Archive for January, 2019

1 Kings 14:21-24

Rehoboam Rules in Judah

I hear the testimonies of people that I have known through the years since becoming a Christ follower. Some of these stories are truly awe-inspiring in how God can reach a person who has no knowledge of Him at all, grew up in families that were abusive, stories of substance abuse, stories that would make a prudish woman blush. These are amazing stories of God’s redemption of people who grew up far from God and maybe several generations of family who were far from God. I love these testimonies of how God has literally altered this life and the generations after it.

What was my excuse? I grew up as a son of a preacher. I was in church every Sunday since I was a baby. I lived and breathed the church life. When the church doors were open, my brother and I were there. Church was the backdrop of everything in our lives. We were the preacher’s kids. We moved around a lot because of being the United Methodist Church system. So, the Methodist Church in South Carolina was the thing that guided and ruled our lives. It was the “family business”. You would think that because of that I would have accepted Christ as my Savior at an early age. I had great advantage over some of the testimonies of redemption that I have heard over the years. I was all up in the church. I knew God was Creator. I knew that Jesus was of one and the same essence as the Father and the Holy Spirit. I knew that Jesus Christ broke into human history to be the redemption of mankind through His action on the cross and through His resurrection. I knew all that. I had the materials for the making of simple conversion experience. It is like having gone to a high-end prep school and having great advantage over some kid from the projects when it comes time to demonstrate our academic capabilities. I had the advantage of being a preacher’s kid. I had the advantage of exposure to all that is of God. However, even if you grew up as a preacher’s kid, it does not automatically mean that you are going to accept Christ as your Savior and Lord. Just because you have these built-in advantages, it does not guarantee salvation. You can’t come to Christ just because you lived in the right conditions and environment.

That was the thing that I thought about this morning as I read these verses about Rehoboam. He had all the advantages of being at the seat of God’s visible power among men but it did not guarantee that he would lead the people of Judah in the ways of the Lord. Let’s see what happened – here in 1 Kings 14:21-24:

21 Meanwhile, Rehoboam son of Solomon was king in Judah. He was forty-one years old when he became king, and he reigned seventeen years in Jerusalem, the city the Lord had chosen from among all the tribes of Israel as the place to honor his name. Rehoboam’s mother was Naamah, an Ammonite woman.

22 During Rehoboam’s reign, the people of Judah did what was evil in the Lord’s sight, provoking his anger with their sin, for it was even worse than that of their ancestors. 23 For they also built for themselves pagan shrines and set up sacred pillars and Asherah poles on every high hill and under every green tree. 24 There were even male and female shrine prostitutes throughout the land. The people imitated the detestable practices of the pagan nations the Lord had driven from the land ahead of the Israelites.

In this passage, we see that Rehoboam, despite being the grandson of a “man after God’s own heart” and son of “the wisest of kings” and living in eyesight of the Temple of God, he did not follow God himself. He allowed the culture’s desire for the easy religion of “what I want” to permeate the people including himself. He was not a spiritual leader to his people. He followed the prevailing trends and went along with it just to appease the crowd and win their acceptance. That is the dilemma that we face today as Christians, do we ignore God’s Word just to “get a listen” from the culture or do we stand firm on God’s Word, the timeless, eternal Word of God, and engage the culture with that which is blatantly counter-cultural. We will always be in opposition to the culture because the culture is about “me, me, me” and God’s Word is about “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus”! I am not saying that we do not engage the culture where people are at but we do not trade our beliefs away just to be accepted and at some point in our engagement with unbelievers we will have gained their trust and will have to confront them with the truth of God’s Word.

For me, personally, the journey to the cross was much the same as this broad generalization about the church and culture. It was more important to me, like Rehoboam, to be accepted by the culture around me than diving into the world of believers in Jesus Christ that I knew full well from birth. I was like Rehoboam. I grew up in the shadow of the house of God. Often, the parsonage was right next door to the church my dad was serving. But living in the shadow of the house of God, like Rehoboam and me, does not guarantee salvation. It guarantees that you will know about God but does not guarantee that you will follow Him. The pull of culture is great. It is tangible and right before you. You go to class with culture. You work with culture. You play with culture. If you are an insecure person, acceptance is everything. Even after salvation, I still struggle with being what I call “an approval junkie”. I want to be accepted and approved of. That’s why I think, in part, that it took me so long to get to the cross (at age 39 in December 2001). I made getting the approval of others, particularly drawing my value from whether I was in a relationship with a woman or not, the most important thing. I would dare say that I made been liked and approved of a god. In this way, I can identify with Rehoboam. He and I both knew that worshiping something other than God was wrong, but we just wanted to be liked by the most people … so we go along with the tide. Just because you live in the shadow of the steeple does not guarantee anything!

The thing that I take away this morning is that Rehoboam we look upon with disgust when we read this passage. I have pity for him. He is me and I am him. What Rehoboam needs to learn and what I had to learn (and in some ways still learning) is that we draw our value from God himself not from the culture. We must realize that the culture is going to tempt us to do that which is away from God because it is easy and pleases the flesh. We must realize that God calls us toward holiness through Jesus Christ and that it will never be easy. We must realize that we do not have to have the approval of culture when we are firmly planted in the heart of God through Jesus Christ. When we have a relationship with God through Jesus Christ, we can place our trust in Him to carry us through the hard times, the good times, and everything in between. Through God, we can have confidence that He has a purpose in everything that we go through. There was a pastor in my past that said, “God is preparing us for what He has prepared for us.” Everything has purpose in God’s plan. What you are going through right now, God will use later in what He has next for you. Trust in the Lord. He is stable. He is eternal. Trust in the Lord. He knows you personally and loves you. Trust in the Lord and He will guide your steps. Culture is always changing to meet its fleshly desires but God is unchanging and eternal. That very same God desires that you follow Him and obey Him for His love is so great for you that He will see you through all things all the time.

Amen and Amen.

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1 Kings 14:19-20

The End of Jeroboam’s Reign in Israel

Who is it that we remember long-term, even after their death? Why is it that 50 years, almost 51, after his death, we still remember Martin Luther King, Jr. as vividly today as we did at the time of his death in April 1968 by an assassin’s bullet? Do we remember who killed him as vividly? I had to go to my google search to remember who did that dastardly deed. When the results returned, I said to myself, “oh yeah, now I remember!” Can you name his assassin? If you have a better memory than me, you would know that James Earl Ray was the man who shot Martin Luther King, Jr. and killed him.

What do you remember about James Earl Ray? The first thing that he is known for is for having killed another man. That’s the highlight of his life. That is the high point. Here’s the story on James Earl Ray. Ray was born to a poor family on March 10, 1928, in Alton, Illinois, the son of Lucille (née Maher) and George Ellis Ray. He had Ulster Scots and Irish ancestry and had a Catholic upbringing. In February 1935, Ray’s father, known by the nickname Speedy, passed a bad check in Alton, Illinois, then moved to Ewing, Missouri, where the family had to change their name to Raynes to avoid law enforcement. Ray left school at the age of fifteen. He later joined the U.S. Army at the close of World War II and served in Germany, although Ray struggled to adapt to military life.

Ray’s first conviction for criminal activity, a burglary in California, came in 1949. In 1952, he served two years for the armed robbery of a taxi driver in Illinois. In 1955, Ray was convicted of mail fraud after stealing money orders in Hannibal, Missouri, then forging them to take a trip to Florida. He served four years in Leavenworth. In 1959, Ray was caught stealing $120 in an armed robbery of a St. Louis Kroger store. Ray was sentenced to twenty years in prison for repeated offenses. He escaped from the Missouri State Penitentiary in 1967 by hiding in a truck transporting bread from the prison bakery.

Following his escape, Ray stayed on the move throughout the United States and Canada, going first to St. Louis and then onwards to Chicago, Toronto, Montreal, and Birmingham, Alabama, where he stayed long enough to buy a 1966 Ford Mustang and get an Alabama driver’s license. He then drove to Mexico, stopping in Acapulco before settling down in Puerto Vallarta on October 19, 1967.[7]

While in Mexico, Ray, using the alias Eric Starvo Galt, attempted to establish himself as a pornographic film director. Using mail-ordered equipment, he filmed and photographed local prostitutes. Frustrated with his results and jilted by the prostitute with whom he had formed a relationship, Ray left Mexico on or around November 16, 1967. Ray returned to the United States, arriving in Los Angeles on November 19, 1967. While in Los Angeles, Ray attended a local bartending school and took dancing lessons. His chief interest, however, was the George Wallace presidential campaign. Ray harbored a strong prejudice against black people and was quickly drawn to Wallace’s segregationist platform. He spent much of his time in Los Angeles volunteering at the Wallace campaign headquarters in North Hollywood. He considered emigrating to Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), where a predominantly white minority regime had unilaterally assumed independence from the United Kingdom in 1965. The notion of living in Rhodesia continued to appeal to Ray for several years afterwards, and it was his intended destination after Dr. King’s assassination. The Rhodesian government expressed its disapproval.

Arriving in Atlanta on March 24, 1968, Ray checked into a rooming house.[15] He eventually bought a map of the city. FBI agents later found this map when they searched the room in which he was staying in Atlanta. On the map, the locations of the church and residence of Martin Luther King Jr. were circled. Ray was soon on the road again and drove his Mustang to Birmingham, Alabama. There, on March 30, 1968, he bought a Remington Model 760 Gamemaster .30-06-caliber rifle and a box of 20 cartridges from the Aeromarine Supply Company. He also bought a Redfield 2x-7x scope, which he had mounted to the rifle. He told the shopkeepers that he was going on a hunting trip with his brother. Ray had continued using the Galt alias after his stint in Mexico, but when he made this purchase, he gave his name as Harvey Lowmeyer.

After purchasing the rifle and accessories, Ray drove back to Atlanta. An avid newspaper reader, Ray passed his time reading the Atlanta Constitution. The paper reported King’s planned return trip to Memphis, Tennessee, which was scheduled for April 1, 1968. On April 2, 1968, Ray packed a bag and drove to Memphis. On April 4, 1968, Ray killed Martin Luther King Jr. with a single shot fired from his Remington rifle, while King was standing on the second-floor balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee. Shortly after the shot was fired, witnesses saw Ray fleeing from a rooming house across the street from the motel; he had been renting a room in the house at the time. A package was abandoned close to the site that included a rifle and binoculars, both found with Ray’s fingerprints.

Would you have known any of this without doing research on James Earl Ray? After googling for the name of King’s assassin, it did jog my memory of him being the man who killed King, but little else. There was nothing in my memory banks but the name and a flash of an interview he did with 60 Minutes in the late 1970’s or early 1980’s but that’s it. No idea of how he came to be the man who assassinated the leader of the American civil rights movement. Nothing burned into my burn. I had to do research to find what I found about him. Nothing rolled out of the files stored away in my brain.

Why is that? That’s the idea that came to mind this morning as I struggled with this two verse, really kind of non-descript set of verses about the remainder/the end of Jeroboam’s reign. Two lines. Two verses. The whole of the remainder of Jeroboam’s reign set down in two verses. Is it because of the fact that he stood for that which is rebellion against God? Is it that he was known more for what he was against than what he was for? Is it that he was known for desperate attempts to consolidate his power rather than developing a culture of togetherness? Is it because he was known more for hate than love? That’s the powerful larger message that came to me as I read these simple two verses. These verses pounded that idea into my head and heart more for what these two verses DO NOT say as for what they DO say. Join me now in reading 1 Kings 14:19-20:

19 The rest of the events in Jeroboam’s reign, including all his wars and how he ruled, are recorded in The Book of the History of the Kings of Israel. 20 Jeroboam reigned in Israel twenty-two years. When Jeroboam died, his son Nadab became the next king.

In this passage, we see that the author, under the divine inspiration and supervision of the Holy Spirit, mentions the non-biblical historical book, The Book of the History of the Kings of Israel, to allow the audience to which he was writing to go elsewhere to see what happened in the remainder of Jeroboam’s reign. For in that there is very little account of the reign of Jeroboam; but in the annals and diaries of the kings of Israel, written by persons appointed for that purpose, and out of which it is generally thought that inspired writers, by divine direction, took what was thought proper to be transmitted to future times. a book of civil records, the annals, wherein all remarkable passages were recorded by the king’s command from day to day; out of which the sacred penman, by the influence of God’s Spirit, took those passages which were most considerable and useful for God’s honor, and men’s edification. The whole of the remainder of Jeroboam’s reign is boiled down to two verses.

Getting back to the two pictures that I drew earlier – Martin Luther King, Jr. and James Earl Ray. Who is it that we remember? Whose speeches have inspired generations and not just the ones who heard them live but for two generations now afterwards. Is it not that Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke often and eloquently about love rather than hate? Similarly, among civil rights activists do we remember the leaders of civil rights groups that espoused a radical overthrow of the white majority by the black minority or do we remember the one who espoused loving your neighbor into accepting that all men are created equal? Love will be remembered. Love leaves a legacy. Love inspires people to do the right thing.

And that is exactly what Jesus taught us too through His life on earth and His action on the cross. If Jesus had been an anti-establishment rebel and tried to bring down the Roman Empire and its puppet religious council in Israel, would He have been remembered for 2,000 years. When people paint Him just as a man and not as the Son of God, God in the flesh, we reduce Jesus to a martyr in a lost cause. But why is it that Jesus is the centerpiece of the history of the world? We measure time by his death and resurrection. Christianity is still the world’s largest religion. Christianity transformed the world. Christianity is still transforming the world. Jesus Christ inspires people to seek to worship Him and follow His Word in countries where simply to be a Christian can get you imprisoned or killed. Every religion on the planet has to have a position on Jesus Christ. Every one of them must respond to Jesus Christ. Think about that. The story of Jesus Christ endures because it is not myth. It is real. God so loved the world that He sent His Son (who is of the same essence and is of the same being as the Father and the Holy Spirit) to die for our sins so that we could be reconciled unto God and have everlasting and eternal life with God in heaven. Christianity is the only religion that tells us that we cannot perform our way into heaven. Christianity is the reality that we cannot outweigh our daily sins with good deeds. Christianity says that, in reality, we are destined for hell and we need an intervention of cosmic proportions. That is what makes Jesus so necessary. God could have zapped us all into submission by force. But He chose love. Love is remembered. Love endures. Love wins.

Just as we celebrate this week a true national hero in Martin Luther King, Jr., that message is one that is remembered. Love wins. It was through King’s constant and persistent preaching and leading us in seeing that violence and hatred are self-destructive to us all and that love is the agent that opens our eyes to injustice on the part of both the oppressor an the oppressed. The words of hate are not remembered and do not give a legacy. Who remembers any quotes of James Earl Ray? But just think of all the beautiful, love-based speeches of Martin Luther King that endure and will endure for generations to come. One of my favorites of his speeches is the one that is about love and reflected the character of a true Christ follower:

“I’m concerned about a better World. I’m concerned about justice; I’m concerned about brotherhood and sisterhood; I’m concerned about truth. And when one is concerned about that, he can never advocate violence. For through violence you may murder a murderer, but you can’t murder murder. Through violence you may murder a liar, but you can’t establish truth. Through violence you may murder a hater, but you can’t murder hate through violence. Darkness cannot put out darkness; only light can do that.

And I say to you, I have also decided to stick with love, for I know that love is ultimately the only answer to humankind’s problems. And I’m going to talk about it everywhere I go. I know it isn’t popular to talk about it in some circles today. And I’m not talking about emotional bosh when I talk about love; I’m talking about a strong, demanding love. For I have seen too much hate. […] and I say to myself that hate is too great a burden to bear. I have decided to love. If you are seeking the highest good, I think you can find it through love. And the beautiful thing is that we aren’t moving wrong when we do it, because John was right, God is love. He who hates does not know God, but he who loves has the key that unlocks the door to the meaning of ultimate reality.

And so I say to you today, my friends, that you may be able to speak with the tongues of men and angels; you may have the eloquence of articulate speech; but if you have not love, it means nothing. Yes, you may have the gift of prophecy; you may have the gift of scientific prediction and understand the behavior of molecules; you may break into the storehouse of nature and bring forth many new insights; yes, you may ascend to the heights of academic achievement so that you have all knowledge; and you may boast of your great institutions of learning and the boundless extent of your degrees; but if you have not love, all of these mean absolutely nothing. You may even give your goods to feed the poor; you may bestow great gifts to charity; and you may tower high in philanthropy; but if you have not love, your charity means nothing. You may even give your body to be burned and die the death of a martyr, and your spilt blood may be a symbol of honor for generations yet unborn, and thousands may praise you as one of history’s greatest heroes; but if you have not love, your blood was spilt in vain. What I’m trying to get you to see this morning is that a man may be self-centered in his self-denial and self-righteous in his self-sacrifice. His generosity may feed his ego, and his piety may feed his pride. So without love, benevolence becomes egotism, and martyrdom becomes spiritual pride.”

Love stands the test of time. Love is written about over and over and over. Love endures. Love wins.

Amen and Amen.

1 Kings 14:1-18

Ahijah’s Prophecy Against Jeroboam

It is a pattern that we often see repeated in ourselves before we come to Christ as our Savior and in our society in times of crisis. We use the one true God as a fallback God. How often do we try things our way and reject God and His Word and even make fun of those who believe in that ancient myth of some Creator who controls everything? Then, when times get hard, we fall back to that which we have made fun of in the past. We pray to God.

We see it in our society in general as well. According to an August 16, 2016 article in the online magazine Duke Today (an online magazine associated with Duke University),

after the Sept. 11 terror attacks, many expected American houses of worship to be jammed with parishioners seeking refuge, community and a place to grieve. And that spike in church attendance did in fact occur. Briefly. But the attacks did not have a lasting effect on American religiosity, says Mark Chaves, a Duke professor of sociology, religious studies, and divinity. Chaves directs the National Congregations Study, which examines American religious places of worship over time. He says the jolt to church attendance following the attacks lasted just a few weeks. “People thought this type of crisis of national significance would lead people to be more religious, and it did,” he says. “But it was very short-lived. There was a blip in church attendance and then it went back to normal.” And though church attendance spiked briefly after 9/11, America’s overall participation in religious activities was actually in decline at that time — a trend that was slow enough not to be identified until recently. The best data point to a slow, steady drop in religious involvement dating back to at least the 1970s, he says.

I remember before I came to Christ as my Savior and Lord in December 2001, I knew who God was. I grew up as a preacher’s kid. I knew about Jesus Christ as the Savior. I knew that He died for my sins, whatever that meant to me at the time. But all the knowledge of God and what He had done for us as laid out in the Bible just never took hold in my soul. It was knowledge only without the power of the Holy Spirit. So as I grew older and left home to live life on my own and especially after the philosophical challenges that college brings, I grew away from serious consideration of God. I became susceptible to anything that questioned God’s existence, that Jesus performed miracles, that Jesus was God in the flesh. I began to think of Jesus as this great philosopher and anti-establishment figure rather than the Son of God. To me, He was this great martyr figure. How his actions came to sweep the world was beyond me. I just could not wrap my head around Jesus as being God in the flesh. I had knowledge but no faith. I knew but I did not understand.

However, in times of crisis, boy, did I ever pray to the God that I questioned. I would go to Him when things were going bad. And my divorce from my first wife was worthy of a Lifetime movie. It was that bad. During that time, I sought God in prayer when the battles within that war were going on and I did not think I could take anymore. But hey as soon as the immediate crisis was over, I was back on my own and prayer was the last thing on my mind…until the next crisis. That was the character of my life. I bought into the culture’s worldview of independence and self-reliance. I was determined never to lose and never give up. It was win-win at all costs and, no matter how difficult things became. My mantra was, “When things get tough, the tough get going.” My perspective worked well until my deep valleys outnumbered my mountaintops. Does this sound like you? Can you identify with what I’m saying?

That’s what I thought of this morning as I read about Jeroboam’s reaction to the crisis in his life. Here, he had started a new religion to suit his personal needs but yet when a crisis time came, he sent his wife to see a man of God, the real God, the one true God. Aren’t we all a lot like that until we come to know Jesus as our Savior and Lord? Let’s read about the crisis in Jeroboam’s immediate family now in 1 Kings 14:1-18, now:

Chapter 14

1 At that time Jeroboam’s son Abijah became very sick. 2 So Jeroboam told his wife, “Disguise yourself so that no one will recognize you as my wife. Then go to the prophet Ahijah at Shiloh—the man who told me I would become king. 3 Take him a gift of ten loaves of bread, some cakes, and a jar of honey, and ask him what will happen to the boy.”

4 So Jeroboam’s wife went to Ahijah’s home at Shiloh. He was an old man now and could no longer see. 5 But the Lord had told Ahijah, “Jeroboam’s wife will come here, pretending to be someone else. She will ask you about her son, for he is very sick. Give her the answer I give you.”

6 So when Ahijah heard her footsteps at the door, he called out, “Come in, wife of Jeroboam! Why are you pretending to be someone else?” Then he told her, “I have bad news for you. 7 Give your husband, Jeroboam, this message from the Lord, the God of Israel: ‘I promoted you from the ranks of the common people and made you ruler over my people Israel. 8 I ripped the kingdom away from the family of David and gave it to you. But you have not been like my servant David, who obeyed my commands and followed me with all his heart and always did whatever I wanted. 9 You have done more evil than all who lived before you. You have made other gods for yourself and have made me furious with your gold calves. And since you have turned your back on me, 10 I will bring disaster on your dynasty and will destroy every one of your male descendants, slave and free alike, anywhere in Israel. I will burn up your royal dynasty as one burns up trash until it is all gone. 11 The members of Jeroboam’s family who die in the city will be eaten by dogs, and those who die in the field will be eaten by vultures. I, the Lord, have spoken.’”

12 Then Ahijah said to Jeroboam’s wife, “Go on home, and when you enter the city, the child will die. 13 All Israel will mourn for him and bury him. He is the only member of your family who will have a proper burial, for this child is the only good thing that the Lord, the God of Israel, sees in the entire family of Jeroboam.

14 “In addition, the Lord will raise up a king over Israel who will destroy the family of Jeroboam. This will happen today, even now! 15 Then the Lord will shake Israel like a reed whipped about in a stream. He will uproot the people of Israel from this good land that he gave their ancestors and will scatter them beyond the Euphrates River,[a] for they have angered the Lord with the Asherah poles they have set up for worship. 16 He will abandon Israel because Jeroboam sinned and made Israel sin along with him.”

17 So Jeroboam’s wife returned to Tirzah, and the child died just as she walked through the door of her home. 18 And all Israel buried him and mourned for him, as the Lord had promised through the prophet Ahijah.

In this passage we see that Jeroboam sent his wife incognito to seek out a man of God to see what was going to happen with their sick son. Although he was seeking God’s assistance and maybe assurance, he did not want his wife being discovered doing it. Jeroboam did not tell his wife to pray for their son, or to ask the prophet to pray. He wanted to use Ahijah the prophet as a fortuneteller instead of seeking him as a man of God. How often do we go to God with the wrong motives in prayer, especially when we have been rebelling against God anyway? Before we understand our relationship with God, we think of Him as our last resort method. Jeroboam was doing the same here.

God actually desires that we be utterly dependent upon Him and that we are in desperate need of His help. It is often through our circumstances that we finally realize that we cannot control our lives on our own and that we need God’s help. But we must come to Him believing that He is more than some God of last resort. We must come to Him in all humility, no matter who is watching. We must come to Him believing that we are sinners in need of redemption and that we have messed it all up and that we are willing to hand all power over our lives to Him.

Think of a human father.  What good father would not want his children to turn to him when they need help?  Naturally, a father loves it when his children come to him to seek help.  There is something special about having someone there for you.  God is this true source and He is more reliable than any human father or mother. God truly loves those that are His.  He loves you! 

Listen to what God says for those who are in desperate situations and what He promises when they call upon Him. God wants us to depend on Him and not rely on ourselves.  God is our Father and we are His children. Children cannot make it in this world without their parents.  How much more so can we not make it without the help of our Heavenly Father?  If we try to solve our problems by ourselves then we can really do nothing to ultimately solve them. God is actually more glorified in our weakness because by His strength He is able to display His might.  He stands ever ready, able, and willing to help us when we really need it but we must first acknowledge of our need for His help.  We truly find freedom from worry when we learn to depend upon God.  Our money says “In God We Trust” but it is hard to trust when everything seems to be caving in around us.  Nothing looks like it will turn out right.  At times there is no evidence that God is even with us so how can we trust in Him during calamitous times?  In reality, we can sometimes not even trust our eyes…but if there is anything in this universe you can trust, it is God Almighty.  It is the invisible hand that is placed in ours that never lets go.  Like a parent holding their child‘s hand, God is securely caring for us, never letting us slip or fall.

When everything seems to be falling in around us, when the walls seem to be closing in on us, when nothing in our world or in this world seems to hold any hope, when everything looks completely hopeless, just remember that God is not ever caught by surprise. He will save those who are His from calamity (Heb 7:25).  He isn’t ever going to abandon us, forsake us, or leave us. Is now the time that you finally give up on controlling your own life and give control over to God? Knowing that God has our back and that even our hard times have a purpose for what God has planned for us is trust. Trust in the Lord. Place your hand in His. God is preparing you for what He has prepared for you!

Amen and Amen.

1 Kings 13:1-34

A Prophet Denounces Jeroboam

The Christian book industry is a booming one. Last year was a big one for religious books in the U.S., as sales jumped more than 10.5% from the previous year to eclipse 52.4 million units, according to Nielsen BookScan. Sales in the overall book market couldn’t keep pace by a long shot, as they grew only 2.4% from the previous year. Across the broader religious category, Christian books have seen particularly strong sales, especially juvenile and nonfiction titles. For example, while all adult nonfiction religious titles experienced a combined average growth of almost 8.9% over the past five years, the nonfiction Christian subcategory saw growth of almost 11.3%. Needless to say, the Christian book industry is a money maker for publishers. Go to any Christian bookstore and you see thousands of titles across large stores. Go to any secular bookstore and the “inspirational books” section now takes up several aisles of the store.

Yet at the same time, Christians claim to believe the Bible is God’s Word. According to a July 6, 2015 article at christianitytoday.com, “We claim it is God’s divinely inspired, inerrant message to us. Yet despite this, we aren’t reading it. A recent LifeWay Research study found only 45 percent of those who regularly attend church read the Bible more than once a week. Over 40 percent of the people attending read their Bible occasionally, maybe once or twice a month. Almost 1 in 5 churchgoers say they never read the Bible.” In that article entitled, “The Epidemic of Biblical Illiteracy in Our Churches”, the author, Ed Stetzer (one of the most respected Christian authors/theologians of this era), the trend is not limited to the United States but Europe as well. The United Kingdom Bible Society surveyed British children and found many could not identify common Bible stories. When given a list of stories, almost 1 in 3 didn’t choose the Nativity as part of the Bible and over half (59 percent) didn’t know that Jonah being swallowed by the great fish is in the Bible. The article goes onto say that British parents didn’t do much better. Around 30 percent of parents don’t know Adam and Eve, David and Goliath, or the Good Samaritan are in the Bible. To make matters worse, 27 percent think Superman is or might be a biblical story. More than 1 in 3 believes the same about Harry Potter. And more than half (54 percent) believe The Hunger Games is or might be a story from the Bible.

That idea of knowing the difference between what is and what is not God’s Word was what came to mind this morning as we read about the prophet who was sent to warn Jeroboam that he was leading the people of the northern tribes astray. The prophet heard from God, as we shall see, but yet after he delivered the message, he was willing to listen to a word from a so-called prophet whose words were in opposition to what God had told him. Let’s read about it now in 1 Kings 13:1-34:

Chapter 13

1 At the Lord’s command, a man of God from Judah went to Bethel, arriving there just as Jeroboam was approaching the altar to burn incense. 2 Then at the Lord’s command, he shouted, “O altar, altar! This is what the Lord says: A child named Josiah will be born into the dynasty of David. On you he will sacrifice the priests from the pagan shrines who come here to burn incense, and human bones will be burned on you.” 3 That same day the man of God gave a sign to prove his message. He said, “The Lord has promised to give this sign: This altar will split apart, and its ashes will be poured out on the ground.”

4 When King Jeroboam heard the man of God speaking against the altar at Bethel, he pointed at him and shouted, “Seize that man!” But instantly the king’s hand became paralyzed in that position, and he couldn’t pull it back. 5 At the same time a wide crack appeared in the altar, and the ashes poured out, just as the man of God had predicted in his message from the Lord.

6 The king cried out to the man of God, “Please ask the Lord your God to restore my hand again!” So the man of God prayed to the Lord, and the king’s hand was restored and he could move it again.

7 Then the king said to the man of God, “Come to the palace with me and have something to eat, and I will give you a gift.”

8 But the man of God said to the king, “Even if you gave me half of everything you own, I would not go with you. I would not eat or drink anything in this place. 9 For the Lord gave me this command: ‘You must not eat or drink anything while you are there, and do not return to Judah by the same way you came.’” 10 So he left Bethel and went home another way.

11 As it happened, there was an old prophet living in Bethel, and his sons[a] came home and told him what the man of God had done in Bethel that day. They also told their father what the man had said to the king. 12 The old prophet asked them, “Which way did he go?” So they showed their father[b] which road the man of God had taken. 13 “Quick, saddle the donkey,” the old man said. So they saddled the donkey for him, and he mounted it.

14 Then he rode after the man of God and found him sitting under a great tree. The old prophet asked him, “Are you the man of God who came from Judah?”

“Yes, I am,” he replied.

15 Then he said to the man of God, “Come home with me and eat some food.”

16 “No, I cannot,” he replied. “I am not allowed to eat or drink anything here in this place. 17 For the Lord gave me this command: ‘You must not eat or drink anything while you are there, and do not return to Judah by the same way you came.’”

18 But the old prophet answered, “I am a prophet, too, just as you are. And an angel gave me this command from the Lord: ‘Bring him home with you so he can have something to eat and drink.’” But the old man was lying to him. 19 So they went back together, and the man of God ate and drank at the prophet’s home.

20 Then while they were sitting at the table, a command from the Lord came to the old prophet. 21 He cried out to the man of God from Judah, “This is what the Lord says: You have defied the word of the Lord and have disobeyed the command the Lord your God gave you. 22 You came back to this place and ate and drank where he told you not to eat or drink. Because of this, your body will not be buried in the grave of your ancestors.”

23 After the man of God had finished eating and drinking, the old prophet saddled his own donkey for him, 24 and the man of God started off again. But as he was traveling along, a lion came out and killed him. His body lay there on the road, with the donkey and the lion standing beside it. 25 People who passed by saw the body lying in the road and the lion standing beside it, and they went and reported it in Bethel, where the old prophet lived.

26 When the prophet heard the report, he said, “It is the man of God who disobeyed the Lord’s command. The Lord has fulfilled his word by causing the lion to attack and kill him.”

27 Then the prophet said to his sons, “Saddle a donkey for me.” So they saddled a donkey, 28 and he went out and found the body lying in the road. The donkey and lion were still standing there beside it, for the lion had not eaten the body nor attacked the donkey. 29 So the prophet laid the body of the man of God on the donkey and took it back to the town to mourn over him and bury him. 30 He laid the body in his own grave, crying out in grief, “Oh, my brother!”

31 Afterward the prophet said to his sons, “When I die, bury me in the grave where the man of God is buried. Lay my bones beside his bones. 32 For the message the Lord told him to proclaim against the altar in Bethel and against the pagan shrines in the towns of Samaria will certainly come true.”

33 But even after this, Jeroboam did not turn from his evil ways. He continued to choose priests from the common people. He appointed anyone who wanted to become a priest for the pagan shrines. 34 This became a great sin and resulted in the utter destruction of Jeroboam’s dynasty from the face of the earth.

In this passage, we see that this prophet had been given strict orders from God not to eat or drink anything while on his mission (1 Kings 13:9). He died because he listened to a man who claimed to have a message from God. This prophet should have followed God’s commands instead of relying on hearsay of a man he did not know. We must trust God’s Word rather than what someone claims to be true. We should disregard what others claim are messages from God if their words contradict either something specific in Scripture or the general tenor of God’s Word.

In reflecting on the idea that came to mind this morning, the popularity of Christian literature today vs. the documented extent of biblical illiteracy among (1) the general population of society and (2) specifically among Christians, this passage really demonstrated what can happen to us. We can be misled about what IS in Scripture when we do not know the Scriptures. There are many claims as to why we as Americans or western culture in general do not read the Bible. We are too busy with life and we do not have time. Another big one is that we do not understand the Bible at all and thus do not read it.

There are surveys out there about what people believe is in the Bible but is not. For example, While Western art has traditionally depicted the fruit Adam and Eve ate in the garden as an apple, the Bible is not that specific. Genesis 3:6 merely describes Eve eating some of the “fruit” and sharing it with Adam. We often hear that “money is the root of all evil”. Close, but the frequently quoted phrase is missing a few important words. 1 Timothy 6:10 actually says that the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. Another is that “God works in mysterious ways”. Not in the Bible. It’s one of those true-ish statements, but it’s not a Bible verse. Sure, Scripture is full of God doing things in unusual (to us) ways. Isaiah 55:8-9 reminds us that God’s ways are different from ours. But no biblical prophet ever uttered this specific phrase. Another is “God helps those who help themselves” Where does the phrase actually come from? Variations are proverbial statements in ancient Greek tragedies. The Quran (13:11) has something similar. An English politician gave us the exact wording, which Benjamin Franklin quotes in Poor Richard’s Almanac. The message of Romans 5:8 is the exact opposite. While we were still sinners and unable to help ourselves, Christ died for us—proving how much God loves us, how amazing grace is, and how incapable of helping ourselves we truly are.

These are minor commonly accepted proverbs of life that developed in Western culture and many believe that they are in the Bible when they are actually not. However, these little pithy sayings typically would not lead you astray from God. What if though we really get it wrong about theology? What if we get major beliefs wrong and lead people astray. Just look what happened with the northern tribes. By the day of Jesus, they had developed their own religion that resembled nothing of God’s Word.

We can be in danger of the same thing for ourselves and anyone we influence if we read books about The Book but don’t read The Book. To learn mathematics, we must study. To learn English grammar, we have to study. To learn anything in any field of endeavor, we must study. We must study and then put into practice what we have learned. It is through the combination of study and practice that we learn what works and does not work in whatever we have chosen to learn. If you do not study and practice, you will never grow in your field and understand the difference between error and truth in your field. Why is it that we think we can know God’s will and God’s commands and the consistency of His Word if we don’t read it? And not just read it to say we read it but really study it and use resources that help us understand it.

Just as we must make commitments to get healthy but getting up early and going for a jog or a walk every morning, it is the same with God’s Word. We must make it a priority in our lives to set aside time each day to study the Bible (and again I emphasize study rather than just read to say I have read a passage or a chapter today). Exercising to get fit takes time and commitment and so does Bible study.

In the end, the commitment is worth it. God’s Word comes alive to us when we study it. God’s Word comes to mind more easily when we have been studying it. God’s Word, through the Holy Spirit, will guide us toward more Christ-like responses to things that happen to us and happen around us in the world. We will begin to know the general way of God, too, through Holy Spirit guidance, if a situation is unique and we cannot find a specific reference to it in the Bible. When we study the Bible, the Holy Spirit illumines in us the ways of God. Through Bible study, we learn the ways of God and how they apply to any situation by simply better understanding of the nature of God.

Sure, books about the Book are great and I am not saying don’t read Christian literature. It is always good to see and understand different perspectives on God that we may not have known or understood previously. However, books about the Book are no substitute for the Book itself.

Amen and Amen.

1 Kings 12:25-33 (Part 3 of 3)

Jeroboam Makes Gold Calves

In the “which came first” category, there is the age old debate about the chicken or the egg. Then, in the 21st century church, a similar question is always raging. Which is more important? Do we adapt the message to the culture or do we adapt the culture to the message? There are quickly growing churches out there that are willing to sacrifice the entirety of Scripture to be in synch with the culture. Yet, at the same time, there are dying churches out there that do not interact with culture and see life as us vs. them outside our walls. Do we sacrifice the whole counsel of Scripture just to maintain relevancy? Do we close ourselves off from the outside world and write off the world outside our walls?

In defense of reaching outside our walls, we as churches or we as individual Christians should try to reach people far from God through unique and innovative ways that strikes a chord with those who do not know Christ as their Savior. Jesus himself went out of his way to make contact with those that were outcast from mainstream Jewish religious life. We are called to go. We are called to make contact. We are called to interact. We are called to demonstrate uncommon love. We are called to establish relationships. We are called to draw them toward the fellowship of believers. We are called to expose them to the gospel. We are called to do what the Holy Spirit directs us to do as He does His work in the sinner’s heart. We are called to celebrate with them as they become a believer in Jesus Christ. We are called to make disciples. We are called to make fully devoted followers of Jesus Christ.

We must be aware of cultural trends and work out ways to take the unchanging message of God’s Word and present it in ways that are understandable to the changing nature of culture. But we must always let the Word of God speak for itself in its entirety. We can love people to God’s Word in myriad ways that are relevant to the culture but we must always let the entirety of God’s Word speak for itself. Allow it to convict hearts and change hearts. Our preaching and teaching is to take the truth of God’s Word and apply to current circumstances and let the Holy Spirit do His thing in people’s hearts. Do we change our methods of communicating with the world around us? Yes. We must figure out how to connect with the world we are called to disciple. Do we add to, omit, revise God’s Word to do it? No.

That idea of omitting, relaxing, revising of God’s commands just to meet a goal of maintaining the loyalty of the northern tribes is what struck me this morning and how that is similar to the debate we have in modern church in 21st century – about relevancy, about engaging the culture vs. the whole counsel of God’s Word. Let’s read what happened back in the day in 1 Kings 12:25-33:

25 Jeroboam then built up the city of Shechem in the hill country of Ephraim, and it became his capital. Later he went and built up the town of Peniel.[a]

26 Jeroboam thought to himself, “Unless I am careful, the kingdom will return to the dynasty of David. 27 When these people go to Jerusalem to offer sacrifices at the Temple of the Lord, they will again give their allegiance to King Rehoboam of Judah. They will kill me and make him their king instead.”

28 So on the advice of his counselors, the king made two gold calves. He said to the people,[b] “It is too much trouble for you to worship in Jerusalem. Look, Israel, these are the gods who brought you out of Egypt!”

29 He placed these calf idols in Bethel and in Dan—at either end of his kingdom. 30 But this became a great sin, for the people worshiped the idols, traveling as far north as Dan to worship the one there.

31 Jeroboam also erected buildings at the pagan shrines and ordained priests from the common people—those who were not from the priestly tribe of Levi. 32 And Jeroboam instituted a religious festival in Bethel, held on the fifteenth day of the eighth month,[c] in imitation of the annual Festival of Shelters in Judah. There at Bethel he himself offered sacrifices to the calves he had made, and he appointed priests for the pagan shrines he had made. 33 So on the fifteenth day of the eighth month, a day that he himself had designated, Jeroboam offered sacrifices on the altar at Bethel. He instituted a religious festival for Israel, and he went up to the altar to burn incense.

In this passage, we see that Jeroboam goes the lengths of establishing a brand new religious system just to maintain the loyalty of the 10 northern tribes. That certainly is not what God had in mind. In establishing this new religion to meet some political expediency of the moment, he led the people of the north astray. So much so that by Jesus’ time, their “religion” resembled nothing of the worship of the one true God. It was a man-made religion created to meet a political need, a popularity need of one king at a critical point in the history of Israel.

When thinking of this issue in light of the debate that swirls about cultural relevancy and the gospel message in today’s Christian world, we must realize that at some point, the whole counsel of Scripture will offend. Why? Because we are all enemies of God in the absence of Jesus Christ. Plain and simple. We are all sinners destined for hell in the absence of accepting Christ as our Savior. Thus, as enemies of God in the absence of Jesus Christ in our lives, we are going to find His Word uncomfortable and find it so uncomfortable that we will walk away from it if our hearts are closed to the Holy Spirit. Our thinking, our attitudes, our dispositions, our conduct, our ideologies, are all in opposition to God. James 4:4-5 tells us the same thing. We are enemies of God in the absence of the acceptance of grace through Jesus Christ. Thus, at some point, the Bible is going to offend us, even after we accept Christ as our Savior and the Holy Spirit begins the long journey of sanctification in our lives. The Word of God must be allowed to do its work that offends, convicts, and changes us. Each of us when we accepted Christ as our Savior were brought by the Holy Spirit before God and we were able to see the truth of God and our life in comparison to His truth. It is at the cross that we are completely and totally humbled by our own sinfulness and realize that hell is the rightful place for us in the absence of throwing ourselves at the mercy of God through His Son.

Thus, the answer to the debate is yes and no. Yes, we should be like Paul who connected the message of the gospel to whomever he met. He used Greek methodology with the Greeks. He used Roman methodology with the Romans. He used Jewish methodology with the Jews. But the message itself was always the same, always whole. Regardless of who we are or where we come from or how we can identify with Jesus Christ, we all have a need for Him. Yes, we use and should use differing methodologies to reach differing people. We should care THAT much about souls in the balance. We do not change the message itself though. We must allow the whole counsel of God to be front and center, not avoided, not omitted, not stepped around. We love people to the cross and then allow the whole counsel of God’s Word change them from the inside out through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Amen and Amen.

1 Kings 12:25-33 (Part 2)

Jeroboam Makes Gold Calves

There’s an old saying that goes, “the definition of insanity is repeating the same action over and over again and expecting different results!” Some old sayings, you wonder where they came up with the logic behind it. However, this one is so very true.

Just as an illustration from the sports world. Recently, in the college football national championship game, one of the key plays in the game was Clemson snuffing out a fake field goal attempt by Alabama on a 4th down play at the Clemson 22 yard line. They had six yards to gain for a first down. It was a gamble of the highest order. If Alabama was going to go for it on 4th down, they would have been better served to leave their offense on the field and either use the throwing talents of their Heisman runner-up quarterback or one of the bruising running backs that were averaging at least 6 yards a carry on the night. However, they went for a fake field goal. The odds of success of fake field goals are less than 40%. Less than half the time, a team makes the yardage to gain. And you guessed it, Clemson guessed correctly and tackled the runner for a two yard loss on the play. Alabama never recovered from that gamble. It was the third of four times that night that they had been inside the Clemson 25 yard line and came away without a touchdown. Three of the four times, they came away with no points at all, of which this fake field goal was one. The insanity rule would tend to tell you that a fake field goal is not the answer. Further, Clemson seemed to know it was coming by the way they lined up in a regular defense for the field goal try. Knowing the odds are stacked against you and bullishly going ahead with the plan is insanity also.

I bet each one of us could come up with a situation in which we have done the same thing over and over again and expected different results. How often have we seen our past odds of success and seen that they were low and do the same thing over again. Also, how often do we repeat the mistakes of our parents without even realizing that we are doing the same dumb thing that they did when they were our age? How often do we get advice not to do something but we do it anyway? With that in mind, let us read this passage, 1 Kings 12:25-33 once again, now:

25 Jeroboam then built up the city of Shechem in the hill country of Ephraim, and it became his capital. Later he went and built up the town of Peniel.[a]

26 Jeroboam thought to himself, “Unless I am careful, the kingdom will return to the dynasty of David. 27 When these people go to Jerusalem to offer sacrifices at the Temple of the Lord, they will again give their allegiance to King Rehoboam of Judah. They will kill me and make him their king instead.”

28 So on the advice of his counselors, the king made two gold calves. He said to the people,[b] “It is too much trouble for you to worship in Jerusalem. Look, Israel, these are the gods who brought you out of Egypt!”

29 He placed these calf idols in Bethel and in Dan—at either end of his kingdom. 30 But this became a great sin, for the people worshiped the idols, traveling as far north as Dan to worship the one there.

31 Jeroboam also erected buildings at the pagan shrines and ordained priests from the common people—those who were not from the priestly tribe of Levi. 32 And Jeroboam instituted a religious festival in Bethel, held on the fifteenth day of the eighth month,[c] in imitation of the annual Festival of Shelters in Judah. There at Bethel he himself offered sacrifices to the calves he had made, and he appointed priests for the pagan shrines he had made. 33 So on the fifteenth day of the eighth month, a day that he himself had designated, Jeroboam offered sacrifices on the altar at Bethel. He instituted a religious festival for Israel, and he went up to the altar to burn incense.

In this passage, we see that Jeroboam and his advisers did not learn from Israel’s previous disaster with a gold calf (see Exodus 32). Perhaps, they were ignorant of the past, or, maybe, they knew about it and decided to ignore it. There’s a lesson in that for all of us as Christ followers. It is through the study of God’s Word that we understand and become aware of God’s acts in history. It is through that study that we become more acutely aware of the ways of God and the ways of sin and then apply the important lessons we gain from Bible study to our own lives. If we learn from the past, you will not face disaster as a result of repeating the mistakes either others have made or that you have already made one or more times in your life.

Jeroboam thought this time things would be different, maybe? Maybe, he thought since the circumstances were different than when his people were in the desert that the results would be different? Or was Jeroboam just being selfish and driving people toward allegiance to him, personally, instead of God. Whatever the motivation, we know from the Bible that things never work out for people who set up idols and worship them rather than God. The people of Israel know this well. Even if Jeroboam was not truly a man of God and did not read the Torah as he should have, he had to have known just through conversations with family and friends and so on about the golden calf incident in the desert. It all boils down to placing his personal desires above understanding God’s Word and applying it to his life.

How often do we put our personal desires over what God’s Word says and then try to rationalize away why it will work for us or why God will excuse our deviation in this area or that area because of what we have been through or are going through in life? As Dr. Phil on television would say, “How’s that workin’ for ya?” Why can’t we all just learn from God’s eternal Word and zig when it says zig and zag when it says zag. It is, after all, the timeless Word of God. It is tried and true. It is proven. But yet we think it’s different for us than for all mankind of all time just because it’s us.

Father, help us to learn from the past through your Word and then actually apply your Word to our lives. Let us not separate our understanding of God’s Word from its real life application to our lives. Let us begin to apply the wisdom gained from seeing the mistakes that God’s people make. Let us apply the wisdom gained from seeing the victories of God’s people when they obey God. Let us learn that because of your great love for us that you not only gave us your Son to reconcile us unto you but you gave us Your Word to help us to understand you and the way you want us to live through Jesus Christ.

Amen and Amen. mine/ne

1 Kings 12:25-33 (Part 1 of 3)

Jeroboam Makes Gold Calves

Do you remember the peer pressure of school? The pressure to go along with the crowd is enormous all the way from kindergarten to high school and college. To go against the crowd is almost unthinkable. The mob mentality was alive and well when we went to school. Nothing has changed. It is still the same today. There have been many psychological experiments done that prove that the mob will most often crush the will of an individual. They will end up going along with the crowd where in an individual setting they would not do something that they felt was wrong or against their belief system. Sometimes, it’s just easier to take the easy way out and go along with the crowd.

Though many of are no longer in school, the easy way is often the route we take. Rather than standing up to the culture’s desires for satisfying self, we can often find ourselves, as Christ followers, having to make a stand or to compromise our faith. In today’s culture, the seeking and satisfying of our own personal desires is paramount. It is the new world order. When this country was founded, all the writings of the declaration and the constitution were aimed at the rights of individuals as part of a greater collective. The very structure of our government was to ensure the greatest good for the greatest number of people. However, somewhere along the way, our society has changed focus from what is the greatest good for the greatest number of people to the idea that personal rights supersede everything even if may be detrimental to the society as a whole.

Against this cultural backdrop of individual rights being paramount, we exist as Christ followers. In society, we no longer truly believe that there is a higher power in the universe and that we are own determiners of our own destiny. Thus, Christians are just by nature set up against the whole of society as we know it today. As Christ followers, we submit ourselves to God. We recognize that He is the Creator and Ruler of the Universe. Since we believe in Him, we believe that God has the right to demand our obedience. We comply with God’s commands not because we are robots but rather because we love God and what He has done for us through Jesus Christ on the cross. But that fact that we believe in what and external authority says goes against the very grain of current culture. We are then often required to make choices to either go along to get along or set ourselves against the culture. To go along is often the easiest way out.

That was the thing struck me this morning as I read through this passage, 1 Kings 12:25-33 – how just by the nature of what being a Christ follower is all about sets us up against the culture in which we live. In this passage, the culture through Jeroboam was offering an easy way out from the hard part of being a member of the family of God. Jeroboam created these idols for worship as a replacement for the real worship of God in Jerusalem. How many people took Jeroboam’s easy way out. It was easier to go with the culture rather than stand up and say, “I believe in God” and what we are proposing here is not the true worship of God. How many times are we faced with this choice in our Christian walks? Go with the crowd or go with God? With that in mind, let us read this passage now:

25 Jeroboam then built up the city of Shechem in the hill country of Ephraim, and it became his capital. Later he went and built up the town of Peniel.[a]

26 Jeroboam thought to himself, “Unless I am careful, the kingdom will return to the dynasty of David. 27 When these people go to Jerusalem to offer sacrifices at the Temple of the Lord, they will again give their allegiance to King Rehoboam of Judah. They will kill me and make him their king instead.”

28 So on the advice of his counselors, the king made two gold calves. He said to the people,[b] “It is too much trouble for you to worship in Jerusalem. Look, Israel, these are the gods who brought you out of Egypt!”

29 He placed these calf idols in Bethel and in Dan—at either end of his kingdom. 30 But this became a great sin, for the people worshiped the idols, traveling as far north as Dan to worship the one there.

31 Jeroboam also erected buildings at the pagan shrines and ordained priests from the common people—those who were not from the priestly tribe of Levi. 32 And Jeroboam instituted a religious festival in Bethel, held on the fifteenth day of the eighth month,[c] in imitation of the annual Festival of Shelters in Judah. There at Bethel he himself offered sacrifices to the calves he had made, and he appointed priests for the pagan shrines he had made. 33 So on the fifteenth day of the eighth month, a day that he himself had designated, Jeroboam offered sacrifices on the altar at Bethel. He instituted a religious festival for Israel, and he went up to the altar to burn incense.

In this passage, we should note that calves were used by many ancient Middle Eastern cultures as idols to symbolize fertility and strength. Pagan gods of the Canaanites were often depicted as standing on calves or bulls. Jeroaboam shrewdly tapped into this understanding and placed the gold calves in Bethel and Dan, strategic locations. Bethel was just 10 miles north of Jerusalem on a main road, enticing the citizens of the north to stop there instead of traveling on to Jerusalem. Dan was the northernmost city in Israel. There, the people living far away from Jerusalem could be attracted by the convenience location of this “place of worship.” As the leader of the northern kingdom, Jeroboam wanted to establish his own worship centers. Otherwise, his people would make regular trips to Jerusalem and, in his mind, his authority would be undermined. Soon, this substitute religion had little to do with true faith in God.

All Jewish men were required to travel to the Temple three times a year (Deuteronomy 16:16) but Jeroboam told people it was too much trouble to travel all the way to Jerusalem so he set up worship centers in the northernmost and southernmost parts of the new kingdom. Those who obeyed Jeroboam’s more convenient way to “worship” were disobeying God. Some ideas, though practical, may include suggestions that lead us away from God. When reading this passage, we must remind ourselves that we should not let anyone talk us out of following God’s instructions and commands by telling you that it is inconvenient, out of step with the current times, or that it requires too much effort and/or sacrifice. Let us be reminded to follow what God’s Word says and what God wants from us, no matter if it is inconvenient, unpopular, or if it costs us time, energy, reputation, or resources. Being a fully devoted follower of Jesus Christ is often hard and difficult and requires us to stand with God rather than with the culture.

Help us Lord to stand with you when it is unpopular to do so. Help us to reach out to the world that has personal desire as it’s god in ways that are loving rather than condemning but yet help us to hold true to you in the process. Help to love the world around us and meet people where they are at but help us to stand firm in our faith. Help us to demonstrate that true freedom comes from obedience to Your Word.

Amen and Amen.