Fire hydrant

Don’t Kick Fire Hydrants

You would think the common sense truth: “Don’t kick fire hydrants” would be pretty obvious. But people do it all the time.

The foolishness of man perverteth his way: and his heart fretteth [rages] against the LORD. (Proverbs 19:3)

The simplicity of Proverbs is its genius. Its truths are straightforward and approachable. It is a book full of plain old common sense. But it makes you wonder why God had to give us a book dedicated to common sense? The answer to that is as straightforward as Proverbs itself: Despite what it’s called, “common sense” is not so common. In fact, when we meet someone who actually lives their lives according to common sense, we think they’re geniuses.

Proverbs 19:3 is about the rest of us. We could paraphrase the verse like this: The fool kicks fire hydrants and then gets angry with God when he breaks his foot. “That’s ridiculous!” you might say, but how many times has someone pointed out a problem in our lives, a problem that’s really hurting us, and instead of being thankful for the advice, we become resentful? We tell ourselves that we’re “offended” because of how that someone said what he or she said, or we try to find fault with that someone. We could argue: “Well, I’m not raging against God. I’m just upset with that guy for saying what he said.” Really? If we’re honest with ourselves we know that’s just an excuse. Scripture tells us: “Do not reprove a scoffer, or he will hate [rage at, fret against] you; reprove a wise man, and he will love you.” (Proverbs 9:8) A humble heart doesn’t bristle at reproof. It yields to it.

God sends us rebuke sometimes through the circumstances of life, sometimes through the consequences of our own stupidity, and sometimes through others. Once, He even sent rebuke by means of a talking donkey (Numbers 22:21-35)! If it’s ultimately God Who is sending rebuke our way, isn’t our resentment toward the means of rebuke ultimately fretting against God? And if reproofs and rebukes can be considered the “fire hydrants” of life, is it really wise to kick at them?

[Photo by Ashim D’Silva on Unsplash]

Magnifying glass

Under the Magnifying Glass

One day at work two of my co-workers, I’ll call them “Joe” and “Fred,” came to my desk. Out of the blue, Joe asked me: “Hey, Glenn, wanna hear a dirty joke?” I told him, “No.” It was what Joe expected me to say, but what intrigued me was the exchange that happened between Joe and Fred after my response. Fred looked surprised and asked: “Why did you ask him that? You know he doesn’t want to hear stuff like that!” Joe kind of smirked and said, “I know. I just wanted to see if he still thought that way.” I don’t bring that up for my own praise. I bring it up because it made me realize that being clear about who I am and the God I worship doesn’t put me in a protective bubble, it puts me under a magnifying glass. It’s where I must expect to find myself and it should have a bearing on all that I do. Psalm 79 shows what’s at stake for those who claim to live for God.

Psalms 79:8-9

(8)  O remember not against us former iniquities: let thy tender mercies speedily prevent us: for we are brought very low.
(9)  Help us, O God of our salvation, for the glory of thy name: and deliver us, and purge away our sins, for thy name’s sake.

This psalm opens with an allusion to an invading army coming in, destroying the temple and laying waste to Jerusalem (v. 1). It does not specify what nation it was that did this, but it most likely was the Babylonians. The invasions suffered by the Jews during this time in their history were all the result of their own sins against God. In his anguish, the psalmist prays for God’s wrath upon the invaders, but he does not blame them for Jerusalem’s troubles. Instead, he says: “We are become a reproach to our neighbors, a scorn and derision to them that are round about us.” (v. 4) When I sin against God there is more at stake than my own reputation. When I sin against God, I bring shame to Him. What my sin does to me personally is always subordinate to what my sin does to the name and reputation of my God. When I come to Him for mercy, my prayers need to reflect that understanding. In his prayer, the psalmist cries out:

Psalms 79:8-9

(8)  O remember not against us former iniquities: let thy tender mercies speedily prevent [come early to meet] us: for we are brought very low.
(9)  Help us, O God of our salvation, for the glory of thy name: and deliver us, and purge away our sins, for thy name’s sake.

He acknowledges the gravity of his sin and that of his people and pleads for help but asks that God’s glory be restored before he asks for deliverance. But what brought God’s anger down on His people in the first place? In verse 5, the psalmist asks:

“How long, LORD? wilt thou be angry [forever]? shall thy jealousy burn like fire?”

Why was God jealous? He was jealous because His people had forsaken Him to worship the idols of the land. Rather than desiring to be like the God of the Bible, the people of Jerusalem wanted to be like the world around them. But how did they get there? Pride. Pride is what brought down Sodom and Gomorrah, and pride is what brings down God’s people, too. The sins that come out of pride are just symptoms of the underlying cause. For believers, the first symptom of pride is usually self-righteousness. This was true of the people of Jerusalem in this psalmist’s day. Yes, they were tolerating idols, but their thinking was “We’re God’s people. We live in Jerusalem. God meets us in our temple. We’re untouchable.” Whenever we forget that our righteousness is not our own or we begin to think that our connection to God somehow puts us in some sort of protective bubble that exempts us from the consequences of our sinful pride, when we begin to think that our standing before God is the result of our own works and not the gift of God’s grace, we tread on dangerous ground. My relationship to God does not exempt me from moral responsibility, it makes me even more accountable. Before I take any action, I need to consider how my actions will reflect upon my God? Because as believers, we don’t live in a bubble, we live under a magnifying glass.

Fellowship Knowledge

And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge;  (2 Peter 1:5)

mountainDewCodeRedOur middle daughter, I’ll call her “Kay,” is one of those Energizer Bunny types of people. When she is on, she is on and she’s non-stop. As she has matured, she has learned to channel that energy in positive ways, but she is still that “switched on” kind of person. And she loves Mountain Dew. Mix that with an already energetic personality and you could power a small country. When she was little, my wife Jane and I had a rule: “No Mountain Dew for Kay after 6 PM.” Because if we gave her something like that after 6, she’ be wired and still going at midnight.

One day, the whole family was at the Wal-Mart Super Center doing some shopping and when we got to the checkout line we assumed our usual formation: Jane got to the head of our group, the four kids lined up behind her and I took up the rear to make sure we didn’t lose anybody. Kay was right in front of me and as we were waiting she noticed that the soft drink refrigerator to our right had a new drink sensation: Mount Dew Code Red. Kay’s eyes got big and she turned to me all excited and said: “Dad! Look! They have Mountain Dew Code Red! I’ve wanted to try that! Can I have one?” I looked at the can, looked at her and imagined what that might do to her, and then I looked at my watch: 7 PM. “No, Kay, it’s after 6 and you know the rule. Besides, that stuff is like Mountain Dew on steroids.” Well, Kay being Kay, she decided to take her case to a higher court. She went to the front of our little formation to speak to Mom. I could not hear the conversation, but I knew what Kay was asking. She wanted to see if she could talk her mother into letting her have a Mountain Dew Code Red. I could tell from Jane’s body language that her answer was “No.” When Kay came back to where I was, she had an astonished look on her face, her eyes as big as saucers. Then she told me: “She said the same thing you said! I asked her if I could have one of those, and she said, ‘No, those are like Mountain Dew on steroids.’ Did you talk?” I smiled and said, “No” and Kay asked: “Can she hear us?” Again, I said, “No,” but Kay being Kay had to test that theory. She turned toward Mom and asked: “Hey, Mom, can you hear us?” By that time Jane was chatting with the cashier as the lady rung up our order. Jane could not hear Kay at all. Kay then turned to look at me again. “But how did she know what you said?” I told her, “Hon, your mother and I have been married longer than you’ve been alive. She didn’t have to hear me. We just know each other that well.”

I call that “fellowship knowledge.” It’s the kind of knowledge you develop with someone from being around them so much. It’s the kind of knowledge that knows how to finish the other person’s sentences. It’s the kind of knowledge that God wants us to develop with Him. It’s that point in your Christian walk where you don’t always have to have “chapter and verse” to know what it is God expects of you in a given situation. Because You know Him so well, you have a good idea of what God would have you to do. A good example of that kind of fellowship knowledge is Nehemiah. He was the man God sent to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem during the time of the Jews’ Captivity. In his efforts to rebuild the wall, he met with resistance mostly in the form of two men: Sanballat and Tobiah, enemies of God. Several times throughout Nehemiah’s ministry they tried to stop him, get him sidetracked, or outright kill him. Every time, Nehemiah figured them out way ahead of time, but it wasn’t because God met him in a dream or a vision to tell him: “Hey, Sanballat and Tobiah are at it again.” Nehemiah just knew because he knew his God that well and because he knew God that well, he could smell a trap a mile off. Nehemiah knew his God that well because he was constantly in fellowship with God. When you read his book, you see he prayed to God about everything and knew God’s Word well. That kind of fellowship knowledge is not something exclusive to Nehemiah. If you and I really want to know what God thinks, all we need to do is to get to know God like Nehemiah did and cultivate that fellowship knowledge.

The worst thing that could happen to us is Heaven!

The LORD is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him.  (Lamentations 3:25, ESV)

The book of Lamentations was written by Jeremiah, the “weeping prophet.” He was sent of God to preach to his own people with the knowledge that they would not have the heart to heed him. He spent years warning his people to repent and telling them that if they did not, the Babylonians would one day invade and take them captive. Events would prove him right. After seeing the fall of Jerusalem and witnessing the destruction of Solomon’s Temple, Jeremiah wrote Lamentations to comfort his people and himself.

What is important for us to see is how he dealt with his grief and the grief of his people.

Lamentations 3:18b-20 (ESV)

(18)  …My endurance has perished; so has my hope from the LORD.
(19)  Remember my affliction and my wanderings, the wormwood and the gall!
(20)  My soul continually remembers it and is bowed down within me.

The Book of Lamentations reads very much like the Psalms and like the psalmists, Jeremiah is very candid about his heartache. Sometimes we try to sound spiritual before God when in our heart we are angry, bitter or sorrowful. What’s the point of hiding what’s in my heart when God already knows what’s there? He’s not threatened or intimidated by my venting to Him. He prefers that I be honest in my prayers rather than “spiritual,” so to speak, and this was Jeremiah. Consider how shocking his words. Here we have a prophet of God saying he is at then end of himself and has lost all hope in God. A man of God isn’t supposed to say that, is he? Jeremiah did. But the key here is that he did not say that to just anyone. He said these things the One Person who could actually do something about his anguish. He said these things to God.

Jeremiah and his people had literally lost everything and now they were going to be taken to a strange land, amongst strange people who worshipped strange gods. Jeremiah’s own generation would die far from the Promised Land and for the Jews of his day, that was a fate worse than death. There was no bright side to their circumstances and Jeremiah did not pretend there was, but he also did not exaggerate his plight. He evaluated his circumstances through God’s lens – and then he remembered the goodness of God:

Lamentations 3:21-23 (ESV)

(21)  But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope:
(22)  The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end;
(23)  they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.

The best thing we can do when we are grieving is to remember who our God is. First, Jeremiah remembered the promises of God. One day God would restore the Jews to the Promised Land. The prophet knew it would not be in his lifetime, but it would happen. He also called to mind the faithfulness of God to His people, His steadfast love for His people and His manifold mercies. They “never come to an end,” even if for the moment, it seems our world has ended. As long as there is God, there is hope and that is what Jeremiah concluded after bearing the desperate heartache of his soul:

Lamentations 3:24-25

(24) “The LORD is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.”
(25)  The LORD is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him.

How does all this apply to us as believers today? As Christians, we have the Gospel and a personal relationship to God through Jesus Christ. There is nothing, not even our most desperate circumstances, that can take that away from us (See Romans 8:18, 38-39). Ultimately, no matter what comes our way, we will always have God. So, no matter how depressing our current situation may be, we can realize along with Jeremiah that the worst that can ever happen to us is Heaven!

Down to the Last Detail

He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. The one who conquers will not be hurt by the second death.’  (Revelation 2:11, ESV)

I am often amazed at the level of detail that God puts into even the smallest of His creations. To engineer them so they can function is marvelous enough, but God gives many of them beauty and detail that they don’t need for survival or functionality. He just adds those things because He is a God Who pays attention to detail. It is a level of care that makes you consider: “If God pays so much attention to detail in these things? How much more is He involved in the details of my life?” (See Luke 12:27-28)

Our verse today was addressed to the church at Smyrna. It was one of only two churches in the book of Revelation that was not criticized by the Lord, the other being the church at Philadelphia. Both suffered severe persecution. What is striking about the message to Smyrna is how detailed it is. This was no mysterious revelation. This was the Lord letting these suffering Christians know that not only was He aware of their suffering and their faithfulness to Him, He was right there with them. In verse 10 the Lord says: “Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have tribulation. Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life.”  (Revelation 2:10, ESV) With these words, He lets the church at Smyrna know that He is aware of everything they were and would be enduring, but He assures them there will be and end to it: “ten days you will have tribulation.” He also offers them hope: To those who endure, there is the Crown of Life, rescue from eternal death. (See Matthew 10:28) When He opened  His message to these believers, the Lord introduced Himself as “the first and the last, who died and came to life.” That was no accident. Many of these believers were literally giving their lives for the cause of Christ. They needed assurance that their devotion to Christ was not in vain. Those specific words reminded them that they serve a risen Savior and that because He lives, they would live too. To further drive that point home, Jesus ended His message with the words: “the one who conquers will not be hurt by the second death,” the second death meaning eternity in Hell. It was a reiteration of Jesus’ promise of eternal life to those who put their trust in Him. The Lord told these believers exactly what they needed to hear because He cared for them down to the last detail.

Seeing the Rockies for the First Time

Your righteousness is like the mountains of God; your judgments are like the great deep; man and beast you save, O LORD.  (Psalms 36:6, ESV)

I still remember the first time I saw the Rockies. I was traveling west with a friend of mine in his old Ford pickup one summer. We had just finished crossing through Kansas. It was a good thing he was an agriculture major. At least he could tell me what the different kinds of cattle were, because other than the few slightly rolling hills, Kansas is mostly flatness and livestock. (Sorry, Kansans.) When we finally crossed into Colorado, I was a little disappointed. Because the eastern part of the state looks a bit like the flat lands of Kansas. And then we saw them. As if they were pop-ups in a children’s book, the Rockies just suddenly appeared on the horizon. I said, “John, look! mountains!” John looked, but he did not immediately comprehend. “Naw!” he said. “Them are clouds.” I answered, “No, John, those are ‘purple mountains majesty’ like in the hymn!” When it finally registered with him, John exclaimed: “Them are honkin’ big mountains!” They certainly were. You couldn’t miss them even if you wanted to. Even on the distant horizon they looked huge and they only got bigger the closer we got.

The psalmist compares the righteousness of God to great mountains and his judgments to the deep and powerful oceans. He says this in contrast to the attitude of the wicked. In verse one he says: “Transgression speaks to the wicked deep in his heart; there is no fear of God before his eyes.”  (Psalm 36:1, ESV) It’s not that God is invisible to the wicked. It’s just that he refuses to see Him because his heart rejects God but does not reject evil (v. 4). Because God is so big and and unavoidable, the wicked must constantly distract himself with evil. So, he makes it is his driving motivation: “He plots trouble while on his bed; he sets himself in a way that is not good; he does not reject evil.”  (Psalms 36:4) It’s the only way you’re going to miss seeing God. So, I have to ask myself: “What distractions am I allowing in my own heart that are obscuring my view of God?” When we saw the Rockies for the first time, John and I had to discard our preconceptions and really take in their majesty for what it was. If I want to see God as He is, I have to abandon my distractions and preconceptions. (See Hebrews 12:1) Like the psalmist, must be thankful, not just for God’s blessings, but for Who He is. The writer of this psalm isn’t offering a perfunctory prayer of thanks over a meal. He is praising God in deep meditative thought over His power and majesty. In his praise he is making a habit of seeing God anew, just like seeing the Rockies for the first time.

And who is my neighbor?

Proverbs 3:27-28

(27)  Withhold not good from them to whom it is due, when it is in the power of thine hand to do it.

(28)  Say not unto thy neighbour, Go, and come again, and [tomorrow] I will give; when thou hast it by thee.

There was a lawyer who once approached Jesus during the Lord’s earthly ministry who asked Him: “Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” (Luke 10:25b) The Lord answered with a question because the lawyer already knew the answer: “What is written in the law? how readest thou?” (Luke 10:26b) The lawyer answered with a verse that every Jewish citizen knew almost as soon as they could learn to speak: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself.” (Luke 10:27b) Jesus told him he was right and added: “This do, and thou shalt live.” (Luke 10:28b) Then Luke adds this to the narrative: “But [the lawyer], willing to justify himself, said unto Jesus, And who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:29) The Lord responded to that with the parable of the good Samaritan.

Samaritans were half-breeds. When the northern kingdom of Israel fell in OT times, the conquerors sent many Gentiles into the region and the Jews who remained there married into Gentile families. To full Jews like the scribes and Pharisees, and this lawyer, that made them impure. But the Samaritan in Jesus’ parable had a much better grasp of pure religion (see James 1:27) than did this lawyer. The Samaritan, who was just traveling on his way, came across a man who had been mugged and severely beaten. Unlike the priest and the Levite who’d passed by earlier and taken a wide path around the injured man to preserve their “purity,” (Luke 10:31-31) the Samaritan brought this man to safety and paid for his care.

When Jesus finished His parable, He used the lawyer’s own word against him: “Which now of these three, thinkest thou, was neighbour unto him that fell among the thieves?” (Luke 10:36) The lawyer had to agree that it was the half-breed Samaritan who had the truth because he actually lived it. (Leave it to the Lord to out-lawyer a lawyer!)

If I really want to know what I truly believe, I need to examine how I truly live. Just knowing the right answers is not enough. My life has to reflect my relationship to my Lord. The best measure of my relationship to the Lord is not just how I treat my neighbor, but who I consider my neighbor.