Tipping the scales

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A week ago, we returned from an unforgettable 10 days in Israel. Our small group of family and a couple dear friends also encompassed three generations from my mom and dad, Helen and I, and our kids. It was truly a unique experience to see the Holy Land through a variety of eyes and perspectives. Thousands of photos (including the one our daughter took, above) and indelible memories later, it is still with a sense of regret that we returned to “usual” life.

Touring the Holy Land is cathartic on innumerable levels. History is important. Visualizing the accounts conveyed in scripture is unparalleled. Yet I think the most substantial aspect of the experience is the individual imprint it leaves. I’d postulate that none of us are impacted in the same way … much like the reading of God’s word is a way that He speaks to us discretely and uniquely. Having been to Israel previously, I also know that the affect of seeing God’s land is often peeled back layer by layer over time. Again, similarly to how God’s word permeates our hearts a level at a time as we peer into it more and more and allow the Holy Spirit to use it to minister to us.

So it is that I am both deeply moved from our time in Israel and probably wholly unaware of the eventual implication of the journey. Reading over the time since we left through 1 Samuel 25-31, 2 Samuel 1-4, 1 Chronicles 1-10, Psalms 6, 8-10, 14, 16-19, 21, 35, 43-45, 49, 54, 63,73, 77-78, 81, 84-85, 87-88, 92-93, 102-104, 121, 123-125, 128-130, was superlative because I was reading and seeing at the same time.

Such is the case with our visit to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, coupled with a lesson that struck me from 1 Samuel 25. But let me first set up the situation … King David and his men were traveling from En-Gedi to the wilderness and along the way, came upon the land of a wealthy but testy man called Nabal. David asked Nabal to share any provisions he might be willing to provide. Nabal answered in a way that was both insulting and pompous, resulting in David’s rage and vow to kill Nabal. Fortunately for Nabal, his wife Abigail intervened, tipping the scales away from David’s ire and toward mercy instead. Abigail’s plea is conveyed in verses 23 to 28

When Abigail saw David, she quickly got off her donkey and bowed low before him.  She fell at his feet and said, “I accept all blame in this matter, my lord. Please listen to what I have to say.  I know Nabal is a wicked and ill-tempered man; please don’t pay any attention to him. He is a fool, just as his name suggests. But I never even saw the young men you sent. “Now, my lord, as surely as the Lord lives and you yourself live, since the Lordhas kept you from murdering and taking vengeance into your own hands, let all your enemies and those who try to harm you be as cursed as Nabal is.  And here is a present that I, your servant, have brought to you and your young men. Please forgive me if I have offended you in any way. The Lord will surely reward you with a lasting dynasty, for you are fighting the Lord’s battles. And you have not done wrong throughout your entire life.

As we were planning to visit the Temple Mount (as shown in the photo above) we were warned that we had to remove any semblance of our Christian faith. No bibles. No cross necklaces, even if under our shirts. It was primarily for our safety. Traveling the country and historic sites, places where Christian history happened and places that pointed to Messiah, but which have been overrun and superseded by other religions to the drowning out of Christ, it’s tough not to get angry. Sort of like David’s response to Nabal. I have to admit, my initial responses were irritation and frustration. Denigrating our Savior isn’t something I tend to take lightly. It seems that limitations imposed on our faith are expanding and deepening. Antipathy toward Christianity feels as though it’s collapsing upon us on all sides … not just on the Temple Mount, not just in Israel, not just in the Middle East.

We can choose to be angry and seek retribution somehow. We can argue and complain and reflect back on those who limit us with seemingly similar limitations. Fight fire with fire. Tip the scales in our favor. Or we can be heartbroken and share God’s care for the lost. Tip the scales toward mercy.

God wants all to come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9). We often want otherwise, particularly when we have a chance to fight back against those who fight us. How do we live a life that shares God’s heart for the lost and, how do we choose to focus less on how others are striving to limit our faith and more on the void that exists in their lives?

Nine days ago I was in the garden of Gethsemane, recalling Jesus’s turmoil as He was hours away from crucifixion. Jesus felt anguish both for the fact that He knew He’d have to go to the cross and accept the punishment and death associated with it, but I’m also convinced that His anguish was as much about the fact that the condition existed to begin with – our depravity hurt Him perhaps at least as much as His payment for it. If we are to emulate Him, we need to tip the scales in a different direction … away from the anger of the attacks on the Christian faith and more to the anguish of knowing so many don’t have it. As Abigail intervened on behalf of her husband – despite that he may have deserved to be punished – so perhaps we should have a heart of intervention for those who lack hope and fulfillment. Those who are “this close” to (spiritual) death and don’t realize it.

Standing on top of the Temple Mount I reflected on how that morning before we left, I asked God to change my heart from resentment about how I was being forced to hide my expressions of faith. Seeing four or five religious Jews need to be escorted across the Temple Mount by soldiers because they refused to remove their yarmulkes was an apt reminder that I need Him to continually change my heart … that visual brought me back to infuriation. But maybe what should incense me is how little mercy I can tend to show those that are lost. How little I truly internalize what Jesus was really doing on that cross … forgiving us unforgivables and paving the way for those who have yet to receive the pardon.   What should rile me is the enemy who covers the eyes of so many and falsifies his status as defeated and impotent, dragging so many unsuspecting and oblivious adherents of his lies along with him. Time for me (us) to tip the scales back to where Jesus was … love and mercy for those who need it most.

Soli Deo gloria!

MR

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Him-ility

humility

Businesses are always looking for it in their employees. For sure in their leadership. We want friends that don’t just preach it but possess it. The church is supposed to live it, though if we’re honest it’s equally rare within as without the church. We desire to embody it, and aspire to be a good example of it, but frankly if we think we have it we probably don’t.

Humility.

It’s probably the single most talked-about and sought-after trait in a fellow human. When we think of the most impactful and memorable (from a positive perspective) leaders throughout history we probably would use that adjective within the first three to describe what made them unique. As common as these factors are about the word, why is it that it’s pretty rare? I mean, I’m certain I don’t possess it and I sure want to. What makes it so difficult when it’s so favored?

I think I struck a chord this week during my reading, and I stumbled upon a scriptural reminder that I am going to keep in my pocket with a great many others that I usually have to tap into from time-to-time. The chord was during my continued daily reading from Deuteronomy 5-34, Psalms 91, and Joshua 1-15, and I’ll embellish more below when I unpack Deuteronomy 8:11-17. The reorientation it spurred in me was a slight revision of the word.

Him-ility.

“But that is the time to be careful! Beware that in your plenty you do not forget the Lord your God and disobey his commands, regulations, and decrees that I am giving you today. For when you have become full and prosperous and have built fine homes to live in, and when your flocks and herds have become very large and your silver and gold have multiplied along with everything else, be careful! Do not become proud at that time and forget the Lord your God, who rescued you from slavery in the land of Egypt. Do not forget that he led you through the great and terrifying wilderness with its poisonous snakes and scorpions, where it was so hot and dry. He gave you water from the rock! He fed you with manna in the wilderness, a food unknown to your ancestors. He did this to humble you and test you for your own good. He did all this so you would never say to yourself, ‘I have achieved this wealth with my own strength and energy.’

Talk about a great “true north” passage! As I read through it, I had to admit that in many respects I violated the very heart of the listed “bewares.” It sets forth quite the admonition with the underlying theme being to alert us that the more we achieve and accomplish in life, the more apt we are to pat ourselves on the back, to give ourselves a high-five, to puff out our chests, to speak glowingly in the first-person. Think of your favorite politician, actor, athlete, etc. Chances are better than not that it is their service, their hard work, their study, their focus, their gifts, their talents that get the credit for the heights they reach. More often than I’d like to admit … for the heights I’ve reached in life it’s my service, my hard work, my study, my focus, my gifts, my talents that I attribute. That is NOT humility.

So how do we reframe our thinking and acknowledging? Him-ility.

I think the only way we can actually achieve the humility that we are seeking is to redirect our thinking toward Him-ility. The Holy Spirit prompted Moses to write in the Deuteronomy passage the key to Him-ility … it’s about HIM, not about ME. John the Baptist expressed the standard for a Him-ble life when he said of Jesus, “He must become greater and greater, and I must become less and less.” (John 3:30, NLT)

Note that in John’s words, there are actually two conditionalities to achieving Him-ility. One we tend to assume is how we achieve humility … “I must become less and less.” But IF we really want to achieve humility, we have to chase Him-ility. That’s the part where John says, “He must become greater and greater.” And notice, that part comes first.

I don’t believe there is a true, reliable or lasting path to humility … I mean, Him-ility … without the predicate step of making Jesus more and more and more in our lives. That allows for us to become less and less and less … and in the process for Him to make us more and more and more in the manner that would give Him maximum glory and us maximum blessing. Ironic, huh? When we make Jesus more, we can make ourselves less, and He can make us more (just see 1 Peter 5:6 if you don’t believe me). Hence the ONLY path to humility is Him-ility.

This actually squares with my experience. When I look back … with honesty … on the achievements of my life, just as Moses wrote above, I see God’s hand in all of it. Not a single thing I’ve ever done came as the result of my own ability, effort, gifts, talents or intellect. Any of those things I possess – and those that know me might dispute whether I really possess them haha – are because God provided them. God freed the Israelites from slavery, led them through the wilderness, gave them water from a rock and food from nowhere. If we’re really authentic as we gaze back over our lives, we will also see how He freed us from bondage, led us through our wilderness experiences, and provided us sustenance when it seemed there was none.

Let’s go before God in prayer this week and ask Him to give us not a spirit of humility, but a spirit of Him-ility. Let’s ask Him to help us remember that the only way we can lead our businesses, guide our families, conduct our friendships, and live our lives in a lowly and genuine way is to look to Him. To have Him be more and more and more as the Guide of our lives, so we can be less and less and less. Then, and only then, can He make us more and more and more in His eyes.

Soli Deo gloria!

MR

Mind the gap, please. Mind the gap.

mind_the_gap

I love traveling to the UK. For a while I did so for business several times a year as one of my former companies had an office about an hour north of London. One of my favorite things about the daily living during my travels was experiencing the “English” language. Hearing “Mind the gap, please. Mind the gap,” while trying to board the “Tube” (subway) was a sublime but caution-invoking occurrence. But minding a gap has other intuitive significance. I awoke to it a little this week … for reasons that will make sense shortly.

Over the past several months, we’ve watched the development of our oldest child through the luge chute that is early adulthood. An assortment of unwise and wise choices in reaction to the stimuli – real and perceived – of social pressures, acceptance, identity, and comfort in one’s skin harken back to my years going through that same gauntlet.

When I look back on my years, as I’ve said before, I wish that God long ago would have deleted the video in my head of the things I did, said and thought. Mostly I say that for my benefit. Even though the Bible assures us that “there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus,” (Romans 8:1, NKJV), I have to admit that there remains a feeling of indignity I’ll perhaps never ditch so long as I live and recall those discrete events. I did some really perverse, stupid things … most of the time I danced on a razor’s edge and for some reason, God allowed me to avert critical injury.

But my actions were sinful. They emphatically flouted the Creator’s standard for not just my behavior, but also for my wellbeing, and my fellowship with Him. That’s what sin is … not just what you or I might say is bad or unbecoming … it’s falling short of GOD’S standard of holiness. It damages our fellowship with Him. Ultimately WE lose when we sin. Anything not holy – which seems sometimes to be everything I do, certainly it was in my younger years – is sinful. The Bible says that my compensation for such deportment is eternal separation from God. However … God minded the gap for us.

As I read this week through Leviticus 1 – 27 and Numbers 1 – 7, I peered into long-familiar passages with a refreshed perspective because of how my eyesight has been keenly sharpened in this season. We read through these verses and see the incalculable detail of the construction of the tabernacle, the holy place, the holy of holies and all the accouterments therein. The requirements to experience God’s presence were profound … as we’d expect based on the fact that we’re talking about the Creator of the universe here.

We’re also reminded about the specificity of the conduct of the various offerings, which is summarized in part in Leviticus 9:1-4

After the ordination ceremony, on the eighth day, Moses called together Aaron and his sons and the elders of Israel. He said to Aaron, “Take a young bull for a sin offering and a ram for a burnt offering, both without defects, and present them to the Lord. Then tell the Israelites, ‘Take a male goat for a sin offering, and take a calf and a lamb, both a year old and without defects, for a burnt offering. Also take a bull and a ram for a peace offering and flour moistened with olive oil for a grain offering. Present all these offerings to the Lord because the Lord will appear to you today.’”

Reading through these passages and the four verses above can lead us to think that we have to construct, organize, orchestrate, sacrifice … do, do, do, do, do … in order to experience God’s presence, receive God’s forgiveness, restore God’s fellowship, etc. We can assume it’s solely upon us to mind the gap. True, this is inherently what the Israelites had to go through, until Jesus came to fulfill, not abolish all the requirements (paraphrased from Matthew 5:17).

With that, we have to think more fully through what do we need to do in order to prepare for the Lord to appear to us? The answer: Not a thing. He’s just waiting for us to receive Him.  He wants to have a relationship with us and wants us to be in the proper spiritual mindset, but that isn’t a predicate requirement to have His presence.

That’s how much He loves us and why Jesus’s sacrifice was so powerful and merciful. It’s over and done. The steps weren’t removed. The requirements weren’t eliminated. The sacrifices weren’t modified. They were completed in full by Jesus, because God realized we’d never be able to uphold the standards.

I guess I’ve just been struck and have been reflecting on the colossal love Jesus showed in covering what was an infinite distance between His perfect holiness and my filthiness. When I recognize that He didn’t just excuse what I did, He actually allow the extremity of the penalty to be exacted … just on Himself and not on me … I can’t help but marvel. He didn’t just mind the gap, He closed it entirely.

Don’t misconstrue, I never murdered or molested or raped anyone … acts in the extreme most people associate with “sin” and “perversity” … but in the framework of a holy God my lies, partying, and general depravity measured up equivalently. And yet, Jesus stands before us, arms outstretched, ready to receive, embrace, and carry us when necessary, looking at us not as if to ask, “what have you done for me lately?” but rather to express in love, “do you know all that I did for you and how much it pleased me to do so?”

My prayer for you and me this week is that we’ll just stop and reflect a little. If you’re a Christian, reflect on the gaps God minded for you through Jesus and just position yourself with a heart of gratitude. It’s warranted. If you’re not (yet) a Christian, please consider the gap that exists between you and your Creator. Not to beat yourself over the head, but simply to observe, as you would when boarding the Tube, the gap. In other words, mind the gap, but recognize that Jesus closed it for you (for us) if you’re just willing to accept it. Mind the gap, please. Mind the gap.

Soli Deo gloria,

MR

Credit where credit is due

businessman hiding face not my fault

Old habits die hard. It’s a statement, and it’s a fact. Credited to Jeremy Belknap, a clergyman and historian in the 1700s, perhaps the reason for its longevity is because it’s descriptive of our reality and experience.

We can go back to the garden of Eden, to the history of the Israelites, to modern days, and frankly to my days personally. What’s the habit that dies hard? Well, when Adam and Eve sinned in the garden, and God confronted them, Adam’s response was “It was the woman you gave me …” (Genesis 3:12). When things went wrong, it was God’s fault. As the Israelites were wandering through the desert after being rescued from their 400 years of slavery at the hand of the Egyptians, they complained about dying, starving, and thirsting in the desert and wished they could be back in Egypt. When things went wrong, it was God’s fault. God got the “credit” for when circumstances went wrong. Things haven’t changed.

And yet, isn’t it incredibly natural to pat ourselves on the back for when life goes right? I’m not even talking about entertainers, professional athletes, business moguls, and politicians. I’m talking about me. And you. Us. I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished. The hard work I have given over the years to achieve results. And I’ll spend a lot of effort letting me and you know about it. I’m unabashed in my willingness to jump in front of the line to get the credit for when things go right. It was true for Adam and Eve (in fact, it’s the way Satan coaxed Eve into eating the fruit from the forbidden tree of the knowledge of good and evil). It was true for the Israelites when they fashioned a golden calf when Moses didn’t return off the mountain of God within a short time. Things haven’t changed.

When things go wrong, we blame God and give Him the credit. When things go right, we give ourselves the credit. At the crux of the issue is our God complex. We want to worship ourselves too often, and God not often enough. It’s why I think God reminds us that only He is God. As I read this week from Exodus 22-40, a brief but critical reminder shone a light on my (our) tendency to not give credit where credit is due. In a simple and short exhortation, we read in Exodus 23:13,

“Pay close attention to all my instructions. You must not call on the name of any other gods. Do not even speak their names.”

I love that it doesn’t necessarily take chapters and chapters and pages and pages of God’s word to drive home a point. Here’s the deal …

Sometimes we’re so busy trying to be God, that when God shows us that HE ALONE is God, we can’t handle the reality. The reality that things don’t always go our way. The reality that Someone else is in charge. The reality that we don’t control everything in life. The reality that God knows, understands, and does better than we ever could. But giving credit where credit is due still comes in short supply. When we make our bed, we do all we can not to lie in it.

Why is it God’s fault that He gave us free choice out of the abundance of His love for us, and when we choose outside of His best for us, we complain about the consequence? My consequences … for actions over years and years and years … were quite the bane of my existence. Bad choices in social behaviors, partying, alcohol, you name it. Even though the major potential outcomes some people go through weren’t my plight, I still had to deal with some tough realities my behaviors created. The problem is, I didn’t deal with them. I spent time running from God, questioning and accusing Him for where I wound up. In the end, I suffered from some health issues that – while in many ways the result of my decisions – resulted in me raising my fist at God wondering why He would let such bad things happen. We all do it.

On the flipside, even with some of the stupid behaviors I chose, I still had gifts and talents that allowed me to excel academically in other areas of life. I did well in school, received a number of scholastic awards and recognition, and had the opportunity to further my education at some great schools. All because of me, of course. I mean, I worked hard, I put in the effort, I studied, I put my mind to things. I, I, I, I, I. All credit to me. We all do it.

When God told His people … and us, by extension … “You must not call on the names of any other gods,” and even, “Do not even speak their names,” He was talking about ANY other gods. Including us. The god of me and the god of you. He doesn’t want anyone else to get the credit, because no one else deserves the credit.

Over-attributing credit to (blaming) God when things go wrong both 1) attempts to absolve us from responsibility for our choices and actions, and 2) fails to realize that God may sometimes use the times when things go “wrong” to help us grow, mature, and increase in faith.

Over-attributing credit to ourselves when things go right both 1) fails to acknowledge God’s providence, power, and love, and 2) highlights our desire to worship ourselves instead of God by wrongly letting us assume that we somehow created ourselves, endowed ourselves with gifts, skills, abilities, etc.

In the end, God should get the credit for everything … good, bad, and indifferent. He created us, He created the universe, He created our ability to have abilities. Yeah, even the bad stuff is up to Him and wouldn’t occur without His somehow allowing it, and when we realize that He allows it for purposes that bless us and glorify Him, we can put all things in the proper perspective. So it isn’t about giving credit where it’s due, it’s about realizing the He alone deserves credit for it all. This week, let’s pray not for understanding but for faith. Let’s ask God for faith to accept His will, and to help us forget our will. I need it, badly. Maybe you do too.

Soli Deo gloria!

MR

Ready position

MLB: Oakland Athletics at Texas Rangers

Baseball professionals do it almost without noticing. It’s almost as natural and involuntary for them as blinking. As I was coaching little league when our son was growing up, it seemed that we had to instruct the kids to do it with each and every play, and usually multiple times each and every play. It’s what we used to call “ready position” … kids putting their bodies in the physical position of attentiveness to the game around them, observing what was going on in case the ball was hit to them. It’s the position you need to be in to make a play. Put yourself in the right position, chances are good stuff will happen. Allow yourself to be poorly positioned, and the chances are greater than bad stuff will occur.

As I read this week through Genesis 32-50, a familiar account reminded me of the importance of our being in ready position. Joseph, the favored son of Jacob, had been sold into slavery by his brothers and was taken to Egypt. He became the most trusted aid, the right hand man of a captain of pharaoh’s guard, a guy named Potiphar. While serving in Potiphar’s house, he managed Potiphar’s affairs. The problem was, Joseph wasn’t sufficiently in ready position as it pertained to Potiphar’s wife, who made Joseph the object of her malevolent affections. The crux of the situation is told in Genesis 39:12

One day, however, no one else was around when he went in to do his work. She came and grabbed him by his cloak, demanding, “Come on, sleep with me!” Joseph tore himself away, but he left his cloak in her hand as he ran from the house. When she saw that she was holding his cloak and he had fled, she called out to her servants. Soon all the men came running. “Look!” she said. “My husband has brought this Hebrew slave here to make fools of us! He came into my room to rape me, but I screamed. When he heard me scream, he ran outside and got away, but he left his cloak behind with me.” She kept the cloak with her until her husband came home. Then she told him her story. “That Hebrew slave you’ve brought into our house tried to come in and fool around with me,” she said. “But when I screamed, he ran outside, leaving his cloak with me!” Potiphar was furious when he heard his wife’s story about how Joseph had treated her. So he took Joseph and threw him into the prison where the king’s prisoners were held, and there he remained.

Joseph was, as we colloquially say today, in the wrong place at the wrong time. Trouble is, anytime we’re in the wrong place, it’s the wrong time. I don’t want to cast judgment on Joseph but I think it’s fair to say that Joseph wasn’t in ready position. He allowed himself to be in a stance that was unready for the situation that was going to arise. In baseball parlance, rather than playing the ball, he let the ball play him. By this time he knew that Potiphar’s wife was out to get him and yet he allowed himself to be mis-positioned straight to prison.

We stand no less perilously demised if we allow ourselves not to be in ready position in our lives. How many times have we fallen victim to sin because we didn’t somehow put ourselves in ready position? Either by staying in close fellowship with God through His word or through prayer? Or not to be in ready position because don’t allow ourselves to be in community with others who keep us accountable to the right behaviors? Or how often do we take ourselves out of ready position by putting ourselves in situations that we know don’t suit us as Christians, or that bring us to places from which we’ve asked God to deliver us?

So it is that we can be spiritually not in ready position. I know firsthand that my propensity to do unwise or sinful things is heightened by my failure to stay consistent in my spiritual disciplines. If I’m not close to God in His word, in prayer, in study, in service of others or in church, I surely take myself out of ready position and no longer can make a play on the ball, spiritually. Instead, the ball plays me. This is true whether or not I actively move myself out of ready position, or passively allow myself to be distracted or dissuaded out of ready position. It doesn’t matter if I do it or if it’s done to me … either way, I will not succeed.

So it is too that we can be physically not in ready position. I think Helen and I think of this most expressly when it comes to our son leaving for college in six short months. Perhaps it’s because she and I have both been there. We take ourselves out of ready position by hanging out in the wrong places, or with the wrong people, or doing the wrong things. It’s the old adage of guilt by association, or as Sylvester Stallone’s character said in the ever-classic movie “Rocky,” “Eh, you gotta boyfriend? No, you ain’t gotta boyfriend? Y’know why? Why do you think you don’t got a boyfriend? Because you hang out with those coconuts on the corner, y’understand? You hang out with coconuts, you get nowhere. They’re eleven, eleven. You hang out with nice people, you get nice friends, y’understand? You hang out with smart people, you get smart friends. You hang out with yo-yo people, you get yo-yo friends! Y’see, it’s simple mathematics.” Well, maybe it isn’t exactly mathematics, but it is simple. Story after story after story bears out the wisdom of being in ready position … meaning don’t hang out in dangerous places with dangerous people. Don’t fly close to the flame without expecting to get burned. Who we hang out with, where we hang out, when we hang out, what we’re doing when we’re hanging out … they all matter.

Let’s all of us prayerfully consider in what ways we’re in ready position. Ready for God to work His wonders and extend His blessings in His timing.

Soli Deo gloria!

MR

After you … ?

goofy-gophers

By now, those of you who know me or who read what I write frequently, realize that I have a tendency to encapsulate life situations and lessons in the framework of TV, music, and movies. Perhaps that is an indicator of my intellect (haha) or an embodiment of the fact that when I was growing up those were often my “babysitters.” Regardless, one of the things I find most enticing about those arts is how much they really do touch upon life and reflect truths that we all experience, whether or not the artists intended to do so.

Looney Tunes cartoons were among my favorites. One particular series of them included two gopher characters, known as Mac and Tosh, who together were known as the “Goofy Gophers.” Created by the cartoon genius Bob Clampett, these two syrupy critters were known both for their devious antics, but also for a penchant of being overtly and overly polite, to a near-sickening degree. In one exchange, the British-accented rodents pause before exiting their tree to allow the other to exit first, saying “You first, my dear,” and “But, no, no, no. It must be you who goes first!” As I read this week through Genesis 12 to 31, I was reminded through a passage about how infrequently this mentality – this “after you” mentality – exists in our culture today.

Now I don’t mean to be cynical, but as I write this I am returning from a trip with my wife and our son, visiting colleges in the south. Known for “small town” and “old fashioned” values, the south as many of you know, is set apart in this way. Manners, politeness, consideration, and the like are all hallmarks of this area of the US, and in that respect, it’s different and unique. Perhaps that’s because we live in a time when the notion of “after you” has fallen victim to an “after me,” “look at me,” “listen to me,” and “it’s all about me” society, and the stark contrast between the extremes is all too constant and in our faces. As I camped out in Genesis 13:5-11, though, it reminded me that “small town” and “old fashioned” values are supposed to be the norm, not the exception limited to the midsection of our country …

Lot, who was traveling with Abram, had also become very wealthy with flocks of sheep and goats, herds of cattle, and many tents. But the land could not support both Abram and Lot with all their flocks and herds living so close together. So disputes broke out between the herdsmen of Abram and Lot. (At that time Canaanites and Perizzites were also living in the land.) Finally Abram said to Lot, “Let’s not allow this conflict to come between us or our herdsmen. After all, we are close relatives! The whole countryside is open to you. Take your choice of any section of the land you want, and we will separate. If you want the land to the left, then I’ll take the land on the right. If you prefer the land on the right, then I’ll go to the left.” Lot took a long look at the fertile plains of the Jordan Valley in the direction of Zoar. The whole area was well watered everywhere, like the garden of the Lord or the beautiful land of Egypt. (This was before the Lord destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah.) Lot chose for himself the whole Jordan Valley to the east of them. He went there with his flocks and servants and parted company with his uncle Abram.

Abram is traveling with Sarai and the rest of his family, including his nephew, Lot. All of them had gone down to Egypt to escape famine that had developed where they were previously. Abram lied to Pharaoh and others about Sarai’s identity (he was concerned because Sarai was beautiful and if they knew she was Abram’s wife they’d kill Abram to take her), telling them she was his sister. When Pharaoh took Abram’s “sister” into his palace as his wife, God sent a bunch of plagues upon Egypt in reprisal. Pharaoh figured out that the plagues were punishment for taking Abram’s wife, and so he expelled Abram and all his family. So off they go.

So now this whole caravan is traveling to the north to find a place to settle. Because both Abram and Lot had amassed a lot of wealth they realized they would need to live in separate places. Now realize, God had already promised Abram that his descendants would be blessed, and that many nations would be born from his lineage. Also, Abram was Lot’s uncle so he bore an honor and preeminence culturally. By all rights, Abram could have claimed land he desired and could have given Lot the leftovers, so to speak. He had all the reason and authority he would want to be able to say to Lot, “after me.”

Abram did the opposite. As they surveyed the panorama, Abram’s and Lot’s servants were bickering. Abram could have shut it down and directed Lot to a location of Abram’s choosing, and could certainly have done so punitively. Rather, Abram said, “after you,” allowing Lot to choose first among the land. Lot had the opportunity to select the best with Abram accepting the rest. Selflessness. Humility. Generosity. All hallmarks of Abram’s personality. Faithfulness. Faithfulness??? Yep, that too. How? Remember, God promised to make a great nation … in fact, nations … of Abram. I suspect Abram remembered that God made a covenant to provide for Abram and on the basis of that covenant, Abram realized that God would honor it. So Abram didn’t need to shove Lot aside with an “after me” attitude. God would deliver.

When we see the behaviors of our society, whether depicted via music, movies and television, or frankly by my innately sinful tendencies (just watch me drive on the freeway sometime, it’ll be plainly evident haha), it’s clear that selflessness, humility, and generosity are hardly trademarks. Social media, inaptly named, stands epitomized as the carrier of the “after me” germ. The recent tide of protests we see in the US also seem to be tempestuous reflections of the me-first propensity we have as a human family. [Please don’t misunderstand … I support our categorical right as American citizens to peacefully protest, and I acknowledge some who exercise that right have justifiable and proper motives … however, that is not all of those who elect to do so.]

My point? The “after me” disease affects 100% of us, unfortunately. However, we can choose to realign ourselves in the manner Abram did. He chose to be selfless, he chose to be humble, he chose to be generous, he chose to say “after you.” It’s a choice, and a choice we all have dozens of times every single day. It’s a choice of faithfulness, because as Abram was choosing, “after you,” let’s see what the Bible says in Genesis 13:14-17,

After Lot had gone, the Lord said to Abram, “Look as far as you can see in every direction—north and south, east and west. I am giving all this land, as far as you can see, to you and your descendants as a permanent possession. And I will give you so many descendants that, like the dust of the earth, they cannot be counted! Go and walk through the land in every direction, for I am giving it to you.”

The Bible says the first shall be last and the last shall be first. That speaks of the blessings of an “after you” lifestyle. It starts with individual choices at individual times. It comes from a heart of faith, knowing that God will provide the reward … hence, we don’t have to look out for it ourselves with an “after me” mentality. Let’s prayerfully ask God to help us find ways and choose to live out an “after you” life. God knows our society needs it.

Soli Deo gloria!

MR

R-E-S-P-E-C-T

aretha-3

One of the most profoundly beautiful voices ever, in my not-so-humble and not-particularly-qualified opinion, is that of miss Aretha Franklin. Let’s face it, the beginning refrain to “Respect” is all too familiar, and unmatched only when you hear the “Queen of Soul” belt out, “What you want … baby, I got … what you need … do you know I got it …” Oh yeah … so good! So good in fact that anytime I hear the word “respect” I have to admit that that voice and those lyrics flow through my head almost without fail. I guess that’s the sign of both a great voice, and a great set of lyrics. Well, a memorable set of lyrics at least.

But to that point, those lyrics, or more to point the notion of respect, struck me during my reading this week. That reading took me through Job 21-42 and “respect” was an especially cogent word to me. As Aretha sings it, the “R-E-S-P-E-C-T” that she is due comes as a consequence of the love, care, hard work, and devotion she is providing the object of the tune. It’s the “TCB” (the “taking care of business”) that should naturally result in respectful love and recognition.

It goes without saying that I’m not trying to elevate miss Aretha to a level of prominence or even prophet-ence because of a song she sang (and which, by the way was not even written by miss Aretha – it was written and originally performed by Otis Redding of “(Sitting on) The Dock of the Bay” fame … you’re welcome haha). But while I read the end of the book of Job, a familiar passage struck me in a familiar way, but I was moved to elevate it to admonition status for me and us. The reason … well I’ll get to that in a moment.

The passage in particular is Job 38:4-15 (though the entirety of chapters 38-41 are pretty powerful and consistent with the point I’m making) …

“Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? Tell me, if you know so much. Who determined its dimensions and stretched out the surveying line? What supports its foundations, and who laid its cornerstone as the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy? “Who kept the sea inside its boundaries as it burst from the womb, and as I clothed it with clouds and wrapped it in thick darkness? For I locked it behind barred gates, limiting its shores. I said, ‘This far and no farther will you come. Here your proud waves must stop!’ “Have you ever commanded the morning to appear and caused the dawn to rise in the east? Have you made daylight spread to the ends of the earth, to bring an end to the night’s wickedness? As the light approaches, the earth takes shape like clay pressed beneath a seal; it is robed in brilliant colors. The light disturbs the wicked and stops the arm that is raised in violence.

The American Heritage Dictionary defines “respect” as a “feeling of appreciative, often deferential regard; esteem,” and “due regard for something considered important or authoritative.” Considered in the prism of the book of Job, and especially in the context of God’s somewhat rhetorical question, “respect” is an apt topic for our consideration.

For those of you who haven’t read Job (you should), it’s a story of God’s allowance of Job’s human and material loss for the purpose of both demonstrating Job’s character (which God identified with great admiration to none other than Satan) and God’s providence and dominion. Within the first two chapters of Job’s story, he loses everything. The remainder of the account reveals Job’s reaction to his plight and his friends’ “help,” which often felt to Job like anything but. In both Job’s and his friends’ exposition, they question the source of Job’s situation, Job likening it to God’s hatred and punitive anger, and Job’s friends to God’s carrying out vengeance for some unidentified sin they suppose Job committed. In either account, they failed to account the proper “R-E-S-P-E-C-T” to the Lord, and He finishes Job’s account by setting the record straight.

Inherent in the definition of “respect” is the rightfulness of the feeling of appreciation, deference, and esteem. In other words, respect is generally garnered upon someone because they’re deserving of it. They are “considered important or authoritative.” In view of Job’s and his friends’ discourse throughout the book, God allows them to have a significant back and forth for about 36 chapters. I find it interesting that he didn’t cut Job or his friends (Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar) off from the get-go, but sometimes the timing of the message is more important than the message itself. Either way, God finally has to call the question. That’s where you and I should camp out a little.

These days, whether in or outside the church, I’d posit that we deprive God of the “R-E-S-P-E-C-T” He’s rightly due. Sure, it’s not that different than in Job’s day … perhaps that’s what is most dismaying. But let’s understand clearly that while God spent the equivalent of three chapters clarifying why He’s due our respect, He has conclusively divulged through His creation for all eternity the just cause for it (Psalms 19:1). Our snippet from Job 38 will still prove helpful … He “laid the foundations of the earth,” “supports [the earth’s] foundations,” keeps “the sea inside its boundaries,” commands “the morning to appear and causes the dawn to arise,” and “made daylight spread to the ends of the earth.” These are just a few aspects of God’s power, His control over all creation, His provision of the very necessities of the existence of the earth, the universe, and everything in it. The stars are in the sky because He placed them there, and He didn’t have to do anything other than speak to make it happen.

When we deprive God of this “R-E-S-P-E-C-T” we fail to adequately and accurately acknowledge who He is. This is not, “the big man in the sky,” or the “big fella” … this is ALMIGHTY GOD, the creator of everything that exists. The air we breathe, He made it, made us to need it, and provides every bit of it to us so we can live. If He decided to cease to provide it, He could, and because He decided it alone, we would no longer live. Period. He put the sun in its place, sent it in its rotation, put the earth 92.9 million miles away, spun the earth on its tilted axis and rotated it around the sun, and the moon around the earth. If He decides to in our next instant, He could cause it all to stop … and us along with it. Atoms? He could explode them all if He wanted. We exist because He allows it. It’s that simple, and I could go on and on and on.

This reality demands respect for our Father, Creator, Sustainer. In terms of Job, God reminded Him (and us) that He is not beholden to us and not required to act or behave in a way to our expectation or our liking. It doesn’t mean He is frivolous in His conduct, for the Bible is clear that God loves us and is the very definition and embodiment of love. But it does mean that we must afford Him the proper respect. This very same God who spoke all that exists into being also sacrificed His very Son so that He would not just save us, but create a means to have an unscathed relationship with Him. He, who holds all life together by His will alone, also says, “I want to have a personal, meaningful, eternal relationship with you.” So my question for myself … and for you … is are we giving Him “R-E-S-P-E-C-T?” Are we flippant in the manner we refer to Him, interact with Him, defer to Him, worship Him, praise Him, or even acknowledge Him? Maybe it’s time we spiritually “TCB.”

Soli Deo gloria!

MR