Letting God Pick Our Battles

Image by Richard Mcall from Pixabay

Picking your battles, rather than trying to fight and win every fight that comes your way, is a good piece of advice.  However, who should pick which battles to fight?  The Old Testament book of Judges is a record of the consequences of Israel’s failure to completely conquer the promised land, a battle God gave them to fight and win.  Judges also shows more generally what happens when anyone picks the wrong battles to fight: they end up with less than what God intended for them.

For example, Judges 1:19 tells us: “And the LORD was with Judah, and he took possession of the hill country, but he could not drive out the inhabitants of the plain because they had chariots of iron.

This verse, especially the second part, is written from a human perspective.  God did not tell Israel to conquer all of the promised land, except for the plains.  God is not afraid of chariots.  He told them to conquer all of it, but Israel thought that chariots couldn’t be defeated, so they decided not to fight in the plain.  By using their own judgement and preferring to fight in hills or forests where chariots were less effective, they failed to fully receive what God had promised them.

An application to us is that our inheritance is Christ’s righteousness, and Jesus tells us “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.[1]  Jesus is telling us that righteousness is like food and drink.  We can never have enough because no matter how much we eat and drink, our hunger and thirst soon return.  We are all in different places, at different levels of knowledge and maturity, but in Christ we are all on the same path and have an appetite only He can satisfy.

To be satisfied, we cannot settle for what we have already accomplished, the hill country we have already taken.  To be satisfied, we must fight the chariots in the plains if that is what God wants us to do, so that we learn to rely on His strength.  To be satisfied, we move from only fighting battles we choose based on our own wisdom and ability to choosing the battles we will win in His strength.

Sometimes life is hard on purpose, so that God alone may be glorified in victory, and also so that we may grow in our faith in His strength.  When we let Him pick our battles, we learn that His righteousness is the only thing that will satisfy us.  Nothing less will do.


[1] Matthew 5:6

An Ethic That Epitomizes Love for God and Neighbor

Photo by Robert Guss on Unsplash

When James 1:27 was written, James wasn’t resorting to hyperbole for mere effect.  He meant what he said, which is: “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.”  James didn’t choose his example haphazardly and he didn’t make such a strong statement just as a nice sentiment for a Hallmark card.  But what does he mean?

Because Jesus said that to love God and to love your neighbor were the greatest commandments, the highest form of religion, James is probably using “to visit orphans and widows in their affliction” as the purest, most undefiled form of love.  In James’ time, these were the people genuinely unloved by the world – the ones who fell through the cracks of society.  Not only were they without a husband or parents, but society was not providing for them either and they were truly abandoned “in their affliction.”  Anyone caring for them would get no credit or recognition for it.  Therefore, the only motive for visiting them is love for them.  Pure love, with no impurity or stain from a desire to get something in return.

James specifically refers to “God the Father,” who has always taken His own, and His peoples, responsibility to widows and orphans seriously.  He wants to take care of them, but Psalm 94:6-7 says about the rulers of the nations, including Israel: “They kill the widow and the sojourner, and murder the fatherless; and they say, ‘The LORD does not see; the God of Jacob does not perceive.’”  They preyed on those nobody cared about, and also boasted that not even God cared.

When any group of people – even[1] one with God’s institutions of His law, temple, priests, prophets, and kings ruling the promised land – neglects the oppressed, their religion is impure and defiled.  All institutions – including ones provided by God – are useless outside of God’s purpose for them.  The temple was a way to approach God by sacrifice, foreshadowing Jesus’ death on the cross, but Judah used it as a way to appease Him so they could do their own thing.  Jeremiah criticized the religious leaders of his day, who thought they were free from judgement because “This is the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD,”[2] treating the temple as more important than God Himself and a reason God would always bless them.  However, God doesn’t want us to follow a checklist of religious observance – He wants us to be His loving family.

Because they replaced love with empty religion, Israel was cast into exile under the Babylonians, and Jeremiah cries in Lamentations 5:3 that “We have become orphans, fatherless; our mothers are like widows.”  Perhaps God would teach compassion to His people through painful discipline and experience, living like those they ignored.

Unstained
Visiting widows and orphans keeps one unstained from the world when it thinks that it’s ok to leave some behind.  That it’s ok to think we can’t do any better and that God doesn’t see, and that He doesn’t have an answer for it.  That if we follow the letter of the law, or rely on institutions, but not on the spirit of love, God will just look the other way because we tried our best.

Therefore, don’t visit widows and orphans because its popular, because a law tells you to, or for any reason besides Godly love, because when we mix in worldly motives, we risk loving only those who are popular to love or who our government and culture have put in favored positions.  Maybe we even reduce love to a comment about distant people trending on social media at the time, and not those individuals who are actually suffering the most.  These people are often right in front of us.

Heaven is for people who

love when there’s nothing

more at stake than

the person being loved.

It is by ministering to specific widows and orphans in their need that the Christian retains the preservative power of salt and the illuminating power of light to the world.[3]  It’s not the idea, but the actual visiting that is pure and undefiled.  Me writing this and you reading this is only an idea.  But it is a beginning.

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
Heaven is for people who love when there’s nothing more at stake than the person being loved.  Only Jesus has met this standard, but He has made a Way to Life for those willing to accept His Truth.  Jesus willingly takes our stain on the cross, and gives us His righteousness as a free gift, but only if we actually want His righteousness more than we want our stained world.  In Christ, the Father will change His people into people who care for widows and orphans.  People like that don’t need anything else to make a perfect society.  It’s loving people that make a perfect society, not rules and institutions, and certainly not good intentions that leave people behind.  Paradise will be a society that is pure, undefiled, and unstained, and where the only Institution needed is Jesus, our Prophet, Priest, and King.

No better solution exists than God the Father’s plan to build a family where everyone loves Him and loves their neighbor as themselves, and when we visit widows and orphans, we illustrate the truth that God sees them and cares for them, even when nobody else does.

Visiting widows and orphans is an ethic that epitomizes love for God and neighbor.


Look for more posts based on James 1:27 in the coming Saturdays.  The more I think about the verse, the more implications of it I see.  Next Up: An Ethic That Applies in all Places and Times.  There are always widows and orphans. Also, this series is part of the ongoing Beatitudes series but this one skips to Matthew 5:8 – “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.


[1] Perhaps especially.
[2] Jeremiah 7:4
[3] Matthew 5:13-16

Rewind Wednesday is Also Blessed are the Meek #6!

This Rewind Wednesday not only revisits an old post about a cornerstone, but also provides a capstone for the series on “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth,” the third Beatitude from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5.  “Creation vs. Anti-Creation” was first posted on May 28, 2021, as the second-ever post to this blog.  In it was an as-brief-as-possible history of creative forces working with and against God in this world but culminating when “All God’s people will inherit a perfect heaven and earth” where “All creative forces will be aligned to achieve perfection.”

The Beatitudes tell us the meek are blessed, but also why they are blessed: because God will give them the earth as an inheritance.  Not this stinky one, but a perfected one.  Heaven will be full of people made like Christ, who perfectly follow His law of self-sacrificial love.  Both creation and character will be made whole.  However, if we don’t agree on His definition of “perfect” then neither will we humble ourselves and be meek, nor will we inherit the earth.

Even if our early efforts at following Christ are imperfect, without those early efforts the later efforts may never happen.  What can you build on the cornerstone of Christ?

Read “Creation vs. Anti-Creation” at the link below! (Estimated reading time 10 minutes)

Don’t Let the Stink Stop You – Blessed are the Meek #5

Since it’s been nearly 3 months since the last post on the topic, here’s a review of the series on meekness[1] so far.  The first two posts contrasted two characters from the movie The Matrix, Agent Smith and Neo, to Jesus.  Agent Smith was the “Malevolent Incarnation,” who used and enforced rules to keep people in their place.  Smith can’t stand the stink of humanity and just wants to be free of it.  Neo, the hero of the Matrix series, is the “Ambivalent Incarnation” who wants to free mankind from rules, but otherwise wants to let them be as they are.  However, under Neo’s no-rules philosophy of “everyone should do what they want,” there is no foundation from which to object to anything someone else does, including brutal oppression.  Any objection is also an objection to the same philosophy Neo claims to hold, and “no city or house divided against itself will stand.”[2]

Jesus, contrasted to these, is the “Benevolent Incarnation.”  Jesus is more aware of the problems that make Agent Smith repulsed by us and that make him want to control us, but He also does not leave us alone with no way to overcome our problems.  He rules us for our good, and because we cannot meet His perfect standard, He lived it in our place, then died to cover the cost of our failure.  He wants to fix our stink, not because He hates us as Agent Smith does, but because He loves us in spite of our stink.  He refuses to allow us to stink forever, as Neo would.  He is benevolent, not malevolent or ambivalent.

Meekness is the third step in the Beatitudes, an intentionally sequential series of statements that describe what’s involved in following God, like gears in a machine: “First, being poor in spirit means that we have emptied ourselves of all illusions that our plans are better than God’s.  Second, mourning the state of ourselves and our world means we are emotionally engaged.  That we care.  In the third Beatitude, being meek is where we begin to engage our will, submitting it to God as our benevolent Lord.”

He wants us to also be benevolent incarnations, however we often don’t want to engage the third gear of meekness, where “the rubber meets the road” so to speak.  But if we don’t embrace it “the first two Beatitudes alone can leave us in a place where we’re a mess and the world is a terrible place and there’s nothing we can do about any of it.  It can be a place of depression and despair.”

Martha almost found herself stuck in this place when Jesus returned to Bethany after the death of Lazarus, her brother.  Jesus found the family mourning, then: “Jesus said, ‘Take away the stone.’ Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, ‘Lord, by this time there will be an odor, for he has been dead four days.”  (John 11:39).  Jesus intended to raise Lazarus from the dead, but for Martha the stink was all she could think of.  Patently, Jesus encouraged her, the stone covering the entrance to the tomb was moved, and Lazarus walked out of the grave alive!

Don’t Let the Stink Stop You
Does the stench of sin keep us from being meek?  Do we, like Agent Smith, just want people to behave so we can go about our way?  Or does our obedience come first?  Jesus wants us to live as He lived, but we only can if we accept His righteousness and become invested in it at all levels of our being.  If we are truly poor in spirit and mourn our sin, what’s stopping us?

God won’t tell us to move the stone from Lazarus’ grave – that was Martha’s task. It also was not Jesus’ task.  We don’t do what Jesus would do, but what He would have us do.  He could have moved the stone Himself, but He wanted Martha to participate in His work, but to do that she had to be willing to be uncomfortable.

We all are often in Martha’s place, struggling with what Jesus wants us to do.  He asks us to do things that don’t make sense to us, that don’t make sense to the world, and sometimes it stinks (sometimes literally).  Jesus wants to bring His people to life, as He did with Lazarus, but there may be a stone He wants you to move, and it will only move if you have faith in Him stronger than the stink involved.

Meekness is the Cross
Meekness means carrying the cross the Father assigns to us.  For Jesus it was taking on all the sin of the world, not just by His death on a literal cross, but also by proactively taking on the consequences of it for the benefit of others.  We stink but He did not leave us alone.  For us, carrying the cross involves taking on some of the stink of the world, stepping into the suffering of others and offering the life that only Jesus can give.  What an amazing contrast this is to what’s so common today: pointing out sin everywhere and demanding those “other sinners” pay the price, or demanding that government solve the problem somehow, or withdrawing from problems that seem too big to do anything about.

Is there a stinky situation you’re aware of, but avoiding?  Being meek toward Jesus means we’re on board with His plan of salvation and willing to do our part, whatever that is.  Sometimes all that’s needed to bring someone life is moving a stone and enduring the odor.  While the smell was enough for Martha to hesitate, to Jesus it was part of the cost of living and dying for us.  He was willing to bear it, and if we meekly move the stone, Jesus will do the rest.


Post Script
Sometimes I put off writing thinking the time is better spent on the people and situations right in front of me.  Is hiding behind a screen and keyboard just an avoidance tactic?  At other times I know that each person’s meekness includes a response to their own calling and use of their specific gifts: “if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching.” (Romans 12:7). Meekness is difficult, and I pray we all find better balance as we grow in Christ.  Do the things God calls you to, even if it stinks sometimes!


[1] If you have the time, the previous posts are here: [1], [2], [3], and [4].  But I’ll summarize here as best I can.
[2] Matthew 12:25

When You’re Stuck in Second Gear – Blessed are the Meek #4

Everybody struggles with maintaining hope in tough times, and also with knowing and doing God’s will when what we feel is right seems irrelevant.  Today I’m going to cover a story of how the Old Testament prophet Jeremiah struggled to understand an idea God gave him to share hope with future generations, including us.  The story also loosely follows the outline of the first three Beatitudes and therefore fits in the “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth” series.

If misunderstood, the first two Beatitudes alone can leave us in a place where we’re a mess and the world is a terrible place and there’s nothing we can do about any of it.  It can be a place of depression and despair.  Like in the theme song from the TV show Friends[1], we feel like “It hasn’t been your day, your week, your month, or even your year.”  Where does it end?  But God promises that there is work for each of us to do: “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:10) The third Beatitude, “Blessed are the meek” promises a way forward – for every person in their own way to do whatever He has prepared for them.

The Gearbox of the Beatitudes
As I wrote in the first post on “Blessed are those who mourn” I believe the Beatitudes are an intentional sequence, and here I’ll describe better what I mean.  The Beatitudes are not a chronological path we move through as we mature.  We don’t learn to be fully poor in spirit before we can get any better at mourning or being meek.  The picture is more like gears in a machine that all need to work together for the machine to function in each specific situation.  Weakness in one place affects the entire machine and Jesus was explaining specific parts of becoming more like Him.  God, as our maker, knows how we function, the reasons behind when we fail to function, and the solution.  With the Beatitudes, Jesus encourages us to use the machine for what it was made for – loving God and neighbor in all times and circumstances.  First, being poor in spirit means that we have emptied ourselves of all illusions that our plans are better than God’s.  Second, mourning the state of ourselves and our world means we are emotionally engaged.  That we care.  In the third Beatitude, being meek is where we begin to engage our will, submitting it to God as our benevolent Lord.  If we don’t, “it’s like you’re always stuck in second gear” from the Friends theme song.

The story today (from Jeremiah 32) finds Jeremiah stuck.  The Jews had him imprisoned for speaking the words of their own God, and while he was there, God told him that he should buy a field.  Not only was Jeremiah in prison, but the field he was asked to buy was in enemy territory.  The Babylonians had already conquered much of Judah and were besieging Jerusalem.  Surrounded by despair, we can easily imagine Jeremiah asking: what good will it do?  He might think cutting off Nebuchadnezzar’s ear would be a better idea[2].

Jeremiah Inspects the Gears
As readers of the book of Jeremiah, we are doubly blessed to know that he did buy the field, but also that he recorded his prayer to God as he tried to overcome his reservations.  The prayer is in chapter 32, verses 17-25, and loosely reviews the first two Beatitudes, while he is having trouble engaging the third gear of meekness.  His mind and emotions are engaged, but his will hesitates.

First, Jeremiah reviews the power, character, and history of God to remind him to rely on His Spirit, not on the poverty of his own spirit in verses 17 to 23:

“‘Ah, Lord GOD! It is you who have made the heavens and the earth by your great power and by your outstretched arm! Nothing is too hard for you.  You show steadfast love to thousands, but you repay the guilt of fathers to their children after them, O great and mighty God, whose name is the LORD of hosts, great in counsel and mighty in deed, whose eyes are open to all the ways of the children of man, rewarding each one according to his ways and according to the fruit of his deeds. You have shown signs and wonders in the land of Egypt, and to this day in Israel and among all mankind, and have made a name for yourself, as at this day.  You brought your people Israel out of the land of Egypt with signs and wonders, with a strong hand and outstretched arm, and with great terror.  And you gave them this land, which you swore to their fathers to give them, a land flowing with milk and honey.  And they entered and took possession of it.

Second, Jeremiah mourns the consequences of Judah’s disobedience starting in the middle of verse 23 through verse 24:

But they did not obey your voice or walk in your law. They did nothing of all you commanded them to do. Therefore you have made all this disaster come upon them.  Behold, the siege mounds have come up to the city to take it, and because of sword and famine and pestilence the city is given into the hands of the Chaldeans who are fighting against it. What you spoke has come to pass, and behold, you see it.

Yet the prayer closes with Jeremiah doubting the significance of his own obedience in verse 25:

Yet you, O Lord GOD, have said to me, “Buy the field for money and get witnesses”—though the city is given into the hands of the Chaldeans.

In a book where the main theme is (temporary and partial) judgment on God’s people who had turned away from Him, there are also moments of (eternal) hope.  Jeremiah bought the field – to show God’s people that their exile would be temporary, and their eternal hope was secure. As the Beatitude says, the meek “shall inherit the earth“!   But there are also two notes of hope for us living centuries later: 1) that doubt is not something only “weak” Christians feel.  Jeremiah felt it too.  And 2) that encouragement matters, even if we see it as a meaningless drop in a turbulent ocean.  If God calls us to do it, it is meaningful.  For a lot of people “It hasn’t been their day, their week, their month, or even their year.”  As I write, the Covid-19 pandemic isn’t quite over and many are struggling to return to “normal,” which isn’t what it used to be.  To quote an old friend of mine in a recent Facebook post: “Encouragement. Everyone needs it, and we hardly ever share it. Don’t wait. Spread the love!”

If you still find yourself stuck, hesitant to shine God’s light in the darkness, go before God and follow the pattern of Jeremiah’s prayer – remember the power of His Spirit when yours is weak and the significance of obedience even in small things.  You might find not only yourself getting out of second gear, but also helping someone else move beyond a rut they’ve found themselves in.

Let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” – Hebrews 10:25


This post continues a series on the Beatitudes. To start at the beginning, click here.


[1] “I’ll Be There For You” by The Rembrandts (audio here)
[2] See the post “He Who Sits in the Heavens Laughs (Part 2)” for more on the growth in the Apostle Peter from cutting off Malchus’ ear to teaching “So put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander.” (1 Peter 2:1)