Saturday, November 30, 2019

Kings: Ahab and Elijah - when following God is lonely

1 Kings 16:29 tells of the beginning of Ahab's reign.  Thus far, he was the most openly wicked king of Israel.  Before him, kings would set up golden calves and say they were worshiping the true God through them.  They weren't.  God's second commandment expressly says not to worship him with images.  But northern Israel was geographically cut off from the true temple and true Christian education. 

Ahab did not even pretend to worship the true God.  He set up a temple for Baal in the capital that he set up in Samaria.  He married Jezebel of Tyre, the center of Baal worship.  And they persecuted anyone who spoke out against them.  Does the world punish people who speak out against the popular gods of our day?  Doesn't the worst strife come from within people who call themselves God's people?

This brings on the ministry of Elijah in chapter 17.  Since Baal was the fertility god, and his followers thought they could get him to send rain if they could influence him and Asherah to have sex by also having sex, Elijah told them that God would not send rain for the next three years unless Elijah asked him to.  This would show that all their religion was based on licentiousness that had no effect.  Their rebellion was in vain.  And since Elijah was speaking against what they really loved, their passions, he lived in exile while God fed him through ravens.

And he escaped to Zarephath where a widow and her son took him in.  He asked her to give him the last of her bread, and as long as he lived with her, her jar did not run out of oil, and she always had bread to eat.  And when her son suddenly died, Elijah revived him.

Does following the Lord make you lonely?  In the state of Georgia, almost everyone thinks that they are Christian, but do they actually follow the Lord?  I came to Christ when I was about 11, and I was very lonely through high school because the people who started out as my friends wanted to follow the world and belong with the popular crowd.  I decided that following the Lord was more important.

Later on, I found my kind of people, but mostly I must be content with loneliness.  I'll quote someone, and if she reads this, she'll know I'm quoting her: "There's Christian, and then there's really Christian."  Really Christian is lonely.  But those who follow the Lord will find him sustaining them with ravens.  And those who stand up for those who follow him will find their oil not running out and their hearts satisfied.  And I simply need to believe that God listens to me when I pray and is for me and not against me.  And I praise God every day for those who stand by me and back me up, providing a visible sign of God's love for me.  And I pray that God will keep them strong, too.

Sunday, October 13, 2019

Kings: Baasha, Elah, Zimri, and Omri

1 Kings 15:33-16:7 describe the 24-year reign of Baasha king of Israel.  He had deposed the dynasty of Jeroboam.  The Lord said he would as a judgment on him setting up golden calves to rival the temple in Jerusalem.  Baasha came along and killed his son Nadab, and then he did the same things.  So Jehu son of Hanani came and said that his dynasty would end.

Elah, his son, is described from 16:8-14.  He reigned only two years.  His official Zimri plotted against him and assassinated him.  Then he became king for 7 days.  His reign is described from 16:15-20.  Omri became the commander of the army and set a seige to the city of his palace.  Zimri set his own palace on fire and died, and Omri became king.

In history, Omri set up northern Israel as a world power such as it became known as Omri-land.  In the Bible, he only gets a blip in verses 21-28.  He's more known as being the father of the most notorious evil king of Israel, Ahab. 

Northern Israel was formed as a judgment on Solomon beginning to follow false gods.  Then the northern kings immediately set up false images and said the people could worship the true God through them, which goes against God's commandment against setting up graven images.  And each dynasty was eliminated for doing things only to be followed by another king who did the same things and only made it worse. 

Meanwhile, in the southern kingdom of Judah, they had kings who followed God but also compromised with false forms of worship. 

But each time, God kept his promise.  In the south, he kept David's dynasty going until it became so wicked that he kept his other promise of sending them into exile.  In the north, he kept his promise and send them into exile as none of the kings followed God. 

And as we see leader after leader fail to correct wrongs in society such as abortion and sex trafficking, we may see the same judgments on our countries.  But I sure hope that the only true King, Jesus, comes back before things get worse.  He kept his promises in the BC days.  He will keep his promise to us to send him back to complete his kingdom and end evil and death for all time.  And if you do not come to believe and follow him, then you will be swept away in his judgment, the one we all deserve had it not been for his grace in saving the people of his Church. 

Sunday, October 6, 2019

King Nadab - true v. false worship and the irony of God's justice

In 1 Kings 15:25-32, we have the account of King Nadab of the northern kingdom of Israel.  He is Jeroboam's son.  Since Jeroboam apostatized from the true worship of the true God by setting up golden calves to rival the temple in Jerusalem, prophets told him that his dynasty would end. 

Under his son Nadab, the dynasty did end.  Baasha killed Nadab after two years and became the next king of Israel. 

It's interesting that Jeroboam's son bears the same name as a son of Aaron who also was killed instantly when he offered strange fire at the altar in a way that was opposed to what Yahweh commanded.  Both Nadabs prove true the classic Reformed interpretation of God's second commandment to not make graven images to try to worship him.  The classic reformed view is that if a kind of worship is not commanded by God in Scripture, if it has not positive precedent in the Old or New Testaments, then it is to be forbidden. 

God commanded Aaron's sons to offer sacrifices through a kind of fire.  Nadab and Abihu offered a different kind of fire and were killed instantly.  God does not kill other people on the spot who offer a strange kind of worship other than what God commanded, but we must beware that we are not worshiping God the way that the pagans worship their gods. 

The second Nadab is the son of the man who said Israel could worship the true God through images of calves, much like Aaron did when Moses was on Sinai.  God specifically commanded not to worship him through images. 

But here is the irony.  God used Baasha to kill Nadab and end Jeroboam's dynasty, and then Baasha did the same things.  It is up to God to bring judgment by whoever he wants whenever he wants, or to have mercy and save the people from their sins.  But I still can't help thinking why.  Why would God use someone to punish someone else when they do the same things?

Even today, we see political divisions arguing for life when each side demeans life.  Trump says that unborn lives are sacred, and I wholeheartedly agree and that's why I voted for him.  At the same time, foreign families are living in cages at the border.  Then again, the people that speak against having immigrants living in cages at the border are doing nothing about it.  They are only wasting time trying to impeach Trump.  Meanwhile, I vote knowing I can't do anything about the unborn or the immigrants.  I want to find ways to protect all life from conception to natural death.  And I want people to come into the country legally but not be treated as animals while they await legal process. 

I can do nothing but pray and await God to sort things out in his time.  And I also am a hypocrite and don't want to be.  Only by the grace of God go I. 

But ultimately God will bring justice to all people, and he will have mercy by bringing that justice onto Jesus instead of those he saves.  He has mercy on whom he will have mercy.  And both his mercy and justice make no sense at times.

Saturday, August 31, 2019

King Asa

1 Kings 15 starting at verse 9 tells of a righteous king of Judah named Asa.  If Abijam, his father, really did repent of his ways and become Abijah, then Asa would have been influenced by that.  He was the first king since Solomon to work at clearing his country of Baal and Asherah worship.  He even removed his grandmother from being queen mother.  He made many reforms.  There's this odd story in the passage where Asa went to war against King Baasha of Israel.  He took treasure from the temple, gave some to the king of Aram to betray Baasha and help defeat him, and the king of Aram did so.  This shows great compromise on Asa's part.

Which should not surprise me when I read 2 Chronicles 14-16 that at this point afterward, Asa would not listen to God's prophets and when he got a serious disease in his feet, he would not trust God but only doctors.  And then he died leaving Jehoshaphat as king, a good but compromised man.

What happened?  Was he man that God saved from his sins but who still became more sinful in his old age through senility?  Was he not truly a follower of God after all?  Nobody but God can say for sure, but God still used him to clear Judah of idolatry.  God can use anybody.  But since Judah and Israel were once one nation, he should never have looked to help from a pagan king in his war against the north.  And instead of repenting and turning from his ways when confronted by the prophet Hanani, he put him in prison. 

It is like in recent days when Joshua Harris defected from the faith.  God used him in many ways to get the church thinking about how best to be pure and faithful to the Lord with our bodies (though he proposed a legalistic way that doesn't really work for our culture), but then he must not have truly followed the Lord or else he wouldn't have defected.  Perhaps he'll return, and perhaps God still saved Asa despite himself.  Doesn't he do the same for me and you?

All the same, true followers of the Lord may backslide, but it won't be permanent, and the Holy Spirit will bring them back to the church in this life.  I hope we can say the same for Asa.

Saturday, August 24, 2019

Abijah v. Abijam and staying accountable to true worship

1 Kings 15 introduces us to Abijah, Rehoboam's son and successor to David's throne.  The NIV calls him Abijah to match his story in 2 Chronicles 13.  The ESV calls him Abijam.  Abijah means "my father is YHWH", and Abijam means "my father is the sea."

The 1 Kings account shows a wicked king who followed after the idolatry of his father, and the name Abijam would more reflect the pagan leanings of Rehoboam and his son.  The 2 Chronicles account gives a story of a man who was attacked by Jeroboam but rebuked him and all of northern Israel for turning away from the worship of the true God and setting up golden calves and pretending to worship him.  So which man do we have?  Do we have Abijah who loved God's glory or do we have Abijam who fooled around with idols?

Since both accounts are in the Bible, and the Bible is all true, then both accounts are true somehow, but I'm not sure how.

Just like the Bible shows a Rehoboam who was foolish in his young days and caused the kingdom to split, but then humbled himself when a prophet told him to stop attacking the north, but then still had constant warfare with the north, the inspired Scriptures also show a much compromised Abijah.  Maybe he grew up in a compromised religion where he could worship God one day but then play with the world on other days.  Perhaps when he was older and could no longer take the constant warfare with Jeroboam, he came to his senses and rebuked the other king for his apostasy, much like the thief on the cross who repented and rebuked the other thief for mocking our Savior as he was dying.

In the end, I don't know completely how the two accounts jive, but they do somehow.  Much like how God doesn't always make sense in my life, but I know he's good and that he loves me.  One thing is true.  Judah still had the worship of the true God, and Israel abandoned him but pretended that they still worshiped him.  And that accountability of worshiping God on his terms kept the southern kings on David's throne no matter how much their hearts strayed.  In the same way, we must stay with the God of the Scriptures who sent Jesus to die for our sins.  Our hearts will naturally stray from the path, but if we have the accountability of reading the Bible every day and going to church every week, especially when we don't feel like it, the Holy Spirit will be faithful to guide us back to the right way of worship and living.

Saturday, August 17, 2019

Rehoboam concludes: Mixed testimonies

When we are first introduced to Rehoboam, he succeeds his father Solomon to the throne and then the kingdom divides into northern Israel (Ephraim) and southern Judah.  Rehoboam rules the south and tries to wage war against the north to reunite, but a prophet tells him to stop, and he does.  It seems that Rehoboam humbled himself.

However, in the conclusion to his reign in 1 Kings 14, it says that he had constant war with Jeroboam.  Perhaps his repentance was a false repentance, and he had to keep up with the north.  Jeroboam in the north set up golden calves to compete with the temple in Jerusalem in the south.  Then maybe Rehoboam decided that it would be a good idea to set up Asherah poles and sacred stones to bring them back to the south.  Neither king followed the true God who set him up on their thrones.  So God sent Pharaoh Shishak from Egypt who plundered the temple's treasures, and Rehoboam replaced the gold shields with bronze ones and set up guards.

However 2 Chronicles 12:12 says that the southern king did humble himself and that there were true worshipers of God in Judah.  The Lord did not destroy him and kept his line going.

If God had not saved me, my heart would be just as wayward.  It is anyway from time to time.  I go days and years without a spot, and then I make a huge error and either I or somebody else gets the consequences to it, and I have to repent and rethink God's plan for me.  But I rest on God's mercy given through Jesus's blood, and I realize I need to let him work and stop thinking.  But I can't shut down my brain.  I'm setting up my own versions of Asherah poles and golden calves, and I need to stop and obey the Lord.

And then, I see a nation that never truly followed God following him even less, and I have to sit with the faithful ones and call out sin where I see it, but am powerless to turn the tide of depravity all around me.  Lord help us all.  Send Christ soon before things get worse.

Thursday, August 8, 2019

Abijah and Ahijah

Chapter 14 of 1 Kings starts with Jeroboam and ends with a recap of Rehoboam.  Jeroboam's son, Abijah, gets ill, and he sends his queen out in disguise to Ahijah the prophet to ask about Abijah.  The king did not want the prophet who made him king to know that he had sent his wife.

But when she approached the door of Ahijah's house, he said, "Why is the king's wife in disguise?"  He told her that he made Jeroboam king, but Jeroboam has done nothing but betray the Lord with his false idols and golden calves.  He tells her that when she gets home, her son will die and that his dynasty will end.  The passage also says that Jeroboam's son actually followed the true Lord.

When we consider Abijah and That Guy who got eaten by the lion in the previous passage, we wonder why God took them away from this earth so soon.  There are no truly good people on earth except for Jesus, but there are people God redeemed from their sins who do follow him to the best of their ability although not perfectly.  Why did God take the one good son of this treacherous king away so young, and why did he have That Guy killed so soon when he committed the one sin of eating with someone before he got home?  Also, why did my faithful mother die of cancer at age 50 and why did the thirteen-year-old son of one of our pastors get killed in a car wreck many years ago?

It's like God has mercy on some of his faithful people by taking them home at a young age.  They don't have to live to see further corruption in our society, and they are taken before they can be corrupted themselves.  Although we who are still living grieve them, they are happy in the arms of Jesus and will never cry again.

Meanwhile, the wicked people live on and on, and unless God rescues them from themselves, this is the only heaven they will know.  In the end, it is much better for the faithful ones who live short, but impactful lives on earth, then for the ones who live long but only waste their potential.

I will finish with Rehoboam in the next post.

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

That guy: Prophet dies doing what God wants

Here in my study of Kings, I come to the first of many disturbing stories in 1 Kings 13.  Jeroboam is king of northern Israel, but he betrays the Lord by building golden calves so that people would not go south to worship in Jerusalem like the Lord wanted.  A nameless prophet comes from Judah as he is sacrificing at an altar and says that one day Josiah will come smash the altar and turn it into a bathroom.

King Jeroboam tries to seize him and kill him, but That Guy calls on the Lord who shrivels Jeroboam's hand.  Jeroboam apologizes and That Guy restores his hand.  The king invites the prophet to dinner, but That Guy says no, he must go home a different way and not eat or drink with anyone or the Lord will kill him.

On the way back home on a different route, That Guy is stopped by an older prophet who invites him over for dinner.  That Guy says no, the Lord will kill him if he stops to eat.  The old jerk lies and says God told him to stop there.  That Guy goes in to eat, and then the old jerk tells him that since That Guy disobeyed God, he would send a lion to kill him.  That Guy leaves, and sure enough, a lion comes to kill him.  The lion stands next to his body and his donkey on the road.  Finally the old jerk buries him and tells northern Israel that God will indeed keep his word and destroying King Jeroboam who is still betraying God by sacrificing to false idols.

The main thing I think in reading this account is "Why God?"  That Guy really thought he was doing the right thing and finally getting a break along the road back home.  But I'm reminded of two things.

1) God keeps his promises.  If God says That Guy will die if he eats with someone as he goes back home, then he will follow through.  Nobody deserves a reprieve from the Lord, not even his most devout people.  He killed That Guy right away.  He killed Jeroboam later on, and even later on sent Israel into exile to Assyria.  All people deserve to die for their sins right away, including me.  When he sends his collectors is up to him.  He caused Rachel Held Evans to die young.  Rob Bell is still alive.  They both deny core teachings of Scripture and face judgment if they don't repent.  We must all repent and trust in Jesus to die in our place if we don't want to die for our own sins.

2) God will not say one thing and then say the exact opposite later.  He will not contradict himself.  If he says to not eat with someone on the way home on your journey, he will not change his mind and say, "Okay, you can eat here."  I certainly don't think he commanded the old jerk to lie to That Guy.  That was the old prophet's sin.  He did want to test That Guy.  This proves true today.  If God says that any sin outside marriage between in a man and a woman is sin, he's not going to change his mind with the times.  People may say he did that with the kosher laws, but he actually fulfilled those laws in Jesus.  His sexual standards have not changed.  His roles for men and women have not changed.  Our God does not change his mind. 

And because God does not change his mind, you can still believe that he saved southern Judah's kingdom and that there will always be a man on David's throne.  And although Judah also got exiled to Babylon, they came back, and Jesus was born.  And he died and yet is alive forevermore and always lives to intercede between his Father and us.  And we need no one else.

Saturday, July 27, 2019

Jeroboam begins

Jeroboam's story starts in 1 Kings 11.  This chapter recounts how Solomon's wives and concubines led him astray from the one true God, and he followed after their false gods.  At some point in time, Solomon had put Jeroboam in charge of his forced labor.  While he was walking along one day, Ahijah the Shilonite took Jeroboam's robe and tore it into twelve pieces.  Jeroboam got to keep 10 parts, showing that he would be king of ten tribes of Israel while Judah got to keep two parts: Judah and Benjamin.  Solomon heard about this and turned into king Saul, seeking out the life of his successor.  Jeroboam fled to Egypt until Solomon's death.

Then he returned and had his famous spat with king Rehoboam.  In chapter 11, God had told Jeroboam that if he would be faithful, he would keep his kingdom going.  Jeroboam was not faithful.  He set knew that the people of the northern kingdom would still want to go to Jerusalem to make sacrifices to God, so he set up golden calves in Bethel and Dan for the people to worship.  Thus the people of northern Israel, later known as Ephraim (Jeroboam was from Ephraim's tribe), bowed down to graven images while pretending to worship the one true God.  However, you cannot worship the one true God with images because he commanded not to be worshiped through images.  If you are using images, you are worshiping a lesser god.  Jeroboam's kingdom would not last.

Through reading George Schwab's book on Judges, Right in Their Own Eyes, Schwab makes a point that Judges, Samuel, and Kings were written as an apologetic as to why the ruler of Israel must come from Judah's tribe and no one else.  Although I somewhat disagree as to the symbolization of many names and places that he seems to make, his point is valid.  Solomon made a mess of Judah, and his sons made it even worse, but in the end, the southern kingdom of Judah stayed faithful to true worship of YHWH while Ephraim fell into idolatrous worship and found no cure.  All of the northern kings, though set up by God, worshiped the golden calves and moved on to even more wicked worship of Baal which led to cult prostitution and child sacrifice.  And it is through Judah that Jesus came.  Although his kingly ancestors eventually fell into exile, he rose up and remains a king and priest forever after the order of Melchizedek. 

And we must also remember that even if names and places turn into symbols and parables, it does not mean that they did not happen.  The accounts of God's historical narratives in Scripture really happened in history from creation to the exile of Israel.  They may point to a tabernacle or the need for a Judaean king, but they are types and shadows God established to point to his true King and Temple.  And some of the bizarre and disturbing stories that soon follow are definitely object lessons for Israel while they certainly occurred in real time and space.

Saturday, July 20, 2019


A while back, I had decided that I want to blog about the Judges and the Kings because nobody really talks about them in church.  However, they make up a majority of the Bible.  I blogged about the Judges, and now I will do the kings starting with Rehoboam.  I might even go chapter by chapter. 

Why skip Saul, David, and Solomon?  They seem to get more airwaves than the rest.  I may go back to them. 

And why go chapter by chapter when I didn't do that for Judges?  Because ages ago at Trevecca, we sang the Elijah oratorio by Mendelssohn, and there were people who didn't know Elijah's story.  It's one of the things that made me want to go into Christian education.  Because, what are we teaching in churches if not the core stories of the Bible?  We are raising Biblically illiterate people who feel good about themselves but aren't convicted of sin, and that needs to change.

And as always, I get caught up in my schedule.  Pray that I can be consistent with this.

In starting with Rehoboam, I will start with Deuteronomy 17:14-20 where Moses tells the people what to do if they decide they want a king.  God told them to pick a king that he chose who would not accumulate great wealth or many wives.  David and Solomon did just that.  They accumulated lots of riches, especially Solomon, and they both had many wives that lead to much trouble.

Then fast-forward to 1 Samuel 8, when the people ask for a king.  Samuel warns that he will take their sons and daughters and make them slaves and increase their taxes.  Then the people go ahead and appoint the most powerful looking guy they could find as king. 

Do you ever get what you wanted only to realize it's not what you wanted?  And did you ever get into a position only to realize you couldn't handle it?  I've done all of that.  So much that I still don't know what I want.  What I know I don't want is Rehoboam's position.

He is found in 1 Kings 12 and 2 Chronicles 10 and 11.  He became king in succession to his father Solomon.  Solomon's glorious reign had a price.  He had many slaves who built the temple and his palace, 1000 women, and he apparently made Jeroboam really mad who went to live in Egypt for a while.  When Solomon passed, Jeroboam came back and asked if he would ease the tax burden on the people.

Rehoboam asked his father's advisers who said yes, then the people will love you.  He asked his friends who said no, be even more imposing than your father and exert your prowess.  He followed his heart and took the latter advice.  Thus Jeroboam took ten of Israel's tribes and split them off to form a new kingdom, the northern kingdom of Israel, and he became king.  But because God promised that David will have someone on his throne forever, he preserved Judah and Benjamin for Rehoboam and his dynasty. 

Rehoboam tried to send Adoniram to calm things down, but they stoned him to death because he was the task master under King Solomon.  Then he tried to make war on the northern tribes, but Shemaiah  the prophet came and told him not to.  He finally listened, and now we have two kingdoms. 

Ironically, "Rehoboam" means may he expand.  He did not expand his kingdom, but one kingdom did become two.

And God did keep his promise.  When Solomon's 700 wives and 300 concubines led his heart astray to other gods, God said he would tear 10 tribes from his son.  He did that.  And God said that David would always have a son on his throne.  He did that by still letting Rehoboam have a kingdom.  And I think with much opposition, God finally humbled this young man's heart so that it would follow God.  He continues to do that to me, and I hope he does that for you.

Monday, July 1, 2019

John 2: When the thrill is gone

Last week, I read John 2 again, about Jesus's first miracle.  Jesus was at a wedding with his mom, and the couple ran out of wine.  Mary came to Jesus to help fix the problem, but Jesus said it was not his time yet.  Not to be deterred, his mom told the servants to do what he said.  So he told them to fill jars with water.  There are the same jars that the Jews used to ritually cleanse themselves before a meal.  He turned that water into wine, the best wine yet.  It wasn't the cheap stuff they give when people are already drunk, but really good wine.

This was Jesus's first miracle, and it was a shot at Jewish rules about cleanliness.  Yes, God had given rules in Leviticus and Deuteronomy about mildews, unclean food, and not touching dead bodies to show that Israel as God's covenant people had to be separate from the world around them.  However, the Jews in Jesus's day had made extra rules around the rules so that they would not accidentally break them, and they made elaborate washing rituals to safeguard themselves against uncleanness. 

These rules caused them to miss the Messiah when he came, and they caused the general public to lose joy in God.  Jesus did not come to end the law.  He came to fulfill it.  And he came to end empty rules and rituals with a true relationship with himself.  And while he wants his followers to obey God's commandments and lives as aliens among the secular culture, he still wants us to find him better than anything the world says is the best thing.

And just when life seems empty and all the joy runs out, Jesus comes and brings the best wine and the best thrills again.

In my life, I thought I needed to either be having children or teaching children to find my fulfillment.  While I still want all that, I time came when I could do neither after some serious errors, and I didn't know if life was worth living anymore.  Then, God showed me himself and other aspects of church life, and he showed me how to love my husband even when our unions are not producing children, and he showed me that he is better than anything I think fulfills me in this life.

In 21st century America, the secular world is disenchanted with the world because it has rejected God, and it must reenchant the world with something.  The most popular thing these days is unbridled sexuality.  The movies, TV, and music say that to be truly free and happy, you must have no restraints on your sexuality, whether it's rules, church, or pregnancy.  Get together with whoever you want and look at whoever you want with no responsibilities.  But then, they get to that moment, and they realize that sex is actually boring and looks nothing like the media portrays.  It is why a man can have a gorgeous wife and still feel unsatisfied.  If he doesn't have God, he only has a poor substitute that will disappoint. 

In the end, sex, relationships, and even finding true love were meant to disappoint.  They were meant to run out.  We were made for Jesus only, and when all that runs out, he is the one that brings true joy and happiness that far exceeds any pleasures in this world.  If only we would come to him before we ruin our lives with the world's idols.  We'll find that even when we follow the rules and wait till marriage to the opposite gender to have sex, that nothing can satisfy quite so much as when we worship God.  And when God comes first, all the things we love will be so much better because we love them in relation to him.  Will you give up the things of this world to follow our Christ today?

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Simon the sorcerer and other False Christian leadership

I felt led to take one of my Bible studies that I'm writing and turn it into a blog.  I plan to not do this often, but I feel like many people have been hurt by false believers in the church, both in and out of leadership.  It was not my plan to write two blogs in a row about false believers, but I hope the Lord blesses this and heals hearts through it.  And also encourage people to come to church despite its hypocrites. 

Acts 8:9-25

Now for some time a man named Simon had practiced sorcery in the city and amazed all the people of Samaria. He boasted that he was someone great, 10 and all the people, both high and low, gave him their attention and exclaimed, “This man is rightly called the Great Power of God.” 11 They followed him because he had amazed them for a long time with his sorcery. 12 But when they believed Philip as he proclaimed the good news of the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women. 13 Simon himself believed and was baptized. And he followed Philip everywhere, astonished by the great signs and miracles he saw.
14 When the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to Samaria. 15 When they arrived, they prayed for the new believers there that they might receive the Holy Spirit, 16 because the Holy Spirit had not yet come on any of them; they had simply been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 17 Then Peter and John placed their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.
18 When Simon saw that the Spirit was given at the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money 19 and said, “Give me also this ability so that everyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.”
20 Peter answered: “May your money perish with you, because you thought you could buy the gift of God with money! 21 You have no part or share in this ministry, because your heart is not right before God.22 Repent of this wickedness and pray to the Lord in the hope that he may forgive you for having such a thought in your heart. 23 For I see that you are full of bitterness and captive to sin.”
24 Then Simon answered, “Pray to the Lord for me so that nothing you have said may happen to me.”
On reading this passage, I observe that Simon the Sorcerer started showing signs of believing in Jesus when his followers started following Philip who did signs and wonders.  With money, Simon wanted to buy the ability to give the Holy Spirit to people.  Peter was offended because Simon thought he could buy out God.

Simon the Sorcerer’s name is now used in the word “simony,” the act in which people try to buy church positions, which happened notoriously in the Reformation era.  He went on to be known in history as Simon Magus, or the Magician, and he led many people into a false Christianity based on health and wealth.

Luke tells Simon’s story in Acts because Christians need to know that there will be people who call themselves Christians who do not really believe.  They may be attracted to the church because of the people or the music or the good programs, but if they do not truly get to know Christ, then they are false believers, and true Christians need to be aware of them.

Jesus's first two parables in Matthew 13 deal with false believers in the church.

Verses 1-23 deal with the parable of the Sower and its meaning.  What kind of people are described by the path that received the seed/Word? (People who never got the word because it got eaten away by the devil)

What kind of people are described by the rocky soil? (People who got the word, but who did not stick around when times got tough)
What kind of people are described by the thorny soil? (People who like the church but are worried about the things of this world)
What kind of people are described by the good soil? (The people who hear God’s word, become true believers, and grow in the Lord)

The parable of the Sower shows that the church will have many people come and go.  The church is where people hear God’s word, and different people react differently.  Among those hearers are people who will look like Christians and appreciate different aspects of the church, but because they to not place their faith in Jesus, or because they love the things and attention of the world more than the Lord, they will eventually leave and not return.  But before they leave, they will come to your church, get involved in the ministries, and seem like genuine believers.  They may even hold leadership positions.  Let’s read Jesus’s next Parable.

He tells the parable in verses 24-30 and then explains it in 36-43.  Here is the text:

24 Jesus told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. 25 But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. 26 When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared.
27 “The owner’s servants came to him and said, ‘Sir, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?’
28 “‘An enemy did this,’ he replied.
“The servants asked him, ‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’
29 “‘No,’ he answered, ‘because while you are pulling the weeds, you may uproot the wheat with them. 30 Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.’”
In agriculture, wheat and tares look identical when they sprout.  But when they reach maturity, the wheat produces a fruit that can be made into bread while the tares become a poison to the wheat and produce nothing beneficial to the farmers.  What did the owner say to do with the weeds in verse 30? (Let them grow together until harvest)

The Church as we see it today will have true and false believers sitting next to each other until Jesus returns.  And some of those weeds will come into leadership positions and hurt the congregation causing people to leave the church.

I once knew of a man who went to church and then went into business with a trusting friend.  He seemed to love the Lord, and he wrote songs and told about how much he cared about people and God.  But years went by, and he embezzled from his friends, and many affairs, and soon showed that he was not a true believer.

There was a well-known preacher in the Atlanta area who used his position to tell the women in his congregation that it was the Lord’s will for them to sleep with the pastor.  This created a huge scandal and caused many to leave the church.

What is a person to do when people in the church and even in its leadership hurt other people? (rhetorical question)
The first thing is to pray for the hurt people, that they do not fall away from the faith on account of the false believers.

The second thing is to pray for the abuser.  They are people who need the Gospel of Jesus to save them from their sins.  The blood of Christ forgives all kinds of people from their sins, including abusive church leaders.

The most important thing, however, is to continue to follow Christ and belong to his Church.  You go for Him, and not for the people.  You go for the message, not the messengers. 

Jude 17-23
17 But, dear friends, remember what the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ foretold. 18 They said to you, “In the last times there will be scoffers who will follow their own ungodly desires.” 19 These are the people who divide you, who follow mere natural instincts and do not have the Spirit.
20 But you, dear friends, by building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, 21 keep yourselves in God’s love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life.
22 Be merciful to those who doubt; 23 save others by snatching them from the fire; to others show mercy, mixed with fear—hating even the clothing stained by corrupted flesh.[f]
Verse 23 is the crux: Stay in God’s covenant community because outside of it, there is no hope for salvation.  And wait for Jesus to either change their hearts the way he changed all who believe or to bring his justice upon them.

Thursday, May 16, 2019

When false teachers pass away

It's been since March since I blogged last.  I am sorry.  I probably won't blog much since I've been writing Bible studies for our local pregnancy center, but when I do have something to write, I will write.

In recent weeks, a woman who I consider a false teacher in the church passed away.  Although I did not agree with anything she said, I was sad at her passing and that thought that she may or may not be with the Lord and has lost that opportunity forever.

But that's not the point of this blog.  This morning I dreamed that I was having dinner with her and a some other people.  Toward the end of the dinner, we had really bonded as friends and she gave me a huge hug.  I had realized in the dream that it was the week before she would pass away that Friday, so Thursday, I resolved to send her an email to share the gospel.

I woke up with tears in my eyes.  I sat and wondered, what if some of the women who I really love died and were lost forever.  There are certain people in your life that you become more than friends with, that you even develop those in-love feelings for.  How can I love them if I don't care for their souls or constantly share the Gospel with them even if they already know it?

And I know of at least one relative that I was close to who lapsed into each popular anti-Biblical lie one by one until I could no longer follow her on Facebook because I hate arguments and arguing, even though I end up doing it.  I think the feeling was mutual.  I'm saddened by that because we aren't guaranteed tomorrow.  We could die any moment and realize that maybe the Bible really was to be interpreted the way it's been interpreted for at least the past 2000 years.

So here's the Gospel plain and clear.  We have a Holy God who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  He created the world and created humans as his image, little copies of him that would spread his praise all over the world.  We betrayed him by sinning, and we brought death into the world.  There was no death or pain before that, therefore, the world cannot be that old. 

Our sins separate us from God, and if we die apart from God, it will be permanent.  But God sent Jesus to die in your place.  If you accept his Son as your Savior and substitute for your punishment, then he will send you the Holy Spirit to change you to be more like him, and when you die, you will live forever with God in happiness and joy.

Don't believe the lie that there is no hell.  Hell was not made up by the church to get your money and to control people.  If there is no hell, then all the horrible things people do to each other will go unpunished, and God would not be just.  Either we will die for our sins, or Christ died for them.  But sin, must be punished, and we need that accountability so that we don't keep destroying each other.

Don't believe in evolution theory or long ages.  You can be a Christian and believe those things.  I was once before I understood that science doesn't actually prove old ages.  The evidence is what you make of it.  But if the Bible is true, then true science won't contradict it.  But if we evolved from animals through a long process of death and rebirth, then there is really no sin or death for our Savior to save us from.  And then, there is no Gospel.  But God made humans special and separate from the animals, and there was no death or pain before humans sinned really fast, and I'm so happy to know that death will be defeated when Christ returns and was not a part of his original creation.

And also don't believe the lies that you can have sex outside of a marriage between man or woman or that God didn't know what he was doing when he made you one gender or the other.  Love is not sex and sex is not love.  The secular world has painted a very one-dimensional view of love that only exists to satisfy carnal lusts.  Our God has given us a much better world where we can love people deeply in many ways.  Those feelings you have for your friend aren't a sign that you were called to a romantic relationship.  They're actually better: an intense friend love that exists for God's glory and for their uplifting.  The main idea is to get to know God, and if he brings you someone of the opposite gender to marry, then rejoice.  Until then, love God first and love your friends by getting to know them, not their bodies. 

And finally, pray that I can be bolder to share the Gospel with people and to love the unlovely.  And never, ever rejoice when someone dies away from the Lord.  Apart from his grace, I would be there, too.

Saturday, March 2, 2019

Thoughts on Rutter's Requiem

John Rutter wrote a Requiem in 1985.  I think in 2005, I sang it with Dr. Cierpke's choir at Trevecca.  It's one of the greatest oratorios I've known and I listen to it often on YouTube.  I loved it enough to hear a choir sing it in Gastonia, NC in the spring of 2009 just before I served an internship at First Presbyterian Church that summer. 

Historically, requiems are funeral masses.  Correct me if I'm wrong, but they are prayers for souls who have died and are possibly in Purgatory and are to help them through that process.  As a Protestant, I don't believe in Purgatory.  Christ finished the atonement for those who will be saved once and for all on the cross.  There is nothing left to be done.  If you are saved in this life, all your sins are taken care of, yea, were taken care of before you were even born.

Also, as a Protestant, I love the Requiem composed by John Rutter.  Perhaps because in this life there are lost souls still living that God has called us to pray for unto salvation.  We pray they will come to Christ and escape God's judgment before it's too late.  Perhaps, I like the Requiem because even as a saved believer, I still have sin, and I suffer for my sins and the original sins of Adam and Eve.  If ever there is a soul purging, it's here in this life and not after.  Anyway, I'd like to explore three movements within the Requiem.

The first is the second one, "Out of the Deep."

It's Psalm 130 set to music.  The tune speaks to the agony within one's soul as they go through living nightmares.  Maybe they've lost jobs.  Loved ones are going through cancer.  People they cherish are turning their backs to the Lord.  The opening cello part tears through my soul as I listen to it and just long to cry over all that is wrong with the world. 

It is also comforting to know that in Holy Scripture, God has included Psalm 130 so that out of the deep we can cry to him for comfort and anxiously wait for him to come and correct everything.  We know Jesus is coming back and that injustice will not slide as he comes to judge the living and the dead.  And it's a judgment we will not dread if we know him as our Savior, but without that salvation, nothing is more horrifying.  You must turn to the Lord, and out of your anguish, you must cry to him whenever there is tragedy, even if it seems to come from the Lord himself.  He can or could have stopped it.  You must go to him.

Next is movement 4, "Agnus Dei."

"Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, grant them rest."  Salvation is found in no other than Jesus, and he must completely save anyone who is lost.  This prayer is no use for people who have already died, but it is imperative for those who are still living yet still away from the Lord.  And then, there is Jesus, who did not spare his own life to save such as those.  There is no more loving being in the universe than our Lord, yet the only one who is truly just.  Even if you are in dread of what is to come, don't dread, because our gentle Savior knows what he's doing and he came specifically for all who will be redeemed by name.  He is the resurrection and the life and those who believe in him will never perish but have eternal life.  And there will be no sadness in that life.

Finally the fifth movement, "The Lord is My Shepherd."

Rest in knowing that your shepherd will leave you behind to go after that lost sheep that you love.  Even when you walk through the valley of the shadow of death, you will fear no evil, for Christ is with you (and seriously, that part of the movement in its minor key is so chilling), and not only Christ, but all the rest of the Church, past and present.  Even at your lowest, you are never alone.  Rest in that.

Saturday, February 16, 2019

Judges 19

It took me a while to get to this story because I can't stand it.  It's the story of Judges 19.  I won't even retell it here but merely ask you to read it because it is so hideous.

There are many glorious stories in the Bible where someone was in trouble and God came through just in time to rescue them.  Daniel was rescued from the mouth of lions.  David was spared many times even when his troubles were his fault.  Isaac is my favorite.  God told Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac, and at the last minute, God said no, here is a ram instead as a substitute.  It prefigured Christ who was the ultimate sacrifice for our sins, the only time God said "no" to his only Son.  His people's sins needed to be punished, and Christ was the only one who could survive it.

Then, there's the story of Judges 19.  In Genesis 19, Lot almost gave his daughters to be gang raped, but angels blinded the crowd and saved Lot and his girls.  This was not the case in Judges.  A young concubine was released to the wolves and when morning came, she was dying on the door stoop of the house.

And we think of all the people not saved in this life: the babies not rescued form abortion, the children not saved from sacrifice, the Jews not saved from the Holocaust, the girls and boys not saved from sex trafficking, and we wonder why?  As the world turns its back on God and his laws, people become more violent, and this is how God sends his judgment?  By destroying the most innocent ones?

But there is one situation more unfair than this, and it was when the only innocent man ever gave his life to save me from my sins.  Jesus came as a baby, grew to be a man, didn't sin once, and then both the religious Jews and callous Romans had him crucified.  He could have called angels to have it stopped, but he loved his Church way too much to let them perish forever under God's wrath.  And he died not only for my sins but the sins of the rapists, abortionists, heartless politicians, Nazis, and more.

All I can think of is this song by Caedmon's Call called "Petrified" where they wrote the woman of Judges 19 into a song and compared her to Christ, torn for the twelve tribes.

We won't know all the answers, but we can still trust that God has a place for the victims and and even hotter anger for the ones who never repent.

Saturday, February 2, 2019

SS: David Spares Saul

This is the gist of my Sunday School lesson this past Sunday from a curriculum that had a pet theme.

Read John 10:17b-18, “I lay down my life that I may take it up again. 18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.”

Do you know that we are more than pets to Jesus?  Even though he calls us sheep (and it’s not a compliment), we are his special friends who he chose to save.  We were lost in our sin and were going to die apart from God, but God sent Jesus to take our punishment for our sins on the cross.  Nobody took Jesus’s life.  He gave it because he loves us.

Now, I’m going to share a story of someone who lived long before Jesus, in fact an ancestor of Joseph, his earthly dad.  David did something a lot like Jesus would have done in his situation.

Then, we read the account from 1 Samuel 24.  David hid in a cave from Saul with his many man.  Saul wandered in there because he had to go to the bathroom.  David's men said, "Yeah, David, go kill him since he's been trying to kill you."  David cut off a corner of his robe, but then decided not to kill him.  Then, he said, "Saul, I cut off a corner of your robe and could have killed you, but I didn't."  Saul was sorry and decided to not kill David that day.  This actually happened twice.  Both times, David did not kill Saul because God had made Saul king, and he had mercy on Saul.

David knew
that God had promised to make him king, so David could have killed Saul and become king immediately. But what did David do? (Had mercy on Saul, didn’t kill him) That’s right! David didn’t kill Saul because he wanted to show mercy.

What is mercy? (It is not punishing someone, even though they deserve it.)
How is it different from grace? ( Grace is giving someone a privilege that is not deserved.)

He also knew that God had made Saul king although David would be king someday.  David showed respect by trusting that God would make him king one day and by being kind to King Saul while he waited. Just like David, God wants us to be kind and show mercy to others, too!

In just the same way, we have sinned against God and deserve to be killed in his anger.  But God showed mercy on us and sent Jesus to die for our sins.  David risked his life by having mercy on Saul.  Jesus laid down his life to have mercy on us.  By doing thus, God took away his anger from us that we deserved (that's mercy), and allows us the privilege of living in heaven with him and serving him now which we don't deserve (that's grace). 

I also gave scenarios where a kid would have to show mercy.  A kid hit you.  He probably deserves to be hit back.  How do you show mercy?  By not hitting him (which isn't allowed anyway) and telling the teacher.  How do you show grace?  By asking him to be friends and to play with you.

The people at lunch are making fun of your best friend and you stick up for her.  Then they start calling you a baby and accuse you of watching baby shows.  How do you show mercy? By not making fun of them in return.  How do you show grace?  By still sitting with them.  (This really happened to me.  And you know those baby shows that they made fun of me for?  The next year they were like, you should watch these shows!)

And lastly, someone accidentally trips you in the hall.  How do you show mercy?  By not getting made and tripping in return.  How do you show grace?  Helping this person.

Thursday, January 3, 2019

Judges: Micah and Danites following their hearts

And I finally get gumption to continue my study of the Judges of Israel.  We come to a bizarre story just before the most horrifying story.

In this account of Judges 18, a man named Micah sets up an idol and randomly hires a Levite to be his priest.  A troupe of guys from the tribe of Dan discover Micah's religion and start a war over it.

The text says that Dan's inheritance had not been set up yet.  Perhaps this happened when Joshua was still conquering the land and they couldn't wait to be established.  It had to be before Samson's time since he was from Dan and established that tribe pretty well. 

It certainly happened when the Word of God was not as available or widespread.  But any good Jewish boy would know the second commandment, that you don't worship the true God with images.  He should know the story of the golden calf during Moses's time and the disaster that caused.

Also, Joshua always emphasized that you were not to have a private religion and come to God on your own terms.  You were to come to God on his terms which was to meet at the tabernacle with the sacrifice to atone for your sins.  Before Jesus came to die for our sins, you could not meet with God without having first dealt with your sins.  You are too unholy to survive a holy God on your own.

So, God actually had mercy on Micah by not killing him right away like he did Nadab and Abihu in Leviticus 10.  He just let him end up in some bizarre skirmish.  This is a rare moment when Israel isn't fighting some oppressive foreigners.  They are fighting each other which is a prelude to the more ghastly story that occurs in chapters 19 and 20.  In those days, there was no king and people did what was right in their eyes.

So, we live in the New Testament now.  Jesus has come and died for our sins and we can come to God because Jesus's blood has atoned for your sins.  Do we still make the mistakes of Micah and the Danites today?

When the Word of God is put on the back burner and people follow their hearts, then yes we do.  We start studying books people wrote in church rather than compare it directly with the Bible.  And then we start reading stories of members of the Trinity portrayed as women who say that God cares too much about free will to call people to justice and that all people will be saved.

Again, the second commandment tells us to not portray God in ways he has not portrayed himself.  He did send Jesus, but he is not to have an image assigned to him.  He's God, so his will is way freer than ours, and if he did not tamper with our wills, then we would not repent and come to him.   And we must never believe that he will save everyone because the letters to the Thessalonians and Revelation say that people who never repent will die in their sins.  And we must never act this way because then there will be no reason to witness to people, share the Gospel, or care for the poor and oppressed or care about justice because God won't punish anyone anyway.

But if people follow this thinking, then they start accepting perverse lifestyles and saying that it's okay to kill unborn children and destroy the women who were their mothers.  And then people start influencing children to change their genders, making permanent decisions they will regret later.  And ultimately, God's name is profaned, and he will not let it slide.

We must get back to reading the Bible in its entirety.  Old and New Testament.  The bad news and the good.  The parts we don't like or understand along with the more common verses.  We have to know God and study his Words as a group and not start our own ideas.  Let us repent and turn to him.  He is so forgiving.  Even perverse lifestyles and permanent mistakes can be forgiven if you would just turn to the Lord to be saved.