… and our attraction to following aggressive leaders.
There’s a podcast blowing up among church circles called The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill, and if you haven’t listened yet, please come out from under that rock, my Friend.
Usually I find it wise to keep a lot of opinions about controversial issues to myself unless I think that sharing my opinion could be helpful, and that rule counts double online. So, please know my intentions and my disclaimers and my background before you read further:
I want you to know why this is an important message to hear.
I believe many of the lessons learned the hard way can be beneficial for all of us so that we don’t repeat them.
I am guilty of riding this train.
I’m ashamed and mortified that I once wished my church-planter pastor husband would lead and preach just like Mark Driscoll. Cue all the dead emojis. I’m blessed and grateful that the church I am a part of, where my husband is the co-leader and they are both humble men of integrity, is a place where there is a network of accountability and where we don’t value “growth” at all costs. We believe in serving our community and in shining Jesus’s light of hope to our city, but we are far from perfect, so please don’t assume I’m saying that.
I can admit that though Driscoll was found to be and continues to be a perpetrator of spiritual abuse without genuine repentance, he was also the founder of a movement that reached souls with the Gospel message of Jesus and saw transformed lives by what I believe has been the power of the Holy Spirit, and I don’t pretend to understand why God does things like that.
I think there is an underlying problem with WHAT WE DESIRE IN A LEADER, not just with some of these problematic leaders.
I don’t think I have all of the answers, and I’m looking forward to listening to the rest of the episodes (supposed to be 6 more for a total of 12) in order to find more questions to ask and hopefully more lessons to learn.
I believe in BALANCE and NUANCE. No one in this situation or any is completely evil, and while we can look back on abuse and misuse of power, that doesn’t mean God was not at work, or that good things didn’t happen at Mars Hill. I believe the podcast does a great job of keeping this truth in tension. My opinion about the bottom line: sometimes the ends (salvations, and especially “church growth”) do NOT justify any and every means, especially when those means include corruption, abuse, and misuse of spiritual power. Especially because those salvations can sometimes end up in a soul abortion, and that church growth can subsequently end up in a complete collapse of the church and people walking away from God for good. Those are often the ends in the end, and therefore do not justify any means.
There are so many themes we could cover, and I want to do more posts about this podcast as more episodes are released, as well as on the subject matter of church leadership and toxic evangelicalism in the future, but for today I’m going to stick to two main things on my heart that I think are worth sharing with you, Reader. The first is what I believe to be self-evident, and I’ll be brief. The second is something I’m not hearing directly, but that I’ve been thinking for the past few years.
FIRST: Church leaders need to be careful that their charisma does not take them to platforms with influence so wide that the foundation of their character, experience, network of accountability, and education cannot support.
Mark Driscoll, the lead pastor of Mars Hill for almost 20 years (1996-2014) committed many atrocities of what I would define as aggression, misogyny, bullying, generalized spiritual abuse, as well as abuse of power. There were others around him who not only gave him a pass in these areas, but platformed him BECAUSE he was this way. He was not educated in any accredited seminary, as far as I know, and was a self-ordained pastor “so that he could do weddings and funerals.” He was building a movement and speaking at church leadership conferences after just one (1) single year as a church planter under his trendy, studded grunge belt. He had not developed the character traits of humility, integrity, or diplomacy required to lead the large and diverse organization he led. These are my conclusions, based on listening to him back in the mid 2000’s, reading some of his books and blogs written about him, and listening to the long-form journalism from Christianity Today in the podcast. If you have a different conclusion after similar research, I’d like to hear it. If you haven’t yet done these things, I’d encourage you to do so because there is a lot we can learn about leadership, character, and platform that will help us do better as God’s kids who do life together.
SECOND: The problem was/is not only with these charismatic, narcissistic, powerful leaders, but in WHAT WE AS FOLLOWERS DESIRE in a leader.
How was it that an entire church network of over 15,000 people and millions of online followers (including myself for a time) followed such a leader for so long, despite these obvious character flaws? I don’t think it is exclusively due to poor leadership, but misguided followership, which is not sufficiently taught, emphasized, or guided in our culture. I’ve been saying for years that our western culture places far too much emphasis on developing powerful leaders, and not enough emphasis on the importance of developing effective followers. In America, everyone is trying to be an influencer and a leader, gain followers, but no one values followership or teamwork more than just as a number on the top of their social media account. I could write a book on good followership, and maybe someday I will, but for now the warning is this: We are drawn to follow and prop up a bully because we falsely believe he can protect us from our (often imaginary) fears, and we put up with it when he turns that domineering charisma on us, which results in abuse.
Now, before you think I’m victim blaming here, look at my face. I don’t think anyone that Mark abused is to blame for the situation, but I do think we ALL need to take a hard look at the kinds of leaders we are attracted to and why. Because if we are to turn things around and avoid some of these casualties, especially in the Church, I really think it will require some introspection about what we’re attracted to, what we’re drawn to, and what we are craving. Some people think this leadership style or personality is a “virtue of strength,” but it is NOT the strength I see demonstrated by Jesus or His Father. I think it’s for this similar attraction that women choose abusers to marry and stay with them far longer than they should. I think it’s this same attraction that made millions of Christians vote for a man who bragged about sexually assaulting women on tape and who graced the cover of magazines that worship sex or money, not Jesus. And I think this attraction is causing men and women alike to flock to this brash, aggressive, narcissistic bully personality in droves, only to realize that the person they hoped would protect them from a false enemy is now turning that aggression around on them. The fact that all red flags are being ignored is in itself the red flag.
The fact that all red flags are being ignored is in itself the red flag.
Please, Friends. Choose more wisely who you follow. Hop off that bandwagon before you get caught in a web with no easy exit.
We saw the failure of willful blindness on the part of the Mars Hill staff and lay leadership. Whether in the moment or in retrospect, they realized that instead of elevating God or meeting the needs of the members or even the needs of the community at large, most everything they did revolved around promoting and benefitting Driscoll alone, and propping him up became synonymous with the mission of church growth. Which rings familiar with something I heard our former president say in that whatever was good for him was good for the nation, and to protect his reputation was equal to protecting the United States. He also claimed “I alone can fix it” after describing all that he saw wrong with America. My warning here, Friends: It is dangerous FOR YOURSELF to put any person in the place where only God should be. Not only will they fall off that pedestal that YOU have placed them on, but they will tear you down painfully in the process of their fall. If you find yourself attracted to this kind of leader, beware! It is not the leadership Jesus modeled and it is not the place any person should hold in your heart or mind.
I want to leave you with a careful warning from a rarely-read passage in the Bible. In the book of Zechariah, the minor prophet recounts the days when God’s people returned from a disciplinary season of exile in a country called Babylon, where they were enslaved, killed, and abused at the hands of people who were known to be brutal aggressors. As they set up a humble leader named Zerubbabel, who was entitled to a royal authority but took the title of governor instead of king, God spoke this important clue for their hopeful and good future:
“It is not by force nor by strength, but by my Spirit, says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies.”
– Zechariah 4:6
How about you? Have you listened to the podcast yet? If so, what are your reactions and thoughts? Why do you think people continue to follow people (men?) with this kind of personality? What do you think the Bible has to say about it? If not, why not? I’d love to hear more from you!
This is Day 8 of 31 Days of Hope-filled Living. To start over with Day 1, click here.
“I pray that the light of God will illuminate the eyes of your imagination, flooding you with light, until you experience the full revelation of the hope of his calling—that is, the wealth of God’s glorious inheritances that he finds in us, his holy ones!”
“Your faith and love rise within you as you access all the treasures of your inheritance stored up in the heavenly realm. For the revelation of the true gospel is as real today as the day you first heard of our glorious hope, now that you have believed in the truth of the gospel … And we pray that you would be energized with all his explosive power from the realm of his magnificent glory, filling you with great hope.”
-Colossians 1:5, 11
A famous Bible missionary-guy named Paul wrote several letters back to the early churches he had planted, and these letters make up a large portion of the New Testament we read today. He begins his letter to the Ephesian church and the Colossian church similarly, as we read in the verses above. Having reminded them of their saving belief in Jesus Christ, he explains that what they have now is a powerful hope to uplift and brighten their minds with joy for what God has guaranteed them in heaven.
I believe one of the reasons Paul felt it necessary to remind the believers that the same excitement they first had when hearing about Jesus’s eternal saving grace was just as relevant after the passage of time is that our brains are reliably forgetful and need consistent re-filling of light. Paul knew that the struggles and dark discouragement of this life on earth tend to crowd out the joy and hope, through no fault of our own.
New believers especially face this phenomenon because their fresh faith is so shockingly good, makes them surprisingly joyful, and excites them with a drive to know God deeply, but their sins or struggles or sufferings tend to derail them easily because they are not disciplined enough to know how to face them with God’s help and guidance. They forget that the power that saved them is also the power that keeps them in step on the path of following Jesus. They find themselves losing faith because they try to depend on their own strength to be a part of God’s family and His plan. They lose hope.
The eternal and glorious inheritance you hope for lights up your mind with love, energy, and power today.
“Hope is important for your brain.
Neuroscientists are investigating the science of hope. It turns out that a feeling of hopefulness changes your brain. Your brain pumps chemicals when experiencing the sensation of hope. These chemicals can block pain and accelerate healing. Hope, which involves belief and expectation, causes the brain to release neurochemicals called endorphins and enkephalins which actually mimic the effects of morphine. The result is that the brain can overcome hurdles and move to a place of recovery. In scientific terms, hope and recovery are not causally connected, but they are correlated.
I believe hope is as vital to the brain as the oxygen we breathe.”
–Terry Small, “The Brain Guy”, Canada’s leading learning skills specialist, and author of the Brain Bulletin.
The Scripture passages above contain two terms in common and one term that is similar but not exactly the same word. In both passages, the word hope is the same greek elpis/elpida, which means hope, expectation, trust, confidence and the word glory is the same greek doxēs, which means honor, renown; glory, an especially divine quality, the unspoken manifestation of God, splendor. The other term that the passages share that is slightly different is the word inheritance. To the Ephesians, Paul used the word kléronomias, which means possessions viewed in one sense as present, in another as future; a share, participation. In this, Paul was describing the believers as God’s inheritance. We are His, now and for eternity, and we bring Him delight accordingly. However, in the Colossians passage, Paul uses the word apokeimenēn, which means to be laid away, be laid up in store. This is the same word Jesus used to describe what the wicked servant did with his talent—he tucked it away, laid it up in the ground for later, as it was.
In essence, God’s glory is our inheritance, already enough, and guaranteed for us to receive on the other side of eternity, which is also what gives us joyful endurance here on this side of eternity while we wait.
Let me explain it once more, now that we have all of that greek context to help us understand:
According to Paul, as followers of Jesus we have tucked away for us an inheritance, which is God in all of His glory and splendor, and this is our hope—the brain oxygen that sustains us today with joy because of what we know is guaranteed for us in eternity. In addition, we are God’s inheritance, which also delights Him, and fills us with energizing hope just knowing that He treasures us.
I often find myself getting caught up in the distractions of this world, forgetting that my treasure is laid up in heaven and His name is Jesus, as well as forgetting that I am His treasure, which He is in the process of preparing, making me holy and glorious for the day I will see His face. Car troubles, gas prices, utility bills, doctor visits, and what to fix for dinner often crowd out any illuminating thoughts of God or the heavenly treasures He has in store for me. It’s no wonder my hope fades as my mind is dulled.
Have you been there too lately, Sweet Reader? Then these passages penned centuries ago are just for you today. Let Paul’s words sink deep into your heart and drink deep of the fountain of hope found there. Let your imagination be ignited with power and excitement. Your thirst can be quenched and your joy can overflow now because of what is in store for you someday. It is God’s very glory—His riches bestowed that will never be spent and never need to be earned. He is your inheritance and You are His.Interest rates and appreciation need not apply, for it is already infinite.
Hope How-to: Take a few moments to dump your brain onto a piece of paper: everything you’re worried or concerned or anxious about, everything that holds too much real estate in your mind. Fold up the paper and hand it across the table to Jesus. Take a fresh piece of paper and write down some of the gifts you have today and some of the gifts of glory you’re hoping for in eternity. Ask the Holy Spirit to show you what it is to walk in imaginative hopefulness and explosive joy as He gets you ready for that day when you enter God’s glory forever.
Prayer: Sweet Spirit, I pray that you will minister powerfully in the mind of my Reader today. Fill her with delight at the thought of the glorious inheritance to come. Let the hope sustain her like oxygen today. Blow her mind with excitement and fill her imagination with the delight laid up in store for her, and let all of today’s mundane troubles fade into a blur as she focuses solely on Your love and glory. Amen.
If you’re finding hope here in my Nest, I’d be honored if you would slip your email into the subscription box today. I promise not to spam your inbox, and you’ll receive a FREE printable Daily Guide to Hope so that you can have more hope and less worry every day.
This is Day 7 of 31 Days of Hope-filled Living. To start over with Day 1, click here.
“I wait for the Lord. My soul waits and I hope in His Word.My soul waits for the Lord more than one who watches for the morning; yes, more than one who watches for the morning.O Israel, hope in the Lord! For there is loving-kindness with the Lord. With Him we are saved for sure.”
– Psalm 130:5-7
God’s Word is a treasure chest of hope
The beginning of this Psalm is a man in anguish. Despair and apparently sin left the author (likely David or Solomon) doing some soul searching and some God-searching. In order to strengthen his soul, he reminds himself in song that even in the deepest darkness, hope can be found in God. In verse five, the Hebrew word for Word is dabar, which means word, speech, matter, or thing. Essentially, stuff from God. In other words he’s saying,
“I’m feeling terribly depressed about my life and my choices, but I’m waiting on God’s help and putting my trust in godly stuff to help me feel better and do better.”
“The great test of faith is to wait on God . . . not expecting to push a button and get whatever we want now.”
– A.W. Tozer
It’s become a cheesy Christian-ese trope to say “wait on God and trust in His Word” but that doesn’t make it untrue or unbiblical. I wish I could push that imaginary “get what I want now” button Tozer mentions, but I can’t. I’ve had to wait for just about everything I ever wanted. Now, finally in my 40s, I’m finding some results coming to pass that I’ve prayed years for, believing and trusting and doing my part to try to be faithful. I’m talking about stuff I’ve asked God for since I was a teenager. And there’s also a whole lot of prayers I’m still waiting on God to answer. I have a feeling it will be several more years.
Waiting is tough on the old hope muscle, isn’t it? The Bible even says in Proverbs that hope deferred makes a heart sick. But waiting also makes hope strong, if we’re leaning into God’s promises in His Word. Because He is faithful. And when, after waiting, we find that His promises have come to pass, our own faith grows, as does our hope that He will show up for us with the same faithfulness again in our future.
I remember a span of about three years when my son was an infant and toddler that he struggled with painful ear infections month after month. It seemed like just as he was getting over one, another one would start, along with his pain-filled cries that lasted through nearly every night. I begged God to heal him for the better part of those three years, seemingly to no avail. I wondered how I could twist Jesus’s arm into letting my baby boy off the hook of suffering, or at least to let me bear it for him. Only to be met with another ear infection the following month. That waiting was hard. There are few things more difficult in life than helplessly watching your child suffer. Eventually, he had surgery to insert tubes and God also showed me some natural solutions to prevent and address the susceptibility in his ears. I discovered God as a healer in a fresh and hugely faith-building way. And I found His comfort in the moment for Josiah, and for me as well. I called Him out on His promises to heal my baby, just as He called me out on my part to wait for His timing, plan, and comfort to arrive.
Have you been there, Reader? Are you there right now? When you’re waiting on the answer to a prayer, hope is stretched thin. The strong rope that once bound you to faith in Jesus now feels like a thread that could snap any moment while the waiting drags on. But you’re not alone, Dear One. The Psalmist had to put his hope in God-stuff, in His Word. He had to wait for the promise to arrive without a magical “give-it-to-me-now” button too. And I know how precarious hope can get when it feels like things will never get better and the answer will never arrive. Allow the faith of others to buoy you up above the waves of hopelessness today. Waiting is hard, but so is weight-training. They both give you strong muscles, though one is for your spirit, and the other is for your body.
Hope How-to: What have you been waiting for in prayer for a long time? How does it affect your emotions or your faith when you realize that you have to keep waiting for it? When it comes to God’s Word, are there any Bible stories or verses that encourage you to keep going when you want to give up? Talk to God with your voice or your pen & journal about what you’re waiting for and what it truly feels like to have to keep waiting. Be honest; He wants that. Then take that Bible reference and put it somewhere you’ll see it every day: on your steering wheel or the refrigerator or your bathroom mirror. Let God’s Word strengthen your faith, hope, and ability to wait a little bit longer, because the answer is truly on the way.
Prayer: Oh, Father, I come before you today on behalf of my Reader and I ask that You would speak a specific and special Word to her spirit that will sustain her hope. Please give her strength to wait as long as she needs to for your promises to come to pass. Thank you for sending your Son to become a human so that we can now have an advocate on Your right hand who understands how hard it is to wait, and how easy it is to let hope fade. Bless my Reader today with words, speech, and matters from Your heart to hers. Show her a fresh vision of what You have in store that will revive her hope once more. Your Word is precious, Lord; it is a chest full of Your treasures and love. It is a demonstration of Your faithfulness, and if You showed up for Your kids before, we know You can do it again. Thank you, Father.
If you’re enjoying these posts about hope, I’d be honored if you would share them on your social media or in a friend’s inbox. Who knows, maybe God wants to use these words to give someone else a little more hope today too.
Day 4 of 31 Days of Hope-filled Living. If you’d like to start at the beginning, click here.
And this hope is not a disappointing fantasy, because we can now experience the endless love of God cascading into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who lives in us!
– Romans 5:5
When God’s Kingdom comes on earth, hope arrives.
There is no country on earth, not even America, that would constitute as the Kingdom of God. And also, the Kingdom of God has come, according to Jesus in the Gospels. But where is it? Where do we see it among our neighborhoods and communities? Who can give me directions?
The Kingdom of God is the Presence of the Holy Spirit in our very flesh that changes us and makes us new. The Bible says that we are a new creation in Christ when we are born again, as we put our trust in Him to rescue us from our past and provide a path for our eternity. That newness in Him is the hopeful promise and evidence that even if we can’t see what is coming next, we KNOW it will be good and we have a secure place there.
The word hope in Romans 5:5 is the greek word elpis, which means hope, expectation, trust, or confidence. And the word disappoint is the greek word kataischuno, which means shame, disgrace, bring to shame, put to utter confusion, or frustrate. So, in other words, we can infer that God, through the writer Paul, is saying that because we can feel God’s love through the Spirit, the hope we have is not only an expectation of what is to come, but a lack of disgrace and disappointment, because it is also beginning to manifest through us now. So we know that what we’re hoping for, God’s Kingdom, is starting to form in us presently. It is here in us and on its way.
We don’t have to wait forever to start our forever! We can allow Jesus to start bringing about His Kingdom in us with new life in our veins. We have proof that what we hope for is on its way because we see our lives reborn in Him. We are not ashamed when heaven is delayed because we’re already tasting it in His loving presence.
[Regarding the exchange between Jesus and Nicodemus] “Except a man is reborn, he cannot see or comprehend the Kingdom. That new birth that he was talking about is an exchanged life; it is where one person forfeits, abandons, abdicates all rights to himself, and gives the right to Jesus to do whatever He pleases. And in that process the wind of God impregnates that person. New life develops and the life that they now live in the flesh becomes the life of the Son of God. That is what qualifies one for new citizenship in this new order.”
The best story I can use to explain this concept is when I’ve seen delight where no earthly delight belonged. I actually find it difficult at times to see God’s Kingdom in the abundance of America and other first world societies. Where material possessions abound, it is nearly impossible to know from whence they have arrived. And taking joy in homes, cars, and toys could possibly be taking joy from oneself and one’s own accomplishments.
But when material possessions are scarce but joy still abounds, it’s easy to see the source of that joy, even that hope, is heavenly.
When I traveled to Haiti after the earthquake of 2010, devastation grieved the nation, but when I looked into the eyes of the followers of Jesus there, I saw more hope, joy, and peace than I’d seen in a hundred of my church-going friends in America. I was astounded and confounded. How can this be? I thought. How could such grief and poverty leave a smile on their faces and such a twinkle in their eyes? How could they dance with joy before the Lord when He had allowed the earth to swallow their homes and family members? What did they have that I was still missing? They had the Spirit manifesting His Kingdom through their new lives in Him. Their hope was not in their slum-like homes or possessions, or even in one another. Their hope was in Jesus, whose love was more than enough.
When I enter a prison or jail to deliver a message to the inmates, it is they who end up schooling me in the Kingdom of God. Many of the women I meet have found or re-found Christ in jail, and though they don’t even have a pillow to lay their heads on at night, they delight in being children of God. They smile more, sing louder, and give more thanks for the privilege to come to a “church” service than the people I find at church. How can this be? I ask myself every time. How can they worship so gladly when they have no freedoms? How can they be so thirsty for God when they lack so much? What do they know that I still can’t understand? They know what it is to feel God’s loving Spirit as a guarantee of the abundance and freedom that is on the way. Their hope is in Jesus, and He is more than enough.
Have you ever felt ashamed of your hope because it hasn’t come to pass? Have you been disappointed in God before for not answering some of your hopeful prayers? Listen, Friend, that’s normal, and it happens when we’ve accidentally misplaced or misunderstood our hope. If you’ve cast off hope that this world can improve, hoping only for the next one, let Jesus’s prayer remind you of an important hope to hold close:
“Your Kingdom come, on earth as it is in heaven”
That Kingdom is IN you, God’s Spirit making you new, and it can also be found among communities of faith where God’s kids are dedicated to praying for, surrendering to, and cooperating with God’s will and God’s ways. I have much more to say about that, but another post is required.
Hope How-to: To cultivate your hope, consider how you pray Jesus’s prayer, especially the second line: “Your Kingdom come on earth, as it is in heaven.” What did Jesus mean when He taught His disciples to pray this? How do you think they interpreted it? How can you apply that prayer to the ways in which you live today with new life and tomorrow with fresh hope? Take a few minutes to journal about these matters, as well as anything else that God puts in your heart.
Prayer: Precious Spirit, I ask you to fill my Reader with a fresh revival of hope for Your will to be manifest here on earth, here in her heart, mind, and body. Thank you for making us a fresh, new creation at the point of our salvation, and I ask You to revive Your Kingdom in each of your followers. Show us how to cooperate with what You’re doing to bring that Kingdom here while we wait for its fullness on the other side of eternity with a hope that burns like a bonfire. Only You are worthy of this kind of dedication and trust, and for that reason we give it to you today. You give us many reasons to praise You, but we don’t need them. You are worthy, period. Amen.
I’d love a comment from you to let me know how this series is speaking to your soul. If you haven’t already, please subscribe to my newsletter so that I can keep you updated and close to my Nest. Finally, if these words have helped you, consider sharing them on social media or sending the link for this blog to a friend.
One upon a time, about a decade ago, I lost my way. I’d been struggling to find solid ground while balancing too many spinning plates. Picture “Cat in the Hat” precariously teetering on that ball, wiggling that fish bowl atop the rising stack of umbrellas and books. After a particularly heartbreaking disappointment, on top of discouragement and confusion and difficulty in what seemed like a hundred circumstances, I sat beside a river in Colorado and threw a knock-down, drag-out temper tantrum with God. I was knocked down and He had to drag me out of there.
“This is NOT good, I shouted to the emptiness. And You promised me good. Are you even good? Are you even there?”
I’m so glad that my God welcomes hard and challenging questions, aren’t you? Sometimes the Church isn’t so great at that, but at least He is.
Several minutes passed in silence. The river’s trickle the only sound. He didn’t respond.
I wrote it in my journal and swiped away a flood of tears, sniffing back the congestion building in my sobs. After what seemed like a very long time, my crying slowed to a trickle.
And then I heard Him, tender and strong. “I define GOOD, because I invented it. And I made you, so I get to decide what’s good for you. I know you don’t feel good now, but you’ll see. This is good.”
It would be several years later when I would understand. The person I was searching for but didn’t find that day by the river was my dad. We’d been estranged for a long time, and I just wanted to hug him and know he was okay. What I didn’t know was that my dad was still getting his life back together, and that had I found him then, it would have been toxic for us both to try to be in one another’s lives. We might have drowned one another, trying to stay afloat.
Later, once he was stronger, God did let me find my dear ol’ dad in a sweet reunion, and Friend, let me tell you, it was so dang good.
If we were sovereign, we would be God, but we are not, and consequently, we don’t decide.
“Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent.
Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent.
Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil?
Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?”
God is able to prevent evil. He withheld and then bestowed permission to Satan to smite Job. He wiped out the entire human race, save Noah, because of how evil it had become with a global flood. He is omnipotent.
He is willing. He rescued an entire race of Jews from an evil pharaoh with a series of 10 plagues. He is not malevolent, and no human is His judge.
He is both able and willing, according to His own definition of “goodness,” which as Creator of all, He has the authority to define. Evil cometh by His sovereign allowance in order to preserve the free will of humans, and in order to demonstrate the difference between good and evil so that the same free will should bend toward Him and away from evil.
He is able to supersede free will and its proclivity to evil, but is not willing to do so. In His love He chooses to allow humans to either reciprocate His love or reject Him for eternity, a decision that we retain for as long as we hold onto mortality. Though He could revoke free will and thereby eradicate evil, He chooses not to. This is why we call Him God.
A lot of people are asking hard questions about God and Church lately, and I don’t think it’s just the people in my sphere. This global pandemic has a lot of us wondering. There’s a new movement of “deconstructing Christianity” and another movement that’s simply “walk away from God” because of one reason or other. Here are a few I’ve heard recently:
The church is corrupt, and I can’t take it.
My pastor is _____ and I just left.
I just want Jesus; Christians are nothing but homophobic hypocrites.
Church culture was harmful to my faith.
Why would I attend church again? I can just watch sermons online.
I want to encourage you, Sweet Reader, to hold on to truth. Before you draw conclusions or make assumptions, go directly to the source and ask the hard questions. Epicurus wasn’t wrong for asking those difficult questions, but he hadn’t gone to the Source to hear the answers. Instead, he drew his own conclusions based on the incomplete philosophical theories of his society.
God IS good, I promise. He IS powerful, I’ve seen it. He DOES love you, I guarantee it.
Today is a special Thursday (when Jesus washed feet and broke bread). Tomorrow is a special Friday (when Jesus took a whip, thorns, and nails into His flesh, then breathed His last). Saturday is a special Sabbath (when Jesus ventured into the deep). Sunday is the most victorious of days (when Jesus breathed once again). What once seemed like the worst tragedy became … you guessed it … good.
So, you’ve got some dirty bath water. Go ahead and toss it. Just be sure to hold on tight to that baby.
If you haven’t already, please add your email to my “subscribe box” so that I can keep sending you hope. I wouldn’t ask if I didn’t think it would benefit you.
“Open my eyes to see the wonderful truths in your instructions.I am only a foreigner in the land. Don’t hide your commands from me!I am always overwhelmedwith a desire for your regulations.”
Psalm 119: 18-20 (NLT)
Many people find the Bible boring at first. Or occasionally. However, no one I know who has ever really given it a healthy, hearty attempt has ever stayed with that opinion over time. Some portions of Scripture are dryer than others, and that’s okay. Remember how I said before that spiritual fitness takes time? Yeah, that’s where we’re at here. There’s no easy, lazy, flabby way around or out of this one. Take time or MAKE time to read God’s miraculously preserved, living, breathing Word each and every day. And I can 100% guarantee that you will not think it’s boring for long!
Work with me, here. You’re looking good. Don’t stop now. Ten more reps to go. You’re getting stronger.
It doesn’t really matter where you start. I’m guessing you have at least a bit of the Bible under your belt if you’re reading this, so now I’m going to take that small muscle and really make you toned.
If you typically read 5 minutes or one verse a day, you need to increase that to 15 minutes or about 4 chapters. If you don’t usually read daily, it’s time to get disciplined and start. If you already do a devotional, it’s time to add a couple of chapters to that too. Want a super-intense challenge? I did this once, so I know it’s possible: If you carve out 60 minutes out of your day for your Maker, you can read 10 chapters a day with Professor Horner’s Bible Reading System. You’ll grow to really know the Bible and be able to contextualize what you’re reading among the whole of Scripture.
Whatever you’re consuming of the Bible already, (mentally) write that here: _______________________
Now, for the next week, how can you take your daily consumption up one level? ___________________________________________________________
Begin today. Why? Because this food, this Bread of life, this is your nourishment that will give you the fuel to become strong. This spiritual nourishment is even more crucial than the food you put in your stomach.
Let’s look at what Ezra, the author of Psalm 119 (the longest chapter in the Bible) has to say about the critical role God’s Truth plays to your soul. What adjective is given to the person who walks in God’s Law? ____________ [v. 1-3] (blessed)
What adverb is used in verse 4 to describe how God intended His precepts to be kept? ___________ (diligently)
What do we avoid if our eyes are fixed on God’s Word/commandments? [v. 6] _____________ (shame)
Alright, I need to pause here. Don’t you just hate it when a fitness instructor says, “hold it there,” and then proceeds to explain the technique or form of an exercise while you have to keep going? Yeah, I hate that too.
Psalm 119 is all about this man’s love for God’s Law. I’m going out on a limb here to say the majority of people, not only now, but especially now, don’t love rules. They aren’t in love with reading, memorizing, or doing God’s or anyone else’s regulations. So, was this guy Ezra crazy? Drunk? A few too many days in the desert? I don’t think so.
In complete (though counterintuitive) sanity, I believe he was in love with God’s words, both spoken and written, by the prophets and historians. He needed it, depended on it for direction and instruction, and was enamored but the fact His Maker would speak and write to him. He desired to know and obey what God ordered. Why? Because he had experienced God’s love first-hand, as the One True Supernatural Being used Ezra to rebuild His Temple, and had kept His previously-stated promise to bring the remnant of the exiled Jews back to Jerusalem in order to reestablish worship in that holy place. You can read all of this in the books of Ezra and Nehemiah. Because Ezra experienced God’s wondrous, loving promise fulfilled, He loved God’s words, even the Law.
I’ve personally experienced two different seasons of similar love for God’s Word. The first was right after a major, stressful transition in which my husband and I moved away from my childhood home of Colorado with our two small children. Everything we knew changed. It was traumatic in a way only a move can be, and though we were all in good health and excited for new opportunities to minister, everyone and everything seemed foreign.
Every comfort zone shattered, every familiar path washed away, I remember clinging to the side of my couch on my knees, pleading with God for comfort. I looked high and low for something, anything recognizable, and found it on the pages of my Bible. And I found that I really truly honestly loved it. Loved the Word became Flesh and desired more than anything the ability to obey it. Perfectly sane and completely desperate, I adored God’s Law. New and Old Testaments alike, the Bible was my tie to Him, my rope to reality, my anchor to the rock in the storm.
“They were told that their messages were not for themselves, but for you. And now this Good News has been announced to you by those who preached in the power of the Holy Spirit sent from heaven. It is all so wonderful that even the angels are eagerly watching these things happen.”
-1 Peter 1:12 (NLT)
The other time I recall loving God’s Law and commands was right after a painful emotional trial and sifting in which I found myself completely confused, lost, and in a dark emotional pit. My marriage was strained and my husband felt distant, I viewed myself as a failure in every aspect of my aspirations, and I mourned the loss of relationships with loved ones like I never knew I could. In the end, my desperation drew me to the one place of faithful comfort that I’d always known, and that was my Bible. I found God there, and found His love to be the salve my heart needed.
You can’t and shouldn’t try to manufacture a crisis in your life, but if you are in the midst of one right now, then you need God’s Word more than ever. If you’re not in a crisis right now, then it’s likely that one is coming sooner or later, and there’s no better time than the present to cultivate the love of the Bible like never before. Then, when a crisis arises in the future, your spirit will not be in a state of emptiness and famine.
You are not able to wield the power of revelation. You cannot make the verse leap into your heart and mean something new, though you’ve seen it dozens of times before. Only the Holy Spirit can do that. But 100% of the verses you don’t read will not leap off the page in revelation. So, when it comes to God’s Word, open it. Read it. Wait for God to reveal its truth to you. Repeat.
“The Bible was precious to me in those days. … And now, methought, I began to look into the bible with new eyes, and read as I never did before; and especially the epistles of the Apostle Paul were sweet and pleasant to me; and indeed I was then never out of the bible, either by reading or meditation; still crying out to God, that I might know the truth, and way to heaven and glory.”
-John Bunyan (biography)
How about you? What does the Bible mean to you and how do you consume it for your sustenance and strength?
If this post was helpful to you, please consider subscribing so you never miss a post! I’ll be posting more about Spiritual Fitness, in advance of my next book of the same title. Stay tuned, Beloved Reader.
Hey, Friend. Thanks for voting on my social media stories. This post won by a slim margin over “Lies the Church Tells about Women” so, we’ll do this one this week and aim to publish that one soon.
A few disclaimers: First, this is by no means an exhaustive list. Let this be the first of many posts like this. These are just the ones I’ve thought of this week. Ha! Second, I’m not doing this for attention. I’m doing this for my sanity and hopefully yours too. ‘Cuz mental health is good, and stuff. Third, I trust you not to weaponize this against me or anyone else. If something shocks you and you need more information, please send me a message or an email. I implore you not use this as fuel for gossip. That’s not what God’s kids do. Or decent people, for that matter. I trust you, Dear Reader.
I’m scared to say these things for a variety of reasons. Some of them are confessions, and confession is always scary. Some of them are fears of people’s reactions if they knew. And some of them stem from a fear I have to be known. Because if you know me, you can hurt me. And if you don’t somehow you can’t. Or at least that’s how my logic goes.
I’m shaking with fear as I say these things, so let us begin, in no particular order, rhyme, or reason …
Christians who are familiar with me probably (no, probably isn’t right, I know they do) criticize me behind my back because of my ideas about politics. And it hurts my feelings.
I want to be an “influencer” on social media, but I’m horrible at it, and because the algorithms and trends are always changing and I hate asking people to constantly lookatme lookatme lookatme, I don’t think I have it in me to acquire this skill which seems so necessary in this era.
The first time I heard the audible voice of God was as a middle-schooler after binging and purging so I could make my wrist as small as Shannon’s, and He said clear as a bell, “This is NOT what I have for you.”
Jesus would be a feminist if He walked on the earth today. No, not the man-bashing bra-burning type, but the gender equality type.
I was molested as a teenager and I forgave my abuser, because he apologized and because I wanted to be free of it.
Somewhere in my past, I hold a handful of months of self-harm, and a handful of scars to go with them. As it turns out, blood talks when words fail.
I know what it feels like to be tempted to drive into a telephone pole and to step too close to the edge of the cliff, and that is one scary monster to run from.
I struggle with low libido, and I don’t know why. I’ve tried many things, and it has nothing to do with my wonderful husband. (Please do not send suggestions, I’m far too shy about this to have a discussion.)
I do not drink alcohol for a few personal reasons, but I do like the taste of beer and wine.
For someone who has always worked from home, I’m not very good at keeping a home, but I wish I was.
I often worry that I’m running out of time to teach my kids the library of treasures I hope they’ll know.
I’m quite opinionated and inwardly judgmental, but I can’t bear it when others are doing the same to me. Yes, I am a raging hypocrite.
I want to be fit and have a beautifully decorated home, but not nearly as much as you do. Or seem to.
I have family members headed for hell and I don’t call them nearly as often as I could.
I want to change the world, but sometimes I just want people to say that they like me or my work.
I’m 42 years old and we’ve been in ministry for over 20 years, and I still don’t know how to keep my feelings from getting hurt when someone leaves our church.
For every disappointment on earth, I’m expecting Jesus to make it up to me in heaven, and I really do think about heaven every day.
Now, you might be wondering why I’m outing myself and saying the scary things. And that’s fair.
Number one, I think the best way to overcome the burden of fear is to face it head-on, and I also have a hunch that, like much of what I write about, I’m not exactly alone. And that maybe if I write the scary truth that you relate to, you won’t feel alone in your own fear. Because being alone in our scary truth leads to feeling more fear and often depression or at least discouragement. No bueno.
Number two, we’re in a season of change. The globe has pandemic adaptation fatigue (and, yes, I am trademarking that diagnosis; if you use it, please quote me, *wink*), and it’s almost New Years, and 2020 has taught us all at least something about ourselves that has produced a change in character and/or perspective. I’m going out on a limb, but I’ll guess that not a single one of us is the same as we were this time last year. One change I’m committed to making is that I want to be a fearless truth-teller. And I can’t be that if I’m holding back these many secrets. It’s not fair to either of us, Reader.
So, there you have it. I’ll invite gentle comments below and I’ll delete rude, insensitive, or inappropriate ones. I’ll also shamelessly beg for these kinds of responses: “me too” , “you’re not alone” , and “this one resonates” …
So, yeah. I’m working on my next book. Technically, I started it several years ago, and it has morphed since then. Let’s be real, it’s still morphing.
So goes the publishing journey. In a minute I’m actually going to ask for your help, Dear Reader.
In regard to the topic/genre (Spiritual Growth), I have a bone to pick.
Note to self: look up the etymology of the phrase “bone to pick.”
Many of the authors I read take the approach of a counselor to a reader who is broken and in need of compassion. Which is very often needed, welcomed, and result in may books purchased. There’s plenty of brokenness right now, and people need a lot of compassionate counseling. I get it. I’ve been there. I absolutely do not disagree.
But, let’s be real: we’re not ALL going through a season of severe brokenness and need a counselor. Yes, we all experience brokenness at one time or other, and in our seasons of grief and trauma and pain, we require extreme measures of gentleness. I’m immensely grateful for many authors who have written in this tone, and that I’ve had the privilege to read over the years. I have treasured the tone of several authors like Ann Voskamp and Max Lucado when I’ve been in seasons of anxiety, grief, or depression.
But in many seasons of life when I’m recovering and getting put back together, and in seasons when I haven’t yet hit that next patch of pain, I have enjoyed books like Crazy Love by Francis Chan and Generous Justice by Timothy Keller that step on my toes a little bit. In these seasons, I want to work hard and get stronger so that I can be fit and ready for that next crisis. Fit for God’s Army. Fit for serving others.
Someone quoted Beth Moore to me yesterday saying something along the lines of, we’ve got to take off our high-heeled peep toes and put on our hiking boots, because it’s time to do some climbing! (Said with her best southern belle twang.)
And herein lies the tone of my next book. It’s all about fitness; it’s about spiritual fitness.
If we’re honest, we put so much focus into getting our bodies into shape. We diet and we train and we go to the gym, or at least get gym memberships. We stretch and walk and run and crunch. We have Apps that count calories and track our steps and calculate our weight loss.
Got your boots on? I’m about to do some stepping on those pretty little toes:
Are we taking this much care of our spiritual growth?
Are we pursuing God’s source of spiritual strength and solid faith? Are we disciplined in our becoming more like Jesus Christ?
I ask the mirror these questions. I see the bulging belly of a 42 year old woman who has borne two children and whose hormones are doing numbers on this metabolism. I see the attempts of squats and yoga and dumbbells and cardio with yo-yo results. I’m not killing myself to get in shape, but I’m not “letting myself go” either.
But, more importantly, do I see a spirit more like His? Do I see a belief in His love stronger than ever? Do I see His gifts working through me for the benefit of others and for God’s glorification? Do I see the trained muscles that are like chiseled Scripture, hidden in my heart?
A physical trainer can’t lose the weight for you. But they can tell you what to eat for your body type and show you the exercises that need to be practiced and repeated in multiple sets. Similarly, I can’t make anyone’s spirit fit for God’s Kingdom by writing a book. But I can give you the tools from the Bible and practices to get strong, and I can cheer you on. I can tell you what it takes to stay accountable to making progress and moving toward the sanctification of your soul.
Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.
As I’m working on this first draft, I’m in need of a few “test readers” so that I can see what’s landing, what’s needed, and so that I can strike the right tone as I’m offering this spiritual training.
Would you be willing to help me? I need to interview between 5 and 15 people as a part of my research as I’m writing and querying agents. This would be a phone interview (or Zoom) and would last about 15-20 minutes about spiritual fitness and faith disciplines such as Bible reading, Sabbath rhythm, confession, meditation, and more. If you’re willing to help with this, would you click the button below to let me know?
One metaphor I keep coming back to is found in 2 Timothy 2:20-21, and I’ll paraphrase:
In God’s kitchen, we are his dishes, useful for a variety of His needs and desires. Some are every-day plastic cereal bowls. Others are ornate vases to hold and water precious table flowers. Some are plain stainless steel butter knives and others are crafted precision cleavers. We’ll all get utilized for the purpose of the Master at one point or other, but He’s not going to serve a feast on the Corelle dishes when He could use the good china. Be the good china. Be ready for God to use you in whatever special, unique, powerful, influential, worship-filled way He needs and desires for you. Cooperate with His shaping of you and don’t resist His hands when the Potter works you from pounded clay to spun finery. Do not be like the plastic ware, easily broken and too fragile for important use. Be strong and able, beautiful and useful. This is your purpose for the Creator.
Sit down and listen for a minute before you use that entitled, privileged, holier-than-thou voice of yours.
Truth be told, everyone knows you have an opinion, they already know what it is (Karen), and frankly, no one asked you to give it. Not on social media. Not on the news. Not even in church.
I’m embarrassed of my whiteness, if I’m honest. And your tonedeaf words are making me turn an even deeper shade of red. So please. Just be quiet.
Then they sat on the ground with him for seven days and nights. No one said a word to Job, for they saw that his suffering was too great for words.
Job 2:13 (NLT)
Dear White America –
You are being asked to listen. Listen to the outcries of those long oppressed. To those who have been shamed for peaceful protest and are now asking to be heard in their outrage.
Too much talk leads to sin. Be sensible and keep your mouth shut.
Dear White America –
You were once enraged to violence as well, when a privileged, calloused king denied your rights to live freely in peace. You started a revolution. You fought. You killed. You stood up for the right to breathe. You are now being asked to lay aside your hypocrisy and listen. So listen up.
Listen without reply, except that of compassion and justice. Listen without argument, blame, or whaddabout-ism.
We (white people) are not forced to live in subhuman conditions. We are privileged, though we rarely feel it. Privilege is blinded by ignorance. That you can pass a policeman on the road or sidewalk without a panic attack is privilege.
That you don’t have to teach your children how to be overly, extra, abundantly compliant, cautious, and non-threatening because one day when they are 12 or 17 or 24 or 44 they will not be assumed as a threat and cut down just because of the color of their skin, is privilege.
That you and your children will not be followed around in a store by a clerk or a guard who assumes you will steal something is a privilege.
That you most likely own a house which you qualified to borrow money for by your whiteness, and can bequeath it to your children is a privilege.
That you live in a place, went to school, and probably hold a job based on your merit and people never assume that you got it because of “affirmative action” is a privilege.
That you can purchase and carry a gun as a right, even protesting with it in front of a capital building without being killed on sight for “being a threat” is a privilege.
That you can earn a fair wage and not wonder if it is being offered as less than others because of the color of your skin is privilege.
That you can post whatever you want without being accused of “whining about slavery that happened a long time ago and has nothing to do with us” is a privilege.
That you can forget about all of this turmoil next week because looking in the mirror won’t remind you of the horror is a privilege.
That you can live without a daily, lifelong feeling of powerlessness is a privilege.
“I think that we’ve got to see that a riot is the language of the unheard. And, what is it that America has failed to hear? It has failed to hear that the economic plight of the Negro poor has worsened over the last few years. It has failed to hear that the promises of freedom and justice have not been met. And it has failed to hear that large segments of white society are more concerned about tranquility and the status quo than about justice, equality, and humanity. And so in a real sense our nation’s summers of riots are caused by our nation’s winters of delay. And as long as America postpones justice, we stand in the position of having these recurrences of violence and riots over and over again. Social justice and progress are the absolute guarantors of riot prevention.”
– MLK Jr
Dear White America –
You have the potential to make this 1000 times worse by saying “I get it, but …” Whatever you do, do NOT complete that sentence. You do not get it. And there is no but. For once, your voice is the one that needs to be silenced.
You’ve turned the other way as if this is not only acceptable, but normal.
And worse, you’ve defended the actions of the oppressors, saying, “maybe they deserved it” or “the cop thought his life was in danger” when everyone can see from the video it was not.
Yes, you can agree that this is wrong now, but realize that this is not new. It’s just now being filmed, as Mr. Smith said. And your sadness now, after your recent defensiveness and “all lives matter” posts, is falling on deaf ears. It’s too little. It’s too late. And it’s too disingenuous.
For once. Please, just listen.
Listen to the mamas who have lost their babies. Listen to the outrage at injustice. Listen to the anger, yes even the rage about having to live a life of powerlessness and fear. Listen to the grief without adding your two cents. Listen to the pain long enough to acknowledge that it matters.
If and when you do speak again in the future, let it be with the voice of an ally. With the voice of someone who has sat in the ashes with the broken and now understands the pain. It’s clear that we still don’t get it, and that we need more understanding before we speak up.
Dear White America. Until then, Just listen.
Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves;
What will be said of you? How will you be remembered by your family and your community? How would you LIKE to be remembered? What impact do you want to leave? I’ll probably be remembered as the dorky clumsy nerd, because I’m literally dropping and breaking things all the time and once tripped on nothing but air and broke my foot bone.
Today we’re going to talk about a man who I will argue was remembered as Judah’s greatest king. I’m not talking about David, Solomon, or even Hezekiah, though we often think of them first. However, when you read the accounts closely in 1 and 2 Samuel, 1 and 2 Kings, and 1 and 2 Chronicles, you’ll see that there’s only ONE king who followed God with unmatched zealous devotion, and that is Josiah. He’s remembered as the youngest king, but listen to how the historian recalls his legacy:
2 Kings 23:25 says, “Never before had there been a king like Josiah, who turned to the Lord with all his heart and soul and strength, obeying all the laws of Moses. And there has never been a king like him since.”
When I read this verse about 15 years ago, it leapt off the page and made me wonder, “What was it about Josiah that made God (through the historian) say that? And a second question rose up in my mind, What impact did his devotion have on the nation, God’s people, and even on me?”
And then I did what any normal person with deep questions would do, I wrote a novel! (haha)
I hope these words and the words in that novel will do one thing: point you to the hope in God’s Word.
Let’s begin with a quick review of what was going on at that time, so we can give some context to our understanding. So, after God’s people had escaped Egypt under the leadership of Moses God gave them a gift. He didn’t have to do this, but he spelled it out in black and white what it took to worship Him and enjoy an intimate relationship with Him, like He always intended.
God gave this to Moses in the form of the 10 commandments and the Law, as we read in the book of Deuteronomy. It was an extensive list of what God wanted from His people when it came to holiness, a beautiful display of what it took to reciprocate His generous and miraculous love. Think of it this way: when you fell in love with your husband or your boyfriend or if you’re single when you eventually fall in love, it is a GRACIOUS GIFT that you give him to lay out in plain detail HOW he can and should love you back. It’s not demanding or even bratty, if you say it kindly and have loving intentions. It would actually be unloving to be unclear about what you want, yet expect him to love you in those ways. “This is how I want to be touched. These are the kinds of gifts I like. These are the kinds of words that make me feel loved. These are the kinds of things that will feel unloving and harsh. Please do them very rarely. These are the things that will actually demonstrate that you don’t love me. Never do them at all.” AmIright? (haha)
And so, when we see this beautiful God who moves mountains to save us and who gives us hope for eternity, we long to know what we can do to reciprocate that love, don’t we? We ache to know the ways He wants to be worshiped and adored. He doesn’t HAVE to tell us, you know. It is by Grace that He clues us in and gives us detailed instructions in His Word about WHAT we do and HOW we do it that will make Him feel loved and appreciated, like when your life is a living sacrifice with such a pleasing aroma that it puts a satisfied smile on His face.
And so, after this gift of the Law was given, Moses leads them in the wilderness for 40 years so they can learn to trust God and take Him at his word, and then his successor Joshua leads God’s kids into the Promised Land, where they take over, dispelling the other pagan people with explicit instructions that under no circumstances were they to even THINK about worshipping their gods in the process.
And once the battles are fought and the land is seized, God’s people are ruled by a series of Judges, or moral leaders (not priests for they had the Levites, and not politicians, for they hadn’t needed them yet). It’s during this time that we see the beginning of a slippery slope of sin creep in and the people began to do the exact opposite of what God had instructed in the Law. So, in an attempt to get things back on track, God’s kids asked for a politician to lead them so they would feel safe at their borders, and God granted their wish and set them up with a King, then a series of Kings, who would struggle to do what the people wanted and occasionally one would try to do what God wanted.
Most of them would fail at both, as all politicians always do (haha). I’m just teasing. I’d be a horrible politician, and I know most of them are doing the best they can with what they’ve been given. Eventually, the kingdom split into two – Israel in the North and Judah in the south, and it wasn’t long until Israel was overtaken by the world power of that time, Assyria. Only Judah remained: a small kingdom of God’s people who were torn between their heritage of serving Jehovah and the outside influence of paganism and evil.
One king, Manassah, was particularly evil. He invited the influence of foreign idolatry into the nation of Judah, setting up numerous shrines, high places of idolatry on hills and mountains, and building temples to every god imaginable. He ruled in Judah for 55 years, a very long reign for that period, and it was only at the end that he repented, and while God forgave him personally, the poison of sin and evil had permeated the entire nation. Remember that list that God had provided that told them all of the ways to love Him? They had betrayed every single one. The temple was in ruins, idolatry was practiced far more than Yahwism, or the worship of Yahweh, even in the Temple Solomon had built for Him. Cult prostitutes had begun to practice and even LIVE in the place once meant for the presence of God alone, and people were burning their children alive as sacrifice to the god Molech. Shameful heathen orgies happened under asherah poles on every hillside, and every command God had given had been disregarded and forgotten. And all of the copies of the book of the Law itself had been destroyed or lost.
Manasseh’s heir was a man named Amon who reigned for only two years before he was assassinated, and then his son was appointed to take over when he was only 8 years old. This is our King Josiah. The one who was arguably the greatest King, and he started young. Don’t let anyone say that young people can’t be influential or great. Young people make some of the greatest contributions to the church and our society and we ought to stand up for them instead of holding them back for the sake of their youth.
I know second-graders can be difficult, but they just might change the world.
It was in his youth, when he was just 16 that Josiah discovered God. We aren’t told HOW he found Jehovah or what made Him seek out the one true God, but one clue we have is that in that same or following year, his first son by his second wife, Hamutal, was born. This means he probably met her around the same time that he was discovering God, and I can’t help but think that she may have had something to do with that discovery and his subsequent passionate devotion to God.
Why do I make this jump, you ask? Well, it’s my theory that beside every good man is a great woman. And the same goes the other way with the genders, of course. Just as the opposite is often true and a godless spouse can lead you even further into evil. Think of Ahab’s evil matched with his wife Jezebel. And I find it hard to conclude that the profound impact Josiah made happened with a wayward or contemptuous wife at his side. Many of you have a similar experience that I do in that your spouse either introduced you to God, or has shown you a deeper understanding of Him over the years. When Kris and I met, I was 17 and he was 19. I was not yet following Christ, though I had some knowledge of God. It was Kris and still is who showed me God’s extravagant grace and power, and I do believe that my faith that has grown over the years has influenced his devotion to God in a positive way as well. I could be wrong about Hamutal, but I just might also be right. Think about the great influencers in your life– do they have a faith-filled, supportive spouse by their side? Chances are, they do. Not because that’s necessary, but because it’s helpful, and even if you look back to Adam and Eve, it was a model God used from the beginning.
So, with all of that as our backdrop, let’s get back to what made King Josiah great, and what that has to do with us today…
Here are five actions Josiah took that led to a legacy of zealous devotion:
1.His devotion to God. King Joe purified the entire nation of Judah of idols by burning them, destroying the shrines, demolishing the temples, and deposing the leaders of all of these false religions. And he personally led and supervised all of this. Himself. He didn’t just send his generals or his lords or his governors on an errand. Granted, he could have sent others to perform this purification, but he went with them and ensured that it was completed, just as God directed. If we want to follow in his example of greatness, we must take inventory of the idols that press in to influence us and we have to be determined to knock down every one, not bow down to any. Sometimes we look around and think the world has never been more evil than this, and in many ways it is true. But when was the last time you saw a child sacrificed in a fire where you live? The truth is, today’s idols are just as evil, but possibly more easily disguised. An idol is anything at the center of your heart, whatever robs Jesus of your full adoration, worship, and attention. A few examples (and these aren’t always idols, but they CAN become idols if we are not careful): television shows/movies or actors, the pursuit and love of money or stuff, ourselves (self care can turn into self worship when staying alive or staying fit is all we find ourselves thinking about), politicians or politics, home decorating, drugs or alcohol, and any worship of a created thing like the sun or stars or animals. Every so often, we must take inventory of our lives, asking God to reveal any idols we may be holding in our hearts. And like Josiah, we must be diligent to knock down every one, and refuse to bow down to any. I’m not pretending to be perfect at this. Just when I think I’ve got my idols demolished, another one pops up! Not only did Josiah destroy the idols, he defiled the altars by burning human bones on them so they could never be used again.
“Then the king defiled the altar of Topheth in the valley of Ben-Hinnom, so no one could ever again use it to sacrifice a son or daughter in the fire as an offering to Molech.”
-2 Kings 23:10
And maybe you need to not only knock down that idol, but defile it so you’re never tempted to worship it again. Maybe you give away all of your raunchy romance books, delete a phone number or an app, cancel your cable, or pour out your wine. A pastor-friend of mine had to do this last one. Not because she thought it was a sin to have a glass of wine, but because it had become too important—an idol. She found herself thinking about her nightly nightcap throughout the day, craving it when she was stressed, turning to the bottle for relief instead of to God, and He graciously reminded her that it wasn’t in His plan for her to live like that. What idols might God be asking you to knock over and defile in the same way?
2. He went out of his way to honor the Passover Celebration—the most important of all Hebrew festivals to honor the Lord. Strangely, in my research of the kings, I found no other king who did this as directed by God. Solomon had a major consecration of the Temple, but it wasn’t for Passover, and Hezekiah came close, but he had to honor it in the wrong month because they were not prepared.
There had not been a Passover celebration like that since the time when the judges ruled in Israel, nor throughout all the years of the kings of Israel and Judah.
2 Kings 22:22
There are things in your life that you will do better than anyone before or after you and that will honor the Lord. Maybe you paint, maybe you sing, maybe you host the poor in your home, maybe you give extravagantly, maybe you study the Bible and discover hidden truths in the pages there. The Lord called me to write a book 10 years ago, and I’d never done such a thing. “Write a book, they say. It will be fun, they say” (haha). I didn’t know the first thing about writing a novel, but I wrote it as if He was going to be my only reader. It took me about 5 years, and then for about 5 more years it sat on my computer collecting virtual dust. One day about a year and half ago the Lord whispered to my heart, “what have you done with that gift I gave you? Have you been a good steward of it?” The answer was a contrite but resounding No. And I had to work to learn how to self-publish and promote it so that readers could find it. So that He could bless who He wanted to bless with the story He gave me. Josiah’s passover required thousands of animal sacrifices and diligence to follow the ceremonial liturgy of it. It seems strange and boring to us today, but it would have been the most important day in his entire life—that Passover day that compared to no other. It was costly, and yet, it seems the only thing on his mind was how to best honor the Lord. With the thing or things that you do exceptionally well, how can you serve the Lord with some extravagant love?
3.His restoration of the Temple, which had fallen into disrepair over the years, and even housed a number of idols and pagan prostitutes. Think of that atrocity: the disgrace God’s people had allowed to come to His Temple—the very place His presence was supposed to dwell and meet with the priests under the most consecrated of circumstances. Nope. Josiah realized the shame God’s temple had fallen into and this too moved Him to action, even before the book of the Law was found in it. It was DURING the temple repairs that it was found, before he knew what it was supposed to look like in its original plans for glory. He restored the gold, tapestries, curtains, pillars, altar, and removed all of the filth and idols that had been brought in from foreigner gods and even Johovah’s own kids. If we extrapolate this to today and take Josiah’s zealous devotion as our example, our modern-day temple is our body. Granted, many people have made a religion of fitness, but that’s not exactly the same thing as caring for your body as one would care for the dwelling place of the Spirit of God.
Run from sexual sin! No other sin so clearly affects the body as this one does. For sexual immorality is a sin against your own body. Don’t you realize that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in you and was given to you by God? You do not belong to yourself, for God bought you with a high price. So you must honor God with your body.
– 1 Corinthians 6: 18-20.
We’re not doing this for the sake of vanity, attention, or a business scheme. We must honor our bodies as God’s temple by sanctifying it for holiness. What do you allow into your mind and body that is not holy? Is it something you watch or read or listen to? Is it food you know is destroying you? Do you regularly cleanse and consecrate your body and mind with the Word of God? Do you allow worldly influences to defile your temple? What would it look like if you honored and restored your body like Josiah honored and restored the Temple? Again, I’m not pretending to be great at this either. Josiah is an inspiration to me because just when I think I’ve got this whole sanctification thing down pat, God brings more conviction into my life about a new thing, or an old temptation comes back onto my scene. My temple needs constant upkeep, cleansing, and repairs, and I’m thankful for God’s patience in this process.
4. His love of and obedience to the Law, when it was found. You remember this part, don’t you, when the book of Deuteronomy was found as they were doing Temple renovations? He tore his robes and wept as the book was read aloud and Josiah realized the nation’s deep-seated disobedience. Despite the purification he had already done by eradicating the idols, he knew two things: their hearts weren’t in it and they had previously strayed so far. They had broken God’s covenant for generations, and he understood the doom they faced because of it, now that he heard it read line by line. He knew they had broken God’s heart when they broke His Law, and he feared for his life and the lives of his subjects.
“When the king heard what was written in the Law, he tore his clothes in despair. hen he gave these orders to Hilkiah, Ahikam son of Shaphan, Acbor son of Micaiah, Shaphan the court secretary, and Asaiah the king’s personal adviser: “Go to the Temple and speak to the Lord for me and for all the remnant of Israel and Judah. Inquire about the words written in the scroll that has been found. For the Lord’s great anger has been poured out on us because our ancestors have not obeyed the word of the Lord. We have not been doing everything this scroll says we must do.”
– 2 Chronicles 34:19-21
And even now in this time of Grace, I wonder if a bit of this deep repentance is sometimes necessary when God convicts us. Because like us, Josiah was on the right track. And yet the awareness of grieving the Spirit deeply grieved him as well. And some of you might experience this one day too—a conviction that wrecks you, and ultimately moves you toward practicing godliness like you never knew possible. Holiness like you can’t imagine. Becoming profoundly more like Christ. Repentance, like the Law described in the Bible as a GIFT. Repentance is a gift. Are you thankful for this kind of gift too?
5. His love for his subjects. He cared for the broken and needy, and included everyone in the reading of the Law and the Dedication of the nation to obeying the Lord. He left none of his subjects out of this blessing, not even the poorest peasants.
“But a beautiful cedar palace does not make a great king! Your father, Josiah, also had plenty to eat and drink.But he was just and right in all his dealings. That is why God blessed him.He gave justice and help to the poor and needy, and everything went well for him.Isn’t that what it means to know me?” says the Lord.“But you! You have eyes only for greed and dishonesty! You murder the innocent, oppress the poor, and reign ruthlessly.”
– Jeremiah 22:15-17
It was not his own consecration and reform that Josiah cared about. He wanted revival for everyone in Judah and even Israel. He saw to it that ALL of the cities and towns were cleansed of idolatry and sorcery. He invited the ENTIRE NATION to Jerusalem to hear the book of the Law after it was found. He invited EVERYONE to repent and obey in a last-ditch effort to stave off the punishment he knew was coming, and would come to his own sons – exile, slavery, and being conquered. So what would it look like to follow that zealous example today? How might you fight for justice on behalf of the poor and needy? “Isn’t that what it means to know God?” How can we be sure our hearts and actions are turned away from greed and dishonesty in every aspect of our being? How can we take action to fight against those who murder the innocent, oppress the poor and govern with ruthlessness? How can we make sure that we are remembered for a generous response to those we influence and those around our world, and not an influence that takes advantage of these people?
Two things I enjoy doing are jail ministry and outreach to victims of human trafficking. Your passions or cause might be different. God will lead you to make a difference in the lives of those who need Him, and He will also make a path for you to do just that.
If you haven’t yet read Consuming Fire, can I invite you to check it out? It’s even available on Kindle, so you can get started reading about King Josiah and His queen Hamutal today for only $4.99! One of my readers said:
“Couldn’t put it down … I love historical biblical fiction and this one is probably the best I’ve read so far”
If you HAVE read it, could you do me a quick favor right now and share this post or your recommendation to at least one friend via text or message right now (before you forget, like I tend to do)? I’d also appreciate your subscription to my newsletter, since that will help me when it comes to publishing more books in the future!