A Lesson From Ancient Israel…

Listen to the audio version here!

Perseverance is a good thing.  It serves you well if it means that you keep working hard to get good grades in school even when things aren’t going well.  Or when you keep trusting in God no matter how difficult things are in your life.

Stubbornness, on the other hand, is negative.  The ancient Israelites were described as stubborn and rebellious (Ps. 78:8; Jer. 5:23; Hos. 4:16).  Just read through the Old Testament if you have any doubt.  God had done amazing things to free them from slavery
in Egypt.  He had performed huge miracles to care for them in the wilderness.  He had done so much to show His love and devotion for them, yet they constantly rebelled against Him, stubbornly refusing to keep His laws.  He warned them of the results of sin.  They even experienced some of them, but still stubbornly held on to their sins, not caring that they were hurting themselves.

For the last few months, I’ve been reading the books of Jeremiah and Ezekiel.  These two prophets lived around the same time, just before the southern half of Israel, the kingdom of Judah, went into captivity to Babylon.  Their calling was to deliver the messages God gave them for Israel.  Most of these messages pointed out the sins of Israel, warned them of the consequences, and called them to repentance.  As I read through their messages to the children of Israel, two things jump out at me:

1.  The children of Israel always seemed to have a problem with idolatry.  And it wasn’t just during the time period before Babylon took over.  All throughout the history of the children of Israel from the time God brought them out Egypt, they kept on going after other gods.  It started with the golden calf.  Later, when they settled in the land of promise, they went through cycles, where for a while they would serve God exclusively, then later they would try to serve Him as well as the gods of the surrounding nations on the side.

And you would think that after experiencing first-hand the power of the true God they would want nothing to do with impotent images made by man’s hands.  But instead they enthusiastically embraced idol worship, even going so far as to sacrifice their children by causing them to pass through the fire in the worship ceremony for the god Moloch (Jer. 32:35; Ez. 16:20, 21).

You would think they’d prefer to serve a God who didn’t claim their dear children as burnt offerings or put them through such torture.  But they stubbornly preferred to bind themselves to gods whose rituals went against everything that was right and true rather than surrendering to the God who delivered them from slavery and obeying His simple commands: don’t kill; don’t bear false witness; don’t steal; honor your parents; don’t have other gods; remember the Sabbath day, etc.  They preferred to serve self, living hedonistic lives instead of serving their Savior by loving Him with all their heart, soul, and might (Deut. 6:5), and their neighbor as themselves (Lev. 19:18).

Today, many of us are not in such great danger of turning to images to worship.  But we do make idols out of other things: possessions, people, relationships, money…even ourselves.  This one is huge in our day, with messages of “It’s all about you and making you happy.”  Everything is geared towards making myself the center of attention, putting myself first, doing whatever it takes to make me happy, even if someone else suffers in the process.

We are just as much in danger of idolatry in our day as the ancient Israelites were in theirs.  We must be watchful and take care where our affections lie.

2.  God’s mercy, love, and justice all mixed together in His warnings to His stubborn, rebellious children.  He consistently warns the Israelites that judgment is coming if they don’t turn from their sins.  One may argue that it is their choice if they want to sin or not.  That is true, and God never removes the element of choice from the equation.  But He does warn that if they continue in their sins, He will have to allow the consequences of sin to fall on them.

Sometimes when we read about God calling the Israelites to repentance, we think of them as a nation of kind people who generally obeyed God’s laws, but just slipped up once in a while.  Not so.  When you read through Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel, you find that their loyalty was divided.  While they kept God’s sanctioned feasts and holy days and the Sabbath, they also sacrificed to idols and willingly participated in ceremonies and rites to manmade gods.  They oppressed the poor and needy (Ez. 18:12).  They gave no help to the widows and orphans (Ez. 22:7).  They had turned so far from God and obedience to His laws that they no longer resembled His character.

Yet God did not give up on them.  In mercy and love, He warned them of the results of their course of action.  He pleaded with them through His prophets.  He held back the judgments as long as possible to allow as many as were willing to come to repentance.

But so many chose not to listen.  So many chose to go their own way, continuing in their sins, walking in the footsteps of the Enemy.  So God allowed judgment to come upon them.

However, there is a key point that cannot be missed: just before judgment came, God also gave a promise.  He said that although He would allow judgment to fall on the children of Israel and send them into captivity, He would be with them in the place they would go (Jer. 30:11; Ez. 11:16)!  Even after all their rejection of Him, He still didn’t abandon them!

But wait, it gets better: He also promised that He would forgive their sins and, after a time, bring them out of captivity and back to the land of promise (Jer. 29:10; Ez. 11:17-20)!

Now that’s love and mercy mixed with justice right there!  It’s just the way a faithful parent would reach out to a stubborn, erring child: allowing the consequences of wrong actions, while being there for the child through it all and promising a complete restoration to the way things were before, and better.

This is the truth of who God is.

How can we resist such an awesome God?  He is powerful!  His power comes from the fact that He is truth and He is love; He is justice and He is mercy.  He’s unlike anyone we’ve ever known.  Even the best, kindest, most loving, most amazing person we’ve ever met cannot hold a candle to who God is.  He loved us, before we ever cared about Him (1 John 4:19).  He loved us and died for us, even while we hated Him and opposed Him (Rom. 5:6-8).  Such a God is amazing and more than deserves to be revered above everything and everyone else in our lives.  He’s the only one who is never-changing, faithful, compassionate, slow to anger, and full of mercy (Mal. 3:6; 1 Cor. 1:9; Ps. 145:8; Ex. 34:6, 7).

That’s who God is.

And because of who He is, He gives us a simple choice: to serve Him or not to serve Him.  What will you choose?

God’s Kids

This is the preface to a book I’ve been working on for some time.  Let me know what you think. – R.

God had children.

A lot of them actually.  But they were lost.

Some knew they were lost, and were trying desperately to find their way back to Him.  These were the easiest to find.  Others didn’t know they were lost, and, frankly, they didn’t care.  But God did.  While they could see no further than satisfying their present wants and desires, He saw the senseless pain, loneliness, and despair that were certain to result from their present course.

So He went out in search of all His kids.  Some eagerly ran out to meet Him when they heard Him calling.  Others ran and hid, or tried to disguise themselves when they heard He was in town.  They didn’t care to be found, and did their best to make sure it didn’t happen, but He always turned up at their door, lovingly inviting them to come home with Him.  Then there were those who felt so ashamed and embarrassed to be found in the state they were in that He had to gently reassure them of His love and coax them to come to Him.

Every time He found one of His kids, He would bring him (or her) home, clean him up, heal his wounds, care for him, set him on the right path, and shower him with love.  Then, together, they would go out in search of the others.

You are one of His kids.  He’s been searching for you all your life.  Can you hear Him calling your name with the deepest love?  He wants you to be His child again.

Sovereignty and Faith

Sovereignty.

A noun, defined as “supreme power or authority.”

The Bible is loaded with texts describing God’s sovereignty.  The following are just a small sampling:

“You are worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honor and power; for You created all things, and by Your will they exist and were created.” Revelation 4:11.

“All the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing; He does according to His will in the army of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth.  No one can restrain His hand or say to Him, “What have You done?”  Daniel 4:35.

“The heavens are Yours, the earth also is Yours; the world and all its fullness, You have founded them.” Psalm 89:11.

God’s supreme power and authority were recognized by the apostles:

“That I may come to you with joy by the will of God, and may be refreshed together with you.” Romans 15:32.

“Instead you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we shall live and do this or that.’” James 4:15.

Clearly, the Bible teaches us that God’s power is above all.  His authority is over all.  God is sovereign.

This reality should make us feel safer, more secure, more confident in the loving, merciful, holy God we’ve come to know.  Yet all too often, in spite of it, we allow Satan’s niggling seeds of doubt to slip in through one of his infamous “if…why” questions, like, “If God is sovereign, why is there so much pain, suffering, and disease in the world?”

Many others have given solid Biblical answers to that question, so I’m not going to focus on that.  What I am going to focus on is our response to God’s sovereignty.

Is it faith or feeling?

If asked whether or not God is sovereign, I believe most Christians would say yes, He is.  But then something bad happens.  You lose your job, and your bills start mounting up as you search week after week, month after month for a new job.  You’re forced to downsize to one vehicle and move into a tiny apartment before finally finding employment and getting back on your feet.  Maybe years go by without you ever getting back to where you previously were financially.

Do you still believe God is sovereign?  Was He still in complete control as you struggled to provide for yourself and maybe your family?

How about illness?  Do we accept God’s sovereignty in the death of a cherished family member or friend?  It’s not so hard when the loved one has lived a full life.  But how about when it’s a child, or a young person my own age, whose life is suddenly taken in some freak accident or by a painful illness?  Is God still sovereign?  Do I still trust Him even as I watch a dear friend suffering from a disease that I know He can heal?  Is my response to His sovereignty one of faith or feeling?

The knowledge that God is sovereign (omnipotent) must be accompanied by two things:

1) the knowledge that He is all-knowing (omniscient) and present everywhere (omnipresent), and

2) a surrender to and faith in Him as the all-knowing, ever-present, all-powerful authority.

And that can be really difficult for us.  As humans, we like to know why.  We have to understand why things happen this way or that way.  If we don’t know the reasons behind an action or inaction, we consider it “stupid,” or “dumb.”  Don’t believe me?  Try telling someone to do something unusual without giving them any reasons, and see how they respond.

We want to know why.  But God doesn’t always tell us why.  Just as a good parent knows how much is appropriate to share with a small child, God knows how much is in our best interests to know about why things happen the way they do.

On this ground, our relationship with God is tested.  If we have formed a relationship with Him through trust in His Word, the Bible, we know that He is love (1 John 4:8; John 3:16); that He is self-sacrificing (1 John 4:9, 10); that His heart is moved with compassion by our pain and suffering (Matthew 20:34; Mark 1:41); that His number one priority is to save all who want to be saved (2 Peter 3:9, Ezekiel 33:11); that He welcomes humble, sincere questions (Psalm 10, 74), but does not accept doubt (Luke 12:29; 1 Timothy 2:8; James 1:6); that He is merciful and gracious (Exodus 34:6); that He is forgiving (Exodus 34:7; 1 John 1:9); that He is both the source of truth and truth itself (John 1:14, 17; John 14:6; John 17:17; Ephesians 4:20-23)…and the list can go on and on.  His Word reveals who He is and what He’s like.  We read it, study it, and through faith accept it (Romans 10:17).  In other words, we choose to believe and trust that this is the way He is; just like we believe and trust that our friends are the way we’ve observed them to be. So if we’ve come to know and trust God through His Word, we will know what we can expect from Him.

For example, if I know He is love, and He is touched by our suffering, it will change the way I view the death of a loved one.  I still may not understand why He didn’t heal my friend, but I will trust that He is all-knowing, all-powerful, ever-present, and the embodiment of love.  I will know that He is sovereign, even though I don’t understand, and that His will is perfect (Psalm 18:30, Romans 12:2).

Sometimes this is really hard.  Especially in those moments when I think I know the best way for things to happen and then find all my plans thwarted.  But I must make a choice, once and for all.  Do I believe Christ’s Word when it teaches me that He is sovereign, and am I going to trust His sovereignty no matter what?  Like Job, do I trust Him enough to accept good and bad, knowing He showers me with the good, and doesn’t allow more bad than I can handle?

I’ve made my choice.  I believe.  I trust Him.

How about you?