Friday, April 29, 2011

One Dumb Move

I was writing my last sermon in 1 Kings.  It is the last chapter in the book in which Kings Ahab and Jehoshaphat are hanging out as kings sometimes do and Ahab asks Jehoshaphat to help him in war against the king of Syria.  The problem is that Jehoshaphat was a follower of the Lord and Ahab was anything but and so Jehoshaphat shouldn't have been "hanging" with him to start with.  But at least he asks King Ahab to dig up a true prophet to see what the Lord says.  They had listened to 400 "yes men" tell them God was going to give them victory and Jehoshaphat wisely didn't trust them to tell the truth.
What follows is a fascinating account of how Micaiah is faithful to relate accurately what God had told him and the persecution that followed him by those who didn't want to hear what God has to say.  We even have a look at the very throne room of God and one way he accomplishes his will among the affairs of men.  I get to the end of my sermon, click save and go about my business and a little later it dawns on me I probably missed the most obvious and fascinating detail of the whole account in vs. 29, "So the king of Israel and Jehoshaphat the king of Judah went up to Ramothgilead."

Jehoshaphat is the one who got this whole thing started by wanting to know the Lord's will. He gets it in one of the most unique "church services" he has ever been in and then he walks out the door and completely ignores it! I can understand Ahab doing this, although even Ahab tries to hedge his bets by disguising himself, but why on earth does Jehoshaphat go into battle when he knows better?

It would seem there were times when he didn't take God's Word any more seriously than Ahab did. As a pastor I have seen this happen quite often. The Bible gives us insight into all areas of life. It explains why we have the problems we do, how to overcome them, the pitfalls of not obeying the Lord; it explains why following God is always better and on and on we could go. It is a bright light to shine on our way and all we have to do is follow it. Yet it is not unusual to say amen to all the pastor says, get up, walk out and never consider again what you just heard. At least this seems to happen when you watch people fall into the same traps time and time again.

To be fair, all pastors and this one in particular do the same thing. But it is particularly sad to see someone come to you for help and you do your best to tell them what the Lord says and they decide that they will continue to search for other advice and eventually are overtaken in their sin. I can feel for Micaiah. As you read through the account it is obvious that he has become somewhat jaded to how Ahab treats the Word of the Lord but he is still faithful to relate it to him whether he wants to hear it or not.

Two applications: First, Let's be careful to take God's Word seriously and not go through the religious show of church and Bible reading only to go out and take our cues from the spirit of this age. This is what the lost do and when we do it, it is especially reprehensible to the Lord. I didn't expect other people's children to listen carefully to me and obey but I certainly did my own children and it is unnatural for a child to scorn their parents counsel and fellowship. To have the privilege to hear from God and ignore it has to be the dumbest move possible.

Secondly, pray for your pastor that he will proclaim the truth as he sees it and that the truth he sees is from the Lord. Every preacher can be tempted to water things down for one reason or another but if we do that, the people suffer.


Friday, April 22, 2011

The God of Hills and Valleys

Ben-hadad had made a huge mistake.  After being soundly defeated by the Lord when he attacked Israel, he listens to some bad advice.  He is told by his counselors that no doubt Israel's gods were the gods of the hills but not the valleys and so they surely would be able to defeat Israel if they met them on the plains.  Of course, God took exception to that,  1 Kings 20:28, "Thus says the LORD, 'Because the Syrians have said, "The LORD is a god of the hills 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.'" 

It was bad theology.  Those who think theology is a term used by lifeless theologians and it doesn't have anything to do with serving the Lord show they have much to learn.  Theology matters because if you don't know what God says about himself, you don't know God.  Theology is the truths God conveys in his Word.  Without a thorough knowledge of theology one cannot know how life works.  These poor saps had no idea who the only true and living God was and so their only recourse was to make bad decisions that would not only cause them to be unsuccessful in life but unsuccessful in death as well.

It is particularly distressing when God's people make the same mistakes about theology as the lost do.  Oh, we know that God is the only God and that he is Lord over all the earth, hills and valley, country and city and so on, but it is one thing to know truth, it is another to live in light of it.

We have all sorts of ways of regulating the Lord so that he can be Lord here but not there.  Some have past experiences that have left some rather severe emotional scars and this becomes an excuse to opt out of being a strong, victorious Christian in the present.  They use the excuse that this event in my life has caused too many problems so that I am unable to be a good wife or husband or parent or stable church member; all the while giving lip service to the truth that God was and is in control of everything that has happened to them.

The problem here is that they are selling the Holy Spirit short.  They say, "He is fully capable of making that brother a strong testimony for the Lord or He can give that sister a joyful, emotionally consistent personality but I just have too many problems to overcome. God cannot change me but just a bit.  He gave me the faith to believe enough to be saved but he can't really make me a new creation so that I can live as I couldn't live before.  He is the God of this, but not that!  I know that my brothers and sisters in the Lord have solid, loving homes and are able to suffer trials and remain strong in the Lord, but not me; I have an excuse.  I am off the hook when it comes to being conformed to the image of Christ.  There are times when I don't have to by joyful and times when I can be a bitter, complaining, depressed, narcissistic basket case and everyone should just understand, including God.  There is just so much the Lord can expect of me."  Maybe it isn't always quite that extreme but living in daily depression while acting like everything is fine can't be a pleasant way to live.  How do these words differ in essence to the counselors of Ben-hadad?

In the end it sells God short and sets our self up as the one who decides what life should look like.  It sees self at the center of life and not service to the glory of God.  Is your God the same sovereign in the deep valley as he is while on the mountain top?  If so there should be a consistency in his people in every circumstance of life.

Friday, April 15, 2011

The Sky is Falling

There are good, theologically sound men who have studied recent history and proven that the world is changing exponentially. That is that while society has always changed and developed from the beginning, it's change is occurring more and more quickly.  In other words, life and technology didn't look too much different in 1800 as it did two thousand years before.  But two hundred years later in many places in the world the change is almost unbelievable, especially considering the relatively short time it took for technology to develop.  The point that some make then is that such change especially when taking into account the moral decay that is going along with it means that this world's civilization can't last more than about 50 years or so before it implodes on itself.

Now while this line of reasoning might have some merit and perhaps the Lord will be coming back in our children's lifetime; it is also true that our generation isn't the first to think like this.  And as history has proven, for Christians to think too much like this will lead to date setting and eventual embarrassment.  But there is something about the fact that the world is in many ways a evil place and things are getting worse and worse that I think is interesting to ponder.

A preacher I know sends out a paper he writes periodically that is consumed with all the bad things that are going on.  Whether it is the latest conspiracy theory in our government, some chemical in our food, some godless judge who is about to rule on something that will ruin our country; he is consumed with how bad things are getting.  For instance he tells us that our government has the technology to create earthquakes and stop hurricanes and so seemed to infer that we could have been behind the recent Japanese tsunami and could have prevented Hurricane Katrina.  And he made it quite clear that we can expect a massive cloud of radiation to drop on our country soon.  He seems to think that if we don't do something soon the American Way will vanish as if life can't go on if this happens.

Now don't get me wrong.  If someone can point out dangers in our society or the food I eat then they should.  But I am not quite sure how to take a Christian and especially a preacher who is consumed with the evils of society more than the preaching of the gospel.  In the aforementioned paper the attitude is we have to stop this company or that politician or life as we know it will be gone forever.  I guess my question is so what!  If we can make things better in some way, fine but if after our attempts, our milk is still pasteurized and our government still lies to us and there are still harmful cell phone signals invading our brains, then we have to convey the message, not that the sky is falling and life as we know it is gone but that this world is passing away anyway and so now is the day of salvation.

I don't want to be a person, let alone a Christian that just sees all the bad that is going on.  What seems to happen a lot of the time is that such people become consumed with all the bad news in the world and not consumed with rejoicing in the Lord always.  Is one really living in the joy of the Lord when they can't sleep at night because they might live too near power lines or their taxes might go up next year?

Yes, this world is a bad place in a lot of ways; yes, our government is corrupt in a lot of ways; yes, our tax money is wasted to the point of being criminal; yes, our food could be healthier; yes, the American justice system has become an embarrassment and on and on we could go.  But the Bible told us that things would wax worse and worse.  It doesn't mean we shouldn't try to stop it if we can but it should mostly motivate us to carry out the Great Commission.  And the last I read it, it said to preach the gospel and make disciples; it didn't say to be consumed with all the evil and unfairness in the world and go around and make everyone fret over it.

We sometimes act like we are surprised that sinners sin.  While I don't like the fact that sometimes this affects my family and me, I don't want to lose focus that this is why we have been left in the world; not to lead crusades against evil and even to complain about all the bad things out there but to spread the light of the gospel to a world in darkness.  Mostly I want to be a person that people like to be around because I am happy and contented in Christ, because I have hope for tomorrow and because I can be happy and pleasant in this world despite the realities that sin brings.  Not by ignoring them but because I know that God has them all under control.  Even if "Big Brother" takes all my "rights", my hope is built on nothing less than Jesus' blood and righteousness.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

If the LORD is God, follow him, But If Baal, Follow Him

I was listening to James White's podcast the other day.  He is a Christian apologist that I enjoy listening to on a regular basis.  An agnostic whom he knew called him wanting to discuss some points of debate since both of these men formally debate on a regular basis.  I appreciated James' approach with him.  The agnostic made the comment that he found discussing religion and debate interesting.  James told him that that was the problem and why he would not discuss the finer points of debate with him because he only saw religion as interesting.  To James the subjects of God and His Word were matters of eternal consequence and not something we talk about because it interests us at the moment.  He said (and I paraphrase) the agnostic doesn't need to worry about discussing religion, he needs to realize that he has to face God someday; he needs to repent and trust in Christ.  No man has the right to treat God as merely a matter of passing interest.

You might wonder what this has to do with 1 Kings 18 and the words of Elijah to the people of Israel that fateful day on Mt. Carmel.  I thought of this passage while I was listening to the exchange between these two men on the podcast.  I think this is more or less the meaning of Elijah when he exhorted the people to "quit limping between two different opinions".  If all religions have equal validity or if religion's main purpose is just to give us some sort of world view to help us get along in the world and be better people, then who cares what you believe.  But Elijah is saying that you can't treat other subjects on the same level as God.  He is saying you have two choose one or the other but be careful what you choose because there will be consequences.

If God is who he says he is then Paul drew the right conclusion in 1 Cor. 15.  He said that if Christ is not risen then Christians are the most pathetic people on earth because our sins have not been forgiven and so we have no more hope than anyone else.  Then he makes a glorious statement in 1Co 15:20  "But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep."  But he doesn't just make this statement for us to consider; he goes on to show that if this is true nothing else matters!  "1Co 15:23  But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. 1Co 15:24  Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. 1Co 15:25  For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet."  Christ is coming back to judge all men.

This is graphically illustrated for us that day on Mt. Carmel.  After the Lord displayed that he was the only God he allows Elijah to obey the covenant laws to slay the false prophets.  In fact this was a gracious warning judgment that God created us to glorify him and there are no other opinions that will be tolerated.  Whenever man looks at this world as just something to satisfy his curiosity, he has set himself up as judge and this is the Lord's prerogative. 

What we believe matters and it matters a lot.  You might think you can treat Him, his Word and his church nonchalantly but let Elijah speaks clearly from Mt. Carmel.  If God is who he says he is then forget everything else, this becomes the focus of our lives.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Mortifying the Flesh

Matthew 5:29-30 have been interpreted differently down through the years.  "If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell.  And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell."   While it should be obvious that Jesus isn't speaking literally here, some have mistaken his words to mean that one way to combat sin is to mutilate the body.  In the second century the church Father Origen evidently castrated himself because of these verses.

There are a few reasons why I don't believe Jesus' words are to be taken literally and that to do so actually hurts the cause of holiness.  First of all one has to understand the antithetical way Jesus taught.  It might also be called hyperbole, but he overstates a point or says it in a radical way to emphasize a point.  It is much like stating that one must hate his father or mother in order to follow Christ.  Other scriptures define what this "hate" looks like but Jesus makes the point of comparison between love for him and love for everything else.  Thus Jesus in our text is pointedly saying that one had better take the battle of sin seriously and do whatever it takes to glorify the Lord.

Another reason that he must have more in mind that holy mutilation is that plucking out one eye still leaves another to lust with and cutting off one hand still leaves another to steal with.  To take this literally doesn't solve the problem at all.  One might say that what he is getting at is to put out both eyes or cut off both hands.  While this might cause some change in one's actions it also fails to achieve what pleases the Lord.

I think Jesus is teaching a principle of sanctification that is more easily seen as one considers all the examples in the Sermon on the Mount.  Blinding one's self would on one level aid in the battle with lust.  But on another level I believe it would hinder the holiness that Jesus is speaking of in Matthew 5.  Christ gave us eyes to serve him.  He is most glorified when we can see all that lies around us and love him supremely in spite of the fact that we see these things.  Blinding or castrating ourselves removes these opportunities to show to all that we love him more than these things.  It says that the Lord isn’t worth the battle to mortify the flesh.  

Paul learned to live like that and was able to say that "he had learned to be content in all circumstances".  If we blind or castrate ourselves, we have not learned to love Jesus with all our hearts, we have done something akin to suicide.  It says that the fight to live for the Lord isn't worth the struggle so I will just quit fighting and do nothing.  Perhaps you have controlled your lust to some degree but you haven't demonstrated the surpassing glory of our Savior.  

Much better and glorifying to God is that we learn to bring all things under our control because our love for the Lord transcends our love for anything else even the desire for physical pleasure.  Our bodies are temples not to be mutilated but to be used for the Lord.  It is much more honoring to God that we maintain them in purity than we mar them in a misguided effort not to sin.  Besides if we abuse our bodies and still want to sin we haven’t accomplished anything.