The Couch

Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.

Matthew 24:35

This week we moved. We didn’t go far, just down the road a few miles. We moved from a townhouse that we’ve been in for 14 years to a single family home. We are grateful for what God has provided for us, but moving does funny things to you.

It’s been hard to let go of the old house. My wife and I tend to hold on to things. We first moved into the townhouse when we got back from our honeymoon. So our old house was the place where all the early marriage memories happened. It’s where we brought home each of our three kids from the hospital. Their first rooms, first beds, first steps…first everything happened in that house.

We had a backyard, side yard, living room and basement full of memories. Each bedroom had story after story of their life embedded into it. These are things that were hard to leave behind.

One of the hardest things to let go of surprised us all. It was the couch. We had this couch for 14 years. It was so stained and broken that we didn’t move it to the new house. When it was time to take it to the dump, our 8-year-old son jumped on it, held on tight, started crying, and told us not to take it. It was hard to watch.

So many individual and family memories happened on that couch. It’s where we had all our movie nights as a family. It’s where my wife nursed all our kids. It’s where she spent most mornings with the Lord. It’s where she and I counseled nearly 50 couples in premarital counseling. It’s where we relaxed at the end of each day and watched a show on TV.

That couch was saturated with life moments. It was saturated with the presence of the Lord. Yes, it was also saturated with odd smells and years of stains. It was full of what made up our life for the last 14 years.

I was the one to take it to the dump. I was the one to take it out of the back of the trailer and throw it over the edge into the refuse pile. I couldn’t have predicted how difficult that would be. All of that life, all of those moments, now seemingly in a pile of garbage. It seemed like the couch deserved more than that for all it had given us. I got choked up seeing it there.

Driving away from the garbage dump in tears, I tried to process things with the Lord. He reminded me that the couch was just wood, fabric and stuffing. It was a cheap couch from Value City Furniture. Most people don’t keep couches that long. But then the Lord gave me the word “embodied.”

By itself, the couch is just cheap materials. But it had been “filled with the Spirit” in a way. It had been filled with the spirit of our family, all our memories, and the presence of the Lord. Like the difference between the Jewish Law and Jesus. One is just a set of rules to obey and the other is a person to follow. The gospel of Jesus was always meant to be embodied, filled, full.

Over the years that couch, and our old house, became more than the sum of its parts. It became more than just cheap material. It became filled. It became full. It became embodied. Disembodied things are easy to throw away. Things that are full of the Spirit are hard to let go of.

God reminded me that what I threw away at the dump was just the material, not the memories. Like at a funeral, the corpse in the casket is just the skin and bones of the person but not the actual person. The spirit and soul of a person has left the body behind and gone on to be with the Lord, soon to receive a resurrected body.

God reminded me that I had to let go of the cheap material, but I didn’t have to let go of the moments, the memories, the presence. But who would have thought that all of this would have happened over a couch? It’s funny how connected we get to things that are saturated with Life.

As I looked around at the other items being thrown in the refuse pile, it was a good reminder. All of this is temporary. All the things we accumulate will end up here one day. Do we really want to give our life to accumulating things that are so easily thrown away, so easily taken away? Do we really want to spend our whole life accumulating things we can’t take with us into eternity? Or do we want to give our lives to something more lasting, more eternal, something that can’t ever be thrown away or taken from us?

Do not love the world or anything in the world…For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever.

1 John 2:15-17

False Accusations

Sanballat and Geshem sent me this message: “Come, let us meet together in one of the villages on the plain of Ono.”

But they were scheming to harm me; so I sent messengers to them with this reply: “I am carrying on a great project and cannot go down. Why should the work stop while I leave it and go down to you?” Four times they sent me the same message, and each time I gave them the same answer.

Then, the fifth time, Sanballat sent his aide to me with the same message, and in his hand was an unsealed letter in which was written: “It is reported among the nations—and Geshem says it is true—that you and the Jews are plotting to revolt, and therefore you are building the wall. Moreover, according to these reports you are about to become their king and have even appointed prophets to make this proclamation about you in Jerusalem: ‘There is a king in Judah!’ Now this report will get back to the king; so come, let us meet together.”

I sent him this reply: “Nothing like what you are saying is happening; you are just making it up out of your head.”

Nehemiah 6:2-8

Nehemiah’s enemies were trying to disrupt his leadership and his ability to complete the mission for which he was sent. They try to distract him with multiple invitations to “talk.” They know if they can sap his energy and patience with endless conversation, he won’t be able to complete the wall in Jerusalem. They also wanted to get him isolated so that they could harm him.

But Nehemiah doesn’t fall for it. So after four rejected invitations, Nehemiah’s enemies resort to a typical tactic that we see used over and over against leaders trying to accomplish God’s mission. Sanballat starts with, “It is reported…” This is typical. Anonymous accusations are a classic tool of the enemy against leaders. Today it sounds like this, “Some people are saying…” They don’t want to be named. They don’t want to be held accountable for their false accusations. They just want to spread damaging rumors.

Then notice the second common strategy against leaders who are busy doing God’s work. The accusation itself is that Nehemiah’s leadership is all about an attempt to exalt himself. Whenever someone is leading something new, this accusation will always come. If the opposition can’t discredit the actual actions of a leader, they will try to discredit the motives. They’ll make false claims about “hidden, selfish motives” as a way to put the leader on the defensive. Against Nehemiah they claimed he was about to set himself up as king. They were claiming that his great leadership and the rebuilding of Jerusalem was really just about Nehemiah’s ego and selfish ambition.

The people of God did the same thing to Moses and Aaron when they were leading them out of Egypt and through the desert. Notice how “reasonable” their attack against Moses and Aaron seem.

They came as a group to oppose Moses and Aaron and said to them, “You have gone too far! The whole community is holy, every one of them, and the Lord is with them. Why then do you set yourselves above the Lord’s assembly?”

Numbers 16:3

The Lord is the one who called Moses and Aaron to be leaders of the people of God. But Korah and some of the other Levites didn’t want to follow their leadership. So they accuse Moses and Aaron of setting themselves above everyone else. Notice how Moses responds.

Moses also said to Korah, “Now listen, you Levites! Isn’t it enoughfor you that the God of Israel has separated you from the rest of the Israelite community and brought you near himself to do the work at the Lord’s tabernacle and to stand before the community and minister to them? He has brought you and all your fellow Levites near himself, but now you are trying to get the priesthood too. It is against the Lord that you and all your followers have banded together. Who is Aaron that you should grumble against him?”

Numbers 16:8-11

In other words, Korah wasn’t rebelling against Moses and Aaron; he was rebelling against the Lord. It was the Lord who set Moses and Aaron apart. It was the Lord who called them to lead. It was the Lord’s doing. To reject the Lord’s call on a person’s life and claim that it is arrogance, selfishness ambition, or a personal agenda isn’t just an attack on that person, it’s an attack on the Lord’s work in their life. It’s an accusation against the Lord. And if you keep reading Numbers 16 and 17, things don’t turn out so well for Korah. God gets rid of the rebellious group of Levites and confirms the calling of Aaron through supernatural displays of His power.

We need to be very careful about accusations we make against leaders, especially leaders in the church. The anti-authority milieu of our culture loves to rail against leaders in every level of society. And often, leaders give us every reason to rail against them. But in the church we need a different heart posture toward leaders. The apostle Paul’s advice to Timothy was this:

The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching… Do not entertain an accusation against an elder unless it is brought by two or three witnesses.

1 Timothy 5:17-19

When leaders are in the wrong, they need to be called out and held accountable by the other leaders of the church. We’ve seen too much abuse of power in the church that was left unaddressed. But we can’t let this lead us into an error on the other side of the continuum. If someone is being called into leadership, we need to honor that calling. Jesus told His disciples, “Whoever welcomes a prophet as a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward, and whoever welcomes a righteous person as a righteous person will receive a righteous person’s reward”(Matthew 10:41).

We need to remember that a calling to step into a greater anointing and a greater leadership role in the Kingdom is a call downward. It’s a call to servanthood. It’s a call to die to self and an invitation to go lower. Stepping into leadership in the Kingdom is not an elevation of self but a sacrifice of self. It’s a call to carry more weight and more responsibility.

The foundation of a building is the lowest place and the place that has to hold the most weight. That’s why Paul told the Ephesians that the Church is “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone” (Ephesians 2:20). The apostolic and prophetic roles are the foundation of the Church because they must go lower. They must support everyone else. They must hold the most weight. They must be solid and level or the whole church could topple over. And they must be willing to endure, more than others, the false accusation of selfish ambition and self-promotion.

Shaking

Then I summoned the priests and made the nobles and officials take an oath to do what they had promised. I also shook out the folds of my robe and said, “In this way may God shake out of their house and possessions anyone who does not keep this promise. So may such a person be shaken out and emptied!”

Nehemiah 5:12-13

Nehemiah not only returned to Jerusalem and orchestrated the rebuilding of the walls, but he also protected the people–both physically and financially–in the midst of their work. The workers were afraid that their enemies would attack while they worked so Nehemiah organized a system whereby they would be physically guarded and protected. The workers were also financially burdened because of the taxes and interest that previous leaders had exacted from them. So, Nehemiah made the nobles of the region promise to stop collecting interest on their loans during this season of rebuilding.

After the nobles and priests made their promise, Nehemiah did a prophetic act signifying judgment against them if they didn’t stick to their promise. He shook out the folds of his robe and pronounced a shaking on anyone not keeping their word. Jesus’s disciples did a similar prophetic act of shaking when they left a town that rejected them and the message of the Kingdom.

If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, leave that home or town and shake the dust off your feet. 

But the Jewish leaders incited the God-fearing women of high standing and the leading men of the city. They stirred up persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and expelled them from their region. So they shook the dust off their feet as a warning to them and went to Iconium. 

Matthew 10:14 & Acts 13:50-51

Throughout the Bible, this idea of shaking was used as both judgment and refining. The idea is that God would allow a metaphorical earthquake to impact a person or the whole people of God. Things were shaken. Yet, those things with firm foundations were left standing, and things that were sinful or selfish fell to the ground.

This is why over and over again in the Psalms we read things like, “Truly he is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will never be shaken“(Psalm 62:2). This is why Jesus told the parable of the person who build their house on the rock instead of the sand. When the storms came, only one was left standing (Matthew 7:24-27; Luke 6:46-49).

Shaking is also something the Lord uses to sift a person’s life.

“For I will give the command,
    and I will shake the people of Israel
    among all the nations
as grain is shaken in a sieve,
    and not a pebble will reach the ground.

Amos 9:9

The prophet Amos was prophesying of a time the Lord would shake the people of Israel so that the dead things would fall away and only the healthy things would remain. Jesus told Peter this same thing would happen to Peter and the disciples.

“Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift all of you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.”

Luke 22:31-32

For those who have put their trust in the Lord, a season of shaking becomes a time of refinement. For those who have put their trust in other things, a season of shaking becomes a time that reveals the emptiness and powerlessness of the things they’ve put their trust in. It becomes a both a time of judgment against false gods and an invitation to repentance.

If you haven’t noticed, there is a shaking happening right now, both in society and in the church. As a society we are being sifted. As a church we are being refined. Our false gods are being exposed and judged for the empty and powerless things that they are. May we build our life on the rock and on nothing else. And may everything else fall to the ground.

Understanding Physical Healing

In those days Hezekiah became ill and was at the point of death. The prophet Isaiah son of Amoz went to him and said, “This is what the Lord says: Put your house in order, because you are going to die; you will not recover.”
Hezekiah turned his face to the wall and prayed to the Lord, “Remember, Lord, how I have walked before you faithfully and with wholehearted devotion and have done what is good in your eyes.” And Hezekiah wept bitterly.
Before Isaiah had left the middle court, the word of the Lord came to him: “Go back and tell Hezekiah, the ruler of my people, ‘This is what the Lord, the God of your father David, says: I have heard your prayer and seen your tears; I will heal you. On the third day from now you will go up to the temple of the Lord. I will add fifteen years to your life. 

2 Kings 20:1-6

We can learn so many things from this dramatic healing of King Hezekiah. First, prayer changes things. I don’t like it when people say, “Prayer doesn’t change things; it changes us.” Nope. Prayer does both.

Hezekiah got a direct word from the Lord through the prophet Isaiah that he was going to die from the illness he had. Then, Hezekiah cried out to the Lord and the Lord healed him. Prayer matters. Prayer for physical healing matters. The fatalistic idea that “God’s going to do what God’s going to do” is a poor understanding of God’s sovereignty. God has chosen to be in covenant relationship with His people, which means that what we pray and what we ask for in prayer has an effect on things.

Secondly, most people don’t understand the connection between “small” healings and “big” healings. All miraculous healings are “big” in the sense that God chooses to divinely heal. But what I mean is that people don’t seem to care much about physical healing until they or someone they love is in Hezekiah’s position with an illness that is heading toward death.

I’ve encountered this attitude with people in my own church and people I’ve talked to about physical healing. They ask me why I think praying for physical healing is so important. They always use the argument that it is more important that people get saved and experience the loving community of the church than it is that they get physically healed. But this argument borders on gnosticism (an early heresy that thinks “spiritual” things are of ultimate importance while “physical” things don’t matter).

When a person doesn’t understand why I get so excited about “small” healings like a injured knee getting healed or a migraine problem going away, I start asking them about whether they would have that same cavalier attitude about stage 4 cancer getting healed or someone with traumatic brain injury getting healed. In every case, the person who was relatively indifferent about physical healing two seconds ago suddenly agrees that physical healing in those situations is supremely important. And what becomes clear is that they don’t understand the connection between the knee getting healed and the cancer getting healed. Most people don’t.

First of all, Jesus did not make this distinction between small and big healings. He healed blindness and He healed fevers. He raised the dead and He healed crippled hands. Jesus treated sickness as an attack on the body that God created. Whether it was a fever or blindness, Jesus wanted it gone.

Secondly, any spiritual gift must be used faithfully in order for it to grow. We accept this as a truth of the Kingdom when it comes to gifts like teaching or hospitality. We intuitively understand the parable of the talents applies not just to our financial resources but also to how we steward our spiritual gifts. This line of the parable should be ringing in our ears, “Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things“(Matthew 25:23).

The gift of healing (1 Corinthians 12:9) is no different. As we are faithful to pray for smaller physical needs and see God heal those, our faith grows. As we are faithful with “smaller” miracles, God can begin to trust us with “bigger” ones. When the apostle Paul talks about spiritual gifts in Romans 12, he teaches that we operate in our gifts in accordance with our faith (Romans 12:6). So while different gifts are given simply by God’s grace, we grow in these gifts by faith. We must exercise our faith as we use our gifts in order to mature in them.

So, when it comes to gifts of healing, praying for the “smaller” healings is what prepares you and your faith for the day you pray for life-threatening illnesses. Indifference toward small healing is a recipe for powerlessness and doubt when you need a big miracle. This is how all spiritual gifts work. If you’ve never preached to a group of 200 people, you wouldn’t assume you could step into a stadium full of people and preach an amazing sermon to thousands. Yet, this is exactly how we treat healing prayer.

Someone might say, “But couldn’t God move powerfully anyway?” Yes! Of course He could. He could also help that person who’s never preached to preach an incredibly powerful and moving sermon to a stadium full of people. God loves to do that! But on our end, we are being irresponsible and arrogant if we are relying on God’s sovereignty to bail us out of our indifference.

Paul’s advice to his protege Timothy was, “…be prepared in season and out of season…”(2 Timothy 4:2). This advice applies to all the spiritual gifts. And when it comes to healing, being prepared means we are praying for small and big miracles alike. It means we grow in our ability to hear the Holy Spirit’s guidance in healing prayer. It means we are seeing “small” healings happen and allowing those to build our faith.

So we celebrate every healing, big or small, because it is a tangible expression of God’s grace. We pursue and celebrate the healing of every disease, big or small, because healing is a sign of God’s Kingdom breaking into this world. We pray for healing because it is an act of love and compassion that was modeled for us by Jesus. Cavalier indifference toward physical healing is an unbiblical and irresponsible reaction that dishonors Jesus’s activity in the world.

What was important to Jesus should be important to us as His followers. And clearly, from reading the Gospels, physical healing was extremely important to Jesus.

Is it important to you? Who have you prayed for recently?

Polygamy

They forsook all the commands of the Lord their God… They bowed down to all the starry hosts, and they worshiped Baal. They sacrificed their sons and daughters in the fire. They practiced divination and sought omens and sold themselves to do evil in the eyes of the Lord, arousing his anger.

So the Lord was very angry with Israel and removed them from his presence…

They worshiped the Lord, but they also appointed all sorts of their own people to officiate for them as priests in the shrines at the high places. They worshiped the Lord, but they also served their own gods in accordance with the customs of the nations from which they had been brought.

2 Kings 17:16-18, 32-33

Right after Israel gets removed from the Promised Land and sent off to a foreign land, the writer of 2 Kings explains why. The main issue with Israel wasn’t that they didn’t worship the Lord. It was that they worshiped the Lord along with worshiping other gods. They did all the practices of the nations around them. Their chief sin was their universalism, their religious inclusion. What offended the Lord so much was that they allowed their religious pluralism to become polytheism.

They bowed down to the starry hosts (read “practiced astrology and believed horoscopes“). They worshiped Baal (read “worshiped money and provision“), and sacrificed their sons and daughters in the fire (read “celebrated abortion“). They practiced divination and sought omens (read “went to psychics, palm readers, tarot card readers, and sought spirit guides, mediums, energy healers, Reiki healers and crystals“). This sounds a lot like America right now.

You see, it’s not enough to say we believe in God. It’s not enough to say we are a Christian. What matters is if we have given ourself to Christ alone. Have we mixed our worship of the Lord with the worship of the gods of our culture? Throughout the scriptures God calls His relationship to His people a marriage. Likewise, this mixture of worship–this polytheism born of pluralism–is regarded as polygamy. It is cheating on the Lord. It’s infidelity.

Unhindered, sold-out devotion to the Lord is what we are invited into when we are invited into Christ. Jesus alone is worthy of our worship. It wasn’t atheism that caused Israel’s downfall. It was syncretism, the amalgamation of the worship of the Lord with the worship of other things in their life. Israel’s story is a gigantic warning to us about pure devotion. God is not interested in a polygamous marriage to His Bride, the Church.

Years From Now

When Jehu came to Samaria, he killed all who were left there of Ahab’s family;he destroyed them, according to the word of the Lord spoken to Elijah.

2 Kings 10:17

Jehu is anointed King of Israel and goes about destroying the entire family of wicked king Ahab. Both him becoming king and his campaign to rid Israel of Ahab’s family was prophesied by Elijah. What struck me about the above passage is that Elijah had been gone for sometime. Roughly 15 years had passed from the time Elijah prophesied this to the time it actually came about. Fifteen years!

The Lord told Elijah to anoint Jehu king when Elijah had run away and was hiding on Mt. Horeb. This is also when the still, small voice came to him. It was also when Elijah was told to anoint Elisha as prophet to succeed him (1 Kings 19). A couple years after this Elijah would prophesy the total destruction of Ahab’s family. Yet, Elijah didn’t get to see any of this.

Elisha became prophet of Israel, and Elisha is the one who anoints Jehu as king. Elisha gets to see the fulfillment of a word that came to Elijah.

What did your life look like 15 years ago? For me, I had just started pastoral ministry. I was dating my wife but was not married, and I didn’t have three kids. I was a brand new pastor with no wife, no kids, no house and no idea what the next 15 years would hold. If someone had given me a prophetic word about the coronavirus during that time, would I have believed them? And even if I believed them for the first few years, would I have continued to believe it after so many years?

Jesus did something similar in His own ministry. The disciples are overwhelmingly impressed with the splendor and grandeur of the Temple. Then Jesus prophesied about the destruction of the Temple, something that wouldn’t happen for another 40 years.

As Jesus was leaving the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher! What massive stones! What magnificent buildings!”

“Do you see all these great buildings?” replied Jesus. “Not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.”

Mark 13:1-2

In our fast-food world, prophetic words like this are really difficult for us to process. It seems that in ancient cultures there was a better understanding of how things take time. Maybe personal experience with farming helps a culture understand cultivation and the nature of time. There was a generational approach to things. It was assumed that one might not see something in their lifetime but that it would be important to build toward it for the sake of children or grandchildren. Today, that idea seems so foreign. We don’t plan and build with the next few generations in mind. We want things now.

Maybe God has given you a word or a promise that hasn’t come to pass. And maybe you’re starting to doubt that it ever will. But God’s timing is very different than ours. It could be coming years from now. It could even be coming in the next generation, something you won’t see firsthand. But one thing we can trust is that God keeps His promises. He keeps His word.

Elisha & Jesus

Jesus began to speak to the crowd about John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed swayed by the wind? If not, what did you go out to see? A man dressed in fine clothes? No, those who wear expensive clothes and indulge in luxury are in palaces. But what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is the one about whom it is written:

“‘I will send my messenger ahead of you,
    who will prepare your way before you.’ [Malachi 3:1]

Luke 7:24-27

The Old Testament prophets prophesied that an Elijah-figure would precede the Messiah in order to prepare the way. Jesus identifies John the Baptist as this Elijah-figure and identifies Himself as the long awaited Messiah.

This can help us make sense of so many of the signs, wonders and miracles of Jesus. In the Old Testament, Elijah’s protege was Elisha. When Elijah was taken up to heaven, he left a his prophetic mantle to Elisha as well as a double portion of his anointing from the Spirit. So we can understand that if John the Baptist is the Elijah-figure, Jesus then becomes the Elisha-figure. Only when we compare and contrast the signs, wonders and miracles of Elisha with those of Jesus, we see that Jesus was not-so-subtly declaring that He was even greater than Elisha in word and deed.

Elisha healed the water in a well that had been contaminated (2 Kings 2:19-22). Jesus calmed an entire sea and declared that those who trusted in Him would have a well of living water springing up from within them.

Elisha caused jars to be miraculously filled with olive oil (2 Kings 4:1-7). Jesus caused the water in huge water jugs to be miraculously turned into wine.

Elisha miraculously fed 100 men with 20 loaves of bread and even had some left over (2 Kings 4:42-44). Jesus fed the 5000 with five loaves of bread and two fish and had 12 baskets of leftovers. He also fed the 4000 with seven loaves and some fish and had seven baskets of leftovers.

Elisha helped out one of his prophet buddies when an axhead flew into the Jordan River and sank. Elisha cut a stick and threw it on the water where the axhead sunk, and the axhead miraculously floated up to the surface. The prophetic friend reached his hand in the water and retrieved it. Jesus, however, walked on the Sea of Galilee. Then He invited one of His own buddies to come out on the water with Him. He enabled Peter to walk on water for a short time.

Elisha healed Naaman, who had leprosy, by telling him to wash in the Jordan River (2 Kings 5:10-14). Jesus healed leprous people everywhere he went with just a touch.

Elisha raised the Shunammites’s son back to life (2 Kings 4:32-37). After his death, his bones cause another man to come back to life (2 Kings 13:20-21). Jesus raised a young boy, a young girl, and Lazarus back to life. Then He Himself was raised back to life and the sheer power of His resurrection caused many in Jerusalem to be raised out of their own tombs (Matthew 27:52-53).

The point of all of this is that Jesus wasn’t random in His signs, wonders and miracles. Besides being moved with compassion for the person in front of Him, Jesus did many things that showed that He was, indeed, the Messiah. He was the one preceded by the Elijah-figure only He was much more powerful and more amazing than even Elisha was. Many of his signs, wonders and miracles fulfilled and completed all the miraculous events of the Old Testament and pointed forward to a day when the Kingdom of God would be in all its fullness on the earth.

Valley Victories

The next spring Ben-Hadad mustered the Arameans and went up to Aphek to fight against Israel. When the Israelites were also mustered and given provisions, they marched out to meet them. The Israelites camped opposite them like two small flocks of goats, while the Arameans covered the countryside.

The man of God came up and told the king of Israel, “This is what the Lord says: ‘Because the Arameans think the Lord is a god of the hills and not a god of the valleys, I will deliver this vast army into your hands, and you will know that I am the Lord.’”

1 Kings 20:26-28

Aram was just to the north of Israel. The king of Aram, Ben-Hadad, had come down in order to try to conquer the kingdom of Israel. But as they fought in the hill country, God gave Israel the victory. The armies of Aram had to flee for their lives.

However, Ben-Hadad wasn’t done. He decided to spend the year rebuilding his armies so that he could attack again. He thought that Israel’s “god” was the god of the hills and not a god of the valleys. That was Ben-Hadad’s explanation for why they lost the first time. So his strategy this time was to fight Israel in the flat part of the valley.

A prophet came and told all of this to the king of Israel. God’s intention was that Israel would once again defeat the Aramean armies in order to show conclusively that the God of Israel is the Lord and that He is the God of the hills and the God of the valleys.

I couldn’t help but be encouraged by this truth as we continue to face this global pandemic. God is God over the hills, the mountains, and the heights. But God is also God over the valleys, the plains, and the low places. God is able to give His people victory in the hills and victory in the valleys. Even when we feel surrounded and outnumbered, as the army of Israel was, the Lord is able to bring victory out of the most hopeless situations.

Even though I walk
    through the darkest valley,
I will fear no evil,
    for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
    they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me
    in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil;
    my cup overflows.
Surely your goodness and love will follow me
    all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord
    forever.

Psalm 23:4-6

Married Life

“For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church. 

Ephesians 6:31-32

I’ve had friends fall away from their relationship with Christ just as I’ve had friends get a divorce. The similarities in these two scenarios are striking.

When we get married we happily choose our spouse. What we may not realize is that we will have to continue to choose them. It’s easy enough to choose them when we are in that honeymoon phase and we see them at their best. But what happens when you’re a decade or more into marriage? What happens when they are not at their best and you are not at yours?

The challenge of marriage is not what you will do when everyone is 100%. The challenge is to still choose your spouse when they are running on fumes after sleepless nights with kids, job changes, hospital visits, unpaid bills, credit card debt, misunderstandings, arguments, and life transitions. The challenge is to still choose them after you see all their failures, weaknesses, and shortcomings. It’s much harder to choose them when they change on you and it feels like you’re married to someone completely different. This person standing in front of you isn’t who you signed up for, after all.

In the midst of this, the enemy will often provide you an “out.” The way out of the marriage can come in a variety of forms. It can come as a secret escapism that you hide from your spouse. It can come as the numbing distance of living parallel lives. It can come as an addiction that you try to keep private. It can come in the form of an affair. It can come as a strong desire to throw in the towel and get a divorce. Choosing your spouse will feel like fighting a force that is pulling you apart because that is exactly what is happening. The enemy is intentional.

My point in highlighting this reality of marriage is not to give marriage counseling. My point is that this is the same pattern that applies to our relationship with Jesus. Our intimacy and connection with Him will often go through a similar cycle. We willingly choose Jesus at the beginning of our faith journey, but we will have to continue to choose Him if we want to stay connected to Him. It is a relationship that must be cultivated and cared for.

A decade or two into your relationship with Jesus you will have to decide to choose Him again. Only this time you will not be naive about the obstacles you will face. You will have to choose Jesus not as He invites you to drop your nets and follow Him (Matthew 4:19-20), but you’ll have to choose Him as He invites you to take up your cross and go with Him to Golgotha.

Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it. 

Luke 9:23-24

The disciples faced a moment of decision like this with Jesus. They were all so excited to follow Him and witness all the healings and miracles that Jesus performed. They were excited to leave behind their old life and join the Messiah on His quest toward Jerusalem. But then Jesus decided to prune the crowds with a hard teaching, and most of them turned away.

On hearing it, many of his disciples said, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?”

…From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.

“You do not want to leave too, do you?” Jesus asked the Twelve.

Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.”

John 6:60, 66-69

Each of us who follow Jesus will face this same question. “You do not want to leave too, do you?” In this moment, we’ll have to deny ourselves, lay down our “right” to understand, give up our plans, and choose Jesus all over again, knowing that we’re not headed to the palace but to the cross.

Will we say “Yes” to Jesus again?

Leaving

Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to her, “Woman, here is your son,” and to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” From that time on, this disciple took her into his home.

John 19:25-27

Jesus knew the pain and the promise of leaving. He had to look down from the cross, bloodied and beaten, and He had to see the pain of His grieving mother. He knew He had to leave her. He had to go. Knowing He couldn’t stay, Jesus asked His best friend John to step in as His mother’s son.

There was tremendous pain in leaving for Jesus. Yet, there was also incredible promise. Jesus, Himself, said to His disciples:

But very truly I tell you, it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. 

John 16;7

It was good that He was going away and returning to the Father because the Holy Spirit could then come and do what Jesus could not do. The Holy Spirit could fill every believer and fill the whole world with the Presence and power of God.

Leaving the people we love, leaving the things we love, leaving the places we love is painful. Yet, there is promise in the pain.

The apostle Paul knew the pain and promise of leaving. On his way to Jerusalem, not knowing what would happen to him there, he stopped by the region of Ephesus to say goodbye to his close friends.

Paul sent to Ephesus for the elders of the church. When they arrived, he said to them: “You know how I lived the whole time I was with you,from the first day I came into the province of Asia. I served the Lord with great humility and with tears and in the midst of severe testing by the plots of my Jewish opponents…And now, compelled by the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there…

When Paul had finished speaking, he knelt down with all of them and prayed. They all wept as they embraced him and kissed him. What grieved them most was his statement that they would never see his face again. Then they accompanied him to the ship.

Acts 20:17-22, 36-38

Paul knew he had to go, but it was painful to leave. God had called him to step into the unknown and face an uncertain future. And God had called the elders at Ephesus to stay and step into their own unknown and uncertain future.

There is pain and promise in leaving. The pain is the loss. The promise is that there is a stripping away, a disentangling, that happens which opens new doors and new possibilities. This combination of pain and promise, shedding and possibility, is perfectly articulated by the author of Hebrews.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

Hebrews 12:1-3

In the midst of leaving, it is easy for the person leaving and the person staying to grow weary and lose heart. Yet, if we can embrace the pain of leaving we might also be able to embrace the promise. In the leaving a disentanglement happens that allows us to run the race that was marked out for us. We have a race marked out for us that is unique to us, unique to our life. And so we keep our eyes on Jesus in the leaving, remembering that He endured the pain of leaving as He went to the cross. He endured this pain for the joy set before Him. The joy came from the promise on the other side of the pain. We must keep our eyes on Him so that we don’t grow weary and lose heart.

Leaving is painful. Leaving is full of promise. It’s both.

Leaving is loss. Leaving is a shedding that opens new possibilities. It’s both.

Let us grieve the pain of leaving, and, somehow, through the tears, open our eyes to the future we couldn’t see before.