And Adoni-Bezek said, “Seventy kings with their thumbs and big toes cut off used to gather scraps under my table.

As I have done, so God has repaid me.” Then they brought him to Jerusalem, and there he died.

(Judges 1:7)

 

I recently received an invitation to take a stroll down the Avenue of the Giants. No, the promoters did not have in mind a walk in one of our nearby redwood forests. Rather, they desired that I should join them at a dinner party to celebrate the outstanding careers and accomplishments of a number of alumni from my high school.

The roster was impressive. It included a renowned filmmaker, two Pulitzer Prize winning journalists, a medical researcher, two physicists, two mathematics professors (one at Cal, the other at Stanford), and the founder of popular non-profit advocating for environmental protection.

God bless them all. And God be praised for whatever good any of them have been able to accomplish, for every good and perfect gift comes from Him (James 1:17).

But brothers and sisters, before ascribing too much glory to the sons of men—and certainly before envying them—let us take a cautionary lesson from the life of Adoni-Bezek.

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LORD, LIFT UP YOUR FEET!

Lift up Your feet to the perpetual desolations.
The enemy has damaged everything in the sanctuary.

(Psalm 74:3)

 

Years ago on a family ski trip my little brother fell and tore the ligaments in his right knee. It was a nasty fall and a nasty injury. When it happened, he let out a cry heard all across the slopes. My father, who had reached the bottom of the hill where we were skiing, heard it too, and instantly turned and headed back up. I can still see him, lifting up his skis, climbing the hill as fast as he could. I can still hear his voice, too: “Hold on son, I’m coming!”

That memorable event supplies a powerful picture of our redemption, as does the text before us. Psalm 74 is the cry of one of God’s children, pleading for help because the enemies of the nation have entered the land and are laying waste to God’s inheritance. All is in desolation. The people are under a severe discipline from the LORD, against whom they have sinned. Like my brother so many years ago, they are down for the count. The psalmist knows they’ll never get up again unless God lifts up his feet and races to their aid.

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SNAKES ON A ROCK

There are three things which are too wonderful for me,
Yes, four which I do not understand:
The way of an eagle in the air,
The way of a serpent on a rock,
The way of a ship in the midst of the sea,
And the way of a man with a virgin.

(Proverbs 30:18-19)

 

Lately, I’ve been thinking about how many of God’s creatures like to bask.

Our pet rabbit likes to lie on the grass, stretch out his fore and hind legs, and bask in the sun.

The seals down at Goat Rock, braving the gawkers on the beach, will lie on the sand at the river’s mouth for hours on end and bask in the sun.

Basking sharks, I assume, enjoy swimming near the surface of the water so they can bask in the sun.

Mulling all of this, I suddenly remembered that Solomon, too, was intrigued by baskers. As he thought about the four wonders mentioned above, he knew there was a spiritual significance attached to each of them—and that he couldn’t see it.

But we who are in Christ can!

That’s because the New Testament repeatedly tells us that Christ is our Rock; and also that we—who once had a nature and a standing like that old serpent, the devil—are nevertheless loved by God, who lifted us out of our holes in the earth, and set safely upon the Rock of His Son.

We’re snakes all right. But thanks be to God, the Father no longer sees us that way. Because we’re in Christ, he sees us as sons. Therefore, we can bask in the healing and warming light of his love, with no fear of getting picked off!

So next time you’re feeling low and mean—even downright snakey—take a lesson from the rabbits, the seals, the sharks, the lizards, and all the other baskers.

Remember that you’re on the Rock—and then spend a little time just basking in the Father’s love.

 

Leaning Trees of Worship

By faith, Jacob, when he was dying,

blessed each of the sons of Joseph,

and worshiped, leaning on the top of his staff.

(Heb. 11:21)

 

Joseph was displeased. His father Jacob had just extended his right hand, laid it on Ephraim’s head, and blessed him. Then, with his left hand, he had done the same for Manasseh.

But Manasseh was the older, the first-born! By rights, by custom, by time-honored tradition, the greater blessing—the blessing of the right hand—should have fallen upon him!

Having explained it to Joseph as best he could, Jacob rose from his bed, stood on his feet, took up his staff, leaned comfortingly upon it, and worshiped.

As he prayed, he reflected: Ever since that night at the ford of Jabbok it had been this way. Before the wrestling, he had indeed honored the LORD, but also walked tall, confident, and self-assured, guided by the wisdom of man.

But afterwards—after the Angel touched the socket of his hip, blessed him, and changed his name to Israel—he had walked with a limp, leaning upon his staff. And in so doing, he had somehow learned to receive the word of the LORD—the inheritance of wisdom from above—and to bestow it upon the beloved children of God.

If only Joseph could understand.

 

Of Pillars and Leaning Trees

In our mixed up world there are two postures of worship.

The first is that of a pillar. In exemplary fashion, it was struck long ago by the Pharisee in Jesus’ parable. Standing very tall and very erect, he said, “God, I thank you that I am not like other men—extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess!” A pillar of righteousness, in his own sight.

The second posture is that of a leaning tree. In exemplary fashion, it too was struck in Jesus’ parable, this time by a trembling tax collector. Standing far off, unwilling even to raise his eyes to heaven, he beat his breast and said, “God, be merciful to me a sinner!”

Can you not see him leaning? He is leaning far, far away from himself, his character, and his accomplishments, all of which, in his own eyesight, seem like iron chains, ready to drag him down to hell. Can you not see him leaning, as far and as hard as he possibly can into the strong wind of God’s raw mercy.

A leaning tree of worship—who alone, according to Jesus, returned to his house justified in God’s sight.

 

Learning to Lean

But we dare not misunderstand.

To be sure, God is merciful: His great Father heart inclines him to it always. But his holiness, sovereignty, and paternal responsibility for the proper government of his world do not permit him simply to show mercy at his pleasure. No, he must show mercy by finding a way to satisfy his own justice, placate his own anger, and make guilty tax collectors—as well as self-centered Pharisees—righteous in his sight.

Just here we meet the Glad Tidings: In Christ Jesus—the Staff of God—he has done this very thing.

By his perfectly righteous life, he has won a perfect righteousness for all—for all who will lean on him.

By his atoning death, he has paid the just penalty for the sins of all, and placated the divine wrath against all—all who will lean on him.

Before Christ had finished his course, the poor tax collector cried out to God for mercy—and trembled in fear and uncertainty. Had he cried out after Pentecost, God would have replied, “Lean on the Staff that I have just provided, and like Jacob of old you shall have mercy, and a new name besides: Prince with God, and My Beloved Son in Whom I am Well Pleased!”

 

Princely Sons

When I imagine the aged Jacob standing before Joseph and his sons, leaning upon his staff and worshiping the One who had lovingly brought him so near, I think I hear him saying, “LORD, bring them all to an understanding; but as you do, please, be as gentle as you can.”

For it is no light thing to become a leaning tree of worship. The Angel of the LORD himself must come to you by night. He must cast his dreadful gaze upon the libertine—or the proud, self-righteous Pharisee—within. And he must also cast your gaze upon the heavenly wrath and hellish torments that the libertine and the Pharisee so richly deserve.

Moreover, if he does come, you must not let him go. Rather, in fear and trembling, you must wrestle until you prevail; until you receive the holy wound with which you will walk—haltingly and in frequent pain—for the rest of your days. And you must wrestle until you receive the holy Staff that will enable you to do so.

No, it is no light thing to become a leaning tree. And yet, for the sinful sons of Adam, there is no richer gift, no higher honor, no sweeter pleasure. For now, having become such a tree, you learn to worship.

Since it is precious in your sight, you take your Staff in hand and say, “Thank you God for having mercy on me, a sinner. Thank you for the visitation, the wrestling, the wounding, the placing of your dear Son securely beneath my arm. Thank you that I can now walk—be it ever so haltingly—in your holy presence.

“But most of all, thank you for my strong Staff. Thank you for placing my sins upon him. Thank you for placing his righteousness upon me. And thank you for placing his Spirit deep within, that I might become a Christ-centered son, rather than remain a self-centered sinner.”

Beloveds, the eyes of our heavenly Father are seeking all over the world for worshipers like this. Truly, they are the joy of his heart.

And if you are among them—standing before his throne, leaning upon your Staff—be prepared! For like Jacob of old, you are sure to find yourself filled with the Spirit, and receiving words of wisdom from above.

When you do, simply extend your hands, lay them on the heads of God’s dear children (as he directs!), and speak the words boldly.

Behold, they too will become trees of worship, leaning on their Staff; they too will receive the inheritance of the princely sons of God!

I AM a Winner!

Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering,

For He who promised is faithful.

(Heb. 10:23)

It is a no good, very bad, horrible day.

The Titans are 13 and 0. Last night, they won the Regional Championship. Last night, the whole town—only months back torn and bleeding with racial strife—was deliriously united in the joy of victory. Last night, the eyes of all together were zeroing in on the prize: a win in the State Finals, and a walk into the history books.

But today, Gary Bertier—the all-American defensive linebacker and captain of the team—lies in a hospital, crippled for life. The automobile accident has changed everything.

Or almost everything.

Bill Yoast, coach of the defensive team, enters his office at the high school. Herman Boon, head coach of the Titans, joins him. Bertier’s presence—and his absence–fills the room.

Says Boon, “Here’s the Marshal film. We’ve got to be sharp offensively and defensively, got to stay focused, do a couple of extra practices. I’ve scheduled a press conference. . . ”

Interrupts Yoast, “Press conference! Look, what we do here, between ourselves, that’s one thing; but this is no time to be parading around . . . ”

Objects Boon, “It’s not about parading around, it’s about staying unified. Look, I’m hurting just like you. But I didn’t . . . we didn’t come this far just to break down and lose . . .”

Cries Yoast, “You know, Herman, everything’s not always about winning and losing; it’s about . . ”

Declares Boon, in no uncertain terms: “I am a winner. I am going to win.”

———-

So what do you think? Is Boon a callous, self-absorbed egomaniac? Yoast thought so. But the end of the matter—which was indeed a state championship for the Titans—proved otherwise. Boon really was a winner—and so was the whole team and the whole town that he loved and served, including Gary Bertier.

When Boon affirmed that he was a winner, it wasn’t ego; it was simply that the Truth had spoken through him.

Saints of God, days are coming when the storms of Providence will rage against you; when gale force winds threaten to blow you all the way back to Egypt, back into the very jowls of the world, the flesh, and the devil.

Then is the time you need to hold fast the confession of your hope, without wavering, and to remember that he who promised is faithful.

Has he promised that He chose you in Christ before the foundation of the world?

Has he assured you  that it is finished; that Christ has laid down his life for the sheep, so that not a single one shall ever perish, nor shall any ever snatch them out of his hand?

Has he guaranteed you that the saints are sealed with the Holy Spirit , who is the deposit  and pledge of your inheritance, until the redemption of the purchased possession at the resurrection of the dead, to the praise of his glory?

Has he made you to see and believe and thrill to the thought that whom he foreknew, these he predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son; and whom he predestined, these he also called; and whom he called, these he also justified; and whom he justified, these He also glorified?

If so, when the winds begin to rage, you must confess it. Confess it all. Confess it aloud to the entire stadium, to the whole great cloud of witnesses watching you run—to God, the angels, the saints above, your friends below, and to your own wavering self.

Say, “I am a Christian.

Say, “I will enter Heaven.”

Say, I am a winner, I am going to win.

Beloveds, it will be neither ego nor presumption, but simply the Truth—the voice of the faithful One who has promised—speaking through you.

And the great cloud of witnesses will cheer you on to victory.