Just Not Me – Reprise


Moses029When I was growing up, missionaries home on furlough would, from time to time, speak at our church. Inevitably they’d show slides I (still pictures inserted into a projector and displayed on a screen 😉 ) of their overseas ministry, usually including one or more of people suffering from a disease known as elephantiasis. Honestly, I couldn’t think of anything harder to do than go to a foreign place and deal with such illnesses. And yet time and again, I thought for sure God was sending me to the mission field.

Mind you, I wasn’t opposed to missions. I thought missionaries were brave (though generally boring and quite old-fashioned). I was fine with other people going to foreign places. Just not me!

My attitude was not so different from the one Moses displayed when God called him to go back to Egypt and lead the people of Israel into their own land. His short answer? Not me, God.

Interestingly, his reasoning was similar to Gideon’s some hundreds of years later when God commissioned him to free His people from the tyranny of Midian.

Both Moses and Gideon didn’t think they were qualified, Moses because he couldn’t speak well and Gideon because he was the youngest of his family and his tribe was the least important in Israel. I don’t know if either of those assessments were true, but that’s what each man thought. They simply weren’t capable of doing the job God was calling them to do.

Actually, that’s not a bad place to be. Moses some forty years earlier had thought he was capable of ruling over Israel—protecting them and judging between them. He got a rude awakening when things didn’t pan out the way he expected. So his new position of humility was a needed step.

Both Moses and Gideon also asked for a sign. They wanted to be sure they’d understood correctly. They wanted to know that God was indeed sending them.

God gave them more than one sign. With Moses He turned his staff into a snake and back again; turned his hand leprous, then healed it; and turned water he poured onto the ground into blood.

With Gideon God produced dew only on the fleece he set out, then produced dew everywhere else except on the fleece. Further, he told Gideon to sneak into the Midian camp where he heard the interpretation of a prophetic dream recounting Israel’s upcoming victory.

Not much doubt that God was calling these two guys despite their initial “not me” reaction.

You’d think the hard part was over. They finally got the message. Yes, God really said and meant that they were to go and do . . . well, the impossible.

But the fact is, Moses first had to convince the people of Israel that God had sent him, then he had to convince Pharaoh to do what God and told him. The process was harrowing and I suspect lasted for months if not years (though we can read it in a relatively short time in Exodus).

Gideon had the cooperation of the people immediately. But God was the one who initially put up obstacles. Too many people, Gideon—send home the people who have just bought land or just got married or who are afraid. And then, after thousands left, God said, still too many, Gideon. Weed out more. After the initial, miraculous, God-orchestrated victory, he faced opposition from people: some who didn’t want to help because his numbers were so small, and some who were infuriated that they hadn’t been included in the whole operation.

No, following God was not easy.

Not everyone who God called responded as Moses and Gideon did. Samuel didn’t know God or recognize His voice, but he answered, “Here am I.” Isaiah realized he was a man of unclean lips, but once his iniquity had been removed, he answered in the opposite vein—Here am I. Send me!

Jonah was most definitely in the Not Me camp. He ran in the opposite direction from the one God had told him to go. Saul was a Not Me guy too. When the people of Israel chose him to be king—and this was after God had Samuel anoint him—he was hiding amidst the baggage.

Joseph, on the other hand, was a Here Am I guy. Daniel was too. Ruth was a Here Am I gal as was Mary.

Esther was back with the Not Me guys, though. But she had good company. All those disciples of Jesus hiding after the crucifixion—definitely Not Me guys. Peter even said, as for me and my house, we’re going fishing.

Not Joshua. He was a Here Am I guy. So was Noah and Abraham and Daniel.

The amazing thing is that God used them all. His kindness and patience were on display when He sent a storm, then a great fish, to stop Jonah in his tracks. Jesus had already appeared to Peter and had given him instruction to wait for the Holy Spirit, but Peter, being Peter, was off doing his Not Me thing. Jesus loved him back to obedience.

Esther had Mordecai’s counsel and prayer, Saul had Samuel and his instruction from God.

Sadly, Saul’s Not Me changed at some point to Not God. He decided he could re-interpret God’s commands and do things his own way. That, I guess, is the real answer to God’s call that we need to guard against.

I’m reminded of the parable Jesus told of the two sons whose father instructed them to go out into the vineyard. The one said no, the other said he’d go. However, the first relented and obeyed his father even though he’d said he wouldn’t, and the second didn’t go though he said he would. So which did the will of his father? Jesus asked. (Matt. 21:31)

In the end, that’s what God wants of us—to do His will. I’d still like to be a Here Am I gal, but the reality is, I more often than not resemble a Not Me gal.

But God deals with us in kindness and patience and mercy. He knows our weaknesses, and even promises to give us strength when we are at our breaking point. And He gives us second chances. And third. And fourth. Well, I suppose it’s more like seventy times seven.

How great is our God!

This post first appeared here in August 2014.

God’s Indictment Of His People


Old_Testament sacrificesThe books of prophecy are filled with warnings–some against the nations surrounding Israel and Judah, but most directed at God’s chosen people themselves. Micah is no exception, but the things he points up seem a little different.

Others, like Isaiah and Hosea and Jeremiah seem to focus most on God’s people forsaking Him by worshiping idols or by not keeping His Sabbath or by mistreating the orphans and widows and strangers.

Micah, on the other hand, focuses more on the restoration. Israel, God’s chosen people, will face a day of reckoning, but redemption will follow. Nevertheless, God indicts them for some pointed things: cheating in business, bribery, lying to one another, and violence.

Here’s a sample:

Now hear this, heads of the house of Jacob
And rulers of the house of Israel,
Who abhor justice
And twist everything that is straight,
Who build Zion with bloodshed
And Jerusalem with violent injustice.
Her leaders pronounce judgment for a bribe,
Her priests instruct for a price
And her prophets divine for money.
Yet they lean on the Lord saying,
“Is not the Lord in our midst?
Calamity will not come upon us.”
Therefore, on account of you
Zion will be plowed as a field,
Jerusalem will become a heap of ruins,
And the mountain of the temple will become high places of a forest. (3:9-12 – emphasis mine)

A few chapters later Micah points out to the people that they can’t bring enough offering to make right what they’ve done.

With what shall I come to the Lord
And bow myself before the God on high?
Shall I come to Him with burnt offerings,
With yearling calves?
Does the Lord take delight in thousands of rams,
In ten thousand rivers of oil?
Shall I present my firstborn for my rebellious acts,
The fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? (6:6-7)

Rather God has made plain what He expects:

He has told you, O man, what is good;
And what does the Lord require of you
But to do justice, to love kindness,
And to walk humbly with your God? (6:8)

We can’t earn a place with God by doing justice, loving kindness and walking humbly with Him, but we can live up to our relationship with Him by practicing those things.

The relationship, interestingly enough, comes because God did what was needed—He paid that insurmountable price which thousands of rams and ten thousand rivers of oil couldn’t satisfy. He presented His Son for my rebellious acts, for the sin of my soul.

With my certificate of debt canceled, nailed to the cross, I can “walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please Him in all respects” (Colossians 1:10).

What does that look like? Well, Micah said it, didn’t he. God has told us what is good, what He requires of us: do justice, love kindness, walk humbly with our God.

This post is an edited version of one that first appeared here in May 2013. The YouTube music video below is a new addition.

The Connection Between Humility And Obedience


sad_snot-nosed_kid“Fool! You fool!” the five-year-old shouted. As it turned out, he was talking to his mother. She didn’t reprimand him for the name calling or for the disrespect. Instead she asked him if his father gave him sugar that morning. He growled in reply. She asked again and he growled again. Finally she asked him why he was making those noises. He said, “I’m a monster,” and proceeded to growl a few more times. At last his mother told him to stop being a monster. He growled in reply.

Is there a connection between this five-year-old’s disobedience and his disrespect for someone in authority? I think absolutely. Philippians tells us that Jesus humbled Himself by becoming obedient (2:8), and Hebrews tells us He learned obedience through suffering.

Although He was a Son, He learned obedience from the things which He suffered. (5:8)

Jesus was not disobedient until he learned obedience. Rather He was sovereign, the One others obeyed. Being God, He was not in a position to obey anyone else. So when He came to earth, He needed to learn.

Suffering was the means by which He learned, and humility was the outgrowth of this obedience.

So here’s a thought. If suffering leads to obedience that leads to humility, then it makes sense that withheld punishment leads to increased disobedience that leads to pride. Consequently, when parents withhold punishment from their children who are disobedient, they are missing an opportunity to teach them humility. In short, they are enabling their child’s pride.

Ah, yes. Pride. Satan’s plaything. He loves to convince children they know as much or more than their parents, that they don’t have to listen or obey, that their way is as good or better than the way they’ve been instructed.

Those prideful little people, when left uncorrected, end up becoming prideful adults who may tell God they are nicer than He is, that they think He’s wrong to send people to hell, that His Word is outdated, irrelevant, intolerant. In other words, pride is at the heart of much of the apostasy in the western Church. Unlike Jesus, twenty-first century westerners have not learned humility through what we have suffered.

May God have mercy so that we learn humility at the hands of our parents rather than through the consequences a prideful people can accrue.

This post first appeared here in January 2013.

Published in: on September 21, 2016 at 7:11 pm  Comments (4)  
Tags: , , , , , , ,

Jacob Was No Abraham


Abraham wasn’t perfect, but he was pretty amazing.

Leave your home, God said. Abraham’s response: Where to? Just go until I tell you to stop, God answered. So off Abraham went “as the Lord had spoken to him.”

When it was clear that his flocks and his nephew Lot’s couldn’t pasture together any longer, he unselfishly gave Lot the pick of the land.

Later he pleaded with God to be merciful to Sodom on behalf of Lot and his family. Six times he interceded for them.

Later, when God told him to circumcise every male in his household as a sign of the agreement they had together, he took care of it the very same day.

When Sarah wanted to send Hagar and Ishmael away, Abraham objected, but God told him to listen to Sarah. So “Abraham rose early in the morning,” packed them up, gave them provisions, and sent them on their way.

One boy gone, but then God told him to sacrifice the son of promise. “So Abraham rose early in the morning,” took wood, fire, and his son and set off. Three days later they came to the place where God directed him to go. (Good thing Abraham listened since that’s where the ram was that would become the substitute sacrifice).

Compare this to Jacob. He swindled his brother out of his birthright; lied to his dad and fooled him into thinking he was his twin in order to obtain his brother’s blessing; manipulated his uncle’s animals to procure the best for himself, and sneaked away without saying goodbye.

On top of that, as he returned home, he got word that his brother—who, rumors said, planned to kill him—was on his way to meet him . . . with four hundred men. So Jacob, brave man that he was, sent a gift, divided his people and property in two, with the hopes that at least half of them could get away, and put it all in front of him.

Interesting, though. He had an encounter with God and the next morning he changed things up, putting himself ahead of his family, then falling on his face before Esau.

He was learning.

But he made more mistakes, most notably favoring Joseph, his wife Rachel’s firstborn. To be fair, he learned about favoritism from his parents. His mother Rebekah favored him—which was why she came up with the idea for him to steal his brother’s blessing—and his father Isaac favored Esau. So Jacob was carrying on the family tradition. It’s just that it didn’t sit well with his ten older sons. They eventually kidnapped Joseph, sold him, and reported to Jacob that they found his bloody coat.

Believing Joseph to be dead, Jacob shifted his protection and possibly his favor to his youngest, Benjamin.

Fast forward some thirteen years, and famine forced Jacob to send his sons to Egypt to buy food—all except Benjamin. Unbeknown to the brothers, Joseph was the man they bought from, and he told them not to return unless their youngest brother was with them.

Time passed, food dwindled, the famine continued, and Jacob wouldn’t send Benjamin. Ruben tried to give his father assurances, to no avail. Judah tried and was turned down, but finally things grew desperate, and Jacob was forced to relent.

Here’s the big turning point of his life, I believe. He went from saying

“My son shall not go down with you; for his brother is dead, and he alone is left. If harm should befall him on the journey you are taking, then you will bring my gray hair down to Sheol in sorrow” (Gen 42:38)

to saying

“may God Almighty grant you compassion in the sight of the man, so that he will release to you your other brother and Benjamin. And as for me, if I am bereaved of my children, I am bereaved” (Gen 43:14)

It took him a long time to get there. In the meantime, God gave him the same promise He had given Abraham and Isaac—one not connected with the blessing he stole. He also protected him from his uncle and from his brother, appeared to him more than once in visions and dreams and perhaps even as the pre-incarnate Christ.

At last, he stopped grabbing and grasping and holding on. He opened his hand and relinquished his son. Only then did he receive Joseph back, alive and well.

Two patriarchs—one quick to obey, the other, oh, so slow. One willing to give up his sons, the other holding on as if he could care for them better than God could. In the end, God used them both, but I can’t help but think Abraham took the better road.

This post is an edited version of one that first appeared here in August 2012.

Published in: on August 25, 2016 at 6:46 pm  Comments Off on Jacob Was No Abraham  
Tags: , , , ,

The Difference Between Religious People And Christians


horse_and_carriageThis is not rocket science. In fact, I’ve written about the difference between people of other religions and Christians on other occasions, but I’ve generally left the door open when someone professes to be a Christian. I mean, I can’t look into their hearts. I don’t know what their relationship with God is. If they say they have been redeemed by the blood of Christ, then who am I to say they haven’t been?

Some time ago on the radio broadcast Truth for Life, Pastor Alistair Begg gave the clearest, simplest way of identifying the difference between religious people and Christians.

Someone who is religious believes and obeys in order to be accepted by God. A Christian, on the other hand, believes in order to be accepted by God, and obeys as a result. Put in slightly different terms, a religious person works to be justified with God, whereas a Christian works because he is justified with God.

The differences seem small and even hard to tell apart, but the two positions actually are diametrically opposed to one another. It’s the cart before the horse idea. One man has a cart and a horse, the other man has a horse and a cart. What’s the difference? Everything. The first man goes nowhere. The second has a wonderful conveyance that takes him wherever he wishes to go.

So too the religious person is stuck with his own inadequate efforts trying to make himself acceptable to God. It will never happen, in the same way that a cart will never pull a horse. The Christian, on the other hand, confessing his inability to measure up to God’s standard, and accepting the completed, redemptive work of Jesus Christ, receives a full measure of God’s grace and is accepted by the Father. As a result, he obeys God in the strength and through the power of that grace.

So who’s a Christian? Not the person who believes his work is in any way meritorious in bringing reconciliation between him and God. It really is that simple.

Going Over To The Enemy


David055David, the future king of Israel and a man after God’s own heart, went over to the enemy. King Saul had falsely accused him of treason and was hunting him down with the intent to kill him.

Despite the fact that God miraculously intervened time after time to protect him from Saul, David apparently grew weary of living as a fugitive, hiding out in caves, and escaping to neighboring countries. It was just a matter of time, he reasoned, before Saul got the right intel and tracked him down. He was just as good as dead.

Except, God’s prophet Samuel had anointed David to be the next king of Israel. So, was God lying? Or mistaken? Did He change His mind? David’s actions would lead a person to believe that something had gone wrong—that Samuel had gotten the wrong guy or was not a true prophet or that he was making it all up. Because from David’s perspective, this on-the-run-to-avoid-death deal was not part of becoming the king.

In fact, he decided something had to change. Did he turn to God to reach this decision? No. Did he consult the priest or look to a prophet or cast lots (a way followers of God discerned His will)? None of the above. He turned to his own logic, his own ideas about his situation, his own judgment:

Then David said to himself, “Now I will perish one day by the hand of Saul. There is nothing better for me than to escape into the land of the Philistines. Saul then will despair of searching for me anymore in all the territory of Israel, and I will escape from his hand.” (1 Sam. 27:1, emphases mine)

And where did David’s own thoughts lead him? To the enemy. The Philistines, remember were the people who sent Goliath to terrorize the army of Israel. The Philistines were the people David killed in battle when the people praised him by saying, Saul has killed his thousands/And David his ten thousands.

Granted, David was walking a tight line between the two groups. He lived with the Philistines and pretended to be against Israel, but in reality he was raiding cities that were not in Israelite territory while making the Philistines think he was raiding in Judah. If he had been operating on the sea, we’d have called him a pirate. I guess the closest occupational title on land would be mercenary. But David did not target Israelite towns as he led the Philistines to believe.

David’s duplicitous life style almost cost him. His patron Philistine king decided that David and his men should join him and all the other Philistine kings in one grand battle against Israel. So off they went.

I’ve wondered more than once what David would have done had he still been around when the battle started. But he wasn’t. By God’s sovereignty, the other Philistine kings ordered David’s patron, a man named Achish, to get rid of that Israelite—you know, the one about whom all the woman sang praises. After all, he might turn on us in the middle of the battle, they said. And they had a good right to fear such a thing because an untold number of Israelites had done just that same thing some forty years earlier when Saul first came to power. Achish may not have known his people’s history, but these other kings did.

So David left. But when he got home, he found his city burned to the ground and all the women, children, animals, and goods gone. Such is the consequence of going over to the enemy.

On top of everything, his own men were so distraught and angry they consider stoning David for leading them on a wild goose chase while their own homes were under attack.

And now, at last, David turns to God. Should he go after the raiders and try to recover their people and possessions? Yes, God answered. Go.

David and his men went and successfully recovered everything and everyone and even brought back spoil from the raiders. His days with the enemy were over.

Interestingly enough, David was not the only one who went over to the enemy.

Back in Israel, with war looming over the nation, King Saul inquired of God what he should do. God was silent. He didn’t answer Saul in a dream or by a prophet or from a priest. He simply shut Saul out.

Ever since Saul took it upon himself to offer a sacrifice—something reserved for the priests—and as a result received God’s judgment that the kingdom would be taken from him, he worked against God to hang on. His number one goal was to eliminate his biggest threat—David. But now the whole nation was at risk, and he needed God.

But God was silent.

OK, Saul thought, I can get around God and find out what I need to know. So he sent his servants to find a medium. When he learned there was one in Endor, he disguised himself and requested that the woman bring up Samuel.

Amazingly she did. But the passage already said the LORD did not answer Saul. So the power to bring up Samuel was not from God. It was from the enemy.

Saul was determined to go his own way, get what he wanted, thwart God’s stated plan. He did not care that God had told him as if it was a done deal that the kingdom would be taken from him. He lived to make sure that didn’t happen.

But despite all his machinations, God’s word did come about.

Saul was willing to go over to the enemy in order to keep his kingdom. He had a wrong view of God and simply believed he could out-maneuver Him, that God’s word wasn’t final, that God didn’t have the say over his life.

David went through a period of doubting that looked similar. He didn’t believe God would keep His word, or that He had the power to do so. David went over to the enemy because of his wrong view of God.

I’m willing to say, a wrong view of God will end up leading us to the enemy’s side every time. Thank God He revealed Himself to us by what He made, by what He said, and by His Son whom He sent.

“Let him who boasts boast of this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the LORD who exercises lovingkindness, justice and righteousness on earth; for I delight in these things,” declares the LORD. (Jer. 9:24)

Elisabeth Elliot: 1926 – 2015


Elisabeth ElliotElisabeth Elliot died on Sunday. From my perspective, she is one of the great heroes of the faith.

She influenced countless thousands in any number of ways, not the least in the area of foreign missions. After all, she not only lived sacrificially among the Ecuadorian nationals responsible for her husband’s death and preached the love of Christ to them, she also wrote about her husband and the four other missionary martyrs:

The story of Jim Elliot, Nate Saint, and companions Peter Fleming, Roger Youderian, and Ed McCully—most famously narrated in Elisabeth Elliot’s Through Gates of Splendor—is perhaps the most chronicled missionary account of the past 100 years, and remains an inspiration for many. (Christianity Today)

Yes, an inspiration to many.

Elisabeth Elliot had strong views and didn’t couch them in buttery, inoffensive terms. I heard her speak once. A friend was going on a short term mission trip and Elisabeth Elliot spoke at the commissioning service. I don’t remember precisely what she said—sort of, why are you young people doing this? Get your heads out of the clouds. Living on the mission field is not pleasant or easy. Specifically I remember her saying, contrary to popular opinion, she didn’t go to the jungle of Ecuador because she loved hot, humid weather and poisonous snakes. She said it was no easier for her to endure those discomforts and fears than it was for anyone else.

But ultimately, Ms. Elliot was not telling the prospective missionaries to “suck it up.” That’s not the way she thought. Rather, she had a passion for God’s word and for God Himself. She held to the fact that God can and should be obeyed and trusted.

Blunt—not ungracious, not impetuous, not snappy or gruff. But direct, unsentimental, no-nonsense, tell-it-like-it-is, no whining allowed. Just pull your britches on and go die for Jesus—like Mary Slessor and Gladys Aylward and Amy Carmichael and Gertrude Ras Egede and Eleanor Macomber and Lottie Moon and Roslind Goforth and Malla Moe, to name a few whom she admired. (“Peaches in Paradise: Why I Loved Elisabeth Elliot” by John Piper, Desiring God)

She challenged believers to move out of our comfort zone and trust the God who knows the end from the beginning:

Because of her, I dared to leave my comfort zone.

I am not alone—many in my generation found similar courage and peace through her books, speaking, and radio program. There is little telling the breadth of her global heritage. I am grateful for her life, and for the profound influence she left on my own. (“This wife of a murdered missionary has died. Here’s why Elisabeth Elliot’s life mattered to so many” by Tsh Oxenreider, Washington Post)

I think Elisabeth Elliot’s influence was so profound because she spoke the truth, but it was a truth she lived. She knew romanticizing missions would give people a false view of service. She knew sentimentalizing discipleship was the opposite of what Christ required of us.

Finally, Elisabeth Elliot has had a strong influence on women in the Church and on our ideas of our place in God’s plan. Above all, she adhered to Scripture, even the growingly less popular parts that identify a wife’s role as that of being subject to her husband:

A Christian woman’s true freedom [and, of course, she would also say a Christian man’s true freedom] lies on the other side of a very small gate—humble obedience—but that gate leads out into a largeness of life undreamed of by the liberators of the world, to a place where the God-given differentiation between the sexes is not obfuscated but celebrated, where our inequalities are seen as essential to the image of God, for it is in male and female, in male as male and female as female, not as two identical and interchangeable halves, that the image is manifested. (399—Piper quoting from Elisabeth Elliot’s chapter “The Essence of Femininity: A Personal Perspective” in Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood)

I said “finally” but there’s really this overarching message of Elisabeth Elliot’s life, ministry, writing, speaking—she trusted God no matter what the circumstances. As it happened, she spent the last ten years of her life in the grip of dementia, a gradual death of who you are, at least in the here and now. Her third husband (her second husband died of cancer four years after their marriage) addressed her response in an interview at World Magazine:

Last year, as Elliot’s health declined, WORLD interviewed her third husband, Lars Gren. Elliot met him while he was a student at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, and they were married for 36 years, until her death. The magazine reported:

    Gren says Elliot has handled dementia just as she did the deaths of her husbands. “She accepted those things, [knowing] they were no surprise to God,” Gren said. “It was something she would rather not have experienced, but she received it.

(“Missionary Pioneer Elisabeth Elliot Passes Through Gates of Splendor” by Kate Shellnutt, Christianity Today)

In receiving the suffering of life which a good God put into her hand, Elisabeth Elliot became one of the great saints of the Christian faith. She is an example of living out what the Bible tells us, right here, in our sophisticated twenty-first century culture.

elisabeth-elliot

Adam Loved His Wife Too Much, Revisited


Earlier this month, I brought up the idea that Adam disobeyed God, possibly because he loved Eve more than he loved God. I’d forgotten that back in 2011 I wrote entire post on the subject. I thought it might be a good idea to bring it forward, especially for those who found this idea something new. So, without any further explanation, “Adam Loved His Wife Too Much”:

A man is supposed to love his wife—to forsake all others and to cling to her—so it may seem odd to say Adam loved his wife too much, but that’s the truth. Mind you, I’d heard this before: Eve was deceived, but Adam willfully disobeyed.

A little study shows this statement to be true. Scripture tells us Eve was deceived: “But I am afraid that, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, your minds will be led astray from the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ” (2 Cor. 11:3—emphases here and in the following verse are mine). And it tells us Adam was not: “And it was not Adam who was deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression” (1 Tim. 2:14).

Adam, then, walked into sin with his eyes open. He knew the penalty for eating of the tree — death. He knew Eve was guilty and would have to die. So he ate too.

Why did he? The most logical explanation is that he loved her so much he couldn’t imagine life without her. I suppose he could also have thought that she now knew what he did not, and he couldn’t bear losing her that way either.

But here’s the thing: it hit me that if I were somehow the only sinful person in the world, Christ would still have died. For me. He, the Good Shepherd who goes after the one lost lamb, would come seeking to save me.

That’s precisely the situation Eve was in—the one and only sinner in the world. But Adam, instead of believing that God could display his mercy along with his justice, apparently chose God’s gift instead of God. He had heard and understood and believed God’s clear command. Consequently, on one hand was God, but on the other was his wife, destined to die.

What Adam did, might actually seem noble and endearing. He loved his wife so much he was willing to die with her. But actually it was faithless. He could not see a way God could fix this mess. He therefore saw God as limited in His power or not loving enough to care or good enough to act. He chose Eve because he did not trust God.

In contrast, Abraham years later also heard God’s clear command—sacrifice your son. But previously he’d also heard God’s promise—through Isaac your descendants will become a great nation. On one hand God, on the other, God’s gift, so like the dilemma Adam faced.

Abraham believed God, and came through.

The interesting thing, though, is this: I don’t think Abraham loved his son less than Adam loved his wife. After all, this was the son of his old age. He’d waited eighty years for this boy (assuming he didn’t start wanting a son until he was an adult). And for fifty years, he and Sarah were “the infertile couple.”

Everything was at stake here. Everything. He had believed God, followed Him to the ends of the earth. He had no Bible to turn to for assurance, just a remembered encounter, a promise he trusted.

And it all hinged on this lad, this beloved son, this teenager who was to inherit his wealth and grow a nation. If Abraham took the knife to him, and he died, all he believed would crumble to ash. He’d lose his son, but he’d lose his God, too, for surely he couldn’t continue to worship a faithless deity.

Did Abraham wrestle with such issues? Did Adam? Scripture doesn’t tell us, but we know how the two men acted. Abraham chose God. He believed both the promise and the command. He committed to his son by committing to God.

Adam did the opposite. He chose his wife. He doubted God’s unspoken promise—His provision of Eve to meet Adam’s need—which led him to disdain the command.

If only he had loved God a bit more than he loved his wife!

Published in: on March 19, 2015 at 5:28 pm  Comments (2)  
Tags: , , , , ,

Follow Paul Who Follows Christ


When I was a kid, one of the rainy day games we would play was Simon Says. A leader would stand before the class and announce something like, “Simon says nod your head.” The rest of us standing and facing the leader would dutifully nod our heads. Soon the leader increased the pace and eventually would give a command without the critical game-changing phrase “Simon says.” Those of us who forgot to listen for that critical bit of information had to sit down (and I was usually in the first wave of those caught listening to the command without attaching it to the giver of the command). The game was all about following commands, but only those that were authorized.

Wind the clock ahead a few years. As a teen challenged by my Sunday school teacher to spend time in God’s word every day, I read in one of Paul’s letters where he said the people he was writing to should follow his example. What hubris, I thought. How could anyone say, look at me, live like me, do as I do? How could anyone set themselves up to be Simon?

Much later I learned that Paul claimed the role only so far as he followed Christ. “Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1).

I’m beginning to think this “copy the model” way of doing things is a key in God’s plan and purpose. After all, He created Man in His image. He told Moses to build the tabernacle exactly like the pattern God showed him. And He told the people of Israel to not copy the nations living around them.

God’s plan, in fact, was for the other nations to learn from watching Israel:

So keep and do [the commandments and statutes], for that is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples who will hear all these statutes and say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.’ For what great nation is there that has a god so near to it as is the LORD our God whenever we call on Him?
– Deuteronomy 4:6-7 [emphasis mine]

This method of imitation continued throughout the New Testament. We are to be holy because God is holy (1 Peter 1:16). Believers are being made in the image of Christ (Romans 8:29). We are to be lights in the world (Philippians 2:15). Christ Himself was to be a light to the nations (Isaiah 49:6).

What’s the point? Israel was to serve as the model to the other nations, but they failed because they became the imitators of the other nations in direct disobedience to what God told them to do.

Today the Church is supposed to be a beacon in the dark world, but instead of embracing our role we seem to be more interested in blending in than standing out. It seems we’d much prefer to hide our lamps under a basket rather than put them on a lampstand.

I know it’s a lot easier to talk about living boldly in a way that shows Christ to the world than it is to do it, and I’m not living in a nation where my family will disown me for my faith in Christ. I’m not living in a land where a pastor can be tried, convicted, and sentenced to death for believing in Jesus. Being an example to others costs those Christians more than the little embarrassment or mockery it might cost me.

I’m not at the place yet where I celebrate ridicule for my faith. Clearly I have more to learn about following Paul who followed Christ.

The bulk of this article first appeared here in 2011 under a different title.

Published in: on March 16, 2015 at 7:21 pm  Comments (1)  
Tags: , , , , ,

Josiah’s Humble Heart


High Priest reads the Law to Josiah005The last good king in Judah came to the throne when he was 8. His grandfather, King Manasseh, had re-established idol worship, including the sacrifice of children. And he reigned for more than a half century. His son only ruled two years because he was assassinated. That left young boy Josiah on the throne.

Unlike his father and grandfather, this child king patterned himself after David. Eighteen years into his reign he ordered temple repairs and a bunch of clean-up measures. In carrying out the young king’s commands, the high priest found a copy of the Law. When he read it to Josiah, the king understood what kings older than he, had completely missed: because his nation had rebelled against God, He would cut them loose and send them into exile.

Josiah’s response? He humbled himself before God, first with a public display of sorrow, then by seeking out a confirming word from a prophetess of God:

When the king heard the words of the book of the law, he tore his clothes. Then the king commanded Hilkiah the priest, Ahikam the son of Shaphan, Achbor the son of Micaiah, Shaphan the scribe, and Asaiah the king’s servant saying, “Go, inquire of the LORD for me and the people and all Judah concerning the words of this book that has been found, for great is the wrath of the LORD that burns against us, because our fathers have not listened to the words of this book, to do according to all that is written concerning us.” (2 Kings 22:11-13, emphasis added)

He was right. God’s wrath—His righteous judgment against those who rebel against Him—was great. The prophetess gave
the messengers from the king this answer:

Thus says the LORD, “Behold, I bring evil on this place and on its inhabitants, even all the words of the book which the king of Judah has read. Because they have forsaken Me and have burned incense to other gods that they might provoke Me to anger with all the work of their hands, therefore My wrath burns against this place, and it shall not be quenched. (vv 16, 17)

God’s word stands.

There was one other part to what the prophetess reported, however, and this had to do with Josiah and his response to God’s Law:

“Because your heart was tender and you humbled yourself before the LORD when you heard what I spoke against this place and against its inhabitants that they should become a desolation and a curse, and you have torn your clothes and wept before Me, I truly have heard you,” declares the LORD. “Therefore, behold, I will gather you to your fathers, and you will be gathered to your grave in peace, and your eyes will not see all the evil which I will bring on this place.” (vv 19, 20, emphasis added)

Josiah’s reward? Peace in his day. He wasn’t going to be the king dragged off to Babylon, who had to watch the slaughter of his sons, then have his eyes gouged out. He wouldn’t have to walk the walls of his city and see his people eating their dung and drinking their urine or bartering to serve up their children.

Peace in his day.

Josiah may not have fully appreciated what this meant as we do after the fact, but he embraced the time God gave him by being zealous in his obedience to the Torah. He cleaned out the idol altars and utensils from the temple, torn down the idol high places Manasseh had put back up, instituted the Passover, and even went to Israel and torn down the golden calves their first king Jeroboam had erected which caused the northern kingdom to stray from the start.

This guy was relentless in bringing his people back to God—even though he already had God’s promise that he’d enjoy peace in his day.

A humble heart does that, I think. It’s not focused on self. He cared not just about escaping the coming wrath. He cared about doing what God intended His people to do.

Great example, I think. Recently the Church has been rightly rebuked for caring more about our own comfort than about pleasing God and loving Him through our obedience. Of course, that’s a generalization. Many in the Church live sacrificial lives. Many have such an integrated faith you could no more divide their sacred activities from their secular than you could divide water into hydrogen and oxygen.

That’s the way we should live, I think. It’s the way Josiah lived after he humbled himself before God.

Published in: on November 13, 2014 at 6:34 pm  Comments (3)  
Tags: , , ,