Thursday, January 29, 2009

The Power of God's Word in Times of Famine

Reading: 1 Kings 11 – 17       

The books of 1 & 2 Kings are a study in the power of the word of the Lord to be fulfilled. A valuable exercise in understanding these books would be to read through and mark every time you read something about the word of the Lord, whether it is being given or being fulfilled. So for instance, you might read, “the word of the Lord came through...,” when it is given, or, “according to the word of the Lord given through...” when it is fulfilled. This exercise will open up the theme of the book to you. Of course, the whole book is the word of the Lord given to us about His kingdom and is ultimately fulfilled when “a Son is given” named Jesus.
Examples abound throughout the book of how God's word is fulfilled. God's promise to David is often raised, and God continues to honor that promise. Ahijah is a fascinating character in chapters 11-14. In chapter 11, through the word of the Lord, he proclaims Jeroboam king of 10 tribes of Israel.
About that time Jeroboam was going out of Jerusalem, and Ahijah the prophet of Shiloh met him on the way, wearing a new cloak. The two of them were alone out in the country, 30and Ahijah took hold of the new cloak he was wearing and tore it into twelve pieces. 31Then he said to Jeroboam, "Take ten pieces for yourself, for this is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: 'See, I am going to tear the kingdom out of Solomon's hand and give you ten tribes. 32But for the sake of my servant David and the city of Jerusalem, which I have chosen out of all the tribes of Israel, he will have one tribe.... 38If you do whatever I command you and walk in my ways and do what is right in my eyes by keeping my statutes and commands, as David my servant did, I will be with you. I will build you a dynasty as enduring as the one I built for David and will give Israel to you. 39I will humble David's descendants because of this, but not forever.'" 1 Kings 11:29-39
These events, the tearing of ten tribes away from Israel and Jeroboam becoming king over the northern tribes (called Israel), came to pass shortly after this. But Jeroboam seems to have forgotten the foundation of his kingdom. He was king because of the word of the Lord, but he soon forgot the Lord and worshiped other gods. So the Lord sent Him another word, this from an unknown, unnamed prophet. This time to inform Jeroboam that a king from David, the opposing nation (Judah), would sacrifice human bones on Jeroboam's idolatrous altar. Jeroboam wasn't real happy as he realized this was a word against his dynasty.
In fact, this unamed prophet got to demonstrate the detrimental power of disobedience to God's word in his own life. When the king invited him to eat before returning he said,
"Even if you were to give me half your possessions, I would not go with you, nor would I eat bread or drink water here. 9For I was commanded by the word of the LORD: 'You must not eat bread or drink water or return by the way you came.'" 1 Kings 13:8-9
However, though not compelled by the king, he was compelled by a religious man claiming he had an opposing word from the Lord, and ate with him. Then a lion ate him on his way home. Not even prophets are exempt from obeying the Word of the Lord. And this act demonstrated the accuracy of the word he heard from the Lord.
Chapters 14-16 relate some great examples of the word of the Lord through prophets coming to pass in the life of kings. But then there is an interesting note at the end of chapter 16.
In Ahab's time, Hiel of Bethel rebuilt Jericho. He laid its foundations at the cost of his firstborn son Abiram, and he set up its gates at the cost of his youngest son Segub, in accordance with the word of the LORD spoken by Joshua son of Nun. 1 Kings 16:34
Not only is the word of the Lord through these extraordinary prophets sure; but the historic, written word of the Lord through men like Joshua which was written over 500 years prior was sure.
And then in chapter 17, we find that not only does the word of the Lord to kings, or heads of state come to pass, but the word of the Lord to provide the needs of his faithful people is equally powerful. During a time of serious drought and resulting famine we read:
Then the word of the LORD came to Elijah: 3"Leave here, turn eastward and hide in the Kerith Ravine, east of the Jordan. 4You will drink from the brook, and I have ordered the ravens to feed you there." 5So he did what the LORD had told him. He went to the Kerith Ravine, east of the Jordan, and stayed there. 6The ravens brought him bread and meat in the morning and bread and meat in the evening, and he drank from the brook. 1 Kings 17:2-6
God's word even controlled the behavior of ravens and he used it to feed Elijah. And then when the brook dried up we read:
Then the word of the LORD came to him: 9"Go at once to Zarephath of Sidon and stay there. I have commanded a widow in that place to supply you with food." 1 Kings 17:8-9
So Elijah went to this Gentile town and there saw a widow gathering some sticks. He, trusting God's sovereign guidance, asks her for water and a piece of bread. Her response might make me wonder that God's sovereignty had led me to the wrong woman.
I don't have any bread—only a handful of flour in a jar and a little oil in a jug. I am gathering a few sticks to take home and make a meal for myself and my son, that we may eat it—and die." 1 Kings 17:12
But Elijah was not so easily dissuaded. Here in his time of drought and famine, in this widow's time of lack and need, Elijah had confidence in the clear word of the Lord. So he said,
"Don't be afraid. Go home and do as you have said. But first make a small cake of bread for me from what you have and bring it to me, and then make something for yourself and your son. 14For this is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: 'The jar of flour will not be used up and the jug of oil will not run dry until the day the LORD gives rain on the land.'" 1 Kings 17:13-14
The word of the Lord is powerful enough to provide through times of complete scarcity. The word of the Lord puts kings in power (even wicked kings), takes them out of power (and even righteous kings). The word of the Lord is sure even if it is written and has been around for centuries. The word of the Lord is sufficient to provide through times of shortfall and even destitution.
Some might say, “Yes, but Elijah had a specific word from the Lord.” Indeed he did. But we have a word from the Lord even more sure. I cannot help when I read those verse (13, 14) but to think of the word of the Lord in Matthew.
But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. Matthew 6:33-34
During times that should mean shortage, we can pour our lives and provisions into Christ's kingdom first, and we will not come up short. And this word is more sure: This word was confirmed by the prophet who gave it! And this prophet's words came to pass. He too died (just as the unnamed prophet we spoke of earlier), and in accordance with his words, and was raised to life. And he promises us, in times of economic woes, “seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” God's word will endure forever!
Love the Gospel, Live the Gospel, Advance the Gospel

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Before You Exit Exodus

Reading:  Exodus 39 – 40   
Many people begin their Bible reading plans this time of year and often get bogged down before they leave Exodus. Typically this bog down occurs as we get wrapped up trying to understand the details of the tabernacle and its various pieces. This year it might serve you to get a wide-angle-lens view of these chapters. Rather than trying to understand each measurement, and each detail, let's back up and see the scenery a little. Then maybe before you exit Exodus you can see the Gospel in advance communicated.
At the conclusion of the description of making the tabernacle, we read the following description in Exodus 39:32, 42-43 (ESV):
Thus all the work of the tabernacle of the tent of meeting was finished, and the people of Israel did according to all that the LORD had commanded Moses; so they did.... According to all that the LORD had commanded Moses, so the people of Israel had done all the work. 43 And Moses saw all the work, and behold, they had done it; as the LORD had commanded, so had they done it. Then Moses blessed them.
What does this verbiage remind you of? Does it sound familiar? It is reminiscent of the creation of the world where we read the repetition of “God said and it was so....God saw that it was good...and God blessed them...”. In fact at the conclusion of the creation account we read,
And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day. 2:1Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. 2 And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. 3 So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation. (Genesis 1:31—2:3 ESV)
Why this symmetry? Why this correspondence between the two accounts? I propose that it is communicating a message. When God created the world, it was perfect. It was perfect because it was a place where God could dwell with His people in unhindered fellowship. There was life there, not death. There was peace there, not chaos and disaster. There was joy there, not depression. But man rejected God's way. Man decided he wanted to make his own rules about what is good and evil, and not listen to God's revelation about what is good and evil. The result? Death, decay, depression, disaster on an apocalyptic scale...literally.
The serpent promised, “You shall not surely die.” And his lies continue to this day. You would think we would have figured him out by now, but as a race we keep falling for the same lies. Last night I was watching a program on TV, and turned the channel during a commercial only to come across an nightly news/talk program in which a certain author who wrote a book about women and sexuality was being interviewed. And here is the only quote I heard, “Sex is good; even if it is bad, it is good. Now this isn't what is being communicated in Western culture influenced by Chritianity...” Now the interviewer got a smile on his face like a child getting ready to open a big present. And that is what many in the audience were thinking. “Wow, that's a brilliant new idea. Wow, you mean I really can be happy if I just disregard God's word and pursue my lusts...”
I've got news for you, sex will not bring us back to paradise. But God is. God is restoring paradise to us. And the message we are to take away from Exodus and its tabernacle building is this: God is restoring us to the Garden again. His laws, His worship, the sacrifices are all about this restoration.
Just to make sure we don't miss the connection to Genesis, after reading the words in Exodus quoted above when all the parts of the tabernacle were completed, then we have the account of setting it up. And as it is set up we read seven times, corresponding to seven days of creation with the “and God said and it was so” repetition.
Exodus 40:16 ...according to all that the LORD commanded him, so he did.
Exodus 40:19 Then he... as the LORD commanded him.
Exodus 40:21 Then he .... as the LORD commanded him.
Exodus 40:22-23 Moses placed ... as the LORD commanded him.
Exodus 40:24-25 He put ... 25and set the LORD had commanded Moses.
Exodus 40:29 And he set ... as the LORD had commanded Moses.
Exodus 40:30 He set ... as the LORD commanded Moses.
And then this is followed by:
Exodus 40:33 “So Moses finished the work.”
This similarity is no mere coincidence. God is restoring paradise to us. And the message we are to take away from Exodus and its tabernacle building is this: God is restoring us to the Garden again. His laws, His worship, the sacrifices are all about this restoration.
This explains why, just as the garden was guarded by cherubim, so the tabernacle curtains were embroidered with cherubim. And when it was all was said and done the cloud returned. I can't help, as I read “the cloud covered the Tent of Meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle,” remembering the mist in the garden (Gen. 2:6) which watered the garden each day, bringing life to all that lived. God is the source of our life. God's presence restored is paradise restored. The message of exodus is clear: God is restoring life to us by restoring relationship to Him through sacrifice. Ultimately we know that this sacrifices can only be fulfilled in Jesus Christ...the ultimate tabernacle of God. And when we are found in Him, the Spirit, the presence of God comes to dwell in us!
Love the Gospel, Live the Gospel, Advance the Gospel

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Whose Life are You Living?

Reading: Jeremiah 9-11

I know, O LORD, that a man's life is not his own; it is not for man to direct his steps. (Jeremiah 10:23)
This verse is the introduction to a prayer which Jeremiah is praying. It provides us with a wonderful teaching on “how to pray.” When we pray we are committing our way to God. We are not telling God how our lives should be and asking Him to bless it; we are both acknowledging our lack of wisdom in knowing how we should live our lives and asking for God's kind mercy to direct our steps. This verse is a good example of how we should approach the throne of grace in humility. The verses that follow reveal that Jeremiah did indeed have boldness and confidence in his requests, however those are not to be confused with a cocky arrogance.
And how does God desire to direct our steps? If our lives are not our own, then how does God want us to live them? The sections preceding this prayer make it clear how God wants us to live our lives. They provide insight into how God would direct our steps; insight into how we will be living our lives if we are not living them as if they are our own.
This is what the LORD says: "Let not the wise man boast of his wisdom or the strong man boast of his strength or the rich man boast of his riches, but let him who boasts boast about this: that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight," declares the LORD. (Jeremiah 9:23-24)
Our human wisdom, or strength doesn't impress God and will be of no value when standing before our Holy God. Our wealth and stuff will be of no value on that day. What is God interested in? What is God like? God works kindness, justice and righteousness on earth. And those who do that have something to rest in on that day.
This word kindness is really simple. In the original language it means kindness. On the street where hurting people live, it means kindness. It is synonymous with mercy; loving-kindness is also a good translation. It is the kind of mercy which describes God's condescension, God's stooping low to be kind to us though we were wretched, poor, pitiful, blind and naked. It is the kind of mercy we must have on the oppressed, the hurting, the lost and the weak. It is mercy which is demonstrated to orphans and widows.
Justice is that element of a good judge by which he makes a good decision. As a judge God cannot be bribed. The wealthy, the athletic, the intellectual elite do not have a pass with God. These all receive a pass in our society. But God will decide a case with justice even if that means siding with the weak and powerless. God doesn't need the power of anyone else, so He isn't trying to win anyone's friendship through side-room bargains against the weak. And we should not be wanting to impress anyone but God. Therefore we should act in His interests, and the interests of truth and kindness.
Righteousness is closely related to justice. It is doing what is right in each situation. We could say that this righteousness is the product of doing kindness and justice.
Our life is not our own, we are to be following God's way of showing kindness, bringing about justice and doing what is right. Of course that brings up some bad news and good news. The bad news is, none of us have lived up to that standard. None of us can stand before God with anything to boast in. We have acted without kindness all too often; without mercy all too often; not doing what is right.
The good news is that Christ did live up to that standard. He came to preach good news to the proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.” And when we are baptized into Him, we are baptized into His works of kindness, as He healed the sick and fed the poor; we are baptized into His acts of justice as He set people free from the bondage the Pharisees were laying on their backs, and He healed the sick on the Sabbath and as He released people from the oppression of Satan; we are baptized into His complete fulfillment of the law: loving the Father with all His heart, soul, mind and strength, and laying down His life for others. We could go on. But the point should be clear: we can boast in the Lord! He is wisdom from God, righteousness, sanctification and redemption (1 Corinthians 1:30).
Now, having been placed into that perfect kindness, justice and righteousness, let's go and be conformed to the image of Christ in our daily lives. Let's be the body of Christ...Christ in us the hope of glory. Whose life are you living? Christ's, or your own?
Love the Gospel, Live the Gospel, Advance the Gospel,

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Happy New Year...2009

I am amazed that we now live in times that we used to read about in science fiction (and Christian fiction...end times predictions). Of course, most of what we thought would be true isn't..and we shouldn't be surprised. But here we are.

As we begin the New Year I just want to remind us of a few basics. A few of us make resolutions for the new year, and some mock resolutions knowing they won't last. Well remember, if you don't make a resolution to change, that will last. So I don't think resolutions are so bad. Just make the right ones, and live by them.

Jonathan Edwards made resolutions. I believe his life attests to the value of having the right resolutions, and if we actually resolve to do them. So here are a few thoughts from Edwards [you can read his in entirety at Edwards' 70 Resolutions]...and then a couple of my own thoughts for the new year. I love how Edwards begins:


Remember to read over these Resolutions once a week.

3. Resolved, if ever I shall fall and grow dull, so as to neglect to keep any part of these Resolutions, to repent of all I can remember, when I come to myself again.

5. Resolved, never to lose one moment of time; but improve it the most profitable way I possibly can.

6. Resolved, to live with all my might, while I do live.

7. Resolved, never to do anything, which I should be afraid to do, if it were the last hour of my life.

13. Resolved, to be endeavoring to find out fit objects of charity and liberality.

14. Resolved, never to do any thing out of revenge.

16. Resolved, never to speak evil of anyone, so that it shall tend to his dishonor, more or less, upon no account except for some real good.

18. Resolved, to live so, at all times, as I think is best in my devout frames, and when I have clearest notions of things of the gospel, and another world.

25. Resolved, to examine carefully, and constantly, what that one thing in me is, which causes me in the least to doubt of the love of God; and to direct all my forces against it.

28. Resolved, to study the Scriptures so steadily, constantly and frequently, as that I may find, and plainly perceive myself to grow in the knowledge of the same.

43. Resolved, never, henceforward, till I die, to act as if I were any way my own, but entirely and altogether God' s....

46. Resolved, never to allow the least measure of any fretting uneasiness at my father or mother. Resolved to suffer no effects of it, so much as in the least alteration of speech, or motion of my eye: and to be especially careful of it with respect to any of our family.

Well, those are some great resolutions. Now I want to suggest a couple of foundational resolutions that would be wise to consider today.

First, resolve to read God's word consistently and completely. I was camping with many of the young men and dads in the church this week and asked how many had a plan they were following in reading their Bible. I believe there were two or three that had a plan. I highly recommend that you have a plan. Not so that you can measure how righteous you are if you are doing it, or measure how bad you are if you are not. No, I suggest a plan because the Word of God is important; it is truth needed in our battle against lies; because it is life through Christ to us. God choose to reveal Himself to us, and the Scriptures are the record of that divine self-revelation. A plan will help you stay focused on how you are doing. It keeps us from lying to ourselves about whether or not we are really reading God's word; it keeps us reading all of God's word and not just the parts we drift toward. If we are not familiar with God's word, we won't understand it. So the biggest obstacle to a Christian in understanding their Bible is usually a lack of reading it. A plan can help move that obstacle. There are many good plans. My favorite, the one that has helped me most, can be picked up at church, or obtained on-line: GCCC Bible Reading Plan.

Second, resolve to be devoted to prayer. Plan to pray. Pray knowing that our imperfect prayer lives are wrapped up in Christ's perfect prayer life. Pray knowing that the only things worthwhile we will accomplish in life will be accomplished through God's power. Pray for the advance of the Gospel in our community, through our church, through our lives. Pray that blindness would be removed from the eyes of the lost. Pray that the obstacles that stand in the way of their coming to Christ would be removed and cast into the sea. Pray that we as a church would live and act in such a way as to demonstrate the glorious Gospel of Christ. That we would love the Gospel and live the Gospel.

Third, resolve to share Christ unashamedly with those you know or encounter. I am not talking about obnoxiously cramming it down their faces. But let's be real, most of us have never had that problem. We are most likely to ignore their eternal plight, and not mention Christ. Develop a few introductory questions you can use when talking with folks to bring the Gospel Story into your conversations. Questions like, “Who do you think Jesus Christ is?” Or, “What do you believe about Jesus Christ?” Other questions might be, “Would you consider yourself a religious person? Why or why not?” Share the Story. (Of course, the first suggested resolution above, reading your Bible, will help you accomplish this.)

Fourth, resolve to sacrificially give for the advance of the Gospel. When we are making the advance of the Gospel the first purpose in why we do what we do at work, we will be advancing the Gospel even as we do our jobs. Amazing. You can be advancing the Gospel while you ____________ (fill in the blank with your tasks in your career, or job). And if you live this way, even your studies in school, preparing for future careers are advancing the Gospel. However, if we aren't sacrificially advancing the Gospel with what we earn, then none of these activities are doing that either. (Obviously this does not negate the fact that we should be praying for those we work with, and sharing the Gospel with them. These will also advance the Gospel.)

Well, these are four foundational resolutions which are worthwhile, especially if we endeavor to live them in grace. Refer back to Edwards first few lines.

Enjoying God's grace,