"Who can measure the wealth and wisdom and knowledge of God? Who can understand his decisions or explain what he does? "Has anyone known the thoughts of the Lord or given him advice? Has anyone loaned something to the Lord that must be repaid?" Everything comes from the Lord. All things were made because of him and will return to him. Praise the Lord forever! Amen." (Romans 11:33-36 CEV)
"Remember Lazarus, the dead man? He had no options whatsoever. Jesus stood before the cold stone which sealed his tomb and ordered it removed, and then called out, "Lazarus, come forth!" And the dead man did so, now fully alive. A significant part of this event is contained in the name Lazarus — it means "without help." You see? God helps the helpless." James Ryle writes in his devotional Rylisms: The God of No Options. "Like Lazarus of old lying cold in his tomb, you and I will never be called into a new and deeper, more vibrant and wondrous walk with Jesus until we realize we truly have no other options but God."
That was the call of Pastor Shannon Nielsen of Mosaic A2 church in Ann Arbor at the first-ever "State of the Church" address yesterday. It is a theme that I have heard consistently throughout this experience called Christianity…..like the sweet, poetic singing of an unseen bird in the forest of this journey…..it sounds wondrous and free, even if you cannot discern the source in the covering of the treey canopy. "Go deeper"
For much of this journey towards home, with the filth and dung of the pigs still caked upon the meager clothing of my outfit, I have been approached by those that I have cross paths with….some on the same journey….with the adage, "God helps those who help themselves." Surely, they say, all the provisions of God….that stream over there, that sunlit meadow beyond are those things that God has laid in your path for the refreshment and caretaking of yourself……you don't really expect God to swoop down and wave His arm, washing you clean yourself do you?
We spend our journey in the meadows of this place, sitting comfortably in the pastures under the instruction of those who seem to know a bit more than we do, who have 'achieved' a bit more enlightenment that we ourselves are seemingly capable of……..we frolic in the waters that we come across, basking in the sunlit pastures of grassy seas to dry our clothing…….and yet, who can measure…..who can understand….
We long to remove the dust from the journey that grinds and chafes our skin…….the weight of the shield strapped to our backs or arms a burden we long to lay down beside the stream and be free of once and for all……the sword swings heavy on our hip…….we grow weary of the path that takes us through thickets and clinging plants…..we want and feel uncared for when we reach a clearing, take two steps and find ourselves back in the thick of the forest……
Surely that nice path is better, with tent and meals nicely packed in the satchel on our back……a leisurely stroll towards the meeting places of our brethren…..and eventually to our home.
Job thought that he had God figured out and therefore was justified in bringing his complaint before the Lord's judgment. With all he had suffered, all he had still proclaimed about God's sovereignty and authority, Job felt slighted and misaligned by the apparent allowance of judgment brought against him, for he had done what he could do to help the situation….and yet, nothing. Everything……everything down to the last blade of grass in his fields…..gone. Friends and his wife telling him it was his fault, that he needed to get up and find the source within his world, his life that had brought down such harsh judgment upon his head. His wife simply said, "Die……" Help yourself and be done with it. Find the reason and correct it. Demand your due for the praise you've given.
Far be it that such helpfulness is beyond any of our capabilities to deliver……
Chip Ingram notes Dawson Trotman took his passion and focus from his newly discovered salvation and stepped out into a journey that is written of in Daws: The Story of Dawson Trotman, Founder of the Navigators by Betty Lee Skinner…….a ministry that is in every major college campus all over the world and in the military (my brother serves as a missionary for this group in Germany)……Ingram brings up another impact made by Cameron Townsend…..the founder of Wycliffe Translator who went to sell Spanish Bibles to the Cakchiquel people in Guatemala, only to find that they didn't speak Spanish…..today the Wycliffe Translators endeavor to bring God's word written in the language of some 6,000 plus languages because of one simple man's realization that giving someone God's Word in their own heart's language is the most effective way to deliver the Gospel. In Uncle Cam, the beginning of a ministry that is well known as a leader in linguistics and in translating the Bible into over 2,000 languages is told. Ingram also read Hudson Taylor's Spiritual Secret, a life-changing tome about an inventive missionary to China who created the China Inland Mission…..of which I have spoken of in a past blog…..that still exists today as the Overseas Missionary Fellowship.
"I learned from these three books," Ingram writes in Good to Great In God's Eyes, "that God uses ordinary people to do extraordinary things." Not ordinary people do extraordinary things for God…..but God uses those who are helpless, hopelessly and utterly surrendered to Him in extraordinary, supernatural ways.
But, God's not looking for those who respect Him out of fear, or fearfully obey Him, or help themselves be the appearance of a 'godly' Christian. Just like the rich man whose riches are worth more than his eternal soul, the laborers who come late to the fields and get the same wages, or a man who would declare loyalty until death only to run like a coward from its possibility……we cannot help ourselves into the graces of God, the glory of doing His work or a comfortable life of easy paths and valleys…..
Passion and focus…..the driving themes of a Christian sold out to Christ.
Sold out to a God that is unknowable, at least to the standards we apply in our human understanding….sold out to a God that has ways that aren't anything like our own. A God to whom everything owes its beginnings to and whose ending is already known…for He has been to its coming and sees us for what we will be….even as He shapes us for that realization. Job experienced this God when He answered Job's accusations…..some thirty-eight chapters later……after all the 'God helps those who help themselves' conversations with his wife and friends……
"From out of a storm, the LORD said to Job: Why do you talk so much when you know so little? Now get ready to face me! Can you answer the questions I ask? How did I lay the foundation for the earth? Were you there? Doubtless you know who decided its length and width. What supports the foundation? Who placed the cornerstone, while morning stars sang, and angels rejoiced? When the ocean was born, I set its boundaries and wrapped it in blankets of thickest fog. Then I built a wall around it, locked the gates, and said, "Your powerful waves stop here! They can go no farther." Did you ever tell the sun to rise? And did it obey? Did it take hold of the earth and shake out the wicked like dust from a rug? Early dawn outlines the hills like stitches on clothing or sketches on clay. But its light is too much for those who are evil, and their power is broken. Job, have you ever walked on the ocean floor? Have you seen the gate to the world of the dead? And how large is the earth? Tell me, if you know! Where is the home of light, and where does darkness live? Can you lead them home? I'm certain you must be able to, since you were already born when I created everything. Have you been to the places where I keep snow and hail, until I use them to punish and conquer nations? From where does lightning leap, or the east wind blow? Who carves out a path for thunderstorms? Who sends torrents of rain on empty deserts where no one lives? Rain that changes barren land to meadows green with grass. Who is the father of the dew and of the rain? Who gives birth to the sleet and the frost that fall in winter, when streams and lakes freeze solid as a rock? Can you arrange stars in groups such as Orion and the Pleiades? Do you control the stars or set in place the Big Dipper and the Little Dipper? Do you know the laws that govern the heavens, and can you make them rule the earth? Can you order the clouds to send a downpour, or will lightning flash at your command? Did you teach birds to know that rain or floods are on their way? Can you count the clouds or pour out their water on the dry, lumpy soil? When lions are hungry, do you help them hunt? Do you send an animal into their den? And when starving young ravens cry out to me for food, do you satisfy their hunger? When do mountain goats and deer give birth? Have you been there when their young are born? How long are they pregnant before they deliver? Soon their young grow strong and then leave to be on their own. Who set wild donkeys free? I alone help them survive in salty desert sand. They stay far from crowded cities and refuse to be tamed. Instead, they roam the hills, searching for pastureland. Would a wild ox agree to live in your barn and labor for you? Could you force him to plow or to drag a heavy log to smooth out the soil? Can you depend on him to use his great strength and do your heavy work? Can you trust him to harvest your grain or take it to your barn from the threshing place? An ostrich proudly flaps her wings, but not because she loves her young. She abandons her eggs and lets the dusty ground keep them warm. And she doesn't seem to worry that the feet of an animal could crush them all. She treats her eggs as though they were not her own, unconcerned that her work might be for nothing. I myself made her foolish and without common sense. But once she starts running, she laughs at a rider on the fastest horse. Did you give horses their strength and the flowing hair along their necks? Did you make them able to jump like grasshoppers or to frighten people with their snorting? Before horses are ridden into battle, they paw at the ground, proud of their strength. Laughing at fear, they rush toward the fighting, while the weapons of their riders rattle and flash in the sun. Unable to stand still, they gallop eagerly into battle when trumpets blast. Stirred by the distant smells and sounds of war, they snort in reply to the trumpet. Did you teach hawks to fly south for the winter? Did you train eagles to build their nests on rocky cliffs, where they can look down to spot their next meal? Then their young gather to feast wherever the victim lies. I am the LORD All-Powerful, but you have argued that I am wrong. Now you must answer me. Face me and answer the questions I ask! Are you trying to prove that you are innocent by accusing me of injustice? Do you have a powerful arm and a thundering voice that compare with mine? If so, then surround yourself with glory and majesty. Show your furious anger! Throw down and crush all who are proud and evil. Wrap them in grave clothes and bury them together in the dusty soil. Do this, and I will agree that you have won this argument. I created both you and the hippopotamus. It eats only grass like an ox, but look at the mighty muscles in its body and legs. Its tail is like a cedar tree, and its thighs are thick. The bones in its legs are like bronze or iron. I made it more powerful than any other creature, yet I am stronger still. Undisturbed, it eats grass while the other animals play nearby. It rests in the shade of trees along the riverbank or hides among reeds in the swamp. It remains calm and unafraid with the Jordan River rushing and splashing in its face. There is no way to capture a hippopotamus-- not even by hooking its nose or blinding its eyes. Can you catch a sea monster by using a fishhook? Can you tie its mouth shut with a rope? Can it be led around by a ring in its nose or a hook in its jaw? Will it beg for mercy? Will it surrender as a slave for life? Can it be tied by the leg like a pet bird for little girls? Is it ever chopped up and its pieces bargained for in the fish-market? Can it be killed with harpoons or spears? Wrestle it just once-- that will be the end. Merely a glimpse of this monster makes all courage melt. And if it is too fierce for anyone to attack, who would dare oppose me? I am in command of the world and in debt to no one. What powerful legs, what a stout body this monster possesses! Who could strip off its armor or bring it under control with a harness? Who would try to open its jaws, full of fearsome teeth? Its back is covered with shield after shield, firmly bound and closer together than breath to breath. When this monster sneezes, lightning flashes, and its eyes glow like the dawn. Sparks and fiery flames explode from its mouth. And smoke spews from its nose like steam from a boiling pot, while its blazing breath scorches everything in sight. Its neck is so tremendous that everyone trembles, the weakest parts of its body are harder than iron, and its heart is stone. When this noisy monster appears, even the most powerful turn and run in fear. No sword or spear can harm it, and weapons of bronze or iron are as useless as straw or rotten wood. Rocks thrown from a sling cause it no more harm than husks of grain. This monster fears no arrows, it simply smiles at spears, and striking it with a stick is like slapping it with straw. As it crawls through the mud, its sharp and spiny hide tears the ground apart. And when it swims down deep, the sea starts churning like boiling oil, and it leaves behind a trail of shining white foam. No other creature on earth is so fearless. It is king of all proud creatures, and it looks upon the others as nothing." (Job 38:1-40:2, 40:7-42:1 CEV)
Face to face with God, we all shall come in the passage of our lives in this journey….a journey I trust you are taking towards Him………and in the end of this journey, God will declare that you owe Him an answer for the "helping yourself" into the purposes He has set aside for you…..
Will your answer be like Job's?
"Job said: No one can oppose you, because you have the power to do what you want. You asked why I talk so much when I know so little. I have talked about things that are far beyond my understanding. You told me to listen and answer your questions. I heard about you from others; now I have seen you with my own eyes. That's why I hate myself and sit here in dust and ashes to show my sorrow." (Job 42:1-6 CEV)
When we help ourselves, we declare God unable to do so. When we give our lives in absolute surrender, trusting in Him to help us who are now helpless, like Lazarus, we begin a life of extraordinary things because of an extraordinary God.