Satan’s second stroll through the throne room has tightened a slip knot around my mind these last weeks and I can’t seem to chew through the rope to turn the page.
He waltzes in, following along with the angels into a place he clearly doesn’t belong, but presents himself in front of the throne nonetheless. He and God replay the episode from the first chapter on TiVo. It’s nearly word for word.
From where have you come?
From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking up and down on it.
Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil?
Of course Satan has considered Job. The last time we talked Satan had just dragged Job out back and beat the dickens out of him. Took everything he owned, everyone he loved but his wife and a few friends. (more…)
Guest post by Paul Willingham
Last summer while on a pilgrimage to our daughter’s home in the northern suburbs, Bette and I pulled up behind a Prius, Toyota’s hybrid entry in the development and marketing of greener vehicles. (If it was last weekend, it probably would have been parked on the shoulder, now that Toyota’s recall problems are in the news.)
It wasn’t the hybrid that caught our eye, however. It was the vanity plate on the vehicle.
We often get a smile from some of the plates that we spy while others challenge us to try to figure out what the owner is trying to tell the world. I’m convinced that many times, the significance of the abbreviated, obtuse and hidden message is only obvious and important to the owner of the vanity plate. But the plate we saw was very plain and left no doubt as to the message.
It read I TITHE.
We spotted this plate in a heavily traveled, traffic-delaying intersection known locally as the Devil’s Triangle. I don’t believe that there is any spiritual significance in that but you never know (cue the Twilight Zone theme).
I’m running a bit behind, likely the result of two months of life sans structure.
Seems most folks have done their year-end reflection and year-start resolving, and I suppose I have too. I thought this would be the morning that I brought the pondering out into the light of day.
I would reflect on God’s faithfulness during an uncertain year past. I would detail how He has both led into a new business venture and provided unexpected work to fill the gap until that business can pay both the bills and some salaries. I would remind you of how He continues to work that certain uncertainty to draw me to love Him more, trust Him more and obey Him more.
And then I would spell out some expectations for the year to come: lofty goals, a grand vision, and some stuff I really just need to get done.
While I wrestled how to empty my head of all that onto paper this morning, I meditated over a few passages that speak to God’s renewal, His refreshing and restoring. I wanted to connect this desire to reset with the surety of how He desires to do that very thing in me.
Reset, I thought. A good word for the new year.
And as I listened to Him in Ezekiel 36, He did just that. Reset.
As in flipped my chair and reset me on my ear.
I don’t know so much about the newness of the year right now. I’m not sure it even matters to me that we’re four days into it anymore. What I know is that I need to rethink a few things.
I need to reset.
Let me tell you how it went down.
I look at God. I mean, those times when I really see Him. (By really see Him, of course, I mean sort-of-catch-a-tiny-glimpse-of-an-itsy-bitsy-part-of-Him-that-is-not-shrouded-by-the-limitations-of-my-fallen-mind.)
And then I look at the cramped storage space I’ve set aside for Him, and my skin tingles a little.
In an anxious sort of way.
Because that box I’ve built for Him to sit down in, I know it’s not spacious. Not in the same way that He is spacious anyway.
That anxious feeling creeps in when with wide eyes I realize I’ve packed black powder into a crate and set it next to an open flame.
It’s only a matter of time before He blows the sides off.
He will not be boxed.
Contrasting Samson’s strength-for-myself with Jesus’ willingness to muscle under us for our gain reminded me of a post from the archives. Meanwhile, we’re off to see our last Minnesota Twins game in the Metrodome. Enjoy the weekend. Go Twins!
The Lord’s Supper is not funny.
Yet, from time to time when I hear said that Jesus’ body was broken, I confess I force back a snicker. I don’t want to laugh. I try not to do it very loud. And I try to get over it really fast.
It’s embarrassing and offensive to be found laughing about such a somber thing.
I’ve learned that not a lot of people appreciate snickering during Communion.
And they really hate snort laughing.
This set-apart stuff can sure go to a guy’s head.
Make a guy a Nazirite and give him awesome hair, and Wham! The whole world revolves around him.
It started with a harmless riddle between a bridegroom and his wedding party.
It turned into death threats, a sobbing bride, and Samson kicking the snot out of 30 guys so he could take their clothes and pay his wager.
All because an arrogant fool couldn’t grasp his calling.
I awoke this morning in a stranglehold.
And no, the blanket wasn’t tangled around my neck.
But it’s lunchtime now, and the strong hands wrapped around my pencil neck haven’t yet let loose.
It’s time to get the monkey off my back, as there simply isn’t room for both of us in my desk chair. And besides, it’s difficult to breathe.
The LORD said to Joshua, “Stand up! What are you doing down on your face? Israel has sinned; they have violated my covenant, which I commanded them to keep. They have taken some of the devoted things; they have stolen, they have lied, they have put them with their own possessions. That is why the Israelites cannot stand against their enemies; they turn their backs and run because they have been made liable to destruction. I will not be with you anymore unless you destroy whatever among you is devoted to destruction. (Joshua 7:10-12)
I’ve been avoiding this.
But it’s not working.
I’m winding my way through the Bible cover to cover. I ditched the 90-day speed reading thing a long time ago in favor of a more purposeful (and drawn out) study when my friend Chris sent me the Chronological Bible. And I love it.
But when I got to Joshua 7 some weeks ago, I got stuck. I was doing great when all of a sudden plodding turned to slogging.
And firm ground turned to muck.
My feet sunk in up to my knees and try as I might, I couldn’t move forward.
Now, as luck would have it, I got myself stuck in a place with all kinds of distractions. So I’ve been twisting and turning and looking at all kinds of other interesting things. Calvin and basketball, goofy nieces and computers, Medicare and time changes. But when the distractions fade, as distractions do, I realize I’m still in clay up to my knees. Clay that hardens a bit more each day.
And so I remain stuck.
Before the clay grows more firm, let’s look at Joshua 7. I’ll try to set the scene. Israel has crossed the Jordan and begun the long awaited possession of the land. In their first conquest, they took Jericho and burned it to the ground, following God’s outrageous plan of marching around the city for days and then screaming and yelling and blowing trumpets. Crazy plan, but it worked perfectly. The walls tumbled and they took it.
Still breathing in the fragrant victory, they prepared to take Ai. The spies reported that taking Ai would be a piece of cake. No need to send the whole army, for Ai had only a few guys to worry about. Two, may be three thousand men would be more than sufficient.
Three thousand men stormed off to confront Ai, only to turn tail and run while the enemy struck them down. Ai chased Israel back to the quarries, killing a number of the Hebrew fighters along the way.
Poised for victory against a much smaller army, suffering instead a crushing defeat.
The people melted. Fear and discouragement overtook them.
The land was theirs for the taking.
What on earth went wrong?
Joshua did what any God-fearing mighty man of valor would do when faced with such a staggering defeat.
He tore his clothes and fell on his face.
He stayed there on his face until nightfall.
Finally, he cried out. Why did you do it, God? Why did you bring us here to be destroyed? Why didn’t we stay on the other side of the river? Everyone will hear of our defeat. There will be nothing left of us.
Then what will people say about Your great name?
Here is where I get stuck. Listen to God:
Stand up! What are you doing down on your face?
I don’t like God talking like this. I don’t like it at all. Joshua dropped to his face.
Humble, contrite, desperate.
He didn’t go to the war room with his generals and draw up new and better battle plans. He fell flat and poured out his heart to God.
What God wouldn’t love this?
What God snaps Stand up! at a guy who is so contrite?
I know from Sunday School why Israel lost this no-brainer battle against Ai. It all started with a knucklehead by the name of Achan. Even though God was crystal clear about what they could and could not take as spoil when Jericho went down, Achan was greedy. He took some of the “devoted things” and kept them for himself – things that were to have gone straight to the treasury of the Lord.
God had warned that if anyone did such a terrible thing that they would put the whole nation at risk of destruction. Achan let his greed prevail and kept what was not his.
And so the destruction came.
Achan and his family were ultimately destroyed in a gruesome act of justice. And so we learned in Sunday School that sin has terrible consequences.
But I think there’s more.
I know that God was terribly upset about what Achan did. Even so, I don’t like God talking this way to Joshua. That’s when the mucky ground caught hold of my feet and sucked me in. I couldn’t square this story up, but it seemed I couldn’t move on to the rest of Joshua either.
So here’s what I’ve come up with. I have a couple of theories.
First, I wonder if Joshua was really so contrite. Yes, he tore his clothes. And yes, he spent the better part of a day face down in the dirt. But listen to what he had to say. He took an approach with God that we heard Moses use before. He put God’s actions up against His own character. “What then will you do for your own great name?” God, how will You defend Your own honor in the face of this defeat?
But while this worked for Moses, Joshua went further. He put the whole thing back on God – why did He bring them across the Jordan just to be destroyed? They’d have been better off not coming to take the land He promised.
Was this true humility? Was this really contrition?
Sure, Joshua was eating sand while he lay on the ground crying out. But blaming God for bringing them there, that smacked of a whole lot of pre-crossing Israel. “Why did you bring us to the desert to die? We should have stayed in Egypt.” Joshua was crying out in the way that had always provoked God to steaming anger. The fact that he did it while prostrate at God’s feet didn’t change the tone of his accusations.
So, sure. God might just want to snap at him. I can live with that.
But the other theory I have is the one that is harder for me to swallow. It’s the one that contributed most to my stuckness. It’s the theory that says that as much as God wants us sprawled out in abject dependence at His feet, some days He’s just going to tell us to suck it up.
Deal with it.
That’s what I didn’t like hearing God say. Joshua! Get up! What are you doing on the ground?
Someone among you has done an abominable thing. I told you bad things would happen, and they did. Why are you surprised? Why are you lying there bawling?
Get up and deal with the thing.
Does God still talk to us like this sometimes? Do I hear God speaking to me this way?
Do I put on the appearance of humility and contrition and desperation and cry out to God about something He’s already told me how to fix?
Do I only want that part of God that feels really good?
Do I play dumb at God’s feet and think that He will not snap at me?
I don’t like when God talks like this.
Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe as you hold out the word of life -— in order that I may boast on the day of Christ that I did not run or labor for nothing. (Philippians 2:14-16)
We shine like stars in the universe.
There’s something about stars. We can see them from literally years away. They’re that bright. Even so, from here they seem to be a disconnected bunch of bright spots. Sure, there’s a constellation here and there, but really, not that many of us can just shoot a look up at the sky and see Orion or even the Big Dipper without a little coaching.
But if we can get up close, we see some pretty amazing stuff in that big huge universe. Check out this set of photos I borrowed from Hubblesite.com — stunning photographs of space taken from the Hubble telescope.
Now, you tell me what shining like stars really looks like.
Shining like stars blows people away.
These are just photographs. None of us could stand in the actual presence of these shining heavenly bodies. They’re overpowering.
So when Paul tells us to shine like stars, is this what he means? He tells us here that we are to a crooked and depraved generation what the stars are to the universe. As they shine there, so we shine here. The shining of the stars points directly back to the Creator. We marvel. We stand in complete awe and wonder.
Yet our impact, our shining, can be just this powerful.
How do we do it? How do we shine like stars?
Look at the text. Paul makes it pretty straightforward, really. “Do everything without complaining or arguing.” He’s just finished talking about how Jesus did this very thing. He took on the form of man, giving up everything He had and everything He was entitled to. He became not just a man, but a servant. He gave up all His rights.
Where do our complaining and our arguing come from, anyway? Isn’t it from our sense that we’ve been ripped off somehow? Our rights were violated? We didn’t get what we bargained for? Somebody is taking advantage of us?
We tend to think we have a lot of rights. The right to be comfortable, the right to not be inconvenienced, the right to have resources, the right to be healthy, the right to be important, the right to feel valuable, the right to not be alone, the right to be left alone, the right to be right. When we don’t feel quite free to exercise those rights, when we sense that someone is preventing us from doing so, we complain. We argue. We demand that we be treated as (we think) we deserve.
Jesus didn’t do that. Not ever.
And Paul challenges us here not to as well. Jesus did not consider equality with God to be something to be grasped (though He had every right — He was part of the Godhead for heaven’s sake). He humbled Himself (willingly), and He made Himself a servant (willingly). He gave up all His rights as God, and by the time it was all over, He would also give up all His rights as man.
And never once complained.
We’re challenged to do the same — so that the world can see the shining of the stars. So that in the midst of all the depravity of the world, all the darkness and despair, His light shines out through us.
We recognize in our humility that defending our rights — or complaining and arguing — pales in comparison to the opportunity to hold out the word of life.
To shine like stars.
Stars that draw those who are seeking light.