trials, signs, wonders, and doing great deeds of terror to deliver them with an outstretched arm.
Doing what only God could do. Bringing release from captivity by doing wonders the Israelites witnessed first-hand. Impossible wonders. God revealing Himself doing the extraordinary.
Pretty amazing stuff that if we had seen things like that, were convinced would never let go of 100% certainty that God is God. But the truth? our hold on these, pretty slippery - no different than they – soon forgetting or downplaying the miraculous.
You would think the things they’d witnessed would never be forgotten – but they were. You would think the things they’d seen would never be treated as less than - but they were. As they let the impact fade. And in the process, they lost the dynamic of who God is, forgetting the Lord is God. Not God in the cosmic but God in the personal, in our relational – in our ‘up and close’ as we do life. Because ‘up and close’ is how God has chosen to be with us.
It’s one reason Moses will later tell the people, You shall diligently keep the commandments of the Lord your God, His testimonies, and His statutes which He has commanded you. Deut 6:17
At some level, this seems like a strange starting place, focusing first on the commandments of God and let’s be honest, what we just read doesn’t seem incredibly relational. But in these words, Moses pointing to more about God than just His power and plans, although those things are undeniably true. So what are we to see? 1st is that, as Christ followers, we are to be people who keep His commandments. The point being that truly following God cannot be separated from being obedient to God. And yet while keeping His commandments is important, this by itself, falls short of the essential. Because commandments alone, can easily reduce us to thinking that God can be known by following some rules.
Yet if that’s what God wanted, He could easily have created a people to robotically do that. So obviously there must be something more in keeping His commandments than just making us good. And in fact, we’re told elsewhere that the commandments can never make us good, and in truth – they actually show us how far from good we really are.
So why the command to diligently keep the commandments if we can’t actually do it? And that is understanding that God cares about us and is calling us to be different people from who we are. TO, again as Christ followers, BE people who live differently. Not perfectly but differently. Not so much known by what we do but known for who we ARE. People who are known by our joy; known by our peace, known by our peace. Known, as people who reflect Him. So His commandments lived out, actually enable us to be people who are free.
How strange does that sound? – commandments and freedom in the same breath? Yet God puts them together, His commandments not restricting freedom, but giving it. Freedom from guilt; freedom from regret; freedom from shame; freedom from heartache. His commandments pointing to life as He intended yet also showing how far from that life we are.
So as said before, keeping His commandments is important but they don’t get us to the essential. To do that, we need to see the 2nd thing we are to diligently keep, His TESTIMONIES The Hebrew word for testimony, Aydah means witness. Which is to say, we are to keep His witness – as the focus of our lives. His testimonies that there is power outside of us, power greater than us, power we can rely on to enable us to live well. Another Hebrew word used here for keep is shamar which means to watch over or guard - its modern day use shomer is the term for a security guard.
The Lord placing His instruction to keep His commandments right alongside a reminder to keep His testimonies. Why? Because one, without the other, doesn’t make sense. His commandments tell us the life we were designed to have but His testimonies that tell us HOW that life is possible. God’s testimonies acting as our protection, our security guard.
Because His testimonies give evidence of God’s love, they connect us to God’s heart and His presence. The simple truth is this - rules don’t change anybody’s heart. GRACE does. God’s testimonies that give pictures of God’s love that remind us of our need for Him. God’s acts not to show us His power but to show us His love - His love that draws near to us. His love, found in Jesus that gives us the power to live. His love spoken in the stories we’ve been given reminding of the battles He has waged for us. Stories spoken reminding of God’s love reaching out to break the chains of what imprisoned. His fierce love reaching out to the places no one else could reach, where at the Cross He defeated what seeks to ruin, what wants to destroy. God’s love coming to where we were, giving us what we needed so we can live in the joy and delight God has for us.
Cross Love offered us in Jesus that we are to remember, refresh and re-tell. Keeping Jesus front and center in our stories of how He met and continues to meet us so we can know God. And what all that means? we are to be people who continually live in the celebration of His Grace.
But when the stories of our testimony are forgotten or downplayed, when our stories no longer get celebrated and told, we revert to living by rules, substituting ritual for relationship, without embracing the joys and celebrations of why we want to live lives that please the God who knows and loves us.
Without that front and center, the witness of God’s testimony fades into a background of routine and familiarity instead of dynamic encounter with a living Christ.
Yet the good thing? God knows we are a forgetful people. It’s why He reminds us to diligently keep His testimonies. For some, those stories are the spectacular, your own version of a blind man given sight. For others, far less dramatic but make no mistake, your story no less a rescue. Where you were taken from darkness into light; from captivity into freedom.
If you don’t believe that, you don’t truly understand how lost and hopeless you were without Christ. So come back to the Cross and understand what you were given then tell your story as simple as it may be. Of peace given, of hope found, of acceptance felt. Of love given. Your story into which God can breathe His spectacular miraculous for others to find what they have been seeking.
God reminding – return to the things you have witnessed. The front and center testimonies Jesus has done in your life. Making your story known, first to you - Jesus coming to you and making Himself known. Remembering the story you were given - lived in front of you by a parent, a friend, a co-worker.
Then your story used by God to change someone’s life.