Expectations of God and Life

Years ago, I heard it said, “Life wouldn’t be so hard if we didn’t expect it to be so easy.”

Apparently I wasn’t listening well enough. That one expectation may be the source of more of my aggravation and disappointment than anything else in my life. On second thought, there’s no reason to include the words “may be” in that sentence. Let’s replace them with the word “is.”

My default setting is to expect things to always go well. As in easy. As in my favor. As in without struggle.

Where did I get that idea from? It’s not even close to reality. It’s certainly not found in the Bible. There’s nowhere in all of Scripture where God promises a life of ease and comfort. In fact, the opposite is true. We’re promised hardships and trials and suffering.

Yesterday, we looked at Israel’s trek through the wilderness and how after a little over a year, they were whining and complaining about their conditions. They missed the food they had in Egypt. They were tired of manna and wanted some meat.

Even Moses started griping at God. He ended his little rant with, “If this is how You intend to treat me, just go ahead and kill me. Do me a favor and spare me this misery!”

I understand how Moses felt. Don’t you?

Moses expected it to be easier. He thought they were headed to the Promised Land. Instead, they’re camped in the wilderness. If you’re a mom of young children, you know how frustrating it can be when they’re whining and complaining. Moses had two million of them to deal with.

After making their way to the edge of the Promised Land, they send spies in to scout out the land and bring back a report. The spies tell of a great land, but also strike fear in the hearts of the people by telling them they’ll never be able to defeat the nations already in the land. That’s when God sends Israel back into the wilderness as punishment.

Fast forward forty years…

Moses says to the nation of Israel:

Be careful to follow every command I am giving you today, so that you may live and increase and may enter and possess the land the Lord promised on oath to your ancestors. Remember how the Lord your God led you all the way in the wilderness these forty years, to humble and test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands. He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your ancestors had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord. Your clothes did not wear out and your feet did not swell during these forty years. Know then in your heart that as a man disciplines his son, so the Lord your God disciplines you.

I’ve seen this pattern in my life and in the lives of others. God begins to change your circumstances. Maybe it’s a new job. Or a new relationship. Or a new place to live. Everything looks great! God has answered your prayers!

But often times, there’s a wilderness between where you’ve been and where God is leading you. And there are lessons to be learned there before moving on. God humbles us. He tests us. He causes us to hunger and then feeds us. He’s teaching us that we can trust Him. He’s disciplining us and training us for our own good and for greater fruitfulness.

My problem is forgetting that. I expect things to be easy. I fail to remember there’s often a wilderness to cross first.

Are you in a wilderness? If so, don’t lose heart. God’s at work. He’s not planning to abandon you where you are now. He’s bringing you through this difficult season to prepare you for what’s ahead, to reveal Himself to you and to teach you that you can count on Him no matter what you’re facing.

Bobby Petrino and the Lesson of Good Friday

My two favorite college football teams have been rocked by scandals in the past seven months. First, it was Penn State. Jerry Sandusky, a former defensive coordinator, was accused of sexually assaulting young boys. University trustees felt head coach, Joe Paterno, didn’t do enough to stop Sandusky, so they fired him. Joe died of lung cancer a couple months later.

Then earlier this week, Arkansas head coach, Bobby Petrino, was involved in a motorcycle accident. He suffered four broken ribs, a cracked vertebrae and some cuts and bruises on his face. What wasn’t known until yesterday was that he’d also had a passenger with him, 25 year-old, Jessica Dorrell, a young woman he’d recently hired to work in the football program. Last night, Petrino admitted to an “inappropriate relationship” with her. Petrino is now on paid administrative leave pending the outcome of athletic director, Jeff Long’s, investigation.

I was saddened and disappointed by the Penn State situation and I feel the same way now. If there’s one lesson that comes from these two situations, it’s this: sin destroys.

Bobby Petrino, despite a 21-4 record over the past two seasons, could end up losing his job. He has brought shame and embarrassment on himself, his family and the University of Arkansas. And sadly, the woman with whom he had the “inappropriate relationship” was engaged to be married soon. The website that contained the details of her wedding has now been taken down.

Sin destroys. It destroys us and those around us. The consequences may not always be immediate or even noticeable, but that only means sin is doing it’s destructive work unnoticed, in secret. For now anyway.

Sin destroys. It’s a promise.

Before the nation of Israel crossed the Jordan River to occupy the land God had promised to them, Moses told them:

Acknowledge and take to heart this day that the LORD is God in heaven above and on the earth below. There is no other. Keep his decrees and commands, which I am giving you today, so that it may go well with you and your children after you and that you may live long in the land the LORD your God gives you for all time. (Deuteronomy 4:39-40)

God’s commands aren’t meant to rob of us of a good time, they’re meant to provide for us and protect us. They teach us how to live so that “it may go well” with us. The Author of life knows best how it should be lived. He knows that when we stray from Him and go our own way, the result is destruction. We see that destruction all around us, everyday.

There is good news though.

Today is Good Friday. It’s the day Jesus was betrayed and unjustly put to death. It’s the day my sin was put on the One who knew no sin. Jesus was put to death for the sin I committed. He took the punishment I had earned. He took my punishment and in exchange gave me His right standing before His Father.

I deserved death, but was given life.

I was an enemy of God, but through the death of Jesus, I became His child and His friend. I have peace with God through Christ.

What sin destroys, God redeems.

Yes, sin is destructive and carries with it consequences, but God is greater than the destructive force of sin. And He can even take the terrible consequences of our sin and use them for our ultimate good…if only we will turn from going our own way and begin to walk according to His ways.

Should Bobby Petrino still be allowed to coach the Arkansas Razorbacks? Well, he doesn’t really deserve to, does he? How can he, with any credibility, tell his players to be men of character after he betrayed the trust of his wife, his supervisor and the people of Arkansas?

But you and I are also guilty of betrayal, aren’t we? We betrayed Jesus. And instead of the punishment we deserve, by grace we’ve received forgiveness.

I don’t know what should happen with Coach Petrino. I just know I’m not able to throw the first stone. I’m a man in need of grace myself.

My hope is that Coach Petrino would come to know the forgiveness of Christ, because I care far more about his soul and his marriage than about how many games he wins.

“What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul?” (Mark 8:36)

The Humble God

Imagine throwing a very expensive, elaborate party at an exclusive restaurant. Everything is first class. You spare no expense.

When you arrive, you see everyone enjoying themselves, but no one acknowledges you. And when you make your way to the buffet, someone even asks who you are and wants to know if you have an invitation.

How would you feel? What would you say?

I’d be angry. And offended. To the person who asked if I’d been invited, I’m pretty sure I’d say, “Excuse me?! Do you have any idea who paid for all this? I should be asking if you were invited!”

Maybe that scenario gives us just the very smallest taste of what it was like for Jesus to come into the world.

Jesus spoke the universe into existence and yet John 1:10 says:

He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him.

Jesus came into the world. We didn’t recognize Him. And yet He didn’t assert His rights as God and demand His own way. He was humble.

Do you understand how the One who spoke the universe into existence is humble? I don’t.

God didn’t choose to humble Himself and become a helpless baby, He became a helpless baby because He’s humble. Jesus experienced life as one of us, felt what it was like to be rejected by those He created and even let us kill Him because that’s what a humble God does.

God hasn’t changed. He’s still humble. He doesn’t demand things be done His way. Sure, He gives us commands, but they’re for our own good and He doesn’t make us obey.

God never forces us to do things His way. Instead, He invites us to seek Him and rewards us when we do (Hebrews 11:6). He first loved us (1 John 4:19) and desires that we love Him in return. When we offend Him, He gives us more grace. When we ignore Him, He waits patiently for us to return.

Somehow, Almighty God is also humble and unassuming. He reveals Himself to us and is then content to wait for us to come to Him. He doesn’t force Himself on us, but lets us choose Him.

If your view of God has ceased to amaze you, maybe this Christmas is a good time to stop and remember the most perplexing of all of God’s attributes. His humility.

Merry Christmas!

The Sin of King Saul

Do you ever read about someone in the Bible and get frustrated with them? I guess that’s the kind way of saying it. Do you ever wonder what in the world that idiot was thinking?

I do. Over the past few days, I’ve felt that way about Saul, the first king over Israel.

This is a guy who had everything going for him. 1 Samuel 9:2 tells us Saul was “an impressive young man without equal among the Israelites–a head taller than any of the others.”

In 1 Samuel 10, Saul is anointed as king by Samuel who then tells Saul to go on ahead of him to a town called Gilgal. Samuel will follow along in seven days and offer sacrifices and tell Saul what he’s to do.

When Saul returns home after his encounter with Samuel, his uncle asks him what Samuel said to him. Saul fails to tell his uncle that he’s been anointed as king. I suppose you could call that humility, but I don’t think it is. It seems like the beginning of a pattern of shrinking back from responsibility, from stepping up to the calling God has placed on his life.

Later, when Samuel publicly brings the tribes of Israel out to indicate who has been chosen as king, the tribe of Benjamin (that’s Saul’s tribe) is chosen. Then each clan in that tribe is brought forth, and Saul’s clan is chosen. And finally, Saul is chosen from those men in his clan.

There’s a problem though–Saul’s nowhere to be found. So the people inquired of God, “Has the man come here yet?”

God answered them, “Yes, he has hidden himself among the baggage.”

What? He’s hidden himself among the baggage? That’s right. Saul was hiding. They had to go look for him.

Once Samuel explains to the people how this new kingship in Israel will work, he dismisses everyone to their homes. Saul returns to his home in Gibeah and was accompanied by “valiant men whose hearts God had touched.” But there were also some troublemakers who despised him. “But Saul kept silent.”

Are you seeing a pattern? He doesn’t step up. He hides. He keeps silent.

He’s not leading. He’s not accepting responsibility. He’s acting passively.

Um, I do that. Before I’m too hard on Saul, I need to take a look in the mirror. And as I do, I’m not sure I like what I see.

How about you?

There’s more though…

Remember when Samuel told Saul to wait seven days? I posted about it here. Basically, Saul waited, but not long enough. Saul didn’t have his eyes on God, they were on his circumstances. That will always lead to feeling fearful, worried or anxious. And that never results in doing what’s right or best according to God.

Saul disobeyed and offered the sacrifices on his own, which was not for him to do. Rather than fear God, he feared his circumstances.

Some time later, Samuel gives Saul instructions from God to attack the Amalekites. God is going to punish them for how they treated the nation of Israel in the past. God commands Saul to spare no one–not people, not animals, not anything.

Saul carried out the attack and did what God commanded. Well, almost. Saul spared the king of the Amalekites. And they also kept the best animals.

That’s when God tells Samuel He’s grieved He made Saul king. So the next morning, Samuel set out to meet Saul. When he reached him, Saul said, “The Lord bless you! I have carried out the Lord’s instructions.”

But Samuel said, “What then is this bleating of sheep in my ears? What is this lowing of cattle that I hear?”

Saul answered, “The soldiers brought them from the Amalekites; they spared the best of the sheep and cattle to sacrifice to the Lord your God, but we totally destroyed the rest.”

At one point, he tells Samuel that he kept the best animals because, “I was afraid of the people so I gave into them.”

What Saul does is make excuses. Eventually, he agrees with Samuel that he has sinned, but you still get the idea that he’s not truly grieved over what he’s done. He’s more sorry he got caught than sorry He disobeyed and grieved God.

Again, he’s not fearing God–this time he’s fearing the people.

I do that. I fear people. I fear their opinions or what they’ll think of me. And so like Saul, I will remain silent when I should speak up.

I don’t respect Saul and how he failed to lead well, accept responsibility and fulfill God’s call on his life, but before I’m too hard on Saul, I need to take inventory of my own life.

Do I get so focused on my circumstances that I lose sight of God…and as a result make sinful decisions?

Do I fear people more than I fear God? Does that lead me to be silent when I should speak the truth?

Do I make excuses when I fail to fully obey? Do I tend to view partial obedience as enough?

Do I hide from responsibility and act passively when I really need to be stepping up?

How about you?

Warnings

Have you ever read the Old Testament and wondered how God could just wipe people out? I mean there’s the the flood, Sodom and Gomorrah, Jericho and all the nations in the land of Canaan.

It just seems like lots of innocent people are suddenly killed as a result of God’s orders. Where’s the God of love and patience? Where’s the grace and mercy?

Let’s take a look, beginning with the fact that there are a couple of wrong assumptions in what I’ve just said. First, no one is innocent. Paul wrote to the church in Rome:

“There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.”

From the youngest child to the oldest adult–no one is innocent. Not. Even. One. “…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…”

Second, God doesn’t “suddenly” wipe people out. He is always patient. In the case of the Amorites who occupied the land of Canaan, God waited hundreds of years before judging them. They had centuries to turn from their evil ways, which by the way, included sacrificing their own children. Not so innocent, huh?

In 2 Kings 17, Israel is attacked and taken into captivity by the Assyrian empire. God makes clear to Israel why this happened. Because they had sinned against Him by worshiping other gods, something He had repeatedly warned them not to do.

The Lord warned Israel and Judah through all His prophets and seers: “Turn from your evil ways. Observe my commands and decrees…” 2 Kings 17:13

They rejected His decrees and the covenant He had made with their fathers and the warnings He had given them. 2 Kings 17:15

The Israelites persisted in all the sins of Jeroboam and did not turn from them until the Lord removed them from His presence, as He had warned through all His servants the prophets.” 2 Kings 17:23

Has God been warning you? Is there an area of your life He has put His finger on?

Is it a relationship? One you need to end? One you need to restore? One you need to persevere in?

Is it your finances? Has God been telling you to give? Or stop using credit cards? Is there a debt you need to repay?

Is it your health? Do you need to eat better? Begin exercising? Rest more? Work less?

Is it a sinful habit? A habit that’s now become an addiction.

I find that God will warn me in multiple ways. It could be through His word. Or a phone call from a friend. Maybe through a sermon or podcast. Or it could be difficult circumstances or a medical condition that will only get worse if ignored.

Now I’m not suggesting He’s going to wipe you out if you continue to ignore Him. Based on my own sin and stubbornness, I can tell you He’s very, very patient and full of grace and mercy.

At the heart of our sin is unbelief. We persist in going our own way and ignore God’s warnings, because we simply do not believe Him. We assume we know what is best for us. We think our plans for our lives are better than His.

We’re wrong though. We’re arrogant too. How foolish of us to ever think we know better than God.

The only answer is to take His warnings to heart, turn from our own way and follow Him.

No matter what He’s warning you about, no matter what He’s telling you to do–it is always in your best interest to obey Him.