Wednesday, April 24, 2013

It's Not About You

Hezekiah received the letter from the messengers and read it. Then he went up to the temple of the Lord and spread it out before the Lord. And Hezekiah prayed to the Lord: “Lord, the God of Israel, enthroned between the cherubim, you alone are God over all the kingdoms of the earth. You have made heaven and earth. Give ear, Lord, and hear; open your eyes, Lord, and see; listen to the words Sennacherib has sent to ridicule the living God.

“It is true, Lord, that the Assyrian kings have laid waste these nations and their lands. They have thrown their gods into the fire and destroyed them, for they were not gods but only wood and stone, fashioned by human hands. Now, Lord our God, deliver us from his hand, so that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that you alone, Lord, are God.”
II Kings 19:14-19

Hezekiah lived at a time when the people of God were divided. Ten of the twelve tribes of Israel (called Samaria) had already been taken into captivity by the great Assyrian empire. Hezekiah is king of the two remaining tribes of God's people: Judah and Levi (simply called Judah). Now the Assyrian king Sennacherib has set his eye on Jerusalem. He is determined to overthrow it and he is wise in the ways of war. Sennacherib sends the commanders of his army to taunt Hezekiah in front of his people in their own tongue. He tries to turn the people of Jerusalem against Hezekiah by promising them a new land which is as good as theirs (II Kings 18:31-32). Sennacherib warns the people not to let Hezekiah fool them into trusting their God. "No god has ever been able to hold my armies at bay," Sennacherib says. When Hezekiah and the people hold strong, Sennacherib sends a letter to Hezekiah urging him not to be deceived by his faith in God's protection. Hezekiah's response teaches us two very important things. 

First, Hezekiah understands that his difficult situation is not about him. Part of human nature is that we have an inherently self-centered worldview. Whether you are the king of your own country or just the king of your own house, it's hard not to think that the whole world is all about you. But Hezekiah understood that his situation wasn't about the insults he had suffered or the greatness of His name, it was about God. God had been insulted. His glory had been challenged. Hezekiah lays Sennacherib's letter before the Lord and asks Him to act decisively so that "all the kingdoms of the earth may know that you alone, Lord, are God.”

Your difficult situation, your problem...they aren't about you. The Bible teaches this truth over and over again. Your's not about you. It's about Jesus and His church (Ephesians 5:32). That difficult relationship you have with another believer... it's not about you either. It's about unity in the church and having the mind of Christ (Philippians 2:1-11). Your money? You guessed it! It's not about you. It's about what you can do with it for God. Your very life is not about you! It's about making disciples for Jesus of all nations (Matt 28:18-20).

Second, Hezekiah believes wholeheartedly that God was able to save Him. Hezekiah trusted God even when it was hard to do so. He trusted God even when all physical signs suggested that he shouldn't. Even when trusting God meant risking the lives of his whole nation, Hezekiah trusted. He believed that God was the one true God and that nothing was too hard for Him. And God rewarded his faith by miraculously saving Judah from the Assyrian army II Kings 19:20-37). What do you need faith that God can save you from today? Whatever it is, He has already dealt with it in the cross of Christ. Sometimes the victory of the cross reaches into our lives here and now. At other times we have to wait for eternity. But know that all those who are in Christ will be saved from every problem that they face in Him. 

For further reading...

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

The Dragnet of God's Justice

“Once again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was let down into the lake and caught all kinds of fish. When it was full, the fishermen pulled it up on the shore. Then they sat down and collected the good fish in baskets, but threw the bad away. This is how it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come and separate the wicked from the righteous and throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Matthew 13:47-50

Dragnet is one of the most well-known and endearing TV shows and radio programs in American history. Jack Webb (who also produced the program) was the star from start to finish as the very straight-laced and no-nonsense Sgt. Joe Friday. Webb’s character was so endearing and cast such a positive light on the Los Angeles Police Department that when he died of a sudden heart attack in 1982, the L.A.P.D. retired his badge number 714 and city offices flew their flags at half-staff. You may not know this but a dragnet is an actual police term. It is “any system of coordinated measures for apprehending criminals or suspects. Examples are road barricades, traffic stops, DNA tests, and general increased police alertness.”* It seems that Sgt Friday wanted to cast his dragnet over the entire city of Los Angeles and (using whatever legal means possible) haul in all the criminals, suspects and vagrants and sort out just what justice demanded for them later. The parable of the dragnet shares more than just a phrase with the TV show. It tells of a time when God will cast His dragnet over not merely Los Angeles but over all of creation and haul everyone in. And at that time he will sort them all out according to what His justice demands be done for each one. 

Jesus refers to a type of fishing that was very familiar to his disciples many of whom were fisherman. This type of fishing used a net which might have been stretched between two boats and then drug through the water and up onto the shore. As the net was dragged through the water it gathered any and every fish in its path. The fishermen would then pull the net to shore and sort out their catch.** The Old Testament Jewish law had very specific ways of classifying fish as either clean (fish which the Jews could eat) (cf. Lev. 11:9) or unclean (fish which they could not eat) (cf. Lev. 11:10-12). The good fish were gathered in baskets while the bad fish were either thrown back in the water or cast onto the beach to rot and die. Jesus says that this is a picture of the final judgment. God’s angels will cast His dragnet over all creation and pull in the good with the bad. Then the wicked will be separated from the righteous to go to their just destination, a place Jesus calls the fiery furnace, a place of weeping and gnashing of teeth. A place we call Hell. 

In the wake of the bombing of the Boston Marathon earlier this week, this parable is a reminder for patience. Now in this world we must remember that we are not separate from the wicked. Evil has overrun this world and for now God has chosen in His goodness to cause his sun to rise on the righteous and the wicked alike (Matthew 5:43-48). There are times when like the psalmist Asaph we want to cry out and ask God why the wicked prosper (Psalm 73). Evil (whether it be impersonal forces or very personal people) will not be dealt with decisively until the judgment day. But even now as we suffer at the hands of wicked men and women and an imperfect world, we must remember that there will come a day when justice will be done. Until then we suffer patiently.

It also reminds us that it is only the Lord who has the right to sort or judge men. The parable presents God's angels performing this at His bidding, other places in Scripture clarify that Jesus Himself will sit in judgment. (Matt 25:31-46Rom. 2:16, & II Tim. 4:1) The question the parable begs is this, "Will you be found to be wicked or righteous?" Most of us consider ourselves to be good, but then we think that God is going to rate us as good or wicked based on a comparison to other people. He is not. God will judge us based on how we compare to His own righteousness and goodness. If we are less righteous than He is then we will be cast into that place which was prepared for the devil and his demons (Matt 25:41). But the Bible also tells us that we all, everyone one of us without exception, are wicked (Romans 3:10 and 23). Only those who look to Jesus for salvation and who have been clothed in his righteousness are considered good. So what are you? If you haven’t surrendered your life to Jesus then you will be found to be wicked and will be cast into Hell. If this is you, then repent and believe in Jesus today! 

For further reading...

** I read about this in a number of biblical commentaries. All of which agreed on the basic details. 

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Unassuming God

He will not shout or cry out, or raise his voice in the streets. A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out. In faithfulness he will bring forth justice...
Isaiah 42:2-3

Last night as my wife and I read the story of Jesus' birth to our eight week old daughter from The Big Picture Story Bible, I found myself overwhelmed with fresh insight into the truth of this passage. Here is how David Helm puts it in that book:
"But in this crowded city where would this special baby be born? In a nice, big home? No, not in a nice, big home. In a clean hotel? No, not in a clean hotel. All the nice, big homes and clean hotels were filled up with people. Can you guess where this baby would be born? God's forever king was born in a stable, a place for animals." (emphasis mine)
Being just a handful of classes away from a Masters of Divinity degree, this quote from a children's story Bible didn't confront me with any new information, but rather it presented a familiar truth with such simplicity and beauty that I found myself struggling to read the rest of the story. How utterly mind blowing that the birth of creation's king should occur in the same place that a donkey might be born, or eat his dinner, or even relieve himself! I wanted to weep and praise God for His goodness right then there. Is there no limit to God's humility? What have I ever done to deserve such a King?

It's astounding that a holy God would choose to love a sinner like me at all. It's unfathomable that He would choose to enter into the finite space of His creation to show me that love. It is unthinkable that He should take the guilt for my sin against Him upon Himself and die in my place. But how far beyond human reason is it to think that the one true Creator God would enter this creation as a helpless baby who can't even lift His own head? And then that the birth of this baby should not be met with fanfare or honor as even the birth of a human king would be, but rather that it should be crowded out of all civilized conditions and into a stable..."a place for animals!" Again I ask is there no limit to God's willingness to humble Himself on our behalf? 

There is no other god like this God. No other god is so deserving of honor. No other god is so unassuming. The only proper response to an event like this is dumbfounded awe followed by heartfelt worship and joyous proclamation. And yet, my own human capacity to grow accustomed to God's great actions towards me and even to take them for granted never ceases to amaze me either. Don't take this amazing gift for granted today. And don't wait for Christmas to celebrate or break out into worship for this God's most amazing gift to His creation. Sing, exult, lift up your heart in worship for the one, true God has humbled Himself and taken on the nature of a man because of His love for you. And yet in doing so, He did not demand honor as a human king would. He did not impose His will on anyone. In fact, He came so gently that He would not have even broken a "bruised reed" or snuffed out "a smoldering wick." What manner of God is this! Certainly one who deserves my praise, my life, my all.

For further reading...
  • Philippians 2:5-8- More on Jesus' humility.
  • Luke 2:1-3- Helms also draws a comparison between Caesar and Jesus. Jesus comes so humbly at the same time that Caesar is trying to show his greatness by numbering his subjects.
  • Matthew 26:47-27:56- What all-powerful god would allow himself to be treated like this?

Tuesday, April 2, 2013


Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others
Philippians 2:3-4

It's 4 am and I am awakened from a sound sleep by my wife's tired voice. "Lance, I just fed the baby. Will you please get up and burp her and put her back down to sleep. I don't think I can do it. I'm throat hurts and I have a headache." As I lay on an air mattress on the floor in our home office because we have family visiting, I begin to think of all the reasons I should say no. I think about how I got less than 5 hours of sleep the night before and how my wife got maybe thirty minutes or an hour more. I think about how I stayed up with my wife at the last feeding because she didn't want to be up alone. This and many other thoughts run through my mind because the truth is, I am still a very selfish person. In my experience, nothing has brought this hidden selfishness to the surface like a little baby and lack of sleep.

Little babies are not capable of thinking of anyone other than themselves, you see. Their world is centered wholly on themselves. That means that this otherwise independent man who has lived thirty years doing pretty much what he wanted to when he wanted to do it has just had his life hijacked by a little screaming ball of flesh whom he loves dearly. In time it will be mine and my wife's responsibility to teach her how to think of other people and even how to put others before herself, but for now that lesson begins with me getting out of bed at 4am and putting my wife and my daughter ahead of myself. The real shame isn't that my daughter is incapable of thinking of anyone other than herself at 7 weeks of age; the real shame is that her father suffers from the same problem at 30 years of age. Yet this too is a part of God's gentle, loving and gracious process of refining my character.

Too many of us are still looking after our own interests instead of the interests of others. We are still filled with the selfish ambition that this world has taught us. It's much easier to talk about this than it is to do it though. I know what area of my life is revealing my selfishness and I know that the first steps toward humility for me are putting my wife and daughter above myself. Where in your life is selfishness rearing its ugly head? What first step can you take to consider others better than yourself?

For further reading...