Spiritual role models
2Kings2: Your life repeated in my life. I want to be a holy man just like you.
There’s no one on earth as powerful as is Elijah. As he lives his last day in this world it seems he already has one foot in heaven and spiritual power and authority radiate from him. Somehow, probably because Elijah himself has announced it, everyone knows that this is his day. His assistant, Elisha, who has walked with him through the years, is glued to him on this day. More than once the old man of God has told him to stay put but both of them know it isn’t going to happen. Now, as a moment unique in human history nears, the old prophet asks Elisha what he can do for him before he’s taken. Elisha isn’t shy! He wants to be the man Elijah is. He desires that, even as their names are similar, that their walk with God will also be much the same. I thank God today for the spiritual role models he’s provided in my life. Frankly, it’s easy to fail to recognize them because I’m so close to the situation that I can’t see the big picture of their influence. Because of that I’m sometimes unaware of the spiritual depth of others till they’re gone. A couple of things come to mind as I consider these things. First, I want to open my eyes to spiritual greatness in these special people. Second, I want to allow the Lord to do in me what he’s done in them. “Your life repeated in my life,” — what a powerful phrase!
Take Away: Thank the Lord for powerful spiritual role models in your life.
Murder most foul
2 Samuel 11: War kills — sometimes one, sometimes another.
David’s failure in 2 Samuel 11 is stunning. There are no excuses, no contributing circumstances that in any way lessen his failure. When Saul takes it upon himself to play the role of priest rather than wait on Samuel it’s a horrible failure, but it’s no greater than the one I read about here. David, King of Israel sees a woman taking a bath and wants her. Abusing his authority as king he sends for her and then has sexual relations with her. When she later discovers that she’s pregnant, he sends for her husband in hopes of covering up his sin. The only things we know about Uriah are what we find in this story but it’s clear that he’s an honorable man and a loyal soldier. Failing in his plan, David sends a note to his general, Joab (a note carried by Uriah, himself) that’s actually a death sentence. When David receives word of Uriah’s death, he shrugs it off with “war kills.” In this case it isn’t war that kills. It’s David. In the words of Agatha Christie, this is “murder most foul.” David’s a great man, a real hero, and a key figure in God’s plan for the world. Still, the writers of Scripture do not avoid the issue here. They tell us the whole ugly story. Still, what happens, as unsavory as it is, isn’t beyond the grace of God. I’m glad the story doesn’t end here.
Take Away: The Lord can’t deal with our sin until we admit we have sinned and repent of it.
Those we empower
2 Samuel 3: Make a deal with me, and I’ll bring the whole country of Israel over to you.
It’s apparent that David’s going to win the war. Ish-Bosheth, Saul’s son, is an incompetent leader and even his own men doubt him. In fact, David can finish it off any time he wants but for one thing: he continues to refuse to lay a hand on Saul’s descendants. Because of that, things drag on as Ish-Bosheth’s leadership of Israel slowly unravels on its own. One indication is that his general, Abner, secretly comes to David with an offer of peace. Apparently, David thinks that with Abner’s help the foregone conclusion of all this can end sooner and not later, and without his raising a hand against Saul’s son. It doesn’t work out. David’s own general seizes the opportunity to get revenge for the death of his brother at Abner’s hand. Before Abner can act Joab kills him. As often happens in life, the greatest damage done is from “inside” rather than “outside.” In this case, David has one agenda and his general, Joab, has another. One of the challenges of leadership is not only knowing where one is going, but being sure that those we lead — or even better — those we empower to lead with us, share in that goal. Otherwise, they’ll take the authority we’ve given them and use it to pursue their own purposes.
Take Away: Real leaders don’t try to do everything themselves. At the same time, though, it’s important that those who work with us are on the same page as we are.
The ultimate Prophet
Deuteronomy 18: God, your God, is going to raise up a prophet for you…a prophet like me.
It’s the nature of things for people to want a “word from the Lord.” Even when all the other aspects of religion are established and operating we want to hear from the Lord. In this passage Moses addresses this. The priests are doing their jobs and the Levites are in place but Moses knows that without the “prophetic voice” that the people will be tempted to turn to the occult in an effort to touch something, someone, beyond themselves. In addressing this issue, and as a true prophet himself, Moses speaks beyond his own knowledge. He understands that the Lord is promising to send someone who will speak with prophetic authority, but he doesn’t know just how great and complete that Voice will be. Out of their number God will anoint the ultimate prophet. In fact, this prophet will be the very Word of God. Throughout their history, these Hebrew people will hear the message of many prophets, but the ultimate prophet, the One who will proclaim God’s message with absolute authority, is none other than Jesus, the Son of God.
Take Away: In Jesus we not only hear the Word of God, but we meet the Word of God in the flesh.
The mystery man of the Bible
Genesis 14: Melchizedek, king of Salem…blessed him.
I’ve always thought of Abraham’s rescue of Lot as a fairly localized situation and that their enemy was a neighboring warlord. However, I’ve just realized that Kedorlaomer and his allies were a big deal: a conquering army from Babylon; a world power. The Canaanite rulers didn’t have a chance against them. When Abram hears what’s happened, he mounts a rescue effort with just 318 people. Years before Gideon’s 300 will win a battle against an insurmountable force Abraham mounts an amazing rescue by the authority of God. As he returns from that battle the Canaanite kings salute him and tell him to keep the spoils of his unprecedented victory, but Abraham turns them down, commenting that he doesn’t want people to think it was the Canaanites who made him rich. Then, out of nowhere, the mysterious Melchizedek, King of the town named Peace (or Salem) makes an appearance. He comes to bless Abraham and to praise God for what he’s done. In turn, Abraham recognizes this hitherto unknown man as a spiritual authority and gives him a tithe of all the plunder. I’m sure we’re talking about wagon loads of stuff here. In centuries to come both the Psalmist and the writer of Hebrews revisit this incident. They remind us that, even for the Jewish people, not all spiritual authority is based on lineage. In fact, the highest authority is when the Lord grants it in a direct way. I’m not ready to get bound up in whether or not Melchizedek is Jesus making an Old Testament appearance, but he does become the poster boy for God’s granting direct authority to the person of his choosing, credentials or not. That’s real important in our understanding how Jesus is the High Priest of Christians through the ages.
Take away: As we read our Old Testaments it isn’t unusual to find God preparing the way for his Son, Jesus, to come to the world.
Being the leader God calls one to be
Titus 2: You’re in charge. Don’t let anyone put you down.
Here in Crete Titus is operating in new territory. He’s been part of Paul’s team, traveling from place to place. Sometimes he’s gone out on special assignment, delivering a message or the like, but still operating under Paul’s wing. Now, though, things are different. Yes, he’s been appointed by Paul to this task, but, by and large he’s on his own. The Apostle reminds him of what he’s supposed to do, but this time, it’s Titus, by himself, meeting with congregations and organizing their leadership. It may be that Paul knows Titus well enough to know that he’s going to struggle a bit with this assignment. Even as he spells out Titus’ responsibilities Paul makes it a point to tell him that he’s in charge and as he meets with these budding congregations he needs to be ready to stand his ground concerning the kind of leaders they need and the kind of people they’re supposed to be. Here, again, I find myself considering a leadership principle. Humbleness is critical if one is to be the servant-leader Christian leaders are called to be. At the same time though, if one has been called to and granted authority for leadership by the Lord, that individual needs to have a firm grasp on that leadership. Most everyone recognizes God-called leadership. The thing is that while most recognize and appreciate it, a few are threatened by it and will challenge or manipulate it if they think they can get away with it. A Christian leader must recognize this and be ready to stand firm in his or her calling in a Christ-like manner.
Take Away: Christian leaders are servant-leaders, but they do carry with them a sense of authority.
The Church: Christ at work in the world
Ephesians 1: The church, you see, is not peripheral to the world, the world is peripheral to the church.
Paul’s writing is filled with superlatives as he begins his letter to the church at Ephesus. God’s people, he tells us, have within our grasp “the immensity of this glorious way of life” and it’s with “utter extravagance” that the Lord bestows his gifts on his people. He tells us that all this comes from one Source: Jesus Christ. Jesus makes all the difference in (and out of) the world. It’s not “here and there” or “them and us.” The glorious plan and possibility is that in Christ everything comes together. This great Unifier works through and with a specific group of people who have made him Lord of their lives. That group, we’re told, is the Church. Obviously, Paul’s not talking about a denomination here and he’s certainly not thinking of some local body of believers. This is the “capitol-C” Church. It’s through this body, “his body,” that Jesus is bringing everything together. As I look at the Church today, it’s a mistake for me to only focus on its failings. Jesus sees the Church as his body and as the hope of the world. Even as I acknowledge its failures, I’d better remember its purpose and the source of its power and authority in the world.
Take Away: God has chosen to work through the Church to bring salvation to the world.
The voice of authority
2Corinthians 10: I write in the gentle but firm spirit of Christ.
Paul’s first letter was rather stern and was, in general, well received. Most of the church at Corinth took it to heart and responded positively to it. However, we see here that not everyone received it in the spirit in which it was written. Some complain that Paul should mind his own business and that “them and God” will work things out. Others point out that there are leaders aside from Paul in their number who hold different opinions from him. Yet others say that Paul writes tough, but in person he’s not very impressive and his letters shouldn’t be treated as though they’re the final word on anything. The Apostle takes all this on in this passage. He wants them to understand that he’s being as patient with those who oppose him as possible, but that his words aren’t his own, but carry with them the very authority of Christ. He hasn’t tried to manipulate them and he hasn’t avoided the more sticky points. He knows that there’s opposition both outside and inside the church. After all, his teachings are radical and run counter to the world’s way of doing things. He’s not just putting band aids on severe wounds. Rather, he’s in a battle to the death with an ungodly culture that still has a foothold in the Church. All this he does under the direct authority of Christ. If they want to hear from someone with authority, he’s it! Paul’s self-assurance here is breathtaking. In spite of his obvious weaknesses he pulls no punches in claiming authority in this situation. I’m sure there’s a case to be made for humility and for letting people work things out between them and God. Here, though, I’m reminded that sometimes God chooses to use unlikely people to state his message. This, I think, is different than a preacher taking a text and, using its authority, delivering a sermon. This kind of prophetic voice is seldom heard, but when it happens people tend to recognize it. Beyond recognizing it, we’d better pay attention to it.
Take Away: It’s the Lord who gives authority to his message.
Stop acting like babies!
1 Corinthians 3: Are you really much different than a babe at the breast, content only when everything’s going your way?
Only an enemy or a dear friend can say the things Paul says to the church at Corinth. Their behavior, he says is “infantile” and “unscriptural” and Paul is “completely frustrated” by them. The problem is their infighting. People are choosing sides and jockeying for position. They approach every situation from a “me” point of view, judging everything by what they’ll get out of it and whether or not whatever it is in play will suit their tastes. Paul, their friend, tells them to stop acting like babies and get over themselves. He reminds them that it’s all about Jesus, not them. It would be nice to think that the “baby problem” is unique to Corinth but you and I both know it’s not. It’s human nature to measure everything by our own desires and tastes. On one hand, there’s a place for that. After all, we bring unique experiences, knowledge, and insights to life. There’s a place for us to express ourselves and let our preferences be known. I don’t think the problem at Corinth is that some folks like the preaching of Apollos better than they like the preaching of Paul. The problem is that individuals selfishly insist on getting their own way and focus their energies on forming coalitions so they’ll have more say than others. Paul tells them to cut it out and remember that the church isn’t theirs in the first place. When I’m manipulating things behind the scenes or openly demanding my rights I’m dislodging Jesus from his place as the Head of the Church.
Take Away: Like it or not, it’s not all about me.
Its Jesus verses death
John 11: Lazarus, come out!
I’ve heard it said that Jesus specified that Lazarus “come out” of the grave because, had he just given the command to “come out” that there would have been a general resurrection. Personally, I think that’s more of a poetical take on this remarkable event than a realistic one. Still, I understand the statement of faith in that concept. This is an act of absolute authority over death. Jesus doesn’t even touch the dead body. He, in fact, never enters the tomb. From outside, after a public prayer, Jesus merely shouts out the command and Lazarus is resurrected. I can’t imagine any more powerful demonstration of authority over death than this one. Well, almost. Soon, an even more convincing event will take place. For now though, I’m happy to be reminded of this wonderful truth. Any time Jesus faces death, Jesus wins. Glory!
Take Away: One hope of all Christians is the hope of life after death.