Wednesday, November 30, 2011

What makes a group of believers a local church?

This testimony is true. Therefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith, not devoting themselves to Jewish myths and the commands of people who turn away from the truth.
Titus 1:13-14

Paul left Titus on the island nation of Crete to bring order and final form and functionality to the bands of believers there. He left him to establish local churches. This was a big task. And in the first chapter of this epistle we see two clear challenges: leadership development and doctrinal clarity.

The believers were suffering from a deficiency in biblical eldership. Titus was instructed to go town to town, and where there were believers, biblical elders were to be appointed as qualified men were trained. I find it interesting that the phrase is "appoint elders in every town", and not "in every church". There is subtle clue here. These groups of believers needed to be organized into churches. Elders were crucial to that process. I might go so far as to say that you do not have a functioning local church until there is elder qualified leadership appointed within it.

The elders could assist Titus in the second task of clearing up the doctrinal controversies raging across the island. Judaizers had gotten involved with the bands of new Christians. They were mixing law and grace. They were confusing the believers with commands of legalism and Jewish mythology. It sounds like these Gentiles were getting trapped in some sort of weird kabbalistic teaching that was starting to dominate the Christian community. Titus, along with qualified men who would organize churches under elder shepherding, would have to take the problem on boldly!

Paul does not mince words. The method for shutting down doctrinal madness is clear: "rebuke them sharply". The goal is orthodoxy: "that they may be sound in faith". Good biblical rebuke on false teaching has the goal of restoring the purity of the gospel. These Christians had unwittingly swallowed the lies. They lacked discerning shepherds to guide them. Paul knew the key to churches getting established in Crete was strong elder leadership coupled with doctrinal clarity and rebuke of heretical teaching.

The beauty of the plain understanding of the New Testament is that the same pattern works today. The gospel reaches the world through local churches with strong loving shepherding elders, and a strong gospel conviction that clearly proclaims and lives out biblical doctrine and practice.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

simpler disciple-making

What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me-practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.
Philippians 4:9

This is a pattern for discipleship. And it isn't program driven. It is built around personal observation and engagement. Paul was confident that the Philippian church was the kind of body of believers that could be close enough to him to get close enough to Christ. For Paul, discipleship was all about the relationship. And making disciples meant living an exemplary life -- a life that could be followed.

I have been officially a "discipleship pastor" for nearly a decade and a half now. And in that period of time I have had a lot of "programs" pushed at me. They have been varied and almost always they have been built around curriculum, culture, or Christian celebrity. Here is what I mean... Christian publishing houses spend tons of money developing curriculum and then they market the stuffings out of it. Really. We are talking mailings, phone campaigns, personal representatives visiting churches... you name it. They make incessant dazzling claims and special offers. They tie it to endorsements and bulk rate pricing. It is a product, and I am not completely sure that curriculum alone makes followers of Jesus.

A second contemporary trend is to piggyback on Christian culture. This is the most superficial problem to hit the church in my lifetime. We have our own Christian sub-culture these days that apes secular culture, complete with special T-shirts and hip rock bands. And I have seen these things upheld as the answer for building believers, particularly teenagers. I think that this is a HUGE mistake. I think it results in superficial excitement and not legitimate and thoughtful faith. What happens when the bands leave town, and your family is still a mess when you get home? This is why we now have "Christian" vampire novels copying the "Twilight" series. Somebody should just stop the insanity! It is embarrassing Jesus!

A third disturbing distraction to true discipleship is the cult of celebrity in the American church. Evangelicals are masters of this. We have always been so, right from the Great Awakening. Today it looks like this: a big name pastor or a parachurch leader launches a new 40 day program for churches. It has to be 40 days, because God did that a lot in the Bible. It does not matter what the 40 days is about. It could be 40 days of dental hygiene. The evangelical church will buy the stuff. It gets packaged and marketed. And when I dig into it, I find it is nothing like the simple discipleship strategy of Paul. But because it comes from the monolithic Christian culture, many of my parishioners expect me as a pastor to get behind it. I usually do not. And that creates a conflict that should not have to be there.

Paul could say what he said to the Philippian church because he had invested substantial time and personal ministry with the people there. They knew him. He had nothing to sell. He had simply foolishly given away his life to them. Not a great marketing strategy. And they could do as he did and be following Jesus. That is the disciple-making philosophy, curriculum, culture, and practice that I subscribe to. And I don't need much else beyond the Word of God, the Spirit of God, working in the people of God to see God use that to reach the world for His glory!

Monday, November 28, 2011

Maturity is not my goal.

Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you.
Philippians 3:13-15

Maturity alone is not the goal of Christian living. Paul made it clear that maturity has a goal. It is the realistic expectation of all of our living. Mature Christians don't get to stop running the race. Instead, they lean forward and press onward toward the highest goal. The "one thing" Paul did was to keep at the prize of being with God in Christ. Mature believers live with the glory of the presence of God always in their vision.

Paul called on mature Christians to share his view. He made it clear that the more we grow in Christ, the greater our longing is to be with Christ. He assumed that thinking about our goals in the light of our lives being filled up with desiring God and His glory would be a measure of our maturity. And I agree.

But this thinking has practical ramifications. It is not just about a "happy in heaven" mentality. In fact, Paul makes it clear that those who have their eyes on this prize will seek to live out God's glory right here and right now within the church and the world. It is on this goal that the book turns to practical matters.

A life that is consumed with thinking about eternity with Christ will affect unity in the church (Philippians 4:2-3). That life will exchange daily anxiety for faithful prayer and true peace (Philippians 4:4-7). That life will think about and practice righteous living (Philippians 4:8-9). There are real, noticeable and life-changing differences in the maturing Christian who wants to live for the glory of God.

I have a lot of growing up still to do. I am going to think about this goal of Paul's. It is not that I don't want maturity. It is just that I am tempted to define it in purely human terms and in qualities that I can define in ways that make myself look good. I think of it wrongly, solely in terms of my knowledge of bible doctrine, or in my commitment to some program of activity prescribed by a church or a ministry. But my maturity should be consumed with the glory of God on display in my life among the nations so that others may see God and come to faith in Christ. It never stops running toward that rewarding experience.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Obedience: key to holy living

Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.
Philippians 2:12-13

Obedience is a key component, a necessary element of our practical sanctification. We cannot live holy Christian lives if we will not obey God and His Word as He directs us in it. Paul knew the Philippian church. He had been with that church from its earliest moments. And he knew it was a church that obeyed the truth. He encourages them to stay at the work of holiness.

And holy living is work. God enables us to do it. But we must work at it. It is not easy work. But it is also not impossible. God has given us the scriptures to tell us what holy living looks like. He has filled us with His Holy Spirit to enable us to do the things that He asks of us. Holiness is not just a possibility; it is an actuality. It is expected of us. It defines us. Christians are distinct and different. We live out the new redemption we have in Christ.

So there is this element of sanctification that falls on each Christian's shoulders. It is not a salvific working FOR salvation. It is a visible working OUT of the salvation we already have in Christ. And it is right to expect that Christians would live differently from non-Christians. Paul assumed so. He instructed believers to be that kind of Christ-follower in this world. The expectation should always be there for us to worship God by working out our salvation with healthy respect, in obedience to God's Word, by the enabling of His Holy Spirit, as God helps us to obey and follow Him.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The tension between now and eternity

For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account.
Philippians 1:21-24

Paul is not suicidal in this wistful expression. He is passionately worshipful... confident in his hope and love for Christ. He was equally torn between his love for the Lord and his love for the people of the Lord. At its root this longing is a tension between worship and discipleship. Both were attractive options for the apostle. His heart's cry was to be caught up in the beauty of eternity with his Lord. His life's passion was making Jesus known in the world through His church. This was really a tight squeeze for him to admit to feeling.

And I notice that there is a lot from Paul's passion that challenges me. Paul was an interesting person with powerful drives. He had a passion for eternity. He longed for the presence of his Lord. He was ready to leave this world for the presence of Christ and he realized that being with Christ forever is ultimately the will of God for all Christians. But he also had a passion for community with God's people while in this life. He saw the work of building up believers in the church as necessary, even a form of worship. It was necessary to encourage the community of believers so that the church could experience its eternals joys with Jesus. And though eternity with Christ "felt" like the more pleasant personal option, community with the followers of Christ was necessary for the sake of the gospel and the world. Paul was willing to keep serving because there was great joy in the ministry done with that eternal perspective in view. Jesus was at the finish line either way!

This presents questions for me that direct me toward thinking about my main motivators in life. Am I truly moved by a passionate vision of eternity with my Lord? Does that excite me? Do I really live like death is always the personally better option? Christians have hearts with a longing. It is knowing that we are aliens far from our home. We were made for a better country. We are looking for a city whose builder is God. And this world, at its very best, is far from the joy we will know in the presence of Jesus forever!

Am I really living for the joy of service in the community of Christ? Do I dread the ups and downs of living within a little society of sanctified sinners who are still being redeemed? There is a joy that comes in the "necessary" experience of serving Christ with my fellow believers in the church. But it comes through the co-laboring, the endurance, the confrontation of wrong in myself and others, the commitment to the rightness of God's truth as the gospel changes us, and the mutual passion we are following in following Jesus. It is only a taste of heaven and it leaves our hearts wanting more together... yearning to be together with Jesus. And while I am in this world it is essential that I be there... living my live in and with the followers of Jesus... loving a sometimes unlovely church... living for my Lord.

Monday, November 21, 2011

a lucky shot?

But a certain man drew his bow at random and struck the king of Israel between the scale armor and the breastplate. Therefore he said to the driver of his chariot, "Turn around and carry me out of the battle, for I am wounded."
1 Kings 22:34

The demise of the wicked king Ahab was prophesied by God. At least twice God let him know that he would end his reign in misery. Ahab took every precaution in the Syrian war to save his life. But he wound up being deluded into going into battle. In a rare alliance with Judah, Ahab convinced king Jehoshaphat of Judah to ride into battle dressed in royal attire. Meanwhile, Ahab "disguised" himself in some fashion. Ahab's ruse was meant to draw the attack to Jehoshaphat. But God had other plans.

Ahab was still a high-profile target. He fought from a chariot with a driver. That made him at least an officer level target for the enemy to concentrate fire upon. Even then, the text makes it clear that God was using this battle in His own way to end Ahab's rule in Israel. No Syrian could officially take credit. The seemingly random, "lucky" shot of an unnamed archer was all God needed. The arrow struck in the one open space in Ahab's armor, wounding the king in a vital area and opening up a bleeding wound. The king bled to death in his chariot as he fled from battle. He could not hide from his fate.

The final note of prophetic irony comes when they clean the king's blood from the chariot at the pool of Samaria. There the dogs lick up the blood of Ahab the wicked king just as Elijah had prophesied (1 Kings 21:19). The rule of an evil king comes to a wicked end in the way that God had spoken that it would. It was the word of the Lord working to speak again to His people... even stray arrows will follow His command.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Bad Reputations Last Long

(There was none who sold himself to do what was evil in the sight of the LORD like Ahab, whom Jezebel his wife incited. He acted very abominably in going after idols, as the Amorites had done, whom the LORD cast out before the people of Israel.)
1 Kings 21:25-26

This parenthetical commentary on the moral character of king Ahab is telling. It is not the kind of life story we would want God to write of us. Ahab was a bad guy. He was not the kind of king God envisioned to lead His people. There are several indictments against his reputation and character in this short commentary.

First and foremost, Ahab was unique in his evil idolatry. There was no one else like him in terms of his turning his back on God. He had a penchant and lust for idols. And he followed that lust in defiance of a very straight-forward and vivid prophetic ministry. God kept speaking to Ahab through Elijah and other prophets. And Ahab just kept at his idolatrous worship. He was manic in his pursuit of idolatry.

Ahab's idolatry had some strong self-interest behind it. The text says he "sold himself to do evil". He felt like he got personal gain from his rampant neglect of God. He was evil with a profit motive behind it. In that sense, it is clear that this commentary sees Ahab as something of a spiritual prostitute. That is not a pleasant picture to have of the leader of God's people.

He was also easily influenced by his evil wife Jezebel. The entire text of 1 Kings 21 relays the account of Jezebel's conspiracy that illicitly gained Naboth's vineyard for her husband. She killed a righteous man in cold blood, using the technicalities of the covenant God made with Israel to design Naboth's demise. And Ahab was happy with the results that his wife got for him.

The nail in the coffin for Ahab was his outright pagan reputation. He was as idolatrous as the Amorite people that God eradicated in the Promised Land. Israel had become as despicable in their culture as the Canaanites had been in God's sight. The reputation of pagan idolatry now was the practice in Israel. Evil marked the society, thanks to Ahab and Jezebel and their corrupting influences.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

God of Second Chances: a prayer for mercy

And behold, a prophet came near to Ahab king of Israel and said, "Thus says the LORD, Have you seen all this great multitude? Behold, I will give it into your hand this day, and you shall know that I am the LORD."
1 Kings 20:13

You love to give second chances
You are the reason why
people live, the world turns
there is life in Christ even when we die.

You always seem to give a second chance
even to the rebel heart
and when You glorify Your great name
it often is with a second fresh start.

You care for those who get second chances
that's why grace fills human history
and when repentance responds to Your mercy
You write Your love into our fallen story.

You gave an idolatrous king a second chance
so that he might know You are the LORD
You saved a nation that deserved Your justice
and verified Your power in Your holy word.

O God of gracious, wild, undeserved second chances
be merciful to us yet again this day
we have turned to idols, but in Your mercy
would You forgive us and take our guilt away?

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

a prophetic funk

Yet I will leave seven thousand in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him.
1 Kings 19:18

Elijah was in a ministry funk. He had the prophet's blues. Jezebel had issued a death warrant for him (1 Kings 19:2). The response of Elijah was to run away into the wilderness. There, in the thin shade of a broom tree, he despaired of his own life (1 Kings 19:4). He did not want to be killed by Jezebel, but he didn't want to live in his current situation either. This was a fitful, irrational depression impossible to explain from the power of Elijah's past.

God ministered to Elijah. Angels came to him and fed him twice under that tree. Elijah slept there and had nothing to fear. He was literally under God's care and protection. Then God sent him on a journey to Horeb. There, in the wild of the mountain, God gave an intimate confirmation of His call upon the prophet. First, a fierce, rock-rending gale force wind, then an earthquake, and finally a fire came through Elijah's cave on that mountain. And God was in none of the dramatic demonstrations. But the low whisper of God's voice was so intense that it compelled Elijah to cover his face with his cloak and come to the mouth of the cave and talk with his God (1 Kings 19:9-13).

In conversation with God, Elijah states twice that he believes he alone is left as servant of the Lord in Israel (1 Kings 19:10, 14). But God sets Elijah to work with a new understanding. He is far from alone. God has seven thousand people in Israel who have not given in to idolatry. Elijah might have felt alone, but he was not alone. And no more would he be a solo prophet. he would anoint Elisha to be a prophet with him and beyond him. By so doing, God corrected the depressed, selfish thinking of Elijah, giving him new ministry, and re-energizing him for the work to which God called him.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The God Who answers with fire

"Answer me, O LORD, answer me, that this people may know that you, O LORD, are God, and that you have turned their hearts back." Then the fire of the LORD fell and consumed the burnt offering and the wood and the stones and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench.
1 Kings 18:37-38

Elijah confronted the false prophets of Baal at Mount Carmel. His trust in God led him to arrange a little contest. The priests and prophets of Baal were invited to prepare a bull for sacrifice. Then they could call upon Baal to consume that sacrifice with fire. Elijah would do the same with God, and then the sacrifice that was accepted and consumed would prove the veracity of the prophet(s) offering the sacrifice.

Baal's worshippers hastily agreed. After all, Baal was popular and they were many. They worshiped a god of fertility who had a reputation for yearly blessing the land with crops in response to sexual rites in his worship. They prepared their altar and their sacrifice. They cried out to Baal for hours on end. They danced around their altar. Eventually they practiced ritual self mutilation in homage to Baal. But there was no answer. Elijah mocked their idolatry, and when they finally gave up in pagan exhaustion, he set to work in faith.

Elijah builds his altar and prepares wood for a fire. He places the sacrificial bull on the altar. He instructs those with him to dig a trench around the altar. They then drench the entire altar and sacrifice with precious water (they are in a drought) until it is so soaked that water fills the trench around it. Only in that impossible condition does Elijah confidently and quietly call upon the LORD. And God answers with a consuming fire.

The response of the people was an immediate awe and acknowledgement of the God Who answers with fire. Elijah moves forward to lead this crowd to capture the priests and prophets of the pagan gods. They were led down to Kishon where they were all executed for their treacherous idolatry. God has spoken and in one day proven the impotency of idolatry and the efficacy of prayer and worship offered to Him.

The reality is that the God Who answers with fire is still involved in winning hearts to Himself for His glory. The impotency of any system of thought or human derived false worship that sets itself against Him will be demonstrated dramatically. And it is not like I have to make that happen. God can defend His own reputation. I just have to be willing to let Him show Himself in me as I confidently follow Christ.

Friday, November 11, 2011

confrontation contrasts

Now Elijah the Tishbite, of Tishbe in Gilead, said to Ahab, "As the LORD, the God of Israel, lives, before whom I stand, there shall be neither dew nor rain these years, except by my word."
1 Kings 17:1

One of the fascinating facts of the history of the Jewish people is that it is not just about political actions, wars, kings, or accomplishments in culture. The unique history of Israel is full of theological majesty through the revelation of the Word of God. And at this point in the biblical text there is an explosion of prophetic activity among the Jews. The reasons are simple. God will not be pushed aside, and a unique covenant with Israel meant that they would hear clearly and powerfully from Him, whether they wanted to or not!

And there is an interplay in the last few chapters of 1 Kings that is fascinating for the reader to pick up on. I have to admit that it is one of my favorite sections of the Old Testament. It pits God against idol, king against prophet, the power of the Word of God against the power of error, and the veracity of God's prophets against the agents of idolatry and evil.

Elijah is just a fun character to study. He is bold and assertive, yet totally dependent upon God for the simplest of life's necessities. He is aggressive to Ahab, yet later he is fearful of Jezebel. He mocks the vain worship of the priests of Baal, yet mopes at his own seeming ineffectiveness. He is used by God to poke at a king's foolish agenda of idolatry while being just a frontier nobody himself. God uses a willing prophet from "nowheresville" to confront and control the outcomes of the most powerful and selfish people in the land.

Elijah is effective as God's prophet because he is obedient to God. Ahab is an impotent king because he is disobedient to the Law of God. Elijah's worship of God leads to power and protection for him. Ahab's worship of Baal (a fertility god supposed to bring the yearly rains) is incompetent, ineffective and powerless. God is making a contrast. And the absurd boldness of it makes me chuckle.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

The exotic call of spiritual decline

And Ahab the son of Omri did evil in the sight of the LORD, more than all who were before him. And as if it had been a light thing for him to walk in the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, he took for his wife Jezebel the daughter of Ethbaal king of the Sidonians, and went and served Baal and worshiped him.
1 Kings 16:30-31

Ahab is the most morally destitute of all of Israel's kings to this point in her history. He set himself up to be as much like the pagan nations as possible. He did two things that enabled his evil. First, he married a Canaanite woman and made her queen. And the name of Jezebel still echoes in our day as synonymous with wickedness, temptation, and perversion of the good. With his Canaanite bride came the most insidious of the Canaanite idols. Baal worship now plagued the northern kingdom of Israel and would continue for generations.

Ahab and Jezebel would force a new social order of Baal worship upon the people. And it had an impact. Archeologists still dig up Baal figurines in what was Jewish territory in Ahab's time. The problem was ubiquitous. The worship of this false god became an obsession in Israel. And it all began with Ahab. Here is a lesson in the power of social pressure.

Ahab made an alliance with the Canaanites in Sidon by marrying Jezebel. And Sidonian culture, particularly its false religion, flooded Israel with idolatry and immorality. This was the agenda that Jezebel brought with her to the queen's throne. The text will pick up in this book to show just how ambitiously the royal couple embraced the worship of Baal and enforced it on Israel. In one generation's time, the worship of God was being stamped out, not by pure aggression, but by wild acceptance of the exotic and new.

By application today, that warning still rings in the air. We can always be tempted to exchange the old truth for a new lie. Heresy and doctrinal deviation often begin with the lurid call of the exotic. And if we are not careful to measure the new with the standard of scriptural truth, we will quickly lose out. For me, the standard is always to gauge ALL teaching by the clear commitment to the particulars of the gospel. That will protect us from error and all kinds of evil.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011


And Asa did what was right in the eyes of the LORD, as David his father had done.
1 Kings 15:11

Righteousness is refreshing. Reading through the accounts of the kings of Israel and Judah can be tedious. Mostly because it is a litany of disobedience and unrighteous acts. But when you come across the righteous actions of a good king... it is like a cool refreshing breeze on a really hot day! That's the feeling I get reading about Asa, king of Judah.

The summary statement is that God saw Asa as a king who did what was right. The text gives five quick reasons for his righteousness. FIrst, "He put away the male cult prostitutes out of the land" (1 Kings 15:12a), thus stopping the sexual fertility worship perversions practices in Canaanite idolatry. Secondly, he "removed all the idols that his fathers had made" (1 Kings 15:12b). I take this to mean he eradicated every temple shrine erected by previous kings to a foreign god. Thirdly, "He also removed Maacah his mother from being queen mother" (1 Kings 15:13a). The rationale for this was her commitment to Asherah worship. Fourthly, "Asa cut down her image (Asherah) and burned it", thus publicly going against family idolatry and committing to the worship of God (1 Kings 15:13b). The final evidence offered is something only God could know: "the heart of Asa was wholly true to the LORD all his days" (1 Kings 15:14b).

Asa's reforms were controversial and sweeping and still incomplete (he left high places untouched as explained in 1 Kings 15:14a). But he would not let the worship of God fall into complete loss. His heart worshipped Yahweh fully. And for his love for the Lord and actions of worship by combatting idolatry, he is commended by God. Sometimes trusting God in hard times and standing for the truth in an age of falsehood leads to a lifetime of smashing idols.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

idolatry's root is selfishness

For they also built for themselves high places and pillars and Asherim on every high hill and under every green tree
1 Kings 14:23

Judah was left as the Israeli tribe holding the temple ground and David's throne in Jerusalem. But they did not treasure and worship God any longer. Very quickly the people of Judah slipped into rampant idolatry. It was epidemic among the Israelites. And the book of Kings and Chronicles record the ups and downs of what was a spiritual roller coaster ride for the children of Israel.

I do want to comment on something that I noticed as striking in this description of idolatry under Rehoboam. It is clear that idolatry is a selfish exercise. It is not motivated by worship. It is motivated to please self. What they built to worship they built for themselves. It find that to be fascinating and applicable to my own experience. Any abandonment of God or any false worship or anything else other than God is an attempt at satisfaction of self. At its root, idolatry is an attempt to put my desires, my goals, my wants, above the will of a God Who will not allow other gods before Him. God desires worship and devotion. He demands it. He deserves it. Idolatry lets human beings temporarily seem to direct their lives (at least in the appeal of idol worship) according to their own wants and desires.

With that in mind, I can see lots of application to how the idolatry of Israel and Judah as instructive to my times, even to my own heart. I am not tempted to cast a Baal in bronze. But I am continuously tempted to get only what I want out of my life. I am tempted to build "idols" for myself. It is accepted as normal, even in evangelical sub-culture where we claim God is directing us. Our main culture legitimizes idols. We call a big one "The American Dream" -- often the most devious and deceptively demonic because it lulls us into a selfish trance of materialism and spiritual apathy. And very soon a son of this idol, Materialism, will rear up and appeal to us to storm the stores on Black Friday to "get what they want" or... what we want.

Another idol might be "Rights". Funny how when we talk about them, we often say, "I have the right to..." Asserting and demanding my rights is often just another selfish worship of something other than God. John Calvin was quite brilliant when he declared the human heart to be an idol-making factory. The factories are still running at full production, even in a dying world economy.

Monday, November 7, 2011

deadly serious choices

After this thing Jeroboam did not turn from his evil way, but made priests for the high places again from among all the people. Any who would, he ordained to be priests of the high places. And this thing became sin to the house of Jeroboam, so as to cut it off and to destroy it from the face of the earth.
1 Kings 13:33-34

God used a young prophet to get the attention of Jeroboam in Samaria. Israel split from Judah, but Jeroboam did not want even religious unity with Judah. His solution was to establish "high places" or centers of sacrifice within the Northern Kingdom, thus sealing Israel off from Judah. God confronted the king on this practice. These quickly became idolatrous.

The young prophet (given no name in this passage) had been instructed to travel to Samaria, confront the king, and then to return home by a different route than he travelled to get there, not breaking a fast until his return home. God powerfully confirmed the message of the prophet. When Jeroboam reaches out to seize the young man, his hand is suddenly "dried up" and useless. When he begs the prophet to pray to God, he does so, and Jeroboam is miraculously restored. Then the prophet begins his journey home.

On the way home, another prophet (also anonymous) hears what has occurred. He meets up with the young man, lies to him with a false vision to convince the young prophet to come to his house for a meal. The young man breaks his fast, and then back on the road, is killed by a lion as judgment by God. His death becomes an illustration to the truth of God's prophecy and the seriousness of obedience to God's command.

The sad truth to this whole episode was that Jeroboam did not heed the warning given to him by God... just like the young prophet. He set up a competing system of false worship that deceived most of the tribes of Israel. He grieved God by "returning back" to what God had clearly warned him not to do. And just like the young prophet, his lack of careful thought about this did not change his guilt. He would bear the judgment for his sin.

I believe the best thing we can take away from this sort of episode is a true fear of the painful consequences of sinful actions and choices... even ones we make unwittingly. Both Jeroboam and the young prophet made personal choices that broke God's specific will and did not seek God in their decisions. Jeroboam's choice was knowingly made. He would deceive Israel. The young prophet's choice was unwittingly and unthoughtfully made. He was deceived like Israel would be under Jeroboam's religious system. Both men are now vivid historical examples of what consequences God will bring to our disobedience. They show us the seriousness with which we should live with the results of sin.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Disunity (an alliterative journey of break up and breakdown)

'Thus says the LORD, You shall not go up or fight against your relatives the people of Israel. Every man return to his home, for this thing is from me.'" So they listened to the word of the LORD and went home again, according to the word of the LORD.
1 Kings 12:24

divided people
disagreeing over
duty to king
distressed by labor
done with mandatory service
David's throne no longer in control

determined to mutiny
destined to split apart
divided into Israel and Judah
doing what each tribe wanted
denying allegiance... ten tribes go north
destroying the unity of God's people
David's throne still in Jerusalem

dwindled army of Judah
drawn into battle array
determined to recover by might
downed by God's Word
devoted to the prophet
drops their resolve to fight
David's throne now powerless

diminished testimony
divided loyalties
devilish false worship
diversionary tactics of leaders
diluted potential to influence the world
destruction of brotherhood
David's throne still to be regained to this day

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

a bad finish

He had 700 wives, princesses, and 300 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 wholly true to the LORD his God, as was the heart of David his father.
1 Kings 11:3-4

Solomon had been blessed so much, but finished so poorly. He knew better than to turn from God, but his heart was corrupted. His fleshly lifestyle got the better of him in the end. The text lets us know that Solomon was what we might call today a sex addict. He loved the adoration of women and really, he worshiped sex. He collected foreign women to his harem like some men collect rare works of art. His passion revolved around the thousand women who now had his heart.

And when these foreign wives requested that Solomon let them worship their false gods, he joined in, building temples to at least four other foreign gods in and around the capital city (1 Kings 11:5-8). There were now more opportunities to deny God than to worship God in Jerusalem. Solomon was being pulled away from God by the fixation with collecting wives.

God confronted Solomon and very directly warned him that the kingdom would be taken from him because of this idolatry (1 Kings 11:9-13). The sad thing is that there was no response of repentance on the part of Solomon. When David, Solomon's father, had been confronted about his sexual sin, he repented quickly, publicly, and with earnest sorrow. The text gives us no indication that Solomon was moved by God's warnings. He just did not care about anything else any more.

The final part of Solomon's reign was marked by conflict with God and with other nations. Edom, Syria, and Egypt began to harass the nation of Israel. There would be no peace while Solomon abandoned the LORD. And this did not move Solomon in the least. His sin had turned his heart from God. His sin had hardened his heart to God and even to what he was suffering as a result of that sin.

It is sad to see someone finish bad! And it is instructive. The older I get, the less I can trust my natural inclinations. The battle with sin intensifies. I am capable of wickedness and selfishness at any moment. And to finish in them is a great loss. It is only by aligning my passions in pursuit of God's will for me as His Word reveals it that I will trust enough to finish this life well.