The Gospel Of Jesus Christ!

-Introducing The New King!

In the ancient world, new kings were introduced by a forerunner; or, a herald. Perhaps you remember, from the Old Testament, that Samuel first introduced; and, then anointed King Saul; and, later King David. Every culture & country has its traditions for heralding in a new leader. In our country, where the baton of leadership is usually passed peacefully from one president to another, it’s typical for 2 men to reside over the swearing-in of the new president— one is the Chief Justice; and, the other is the outgoing president. Together, they testify that the man being sworn in is the legitimate successor. It’s our country’s way of heralding a new leader.

-I Am Sending My Messenger!

And, that’s how Mark is inspired, by God’s Holy Spirit, to open his Gospel:  “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. As it is written in Isaiah the prophet: ‘Look, I am sending My messenger ahead of You, who will prepare Your way. A voice of one crying out in the wilderness: Prepare the way for the Lord; make His paths straight!’ John came baptizing in the wilderness and preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were  flocking to him, and they were baptized by him in the Jordan River as they confessed their sins” (Mark 1:1-5). Unlike Matthew & Luke, who begin their Gospels with the family roots & genealogies of Jesus, Mark picks it up at the actual beginning of Jesus’ public ministry.

-That’s Good News!

Now, most of you probably know the definition of the “Gospel”, right? What does it mean? It means “good news” right? So, Mark is writing about the “good news” of Jesus Christ from, “The beginning…” he says. And, Mark says the Good News begins in the Old Testament:  “As it is written IN ISAIAH the prophet…” v.2. And, then he quotes from Isaiah, chapter 40, which is similarly recorded in the last book of the Old Testament, “‘See, I am going to send My messenger, and he will clear the way before Me. Then the Lord you seek will suddenly come to His temple, the Messenger of the covenant you desire—see, He is coming,’ says the Lord of Hosts” (Malachi 3:1). 

-Waiting For The Messiah!

And, from Malachi’s prophecy ‘til the arrival of Jesus Christ, Israel had waited 400 years for Messiah’s coming! They had waited, I want to point out, for God’s “messenger” (little “m”) to herald; or, announce the coming of the LORD; or, the King, the “Messenger” (capital “M”) of the covenant! So, Mark’s focus, at least at the start of his gospel, was more on the forerunner; or, the herald, than the King; and, there’s a good reason for that because Mark is writing to Gentiles. Specifically, he is writing to the Romans, who occupied the land of Israel at that time.

-The Need For A Credible Herald!

Mark knew that if he was writing a gospel about the arrival of a new king, to the Romans, that there would need to be some kind of authoritative, credible herald to announce his arrival. That’s the way it was in the culture of the Roman world. No Roman King or Caesar ever just showed up and said:  “Hello! Attention everyone! I’m the new King here!” No, he always had a forerunner; and, an entourage who went before him; and, prepared the way so all the people would be ready for his coming. So, Mark, to be consistent with the Gentile approach, goes to the Old Testament to find the prophecies that gave authenticity to King Jesus’ herald; and, then he informs his readers that John the Baptizer is that forerunner; and, that’s why John heralds or proclaims these words: “Someone more powerful than I will come after me. I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the strap of his sandals” (1:7). He was preparing the way for King Jesus!

Our Blindness To Spiritual Drift!

-Drifting Away!

Every so often I see a story, in the news, about someone who had inadvertently drifted out to sea; or, someone wasn’t paying attention as their canoe just drifted downriver toward a falls; and, they barely escaped, with their lives, once they realized that the current was rapidly putting them toward the falls. I remember getting on a blowup raft, on a camping trip, when I was probably in about 5th grade; and, just basking in the warm sun. I was not even aware that I was drifting farther away from the campsite until I came to my senses; and, realized I had drifted too far from shore! I hadn’t yet learned to swim; so, I remember being scared, for my life, as I quickly paddled back to shore.

-How Spiritual Drift Occurs!

By definition, to drift means: “A continuous slow movement from one place to another.” Spiritual drift occurs similarly in our lives! It happens when we slowly move from a place where we’re walking with God; on fire for him; passionate about prayer & reading His word; faithful to the church gatherings & Small Group, to slowly checking out; and, pulling away from the godly influences, of the faith community; and, losing our heart for worship & prayer & God’s word! We become a casualty of spiritual drift!  It never happens overnight! You won’t just wake up one morning; and, suddenly decide to forsake your faith Jesus; or, say, “Hey! I think today would be a great day to start a meth addiction”; or, “Ya know what? I think I’m going to commit adultery with someone today.”

-Where Sin Will Take You!

Big sins are always the sum of many tiny little bad choices! Someone said it like this:  “Sin will take you farther than you want to go, keep you longer than you want to stay; and, cost you more than you want to pay.” That pretty much says it all. In Scripture, God’s people— the children of Israel— provide a consistent visual of what spiritual drift looks like. In Malachi, the last book of the Old Testament, we find the Israelites returning from their Babylonian exile with great enthusiasm & praise for the Lord God. Jerusalem was rebuilt; and, the temple was restored. But, despite the fact they started well, a spiritual drift began to set in. The world’s thinking began to determine their behavior.

-Motives Underlying Religious Activity!

So, God delivers a message, through the Prophet Malachi, to take a fresh approach to the way they were thinking about God; and, to consider the motives underlying their religious activities. And, there’s an application here for us, as well. Our sinful brokenness will always keep us in desperate need of God’s word to confront our spiritual drift. And, it’s God’s word that is our spiritual lifeline. We simply cannot do the spiritual life without it. So, as we consider Israel’s spiritual failure, in the book of Malachi, over the next few posts, we’ll discover that our tendencies are no different! But, there’s hope here; for Israel & us.

-The Hope Of A New Covenant!

The hope that Malachi speaks of is a “new covenant” with God. A covenant that points to God’s great mercy & grace. There is always “good news” with God! Even if you’ve drifted spiritually, He is quick to forgive & restore you to fellowship, with Him, if you humble yourself & confess your sin to Him. But, make no mistake, if you’re a child of His; and, you’ve guilty of spiritual drift, He will confront you over it, as He did Israel, through the Prophet Malachi. God confronts us when we’re skeptical of His love. Israel had become skeptical of God’s love. They had allowed life’s circumstances to jade their thoughts about God’s love for them. How could God love them; and, allow them to be exiled from the land of promise? How could God love them; and, allow Jerusalem to be destroyed; and, the temple to be leveled? They had allowed their circumstances to blind them to God’s faithful love. We’ll look at God’s answer in our next post.

How God Makes Us Useful!

-Looking For The Blessed Life!

Jesus has commissioned us to make disciples! All of us!  When we refuse to be obedient to that calling we find ourselves in the unhappy position that Jonah found himself in when he refused to warn the Ninevites of God’s judgment if they failed to repent! We’re all looking for the blessed life! But it’s not nearly as elusive as we think it is! The blessed life, that we’re all looking for, is realized, in part, in the obedient investing of our lives in God’s work in other people! God would make Jonah useful in His big kingdom plans; and, there’s some real application here for us. He will do what He needs to do to make us useful.

-God Makes Us Uncomfortable!

There are several examples in Jonah’s life story. First, to make us useful, God makes us uncomfortable. If you take a look at a Bible map from around that time, you’ll see Assyria to the north of Israel. And, there’s a city on the Tigris River named Ninevah. It’s the very city that God told Jonah to go preach to. Ninevah was the nation’s capital of Assyria; and, the thought of going to Ninevah made Jonah very uncomfortable. These were dangerous times! Assyria hated Israel; and, they had slowly been occupying their land to the north. In fact, in less than 70 years, from Jonah’s time, Assyria will become such a power in the region that it will overrun the northern kingdom of Israel; and, take most of the people still alive into captivity. And, it’s into that environment that God says to Jonah:  “Get up! Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it because their wickedness has confronted Me” (Jonah 1:2).

-An Uncomfortable Comparison!

Let me try & paint a picture for you of how that would look for us. Let’s say it was September 2001; and, some bad guys from Iraq or Iran just took down the twin towers in New York City. Our nation was preparing to go to war! Everyone’s gotten all patriotic, in America; because, another people dared to attack us. And, let’s say that out of nowhere, it seems, God delivers YOU a message:  “Get up! Go to the lands of Iraq & Iran and preach against it.” How would you feel about that? You would feel a lot like Jonah did when God told him to go preach God’s word to Ninevah.

-It’s Easy To Cast Judgment!

God totally rocked Jonah’s world! He had a successful ministry going on at home; and, he was comfortable with that! He was ministering to his people; and, now God was telling him to get up & go to an unfamiliar land occupied by his enemies! It’s easy for the average Christian, in America, to read about Jonah & cast judgment, isn’t it? But, if we take into consideration all that background information, let’s be honest—doing what God told us to do would make us pretty uncomfortable! God makes us useful, first, by putting us in uncomfortable situations. But, He also intends to expose our idols! Until we denounce our idols we’re not useful to Him!

-Denounce All Idols!

Most of us aren’t even aware that we have idols, in our life. And, it appears that Jonah was unaware of his own idols until God shook him up & made him uncomfortable! He was faithful! He poured his heart into his ministry; and, into his family! But, when God’s word pointed him in a different direction; and, he was unwilling to go, God exposed his idols! What were his idols? His home, his family; and, his ministry! All great things! All blessings from God! But, when they became more important to him than obedience to God’s will, they became idols! Whenever you section off any part of your life; and, tell God He can’t touch that; or, He can’t have that, your idol has just been exposed! Are your job, your home, your kids, or your grandkids “off-limits” to God? Are you willing to let God take you; or, them, to a foreign field to serve Him & a foreign people? If you’re unwilling, then, God’s gifts, to you, have become your idols! Confess it & repent!

Don’t Harden Your Heart!

-Heading Out On A Little Vacation-

-Next Post: August 25th-

-God’s Intentions Are Good!

God is benevolent toward us! That simply means that He is well-intended! His intentions toward us are good! It is in His very nature that He is loving, gracious, and merciful! His benevolence is not only intended toward us as individuals; but, also toward the nations of the world! However, while He is well-intended toward us— the people of the world— He holds the Sovereign right, as Creator, King & Lord over His creation, to withdraw His intended blessings from us as individuals; or, as a nation, when we fail to listen to His revealed Word!

-It’s His Sovereign Right To Judge!

He holds the Sovereign right to act toward us in the judgment that our actions deserve! And, listen, friend, you don’t wanna go there! God often warns us, in His Word, not to test Him! He often railed on Israel, His chosen people, for their constant testing of His resolve! He will judge! He will punish! It’s not what He wants to do; but, it is what He will do! Over the last several posts, we’ve considered the parable, in the Old Testament book of Jeremiah, about the “potter and the clay.” In the parable, God is said to be the “potter”; while, we are His “clay.” We’ve discussed God’s Sovereign right to make of each individual lump of clay what He wills to create! We’ve also discussed how gracious God is to “remold” us after we’ve lived a life of rebellion that did not conform to His will! If we’ll confess our sinful & stubborn will, He will put us back on His spinning wheel and make of us a remolded piece of pottery!

-God’s Sovereign Right To Cast Us Aside!

In this post, we want to point out, from God’s parable in Jeremiah, that God also has the Sovereign right to cast us aside when we become hardened against Him:  “This is what the Lord says: ‘Go, buy a potter’s clay jar. Take some of the elders of the people and some of the leading priests and go out to the Valley of Hinnom near the entrance of the Potsherd Gate. Proclaim there the words I speak to you. Say: Hear the word of the Lord, kings of Judah, and residents of Jerusalem. This is what the Lord of Hosts, the God of Israel, says: I am going to bring such disaster on this place that everyone who hears about it will shudder because they have abandoned Me and made this a foreign place. They have burned incense in it to other gods… you are to shatter the jar in the presence of the people traveling with you, and you are to proclaim to them: This is what the Lord of Hosts says: I will shatter these people and this city, like one shatters a potter’s jar that can never again be mended” (Jeremiah 19:1-10). Those words are terrifying! It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of an angry God! Don’t mess with Him! Yes, He is loving, gracious & merciful! But He is equally just & righteous; and, He will punish those who harden their hearts against Him! If you harden your heart against God’s Word, He has the Sovereign right to cast you aside!

-Submit To The Designer’s Will!

We are a lump of clay in God’s hands! We are like clay, which has little value, until we are molded, by the Master Potter, into Jesus’ likeness! God has a design for you; and, in the eternal sense, it’s the same for each one of us! He intends to mold us into the image of His Son, Jesus Christ. “For we are His creation,” Paul wrote the Church of Ephesus, “created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared ahead of time so that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:10). There’s a story told that when Michelangelo was asked how he could fashion his masterpiece, of King David, he’s reported to have said:  “It wasn’t that difficult. I just chipped away every piece of the stone that didn’t look like David.” That’s what God, the Potter, is doing in your life. He’s forming you! He’s shaping you into the image of Jesus. Sometimes it hurts a little as He’s forming us; but, He always works on us because He loves us & His plans are best for us!

What A Fool Says About God!

-The “Angry Theist”!

Do you know what a fool says about God? A fool says that God doesn’t exist! That’s the claim of the Old Testament book of Proverbs:  “The fool says in his heart, ‘God does not exist” (Proverbs 14:1). He’s a fool because he doesn’t know what he doesn’t know! And, most often, in my experience, I’ve found that the person who claims to be an atheist is just an “angry theist.” In his heart he knows there’s a God; but, he’s mad at Him over something that happened in his life; and, he blames God for it. So, he refuses to yield to God’s Sovereignty.

-Authentic Wisdom!

Authentic wisdom grows as we learn to fear God! So, the fool, who doesn’t believe God exists, can never become a truly wise person! “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; but, fools despise wisdom and discipline” (Proverbs 1:7). Let’s talk about the fear of the Lord; because, unfortunately, I’ve found that it confuses some people. Keep in mind our word “fear” is translated from the original Hebrew language that the Old Testament was written in. And, sometimes, in translation work, there just isn’t an adequate word in one language to properly express the meaning in another. That’s the case, here, with the word “fear.” This is not the kind of fear we might have of a snake; or, going to the dentist or doctor; or, of some extreme danger. This “fear” is more of awe or reverence of great respect!

The Fear Of God!

If you play a little basketball, to “fear” LeBron James is to have such awe or respect for who he is & for his incredible abilities that you couldn’t bring yourself to stand beside him on a basketball court.  To “fear” God means you’re awed that He has such power that He could speak the world into existence! To “fear” Him is to honor Him with such respect that you want to know Him! You want to know what He’s said in His word so you can be in proper standing & relationship with Him! When you truly come to understand what it means to fear Him, you’ll no longer fear anything or anyone else! He’s that awesome! The more you humble yourself before Him, the more you’ll desire to learn from Him!  And, in that way, you’ll grow in wisdom according to the book of Proverbs! The authentic wisdom, of God, will expose you, however, if you’re a fool! If you’re an unbeliever! If you deny His existence! Because, remember, that, “…FOOLS despise the wisdom & discipline…” of the Lord, Solomon says (1:7).

2 Kinds Of Wisdom!

There are only 2 kinds of wisdom! There is God’s wisdom; as recorded in the words of Scripture! And, there is the “wisdom” of sinful man which is always contrary to God’s wisdom. If God’s wisdom says, “don’t cheat, steal, lie or sleep with someone you’re not married to”; the world’s “wisdom” says, “Go ahead and cheat, steal & lie… just don’t get caught.” Oh, and, “sleep with anyone you want to! It’s okay as long as you love them.” The absence of God in the so-called “wisdom” of the world is ultimately its fatal flaw! The world’s “wisdom” is always a moving target! It changes with the times & societal more’s. But, the wisdom of God is immutable; like, He is! It never changes because He never changes! He will always be what He’s always been! Wisdom is not just a “way of life”; it’s the way “to life”— to life everlasting with God! In His wisdom; and, His love for us, He speaks His gospel of peace to us:  “Quit your rebellion,” He says, “confess your sin to Me! Quit fighting & waging war against Me! I offer you peace through the blood of Jesus & His work on the cross for you! Don’t be a FOOL any longer! Come to Me! I give you love, mercy & grace!

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!

Trip Hazard!

-We’re Our Own Biggest Problem!

There are several verses, in the Old Testament book of Psalms, that bring “trip hazards” to mind as I read them! This wisdom literature points us to ourselves! We, ourselves, are probably the most problematic “trip hazard” that we face as we attempt to walk with God. For example, Israel’s King David says that any unconfessed sin we hold onto will harm our health! “When I kept silent, (about my sin),” he says, “my bones became brittle from my groaning all day long. For day and night Your hand was heavy on me; my strength was drained as in the summer’s heat” (Psalm 32:3).  Even our bones become brittle when we hold onto our sin! Our strength is sapped like every day is a 100-degree day!

-God’s Heavy Hand Against Us!

God’s hand is heavy against us as long as we refuse to confess our sin to Him! “But,” he says, “Then I acknowledged my sin to You and did not conceal my iniquity. I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,” and You took away the guilt of my sin” (v.5).  I vividly remember carrying the burden of my sin as a 13-year old boy. But, when I confessed my sin & accepted Jesus’ payment for my sin, by His death on the cross, I remember how my guilt vanished! What a great Psalm! Mark it in your Bibles! You’ll need it when Satan comes to accuse you of your sin— ”You say you’re a follower of Jesus? And, look at you! You’re nothing but a sinner!”  Rebuke the devil! Remind him that you’ve been forgiven for every sin you’ve ever committed! Once & for all they were nailed to Christ’s tree of crucifixion. Your sins are forgiven by the blood of Jesus! God promises never to count them against you again! He makes you righteous in Christ!

-You Really Aren’t Strong Enough!

But, there’s another way that we are our own worst “trip hazard.” We get in the way when we think that we can do life in our strength! One of the clearest signs we have a problem, in this area, is our lack of prayer & our lack of time spent in Scripture! When we fail to pray & when we fail to read His Word, we’re telling God—by our actions—that, “I Got This! I don’t need your help, God!” We erroneously think we’re strong enough! We’re wise enough! We trust our resources! The nation of Israel’s failure, in this area, should serve as a warning to us:  “A king is not saved by a large army; a warrior will not be delivered by great strength. The horse is a false hope for safety; it provides no escape by its great power” Psalm 33:16. Large armies won’t save us!

-Fear God!

The great strength of a warrior will not deliver him! A horse’s great power offers false hope! Our strength & intelligence & ingenuity is a curse when we depend on it to save us! Rather, “The eye of the Lord is on those who fear Him—those who depend on His faithful love to deliver them from death and to keep them alive in famine. We wait for Yahweh; He is our help and shield” Psalm 33:18. We need to fear God for His great power! Depend on His faithful love to deliver you! He alone should be our help & shield! Though it’s never fun when our world is crashing around us, it proves to be a blessing when we see God turn things around! And, He’ll only do that after we’ve come to the end of ourselves! When all our resources & all our strength & all our wisdom just isn’t enough! It’s incredibly freeing to stop trying to be your own Savior; and, everyone else’s Savior too! To let God be God; and, admit you don’t know what to do next!

Don’t Dismiss God’s Warnings!

God’s Not Trying To Kill Your Fun!

God’s warnings are never designed to kill your fun! But, rather, to offer you greater blessings & more fun! Pure fun without the shame and guilt that the “pleasures of sin for a season” may offer us! Don’t forget this truth:  “It is because God is love that He punishes us to bring us to brokenness so He can redeem us.” He warns us because He has compassion on us! Because He loves us! And, how does God respond to His people when they confess their sin & return to Him? He restores them, doesn’t He? That’s what He did with Adam & Eve; with, Abraham & the patriarchs; and, with Israel on multiple occasions!  He would bring revival to their souls & their lives were blessed!

-God’s Patience Can Be Exhausted!

But, when individuals & nations continue in their rebellion, there comes a time— and, only God knows that time; so, don’t sin presumptuously, calculating how far you can go in your sin before God has had enough— there comes a time when God’s patience is exhausted; that, in order to accomplish His purpose, in your life, that He punishes! This is place where Israel’s sin had brought them in 2 Chronicles, chapter 36, “But they kept ridiculing God’s messengers, despising His words, and scoffing at His prophets, until the Lord’s wrath was so stirred up against His people that there was no remedy” (v.16).  Those are haunting words— there was no remedy! All that was left was God’s wrath! Only punishment!

-God’s Strange Work!

It was the only thing left that God could do to turn Israel around! There’s an incredibly revealing verse of Scripture in Isaiah that’s often overlooked; but, I think the message is powerful! Isaiah— one of the very messengers that 2 Chronicles 36 referred to— says, “For the LORD will rise up as He did at Mount Perazim. He will rise in wrath, as at the Valley of Gibeon, to do His work, His strange work, and to perform His task, His disturbing task” Isaiah 28:21. Inspired by God’s Holy Spirit, Isaiah says that God’s judgment is His strange work! His disturbing task! God, Himself, finds His judgment & punishment of sinners to be disturbing because it’s not His will that any would perish!

-Why Continue In Your Sin?

When you sin against God & His Word & you ignore His warnings, He will punish you because He is Holy & Just! But, know, that it disturbs Him to punish you for the great love & compassion that He has for you! So, why would you continue to turn against Him & go your own way? Why do you spurn His love for you & choose all the cheap substitutes that sin offers you? None of those things will satisfy! None will bring you joy & fulfillment!

-Forgiveness For The Prodigal!

Why endure punishment when God willingly offers all prodigal sons forgiveness! When prodigal Israel repents of her sin & returns to the Lord, to accomplish God’s purposes, He redeems them! Let me tell you what it means that God redeems them! There are at least 3 words, in the original languages of Scripture, that are translated “redeem.” in the Bible! One means “to buy or purchase”; and, it’s used in the context of a slave who is bought to be owned as property! At the time that God redeemed Israel, they were enslaved to Egypt. Here’s the point— we are all enslaved to somebody! We are either enslaved to sin, which is a cruel & destructive task master! Or, we are enslaved to a God who loves us with great compassion & willingly meets every need we have according to His will! But, once you’ve been redeemed by God, He will begin a work in you that’s redemptive! He reforms you to make you willing to obey Him & love Him!

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!

Lessons Learned The Hard Way!

-Last Post Until September 16! Vacation Time!-

 

-Experience, The Great Teacher!

Some lessons in life are learned the hard way. For example, putting a can of soda in the freezer, to get it cold, may sound like a smart idea! It’s NOT! Also, if you think it’s expensive to hire a professional, wait until you hire an amateur! Cheaper isn’t always better, is it? Some lessons are hard and painful to learn! I’ve watched kids, at the zoo, learn one of life’s lessons the hard way— don’t mess with the geese! I can’t begin to count the number of times I’ve seen a kid chasing after a goose; only, a little later seeing him run the other way with the goose in hot pursuit! I love what someone said about learning lessons the hard way: “Experience is a great teacher; and, a fool will learn no other way!”

-Gaining Wisdom!

Don’t be that guy! I big part of the wisdom gained, from reading Scripture, is learning from the hard lessons others learned the hard way! I don’t want to sound arrogant or be overly critical of Israel’s constant failures because I’ve been equally as guilty of falling into sinful patterns in my own life. But, don’t you just wonder sometimes if they’re ever going to learn some of the lessons God puts in front of them? Over and over they fail to listen to God’s Word & the results are never good!

-Don’t Be Foolish!

I want to challenge you, in this post, to learn God’s lessons well! Don’t be foolish & hard-hearted & stiff-necked like Israel often was! Be committed to reading God’s Word! To hearing God speak! And, determine to trust whatever God says! With your whole heart! A devotion to obeying God’s word will keep you from sin; but, sin will keep you from obeying God’s word! You can have no better life than the one spent in obedience to God! Don’t be the fool that finds out the hard way! God is good! He is gracious! He is merciful! He promises to forgive every sin when you trust Jesus’ work on the cross to atone for your sin!

-You Reap What You Sow!

But, you will reap what you sow! That is a principle in God’s word! He will forgive the sin of the drunkard who weaponizes his car & crosses lanes, killing someone driving in the other lane! But, God doesn’t give him back the arm that he also lost in the crash! Though God offers grace to endure the terrible consequences of our sin, He doesn’t always remove the consequences! I’ve found it deeply disturbing to read the account, in Joshua chapters 7 & 8, of Achan’s sin.  God had commanded Israel to set apart, for destruction,  all the plunder from a military victory over Jericho!

-What If He Had Repented?

But Achan disobeyed; and, he had done so secretly! I’ve often wondered what might have happened if he had quickly acknowledged his sin? What if he would have come running to Joshua with the stuff he had taken; and, confessed his sin & asked God for forgiveness? In the epistle of 1 John, it’s recorded, “If we say, ‘We have no sin,’ we are deceiving ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1:8-9). I can only imagine that the story, for Achan & his family, would have had a happier ending if he had only confessed his sin & repented quickly! But, he did not confess until he was caught! Until he was found out! And, his sin resulted in the death of himself, his family, and 36 men in Israel’s next battle! God’s judgment for unconfessed, hidden sin was harsh! God, help us to learn well this lesson; and, not to learn the hard way!