Good News for Fools

Most people who have read much of the Bible know very well how it can act just like a mirror.  It shows you who you really are - confronting you with your weaknesses and sins and exposing you before an all-knowing God.  You can't hide from yourself as you read God's Word.  This is a fearsome aspect to studying the Bible and ought to cause us to tremble.  It isn't "safe" to look into those pages! But just as we might fear to see our reflections in God's judgments, we also crave to see our reflections in the stories of redemption.  Any who have ever struggled with lust read David's story over and over again - as well as his confession and repentance in Psalm 51 - and delight to see how God actually forgives such heinous sin.  If there was hope for David, there might just be hope for us!  Those who struggle with outbursts of anger and regret over the same might read of Moses the murderer and rejoice that God decided to use him anyway.

So we look for reflections of ourselves for encouragement, even as we might also be fearful to see God's indictment of our sin in another reflection.  But one of the places that we might never think to look for encouragement is in any place where God has used the word "fool".

Reading through the book of Proverbs, one comes quickly to the conclusion that a "fool" is about the worst thing you can possibly be.  Even the Psalms declare that it is the fool who says in his heart that there is no God (Psalm 14:1).  Fools are pictured almost everywhere as self-destructive unbelievers that are a plague upon everyone and generally make life miserable.  Well, that makes sense and seems like a just declaration...until I look around at my life and discover with surprise and horror that I have been acting like a fool.  Suddenly, those passages that describe and condemn the fool start to give me a sinking feeling in my gut.

There is hope in the Scriptures even for the believer that may feel like a fool, however!  In Isaiah 35, the prophet tells us of a "highway of holiness" that God will build through the desert places.  This "highway" is the way of salvation that Jesus Christ accomplished with His crucifixion and resurrection.  And at first blush, this highway seems daunting for the one who feels himself a fool.  We are told that "the unclean shall not pass over it" (v. 8), and suddenly our hearts sink again, because we rarely feel anything other than "unclean" when we look within ourselves.  The next sentence of the same verse, though, brings sweet relief!

It shall belong to those who walk on the way; even if they are fools, they shall not go astray.

I love that!  If a fool gets on the highway, he can't foolishly stumble off of it again!  This is very good news!  Of course, it's all contingent on exactly how a person gets on this highway in the first place.  There's nothing but more good news on that account, however.  The end of verse 9 and the beginning of verse 10 tell us that the ones on the highway are the "redeemed" and the "ransomed".  They are not "holy in themselves".  They are not "the deserving ones".  They are the ones that have been bought with the blood of Christ because they had no capital to purchase themselves.  They were bankrupt and worthless, blind, deaf, lame, and mute (vv. 5-6), but Christ's death on their behalf has purchased them and made them clean, given them sight, restored their hearing, allowed them to walk, and put words in their mouths!  He has done it, and as a result, His ransomed get to experience "everlasting joy" (v. 10)!

Most Christians are very much aware that they didn't secure their own salvation.  We know that we couldn't have done anything and that Christ had to do it all, but many of us - myself very much included here - often feel like we are making a mess of things after we have been saved and we wonder how God can remain patient with our foolishness.  Isaiah 35:8 should be a great encouragement when we feel like we are not worthy to remain on the "highway of holiness" that Christ has built.  Even the fools can't go astray!  But we also need to hear the correction that Paul levels at the Galatians in chapter 3 of that epistle:

O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified. Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?

Our life in Christ - our walk along the highway of holiness - did not begin with the works of our flesh, and our continued travel down that road does not depend on those works either.  The present, as well as the past, depends on the completed work of Christ and the continuing work of the Holy Spirit.  That's where we need to put our trust.  That's where we need to find our feelings of acceptance: always in Him and never in ourselves.

Cheer up, fools!  There's hope even for us in Jesus Christ!

Theology is Supposed to Help People

The following quote is by John M. Frame from his book, The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God.

"Objectivism" continues to be a danger in orthodox Christian circles.  It is all too easy for us to imagine that we have a higher task than merely that of helping people.  Our pride constantly opposes the servant model.  And it is all too easy for us to think of theological formulations as something more than truth-for-people, as a kind of special insight into God Himself (which the Biblical writers would have written about, had they known as much as we).  But no, theology is not "purely objective truth"; as we saw earlier, there is no such thing as purely objective truth, or "brute fact."  Our theologies are not even the best formulation of truth-for-people for all times and places; Scripture is that.  Our theologies are merely attempts to help people, generally and in specific times and places, to use Scripture better.

Hope for Sinners

Most Bible readers are very familiar with the many, many sins of the northern kingdom of Israel in the Old Testament.  That nation did not have a single godly king.  They were constantly whoring themselves to pagan idols and to the two golden calves of Jeroboam son of Nebat.  Their rulers consistently ignored the Word of Yahweh, delivered to them by such prophets as Elijah, Elisha, Amos, Hosea, Jonah, and Nahum.  It was a despicable land full of rebellion, and yet God showed them mercy time and time again.

Now Hazael king of Syria oppressed Israel all the days of Jehoahaz.  But Yahweh was gracious to them and had compassion on them, and He turned toward them, because of His covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and would not destroy them, nor has He cast them from his presence until now. (2 Kings 13:22-23)

I had to highlight the above passage in my Bible this morning.  Upon reading it, I was struck with the profound magnitude of God's mercy and grace: that His patience would yet extend to this spiritually adulterous people because of a covenant made long before.

Not only that, but this passage is especially encouraging to me because I am a sinner.  Just as the northern kingdom of Israel provoked God's wrath time and time again, so have I done.  At times it seems to me that there can be no patience left with God toward my sin.  And then I read of how God put up with these Old Testament sinners for generations upon generations because of a covenant made with some men hundreds of years before, and I remember that there is a greater covenant of which I am a part.

This New Covenant is spoken of often in both Old and New Testaments, but for the purposes of this hope that I am exploring, I want to look at just one reference:

All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. (John 6:37)

The covenant that God the Father has made concerning me and concerning all born again believers was not simply made with some mere human.  He covenanted with His own Son - His Image, His glory, and the exact imprint of His nature (Hebrews 1:3) - to save those whom He chose and predestined to save (Ephesians 1:4-5).  Our names were written in a book from before the foundation of the world (Revelation 13:8).  He has given us as a bride for His Son, and all those whom He has given will come to Him, and those who come to Him He will never cast out (John 6:37)!

And so here is hope: not in our own ability to walk perfectly before the Lord, but in His ability to keep us in spite of our sin and to present us blameless before the presence of His glory with great joy (Jude 24).  He extends patience and mercy and grace and blessing not because of goodness in us, but because of His decision to save us and His covenant to do so.  This is the only hope that I have - the only hope that anyone can have - that we belong to Him and that He will not let us be snatched out of His hand (John 10:28).

Eyes of Elisha

One of the Hebrew words that was used to denote the prophets in the Old Testament can be translated literally as "seer" or "one who sees".  It is no mystery as to why a term like this would be used to describe the office of a prophet, since kings and commoners would seek them out in order to discover what the future would hold or what God would have them do.  In the story of the prophet Elisha in the book of 2 Kings, though, we get even more detail concerning what a prophet could see. In one well-known story in chapter 6 of that book, Elisha is staying in a city called Dothan (a situation with which I am currently sympathetic) when the army of Syria marches in and surrounds the city walls.  The king of Syria wanted Elisha dead for being able to see all of his troop movements before they even occurred and for telling such news to the king of Israel.  So it seemed as if the city of Dothan would be thrown down, and yet the seer was not troubled.

Early that morning, when Elisha's servant went out to see the commotion outside of the gates, he returned to his master in great distress saying, "Alas, my master!  What shall we do?" (2 Kings 6:15).  Elisha himself was calm, however, and simply prayed that God would open the eyes of his servant that he may see.  Apparently, Elisha's eyes were already opened, and what he saw gave him no cause for alarm.

The Lord answered Elisha's prayer, and the young man was able to see not only the Syrian army, but also a great force of horses and chariots of fire filling the mountains around the city, completely surrounding the smaller earthly force (v. 17).  Now the servant was able to see that his master's words were wise and true when he said, "Do not be afraid, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them" (v. 16).

Many of us would love to be able to have our eyes opened in this way so that we could see the power and protection of God when we are experiencing trying times.  But the reality is that if we have been born again through the power and working of the Holy Spirit, we have had our eyes opened.  Paul said in 2 Corinthians 4:3-4, "And even if our Gospel is veiled, it is veiled only to those who are perishing.  In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the Gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the Image of God."  The ones who have blinders on their eyes are the ones who are perishing, not those who have been born again.  They cannot see the light of the Gospel of the glory of Christ, but those who have been given the gift of faith surely can.  Paul says of believers, "For God, who said, 'Let light shine out of darkness,' has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ" (v. 6).

If we are born again believers, our eyes have been opened; thus says God's Word.  And yet my guess is that probably none of us are seeing horses and chariots of fire wandering around the countryside.  I know that I don't see anything like that in Dothan, Alabama!  But let me ask you something: did Elisha actually have to see something like that in order to be assured of God's power and protection?  We are actually never told that he himself saw those flaming chariots - just the servant - although he certainly might have.  My point is that he didn't really need to see them.  Elisha knew what an awesome God he served.  He knew that his God was the Creator of the universe and the sovereign King over all history.  He knew that if God wanted him to live to see another day, that there was nothing that could stop that from happening.  He also knew that if God was through with him, then nothing could delay his departure.

This is the way that Paul talks about our eyes being opened as New Testament believers.  We have been given "the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ."  In 2 Corinthians 1:20 Paul says that all God's promises find their 'yes' in Christ.  We have absolutely no reason to fear anything that Satan or the world can marshal against us because our God has never left His throne.  He is still the one holding all the reins of history, and all of His forces are constantly arrayed around His children to accomplish all of His purposes concerning us.  Sometimes that means that He leads us to walk through the valley of the shadow of death, but it is only so that He can reassure us with His presence and conform us to the image of Jesus Christ.  At other times He gives us mighty victory over impossible odds in order to encourage us and fill us with an appreciation of His awesome wonder.  But at no point does He leave us alone and forgotten, and we should ever remember that.  Keep your eyes open to the fact that God runs the show and that He has your best interests always at heart if you belong to Him in Christ as one of his children.

Amazing Providence

Have you ever asked God to go back in time and fix something?  I sure have!  There are times when what I have been praying for has seemed so unlikely to ever come to pass because of other events that I know have already taken place that I just ask God to go back and change those events so that my request can be granted.  I mean, certainly God is powerful enough to do something like that.  He is the Creator of time itself, so why couldn't He just alter it a little? One problem with that request, though, is that it assumes that God has steered history in the wrong way - or at least not the best way - the first time around and that He is only going to get it 'really right' after I have asked Him to do so.  Or maybe it just simply assumes that God sits back and watches what we do with history - as if He is not the One writing every scene for His own purposes and glory - and therefore He should be open to the possibility of changing something that we have messed up.  Either way, though, there is a denial - however subtle - of the fact that God is all-wise, perfectly good, and totally sovereign, and it is distrustful - again, however subtly - that this all-wise and perfectly good sovereign God has done the right thing in allowing certain events to come to pass.

Now, those of us who have been truly born of the Spirit of God know that these things are not true.  We know that God is all-wise, all-knowing, all-powerful, totally sovereign, and perfectly good because He has told us these things about Himself in His Word.  We know that He directs all of history to tell His story the way that He wants to and that nothing ever happens that He has not perfectly planned for the ends that He had in mind; and again, we know this because He has told us these things are so in His Word.  It's just good to be reminded of these things sometimes when we begin to despair at the way circumstances are working out in our own lives.

So consider this reminder from 2 Kings 3.  In that chapter, the king of Moab decided to rebel against Israel rather than pay the tribute that had been previously demanded of him and his people.  Thus Jehoram, the king of Israel, sent word to Jehoshaphat, king of Judah, and asked him if he wanted to go to war against Moab with him.  Jehoshaphat agreed and they also talked the king of Edom into coming along with them to the battle.  But then these three kings made an error in their supply calculations, and suddenly their armies were left with no water to sustain them.  This was one of those moments where you would wish that you could go back in time and do things differently.  I'm sure they had to feel stupid and vulnerable, and they began to despair that the battle would be lost.

At this point, the godly King Jehoshaphat knew that they needed to inquire of Yahweh, to find out what He would have them to do.  Therefore they sent for Elisha the prophet.  And Elisha told them that God would work a fantastic miracle for them, filling the land with water without a single drop of rain falling.  At the same time, he told them that God would give them victory over the Moabites.

And this is how the whole thing worked out: God did indeed miraculously fill the land with water, which was exactly what the people needed right when they needed it, but the Moabites were not aware that this had happened.  When they woke up in the morning and went to look at the camp of the Israelite army, the sunrise caused all that water to look red like blood.  They thought that their enemies had slaughtered each other, so they ran down into the camp, not suspecting an armed force standing at full strength.  The Moabites were then cut down easily by the combined forces of Israel, Judah, and Edom, and when they fled the battle, the three kings and their armies followed them and conquered some of their choice cities.

Looking back over the entire story, we can see that God was engineering each event to perfectly provide for His people and to declare His own majesty and glory - for we can't read a story like that without marveling at how awesomely sovereign our God is!  And this should remind us that God works similar wonders in our own times of distress.  The thirst and unpreparedness of the armies of Israel and Judah was a part of God's plan to both provide for their victory and to cause them to see that He is awesome and glorious!  Why would we ever think that our own difficulties are anything less?  After all, the God who always tells the truth and who always keeps His promises has told us that He works all things for good for those who love Him and who are called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28).

Evil Mercy

Mercy: when teaching children, I like to tell them that mercy means 'not getting what you deserve'.  This is in contrast to justice, which means 'getting exactly what you deserve'. And the right to execute justice or show mercy belongs ultimately and totally to the One who sits as Judge over all the universe.  It is Yahweh, the Creator, who says, "I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy" (Exodus 33:19).  All of our own exercises of justice and mercy as human beings derive totally from His decisions in these areas. It is that last statement - that our exercise of mercy derives from His - that leads me to write on 'evil mercy' this morning.  A statement like that may sound nice and proper on the surface, but when carried out to its logical end, it can lead to some not-very-politically-correct conclusions.  For instance, what if God has not extended mercy to a people group or individual?  What then?  If the human exercise of mercy derives totally from God's extended mercy - since He is the Judge - then are we as humans to be unmerciful where He has not shown mercy?

In a word: yes.

Consider if you will a story from the book of 1 Kings.  In chapter 20 of that book, there is a story of King Ahab and the northern kingdom of Israel going to war against Syria, which was under the leadership of Ben-hadad.  Before the battle, an unnamed 'man of God' approached King Ahab and told him, "Thus says Yahweh, 'Because the Syrians have said, "Yahweh is a god of the hills but he is not a god of the valleys," therefore I will give all this great multitude into your hand, and you shall know that I am Yahweh.'"  God was going to prove that He created, owned, and sat as High Sovereign over every inch of the universe through His victory over the Syrians, using the much smaller army of Israel as His tool.  He had "devoted to destruction" (20:42) the entire Syrian force, deciding to execute justice and withhold mercy.

Toward the end of the battle, though, Ben-hadad, king of the Syrians, took council with some of his servants, and they decided to put sackcloth around their waists and ropes on their heads and beg Ahab for mercy.  "Behold now, we have heard that the kings of the house of Israel are merciful kings," they said (v. 31).

Now it is certainly not a bad thing at all to have a reputation as a merciful person.  Our God has a reputation of being a God rich in mercy, and we are to be like Him.  But that's just it: we are to be like Him.  We are to show mercy where He shows mercy.  But when He declares that there is to be no mercy for a particular people, person, or crime, then we need to withhold our own exercise of mercy in that event.

King Ahab did indeed show mercy where God had not: sparing the life of Ben-hadad.  And immediately upon releasing the enemy king, a prophet of Yahweh came to Ahab and told him, "Thus says Yahweh, 'Because you have let go out of your hand the man whom I had devoted to destruction, therefore your life shall be for his life, and your people for his people'" (v. 42).  God judged Ahab for showing mercy where He had not extended mercy.

This is not the only case of this happening in the Bible.  King Saul did something very similar in sparing the life of Agag, king of the Amelekites, in 1 Samuel 15:8.  Because of this evil mercy where God had not shown mercy, God said that He regretted that He had ever made Saul king, and it was from that day that God began to remove the kingdom from Saul and give it to his servant David.

But what is the application of all of this for those of us living in the twenty-first century of the New Covenant?  Is there ever a situation in which we could be said to be guilty for showing mercy where God has not shown mercy?

Yes there is.  The application for us would be in the way that we execute justice for crimes committed.  We are not in a situation where we have prophets walking up to us and telling us to devote this or that people to utter destruction, but we have been told what God's just penalty for various sins should be.  We are told that sacrificing to and worshiping gods other than Yahweh carries the death penalty.  Other sins that carry the same judgment are adultery, homosexuality, witchcraft, bestiality, rebellion against one's parents, murder, kidnapping, being a false prophet, and even lying about your virginity.

The only one of these crimes that we in America still punish with the justice that God demanded is murder, and we don't even do that well.  Some states do not hand out death sentences for murder at all, and when those that do actually do so, it is rarely done in a timely enough manner to be considered 'justice'.

It is a very dangerous thing for a nation to consider itself 'more civilized' than God and extend mercy for crimes that the Judge declared were abominations against His very character.  We do not have that right, and we ought not to think of ourselves as merciful and loving when we do so.  It is simply and purely disobedience, and it shows that we care more about the creature than we do the Creator.  I am not advocating that individuals take God's Law into their own hands and carry out those death penalties that the state leaves unfulfilled.  That is never once commanded in Scripture.  I am merely declaring that for any nation to be obedient to the Lord and bear the sword of justice as it was intended - and thus receive the blessings of God - that nation needs to pattern its laws after God's perfect Law.  And we as Christians need to recognize this fact and help our leaders to make right decisions that bring our nation's laws more in line with His.

Basic Training

The stories of faithful kings in the Bible are fascinating and encouraging.  You read of men like David, Asa, and Hezekiah, and you watch how they put their trust in Almighty God to give them victory, and that's exactly what He does.  David put the entire Philistine army to flight by taking out their most skilled and armed and armored champion with a single sling stone.  Asa achieved what is probably still the single most deadly victory in the history of warfare, killing one million enemies in a single battle.  Hezekiah prayed to God for help during the siege of Jerusalem and God slayed 185,000 enemy soldiers during the night. The pattern seems simple: if you are the king, you stop trusting in man and put all of your trust and hope in God and then watch Him do amazing things.  For those who have been born again by the Holy Spirit and given the gift of faith, this complete trust in God does not really seem that difficult.  But for most of us - especially those of us who are pastors - when we trust God like this, we don't always get to see the big victory.  In fact, we often get pretty stepped on by the world when we hand it all over to God, and it can be rather discouraging.  Where's my victory?

Well, here's the problem: we're looking at the wrong Scriptural examples.  Sure, that was the way that God dealt with the kings of His people, but there are other faithful characters in the Bible's narrative who have a different experience, and we share much more in common with them.  Of course, I'm talking about God's prophets.

If the kings of Israel and Judah get to experience great victory over their enemies when they turn to God in faith, the prophets most often get the opposite result.  They are hated by almost everyone, killed for their testimony concerning God's Word almost to a man, constantly ignored, and almost always find themselves swallowed up in poverty, chains, pits, and prisons.  Sounds like a pretty good benefits package, eh?  Why are things this way?  Why the huge disparity between the experience of faithful kings and prophets?  Their God is the same God!  To try to answer these difficulties, I want to turn to the life of Elijah.

Elijah is really the first main prophet in Israel.  Moses was certainly a prophet of God, and Samuel is often considered the very first of that office after the people conquered the land of Canaan, but Elijah is the first of a series of prophets that dominates the rest of the Bible's story from that point to the end of the Old Testament.  And just thinking about Elijah calls to mind some amazing stories like the contest on Mount Carmel, the chariot of fire, the boy raised to life, and the jars of oil and flour that would not run out, among others.  Elijah is an enviable character, you would think, but we need to look closer at the details of his life.

In 1 Kings 17, when we first meet Elijah, he delivers the Word of Yahweh's judgment to King Ahab - something that would become a common occurrence - but then is instructed by God to go and hide himself on the east side of the Jordan river, by the brook Cherith, and there remain until God would choose to move him elsewhere.  It is there by the brook that we are told of how God fed Elijah by the ravens.  They would bring him meat and bread every day.  Now, that sounds pretty miraculous and special until you are the one who is having to live outdoors near a brook until it completely dries up (which probably took more than a few days) and eat from scraps dropped into your lap by birds.  They weren't bringing him takeout bags from Chili's, that's for sure.  This "miraculous provision" would probably be labeled "extreme poverty" by just about anyone who had to go through it.  That doesn't mean that it wasn't miraculous.  It just wasn't fabulous.

And Elijah moved from that place to live with a dirty, depressed widow and her son who only had a tiny amount of oil and flour to eat and nothing else.  Yes, God provided miraculously once again for His prophet, causing both jars to never run out, though their contents should have been used up many times over, but we need to keep in mind that it was just oil and flour.  Chapter 18 of 1 Kings begins with "after many days", meaning that this diet of oil and flour cakes served in a very small house in the midst of a years-long drought continued for a very long time.  Again, miraculous?  Yes!  Fabulous?  No.

We could go on, but we would just see more like this.  The story is the same for Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Hosea, and all of the Old Testament prophets, as well as Peter, John, Paul, and yes, Jesus, in the New Testament.  So why would anyone ever want this job, then?  I will tell you that it's not because of earthly triumphs and blessings.  It is because of God.

It's true that the prophets of Yahweh didn't conquer nations and live in palaces, but they dwelt in the very presence of the Creator of the universe!  There is no amount of worldly treasure that you can hold in your hands that can compare with the treasure of the Word of God that we hold in these jars of clay (2 Corinthians 4:7).  There is no amount of fine food that can compare with "every word that proceeds from the mouth of God" (Matthew 4:4).  To those who are called to proclaim God's Word, God does not give fabulous earthly kingdoms; He gives us a far greater treasure: He gives us Himself!  And to keep us from confusing which is the greater gift, He graciously prevents us from "having it all" so that we can see and appreciate His wonder.  This is the way that God makes us ready to stand in the most important place and role that a human being can stand: as a proclaimer of His Truth.  May we do so humbly and in full appreciation of the glory and honor of the post.

Convenient Worship

I think that King Jeroboam of the northern kingdom of Israel must be the patron 'saint' of the modern American church.  You remember king Jeroboam, right?  He was the one who came before Solomon's son Rehoboam to ask that he reduce the heavy burden of labor that Solomon had forced onto the people.  And after King Rehoboam denied the request, it was Jeroboam who led the rebellion of ten of the tribes of Israel, and who himself was crowned king of those tribes in the north. And Jeroboam hadn't been king very long before he started to see a potential problem for his kingdom.  The fact that the temple of Yahweh was located in Jerusalem would mean that a good many of his people would still travel down to the south in order to worship as Yahweh required at His temple.  He was worried that as his people traveled thus several times per year their hearts would gradually return to the southern king of Judah.  So, Jeroboam came up with a plan, and this is why I say that he must be the patron 'saint' of the modern American church.

First, King Jeroboam would make the pilgrimage to the place of worship more convenient.  Instead of the one temple down in Judah, now the northern king told his people that there were two new alternatives for worship much closer right there in the land of Israel.  He put one of these places in Bethel and one in Dan (1 Kings 12:29).  Now the people would not have to travel so far: a welcome change from the oppressive commands of old!

Second, King Jeroboam made some symbols that people could look at to focus their worship.  Instead of just a place to bring sacrifices and pray, now they had some beautiful golden calves to give their worship some meaning beyond simply bringing the offerings that God required.  Worshipers could focus their attention and finally feel like their god was a little closer to them.  This made the god easier to manage: less spiritual, invisible, all-powerful, and holy.  He became more familiar to them; they could finally understand the one that they worshiped.

Third, King Jeroboam removed the stringent requirements on who could and could not officiate temple service.  Yahweh had commanded that only the Levites could serve the temple, but Jeroboam saw the oppression in that and so he let anyone who desired to do so become one of the leaders of worship (1 Kings 13:33).  Gone now were all of the arguments of years gone by over who could be the special ones who serve the temple.  Now anyone who wanted an inside job with little heavy lifting could sign right up.  This was progress!

Fourth, King Jeroboam invented his own feast days (1 Kings 12:33).  Those others that Yahweh had commanded weren't as good as the ones that he could "devise from his own heart", so he set up new ones.  After all, what could possibly be wrong with inventing a new celebration of worship?  It all just adds to the experience!

Finally, he removed senseless restrictions on where people could worship.  Sure, he had already made the two temples at Bethel and Dan for convenience, but he also allowed the people to worship on any old high hill that they desired.  Yahweh had said that this was off-limits, but the new easier-to-understand gods that Jeroboam had made didn't care one bit!  If you want to worship over there on that mountain in your own way, why should anyone stop you?  The new worship is all about what makes you feel good about the experience!

Note as you read the chapters concerning Jeroboam in 1 Kings that there are no stories of any other sin that the man might have committed.  We are not told about adulteries, murders, covetousness, abortion, homosexuality, or any other 'low' sin that he may have been involved in.  Far more destructive than any of those things in God's eyes is what this king did concerning the worship of Yahweh: how he broke from the clear instructions that God had given in order to make things more convenient and to not have to tell anyone, "No!  You can't do that!"  And the pronouncement that we have in the Scripture concerning all of Jeroboam's changes was that, "this thing became sin to the house of Jeroboam, so as to cut off and to destroy it from the face of the earth" (1 Kings 13:34).

Sadly, it is far too easy to see the many parallels between Jeroboam's great sins and our own in the modern American church.  We try to remove every obstacle we can that might keep lost people from coming to church (even though the gathered worship is for believers and not unbelievers anyway), but in doing so, we remove a lot of what God has commanded should be in there.  We are constantly about the business of reducing God down to a manageable size: something that we can comprehend and that exists only to serve us.  We loathe to tell anyone "No" in worship, and let just about anyone stand behind the pulpit, teach our children in Sunday School (which is itself one of those added-on things that has become a sacred cow in today's church), lead the singing, or whatever.  We invent holidays and celebrate them like we want to (when was the last time you saw a command in the Scripture to celebrate Christmas or 'easter' - named after a pagan goddess that Jeroboam was even credited as worshiping?).  Our worship is all about doing what you feel is right and what makes you happy - what gives you the 'warm-fuzzies'.

God has not refused to speak on the kinds of things that He demands be a part of His worship in New Testament times.  It isn't as if He only really cared about such things during the Mosaic Covenant.  He has purposefully given us many instructions all throughout the New Testament epistles on how we should do church, but tragically most of these get completely ignored in favor of "what we've always done".  Tradition and whim are not the determiners of what true worship should be - God is!  Let's covenant more faithfully to pattern our churches and our worship on what He has said and leave "the devices of our own hearts" outside the doors.

A Very Wise Fool

As soon as we hear the name, King Solomon, it conjures to our mind's eye images of gold and peacocks and splendid ivory thrones bedecked with lions.  His kingdom was - simply put - the most beautiful and extravagant place that the world has ever seen.  He built palaces: for himself, for his wives, and, of course, for God.  We are told that he had so much gold that silver was nothing; it was about as common as dirt.  He ate with gold forks and spoons, drank from gold cups, and dwelt in such opulence that it took away the breath of even the Queen of Sheba (1 Kings 10:5). And Solomon received all of these gifts, as well as the most expansive kingdom that Israel has ever had, as a byproduct of one of Yahweh's blessings.  In 1 Kings chapter 3, the Lord appears to Solomon in a dream and tells him to ask anything of Him and He will give it.  But instead of asking for long life or riches or the defeat of his enemies, Solomon simply asks for the wisdom to govern God's people.  God is so pleased by the humble request that He tells the young king that He will give him wisdom and all of the things that he didn't ask for besides!

But if we think that Solomon's physical blessings were astounding, we should take a look at the fruits of the blessing that he actually asked for.  King Solomon wrote most of the Proverbs, as well as the books of Ecclesiastes and the Song of Songs (or Solomon).  We are told that his wisdom was unmatched from that time onward.  People came from far and wide just to listen to his wise and discerning judgments.  There is no doubt that the man was exceedingly smart, and yet I've got a picture of a crying LEGO jester at the top of this article and the title says something about a fool, so obviously something went wrong.

Well, something did go wrong.  Later on in Solomon's life he began to do some really bad stuff - really foolish stuff.  His father David had committed adultery and killed one of his own 'mighty men' because of a pretty face, but Solomon would do worse.  We're told in 1 Kings 11:4-8 that Solomon eventually began to turn from Yahweh because of his many wives, which he loved, and he built a high place for Chemosh, the abomination of Moab, and for Molech, the abomination of the Ammonites, and that he followed after Ashtoreth, the goddess of the Sidonians, and Milcom, another abomination of the Ammonites, as well.  The smartest man in the world was committing idolatry!  How could this be?

It began, as all sin does, with simple disobedience.  Solomon did not suddenly fall off the wagon one day and start building temples for idols.  He had been living in opposition to God's instructions for quite some time before that, and his eventual descent into idolatry was as a result of not being obedient from the outset to what God had commanded of His kings.

Listen for just a moment to what God had commanded through Moses concerning Israel's future kings way back in Deuteronomy (before the people of Israel ever even made it into the Promised Land):

When you come to the land that Yahweh your God is giving you, and you possess it and dwell in it and then say,'I will set a king over me, like all the nations that are around me,' you may indeed set a king over you whom Yahweh your God will choose. One from among your brothers you shall set as king over you. You may not put a foreigner over you, who is not your brother. Only he must not acquire many horses for himself or cause the people to return to Egypt in order to acquire many horses, since the LORD has said to you, 'You shall never return that way again.' And heshall not acquire many wives for himself, lest his heart turn away, nor shall he acquire for himself excessive silver and gold.

And when he sits on the throne of his kingdom, he shall write for himself in a book a copy of this Law, approved by the Levitical priests. And it shall be with him, and he shall read in it all the days of his life, that he may learn to fear Yahweh his God by keeping all the words of this Law and these statutes, and doing them, that his heart may not be lifted up above his brothers, and that he may not turn aside from the commandment, either to the right hand or to the left, so that he may continue long in his kingdom, he and his children, in Israel.

These instructions, handed down by Yahweh Himself, read like a road map of Solomon's sins!  King Solomon actually violated every single command given here concerning Israel's kings.  He acquired many horses (1 Kings 10:26), he got them all from Egypt (v. 28), it would be an understatement to say that he had many wives (11:3), and he certainly had excessive silver and gold (10:14-22).

Now, even though we're not told one way or the other, I'm going to hazard a guess that Solomon probably didn't follow the latter half of those instructions either: the part that tells the kings to copy the Law and read it daily.  Perhaps if he would have done so, he would have seen earlier the huge problems that he was getting himself into.

So here we have a case where the smartest, wisest, and most likely richest man the world has ever known goes horribly astray because he wasn't reading his Bible every day.  Instead of being like him and relying on our own good sense to get us through each day, we ought to be like another king - one toward the end of Judah's history: Josiah.  King Josiah is the one that found the book of the Law hidden in the temple and simply read it.  And when he read God's Law, he did not just hear the words and then try to justify himself by coming up with reasons why he didn't need to follow those commands of God anymore, or by somehow convincing himself that he was in fact being obedient when he knew he wasn't.  He just tore his clothes, confessed his great sin, repented, begged forgiveness, and vowed to be obedient to what he had read for the rest of his days (2 Kings 22:11-23:25).  Let's read God's Word like that - every single day - and let it keep us from walking foolishly, no matter how wise we may be.

Like Sand and Stars

Exactly how many grains of sand are there on the seashore?  Or how many stars are really out there in the heavens beyond even what we can see?  Could anyone really ever count either of these? Way back in Genesis 15, a man named Abram poured out his heart toward God, expressing his despair over having no children of his own - no heir for his household.  And in response, God told him to go outside and try to count the stars.  "This is how many offspring I will give you," God told him (v. 5).  Later in the story, in chapter 22, when Abraham showed that he was willing to sacrifice the one beloved son that God had given him in his old age - the heir through which all of those promises were supposed to come to pass - God told him again, "I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore" (22:17).

Certainly, since the time of Abraham, there have been many born into that physical family of people that we call 'Jews' or 'Israelites'.  The number continues to grow even to this day.  But when do you think that the promise could be considered to be fulfilled?  Is there a certain number that we are looking for?

Actually, we are told in 1 Kings 4:20 that during the time of King Solomon, "Judah and Israel were as many as the sand by the sea."  The text clearly means to indicate at this point that God's promise had found fulfillment.  That shouldn't be surprising; many of God's promises were finding fulfillment during this time.  He had brought them into the land that He had promised to give them.  He had given them peace on every side.  He had chosen a place for His Name to dwell.  And He even brought about the fulfillment of the promise that He had made to David, saying, "Your son, whom I will set on your throne in your place, shall build the house for my Name" (2 Samuel 7:13 - cited as being fulfilled in 1 Kings 5:5).

This period was a time of great physical fulfillment for all of these promises, but this was not to be the end, and would by no means be the greatest manifestation of the fulfillment of these blessings.  David had just taken a census of the men of Israel as one of his last acts as king, and though the number was large for a nation of that day - 1.3 million men who could draw the sword - it doesn't even compare to the populations of a lot of world cities today, and it certainly doesn't compare to the number of stars in the sky or grains of sand on the shore.  And even though Solomon was a great king, and the house that he built for the Name of Yahweh was pretty magnificent, both he: Solomon, and it: the temple, were nothing compared to what would be revealed at the greater fulfillment of those promises.

This is because God never intended the physical fulfillment to be the main point of any of those awesome covenant blessings.  When God spoke of Abram's 'seed' (or 'offspring') through whom all of the world would be blessed, He did not just mean a certain ethnic group descended from Abram's loins.  He meant - in the most glorious sense of His promise - a certain Man - a singular 'seed' - would come through Abram's family, and that it would be through this Man, Jesus Christ, that all the nations of the earth would be blessed.  And God meant that Abraham's spiritual offspring: those who shared the same faith in his Heavenly Father, would truly number more than the stars or the sand.  Likewise, when God promised David that his son would sit on his throne forever, and that He would build Him a house, He was not just talking about Solomon and the temple.  Rather, His larger picture included the coming of Jesus Christ and the building of a temple out of living stones (souls!) where His Name could dwell (1 Peter 2:5).

The ultimate fulfillment of all of this is of course through Jesus Christ.  He is the 'Seed' of Abraham and the 'Son' of David.  And His people are synonymous with His 'house': the congregation of saints (1 Corinthians 14:33), the body of Christ (Ephesians 4:12), the bride prepared for the Bridegroom (Revelation 21:9).  And the number of that people will far surpass 1.3 million.  In fact, in Revelation chapter 7, we are told that the number will be 144,000, but that is not a literal number.  That is a number that figuratively represents the fulness of God's people.  Thus, that is the number that John "heard" described (v. 4), but when he turned to look (verse 9), what he actually saw was "a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, 'Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!'"

Those old promises were about Jesus and they were about us - that is, those of us who have clung to Christ for salvation from the just wrath of God!  Isn't that exciting?  When you have read Genesis 15 and 22 and 2 Samuel 7, did you see yourself there in Christ?  By virtue of His righteousness and the Holy Spirit's regenerating work, we are made a part of that great family and a part of that great temple!  Praise be to God the Father, and the Son, and the Spirit for including us in all His promises!

Superheroes

I think that American superheroes are dumb.  The grand majority of them are able to defeat evil because of wacky mutant powers, or because they were born on other planets where all people just naturally had wacky mutant powers, or, in the case of a small few like Batman and Ironman, because they have used their ridiculous wealth to construct technological gizmos that give them similar abilities to the aforementioned wacky mutant powers. I much prefer the Asian brand of superhero, who can accomplish ridiculous feats through the application of immense skill.  This is the essence of kung-fu: doing something so well and so often that the effects look miraculous to those with less skill.  And so Asian "superheroes" can run up bamboo trees and have sword-fights in the branches, they can throw knives that curve around buildings to hit their targets, and they can flit from rooftop to rooftop in such a way that they look almost like they are flying.  And a staple of the "kung-fu" - or more accurately named "wushu" or "wuxia" - movie is that the hero can defeat scads of bad guys using his martial abilities alone.

And I feel Biblically justified in my preference of Asian superheroes because the Scriptures themselves contain similar stories of martial acumen.  In 2 Samuel 23, for instance, the "mighty men" of David are described.  Listen to the descriptions of those three men that the Bible calls "the Three" of David:

These are the names of the mighty men whom David had: Josheb-basshebeth a Tahchemonite; he was chief of the three. He wielded his spear against eight hundred whom he killed at one time. (v. 8 )

And next to him among the three mighty men was Eleazar the son of Dodo, son of Ahohi. He was with David when they defied the Philistines who were gathered there for battle, and the men of Israel withdrew. He rose and struck down the Philistines until his hand was weary, and his hand clung to the sword. And Yahweh brought about a great victory that day, and the men returned after him only to strip the slain. (vv. 9-10)

And next to him was Shammah, the son of Agee the Hararite. The Philistines gathered together at Lehi, where there was a plot of ground full of lentils, and the men fled from the Philistines. But he took his stand in the midst of the plot and defended it and struck down the Philistines, and Yahweh worked a great victory. (vv. 11-12)

These guys were awesome!  You could literally make a whole movie about the event recorded in verse 8 alone, and it would be a summer blockbuster to be sure!  But notice this: that awesome scene that we have hinted at in verse 8 is all that we are ever told about it in the Bible.  That's the kind of thing that people would read, and yet God chose to only make a one-verse mention of the whole story.  Instead, He filled the whole of chapter 22 with some long poem; or maybe it's a song or something.  I mean, we don't want to read a song!  We want to read about superheroes!

That song in chapter 22 of 2 Samuel, though, is actually about the real Superhero.  You see, those mighty men were nothing but tools in the hand of the true Hero.  Verse 12 of chapter 23 shows the reality.  There in the description of Shammah, the third of the Three, we are told, "But he took his stand in the midst of the plot and defended it and struck down the Philistines, and Yahweh worked a great victory."  The same was also said back in verse 10 and the description of Eleazar's big victory.  God doesn't spend a lot of time in the Bible describing human victories because He is the one that brings them about anyway.  Therefore, He expends a lot space in His Word declaring just how awesome He is: He is the true Superhero!

Josheb-basshebeth (how's that for a potential name for baby boy?) may have struck down 800 men at once - a feat worthy of a good wushu movie - but, aside from being the one who actually gave Jo (can I call him Jo?) that victory, Yahweh once struck down 185,000 men in a single night (2 Kings 19:35).  Oh yeah, and there's that time that He killed every single living thing on earth except for the eight people He saved (along with some animals) in a boat (that He designed).

So I want to end this essay on superheroes with some quotes from that "boring" chapter that I mentioned earlier that stand as a tribute to my favorite Superhero: the One who has already saved the day.

Yahweh is my Rock and my Fortress and my Deliverer, my God, my Rock, in whom I take refuge, my Shield, and the Horn of my salvation, my Stronghold and my Refuge, my Savior; you save me from violence.  I call upon Yahweh, who is worthy to be praised, and I am saved from my enemies. (vv. 2-4)

In my distress I called upon Yahweh; to my God I called.  From His temple he heard my voice, and my cry came to His ears.  Then the earth reeled and rocked; the foundations of the heavens trembled and quaked, because He was angry.  Smoke went up from His nostrils, and devouring fire from His mouth; glowing coals flamed forth from Him.  He bowed the heavens and came down; thick darkness was under His feet.  He rode on a cherub and flew; He was seen on the wings of the wind.  He made darkness around Him His canopy, thick clouds, a gathering of water. Out of the brightness before Him coals of fire flamed forth. Yahweh thundered from heaven, and the Most High uttered His voice.  And He sent out arrows and scattered them; lightning, and routed them.  Then the channels of the sea were seen; the foundations of the world were laid bare, at the rebuke of Yahweh, at the blast of the breath of His nostrils. (vv. 7-16)

He rescued me from my strong enemy, from those who hated me, for they were too mighty for me.  They confronted me in the day of my calamity, but Yahweh was my support.  He brought me out into a broad place; He rescued me, because He delighted in me. (vv.18-20)

Promises, Promises

"O Yahweh, who shall sojourn in your tent?  Who shall dwell on your holy hill?  He who... swears to his own hurt and does not change." (Psalm 15:1, 4)

That statement is huge!  It runs through my mind almost every single day.  The one whom God allows to sojourn with Him - to walk in His presence - and the one whom He allows to dwell with Him is the kind of person who keeps promises.  And this kind of person doesn't just keep the easy ones, but even swears to his own hurt and still does not change.  If he finds himself locked into a really unpleasant commitment, he doesn't try to weasel his way out of it, but instead meets the obligation head-on and fulfills his end of the bargain.

It probably doesn't even need to be said that such a person is in rare supply these days.  In our culture, even the well-worded, highly important, and sacred vows of marriage can be tossed out of the window as soon as the relationship becomes even a little bit difficult to one or both of the persons who made these promises to one another.  We have even invented prenuptial agreements that are in effect in the event that the initial vows are broken - though I always wonder why the prenuptial agreement can't be broken just as easily.  Is it signed with a more special kind of magical ink?

God is so adamant about the inviolable nature of a promise, though, that He holds people to some pretty stout vows in His Word.  Many Bible students would think immediately about the rash vow of Jephthah in the book of Judges: how he promised to sacrifice to Yahweh the first thing that came out of his front door when he got home if God would give him victory in the battle (Judges 11:30-31).  Of course, if you know the story, you know that his only daughter came to meet him when he got home, and was the first thing to come out of his door.  Jephthah, however, did not back down from his promise.  What he had sworn to do was definitely to his own hurt, but he did not change.

Another interesting story like this involves the Gibeonites.  They were those crafty folk who approached the people of Israel in Joshua chapter 9 with great deceit, wearing worn-out clothing and carrying stale bread, claiming to be from a land far away, come to see the people of Yahweh first hand and to learn more about their great God.  As a matter of fact, though, they were people who dwelt in the land of Canaan, and they were just afraid of being destroyed.  But rather than ask God what should be done with them, Joshua and the Israelites quickly made a promise to live peaceably with them: a promise that God would expect them to keep.

Many years later, after the conquest of the land, after the period of judges, and in the time of King David, God began to smite the land of Israel with a great famine and drought.  When Yahweh was consulted as to why such a thing was happening (does anyone consult God these days to find out why hard times come?), He told them that they had violated that old covenant with the Gibeonites (2 Samuel 21:1).  Apparently, at some point in King Saul's reign, he had gone about trying to kill off the Gibeonites in order to give more of the land to the actual people of Israel.  And even though none of the people then living - King Saul included - had been around when that promise was made, God still held them to it, and backed it up with a famine!

But the way that particular situation was resolved is almost mind-blowing.  God was not pleased to send blessing on His people again until David had given the Gibeonites seven men descended from Saul for them to hang "before Yahweh" (v. 9)!  The children of the man who had broken a promise that he wasn't even alive to take part in making had to die because of that broken promise!  That immediately makes me think of the line in the Ten Commandments where God says that He will, "visit the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me" (Exodus 20:5).

God takes promises very seriously, and we should be glad that He does, because He makes quite a few of them Himself.  In fact, all of the wondrous Good News of salvation through Jesus Christ is built upon promises that God made that He would accomplish it.  He never promises anything lightly and does not change His mind.  And He expects us to be like Him in this regard, going so far as to even say, "Who shall sojourn in my tent, and who shall dwell on my holy hill?  The one who swears to his own hurt and does not change."  And make no mistake: He will hold us accountable to every single word that we speak.  Let us be the kind of people who can walk with Him and dwell in His presence.  Brethren, keep your promises.

What Is Forgiveness?

When I was a teenager, I can remember being forced to watch some video in church about a family who forgave a man for killing one of their children.  They went to him while he was in jail and simply said through the bars, "I forgive you."  The man did not ask for it, but the family gave it, and we were encouraged as teenagers to live out that kind of "Christian" forgiveness in our own lives. In a similar vein, a few years ago I sent a letter to a former pastor of the church that I was serving that had been wronged by the church.  I asked him if there was anything that the church could do that could show genuine repentance toward him and restore broken relationships.  He quickly blew off my idea by saying simply, "I forgave them a long time ago."  He forgave them, but they were not sorry.

The questions we need to ask ourselves are actually, "What does forgiveness truly mean?" and "Can there be forgiveness apart from repentance on the part of the one who needs the forgiveness?"

Forgiveness, at least in the way that the Bible speaks of it, is not a blanket covering stemming from the injured party to the injurer.  Rather, it is all about reconciling one party to another.  Forgiveness is not a declaration, but a restoration.  And there cannot be a true restoration until both parties are willing to move toward one another.  Thus, if there is no true repentance from the injurer, then no matter how willing the injured one might be to forgive, true forgiveness cannot take place, because the relationship cannot be restored.

This idea may sound foreign to some people.  As I said earlier, most of us have been taught through various means that our duty as Christians is to forgive those who hurt us, regardless of whether they seek it or not.  But what does the Bible say on the matter?  Jesus shows the process best when He says, "If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him,and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying, 'I repent,' you must forgive him" (Luke 17:3-4).

This is the true, Biblical process of forgiveness.  There are four parts to it: the hurt, the acknowledgement of the hurt (the rebuke), the repentance, and then the forgiveness.  Most "Christian" forgiveness tries to jump directly from the hurt to the forgiveness - completely bypassing the rebuke and the repentance.  As a result, there is no true forgiveness - no true restoration of the relationship to the joy and closeness of what it once was.  In fact, in many cases, so many hurts can be 'swept under the rug' like this until eventually the relationship cannot continue at all and ultimately fails.  And the sad part of all of that is that one or both of the parties in that failed relationship may not even really know why it failed, because wrongs were never truthfully discussed.

By the way, it should be pointed out that God's own forgiveness works this way.  When we disobey God, that is the very definition of 'sin' against Him.  As sinners, we are desperately in need of God's forgiveness, so that we will not have to face His righteous judgment.  But He does not extend this forgiveness as a blanket over every human being in His creation.  He calls men to repent - repeatedly, and in both the Old and the New Testaments.  Repentance on the part of the sinner is a necessary ingredient in forgiveness.  He says over and over again that He will not grant forgiveness unless there is repentance: "If a man does not repent, God will whet his sword; he has bent and readied his bow" (Psalm 7:12), "Then he began to denounce the cities where most of his mighty works had been done, because they did not repent" (Matthew 11:20), "No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish" (Luke 13:3), "Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent" (Revelation 2:5).

So throw away whatever unbiblical notions you may have had in the past of forgiveness without repentance, and embrace the Scriptural teaching - both as the one who injures and the one who has been injured.  Make sure that if you wrong someone, you immediately seek their forgiveness by repentance and heartfelt apology.  Don't just expect them to issue some blanket declaration of your forgiveness because of the context of the relationship that you are in.  Your sin has damaged that relationship, and it needs to be restored.

Likewise, if you have been wronged, don't just sweep that hurt under the rug.  You may think that doing so is the "Christian" thing to do, but that hidden hurt will end up destroying the relationship in the end - especially if other hurts are added to the pile.  Instead, be sure to go through the 'rebuke' part of the process.  The one who has hurt you needs to know that the hurt has been done.  And you should expect a genuine repentance before the forgiveness can be completed.  If the injurer refuses to repent after the sin has been made known, then it is easy to see why true forgiveness cannot be accomplished.

It is true that a Christian should be "willing" to forgive anyone - and I believe that it is this willingness that most Christians confuse with the forgiveness itself - but we must understand that in order for the Bible's kind of forgiveness to take place, the relationship must be reconciled through repentance followed by restoration.

Heart Stealing

How could any man unseat King David and chase him from his throne in Jerusalem?  Knowing the character of that fierce warrior and mighty man of God, we would think that such a thing must be impossible.  David was so loved, respected, and feared that it must have taken a truly mighty warrior to remove him from the throne, right? Wrong.  All it took to send David into retreat was some emotional manipulation by his estranged son, Absalom.

Absalom used to rise early and stand beside the way of the gate.  And when any man had a dispute to come before the king for judgment, Absalom would call to him and say, "From what city are you?" And when he said, "Your servant is of such and such a tribe in Israel," Absalom would say to him, "See, your claims are good and right, but there is no man designated by the king to hear you." Then Absalom would say,"Oh that I were judge in the land!  Then every man with a dispute or cause might come to me, and I would give him justice."  And whenever a man came near to pay homage to him, he would put out his hand and take hold of him and kiss him. Thus Absalom did to all of Israel who came to the king for judgment. So Absalom stole the hearts of the men of Israel.

David's son Absalom accomplished his treachery against his father, the king, by lying to the people, by telling them what they wanted to hear, by setting himself up as the only one who could help them, and by disingenuous physical contact that tricked the people into thinking that this evil rebel really loved them and had their best interests at heart.  This strategy may at once seem very familiar to most of us - it has been used by almost every politician from that time onward.

My own concern in meditating on this passage, though, is how it intersects with the way that church leaders build their own support in their congregations.  Do these kinds of deceitful methods work in the church?  If so, should they then be used to arrest the hearts of the congregation, since it would seem to be a good thing to secure the love and support of the people?  The apostle Paul certainly doesn't think so:

Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart. But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s Word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God. (2 Corinthians 4:1-2)

In the ways that ministers of the Gospel deal with their flocks, there should be no deceit, no cunning, no disgraceful, underhanded ways.  Instead, there should be only an open statement of the truth.

What is so sad, though, is how many in the church - just like in ancient Israel - can be turned aside from the truth by shysters who scratch itching ears and who are quick to give hugs and kisses, all while directing their path toward ruin and destruction.  Wolves always come to do their work in sheep's clothing.  If they didn't, then their prey would bolt at the first sight of them.  What God's sheep need to learn to do is to look for the seams in the costume and to smell the predator beneath.

One way you can tell a wolf is by looking at his I's - no, not his eyes, his 'I's'!  How much does he talk about himself?  Does he tell story after story about what he has done, or does he spend his time talking about what Christ has done?  Speaking of 'eyes', though, they can be important too.  True sheep keep their eyes on the shepherd.  Wolves watch the sheep.  Is he man-centered or God-centered?  When he prays, does he spend a lot of time praising God for His greatness and seeking His will and His kingdom, or does he 'keep his eyes down' and focus only on human concerns?

Perhaps the best way you can identify a wolf, though, is by his voice.  How does the man handle the Word of God when he 'preaches' it?  Paul told Timothy to "Preach the Word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching" (2 Timothy 4:2).  In the passage I quoted above from 2 Corinthians, Paul says that the true man of God does not "tamper with God's Word".

So how does the man under examination handle the Word?  Does he open the Bible at all, or does he just tell stories and jokes and talk about statistics and steps to solve this or that problem in your life?  If he does open the Word, does he preach it - explain the intricacies of it and apply them - or does he just get the reading of it out of the way so that he can spend the rest of the time saying whatever he wants to say?  A true shepherd of the sheep - a true 'pastor' - should be able to say, "Thus says the Lord" after every sentence and paragraph that he utters.  And you should be able to test him in that way.  Take something he said and ask, "Did the Lord say this in his Word?"  If you can look back at the passage being preached, or a supplemental text referenced by the preacher, and see it there, then the man is doing his job.  If he's just saying a lot of things that have no basis in the text - regardless of whether they may sound good or not - then he is not "preaching the Word", he is saying what he wants to say.

And all of this is so important because, as Paul says in the verses following those cited earlier from 2 Timothy, "For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths" (2 Timothy 4:3-4).  That way leads to destruction.  The wolf in the funny outfit wants to eat you, not be your friend - no matter how many times he gives you hugs and grips your shoulder while he shakes your hand.  Beware those who would try to destroy your faith with their deceit, and love and hold in high honor those who would renounce disgraceful, underhanded ways and refuse to tamper with God's Word, but who would commend themselves to your consciences by the open statement of the truth.

Despicable

When Jesus was asked, "Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?" He responded, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.  This is the great and first commandment" (Matthew 22:36-38). The very most important thing that we are commanded to do is to love the God who made us.  And we are not just to assent to this love, as though we can simply decide that love for God is something that we possess, but we are to love Him with all of our hearts, all of our souls, and all of our minds.  Our affections should be consumed with love for Him.  Our spiritual natures should be delighted and satisfied in Him, drawing all of our strength from Him.  And our thoughts should be filled with wonder at all He has revealed as we are daily - even continually - fascinated with Him in meditation on what He has said and what He has done and all of who He is.

Needless to say, this command to love God with all of our hearts, souls, and minds is a rather difficult command to obey.  So many other things strive for the attention of our affections, our spirits, and our thoughts.  If we ever want to see how far we have "fallen short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23), we never need to look farther than this "first and great commandment".  It can condemn us every single day.

Sometimes, though, we grow so accustomed to the fact that we do fail in this area that we get comfortable, so to speak, with a lower level of love for God.  We know that we can't do it perfectly, but we convince ourselves that we are loving Him about as much as it is humanly possible to do.  And when we sin in other ways - break other commands of God - we would still hold forth that even during those times we maintained our love for God.  We just let the flesh get the better of us, or we became weak and succumbed to temptation.

I'm sure that's what King David would have said when confronted with his sin in his adultery with Bathsheba and subsequent murder of her husband.  After all, he was the "man after God's own heart"!  Surely there is a difference between caving to your fleshly desires and refusing to love God!

That's not what God said, though.  In fact, He put it a bit more starkly than that when He spoke to David from the mouth of Nathan the prophet.  He said, "Now therefore the sword shall never depart from your house, because you have despised me and have taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your wife" (2 Samuel 12:10).

The Hebrew word that is translated as "despised" actually means very much the same thing as our English word.  It means that David held God in contempt, that he disdained Him, and that he felt a deep repugnance for Him.  In other words, it's pretty much the opposite of love and respect.

So in breaking God's command to not commit adultery, and in breaking God's command to not commit murder, David was also mightily breaking the most important command of all: to love his God with all of his heart, his soul, and his mind.  He showed contempt for God and His Law in his heart as he embraced another emotion - that of lust; and he disdained God in his spirit, squashing any conviction he may have felt and hardening himself against his own conscience; and he showed his disgust at having to be disciplined to think like God commanded him to think about the sanctity of marriage vows and the Law of God that protected them.  In the murder of Uriah, he also showed utter contempt for the image of God in man and allowed himself to order its destruction.

All sin is God-hating, pure and simple.  We might want to try to convince ourselves otherwise, but every time we disobey God's Law, we testify that He wasn't very good, wise, and loving to give such a command in the first place.  Each time we transgress against His revealed will, knowing full well that He sees us, and yet not caring in that moment, we give God the finger and dare Him to destroy us if He really is so holy as He says.

Jesus said it best and most simply when He said, "If you love me, keep my commandments" (John 14:15).  That's what love for God with all of your heart, soul, and mind looks like.  That's why He said that such love was the great and first commandment.  Obedience to all of the others stems from obedience to the first.

So the next time your flesh tries to entice you to indulge in the transgression of God's Law - no matter what that may be - let your spirit remind you that you cannot love God and give in to that temptation.  Understand that you will be declaring how much you despise God as you carry out your rebellion against Him.  Hopefully, such thoughts will lead you away from the precipice and back toward the loving embrace of our holy God.

A Wise Sentiment

Joab is probably not anyone's favorite character in the Old Testament; he certainly isn't mine.  This commander of King David's armies is often a jerk, likes to take matters into his own hands for his own reasons, even when it is potentially disastrous, and has even been known to obey such wicked orders as, "Set Uriah in the forefront of the hardest fighting, and then draw back from him, that he may be struck down, and die" (2 Samuel 11:15). And yet, there are some points in the story of David's reign where this too-violent Joab speaks as though he were the one who was the "man after God's own heart".  It is Joab who rebukes David for mourning over the death of his wicked son, Absalom, to the shame of all of those who fought valiantly against the usurper (2 Samuel 19:5-7).  It is also Joab who sternly warns David against taking an ungodly census of the Israelites in 2 Samuel 24 that would end up killing thousands.

But one of my favorite lines from the lips of Joab comes in 2 Samuel 10:12.  As he is organizing the placement of his troops in a battle against the joined forces of the Ammonites and Syrians, he says to his brother, Abishai, "Be of good courage, and let us be courageous for our people, and for the cities of our God, and may Yahweh do what seems good to Him."

I love that that statement for two reasons.  First, it acknowledges God's sovereignty and the fact that He "works all things according to the counsel of His will" (Ephesians 1:11).  It is as Job stated, once he had been duly corrected by God, "I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted" (Job 42:2).  Joab's wise sentiment is rooted in an understanding that God is truly on the throne of all His creation and that He has plan - a will - that He will not fail to work out.  Joab also knows that no human action can constrain that will of God.  In other words, we can't force Him to side with us or do for us exactly what we would like Him to do.  He will always "do what seems good to Him."

The second reason that I love Joab's statement to his brother is because it shows us the wondrous simplicity of our responsibility as human beings.  Notice that he doesn't tell his brother anything like, "Make sure you rout their western flank, or the battle will be lost!"  He understands - quite differently from almost everyone in our own day - that the victor in a battle is determined by Yahweh.  God can defeat a huge host of warriors at the hands of one man and his armor bearer, as He did in 1 Samuel 14.  He can also engineer events so that an army that is vastly successful one day gets hammered the next, as He did in the issue of Achan's sin at Ai in Joshua 7.  So what matters is not individual strategies or even the military skill and might of champion warriors.  What matters is what God wants to do.  And the most important thing that we can do in light of that fact is just simply to make sure that we are being the kind of people that God has commanded us to be.

One church sign that I saw on the way to work one morning put it like this: "Obey God's commands and let Him take care of the rest."  And that's it in a nutshell!  You and I are not the ones on the throne; we are the ones that should be on our knees in front of the throne.  Therefore, our place is not to dictate the events of history - whether that means thinking that we should be able to accomplish whatever we desire by our own hard efforts, or whether that means thinking that God has to answer our prayers in a certain way.  Instead, our role in all of these things is blessedly simple: just obey the King!

Obedience is very important to God.  And it is very important in the New Testament context of the church as well.  Some of Jesus' last and most important words on earth to His disciples, before ascending to heaven, were "...and teach them to obey all that I have commanded you" (Matthew 28:20).  Our God has not made His commands hard to find or ambiguous.  The Scriptures are full of His laws and statutes and rules and instructions.  They are "more to be desired than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and the drippings of the honeycomb" (Psalm 19:10).  And here is the wonderful, freeing, most basic truth of a life of faith: just concern yourself with obeying your awesome God, and "let Him do what seems good to Him."

He Is Great

I heard a man recount the story of his conversion a couple of weeks ago, and it was impossible for him to speak more than a few sentences without breaking into praise again and again at just how great and awesome and majestic and holy and wonderful our God truly is.  And if you were to hear this man's testimony (I tried to get a copy of the audio, but they didn't record it), you would understand why he felt compelled to glorify God's Name like that. "I was not looking for God," he said on more than one occasion.  "I didn't care a thing about church...I wasn't even curious...I had friend that tried to tell me about Jesus for sixteen years and I never cared a bit."  He did finally go to church with his friend - "just to get him off my back" - but said that, even then, "I was bored and not paying much attention to what the young preacher said."

And yet at some point during that service, the man said that "all of a sudden it hit me like a lightning bolt.  I saw the filth and evilness of my sins before a holy God and simply had to scramble out of the pew and rush to the pastor and ask him how to receive the forgiveness offered in Christ."  He said, "I did not leave that church a changed man that day.  I left that church a new man!  God birthed a new person that day!  I went in not caring a thing in the world about Him - not seeking Him at all!  I came out in love with Him, having been given a new heart and a new spirit!"

The man's testimony of how God saved him sounds just like Ephesians 2:1-10, Romans 3:10-26, and Ezekiel 36:25-27.  In passages like those, we are shown how salvation must be a sovereign work of God in producing a new heart and imparting new desires because "no one seeks for God" (Romans 3:11).  If God doesn't "birth new people" by the power of the Holy Spirit, then they will never run to Him in faith.  That's why even faith itself is called a "gift of God" in Ephesians 2:8.  And there's just something about finally understanding God's sovereignty (the fact that He in in control of all of this) in this work that causes people to burst forth in praise to Him!

King David had a similar experience in 2 Samuel chapter 7 - in the passage that we call the Davidic Covenant.  It is there that God tells David of all of the amazing good that He is going to accomplish in building David a house - or dynasty.  And after God tells him all this, David breaks out in praise and thanksgiving, saying at one point, "Because of your promise, and according to your own heart, you have brought about all this greatness, to make your servant know it.  Therefore you are great, O LORD God" (vv. 21-22).

I see in David's praise of God's greatness there in 2 Samuel the same thing that I heard in the man's testimony a couple of weeks ago.  David understood that he was nothing before God got a hold of him, and that every good thing that had happened had all been God's doing.  He confessed that he understood that God had brought it all about "because of His promise and according to His own heart" and "therefore your are great, O Yahweh God."

When I talk with people about the doctrine of God's sovereignty - mostly in the context of ideas like election, predestination, and the new birth - I am often asked the question, "Why should any of that matter?  What difference does it make if I believe that God did it all instead of what I have always been taught?"  My first answer is always that what we believe about salvation ought to be only and exactly what the Bible says about it, and the Bible consistently and strongly teaches all of these doctrines.  But in addition to the simple concept of "the Bible says it, therefore I believe it", I also always point out this very effect that I have been writing about: people that finally come to understand how much God has had to be in control of their conversion (because of their own spiritual blindness, sin hardened heart, and enslavement to their fleshly nature) cannot stop praising Him for being such an awesome God!

In other words, accepting the Scripture's teaching regarding the sovereignty of God, and embracing it as the story of how God brought you to life, always abounds to the glory of the God who did it!  Truly, our God is a great and majestic and holy and perfect and just and compassionate King who pours forth His grace and mercy on His people and lifts them up so that they may have joy in His presence and sound forth His praises and His truth to the end of magnifying His glory and His fame and His worth to every corner of His creation.  To God be the glory!  Amen.

Portion Control

"Give us this day our daily bread."  (Matthew 6:11) I love praying that every morning.  You know why?  Because then you get to say, "Thank you!" to God at every meal for answering your prayer.  You ask for Him to take care of you, and then you get to watch Him work it out all day long.

You might say, "But I still eat three meals a day plus snacks even when I don't pray like that every morning."  That's true, but do you not believe that all of those meals are gifts of God as He provides for you through your job, through grocery stores, through farmers, through rain and seed and growth?  If you don't have a great sense of the awesome graciousness and sovereignty of God in providing for you, then you absolutely need to pray, "Give us this day our daily bread" each morning and then watch how He does it.

But I don't think that provision through physical food is ultimately what that part of Jesus' model prayer is all about.  Don't get me wrong, it is a prayer for our physical bread; it's just that we also need to remember that "Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God" (Deuteronomy 8:3, Matthew 4:4).

When Jesus asked Peter if he loved Him in John chapter 21, each time that Peter responded in the positive, Jesus came back with, "Feed my sheep" (John 21:15-17).  Jesus did not have any literal sheep; He had disciples: those who followed Him.  And He was not asking Peter to put physical food in front of those followers; He was telling him to give them the Word of God.

In a very real sense, the "daily bread" that we need the most is the Word of God - and we need it daily!

But here's something that hit me as I was praying about that and meditating on it recently: I need the 'food' of God's Word that sustains my soul much more than I need the physical food that sustains my body; God's Word does and should give me more delight than physical food, and yet the one that I overeat is not the most beneficial one, but the physical one!  I frequently eat more than I should, and I am not alone in that failing.  I have thought more than once how I need to exercise some discipline in what dieticians call "portion control" in my meals.  But here's the ironic thing: I exercise all kinds of portion control on how much of God's Word I take in!

I read three chapters of the Bible each morning.  That's just a little shy of what it would take to read the whole Bible through in a year, but it simplifies things so that I don't have to carry around some list telling me how much to read.  I very rarely ever read more than that.  I take one breakfast meal of God's Word in the early morning with the portions expertly carved out, and then I don't snack or eat another meal all day.  Meanwhile, I'm over here pigging out on all of this physical food that makes you fat and unhealthy!

It seems like what needs to happen - certainly for me, but probably for most other people as well - is that these two types of eating habits need to swap.  I should have trouble stopping at just three bites of God's Word.  I should get hungry for more later in the day and take little snacks of it here and there.  I should eat a big helping later in the evening as well, and go to bed with all of that weight still digesting so that my dreams might even be filled with holy thoughts.  And I should regulate my physical food as though it were really only necessary for my physical survival and therefore not to be overindulged.  I should thank God for providing it and then eat only as much as I have to in order to maintain a healthy physical life.

Wouldn't it be wonderful if, by the grace of God, we could make that switch, and rob our sinful flesh of one more of its weapons that it uses to destroy us, all the while strengthening the new heart and new spirit that God has put within those of us who are His people?  Amen, Father; help me truly learn that man does not live by bread alone, but by every Word that proceeds from your mouth.

Brotherly Love

"King David was a homosexual." That's what many in the gay community believe because of his strong loving friendship with King Saul's son, Jonathan.  Here's the way one website devoted to trying to reconcile homosexuality and Christianity puts it:

Many gays believe that Jonathan and David were same sex lovers, based on the way God presents their story in scripture and based on the Hebrew words used to describe their relationship...Scripture speaks in glowing terms of Jonathan and David’s loving intimacy, exchanging clothing, embracing, weeping together, hugging and kissing each other.

One of the main passages that is used to defend such a view is David's lament for Saul and Jonathan after they are killed on Mount Gilboa.  There David says of his closest friend, "I am distressed for you, my brother Jonathan; very pleasant have you been to me; your love to me was extraordinary, surpassing the love of women." (2 Samuel 1:26)

Well, one of the major problems here is that poetry is hard.  People go bat-crazy about poetic language in the Bible, either taking it too woodenly literal (which completely defeats the point of poetry) or else running to weird extremes with it.  Poetry is meant to be amorphous, exaggerated, filled with metaphors and similes and anthropomorphism and onomatopoeia and all of those other words that you never paid attention to in English class.  Poetry is meant to conjure up feelings through images, and this is often accomplished by using extreme comparisons.  Many Bible scholars, for example, have totally missed the point of passages like Isaiah 14 and Ezekiel 28 and jumped to the conclusion that those texts must be about Satan, because no human king could ever aspire to the heights of glory like those passages portray, even though the texts themselves claim to be about human kings and kingdoms.

When we read that David claimed that his friend's love "surpassed the love of women", we need not - as those in the homosexual community have done - jump to the conclusion that David was saying, "Your sex was better than what I got with my wife."  That's what a fleshly mind wants to think when it is steeped in sin and looking for any kind of Biblical support that will lessen the guilt that it feels.  In other words, that is just purely an attempt to justify one's own sin through finding a similar example in David.

What David is actually saying, however, is that the love and dear friendship that he shared with Jonathan was of a more intense variety than he shared with any woman.  He was able to communicate more of his heart to his male friend than he ever was able to do with Abigail or Ahinoam or Michal or Bathsheba.  That shouldn't be hard to understand.  Many of us have experienced deeper camaraderie with friends of the same sex than we have with our significant others of the opposite gender.  So David is merely saying that he felt closer to Jonathan than he ever felt to a woman.  That's really not even that uncommon.

Rather than go the foolish route here and try to understand David's relationship with Jonathan in a way that is directly opposed to all that God has ever said about same-sex unions (Leviticus 18:22, 20:13, Romans 1:26-27), we should rather be encouraged to have this kind of close brotherhood (or sisterhood) with those who share the same faith in our awesome God and Savior, Jesus Christ.  The apostle John - the disciple Jesus loved - wrote frequently about this love: "Whoever loves his brother abides in the light, and in him there is nocause for stumbling." (1 John 2:10), "For this is the message that you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another." (1 John 3:11), "Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another." (1 John 4:11)

In other words, genuine believers should try to cultivate the kind of love that David and Jonathan shared.  We ought not to be afraid to open up emotionally to our brothers, or be afraid to embrace, or be afraid to talk like this about our love for one another.  In fact, even our love for our spouses - if those spouses are also believers - should be in a very great sense "surpassing the love of women".  Believing men should love their wives as sisters in Christ, and the deep emotional and spiritual attachment that they feel in sharing the same Savior should surpass the physical bliss that they experience in sexual union.  This sentiment should not be rare or strange in the body of Christ, but it should be the norm.

"A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another."  - Jesus

Worthless

God likes to apply the term 'worthless' to wicked men in the Bible.  Even a quick search of an online or electronic Bible will show you a ton of passages (mostly in the Old Testament) where this word is used to describe a person or persons.  But in almost every case we see that these 'worthless' fellows actually have the exact opposite estimation of their own worth. Such is surely the case for Nabal (who I discussed in part yesterday).  His flocks had been protected by David and his men for an extended period of time while David camped in that land.  Yet, when David's men approached Nabal on a feast day to ask that he share something with them, he responded by saying, "Who is David? Who is the son of Jesse? There are many servants these days who are breaking away from their masters. Shall I take my bread and my water and my meat that I have killed for my shearers and give it to men who come from I do not know where?" (1 Samuel 25:10-11)  Nabal showed clearly that he found no worth in David, and yet the man's own wife accurately described her husband as 'worthless' (25:25).

The same word shows up again just a few chapters later in 1 Samuel 30:22.  In that story, the 'worthless' men are the ones that went with David to the battle against the Amalekites who had sacked their city, Ziklag, and then complained afterwards about those who did not go with them.  When the army had reached the brook Besor, two hundred of the men were too exhausted to continue on to the battle, so they had remained behind with the baggage.  So when the army returned triumphantly with much spoil, there were some who did not want to give the two hundred exhausted men an equal share of what they had taken from the enemy.

Now, that sentiment is in no way unique to those men in that particular battle.  Even most of us, as we read that story, find ourselves partly siding with those whom the Bible calls 'worthless'.  After all, why should these men get the same reward that I get when I put my life on the line to win the victory and they sat in the dirt rubbing their aching feet?  We'll be generous and give them their wives and children back, but that's it!  Next time they can actually help!

The difficulty that arises here that causes us to think along the same lines as those 'worthless' fellows is that we think about the battle in the same way that they thought.  They saw those who stayed behind as 'worthless' - not worthy of any of the spoil - because they believed that they were the ones primarily responsible for winning the battle: the ones who went out to fight it.  David saw it differently, however.  He saw the truth of it.  He understood that he took only four hundred men with him (30:10) against a force that were "spread abroad over all the land" (v. 16), and yet his company was able to slaughter this far mightier force for over twenty-four hours straight (v. 17) so that only four hundred young men escaped - the same number that comprised the entirety of David's force!

In other words, the victory did not belong to David and his four hundred men.  Only one person truly won the battle and that was God.  As David said, "He has preserved us and given into our hand the band that came against us" (v. 23).  Therefore, the spoil did not somehow belong only to those that fought - as though they earned it - but really to God, who had graciously allowed them all to share it.  That's why David demanded that the two hundred who were too exhausted to go down to the battle receive the same portion as everyone else: because he knew what grace is all about.

Jesus tells a similar story in the New Testament about a farmer who hires servants all throughout the day to work his fields, but at the end of the day he pays all the workers the same amount.  Those who got there early and worked all day got the exact same amount as those who came late and toiled for only an hour or so (Matthew 20:1-16).  In that parable, those who worked harder have the same kind of 'worthless' attitude as the men in David's company.  They begrudged the others an equal share of the master's reward.

The point is that in order to not be 'worthless' fellows ourselves, we must must first rightly understand that we have no intrinsic worth!  All of the strengths and gifts and good qualities that we possess were in fact given to us by our gracious God.  We did not produce them in our own strength.  And as we experience victories in life, we must not think that we somehow accomplished those things in our own power, but we must rightly understand that God does it all.  He sets kings on their thrones, works military victories according to His purposes, He builds up and He tears down, and He is the one that even gives us life and knits us together in our mothers' wombs.  So the irony is that if we find worth in ourselves - stemming from our own strengths and abilities and apart from God - then we are truly 'worthless' people. But if we see that the only worth in us is a gift from God and not of ourselves, we are then those who can be useful in God's hands.  In other words, we will have value to Him and true worth.