Facing a Giant? You’re Not Alone!

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photo credit: Fried Dough via photopin cc

A very real problem for all of us is that we tend to profess a depth of faith in God that we do not actually possess. Faith is easy on the mountaintop. The battlefield trenches of life are an entirely different matter. A football team may spend a lot of time practicing in preparation for the first game of the season against their arch rivals, but it isn’t until they step onto the field of play that their true abilities become evident.

All too often, our version of the gospel speaks only of God’s forgiveness in light of our sinfulness, of the efficacy of grace as opposed to our impotent works, of the glories of heaven compared to the pain of this world. All of these things are true, but they fail to present a complete picture. We even go so far as to portray the Old Testament Promised Land as an image of heaven. Do we actually believe that we will have to drive enemies out of heaven? No, each of us has a promised land, a favorable destiny, in this world.

photo credit: Monica's Dad via photopin cc
photo credit: Monica’s Dad via photopin cc

Why is it that every promised land has its share of giants? Why, when we seek that which we believe to be good, must we face health problems, a lack of finances, and all sorts of opposition—not only from others but also from within ourselves? And why, tell me, must these issues loom so large? There are times when a few miniature giants would do me just fine!

We sometimes fail to grasp that God saves us in order to restore us to His image (Romans 8:29), and that His image is that of the ultimate overcomer. God’s goal is never to save us for a sweet eternity only, but to transform us into champions of the faith. By definition, a champion is a person who defeats all opponents; the more formidable the opposition, the greater the champion. You would be unimpressed if I told you that I once knocked out every kid in my son’s fourth-grade class in a boxing tournament. But, if you saw me wearing an Olympic gold medal (that I had actually earned), you would immediately think of greatness. Until we face and overcome genuine giants, we are not true champions in the arena of life.

Our response to our personal giants reveals the true depths of our faith. The fact that we have sufficient faith in one area of life does not necessarily mean that we trust God in all areas. When fear, anxiety, frustration, anger, and bitterness take root in our hearts, they indicate areas in which our faith is shallow. Thus, every giant is in a sense tailor-made to help us grow in these areas. Am I saying that God is responsible for raising opposition against us? Not necessarily! Our fallen world provides more than enough difficult challenges to our faith. I do know, however, that our loving Father will use even the largest obstacles for His sovereign purposes.

Like the ten doubting spies of Numbers 13, many of us tend to view our giants as signs that God has abandoned us. Very few have the heart of a Joshua or a Caleb. Later in time, only the shepherd boy David stood up against the Philistine champion Goliath, while Saul and all of his mighty men cowered in fear.

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photo credit: saturn ♄ via photopin cc

How we respond to our giants will impact, not only our lives, but also the generations that follow. Sadly, David had to face Goliath only because Joshua’s generation failed to completely destroy their generation of behemoths. We can only imagine how Anak’s descendants tormented the nation of Israel for 400 years until a shepherd boy with David’s faith happened along. And not only did the kid fell that monster of a man, he used Goliath’s own sword to finish the job. God loves to show off by transforming our greatest weaknesses into our greatest strengths!

(This post is based on the content of my new book, Champions in the Wilderness, which is now available for sale through Amazon. Also, when our new SfMe Media website goes live, our blog posts will be switched our new ministry website, searchforme.info and this blog site will be phased out. You can subscribe to by entering your email in the subscribe panel on the right-hand side of the new website.)

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Repulsed by Old Testament Judgment? Good!

photo credit: stevendepolo via photopin cc
photo credit: stevendepolo via photopin cc

Have you ever taken the time to think about God’s character? John 3:16 is a popular passage that speaks of how much God loves us.

For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. John 3:16 (NKJV)

On the other hand, those who read through certain sections of the Old Testament will envision a wrathful God pouring out harsh judgment for seemingly obscure reasons. These conflicting perspectives make it very difficult for some people to put any type of real confidence in our Creator. But it doesn’t need to be that way! The contrast makes perfect sense if we understand the nature of God’s relationship with the human race.

There were times of judgment before Moses arrived on the scene, but they were few and far between. I already highlighted the flood of Noah, which probably affected a relatively small number of people. (The Earth wasn’t nearly as populated in those days.) God also poured out judgments against Sodom and Gomorrah for their wickedness, against Egypt for their cruel treatment of ancient Israel, and against the Amalekites for attacking His favored people. However, one particular event during the lifetime of Moses drastically changed the picture. What was it? The arrival of the Mosaic Law, including the Ten Commandments.

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photo credit: functoruser via photopin cc

Before the the Law, it seemed to take a long time for God’s anger to build before He would render judgment. But after the Law, judgment was both frequent and furious. However, it wasn’t God’s character that changed over the course of time but rather the manner in which He related to humanity. Law breeds judgment.

What we fail to understand is that living by law was man’s choice, not God’s. There was only one rule in the garden of Eden, meaning almost unlimited freedom. But in choosing to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, Adam and Eve chose to live by standards of right and wrong rather than by a love-motivated relationship with their Creator. Laws of various sorts now govern the motivation and behavior of the human heart.

The Mosaic Law was not the first of its kind. In fact, there are three or four other legal codes on record that predate Moses. Again, living by law-based standards is innate to the human heart. Thus, in giving the Mosaic Law, God was giving the opportunity for humans to relate to Him on our terms. This point should not be taken lightly! When we find ourselves repulsed reading about the judgmental acts of the Old Testament, we should realize that God was also repulsed. He judged, not because He enjoyed wreaking death and destruction, but to allow us to taste the full fruit of a law-based existence.

photo credit: Lawrence OP via photopin cc
photo credit: Lawrence OP via photopin cc

It is interesting to note that in speaking of the Old Covenant Law, Jesus never called it, “My Law” or “My Father’s Law”. Instead, He called it, “the Law”, “the Law of Moses”, or “your Law”. In the end, the purpose of the Mosaic Law was to point us to Jesus Christ who came to us full of grace and truth.

For the Law was given through Moses; grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ. John 1:17 (NASB)

Christ related to us on His terms; in Jesus we find an accurate representation of the Father’s heart. While this may seem to be just another point of doctrine, grasping the full ramifications of its reality is nothing short of transformational. Are you repulsed by all of the judgment found in the Old Testament? Good. Your heart may be ready for some much-needed grace!

God Values Life!

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photo credit: Marxchivist via photopin cc

The story of Noah’s ark has long been a classic Sunday school topic for children’s curriculum. There’s something really cute about the idea of Noah building a big boat and gathering a diverse array of animals on board. What isn’t cute, however, is the idea of a devastating flood killing all human and animal life apart from those on the ark. In fact, many opponents of Christianity (and Judaism) point toward the story of Noah’s ark as an example of what they see as a cruel religion.

Several things stand out to me when I read Genesis 6-9 but I would like to highlight two things in particular. The first point of notice involves the state of the earth before the deluge.

Then the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. The Lord was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart. The Lord said, “I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, from man to animals to creeping things and to birds of the sky; for I am sorry that I have made them.” But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord. . . Now the earth was corrupt in the sight of God, and the earth was filled with violence. God looked on the earth, and behold, it was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted their way upon the earth. Genesis 6:5-8, 11-12 (NASB)

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photo credit: expertinfantry via photopin cc

This passage explains, in human terms, how God felt about the human race at that point in time. The intent of every heart was evil and the entire world was filled with violence. When God violently flooded the Earth, He was simply giving the human race the fulfillment of its own actions—violence and destruction.

This destruction is the total opposite of God’s original design in the garden of Eden. Adam & Eve had been naked and unashamed, secure in God’s peace, and without fear of exploitation. When they chose the path of independence from God, however, everything changed—so much so that their firstborn son murdered his brother in a fit of envious rage. The level of violence only grew until God sent 40 days and 40 nights of nonstop rain.

I find it ironic that we want God to relate to us on our terms but we are repulsed when He actually does so. What we fail to see in Noah’s story is the second point I would like to highlight from Genesis 6-9: God values human life far more than most of us realize.

“Surely I will require your lifeblood; from every beast I will require it. And from every man, from every man’s brother I will require the life of man. Whoever sheds man’s blood, by man his blood shall be shed, for in the image of God He made man.” Genesis 9:5-6 (NASB)

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photo credit: chantel beam photography via photopin cc

Human life is sacred in the eyes of God and the unjust shedding of blood deserves an appropriate form of judgment. Thus, It is entirely just for God to judge unrighteous acts of violence committed against those who have been created in His own image.

There is yet another important point to this story that we can easily miss: Getting a fresh start is not the formula for a better world. It’s like my high school friend, Chris, who always seemed to get himself in trouble. At least once a week, he was turning over a new leaf. Unfortunately, that leaf never stayed turned in the right direction!

What the human race really needs are the willingness and the ability to relate to God on His terms. Only then, will we be able to experience true peace. Before we go there, however, we need to look at one particular aspect of the Old Covenant that will help us to better understand the severe judgment seen in the Old Testament. Be sure to stay tuned!

I Love the God of the Old Testament!

Judgmentalism
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I love the God of the Old Testament! Honestly, I do. I suppose that some people will imagine me to be a judgmental enforcer of rules—or perhaps a really cruel-hearted guy with violent tendencies. Those prone to stereotyping might picture me carrying a protest sign alongside the members of Westboro Baptist Church—you know, that mean-spirited group of people who hate just about anyone who differs from their narrow-minded view of religion.

If you think that any of these things are true of me because I love the God of the Old Testament, you would be wrong. One of the most disastrous misconceptions held by people today is that Yahweh, the God of the Old Testament, is a cruel, violent despot and that Jesus, the God of the New Testament, is a passive and somewhat timid teddy bear. Why would we have such an inaccurate understanding of God’s nature? We generally don’t know the true character of God, nor do we understand the manner in which He interacts with the human race.

What are we to make of statements made by Jesus about His relationship with His heavenly Father (Yahweh)?

“He who has seen Me has seen the Father.” John 14:9 (NASB)

More than once, the New Testament proclaims that Jesus and Yahweh are of the very same essence (nature). The much maligned God of the Old Testament is the very same God who, because of His great love for us, sent His beloved Son to die on the cross so that our sins might be forgiven and our relationship with Him restored. This is the Old Testament God who is slow to anger and full of mercy (Psalm 86).

Jesus and Money Changers
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Many who proclaim only the warm and fuzzy aspects of Christ’s love fail to recognize that it was He who turned over the tables of the money changers and blasted the Pharisees for their unjust practices. Yes, we are referring to the King of kings and Lord of lords who will one day return to judge all who have walked this earth.

All too often, we fail to understand that love without justice isn’t love at all. We don’t realize that God pours out wrath, not because He wants to, but because He would be unjust not to. Would a loving God wink and look the other way when an adult male abducts, molests, and kills a little girl? We may struggle to understand why God allows such things to take place, but we can rest assured from the Scriptures that He will one day call such actions fully into account. The guilty will not go unpunished!

The cross of Jesus Christ is where God’s wrath and mercy meet. Through the cross, the vilest of sinners can be both forgiven and transformed. Through the cross, we discover a love so profound that it overloads the natural mind’s ability to comprehend. If we are to believe the writings of the New Testament—and we should—we can’t help but recognize that God the Father is every bit as loving as Jesus Christ.

All of this, of course, leaves us with one massive, nagging question: If Yahweh is so full of love and mercy, then why do we see harsh judgment throughout the Old Testament? The question is entirely reasonable and well worth further explanation, but the short answer is profoundly simple. Through the course of time, the nature of God has never changed. What has changed is the manner in which He relates to the human race.

The short answer to our question is not complicated; however, understanding the details behind that answer is somewhat more involved. In future posts, I’ll further address God’s interaction with humanity. To set the stage, however, I’d like to highlight an ancient proverb that continues to speak deep wisdom even in our day.

It is the glory of God to conceal a matter,
But the glory of kings is to search out a matter. Proverbs 25:2 (NASB)

Study Bible
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Quick judgments are easy and usually wrong. Humbly searching the Scriptures, while asking God to open our eyes, is an entirely different matter. Those who are willing to search beyond the realm of natural appearances may soon find themselves encountering a heavenly Father who is very different from what our world thinks!

Is God Cruel?

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photo credit: Albion Europe ApS via photopin cc

Anyone who has ever read through the Bible will have come upon some deeply disturbing passages. Some of them are historical in nature—simply recording the horrible atrocities committed by one group of people against another. But there are several other passages, such as 1 Samuel 15:3, that can leave a person wondering about the true nature of the God.

Then Samuel said to Saul, “The Lord sent me to anoint you as king over His people, over Israel; now therefore, listen to the words of the Lord. Thus says the Lord of hosts, ‘I will punish Amalek for what he did to Israel, how he set himself against him on the way while he was coming up from Egypt. Now go and strike Amalek and utterly destroy all that he has, and do not spare him; but put to death both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.’” 1 Samuel 15:1-3 (NASB)

This commandment to kill women, children, and even infants seems to fly in the face of what we know about God as recorded in the New Testament.

The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love. 1 John 4:8 (NASB)

Our natural tendency, then, is to draw one of two conclusions:

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1. Jehovah, the God of the Old Testament, was horribly cruel, while Jesus, the God of the New Testament, is as sweet and kind as the day is long.

2. The entire Bible is not really the inspired word of God so it’s entirely up to us to decide what we think is acceptable and what isn’t.

Personally, I see a third option that is rarely addressed: The problem lies not in the character of God or the integrity of the Bible, but in our misunderstanding of God’s relationship with the human race.

One of the great mistakes we all make is our tendency to draw judgments based on our natural abilities to understand God and the world around us. If it doesn’t make sense to me, then it doesn’t make sense. But if a supreme and eternal God does exist—something of which I am convinced—then it stands to reason that He would be far more intelligent than even the most astute scholar. This is, of course, what the Bible teaches.

Seek the Lord while He may be found;
Call upon Him while He is near.
7 Let the wicked forsake his way
And the unrighteous man his thoughts;
And let him return to the Lord,
And He will have compassion on him,
And to our God,
For He will abundantly pardon.
8 “For My thoughts are not your thoughts,
Nor are your ways My ways,” declares the Lord.
9 “For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
So are My ways higher than your ways
And My thoughts than your thoughts. Isaiah 55:6-9 (NASB)

Wow! God’s ways aren’t just different than ours—they are on a totally different plane. The ways of heaven will never make sense to the natural human mind. But does that mean that we can never understand God’s way of thinking? No, not at all. The key lies in humbling our hearts, admitting our blindness, and asking Him to open the eyes of our hearts to understand His ways. This is something I have spent much of my adult life doing and the results have been rich beyond my imagination.

Human Judgments
Photo by Sam Hakes

I have discovered that there is something noble about choosing to humbly search out God’s ways as opposed to making rash judgments based on one’s own intelligence. Deliberately taking such an approach can open up to us an amazing, unseen world far greater than what our natural eyes can see. My life has certainly been transformed!

Passages like 1 Samuel 15:3 continue to disturb me but I have discovered that God actually wants me to be bothered by these things. I’ll expound on this concept more over the next several posts, while showing that even though God commanded the killing of the Amalekite women and children, He did so contrary to His desire.

Understanding the nature of God’s interaction with the human race is nothing short of fascinating. You’re going to want to stay tuned!

The Rest of the Story

Man get's stoned.
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At first glance, it appears rather cruel. God had ordered some poor guy to be stoned to death simply for gathering a few sticks for firewood (Numbers 15:32-36). Could this really be the directive of a loving God? Does the God of the Old Testament have a mean streak? Or is something deeper at stake? Perhaps our understanding of this scenario leaves something to be desired.

The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “But as for you, speak to the sons of Israel, saying, ‘You shall surely observe My sabbaths; for this is a sign between Me and you throughout your generations, that you may know that I am the Lord who sanctifies you. Therefore you are to observe the sabbath, for it is holy to you. Everyone who profanes it shall surely be put to death; for whoever does any work on it, that person shall be cut off from among his people. For six days work may be done, but on the seventh day there is a sabbath of complete rest, holy to the Lord; whoever does any work on the sabbath day shall surely be put to death. So the sons of Israel shall observe the sabbath, to celebrate the sabbath throughout their generations as a perpetual covenant.’ It is a sign between Me and the sons of Israel forever; for in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, but on the seventh day He ceased from labor, and was refreshed.” Exodus 31:12-17 (NASB)

It is obvious from this passage that God had clearly communicated the importance of keeping the Sabbath—along with the consequences of any potential disobedience. In short, the parameters had been well established and, by choosing to ignore God’s command, this unfortunate soul hastened his own death.

But what about us? What are we to do with this “perpetual covenant”? I did a little wood working in my home a couple of Sundays ago. Should I be in fear of being stoned?

The Stone Tablets of the Ten Commandments
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The key to understanding such an extreme punishment for breaking the fourth of the Ten Commandments lies in understanding the nature of the relationship between the Old and New Testaments. The Old Testament is full of Biblical types—people, things, or scenarios which foreshadow deeper New Covenant truths.

In this particular case, God was communicating an eternal message that no man or woman can find favor with God by attempting to work for his or her salvation. In other words, none of us can ever be saved by trying to be a good person, and anyone who attempts to meet God’s standards by self-effort will face eternal death (separation from God) as the unquestionable result.

Again, on the surface this may appear to be rather unfair, but if we can grasp the brilliant and loving nature of God’s plan, we soon recognize that no other reasonable way is possible.

Before the Sabbath command was given, ancient Israel had spent centuries in exhausting slavery in Egypt under the Pharaoh’s cruel hand. God then delivered the people by His own mighty hand. This picture represents our own slavery to sin along with the futility of attempting to deliver ourselves by our own good works. It is all very exhausting because we can never be good enough to meet the perfect standards of heaven.

In His mercy, the heavenly Father designed a plan by which the burden of perfection falls upon Christ and not upon us. You see, under the New (and better) Covenant, Jesus Christ has become our Sabbath rest. No need for perfection on our part. No need for constant striving. No need to redeem ourselves when we have failed and done wrong.

Our six days of striving under the unattainable standards of law are ended as we now find ourselves living in the seventh day of rest—finding the full confidence of our acceptance with God, not through our own efforts, but through faith in the sacrificial death of Christ on the cross.

Abiding in God’s rest does not come naturally for us since we can’t help but feel that we need to do something to gain His approval. Some Christian leaders even refuse to communicate these truths out of fear that their people will become lazy and self-absorbed. What they fail to understand is that the true Sabbath rest of the Christian faith will always result in devoted labors of love on the part of God’s people. Ours is not simply to rest from all manner of work, but to rest from an exhausting attempt to gain God’s approval through self-effort.

The Crucifixion
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The more I understand God’s plan for salvation, the more I find myself appreciating the fact that He has left us no wiggle room when it comes to obeying and enjoying His Sabbath rest. When we approach God through faith in the finished work of Jesus, the full favor of heaven smiles upon us–no matter how dark our circumstances may appear.

So there you have it—the rest of the story.