Slave Mentality

“Would that we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the meat pots and ate bread  to the full, for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.”  – Exodus 16:3 (ESV)

The more I read the book of Exodus the more I realize how often I need to read it again. It’s much deeper than just the story of Israel’s journey from Egypt to the Promised Land and the giving of the Mosaic law. Each time I read it I have to ask the question, “How could these people be so rebellious after witnessing what God did”? It’s that question that needs to be explored repeatedly because it’s a question we need to ask ourselves.

Several years ago, there was a Veggie Tales video called Josh and the Big Wall that illustrated this in a humorous way. It has Moses and then Joshua leading the people to the Promised Land, but once the reports of the spies came back one of the characters starts talking about how wonderful their lives were in Egypt, to which another character replies, “But we were SLAVES!“. Although meant to get a laugh from the viewer, that exchange speaks volumes.

The Israelites had a slave mentality. They’d been told that God promised Abraham and Jacob He would give the Israelites a land of their own, a rich and prosperous land. But after 400 years of being ground under the heel of Pharaoh in slavery and hard labor, they wondered whether God had forgotten about them.  When God through Moses finally delivered them they thought their troubles were over. But when problems arose, they were ready to go back to Egypt. The people always seemed to remember having lots of food to eat but conveniently forgot their slavery. They whined and complained when the situation became difficult, and eventually rebelled against entering the land because of their fear of the inhabitants. As a result, the nation was sentenced to wander in the wilderness forty more years until that generation died off.

It’s easy to criticize the nation of Israel for their lack of faith and their rebellious attitudes. We think, “I would have never acted like that”.  But if we are brutally honest with ourselves we know better. Because many of us also suffer from a slave mentality. We’ve been ground down by life for so long we lose hope of things ever getting better. When we find our way to Jesus Christ we expect our lives to be worry and pain-free. Since real life doesn’t work that way we begin to complain and grumble when things don’t go the way we want.  If things get bad enough we may give up our faith altogether.

The slave mentality focuses on circumstances. All it sees is the current situation and the lack of hope that anything will ever get better. The Israelites ran into trouble when they took their eyes off God who miraculously delivered them from bondage and focused on the problem at hand. When you’ve spent your whole life wondering about your next meal or whether you will survive the day, it’s tough not to default to the slave mindset when things look bad. Slaves don’t expect anything good because that way they’re never disappointed.

The solution to the slave mindset is to focus on the liberator. As they traveled, God continually showed the Israelites He was able to overcome their circumstances and meet their needs. He gave them food when they were hungry and water when they were thirsty. God kept their clothes and shoes from wearing out during their journey. He promised if they would follow his law when arriving in the land they wouldn’t suffer from disease and the land would be fruitful. God was telling them, “Trust me: I’ll take care of you”. But after years of wondering whether God cared about them or even remembered them, it was difficult to have that trust. They couldn’t trust Him because they didn’t know him.

No matter who you are or where you find yourself, if your circumstances dictate your hope then you have a slave mentality. It’s one of Satan’s tools to take your mind off of God. If so, you need to dig deep into both the Old and New Testaments and get to know God. He wants to care for you and has provided his son Jesus as the means of delivering us from slavery to sin and providing hope. But if you still struggle with losing hope when life gets rough and dark, go back and dig deeper. Start here:

“In this world you will have many tribulations. But take heart: I have overcome the world.” – John 16:33

“And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Jesus Christ.” – Philippians 4:19

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” – Matthew 11:28-30

Stop thinking like a slave. Come meet the One who will deliver you to freedom, and let’s journey to the Promised Land together.

Weakness is Strength

“For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” – 2 Corinthians 12:10 (ESV)

Many of us find encouragement in the writings of the apostle Paul. We like verses like, “I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13) or “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).  We like the idea of being strong and capable, of being chosen to do something special for God.

The truth of the matter is that we are neither strong nor capable when it comes to God’s purposes.  But we labor under the delusion we can somehow control our own lives and circumstances, and the thought of weakness and lack of control is an anathema to our minds. We like to think of ourselves as “spiritual warriors” and “doing great things for the kingdom”. We consider ourselves failures and worthless when we discover we can’t live up to the standard we set for ourselves.

Paul experienced something like that. In chapter 12 of Second Corinthians Paul is telling of a vision he had been given. With it came the temptation for arrogance and boasting because he was chosen to experience it. In verse 7, he says, “So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh”. The Scripture never tells what it was, but it distressed Paul enough that he prayed three times for it to be taken away.  God’s answer: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (v.9). Paul’s response was to boast in his weakness, knowing the strength of God was revealed by it.

Paul’s focus was on holding up Jesus Christ to the world, not making Paul look good. He understood that his weakness allowed God’s glory to shine in his (Paul’s) service. Paul was able to endure what he did because God was glorified no matter what the circumstance may be. He understood he didn’t need to worry about being strong enough; God was, and he sustained Paul through hardship and difficulty as well as periods of joy and spiritual victory.

We all have a “thorn in the flesh”. It distresses us because we feel inadequate for how we think we should serve God. Like Paul, it keeps us from arrogance and puts our view of ourselves in perspective when we honestly acknowledge its presence. But we also need to remember that God will supply what we need to accomplish his purpose. We can rejoice that we are weak because that’s when God supplies us with his strength if we will let him.

A God Who Is Relentless

Have you ever considered what a relentless God we have? I’ve heard him called loving, gracious, and merciful by those who have obeyed him, and bloodthirsty, uncaring, and unjust by those who reject him. We refer to God in many ways, but relentless usually isn’t one of the first terms that come to mind.

I’ve been reading in the Old Testament lately, and it presents a picture of just how relentless God can be. Over and over again he calls his people to be faithful, and usually they are anything but that. In spite of it, God seeks to bring them back. Let me give some examples.

  • Moses. God has a plan for Moses that’s eighty years in the making. He’s born in a time and place where his chances of survival aren’t good. Pharoah orders infanticide of all Israelite male newborns. Moses’ mother risks her life to preserve her son’s. In a rich irony, Moses is plucked from the Nile by Pharaoh’s daughter and ends up being raised in Pharaoh’s court. Moses decides to deliver Israel on his own timetable and ends up an exile running from a charge of murder and despised by his own people.  Forty years later, God comes looking for him to lead Israel to the Promised Land. God didn’t forget about Moses; he just allowed enough time to pass for Moses to become the leader God wanted.
  • The Israelites. God demonstrates tremendous love and patience with them. After witnessing God’s power as slaves during the plagues in Egypt it only took them reaching the Red Sea with Pharaoh and his army in hot pursuit to start complaining. The rest of the Old Testament is the story of Israel’s ongoing rebelliousness and the consequences of their disobedience. And yet, God never gave up on them because he had a plan that was bigger than they were. His love was that of a father and mother for a wayward child.
  • Jonah. He was told to go to Assyria and preach repentance to the people. Jonah disagreed with the idea and headed the other way, ending up in the belly of a big fish. God rescued Jonah after he had three days to reconsider his calling. He went to Nineveh, delivered the message, and the people repented. And Jonah got mad. But Jonah was not the only one God was relentlessly pursuing. He even cared about those who were ‘enemies’ of Israel and had a long-range plan in the works.
  • Hosea, one of my favorites. God tells him to marry a prostitute by the name of Gomer. She bears three children: a son named Jezreel, a daughter named Lo-ruhamah (‘no compassion’), and another son named Lo-ammi (‘not my people’). Gomer eventually returns to her former life. God tells Hosea to go after Gomer and buy her back. Hosea does and tells her that she is to be faithful to him as he will be to her. It is an object lesson to the kingdom of Israel. God is about to send them into captivity in Assyria because of their spiritual unfaithfulness. He speaks of them as an unfaithful wife and himself as the husband. Chapter 2 of Hosea tells of her unfaithfulness and paints a metaphorical picture of what God is about to do to her. But beginning in verse 14, the text takes on a tenderness when speaking of God’s forgiveness. It says, “Therefore I am going to persuade her, lead her back to the wilderness, and speak tenderly to her.” In verses 19 and 20, God continues: “I will take you to be my wife in righteousness, justice, love, and compassion; I will take you to be my wife in faithfulness, and you will know the Lord.” A relentless God doesn’t give up the pursuit of those He loves.

Woven through the Psalms and the prophets is a thread of God’s ultimate plan, fashioned before the beginning of time. It is the promise of a Messiah that will rule over Israel and the nations forever. The leaders of Israel failed to recognize him when he arrived because he wasn’t what they expected. Despite three years’ of  Jesus teaching, healing and performing miracles they had him put to death by crucifixion, thinking they had done away with him. They had no idea it was exactly what God had planned. God had provided the way to defeat sin that we couldn’t do on our own.

The Prodigal Son is my favorite parable. It tells of an insolent younger son who demands his inheritance and then proceeds to waste it all on partying and indulging his every desire. Soon the money is gone and he finds himself feeding pigs. Luke tells us, “When he came to himself”. He had hit rock bottom and realized going home was his only option. Ashamed, embarrassed, but no longer arrogant, he starts for home. The Father had been watching for him since he left. When he sees his son, dirty, wretched, and ragged, coming up the road he RUNS to him, embraces him, takes him home, and then the REAL party starts. That is the picture of a relentless God.

I don’t know where you find yourself in life. Maybe you think you’re doing pretty good. Maybe you’re in the middle of some problems. Or maybe your life is such a mess that you think there’s no way God could care about you. The secret is that we’re all the prodigal son, dirty and ragged, living in a pig pen and starving to death. And when we finally ‘come to ourselves’ and humbly turn to God, he welcomes us home with a heavenly party. You may not realize it but he’s relentlessly pursuing you. He loves you and wants you to come home. But if you come he won’t leave you dirty and starving. He’ll clothe you with his Son and feed you from His word until you overflow with His spirit and love.

Romans 5

I really first discovered Romans 5 about the time I graduated from high school. The nineteenth year of my life was arguably the worst one because it was a transition from a relatively sheltered existence to rubbing up against a world I was not prepared to face. In the midst of exposure to a lot of antagonistic voices that ridiculed my faith, I found this chapter and in particular these verses:

“And not only that, but we also rejoice in our afflictions, because we know that affliction produces endurance, endurance produces proven character, and proven character produces hope.” – Romans 5:3,4

It would take several more years for me to understand the full weight of those verses, but when I first read them it was like a lifeline thrown to a drowning man. What a revelation: right after Paul tells of the outcome of God’s magnificent grace- we are declared righteous through our faith and are at peace with Him because of Jesus Christ- he goes on to say that for the Christian even hard times work to our advantage by producing positive characteristics in us. He ends by saying the hope produced will not disappoint because the Holy Spirit given to us pours God’s love into our hearts.

But Paul is just getting warmed up in showing how awesome God is. In the next verse, he makes an astounding statement.

“For while we were still helpless, at the right time, Christ died for the ungodly… But God proves his own love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (6,8)

If you need a little help with your awe, ponder that thought for a while. God didn’t send his Son to suffer as a sacrifice for the strong, the talented, the attractive, and the outwardly spiritual. God acted at the right time on behalf of the helpless, the sinner, the dysfunctional messed up ones that had given up any hope of ever being rescued from our ‘mess’. We couldn’t pull ourselves out and like quicksand, it was sucking us into hopeless oblivion. We had no road to God and were unable to find it on our own anyway.

Even more amazing is that God didn’t demand we clean up our act before he acted because he knew we couldn’t. Human logic could possibly accept the idea of dying for someone who deserved it. We’d think about sacrificing ourselves for one we loved or at least admired. But none of us deserve anything from God’s hand because we’re wretched beggars in ragged, filthy clothing. Even so, God still loved us and extravagantly paid the cost to take us out of the gutter and adopt us as his children.

“For if, while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, then how much more, having been reconciled, will we be saved by his life.” -Romans 5:10

It’s sad and pathetic how we stand before God and complain when he doesn’t act the way we think he should, as if he owes us something or is subject to our opinions. We cry that he is unfair, unfeeling, unjust when we experience difficulties or see injustice. We are arrogant, thinking we have wisdom and the world should act according to our definition of fairness.

Until we recognize our poverty and worthlessness, God’s grace and wisdom is nothing but foolishness and we are nothing but little tin gods. When we realize we are helpless sinners and throw ourselves on God’s mercy He gives us peace and joy no matter what our circumstances might be.  Now THAT’S awesome!

Singing

“Let the word of Christ dwell richly among you, in all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another through psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs,  singing to God with gratitude in your hearts.” – Colossians 3:16

Some of us may not give much thought to singing as part of our worship. We may have a favorite hymn or two, and we enjoy listening to the singing even if we don’t think we have the voice to contribute to it. But have we considered the purpose of singing?

I’ve been privileged to be a song leader for fifty years, with congregations from just a few to more than a thousand. Like everyone else, I have hymns and songs that speak to me more than others. But I’ve come to understand what I do is more than just starting on the right pitch and keeping everyone at the same tempo (more or less). I am engaged in a ministry just as important as the one presenting the sermon.

We tend to focus on the music, particularly the harmonizing. Small groups sometimes envy larger ones because of the quality of the vocal harmony. It’s natural to be moved by the power and beauty of acapella singing. But if that’s our focus, we’ve missed the purpose of why we sing.

Paul tells us in the above verse why we sing as the Lord’s church. Let us consider:

  • We are teachers and encouragers. When you sing a hymn, you are teaching those who hear it and encouraging your brothers and sisters to strengthen their faith. We may not think of ourselves as teachers, and we may be intimidated to think of sharing our faith with anyone else. But that’s exactly what we’re doing when we sing.
  • We are expressing our thanks to God. Our worship is our expression of gratitude to God for the multitude of blessings he pours out on us each day. It is reflected in all aspects of our worship, but especially in our singing. We sing with joy in thanks to God. It is as much a gift as putting our contribution in the collection plate.

If we consider what we sing is a source of instruction and encouragement, we understand the importance of having our hearts and minds fully engaged in the process. The quality of the singing is not as important as the enthusiasm and effort because our focus should be on lifting one another up and giving the best of ourselves to God.

Each of us has a preference for a particular type of song, be it the traditional hymns or the more contemporary praise songs. Both have their place, and both can bring us closer in our relationship with God. The value is not in the melody but the message they express. If our singing is to be a ministry to each other and a praise to God, we need to be mindful of the message we are sharing through our song.

I encourage each of us to think about what we are doing when we sing. Let the words of each song speak to us as we sing them to each other and God. Sing with joy, recognizing the privilege of expressing our praise and thanks to a God who has relentlessly sought us and paid a horrible price to call us His own, a God who tenderly cares for us constantly and has promised to always be with us. Let His awe overwhelm us and then let our voices express it.

Adjusting Our Identity

“Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul.” – 1 Peter 2:11

I woke up this morning wanting to write a blog as I usually do on Monday but came up blank on a subject. My response was to ask God, “Surprise me.” Indeed He did; the result was an article by John Piper entitled Black History in the Making: What ‘White Evangelicals’ Can Learn, and can be seen here.

Participation in mission efforts in Europe, South America, and the Caribbean have impacted my thoughts about the relationship of a Christian to his or her nation and culture. I’ve met fellow Christians in other countries that are every bit as dear to me as my Christian brothers and sisters in the United States. This article resonated with me, because it reflected thoughts I’ve had for a number of years. How do you reconcile heavenly and earthly citizenships? And who are your real fellow citizens?

I appreciate my time at Harding College; it was there I met my wife and got an education. But I always felt a bit uncomfortable with the unspoken connection made between Christian faith, American patriotism, and conservative Republican politics, as if one couldn’t be of the ‘true faith’ without fully embracing all three. It’s particularly difficult to reconcile when considering verses such 1 Peter 2:11.

Piper speaks of two principles which describe a Christian’s identity within his/her own culture: indigenizing and pilgrim. The indigenizing principle ‘makes … faith a place to feel at home’. The pilgrim principle ‘whispers to [the Christian] that he has no abiding city and warns him that to be faithful to Christ will put him out of step with his society for that society never existed, in East or West, ancient time or modern, which could absorb the word of Christ painlessly into its system ‘.

This world is not my home, I’m just a-passing through…

In the United States we have absorbed the indigenizing principle of faith, but not the pilgrim principle. We came to believe that America is a Christian nation, chosen by God to be a shining beacon to the world. Generic Christianity was as much a civil religion as a personal statement of faith. But as the culture changed and became more openly hostile to Christianity, we’ve been forced to re-evaluate the nature of American Christianity. We need to move toward a pilgrim mindset about who we are.

When we submit ourselves to Christ we surrender our sovereignty to him. Paul speaks rather extensively of our “old man” being put to death (Colossian 3:9,10; Ephesians 2:1-6; Romans 6:1:4). As a new creation, we are ‘in Christ’. We need to understand we are citizens of His kingdom and our primary allegiance is now to Him, but we have not yet reached our home country.  Thus we are sojourners, travelers in a world where we no longer belong. We are still subject to the leaders and laws, just as we would be if we were to visit a foreign country. But we are here on a visitor’s visa, and it reminds us we may “be” here but we don’t “live” here.

So we need to remember a few things. We are pilgrims, on a journey to our true country.  Our obedience is to Jesus Christ first and foremost, and as such we are to live in a way that reflects Him. We can’t get so entangled in this life it distracts us from our journey. We have more in common with believers in Russia, China, and throughout the world than with unbelievers in the United States. And finally, we have a task as we travel. We are to spread the message of Jesus Christ, invite others to join us on the journey, and show them the way home.

Doing the Right Thing in the Wrong Way

” But Hezekiah had interceded for them, saying, “May the good Lord provide atonement on behalf of whoever sets his whole heart on seeking God, the Lord, the God of his ancestors, even though not according to the purification rules of the sanctuary.” So the Lord heard Hezekiah and healed the people.” – 2Chronicles 30:18-20

One of the great blessings of being retired is being able, like the wish of Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof, to spend time not only reading but meditating on the Bible each day. I follow an established reading schedule that’s taking me through familiar territory but at a much slower, more contemplative pace. It allows me to see things I’ve missed for years, or at least never spent the time to examine more fully.

Second Chronicles and its companion volume Second Kings has been like that. I’ve read them several times and have a general knowledge about the various kings listed there. But to my embarrassment, I admit I never got much more than that from the books. Now that Second Chronicles is part of my daily readings it allows me to dig a little deeper and spend more time in meditating on what it means for us today.

There are two kings that captivate my attention. One is Josiah, who I hope to discuss in a later blog post. The other is Hezekiah. What makes Hezekiah stand out in my mind is his comprehensive approach to obedience to the Lord. He commissions the priests and Levites to restore the temple worship according to the Law. In his commissioning speech, Hezekiah recalls Israel’s rebellion and demonstrates a spirit of contrition and repentance, and he calls the priests and Levites to have that same spirit.

The thing that sets Hezekiah apart from previous kings is his desire to re-establish observance of the Passover as outlined in 2 Chronicles 30. The time had passed for it to be properly observed, the reason being that the priests had not consecrated themselves and the people were not gathered. Hezekiah and his officials send letters throughout the land, even to the tribes of Israel that had been in rebellion to God for years, inviting them to come to Jerusalem and celebrate Passover according to the Law’s instructions.

Although many of the people mocked and scorned the invitation, others did come. In verse 12 it says that the power of God was working in Judah to unite them to carry out the commands of the king. The people tore down the altars of the idols and destroyed them. The priests and Levites were shamed into consecrating themselves as they should have, and the Passover was observed a month late even though many of the tribes were ritually unclean.

This is where it gets interesting. In the verse quoted above, Hezekiah intervenes in prayer for the people, reminding God that the hearts of the people were set on obeying and serving God even though it wasn’t according to the purification rules. The next verse is like a thunderclap: “So the Lord heard Hezekiah and healed the people.” In other words, God accepted their worship even though it didn’t comply exactly with the procedure given in the Law.

Now, this is where things get tricky and there are lots of possibilities for misunderstanding and misinterpretation. There’s a danger here of using this as justification for worshiping in any way that we deem acceptable if it appeals to us. If our greatest concern is whether worship is satisfying our own needs then we’ve missed the point completely. And that’s not what this is about.

Remember that Hezekiah is attempting to re-establish worship practices according to the Law. He recognized what they were doing didn’t exactly conform to the letter of the Law- the month was wrong, the people had had not gathered and failed to prepare themselves according to the purification commands, and even the priests and Levites had neglected to consecrate themselves. But Hezekiah also recognized Passover as important enough to observe even if done in a partially incorrect manner. The desire was to honor and obey God even if it couldn’t be done perfectly. Thus, he prayed that the Lord would forgive those who were seeking to worship God wholeheartedly in the best way they could.

Jesus tells us in John 4:23, “But an hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in Spirit and in truth.” God wants us to worship Him in the way He desires, but He has no use for empty words and practices offered from rote while our hearts are focused elsewhere. Hezekiah’s prayer was honored because the people’s worship came from a heart whose intention was to be devoted to God. They found such joy in their worship they chose to observe the feast for another seven days.

I find this account in Chronicles very encouraging. It helps me to realize that having my heart right while I worship is as important as observing all the correct procedures. If I mess up the form, which I will from time to time simply because I’m imperfect, God will still provide grace if my heart and intent is on honoring him. But it doesn’t excuse me from deliberately deviating from God’s design for worship just because I don’t like it or choose to do it my own way. Deliberate willfulness and disobedience shows a heart that doesn’t belong to God.

If I haven’t completely surrendered my life and will to Christ, if I don’t experience a profound sense of awe when I approach God, I’ll be prone to worship him in a way designed to satisfy my own selfish desires than in a way that honors and glorifies the Creator. I must first seek the right relationship with God before I can properly approach Him in worship. If we don’t recognize His right to expect that of us because of what Christ accomplished on the Cross, then our worship is in vain.

Awe

Awe is a word that we throw around rather lightly these days. We talk of things being “awesome”, from a particular food that stimulates our taste buds to a television show we enjoy. As is the case with most words and language, the more often we misuse a word the less meaning it comes to have. Soon it has no meaning at all.

As humans we are hard-wired to be awed, to find something that excites us beyond the everyday humdrum activities of living. Sadly, most of us have lost or never experienced what should be the ultimate awe, so we are forced to substitute lesser sources, and in doing so greatly diminish what it means to experience awe.

I’m in the process of reading a book entitled Awe: Why It Matters for Everything We Think, Say and Do by Paul David Tripp. It is a book I highly recommend to anyone who struggles with the Christian life and trying to understand why we constantly fall short of what we know we should be. The author explains that the root of our problem is not what we might think it to be. Our problem is one of awe or, more accurately, lack of it.

The only way we can move into a proper relationship with God is to establish a sense of awe about who He is. Paul tells us in Romans that God has given us a myriad of clues throughout creation that should create in us a sense of overwhelming awe. Let me share a few with you.

  • Have you ever examined a leaf? I mean really taken an up-close look. Take any leaf on any tree and hold it up to the sunlight. If you take the time to inspect it you’ll see thousands of channels running over the surface, not unlike a street map of a large city. Those are the means by which each cell receives nourishment and water, and pass the energy and nourishment resulting from photosynthesis (a whole other miraculous process) to the rest of the tree.
  • As I sit here writing there is a white-out blizzard going on outside which is supposed to drop up to a foot of snow on us today. Stop and consider: of all the billions (trillions? gazillions?) of snowflakes that make up a foot of snow, no two flakes are exactly alike. Could you imagine having to come up with that many variations on a simple six-sided crystalline formation? My brain hurts just thinking about it.
  • As my wife reminded me this morning, think of all the people that have ever existed or currently live on earth. With the exception of identical twins, each one of us is unique: there has never been or will be anyone exactly like us Before you set off on your world ego trip, consider that there are billions of lives that are just as unique as yours. In the grand scheme, none of us is truly more or less important than anyone else.

God shows us parts of Himself through what He has created. He is the Creator of the grand design, but is also intimately present in the tiniest details. He knows each of us far better than we do ourselves. He knows the exact number of hairs on your head (for some of us there aren’t as many to count as previously), the number of blood cells circulating in your arteries and veins at any given moment, and the exact condition of every cell that makes up your being. He cares just as much about the tiniest microbe as he does the largest animals on the planet. And if he cares so much for the rest of creation what makes you think He could care less about you who are made in His image?

The author of the book makes the case that as Christians our struggle is primarily an awe problem. When we fail to be awed by what we see when we look at God we lose our gratitude for what He has provided for us- everything. Instead, we focus on our own inadequacies, our wants, and desires, and covet the things of this world which provide no lasting benefit. By doing so we blunt the Spirit’s ability to accomplish God’s purposes for and through us. As a result, our ministry and message as Christians and as the church are ineffective and lost in the noise of the world.

I encourage each of us to relentlessly seek to discover or rediscover a sense of awe in the One who is worthy of it. God tells us that He may be found if we will only seek Him. Immerse yourself in scripture, and look at the picture God paints of Himself there. Take time to look for clues that God has sprinkled throughout creation. Be awed; it will help you establish a more balanced view of your own life and bring you a new sense of gratitude for what He has done for you.

“He died to no one’s regret”

As part of my daily Bible reading, I’ve been studying the book of Second Chronicles. It’s a record of the lives and times of the kings of Judah and Israel. As a result of Solomon allowing himself to be turned away from devotion to God to worship of the false gods of his numerous wives and concubines, God pronounced his kingdom would be divided, but a portion would be retained by his heirs because of the covenant that God made with his father David. The kingdom of Judah was ruled by Solomon’s heirs.

As time went on his descendants became unfaithful to God as well, with a few exceptions who attempted to bring about a revival and return to faithfulness toward God. But their efforts were short-lived and temporary at best. The kingdom of Israel was eventually carried into captivity by the Assyrians, and Judah by the Babylonians. It would be seventy years before the Israelites returned to Jerusalem and the land, but the glory of David and Solomon would never be regained.

Most of the accounts of the various kings are fairly straightforward: “he was this old when he became king, ruled for this long, did this and then died”. Of some it was said “he did right in the sight of the Lord” but with a recounting of things he failed to do. Most messed up by forming alliances with foreign nations and/or failing to eradicate false gods and worship from the land. It can be a sometimes dry historical account, but there are lessons to be drawn from their lives and examples.

One particular individual caught my attention, not so much for what he did or didn’t do but what was said about him. His name was Jehoram. He was the son of Jehoshaphat, one of the better Judean kings. Jehoram’s account begins with, “he walked in the way of the kings of Israel”, which was not surprising since for political alliance purposes his father had arranged his marriage to the daughter of King Ahab of Israel, the poster boy of all the godlessness, rebellion and sinfulness of the northern kingdom. Jehoram was 32 when he ascended to the throne and ruled only eight years before dying an agonizing death due to an intestinal disease inflicted on him as punishment from God. His account ends with this statement- “he died to no one’s regret.”

What a sad way to be remembered! A life so worthless and evil that everyone was glad to see you go. A life so insignificant or so repugnant that people were glad you died. It is the same thing that could be said of Hitler, or even Ebenezer Scrooge before his transformation. But here it was said of a king who murdered his family and several others who might be a threat to his power, deliberately led an evil life, and led his nation to rebellion against God.

Compare him to others in the Bible and see what a difference obedience to God makes. There’s Abraham, whose faith ‘was counted as righteousness’. There’s David, described as a ‘man after God’s own heart’. Both of these men were imperfect, and made some horrible, sinful mistakes in their lives. But both also repented and turned back to God and were blessed for it by being promised a nation and kingdom that would last forever.

There’s another interesting verse in Jehoram’s account. In verse six and seven of 2 Chronicles 21 we’re told “He did what was evil in the Lord’s sight,  but because of the covenant the Lord had made with David, He was unwilling to destroy the house of David since the Lord had promised to give a lamp to David and to his sons forever.” Jehoram’s family was carried off in a raid by the Philistines, but his youngest son was left and became king. He, too, was an evil king, but the line of David was preserved.

There are two points to be made here. When God establishes a promise He will never break it- it will be fulfilled. Though the ruling line of David was carried off into captivity, it was through his descendants that Jesus Christ was born, lived, died, rose again and established his kingdom that shall never end. Through him God established a new covenant, a fulfillment of the one made with Israel, that makes His redemption and reconciliation available to all who will accept it and surrender themselves humbly in obedience to Him. When God makes a promise, it is trustworthy and eternal.

When God sets His purpose, it will be accomplished, sometimes in ways we may not comprehend and through individuals and methods that seem strange to us. God uses imperfect people (since there are no other kind) to bring about His plans. Sometimes it is in ways and through agents we find incomprehensible or even unjust. In the Old Testament, Pharaoh, the Assyrians and the Babylonians are all described in various places as ‘God’s chosen instrument’ to discipline His chosen ones. It is important to note that once God accomplishes what He desires through these instruments they become subject to His judgment and punishment as well.

In the account of 2 Chronicles we see that God kept his covenant with David through a line of rebellious, evil kings. That didn’t mean that they weren’t condemned by God, or honored in their lifetimes. Some were murdered by their own people, some died of horrible diseases, and it can be said that their sins found them out. But God’s eternal purpose was accomplished through them nonetheless.

Whether we choose to follow Christ and surrender our lives to him as Lord or reject His offer and calling, God desires to bless each of us through His promises. But without humble obedience, we cannot receive those blessings. If we choose to be our own god and live for only ourselves, it might end up being said of us, “he (or she) died to no one’s regret“, to be followed by the words, “Depart from me, I never knew you.”

Whose Standard are We Using When We Don’t Measure Up?

“Therefore God is not ashamed of them, to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city. “ – Hebrews 11:16

Do you ever have days when you think there’s no way that God is ever going to accept you, that you can never be the man or woman He expects you to be? Of course, you do; we all do. When we’re brutally honest with ourselves we realize it’s true. But it’s also a lie, and a big one, because we measure ourselves against a standard that God never sets.

Part of the problem is our misunderstanding of the Bible. We think of it as a handbook for living that lays down the do’s and dont’s of God’s rules for our being acceptable to him. So we get hung up on THE RULES, fearing that somewhere down the line we’re going to mess up and God’s going to say, “gotcha”.

But the real message of the Bible is God telling us ‘this is who I am’. It’s about him and not so much about us. He already knows everything about us, but he wants us to know more about him. It’s about the relationship. God wants to have an intimate relationship with us, but how can we enjoy that kind of relationship with someone we don’t know? And so he sent us a love letter.

I’m also encouraged that the portrait of those we consider ‘superstars of faith’ are painted in all their ugly, warty glory. These aren’t gold-plated perfect people who set a standard I could never hope to reach. They are dysfunctional, flawed individuals, every bit as messed up as I am. What I learn over and over is what made them acceptable to God was their faith and trust. They trusted God with what we sometimes call ‘blind faith’. But it was anything but blind because they knew Who it was that they were trusting. As a result, God grew them into the people they needed to be for him to accomplish his plans.

We think we have to clean ourselves up before we can come to God. But we also realize that we are incapable of fixing ourselves, and it causes us to despair. It usually ends with us falling into one of two ways of thinking. Either we convince ourselves that God could never save someone as messed up as we are, or we decide that God is so loving that he’ll just take us the way we are. The first produces hopelessness, the second delusion.

Romans 5:6,8 dispels the notion of ‘not good enough’. Paul acknowledges we cannot save ourselves but God made provision for that. “For while we were still helpless, at the right time, Christ died for the ungodly… But God proves his own love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” God knew we can’t do it on our own and had the solution in place before the problem even arose. Yes, my life is a mess; yes, I’ve rebelled against God. I have been his enemy so how can I become his friend? God’s already taken care of it.

But God also loves us enough to not let us continue living broken messed-up lives. He tells us to “be holy, for I am holy”. In other words, he wants us to reflect His image. So we despair once again, thinking it’s something I have to do on my own and knowing there’s no way it can be done. We also view it as a one-time thing rather than a process of growth and maturing. So we settle into thinking, “well, that’s just the way I am, and God will just love me anyway.” God has set a feast before us, and we settle for the crumbs on the floor.

We need to understand that God never gives us a command without equipping us to be able to carry it out. We see it as impossible and so God didn’t really mean it that way. We’re so full of the busted pieces of our lives that God has no room to fill us with his spirit and power. Until we empty ourselves God can’t give us anything. But when we hand him the pieces, he will put them back together and then fill us to overflowing with himself.

So we need to stop our preconceived ideas about ‘good enough’ Christianity and do-it-yourself religion. It can only produce despair or self-righteousness. If you want to know what God desires for you and from you, dig deeply into Scripture. Get to know God on a deep, intimate level. Let him become your greatest desire and then watch what he will do with you.