Posts tagged God's plan
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about opposition. The genesis of this thought process came last week. I had given a passionate talk on Sunday about stepping up our game and really being all-in on loving our city. I was fired up. I know some other people were fired up. The idea of setting aside our personal agendas and pursuing God’s desires for our neighbors was one that we were ready to walk out.
But a funny thing happens sometimes when you decide to go all-in for God. You somehow find yourself in someone else’s cross-hairs. You see, God does protect us, but there is a very real enemy who wants to see us fail. The closer we get to God’s heart and plans, the more that enemy wants us to fail. Remember, this is the same guy who tried to get Jesus to base jump without a parachute just as he was beginning his public ministry.
In the days following my passionate plea to go all-in for God, I was hit left and right by unexpected problems. They weren’t life-altering problems. They were, in many ways, just everyday junk that all happened to hit me at the same time. They were mostly financial in nature – that is, they would cost me money I didn’t have.
One day, as all that junk mounted, I just kind of shut down. I completely ceased to be productive. I don’t even know if I was consciously thinking of anything. What happened next, though, got me thinking differently about my situation. You see, in the midst of my blank, mindless stare, I realized that I was coming up against opposition. This wasn’t just about bad stuff happening to me. I was being assaulted – an aggressive attempt to shut down what God had fired up in me. And when confronted with that reality, something in me rose up.
Suddenly, I no longer had a desire to shut down or to run from these issues. On the contrary, I was defiant! I wasn’t going to let the garbage of life drag me down. I wasn’t going to let it get in the way of what God had called me to. I was going to fight! And I was going to win! Come what may, I was going to push through this opposition and keep moving in the direction God had pointed me. I wasn’t going to back down. I was going to lean in!
Opposition has a way of causing us to do that, doesn’t it? The fastest way to get me to do something is to tell me I can’t. That’s why reverse psychology works – the more I try to keep you from doing something (or fraudulently appear to keep you from doing it) the more you want to do it. You lean in to opposition.
And that’s just what I did last week when faced with opposition and, in many ways, that opposition shrank when I leaned into it. Sure, it got a piece of me. My wallet is little lighter (and my disdain for certain companies and professions a little stronger) but there was no way it was going to keep me down. The opposition was fierce. It is fierce. But in the end, I’m going to lean into it and I’m going to break through.
You see, in my eyes, that’s what opposition is for. It is not there to stop us. It is there to strengthen us. When we lean in instead of running away, we will get through it. When we push and reach and scratch and claw our way through, we will get to where we’re headed. It won’t be easy, but it will be worth it. Items of worth always come at a price. But when it comes to God’s kingdom, whatever price I pay is and always will be a bargain.
So, if you’re faced with opposition – especially opposition to the thing you know God desires of you – lean in. You might be surprised at how much stronger you are when you break through to the other side.
Jesus’ parable of the wedding banquet is one that is quoted often. It’s a great story of how the high-and-mighty ignore God, who, in turn, extends a hand of invitation to the lowest of the low. However, in most re-tellings of the story, the last few verses are left out. Whether this is because they don’t seem to jibe with the rest of the story or because they just add a new wrinkle which would, consequently need to be unpacked, I’m not sure. But I think these verses are actually really telling.
You see, after the chosen people – the invited guests – have ignored the king’s invitation, he offers and open invitation to everyone. Suddenly, everyone is invited. But one man accepts the invitation without making any effort to “change” – that is, he doesn’t change his clothes. Now, the implication here is not that the man is unable to afford such clothes or that he doesn’t have any. He simply didn’t put forth the effort to change into appropriate attire. Because of his laziness, he is removed from the banquet.
These lesson here is clear. God’s message was brought to the people of Israel, but they rejected it. In fact, they rejected it over and over again. Even after witnessing the birth, life and ministry of the Messiah, they still rejected God’s plan. And so, the rest of the world was invited into the special banquet prepared just for Israel.
However, being invited doesn’t make one a welcomed guest. If I invite you to my house for dinner, but you show up smelling like sewage and looking like you just crawled out of a manhole, I will probably send you home. You were invited, but the way in which you responded to the invitation tells me that you are not willing to put forth any effort.
Likewise, God expects us to put for effort when we respond to his invitation. For some of us, that may mean a complete purification of our life. Others who have less emotional energy to expend may please God simply by making an attempt to clean up one part of their life. For God, it isn’t really about the proverbial “wedding clothes.” It’s about whether or not we’re willing to take the time and expend the energy to change.
We are called to change into a better version of ourselves – a person more like the one God created. Our wedding clothes look an awful lot like the ones we were born with – they way we were before we began making decisions to crawl through all that muck and sewage. The good news is, we all have those wedding clothes and that God, in the form of Jesus, opened up a cleaning service to help prepare us for his banquet. The cleaning is free. All we have to do is ask.
The trouble with having power and authority is that it becomes really easy to get so drunk with that power that you end up backing yourself into a corner. More than once, a kingdom or nation has been brought down by the boasting or arrogance of its leader. As we’re reminded in Proverbs, pride comes before destruction.
Pride also tends to come after a little brown-nosing from opportunistic “friends” and “advisers”. Anyone who is in the public eye knows that one quick way to bring about your own downfall is to “believe your press clippings” – to believe all the great things that other people write or say about you. The fact is, other people’s impressions of you are just that – impressions. And, if it is in the other person’s interest to build you up, they will do so. They can also tear you down just as quickly.
King Darius must have skipped that lesson in “How to Be A King 101″, because he allowed himself to be backed into a corner through a three-pronged attack: brown-nosing advisers, believing his own press clippings and being too quick to speak. For some reason, when we gain power, we start thinking that we can say or do anything. But that is never the case and it wasn’t the case for Darius. In fact, he had, in this instance, “one-way” power. As king, he could decree just about anything he wanted. However, once decreed, there was no “undo” button.
And so, Darius essentially decreed that anyone who worshiped any “god or human” except himself (there is that pride) should be put to death. The problem was, he didn’t know that one of his closest advisers was praying to his God each day (though he should have know this, since Daniel seemed to be very open about the God he served.) And so, he issued a death sentence that he couldn’t rescind.
Now, you could make the argument that he is king and therefore should have been able to come up with a way to pardon Daniel. And yes, he probably could have. But remember, politics were alive and well way back then, just as they are today. Issuing a decree and then backing down from it, no matter how it was spun, would have resulted in the king looking weak in the eyes of many and vulnerable in the eyes of those seeking to overthrow him.
In the end, Darius chose to place self-interest above Daniel’s life, but he felt guilty about it. He prayed that somehow Daniel would survive. And that prayer was answered. Daniel did survive, which gave the king a window to issue a new decree – one that made Daniel’s God the “official” God of the kingdom.
It was a crazy turn of events, but it just goes to show that in the midst of pride, deceit and murder, God can turn lemons into lemonade. He moves the world toward him even when we try to turn away. Why? Because he loves us that much.
God has full authority over when he’s going to reveal his power and when he isn’t. Likewise, he has given us humans the ability to accept or reject him as our God. These two “authorities” battle it out in the life of Nebuchadnezzar. Here in the first 3 chapters of the book of Daniel, Nebuchadnezzar experiences God’s power not once, but twice.
Now, you would think that Daniel’s spot-on knowledge of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream – not just the meaning, but the actual dream – would have been enough to get old Nebby on the God-train forever. But then you flip the page and find that at some later date (I’m not sure how much later) he’s building a big idol and throwing people into a furnace for not bowing down to it.
What is it inside of us that seems to want to reject God? Where does that come from? He has offered us a better way and we don’t accept it. For Nebuchadnezzar, if he had embraced God after Daniel interpreted his dream, he could have been a part of the transformation of the people of Babylon then and there. Instead, he pays honor to Daniel’s God, but then goes on about his business as usual.
Unfortunately, I think we sometimes do the same. We see God work in ways that only God can and we are genuinely moved. We’re touched – inspired. But that moment is fleeting and soon we return to our same habits – our same routines. Life, we decide, is too short to set aside our way of life in order to pursue God’s plan. Our plans are just too important.
Of course, sometimes God does for us what he did for Nebuchadnezzar. He gives us incredible and unbelievable exhibitions of his power – things that cannot be denied. Other times, he seems to sit back and wait for us to finally get it. In both cases, he has enough grace to not strike us down then and there.
What happens when you build a city according to God’s blueprint? In today’s reading, God lays out the city, instructing exactly which plots of land should go to each tribe, which ones are reserved for the royal family, which ones are to serve the common good and which ones are to be devoted to God and to the temple.
He also gives the city a new name: The Lord is There. He obviously wants the Israelites and the surrounding nations to know just why this city exists. And when you think about it, how cool would that be? Imagine living in a place where the church was at the heart of the city – not just geographically, but spiritual, socially and culturally. Imagine a place where the church was so central to the town that people – all people – in the town basically lived there lives in and around that place.
In churches, we like to say things like, “The church isn’t a building it’s a community.” And when we accomplish that, as I think many churches are, it’s a really great thing. But what if the church wasn’t just “a community” – a spiritual community within a larger civic community. What if the church was the heart and soul of the civic community?
In our modern age, I think such a church would have a profound and lasting impact on that town. Imagine a place where people live, work and play in and around the church campus. Imagine a place that is so full of community activity that a casual observer might mistake it for a YMCA, a civic center or a college campus.
Imagine a place that is so laser-focused on joining with God to meet the needs of his children (all of his children, even the ones who don’t know him yet) that it became the first place people went when they needed help, needed relationship, had something to celebrate or something to mourn. Just think about a place where rich and poor stand along side each other, because all are in need of something and this place is known to be a place where people get what they truly need.
That’s what happens when you build a city according to God’s blueprint. Are you ready to rebuild yours?