The way of the Lord is not just?

Yet the house of Israel says, ‘The way of the Lord is not just.’ O house of Israel, are my ways not just? Is it not your ways that are not just? (Ezekiel 18:25,29).

The people of Israel accused God of not being fair. God turned it around on them. It was their ways that were not fair. Just read Ezekiel 34 to see how the Jewish leadership was treating people. That was injustice to put it mildly. God is always just.

Look in Ezekiel 18 to see the “just” nature of God. God doesn’t want anyone to die in his sins. He wants the wicked to repent and turn from his wickedness. God wants the righteous person to stay on the right path.

Here are six examples in Ezekiel 18 to show that God is just.

  1. If a man lives by God’s word and is a righteous person, he will live (Ezekiel 18:5-9).
  2. If a righteous man raises a wicked son, the wicked son doesn’t get extra credit points for being a righteous man’s son. He will be punished by God for his wickedness, even if his daddy was godly (Ezekiel 18:10-13).
  3. If a wicked man raises a righteous son, the righteous son is not going to be held accountable to God for the sins of his wicked father (Ezekiel 18:14-20).
  4. If a wicked man turns from his wickedness and chooses a godly path, God will save him and he will live (Ezekiel 18:21-23,27-29).
  5. If a righteous man turns from his righteousness and decides to live a wicked life, God will judge him for his wickedness (Ezekiel 18:24-26).
  6. God will judge everyone according to his ways and deeds – That is fair and just (Ezekiel 18:30).

Think about this! How much more “fair” can you get? You are judged by your own deeds. It is not a rigged system that exists in so many places, like politics and business. God doesn’t judge you by other’s deeds and words, He judges you by your own. If your parents are evil, you don’t lose your relationship with God. If your parents are righteous, you don’t get to ride into heaven on their coattails. God is fair – He judges you by what you say and do and how you respond to His word. It’s not anymore complicated than that.

The Work Is Great

1 Chronicles 29:1-2
And David the king said to all the assembly, “Solomon my son, whom alone God has chosen, is young and inexperienced, and the work is great, for the palace will not be for man but for the LORD God. So I have provided for the house of my God, so far as I was able, the gold for the things of gold, the silver for the things of silver, and the bronze for the things of bronze, the iron for the things of iron, and wood for the things of wood, besides great quantities of onyx and stones for setting, antimony, colored stones, all sorts of precious stones and marble.

David saw the building of the temple as God’s “great work.”

  • Just because David couldn’t directly oversee the building of the temple, this work did not lose any value or importance in his eyes. David got even more involved because what was important was the glory of God’s house, not who got to be in charge. God’s work is great, the workers are only great if they are humbly seeking God’s glory as servants. We are only servants. Greatness is not in being in charge, it is doing what is best for the great work of God.
  • David recognized the immense need to prepare the next generation for leadership in God’s great work. King David didn’t live at the end of his nose; he looked down the road and planned for future leadership of God’s people. He organized the priesthood, prepared his own son as king, arranged all the workers to build the temple, put the military in order, arranged the finances, etc. Sometimes leaders just find themselves reacting to current problems instead looking to the future and preparing.
  • He gave his all for this great work. At first, David thought his “great work” was to build a temple for God (1 Chronicles 22). But God wanted Solomon to build the temple. So, David’s “great work” was to prepare Solomon and all Israel to build the temple. Look at 1 Chronicles 17-22! Look at all the work David did to prepare for the building of the temple. His great work was to prepare the next generation, and he spent every ounce of his energy doing it!

Abigail didn’t cover for Nabal

I was studying with someone this week about 1 Samuel 25 which covers the account of David, Abigail and Nabal. Abigail was a woman of beauty and wisdom, but her husband was a complete jerk. The Bible literally calls him “worthless.” He was harsh. He was badly behaved. He caused trouble for a lot of people, and it is clear from the text that everyone knew who would have to fix Nabal’s messes. Abigail.

1 Samuel 25:17 – “Now therefore know this and consider what you should do, for harm is determined against our master and against all his house, and he is such a worthless man that one cannot speak to him.”

Even the servants were comfortable coming to their master’s wife about him. That says this event with David wasn’t the first time Nabal had wreaked havoc.

What we see though in Abigail is that she did not cover for her husband’s wickedness. In her attempts to save her household from certain destruction, she exposed and clearly admitted that Nabal was the problem, not David.

1 Samuel 25:25-26 – Let not my lord regard this worthless fellow, Nabal, for as his name is, so is he. Nabal is his name, and folly is with him. But I your servant did not see the young men of my lord, whom you sent. Now then, my lord, as the LORD lives, and as your soul lives, because the LORD has restrained you from bloodguilt and from saving with your own hand, now then let your enemies and those who seek to do evil to my lord be as Nabal.

Did you see what Abigail just said about her husband? She admitted he was wrong, and that he was the problem. His name means “fool” and Abigail agreed that his parents named him well! She also agreed with others’ assessment that he was “worthless” (literally a “son of Belial”). Abigail did not cover for her husband’s sins. Family did not come first, truth did. Family did not come first, God did. While she pleaded with David to do what was right in not taking vengeance, she did not excuse or dismiss her husband’s wicked behavior.

What about you? Does family come first, or does God? Does family come first, or does truth come first? Loyalty to family sometimes gets so pressed into people’s psyche that they can’t see the obvious truth that everyone around them sees. They find themselves defending the indefensible. Because of that misplaced loyalty, gossip about others is believed as gospel. That shows our loyalty is to family first, not to God and truth first. This just doesn’t happen in families, it happens with our friends, too. Just because someone is a close family member or a best friend, doesn’t mean we blindly take their side. Our misplaced loyalty will blind us and distort our judgment.

Listen to what Jesus said…

Matthew 10:36-37 – And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household. Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.

Abigail did not cover for Nabal, nor did she make excuses for his ungodly behavior, and he was her husband! She also did not try to blame David for being part of the problem, that somehow he was guilty of stirring Nabal up. Nope. She knew exactly where the problem was…right at home with her husband.

Our loyalty must first be to God.

Abigail did not only recognize where the problem was, she also knew clearly where to turn to find the solution…God. Look at what she says about God as she talks to David:

1 Samuel 25:26 – Now then, my lord, as the LORD lives, and as your soul lives, because the LORD has restrained you from bloodguilt and from saving with your own hand, now then let your enemies and those who seek to do evil to my lord be as Nabal.

Abigail turned her attention and David’s attention to the Lord for the solution. Read the rest of that section later (1 Samuel 25:28-34,38-39) and see how many times Abigail and David referred to God as being the Source of the solution. It’s one thing to recognize that her husband was the problem, but far more important that she knew where to go for answers and wisdom to deal with the problem.

David Served God’s Purpose in David’s Generation

Acts 13:21-22 “Then they asked for a king, and God gave them Saul the son of Kish, a man of the tribe of Benjamin, for forty years. And when he had removed him, he raised up David to be their king, of whom he testified and said, ‘I have found in David the son of Jesse a man after my heart, who will do all my will.'”

Acts 13:36 “For David, after he had served the purpose of God in his own generation, fell asleep and was laid with his fathers and saw corruption,”

David served God’s purpose and God’s will in his generation. But what does that really mean at a practical level? For David here’s what it meant: He wanted to build a temple for God and His glory, but God said, “No…your son Solomon will build it for Me.” So at a practical level for David, he spent the rest of his life preparing Solomon and the nation for the temple-building project. This was God’s calling for David.

God gave David a clear “to-do” list, and David went about that job with “all his might” (2 Chronicles 29:1-2). He defeated the enemies on every side, creating peace and national security. David organized the priesthood into divisions so they could divide up responsibilities in leading temple worship. He also did the same for the military, so it would be properly organized. During his reign, he collected a TON of money through his military victories and he took a big stash of his own cash to put in the treasury to help build the temple. Through the revelation of the Holy Spirit, he also drew out and wrote out the building plans for the temple. Again, with God’s guidance, command and inspiration, he designed musical instruments for worship and he wrote all kinds of worship music to be used in the temple. David was one pretty busy dude during his reign! On top of that, David gave first importance to the spiritual training of his young son Solomon and helping him see the value of God’s wisdom.

This was God’s purpose for David in David’s generation. God said “No” to building the temple, but “Yes” to helping get all the preparations together to build that temple.

I’ll leave you with this thought: You may not get to do the job you think you should do for God, but what can you do for God? How will you, like King David, dive in to help prepare the next generation of God’s people so that they can be ready to build God’s house in their generation? Are you serving God’s purposes for you in your generation?

The Master and Us

Whatever your role as a man, you have responsibilities.

Today we are considering our role(s) as it pertains to the women in our lives…husbands, fathers, sons, brothers…and this is whether we are single, married, widowers, divorced…there are women in our lives and we have responsibility to them because of our responsibility to Jesus.

How well we fulfill our responsibilities depends upon our view of the Master of the House.

As we start with the Master…let’s define the word “master”.  The Greek word is “kurios” and means “he to whom a person or thing belongs, about which he as the power of deciding; master, lord.  This is used universally, of the possessor and disposer of a thing, the owner.  Kurios is a title of honor, expressive of respect and reverence, with which servants salute their master.  (Thayers)

Just to be clear.  When we talk Master we are talking about Jesus Christ.  The Savior.  The Messiah.

Because of Who He is…The Lord of Lords!  Because of What He did…Sacrifice!  Because of What He is Doing…Intercession!  Because of What He is Going to Do…Glory!

He is our Master and therefore we are to “…be subject to one another in the fear of Christ.”  (Ephesians 5:21; NASB).

“Subject” is to arrange under, to subordinate; to subject, put in subjection.  “Fear” is reverence, respect.  “Christ” is the anointed of God, the Lord of Lords, the Master of the House!

So when we live our lives and find ourselves saying “I can’t do this or that for a particular woman in my life”; let’s change the question and ask “Can I do this or that for the Lord?”

Because, the truth is, what we do we do for Jesus whether we mean to or not.  If we are looking to Him and endeavoring to follow (be subject to) Him, then He will lead us and we will be the man we need to be and He will be glorified.  If we live like that, then the women in our lives will notice and it will make a difference.

The reward in living like this is a reward for all.  If we lead by example and live our lives subject to Jesus then it is likely those women in our lives who we care about, seek to influence, or work along side will be impacted for good.  If we live this way, then together with the women in our lives we can seek out and expect the reward God is offering.

“Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance.  It is the Lord Christ whom you serve.  (Colossians 3:23-24; NASB)

Strive for the crown of life promised by God for you in Heaven…and hold tight to the women in your life and don’t let them go…serve them because Jesus is worthy of our service no matter what or who we might be dealing with.

You Have Authority Over Them, But…

I was having a conversation recently with an elder/shepherd near Dayton, Ohio. We were talking about our approach to people, and how we may try to command people (our kids, people at church), but are we allowing God to work? Are we praying about it?

He referenced a couple of passages that an older man pointed out to him decades ago. Here are those two passages, take a moment to ponder them.

And he appointed twelve (whom he also named apostles) so that they might be with him and he might send them out to preach and have authority to cast out demons.
(Mark 3:14-15)

The apostles were clearly given “authority” over the demons. Authority and power was not the problem. The apostles were able to cast out demons, and they had done so before the events of Mark 9. But in Mark 9, the disciples were not able to cast out a demon from a young boy. They did not understand why they couldn’t do it.

Jesus’ answer to them was simple:

And when he had entered the house, his disciples asked him privately, “Why could we not cast it out?” And he said to them, “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer.”
(Mark 9:28-29)

They had the power and authority to command the demons, but what had they not done, according to Jesus? They had not prayed about it. Good grief, this is so simple to understand, but how many times do we as fathers and leaders forget this concept? We have power and authority over others, maybe at church and at home, but are we trying to command people, or are we praying about it? Are we giving these things up to the throne of God and seeking His counsel and wisdom? Are we giving God time and space to work in someone else’s life?

A basic truth, but a powerful one to me. I really appreciated what this shepherd shared with me the other day, and also it was neat to think that an older wise godly man shared these concepts with him decades ago. The wisdom is getting passed on.

The Father and the Son

In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. And he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. And he was with the wild animals, and the angels were ministering to him. Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” (Mark 1:9-15)

The Father was well pleased with His Son. The next verse says the “Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness.” He was there for 40 days. No food. Wild animals. Oh, and He went face to face with Satan. It was certainly a hard 40 days. Don’t minimize that. God drove His son into the wilderness to face the worst Satan could throw at Him. God was well pleased with Son, and He led Jesus down a very hard road. His love includes training and adversity.

The Father sent angels to minister to His Son. While Jesus was in the wilderness with wild beasts and Satan, He was not alone, was He? The angels ministered to Him. That same thing is said of all Christians – Angels are ministering spirits sent to help us (Hebrews 1:14). During our times in the wilderness facing wild beasts and the Devil, we are not alone. We are never alone when we walk with God. He sends us help, sometimes visible, sometimes invisible, but He is helping us.

The Father’s message was proclaimed by the Son. At the end of this passage, we see Jesus proclaiming the gospel of God. There is a reason God allows us to be refined through trials and temptations – through that process He is glorified and His message is preached.

Getting the cake out of the oven

A little while back, I wrote about extroverts, and I forgot to follow up about the introverts. They are not off the hook! There are those who say too much, and there are others who do not say enough. The introverts need to remember that Solomon said there is “a time to speak…” (Ecclesiastes 3).

When Joseph and I met with a career counselor a couple of years back, he had Joseph go through a personality assessment. For kicks, I went through it too. No surprise, Joseph was slightly on the introvert side, and I was fully on the extrovert side with an “extra” vert on it.

Here is the quick word picture that the career coach shared with us. The extrovert gives you all the ingredients to the cake and expects you to make it, while the introvert presents you with a completed cake. We extroverts talk to think, so we spew out a lot of ideas that are all over the board as we are trying to think things through. This is a nightmare to the introvert.

On the other hand, the introvert is so silent sometimes that it drives the extrovert crazy because we are thriving on an exchange of ideas. And here is the point that the career coach made about introverts:

Sometimes you have to get the cake out of the oven! The introvert needs to be given time to get all those ingredients together for the cake, but there is a reasonable expectation in a relationship for that introvert to sit down and communicate those ideas. And the extrovert has to be committed to actually listen and absorb without butting in and answering every statement along the way.

I remember another example in Columbus, Ohio when we were working with the West Broad congregation. A brother there named John was the same age as me. He had the engineering mindset, and you could see him in a Bible class with his wheels just turning and thinking. Near the end of class, he would offer a comment (not 10 or 15 comments, just one). That comment would just blow us away, it was full of depth and understanding. One time were were driving together and I said something about it, and he responded kindly, “I’m not like you, Aaron, I don’t have to say everything to comes to mind.” Well, ouch, he was right, but that truly paints the difference between the extrovert and introvert. Sometimes the extrovert needs to be quiet and allow time for the introvert to get the opportunity and courage to speak. Those introverts have a lot of great ideas to share, and they need to share them!

This seems to be a pattern in my relationships, because it makes me remember another example of when I was at Purdue. A fellow college student, Phil, who went to church with me was an introvert as well. We were walking on campus one time, and I said to him, “Phil, I wish I could be more like you and not talk so much.” Phil responded, “I wish I could be like you and talk more!”

Amen. We all have different personalities, strengths, and blessings, and we help round each other out. We learn from each other. I may help you to talk more, and you may help me (with a lot of patience) to talk less.

So, introverts, get the cake out of the oven. We need you to speak.

 

Sitting on the Porch

A favorite parable of Jesus for me can be found in Luke 15:11-32 telling the story of the lost son or what is often referred to as the prodigal son. There are many lessons to be learned in the parable but for today’s discussion lets focus on the teaching of God’s grace, mercy, love, forgiveness and restoration of hope for His children and the application as we work to better love and lead our children.

I have long thought about this parable and what has always struck me is how awesome it was to see the father running from the porch and going out to greet his returning son. His son had taken his inheritance, moved out of the house, gone to a faraway place and blown all that his father had given him on a lifestyle I am sure did not make his dad proud or happy. I imagine it was known to the father just how bad his son was behaving and I am sure it grieved him tremendously. There are a lot of emotions that might apply…anger, pain, embarrassment, regret, fear…I am sure there were some long nights for this dad. This dad could have just got bitter and wrote his son off…that would have been an understandable ending to this story (just consider the older brother’s position…a lesson for another day). Still, knowing how wicked the son had been and the grief he had caused, the father still gets up as he sees his son returning and runs to welcome him home. What we see are the foundational blessings of God being expressed to this wayward son who wants nothing more than to come home. What a great image and lesson.

As time has passed and my children are getting older, this parable is starting to take on a different shape for me. With teenagers now roaming my home, I have learned that “bigger kids=bigger problems”. Further, as they grow and begin to shape their own lives, we allow them more freedom and there become more times when they are away from us with their friends and you hope and trust they are making good decisions and respecting the boundaries you have taught and modeled in their lives. And guess what, they don’t! They make stupid decisions. They get themselves into situations you know they know are dangerous. The wonders of the teenage brain ceases to amaze me and quite frankly disappointment me.

So what do I do? What does this particular piece of God’s inspired word teach me? It has taught me the tremendous heart of the father in his getting up off the porch to run to his son. However, what I am learning now is that as remarkable as this act is, what is even harder and equally important as a father is to stay on the porch. Our children have to spread their wings and as they do they are not going to make the right choices every time and the older they get the more dangerous wrong choices become. No matter how much we want them to listen to every word we teach them, to trust us (and God) in shaping their hearts and minds, to learn from our mistakes so they don’t have to suffer as we have…no matter how much we want that they are going to have to figure some of it out themselves…and that can really hurt and cause some sleepless nights for dad.

So we sit on the porch. What does that mean? Does that mean we wash our hands of the responsibility for our children? Does it mean we burry the fear and hurt and just write them off with a “they will get what they deserve” or “I told you not to…”? Does it mean that we resign ourselves to a position of abdication and just move on with whatever else is going on in our lives? Of course not.

What we do is remember we operate from a position of strength and draw upon the peace of God. We are confident in that God will not forsake us and He loves our children too. We have a voice in prayer and we take our worries and concerns for our children to Him and we trust He is working. We accept his grace, mercy, love, forgiveness, and hope and let it fill us up so that we are strengthened…both while sitting on the porch and so that we might get up and grab ahold of our children in the biggest bear hug out there when they come home and say “I am sorry”.

Even more, you don’t have to sit on the porch alone. There are brothers in Christ out there who will sit with you. We are a family. We all want each other to go to Heaven. We all, however, are not always going to take the easiest route. This is especially true of our children but our God is faithful and He will fight for them too…praise Him in that, be thankful, holdfast dad.

Look at Me Daddy

“Look at Me Daddy…Look at Me.” Please indulge me as I tell a couple of “kid” stories.

Maddie, our almost three year old, loves to dance.  Anytime music is turned on she will stop what she’s doing and find the source.  Lately she has added a little more style to her performance.  She puts on a princess skirt and twirls around because she likes the way it flares out and flutters.  A few days ago I was in the living room reading and I put some music on.  Of course Maddie came running in the room, grabbed her little skirt, and started spinning.  I continued reading but as she repeated her pirouettes, she started saying, “Look at me daddy…look at me!”  Her chant continued until I put my book down and acknowledged what she was doing.

A few months ago I had a talk with Natalie, our 13 year old, about boys.  Two of her friends from church seemed to be constantly talking about “boys” and their recent “boyfriends” so I thought it was a good time to check in.  I asked Natalie if she had a boyfriend, to which she responded, “NO!”  I asked her if there were any boys she liked, to which she responded, “NO!”  I said, “Have you noticed how Friend 1 and Friend 2 are always talking about boys?  What do you think about that?”  She said, “I think it is silly.”  I asked, “Why aren’t you interested in boys like them?”  Natalie paused for a minute and thought about it and responded, “Because I’ve got you dad!”

A couple of cute stories and perhaps familiar to anyone that has children but they speak to an important reality.  Our kids crave our attention, our appreciation, and our approval and if we don’t provide it they will seek it from another source.  Humans inherently have a need to feel significant, to belong, and to be connected.  As fathers, we play a vital role in promoting a healthy connection with our kids.  We can help create a feeling of significance or we can erode that feeling over time.  Even when our kids get older and stop saying, “Look at me daddy”, they are still craving our attention.

Here are just a few practical things I’ve learned in my short 13 years of being a dad:

  • Simple Stuff Matters Most: I used to think I had to create big things or dedicate a significant amount of time for certain activities, and on occasion that will happen, but it is the little everyday things that make the difference.  Talks at the dinner table, asking about the book they’re reading, or dropping to the floor and playing Legos for 30 minutes are the type of daily things that build a connection and foster significance.
  • Eye to Eye: Rarely am I sitting and doing nothing when one of my kids wants to tell me something.  It was common for me to nod and say, “yes…yes…yes” but I wasn’t listening.  Kids are perceptive.  They quickly pick up that we’re not paying attention and the message is clear; dad doesn’t care and I’m not important.  A few years ago I trained myself to sit and listen.  When one of my kids has something to tell me I get down to their level and look them in the eye as they talk.  That way I break away from a potential distraction and they know they have been heard.
  • Time Not Toys: Some of the most materialistically spoiled children are neglected when it comes to things that matter.  I travel regularly for work and early on I used to bring toys home for the kids.  I believe my intentions were good but what I’ve realized is that my kids want ME when I get home not “stuff”.  So instead of arriving home with a bag full of junk, I arrive home with ears ready to listen and a genuine curiosity about their lives.  “Stuff” is often a lazy man’s way of avoiding the real responsibility that comes with having children.
  • Apology Accepted: Even when I put forth my best effort I fail.  I’ll get wrapped up in a project or sidetracked with a hobby or I just get tired and impatient and snap at the kids or fail to keep a promise or simply not listen.  One of the worst things we can do in that circumstance is just move on like it didn’t happen and “try and do better”.  We all get down, we all fall short, but acknowledging our failure and asking our kids for forgiveness teaches them more than we can imagine.  We can’t allow our pride to robe our children of a significant lesson.
  • The First Lady: A healthy connection with my children must be built on a strong connection with Kristine.   Loving their mother, and giving preference to her, is the first and most important way I can show them love.  We must not put time and energy into our children at the expense of our spouse.

As dad’s, the most valuable currency we have is our time and we must spend it wisely.  We have a small window of opportunity to train and teach and influence our kids.  Let’s rise up to the responsibilities God has set before us and make the most of the blessings we have been given.

“Behold, children are a gift of the Lord, the fruit of the womb is a reward.  Like arrows in the hand of a warrior, so are the children of one’s youth.  How blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them;” Psalm 127:3-5.