“I Didn’t Know God”

At first when he answered the phone I thought it was a joke. I had reconnected with a friend I hadn’t talked to in ten years. But he sounded nothing like the friend I used to know. I even told him it didn’t sound like him. Of course, that made things awkward for a bit. As we did small talk I went back over my phone and reviewed how we had reconnected. Same phone number. Same Facebook page. Same guy. And yet, totally different.     

I slowly was starting to accept the reality that I really was talking to my old friend when he clarified, “You know Cameron, we really haven’t talked in a long time. A lot has happened since then.” He continued, “I think I got saved 4 years ago.” I was shocked.

This is the guy I went to Bible college with. This is the guy who had wanted to preach his whole life. This is the guy who traveled on evangelistic teams to churches and spent his summers sharing the gospel with young people.      

He went on to describe for me his frustration at repeatedly trying to preach, but never being satisfied with it. He came to the point where he gave up on preaching entirely. But that bitterly low point of frustration caused him to realize something incredible. “I didn’t know God,” he confessed to me. “I knew about God. I knew about the Bible. I was drawn to the experience of preaching and the feeling that came with it. I think that is the same reason I was drawn to evangelism. But I didn’t have a real relationship with God.” 

He went on to describe for me how he started sincerely praying to and seeking God. And God changed him. Radically. So much so, he was a different person. Other people in his life began to take notice. “My wife asked me what had changed,” he said. “I hadn’t said anything about it at first because I didn’t know what to make of it.” 

Our unexpectedly awkaward conversation had changed into a mutually encouraging moment as he began to share with me the lessons God had taught him since his conversion. I apologized for being rude, and he accepted the apology, and we had a great time catching up for a bit.

When I got off the phone, I sat on our couch and stared out a window for several minutes. It was so stunning, yet so refreshing and glorious to see God radically transform one man’s life. This is, in fact, how the Scripture describes salvation.

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.
The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Corinthians 5:17).

Many people in this world gravitate towards religion for the experience. They confuse the emotional fervor of a thrilling worship service or shared moments of religious experience with a genuine relationship with the living God. Unfortunately, many church leaders today are guilty of encouraging this kind of behavior. It is a spiritually draining, inadequate substitute for your soul’s satisfaction. If you are in one of those categories, or find yourself in one of those kinds of churches, you can be free from the emptiness that comes with religion apart from Christ. Look to him. He is “the founder and perfecter of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2).  Only he can satisfy the desire in your soul for something better, because he is the “something better” you are thirsting for. 

~CP

What About Rahab?

I have often heard this accusation leveled at the Bible: “God commanded the Israelites to commit mass genocide when they conquered Canaan. A God of love could not be so cold and merciless, so I do not accept the Bible as true (at least not certain parts of it).”

There are many ways to respond to this objection, but today I just want to focus on one burning question. If the conquest of Canaan paints a picture of God as cold and merciless, what about Rahab?

Rahab, we are told in Joshua 2, was a prostitute in the ancient city of Jericho. Joshua, the chief commander of Israel, sent two men to spy out the land, “especially Jericho.” When they enter the city, Rahab receives them into her house. The king of Jericho was watching, and he sent a message to Rahab telling her to hand over the Israelite men. Instead, Rahab hides the Israelite men and says she already sent the spies away. If the king hurries, his soldiers will catch up to them in no time. The king bites the bait, giving Rahab enough time to help the Israelite spies escape through her window in the city wall. A prostitute who used to receive men into her home for her perverted profession had now received men into her home for an entirely different reason. Why did she do it? She tells the spies,

“For we have heard how the Lord dried up the water of the Red Sea before you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to the two kings of the Amorites who were beyond the Jordan, to Sihon and Og, whom you devoted to destruction. And as soon as we heard it, our hearts melted, and there was no spirit left in any man because of you, for the LORD your God, he is God in the heavens above and on the earth beneath.

Joshua 2:10-11
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Rahab believed in the power of the Lord. She proceeds to form a covenant with the spies. In exchange for her faith-filled act of loyal love and kindness, she begs for God’s loyal love on her family in return (Joshua 2:12-13).

Four chapters later we find God’s people doing exactly as they promised. Rahab hangs a scarlet cord in the same window she used to deliver the spies as a sign to Israel to have that same mercy on her. Don’t miss the stark contrast between judgment and mercy!

But to the two men who had spied out the land, Joshua said, “Go into the prostitute’s house and bring out from there the woman and all who belong to her, as you swore to her.” So the young men who had been spies went in and brought out Rahab and her father and mother and brothers and all who belonged to her. And they brought all her relatives and put them outside the camp of Israel. And they burned the city with fire, and everything in it. Only the silver and gold, and the vessels of bronze and of iron, they put into the treasury of the house of the Lord. But Rahab the prostitute and her father’s household and all who belonged to her, Joshua saved alive. And she has lived in Israel to this day, because she hid the messengers whom Joshua sent to spy out Jericho.

Joshua 6:22-25

Rahab was still alive at the time this book of Joshua was written. She was a former prostitute, a woman, and a Canaanite. She had three strikes in that culture and should have been out. But instead she was a living example of God’s mercy and love to everyone in Israel. Hebrews 11:31 tells us, “By faith Rahab the prostitute did not perish with those who were disobedient, because she had given a friendly welcome to the spies.

God’s favor on Rahab extended far beyond what she could have ever imagined. Centuries later Matthew mentions her alongside Ruth the Moabitess, another great foreigner of the faith, as matriarchs of king David and the Messiah, Jesus Christ.

“and Salmon the father of Boaz by Rahab, and Boaz the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse, and Jesse the father of David the king… and Jacob the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is called Christ.”

Matthew 1:5-6, 16
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That is not the work of a cold and merciless God; that is a work of a loving and gracious God. Is it possible that other Canaanites confessed faith in Yahweh and received mercy? In light of Rahab’s story it is safe to say “yes.” Even though the Canaanites knew much about Yahweh, we do not read of many cases like Rahab in the Old Testament. Apparently Rahab’s faith was rare. The conquest of Canaan, if anything, points to the depravity of the human heart that stubbornly refuses to pursue God’s mercy even in the face of impending judgment. It is a miracle of mercy that any of us would believe. And it is to God’s glory that anyone, like Rahab and her family, has been “saved alive.” God still freely extends the promise of forgiveness and salvation to anyone who repents of their sin and professes faith in Christ. The scarlet cord hangs today, but now in the form of the blood of Jesus Christ stained on a wooden cross. Mercy is extended. The only question is this: will we, like Rahab, believe?

CP

Trusting God Alone

Great leaders spend their lives pursuing clearly stated goals. William Wilberforce, for example, said, “Almighty God has set before me two great objectives, the abolition of the slave trade and the reformation of manners.” I am finishing up a biography on the life of George Müller. He, too, had a clearly stated goal in life. Next week I hope to write a book review of that biography; but for this week, I simply want to highlight the one aspect of George Müller’s life that stands out above the rest.

Müller’s Goal in Life

Müller repeats his “mission statement” over and over again in his own journal. Here is his first and foremost goal, recorded as the main reason for why he decided to begin building the orphan houses on Ashley Down:George_Muller

“That God may be glorified, should He be pleased to furnish me with the means, in its being seen that it is not a vain thing to trust in Him; and that thus the faith of His children may be strengthened.”

Trust in God is a good thing, we agree. But the big difference between Müller and many other Christians is that he wanted people to realize it is not a vain thing to trust in God alone for provision. Müller purposefully stripped away any dependence on human means to highlight God’s powerful orchestration of events. And this was no passive dependence. Müller prayed and then worked for God, believing He would answer. If anything, Müller’s biography has reminded me that it is indeed a safe and delightful and rewarding thing to trust in God alone.

We rarely allow ourselves to we feel as if we need to depend on God alone. Sure, we may get a flat tire, or our water heater may give out, or we may face a medical emergency. But most people have their “plan B,” their smart phone handy, or their emergency fund. We don’t like to be exposed to risk or hazard. Yet George Müller discovered the value in stripping away the human “props” that rob glory from God.

God’s Goal for Our Lives

Self-preserveation is natural, but what happens when God forces us to be exposed? David lived much of his life under the threat of danger, exposure, and even death. Early on he ran from Saul, and late in his life he runs away from his own son Absolom. He was forced to depend on God alone. He and other psalmists make this point. I have bolded certain phrases for emphasis.

I say to the LORD, ‘You are my Lord;
I have no good apart from You.‘”
Psalm 16:2; 140:6; cf. 75:4

For You are the God in whom I take refuge.
Psalm 43:2a; 71:1a

Behold, God is my helper;
the Lord is the upholder of my life.

Psalm 54:4

For God alone my soul waits in silence;
from him comes my salvation.
He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; 
I shall not be greatly shaken.
Psalm 62:1-2, 5-6

On God rests my salvation and my glory;
my mighty rock, my refuge is God.

Psalm 62:7

(see also Psalm 27:9d; 51:14b; 25:1; 28:2b; 40:17; 70:5)

We may have our “plan B,” or “plan C,” or “plan Z,” but I think God delights to knock out all those props from underneath us to show us and others it is not a vain thing to trust in God alone. He takes away the facade of dependence and makes us genuinely trust in Him. That social media post, that big step forward in your career, or that beefy retirement account can’t ensure your future; only God can do that. I do think we can make a biblical case for wisdom, preparedness, and planning. But when we seek to substitude our plans for dependence on God alone, we have bowed to the idols of self-control and ease. One of God’s goals for the Christian’s life is that we would show it is not a vain thing to trust in God alone.

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Our Goal for Our Lives

If this is one of God’s main goals for the Christian life, we need to be serious about making it our goal. We need to pray that God would give us the spirit of Job, who reflected sage-like wisdom and utter humility before the Lord with these words,

Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return.
The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; 
blessed be the name of the Lord.
Job 1:21

We are dependent upon God from the day we are born. This is why it is so important that every Christian spend private time in prayer with God every day. Not a day goes by that you or I will safely live independent of God. I say “safely” because many Christians will choose to live independent of God today, but that is not a safe place to be. We buy into the lie that security rests in our own hands. But security rests in the hands of God alone. In every stage of life, may we prove that it is not a vain thing to trust in God alone.

For You, O Lord, are my hope,
my trust, O Lord, from my youth.
Upon You I have leaned from before my birth;
You are He who took me from my mother’s womb.
Psalm 71:5-6

CP