Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Lessons from Zephaniah...Don't Mess with My Child - That's My Job

My daughter is three and a half months old. At this point we don’t have to implement much discipline (if only I could discipline her into warning me when she is going to spit up) but as her understanding and awareness grow, my husband and I will focus on disciplining our daughter. It’s what any good parent would do. For the sake of my child, I must teach her right from wrong and show her that sin leads to bad consequences. In the context of love I must punish her bad behavior so that she will learn to love righteousness. But don’t think for a second that I want you to come in and punish her. If you see her misbehaving, let me know. But don’t take it upon yourself to exact a punishment for her. I’ll take care of it. Don’t mess with my child…that’s my job.

A cursory reading through Zephaniah 1 left me feeling pretty depressed. It is all about the devastation that will come upon Judah because of the sins of the people. As I read the words I could feel God’s disappointment and righteous frustration and anger. His people were rebellious and then apathetic toward their sin. They had to be punished.

But don’t forget whose job that is.

God is holy and must punish sin. But in chapter 2, He turns His wrath toward someone else. Nations to the east, west, north, and south of Judah had “taunted and become arrogant against the people of the Lord of hosts” (2:10). Oh no. Don’t go messing with God’s children. Because of their arrogance toward His people, they would suffer the wrath of God.

Here is the encouragement that I found in this: When God is angered by His people’s rebellion, He punishes them (remember Hebrews 12 – What loving father would not discipline his children?) But He does not turn away from them completely. Through the prophet God pronounced devastating consequences on Judah; but then He turned around like a protective Father and defended them against other nations who sought their ruin.

I’m so thankful to have a heavenly Father who will not tolerate my sin, but in the same moment will defend me against my accusers. And what a glory to be on this side of the cross, and to know that Jesus has absorbed the wrath of God for me. He still disciplines me, but I know that when my enemy comes against me, I have an Advocate who will plead my case based on the blood of the Lamb. What a blessing to abide in both the discipline and the protection of God Almighty!

Friday, February 12, 2010

Lessons from Habakkuk...The Right Answer to the Wrong Question

Why?

This is the question that I always want answered. Why are these things happening? Or, why isn’t anything happening? Habakkuk asked that question too. Why aren’t You doing anything, God? Why doesn’t Your plan make any sense??

God never answered those questions.

It’s not that He never answers the question “Why?” But more often than not, I think maybe He’s not that concerned with our understanding the “why’s” of life. At least not until we understand the “Who.”

When Habakkuk asked, “Why?” God answered, not “Because…”, but “I am.” He reminded Habakkuk of His character and His holiness. Habakkuk’s response? “Lord, I have heard the report about You and I fear.” The same thing happened to Job. Instead of explaining to Job why things happened in his life the way they did, God answered by reminding him of His awesome power in creation. Job’s response? “I know that You can do all things, and that no purpose of Yours can be thwarted…I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees You.”

Did God ever answer the question “Why?” I don’t know. Maybe He eventually did. But Habakkuk didn’t have to wait for that answer before he could say, “Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vine, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will be joyful in God my Savior” (3:17-18) In order to have peace and joy, Habakkuk didn’t have to know why. He just had to know who. Who was in control. Who had a plan that could not be thwarted. Who was sovereign and wise and good. Because in the end, it’s not about reasons; it’s about a Person.

“The Lord is in His holy temple. Let all the earth be silent before Him.” (2:20)

Friday, February 5, 2010

Lessons from Habakkuk...Humble Doubt

Some people claim that it’s totally okay to question God, even to get angry at Him. I think I might call this arrogant doubt. Others would never dare to approach Him with the questions that are in their hearts. They simply try to cover up their questions in a sort of fearful doubt.

Many times God’s ways do not make sense to us. So how are we supposed to handle the questions and doubts that naturally arise out of our lack of understanding? I think I’ll ask Habakkuk.

Habakkuk, how do you deal with doubt?

*Habakkuk is honest before God.

Habakkuk deals with a lot of questions as he observes the wickedness around him. He asks, “Why aren’t You doing something?” When God answers and says, “I am doing something – something you would not even believe if I told you…I am raising up your enemies to overcome you…” Habakkuk’s next question is, “Why are You doing that?” God’s ways do not make sense to Habakkuk, and he is honest about his doubt. He freely admits to God his struggle to reconcile who he knows God to be with how God appears to be working (or not working) in his situation.

*Habakkuk’s questions are always backed by a statement of faith.

The prophet’s doubts are not out of control, because even though things do not make sense to him, he still grounds himself in God’s character. Yes, he asks, “Why are You doing this?”, but he also proclaims, “You are from everlasting…Your eyes are too pure to approve evil.” He reminds himself in chapter 3 of all the things that God has done for His people in the past to save them, and rests on the knowledge that this Savior King does not change.

*After Habakkuk asks his questions, he determines to wait and listen to hear what God will speak to him.

Habakkuk’s decision in the middle of his faith crisis is to “keep watch to see what He will speak to me.” Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God. Habakkuk understood this. The only way to overcome doubt is to combat it with the truth of the word of the Lord. Habakkuk has confidence that the Lord will speak to him and that the truth is strong enough to answer his doubts.

And what is the end result of Habakkuk’s process of dealing with his doubt? His faith was strengthened. His honest questions, his remembrance of who God is, and his perseverance in waiting to hear from the Lord pay off. In the end Habakkuk is filled with peace and joy even though the prophecy of destruction does not change.

I want that. I want to experience doubt and come out on the other side with a faith that is stronger. I have failed miserably in the past. I have allowed doubt to overwhelm me instead of allowing faith to overcome doubt. But next time, I pray that I will not be so arrogant as to question God without fear and reverence; I pray that I will not be so fearful to admit my weakness that I would bury my questions under a fa├žade of false strength. But I pray that I would be a humble doubter, an honest questioner who does not forget who God is in the middle of the storm, but who humbly waits to hear what God wants to teach me.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Lessons from Habakkuk...Changy Man, Unchanging God

I am falling in love with Habakkuk.

Even though I can’t even pronounce the book’s name with confidence (is it phonetically legal to leave the last “k” silent?), these three little chapters that are tucked away toward the end of the Old Testament have captured my heart. I attend a women’s community Bible study, and we are currently doing a survey of the minor prophets. I confess that Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah and the like are not my typical quiet time material. But the Lord has opened my heart to the amazing message He has through these little Old Testament books.

In my study guide I was asked to write phrases or words that describe both Habakkuk and God throughout the three chapters. I was stunned by the simple yet profound truth that jumped out at me as I completed this activity.

Habakkuk…

Chapter 1 – “How long?... You do not hear me…You do not save…Why are You silent?...Why do you look with favor on those who are evil?...Why?”

Chapter 2 – “I will stand…I will keep watch to see what He will speak to me…”

Chapter 3 – “I have heard the report about You and I fear…I will rejoice in the Lord…I will be joyful in God my Savior…The Lord God is my strength…”

God…

Chapter 1 – “I am doing something...” “Are You not from everlasting, O Lord, my God, my Holy One?...Your eyes are too pure to approve evil…”

Chapter 2 – “The vision will certainly come…The earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord…the Lord is in His holy temple; let all the earth be silent before Him…”

Chapter 3 – “The Holy One comes…His splendor covers the heavens, and the earth is full of His praise…You went forth for the salvation of Your people…The Lord God is my strength…”

Habakkuk’s transformation is obvious. He moves from humble and honest questioning, to watchful waiting and listening, to reverent worship. It is a journey of faith, a familiar cycle. But as I went back through and wrote the phrases and words that describe God, I realized that though Habakkuk is different in each chapter, God is the same. He does not change. Yes, I realize how elementary this principle is. “Wow, Jana, you’re a genius – God doesn’t change! I can’t believe you came up with that!” But seeing this familiar truth in this context, I realized anew just how awesome that fact is.

God is so steadfast. Growing in faith is a process of my changing – it comes as my understanding of God in His holiness and sovereignty and goodness is expanded and solidified. What hope there is in serving an unchanging God who delights in revealing Himself to us so that we might be changed and our faith might grow! And the end result of Habakkuk’s journey – and what I hope in for myself as well – is, no matter the circumstances, to “rejoice in the Lord, to be joyful in God my Savior” – because He does not change. (3:18)