single value (such as a mean, mode, or median) that summarizes or
represents the general significance of a set of unequal values
Returning from a recent beach vacation,
filled with many delicious dinners of fried sea critters, our family
decided that we needed to eat healthy for at least a week to reverse
some of the damage our indulgent eating choices caused over our
vacation. I spent the ride home looking up healthy meal ideas on my
phone and running them by my husband, our chauffeur, as I came across
things that looked tasty and healthy.
The first meal I prepared was a
delectable shrimp salad, topped with avocado, sectioned naval
oranges, and red onions. It took hours to prepare, but the whole
family agreed that it was worth every minute of my time spent in the
kitchen serving them. It seemed that healthy eating would not be so
difficult after all. After cleaning up the salad plates, I sat down
on the couch feeling a sense of great accomplishment and victory. I
was a good cook and a good mom.
My victory lap would be short lived. In
about an hour, we all stared at each other with a knowing look. Who
was going to address it? We were all still hungry. My 14-year-old was
the brave pioneer “This sure would be a great night to go out for
ice cream.’, he subtly offered. He did not have to worry about
garnering support. Before you could say ‘neopolitan,’ we were all
loaded in the car. Our favorite ice cream spot did not disappoint. We
all had double scoop turtle sundaes…with whipped cream and cherry
on top of course.
Feeling a bit of guilt on the ride
home, I said to my husband, “Our problem isn’t that we don’t eat
healthy, we had those great salads tonight; it’s that we eat healthy
‘plus.’ We eat healthy…plus we eat unhealthy!”
Funny at the time; but I began to
reflect on the spiritual illustration our eating habits represented.
Revelation 3:15 (New International
Version) “I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I
wish you were either one or the other!”
When I looked honestly at our life,
there were a lot of ‘healthy…plus’ areas. It was our eating that
raised this awareness, but the analogy didn’t stop there. We had a
lot of healthy spiritual habits…plus some not-so-healthy ones. We
were generous…plus sometimes selfish. We were in the Word…plus
sometimes too lazy to spend much time there. There was a lot of
good…and a lot of bad. I began to question what the ‘general
significance of this set of unequal values’ was. The definition of
‘average’ began to take on a greater meaning for me.
The only way to not lead an ‘average’
life for the Lord, was to rid my life of the behaviors that yielded
no fruit, that were lowering the average. There must be a
purification of my life that burned away the bad and left the good.
To raise the ‘average’ of my life, there needed to be more values on
the valuable side of the fence. It is not enough to do good things in
addition to the bad things. God is not glorified by the average
of good and bad deeds- which I’m pretty sure puts us smack dab in the
middle of the fence that He warns us of in Revelation. No, God
prepared GOOD works for me to walk in!
Ephesians 2:10 (New International
Version) For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do
good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
So now the hard part…repenting of the
bad, renewing my mind and putting on the new behaviors. Ephesians
4:22-14 (New International Version) You were taught, with regard t
your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being
corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of
your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in
true righteousness and holiness.
Living an ‘above-average’ life for the
Lord was clearly going to require some work. As I reflected on the
verse in Revelation – “I know your deeds, that you are neither
cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other!” – the Lord
encouraged me. In the days when that verse was written, to make
something either hot or cold, required significant effort. There were
no gas ranges to heat the tea kettle on, and the icebox had yet to be
invented. What Christ was urging me to do was make an effort! Yes, it
would feel like work at times. Why? Because like Ephesians 4:22 tells
me, my desires deceive me often. I want what I want, when I want it.
But because I also want to live a life that pleases God, I must fight
against these desires. I must fight against the subtle deceitfulness
of my conscience when it tries to convince me that good deeds…plus
a few bad deeds….is a life lived wholly pleasing to my awesome God.
The ‘general significance of these
unequal values’ was very significant. But thanks be to God…He gives
grace to overcome! My repentance paves the way for God to purify my
life of all that is the average of hot and cold, lukewarm; and to set
me on fire for Him!
James 4:6 (New International Version)
But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says: “God
opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.”
And so, after being encouraged myself
by the grace of God, I close with this encouragement to you,
Romans 12:1-2 (New International
Version) Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of
God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and
pleasing to God – this is your true and proper worship. Do not
conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the
renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what
God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will.
can all fill in the blank with something…and perhaps many things!
knows no gender, age, or racial boundaries. It is a problem common to
man since the earliest days, and a problem that would be more easily
cured if we looked at how it begins. There is another ‘c’ word,
comparison, that is often the root of coveting. Comparison is fuel to
takes a first step of examining one’s own life, which is not a bad
thing in and of itself. We should take honest inventory of our
life through careful examination on a regular basis. But comparison
is not complete in its definition until we look away from our own
things and gaze at those of another. It may start innocently enough.
Perhaps we were not discontent with our life, but in a moment of
spiritual spaciness, we find that our gaze shifts from what is ours
to have and to hold, and lands on our neighbor’s property… or
looks… or talents… or wealth. It is at this point that we begin
to compare. We might be fine with what we have, until we look at what
our neighbor has…and then it begins. Covetousness rises up out of
Christians, we are called to not only tend to our own lives and our
own needs, but also to look to the needs of others (Philippians 2:4).
This is, in fact, one of the very things that sets us apart in the
world we live in. But we must be careful, because as we look to our
Brothers and Sisters’, our eyes are not always set to look in love or
with a desire to serve – sometimes we look with eyes of comparison.
We see their faith compared to ours, their spiritual
gifts compared to ours, their blessings compared to ours,
their role in the Body compared to ours. And so it begins, the
beast of comparison feeds itself with tiny little nibbles of
curiosity and discontentment. But don’t forget, friends, that
whatever we feed will grow. If we allow this beast to continue to
feed, bite by bite, off of our lusts and discontentment; it will
grow. This type of comparison in the Church not only feeds
discontentment, but it also takes our eyes off the very gifts and
talents that God, in his wisdom, has given to us to use in his
Kingdom. We can desire to be like others more than we desire to be
like Christ. We can desire for God to give us someone else’s gift,
instead of using the gift He has given us. Instead of the unity that
comes from recognizing we each have been given a different and
important gift to serve with, we breed jealousy and division when we
covet the gifts of others. Instead of propelling us into the Kingdom
service we were made for, it chains us up with insecurity and
do we do this, allowing ourselves to be distracted by wandering eyes
of comparison and lured away from our Lord by covetousness? The
answer is a story as old as the beginning of history. Like Adam and
Eve in the garden, we mistakenly believe that our Good God is trying
to keep something from us. We have each been given our own gifts and
callings, blessings and relationships; but our eyes wander because we
forget to be grateful and praise the Great Giver of Good Things, and
instead we see what others have and begin to question the fairness
and faithfulness of our God.
must replace comparison with praise and gratitude, and celebrate
God’s goodness in our lives as well as in the lives of others;
instead of desiring for the good things in our life to surpass the
good things in their life. Because as comparison rears its prideful
head, its satisfaction doesn’t come in requiring that the other
person has nothing, but it only requires that it has more than its
neighbor. It is in this mandatory inequity that we see the
antichrist rise up and proclaim himself in the beast of comparison –
when, in my covetous pride, I must increase and you must decrease.
anti-Christian sentiment of wishing less for another and more for
myself is a direct affront to the Scripture. In the book of John, we
see his disciples egging him on to engage in comparison with Jesus.
3:26 New Living Translation) So
John’s disciples came to him and said, “Rabbi, the man you met
on the other side of the Jordan River, the one you identified as the
Messiah, is also baptizing people. And everybody is going to him
instead of coming to us.”
disciples are baiting him with the lure of comparison.. “come on ,
John….take your eyes off the work that God has given you to do for
a minute and check out the new guy…he must be something really
special because he’s taking all the new clients!”
John has spent enough time alone with the Lord in the wilderness to
know better. He has found contentment in grasshopper dinners and
camelhair robes. He is not going to allow comparison get a foothold
in his heart and turn him in covetousness away from his work.
3:27-30 New International Version)To this John replied, “A person
can receive only what is given them from heaven.
yourselves can testify that I said, ‘I am not the Messiah but am
sent ahead of him.’
bride belongs to the bridegroom. The friend who attends the
bridegroom waits and listens for him, and is full of joy when he
hears the bridegroom’s voice. That joy is mine, and it is now
must become greater; I must become less.”
these verses, John helps us understand the solution to covetousness.
We must recognize that what we desire is not always what we are
given, but that ‘a person can only receive what is given them from
heaven.’ We must have faith that the God of heaven has given us each
many things – life, relationships, work, ministries, homes, jobs,
talents, spiritual gifts – and the only good gifts available to us
are the ones that God has given us. We must trust that God has chosen
wisely and generously for us. Secondly, John unpacks the secret cure
a little more by turning our eyes to Christ…or better said, our
ears to Christ. Waiting for Jesus and listening for Him is the source
of our joy. This is more than just keeping our eyes on our own
life…this is keeping our eyes (and ears) always turned to Christ.
combat the covetousness that rises from comparison, we must celebrate
God’s goodness in our lives and others’ lives, use the gifts He has
given us to glorify Him, and keep our eyes and ears tuned to Christ
to find our joy. True joy will never come from having more than our
neighbor, but it is only when Christ increases and we decrease that
we can rest in the joy and satisfaction that we were designed to live
always thought signs and t-shirts baring that message were a little
strange…risky, I guess is a better description. Who knows who might
take you up on an offer like that? Could be all kinds of weird people
out there looking for a free hug.
used to feel that way…until God convicted me. Oh yes, the peace we
have with our own little ideologies until the great I AM breaks in
and knocks them all to pieces.
happened in a Bible study of all places. Such a sweet group of women.
All but one, of course. There was one lady who was a chain smoker.
You could smell her all the way down the hall. Anxiety would rise in
my chest at my first sniff of her. Because you see, she wasn’t just a
smoker…she was also a hugger. Oh, yes, free hugs all day long from
Miss Marlboro. I would brace myself for her embrace and then grumble
in my head and heart through the whole study as I smelled her smokey
fragrance clinging to my clothing.
I was less concerned about how she smelled than I was about how I
smelled. And that is where God began to work His conviction. I was
preoccupied with what I was receiving from her and not even thinking
about what God might want me to give to her. Through
the whispering conviction of the Holy Spirit I would begin to ask
myself if I was leaving a fragrance with her?
2 Corinthians 2:15-16
(The Amplified Bible) For
we are the sweet
fragrance of Christ [which ascends] to God, [discernible both] among
those who are being saved and among those who are perishing; to the
one an aroma from death to death [a fatal, offensive odor], but to
the other an aroma from life to life [a vital fragrance, living and
my perfume clung to her clothing, but there was a greater opportunity
to leave an enduring fragrance, the fragrance of Christ, that I was
completely missing because I was so concerned about myself. God had
placed a sweet woman right in my path who was literally begging to
know and feel the love of Christ…and I was rejecting her in my
heart because I was concerned about how I might smell if I
knew who He came to minister to…why do we sometimes forget?
We are not called to show His love to the clean, tidy, fresh-smelling
world. We are called to go to the dark places, the lonely people, the
dirty streets, the orphan, the widow, the homeless, the
helpless…and sometimes even the smelly ones.
Mark 2:15-17 (English
Standard Version) And
as he reclined at table in his house, many tax collectors and sinners
were reclining with Jesus and his disciples, for there were many who
the scribes of the Pharisees, when they saw that he was eating with
sinners and tax collectors, said to his disciples, “Why does he eat
with tax collectors and sinners?”
when Jesus heard it, he said to them, “Those who are well have no
need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the
righteous, but sinners.”
say we want to go where God is and join Him in the work He is doing;
but do we really mean it?
we long for God to bring beauty, beautiful things, and beautiful
people to our lives? Or do our hearts long to be the ones who
bring God’s beauty to the life of another?
fellowship with God in the places He goes is often a fellowship of
suffering. God goes to the broken, the sick, the lost, the hurting –
will we go with Him? We can have a deep fellowship with God in this
ministry if we choose to accompany Him as He takes light to the
darkness, truth to those in the bondage of lies, and healing to the
giving a ‘free hug’ comes at the cost of our pride and comfort. But
it is a calling that was modeled to us by our Savior Jesus.
5:1-2 (New American Standard Bible) Therefore
be imitators of God, as beloved children; and walk in love, just as
Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a
sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma.
worry less about the effect our ministry has on us and more about the
effect we are able to have on others. Love fearlessly – it’s worth
the risk. Free hug anyone?
I am so thankful for the men and women who have fought for my freedom here in the U.S.. I met a man last night who is a former Marine… if there really is such a thing. I think that once you are a Marine, you’re always a Marine at heart.
We were talking about all the technological advances in our world and how they affect battle. But this man said that it doesn’t matter how much technology is used in battle, there will always be a need to have troops on the ground. I couldn’t help but think of the battle going on in God’s Kingdom that we participate in as Christians, and how this truth applies there as well.
Do you realize that you are a soldier with your feet on the ground in God‘s Kingdom? That God wants to use you to go out, to assess the situation, and to bring change and victory to the situation? Do you realize that He is prepared to back you up with the power of the Holy Spirit? (2 Corinthians 10:4 King James Version) For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds. The power of the Holy Spirit is available to all who believe; to every soldier in God’s army. If you have your feet planted on the ground and are running into battle…you better believe God is there to back you up! The soldier doesn’t fight by himself or fight for himself. He goes out at the command of his superior officer, fighting for his country. Likewise, we as Christians are called to go out at the command of God and fight for His Kingdom.
The soldier also does not fight for his own agenda. In a similar way, in God’s Kingdom, the strategy and battle plan is not ours to set – it has already been set. In our physical wars, the soldier does not determine when war is necessary, governments do. Likewise in the spiritual realm there are two unseen governments at work, God‘s kingdom and the dark principalities of Satan, that fight against each other also. The spiritual battles that we fight, at their root, are battles between those two kingdoms. We are called to be soldiers for the Kingdom that we fight for. What does that look like?
We are given our foot soldier gear in scripture (Ephesians 6:10-18). Our armor covers our head… chest… feet… it gives us a weapon to fight with… The only thing it doesn’t cover is our back. Why? For one thing, we are supposed to be forward marching and forward moving – proactively advancing on the enemy; not turning tail and running scared. And as we fight these battles, the Holy Spirit has our back. God has our back. God, through the power of the Spirit, is there to bring victory. (Deuteronomy 20:1-4 English Standard Version) “When you go out to war against your enemies, and see horses and chariots and an army larger than your own, you shall not be afraid of them, for the Lord your God is with you, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt. And when you draw near to the battle, the priest shall come forward and speak to the people and shall say to them, ‘Hear, O Israel, today you are drawing near for battle against your enemies: let not your heart faint. Do not fear or panic or be in dread of them, for the Lord your God is he who goes with you to fight for you against your enemies, to give you the victory.’
But we have a role to play also – we must step out in faith. Just as the Old Testament priests had to put their feet in the water at the edge of the Jordan before it receded for others to cross (Joshua 3:13)… some brave Christian soldier has to step out in faith and pray the way to victory for those who need to see victory and see God move in their life. We receive our ‘marching orders’ throughout Scripture: pray continually (1Thessalonians 5:17), give to those in need (Hebrews 13:16), admonish those who stray (Romans 15:14), discipline (Matthew 18), disciple (Matthew 28:19), bear others’ burdens (Galatians 6:2), and most importantly – love one another (John 13:34-35).
Are you willing to be a soldier in God’s army? Are you willing to move forward and battle on the behalf of others? Are you willing to trust that God has your back? Like my new Marine friend…are you a warrior at heart?
There is much at stake. This war isn’t visible to the human eye, but its real and the battle is for the human soul of your neighbor, brother, sister, friend. Will you fight in this unseen battle? Will you be a soldier in God‘s army? March on! There’s still room for a few good men (and women) in God’s army!
(1 Timothy 6:12 English Standard Version) Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called and about which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses.
Isaiah 41:13 For I am the Lord, your God, who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you.
I love to meet people – so I shake a lot of hands (and give a few hugs). I was curious how the handshake originated so I went to the source we all trust…the internet! According to the Old Farmer’s Almanac, “This custom started in medieval times. The world was an unsavory place back then, and people often concealed weapons in their hands. The handshake was a way of affirming that neither you nor the person you were greeting was carrying anything intended to harm. Over time, it evolved into a polite greeting.” (www.almanac.com)
The internet may not be our most trustworthy source of info, although abundant; but the Bible is. And while the Bible doesn’t teach us much about the handshake; it does teach us a great deal on authority and submission. By God’s design, authority and submission were designed to go ‘hand in hand’ so to speak. As we defined authority in last month’s column, the father on the beach set up his umbrella because his goal was to provide protection and blessing for his wife and child; Biblical authority is never about being obeyed, but finds it’s source in providing for the needs of those who reside under your authority. In this environment, Biblical submission becomes the easiest and most logical response of a person – to choose to yield their will to the one in authority over them who is looking out for their provision and protection. Submission is the Biblical handshake to authority.
Just as a handshake is a willing act between two parties, so should the roles of authority and submission come together. God did not create the concept of authority and submission as a way for people to rebel against others or control or harm them.
Obviously, in our broken world, it is easy to see examples of authority and submission that do not fit these Biblical definitions. When authority is not properly defined, there is an element of coercion to submission that needs not be there. When submission is birthed in that environment, it becomes perverted into a begrudging compliance. We could not do justice to the skewing of God’s plan in one newspaper article; but let our short time together attempt to outline what Biblical submission and Biblical authority should look like, by God’s design.
Submission is The action of yielding your will to another person. In the world, this could be forced upon you (think warlord making his victims submit); but Biblically, submission to yield one’s will is a choice. This is perhaps the most defining characteristic of Biblical submission – it must be a choice. Authority does not imply control, but rather responsibility and accountability. Biblical submission is not at all about being controlled, but rather is a choice to yield your will to another. No one can force you to submit. You must make that choice.
Christ chose to submit his will to His Father’s will when he died on the cross. (Matt. 26:39)
All of us are called to choose to submit our lives to God (James 4:7-10)
All people are to willingly submit to their government (Romans 13:1)
A wife is called to submit to her husband. (Colossians 3:18)
A husband is even called to submit to his wife in certain ways. (1 Corinthians 7:4-5)
Children are to submit to their parents (Ephesians 6:1)
Christians are to submit to each other (Ephesians 5:21)
Biblically, both submission and authority require sacrifice; a laying aside of one’s own will and desires. Philippians 2:4 (English Standard Version) Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.The one in authority is called to do this as they live sacrificially to provide blessing and protection to those under them. They are not in authority to gratify themselves or ‘call the shots.’ They are in a position of great responsibility – to tend to and care for those under them. This requires sacrifice and often laying personal desires aside. Likewise, the person in the place of submission must also consider others’ interests before their own. In yielding our will to another, we lay our own personal desires aside and allow for the authority of another to decide what is best for us.
Another important truth about submission is to realize that it is not an assignment of value to a person. The Bible teaches that Christ submitted to God, and we know that They are equal in value. 1 Corinthians 11:3 (English Standard Version) “But I want you to understand that Christ is the head of every man, and the man is the head of a woman, and God is the head of Christ.” Biblical submission allows relationships to function properly. A child is not inferior in value to their parent in God’s eyes, but by His design, they are to submit their will to their parents’ authority. This allows the parent/child relationship to function properly and also provides protection and blessing for the child.
There is benefit in submission…it ideally keeps us under the authority that protects and blesses us.
Ultimately, we all as Christians must choose to submit to God. God does not insist on our submission to Him, rather, it is our most logical response to Him when we truly understand His character – He is for us, not against us. He desires us to submit to Him because He is a GOOD Lord, not a controlling Lord.
Who do you submit your will to? Sometimes this submission follows the path of yielding our will to other authorities God has placed over us. Submission is always a personal choice that ideally keeps us under the umbrella of blessing and protection that God wants to provide for us. The ‘handshake’ to authority, submission is a logical response to choose when we are under a loving authority.
May we all strive to live side by side, and hand in hand as we learn more and more how to operate lovingly and responsibly in our different roles of authority and submission.
When the willing hand of authority meets the willing hand of submission, we have a handshake that reveals that both parties are coming together, not with an intent to harm; but rather understand that in these roles lies God’s potential to bless and protect the relationships and people He has created.
At the beach this last week, I observed many families setting up ‘camp’ for the day in their sandy paradise. One dad was really struggling to get his rainbow umbrella up, but he kept at it until finally it formed a beautiful canopy over his little spot. A few minutes passed and it soon became apparent why he had worked so hard at his task. This umbrella wasn’t just providing shade for himself, but for his wife and infant child. This umbrella was his canopy of protection and blessing over his family.
Psalm 91:1-4 (New International Version) Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High
will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.” Surely he will save you
from the fowler’s snare and from the deadly pestilence.
He will cover you with his feathers,
and under his wings you will find refuge;
his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.
Is your life an umbrella of blessing over those you live with and have been put in charge over? Authority, properly administered by God’s design; provides blessing, protection, and prosperity of soul. Authority positions us to be an umbrella of blessing over those whom our authority covers.
The dad does not set up his umbrella as a first step in forcing his wife and child to sit there – no, he sets it up so that they may choose to be blessed and comforted by the shade it provides. God made us to have choice – the choice to yield in love to His authority, or in rebellion to reject it. Authority is not about control. God doesn’t use his authority to control us, but designed it to be in place over those who would choose to submit to it as an umbrella of blessing, and a place where deep relationship and fellowship can happen. May our hearts be like that of the Lord. Understanding God’s intent for Biblical authority is a necessary first step before we can truly define and understand Biblical submission; and before either role can be lived out in a way that pleases God. We will deal with the topic of submission in the next edition, but first let us look at authority. These two roles, authority and submission, were designed by our Creator’s perfect hand to fit perfectly together.
God has woven a canopy of authority into the fabric of our lives. Each of us is supposed to be living under multiple layers of authority, and we each are also placed over others in a position of authority. The order that God created in our world requires authority to be in place. Scripture tells us that God is over government, which is over churches, which is over elders, who are over the families in their care; in the family husbands are over wives, and together they are over children. (Ephesians 5:22 – 6:4, 1 Corinthians 11:3, 1 Peter 5:1-4) All authority on earth comes from our Sovereign God. We read in Romans 13:1-2 (New International Version) “Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves.” The same truth is shown in Daniel chapter 4 where God humbles the proud Nebuchadnezzar. We read in Daniel 4:17 (New International Version) “know that the Most High is sovereign over all kingdoms on earth and gives them to anyone he wishes…” All authority is assigned by God and those in authority are accountable to God.
With authority comes accountability and responsibility. These are the primary definers of authority, not control. The key concept of delegated authority is not that “I’m the boss,” but rather that I’m responsible and accountable. To be in authority in any environment (workplace, home, church, etc.) means that someday you must give an account to God because it is He who has given that position to you to steward for His glory. God always intends for us to primarily use our authority to glorify Him. The second thing it accomplishes is to bless and protect those who fall under it. And there’s an additional bonus; if we seek to be in the Master’s will by blessing and protecting those under our authority, we will be rewarded (Luke 12:42-48; 20:9-16).
Another defining attribute of authority is that it does not imply superiority. 1 Corinthians 11:3 (English Standard Version): “But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God.” (See also, 1 Corinthians 15:27-28.) If authority meant superiority, then God would be superior to Christ, and each person in the Trinity would not be an ‘equal’ person. This is not true, obviously. Authority defines roles. It is God’s framework for giving each role its defining responsibilities.
When authority is embraced according to God’s plan, it provides blessing and protection to those under it. Much like the blessing of a beach umbrella on a hot summer day; it produces an environment where submission is made to be the easiest and safest choice. It creates a place of safety and refuge for those under you. A covering of grace, like the wings of God (Psalm 91), like a beautiful covenant umbrella; authority casts its rainbow of blessing over all those who, by God’s design, are called to live beneath it.
In middle school my family moved across town. Our new house happened to be right across from the high school’s (award-winning) cross country coach. To my recollection, he was one of the first neighbors to come greet us; although it was soon apparent that he had some ulterior motives. For the following two years he would spend great stretches of conversation convincing my parents that I had the perfect physique (ie: scrawny) to be the next great cross country star. He seemed so sure of his analysis that we all accepted it as truth. I couldn’t have been more excited on the first day of high school to join the cross country team and begin training for my all-star career!
Things aren’t always as they appear.
It looked as if I had the physical makings of a long distance runner, from the outside at least. Weren’t we all surprised to find out that I could actually walk faster than I could run! By the third week of practice I had gotten left behind by the team as they ran the outskirts of town so many times that the coach decided I should probably ride my bike with them in order to keep up. It was a shocking season for me as I had to re-calibrate my own perception of myself. I was not who I thought I was.
There is a group in the Bible that reminds me of middle-school me, the Pharisees. Culture exalted them as the religious experts of the day. Their communities operated around their wisdom and decisions. Everyone was telling them they were ‘all that.’ And then Jesus came to town. Jesus came and weren’t they all surprised to find out….Matthew 23:27 (New International Version) “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean.”
Things aren’t always as they appear. Sometimes our actions may seem godly, to ourselves and to others, like the Pharisees of Jesus’ day. But God doesn’t look only to the surface of our lives, He looks right in, all the way through to the heart and its motives. Proverbs 16:2 (New American Standard Bible) All the ways of a man are clean in his own sight, But the LORD weighs the motives. Psalm 44:21 (NASB) Would not God find this out? For He knows the secrets of the heart.
We can be in control of our works, but the life that truly honors God has yielded up its control and surrendered. It is out of that surrender that God asks us to participate with Him in his Kingdom work.
In the Old Testament, we see a similar lesson on how God often views life and people differently than we do. The prophet Samuel has been charged with anointing a new king for Israel, and the choice seems obvious. Judging by his looks, Samuel assumes that the Lord will want him to anoint Eliab. Again, the clarifying voice of God comes on the scene. 1 Samuel 16:7 (New International Version) But the LORD said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The LORD does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” Of course we know how the story ends…the Lord chose the youngest brother, not the biggest and best, to become king and a man after God’s own heart.
Things aren’t always as they appear. Here is some wonderful hope though – sometimes things are better than they appear!
2 Corinthians 4:7 (New International Version) But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us…Outwardly we may not be much to look at, a clay jar, possibly even with a few cracks! But inwardly, thanks to the gracious gift of the Holy Spirit that is ours through Christ, we have a great treasure. We are rich! No matter the amount in your checking account, no matter your physical appearance, no matter your title at work, no matter your own natural abilities…things aren’t always as they appear!
What in your life is not as it appears? On the outside do you bear the marks of an illness, but inwardly have the healed heart of a Victor? Do difficult circumstances press you from all sides, but what is released from the crushing is a God-honoring joy? Do you rejoice that you have great wealth, even if your checkbook is running on empty? God desires that we live our lives beyond the appearance of what they should be. Through our surrender to Him, He has given us a very great and precious gift so that we can represent Him beyond our natural abilities. He has given us this great gift in very common wrapping so that we don’t become proud and try to steal the glory that is His for ourselves. Our ‘clay jars’ are perfect for carrying the richness of the glory of God in our lives and for pouring out that treasure into the lives of those around us so that they might be transformed also.
Things aren’t always as they appear. In the life of a Believer, this should be evidenced to the world as we live a victorious life that by all appearances should be beyond our own ability. And it is…but it is not beyond God’s ability! Hallelujah! This victorious living is ours in Christ. What is visible at first glance about us should pale in comparison to the truth and power that resides in us.
2 Corinthians 4:6-10 (English Standard Version) For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair, persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies.
The water pipe burst…my husband lost his wallet…my son’s computer didn’t record the song he had been practicing…a friend won’t return my call…
Life can be full of let downs, and so as I stood among the congregation at my church on Sunday and sang the words to “King Of My Heart” by J. McMillan; “You’re never gonna let, never gonna let me down,” I reflected on the Biblical truth behind the lyrics. It is true you know, God will never let us down.
So then, how do we reconcile that truth with the disappointments and ‘let downs’ we experience in life? It’s tempting to think God has let us down but his Word says (Deuteronomy 32:4 English Standard Version) The Rock, his work is perfect, for all his ways are justice. A God of faithfulness and without iniquity, just and upright is he.
Disappointment isn’t from God – it comes from within. It is a feeling and a response to my circumstances when they don’t go the way I expected them to go. And that can happen pretty often! I get an idea in my head about the outcome of something and then am totally caught off guard when it doesn’t actually pan out that way.
God, on the other hand, is never surprised at our circumstances; and therefore isn’t ‘let down’ by them. He sees every path in our life, whether chosen by us in rebellion or obedience, as an opportunity. For what? For good!
(Romans 8:28 English Standard Version)
And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.
If we sin…it is an opportunity for us to repent.
If we obey…it is an opportunity for Him to bless us.
If we fall…it is an opportunity to see God’s character from our knees.
If we are on a spiritual mountaintop…it is an opportunity to see the breathtaking panorama of God’s great love for us.
At times, from the mountaintop vantage point, I seem to see and achieve the reality of Isaiah 40:31 (English Standard Version)
but they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.
It is a wonderful thing when our spiritual wings are spread in victory, our spiritual eyesight is keen, and the world’s problems below us are in their proper perspective. But there will come a time when instead of soaring like an eagle, I feel like I am in the free fall of disappointment again; when life isn’t going the way I planned and feels like it’s falling apart. In those moments, my eagle wings seem to fail. But it is in those moments that I need to be reminded of another Biblical aviary image…
(Deuteronomy 32:11-12 English Standard Version)
Like an eagle that stirs up its nest, that flutters over its young, spreading out its wings, catching them, bearing them on its pinions, the Lord alone guided him, no foreign god was with him.
Sometimes, like the baby eaglets, we must be pushed out of our comfort zone and into a growth zone; and if our flesh should fail us in those moments, it becomes an opportunity for our Heavenly Father to swoop down beneath us as we fall and catch us. The parent eagle literally swoops in under the falling chick and catches them on its back, its pinions, carrying them to safety.
This passage gives us a beautiful image to apply to the times when we are free falling in disappointment and questioning where God is in the midst of it all.; but God doesn’t allow it so He can stand back and laugh at our misfortune. No! It is an opportunity for us to fly, to spiritually soar on wings like eagles; or to experience the sure provision of being carried by our Heavenly Father when we are too weak.
Now, most of us would prefer that we don’t experience anything in life akin to being thrown out of a nest. However, Jesus himself told us that in this world we would have trouble – but not to fear because He has already overcome the world. Hallelujah! There will be let downs, but Christ will not let us down in the midst of them. There is no rock bottom for the Christian who is clinging to Christ. There is only a Rock of refuge.
He never lets us down.
The Lord upholds all who are falling and raises up all who are bowed down. (Psalm 145:14 ESV)
He fulfills the desires of those who fear him; he hears their cries for help and rescues them. (Psalm 145:19 ESV)
Remember, Brothers and Sisters, in the midst of your disappointments, that God does not disappoint us. He is our Loving Father. He is faithful. He is our Rescuer.