Saul

Saul gets a bad rap sometimes.

I mean the guy who was king of Israel before David.

Of course, Saul did some fairly despicable things like trying on multiple occasions to kill David and having a multitude of priests massacred. It’s hard to overlook those, but David himself had some less than stellar moments when he was king.

What brought Saul’s reign to an end was impatience and insecurity. He got into trouble when he took matters into his own hands when he felt he had waited long enough, like offering the battle sacrifice himself instead of waiting for Samuel.

He also let insecurity get the best of him. His envy of David started when he listened to the people boast of how David’s conquests were so much bigger than his own. That envy spiraled into anger, hatred, and eventually murderous rage.

Most of us aren’t actively trying to murder our enemies, but I imagine more than a few of us can relate to Saul (not to be confused with another Saul who later became Paul and wrote a lot of the New Testament).

The issue is about who we trust and when we trust. Of course, we talk about putting our faith in God, but is that the automatic first response when things don’t go our way or when we have to wait longer than anticipated for something we want?

I confess that I am more like Saul sometimes in that I get overly impatient with God and envious of others who seem to have more than I do. I confess that I’m not alone in this.

While David had his numerous transgressions, he always made his way back to God. His repentance was genuine, as evidence by a changed lifestyle afterward. Saul said the words and felt bad, but nothing ever changed with his behavior.

I think I know who I want to emulate.

 

 

Lessons from the Book of Judges

My church is currently going through a sermon series on the book of Judges. It’s not the kind of book when you want to feel good about yourself or the people of God. It’s a book where God’s people failed miserably and repeatedly, continuing a vicious cycle that involved them being hounded by a foreign people, crying out to God for deliverance, and God sending a judge to do just that.

I realized something today. In the book of Joshua, God commanded the people of Israel to utterly annihilate the enemies in the land they were claiming. At first, all went well, but further in, they fall into idolatry and are no longer able to drive out all the peoples in the lands they are taking.

These people are the very ones whose idols will enslave the people of God. These are the very ones whom Israel will serve as a result of that idolatry. Disobedience and sin always have consequences.

I also see that God never spurns the cry of His people. At some point, He probably would have been justified in bailing on them. After all, they did turn their backs on Him and run after other gods. They even forgot what He had done to bring them into this Promised Land.

God is faithful to His promises even when we’re not. God’s faithfulness often makes up for our lack of it. I’m thankful that God’s mercy isn’t dependent on my spiritual fervor or His grace dependent on my obedience.

All those judges that brought deliverance were pointing toward a coming Deliverer who would deliver His people once and for all. My pastor pointed out that while people may recoil from all the violence and bloodshed in the Old Testament, there is just as much of that in the New Testament. It was all directed at one man– the promised Messiah and Deliverer Jesus– who endured a very violent death on the cross for us.

That still doesn’t make for an easy read of Judges. I’m glad to be past it and into the book of 1 Samuel.

 

My Read Thru the Bible in 2017 Update

My quest to read through the Bible in 2017 finds me in the book of Joshua. So far, I see that God has established a people who are in the process of becoming a nation while claiming the promised land.

I’ve noticed two things– 1) These people seem to go out of their way to screw up and to disobey what God has decreed, even when they’ve learned from numerous experiences that God’s ways are always best. 2) God continues to be patient with His people, though not always letting the people’s rebellion slide.

At first glance, it’s easy to be come frustrated with the people of Israel. Why can’t they just do what God says the first time and save a lot of trouble and heartbreak?

The more I look at these people, the more I see myself mirrored back. Why is it that I have such a reluctance to do what I clearly know God is asking of me? Why do I have such a tendency toward disobedience and outright rebellion?

Maybe the real question is this– why is God so patient with me after all the times I’ve given Him no reason to? Why is God still pursuing a love relationship with me when all I seem to do is respond with anything but love?

God’s people continue to be an imperfect representation of God and His Kingdom. We’ve gotten it wrong far more than we’ve ever gotten it right. We’ve made it far more complicated than it needs to be to get to God as we’ve set up way too many obstacles between people and God.

Still, we’re a broken people trying to figure out what it means to follow and serve God individually as well as corporately. We’re a work in progress that thankfully remains in progress not because we deserve it but because God has promised to finish what He started in us.

Now back to those meddling Israelites.

 

Regret

Since this morning’s sermon at The Church at Avenue South from Aaron Bryant, I’ve been thinking about the story of Joseph in the Old Testament a lot today. More specifically, my thoughts have been centered on Joseph’s brothers.

I’ve always wondered why it was that when his brothers came to Egypt to buy food during the famine that Joseph recognized them but none of them knew who he was.

I realize that he was probably dressed in Egyptian garb and would  have had his hair and beard styled in the Egyptian fashions of that time.

I wonder if one of the reasons he was able to spot them was that they were still stuck in that moment when they made the horrible decision to sell him into slavery over 13 years ago.

Some of you reading this are still stuck in the past. You’re frozen in time in the moment when a relative hurt you or a friend betrayed you or a spouse deserted you. You haven’t been able to move past that moment in time.

Joseph had moved on, both literally and figuratively. By the time his brothers showed up, he had been though slavery, false accusations, imprisonment, and later exaltation. He had seen how God was with him through it all.

He was able to see at the end how God used what his brothers had meant for evil and turned it into something good. In fact, God used what was done to Joseph to set up the salvation of an entire nation in the making.

You come to the place where you release the hurt and pain done to you when you realize how God has redeemed it. When you’re able to forgive those who wounded you, you open the door to the prison and find out that it’s you that you’re setting free.

God still works all things together for good– even the bad and hard things– and that includes your story. That doesn’t excuse what people have done to you and it doesn’t lessen the pain, but it does mean that your wounds and scars are not the end of the story. God has a way of redeeming and restoring what was taken from you and giving you something so much better in return.

 

 

Thoughts on the Book of Jeremiah

In my quest to read through the Bible in a year (again), I’ve made it to Jeremiah. I confess that the prophetic section of the Old Testament can be hard to read at times — I see time and time again where God’s patience runs out as the Israelites have abandoned Him and chased after other gods for so long.

I also see hope. I love the parts where God speaks of restoring His children to their land and to their former glory. Even though they deserve annihilation because of all their philandering and idolatry, God has promised after a time to bring them back to their home.

That gives me great hope. It means that the worst part of your story is never the last part. The part where the darkness seems never-ending and where hope seems so far away is not the last chapter. The ending is so much better.

Elisabeth Elliot once said that God’s story never ends with ashes. It never ends in exile and despait. Death and destruction do not have the last word. Neither does evil.

The terrorists do not win in the end. Fear and violence will one day be forever past tense. Love and mercy will be the currency of the new world order.

I truly believe in my heart of hearts that one day Jesus will come back and set everything right again. What got derailed in Eden will finally be fully and forever realized.

There’s a beautiful verse that speaks about how overjoyed the people will be when they see Jerusalem restored. It will be like dreaming with your eyes wide open, too good to be true yet still very much true.

The best part (to me) will be that all the pain and suffering that seems now like it will never end will one day seem light and momentary compared to the glory and joy that’s coming. It won’t even begin to compare.

All that from one little book in the Bible.

 

 

22,000 Steps

Today, I set a new personal record for steps taken in a day. According to my Fitbit, I put in 22,874 steps totaling 10.15 miles and burning 3,195 calories in the process.

No wonder I feel so tired.

But those steps represent activity.  Those steps mean that I didn’t just sit on my rear and binge-watch Netflix all day (which is a good thing every now and then but not every day).

I participated in Serving Saturday with The Church at Avenue South. The group I was with served at the Room in the Inn headquarters on Drexel Street. For my part, I helped clean up the cafe where they serve the meal to the homeless men who come through on a daily basis.

It still feels good to serve like that and do something you know is contributing (even in a small way) toward people finding the grace and mercy of Jesus.

Every day you take steps toward or away from who you want to be. Every day you make choices and decisions that move you closer or further away from who and where God is calling you.

I won’t lie and say that every day I choose right. I’m thankful that the security of my salvation lies in the strong hand of my Savior rather than in my own strength. Otherwise I’d be screwed.

Everyday you must choose all over again whom you will serve, as Joshua reminded the Israelites way back in ye Old Testament times. You don’t choose Jesus once and then set your spiritual cruise control. You have to choose again and again with each new morning that you will follow Jesus and not every other competing voice that calls you in a contrary direction.

I ended up the night in Franklin for the Main Street Festival. I saw quite a few people that I knew and got in a lot more of my steps. I also had a fantastic hamburger which probably offset all those calories I burned in the entire day.

Oh well. It was worth it.

 

Good Stories

I’m drawn to a good story, whether it be in the form of a song or poem or novel or movie. I believe a good story is one in which I can identify myself and see part of my own story in the unfolding drama.

I’m reading through the Bible again, and I recognize myself all over the place. I can identify with the Israelites who are chosen as God’s people but often act as anything but God’s own possession.

I know what it’s like to want to go back to what’s comfortable and safe, even if that also happens to be bad for you and going backward rather than going forward.

I know what it’s like to be constantly tempted by idols and the surrounding culture bombarding you with images and messages that flatly contradict the message that God keeps trying to tell you.

I can fully relate to the many characters in the Bible whom God uses in spite of themselves, their weaknesses, their fears, their hang-ups. I had always been led to believe that people like Abraham and Isaac and Moses and Noah were the heroes in the stories.

That’s not true. God is always the hero of the biblical story. These are people who are only famous because God chose to use them. If God had never spoken to Moses from a burning bush, I doubt he’d be anything more than a very small footnote in the book of Exodus.

The Bible reminds me that what I need most is not to discover the inner warrior within me but rather to rely daily on the Warrior Savior who cherishes me and fights for me and never quits on me.

I’m beginning to understand the point of all the rules of the Old Testament. The point is that I’m supposed to look and act different as one of God’s people. I’m set apart. I’m not like everybody else and my story won’t play out like everybody else’s. That’s the point.

It’s not even really my story anymore. It’s God’s story that I get to be a part of.

I love that.

The end.

 

Why I Love Old Abraham

“By faith Abraham heard God’s call to travel to a place he would one day receive as an inheritance; and he obeyed, not knowing where God’s call would take him. By faith he journeyed to the land of the promise as a foreigner; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, his fellow heirs to the promise because Abraham looked ahead to a city with foundations, a city laid out and built by God.

By faith Abraham’s wife Sarah became fertile long after menopause because she believed God would be faithful to His promise. So from this man, who was almost at death’s door, God brought forth descendants, as many as the stars in the sky and as impossible to count as the sands of the shore” (Hebrews 11:8-12).

“That’s what Scripture means when it says, ‘Abraham entrusted himself to God, and God credited him with righteousness.’ And living a faithful life earned Abraham the title of ‘God’s friend'” (James 2:23, The Voice).

I like Abraham. I can relate to Abraham.

Sure, he was the father of many nations. Sure, he’s the one through whose line came the Messiah, the Hope of the World.

But he also had clay feet at times.

Remember the time when he lied about his wife, saying she was his sister? Twice?

Remember when he tried to help God out by agreeing to go to bed with Sarah’s servant Hagar to produce the heir God promised?

Remember when Abraham had a hard time believing that God could keep His word in giving him a child?

Yeah, I can relate to all of that. Abraham’s my kind of guy.

The Bible is full of people like that. Not saints in the sense of people who walked through life with halos hanging over their heads who never messed up or got a hair out of place or got their knickers in a bunch. More like saints who stumbled and fell often, but kept getting back up, kept trusting in the next step, kept trusting that God knew where he was leading them through all the deserts and foreign countries.

Sometimes faith is simply showing up and taking the next step, trusting that God knows where He’s leading you. As Corrie Ten Boom said, faith is trusting the conductor of the train when it goes into a pitch black tunnel instead of jumping off the back of the caboose.

I suppose we’re all thankful that even faith the size of a mustard seed can move  mountains and uproot trees. It can change stubborn old hearts like yours and mine.

Best of all, faith leads you to the place where God is, where you were always meant to be, the place where your heart can rest.

 

That Ol’ Imago Dei

“You weren’t an accident. You weren’t mass produced. You aren’t an assembly-line product. You were deliberately planned, specifically gifted, and lovingly positioned on the earth by the Master Craftsman”  (Max Lucado, The Christmas Candle).

“If God had a refrigerator, your picture would be on it. If He had a wallet, your photo would be in it. He sends you flowers every spring and a sunrise every morning… Face it, friend. He is crazy about you!” (Max Lucado)

Today, Aaron Bryant preached from Genesis 1:26-31 about the creation of Adam and Eve. He then proceeded to make a very powerful illustration.

Suppose you buy a Louis Vuitton purse and spend an astronomical amount of money on them. You’re not going to give that bag away to just anybody. You’re not going to sell it to anybody who walks up to you off the street and offers you $50 for it. Why not? Because you value it.

In the same way, you and I have immense value because God created us in His own image. We bear the Imago Dei, the image of God, and that makes us worth more than any designer purse (or really fancy watch if you’re all about being manly). Side note: I had to look up the spelling for Louis Vuitton, in case you want to permanently revoke my man card.

Not only did  God created  you, but Jesus redeemed you, and that makes you much too valuable to live cheaply.

I know some of you read that as: don’t drink a gallon of whiskey a day or snort a bag of cocaine every 5 minutes or sleep with everything that moves west of the Mississippi.

But it’s more than that. To live out of your great worth is to live where Jesus and Jesus alone is the center of your universe, your reason for existence. Because He is. Anything and anyone else is much too small to fill that void.

It means that everything you say and do is an act of gratitude and worship back to the God who made and ransomed you.

It means to make the most of every moment you’re given, not taking for granted that you will have tomorrow to start living right.

So, if you’re ever in the area on a Sunday, check out The Church at Avenue South. And if not, remember Whose you are and how valuable you are because of that.

The end.