Enduring Ethics – Mirror, Mirror…

MirrorRick always had a way of delivering a one liner – humble but honest, seasoned with reality.  One day he looked at me and said “with just a little work, we could be the Pharisees of the 21st century.”  The “we” was our church, our denomination… us.

He was reminding me, and others in leadership, that its seldom as simple as “them”.  Sometimes its “us”.  The old spiritual put it this way “It’s me, it’s me O Lord, standin in the need of prayer...”

In Snow White, the evil queen was focused only on herself, repeatedly asking the mirror who was the fairest in the land?  We are usually focused on ourselves as well, but seldom have the courage to ask who is the most Pharisaical in the land?  We assume it’s never us.

Around the mid second century BC a group arose named the “separated ones”.  Their hearts may have been in the right place.  They wanted to stay their country from falling away from God, His instruction, and His protection.  But like some organizations, their charter to preserve degenerated into to lifeless categories of prohibition.  The big idea was lost in a growing mountain of minutiae.

Jesus’ strongest words were reserved for these folk – the Pharisees.  During his last week of ministry, after being followed, hounded, criticized and nitpicked to death by these religious legalists, Jesus unloaded in broad daylight.  Seven times he pronounced a “woe” upon them.  Seven times they suffered direct hits to their system, ego, and reputation.  Seven times the Son of God called them what they were:  hypocrites, sons of hell, blind guides, blind men, blind Pharisees, snakes, and brood of vipers.  There was no good news.

Why?  Because they…

  1. shut the kingdom of heaven in men’s faces, making it impossible for them to enter.  Their rules were legion, their regulations irrelevant and divorced from God’s law.  Their teaching was critically obtuse, holding no good news at all.
  2. travelled over land and sea to make a single convert that contributed to their disease.  Their missionary work wasn’t to spread the sacrificial love of God through Christ, but rather to extend their complex web of legalities and minutiae.  It took a lot of travel to produce one convert.  And it wasn’t the kind of convert that made anyone’s life better.
  3. took oaths in front of people that sounded good, but excused themselves from actual follow through by careful parsing of the oath language.  Like a multi-national firm seeking tax evasion, these folk wanted public praise without any personal cost.
  4. tithed herbs while neglecting the weightier matters of the law like justice, mercy and faithfulness.  The point of tithing was to teach dependence on God and continually enrich the relationship with God.  That they could tithe on their mint leaves and walk by injustice meant they had no relationship with God in the first place.  Jesus called it “straining out a gnat but swallowing a camel”
  5. cleaned the outside of the cup and dish, while ignoring the greed and self-indulgence inside.  They were meticulous about their garments, homes and utensils, but didn’t give a second thought regarding how they secured their wealth from which they feasted.  They cleaned the wrong things.
  6. were like whitewashed tombs which look beautiful on the outside but inside are full of dead men’s bones and everything unclean.  They appeared to people as “alive” but on the inside they were full of hypocrisy and wickedness.  They put whitewash on a tomb.  We call it putting lipstick on a pig.  They were dead inside.
  7. they built tombs for the prophets their forefathers killed, while treating the prophets of their own day exactly as their forefathers did.  They thought making monuments for history validated ignoring the prophetic voice in their own day.

The summary is this – they loved titles and honor from people while they made life harder for people while they did nothing to help people.  Vain, legalistic, and unhelpful.  Fail.

The scary part is this: these folks considered themselves experts in the word of God.  They thought they knew him best.  But the fact was they didn’t recognize him when he was standing right in front of them.

How good are you at recognizing Him?  How good are you at hearing his words?  How good are you at seeing your own reflection clearly?  See any likeness to these folks?

While I hope not, it’s good to get a second opinion, to linger, to consider…  “Mirror, mirror?”  Now be honest.

-Anthony

Enduring Ethics – Babylon Woe

babylon imageWho is this woman?  Riding on a seven headed beast covered with blasphemies, holding a golden cup full of adulteries, and drunk with the blood of the faithful.

Who is this woman?  Enticing the kings of the earth, making merchants rich, sharing her maddening wine that leads all those partaking into sharing her limitless unfaithfulness.

Who is this woman?  The Queen Mother… the ultimate harlot… the ageless “woe-man”… Babylon.

Hurtful cheating women have been the topic of pop music for decades, but none ever hurt like this one; none ever played the prostitute with as many for as long as this one.

She’s the un-church, the antithesis of the woman of faithfulness described in Revelation 12.  She’s the opposite of all that God has defined as faithful behavior for those who follow Him.  She’s the spirit and value system that can be had for a buck, is always willing to compromise, and remains unsatisfied until others have not only given in to her unfaithfulness and self-gratification, but spread her toxic virus to as many as they can.

She has lived in every age and in every country.  She’s not Rome, Babylon, London, Berlin, Beijing, or New York per se, though her influence has been felt in each of those.  She’s as much a part of every aspect of global culture as the church has been.

There’s always faithfulness and faithlessness.  On the later, this Babylon, the woes of Revelation are pronounced.  Here are her sins.  Over the ages she has…

  • made the nations drink the maddening wine of her adulteries
  • gave lodging to every evil spirit
  • infected the earth with adulterous virus
  • acquired excessive luxuries
  • boasted of immunity to judgment and suffering
  • used her magic spell to lead all nations astray
  • been responsible for the blood of prophets, saints and of all who have been killed on the earth

No judge from men can prosecute her.  No policeman can arrest her.  Her damage is felt from century to century.  But there will come a time when her sensual, destructive, bloodthirsty rampage through history will be stopped.  Cold.

At that time, in one day, in a single hour, this perennial prostitute will be brought to ruin, left naked, have her flesh eaten, burned with fire, made to drink a double portion of her own cup, overtaken with plagues, taken in death, mourning and famine, consumed by fire, thrown down by violence, and become a smoking monument to God’s judgment forever and ever

But that is not today.  Today, she carries on.  But not you.  You are to “Come out of her my people so that you will not share in her sins, so that you will not receive any of her plagues…” (18:14)  Meaning what?

Simply this.

While she breeds adultery in every corner of our culture, you stand for faithfulness in every relationship, promise, commitment and value.  While she promotes nameless spiritualism that reeks of the garlic of self gratification, you practice and promote the presence of the Holy Spirit Who has a name – the Spirit of Jesus Christ.  When she glories in her excessive luxuries at the expense of others and in the name of opportunity, you break her maddening spell with a stand for moderation, contentment and a demonstration of “enough”.  When she promotes arrogance and aggression disguised as “living life to the fullest”, you magnify the day in light of a vast universe and a great God who alone knows what the future holds, pointing out that choice itself is a privilege.  When she takes the life of a saint or fellow believer anywhere on the planet you stand and let your voice be heard – that was your family member.

You do that.  Don’t let the harlot seduce you.  Stand.  Speak. Believe.  Her day will come.

-Anthony

Enduring Ethics – A Tale of Three Cities

Choice Street PreacherYou’ll not find them on any list of “The most desirable places to live”.  You’ve probably only even heard of one of them.  You’d likely be wrong in guessing why two of the three came to their obscure place in history.

Chorazin, Bethsaida and Capernaum.  Three cities.

Not exactly vacation hotspots.  But Jesus had harsh words for them.  These are the cities that He pronounced “Woes” upon.  These places heard a prognosis from the Son of God that would have frightened any real estate investor.

Tyre and Sidon, perennial bad boys of the “Old Testament Urban League” have greater reason for optimism on the coming day of Judgment than Chorazin and Bethsaida.  The former were the focus of numerous prophetic warnings because of the godlessness of their cultures.  But they are still around today.  People live there.  The latter?  Chorazin is a place of ruins and Bethsaida is not even on the map – can’t find it.

Sodom, the incumbent number one of the annual “Worst Places Ever” list, has greater reason for optimism on the coming day of Judgment than Capernaum.  The former was sister city to Gomorrah, home to the worst ethics violations in the early Old Testament.  Things were so bad that God himself visited to check out the reports.  It is no more.  God rained burning sulfur on the city and destroyed every living person save Lot and his daughters.  The latter is no more either- a place of ruins and irrelevance.  No fire and brimstone, but also no legacy.

What did they do?  What were these three cities guilty of that catapulted them to the poll position of bad news on Judgment Day?

Simply this:  they did not repent, despite the fact that most of Jesus miracles were performed there.

Did you catch that?  Do you understand what that means?  Let me break it down for you in case you didn’t.

First, most of Jesus miracles occurred in cities that we essentially have no record of in the New Testament.  That means that the miracles we do have record of represent the minority.  This aligns with John’s statement regarding “the many other things that Jesus did” which are not recorded in the Bible.

Second, this suggests that the New Testament is more of a record of man’s response to God’s activity than it is a simple record of God’s activity.  The Holy Spirit could have focused biblical writers on wonders and miracles that residents of these towns witnessed but did not respond to.  But that would have benefitted us nothing.  Instead, we are told of a lonely woman by a well, a blind man wanting to see, and rich man climbing into a tree – all people like us, trying to find our way, needing God to show up and help us a bit.

Third, a demonstration of God’s power doesn’t mean people will respond.  He did a lot in these three cities, but people were generally unimpressed – you know, “people to see, places to go, things to do…”  In the story of The Rich Man and Lazarus, the Rich Man, when he found himself in Hell, asked for someone to go back and tell his brothers about the reality of Hell, to warn them.  Abraham’s response?  “If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.”

Translated – if you’re not listening you won’t hear; if you’re not looking you won’t see.  That’s what these three cities did.  They were shown wonders and didn’t see them.  They were told amazing truths and didn’t hear anything.

Hershel Hobbs wrote…

“…citizens of these cities who rejected Christ will receive a greater judgment than will the citizens of Old Testament cities who never knew Him.  Why will this be so?  Because they sinned against the greater privilege.  They were indifferent to their opportunity.  It is a great privilege to be confronted with Christ.  But it is also a great responsibility.”

So which is worse – committing a heinous sin or rejecting the great sacrifice of heaven for the heinous sin committed?

These three cities learned too late that it’s likely the latter.

Have you?  Are you seeing today?  Are you listening today?  Or are you just too busy to be bothered with privilege?

-Anthony

Enduring Ethics – Here Come the Judge

judge eastwoodHere come the judge!” is a popular phrase captured in our music and pop culture.  It can be good news if he’s coming to take down the bad guy.  But if, when he gets closer, he looks more problematic than the bad guy, some ancient words from God to Habakkuk become important.

Habakkuk’s struggle was… “do I tolerate the injustice and idolatry I see rampant in my own country or do I invite God’s judgment, which ultimately means an invading army more godless and wicked than the place I live in?

His dilemma could be ours.  Culture can need correction, but that often involves trauma.  Which do you prefer?  Cultural decay or corrective trauma?  The later often involves the strong man; the judge.  Politics and church revivals don’t always get it done.

So Habakkuk took his struggle to God.  And God responded in typical fashion:

  • God did not answer Habakkuk with an exhaustive ethical justification for what He was about to do
  • God did answer Habakkuk with a call to faith – to trust in His appropriate timing and judgment on those needing correction and those doing the correcting

Ultimately, behind the strong man or judge, is God.  And He had these things to say to Habakkuk (and to us) regarding His view of the strong man and what his end would be – every time.

How does this help us today?

Justice, whether personal, civic or international is seldom a choice between Sunday School and Serial Murder.  There are shades and nuances, ebbs and flows.  So it’s comforting to know there is One who follows it all and will ultimately hold each instrument of judgment accountable.

It’s also important to realize that breaking news is often premature.  What’s news today is often not the full story.  There is a day coming when the full impact of all strong men will be revealed.  Their role in history will be fully understood.  But that day is not today.

We are given a survival tool; a kind of Swiss army knife by which to read international and economic news:  faith.  This multi-functional tool allows us to proceed in peace when all is crashing down around us.  It allows us to move with confidence when culture is rotten and the corrective action coming seems even more so.

The strong man God used to correct Habakkuk’s culture did indeed come – Babylonia.  But even in its strength, there were those living by faith who sent the strong man a message:  “I’m not gonna bow to you!”.  This is a message we sometimes need to send in our own day.  And the day did indeed arrive when the One True Judge came.  And the strong man fell in a single night.

Justice and justice.  Here comes the Judge – the Big One!  Live by it.

-Anthony

Enduring Ethics – Woe and Whoa!

woe 1Woe!  Is there any ethical wiggle room in that word?  Don’t think so.

I would say the word means “bad news” about 100% of the time.  Revisionists have their way with many genres of literature.  History, for example, can be rewritten based upon the perspectives of those pushing today’s academic pens.  And Biblical interpretation is certainly not exempt.  The church finds itself in the midst of ethical conversations that were unthinkable 50 years ago.

But here’s where I kind of like “woe” – it doesn’t allow for much of that.  Woe means woe – it means something’s wrong on a major scale in God’s view.  And odds are if it was wrong then, it’s likely wrong now.

The prophet Isaiah spoke of 6 major ethical misses that earned God’s “woe” (an “F” in heavenly ethics class).  These were the things that brought down a nation – not just any nation, but the one of God’s own making.  Now if these ethical evils brought down the nation God made, how disastrous might they be for our time, our nation, and our city?

Here’s the list, straight from Isaiah 5:8-30.  God says “Woe to you who are…

  • Property Grabbers (“Woe to you who add house to house…”) – those who enrich themselves by disregarding the sacred right of land inheritance (Lev. 25:14-17, Micah 2:1-2).  Because of them there is no room left for people of ordinary means to own a house and land.
  • Party Animals (“Woe to those who rise early for drinking…”) – those who have become alcoholics, shown by their need for “beer” early in the morning.  They party through the day and into the night until they’re totally hammered, showing no time for God’s deeds and no regard for his work.
  • Parading Shamelessly (“Woe to those who draw sin along with cords of deceit...”) – those who are openly proud and brazen over that which they should be ashamed of, openly defying the Lord with parade floats of sin so heavy that they have to use cart ropes to drag them along.
  • Repeal Morality (“Woe to those who call evil good and good evil…”) – those who reverse moral distinctions.  These are folks who have become so seared in their depravity that they consider sin to be perfectly normal and good to be the evil.  These are the sophists of any age, who have found a clever word game for proving black is white and white is black.
  • Pump Themselves Up (“Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes…”) – those who put their own ideas on a pedestal and now imagine they know more than past wisdom, being highly enlightened above God’s revelation, his prophet’s warnings and his promised judgment.
  • Prostitute Justice (“Woe to those who acquit the guilty…”) – those who have sold their responsibilities in social leadership to buy that which feeds their base habits.  This is the judge or policeman who has an addiction and takes a bribe to support it.  Justice goes hungry while social leaders feed their cravings.

Seen any of that stuff around today?

One writer described Israel in the 6th century BC as “a false, government-aided prosperity encouraging a corrupt luxury accompanied by oppression of the poor and a sensual, immoral, heathenish religion”  Now that does sound familiar.

When crime, sensuality, and greed are ascendant, it’s hard to imagine justice ever being done.

Imagine.

Justice did come to the nation that God told “woe” – big time.  Consider Amos 4:1-2 in light of the bas-relief from Nineveh showing the conquest of Lachish.  In it captive Jews are being led before King Sennacherib of Assyria by ropes attached to giant fish hooks put through their jaws.

Before God says “woe” on our time, we need to cry “whoa!” to any part we play in such.

-Anthony

God Calling… Finishing Well

sunsetGideon’s story is a repeated through history.  It’s a story of the individual responding to God’s call, trusting Him beyond the visible, leaning only on His might, winning a victory that blesses many, and then riding off into the sunset a hero loved by all.

If only.

No, it doesn’t usually work that way.  The first part happens from time to time.  Folks respond to God’s call and lean on Him more than what their own eyes or hearts tell them.  But the last part is particularly tricky.  And few do it well.  I’m talking about finishing well; the “riding off into the sunset loved by all” part.

Let’s follow the giant steps leading to the sun collapsing on Gideon’s faith legacy.

Step 1 – He misuses a profit from the blessing.  Gideon says “no” to a request from a now adoring nation to rule over them.  Good boy.  But then he asks for a financial cut of the new economic boon.  His take is a little over a million dollars in today’s terms.  Then he takes that money and creates an ephod – an instrument of the high priestly role – and it becomes a snare to Gideon, his family and the nation.  He knew he was not called to rule.  But he couldn’t resist playing God just a little bit.  Good things never come from that.

Step 2 – He doesn’t keep it all in the family.  Gideon took a concubine in addition to his many wives.  This is a hard thing to work with in a time that has returned to a Genesis model of monogamy.  But in that day, many wives was typical, even for men after God’s own heart like David.  But like many, Gideon went a step further and had a concubine in an odd location – Shechem.  Makes you wonder if while he was away on business (God’s work chasing the remnants of the armies of the east) he engaged is something on the side that wasn’t God’s idea that had serious consequences – a son.  His name was Abimelech (meaning:  father of a king, or king is my father).  This side stepping of family faithfulness never goes well.  It’s a problem as old as Sarah and Hagar.  And it would bite Gideon big time.

Step 3 – He is victim to a fickle market.  People did then what they do now – forget the latest blessing as soon as its normal or boring.  While God blessed the nation with peace for forty years, the nation was busy prostituting themselves to a false god, forgetting the true God, and failing to show kindness to Gideon’s family.  So typical.  So shortsighted.  National dementia – it’s at epidemic proportions in our day too.

Step 4 – His own son rebels.  Abimelech, whom we introduced above, weasels his personal agenda into the political ears of his community and is funded to raise a small army of common thugs with a $1,000 from the temple of the false God.  Compare the $1,000 he got from temple funding through a false god with the $1,000,000 Gideon got from unofficial funding resulting from simple obedience.  His own son would rise and murder all of his other sons save one, and install himself as king.

From deliverer to sucker in less than a generation.  From Baal Fighter to Father of the Butchered in a few short verses.  And though this cycle repeated itself in the time of the Judges (and does throughout history), there seem to be some lessons worth learning…

  • First, obey God but don’t even think about taking his glory; not even a priestly garment’s worth
  • Second, unfaithfulness to your spouse, though glamorized and often served up buffet style, always hurts your legacy, even while doing God’s work
  • Third, remembering what’s important, requires the same rigorous discipline as most memorization
  • Fourth, one child, untended, undisciplined and unloved, can bring a nation to its knees

Most likely, you are somewhere in this cycle today.  If you’ve just finished something great, a major victory, review your next steps carefully.  Let Gideon’s story serve as a map so you can avoid his final ride rather than repeat it.

Sunsets can be glorious.

-Anthony

God Calling… Charting Faith

Minard ChartI love good charts.

They can help us see perspectives otherwise not easily visible.  Perhaps the greatest one ever was constructed by Charles Joseph Minard, portraying the losses suffered by Napoleon’s army in the Russian campaign of 1812. Using a thick beige-to-black band, he shows the size of the army beginning at the Polish-Russian border and follows its reduction to Moscow and back in the bitterly cold winter.  The army size is tied to temperature and time scales.  It’s a masterpiece in graphic depiction.  It makes the following point very clear:  Napoleon’s army was defeated by poor decision making and winter weather, not another army.

Consider now another chart, not nearly as famous as Minard’s:  mine.

Faith Fight over TimeIt’s a crude attempt at charting faith – the thing that’s most required if you are going to answer God’s call.  It was absolutely essential for Gideon.  And it’s going to be essential for you.

This chart tracks three variables from Judges 6-7:

  • Green = The size of Gideon’s forces, starting from when he was called (that would be one) through to the greatest number (32,000 or so) and back down to 301.
  • Red = The size of the opposition’s forces, peaking at 135,000 and eventually shrinking to zero.  Where the number starts cannot be identified, but I’m guess somewhere around 25,000 to 35,000 (call it an occupation force).
  • Orange = Gideon’s physical/mental stress level.  It’s the variable hardest to pin down because the Bible gives us only clues without clear markers.  In other words…
    • what was his stress level working alone in the wine press prior to the call?
    • what was his stress level when an angel appeared and issued a call to leadership without any identified followers?
    • what was his stress level when the great battle began; 301 facing 135,000?
    • and what was his stress level when he was chasing an enemy on the run on foreign soil when his men were exhausted?

While the Bible doesn’t give us an actual number, we can anticipate movement up or down.

What do you notice as you consider the chart?

First, it becomes apparent the fight of faith has a general emotional/physical “footprint” that would keep anyone out of their comfort zone.  It’s not blissful.  It’s not a consistent spiritual “high”.  Instead, it’s a roller coaster of highs and lows.

What does that mean?  It means you cannot look at your “heart” or “feelings” to tell you whether to start, stop or finish.  It’s the call that matters.  If Gideon would have check his heart for directions, at several points through these chapters he might have bailed.  Any reasonable person would have.

Second, the physical resources at Gideon’s disposal never come close to matching up well with the forces of the eastern armies.  Gideon, at his best, had about 32,000 men.  The forces of the east had 135,000.  It was never even close.

What does that mean?  It means you cannot make your decision on whether to obey the call based upon visible resources.  At no point did Gideon ever have a number that would cause any military leader worth his “salt” to press the attack.  And when Gideon started to like his numbers, God stepped in and said “too big; too many – we have to thin these out lest the wrong person get credit!” Early on Gideon settled that the power in his punch was God and God alone.

Third, Gideon’s stress level was highest after the main battle was over.  When the red line is well past its peak and heading toward zero (certain demise of the eastern armies), the orange line is just getting started, like some runaway growth stock.  Gideon’s most trying time may have been after the crowd left the primary victory celebration, and he knew that his original force of 300 had to chase the rest of the enemy into foreign soil.  He received no help, no food and no sleep.  Exhaustion was his only companion as he pushed his men forward based on a call only his ears heard.

What does that mean?  It means finishing the call is sometimes harder than the main battle.  We celebrate and publish the book or create a seminar too early.   89% of the enemy was routed and leaving town.  But that number has nothing to do with his call.  Gideon was called to deliver God’s people, not simply reduce the enemy forces.  Enough is not enough until the call is completed – and that may be the hardest part.

Were you able to ask Gideon “was it worth it?“  What do you think his answer would be?

What might yours be if you answered God’s call today?

-Anthony

God Calling… Family and Fleece

The best measure of a spiritual life is not its ecstasies but its obedience.”  (Oswald Chambers)

I think there’s a common misconception about following God (or “doing the right thing” in common parlance):  it’s easy and the bleachers are full of supporters.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  The path of faith, ethics, and change is lonely.

And what’s most surprising is who is not in the bleachers when you take your first step.

In the story of Gideon, hard on the heels of his inspirational interview with an angel of God, he was instructed to tear down the altar of worship to a false God (Baal).  The one of which his own family was assigned the role of caretaker on behalf of their village.

That meant embarrassing Dad.  That meant stirring up the anger of the whole town. That meant difficulty.  That meant taking the first step alone.  So Gideon made two critical decisions:

  • first, he decided to obey God.  The angel told him to take the first step toward realizing his full role as “mighty warrior” that very night.  There was no time allowed for consideration.  No time to meditate, no time to take a poll of wise elders, no time to consider life markers, no time to check with the family to see how everyone felt about being “most hated” in their community the next day.
  • second, he decided to do his work at night.  Why?  Because he was afraid.  It’s been said that courage is the assessment that something is more important than fear.  Gideon showed courage but he also showed a little fear.  And that is something you and I can relate to.

Day two of Gideon’s obedience dawns, the deed is done, and the town is ticked off.  They show up ready to kill him.  Then something amazing happens:  the Father Gideon has placed in a most awkward situation stepped out to defend his son’s actions…

“If Baal really is a god, he can defend himself when someone breaks down his altar!”

Makes sense.  The town people thought so too.  And so Gideon got a cool nicknameJerub-Baal, or “Baal Fighter”.  In our day is would be something like “Idol Smasher”.

This first step of obedience is not unusual in the Bible.  Those God calls often have to take the first steps alone and in the face of family disagreement.  Those closest to you are not always God’s advisors.  Be careful.

As Oswald Chambers also once suggested, when God gives us an assignment, the worst thing we can do is consult with another person.  Moses would agree.  So would Noah and Daniel.  And so would Jesus, who not only modeled obedience over family, but redefined true family by obedience (Matthew 10:37-39, Matthew 8:21-22, Matthew 12:46-50).

Very difficult.  But it changes the world.

Guys like Phinehas (Numbers 25:1-13) are special because only one thing matters to them – God.  And while others are consulting or politicking, folks like Phinehas act decisively.  And a nation is saved.

This story tends to gain everyone’s attention because of a couple of nights when Baal Fighter laid out the fleece looking for confirmation.  But Gideon didn’t do that because he was deciding whether or not to be obedient.  He did it because he’d already started.

Have you started… to obey?  Or are you still laying out fleeces?

-Anthony

God Calling… Are You Sure?

It’s one of my favorite comedy sketches of all time – Bill Cosby playing Noah.  As he plays his character, the audience imagines Noah in his woodworking shop, suddenly interrupted by an unseen voice.  God begins to speak with Noah, telling him what he must do.  After a moment, the call seems so impossible, so overwhelming, that Noah pauses and asks… “who is this really?

In Noah’s case it really was God.  In Judges chapter 6, it also was God – calling upon another unlikely candidate to do something impossible.  His name was Gideon.  And the typical path toward figuring out whether God is speaking to someone regarding a call was not really open to him.  If you are thinking God maybe calling you to some task, effort or great work, what counsel if usually offered?

Well, it’s usually stuff like… talk to your family, seek wise counsel, pray, meditate, read scripture, test for an open door, examine the resources available to support it, consider what simple wisdom would suggest, ask… What is my heart saying?, consider life experience markers, and so forth.  These things are kind of like typical caller ID settings for God.

But not much of that works in Gideon’s story.  He didn’t have time to talk to family; matter of fact, his first act of obedience was to offend his immediate family and the town he lived in.  He didn’t have a chance to seek wise counsel because his obedience was demanded that very night of the day he was called.  He didn’t have time to meditate on scripture or do much praying.  As for an open door, what he was being asked to do was so absurdly impossible, confining the task to something entered through a door would be like saying going to the moon requires a little money.  As for what “was his heart saying” or “what would wisdom suggest“, the answer to both would have likely been “are you crazy?!!!

What was he being asked to do?  Things typical of the called…

  • see himself as God saw him
  • adjust his explanation of reality
  • believe that his strength was enough to face a terrifying task
  • refuse to look at his credentials when considering the call
  • believe that God would be with him to accomplish the call

It’s easy to think this is the exception rather than the rule.  But a broad study of the Bible shows otherwise.  It’s not unusual for God’s calls to come a little “edgy”.  They shake us up.  They scare us.  Reread the call of Moses, Noah, Jeremiah, Isaiah, John, Paul, and others.  Not many have much to do with open doors, wise counsel, or life markers. No, the call of God (in the Bible anyway) more often has these earmarks.  These are the proper caller ID settings for God.  God’s call comes…

  • as a statement of divine fact that requires faith to believe
  • often to one, not a committee or a family
  • through a messenger – still God speaking, but through the mouth of an angel or man
  • in confusion – and that’s why it comes in the first place; because order is needed out of chaos
  • without evidence – something that’s always in the future
  • with a promise of God’s presence

Hail mighty office worker, teacher, waiter, or bus driver!  Would God ever call you to something difficult? 

Before you say “not me“, reconsider Gideon’s call.  That voice you hear in the whine pit of your daily grind could be a call from God for you.  It would be so sad if your God-Caller ID had the wrong settings so you thought it was for someone else.

-Anthony

On the Last Day of Christmas (Making Sense of the Season)

If on the first day of Christmas you clearly remembered what the Savior was given to save us from, it would then be ideal if by the last day you had a full heart from trying to count (but being unable) the number of amazing things you’ve been saved to.

Point of origin is one thing; destination is something entirely different.  And often better; much better.

The Antique Road Show has featured some amazing finds over the years – people who came with something handed down, hanging on the wall, or kept under a dusty bed, only to find out is was an unknown treasure.

  • Like the Original “Peanuts” comic strip valued at $450,000 – the owner had worked with the cartoonist to develop a line of “Peanuts” Hallmark greeting cards and Shultz gave her some original strips as a gift.  She had stored them under her bed!
  • Like the Navajo chief’s blanket valued at $500,000 – made sometime before 1865 and one of only 50 that still exist today. The unsuspecting owner said the blanket had been in his family for years.
  • Like the oil painting by Clyfford Still valued at $500,000 – a housewarming present given 50 years previous, worth much more than the recipient could have conceived.
  • Or like the Chinese jade carved bowls valued at a whopping $1.07 million – a collection passed down to the owner from her father who was stationed in China while in the U.S. military in the 1930s and 1940s (I guess some service turns out to be more profitable than others).

Do you know what you have?  Most don’t.  They treat salvation like a cheap life insurance policy tucked away in a draw just in case.

It’s so much more – unbelievably more.

New Testament texts abound that attempt to measure what we have in Christ.  Here’s just a few..

Romans 5:1-11 list such priceless aspects as justification, peace with God, access into the grace in which we now stand, hope of the glory of God, rejoicing in our sufferings, the Holy Spirit in our hearts, and reconciliation.  These are practical and present tense.  Consider just one of these for those of you who are sports fans…

…access into the grace in which we now stand – something so different than what athletes experience.  It’s Super Bowl season presently and some are projected to win and some to lose.  At the end of it all, only one team will stand in glory, and all others will experience turnover, blame and loss of standing.  Salvation offers something very different – permanent standing in grace; continued access to the unmerited favor of God.  Whether you win or lose in life’s contests, you stand permanently in God’s love and care.  You’re a perpetual winner – standing in God’s grace.

1 Peter 1:3-12 lists things that are ahead – what we look forward to: a living hope, an inheritance kept in heaven for you, an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade, shielding by God’s power until all that salvation means is revealed in the last time, the process of faith proving that points toward praise, glory and honor, and it’s all something so wonderful that angels long to be able to understand it (meaning, to whatever extent angels can be jealous… they are – of you!).

Again, consider just one of these, for those of you who are investors…

…an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade – now there’s something foreign to our economic times!  How successful have you been at “beating the market”?  If you’ve looked for a safe place to invest your money like many you’ve perhaps come to the conclusion that the way capitalism seems to work most often in your life is with you being the one capitalized on!  Little guys put their hard earned dollars on the same table as the big boys who run billion dollar hedge funds.  And you find out the golden rule of finance – “The one with the most gold makes most of the rules”.  But salvation promises an inheritance the market bulls and bears cannot manipulate, thieves cannot steal, and inflation cannot destroy.  It’s there waiting for you, as glorious the day you first see it with your own eyes as 10,000 years later.

I’ve been going through my parents’ possessions over the last few years, trying to process their estate.  One lesson comes home again and again:  most stuff just isn’t worth much in the long run.  What we work so hard to buy, maintain, and store, simply isn’t worth it.

The good news is that what you’ve been given in Christ through salvation is… now and forever.

-Anthony