We return to that hillside somewhere in Galilee. “Large crowds,” Matthew says, from cities across the region and down into Judea, followed Jesus as he taught, proclaimed, and healed (Matthew 4:23-25). As we look back into the Gospels, we call his lessons on that hillside “The Sermon on the Mount.”
He began with an attention-grabbing list, an inside-out set of commandments designed to question everything the people had been taught. I imagined he paused between each one, giving it time to “sink in” before he continued. Continue reading →
King Solomon questioned, “Who can say, ‘I have kept my heart pure; I am clean and without sin’?” (Proverbs 20:9). He’s right. It’s hard to find an Old Testament example of someone who is pure-hearted.
For one thing, the Hebrew idea we typically translate as heart means “the center of the human spirit, from which spring emotions, thoughts, motivations, courage and action” (NIV Study Bible notes for Psalm 4:7). It’s a tall order to keep all that pure! Continue reading →
Nothing makes a person feel small like standing beside the ocean or looking up into a big Texas night sky full of stars (especially if there’s a meteor shower, which we saw once—amazing!) or peering over the edge of the Grand Canyon. The earth itself testifies to our insignificance.
God chose us to govern His magnificent creation. Why?
I’m spending this year in Psalms. It’s something to which God called me several months ago, and I expect to read through the entire book twice before the end of 2017. (I’m also reading books about the Psalms, so feel free to share any good suggestions.) This means you can expect many blog posts out of the Psalms this year, of which this is the first.
The Psalmist says to God, “You made [people] rulers over the works of your hands; you put everything under their feet” (8:6), then he lists many of the things over which we “rule”: domesticated animals, wild animals, birds, and fish. We don’t rule for any of the reasons other animals rule their domains. Sure, we have the biggest brains, but weaponless, we would lose a fight with a gorilla or a lion or a crocodile or an elephant or a poisonous snake or any number of other animals.
We rule because God gave us the task of ruling way back in Genesis 1. The only reason we (puny, almost-hairless beings) are at the top of the food chain is because He put us there. Why would He do that? For the same reason He selected the tiny Hebrew people group to be His “Chosen People.”
To the Lord your God belong the heavens, even the highest heavens, the earth and everything in it. Yet the Lord set his affection on your ancestors and loved them, and he chose you, their descendants, above all the nations—as it is today. -Deuteronomy 10:14-15
For the same reason Jesus was born in the insignificant backwater town of Bethlehem.
But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times. -Micah 5:2
The less we are,
the more He is.
Because the less we are, the more He is. We know, if we stop to think about it, that we really shouldn’t be the ones in charge.
Which brings me to the mouse in the jungle…
There’s a really fantastic children’s book called The Gruffalo. It was a favorite in our house for years, and I always did all the voices! In the second half of the book (spoiler alert!), the mouse encounters many of his natural enemies, but they are all afraid of him because a very large, very scary monster is following him through the woods. The mouse doesn’t know the monster is behind him. He thinks the animals are actually afraid of him.
This mouse is not a good role model. He’s deceitful and prideful and foolish, unlike us. Oh wait.
We can still make a good point here. The animals fear the one behind the mouse. They see the gigantic monster because the tiny mouse stops to talk to them. In a sense, the monster gives the mouse dominion over the animals. Obviously, God is not a monster, but do you see the connection? God appoints us to rule the world because our weakness and insignificance leaves the most room for His dominance.
Paul got it (and you’ve probably already thought of this verse). He said, “That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, [etc.]. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:10).
If He is really the one in control, then what is left for us? First, our assignment remains from Adam: “Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground” (Genesis 1:28b). Like the sovereign of a nation or the father of a home, “to rule” means to be the caretaker, the leader, the responsible one as much as (or more than) it means to make rules and determine futures.
credit to Him.
Secondly, it remains for us to glorify Him. Unlike the mouse in The Gruffalo, we must turn around and point out the One who is truly in charge. We must never think it’s our own power or intellect or influence that deserves respect. We must deflect the credit to Him and acknowledge His power far above our own.
The Psalmist knew this, too, and this is the verse that really struck me as I read Psalm 8. It’s one of those verses stuck between familiar songs so it’s easy to overlook. Think about this one for a minute:
Through the praise of children and infants you have established a stronghold against your enemies… -Psalm 8:2
Through something as weak as children and infants, using something as ephemeral as praise, the God of Creation has made a stronghold, which is neither weak nor ephemeral. It’s as if He built an impregnable fortress out of clouds. And there’s plenty of room inside for all of us mice.
Eyes still drowsy, he carefully tipped the almost-empty milk jug over his cereal. Instead of a slow stream, the contents glugged out onto his Fruit Loops—gelatinous clumps of white goo. A millisecond later, his nose scrunched up. The inhale required to speak almost made him gag. “Mo-om, the milk has gone ba-ad!”
. . .
I rummaged through the cabinet; “Here it is,” I muttered as I grabbed that last new tube of antibiotic ointment. We had been overseas for almost three years, but I knew there was one more unopened tube. As I tore into the box, something prompted me to hold that fresh, unblemished tube up to the window where I could read the imprinted date on the crimped end. It looked perfectly fine, but it had expired over six months ago. I don’t know how effective it was, but we used it anyway because there was no alternative.
. . .
Genesis 22. Strapping some small logs onto his son’s back, Abraham instructs the servants to “sit tight” while he and Isaac go ahead a little ways to worship. After tucking the knife into his belt and lighting a long torch, he turns his face grimly toward the mountain. “C’mon, son.”
Barely out of the servants’ sight, Isaac asks the obvious question: “Where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” Abraham’s answer reveals his heart.
With every step toward Moriah, God, when are you going to provide?
With every stone stacked to build the altar, God, where is your provision?
With every piece of wood piled onto the stones, God, do I really have to do this?
With every tug on the rope that bound Isaac, God, I trust you, but . . .?
Raising the knife above Isaac’s neck, Abraham takes a deep breath. Last chance, Lord.
Wait! Did someone just call his name? His voice tight, catching on every word, he responds, “Here I am.” (Samuel said the same thing to Eli in 1 Samuel 3. Isaiah said the same thing to God in Isaiah 6:8.) The angel tells him, in essence, that he doesn’t need to kill his beloved son.
After a long and audible exhale (Had he been holding his breath?), Abraham finally shifts his teary gaze upward and notices a ram stuck in a thicket. Was it there all along?!? Doesn’t matter. Hands still shaking, he unties Isaac, and together, they sacrifice the ram.
Let’s step back from the story. How did Abraham come to this place? He was following God’s explicit command to go to that mountain in Moriah and to sacrifice his special son to God. (By the way, child sacrifices probably didn’t seem as crazy to him as they do to us. People did that kind of thing in those days; see Leviticus 18:21.) In obedience, Abraham never hesitated. He didn’t have to enjoy it, but God said to go, so he went—every step of the way. But he stopped when the angel called out to him. That, too, was an act of obedience.
Have you ever considered that God’s instructions or leading might have an expiration date?
We tend to concentrate very hard on the task at hand. Were we to find ourselves in a situation similar to Abraham’s, some of us might even have said, “God told me to do this, so I must go through with it!” and convinced ourselves that the voice we heard—an angel!—was just in our heads, just wishful thinking. What if, in that moment with the knife raised above Isaac’s prone body, Abraham had insisted on following through with God’s command? What if he had killed his son? Think about it: all of history would be different.
Granted, our decisions and obedience rarely carry the weight of Abraham’s decision, but the point is the same. God can change course mid-stream.
That’s okay. He’s God.
Just because He points you (or me) in a certain direction doesn’t mean he wants you (or me) to arrive there. Maybe it’s a test, like it was with Abraham. Maybe it’s a lesson. Maybe something happened along the way that was always His actual intention (like with Philip and the Ethiopian in Acts 8). Maybe we just couldn’t grasp the full vision at the time of the calling. God’s will is not a straight, logical path through life. The sooner we get comfortable with the altered plans, the switched tracks, the delays and interruptions, the sooner we will find rest in Him.
What is the difference between a hesitation and a pause? Confidence. It’s okay to pause in order to double check that you are still in God’s will, but don’t hesitate. We may watch for the milk to go bad, but we never wait on it. We may check the expiration dates on our medicines, but we don’t live our lives around those numbers. So, like Abraham, we must watch for Him to change His plans (confidence), but we must not wait on that change (hesitancy).
What about you? Have you stayed in a relationship, a job, or a mindset past its expiration date? How did you know and what did you do?
Is it time to pause, take a breath, and confirm that you are still being obedient?