The prominent, the unknowns and the evil ones …

The New Testament begins with, of all things, a genealogy. Matthew, a former tax collector and one of Jesus’ 12 apostles, wrote his Gospel letter to a Jewish audience, to prove that Jesus was the long-awaited Messiah.

In that vein, he began his genealogy with Abraham – who the Jews considered their father – and included David, since the Messiah was to come through David’s line.

As with any group of people, some of Jesus’ descendants were prominent, such as Isaac, Jacob, Solomon, Jehoshaphat and Josiah. Some are unknowns. (Even among Jesus’ 12 apostles, we know quite a bit about a few of them, and not much about most of them.)

A few in this list were downright evil, including Joram (Jehoram), Ahaz and Amon. Yet they were ancestors of the savior of the world.

Each of these men had a purpose. I used a resource on my bookshelf, “Everyone in the Bible” by William P. Barker, copyright 1966 (history doesn’t change), to bring this genealogical list to life.

 

Abraham: The patriarch who was the father of the people of God … Promised a land and descendants, Abraham lived most of his life without either, having to live on trust. God entered into a covenant with Abraham, assuring him that He kept His word. Finally, in his old age, a son called Isaac was born to Abraham and his wife, Sarah. Abraham’s supreme test of faith came when God … ordered Abraham to sacrifice the boy. Abraham obediently prepared to carry out the orders, but was stayed at the last minute when God intervened … Appropriately, his name in Hebrew means “father of a multitude,” and he is revered as the spiritual ancestor of all Jews and Christians. Genesis 11-25

Isaac: Isaac accepted Rebekah as his wife after a trusted family servant brought her from Abraham’s home country to be his bride, and became the father of the twins, Esau and Jacob … Isaac became wealthy during his sojourn with the Philistines, and they became jealous … Isaac, in his old age, blind and feeble, was tricked by Jacob into bestowing his final blessing on Jacob, the younger son, instead of Esau, the older and Isaac’s favorite. Genesis 17-35

Jacob: Jacob – known later as Israel – was the father of the 12 sons whose families became known as the tribes of Israel. Jacob’s name means “supplanter,” and literally from his birth onward he tried to supplant his older brother, Esau … Esau, of course, was furious at his scheming brother, and Jacob fled for his life. During his flight, at Bethel one night, Jacob experienced the vision of God’s angels descending on steps to him – his first awareness of God’s plans for him … Jacob, with the many members of his family and his large flocks, journeyed toward Palestine. Jacob, however, remembered his past injustices to Esau and worried about the reception Esau would give him. After dividing his following into two forces, so that one at least might escape if Esau attacked, Jacob found himself alone. That night he dreamed that he wrestled with an angel … Shortly after, Jacob met his brother Esau, and was relieved to find that Esau held no grudge. Jacob then settled down to the quiet life of a family patriarch. Genesis 25, 27-37, 42, 45-50

Judah: Jacob’s fourth son, Judah was the progenitor of the tribe known by his name. He was involved with his brothers in selling Joseph into slavery … In Egypt, Judah pleaded that Joseph release their youngest brother, Benjamin, even offering to take Benjamin’s place, when Joseph pretended to frame his brothers with charges of non-payment for grain. Judah later received the privileges of the oldest son after his older brothers, Reuben, Simeon and Levi, disgraced themselves. Genesis 29, 35, 37 38, 43, 44, 46, 49

Perez: Judah’s older twin son through his incestuous relations with Tamar, his daughter-in-law, Perez was an ancient clan chieftain in the powerful tribe of Judah … Nothing of his life, however, is known beyond his parentage. Genesis 38:29, 46:12

Hezron: Hezron was a grandson of Judah and a son of Perez, and, according to the genealogies of both Matthew and Luke, an ancestor of Jesus. Genesis 46:12

Aram (Ram): He is mainly remembered because he was an ancestor of both David and Jesus. Ruth 4:19

Amminadab: A member of the tribe of Levi, Amminadab was the father of Elisheba, Aaron’s wife. Exodus 6:23 Perhaps the same (person, this) Amminadab was an ancestor of David, according to Ruth’s genealogy. Ruth 4:19-20

Nahshon: Aaron’s brother-in-law and a descendant of Judah, Nahshon was a “prince” of Judah who was an ancestor of David and of Jesus. He was also known as Naashon, Naasson and Naason. Exodus 6:23, Numbers 1:7, 2:3, 7:12, 17, 10:14

Salmon: A descendant of Caleb … he was the reputed founder of the town of Bethlehem. Although there seems to be some confusion in the accounts between Salmon and Salma, careful study seems to indicate that they were the same person: the husband of Rahab, the father of Boaz who later married Ruth, and the ancestor of both David and Jesus. Ruth 4:20, 21

Boaz: A well-to-do landowner of the tribe of Judah near Bethlehem, Boaz took pity on a young Moabite widow named Ruth who was working in his fields. The tender story of Boaz’s kindness and Ruth’s loyalty is the plot of the Book of Ruth. Ruth

Obed: Ruth’s mother-in-law by her first marriage, Naomi, looked after the young Obed. Obed was fondly remembered as the father of Jesse, David’s father, and an ancestor of Jesus. Ruth 4

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Jesse: Jesse is best remembered as the father of the great King David. He was a prominent man, perhaps the leader, at Bethlehem, and the father of eight sons. During David’s outlaw days, Jesse and his wife were sent to relatives at Moab for safety. He was undoubtedly elderly by that time, and probably did not live to see his youngest son crowned as king of the united monarchy. Although in David’s day the term “son of Jesse” was spoken with a sneer, to call attention to David’s humble origins, in time it came to be used as a synonym for the expected Messiah. Ruth 4:17, 22; 1 Samuel 16, 17, 20, 22, 25

David: Israel’s most famous king, David was considered to be the ideal ruler and the prototype for the promised Messiah, in Jewish thinking … Sent to soothe the emotionally ill King Saul with his music, David rapidly advanced in Saul’s court until his popularity made Saul insanely jealous. David fled for his life, and became leader of a band of outlaws. After Saul’s death on Mount Gilboa, David returned home, was made the king of Hebron and waged a long but successful war against the Philistines … David made Jerusalem the religious center of the new nation by bringing the Ark of the Covenant into the capital … He extended the nation’s borders in all directions, and brought prosperity and prominence to his people. His later years were marred by a sordid affair with Bathsheba … Incest, murder, rebellion and plots within David’s own household turned his final days into ones of deep trial … Nevertheless, David’s deep trust in God, his sense of justice, and his personal attractiveness were apparent until nearly the end of his life. The nation fondly remembered his reign as its golden age. 1 and 2 Samuel

 

Solomon: David’s 10th son and his successor to the throne, Solomon came to power principally because of the intrigues of his mother, Bathsheba, during David’s senility … He introduced the system of forced labor gangs to furnish manpower for his ambitious building programs, and broke down the old system of tribal rule with his well-organized administrative districts … The great Temple was but one of his ambitious building projects. To finance all this opulence, Solomon taxed his subjects so oppressively that the nation simmered with revolt during his last days. Although his wisdom and piety were extolled by some Biblical writers, Solomon was a shrewd, overbearing, worldly, comfort-loving dictator. 1 Kings 1-14

Rehoboam: The stubborn, arrogant son of Solomon, Rehoboam succeeded Solomon as king of the nation in 937 B.C. … Rehoboam insisted on continuing Solomon’s policies. The northern tribes, never welded to the united kingdom, promptly seceded. Rehoboam, forced to retire in humiliation to Jerusalem, wanted to march against the 10 rebellious tribes, but was prevented by the prophet Shemaiah’s warnings and by Shishak of Egypt’s invasion. 1 Kings 11-12, 14-15

Abijah: Great-grandson of David, Abijah was the favorite son of Rehoboam. He ruled Judah for about two years at a time when Jeroboam had been king of the northern kingdom, Israel, for about 20 years. The Book of Kings states that Abijah continued all the sins of his ancestors. Chronicles, however, portrays him as a defender of the faith whose moment of glory came when he defeated Jeroboam’s larger army and captured three Israelite cities and great booty. 2 Chronicles 11-14, 1 Kings 14, 15

Asa: The king of Judah from about 918-877 B.C., Asa was one of the few rulers who tried to bring about some social and religious reforms. He was also an energetic builder, astute statesman and competent military leader. During most of his long reign, Judah enjoyed a breathing spell of prosperity, peace and morality. In his old age, however, Asa showed a lack of trust in the Lord by buying protection from the Syrian king, Ben-hadad, when Baasha, king of Israel, mobilized against Judah … Not long after, he contracted a painful foot disease, regarded as punishment for his failure to trust. 1 Kings 15-16, 22:41-46

Jehoshaphat: The king of Judah who was the son and successor of Asa, Jehoshaphat tried to be a model of piety and a guardian of the faith by sending teachers of the Law throughout the kingdom and closing down Baal shrines. Probably his biggest contribution was to stop the long-running feud between Judah and the northern kingdom of Israel. However, when Jehoshaphat married his son to Athaliah, daughter of Israel’s notorious Jezebel and Ahab, he unwittingly brought trouble … His 25-year reign was considered a high point in Judah’s history. 2 Chronicles 17-22

Joram (Jehoram): The son and successor of King Jehoshaphat of Judah. To seal an alliance between his father and Ahab, king of Israel, Jehoram was given the daughter of Ahab and Jezebel, Athaliah, as his bride. Athaliah dominated her husband, persuading him to reintroduce and encourage Baal worship in Judah. Jehoram even stooped to murdering his six brothers when he was crowned king. During his sorry reign, Libnah and Edom broke away from Judah. He was so loathed by his subjects that when he died they refused him burial in the royal tombs. 2 Chronicles 21:1-16, 22:1-11

Uzziah: Amaziah’s son and successor as king of Judah, Uzziah became king at the age of 16 and ruled 52 years. During his long reign, he successfully defended Judah against the belligerent Ammonites, Philistines and Arabians, developed a strong standing army, and rebuilt the nation’s fortifications … In spite of the continuation of cults, contemporary historians gave Uzziah high marks for his religious devotion. He was so crippled with leprosy toward the end of his reign that he was forced to turn over the government to his son, Jotham. 2 Kings 15, 2 Chronicles 26

Jotham: A contemporary of the prophets Hosea, Isaiah and Micah, Jotham ruled as de facto king during the last years of King Uzziah’s life, when Uzziah was ill. After the death of his illustrious father Uzziah, Jotham succeeded to the throne of Judah and proved to be an able administrator. He subdued the Ammonites, built the upper gate of the Temple, and was highly regarded by Hebrew historians. 2 Kings 15

Ahaz: Eleventh king of Judah, Ahaz was Jotham’s son and Hezekiah’s father. His 16-year reign (about 735 B.C. to about 720 B.C.) was the backdrop for the prophet Isaiah’s great career. Ahaz preferred to play international politics rather than heed Isaiah’s sound advice … Inevitably, Ahaz and Judah came out as losers, paying expensive “presents” to larger powers. A superstitious dabbler in idolatrous cults, Ahaz left his country weakened morally and financially. 2 Kings 15-17

Hezekiah: The famous reform-minded king of Judah, Hezekiah … successfully led his country through the frightening days when Assyria was sweeping over the world in the eighth century B.C. … Hezekiah heeded the prophet Isaiah’s advice and stood fast. The Assyrian King Sennacherib’s siege of Jerusalem suddenly and miraculously ended when a plague decimated the Assyrian army. Even today, visitors to Jerusalem can see Hezekiah’s tunnel, the conduit through rock which brought water into the city during the siege – one of many projects initiated by the energetic king. After the glorious deliverance from the siege, Hezekiah launched a long-needed reform of morals and religion in the nation. 2 Kings 16, 18-21

Manasseh: The son and successor of King Hezekiah of Judah, Manasseh became king at age 12, upon his father’s death. An anti-reform group used the boy to stop the reforms in worship and morals begun by Hezekiah. For many years, Manasseh outdid himself to accommodate cults and please their adherents. He even practiced human sacrifice, using his own son. The prophets attributed the fall of Jerusalem to the cruelty and superstition that was allowed to flourish during most of Manasseh’s 55-year reign … According to the Chronicler, Manasseh was taken prisoner briefly by the Assyrians in his later years, finally realized his disobedience to God, and was allowed by God to return to Jerusalem, where he mended his ways before he died. 2 Kings 20, 21, 23, 24, 2 Chronicles 33:1-23

Amon: The king of Judah who succeeded Manasseh, Amon reigned two years in a dreary repeat of his father Manasseh’s immorality, luxury and corruption. He was assassinated in a palace intrigue (639 B.C.), and died unmourned. 2 Kings 21

Josiah: The king of Judah whose reform staved off the collapse of the kingdom for a few years, Josiah was the son and successor of the notorious King Amon. He was crowned when he was only 8, after his father’s assassination, and began his active rule when he was 18. At the suggestion of the high priest Hilkiah, Josiah ordered the Temple repaired. During the repairs, a lost book of the Law was discovered (what we call Deuteronomy). When this was read to the King, he ordered its requirements observed, and took active steps to clean up the mess in Judah. Josiah effectively closed down the dozens of local shrines … and centralized all worship in Jerusalem … He died as boldly as he lived: When Neco, the Egyptian pharaoh, invaded northern Palestine, Josiah recklessly jumped into battle and lost his life at Megiddo. 2 Kings 16-34

Jechoniah (Jehoiachin): The son of King Jehoiakim of Judah, Jehoiachin was the last king of Judah before Nebuchadnezzar snuffed out the valiant but faithless little nation. Succeeding a father who left the kingdom in a hopeless condition, 18-year-old Jehoiachin ruled only three months … (He) was imprisoned during Nebuchadnezzar’s entire reign. He was finally released when Evil-Merodach replaced Nebuchadnezzar, and was kept under house arrest in Babylon for the rest of his life. 2 Kings 24:6-15, Jeremiah 22, 24, 28.

Salathiel (Sheatiel): A descendant of David and a son of King Jeconiah, Shealtiel was best remembered as the father of Zerubbabel. Ezra 3:2, 8.

Zerubbabel: The man who led the first group of dispirited exiles back to Jerusalem from Babylon, Zerubbabel was the governor of Jerusalem in the dismal days at the close of the Exile. Zerubbabel directed the resumption of worship, the rebuilding of the altar, and the foundation construction for the new Temple. A descendant of David, he was a member of the royal family. 1 Chronicles 3:19, Ezra 2:2, 3:2, 8, 4:2, 3, 5:2, Nehemiah 7:7, 12:1, 47.

Abiud: Mentioned in the genealogy of Jesus (and not elsewhere) as the son of Zerubbabel. https://www.biblestudytools.com/dictionary/abiud/

Eliakim: An ancestor of Jesus, Eliakim is included in Jesus’ family tree by both Matthew and Luke. Matthew 1:13, Luke 3:30

Azor: One of Jesus’ ancestors, Azor was listed in Matthew’s genealogy as a grandson of Zerubbabel. Matthew 1:13-14

Zadok: An important “chief of the people” after the Exile, this Zadok was one of the leaders in Jerusalem who joined Nehemiah in signing the covenant promising to keep the Law. Nehemiah 10:21

Achim: One of Joseph’s distant ancestors, Achim is mentioned only by Matthew in his genealogical table. Matthew 1:14

Eliud: One of Jesus’ ancestors, Eliud is listed in the genealogy of Joseph by Matthew. Matthew 1:14-15

Eleazar: He was listed in Jesus’ family tree by Matthew as a son of Eliud, and Joseph’s great-grandfather. Matthew 1:15

Matthan: One of Jesus’ ancestors, according to Matthew’s list, Matthan is listed as Joseph’s grandfather. He is undoubtedly the same man as “Matthat,” whom Luke names as Joseph’s grandfather. Matthew 1:15

Jacob (Heli): The father of Joseph, who was the husband of Mary the mother of Jesus, Heli was also believed to be an uncle of Mary. Luke 3:23

Joseph: The kindly carpenter of Nazareth who agreed to go ahead with wedding plans although he knew his betrothed, Mary, was to have a baby, this Joseph was Jesus’ earthly father. He was a conscientious Jew who adhered faithfully to the Law, but was considerate enough to plan to spare Mary the indignities required by the Law. When he learned the Divine origin of her unborn Child, he immediately trusted God’s promise and married Mary. After the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem and the harrowing flight to Egypt to escape Herod’s slaughter of male babies, Joseph resettled his family at Nazareth and lived the quiet life of a village builder-repairman. He was the father of several other children, but apparently died before Jesus began His active ministry. Matthew 1:16-24, Luke 2:4-43

Jesus: Born at Bethlehem during the last years of Herod the Great, Jesus, at His birth, was acclaimed God’s Chosen One by shepherds … Luke 2:8-20

 

Repentance is a practice, and other truths

 

Nuggets of truth I learned in a year-long study through several Old Testament books:

 

  • God’s definition of success is to be faithful, and we do that by meditating on His word.
  • We are on God’s team. He is not on our team.
  • Sometimes, we don’t understand God’s directions. But He sees the big picture.
  • The Christian life is a marathon. Jesus has already finished the race, and returned to help us through it.
  • What are my gods? Where do I spend my time? What do I think about during the day, and at night? What do I worry about?
  • God sometimes empties us before He can fill us.
  • Kindness leads people to repentance.
  • Christ redeems us, even if we are foreigners (as Boaz did for Ruth).
  • What do we do with our idols when they don’t work? We often prop them up, and keep using them – to our destruction.
  • Repentance: Turn away from sin, turn to God.
  • We have to ask for deliverance continually. This is sanctification.
  • I need to lead with confidence where God has given me influence.
  • The Psalms are like a waterfall. Singular verses are good, but they aren’t a waterfall.
  • The Psalms have the power to realign our hearts to God. They are cracking the vault of my buried emotions.
  • God used both success and trouble to shape David’s life.
  • Do I want to let God write my story, or do I want to write it for Him?
  • Hopelessness is pervasive today. We look in all the wrong places for hope.
  • Am I looking for relief, or relationship?
  • David inquired of the Lord …
  • I don’t know God’s timing.
  • We are living our lives in the middle of God’s throne room. We get to join God in what He is doing.
  • Win or lose, I should worship God.
  • Do I reflect on how merciful God is in my life? What do I dream about? Probably about me, not God. He rested on the seventh day to reflect on what He’d created.
  • Israel is a great nation because it has a great God.
  • Am I willing to trade my plan for His, even if I don’t see it fulfilled?
  • Many of our battles are internal – lust, greed, pride, self-centeredness. But the victory has already been won.
  • Repentance is a practice. I have to get rid of sin. Otherwise, the pain stays.
  • Obedience brings blessing. Disobedience brings judgment.
  • Church attendance isn’t enough. A personal encounter with God changes lives.
  • Israel trusted in the ark of God, instead of the God of the ark.
  • God will not be mocked. He expects His people to live differently than everyone else does.
  • God intends us to build each other up, even if others hurt us – the way David respected Saul.
  • God rested on the seventh day – not just to rest, but to reflect on what He’d done.
  • When a prophet shows up, usually there’s a reason and it doesn’t go well.
  • We can choose to sin, but we cannot choose the consequences. Stop before it starts. The longer we wait, the harder it gets.
  • God is just. We blow off sin. God does not. (For example, when David took a census of Israel toward the end of his life, he wanted to celebrate Israel’s size, not God’s power. God’s judgment for that cost 70,000 people their lives.)
  • God limited places of worship to keep pagan practices out, but Solomon worshiped at high places of pagan gods.
  • The focus is not what I need, but who I need.
  • God’s gifts do not ensure that we use them wisely.
  • We do not create wisdom. We discover it.
  • Learn from the mistakes of others. We don’t have to experience everything to learn lessons.
  • Even when we are distant from God, we can call out to Him for forgiveness.
  • The central Temple building is no longer needed. Our bodies are God’s temple.
  • Solomon fulfilled the Temple obligation; that was not devotion.
  • Leaders are to execute justice and righteousness.
  • Each day presents new opportunities to trust God or go our own way.
  • Not all adversity is because of sin, but if we face adversity, a heart check is a good idea.
  • Pleasure is only for a moment. God is forever.

 

 

 

One day …

A prayer for God to do whatever it takes to convince the world that he is indeed God:

 

O God, do not keep silence; do not hold your peace or be still, O God!

Even now your enemies are in tumult; those who hate you have raised their heads.

They lay crafty plans against your people; they consult together against those you protect.

They say, “Come, let us wipe them out as a nation; let the name of Israel be remembered no more.”

They conspire with one accord; against you they make a covenant – the tents of Edom and the Ishmaelites, Moab and the Hagrites, Gebal and Ammon and Amalek, Philistia with the inhabitants of Tyre; Assyria also has joined them; they are the strong arm of the children of Lot.

Do to them as you did to Midian, as to Sisera and Jabin at the Wadi Kishon, who were destroyed at En-dor, who became dung for the ground.

Make their nobles like Oreb and Zeeb, all their princes like Zebah and Zalmunna, who said, “Let us take the pastures of God for our own possession.”

O my God, make them like whirling dust, like chaff before the wind.

As fire consumes the forest, as the flame sets the mountains ablaze, so pursue them with your tempest and terrify them with your hurricane.

Fill their faces with shame, so that they may seek your name, O LORD.

Let them be put to shame and dismayed forever; let them perish in disgrace.

Let them know that you alone, whose name is the LORD, are the Most High over all the earth.

 

Psalm 83

Positive v. negative: Which prevails?

When they had come to the land of Canaan … the LORD appeared to Abram, and said, “To your offspring I will give this land.”

Genesis 12:5, 7

 

“We are not able to go up against this people, for they are stronger than we.” So they brought to the Israelites an unfavorable report of the land that they had spied out …

Numbers 13:31-32

 

How easy we forget a promise. Or, perhaps because we know all about broken promises, we just won’t take God at His word.

In the first book of the Bible, God promised Abram (later renamed Abraham) a land flowing with milk and honey for his descendants. A few books later, God is ready to fulfill His promise by leading Israel into the Promised Land.

Before entering the land, Moses wanted to see what (and who) was there, so he sent 12 leaders, one from each of Israel’s tribes, to spy out the land. They reported that the land indeed was flowing with milk and honey.

They also noted that the inhabitants of Canaan were strong with large fortified cities – which they didn’t think they could conquer.

Two of the 12 spies, Caleb and Joshua, remembered God’s promise to Abram, saying, “If the LORD is pleased with us, he will bring us into this land and give it to us …” (Numbers 14:8)

The nation’s response? “The whole congregation threatened to stone them.” (v. 10)

The majority opinion

You know the story. God forced Israel to wander in the desert for 40 years until that entire generation (except for Caleb and Joshua) died, and their descendants entered the Promised Land.

As I studied this familiar story recently, one I’ve read many times, a new thought came to me. (God does this all the time, as regular Bible readers know.)

The nation in the wilderness supported the majority opinion. Ten v. two. Ten spies said the inhabitants were too strong to overcome. Two said God was able to keep His promise, and that somehow God would lead Israel into the Promised Land.

It’s easy to judge the 10 in hindsight, because of course God eventually did help Israel conquer Canaan.

At the moment, however, I’m sure the 10 were very persuasive.

The big picture

It’s so easy to focus on our circumstances and lose sight of the big picture, as those 10 spies did. Who cares that God made a promise many generations earlier? These enemies are too strong for us. We can’t do it.

Caleb and Joshua saw the same situation that the other spies did. All of them saw the fruit of the land, how good it was, and the inhabitants, how big and strong they were.

The difference? Their attitudes.

Caleb and Joshua had seen God’s power as Israel escaped Egypt: the plagues, the Passover, the parting of the Red Sea, the giving of the 10 Commandments, manna in the wilderness that just appeared every day – all of it. They saw and experienced God’s power.

When they spied the Promised Land, they did not forget.

The other 10 did.

How easy it is to leave God in the wilderness, to focus on the challenges facing us and not on the God who promises to overcome the challenges.

Perspective

The majority saw the negative. Caleb and Joshua saw the positive.

As a (retired) journalist, I am by nature cynical. It’s so easy for me to see the negative side. I have trouble finding joy in life, even though I know it’s there, because I see all the strife and turmoil around me.

I experience it every day. Road rage. Companies downsizing, including the one I worked for a few years ago. The opioid epidemic, which makes the news nearly every day around here. People on their phones instead of interacting face-to-face. And I haven’t even mentioned politics, which is its own special case.

How do I experience such things? With pessimism or optimism?

It’s the popular thing to complain and criticize. Even, perhaps especially, if we’re the majority.

But does that make it right?

What if the majority is off-track? What if most of us are missing the big picture?

Attitude

I get upset when someone cuts me off at 65 mph because he or she is in a hurry to get somewhere. If I turn that into road rage, a fleeting incident would have lasting consequences, perhaps life-taking consequences.

Let it go and move on. Pick your battles. I’m on the highway because I’m going somewhere, and I want to get there. That’s the big picture. Suck it up and swallow my pride. I just hope that speeder doesn’t cause a crash down the road that takes or ruins an innocent life.

Do I see life in a positive or negative fashion?

Can I find the good in you? It’s there, of course.

Or, do I focus on the bad in you? That’s there too.

As it is in me.

If you want to find fault with me, you certainly can. If you focus on that, you might draw that out of me.

If you focus on the good in me, you might draw that out instead.

Attitude. That’s the difference.

Caleb and Joshua did not see an insurmountable obstacle. They saw a way to conquer the land. They didn’t know the details of how it would happen, but they trusted their God and His promise.

Even when the other 10 leaders and the entire nation of Israel didn’t see it.

Human nature is selfish. It’s so easy to get caught up in our own world and miss what’s really going on around us.

If we seek a positive outcome, we just might find it. This is one reason I believe in God, and try to see life through His lens. I don’t know what tomorrow brings, what Promised Land I will enter.

I need to remind myself of this all the time.

My cynical, self-centered, critical attitude is only part of the picture. When God offers a positive outlook, I need to pursue it.

I saw a John Eldredge movie last night with some friends. The author and adventurer says each of us has a story, and we need to discover it. That story involves not only adventure, but beauty.

If the world is such a bad place, Eldredge, says, where does beauty come from?

Perspective. Attitude. What we’re looking for.

Beauty or evil?

Which do you see?

Don’t trust the majority on this one.

 

Defending a dress code

Someone asked online the other day whether the church I attend has a dress code, saying she didn’t have “dress-up” clothes and didn’t want to feel out of place. I responded by saying, no, there’s no dress code there. Come as you are!

She said thanks.

Someone else took that a step further, saying that any church that has a dress code is being exclusive.

I let that go because I didn’t want to get political over a sincere question. But I do have a response.

Dressing up

While churches should welcome all who visit, I grew up in a church that did have a dress code. I wore a suit and tie to church as a teenager. (Perhaps that’s where my lifelong rebellion to ties comes from.)

While a suit and tie (or a long dress) is not a symbol of comfort, it has a specific purpose. Those who wear formal clothes, in a business or church setting, are showing off their best side. Formality shows dignity and respect to those we interact with.

Again, formal clothes are not meant for comfort (although they shouldn’t be distractingly uncomfortable). They serve a higher purpose. We are giving our best. We have standards. It costs money to buy formal clothes, and in certain settings, they are necessary.

Weddings and funerals require more than T-shirt and flip-flops. Why? Respect for those we are honoring.

Dressing down

Having no dress code on Sunday mornings is fine, to make sure that no one is excluded. But I think we’ve taken that thought too far. We are so casual, we’ve forgotten who the God of the universe really is. It’s hard to offer respect in a T-shirt and flip-flops. We can start there with God, but should we remain there our whole lives?

I’m reading the book of Leviticus in the Bible with a group of friends. It’s a long list of rules for animal and grain sacrifices, purification rituals and standards for daily living. It’s hard reading. Does it even apply to 21st century America?

Oh, yes. My study Bible offers this commentary:

 

We may be tempted to dismiss Leviticus as a record of bizarre rituals of a different age. But its practices made sense to the people of the day and offer important insights for us into God’s nature and character.

 

Israel, from the day God formed the nation, had to follow different rules than every other nation did. Israel was set apart. Its standards for living were much higher. The Israelites didn’t always appreciate that. At one point they wanted a king, solely because every other nation had one. God said He was their king, but that wasn’t good enough for them. God said fine, but you’ll have problems as a result. And they did.

Holy standards

The higher standards remained, even as Israel rebelled.

The Ten Commandments, as well as all the Levitical laws and rules, didn’t apply outside Israel. But inside Israel, they did.

God had something special planned for the nation. The higher standards benefited Israel as much as it did giving God the honor and respect He deserved. Do not commit adultery, for example: When we do commit adultery, the side effects are obvious and horribly damaging. But we do it anyway, don’t we?

As Christians who inherit this lifestyle, we are held to this higher standard. It’s easy to point fingers at us when we fall short. We all do, you know, whether we admit it or not.

Here’s the kicker: Those outside the church by definition aren’t following God’s standards. They follow their own man- (and woman)-made rules, many of which are based on Biblical principles (again, whether we admit that or not).

Where God’s standards and man’s standards differ is where we clash. Hard. It’s difficult to find compromise when we see life through different eyes. I’m not talking Republican and Democrat; I’m talking much bigger than that. I’m talking Christian and non-Christian.

Those two groups read the Bible differently, and here’s the explanation. Do we read Leviticus, for example, as a list of bizarre rituals, or insight into our holy God? Same words, two totally different meanings.

Best foot forward

The business world understands this better than the church does. Business executives put their best foot forward to lure customers to their product or service. If a business cuts corners, customers eventually will find out – and leave for a competitor.

High standards have a cost. Businesses have to put out time and money to research and build the best products and services, and then they charge us accordingly to consume them.

With God, the high standards are a lifestyle choice. That choice affects the way we think and live, the lens through which we see life. Are we willing to submit to a high standard, or not?

There are consequences and side effects whichever choice we make.

With God, it’s not a decide-once-and-live-happily-ever-after decision. Perhaps that’s why so few people accept God’s standards. It’s a daily thing. When we fall short, we ask God (and each other, when necessary) for forgiveness. Then we do it again. Forgive, and be forgiven. Seventy times seven times, in Jesus’ words.

I wish more people in the church understood holiness. In our efforts at being casual, it’s a lost theme.

But God is God and the standards remain, whether anyone follows them or not. Israel learned that the hard way over time in Old Testament days. I fear we are learning that the hard way today as well.