A God Who Carries You

One of the most interesting questions in the Bible is one the Hebrews asked of the ancient prophet Isaiah about 500 years before Christ. They returned to their dismal homeland after a time of captivity and asked, “Since Babylon overpowered us, does this mean the gods of Babylon are greater than the God of Judah?”

The northern kingdom of Israel was destroyed by Assyria in 722 B.C. Judah survived about 150 years longer before King Nebuchadnezzar and his Babylonian army came in fury in 586 B.C. Jerusalem, the city of David, lay desolate. The temple of Solomon was no more and the Ark of the Covenant containing the tablets from God disappeared. The prophet Jeremiah was an eye-witness as he walked through the smoldering ruins and recorded his thoughts in The Lamentations. Jeremiah explained clearly that this was God’s punishment for Judah’s rebellion.

Many survivors were taken to Babylon and remained for some 70 years. In the strange land the people encountered a different culture and different worship. Naturally they were curious about the Babylonian deities.

Isaiah responded to their questions with a story. A forester planted a tree, and a woodsman felled it. The woodsman took some of the wood to warm himself, and some to cook his food. With the remainder, he made a god and fell down before it (Isaiah 44: 14-19).

Isaiah evidently referred to the annual Festival of Marduk, the chief Babylonian deity, when lesser gods were carted into the temple to be with Marduk. The prophet continued his analysis: “they lift it to their shoulders and carry it . . . ” (Isaiah 46:7).

In other words, the writer insisted the gods of Babylon were made of scrap lumber and had to be carried in for worship. In contrast, the God of Judah says, “Listen to me, O house of Jacob . . . even to your old age, I am He, and even to gray hairs I will carry you!” (Isaiah 46: 3-4).

The God of Judah carries us through all life decisions from choosing faith to career and marriage. And the writer of Hebrews insisted he further partners with us in our suffering and in some unique way, he suffers with us (Hebrews 4:15). He promises to be with us even to the time of “gray hair.” Gray hair can be disguised today, but the promise is that God will carry us to our senior years, too.

The greatest crisis we face is death, and God promises to carry us there safely. As David wrote so long ago, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil,  for thou art with me” (Psalm 23:4).

 

How To Ruin Your Life

Conference leaders brought CDs, books and curriculum materials for the “free” table at our denominational retreat center last month. A lady whom I’d not met and I found ourselves looking at a book with an interesting title: “How To Ruin Your Life.” She said to me what I was thinking, “I don’t need to read that book. I could’ve written it!”

I did take the book, after her right of first refusal, and have since read it. Author Eric Geiger used the story of King David as his theme. David’s is a familiar story to most Bible readers, and one overflowing with irony. David, described as a man close to God’s heart, fell into grievous sin. The lesson is that no one is above failure, even the sweet singer of Israel, the giant-killer and the man who drew blueprints for the Ark of the Covenant’s permanent home. The Holy Spirit of God inspired the story to be recorded so that we might walk more carefully in a world bent toward evil.

Commentators for years have insisted David shouldn’t have been at home, but on the battlefield with his troops. Possibly. Geiger insisted David was bored when he walked on the palace rooftop that fateful night. I’m not sure since a lot of people have trouble sleeping and may get up and walk about. And the king lived in Palestine where the cool air might offer relief on a sweltering evening.

Another thing we assume is that David was a predator. He “loafed, looked and lusted” is the old outline preachers use. A guest lecturer at a Christian college referred to this account when she visited one of my classes, and suggested Bathsheba was the predator. Her argument was that if you lived next door to the palace, you’d know the comings and goings of the king. Bathsheba may’ve planned her midnight bath at the time the king would see her.

The Alabama governor’s mansion is in a Montgomery neighborhood, unlike the White House that is protected by vast acreage, and I can image the people living on her street might know something about the comings and goings of Gov. Ivey.

I suppose we all take the stories of scripture and think about the “backstories”—what else was happening or what people were thinking.

John Bisagno used to say that David was a great sinner, but also a great repenter. When Nathan the prophet confronted him, David immediately said, “I have sinned.” This is the second major lesson we learn from David: it’s foolish to deny wrong rather than owning up to it. We can find God’s forgiveness. His mercy means life doesn’t have to be ruined when we mess up.

Turning Back The Hands Of A Clock

I remember two horrific tragedies in my college days and learned more about them lately.

Ted Bundy was a suspect in more than 30 murders of young women, and later confessed to most of them before the state of Florida put him to death. Criminologist Ann Rule wrote of her friendship with Bundy in “The Stranger Beside Me” before she believed he was the killer. She and many others could never understand the rage of this demented man.

Charles Manson and his family didn’t murder as many victims as Bundy, but he obtained more notoriety. Manson remained in the public eye for 40 years until his death two years ago. And one of his disciples, Lynette Fromm, was charged with attempting to assassinate President Gerald Ford in 1975. I found former “O’Reilly Factor” legal analyst Lis Wiehl’s book, “Hunting Charles Manson,” to be especially insightful offering new information on this cult and its lasting impact on America.

I discovered a movie on the Internet about Manson’s victims from Aug. 9, 1969. This fictionalized story showed actress Sharon Tate and her guests fighting back that horrible night and surviving the intended murders. This is a fascinating re-telling of the story with a more pleasing conclusion.

I began to think of the almost universal longing we have to replay and reconfigure the past.

One man, an air traffic controller, fell into deep depression over an “almost.” He almost allowed a mid-air collision, though he caught his error in time. But he left work for a season rattled by what could have happened.

Most of us are rattled not by the “almosts,” but by what did happen. We took our anger out on someone who just happened to be nearby. We acted thoughtlessly towards a spouse or a child and jeopardized a relationship. We took money that didn’t belong to us or took credit for someone else’s accomplishment. Or perhaps we were dishonest on an examination or job application and were discovered.

We dream of going back and redoing errors with the greater wisdom of time but find this only an illusion. No person, no matter how strong, is strong enough to pull back the hands of a clock.

The Apostle Paul labored under his past, too, since he’d been a persecutor of Christians. In his letter to the Philippians he revealed one of the life lessons he had to learn: “I do this one thing: I forget what is behind and reach forward to what is ahead” (Philippians 3:13).

As followers of Christ we must learn to “thoroughly repent” of our wrong, as evangelist Charles Finney used to say, and then move forward with confidence that a God of mercy “thoroughly” forgives.

The Samaritan's Apothecary

The Samaritans were the “untouchables” of the first century. They shared Jewish ancestry, but their lineage was changed through intermarriage with Canaanites and pagans. A Samaritan woman was surprised when Jesus conversed with her since “Jews have no dealings with Samaritans” (John 4: 9). It’s all the more intriguing, then, when Jesus made a Samaritan the hero of one of his most well-known parables.

Jesus said a lone traveler journeyed from Jerusalem to Jericho when he was accosted by thieves, robbed and beaten. Two religious leaders passed that way but chose not to assist the man. It’s often believed that these leaders may have been en route to worship and didn’t want to be defiled by contact with a corpse should the traveler be dead. No doubt they understood the law’s admonition to help strangers, but there’s a difference between knowing and doing.

The Samaritan showed compassion that day when he interrupted his journey to help the wounded man. He applied first aid, then moved the traveler to safety and rest. We forever remember this helper as the “good” Samaritan. Many in the first century would’ve insisted there’s no one like this since all Samaritans were bad.

The point of Jesus’s story is that we’re all called to show compassion to those in need, and to prove our love for our neighbor whoever he or she might be.

I’ve thought of this story in a new way lately while focusing on the Samaritan’s pharmacy. He poured “oil and wine” into the traveler’s wounds (Luke 10: 34). Wine was used as a disinfectant because of its alcohol content. The oil was like an ointment soothing the bruised and broken wounds in the skin.

I began to think of how this Samaritan’s apothecary might be a good model for brokenness among us.

Today we know the astringent kills germs. When we experience brokenness, we should take the failure first to God asking for his cleansing and wisdom. All of our bad decisions affect our relationship  with God, so we must begin here. Solomon wrote, “The one who conceals his sins will not prosper, but whoever confesses and renounces them will find mercy,” (Proverbs 28:13, CSB).

But we also use the ointment of forgiveness to sooth the brokenness with others. The Scripture exhorts us to be kind and forgive one another as God through Christ has forgiven  (Ephesians 4:32). Thus the forgiveness standard is pretty high. It’s also true that offering forgiveness is good for the offended. Dr. Lewis Smedes said, “When you release the wrongdoer from the wrong, you cut a malignant tumor out of your inner life. You set a prisoner free, but you discover that the real prisoner was yourself.”