Seek and Live (Part Two)

Amos 5:1-17

Hear this word, Israel, this lament I take up concerning you (Amos 5:1 NIV).

Second, Amos prophesied by describing God (5:8-9, 14-16). Who is this one who has come to judge? Israel needed to relearn the truth about the true God. The people of God are in a poor spiritual condition when they need to be taught the basics about the Lord.

He described God’s greatness by proclaiming God’s ability (5:8-9). This is a familiar teaching device in the Scriptures. Compare Job 9:9; 38:31. Here Amos reminded the people that God is Creator, Sustainer, and Ruler. The Lord is able to bring human fortifications down (5:9). We should observe how often the Bible emphasizes these truths about God. Yet it is these very teachings that the church today has lost its grip on. Evolution, the belief in the uniformity of natural causes in a closed system, and the deep dislike of God’s sovereignty have consumed the faith of the church.

He described God by his names (5:14-16). God reveals himself by his names. We do not profit from this truth like we should, and we become formal and stale in our worship. What do I mean? Three times God is called “the Lord God Almighty”. Perhaps we need to say more than just “God” to people, because the word “God” has little meaning to them. We worship the living God, the Lord God Almighty.

Third, Amos presented a way to avoid judgment (5:4-7, 10-15). Is there any hope?

Hope could be found if they would seek the Lord.

  • He did not tell them to seek religion (5:5). Israel should place no confidence in religious ritual and experience. We need, somehow, to make this plain to people. God is a husband who wants no rival for his affections.
  • He told them not to presume that God is with them (5:14b). A boast about God’s presence does not mean that God is really with that person. A person may give the appearance of “spirituality” when his or her heart and life are a denial of that pretense. Religion can be an empty substitute for the reality of God’s presence. Human religion cultivates conditions (set readings, recitations, robes, bells, candles, prostrations, recitations, etc.) that strive to create a “feeling” that God is present. True Christianity trusts in God’s ability to reveal himself to the hearts of the worshipers through Christ without such cultivated condition. Approach God by faith in Jesus, and you will be found by him.
  • He instructed them to seek God (seek me) and not merely the benefits that God gives to us (5:4). Are we truly interested in God? Do we have a heart or passion for God? This calls us to a personal relationship with God. Later Habakkuk was to learn this truth (Hab 3:17-18).

Hope could be found if they would seek what is good. They had lost sight of what good was.

  • They did not act according to justice (5:7, 12, 15). So then they needed to repent of that way of life.
  • They despised those who told them the truth (5:10). We must avoid the trap of despising God’s messenger because we prefer another (cf. 1 Cor 1:10-18). Do not despise him because he is not a polished speaker. Do not despise him because you do not personally like him. Do not despise him because he tells you the truth. The most important fact about any ministry is “does it plainly tell us the truth?”
  • They were, generally, overrun with sin (5:12a). They sought the wrong things (compare 5:5 with 5:14) and hated the wrong things (compare 5:10 with 5:15). Yet God still offered mercy (5:15b)! How great God’s grace is—far beyond our comprehension (cf. Is 1:10-18).

Dear friends, there remains hope for our people, if we will truly change our minds, restore God’s truth to rule our thoughts, attitudes, words, and actions, and depend on God rather than ourselves. Pray for a change in the world and life view of people so that God is supreme, honored, and loved.Grace and peace,

And So Jehoshaphat Prayed

img_40182 Chronicles 20:5-13

We must never forget that every believer in Christ’s new assembly, the church, is a learner. Everyone who follows Jesus follows after him, striving to know his glory and how to please and serve him. Because of his surpassing worth and redeeming love at the cross, we humble ourselves before him. We call out, “Lord Jesus, what will you have me to do?” As we take this very seriously, neither teacher nor hearer will be arrogant or careless. Everyone will say, “This word from the Lord is for me, in order that I might be transformed by the renewing of my mind.” As I see it, one of our great needs is to be transformed in regard to prayer. In the clash of fear and faith, this is most important, and I am not exaggerating for effect.

In our series “When Desires Clash” we have focused on the life of Jehoshaphat, king of Judah. Every person, including followers of Jesus, experiences a conflict between desires for good and desires for evil. The desires for evil come from the sin that is within us, as well as from the world around us. A person who is not a Christian, though ruled by sin, may have desires for good because of what we call God’s common grace, the work of God’s commands on their consciences, and the salt and light effects of believers. The Christian has desires for good not only from those sources, but also from being a new person in Christ, the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit, the reading of the Word, and the fellowship of believers. What we read of in this section is a clash of fear and faith, in Jehoshaphat and his people. After a short time of relative calm, everyone is in fear for their lives, their families, and their possessions. So they gathered to pray. But how did Jehoshaphat lead them in prayer in this critical hour?

The situation was unpromising for worship and prayer, especially for a people who had wandered from the living God. If they knew of the curses of the law covenant for disobedience, their outlook would be bleak (Deuteronomy 28:25-26; etc.) So what should you a person at such a time? You run toward the Lord, not away from him. This is what David learned after his great sin in the matter of Uriah the Hittite. It is what every godly person learns, because you learn how surpassingly merciful the Lord is! Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need (Hebrews 4:16 ESV).  Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you (James 4:8 ESV). And so Jehoshaphat prayed.

Jehoshaphat started with worship (20:6-9). We all have much to learn at this point. If we claim to have a Christian world and life view, it ought to transform our thoughts, attitudes, words, and actions, especially in the way we pray. Don’t you agree? When we pray, we should not be merely following some set formula or pattern. Any ritualistic or legalistic person can do that. Therefore, I am not simply saying, “Let’s begin with adoration,” as in the well-known “ACTS” prayer pattern. I point to a basic change about our view of God and us. Our culture overemphasizes the individual human at the expense of God and other people. Let’s become counter-cultural and treat God like he is God! We all need to approach in an attitude of worship, being influenced by the truth of who the Lord God is. So then, what can we learn?

Jehoshaphat lifted up God’s majestic greatness (20:6).

  • He knew he was praying to the Lord, the I AM, the living God, and spoke in conformity with the truth of who the Lord is. Do we speak to God like he is Almighty God? Or do we speak to him like he is a clerk in the grocery store? “Uh hello, could you help me get this?” We need to slow down, to think about whom we are conversing with, and to talk like we’re talking to the Creator and Ruler of all. Using a set form of prayer will not help at all at this point. The change must come from the attitude of our hearts, which flows from what we really think about God.
  • He took the truth of the Lord to heart and acknowledged that he is God of heaven (Deuteronomy 4:39). He was not speaking to some mere tribal god, but to the God over all. Read on your own a picture from heaven about the Lord’s glory (Revelation 4:2-11).

Here is a suggestion, if you feel you need help. Put some of the opening words of prayers from the Bible on 3×5 cards, and use them to develop a change in how you begin conversing with the Lord of heaven and earth. This verse (2 Chronicles 20:6) is one to start with. Look in the Psalms and Revelation also.

Grace and peace, David

The Clash of Fear and Faith

img_39492 Chronicles 20:1-13

One October day, Sharon and I went for a short drive in response to an email. Hopefully, that sounds a little mysterious and I intend to leave it that way. We did not put our trip on Facebook, since we very, very rarely put anything personal on Facebook. Anyway, as we rode along, we came across a sign for one of those “haunted walks”. What is it about this time of year that puts people into the mood for what is creepy and scary? I have only to mention chainsaw massacres, Freddy Krueger, and Chuckie to remind you of people’s passion for not simple fear, but horror. As Stephen King said, “I like to scare people, and people like to be scared.”

When we think of fear and worry, four facts are plain: (Ed Welch, Running Scared, p. 13)

  • Fear and worry run deep in us all.
  • Fear and worry have meaning. They say something.
  • Fear and worry say that the world is dangerous.
  • Fear and worry reveal us. They reveal the things we love and value.

What we have in the next incident from the life of Jehoshaphat, king of Judah, is a clash of fear and faith, in him and his people. After a short time of relative calm, everyone is in fear for their lives, their families, and their possessions. Would they survive? The world is never a pleasant place for people whose lives are threatened. But there is another fear. Would God, their covenant Lord, help them? Would he step in to rescue them? Fear and faith clash. Perhaps they are presently clashing in you, as you see a world in turmoil, that is not safe any longer, as we had long assumed. This chapter in Second Chronicles is for people in perilous times.

It began with a sudden, unexpected disturbance (20:1-4). The kingdom of Judah was threatened with invasion from the east (20:1-2). We must remember the setting of the recent religious turmoil that the southern kingdom of Judah experienced. Through Jehoshaphat’s unholy alliance with Ahab, the worship of false gods like Baal was growing in influence on Judah. Jehoshaphat tried to counter this, as we have seen in 19:4-11. But as events will show, his efforts were only partly successful. Plus, because of his alliance with Ahab, God had announced discipline upon Jehoshaphat (19:2). Now, the stroke is about to fall.

The enemy was a large coalition of peoples, headed by the descendants of Lot, the Moabites and the Ammonites, with the descendants of Esau, the Edomites, also joined, along with other people groups. It is called “a vast army”. Though Jehoshaphat had considerable military power, it was clear to all that this fight was beyond their ability.

I write the following to prevent discouragement to everyone. We should never imagine that our reformation of ideas and actions acts as a preservative from problems, especially when we deserve discipline from the Lord (Hebrews 12:4-11). There is not any “I’ll quickly clean up my act and God must protect me” strategy presented in the Word. God is much more concerned that we become like Jesus Christ (Romans 8:29) than that we have a problem-free life. Difficulties are opportunities for God to develop repentance toward God and faith in Christ in our lives.

Fear took hold of Jehoshaphat (20:3). Fear can be either good or sinful. The right kind of fear can prompt us to right actions. A friend of mine told me a story about a man who ran a red light, and one of those traffic cameras snapped a picture of his license plate. The police mailed him a copy of the photo and a ticket for running the light. Then man, thinking himself clever, decided to make a photocopy of the money needed to pay the fine and send it to the police. They responded by sending him a photocopy of handcuffs. He quickly responded by paying the fine. My friends, that was a wise use of fear. So how did Jehoshaphat use his fear?

He resolved or “set his face” (ESV) to seek the Lord. I think that we expect the life of faith to be easy. You know, we pray some half-hearted prayer, sing our favorite song with a little enthusiasm, enter into a discussion at a Bible study with some degree of alertness and perhaps even read (gasp) a whole chapter (gasp) in our Bible. And then we expect revival to break out across the land. Can we leave Fantasyland, please? Matthew Henry commented on this verse. “Those that would seek the Lord so as to find him, and to find favor with him, must set themselves to seek him, must do it with fixedness of thought, with sincerity of intention, and with the utmost vigor and resolution to continue seeking him.”

He proclaimed a fast for all Judah. Fasting is a believer’s voluntary abstinence from food for spiritual purposes. Fasting shows that you are desperate for God’s help. Fasting is not commanded in the new covenant, but allowed to express dedication to the Lord. Anyone with a disease like diabetes must consult their physician before fasting, and then only with the greatest caution. I had a diabetic friend who killed himself by not acting wisely in this matter. In our over-consuming culture, there might be different ways we can fast, such as by giving up desserts in order to pray, or perhaps by giving up movies, TV, the internet, or shopping, in order to pray.

The people joined together to seek help from the Lord. We read of the same thing happening in Acts four when persecution started against the early Christians. The Lord is pleased when his people join together to seek his help. We should not suppose that we are pulling one over on God by suddenly becoming spiritually focused. That is not the point at all. No, the Lord works through such events to pull his people together unto him.

The Lord saved me during the mini-revival of the early 1970s. One thing I can remember of those days was the united prayer sessions. Believers came together, calling on the name of the Lord for blessing. And he did! My friends, we live in prayerless times, and so we should not be surprised that we lack the experience of the presence and power of God. In all our local gatherings of believers, we need to pray more. How much time does your church devote to prayer in its services? If you attend a typical church, I can safely estimate that the total time for prayer is less than five minutes, and that those prayers are perfunctory. Do you pray in your Bible studies or small groups? Do not waste your life complaining and fretting. The Lord wants us to pray.

Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened (Matthew 7:7-8 ESV).

Grace and peace, David

An Example of Discipline

img_39352 Chronicles 19:1-11

“This is going to hurt me more than it’s going to hurt you.” Yes, I heard those words too many times from my dad when I was a boy. I would think, “Yeah, right. I’m the one who is getting spanked!” I also thought that teachers received some special pleasure from putting red marks on my papers. But now through long experience I know this: One of the tough parts of being a parent or teacher is the need to correct one’s children or students. Yet we must do it out of love. This is the reason that God disciplines his dearly loved children. And have you completely forgotten this word of encouragement that addresses you as a father addresses his son? It says, “My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son” (Hebrews 12:5-6 NIV). Let’s think together about the substance of the correction that the Lord gave to Jehoshaphat.

But first, here is a brief analysis of his sin. Notice the parallel structure in the prophet’s charge. Jehoshaphat had helped the wicked, meaning his multi-level alliance with Ahab. Perhaps the term “wicked” would expose the evil of his action to Jehoshaphat. But in typical Hebrew communication pattern, Jehu restates the matter to bring out what Jehoshaphat had done. He had loved those who hated the Lord. Consider the words of Jesus (Matthew 6:24). The Lord expects the full devotion of our love; his holy jealousy is aroused when we give it to others. Now was Jehoshaphat completely “gone” at this point? Far from it, as the next statement by Jehu the prophet makes clear (19:3). Jehoshaphat had yielded to clashing desires that wreaked havoc on his life. Yes, he loved the Lord, but his heart was on a wild chase to fulfill other desires, and he had to face up to how this was ripping him apart.

The prophet announced corrective action by the Lord. Jehu did not give details, but as we see from the next chapter, a vast army would come against him. Jehoshaphat had been fighting the wrong battle, and so now he would have to fight a battle he didn’t want. The fact that the Lord mercifully bails you out of some consequences does not mean that he will get you out of all consequences. God disciplines the children he loves (Hebrews 12:4-11).

The prophet acknowledged what Jehoshaphat had been doing well (19:3). The Lord knew that Jehoshaphat would need encouragement, especially as he went through discipline. It is amazing to me that evangelical Christians have not been very good at showing mercy, though they claim to love mercy. If someone sins or fails, we have been too quick to write them off, instead of working with them through their struggles. However, the Lord commended him though he had seriously sinned. He encouraged his faltering child about two good things he had done.

  • He had rid the land of Judah of Asherah poles. In doing this Jehoshaphat was keeping the first and second commands of the law covenant (Deuteronomy 5:7-10). He had done right actions.
  • He had set his heart on seeking the Lord. In doing this, he was living in conformity with the first great commandment (Deuteronomy 6:4-5). He had shown right attitudes.

Point: The Lord used the good in Jehoshaphat in order to restore him and to build better things into his life. The course of our lives should be on a trajectory toward the better. To help do this, plug Psalm 27:8 into your way of life. My heart says of you, “Seek his face!” Your face, Lord, I will seek (NIV).

The Lord is the God who delights in mercy (Micah 7:18). You may experience God’s mercy in Jesus Christ. He died and rose from the dead in order to be very merciful to sinners like you and me. Right where you are at this moment, you may forsake the wrong desire that has been wreaking havoc in your life and return to the Lord. Do not delay.

Grace and peace, David

Road Closed

img_19572 Chronicles 18:8-27

Recently, we have encountered many “road closed” signs in our area. If we’re honest, we all feel ambivalent about these signs. On the one hand, we want the roads we travel to be in good repair. Admittedly, we even complain when they are not! On the other hand, a closed road can be an inconvenience, at times involving frustrating, time-consuming detours. And so we complain about the detours. Recently, the road we live off of was being repaired, which sent us onto detours. I reminded myself that I had very much desired to have the road fixed. The potholes had to go!

God our Father can wisely put “road closed” signs in our paths to develop godly character in us and/or to prevent sinful activity by us. He metaphorically puts roadblocks in our ways in order to help us to live with his ways and to speak with his tone. So, the Lord gave a final warning to both kings, Jehoshaphat and Ahab.

Micaiah the prophet entered an unpleasant situation with the deck stacked against him (18:9-15). God calls his people to walk through fiery trials, but praise his name, he walks through them with us (Isaiah 43:2-3). When nobody likes you, you might be in the exact place the Lord wants you to be for his glory.

  • Micaiah entered a situation where the kings were dressed in royal splendor rather than in sackcloth. This was intimidating.
  • Micaiah entered a situation where four hundred other prophets were saying what Ahab and Jehoshaphat wanted to hear. They even used drama! Zedekiah played his line skillfully, running around with iron horns.
  • Micaiah entered a situation where he was advised to agree with the false prophets. He was being pressured to say what the kings wanted to hear. People like to tell preachers what to say! Watch out that you don’t destroy your soul by seeking those who will tell you what you want to hear. You might hear lies from the pit of hell!
  • Micaiah spoke sarcastically in that situation, and Ahab could tell that it was not the truth. Do you see this? Both Micaiah and Ahab knew that it was sarcastic. Micaiah could only speak the message of the Lord (18:13).

My friends, be aware that unbelievers will try to gang up on you. But keep a firm hold on the word of the Lord.

Micaiah responded with two prophetic messages (18:16-27). The first pronounced doom on Ahab; if he went to war at Ramoth Gilead, he would surely die there. Notice that Ahab did not repent because of this message; he merely complained. Having “roast preacher” for Sunday dinner can be fatal; we’re not a good meal.

The second explained why the four hundred prophets were giving their message. The Lord had sent a lying spirit to entice Ahab to destruction. Satan is a liar and a murderer (John 8:44). His lies are easy to listen to. But the devil pats you on the back with a knife in his hand. Satan says, “Don’t listen to that crazy preacher! He doesn’t want you to have fun, because he doesn’t like you. Listen to me; I want you to succeed; really, I do. In fact, I want you to be like God. Go ahead; prove yourself. Make your own choices! Show everyone that you’re a man (or woman). You don’t need to listen to God. Go ahead; reach for the stars! You are the master of your fate and the captain of your soul. You can have anything you want! Visualize it and its yours. Take the fruit off that tree. You won’t really die.”

Now surely, Jehoshaphat listened to the Lord and abandoned his alliance with Ahab, right? He had heard the word from the Lord that he claimed to long for! So then he would listen to it, believe and obey, wouldn’t he? My brothers and sisters, this is where we should weep! If it were only so simple: share God’s word and people will change. Absolutely not! Apart from grace, no sinner, saved or unsaved, is able to change. Jesus said, “Without me you can do nothing!”

God brought the consequences (18:28-34). You can choose unbelief and disobedience, but you cannot choose the consequences of your choice. God controls consequences. The Lord rescued Jehoshaphat, though he permitted him to suffer the scare of his life. When Jehoshaphat chose to go into battle, he found himself in deadly peril. He only escaped with his life, because the Lord helped him and drew the enemy away. But the Lord refused to help Ahab. Someone drew his bow at random, but God’s judgment guided the arrow to its fatal mark.

Do not play games with God! He will always win and you will always lose. Listen to the word of the Lord. Seek the Lord while he may be found; call upon him while he is near; let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the Lord, that he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon (Isaiah 55:6-7). And remember: wrong desires wreak havoc, with our character and our lives.

Grace and peace, David