Thursday, October 26, 2006

Small Things

“Behold, I will make you small among the nations;
You are greatly despised.” (Obad 1:2 NAS95)

I normally look at promises as good things. But in this case, they are rather foreboding. “I will make you small.” There are at least a couple of others in the book of Obadiah that match the mood: “I will bring you down” (Obad 1:4 NAS95); “You will be covered with shame,”
(Obad 1:10 NAS95). Not good. And it is true, that these words are words of judgment on Edom, especially because of their treatment of Israel.

But I can also see a fulfilment of these words/promises by Christ. To the prince of the universe, God says, “I will make you small.” To the eternal Son, he says, “I will bring you down.” To the Glorious One, it is said, “You will be covered with shame.” Was it because he committed Edom’s sins. No. But because he bore Edom’s sins. He takes our punishment.

But here we must take another step. For as the apostles accepted Christ’s order of events - that is, suffering precedes glory - it seems that the church also must accept that same order. And so if Jesus was willing to accept these words as personal promises, then so should I. “I will make you small.” Insignificant. Invisible. Buried.

Being consigned to smallness renders conversation about size irrelevant. It’s a discussion from which you walk away. But smallness did not mark the end of Jesus’ ministry. It provided the context. Bethlehem. Nazareth. Galilee.

Philippians 2 offers a template of the Obadiah promises. Jesus left heaven’s glory for earth’s servitude. “I will bring you down.” Adoration will be followed by criticism. The audience of many will largely abandon him. One who had looked to him for guidance now betrays him to enemy soldiers. Should we expect any less? The leader will be lonely, not only because he is out front of the pack, but because the pack hates his guts. Crucify him.

Self-esteem must give way to God-esteem and Christ-esteem. Because once you are covered with shame, that self-esteem thing just doesn’t work very well. Not only do other people hate you; you hate yourself. You can’t stand to be you, living where you live, and doing what you do. But that is hardly the issue, is it? It is so much more about who God is, and where he makes his presence known, and what he wants to do.

2 Peter says “great and precious promises.” “I will make you small.” “I will bring you down.” “You will be covered with shame.” Am I sure that I want to be a follower of Christ?

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Internal Speech

“(You) who say in your heart,
‘Who will bring me down to earth?’” (Obad 1:3 NAS95)

We say a lot of things under our breath, in our hearts. What we really, truly believe is contained more in this internal speech than in the public, churchy declarations of our faith. What will most influence our actions and reactions is this hidden world of thought.

Abraham is publicized in the Bible as the man of faith. But there was a time when he said in his heart, “Will a child be born to a man one hundred years old? And will Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child?” (Gen 17:17 NAS95). The man of faith was afflicted with doubt.

Esau was committed to decency during the lifetime of his father. But “Esau said to himself, “The days of mourning for my father are near; then I will kill my brother Jacob.”” (Gen 27:41 NAS95). We can put on a nice face while holding hate in our hearts.

David embarrassed Michal. He was “acting the fool” due to his love for God, and she was more concerned with how his actions reflected upon her than upon God. And so, “she despised him in her heart.” (2Sam 6:16 NAS95). Maybe no one else knew, but do we really think it did not affect their relationship?

We think we can get away with secret sins. These types (and more) of internal speech fit the category. But they have an affect. They color how we hear and interpret God and his Word. They shade our view of ourselves and of others. They can be the voice of the enemy on our shoulder, whispering in our ear. And all the time we think it is our own enlightened sense doing the talking.

“You felt secure in your wickedness and said, ‘No one sees me,’
Your wisdom and your knowledge, they have deluded you;
For you have said in your heart, ‘I am, and there is no one besides me.’”
(Is 47:10 NAS95)

I need to come to a place where I do not trust my own thoughts. “He who trusts in his own heart is a fool, But he who walks wisely will be delivered.” (Prov 28:26 NAS95) I may very well be the worst liar I know, or what I find in my heart may be the mouthpiece for the worst liar that the world has ever known. “Whenever he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies.” (John 8:44 NAS95)

Tuesday, October 17, 2006


We’ve been asking people this past week, “What do you think God is like?” That has yielded some predictable, and surprising answers. But maybe a more thoughtful question is, “What do you think God thinks of you?”

Most people seem to think that God is kind and forgiving. But at the same time, I suspect a whole lot of people think God is mad at them. But that doesn’t make sense, does it? How can God be both kind, and mad at me? And here’s the point: our thoughts of God are a mess!

If people think God is mad at them, it is an evidence of God’s kindness in retaining in their sinful hearts a remnant of the truth. The holy God must, by nature, be angry at sin – and his wrath hangs over the heads of sinners. If he were not angry at sin, he would not be holy.

Man’s most pressing need is to be set right with God. We are at odds with God and with his holy character. We are in rebellion against God. We are his enemies. How can that situation be remedied?

A key word for our answer appears in our new memory verses: Justified. It means that, appearing before the bar of God’s judgment, we are represented by Christ, who has borne our sin and our sin’s punishment. Standing in or behind Christ, God declares us “not guilty” by virtue of Christ’s sacrifice.

Our relationship with God the Judge has changed. We no longer stand under his wrath. We are no longer regarded as rebels or enemies. We no longer need fear God’s anger.

Justification doesn’t change us – it changes our relationship with God. There are other words and concepts which describe the changes that occur within our hearts and lives – but this word – justified – is the verdict that brings relief to our fears and rest to our dread – and sets in motion a tremendous change in our attitude toward God.

Now we can’t wait to talk about God and what he thinks of us.

Blessed Be Me!

Peter begins his first paragraph, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” It sounds like the right thing to say. It sounds Biblical, and churchy. We might all agree that it was the right way to begin a book of the Bible. We just don’t want to actually live that way.

The way that we want to live is, “Blessed be Me!” We want things to work out well for ourselves. We want to be assured of happiness, and to be able to attain success and to be recognized for it. We want our health to remain strong, our jobs to be stable, and our salararies to increase. We want our kids to be at the top of their class, and our property taxes to stay low. If all those things, and a few more, could be in order, then we would have the ideal conditions: “Blessed be Me!”

We think like this for at least two reasons. One reason is that we are taught to think this way by our culture. We live in a “me-first” world, and the combination of tremendous freedom and opportunity means that we can greedily pursue our own desires without guilt or penalty. In fact, such actions are rewarded and admired.

The other reason that we so easily continue in a “me-first” vein is because we are sinners. Sinners do not want God to be on the throne. We want the crown for ourselves. And though those who profess faith in Christ should find themselves in a daily battle with this sin and others, we have somehow accepted the myth that it is OK to re-verse the order of royalty in the world and re-write the Bible, so that instead of saying, with Peter, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,” we say “Blessed be Me!”, and scarcely give it a thought.

To those more sensitive than ourselves, we would be wary of such blasphemy, and fearful of the God from whom we are stealing glory. As John the Baptist said, “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30).

More than “Showing Up”

Our Sunday gatherings are extremely important. They are important because believers need to worship together. We need to be taught and trained. We need to be encouraged and warned. I believe that your participation in our Sunday gatherings is critical for your own spiritual lives, and for the mission of our church.

But our Sunday gatherings are not the most important part of your relationship with Christ or our church’s mission. Rather, it is how we relate to Christ through the course of the week, and how we represent Christ in all our relationships, and how we rest in Christ in all our difficulties – that’s what is more important.

Prayerfully, our times together on Sunday (and whenever else we may gather) help to prepare you (and our church as a whole) to live the resurrection life in a dying world. Whether we see the gathering of the church as a time of re-fueling, or of healing hurts, or as a vocational training center, teaching skills to be lived in the real world – we still must reject the notion that we have fulfilled our religious duty at noon on Sunday.

I confess that I have a problem in this area. I still notice who doesn’t “show up” on any given Sunday. And while the gatherings are critical, we need to find ways to get beyond mere attendance, and to find ways to be sure that you are prepared to live life.

Lord, I’m Committing this Day to You

If the Lord Jesus is Lord of our lives, then each day should be committed to him. If we are his servants, or more accurately, his slaves, then he owns our days – not just Sunday, but every day.

He is in charge of my agenda. He orders my appointments. He designs the things that go well, as well as the inconveniences.

He has the right of approval over all of my thoughts and my words. He has veto power over all of the things that I may think are bright or clever. I have no right to go out on my own authority, or to act as though I am merely representing my own thoughts or interests.

Yes, there are many times when I am not sure what I should do. And while, at times, I just take a stab at it, I also am in constant communication, asking, praying through, even discussing various issues.

But the ongoing communications may not be the most crucial. The most critical communication may be that first one, at the beginning of the day, before I even get out of bed. “Lord, I’m committing this day to you. I dedicate to you my energies and resources, all of which you have loaned to me in the first place. I pray for protection of my thoughts and words, that they would not be wayward, self-serving and sinful. I pray for opportunities to serve you in ways that will stretch me, and bring glory to you.”