Saturday, January 29, 2011

God: Irrevocably Faithful

In his book, God Gives Second Chances, Pentecostal preacher R.T. Kendall writes about the strange phenomenon of people who have turned away from God, yet remain the Church, sometimes in positions of leadership, and still evidence the spiritual gifts God has given to them. He writes:
People ask, How can a person's gift flourish when they are living in sin [whatever the sin might be]? I can only answer with Romans 11:29: "For God's gifts and his call are irrevocable"...This verse refers principally to God's own decree that He will not change His mind, but Paul is also saying that whether or not a person has repented of their sins is not a necessary condition for receiving or maintaining a spiritual gift...Spiritual or ministerial gifts are sovereignly bestowed on a person, not because of one's good works...
I thought of Kendall's point during my morning devotions using today's installment of Our Daily Bread. Written by David C. McCasland, it's based on 1 Kings 10:23, 11:1-10. That passage is about ancient Israel's third and most powerful king, Solomon.

When Solomon came to the throne, he was just a boy and overwhelmed by the responsibilities that had been thrust upon him. Early in his reign, Solomon was visited by God in a dream. "Ask what I should give you," God told him. Solomon told God how daunting his responsibilities were and then made his request: "Give your understanding mind to govern your people, able to discern between good and evil..." (1 Kings 3:3-14). Solomon asked for the gift of wisdom and God granted it to Solomon.

Solomon possessed that wisdom until the end of his days. We're told that he was the wise composer of Proverbs and of the more world-weary Ecclesiastes, which, as McCasland points out, in spite of a depressing fixation on life's supposed "vanity" (or futility), ends with this bit of wisdom:
Fear God and keep his commandments; for that is the whole duty of everyone. For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every secret thing, whether good or evil (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14).
But, though given the gift of wisdom by God irrevocably, Solomon misused his gifts to walk away from God and to buttress his level of comfort and power in this world. He did this at the expense of his own relationship with God and that of his country. (See Jesus' words here.) Look at the verses on which the Our Daily Bread piece for the day is based:
Thus King Solomon excelled all the kings of the earth in riches and in wisdom.
King Solomon loved many foreign women along with the daughter of Pharaoh: Moabite, Ammonite, Edomite, Sidonian, and Hittite women, from the nations concerning which the Lord had said to the Israelites, “You shall not enter into marriage with them, neither shall they with you; for they will surely incline your heart to follow their gods”; Solomon clung to these in love. Among his wives were seven hundred princesses and three hundred concubines; and his wives turned away his heart. For when Solomon was old, his wives turned away his heart after other gods; and his heart was not true to the Lord his God, as was the heart of his father David. For Solomon followed Astarte the goddess of the Sidonians, and Milcom the abomination of the Ammonites. So Solomon did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, and did not completely follow the Lord, as his father David had done. Then Solomon built a high place for Chemosh the abomination of Moab, and for Molech the abomination of the Ammonites, on the mountain east of Jerusalem. He did the same for all his foreign wives, who offered incense and sacrificed to their gods.
Then the Lord was angry with Solomon, because his heart had turned away from the Lord, the God of Israel, who had appeared to him twice, and had commanded him concerning this matter, that he should not follow other gods; but he did not observe what the Lord commanded. 
What happened to Solomon was a personal tragedy, of course. But his splintered allegiance also impacted his people, God's chosen people. Along with Solomon and his 1000 wives, they embraced false gods, their allegiance to God alone fractured. They embraced dependence on things like power, wealth, and sexual adventurism, rather than on God alone. When spiritual leaders or people whose faith we admire turn from God, it can have a terrible effect on us all.

In fact, when any member of the Church "defects" from God, it can effect many people. And sometimes, their defection may be unknown to us and unnoticed even by the defectors themselves. That's the focus of something that Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote about in the portion of The Cost of Discipleship I read last evening.

Bonhoeffer talks about Jesus' discussion of wolves in sheep's clothing, people who never did believe or who have departed from faith, who may be in the midst of the Church:
The disciples of Jesus must not fondly imagine that they can simply run away from the world and huddle together in a little band. False prophets will rise up among them, and amid the ensuing confusion they [that is, the the followers of Jesus in His Church] will feel more isolated than ever. There is someone standing by my side, who looks just like a member of the Church. He is a prophet and a preacher. He looks like a Christian, he talks and acts like one. But dark powers are mysteriously at work...Inwardly he is a ravening wolf: his words are lies and his works are full of deceit. He knows only too well how to keep his secret dark, and go ahead with his work. It is not faith in Jesus Christ which made him one of us, but the devil...His ambitions are set on the world, not on Jesus Christ. Knowing that Christians are credulous people, he conceals his dark purpose beneath the cloak of Christian piety, hoping that his innocuous disguise will avert detection. He knows that Christians are forbidden to judge, and he will remind them of it at the appropriate time...Thus he succeeds in seducing many from the right way. He may even be unconscious himself of what he is doing.* The devil can give him every encouragement and at the same time keep him in the dark about his own motives.
That, to me, is both chilling and instructive. Like the proverbial frogs in the kettle, unaware that the temperature of the once cold water in which they settle is being brought to a boil, we can become so accustomed to the evil around us and within us, that, without our even knowing it, we defect from the God Who sent His Son Jesus to die and rise for us and in Whom, with our words, we may even confess every Sunday morning.

But faith in Jesus is not just words.

Our Gospel lesson for tomorrow, Matthew 5:1-12, which includes the beginning portion of Jesus' Sermon on the Mount in which Jesus shares what are called the Beatitudes, we read this:
When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him.
We cannot and, as Christians, should not seek to, control the faith or beliefs of others. And we cannot control the things that happen to us in our lives. But we can do this: We can, like the disciples on that mountaintop, come to Jesus. And when we fail, we sin, or we get hurt by life, we keep coming to Jesus.

God is irrevocably faithful. And if we will come to Jesus each day, whatever befalls us, we will not only be blessed, we will know that we are blessed, and live in the Kingdom of heaven now and in eternity.

*My underline.

No comments: