Five Minute Friday: Loyal

Along the Way @ mlsgregg.com

Gentle Reader,

It is tempting to sleep these hot afternoon hours away. The dogs succumb without thought or care. The whir of the air conditioning unit and the clank of the dishwasher lull me into that state between awake and dreaming, the place where Tinkerbell lives and loves (according to Hook, a most excellent movie). Maybe I will curl up and let the furballs jostle for space at my feet, but for now there are things to be done. Words to be written.

Kate tells us to write about: loyal.

Go.

I’ve been slowly working my way through Zephaniah (you can read all about that here) and am completely fascinated by every aspect of this short prophetic book. Many would say it’s a hard read. Nobody wants to dwell on judgment and destruction and chaos. We want to learn about the “good things” in the Bible. Like Jesus and blessings and joy.

We don’t think that justice is the mark of a faithful God.

A loyal God.

Our expectations of the Divine are decidedly strange. It takes a whole lot of that renewing the mind stuff (Romans 12:2) to even begin to understand that punishment or discipline or whatever you want to call it is a sign of God’s great love. Involvement, care, consequences – these are not marks of a disinterested or hateful deity. They open our ears to His frustrated cry, ringing through the heavens. They clear our vision to see what is real and true.

God disciplines because He is loyal. God lets us experience the natural outcome of our foolish choices because He is faithful. He began a work and He will finish it (Philippians 1:6). It’s not going to be puppies and rainbows and candy because that’s not the material we give Him to work with. Oh, how we complain that if God were truly loving, He would make our lives easier!

I often think that He answers, “If you truly loved me, you wouldn’t be in that mess in the first place. But guess what? I know you’ve got tunnel vision and that you’re a mess, so I’m going to take this thing and spin solid gold out of it.”

And He does. Look at Hosea 2:14-23 –

“Therefore, behold, I will allure her,
Will bring her into the wilderness,
And speak comfort to her.
I will give her her vineyards from there,
And the Valley of Achor as a door of hope;
She shall sing there,
As in the days of her youth,
As in the day when she came up from the land of Egypt.

“And it shall be, in that day,”
Says the LOrd,
“That you will call Me ‘My Husband,’
And no longer call Me ‘My Master,’
For I will take from her mouth the names of the Baals,
And they shall be remembered by their name no more.
In that day I will make a covenant for them
With the beasts of the field,
With the birds of the air,
And with the creeping things of the ground.
Bow and sword of battle I will shatter from the earth,
To make them lie down safely.

“I will betroth you to Me forever;
Yes, I will betroth you to Me
In righteousness and justice,
In lovingkindness and mercy;
I will betroth you to Me in faithfulness,
And you shall know the Lord.

“It shall come to pass in that day
That I will answer,” says the Lord;
“I will answer the heavens,
And they shall answer the earth.
The earth shall answer
With grain,
With new wine,
And with oil;
They shall answer Jezreel.
Then I will sow her for Myself in the earth,
And I will have mercy on her who had not obtained mercy;
Then I will say to those who were not My people,
‘You are My people!’
And they shall say, ‘You are my God!’”

(NKJV)

My time runs short and I can’t get into the context of this passage, so please go and study yourself. Just know for now that this wooing, it came after harshness.  After God sends punishment their way. Really, I think the trouble is part of the wooing, for if God is completely loving, then no action of His can be unloving. It’s as if there comes a time when He knows He must shake us violently in order for us to finally, at last, bend our knees and fall before Him.

The Father sometimes has to spank us, His children, but the pain is always followed by words of grace and love. Somehow, in a way we can’t understand, righteousness and peace coexist in perfect harmony within His essence.

It’s like demolition. No remodel can be done without first destroying that which currently stands. So God is both the sledgehammer and the interior designer.

The combination makes Him perfectly loyal.

Stop.

My journey to faith. (15)

Photo Credit: Nolan Isaac

The LORD Your God in Your Midst: Searching (1:12-13)

The Lord your God in your midst,The Mighty One, will save;He will rejoice over you with gladness,He will quiet you with His love,He will rejoice over you with singing.” (1)

Gentle Reader,

And it shall come to pass at that time
That I will search Jerusalem with lamps,
And punish the men
Who are settled in complacency,
Who say in their heart,
‘The LORD will not do good,
Nor will He do evil.’
Therefore their goods shall become booty,
And their houses a desolation;
They shall build houses, but not inhabit them;
They shall plant vineyards, but not drink their wine.

– Zephaniah 1:12-13 (NKJV)

Again I am thankful that we have the privilege of feasting on Zephaniah slowly, enjoying every last morsel. Even the bits that in the tasting send a chill down the spine, as in our selection today.

The LORD Searches

These verses sit between two pictures of judgment. Last week we discussed the sacrifice and feast of 1:7-11 and next week we’ll look at the great battle of 1:14-18. Today our focus is almost laser-like, zeroing in, as Zephaniah so often does, on God Himself.

No one will be able to hide against the judgment of God. It is coming, and even if God must get out the “flashlights,” He will find them. (1)

Of course Zephaniah was not being literal when he recorded these words of God, but imagine this with me. Picture in your mind’s eye God, the Master of All, descending to Jerusalem and searching every house. The lamp in His hand would have looked something like this:

The bowl was filled with oil and a wick (made of flammable material such as linen) was placed in the small hole at the front. The wick would soak in the oil for a few minutes, at which point it could be lit.

Why do we care about an oil lamp?

God has always spoken to us in ways that we can understand. He uses objects and concepts that we know so well as to take them for granted. If this were happening today, He might have said, “I’m going to come into your house and flip every light switch. Nothing is going to get past me.”

The original audience understood then, just as we understand now, that the Lord exposes sin. Our deeds will always be uncovered. Whether we choose to acknowledge this reality or not is another matter entirely, but we know, in that place in our minds that never can seem to be repressed no matter how hard we try, that God knows. Our consciences poke and prod at us until we bleed.

David wrote,

O LORD, You have searched me and known me.
You know my sitting down and my rising up;
You understand my thought afar off.
You comprehend my path and my lying down,
And are acquainted with all my ways.
For there is not a word on my tongue,
But behold, O LORD, You know it altogether.

– Psalm 139:1-4 (NKJV)

God knows everything.

Settled in Complacency

Merriam-Webster defines complacency as “self-satisfaction especially when accompanied by unawareness of actual dangers or deficiencies; an instance of usually unaware or uninformed self-satisfaction.” (2) The Hebrew is shalvâh, “quietness, ease, prosperity.”(3) Everything is fine. I’m good. Nothing bad is going to happen to me.

We are not unlike the ancient inhabitants of Jerusalem, are we? It’s more than laziness. More than smugness. More than just going through the motions. It is an attitude of complete uncaring. What God wants doesn’t matter. What God says doesn’t matter. I’m going to do what I want to do.

How many of us today give as much time and energy to worshiping the Lord as we do to our families, our jobs, our hobbies? Do we give Him as much love and effort as we give to crafting the perfect (and often fake) Facebook status? How many of us complain that such-and-such church event wasn’t “good enough” when we didn’t bother to lend a hand (or if we did commit to doing something, how often do we show up late or flake out altogether)? How many of us, despite our sharing of Bible passages and inspirational quotes, just really don’t care?

How many of us assume that we’re Christians by virtue of being born in a certain country?

Simmer down. I never ask you questions that I haven’t asked myself. It’s time we really think about this. Zephaniah’s people thought the could get away with it.

They didn’t.

We won’t, either.

Not Good, Not Bad

God reveals the inner thoughts of the people to the prophet: “God won’t do good and He won’t do bad.” They believed that He wasn’t in the business of rewarding the righteous and He wasn’t in the business of punishing the wicked. Though not an exact match, this view is similar to Deism, which is,

the recognition of a universal creative force greater than that demonstrated by mankind, supported by personal observation of laws and designs in nature and the universe, perpetuated and validated by the innate ability of human reason coupled with the rejection of claims made by individuals and organized religions of having received special divine revelation. (4)

God exists, but He has nothing to do with us. Man becomes the center, never required to place faith in or worship God. Reason and logic are the means by which the world is understood. God is essentially unknowable. (This explanation is very simplistic. Please do some reading on your own).

The fact that the people had come to believe that God doesn’t respond to obedience or disobedience reveals a clear lack of understanding of Scripture. They didn’t have the completed canon as we do know, but they had the Pentateuch, books of history, many of the psalms, etc. These writings explicitly state that God is intimately involved in His creation. He knows what’s going on. He blesses the obedient (that blessing doesn’t always look like we think it will) and He punishes the wicked (again, not always as we think He will).

God is not a disinterested deity. He is not content to leave humanity to its own devices. If that were true, then the Beloved Disciple would never have had cause to pen:

The Word was first,
the Word present to God,
    God present to the Word.
The Word was God,
    in readiness for God from day one.

Everything was created through him;
    nothing—not one thing!—
    came into being without him.
What came into existence was Life,
    and the Life was Light to live by.
The Life-Light blazed out of the darkness;
    the darkness couldn’t put it out.

The Life-Light was the real thing:
    Every person entering Life
    he brings into Light.
He was in the world,
    the world was there through him,
    and yet the world didn’t even notice.
He came to his own people,
    but they didn’t want him.
But whoever did want him,
    who believed he was who he claimed
    and would do what he said,
He made to be their true selves,
    their child-of-God selves.
These are the God-begotten,
    not blood-begotten,
    not flesh-begotten,
    not sex-begotten.

The Word became flesh and blood,
    and moved into the neighborhood.
We saw the glory with our own eyes,
    the one-of-a-kind glory,
    like Father, like Son,
Generous inside and out,
    true from start to finish.

– John 1:1-5, 9-14 (MSG)

What Follows

As they say, the beds were made and those who made them would be forced to sleep within. Their things would be stolen. Their houses destroyed. Their vineyards left for another’s enjoyment. They broke the covenant made so long ago at the foot of that holy mountain. What follows is all they should have expected.

I wonder what Christians living in a pampered Western context expect. The Church has compromised and watered-down and gotten wrapped up in things that won’t last. Or gone the opposite route, indulging in fear and hatred and legalism. The one seeks to accommodate and have a good time, the other to control and dominate. Neither one is an expression of Christianity that God is pleased with. Neither one hungrily pours over the Bible in an effort to know and love Him.

God can’t be pleased.

Those of you who truly love Him, and I know there are many who do, please don’t feel condemned. I would never place a weight on your shoulders. Still, we need to face reality in all of its ugliness. God wants true worshipers, people devoted to Him – and those have the task of going out and standing against not just the tide of the world at large, but more specifically against false and fake religion that calls itself by the name of God.

Our day is not so different from that of Zephaniah.

Reflection

  1. How do you respond to God knowing everything, that nothing is hidden from Him? What do you think? What do you feel?
  2. We all battle complacency. Where does it show up in your life?
  3. Do you see God as removed and disinterested, or present and intimate? Why?
  4. Spend some time in prayer. Ask the Lord if there are things you need to let go of, changes you need to make. What needs to happen for you to be fully on board with Him? What do you need to ask forgiveness for?

My journey to faith. (15)

Sources

(1) Searching

Image

(2) Complacency

(3) Shalvâh

(4) Deism

For all entries in The LORD Your God in Your Midst series, go here.

Five Minute Friday: Team

Along the Way @ mlsgregg.com

Gentle Reader,

There’s a battle raging today, between taking a nap and having coffee in order to power through the afternoon and evening. (And by “power through,” I mean, “stay awake until 8:30 p.m. if possible”). Wonderful as a nap sounds, I think coffee is going to win. It’s mostly hot chocolate, which is very much on the “no-no” list when it comes to my eating and exercise regimen. But you know what?

Sometimes you gotta.

Kate asks us about our: team.

Go.

Your team changes.

I used to have this idea that as I journeyed through adulthood I would have one consistent set of close friends. Not a huge group. Not people who would demand I interact with them every single day, because #intj and that’s not going to happen. Just the kind of tightly knit group that would eventually sit around a beat-up kitchen table while adult children rustled about with their own kids, reminiscing about shared stupid things, meaningless to outsiders.

That’s what we all imagine.

The truth is that closeness waxes and wanes. Some people are in your life for a short season. Others float in and out. As you get older and hopefully become more like the person God intends you to be, you find that perhaps you just don’t have as much in common with that person anymore. Or you go through a crisis and find the last person you’d expect to show up is there every step of the way.

Over and over we hear in songs and sermons or read in books that relationship is vitally important. That we weren’t created to do life alone. That’s true. But really, we wind up slipping into idolatry. We worship an ideal, then feel massive disappointment when it doesn’t turn out the way we planned.

Preachers and authors point to David and Jonathan, going on and on about their relationship and how wonderful it was. While they were good friends, the best of friends (no, they were not gay), they were in each other’s lives for a relatively brief amount of time. David spent more nights in the hills tending sheep or on the run from King Saul than he did hanging with Jonathan, jamming on harps or seeing who could shoot an arrow farthest.

We have to learn to be willing to go with the flow. (How I loathe typing that. Give me control or give me death). I associate with basically the same group of people that I have for the last 5-8 years, but the way it is now, at 32, is different from the way it was when I was 25. I’ve made new friends. I see some old friends less. I have a deeper connection to others than I ever thought I’d have. This doesn’t mean I’ve ceased to care about any one person. It just means that the shape of your team changes.

No longer do I picture that gathering around the table. Or if I do, the faces are blurry. I don’t know who might be there. It makes me a little sad. At the same time, letting go of what I thought adult friendship should be like and embracing the what-is brings with it a sense of freedom. I don’t have the first clue what God has in store for me. I’ve got to enjoy the ride instead of clinging to an illusion that will leave me discontented.

Life, I think, is a constant stream of celebration and mourning, often mixed together. Much as I am a creature of habit, there isn’t really any such thing as routine. Things are always shifting. It’s tough even when it’s good.

Blessedly, there is the One Who Never Changes. The Constant in the midst of chaos. Do we ever truly pause to think about that? If the day utter aloneness comes, when this earthly team abandons ship and there’s nobody to hear the cries or see the tears – it’s not utter aloneness at all. In the invisible, just beyond sight, sits the King of Kings. Remarkably, He bends near. Gathers us close. Listens well.

Forever the Captain of the team.

Stop.

My journey to faith. (15)

Photo Credit: Matthew Wiebe