Friday, April 26, 2013

The Most Important Question

We all have our favorites in the Bible. One of mine is Jeremiah. God called him to be a prophet when he was very young. Jeremiah doubted his competence, and God had to assure him that he would be with him every step of the way. Jeremiah was a special prophet who asked thought provoking questions and gave soul stirring inquiries to his people. He lived at a time when people were more influenced by their culture than by their God. One of the questions Jeremiah asked needs to be asked today. He began one of his sermons with a description of some of the terrible things that were going on.

The people had lost their willingness to stay committed in friendships, business arrangements, marriage, and in even in their relationship with God. Because they had forgotten God, it affected every other area of their lives. Jeremiah writes that “disaster overtook them” (Jer. 2:3).

What a disaster! When they forgot God, they lost his presence in their lives. They lost his protection and provision. They had no idea how bitter their way would become. When they lost their commitment to marriage, they lost the love and integrity of a committed spouse. They lost their ability to be forgiven and to forgive each other. They were hurt, and they hurt each other.  How did this happen? The prophet says it began because they stopped asking the most important question in life.

Jer 2:6 They did not ask, 'Where is the LORD, who brought us up out of Egypt and led us through the barren wilderness, through a land of deserts and rifts, a land of drought and darkness, a land where no one travels and no one lives?' 7 I brought you into a fertile land to eat its fruit and rich produce. But you came and defiled my land and made my inheritance detestable. 8 The priests did not ask,’ Where is the LORD?’ Those who deal with the law did not know me; the leaders rebelled against me. The prophets prophesied by Baal, following worthless idols.

Our worth and identity come from God. When we abandon him, we lose our value. We start looking to others to provide our value. We depend on others’ approval for our identity. Our ability to distinguish right from wrong comes from God. When we lose that, we look to the culture to tell us how to live. Political correctness is an example of that. Our ability to forgive others and show compassion comes from God. When we lose this, we become bitter and resentful.

Jeremiah says, “They did not ask, ‘Where is the Lord, who brought us up out of Egypt?’” In other words, they lost their spiritual roots. When you stop making God the very center of your life, you are headed for trouble. When you lose sight of what God did for you—you are traveling the wrong road. When you stop talking to God and stop running everything by him before you make your decisions, you are already chasing worthless idols. Let us begin each day by asking, “Where is the Lord in my family, my job, my church, and my life?”

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Heaven’s Horses

In his book The Great Divorce, C. S. Lewis writes about a young man who is plagued by a red lizard that sits on his shoulder. The lizard mocks the young man. Lewis, in his creative way, uses the lizard to represent the inner struggle that we all have with our sinful natures. Lewis tells of an angel who comes and offers to get rid of the lizard. The young man is excited beyond words at the idea until he realizes how much pain is involved in the process. Doesn’t that sound familiar? The angel declares that he will use a fire to kill the lizard. The young man is unwilling to endure the fire necessary to destroy the lizard. Consequently, the young man tries to negotiate with the angel, “Maybe it won’t be necessary to kill the lizard completely; maybe we can just wound him. Maybe another time would be better—a later date?” The angel says, “In this moment are all moments. Either you want the red lizard to live or you do not.” As soon as the lizard sees the reluctance of the young man, he reasons with him.[1]

Be careful. He can do what he says. He can kill me. One fatal word from you and he will. Then you’ll be without me forever and ever. It’s not natural. How could you live? You’ll only be a sort of a ghost, not a real man as you are now. He doesn’t understand. He’s only a cold, bloodless, abstract thing. It may be natural for him, but it’s not natural for us. I know there are no real pleasures, only dreams, but aren’t they better than nothing? I’ll be so good. I admit I’ve gone too far in the past, but I promise I won’t do it again. I’ll give you nothing but really nice dreams, all sweet and fresh and almost innocent.[2]

When you think about it, Lewis, in creating the narrative of this young man, was telling our stories. Here we see and hear our conversation with the red lizard as our conversation we have in our heads. It is so easy to rationalize, “Just this time. It’s not all that bad. I know that God will forgive me. I know where this is going. This feels too right to be wrong.” These are nothing more than words of compromise that forfeit our integrity. In Lewis’ story the young man finally surrenders, which is the key to God’s blessings in our lives.

Bryan Chapell writes:

The angel in C. S. Lewis’s story does grasp the lizard and with fiery hands begins to choke it so that it finally dies and falls to the ground. But when it hits the ground, it becomes a stallion, and the young man gets on it and rides. What had been the ruler is now ruled. What had been his master, he now masters. What had ridden him, he now rides. It’s C. S. Lewis’s great expression that when we actually kill the sin, the things that were so hard actually become good and freeing and wonderful to us. Secular surveys of the sexuality in our culture say that those with monogamous, faithful marriages claim greater sexual fulfillment than those who are promiscuous. How can that be? Because God is saying that to honor him is to actually find the greatest fulfillment, the greatest riches that we were made to find.[3]

[1] C. S. Lewis, The Great Divorce, New York, Harper One, 1973, p. 109
[2] C. S. Lewis, The Great Divorce, New York, Harper One, 1973, p. 110.
[3] Bryan Chapell, Killing the Red Lizard, Preaching Today, Issue 264, July 05.

Friday, April 5, 2013

A Cross-Handed Blessing

When Jacob appears in Genesis chapter 48, he is a man of faith. Here we have the last words of a man to his family. The writer to the Hebrews considered Jacob’s acts and words so sacred, he said this about him: “By faith Jacob, when he was dying, blessed each of Joseph's sons, and worshiped as he leaned on the top of his staff” (Hebrews 11:21). This act was considered worthy of including in the “Hall of Faith” chapter.

When Jacob blessed Joseph’s sons, a curious thing happened. Although Joseph had positioned his oldest son, Manasseh, in front of his father’s right hand and Ephraim in front of his father’s left hand, Jacob crossed his hands. He placed his left hand on the oldest and his right hand on the youngest. Joseph was speechless. Everything Joseph knew said the oldest should receive the greater blessing, so he protested to his father. Joseph said to him, "No, my father, this one is the firstborn; put your right hand on his head." But his father refused and said, "I know, my son, I know. He too will become a people, and he too will become great. Nevertheless, his younger brother will be greater than he, and his descendants will become a group of nations" (Genesis 48:18-19).

Though Joseph had a difficult time understanding how this could be, Jacob was unwavering. This was God’s doing. This blessing came from God, and he was delivering it as God indicated. Jacob had learned to trust God even when it didn’t make sense.

God’s grace is never captive to human demands, position or privilege. God’s grace is sovereign, and it operates on his principles. Such is the case that Cain’s offering is rejected and Able’s accepted, Jacob over Esau, and Ephraim over Manasseh.

How invigorating to serve the sovereign God of the universe. He answers to no one, especially not to us. Jacob learned this, and that is why it says that when he was dying, he blessed each of Joseph's sons, and worshiped as he leaned on the top of his staff (Heb. 11:21).

I love what Marcus Dods writes:

Again and again, for years together, we put forward some cherished desire to God’s right hand, and are displeased, like Joseph, that still the hand of greater blessing should pass to some other thing. Does God not know what is oldest with us, what has been longest at our hearts, and is dearest to us? Certainly he does: “I know it, My son, I know it,” He answers to all our expostulations. It is not because He does not understand or regard your predilections, your natural and excusable preferences that He sometimes refuses to gratify your whole desire, and pours upon you blessings of a kind somewhat different from those you most earnestly covet. He will give you the whole that Christ hasth merited; but for the application and distribution of that grace and blessing you must be content to trust Him.[1]

How many times do we complain to God that his blessings are not coming in the right order, and he still answers “I know my son, I know.” The key to experience grace the way Jacob did is to trust the way Jacob did.

[1] R. Kent Hughes, Genesis (Crossway Books, Westchester IL, 2004) p. 546.