What Is God Waiting For?

In Judges 10 the people have rejected the Lord and chased idol after idol. 18 years of oppression and their hearts were so hard that they still hadn’t repented of their sin. When they finally do, God tells them that he isn’t going to help. Instead, they need to ask their idols for deliverance. Then the people get desperate. Judges 10 tells us they finally got serious and paired their cry for deliverance with personal action and responsibility…they finally put aside their idols. How did God respond this time? The Bible says God responded “with impatience over Israel’s misery” (10:16). That was when God’s heart and attitude toward his people turned.

Sometimes we ask “What is God waiting for?” The answer may be that we aren’t really ready for Him to show up yet. We cling to our idols, as if they have anything to offer. In those times, God is unwilling to show up because He doesn’t really have our trust yet. We talk like He does but He knows the reality of what is in our hearts and it doesn’t line up. So God waits until it does. If you want God’s deliverance, it often takes action on your part and more than just a cry for God’s help while keeping a few idols in your back pocket for comfort. Deliverance comes to the repentant and true repentance comes through complete and unequivocal trust in the Lord.

Confirmation

I love it when God gives you the confirmation you need. He doesn’t really confirm every detail but He gives you enough to let you know His hand is in something. Maybe it is that other person who has the same idea at the same time and everything fits right together to where your efforts in ministry are multiplied like they never have been before. Other times God gives you a sense of peace about something. Still other times it is the opposite…God really unsettles your spirit about something. You can’t assume that God is going to do it the same way twice. God works in whatever way He needs to in order to help us follow the ways of Christ. It isn’t easy. It is challenging. It is risky. It is also worth it. I love when I get a glimpse of confirmation from God, a reminder that He is right in the middle of my issues guiding, leading and blessing it all.

Last, I am not talking about superstition here…like asking for God to send you a sign and you see a billboard along the highway that has a word in it that you think is the Lord trying to speak with you. If God is that poor of a communicator we are all in trouble! I am talking about prayed out, fasted up, scripture-aligning confirmation from God that convicts you of what God wants you to do.

Psalm 37 (ESV)

Fret not yourself because of evildoers;

    be not envious of wrongdoers!
For they will soon fade like the grass
and wither like the green herb.

Trust in the Lord, and do good;
dwell in the land and befriend faithfulness.
Delight yourself in the Lord,
and he will give you the desires of your heart.

Commit your way to the Lord;
trust in him, and he will act.
He will bring forth your righteousness as the light,
and your justice as the noonday.

Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him;
fret not yourself over the one who prospers in his way,
over the man who carries out evil devices!

Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath!
Fret not yourself; it tends only to evil.
For the evildoers shall be cut off,
but those who wait for the Lord shall inherit the land.

10 In just a little while, the wicked will be no more;
though you look carefully at his place, he will not be there.
11 But the meek shall inherit the land
and delight themselves in abundant peace.

12 The wicked plots against the righteous
and gnashes his teeth at him,
13 but the Lord laughs at the wicked,
for he sees that his day is coming.

14 The wicked draw the sword and bend their bows
to bring down the poor and needy,
to slay those whose way is upright;
15 their sword shall enter their own heart,
and their bows shall be broken.

16 Better is the little that the righteous has
than the abundance of many wicked.
17 For the arms of the wicked shall be broken,
but the Lord upholds the righteous.

18 The Lord knows the days of the blameless,
and their heritage will remain forever;
19 they are not put to shame in evil times;
in the days of famine they have abundance.

20 But the wicked will perish;
the enemies of the Lord are like the glory of the pastures;
they vanish—like smoke they vanish away.

21 The wicked borrows but does not pay back,
but the righteous is generous and gives;
22 for those blessed by the Lord shall inherit the land,
but those cursed by him shall be cut off.

23 The steps of a man are established by the Lord,
when he delights in his way;
24 though he fall, he shall not be cast headlong,
for the Lord upholds his hand.

25 I have been young, and now am old,
yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken
or his children begging for bread.
26 He is ever lending generously,
and his children become a blessing.

27 Turn away from evil and do good;
so shall you dwell forever.
28 For the Lord loves justice;
he will not forsake his saints.
They are preserved forever,
but the children of the wicked shall be cut off.
29 The righteous shall inherit the land
and dwell upon it forever.

30 The mouth of the righteous utters wisdom,
and his tongue speaks justice.
31 The law of his God is in his heart;
his steps do not slip.

32 The wicked watches for the righteous
and seeks to put him to death.
33 The Lord will not abandon him to his power
or let him be condemned when he is brought to trial.

34 Wait for the Lord and keep his way,
and he will exalt you to inherit the land;
you will look on when the wicked are cut off.

35 I have seen a wicked, ruthless man,
spreading himself like a green laurel tree.
36 But he passed away, and behold, he was no more;
though I sought him, he could not be found.

37 Mark the blameless and behold the upright,
for there is a future for the man of peace.
38 But transgressors shall be altogether destroyed;
the future of the wicked shall be cut off.

39 The salvation of the righteous is from the Lord;
he is their stronghold in the time of trouble.
40 The Lord helps them and delivers them;
he delivers them from the wicked and saves them,
because they take refuge in him.

Gideon’s Weakness and the Grace & Peace of God

We usually associate “grace and peace” with Paul’s letters but grace and peace show up in other places in scripture. One of those places is in Judges 6. Gideon was told to deliver Israel from the Midianites but Gideon is concerned because the days he lived in weren’t like the days of his ancestors. He knew the story of the parting of the sea and deliverance from Egypt. He knew God was present with his people in those days because God acted in mighty ways. Gideon’s assumption was that God must not be present like he was because God isn’t acting like he used to act (see Judges 6:11-13). God assures him that he really was going to be the deliverer of Israel and Gideon’s response went like this,

“If now I have found grace in your eyes, give me a sign that it is really you talking to me.” – Judges 6:17

Gideon brings back an offering and it is consumed in flame. He then realizes he has seen the angel of the Lord and fears for his life. But God says,

“‘Peace! Do not be afraid. You are not going to die.’

So Gideon built an altar to the Lord there and called it The Lord Is Peace.”

Grace and peace go hand in hand. Without grace there is no peace because, like Gideon, we cannot stand in the presence of a holy God and live. So praise God that he is loving and graceful and we can have peace because he is the ultimate deliverer of his people! If you are going through something and lack peace or maybe you are upset because you just don’t have the power to fix the problems in your life…remember what Paul said in 2 Corinthians 12:7-10,

“Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. 8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. 9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

Do you know when God responded gracefully to Gideon in Judges 6? It was when Gideon said he wouldn’t be able to deliver the people because he was the least person of the weakest clan from among his people (6:15). God has a way of sorting these things out in ways that remind us that he is in charge, not us. So rest in the grace of God and find your peace there.

The Tension Between Holiness and Grace in Both Testaments

We are studying Judges on Sunday morning. What a train wreck. The people are worshipping idols. They have turned from God…until life gets tough and then they repent…but only until life gets good and then they turn from God again. What makes matters even more tricky is that their deliverers are also often less than morally stellar. Samson does some crazy stuff as does Ehud and Jael and Jepthah…and pretty much all the rest of them. If these are the heroes of the story then maybe any of the rest of us have hero potential too! Here is how Wenham explained it in his book “Story as Torah: Reading Old Testament narrative ethically” p. 4

It is hard to figure out the path between God’s expectation of holiness and obedience to Torah and the behavior of the people God uses for his divine purposes. This reconstruction of the ethical world-view of some Old Testament writers provides the background for a rereading of some problematic stories of Genesis and Judges, such as the Rape of Dinah (Gen 34), and the Gideon cycle (Judg 6–9). It will become apparent that the biblical writers do not merely assess these characters against the requirements of the law codes but against the ideals we have sketched in the preceding chapter (Chapter 5).

Obviously the behaviour of the chief actors in many instances falls miserably short of the ideal, and they often suffer in some way for their mistakes. Yet it is clear too that they are not deserted by God despite their sinfulness. So there is a paradox in Old Testament narrative ethics: on the one hand God is terribly demanding, he looks for nothing less than godlike perfect behaviour, yet on the other, despite human failings, he does not forget his covenant loyalty to his people, and ultimately brings them through the suffering that their sin has brought about. Old Testament ethics are therefore as much about grace as about law: they declare that God, the all-holy, is also God, the all-merciful.

Thus in many ways the fundamental principles of Old Testament ethics are much closer to the New Testament than is often perceived. Both look for divine attributes to be replicated in humanity, but both realize that this rarely occurs and that the overwhelming need for the human race is divine mercy. In this way the incarnation fulfills the goals of the Old Testament system of ethics.

God is patient and gracious and is intimately concerned with and involved in humanity…so much so that he was willing to become one of us and place himself on the receiving end of violent, unmerciful people. God knows how to be merciful because he is God and he made us but also because he has walked a mile in our shoes and has the kind of knowledge that comes by experience.

Do We Recognize Redemption When It Happens Right in Front of Us?

In Luke 7 Jesus is in the house of Simon the Pharisee. While they are reclining at the table a “sinful” woman comes in and anoints Jesus, first with her tears and then with some perfume she had brought with her. Luke tells us she had learned that Jesus was in the house and she knew exactly where she needed to be and what she needed to do. We know that because she came prepared with a bottle of perfume. First she wept at his feet and began putting her tears on Jesus’ feet. Then she started kissing his feet and poured perfume on them. I am sure this was quite uncomfortable for those who were there watching this unfold but what made it even more difficult for them was who the woman was who was doing all of this. She was a “sinner”. The worldly part inside us tells us that sinners and Messiah’s shouldn’t mix. But the part inside us that says things like that has it all wrong. There was no better place for her to be, in all her sin…in the messiness of her life than in the presence of Jesus Christ. What as happening was redemption right in front of their eyes but they were too blind to see it.

In order to open their eyes to the significance of what was happening before them, Jesus tells them a story about two men who had much debt. One guy owed a year and a half’s wages and the other guy a month and a half. The lender forgave them both. Jesus asks them, “Now which of them will love him more?” The obvious answer is the one who owed more. It seems like Jesus is saying that this woman actually loves Jesus more than they do. Ouch. In the story, Jesus doesn’t get into why they owed all of that or all the bad decisions they had made that led up to that point. The lender doesn’t owe explanation to anyone when it comes to forgiving debt because forgiving debt rarely makes sense from a worldly perspective. From Jesus’ perspective it makes all the sense in the world because Jesus came to bring redemption to a world full of the debt  and weight of sin and death and release us into a great freedom that we find only through Christ.

What is most frightening about this story is that all of this was unfolding before Simon and company but they couldn’t see it. Jesus was trying to open their eyes so that they could understand the significance of it all. Are there things Jesus is trying to open our eyes to see accurately? There are a few questions for us that come out of all of this. The first question we must ask ourselves is this, are there times we pre-judge people? Second, are you currently holding someone’s past against them? Third, how do we make our attitude toward people we have a hard time with the same attitude Jesus would have toward them?

Let us have eyes to see things clearly like Jesus did so that we can rejoice when Jesus rejoices and mourn when he mourns. Let us never get the two confused so that we weep when Jesus rejoices or rejoice when Jesus mourns because that means we are seeing things from a worldly perspective and not as Jesus sees them.

TED Talks: The Danger of a Single Story by Chimamanda Adichie

HT: Steven Hovater

Finding the Contentment Balance in the Church

Being in ministry makes me look at things with a different eye than I used to. I am constantly asking how things can be made better or what isn’t working the way it should. I think those are valuable things to think about because unless we are willing to critique things we can’t expect them to improve. If there are things off limits to critique then we have a whole new set of issues there. But my point is it is easy to lose contentment when you are on a constant search to make things better. I think we have to be careful that we don’t lose our contentment or ever feel that we won’t be satisfied until things are perfect in the church because they never will be.

No matter how hard we try, how much we plan or all the good intentions we have the church will never be perfect from our perspective. That doesn’t mean we don’t try to make it better or if we see room for improvement that we don’t try to do so. It does mean that we have to find space for contentment. Can you imagine if your view of your spouse was that you would never be content with them or fully love them until they were perfect and all the problems were in the past? We would never find anyone to love. The same is true with the church. It can always improve. It can always get more efficient. It should always be loved, cherished, appreciated, and adored even in light of her imperfections. If God can have grace with us we can have grace on his church.

So I think there is a balance to be found. We don’t need to be so content that the church loses its focus and misses its mission. We don’t need to be so critical that it is hard to still love the church in whatever state we find her. This takes wisdom. It takes patience. It takes the perspective of knowing that each and every one of us are all still being worked on and won’t ever be perfect this side of heaven. So let’s keep working to make it better and while we do so let us take time to enjoy all the good things God has already done in our midst that we can easily miss when we look at the bride of Christ with a critical eye.

Discipleship, Acceptance and Grace

20 times in the Gospels Jesus says, “Follow me.” Is there any greater invitation in all of scripture than for the Son of God to invite sinful men to walk in his steps? As has been said a million times on a million websites, discipleship is about following Jesus Christ. What hit me about discipleship this morning that I hadn’t really thought about before was that there are two perspectives we can view discipleship from. I usually think of discipleship from the point of view of the follower. That is natural because that is my own point of view as a disciple of Jesus Christ. But that is only half of it. I hadn’t really thought about discipleship from Jesus’ perspective before. What does Jesus calling us to follow him say about how he views us, as his followers? A second question came to mind that had to do with acceptance, would Jesus call someone to follow him if he didn’t accept them for the person they are? I am not saying Jesus is alright with sin and condoning of unrighteousness. I am saying Jesus loves everyone.

Acceptance is a powerful thing. We all want it. If we want it from friends, family and even strangers it only makes sense that we want it from God as well. The biggest roadblock in our minds that makes us fear being accepted are our own imperfections. We know well that our biggest imperfection and roadblock (in our minds) to being accepted by God is our sin. What is amazing is that Jesus chose his disciples from among the everyday, ordinary common people. He wasn’t looking for the big shots or the “most righteous” because in God’s eyes, compared to God, there are no big shots and there is only one who is righteous and He is not a man. Instead,

“it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God” – Ephesians 2:8

Our being accepted by God and picked to be His disciples is an act of grace. So it is important that we see discipleship from our point of view…how do we follow Christ, what does he desire from us as his followers, etc. But it is also important to try and see ourselves from his vantage point. In doing so we will develop a healthier identity in Christ, be able to forgive ourselves of past mistakes, and extend that same grace to others around us because we see just how profoundly powerful His grace has been in our own call to follow Him. Well intentioned discipleship necessitates an understanding of how the master views his disciples. Somehow I had missed that half of it.

God’s Grace Really is Amazing

For the last seven weeks our men’s class has been on “Grace”. If I had to sum up what we have found in the Old and New Testaments so far it would go something like this,

“Because we don’t deserve God doing anything for us, the grace that He pours out on our lives is that much greater. If we understand how amazing grace really is we won’t be able to help but show that same
grace to those around us who, from our perspective, don’t seem
to deserve it either.”

Grace in the Parables – Two Debtors

In Matthew 18:21 Peter asks Jesus how many times he has to forgive his brother, seven times? It seems to me Peter is asking Jesus what the limits of grace really are? Just how far does God expect his people to extend grace to others? So Jesus tells them a story about a man who owed a king umpteen zillion dollars. What is hilarious about the story is the man asks for patience, saying he will pay him back in full. The point is, paying it all back within the next 5000 years was an absurd thought. The king not only has patience with the man, he forgives the debt in full. He didn’t deserve it. He didn’t earn it. He should have walked away with so much joy over the grace God had extended him that the only possible response would be to be more forgiving and graceful to others.

Sadly, he hadn’t learned anything. Immediately he sees a man who owes him something…a few hundred bucks at most. He seizes the man, chokes him and demands repayment! The whole point of grace was lost on this man even though he had been forgiven so much. Jesus point is, if we understand just how much God has forgiven us, the things others owe us will pale in comparison and our generosity and graciousness should overflow toward those indebted to us (not just monetarily…remember Peter’s question, which Jesus was answering here, was not about money).

Now comes the scary part. Most of us would not physically choke another human being in order to squeeze a few bucks out of them. But when we withhold forgiveness for a wrong done that is exactly what we are doing. There is no way to justify that. Instead, God wants us to pass on the forgiveness the king has extended to us to as many people as possible. When we do, we show that we understand what grace is all about. When we don’t, we show that God’s grace in our lives has taught us nothing (see what happened to him at the end of the story).