Something Missing

I don’t hear the echo of Joshua or Ruth or Esther or Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.

“Now LORD, God of Israel, keep for your servant David my father the promises you made to him when you said, ‘You shall never fail to have a man to sit before me on the throne of Israel, if only your sons are careful in all they do to walk before me as you have done.’” 1 Kings 8:25 

The above verse is part of the long prayer that Solomon gave at the dedication of the new Temple. It is the prayer that God responded to with the famous “if my people who are called by my Name” promise. 

As I was reading Solomon’s prayer this time, I realized that something was missing. God promised David that He would be with his descendants IF they were careful to walk before God as David had done. I was expecting a response to that. But the heartfelt response to God didn’t come. You know what was missing? Something like this: 

“… choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your forefathers served beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.” Joshua 24:15 

What I see instead is Solomon basically saying to God, “We are going to sin. But if we turn back and repent when that happens, please forgive us and bless us.” Yes, absolutely, we sin and we will sin and we need God’s mercy and strength to be victorious, and only the blood of the Lamb can save us. But what I don’t see here, in this prayer, is the I-will-follow-no-matter-what determination, the even-if-he-slay-me trust, the tenacious “nevertheless” decision to obey, the our-eyes-are-on-you commitment. I don’t hear the “yet.” I don’t hear the echo of Joshua or Ruth or Esther or Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.  

But Ruth replied, “Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Ruth 1:16 

“Go, gather together all the Jews who are in Susa, and fast for me. Do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my maids will fast as you do. When this is done, I will go to the king, even though it is against the law. And if I perish, I perish.” Esther 4:16 

“If we [Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego] are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king. But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.” Daniel 3:17-18 

How did God reply to Solomon’s prayer? “You must serve me as your father David did” (1 Kings 9:4). And David certainly messed up many times. But David served God wholeheartedly. He did not leave room in his heart for idols, presuming that God would forgive him in the end.  

Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous (idolatrous) way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting! Psalm 139:23-24 (ESV) 

It seems to me that Solomon said the words, “May he turn our hearts to him, to walk in all his ways and to keep the commands, decrees and regulations he gave our fathers” (1 Kings 8:58), but didn’t follow through. He talked the talk, but didn’t walk the walk. He actually broke a lot of God’s decrees and regulations (see Deuteronomy 17:14-20). And he never fully committed to walk with God. 

Solomon showed his love for the LORD by walking according to the statutes of his father David, except that he offered sacrifices and burned incense on the high places. 1 Kings 3:3 

I know that everyone admires Solomon’s prayer and often repeats God’s answer to “hear from heaven,” but without the wholehearted part, without the complete commitment, the no-matter-what part, it seems presumptuous to me. “If I keep saying I’m sorry, surely you will keep forgiving, right? Even though I don’t submit, even though I don’t change, even though I don’t obey, even though I don’t follow.” 

And without that commitment to be careful in what he did and to walk before God as David had walked, what happened to Solomon? He kept his religious obligations to the Temple, sacrificing three times a year (1 Kings 9:25), but he ended up worshiping horrible idols associated with human sacrifice.i 

For when Solomon was old … his heart was not wholly true to the Lord his God, as was the heart of David his father.  For Solomon went after Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, and after Milcom the abomination of the Ammonites. So Solomon did what was evil in the sight of the Lord and did not wholly follow the Lord, as David his father had done. Then Solomon built a high place for Chemosh the abomination of Moab, and for Molech the abomination of the Ammonites, on the mountain east of Jerusalem.etestable god of the Ammonites. 1 Kings 11:7 (ESV)

What a fall from grace! Lord, help me to pray David’s prayer. Show me the things in my heart that grieve you and give me grace to turn away from them. Give me grace and strength to follow after you wholeheartedly. Nothing missing. 

Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” Matthew 16:24 

As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem. Luke 9:51 

i New World Encyclopedia https://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/chemosh 

Image in the Public Domain 

Niagara Falls in a Teacup

“His demand for righteousness is insistent, and it is always at the maximum intensity.”

Cheap grace and costly grace. The gift and the “shift.” Transformation deep as the roots of human life. Uncontainable love.

“Cheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves. Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.” ― Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship  

“The gift element in the gospel is held to be its exclusive content, and the shift element is accordingly ignored. Theological assent is all that is required to make Christians. This assent is called faith and is thought to be the only difference between the saved and the lost. Faith is thus conceived as a kind of religious magic, bringing to the Lord great delight and possessing mysterious power to open the Kingdom of heaven. I want to be fair to everyone and to find all the good I can in every man’s religious beliefs, but the harmful effects of this faith-as-magic creed are greater than could be imagined by anyone who has not come face-to-face with them … 

I think the truth of the matter is not too deep nor too difficult to discover. Self-righteousness is an effective bar to God’s favor because it throws the sinner back upon his own merits and shuts him out from the imputed righteousness of Christ. And to be a sinner confessed and consciously lost is necessary to the act of receiving salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. This we joyously admit and constantly assert, but here is the truth that has been overlooked in our day: A sinner cannot enter the Kingdom of God. The Bible passages that declare this are too many and too familiar to need repeating here, but the skeptical might look at Galatians 5:19-21 and Revelation 2:18.  

How then can any man be saved? The penitent sinner meets Christ, and after that saving encounter he is a sinner no more. The power of the gospel changes him, shifts the basis of his life from self to Christ, faces him about in a new direction, and makes him a new creation. The moral state of the penitent when he comes to Christ does not affect the result, for the work of Christ sweeps away both his good and his evil, and turns him into another man. The returning sinner is not saved by some judicial transaction apart from a corresponding moral change. Salvation must include a judicial change of status, but what is overlooked by most teachers is that it also includes an actual change in the life of the individual. And by this we mean more than a surface change; we mean a transformation as deep as the roots of his human life. If it does not go that deep, it does not go deep enough.” — A.W. Tozer, In Word, Or In Power: The Divine Conquest 

“But this much is clear: when we try to estimate the depth and the persistence of God’s loving-kindness and mercy, we must first remember his passion for righteousness. His passion for righteousness is so strong that he could not be more insistent in his demand for it, but God’s persistent love for his people is more insistent still. The story of God’s people throughout the centuries is that her waywardness has been so persistent that, if even a remnant is to be preserved, God has had to show mercy more than anything else. It is important to realize that though the Hebrew chesed can be translated by loving-kindness and mercy without doing violence to the context, yet we must always beware lest we think that God is content with less than righteousness. There is no reference to any sentimental kindness, and no suggestion of mercy apart from repentance, in any case where the Hebrew original is chesed. His demand for righteousness is insistent, and it is always at the maximum intensity. The loving-kindness of God means that his mercy is greater even than that. The word stands for the wonder of his unfailing love for the people of his choice, and the solving of the problem of the relation between his righteousness and his loving-kindness passes beyond human comprehension.” — Norman H. Snaith, Distinctive Ideas of the Old Testament, London (1944) 

“In faith there is movement and development. Each day something is new. To be Christian, faith has to be new – that is, alive and growing. It cannot be static, finished, settled. When Scripture, prayer, worship, ministry become routine, they are dead. When I conclude that I can cope with the awful love of God, I have headed for the shallows to avoid the deeps. I could more easily contain Niagara Falls in a teacup than I can comprehend the wild, uncontainable love of God.” — Brennan Manning, The Ragmuffin Gospel 

And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit. 2 Corinthians 3:18

Image, Niagara Falls, by Boris Kasimov  https://flic.kr/p/2g3fgeL  

Mending Our Nets

How can we be fishers of men if our nets are full of the holes of prejudice, self-righteousness, unforgiveness, judgment, and pride?

A student is not above his teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like his teacher. Luke 6:40 

I realized as I read this verse recently that I have been taking it out of context for a very long time. Actually, kind of skipping over it because of the more dramatic content that is around it. But I realized that it is like the missing piece of a jigsaw puzzle that completes the picture. So, what comes before and after this verse? 

Before the verse Jesus asks, “Can a blind man lead a blind man? Will they not both fall into a pit?” 

And then right afterward there is another saying that I have taken out of context: 

Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when you yourself fail to see the plank in your own eye? Luke 6:41-42 

I have been taking all of these verses as stand-alone and out of context. But what Jesus has given here are two verses about being blind sandwiching a verse about being fully trained to be like the teacher. What does this mean?  

The Greek word translated “fully trained” above is katartizo. It means to render, sound, complete, to mend (what has been broken or rent), to repair, to complete, to fit out, equip, put in order, arrange, adjust, prepare, restore, make perfect. 

According to W.E. Vinei, the Greek word katarizo “is used of mending nets, Matt. 4:21; Mark 1:19.” Wow, did you get that? Jesus is talking to his disciples here. “Looking at his disciples, he said:” (Luke 6:20). He was talking to learners, pupils, some may have thought “rabbis-in-training.” The underlying assumption seems to be that these disciples would go out and be leading – “can a blind man lead a blind man?” They would also become “fishers of men” (Matthew 4:19, Mark 1:17, Luke 5:10) – and they needed their nets mended. Jesus had just finished some hard sayings: 

Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you ... Luke 6:27-35 

Be merciful … Luke 6:36 

Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Luke 6:37 

I’m pretty sure that, like me, their thinking needed to be adjusted. Their nets needed mending. (Isn’t it amazing and symbolic that when Jesus called James and John, they were mending their nets?) When Jesus asked, “Can a blind man lead?” he was using the word tuphlos, which can mean physical or mental blindness. Significantly, it comes from tuphoo, which means to be enveloped with smoke (so as to render blind), to be puffed up with haughtiness or pride, inflated with self-conceit. 

How can we be fishers of men if our nets are full of the holes of prejudice, self-righteousness, unforgiveness, judgment, and pride? But what did Jesus say?  

Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. Luke 6:36 

Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say? Luke 6:46 

There’s a whole lot of judgment and condemnation going on out there. Let’s allow our Lord to adjust us, to repair and restore us, to mend our nets, so that we can be like Him in mercy and love and light. 

“The Lord is very ready to forgive; it is the church that is unmerciful sometimes, but not the Master. He is always willing to receive us when we come to Him, and to blot out our transgression.” — Charles Spurgeon, God’s Fatherly Pity

Read more about God’s net of everlasting love here (I will throw my net over them

Photo used with gratitude: Fish nets by John Levanen https://flic.kr/p/8yYErh  

Left Vacant

I know that for the right practice of [the Presence of God] the heart must be empty of all other things, because God will possess the heart alone; and as He cannot possess it alone without emptying it of all besides, so neither can He act there, and do in it what He pleases, unless it be left vacant to Him. — Brother Lawrence, The Practice of the Presence of God, Fifth Letter.

In the same way, any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple. Luke 14:33

 

Image, Open Window by Keith Ellwood https://www.flickr.com/search/?text=open%20window%20keith%20ellwood