Thursday, February 24, 2011

Seeing is Believing After All

Reading: Mark 7—8

In yesterday's post, I noted, “In the Gospels faith is almost always connected to seeing something about Jesus, recognizing something about who He is.” This becomes even more clear in Mark 7—8. The Pharisees arrive where Jesus and His disciples are eating. And what do they see? They “saw some of his disciples eating food with hands that were 'unclean,' that is, unwashed.” (Mark 7:2) What didn't they see? They evidently didn't see Jesus. At least not with eyes to see.
They looked on everything according to the flesh. They saw everything with eyes that could not see (Mark 4:12). And hence, though they were Jewish leaders and worshiping the true God, their worship was hypocritical and unclean. It proceeded from unclean hearts and therefore their very worship made them unclean (Mark 7:20-23).
Now, Jesus leaves that place and goes to the Gentile area of Tyre. A Greek woman born in Syrian Phoenicia (Gentile woman through and through), enters the scene. She has a similar problem as the Pharisees, except for one big detail. Her daughter is possessed by an unclean spirit. This would seem to trump the Pharisees uncleanness. But that's not the detail that makes the big difference. Rather, it is that she sees Jesus. She sees something about Jesus and it is evident in their exchange.
27"First let the children eat all they want," he told her, "for it is not right to take the children's bread and toss it to their dogs." 28"Yes, Lord," she replied, "but even the dogs under the table eat the children's crumbs." 29Then he told her, "For such a reply, you may go; the demon has left your daughter." (Mark 7:27-29)
She saw that there was enough bounty of goodness at the Savior's table that there would be crumbs falling off, and even a crumb from His table was sufficient to cleans her daughter from an unclean spirit. The Pharisees had the same table before them, but all they saw were unwashed hands; they didn't see the Savior.
In chapter 8, we find that Jesus is able to able to spread a banquet of bread for 4,000 men plus women and children. There is a bounty of goodness at His table, and the disciples discover that there is a bounty of crumbs left over—they picked up 7 basketfulls of crumbs from 7 loaves that fed 4,000. There was more left over than they started with it seems. Christ's banquet is overflowing. And it is a banquet that is provided as we see who He is!
The disciples may be demonstrating this as they get in the boat, forgetting to bring bread... except for the one loaf they had with them in the boat. I wonder if that is a subtle reference to Christ... the bread of life. Of course, I can't be sure, but it is at least interesting to read the story in that light. The next story is about the healing of the blind man. At first he sees men as trees (Mark 8:24), and then he sees clearly (Mark 8:25). That sets up the next section wherein Peter at first sees Christ clearly (Mark 8:29), and then, seems to be seeing Him not so clearly (Mark 8:31-33). (In reverse order.) This whole section is about how we see Jesus! Seeing Him is the banquet. Seeing Him is the cleansing. Seeing Him is faith!
All this leads us to chapter 9 where Christ is unveiled before us on the Mount of Transfiguration. As we are preparing to study Isaiah 24-27 on Sunday, I can't help but think that all of this is revealing that Isaiah 25:6-8 is being fulfilled.
6On this mountain the LORD Almighty will prepare a feast of rich food for all peoples, a banquet of aged wine—the best of meats and the finest of wines. 7On this mountain he will destroy the shroud that enfolds all peoples, the sheet that covers all nations; 8he will swallow up death forever. The Sovereign LORD will wipe away the tears from all faces; he will remove the disgrace of his people from all the earth. The LORD has spoken.
When Christ was transfigured before the disciples, the shroud that blinds us was taken away—pulled back—for them. And on the mount where He was crucified, when we see our Lord through eyes of faith, eyes that see Him for Who He is, the shroud is taken away and the feast is spread before us. He cleanses us as we see Him. Seeing Christ is faith and cleansing from within.
Love the Gospel, Live the Gospel, Advance the Gospel,

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Your Faith Has Healed You?

Reading: Mark 5—6
Does our faith heal us? Do we need more faith in order to get greater results? In a day when the power of one's own faith is touted as the key to a successful life, I think we need to be careful how we read our Bibles on the subject of faith. A subtle form of worldliness is a dangerous tendency to import into our Bible reading worldly definitions of faith or belief. This can transpose Biblical truths into a philosophy of man and the power of God's truth is lost.
When the woman subject to bleeding for twelve years (Mark 5:24-34) came and touched Jesus, she was immediately healed. Jesus said, “Daughter, your faith has healed you.” Was this healing really all about her faith? Are we to walk away and think, “If only I had that much faith, I too could be healed?” (Or, take out “healed” and fill in the blank with whatever it is you need from God, and ask the same question.)
It is very important that, when we are reading our Bibles we define things accurately. And faith is one of those things which we need to be careful to define clearly. The truth is, much of what we culturally call faith, the scriptures would call unbelief. So we need to make sure that in our pursuit of faith we aren't pursuing unbelief. What is faith?
According to the dictionary, faith is confidence or trust in a person or thing, or belief in anything. Culturally, the emphasis is on the front part of that definition: confidence or trust. And since the second part, “in a person or thing,” or, “in anything,” is interchangeable, then it doesn't really matter what that is. So in our culture, faith is confidence or trust. Most often, this is all about confidence and trust in ourselves, or confidence and trust in our faith (which is a circular way of saying, in ourselves). Biblically, that would be unbelief.
In Scripture, faith is all about the object of the faith...about the One in Whom we believe. Trusting God is always contrasted with trusting in man. One is faith, the other unbelief. But today, the world, and sadly many Christians, because we emphasize the “trusting” part, consider both of these faith. This makes it hard to distinguish between faith and unbelief.
When we get to the Gospels, faith takes on a nuance which is always important to recognize. In the Gospels faith is almost always1 connected to seeing something about Jesus, recognizing something about who He is. So for instance, the disciples in the boat are afraid and rebuked for their lack of faith. What was the issue? They didn't understand Who Christ was. They didn't understand that 1) they can't fall into the sea and drown unless he allows it (see Mark 5:12-13), and 2) that even if they did, He would raise them up, for death is but sleep to Jesus (see Mark 5:35-42).
Another example of this is found in Mark 6:1-6, when Jesus took a trip to His hometown.
5He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them. 6And he was amazed at their lack of faith. (Mark 6:5-6)
The implication is clear: their lack of faith is connected to Christ not doing any miracles other than a handful of sick people getting well (which would be called a revival in most of our churches!). Yet, if we look at that whole story we find that their lack of faith was rooted in not understanding who Jesus is (Mark 6:3).
Biblical faith has always been about trusting God rather than trusting in man, or ourselves. It is never simply “believing”. When we arrive at the Gospels, faith takes on this nuance of recognizing something about Who Jesus is. Because, He is God. It was the woman's recognition of something about Jesus that caused her to say, “If I but touch His clothes... He is so powerful, He is so divine, that even the edge of His cloak will be sufficient.” Her faith made her well, for her faith was centered on the One Who makes us well. Do you believe Him? Do you see Him?
Love the Gospel, Live the Gospel, Advance the Gospel,
1I would say “always” but since I don't have full knowledge of every reference, I will leave open the possibility that it is used in another way.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The Fight of Faith is a War of Attrition

Reading: Psalm 37
Does it ever look as if wickedness pays off and righteousness is paid back with evil? Does it ever seem as if those who don't follow the Lord seem better off than those who do? It is during those times, especially, that we need Psalm 37 to remind us that the fight of faith is a war of attrition. To say it another way, walking by faith, is not a sprint, but a marathon.
Remember Aesop's fable, The Tortoise and the Hare? The speedy hare (rabbit) mocked the tortoise for the absurd notion that the slow tortoise should suggest that the hare could be beaten, and certainly not by the slow tortoise. Does it ever feel like the wicked, in their apparent prosperity, are mocking those who follow the Lord, just by their seemingly blessed lives? The psalmist speaks to us when we are in that fight of faith.
1Do not fret because of evil men or be envious of those who do wrong; 2for like the grass they will soon wither, like green plants they will soon die away. 3Trust in the LORD and do good; dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture. (Psalm 37:1-3)
Why are we tempted to fret because of evil men, or to be envious of those who disobey the Lord? According to Psalm 37:7, it is because they “succeed in their ways, when they carry out their wicked schemes.” It was supposed to backfire! Their wicked schemes were supposed to come back on their own heads (Psalm 7:14-16), but instead, they are succeeding.
What are we told? Be still before the Lord; wait patiently for him. Refrain from anger and turn from wrath. (Psalm 37:7, 8) On what basis? On what basis are we called to continue to trust God and do right? How can we continue to walk by faith, trusting in the truth that obedience to God is better than going our own way? Because, “in a little while...the wicked will be no more...their day is coming.” (Psalm 37:10, 13)
Not only will the wicked be no more, but also those who hope in the Lord will inherit the land, the meek will inherit the land and enjoy great peace. In David's day, “the land” would have been seen as the promised land. Jesus quoted this verse, “The meek will inherit the earth.” It is the same word. Could mean the land of promise, i.e. the promise, or the earth. Either way, the point is the same: The humble, those who are hoping in the Lord and not living their own way, will eventually come out on top.
Why? Why do those who follow the Lord eventually come out on top? Why do we not need to fret or be envious of the wicked? There is coming a day when they will be no more. Of course, someone might observe that the same could be said of the righteous. But not so. Not only will the meek inherit the land, but they will dwell in it forever and their inheritance will endure forever (see Psalm 37:18, 27-29).
We get to the New Testament and we begin to have filled out for us how this is so. For those who trust in the Lord (those are the meek of Psalm 37:11 and Matthew 5:5), even though they die, they live (John 11:25).
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade—kept in heaven for you... (1 Peter 1:3-4)
So the fight of faith is, at times, a war which we just have to know will be won by attrition. I can't help but think of the martyrs who, though killed, live and reign with Christ (Revelation 20:4). As we continue to trust in God, we will outlast the wicked. We can't lose that perspective, or we will fret (burn with anger) or become envious—actually wishing we were in their shoes. Those are dangerous places to be, so may we learn to be still before the Lord and wait patiently for Him!
Love the Gospel, Live the Gospel, Advance the Gospel,

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

If Only We had the Faith of Jonah!

Reading: Jonah 1—4  
If only we had the faith of Jonah, evangelism might leap forward into warp drive. I am not sure if I've ever heard the prophet Jonah held up as a model of faith, but that might warrant a second look. If we had Jonah's faith, our evangelistic efforts might be multiplied exponentially. Why do I say this? How could I suggest that Jonah might be a model for evangelism explosion? Look with me at Jonah.
Jonah's Commission
The word of the LORD came to Jonah son of Amittai: “Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me.” (Jonah 1:1-2)
Jonah had a commission from the Lord: Go and preach against the city of Nineveh. This commission is essentially repeated in Jonah 3:1-2. But that is because Jonah disobeyed the Lord the first time around. Jonah's response to this commission was clear:
But Jonah ran away from the LORD and headed for Tarshish. He went down to Joppa, where he found a ship bound for that port. After paying the fare, he went aboard and sailed for Tarshish to flee from the LORD. (Jonah 1:3)
Jonah ran in the opposite direction of Tarshish as fast as He could. He had no interest in this venture. So you might be wondering why I would suggest that if only we had Jonah's faith we might see a massive improvement in our outreach. Well, don't worry it isn't in his running that we find this.
Not only do we find Jonah running from God, but we find God active in this book as well.
The Lord is Active in the Mission
Not only did the Lord send Jonah to Nineveh, He didn't stop there and wait for Jonah to decide to obey. He wanted Jonah in Nineveh, and Jonah in Nineveh He would have. So we read:
Then the LORD sent a great wind on the sea, and such a violent storm arose that the ship threatened to break up. (Jonah 1:4)
The Lord sent a storm! The ESV reads, “But the LORD hurled a great wind upon the sea...”. We find then that Jonah tells the sailors to hurl him into the sea (Jonah 1:12 ESV), and though they object, finally, they hurl Jonah overboard and the raging sea grew calm (Jonah 1:15 ESV). Whenever I am on a ship, with or without a storm, I am hurling too.
Then the Lord provided a great fish to swallow Jonah (Jonah 1:17), and He directed the fish as to where to deposit Jonah (Jonah 2:10). God is intent on accomplishing His work of reaching the Ninevites.
I find great comfort in knowing that the mission of the church isn't in threat of failure because it has been left in the hands of men! The Great Commission is in the hands of God and therefore as the people of God we must constantly be calling on God to bring it about. And He will. He is actively involved in the fulfillment of the commission.
However, I have not yet spoken of anything that has to do with the faith of Jonah. Certainly it is helpful for us to know and believe that God is actively at work in fulfilling the commission we are on, but that doesn't show us Jonah's faith. Where do we find Jonah's faith? Before we can understand that, we have to see what happened when Jonah finally obeyed the Lord's commission to Him.
The Results of the Mission
We read this in Jonah 3:3-10. As soon as Jonah obeyed and preached, the Ninevites believed God; they declared a fast, they put on sackcloth; the king demands that the whole city participate, and God had compassion on them and did not destroy them.
While most of us would immediately write a book about these kind of results, Jonah wasn't real excited about this. The Ninevites were the enemies of God's people and they were not exactly the kind of enemies you want to be friends with. They were a cruel and ruthless people. In fact, Jonah response is telling.
But Jonah was greatly displeased and became angry. 2He prayed to the LORD, "O LORD, is this not what I said when I was still at home? That is why I was so quick to flee 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 4:1-2)
Here, in Jonah's motivation for fleeing to Tarshish instead of going on the mission, we find Jonah's faith—a faith that might hurl us into the mission if only we had it. Jonah had great faith in God's willingness and disposition to extend grace, show compassion, and give the gift of repentance. Jonah's faith in God's willingness to save, his faith in the fact that it was God and not Jonah's preaching that ultimately would bring about the salvation of the Ninevites, was so great that Jonah refused to go do it.
I am not suggesting that we would at all be benefited by Jonah's love for the lost; rather, by his faith in God's saving power and disposition. Most of us would be more prone to share Christ if we really believed God to be active and disposed to save the lost when we did so. But we somehow think it is primarily up to us, and how good we do in sharing (or how poorly), or we consider how hard their hearts are and how unlikely they would be to repent and turn. No doubt we are afraid of what they will think of us and need to learn not to be ashamed of the Gospel. However, I would dare say that with little exception we would, unlike Jonah, actually want to see them respond in repentance to the Gospel. We just don't believe they will...we just don't believe that God will actively be at work bringing it about.
Jonah 4:5-11 is a brief account in which Jonah's lack of love is addressed. But maybe, in our case, the book of Jonah is addressing our lack of faith. Consider the effects of a church so full of faith that God would act when we called on Him in prayer, and obeyed Him in sharing Christ with our neighbor, and God actually doing what He is able and disposed to do in saving the Lost.
Love the Gospel, Live the Gospel, Advance the Gospel,


Thursday, February 10, 2011

Who Will Go Before You?

Reading:  1 Samuel 6—11  
In our engagement with the world around us, in what do we trust? Do we trust in the unseen, eternal God who sits on His throne and controls the destiny of men and nations? Or do we prefer someone visible and impressive in the eyes of the world? Do we feel as if, in reality, that would be more impacting in the cause of the Gospel? Israel preferred the latter.
4So all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah. 5They said to him, “You are old, and your sons do not walk in your ways; now appoint a king to lead us, such as all the other nations have.”...7And the LORD told [Samuel]: “Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king. 8As they have done from the day I brought them up out of Egypt until this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are doing to you.” (1 Samuel 8:4-8)
Why did Israel want an earthly king; a visible representative? Because they didn't trust God. They trusted in what they could see. That is exposed in their response to Samuel when he warned them of all that a king would do to them and their children.
But the people refused to listen to Samuel. “No!” they said. “We want a king over us. Then we will be like all the other nations, with a king to lead us and to go out before us and fight our battles. (1 Samuel 8:19-20)
Not trusting in God is never a rational decision. Biblically, it is folly to trust in ourselves and not the Lord; the essence of wisdom is trusting the Lord (Proverbs 3:5-7). Israel had attempted to use God like some sort of good luck charm in 1 Samuel 4:3. But God was not in the ark like something we can control. He is to be called on and prayed to (seeking the Lord).
Over the next 3 chapters (1 Samuel 4—6), God shows his ability to take care of Himself. Though the Israelites attempted to fight the Philistines without God, and could not; God took on the Philistines by Himself without Israel's help. And after defeating their gods single-handedly, and the people themselves, He then brought His ark back to the land of Israel all by Himself. But Israel had to learn that being the people of God wasn't about having a certain right to use God as desired; it is about walking by faith, trusting in Him, calling on Him, obeying Him.
When they sought the Lord, He worked on their behalf. (See 1 Samuel 7:2, 8-12.) The rock of help (Ebenezer) was where the Lord helped them. The key is to see why He helped them: because they trusted in the Lord as evidenced by their calling on Him. This was the same location, apparently, as where they were defeated and the ark captured (see 1 Samuel 4:1).
On Sunday, as we cover Isaiah 7-12, we are going to see that not only did Israel's monarchy begin with a lack of trust in God, it ended with a lack of trust in God. However, when we get to the New Testament, when the “remnant” who trusts in Christ is gathered in the book of Acts and sent into the world with a constant conflict, persecution and unbeatable odds, they actually do trust in the Lord. How is this trust seen?
They were told to wait for the empowering of the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:4,8), and so we read, “They all joined together constantly in prayer...” (Acts 1:14). And it didn't stop there. They constantly relied on the power of the Spirit for all they did. They were God dependent.
42They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.... 46Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. (Acts 2:42, 46)
They didn't stop meeting together to pray at the temple after the day of Pentecost. They continued. They didn't cease to trust in the power of God to work and carry out what He called them to do, they continued to be God dependent. The leaders of the church made it a priority as well. They didn't just rely on preaching, but considered prayer essential to the empower the preaching of God's Word (Acts 6:3-4). When they were facing the most difficult odds, they turned to God in prayer and He answered (Acts 12:5, 12).
Are we more prone to get involved in political action than the corporate prayer meeting? Does that reveal something of where our trust is? Are we looking for an earthly king all over again? We should be engaged as citizens in our nation, but not more than we are engaged with the King of the Kingdom we serve first. The same could be said of programs and so many other things. Are we continuing what the church began: meeting together constantly in prayer?
Love the Gospel, Live the Gospel, Advance the Gospel,

Monday, February 7, 2011

How Can a Man Be Righteous Before God?

Reading: Job 23, 24

Am I suffering because I am not right with God? If so, how can I be right enough with God not to suffer? “How can a man be righteous before God?” How do you answer? This question is asked twice in the book of Job. First, by Job (Job 9:2); then, by Bildad the Shuhite (Job 25:4) (one of the shortest guys in history...). They give us two very different answers. Those two answers get to the heart of Job's complaint, and the heart of Job's righteousness, and the heart of why bad things happen to good people... or do they?
If you are brushed up on your doctrine of sin, of course you immediately know that bad things don't happen to good people...because “there is no one righteous, not even one” (Romans 3:10, 23). That was Bildad's answer. Bildad understood his reformed theology well! (No slight on reformed theology here, just wanting to make sure we know where to apply it!)
5If even the moon is not bright and the stars are not pure in his eyes, 6how much less man, who is but a maggot—a son of man, who is only a worm!" (Job 25:5-6)
Bildad had the “man is a worm” theology down pat. And, when considered in his fallenness, compared to God, man “is but a maggot... only a worm.” When compared to the requirements of legalistic righteousness (earning our righteousness through a merit based system in which we obey and God owes us reward), Bildad is right. But it wasn't the right answer to Job! In fact, Job's answer to Bildad seems to be full of sarcasm (Job 26:1-4). In that answer, we discover the difference between the two answers. Bildad's audience (Job), was not a Pharisee, or a Jew attempting to be declared right because of his fastidious observance of the law. Job, was a suffering man who was living by faith.
In Job 23, 24, I think we get to the heart of his faith. At the heart of Job's theology is a God who “is full of compassion and mercy.” (James 5:11) Job understood some things about God's character and His mercy and compassion. Yet, like so many suffering people, Job's experience seemed to be in conflict with God's justice.
In spite of his deep, bitter complaint (Job 23:2), Job trusted in the mercy of God.
3If only I knew where to find him; if only I could go to his dwelling!  4I would state my case before him and fill my mouth with arguments. 5I would find out what he would answer me, and consider what he would say. 6Would he oppose me with great power? No, he would not press charges against me. 7There an upright man could present his case before him, and I would be delivered forever from my judge. (Job 23:3-7)
If you've read the end of the story, you might recall that Job's boldness was trimmed back a notch or two when face to face with the Almighty. However, examine this paragraph. Unlike Esther who was fearful of entering the king's presence, though married to him (Esther 4:11), Job's instinct of God was that behind all His glory was a just God who would look on an upright man and deliver him from his judge (which was God!). Job's instinct of God reminds me of the Canaanite woman with the possessed daughter who, coming to Jesus heard, “it is not right to take the children's bread and toss it to their dogs.” What was her response? even the dogs under the table eat the children's crumbs.” (Mark 7:27-28) She believed there was enough mercy at God's table to deliver her daughter even if she only got the crumbs that fell off the table!
Job wasn't so naive as to think that he had never sinned. Job 9 makes this clear (see Job 9:2-4, 14-15, 20). Job seems to have understood that God dealt with him according to His mercy. Job has been living by faith in God's justice. So much so that Job seems convinced in chapter 23 that if only he could get before God, God would set things right. He wants to meet before the Judge! Job 24 explains why, starting with His complaint is that God doesn't set times for judgment! Look at his question closely.
"Why does the Almighty not set times for judgment? Why must those who know him look in vain for such days? (Job 24:1)
Do you look forward to the day of God's judgment? (Job wasn't thinking of the end of the world, but most likely those times in history that God intervenes and carries out his judgments.) In this chapter he lays out the distinction between the righteous and the wicked. The wicked are those who are oppressing the needy, using their power to take advantage of the weak. Job was rich, sure enough, but Job, though a sinful man, lived by faith in God's mercy and therefore showed mercy. Job was running into the brick wall of the reality that in this fallen world sometimes the wicked prosper and often the righteous suffer. Job knows this is inconsistent with God's justice. Job clings to the mercy of God enough that he longs for the day of God's judgment.
While Job 24 is a long complaint about how God sits idly by while the wicked prosper, it resolves gloriously.
22But God drags away the mighty by his power; though they become established, they have no assurance of life. 23He may let them rest in a feeling of security, but his eyes are on their ways. 24For a little while they are exalted, and then they are gone; they are brought low and gathered up like all others; they are cut off like heads of grain. (Job 24:22-24)
Job was indeed righteous (Job 1:22; 2:10), but he was righteous because he was living by faith, not because he was perfect. For Job, like all who live by faith, suffering makes faith hard. Job had to fight the fight of faith. He had to wrestle through his doubts and complaints before God. He kept coming back to the mercy of God and the knowledge that God must bring down all that is falsely exalted and will raise up the humble. How much more can we fight the fight of faith knowing the mercy God has provided for us in Jesus Christ?
When you are suffering, when things don't seem right, know that God “is full of compassion and mercy,” and go to Him with your fears and doubts, and cry out for His justice, resting in His mercy. The just shall live by faith.   
Love the Gospel, Live the Gospel, Advance the Gospel,


Saturday, February 5, 2011

The Tale of Two Kings

Reading 2 Chronicles 26  
Which king would you pick?  A 16 year-old kid with nothing, or a 46 year-old king with everything. Which would you want? Of course, kings aren't picked or voted in, but most of us might think the king with everything would make a better king. But Uzziah tells us a different story, for he was both of these kings.
When his father, Amaziah, died by assassination, Uzziah was thrust into kingship at the ripe old age of sixteen. It is hard to image what this must have been like for him, but undoubtedly it came a little unexpectedly. Uzziah could not trust in his wisdom (apparently he had not seen enough Walt Disney movies to have believed in the innate wisdom of children), he could not trust in his experience, and apparently, given the assassination of his father, he could not trust in his secret service police. So, in what did he trust?
He sought God during the days of Zechariah, who instructed him in the fear of God. As long as he sought the LORD, God gave him success. (2 Chronicles 26:5)
Uzziah sought God. Uzziah listened to the instruction which was given by Zechariah, who taught him to fear the Lord. It seems this fear of the Lord was trusting in the Lord with his fears; going to the Lord in dependence. (Whatever else it was, it certainly appears to have been that.) And we read, “As long as he sought the LORD, God gave him success.” What did success look like? According to 2 Chronicles 26:6-7, it looked like God helping him against the Philistines, being able to rebuild towns, the neighboring countries bringing tribute to him, and his fame spreading far and wide as he becomes very powerful.
As surely as Uzziah's dependence on God led to his prosperity, his prosperity led to his dependence on all the stuff he had. Where we had read “Uzziah sought God...” we now read, “Uzziah built towers... he fortified them...and dug many cisterns.” (2 Chronicles 26:9-10) Where he had read about how God helped Uzziah against his enemies (2 Chronicles 26:7), now we read, “Uzziah had a well-trained army of 307,500 men trained for war, a powerful force to support (help) the king against his enemies.” (2 Chronicles 26:11-13) There was a subtle but sure shift in what Uzziah trusted.
Uzziah had been a simple man, a young man, a helpless man who was dependent on the Lord. But Uzziah was becoming the modern man, the self-made man, the successful man who was depending in what man could do. Of course, he himself was at the center of what he trusted in.
In Jerusalem he made machines designed by skillful men for use on the towers and on the corner defenses to shoot arrows and hurl large stones. His fame spread far and wide, for he was greatly helped until he became powerful. But after Uzziah became powerful, his pride led to his downfall. (2 Chronicles 26:15-16)
Until this point it seems that there was mixture. He had begun trusting in the Lord, the Lord helped him, he was becoming successful, and gradually we see a shifting occur from trusting in the Lord to leaning on what he could do. Over time it appears he sought the Lord less and less; he trusted in the Lord less and less. Pride, trusting in ourselves, creeps in little by little as we seek the Lord less and less.
Now this doesn't mean he ceased being religious. He still had a form of worship. He still wanted God's help. But now he was at the center and God was not. Trusting in the Lord, means doing what he said. If I trust Him, I believe that His ways are best. So Uzziah, in his pseudo-worship enters the temple to burn incense on the altar of incense. (2 Chronicles 26:16-20) What's the big deal? God had prescribed that only the priests could do that, not kings. Uzziah disregarded God's word, and even got angry against the priests for trying to stop him. He ceased fearing the Lord. Maybe he said, “I don't need a priest to worship, I can worship myself.” He began to trust in Himself. How often do we want to do things our way and not God's way?
Uzziah was struck with leprosy. Leprosy provided a perfect picture of what pride does. Pride, trusting in our own wisdom, or the power of man, to alleviate our fears and our concerns, separates us from God and others. Uzziah now lived in the separate house, was excluded form the temple and was even buried in a separate place than the kings, all because of his leprosy, which proceeded from his pride (2 Chronicles 26:21,23). Uzziah had been humble. He had sought the Lord, He had trusted in the Lord and feared the Lord. This is the essence of what faith is. Real faith always results in seeking the Lord and relying on Him; it is always centered in Him. It is not even focused on our faith, but Christ.
On what are you leaning? Pride and humility are often about where we go with our fears. Do we go to God who cares for us, trusting Him, listening to Him, doing what He says? Or, do we turn to our own ideas, worldly wisdom, or the power of what we can do without needing Him?
As went the king, so went the people. And Israel's kings, no matter how good they started, always seemed to end up in pride. But Christ is a king who remained completely humble, one who always trusted His Father, always sought the Father's will. When we bow to Jesus, He will place His Spirit in us teaching us to trust in Him. As goes the King, so goes His people!
Tomorrow, we will be studying Isaiah 6. Isaiah 6:1 begins, “In the year that king Uzziah died...”. It begins with the death of the proud king, and the rest of the chapter is about the coming of the Humble King. In Isaiah 6 I have discovered one of the most gloriously Christ-centered chapters in all of the Old Testament.
Love the Gospel, Live the Gospel, Advance the Gospel,

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Desiring God Conference: The Powerful Life of the Praying Pastor

The Message this morning by Francis Chan is a must listen message. It may at times bother you, make you uncomfortable, and stir you to love God and know Him. But if you don't walk away from listening to this and love your Father more and desire to pursue Him, well...listen again. Click here and scroll down the page.
So glad I am able to be here. What a unique and worthwhile conference.

Love the Gospel, Live the Gospel, Advance the Gospel