Posted by MK | Filed under Bible Study
There are certain attributes of Christian character that get more press than others. While we might emphasize things like purity or peace, we might neglect others like self-control or patience. Meekness is one of those characteristics that falls into the second category. So neglected is this attribute that many newer translations don’t even translate the beatitude “Blessed are the meek” any more. Instead, they translate it as “humble” or “patient.” But I think there is something essential about the word meek that isn’t included in those other terms.
In Greek, the word “meek” is also used to describe animals on occasion, but animals that have been tamed. So meekness isn’t weakness; it isn’t loss of strength. A tame animal retains all of the strength that it’s ever had, but it has learned to harness that strength. To keep it under control.
Maybe “meekness” has fallen on hard times because we have equated it with weakness. “Meek” is synonymous with mousy; it’s someone who won’t stand up for their own rights and privileges not because of anything virtuous, but because of cowardice. Biblical meekness, however, is nothing of the sort. It isn’t a loss of power; it’s the harnessing of power. And there is nothing weak about harnessed power.
While the Bible might not offer us a strict definition, it does offer us a picture..
There’s a story about the meekness of Abram in Genesis 13. For a while, Abram and Lot had been traveling together, but because of the size of both of their households (many goats, wives, servants, and such), the land couldn’t support them. So they came to a fork in the road.
Now in my imagination, this moment looks like a cartoon. The road forks, and to the right the sun is shining, there’s dew on the ground, little bunnies and deer are scampering together, the grapes are as big as beachballs – you get the idea. To the left – well, to the left there are holes in the ground, smoldering embers, dead trees, and growling wolves.
That’s probably a little extreme, but there was clearly a difference in the two roads. One road appeared to be better than the other. And Abram does something unthinkable – he gives Lot the choice:
“Then Abram said to Lot, ‘Please, let’s not have quarreling between you and me, or between your herdsmen and my herdsmen, since we are relatives. Isn’t the whole land before you? Separate from me: If you go to the left, I will go to the right; if you go to the right I will go to the left’” (Genesis 13:8-9).
Lot chose the good road. The well-watered road. The easy road. And Abram let him do it, surprisingly, since Abram as not only the older man but also the leader of the family had every right to take what appeared to be the better road. The very fact that Abram asked the question must have been shocking to someone like Lot, since it should have been assumed that Abram would simply take what he wanted and leave anyone else to deal with the leftovers.
What does this have to do with meekness? I think it goes back to what we said earlier, that meekness involves harnessed power, taming emotion, and humility. Abram voluntarily put aside his rights and preferences; he didn’t lose them – he harnessed them. In a 21st century context, one in which you have to look out for number 1 or nobody else will, Abram stands in stark contrast. In meekness, Abram did not worry about advancing His own cause.
Maybe that’s meekness, especially today. It is the confidence that God is our advocate, that He will provide and care for us, and so there is no need for us to advance our own cause. Lot advanced himself, and that effort got him right in the middle of Sodom and Gomorrah. Abram was meek, and he became the intercessor for Sodom and Gomorrah.
The meek can put aside their rights, privileges, and power because they believe that if God is for them, none can be against them. The meek have been robbed of the need to advance their own cause and status and had it replace it with confidence in the will and fatherhood of God. They have this confidence that allows the harnessing of power because of what we find in Christ. He was described as meek. But His meekness wasn’t from lack of power. Jesus was meek not because He was incapable, but because He voluntarily harnessed His power. No one was taking His life from Him; out of His meekness He was allowing it to be taken.
That’s why we can give away our rights. That’s why we can willingly take the backseat to others. That’s why we can take the cost into ourselves. It’s because we know that we don’t have to advocate for ourselves any more; we have a better advocate on our behalf. We become meek, then, as we move more deeply into the meekness of Jesus.
I admittedly have never been to a wedding where this happens…
Posted by MK | Filed under Bible Study
Miriam had been there through it all.
The sister of Moses and Aaron, she bore witness to her people’s slavery. She saw the terrible injustice of the infanticide at the hands of Pharaoh. But she was also discontent to watch her little brother fall prey to the hands of a tyrant, and she was courageous enough to take action. There was the basket, the river, the approach of the daughter of Pharaoh, then Miriam’s offer to fetch her own mother – the true mother of this baby – to nurse him.
She saw Moses grow up as a prince of Egypt and then watched him leave Egypt in disgrace. She was there when he came back; she saw the miraculous plagues and the divine deliverance at the Red Sea. She was a prophetess who sang songs about the greatness of God. Strange, then, that we see her as the critic of this same brother that she had saved, followed, and loved in Numbers 12:
“Miriam and Aaron criticized Moses because of the Cushite woman he married (for he had married a Cushite woman). They said, ‘Does the Lord speak only through Moses? Does He not also speak through us?’ And the Lord heard it…” (Num. 12:1-2).
In looking at verse 1, there are a couple of things important to notice. The text uses the feminine form of the verb, implying that Miriam is the instigator. Sure, Aaron goes along with her, but she is the leader. The main critic. And her supposed criticism was about Moses’ wife; he had married a Cushite woman. Perhaps this was Zipporah, the wife we know about it. Maybe it’s a second wife and Moses had remarried; we don’t know. But in either case, it seems a bit strange doesn’t it? After all she’s seen? All they’ve been through together? All their shared experiences, both good and bad?
Criticism is often that way. It bubbles to the surface, and sometimes it might even be valid:
- Those people might really be spending their money in a careless way.
- She might not actually be mothering her children well.
- He might truly be an arrogant jerk who thinks he knows it all.
- That church might not truly be challenging the people enough.
The question isn’t so much about whether the criticism is valid; it’s about what’s behind the criticism. When we are critical of others, there is often something deeper going on below the surface in our own hearts. That deeper issue comes bubbling to the surface in our expressed opinions of others, and the more sanitized the criticism is the easier it is to hide behind it and not deal with what’s really happening internally. In other words, criticism is many times just a smoke screen; we are discontent or insecure or jealous about our own position or abilities, so we deal with that insecurity by finding a sanitized way to criticize others. That was, I think, the case with Miriam here. Her real issue was not Moses’ wife; it was her disapproval of her own status in the community.
But God heard her:
“As the cloud moved away from the tent, Miriam’s skin suddenly became diseased, as white as snow. When Aaron turned toward her, he saw that she was diseased and said to Moses, ‘My lord, please don’t hold against us this sin we have so foolishly committed. Please don’t let her be like a dead baby whose flesh is half eaten away when he comes out of his mother’s womb.’
“Then Moses cried out to the Lord, ‘God, please heal her!’
“The Lord answered Moses, ‘If her father had merely spit in her face, wouldn’t she remain in disgrace for seven days? Let her be confined outside the camp for seven days; after that she may be brought back in.’ So Miriam was confined outside the camp for seven days, and the people did not move on until Miriam was brought back in. After that, the people set out from Mazeroth and camped in the Wilderness of Paran” (Num. 12:10-16).
The discipline is fitting – Miriam is placed on the outside looking in, ostracized from the people she so desperately thought she should be leading. In addition, if they strictly followed the law recorded in Leviticus 14, her reinstatement might include animal sacrifice, ritual sprinkling, and even shaving of the head. So in response to her true issue, God put her in a situation that exposed her greatest insecurity; He stripped her of her greatest pride. You could, I suppose, look at this and conclude that God is no doubt cruel. Or you could look at this as God moving swiftly and quickly to deal with the issue Miriam tried to mask with her criticism. He went straight to her heart, forcing to the surface that which had only been symptomatic before. Like a good surgeon who knows that sometimes you have to cut deep, God goes to the core.
I wonder, today, when I have the chance to criticize others, what that might be symptomatic of in my own heart? What insecurity or discontentment is behind it? What am I trying to hide with my sanitized criticism of others? Whatever it is, the gospel has something to say to it those areas in which we feel insecure, dissatisfied, or entitled. And that something is that we only find true security in Jesus.
Back to the subject of Miriam, we see a truly remarkable response from Moses. Rather than pointing, rather than feeling smug, rather than enjoying the misfortune of others, Moses cries out for her good. Here is the foil for Miriam – one who is secure in his relationship with God and where God has placed him, and therefore has no need to prop himself up on the ladder built of other people’s backs. This is what happens when we dwell deeply on our full and complete acceptance in Jesus.
Rather than hiding our insecurities behind sanitized criticism, we are free to actually seek the good and prosperity of others.
This morning I’m driving to Jackson, TN to speak at chapel for the students of Union University. I consider this an enormous responsibility – it always is when someone else invites you to deliver a message from their pulpit. You are, in that moment, not only representing God (which is enough to make one tremble) but also you are representing the person who has been kind enough to invite you. But beyond the responsibility, this is also an enormous privilege. That’s because there are few things in the world I enjoy more than speaking to college students. I thought I might tell you a bit about why I love it so much, and I’ve taken the liberty of starting each of my 3 points with the letter “P” (you know, cause I’m preaching today):
Ever been around college students? The passion is almost tangible. Everything in the world is the most exciting thing in the world. They don’t care that they don’t have any money, ate mustard for dinner last night, and have slept a total of 3 hours in the past 7 days. It doesn’t matter because everything. Is. Awesome. All at the same time. As you grow, I think you naturally lose some of this enthusiasm and zest for life; it’s great to see it in action every once in a while just to be reminded of the common grace God has given to all of us every single day, not to mention the matchless grace He has extended to us through Jesus.
The university setting is for most anyone one of the defining atmospheres of life. This is the time and place where serious life decisions are starting to be made. Whether you recognize it or not, you are laying down the bricks that will be the foundation of your finances, relationships, and career day by day. If you want to influence the future, then, there may be no better environment than with a bunch of freshmen. I think about my own time in college and graduate school – the people I interacted with, the things I learned, and the values that were established – these are with me now, and I’m so thankful for those who were willing to invest in me at that age to form in me what I didn’t even know was so foundational.
One of the great things about standing in a setting like I will have the chance to do today is that I have no idea who is represented in that room. I have no idea where they came from, much less where they are going – but just think of it. Leaders, husbands, wives, pastors, businessmen and women – all people of such incredible potential to contribute great things to the kingdom of God. You simply don’t know, and that’s how it’s supposed to be. You speak, then, assuming that the people in that room will change their own portion of the world, and it brings an increasing weightiness to the opportunity before you.
If you would, I’d love for you to join me in prayer for this particular group of students today. Thanks for reading.
I only in my wildest dreams can shoot the 3-ball like this guy. Here’s the story:
Kevin Grow of Bensalem, Pennsylvania, is the manager of his high school basketball team. He also has Down syndrome. He recently got to play the last two minutes of the game on senior night, finishing out his high school basketball career…
Posted by MK | Filed under Bible Study
Several weeks ago in his series in the Book of Hebrews, our pastor dropped a line that has been ringing in my ears ever since:
“God has not left us without a word…”
The context came during a sermon centered on the very opening of Hebrews: “Long ago God spoke to the fathers by the prophets at different times and in different ways. In these last days, he has spoken to us by His Son. god has appointed Him heir of all things and made the universe through Him” (Hebrews 1:1-2).
We do not serve a voiceless, nameless God, but One who is communicative with His people. And thank goodness He is.
Imagine, for a moment, what life would be like without a word. Imagine walking into a new school without a class schedule, a map, or an idea where the cafeteria is located. Imagine starting a new job when your manager didn’t explain fully the expectations of the role or how you can be successful or that on Fridays everyone wears sweatpants to the office. Imagine moving to a new city and having no one to tell you which part of town to live in, where to buy groceries, or where the closest park is. Imagine life without a word, and now imagine life without a word from God.
It’s aimless. Purposeless. Directionless. And very, very lonely.
This is the reality for many of us, not only because many don’t believe God has left us a word, but also because many others claim He has and yet live like He hasn’t. Think, for a minute, about how often as Christians we make some version of this statement:
“I just God would tell me His will about…”
Don’t get me wrong – I’ve never had God sky write me a message about what house to live in or spell out the name of the right job in my alphabet soup. So it’s not as if every decision we have to make it absolutely clear. But neither is it the case that God has not spoken. He has spoken, and His Word stands. So what does that mean for us? Many things, but here are a couple to think through.
1. Because God has given us a word, we have a responsibility to listen.
There have been so many times in my life when I have moaned about not knowing what God wants me to do this or that. Even though in the moment those seem like gargantuan decisions, they are only a small part of life. If you want to put a percentage on it, you could estimate that we spend about 10% of our decision capacity on things like these. That leaves 90%. And most of that is in general areas of life – and God has plenty to say about that. He has said much about relationships, priorities, money, marriage, parenting – you name it. But we get so fixated on the 10% that we fool ourselves into thinking that God hasn’t spoken at all. He has, but we often aren’t putting ourselves in a posture to listen.
We listen by doing the same, old things that we have always done – we read, we pray, we meditate, then we act on what we hear. Simply put, we don’t have much room to cry about what God isn’t saying if we aren’t listening to what He is saying.
2. Because God has given us a word, we don’t need to look for another one.
One of the early heresies that permeated the church was something called gnosticism. Though it has many forms, much of it centers around the idea of having some kind of secret knowledge that’s only available to a select few. As we look around the evangelical today, I have to wonder if gnosticism is still out there, just wearing a different set of clothes:
- Thinking we have discovered something new that no one else has ever discovered about God before.
- Looking for “deep” things outside the revelation of God.
- A sense of superiority because of some kind of unique relationship with God.
All of these traits and more stem from a disbelief in God’s revelation of Himself. They are all searching for some kind of ever elusive “else” that manifests itself into looking further and further out when we should be looking further and further in. Again, simply put – God has given us a word. And He is not going to contradict Himself.
Instead of moaning and searching, we can live with a sense of gratitude that although God could have left us to squander on our own, He did not. He chose to communicate with us. And He even went further than giving us His book; He gave us Himself. As we dig into the written Word of God, we find ourselves coming alongside the Living Word of God. And that’s where true life resides.
It might go something like this:
Posted by MK | Filed under Bible Study
Hope, by its very nature, has an element of pain associated with it. That’s why we hope at all. If everything were perfect in our present circumstances, then what would we have to hope for? So when you hope, you are implicitly acknowledging that something in your experience isn’t as it should be. But when you hope, even on the darkest days, there is always the knowledge as a Christian in the back of your mind that things were going to be okay, even if it doesn’t happen until we get to heaven.
But is that the real nature of hope? Is hope simply the feeling deep inside you that things are going to get better?
If hope is just believing that things will get better in heaven if not before, then living in hope can easily turn into a starry-eyed gazing upon supposed future events, when things are set right and as they should be. The problem, though, is that you only go to heaven when you die.
That’s a difficult truth because it means that there are many things we are hoping for that we’ll never see this side of the Jordan. Or to put it another way, some things aren’t going to get better. In fact, many things will get worse. Our bodies, our health, the level of morality in the world—these things aren’t trending in a positive direction.
When you find yourself in the midst of despair, heaven feels like a very long time from right now. And the truth is, it might indeed be a very long time from now, just as it was for the Israelites in exile:
“For I know the plans I have for you”—this is the Lord’s declaration—“plans for your welfare, not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope...” (Jeremiah 29:11).
God’s people had been sent into exile. The temple and great city of God was destroyed. They were captives of evil oppressors living in a foreign land, and then they get this letter from the prophet Jeremiah.
We might be tempted to read Jeremiah 29:11 as if God is saying, “Hang in there. It’s almost over. This time of difficulty isn’t going to last very long. I’m about to return everything you’ve lost and pretty soon you’ll be back to normal.” But that’s not what He said. God refused to give some pie-in-the-sky version of hope that denies the pain of the present. That’s what we get if we read the context of verse 11:
This is what the Lord of Hosts, the God of Israel, says to all the exiles I deported from Jerusalem to Babylon: “Build houses and live in them. Plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters. Take wives for your sons and give your daughters to men in marriage so that they may bear sons and daughters. Multiply there; do not decrease. Seek the welfare of the city I have deported you to. Pray to the Lord on its behalf, for when it has prosperity, you will prosper.”
For this is what the Lord says: “When 70 years for Babylon are complete, I will attend to you and will confirm My promise concerning you to restore you to this place. For I know the plans I have for you”—this is the Lord’s declaration—“plans for your welfare, not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope. You will call to Me and come and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart. I will be found by you”—this is the Lord’s declaration—“and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and places where I banished you”—this is the Lord’s declaration. “I will restore you to the place I deported you from.” (Jeremiah 29:4-7; 10-14).
The word of the Lord reads something like this: “It’s going to be 70 years of hurting and pain and exile. It’s going to be so long that I advise you to get used to it. Settle down and make a life in the middle of these difficult circumstances. In fact, maybe you should build a house because you’re going to be there for a while.”
The good and hopeful news for anyone in pain cannot be that “it’s almost over” or “just hang in there a little longer.” God does not urge us to put hope in the change of circumstance. In fact, He said just the opposite. He told these Israelites to build houses, plant fields, celebrate marriage, and live lives.
We cannot hope in a change of circumstances; we must hope in something bigger. God calls us not to escape from our circumstances, but to embrace His presence and will in the midst of them. The question of hope, then, is not how can we get out of this situation. The question is how can I embrace the work of God in the midst of this situation. It’s when the question changes that we begin to hope not in the change in circumstance but in the God who rules over the circumstance.
The Kelley household are big fans of Frozen. But Elsa, I’m not sure you can match the incomparable Mr. Freeze…
Posted by MK | Filed under Theology
Most of the time when we pray, we are focused on the “now.” It makes sense, doesn’t it? We see a need in our own lives or in those around us, and so we come to the throne of grace making our requests. We pray for the “right now,” as well we should. This is what Jesus taught us when He told us that we should pray for our daily bread (Matt. 6:11), while in the same sermon telling us to not worry about tomorrow because tomorrow has enough worries of its own (Matt. 6:34).
But even when we are praying for the “now”, those prayers should be informed by the “then.” But when is the “then”? The “then” is both the past and the future, and both should influence the way in which we pray for the “now.”
“Then” is the past; it’s what once was. It’s way back when “then” was “now”, and we were having the similar struggle that we have “now.” Back “then” we prayed and we asked, and God delivered. True enough, He might not have answered in the manner we thought was right or would have preferred at the time, but looking back we can see shades of His wisdom in the answer. We can know when we look to the past that God’s answer might not have made sense, but it was good and right and just. By letting our “now” be informed of the “then,” we can know that God is listening. That He cares. And that He will indeed answer and provide and deliver in the right way. We can draw confidence from all those “then’s” of the past to know that this God who never changes will once again act in the “now.”
But “then” is also the future. It’s when everything will be made right and all things that are hidden brought into the open. It’s when the God of Justice will prevail and make sure that all things are put in their proper order. This “then” is encouraging, too, because it helps us remember that God is not in a hurry to act. He acts in His own time and in His own way. Even if we do not see that action right away, or even in the distant future, when we look to this “then” we know that the eternal makes the temporary fade into oblivion. Someday, in the “then”, we will see just how light and momentary all of these present afflictions really are.
So we pray in the “now.” But as we pray in the “now” we must remember the “then.”