Where Sin Increased (Part Two)

1 Kings 18:1-15

But where sin increased, grace increased all the more… (Romans 5:20 NIV).

Sin had greatly increased in Israel, and it seemed like there was no hope. The Lord, their covenant God, had sent his prophet Elijah to announce a horrible drought, which was one of the curses, if Israel disregarded God’s covenant with him. The sky above you will be bronze, and the earth beneath you iron. The Lord will turn the rain of your land into falling dust; it will descend on you from the sky until you are destroyed (Deuteronomy 28:23-24). Yet, at this terrible time, the Lord showed his grrace. We see three evidences of his grace.

First, God preserved Elijah for further service to him. God had fed him at the brook and at Zarephath. The Lord also kept Ahab and Jezebel from killing his prophet. He also had taught Elijah valuable lessons about faith that he needed to know in service to God. Elijah was now prepared for the coming contest of God versus Baal on Carmel.

Second, the Lord placed Obadiah in Ahab’s court to protect other of his prophets. When we think all is lost, we can fail to see faithful people whom the Lord has placed near us to help us. Consider Obadiah’s character. He was a godly man (18:3). Like Joseph, Nehemiah and Daniel, Obadiah was faithful to God in a pagan palace. “There is nothing wrong in a child of God holding a position of influence if he can do so without the sacrifice of principle” (Pink). The Lord often has his saints in unlikely places, as in Caesar’s household (Philippians 4:22). We can be in the world and not of the world. Obadiah was consistent over a long period of time, for he had worshipped God since his youth (18:12). I am glad to see girls and boys in attendance, when their parents gather to worship the Lord. It is good to begin to serve God when you are young. Don’t let sin ruin you for years! Seek the Lord before the chains of sin harden around you and your mind is polluted with a great deal of sin. Think also of Obadiah’s accomplishments (8:4, 13). He hid the prophets and provided for them. He had bold faith. We thank God for those who have risked their lives to protect God’s persecuted people.

Third, God purposed to send rain again on the land. This was an act of sovereign mercy, for the people still had not called on him in repentance for their idolatry. If we need to wait for any nation to repent before God would act, there would be no hope for any people group. If we even had to wait for the professing church to return to him, we might despair. But God will have mercy on whom he will have mercy (Romans 9:15)! Our hope is in the Sovereign God, not in people! Remember this when you gather with others to pray. This was also an act of faithfulness to Elijah. The prophet had said that there would only be rain at his word (see 17:1), and so the Lord sent Elijah to announce the coming of rain. Here is a principle: God will honor those who honor him (cf. 1 Samuel 2:30).

Let us thank God for the godly who still remain in the nations of the world! Every follower of Christ is a witness to the power of God’s saving grace! If God could save you, my friends, he can save anyone. The salvation of the righteous comes from the LORD (Psalm 37:39 NIV). Let us pray fervently for God to send a new great awakening. Greed, self-love and sexual immorality bind the wills of people. They will not come to him and have life (John 5:40). But King Jesus is able to break those chains, for he is the Great God and Savior! Now is the time to seek the Lord!

Grace and peace, David

Continue in the Teaching

img_50112 John 1:9

Anyone who runs ahead and does not continue in the teaching of Christ does not have God; whoever continues in the teaching has both the Father and the Son (NIV).

We must understand the times in which we live, because we can only live in those times. Those who follow the Lord Jesus Christ are never called to live like we are in a fantasy world, where everyone wants to do what is right and wants to hear the good news of salvation. Instead, our Lord and Savior sends us into the real world to live for him, regardless of the difficulties we might encounter. Right now, he is patiently waiting the time set by the Father for his final victory, and we must continue in the task he has given us until that time.

Faithfulness to Christ and the mission on which he has sent us requires us to tell a message and to do godly actions that are not in step with the course the world pursues. This is not a unique problem of our times. When the gospel was first preached two thousand years ago, the people of this world were worshiping many gods, living in violence, greed and sexual immorality, and opposing the message of Christ. The same situation is true today. Therefore, let us not moan about “our difficult situation”. God’s message is never popular in this world. Jesus presented the challenge in a well-known but often neglected illustration.

Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it (Matthew 7:13-14 NIV). For this reason, it is never our task to make the message pleasing to the many who are on the broad road. In all they do, they reject the knowledge of God, refuse to love God and others, and rebel against God’s ways.

Our problem is that we too easily pick up their attitude (cf. 2 Timothy 4:3-4). People evaluate churches and preaching because of what pleases them, instead of what pleases God. Be funny, be clever, be chic, be whatever, but do not dare to say what God says, because “nobody will listen”. That is a lie. The Spirit says plainly that some will listen, and our mission is to tell the good news of Jesus the Messiah, because it, and not what pleases people, is God’s power for the salvation of everyone who believes (Romans 1:16-17). We must continue in teaching of Christ, because that is where the Lord wants us to be. But we ask, “What does it mean to continue in the teaching? Why is this important? What encouragement does this provide?”

What does it mean to continue in the teaching of Christ? Given the context of John’s letters about holding to the true teaching about Christ as the incarnate God-man, we can translate the phrase “the teaching of Christ” as “the teaching about Christ”. This avoids the impression that it means “Christ’s teaching”—the teaching he gave or the way he taught. But even if it was the teaching he gave, it would still involve the teaching about Christ, because what we read in the New Testament is what Christ taught (John 16:14-15). When we think of the idea of the teaching about Christ, we can think in three general categories:

  • The teaching about his person – the focus of John’s letters, including Christ’s true deity (God has come among us to help us!) and Christ’s true humanity (God knows our struggles personally!) Never lose the joy of these truths.
  • The teaching about his message. We mention three aspects of what Jesus taught: First, the message about the present and future aspects of God’s reign (“the kingdom of God”); God is setting up his authoritative rule in his chosen people; this will result in eternal joy with God. Next, the message about following Christ (becoming his learner or disciple); the need to have a change of mind and believe; how he tells us to please God. And also the message about God’s plan in Jesus; Christ is the theme of the Bible; Christ is the greater prophet; the need for us to pursue a missional way of life because of this
  • The teaching about his redemptive activity. We can think of four important truths: Christ’s crucifixion – sacrifice, propitiation, redemption, and reconciliation; his resurrection – accomplishment of justification and eternal life; his ascension to pour out the Spirit – his victory and present reign at the right hand of the Father; and his personal return in power and glory – salvation and life for his chosen people and justice and condemnation for his enemies

When we follow Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, we commit to his teaching as well. It is part of remaining or continuing in Christ (cf. John 15:1-17). His teaching is to transform our beliefs and our way of life. For a practical start to our thinking, invest time in thinking about the apostle Paul applied Galatians 6:14 to our way of life.  May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world (NIV). How should this affect how we think about ourselves?

Grace and peace, David

Help, Lord!

img_1224Psalm 12

Help, Lord, for the godly man ceases to be, For the faithful disappear from among the sons of men. They speak falsehood to one another; With flattering lips and with a double heart they speak (12:1-2 NASB).

The human soul can quickly swing from bright hope to dark despair. David, the king and psalmist, knew and felt acutely all the ranges of emotion. We should also, if we are willing to look at all of reality. It is very easy to attempt to insulate ourselves, to attempt to build a shelter that hides pain, suffering, evil schemes, and brutal oppression from our eyes and thoughts. We would rather “live the dream” than experience the nightmare. God made us to enjoy life and glory; therefore, it is good to want what is beautiful, pleasing, and peaceful.

However, the Lord God also made us to live in the world that now is for his honor and praise and the good of other people. This means that we will often encounter what is horrible and ugly. This psalm by David provides us with a godly way to view things as they are and to respond in a manner that brings glory to God.

We are not told when David wrote this psalm for the worship of the people of God. By the way, do we have room in our worship for “the minor key”? Must every song we sing be bright and cheery? Obviously, the Holy Spirit wants the songs we sing to express the full range of our lives. This is part of the way we share our lives with the living God.

So then, David began this song with a cry for help. We don’t know when he wrote this, but his life had numerous occasions when he needed to cry, “Help, Lord!” David knew that his situation was beyond his ability. He needed the all-powerful, sovereign Lord of all to come to his rescue. The simple request, “Help, Lord!” demonstrates wisdom that few understand. When we pray this way, we confess our inability to problem solve, which few want to admit. Aren’t we all ready to dispense generous doses of advice? But when we cry for help, we come as needy and lowly… in humility. It showed his wisdom in another way. He called upon his covenant Lord for help. David claimed a covenant relationship with the living God. It was a cry of faith!

Help, Lord, for the godly man ceases to be, For the faithful disappear from among the sons of men. David looked at his world, and he saw a diminishing number of godly people. It clearly seems that we in our nation share David’s condition. How few are godly! How few want to stand up for the true God among a people whose lives are ruled by idols of all kinds. (Remember greed is idolatry. Don’t be greedy for the good things of this life, for that is idolatry, Colossians 3:5 NLT.) Do we seek out opportunities to pray, to read God’s word, to fellowship with believers, and to spread the good news, to name only a few activities of godly people? And then, there seems to be a falling number of faithful, reliable people. How many make commitments, only to break them when they have new offers to do something else that promises immediate pleasure? We can plan to live godly, but how often do the plans of Christians fail… from not keeping their word. In the world, certainly, we all encounter almost total unreliability.

If you are godly, it is easy to mourn our present circumstances. But please don’t allow your grief to disable you from the first godly response. What is it? We need to cry out, Help, Lord! Pray this prayer, in order that the Lord himself might intervene in our nation.

Grace and peace, David

No Replay Button

img_19782 Chronicles 19:1-11

As you might know, I am a pro football fan, especially of the Eagles. I also root for the Browns, since I grew up near Cleveland. I like to watch the games, but I rarely have time or opportunity to watch a whole game, especially live. NFL Network has a handy program series in which they replay the best games of the previous week sometimes with all the extraneous stuff cut out. But I have noticed an utterly amazing fact. Regardless of how many times they replay the games, the team that won on Sunday still wins throughout the week! Every touchdown or fumble recurs in the same way with the same result. So, though it is being replayed, the game always ends with the same score.

In life, there is no replay. You live, and you can’t go back and relive the same experience, and you surely can’t change the past. It’s just there, frozen in history. Yet its effects continue. This can be either a cause for sorrow or joy. Although the past can never change, God is able in Christ to make changes in us for his glory and our good. Though I don’t know what sorrows and regrets you might be carrying around today, I do know that the Lord’s power and love can rebuild your life, to make it shine brightly for his praise. Let’s learn about this from Jehoshaphat, as we continue to consider the subject of “When Desires Clash”. He couldn’t hit the replay button, so that he could make better choices. But God was able to give him something different.

So, Jehoshaphat received correction (19:1-3). That does not sound very dramatic. It doesn’t sound like exciting stuff for the Christian media to trumpet. But the correction of his people is important to the Lord God. God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness (Hebrews 12:10b NIV). It came after he had returned safely from the battle, in which God rescued him from death (cf. 18:30-32). Jehoshaphat had escaped from human hands, but he was still in God’s hands. The dangerous events of life can strip away the illusion of being in control. Now God will confront Jehoshaphat about his control over his life. Let us stop and think about what the Lord is doing in our lives.

The correction came through a seer or prophet, Jehu the son of Hanani. We first read of Jehu the prophet in 1 Kings 16:1-7, when God spoke to Baasha, king of Israel, about 886 BC. This incident occurs during 853 BC, about thirty-one years later. In other words, Jehu was an older man at this point. When Elijah complained to the Lord, “I’m the only one left,” he forgot about other good men like Jehu. The Lord sent Jehu into a doubtful situation, from a human point of view. Jehoshaphat had days before failed to listen to Micaiah, another of the Lord’s prophets, and his father Asa had put this same Jehu into prison, because Asa had not liked the message from the Lord that Jehu had delivered (16:7-10).

My friends, Jehu was just as much the Lord’s prophet as Elijah and Micaiah, but Jehu and Micaiah both spent time in prison for their faithfulness to the Lord, while the Lord delivered Elijah in amazing ways. All three lived at the same time in history, and served the same Lord. Not everyone gets to stop rain from falling or to call fire down heaven. Jehu was faithful to the Lord over a long time period, yet, unlike Elijah, we don’t sing, “These are the days of old Jehu, declaring the word of the Lord.” Jehu declared God’s word, and we don’t sing about him. Your service for the Lord might go unnoticed and be very plain. Remember that you are serving the Lord, as he wills.

Let us build our theology properly. Some read the life of Elijah and decide to rewrite their systematic theology to include something about “power ministries” or whatever words they use. But exegetical and biblical theology must inform and develop our systematic theology to keep it from going astray. Based on our time period, it would be just as plausible to over-concentrate on Jehu and Micaiah and write about “suffering ministries”. We have too many trashy books following that kind of selective methodology today.

Listening to the message of the Bible can require hard work. We must know the meaning of words and the context of verses in the Biblical narrative. However, this effort yields spiritual benefits when the Holy Spirit applies what we have learned to our hearts. For example, we can accept joyfully our place in God’s mission in Christ. This gives us new, godly desires to serve God and others, instead of the old desires of wondering “how can I have a happy life now.” God does not raise up many to serve like Elijah. Most of the time he will use people like Micaiah and Jehu, invisible to the watching world, but very precious to God and loved by him.

Grace and peace, David

How the Servant of the Lord Served

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SAMSUNG

Isaiah 42:3c-4a

He served faithfully. The Hebrew word used here presents the idea of certainty and dependability. It is used of God’s nature (Exodus 34:6), God’s words (Psalm 119:142), and his rescue and protection of his people (Psalm 91:40). Here it points out that Jesus the Servant of the Lord is faithful to the mission that God the Father gave him. At the end of his earthly ministry he could say that he had completed the work that the Father had given him to do (John 17:4). He faithfully obeyed God by always doing what pleased him, and by being the perfect and final sacrifice for sin. In the same way, Christ will be faithful to his people (2 Timothy 2:11-13).

He endured in the work God gave him to do. He provided his strength for the neediness of the people. The words translated “grow weak” and be “discouraged” in verse four pick up words that are translated “bruised” and “smoldering” in verse three. Though the Servant would have to face the same pressures as his people, he triumphed where we fail. We can see this at various points in the Gospels. Jesus sleeps in the boat while his disciples are filled with fear (Mark 4:38). Jesus has compassion on the crowds when the disciples wanted to send them away (Mark 6:34, 36). Jesus cast out a demon when the disciples couldn’t (Mark 9:25-29). Jesus welcomed the children when the disciples wouldn’t (Mark 10:13-16). Jesus prayed while the disciples slept (Mark 14:32-41). And he conquered the devil and temptation while we often fail (Hebrews 4:15).

He persisted in the face of difficulties. One of the biggest failings all of us have is to become discouraged, depressed, and to quit or want to quit in the face of hardship and opposition. Jesus kept on when the people of his hometown tried to throw him down a cliff (Luke 4:29), when the Jewish religious leaders became critical (Luke 5:21-26), and when all the people of an area asked him to leave (Luke 8:37). Jesus would not quit when people laughed at him (Luke 8:53), when the Samaritans wouldn’t welcome him (Luke 9:53), and when Jerusalem rejected him as king (Luke 13:34). He persevered when only one man said thank you (Luke 17:17), when a prospective convert walked away (Luke 18:23), and when he saw his Father’s house turned into a den of robbers (Luke 19:46). Most of all he endured while he was mocked, beaten, spit on, scourged, crucified, and forsaken by all. Praise God, the Lord Jesus did not grow weak or become discouraged! His love and obedience were so great that he endured all to save us!

This is an excellent time to bow and to ask the victorious Jesus to save you. If you are saved, say “Thank you, Jesus!” We have a strong Savior who sticks with us and who will carry out his work in us (Philippians 1:6). Approach your life situation today with faith in him. Make Christ’s way of serving the Lord part of the way in which you look at your life. “Yes, this ____________ is happening to me, but the Lord Jesus is faithful, endures, and persists in his grace to me.”

Grace and peace, David