Battle of the Wills

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S (Scripture): 2 Chronicles 18:5 Then the king of Israel gathered the prophets together, four hundred of them, and said to them, “Shall we go to battle against Ramoth-gilead, or shall I refrain?” They said, “Go up; for God will give it into the hand of the king.” 6 But Jehoshaphat said, “Is there no other prophet of the Lord here of whom we may inquire?” 7 The king of Israel said to Jehoshaphat, “There is still one other by whom we may inquire of the Lord, Micaiah son of Imlah; but I hate him, for he never prophesies anything favorable about me, but only disaster.” Jehoshaphat said, “Let the king not say such a thing.”…

12 The messenger who had gone to summon Micaiah said to him, “Look, the words of the prophets with one accord are favorable to the king; let your word be like the word of one of them, and speak favorably.” 13 But Micaiah said, “As the Lord lives, whatever my God says, that I will speak.”

O (Observation): Micaiah is the lone prophet able to speak the truth to the kings of Judah and Israel. Seeking a prophet’s wisdom is always a good choice. King Jehoshaphat (of Judah) hears the 400 or so prophets saying, “Yes! Ride into battle!” But he wants a dissenting voice from the Lord. He wants to make sure that he has unanimity amongst the prophets.

This proves a wise move, because later on Micaiah reveals that God allowed an evil spirit to enter the ears of the 400 prophets. The Lord did not want a battle to take place. If they truly listened to the Lord – through Micaiah – they would have heard God’s true message: stand down, no battle today.

The pressure to want God’s word to match King Ahab’s word was tremendous. Micaiah allowed the pressure to sway his words, at first…but perhaps he did this simply to let God’s people fall on their faces. Or perhaps he did this because he was too intimidated.

The truth comes out, though. God does not desire battle. God’s will is laid bare. And still, God’s people choose their own will over God’s.

They have chosen poorly.

A (Application): But how much better are we? We know the things we shouldn’t do, yet we do them anyway. We know the things we should do, but do we do them? Not likely.

This battle of the wills (ours vs God’s) is an eternal struggle. The hope I see in this scenario is that Jesus Christ is our salvation, and that is not something we choose, but is something God has already done for us.

God choosing to redeem us is salvation. We still discern God’s will for us, and we gather in community to make decisions about our direction as faith communities. Our direction is something we prayerfully discern. We can fast and pray and talk.

We do this discernment not out of obligation to our God, but as a joyful response to the grace God has shown each and every one of us.

What is God’s will for you? Do you sense it is restrictive? Is it a release?

How about for your faith community? Where is God leading you?

P (Prayer): Lord, give us discerning hearts and minds. Amen.

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God Goes With You

S (Scripture): Acts 21:10 While we were staying [at Philip’s house] for several days, a prophet named Agabus came down from Judea. 11 He came to us and took Paul’s belt, bound his own feet and hands with it, and said, “Thus says the Holy Spirit, ‘This is the way the Jews in Jerusalem will bind the man who owns this belt and will hand him over to the Gentiles.’” 12 When we heard this, we and the people there urged him not to go up to Jerusalem. 13 Then Paul answered, “What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be bound but even to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.” 14 Since he would not be persuaded, we remained silent except to say, “The Lord’s will be done.”

O (Observation): The prophet, Agabus, points to the likely result of Paul’s teaching and preaching. Paul will end up bound, imprisoned, and likely even put to death. The anger and frustration on behalf of God’s people is at a boiling point.

Paul’s response to this prophecy is that he is ready to be bound…even to die, if necessary. He will not let his call be interrupted by the threat of danger or death.

A (Application): Ever stood at a rally to support a cause you believe in? Ever spoken at such a rally? I have.

When you step into the public square, you feel different. You may not be risking much, but you feel a little out of place at first.

You ask yourself: “What do I believe in? Am I willing to risk being identified with ‘these people’?” Hopefully, you soon realize that you are one of those people. And then you are just “people.” You are one.

Perhaps Paul thought of all believers as one. Previously being Jew or Gentile matters not. Following God, in the person of Jesus Christ, is all anyone needs. Through our experiences – life, harm, death – God goes with us through it all.

P (Prayer): Lord, guide us through our days and nights. Amen.

Which is More Scary?

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S (Scripture): Mark 9:30 From there Jesus and his followers went through Galilee, but he didn’t want anyone to know it. 31 This was because he was teaching his disciples, “The Human One will be delivered into human hands. They will kill him. Three days after he is killed he will rise up.” 32 But they didn’t understand this kind of talk, and they were afraid to ask him.

O (Observation): They we’re afraid to ask. Sounds familiar.

But they were close, right? Why couldn’t they ask Jesus? Maybe because he mentioned something about being killed. Yeah. That’s probably it.

Were they afraid that he was gonna be wrong?

Maybe they were afraid he was gonna be right…

A (Application): Sometimes, I don’t know what God is saying. That can be scary.

But sometimes, I’m pretty sure I know exactly what God wants me to do.

Sometimes…I don’t know which scenario is scarier.

P (Prayer): Lord, I know that whatever I do will be tainted with sin…so please, guide me, and give me grace to do as You would have me do. Amen.

Point of Order

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S (Scripture): Mark 2:1 Jesus went back to Capernaum, and people heard that he was at home. 2 So many gathered that there was no longer space, not even near the door. Jesus was speaking the word to them. 3 Some people arrived, and four of them were bringing to him a man who was paralyzed. 4 They couldn’t carry him through the crowd, so they tore off part of the roof above where Jesus was. When they had made an opening, they lowered the mat on which the paralyzed man was lying. 5 When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Child, your sins are forgiven!”

6 Some legal experts were sitting there, muttering among themselves, 7 “Why does he speak this way? He’s insulting God. Only the one God can forgive sins.”

8 Jesus immediately recognized what they were discussing, and he said to them, “Why do you fill your minds with these questions? 9  Which is easier—to say to a paralyzed person, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up, take up your bed, and walk’? 10  But so you will know that the Human One has authority on the earth to forgive sins”—he said to the man who was paralyzed, 11 “Get up, take your mat, and go home.”

12 Jesus raised him up, and right away he picked up his mat and walked out in front of everybody. They were all amazed and praised God, saying, “We’ve never seen anything like this!”

O (Observation): Jesus challenges the legal experts’ vision of God’s work. They saw God working through the legal system of the Law alone. They couldn’t fit this forgiveness of sins into their religious structure. (And thus, they couldn’t fit this man’s healing in, either.)

The physical healing of the man seems almost to be an afterthought for Jesus: he chose to forgive the man his sins, first. The physical healing of the man was almost nothing compared to the issue of forgiveness. However, Jesus does bring the man healing so that those witnessing Jesus in those moments might understand that in Jesus they can see that Jesus holds dominion over the physical and spiritual realms.

Jesus was ushering in a clarification of the understanding of God’s vision. He wasn’t bringing in a completely new system of belief, just bringing focus. The prophets of old were about bringing God’s people back in line with God’s vision. Jesus was doing the same here.

The legal experts thought that the way to forgiveness and holiness was through the legal system of purification and sacrifices. Not so, anymore. And this threatened the well-being and security of the legal experts. They thought that they had this all nailed down (sorry, pun intended).

Thankfully, the WorkingPreacher.org site has a commentary on this text that I found useful. Here is a quote:

Jesus subverts ritual boundaries not so much by introducing something completely new, but by drawing on parts of the tradition he thinks are much more in line with what God wants for and from humanity, and by implicitly — and later explicitly — accusing his opponents of maintaining the established boundaries at the expense of human need.

Jesus is lifting up human need above all…above ritual and adherence to the Law.

A (Application): What are we using our religion for? To hold dominion over people? To give us a feeling of superiority over people? To look down upon others to make ourselves feel better? To feel like we are in control?

What are we afraid of losing if our rituals or customs need to change so that we are reaching people?

The trick in discerning our way forward is figuring out what is Gospel and what is indifferent to the Gospel.

So many times we put in structures and traditions that are inconsequential to the delivery of the Gospel, and yet, we fight for these things.

Seminaries, congregations, pastors…what are we doing? Are we about living into the Gospel? Are we about being God’s hands and feet?

Do we have to run over people to deliver the Gospel? Or do we invite people to witness the Gospel in their everyday lives and report what they’ve found? Do we challenge our folks to discern where they’ve seen God? Do we coach our people in ways to see God?

The message has always been the same. And as the Church, we are good at covering up the Gospel and dressing it up in all sorts of forms and fashions. But the Gospel…the Good News is always…(wait for it…)…Good News! And the way to tell if the Good News is really Good News…is that it is ALWAYS Good News!

May you find the Kingdom breaking into your life this day with Good News…even if it comes in the midst of difficult circumstances.

P (Prayer): God, bring your Good News to us with great clarity. Amen.

One Nation, Underwood

S (Scripture): Proverbs 29

25 The fear of others lays a snare, but one who trusts in the Lord is secure.
26 Many seek the favor of a ruler, but it is from the Lord that one gets justice.
27 The unjust are an abomination to the righteous, but the upright are an abomination to the wicked.

O (Observation): Peace and security comes from the Lord, not from any earthly ruler or authority.   Trusting in God brings one justice and hope.  

And who is an abomination?   Depends on the viewpoint.   The unjust acquire wealth and status in ways that make the righteous jealous – though it shouldn’t.  The upright are an abomination to the wicked, because the upright are genuine and receive eternal favor without working lies or deceit.  

A (Application): The freakiest line from the latest House of Cards series is the title of this blog post.  President Francis Underwood pontificates on the future…and he says, “One nation.  Underwood.”  How creepy.  

How often does the “bad guy” win?   How do we allow this?   We do allow it, by the way, either because we stick our heads in the sand or because we are complicit with the system.  

…until we lift our heads…until we are no longer complicit…

We reach a true freedom when we begin to believe in and trust the Lord.   We can walk upright (repenting as we go) fearing no ruler.  We will do no battle.   Instead, our upright nature will drive the wicked ones crazy.   

Our trust will be in the Lord, and as we trust the Lord, we will see that our spirit is not captured.   Our will is set free in order that we live upright lives in the midst of an unjust world.  

Francis Underwood rules through wicked means.   Will you?  Or will you let genuine love for your neighbor guide your ways and your will?

P (Prayer):  Lord, lift up our heads to you!  Amen.  

“Humility plus Will” makes a Strong Leader

S (Scripture): 1 Samuel 8:4 So all the elders of Israel gathered together and approached Samuel at Ramah. 5 They said to him, “Look, you are old, and your sons don’t follow your ways. So now appoint over us a king to lead us, just like all the other nations have.”

6 But this request displeased Samuel, for they said, “Give us a king to lead us.” So Samuel prayed to the Lord. 7 The Lord said to Samuel, “Do everything the people request of you. For it is not you that they have rejected, but it is me that they have rejected as their king. 8 Just as they have done from the day that I brought them up from Egypt until this very day, they have rejected me and have served other gods. This is what they are also doing to you. 9 So now do as they say. But seriously warn them and make them aware of the policies of the king who will rule over them.”

19 But the people refused to heed Samuel’s warning. Instead they said, “No! There will be a king over us! 20 We will be like all the other nations. Our king will judge us and lead us and fight our battles.”

O (Observation):  God appointed Samuel as a judge over Israel.  God called Samuel to lead God’s people. And for a time, the people of Israel followed this custom.  But they felt like they wanted more control over the process, so they want to select a king.  

Essentially, the people begin to think that they can choose better than God can choose.   

In those days, the judge was seen as both a political and spiritual leader.   In the days following, once kings were selected, the political power went to the king, whereas the spiritual power was shown through the prophets.  The judge used to serve the role of king and prophet, but the people demanded a king…”like all the other nations.”

A (Application):  Who knows best?  Sometimes that’s hard to answer.  Do we rely on scholars?  Pastors?  The elderly? The young folks with new ideas?  The “experts”?

Perhaps the key to all of this is the misguided notion that the person most confident in the solution (or vision) is the one who should make the decision.   Unfortunately, that was not the wise decision for the people of Israel who wanted a king!

Just because someone is confident doesn’t always make them right.  In fact, a dose of humility can go a long way.  

In his book, “Good to Great,” Jim Collins points out that the most effective leaders are not just of one personality type or of one leadership style.  Instead, Collins’ research team found this:  great companies are led by people with “Humility + a Strong Will.”  How eye-opening!

A leader that remains humble, but with a clear vision, is the one who tends to see positive results.   Samuel never sought out leadership, he was called.  And he remained humble before the Lord.   We will (after Samuel) see king after king succeed or fail based on their willingness to remain humble before the Lord or not.   

And in today’s world, I remain confident that how we lead our congregations should be modeled in this way: humility plus will; remaining humble before God and the people, along with a strong discernment process for the future.  

How do you lead?   What do you take into account when leading?  Where have you seen leaders of the church do well?  Where have you seen church leaders fail?   

P (Prayer):  Lord, keep us humble, yet hungry. Amen.  

Thy Kingdom Come…

  S (Scripture): Psalm 105:23 Israel moved to Egypt; Jacob lived for a time in the land of Ham.

24 The Lord made his people very fruitful, and made them more numerous than their enemies.

25 He caused them to hate his people, and to mistreat his servants.

26 He sent his servant Moses, and Aaron, whom he had chosen.

27 They executed his miraculous signs among them, and his amazing deeds in the land of Ham.

O (Observation): This psalm obviously makes reference to Moses being sent to Egypt to set God’s people free.    Submitting to God is the key element here for Moses.   God’s will is done on earth, through these plagues.  While this seems difficult and destructive, God’s will is done, regardless.  

A (Application):  When we pray: “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven…” we tend to think of nice things to come.  However, God’s authority and power, given to Moses, is used for destructive purposes. God gets the attention of the Egyptians, and God’s will is done.

In these days, though, I see God’s Kingdom (as best I can) through the eyes of Jesus.  In Jesus, we see a different side of God: peace-filled, steady, servant-like.   

Perhaps this way of Jesus is what we are called to.   Gone are the days of bringing calamity on other peoples.  Instead, we are about the work of restoring relationships and bringing awareness of God’s presence here and now.  

P (Prayer): Lord, call us to live out your will here and now.  No sense in waiting, right?  We need your guidance. Bring us your will, so we can live it out here. Amen.