Qualities of Good Shepherds

What kind of leaders should I follow?

What kind of leader do I aspire to be?

These two questions plunked themselves in front of me when I read the second and third chapters of the book of Micah. The prophet’s word pictures about self-serving leaders initially left me without any personal conviction. That’s why it’s important to study the Bible, not just read it.

“…. you skin my people alive and tear the flesh from their bones” (Micah 3:2b NLT).

“You false prophets are leading my people astray! You promise peace for those who give you food, but you declare war on those who refuse to feed you” (Micah 3:5 NLT).

Once I started to dig a little, that familiar sense of “Uh, oh. I think God’s speaking to me too,” started rising. For me, digging means reading the passages in a couple of different translations and checking out a couple of my favorite commentaries. (I’ll share a list under the “Lamp and Sword” section.) That’s when the Holy Spirit started exposing some of my past mistakes.

I observed Micah’s contrast between the qualities of God as a shepherd in chapter two, with the features of leaders whose motives are self-motivated, in chapter three. Upon quiet reflection, the Spirit reminded me of past behaviors where achieving my goals became more important than feeding, nurturing and protecting those under me. The memories didn’t limit themselves to my various professional roles as a teacher and pastor but also included my life as a wife, mother, daughter, sister, friend, and so on.  Here’s two examples:

  • I insisted my young daughter leave the house each day with neat hair and well-coordinated outfits so she would reflect well on me. I didn’t realize that’s what I was doing until she hit junior high. I realized I’d never taken the time to teach her those skills for herself. I should have been “feeding” her that information all along and allowing her to experiment a bit. I think that’s what a good shepherd mom does. I learned that from watching how she shepherds her daughters now.  She’s willing to let them create some interesting outfits, with her guidance, rather than squeeze them into her personal style box for the sake of “what will people think?”
  • At one school in which I taught, I felt pressure from my administrator to achieve unreasonable goals with my choral groups. Instead of sitting down with him to negotiate and modify the objectives, my pride led me to become a bit of tyrant. I felt that if I said that the goals seemed beyond the current crop of students, it reflected more on my teaching abilities than anything else, so I took that challenge for a few months. Choirs stopped being fun for the students and me. Finally, in discouragement, I sat down with my principal. To my amazement, he said, “Oh, those were just some ideas I had. When you didn’t offer any others, I figured you were good with them.” A good shepherd director would have sorted this out sooner than later.

I could tell many more tales of times I put my needs, wants and fears ahead of those of the people under me. Any time any shepherd puts their own concerns above the flock’s, that flock is in danger. The shepherd’s attention is focused inward and not on that little lamb who wandered off into thorn bushes, or the sheep who’s eating the poisonous plant.  Apparently, the shepherds Micah is speaking to, developed self-preservation to an art form. God inspired the prophet with graphic, bloody language to help wayward leaders see the damage they were inflicting emotionally and spiritually on the people of Israel and Judah.

The Bible has much to say about good shepherding.  Reading some of those passages, a list of character traits emerged to me. These are qualities I look for in leaders and want to be deliberate about growing in myself. My goal is that anyone following me on any level might feel nurtured, encouraged, fed, trained and equipped to do the same for other sheep.  I know it’s a lofty goal, but I think God wants us to dream large about these things.  Here’s some of the qualities of good shepherds that I found.

  • They are willing to sacrifice themselves for the needs of the flock.  “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” John 10:11. There is a balance in the life of Christ that I want to model. The gospels frequently speak about him spending time alone with God to care for his own emotional and spiritual needs yet he ultimately sacrificed his own body so his flock could live.
  • They lead people to times and places of refreshment. “He lets me rest in green meadows; he leads me beside peaceful streams” Psalm 23:2 NLT. Caring leaders take time to create environments for their flocks which encourage laughter, refreshment, celebration and rest. They don’t continuously drive the flock towards a goal, only feeding and resting enough for simple survival. They take time to meet needs along the way.
  • They care about people as people, whether they can help the leader towards their goals or not. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd” Matthew 9:36 NIV. I want my compassion and care to extend consistently towards those who are in desperate need of help and possess no ability to further my personal goals, except to make me more like Jesus.
  • They are aware of what’s going on in the lives of those who serve alongside them and under them. Know well the condition of your flocks and give attention to your herds” Proverbs 27:23 NIV. I’ve served under Christian leaders who are oblivious or worse yet, uninterested in my personal struggles. By their behavior they’ve indicated to me that my value is in what I produce, not in who I am. Sadly, several non-believing employers I’ve worked under expressed more concern about my life than a couple of my brothers and sisters in Christ in authority over me.  God help me if I’ve ever made someone feel that way and strengthen me Lord, to never do it again.

My list is not the definitive one concerning good shepherds, but it’s the one God brought to my attention. Maybe Micah can speak to you 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

 

 

 

Here’s a list of my favorite go-to commentaries.  They are all available online.

  1. Matthew Henry’s Bible Commentary (Concise) This version uses more precise, updated language than the original.   https://www.christianity.com/bible/commentary.php?com=mhc
  2. Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible by Jamieson, Faussett and Brown. These guys focus on the original languages and what words meant at the time they were written. This adds a lot of understanding to texts particularly where we might be interpreting meaning based on our own cultural biases. https://www.biblestudytools.com/commentaries/jamieson-fausset-brown/
  3. Bible Hub is an online collection of over fifty different commentaries.  I’ve used Guzik’s Bible Commentary, Barnes Notes, Scofield Reference Notes and Gills Bible Exposition. https://biblehub.com/commentaries/

 

 

 

Living With a Heavenly Viewpoint

“Only one life, ‘twil soon be past. Only what’s done for Christ will last.” My grandparents posted this saying in their home and conducted their lives by it. Yesterday, reading the fourth chapter of Micah, I realized I hadn’t thought about such things deliberately, thoughtfully, for a while. The truth about the brevity of here and now often takes a back seat to the earthly things that drive my days. I recall repeated conversations with high school English students in a similar vein, like this sample.

Student:  Gonna have my own auto body shop. Won’t be writin’ any papers there.

Me: Body shop?  Need customers to come to your place instead of others, right?

Student: Yeah…….

Me: How?

Student: (Pauses) Facebook!  Maybe some flyers?

Me: Great ideas! Who’s writing your copy?

Student: My what?

Me:  All the writing you want to put on social media and flyers. Needs to be error-free, eye-catching. Not too wordy. You can’t use dull words cause then people might stop reading after the first line.

Student: Well, I guess I’ll find a wife by then and make her do it.  (Laughter from all)

Many times, I dealt with myopic students who couldn’t envision the use of language skills in real life. Some focused on being the next great sports legend in need of two skills, throwing balls and granting interviews. The college bound students going into the sciences, couldn’t see the relevance of composition and speech. Others aimed towards technology or trade, couldn’t understand how strong writing and speaking skills could help them achieve their goals.

Although these students knew that high school only lasted four years, they didn’t live that way. They created an existence that made high school their world, instead of the short journey of education and experience it’s intended to be. I’m not throwing stones, because I believe I’ve lived the same mistake on a grander scale.

Theologian Dwight Pentecost stated that there are more verses in scripture about the time period we call the millennium than any other time period discussed in the Bible. I didn’t know that and maybe you didn’t either. Why? Most verses about the thousand-year reign are found in the Old Testament prophets. These books don’t often turn up in Bible studies and sermons. I wonder if that’s partly why God spoke to me about pedaling my way through the minor prophets in my blog this year?

When I consider my earthly life as only a launch pad, my perspective about my resources shifts. My concern about lost souls sliding towards a God-less eternity, becomes motivating to engage with them authentically so I earn the right to share the truth about Jesus. Every time I am confronted in some way with the mortality of this body and the eternity of my soul, my “whys” restore their focus back to heaven’s priorities.

Why write my blog?  To inspire and encourage other believers in their faith and motivate them to also engage with the unsaved.  Building a platform so that a publisher will pick up my book becomes a secondary goal, instead of primary.

Why labor to landscape around my house?  To create places of refreshment for people to relax in and reflect on the wonder of God’s designs. Wanting the beauty of gardens for myself and a supply of cut flowers simply for my own enjoyment isn’t as motivating.

When I first began writing, I started a novel which may still be completed someday. The story idea comes from my grandparents’ experiences in full-time ministry. I dreamed of a series of novels, beloved in the same way as Jan Karon’s “Mitford” series, filled with quirky, endearing characters.

There’s a place for well-written Christian fiction which brings laughter to the heart and causes us to reflect on our relationships. That’s an eternity-minded why, but it wasn’t mine. Mine was far more narrow and self-oriented.  Last Spring, at a writer’s conference, God challenged me with the question, “What if I helped you write a different book for now?” He gently reminded me that heaven’s agenda is greater than my small goals.

The book he re-directed me towards will be a collection of true stories from seasoned pastors and leaders about ministry’s unique challenges faced and navigated successfully. The heart of this book originates back to when my husband, Ken, and I first started full time service.  Lots of goofy, painful things happened, which no one talked about in seminary or Bible school. Our inexperience, and lack of mentors, left Ken and I feeling lonely, constantly questioning our calling and gifts and attempting to leave ministry many times.

The goal is to make a dent in the number of pastors leaving ministry each year and to encourage those in the trenches through the wisdom and counsel of experienced leaders. I become excited when I think about how many ministries and churches could be impacted positively, if their leaders didn’t feel so discouraged and lonely. See how God shifted my focus from dreams of my beloved books on library shelves to building up weary leaders?

God interrupted Micah’s crucial message about impending judgement, to write about the millennium. As high a priority as repentance is to God, he instructed his prophet to interject a sidebar about the life yet to come. God wanted the Israelites to consider the life he started preparing for them as soon as he shut the gates to Eden. He still wants his children to think about his long-term plans for us as we dream, plan and live.

The thought occurs to me that if our minds remained focused on heaven’s priorities and eternity’s viewpoint, we’d most likely find ourselves with a lot less repenting to do overall.  What do you think?

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

 

Here’s a link to an interesting article by Dr. David Jeremiah, well-known Bible teacher, about what he believes concerning the millenium.

https://davidjeremiah.blog/the-millennium/

You may come from a denomination that does not accept the millennium as a literal thousand-year reign. There are different theological points of view on this. That’s okay.  The fact that there will be a new heaven and a new earth where we will rule with Christ eternally, is indisputable and should motivate us to live accordingly regardless of how or if you believe the thousand-year reign fits into that timeline.  I’ve recommended this book before and will do so again.  “Heaven” by Randy Alcorn, is a wonderfully written, theologically sound volume on all that Scripture teaches about our future lives with God.  Understanding heaven better changed the way I view my current life and priorities.

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Obeying God When You Want to Run Away

Ever feel like you want to run away from life? I loathe the physical act of moving my legs fast, but I’m a fantastic metaphorical sprinter.  When life becomes painful and messy, I’ve attempted to check out and go elsewhere. Maybe you can relate?

 

  • During my second, full day of childbirth labor, my crazy dial went red zone. I gripped my husband’s hand, and stated calmly, “I can’t do this anymore. Take me home.” Ken refused that request kindly but firmly.

 

  • My first week teaching in an inner-city high school, a few students unused to boundaries, cussed me out, threw music in my face, threatened me with gang violence, overturned chairs and my piano then instructed me that they’d chase me off like the previous three vocal teachers. Eager to accommodate them, I composed a resignation letter during my second week.

 

  • When we adopted Bella, a beagle/lab mix, the rescue organization embellished her resume by including the word, “housebroken.” In truth, Bella did her puppy business only on our carpets, or during endless walks around our neighborhood. She refused to consider our backyard as an option. This occurred during a bitter Michigan winter when I developed intense bronchitis.  After months of cleaning up accidents and stumbling around on ice-covered sidewalks, sick, she showed no improvement. I wanted to return her.

 

Everyone wants to run away from life, at some point. Jonah fled from his assignment from God to preach in Nineveh.  After some research, I understood why. First, the city was huge, sixty miles wide and populated by close to a million people. Where modern Bibles say in chapter four, “a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left,” God isn’t talking about stupid humans. The word “people” in original Hebrew, is the word for children. Scholars estimate the greater population number based on the number of children so young, they didn’t know right from left yet. So, one prophet, called to preach repentance to a million people.

Secondly, Jonah expected great resistance. Nimrod, the architect of the tower of Babel, built in rebellion to God, also founded Nineveh. The worship of Ishtar or Astarte, the goddess of fertility, death and destruction, dominated the cultural and religious life of the city.  Immorality and violence existed to such an extreme in this place, God said to Jonah, in the first verse of the book, “Go to Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me.”  Apparently, many angels lodged complaints about Nineveh.

Imagine walking through the most dangerous neighborhoods of any large city shouting, “Repent of your sins or God is going to destroy this city!”  I don’t know many people eager to take on the kind of assignment God brought to Jonah. Nevertheless, God expected obedience from Jonah and he still expects it from us.  Instead, Jonah ran in the opposite direction and set a chain of tumultuous events in motion that still ended with him preaching in Nineveh.

How can we stay put in our assignments and circumstances into which God directs or allows us, when our minds and emotions scream for us to run? How do we show up for our life authentically, with all its pains and trials? How do we stay fully engaged instead of phoning it in?

  • First, discern whether your situation is a result of your own poor choices, someone else’s sin or if you are right smack where God’s planted you. Sometimes he places us deliberately in difficult situations for many reasons like, our growth, to encourage and lead others and to change environments around us. Knowing how you landed where you are, is important to move forward.

 

  • If you are in a tough place due to your wrong decisions and actions, God is still there. “If I go up to heaven, you are there; if I go down to the grave, you are there” (Psalm 139:8 NLT). Jonah landed in a fish’s stomach, due to disobedience, but God never turned away from him.  Like Jonah, cry out to God and repent. After that, God is eager to forgive and re-appoint you into the plans he’s designed for you, just like King David and the apostle Peter.  Your ability to squirrel up your life is never greater than God’s power to forgive and restore. “And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.” I Peter 5:10

 

  • You may be jammed up due to another’s sin or other circumstances beyond your control. An unfaithful spouse, addicted child, ruthless employer, devastating weather events or economic downturns, can turn your life upside down.  Consider Sarah’s predicament, in Genesis 20, when Abraham’s cowardice and lying turned her into a king’s concubine. God protected her from rape and blessed her life immeasurably while calling out Abraham’s sin through a pagan king. Imagine the pain and betrayal she felt from her husband, yet God turned the situation around for her good.  He is marvelous at doing that for his children.  There are always new beginnings waiting, with God.

 

  • Lastly, when you find yourself in God-ordained circumstances that confound, depress and hurt, remember, God did not place you there to destroy you, but to refine you. “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” (Jeremiah 29:11 NIV). God’s plans to develop our character and deepen our faith usually involve some pain. Invite a couple trusted friends to partner with you in prayer so you can go through the mountain instead of being crushed by it. Find scripture pertinent to your challenge, memorize and speak it out loud. The Word of God changes hearts and environments. “You have tested us O God; you have purified us like silver” (Psalm 66:10 NLT). “I have refined you, but not as silver is refined.  Rather, I have refined you in the furnace of suffering” (Isaiah 48:10 NLT).

 

 If you run from God’s assignments, he will plunk you in a different furnace to accomplish his purposes in you.  Jumping from church to church, job to job, relationship to relationship, does not create character depth. I stayed in that inner-city school until God led me out, and Bella still lives with us five years later. Strength is gained through God-directed perseverance.

 

Jumping around only makes us good jumpers. What if Joseph escaped from prison and ran back home?  How does that work out then for him to rule over Egypt and save his family from starvation?  What if the apostle Paul escaped one of his prisons? We’d be missing key New Testament books.

 

Remember Jonah the next time you’re tempted to let Satan chase you off. Instead, trust God to do amazing things in the most unlikely circumstances.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How to Take Down Jealousy Before It Takes You Out

 

How much are you willing to pay for the luxury of jealousy?  I sacrificed contentment and joy for a few years envying other ministries.  I sinned against God and I robbed myself of enjoying my own backyard because I frequently sighed for the greener grass in other yards.  Somehow, I overlooked the fact that those people battled weeds, weather and rodents too.

God performed wonderful works in the church I served in at that time with salvations, healings, restorations and such. Nevertheless, for a couple of years I managed to maintain this “Oh that IS really great, but….” attitude.   I celebrated the victories each time, but of course ongoing, normal challenges waited to be faced after the victory dances died down.  I’d mutter things like, “I’ll bet pastor So and So doesn’t have to deal with this stuff at his church,” and other jealous, self-pitying comments in that vein.

When we struggle with envy, this is what we do.  We look at other’s lives and decide they are making out much better than we are.  We minimize the wonders God performs in our lives because we are too busy wanting what someone else has. Often, the truth is we know nothing except our limited viewpoint from our backyard. Satan whispers in our ears about the lush beauty of someone else’s grass while covering our eyes to their lawn problems. Also consider that their lawn might indeed be perfect but what we can’t see is that they’ve got black mold inside their house.

In the book of Obadiah, we see generational strife between two peoples who should have been allies and instead became enemies due to the sin of jealousy hundreds of years earlier.  Jacob, the forefather of the Israelites, envied his brother Esau, the forefather of the Edomites, in his position as their father, Isaac’s favorite and due to receive all the blessing and fortunes as the firstborn son.

Jacob’s mother, Rebekah fostered this jealousy and even conceived a devious plan to steal Esau’s birthright. The irony is that God wanted to prosper Jacob and cause him to receive the firstborn blessing, but this is surely not how he planned to do it.  Instead, Jacob and his mother’s deception set in motion events that reverberated evil for many generations to come.

  • The jealousy of Jacob’s youth continued right into his own dysfunctional family unit, with his two wives, Rachel and Leah. Barren Rachel felt tremendous jealousy towards fertile Leah.  Leah envied the love Jacob showered on Rachel and her two sons but only shared with her in smaller measure, even though she presented him with many sons.  And in this messy, emotional stew, Leah’s boys learned jealousy at home.

 

  • Jacob and Leah’s sons, brothers to Joseph, son of Rachel and Jacob, zealously carried the family banner of jealousy. This caused to almost murder Joseph and sell him into slavery. The price they paid with their father’s grief and their own fearful guilt in Egypt years later, is something to see.

 

The Bible shares several other stories of envy ending poorly.  I assure you these people also did not fully consider where they might end up once they started down jealousy road.

  • David envied Urriah for his beautiful wife, Bathsheba. He stole her virtue, caused Urriah’s death and then David and Bathsheba paid a dreadful price through the death of their child.

 

  • Finally, the tragic story of King Saul’s jealousy of David is a cautionary tale to anyone who thinks God is treating someone else a bit better than themselves. In this case, Saul suffered the consequences of his own sin. Instead of being genuinely repentant, he became insanely jealous of God’s new man.  Saul moves from anointed of God to suicidal madman, with jealousy coaxing him on.

 

How can we recognize, repent of and refute jealousy in our lives before we wind up crumpled by our own jealousy?

  • Take note of whom you criticize. Sometimes judgement is rooted in jealousy.  We want to bring people down, so we feel better about ourselves

and not feel jealous of them.  That’s not the way to do it.

 

  • Pay attention to your unguarded daydreams. Are they filled with potential and possibilities from God or are they consistently musing over the trappings of someone else’s life?

 

  • Notice how you feel when someone is living in or receives something for which you are desiring or believing. God wants us to be authentically joyful for them and trustfully peaceful about his process in our lives.

 

  

  • Choose deliberate thanks for every bit of goodness and mercy in your life. Start your prayer times with thanking, not asking. 

 

  • Be honest with yourself and God when jealousy’s fingers start to clench your heart. Everyone is tempted by envy, but we do not need to give way to it.  Ask God to replace your discontent with contentment and hope.

 

  • Memorize Scripture to toss back at Satan when he tempts you this way. Here’s some suggestions:   1 Cor. 13:4, Proverbs 14:30, Gal. 5:22-23, Psalm 37:1-3, James 3:14-16

                                 

 

 

How to Keep a Grace Posture in a Wicked World

Gloating is a sly character who nudges us from righteous victory, into celebrating the destruction of someone under the power of sin.  Well-written stories lead us to root for the hero and applaud the demise of the villain, especially if the punishment fits the crime. Who doesn’t want Robin Hood to bring down the Sheriff of Nottingham or Luke Skywalker to cut Darth Vader in half with that light sabre?  There is a God-given quality in all of us that seeks for balance in the world, for Davids to defeat Goliaths.

I remember an elementary bully who tormented my brother relentlessly.  Bruce found creative ways to ruin our neighborhood playground by pushing kids off swings, smearing dog poop on the slide and other nasty stuff. One of his favorite tricks involved sneaking up on kids hanging upside on the monkey bars and pushing their legs off.  I’m positive angelic host guarded that playground because there should have been some serious head injuries.

One day, Bruce and a couple of his buddies hung upside down on a parallel bar right over a generous mud puddle, the kind created by busy children in grassy playgrounds and a good thunderstorm.  While my friends and I watched from the swing sets, a group of kids Bruce’s age, sick of him bothering their younger siblings, dumped he and his friends on their heads, in the puddle.

Possibly, that part of the plan could be deemed kid justice but then, the perpetrators started wailing on Bruce. They kept beating him until he stopped fighting.  Most of the playground cheered and sneered while Bruce and his friends slunk home.  I know that kind of scene comes across great in movies, but even to my child eyes, it reeked of revenge. Bruce came from a family of alcoholics, who beat their children frequently, and everyone on the street knew it.  Yes, Bruce needed some standing up to and consequences, but he also needed someone to recognize that he was trapped in sin, just like his parents.

The people of Edom hated their brother Israelites due to the theft of Esau’s birthright by Jacob.  They  felt that Israel didn’t deserve to live in the fertile promised land, while they carved out their existence in the rough mountains.  Then, when Israel turned to worshipping other Gods, in the promised land, that truly frosted the Edomite’s cookies.  You need to be filled with a good deal of unexpressed anger, hatred and resentment to act the way they did.

First, they blocked the Israelites escape routes from the God-sent judgement of the Assyrian army.  Then, they took their revenge a step further and slaughtered all the fleeing Israelites they came found.  Finally, the Edomites threw themselves a gloating party, celebrating the demise of Israel, and God heard them.

“You should not gloat over your brother in the day of his misfortune, nor rejoice over the people of Judah in the day of their destruction, nor boast so much in the day of their trouble.” Obad. 12

We can transition from righteous rejoicing to gloating over an enemy’s fall, when we forget two things.  First, every perpetrator of evil is themselves a victim of Satan. He’s lied and deceived them to such a point that sin is normalized.  Second, we lose sight of God’s desire that no one should perish. This does not mean that we oppose justice and punishment.  God’s laws and precepts are perfect and designed to benefit humans, not harm them. His design for justice decrees that lawbreakers must face consequences, sometimes severe ones but never with gloating or boasting.

Justice is rolling out in unprecedented ways across the world right now. Human and drug trafficking kingpins, like El Chapo, and their organizations, are being exposed. Millions of people are awakening to the true nature of the abortion industry. Those are just two of many examples.

What about the injustices we experience personally?  Violent crime, sexual abuse,  unjust firings or demotions, theft, fraud, even just plain old bullying can tempt us to sin in so many ways.  When we are in pain, it becomes easy to want revenge and to rejoice in an unhealthy way when our perpetrator is brought to justice or is brought low by their own life choices.  This is a tough, tough place to be and only God can keep our hearts and minds in such a place. He still commands us, in Phillipipians 4:8, to focus our minds on what is true, noble, of good report, pure, lovely admirable, excellent and praiseworthy.

How should mature believers respond righteously when we see wickedness exposed and justice administered?  How can we avoid falling into sin ourselves if we or someone we love is the victim of violence or wickedness?

  •  Forgive those who sin against you and yours whether they seek forgiveness or not. This is non-negotiable for your own spiritual health  Mark 11:25
  • Trust God to execute justice rightly, even when it doesn’t seem to be happening. Isaiah 35:4
  • Pray that the wicked are exposed completely, and that they are unable to hide their deeds any longer. Mark 4:22
  • Pray for yourself and other victims they they are redeemed and restored by Jesus Christ. Don’t make a place for thoughts about revenge or retaliation, as these things are pure poison to the soul. Isaiah 61:7,  I Peter 5:10, Psalm 71:20-21
  • Pray for evil doers to come to saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. Like Bruce, many wicked people are raised in sin and know no other way of life.  2 Peter 3:8-10 Although this will not excuse them from judgement by God, recognize that their path to The Light has been thwarted by darkness at every turn.
  • Ask God to keep your heart and mouth pure that you do not gloat about lives crushed by their own sinful choices.  It’s just too easy to slip into a “Good! They got what’s comin’ to them,” posture when we see lawbreakers brought to account.  Psalm 51:10

God seeks righteous, pure hearted people in these last days, people who will pray and stand faithfully for truth. Don’t be placed to the back of the ranks because God catches you dancing on graves.

 

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