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Monday, October 26, 2020

Headlines: God is Great and We Know Him Not

Imbibe is such an odd-sounding word. Part of our vernacular but you probably can't remember the last time you heard it used or used it yourself.

No doubt that is why, when our pastor used it recently, it stuck with me.

He was lamenting the fact that when you look at many Christians (and indeed the Church) and then you look at the rest of the world, you can see very little difference. When, in fact, there should be very stark differences. 
We have imbibed so much of the cultural beliefs that they have been absorbed into or over our own belief system. 

The origin of imbibe is 'to drink' but all three of the modern definitions apply.

To consume. To absorb. To take or receive into the mind.

In doing so, many of us have become lukewarm. What a dangerous thing to be! (see Rev 3:16)

The book of Job is a good place to start if you're looking for an antidote; a reminder of Who God is. Because the fear (or a proper reverence) of God is the beginning of wisdom and we are all in desperate need of some wisdom right now. Amen?

The opening scene in Job (Chapter 2 after the Prologue in Chapter 1) reminds us that there is a very real enemy out there opposing God and His people. An accuser who accuses us 'night and day before God.' (Rev 12:10) Yes, the enemy has been defeated (Hallelujah!) but that does not make him any less real.

The bulk of the book, following Job's complaint (he feels ill-used by God), is a series of speeches by Job's friends wherein they attempt a sincere, but flawed, explanation of who God is and how He operates.

During these speeches and Job's response to each, you can almost feel the change in the weather. I can just imagine Job's friends casting a wary eye to the sky as the clouds darken and begin to swirl above them. Elihu's last words (36:29-37:24) even seem to refer to this coming storm.

Then in Chapter 38, the Lord answered Job out of the tempest. The storm had arrived!

Read with a humble countenance, the following five chapters should raise our spiritual blood pressure. Where once we were lukewarm, we should arrive at the end of Chapter 41, red hot for God!

Even with all God reveals to Job and his friends, with all that God has revealed to us through His word, through His SON; we must understand, as Job did, that all of this knowledge we have of Him, all these things are still but the edges of His ways, and how faint the whisper that we hear of Him! (Job 26:14)

The Good News is, neither our lack of understanding nor our sin separates us from God when we are in Christ Jesus. Jesus is our advocate. (1Jn 2:1) He is our path to the Father (Jn 14:6). He has ascended to God's right hand (Mar 16:19) and remains, interceding for us against the enemy who accuses us day and night, just as he accused Job. (Rom 8:34)

So how do we stay red hot for God when the world offers us its version of Turkish delight? 

God's Word.
How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to Your word. With my whole heart I seek You; let me not wander from Your commandments! I have stored up Your word in my heart, that I might not sin against You. (Psa 119:9-11)
Believe the Bible, accept it as God's word, make it the center of your life, and elevate its authority above everything else.

It's not easy, Beloved, but we don't have to do it alone. We have His Spirit (1Cor 2:12), His strength (Phil 4:13), His provision (Phil 4:19), His peace (Isa 26:3). We have Jesus.

We need nothing more.


Monday, October 19, 2020

Inspired by . . . Headlines: The Book of the Law, Found!

"Godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation." 2Cor 7:10

Technology has given us access to the world in real time. While there are many benefits to this, face-time with family, etc. there is also a very real danger.

Suddenly the evils of this world are front and center. We can hear and see, other people's sins being acted out in real time. And while we may recognize and oppose their sin, these things have become common place. In large part, we have become immune to the gravity of sin.

By the time Josiah became king of Judah, the scroll containing the laws handed down by God to Moses had been regulated to a dark, dusty corner of the temple. 2Kings 22 records for us the finding of the scroll by the high priest Hilkiah and King Josiah's response when the scroll was read in his presence.

When the king heard the words of the Book of the Law, he tore his clothes. And the king commanded Hilkiah the priest, and Ahikam the son of Shaphan, and Achbor the son of Micaiah, and Shaphan the secretary, and Asaiah the king's servant, saying, "Go, inquire of the LORD for me, and for the people, and for all Judah, concerning the words of this book that has been found. For great is the wrath of the LORD that is kindled against us, because our fathers have not obeyed the words of this book, to do according to all that is written concerning us." (2Ki 22:11-13)

The kings deep grief moved him and all of Judah with him to repentance and restoration with God. Today many, believers included, have regulated the commands of God to a dusty corner. No one wants to talk about sin, let alone admit that they sin. In fact, more and more people are deceiving themselves by claiming personal sin simply doesn't exist.

This isn't surprising in a culture that often celebrates and at the very least ignores sin.

I often find myself responding to the sin around me with a pious attitude, rather than one of grief. This isn't only wrong, it's dangerous.

As a Christian, my first response to sin (mine and other's) should be deep grief. Not a sanctimonious response that ignores my own sin, and never with indifference.

Grief over sin moves us toward repentance. And repentance is tied directly to the Savior.

If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us. (1Jn 1:8-10)

I believe how we view and respond to the sin in the world is directly tied to how we will view and respond to the sin in our own lives.

The Good News is, we have in Jesus Christ, One who is acceptable to God and will plead our cause with the Father. He is Himself a sacrifice to atone for our sins, and not ours only but the sins of the whole world. (1Jn 2: 1-2)


Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Inspired by . . . Headlines: Widow Pays Debts with Miracle Oil, Saves Sons from Bondage

1 Kings 21:25 tells us, "There was none who sold himself to do what was evil in the sight of the LORD like Ahab, whom Jezebel his wife incited." Here in 2 Kings 4, where we learn of the widow's plight, is just one example of this truth.

King Ahab refused to support the prophets out of his kingly coffers so honest prophets were forced to borrow money at usury (exorbitant rates) to feed themselves and their families. When they died their families were left destitute as we see here in the widow of Obadiah.

Determined not to lose her sons, she appeals to the man of God, Elisha, for help. He asks her, "What do you have?"

She has nothing but a pot of oil. Since oil was a luxury, this was probably being saved for her burial. Yet she is willing to give it up, if necessary to save her sons. The best way to increase what we have is to use it.

Elisha tells her to go to her neighbors and borrow empty jars.

Once inside her house with all the empty jars her sons can carry she begins to pour. And pour, and pour. The oil doesn't stop until all the jars are full.

"Then the vessels were full, she said to her son, "Bring me another vessel." And he said to her, "There is not another." Then the oil stopped flowing. She came and told the man of God, and he said, "Go, sell the oil and pay your debts, and you and your sons can live on the rest." " (2Kings 4:6-7)

What strikes me most about this passage is that Elisha specifically tells her "and none to few."

"Go outside, borrow vessels from all your neighbors, empty vessels and not too few." (2Kings 4:3)

The widow isn't expecting an overflow of God's blessing. She doesn't know God the way Elisha does.

The way we do.

God provided a way to pay the widow's debts, and to redeem her sons. The Good News is that Jesus has done the same for us and more!
"If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for us all, how will He not also with Him graciously give us all things?" (Rom 8:31-32)

And yet when we go to God with our need do we expect an abundant overflow of His blessings? Do we gather many jars? or just a few?

"We fear that there will not be enough oil; God is concerned lest we fail to bring sufficient vessels to hold all He wants to give." ~ F.B. Meyer

It is always our faith that fails, never His promises. We may not be wise to look for tangible miracles of prosperity in these days but we should always expect His mercies.

"And my God will supply every need of yours according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus. To our God and Father be glory forever and ever. Amen." (Php 4:19-20)


Friday, October 9, 2020

Inspired by . . . Headlines: The King of Israel Prepares a Banquet for His Enemies

We tend to think of loving our enemies as being a New Testament command. But here in 2 Kings 6, we find a similar concept.

The King of Aram (Syria) and the King of Israel are at war. However, whenever the King of Aram sets a plan of attack the King of Israel somehow finds out about it and avoids the place of the planned battle.

We learn in verse 12 that it is Elisha, the man of God, who can hear the King of Aram even in his bedchamber! It is Elisha, not a traitor of the Aramaeans who keeps warning the King of Israel.

When the King of Aram learns about this he is furious and sends an army of 50,000 men with horses and chariots to capture Elisha. Fifty thousand men for one man. Clearly, the King knew who he was up against!

But the Aramaeans are no match for the God of Israel! Elisha's attendant is terrified when he sees the Aramaean forces but Elisha sees what he cannot; the hills are covered with horses and chariots of fire!

Elisha offers up two prayers. The first, for his attendant's eyes to be opened and the second for the Aramaean's eyes to be blinded.

The first prayer allowed Elisha's attendant to see the chariots of fire, giving him a true perspective of their circumstances. The clearer sight we have of the power of God the less we will fear our earthly trials.

The second prayer blinded the Aramaeans to their true surroundings. (I don't think they were completely blinded as it is hard to imagine 50,000 men holding hands and being led from town to town!)

As it was, Elisha convinced them they were in the wrong place and led them from Dothan to Samaria, from fiery chariots driven by heavenly warriors straight into the hands of the King of Israel!

Once there, Elisha prayed for their sight to be restored. Imagine their terror when they realized where they were! Yet when the King of Israel asks Elisha for permission to destroy them, Elisha answers:

"You shall not strike them down. Would you strike down those whom you have not taken captive with your sword and with your bow? Set bread and water before them, that they may eat and drink and go to their master." So he prepared for them a great feast, and when they had eaten and drunk, he sent them away, and they went to their master. (2Ki 6:22-23)

They were the Lord's captives and Elisha's and the Lord had a purpose for treating them kindly and sending them home. It was the King's job to obey even if he didn't agree or understand.

Verse 23b may give us some insight into the Lord's purpose: "For a time, the Aramaean raids on Israel ceased."

All the way back in Exodus 23:5 God instructs us: "Should you see the donkey of someone who hates you lying helpless under its load, however unwilling you may be to help, you must lend a hand with it."

And in Proverbs 25:21-22: "If your enemy is hungry, give him food; if he is thirsty, give him a drink of water; for so you will heap live coals on his head, and the Lord will reward you."

It is easy to help, serve, and bless those who are kind to us. In contrast, our human will recoils with the thought of doing the same for someone who hates us. Yet, doing so brings us closer to the heart of God and unleashes the Spiritual in a way we may never understand.
"The most glorious victory over an enemy is to turn him into a friend." Matthew Henry
And isn't that what Jesus did for us?

"For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us." (Rom 5:7-8)

We were enemies of God (Rom 5:10) yet Jesus offered up His body (bread) and His blood (wine) to return us to our master (God). (Luke 22:19-20)

Beloved, this is Good News indeed!

Next time we recoil at the thought of doing good for someone who is less than kind, even if it only a prompting from the Holy Spirit to pray for that person, let us remember the grace we have already received and obey.


Wednesday, October 7, 2020

Inspired by . . . Headlines: The Cross and the Veil

It was a busy news day. Jesus, the King of the Jews, had been crucified. Hung on a cross between two thieves. At noon, the sun had disappeared from the sky, leaving it black as night. Corpses had been seen walking around and a terrific earthquake had rocked the city!

If newspapers had been printed at the time the headlines might have declared that the end of the world was at hand! Would they have made the connection between the terrifying events and Jesus' death, I wonder?

The carpenter from Galilee. The man who had come teaching and healing. A gentle man who had, just days before, ridden into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey, now crucified by the very same people who had praised Him!

It was too unreal to believe. And yet, it was all too true.

Somewhere, three or four pages in and regulated to a small column would have been another article for those who cared to find it:

Veil Torn In Two From Top to Bottom!

To the Gentile reader of the day, this would have been little more than another account of destruction on an already very strange day. To the Jew, it would have been alarming.

In light of scripture, we know that it symbolized what Jesus' death on the cross had accomplished and it continues to hold eternal significance for all of us to this day.

We first learn of the veil in Exodus when God is giving Moses instructions about how to build and set up the Tabernacle. The veil covered the Ark of the Testimony, separating the holy place from the most holy place; where God's presence dwelt. Only the priest was allowed inside and only once a year on the Day of Atonement. The veil was a physical separation between man and God.

No more! That veil was only a symbol, replaced now by the body of Christ. This Body that took on our sin and suffered in our place, abolishing sin once and for all, made a way for us to come boldly to the throne of God.

Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, By a new and living way, which He hath consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say, His flesh; (Heb 10:19-20)

Not because of anything we have done but because through Jesus we are inwardly cleansed of guilt and outwardly washed pure. Both Jew and Gentile alike (this is the great mystery Paul talks about in Colossians 1:26!) now have direct access to God through Jesus Christ.

Beloved, this is Good News indeed! So let us make our approach in sincerity of heart and full assurance of faith.

Let us remain firm and unswerving in the confession of our hope, for the Giver of the promise is to be trusted.


Monday, October 5, 2020

Inspired by . . . New Series: Headlines

The day of the print newspaper may be going the way of the dinosaur but a good headline can still capture our attention and tease us into reading more.

Some of the most famous - and infamous - headlines include:

The bombing of Pearl Harbor

Man's walk on the moon

The Kennedy assassination

The sinking of the Titanic,

and more recently

The attacks of 9/11

It's hard to find real news anymore. These days, everything is written with an agenda. The media seems to think that politics is (or should be) the center of our world. Good news stories, if they are reported on at all, are regulated to the last 15-30 seconds of a news cast.

Suffice it to say, we could all use a little good news. So for the next 30 days or so I'm going to be offering just that: Good News from the Scriptures.

The stories in the Bible aren't Hebrew nursery rhymes designed to delight and entertain. Rather they are a record of people, just like you and me, chosen by God to love and serve Him. Their story, like ours, is really His story. We can learn from the failures, successes and the events that shaped their lives. Ultimately, through the scriptures, in both the Old and New Testament, we meet Jesus.

And Jesus is the best news of all!

I hope you'll join me.