I have a little rhyme I used to say to my children when they were young:
“Two plus two equals four—
seldom less, sometimes more.”
But here is a situation where addition doesn’t work: You can’t add to God and get more. You only get less.
When we add our efforts to God’s, we don’t end up ahead, we end up behind. God quietly steps out of the way until our own efforts run their doomed course.
A good example of this is found in Genesis 31. Just before running away with her husband, Rachel, the wife of Jacob, stole her father’s household gods while her dad was out working on his ranch. (verse 19)
Sometimes you just wonder. What was Rachel thinking? I guess she thought she needed all the luck she could get. When Abraham stepped out into the unknown, God stepped out with him. He wanted to do the same for Rachel, and He wants to do the same for us. Whatever “rabbit’s foot” we bring along for extra security only puts a hole in our defenses.
The Bible doesn’t say, but it may be that Rachel clung to these gods for another ten to fifteen years until something happened that threatened to wipe out Jacob’s entire family. (See Genesis 34-35.) There, with danger all around, she may have finally learned that security only comes from the one true God.
Probably the strangest encounter with God recorded in the entire Bible is found in Genesis 32:24. Here’s the setting. Jacob cheated his brother Esau out of everything that mattered. Then Jacob left town to wait for Esau to cool off. Twenty years later he comes back. On his way, he gets the news. Esau was coming to meet him all right—along with 400 men. This could only mean one thing: Jacob was in great danger. At best, everything he had worked for in the last twenty years would probably be gone in a few hours. His wives and children could be taken from him, and he would be powerless to prevent it. He would be lucky to escape with his life.
As the sun set, Jacob knew that tomorrow could easily be the last day of his life. If ever Jacob needed a word of encouragement from God, now was the time.
And here God meets with Jacob, but he doesn’t say a word. All He does is wrestle with him until daybreak. What must have been going through Jacob’s mind? Everything Jacob had was on the line—his own survival was a major question mark. And now this.
One day when my two boys were 8 and 11, they got into a fight. (One of many, of course.) There were angry words and tears and more angry words. I suppose I could have sat them down and said, “Now, boys, this is how you should be nice to each other.” But, somehow, I didn’t think that would work.
So I told them both to come here, that I was going to beat some sense into them. (I didn’t actually beat them of course, but I wrestled with them a bit.) Then the three of us sat down on the couch—one on each side of me—and we looked at a book I got from the library on military aircraft. There we sat for fifteen minutes or so looking at Tomcats and Harriers and cargo planes. At first they were both pretty sullen, but it wasn’t long before all three of us got lost in figuring out how big these planes were, how fast they flew, what they carried, and who flew them.
After fifteen (or was it twenty-five?) minutes, I looked at them and asked, “If I let you guys go, do you think you can figure out how to get along with each other?”
The younger one got up and hugged the older one. Then the older one stood up and hugged the younger one. Then they both walked back into their world.
I honestly don’t know if that’s good parenting or not. It just seemed like the right thing to do.
In Jacob’s case, he wrestled with God. Barely a word was exchanged. Yet, at the end of the night, something had changed. Jacob discovered something about God he could find out no other way. God gave Jacob a new name (Israel) to show him that you can wrestle with God and with men and prevail.
By the way, the meeting with Esau went quite differently than Jacob expected. You can read all about it in Genesis 32 and 33.
Clearly, a meeting with God can be life changing. Saul the persecutor was transformed into Paul the Apostle.
But some people meet with God, do business, and walk away unchanged. The Old Testament false prophet Balaam appears to be one of these people. He could get a true word from God (Numbers 23:16, etc.), and still be a false prophet. Balaam was reckless (Numbers 22:32) and auctioned his spiritual gifts to the highest bidder (2 Peter 2:15). In the end, as you may recall, Balaam was killed after enticing God’s people into sexual immorality and idolatry (Numbers 31:8, Revelation 2:4).
Just getting a word from the Lord does not automatically mean that we are moving forward spiritually. Jonah got a word from the Lord, but it was the pagan king of Nineveh who repented when he heard it, not Jonah. God had to do more work with Jonah before he started coming around.
Jesus said, “…if you don’t have the simple faith of a child, you can’t find your way into God’s kingdom.” (Mark 10:15 The Easy Bible) Little children are honest. They don’t yet know how to be otherwise. It’s only when telling the truth to themselves and others becomes too painful that they learn to hide behind falsehood.
So, yes. God can deal with anybody. But He transforms those who receive Him with an open heart
Here we have one of the fundamental differences between God and man. If we make a promise, we don’t entirely know if we will keep it. When God makes a promise, you can depend on Him to fulfill it. If we make a judgment, our interpretation may be skewed by what we don’t know or understand. When God makes a judgment, it is 100% objective. Put enough pressure on us, and we might bend the truth a little to get out of a tight spot. You can’t back God into a corner and force Him to lie.
Truth is the bedrock of our lives. Without it, there would be no stability. But truth doesn’t rest in scholarship, in science, in learning, or in discovery. Truth rests in a Person. When things are unstable, when the world is shaking we run back to that Person, Jesus Christ. There we find the soothing, strengthening encouraging Truth.
From the Bible: God is not a man; He never lies. Numbers 23:19 The Easy Bible
[Jesus said,] I am the way. I am the truth. I am the life.
John 14:6 The Easy Bible
How do you destroy the people of God? And, assuming you are a man or woman of God, how do you defend yourself against destruction?
Much of the Bible is devoted to answering these questions. In the Old Testament book of Numbers, we read about how the enemies of God’s people were looking for a way to destroy Israel. War didn’t work. Sihon and Og fought against Israel and lost everything. Strike one.
Since they couldn’t fight them, they tried a different strategy: cursing them. It seemed like a cheap but effective solution. Get Balaam to curse Israel. But that didn’t work either. You might know the story—God sent an angel, the donkey’s mouth was opened, and Balaam blessed instead of cursing. Strike two.
The enemies had no intention of striking out, so they went back to the drawing board, and started figuring it out. As long as the Israelis were connected to their God, they were indestructible. If they were going to subdue Israel, they must come up with a way to drive a wedge between the people and their God. Here’s what they came up with: immorality and idolatry. From the enemy’s point of view, immorality is the perfect introduction to idolatry because it can seem so attractive and enticing.
All of this, of course, is based on deception. What’s the lie? We can start with: “Your God is depriving you. My god will give you anything you want.”
Sin seldom works without deception. The enemy’s biggest job is to give us a warped view of God, of ourselves and of our world. Once we are deceived, sin makes sense. It seems desirable, even honorable.
But we can use our knowledge of the enemy’s strategy against him. When we desire what is evil, do some detective work. Find the lies. Take them to Jesus. He is the truth, and the truth will set us free.
From the Bible: “…they treated you as enemies when they deceived you…” Numbers 25:18
The Apostle Paul writes, “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.” (Romans 7:15)
We know, but we don’t do. We know God doesn’t want His people to be alcoholics, yet some cannot seem to escape alcohol. We know that God wants us morally pure, yet some cannot give up impure thoughts or relationships. I could keep going with examples and sooner or later I would list something that identifies you and that identifies me.
What’s wrong with us? Why are we so helpless?
Let me suggest to you that knowing will never result in doing until Jesus occupies that helpless place in our souls that can’t get it right, no matter how hard we try. Jesus didn’t come to heal the healthy. He came to empower us helpless people, those of us who know, like Paul did, that we can’t get it right no matter how hard we try.
The apostle Paul didn’t drive a fancy car. He didn’t have a limo pick him up at the airport. Read through the New Testament—in many ways he was unimpressive. People slept through his sermons. Some mistook him for the sidekick, the entertainment before the main act.
If he were around today, I doubt he would have many followers on Twitter. I expect many would ignore him altogether.
Sure, the Lord did miracles through him, but, when he went to defend himself, he barely mentions the dozens (probably hundreds) of miracles the Lord did through him. Instead, he focuses on the hardships and troubles he endured.
He was a great man of God not because he saw visions, or healed people, or because he knew his Bible backwards and forwards. He was a great man of God because he suffered well. His possessions, his reputation, his comforts, his sleep, his health, his freedoms, his friends—everything you and I cherish were torn away from him. Yet he found the grace of God and remained kind, joyful, gentle, caring and focused on pleasing Jesus Christ.
Why does God want us to make room in our hearts for those who suffer? I think it’s because in suffering the wheat and the chaff are separated, and what is both endearing and enduring remains.
If Christ hadn’t suffered, there would be no triumph in our faith. We would merely have another theology to compete with all the other voices out there. But Christ did suffer and overcame, and one of the ways we can remember and honor Him is to remember our brothers and sisters who suffer.
We hurt with them, but we also know that another triumph is in the making.
From the Bible: Make room for us in your hearts. 2 Corinthians 7:2
There are certain places you don’t want to be. You don’t want to be standing in the middle of highway in the path of a semi truck heading toward you at 70 mph. You don’t want to be outside in your swimming suit when it’s twenty below zero. You don’t want to climb into the polar bear’s cage at the zoo.
You get the point, I’m sure.
Freedom has boundaries, just like we have boundaries. The moat between you and the polar bear is a very nice boundary. If the polar bear is hungry, he won’t have you for lunch because of the moat. In the same way, as soon as we disconnect from the Spirit, we are no longer free.
Let’s put it another way. Why is the Spirit here? He’s here to keep you free. He’s here to keep you on the right side of the moat. God cares so much about our freedom that He send His Spirit to keep us in the wide open places of freedom.
From the Bible: In Jesus, you are free. That freedom doesn’t give you an open door to sin. Instead, it empowers you to love and serve each other. The whole law is summed up here: “Love others as much as you love yourself.” Take your lead from God’s Spirit. Then you won’t try to satisfy your evil desires. Part of you wants what God hates. God’s Spirit stands opposed to that. But if you let God’s Spirit lead you, then you won’t need to center your life around rule keeping. Galatians 5:13-18 selections The Easy Bible
Growth means facing our fears and stepping out of our comfort zone.
Remember the three wise men who brought gifts to Jesus after He was born? Before visiting Jesus, they stopped and talked to the local king: Herod. They asked where the new King, the Messiah had been born.
Matthew (2:3) records the response: “When King Herod heard this, he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him.”
No surprise. The world is full of people who are disturbed by the news that a King has been born.
Herod is so crazed with power that when he finds out the news that the Messiah has been born, his first response is to try to find Him and kill Him. The people of Jerusalem also somehow seem to know that this Messiah came to save them from their sins, and they wanted no such salvation.
Why do we resist letting Christ be King? I suggest it’s because we believe a lie. Herod believed the lie that he could hold on to power and that power would protect him. But he died, just like everyone else, and all his power was stripped from him.
Where are we unwilling to let Christ reign? In our fears? In our lusts? In our pride? In our greed?
We all have a line someplace in our souls. On one side we say “yes” to Christ; on the other side we say “no.” In between is the lie. That is our spiritual journey. Find the “no,” and we face the lie. Let Jesus tell us the truth, so that another “no” can be turned to a “yes.”
I’m not saying this is easy. It requires great courage to find the border of our faith—but that is where Christ takes us—out of our comfort zone, out into the deep. But it is out in the deep that we let down our nets and discover what we never dreamed was there.
Deception has one primary purpose: to keep us from the life Jesus offers.
If lies didn’t sound like truth, they wouldn’t be any good. Lies deceive precisely because they sound or feel so very true. And most lies contain a grain of truth.
Lies can sound intellectually sophisticated, socially tolerant, and/or culturally acceptable. Intellectually sophisticated thoughts, socially tolerant attitudes, cultural norms sometimes reflect truth. Sometimes they deceive. But if we use these things as our only barometer of truth, we are probably deceived.
Lie: God is whoever you conceive him/her to be.
Truth: God is who He is (Exodus 3:14). He is not sculpted by our beliefs. But, if we allow Him to, He can shape our beliefs.
Beliefs can contradict reality. We see this with schizophrenics all the time. I can believe that I can drive into oncoming traffic and be fine. But I will wake up to a far different reality if I try.
Lie: Jesus is one of many.
Truth: Jesus is one and only.
Not only did Jesus claim that He was the only way to God (John 14:6), but He asked God before His death if there was any other way (Matthew 26:39). If there was another way for humanity to be reconciled to God, Jesus would not have voluntarily submitted to a painful and humiliating death by crucifixion. Jesus’ claim to be the only way was reiterated by His close followers (Acts 4:12).
Many other lies permeate our culture and define our experience. Education does not necessarily drive them out. Some lies are reinforced by education. Some lies are transmitted by Christians, and reinforced by well-meaning sermons.
Quite often, a speaker can tell the truth, but a listener hears a lie.
In response to deception, Jesus offers Himself as the way, the truth and the life (John 14:6). He makes it clear that the truth will set us free (John 8:32).
Photo credit: Adapted from a photo by Courtney Carmody, Flickr, Creative Commons License