Having Trouble With God’s Destruction?

I just finished preaching through the book of Micah and along the way one of the questions I got was this one from a gentleman in our church.  I love interacting with the Word and growing in complete understanding of God’s story.  Perhaps his question, and hopefully my answer will help you grow too:

Mark,

I hope you can help.  I’m having a lot of trouble with Micah and I hope it’s just my misunderstanding but it seems to me that God is punishing the innocent along with the guilty.  I know that not everybody in Jerusalem was following false prophets (kids and Micah himself if nobody else).  Allowing the conquering of cities causes the deaths of everybody including the faithful. Death as punishment does not teach one to change your behavior.

Brother –

I always love and appreciate that you interact with the Biblical material in thoughtful ways.  So thanks for wanting to learn, understand, and grow.  And this is, without a doubt, a hard question as we read the history of the Old Testament (OT).  My thoughts and understanding …

The Old Testament is full of stories about God rescuing the faithful out of the midst of the unfaithful.  Rahab (a non-Jew) in the pagan city of Jericho.  Lot and his family out of the ungodly city of Sodom, so first off I do believe that while not all is recorded in each setting, this is the picture of how God operated – that is the idea of a faithful remnant being deported into babylonian exile and not destroyed.  There always is, as you have mentioned, a faithful remnant.

That being said, certainly the sin of some (or many) did effect others who weren’t making sinful choices.  And this is always the case, then and now.  Leaders make ungodly choices (in the home, in the community, in the church, in government) and innocent people suffer.  The principle – Sin effects everyone.  There are innocent victims in a world groaning to be released from its brokenness (Romans 8:18-25).  Thus the role of the righteous – To fight for those who can’t fight for themselves.  To love justice.  To practice compassion.  To protect the oppressed.  When a culture forgets this … and even those who are supposed to be God’s heart in that culture forget this, as the nations of Israel and Judah, then God “disciplines/afflicts/trains/brings his leadership” over them.

The hideousness of this in the Old Testament, and the punishment for sin, has been from the beginning until now.  And in fact becomes the very backdrop for the Messiah.  The temple sacrifices in the OT were God’s provision for sin to be punished without the person being punished.  That is the very picture of the cross of Christ.  Sin to be punished without people being punished – A Substitute sacrifice … and in Christ, one for whom we also get His Righteousness!  In our civilized modern culture, we look and cringe as the OT history unfolds, but in part that is because we are now on this side of the cross and God has made a way for ALL to be rescued through His Son.  This is what we call the Church Age, or the Day of Salvation.  But that OT sort of destruction will return, when Christ returns in judgment (Revelation – End Times scenarios).  Even the prophets of the OT wrote of that “End Day” in their words not always knowing what they were really referring to or when it would come.  Thus the role of the righteous – To call all men everywhere to repent.  To preach the Gospel to all nations.  To declare the day of salvation.  To exalt a God who is full of grace and has made a way for our rescue!

In the end, the innocent (those declared innocent because of Christ) will ALL be rescued, restored, resurrected.  AND the guilty (those still in their sin) will ALL be destroyed, judged, thrown into the lake of fire.  This is the real concern for all who care about mankind – that great day when change is no longer possible.  Spiritual death was the punishment God issued to Adam and Eve after the Fall in the garden … and the whole of the Bible is the Gospel story of God’s rescue from that moment where spiritual death entered the human race.  He went about reversing the curse.  And for those who see their spiritual death and call upon the Lord, He gives new life … and for those who ignore their spiritual death, they face an even greater death.

Hope this helps some in both understanding God’s operation in the days of Micah, and as it is set in the whole of the Gospel story.

mark


God is Passionately Committed to Growing His Kids

I love hearing people track with me as we study through the book of Micah and ask the hard questions and do the real heart evaluation required.  Most of the questions and evaluation seem to come around the subject of “the oncoming train.”  I’ve been using the picture of the prophets who walked people through a dark train tunnel with light visible in the distance.  Sometimes the prophets say that light is an oncoming train bringing judgment, and other times they say that is the light of God’s rescue out the other side of the tunnel.  Thus the questions:  Is God judging me?  Bringing me affliction?  Punishing me when hard times come?  Is it Satan trying to tempt me?  Just living in a fallen world?  How do I know?  All good, fair, and thoughtful questions.  Guess what? The prophets didn’t always know the answer to those questions, and that is why sometimes the Lord speaks through them of a near fulfillment of judgment and rescue, and other times a far fulfillment of judgment and rescue.  So, my answers begins with something like – “God is for you!  And He is passionately committed to growing His children.  He wants growth, obedience and faith for those who call Him Lord.  He will let nothing stand between you and intimacy with Him.  And what we don’t always understand is those things that stand in the way of that happening.”  Followed by …

Is this difficult situation just part of living in a fallen world? For sure.  Sin corrupts, disrupts, and messes with all of creation.  There is nothing that is not effected by sin, the world groans waiting for its rescue.  Economies hit the tank, cars break, disease is no respecter of persons, and people fail us.  We know for certain that this isn’t heaven and never will be, so expect stuff to not work right, go right, or make us right.  You and I will always experience the sufferings of this present world … we just need to remember that they are nothing to be compared with what awaits us.

Is Satan tempting me, trying to get me to fail? For sure.  He wants nothing more than to make you bitter, angry, and isolated.  He will use the brokenness of the world to undermine your confidence in a good God.  He wants you to give in to the flesh and mistrust God.  He wants you to make other gods to run to, and to love yourself and your ideas more than God and His plan.  I don’t have to understand everything about spiritual warfare to know that there is indeed an invisible spiritual battle that goes.  I know that we must put on the whole armor of God because we wrestle not against flesh and blood (only), but against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.  Our job is not to claim victory over darkness (Jesus already has).  Our job is not to cast out demons (Greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world).  Our job in not to pray formula prayers, or put more confidence in ourselves.  Our job is to hold Dad’s hand as tightly as we can, trust His plan for us, walk through the dark tunnel with great faith, and preach the precious promises of the Gospel to ourselves … and to obey day after day after day!

Is God punishing me, afflicting me, or trying to get me to learn something? Punishing? NO way, not if you are in Christ … the punishment for sin has already been absorbed at the cross.  Afflicting? Possibly, because good parents love their kids enough to discipline them … it proves that they are sons and daughters.  But He never means ultimate harm, has no evil intent, and never rejoices in administering the spanking.  Therefore it’s always right to evaluate your heart and seek His face over those idols in your heart that He may be trying to root out.  He’ll do what must be done to fit us for heaven, even if we call it affliction here on earth.  And make no mistake, He wastes nothing.  That means that He is always using the stuff of life to grow us.  What man means for evil, or what Satan intends for our faltering, God uses as the classroom for greater faith.

And here’s the kicker for me.  What if He wants to walk us through the dark tunnel to show us greater things on the other side?  What if He has new things in store for us that we would never chose on our own?  What if He wants to usher us into a new chapter of Gospel ministry or a new season of fruitfulness, and we miss it because we refuse to walk through the dark tunnel with Him?  I never want my “eyes of sight” to keep me from clearer “eyes of faith” and missing out on the good gifts from my loving Dad.  What gift do you have for me next Father?  I want it!

Always wanting to grow … no matter what,

Mark


How To Use Gifts

It’s that time of year where millions of dollars get spent on giving gifts to people we love, sorta like, and feel obligated to buy for.  Other than the obvious excess, and wrong motivations, giving gifts is a good thing.  God did and does it!  He is the ultimate gift giver, but how does He want us to use gifts.  I want to first make ultimate comments about God’s gifts to us.  He never wants us to love the gifts more than the giver (Him).  We aren’t too good at this.  He gives us the gift of sight, smell, touch, and sound, and we trust what we can feel, smell, hear and see rather than living by faith. We use our intellect and the ability to reason that He gave us to trust our own judgments and place greater confidence in the flesh.  We use the skills He gave us to work hard and build bigger barns for ourselves rather than live with risk-taking faith.  Evaluating whether we are doing these things or not requires humility and Biblical, Spirit-filled reflection on the state of our own hearts.  It requires wisdom to not live foolishly here on earth, nor to live arrogantly thinking we have what we have because of our own doing.  So, regarding the gifts God has given you – talk with Him in all you do about being purposeful that every move you make would be done in the Spirit, for His glory, and not for making a name for yourself.

But how does He want us to use gifts … the gifts you’re going to get in the next few weeks?  The cool ones you asked for, and really like?  I’ll suggest 3 ways:

(1) Tell God It’s His – We prize ownership in our country.  To own your own home is having arrived.  Nothing bad about owning something, it just tends to “own” you.  If something is “mine” I can get fairly disappointed or even mad when it breaks, doesn’t do what I want, or someone misuses it.  When I give that gift to God, I’ll use it and enjoy it as a good steward of the King.  No, God doesn’t need your ipad or new pair of shoes, but He does want you to think of even those things as delightful tools of worship.  So start by releasing the stranglehold on stuff you get by a simple prayer of dedication to Him.

(2) Enjoy it Without Obsessing – We teach our kids to take care of stuff, keep it clean, organized, maintained.  If it’s God’s stuff, than you should value what you have as on loan to you.  Don’t obsess over it, and please don’t create a shrine for it, but take good care of it.  Enjoy wearing that new clothing item, and using that new gadget with a heart that is grateful to God for the way He has made life nicer or more efficient.  Now you can focus on Him and His Kingdom without having to keep a paper-calendar (do people still do that?), wear the same clothes for three straight weeks, or send messages by horseback.

(3) Bless Others With It – The surest sign that you aren’t using your gifts well is hoarding, or not sharing.  If it’s God’s, and you aren’t worshipping it, then figure out how that gift you have can bless others.  Can it help make someone else’s life sweeter?  Can you share it with someone who would never be able to enjoy it?  Are you willing to part with it?  I suppose this takes us right back to where we started – you were given something … are you willing to give it away?  Isn’t this the Gospel principle of mission?  You were given the great gift of grace in salvation not to keep it to yourself, but to share with others so they too might know God’s love.  Maybe we should think about how that gets practiced with all the “stuff” we have.  What a great gift we have.  Enjoy Christ so you can enjoy everything you have as an act of worship!

Thank you God for your indescribable gift,

Mark

God Destroyed His Own Temple

I’ve seen artist’s renderings of the Temple Solomon built in Jerusalem since I was a kid in Sunday School.  I’ve read through the laborious passages in Scripture time and time again that meticulously describe the utensils, coverings, dimensions, and minutia of the Temple building.  I’ve even had the privilege of visiting the Temple Mount in Jerusalem and seeing the actual spot where the Temple was built.  But I’m not sure that I’ve ever really realized that God destroyed His own Temple.  Wait Spansel, don’t you mean that Nebuchadnezzar guy?  Well, sure!  2 Kings 25:9 – “And he (Nebuchadnezzar) burned the house of the Lord and the king’s house and all the houses of Jerusalem.”  But it was Yahweh who sent the Babylonians as His commissioned demolition crew to level the city and make desolate the mountain of the Lord.  Why would He do that?  Because the people forgot what they were all about as God’s people … and God won’t let anything get in the way of His people and intimacy with Him.  We’re working through the Book of Micah this Advent and it couldn’t be any clearer.

“Therefore because of you Zion shall be plowed as a field; Jerusalem shall become a heap of ruins, and the mountain of the house a wooded height.”  Micah 3:12

These leaders in Micah’s day (and a bunch of the other people too) had exchanged good for evil, justice for corruption, and idolatry for worship.  And God don’t like that stuff because it’s contrary to His glory and the glory that is to be displayed by His people.  Now, OT history tells us that King Hezekiah listened to the prophecies of Micah and Isaiah and because of his righteousness, Sennacherib never got into Jerusalem.  But 150 years later Jeremiah (who preached the same message) got the “shut down” from king Zedekiah, and that’s when the Temple got burned by the Babylonian “Demo Crew”.  The point?  God cares more about people’s hearts than His Temple.  He will do whatever it takes to purify and preserve a people for Himself.  What I’ve been reflecting on is what “Temples” I have in my life that look nice, but keep me from living out the heart of God personally and publicly.  We’d do well to be a part of the demolition team rather than work against the demo team.  I want to willingly make my “Temples” a heap of ruins before God does it for me 🙂

Getting Out the Hammer,

Mark