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)

“Can God Hear the Prayers of Sinners?”

“We know that God does not listen to sinners. He listens to the godly person who does his will.”

John 9:31 NIV

Upon first glance that seems like a pretty definite statement doesn’t it? “We know that God does not listen to sinners.”

I have read an article floating around Facebook recently that asserts basically the same thing. It cites many verses indicating that God hears the prayers of the righteous (and he does.) It gives examples of God’s promises to look out for the righteous (and he does.) And the article gives the impression that if one is “unrighteous” or a “sinner” that God doesn’t/can’t hear those prayers. In fairness to the context of the article, it seems the reason for its writing was to refute the idea that all you have to do to be pleasing to God is say a prayer. I would agree with that last statement, but let’s not argue an accurate point by stating an inaccurate point.

Context matters. The verse quoted above from John’s Gospel is not stated by Jesus or his apostles. It is an assumption on the part of the blind man that Jesus healed Jesus, and he uses that assumption to back his claim that Jesus is working through the power and will of God (which he was.) But that leaves the question, does God hear the prayers of sinners? Let’s look at a few passages.

The Lord said, “I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering. So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians…”

Exodus 3:7-8 NIV

The question is “were the Israelites unrighteous/sinners when God heard them?” That’s a good question. Context seems to indicate that they did not know Yahweh at this point in history because Moses would need to introduce them to their God (Ex. 3:13-15). Also note that the text does not say that Israel cried out to Yahweh, simply that they cried out and Yahweh heard them. What is clear is that God did hear their cries, and it had nothing to do with their righteousness, but rather the mistreatment they were receiving a the hands of the Egyptians.

One day at about three in the afternoon [Cornelius] had a vision. He distinctly saw an angel of God, who came to him and said, “Cornelius!” 

Cornelius stared at him in fear. “What is it, Lord?” he asked. 

The angel answered, “Your prayers and gifts to the poor have come up as a memorial offering before God.”

Acts 10:3-4 NIV

The timeline in the story of Cornelius is very clear. Cornelius worshipped God and prayed to God under what he knew through the Jewish worship practices. It seems clear that Peter’s presentation of the Gospel is the first time Cornelius and his family have heard this (Acts 10:47-48; 15:7-11). Cornelius was not saved by the blood of Jesus because he didn’t know about the blood of Jesus, yet God heard his prayers.

I share these two examples with you so that you think about the question a little, and maybe ask a better question. The Bible nowhere limits what our God can do. He is not limited to work in a certain way, and he is not bound by any rules we place upon him. So to ask the question if God can hear the prayers of sinners is shortsighted. Let’s stick with the question that one of the heavenly visitors asks Abraham:

“Is anything too wonderful for the LORD?”

Genesis 18:14 NRSV

Our God is the God of the impossible. He’s the one that brings 90 year old women and 100 year old men supernaturally born children. He’s the God that sends an 80 year old man with a stick to free his people from Egypt. He’s the God that parts the Red Sea. He’s the God that raises the dead. He’s the God that poured out his Spirit at Pentecost. He’s the God that appears to unsaved gentiles and then pours out his Spirit on them too. He sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous, and nothing is too wonderful for the LORD!

Of course he can hear the prayers of anyone who cries out to him! And making that statement does not negate what the Scriptures teach about salvation.

5 Reasons Not To Obey God – The Calling of Moses

Last week our focus was on Jacob and the faithfulness God showed by keeping his promises, even while wrestling with Jacob. He also gave Jacob a new name, Israel – one who struggles with God.

This week we will talk about Moses, a complex character just like Jacob. Moses had been hiding out for about 40 years as a shepherd because he had committed murder back in Egypt. Now, at roughly the age of 80, Moses saw a burning bush and God called him to lead the nation of Israel out of slavery (Acts 7:23,30).  There are several points to ponder in this great text, but I want to focus on just one area: Moses didn’t want to do it!

At least 5 times in Exodus 3 & 4 Moses comes up with excuses for why he cannot do the job. “Who am I…what shall I tell them…what if they don’t believe…I have never been eloquent…” And the final excuse makes it abundantly clear what Moses wants:

But Moses said, “Pardon your servant, Lord. Please send someone else.”

Exodus 4:13 NIV

To state that Moses was a reluctant participant in the work of God through the Exodus is an understatement. He did not want to go! The text tells us that Moses made God angry through his excuses and hesitation, but once again notice the faithfulness of God through this statement:

“I will help both of you speak and will teach you what to do.”

Exodus 4:15 NIV

Even though Moses was not the most eager participant, God promised that he will “teach” Moses and Aaron what to do. God wasn’t going to just toss them to the wolves, he would be with them and would teach them.

Life is often difficult. And if we’re honest, God has called the church to do things that most of us don’t want to do. We would prefer being called to sit in the pews instead of obeying the command to make disciples (Mt. 28:19) Most of us can think of a hundred reasons why we aren’t qualified to do what God has called the church to do, but we forget that God is also a teacher at heart. 

There’s an old saying that I love:

God doesn’t call the equipped, he equips the called.

That’s the story of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses…and it’s our story too. We don’t have to rely on our own abilities if we are obeying the work God has called us to. He will prepare the way, he will take care of all the variables, and he will teach us as we go (Lk. 12:12, Jn. 14:26, 1 Jn. 2:27)

(Sermon text for 9/29: Exodus 1:8-14; 3:1-15; Mark 12:26-27)

Wrestling with God

Last week our focus was on Abraham and the faithfulness God showed he and Sarah by keeping his promises even when they tried to take a shortcut.

This week we will talk about a difficult character to address: Jacob. Even from the beginning Jacob showed signs of who he would become as he exited the womb grabbing the heel of his brother. He’s given the name “Jacob” which means he grabs the heel. That’s an interesting little bit of information, but when you realize what he grabs the heel in Hebrew is an idiom for he takes advantage of, or he deceives, the story gets more interesting. Seriously, who would want to name their child “deceiver” when they are born?

As we look at the story of Jacob we find out he deceives and takes advantage of situations quite often. He extorts his brother’s birthright (Gen. 25:29-34), he stole his brother’s blessing (Gen. 27:5ff), he deceptively builds great herds and flocks from his father-in-law (Gen. 30:41-43), and the list goes on and on. Not exactly role model material in some ways.

And yet, in some ways he’s exactly who we should be. Our sermon this week will focus on Jacob wrestling with God. We’ll explore the details of the story Sunday, but for now I want you to consider if you ever find yourself wrestling with God about something? I would say most often those times of wrestling are brought on by our desires. We want something and initiate the wrestling in hopes of getting our way. In Jacob’s case it is God who initiates the wrestling.

Why would God physically wrestle with Jacob? 

That’s a great question to wrestle with ourselves. Jacob’s story is a strange one that ends in a strange way. But the episode ends with God changing Jacob’s name to Israel which means he struggles with God. Think about this for a moment. The entire nation of Jacob’s descendants came to be known as those who struggle with God. And that title applies to us as well since Scripture tells us we have been grafted into Israel (Eph. 2:11-22).

We’ll explore other points of this text on Sunday, but for now I want you to find peace if you are wrestling with God. Jacob persisted in wrestling with God because he wanted to receive a blessing. I pray that’s why you are wrestling with God, and that the blessing comes to you as well. 

We can wrestle with God, his promises, his purposes, his Word, and walk away blessed. Just as Jacob limped away we will be changed by the encounter, but if we are persistent in our wrestling we too can be blessed through the encounter.

(Sermon text for 9/22: Genesis 32:9-13; 22-30; Mark 14:32-36)

Daily Psalms – Psalm 133

Daily Psalm Reading – Psalm 131-135

Today we conclude the psalms of ascents, and continue toward the end of book 5. Have you noticed how this portion of the psalter focuses far more on praise and worship than lament? Psalm 133 has been a favorite of mine since the first time I encountered it. Let’s look at it together.

How good and pleasant it is
    when God’s people live together in unity!

Psalm 133:1 NIV

Unity in God is a blessing that descends to us from our God. Keep in mind this is a psalm of ascent, so this is sung as people from all over go up together to worship. In the context of ancient Israel, this is a reminder, or a pleading for the whole of Israel to be unified. Today all of Christendom needs to hear this plead. As Paul would remind us:

There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

Ephesians 4:4-6 NIV

Our English translations miss a little theme here in verses 2-3. NIV uses “running down”, “running down,” and “falling on” throughout this Psalm. It’s the same Hebrew word each time , “yarad” which is “descending.”

The imagery of mountains could either be people of high standing (Mt. Hermon the highest mountain) and Mount Zion (much lower in elevation but obviously of great importance to God), or people from the northern kingdom (Hermon) and people from Judah (Zion).

Whatever the psalmist intended, it is clearly a blessing from on high when all who follow our God are one. This blessing is like an anointing that descends to lower places from the head to the beard to the collar. The same blessing descends on the elevated like Mount Hermon and also descends on the lower Mount Zion.

Don’t forget that God blesses the high and the lowly. Our churches are not to be country clubs or exclusive holy huddles/cliques where the select few get to hang out. It is for everyone, high or low, to come together in unity.

“For there the LORD bestows his blessing, even life forevermore.”

Psalm 133:3 NIV

Blessings to you.

God Will Allure Her – 2018 Blog Tour

Christine Fox Parker serves as President/Executive Director of PorchSwing Ministries, Inc., a non-profit ministry she founded to offer healing and safe space to survivors of all forms of church abuse and to educate churches and Christian institutions in creating safer spaces and improving care for abuse survivors. She earned a Masters in Christian Ministry and a Master’s in Counseling from Harding School of Theology.

A popular speaker and teacher across the country, Christine co-edited and contributed to Surrendering to Hope: Guidance for God’s Broken, published by Leafwood Press in May 2018.

Connect with Christine on her websites at www.porchswingministries.org and www.christinefoxparker.com.

God Will Allure Her

Hosea.

A testimony to God’s steadfast lovingkindness towards Israel and Judah.

From the start, Hosea tells the story of our God whose unfailing love paves the way for the redemption of God’s people even as they commit adultery with every lover they can find.

Read Hosea 1-2. Note the intentionality of the writing. Pay attention to the meaning of the names. Let the movement of the plot become apparent. Watch carefully what God is doing behind the scenes.

It is astounding. It is delightful. It is transforming. 

The book is likely written in the final days before Israel’s exile during the rapid succession of kings (six in twenty-five years). God pled with God’s people through many prophets to turn back from their idolatrous ways to avoid the cleansing God would bring through the exile.

In verse 1:2, Hosea is instructed by God to go take a wife, Gomer, from among to harlots and to have children with her, an analogy for Israel and Judah’s adultery. 

Three children are born.

The first is named Jezreel in reference to a massacre in 1 Kings 9-10

The second child is a daughter named Lo-ruhamah, meaning “she has not obtained compassion.” God tells Hosea to name the innocent this for, “…I will no longer have compassion on the house of Israel, that I should ever forgive them” (1:6b).

A third child is born. Another son. His name means “not my people.” Verse 1:9 reads:

And the Lord said, “Name him Lo-ammi, for you are not My people and I am not your God.”

Chapter two opens with the two younger siblings instructed to contend with their mother for her harlotry. Hosea writes of how Gomer cheated on the children’s father and warns the father will strip the mother naked and leave her exposed unless she repents of her adultery and no compassion will be had for the woman’s children.

Such brutality is shocking to modern Western readers.

But then something beautiful happens in 2:6…  The harlot’s husband says something even more shocking!

He tells the children of prostitution that even as their mother pursues her lovers, she will never overtake them. He has put a hedge up along her way. He has walled the paths so that she can run, but she cannot hide from him. She can seek her false lovers, but she will never find fulfillment with them. 

Then she will say, “I will go back to my first husband,
For it was better for me then than now!”

What the Israel does not know is that God provided for all her needs while she chased her false lovers. The grain, the new wine, the oil. Even the silver and gold which she and her lovers sacrificed to Baal were lavished upon the her by the harlot’s husband, God. 

Still, God says, she will be punished for her unfaithfulness in the sight of her lovers.

But then. Oh, then, declares the Lord, “I will allure her” (2:14b).

Did you hear that? God will allure the bride who ran off after all her lovers, chasing them with God’s own gold and silver, new wine and oil.

God loves God’s bride so richly, so heavenly, that even the ones called Not My People and She Has Not Obtained Compassion are worthy of God’s alluring efforts. 

“Therefore, behold, I will allure her

Bring her into the wilderness,

And speak kindly to her” (2:14).

And God does. After the adultery/idolatry is removed from the people by means of the exile, the people are brought back to their land. The bride returns to her first love. 

And it will come about in that day,” declares the Lord, “That you will call Me Ishi [husband]” (2:16).

Hosea 2 ends like a letter between two lovers. No more false lovers, no more war. Israel will lie down in safety, betrothed to God forever in righteousness and justice, in lovingkindness and in compassion.

God will betroth God’s bride to himself in faithfulness and she will know the Lord. 

And God will respond. 

God will respond in the heavens and Israel will respond on the earth.

And the earth will respond with grain and wine and oil 2:18-23. 

In grand triumph, the children return:

I will also have compassion on 

    her who had not obtained

    compassion,

And I will say to those who

    were not My people,

‘You are My people!’

And they will say, Thou art my God!’ (2:23 b,c)

(Be still in that for a moment. Let the beauty of what just happened wash over you.)

This is the story of God and Israel.

It is my story. 

My precious love story with God who allures me. 

Yes. God strips me bare and uncovers my nakedness in front of my false gods. 

Then God removes those unkind lovers from my lips and betroths me to God forever.

This is also your story.

(Be still in that for a moment. Let the beauty of what just happened wash over you.)

God is always seeking God’s people. Providing for them.

Loving you steadfastly and making a way for you to be found.

Let God’s lovingkindness and compassion wash over you. 

God calls you God’s people.

The “Promise”

I love Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. It seems no matter how deep I dig into the text here I find something new every time. The Holy Spirit enabled Paul to write this letter in such a beautiful way, truly showing that in Christ we are all one! (1:10, 16, 18, 3:6, etc.)

Here’s another way he does this. Paul reminds his Gentile audience that they used to separate from God and his promises.

…remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without home and without God in the world.” – Ephesians 2:12

Later he reminds them that they now share in these promises with Israel.

“This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus.” – Ephesians 3:6

Sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus. It’s in Jesus that we get to share in the promises made to Israel. Though there are many promises God made to Israel (that now Gentile Christians are included in), I want to focus on only four. These are known as the Passover promises and they are found in Exodus 6.

“Therefore, say to the Israelites: ‘I am the LORD, and I will bring you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians. I will save you from being slaves to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgement. I will take you as my own people and I will be your God. Then you will know that I am the LORD you God, who brought you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians.” – Exodus 6:6-7

In case you didn’t catch the four promises, let me list them here:

– I will bring you out…

– I will save you…

– I will redeem you…

– I will take you…and I will be your God. (This is marriage language…God entering a marriage covenant with Israel)

Now watch what Paul does in the letter to the largely Gentile Ephesian church.

– I will bring you out…

“As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world… All of us also lived among them at one time…” – Ephesians 2:1-3

– I will save you…

“But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions – it is by grace you have been saved.” – Ephesians 2:4-5

– I will redeem you…

“In him (Jesus) we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us.” – Ephesians 1:7-8

– I will take you…and I will be your God. (remember, marriage language)

“Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her…In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church – for we are members of his body. “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” This is a profound mystery – but I am talking about Christ and the church.” – Ephesians 5:25, 28-32

God brought us out of the sinful ways of the world we once lived in and gave us new lives in Christ. God saved us from the sin we were slaves to through Christ. It is by grace we have been saved. God has redeemed us through the blood of Christ, and forgiven our sins. And Christ has taken us…married us, his church.

“For through him we both (Jews and Gentiles) have access to the Father by one Spirit. Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.” Ephesians 2:18-19

“This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus.” –  Ephesians 3:6

We are ONE in Christ. Praise God!