CHUTZPAH

And he told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart. [Luke 18:1 (ESV)]

pink peony“Lord, you’ve got to…” I started, but got no further in my prayer. “God doesn’t ‘got to’ do anything!” said a still small voice. Whether it was the Holy Spirit, conscience, or even God himself, I don’t know, but the point was well taken. “What chutzpah!” I thought, using a word borrowed from my Jewish friends that has moved from Hebrew into Yiddish and now English. Often defined as audacity, presumption, cheek, arrogance, or impudence, the way I started my prayer was all of those and more.

Some say that chutzpah is when a man kills both his parents and begs the court for mercy because he’s an orphan. One computer executive defines it as, “calling up tech support to report a bug on pirated software.” Neither example, however, captures the essence of the word. Chutzpah includes fearlessness, pluck, mettle, and boldness in its request and isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Look at Abraham’s chutzpah when he argued with God over the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. It certainly took chutzpah for Moses, an eighty-year old expat Jew who was both felon and shepherd, to demand that Pharaoh let his enslaved people free. Moses then had chutzpah enough to argue with God over the destruction of those same stiff-necked people! Esther showed chutzpah when she approached King Xerxes, David when he said he’d fight Goliath, Daniel when he took Belshazzar to task for his dreadful behavior, and even Jesus when he cleared the temple of money-changers.

I would think the parable of the resolute widow who pestered the unjust judge for justice until it was received tells us that some chutzpah in our prayers in the way of boldness, fearlessness and persistence is a good thing. As one pastor friend says, “Ours in an audacious God; we should honor Him with audacious prayers.” On the other hand, in my prayer, I was not asking for justice, peace of mind, healing or even forgiveness. Mine was the beginning of a disrespectful, brazen and impertinent demand much like that made by a selfish petulant child in a toy store.

Rabbi Tzvi Freeman says, “To be a good Jew, you need two opposites: A sense of shame that prevents you from acting with chutzpah to do the wrong thing, and a sense of chutzpah that prevents you from being ashamed to do the right thing.” I think that’s true for Christians, as well, but we should use it properly. While we should step out for God with chutzpah, we always must come before Him with humility and respect.

Pray then like this: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. [Matthew 6:9-10 (ESV)]

O Lord, I call upon you; hasten to me! Give ear to my voice when I call to you!  Let my prayer be counted as incense before you, and the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice! [Psalm 141:1-2 (ESV)]

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NO WHINE ZONE

Lake Maligne - CanadaNot that I was ever in need, for I have learned how to be content with whatever I have. [Philippians 4:11 (NLT)]

Perhaps it was because of the dreary weather, but I started my litany of complaints as soon as I got out of bed. It was chilly and damp (by Florida standards) and my arthritic knees ached. As I gingerly walked across the cold tile floor, I remembered a friend whose rheumatoid arthritis has left her unable to walk even moderate distances. In spite of a few creaky joints, I still manage to get in my 10,000 steps every day. As dreary as the day was, the only reason I didn’t complain about the weather is that, even at my grouchiest, I know that a bad winter day in southwest Florida is better than a good one just about anywhere else!

Nevertheless, my moaning and groaning continued as I faced the mirror and saw those pesky gray roots peeking out from my colored hair. I grumbled about those until I recalled my many friends who lost their tresses to chemo-therapy and radiation. I scrutinized the age spots on my face and the wrinkles around my eyes and then remembered my elderly friend whose skin cancer left him without an eye. While I was on a roll, though, I looked with disdain at my old lady neck and remembered Nora Ephron’s words: “You have to cut open a redwood tree to see how old it is, but you wouldn’t if it had a neck.” Truer words were never said but, before I could even voice that grievance, I thought of a friend’s wife who lost both her jaw and life to cancer; had she lived into her 70s, I don’t think she’d be complaining about a crepey neck.

Not yet done with negativity, though, I grumbled because the sundress I’d planned on wearing wouldn’t be warm enough. As I browsed through my over-full closet to pick a warmer outfit, I thought of all those people who have no closet stuffed with clothing, pantry filled with food, or furnace running to keep them warm. “Shame on me!” I thought, but I wasn’t done yet with my litany of complaint.

Later that morning, I became annoyed that my limping husband can no longer keep up with me. Before I could bemoan the fact that we can no longer ski together, I remembered the man who pushes his wife’s wheelchair along the boardwalk every morning. I’m sure they both would be thrilled if she could walk, even with a limp! I then thought about the neurosurgeon without whose skill my spouse couldn’t walk at all. There are many places in the world where the speedy and expert treatment my husband received would be unavailable and, like that woman, he would need a wheelchair.

“Count your blessings!” my mother used to say, but I’d wasted a fair amount of the morning counting petty complaints instead. How easy it is to gripe about stupid little things and forget how fortunate we really are. When I need an attitude adjustment, as I so desperately did that morning, I find reading Psalm 100 an excellent antidote to a case of the grumbles. My spirits improved once I’d stopped whining, taken stock of the many blessings of my life, and thanked God for them. While some of us are “glass half full!” kind of people, others are more of the “glass half empty!” sort. What we need to remember is to be thankful that we have a glass at all! Indeed, “Give thanks to him and praise his name.” 

The Lord afflicts us at times; but it is always a thousand times less than we deserve, and much less than many of our fellow-creatures are suffering around us. Let us therefore pray for grace to be humble, thankful, and patient. [John Newton]

Shout with joy to the Lord, all the earth!
Worship the Lord with gladness.
Come before him, singing with joy.
Acknowledge that the Lord is God!
He made us, and we are his.
We are his people, the sheep of his pasture.
Enter his gates with thanksgiving;
go into his courts with praise.
Give thanks to him and praise his name.
For the Lord is good.
His unfailing love continues forever,
and his faithfulness continues to each generation. [Psalm 100 (NLT)]

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TRUTH BE TOLD

Many of his disciples said, “This is very hard to understand. How can anyone accept it?” Jesus was aware that his disciples were complaining, so he said to them, “Does this offend you? … And the very words I have spoken to you are spirit and life. … At this point many of his disciples turned away and deserted him. [John 6:60-61,63b,66 (NLT]

plumbgoSome prophets weren’t bothered by the truth and were available for hire. Ahab, for example, had 400 prophets on his payroll acting as his “yes men.” When he asked Jehoshaphat to join him in a campaign against Aram, Jehoshaphat requested the advice of prophets so Ahab summoned his seers. Jehoshaphat, however, recognized them as pagans; when he asked for a true “prophet of the Lord,” Micaiah was summoned.

Honest prophets, like Micaiah had a difficult life; if they prophesized an unpleasant truth, they often were punished or killed. Although warned to promise victory, Micaiah was unafraid of offending the king and responded with God’s truth about Israel’s defeat and Ahab’s death. His reward for telling the truth was a slap on the face, prison and a diet of bread and water; Ahab’s reward for ignoring the truth was death by a randomly shot arrow.

Daniel served as prophet to four kings; facing a series of egocentric and powerful rulers and surrounded by idolatry, his was not an easy job. When Nebuchadnezzar had a dream about a tree, the troubled Daniel hesitated to tell the king that it predicted a period of insanity for him. Nevertheless, he truthfully interpreted the dream and, at the risk of offending the king, bravely advised him to stop sinning. When the proud king didn’t, he ended up spending time living in the fields like an animal.

When Belshazzar called Daniel to interpret the mysterious writing on the wall, the king offered him beautiful gifts and great power for explaining the message but Daniel declined. His prophetic gift was never about gaining reward or power and, knowing the words’ meaning, he knew the reward was worthless. Unafraid of offending the king, Daniel boldly began by taking him to task for the way he’d dishonored God with his sinful disobedience, pride, desecration of sacred objects, and idolatry. The prophet finished by telling Belshazzar that his days were numbered, his reign had been found deficient, and that Babylon would fall and be divided among the Medes and Persians. Confident that he had an impregnable fortress and enough provisions to survive a twenty-year siege, Belshazzar didn’t take the words of warning seriously. Daniel’s prophecies proved correct. The ancient historian Xenophon writes that while the Babylonians were in the midst of that drunken feast, Darius the Mede diverted the Euphrates. Walking on the dry river bed, his army easily entered the city through the water gates. Belshazzar died that very night and the kingdom of Babylon was divided into 120 provinces.

Even when they knew their messages were unpleasant and that the consequences for speaking the truth and offending a king could be severe, neither Micaiah nor Daniel ever sugar-coated God’s truth. Finding their prophecies distasteful, Ahab, Nebuchadnezzar, and Belshazzar chose to ignore them. Like those kings, many of the people who heard Jesus found His truth offensive and inconvenient; choosing to ignore it, they walked away from Him. The fact that the truth is often unpleasant and can be ignored, however, doesn’t change its veracity.

Sometimes, as Christians, we are afraid to offend people with the truth and so we say nothing when God calls us to speak. While we never want to come off as domineering, disparaging or arrogant, we must not let fear keep us from speaking the truth. That God’s truth, even when lovingly and considerately spoken, may offend some people doesn’t mean the truth must not be told.

And the judgment is based on this fact: God’s light came into the world, but people loved the darkness more than the light, for their actions were evil.  All who do evil hate the light and refuse to go near it for fear their sins will be exposed. But those who do what is right come to the light so others can see that they are doing what God wants. [John 3:19-21 (NLT)]

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NUMBERED, WEIGHED AND DIVIDED

Yes, each of us will give a personal account to God. [Romans 14:12 (NLT)]

yellow-crowned night heronIn 539 BC, thousands of Medes and Persians were digging outside Babylon’s walls. Thinking they were futilely trying to undermine the city’s impregnable walls, Babylon’s King Belshazzar was unconcerned. While carousing with 1,000 of his nobles, he gave orders to bring out the gold and silver cups that Nebuchadnezzar had looted from Jerusalem’s temple 47 years earlier. The revelers were drinking to their false Babylonian gods with vessels dedicated to the one true God when a human hand appeared and started writing on the plaster wall. No longer so arrogant, the frightened Belshazzar called for his astrologers and diviners but, when the pagans were incapable of deciphering God’s message, Daniel was called to interpret the words.

The three words on the wall were MENE, meaning numbered, TEKEL, meaning weighed, and PARSIN, meaning divided. The words meant Belshazzar’s days as king were coming to an end, his reign had been weighed and found deficient, and that Babylon would fall and be divided. Even though I don’t rule an empire, I wondered if those three words might apply to me, as well.

Numbered—yes, our days are numbered. That we don’t know how many days are allocated to us doesn’t mean they are limitless. While Belshazzar’s number was up (he died that very night), he wasted his last day in blasphemy, idolatry, and drunken revelry. How will we choose to spend our remaining days?

Weighed—like Belshazzar, our lives will be weighed (on God’s scales, not ours). Of course, no mortal can ever balance on His perfect scales. Nevertheless, God will hold us accountable at the Judgment Seat of Christ. Have we been good stewards of His gifts? Have we served selflessly or selfishly? Belshazzar dishonored God with gold and silver goblets; have we dishonored Him with our own form of idolatry? Do we love fame, wealth, home, career, possessions or beauty more than Him? Would God find us wanting because we’ve been short on grace, forgiveness and love?

Divided—like Belshazzar’s, our personal kingdom will be divided when we’re gone. After the government and bill collectors get their share, our heirs will divide the rest. All of those possessions we worked so hard to obtain and thought so important in this life will be divided among those we leave behind. Much of what we thought so valuable will end up at flea markets, resale shops, on eBay or in a landfill.

I’m not a pagan king, hosting a drunken orgy and committing sacrilege while his nation is under attack but those three words—numbered, weighed, and divided—hit home when I read them this morning. They are a vivid reminder to look carefully at my priorities. Much of my life can be described as stuff and nonsense. How about yours? Are our days spent wisely? Do we appreciate every day with which we are blessed? Will we be found lacking? Do we honor God with our words and actions? What will remain of us when we’re gone? While things are meaningless and will disappear, memories of us and the influence we’ve had on others will continue. Will the kingdom we leave to others consist of stuff that’s divided or love that multiplies?

Numbered, weighed, and divided: what do they mean to you?

So be careful how you live. Don’t live like fools, but like those who are wise. Make the most of every opportunity in these evil days. Don’t act thoughtlessly, but understand what the Lord wants you to do. [Ephesians 5:15-17 (NLT)]

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THE OMEGA

I am the Alpha and the Omega—the beginning and the end,” says the Lord God. “I am the one who is, who always was, and who is still to come—the Almighty One.” [Revelation 1:8 (NLT)]

alpha and omegaIn the book of Revelation, when Jesus says He is the Alpha (the beginning), He also says He is the Omega (the end). He’s not talking of alphabets but rather the absolute beginning, revealed in Genesis, and the absolute end, revealed in Revelation. God had the first word when He spoke the universe into existence and He will have the last word when the world as we know it ends.

Much of the prophecy in the Bible is frightening and it was meant to be. Jeremiah’s warnings to Judah were as urgent as the weather alerts on our phones that tell us to take cover because of an approaching tornado. That kind of warning, while frightening, is meant to save lives. On the other hand, there are other prophecies in the Bible that give us hope. Consider Isaiah’s prophecies of a Messiah, the many prophecies that the people of Judah would return from their captivity in Babylon, and Revelation’s hopeful words that describe a time when death is gone, evil disappears, there are no more tears and sorrow, and all things are made new.

Hidden in Revelation’s joyful news, however, is the prophecy that there will be a final judgment which, depending on the person, can be good or bad news. For those who put their faith in Christ—who thirst of His water—there is nothing to fear; Jesus is forever. For those who ignored previous warnings and failed to put their faith in Christ, however, the eternality of hell awaits.

That Jesus is both the Alpha and Omega is a reminder to all of us: be ready! There will be a time when everyone will give an account to God of his or her life. Jesus is not the omega the way Z ends the alphabet. He’s not like the last page of a book with a finite number of pages. Jesus is the end of an eternal and everlasting book. Whether that never-ending book is set in the New Jerusalem, where God lives among his people, is entirely up to us.

And he also said, “It is finished! I am the Alpha and the Omega—the Beginning and the End. To all who are thirsty I will give freely from the springs of the water of life. All who are victorious will inherit all these blessings, and I will be their God, and they will be my children. But cowards, unbelievers, the corrupt, murderers, the immoral, those who practice witchcraft, idol worshipers, and all liars—their fate is in the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death. [Revelation 21:6-8 (NLT)]

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SACRIFICES

And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him. [Romans 12:1-2 (NLT)]

monarch butterfly - butterfly weedIf you ever visited the Mayan ruins near Cancun, Mexico, chances are you saw the remains of a stone ball court with sloping walls. Nowhere near as impressive as the Mayan pyramids, I didn’t even take a picture when I saw one. Two stone rings hang about 20 feet up the walls. A ball game called pok-ta-pok was played there. As in volleyball, players passed a solid rubber ball around by hitting it with various parts of their bodies. Unlike volleyball, however, they could not touch the ball with their hands. The goal was to get the ball through one of the rings.

This game was a reenactment of the Mayan creation story and had ritual significance. When prisoners of war were forced to play the game, it became a prelude to their sacrifice by decapitation, heart removal, or disembowelment. Since blood was considered nourishment for the gods, the sacrifice of a living creature was a powerful one and the sacrifice of a human was the most powerful.

When we hear the word sacrifice, we tend to picture something as brutal and gruesome as the Mayans, satanic cults, King Manasseh sacrificing his son to Molech, or even Abraham placing his son on an altar and bringing a knife to his throat. We think of sacrifice as suffering terrible loss: the destruction or surrender of something precious to us. Having a negative connotation, we tend to see sacrifice as unpleasant, involuntary, or punishing.

There was, however, another scenario to that Mayan ball game. In some cases, it was the winners who were sacrificed. Teams willingly played in the hopes of winning and being sacrificed to the gods. This sacrifice was a privilege that gave great honor to the player and his family. Although the game’s losers lived, they were disgraced and may have become slaves. While it still seems barbaric to us, rather than a giving up of something, that sacrifice was seen as a gain.

God clearly prohibited human sacrifice when he gave the law to the Israelites, yet Paul tells the Romans to be living sacrifices! This is neither a forced sacrifice nor one of punishment; we are not defeated warriors being sacrificed in shame. This is an enthusiastic sacrifice, like that of the Mayan warriors who chose to compete in that sacrificial game. Like them, we are victors but, unlike them, ours is not a one-time sacrifice resulting in death but rather a constant placement of our lives at God’s disposal. It is a joyful and willing sacrifice of worship—a consecration of our lives to Him.

Sunday, we sang these words from Frances Havergal’s hymn: “Take my life and let it be consecrated, Lord, to Thee.” As we sang, we offered Him our time, hands, feet, voices, lips, money, intellect, will, heart, and love. That is what it means to be a living sacrifice to God. Four years after writing her hymn, Havergal responded to her own words, “Take my silver and my gold,” by giving away all of her jewelry (nearly fifty items) to a missionary society. About this sacrifice, she wrote a friend of her “extreme delight” and said, “I don’t think I ever packed a box with such pleasure.” Her words, actions, and joyful attitude are an example of what it means to be a living and holy sacrifice,

Take my love, my Lord, I pour at thy feet its treasure store.
Take myself and I will be ever, only, all for Thee.
[Frances R. Havergal (1874)]

Give yourselves completely to God, for you were dead, but now you have new life. So use your whole body as an instrument to do what is right for the glory of God. [Romans 6:13b (NLT)]

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