Make A Choice!

Johnson Medidi, our missionary from India, will be speaking to us Sunday morning. Since I’m not preaching I thought I’d share a summary of the text I had originally planned to preach this Sunday morning. Our text is 1 Kings 18:17-39. We’ve been talking about God’s faithfulness versus our unfaithfulness. When we choose to walk with God he is always faithful. And when we choose to go against God, he is still faithful…and sometimes when we stand in opposition to God’s faithfulness we bring harm upon ourselves.

We talked last week about the division of the kingdom of Israel (1 Kings 12) and how the northern kingdom never had a good king, while the southern kingdom only had a few decent kings. During this dark time of the kings, God sent prophets to try to bring the people back in line with His will. Elijah was one of those prophets sent to the northern kingdom. King Ahab was leading the nation into sin. God had sent a famine on the land for several years, but promised Elijah if he would go before Ahab, God would send the rain. Meanwhile Jezebel, King Ahab’s wife, was killing off the prophets of Yahweh (1 Kings 18:4).

Elijah arranges to meet Ahab on Mount Carmel, which was the site of much pagan worship throughout the centuries, but especially during this time. Elijah sets up a demonstration to show that Yahweh is more powerful than the idols these Israelites had been worshipping, Baal and Asherah – both of whom were worshiped with child sacrifice. 450 prophets of Baal and 400 prophets of Asherah were present for the showdown.

The question Elijah presents is this:

“How long will you waver between two opinions? If the LORD is God, follow him; but if Baal is God, follow him.”

1 Kings 18:21 NIV

To prove who is God, Elijah has the prophets of Baal sacrifice a bull and put it on the altar. They danced, they cut themselves, they prayed as loud as they could all day, but Baal did not answer them. Fire never came from Baal. Next, Elijah rebuilds the destroyed altar to Yahweh with 12 stones to represent the tribes of Israel, then has 12 large jars of water dumped on the altar to soak the wood.

At the time of sacrifice, the prophet Elijah stepped forward and prayed: “LORD, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, let it be known today that you are God in Israel and that I am your servant and have done all these things at your command. Answer me, LORD, answer me, so these people will know that you, LORD, are God, and that you are turning their hearts back again.”

1 Kings 18:36-37 NIV

God answered Elijah’s prayer immediately. Fire fell from heaven, burned up the sacrifice, the wood, the stones, the soil, and the water! The people fell down and acknowledged Yahweh as God! After the people were convinced of the power of Yahweh, Elijah prays 7 more times and a heavy rain fell on the land.

God’s faithfulness to Elijah and the people is evident through the whole story. Unfortunately, the kings still didn’t turn their hearts back to Yahweh. So next week, we’ll look at the words of Yahweh through Hosea telling us He will not give up on His children, even in their unfaithfulness.

Give Us A King!

Great Is Thy Faithfulness continues this week by looking at the story of King David’s grandson, Rehoboam, and the division of the Kingdom of Israel. But before we talk about the actual split, we need to look at how Israel got to this point. They said they wanted a king like the nations around them, but God warned them what would happen if they chose an earthly king over him (1 Sam. 8). God knew all along the Israelites would choose this path, and even gave them guidelines on what a king should do before they ever entered the Promised Land (Deuteronomy 17). God’s way was better, but God gave Israel what they asked for.

Saul was the first king, and that went ok for a time. Eventually Saul had to be replaced because of his wickedness by King David (that was last week’s sermon). After David’s death, his son Solomon was chosen as king. Most of us know that Solomon was the wisest because he asked God for wisdom (1 Kings 3). Solomon ruled in this wisdom for a while, and did well as king. But pretty soon that all changed!

Deuteronomy 17 gives us 8 qualifications for an earthly king. Some of them are as follows:

  • He must not acquire great numbers of horses, especially from Egypt (v.16)
  • He must not take many wives or his heart will be led astray (v.17)
  • He must not accumulate large amounts of gold and silver (v. 17)
  • He is to be a Bible nerd and study it constantly to learn how to follow God (vv. 18-19)

David certainly failed at several of these points (and others not mentioned here), but Solomon is portrayed as the antithesis of Deuteronomy 17!

  • He acquired great numbers of horses, especially from Egypt (1 Kg. 10:28-29)
  • He took many wives and his heart was led astray (1 Kg. 11:1-6)
  • He must not accumulate large amounts of gold and silver (1 Kg. 10:2, 14-22, 27)
  • He ignored God even though God appeared to him twice! (1 Kg. 11:9)

The story of Solomon shows us that even the wisest, richest, most powerful and well respected king won’t follow God! And when Solomon’s son Rehoboam goes to be crowned as king, he decides to double down on Solomon’s evil practices (1 Kg. 12:14), the kingdom was divided. The earthly kingdom had failed. If only the people had trusted God, and not trusted in an earthly kingdom.

The northern kingdom has 20 kings that follow the split. According to the record of the Kings, none of them were faithful to God. In the southern kingdom, only 8 out of 20 were good kings, but even they ultimately failed the faithfulness test.

Israel needed a better king. They needed God as their King once again. And God promised just that through his prophets (Isa. 9:6-7). Unfortunately when King Jesus came to them, they once again chose an earthly king over him (John 19:15).

We too have a choice to make. Will we choose our earthly kingdom, or King Jesus?

(Sermon text for 10/27/19 – 1 Kings 12:1-17, 25-29; Mark 10:42-45)

Daily Psalms – Psalm 84

Daily Psalm Reading – Psalm 81-85

How happy are those who reside in your house,
who praise you continually. Selah

Psalm 84:4 CSB

Psalm 84, perhaps my favorite of the songs of Zion, focuses on this point. Being in the presence of God, where he resides, is our ultimate goal and longing.

The psalmist begins by proclaiming a desire to be where the presence of Yahweh is, and then moves into an almost play-by-play of a pilgrim traveling to the temple (vs. 5-10). Each verse brings us closer and closer to God’s presence until the arrival in the temple courts.

Better a day in your courts than a thousand anywhere else.
I would rather stand at the threshold of the house of my God
than live in the tents of wicked people.

Psalm 84:10 CSB

The presence of Yahweh dwelt in the temple. In the Israelite context, do draw near to God meant a pilgrimage to the temple. But to the Christian, you and I are now the temple of the Holy Spirit of God because of the atoning blood of Jesus (Eph. 2:19-22; 1 Pet. 2:4ff).

So how do we encounter the presence of God? It starts with Jesus. We can only enter through Christ. His life, ministry, death, and resurrection was the fulfillment of the promised Messiah to Israel. This fulfillment of God’s promise changed the way God interacted with his people! When we commit ourselves to Christ, God’s Spirit dwells within us, and we can and should ask God for his Spirit to be ever present and powerful in our lives. He also promises his presence when we gather together with other believers. (see Rom. 8:9ff, John 14:6-7, 1 Cor. 6:19ff, Acts 2, Luke 11:13, Matthew 18:20)

We should all long for the presence of God daily in this life, to gather in his presence with fellow believers as often as possible, and to dwell eternally in his presence in the next life.

Happy is the person who trusts in you,
LORD of Armies!

Psalm 84:12 CSB

Did God Kill An Innocent Man?

Great Is Thy Faithfulness continues this week by looking at the story of the ark of God coming to Jerusalem during the reign of King David. There is a part of this story that seems to perplex and worry many readers, and that is the account of Uzzah. I recall hearing several sermons and teachings in my past surrounding this story, but most of them didn’t fit within the theological narrative of the text. Both 2 Samuel 6 and 1 Chronicles 13 retell this story. 2 Samuel is not as nuanced and detailed as the Chronicler’s account, so I’ll use both texts. Let’s look at it together.

In Samuel’s account, David had become king and had been inquiring of God and operating under God’s guidance (2 Sam. 5:10, 18, 23). After this time David wanted to bring the ark of God, which is the very presence of God, to Jerusalem. This is a noble task because in contrast to Saul, David actually wanted to inquire of the LORD and wanted to be near the ark of God, the presence of God, when he did so (1 Chr. 13:3). The problem is that David did not actually inquire of God how to move the ark! (1 Chr. 15:13)

Careful attention is needed to what the text actually says here. “[David] and all his men” were the ones that undertook the movement of the ark of God (2 Sam 6:2). “They set the ark of God on a new cart” (2 Sam 6:3). As the cart travels along the ox stumbles so Uzzah takes hold of the ark and God strikes him down (2 Sam 6:6-7). 

Now on the surface it looks like God strikes down Uzzah because of a violation of a worship technicality. But keep in mind David and the whole group did this, not just Uzzah, and he is the only one struck down. That’s not what has happened. One might also think a vengeful God struck down an innocent concerned person who was only trying to help. That too is not what has happened. David, Uzzah, and all involved in the moving of the ark violated the law. Why did God only strike down Uzzah? This is where context comes into play.

The Chronicler has set a theme throughout his writings. To quote John Mark Hicks, that theme is “God seeks seekers.”  Chronicles uses the words “seek” more than any other biblical writing, and “heart” more than any except Jeremiah and Psalms. From the Chronicles we learn that to God it is the condition of the heart that matters. There are other clear examples of technical law violations in Chronicles (ex. 2 Chr. 30:18, 23), but God honors these violations (2 Ch. 30:20, 27).

The heart of the matter in this story is a matter of the heart.
-Why was Hezekiah’s unauthorized Passover celebration acceptable? His heart was set on seeking God. (2 Chr. 30:19)
-Why was David not struck down for moving the ark of God on a “new cart”? His heart was set on seeking God. (1 Sam. 16:7)

Why was Uzzah struck down? It’s clear Uzzah had no respect for the presence of God. Apparently his heart was not set on seeking God. Uzzah was struck down while others were not.

More could be said, but I think Hezekiah’s prayer in 2 Chronicles summarizes the story of Uzzah, and the Chronicles well.

“May the LORD, who is good, pardon everyone who sets their heart on seeking God – the LORD, the God of their ancestors – even if they are not clean according to the rules of the sanctuary.” And the LORD heard Hezekiah and healed the people.”

2 Chronicles 30:18-20 NIV (emphasis added)

Daily Psalms – Psalm 75

Daily Psalm Reading – Psalm 71-75

Is the judgement of God a good thing? According to Scripture, yes it is!

The judgement of God is what separates the righteous from the wicked. The judgement of God is the bringing about of God’s justice, to right the wrongs of this world, to remove the wicked from power and to exalt those who are faithful to God.

The judgement of God is a very good thing…unless you are unrighteous.

Psalm 75 begins like a praise song, and then moves into the forthcoming judgement of God. It also includes a divine speech, the words spoken by God himself.

“When I choose a time,
I will judge fairly.
When the earth and all its inhabitants shake,
I am the one who steadies its pillars.
Selah
I say to the boastful, ‘Do not boast,’
and to the wicked, ‘Do not lift up your horn.
Do not lift up your horn against heaven
or speak arrogantly.’ ”

Psalm 75:2-5 CSB

The imagery of God as judge pouring out his judgement is seen in verses 6-8. It’s not something that the wicked can escape. They will judged. But for the righteous God’s judgement brings forth praise! (v. 9)

The final promise of the Psalm is another quote from God himself about justice.

“I will cut off all the horns of the wicked,
but the horns of the righteous will be lifted up.”

Psalm 75:10 CSB

As you can see from this short Psalm, the righteous have nothing to fear when it comes to God’s judgement. It should cause thanksgiving and proclamation (v. 1), and continuous praise (v. 9) from God’s people. God has promised to judge fairly. (v. 2) God’s judgement is indeed good news!

If the judgement of God does not sound like good news, that’s a good indication that there are some changes that need to be made in your life and relationship with God. Here’s what Jesus had to say about the coming judgment.

“The Father, in fact, judges no one but has given all judgment to the Son, so that all people may honor the Son just as they honor the Father. Anyone who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him. Truly I tell you, anyone who hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not come under judgment but has passed from death to life.

John 5:22-24 CSB (emphasis added)

The judgement of God is good news! And Jesus has told us how not to fall under that judgement! That is very good news!

Now what are you going to do about it?

Daily Psalms – Psalm 67

Daily Psalm Reading – Psalm 66-70

Today we turn our attention to Psalm 67, a short psalm with a powerful reminder. But first a bit about poetic form.

Psalm 67, as well as a number of other Biblical passages (both poetic and not) form a chiasm or chiasmus. I use the analogy of going up and back down stairs to try to explain this. If I ascend and descend three stairs, then the pattern is thus: 1, 2, 3, 2, 1. So in a chiasm both verses on “step 1” are bookends of the poem, and are related. Same for “step 2”, and “step 3” would be the pinnacle, or main point of the poem. Psalm 67 forms a chiasm with three steps.

To show the pattern I’ll use our example of steps from above.

  • Step 1 – vs. 1-2
    • Step 2 – v. 3
      • Step 3 – v. 4
    • Step 2 – v. 5
  • Step 1 – v. 6-7

Let’s look at the relationship between each step, the main point, and what it means for us today.

May God be gracious to us and bless us;
may he make his face shine upon us
Selah
so that your way may be known on earth,
your salvation among all nations.

Psalm 67: 1-2 CSB

Notice that the purpose of the blessing to “us” is in order that God’s salvation be made to “all nations.” This is a key theme in the Hebrew Scriptures that Israel often missed. Their purpose (and ours) is to proclaim God’s good news and salvation to those who do not know him, “all” of them!

The central claim of the psalm is God’s goodness and fairness toward the nations which should result in praise of everyone!

Let the nations rejoice and shout for joy,
for you judge the peoples with fairness
and lead the nations on earth.
Selah

Psalm 67:4 CSB

This central statement about God is bracketed by step 2 in verses 3 and 5 with the same call to praise by “all the peoples.” And the psalm closes with another blessing for “all” peoples.

The earth has produced its harvest;
God, our God, blesses us.
God will bless us,
and all the ends of the earth will fear him.

Psalm 67:6-7 CSB

Over and over the psalmist reminds us that the purpose of God’s people, the purpose of God’s blessing, the knowledge of God’s salvation, and the role of God and his people in the world is to make Him known to all peoples! Every one of them!

So what are you doing to reach all peoples for God? What are you doing to teach all nations about him? How much time do you spend with those who look different than you, act different than you, believe different than you, etc?

The great fault of Israel is they chose to isolate and insulate against the world rather than reach out to them for God’s glory. Is the church today guilty of the same?

I leave you with a quote from the late British missionary to India, Lesslie Newbigin.

“Christians have no effect in the world as long as they refuse to engage the world.”

Lesslie Newbigin

Looking At Ruth And Seeing God

This week we continue our sermon series called Great Is Thy Faithfulness by looking at the character of God revealed to us in the life and actions of widowed pagan foreigner by the name of Ruth. We looked at Ruth in our sermon and our auditorium Bible class back on July 14th. But I think it’s a point that is important enough for us to look at again. But before we look at Ruth, let’s begin by looking at God.

The LORD passed before him, and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for the thousandth generation, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, yet by no means clearing the guilty, but visiting the iniquity of the parents upon the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.”

Exodus 34:6-7 NRSV

The phrase steadfast love is the Hebrew word hesed. It’s how God introduces himself to Moses. It’s the very character of God and can be described as a “joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” kind of love. When Moses is reminding the people of God’s covenant with them in Deuteronomy 7, he once again reminds the people that they serve “the faithful God who maintains covenant loyalty with those who love him and keep his commandments…” (Deut. 7:9 NRSV) Again…hesed.

Now to the story of Ruth. Naomi has lost her husband, and her sons. She is going to return back from the land of Moab to Bethlehem in Judah to live out her days. She bids farewell to her two daughters-in-law (somewhat successfully) by saying “Go back, each of you, to your mother’s home. May the LORD show you kindness, as you have shown kindness to your dead husbands and to me.”  (Ruth 1:8 NIV)

Hopefully the bold words have tipped you off. The Hebrew word there is hesed. Notice that Ruth and Orpah are commended for showing hesed to Naomi and their husbands. Naomi is blessing them by asking Yahweh to do hesed to them as they have already done hesed to her and her sons.

This would be shocking to the original Israelite readers of this short story. The characters that most embody the character traits of Yahweh are not Israelites, nor faithful worshipers of Yahweh, nor wealthy, nor are they males. They are Moabite widowed women. Orpah quickly exits the narrative and we hear from her no more, but Ruth continues to be an example of Yahweh’s hesed through her relationship with Naomi.

Many different applications can be made here. But for now I want us to consider this one point. As we were reminded by the Deuteronomy 7 passage above, a clear example of God’s faithfulness is his hesed. To quote Bobby Valentine, “[Hesed] is the vertical and horizontal dimensions of the ’Jesus Creed.’” We discussed that last week. Sometimes God’s hesed is brought to us through our neighbor’s actions and faithfulness toward us and others. And we too are called to bring that hesed to others through our actions and relationships. 

When we look at the faithfulness Ruth shows Naomi, we begin to see a glimpse of the faithfulness of our God. To quote Jesus, “Go and do likewise.” (Lk. 10:37)