When God’s People Ask for a King…

Until the time of Saul, the children of Israel were ruled through “judges,” who were raised up like prophets among the people and were led by their decisions and directions. For several decades, this worked until one day there came a cry out of the people, demanding that God provide them with a king like other nations.

They delivered this message to Samuel the prophet, who would become the last of the judges. And he delivered the message to God. Samuel was distraught, thinking the people had rejected him, but God quickly removed that from him and said, “They have not rejected you, but they have rejected me.”

Since the deliverance from Egypt, God had been their king. Now, the Israelites wanted to be like other nations. To have a powerful ruler who looked the part and could command authority on a world stage. They wanted to have power and make their name great in the earth. They believed the only way this could be accomplished was through a human king.

So God gave them what they desired.

Even in his disappointment in the people of Israel, and even giving in to their demands, he warned them. He gave them a chance to think about what they would endure if they had an earthly king. “A king will take from your harvests and the fruit of your labors to build himself palaces. He will take your children and make them fight wars on his behalf. He will take from you and cause you to work for him. You will be as indentured servants to the king.” (My paraphrase.)

But they closed their ears to the voice of Samuel and the Lord and said “give us a king.” So God gave them what they wanted.

Sometimes, God gives us what we want even when He knows that’s not what we need. There are times when we cry out for our way to such a degree that God allows us to have it. He did this often with the Israelites, allowing the consequences of their decisions and demands to judge them and cause them to understand the true wisdom that would have been found in God’s choice for them rather than their own.

As I’m watching the election debacle unfold around me, and seeing the church melting down in partisan bickering and devouring one another, I wonder if it’s the church asking for a king this time. I’m not only referring to the evangelical right that is attempting to crown Donald J. Trump as the new king, but also, the liberal leaning religious left, who is trying to claim the moral high ground (imagine that!), heralding Hillary Clinton as the queen. Both sides rejecting the true King for one of their own making.

Sometimes God gives us what we want. Maybe what we have in this disaster of a choice is truly the result of God giving the church what she wants.

The evangelical church has longed for the “good old days” when Christianity was the norm, protected by the American society and the cornerstone of morality and law in the land. However, times have changed and our culture has, over the last 50 plus years, become postmodern and post-Christian. Now in an effort to protect what power the evangelical movement believes it has left, it has thrown all of its influence behind a man who has no understanding of what the word evangelical even means.

The religious left has its own stake in the game. The desire to keep progressing in a direction of liberal freedom and expression, to remove the standards of “long held religious beliefs” that stand in the way of that progress has led them to throw their influence behind the first woman nominated to be President. Though this is an accomplishment we as Americans should be proud to say we’ve finally achieved, the choice is one of a woman stained by scandal, lies, suspicion and her own lack of respect for human life.

Here are our Sauls. Pick one.

I believe no matter who is elected into office out of these two choices (unless by some miracle, a third-party candidate upsets the election), we are looking at living for at least the next four years under a spirit of Saul. Even though Saul had the look of a king, tall and handsome, strong and forceful, he did not have the character to carry the anointing that came with the job.

When someone steps into a position of authority when they do not have the character to carry the responsibility and sacrifices it requires, they fall back to their sinful nature to fulfill it. This is what a Saul does.

Saul was soon over his head on the world stage. He was quick to engage, but not to follow through. In his battle with the Amalekites, he saved the king and kidnapped him rather than destroy him as the orders of the Lord through Samuel instructed. He even presumed so much to take the place of prophet and offer a sacrifice to the Lord in his arrogance and haste, out of fear of the people. He also amassed great wealth and indentured hundreds of young men into his army as the Lord had predicted. But this did not give him the courage he needed to handle the giant of Gath when forced to a stalemate for weeks at the battle line against the Philistines.

It was a shepherd boy who stood up to him, refused to take on his armor or tactics, that took down the giant with a sling and a stone, and a declaration of the one true king on his lips.

Saul quickly got threatened by even those in his own household and soon found himself more distracted with David than with the real enemy.

I believe under a spirit of Saul, we will see more persecution of the true church, those who will stand up for the kingdom of God over the kingdom of man. And this attack will not be from just the left, but the right as well, because what is sought by them both is not truth, or righteousness, or even to “make America great again,” but rather both sides desire power. But the kingdom of God is not seeking power on this earth, but rather in the heavenlies where the spiritual power over the earth is truly shaken.

Those who would justify their Saul through the excuse that their choice has allegedly become a Christ-follower need to reread the account of the Biblical King Saul. He was counted among the prophets once when he was chasing David to kill him, and came upon a group of prophets. He found himself caught up in the spirit as well and prophesied with them, and it caused him to turn around for a while, but it was only a surface experience. There was no true repentance and change of character and soon he was on the trail to kill David (the newly anointed one) again.

The good news is this: the church always thrives and multiplies under persecution. Could it be that God’s purpose in presenting these two Sauls before us is that no matter which we choose, he is at work in the background preparing for revival to the nations, due to their failures and attacks against the anointed of God? Could it be that we’re about to experience another expulsion from Jerusalem like in the book of Acts when the early church was comfortable, but God wanted them to go into all the world and therefore allowed the persecution of the church to spur them out?

My heart breaks watching the church fight over which Saul they desire to lead them. I believe Jesus is being set to the side, while his bride flirts with Saul in hopes she will get the prize of power or prestige or dominance in our culture. There is going to be much need for repentance and healing after November 8th in the American church. How we come together to restore relationship and come back under our true king will determine how well we will fair under the administration of Saul, whichever one we get.

Let us repent of our agendas, our divisive attitudes and commit our ways and our nation to God. Jesus, be our king and to you only will we align our hearts and wills.

 

Advertisements

Faith’s Fruit

  
Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen, is how the writer of Hebrews 11 defines it. Some have tried to teach that faith is a currency through which we get stuff from God. But Hebrews hints that it is much more than a simple give and take.

Faith is a trust we place in someone else, a giving of ourselves to them, believing they have our best interest at heart. When we place our faith in God, there is a connection that takes place. It is our trust in him that brings him pleasure. “Without faith, it is impossible to please God.” When we entrust our lives into his hands, God is pleased and his favor shines in our hearts. If I trust him, what I do for him comes out of my trust, not my trying to buy his pleasure by my works. It’s not what I do that brings him joy, but trusting him that makes him smile.

When I have faith in God, it’s more than just trying to prove to him how much I believe his words or promises, it is entrusting my life, my fears, my family, my worries, my past, present and future into his care. Then I begin to see something I’ve never seen before…the invisible. Those things I’ve hoped for, I find in God’s hands and he makes all things work together for good, because he has my best interest in mind. I see the things that those who are not trusting cannot see, for my faith becomes the evidence of his grace in my life.

Faith does not guarantee that I will get whatever I want in my life. Reading the letters of Paul and the early church will show us that. They had greater faith than we can imagine, yet suffered unimaginable hardships. Jesus himself did not get the cup to pass from him in the Garden as he prayed the night before his death, and he had perfect faith.

Instead, my faith, which is my trust in God, will anchor me to the One who holds my life and walks with me through my fears, trials, grief and pain. It will be what provides favor and blessings in life, not because I deserve it and do good enough to get his blessing, but rather because all he asks is that I trust him and live my every day from the trust that he will be with me through everything I face.

This is the fruit of faith…a deeper, real confidence in the One who gave his life for me and a relationship through which I can face life with a different perspective.

Older Brother Syndrome

IMG_1291-0

In the famous story of the Prodigal Son in the Gospel’s, there is another story going on that we many times overlook.

The father has welcomed the prodigal home and celebrated his arrival with a party for the whole household. However, there is one who is not so happy about the return: the prodigal’s older brother.

In the midst of partying and rejoicing over the lost son’s return, the father realizes his other child is not at the gathering. Making his way outside, away from the joyful music and delicious food, he finds his oldest son sulking.

“I am here always. I do all I can for you. Never once have you thrown a party on my behalf! Where’s my reward for being the good one?” He says to his dad.

At first glance, it seems like the older brother is a whining, spoiled brat, jealous over his father’s love for his younger son. But if we listen to his words, we find there is something deeper going on his heart. There is an accusation in his words that are deeper than the want for a party. It is the accusation that the father does not love him.

Many times when we see the story of the Prodigal Son, we identify with the lost son. We know we’re sinners and have messed up royally and really don’t deserve grace and mercy. Yet, because of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, we find ourselves in the Heavenly Father’s embrace. We count our blessings and thank God for them.

But can we also identify with the big brother? How often have we sulked outside the parties of life, because we haven’t received what we think we deserve for being the good one? Why don’t we get the blessings, when we have tried our best to walk the straight and narrow and another person who has messed up their lives just walks in and takes the blessings we think we deserve?

Could it be that we have isolated ourselves? Could it be that we have misjudged the Father’s intention and love for us? I believe that many times we have wrongly accused God of not caring and ignoring us, because we have believed a lie.

We understand that God has saved us by his grace. He had mercy on our souls, Jesus died in our place, so that we could be free to have relationship with God. And we are grateful. But the lie we have believed is that though salvation is free, the rest of our lives is to be about being deserving of that sacrifice. We may not have to earn grace, but we have believed that we have to prove ourselves to keep it.

But what did the father say to the big brother in the story?

“My son, you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. We had to celebrate, because your brother was dead and now alive, lost but now found.”

Essentially, dad was telling his son, you already have everything. You already have this powerful relationship with me that you could have accessed at any moment you needed me. You have access not just to my hand, but to my heart as well.

God the Father wants us to experience not just grace that provides entrance into relationship with Him, but also grace that keeps us in relationship with Him. You don’t have to work so hard to prove your love for God, He already has showered you with his love. He already approves of you.

He wants you for his own. He wants you to live with him as a son lives with his father, ask whatever you will and it will be done for you. A son should never fear his father’s voice. Neither should a son ever fear asking his father anything. Even if the answer is no, there is always a reason for it. Father does know best.

Too many times, we are the big brother living in the house, feeling like a servant, rather than the son that grace has made us become. The young brother, on his return, simply wanted to live as a servant in his father’s house, because he knew he had failed so miserably. But the father put a ring on his finger and robe on his back and made him a full member of the family again.

The older brother was a full member of the family, but was so concerned about proving his worth to his father, that he missed the point altogether. He was already a son!

The Illusion of Control

control button

A couple months ago, my friend Chris passed away due to a battle with cancer.  He was a young man of 39, with a wife and two kids, and a wonderful family who have become dear to my heart.  As we have walked through this journey of grief, one thing has become clear to me.

Death brings clarity.  It clarifies what is real and what is not real in your life.  When it comes and touches your circle of life and community, you begin to see with new eyes what is true and right and important.  Maybe this is one of those redeeming qualities of bad things that happen.

One of the things I have noticed my mind coming back to a lot is this:  you cannot control life.  It continues to move on.  When someone leaves, whether by choice or by death, life continues.  You don’t have to ask it to keep moving, it simply does.

And with its movement, you discover that you are not in control.  And we don’t like it.  Control is not achievable.  It is really an illusion.  Things like death or divorce or illness strip away the comfort that illusion gave us.  We become disillusioned.  The illusion is removed, and we are left grasping at whatever we can hold onto.

For most of us, we like to believe we have things under our control.  In fact, some of us like control so much, we try to control our spouses, our kids, our friends and anything else anyone will give us!  But we don’t really see the power this illusion has over us until we begin to feel it slip away and then we find ourselves tightening the grip!

The ancient peoples understood the randomness of life and the fact they were not in control of their world.  Their lives depended on the weather patterns and the seasons of planting and harvest.  Without the climate being just right, they knew they wouldn’t have enough to eat for the following year.  They did their best to live in such ways that they wouldn’t get sick or injured because they didn’t have the modern medicine of our day to save them if they did.

They understood they weren’t in control, so they looked to their god or gods.  They placed their faith outside themselves to find answers for why things went the way they did or didn’t go.  They would offer sacrifices so that the gods would be pleased and they would have a good crop, have healthy children or live another year.  When these things didn’t happen, they decided the gods must be angry with some small infraction of theirs, and they would try harder to appease their gods.

We as modern people realize that there were many more things involved than simply the sovereignty of some far away deity.  As man progressed and technology and knowledge abounded, the wisdom that came with it began to rely more on what we could do rather than what God could do.  And we believed the oldest lie of all that we could be in charge, we could be in control.

Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve had conversations with people that expressed different parts of this struggle.  One person said that they realized they couldn’t promise something their friend wanted, because they couldn’t promise life would always work out the way we believed it should.  Another told me that the very thing that they wanted, to be in control of their own lives, was the thing they realized they now had no control over.

As I began to ponder on these things, I realized that to try to control another becomes manipulation.  Trying to control my circumstances, and make them bend to my will, many times will cause conflict between me and my co-workers or friends and family.  To force my desires and control every aspect of my life will end up in my confusion, frustration and ultimate failure.

The only thing God the Father has given us is the ability to have self-control.  What I do with what has been thrown at me by life, how I handle what has been done to me by other people, is my responsibility.  But I do not do it alone; because one of the fruit of growing in God’s Spirit in my life is that I will have more ability to control myself.

When we live in the illusion of control, there is no need for trust or faith in God, because it is up to us.  We are in charge.  There is no need for faith, but there will be fear.  Fear that we will fail, fear that we will not be able to handle things, fear that things are out of control.  In fact, I believe the root to all desire for control is fear.

But perfect love casts out all fear.  And so the only way I can handle what life and the enemy throws at me is to cast my fear and my desire to control life at Jesus’ feet.

I have to trust.  No, life will not always work out the way I want it to.  There will be things that I hate about life.  There are going to be people who are going to leave, some willingly, some not.  There is going to be accidents and trials and fears and illnesses.  There will be trouble in this world, but I do not have to fear…for my trust is in the one who has overcome the world.

I always wondered why when Jesus said there would be trouble in this world, so don’t fear because he had overcome the world.  What does Jesus overcoming the world have to do with trouble in my life?  The word overcome means to conquer and to win.  When Jesus says don’t fear, I’ve conquered the world, it means he has it under his control.

Nothing we face in life will we face without his hand between us and it.  There will be pain, there will be suffering, but the sovereign hand of God is on us and has us in his grip.  We might not be in control, but he is.  We can trust that he is with us and working it all for our good.

But I have to let go of the illusion of control.  I have to give myself into the hands of the wind of the Spirit knowing that he will lead and he will guide and will make all things beautiful in his timing.

Fight for Identity

20140106-201850.jpg

Jesus went into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil after being baptized by his cousin, John. He had come out of the water and heard his Father speak from the heavens above, “this is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”

What a mountaintop experience! The Holy Spirit descending to him like a dove. Supernatural voice speaking from the heavens. His Father “owning” him before mankind. Then he faces the devil.

After forty days of fasting, Jesus is unquestionably hungry and the enemy comes to attack him at his weakest. Tempting Jesus would be easy at this point, hungry and lonely. The devil offers him to pick up his divinity he had poured out to become a man. He tempts him to turn a stone into bread, to show his special status as the Son of God by jumping off the temple and to bow down and worship the devil to shortcut his journey to be Lord over the earth.

But the heart of these temptations are not just about the acts themselves. The devil frames his temptation by saying “if you are the Son of God.” IF. Two letters but with so much power. The enemy was attacking Jesus’ status as a Son. His identity. He wanted to cause Jesus to doubt his identity. He knew that if he could get him to doubt who he was, he could shake his confidence and trust in the Father.

This is why it was so important for the Father to put on such a display before at Jesus’ baptism. He displayed Jesus for all the world to see as his Son. He wanted Jesus to face the enemy armed with the truth of his identity without a doubt.

You and I don’t have the luxury of having God speak out of the heavens to declare us his children, but He has declared us his children through his own Son’s sacrifice and through his word. You and I face this same temptation every day as the enemy and the world and our flesh tries to define us. We are tempted to give in to what these have to say about us and live out their definition and destiny rather than God’s.

We must be like Jesus though and lean back and listen to our Father’s declaration over us. Let it be the sound we listen to when the world speaks another identity. We cannot let this be stolen from us. We need it for without it, we will be lost in the wilderness.

He Chooses Us

20131119-204851.jpg

My apologies on the length of time between posts. I am going to “get back on the horse,” so to speak.

Jesus comes out of the water, as John baptizes him, and there is a great voice that speaks from heaven: “This is my beloved son, in whom I’m well pleased.” I have always loved this story and in recent months and years I’ve come back to it over and over again. And today I want to look at it one more time.

Jesus had not done anything of note to this point.

Nothing. No miracles, no feeding the thousands, no walking on water. Nothing. Yet its in this moment at the beginning of his public ministry, God does the introductions himself.

Yet he declares Jesus his son. He owns up to Jesus. He isn’t ashamed of his son. He is proudly declaring his son’s arrival on the scene.

This isn’t because of his goodness or his mission. It isn’t because of what he’s volunteered to do for the human race. It’s because God is validating him, owning Jesus as his son.

And this is what God does for us as well. Jesus is the firstborn of many brethren, according to Paul. Jesus sets the course for those who believe in him. And so as we place our trust and faith in Jesus, we also become the sons and daughters of God.

Before we do anything. We’ve obviously not been good enough. Before we find a mission to go on or accomplish great deeds in his name. We could never live up to what Jesus did.

No, God chooses us. He owns up to us. Because he loves us. He even likes us. And we are his sons and daughters. That’s enough.

Can we rest in that today? Simply come to the realization that we are God’s child. And nothing else? Can we just meditate on that fact and not allow the enemy or religion or other voices to sneak in and pull us off his lap? Can we simply own the fact that God calls us his own?

“This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son…” 1 John 4:10

“You did not choose me, but I chose you…” John 15:16a

Conclusions and Interpretations

accusation

“The conclusions we draw about God in the midst of our pivotal circumstances drive us toward or away from him.” Andy Stanley, Deep and Wide, pg 138

Reading Andy Stanley’s book, Deep and Wide, and coming across this section reminded me of what we’ve been talking about on this blog.  Andy is talking about how what he calls pivotal circumstance in our lives affect our faith.  Some of these experiences in life are life altering, which can be good or bad.  But either way, how we interpret these experiences determine how we perceive God and if our faith will grow or be devastated.

This returns us to the idea of the spirit of accusation found in the dry land of LoDebar.  When we face circumstances that challenge our faith, we have the choice to listen to the voices of those who make their home here, or will we stand against the words that try to accuse God to us.

The enemy of our souls will look for those experiences in our lives to try to define God to us, and by extension, define us to ourselves.  He will paint God as a tyrant, or uninterested, or even against us.  The question will be what will we do?  Will we allow our circumstances to define who God is, or will we allow Him to speak for Himself?

This is why it is important for us to learn to hear the voice of the Father.  Just as Jesus heard the Father declare him as His beloved son, we need to hear the Father’s voice speaking those words over us.  The king is our friend.  We can trust him.  Even when our circumstances try to lie to us, accuse God to us and accuse us to ourselves, we can believe him.

He has made his love and care for us known.  We must choose to believe the king has our best interest in mind, rather than the lies from the enemy.  Ask him to speak to you his truth, let his word be your anchor in the midst of LoDebar.

“Even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes.  God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure.” Ephesians 1:4-5 NLT