Wednesday, June 26, 2013


And the Lord said to Job: “Shall a faultfinder contend with the Almighty? He who argues with God, let him answer it.” Then Job answered the Lord and said: “Behold, I am of small account; what shall I answer you? I lay my hand on my mouth. I have spoken once, and I will not answer; twice, but I will proceed no further.” Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind and said: “Dress for action like a man; I will question you, and you make it known to me. Will you even put me in the wrong? Will you condemn me that you may be in the right?
Job 40:1-8

I've spent the last four days with thirteen 4th-6th graders at kids' camp. That means for the last few days I've experienced more than my normal share of fun, sunscreen, swimming, belly flops, games, skinned knees, and...complaining. I really enjoy kids' camp but it doesn't take long for the complaints to get to me. This year it only took me a day to institute a no complaining rule. All offenders were required to do 10 pushups on the spot. This helped keep the attitudes in check quite nicely.

Over the same few days I finished reading the book of Job in my personal quiet times with the Lord. I couldn't help but wonder how often the Lord feels the same way with us. Does God ever just get sick with all of our complaining and want to tell us to drop and give him ten?
Although I have no doubt that God is more patient than me, I have to imagine He does often grow weary of our whining. In the book of Job, God allows Satan to attack Job in order to test his love for Him. Job remains faithful to God but complains throughout the book that he is unjustly persecuted by Him. Job claims that he has done nothing to deserve such punishment from God. In chapters 38-42, the Lord answers Job's complaints. Though God does justify Job as a righteous man, He takes him to task for complaining. In the passage above God calls Job a "faultfinder." And then He says to him, "Will you even put me in the wrong? Will you condemn me that you may be in the right?"
Do you find fault with God and complain about your lot in life? Maybe it doesn't always come out of your mouth but how often do you think it? How often does your spirit cry out against Him- "This isn't fair, God!" Too often this is true of me. Let us all allow this passage to give us a loving rebuke...a gentle warning. God is holy and just. We do not have the perspective, knowledge or wisdom to sit in judgment of Him. So receive whatever comes your way with humility. Endure suffering like Jesus Himself did, by focusing on the joy set before you (Heb 12:2). Trust that God is still good and that He is still in control. Humble yourself under His hand and in due time He will lift you up (I Peter 5:6).
For further reading....
  • I Peter- Focus on the meaning of I Peter 5:6 in the context of what the entire book has to say about suffering in the life of the believer. Specifically focus in on I Peter 4:12-5:10.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Fear the Lord

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.
Proverbs 9:10

The band Death Cab for Cutie has a song called "I Will Follow You into the Dark" which contains the following verse:
In Catholic school as vicious as Roman rule

I got my knuckles bruised by a lady in black
And I held my tongue as she told me
"Son, fear is the heart of love"
So I never went back
Whether or not these lyrics present an experience that Ben Gibbard (the songwriter) actually lived, the sentiment they portray resonates. To many people the idea that we are to "fear the Lord" makes God out to be some tyrant who wants people to cower before Him in fear. But this image of God does not square with the God of the Bible. He is no tyrant. So how are we to understand verses like the one above?

First, we must note that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, not the end of it. Thus, though it may be the beginning of a person's spiritual journey, it certainly is not God's desired end for them. Jesus tells us that the greatest commandment is to "love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind" (Matthew 22:37). God's greatest desire for you isn't that you would fear Him, but that you would love Him. In fact, I John 4:18 says, "There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love." So then why does God want us to fear Him? Why is it the beginning of wisdom?

Here I believe that another proverb can be helpful. Proverbs 16:6b says, "by the fear of the Lord one turns away from evil" (see also Proverbs 3:7-8, 8:13, & 14:26-27). Imagine a young child who keeps running out into the street after his ball. His parents might try to explain to him what would happen if he were to get hit by a car, but children who are very young cannot understand these kinds of consequences yet. So eventually the parents would tell their son that they will punish him if he runs into the street again. They may promise to put him in timeout or to spank him or to take away his dessert, because these things are in his ability to grasp. From that time on (perhaps with a few exceptions) the boy would avoid running out into the street not because he feared getting hit by a car yet but because he was afraid of the punishment. Eventually, as he grew older, however, he would understand the danger of getting hit by a car and would avoid running into the street for those reasons. 

Just like that young boy needs the threat of punishment to avoid disaster, even as adults we often need the same. You see the enemy has waged an excellent marketing campaign for sin in this world. He packages it just right. He plays up its temporary pleasure and free nature. He doesn't mention the pain, suffering, and disaster it brings into your life. We are often like small children staring at sin; we just can't seem to see the danger in it. We need the fear of being punished by a holy and just God to turn us away from evil. The fear of the Lord puts us on the right path. It helps us to avoid sin even if we don't yet see how destructive it is. As we move farther down this path into relationship with God we learn that He is loving, gracious, merciful, and patient. We learn that Jesus died to pay for our sins. We read about the true effects of sin in the Bible, and we become more capable of seeing through the scheme. We start avoiding sin for our own sake and for God's glory.

Although there is a sense in which we should always tremble before the greatness of God's power, the fear of the Lord is only where we start- loving God with all our mind, soul and strength is where we are headed. Fear is the first and natural response to God's awesome power and nature- loving submission is the final result of growing to know the goodness and grace of this all-powerful God.

For further reading...
  • Proverbs 3:7-88:13, & 14:26-27- Read more about the fear of the Lord in Proverbs.
  • Deuteronomy 10:12, Psalm 33:18, & Psalm 103:11- Notice how these passages place love and fear right next to one another. They offer some good ways of considering how we continue to tremble before God's greatness while still loving Him.  
  • I John 4:7-21- God is love!
  • Deuteronomy 6:5- Fear of the Lord leads us to obey God's commands. God greatest command is that we should love Him!

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

The Enemy Benefactors

Now therefore, Tattenai, governor of the province Beyond the River, Shethar-bozenai, and your associates the governors who are in the province Beyond the River, keep away. Let the work on this house of God alone. Let the governor of the Jews and the elders of the Jews rebuild this house of God on its site. Moreover, I make a decree regarding what you shall do for these elders of the Jews for the rebuilding of this house of God. The cost is to be paid to these men in full and without delay from the royal revenue, the tribute of the province from Beyond the River. And whatever is needed—bulls, rams, or sheep for burnt offerings to the God of heaven, wheat, salt, wine, or oil, as the priests at Jerusalem require—let that be given to them day by day without fail, that they may offer pleasing sacrifices to the God of heaven and pray for the life of the king and his sons.
Ezra 6:6-10

The Kingdom of Judah (that is, the Southern Kingdom of Israel after it split under Solomon's son Rehoboam) had wickedly worshiped idols and refused to obey God's commands for many years. So finally, after many opportunities for repentance and mercy, God kept His promise to punish His people through exile. The Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar sacked Jerusalem, demolished the glorious temple Solomon had built for the Lord, and carried Judah into captivity for 70 years. Then God did something amazing.

Just as his prophets had foretold (Isaiah 44:24-45:7) God raised up a pagan king to send His people back to their land and rebuild the temple (Ezra 1:1-4). During Judah's seventy year exile, Babylon was conquered by Persia and Cyrus the Persian king decreed that the Jews should return to Jerusalem and rebuild God's temple. God moved a pagan king to do His will to reestablish His people and temple!

But wait, it still gets better. Ezra was one of the Israelites who returned to Jerusalem to help rebuild the temple. In the book that bears his name we read that some of the people who had come to live in the general area of Jerusalem, since the Jews left, did not take too kindly to them returning and rebuilding the city. These people lived in the Persian Province called Beyond the River because it was beyond the Euphrates. So, after a few years, some of them wrote a letter to King Darius of Persia (Cyrus' successor). Above is Darius' response. Not only does he uphold Cyrus' decree but he provides for the building of the temple by way of the taxes of the very people who were opposing God's people! How sweet is that!? God not only provided for His children but He caused those who opposed His will to become the benefactors of it. 

Remember today that you serve a God who is able to make a way for His will in your life even when there appears to be no way. He can turn His enemies into His willing (see Paul) or unwilling supporters in your life. So if you find yourself standing in the way of God's will in your life or in the life of someone else, quickly and efficiently get out of His way, and ask Him to help you willingly change sides. 

For further reading...
  • Isaiah 44:24-45:7- This prophecy about Cyrus was written over a hundred years before he lived yet calls him by name!
  • I Kings 12:1-20- Rehoboam's folly can teach you a valuable lesson.