Dangerous Calling

Ezekiel 2-3

I don’t have much understanding of prophets.  They are far too mystical for me to understand.  Most of the time, I think of crystal balls, tarot cards and Ouija boards.  In our culture, these things are shrouded in secrecy and darkness.  There are at least two reasons I do not go near them or the people that interpret them. The first is skepticism.  What makes them so important that they can see the future?  If I could get over my skepticism, I would be confronted with fear.  You see, when our future is predicted, our sense of control disappears.  We must endure the future without choices.  I have to consider the pain and suffering that will come along with it.  It’s hopeless.  I want nothing to do with it!

My definition of prophets helps me.  Wait a minute. Maybe that’s not the right way to say it.  My perspective of prophets might be preventing me from fully realizing my calling as a Christ-follower.  How does that work?  Read through God’s calling in Ezekiel 2:3.  It reads, “And he said to me, ‘Son of man, I send you to the people of Israel, to nations of rebels, who have rebelled against me. They and their fathers have transgressed against me to this very day.”  God wants Ezekiel to rebuke them.  Now, imagine that God said that to you.  I’m guessing that your response is similar to mine.  “No, way!”  Why not?  Because my reputation, my friendships and my very life are at stake.  What will people think of me when they hear me talking like that?  Guess what?  It doesn’t matter.  God continues with Ezekiel saying, “whether they hear or refuse to hear” Ezekiel 3:11 (ESV).  These words are important to us because I believe that God may be calling us to be prophets.

No, God may not endow us with powers like Elijah or the ability to determine future events.  We need to think about prophets differently.  I would like to share something I learned from A.W. Tozer.  He helps me fix my picture of prophets and how we fit in.  In his book Tozer on Christian Leadership,  he describes today’s prophet as someone who interprets the present.  This calling requires discernment to understand current events and the ability to translate God’s position on them.  Unfortunately, I think most Christians cut ourselves short.  God may be wanting to bestow this gift of prophecy on us, but our refusal to surrender to Him inhibits the spirit from working.  What would it look like if we fully sought him and surrendered?   Maybe, you are like me, worried that He might call you to be something more.

It’s time to retire my old definition of prophet and replace it with God’s truth. Jesus Christ does not remove control from me.  He restores control to me.  Because of Jesus’ sacrifice, my future is secure. Abundance, peace and love are mine.  Forever and always.  If you believe that, it is worth considering what a prophet looks like.  I’m sure that we have been given the command, just as Ezekiel was given the command.

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”  Matthew 28:19-20 (ESV)

 

Never Let Them See You Sweat

Never let them see you sweat.  That line was made popular by the Gillette company.  They promoted a line of antiperspirants that would ensure you wouldn’t get caught sweating.  If you are a leader, you’ve probably thought about this too.  It’s important to project strength and confidence.  After-all, nobody wants to follow a weak or timid leader. Even worse, we definitely don’t want a a leader that fakes confidence.  Today in 2 Chronicles 32, we get a good look at courageous leadership.

There is nothing in this chapter that reveals leadership weakness in Hezekiah.  He consults trusted advisors, they set up a plan, organize a huge work crew and take action.  Hezekiah reminds the that God is on their side encouraging them to be strong and courageous. It’s amazing to me.  How can Hezekiah be so unflappable?  Was he just faking it?  Did he have sleepless nights worried that he was doing the right thing?  The answer is no.  He did not.  His confidence was real.

The secret to Hezekiah’s courage is probably obvious to you.  It’s God.  In fact, Hezekiah was quick to remind the people that their strength comes from God and God alone (v8).  The result?  Hezekiah gained the trust and confidence of the people.  They remained steadfast even throughout the verbal onslaught and lies spewing from King Sennacherib.  They remained faithful. Hezekiah, was not done.  He had one last act of courageous leadership.  He prayed.  I don’t think that this prayer was birthed from desperation or worry.  No, it was from disgust and insult.  Sennacherib had gone too far, making a mockery of God.  Hezekiah’s prayer, therefore was a call to action.  He was seeking God’s wisdom and guidance to fight; an act of courage, not fear.

As I read through this account of Hezekiah, he exemplifies the kind of leader I want to be.  He lets God lead every step of the way.  He puts his faith and confidence first in God.  In return, God provides him a platform of peace and wisdom from which to lead.  That is why Hezekiah doesn’t sweat.  And, God is why Hezekiah prevails.

 

Then and Now

There is conversation among Christians that says the Old Testament is irrelevant.  They say that because Jesus came along and changed everything.  Therefore, the old is no longer needed, the New Testament rules over all.  While there may seem true, it is not true.  We serve the same God.  In fact, today, as we read 2 Kings 5, I think you will see what I see.  It comes through the story of Naaman.

Naaman, as you have read, had leprosy.  He wanted to be well.  To live a normal life, to be productive and to do the things he was born to do.  At the advice of young Israelite girl, Naaman set off for the land of Israel.  It was in Israel, according to she, that there was a prophet who could heal him.  Naaman departed for Israel with a pack of riches on his back.  It included silver, gold and clothing.  He hoped to trade these things for his healing.  Yes, the price was great, but having his life back would be worth it.  His health, after-all, would return to him his purpose.  He would have a life worth living.

Naaman did, in fact, meet the prophet.  His name was Elisha.  But, the healing didn’t go the way that Naaman expected.  Naaman felt disrespected and dishonored.  He protested that there was an easier and better way.  Thankfully, Naaman surrounded himself with wise men.  They were instrumental in convincing him that his pride was going to ruin everything.  Naaman, surrendered to Elijah’s instruction and washed in the Jordan river.  Naaman was healed.

Upon his restoration, Naaman returned to Elijah.  He wanted to thank him.  He also wanted to pay him.  Neither of these were out of obligation or responsibility, but from gratitude.  Elijah refused.  He would not accept payment for Naaman’s new life.  Instead, he simply wished him well.  “Go in peace,” he says.  Effectively, Elijah was saying go and lead a whole life, be who you were created to be.  From now on, praise and worship the almighty God.  Your gratitude is for Him.  That’s exactly what Naaman set out to do.

As I read through this story, I am humbled that there was no cost for Naaman’s healing. Well, there was no monetary cost.  The cost was only in his character.  The cost was only in what he would give up of himself.  Namely, pride.  It was in his surrender.  From it, he gained the life he longed for.

My friends, if you don’t see Jesus Christ in this story, you don’t know Jesus.  We are promised the same things.  Through Jesus, we have Healing, new life, restoration and fullness.  And, just like Naaman, there is no cost. Well, the cost is exactly what we will give up of ourselves.  Once we do that, there is no cost, only gain.  Redemption has already been paid by Jesus.  With our new lives, there is only one thing left to do.  Praise and worship.  Just like Naaman.

Magic Words

2 Samuel 12

I was reflecting on the life of David, finding myself amazed at how quickly he changed.  He went from pursuing God’s will, to fulfilling his own desires in an instant.  He changed from doing good and conquering giants to adultery.  Nothing would stop him from satisfying his desire.  Not even murder.  This story is shocking, and it has me asking how a man can go from holding God up high to utter disregard of him?  The truth is, we are all capable of and susceptible to such action.  Thankfully, God is a protector and he is on our side, no matter what. 

Have you ever found yourself on the wrong side of God?  David did.  As Holly-Rae wisely pointed out to us on Saturday, David’s actions “broke God’s heart.”  I love that she described it that way.  Most of the time, I think in terms of black and white.  I think good and love, or sin and punishment.  I put similar polarizing actions on God.  I assume that he loves me or hates me.  In fact, too often, I assume that my actions determine the way he feels about me.  They result in either promotion or punishment.  That’s not true.  God loves me, and you, through all of it.  His continued love, and our continued disobedience causes him grief.

This is an important distinction.  Since God is only love, he cannot hate.  Our failures, no matter how bad, are redeemable.  We see it in David.  What happens after he engaged in the worst of the worst sins?  God reached out.  That’s right.  He needed David to know of his hurt.  He sought to relieve his grief.

God could haven convicted David of his sin through quiet time, or personal study.   Who knows, maybe he tried that first.  In this case, God spoke through David’s best friend, Nathan.  Whatever method God chooses to get our attention, a response is required. In this case, David responded with confession.

“I have sinned against the Lord.” And Nathan said to David, “The Lord also has put away your sin; you shall not die.”

I breathe a huge sigh of relief as soon as i read it. With that simple confession, God restores peace to David. Why? Because God is no longer grieving. I imagine God rejoicing in that moment and that joy translates to David directly.

I am thankful, today, for the same opportunity. I am grateful that God loves me, no matter what. I am humbled that he will take me back, no matter what.

Ruth

I’ve heard the story of Ruth many times.  The commentary given along side the story usually describes her as a loyal and committed friend.  Yes, those are good traits, but they don’t fully explain her motivation.  After reading Ruth 1 today, I am wondering again, why did Ruth stay with Naomi?  Even Naomi saw that Ruth’s life could be more full if she stayed in Moab. After-all, Naomi would not be having any more kids, nor will she marry again.  These would severely limit Ruth’s opportunities.  But, something in Ruth told her otherwise. She saw something that was bigger than being married and having kids. She saw something better than mere loyalty. She saw God. Ruth knew that God was with Naomi. She also knew that God was not found in Moab.  The only logical conclusion for Ruth was to choose God, which meant staying with Naomi.

Ruth is not the only person in the Bible that chose God over other, seemingly bigger, opportunities.  Consider for a moment Jesus’ conversation with his disciples in John 6:66-69.  After being deserted by many disciples, Jesus turns to the twelve and asks, “Do you want to go away as well?.”  The response that Peter gave reminds me of Ruth.  Peter responded to Jesus saying, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.”  Do you hear it?  Peter knows that the biggest and best opportunity available to him is to be near Jesus.  Nothing will distract him from it.  Isn’t Ruth’s response the same?  She knows that husbands and children are second to God.  She, like Peter, chooses God first.  The rest, will follow (Matthew 6:33).

If you choose to keep reading through the book of Ruth, you are going to see that she made the right choice. God honored her choice. What are you choosing today? Just like Ruth, God is the bigger and better opportunity for us. Find a place that God is working and follow him there.

The Ten Commandments

Exodus 20

Like many Bible stories, the 10 commandments have become something we don’t think much about.  Maybe we have just heard them too many times, or maybe we think we have them mastered.  Some even argue that the 10 Commandments are no longer relevant.  I found my answer as I read through them, preparing for today’s post.  They are indeed relevant. They are each necessary and, in fact, while they all work together. As I studied, one that stood out to me more than the others.  There is one, that if we sincerely focus on it, will make all the others easier.  Unfortunately, it is the hardest one for me to keep.  It is found in verse 8 and is seemingly simple.  It reads, “remember to keep the Sabbath, and keep it holy.”

What is the Sabbath?  It’s a day of rest.  We’ve all been taught that.   That’s the easy part.   I mean, we are all in for a day of rest.  Who doesn’t want a vacation; a break from all their troubles?  Of course, there is more to a Sabbath.  We are also commanded to “keep it holy.”  Merriam-Webster describes holy as “devoted entirely to God.”  That makes things a little tougher, doesn’t it?    You see, a Sabbath isn’t about sleeping all day, or escaping reality through the television, or laying by the pool.  Neither is it about being refreshed and “gathering strength to continue the ongoing competition of life.”  Those are not bad things, but they may not be a Sabbath.  Those things are about me.  A Sabbath is about God.

When we Sabbath, we are asked first and foremost to spend time with God.  Yes, prayer and scripture reading are part of that.  During this time, He will reveal himself to us.  This revelation establishes God as the deity and reminds us of his sovereignty.  This will produce worship.  Unfortunately, most of us will not get there.  We will fail to experience God the way he commanded us to.  Why not?  A simple answer is, fear.  Specifically, we are afraid of being alone with God.

Two amazing authors document this fear.  First, Henry Nouwen explains that “to truly Sabbath, we must also be silent, and silence, he says, provokes anxiety.  Ruth Haley Barton Corroborates this.  She refers to silence and solitude as a ‘fearsome’ place.  They know and have experienced it, first hand.  Of course, our fears are unfounded. In fact, until we finally confront this place of transparency and vulnerability with God, we may always consider ourselves for God, but we will never be with God.

Nouwen, Henri, The Way Of The Heart. HarperOne. 1981

Ruth Haley Barton;R. Ruth Barton;Dallas Willard. Invitation to Solitude and Silence: Experiencing God’s Transforming Presence (The Transforming Center Set) (Kindle Location 398). Kindle Edition.

This Gets A Little Messy

Genesis 8

On Saturday, Holly-Rae wrote about Noah’s Ark from Genesis 7.  She mentioned that many people believe it to be a metaphor and I was reminded that the reason someone built a replica in Kentucky is to help us understand that these stories are real.  I will admit that when I read the story, I have the same thoughts.  In fact, it’s easier to read Bible stories as metaphors, in order to  pull every ounce of wisdom from them. For example, in today’s reading, I might review the powerful imagery of ravens, doves and olive branches (Genesis 8:6-11).  I’ll reflect on them and consider how they relate to my life today.  I might even work up a strategy or two so that will allow me to be more intentional with my life.  Most of the time I stop right there.  I take the wisdom and don’t even consider, let alone contemplate, the bigger picture.  It’s easier that way.  Truth is, stopping there debases God and the Bible.   In fact, it reduces my relationship with God to a self-help guru or a life coach.  Sure, I will walk away with big thoughts about Noah’s faith and maybe even his leadership capacity.  Those are good things.  But, those are not the purpose of the stories in the Bible.  When I read it right, God reveals to me who he really is.  To get there, I have to get messy.

Getting messy means that I have to ponder what kind of being, what kind of God, has the ability to do all those things.  In fact, how can that actually be?  I have to poke at my own understanding to determine why this God would do all those things.  I have to wrestle with what is good or bad about it. Even what I like and don’t like.  I have to discover that these are things that God wants to reveal to me about himself but I have to seek them out (Luke 11:9).  In my seeking, I would discover that God is far bigger than a piddly little flood.  This was nothing for him.  I would discover that the answers I find create even bigger questions about who he is and what that means for who I am.  He would reveal to me his righteousness and holiness along side his justice and his mercy.  In fact, I would encounter the mystery of God and begin to realize that there is no way I can really experience him in this lifetime (1 Corinthians 2:7).  In many ways, I would begin to feel like a foreigner here on this earth and understand that I was created for far more than this life.  My heart would start to sing “holy, holy, holy is the Lord God almighty” day and night, without ceasing (Revelation 4:8).

Or not.   I could just go with the metaphor theory.  Besides, I have a lot to do today.

Close Encounters

Now that we have passed Christmas, our thoughts turn toward the new year.  As always, I make a list of things that I want to accomplish in the next year.  “2019 will be different,” I say.  This is the year, that everything will come together.  This year, I will fulfill my life’s calling. But, it doesn’t really work that way.  At least, it hasn’t happened yet in my 48 years.  You see, if I am going to achieve bigger things, if my efforts are going to yield different results than last year, I will have to make some adjustments.  I am learning that my life is built exactly the way that I have built it.  Which creates in me all kinds of questions.  Primary among them is “Lord, how would you have built my life?”

Of course, that is the most dangerous of all questions because it convicts me. I have not yet become who God created me to be.  How do I know?  Because I have not yet learned to be reliant.  In fact, nearly everything I attempted in 2018 was designed to become independent, powerful and full.  This is not the Jesus way.  Jesus chose to remain hungry when presented with food in the desert, while I looked for more food and complained when I didn’t get it.  Jesus chose to remain poor rather than accept all the kingdoms of the world and their glory.  But, I turned to bitterness and resentment when my kingdom didn’t grow. 

There is hope.  In fact, we get to celebrate a new year in just a few days.  New years are a wonder ful thing.  They are a new beginning, a new creation.  “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.  The old has passed away and the new has come.” (2 Corinthians 5:17-18).  This is it.  Right now, today, is our opportunity to be that new creation.  It is given us, all we have to do is acknowledge it.

As I write the words on this page, the voices in my head get louder.  They ask, “how in the world will you ever do that?” “How can you possibility be that strong?”  “After all these years, do you really think that you can just shut it down and be who you were created to be?”  The honest answer to all of those questions is “No.  I cannot.”  It is this realization, this understanding that gets me closest to who I was created to be.  At the end of my rope, with no hope left and no resources to call upon, I get to encounter Christ.  I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (Galatians 2:20).  So, if you want to know what my real goal is for 2019, I will tell you.  I will intentionally seek a true encounter with him.  Everyday.

How Do You Read The Bible?

Fiction and myth

The Bible is full of entertaining stories about people and the choices they make.  No other book can rival its imagination and creativity of its authors.  Better yet,Biblical stories bring us moralistic meaning. Like fables.  As we read, we are able to extract enlightening force from them’ awakening our souls.

Historical account

This is about information.  Factual accounts and records of what happened in the past. History is useful to know, of course. I’ll bet that we can all recite the phrase “he who forgets the past is doomed to repeat it.”  The Bible can be our opportunity to learn from others’ successes and failures.

Self-help

I want to be a better person and the Bible is full of wisdom.  It allows us to evaluate our thinking and behavior.  In fact, I am often surprised that self-help gurus do not quote the Bible as their source of insight to the human condition.

I readily admit that I have read the Bible for all of these reasons. Each of them have proven true for me.  As I think about them, my gut reaction is one of judgement.  To view the Bible through any of those lenses is hypocrisy, right?  Maybe it is, I don’t really know.  What I do know is that God is bigger than that.  In fact, when I go to the Bible with any of those selfish ideas, something happens.  My soul is awakened.  I realize that it is this awakening, this enlightening that I have been craving.  My soul is filled with hope.  Not just hope for a better tomorrow, but real hope.  The kind that draws me in, reminding me of the glorious riches waiting for me (Eph 1:16-23).  A real hope that brings riches without hardship and toil.  Instead, they are freely given by the immeasurable greatness and power of God.  More-so, there are no barriers to entry, no obstacles to overcome in attaining them because the full price has already been paid.  That’s right, hope, joy and glorious riches are immediately mine when I remember the price that Jesus paid on the cross (1 John 2:2).

The great mystery of the Bible is how this works.  How is it possible to gain all of this from even a few simple verses.  The answer lies in the power of the HolySpirit.  He is the reason that Paul describes the Bible as being “living and active” (Hebrews 4:12).  This is the work of the Holy Spirit in us.  I am so grateful for it.  Every time I come into the Word, looking for anything, he finds me.  And, he talks to me.  In fact, sometimes I come to the word not looking for a conversation, and he finds me anyway.  I find that his pursuit of me is relentless.  Clearly, he wants something more for me.  He has something for you too!  He wants us to be complete and perfect, exactly the way he intended with all of his creation (2 Timothy 3:16-17).  Check out the handful of verses Ive outlined here and see what the Holy Spirit wants to tell you!

Delivered

John 19

Our introduction to today’s reading:  “Jesus is delivered to be crucified”.  Pilate had a decision to make.  In reviewing the charges against Jesus, Pilate states: “Take him yourselves and crucify him, for I find no guilt in him.”  How conflicted he must have been?  He finds no guilt in him but he feels the pressure of the crowd.  The crowd clearly wants and believes he should be crucified.  When I last wrote on this verse, I used the terminology “crowdsourcing”.   While not a perfect definition for this situation, it relays the message that the crowd came together and decided Jesus’ fate.  Pilate kept trying to get Jesus to open up, to talk to him, to say something he could use to free Jesus, but all that he said was “You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above. Therefore he who delivered me over to you has the greater sin.”   Not much to go on to free this man people believe is disobeying the law.   Pilate tried a few times but without success and finally gave us, releasing him to the crowd.

What if the story had been different?  What if Jesus had confided in Pilate?  What if they had a conversation and came to a conclusion on what to do next? What if Pilate let Jesus go?  It is hard to contemplate because we know the rest of the story.   Jesus is then given over the crowd, already wearing a purple robe, a crown of thorns and multiple wounds from being flogged.  The events of this day are traumatic.  We continue reading about Jesus bearing his own cross on the way to the Place of the Skull.  We read about the Crucifixion along with two others.  This chapter is not written from Jesus’ perspective, but from Pilates and others.  The next turn of events: 19 Pilate also wrote an inscription and put it on the cross. It read, “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.”  He goes against the crowd with what he believes and still showing he does not feel Jesus was guilty.

The story continues as we know it today with the dividing of his garments and casting lots for his tunic.  The scene presents vivid images of the drama as it unfolds with a large crowd, watching Jesus die on the cross.  The Death of Jesus as it is written:

28 After this, Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfill the Scripture), “I thirst.” 29 A jar full of sour wine stood there, so they put a sponge full of the sour wine on a hyssop branch and held it to his mouth. 30 When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished,” and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.

His side is then pierced and he is buried. Before we continue to the next chapter and read about his resurrection, let us ponder again what would have happened if Pilate had released Jesus?  At this time of Thanksgiving, let us give thanks that Jesus died on the cross for us!

~Carol Barham