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Thursday, February 25, 2010

Meanwhile, Back at the Ranch...

The title of this post is a cliched segue from mid-century American Western television, in case you don't know it.  It was a casual way of saying that while the good guys thought they'd taken care of their problems, something else was going wrong back at home.
The Bible doesn't use a phrase like that, but the contrast between our perspective and what God sees is still apparent in so many passages.  Even as God was resolving one problem, people were doing something else to make a mess of things just a little distance away.  It makes me so thankful to have a patient God, because even though He gets angry or frustrated with us sometimes, He doesn't wipe mankind off the face of the earth for our bold rebellion.

A couple of nights ago, I was rereading a passage in Exodus (I've probably read that book a hundred times, but I always discover new things), about Moses on the mountain, learning the laws of the covenant, and the rebellion of his people at that very moment.  Only a short time before, God had descended on the mountain in a huge display of His power, making the people in the whole camp tremble (Exodus 19), and had personally met with Moses and the tribal leaders of Israel (Exodus 24: 9-14). You would think that the people would have remembered God, since they were camped in the shadow of the mountain where God was, but while God was discussing the Law with Moses on the mountain for "forty days and forty nights" (Exodus 24: 18), the people were down below making a golden calf idol to worship!  The excuse Aaron gave was that the people had basically forced him to make the calf, saying, "Make us gods who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who brought us up out of Egypt, we don't know what has happened to him" (Exodus 32: 23).

Wait a minute there.  "We don't know what has happened to him"?  They saw Moses go up the mountain, and they can see the cloud that is the presence of God on the mountain, smoking as if the mountain was on fire, and they don't know what happened to Moses, and they don't know where God is?  The lameness of this excuse is actually a little bit humorous, if it wasn't for the fact that it's such a terrible portrayal of the fallen human nature.

The Bible says, "Do you not know?  Have you not heard?  Has it not been told you from the beginning?  Have you not understood since the earth was founded?  He sits enthroned above the circle of the earth, and its people are like grasshoppers. He stretches out the heavens like a canopy, and spreads them out like a tent to live in" (Isaiah 40: 21, 22 NIV).

God misses nothing, and He's not so weak that we can truly challenge Him in our own strength.  He always sees what's going on below His nose, since we are all so small compared to Him.  If we disobey God, we are always doing so, figuratively speaking, at the foot of the mountain while God looks on. But the Bible still offers us hope: "But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5: 8 NIV).  So God sees it all, but He still made a way for us to escape His justifiable anger because He loves us!

A View of the Future

 How many people today can literally stand in the shadow of God, with good leaders before them, and still party on in their rebellion?  They don't even have a reasonable fear of God's wrath.  This shouldn't be, yet it is.  As David wrote, "The fool says in his heart, 'There is no God.'  They are corrupt, and their ways are vile; there is no one who does good.  God looks down from heaven on the sons of men to see if there are any who understand, any who seek God.  Everyone has turned away, they have together become corrupt; there is no one who does good, not even one" (Psalm 53: 1-3 NIV).

Yes, it does say "not even one" person does what is right.  That means even Christians can sin against God, just like the Israelites at the foot of the mountain--knowing better but doing it anyway.  Even Christians can excuse bad behavior in themselves, forgetting that God sees.  Perhaps the reason why the Bible doesn't have a phrase like, "meanwhile, back at the ranch," is that it is a human phrase, limited by our perspective.  The Bible looks at us from God's perspective, seeing all at once and surprised by nothing.   God has given the Bible to us as a tool with which to look at our lives the way God sees us, not the way other people do.  We should use that tool to test ourselves, so that we can not be found among the rebels at the foot of the mountain when God looks down to judge us all.

The Bible predicts more of this blatant rebellion (2 Timothy 3: 1-5) which will continue until the end of this earth.  As for those who follow God to the end, we are instructed to "make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him," (2 Peter 3: 14 NIV).  This is not a hopeless challenge, either, because, "with God, all things are possible," (Matthew 19: 26 NIV).

So, let the whole world revel in gods made by their own hands, weaker than they are, born of fire and leading to destruction by fire, but today let Christians say, "as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord," (Joshua 24: 15 NIV).  We have the God we can meet face to face, great in power yet full of patience and mercy, so let us submit both ourselves and "the ranch" to God for safe-keeping, so that He can bring us victory over evil.