Come Let Us Reason Together

“Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord:
though your sins are like scarlet,
   they shall be as white as snow;
though they are red like crimson,
   they shall become like wool.
Isaiah 1:18

Going back to the Garden of Eden, we get a story of how the Lord intended things for humanity.  He created a world that man and woman could live in, enjoy, and tend to. He gave them stewardship over all that He had created.  And in that creation, He walked with them. He listened and encouraged them. He gave advice. He made suggestions. He reasoned with them.  God and man worked together in His creation.

Only when Adam and Eve were seduced into the arrogant notion of gaining the “knowledge of good and evil” for themselves, did they cut God out of the picture, and fall into the terrible temptation and condemnation of sin.  They no longer reasoned with God over what was right or wrong, they decided for themselves.

The battle between right and wrong entered into the world of man, and with it life and death.  This perversion of God’s plan started a series of events that would culminate into the Salvation and Restoration of God’s people to Himself through Christ.

With it also came the tragic perceived contradictions in scripture that often play havoc with our intellect. If we are not clear and precise in our understanding of the character and transformative power of Jesus, we will question and doubt God, or worse, only consider ourselves in regard to our interaction with the world and God’s plan for it and us.  

The knowledge of good and evil broke our dependence on God to show us right from wrong, and brought into question every future act committed by man.  Right or wrong, man got to choose, and in so doing, his perspective might or might not line up with God’s. Man had been shown in the Garden that obedience and partnership with God brought life and happiness.  Unfortunately, man also learned that life apart from God would bring death.

To man, the human existence is life, followed by death.  Comprehending the reality of what life and death mean to the human condition is best explained by the Lord himself.

“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.
John 12:24

Death comes before life. Jesus proved this point through His own body.  He allowed himself to die, be buried, and then resurrected, to give us the ultimate picture of the obedient sacrifice and what it would bring. He gave up His own “right” to life in order to receive the fullness of His deepest most joyful desire: the salvation of the lost (Hebrews 12:2).  His was a perfect sacrifice with perfect obedience. His prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane, right before being arrested was this:

“Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.”
Luke 22:42

Too often I think our church culture suggests that we beat down who we are and what we think in regard and response to Jesus: that beating down our own thoughts is how we “die to self.”  We tell ourselves and each other that we must consider “what Jesus would do” and forget that Jesus might want to actually have a conversation with us about it. Jesus had a conversation with God in the garden of Gethsemane, not a silent robotic command.

We don’t give up our self to “live as Christ, to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21).  We let ourselves shine by sharing our thoughts with God and then letting him tell us how best to proceed, knowing that His decisions will lead us on a course of life.  We die to having the “final say” on what we will do. We let Him tell us what is right for us and what is wrong.

I’d like to add, though, that as we muse and ponder and plan with the Lord, though, we should act with care and caution.  Otherwise we open ourselves up to the attack of the enemy, who prowls around at all times, looking for ways to exploit our weakness and stir our insecurities.  

8 Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.
1 Peter 5:8

In our obedience to God, and our active intention to put to death our sinful desires, we find peace.  Peace and joy and power come from walking in the Presence of the Lord and reasoning together with Him. When we follow our own hearts without God’s input, we are submitting to the death of this world instead of receiving the life of Jesus that we are promised.

Jesus said,

10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.
John 10:10

 

Omniscient Omnipresent Omnipotent

I know that you can do all things,
   and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.
Job 42:2

Recently the Lord has been teaching me about His power.  In Western Christian life and culture, I think we have become too accustomed to the words omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent.  We know what they mean but the words no longer give us a clear representation of who God is in our own minds. They have become words with no real significance.  

How could we lose the weight of such powerful words when describing God? I think the answer is simple: we don’t trust words that describe God when we have never really experienced them.

I have sobbed in fear and trembling to the Lord when I was asked to do something because I feared that if I made the “wrong” decisions I would make God mad, or things wouldn’t work out the way they were meant to, or I would lead someone astray.  After all, doesn’t the Bible say that we are under extra scrutiny from the Lord if we are asked to teach and lead others?

Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.
James 3:1

But if we see that verse through the lense of fear what have we accomplished?  Greater faith? Deeper knowledge? No. Instead we question our right to teach. We question our calling to teach.  Our fear throws us into a chaotic blend of presumption, shame, and judgement. There’s nothing of God in those things!  

Being judged with greater strictness is to acknowledge God’s real sovereignty, and His ability to teach and correct us with authority and strength.  But because we don’t trust the words omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent, we put all the emphasis on ourselves. It’s just so much easier to take the shame than to humbly believe God really is all powerful, all knowing, and everywhere at once.

It’s hard to believe those unseen realities of God.  It’s hard to trust it because we don’t let ourselves experience it.  We live in a world where we don’t have to experience it in order to have success, happiness, or confidence. We work hard, we get an education, we marry a wonderful person, we have beautiful children, and on and on and on. We’ve been taught to be independant, to think for ourselves, to make our own destiny through hard work and perseverance.  We question everything and then we don’t know how to marry that perspective with the truth of God.

What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? 2 You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. 3 You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.
James 4:1-3

Isn’t it possible to ponder and consider the works and wisdom of God and still think for ourselves?  Of course it is, but only if it is seeking after God’s heart and not our own. We must accept a dependence on God that we don’t naturally want to have.  It’s too contrary to our desire to be self-sufficient, to be selfish, to do what we want.

4 You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.
James 4:4

Harsh words for a harsh truth.  Going our own way makes us enemies with God.  The good news is that God wants more for us than that.  He doesn’t want us to be His enemies. He died for us that we could be His children, not His destruction!

5 Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, “He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us”? 6 But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” 7 Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.
James 4:5-7

When we submit to God’s will and teaching in our lives, and when we choose to believe and trust the truth about God’s omniscience, omnipotence, and omnipresent power we can actually start to learn and trust more deeply in those bigger truths.  Just because our human nature tries to tear us away from such things, and pushes us to make our own way in the world, doesn’t mean that we have to submit to those things. We can choose instead to submit to God and walk in the joy and peace of God’s sovereignty and not our own way.

Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. 9 Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. 10 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.
James 4:8-10

In other words: REPENT!  Turn to God and trust Him to lead you.  Then, when you are faced with difficult decisions and you don’t want to screw it up, you can trust in a truly all powerful, all knowing, all loving God, who longs to give you peace and joy and faith even in the midst of difficulty.

We can trust God.  And we can trust the truth of who He is.  His plans cannot be thwarted by us. When we humble ourselves and receive His leadership in our lives we know that He will use whatever we lovingly work to do for Him.

28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. 29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30 And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.
James 8:28-30

We have every reason to trust God and to trust His leadership and power in our own lives. God hasn’t left His glory and desires for us to be unraveled like a puzzle. He spells it out for us so that we can trust Him.

31 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? 33 Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.
James 8:31-34

No need to worry, no need to fear.  God’s got this figured out. All we need to do is trust and obey. We can’t screw it up if we’re doing that!

 

Unity

Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one.
John 17:11b

How many times has a church split up due to a disagreement with leadership over some derisive issue?  I grew up watching my parents get angry at whatever church we were attending, over and over again. We would leave a congregation after a few months because my parents would get offended or hurt by some decision of leadership.  It didn’t take much for them.

As a young Christian, I didn’t dare to question my family’s lack of unity with local churches.  I didn’t even know that was what was happening! Instead I questioned the sincerity of the Christian leadership at each of the many churches my parents chose for us to attend. My parents couldn’t be wrong, so I had to find someone else to blame.

See, I didn’t have any leadership from my parents in unity.  I didn’t know how to find unity, or practice being unified, or even know enough of the Bible to understand what the Lord wanted for me and for His Church in regard to unity.  

Jesus, our High Priest and Savior, prayed that we would have unity with one another and with Him. Everything Jesus has done and will do comes from his loving desire to see us all in agreement with each other and with Him.  We can only be in agreement and be unified if we are first unified with Jesus.

I had to grow up and learn to make decisions for myself in order to really learn what the Lord wanted for His people.  My parents hadn’t taught me to put Jesus first. I had to learn it on my own. As I began to focus on the Lord, He began to reveal Himself to me and I gained confidence in His leadership.

To have unity with each other and with God, we must know the Lord’s will for us as a Church body.  If we don’t know that, we can’t possibly succeed. This is why my parents struggled. They didn’t know how to make Christ the head of their family, they didn’t know how to trust Him, so anytime their feathers got ruffled they ran away.

By knowing the Word of God, we know what the Lord wants for us.  It’s right there in black and white.

Jesus prayed, “12 While I was with them, I kept them in your name, which you have given me. I have guarded them, and not one of them has been lost except the son of destruction, that the Scripture might be fulfilled. 13 But now I am coming to you, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves. 14 I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. 15 I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. 16 They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. 17 Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. 18 As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. 19 And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth.
John 17:12-19

Jesus prayed that His disciples and all those that would follow after Him that through the Words of Truth He had taught, and through the actions of His own obedience to the Father, His followers would learn to be in unity with one another and with Him.  It’s the Truth that Jesus gave us that would be a way for us to understand His purposes for us as a Body.

God’s Word and Truth sanctify us.  That is, we are made more and more holy as we listen and learn and practice what Jesus has taught us.  If the Body of Christ earnestly seeks Him and His Truth, then, being led by Jesus, we will find unity through obedience to Him.

20 “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, 21 that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, 23 I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.”
John 17:20-23

The Lord’s desire for us to be unified comes from His love for all people, and His longing for all people to trust and believe in Him.  When we are unified with one another with Christ as our head, we show the world the deep miracle of God’s love and care for us. Our unity is a testimony to the fallen world in which we live.  

And sadly, our lack of unity (like my parents example to me), throws the world into question about Our Savior, because disunity is of the world.  To me, that’s the saddest reality of all.

24 Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world. 25 O righteous Father, even though the world does not know you, I know you, and these know that you have sent me. 26 I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.”

Christ’s love for us is His primary hope for our unity. He plants His Spirit into all who give Him their allegiance and accept His love and forgiveness, because through that communion we can best understand, and also supernaturally be equipped, in order to show God’s love and unity to the world.

Unity is a powerful testimony to a sinful world. God’s desire for us all is that we would see the glory of the Lord revealed by His Spirit, soak up and reflect that glory together, and show a fallen world how to be filled with that same glory and joy found only in Him.  

Loneliness

Turn to me and be gracious to me,
   for I am lonely and afflicted.
17 The troubles of my heart are enlarged;
   bring me out of my distresses.
18 Consider my affliction and my trouble,
   and forgive all my sins.
Psalm 25:16-18

Last night I had a friend call me.  She’d had a vivid dream/vision of me and she wanted to share it with me.  I know this friend to be prophetic and full of unadulterated joy and confidence in the Spirit, so I was excited and intrigued by what she had seen.

Retelling the details of the dream isn’t as important as what the Lord said to me through it.  He didn’t want me to be lonely. He wanted me to know that if I dwell in a place of loneliness I will begin to feel desperate and trapped, but He has opened the doors wide to green pastures and He is leading me gently by the hand.

Of course this has great value for me, especially since my husband travels internationally regularly to share the Gospel.  But I also can’t help but see that the Lord wants us all to know the freedom of His leadership and companionship.

I’m often guilty of putting my hope for fellowship in the presence of my husband and friends.  And when I do that I am satisfied for the moment, but sorely lacking when those people are not accessible.  Not so with God. He is always there. He adores me and longs to spend time with me. He wants to lead me beside still waters and restore my soul.

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
2     He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
3     He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness
   for his name’s sake.
Psalm 23:1-3

He wants to restore me, comfort me, and BE WITH ME.  And yet my heart strays away, in search of worldly comforts, and worldly desires, even though those comforts and desires only lead to death.

Now, in the midst of loneliness, praying for my husband as he brings the Gospel to dangerous places and I go to bed alone, I am reminded that God is longing for me.  His graciousness and enduring love are infinite and yet they are fully personal to me. When my heart is heavy with the affliction of loneliness and fear, God hears me and hungers for me to draw closer to Him.

When my friend called me last night, she encouraged me to reach out to my friends so that I could receive the gifts of blessing the Lord has for me through them.  But as I meditated on the words she had given me, all I could think of is the longing the Lord has for me, and I’ve pushed away the idea of fellowship with Believers.

I want to put my focus on communion with Him, first and foremost, but I seem to do it at the expense of community with my brothers and sisters.  Only in Him are my troubles settled and my sins forgiven. My sin of dependency of other things besides God. My sin of fear. My sin of doubt. My sin of defeat.  All of them keep me from trusting in the Lord with all my heart.

I am victorious in the Lord!  I have been promised abundant life.  I have been given victory over my enemies.  

Even though I walk through the valley
of the shadow of death,

   I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
   your rod and your staff,
   they comfort me.
Psalm 23:4

I have been promised comfort in the midst of my trial.  I have been promised courage and not fear. Jesus brings comfort when I let Him lead me.  So often I don’t let Him!

I have everything I need when I am in the Presence of the Living God.  

But seeking out friends for fellowship and encouragement also has so much value.  Too often the Lord reminds of the truth of peace in His Presence and so I proclaim it over myself and don’t see results.  Now I know why. God doesn’t want us to be lonely. He made us to dwell in unity.

Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!
Psalm 133:1

Sure, I need my alone time with the Lord, but I also need my fellowship with the Body of Christ, so that my family and I can share our gifts from God with one another, so that we can be encouraged, healed, inspired, and exhorted, just to name a few. There is a happy balance between the enduring and constant fellowship the Lord wants to have with us, and also in the fellowship that we should have together.

Jesus even prayed for us to be in unity with our brothers and sisters in Him:

15 I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. 16 They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. 17 Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. 18 As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. 19 And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth.

20 “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, 21 that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, 23 I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.

Therefore my prayer is this:

Lord lead me beside still waters, restore my soul, turn to me and be gracious to me.  And help me to be in unity with You AND with the body of Christ here on Earth. As you so aptly said, “It is not good that man should be alone.” (Genesis 2:18)

When I’m lonely I will seek Your Presence as well as the fellowship of believers.  Both are important, and I’m sorry that in the past I have forsaken the body of Christ when I am lonely. Help me in my loneliness, Jesus.  Help me in my fear.

Oh, guard my soul, and deliver me!
   Let me not be put to shame, for I take refuge in you.
21 May integrity and uprightness preserve me,
   for I wait for you.
Psalm 25:20-21

Amen

 

Suffering Sucks

Suffering sucks God.

Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5 and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.
Romans 5:3-5

It sucks, God.  I hate it, even though I know that You will use it.  I know what Your word says about suffering. I know Jesus suffered.  I know David suffered. I know the Apostles suffered. Paul suffered.  And God, I am suffering.

I’m tired from fighting.  It takes so much energy to cope with physical pain.  And, Lord, I feel like I’ve dealt with crisis after crisis for most of my life. I know that lots of people suffer, God, and I am no better or worse than anyone else.  But right now this is about me and You. And I hurt, God.

It’s not even just the physical pain, Lord.  Sometimes, I really think I can live with that stuff.  But the emotional pain is equally hard.  It’s exhausting. Therapy has brought so many horrible things to the surface.

It’s stuff I buried.  Stuff I didn’t want to see again.  Even though it’s festered and rotted inside of me.  Even though it has slowly been killing me, I still feel like it’s too hard to get it out sometimes.  

You showed me a vision of Your steady hand carefully cutting out the dead flesh within me.  Precision isn’t even a good enough word for what You showed me You were doing in my heart. But it hurts, God!  It hurts so bad.

Then there’s all the physical junk.  My knees hurt.  I can barely walk.  And I feel like I’m a breath away from being stuck in my wheelchair again. Why did You allow the doctor to take away my pain meds and my arthritis meds?  I know the medical reasons, God. I even know the spiritual reasons. It draws me closer to You. It helps me have compassion and empathy for others.  It teaches me patience. It shows me a deeper level of Your faithfulness and compassion.

But the process sucks.

I keep thinking about Jesus in the Garden.  He had a serious “it sucks” conversation with You that night.  What He was facing was beyond horrific. I can’t even imagine. You know, though, God.  You know my hurt, my frustration and my fear.  But like Jesus said, “Not my will, but Yours, Father.”  Help me with that, would ya?

I’m afraid.  I’m afraid of what’s next.  I’m afraid of what pain I may have in my future.  I’m afraid of what harder suffering may lie ahead.  I know a lot of people are thinking right now that You didn’t give me a spirit of fear, and believe me, I know it!  But I want to keep things real, God. Only when I acknowledge my fear can I give it to You to turn to courage.

You make strength from my weakness, God, and I am so weak. Take my weakness.  Take my fear. Take my pain and my suffering and my grief and my tears. Take them and use them for Your glory God.  Your glory and Your Kingdom are the only things that keep me going.

Father, my suffering is bringing more and more death to myself and my wickedness.  My suffering has brought me perseverance in You. My pain has taught me endurance. It’s built my character.  It’s done all the things that You said it would.

You are faithful God. My suffering builds my hope in You.  And hope doesn’t suck at all.

12 Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. 13 But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.
1 Peter 4:12-13

For my take on depression, see my post: Having A Broken Spirit Sucks

The Just and the Unjust

14 And the Lord raised up an adversary against Solomon, Hadad the Edomite. He was of the royal house in Edom…19 And Hadad found great favor in the sight of Pharaoh, so that he gave him in marriage the sister of his own wife, the sister of Tahpenes the queen.
1 Kings 11:14,19

It makes me so mad when evil people win.  It doesn’t seem fair. Rapists go free. Cheaters make millions.  The arrogant thrive. The strong lord over the weak.

Why do good people suffer and bad people get blessed?  

I work so hard trying to do the right things in life.  I try to follow God’s statutes. I read the Word. I pray and fast and meditate on the greatness of the Lord.  I help the poor. I weep with the broken. What else do I have to do?

I look around and everywhere I turn good people are suffering.  They get cancer and die. They lose their jobs. They go hungry.  They get killed in car wrecks. And Jesus got betrayed by one of his closest friends, and then got murdered.  

Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours.
John 15:20

Ok, so Jesus answers the question of why bad things happen to good people.  The Enemy hates us, just like he hates Jesus. He’s running around doing his best to hurt God’s children.  And so bad things happen to good people. But God will be in it. God will always work it for good for those who love him and follow him.

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.
Romans 8:28

I think every Christian calls on that verse when bad things happen to them.  We hope and we pray and we trust that God will use this horrible incident for our good.  

But that still doesn’t answer the flip side of the issue.  What about the bad people? What about the evil who thrive and succeed?  It doesn’t seem fair.

When I look at Solomon, I see a son of David, a man who asked for wisdom and recieved great blessing from the Lord.  And I see Solomon fall away from the Lord because of his overconfidence, because of his disobedience. And yet it was Solomon who was credited with saying:

Listen to advice and accept instruction, that you may gain wisdom in the future. Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand.
Proverbs 19:20-21

No matter what our plans are, it is God’s purposes that will stand.  And that seems to be the answer to why good things happen to bad people.  God’s purposes will stand.

God raised up Hadad the Edomite.  God raised him up. God blessed him.  God. He did it to discipline Solomon.  God raised up adversaries against Solomon as discipline, while still preserving a remnant of David’s line out of love for David.  

God’s purposes will prevail.  

God took a bad situation (Solomon’s disobedience) and used it to show His faithfulness. God remained faithful to David, who had shown such devotion to Him even through his sinfulness.  The kings that followed Solomon grew worse and worse and worse. Their hearts strayed far from God. Yet God used it all to show His faithfulness.

The kings of Israel were a messy bunch.  But God uses messy things to show His love and faithfulness.  How else can the Light of the World shine in the darkness, except by the mercy and power of a faithful God who blesses the just and the unjust for His purposes to be revealed?

Jesus, help me to see Your divine purpose in all things.  When it hurts and I’m frustrated and struggling with pain and defeat, remind me of Your victory.  Show me Your faithfulness. Shine Your light through me in this dark world that Your purposes may be revealed in the darkness. Help me love those who I don’t think deserve it because You loved them enough to die for them.  Use me as a tool of blessing and service to Your purposes, Lord. Even if it hurts.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
Matthew 5:43-48

 

Disobedience and the Temptation to Sin

Now King Solomon loved many foreign women, along with the daughter of Pharaoh: Moabite, Ammonite, Edomite, Sidonian, and Hittite women, 2 from the nations concerning which the Lord had said to the people of Israel, “You shall not enter into marriage with them, neither shall they with you, for surely they will turn away your heart after their gods.” Solomon clung to these in love.
1 Kings 11:1-2

Admittedly, I can’t relate to loving many foreign women and taking them as brides, but I can definitely get on board the disobedience bus. My heart can be so quickly drawn away from the things the Lord has warned me against.  I justify and explain it away every day in order to have the things I want.

For Solomon, disobedience and temptation came from having a blessed and rich life.  God had granted Solomon wisdom, vast fortune, and long life. Enjoying worldly comfort gave Solomon a false sense of security.  He began to look at his success and blessings as gods instead of God Himself.

We all do it.  We say things like, “I can teach the Bible great.  I went to seminary!” or, “I worked really hard to get that promotion!” or, “I set my mind to it and I got it done.”  We are so arrogant. We forget that every breath we take is a gift of God. Every celebration, every penny, every good thing in our lives comes from God.

Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.
James 1:17

Nowhere in that verse does it say we can give good gifts to ourselves.  The lie of the arrogant heart is self sufficiency. Without God we would not even have our life.  So, why does the comfort in provision take us down the road of disobedience?

If the Lord had blessed Solomon with wealth, and wisdom, and good health, why shouldn’t He also provide beautiful, exotic women to enjoy it all with?  Sure, those women were idol worshippers and devoted to destruction by the Lord for their denial of His sovereignty, but he could change their minds, right?  He could show them the beauty and glory of God because of how richly God had blessed him.

Hear what I’m saying?  In my ministry I am constantly trying to talk young women out of  “missionary dating”. People hear my testimony about praying for my Muslim husband to come to Christ and they think that’s a great way to win thier beloved to Christ.  But it’s not.

I am not special.  I was a fool to marry someone who didn’t know Jesus.  It caused great sorrow and pain in my life to be married to a man utterly opposed to my religious point of view.  My husband didn’t come to Christ until I had repented of my foolishness and pleaded with Jesus to help me.

I think Solomon felt untouchable.  I think he had enjoyed so much blessing that nothing would keep him from continuing to receive it.  He might have looked back at his father’s life and thought himself no different. David loved beautiful women, too, so what’s wrong with that?

For when Solomon was old his wives turned away his heart after other gods, and his heart was not wholly true to the Lord his God, as was the heart of David his father. 5 For Solomon went after Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, and after Milcom the abomination of the Ammonites. 6 So Solomon did what was evil in the sight of the Lord and did not wholly follow the Lord, as David his father had done.
1 Kings 11:4-6

David repented for his folly time and time again.  His default with God was to be a humble servant. Every failure he met with repentance.  Every blessing he received with humility. David’s heart was for God’s promise of salvation.

Solomon had fair warning, but chose to disobey anyway.

And the Lord said to him, “I have heard your prayer and your plea, which you have made before me. I have consecrated this house that you have built, by putting my name there forever. My eyes and my heart will be there for all time. 4 And as for you, if you will walk before me, as David your father walked, with integrity of heart and uprightness, doing according to all that I have commanded you, and keeping my statutes and my rules, 5 then I will establish your royal throne over Israel forever, as I promised David your father, saying, ‘You shall not lack a man on the throne of Israel.’ 6 But if you turn aside from following me, you or your children, and do not keep my commandments and my statutes that I have set before you, but go and serve other gods and worship them, 7 then I will cut off Israel from the land that I have given them, and the house that I have consecrated for my name I will cast out of my sight, and Israel will become a proverb and a byword among all peoples. 8 And this house will become a heap of ruins. Everyone passing by it will be astonished and will hiss, and they will say, ‘Why has the Lord done thus to this land and to this house?’ 9 Then they will say, ‘Because they abandoned the Lord their God who brought their fathers out of the land of Egypt and laid hold on other gods and worshiped them and served them. Therefore the Lord has brought all this disaster on them.’”
1 Kings 9:3-9

I think that seems pretty clear.  The Lord is surely quick to bless and to forgive, but He wants us to trust Him in obedience and humility.  God asked Solomon to simply trust God’s way over his own: to obey and be blessed. And in his old age, Solomon decided not to.

So Solomon did what was evil in the sight of the Lord and did not wholly follow the Lord, as David his father had done. 7 Then Solomon built a high place for Chemosh the abomination of Moab, and for Molech the abomination of the Ammonites, on the mountain east of Jerusalem. 8 And so he did for all his foreign wives, who made offerings and sacrificed to their gods.
1 Kings 11:6-8

Solomon turned away from the provider of all his blessings and honored his wives above his God.  

I don’t think it was intentional.  I truly think it was arrogance. How often do I become over confident in my own success?  How often do I attribute my accomplishments to hard work and diligence instead of to God. God lovingly partners with me, and He wants to give me good gifts.  Shouldn’t I enjoy that beautiful privilege and walk with Him?

God’s grace is never ending.  His mercy is not dependant on my behavior.  The day I accepted His promise of salvation, He sealed me with His Spirit so that I would maintain a confidence in Him that I couldn’t have known before.  My sincere love for Jesus is undeniable to Him, just as David’s was.

It’s not about our disobedience so much as our trust.  Do we trust God or do we trust ourselves? Do we obey God because we trust His good gifts for us, or do we obey ourselves because we don’t want to put our trust in someone else?  Or do we just get complacent enjoying the good gifts we have been given, and forget about the One who gave them?

Jesus, help me not to take you for granted.  Help me to believe and trust Your will for me.  Lord, when You give me good gifts, help me to appreciate them as gifts and never take them for granted.  Protect me from my own arrogance. My sinful self is incapable of obedience, but You are my obedience, Lord.  You are my righteousness. Let me fall back into Your perfection. Let me serve You with a humble and repentant heart.

For the Lord takes pleasure in His people;
He adorns the humble with salvation.
Psalms 149:4

 

A Worker Approved

15 Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.
2 Timothy 2:15

For a very long time, and sometimes still, I have felt that the work I’ve done for the Lord was insignificant.  I longed to be known for my good works. I longed to be recognized for my “accomplishments” for the Kingdom of God.  Embarrassing, right?

I’ve come so far over the years, though, and that is something only God could do.  Is my ministry more famous or more recognized now? Nope. Is my work for God more relevant now? Nope.  My work is generally the same. It’s only me that’s changed.

So, Paul’s advice to Timothy was to be unashamed, approved, and to rightly handle the word of truth.  Hmm. So working for God means being the perfect pastor, right? Or maybe the perfect evangelist? We know a lot of their names.  The ones on tv must be pretty good. They are surely unashamed and approved or God wouldn’t let them be on TV, right?

Wrong.

Obedient submission to God is what grants us the ability to be unashamed.  To have the faith to accept that God’s answer for my salvation is from Him and not from me. The righteousness of God, given as a free gift, unearned, undeserved, that’s what lets us approach the throne of grace with confidence.  Having Jesus as our high priest, Jesus as our righteousness, Jesus as our savior, Jesus as our King. That’s what gives us the right to be unashamed.

7 But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. 8 We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; 9 persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; 10 always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. 11 For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh.
2 Corinthians 4:7-11

So how do we know we are approved?  “We are afflicted and not crushed, perplexed but not driven to despair, persecuted but not forsaken, struck down but not destroyed, always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies.”

And look at what Paul says in Romans:

What then shall we say was gained by Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh? 2 For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. 3 For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.”
Romans 4:1-3

Approval doesn’t come from anything we’ve done or are doing!  It comes from faith. Abraham believed God. That’s approval. When I believe God and what He says, that’s approval.  That’s it. Nothing more. Faith brings God’s approval.

So, when I act according to God’s will for me.  When I trust that He is going to use me as He sees fit, that He will give me opportunities to trust Him and serve Him, and revere and worship Him, that’s when I’m working for God.  He’s given me gifts and tasks to use for His glory and not my own.

Did He ask you to hug that lady at the grocery store, and you obeyed?  That’s God’s work. Did He ask you to give up your career and serve refugees in the Middle East and you said, “ok”?  That’s God’s work. Buy someone’s groceries because you felt stirred? God’s work. Preach a sermon because the Lord has burned it in your heart to share what He has taught with His people? Yep, God’s work.

But here’s what’s not God’s work: quitting your job to become a missionary because that sounds like a great adventure.  Or, going on a mission trip to Nicaragua every year because the church body will know how holy you are. Or, teaching a Bible Study because you want people to think your smart.  Or being the front man of the church band so that you can maybe get a record deal or you love the attention. The list can go on forever.

So many things in this world sound good to us.  King David thought building a temple for God was a great idea, but did God ask him to build it?  Nope. Did God let David’s son Solomon build the temple? Yes.

God will partner with us even when we’re wrong.  He’ll partner with us in folly just to teach us how to hear His voice better.  Was building the temple folly? Of course not. But did it last? Nope. God will let us “work” for Him in a million different ways, just to teach us, just to show us that it all comes down to Him in the end.  Nothing else.

Have faith in Him, the One who made you, the One who calls you. To work for God is to submit to His rule.  You must stop obeying your own heart and the picture the world has offered you of what ministry is supposed to look like.  You’re never going to find it that way. And you’re not going to accomplish much for the Kingdom, either.

Instead, keep your eyes on Jesus.  Trust Him. That’s it. Only trust Him and do what He says.  That’s how I’ve changed the most over the years. I’m much quicker now to want to glorify Jesus, instead of myself.  If God asks nothing more of me than to point my silent smiling face to the King of Kings, then that’s what I’ll do. That is being a workman approved.  

Jesus, give me the faith to trust You.  Help me to stop looking at myself. Help me to hear Your voice and obey Your commands.  Thank you for how far You’ve brought me. Teach me and help me to go further for You and for You alone.  

7 So Jesus again said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. 8 All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. 9 I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. 10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. 11 I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them.13 He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.14 I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. 17 For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. 18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.”
John 10:7-18

 

Authority in Love

So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.
1 Corinthians 13:13

Feminism sprouted from the age old oppression and forced authority man has inflicted upon woman since the beginning of time.  Since Eve disobeyed God and led her husband into sin, and received the curse upon herself that came from disobedience to a merciful, loving and benevolent God, she has been trod upon, belittled, marginalized, and lorded over.  And let’s face it, that sucks.

To the woman he said,
“I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing;
   in pain you shall bring forth children.
Your desire shall be contrary to your husband,
   but he shall rule over you.”
Genesis 3:16

In the eyes of humanity, we were doomed from the start.  Except that doesn’t really fit with God’s character, or how He has always dealt the His people. God is merciful and His love is enduring, not fickle. I believe that if we look at our place in humanity as women with God-centered eyes, knowing with confidence that God loves us as much as He loves men, we can see our place in the world as something beautiful, powerful, and of deep significance to the Kingdom of God.  

The consequences of Eve’s actions, combined with the knowledge of good and evil, put us in the position to choose to act out of love for ourself or out of love for God.  The choice became ours, as our hearts became self-focused instead of God-focused. From that point forward, man has had authority over women, an authority that God never, ever, ever intended.  In fact, God had a completely different plan for humanity. He had a plan of equal partnership, where men and women complimented one another for the glory of the Father, and ruled over the creation that God had made together, with God himself as their partner, friend, and Lord.  

Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.”
Genesis 2:18

But we were never going to overcome the consequences of Eve’s sin on our own.  As long as we are aware of ourselves and have the choice to choose to be selfish or put others above ourselves, we can never overcome the power that sin gained over us.  Fortunately for us, God was never content with that outcome, and so, from the beginning, God promised us that He Himself would rescue us from the consequences of our sins, and restore us to a place of partnership and love with HIM.

So, what does that mean for women?

There’s a passage in the New Testament, that man has used throughout the course of Christian history since the resurrection of Jesus, to place himself solidly over his wife.  

22 Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.
Ephesians 5:22-24

I think man’s long-time interpretation of this passage has truly been to his detriment.  And I think that Jesus might just agree with me. God has a pretty serious commission for men, actually.  And it isn’t to control or lord over them.

25 Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, 26 that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. 28 In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, 30 because we are members of his body. 31 “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.”32 This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. 33 However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.
Ephesians 5:25-33

Jesus didn’t die so that men could be saved and women oppressed. He wanted men and women to be an example of His relationship with the Church.  And we are called to be joint heirs with Christ, not slaves to an unknown power. We are called to be God’s children, not his servants.

For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. 15 For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” 16 The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God,17 and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.
Romans 8:14-17

Jesus showed us this during His life on Earth.  He lifted up women. He comforted them, encouraged them, and lovingly went to the cross for them, just as He did for men.  He loved women as his sisters, joint heirs to all that he had been given. Look at how He honored the woman with the alabaster jar.

Now when Jesus was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, 7 a woman came up to him with an alabaster flask of very expensive ointment, and she poured it on his head as he reclined at table. 8 And when the disciples saw it, they were indignant, saying, “Why this waste?9 For this could have been sold for a large sum and given to the poor.”10 But Jesus, aware of this, said to them, “Why do you trouble the woman? For she has done a beautiful thing to me. 11 For you always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me. 12 In pouring this ointment on my body, she has done it to prepare me for burial.13 Truly, I say to you, wherever this gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will also be told in memory of her.”
Matthew 26:6-13

Women didn’t follow Jesus because He oppressed them.  They followed Him because He loved them and honored them and lifted them up. And that is exactly what he wants men to do with women.  Jesus considered women of equal importance as men.

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
Galatians 3:28 ESV

So, how do we reconcile submission to our husbands with equality? Isn’t submission the opposite of equality?  Letting someone else be the boss has to mean I have no authority, right? Nope.

Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives, 2 when they see your respectful and pure conduct. 3 Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear— 4 but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious. 5 For this is how the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves, by submitting to their own husbands, 6 as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord. And you are her children, if you do good and do not fear anything that is frightening.

7 Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered.
1 Peter 3:1-7

The Lord led me to this passage of scripture as a young woman, in the very early years of my marriage to a radical Muslim man.  When I realized the folly of my choice to marry a man who was not a follower of Jesus just because he revered God, I repented boldly before the Lord, and asked Him to help me figure out the mess I’d made of myself and save me from it.  And He did, using the passage above to give me profound hope.

Nothing I could do would change my husband.  Nothing I could say would alter his total devotion to Islam.  Nothing. My family and friends, who had been against my marriage from the start, told me to divorce him.  But the Lord had a different plan because the Lord loves women, and He doesn’t want to see them oppressed. As I sought the Lord’s counsel he showed me true hope in His power.  So, rather than stubbornly try to fight my husband into salvation, I submitted to the Lord.

And that’s the key.  I submitted to the Lord.  I repented and submitted. And Jesus did not use it against me, or punish me, or make me feel small.  Jesus didn’t command homage or obeisance or penance. Instead, He offered me help and hope and courage.  This small act of helplessness and submission to the Lord Jesus, gave me my first example of what genuine love and respect could look like.  When I humbled myself to a place of complete desperation and acknowledged my inability to do anything on my own, and I turned to the Lord for help, I learned for the first time what a marriage was supposed to be.  I was the bride of Christ before I was the bride of my Muslim husband. And Jesus quickly showed me how beautiful and honoring a loving husband could be in Himself.

Submitting to God’s authority over my life had brought me hope and life.  It hadn’t brought me to a place of oppression. Jesus lifted me up instead of wiping His feet on me.  He told me He loved me and that He was eager and always ready to help me. It felt good. It felt right.  It felt like, though I’d totally screwed up, that the Lord loved me so unconditionally, that my submission to him would be honored and not exploited.

Two years later, after much submission to the Lord, and having enlisted an army of prayer warriors to the cause of praying for my husband’s salvation, my sweet husband submitted to the Lord for himself, and found the same love and forgiveness and help that I had found.

Submission to another is an act of love and trust.  I put my faith and trust in the Lord to rescue me and help me.  And Jesus came through. But there’s more to it than that, because God’s cool like that.  He lavishes His love upon us, he doesn’t just toss us a bone now and then on a whim. My submission to the Lord became my biggest testimony of God’s pure love for me and for my husband.  By my submission I showed God’s faithfulness. I became a living example of what serving and submitting to a loving God actually looked like. And it won my husband’s heart without me saying a word.

My husband and I have now been married almost 25 years.  23 of those years have been as partnered Christ followers on mission and in service to the King of Kings.  And over the years, the Lord has continued to elevate me to a place of great authority and respect in His eyes.  My brief willingness to admit I was helpless on my own, became a legacy of testimony about what real love is supposed to look like.  It’s a glorious partnership. Being humble enough to trust in the leadership of another became my legacy.

I believe the Lord intended that for all women, from the time of Eve’s choice to serve herself instead of God, God decided that if humanity would just have faith enough to trust Him to lead them, that He would do it!  The consequence of sin can bring death, or it can bring humble repentance. God is ready and willing to forgive anyone who would humble themselves enough to trust Him. And God loves to exalt the humble.

For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.
Luke 14:11

How much more opportunity do we need as women to be exalted by the Lord of Hosts?  To submit humbly to God and to our husbands, is to receive the great blessing that comes from our devoted and loving Father to exalt us and use us as the perfect conduit to show our partners what love looks like, so that they can know how to love us.  That doesn’t sound anything like oppression to me! It sounds like authority in love.

Jesus has given women the chance to have great authority over the impartation of love, which is the most important gift from God that we can receive.  It was love that made Jesus humble himself to take the cross. It was love that made the Lord God save His people. It was love that made God never give up on a selfish, sinful, adulterous people.  It was all because of love. Therefore, as a woman, I have been given the opportunity to carry the authority of offering a testimony of love to my husband, in order that he can learn how to love me and love God.  Ya, that’s right. God made women to be the forerunners of love, to show men what the bride of Christ is supposed to look like. And that’s a pretty big deal.