I have a favorite way of describing my experience of going through seminary. I graduated from Winebrenner Theological Seminary in Findlay, OH in 2011, three years after leaving my comfort zone and everything I knew in my life in Harrisburg, PA and moving over 400 miles away. I don't know if most seminary students have their views of knowledge changed the way I did, but I would assume so. My experience was that the more I learned, the less I knew. By that, I mean that as I continued to grow in knowledge, I realized how little I actually knew compared to what was out there for me to learn. You see, I always thought I had a pretty good handle on knowledge because I simply compared myself to those around me. In comparison to my peers, I was very gifted at obtaining and retaining knowledge. As long as I knew more than just about everyone else around me, I erroneously began to think I had little left to learn.
That's when God brought me to seminary to humble me. While God did a lot of things in and through me during my time in seminary, the very FIRST thing that needed to happen in my heart was humility. I met peers who were not only my intellectual equals, but also challenged me to grow in knowledge of the truth through my personal relationship with Jesus. I met others who brought logical viewpoints that I had never considered before on subjects I thought I had settled in my mind. And last but not least, I met many wonderful professors, two of whom had very clearly forgotten more about Scripture and church history than I'll ever know. Our Hebrew professor was a man who regularly reads from the original Greek and Hebrew in his bible and has been studying it for nearly 50 years, yet still digs into at least one verse in each Testament every day. Our church history professor was a man who prepared with many notes, but could stand in front of the class for 2 hours and tell the story of the history of the church without ever referring to what he had prepared. He could do the same with world history. I learned pretty early in seminary that even if I study for half a century like those two men, I'll still just barely be scratching the surface of what is available in Scripture and through the Holy Spirit!
All of a sudden, just half of one verse in the Bible that I had learned years before took on a fresh meaning for me. "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge" (Proverbs 1:7a). Think about what that means. It means that no matter how much you know or how great your human mind is, you don't REALLY KNOW anything until you understand what it means to "fear the Lord". Now, some of you have probably been wondering ever since you read the title of this post what it could possibly mean. Fear is typically something we speak negatively of in our culture. It is typically applied to those things which we try to avoid. We generally fear things that we cannot control. For example, people don't really fear heights. I say that because nothing can really force you to go up high against your will. If you don't want to go skydiving or fly in an airplane or climb a tree, no one is going to force you. Instead, what we truly fear is gravity. Gravity is what we cannot control. Once we have ascended to great heights, gravity can force us to fall back to earth against our will! The same is true with the dark. People don't really fear darkness because it doesn't change what is there physically in the light. What it does is remove control over what you can see and know. Finally, people fear change not because the actual new ideas are always scary, but because people have less control over the things they do not know.
Hopefully, you see why the "fear of the Lord" is the only real, necessary, and healthy fear there is. God ultimately controls all things. The knowledge of human beings can master all sorts of other fears as we develop methods of controlling that which we otherwise could not. But we will NEVER be able to control the Sovereign God! No amount of education or efforts can produce enough knowledge to ascend beyond the Lord. The sooner we realize and accept that, the sooner we can open all sorts of pathways to true knowledge. Friends, knowledge can be an idol, but it can also be a very good thing if surrendered to that fear of the Lord. If we can somehow get to that point where we never forget who we are and who we are NOT, knowledge becomes very powerful. If we do not get to that point, knowledge and the pursuit of it is futile.
While this blog is not really about fear (maybe we'll do that someday down the road), Scripture is clear that we don't really have knowledge until we have fear of the Lord. I want to close this out by sharing another way that this concept should apply to our lives and our relationships with others, especially those with whom we disagree. God has really been speaking to me for a long time about James 1:19-20. "My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry, for man's anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires". Have you ever thought about how often humans, especially Christians, justify our anger by saying something like "Jesus got angry sometimes so it's not a sin"? I know I've taken that stance. We get angry in discussions with others because we KNOW we are right. Our focus is on OUR knowledge. But if we pay attention and apply Proverbs 1:7 to our lives, we have no right to get angry with those who disagree with us, even when we know they are wrong! We are commanded to remember who we are (humans) and who we are not (the Lord). If our ultimate goal is to encourage righteousness in fellow believers and guide non-believers into a relationship with Christ where they can experience righteousness, James 1:20 is clear that "man's anger" will not do that. We justify our anger over the lies that people tell and believe because "Jesus got angry sometimes". Let me tell you, friends, that there is a huge difference between imperfect man getting angry and Jesus getting angry.
If we remember that our opinions, thoughts, and knowledge are nothing apart from the fear of the Lord, then humility becomes part of our character. And if humility becomes part of our character, we are less likely to get angry because someone doesn't see things the way we think they should. I hope that, for you and me in the next time we are in that type of situation, we will remember that we are not sovereign as God is and do not have ALL knowledge as He does. In keeping that appropriate fear of the Lord, any knowledge we do gain will serve His purposes and His alone!
One person I have been inspired by throughout my life is Thomas Edison. He was most known for being the person who gave widespread availability to the light bulb and electricity in general, though he invented numerous other things as well. When he was searching for what to use as the filament in the light bulb, he tried thousands of different materials. At one point during this process, Edison was asked if he was frustrated by his lack of results. Edison replied, “Results? Why, man, I have gotten lots of results! If I find 10,000 ways something won’t work, I haven’t failed. I am not discouraged, because every wrong attempt discarded is often a step forward.”
How often do we look at life that way? Instead, we normally think that the only way to move forward is to gain more knowledge. If you don’t know the right answer yet, such as Edison not knowing what would be the best filament for the light bulb, we’re told that we haven’t achieved what we’re supposed to. After all, knowledge is power, right? Not necessarily.
I grew up going to a Christian school five days a week, Sunday School on Sundays, and church every weekend. Having religion class every day from preschool through the 12th grade meant I gained lots and lots of knowledge about the Bible. I was regularly quizzed and tested on that knowledge, as it was part of school for me. But what good is all that knowledge by itself? None.
Knowledge by itself is useless if you don’t have a way to put it to good use. Even if I knew every word of the Bible backwards and forwards, it would be totally useless if I didn’t truly know the person that it’s all about - Jesus Christ. Without having a personal relationship with Jesus, having the Holy Spirit in my heart, and allowing God to work in my life on a daily basis, the knowledge I can gain from the words of the Bible are meaningless. Once I have that relationship with God, all of the knowledge in the Bible becomes powerful in learning how to live out that relationship and sharing it with others.
We often fail at making a relationship with God the king of our lives. But every experience that happens to us and every choice that we make, even making 10,000 wrong ones, are not failure; instead, they are simply a step forward drawing us closer to the Truth.
What kind of knowledge do you have in your life?
I think the word "shaken", or maybe even "rattled", would be a great way to describe the way most of us spend our major holidays. Whether it's Thanksgiving, Christmas, or one of the other ones where we actually invite friends and family to travel and spend time with us, meals, preparations, and scheduling often take precedence over remembering the reasons why we celebrate. Perhaps there is no holiday more affected than Thanksgiving. Not only is it in the middle of the week, which gives most people less time to complete all that they need to DO before guests arrive, but it is also immediately followed by the biggest shopping day of the year, when people actually fight over material things because of discounts and availability. As you read this on Thanksgiving Day or in the days that follow, you may even find yourself rushing through it to head off to something else that needs your attention.
In addition to being "shaken" by our schedules and arrangements, we are also easily rattled by the trials that we face. While holidays are generally times of celebration, the hardships that we are facing are more than likely illuminated around the holiday seasons. It may be because you have fallen on hard financial times and simply cannot afford all the wonderful things that you generally enjoy this time of year. Maybe it's because this is the only time of the year where you have to deal with the irritations of your family members or have to hear about how well everything is going in their lives when you feel like yours is in shambles. Possibly, the holidays are more difficult because you have experienced the loss of a dear relationship or family member this year and the grieving process is not quite complete. Holidays have been tough for me for several years now because both of my brothers are married with kids and I am still single. I still see my family of origin sometimes on holidays, but more than anything I long for the day that I can celebrate with my own family and see the joy on my children's faces.
So as you can see, there are many things that cause us to be "shaken" emotionally, spiritually, and even physically around the holidays. But truly, we have reason NOT to be shaken! The Lord led me to 2 different Scripture passages in the last week that I thought I'd share with all of you. Check out Hebrews 12:28-29. "Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our 'God is a consuming fire'". The unknown author of Hebrews (many think it was Paul or Peter) had just got done explaining God's promise from the Old Testament to remove everything that can be shaken - created things - so that all that is remaining is that which cannot be shaken (vv. 26-27). The author explains to Jewish Christians who were facing intense persecution that we have so much to be thankful for and so much to worship God for because of the unshakable kingdom we are receiving. If you want to know more about that kingdom, check out our blogs from last week on "Kingdom of God". How this translates to our daily lives is that we also have many reasons to thank God no matter what trials or frustrations we are facing this time of year. God is still God and if we have accepted his son Jesus as Savior and follow him, we have access to an unshakable kingdom no matter what comes along to rattle us!
But how do we keep that focus and prevent ourselves from falling into the trap of the enemy that causes us to be ungrateful and possibly even angry toward God? Well, the answer is found in Colossians. Paul writes, "So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness" (Colossians 2:6-7). As you read those words in your mind, were you automatically placing emphasis on the strong action words like "live", "rooted and built up", and "strengthened"? I certainly was. Friends, it's impossible to spend the majority of our lives being easily rattled and then suddenly flip a switch when it's time to give thanks. The only way you can maintain an unshakable attitude giving glory to God is by being "rooted and built up" in Christ Jesus as Lord. Don't miss the AS LORD part there. We so often consider "Lord" to be a part of Jesus' name, but the reality is that until Judgment Day you still have the choice of whether or not to make him Lord of your life. If you make your trials, your plans, your family, your relationships, your frustrations, or anything else your Lord, you are guaranteed to be SHAKEN. Making Christ the Lord of our lives and allowing our roots to be built on that truth allows us to have joy in all of those other things and to remain unshaken by them. Paul emphasizes the importance of remaining in Christ in the very next verse, one which has been underlined in my Bible for a long time. "See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ". Once again, we all know that we are surrounded by "hollow and deceptive philosophy" this time of year. We have the biggest day of the shopping year, a day when there is generally at least one story somewhere in the country where someone is literally KILLED over a desired item, just one day after we are taught to be thankful for what we already have. It's not our responsibility to change the philosophy of the world. If those twisted ways of thinking existed 2,000 years ago when Jesus and his disciples walked the earth, we cannot expect anything different. Our responsibility must be to maintain awareness of such philosophy, while remaining in Christ to keep ourselves from being deceived. If you think about all of the things I mentioned earlier that cause us to be rattled, you'll realize that every single one of them is basic to THIS WORLD. Let's remember that we are receiving an unshakable kingdom! As you celebrate this day with friends, family, or maybe even alone, allow yourself the time to remember all that you have to thank God for and set your roots in the truth of Christ Jesus as Lord. Have a happy Thanksgiving and DO NOT BE SHAKEN!
…God created the heavens…
I’m not much of a stargazer, myself, but every time I am out late at night, away from street lights and the clamor of the city, I marvel at the stars above. What a beautiful sight it is to see all of those twinkling lights far above the earth, like diamonds scattered throughout the sky (I hope that doesn’t infringe on the copyright for Twinkle Twinkle Little Star). There are so many stars in outer space that I am not even going to bother repeating the numbers I have heard, it is absolutely astonishing!
With as many stars as there are just in the visible sky, we wonder, “How big is the universe?” To give you an idea, let’s look at how far away certain bodies are from Earth. The distance from the Earth to the moon is 384,000 Km; this equals 1.28 light seconds. The distance from the Earth to the sun is 150,000,000 Km; which is about 8.3 light minutes. The distance from the earth to the next nearest star (Proxima Centauri) is 4.3 LIGHT YEARS away from the Earth (Giancoli, Douglas. 2005. Physics 6th edition. Upper Saddle River, New Jersey. p. 915). If that does not astonish you enough, there are other stars that are BILLIONS of Light Years away! This is literally astronomical! Nobody can measure the true size of the universe. Some people believe that it is infinitely large. There is no beginning to it and there is no end. Outer space would be an endless stretch of blackness scattered with stars, planets, and galaxies. Others say that it is well contained and has boundaries. In either case the atheist must believe that the universe in one sense or another is eternal; it has no beginning and no end. The most popular secular theory seems to suggest that there are boundaries to the universe and that it continues in some sort of oscillating cycle (Morris, Henry. 2008. The Biblcal Basis for Modern Science. Green Forrest, Arkansas: Master Books. 136, 137).
Considering the implications of the Big Bang Theory, the universe would most likely have boundaries of some sort. Even so, the boundaries are suspected to be moving outward because the stars and galaxies also seem to be moving further apart! Certain scientists also believe that once the system reaches its climax, there will be a “Big Squish” that condenses all of matter into nothing again. The cycle resets itself.
I often hear atheists ask believers, “If you believe in an eternal God, why is it so hard to imagine an eternal universe?” I think that the question should be turned on its head; “If you believe in an eternal universe, why is it so hard to believe in an eternal God?” Think about it, God is a cognitive Creator, the universe is mindless. How can that which is mindless design a realm with such order?
Only an all-powerful God could have produced such a wonder as the universe, whether it has boundaries or if it is infinite. Psalm 19:1 says, “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.” What is more, Genesis presents the creation of the stars as an afterthought, “He also made the stars” (1:16). In other words, despite its vastness, the creation of the universe was easy for God. So does the Bible teach that the universe is infinite or limited? I don’t know. But it does tell us that God is all-powerful, infinite, and eternal.
So, we’re doing “K” words on the blog this month, so this week’s word is apparently thanKful, with an emphasis on the K. :) But I am thankful to have another word to write about, so here goes!
This is the time of year when everyone is overwhelmed with thoughts of thankfulness. How many times have you already heard someone say something about being thankful, and what are you thankful for? It seems like for these couple weeks in November every year, we’re bombarded with thoughts and messages about being thankful. Sometimes it seems like it’s coming at us from everywhere, so much so that it’s easy to take it lightly and even get annoyed by hearing the same things over and over again. For me, by the time Thanksgiving is over, I’m thankful that all the overwhelming thankfulness is finally over!
But we do see thankfulness in Scripture, particularly regarding how we should pray, so that’s where I will head with this blog. Two texts that come to mind are Philippians 4:6-7 and 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18.
Philippians 4:6-7 says, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” We see here that we should not be anxious about anything! In writing this, Paul is making the point that prayer is the opposite of anxiety. If we are anxious about something, we are trying to take care of it ourselves and worrying about it and stressing over it. But if we are praying to God about whatever it going on in our lives, that counters our anxiety and gives us an attitude filled with God’s peace. If we are thankful for what we have, we will not be anxious about what we do not have!
1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 says, “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” This passage states up front that we should be joyful always. Notice that last word there – “always.” This is a very important little word. Paul doesn’t tell us that we can only be joyful when we feel happy and things are going right. Paul doesn’t tell us that we only have to be joyful some of the time when it’s easy. No – Paul says be joyful always. Always. That means all the time, regardless of how life is going or what kind of mood we’re in. We even have to be joyful during the tough times in life when we’re struggling just to get through each day.
Remember that being thankful in joy is different than simply being happy. We are happy when things are going well for us and life is pretty easy. We are joyful and truly thankful when we trust God completely and drawing our strength from him – especially through the tough times of life. These times make us mature and complete in our walk with Christ, and they help us to truly be thankful for God and everything He has done for us.
In this season of Thanksgiving, enjoy the time you can spend with your family and friends. Enjoy the food that you will eat together. Take time to thank God for all of His blessings in your life and all that He has done for you. Have a joyful attitude in all circumstances, even during the stresses of the holidays. Pray often. Present your requests to God with thanksgiving, and he will give you peace beyond your understanding. And most importantly, just remember to be thanKful!
Sometimes in life, the unexpected happens and there is no way we could have been prepared. But, for many of the big things in life, we are expected to be making preparations to some extent. People rarely get married without a plan for where they are going to live, when they want to have kids, and how they are going to handle finances. Over a year's worth of preparations were made by each of our nation's two leading political parties in advance of last week's election. Students in high school are making post-graduation plans and preparing for them, and students in college are preparing for the real world once they receive their degrees and have to find jobs. Every level of government has plans and preparations for acts of terrorism and natural disasters. However, as I wrote at the start, there will always be things that happen so suddenly that we cannot prepare for them and there will always be times when we are not as prepared as we should be.
For the Jews, the kingdom of God was one of those things. The entire Old Testament was filled with prophecies that were designed to prepare them for the coming of God's kingdom in the person of the Messiah. However, they couldn't get out of the way of their own expectations. They expected the Christ to take the world by force and restore THEIR kingdom by reversing the authority that the Romans had over them, despite the prophecies from the Old Testament and Jesus' own words from the New Testament that stated he must suffer on our behalf to fulfill the will of God. Even John the Baptist, whose birth was miraculous in its own right, was sent to motivate the people to "prepare the way for the Lord" (Isaiah 40:3 and Matthew 3:3).
All of the preparations led up to one moment, the turning point for the entire story of Scripture. "After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. 'The time has come', he said. 'The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!'" (Mark 1:14-15). Now, first of all, I think we must understand just how significant it is that Mark even uses the phrase "kingdom of God". If you look in Matthew 3:2 and 4:17, you'll see that Matthew records both John the Baptist and Jesus as calling it the "kingdom of heaven". Just so we're clear, I did look up the verses in the Greek, and the English translations are accurate. So, what makes one gospel writer record it differently than another? The answer lies in a deep tradition of the Jews to avoid even mentioning the sacred name of God. Matthew was a Jew writing to a predominantly Jewish audience, while Mark recorded his account of the gospel primarily for Gentiles. Since Jews felt it was unacceptable for sinful man to even mention God's holy name, they would choose to instead replace it with "heaven" to indicate where the kingdom is from. While that may seem a little ridiculous in our culture since everyone knows what you're saying anyway, it certainly made me think. Does the way we speak of God indicate a healthy fear of him? James tells us that praise and cursing should not come out of the same mouth (3:10). But do we really care? Personally, I just hurt somebody very close to me with words and actions yesterday, yet here I sit today with the privilege of writing a blog about the kingdom of God. Based on my sin and God's holiness, I really shouldn't be allowed to. But I want to tell you about the reason that I am allowed to move forward, which also happens to be the requirement for being a part of the kingdom of God.
Jesus preached for all to "repent and believe the good news". Many biblical interpreters have said that the phrase can be considered a summary of what is required for salvation. What I think is interesting is that the two parts of that phrase go hand-in-hand. To believe the good news of Christ is to follow him wherever he leads us. To follow him where he leads us is to repent. Now, you may be wondering why I say that if you aren't clear on the actual definition of the word "repent". It actually has very little to do with apologizing or feeling sorry as many assume. Think about it. In those passages where Jesus is recorded as preaching this and then calling the first disciples to join him, the disciples were all fishing when Jesus invited them to follow him. Did they need to apologize for fishing? The point is that to repent is to literally change our lives, to stop going the direction we were going and follow a different path. Friends, it is impossible to follow Jesus and join the kingdom of God without repentance. To follow him is to live in such a way that NO OTHER path makes any sense. For me and anyone else who has regrets over sinful choices, there is only one acceptable response - repentance. All we can do is honestly take inventory of our choices and the paths we took to get to those choices, and then make a decision to go a different direction. When I realize I have fallen into sinful choices, it's generally because I have not invested in my relationship with Christ. So, to repent for me means to turn back to the path where I invest more in that relationship. Repentance is something that happens both when we first choose to follow Christ and the kingdom of God as well as many times during the journey.
Jesus had the right to say that the kingdom of God was near because, unlike us, he was perfect and had knowledge of the Father's will. However, he said that it was "near", not "here". That's because this kingdom does not take by force. It can be all around you, but you are not a part of it until you repent and make the choice to become part of it. The Jews were not ready to give up the path that they wanted. Are you ready? The Bible tells us there will be a time when it won't matter who is ready. "At the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father" (Philippians 2:10-11). You can decide not to believe what the Bible says, but that doesn't mean it won't be right. It clearly states that EVERY knee will bow and EVERY tongue confess, not just those that are ready. Fortunately, that time hasn't come yet and anyone who has not been ready for God's call to follow him and become part of his kingdom still has a choice. Are you ready? If not, I hope you repent today and choose to follow a new path, the best path there is.
I hang around with Jason DeZurik a lot, both in person and online via Facebook and Twitter. So naturally, what came to my mind first when I started thinking about a blog on “kingdom of God”? His favorite saying lately: “We are not building an institution or a program. We are building the Kingdom of God. It is a mindset. It is a spiritual awakening. It is a lifestyle!"
I’ve been hearing him say that a lot (and post it on social networks), and it got me thinking... what Scriptures are there to back that up? What does the Bible say about the kingdom of God?
John 18:36 says, “Jesus said, ‘My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.’”
Luke 17:20 says, “Once, on being asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, Jesus replied, ‘The coming of the kingdom of God is not something that can be observed.’”
Mark 1:15 says, “‘The time has come,’ [Jesus] said. ‘The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!’”
All of these words are quoted as coming from Jesus himself. In John 18:36, which is part of the narrative about Jesus on trial in front of Pontius Pilate, Jesus tells us that His kingdom is “from another place” (NIV). In the original Greek, the wording there means more like “not from this place.” Meaning it’s not from this place (earth), but it does exist here. If we are building the kingdom of God, then it does exist here on earth.
In Luke 17:20, Jesus explains that it can’t be easily seen, like an earthly king’s reign. An institution or program can be seen as a thing; a mindset or a spiritual awakening cannot be as easily seen.
In Mark 1:15, we see that the kingdom of God has come near. Some people believe that Jesus Himself is the kingdom; but nowhere in Scripture do we ever see that the kingdom left, such as when Jesus ascended into heaven. The kingdom goes on, even while Jesus is not bodily present with us.
So what is the kingdom of God? The concept is sort of elusive to many people today. I believe that it is a way of looking at the world, that everyone in the world has the opportunity to be a part of God’s kingdom by putting their faith in Jesus Christ. We show our faith to others by the fact that it is a lifestyle that Christians must live. In order to bring more people into the kingdom there needs to be a spiritual awakening in which people see our mindset through our lifestyle.
Are you living your lifestyle with the mindset that everyone can be a part of God’s kingdom?
A few months ago, I went to lunch at a popular local restaurant for the first time. The establishment is one of those places that everyone in town knows because it's right downtown on the main street, is privately owned, and has been here for years. I had heard a lot about the food and I had time one day, so I went to check it out. While I had heard a lot about the food, no one had really told me anything about the environment, which was quite surprising. I don't really know how to describe the inside of the restaurant other than to say it had an overwhelming "hippie" feel to it. Now, hopefully you understand that I am not saying there is anything wrong with that. I am simply trying to allow you to picture the environment. The furniture was rainbow-colored, there were peace signs everywhere, and various expressions of artistic flavor covered the walls. My perception became reality when my name was called to come to the counter to get my food. A woman, who I later discovered was one of the managers, called my name plainly the first time and then called me a second time as "King Logan". I walked to the counter smiling and said, "Really?" Her response was, "Yeah, aren't you the ruler of your universe?" Now, hindsight being 20/20, that was a perfect opportunity to share that Jesus is the King of not only my universe but THE universe and I missed that opportunity. But it was a great reminder for me that most people associate the word "king" with a sense of autonomy and power that means making your own rules and the ones that everyone under you has to follow.
I think that, if we look at Scripture, we see that this idea of kingship caused a lot of turmoil for a lot of people, especially those individuals who were fortunate enough (at least in the eyes of the world) to be given the position. I wrote several weeks ago about King Nebuchadnezzar, whose power and authority literally made him delusional to the point where he built a 90-foot tall idol to in effect declare that his kingdom would last forever. We also know about King Herod, who was eaten by worms. Many of the books of the Old Testament are full of the names of other kings whose power and corruption ultimately led to their demise.
What amazes me more than anything about the Israelites of the Old Testament is that they actually asked for this garbage! Take a look at 1 Samuel 8. It was written at a time in history when Israel was led by judges. All the other pagan nations around them had kings, but Israel had not needed a king because the Lord himself was their king. Now, that doesn't mean they didn't have leaders. The elders and judges led the people, but there was an understanding that they were merely servants of the Lord Almighty, who literally sustained the people AND fought for them in battle. If you're not familiar with the history in the Old Testament, it probably sounds weird to you that an invisible God could sustain and fight for His people. I don't have room here to describe all of the great stories in the Old Testament, but I urge you to read for yourself about how God dropped manna (which was described as being "bread-like") from heaven and provided quail when the people were hungry (Exodus 16), how He produced water from a rock when they were thirsty (Exodus 17), how He destroyed a whole enemy army at once with the Red Sea (Exodus 14) AFTER keeping that same army away from His people by using a thick cloud to block them for a whole night (Exodus 13), and how God brought down the entire city of Jericho through His people's praises (Joshua 6). Those were just to name a few, but there are many more stories of God's provision and protection.
But then we come to the story in 1 Samuel 8. Samuel was getting too old to lead the people and that traditionally meant that he would pass the title on down to his sons. But v. 3 tells us that his sons "turned aside after dishonest gain and accepted bribes and perverted justice". So, with the Israelites kind of being out of options for a new judge, they decided they wanted to be "like all the other nations" and told Samuel to appoint a king "to lead us and to go out before us and fight our battles" (v. 20). Let me just tell you, friends, that anytime we as God's people willfully choose something that makes us like those who do not follow God, we are falling for Satan's deception. It is the great trick of the devil to make us believe that we'd be better off being like the world rather than living as a consecrated people. Samuel took the request of the people to the Lord, who then assured him it was not Samuel they were rejecting, but the Lord as king (v. 7). The Lord told Samuel to warn the people of how the human king would reign over and oppress them, but the people didn't care. They demanded a king and that is what they got.
God gave His people what they wanted, and Saul was appointed as Israel's king. As promised, he began as a faithful man of God and was corrupted by his own need for power, which ultimately led to his choice to take his own life. After that was David, who was called "a man after God's own heart". David followed God, but was also led into sin by His own power and sense of entitlement. Later, Solomon was king and was possibly one of the wisest people who ever lived. Yet, even he was led astray by his many foreign wives and concubines. The Old Testament lists the stories and records of many more kings who were downright wicked and caused great harm to the beloved nation of Israel. Most of the wickedness was due to the fact that they became drunk with power and abandoned their faith in the true King of Kings in favor of their evil desires.
All of the centuries and centuries of wicked kings led Israel to a point when, for 400 years, God did not even speak to them. Do you think maybe He wanted them to learn their lesson? But then, while no one was expecting it and many were not ready, the King of Kings came to the earth in the flesh. The Christ came to the earth in the person of Jesus and revealed to both Jews and Gentiles what it meant to truly be KING. He was despised and rejected by many because he did not fit into their image of a king. Even his own disciples followed him because they believed he was there to kick butt and take names. The last thing they asked him before he disappeared into heaven was whether or not he was going to do what THEY EXPECTED (Acts 1:6). Make no mistake about it; Jesus could have conquered by force if that was what the Father called him to do. But it wasn't. The only way he could truly "fight our battle for us" was to defeat the one thing that threatened us way beyond what any man, nation, or revolt could - SIN. To defeat sin, he had to take on the fullness of God's wrath at the hands of humans, give up his last breath, and then rise from the depths of the grave three days later. Many assumed he couldn't have possibly been their great king as they watched him get "conquered" by their human enemies. They envisioned a society where they were the ones who held power over other nations and expected Jesus to lead them to that point. But, as Jesus said and demonstrated, you have to become a servant to be great. "For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many" (Mark 10:45).
So what do you expect from your king? If you are in a position of power or desire it, what is your assumption about what that will bring? By the time you read this, we will know who our president is for the next four years and many of you will be disappointed one way or another. Regardless of who is in power, do you want that person to lead by conquering the opposition and everything they stand for, which would only breed more dissension, or would you like to see our elected president lead by service even to those with whom he disagrees? If you want your leader to be more like Christ, the answer is obvious. We need to pray for all of our leaders to truly be servants. And when God chooses to bless us by putting us in positions of "kingship", we need to remember the example that was set for us by the true King of Kings!
Who is your king? In America today, we don’t necessarily have the concept of royalty, since our country is not ruled by a monarch such as a king or queen. So what exactly is a king - and why am I writing about it on this blog?
The dictionary defines a king as, among other things, “a male monarch of a major territorial unit,” “a paramount chief,“ or “one that holds a preeminent position.” A king who rules over a land definitely holds the preeminent position of leadership in that country and serves as their chief. Our United States president is preeminent to some extent, though the system of checks and balances prohibits him from abusing his position of power.
So who is the king of your life? Who holds a preeminent position in your life? Do you put yourself in that position, or do you allow someone else to hold that role?
As a Christian, Jesus should be our king. To follow Him as His disciple, Jesus needs to be our paramount chief, and hold the preeminent position in our lives. But that’s definitely easier said than done, since it’s so much easier for us to serve ourselves or other earthly people than God.
So why does Jesus deserve to be our king? God placed Him in that position, as we see in Philippians 2:9-11, Isaiah 52:13, and Daniel 7:14. God has given Jesus all authority and power, therefore He is definitely in a preeminent position! We see in Colossians 2:9-10 that “For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and in Christ you have been brought to fullness. He is the head over every power and authority.”
The Bible makes it very clear that Jesus Christ is in a position of authority, and as His followers we should worship Him as such. We need to make him the king of our entire lives. Everything in the entire earth belongs to God, and He truly is our glorious king. Psalm 24 says is better than I ever could, so I’ll leave you with that:
The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it,
the world, and all who live in it;
for he founded it on the seas
and established it on the waters.
Who may ascend the mountain of the Lord?
Who may stand in his holy place?
The one who has clean hands and a pure heart,
who does not trust in an idol
or swear by a false god.
They will receive blessing from the Lord
and vindication from God their Savior.
Such is the generation of those who seek him,
who seek your face, God of Jacob.
Lift up your heads, you gates;
be lifted up, you ancient doors,
that the King of glory may come in.
Who is this King of glory?
The Lord strong and mighty,
the Lord mighty in battle.
Lift up your heads, you gates;
lift them up, you ancient doors,
that the King of glory may come in.
Who is he, this King of glory?
The Lord Almighty—
he is the King of glory.
As you all know, we are in the midst of a season right now in the United States of America that happens about once every four years, yet always seems to be labeled as "the most important in history". In fact, I just heard those very words today from someone very close to me who I love and respect. The season I am talking about, of course, is the season of election campaigns. Honestly, the election decisions rarely, if ever, live up to the hype that is created by those words. Elections are about intentions, agendas, plans, and policies. Tell me, when was the last time that any of those things by themselves had the power to institute real change in people? It certainly doesn't stop each and every candidate from telling you over and over again how they PROMISE to change or fix the existing problems.
We all have local and state elections to deal with, but the election that receives the most attention by a long shot regardless of where you are in the country is our national presidential election. I write to you today from Ohio, widely considered one of the most important "battleground" states in this election. We have only 9 days to go before the big day and I literally just came from a rally that was held at our local university by the challengers, Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan. Just weeks ago, President Barack Obama was just up the road 30 minutes or so holding his rally at a different university. We're all inundated with constant phone calls, letters, emails, and TV ads telling us which way we should vote and why. We're subjected to the art of spin by both sides, as well as their ability to manipulate records and statistics. The focus of the debates is more about who "wins" each one in the eyes of the public and media rather than who is honest and shows good character and leadership. Don't get me wrong. I didn't bring all of this up to talk about which direction our country should go in this election. I brought it up to point out the amount of attention that we and the media pay to these men and women who make the promises that we want to hear, but are rarely able to follow through beyond their campaigns!
As I continue to hear the promises that are being made, I'm constantly reminded of something a good friend of mine said around the time of the national conventions. He said that "true promises can only be made by those who have the actual ability to carry out those promises". My friend was frustrated as countless people at both conventions PROMISED that America would be restored to its prosperity if their guy is elected, because he knows that only God ultimately would have the ability to make that happen. Now, if Romney or Obama were the Savior and thus equal with God, there would be no problem with their promises. Since we know the Savior has already come in the flesh and departed from the flesh and now lives in us through the Holy Spirit, we know that the candidates are mere men who are promising things they do not ultimately control.
There was a time when someone who many thought was a mere man stood up and made a series of promises and aggravated those around him, but he actually made promises he could keep. I'm talking about Jesus Christ in the event recorded in Luke 4:14-30. Imagine walking into church on a Sunday that seems like every other and hearing some guy stand up and read Scripture and then claim to be the one who fulfills its prophecy. In our culture, we'd probably just laugh rather than actually get mad. But the people of Nazareth (the place where Jesus had been raised by the way) actually took offense to what he had to say because of their unbelief. Jesus went into the synagogue, just as he always did on the Sabbath, and read from the scroll of the prophet Isaiah. He read about the prophet's promises of the One who would "preach good news to the poor, set prisoners free, return sight to the blind, release the oppressed, and proclaim the year of the Lord's favor" (Isaiah 61:1-2 and Luke 4:18-19). He then stood up and essentially said, "I'm that guy". Do you see now why the people in the synagogue (Jews who would have known the prophecies) reacted the way they did? They had known this guy and watched him grow up as a carpenter for 30 years, so he surely could not be God in the flesh! This "son of Joseph" had no business writing checks only God could cash! (v. 22)
The difference, of course, between Jesus' good news campaign and the promises made by our worldly politicians is that Jesus WAS God. The Jews did not believe that, so they were not able to join in the celebration of the promises Jesus made. He then responded by explaining from their own history in the Old Testament how God chooses to use Gentiles who are willing to believe to take part in His work rather than exclusively favoring the Jews, and challenged them to realize that their unbelief was setting them on a path to be sideline watchers in God's mission rather than players in the game (vv. 24-27). This made the people so mad that they literally tried to kill him immediately, albeit unsuccessfully (vv. 28-30). How ridiculous! You'd think they would be celebratory after hearing his wonderful promises. But their unwillingness to believe that Jesus truly was the Messiah clouded their entire picture of what was happening. Their stubbornness and unbelief caused them to miss the good news of the Jubilee!
Do you want to miss the Jubilee? Jesus promised a bunch of things in this event, culminating with his proclamation that his coming is the year of the Lord's favor (aka the Year of Jubilee as described in Katie's Monday blog and in the Old Testament passages she cited). This wasn't just a year that would come and go, however. The time of celebration was here to stay because the One who has power to keep God's promises had come. Friends, I challenge you to think about what this means for your life and how you are living the reality of it out. As Election Day 2012 is fast approaching, are you more focused on the results of a campaign filled with empty promises that are divorced from the real change that needs to take place in the hearts of the people or on the result of the promises made by the One who can affect that needed change? Don't be like the Jews. Recognize that jubilee will not come on November 7 regardless of who won the election. Jubilee HAS ALREADY COME to the whole earth because of the coming of Jesus Christ. We need only to trust and obey.