One Reason Why God’s Will Rarely Gets Done

Suppose I wake up tomorrow morning and God lets me know that He wants me to spend the day working on a new sermon based on John 3:16. Okay class, how many individuals are involved with me either doing that will by preparing that sermon or not doing it by spending the day doing something else?  Answer: One. In a situation like that, God getting His will done isn’t that hard because all He has to do is somehow get me to work on that sermon.

Now let’s suppose that I wake up tomorrow morning and God lets me know that He wants me to spend the day doing yardwork with my brother Richie. Okay, now how many individuals are involved in whether or not God’s will gets done? Answer: Two. I’m still involved, but now Richie has entered into the equation as well. This means that God getting His will done is now twice as hard because He has to convince not only me but also Richie to do the yardwork. If one of us is obedient but the other isn’t, the yardwork won’t get done, at least not in the way God wants it to get done.

Now let’s suppose that I wake up tomorrow morning and God lets me know that He wants me to spend the day with two preacher-friends of mine visiting the elderly at the local nursing home. Okay, now how many individuals are involved in whether or not God’s will gets done? Answer: Three. I’m involved and so are my two preacher-friends. This means that God getting His will done is now three times as hard because He has to convince not only me but also my two preacher-friends to do the visiting. Even if two of us are obedient but the other isn’t, the visiting won’t get done, at least not in the way God wants it to get done.

By now you can see where I’m going with this. When it comes to God’s will, the more people who are involved the less likely it is to get done. Putting it simply, one weak link ruins the chain, which means that a higher number of links equates to a greater chance of the chain failing. It’s basic math.

Several years ago I was elected as the pastor of a church that was deeply divided over a particular issue. So, I spent my first few months there gathering the relevant information on the issue and figuring out what God wanted me to lead the church to do. Over the course of those months, I spent countless hours in prayer, seeking God’s guidance, dying to my own agenda, and asking Him to show me His will. It was a lengthy, time-consuming, arduous, process. By the end of it, though, God had given me His answer and that’s what I led the church to do. Thankfully, most of the members agreed with the direction.

There was, however, a minority group who disagreed with it, and one of them talked with me afterward. I told her how much I had prayed about the decision, how open-minded I had been to doing anything that God wanted done, and how confident I was that this direction was His will. But I’ll never forget her response. Concerning the answer I had received from God, she said, “That’s just not what I’m getting.” You see, that woman and I were at an impasse because one of us was in the wrong as to our discernment of God’s will.

While it was true that the majority of the church had agreed with the answer that I had gotten, the majority could be wrong. I knew that. But what I did trust was my own process of working through the decision with the Lord. I hadn’t gone into that process with any preconceived notions. I hadn’t reached an overnight opinion. I hadn’t made a snap judgment. Consequently, her words, “That’s just not what I’m getting” didn’t cause me to quake in my shoes and question the direction in which I had just led the church. Instead, they made me realize more than ever how hard it is to get God’s will done in a fairly large setting of people.

Now, I’m happy to report that I eventually patched things up with that lady and she remained a faithful member of the church. I’m also happy to report that over the years I’ve managed to mend most of the fences with the rest of that minority group. I’d be lying, though, if I said that I’ve mended them all. I’m always open to the reconciliation, but they aren’t. Such is the life of a pastor, I guess. I trust that we’ll get it all straightened out in heaven one of these days.

To get back to the point of this post, though, one reason why God’s will rarely gets done in this world is the problem of the weak link. It doesn’t matter how submitted you are to doing God’s will, if you’re involved in a “chain” situation you are at the mercy of another (or others). If you think this is frustrating to you, imagine how it must be to God. Perhaps this is why He oftentimes does His best work through individuals. When He can get one-on-one with a person, that makes it so much easier for Him to get His will done.

So, today, let me encourage you to be that one person who seeks God’s will and does it. No, you can’t make everybody else follow your example, but what you can do is make sure that, as much as depends on you, God’s will gets done. That’s your link of the chain. And the good news is that even if the chain breaks down somewhere past you, you simply carrying out your link will make a sizable difference not only in your life but in the lives of others. Count on it.



Posted in Choices, Church, Criticism, Disobedience, Doing Good, Dying To Self, God's Will, Obedience, Personal, Prayer, Preaching, Rebellion, Reconciliation | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

“Surely the Wrath of Man Shall Praise Thee”

The title for this post is taken directly from Psalm 76:10, the full text of which says:

“Surely the wrath of man shall praise thee; the remainder of wrath shalt thou restrain.” (K.J.V.)

But what does “Surely the wrath of man shall praise thee…” mean? It means that even when a person or a group of people rages against God, rebels against His will, thwarts His purposes, and becomes a roadblock to His plans, He can take all that bad stuff and recycle it to bring praise to Himself. As the New Revised Standard translation renders the thought:

“Human wrath serves only to praise you…”

There are numerous Bible examples of this promise in action. Here are some I thought of off the top of my head:

  • Jacob was a saved believer and had God’s hand upon his life, but his unsaved uncle Laban frustrated Jacob’s life for twenty years. First, he deceitfully tricked Jacob into marrying Leah instead of Rachel (Genesis 29:15-30). Second, he was perfectly willing to set Jacob at what seemed to be a distinct disadvantage in their business partnership (Genesis 30:25-36). Third, he unscrupulously changed Jacob’s wages ten times over the course of Jacob’s years with him (Genesis 31:4-7). But how did God flip all of Laban’s “wrath” around to where He received praise from it? He did it by blessing Jacob incredibly despite Laban’s attempts to keep Jacob low. Even with Laban working as hard as he could against Jacob (and subsequently God), by the time the two men finally parted ways Jacob had been blessed with an exceedingly large family and large flocks of sheep and goats, flocks much larger than Laban’s (Genesis 31:8-10). As Jacob himself said, “God did not allow him (Laban) to hurt me” (Genesis 31:7).
  • Joseph was a young man destined for greatness with God, but his jealous brothers did everything they could to keep him from fulfilling that destiny. First, they mocked him for his prophetic dreams that foretold that he would one day rule over them (Genesis 37:1-11). Second, they threw him down into a pit in the wilderness (Genesis 37:12-24). Third, they sold him as a slave to a caravan of Ishmaelite traders who were headed down to Egypt to do business (Genesis 37:25-28). But how did God flip those brothers’ “wrath” around to where He received praise from it? He did it by eventually raising up Joseph to be the second-in-command of all Egypt. In this role, Joseph was able to save his entire family during  a time of great famine. As Joseph himself would come to say of his brothers’ treachery toward him, “…you meant it for evil against me; but God meant it for good…” (Genesis 50:20).
  • God’s plan was for Moses to lead the people of Israel out of their enslavement in Egypt, but Egypt’s Pharaoh stubbornly tried to prevent that. First, he increased the workload upon the Israelites (Exodus 5:1-9). Second, despite nine plagues that God inflicted upon Egypt, Pharaoh still wouldn’t let the Israelites leave (Exodus chapters 7-10). Third, once Pharaoh had finally released the Israelites following the tenth plague, he soon changed his mind and had his army chase them down and trap them at the Red Sea (Exodus chapters 11-14). But how did God flip Pharaoh’s “wrath” around to where He received praise from it? He did it by using those ten plagues to break Pharaoh’s stubbornness and by drowning Pharaoh’s army (and perhaps even Pharaoh himself) in the Red Sea (Exodus 14:1-31). As God Himself spoke to Pharaoh through Moses, “…for this purpose I have raised you up, that I may show My power in you, and that My name may be declared in all the earth” (Exodus 9:16, Romans 9:17).
  • Hezekiah was God’s anointed King over Judah, but Assyria’s King Sennacherib sent an army to bring Judah under his rule (2 Kings 18:1-37). But how did God flip Sennacherib’s “wrath” around to where He received praise from it? He did it by sending the Angel of the Lord (an Old Testament pre-incarnate appearance of Jesus) to slay 185,000 Assyrian soldiers in one night (2 Kings 19:35). Sennacherib then returned home to Nineveh, where he was assassinated by his two sons (2 Kings 19:36-37).
  • Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego proved their loyalty to God by refusing to bow down before the image of gold that Babylon’s King Nebuchadnezzar had erected (Daniel 3:1-18). Nebuchadnezzar responded to their refusal by having them thrown into a fiery furnace for execution (Daniel 3:19-23). But how did God flip Nebuchadnezzar’s “wrath” around to where He received praise from it? He did it by keeping Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego safe in that furnace. They didn’t even have the smell of smoke on them when they were pulled from the furnace (Daniel 3:24-27). This prompted Nebuchadnezzar to praise God himself (Daniel 3:28), decree that anyone in his kingdom who spoke against the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego would be put to death (Daniel 3:29), and promote the three young men (Daniel 3:30).
  • Daniel proved his loyalty to God by continuing to pray to God three times a day despite King Darius’ decree that no one in his kingdom should make petitions to any man or god besides him for thirty days. Anyone who broke this decree was to be thrown into the lions’ den, a fate which befell Daniel. But how did God flip Darius’ “wrath” around to where He received praise from it? He did it by sending an angel to keep Daniel safe inside the lions’ den (Daniel 6:19-22). Darius then had the men who had talked him into instituting the decree thrown to the lions, and the lions devoured them (Daniel 6:24). Darius also praised Daniel’s God and decreed that everyone in his kingdom must tremble and fear before that God (Daniel 6:25-28).
  • Mordecai was God’s servant in the Medo-Persian kingdom ruled by King Ahasuerus, but a man named Haman despised Mordecai and plotted to have him hung (Esther 5:9-14). Even worse than that, Haman also enacted a plan by which all of the Jews in Ahasuerus’ kingdom would be put to death (Esther 3:1-15). But how did God flip Haman’s “wrath” around to where He received praise from it? He did it by orchestrating a series of circumstances which led to Haman, not Mordecai, being hung on the gallows which had been built to hang Mordecai (Esther 7:1-10).

Okay, I’ll stop there to keep this from getting too long, but hopefully this limited list of examples is enough to prove the point. Yes, God really can cause the “wrath” of man to praise Him. For the record, this is all part and parcel to that famous verse from Romans, Romans 8:28, which promises:

And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.

So, keep all this in mind anytime someone does you a wrong turn and seems to get away with it. It might take a while for God to get the job completed, but He will eventually cause that wrong-doing to work out for your good and their bad. Even if the job extends out into eternity, God will get it done. In the end, all human “wrath” will only serve to praise Him. We just have to be patient and trust Him to bring this promise to pass.

Posted in Adversity, Disappointment, Doing Good, Encouragement, Faithfulness, God's Omnipotence, God's Judgment, God's Work, Patience, Persecution, Perseverance, Problems, Rebellion, Revenge, Reward, Sowing and Reaping, Trials, Trusting In God, Waiting | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

An Interesting Thought About Politics

Let me begin by saying that I am a card-carrying member of the United States of America. I was born and raised here. I have a birth certificate. I have a driver’s license. I pay taxes. My children went to public school. My wife teaches in a public school. I’m registered to vote, and most elections I exercise that privilege. I’ve never even set foot outside our borders.

I say all this to let you know that this post isn’t a bashing of America or the American political process, and if you read any of that into it that’s your doing not mine. I’m just trying to draw your attention today to what I’ve felt for years is an interesting thought from the Bible about politics in general. As for applying it to your life, there’s really no way you can. So, this isn’t some rah-rah “call to arms” kind of thing by which I’m trying to motivate you to go out and do something. Consider this, instead, just another little nugget of Biblical knowledge for your spiritual collection. And what is this thought that I find so interesting? It’s this: God didn’t establish a democracy in ancient Israel.

When the Israelites finally claimed the promised land of Canaan, Joshua was their national leader. He had replaced Moses in that role when Moses had died. But in claiming Canaan, the Israelites didn’t do a thorough enough job in either driving out or killing off the other races that called Canaan home. Consequently, long after Joshua’s death Israel had to deal with periodic military threats from those races. This is vividly on display in the book of Judges that follows the book of Joshua.

The time-period of Israel’s Judges lasted for approximately 350 years. It’s important to note, though, that Israel’s Judges were not national leaders the way Moses and Joshua had been. They were, instead, regional leaders whom God raised up to deal with localized military threats as needed. However, once a person had been cast into the role of Judge, he (or she, in Deborah’s case) would serve in that capacity for the rest of their life, and many of the Judges held that title for decades.

Israel’s last Judge was Samuel (1 Samuel 7:15), who also served as a Priest and a Prophet. Even though his home was in Ramah, each year he traveled a circuit that took him to Bethel, Gilgal, and Mizpah (1 Samuel 7:16). At each stop he rendered decisions in regards to civil, religious, and military matters. The people of Israel loved Samuel, respected his wisdom, and obeyed his instructions. Everything worked well until Samuel grew too old to continue in his duties and made the mistake of installing his sons, Joel and Abijah, as his successors. These two men did not walk in Samuel’s ways and were well known for chasing after dishonest gain, accepting bribes, and perverting justice (1 Samuel 8:3). Because of this, the elders of the tribes of Israel got together and made a trip to Ramah to present Samuel with an alternative plan. They wanted Samuel to appoint a King over all Israel.

To say that Samuel wasn’t on board with the idea would be an understatement. He understood better than anyone that Israel functioned at its idyllic best when they let God be their King and let Him speak through the Prophets, the Judges, and the Mosaic law. Scholars call this a Theocracy, as opposed to a Monarchy (where a King rules) or a Democracy. To his credit, though, Samuel took the matter to the Lord in prayer. I figure that he was hoping that God would tell him to take a strong stand against the idea, and I also figure that he was disappointed with God’s answer. That answer was, “Heed the voice of the people in all that they say to you; for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected Me, that I should not reign over them” (1 Samuel 8:7).

God did also add in that Samuel should warn the people about the potential dangers of having a King, and Samuel certainly ran wild in giving that warning. He told the people that a King would: make children serve as runners before his chariots; recruit citizens as forced labor to tend to his crops and make his weapons of war; force young women to be his cooks, bakers, and perfumers; claim a tenth of all harvests and sheep as his own; and confiscate donkeys, servants, and the finest young men and make them do his work (1 Samuel 8:11-18).

We would think that such a graphic warning would have given the Israelites pause for concern about having a King, but it didn’t. Their response was, “We will have a King over us that we may be like all the other nations” (1 Samuel 8:19-20). Samuel then took that reply back to God, who had heard it anyway, and God said to Samuel, “Heed their voice, and give them a king” (1 Samuel 8:21-22). And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how ancient Israel got into the King business.

The time-period of Israel’s Kings was very much a roller-coaster ride for the nation. Some of the Kings were godly men, but others weren’t. Even the godly ones sometimes did ungodly things. For example, Solomon might generally be classified as a godly King, but he inflicted so much burden upon the people that the nation underwent a civil war after his death. This split the nation into two kingdoms: the northern kingdom (called Israel) and the southern kingdom (called Judah). Naturally, with two kingdoms operating at any given time you get two Kings operating at any given time. You can read about it all in the Bible’s books of 1 Kings, 2 Kings, 1 Chronicles, and 2 Chronicles.

But now let me get back to my topic. At no point in Israel’s complex, sordid history did God ever say, “Okay, now I’m going to abolish the Kingship and install a new concept called a democracy.” This might seem strange to those of us who have never lived in anything but a democracy, but if you think about it there are certain problems that come ingrained with any democracy. Consider the following:

  • In a democracy, the majority wins the vote. This works fine as long as the majority are godly people who vote as God would have them to vote. But what happens when the majority are ungodly and vote to suit themselves? At that point, God’s will doesn’t stand a chance. And, by the way, if you study your Bible you will find that God’s people are just about always in the minority (Matthew 7:13-14).
  • In a democracy, everyone’s opinion counts. The problem with this is that many people couldn’t care less about God or His word. Consequently, when all voices are brought down to the same level, God’s voice doesn’t carry any real weight. His opinion simply becomes one more in a sea of opinions that all serve as little more than fodder for public debate.
  • In a democracy, once a nation reaches a low ebb spiritually and morally, it is virtually impossible to get things set back right again. Why is this? It’s because even if one person gets right with God and wants to begin a national revival, he can’t do it because he is only one person. Even if this one person happens to be the President, his hands are still tied because even the President can’t impose his will in a democracy. When a King rules, if God can get the King where he needs to be spiritually, the nation can be turned back to God almost overnight as the King decrees His orders and forces them to be carried out. That can’t happen in a democracy.

Please understand now that I’m not saying that there aren’t also potential problems with a Monarchy. Samuel himself laid out a pretty sizable list of those problems, and world history has taught us that even his list didn’t scratch the surface. I guess when you get right down to it any form of government can become a problem if ungodly people are dominating it. As Proverbs 29:2 says:

“When the godly are in authority, the people rejoice. But when the wicked are in power, they groan.”  (New Living Translation)

So, my goal today has simply been to help you better understand how politics and God either mesh together or don’t mesh together. As I said, a democracy can work fine as long the godly are the majority and they vote in ways pleasing to God, but once that set-up has been turned upside down then real trouble follows. That’s where we are in America today, and no one election that installs any one candidate is going to fix it.

Posted in Government, Leadership, Politics | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

The Word American Christians Don’t Want to Hear

But the Lord said him, “Go, for he is a chosen vessel of Mine to bear My name before Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel. For I will show him how many things he must suffer for My name’s sake.” (Acts 9:15-16)

The current Americanized version of Christianity doesn’t look much like the New Testament version of it. 2,000 years difference in time will do that. Existing in two completely different cultures and in two completely different parts of the world will too. The current Americanized version is basically an odd, hybridized mishmash of the New Testament version mixed together with the “American dream.”

In the current Americanized version, Jesus still dies on the cross and rises from the dead, but He is mostly a Savior who helps you get along in life and takes you to heaven when you die. You know, we’re not really interested in that whole “lordship” thing wherein you have to endure persecution and perhaps even martyrdom to prove your loyalty to Him. That was for Bible times.

In the current Americanized version, if you give God $1 out of every $10 you make, you’ve covered yourself until the next payment is due. And the church won’t even send you a past-due bill or a repossession notice if you miss every payment. You see, getting to keep 90% of our money or all of it works better for us than those scores of New Testament passages that encourage generous, abundant giving and strongly warn against the dangers of wealth (Matthew 6:19-21,24; Mark 10:23-25; Luke 12:13-21; Luke 16:19-31; Luke 18:22-23; Acts 4:32-37; 2 Corinthians 9:6; 1 Timothy 6:6-11; 1 Timothy 6:17-19; James 5:1-6).

In the current Americanized version, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13) becomes the magic quote for success in athletics, the business world, the classroom, and anywhere else we might want success. The quote certainly has nothing to do with enduring imprisonment for the cause of Christ (Philippians 1:12-14), being abased and hungry (Philippians 4:11-12), or being in distress (Philippians 4:14). After all, we Americans are winners.

And in the current Americanized version of Christianity, we certainly don’t want to hear the word “SUFFER.” Can you imagine a “health-and-wealth” “prosperity-preaching” televangelist telling his viewers that he is grateful that God has allowed him and his staff to be afflicted and endure the sufferings of Christ to the brink of death so that they can now better minister to fellow sufferers? That doesn’t jive too well with wearing an expensive suit, living in a mansion, driving a Bentley, and flying around in a private jet, does it? And yet that’s what Paul said concerning himself and his traveling companions (2 Corinthians 1:3-11).

Can you imagine a pastor telling his Sunday-morning congregation that God has granted them the privilege of getting to suffer for the sake of Christ? More than one church-member sitting in a pew would think, “Gee thanks, God. I always wanted the privilege of getting to suffer.” And yet that’s the message that Paul relayed to the Christians of Philippi (Philippians 1:29-30).

And can you imagine a preacher advising an employee who works for a mean-spirited employer to quietly endure that employer’s harsh mistreatment and see it as a way of following Christ’s example of suffering? That employee would say, “Uh, yeah, I’ll get right on that. By the way, are there any other churches in town?” And yet that’s the advice that Peter gave to the Christian slaves in the Roman empire (1 Peter 2:18-25).

As I read our text verse, I can’t help but feel for poor ole’ Ananias. He lived in Damascus, had a good reputation, was a devout disciple of Christ, and was a leader in the church in Damascus (Acts 9:10, 22:12). As such a leader, he was one of the targets for the notorious Saul of Tarsus, the most feared persecutor of Christians in the land (Acts 8:1-3, 9:1-2, 22:4-5). Ananias had heard that Saul had received written permission from the Jewish High Priest in Jerusalem to enter into the synagogues of Damascus, arrest any Christians that he found, and bring them back as prisoners to Jerusalem. Surely the thoughts going through Ananias’ mind as Saul and his entourage approached Damascus were not comforting ones.

But then the Lord spoke to Ananias in a vision and told him to go to the house of a man named Judas who lived on a street called Straight. There Ananias would find Saul praying and waiting for him to lay his hands on him so that Saul’s sight could be restored (Acts 9:10-11). God had already shown it all to Saul in a vision (Acts 9:12).

Well, it isn’t hard to guess Ananias’ reaction to the Lord’s instructions. He said, “Lord, I’ve heard many reports about this Saul. I’ve heard how much harm he has done to Your followers in Jerusalem. And now he’s come here to Damascus with authority to arrest all Your followers here” (Acts 9:13-14). Ananias might as well have added in, “Lord, are you nuts? If I go to see that man he might arrest me or kill me. And if he’s been struck blind, isn’t that a good thing? At least a blind man can’t go around arresting and killing your people.” But that’s when our text verse comes into play:

But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen vessel of Mine to bear my name before Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel. For I will show him how many things he must suffer for my name’s sake.”

And it is that last part of the Lord’s quote that I want to emphasize: “For I will show him how many things he must SUFFER for my name’s sake.” Mark it down, Saul of Tarsus’ transformation into the apostle Paul would begin a ministry that would be characterized by incredible SUFFERING. There was simply no way around it.

So, what happened next? As soon as Ananias laid his hands on Saul, Saul’s blindness was cured and Ananias baptized him. That was followed by Saul spending several days with the disciples in Damascus. That was followed by him preaching Jesus in the synagogues of Damascus and creating a stir. And that was followed by the Jews plotting to kill Saul and him having to be smuggled out of town for his safety. From that point on, Paul would never spend much time outside the vein of suffering.

Now, getting back to our Americanized version of Christianity, have you ever heard a parent or a grandparent say of a newborn family member, “I want this child to make straight A’s, excel at sports, take music lessons, be class President, be Valedictorian, go to college, graduate with honors, get a high-paying job, get married, buy an upscale home, have a couple of kids, join the most popular church in town, and, oh, I forgot, I want the child to SUFFER a lot too”? I doubt you’ve heard that.

Whereas suffering was an expected and normal part of a New Testament Christian’s life, our Americanized version of Christianity simply isn’t interested in such a concept. Seriously, I couldn’t even use the word “Suffer” in the title to this post because I knew that it would instantly turn some people off and cause them to hunt something else to read. Unfortunately for us, we Christians here in America oftentimes come off as superficial, worldly people who’d rather live the American dream in prosperity and popularity than join in with the sufferings of our Savior by way of persecution, fighting Satan, or taking an unpopular stand.

Okay, that’s our choice I guess, but we shouldn’t be surprised then when we no longer have the spiritual power to set the moral tone for this nation. We forfeited that power sometime back when we became, to use an Old Testament phrase concerning Israel, “at ease in Zion” (Amos 6:1). And as long as that ease is our true top priority then nothing is going to change. It all reminds me of that famous visit that Thomas Aquinas paid to St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. As the Pope and Aquinas watched the priests counting their money in the treasury, the Pope said, “You see Thomas, gone are the days when the church can say, silver and gold we have none” (Acts 3:1-6). But to that Aquinas replied, “Yes, and neither can it say now, ‘Rise up and walk'” (Acts 3:6-10).

Posted in Adversity, Children, Discipleship, Giving, God's Work, Money, Persecution, Priorities, Prosperity, Sports, Suffering, Trials | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

A Bruised Reed and a Smoldering Wick

“A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out…”

(Isaiah 42:3, Matthew 12:20, N.I.V.)

Today’s text verse comes from the Old Testament book of Isaiah and gets referenced in the New Testament book of Matthew. In each instance, the “he” being spoken of is Jesus. In Isaiah, the verse is part of a passage that describes the Messiah that is to come to Israel. In Matthew, it is part of one that evidences that Jesus was that Messiah.

The stalk of a reed is basically just a hollow shaft. If that shaft is damaged, the reed cannot stand strong and erect. Therefore, the picture of a “bruised reed” is one in which damage has caused the shaft to become bent or bowed to some degree.

Imagine a patch of reeds growing undisturbed by a river bank. The reeds are healthy, vibrant, and standing tall. Now imagine a fisherman wearing heavy boots who invades the scene and tromps through the reeds in making his way to the water. A path of trampled stalks is left to show the fisherman’s swath of destruction. Are those stalks totally annihilated? No. But they are now damaged. Did those reeds do anything to deserve the damage that has been done to them? No. They were just standing there by the water’s edge doing what they were designed to do. But is that damage real? It sure is. Those stalks have definitely taken a hit and are the worse for it.

In terms of people, a bruised reed depicts an individual who has been damaged through no fault of his own. Outside influences, either other individuals or unfortunate events, have tromped into the person’s life and inflicted considerable injury. This injury can be emotional, psychological, mental, spiritual, physical, or some combination of any of these. So now the person is lowly, somewhat pitiable, and hindered from operating at a high level.

According to the text verse, Jesus handles such people with delicate care. Instead of breaking off the bruised stalk and thus finishing the job begun by the tromping, Jesus works to repair and restore the stalk to help it stand tall again. This shows His tender compassion toward those who have been wronged, treated unjustly, or have simply gotten caught up in a bad turn of events they didn’t cause.

As for the smoldering wick, in Bible times people would douse a piece of cloth in olive oil or animal fat to act as a lamp’s wick. That wick would keep the lamp lit as long as the oil or fat remained, but when the fuel source ran out the wick would begin to smolder and smoke rather than produce a true flame. Again, the picture is one of an object that is in a weakened state and isn’t functioning properly.

And what type of person does the smoldering wick represent? It represents one whose energy and resources have become depleted through the performance of his duty. Such a person is spent, exhausted, and incapable of self-replenishment. He has given his all in the performance of his duty, to the point where he can no longer do his job effectively. Where there was once a flame there is now only smoke.

So, does Jesus throw such a person away and find somebody new to do the job? Definitely not. Instead of snuffing out what is left of the person’s flame, Jesus provides him with a fresh supply of fuel and gets that flame burning brightly again. This shows Christ’s tender compassion toward those who have run themselves into the ground trying to do good and consequently have nothing left to give. Jesus appreciates such peoples’ effort and won’t leave them in their exhausted, drained condition.

I don’t know where this post finds you today, but my guess is that I’m writing to somebody who is currently feeling like a bruised reed, a smoldering wick, or both. If that’s you then you should find encouragement in the fact that Jesus has no desire to finish you off. To the contrary, He wants to strengthen you, shore you up, revitalize you, and refuel you. No matter how you got to your present condition, the main thing now is your future. That future can begin today if you will allow Jesus to begin the process of restoring you back to a healthy, favorable state. My advice to you is to spend some time with Him in prayer, telling Him all about your current state and how you got here, and then let Him begin His marvelous work of fixing you and moving you out into the rest of your life.

Posted in Adversity, Comfort, Encouragement, God's Love, Needs, Problems | Tagged , , , , | 3 Comments

God: Heavenly Father or Heavenly Commander in Chief?

Growing up in the ’70s and ’80s, I was a huge fan of the t.v. show M*A*S*H (Mobile Army Surgical Hospital). For that matter, I’ve continued to watch the reruns ever since. I know all the characters, all the episodes, all the funny scenes, all the endings, and way, way too many of the actual quotes. No, I’m not advocating the show’s promotion of drinking and casual sex. Neither am I praising Corporal Klinger for dressing in women’s clothes in his attempts to get a Section 8 discharge for being mentally unfit. I’m just telling you that I loved M*A*S*H when I was a kid and I’ve never gotten over the fondness.

M*A*S*H ran for eleven seasons and filmed 255 episodes. One of the last episodes (episode #252) was entitled “Say No More.” It featured veteran character actor John Anderson as a gruff, no-nonsense general named Collins. General Collins gets involved with the 4077th M*A*S*H unit when his son, who is a young officer in the army, is brought to the 4077th for surgery after being injured in battle. To be close to his son, the general moves his command trailer to the 4077th and runs his part of the war from that site. He is a busy man, seemingly always on the telephone relaying troop movements and strategy to his underlings, but he makes time each day for his son’s doctor, Hawkeye Pierce, to keep him posted on his son’s condition.

As for Hawkeye, he doesn’t particularly like the general because he thinks the man is too preoccupied winning the war to care much about his own son. Nevertheless, each day he knocks on the general’s trailer door and gives an update. Even though the surgery goes well and Hawkeye expects the young man to make a full recovery, the general decides to stay at the 4077th until the son is back to full strength. In true television drama, though, the son suffers an embolism while in post-op recovery and dies a sudden and unexpected death that couldn’t be prevented.

It’s then that Hawkeye has to make his way to General Collins’ trailer and relay the tragic news. Collins is devastated, stops taking phone calls for the first time in the whole episode, and orders everybody out except Hawkeye. Then he asks Hawkeye to share a drink with him in honor of his son. Over the course of the drink, Collins tells Hawkeye how his son had always wanted to follow in his father’s footsteps and join the army. Collins had been against the decision, but the son had voluntarily enlisted on his own. Collins also fondly tells how the son climbed the biggest tree in their yard when he was young and afterward asked if they could move to a house with a bigger tree.

Hawkeye is touched by it all and begins to understand that Collins really did love his son. But as Hawkeye closes the trailer door in leaving, he hears Collins return to the phone and get right back to his job running the war. Hawkeye gives a slight grin as if he is genuinely perplexed by Collins. Was that minute’s worth of mourning all the time that Collins had to grieve for his son? Why couldn’t Collins talk to his son the way he had talked to Hawkeye about him? How could Collins continue to send young men into battle knowing that many of them would lose their lives the way his son had? It all makes for a great television scene.

I’ve thought about that scene many times as I’ve tried to make sense of why God chooses to send His beloved children into spiritual battle, battles that sometimes result in martyrs’ deaths. I am a parent myself and I can assure you that one of my priorities concerning my two boys is their safety. I don’t want to see them get hurt. I don’t want to see them bloodied and battered. I don’t want to see them fallen on some battlefield. I want to keep them OUT of harm’s way instead of sending them INTO it.

But God handles His children differently. He sends John the Baptist to confront Herod Antipas over Herod’s sin knowing that the confrontation will lead to John getting arrested and ultimately beheaded (Matthew 14:1-12). He allows Stephen to be brought before the Jewish Sanhedrin council so that Stephen can deliver a powerful sermon that will result in him being stoned to death (Acts 7:1-60). He raises up James to be a leader in the early church knowing that Herod Agrippa will have him put to death by way of the sword (Acts 12:1-2). You get the idea. How can God love His children and yet still send them off to spiritual battlefields where they can get hurt or even killed?

The answer is that God isn’t just a heavenly Father, He is also a heavenly Commander in Chief. Make no mistake, the Bible explicitly calls the Christian a “soldier.” The passage is 2 Timothy 2:3-4, where the apostle Paul says to the young preacher Timothy:

You therefore must endure hardship as a good soldier of Jesus Christ. No one engaged in warfare entangles himself with the affairs of this life, that he may please him who enlisted him as a soldier.

Please note those closing words: “…that he may please him who enlisted him as a soldier.” Obviously, that is a reference to God. Furthermore, in 1 Corinthians 9:7 Paul defends himself for receiving financial support from churches by saying, “Who ever goes to war at his own expense?” You see, Paul understood what many Christians don’t. He understood that God sees the Christian as a soldier fighting a great war in His army. Paul returns to this theme again in 2 Corinthians 10:4 when he writes:

For the weapons of our warfare are not physical weapons [weapons of flesh and blood], but they are mighty before God for the overthrow and destruction of strongholds. (The Amplified Bible)

Along these same lines, in Ephesians 6:10-18 Paul exhorts the Christian to put on the whole armor of God. That armor consists of: the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the shoes of the peace that comes from the gospel, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Holy Spirit. But why does the Christian need armor anyway? He needs it because he is fighting in a war, a spiritual war against Satan and the other fallen angels (Ephesians 6:11-12).

And so, you see, it is because God must play the role of heavenly Commander in Chief, in addition to the role of heavenly Father, that He oftentimes has to place His beloved children in harm’s way by sending them out to wage war against Satan and his forces. The objective of this warfare is the overthrow and destruction (the “pulling down”, K.J.V. and N.K.J.V.) of Satan’s strongholds, and you’d better know that those strongholds don’t come down without some intense fighting as Satan’s forces get downright nasty to ensure the stability of their strongholds. This fighting always results in God’s children (soldiers) getting battered and bruised in some way either figuratively or literally, and sometimes it even results in their literal deaths. That’s what happened to John the Baptist, Stephen, and James.

The good news is that the Satanic strongholds that claimed the lives of these great servants of the Lord were indeed eventually pulled down, overthrown, and destroyed. The wicked Herod family that killed John the Baptist (Herod Antipas) and James (Herod Agrippa I) eventually lost their power and influence, and God even struck Herod Agrippa dead shortly after James’ death (Acts 12:20-23). As for the Jewish Sanhedrin that claimed the life of Stephen, that council came to nothing when the Romans laid siege to Jerusalem and destroyed the Jewish temple in the year 70 A.D.

In closing, let me say that God the Father being willing to send Christians out to wage potentially dangerous spiritual warfare should make perfect sense to us. Why? It’s because He once sent His beloved Son Jesus down into the battle to do just that. In two separate stories, God the Father refers to Jesus as “My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17, 17:5). And yet God the Father knew that the work (John 4:34, 6:38, 9:4) He was sending His Son to do would get the Son ridiculed, mocked, hated, rejected, arrested, scourged, and crucified. It was all part of the heavenly Commander in Chief’s plan.

So, Christian, the next time God burdens you to strike a blow for Him in the great ongoing spiritual war, don’t be surprised if He allows the enemy to hit you with some serious blow-back in return. That won’t mean that your heavenly Father doesn’t love you as one of His children. All it will mean is that your heavenly Commander in Chief thought enough of you as a soldier to trust you with a difficult mission.

Posted in Christ's Death, Demons, God's Will, God's Work, Ministry, Persecution, Satan, Service, Spiritual Warfare, The Devil | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Job’s Wife & Her Fire

The book of Job consists of 1,070 verses and 42 chapters. Chapters 1 and 2 feature conversations between God and Satan. Chapters 3 through 37 feature conversations between Job and Eliphaz, Job and Bildad, and Job and Zophar. Those were the three friends who came to visit Job during his time of intense mourning. Lastly, chapters 38 through 42 feature a conversation between God and Job and then a conversation between God and Eliphaz. Obviously, there is a whole lot of talking in the book of Job.

Interestingly, though, in all these verses, chapters, and conversations, there is only one quote attributed to Job’s wife. Satan has recently struck Job’s life by orchestrating events that have caused Job to lose his oxen, donkeys, sheep, and camels. Even worse than that, Job’s servants as well as his seven sons and three daughters have all been killed. Then, after Job has endured all that loss and still worshiped God, Satan has afflicted him with gruesome boils that cover his body from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head. So now Job has removed himself from normal society and made his way out to the local ash heap, the place where the lepers had to live. There he sits, in the midst of those ashes, scraping his boils with a broken piece of pottery. Other than Jesus hanging dead on the cross, there has probably never been a more pitiable figure at that very moment. And it’s then that Job’s wife goes out to that ash heap and says to him, “Do you still hold fast to your integrity? Curse God and die!” (Job 2:9)

During the eras when society was dominated by men, preachers typically blasted Job’s wife for what they deemed her coldness, cruelty, and lack of compassion for her decimated husband. In more recent years, though, as women have risen to a more prominent place in the world, many preachers have gone easier on her by saying, “We must take into account that she had just buried all ten of her children. That would make anyone bitter.” Regardless of what our opinion of Job’s wife should be, there’s no doubt that Job’s reply back to her certainly wasn’t laced with compassion, tenderness, and understanding. He said, “You speak as one of the foolish women speaks. Shall we indeed accept good from God, and shall we not accept adversity?” (Job 2:10)

You say, “Wow, is that rebuke really the response that God wanted Job to offer at that moment?” All I know is that immediately following the reply the Bible says this: “In all this Job did not sin with his lips” (Job 2:10). Clearly, “all this” would have to include Job’s response to his wife. This means that we shouldn’t completely let her off the hook for her infamous comment. Job called her foolish for saying it, and God backed him up on that assessment.

Really, though, most of us wouldn’t have done any better at handling the catastrophic situation into which this woman was suddenly thrust. Her husband was the richest man in all the East (Job 1:3), a fact that gave her a lofty standing in her world. By reading between the lines a bit, we can surmise that she had fine clothes, beautiful jewelry, and an overabundance of everything. She didn’t have to toil, labor, and sweat over daily household chores because she had a staff of servants to handle that work for her. Of course, she needed all that extra help because she stayed pregnant most of the time, right? I mean, getting pregnant ten times and giving birth to ten healthy children is no small feat. And would you believe that the closing of the book of Job says that God blessed Job with seven more sons and three more daughters, which evidently means that this woman gave birth to 20 children in her lifetime? Imagine that! Obviously, she was good at being a mother.

So, there is a lot to commend about Job’s wife, and it’s unfortunate for her that history only remembers her for unloading on her husband during the low point of his life. But such is the damage that ill-spoken words can do. In Proverbs 18:21, the Bible goes so far as to say, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue…” and James 3:6 calls the tongue “a fire,” and “a world of iniquity.” It’s no wonder that David, in Psalm 141:3 says, “Set a guard, O Lord, over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips.” We should all pray such a prayer each and every day.

In closing, let me just point out that God doesn’t want us to be mutes. Remember that it’s not just death that is in the power of the tongue, it’s also life. As Proverbs 25:11 says, “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver.” You see, talking is fine as long as you do it the right way. The goal is to always say what God wants you to say, to whom He wants you to say it, when He wants you to say it, and how He wants you to say it. (As Tonya has explained to me over and over again, “It’s not what you said, Russell. It was your tone.”) So let’s all work on our conversing today and make sure that we don’t burn down anything with the fire that lies behind our teeth. Job’s wife spouted her flames and with one quote became known for something for which she’d rather not be known. May the same thing not happen to us.

Posted in Communication, Marriage, The Tongue | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment