Grace, Promise, and a Royal Mess
For the past few months I’ve been reading over the stories of the kings of Israel and Judah in my devotional times. I am slowly making my way through the Old Testament, and as I sit in these histories I find myself strangely compelled by stories of folly, straying, and yes, God’s grace. As each new generation of kings enters the scene in Israel first, then Israel and Judah after the kingdoms split, one can get run down by the monotony of “and he did what was evil and wicked in the LORD’s eyes,” or some comment of that sort. It happens over and over again, and it gets really frustrating to read, especially now in a time and place in history where idols are still prevalent and leading students away from Jesus.
I am reminded that when Israel decided upon human kingship over God’s kingship, they were choosing a broken system. The way regional kings led was never God’s intent, but somewhere in the midst of it there is the opportunity for repentance. An opportunity to turn back to God, in heart and action, and to lead people toward God. God doesn’t give up hope, grace, or promise. Not then and not now.
As the story continues we see king after king after king choose out of a dependent relationship with the God of Israel, and instead to choose the broken system of human kingship that leads to foreign idols and worship. Even when there’s a better king, who turns to God, he will often neglect to tear down the ‘high places’ of idol worship so as to appease the worshippers of these lesser gods. Page after page, Israel and Judah become buried in sin and idolatry, and lose their true sense of identity in God. This is their sad story, and often it can be our own story.
I am again leading a Global Urban Partnership (GUP) to East Asia this summer, and inthe midst of all the budgets and contracts and visas and training times and leadership structures to figure out, I found myself to be quite lost. There was a mess of details all around me, and I felt like I lost the presence and sense of partnership with God in this work. My joy was dissipating. In preparation for our team training this past weekend, my leadership was a wreck. I felt like a failure trying to hold together a broken vessel. But this wonderful thing happened Friday morning. I continued the story of Judah (Israel had already fallen to the Assyrians), and came across Josiah. In the clutter of the house of the LORD, Josiah’s priest finds the Book of the Law – the book long forgotten by his predecessors. When he finds it, Josiah’s heart is broken and he leads his people back into right relationship with the LORD their God. All traces of idolatry are demolished. He truly leads his people.
Later on in the day, this passage came to life for me. After being buried in the clutter of details and poor view of my leadership, and not being able to see God or this GUP properly, the Holy Spirit uncovered the promises of Jesus to me. I was distracted by false idols of success and leadership, but Jesus offered me this promise: “…you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1.8).
Yes, this is the promise of Jesus, and when we participate in the things he calls us to, we can be assured that we will receive power from the Holy Spirit. Our weaknesses will receive strength; our fears will be turned into belief. Being able to lead out of this promise, that Jesus was and is with our team as we bear witness to the gospel around the world, allowed me to lead with joy this past weekend. We have students who are now excited to step into their calling of being a cross-cultural witness. As for me, I am delighting in the continued invitation to lead cross-culturally for the sake of my own culture, along with our host culture which I have come to deeply cherish.
There is grace when God does not abandon Israel when they want a human King. There is the promise of salvation when the people turn away from idols and turn to their first love. There is grace when you lose the mission in the details and need to be called back. There is promise when Jesus offers his Holy Spirit to empower the accomplishment of his healing work in the world.