Monday, August 17, 2015

Discovering What's Next

There were three days left in my Bible study, and I had no idea what my 22-year-old daughter in Christ and I would study now.  I had scrolled down a screen full of possibilities but hadn't really settled on anything.  Frustrated, I simply clicked the X and wandered down our gravel drive to pick up the evening mail.

I don't know about you, but I'm the type of woman who needs accountability when it comes to studying God's Word.  Plop 66 books in my lap, and I can read them, but those randomly-read words rarely lead me to life-altering action on my knees before the Lord.  And honestly?  I'm more apt to read less than more...or some days, not at all.  Give me, instead, a book designed to guide my study of those same words along with a good Bible Dictionary and commentary or two, and my spirit consistently grows like a well-watered sunflower in a hot Louisiana summer.

I find I can commit more easily to devoutly studying part of God's Word for six, eight, ten weeks at a time.  Then, after that period of time, I recommit to doing the same thing over again with another study of another part of Scripture.  Breaking up my study into pockets of time like this keeps me in the Word year-round because I'm constantly having to recommit myself to starting anew when the assigned "weeks" of my present study are up.

At the end of June, though, I had no idea what to study next.  Imagine my jaw-dropping surprise when I slit open a padded envelope and an entire Bible study complete with book, workbook and DVDs dropped on my kitchen's gathering table.

More importantly?  The study was about Lazarus, the Bible character I had been compelled to study on my own just the week before as I pondered how Jesus' love doesn't always look like love in my own life.  I've never had a Bible study thrown at me in such a literal way or at such a needed juncture, but by God's divine providence, I began a 10-week study of Joanna Weaver's newest book Lazarus Awakening: Finding Your Place in the Heart of God

Weaver is best known to me for her book Having a Mary Heart in a Martha World.  Here, though, she looks at the story of Lazarus' death and resurrection as recorded in John 11 & 12.  While the first two chapters were difficult for me to sink my teeth into, by Chapter 3, the study came alive for me, and the accompanying DVD showed me a woman who was not a ravishing beauty with great speaking ability, but a woman who is ordinary--like me--and whose love for Jesus radiates off her face as she speaks.

In the study, Weaver shows how like Lazarus, we are all sick with the deadly illness of sin and in need of a resurrection, but to achieve that, God desires a relationship with us.  To accomplish that relationship, often, God will withdraw everything from our lives that detracts from Him so that we will pursue the one best thing--Him--versus the many good things.

Weaver continues with this theme by discussing how humanity perceives love as the quick meeting of our needs, but trouble can be a blessing.  She uses one of my new-favorite quotes from Charles Haddon Spurgeon to illustrate the point:

If you want to ruin your son, never let him know hardship.  When he is a child carry him in your arms, when he becomes a youth still dandle him, and when he becomes a man still dry-nurse him, and you will succeed in producing an arrant fool.  If you want to prevent his being made useful in the world, guard him from every kind of toil.  Do not suffer him to struggle...supply all his wishes, avert all disappointments, prevent all troubles, and you will surely tutor him to be a reprobate and to break your heart.  But put him where he must work, expose him to difficulties, purposely throw him into peril, and in this way you shall make him a man, and when he comes to do a man's work and to bear man's trial, he shall be fit for either.  My Master does not daintily cradle His children when they ought to run alone;...but He lets them tumble down to the cutting of their knees, because then they will walk more carefully by-and-by, and learn to stand upright by the strength which faith confers upon them. (p. 58-59).

God restrains Himself from meeting all our wants in order to produce what Weaver refers to as "enduring love" for the Lord in our hearts.  And yet, to grow in our love and relationship with God, we must stop dwelling in our own tombs, caught between the world of the flesh and the world of the spirit.

The best chapters in Weaver's study delve into "tomb living" or how once Jesus resurrects us to new live and the stone is rolled away, we still choose to live in defeat, fear, and wrapped in our graveclothes that trip us up and drag down our ministry and the ministry of others.

In one passage, Weaver calls us well-seasoned Christians to help set free those around us by helping them on their road of sanctification, of becoming like Christ. She argues we Christians often keep new Christians firmly bound in their grave clothes by how we treat them: "We bind people through our attitudes toward them.  We bind them when we hold onto their faults instead of lifting up and encouraging their attempts to change.  We bind people when we don't forgive them.  We bind them when we gossip to others about their faults.  Whenever we treat people out of our smallness instead of the Lord's abundance; we keep them bound" (p. 126).

Ouch.

Maybe it's time for some of us to lay down our expectations of where someone should be on his journey as a Christian and should, instead, walk alongside them, helping them become all they can be in Christ.

Whether you are a new Christian or a more well-seasoned one, Lazarus Awakening will speak hope and wisdom into your heart.  It's not often a book receives my wholehearted recommendation, but this is a "keeper" on my bookshelf, one that has both convicted me and comforted me through a rough season of change in my household and difficulty in my church life.


Monday, July 27, 2015

Reclaiming the Dinner Table

The typical lazy feel of Saturday mornings was shattered as I rushed to prepare everything for the weekly international meal we would be eating that evening.  The food processor quickly shredded eight cups of sweet potatoes that joined a fluffy mound of brown sugar and toasted pecans in one crock pot while the pound of black eyed peas I had been soaking overnight combined with bacon and onions to fill a second crock pot. 

Meanwhile, the rice cooker counted down to its distinctive ding as the chicken marinated in freshly squeezed lime juice.  Around me, the air filled with competing sweet and savory aromas of the Bahamas until the scent of a golden brown pineapple pie overpowered them all as it emerged from the oven. 

An hour later, I escaped the kitchen to spend the afternoon off the farm with my children while adopted daughter went to a wedding shower and husband set off to mow the lawn. 

At day's end, however, all six of us came back together as we do most every evening--gathered round the table to share a meal with each other.  It's a time for catching up with one another, sharing the highs (or lows) of our days, a time to breathe out the frustrations of the day and simply give thanks for the togetherness.

Several times in Scripture, God emphasizes the shared meal as a time of togetherness intended to foster relationship not simply with each other but with Him.

When speaking of the Promised Land, Moses tells the Israelites, "But you shall seek the Lord at the place which the Lord your God will choose from all your tribes, to establish His name there for His dwelling, and there you shall come. There you shall bring your burnt offerings, your sacrifices, your tithes, the contribution of your hand, your votive offerings, your freewill offerings, and the firstborn of your herd and of your flock.  There also you and your households shall eat before the Lord your God, and rejoice in all your undertakings in which the Lord your God has blessed you" (Deut. 12:5-7).

There, in the midst of rules about worship, sacrifices and burnt offerings, Moses emphasizes that "you and your households shall eat before the Lord your God."  Notice this eating is done in community, not alone.  It is also done in conjunction with rejoicing--giving thanks!

This "eat before the Lord" is a concept repeated multiple times in Scripture.  It's not, however, about the meal, itself, or the need to replenish our bodies with food.  Instead, coming to a communal table to share in the meal is about relationship--about needing each other--as much as it is about thanksgiving, being mindfully thankful for what God has given us.  

Earlier at Mt. Sinai, Scripture demonstrates the meal as relationship.  In Exodus 24 after the people of Israel entered into a covenant with God, the entire congregation agreeing to obey the Law of the Lord, Scripture says "Moses went up with Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel, and they saw the God of Israel; and under His feet there appeared to be a pavement of sapphire, as clear as the sky itself. Yet He did not stretch out His hand against the nobles of the sons of Israel; and they saw God, and they ate and drank" (Ex. 24:9-11).

This eating was done, quite literally, before the Lord.  Obviously, it had nothing to do with consuming calories for one's health.  Instead, the meal was a way to commemorate the sealed covenant relationship between God and Israel.   And though Scripture doesn't record it, I imagine there was a good bit of rejoicing over the blessings of God.

The New Testament as well speaks of the shared meal in terms of relationship.  While the Lord's Supper is probably the meal that springs most easily to mind, there are numerous other instances of the communal table as a symbol for relationship.

In John's inaugural vision, Jesus calls the Church at Laodicea to the table of fellowship, saying, "'Look! I stand at the door and knock. If you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in, and we will share a meal together as friends'"(Rev. 3:20).

Later, John tells us that history is moving towards one great table of fellowship, thanksgiving, and rejoicing: "'Let us rejoice and be glad and give the glory to Him, for the marriage of the Lamb has come and His bride has made herself ready.' It was given to her to clothe herself in fine linen, bright and clean; for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints. Then he *said to me, 'Write, 'Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb''" (Rev. 19:7-9).

The focus of the meal is on rejoicing in the Lord our God.  It is on being thankful for His many blessings.  It is on our relationship with Him.

Though our culture seems to have less and less time for such a luxury as a shared meal round a table (except for on holidays), Christians should strive to reclaim the family dinner table as much as is possible.  No matter whether it's frozen fish sticks and fries or a four-course meal--it is in this seated position around the table where we can teach our children about the Lord, can strengthen our relationships with each other, and can strengthen our relationship with God as we seek to make the meal a time to mindfully rejoice in unity and give communal thanks for His blessings.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Even if Creation is Uncreated

With three children somersaulting through my every second this summer, it has been difficult to get anything done, including my Bible study.  I almost always manage to get the "reading" part complete.  It's the "studying" part, the "basking in the silence" part that's jarringly interrupted by mommy's name being taken in vain for the thousandth time.

When my household is an off-key symphony of constant noise, that's when I crave the silence necessary to hear His still, small voice...when I understand best the words of Psalm 46 that command me to "Be still, and know that I am God" (v. 11).

In truth, I have needed to be still.  This space has sat untouched for the past two weeks with me unsure of what to say in a world both completely changed by a Supreme Court ruling yet not changed either.  For the past year, the news media and the entertainment industry have continued to loudly promote the extreme as the new normal while Christians around me have spoken more softly in tones of increasing hopelessness and fear.

On our weekly prayer walks the past two weeks, I've felt a country's anger pointed to me as a Christian.  Overnight, it seems, I have become the enemy of too many because of my faith.  When I feel the anger in their words, see the fire of disgust light their eyes, it would be so easy to give in to the fear, to let  hopelessness wash over me.

Only in His Word do I find a message of hope and security.  Psalm 46 speaks of God's creation in destructive turmoil against the backdrop of the unchanging, protective nature of God:

"God is our refuge and strength,
an ever-present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam
and the mountains quake with their surging. Selah
There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy place where the Most High dwells.
God is within her, she will not fall;
God will help her at break of day.
Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall;
he lifts his voice, the earth melts." (v. 1-6)

At the sound of God's voice, "the earth melts." Think of the power in that statement.

The God who spoke in Genesis 1 and the earth was created. The God who spoke in a burning bush to Moses, yet it was not consumed. That same God speaks here--and the earth melts. I looked it up, and the word means just what it sounds like--"to dissolve, to melt away."*

One commentary described it this way: "the creation itself may seem to be uncreated."

Creation's destruction is already underway.  The Center for Biological Diversity states, "Our planet is now in the midst of its sixth mass extinction of plants and animals...We’re currently experiencing the worst spate of species die-offs since the loss of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago. Although extinction is a natural phenomenon, it occurs at a natural 'background' rate of about one to five species per year. Scientists estimate we’re now losing species at 1,000 to 10,000 times the background rate, with literally dozens going extinct every day."  At this rate, the Center predicts "as many as 30 to 50 percent of all species possibly heading toward extinction by mid-century."

The scholarly journal Nature published a recent report that confirms this data while saying if we simply assume the future's "rate of extinction will be constant; it is currently estimated to range from 0.01% to 0.7% of all existing species a year."

Look around you; read the news and weather reports--do you sometimes feel as I do, that God is "un-creating" his very creation? Does your mind ever spin out of control in wonder and concern?

There. Is. Hope.

Verses 7 and 11 repeat the same words (and repetition is what this woman needed to finally hear it): "The LORD Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress."

Though the world around us tumbles, though it looks like creation is unraveling at the seams, though it looks like wars and turmoil will overtake the world....

Through it all, God wants to be our "fortress." God wants to be our "stronghold." God wants to be our "ever-present help."

But God isn't going to force Himself on anyone. We must choose to rest in Him if we want to experience that protection.  And to do that, we first must stop living like we've lost the war.  We must stop living each moment in a state of "what if" fear about what is to come.

Instead, we must prayerfully cast all our cares upon Him, knowing that He is not surprised in the least by what is happening around us and believing that He holds us--His children--in the loving, well-guarded palm of His hand.



* Baker and Carpenter. The Complete Word Study Dictionary: Old Testament. p. 579.

Monday, June 22, 2015

When Love Doesn't Look Like Love

Near my bed sits a yellow legal-sized piece of paper, crudely-formed ABC's strung together to read, "I Love Mommy Because."  Numbers fall down the page's left margin beside a list of whatever my youngest son could dream up that fit the bill.

I've held onto this love letter for almost two years now.  On those days when my children just don't get how everything I do is an act of love for them, I pick up this page and remember back to my oldest son sobbing on my sofa while younger siblings peeked around corners or stood on the steps below to hear his complaints about how this mommy didn't love him as much as she loved the twins.

Even the walls listened that day as I snuggled him close and began to list everything I had done that week because I loved him--I washed his clothes so he wouldn't go naked, I forced him to drink his milk so he would have strong bones, I allowed him to go to Oma's house so he could have be loved by his other family, I drove to the library and checked out more books so he could open up entire worlds through reading...

When the tears stopped, he went merrily along his way as if nothing had happened, and I wondered if he had internalized anything I'd said.  But a few days later, the yellow love list appeared, a testament that the son who had been listening in the wings had understood.

Much like my children know I love them, I know God loves me.  Sometimes, though, if I'm really honest with myself, God's love doesn't look like love to me. In fact?  It looks and feels a lot like pain and maybe even a little like punishment, even when it's nothing of the sort.   

While my Bible study had nothing to do with the story of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus this past week, that's where I found myself stuck....on the tiny, insignificant word So:

"Now a man was sick, Lazarus, from Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha.Mary was the one who anointed the Lord with fragrant oil and wiped His feet with her hair, and it was her brother Lazarus who was sick. So the sisters sent a message to Him: “Lord, the one You love is sick” (Jn. 11:1-3).

It's the word "so" that demonstrates Mary and Martha's faith in Jesus and in His ability to heal.  "So" can be translated "therefore" or even "consequently."  According to Thayer's Greek Lexicon, it's a word "indicating that something follows from another necessarily."

In other words, Because of X.....then Y.  Because Lazarus was sick (X).....the sisters sent for Jesus (Y).

That use of "So" makes perfect sense, demonstrating the sisters' faith in Jesus' power over illness.  Please come...

But Jesus didn't.  

In fact, after Jesus heard the message, Scripture includes a really odd phrase "Now Jesus loved Martha, her sister, and Lazarus" followed immediately by the words "So when He heard that he was sick, He stayed two more days in the place where He was" (Jn. 11:5-6).

In the Greek, it's the same word found in verse 3.  "So"--consequently.

Because Jesus loved Mary and Martha (and maybe even Lazarus?) (X)....he didn't go heal Lazarus (Y).

Imagine Mary and Martha waiting...expectantly waiting, turning with eager anticipation each time they heard footsteps in the dust outside the house.  Or perhaps their faith was even greater and they waited expectantly for Jesus to simply heal from afar as He had done earlier with the nobleman's son (Jn. 4:46-54).  Either way--the waiting for a miracle that just never happened must have been heartbreaking....Lazarus' death seeming to be such an unnecessary disappointment.

Honestly, someone having the power to help but choosing not come to my aid when I call to them for help--that just doesn't look like love to me. 

But that's what Scripture says: He loved; consequently, he waited.

Jesus explains His actions to the disciples by saying, " I’m glad for you that I wasn’t there so that you may believe" (Jn. 11:15).  In essence, Jesus was telling them that He loved them enough to allow pain and heartache in their lives, all so that their faith would be strengthened. 

When Jesus finally made it to the three-day-dead corpse of Lazarus, Mary and Martha both seemed to question His love, each woman repeating the same phrase, "Lord, if You had been here, my brother wouldn’t have died" (v. 21, 32).   

Even in their grief, though, they spoke faith in Jesus' ability.  That had not changed.  But Jesus loved them enough to desire to show them even more of Himself in order to increase that faith.

When Martha is disturbed at Jesus' request to open the tomb, Jesus says just this: "Didn’t I tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?" (v. 40). 

This act of love in showing His power over death did more than a simple act of healing could ever do.  What's more, it not only increased Mary and Martha's faith but increased others' faith as well.

Understanding God's love versus man's love requires us to stop and view things from God's point of view.
  • As painful as our sufferings may seem in our humanity, in God's economy, NOT healing a person can be an act of love. 
  • In God's economy, the sufferings of this life that seem to last an eternity are actually less than the blink of an eye in comparison to the true eternity. 
  • In God's economy, it's not just about me and my faith being increased.  It's also about those around me and their faith being increased as well.  
No matter what our emotions tell us, let us constantly look at our circumstances as proof of God's love for us, saying as Paul did, "Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day.For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory,while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal" (2 Cor. 4:16-18)

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Viewing the Law through a Child's Eyes

Ask my children the rules of the house, and they're likely to give you a list of negative "No's."  No running inside. No slamming doors.  No drinks outside the kitchen. No shoes left outside the cubby. No standing or jumping on the furniture.  No dirty clothes outside the hamper.  No wet towels left to mildew on the floor.

I've read the parenting books about not phrasing every request as a "no" to your children, and so I say "Use your walking feet!" instead of "No running!"  But honestly?  No matter how positively I spin the request, my children still just hear one word: "NO!"

And no matter how many times I try to explain how the house rules are for their good, all my trio sees are restrictions that limit their freedom and fun.

As a result, I'm often labelled the bad guy, the enforcer, the law-giver (insert little girl eye-roll).  But when I think of how I, too, have spent much of my life viewing God's laws as "negative," I realize my children and I aren't that different.

Listen to anyone say "the law" in reference to the Old Covenant, and it's usually in a tone that makes it sound more like a curse word than a blessing. Too often, Christians categorize the Old Covenant of "the law" as bad and the New Covenant of "grace" as good.

Law--bad.  Grace--good.  Old Covenant--bad.  New Covenant--good.

But it's not that simple.  While the Old Covenant founded on obedience to the Law of Moses could not save mankind from his sin, still, it wasn't intended to be a curse.  The law of the Old Covenant was given as a blessing.

What's more, our 21st century view is definitely not how those men and women under the Old Covenant viewed the law. 

Before his death, Moses told the Israelites, "And the Lord commanded us to do all these statutes, to fear the Lord our God, for our good always, that he might preserve us alive, as we are this day" (Deut. 6:24).

The law is shown here as "for our good always."

Even David said, "The law of the Lord is perfect, restoring the soul.  The testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple.  The precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; The commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes" (Ps. 19:7-8).

Does this sound like a man who considered the law to be a curse?  Absolutely not!  The Law of Moses was liberating, not enslaving!  No, it did not give man the capability to obey the law, as would the Holy Spirit of the New Covenant, and it did not lead to salvation but unto death.  But the law was a demonstration of God's grace and it did give man freedom by guiding him in knowing how to please God.


In John Walton and Andrew Hill's A Survey of the Old Testament, they write,

"We are used to drawing a sharp contrast between law and grace.  This would have puzzled the ancient Israelite for whom there was hardly any greater display of God's grace than that demonstrated in his giving of the law.  In the ancient Near East, gods were not known for their consistency.  Worshipers were left to guess what might please their god or displease him, and this could change from day to day.  That doubt and uncertainty led to constant confusion...The law changed all that for the Israelites.  Their God had chosen to reveal himself and to tell them plainly what he expected of them...in the Old Testament the Israelites are not heard complaining about the burdensomeness of the law.  It was a great example of God's love for them that he would communicate to them in this way.  They considered themselves fortunate to be able to know what God required of them.  The law was viewed as a delight rather than drudgery, as freedom of revelation rather than fetters of restriction" (p. 175)**

Imagine serving a god whose likes and dislikes changed like the seasons.  You would never know from one day to the next what would please him or call down his wrath upon you.  Instead of requiring His people to wonder, our God had mercy on His children and gave them the law to guide their steps--for their good always!

Even Paul said, "the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and just and good" (Rom. 7:12).   Again, to Timothy, Paul said, "the Law is good" because it directs a sinner's path away from sin and illuminates one's need for a Savior when one realizes obedience is impossible without the Holy Spirit's guidance. (1 Tim. 1:8).

God's lists of "do's and don't's" in Scripture aren't meant to rain on our parade.  Politically correct or not, His law is an act of grace, making it clear to us what pleases Him.  

Let us stop rolling our eyes and spitting out the term "law" like little children.  Instead, let us see the law with fresh eyes as a demonstration of God's divine love for us.





**Walton and Hill. A Survey of the Old Testament, 3rd Ed. as qtd. in Moore. The Law of Love: Lessons from the Pages of Deuteronomy. Living Proof Ministries, 2012: 27-28.


Monday, June 1, 2015

Spiritual Amnesia: A Silent Killer

I would probably be hiding flame-colored cheeks could I remember how many things I have actually forgotten over the past 24-hours, much less over the course of my entire life.  There has never been a time that I was good at remembering numbers or (since I teach so many students) people's names.  But almost seven years ago when squawling babes #2 and #3 took up residence down the hall, my ability to remember even the largest of things became next to impossible.

Ever since then, the art of forgetting is something I have worked hard to master, as is evidenced by the dozens of lists that litter my desk, walls, fridge, doors, and most every other horizontal surface in the house. 

To not forget, I must actively choose to remember.

Before Moses' death, he examined this problem of forgetting; yet, whereas we may think of forgetting as typically being a mere nuisance, Moses warned Israel that forgetting was deadly.

As Israel listened to Moses' final words, the nation was placed at a major turning point between its past and its future.  Literally, only a few steps and a stream of water lay between "what was" and "what would be."

Behind their backs was the sandy boneyard of the Wilderness where their forefathers had lived and died in their unbelief.  In front of them lay the Jordan River, just waiting for thousands of sandalled feet to cross and claim life in the Promised Land.

Before they could move into this land of promise, however, Moses reminded Israel "The whole commandment that I command you today you shall be careful to do, that you may live and multiply, and go in and possess the land that the Lord swore to give to your fathers" (Deut. 8:1). 

Israel's success or failure in this land depended wholly on whether or not they obeyed God's commandments.  It was all about loving the Lord with their entire heart, soul, and mind.

Yet, Moses knew God's people well enough to understand how fickle they were, how fast friends became enemies, how quickly joy became grumbling .  And so, he warned them: "And you shall remember the whole way that the Lord your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that he might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments or not. And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord. Your clothing did not wear out on you and your foot did not swell these forty years. Know then in your heart that, as a man disciplines his son, the Lord your God disciplines you. So you shall keep the commandments of the Lord your God by walking in his ways and by fearing him" (Deut. 8:2-6).

Remember.

Remember how God showed you the hard times to teach you that He alone provides all your needs.  Remember that He, alone, feeds, clothes, and sustains your very days.  Remember that apart from Him, you are nothing.  Because God...is...all, you must follow His commands.

A few verses later, Moses reminds the Israelites again,  "Take care lest you forget the Lord your God by not keeping his commandments and his rules and his statutes, which I command you today, lest, when you have eaten and are full and have built good houses and live in them, and when your herds and flocks multiply and your silver and gold is multiplied and all that you have is multiplied, then your heart be lifted up, and you forget the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery" (v. 11-14).

Twice....don't forget.

Moses warns in the verses above that the forgetting will be caused by one simple thing--pride in their self sufficiency.  With full bellies, comfortable houses, and wealth untold, Moses knew the Israelites would begin to rely on themselves...would begin to believe that they, not God, had provided this wealth by the hard work of their hands.   

In their proud minds, they tended the flocks.  They tended the soil.  They built the houses. They multiplied their silver and gold by the sweat of their brow....all the while forgetting Who provided the increase. 

Moses sums this knowledge up with another request to remember: "Beware lest you say in your heart, ‘My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth.’ You shall remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth, that he may confirm his covenant that he swore to your fathers, as it is this day" (v. 17-18).

You shall remember....forget....remember...forget--Moses foresaw this cycle of Israel forgetting to love the Lord thy God in their prideful self-sufficiency.  Then, when God would judge them by withdrawing His hand of protection and productivity from the land of promise, Israel would once again remember...only to forget again once they grew comfortable in their success.

Sadly, the end of the passage concludes not with a joyous remembering and unity, but with a forgetting unto separation and death.  Moses warns, "And if you forget the Lord your God and go after other gods and serve them and worship them, I solemnly warn you today that you shall surely perish. Like the nations that the Lord makes to perish before you, so shall you perish, because you would not obey the voice of the Lord your God" (v. 19-20).

For Israel, the end game of forgetting to obey the first commandment of God was certain, eternal death.  There was no middle ground where Israel could remember and forget at the same time.  It was either one or the other.

This side of the cross, there is still no middle ground.  We either remember to love the Lord with our everything or we forget to obey the first and greatest commandment. 

This side of the cross, the consequence for spiritual amnesia is still death.  While it may not be physical death that results from not obeying the commands of Scripture, there are equally damaging ways forgetting can kill.  

Forgetting the commandments to not commit adultery, to not lie, to not steal, to not murder (even if only in anger) can kill marriages, friendships, families, churches, teaching opportunities with our children, and one's witness.  Even something that may seem more innocent like forgetting the commandment to not covet can kill a person's joy, peace, and, ultimately, entire relationships when one is not content with what he has.

To be an effective light for Jesus in this world, we simply cannot afford to forget His commands, and yes, the forgetting and the remembering are something we especially must struggle with in our American (and, increasingly, world-wide) culture of self-sufficiency!  But, in the end, we can't blame our forgetting on our wealth, comfort, and prosperity. 

Remembering to obey God's Word as He spoke ever so clearly through The Holy Bible is a choice.

Remembering is a choice.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

One Really Bad Attitude

It was one of my favorite songs as a child, probably because of the upbeat tempo and choreography--little feet marching in place or trotting like a horse. Arms soaring up and down. All while my brother and I belted out the words: "I may never march in the infantry, ride in the Calvary, shoot the artillery. I may never fly o'er the enemy. But I'm in the Lord's army."

While many of my family members have served and are presently serving in our country's military, I have never been able to put that on my resume. American military service is a level of sacrifice I've never felt a calling or compulsion to give. Yet, when it comes to my service in Christ's army? Well, that's a different story.

Serving under a general, a king, or a God--they all require sacrifice. And yet, while the sacrifice may be compulsory rather than voluntary, one's attitude while fulfilling his duty is always of his choosing.

Consider the prophet Jonah. I've always found him interesting because for a prophet of the Lord, this sure seemed like a guy with so huge an attitude problem that God couldn't use him.

But use him God did. One day, He gave Jonah his commission: "Arise, go to Nineveh the great city and cry against it, for their wickedness has come up before Me" (Jon. 1:1).

Jonah received his orders. And he refused. What did he care about the souls of pagans who didn't bear the heritage of being known as God's chosen people?

A ship, a storm, a crew throwing him overboard into the depths of the sea, a few days in the belly of a great fish, and according to some scholars, perhaps even death--finally Jonah submitted to God's command: "But I will sacrifice to You With the voice of thanksgiving That which I have vowed I will pay. Salvation is from the LORD" (2:9)

When his orders came--unaltered--a second time, Jonah obeyed: "So Jonah arose and went to Nineveh according to the word of the LORD. Now Nineveh was an exceedingly great city, a three days' walk. Then Jonah began to go through the city one day's walk; and he cried out and said, "Yet forty days and Nineveh will be overthrown" (3:3-4).

Commentator Matthew Henry says, "By this it appears that God was perfectly reconciled to Jonah." He argues, "he did not retire into an inn, to refresh himself after his journey, but opened his commission immediately, according to his instructions."* But I don't buy it.

If he had a bad attitude concerning his service, Jonah wouldn't have stopped to rest or eat because he wanted to complete his commission as quickly as possible so he could get away from these non-Jewish people whose salvation he really didn't care about in the first place.

A piece of evidence to support this view may be found in verses three and four above. One interpretation of them is that in a city so large, it would take three days to walk around it and reach all the people with news of God's pending judgment. Instead, the prophet seems to make a beeline "one day's walk" through the center of the city. This way, he fulfills the letter of his commission, but not the spirit of it.

Another piece of evidence to support this view is Jonah's response when the people repent and God relents his judgment. Jonah's reaction speaks of a continued attitude problem: "But it greatly displeased Jonah and he became angry.He prayed to the LORD and said, 'Please LORD, was not this what I said while I was still in my own country? Therefore in order to forestall this I fled to Tarshish, for I knew that You are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, and one who relents concerning calamity. Therefore now, O LORD, please take my life from me, for death is better to me than life'"(4:1-3).

The book of Jonah ends with the prophet's last words speaking of his being "angry, even to death" (4:9). Instead of rejoicing that all the people in this vast city had another attempt to seek God for their salvation, Jonah is angry, so angry that he asks God to kill him.

This attitude doesn't sound like someone who is "perfectly reconciled" with God. Instead, it sounds like someone who completed his commission because he was compelled to do so, not because his heart was in it...and now he's angry about the outcome.

The sad thing? Jonah missed the blessing. He missed the joy of being part of something God was doing. He missed the joy of being a part of God's mercy. All because of his attitude.

As Christians, God may give us many commissions, some of which we won't really want to do but will feel compelled to do anyway. It's at those times that we have a choice. We can run from God. We can obey but with a wrong attitude. Or we can obey with our actions and heart.

Only with the last option can we truly receive all the blessings given us for being a part of God's work.

*Matthew Henry Commentary Online. http://www.ccel.org/ccel/henry/mhc4.Jonah.iv.html

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