Tag Archives: Israel

I Might be an Idol Worshipper

And Samuel said to all the house of Israel, “If you are returning to the Lord with all your heart, then put away the foreign gods and the Ashtaroth from among you and direct your heart to the Lord and serve him only, and he will deliver you out of the hand of the Philistines.” So the people of Israel put away the Baals and the Ashtaroth, and they served the Lord only. 1 Samuel 7:3-4

In this story from 1 Samuel, it took the people of Israel 20 years of being back in the presence of God to finally turn back to Him. It was more or less their version of “just doing church”, without their hearts being in it. Samuel’s word to them at that point was, “if you are serious about your faith, you need to lose your idols.” So what about us? Are we willing to lose our idols?

I might be an idol worshipper if other people’s words on Social Media (i.e., Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. or any combination of them) take up more of my thought time each day than does God’s Word;

I might be an idol worshipper if I spend more of my money on my personal comfort than I do on the furtherance of God’s kingdom;

I might be an idol worshiper if it turns out my god’s heart aligns perfectly with one political party’s platform or the other;

I might be an idol worshipper if my greatest hope for our world’s social ills is the next election;

I might be an idol worshipper if my deepest regret for our world’s social ills is the last election;

I might be an idol worshipper if my ability to listen to you is intractably related to your politics;

I might be an idol …

Fear as an Agenda

The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Send men to spy out the land of Canaan, which I am giving to the people of Israel. From each tribe of their fathers you shall send a man, every one a chief among them.” Numbers 13:1-2

Then the men who had gone up with him said, “We are not able to go up against the people, for they are stronger than we are.” So they brought to the people of Israel a bad report of the land that they had spied out, saying, “The land, through which we have gone to spy it out, is a land that devours its inhabitants, and all the people that we saw in it are of great height. And there we saw the Nephilim (the sons of Anak, who come from the Nephilim), and we seemed to ourselves like grasshoppers, and so we seemed to them.”Then all the congregation raised a loud cry, and the people wept that night. And all the people of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron. The whole congregation said to them, “Would that we had died in the land of Egypt! Or would that we had died in this wilderness! Why is the Lord bringing us into this land, to fall by the sword? Our wives and our little ones will become a prey. Would it not be better for us to go back to Egypt?” And they said to one another, “Let us choose a leader and go back to Egypt.” Numbers 13:31-14:4

Fear MongeringIt is bad enough when God’s people make decisions for themselves out of a spirit of fear; it is a whole different level of bad when we spread that fear like an infectious disease in accord with some ungodly agenda to scare people into agreeing with us. …

Prayer Prompts for Unity Between Generations

And the people served the Lord all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders who outlived Joshua, who had seen all the great work that the Lord had done for Israel…And all that generation also were gathered to their fathers. And there arose another generation after them who did not know the Lord or the work that he had done for Israel. Judges 2:7, 10

If I were to even begin a list of the men and women who poured into me spiritually as a child and as a teenager and as a college student and as a young adult, I would probably inadvertently leave out more names than the hundred or so that I can remember! It is one of the many blessings of having grown up in the church. I was given many, many stories and opportunities to learn about the work of God in the generation(s) before mine. Those stories have no doubt colored my understanding of and thirst for unity among God’s people.

Unity is all about relationships. And relationships are all about communication. And few obstacles to meaningful communication can be more perplexing than the very different cultural frameworks developed within generations. But doesn’t a Biblical worldview impose upon us a responsibility to communicate well across generational lines, so that God’s story is told seamlessly across time and His people continue to grow in their faith?

So, as I study and contemplate the plight of the nation of Israel in Judges 2, and then begin to draw applications to my own life, I am prompted to pray this way…

Lord, show me your ways and your hand in my life today, and then help me tell those stories to the next generation. Bolster my testimony of when I have seen you……

The God-Forsaken Church

Now his daughter-in-law, the wife of Phinehas, was pregnant, about to give birth. And when she heard the news that the ark of God was captured, and that her father-in-law and her husband were dead, she bowed and gave birth, for her pains came upon her. And about the time of her death the women attending her said to her, “Do not be afraid, for you have borne a son.” But she did not answer or pay attention. And she named the child Ichabod, saying,“The glory has departed from Israel!” because the ark of God had been captured and because of her father-in-law and her husband. And she said, “The glory has departed from Israel, for the ark of God has been captured.” 1 Samuel 4:19-22

And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Matthew 27:46

old church 2It was actually more years ago than I can remember…I was sitting with a church leader while her church was in the midst of turmoil and conflict and she was sharing the litany of painful circumstances that had befallen her church. It was just one horrible thing after another after another after another. It was startling. And then she said this: “It feels like God has written ‘Ichabod’ over our door. We are a God-forsaken church.” I had a vague recollection of the biblical reference but will admit to you now I had to go back and read the story again out of 1 Samuel.

Eli (the priest) had sent his two ungodly sons into war with all their Israeli brothers in arms to fight the Philistines. It did not go well. Both sons were killed. Israel was horribly defeated. and the Arc of …

Intensely Personal and Critically Communal

“You shall have no other gods before me…”  Exodus 20:3

“You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s.” Exodus 20:17

God’s plan for growing a people dedicated to Him and blessed by Him has been consistent from the beginning. He created us for relationship with Him, but also for relationship with one another. This is even evident in His bedrock principles, the Ten Commandments. But it may be less evident to those of us whose first language is English than for most others.

10 CommandmentsEnglish is a bit odd in many ways, with all it’s “rules” for grammar and then the thousands of exceptions to each of those rules. It makes it  a difficult language to learn. One of those oddities is that our word, “you” is both singular and plural (The New York version of “Yous” and the Southern version of “Y’all” notwithstanding). So, when we read the Ten Commandments in our English bibles and we see “You shall…”, and we read the context of God speaking from a mountain to some 600,000 Hebrew men (and lots more women and children), it is easy for us to read it as a plural “you”. If there were a Texas version of the Bible, we might be inclined to translate it, “Y’all will have no other gods before me.” But that would be an incorrect translation.

You see, we English speakers are accustomed to living with this ambiguity between the plural you and the singular you…we’re accustomed to just kind of figuring it out in context, leaving much accuracy to be desired. But most other languages (including the original Hebrew language of the Old Testament) treat …

Church Leaders and Our Hard Hearts

Tuesday Re-mix:

So, as the Holy Spirit says:

“Today, if you hear his voice,
do not harden your hearts
as you did in the rebellion,
    during the time of testing in the wilderness,
where your ancestors tested and tried me,
    though for forty years they saw what I did.
That is why I was angry with that generation;
    I said, ‘Their hearts are always going astray,
    and they have not known my ways.’
So I declared on oath in my anger,
    ‘They shall never enter my rest.’ ”  Hebrews 3:7-11; Psalm 95:7-11

heart of stoneAs it turns out, hard hearts come in a pretty large variety of shapes and forms…even among church leaders.  It is rarely as overt as Israel’s rebellion at Meribah.  More often, it is a mild arrogance or self-reliance or pride at the heart of our hard-heartedness.  So, as I study the above passage, I am reflecting on some of the less obvious (but more common) ways I have seen leaders “harden their hearts”…including me and my own heart.

Hardening our hearts to the power of God’s Word.  Every time we catch ourselves thinking, “what this text needs is a little more of me…a little of my flash and polish will go a long way in helping it hit home in this sermon…” our faith in the power of God’s Word diminishes just a little more.  Every time we receive a compliment for a lesson well-taught and we fail to acknowledge that it was God’s Word and not our communication skills that caused the real transformation, we steal God’s glory, and our heart hardens just a little more to the miracle of His living word.

Hardening our hearts to the power of prayer.  When the priority we give gathered prayer meetings falls somewhere between  repairing the hems of the …

Beware of “Samson” Community Church

Thursday Re-mix:

He awoke from his sleep and thought, “I’ll go out as before and shake myself free.” But he did not know that the Lord had left him. Judges 16:20

Pride goes before destruction,
    a haughty spirit before a fall.  Proverbs 16:18

It’s an awesome thing, being used by God to further His work in this world.  I am sure you would agree that the empowerment by God to accomplish things bigger and greater than anything we could do on our own is a true blessing.  That is true for individuals and it is true for churches as well.  The problem, of course, with being gifted and blessed is that it can start to go to our heads and we can lose site of any sense of humility.  We can grow so accustomed to the giftedness and blessing, we can forget where it comes from and whose bidding it is for.  That, it seems to me, was Samson’s problem.

Strong ArmBy pretty much anyone’s standards, Samson “had it going on”.  Having taken the Nazarite vows and having committed himself to God’s service, he was empowered with almost super-hero-like abilities.  He became a powerful leader among God’s people and actually served as one of Israel’s more famous leaders (one of the “judges”) for some twenty years.  What was his “super power”?  Uncommon strength.  That giftedness propelled him to great acclaim among the people.

But Samson had a lifelong struggle with self-control and instant gratification.  He had, it seems, a virtually unquenchable appetite for pleasing himself, even if it meant being disobedient to God or to his Nazarite vows.  He worshiped God.  He loved God.  He had great faith in God.  He was remembered by the writer of Hebrews as one of the heroes of the faith in God’s story (Hebrews 11).  …

Investing in a Sure Thing

For thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Houses and fields and vineyards shall again be bought in this land. Jeremiah 32:15

“I’m not religious…but I’m spiritual.” It is the mantra of an entire young adult generation who has left the church. They would say they have not given up on God, but they have had quite enough of God’s people. To them, the church is seen as a failing institution, no longer worthy of our investment. There’s a story about that in the Bible.

Jeremiah’s cousin, Hanamel, was either such an amazing salesman he could have sold snow cones to Eskimoes, or he was literally filled with the Spirit of God so as to make his sales offer to Jeremiah miraculously irresistible. At a time when Jerusalem was about to finally fall to a Chaldean occupation and life as Israel knew it was about to end, Hanamel says to Jeremiah, “Hey, you wanna buy my field?” If it were not God’s doing, it would have been a laughable moment. Jeremiah made the investment.

old churchWhy in the world would anyone want to invest in Jerusalem at that point? It was ending…going down the toilet. Generations of wrong decisions had finally caught up to it and it was literally crumbling from the inside out. It had ample reason and opportunity to change in order to better fit God’s design, but it would not. The consequences of all those wrong choices were here…it was over. There was, quite literally, nothing left in which to invest.

In all these ways, it sounds remarkably like the church, doesn’t it? At least the church as it is perceived by an awful lot of people. They think of it as an irrelevant, rickety, out of date, embarrassingly stuffy institution whose time has come …

Good-sized Vision v. God-sized Vision

Tuesday Re-mix –

Then they gathered around him and asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”  Acts 1:6

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”  Acts 1:8

For both churches and individuals, there is a difference between a good-sized vision and a God-sized vision.  Which do you have?  Great story about this in Acts 1.

I am thinking this had to be a disturbing and frightening scenario for the disciples who, for almost three years, had awakened each morning and simply allowed Jesus to set the agenda for the day.  The only thing he asked of them was that they follow him.  It was an easy arrangement, one that led them through amazing and miraculous moments and obviously changed them forever.  Now, Jesus was leaving them and telling them “you guys take it from here…go and do this ministry!”

“Wait.  What?”

With this, the most significant revolution this world has ever known or will ever know was begun.  The church was born.  Your local body of believers and my local body of believers (and every local church around the world) all call ourselves followers…soldiers in this revolution.  But the question this passage raises in my mind is this: am I an Acts 1:6 follower or an Acts 1:8 follower?  Additionally, which is my church?

These disciples had an impressive vision…one found in scripture and supported by nothing short of a promise from God: they envisioned an Israel no longer under Rome’s thumb nor its puppet governors…an Israel who once again was on top of the world, boasting strength and numbers and the support of the sovereign …

Being One of the Cool Kids

Tuesday Re-mix –

Woe to those who go down to Egypt for help,
who rely on horses,
who trust in the multitude of their chariots
and in the great strength of their horsemen,
but do not look to the Holy One of Israel,
or seek help from the Lord.  
Isaiah 31:1

I pay $4.00 for a cup of Starbucks coffee, when I could pay half that elsewhere.  And I pay with my iPhone.  And I follow American Idol (sort of).  And I watch ESPN Sportcenter pretty much every day.  And I follow secular bloggers, like Seth Godin and Michael Hyatt.  I do most of these things because I want to be a part of this culture where I live…I want to understand it and to be accepted in it.  I want to have influence in it as well.  To be blunt, I want to be one of the cool kids.

I will also admit to you that I want this, even knowing that there are times and circumstances when it is not God’s first and perfect will for me.  What I mean by that is…being one of the cool kids may well be more important to me sometimes than it should be.  I try to be cognizant of that, but I am certain I sometimes miss the mark.  I know that I am capable of looking in the wrong places for my acceptance…making “alliances” for my security other than with the Lord.  In this regard, I am definitely still just a work in progress.

Judah did that with Egypt.  In the face of certain discipline from God (at the hands of the Assyrians), rather than turning toward God and taking their medicine, they turned toward Egypt for acceptance and security.  God’s path for them was going to be difficult and …

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