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How to Not be Wrong

I hate being wrong. Hate. HATE. HAAAAAAAAATE!

(My counselor can give you all the reasons why, if you’re into that sort of thing.)

Lucky for me, Jesus tells me how to not be wrong!

Surely, if I employ His little formula, I’ll never be wrong again! Muhahaha!

(Of course, no one can perfectly obey Jesus’ commands all the time because sin. But, man, if I could follow His strategy for not being wrong just some of the time, I could cut out a whole lot of being wrong in my life, and, I gotta tell ya, that sounds good!)

The way to not be wrong, straight from Jesus’ mouth, is to “know the Scriptures and the power of God,” (Mark 12:24).

That’s it!

That’s it?

That almost seems attainable!

Here’s some context for you.

Not everyone liked Jesus, turns out.

There was this group of Jews back in the day, the Sadducees, who didn’t like Jesus because He taught something they didn’t believe in. Namely, Jesus taught there would be a bodily resurrection of the dead one day. The Sadducees didn’t buy that at all.

So one day the Sadducees tried to trap Jesus to make Him look stupid to His followers and other onlookers. They asked Jesus a question based on a false premise and gave Him seven possible answers to choose from, none of which were right.

Trap.

It seemed to be an impossible question to answer in the Sadducees minds, but, if Jesus didn’t produce an answer, it would appear He was admitting there is no resurrection of the dead. Thus, Jesus would prove to be a phony teacher who couldn’t be trusted, and, hopefully, His followers would stop following Him.

Jesus saw through this strategy, and, instead of choosing one of the multiple choices the Sadducees gave Him, Jesus replied to their question this way: “Is this not the reason you are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God?” (12:24).

Daaaaaaaaaaaaang!

(I’m imagining this intense school yard scenario like in all kids’ movies ever. The group of Sadducees stands across from Jesus and His disciples. Everyone has his arms crossed as the rival posses throw death stares at each other. And Head Sadducee Guy steps forward, sets this trap, stands nose to nose with Jesus, and snarkily challenges Jesus to answer this crafty question he’s so proud of. (Yeah, I made “snarkily” up…what even is your point?) And Jesus mic drops the dude by basically saying, “You’re wrong to even ask me that because you don’t know anything about the scriptures OR God!” And everyone’s eyes get big like Jesus has just laid down the worst “Your mama…” insult. And dudes on both sides can’t help but let out loud, “Oooooooooooooo!” sounds (or, as the kids today say, “Buuuuuuuuurn!”). And Head Sadducee Guy turns bright red and two-hand shoves Jesus. And Peter jumps in and punches Head Sadducee Guy right in the mouth. And they all get sent to detention. Except Jesus. Because obviously.)

Back to reality…

After Jesus posed the rhetorical question that told the Sadducees they were wrong because they were ignorant of the scriptures (which, in fact, teach the resurrection of the dead [Daniel 12:1-2, Isaiah 26:19]), and the power of God (God is, in fact, powerful enough to resurrect people [Job 42:2, Jeremiah 32:17]), Jesus proceeded to explain why the question was invalid: it was based on the false premise that people will be married in heaven.

If they had read the scriptures, the Sadducees would’ve known there is such a thing as a bodily resurrection of the dead, and this whole silly scenario would’ve been avoided.

Then Jesus did them one better and dismantled their belief that the resurrection of the dead is not a thing in a matter of 2 sentences (Mark 12:26-27). It’s beautiful.

I’ve been a believer for 20 years. And, from the beginning of my relationship with Jesus, by the grace of God, I’ve been drawn to and felt the importance of knowing the Word.

Today, I am more convinced than ever, and increasingly so with every passing day, that if we are going to be the mature believers God wants us to be, we. must. know. His. Word.

We will never “arrive”. The Bible is not something we can master. It may look like a finite book with dimensions and a first page and a last page, but, it is really an unlimited trove of knowledge of an infinite God.

There is no exhausting it! The Holy Spirit always has more to show us. Always. ALWAYS! God can continue to reveal more things to us about Himself every single time we read it.

And, here in Mark, Jesus is not just telling the Sadducees, but He is also telling us: if you don’t know the scriptures, you won’t know the truth! Another translation says you will be in error.

I don’t want to be in error! Ever!

Partly because I am a prideful schmuck who hates being wrong. God is working on changing that part of me…

But I also don’t want to be in error because I cannot properly understand and serve God if I don’t know the truth. About Him. About me. About the world. About the Word. About how life works. About how eternity works. About everything.

And if I am not properly understanding and serving God due to my lack of knowledge of the truth, I am failing to give God the glory and honor and praise He is worthy of.

In other words, I’m sinning.

If we don’t want to be wrong, Jesus says we have to know the scriptures.

(Caveat: it’s possible to know the scriptures and still be wrong. Knowing and obeying are two different things.)

And there’s no better time to start knowing the scriptures than now. (Seriously, you’re reading a blog post. Go read the Word!)

(Also, thanks for reading this blog post! Please come again….you know, when you’re not reading the Word…)

Staying Free

Being free is hard.

It sounds easy…being rid of the metaphorical chains that bind you to literal misery…having the ability to move about, run away, make your own choices…

But being free is hard.

Because it takes intentional effort and vigilance to remain free.

The Israelites are a good case study. (Aren’t they always?)

They were enslaved in Egypt, worked ragged, abused, and then God/Moses led them to freedom. Pharaoh decided to let the Israelites go, granting them the ability to trudge out into the desert, move around as they wished, run away from the oppression, and make their own choices…they left with tons of goods, and the Lord Himself showed them the way they should go.

They were finally free.

About one month after they were set free, the Israelites were out of water and low on food. Because they were free, it was up to them to provide for themselves…maybe they didn’t know how since they never had to do so previously…or maybe the nomadic existence made it difficult to have reliable, regular sources of food and water…or maybe the unforgiving desert is to blame for their lack of resources.

Whatever the reasons, Exodus 16:2-3 reads, “In the desert the whole community grumbled against Moses and Aaron. The Israelites said to them, ‘If only we had died by the Lord’s hand in Egypt! There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death.'”

The gnawing hunger and parched mouths led the Israelites to long for the days when they were enslaved in Egypt. Their unmet physical needs actually made them think they would prefer beatings and unreasonable work loads to being free from the inhumane abuse to which they were accustomed if that meant they’d get an all-you-can-eat buffet each day.

This wouldn’t be the only time the Israelites grumbled against Moses, despising him for taking them out of their Egyptian slavery. Many times, in fact, the group said they’d prefer being enslaved again to having their freedom, as long as their stomachs were filled.

Not many of us are the kind of slaves the Israelites were in Egypt. But we all have our own masters, nonetheless.

Sometimes we let people control us…sometimes it’s food or exercise or shopping or alcohol or tobacco or prescription drugs or illegal drugs or lust or greed or ambition or achievement or money or recognition or work or ministry or volunteerism or love for our children or spouse that relentlessly drives us to unhealthy ends.

We humans can make masters out of anything. Literally.

God designed us to serve Him…to be ruled by Him…to submit to His will…to worship Him…and if we don’t, we take our service-oriented natures and our default tendencies to worship elsewhere.

We all enslave ourselves to someone or something.

(And if you’re thinking, “I don’t…you’re probably enslaved to yourself. You probably do whatever you want to satisfy you. In essence, you are your own god.)

We all become enslaved to things that aren’t God at some point.

The good news is we can gain our freedom.

If we pursue breaking free from that master, we can often learn how to gain control over our “issue”. Which is great!

To no longer be controlled by what someone else thinks or by an addiction of any kind is true freedomAnd it is an amazing, healthy place to be.

But.

Being free is hard.

Because it takes intentional effort and vigilance to remain free.

Whatever controlled us before will pop up again, and, just like the Israelites, there will be times we long to return to our former masters, cruel and unhealthy as they may be.

We will be tempted to willingly return to our unhealthy behaviors that were so easy and so comfortable in the past. When our old masters seem to beckon us, we have to work to maintain our freedom from them.

How?

By reminding ourselves of the truth. Any master who is not God will not satisfy us. They can’t.

By remembering how miserable we were when we were enslaved to ________. The grass is not greener on the other side, and nostalgia is more akin to fantasy than historical biography.

By reminding ourselves of the joy we experience when we make God our Master. Recall times you’ve been satisfied in Him worshiping, reading scripture, serving, ministering…

By asking the Holy Spirit to empower us to resist the lure of former masters. The Spirit is real and He really can enable us to resist temptation and see through lies.

By talking through our desires to return to unhealthy masters with encouraging friends and family. Don’t let shame that you even have the thought to sin keep you from opening up to someone about your struggle. Because guess what…we all think about sinning every single day. It’s called being human. And when we try to fight our impulses on our own, our success rate is dramatically lower than when we call on our brothers and sisters in Christ to help us.

Getting free is hard.

And staying free is hard.

Lord, help us make an intentional effort to remain free so we may serve You only, our one true Master.

How to be a Great Bad Leader

I’m reading through the book of Acts, and I just came across Stephen’s speech to the official assembly of Israel’s elders in chapter 7. Turns out the assembly was full of less-than-stellar leaders, and you, too, can be a great bad leader if you follow their example. (Or you can use their example as what NOT to do in leadership…your call.)

Stephen’s story starts in chapter 6. All we know about Stephen is he lived in Jerusalem shortly after Jesus ascended to heaven and that he was “…a man full of God’s grace and power [and he] did great wonders and miraculous signs among the people,” (Acts 6:8). And the Jewish leaders/elders didn’t take kindly to this.

As Stephen, and, more importantly, Jesus, grew in popularity among the Jews in Jerusalem, that necessarily meant the Jewish leaders’ power and popularity decreased.

And guess what?

Bad leaders cannot STAND to lose power. They will go to GREAT lengths to maintain power because without it they feel worthless. It’s sad, really.

In Stephen’s case these jealous elders decided to “secretly persuade” some dudes to accuse Stephen of blasphemy.

Again, bad leaders create conflict using deception and underhanded tactics in order to create the illusion that their poor leadership choices are justified.

And because most of the Jews inherently trusted their leaders, they automatically believed whatever they said. The general population just couldn’t conceive their beloved elders would deceive them or have back door meetings or strong arm people into doing immoral things.

The elders wanted Stephen to shut up about Jesus so they could maintain their dictatorial control over the masses. The best way to ensure Stephen would shut up was to kill him. And the fastest ticket to death in those days was to be convicted of blasphemy. After all, no upstanding Jew would tolerate such a thing, and neither did their law. And guess who got to decide if someone accused of blasphemy was guilty or innocent? That’s right: the assembly of elders.

Hmm. Sounds a little self-serving.

Bad leaders design processes and procedures that always result in them alone having absolute authority. They carefully craft heirarchies to ensure they cannot be held accountable by anyone else.

Israel’s elders went to great lengths to make sure Stephen would be found guilty of the drummed up charge of blasphemy. “They produced false witnesses, who testified, ‘This fellow never stops speaking against this holy place (the Temple) and against the law. For we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and change the customs Moses handed down to us,” (Acts 6:13-14).

Bad leaders have people in their pockets. They know who is weak enough morally and/or emotionally to exploit them when they need to. Sometimes bad leaders bribe others to do their dirty work so they themselves can still appear clean to the general population. Other times they threaten people to cooperate. Other times they manipulate people to do their bidding by convincing them the task at hand is really a noble thing to do. Worst of all, sometimes bad leaders misuse scripture to convince the spiritually naive that God WANTS them to do whatever devious thing the leaders have in mind. That last one gets all over me and makes me want to hit things.

So the Jewish elders put Stephen on “trial”. They went through the motions of justice to deceive the masses into thinking they really were after the “truth” and really were being “fair” to Stephen. These elders brought in these hand-picked false witnesses and pretended to be hearing the false accusations for the first time, as if they hadn’t coached these witnesses to say exactly what they said.

The heart of Jewish religion was the temple sacrifices doled out by the law God established through Moses. So these sly elders got people to accuse Stephen of defaming and wanting to get rid of both.

Bad leaders play on people’s emotions. They know what hot-button topics will really get their people stirred up–so stirred up that they become unable to calmly and rationally listen to anyone else’s side of the story. Literally, the science says once we humans become flooded with anger or fear, our brains cannot process new information until we physiologically calm down again. Bad leaders know this and use it to their advantage.

The high priest (think “head elder”) puts on his best shocked/fake-let’s-be-fair voice and asked Stephen, “Are these charges true?” (Acts 7:1).

And you know what Stephen says?

He brilliantly launches into the history of Israel and, specifically, how the Israelites royally failed at recognizing Moses as a prophet. They disobeyed Moses all the time, willfully choosing idolatry over worshipping God again and again.

Stephen uses the example of Moses to illustrate to the elders that, just like their ancestors before them, the elders are stubborn, have hard hearts unyielded to the Lord, refuse to listen to God, and, worst of all, “…always resist the Holy Spirit!” (Acts 7:51).

Wow. That’s an indictment there if I’ve ever heard one. Stephen also accused the elders of “betraying and murdering” the “Righteous One” prophets of old spoke about–i.e., Jesus (Acts 7:52).

You’ll never guess how the elders responded to Stephen’s rebuke.

That’s right, they humbly accepted the correction, admitted their wrongs, and thanked Stephen for having the you-know-whats to point out the sin in their lives so they could stop and grow more mature in their faith in God.

Just kidding.

The elders of Israel threw a fit. A FIT, I tell you.

“When they heard this, they were furious and gnashed their teeth at him…[at the mention of Jesus being with God in heaven] they covered their ears, and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at [Stephen], dragged him out of the city and began to stone him,” (Acts 7:54-58). Stephen died from that stoning, and then the elders went on to persecute other Christians in Jerusalem so badly that they all literally ran for their lives, scattering throughout the region (Acts 8:1).

Bad leaders lose their minds when they are confronted with the truth. If their cover as “good guys” is threatened publically, bad leaders attack those blowing the whistle. And then they attack everyone associated with those who blew the whistle. The gloves come off. The leaders stop delegating their dirty work and take matters into their own hands as a last ditch effort to squelch any revolt on account of the masses slowly beginning to realize these leaders are not what they seem.

Like Israel’s elders back in the day, some people today are really great bad leaders. Phenomenal, actually. And, unfortunately, there are still some really great bad leaders in churches today.

Ask the Spirit to help you perceive if any of your leaders–inside the church or out–fit the bill of great bad leaders. If you find you are under one (or more–they tend to travel in packs), blow the whistle. But know you will likely be clobbered when you do. That’s ok. Jesus told us that will happen when we stand for what is right.

If your whistle-blowing results in change for the better, rejoice! If it doesn’t, relocate. That is, find new leaders. There are great great leaders out there; stop wasting your time under great bad leaders.

What to do when You’re Sinning

A lot of times when I am going through a time of not caring about much, having a “meh” attitude about life, I slip into some pretty comfortable sins. Perhaps my favorite one is not doing the good I know I ought to do, per James 4:17. I don’t use my time for His purposes…I don’t intentionally invest in people in order to encourage them toward Him…I don’t think of others more highly than myself and act accordingly (Philippians 2:3). I don’t discipline my thoughts or my mouth to think and speak things that honor God.

After a lengthy spell of this self-centeredness, the Holy Spirit breaks through and convicts my hard heart of my wrongdoing. My stubborn self probably won’t admit to other humans that I’ve been sinning, but, I know the Spirit has nailed me…

Usually, what ensues next is an internal debate about how I need to stop myself and do right, but also that I don’t really want to stop and/or I don’t have the will power to stop on my own. Sometimes the excuses win and I stay stuck in my pattern of sin for a while longer. Other times, I respond to the Spirit.

It occurred to me while studying 1 Samuel that I’m probably Jewish. Not nationality-wise, of course. Blond hair and blue eyes are not what you think of when you hear “of middle-eastern descent.” What really occurred to me is I am just like the Israelites in behavior.

In 1 Samuel the Israelites start out as a theocracy. That is, they are governed by God Himself. They have judges/leaders in place to help them through civil affairs and military strategies and whatnot, but, ultimately, those leaders are not leading Israel: God is. The prophets tell the judges what God wants them to do, and the Israelites decide whether or not to do it.

After some pretty amazing military battles in which Leader God miraculously delivers Israel from enemies and grants peace between Israel and rowdy neighbors for the first time in forever, the Israelites decide they don’t want a theocracy anymore. Rather, they want a king–i.e., a human–to lead them (1 Samuel 8:20).

Why? Because they want to keep up with the Joneses. “All the other nations get to have kings, why can’t we?” they whine (1 Samuel 8:5, 19-20, Kelly Levatino Translation).

Now, Samuel knows this is a stupid request. So you know what he does? He prays. If that ain’t a lesson in leadership, I don’t know what is. But I digress.

And when Samuel prays, God tells him what to do. Crazy right? Maybe if you and I thought that could still happen today when we pray, we’d pray more often and with more anticipation. But probably not. I digress.

Sam tells the Israelites, “Look, I talked to God, and He says if you guys want a king, you need to know that man is going to oppress the daylights out of you. It’s not going to be good, you guys,” (1 Samuel 8:11-17).

“We don’t care!” the stupid people reply, “We want a king!” (1 Samuel 8:19-20).

Samuel just shakes his head. He does’t argue with them or call them names or pull his judge card and “overrule” their decision. Instead, you know what he does? That guy prays again! He goes back to God and tells Him what happened (as if He didn’t already know), and God says, “Give them the king they want,” (1 Samuel 8:21-22).

Samuel installs Saul as king, effectively ending his own rule as judge. And as he steps down, Samuel says, “Let me tell you people something. You all have a long history of doing whatever you want, getting yourselves into desperate situations, realizing you’re in those situations because you’ve been sinning, and then running back to God crying, ‘Mea culpa!’ And you know what? Every time you’ve sincerely repented, God has been faithful to forgive you and deliver you from your circumstances,” (1 Samuel 12:6-11).

Samuel continues, “This time your sin is that you said, ‘We want a king to rule over us’–even though the Lord your God was your king,”(1 Samuel 12:12 NIV).

And so it finally dawns on the Israelites how their demanding a king has been sin all this time. When this reality hits them between the eyes, they respond to Samuel, “Pray to the Lord your God for your servants so that we will not die, for we have added to all our other sins the evil of asking for a king,” (1 Samuel 12:19).

Instead of going to God themselves in the midst of their guiltiness, the Israelites ask the “senior pastor”, as it were, to pray for them while they keep their distance from the Lord they think will kill them for their disobedience (and for good reason; He does have a track record of that…).

But Samuel tells them, “Do not be afraid. You have done all this evil; yet do not turn away from the Lord, but serve the Lord with all your heart,” (1 Samuel 12:20).

In other words, RUN TO GOD! This is when you need Him the most! When you’re being convicted of your sin and need to make things right with Him, GO TO HIM!

Samuel goes on to advise, “Do not turn away after useless idols. They can do you no good, nor can they rescue you, because they are useless,” (1 Samuel 8:21).

So, not only do the Israelites need to go to God in their sinful state, they also need to stop turning to useless idols in their sinful state.

When we are caught up in sinful patterns and are convicted to repent, we have the same two choices Israel had: we can run to God and deal with it, or we can run to useless idols.

Our “useless idols” may look a little different than Israel’s Baals and Ashteroths, but, essentially, they are the same. Today we run to Netflix or Facebook or ice cream or adult beverages or our spouses’ approval or overworking or helicopter parenting or spending too much time on hobbies or a million other things in an effort to not have to deal with our sin, our guilt. We indulge in distractions and/or surround ourselves with people who will tell us we aren’t that bad, hoping God will agree and the Spirit will leave us alone.

But those useless idols cannot rescue us.

There is only One rescuer.

Jesus took our sin upon Himself, in part, so that when we screw up, we can go to God WITHOUT FEAR of punishment. The only thing God gives us when we come to Him with repentant hearts is grace. He graciously forgives us and repairs our brokenness that results from our sinning. He puts us back together.

Samuel goes on to tell the Israelites, “For the sake of His great name the Lord will not reject His people, because the Lord was pleased to make you His own,” (1 Samuel 12:22).

When we go to Him, He WILL NOT reject us; He chose us–we are His.

In the midst of our sin, do not turn away from the Lord. Go to Him. The sooner the better.

How God Uses Our Stupid, Sinful Choices

I don’t know why, but it struck me this morning how comforting it is that God uses our sins for good.

I’m not saying our sins are good, obviously. I’m saying He takes our stupid decisions and eventually uses the results for good purposes.

Of course, the go-to verse on the subject is Romans 8:28. Paul is going on and on about how the Spirit prays on our behalf, and then Paul writes, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”

And what, pray tell, is “the good” to which Paul is referring? Next verse, “…to be conformed to the likeness of his Son.”

God works ALL THINGS–including our sinful choices!–to make us more like Jesus. 

I kind of want to jump up and down and celebrate this. Because I sin a lot. But God is too good to waste my disobedience.

That’s about all I had to say on this subject until I went to Bible study this morning, and God brought the topic up again. (Yes, God attends my Bible study.)

We are studying Ruth, and it turns out her story is the prime example of God working sin for good. 

Back in the day God was very clear to the Israelites that they were not to marry non-Israelites. He knew if they did those foreigners would draw the Israelites into idolatry.

God was trying to protect the Israelites from the gravest sin of all–worshiping something other than Him–by saying, “Hey, you guys? We’re gonna go ahead and call ‘intermarrying with Gentiles who don’t worship me and me alone’ sin because it will hurt you if you do it, and, also, it will dishonor Me.”

[Side note: these are the two reasons God labels anything sin. He’s not trying to ruin our fun or pull rank for the sake of pulling rank. He’s trying to PROTECT US and ensure He is properly glorified. If we could only get that through our ridiculously thick heads…]

All that to say, the book of Ruth opens with an Israelite family moving to a foreign land and the sons of the family immediately marrying foreign women. In other words, SIN (we have no evidence Ruth was a Yahweh follower). Mahlon’s decision to marry Ruth, a non-Israelite was a direct violation of God’s law.

Fast forward to the end of the book and we see that Ruth, who has since become a Yahweh follower (1:16), births a son named Obed via her second husband, an Israelite man named Boaz. Obed grows up and has a son named Jesse, and Jesse grows up and has a son named David. As in King David, the greatest Israelite King of all time, and the ancestor from whom Mary and, subsequently, Jesus would come.

DO YOU SEE WHAT JUST HAPPENED HERE?!

God used one man’s sin not just for “good” but to PROVIDE A WAY FOR ALL OF HUMANITY TO BE REDEEMED.

Are you kidding me, God?!

really want to jump up and down and celebrate this one!

There’s more.

Ruth had Gentile blood. Boaz had Israelite blood. Their son, Obed, had a bit of both. And all the descendants after Obed–including Mary and JESUS–had mixed blood as well.

Why should we even care about Jesus’ blood type?

I think it is PROFOUND (clearly, given the amount of all caps I’m using in this post) because Christ didn’t just come to save the Israelites; He came to save Gentiles and Israelites.

God has always been for all people groups (this is a theme throughout the Bible, starting with the Abrahamic Covenant back in Genesis 12), even though He had a “chosen nation” in Israel. He has always wanted to redeem any person of any race who wanted to follow Him.

And you know how He did that?

Not via a pure Israelite Messiah. Nope. By a Savior who had blood ties to Gentiles and Jews alike!

If that’s not cool, I don’t know what is. (Actually, the latter is not related to the former in any way.)

Anywho, reeling myself back in, my point is TAKE HEART; God can and will use all of our sins for good purposes.

Regret your sin.

Acknowledge the wrongness of your sin.

Seek forgiveness from God and the person(s) whom your sin hurt.

BUT DON’T STOP THERE!

See the silver lining, and trust God to use the results of your sin for eternal good–the formation of your soul (and the souls around you) to look a little more like Christ than you did before you sinned.

On Darkness

At our Easter service the pastor said something to the effect of, “Darkness cannot eliminate darkness; only light can eliminate darkness.”

Of course, the darkness is our sinfulness and/or pain we experience because we are fallen people in a fallen world, and the light is Jesus, but I don’t know that I’ve ever thought of the fact that we – in our own strength – often try to eliminate darkness with more darkness.

When we feel depressed or angry or otherwise discontent (that is, when we feel darkness), how often is our knee-jerk response to try to combat those feelings with more darkness?

My go-to’s include, but are not limited to, over-eating, under-eating (I’m a complicated person), distracting myself via hours of reruns or Word Brain (you guys, I’m addicted), manipulating, withdrawing, clinging, sleeping, worrying, over-analyzing, indulging and the list goes on and on.

I sin to make myself feel better because I buy the lie that sin will make me feel better.

And so do you.

Unchecked, we all use dark measures to try to rid ourselves of dark emotions.

And the way our pastor put it made me realize how illogical that is. Darkness cannot eliminate darkness. Sin cannot eliminate emotional pain. (In fact, sin only and always amplifies emotional pain, but that’s where the darkness metaphor breaks down, so let’s save that for another day).

Only light can eliminate darkness.

Jesus is the light, according to the scriptures (John 9:5). He is truth. He is love. And whoever lives in the light – whoever combats their own darkness with the truth of Jesus Christ – has life (John 8:12; Psalm 36:9).

There is only one way out of our pain and our sin – our darkness. And that way is Jesus – the Light. As we press into Him in our moments (our days, our months, our years…) of darkness, He will bring light (truth, hope, love, comfort).

No, God isn’t on Your Side (At Least not Unequivocally)

There are mostly two kinds of people in this world: the kind that think God is always for them and the kind that think God is always against them. I’ve met very few inbetweeners.

But the thing is it’s only the inbetweeners – those who don’t think God is for them or against them – who are holding a biblical belief.

Early on in Joshua’s tenure as Israel’s head honcho, the Lord/an angel/the pre-incarnate Christ appears to Joshua in the form of a man to give him instructions on how to conquer Jericho.

At first Joshua doesn’t seem to recognize this man is no ordinary man. Joshua approaches him and asks, “Are you for us or for our enemies?” (Joshua 5:13). Joshua realizes this man is not an Israelite. But some foreigners supported Israel, living among them and fighting with them in all their battles. So Joshua wants to know: is this guy on Israel’s side or Jericho’s side?

The man replied, “Neither…but as commander of the army of the Lord I have now come,” (Joshua 5:14).

This revelation clues Joshua into the fact that this man is supernatural, sent by God to speak to him. Immediately, “Joshua fell face down to the ground in reverence, and asked him, ‘What message does my Lord have for his servant?'” (Joshua 5:15).

That word “neither” was most unexpected to me. How can God not be for Israel and against her enemies always? Israel is His chosen nation! He’s giving her leaders step by step directions on how to violently conquer and destroy every single breathing human being in every single nation in her path. What does He mean “neither”?!

There are two possibilities I can think of.

One is perhaps all God is trying to communicate here is that the man before Joshua is not human, like he had assumed. He’s not an Israelite or a sympathetic foreigner, and he’s not from Jericho. He’s neither. End of story.

The other possibility is God is communicating that and more, the “more” being that God doesn’t choose sides, at least not unequivocally. 

I know, I don’t like it anymore than you do. I want to believe God is cheering me on in every single thing I do, turning to the angels from time to time to say, “Do you see her?! That’s my daughter! Isn’t she wonderful?!”

Perhaps He does do that on occasion. But I guarantee you He doesn’t do that all the time.

In fact, there are times He must surely say to Himself what I often say to my daughters, “Oh, no, ma’am! That is not acceptable behavior.” And then He doles out some discipline to let His hard-headed daughter know He is not at all for her when she insists on sinning.

This is the case with Israel.

Yes, the Israelites are God’s chosen nation. Yes, He empowers them to win quite a few battles and to take possession of a choice expanse of land.

But when the Israelites choose to do wrong, God is quick to drop His support. He disciplines them and allows them to suffer all kinds of terrible consequences as a result of their disobedience, sometimes even causing the tragic results.

A couple of examples:

  • He is lightning quick to thoroughly punish the Israelites when they get impatient with how long Moses and God’s powwow takes on Mount Sinai. They decide 40 days is a ridiculous amount of time to wait, so they make a golden calf and worship a hunk of shiny metal instead. And God is anything but for them, instructing Moses to kill the idol worshippers, some 3,000 Israelites, and sending a plague on the rest of nation (Exodus 32).
  • God doesn’t hesitate to punish the Israelites with a 40 year death sentence in the wilderness because they don’t trust Him enough to enter the Promised Land when He tells them to. Because of their lack of faith, God tells them to go somewhere else instead. Upon hearing this consequence, the Israelites try to renege on their choice to disobey and agree to go to the Promised Land the next day. Moses tries to talk them out of it, but they erroneously believe disobeying God’s command to go somewhere else in an effort to obey His initial command to go to the Promised Land will be acceptable. On the contrary, He lets them know it isn’t by allowing the Amalekites to destroy many of them and sending a plague on many more (Numbers 14).

I could go on. In fact, most of the Old Testament attests to the fact that God doesn’t unequivocally endorse anyone, not even those who are supposedly especially tight with Him. God doesn’t jump on our team or another team. He does not proclaim unconditional loyalty to humans.

Why not? Especially this side of the cross, shouldn’t He always be in our corner if we are Christians?

Not only is that logically impossible (think of how many times you and another Christ-follower were on different sides of an issue – how could God be “for” both of you at the same time?), but God knows how fickle people are, even believers. He knows how we can worship Him with all our hearts one minute and be nose-deep in sin the next. Is it any wonder He won’t support us or anyone else unequivocally?

The reality is God doesn’t pick sides; we do. 

God has a team; Satan has a team. Humans decide which team to be on, sometimes jumping back and forth at a nauseating pace.

The Story is about God and His Kingdom, not us and ours. God is not for humans; God is for God. Are we?