Posts tagged ‘Faith’

Knowing Thyself

Credit: Temple of Apollo at Delphi / Wikimedia

On the Temple of Apollo at Delphi, there is inscribed a famous maxim: “Know thyself.” But knowing one’s self can be hard. Solomon writes, “The purposes of a person’s heart are deep waters” (Proverbs 20:5). In other words, we often don’t understand our own hearts – our own selves. Or, as the apostle Paul puts it: “I do not understand what I do” (Romans 7:15).

Knowing thyself is key. After all, if we do not understand ourselves – including our hidden motives and perverse incentives – it will be very difficult for us to love others rather than use them. So, what is the key to knowing ourselves better?

Scripture gives us some critical practices to help us know ourselves. The first is that of confession, or self-examination. In confession, we grapple with what we know we’ve done wrong – those things that nag us with guilt and regret. The lie we told. The lust we indulged. The addiction we engaged. The person we hurt. Confession brings the parts of ourselves we would rather pretend not to know into the light. It is the first step to knowing ourselves.

But there is more. For we need not only confession, but counseling, or cross-examination. Oftentimes, our motives are so mixed, or our sin becomes so opaque to us, that we cannot see it for what it is. We become strangers to ourselves. We have all had the experience where we offended someone, often justifiably, and we did not even know it because we did not see how our words or actions hurt others. Those who counsel us – and not just professionally, but as friends, spouses, and neighbors – can help us identify our blind spots. After Solomon writes, “The purposes of a person’s heart are deep waters,” he adds, “but one who has insight draws them out” (Proverbs 20:5). We need people of insight around us to draw out what we cannot ferret out for ourselves.

Both of these practices can help us know ourselves. But, of course, knowing yourself is quite different than liking yourself. When we become aware of the depth of our brokenness and sin, it can be easy to fall into despair or self-loathing. This is why one more practice is needed – that of compurgation.

Compurgation was an early common-law method of trial in which a defendant could be acquitted on the endorsement of friends or neighbors. In other words, if enough people interceded for someone who had been accused of a crime, he could be exonerated on his friends’ testimony.

The apostle Paul asks:

Who is the one who condemns? No one.

Paul says that no one can condemn us in our sin. Why? Because:

Christ Jesus who died – more than that, who was raised to life – is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. (Romans 8:34)

Christ is the one who testifies on our behalf. And His testimony is all we need to be exonerated by being forgiven through Him. His compurgation is enough.

So then, who are we? We are children of God through Christ. We are sinners by nature, yes. But we are also saints through faith. How do we know this? By knowing ourselves – and, even more importantly, by knowing Christ.

September 12, 2022 at 5:15 am 2 comments

Punishment and Patience

Credit: “Jonah foretells the destruction of Nineveh” by Jan Luyken (1712) / Public Domain

At the end of the book that bears his name, the prophet Jonah is seething. God has just spared city of Nineveh, the capital of Assyria, which is the arch-enemy empire of Israel. Jonah had seen this coming. In fact, he was so concerned that God might allow Israel’s arch-enemy to stand after God called the prophet to go and try to help Nineveh that he tried to hop a ship sailing the opposite direction from Nineveh to Tarshish. Jonah was not interested in giving any opportunity to God to extend mercy to the Ninevites. And he says as much:

Isn’t this what I said, Lord, when I was still at home? That is what I tried to forestall by fleeing to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity. (Jonah 4:2)

Jonah wanted the Lord to be a judgment juggernaut – not a gracious God.

And yet, around 150 years later, God’s judgment does come for Nineveh, but through a different prophet – the prophet Nahum. This is what Nahum has to say:

The Lord has given a command concerning you, Nineveh: “You will have no descendants to bear your name. I will destroy the images and idols that are in the temple of your gods. I will prepare your grave, for you are vile.” (Nahum 1:14)

It turns out that the Ninevites repented of their sin during the time of Jonah, but then fell back into their sin after the time of Jonah. And now God’s judgment will come on them.

So often, like Jonah, we want God’s judgment to come in our way and on our schedule. We want to be judge, juror, and executioner of those who have sinned against us, or even of those who are morally opposed to us. But Jonah’s experience with Nineveh echoes the apostle Paul’s words:

If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is Mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. (Romans 12:18-19)

God will judge – but not always in our way and on our schedule. Indeed, as Nahum – the prophet who does announce of God’s judgment – says:

The Lord is slow to anger but great in power; the Lord will not leave the guilty unpunished. (Nahum 1:3)

The Lord does have power and punishment for sinners, but only after the Lord practices patience – lots of patience – with sinners. And for this, we should be grateful. Because God is not only patient with them, but patient with us. So, let’s be patient with God and allow Him to carry out His mercy and His judgment in His way.

I have a feeling He might know what He’s doing.

August 15, 2022 at 5:15 am 1 comment

God’s Open-Door Policy

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In Exodus 19, as God is preparing to give Israel the Ten Commandments on the summit of Mount Sinai, He issues a stern warning to the people through Moses:

Go down and warn the people so they do not force their way through to see the Lord and many of them perish. (Exodus 19:21)

And again to the priests and the people of Israel:

The priests and the people must not force their way through to come up to the Lord, or He will break out against them. (Exodus 19:24)

Everyone, it seems, would love to have some time with God. But as the Law is being introduced, the Israelites, instead of getting time with God, are being separated from God. The people are to remain at the foot of the mountain while Moses receives God’s Law at the top of the mountain. And to try to get close to God while He is giving His Law – to try to force their way into His presence in the midst of His law – will only result in their death.

Jesus makes a fascinating, perplexing, and seemingly passing statement in Luke’s Gospel:

The Law and the Prophets were proclaimed until John. Since that time, the good news of the kingdom of God is being preached, and everyone is forcing their way into it. (Luke 16:16)

“The Law” to which Jesus refers is the Law Moses received up on Mount Sinai, and “the Prophets” are those who proclaimed the Law, up to and including John the Baptist. But now, instead of a mountain, there is a kingdom. And now, instead of being sternly warned not to force their way up the mountain, people are openly and fearlessly forcing their way into the kingdom. Why? Because while the Law separated us from God because of our sin, Jesus came to undo that separation by forgiving our sin. We can force our way right in to see God. In Christ, God has an open-door policy.

So, what do you need to see God about? A worry? A sickness? A sin? A need? Feel free to barge right in. He’ll be happy to see you – and to help you. Because He loves you.

August 8, 2022 at 5:15 am 1 comment

What makes God, God?

What makes God, God? Traditionally, God’s fundamental attributes have been described as omnipotence – that God has power over all – omniscience – that He knows all – and omnipresence – that He is with all. Certainly, these are all true and critical attributes of God. But as the prophet Micah closes His book, He sees something else foundational to God.

Micah begins with an announcement from God that He will rescue Israel in power. God says to Israel:

“As in the days when you came out of Egypt, I will show them My wonders.” Nations will see and be ashamed, deprived of all their power. They will put their hands over their mouths and their ears will become deaf. They will lick dust like a snake, like creatures that crawl on the ground. They will come trembling out of their dens; they will turn in fear to the Lord our God and will be afraid of you. (Micah 7:15-17)

God’s power will overpower all the powers of the world, Micah says. This is God’s omnipotence at its most expansive. But it’s not just this traditional attribute of God that makes God, God. For Micah continues with a critical question:

Who is a God like You? (Micah 7:18)

What is it, Micah muses, that makes God so unique? What is it that sets Him apart? His answer is as stunning as it is soothing:

Who is a God like You, who pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of His inheritance? You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy. You will again have compassion on us; You will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea. (Micah 7:18-19)

It is God’s mercy – and not only His power, knowledge, or even presence – that makes God, God. What makes God utterly unique is that He does not treat us as our sins deserve. Instead, He hurls our sins away and, by doing so, becomes our hope and stay.

Martin Luther spoke of two types of God’s work – His strange work and His proper work. God’s strange work is His work of judgment in power. It is a work that is meant to reprove and, if not heeded, condemn. But though God does this work, it is strange to Him. It is not His preferred mode of operation. His preferred mode of operation – His proper work – is that of mercy and grace. God’s desire is to redeem and not just to reprove – to commute the sentence of sin instead of condemning people in sin. This is what makes God, God. And for this, we can be thankful. Because it is God’s mercy that allows us to approach Him, to rely on Him, and to find our rest in Him.

In Hebrew, the name Micah means, “Who is like the Lord?” The answer is, of course, “No one.” But because of what the Lord is like, we can like the Lord. We can love the Lord. Because He loves us.

August 1, 2022 at 5:15 am 1 comment

Raising Up a Remnant

Credit: Jonathan Borba / Pexels.com

The prophet Micah ministered during a dark period in the nation of Israel’s history. Externally, the Assyrians were menacing Israel, and internally, both the secular and spiritual leaders of Israel had become corrupt. The secular leaders were abusing their privilege to take advantage of the powerless:

They covet fields and seize them, and houses, and take them. They defraud people of their homes, they rob them of their inheritance. (Micah 2:2)

The spiritual leaders, in turn, were willing to overlook such gross misuses of power because they were being paid by the secular leaders to do so:

Her priests teach for a price, and her prophets tell fortunes for money. Yet they look for the Lord’s support and say, “Is not the Lord among us? No disaster will come upon us.” (Micah 3:11)

With depravity running rampant throughout the nation, it was tempting to feel as if no one righteous was left – as if evil had gotten its way and seized the day. And for a time, that looked to be the case. The Assyrians not only menaced Israel, but eventually routed Israel, followed by the Babylonians who did the same thing a little over 100 years later. Israel had fallen and righteousness had been extinguished.

But Micah knew better. Micah understood that, even amid much fallenness and darkness, God could preserve and raise up a remnant of people for Himself:

The remnant of Jacob will be in the midst of many peoples like dew from the Lord, like showers on the grass, which do not wait for anyone or depend on man. (Micah 5:7)

Micah declares that much will have been lost by the time Israel’s judgment is through, but God will nevertheless raise up a few.

It is especially important to note how Micah describes this small group. They are “like showers on the grass, which do not wait for anyone or depend on man.” The key difference between those who fall in judgment and those who are raised up in a remnant is that those who are raised up in a remnant “do not…depend on man.” Their status as part of God’s remnant does not depend on any person, any treaty, any riches, any social status, or any act of human power, but on the righteousness of God. It depends not on human efforts, but on faith in God. Their status as God’s remnant is not their achievement, but God’s gift.

In a world where we can sometimes feel isolated because we see sin all around us or we struggle with sin within us, we can rest assured that we are part of God’s people – His remnant. As Jesus put it: “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom” (Luke 12:32). God’s flock may be little, but it is real. And by simple faith, anyone can be a part. May this be a promise we all take to heart.

July 25, 2022 at 5:15 am 1 comment

Cleansing and Telling

Credit: Christ Healing the Leper (1534) / Wikimedia

As Matthew 8 opens, a leper comes to Jesus, desperate for healing from his chronic, and ultimately terminal, ailment:

When Jesus came down from the mountainside, large crowds followed Him. A man with leprosy came and knelt before Jesus and said, “Lord, if You are willing, You can make me clean.” Jesus reached out His hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” He said. “Be clean!” Immediately he was cleansed of his leprosy. Then Jesus said to him, “See that you don’t tell anyone. But go, show yourself to the priest and offer the gift Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.” (Matthew 8:1-4)

Jesus’ words to this man upon his healing are puzzling: “See to it that you don’t tell anyone” (Matthew 8:4). What? Why? The story opens with “large crowds” (Matthew 8:1) following Jesus. It’s not as if this healing was done in secret, so it’s not as if this man could have kept this healing a secret. Why would this leper not tell anyone about a healing that everyone had just seen?

The key comes not in who Jesus tells this man not to tell, but in who Jesus tells this man to tell: “Go, show yourself to the priest and offer the gift Moses commanded, as a testimony to them” (Matthew 8:4). The priests were the ones responsible, according to Leviticus 14, for ceremonially cleansing someone who had been cured of a skin disease. The process involved an examination, the sprinkling of blood, a guilt offering, and a sin offering. Jesus instructs the leper to go to the priest and go through the rigmarole of the cleansing ritual, but not so that he may be cleansed. For he already has been. Jesus has already ordered the leper’s skin to “be clean” (Matthew 8:3)! Instead, the leper is to do this “as a testimony to them” (Matthew 8:4) – a testimony that the One who can fully cleanse the unclean has come. Sadly, we know that the priests – along with many other Jewish religious leaders – did not receive this man’s testimony, but instead were offended by Jesus and “plotted how they might kill Jesus” (Matthew 12:14).

Who Jesus tells this leper to tell and not tell can be instructive for us, for we can all be tempted to talk about our faith in Jesus only with the crowds – with people who are predisposed to be impressed with our message. But sometimes, Jesus invites us instead to turn our attention to the skeptical and even the hostile and share our faith with them “as a testimony to them” (Matthew 8:4). This is difficult and frightening. But it is also very needed. For even the skeptical and hostile need cleansing – cleansing from guilt, shame, and sin. Who is Jesus inviting you to share your faith with today? You can’t coerce someone else’s faith. But you can share your own.

Remember, Jesus did not just come for the people who were friendly to Him. He came for everyone – even His enemies. May we share the message of that One with everyone.

July 18, 2022 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Bearing God’s Name

The Second Commandment is not just a prohibition, but an offer. God says to Moses:

You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses His name. (Exodus 20:7)

Famously, the ancient Jews became so concerned with misusing God’s name that they would not even speak it. Instead of calling God “Yahweh,” the name God gave to Moses to share with Israel when He appeared to him in a burning bush (Exodus 3:13-15), they instead referred to God using a title of respect – “Lord.”

Though this instinct not to misuse the name of God is commendable, it does beg a question: Though we should not misuse God’s name, does this mean that there is no good use of God’s name? It is this question that brings to the forefront God’s offer in this commandment. Because there are most certainly many good uses of God’s name.

We can use God’s name to bless. (Numbers 6:24-26)

We can use God’s name to call to repentance. (Acts 2:38)

We can use God’s name to call to faith. (Acts 10:43)

We can use God’s name to baptize. (Matthew 28:19-20)

We can use God’s name to offer salvation. (Romans 10:13)

God’s name – even though it can be misused – is still quite useful.

In Hebrew, there are two words behind our one English word “misuse” in this commandment. There is the word sawe, which means “vanity” or “emptiness.” There is also the word nasa, which means to “take up” or “to bear.” This is why many Bible translations will render this verse: “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.” We certainly want to avoid sawe. But we also want to embrace nasa. We want to bear the name of God in our lives and through our lives. As one of Jesus’ followers, Peter, reminds us: “Praise God that you bear that name” (1 Peter 4:16).

To whom is God calling you to bear His name this week? It’s a name worth sharing because it’s a name that our world needs to hear.

July 11, 2022 at 5:15 am 1 comment

A Prize Worth Winning

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To say that we live in a divided society is an understatement. Everything from politics to economics to sociology to now, as researchers have discovered, geography divides us. Bill Bishop, in his book The Big Sort, explains that over the course of three decades:

People had been reshaping the way they lived. Americans were forming tribes, not only in their neighborhoods but also in churches and volunteer groups. That’s not the way people would describe what they were doing, but in every corner of society, people were creating new, more homogenous relations. Churches were filled with people who looked alike and, more important, thought alike. So were clubs, civic organizations, and volunteer groups. Social psychologists had studied like-minded groups and could predict how people living and worshiping in homogenous groups would react: as people heard their beliefs reflected and amplified, they would become more extreme in their thinking. What had happened over three decades…[was a] kind of self-perpetuating, self-reinforcing, social division. The like-minded neighborhood supported the like-minded church, and both confirmed the image and beliefs of the tribe that lived and worshiped there. Americans were busy creating social resonators, and the hum that filled the air was the reverberated and amplified sound of their own voices and beliefs.

This self-sorting into like-minded communities has often, sadly, turned these like-minded communities into closed-minded communities. This, in turn, increases polarization and fuels confrontations between different beliefs, behaviors, and worldviews – and not just in society generally, but even in families personally. More and more, more and more people are no longer interested in learning from those with whom they disagree, but instead in defeating those with whom they disagree.

Around 750 B.C., the nation of Israel was riding high. They had recently captured two Syrian cities, Lo-Debar and Karnaim, and were proudly confident in their military might. What they did not realize, however, is that the Assyrian Empire was quietly ascending and would soon sweep in to decimate and defeat their northern half of their nation. The conquerors would soon be conquered.

It is into this context that God sends a prophet named Amos who warns Israel of her impending calamity:

You who rejoice in the conquest of Lo Debar and say, “Did we not take Karnaim by our own strength?” For the Lord God Almighty declares, “I will stir up a nation against you, Israel, that will oppress you all the way from Lebo Hamath to the valley of the Arabah.” (Amos 6:13-14)

Israel’s victory over these two small towns will mean nothing when they are defeated by a powerful empire. Indeed, the name Lo Debar in Hebrew means “nothing.” Israel may have won a battle, but ultimately, she has “nothing” to show for her victory.

In a polarized moment like ours, Amos’s warning to Israel is also a warning for us. As we fight our battles, it may be worth it to ask: even if we win whatever battle we’re fighting, what are we actually winning? All too often, the answer may be Lo Debar – nothing. We may win a battle, but in our proud moment of victory only hurt others and fray feelings. The cost of our victory in battle far outstrips the value of the prize.

This week, when you feel tempted to do battle – whether culturally or personally, such as with your spouse or one of your children – ask yourself: if I win, am I actually gaining anything, or am I just hurting someone? If the answer is the latter, trade your desire for combat for a patient conversation. Who knows? If you seek to help and understand instead of to win and coerce, you might just both win by not losing a relationship. And that is a prize worth winning.

June 20, 2022 at 5:15 am 2 comments

What Does God Think of You?

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In Daniel 4, the king of Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar, loses his mind. In punishment for his pride over his accomplishments as king and his power over his kingdom, God strikes him with a bout of insanity that causes him to believe he is a wild beast:

He was driven away from people and ate grass like the ox. His body was drenched with the dew of heaven until his hair grew like the feathers of an eagle and his nails like the claws of a bird. (Daniel 4:33)

God restores Nebuchadnezzar’s sanity when, instead of reveling in his pride and power, he looks toward heaven and praises his Maker:

I, Nebuchadnezzar, raised my eyes toward heaven, and my sanity was restored. Then I praised the Most High; I honored and glorified Him who lives forever. (Daniel 4:34)

His song of praise to God is particularly notable:

His dominion is an eternal dominion; His kingdom endures from generation to generation. All the peoples of the earth are regarded as nothing. He does as He pleases with the powers of heaven and the peoples of the earth. No one can hold back His hand or say to Him: “What have You done?” (Daniel 4:34-35)

Nebuchadnezzar’s ad hoc worship song sounds pious, but its theology is a bit off. The Psalmist asks:

LORD, what are human beings that You care for them, mere mortals that You think of them? They are like a breath; their days are like a fleeting shadow. (Psalm 144:3-4)

The Psalmist admits that, before God, humans are nothing. And yet, he also marvels that God cares for them and thinks of them anyway.

Nebuchadnezzar sings:

All the peoples of the earth are regarded as nothing. (Daniel 4:35)

But this is not how God regards people. He cares for them and thinks of them. In fact, He cared for Nebuchadnezzar so deeply that He personally disciplined him in his pride so he could learn the value of humility. Certainly, being struck by insanity did not feel to Nebuchadnezzar like God regarded him as much of anything. But Nebuchadnezzar was wrong. What felt like abandonment by God was a gift from God to, ultimately, sanctify him.

We, too, are regarded as precious by God. When things turn hurtful or hard, it may not feel that way. It may feel like we are nothing to God, or perhaps like we have been abandoned by God. But even times of trial can be used by God to sanctify us.

The Psalmist is right. God cares for us and is mindful of us – so much so that He sent His one and only Son to us.

May 16, 2022 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Daily Bread

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As inflation continues to wreak havoc and interest rates rise, the future can feel uncertain and even ominous. Before I wrote this blog, I checked my stocks. They were all red. My stocks weren’t the only things that sank. My heart did, too.

And yet, in the midst of uncertain times, we are called to trust God with our resources. In fact, we are called to trust that God will give us all the resources we need. We are called to believe that God will answer our prayer: “Give us today our daily bread” (Matthew 6:11).

Jesus’ words from this famous in line in the Lord’s Prayer echo a story from ancient Israel. In Exodus 16, God feeds the Israelites with bread from heaven as they wander through the wilderness on their way to the Promised Land:

The LORD said to Moses, “I will rain down bread from heaven for you. The people are to go out each day and gather enough for that day. In this way I will test them and see whether they will follow My instructions. On the sixth day they are to prepare what they bring in, and that is to be twice as much as they gather on the other days.” (Exodus 16:4-5)

God provides the Israelites with all the resources they need. But His provision comes with a provisio – they are only to gather what they need for each day. It is daily bread. And on the sixth day, when they are to gather what they need for two days, this is so they might rest on the seventh day.

Unsurprisingly, the Israelites struggle to follow God’s instructions. Some try to gather more than what they need for each day:

Some of them kept part of the bread until morning, but it was full of maggots and began to smell. (Exodus 16:20)

Others, instead of saving bread so they can rest on the seventh day, try to work every day:

Some of the people went out on the seventh day to gather it, but they found none. (Exodus 16:27)

The Israelites’ struggles mirror our own struggles. On the one hand, like the Israelites who tried to hoard bread, we can fail to trust God for what we need each day. On the other hand, like the Israelites who failed to sufficiently save bread and tried to work on the seventh day, we can also fail to save for tomorrow so we can enjoy rest one day. Gathering and saving. Working and resting. And, above all, trusting. These are the pillars of stewarding what God has given us.

The Israelites lived in a world where resources could feel scarce. We do, too. But just because resources feel scarce doesn’t mean they are scarce. God still provides. We are called to trust that. We are called to trust Him – even in a time that can feel uncertain.

May 2, 2022 at 5:15 am 2 comments

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