Monday, August 25, 2008

Asa's Finish

Reading: 2 Chronicles 14 – 16   
Have you given much thought to how you will finish the race? Do you contemplate that there is going to be a need for strong endurance to finish well? Paul frequently contemplated the finish of the race (see Philippians 3:13-14; 1 Corinthians 9:24). King Asa of Judah began well, but he did not finish so well.
In 2 Chronicles 14-15, we read of Asa, king of Judah and how he began his reign.
Asa did what was good and right in the eyes of the LORD his God. 3He removed the foreign altars and the high places, smashed the sacred stones and cut down the Asherah poles. 4He commanded Judah to seek the LORD, the God of their fathers, and to obey his laws and commands. 5He removed the high places and incense altars in every town in Judah, and the kingdom was at peace under him. (2 Chronicles 14:2-5)
Asa was given peace—no longer was the nation in turmoil. “they built and prospered.” (2 Chronicles 14:7). Then, in about the 15th year of his reign, a Cushite king marches out against Him.
Then Asa called to the LORD his God and said, "LORD, there is no one like you to help the powerless against the mighty. Help us, O LORD our God, for we rely on you, and in your name we have come against this vast army. O LORD, you are our God; do not let man prevail against you."  12The LORD struck down the Cushites before Asa and Judah. (2 Chronicles 14:11-12).
After this Asa was encouraged with prophetic ministry (2 Chronicles 15:1-2). This prophecy encouraged Asa and all Judah. The response to this prophecy was astounding. They removed idols, they repaired the altar (no doubt at great expense) because they valued the presence of God, and they sought the Lord with all their heart. They went all out in devotion (2 Chronicles 15:11-15).
Note that last line: “So the Lord gave them rest on every side.” This was a real seeking of God, a real experience, a real encounter. Real enough that God gave them rest. Real enough that they made great sacrifices which are worthy of note in Scripture. In fact, they enjoyed rest for the next 20 years.
In 2 Chronicles 16, we read how Asa finished his reign. Indeed, Judah had peace from God as a gift for 20 years, but during that time lost their fire for the Lord; during that time they grew cold and comfortable; during that time they began to rely on themselves and their stuff rather than the Lord. For, at the end of that time, Baasha, king of Israel went up to attack Judah. Now, rather than seeking the Lord, they sent silver and gold from the Lord's temple and his own palace and sent a payoff to another king to help him out.
7At that time Hanani the seer came to Asa king of Judah and said to him: "Because you relied on the king of Aram and not on the LORD your God, the army of the king of Aram has escaped from your hand.  8Were not the Cushites and Libyans a mighty army with great numbers of chariots and horsemen? Yet when you relied on the LORD, he delivered them into your hand. 9For the eyes of the LORD range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him. You have done a foolish thing, and from now on you will be at war." (2 Chronicles 16:7-9)
Starting fully committed to the Lord is long as you finish fully committed to the Lord. Judah had grown comfortable, and didn't want to stir themselves up out of their temporal peace to seek the Lord. So instead, they inherited lasting war. Better to be radical for the Lord, and have eternal peace, than to have the easy peace, the comfortable peace, and have lasting war. Many have a history that reveals a radical start. And we have experiences that reveal the Lord's gracious favor on our lives as a reward. Now, let's make certain we have a radical finish.
Love the Gospel, Live the Gospel, Advance the Gospel,

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

The Prayer of Abraham and His Servant

Reading: Genesis 24
“What is the prayer of faith?” “If God has promised, do I need to pray?” “Does praying with the word, “if” mean that I doubt God's promise?” Questions like these are not uncommon. Biblical examples of prayer which God clearly answered should inform our answers to these questions.
In Genesis 24 we have the story of Abraham sending his servant to obtain a wife for Isaac. Abraham is the father of faith. He is one of the Biblical examples of faith held before us throughout Scripture—we may be able to learn some things about faith from him. Abraham explains the need to his servant of going to the land of his relatives to obtain a wife for Isaac, because the promise would be in jeopardy if Isaac married a Canaanite; yet, Isaac must remain in the land of promise.
Abraham tells his servant, “You go to a far away town, find my long lost relatives whom you've never met, ask them for their daughter to come back with you (whom they've never met), across the dessert to marry Isaac (whom they've never met), and live happily ever after (where they will never see her).” (Genesis 24:3-5) The servant has a fair question, “What if the woman is unwilling to come back with me to this land?”
The odds are not in favor of this proposition. And notice what Abraham, the father of faith, did not say: “Don't you dare say 'if' and speak doubt over this situation. God is precariously poised to help us, but if we doubt Him, we will not receive the promise.”
Not at all, rather Abraham responds,
"The LORD, the God of heaven, who brought me out of my father's household and my native land and who spoke to me and promised me on oath, saying, 'To your offspring I will give this land'—he will send his angel before you so that you can get a wife for my son from there. 8If the woman is unwilling to come back with you, then you will be released from this oath of mine.” (Genesis 24:7-8)
Notice, Abraham quotes God's covenant promise, he also tells him, “He will send his angel before you,” and then, he has no problem saying, “If the woman is unwilling to come back...” Evidently Abraham, expressing the real possibility that something could happen otherwise, doesn't impede faith. Evidently Abraham and Jesus both understood that all our prayer is ultimately subject to, “if it be your will.” Living in the reality isn't a lack of faith, but rather it is a part of faith. Faith is trusting God, not positive thinking. Part of trusting God is trusting that His will is better than our own and so even our requests are subject to His will.
Then notice the prayer of the servant as he arrives in the town of Nahor and its answer.
Then he prayed, "O LORD, God of my master Abraham, give me success today, and show kindness to my master Abraham. 13See, I am standing beside this spring, and the daughters of the townspeople are coming out to draw water. 14May it be that when I say to a girl, 'Please let down your jar that I may have a drink,' and she says, 'Drink, and I'll water your camels too'— let her be the one you have chosen for your servant Isaac. By this I will know that you have shown kindness to my master."
15Before he had finished praying, Rebekah came out with her jar on her shoulder. She was the daughter of Bethuel son of Milcah, who was the wife of Abraham's brother Nahor. (Genesis 24:12-15)
God had already set the answer in motion before the prayer was uttered. But the text shows us the prayer and its answer to reveal to us how God does indeed answer prayer. Of course, the human mind wants to understand how it all works. “If God was responding to the prayer, then how was it that Rebekah was already on her way?” Or, “If Rebekah was already on her way, because God was working in her to do so, then why pray?”
Evidently, God had planned all this to happen prior to the prayer. In fact, Abraham had said, “God will send his angel before you so that you can get a wife for my son from there.” So one could easily ask, “Why pray?” Most of these questions come from either a faulty understanding of what faith is, or an unhealthy pursuit by the finite to fully comprehend the infinite.
First, in regard to faith, it is clear that praying for help, after God has promised it, in no way contradicts trusting God. Rather, it affirms a trust in God's promise. Biblical examples abound. We are to pray because of God's promises, knowing we are surely praying according to His will. He will indeed hear us (1 John 5:14).
Second, we must realize that it is not our job to try to figure out what God is thinking or planning regarding the future in order to know what we ought to do. That is silly. Abraham's servant didn't stop and ask, “Now, what has God previously ordained here, so that I don't need to ask about that...” Rather, he lived by faith: He trusted in God. He prayed to God because he needed help to accomplish the miraculous. God answered; God had begun answering before he prayed. Jesus affirmed this truth as well in Matthew 6:7-8.
The fact that the Father knows in advance should not keep us from asking...but rather should keep us from babbling on and on as if God were unwilling to answer. God is poised ready to listen to our prayers and ready to answer, because of His great love and care for His children. That is amazing.
So yes, let's pray for those things God has promised. And let's trust Him to answer. And let us not fear that if we say, “if” or, “if it by Your Will,” will hinder God from working. Bottom line: Pray, trust, and see God work in our lives.
Love the Gospel, Live the Gospel, Advance the Gospel,

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Throw Away Your Gods!

Reading: Joshua 24   

Throw away your gods!  That's right, if you want to serve the Lord, you must throw away your gods. You say, “But I don't have any gods.” That wasn't one of the options. This text assumes you have gods, and tells you where you got them.
"Now fear the LORD and serve him with all faithfulness. Throw away the gods your forefathers worshiped beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the LORD. But if serving the LORD seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your forefathers served beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD." (Joshua 24:14-15)
Throw away the gods your forefathers worshiped...the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living.” There are two sources for false gods in our lives: the first is our parents (so to my own kids, sorry, but it is true you inherit much of your propensity to sin from me); the second, the world around us. You have gods, false gods, and you must throw them away if you are going to serve the Lord.
Many would say, “Sure, we will throw them away... no problem. We want to serve the Lord.”  That is exactly how Israel responded (24:16). Joshua's response is striking: “You are not able to serve the Lord. He is a holy God; he is a jealous God.” (24:19) We often make assumptions regarding what it means to serve God. We think we know what He wants. Joshua makes it clear: God wants everything. He is holy; He is jealous.
We must perform due diligence in our lives to identify the gods of our forefathers, which are in our lives from birth, and the gods of our culture, which seep in gradually and smoothly, leaving us unaware. The Israelites were quick to say, “Yes!” but their history shows they never did the hard work of identifying and rooting out these idols. Every generation must root out these false gods. You can't assume that since your parents rooted theirs out that you don't have them. You must assume you have false gods, and you must look for them, find them, and destroy them.
How do we find idols in our lives? A false god in your life may be defined as something you obey over God; something you offer yourself to. It is what you are serving rather than God.(See Romans 6:16-17.) We must identify what we are serving over God; to what we are enslaved. Here are some questions which may help you identify false gods in your own life:
  • What do you talk about with your friends most often?
  • What is it you always make sure you have time for? You will rearrange everything else for this (work/school not included), because this is what you want to do.
  • What are you most passionate about? When with a group, what topics of conversation cause you to speak faster, more intensely, or louder? What causes you to listen more intently or carefully?
  • What consumes an equal or greater portion of your disposable income than God? Look at your bank account, where does the money go? When things are tight (and they often are for most of us), what gets trimmed and what doesn't? If your giving for the kingdom is reduced, but there are unnecessary items which are not reduced (could be movies, games, clothing, eating out, anything that builds the image of yourself that you are trying to create), these very likely will be connected to your false gods.
  • What are you most evangelistic about? What new product, idea or activity have you persuaded more people to try or consider than people you have shared Christ with? Consider anything which you have told your friends about because you really like it... compare the number of times you have done this with the number of times you have shared the Lord with others during that same period of time. If it is equal or greater, it may indicate a false god we are serving more passionately than Christ.
  • What were the last 3 conflicts you had with others over? What were you wanting that you were not getting? This very often points to something we are serving over God.
This is a good starter list. But, How do we throw these idols away?” For us, a false god rarely takes on the form of a little statue, so it might seem difficult to discern how we are to throw these things away. We are given an interesting account of the birth of the church in Ephesus. Notice how such a powerful church began.
17When this became known to the Jews and Greeks living in Ephesus, they were all seized with fear, and the name of the Lord Jesus was held in high honor. 18Many of those who believed now came and openly confessed their evil deeds. 19A number who had practiced sorcery brought their scrolls together and burned them publicly. When they calculated the value of the scrolls, the total came to fifty thousand drachmas. 20In this way the word of the Lord spread widely and grew in power. (Acts 19:17-20)
A drachma, being worth a day's wages, means they burned about $2,800,000 worth of books (assuming minimum wage times an 8 hour day). So many today would scoff and say, “Think of how much could have been done if they had merely sold those books.” No doubt many of these books would have been very popular in their culture. Since they didn't have the printing press, books were of great value, and required a great sum of money to obtain. Yet they did not hesitate to burn them publicly. They had no shame of their commitment to Christ. As a result, the word of God spread widely and grew in power. What if they had kept their books, simply hidden them away, or sold them to others? Would the Word of God manifest itself with such power? Not a chance. Our God is a jealous God.
I have often heard folks who were saved in the early 70's look back and laugh about how they burned their record albums, or gave up secular music, because now they realize there is nothing evil in an album, per se, or that secular music in itself isn't the problem...and that those albums are now collector's items with great value. I am grieved to hear them laugh. When the people I knew in the 70's were burning record albums or ceasing to listen to secular music, it wasn't because evil existed in the album, it was because those things had controlled their lives. People coming to Christ were “burning their books,” they were turning from idols to serve the Living and True God. It wasn't the music they were burning; it was a complete break with the life they had livedthat man died in Christ.
Another church which was birthed in the midst of persecution and yet had become a powerful model of the Gospel to their region was the church in Thessalonica. Only a few months from their inception it was said that they, turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God...” (1 Thessalonians 1:9). We must turn from idols to serve God. We cannot serve God without turning from idols. We are servants of the one we obey; if we are obeying our idols, we are not serving the living and true God.
You too must choose whom you will serve. Choosing to serve God involves throwing away your idols. You can't simply hide them, you must throw them away. In order to throw them away you must be honest in your evaluation of what they are. Look at what false gods you are prone to worship like your parents; ask which false gods you are worshiping in conformity to the culture around us.
Love the Gospel, Live the Gospel, Advance the Gospel,