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When God Can’t Be Found

“Seek the LORD while he may be found; call on him while he is near. Let the wicked forsake his way and the evil man his thoughts. Let him turn to the LORD, and he will have mercy on him, and to our God, for he will freely pardon.”

– Isaiah 55:6-7

“‘…They will be filled with the dead bodies of the men I will slay in my anger and wrath. I will hide my face from this city because of all its wickedness.”

– Jeremiah 33:5

Reading the passage from Isaiah, it’s easy to take it as theoretical, or to gloss over the “while he is near” part. Israel found out that continuing in wickedness forces God to have no other choice but to display his wrath. He hid His face from them and refused to hear their cries, after years of mercy and pleading for them to return to Him. 

People today don’t want to think about God as a God of wrath, requiring righteousness. What kind of loving God would pile up bodies of people that he loves?  Yet, the Bible is full of examples where God was forced to deal with sin. America today is very similar to Israel and Judah during this time. We are drunk with what we perceive as our own greatness. We live in abundance, safe and secure due to centuries of blessing from God. We have turned to serve the creation rather than the Creator, even to the point of denying He even exists. In times of tragedy, we turn briefly to the Lord as a temporary crutch. When we are facing a change, we may call to Him like a lucky rabbit’s foot. But once the occasion has passed, we quickly go about our lives until the next time He is needed. We continue this way, but steadily spiral downward into darkness and sin, moving the standard of righteousness in our own eyes.

The good news is that once God’s wrath is satisfied, He is quick to bring “health and healing” and to “restore”, as in the following verses.  However, the time for this nation to return to the Lord is now. Why wait until we find ourselves in bondage and destruction? We cannot continue to push Him away without consequence. We need to “seek the Lord while he may be found.”

“I will make them abhorrent to all the kingdoms of the earth because of what Manasseh son of Hezekiah king of Judah did in Jerusalem.”

– Jeremiah 15:4

That’s some pretty harsh consequences for one man’s sins. What on earth would have been bad enough to cause God to turn away from His people? The list of offenses found in II Kings 21 are both long and detestable, and the whole nation goes down with the king due to their participation. Not a bad lesson for western culture today, specifically the USA.

He [Manasseh] rebuilt the high places his father Hezekiah had destroyed; he also erected altars to Baal and made an Asherah pole, as Ahab king of Israel had done. He bowed down to all the starry hosts and worshiped them.

He built altars in the temple of the LORD, of which the LORD had said, “In Jerusalem I will put my Name.”

In both courts of the temple of the LORD, he built altars to all the starry hosts.

He sacrificed his own son in [a] the fire, practiced sorcery and divination, and consulted mediums and spiritists. He did much evil in the eyes of the LORD, provoking him to anger.

He took the carved Asherah pole he had made and put it in the temple, of which the LORD had said to David and to his son Solomon, “In this temple and in Jerusalem, which I have chosen out of all the tribes of Israel, I will put my Name forever.

I will not again make the feet of the Israelites wander from the land I gave their forefathers, if only they will be careful to do everything I commanded them and will keep the whole Law that my servant Moses gave them.”

But the people did not listen. Manasseh led them astray, so that they did more evil than the nations the LORD had destroyed before the Israelites.

II Kings 21: 3 – 9

So, basically, Manasseh decided to go his own way and do everything opposite to that of his father, Hezekiah, who spent years reforming Judah back into following the Law. He didn’t just dabble in sin, he worshiped other gods in the Lord’s temple, and sacrificed children by fire – a horror that Hezekiah survived as a boy due to his father’s own abominations.

The nation doesn’t get off the hook.  Verse 9 in II Kings 21 spells out their indictment. They went right along with Manasseh, and “they did more evil than the nations…”  They were taught the law and knew about God’s covenant from Hezekiah’s reign. So they were without excuse.

The same is true for us today. We have been blessed by God for 200+ years, but have been led astray by our own lusts and desires. As a nation, we have no one to blame but ourselves. If only we would repent, pray, acknowledge God again, and begin to clean up our ways, maybe we would be spared the same fate as Judah during Jeremiah’s day. We should be afraid for another reason. At least Israel had a binding covenant with God. All we can claim is centuries of mercy and goodness from a loving God. We have squandered that goodness, scoffed at His mercy, and spit on His love. The day is quickly approaching when our debts will be called, and we will be found severely lacking.

There are some portions of biblical teaching that I would just as soon ignore rather than implement in my life. This passage from The Sermon on the Mount is one of those:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR and hate your enemy.’

“But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,

“so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.

“For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?

“If you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?

“Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

– Matthew 5:43 – 48

Whether you believe he was teaching only to his disciples, to the Jews of his day, or to believers in general, this is a difficult concept. We have this pre-wired belief in justice, and for good reason. God is just and requires justice, and we are made in His image. I don’t think it’s fair to say with certainty that he was speaking tongue-in-cheek, for then we would be forced to question some of the other portions of the Sermon on the Mount.

The context here is being salt and light to the world, standing out, being different from the norm.  Obviously, doing things like walking an extra mile when forced to go one (v 41), turning the other cheek (v 40), etc. will turn some heads. So, I believe His point is that in the spirit of furthering the gospel, we are required to show this kind of quality that not only goes against our default reaction, but is only a quality that could be devinely inspired.

Seriously, how do we practically love our enemies? I think part of the problem is our definition of love in our modern world. We have come to think of love as this squishy, shmoopy feeling that we feel inside when we hold hands for the first time. Obviously, that’s not the kind of love Jesus is talking about here. To understand this kind of love, we can look to how Jesus responded to his enemies. He asked God to forgive the people who crucified Him. He was always respectful and accomodating to the Roman soldiers with whom he came in contact. By definition, we were his enemies prior to his selfless act of saving grace. So aren’t we greatful that He loved his enemies first?

So, we need to change our view of what love is. In addition, we also change our view of ourselves in light of being former enemies of God. We did nothing ourselves to “switch sides”, it was only out of his grace. So, what right do we have to think of ourselves more highly than others? If our enemies are fellow-believers, then we should show grace and love out of obligation to our brothers and sisters in Christ. If they are non-believers, then we should show grace and love in hopes that they should be led to Christ and saved by his grace.

Our struggle to obey is not one we will win through self-discipline alone. Without a fundamental change to our hearts, to our way of thinking, we will be destined to repeat our failures. When you look at it, it’s consistent with the rest of creation. New life is born when something else ceases to exist in its previous form. As Jesus said in John 12:24, “…unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” He was speaking of his own death, but it applies to our transformation as well.

“that, in reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit,

and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind,

and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth.”

– Ephesians 4:22 – 24

This death of the old self is vital to our spiritual growth.  We have competing wills and desires. As long as we allow our own desires to rule us, we will struggle to make any real progress toward becoming like Christ. It requires mental discipline, prayer, and major changes to the things we dwell on.

“And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, …”

– Romans 12: 1 – 2

Our minds have to undergo a continual renewal. How do we accomplish this? Paul gives us a clue in Philippians:

“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”

– Philippians 4:8

This idea has a very real and practical application in our daily lives. God has made us so that if we are thinking godly thoughts, we cannot at the same time be thinking sinful or self-centered thoughts. If a child is told “no” to wanting a piece of candy, he will tend to be disappointed (or worse!) However, the child could choose to appreciate the fact that he already had four pieces before that and was lucky to have them. Adults are the same way. We tend to focus more on what we want that we are not getting, instead of all the things we already have that we have failed to be thankful for.

If an unhappy marriage is your struggle, then consider how often you put your spouse ahead of yourself. You could completely refine your marriage if you work hard to do more giving than you do demanding. Instead of being upset that your spouse isn’t considerate or thoughtful (which is basically you saying you aren’t being treated how you want to be treated), decide to serve and love regardless of how they are to you. This is what Jesus did. At the very least, it will lesson your expectations and free you from getting upset when you aren’t the center of your spouse’s focus.

It’s the same in all other areas of life – work, family relationships, and how we interact with complete strangers. We get upset because we think too highly of ourselves. We tend to think we are entitled to some kind of special treatment, when in actuality, we should consider ourselves in light of Job:

“Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?
Tell me, if you understand.

Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know!
Who stretched a measuring line across it?

On what were its footings set,
or who laid its cornerstone-

while the morning stars sang together
and all the angels shouted for joy?”

– Job 38: 4 – 7

Think about it. In reality, over what aspects of our lives do we truly have control? Can we guarantee our safety, our oxygen supply, the foundations upon which our houses are built? We have done nothing that requires God (or others) to meet our expectations. Does this mean we should allow others to just walk all over us and treat us like dirt? No, I think there is a point where we can distance ourselves from those who continue to hurt us. But I dare say that we err on the side of selfishness more often than not. And that we struggle with humility because we are constantly thinking of ourselves and our own desires.

What does God desire from us?  Is it perfection? Well, yes, technically.  However, since we have blown that from our conception, what does he expect from us?

From Adam onward, man has attempted to build his resume before God.  He gives a generous tithe, lengthens the tassels on his cloak, goes to church 3 times a week, never curses out loud, puts a Jesus fish on his car, etc. All of these are fine and good, but they cannot make up for a proud heart.

“For You do not delight in sacrifice, otherwise I would give it;
You are not pleased with burnt offering.
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
A broken and a contrite heart, O God, You will not despise.”

– Psalm 51: 16-17

King David understood God as much as any other man. He knew that 1000 burnt offerings would not erase his sin. God wants our hearts. He wants complete submission. It’s not because he is oppressive and loves to put us in our place. Rather, it’s because he is our all-knowing, fully-wise, and loving father. Until we submit in humility, we cannot be helped.

Pride is repulsive to God for many reasons. One big glaring reason is that our pride attempts to seat ourselves upon His thrown, nudging him over bit by bit. Ultimately, he is unseated, our hearts become hardened, and we have become the supreme ruler of our domain. This occurs all the while we are still attending church and doing all the “righteous” deeds that give us the appearance and self-satisfaction of being “holy”.

Pride works it’s way into our thoughts undetected. Most likely we are too busy finding flaws with others to see how it has burrowed its way into our own hearts. Warnings against pride are all throughout Scripture. It should be one of our greatest struggles, and we must see to it that we regularly purge our hearts of whatever pride we have allowed to creep in.

“God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”

– Proverbs 3:34

2 Samuel 9

The story of Mephibosheth is the story of salvation.  Here is King David, well established on his thrown, recalling a promise that he made to his great friend, Jonathon (1 Sam. 20).  Mephibosheth is lame due to a childhood accident, so he is most likely seen as a lowly, cursed man from a time long forgotten.  Mephibosheth did not seek out David and petition him on account of the promise to his father, but David, being good and faithful, seeks out someone “of the house of Saul to whom I may show the kindness of God.”  Mephibosheth immediately receives his inheritance, which had to have been great considering his grandfather was king.  But greater than his land and servants, he is invited to eat at the king’s table for the remainder of his days.

We are Mephibosheth, crippled by sin, out of favor with the king, lacking inheritance, and guilty by lineage (to Adam).  Mephibosheth comes before the king and bows low, assuming he has been discovered and will be put to death.  He would have been a threat to the king, in theory, since he was a grandson to Saul, king before David.  We, likewise, are guilty being sons of Adam, due to the curse of the fall in Genesis 3.  When God summons us to come before him, our eyes are opened to this fact, and we can do nothing but fall before him and await his wrath.

Expecting judgment, we instead receive mercy.  Similar to the prodigal son story, we are lifted up high, receive our inheritance, and are invited to dine at the Lord’s banquet.  The inheritance we receive is eternal life in the Presence of God.  Salvation is an act of God, through Jesus Christ, not by something we accomplish on our own strength or goodness. 

God is good!

Judges 16

Samson, Nazirite unto God, could have been so much more than he was, but he compromised to the lust of the flesh over and over again, until it finally destroyed him.  Chapter 16 begins with Samson visiting a harlot in Gaza, which has no real value to the story, except that it shows the condition of his heart and his walk with the Lord.  He was still living to please his own desires.  He then runs into Delilah, who makes him “impatient to the point of death” (v16), so that he gives in to her requests and reveals all that is in his heart.  Interesting cross reference here to Proverbs 4:23: “Guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life”.  He does not and it costs him his life.  Another interesting cross reference would be Proverbs 7: 27: “Her house is the way to Sheol, descending to the chambers of death.”  I’ve experienced a brush with death due to my own wanderings “into her path”.  Just as Judas did to Jesus, she sells him out for money (v18).  She had just nagged and pleaded with him about his own lack of love, and then she turns around and betrays him for money.  Like a lion tamer, she is the only one who can control his great strength (v19); she makes him lie on her lap and sleep.  Notice how time and again, Samson resists her pleas, but temptation will never give up until we remove ourselves from its presence.

Then begins the part of the story that I think is really interesting.  Samson is brought low.  He goes from strongest man with his pick among women and respect from men, to blind and helpless being led about by a boy.  His only purpose is a circus act, left to amuse the Philistines.  Moses was brought to this place at the well in Midian.  He was stripped of his Egyptian royalty, rejected as deliverer and leader of Israel, and left with only his Egyptian clothes in the middle of the wilderness.  Peter was brought low at Jesus’ trial.  The man for which he had given up everything was about to die, he had been accused of being with him, and had rejected Christ three times.  Paul was left blind on the road to Damascus.  God can deal with proud men, and use them for great things, but only after they are set right in humility.  He will bring as low as necessary for as long as it takes to change our hearts.

Judges 11 (v29-end) seems to be a strange story.  Jephthah makes a tragic vow to the Lord, that he will sacrifice as a burnt offering whatever comes out of his door.  His only daughter comes out and he is forced to fulfill his vow.  This is a really strange occurrence.  Why would God allow this, and if Jephthah had not kept his vow, would he have been punished?  What are we to learn from this?  The obvious lesson is do not make hasty vows or promises without being prepared to follow through on whatever the outcome may be.  As a side note, both he and his daughter fear and respect the Lord.  She knows he should keep his vow and is willing to give up herself to save her father from the Lord’s presumed wrath.  That’s an obedient child.  It’s interesting to note that although Jephthah kept his vow, as far as we know, God did not then bless him with more children.  He lived only 6 more years.  It makes me wonder if he could have chosen another path or begged for God’s mercy as to the vow.

“For when I bring them into the land flowing with milk and honey, which I swore to their fathers, and they have eaten and are satisfied and become prosperous, then they will turn to other gods and serve them, and spurn Me and break My covenant.”

– Deut. 31:20

While the context here is prophecy on Israel specifically, it applies to mankind in general.  It seems to be evident in America today.  We have been blessed as a nation, no doubt.  That blessing over the generations has turned us into a bunch of spoiled “little children” who think we know better than God.  We mock biblical morality as outdated and unsophisticated, yet the legal system has only become more convoluted and confusing since we have started trying to remove biblical references.

The gods we worship now are “happiness” (in a selfish sense), humanism (see the Olympics this year?), intellectualism (not a bad thing in the right perspective), and of course wealth.  None of these are bad pursuits when in the right perspective, but when those things replace God as the main reason for man’s existence, then a line is crossed.

If a generation doesn’t arise that fears and reveres God properly, then I fear God could do exactly what we claim we want him to do…butt out.  His grace, mercy, blessing, and protection, will quietly be withdrawn.  He is under no covenant or obligation to the USA, only to Israel.  Then we will find out what it is like to live (as a nation) without God.  God help us then!

Jesus spent so much of his (recorded) ministry helping the poor and associating with the less-fortunate.  I was reading in Deuteronomy this morning, specifically chapter 24, and it really struck me how compassionate God is, and how important it is that we do not live our life without the consideration of those who have less than we do.  It seems like it’s easy to get busy with life, donate a little money here and there, give old clothes and things away, and think we are doing enough.  More and more lately, I’m feeling like I’m not doing enough. 

Here are some of the verses that jumped out and grabbed me:

v12) If the man is poor, do not go to sleep with his pledge in your possession.
[The pledge was his cloak or covering, and he would need it to keep warm at night.]

v14) Pay him [a hired man] his wages each day before sunset, because he is poor and is counting on it.
[It is stressful to live hand to mouth, and God is good and loving.  He wants to minimize their stress.]

v17) Do not deprive the alien or the fatherless of justice, or take the cloak of the widow as a pledge.
[Same idea as v12 – show compassion to those who are suffering.]

v19 – 21) [Basically, don’t go back over your crops and get every last bit of food.]  “Leave it for the alien, the fatherless and the widow…”

Granted, we need to be smart with our limited resources, and try our best to help those who truly need help.  But I probably err on the side of cautiousness, rather than compassion.  Food for thought…