Get Low

Along the Way @ mlsgregg.com

I originally wrote this post for the Far East Broadcasting Company Gospel Blog, where it was scheduled to appear on June 29, 2015. Unfortunately, there appears to be some sort of problem with the blog; the last published article is dated June 25, 2015. At this point I have no idea what is happening, though I pray that whatever issues have arisen will be resolved quickly.

Gentle Reader,

A few weeks ago the Holy Spirit drew me to the Book of Ezra. (I knew it was the Spirit because, well, it’s Ezra. I’m honest enough to say that this Old Testament book hasn’t been on the top of my “must read” list). As I continue to live with chronic health problems, I’m learning more and more that when God places a Scripture on my heart, it’s a time to drop everything and get alone with Him and my Bible. He never fails to bring me the exact word of encouragement or conviction that I need for that moment.

He also never fails to surprise me.

Ezra comes onto the ancient timeline at a critical point. The Jewish exiles in Babylon have been released to return to Jerusalem by the decree of Cyrus the Great (Ezra 1:1-4). The king commands the people to give those who choose to travel home whatever they need, whether it’s gold or silver or livestock. He also returns all the precious articles of the Temple, the ones that Nebuchadnezzar had stolen (1:7-11).

Under the leadership of Sheshbazzar (probably another name for Zerubbabel), they set out.

Utter destruction and chaos await them.

The saga is told across Ezra, Nehemiah, Haggai and Zechariah. We get an intimate peek into this part of history though letters to kings, narratives about opposition and bravery (Ezra 3:3 is a great example of this), descriptions of construction, and encouragement from God through His prophets. The colors splash across the four books to form a beautiful and unique portrait of a humbled people, a people who strive to work together and restore their city.

There are many things that could easily grab my attention in the story of Ezra, but my soul is arrested by a single word.

Nethinim.

Beginning in Ezra 2:43, the names of the Nethinim, the “given ones,” are listed. They were a distinct group of men whose lives were given over to service in the Temple. Their focus was on the behind-the-scenes, often laborious tasks that kept the Temple functioning and enabled the priests to perform their duties. This term and office first applied to the Levites who were not of the line of Aaron, but eventually non-Jewish captives, taken in conquest and given to the Levites, came to fill this role.

Okay, did you catch that?

“Non-Jewish.”

This grips me. God specifically chose the people of Israel to be His nation, and part of their task was to be a light to the world (the origins of this are found all the way back in Genesis 12:1-3). They were not to bar anyone who sought God from joining their company (Exodus 12:48-49). These captives, these non-Jewish men, got an up-close-and-personal view of what it meant to worship the Lord. They knew how the Temple worked. No doubt they asked questions and learned about what it all meant. Along the way, they came to embrace the true God (Nehemiah 10:28).

Centuries before Christ and long before Paul’s mission to the Gentiles, we see God reaching out to gather to Himself all who would follow Him. We see the truth that “the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to show Himself strong on behalf of those whose heart is loyal to Him” (2 Chronicles 16:9a). No caveats about ethnicity, class, gender or any other kind of background.

Yet this is not all that causes me to dwell on this single word.

The Nethinim were not the superstars. They weren’t the ones leading worship. They didn’t get to bless the people. They were the support team. In our terms, they were the ones who cleaned the toilets and kept the chairs in good repair. They mopped floors, fixed windows, repaired broken doors. They unclogged stinking toilets and made runs to the trash heap. They had the dirty jobs.

They lived out the words of the psalmist, “For a day in Your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere. I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of wickedness” (Psalm 84:10). 

Does this encourage you? I hope it does! The Temple system would not have worked without the Nethinim. Neither can our churches, the Body of Christ around the world, work without those who do the thankless tasks. There really isn’t any such thing as a non-vital role.

Ah, but there’s more!

In learning about the Nethinim, it occurred to me that these men understood what it meant to be humble. You can’t exactly be scrubbing floors all day and have your nose in the air. They never knew what it was to receive the applause. Yet I doubt that they were self-loathing. We tend to assume that humility means just that, hating oneself, but it doesn’t. Humility is acknowledging and accepting reality. It is to have a correct estimation of self and abilities. For a Christian, humility extends to accepting the relation of self to God and knowing that He is King.

One of the Greek New Testament words for humility is tapeinos, a terms that carries within its definition the phrase “not rising far from the ground.” This is what the Nethinim experienced on a daily basis both in a literal and a figurative sense. Their jobs brought them low. They spent time cleaning and scrubbing and serving, all for the Lord.

Tapienos is a term used in descriptions of Christ.

Let that settle on you.

Christ got low.

All of this comes together in one simple sentence: I must get low. We see this in Scripture time and time again; God is always higher, always the ruler. “He must increase, I must decrease” (John 3:30). We must serve as the Nethinim served, content to do whatever job is placed before us, seeing it as a way of worshiping and serving the Lord. We can know that He honors whatever is done in wholehearted obedience to His command.

If you are like me, a modern-day Nethinim who doesn’t have the spotlight, I encourage you to revel in your status. You have been chosen for the tough jobs, the jobs that God alone sees – and that is special. That is honorable. Whatever your hand finds to do in service to Him and others, do it with joy. Know that He smiles upon your efforts.

Do it with a heart of worship. Do it out of a desire to praise the King.

Do it because you are a “given one,” consecrated and set apart to His service.

For this is not about our glory or gain. It’s all about Him.

My journey to faith. (15)

Five Minute Friday: Favorite

Gentle Reader,

Seems like I’m not very good at keeping up with the party on the Twitters these days. I miss something special when I’m not able to participate. And it is special. Who but God would use social media to draw His daughters (and a few sons!) from all over the place into one unique writing community? We have many differences. We don’t always agree. Yet we cheer each other on.

Kate and my buddies.

We write about: favorite.

Go.

I am often shocked at the insanity that crosses my path. I shouldn’t be. People are crazy, whether in an official, clinical sense or not. The world makes less and less sense as the days go by. No logical standards seem to apply. Do what you want. Chase your feelings.

Pseudo-intellectual elitism. Arrogance run amok.

People like me are accused of being close-minded. Accused of “being afraid” of “searching.” Afraid of “wrestling” through the “deeper” questions.

It couldn’t possibly be that people like me think that some of the answers presented are wrong. Or just stupid.

The world seems to tilt further on its axis. The spin increases. My head whirls. And so I try to focus on this:

Your throne, O God, is forever and ever; (4)

No matter what anyone says or does, God will never be knocked off of His throne.

That is my favorite truth.

Stop.

My journey to faith. (15)

Marriage is What Drives Us Apart Today

Along the Way @ mlsgregg.com

Gentle Reader,

I’ll just get right down to it.

I do not plan to revisit this in future posts. This is not going to become a theme. However, since I have long placed my words on the public buffet table, there’s really no way to avoid the topic. Before we get any further along, allow me to quote John MacArthur, who I don’t agree with on many points of doctrine, but who expresses it best when he says:

Marriage is not the ultimate battleground, and our enemies are not the men and women who seek to destroy it (2 Corinthians 10:4). The battleground is the Gospel. Be careful not to replace patience, love, and prayer with bitterness, hatred, and politics.

So here we go.

I’m not going to go protest at a gay wedding. I’m not going to refuse to associate with gay people. I wouldn’t shun a gay couple if they moved in next door. I don’t feel the need to bring up the topics of gay marriage or homosexuality in every conversation, Facebook comment or blog post. I’m not going to seek out gay people so I can shout at them. These actions are not only pointless, they are caricatures of what it means to be a Christian.

I’ll keep behaving as I have behaved all along, thanks.

But none of that requires that I say that gay marriage is blessed by God. I’m not going to say that He “created” same-sex unions anymore than He “created” heterosexual promiscuity, the point being that He does not call us to continue living in what He defines as sin. Yes, God loves us as we are and He sent Christ to save us while we were still sinners. Praise Him for that! But that love? It is transformative. It does not say, “Oh, you just go ahead and keep doing what you want.”

The fact that I believe marriage is a God-designed institution made for one man and one woman doesn’t make me a bigot. It doesn’t make me hateful. It doesn’t mean I think I’m better than other people. It doesn’t make me sick or twisted.

All my stance on this issue means is that I am striving to be consistent in my doctrine.

My denomination has issued a statement affirming that which is laid out in our manual of practice. We also stand with the National Association of Evangelicals:

Statement from the Board of General Superintendents, Church of the Nazarene –

Societies across the globe are engaged in conversations to redefine marriage. Media debates, election-day balloting, and governmental court rulings have provided the platform for this redefinition. We believe a biblical view of marriage involves a monogamous, covenantal relationship between a man and a woman. Jesus said, “At the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate” (Matthew 19:4-6 NIV).

Today the United States Supreme Court, in the 5-4 decision of Obergefell v. Hodges, legalized same-sex marriage nationwide. We remind our people that while the civil law of yet another country has changed, divine truth has not changed. We will learn how this civil definition functions within the context of our constitutional and religious freedoms. Our commitment to the orthodox biblical Christian faith remains the same. We continue to call Nazarenes around the world to a life of holiness, characterized by holy love and expressed through the most rigorous and consistent lifestyle of sexual purity. We further call our people to a generosity and graciousness of spirit that extends kindness to those who do not share our belief. We pray that God will help us be examples of His truth in a world that needs to see God’s love demonstrated in word and deed more than ever.

Statement from the National Association of Evangelicals –

God designed marriage for humanity. As first described in Genesis and later affirmed by Jesus, marriage is a God-ordained, covenant relationship between a man and a woman. This lifelong, sexually exclusive relationship brings children into the world and thus sustains the stewardship of the earth. Biblical marriage —­­ marked by faithfulness, sacrificial love and joy — displays the relationship between God and his people.

While commentators, politicians and judges may revise their understanding of marriage in response to shifting societal trends, followers of Jesus should embrace his clear vision of marriage found in Matthew 19:4-6:

“Haven’t you read,” Jesus replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”

Nothing in the Supreme Court’s Obergefell v. Hodges opinion changes the truth about marriage. What has changed is the legal definition of marriage, which is now at variance with orthodox biblical faith as it has been affirmed across the centuries and as it is embraced today by nearly two billion Christians in every nation on earth.

In its role as a moral teacher, the law now misleads Americans about the true nature of marriage. Evangelicals and other followers of the Bible have a heightened opportunity to demonstrate the attractiveness of loving Christian marriages and families. Evangelicals should renew their commitment to the sacrificial love and covenantal faithfulness to which Jesus calls all husbands and wives.

As witnesses to the truth, evangelicals should be gracious and compassionate to those who do not share their views on marriage. Those who continue to embrace biblical teaching on marriage will increasingly appeal to the First Amendment protection not just for abstract belief, but for the practice of their faith. The National Association of Evangelicals calls on Congress to enact laws, on the president to implement policies, and on the courts to render judgments that uphold the freedom and human rights of all Americans.

More –

In the 5-4 decision of Obergefell v. Hodges, the U.S. Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage nationwide. The National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) regrets the court’s shift away from the historic understanding of marriage, but recognizes that the truth about marriage has not changed.

“At the beginning of the Bible, God defined marriage. In the New Testament, Jesus described marriage. Neither asked the Supreme Court for a new definition or description,” said Leith Anderson, NAE president.

The NAE today released a statement about marriage in light of the court’s redefinition, which says in part:

Nothing in the Supreme Court’s Obergefell v. Hodges opinion changes the truth about marriage. What has changed is the legal definition of marriage, which is now at variance with orthodox biblical faith as it has been affirmed across the centuries and as it is embraced today by nearly two billion Christians in every nation on earth.

Anderson said, “As evangelicals, we look to the Bible — not the courts — for guidance on life. Marriage is a God-ordained, covenant relationship between a man and a woman. May this court decision be a clarion call to American evangelicals to proclaim and exhibit the good news about biblical marriage.”

The NAE recognizes that governments at times adopt policies that do not align with biblical values. However, those policies should not require those who follow the clear teachings of the Bible to change their beliefs or practices.

Anderson said, “As we respect a legal ruling with which we do not agree, we ask others to respect our faith and practices even when they disagree with us.”

The NAE calls on evangelicals to be gracious and compassionate to those who do not share their views on marriage and to also advocate for liberty for all who desire to live out their faith. The NAE calls on Congress to enact laws, on the president to implement policies, and on the courts to render judgments that uphold the freedom and human rights of all Americans.

I look to God for direction in all things. His word tells me that the faith has always been counter-cultural. Following Christ has always meant being out of step with the world at large. He defines what is right and what is wrong and will never be knocked off of His throne. It does not matter how governments rule on this or other positions. God is supreme. With this in mind, I will continue to learn to navigate life with both sobriety and joy, confident in my position as a daughter of the King. I will strive to treat everyone I come into contact with as a person, a human being, an image-bearer – whether they agree with me or not.

Nothing else needs to be said.

My journey to faith. (15)