Sunday, January 4, 2009

The Amazing Thing About Ditch Digging

Well, it's been a while. I am going to make a serious commitment to getting back to this on a regular basis.
There is a lot on my plate but there always has been and I suspect there always will be. I need to make time for this thing that gives me so much pleasure. Allow me to start with my notes from this morning at church.

Children are an amazing group of people. Of course they are as diverse as adults. We cannot successfully label them all the same any more than we could label all of us the same. Each of them will react or respond to a situation in their own unique way as do we. They are not all joyful. They are not all obedient. They are not all disobedient. They are not all intelligent. They are all unique. However, one thing they all are is amazing.

Something that truly amazes me about children is their lack of fear in areas where we experience much fear. Oh, they have their own fears. Many fear their future as they grow into their adolescence. Many even fear tomorrow. They fear the bully in school or their algebra test. They may even have significant fears such as about the environment and people dying in this world of hunger and thirst. Yet, they do not fear the basics; where their next meal will come from or what clothes they will wear. They do not fear about where they will live or about freezing to death. For these things they have learned to trust their parents. They trust to the point where they do not even think about such matters; they simply accept that it will be provided.

Are they spoiled? Do they take it for granted? Not at all. It is the promise we have made to them when they were born, that we would provide for them until they became independent adults. Maybe you did not verbally make that promise but you did make it by accepting them into your family. Maybe they have never thought about it because they were born into it and you have proved yourself faithful to the task. It is a similar environment that all of us have been born into.

The difference is we do not live in a fearless state. Sometimes I wonder what is the difference between me and my neighbour who denies Jesus? What should be some of the things that set me apart from him? Should I be better than him? Have better possessions than him? Kinder than him? More generous? Not at all. These things are found in great abundance in the world. The big difference should be in my levels of fear and joy. Where he may fear his future I should not. Just as children have grown in a relationship of trust with parents so should we be growing in a relationship of trust with our Father. However, where our children live in this relationship with practical application we continue to live in a relationship of theory. We talk the talk, sometimes but when it comes right down to it we are still filled with fear and worry. Just like my neighbour I am still running around trying to provide my own solutions.

When I want some examples of practical faith I often turn to the kings of Judah. As some of you may recall there is one in particular that enjoy more than most; King Jehoshaphat. He may not have been the smartest or the most handsome king. He may not have been the richest or most desirable, but one thing very few could match him in was his devotion to God.

This is the king who put into place many reforms to turn the peoples’ heart back to God. He set up a travelling school to go out and educate everyone about the law. He wanted everyone to learn about and to seek after this incredible God he had loved more than his own life. This devotion never stopped him from making mistakes. His greatest weakness was his desire to see Judah and Israel together again. He kept making alliances with the wicked kings and his reason was always the same, “Are we not brothers?” God will tell him off about it but he always forgave him because Jehoshaphat’s devotion was also real. Jehoshaphat always wanted to ask God before he did anything major because he wanted to make sure he was doing everything according to God’s heart.

There is one time in particular that has always struck me as incredible no matter how many times I have looked at it. We find it in 2 Kings 3. Allow me to summarize part of it.

Joram was the king of Israel. He wasn’t as bad as most of the kings but he still practiced the original sin that tool Israel away from God; the worship of the golden calves. The Moabites had been a vassal state during his father’s reign but now with the new king they rebelled. Joram went to Jehoshaphat and asked for his help. Jehoshaphat responded from his heart:

"I will go with you," he replied. "I am as you are, my people as your people, my horses as your horses."

Then Joram asked him which route they should take. Jehoshaphat’s response was that they should take the desert route. They were joined by the king of Edom.

For some reason they seemed to have got confused in the desert so that after seven days they found themselves in the dangerous predicament of having no water. Joram immediately started blaming God:

"What!" exclaimed the king of Israel. "Has the LORD called us three kings together only to hand us over to Moab?"

Typical of us, blame God for the foolish choices we make. Jehoshaphat could have beat himself up but he never did when he did foolish things. Not in all the records did it ever show that Jehoshaphat wasted any time on beating himself up for his mistakes. He always did the same thing; he turned to God:

But Jehoshaphat asked, "Is there no prophet of the LORD here, that we may inquire of the LORD through him?"
An officer of the king of Israel answered, "Elisha son of Shaphat is here. He used to pour water on the hands of Elijah."

Jehoshaphat said, "The word of the LORD is with him." So the king of Israel and Jehoshaphat and the king of Edom went down to him.

Now at this point I want to take the focus off of Jehoshaphat and put it where it belongs, on our awesome God. No one is surprised when a child acts like a child. Why should we be amazed at Jehoshaphat acting as a child of God? It is normal for a child to turn to a parent for direction and help. What is awesome is the love of our God.

God could have told Jehoshaphat that he had made another foolish mistake so he would have to get himself out of it. He could have refused to help him because he was hanging out with the wrong people. But he didn’t do these things. He assured Jehoshaphat that he was going to provide exactly what he needed. This is the difference between Jehoshaphat and many of us; Jehoshaphat believed and acted upon it.

I do not know what it is about us. I do not doubt that we believe the promises of our God but I wonder if we struggle with this idea of being worthy to receive. I wonder if we look at our mistakes and our sins and decide we shouldn’t bother asking because he won’t help us? I imagine that this is a huge struggle for us so we just try to find the solution ourselves. We fail to understand God’s great grace, his love for us. It is a struggle for us because we still think we have to be worthy of his grace. We could live a thousand years and we would still not be worthy.

At some point we need to get it through our thick heads that the only thing required of us for salvation is repentance and the confession of Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour. Everything after that is a matter of working out. Don’t worry about God, he knew what he was getting himself in to. It is a messy relationship filled with his successes and our failures. It is very much like Jehoshaphat, our devotion to him should not diminish with our imperfection but instead it should increase. Remember what Jesus taught:

“Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—for she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little." Luke 7:47

The more we are forgiven the more our love and devotion should increase. God never told us to sit around and beat ourselves up about it and he did not tell us to crawl into some hole. He told us to deal with it and we deal with it by going to him. We do not avoid him, we run to him.

Now there is a lesson for us here this morning. There is a lesson in the instruction that was given to Jehoshaphat. As they stood in the desert with their great combined armies without a drop of water in sight God instructed them to do one thing:

"This is what the LORD says: Make this valley full of ditches.”

What? I can only imagine what king Joram was thinking; “What? You want us to dig ditches in the desert?” But you would have discovered no such thought with Jehoshaphat because he knew that his God was the great provider of all things and he trusted what the Lord said he would do:

“You will see neither wind nor rain, yet this valley will be filled with water, and you, your cattle and your other animals will drink. This is an easy thing in the eyes of the LORD.”

What I can hear Jehoshaphat saying is, “Anyone have a shovel.”

Can you understand that we can be both foolish and loved? Being foolish does not disqualify you as God’s child. Being foolish only explains why the cross was necessary. If you have confessed Jesus Christ as Lord then you are a child of God and his love will never fade for you. You may feel like you need to crawl into his presence and maybe we should, but you will always been welcome in his presence. Acknowledge your foolishness, seek his forgiveness and ask for help.

Did you notice that God did not simply fill up their water containers? He could have if he chose to. Instead he had them do something to prepare for the blessing. He had made them a promise and he wanted them to prepare for that promise. When he had provided the manna at the beginning the people still had to go out and gather it. He has us take part in the blessings. Our part is as receivers. We do not take part in the provision but only in the receiving of it.

We need to stop our foolish talk. We need to stop blaming God. We need to stop beating ourselves up. We need to go to him for instructions. We are a blessed people. We need to become ditch diggers. Enough of the wringing of our hands. Enough of the talk of defeat and failure. Enough of the theories. When it is meal time my children set the table. They did not go out and earn the food or buy the food. They follow instructions; they set the table trusting that I will put food on their plates.

It does not matter what you need right now; it could be assurance, peace or hope. You may need rescue from your foolishness or instructions. You may need healing or determination to get closer to him. Whatever you need this morning God is the provider. It has never changed. We need to stop our mouths and instead grab a shovel. All of us need to become ditch diggers as we learn to be like children again. He is a good Father and his love is a strange thing to us but it is real.

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