Joy And Rejoicing-A Reprise


Christmas_shoppers_in_Leeds_in_December_2009Complaints. Angst. Cynicism. Malaise. Western society seems bent toward dissatisfaction. I blame this in part on our consumerism. We are constantly being told we need something other than what we have which instills a sense of disgruntlement. At the same time, however, we’re aware that wherever we turn, someone is trying to sell us something or scam us, spam us, or hack us, so we have our guards up.

Ironic. Perhaps no people on earth have more material goods than those of us in western societies. And yet, as one pastor said recently, we are a covetous people.

Instead of enjoying what we have, we plot and plan how to get more, even as we worry and work in order to keep what we’ve got. We spend hundreds of dollars purchasing warranties and insurance–health, auto, home, renter, life, dental. There are specific kinds of insurance, too–flood, fire, earthquake, theft, comprehension, accident, collision.

Protect, protect, protect. We have passwords to keep people out of our computers and mobile devices and social media sites. We have security alarms in our homes and cars and places of business. We have cameras and automatic light systems and safes and security doors and gated communities and security guards.

I’m not saying any of those things is wrong, but quite frankly, I don’t know how anyone keeps up. And I understand why so many people seem unhappy.

In the midst of all the frenzy connected with getting and keeping, magnified during the weeks known as “the shopping season,” the US has tucked into the last week of November a day we call Thanksgiving.

After cooking and cleaning and gathering together in our family groups, we eat our feasts, then go through the appropriate motions of being thankful to whomever for whatever before we rush off to the next hurried and hectic day of shopping.

A friend recently wrote a blog post that indited Christians for not being joyful, not laughing, not making merry. I don’t think it’s a problem with Christians as much as it is with people living in western societies. Oh, sure, there’s laughter in places where the people have had too much to drink or are making sport of others.

But joy? Where do you go to see people with joy oozing from their expressions?

Well, certainly it ought to be the Church. Joy is a product of contentment, a fruit of the Holy Spirit. It doesn’t require happy circumstances, and it doesn’t need to be greased with a pint of the bubbly.

Rejoicing is the same. James says the poor man is to rejoice in his humble circumstances. Peter says the believer is to rejoice to the degree that we share the sufferings of Christ (1 Peter 4:13).

It’s already abundantly clear that lots of stuff doesn’t lead to joy and rejoicing. Sure, sitting down with a group of friends or finding the perfect present at a bargain price or cheering for a team that wins all might make us happy for a time, but joy lasts and rejoicing doesn’t need an occasion.

At least not a new occasion. We already have received the good news of great joy which is for all people. And that’s reason for rejoicing for all time.

This article originally appeared here November 2013.

Advertisements
Published in: on November 17, 2017 at 4:15 pm  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , , , , ,

And Then There Was Peace


Gideon004I’m slow on the uptake at times. For years I thought Israel, prior to becoming a kingdom, only had a judge when they needed to be rescued from an oppressor. Hence the judges were, in essence, military heroes, but little else.

Except, I noticed a few years ago as I read from Judges 4 that Deborah was judging Israel before God called her to facilitate the end of the oppression of Jabin king of Canaan.

Now Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lappidoth, was judging Israel at that time. She used to sit under the palm tree of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim; and the sons of Israel came up to her for judgment. (Judges 4:4-5, emphasis added)

Finally, as I read further, something clicked inside my head. The book records a small group of judges who don’t have military credentials. I’d always thought Scripture skipped who they fought against and how long Israel was in bondage to these unnamed oppressors.

But no.

Those judges didn’t come to their position in response to the need to free Israel from oppression. They simply were the designated judges that presided over the nation for those short years.

So apparently God selected judges throughout Israel’s pre-king years, not as military heroes, as I used to think, but as judges. (Imagine that!) They were to be the leaders of the nation, the ones who, like Moses before them, arbitrated between the people. No longer did leading include heading up the caravan of people traveling through the wilderness (as Moses had) or even conducting a military campaign (as Joshua had), though many of the judges did the latter.

In reality, the judges were God’s representative to the nation. Interestingly, many of them did free Israel from foreign oppression, but afterwards, they continued to judge the nation. For example, Gideon judged Israel for forty years after God used him and the measly three hundred to free the people from the iron fist of Midian. Before him, Deborah judged Israel for another forty years once she and Barak had freed the nation.

And the four judges who weren’t military leaders? They were in charge for a total of forty-seven years. Of the four, three served consecutively, right before Samson. They held the judgeship for seven, ten, and eight years respectively. So, for twenty-five years Israel knew peace.

Until they didn’t.

I’m not sure how the whole judge thing worked. Deborah, we know, stayed in one place and people came to her. But did people from the far away tribes make that trek? And what happened when God “gave them into the hands” of oppressors? Did that mean He did not choose a judge for that period of time? And how was the judge chosen?

We know God spoke to Gideon and Samuel. Deborah was a prophetess, so God spoke to her as well. Samson was set apart in his mother’s womb, and the Spirit of God came upon him when he needed superhuman strength, but did he actually judge the nation? Did God call him to do so? And what about the others—Othniel and Ehud and Shamgar and the rest—how were they chosen? Scripture doesn’t say.

So the process isn’t clear. Who exactly was in charge during those years?

The question comes to mind because after periods of peace, inevitably the book of Judges records a verse like 13:1—“Now the sons of Israel again did evil in the sight of the LORD, so that the LORD gave them into the hands of the Philistines forty years.”

But when, exactly did the people do this evil? The oppression came as a result of the evil, so the doing of evil must have come during those years of peace.

I’m sure Israel wanted peace. They had put up with Moab and Midian on the east, the Canaanites in the north, and the Philistines in the west. At one point they were nearly starved off their land as the Midianites burned their crops right before harvest and killed off their livestock.

War was . . . well, you know what war is, and Israel lived through it over and over and over. But because of it, they turned to God and cried out for Him to rescue them. It was during peace that they turned their backs on Him and worshiped other gods.

So peace and prosperity and abundance are things we long for, things we strive for, things we enjoy. But in oppression, we call out to God.

So which is actually better for us?

I maintain it’s not the situation we’re in that is better for us or worse, though history seems to argue against me. I think it’s our heart attitude. Paul said he’d learned to be content in whatever circumstance he was in:

I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me. (Phil. 4:12-13)

I’d rather have peace than oppression, prosperity than humble means, but do I want peace and prosperity more than I want Jesus? Do I want to know God and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings?

Peace actually tests our hearts to see if we want what tastes good and looks pleasing to the eye and promises to make us wise, more than we want to take up our cross and follow Jesus. Peace, more than oppression, then, should bring us to our knees praying for God to rescue us from the dominion of darkness, because the temptation of our souls is a bigger deal than the oppression of our bodies.

This post is an edited version of one that first appeared here in October 2014.

The Connection Between Pride And Anxiety


scan-2016-11-8-0002As I stood before a cashier this evening, a woman behind me said how worried she was about the election. Later at home, I heard on TV that people in state X are exhibiting signs of anxiety as they anticipate the election returns.

I don’t think worrying about the results or the next four years of struggle and/or change is the road God wants those who fear Him to take.

Here’s a re-post of an article I wrote three years ago that addresses this issue.

1 Peter has some great “one liners” and lots of people quote various verses from the book, but I’ll admit, I never paid much attention to the context in which those verses appear. I’m talking about ones like, “And He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed” (2:24). Or how about the last half of 4:8, “Love covers a multitude of sins.” Then there is 5:8, “Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil prowls around like a roaring lion seeking someone to devour.”

Just before that verse about the Christian’s enemy, though, come two other well known verses, and I realized for the first time how they relate to each other. The first one is this:
“Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time” (5:6).

The thing is, the next verse continues the thought: “casting all your anxiety upon Him, because He cares for you” (5:7).

The sentence construction, as I understand it, means that casting our anxieties on God is a working out of the previous command to humble ourselves. It would be like me saying, Drive to the store, stopping at all the red lights on the way. Stopping at the lights is a part of carrying out the command to drive to the store.

I never before saw casting anxieties on God as a working out of humbling myself under His mighty hand. Looking at 1 Peter as a letter from an evangelist to the churches he helped to start, however, rather than a collection of quotable Christian sayings, has changed my understanding.

Traffic_lights_red.svgI now think the two ideas fit really well. If I humble myself under God’s mighty hand, I have to let Him be God. I have to recognize Him as sovereign, but then I also have to trust Him, even when things are hard and don’t seem right. I have to be willing to relinquish my concerns and put them in His care. I have to stop worrying, in other words, and trust that He sees the big picture better than I do.

The problem I struggle with is knowing what part I am to play as I trust God. I don’t think it means I take my hands off the wheel (with all due respect to Kelly Clarkson). God has put believers on this earth and keeps us here to be His representatives. Therefore, I can’t sit back and say, I have to trust that God will bring people to Christ without also doing what I am capable of doing.

I can’t say, God will feed me, so I don’t have to worry about working. I need to give myself to my work, understanding that God is the provider, but that He is providing through my efforts and the doors He has opened up for me.

I think contentment is critical in understanding the interweaving of pride and anxiety. If we recognize that what we have is from God’s hand, that He is good and loving, then we can be content in His watch care. If we want more than He provides, we can ask Him for more. He may lead us to more or He may not.

Anxiety sets in, I believe, when we think we have to circumvent God to get the more we asked for. We know MORE is what we need, and God isn’t coming through or He’s too busy. So it’s up to us to figure out how to get MORE.

The problem is, we are the agents through which God works, so sometimes we really do need to do something to bring about the thing we’re asking. The trick is to know when to do and when to stand and watch God work.

Well, the real trick is to cast all the worry about the matter upon our good God because He cares for us. If we give Him the worry, I believe He’ll give us the understanding about what we’re to do.

I don’t think this principle is only applicable to money and jobs. It’s true about anything we humans tend to worry about. Over and over God promises us peace, and yet we seem to rush about so, trying to do and fix and change and make, when we need, first, to hand our worries over to God and trust that He’ll show us our part in due time.

Published in: on November 8, 2016 at 5:33 pm  Comments (8)  
Tags: , , ,

And Then There Was Peace


Gideon004I’m slow on the uptake at times. Until recently I thought Israel, prior to becoming a kingdom, only had a judge when they needed to be rescued from an oppressor. Hence the judges were, in essence, military heroes, but little else.

Except, I noticed as I read from Judges 4 that Deborah was judging Israel before God called her to facilitate the end of the oppression of Jabin king of Canaan.

Now Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lappidoth, was judging Israel at that time. She used to sit under the palm tree of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim; and the sons of Israel came up to her for judgment. (Judges 4:4-5, emphasis added)

Finally, as I read further, something clicked inside my head. The book records a small group of judges who don’t have military credentials. I’d always thought Scripture skipped who they fought against and how long Israel was in bondage to these unnamed oppressors. But no.

Those judges didn’t come to their position in response to the need to free Israel from oppression. They simply were the designated judges that presided over the nation for those short years.

So apparently God selected judges throughout Israel’s pre-king years, not as military heroes, as I used to think, but as judges. (Imagine that!) They were to be the leaders of the nation, the ones who, like Moses before them, arbitrated between the people. No longer did leading include heading up the caravan of people traveling through the wilderness (as Moses had) or even conducting a military campaign (as Joshua had), though many of the judges did the latter.

In reality, the judges were God’s representative to the nation. Interestingly, many of them did free Israel from foreign oppression, but afterwards, they continued to judge the nation. For example, Gideon judged Israel for forty years after God used him and the measly three hundred to free the people from the iron fist of Midian. Before him, Deborah judged Israel for another forty years once she and Barak had freed the nation.

And the four who weren’t military leaders? They were in charge for a total of forty-seven years. Three consecutive judges, right before Samson, held the judgeship for seven, ten, and eight years respectively. So, for twenty-five years Israel knew peace.

Until they didn’t.

I’m not sure how the whole judge thing worked. Deborah, we know, stayed in one place and people came to her. But did people from the far away tribes make that trek? And what happened when God “gave them into the hands” of oppressors? Did that mean He did not choose a judge for that period of time? And how was the judge chosen?

We know God spoke to Gideon and Samuel. Deborah was a prophetess, so God spoke to her as well. Samson was set apart in his mother’s womb, and the Spirit of God came upon him when he needed superhuman strength, but did he actually judge the nation? Did God call him to do so? And what about the others—Othniel and Ehud and Shamgar and the rest—how were they chosen? Scripture doesn’t say.

So the process isn’t clear. Who exactly was in charge during those years?

The question comes to mind because after periods of peace, inevitably Judges records a verse like 13:1—“Now the sons of Israel again did evil in the sight of the LORD, so that the LORD gave them into the hands of the Philistines forty years.”

But when, exactly did the people do this evil? The oppression came as a result of the evil, so the doing of evil must have come during those years of peace.

I’m sure Israel wanted peace. They had put up with Moab and Midian on the east, the Canaanites in the north, and the Philistines in the west. At one point they were nearly starved off their land as the Midianites burned their crops right before harvest and killed off their livestock.

War was . . . well, you know what war is, and Israel lived through it over and over and over. But because of it, they turned to God and cried out for Him to rescue them. It was during peace that they turned their backs on Him and worshiped other gods.

So peace and prosperity and abundance are things we long for, things we strive for, things we enjoy. But in oppression, we call out to God.

So which is actually better for us?

I maintain it’s not the situation we’re in that is better for us or worse, though history seems to argue against me. I think it’s our heart attitude. Paul said he’d learned to be content in whatever circumstance he was in:

I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me. (Phil. 4:12-13)

I’d rather have peace than oppression, prosperity than humble means, but do I want peace and prosperity more than I want Jesus? Do I want to know God and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings?

Peace actually tests our hearts to see if we want what tastes good and looks pleasing to the eye and promises to make us wise, more than we want to take up our cross and follow Jesus. Peace, more than oppression, then, should bring us to our knees praying for God to rescue us from the dominion of darkness, because the temptation of our souls is a bigger deal than the oppression of our bodies.

This post is an edited version of one that first appeared here in October 2014.

Published in: on October 26, 2016 at 5:45 pm  Comments (1)  
Tags: , , , ,

The Culture Of Whine


children in AfricaAbout ten years ago, I finally heard myself the way my mother must have all those years ago. I was a whiner. Sadly, as an adult, I turned into a complainer. Pretty much everything I talked about ended up pointing to some imperfection, some reason for dissatisfaction.

At first I blamed my habit of complaining on the way God made me—I have this love for analysis, so I’m constantly tearing things apart mentally and looking at what works and what doesn’t. Except . . . why wasn’t I talking about the “what works” part as much as I was the “what doesn’t” part?

Now that I hear myself, guess what? I hear the whine in our culture. It’s as if all of us are being trained in the art of complaint.

Botswana1987Kidsrainv2Take the weather, for instance. This is the most innocuous topic in our conversational arsenal, and yet much of what we say about the weather is complaint: it’s sooooo hot, or rainy, or muggy, or dry, or windy, or unseasonal, or unchanging.

Our TV talent competitions reinforce this idea—the food prepared by this home cook or that one is undercooked or lacking a good sear on the bottom or not seasoned quite right. The dance competitions or singing competitions aren’t any different. After all, there can be only one winner, so something has to be wrong with all the other contestants.

Advertisements are the best source of this whine training. Nothing is quite right, which is why we consumers MUST buy their product.

In sports, the refs or umpires always get the calls wrong, or so you’d think by the way the players and coaches react. And fans! Who take their cues from the players and coaches, by the way. Some athletes (here’s looking at you, LeBron James) act as if the refs should call a foul every time they miss a shot. It doesn’t matter how many times you push off, the first time someone pushes off against you, you’re complaining to the ref.

SAINTE_RITA_CONGOWe’re a judgmental society. Politicians can never be right—if they compromise, they’re wafflers and if they stand by their convictions, they’re obstructionists.

The only time we’re happy is when things go our way—which lasts about fifteen minutes. We have to wait too long in line at the grocery store. The music is too loud at church. The traffic is too bad, pretty much any time of the day. The post office loses our mail. Stamps cost too much. Facebook makes changes apparently on a whim. Phone calls to the bank or the DMV or to the Internet provider rarely connect you with an actual person, and if you insist on talking to some one alive and breathing, the wait is too long.

Mokolo South AfricaThe price of gas is too high. The food at the restaurant is too cold, the coffee too bitter.

We are so rarely happy with the goods and services we receive.

In contrast, children in Botswana, the Congo, South Africa, who have so much less than we do, seem happy to have their picture taken. Their smiles put me to shame, and I think, I wish I’d never whine again.

Published in: on June 19, 2015 at 5:43 pm  Comments (2)  
Tags: , , ,

Does Anybody Have A New Recipe For Manna?


Gathering mannaBoiled manna. Fried manna. Mashed manna. Manna a la quail. Manna sauteed. Baked Manna. Raw manna. If there’s a way to prepare manna, my guess is, the people of Israel figured it out. After all, they had a steady diet of the stuff for forty years.

The people themselves didn’t take long to start complaining.

We remember the fish which we used to eat free in Egypt, the cucumbers and the melons and the leeks and the onions and the garlic, but now our appetite is gone. There is nothing at all to look at except this manna.” (Num. 11:5-6)

Nothing to look at. Only manna.

Apparently it didn’t occur to them that without manna they would have had nothing. Apparently it hadn’t occurred to them that their “free fish” in Egypt required them to be slaves.

So it is today. We seem so rarely contented. Rather, we live life for the next thing, and the next after that. We want the vacation to Tahoe until we hear about our friend who is heading off to Italy. So we add that to our “Bucket List,” which is nothing but a glorified “I want” list—I want this, I want to do that.

When we own our own home, we complain about the property taxes. We enjoy amazing technology, only to long for the newest gadget now out. We love our cars but can’t wait to trade them in for the upgraded model. Our jobs provide us with the money to pay for food and clothing, but we can hardly wait for the weekend so we don’t have to work. Or for vacation.

Life has become one big stress.

Or has it? Maybe life is not the stress, but we are looking at manna—or life—with dissatisfaction because we want something God hasn’t given us.

We take for granted God’s provision and we even diminish its value because we’re longing for something else—something we had in the past or something we think we’re entitled to in the present.

We replace gratitude with complaining, appreciation for disgruntlement. We disdain the security and constancy God provides in favor of something risky or edgy.

I do anyway. I hate to admit it. God is so faithful, and yet I grow complacent—so unlike Abraham. He considered God’s promises and “did not waver in unbelief, but grew strong in faith, giving glory to God” (Romans 4:20b).

I have ample reason to give glory to God, but I tend to think more about what He did not give me rather than what He has given me.

The crazy thing is, some of the things God withholds become things I’m so thankful later on that I haven’t been burdened with. Who knew? Good things can become burdensome.

Let’s take books, for example. Every writer wants above all else to publish her book. But publishing only leads to the need to promote the book and to follow it up with another and another. In short, the very good thing of having published a book grows into a larger requirement, a burden, even.

Perhaps God withholds that good thing—a published book—because He wants to spare that writer the burdens and responsibilities that would come with it. I’m aware, for instance, of a writer who did not receive an expected book contract. While waiting, though, a family member contracted a serious illness which required a great deal of family involvement. How would it have been possible for this writer to navigate the waters of publishing at the same time as meeting the necessities of family life?

Of course, it’s so easy to say, Why didn’t God give the book contract and withhold the illness? No one can answer that for someone else, and sometimes we can’t answer it for ourselves. God simply hasn’t disclosed all His plans. But then, He doesn’t report to us, does He. He isn’t required to check in with us or get our approval to exercise His will.

In reality, He knows precisely what we need. And sometimes it’s not fish. It’s more manna.

You’re Not A Doberman


Dauchshaund on stiltsI laugh every time I see this photo from Codeblack Comedy shared on Facebook. But there’s an important point that shouldn’t be lost in the humor: the little dachshund is still just a dachshund. He can pretend to be a doberman all he wants, but he’s a dachshund. On stilts. And likely no longer able to walk, at least until his owner sets him free from that gismo he’s attached to.

I think this picture speaks volumes to our discontented society with so many people trying to be who they are not. Pretend all you want, but cross dressing doesn’t turn a man into a woman. A boy who says he feels like inside he’s a girl is still a boy.

And even with surgery and drugs, there remain things that are physically true about those born with a Y-chromosome that are just being discovered. Like certain drugs used for heart disease that work only for men and not women. Will those drugs recognize the inner woman in those dachshunds on stilts?

Or how about the discoveries at the genetic level? Just last year, Nature published the findings of a study of the genes on the Y-chromosome. Here’s part of the New York Times article covering the study:

“Throughout human bodies, the cells of males and females are biochemically different,” Dr. Page said. The genome may be controlled slightly differently because of this variation in the 12 regulatory genes, which he thinks could contribute to the differing incidence of many diseases in men and women.

Differences between male and female tissues are often attributed to the powerful influence of sex hormones. But now that the 12 regulatory genes are known to be active throughout the body, there is clearly an intrinsic difference in male and female cells even before the sex hormones are brought into play.

“We are only beginning to understand the full extent of the differences in molecular biology of males and females,” Andrew Clark, a geneticist at Cornell University, wrote in a commentary in Nature on the two reports.

But this “you can be whatever you want” claim is much more far reaching than gender identity. Little boys and girls are told they can be the next great___; fill in the blank.

There’s nothing wrong with reaching beyond our circumstances to make more of our lives, but there is something wrong with reaching beyond our personhood, with the talents and abilities and skills with which we’ve been born.

I’ve used myself as an example before: when I was in college, I discovered volleyball. I also discovered that I wasn’t too bad at the game, and I started dreaming of playing in the Olympics. A teammate of mine had the same dream and in fact transferred to a university where she might have a better opportunity. The problem was, neither of us was taller than five feet six inches. Neither of us had a forty-inch vertical leap. Our chances of making the Olympics were slim and none.

I don’t know what happened to my former teammate. She didn’t have a scholarship to play volleyball. Did she walk on at the university where she transferred? Was her bold move positive for her despite the fact that it didn’t lead to a spot on the Olympic team? I have no way of knowing. I can say, changing schools would have a radical effect on her life. And at some point she had to learn the truth: despite strapping on stilts, she wasn’t a doberman.

Of late there have been a rash of “stars” who are famous for being famous. They have no special talent. They aren’t particularly rich, haven’t achieved anything meaningful—other than getting themselves known by millions of people who find their lives an entertaining soap opera. Some might argue that they have in fact become what they dreamed of becoming simply by putting their minds to it. Well, maybe.

I suppose if you set your sights low enough (“I want to be famous, at least for fifteen minutes”) anyone can achieve their goal.

I remember when we used to get tested in PE for a variety of skills. We even did a high jump. To begin with, the bar was set so low that we all were able to clear it (hardly needing to employ the jumping part of the skill). So yes, there are some things anyone can achieve if they put their mind to it.

The sad thing is, though, that a number of young people have resorted to things like cheating in order to achieve their dreams. Others notoriously con, manipulate, pay for, and trade sex for what they want. All in the name of becoming the doberman they’ve always dreamed of becoming.

Where in this mix does contentment lie?

When is it time to cease striving and know that God is God (Psalm 56:12)?

I suspect the answer is simple: we will stop trying to pretend we are dobermans when we realize dachshunds are made precisely the way God wanted them made, and there’s nothing wrong with short legs and a weenie-dog body. They won’t do what dobermans do, but dobermans can’t make people laugh the way dachshunds can either.

As soon as we embrace who God made us to be, we’ll turn all our striving, not into trying to be something else, but into being the best us we can be. That’s not anything like, Be whatever you want to be. That’s, Be who God intended you to be.

Published in: on April 1, 2015 at 5:59 pm  Comments (5)  
Tags: , , , , ,

And Then There Was Peace


Gideon004I’m slow on the uptake at times. Until five days ago I thought Israel, prior to becoming a kingdom, only had a judge when they needed to be rescued from an oppressor. Hence the judges were, in essence, military heroes, but little else.

Except, I noticed as I read from Judges 4 this past week that Deborah was judging Israel before God called her to facilitate the end of the oppression of Jabin king of Canaan.

Now Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lappidoth, was judging Israel at that time. She used to sit under the palm tree of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim; and the sons of Israel came up to her for judgment. (Judges 4:4-5, emphasis added)

Finally, as I read further, something clicked inside my head. The book records a small group of judges who don’t have military credentials. I’d always thought Scripture skipped who they fought against and how long Israel was in bondage to these unnamed oppressors. But no.

Those judges didn’t come to their position in response to the need to free Israel from oppression. They simply were the designated judges that presided over the nation for those short years.

So apparently God selected judges throughout Israel’s pre-king years, not as military heroes, as I used to think, but as judges. (Imagine that!) They were to be the leaders of the nation, the ones who, like Moses before them, arbitrated between the people. No longer did leading include heading up the caravan of people traveling through the wilderness (as Moses had) or even conducting a military campaign (as Joshua had), though many of the judges did the latter.

In reality, the judges were God’s representative to the nation. Interestingly, many of them did free Israel from foreign oppression, but afterwards, they continued to judge the nation. For example, Gideon judged Israel for forty years after God used him and the measly three hundred to free the people from the iron fist of Midian. Before him, Deborah judged Israel for another forty years once she and Barak had freed the nation.

And the four who weren’t military leaders? They were in charge for a total of forty-seven years. Three consecutive judges, right before Samson, held the judgeship for seven, ten, and eight years respectively. So, for twenty-five years Israel knew peace.

Until they didn’t.

I’m not sure how the whole judge thing worked. Deborah, we know, stayed in one place and people came to her. But did people from the far away tribes make that trek? And what happened when God “gave them into the hands” of oppressors? Did that mean He did not choose a judge for that period of time? And how was the judge chosen?

We know God spoke to Gideon and Samuel. Deborah was a prophetess, so God spoke to her as well. Samson was set apart in his mother’s womb, and the Spirit of God came upon him when he needed superhuman strength, but did he actually judge the nation? Did God call him to do so? And what about the others—Othniel and Ehud and Shamgar and the rest—how were they chosen? Scripture doesn’t say.

So the process isn’t clear. Who exactly was in charge during those years?

The question comes to mind because after periods of peace, inevitably Judges records a verse like 13:1—“Now the sons of Israel again did evil in the sight of the LORD, so that the LORD gave them into the hands of the Philistines forty years.”

But when, exactly did the people do this evil? The oppression came as a result of the evil, so the doing of evil must have come during those years of peace.

I’m sure Israel wanted peace. They had put up with Moab and Midian on the east, the Canaanites in the north, and the Philistines in the west. At one point they were nearly starved off their land as the Midianites burned their crops right before harvest and killed off their livestock.

War was . . . well, you know what war is, and Israel lived through it over and over and over. But because of it, they turned to God and cried out for Him to rescue them. It was during peace that they turned their backs on Him and worshiped other gods.

So peace and prosperity and abundance are things we long for, things we strive for, things we enjoy. But in oppression, we call out to God.

So which is actually better for us?

I maintain it’s not the situation we’re in that is better for us or worse, though history seems to argue against me. I think it’s our heart attitude. Paul said he’d learned to be content in whatever circumstance he was in:

I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me. (Phil. 4:12-13)

I’d rather have peace than oppression, prosperity than humble means, but do I want peace and prosperity more than I want Jesus? Do I want to know God and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings?

Peace actually tests our hearts to see if we want what tastes good and looks pleasing to the eye and promises to make us wise, more than we want to take up our cross and follow Jesus. Peace, more than oppression, then, should bring us to our knees praying for God to rescue us from the dominion of darkness, because the temptation of our souls is a bigger deal than the oppression of our bodies.

Published in: on October 9, 2014 at 6:13 pm  Comments Off on And Then There Was Peace  
Tags: , , , , ,

Contentment Vs. Contentment With The Status Quo


smokestack-1402448-mI recently read a book that has me a bit steamed. There are lots of reasons, but not the least is the subtitle: “Avoiding . . . dangers of overzealous faith.”

Certainly we are to avoid the things listed where I typed an ellipsis—pride and exclusivity—but why would those be associated with “overzealous faith”? Why would any “danger” be linked to overzealous faith? For that matter, is it possible to be overzealous in our faith?

If you think about it, God’s word tells us the first command, the one that’s most important, is to love God “WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND, AND WITH ALL YOUR STRENGTH” (Mark 12:30). If this is what God commands of His followers, I don’t see much room for over-the-top zeal. Already what God asks is . . . well, everything.

He wants us to take up our cross, to die to ourselves, to lay down our lives, to be living sacrifices. I don’t see how this clear teaching of Scripture that we as believers in Christ are to be all in, lends itself to zeal that outshines what’s expected.

Rather, I expect this “plea for balance,” as many of the positive reviews of the book labeled it, is looking for wiggle room for comfortable American Christians who want to stay comfortable and still be “good Christians.”

There has finally begun to be a counter thrust among evangelical pastors to the health-and-wealth message which distorts Scripture. But a look at the values which the Bible teaches in the areas of physical health and finances calls into question a lot of what Americans do and even preach as “best practices” or “good stewardship.”

Along comes this book, Accidental Pharisees, and most probably others like it, and we have an intentional reining in of concepts calling for a radical or crazy or counter-cultural approach to doing church.

The message I get from this book is, let’s be content with the status quo. After all, Paul said we should learn to live quiet lives, and that’s good, because then I can have my big house and my fancy cars and not feel like I’m a lesser Christian than brothers who have moved to the inner city or are giving away 90% of their income.

Honestly, the premise of this book makes me a little crazy. The idea is that Christians who “get out in front of the following-Jesus line” start to look around and compare where they’re at with where other Christians are at and then they start looking down on believers who aren’t up with them at the head of the line. So their overzealous faith has led them into pride.

I submit that anyone who is looking around and comparing his spiritual progress with others already has succumbed to pride.

I submit that someone afraid of crazy love or radical faith or sold-out evangelism or whatever else is the latest call for Christian devotion, is really afraid of the Bible. It’s more comfortable to be content with the status quo—the American Christianity that doesn’t demand too much, that lets us alone to do what we want, except for an hour or so on Sunday.

Scripture does call Christians to be content and to live quiet lives, but it’s in the context of sometimes going hungry or serving someone by going the extra mile or by thinking more highly of a fellow Christian than of myself.

The thing is, I understand it is possible to be overly zealous about all kinds of things, some dangerous, some merely silly. But faith? Genuine faith in Jesus Christ? I don’t think so.

Genuine faith in Jesus Christ is built on the Word of God. Consequently, a zealous Christian will know what Jesus thinks about looking down on others or about holding people to high standards for salvation (as if we set standards for salvation in the first place!) or any of the other “dangers” supposedly inherent in overzealous faith.

I suppose the best conclusion about this book is this: since Jesus called the Pharisees hypocrites (7 or 8 times in Matt. 23), any “faith” of “Pharisees” isn’t real faith at all, so being overzealous for a hypocritical “see how spiritual I am” substitution for faith is definitely something to avoid.

OK, in that light, it’s a good book. 😉

Joy And Rejoicing


Christmas_shoppers_in_Leeds_in_December_2009Complaints. Angst. Cynicism. Malaise. Western society seems bent toward dissatisfaction. I blame this in part on our consumerism. We are constantly being told we need something other than what we have which instills a sense of disgruntlement. At the same time, however, we’re aware that wherever we turn, someone is trying to sell us something or scam us, spam us, or hack us, so we have our guards up.

Ironic. Perhaps no people on earth have more material goods than those of us in western societies. And yet, as one pastor said recently, we are a covetous people.

Instead of enjoying what we have, we plot and plan how to get more, even as we worry and work in order to keep what we’ve got. We spend hundreds of dollars purchasing warranties and insurance–health, auto, home, renter, life, dental. There are specific kinds of insurance, too–flood, fire, earthquake, theft, comprehension, accident, collision.

Protect, protect, protect. We have passwords to keep people out of our computers and mobile devices and social media sites. We have security alarms in our homes and cars and places of business. We have cameras and automatic light systems and safes and security doors and gated communities and security guards.

I’m not saying any of those things is wrong, but quite frankly, I don’t know how anyone keeps up. And I understand why so many people seem unhappy.

In the midst of all the frenzy connected with getting and keeping, magnified during the weeks known as “the shopping season,” the US has tucked into the last week of November a day we call Thanksgiving.

After cooking and cleaning and gathering together in our family groups, we eat our feasts, then go through the appropriate motions of being thankful to whomever for whatever before we rush off to the next hurried and hectic day of shopping.

A friend recently wrote a blog post that indited Christians for not being joyful, not laughing, not making merry. I don’t think it’s a problem with Christians as much as it is with people living in western societies. Oh, sure, there’s laughter in places where the people have had too much to drink or are making sport of others.

But joy? Where do you go to see people with joy oozing from their expressions?

Well, certainly it ought to be the Church. Joy is a product of contentment, a fruit of the Holy Spirit. It doesn’t require happy circumstances, and it doesn’t need to be greased with a pint of the bubbly.

Rejoicing is the same. James says the poor man is to rejoice in his humble circumstances. Peter says the believer is to rejoice to the degree that we share the sufferings of Christ (1 Peter 4:13).

It’s already abundantly clear that lots of stuff doesn’t lead to joy and rejoicing. Sure, sitting down with a group of friends or finding the perfect present at a bargain price or cheering for a team that wins all might make us happy for a time, but joy lasts and rejoicing doesn’t need an occasion.

At least not a new occasion. We already have received the good news of great joy which is for all people. And that’s reason for rejoicing for all time.

Published in: on November 8, 2013 at 7:37 pm  Comments (2)  
Tags: , , , ,