Miniature World

Many times, how God sets things up is definitely not how we would choose to set things up in our own miniature world.

Joash did what was right in the eyes of the LORD all the years of Jehoiada the priest. 2 Chronicles 24:2 

I am reading through the Old Testament again, and the weirdly sad, downhill history of Israel. Here, 2 Chronicles records that Joash did many good things and rebuilt the temple – but only as long as the old priest, Jehoiada, was alive. Immediately, upon Jehoiada’s death, however, the king and the people abandoned the temple and started worshiping idols. Zechariah, the priest, stood up to them and they murdered him. 

The next king, Amaziah also starts out good. “He did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, but not wholeheartedly. Again, weirdly, even illogically, though he listens to God about attacking the enemies of Judah, and God makes him victorious, he then brings back his enemies’ idols. The Bible records that he brought back the gods of the people of Seir. He set them up as his own gods, bowed down to them and burned sacrifices to them (2 Chronicles 25:14). Does this even make sense? 

Why is idolatry so irresistible? I think for two reasons, at least. One, you can see and touch them, and God can seem elusive and far away. Two, you can control them. Idols don’t come and rebuke you for your sins. They don’t command you to do things you don’t want to do. You command them – at least in your imagination. 

It says that Amaziah “set them up.” In this context, it means to prop up, cause to stand. As God laments through Isaiah: 

They lift it to their shoulders and carry it; they set it up in its place, and there it stands. From that spot it cannot move. Though one cries out to it, it does not answer; it cannot save him from his troubles. Isaiah 46:7 

This made me think of a kid with a train set, creating this miniature world, where he is “god” and decides where to set up everything and how it should run.  

But in reality, “causing to stand” is something that God does: 

Let all the earth fear the LORD; let all the people of the world revere him. For he spoke, and it came to be; he commanded, and it stood firm. Psalm 33:8-9 

My own hand laid the foundations of the earth, and my right hand spread out the heavens; when I summon them, they all stand up together. Isaiah 48:13 

Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To their own master, servants stand or fall. And they will stand, for the Lord is able to make them stand. Romans 14:4 

Through him [Jesus Christ] we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Romans 5:2 (ESV) 

It is God doing the setting up, not the other way around. In fact, the Hebrew word translated “set” in Isaiah – they set it [the idol] up in its place, and there it stands – is the same word that is translated “put” or “placed” in Genesis 2:15: 

The LORD God placed the man in the Garden of Eden to tend and watch over it. (NLT) 

God sets us in our place and makes us stand. But, many times, it is definitely not how we would choose to set things up in our own miniature world. He asks us to do hard things like die to self and love our enemies. If we are honest, there are times when we would like to put our enemies on our little train track and run them down. But God commands love. He commands forgiveness. 

His commands run directly counter to the message of popular culture all around us – self-care, self-awareness, self-love, self-improvement. How many times have I heard the phrase “you’re worth it” in advertising? 

In this environment, God’s voice speaks an ancient, and increasingly unknown language. Put others first; be a servant; die to self; do not be proud; submit to each other; bless the ones who curse and persecute you; do good to the ones who hate you; do not repay evil for evil; live at peace with everyone; do not take revenge; take care of your hungry and thirsty enemy. Love your neighbor. Love one another. Love. 

God’s way is always outwards, always towards others. His train is always one-track towards bringing people into the Kingdom. To accomplish this, God commands love in self-sacrifice. In God’s world He is the Worthy one, and the focus is on other-care, other-awareness, other-love, other-improvement. And I can let Him care about and take care of my “self” because He does and He will to the end.  

Now to Him who is able to protect you from stumbling, and to make you stand in the presence of His glory, blameless with great joy. Jude 1:24 (NASB) 

He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand. Psalm 40:2 

Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ Matthew 22:37-39 

Jesus answered, “I am the way …  John 14:6 

Image, Trains by Quinn Dombrowski https://flic.kr/p/LRAueB  

Born for to Die

What if I am not here to live my “best life” but to give it all up?

I wonder as I wander out under the sky that Jesus my Savior did come for to die … 1

Because God’s children are human beings—made of flesh and blood—the Son also became flesh and blood. For only as a human being could he die, and only by dying could he break the power of the devil, who had the power of death. Only in this way could he set free all who have lived their lives as slaves to the fear of dying. Hebrews 2:14–15 (NLT) 

Jesus, born for to die. The Son of God becoming flesh and blood, born a human being so He could die for all us human beings. I absolutely believe and am forever grateful for that. 

But recently I have been wrestling with something – maybe the hardest thing of all to wrestle with. What if I was “born for to die” too? What if that is the whole reason I am here – to die – so others might live? What if I am not here to live my “best life” but to give it all up? To live His life, the life He gave up for me? 

I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. Galatians 2:20 

But living His life means me dying. Jesus calls us to be His witnesses. Did you know that the Greek word means “martyr”? 

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8).  

“Not my workers. Not my worshipers. Not my weekend warriors. My witnesses. It means those who will cease to live for themselves and learn to live with me and from me and through me and to me and for me.” — J.D. Walt, I Speak Jesus 

“[T]hose who will cease to live for themselves.” The Greek word is martus (μάρτυς ) – witness, martyr. You will be my martyrs. Rarely the way we usually think of a martyr, being killed for his or her faith gloriously in some foreign country. And, definitely not the modern psychological dysfunction self-glorification, self-pitying definition of the word. But through, what Elisabeth Elliot called, “little ‘deaths’.” 

“So my decision to receive Him, although made only once, I must affirm in thousands of ways, through thousands of choices, for the rest of my life—my will or His, my life (the old one) or His (the new one). It is no to myself and yes to Him. This continual affirmation is usually made in small things, inconveniences, unselfish giving up of preferences, yielding gracefully to the wishes of others without playing the martyr, learning to close doors quietly and turn the volume down on the music we’d love to play loudly—sufferings they may be, but only small-sized ones. We may think of them as little ‘deaths’.” — Elisabeth Elliot, A Path through Suffering  

For the joy set before him he endured the cross … Hebrews 12:2 

If I am to be like Jesus, if I can somehow realize that I was “born for to die,” then maybe I can (someday) “consider it all joy” when faced with all the “little deaths.” With the big deaths too. Some seem so very big. 

“The principle runs through all life from top to bottom. Give up your self, and you will find your real self. Lose your life and you will save it. Submit to death, death of your ambitions and favourite wishes every day and death of your whole body in the end: submit with every fiber of your being, and you will find eternal life. Keep back nothing. Nothing that you have not given away will ever be really yours. Nothing in you that has not died will ever be raised from the dead. Look for yourself, and you will find in the long run only hatred, loneliness, despair, rage, ruin, and decay. But look for Christ and you will find Him, and with Him everything else thrown in.” — C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity 

“Beware of only saying, ‘Christ was crucified for me’; say, too, ‘I am crucified with Christ.’” — Andrew Murray, Andrew Murray on the Holy Spirit 

Still wrestling … 

1 Lyrics by John Jacob Niles

Image of dead apple blossoms available under CC0 Public Domain 

All the Parts are Present

Can I do that? Can I give all the shattered pieces of my heart?

“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: “’Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’” Matthew 22:36-37 

“with all … with all … with all…”  

Jesus is quoting Deuteronomy 6:5. He said this is the greatest commandment. The Greek word here translated “all” is holos (ὅλος). It is the root of the English term “whole.” It means whole, complete, entire, “properly, wholly, where all the parts are present and working as a whole – i.e. as the total, which is greater than the mere sum of the parts.” 

All the parts present and working as a whole means holding nothing back. Jesus came and showed us how to love with all. 

“… whoever wants to be first must be your slave— just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Matthew 20:27-28 

Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. Ephesians 5:1-2 

He gave his life to free us from every kind of sin, to cleanse us, and to make us his very own people, totally committed to doing good deeds. Titus 2:14 (NLT) 

Jesus gave all, the whole. As Tozer wrote, His very self.  

“That eternal life which was with the Father is now the possession of believing men, and that life is not God’s gift only, but His very self.”  
― A.W. Tozer, God’s Pursuit of Man 

All. Can I do that? Can I give all the shattered pieces of my heart, scattered, distracted, resisting, all the carefully separated and locked up memories. Or, will I keep holding back in entitlement to rage, unforgiveness; holding back in fear of the complete destruction of the remaining fragile ego; holding back the needed surgery on the bleeding, infected, pus-filled, putrid, putrescent wounds?  

All, the whole, entire, complete. My voluntary will binding it all together, like Abraham binding Isaac and laying him on the altar. The sacrifice total, greater than the mere sum of fragmented, dismembered, mangled, defective parts. Am I loving Him with all my mind, or am I holding back, reserving a little doubt, a little reinterpretation to justify some sin, unforgiveness, some command I don’t want to obey. “Did God really say?” Am I clutching some precious part of my life, unable to lay it on the altar? 

But Jesus said I have to give up everything. 

Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Won’t he first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace. In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples. Luke 14:31-33 

“If we shrink from the thought of fighting against God, we had better accept His conditions of peace. The worst folly of all is to enter into the conflict with a wavering will, not caring to know what “the things belonging to our peace” actually are, or to endeavour to stand apart in an impossible neutrality.” — Eliott’s Commentary for English Readers 

“An impossible neutrality.” Yes, being neutral before God is impossible. But that’s what we want – a truce. I will just keep going my own way and God will do His thing and let me be. I will keep back just this one thing and God will blink. But it doesn’t work that way. The King is on His way. He may be still a long way off, but He is on His way. And His terms of peace are all. All is what God wants of us. All or nothing.  

“So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:26-33). Jesus said a lot in those simple illustrations. He quickly put an end to the idea that He offered some kind of welfare program. Although the gift of eternal life is free to anyone who asks (John 3:16), the asking requires a transfer of ownership (Luke 9:23; Galatians 5:24). “Counting the cost” means recognizing and agreeing to some terms first. In following Christ, we cannot simply follow our own inclinations. We cannot follow Him and the world’s way at the same time (Matthew 7:13-14). Following Him may mean we lose relationships, dreams, material things, or even our lives.” — Got Questions https://www.gotquestions.org/count-the-cost.html 

Give me grace Lord to accept your terms of peace: Everything. 

When they reached the place God had told him about, Abraham built an altar there and arranged the wood on it. He bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. Genesis 22:9 

He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Romans 8:32 

The LORD is God, and he has made his light to shine upon us. Bind the festal sacrifice with cords, up to the horns of the altar! Psalm 118:27 (ESV) 

You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. Jeremiah 29:13 

Photo, “Broken Pot” by Silly Little Man https://flic.kr/p/8PtRAa  

Same Mind

The mind of Christ is the narrow way. It is the way we would rather not deal with.

I plead with Euodia and I plead with Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. Philippians 4:2 

Usually, I just slide over this passage, but this time I felt like God wanted me to look closer. It seems Paul had to encourage the churches to agree with each other a lot. Earlier in this same letter to the church in Philippi Paul had written: 

Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Philippians 2:2  

To the Corinthians he wrote: 

I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought. 1 Corinthians 1:10 

So here, at the end of the letter to Philippi, he singles out these two women who are having a disagreement. Looking at just the meaning of their names is enlightening. At first glance, Euodia means “fine traveling” and Syntyche means “accident.” That made me smile. Already they appear to be opposites.  

Euodia, according to Thayer’s, means “a prosperous journey.” Strong’s notes it could possibly mean “success.” It comes from a word that means “to have a prosperous journey,” or “(figuratively) to be on the right (profitable) path.” In any case, I get this feeling of confidence, even care-lessness. 

Syntyche, on the other hand, means “a happy event.” It comes from a word that means “accident,” like happenstance, or chance meeting. In ancient Greece the word syntyche meant “fortunate” or “with fate.” The words fate, happenstance, and accidental do not promote a lot of security. So that, whereas with Euodia there is a feeling of solid confidence, with Syntyche a little bit of anxiety and even insecurity creeps in.  

It makes me think of the tension between optimism and pessimism. It reminds me of some of the disagreements Christians have had over the centuries: pre-tribulation rapture (we don’t have to worry about a thing because we will be out of here) or post-tribulation rapture (we will have to endure, dig in and fight), eternal security and conditional securityi, and arguments about salvation through faith and/or works.  

If you go too far in either of these directions you get the familiar errors of either “you don’t have to worry about (or do) anything, just trust God and proclaim the promises,” or “everything is up to us, God has given us gifts and his commands, but we have to do it.” Worse, the insecurity of Syntyche can lead to suspicion and judgement of other Christians, while the careless trust of Euodia can lead to disappointment and even anger at God when things go wrong. 

It seems to me that both of these extremes are an attempt to control life, to avoid having to trust God when bad things happen and life doesn’t make sense. Everything will always be happy and wonderful (God promises it!) vs. we must work hard to make everything happy and wonderful (God commands it!). 

The first one leads to moving target prophesies and gleeful assurances of prosperity. It leads to disillusionment with the church and God. The second one leads to anxiety, burnout, or a “fort and fight” mentality, responding to current events in fear and even hostility. 

But, what does Paul urge here? “… be of the same mind in the Lord.”  

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. Philippians 2:5-7 

We are to have the mind of Christ, which Paul assured the Corinthians we already do have. 

But we have the mind of Christ. 1 Corinthians 2:16  

When Paul urges Euodia and Synthyche to be of the same mind, the Greek word is phronéō, which means “the midriff or diaphragm; the parts around the heart … [it] essentially equates to personal opinion fleshing itself out in action.”ii Being of the same mind with each other is a heart thing. It is what we believe in our heart coming out in action. And that action is supposed to reveal Christ to the world. How important it is that we let God deal with our hearts! 

The mind of Christ is the narrow way. It is the way we would rather not deal with when we are entrenched, off on the mucky shoulders of the path, in our own thinking, our own wants and needs and demands. And please know that I am not sharing this in a judging or critical way. I have flailed around on both sides at different times in my Christian walk. But I think that God is nudging us back onto the narrow way – the mind of Christ.  

What is the mind of Christ? It is complete trust in God. It is to let ourselves become nothing. It is to be the servant. It is to have our “one thing” focus be on the will of God. It is to pour ourselves out for the salvation of the world. 

Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done. Luke 22:42 

I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world. John 16:33 

This is Jesus’ final word to us: the meaning of the Greek word translated “peace” in John 16:33 above is eirḗnē which means one, peace, quietness, rest. It comes from eirō to join, tie together into a whole – and so means “properly, wholeness, i.e. when all essential parts are joined together; peace.” 

Take heart Church! 

iFor a good explanation of conditional security see https://www.gotquestions.org/conditional-security.html 

iiThayer’s Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament. Joseph Henry Thayer. 

Image: Fort La Latte, Côtes d’Armor, France, by Semnoz https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:200707_Fort_La_Latte_38.JPG   

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