Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Straightening Out Twisted Desires--Korah's Legacy

Hmmm, I had planned to write on how to make disciples the way Jesus made them this week, but I feel strongly impressed to share instead an article I wrote a while back. If this article is posted for you, please let me know. (I will do the making disciples thing next time, I think!).
Many of you probably share my love for Psalm 42 and Psalm 84. Lots of God’s people love these psalms, and some beautiful contemporary worship songs are based on these psalms. The first verses of these psalms reveal why we love them so much: Psalm 42 reads “As a deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God?” and Psalm 84 reads “How lovely is your dwelling place, O LORD Almighty! My soul yearns, even faints, for the courts of the LORD; my heart and my flesh cry out for the living God.” It is the passionate longing for God, the tender intimacy with Him, the clear experience of His presence, the pure and overpowering desire for God and God alone that appeals to us in these psalms, isn’t it?

Because of the passionate desire for God in these psalms, many people assume that David wrote them, but he didn’t! These psalms (and several others that many of us love) were written by men who were musicians and gatekeepers in “the house of the Lord” (in this case the tent that David prepared for Ark of the Covenant). They were men who were influenced and led by David, but their passion for God was their own!

Not too long ago, God began to show me that not only did these men write some of our favorite psalms (Psalms 42-49 and 84, 85, 87-88), their story also represents one of the most remarkable demonstrations of God’s power to redeem and transform found in the Bible. You see, these men, known as the “sons of Korah,” were descendants of the Korah who led a huge rebellion against Moses in the days of the wilderness wanderings. Because of its redemptive promise, the story of Korah and his descendants is encouraging to anyone who hears it. God took the twisted desires of Korah and purified them into the beauty we see in Psalms 42 and 84. What do I mean? I have shared parts of this with a few of you, but let me unfold this amazing story for all.The narrative of Korah’s rebellion is found in Numbers 16, and it’s an account that should put a healthy fear of God and respect for His leaders in all who read it! (I recommend that you read the story in your Bible before continuing this article.) Korah, a Levite, and two leaders from the tribe of Reuben (Dathan and Abiram) brought 250 other leaders with them to confront Moses and Aaron, challenging and essentially rejecting Moses’ and Aaron’s leadership. They said (v. 3), “You have gone too far! The whole community is holy, every one of them, and the LORD is with them. Why then do you set yourselves above the LORD’s assembly?” Moses, of course, went before the Lord and then invited these men to present themselves before the Lord with incense the next day to see whom the Lord would choose to bring near to Him. If you read the story as I suggested, you know that it didn’t end well for these rebellious men or their families! Verses 28-35 recount what happened:

28 Then Moses said, “This is how you will know that the LORD has sent me to do all these things and that it was not my idea: 29 If these men die a natural death and experience only what usually happens to men, then the LORD has not sent me. 30 But if the LORD brings about something totally new, and the earth opens its mouth and swallows them, with everything that belongs to them, and they go down alive into the grave, then you will know that these men have treated the LORD with contempt.”
31 As soon as he finished saying all this, the ground under them split apart 32 and the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them, with their households and all Korah’s men and all their possessions. 33 They went down alive into the grave, with everything they owned; the earth closed over them, and they perished and were gone from the community. 34 At their cries, all the Israelites around them fled, shouting, “The earth is going to swallow us too!”
35 And fire came out from the LORD and consumed the 250 men who were offering the incense.

At this point, you may be wondering how this story could possibly have a positive outcome, and I can’t blame you. But God has a wonderful way of giving hope and bringing change when things seem impossible. Here’s how He did that in this case.

First, Korah’s line was not entirely destroyed by God’s judgment during the rebellion. Numbers 26:11 says, “The line of Korah, however, did not die out.” Indeed, the line of Korah later produced some of the greatest and most significant leaders in the history of God’s people. In addition to the musicians we meet in the Psalms, the great leader/prophet Samuel was also a descendant of Korah! And Samuel’s grandson, Heman, apparently was not only a musician and gatekeeper (one of the “sons of Korah”), but also a prophet himself. He is called the king’s seer and was greatly blessed by the Lord (see 1 Chronicles 25:5). Heman’s destiny is in itself a wonderful story of redemption because his father, Joel, son of Samuel, was not at all a godly man (see 1 Samuel 8:1-3, a very sad story, but Heman redeemed the family heritage!).

Now, view the original story with me and see if you also see what I saw. Korah’s rebellion grew out of two strong desires: the desire to be a leader of the people of God and the desire to lead all of God’s people into God’s presence. Do you see what I see? These desires are not bad desires. Indeed, the second desire (expressed in the words, “the whole community is holy”) was actually God’s plan all along and has now been fulfilled in us! Furthermore, these two desires were fulfilled in a healthy way by Korah’s descendants! Samuel lived in the presence of the Lord and was one of Israel’s greatest leaders and prophets. It was even Samuel’s privilege to anoint David as King of Israel, the ancestor of Jesus the Messiah! And Heman and the other “sons of Korah” not only the led the people of God into His presence through worship and prophecy, they themselves clearly enjoyed encounters with God’s presence that left them continually hungry for God!

There are all kinds of wonderful lessons to be found here. First, consider why Korah’s desires became twisted and led to his death and the destruction of many other people: PRIDE! Korah had desires that may have started out good, but his prideful refusal to submit to God’s plan, timing and leaders, ended up twisting those desires to the extent that they led to his destruction. His descendants, on the other hand, walked in humility before God and apparently learned to seek God alone, not what God could give them. Pride twisted Korah’s desire; humility allowed God to redeem it in his descendants. Big thought here, eh? Even good desires must be submitted to God and made subject to His timing and control, lest they be twisted by pride. And I believe that the real key to having pure desires is to have all desires grow out of an overwhelming desire for God alone!

But there are other encouraging lessons to be had here. Consider some other applications to your life. First, because of God’s amazing love and power to redeem things, your past doesn’t ever have to hinder God’s plan for you! Your ancestry need not determine your destiny with the Lord Jesus! Second, even a less-than-perfect past (or set of ancestors) may hold at least some of the seeds of your future. Perhaps even in the worst of histories you will discover something that can be redeemed. I will let you ponder that one for yourself. Third, some of our godly desires may not be ours to fulfill, but if we will be good parents in both the literal and spiritual sense, those desires may be lived out by our “descendants.” Many of us have already seen evidence of this either through our biological children or our spiritual children (or both!). In fact, many of my “spiritual children” are already going beyond anything I could have imagined for myself!

Our other favorite Psalmist, David, had the privilege of living out these lessons himself! David’s passionate love for God gave birth to his desire to build a temple for God. But God told David it was not for him to build a temple but for his descendant. David could have been prideful and pressed on ahead with his desire, but instead he submitted to God’s timing. As a result, not only did the world see the marvel of Solomon’s Temple but of the even greater Temple that David’s greatest descendant is building, the temple that Jesus is building not with stones but with people—wow! We would do well, then, to consider what David had to say about desires in another favorite psalm. I close this article with Psalm 37:3-11. I am sure you will see the connection!

3 Trust in the LORD and do good; dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture.
4 Delight yourself in the LORD and he will give you the desires of your heart.
5 Commit your way to the LORD; trust in him and he will do this:
6 He will make your righteousness shine like the dawn, the justice of your cause like the noonday sun.
7 Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for him;
do not fret when men succeed in their ways, when they carry out their wicked schemes.
8 Refrain from anger and turn from wrath; do not fret—it leads only to evil.
9 For evil men will be cut off, but those who hope in the LORD will inherit the land.
10 A little while, and the wicked will be no more; though you look for them, they will not be found.
11 But the meek (humble!) will inherit the land and enjoy great peace.

I hope this blesses someone out there!

Stay lost in His love,

Tom, the least of Abba's children

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Emotionally Healthy Spirituality

I try to recommend only the very best of the best in terms of books to read. Three books that I think every believer should read are The Shack by Paul Young (mentioned recently), Dialogue with God by Mark and Patti Virkler, and Emotionally Healthy Spirituality by Peter Scazzero. I can't emphasize enough the potential for transformation that is contained in this last book.

Pete Scazzero does a masterful job of blending principles that lead to genuine emotional health with the disciplines of contemplative spirituality in a way that can literally change your life even if you have been stuck for years and years. Let me quote from the cover of the book. "The Christian faith is supposed to produce deep, positive change, isn't it? So why doesn't it seem to work in real life? This question screamed at Pastor Peter Scazzero when his church and marriage hit bottom and every 'Christian' remedy he tried produced nothing but more anger and fatigue. As he began digging under the 'good Christian' veneer, he discovered emotional layers of his life that God had not touched--layers he had carefully tried to conceal from everyone. The resulting emotional immaturity had left him spiritually immature--and it nearly cost him everything. But for Scazzero, finally realizing the critical link between emotional and spiritual health turned the failure of his dreams into the beginning of a journey that would forever change him, his church and his relationships."

Okay, so I know that every Christian book claims to be life-transforming! But this one really is. Get this book, read it and then let me know what you think. I don't believe you can read this book with an open heart and mind and not be changed.

And now, on another note, I ran across the following as I was cleaning out some files. Call it "Reflections on Brokenness." These are all from my "Secret Place" Journal.

From December 25, 2006

Ah, Father, as I look at your face, I see how your love is indeed steadfast and constant. It is your most powerful weapon, pushing inexorably into every crevice of our lives and hearts. And it will always pursue, always reach. But it only reaches into the hearts of the broken, the humble, the soft. If we are broken, the oil of your love can seep down into the cracks. If we are soft, the oil makes a softer still, seeping down into the pores of our lives as lanolin does into leather.

Ah, Father! Brokenness seems inescapable! Second Corinthians 4:10-12 drills me with its clarity and inclusiveness. Paul's "we" here seems to include every believer, and to the degree that we can embrace "dying," to that degree we are life-bearers: "We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed (manifested) in our body. For we who are alive or always been given over to death for Jesus sake (through, because of Jesus), so let his life may be revealed (manifested) in our mortal body. So then, death is at work in us, but life isn't working you." -- And all this is possible only because of what we find in the context on both sides of these verses: gazing upon your glory; and eschewing any confidence and self; renouncing shameful, and deceitful ways; incomparably great power in us; faith; daily inner renewal; eternal, unseen perspective.

And how do we live like this? Part of the answer is below from a word to me on January 16, 2007.

"Yes, little one, to whatever extent you choose to trust in your own ability or understanding, to that extent my work, my power is diminished. You cannot force anything, you can only follow. That is why Finney, Wigglesworth, and others would minister -- indeed live life -- only when they knew that my anointing was fully upon them."

May we all find the journey into emotionally healthy brokenness!

Tom, the least of Abba's children.