The Church And What It Has Become


I recently heard a partial quote about Christianity, but I didn’t catch the source. What’s more, I didn’t write it down—just the part I remembered of it because I thought it was pretty truthful, as far as it goes.

Christianity started in Israel and became a religion.

It went to Greece and became a philosophy.

Then it passed on to Rome where it became an institution.

From there it went to Europe where it became a culture.

Eventually it traveled to America where it became an enterprise.

Obviously it’s a statement about Christianity in America and in the West in general.

Since I live in the US, I don’t know the particular struggles the Church goes through in places like Asia and Africa. Has Christianity avoided some of the shifts and changes that have corrupted the Church here? I don’t know.

I do know that I wince when I think about Christianity as an enterprise. My mind goes to “snake-oil” preachers and TV evangelists who cared more for making a buck than for the people they were fleecing of their hard-earned money.

I think of the Christian trinkets a certain group of writers and editors and agents used to mock at the yearly International Christian Retail Show. I mean, someone figured out that they could stamp a Bible verse on a tee shirt or a mug or a plaque, and people would pay good money for them. They could make Testamints and Bible-verse bookmarks and Bible covers and pens or pencils with verses stamped on them. “Jesus junk” the critics called it, but the store owners called it “how to get out of the red.”

But the truth is, when I look around me, I see some of those same items in my home. There’s that plaque on the wall and that mug in the cupboard. I’ve bought those pencils to give out to my students. I have some of those bookmarks in my Bible. I am one of the consumers.

Beyond the trinkets themselves, I cringe at the way we have put the gospel up for sale—Christian music, Christian self-help books, Christian fiction, all sold in the Christian bookstore.

And here I am—writing what would likely be considered Christian fiction, trying, even, to make a living from it.

Should I?

Shouldn’t we be giving the gospel away for free?

Of course Scripture also teaches that the worker is worthy of his hire. And I have to say, I like seeing scripture when I look at the particular mug with it inscribed. I like the plaque and the bookmarks. I’m glad I gave the pencils as prizes.

I think there has to be a line. We live in a capitalist society. We aren’t necessarily called to life as if we lived under a different system.

Except, Christians DO live under a different system. We aren’t to be governed by greed. As consumers or as entrepreneurs.

I conclude then that money should never be an obstacle preventing someone from hearing the gospel. Money should not be the driving force behind our “ministries.” Christian schools, for example, once were an outreach of particular churches. They charged tuition to defray some of the cost but mostly staff viewed themselves as missionaries, doing the work of the LORD.

But now, Christian schools strive to compete with public schools by paying their teachers a comparable wage and offering lavish benefits. Tuition, as a result, continues to creep higher, and some schools are pricing themselves out of existence, because their middle income communities can no longer afford to send their children to such an expensive school.

Christian bookstores aren’t doing so well either. But most bookstores are in the same boat, so it’s not possible to say if Christians are doing better or worse than the norm.

The point is, or maybe the question—when did “ministry” turn into “business”? When did coffee shops go into churches? When did we decide to get rich from preaching the gospel, or quoting Scripture?

I don’t think there’s an answer for the culture. America is consumed by consuming. I don’t know if other parts of the West are too, but I don’t see it changing here any time soon. But we can make a difference in our hearts which is where all attitudes reside.

Colossians says that greed amounts to idolatry.

We Americans . . . we Christians, need to check our hearts and see if there is a love of stuff that resides right there as an idol along with our love of God. That’s the way the people of Israel lived for years. Their prophets were constantly admonishing them to destroy their idols and worship God alone. At some point, they thought they were. They built all kinds of altars on high places, never mind that God said they weren’t to do so.

Are the consumerist trappings of Christianity our high places? Are we trafficking in the stuff of Christianity without any true worship? I can only answer that question for myself, but I’m pretty sure, if the Church is to survive here in the US, we all who profess the name of Christ need to go before God and ask Him to do the work of burning the dross away from our faith.

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Published in: on October 17, 2017 at 6:01 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Who Is Mother Nature?


cloudsI made a comment today in the atheist FB group I’m a part of, as part of a discussion about how nature can show God’s existence. Before long someone used the term Mother Nature. Apparently she is alive and well in the minds of atheists, whoever she is.

As it happens, I wrote an article on this subject back in September 2013, so I thought it might be worthwhile running it again.

– – – – –

Once again I heard a weatherman credit “Mother Nature” with the change in the wind currents and pressure gradient influencing the forecast he was about to make. When I first heard the term as a child, I understood it to refer to a make-believe person like the Jolly Green Giant who oversaw the growth of amazing frozen vegetables.

Today, however, more and more people speak of “Mother Nature” as if she actually exists. Some, to be sure, are speaking of her as a personification of the force of nature, but others, by the way they are crediting Mother Nature for things like a good night’s sleep or unexpected rain, seem to actually believe a sentient being is at work.

I have to admit, I’ve been guilty in the past of tongue-in-cheek claims of “Mother Nature’s” work. I thought it was harmless pretend.

Sometimes, however, harmless pretend can soften a person or a society to a concept. As mysticism has taken hold of Western culture, ideas I once thought far-fetched are now considered normative. “Mother Nature” is slipping into that role.

But who is “Mother Nature”? A quick look at the history of the term discloses roots in various religions as well as in Greek mythology, attaching the term to a number of different goddesses.

The popularization of the term, however, has escalated as actual characters or “Mother Nature” figures have worked their way into such media as The Santa Clause 2 and The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause movies, Happily Ever After, episodes of Stargate SG-1, and Avatar.

As society gets more and more comfortable with the idea of a being working in and through nature, who is not God, I have to wonder if stage isn’t set for a rebirth of goddess worship.

Dare I say, there are women who are part of the feminist movement who already hold their beliefs with religious fervor. If there is not already a worship of the idea of Woman, the underpinnings are there. It doesn’t seem like much of a stretch to me to think that a religion centered on goddess worship is just around the corner.

So, in an attempt to stay ahead of the curve, I want to point out that there is no separate force controlling nature apart from God Himself. He is both the creator and the sustainer of our world. In Him all He brought into being holds together.

For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. (Col. 1:16-17)

Maybe it’s time we retire the pretend “Mother Nature” lest we find ourselves on the edge of religion that worships nature and credits something other than God as the force behind it.

Published in: on October 6, 2017 at 6:02 pm  Comments (5)  
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The Patience Of God


Manasseh repented002There are two kings, one of Judah and one of Israel, who were despicable. The Bible doesn’t mince words about them—they built idol temples and instituted idol worship and for one of these kings that turned into child sacrifice.

The thing is, that latter king, Manasseh, reigned the longest of any in both kingdoms—fifty-five years. The other, Ahab, wasn’t some brief footnote in history himself, holding his throne for twenty-two years.

They shed innocent blood, worshiped gods who were no gods, “seduced” the people to do evil, and in Manasseh’s case, involved himself in the occult.

But other kings who didn’t do half the horrific acts these two did, had short reigns: Jeroboam, the first ruler of the divided northern kingdom, Israel, was succeeded by his son Nadab who reigned two years. Omri, Ahab’s father, reigned twelve. Manasseh’s son Amon was on the throne for just two years.

Then there were the final four—the last kings of Judah who reigned for three months, eleven years, three months, and eleven years, respectively. All short in comparison to Ahab and Manasseh. Why did those evil kings stay in power so long?

Scripture spends a little more time on Ahab and his reign than many of the kings. Remarkably, despite Ahab’s waywardness, God sent prophets to him time and again, unbidden apparently, to help him in what appeared to be impossible circumstances.

The great threat of his day came from the north. The group of city-states known as Aram—the area we identify as Syria—came together under one powerful king and mustered a huge army to go against Ahab.

Israel’s forces were in decline. They’d had wars against Judah and were greatly weakened, so they were no match for the 100,000 Aramean troops that surrounded them. Enter the prophet of God. His message to Ahab was, God will get you out of this:

Behold, I will deliver them into your hand today, and you shall know that I am the LORD. (1 Kings 20:13b)

Ahab asked one question: by whom? God answered, By the hand of the young men of the rulers of the provinces. Turns out that was a group of 232 young men—a smaller force than Gideon lead in an earlier generation.

Nevertheless, as the prophet said, God delivered this huge army into Israel’s hands.

The powerful Aramean king who’d apparently expected a pretty easy victory, raised another army as big as the first and he put military men in charge. Further, he changed the location of the battle since his advisers told him the God of Israel was a God of the mountains and not the plains.

Again the prophet came to Ahab:

“Thus says the LORD, ‘Because the Arameans have said, “The LORD is a god of the mountains, but He is not a god of the valleys,” therefore I will give all this great multitude into your hand, and you shall know that I am the LORD.’” (1 Kings 20:28)

Israel did, in fact, reap a miraculous victory again, but Ahab let the Aramean king escape God’s retribution. God rebuked him for that. Ahab responded by allowing his wife to steal land he coveted from a neighbor and have the man killed. This time Elijah confronted Ahab and pronounced judgment on his house.

Up to that point Ahab’s legacy was abominable:

Surely there was no one like Ahab who sold himself to do evil in the sight of the LORD, because Jezebel his wife incited him. He acted very abominably in following idols, according to all that the Amorites had done, whom the LORD cast out before the sons of Israel. (1 Kings 21:25-26)

And yet, when he heard Elijah proclaim God’s judgment for his sins, he repented. He tore his clothes—the Middle East way of mourning—put on sackcloth, and fasted. There was a change in his demeanor, too.

God explained it to Elijah: “Do you see how Ahab has humbled himself before Me?” (1 Kings 21:29a) The attitude change had to be genuine and deep. After all, God sees the heart. He wouldn’t be fooled by a hypocritical outward display that held no real change.

So as near as I can determine, God allowed Ahab to remain on the throne all those years, sending him prophets to help him and rebuke him, to give him opportunity to humble himself. What a display of God’s patience and mercy!

Same thing with Manasseh. We don’t know as many details about the events that turned him to God after all those years of evil, but here’s what 2 Chronicles says:

The LORD spoke to Manasseh and his people, but they paid no attention. Therefore the LORD brought the commanders of the army of the king of Assyria against them, and they captured Manasseh with hooks, bound him with bronze chains and took him to Babylon. When he was in distress, he entreated the LORD his God and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers. When he prayed to Him, He was moved by his entreaty and heard his supplication, and brought him again to Jerusalem to his kingdom. Then Manasseh knew that the LORD was God. (33:10-13)

God patiently waited for this man so many of us would have written off as hopelessly, despicably evil and beyond God’s reach, to humble himself and know that the LORD is God.

I wonder what Ahab or Manasseh might be sitting in some Senate seat or governor’s mansion or state office today. Perhaps we should be praying that God will demonstrate His loving patience so that they can humble themselves and know that the LORD is God. Perhaps we should thank Him for His patience that extends to us that we too might humble ourselves and know Him.

This post is an edited version of one that first appeared here in November 2014.

And Then There Was Peace


Gideon004I’m slow on the uptake at times. Until recently I thought Israel, prior to becoming a kingdom, only had a judge when they needed to be rescued from an oppressor. Hence the judges were, in essence, military heroes, but little else.

Except, I noticed as I read from Judges 4 that Deborah was judging Israel before God called her to facilitate the end of the oppression of Jabin king of Canaan.

Now Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lappidoth, was judging Israel at that time. She used to sit under the palm tree of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim; and the sons of Israel came up to her for judgment. (Judges 4:4-5, emphasis added)

Finally, as I read further, something clicked inside my head. The book records a small group of judges who don’t have military credentials. I’d always thought Scripture skipped who they fought against and how long Israel was in bondage to these unnamed oppressors. But no.

Those judges didn’t come to their position in response to the need to free Israel from oppression. They simply were the designated judges that presided over the nation for those short years.

So apparently God selected judges throughout Israel’s pre-king years, not as military heroes, as I used to think, but as judges. (Imagine that!) They were to be the leaders of the nation, the ones who, like Moses before them, arbitrated between the people. No longer did leading include heading up the caravan of people traveling through the wilderness (as Moses had) or even conducting a military campaign (as Joshua had), though many of the judges did the latter.

In reality, the judges were God’s representative to the nation. Interestingly, many of them did free Israel from foreign oppression, but afterwards, they continued to judge the nation. For example, Gideon judged Israel for forty years after God used him and the measly three hundred to free the people from the iron fist of Midian. Before him, Deborah judged Israel for another forty years once she and Barak had freed the nation.

And the four who weren’t military leaders? They were in charge for a total of forty-seven years. Three consecutive judges, right before Samson, held the judgeship for seven, ten, and eight years respectively. So, for twenty-five years Israel knew peace.

Until they didn’t.

I’m not sure how the whole judge thing worked. Deborah, we know, stayed in one place and people came to her. But did people from the far away tribes make that trek? And what happened when God “gave them into the hands” of oppressors? Did that mean He did not choose a judge for that period of time? And how was the judge chosen?

We know God spoke to Gideon and Samuel. Deborah was a prophetess, so God spoke to her as well. Samson was set apart in his mother’s womb, and the Spirit of God came upon him when he needed superhuman strength, but did he actually judge the nation? Did God call him to do so? And what about the others—Othniel and Ehud and Shamgar and the rest—how were they chosen? Scripture doesn’t say.

So the process isn’t clear. Who exactly was in charge during those years?

The question comes to mind because after periods of peace, inevitably Judges records a verse like 13:1—“Now the sons of Israel again did evil in the sight of the LORD, so that the LORD gave them into the hands of the Philistines forty years.”

But when, exactly did the people do this evil? The oppression came as a result of the evil, so the doing of evil must have come during those years of peace.

I’m sure Israel wanted peace. They had put up with Moab and Midian on the east, the Canaanites in the north, and the Philistines in the west. At one point they were nearly starved off their land as the Midianites burned their crops right before harvest and killed off their livestock.

War was . . . well, you know what war is, and Israel lived through it over and over and over. But because of it, they turned to God and cried out for Him to rescue them. It was during peace that they turned their backs on Him and worshiped other gods.

So peace and prosperity and abundance are things we long for, things we strive for, things we enjoy. But in oppression, we call out to God.

So which is actually better for us?

I maintain it’s not the situation we’re in that is better for us or worse, though history seems to argue against me. I think it’s our heart attitude. Paul said he’d learned to be content in whatever circumstance he was in:

I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me. (Phil. 4:12-13)

I’d rather have peace than oppression, prosperity than humble means, but do I want peace and prosperity more than I want Jesus? Do I want to know God and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings?

Peace actually tests our hearts to see if we want what tastes good and looks pleasing to the eye and promises to make us wise, more than we want to take up our cross and follow Jesus. Peace, more than oppression, then, should bring us to our knees praying for God to rescue us from the dominion of darkness, because the temptation of our souls is a bigger deal than the oppression of our bodies.

This post is an edited version of one that first appeared here in October 2014.

Published in: on October 26, 2016 at 5:45 pm  Comments (1)  
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The Golden Calf Syndrome


Golden calf idolIn revisiting unholy habits yesterday, I didn’t deal with the root issue—the idols we worship.

For some of us, we need to face the fact that we have accepted false gods into our lives, just as Israel accepted the gods of Egypt or as they adopted Baal or the Asherah of the Canaanites and the other neighboring peoples. We put in the highest place things like our desire for pleasure or for power, our desire for position or for prestige, even our possessions or the people we care about. These things are gifts from God, but when we let them rule in our lives they become idols.

But there’s a more insidious idol—of the kind that Jeroboam built. He set up a golden calf—two, in fact—and told the people that here were the gods who brought them up from Egypt. In other words, he decided to create god in the image he wanted him, with priests and festivals and worship ceremonies to his liking.

He didn’t want his people traveling to Jerusalem for Passover or any of the other feasts God had instituted through Moses. His reason for re-imaging God and redirecting the worship of his people was personal:

Jeroboam said in his heart, “Now the kingdom will return to the house of David. If this people go up to offer sacrifices in the house of the LORD at Jerusalem, then the heart of this people will return to their lord, even to Rehoboam king of Judah; and they will kill me and return to Rehoboam king of Judah.” So the king consulted, and made two golden calves, and he said to them, “It is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem; behold your gods, O Israel, that brought you up from the land of Egypt.” (1 Kings 12:26-28)

Jeroboam was afraid he’d lose his position as king, that his people would turn against him, so he decided he’d make god the way he wanted him. He ignored the commandment against making an image to represent God. He ignored the Law that required worship in the one place where God would establish it—Jerusalem, as it turned out. He ignored the feast days God established. He ignored God’s choice of the Levites and particularly of the descendants of Aaron as the priests who were to stand before Him.

In other words, Jeroboam wanted God to be who he said he was and he wanted to worship him how he chose to worship him. He simply wanted to be in charge of god.

Sadly we see the same thing today with people who pick and choose from the Bible what they decide they want to believe. God is loving but he’d never judge a nation to be so sinful its people needed to die. And the very idea that god would flood the earth to judge the wicked—horrible. Can’t believe that notion because MY GOD WOULDN’T DO SUCH A THING.

People following that train of thought are simply fashioning their golden calf. They don’t want God to be a just judge who declares that the wages of sin is death, so they fashion a god who looks away from sin because he’s tolerant and loves too much to declare anyone guilty and deserving of hell.

The grain of truth in such a false image is, of course, that God is loving, but His love provided the motive for Him to send Jesus to the cross to die for our sins, once for all. That great act of sacrifice is such a far cry from the false notion of tolerance, it’s hard to conceive of the idea that they’re talking about the same God I know.

And in fact they’re not. They’ve fashioned their own god. They’ve decided who god is, and it’s not the God who says He is jealous or who says vengeance is His or who reproves and disciplines. Some fashion a god who doesn’t call Jesus his son, others a god who added later revelation that contradicts the Bible.

Each of these methods of altering what God has disclosed about Himself are simply golden calves—the results of people making god into what they want him to be, not who He actually is. Jeroboam didn’t want Yahweh to be God because his people would make pilgrimages to Jerusalem, the Pharisees didn’t want Jesus to be the Messiah because they didn’t want to lose the power they had over the people.

I can suggest reasons why other people groups decide to re-image God, though I don’t know why for sure, but the bottom line is, whoever does so is replacing the One True God with a golden calf. In this day and age a host of religious people seem infected with golden calf syndrome, whether they as individuals decide that God didn’t really mean this or that which He said in the Bible or whether as a group they believe something more radically other than what the Bible teaches.

The result is the same: an idol, as displeasing to God as any Israel created.

Published in: on October 30, 2015 at 6:09 pm  Comments (4)  
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Reprise: Unholy Habits


Jeroboam and the golden calfFor some reason, holy habits seem hard to put in place. The unholy ones, not so much.

I’ve been thinking about the unholy habits cultivated by the kings of Judah and Israel, the divided nation that came from a split after Solomon’s death.

In the north, Israel began unholy habits in an intentional way. The king, a man named Jeroboam, was at the forefront of the civil war. He held power tenuously, or so he thought, and was especially fearful that his subjects, should they make their required pilgrimages to the temple of the One True God in Jerusalem, would decide they wanted to rejoin the south. His solution was to build two worship centers in Israel–one in Bethel and one in Dan. In each of those places, he erected a golden calf, assigned priests who were not of the tribe of Levi as God required, and told the people they were to bring their sacrifices to the altars at these high places.

From then on, Scripture records that not a single Israeli king departed from these sinful habits that Jeroboam instituted intentionally. Some of them added their own sins, but even the best of them–Jehu, for example, who got rid of Jezebel and all the Baal worshipers–continued in the ways of Jeroboam.

In Judah, the southern kingdom, the situation was a little different. The unholy habits of those kings seemed to creep in rather than being superimposed by a leader who intentionally and willfully decided to make worship what he thought rather than what God said.

One of the unholy habits was the practice of worshiping God in “high places.” As near as I can tell, these were local altars built on a hill where people sacrificed to the One True God.

However, Mosaic Law said they were to sacrifice only in the place God would designate. For years that meant they were to take their sacrifices to the altar that was part of the Tabernacle–the mobile worship center God had instructed Moses to build there in the wilderness between Egypt and the Promised Land. Later that meant taking their offering to the Temple which Solomon built to replace the Tabernacle.

Such a little thing. I mean, it was more convenient, I’m sure, for people to go to the high place right around the corner rather than making the long journey up to Jerusalem. And yet that habit led to any number of other departures from God’s Law.

This habit of worshiping on high places became so ingrained in the culture that an Assyrian military officer suggested King Hezekiah had turned from God because he had removed the high places. Right in the eyes of this man, was wrong, simply because wrong had become the entrenched, cultural habit for hundreds of years. Never mind what God said about how He wanted people to worship Him.

What today, I wonder, might be the entrenched unholy habits of the Church? There’s really only one way to know. It’s the same way the kings of Judah and Israel were to know.

Part of God’s requirement of each new king was for them to read and copy the Law. I’m pretty sure that rarely happened. Too many kings were completely ignorant of the existence of the Law. King Josiah, for instance, ruled for thirteen years before they found a copy of the Law in the temple. When he read it, he recognized how offended God had to be because His people had wander so far from His plan for them.

I don’t suppose Christians today need to copy Scripture. 😉 I don’t think we’ll find that anywhere in the Bible. It does seem as if reading it and obeying it is in order, however. It’s the only way, I think, to unseat those unholy habits.

Published in: on October 29, 2015 at 5:25 pm  Comments (6)  
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The Patience Of God


Manasseh repented002There are two kings, one of Judah and one of Israel, who were despicable. The Bible doesn’t mince words about them—they built idol temples and instituted idol worship and for one of these kings that included child sacrifice.

The thing is, that latter king, Manasseh, reigned the longest of any—fifty-five years. The other, Ahab, wasn’t some brief footnote in history himself, holding the throne for twenty-two years.

They shed innocent blood, worshiped gods who were no gods, “seduced” the people to do evil, and in Manasseh’s case, involved himself in the occult.

But other kings who didn’t do half the horrific acts these two did, had short reigns: Jeroboam, the first ruler of the divided northern kingdom, Israel, was succeeded by his son Nadab who reigned two years. Omri, Ahab’s father, reigned twelve. Manasseh’s son Amon was on the throne for just two years.

Then there were the final four—the last kings of Israel who reigned for three months, eleven years, three months, and eleven years, respectively. All short in comparison to Ahab and Manasseh. Why did those evil kings stay in power so long?

Scripture spends a little more time on Ahab and his reign than many of the kings. Remarkably, despite Ahab’s waywardness, God sent prophets to him time and again, unbidden apparently, to help him in what appeared to be impossible circumstances.

The great threat of his day came from the north. The group of city-states known as Aram—the area we identify as Syria—came together under one powerful king and mustered a huge army to go against Ahab.

Israel’s forces were in decline. They’d had wars against Judah and were greatly weakened, so they were no match for the 100,000 Aramean troops that surrounded them. Enter the prophet of God. His message to Ahab was, God will get you out of this:

Behold, I will deliver them into your hand today, and you shall know that I am the LORD. (1 Kings 20:13b)

Ahab asked one question: by whom? God answered, By the hand of the young men of the rulers of the provinces. Turns out that was a group of 232 young men—a smaller force than Gideon lead in an earlier generation.

Nevertheless, as the prophet said, God delivered this huge army into Israel’s hands.

The powerful Aramean king who’d apparently expected a pretty easy victory, raised another army as big as the first and he put military men in charge. Further, he changed the location of the battle since his advisers told him the God of Israel was a God of the mountains and not the plains.

Again the prophet came to Ahab:

“Thus says the LORD, ‘Because the Arameans have said, “The LORD is a god of the mountains, but He is not a god of the valleys,” therefore I will give all this great multitude into your hand, and you shall know that I am the LORD.’” (1 Kings 20:28)

Israel did, in fact, reap a miraculous victory again, but Ahab let the Aramean king escape God’s retribution. God rebuked him for that. Ahab responded by allowing his wife to steal land he coveted from a neighbor and have the man killed. This time Elijah confronted Ahab and pronounced judgment on his house.

Up to that point Ahab’s legacy was abominable:

Surely there was no one like Ahab who sold himself to do evil in the sight of the LORD, because Jezebel his wife incited him. He acted very abominably in following idols, according to all that the Amorites had done, whom the LORD cast out before the sons of Israel. (1 Kings 21:25-26)

And yet, when he heard Elijah proclaim God’s judgment for his sins, he repented. He tore his clothes—the Middle East way of mourning—put on sackcloth, and fasted. There was a change in his demeanor, too.

God explained it to Elijah: “Do you see how Ahab has humbled himself before Me?” (1 Kings 21:29a) The attitude change had to be genuine and deep. After all, God sees the heart. He wouldn’t be fooled by a hypocritical outward display that held no real change.

So as near as I can determine, God allowed Ahab to remain on the throne all those years, sending him prophets to help him and rebuke him, to give him opportunity to humble himself. What a display of God’s patience and mercy!

Same thing with Manasseh. We don’t know as many details about the events that turned him to God after all those years of evil, but here’s what 2 Chronicles says:

The LORD spoke to Manasseh and his people, but they paid no attention. Therefore the LORD brought the commanders of the army of the king of Assyria against them, and they captured Manasseh with hooks, bound him with bronze chains and took him to Babylon. When he was in distress, he entreated the LORD his God and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers. When he prayed to Him, He was moved by his entreaty and heard his supplication, and brought him again to Jerusalem to his kingdom. Then Manasseh knew that the LORD was God. (33:10-13)

God patiently waited for this man so many of us would have written off as hopelessly, despicably evil and beyond God’s reach, to humble himself and know that the LORD is God.

I wonder what Ahab or Manasseh might be in some Senate seat or governor’s mansion or state office today. Perhaps we should be praying that God will demonstrate His loving patience so that they can humble themselves and know that the LORD is God. Perhaps we should thank Him for His patience that extends to us that we too might humble ourselves and know Him.

Published in: on November 4, 2014 at 6:59 pm  Comments Off on The Patience Of God  
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And Then There Was Peace


Gideon004I’m slow on the uptake at times. Until five days ago I thought Israel, prior to becoming a kingdom, only had a judge when they needed to be rescued from an oppressor. Hence the judges were, in essence, military heroes, but little else.

Except, I noticed as I read from Judges 4 this past week that Deborah was judging Israel before God called her to facilitate the end of the oppression of Jabin king of Canaan.

Now Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lappidoth, was judging Israel at that time. She used to sit under the palm tree of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim; and the sons of Israel came up to her for judgment. (Judges 4:4-5, emphasis added)

Finally, as I read further, something clicked inside my head. The book records a small group of judges who don’t have military credentials. I’d always thought Scripture skipped who they fought against and how long Israel was in bondage to these unnamed oppressors. But no.

Those judges didn’t come to their position in response to the need to free Israel from oppression. They simply were the designated judges that presided over the nation for those short years.

So apparently God selected judges throughout Israel’s pre-king years, not as military heroes, as I used to think, but as judges. (Imagine that!) They were to be the leaders of the nation, the ones who, like Moses before them, arbitrated between the people. No longer did leading include heading up the caravan of people traveling through the wilderness (as Moses had) or even conducting a military campaign (as Joshua had), though many of the judges did the latter.

In reality, the judges were God’s representative to the nation. Interestingly, many of them did free Israel from foreign oppression, but afterwards, they continued to judge the nation. For example, Gideon judged Israel for forty years after God used him and the measly three hundred to free the people from the iron fist of Midian. Before him, Deborah judged Israel for another forty years once she and Barak had freed the nation.

And the four who weren’t military leaders? They were in charge for a total of forty-seven years. Three consecutive judges, right before Samson, held the judgeship for seven, ten, and eight years respectively. So, for twenty-five years Israel knew peace.

Until they didn’t.

I’m not sure how the whole judge thing worked. Deborah, we know, stayed in one place and people came to her. But did people from the far away tribes make that trek? And what happened when God “gave them into the hands” of oppressors? Did that mean He did not choose a judge for that period of time? And how was the judge chosen?

We know God spoke to Gideon and Samuel. Deborah was a prophetess, so God spoke to her as well. Samson was set apart in his mother’s womb, and the Spirit of God came upon him when he needed superhuman strength, but did he actually judge the nation? Did God call him to do so? And what about the others—Othniel and Ehud and Shamgar and the rest—how were they chosen? Scripture doesn’t say.

So the process isn’t clear. Who exactly was in charge during those years?

The question comes to mind because after periods of peace, inevitably Judges records a verse like 13:1—“Now the sons of Israel again did evil in the sight of the LORD, so that the LORD gave them into the hands of the Philistines forty years.”

But when, exactly did the people do this evil? The oppression came as a result of the evil, so the doing of evil must have come during those years of peace.

I’m sure Israel wanted peace. They had put up with Moab and Midian on the east, the Canaanites in the north, and the Philistines in the west. At one point they were nearly starved off their land as the Midianites burned their crops right before harvest and killed off their livestock.

War was . . . well, you know what war is, and Israel lived through it over and over and over. But because of it, they turned to God and cried out for Him to rescue them. It was during peace that they turned their backs on Him and worshiped other gods.

So peace and prosperity and abundance are things we long for, things we strive for, things we enjoy. But in oppression, we call out to God.

So which is actually better for us?

I maintain it’s not the situation we’re in that is better for us or worse, though history seems to argue against me. I think it’s our heart attitude. Paul said he’d learned to be content in whatever circumstance he was in:

I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me. (Phil. 4:12-13)

I’d rather have peace than oppression, prosperity than humble means, but do I want peace and prosperity more than I want Jesus? Do I want to know God and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings?

Peace actually tests our hearts to see if we want what tastes good and looks pleasing to the eye and promises to make us wise, more than we want to take up our cross and follow Jesus. Peace, more than oppression, then, should bring us to our knees praying for God to rescue us from the dominion of darkness, because the temptation of our souls is a bigger deal than the oppression of our bodies.

Published in: on October 9, 2014 at 6:13 pm  Comments Off on And Then There Was Peace  
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God Speaks


wonderful-words-of-life-119318-mOften when I read the Bible, I wonder what it must have been like to hear God speak. Genesis records God’s presence in the garden of Eden and His conversations with Adam and Eve. But He also talked with Cain before and after he killed his brother.

Throughout Biblical history, God spoke. He gave Noah the command to build the ark and the specific plans he was to follow. God directed Abraham to leave his home, to go where He told him to go, even to sacrifice his son. God spoke with Moses, first from the burning bush, but then on a somewhat regular basis.

He spoke with Joshua too, and with various judges—most notably Deborah, Gideon, and Samuel. I think the first instance when God spoke with the young Samuel is most informative. When God called the lad in the middle of the night, he mistakenly thought he was hearing the high priest summon him. In other words, God’s voice was very much like he was used to hearing, not in some echoing, thunderous tones.

Of course God also spoke directly to the prophets such as Elijah, Isaiah, and Ezekiel. Did they hear an audible voice as Samuel had? No way we can know, but hear Him, they did.

Jesus heard the Father in an audible voice when He was baptized, and Paul heard Jesus on the road to Damascus.

God didn’t limit His communication to verbal exchanges, however. On the way out of Egypt, for example, He guided the people of Israel by sight—by His visible presence. He also gave objects of communication, which we don’t really understand—the ephod, which the High Priest was to wear (though later passages of Scripture mention multiple ephods), with the Urim and Thummim. Various people in Scripture used these objects to divine God’s will—should they go up for battle or not, that sort of thing.

He used another object to serve as proof to Israel that He’d chosen Aaron and his descendants to be priests before Him—Aaron’s rod which budded when those from the other tribes did not. And of course He gave His written word when He inscribed on stone the Ten Commandments.

It is this most permanent form of communication—and relatively brief and to the point—that gives us the clearest picture of humankind’s response to God. The first things He told the people were to worship Him only and to do so without making an image of Him.

While Moses met with Him to receive the stone tablets, Aaron was busy making an image he intimated was Yahweh: “This is your god, O Israel, who brought you up from the land of Egypt” (Ex. 32:4b).

And various times throughout their history, Israel put away their foreign gods, which obviously meant that prior to the putting away, there had been a putting out and on display, or a worship of these gods. Some were carry-overs from Egypt, others were the gods of the peoples whose land God gave them.

I’m guessing that none of those other gods ever spoke to them. Well, that’s not entirely right: false prophets did arise and very well may have proclaimed things they attributed to their false gods.

In addition, God had set up a clear and precise system of worship which apparently the people pretty much ignored. For example, He said there was to be one altar where the sacrifices would be made—the one in the place of worship, which initially was the tabernacle. Behind that altar was the screened off area where the ark was to be kept. The High Priest alone could go into that area, and then, only once a year.

The people clearly understood these instructions because when the tribes with land on the other side of the Jordan departed for their new home, they were worried that years later they’d be barred from coming to worship God, so they built a replica alter—their way of saying, we’ve seen this altar, it’s part of our history, we belong to the worship of Yahweh too.

However, the rest of the tribes were so upset at the idea that they had built an altar, when God said they were only to make sacrifices on the one altar, that they were ready to go to war against them.

Flash forward some five hundred years, and there were altars and ephods and priests and high places of worship all over the place. The ark had been paraded from place to place as a talisman to bring victory in battle, until it was eventually captured by the enemy.

What happened to the clear instructions God had written down, to the house and system of worship Moses had constructed from the pattern God had shown him?

Ultimately the people decided they wanted to go their own way.

Which brings me back to the point—humankind’s response to God’s clear communication has been, from the day Eve tasted the prohibited fruit, to go our own way: Yes, God, we understand we’re to worship only you, but we want to worship the gods we used to worship in Egypt, when we enjoyed leeks and onions and garlic and all the other tasty foods.

Not much has changed. Some people today flat out go their own way, denying not only Jesus who God sent, but God Himself. Others believe what God has said—Jesus is His Son, sent to save sinners—and they embrace Him . . . along with the gods from the world they left behind. Others of us bend His word or ignore the parts we don’t like as surely as the people of Israel did when they were building altars on the nearest high place.

It doesn’t seem to get through to us: God means what He says. He’s not like sinful man who may say something we don’t mean. His word is sure, tried, eternal, authoritative, inerrant. It can be trusted.

May we learn to trust it more each day.

Published in: on October 8, 2014 at 7:00 pm  Comments (1)  
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Jezebel In Our Midst


Seven_churches_of_asia.svgIn Christ’s fourth message to the churches in Revelation, He follows the familiar pattern established in the previous three. He catalogs both commendable traits and those which He counts against them. Then He delivers a warning and a promise.

Thyatira, home of Lydia, Paul’s first convert in Asia, receives some of Christ’s strongest words in each of those categories.

First comes the list of what these believers had right. It’s quite impressive:

  • Deeds.
  • Love.
  • Faith.
  • Service.
  • Perseverance.
  • Greater deeds now than at first—i.e. growth, progress, spiritual development, living out their faith more each day.

As great as this commendation is, Jesus says, “But I have this against you.” That’s an ominous opening to the next section—perhaps the most detailed of all the confrontations sections in these messages.

The problem: the church in Thyatira tolerated a Jezebel—someone in their midst who called herself a prophetess. Bad enough, but here’s what she was on about:

she teaches and leads My bond-servants astray so that they commit acts of immorality and eat things sacrificed to idols.

Immorality and idolatry. These activities would be bad enough if someone in the church engaged in them (see Paul’s chastisement of the church in Corinth when they tolerated a man involved in incest), but this Jezebel is teaching others and leading others—Christians, mind you, believers Christ describes as bond-servants—into immorality and idolatry.

The amazing thing to me is that Christ then says He gave this Jezebel time to repent. Repent! She’s immoral, she’s idolatrous, she’s leading Christ’s followers astray, and what does Jesus want? For her to repent! What mercy!

What a stark contrast to some in the church in the West who call down God’s wrath on the disobedient, as if we know in advance that God will not extend mercy to them or that they will never repent. This Jezebel in Thyatira didn’t repent, but God gave her time to do so as an exercise of His mercy.

As an exercise of His judgment, however, He will bring her down, along with all those who “committed adultery” with her. James calls those who are friends of the world adulteresses, and the Old Testament prophets frequently used the image of Judah or Israel as an adulteress because of their unfaithfulness to God. So clearly Christians who act in this same faithless way—putting their own lusts before God or even “mixing their worship”—would be subject to the discipline Christ will bring.

It’s a sobering warning:

Behold, I will throw her on a bed of sickness, and those who commit adultery with her into great tribulation, unless they repent of her deeds. And I will kill her children with pestilence, and all the churches will know that I am He who searches the minds and hearts; and I will give to each one of you according to your deeds. (Rev. 2:22-23)

What about the rest of the church, those who didn’t actually follow after what the people in that day termed “the deep things of Satan”? Christ told them to hold fast to what they had—their works and love and faith and service and perseverance and growth.

I think it’s notable that he didn’t call them to repent. I take it they were not endorsing this Jezebel or accommodating her. I suspect, instead, they were either not in a position to deal with her or were too small a group to make their voice heard.

As Christ did in the other messages, He promises something to “he who overcomes.” But this time He adds a little extra: “he who overcomes, and he who keeps My deeds until the end.”

This idea of doing something beyond overcoming reminds me of what Paul told the church in Thessalonica: “Excel still more.” I think this is why God gives us the admonition not to grow weary in well doing. The Christian doesn’t go on vacation from our service to Christ. We don’t retire from loving others or persevering or growing. Rather, we are to be like the sprinter racing hardest at the end, running through the tape, not slowing up.

The reward Jesus promises is particularly interesting. He quotes from Psalm 2—a Messianic passage. Here are the pertinent verses, with the portion which Revelation 2 utilizes in bold type:

“But as for Me, I have installed My King
Upon Zion, My holy mountain.”
“I will surely tell of the decree of the LORD:
He said to Me, ‘You are My Son,
Today I have begotten You.
‘Ask of Me, and I will surely give the nations as Your inheritance,
And the very ends of the earth as Your possession.
‘You shall break them with a rod of iron,
You shall shatter them like earthenware.
’ ” (vv 6-9)

In Revelation, Jesus says what God has given Him, He will give to those who overcome and hold fast. Interesting that those who did not follow the deep things of Satan or get drawn into the immorality and idolatry of Jezebel will one day be in positions of authority over the nations. In other words, there will be a time when they are not helpless to stop the waywardness currently surrounding them.

Christ closes by promising to give them the morning star. As one commentator notes

Jesus offers them a reward greater than the kingdom. He offers them the reward of Himself, because He is the Morning Star (Revelation 22:16). (“Study Guide for Revelation 2” by David Guzik)

Immorality? Yes, we see that in the church today in the rampant involvement in illicit sex. Idolatry? To our sorrow, yes, it’s there in our self-worship and greed. The “deep things of Satan”? We see the love of “mystery” and the twisting of Scripture so fitting of the Liar and Father of Lies.

But towering above all that Jezebel brings to the church is Christ, our true Reward. We will one day see Him face to face and know Him even as we are known. We will see His purity, His holiness, His righteousness—the same righteousness with which He clothes us.

Published in: on July 31, 2014 at 7:12 pm  Comments Off on Jezebel In Our Midst  
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