Have The Attitude Of Jesus!

-Stuck In This Broken Flesh!

The Apostle Paul’s command to the Church of Philippi in the 2nd chapter of his letter to them is somewhat disturbing:  “Make your own attitude that of Christ Jesus,…” he says. Let that sink in for a moment! How are we going to do that, Church? How can we possibly have the attitude Jesus had; and think as He did? We’re stuck in this broken flesh! He was God! Paul went on to say that Jesus existed, “…in the form of God, & He did not consider equality with God as something to be used for His own advantage. Instead, He emptied Himself by assuming the form of a slave, taking on the likeness of men. And when He had come as a man in His external form, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death— even to death on a cross. For this reason, God highly exalted Him and gave Him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow… and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (2:5-11).  How can we possibly have the same attitude that Jesus had? And, yet, we are commanded to!

-Encouragement In Christ!

Does that not disturb you a little, as it does me? I hope that it does, and I hope it drives you deeper into the text because there are 2 significant details that we can’t leave out if we hope to obey this command to have the attitude of Jesus. If you’ll look back to verse 1, you’ll see that Paul says, “If there is any encouragement IN CHRIST…” If there is an encouragement! If there is any hope in doing what Paul is about to direct this Church to do, it’s because of our position “IN CHRIST.” If you’re a follower of Jesus; if you believe in Him, you are IN CHRIST! And, Christ is IN YOU by the Holy Spirit! So, Paul is telling the church that we CAN have the attitude of Christ— that He’s going to describe for us next— because we are IN CHRIST!

-Work Out Your Own Salvation!

There’s a 2nd significant detail in this text. Look at verses 12-13. Paul says, “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God who is working in you, enabling you both to desire and to work out His good purpose.” Again, Paul gives us a command! You… work out your own salvation! Your Christian life is your responsibility. But, then he adds, “…it is GOD who is doing the WORK IN YOU…” It is because you are IN CHRIST that God enables you & gives you the desire! So, IN CHRIST, God enables us with a desire to think; or have the attitude of Jesus!

-An Attitude That Mirrors Jesus Christ!

I hope you’re tracking with me; because this is great stuff! And, let me show you the payoff! The idea, that we floated in our last post, that Jesus uses the transformed lives of our church to convict Sioux City (or your city!) of their need for a Savior, is why everything we do in life is significant. God uses the deep relationships— through our participation in Small Groups & Sunday School & ministry opportunities— to transform us into Gospel lights everywhere we go! In our places of work! In our neighborhoods! Even in our leisure! Let me show you why I say that! It’s found in v.15, where Paul says, “So that you may be blameless and pure, children of God who are faultless in a crooked and perverted generation, among whom you shine like stars in the world.” IN CHRIST, God enables us by giving us the desire to have the mind or attitude of Jesus! He will make us shine like stars in the world; and right here in our own city!

We Are Gospel Lights!

-Forgiveness Or Plotting Revenge?

So, what were fights like growing up in your home? When my sisters and I got into a fight, as long as there was no blood & everyone still had all their appendages attached, we were usually just made to hug each other and say we were sorry! That was pretty much what negotiating peace looked like in our family. But, as I meditate on it, that method had some pretty serious flaws because it never got to the heart of the issue behind the conflict. We were usually saying “I’m sorry” through gritted teeth at the same time we were plotting our revenge. We hadn’t truly forgiven each other. We just went through the motions so we could get our parents off our backs.

-What A Church Family Ought To Look Like!

If you’ll open your Bibles with me to Philippians chapter 2, let me remind you that it’s imperative to always consider the context of every Scripture in order to come to a correct interpretation. This is a letter, written by the Apostle Paul, to the Church of Philippi. So, his audience is a specific local church community. Just flip back to chapter 1, verse 1, where it says Paul was writing “…to all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, with the Elders and the Deacons…” So, we need to keep in mind that all his references to “you” are meant to include the church family of Philippi as a whole. This is what a church family should look like, Paul says. This is how you work through conflicts.

-The Way You Do Church Matters!

Here’s why the way you do church matters both inside the church and outside. Because it impacts & affects our ability to make disciples in our city.  Let’s remember that the New Testament begins with the announcement that the Messiah had come! That Jesus was His name; and, for 33 1/2 years He lived a perfect, sinless life; and then willingly died as God’s sacrificial lamb to pay for the sin of the world. On the 3rd day He rose from the dead; and, before ascending back to the Father, He commissioned His followers to make disciples & to establish local churches everywhere they went. And, for the most part, the rest of the New Testament is all about life and community within the local church body.

-Church Behavior Impacts The World!

There is a consistent sub-theme that weaves its way through all the Epistles & letters of the New Testament. And, this is it— how the church lives, on the inside, has a direct bearing on how many people, on the outside, come to know Jesus! We are not an island; nor do we live our lives in a vacuum. If our city rejects Jesus, we are part of the problem. Sioux City, Iowa has been my home for the last 19 years & Jesus uses the transformed lives of our church to convict Sioux City of their need for a Savior. That’s the message that Paul shares in Philippians, and it’s the persistent message in the New Testament.

-An Attitude That Mirrors Jesus Christ!

As we look into this small; but dynamic book, that’s what we see. Paul is challenging this Church to live their lives in a way that adorns the Gospel. And, that happens only as we take on the mind of Christ, Paul says. “Make your own attitude that of Christ Jesus, who, existing in the form of God, did not consider equality with God as something to be used for His own advantage. Instead, He emptied Himself by assuming the form of a slave, taking on the likeness of men. And when He had come as a man in His external form, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death— even to death on a cross. For this reason, God highly exalted Him and gave Him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow… and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (2:5-11). It’s a command; an imperative to the church to have the attitude Jesus had!

Acting Most Like Jesus!

-Responding With Grace & Truth!

When encountering anyone caught up in sexual sin, we act most like Jesus by showing them grace & truth. We are most like Jesus when we respond with grace & truth toward those caught up in a same-sex relationship or a same-sex attraction; or any kind of sexual sin! Jesus could never be accused of being mean-spirited. He responded, even to the woman caught in the act of adultery, with gentleness and respect; with grace and truth. He acknowledged her sin, but He did not condemn her. He told her to go and sin no more. The Apostle Peter, who sat under Jesus’ teaching for 3 1/2 years, wrote these words inspired by God’s Holy Spirit: “Always be ready to give a defense to anyone who asks you for the reason for the hope that is in you. However, do this with gentleness & respect, keeping your conscience clear, so that when you are accused, those who denounce your Christian life will be put to shame” 1 Peter 3:15-16.

-Defending Truth With Gentleness & Respect!

Part of our “defense” is to respond with gentleness and respect. Last week we began to look at Paul’s warning to the Church of Corinth: “…Do not be deceived: No sexually immoral people, idolaters, adulterers, or anyone practicing homosexuality, no thieves, greedy people, drunkards, verbally abusive people, or swindlers will inherit God’s kingdom…” 1 Corinthians 6:9-11. It’s an important text on the subject of sexual sin, and helps us form a Gospel response toward anyone caught up in sexual sin. For example, this scripture informs us that all forms of sexual sin are condemned by God. Just look back at that text again. How many sins are listed that God says will cause an individual to miss heaven? There is 9 right? 9 sins that will receive God’s eternal judgment; and 3 are sexual. The “sexually immoral”—that’s a broad generalization condemning all sexual sin.  And, then he specifies “adulterers”—that’s sex between a man & a moan outside of marriage. And, then “anyone practicing homosexuality.”

-No Biblical Distinction Between Sexual Sins!

I want you to notice that God makes no distinction here. God lists no hierarchy of sin when it comes to sexual sin. God’s holiness is repulsed by all sexual sin. As far as God is concerned, sexual sin is sexual sin is sexual sin. God doesn’t have a separate list for those living a homosexual lifestyle from those living in heterosexual sin. So, from this text; and the rest of the Word of God, we derive that all sinful lifestyles are equally condemned by God. Perhaps the keyword is that word, “practicing.” What’s condemned here is practicing a lifestyle of sexual sin. And many Bible students believe that the word “practicing” was used to describe all 9 sins listed. So, what God eternally condemns here is NOT a sexually immoral “act”; or anyone that’s ever been guilty of idolatry, adultery, or homosexual “acts.”

-Some Of You Used To Be Like This!

The Apostle Paul is not condemning to hell anyone who’s ever stolen or been greedy or drunk or verbally abusive; or no one could ever be saved, right? Especially when Jesus expanded sexual sin to include adultery of the heart. No! The condemnation is for “practicing” a lifestyle of these sins. It’s when someone snubs their nose at God’s commandments & is determined to live a lifestyle of adultery or sexual immorality or homosexuality or greed or drunkenness or verbal abuse or a swindler. It’s an unwillingness to repent and call it sin! It’s an unwillingness to confess, or agree with God that it’s sin! That’s what is condemned! I love what comes next. Paul writes, “And some of you used to be like this. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (v.11). In other words, all habitual sin can be overcome by God’s Spirit! He can change every heart!

God, Jonah & A Big Fish Too!

-Trying To Run From God!

If you’re at all like me, you have a hard time passing up the story that is the book of Jonah. I find myself identifying with Jonah in several ways! Not in the most obvious, of course; I’m not a prophet in the Jonah sense of the word! I’ve never received an oracle from the Lord! I’ve never been thrown into the sea by a bunch of sailors; or, swallowed by a big fish! But, I have tried to run from God! I have been reluctant to go to a new place of ministry!

-Leaving The Deep Roots!

Sara & I were almost newlyweds when we moved across the country to do ministry in Denver, CO. We started our family there; and, for the next 20 years we did youth ministry, adult ministry; and, we owned 2 different businesses! But, the Spirit of God began to stir a desire in my heart to sell the business and become a lead Pastor at a local church somewhere. So, we began to pray about where IN DENVER the Lord would have me to pastor; because, I was very reluctant to leave Colorado! After all those years we’d developed some deep roots. I loved Colorado— I still do— but, God had a way of preparing us to go where He was leading! Once He depleted our savings, God broke my will; and, moved us here, to Sioux City, IA.

-Feeling Too Comfortable!

So, in a small way, I get Jonah’s response, in v.3, of the opening chapter:  “The word of the Lord came to Jonah son of Amittai: ‘Get up! Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because their wickedness has confronted Me.’ However, Jonah got up to flee to Tarshish from the Lord’s presence. He went down to Joppa and found a ship going to Tarshish. He paid the fare and went down into it to go with them to Tarshish, from the Lord’s presence”.  In Jonah’s mind, there was nothing great about the city of Ninevah for many reasons! He was comfortable where he was; and, clearly, he wasn’t on the same page with God on this one! God would have some work to do in Jonah to change him. We need the message of Jonah; because, if we’re all being honest, we all look a lot like Jonah! And, the same kind of “spiritual surgery” that Jonah needed, we need!

-God’s Sovereign Directive!

Jonah’s story reveals how God includes us in His disciple-making work; and, then prepares us for it! Until we submit to God’s Sovereign directive, for our lives, we’re going just keep getting swallowed up by one big fish after another, like Jonah. So, let’s talk about God’s Sovereign will & plans for you. The greatest fulfillment you will ever realize, in your life, comes only from obeying Him! We tend to operate life with this weird idea that God’s plans for us just aren’t going to be as satisfying as our plans are; like, obeying Jesus and sacrificing everything for Him will be a drag & a burden to us.

-His Commands Are Not A Burden!

The Apostle John addressed that sentiment:  “For this is what love for God is: to keep His commandments. Now His commands are not a burden” 1 John 5:3. It’s no burden to love God & obey His will for your life. God has created you! He has downloaded the best path for your life into your heart by His indwelling Holy Spirit; and, your plans will never offer you the meaning in life that you long for! The best path for Jonah was the road to Ninevah; NOT, the boat ride to Tarshish that he chose for himself! And, because he rebelled, God would need to apply some pressure to get him back to the best place possible for his life; which, was the center of God’s will. Jesus has commissioned us to make disciples; and, we’re living in disobedience if we’re not doing it! And, the blessed life you’re looking for is realized, in part, in the obedient investing of your life in God’s work in other people! We’ll talk more about Jonah next post!

Ungodly Men & Ungodly Laws!

-We Don’t Have To Take Care Of Ourselves!

The Old Testament prophet, Daniel, viewed himself as nothing more than God’s humble servant. He didn’t take himself too seriously! He saw himself as just one piece in God’s sovereign plan for the world! Though life circumstances, no doubt, made him fearful at times; fear did not control him! When we get over our fear, we can kind of “let go” & “let God” use us however He wants. I don’t have to take care of myself. God takes care of me! God shows us, in Daniel’s story, how we ought to respond when ungodly men make ungodly laws.

-Bow Down & Worship!

In Daniel, chapter 3, Babylonian King, Nebuchadnezzar, builds a 90’ tall gold statue of himself; and, demands that everyone bow down & worship it; or, be thrown into a fiery furnace. That would be a problem for Daniel’s 3 Hebrew friends— Hananiah, Mishael & Azariah! They had been raised in good Jewish homes. They knew the commandments Yahweh had given to Moses in Exodus 20— “I  am the LORD your God; do not have any other gods besides me; do not make an idol for yourself; You must not bow down to them or worship them.” So, here they were between a rock; and, a hard place! Obey the King & face God’s judgment; or, obey God & face the fiery furnace.

-An Awkward Moment!

Get the picture? There are probably thousands of people, representing all the nations that Babylon had subdued; all, waiting for the sound of the music. They hear it; and, everyone bows down & worships the gold image except 3 men. They had to know that their insubordination wouldn’t go unnoticed. And, it wasn’t:  “Some of the Chaldeans took this occasion to come forward and maliciously accuse them” (3:8). So, they are made to stand before King Nebuchadnezzar; and, they “…replied to the king, ‘Nebuchadnezzar, we don’t need to give you an answer to this question.  If the God we serve exists, then He can rescue us from the furnace of blazing fire, and He can rescue us from the power of you, the king. But even if He does not rescue us, we want you as king to know that we will not serve your gods or worship the gold statue you set up’” (3:16-18).

-God Is Able To Deliver!

Enraged by their insubordination, the king demanded that they be thrown into the furnace. But, they determined to obey God rather than the king; and, trust God to do whatever he willed. They had faith that God was able to deliver them; but, even if He didn’t, they would not bow to the king’s image. There is a great application to take from their example—we need to be careful we don’t make claims for God on His behalf! We may think that God has to respond in a certain way; but, our knowledge is finite! His ways are higher than ours! So, don’t make promises for God that He doesn’t make!

-How Our Story Ends!

We can’t make demands on God about how our personal story ends! They trusted that God would deliver them either by a miracle; or, by death! We have to be careful that our trust in God is not limited to delivery by miracle! Their trust in God was not just tied to delivery from the furnace:  “…EVEN IF He does NOT,” they said, “we won’t bow to false gods!” That’s a gospel response. Sadly, the gospel being preached in the majority of our American churches is all about “me.” It’s man-centered; and, not God-centered! So, if He doesn’t deliver me from the furnace I won’t trust Him! That’s where false teaching begins… with man’s ways! King Nebuchadnezzar took credit for his accomplishments; when, it was God who blessed him with his abilities! I read somewhere that:  “Pride is like plagiarism because it attempts to take for ourselves Glory that belongs to God alone.” God will not share His glory with you! Humble yourself before Him.

The Greatest Commandment!

-Your Brother’s Keeper!

Did you know that certain actions or inactions, toward another person or group of persons, can find you guilty, in a court of law, of failing to be your “brother’s keeper”? The Supreme Court has addressed such cases under the “Duty Of Altruism.” Altruism is the principle or practice of unselfish concern for or devotion to the welfare of others! So, the failure to give a proper warning to others can be judged as criminal conduct by a court of law! If a company fails to adequately warn of any potential dangers, of its product use, it may be charged as liable for any resulting injuries.

-The Original Crime!

Now, the original such crime was committed by the son of earth’s 1st couple, Adam & Eve, against his brother; when, Cain killed his brother Abel in a rage & then responded to God’s question, as to Abel’s whereabouts, with a sarcastic, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” To which God answered:  “Yes! Yes, you are your brother’s keeper!” When Jesus walked the earth, as God in the flesh, He responded to someone’s question about the greatest commandment by, in a sense, restating God’s answer to Cain when He said, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments” Matthew 22:36-40.

-Love God! Love Others!

The greatest commandment, according to Jesus, is a two-parter— 1st to love God with all your heart, soul & mind; and, 2nd to love every person in the same way that you love yourself! In other words, it’s out of the overflow of genuine love for God that we are even capable of loving others the same way that we love ourselves! So, the reverse is also true. If I do not love others, in the same way, that I love myself then I don’t love God with all my heart, soul, and mind.  Jesus says you can’t have one without the other! So, the way of Cain is to “Look out for #1”; but, the way of Jesus is to “Look out for others the same way we look out for self.

-The Watchmen!

When you read the Old Testament Prophet, Ezekiel, you come to understand that God called His prophets “watchmen.” As watchmen, they were charged, by God, with the responsibility of warning the Jewish people, living in Jerusalem, that the city would fall to an enemy if they did not repent! They didn’t! So, Babylon, under King Nebuchadnezzar, put the city under siege. But, God, through the Prophet Ezekiel, then pronounced judgment against Babylon; and, 6 other nations that surrounded Israel, because they would not humble themselves before Yahweh! But, then, God gives Ezekiel a new oracle beginning in chapter 33.

-The “Emergency Broadcast System”!

It’s a key transitional chapter; because, the rest of the book, from chapters 34-48, is prophecy related to Israel’s bright future once God has restored the nation to the Promised Land. It begins:  “The word of the Lord came to me: ‘Son of man, speak to your people and tell them…” So, in context, this word, from the Lord, is for the people, right? In v.7, he continues, “…I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel…” God tells Ezekiel that he was a “watchman” to the people! Long before there was an “Emergency Broadcast System”, the individuals responsible for warning the people of impending danger were the “watchmen”.  And, God intends to convey an obvious prophetic message here:  “To love your neighbor as yourself.”  To warn others of danger is an act of love! That’s what a faithful & alert “watchman” does. The application, for us, seems rather obvious, doesn’t it? Love your neighbor! Tell them when there’s danger!

An Epidemic Of Biblical Illiteracy!

-Only 19% Read Their Bible!

A recent survey, of churchgoers, revealed that only 19% read their Bible every day! The writer of Psalm 119 uses 176 verses to describe the Word of God. He uses 8 different words throughout! He calls Scripture:  God’s PRECEPT, God’s STATUTE, His COMMAND, His JUDGMENT, His PROMISE & God’s WORD! So, when he finishes the Psalm with the words, “I wander like a lost sheep; seek Your servant, for I do not forget Your commands” (v.176), he intends for us to understand that his “wandering”, like a lost sheep, is from Scripture! That’s the context! We, here in the west, resemble that remark!

-Ignoring The Compass Of God’s Word!

The American church has wandered away from God, like a lost sheep, because we’ve ignored the “compass” God has given us in His Word! God’s Word is the only GPS that will help us navigate this lost world & keep us on course following Jesus! But, many of us have ignored it! We sing the song, “Come Thou Fount, Come Thou King” from time to time in our church worship service. And, there’s that familiar verse that goes like this:  “O to grace how great a debtor; daily I’m constrained to be! Let Thy goodness, like a fetter, bind my wandering heart to Thee. Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it, prone to leave the God I love; Here’s my heart, Lord take & seal it, seal it for Thy courts above.” We can identify with that verse, can’t we?

-Wandering Away From God!

By the way, this is not the first time that the writer of this Psalm has talked about wandering away from God. Look at these very familiar verses:  “How can a young man keep his way pure? By keeping Your word. I have sought You with all my heart; don’t let me wander from Your commands. I have treasured Your word in my heart so that I may not sin against You” (vs. 9-11). Notice how sexual purity is attached to God’s word! It’s no wonder that even professing believers are caught up in sexual sin if 81% of churchgoers fail to read the Bible every day! And, what is the writer’s hope & prayer? “…(God) don’t let me WANDER from your commands…” is preceded by a seeking after God with all his heart! We can’t be nonchalant or cavalier in our attitude toward God; or, we’ll wander away from Him! I have to search for Him with all my heart! He has to be the only One or thing that I pursue with all my heart! Let’s be clear here—the Psalmist is not making a promise that if you read your Bible every day that you’ll never wander away from God! What he’s confessing is that he’s prone to wander! He’s prone to cave into his flesh! He’s broken by his sin!

-Our Heart Can Deceive Us!

The writer is saying that our failure to read God’s word regularly is evidence that we’re in danger of wandering away from God! Look back at that last verse, verse 176, of Psalm 119. Notice the middle phrase— “…seek Your servant…” We live in a church culture that constantly focuses on US seeking after God! And, clearly, Scripture does say: “You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart” Jeremiah 29:13. But, Scripture also says that “The heart is more deceitful than anything else, and incurable—who can understand it?” Jeremiah17:9. There is tension there! Our heart can deceive us, God says! We can think that we’re doing OK spiritually; but, we can be deceived! We tend to think, “Oh, I hope so-and-so is listening to this message”; when, God has intended it for you! But, you’re missing it because your heart has deceived you! So, ask God to SEEK you & to reveal to you your spiritual condition!

Finding Your Way Back To God!

-The Bible’s Longest Chapter!

The longest chapter in the entire Bible is Psalm 119. It has 176 verses; by far, the longest chapter in all of Scripture. The last verse arrested my attention when I read it! Just look at v.176. The writer admits how vulnerable he is to wandering away from God; and, he makes, what to us, may seem like an unusual request; and, then concludes the Psalm with a significant statement. He says, “I wander like a lost sheep; seek Your servant, for I do not forget Your commands.

-A Buzz Without A Shock!

Recently, I read a story by an individual who trains Doberman Pinschers. They’re a highly intelligent & independent breed of dog. And, they love to run when he takes them out to the forest! Especially, when they discover deer! And, because it’s difficult to control them when that happens, he uses an electronic shock collar to train them for their safety. The transmitter has 2 buttons—one that sends out a very quiet “buzz” sound; and, the other that sends a very mild shock! He trains them by administering 3 “buzzes” followed by one mild shock! He never shocks them without buzzing them first! The method, to the training, is that the dogs will eventually learn to respond to the “buzz” without the need for a shock.

-God’s Quiet Little Buzz!

I think that in more ways than we care to admit, that we resemble his dogs! We tend to run wild & to chase after things & wander away from God. So, God sends out a quiet “buzz”— He’s warning us about the dangers of living sinful, selfish lives! But, when His warnings fail to get our attention, He has to shock us! We experience the painful consequences of our decision to rebel against all the safeguards and the protections that God has revealed to us in His Word! As we grow, in spiritual wisdom, we’ll learn to respond to God’s “buzz” without the need for a shock!

-We’re A Lot Like The Prodigal Son!

These next couple of posts are about finding your way back to God! We tend to be a lot like the prodigal son, who was shocked to his senses! He realized what an awesome, loving Father he had wandered away from! He returned to Him in confession & humility & found that the Father’s love, mercy & grace was all he needed! We find our way back to God; and, experience spiritual growth only as we remove all the masks of hypocrisy & become transparent before God! The word “only”— in that last statement— is perhaps the most important in that sentence.  You will experience genuine spiritual growth only as you remove the mask of hypocrisy & become transparent with God and with others!

-Stop Pretending!

There can be no spiritual growth in your life so long as you hide your sin & wear a mask, pretending to be someone you’re not! The writer, of this Psalm, confessed; and, he put it in writing for the world to see:  “I wander like a lost sheep; seek Your servant, for I do not forget Your commands.” So, how do you make your way back to God from your wanderings? First, regularly confess that you tend to wander from God. That is the writer’s true confession as he concludes the longest chapter in Scripture. “I wander like a lost sheep,” he says. Can you identify with that confession? Can you admit that to another person? “I wander like a lost sheep!” He’s confessing his brokenness, isn’t he? “I’m not going to lie to you,” he’s saying, “I tend to wander like a lost sheep.” Can you say it with me— ”That’s what I resemble! A lost sheep!

The Return Of The Exiles

-The Life Of A Refugee!

We see the pictures on the nightly news or our online news sources; and, though pictures may be worth a thousand words, they can never adequately portray what it’s like to be exiled from your native land & to flee as a refugee to a foreign nation! The stories are horrific! The greatest fear, as a parent, is to be separated from your children in such a setting; although, in some cases, where the conditions are brutal enough, parents willingly hand off their children to someone else with the hope that they might survive & have a better life! Most of us, living in this country, simply have no point of reference or experience to draw on when it comes to living like an exile or a refugee!

-Israel’s Refugees From Babylon!

And, while some of the world’s current refugee crisis has similarities to the time of Israel’s exile— as recorded at the end of 2 Chronicles— there are many differences! The majority of exiles today are leaving war-torn nations by their own will, seeking refuge in a safe, neighboring country. Israel’s exile occurred against their own will when, the foreign nations of Assyria; and, then Babylon, swept in like a flood & plundered their homeland; and, then exiled them off to serve as slaves! For Israel, their exile was the more bitter because they had no one to blame but themselves.

-Israel Broke Covenant!

God had covenanted with them to bless them in the land—that He gave them—if they would obey Him & keep His commandments! But, He had also promised a curse if they broke covenant with Him; and, that’s exactly what they did! They abandoned Yahweh & chased after other gods; until, finally, Yahweh abandoned them! The 137th Psalm was written as a lament by those who endured the exile, the slavery & the human trafficking in that day:  “By the rivers of Babylon,” they cried, “there we sat down and wept when we remembered Zion. There we hung up our lyres on the poplar trees, for our captors there asked us for songs, and our tormentors, for rejoicing:  ‘Sing us one of the songs of Zion.’ they mocked.  “How can we sing the Lord’s song on foreign soil?” That’s how the book of 2 Chronicles ends!

-Exiled To Babylon!

It reads that King Nebuchadnezzar, of Babylon, “…deported those who escaped from the sword to Babylon, and they became servants to him and his sons until the rise of the Persian kingdom. This fulfilled the word of the Lord through Jeremiah and the land enjoyed its Sabbath rest all the days of the desolation until 70 years were fulfilled” 2 Chronicles 36:20-21.  So, Israel was exiled to Babylon for 70 years; and, God’s prophecy, through Jeremiah, was fulfilled. It was during those 70 years that the Medo-Persian empire overpowered Babylon!

-The Lord Put It In His Mind!

From there, the book of Ezra picks up the story of the exiles:  “In the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, the word of the Lord spoken through Jeremiah was fulfilled. The Lord put it into the mind of King Cyrus to issue a proclamation throughout his entire kingdom and to put it in writing” Ezra 1:1. That verse includes 2 significant details! First, that Jeremiah’s prophecy, of a 70-year exile, was completed in the first year of King Cyrus’ reign in Persia! And, second, that it was God who “…put it into the mind…” of Cyrus to issue a proclamation! I would encourage you to make a note in your Bible, right there, that says, “Here is an example of God’s Sovereignty over the world.”  Cyrus wasn’t in control! Persia wasn’t in control either! God was directing traffic here! He put it in Cyrus’ mind to issue the proclamation we’ll look at next week!

Thank You God For Pain!

-Enslaved By Our Idols!

Did you know that God will allow our idols to enslave us in order to drive us back to Himself? It’s true! In the Old Testament book of Judges, it says that God, “…sold Israel to their enemies around them, and they could no longer resist their enemies. Whenever the Israelites went out, the Lord was against them and brought disaster on them, just as He had promised and sworn to them. So they suffered greatly” (2:14).  You may find that disturbing that “…the Lord was against them”; and, that He “…brought disaster on them.” Or, perhaps you can relate! Have you ever felt like God was against you & that He was bringing disaster into your life? Well, He might be! But, if He is, it’s only temporary & He means to use the disaster to encourage you to repent, over your sin, and return to the Lord!

-All Idols Are Frauds!

That’s what He did with Israel! He meant to show them that their idols were all frauds! That the idols that they bowed down to would never satisfy or deliver them! Only God can satisfy and deliver! We see the pattern in the next chapter of Judges:  “The Israelites did what was evil in the Lord’s sight; they forgot the Lord their God and worshiped the Baals and the Asherahs. The Lord’s anger burned against Israel, and He sold them to Cushan-rishathaim…” (3:7).  When their idols failed to deliver, v.9 says, “Then the Israelites cried out to the Lord. So the Lord raised up Othniel…as a deliverer to save the Israelites.”  So, from an application standpoint, we need to look at pain & struggles differently!

-Ask God To Reveal Your Idols!

Some times, we need to thank God for pain! When you’re facing difficulties, in life, ask God to reveal any idols that you may be depending on— money, health, education, leisure, etc.— and, confess it as sin if you’re guilty! And, then, turn back to the Lord! It’s His goodness that leads us to repentance! Otherwise, when we fail to repent, God’s absence from His rightful place in our life can lead to shocking moral depravity! There’s a story, in Judges 19-21, that is one of the most unbelievable in all of Scripture.  A Levite, who was supposed to be a religious leader in Israel, has a concubine! Do you know what a concubine is? She’s someone who voluntarily enslaves & sells herself to a man primarily for sexual pleasure— kind of a “friend with benefits” as has been popularized in our own immoral culture! So this Levite has broken some of the clear commands that God had given Israel, through Moses, way before they even entered Canaan land. The concubine didn’t have an equal status as a wife; so, when she got angry, with her situation, she left the Levite & went home to her parents. After awhile, he goes to see her, they make up and return home!

-Shocking Moral Depravity!

On the way home, they spend the night in an Israelite city. The text says, “…perverted men of the city surrounded the house…and demanded of the owner that he, ‘Bring out the man who came to your house so we can have sex with him” (19:22). When they couldn’t  have the Levite, they took his concubine, raped & abused her all night, leaving her for dead! So, the Levite took her home, cut her up into 12 pieces & sent her body parts throughout the 12 territories of Israel! Shocking, right? I can’t even come up with an English word that adequately describes that story! God doesn’t sugar-coat the atrocities that sinful men are capable of! God’s absence from our lives; or, from the conscience of a nation, can lead to shocking moral depravity. Let’s learn to be thankful when God interrupts our sin with some pain to get our attention! And, then, let’s confess our idols as sin and repent!