Tag Archives: Savior

The Need of King and Savior

In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as they saw fit.
Judges 21:25 (NIV)

We end the book of Judges with succinct  summary of the situation. There was no King or central authority. The loose confederation of tribes were spread out over hundreds of square miles. Each tribe co-mingled with the peoples and religions in their areas. The carefully prescribed laws and religious procedures that Moses had handed them became almost impossible to follow or enforce as there was no clear center for worship. The ark of the covenant was at Shiloh, but it was seen as a resting place more than a center of worship. It took a national crisis to get all the peoples to gather there.

After the heated battle between Benjamin and the other tribes, there is a frantic effort made to ensure that Benjamin remains a part of the nation. The bad blood, however, would never really go away. In later years when the tribe of Judah broke with the other tribes to form their own nation, the tribe of Benjamin would be the only tribe to go a long with them.

As we wrap up the book of Judges this morning, I’m thinking about the realities of the human condition. When left to ourselves without authority and rule of law, society quickly becomes a scary place. Lord of the Flies comes to mind. The book of Judges is a tough read. It is filled with unspeakable cruelties, violence, and cultural realities that are hard to fathom today. But, I believe that is the point of these chapters in the Great Story. The human condition left the people of Israel (like all of us) ultimately needing both savior and king.

The earthly example would soon show up in the person of a shepherd boy, musician, and poet who was good with a sling. The ultimate provision for the human condition was still a millennia away and would show up in that shepherd boy’s hometown, wrapped in swaddling clothes, and lying in a manger.

chapter a day banner 2015

featured photo: drpopular via Flickr

Heroes and Fatal Flaws

But Samson said to his father, “Get her for me, because she pleases me.”
Judges 14:3b (NRSV)

Wendy and I went to see Star Wars: The Force Awakens on Saturday. As we were driving to the theater we got into a great conversation about the building blocks of story. Stories and myths from ancient Greece to contemporary cinema have overarching themes that authors, playwrights, and movie makers recycle time and time and time again because they resonate with us and our common human experience.

Our heroes have fatal flaws. From ancient myths we learn of Achilles the mighty warrior who had one fatal weakness – his heel. The force was strong with Anakin Skywalker, but he was angry and the dark side fed his anger until he became Darth Vader. One of my favorite moments in the Force Awakens (don’t worry – no spoiler here) came from the writers introducing an interesting twist. The Dark Side fears for one of the evil characters, because this person appears to have a weakness (a fatal flaw in reverse) for the Light.

In God’s Message there is, perhaps, no greater example of a great hero with a fatal flaw than Samson. A handsome, strong, and rugged warrior of miraculous birth, Samson’s fatal flaw was that he was driven by his appetites. Samson sees a pretty Philistine girl (lust of the eyes) and demands that his father arrange a marriage despite the fact that it goes against all religious and cultural rules of the day. Samson is hungry (lust of the flesh) and his appetite drives him to eat honey out of the dead carcass of a lion, despite the fact that it was against God’s rules. When Samson gets humiliated by his bride’s people (pride), he goes into a homicidal rage and breaks troth with the girl he’d been so driven to marry.

This morning I’m reminded that stories of great heroes with fatal flaws resonate with us because we all have blind spots. No matter how heroic I attempt to be in this life, there is always a chink (or in my case, chinks) in my shining armor. Like Samson, I am driven by my appetites. I know the rules. The right thing to do is perfectly clear, but I so often choose to do the very opposite – the things my appetites crave. It reminds me of Paul’s rumination in his letter to Jesus’ followers in Rome:

What I don’t understand about myself is that I decide one way, but then I act another, doing things I absolutely despise. So if I can’t be trusted to figure out what is best for myself and then do it, it becomes obvious that God’s command is necessary.

But I need something more! For if I know the law but still can’t keep it, and if the power of sin within me keeps sabotaging my best intentions, I obviously need help! I realize that I don’t have what it takes. I can will it, but I can’t do it. I decide to do good, but I don’t really do it; I decide not to do bad, but then I do it anyway. My decisions, such as they are, don’t result in actions. Something has gone wrong deep within me and gets the better of me every time.

It happens so regularly that it’s predictable. The moment I decide to do good, sin is there to trip me up. I truly delight in God’s commands, but it’s pretty obvious that not all of me joins in that delight. Parts of me covertly rebel, and just when I least expect it, they take charge.

I’ve tried everything and nothing helps. I’m at the end of my rope. Is there no one who can do anything for me? Isn’t that the real question?

The answer, thank God, is that Jesus Christ can and does. He acted to set things right in this life of contradictions where I want to serve God with all my heart and mind, but am pulled by the influence of sin to do something totally different.

In the quiet of this Monday morning, this pitiful hero aware of his fatal flaws is reminded that he needs a savior “who will act to set things right in my life of contradictions.”

And that, is what the Christmas story is all about.

Christmas in July

wise men

“But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah,
    though you are small among the clans of Judah,
out of you will come for me
    one who will be ruler over Israel,
whose origins are from of old,
    from ancient times.”
Micah 5:2 (NIV)

Back in the day when I led youth, I always enjoyed celebrating Christmas in July. It was just the sort of silliness that kids loved. I would gather the young people for caroling and other traditional Christmas festivities in the sweltering Iowa summer.

This came to mind this July morning as I read Micah’s prophetic word concerning God’s Messiah coming from Bethlehem. While we celebrate God’s gift each December and give nods to the idea of celebrating the reason for the season all year long, I wonder how often we really stop to celebrate God’s gift once the New Year arrives, the tree is down and the decorations are put away.

“Wise men still seek Him” is a popular phrase around December. Today, I’m thinking of those astronomers, the Magi, who took a good long while to travel to Bethlehem chasing that star. We don’t know for sure when they saw the star and how long it took them to get to Bethlehem from their home. Perhaps they stood in sweltering summer heat contemplating the prophesied King who was born. I am more wise guy than wise man, but on this hot July morning I find myself thinking of the prophet Micah’s words and singing a Christmas carol:

O holy Child of Bethlehem,
Descend to us, we pray;
Cast out our sins and enter in,
Be born to us today.
We hear the Christmas angels
The great glad tidings tell:
Oh, come to us, abide with us,
Our Lord Emmanuel!

It’s Not an LSD Hallucination…Really!

Ezekiels Vision

Now the cherubim were standing on the south side of the temple when the man went in, and a cloud filled the inner court. Then the glory of the Lord rose from above the cherubim and moved to the threshold of the temple. The cloud filled the temple, and the court was full of the radiance of the glory of the Lord.

Then the glory of the Lord departed from over the threshold of the temple and stopped above the cherubim.
Ezekiel 10:3-4, 18 (NIV)

For those reading the prophetic visions of the ancient prophets for the first time, they must seem like nothing more than the recollection of an LSD induced hallucination at a Grateful Dead concert. It is difficult, if not impossible, to make sense of these visions in the vacuum of the chapter itself. There is a broader context that has to be considered in order for things to start making sense. Think about it, if someone simply read the “prophecy” about Harry Potter and Voldemort revealed at the end of The Order of the Phoenix and didn’t know anything about the rest of the story, would it make any sense by itself?

For me, there were three pieces of information outside today’s chapter that brought Ezekiel’s vision out of the haze and into focus:

  1. Moses experience on the mountain of God. Way back in the story of Moses and the Ten Commandments, Moses goes up the mountain to receive the tablets with the commandments on them. He sees God “face to face” and when he returns from the mountain his face is “radiant,” so bright that he had to cover it (Exodus 34). It wasn’t sunburn, it was God’s “glory” or radiance. In fact, at the end of the Great Story when eternity is described, there is no Sun or Moon (or day and night) because God’s glory provides all the light needed. God’s glory throughout the entirety of God’s Message is a sign of God’s presence.
  2. The dedication of Solomon’s temple. When the temple was built by King Solomon and the ark of the covenant (think Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark) was brought into the temple, God’s presence filled the temple in the form of a cloud. The cloud, like the veil over Moses’ face, was a sign of God’s presence and a protective covering for the bright radiance of God’s glory (Did you notice when Indy opened the vault that contained the ark it glowed? That was Hollywood wizardry doing their version of the glory of God) . After the dedication of the temple, God warned Solomon: But if you turn away and forsake the decrees and commands I have given you and go off to serve other gods and worship them, 20 then I will uproot Israel from my land,which I have given them, and will reject this temple I have consecrated for my Name. I will make it a byword and an object of ridicule among all peoples. 21 This temple will become a heap of rubble.” (2 Chronicles 5,7)
  3. The context of the last few chapters. Today’s vision is part of a broader vision Ezekiel is recounting from chapters eight through 11. It began with God revealing to Ezekiel the idolatry (the same idolatry He warned Solomon about) in and around the Temple and it continued with God’s judgement on the idolators. Today, what Ezekiel is seeing from the spiritual realm is a further consequence of the idolatry and further fulfillment of  God’s warning to Solomon. God’s glory and presence is being taken out of the temple in preparation for its destruction.

Today, I am mulling over the events Ezekiel describes in this broader context of the entirety of the Great Story being told throughout God’s Message. When God warned Solomon about idolatry, He knew very well what would eventually happen. It’s a grand word picture of my own personal experience. Despite my best intentions, I fall short of spiritual perfection. Look close enough (actually, you probably don’t even have to look that close) and you’ll find plenty of ammunition to accuse me of hypocrisy. Guilty as charged.

And, that’s really the main point I find in these Old Testament stories. Try as we may, we can’t achieve an acceptable spiritual level on our own that meets God’s standard. We keep slipping back into our own personal forms of idolatry by choosing our own way. The results, as Ezekiel is seeing in his vision, are disastrous. It seems like God was trying to let humanity fail so we’d learn the lesson the same way a wise parent sometimes let’s a child fail for the same reason. “You can’t do this on your own,” God seems to be saying. “If you are to escape the deathly consequences of your own choices, you need a savior to save you from yourselves.”

[cue: enter Jesus, stage right]

Finding Wisdom Amidst the Ruins

Chorazin

“Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago, sitting in sackcloth and ashes. But it will be more bearable for Tyre and Sidon at the judgment than for you. And you, Capernaum, will you be lifted to the heavens? No, you will go down to Hades.” Luke 10:13-15 (NIV)

When you visit Israel, there are a million places you can visit. Jerusalem and the temple mount are a big attraction. Floating in the Dead Sea and trekking up to the fortress of Masada makes the top of most tourist’s list as does a dinner cruise on the Sea of Galilee. Then there is Megiddo, Mount Carmel, Mount Gilboa, the Garden Tomb, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, The Jordan River, and on and on and on.

As I and my companions made our way around the north shore of the of Sea of Galilee, our guide, George, took a turn onto some back roads. It was obvious that we were off the beaten path. Even George, who knows the area like the back of his hand, seemed a bit lost for a few minutes. Finally we pulled into a group of ruins and got out. The site was desolate and bare. Unlike many sites in the Holy Land there was no hoopla. There were no trinket shops or refreshment stands. This place was clearly among the official sites to get scratched off the “must see” list for most tourists. The place was dead.

We were in the ruins of Chorazin, a small backwater town where Jesus once taught and performed miracles. The people of Chorazin did not respond favorably to Jesus message and miracles, however. I pondered Jesus’ words of woe as I walked silently among the ruined walls and abandoned buildings.

Wendy and I have been talking a lot this past week about the small daily choices we make and their cumulative effects. “I place before you Life and Death,” God once told His people before adding, “Choose life.” Along this journey I’ve come to realize that the choice of Life or Death is not a one time monumental decision, but a series of small daily choices that I make every day. What I choose to eat and how much of it I consume slowly affects my weight, my mood, and a myriad of other health issues. If I choose to sleep in and forget an important meeting it will affect my client relationship and, eventually, my income. If I consistently choose to give in to little bad habits they will eventually lead to very big consequences.

I snapped the picture above from the rubble of Chorazin looking out over the Sea of Galilee. It’s become a constant reminder to me that Jesus is both Savior and Judge. I find that I love to think of Jesus the Savior, but I like to conveniently forget Jesus the Judge. Woe to me for doing so, for amidst a judged Chorazin there is wisdom to be found for those who choose to wander in the ruins and digest Jesus’ words.

Damage Control

I will be careful to live a blameless life—
    when will you come to help me?
I will lead a life of integrity
    in my own home.
Psalm 101:2 (NLT)

Politics has always been a dirty business. Things have not changed in the nearly 3000 years since King David penned the lyric to this song. As I began to read the lyrics I was initially impressed. David is making several declaratory statements about who he is and what he stands for. Click on the link to the psalm above and count the number of times “I will” appears. At first I was intrigued and impressed at the statements, and then I get to the last line:

My daily task will be to ferret out the wicked
    and free the city of the Lord from their grip.

It was then that it struck me. Psalm 101 is a campaign commercial.

It’s morning in Jerusalem.
Hope. Change. Forward.

This psalm is a set of idyllic promises that only the Son of God could meet. Scholars muse that the song may have been written as David took over the tenuous united kingdom of Israel which, in middle-eastern style reminiscent of today’s headlines, had two major factions and several smaller tribal factions threatening his power. They think it might be David’s inaugural address, if you will. Everything is looking up. Everyone is excited. It’s a political honeymoon for the golden boy, the shepherd turned warrior, the national hero turned monarch. David steps into the spotlight and declares that his reign will be the ideal. He will be different than his maniacal predecessor. It fits. I get it.

Perhaps I’m cynical when it comes to politics, but as I read it over in light of the last verse I wondered if the psalm might have served a completely different purpose. Fast forward about twenty years after David’s idyllic inaugural. His life is falling apart. His own home is fractured. He is beset by multiple scandals in his personal life and administration. In almost Shakespearean fashion, David’s own son is leading a bloody coup against him. We are a far cry from the hope and glory of his early days.

It leads me to wonder. Could this psalm have been a way of publicizing his repentance and spinning his way out of the public scandals that threatened his reign. It’s damage control. You can almost hear the political consultants whispering in David’s ear:

“David. Your majesty. I know it looks bad but you’ve got to go back to what made you popular in the first place. Write a song. Get back onto the Billboard charts. People loved your rock star image. You’re not too old. Think Elvis in Vegas. The big comeback. You gotta make the people fall in love with you again.”

Today, I am thinking about my own cynicism. Whether you want to think of this song as an inaugural address or as damage control, it reminds me of the inescapable truth that we are a fallen people. All of us fall short. We want the ideal. We want to believe that the ideal is attainable in our leaders and in ourselves. We fall for the idyllic campaign promises only to be grossly disappointed. Then we start the cycle all over again.

But the truth is that my own life reads like David’s on a smaller, less public scale. I’m no different. I’ve made countless declarations to which I’ve fallen short. We all fail, disappoint, and fall short.

We don’t need a politician. We need a savior.

Honest Reflections

English: King David engraving from a front pag...
English: King David engraving from a front page of the French protestant psalm book of 1817 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Chapter-a-Day Psalm 71

Though you have made me see troubles,  many and bitter,  you will restore  my life again;  from the depths of the earth  you will again bring me up.  Psalm 71:20 (NIV)

The Christmas season and the subsequent New Year is always a time of reflection. Where have I been this year? What kind of year has it been? Where am I going and what will next year bring? How has our family changed this year? In what ways are we always the same, the repetitive behavioral and relational patterns stuck like a record player in the same old groove?

Both Psalm 70 and Psalm 71 are songs of reflection. Both of them were penned in David’s old age. I like the above lyric. It comes from the wisdom of a long and active life. David was a boyhood hero, a son-in-law of the King, a best friend of the prince, a successful military leader, a King of his own tribe Judah and eventually a King of the nation of Israel. He was a warrior, a conqueror, a lover, a song writer, and a poet. Above all else, God called him “a man after my own heart.” Talk about a great story.

But, that’s not the whole story. David was also an outlaw, a rebel, a wanted man, a deceiver, a liar, an adulterer, a murderer, and a poor and distant father. He spent much of his early adulthood on the run from the law living in caves. His eventual reign as King was marked by political discord and scandal.

Life is what it is. Beneath the most whitewashed public lives you’ll find “troubles, many and bitter.” Despite our culture’s desire to see humanity as inherently good and progressive, God’s Message clearly teaches that humanity is tragically flawed. Despite our best efforts our penchant to look out for our own desires and needs instead of loving others more than ourselves keeps getting in the way with tragic results.

Like David, my reflections of the past are filled with both good times and difficulties, of both successes and bitter failures. Each year’s time of reflection always reaches the same conclusion:

God, have mercy on me. I always fall so short of the person I should be. I need a savior.

Fortunately, these annual reflections and this repetitive conclusion coincide with Christmas.

And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. Luke 2:10-11 (KJV)