What God Has Taught Me in 2020
December 27, 2020
What God Has Taught Me in 2020
What a wonderful funeral Faith Baptist Fellowship had for our church’s former beloved Pastor Harvey. It was a time of mourning and celebrating. I was particularly touched by Matthew’s, Pastor Harvey’s son’s, eulogy. Pastor Harvey endured until the end. His life provides us with a tremendous example of how we, too, should endure. I’ve written about this topic in this week’s “From Pulpit and Paper.” Please read that when you have time.
I’d like to share a funny story about Pastor Harvey. I did not get to know Pastor Harvey. We visited over the phone some and in person while I was in Sioux Falls for a pastor’s conference, but I didn’t get a real chance to get to know Pastor Harvey. Nevertheless, by going to the funeral and talking to his loved ones, I’ve been able to see what type of man Pastor Harvey was. One theme that has come up a lot about Pastor Harvey was his love for kids. He was very involved in ministry to young people when he was Senior Pastor here at CBC. He was involved with AWANA, taught Worldview on Sunday evenings, and seemed to be omnipresent as he visited many of our youth’s athletic competitions. He was able to connect with young people very well. I also learned that he was able to connect with young people over food. This is something that Lindsay, Harvey’s daughter, spoke of during her time of sharing at the funeral. One specific story Leonore shared with me was about how Harvey related to very young children. So Harvey had all types of treats in his office for the kids. If there’s one thing that children love, it’s sugar. Kids love sugar. Pastor Harvey knew this and wanted to connect with the kids, so he would give them treats. Pastor Harvey used to give out fruit snacks to the kids. Leonore shared with me that he became known by these kids as the pastor who gave out fruit snacks. A few of the kids would actually call him “Pastor Fruit Snacks.” To these kids, he wasn’t “Dr. Reverend Harvey Friez,” he was “Pastor Fruit Snack.” He related to these kids, so much so that they called him “Pastor Fruit Snacks.” Pastor Harvey was a great man.
Continue in your prayers for Leonore and the rest of the Friez family. In the weeks, months, and years ahead, they are going to need your prayers. Reach out to Leonore. Encourage her. Write her a note. Let her know you’re praying for her. As Matthew said in his eulogy, honor Harvey by caring for his widow.
We find ourselves this morning on the Sunday after we have concluded our advent series. We finished that on Thursday night for the Christmas eve service. And beginning next week, we will be an extended study on prayer. I’m thinking this study will take us two to three months. Lord willing, we will complete this study sometime in the Spring. For the study on prayer, we will jump around Scripture and spend an extended amount of time addressing issues various issues regarding prayer. We will study the various prayers of Scripture, the Lord’s teachings on prayer, how Jesus prays for us, how the Spirit prays for us, and other topics related to prayer. We will start that next Sunday.
This morning’s sermon does not relate to our previous series on Advent or to the upcoming series on prayer. For this morning’s sermon, what I want to do, is to share with you the most significant spiritual lesson God has taught me in 2020. This will be a very personal sermon. I always try to share from my heart, but this morning I will especially do so. As the title of my sermon suggests, the topic of this morning’s sermon will be on what it is that God has taught me this year in 2020.
Reasons Why I Share
There are several reasons why I’ve chosen to give such a personal sermon.
The first reason is because I believe self-reflection is very important. As Christians, we need to constantly take stock of our life. We need to constantly be self-reflected. How am I doing in my walk with Christ? How am I doing as a husband, father? How am I doing as a Pastor? I and you need to ask these questions, too. And the end of the year provides a great opportunity to do that. Christians need to be self-reflective. This is my attempt to do so. Apathy is a sin. Just going through the motions isn’t healthy.
The second reason why I’ve chosen to preach such a sermon is to serve as an example. The Bible teaches that pastors are to serve as examples of godliness and repentance towards their flocks. Paul says to the Corinthians, “Follow me as a follow Christ.” What I share with you this morning pertains to my sins and mistakes as a pastor. I share these with you to provide you an example regarding how you should deal with your sins. Sin is a big deal to God. We need to constantly address sin in our lives. Within the church, when God deals with one person’s sins, he also deals with other people’s sins. When someone gets up in church and shares how God has brought them out of so and so sin, God uses that to bring other people out of so and so sin. I want to be the example that God uses to bring about his work of redemption in and through this church.
The third reason why I share these thoughts with you pertains to confession. When we sin, the Bible tells us that we should confess our sins to one another. James 5:16 says this,
Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed.
We all must do this. We all must regularly confess our sins to one another. Now I do not confess my sins and failings as a pastor to you this morning because I need you to absolve me of my sin. No way. I’m not asking you to do that, nor can you do that. Only God can absolve me of my sins, and he already has. Further, I’m not confessing my sins to you because what it is that I want above else is for you to like me. I’m not apologizing this morning for the main reason for you to like me. I do want you to like me but far more important to me is that God approve of me. I do not apologize this morning out of the fear of man. I make this this morning out of my fear of God. My confession this morning, therefore, is not for you to absolve me of my sins nor for you to like me more. I apologize this morning in light of the fact that I have dishonored the Lord Jesus Christ and potentially hurt you and/or hindered your walk with Christ.
Now regarding the specifics of my wrongdoing. It is this. I believe that I have been prone towards being harsh. Another way to say it is that I have not been inclined towards being gentle. Stated another way, I have corrected when I should have encouraged, I have chastised when I should have supported, I have been confrontation when I should have been forbearing. Those have been my tendencies. These tendencies have not honored the Lord and are not beneficial for the body. These actions and tendencies I apologize for.
Where Has This Shown Up
This sinful tendency has shown up in many areas of my life. I have seen it show up in my home in the way that I speak to my wife and family. I have seen it show up in the way that I speak to you, the members of this church. And I have seen it show up in the pulpit in the way that I preach and teach. Those close to me have identified this sin for a long time. For a long time, I have had those close to me tell me that I have had this tendency. However, we’re not always quick learners, are we? No, we’re not. What has driven this point home for me is the ministry, specifically me failing in certain aspects of ministry for me to see this. And, moreover, certain other brothers and sisters in Christ letting me know that I have this tendency.
Why Have I Acted This Way?
Now why have I acted this way? There are numerous reasons for this. I could answer temperament, my early childhood experiences, ignorance, sin, etc. Many answers could be given. This morning I just want to offer one. That is this. My theology has been incorrect. Stated differently, I’ve viewed God incorrectly. Stated differently, I’ve had a faulty view of God. Let me explain.
Prior to this year, I viewed God as something like 50/50 grace and wrath, 50/50 love and righteousness. The loving, kind, gentle side of God took up 50% of God, and the tough, harsh, righteous side of God took up the other 50%. God is 50/50 loving characteristics and judgmental characteristics.
Because God was like that, therefore I thought I should act like that. I saw God’s 50% harshness as a theological foundation for my harshness. I acted out to others the way that I thought God acted towards me. But, as I have seen from the Scriptures, this is not the way God is. And so, therefore, my whole demeanor has changed.
The event that led me to alter my view was mostly related to reading this book, Gentle and Lowly by Dane Ortlund. I’ve recommended this book before. This book has been, outside of Scripture, one of the top five most transformational books I’ve ever read. Please do yourself a favor: buy it and read it.
What Ortlund help me to see is that God is not like this. Ortlund did this by showing me what Scripture teaches regarding God’s character. There was one passage specifically that Orlund used to show me my error. And for the remainder of our time together I want us to look at that passage together. It is Ex 34:6–8.
So if you have a Bible this morning, go ahead and up with me to Ex 34:6–8. This is what the passage says,
The LORD passed before him and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.”
First let me explain the context a little bit here. The context here is that Moses has gone up to Mount Sinai to receive the ten commandments for the second time. The first set of ten commandments Moses broke when he saw Israel’s unfaithfulness. On this second visit that is described in this passage, God preaches something of a sermon to Moses regarding God himself. God here is a preacher. And the message he proclaims is about his character. God is revealing to Moses God’s own character
This statement that God is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love becomes a central tenet of what the OT regarding who God is. This passage reverberates throughout the OT. This statement is repeated over and over again in the OT. This becomes a central tenet of what the OT teaches regarding who God is. This idea that God is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love is repeated in Num 14:18; Neh 9:17, 31, 13:22; Ps 5:8, 69:14, 86:5, 86:15, 103:8, 145:8; Isa 63:7; Jonah 4:2; Joel 2:13; Nahum 1:3. What God reveals to Moses here is not a one-off descriptor, a peripheral passing comment the God makes about himself. What God reveals to Moses here is really important and foundational for understanding who God is. Who is God? This passage tells us a lot.
What it is that I want us to first see from this passage is what is NOT said. I’ve said this before, and I’ll probably say it again. When you read Scripture and you seek to interpret what the Bible teaches, a very helpful tool for determining what the Bible says is to envision what the Bible does not say. So taking this passage, particularly v. 6. The passage DOES NOT say,
The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, quick to anger, and slow to show steadfast love and faithfulness.
It doesn’t say that. It also does not say,
The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, just as quick to become angry as he is to show steadfast love and faithfulness.
Doesn’t say that either. What it says is that God is slow to become angry and quick to show steadfast love and faithfulness. God does not “abound” in anger from this passage. No. When he does become angry, he does through slowly.
Judgment is Here
Now I do not to stress and make the point that God does become angry. When I said that my view of God has changed, it has not changed to the degree that I believe God never becomes angry. As I preached in last week’s sermon, one of the main things that Jesus saves us from is God’s anger. So I still believe in the wrath of God, in hell, in judgment. Those things are present in this passage. We have that in v. 6. God is “slow to anger.” He does become angry, though. Just because he’s slow to become angry doesn’t mean he doesn’t become angry. He does and he will.
And also in v. 7 we have this idea come out. The passage says that God,
Will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.
God clearly does become angry. The Hebrew in v. 7 is quite explicit here. God will not allow the guilty to go unpunished. When the sins of the father are passed to the son and the son’s son, God will judge the family who does not follow the truth. I believe this with all my heart. I teach this with all my heart. Sin drives us from God, and for those who do not turn to God, there will be fierce punishment.
Emphasis on Grace
Those ideas are taught in this passage. They’re there. But what I want you to see is that the emphasis on the passage, the main teaching, is not on God’s severity but on his mercy, grace, and compassion. We’ve already brought this ought a little bit with v. 6. Verse 6 states that God is slow to anger but abounding in steadfast love. What pours out of him first is love, mercy, and forgiveness.
Now look with me at v. 7. Yes, God’s wrath does extend to the third and fourth generation. But how far does his mercy and grace extend? Verse 7 specifies that God’s love extends for thousands. Compare that with the third and forth generation. What this passage is teaching is that his grace extends farther than his anger does. Or, in other words, God is merciful, faithful, slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love.
Bringing this meditation on this passage to a close, what I want you to see is this. There is not symmetry between God’s anger and his love in this passage. God says he is inclined to show mercy, to show mercy is his impulse, it is his inclination to do that. God is not inclined to show wrath and judgment. While he does do that, he only does that when provoked. What comes first to him is to forgive, to love, to show mercy, and grace. He abounds in love, and is slow to become angry.
Ortlund summarizes what I am trying to say from this passage. This is what he writes,
The Lord is slow to anger. He doesn’t have his finger on the trigger of wrath and anger. It takes much accumulated provoking to draw out his anger. Unlike us, who are often emotional dams ready to break, God can put up with a lot. This is why the OT speaks of God being ‘provoked to anger’ by his people dozens of times. But not once are we told that God is ‘provoked to love’ or ‘provoked to mercy.’ His angry requires provocation; His mercy doesn’t. His mercy is pent up, ready to gush forth. We tend to think: divine anger is pent up, spring-loaded; and that divine mercy is slow to build. It’s just the opposite. Divine mercy is ready to burst forth at the slightest prick.
Dear friends, that’s who God is. He is not 50/50 anger and grace. He abounds in love and must be provoked to anger. His inclination is towards to forgive, be merciful, gracious, and gentle. Wow. What a God we serve.
So in my life the Lord has used this passage to show me that I need to act to others the way he acts towards me. I need to be slow to become angry, slow to become harsh. My first impulse must be gentleness, kindness, patience, and forbearance, not harshness. God is not like that. Therefore, I cannot be like that either. That’s how God has used this passage in my life.
Now I want to turn the tables and poke and prod in your heart if I may. I open up myself so that you would open yourself up to God’s Word and be challenged and changed by it. I want to apply this passage in two different yet complimentary ways. The first way is by dealing with your view of God, and then second in how you treat other people. So first in your view of God.
For Your Own View of God
The Bible teaches that we are born with a darkened understanding of who God is. Sanctification, the growth that a Christian experiences in the Christian life, involves the Spirit’s work in shaping and changing our mindset to bring it into conformity with what the Scriptures teach regarding who God is. We’re are not naturally born with the correct knowledge of God. That comes over time by means of God’s grace and the Spirit’s power.
As I’ve said, I viewed God incorrectly, and this passage showed me my error. I know, though, that I am not the only one who has had a faulty view of God. I know that. We all have faulty views of God. You might not have the same faulty view of God that I had, but you might. Let’s probe a bit here to see if you do.
Are you like me in that you viewed God as half angry and half gracious? Did you view some type of proportional symmetry between God’s wrath and his grace? If so, that is wrong. This passage does not allow that symmetry. Remember God is slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love.
What about these types of thoughts? Have you ever had these types of thoughts?
God is not willing and ready to forgive me of my sins. My sins are too great for God to forgive. When I fall into sin, God probably is not ready to take me back. I probably need to do something good for God to take me back. When I fall into sin, I need to earn God’s favor back before he will accept me. God’s love for me is contingent upon me not doing this same sin again. If I do this same sin again, God will probably not forgive me. I’m too sinful for God to accept me.
Dear friend, have you had those thoughts? Maybe you’ve never verbalized those thought but it the deep recesses of your heart you’ve thought them and you’ve felt them. What’s God got to say to you about this.
Dear friend, if you are in Christ, if you have trusted Jesus Christ as your Savior, if you have placed your faith in him for the forgiveness of your sins, this is what God says to you:
“The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin.”
Dear friend, God’s greatest desire is that you would come to him to receive his mercy and grace for your sins. That’s what God is all about. God wants to show you his mercy and his grace. Don’t ever run from him. Don’t ever doubt his love. Don’t ever question it. God will never leave you, nor forsake. His grace is infinite. His love is limitless.
For Your Treatment of Others
Now for the second part of the application. First part concerned your view of God, now we transition to your treatment of others. The Bible teaches that we should act towards other people the way that God acts towards us. Ephesians 5:1 says this,
Be imitators of God
Pretty straightforward. So God acts kind and graciously towards you, right? Right. He is not quick to anger, right? Right. He is patient, kind, loving, merciful, gracious, gentle, and forbearing towards you, right? So, therefore, what the Bible calls you do to is to act that same way to other people. Let’s take a number of different issues and apply this.
Let’s first start with anger. God is slow to anger towards us, so, therefore, we should be slow to anger towards others. Here are some questions for you to see if you are obeying God and loving others as he loves you.
Are you quick-tempered? Does it take you a long time and a lot of mistreatment to become angry, or do you fly off the rails very easily? Does yelling come easy for you? Do you raise your voice easily? Are you easily irritated by others? Are you gentle, or are you combustible? What comes more natural for you: forgiving others or becoming angry? Would you rather forgive someone when they have wronged you, or would you rather let them know all they ways they hurt you and not forgive them until the know how badly they’ve bothered you?
Chances are that these questions leads you to do some soul searching and some repenting. We must, dear friends, act towards others the way God acts towards us.
Now let’s ask some questions about forgiveness. So God is slow to anger and abounding in love. He is quick to forgive, no questions asked. Here are some questions to see how you are doing in the area.
Are you ready and willing to forgive others? Or, are you bitter and resentful? Do you hold onto past grievances, or are you quick to let them go? Do you keep a list of wrongdoings to bring up with others when they hurt you? Or, do you easily let go of issues when others have hurt you? What brings you greater joy: critizing others or forgiving them for their mistakes and sins? Are you able to overlook other people’s sins and mistakes, or do critical comments come from your lips very easily and very quickly? Do you give the benefit of the doubt? Are you willing, ready, and desiring to forgive those who have hurt you? Are do you wish they would never talk to you again?
Dear friends, the God of Scripture, the God that is presented to us in Scripture as the God who saves—the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit—is a God who is infinite in love, compassion, and grace. He does become angry, and he will become angry with the wicked for an eternity, but he is slow to anger. God is unimaginably great. He is unimaginably loving and kind. This is the God you must believe in. Don’t settle for a fickle God, who’s love for you is dependent on your obedience. God’s steadfast love endures forever. Because God is so kind to you, you must show this kindness and love towards others. Don’t be quickly angered. Don’t be irritable. Be slow to anger and quick to forgive. Don’t make other people earn your favor for you to forgive them. That’s wrong. Be quick to forgive, willing to forgive, willing to bestow upon others the same grace that God has bestowed upon you.