Trusting Our Righteous Judge

Receiving a summons to appear in court, is a knee-quaking moment. The sheriff at my door seemed jaded and looked at me as if he believed me to be guilty of the crime represented in the envelope. I felt like a criminal.

Years ago, we unknowingly hired an unscrupulous lawyer to take care of some legal business for us. He handled the business satisfactorily, but his disorganization concerning billing and contracts led him to believe that we signed a contract for him to do further work for us. When he tried to bill us for work, we didn’t agree to, and he hadn’t done, we called repeatedly and explained to his part-time secretary that he was mistaken, and no such contract existed.

The foolish man insisted on suing us, and we appeared in court. As defendants. Suspected criminals.  Our assigned judge asked if we minded him handling a couple bail cases before he proceeded with ours. Like we would say no? This provided more time to try to stop our hands from shaking.

Beefy sheriff’s deputies escorted two ridiculously large prisoners into the courtroom, both in hand and leg shackles, and seated them five feet away from us. All the movies and stories I knew about jailbreaks, prison shanks and such ran through my mind. I silently prayed while trying to appear unfazed by this terrifying development. We didn’t find this turn of events calming.

At that time, we felt no peace to spend more money on lawyers and Ken represented us himself before the judge. The smug look across the aisle, on the face of the lawyer representing our dishonest lawyer, made us question that decision. Truth isn’t always enough to prove innocence.

Quickly, it became clear how disorganized and mistaken our lawyer proved to be.  No documents could be produced proving his case and we possessed many that proved ours. The judge scolded the representing lawyer and we enjoyed a David beats Goliath moment, as the judge ordered us to pay only our agreed-upon fee.

I recalled those feelings of terror in the courtroom, when I read through the book of Micah.  A prophet to both Judah and Israel, Micah carried the message of God’s anger and impending judgement to sinful Jews.  Chapter two reminded me of our plight as defendants along with all the stories I’ve encountered about people who’ve lost homes, businesses and savings through fraud.

Woe to those who plan iniquity, to those who plot evil on their beds! At morning’s light they carry it out because it is in their power to do it. They covet fields and seize them, and houses, and take them.  They defraud a man of his home, a fellowman of his inheritance” (Micah 2:1-2)

Our dishonest lawyer caused us weeks of stress and many hours of time as Ken organized our case. God observed similar scenes in Judah and Israel, and his rage boiled. Wicked Hebrews stole houses, lands and fortunes from their own people, apparently with forethought and glee.

Just as in ancient Israel, fraudulent behavior is not limited to the world but sometimes crops up amongst believers also. Churches and relationships are fractured as a result. This type of behavior is contemptible to God. He expects better of his children.  To the evildoers of Judah and Israel he said,

I am planning disaster against this people, from which you cannot save yourselves” (Micah 2:3).

God’s nature and character are unchanging.  What angered him three thousand years ago still lights him up today. Delayed judgement sometimes leads people to think it will never come. God’s laws of sowing and reaping will always apply however, and as Hosea said, “They that sow the wind shall reap the whirlwind” (Hosea 8:7).

If you are a victim of fraud, cheating, being lied to, etc., God sees it all.  He’s recorded every penny, relationship, possession and job taken from you. You may be living in reduced circumstances due to the sin of others.  Although our case with the disorganized lawyer ended well, at another time, a large corporation our business affiliated with, cheated us and other agents, out of significant sums of money through illegal business practices. The loss of revenue forced us to reduce our staff and move to smaller offices.  Years later, when a case came before a judge, on behalf of agents, he ruled for the corporation, unjustly.

Remember, your heavenly Father, who sees the fall of every sparrow, cares deeply. Confronted with the choice between forgiveness and bitterness, with God’s grace, Ken and I chose the process of forgiveness. Please note I said process. As a result, we maintained our peace and intimacy with God and made room for him to work restoration in our lives.  You can choose the same.  Pray for those who wronged you. They are walking in unawareness of impending judgement, which never turns out well.  Read any of the minor prophets for confirmation of that.

When my heart is right and clean before God, it’s easy to hear his voice. He shares wisdom and insight with me concerning instances where I’ve been wronged.  Sometimes he tells me to let it go and assures me that he will deal with those individuals. The other agents, in the situation above, paid big dollars to take their case to court. God did not give Ken and I a green light on that because he knew the outcome and didn’t want us to waste our money. Bitterness might have led us into a case God didn’t want us involved in.

Other times, God directs me to confront people and hold them accountable for wrongdoing, like the unscrupulous lawyer. We could have paid his dishonest fee, and he would have dropped the court case. In that instance God told us to stand and fight.

I’ve discovered there are no simple formulas for responding to those who sin against me. Only intimacy with God empowers me to forgive and go forward in knowledge and discernment concerning those who wrong me.  I encourage you to start every day with God speaking to you through His word and prayer. I trust my Righteous Judge to empower me to deal with every complex, unfair circumstance that intersects with my life, and you can too.

Lamp and Sword

****Further resources for study and reflection****

“Your word is a lamp for my feet and a light for my path.” Psalm 119:105

“For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword.” Hebrew 4:12

If you are currently dealing with or trying to recover from circumstances in which you were wronged, I encourage you to read the following Bible accounts. Understanding how God directed these folks to behave towards their enemies helps me understand His ways and methods in these types of situations.

  • David, God’s chosen king for Israel, runs from King Saul’s murderous rage for many years. Check out his attitude in these portions of his story found in I Samuel, chapters 24 and 26.
  • Joseph’s journey to ruler of Egypt involved treachery and deceit from those closest around him. Read Genesis 37 and then 39-41 and observe Joseph’s demeanor and behavior.
  • Caleb and Joshua were ready to take the promised land as soon as they spied on it. Instead they were defrauded of living there for forty long years because the other ten, cowardly spies spread evil reports amongst the Israelites. Read Joshua 14:6 to the end concerning Caleb’s reward.  Joshua was not only given the honor of replacing Moses, read Joshua 19:49-50 to learn about his reward. Why did God bless them so generously?

What kind of attitude do you think they both maintained during those endless years in the desert?

 

 

At Odds With God

Being at loggerheads with God is a tough row to hoe. I hate being in that place and yet, recall times when my attitude and agenda positioned themselves perpendicular to God, instead of parallel. When we set our hearts towards a specific outcome and God does the unexpected, we don’t always adjust well. Once such time for me occurred when I re-entered the teaching field after many years of absence.

In my forties, I returned to college and added an English degree to my existing Music and Communication degree.  My goal to become an English teacher, seemed quite attainable.  God led me to add that certification, so I felt certain he’d reward me with the position I desired.  My passion for directing choirs and plays became eclipsed by my desire to teach literature and composition.

No matter how I kept re-working my resume, the only job interviews I could land were for music teachers. I felt angry and frustrated with God that I kept my end of the deal, and he didn’t come through on his.  Spending all the time, effort and money on that English degree seemed like a waste, and so I reluctantly accepted another job in Vocal Music. God clearly opened the door, as the school asked me to come interview before I ever applied.  I set my heart to teach direct choirs again, heartily unto the Lord, and trusted him to heal the disappointment of not teaching English.

Jonah behaved horribly when things didn’t go as he hoped, and the people of Nineveh repented. After initially running away, Jonah preached his judgement message in Nineveh. I can only imagine the dangers and ridicule he faced delivering that news. Judging by his reaction to the city’s massive move towards humility and repentance, we conclude that he didn’t rejoice in that outcome at all.

His outburst to God is both tragic and hilarious.

“He prayed to the Lord, ‘Isn’t this what I said, Lord, when I was still at home? That is what I tried to forestall by fleeing to Tarshish. I knew that you were a compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from calamity. Now, Lord, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live’” Jonah 4:2-3.

As I paraphrase this passage, here’s what it sounds like to me.

“God, I never wanted to go to Nineveh in the first place. Those people are perverse and wicked and deserve to be destroyed.  I just knew that they’d probably repent if I went there and preached and then you wouldn’t judge them, like you really should.  Just kill me now.”   Jonah didn’t think Nineveh deserved mercy and thought there should be a different outcome for his efforts.

God answers back. He grows a leafy plant to shade Jonah from the desert sun then sends a worm to destroy the plant.  Jonah repeats his request to die, and God explains his object lesson.

“But the Lord said, ‘You have been concerned about this plant, thought you did not tend it or make it grow.  It sprang up overnight and died overnight. And should I not have concern for the great city of Nineveh, in which there are more than hundred and twenty thousand people (children in the Hebrew) who cannot tell their right hand from their left-and also many animals?’” Jonah 4:10-11

The above verses abruptly end the book of Jonah.  We don’t know if the prophet ever walked parallel with God again.

When we are in a perpendicular place with God, he asks us the same question, “Why are you so upset about this thing over here, that didn’t go your way, instead of seeing heaven’s vantage point on this matter?”

When we find ourselves at odds with God, we need to acknowledge that we are the odd man out.  We think we deserve explanations about stuff that goes sideways, but God is not beholden to our limited thinking abilities.  He’s under no obligation to answer all our questions. God is looking for people of faith who can say, “This makes no sense to me, but I’m going to obey God heartily and cheerfully and walk through the doors he opens for me and not bang my fists against the ones he closes.”

That last vocal music job I took turned into an English job during the second year. God delayed my dream, but he did not deny it because it originated with him just as Jonah’s call did.  I wonder if we might have heard from Jonah again in the Old Testament if he hadn’t gone off on such an angry bent.

Stop overthinking every situation that goes a different direction than you expected.  If you keep your heart pure and humble before God, he will cause even your honest mistakes to be part of your destiny journey.

Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time”

 I Peter 5:6.

If you are on the outs with God right now, please don’t stay there.  Accept that he is weaving a complex tapestry with your life. You can only see a small portion in any given moment.  Trust the One who sees the entire work from beginning to end.  Don’t be a Jonah.

 

 

God’s Reckless Mercy

Who needs your mercy and forgiveness instead of judgement? How quickly do faces come to mind?  How often do their sins float through your thoughts? Your reasons for judgement may be well founded and maybe these people aren’t remotely sorry. God understands. This is how things stood between him and the people of Nineveh.  In a surprising move, instead of wiping them out, he sent Jonah with a simple message, repent or be destroyed. God didn’t owe the sinful Ninevites the courtesy of a warning. I think his desire for repentance and relationship, carried more weight than his absolute right to judge and condemn them.

I love stories of repentant sinners and prodigals. They give me hope for my own lost and wayward soul prayer list. So, why didn’t Jonah break into a happy dance when Nineveh repented? Instead of enjoying the thrill of being used by God to save an entire city, he exploded with anger. Who knows that without Jonah’s message and Nineveh’s repentance, another Sodom and Gomorrah event was scheduled to occur? Why couldn’t Jonah celebrate that, even for the sake of innocent children?

The people of Nineveh believed God. They called for a fast and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them to the least of them” (Jonah 3:5 ESV).

“But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was angry” (Jonah 4:1)

To find an answer, let’s transport this scenario into the present day, so we can better understand Jonah’s response and God’s forgiving nature.

 Recently, I attended a service featuring a group of men from our local Teen Challenge Ministry. Men and women in the Teen Challenge Recovery program often enter with criminal records and  substance abuse  problems. When they commit to enter the program, they kick addictions cold turkey, and enter a new life of discipleship in Christ. Many of their testimonies are harrowing.

One young man stood out because he did not come from a broken home, abuse and neglect like the others. His background included a stable, Christ-centered family and a dynamic church.  After a college education, he started a career in money management, married and fathered two children. An experiment with cocaine became a love affair that cost him his job, his family and his faith. He left his parents and wife on the hook for tens of thousands of dollars of credit card debt. Finally, his criminal activity left him with nothing except the choice to enter Teen Challenge for a year or spend eighteen months in jail.

Listening to his story, I wondered how his extended family responded to his repentance? What does forgiveness of such acts look like, as this family struggled for years to resolve the consequences and damage this young man generated? Did  they lose or re-finance their homes to pay debts? Drain savings? How did his wife, suddenly thrust into single parenthood and one income, provide for herself and her children?

My thoughts drifted to Luke 15, Jesus’ story of the prodigal son. I looked at the older brother’s feelings with fresh eyes. Consider what happened in this family because of the prodigal’s selfishness and sin. First, he broke his family’s hearts, wondering and worrying about him.  Secondly, when he finally came home, he came with nothing. He spent his entire inheritance.  What did this mean for the entire family going forward, financially? Is he trusted with more money, at the risk of him squandering it?  Is he made to work in his father’s business and pay him back, displacing another sibling or employee? Did he also leave behind unpaid debts?  Lots of questions here.

As the prodigal’s sister, I’d need extra doses of God’s grace to believe his story of repentance and forgive him for hurting my parents deeply.  Second, I’d feel mixed up about spending money on a dinner party to welcome him home considering how he squandered everything he’d been given. Finally, I’d be deeply concerned about my flakey brother re-entering the family business.

As I pondered all of this, I came to a revelation when I examined the responses of God to Nineveh and the father to his prodigal son.

When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil way, God relented of the disaster that he had said he would do to them, and he did not do it” (Jonah 3:10 ESV).

“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him” (Luke 15:20 ESV).

God’s forgiveness and mercy will never make sense to the natural mind. Mercy is risky and forgiveness is often not deserved, at least that’s how humans see it. The stink of Nineveh’s sin made it to God’s nose. The prodigal son wasted his entire inheritance on immorality. Yet, in both stories, God sees potential and boom; judgement plans are canceled, and mercy’s showers start to pour.  Jonah didn’t approve. The older brother didn’t approve. Sometimes, neither do we.

 God views prodigals and sinners differently from us. He longs for us to adjust our paradigms and see people’s value as he does. “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10). “But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). He’s profoundly serious when he expects us to balance hatred for sin with love for the sinner.  Jonah never did, as far as we know. The stench of Nineveh’s sin, which Jonah experienced first-hand, overpowered the reason God called him to the city, to save humans from destruction.

God’s highest priority is to redeem people from hell and hellish living. The mess of that redemptive process can be overwhelming to us, when we engage with sinners. God understands intimately. His entire creation ended up sideways, due to sin. Instead of irreversible judgement, his only child endured a brutal death to make a path of forgiveness and restoration for us. He will grant us eyes to see potential in the worst offenders, if we ask him.

Lamp and Sword

****Further resources for study and reflection****

“Your word is a lamp for my feet and a light for my path.” Psalm 119:105

“For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword.” Hebrew 4:12

  • If you are struggling to forgive someone, particularly when there is no sign of remorse, I suggest a read-through with these verses. When you are a victim of someone’s sin, be it great or small, your inner sense of justice is disturbed. Only God can set it right. Sometimes we can receive justice in the natural, but there are times when we don’t. These are the places where God completes the picture for us and gives rest to our souls.

Romans 5:8, Matthew 6:14-15, 5:43-44, Psalm 7:11, Amos 5:15, Ephesians 5:2, 1John 4:8

 

  • Sometimes our thirst for judgement is directed towards people we’ve never met. We are aware of their sins on a national and international level. Liars, cheats, murderers, thieves, abusers and such can stir up great anger and we cross the line, rejoicing in their downfalls and misfortunes, forgetting that they too are souls God loves, and for whom Christ died. If you find yourself brimming with unrighteous anger when you are confronted with evil current events, I suggest you ponder these verses. Ask God to help you pray for justice, victims of evil while also praying for the repentance of wicked perpetrators.

Romans 5:6-8, I Timothy 2:11, Romans 12:20-21, Romans 2:1-4, I John 4:20

  • A Divine Revelation of Hell,” is a book written by Mary K. Baxter, based on thirty days of visions God sent her as to what hell might be like for those condemned to its fires. If your heart needs a jumpstart to care about and pray for the wicked and lost, this will do it. The book is easily available used and new on several different online sites.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Obadiah- Sowing and Reaping

As a minister of music, I hated being the deliverer of bad news to folks who ached to be on worship team but lacked the right skills. Kristy (not her real name) never made the cut for any vocal group she auditioned for in her high school, yet she and her mother pleaded for an audition.  They both felt certain God “called” her to be on our worship team.  As she sang the same way which I presumed kept her out of school vocal groups, my heart sunk. Her heart clearly burned with passion, but she possessed not a single skill or natural ability to match.

When I first began to speak, my tone of voice and my heart emanated kindness and compassion. Unfortunately, Kristy came at me with pride, denial, anger and hurt. I confess, my peace shoes fell off, my cloak of humility slipped off my shoulders and grace fled my heart.  I became defensive and terse once she attacked my authority and judgement and it ended poorly between us.  She and her mother glared at me from the pews for several years after that.

A dozen years later, as a lay person in a large church, I auditioned for a 1st soprano opening on the worship team.  The team informed me that although they enjoyed my voice, the slot would be given to  another sister, whose audition sounded quite out of tune to me.  I struggled to hide my shock. (Turns out, she was a former member of the team who stepped down for a while. The auditions were a bit of a set-up.)

To add further insult the worship leader asked, “There’s a tenor opening? Interested?”  I stammered that I’d think about it and get back to them and beat feet out of there. Angry retorts about my years of training and my previous position as minister of music bubbled in my mind while I fled to my car. Then Kristy’s face popped up in my mind.  It occurred to me that God allowed that humbling moment so that the next time I faced a Kristy (which I did many times in the years to come as a high school vocal teacher) I’d hold onto my peace and kindness regardless of how others behaved.  I’m certain that experience was a lesson in God’s harvesting law class.

I walked back in the building and took the tenor slot, humbly.  Within six weeks, two first sopranos left, and I filled one of the slots joyfully for many years.  I think God used my humbling and my response, as good seed that reaped my desired harvest.

God’s laws of sowing and reaping are irrefutable.  You can find a trail of them all throughout Scripture, from literal laws about crop-growing to spiritual laws about our attitudes and works.   In Obadiah, verse 15, we find an ominous warning.

As you have done, it will be done to you; your deeds will return upon your own head.”

All the evil acts of the Edomites towards Israel, from blocking their flight away from Pharaoh, during the Exodus, to cutting them down while they fled Jerusalem from the Assyrians centuries later, eventually rain down on this bitter nation. The law of sowing and reaping finds them, and they are wiped out permanently, as a nation.  There are people who live in their former lands, but they are not descendants.  The history of the Edomites becomes so sketchy that no one can lay claim to this day that they are a direct descendant.  Quite a contrast to Israel’s descendants.  What if the Edomites stood side by side with their brother Israelites, instead of toe to toe?   I expect their history and descendants would be entirely different.

The apostle Paul echoes this warning to sinners in the Galatian church in Galatians 6:7-8.

“Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap.  For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.”

Then, he flips the equation in verse nine, and speaks to those who are sowing good seed but aren’t seeing their desired harvest.

“Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary.”

To the Corinthian church, Paul speaks about the quality and amount of what we sow in 1 Corinthians 9:6.

“He who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.”

Every day, believers sow seed.  Our words and actions go forth to others and into the supernatural fields God has ordained as either good seed or bad seed.  What we do and say will bring a harvest in God’s perfect time.  What kind of harvest are you experiencing right now?  If some of it is bitter, nasty and weak, ask God if you are reaping some seed you’ve forgotten you sowed.  I’m not saying every negative thing that comes our way is our own harvest.  Weed seeds can blow in on the wind or be carried by birds.  We know God allows us to face these trials and challenges, but it is important to our sanctification to discern whether our weed beds are of our own making, like the Edomites.

Additionally, when we do face tribulations, not created out of our own poor choices, we can still reap a harvest of goodness, grace and mercy. How?  When we show compassion and love in action towards others experiencing illness, setbacks, crisis and all manner of evil, we are sowing seeds that will be a much-needed harvest for ourselves in our own day of trouble.  I wonder if the Edomites ever sorted that out?

So, here’s a few general items from my list of deliberate seed that I’m sowing.  How about you?

  • I’m giving generously, out of love and gratitude to God, of my time, money, skills and all other physical resources, with full confidence that my upcoming needs will be met in God’s perfect time.
  • I’ve asked God to put a watch over my mouth and my emotions so that my words and responses reflect Galatians 5:22 and not my flesh. I expect that others will return the same to me, not always, but much of the time.
  • I’m sowing the seeds of the Word of God more deliberately into my own heart such that they are there, growing strong and ready to face the storms of life.
  • Lamp and Sword

****Resources for study and reflection****

“Your word is a lamp for my feet and a light for my path.” Psalm 119:105

“For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword.” Hebrew 4:12

 

Read the following Old Testament verses and then reflect on the questions below.

Genesis 26:12, Leviticus 26:3-5,  Isaiah 65:21-22,  Jeremiah 12:13

  1. Is there a relationship between obedience and harvest?
  2. Do these laws for an agrarian society apply to people who aren’t farmers or growers?

Read Revelation 14:15-19.  What do you think the phrase, “the harvest of the earth,” means?  Feel free to use commentaries if you are entirely stuck.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Obadiah-A Feud on Steroids

Family feuds can create ripples of waves, which keep relationships turbulent for generations.  The infamous Hatfield and McCoy feud began in Kentucky in 1865 when Asa Harmon McCoy, brother to Randolph McCoy died at the hands of the “Logan Wildcats,” a local militia group which included William Anderson Hatfield, known as “Devil Anse” (There’s a clue!). Asa served in the Union Army, so Anderson and his militia felt within their rights to shoot him as an enemy combatant.  As years passed the bitter seed grew, and land disputes, stolen livestock and other criminal activities resulted in murders and retaliatory murders. Young and old Hatfields and McCoys perished due to unresolved anger and misplaced pride passed from generation to generation like an heirloom quilt.

God inspired Obadiah to deliver a rebuke and warning to the people of Edom because of a generational feud between them and Israel.  Edomites, the descendants of Esau, carried hatred about his stolen birthright for centuries and acted towards Jacob’s descendants accordingly. Since Obadiah shares no point of reference about his credentials or origins, scholars can make a best guess that he lived during Elisha’s time and served as one of the earliest prophets around 840 B.C.  His economy of words is a message itself as to the intensity of God’s anger.

The sins Edom committed are recounted in this short book. Obadiah tells us that the mildest behavior they demonstrated was to turn their backs on their brothers when Israel faced enemy invasions. Their worst sins are far more egregious. When Philistines and Arabians attacked Jerusalem, not only did the Edomites not offer refuge to the Israelites fleeing the city, they murdered them on the roads and pathways where they fled to escape the conquering armies.

God is blunt throughout Scripture about how he will deal with those who mess with his people.

            “I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse…”

 Genesis 12:3

“… when I restore the fortunes of Judah and Jerusalem, I will gather all the nations and bring them down to the Valley of Jehoshaphat. And I will enter into judgment with them there, on behalf of my people and my heritage Israel, because they have scattered them among the nations and have divided up my land…” Joel 1

“And on that day I will seek to destroy all the nations that come against Jerusalem.” Zechariah 12:9

For the Edomites, their judgments are specific and harsh:

But how Esau will be ransacked, his hidden treasures pillaged!  All your allies will force you to the border; your friends will deceive and overpower you; those who eat your bread will set a trap for you, but you will not detect it. In that day, declares the Lord, will I not destroy the wise men of Edom, men of understanding in the mountains of Esau? Your warriors O Teman will be terrified, and everyone in Esau’s mountains will be cut down in the slaughter.  Because of the violence against your brother Jacob, you will be covered with shame; you will be destroyed forever.”

Why does God laser in on the “wise men of Edom?”   The answer lies in verse 3.

“The pride of your heart has deceived you, you who live in the clefts of the rocks and make your home on the heights, you who say to yourself, ‘Who can bring me down to the ground?’”

The Edomites carried a grudge for centuries. They took pride in it along with their geographic positioning in the mountains. In every way, they felt themselves to be superior to Israel, yet Israel inhabited the promised land, not them, and they couldn’t abide that.  They obviously rejoiced and felt justified in murdering fleeing Israelites just like the Hatfields and McCoys.

Pride is usually at the root of unresolved feuds.  I knew a church in which battles erupted over a stained-glass window that needed to be moved for a building project.  The church designated a new home for the window, in the addition, but some in the congregation who opposed the project, weaponized the window’s history.  Without consulting the church, these folks lodged a complaint with the town’s historical society. Their move never gained traction but did generate uproar and divisions in the church.

I know families whose holidays and special occasions are marred consistently by unresolved hurts between members.  This one can’t sit by that one, and we will purchase gifts for this one’s children but not for that one and blah, blah, blah.  There may be valid reasons why some of these feuds start. Jacob performed a wicked, deceitful act when he tricked Esau out of his birthright.  That is not the way God wanted to convey the promised blessing to Jacob.  Esau’s feelings of anger and betrayal were valid.  One wonders if he rehearsed them over and over to his family before he eventually forgave Jacob and reconciled with him. (Genesis 33) Although Esau forgave Jacob, his legacy of bitterness remained unresolved in his family and many murders and other sinful acts occurred because of it.

I see several key lessons for us in this first portion of Obadiah:

  • The bitterness you harbor today will sow seeds that can reap a terrible harvest for generations to come.
  • When God blesses someone else with something we’ve longed for, we need to trust him to know what is best for us and not poison our souls with jealousy or anger. We can always choose righteous reactions in response to sinful behaviors against us.
  • Pride is rebellion in God’s eyes but cherishing pride as a trophy sin and passing it on to others, is going to produce dire consequences.

The division between the Edomites and Israelites resulted in death, slavery and captivity for many descendants and rendered Israel a powerless nation for centuries.  I wonder how many churches and families are unable to move in kingdom authority and power for the same reason?

 

Lamp and Sword

****Resources for study and reflection****

“Your word is a lamp for my feet and a light for my path.” Psalm 119:105

“For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword.” Hebrew 4:12

Read the following verses and then ponder these questions:

  1. Does God still feel this way about the Jews even though many rejected and still reject the Messiah?
  2. Do his judgements against their enemies still hold?
  3. Where does God land on all this concerning the bride of Christ and her enemies? (These verses you’ll need to search out for yourself.)

God’s love for Israel – I Kings 10:9, Deut. 7:6-8, Deut. 14:2, 2 Samuel 7:23-24, Psalm 105:8-15, Zech. 2:8

God’s judgement on her enemies – Genesis 12:1-3, Joel 3:1-2, Ezekiel 38:1-23, Zech. 12:9, Romans 11:1-36

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Amos- A Warning for Callous Hearts

Self-absorption and a lack of self-awareness are officially at epidemic level in American culture, in my opinion. I remember a brief friendship during college, with a girl who leaped ahead of her time in this area.  Originally, I found myself drawn to her because of her humor and outgoing ways.  After a few months though, I realized that I knew all about her dreams to become a professional singer, which guys she crushed on, her hatred of all green vegetables and her favorite makeup brands while she couldn’t seem to remember my last name when she introduced me to people.

I’m not sure my “friend” even noticed when I drifted away until she needed me to accompany her on the piano for an event, and I declined, due to a previous commitment.  Momentarily at a loss for words, this clueless sweetie whined, “But I thought you were my frieeeeeeeeeeeeeend?!?”  My own courage surprised me when I stood firm and refused to cave, in what turned out to be our last conversation.

As I continue to reflect on and study Amos, I’m wondering if similar cries erupted from the Israelites when the cup of God’s anger finally filled and overflowed.  As conquering Assyrians invaded the beautiful promised land and either slaughtered or enslaved the inhabitants, I’ll bet many people couldn’t wrap their minds around it all. “God why aren’t you rescuing us!   “We’re your chosen people!  WHERE ARE YOU? “

From God’s perspective, he sent numerous warnings through his prophets, but blinded eyes couldn’t see, and stopped-up ears couldn’t hear.  Some of the specific grievances he conveyed through Amos centered around Israel’s complacency and pride. As a couple of examples:

  • They “trampled” on the poor while building gorgeous mansions for themselves. 5:11-12
  • They oppressed the righteous and accepted bribes. 5:12
  • They skimped when they measured out quantities of goods for the poor and used rigged scales. Additionally, they boasted about it.  8:5
  • They removed every kernel of wheat off the threshing floors instead of observing the Hebrew law that said the sweepings are to be left for the poor. 8:6

The self-absorption and lack of self-awareness of these folks rival any selfie prince or princess we might encounter today.  God is quite specific about how he will judge the luxurious, exploitive communities of Northern Israel.

  • He promises to destroy their homes AND their weekend cottages. 3:15
  • He promises that those who are spending their days agonizing over which marble tile to put on their mansion floor, will never walk on it. 5:11
  • He assures them there won’t be any more wine parties. 5:11
  • He declares that as they rise to fight off the conquering army, most of Israel will be slaughtered because of their pride. 6:8-9
  • He decrees that sons and daughters will die in battle, and everyone else will go into exile, far away from their homeland. 7:17

When most of our resources are channeled back into our own households, we are in danger.   When the majority of a church’s ministries are directed inward towards those already in the kingdom, that body is in grave danger.  Many in modern Christian culture are swimming along living cottoned lives of abundance, while those who are poor in spirit all around them are drowning.

I’ll state again, as I did in the last post, if we are foolish enough to think that God will deal with these sins less severely because we are on this side of the cross, that’s dangerous thinking and living.  Don’t mistake God’s delays in discipline for his stamp of approval on our choices. Throughout scripture, one of the rich threads woven in Biblical teaching is caring for the weak and poor among us.  From the Levitical laws through Paul’s instructions to young churches, the directive is repeated.  Blatantly ignoring God’s commands is always reckless to our own lives and those around us.

John, the apostle, questions our relationship with God, if we are insensitive to the needs of the poor.

“If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person?  Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.” 1 John 3:17

James, Jesus’ brother states it a bit differently but makes the same case, if you consider what the converse of this verse might be.

Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction… “James 1:27

God expects us to be deliberate about directing some of our resources to those with less.  The opportunities are endless, and we must listen to the Holy Spirit’s directions for us, specifically.  Individuals cannot save the whole world, but they can support a child’s education in a third-world country, or repair a widow’s roof, or repair a single mother’s car.  Many churches take benevolent offerings regularly for these types of needs.  Please don’t ignore that little section on your giving envelope and assume that your tithes cover all that.  They don’t.

Let’s re-orient our thinking to less selfies and more self-less acts done quietly, without expectations of recognition.  Did you know that if you combine all the days of Jesus’ earthy life represented in the gospels, we can only account for 27 of them?  According to the apostle John, though, the works and wonders he did here were so numerous “even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written” (John 21:25).

This means we don’t know any specifics about most of his days, filled with wonders and grace.  Only the people present and God the Father, know those stories.  I want to live like that, more oriented about the narrative my life is creating in heaven, than how many “likes,” I can get for my story here on earth.

 

Lamp and Sword

****Resources for study and reflection****

“Your word is a lamp for my feet and a light for my path.” Psalm 119:105

“For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword.” Hebrew 4:12

 

 

 

  • More verses about caring for the poor and weak. When you are trying to change patterns in your life, it’s good to incorporate several verses on the topic as part of your decision-making process.

Proverbs 19:17, Proverbs 14:31, Proverbs 22:9, Matt. 25:31-46, Psalm 82:3-4, Luke 6:38, Matt. 6:1-4, Leviticus 19:9-10, 1 Timothy 5:8, Romans 12:13, 1 Timothy 6:17-19

 

  • Short, thought-provoking article about poverty. Poverty is a condition of the soul, not just a lack of physical provision.

https://www.christianitytoday.com/edstetzer/2015/october/biblical-answer-to-poverty-gods-people-and-marketplace.html

 

 

 

 

 

Amos- Another Overlooked Shepherd

The near misses of my life are broad and varied, open doors I almost ignored. One of my dearest friends nearly slipped past me in 9th grade because she was and is, a quiet person of depth. I initially said a hard no to a great teaching job once, due to the size of the school.  Other near misses came close to robbing my life of people, richness, and unique opportunities, the most recent one being the purchase of our new home.

Two years ago, the Lord granted us a green light to sell our house and move nearer Lake Michigan and our kiddos.  My initial giddiness waned swiftly. We realized we entered a seller’s market with high prices and rapid sales, great on the selling side, lousy on the buying end.

Our long-suffering real estate agent cheerfully endured tours and critiques of dozens of homes.  Our must-have criteria included a fenced in yard or the ability to install one, and a walk-out ranch on a large lot.  Repeatedly, we smacked into association rules banning fences, sheds and the like, often unknown to the sellers until we started making offers and investigating.

When we did find a few homes that fit the bill on paper, they turned out to be in poor condition for the price. Other homes exceeded our budget.  In desperation, we decided to look at an over-budget house anyway.  It languished on the market for a month (a lifetime in our area) so we wondered what its ailments might be.

The house didn’t show well.  As soon as I entered it, though, I saw the possibilities of what could be. Signs of excellent maintenance and “good bones” abounded everywhere. Outside, the generous lot made my heart swell with all the possibilities for gardens and outdoor rooms.

The price snapped me back to reality, and I slipped into a funk. I barely examined the house, while Ken ran around doing all the measuring and note taking, we normally did together.  The asking price soared above our means, so I didn’t see the point. Thank God my gloomy attitude didn’t destroy Ken’s enthusiasm for placing a low offer, one which the owners accepted. This optimistic approach is one of the many reasons I adore that man. I hope I’ve finally learned that often the best people and opportunities come in unassuming ways. Given my track record, though, I’d write off Amos the shepherd-prophet, just like the Israelites.

Amos lived an unnoticed life until God called him up to the show. “I was neither a prophet nor a prophet’s son, but I was a shepherd, and I also took care of sycamore-fig trees.  But the Lord took me from tending the flock and said to me, ‘Go, prophesy to my people Israel.’” Amos 7:14   In Israel, most prophets belonged to the school of prophets or came from a prophetic bloodline.  In modern terms, Amos worked as a farmer and gardener.  Israelites thumbed their noses at him because of this.  Before you judge, how might you respond if your lawn service guy, or maybe the lady selling you tomatoes at the farmer’s market, started sharing prophecies with you?

Amos himself lived in the Southern kingdom of Judah, but the sin of the Northern kingdom of Israel grew so great, God hauled him up there to warn the wayward Jewish nation.  Well, they didn’t take kindly to that at all and tried to write him off as a goofball.

Isn’t this exactly the way another shepherd’s brothers treated him when the prophet Samuel sought out God’s anointed king and then later when David turned up to fight Goliath? “When Eliab, David’s oldest brother, heard him speaking with the men, he burned with anger at him and asked, “Why have you come down here? And with whom did you leave those few sheep in the desert? I know how conceited you are…” 1 Samuel 17:28. 

Also, remember that most of the religious establishment rejected The Good Shepherd and mocked his humble ministry, like the fact that he rode a donkey into town instead of charging in on a white horse to overthrow the Roman government.  I wonder how many times we miss Jesus entirely because he comes to us riding humbly on a colt instead of sweeping in on a stallion?

The people of Israel rejected Amos and his serious warning from God about their impending destruction. They judged the package and ignored the message. Let’s not do the same thing. Amos’ prophecies are critical for the church today and still sound an alarm about sins all too common in our church culture. We will be discussing them in the next few posts.   I know at first glance, the minor prophets seem too cryptic and irrelevant to us.  I assure you they are not.

Despite our best efforts, God will not be boxed in by our personal preferences and expectations. God chooses to move as he will, with whom he uses. Each minor prophet earned a place in the Bible due to the timeless value of their messages. We can experience a powerful, authoritative and fulfilling life on the front lines of the kingdom, if we discern his voice and movements in unexpected places from unassuming people.

 

Lamp and Sword

****Resources for study and reflection****

“Your word is a lamp for my feet and a light for my path.” Psalm 119:105

“For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword.” Hebrew 4:12

 

  • Amos overview by Chuck Swindoll

https://www.insight.org/resources/bible/the-minor-prophets/amos

 

  • Amos’ use of metaphors and similes

Metaphors and similes create word pictures that helps us understand an idea better.  Isn’t it interesting that this rejected shepherd-prophet was a poet like shepherd turned king, David? Here’s a chart that I’ll fill in partially, with the metaphor on one side and the meaning on the other.  Can you figure out what point Amos was trying to make with the ones I’ve left blank?

“Now then, I will crush you as a cart crushes when loaded with grain.” 2:13 The Israelites are at the end of God’s mercy and now face his judgement.
“The lion has roared-who will not fear? The Sovereign Lord has spoken-who can but prophesy?”  3:8 Amos feels tremendous pressure to communicate the message the Lion of Judah has given him.
“As a shepherd saves from the lion’s mouth only two leg bones or piece of an ear, so will the Israelites be saved.  3:12  
“But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream.” 5:24  
“Then the Lord said, ‘Look, I am setting a plumb line among my people Israel; I will spare them no longer.” 7:8  
“This is what the Lord showed me: a basket of ripe fruit.” 8:1  
“…and I will shake the house of Israel among all the nations as grain is shaken in a sieve, but not a kernel will fall to the ground.” 9:9  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Joel- The Holy Spirit’s Dynamite and Democracy

Are the challenges of current circumstances leaving you weary, depressed and wishing you could quit and go inhabit someone else’s life?  Ever felt that way?  I did during a season of ministry when non-stop church conflict dogged my husband and I daily.  The stress exposed weaknesses in our characters.  He overate. I stopped eating.  I churned details of the conflict in my mind endlessly. He tried to ignore the situations.

If not for the power of the Holy Spirit, Ken and I might be leading dysfunctional, broken lives right now. We might be like some believers we’ve met who are not connected with any local body and are bitter against the church in general, due to conflict or hurt feelings.  Without the intervention of the Holy Spirit, that could be us.

Amidst the conflicts, God used those challenges to put Ken and I through the Holy Spirit’s boot camp.  We felt such desperation; our hearts yearned to understand what the Bible meant where it says the Spirit lives inside of us and anoints us with what the Greeks called, “Dunamis,” power. Instead of experiencing power, like scriptures describe, we felt like garden hoses with kinks in them. Somehow, we knew the Holy Spirit ached to flow through us in dynamic ways but, unknowingly, we restricted him.

How did we get our hoses so twisted? For me, it involved control. Deeply buried in my old nature lurked a fear that people who gave way entirely to the Holy Spirit were goofy, out of control. Rather than utterly yielding myself to the control of our dear Comforter, I only allowed him to operate from my driver’s seat occasionally. That kind of Christianity will fail you inside the inferno of an intense trial.  This is what the LORD says: “Cursed are those who put their trust in mere humans, who rely on human strength and turn their hearts away from the LORD.” Jeremiah 17:5

God does not mince words when it comes to relying on human strength instead of yielding to the power he’s placed in every believer, in the person of the Holy Spirit.  Ken and I recognized that we’d been walking out our faith on our own steam, which fizzled fast once we wound up in some trouble.  While our flesh screamed, “Just walk away, you don’t need this…” the Holy Spirit whispered, “Don’t you dare let Satan chase you off!”

What a fool I was to try and limit the Holy Spirit’s scope and influence in my inner man.  God released him to me as a gift to be treasured, not someone to be feared.  He is our teacher, guide and conscience. He is speaking on behalf of God to us continuously and comes alongside us when we pray, particularly when we don’t even know how to pray.  New Testament believers are privileged to be in a relationship with him only promised to our Old Testament spiritual forefathers and mothers.

Ancient Israelites could not experience intimacy with the Spirit.  He didn’t make his home inside them the way he does with you and me. The best that ancient followers of Jehovah could hope for was that the Holy Spirit might alight on them for a period for a specific purpose. (See Numbers 27:18, Judges 3:10, 6:34, 13:25, 14:6, and1 Samuel 10:9)

In the middle of the book of Joel, immediately after God’s promises of restoration for the repentant, and before the descriptions of the judgment of nations, is a small island of two powerful verses. In them, Joel prophesies a fundamental change in the way humans and the Holy Spirit will interact in the future. For those who lived through this transformative moment it would be like a couple shifting from an online, virtual relationship to marriage.

And afterward, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days.”

 Joel 2:28-29

Unlike our OT brothers and sisters, since the day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit melds with every believer permanently. Instead of residing, temporarily, with a select few, he will be given generously to every Christ-follower, regardless of age, gender or social standing.  One commentator calls it “the democracy of the Holy Spirit.”  Likewise, his fruit, gifts and power are equally available to every Christian.

So, when all this power, gifts and fruit are easy access for modern believers, why do so many of us not flow in the anointing that Jesus himself described?  But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth?”  Acts 1:8 First, ask yourself two questions:

  1. What did Jesus say the purpose of this power was?
  2. Who and what does Satan continuously oppose?

Jesus intended for every believer to be powerfully anointed to spread the gospel like wildfire, as believers did in the early church.  Satan will oppose the gospel and those who carry it with everything he’s got, until he’s tossed into the lake of fire.  So, who do you think puts negative, squirrely thoughts in believers’ minds about the Holy Spirit and his ministry?  Hint- not any member of the Holy Trinity.

Folks, we are running out of time and the lines between dark and light are becoming more and more distinct.  If you are not intentionally fulfilling your part, whatever that is, of Christ’s command to carry the gospel, then you are unintentionally serving the causes of Hell.  We cannot do our parts if we refuse to yield every day, in every way, to the Holy Spirit’s direction and authority.  Is your life a threat to Satan or does he consider you a non-combatant?

Joel 3- Eternity’s Warning Bells

We can become so laser focused on that directly in front of us, our eternity-minded, peripheral vision grows weak. When my husband and I first entered full time ministry, our hearts and heads filled with tasks and needs of the ministries for which we held responsibility. We spent our days pondering profound questions like, “What can I teach about God that will spark a fire in our high schoolers,” and “How in the world can we recruit enough teachers for the number of kiddos in Sunday School?” I could list 50 more issues we grappled with daily, concerning what, where, how, and with whom we did ministry.

Missionaries entered our field of vision a couple times a year, during our yearly, all-church Missions Festival and on those rare times when a furloughed one came to speak at our youth group.  Beyond remaining faithful with my monthly missionary offerings, these rock stars of faith never made it to my back burners, let alone the front.

It’s astonishing that I made such small space in my thoughts and prayers for the millions of people around the globe, entering a God-less eternity every day. At the time, I designated that job to missionaries and evangelists. What narrow perimeters of my resource use and prayer life back then.

The first time I heard the phrase, “10/40 Window” from a missionary, I became captured by the sheer number of unreached people groups on the planet.  Maybe some of you already know there are billions, but at that time, I didn’t.  What is the 10/40 window?  To quote the Joshua Project,

The 10/40 Window is the rectangular area of North Africa, the Middle East and Asia approximately between 10 degrees north and 40 degrees north latitude. The 10/40 Window is often called “The Resistant Belt” and includes the majority of the world’s Muslims, Hindus, and Buddhists.”

Okay, I hear your questions.  “This is all very interesting, but what does it have to do with the book of Joel?”  Joel chapter three is a direct and dire warning from God to two groups of people. The first set of people in God’s mind are the nations who opposed, conquered and abused ancient Israel, you know all those somebody-ites you read in the Old Testament.

The second group refers to the nations who will still be opposing God’s people, when Christ returns. Most of them live within the 10/40 window.  Without Christ, these unfortunates will be the “multitudes” Joel says will gather in the valley of Jehoshaphat.  The Day of the Lord will contain terrors and events that will melt the minds of even the most courageous unbeliever. Their judgement for a lifetime of rebellion will be an eternity doomed to the horrors of Hell.

Joel’s specifics about what ancient peoples did to Israel in chapter three, remind us that as King Solomon said, “There is nothing new under the sun.” These folks dealt in human trafficking, slavery and carried off all the wealth of Jerusalem’s temple, worth billions in today’s dollars.  Their modern counterparts through the centuries, committed the same crimes against the Jews, most recently the Nazi regime’s murder of millions and confiscation of their property during WWII.

Today, billions of people in the 10/40 window are raised in cultures of hatred for God and his people, Jews and Christians alike.  This will place them on the wrong side of history come judgement day.  The question is, do we care?

Do we care enough to?

-include them in our prayers?

-deliberately focus mission dollars on missionaries reaching these countries?

 

-thoughtfully engage in relationships with unbelieving immigrants from the 10/40 regions?

 

-find creative ways to send emotional and spiritual support to 10/40 missionaries?

 

Including the 10/40 populations in our prayers is easy, it’s a matter of doing it.  I’ve provided some resources below.  Mission dollars can be sent through your church or you can prayerfully consider becoming a monthly supporter of one of the hundreds of ministries functioning in these hard-ground nations.

Engaging with transplanted Muslims, Buddhists or Hindus in your homeland will be a matter of strengthening your peripheral vision to see if God is placing someone near you.  A friend of mine delivers neighborhood welcome baskets for a community organization and recently encountered a Muslim family. Rather than simply smiling and leaving the gift basket with the lady of the home, she asked key questions about how they are adjusting and such.  This led to a coffee date and conversation.

What if my friend is part of this woman’s path to Christ?  What if that woman comes to Christ and then shares him with her family back in her homeland?  See where this could go?

We can also commit more of our creative energy and resource to support the heroes on the front lines in the 10/40 window.  Our church supports several missionaries in this category who are serving in countries so hostile and dangerous to Christians, we don’t even know the exact country of their ministry.  We know they are working in-country jobs that allow them to build relationships and establish house churches. Their loneliness and stress are overwhelming at times.  Cards, texts, e-mails and such can make the difference between a rough day and a better one for them.

The Day of the Lord approaches fast and millions will be called into God’s valley of judgement. This will be their horrifying first day of a god-less eternity.   Without God.  Forever.  Do we care?

 

Lamp and Sword

****Resources for study and reflection****

“Your word is a lamp for my feet and a light for my path.” Psalm 119:105

“For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword.” Hebrew 4:12

 

  • Good explanation of 10/40 window

https://joshuaproject.net/resources/articles/10_40_window

 

  • Articles with creative ideas about supporting missionaries and how to pray for them.

 

https://team.org/blog/7-ways-to-support-missionaries

 

https://katemotaung.com/2014/03/14/12-ways-to-encourage-missionaries/

 

https://influencemagazine.com/Practice/Equipping-and-Encouraging-Missionaries-Through-Prayer

 

  • Might be helpful for you to read these passages of God’s judgement on ancient peoples who opposed Israel along with the Apostle John’s prophecies about judgement yet to come. Allow God to light your fires of compassion towards present-day enemies of the gospel.

1 Samuel 5:6

2 Kings 15:5

Exodus 13,14

2 Chronicles 20:20

Revelation 6,8, 9, 16,

  • Also consider watching any of the movies in the “Left Behind” series based on the books by Christian author, Jerry Jenkins. They are often available on Netflix, Amazon Prime and such.  Some of the acting, special effects, etc.  is a little bit low-budget, but the overall effect of imagining a world under judgement, with all Christians raptured away, is quite compelling.  I believe it’s important for believers to gain understanding as to what horrors await the lost.   If you want to look them up by title, start with the phrase, “Left Behind,” and all the movies in the series will come up on an internet search.

 

 

     

 

Hidden Heroes

Sometimes leaders get too big for their britches. The consequences for their followers are painful when God eventually pulls the rug out.  Headlines like, “Church Disbands After Lead Pastor……” represent damaged hearts on a grand scale.  The problem is, it’s a subtle and easy thing to allow myself, as a leader, to try and occupy a higher position than the role God’s given to me.

In the next few posts, I’m examining some leaders from the Bible that don’t receive quite as much attention as guys like Moses, Joshua, Joseph, David and Paul.  The people I’ve selected are great leaders also, even though their spheres of influence were smaller or their season of leadership shorter.   What attracts me to them is that each one possessed a quality of spiritual greatness that I believe every leader should seek to emulate.  Today, I am dazzled by John the Baptist and his humility.

I remember when I led a thriving Bible study that dwindled because a chunk of my participants chose, one year, to attend a large, nondenominational, intensive Bible study at a nearby church. Instead of being glad that these women grew to the point that they wanted some serious Bible meat, I felt rejected. (My study was geared for young believers) Thankfully, God interrupted my pity party and pointed out my skewed perspective.  I didn’t celebrate the fact that they wanted to follow Jesus more deeply, I felt jealousy that they weren’t with me anymore.  I allowed God to change my attitude and continued to lead the beginning group for several more years.  I’m grateful he didn’t take it from me entirely and give it to someone else.

First, a few facts about John the Baptist, taken from Baker’s Bible dictionary.  When you realize the significance and honor God bestowed on him, it’s even more amazing that he didn’t think he was all that plus a bag of chips.

  • His birth is recorded in detail. (Luke 1)
  • His birth is also framed by angels and divine intervention, like Jesus. (Luke 1)
  • God chose him to be the first prophetic voice after 400 years of silence. (Isaiah 40:3-5)
  • God chose him to announce the beginning of Jesus’ ministry and the plan of salvation. (Matt. 3:2)
  • People from Jerusalem, Judea and that entire region journeyed out into the wilderness to hear him preach. (Matthew 3:1-17)
  • He baptized Jesus, the Son of God. (Matt. 3:13-17)
  • His preaching and teaching were carried all the way to the ears of King Herod. (Matthew 14:1-12)
  • His disciple’s prayer lives were so significant that one of Jesus’ disciples asked him to, “teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” (Luke 11:1)
  • The Apostle John dubbed him “the witness of the light.” (John 1:6-8)

So, how hard might it be to remain humble if you were the pastor of the first A.D. mega church that baptized Jesus Christ, along with being the ­first prophet to speak after 400 years of prophetic silence?   I’ve observed leaders with much less on their resume act like they are God’s special bonus to the church.  The truth is, God designs his leaders to be gifts to the body of Christ.  The problem with too many of us, is that we get to thinking that our piece is a little more important than some other pieces on God’s chessboard.  When a leader becomes careless with their cloak of humility, they leave a wake of damaged hearts and tarnished credibility not just in the kingdom of God, but in the lost world around them.   

I want to be like John the Baptist.  Check out his responses in the first few chapters of the Apostle John’s book, to Jesus’ fast-growing ministry on a hillside near John’s own.

“I am not the Messiah.”

                “I am the voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way for the Lord.’”

                “He is the one who comes after me, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.”

When John the Baptist’s disciples became very concerned that they were losing members to Jesus, they spoke to him about it.  He replied,

I am not the Messiah but am sent ahead of him.  The bride belongs to the bridegroom.  The friend who attends the bridegroom waits and listens for him and is full of joy when he hears the bridegroom’s voice. That joy is mine, and it is now complete.  He must become greater; I must become less.”

John expressed true joy at Jesus’s ministry success.  He didn’t view him as a competitor but instead recognized that although God chose him to occupy a very key position in kingdom events, it was time for him to recede into the background as Jesus’ ministry rose in prominence.  Oh, that every leader could possess that kind of humility.

It’s almost impossible not to run into a competitive vibe amongst spiritual leaders when you put a herd of them together.  I’ve wrangled with it every time I’ve been involved in a combined church, community event, even struggling with it sometimes in my own heart.

How differently might we come across to the unchurched and each other, as individual believers and local bodies of Christ, if our spiritual gifts and achievements could only be seen under our cloaks of humility?