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!

The Redeeming Value Of Punishment!

-Free Speech!

I read recently about an interesting ruling, by a judge in Missouri, regarding the practice of flashing your headlights to warn oncoming traffic that there was a speed trap ahead; something, that’s considered illegal in many states! But, a federal court, in Missouri, has ruled that penalizing drivers for the headlight flash violates their 1st Amendment right to Free Speech! In his ruling, the Missouri Judge said that the flashing of headlights was essentially a good thing, “…sending a message to bring one’s driving in conformity with the law—whether it be by slowing down, turning on one’s own headlamps at dusk or in the rain, or proceeding with caution.” I share that with you, for it’s illustrative value, as I considered a Bible text, from 2 Chronicles, that I read last week!

-A Bleak Time In History!

To say that it was a bleak time, in Israel’s history, would be an understatement! Following the time of King David’s reign & the early part of King Solomon’s reign, the nation had endured a civil war that split Israel into 2 separate kingdoms— the Northern half, known as “Israel”; and the Southern half, known as “Judah.” We’ve already discussed, in some recent posts, how the lengthy list of kings moving forward had been mostly one bad king after another! So, by the time we get to the end of 2 Chronicles, the Northern half, of Israel, had already faced the judgment of God, having been taken captive, into exile, by Assyria! And, the Southern kingdom of Judah, despite a temporary revival under good King Josiah, had returned to their idol worship & their evil kings! They, too, find themselves on the verge of being captured & exiled to Babylon.

-Misunderstanding God’s Judgment!

I find, in my conversations with many people, that there is a great deal of misunderstanding about the judgment of God! Often, they accuse Him of being harsh & insensitive; which, interestingly, kind of makes them God’s judge, doesn’t it? And, if they haven’t read the Word of God from cover to cover, they’re actually judging God falsely, without all the evidence. I know that in many conversations with people, who’ve read through the Bible for the first time, they have a new perspective on the way that God works with people! When you begin reading in Genesis you see that God gave Adam & Eve every opportunity to do the right thing & He warned them what would happen if they disobeyed! The soul that sins would die! But, even AFTER they disobeyed & brought God’s curse upon the earth, God still showed love, mercy & grace; and, provided covering for their sin!

-He Is A Good God!

Read a little further, in the Scriptures; and, you see that God heard the cries of the Jewish people as they were beaten, enslaved & terribly mistreated by the Egyptians. He sent them Moses to lead them out of Egypt & He gave them a new land… because He is a GOOD GOD! But, again He warned them that He would judge them by uprooting them & sending them into exile in the same way that He dispossessed the wicked nations, of the land, that lived there before them, if they disobeyed Him.  The continuing message, of Scripture, is that God uses everything in life— even the times when He spanks us— to accomplish His ultimate purpose in our lives! And, His ultimate purpose for everyone is redemption! He purposes to redeem the world He created from sin; and, to transform everyone, who repents, into the likeness of Jesus! It’s because God loves us that He punishes our sin to bring us to brokenness; so, that He can redeem us!

A Heart Devoted To God!

-Qualities Of A Good King!

In my last post I talked about the Old Testament descriptions of kings who were said to be either “good” or “evil.” Either they did that which was “good” in the sight of God; or, they did that which was “evil.” We talked, at length, about King Jehoshaphat; and, some of the reasons he was said to be a “good” king! In today’s post, I want to continue pointing out some of the qualities that made him a “good” king! The Scriptures also claim that he was good; because, his heart was devoted to the Lord— ”His heart was courageous in the ways of the Lord…” 2 Chronicles 17:6.  That literally means that his heart was “devoted” to the LORD! Above every other thing, in his life, he was COURAGEOUS in his devotion to the ways of the LORD!

-Jesus: 1st Place In Everything!

The Apostle Paul wrote the Church of Corinth about where Jesus needs to fit in our live:  “He is before all things, and by Him all things hold together. He is also the head of the body, the church; He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that He might come to have first place in everything” Col 1:17-18. We need to be devoted to Jesus in the same way that King Jehoshaphat was devoted to the LORD! 1st PLACE in everything! We need to be honest about this, Church! We give a lot of lip service to Jesus having 1st PLACE in our life; but, does He have 1st PLACE in our lives when it comes to reading the Scriptures every day? Or, does that only happen if you can find time to squeeze it in? If He has 1st PLACE you’ll make reading Scripture to be PRIME TIME in your day! Does He have 1st PLACE in your Sunday morning when it comes to gathering for worship with the rest of your faith community? Are you ready to worship at the start of that service? What about the Sunday School hour? Does He have 1st PLACE during that time slot in your week? Are your kids getting the Bible training during the Sunday School hour that they so desperately need?

-Have You Been Lying To Yourself?

Does He really have 1st PLACE? Or, have you just been lying to yourself? We need to get real with ourselves, Church! We need to get real with God! We need to get real with each other! We need to identify the idols that are pushing Jesus out of that 1st PLACE position in every part of our lives! King Jehoshaphat’s devotion to God was so deep and true that he longed to know God through His Word! In 2 Chronicles, chapter 18, there’s an incident where he had interaction with King Ahab.

-He Sought His Father’s God!

Now, King Ahab was classified by God, in Scripture, as an “evil” king in Israel! And, when he showed interest only in what the false prophets of Baal had to say about a situation, Jehoshaphat insisted on hearing the Word of God from Micaiah, the prophet of Yahweh. And, that was the pattern of King Jehoshaphat’s life! Though he failed to always keep God’s Word, he had an affinity for it! He loved it! So, again, he provides us with another great example to follow. If you don’t long to know God’s Word; if, you’re not hungry for it, you’re not in a good place spiritually! You need to pray for God’s Spirit to help you! What made King Jehoshaphat a good king? Well, his story clearly reveals that he wasn’t a perfect man! He sinned! He was guilty of indiscretions. Not all of his decisions were wise ones! But, God called him a good king because he humbly repented when he was faced with his sin! The world needs men like King Jehoshaphat!

A Book Worth Reading!

-The Bible Not Worth Reading?

Perhaps you remember when GQ magazine came under fire for saying that the Holy Bible wasn’t worth reading! It was back in their April 2018 issue, which ironically was dubbed the “Style Bible” on the cover. The Bible actually came in #12 on their list in the article titled, “20 Books That Aren’t Worth Reading.” Jesse Ball, who authored the article, wrote:  “The Holy Bible is rated very highly by all the people who supposedly live by it but who in actuality have not read it”—Unfortunately, there’s some truth to that, isn’t there? He goes on,  “Those who have read it know there are some good parts, but overall it is certainly not the finest thing that man has ever produced.” Well, #1 he’s mistaken in giving “man” credit for writing it! The authors don’t claim to have written their material by their own inspiration!

-Inspired By God!

Rather, God miraculously inspired some 40 different authors to write the 66 books, of the Bible, over 1500 years. What Mr. Ball writes is pretty subjective! It’s opinion! It’s conjecture, on his part! He added:  “It is repetitive, self-contradictory, sententious, foolish, and even at times ill-intentioned…” I would address that comment by quoting the words of the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 2:14. He absolutely nails the reason Mr. Ball sees the Bible the way he does:  “But the unbeliever does not welcome what comes from God’s Spirit, because it is foolishness to him; he is not able to understand it since it is evaluated spiritually.” To the unbeliever, the words of Scripture seem foolish because they can not understand them.

-The Unbeliever Can’t Understand!

It’s impossible for anyone to grasp the meaning of Scripture unless God’s Holy Spirit is their Teacher! Unless the Holy Spirit indwells them as a believer! “…he is NOT ABLE to understand it…” Paul says; and, because of his lostness, he “…does NOT WELCOME it…” But, I could get testimonials from believers in our church; and, from other Jesus followers, in every corner of the world, that the moment they placed their faith in God to save them from their sin, their eyes were opened to the Scriptures! Their ears were unplugged! They could hear the truth & it resonated with them! It became their life line! They know that God communicates with them through His Word! So, we do not read it like we read any other book; because, it is unlike any other book. I would always encourage you to pray before reading it! To ask God to transform you supernaturally, by the power of His Holy Spirit, as you read it! To open your eyes to all the eternal truths it contains!

-Ask Questions!

As you read the Scriptures, learn to ask questions:  “God, what does that mean? Please teach me!” That’s how I work through every Bible message or lesson as I prepare it! I don’t assume that I am able to plumb the depths of Scripture with just my human reasoning! For example, why did the Spirit of God inspire the Bible writers to include much of the same material the books of 1 & 2 Chronicles contains in 1 & 2 Kings? A section of Scripture that Mr. Ball, the author of the GQ article, perceives as repetitive; and, therefore boring! But, that’s the way an unbeliever would view it. If you’re a believer you should wonder what motivated God to include similar material twice! Perhaps, it is so important that God wanted it included again! So, what is there here that we don’t want to miss? That we should meditate on it! Revel in the mysteries of God!

Death By Neglect!

-Don’t Neglect Your Spiritual Life!

In my last post I referred to a great revival that God brought about, in Israel, under the leadership of an 8-year old king named Josiah (2 Kings 22).  Only God can spread revival, through an entire nation, by using an 8-year old boy! And, in the reforms, which King Josiah incorporated, it’s clear that neglect had been the cause of Israel’s spiritual death.  Genuine revival is evidenced when God’s people no longer neglect meeting together! Josiah was concerned with repairing Israel’s temple (v.3).  The temple was the place where God’s people gathered together to worship Him & offer sacrifices to Him!

-Signs Of Revival!

But, the temple reflected the moral condition of the nation! It had been neglected; and, rundown! It had fallen into a state of disrepair as the people had quit coming together for worship. So, one of the 1st signs of revival, in the faith community, is a renewed zeal for coming together! It is recognizing that it’s impossible to live out the Christian life in isolation from other believers! That’s something we struggle with here in the west, don’t we? We’ve been taught that the Christian life is an individual thing! It’s NOT! God’s people have always been a “community”; from, Israel, as a nation, to the local church today! In fact, it’s absolutely impossible to even live out & obey the more than 60 “one another” or “each other” commands, in Scripture, apart from a Christian community! So, when Josiah “…began to seek God…” the place of worship became a necessity once again (2 Chronicles 34:3). 

-Don’t Neglect The Word Of God!

For those of us who are part of the Morningside Bible Church community, that’s “big church” on Sunday mornings; and, “small group” gatherings throughout the week! We need each other to effectively live out the Christian life! To speak truth into one another! To hold each other accountable! Meeting together matters! There was a 2nd sign of revival under King Josiah— the nation no longer neglected the Word of God! The text reads, “Hilkiah the high priest told Shaphan the court secretary, ‘I have found the book of the law in the Lord’s temple,’ and he gave the book to Shaphan, who read it… Then Shaphan the court secretary told the king, ‘Hilkiah the priest has given me a book,’ and Shaphan read it in the presence of the king” (vs.8,10).  In the repairing of the temple, they uncovered a copy of the book of the Law. That’s a reference to Moses’ writings; or, the 1st five books of the Old Testament. 

-Proper Response To God’s Word!

And, notice the king’s response: “When the king heard the words of the book of the law, he tore his clothes. Then he commanded Hilkiah the priest, Ahikam son of Shaphan, Achbor son of Micaiah, Shaphan the court secretary, and the king’s servant Asaiah: ‘Go and inquire of the Lord for me, the people, and all Judah about the instruction in this book that has been found. For great is the Lord’s wrath that is kindled against us because our ancestors have not obeyed the words of this book in order to do everything written about us’” (vs.11-13). As the book, of God’s law, was read to him, Josiah realized how far the nation had drifted from the Lord. His shock points to the fact that the people had been unfamiliar with it for a long time! Again, I’m afraid that this is so relevant to our own nation & the church here in the West. So many sermons have become little more than the reading of a “token” Scripture verse misused to support our human efforts through self-help strategies! Josiah said, “Go inquire of the Lord.” And, so must we!

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!

 

Leadership Development!

-Staying For The Long Term!

This past May marked 17 years of ministry at Morningside Bible Church for my wife and me.  I vividly remember that 1st weekend, of April 2003, when we came to candidate. After a potluck lunch, on Sunday, we gathered together in the gym for some Q & A time & someone asked me how long I could see myself staying here if the church called me to be their Teaching Pastor. I responded that whether it was me; or, some other guy, that the church really needed to call someone who would stay & oversee the ministry for the next 20-25 years.  I admitted that I couldn’t promise I’d be here for 20-25 years; but, that if I was called, I would come with that mindset & it would have to be an incredibly clear leading of the Lord to move us!

-Leadership Transition!

So, here we are 17 years later! I have more gray hear now; and, I think it’s wise to begin talking about a transfer of leadership; even, if it’s still 5-10 years away. We don’t want to be taken by surprise! It is something that we’ve talked about, from time to time, in our Elder meetings. Those were some of the thoughts that came to mind as I read about the successful transition of leadership, for the nation of Israel, from Moses to Joshua as told in the O.T. books of Deuteronomy & Joshua. So, let’s audit how one leader, Moses, birthed another leader, Joshua.

-Disciple A Leader!

In fact, I would suggest to you that a “leader” is what you’ll always get when you disciple someone effectively. You may make a disciple; but, a leader is the by-product. That’s what Jesus got! He took 11 men, &turned them into disciples who became leaders, of the early church, by the power of God’s Holy Spirit. And, it says they turned the world upside down after spending 3 1/2 years under Jesus leadership development; and, the church has thrived whenever it was actively making disciples & training up leaders.

-Long Term Success!

The story of Moses & Joshua is an O.T. example of that. The long term success of any institution is dependent on an effective transfer of leadership! While Moses officially passes the leadership baton to Joshua at the end of Deuteronomy, all the prep work was done during the 40-year interim between the Exodus, from Egypt; and, possessing the land.  It’s for that reason that we can say that Joshua’s story doesn’t really begin the book of Joshua, named after him. It’s where we 1st see him stepping into leadership; but, that ability was learned in the trenches from Moses.

-Investing In Leaders!

Before he could wear Moses’ shoes, Joshua had to live with Moses! He had to be at his side to observe the right way to lead & the wrong way to lead. And, Moses provided him with both good examples of leadership and bad! I can only assume, based on Moses’ humility & meekness, that he often debriefed with Joshua about leadership. You might recall that, early on, Moses began learning the nuances of mentoring, discipling & leadership development from his own father-in-law in Exodus 18. Jethro told him that he was wearing himself out trying to take on all the leadership responsibilities; and, he gave him a method for developing additional leaders; and, from that early lesson, it appears that Moses gained a passion for it. He personally selected & invested in leaders, none, more than Joshua! Next week we’ll spend the time to look specifically at several examples of the way Moses prepared Joshua to lead!

 

Don’t Be Deceived!

-How To Approach Your Faith!

To beware of something is to be wary; to be cautious; to be careful! It means you can’t assume anything! You take all the necessary precautions. And, that’s how Scripture tells us to approach our faith! Beware that you’re not deceived! Be aware of the genuineness of your faith. Be sure it’s not counterfeit.  “Test yourselves,” the Apostle Paul told the Corinthians,  “to see if you are in the faith. Examine yourselves. Or do you yourselves not recognize that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless you fail the test” 2 Cor. 13:5. Put your faith to the test, Paul says! Examine it! Compare it with Scripture! Does it match up? Is it authentic?

-The Holy Spirit’s Work In You!

The Apostle Paul also wrote the Church of Rome and told them, that, “The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God” Romans 8:16. God’s Holy Spirit indwells every believer! I know when He’s there! You know it too! And, He Himself will convince you that you belong to God because you’ve denounced your own worthiness & you’re clinging to the righteousness of Christ to save you! Numbers 16 unpacks the story of Korah; how he incited rebellion against Moses because of his desire to hold a more prominent position of leadership in the Jewish nation. This raises a red flag in regard to the genuineness of his faith.

-Desiring To Lead!

A desire to lead is, in itself, not evil! It’s not necessarily evil to be a leader! In fact, one of the qualifications, of an Elder in the church, is that they hold a “desire” to actually be a leader. It’s really the rest of the Biblical qualifications that either confirm or deny that the person is fit to be a leader in the church.  What is the motive behind that desire to obtain a position of leadership? That was Korah’s issue!

-Rebellion Against Leadership!

The Scripture gives us a peek into his motives in the first 3 verses of Numbers 16:  “Now Korah son of Izhar, son of Kohath, son of Levi, with Dathan and Abiram, sons of Eliab, and On son of Peleth, sons of Reuben, took 250 prominent Israelite men who were leaders of the community and representatives in the assembly, and they rebelled against Moses. They came together against Moses and Aaron and told them, ‘You have gone too far! Everyone in the entire community is holy, and the Lord is among them. Why then do you exalt yourselves above the Lord’s assembly?’” Korah sought a higher level of leadership by rebelling against the legitimate leader; who was God’s choice to lead— Moses! His desire, for Moses’ position of leadership, was illegitimate! It was motivated by a lust for power & a desire to be recognized! His evil motive was exposed by his methods!

-Undermining Legitimate Leadership!

And, then it says he set off to undermine Moses by gathering 250 prominent men, who were also leaders in the camp. Rebels always seek to gather a crowd when they oppose leadership because that gives the appearance that they’re right & the legitimate leader is wrong! No doubt he did so by whispering, spreading rumors & back-biting the current leadership. But, the one true God is more than capable of righting the wrong; and, He will right all wrongs Romans 12:19 tells us! Moses doesn’t defend himself! He puts the situation in God’s court (vs.6,7); and, God judges Korah severely! The earth opens up and swallows up Korah and all 250 rebels with him! That’s intense! The application? It tells us to submit to God’s sovereign plan & to submit to those leaders He has placed in our lives!

 

Beware Of Yourself!

-Evil Appears As A Friend!

Philip Yancey is a popular Christian author who used “Chinese Opera”— in his book, A Skeptic’s Guide To Faith— to help illustrate a point.  “In Chinese opera,” Yancey points out, “Heroes wear a certain color of face paint with a few simple strokes, while villains wear a different palette in complex patterns. In real life,” he continues, “unlike Chinese opera, we cannot always tell the heroes & the villains by the color of paint on their faces. More often, evil appears as a friend with a smell like perfume.” In real life, he said, it’s not always easy to tell who the hero is and who the villain is.

-Heroes & Villains!

When we read through the book of Numbers, in the Old Testament, we’re introduced to Korah, who rebelled against Moses until God opened up the earth and it swallowed up he & his followers! We also read how Moses struck the rock, to produce water in the desert when God had commanded him to speak to the rock; and, how Israel failed to fully trust that God would go before them, into a battle & the consequences of their disobedience. We also read about the Prophet Balaam’s talking donkey; or, more accurately how God used Balaam’s donkey to speak to him because he wasn’t listening to God. In each of these instances, there was a hero & a villain; and, the text of Scripture is pretty forthright about who was who!

-Blindly Believing We’re Right!

Today, I’d like to encourage you to look at each one of these stories through a little different lens. I want you to look at them through the eyes of the villain! Here’s why! Because each of us has more in common with the antagonist, in the story, than we really want to admit. I don’t believe that any of them started out being the scoundrel! But, they deceived themselves! And, just like each of them, we have the ability to deceive ourselves! We can blindly believe that we’re in the right; and, everyone else, in our story, is in the wrong!

-Worthless Religion!

Let me tell you why self-deception is such a critical subject for us to talk about— because God has included multiple Scriptures to warn us about deceiving ourselves! In other words, it’s something we sinful humans are prone to do! We are prone to deceive ourselves about a lot of things; but, we’re especially inclined to deceive ourselves spiritually! In Luke 6:46, Jesus asked those, who were listening to Him, “Why do you call Me, Lord, Lord, and do not do what I tell you?” And, James 1:26 says, “If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless.” In other words, you can deceive your heart about your faith!

-Not Everyone Who Calls Him Lord!

Jesus also said: “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord!’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of My Father in heaven. On that day many will say to Me, ‘Lord, Lord, didn’t we prophesy in Your name, drive out demons in Your name, and do many miracles in Your name?’ Then I will announce to them, ‘I never knew you! Depart from Me” Matthew 7:21-23. Let me paraphrase Jesus’ words— the person you are most easily deceived by is yourself! Beware of yourself! That’s what Jesus is really saying there, isn’t it? Self-deception is so serious that you can think you’re a believer & a follower, of Jesus when you aren’t; and, by the very definition of “self-deception,” you wouldn’t know it because you’ve deceived yourself into thinking you’re saved! But, the truth will one day be revealed!

Holy People!

-God Is Determined!

Every book, of the Bible, is all about God’s determination to call out a people, for Himself, who will confess their sin & submit to His plan for their life. That’s the thread of the Gospel that runs through the entire Word of God. That’s the call, of God, for Israel; and, that’s His call for your life also! To Israel, God said:  “You are to be holy to Me because I, Yahweh, am holy, and I have set you apart from the nations to be Mine” Lev. 20:26.  I think, of that, as the key verse in the book of Leviticus. God is determined to assemble a people, with whom to dwell, for all eternity! A people that He sets apart; that He sanctifies; that He separates to Himself— that’s what it means to be holy!

-Set Apart For God!

God was determined, with Israel under the Old Covenant; and, with the church under the New Covenant, to set apart a people for Himself from all nations! God has always had a love for the nations! For every ethnic group! One reason that any kind of racism or favoritism, for one’s own people group, is so reprehensible is because of God’s plan to have every ethnic group represented in heaven. God desire’s to dwell among all earth’s people groups for all eternity!

-To Bring Glory To Himself!

I don’t know that I’ll ever understand why God would desire to dwell with us sinful, undeserving people; other, then to highlight & bring glory to Himself for His faithful love, mercy & grace toward us! That, though He condemns our sin, He makes a provision for fellowship with Him through the atoning sacrifice, of Jesus, on the cross.  And, the moment any Israelite; or, anyone else will confess that they’re a sinner— that they’ve broken God’s law— and, they humble themselves by bowing, in worship, before Him & giving up their lives to Him, God will save them because He desires to dwell with us! It’s His desire to add you to His family!

-The Purpose Of The Tabernacle!

That’s the point, of the Old Testament tabernacle. The tabernacle became the visible place, of God’s dwelling, among His people, even as they wandered through the wilderness on their way to the promised land.  “And let them make me a sanctuary; that I may dwell among them,” God said (Exodus 25:8).  The tabernacle & the temple—that King Solomon would build in the future—was for the purpose of giving Israel a visible sign that God was real & that He dwelt among them. And, just as God was determined to set Israel apart, He’s determined to set us apart also.  We are called to be God’s kingdom of priests.

-A Royal Priesthood!

God’s Spirit inspired the Apostle Peter to write:  “You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for His possession, so that you may proclaim the praises of the One who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light” 1 Peter 2:9. That’s the New Testament church! God doesn’t intend that we would live our lives in pursuit of selfish interests! He saved us to make us “priests” who minister to the world! If you’re saved, you belong to Him! You need to align your life with His plans for you:  “Don’t you know that your body is a sanctuary (the WORD is TENT or TABERNACLE) of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought at a price. Therefore glorify God in your body” 1 Cor 6:19,20. As God’s tabernacle, we are the visible sign of God’s presence to the nations!