Monday, February 1, 2016

God and dog: one palindrome to rule them all


God told Israel long ago:
“You shall have no other gods before Me. You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth. You shall not worship them or serve them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God…” (Exodus 20-3-4a).
Perhaps you’ve heard or read of people calling God a tyrant, or a self-aggrandizing, high-handed, despot. And they would be right – if He wasn’t God.

You wouldn’t call a human a despot for seeking to subdue his dog, would you? We must subdue the dog out of absolute necessity, both for its own good, and for the benefit of all. He must know that he is not the leader of the pack. If this is not established, there will be utter chaos in the human/dog relationship. 

Humans are not power hungry when they train their dogs to submit, we are doing what must be done so both sides obtain the optimal benefit from the relationship.  

Likewise, to assess God as a tyrant in His relationship with us is dreadfully shallow. These sentiments reflect an attitude that examines God as an equal, not a superior.

God by nature cannot be a tyrant. Men can be tyrannical. The gods that men have created can be tyrannical. But God cannot be a tyrant, and therefore He is not a tyrant, because He is God. It really is that simple.

In addition to being tyrannical, some accuse God of being fickle, erratic, because some of His revealed actions appear to us to be different than others. Some contain instant judgment, while He seems to allow other sins to perpetuate, for example. But this is because our focus is usually in the wrong place – on the effect, the circumstance, rather than the cause.

Humans have a difficult time perceiving Divine motive in most things – not because God is a fickle tyrant, but – ready for a profoundly simple statement? – because we aren’t God. It's the same reason Fido doesn't fully comprehend why we take away the anti-freeze when it tastes so good.

What we need to know, at least as a starting point (and this is the starting point God gave to Israel in the law) is that God is God, and we are not

It is not only God’s right to expect absolute loyalty as the Creator of all things, but, just like with Fido, God is doing what must be done so both sides obtain the optimal benefit from the relationship

To clarify: God does not ask humans for their absolute loyalty. Rather, He graciously reminds us in the Bible that our absolute loyalty is the bare minimum that can be accepted by the Divine Being. May we be as loyal to God as our canines are to us!

Dedicated to: 
Rusty (his story here), 
Maximus (our now loyal companion), 
all our friends whose hearts have been opened by these special creations of God
and K-9 Jethro (E.O.W., 1-10-16). 

Dallas: Over whom I
once reigned supreme
Maximus: Over whom I now reign supreme
Officer Ryan Davis, with family member
and partner, K-9 Jethro.
First K-9 killed in the line of Duty,
Canton, OH PD

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Whatever it takes

Jacob is by far one of the most interesting characters of the Bible. When we first meet him, he is the "heel grabber," the deceiver. And he lives up to the name. 

First, he swindles his brother out of his birthright (Esau is not free of guilt, of course). Then, in conjunction with his mother, he deceives his father Isaac to receive the blessing that Esau should have received. All this and more was indicated by God's promise that the elder of the two (Esau) would serve the younger (Jacob). 

From a brotherly point of view, Jacob was a brat. From a son's point of view, he was a lying cheat. And not much good can be said of his mother Rebekah, at least in this instance, who participated in the deceptive plot to ensure the desired outcome.

Whether or not we can conclude Jacob and Rebekah had any noble intent - some spiritual reasoning - they still lied and deceived to accomplish their purposes. God does not condone such things, and does not need sinful help to accomplish his purposes. He is able to make his children to appear from rocks, if need be. 

Because of the, how shall we put it kindly, deteriorating relationship between him and his brother, Jacob was forced to flee for his life, to his uncle's tribe, where he would meet, and labor for the woman he desired (Rachel). But in a classic sort of irony, Jacob meets his match in Uncle Laban, who unwittingly repays Jacob in kind for all his treachery, by deceiving him about his first wife (replacing her with Leah), plotting against him in his work, and changing his pay 10 times in 20 years (we assume by Jacob's complain that these weren't raises). 

Some folks would call that karma. We know this: while God does not approve of Laban's trickery, He also didn't pull the plug on it. He let Jacob feel the pain of what he had done to others. 

Finally, Jacob and Laban's relationship reaches critical mass, God instructs Jacob to return back home, and Jacob attempts to take his leave of Uncle Laban. Although, Laban isn't going to let him go easily, and even Rachel gets in on it, taking a little spoil from the family as she goes, and deceiving her father of the same. This story just gets better all the time. 

God had directed Jacob to head back home, to his father's company once again. It had been twenty years, and Jacob had lived a life of deceiving and being deceived. And he would have to face the brother from whom he had essentially stolen everything 20 years earlier. Not surprisingly, he feared for his life. Especially when his messengers returned to him with news that Esau was headed toward him with 400 men. Jacob split his companies so as to keep a remnant alive, should one of them fall, and resolutely headed toward his brother, ready for whatever happened next. It is a suspense that couldn't be bested by Hollywood. 

If you don't know what happens between Jacob and Esau, read Genesis 32-33 to get "the rest of the story." 

But I want to stop there and notice Jacob prayer when he heard the news about Esau's approach: 
O God of my father Abraham and God of my father Isaac, O Lord, who said to me, "Return to your country and your relatives, and I will prosper you," I am unworthy of all the lovingkindness and of all the faithfulness which You have shown to Your servant; for with my staff only I crossed this Jordan, and now I have become two companies. Deliver me, I pray, from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau; for I fear him, that he will come and attack me and the mothers with the children. For You said, "I will surely prosper you and make your descendants as the sand of the sea, which is too great to be numbered" (Genesis 32:9-12, NASB). 
This passage resonates with me in so many ways. It resonates with me as a father, who cares for his family. But mostly, it resonates with me with regard to the tactic (if you want to use that term) that God used to win Jacob's heart: overwhelming love. Or, as Jacob put it, "all the lovingkindness and faithfulness." 

It is true that God corrects and chastises His children. It is true that sometimes He allows us to endure painful things in order to keep our focus tight. 

But it is also true that God has flooded us with lovingkindness, in order to break down the barriers of our heart. I know this is the case with me. 

I often feel exactly as Jacob felt, "I don't deserve all of the blessings God has given me," and His response is, "I'm going to give them to you anyway." How much I have to learn about love!

The natural human response to indifference, disobedience, or even meanness, is to return in kind. If someone is mean to me, if my children are disobedient, my first reaction is negative. I'm going to withhold my love, or some blessing, until they learn their lesson. And don't get me wrong, children need correction and discipline. 

But when I look at the balance of my own life in relationship to God - the blessings that have been out-poured upon my life have far outweighed the times God has sought to get my attention with some negative circumstance. He has just loved me, and loved me, and kept on loving me, even when I was being too prideful and foolish to be bothered with his love. He just keeps on blessing me. And frankly, He has done the same for you, too.

Positive blessing and loving sacrifice is the greatest of all motivators. Though some would argue against it, I believe this is why the hope of heaven is a stronger motivator than the horror of hell. Don't get me wrong: both are necessary, and we should persuade men to avoid hell by all means. But the horrors of hell - true as they are - are only so horrible because what is to be lost contrariwise in heaven, is so magnificent.

God flooded Jacob's life with one blessing after another. Even when Jacob was tricking, and deceiving and lying and stealing that which was not his. But God never got anxious; He was never worried that Jacob would sidetrack His plans or lay waste to His promises. He just kept flooding his life with blessings and faithfulness. Just as He has with yours, and mine. 

Overwhelming love and blessings, peppered with moments of correction and discipline, was the formula needed to crush Jacob's pride and self-concern, and to turn him into a servant worthy of carrying the name God would later give him, and after which God's people would forevermore be identified: Israel. 

Of course we're not worthy of God's blessings. Of course it hurts Him when we are neglectful of Him. But sometimes His impatience with us is not shown by hurting us, but by blessing us all the more, both of which are products of Divine love. 

God's motto - which is fully envisioned at the cross - is, "Whatever it takes." 

If we are lost, it will not be for lack of God's love, but in spite of it. 

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

The great Utopia

On the surface, Genesis 18 seems to be an entirely disconnected chapter, but in fact it contains a great contrast between righteousness and unrighteousness, between those who pursue God, and those who pursue their own selfish desires. It is cautionary for Abraham, for the nation that would call him "father," and still for us today.

In first half of the chapter, Abraham is met with three travelers, whom he takes under his wing and cares for with the utmost hospitality. It is also at this time that a Divine revelation is made to him and Sarah, that around the same time the next year, she will bear the son God has been promising them. 

In the second half of the chapter, Abraham accompanies his guests - probably 2-3 miles - as they journey toward their next destination. Presently, Sodom and Gomorrah come into view in the distance, and the judgment upon them is pronounced, and shared with Abraham. 

The purpose of this pivotal chapter - which includes the fulfillment of God's promise to create through Abraham a nation for His own possession - it seems to me, is to develop the contrast between a godly family and a worldly one. 

The very specific reason Abraham is chosen is mentioned in this chapter, and some consider it one of the greatest lines in all of Scripture. So far as Divine compliments go, its as good a one as we will ever find concerning a mortal: 
"For I have chosen him, so that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing rigteousness and justice, so that the LORD may bring upon Abraham what He has spoken about him" (Gen. 18:19). 
Contrast that with Sodom and Gomorrah - a people who created the prototypical Utopian society, where people can do as they wish. They consider this great "progress." 

All societies are engaged in a continual process. Either they draw closer to God, or they grow further away from him. In either case, certain features will become evident in time to mark the direction.

In the case of Sodom and Gomorrah (and the other surrounding cities), the man-made Utopia involves a number of trademark qualities and preferences (explored more in chapter 19: 
  • a segregation from Divine influence, 
  • an extreme - even aggressive - lack of tolerance for individuals who disagree with their Utopian way of life, 
  • a profound lack of concern for consequence, as the ends seem to justify any means used to achieve them, 
  • and this one signature matter: the up-ending of social and sexual norms. 
You can easily track this humanistic, Utopian philosophy from ancient Sodom to modern San Francisco. Paul tracks it in Romans 1:18-32. These have been and will always be, the hallmarks of godless society.