May 20, 2020 God Has Done It, Boasting Is Excluded, Isaiah 48:1-11, Romans 3:21-28

 

redeemer

Hear this, O house of Jacob, who are called by the name of Israel,and who came from the waters of Judah, who swear by the name of the Lord and confess the God of Israel, but not in truth or right.

For they call themselves after the holy city, and stay themselves on the God of Israel; the Lord of hosts is his name.

“The former things I declared of old; they went out from my mouth, and I announced them;then suddenly I did them, and they came to pass.
Because I know that you are obstinate, and your neck is an iron sinew and your forehead brass,I declared them to you from of old, before they came to pass I announced them to you, lest you should say, ‘My idol did them, my carved image and my metal image commanded them.’

“You have heard; now see all this; and will you not declare it? From this time forth I announce to you new things, hidden things that you have not known.
They are created now, not long ago; before today you have never heard of them, lest you should say, ‘Behold, I knew them.’
You have never heard, you have never known, from of old your ear has not been opened.
For I knew that you would surely deal treacherously, and that from before birth you were called a rebel.

“For my name’s sake I defer my anger; for the sake of my praise I restrain it for you, that I may not cut you off.
Behold, I have refined you, but not as silver; I have tried you in the furnace of affliction.For my own sake, for my own sake, I do it, for how should my name be profaned?
My glory I will not give to another. Isaiah 48:1-11 (ESV)

When God sent the Old Testament prophets, He did so because His people were getting off track.  God never sent prophets to tell people how fantastic they were, or to have a nice day. God sent prophets to warn people of the consequences of continuing to break His Law.

It’s human nature for us to take credit for things that aren’t necessarily due to our own merit or effort.  A beautiful child is a gift from God rather than an achievement of her parents. Even our efforts to pass a class or earn a living are gifts from God.  It is only in and through Him that we can accomplish anything at all. (Acts 17:28)

Isaiah tells the people of Israel that their redeemer was coming- God Himself was coming to redeem them, so they couldn’t take credit for it or attribute salvation to themselves or to their idols.

We break God’s Law just as the people of Israel did.  We may call ourselves Christian, but how often do we call ourselves God’s people without acting like God’s people?

The truth is that behavior modification is not sanctification.  To a degree we can control what we say or do, but we cannot control the condition of our own minds and hearts.  The Holy Spirit must transform our hearts and minds to conform to God’s will, even as we are continually subject to the temptation of Satan, the world, and our own sinful natures.

But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.

For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins.

It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the law of faith. For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law. Romans 3:21-28 (ESV)

The apostle Paul expands upon the teaching of Isaiah.  Paul is talking to the greater Kingdom of God – Jews and Gentiles- and he reminds us that regardless of our heritage we are justified by faith in Jesus alone.

We are continually faced with trials and suffering and the process of being refined.  Some may say that the reason we suffer is so we learn to trust God more fully.  Perhaps it is only God’s prerogative to decide what sort of training and refining we need to prepare us for our roles in His kingdom.

Paul reminds us boasting is excluded- that we cannot take credit for the gifts of God.  Rather we thank Him for His grace, His mercy, His kindness toward us, that He would grant us the gift of faith and that by His wounds, we are healed.

Lord, help us to trust You, to thank You, and to love You.

March 5, 2020- Repentance, Judgment, and Thank the Giver- Micah 2:1-5, 1 Corinthians 10:12-14, 1 Timothy 6:10

micah

Woe to those who devise wickedness and work evil on their beds!
When the morning dawns, they perform it, because it is in the power of their hand.

They covet fields and seize them, and houses, and take them away;
they oppress a man and his house, a man and his inheritance.

Therefore thus says the Lord: behold, against this family I am devising disaster, from which you cannot remove your necks, and you shall not walk haughtily, for it will be a time of disaster.

In that day they shall take up a taunt song against you and moan bitterly, and say, “We are utterly ruined; he changes the portion of my people; how he removes it from me! To an apostate he allots our fields.”

Therefore you will have none to cast the line by lot in the assembly of the Lord.

Micah 2:1-5 (ESV)

Micah was a prophet from Moresheth-a rural town in south eastern Judea- who was active from about 737-696 BC.  He was a contemporary of Isaiah, Amos and Hosea, and he is considered one of the twelve minor prophets.

When God sent Old Testament prophets, they were sent to warn God’s people that judgment was coming to them.  In this season of Lent we are reminded that apart from Jesus we are far removed from God.  We are brought back to God through Jesus. His death on the cross paid the price for our sins.  In Christ we are set free from a life of sin that leads to death, and are given the gift of forgiveness and eternal life with God.

As a part of our life with God we are called to examine our lives against God’s Law (any questions on what constitutes God’s Law, see Exodus 20:1-17) and to confess our sins. When we pray we ask for forgiveness for our sins, we repent of them every day, and we trust that Jesus forgives us and gives us what we need to live according to our calling as His followers.

The apostle Paul teaches us:

Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall. No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.  Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry. 1 Corinthians 10:12-14 (ESV)

Micah in particular addressed the corruption of the government and commerce of Judah in his day.  Even though we may try to separate what we do and how we act in the left hand kingdom (things having to do with government and commerce) from who we are and what we do in the right hand kingdom (having to do with spiritual and religious things,) our integrity must be established and consistent in both areas.  One can’t just be a Christian on Sunday, and then be a scoundrel the rest of the week. Faith and trust in Christ is reflected outward in our actions.

Corrupt business dealings, abuse of governmental power, and squandering public resources are sinful even when those sins take place in the left hand kingdom.  Some may think that what he or she does as an employee, or as a representative of government is somehow beyond one’s own personal responsibility. The reality is that our obligation to follow God’s Law does not end when we punch a time clock, join a nation’s military, or take an oath of office.

Befehl ist Befehl (orders are orders,) or the “Nuremberg Defense” can stand in a court of (human) law, but it does not stand up to God’s Law. Even in the left hand kingdom, if “orders” from human employers or governments violate God’s Law, then God’s Law must prevail.

When government causes harm to its citizens by stealing from them, by building up certain individuals with ill-gotten wealth and engaging in graft, that harm is a sin against God. One of the sins that Micah protested against, and prophesied God’s judgment toward was the exploitation of the poor.

Exploitation of the poor through unethical business practices such as usury (lending with exorbitant interest) or price gouging is an affront to God.  It is also an affront to God to live in the lap of luxury and to set wealth and power up as idols while ignoring the very things that God has put us here for- to love Him and to love our neighbors as ourselves.

When the apostle Paul wrote to his young protégé Timothy, he warned:

For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs. 1 Timothy 6:10 (ESV)

Resources in and of themselves are good gifts from God, but loving the gift more than the Giver is a pernicious form of idolatry to which we all succumb at times. The reality is that left to our own devices we do not love God with our whole hearts, and we do not love our neighbors as ourselves.

The answer to the forces that wish to destroy us – our own sinful flesh, the world and Satan- is always found in Jesus.  Our salvation and life come from Him – not through power and resources, and certainly not from taking power and resources from others.

The good news of repentance is clear- God is the Giver and Source of all.  There is only death and destruction to be found in trusting in ourselves or scheming dishonest and wicked ways to “get ahead.”

Lord, forgive us when we forget You are the Source and the Giver of all things.  Forgive us when we want what other people have, when we take what is not rightfully ours from others, and we fail to be thankful for Your provision for our daily bread. Help us to be thankful all you provide us, as well as for our salvation and life with You forever.

 

May 16, 2018- Ezra and God’s Remnant -Ezra 9:5-15

boast god's love

And at the evening sacrifice I rose from my fasting, with my garment and my cloak torn, and fell upon my knees and spread out my hands to the Lord my God, saying:

“O my God, I am ashamed and blush to lift my face to you, my God, for our iniquities have risen higher than our heads, and our guilt has mounted up to the heavens. From the days of our fathers to this day we have been in great guilt. And for our iniquities we, our kings, and our priests have been given into the hand of the kings of the lands, to the sword, to captivity, to plundering, and to utter shame, as it is today. But now for a brief moment favor has been shown by the Lord our God, to leave us a remnant and to give us a secure hold within his holy place, that our God may brighten our eyes and grant us a little reviving in our slavery. For we are slaves. Yet our God has not forsaken us in our slavery, but has extended to us his steadfast love before the kings of Persia, to grant us some reviving to set up the house of our God, to repair its ruins, and to give us protection in Judea and Jerusalem.

 “And now, O our God, what shall we say after this? For we have forsaken your commandments, which you commanded by your servants the prophets, saying, ‘The land that you are entering, to take possession of it, is a land impure with the impurity of the peoples of the lands, with their abominations that have filled it from end to end with their uncleanness. Therefore do not give your daughters to their sons, neither take their daughters for your sons, and never seek their peace or prosperity, that you may be strong and eat the good of the land and leave it for an inheritance to your children forever.’ And after all that has come upon us for our evil deeds and for our great guilt, seeing that you, our God, have punished us less than our iniquities deserved and have given us such a remnant as this, shall we break your commandments again and intermarry with the peoples who practice these abominations? Would you not be angry with us until you consumed us, so that there should be no remnant, nor any to escape?  O Lord, the God of Israel, you are just, for we are left a remnant that has escaped, as it is today. Behold, we are before you in our guilt, for none can stand before you because of this.” Ezra 9:5-15 (ESV)

The book of Ezra was written by a priest who was a scholar of Moses’ Law (the Torah- what we know as the Pentateuch, the first five Books of the Christian Bible.)

This book was written when the people of Israel had been returned to Jerusalem after the 70 year exile in Babylon. The Persian king Cyrus had decreed that the temple was to be rebuilt and that the Israelites were free to return to their land and their culture.

As the Israelite people returned to Jerusalem, Ezra confronted the people with all the ways that the people were breaking God’s laws, as well as their need to turn away from sinful practices and to be obedient to God. He prayed intercessory prayers for the people and appealed to God’s mercy.

God always retains a remnant for himself. God’s people in the Old Testament kept on failing at keeping His Law.  The Old Testament scholars and prophets all point us to Jesus, the one man who could keep God’s law perfectly on our behalf. We see the mercy of God in the return of the exiles and the restoration of the temple. We are directed to the promise of Jesus, the one who set us free from the bondage of sin and death forever.

GOD is the one acting in the story of the people of Israel. Even though the people went through generations of bad kings, corruption and taking on the sins and idolatry of foreign nations, God preserved them.  He kept aside a remnant for Himself and made a way for His people to continue. God kept His promise to Abraham – time and time again- even when His people became debauched and faithless.

Today Christian people are becoming more and more of an oddity in this world. Our tolerance for the evil of this world increases the more we are exposed to it. The values the Bible teaches- and those who practice them- are continually under attack in popular culture. Throughout human history believers learn that even though we recognize that God’s laws are good, and that He sets up boundaries for our benefit, we aren’t capable of willing ourselves to “just be good.”  We are constantly surrounded by temptation from the prevailing culture- temptation to indulge in every possible form of unbelief, idolatry (setting up ourselves as our own gods,) greed, immorality, and indifference to the needs of others.

All of humanity is condemned under the Law. We have all joined ourselves to various and sundry forms of corruption just as the Israelites married idol worshipers and bought in to the forbidden practices of foreign cultures when they were commanded not to do so.  Not one of us could stand before God’s judgment- but for Jesus.  The return of the exiles and the restoration of the temple is merely a foreshadowing of the love and mercy of God in Jesus.  He restores us completely, fully and permanently, in a way that no earthly temple worship or sacrifice of bulls or goats can.

Our behavior and our hearts convict us as being completely unworthy of being people of God, but Jesus stands in front of us, ever interceding on our behalf. When God looks at us He sees only Jesus and His perfect sacrifice.  He sees the completion of the Old Testament covenant and of the temple.  We abide in the New Covenant that Jesus paid for on the Cross.  We share in His death, and in this life we must bear our own cross, but we are also born into His forgiveness, salvation and eternal life.

August 28, 2017 – Ebenezer, The Lord, Our Help – Judges 21:25, 1 Samuel 7:3-13

God's own Heart

In those days there was no king in Israel; all the people did what was right in their own eyes. – Judges 21:25 (NRSV)

Then 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 Astartes from among you. Direct your heart to the Lord, and serve him only, and he will deliver you out of the hand of the Philistines.”  So Israel put away the Baals and the Astartes, and they served the Lord only.

Then Samuel said, “Gather all Israel at Mizpah, and I will pray to the Lord for you.”  So they gathered at Mizpah, and drew water and poured it out before the Lord. They fasted that day, and said, “We have sinned against the Lord.” And Samuel judged the people of Israel at Mizpah.

When the Philistines heard that the people of Israel had gathered at Mizpah, the lords of the Philistines went up against Israel. And when the people of Israel heard of it they were afraid of the Philistines. The people of Israel said to Samuel, “Do not cease to cry out to the Lord our God for us, and pray that he may save us from the hand of the Philistines.”  So Samuel took a sucking lamb and offered it as a whole burnt offering to the Lord; Samuel cried out to the Lord for Israel, and the Lord answered him. As Samuel was offering up the burnt offering, the Philistines drew near to attack Israel; but the Lord thundered with a mighty voice that day against the Philistines and threw them into confusion; and they were routed before Israel. And the men of Israel went out of Mizpah and pursued the Philistines, and struck them down as far as beyond Beth-car.

Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Jeshanah, and named it Ebenezer; for he said, “Thus far the Lord has helped us.” So the Philistines were subdued and did not again enter the territory of Israel; the hand of the Lord was against the Philistines all the days of Samuel.  1 Samuel 7:3-13 (NRSV)

 

Today’s reading takes us back to the end of the time of the Judges. At that time, even though God had put judges in place to govern the people, they responded to the judges’ instructions and warnings by getting their freak on with foreign gods, and by doing whatever they felt like. There was no king, and people did what they wanted to (Judges 21:25.)

We can take a cue from the Fall (Genesis 3) that when human beings decide to just do whatever they feel like (especially when it comes to things God specifically has forbidden) that it is going to turn out bad.  It did turn out bad for Israel in the time of the Judges.

Samuel was in a special position. He was the last of the Old Testament Judges, and the one who would anoint the first two kings of Israel- Saul (who made a mess of it) and David, the unlikely shepherd boy who became the first great king of Israel.

Samuel starts out by reminding the people of what they should already know, and where their first priority belongs. False gods are exactly that- false. They can’t do anything for us other than separate us from the One True God.  This is important for us to remember too even though our idols aren’t golden calves or fertility gods.  Anything that we set up as first priority in our lives- the thing we turn our hearts toward- becomes our god.  In today’s society we tend to worship at the altar of ourselves, and that never ends well.

Samuel also intercedes on behalf of the people. Sometimes we can’t face our challenges alone.  Sometimes we are threatened and afraid, like the Israelites were terrified of the Philistines. We derive strength and courage in the prayers and support of other believers.  Samuel, as the leader of the people, also offers a sacrifice, which is a foreshadowing of the sacrifice that Jesus has made for us.  We don’t go around sacrificing lambs today because in Christ there is no more blood sacrifice, but there is still an element of sacrifice when we intercede for others.  We give of ourselves and we make ourselves vulnerable when we genuinely act on behalf of others.  When we come together in God’s strength we often find the impossible becomes possible.

Intercessory prayer- praying for and with others- connects us to God in a powerful way. Not only does God hear our prayers, but we respond to God and others when we pray for and with others.

It’s also important for us to remind each other of our place in God’s story and of our heritage. The word “Ebenezer(not to be confused with Ebenezer Scrooge from the classic story A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens) means, “The Lord, Our Help.”

The memorial stone that Samuel set up was not meant to become an idol, but to remind people when they saw the stone that our help- our very existence and being- comes from the Lord. When we view sacred art or the beauty in nature we are reminded of God and how He is in, with and through His creation.

We can always look to our Ebenezer, God, Our Help, and set our hearts on Him.