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.

Archives: 05.30.2010

Monday, May 18, 2015

So, Your Promised Land Isn't What You Expected It To Be...?

"I want to be a grown up now," exclaims my eight-year-old son.

My knife doesn't even pause at this statement as I serve up three slabs of strawberry cake, drop clinking forks on the table, count cups a second time to make sure I didn't forget a child, and glance at the clock that warns of bedtime's rapid approach.

"No you don' the time you realize being an adult isn't all you thought it'd be, it's too late.  You're already there with all the responsibilities adults have."

Desiring adulthood is the curse of being young.  How many times did I think the same thing growing up?

No matter how good I had it, I was always looking forward to when I would be an when I could make my own choices, all the while never realizing what that freedom would cost.

Even now as an adult, I find myself focusing in on the promises of God, and when He grants me blessings innumerable or when He fulfills the desires of my heart--still, I'm looking for the next great thing.  And still, what I thought I wanted is not what I ever expected it to be.

In all honesty, even when I am plopped down in the dead center of God's will, that place is not at all what I imagined in my own mind.  What's's a whole lot more work than I expected.

My spiritual "Promised Land"--the place where God has placed me to "bear much fruit" is the exact opposite of my fleshly vision of ease, comfort, and pleasure (Jn. 15:8). 

In the Old Testament, I imagine the Israelites felt much the same way about their physical Promised Land.

In his final words, Moses tells the children of Israel what they can expect once they pass the Jordan and take up residence in the land promised Abraham and their forefathers:

"Therefore, you shall keep the commandments of the Lord your God, to walk in His ways and to fear Him. For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land, a land of brooks of water, of fountains and springs, flowing forth in valleys and hills; a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive oil and honey; a land where you will eat food without scarcity, in which you will not lack anything; a land whose stones are iron, and out of whose hills you can dig copper. When you have eaten and are satisfied, you shall bless the Lord your God for the good land which He has given you. Beware that you do not forget the Lord your God by not keeping His commandments and His ordinances and His statutes which I am commanding you today" (Deut. 8:6-11).

It is of utmost importance that Moses begins and ends this description of their Promised Land with a reference to obeying God.  In other words, if we desire our Promised Land to be everything it is supposed to be, our lives, our days, our minutes must start and end with "keeping His commandments and His ordinances and His statutes" (v. 11).

For argument's sake, let's say we are achieving that requirement and are walking daily with a heart devoted to keeping God's commands as Jesus summarized them in the New Testament--loving the Lord our God with our whole heart, soul, and mind and loving our neighbor as ourselves (Lk. 10:27).

Walking in that obedience, then, what does our Promised Land look like?  

Moses describes the physical land of promise as a land of complete and total fruitfulness, "a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive oil and honey" and all of these in such abundance that we will "not lack anything" (v. 7,8).  

As one author says, the use of seven different types of produce in this verse serves to symbolize the land's perfection--it is completely productive, completely fruitful.*

And yet, the next verses don't speak of a laid-back life among this glorious abundance.  Instead, it speaks of "a land whose stones are iron, and out of whose hills you can dig copper" (v. 9).  

The second image is clear--some of that "produce" is not on the surface ready for consumption but must be mined out of the ground.

The first image, though, may not immediately make sense to a non-farmer.  With my dad's family coming from Michigan, I know how detrimental stones are for farmers plowing the fields--hit a stone large enough, and you'll be buying a new plow tomorrow.  What's more, no matter how many times you remove those stones from your field, the earth's constant movement shoves more to the surface.  To work the land, the farmer must continuously clean his field of these stones, stacking huge piles of boulders at the edge of his field. 

Both images above depict hard, dirty work to constantly prepare the land to reach its fruitful potential and to mine out that potential.

Consider how this may speak to us today concerning our spiritual Promised Land in Jesus. Abundant life in Him is our Promised Land where we are commanded to bear much fruit.

With the Holy Spirit residing within, we are capable of being completely productive....completely fruitful.  But, just because we have the capacity for fruitfulness doesn't mean it's going to be easy.

We must work diligently with the Spirit's guidance wherever the Lord has placed us.  We must constantly mine the fruits of God's Word with much time and dedication. Yes, we must roll up our sleeves and get our hands dirty as we labor for the kingdom.

The good news is that through His Word and the Holy Spirit, God has given us everything we need to accomplish His will wherever He has placed us.  It's just up to us to do the work necessary so we can bear the fruit He intended when He first saved us.

*The Law of Love: Lessons from the Pages of Deuteronomy.  p. 21

Sunday, May 10, 2015

What is a Single Rain Drop's Worth?

Perhaps the most difficult part of life is the waiting.  Into our periods of living inevitably come those spaces  between when we see not even a hint of progress, either in our own lives or in the lives of those around us. 

Whatever the situation, it seems as barren as the winter, where we plant seed after seed, eternally watching and waiting for the first sprout.  Each day finds us swinging wide like a pendulum between greatest joy when we think we see signs of new life and deepest despair when those hopes are dashed in the light of the next dawn.

We want to rush every process, to do whatever it takes to ram our future into our yesterday.  But that's not how it works.

The past two weeks, we have looked into the Shema of Deuteronomy 6, first focusing on how we must love what we teach about the Lord in order for it to be effectively communicated to those around us and then focusing on how we must rest in the comfort that our teaching moments are empowered by the Holy Spirit instead of by our own feeble abilities.

This week fast forwards us to the last day of Moses' life when Scripture says he "spoke the words of this song until they were finished, in the ears of all the assembly of Israel" (Deut. 31:30).

After Moses had written down the entire law of the Lord, all Israel gathered 'round to hear his parting words.  Not surprisingly, they began with a message about faith, patience, and love.

Moses sang,  "Give ear, O heavens, and I will speak, and let the earth hear the words of my mouth. May my teaching drop as the rain, my speech distill as the dew, like gentle rain upon the tender grass, and like showers upon the herb.  For I will proclaim the name of the Lord; ascribe greatness to our God!" (Deut. 32:1-3).

In two short verses, Moses gives four different similes concerning rain to symbolize what the teaching of God's Word should look like.  The choice of water is intentional, since for the Israelites, water from heaven was the difference between life and death in the desert.  Without rain, even the deepest of wells and cisterns would run dry, and all would perish.

The message here is quite simple--the Word of the Lord is life giving for all whom it falls upon.

The way that life-giving water falls on individuals, however, is not always the same.

In the first instance--"drop as the rain"--the Hebrew word translated here as "drop" means "to drop, drip...trickle."*  The image here is of what my children call "a sprinkle," not even enough water falling from the skies to call it a "shower." 

In the second example, Moses compares his teaching to the "dew," the gentle mist that falls silently at night to coat everything like a damp quilt.

The third example is of "gentle rain."  The Hebrew word here meaning "raindrops, rain showers"* implies the drops are large enough and consistent enough to take notice so that we could actually call it a "shower"; yet, it is by no means a storm that will result in a great rain. In fact, the KJV refers to it as "small rain." 

The fourth example--"like showers"--in Hebrew is defined as "copious showers, heavy showers"*  The Gesenius' Hebrew-Chaldee Lexicon says this word indicates "showers, from the multitude of drops....plenty of water"**  This is a heavy rain.

The last example of a heavy rain is what we like to hear when we speak of sharing God's Word--we want His Word to be a flood, making such a big impression on those we're sharing with that their lives are instantly transformed in a huge way.  And, as Moses shows, that kind of eternal-life-giving transformation is possible.

But also notice that Moses only symbolizes teaching as a heavy rain after giving three examples of light showers and watery mist.  Somehow, I don't think that is a coincidence.  Instead, it seems he is communicating what we should anticipate in our routine sharing and teaching of God's Word....and how we should alter our expectations about "results" in light of this.

In three of the four above Hebrew words for "rain," the amount of water that falls is so insignificant that often, our listener may not even know he got wet!  And yet, that gentle rain or morning dew is so very important, as ever so slowly, it gives life.  Given time, it can accumulate drop by drop until our cup literally runneth over.

This should be an encouragement to those of us who may not get the chance to have a whole conversation with someone concerning the gospel.  Perhaps we only have the opportunity to share a sentence at a time.  Or perhaps, it's not even that much.  Maybe it's just an act of loving kindness done in Jesus' name for another. 

Mother.  Father.  Sister.  Friend.  Neighbor.  Co-worker.  Whoever it is that you're trying to teach about Jesus--don't give up.  Keep planting those seeds of the gospel with your very life.  Keep offering His life-giving water found in the Word, even if all you do today is coat them in the gentle morning dew of God's love shining through you.

We must be faithful to share His Word in sprinkles, dew, and light showers, trusting in God's perfect timing that one day, He will give someone--maybe even us!--the opportunity to speak the heavy rains upon their hearts and see them born into the kingdom.

Now that would be a flood worth celebrating.

* Strong's Concordance--Blue Letter

**Hebrew Word "rabiyb"“Give ear, O heavens, and let me speak;
And let the earth hear the words of my mouth.
“Let my teaching drop as the rain,
My speech distill as the dew,
As the droplets on the fresh grass
And as the showers on the herb.
“For I proclaim the name of the Lord;
Ascribe greatness to our God!"

Monday, May 4, 2015

Empowering Our Teaching Moments

By the time my children bounce down the hall and into their beds each night, I am in desperate need of a little down time--just husband, me, a sofa footrub, and maybe a burst of caffeine to get me through the next four hours until my own bedtime.  Sometimes, though, just as I turn to go down the stairs, my little ones will ask the question sure to tug at my heartstrings:

"Mommy....will you snuggle me?"

When my daughter uses those words, she truly wants to snuggle, to nestle into my arms and brush her face against mine.  Sometimes, we speak.  Sometimes, there is only silence apart from the sounds of our breathing.

The boys?  They just want to talk.

This night, I lie next to my oldest son, both of us high off the ground in the top bunk as he reads aloud the funniest pages of his most recent book.  The night before, I lay in the the cozy cavern of youngest son's bottom bunk while he regaled me with tales of his day. 

Every once in awhile, these snuggle sessions will turn into relaxed theology seminars, weighty questions about God all held in the non-threatening, soft glow of two AA batteries and an LED bulb.  Questions about God are easier to ask in the dark.

Last week in this space, we looked at the Shema in Deuteronomy 6 and how we must love what we teach our children.  Otherwise, our words will be wasted air if our daily actions don't demonstrate a deep and abiding love of the Lord.

This week, I'm still stuck in the Shema, feeling the weight, the burden of this burning command to teach the words of God every second of my entire life: 

"Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise" (Deut. 6:4-6).

What overwhelms me so much is the "where" and "how often" I must be teaching: when I (1) sit, (2) walk, (3) lie down, (4) rise.  Basically, that's my entire day in an action verb nutshell--sit, stand, walk, lie down, sleep.

Yet, there have been plenty of times within the past 24 hours when my love of God hasn't been easily evident or when I have simply wasted moments.  In all honesty, some days I wake to first remember how I blew it the day before.  

With this kind of command and its sense of all-consuming urgency, it is easy to feel defeated before I have a single interaction with my children. And that's where God draws everything back into focus by inserting Himself into my sitting, my lying down, and my rising up. 

The Psalmist writes:

"O Lord, you have searched me and known me!
You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
    you discern my thoughts from afar.
You search out my path and my lying down
    and are acquainted with all my ways.
Even before a word is on my tongue,
    behold, O Lord, you know it altogether" (Ps. 139:1-4).

God divinely chose the same action verbs used in Deuteronomy to show how much He knows about us.  Every time we think of speaking about the Lord to our children, every time we think of demonstrating our love for God--whether we are sitting, rising, or lying down, He is already thinking of us.

Even better, the apostle Paul reminds us that the Lord, Himself, is praying for us: "Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us" (Rom. 8:34).

This command for us to teach our children to love the Lord is only possible if we love Him with our whole hearts, souls, and minds.  But it is also only possible because He intercedes for us at the right hand of the Father.  Yes, you and I are constantly on Jesus' mind as He prays for us.

How comforting and empowering would it be if we remembered this truth and allowed it to changed our thinking?

How much could it change our thinking if we remembered that every teaching opportunity we are given to share with or demonstrate the Word and love of God to our children, we are going forth under the power of our Lord who not only knows what we're doing/thinking before we do but who has also already prayed for us to have victory in that specific instance?

Such knowledge that we have been prayed for, are being prayed for, and will be prayed for as we move throughout our daily tasks should empower our obedience and compel our hearts all the more to diligently teach our children about the Lord God.