Monday, October 26, 2009

Till The Fat Lady Sings

“Do I need to pull over?”

Numerous strategies raced through my head as I tried to quickly assess the level of horror one little girl had silently achieved in the back seat, all while strapped in by her five point harness. Within seconds, I determined there was no way I could undo the damage with only my two hands. A car wash might not even do the job.

“Uh….yeah. We’re going to have to.”

Last Tuesday, my parents and I loaded up all three kids and went to my sister-in-law’s swearing in where she officially became an attorney. My one-year-old twins accepted Cheerio bribes in exchange for keeping reasonably quiet during the hour and a half long ceremony of less than memorable speeches. Afterwards, all the children continued to be on their best behavior as we celebrated with a sit-down luncheon.

As we exited the restaurant and buckled three tired children into their seats, I breathed a sigh of relief that everything had gone so well. My dad steered the van towards home and the wondrous stillness of naptime. And then it happened.

Amelia pooed in her diaper. Not such a bad thing—and we were only 20 minutes from home. But when my back was turned, she obviously decided to undertake a diaper change by herself…so she pulled a big wad of poo out of her bloomers . And smeared it on her face, her hands, her legs, the car seat, and (somehow) even inside the locking button for the car seat.

My dad pulled off at the next gas station and idled at the edge of the parking lot. My mom held a squirming, naked Amelia midair as I proceeded to wipe her down…all while trying to swat away swamp mosquitoes that were large enough to straddle a quarter. By the time Amelia and her car seat were cleaned enough to travel the rest of the way home, Emerson had five mosquito bites on his face.

In just a few short minutes, my memory of this day was permanently marked not by my children’s many well-behaved, uneventful hours, but by the disgusting horror that struck at the end.

As I was reading through Scripture this week, I saw this same pattern apply to several of Israel’s kings. I would be reading good historical “memories” of a particular king and then my jaw would drop when, at the end of his life, he would suddenly just lose it, turn against God, and commit such disobedient acts that this is how he would be remembered—for what he did last in life, not for the good he did for many years throughout his life.

For example, Uzziah was placed on Judah’s throne at age 16 and reigned for fifty-two years! During his reign, he “sought the Lord” (2 Chron. 26:5). With God’s help, he defeated the Philistines and several other nations. He fortified Jerusalem. He even commanded a standing army of over 300,000 warriors.

But with his strength and good reputation spreading far and wide, he became prideful and turned from his obedience to God’s law: “But when he became strong, his heart was so proud that he acted corruptly, and he was unfaithful to the LORD his God, for he entered the temple of the LORD to burn incense on the altar of incense” (v. 16).

The priests called him on his sin. But did he repent? No. He became “enraged” that the priests would dare question a king’s action. And instantly, leprosy broke out on Uzziah’s forehead.

Sadly, Scripture doesn’t show him repenting of his sin. Instead, it shows a lonely ending to a life that had been otherwise focused on obeying God: “King Uzziah was a leper to the day of his death; and he lived in a separate house, being a leper, for he was cut off from the house of the LORD. And Jotham his son was over the king's house judging the people of the land” (v. 21).

How was he remembered? For what he did last. As the king whom God struck with leprosy because of disobedience and disrespect for the house of God.

This same pattern occurs earlier with a more well-known king—Solomon. While he is remembered for his God-given wisdom and for building God’s holy temple, he also sticks out in my mind for how he ended his 40-year reign of Israel: “when Solomon was old, his wives turned his heart away after other gods; and his heart was not wholly devoted to the LORD his God, as the heart of David his father had been” (1 Kin. 11:4).

This King who had seen God twice, who had been given the privilege of seeing God’s Shekinah glory fall from heaven and reside in the temple…this same king spent the end of his life building high places for his wives where he could worship with them the “detestable idols” of the Moabites, Ammonites, and the Sidonians (v. 7).

How sad. To live a long life dedicated to the Lord only to have that witness marred by scandal and by disobedience to God. To leave a legacy that no longer solely glorifies God.

And what’s more, how terrifying. To think of how easy it is to let down your guard, to loosen your standards when you’re close to the finish line of life or any other task. How easy it would be for me or you to end like King Solomon or Uzziah.

I don’t want this to be the way I end my story.

Let us live in constant awareness of how easy it is to let pride and the cares of this world draw us from the truth and obedience to God. Let us keep our eyes on Jesus, “the author and perfecter of our faith” (Heb. 12:2a). Let us end well so that we can say, like Paul, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith” (2 Tim. 4:7).

Sunday, October 18, 2009

A Different Kind of House

Over the past five years, I’ve had the same dream. I’m in my new house—sometimes in the living room, other times in the kitchen or descending the stairs. I am happy as I hear my children run from room to room. I thrill in the closet space and extra room. I am comfortable because this house is sealed tight.

But too many times to count, I have awakened to the reality of a 40 degree room where I breathe in the cold air and shiver under the electric blanket as I snuggle closer to my husband.

I am one of many who dream of owning a home.

In 2004, 69% of Americans owned a piece of that dream. Then came what some have called an “epidemic of foreclosures” such that by the second quarter of 2009, home ownership had fallen to 67.4%. As one journalist said, “That may seem a slight difference, but every percentage point equals roughly 1 million people.”

Approximately 1 ½ million people thought they had achieved this part of the American dream only to discover it was still beyond their reach. Disappointment didn’t begin to describe their feelings. One study by the University of Pennsylvania concluded that “nearly half” of homeowners undergoing foreclosure “reported depressive symptoms, and 37 percent met screening criteria for major depression.”

Would it help to know that God could build them a house that would last well beyond their death?

In 2 Samuel, David wanted to build a house…not one for himself, but one for God. The temple. And God said no.

But then, God turned the issue around as only God can do: “The LORD also declares to you that the LORD will make a house for you. When your days are complete and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your descendant after you, who will come forth from you, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for My name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever…. Your house and your kingdom shall endure before Me forever; your throne shall be established forever” (7:11-13,16).

God said He would build a house for David! But this wasn’t a physical house of wooden beams, stone, or bricks and mortar. This was a house of people—sons, daughters, grandsons. This was a kingdom, a lineage…one that would lead directly to Jesus and His eternal throne.

David understood what God meant, and he was humbled: “Who am I, O Lord GOD, and what is my house, that You have brought me this far? And yet this was insignificant in Your eyes, O Lord GOD, for You have spoken also of the house of Your servant concerning the distant future” (v. 18-19).

And when David accepted God’s blessing, He did so not for his own personal glory but for God’s: “do as You have spoken, that Your name may be magnified forever” (25b-26a).

Take in the magnitude of what one man’s obedient heart for God did in transforming his entire family line.

This is the kind of “house” I want God to build for me—through my children, my children’s children, and for all generations born until Jesus comes again. I want my relationship with God to be so incredibly all-consuming that my whole house is transformed beyond what is humanly possible and that God alone will be glorified.

No, God has not promised me, like David, a house enthroned forever, but He has promised me life everlasting with the one who sits upon that eternal throne. And He has promised I can have an impact on future generations of my family: “I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, on the third and the fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing lovingkindness to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments” (Ex. 20:5-6)

Deuteronomy 7:9 repeats this promise to “A thousandth generation” for those who love the Lord with all their heart.

When I understand the word “house” in God’s economy, that physical house I desire so much just seems like such a small dream in comparison to this God-sized dream of a house that has the power to cross time down through the generations of my family that I will not live to see.

Five years ago while my husband and I were driving through the mountains of Arkansas to meet with a builder about our physical house, God was meeting with me in the quiet places of my heart, showing me how He desired to rebuild my heart so that it would desire Him more than anything.

As I poured over house plans to ensure everything was perfect, God was pouring His Spirit over me and demolishing strongholds in my life so He could craft me into the perfect image of His son, Jesus.

And as I sadly tucked away the tube of rolled-up house plans, hidden on a top shelf, God was busy hiding His Word in my heart and showing me what true joy is.

Through my obedience, God has already started building a house of lovingkindness for my family and for His glory alone. Whether we take the time to consider it or not, we’re all building houses for future generations of our family—houses of God’s iniquity or houses of God’s lovingkindness.Which house are you building?

Sunday, October 11, 2009

I Blew It...Again!

Screwed up lately? Done something in your past that you still grieve over? Think you’ve committed a sin so horrific that God can never use you again?

Then you haven’t heard about David. Or maybe you have but you don’t think his story can be yours, too.

David was God’s chosen man, shepherd, anointed King of all Israel, champion warrior over his country’s enemies, and even referred to by God as “a man after My own heart” (Acts 13:22).

And yet David screwed up….big time.

One evening, while wandering around the roof of his house, David saw a beautiful woman bathing on another roof. Instead of popping his eyeballs back in their sockets and fulfilling his desire with one of his many wives or concubines, he “sent and inquired about the woman. And one said, ‘Is this not Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam, the wife of Uriah the Hittite?'” (2 Sam. 11:3).

While Bathsheba’s lineage might not mean much to you, this anonymous “one” person brought up her dad and husband’s names for a reason. Her genealogy should have acted as a flashing STOP sign to David.

Bathsheba’s father Eliam was the son of a man named Ahithopel, a man who just so happened to be “David’s counselor” (2 Sam. 23:34, 2 Sam. 15:12). Scripture also says that Bathsheba’s husband, Uriah, was one of David’s “mighty men” (1 Chron. 11:26, 41).

So, David was looking to commit adultery with the granddaughter of one of his most trusted counselors and the wife of one of his most valiant warriors.

To me, this seems like a no-brainer.

But David didn’t even stop and think about his intended actions. In the rapid-fire of events found in the very next verse, “David sent messengers and took her, and when she came to him, he lay with her” (2 Sam. 11:4).

But it gets worse.

News soon came that Bathsheba was pregnant from this one-night stand, and with her husband off to war, she couldn’t very well claim he was the father. David was in a pickle. How could he get out of this mess?

David’s answer? Call Uriah home from the battlefront. Send him home to his wife. Surely, Uriah’s desire for Bathsheba would overcome him so that later when he received news of his wife’s pregnancy, he would believe the child to be his own.

But Uriah lived up to his calling as one of David’s “mighty men.” He told David, “the servants of my lord are camping in the open field. Shall I then go to my house to eat and to drink and to drink and to lie with my wife?” (2 Sam. 11:11).

David tried again, this time making Uriah drunk, but still, Uriah refused to go in to his wife.

David should have come clean about his sin. But he didn’t. Instead, he sent Uriah back to the war with a letter addressed to the head commander…a letter instructing that commander to “Place Uriah in the front line of the fiercest battle and withdraw from him, so that he may be struck down and die” (v. 15).

Adulterer. Now murderer. And God was through with him, right?


The story doesn’t end there.

Psalm 51 records that David repented of his sin. He begged God’s forgiveness. And God granted it.

Yes, David still was punished for his sin: God took his son with Bathsheba. And the fourfold consequences of that sin (prophesied in 2 Samuel 12) played out in David’s family for the rest of his days—the rape of one daughter, one son killing another, a son sleeping with David’s concubines on his own roof in his attempt to usurp the throne.

But even though David had to pay the price for his sin, God wasn’t finished with him yet. God continued to use David’s repentant heart for His glory. He gave David and Bathsheba another son, Solomon. And what’s even more amazing, after his sin, God used David to collect all the gold, bronze, silver, timber, and stone; line up all the skilled workmen; and have prepared all the utensils of service needed to construct His holy temple in Jerusalem. The rest of his life was spent preparing the way for his son to build God’s earthly residence.

Still not convinced? Read Matthew 1. David and Bathsheba were part of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ’s lineage.

This can be your story, too.

It doesn’t matter what the sin is. As long as you have repented of and turned away from that sin, God can still use you. And what’s more, He wants to use you…if He didn’t have a future plan to glorify Himself through your life, your heart wouldn’t still be beating.

Your life is not over yet. Some wondrous work for the kingdom awaits.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

The Nose Knows

One of my best friends and I recently planned a visit. For weeks, workmen had been working on the road just a few feet beyond her front door, and she needed to escape the noise and putrid smells of asphalt that had been permeating her house. Since I knew she was coming, I decided it would be nice for her to enter a house that smelled wonderfully of fall. And since I needed to bake bread for an ill man from our church anyway, Wyatt and I began mixing everything together.

Cinnamon. Cloves. Ginger. A trinity of spices sure to waft a sweet-smelling aroma throughout every room. But rushed by the noise of unhappy twins crying, I mistakenly overfilled the pans. As the heat caused the loaves to rise, the batter overflowed the sides, dripping into the bottom of the oven. And for the duration of my friend’s visit, my house was filled with the stench of burning bread…probably no better than the asphalt she had left behind.

God crafted our noses to be sensitive to smell. We all delight in some smells and curl up our noses in disgust at others. Some smells are so powerful that they connect us to long-forgotten memories lodged deep in our mind.

Scripture tells us that God has a well-developed sense of smell, too. To His nose, each person emits an aroma that reaches all the way up into heaven.

The question is, what do we smell like? Is it a stench in his nostrils or a pleasing aroma?

In the Old Testament, God ordained sacrifices as a way of atonement for the Israelites’ sin. The scent of these burnt offerings was a pleasing aroma to God.

But the sacrifice itself as an act of worship wasn’t what smelled so good. It was the heart behind the sacrifice.

A humble heart repentant over sin and obedient to God caused the sacrifice to emit a pleasing aroma. But, a rebellious heart not repentant over sin was an offensive stench in God’s nostrils. The prophet Isaiah said to Israel:

’What are your multiplied sacrifices to Me?’ Says the LORD. ‘I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams And the fat of fed cattle; And I take no pleasure in the blood of bulls, lambs or goats.…Bring your worthless offerings no longer …. So when you spread out your hands in prayer, I will hide My eyes from you; Yes, even though you multiply prayers, I will not listen. Your hands are covered with blood. Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean; Remove the evil of your deeds from My sight. Cease to do evil, Learn to do good; Seek justice, Reprove the ruthless, Defend the orphan, Plead for the widow’” (Isaiah 1:11, 13a, 15-17).

Later, God used even stronger words about the sacrifices of those with unrepentant hearts: “These people gag me. I can't stand their stench” and “Your burnt offerings are not acceptable And your sacrifices are not pleasing to Me” (Is. 65:5, The Message; Jer. 6:20).

In essence, an unsaved person reeks of his or her sin, permeating God’s nostrils with a stench as no garbage dump can equal. If a person’s heart does not belong to God, his/her acts of worship or good works are not acceptable, not pleasing, and are, instead, a stench.

Two thousand years ago, though, Jesus came to earth and offered His body as a living sacrifice to God. Paul tells us: “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children; and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma” (Eph. 5:1-2).

Christ’s perfect heart and perfect sacrifice offered the most pleasing, fragrant aroma to God the Father. When we accept Jesus as our Lord and Savior, we cover our repentant hearts with the blood of the only pure and spotless Lamb of Jesus. And at that moment, the stench of our sin is covered with the fragrant aroma of Jesus’ blood. We then smell pleasing to our Father in Heaven.

What’s interesting is that others can smell the blood of Christ on us, too, as we share the gospel: “But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ and through us spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of him. For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. To the one we are the smell of death; to the other, the fragrance of life” (2 Cor. 2:14-16, NIV).

One way or another, God can smell us. The only question is, does He smell your sin or does He smell the blood of Jesus?