Archive for March, 2019

1 Kings 22:1-28

Micaiah Prophesies Against Ahab

What is striking about this passage, to me, is that Micaiah was willing to stand up against the tide of public opinion and suffer the consequences if his prophecy was not accepted. He boldly went before the king and told him what God had shared with him. That was the difference between the false prophets and Micaiah. They just went along to get along. They told the king whatever he wanted to hear just so they could keep their jobs and the comforts that went along with it.

It reminds of those days in back in elementary, middle school and high school. It seems that every school you go to no matter where it is in the world, there is always that awkward kid who stands out as different, weird, goofy, socially awkward, and not part of the in-crowd. These kids often live a rough existence while growing up. Picked on mercilessly. Made fun of. Socially ostracized. Bullied. When you look back on those days, you have to admire these kids. They kept coming back to school every day. Knowing everyday that they would have to endure ridicule and sometimes even physical violence. When you look back on those days, we often feel ashamed of having participated in the systematic program of ridicule of socially awkward kids. How could we have been so cruel? Peer pressure in school was the fuel that burned those fires.

There was just this prevailing feeling that if you did not go along with the crowd that you would be singled out and set out on an isolated social island just like the kids that were being picked relentlessly. We all have a powerful desire to be accepted and feel as part of the herd. There is comfort and protection in the group. However, the group mentality has its own power outside of the members. It seems to force people to go along with things that they would not do in isolation. Just think about all the violence that is done in mobs that would not occur if a person was separated from the group in isolation. So when we in school, we interpreted what the group would want us to do without any one member of the group telling us what to do or how to react. That’s the power of a group. We want to be a part of it and we determine what it takes to remain accepted and then do what is necessary to stay in that zone. It makes life easier. We fit in. We do not stand out. Not standing out back when were in school was the key to social acceptance. Talk the same way. Dress the same way. Do the same things. Believe in the same things. Don’t stand out and you can survive and even rise in the pecking order of the social hierarchy of school. Often as we grow older and reflect back on those days, we wish we would have been different and more willing to stand out and vow to ourselves that we would never go back to those days.

I realize that I written quite a bit about those days and the social conformity that we observed back then as we have progressed through 1 Kings. The reason that theme seems to appear and reappear in my writings about this book of the Bible is that it is really appropriate. The willingness of the people of Israel, both in the northern kingdom and the southern kingdom, to go along with the group and not want to stand out led to their ruin. So, things have really changed that much. To understand the people of Israel, you only have to go as far as your memories of school. The social pressure to be accepted and not standing out back in school is just like what you see out of these ancient Israelites. I am sure that there were lots of people who knew worshiping idols and straying far from God was wrong but they went along with it and participating in it just to get along and be accepted. Sound familiar? It’s just like being in back in school and knowing that making fun of the awkward kids was wrong but you went along with it anyway just to fit in and be part of the socially acceptable group.

That’s what I see in the pagan prophets. They went along to get along. They wanted to keep their jobs. They wanted to keep their comforts. Just think of what happened to all the prophets in the Bible. They all suffered death, imprisonment, social ostracization, and even death. The prophets would share God’s prophetic words with Israel and they would pay for it here on earth. They would be ridiculed, laughed at, punished, cast out, singled out, and even killed. Standing out from the herd never seems to bring a good result.

That’s what I thought of this morning when I read about Micaiah here in 1 Kings 22:1-28. He stood out from the herd. He went against the tide. He was even very bold and maybe even cocky about it. He did not care what the herd thought of him. He set aside the social pressures and did what God had given him to do. Let’s read about him and his encounter with Ahab and Ahab’s pagan priests:

22 For three years there was no war between Aram and Israel. 2 Then during the third year, King Jehoshaphat of Judah went to visit King Ahab of Israel. 3 During the visit, the king of Israel said to his officials, “Do you realize that the town of Ramoth-gilead belongs to us? And yet we’ve done nothing to recapture it from the king of Aram!”

4 Then he turned to Jehoshaphat and asked, “Will you join me in battle to recover Ramoth-gilead?”

Jehoshaphat replied to the king of Israel, “Why, of course! You and I are as one. My troops are your troops, and my horses are your horses.” 5 Then Jehoshaphat added, “But first let’s find out what the Lord says.”

6 So the king of Israel summoned the prophets, about 400 of them, and asked them, “Should I go to war against Ramoth-gilead, or should I hold back?”

They all replied, “Yes, go right ahead! The Lord will give the king victory.”

7 But Jehoshaphat asked, “Is there not also a prophet of the Lord here? We should ask him the same question.”

8 The king of Israel replied to Jehoshaphat, “There is one more man who could consult the Lord for us, but I hate him. He never prophesies anything but trouble for me! His name is Micaiah son of Imlah.”

Jehoshaphat replied, “That’s not the way a king should talk! Let’s hear what he has to say.”

9 So the king of Israel called one of his officials and said, “Quick! Bring Micaiah son of Imlah.”

Micaiah Prophesies against Ahab

10 King Ahab of Israel and King Jehoshaphat of Judah, dressed in their royal robes, were sitting on thrones at the threshing floor near the gate of Samaria. All of Ahab’s prophets were prophesying there in front of them. 11 One of them, Zedekiah son of Kenaanah, made some iron horns and proclaimed, “This is what the Lord says: With these horns you will gore the Arameans to death!”

12 All the other prophets agreed. “Yes,” they said, “go up to Ramoth-gilead and be victorious, for the Lord will give the king victory!”

13 Meanwhile, the messenger who went to get Micaiah said to him, “Look, all the prophets are promising victory for the king. Be sure that you agree with them and promise success.”

14 But Micaiah replied, “As surely as the Lord lives, I will say only what the Lord tells me to say.”

15 When Micaiah arrived before the king, Ahab asked him, “Micaiah, should we go to war against Ramoth-gilead, or should we hold back?”

Micaiah replied sarcastically, “Yes, go up and be victorious, for the Lord will give the king victory!”

16 But the king replied sharply, “How many times must I demand that you speak only the truth to me when you speak for the Lord?”

17 Then Micaiah told him, “In a vision I saw all Israel scattered on the mountains, like sheep without a shepherd. And the Lord said, ‘Their master has been killed.[a] Send them home in peace.’”

18 “Didn’t I tell you?” the king of Israel exclaimed to Jehoshaphat. “He never prophesies anything but trouble for me.”

19 Then Micaiah continued, “Listen to what the Lord says! I saw the Lord sitting on his throne with all the armies of heaven around him, on his right and on his left. 20 And the Lord said, ‘Who can entice Ahab to go into battle against Ramoth-gilead so he can be killed?’

“There were many suggestions, 21 and finally a spirit approached the Lord and said, ‘I can do it!’

22 “‘How will you do this?’ the Lord asked.

“And the spirit replied, ‘I will go out and inspire all of Ahab’s prophets to speak lies.’

“‘You will succeed,’ said the Lord. ‘Go ahead and do it.’

23 “So you see, the Lord has put a lying spirit in the mouths of all your prophets. For the Lord has pronounced your doom.”

24 Then Zedekiah son of Kenaanah walked up to Micaiah and slapped him across the face. “Since when did the Spirit of the Lord leave me to speak to you?” he demanded.

25 And Micaiah replied, “You will find out soon enough when you are trying to hide in some secret room!”

26 “Arrest him!” the king of Israel ordered. “Take him back to Amon, the governor of the city, and to my son Joash. 27 Give them this order from the king: ‘Put this man in prison, and feed him nothing but bread and water until I return safely from the battle!’”

28 But Micaiah replied, “If you return safely, it will mean that the Lord has not spoken through me!” Then he added to those standing around, “Everyone mark my words!”

In this passage, we must ask the question, why did Micaiah tell Ahab to attack when he previously vowed to speak only what God had told him? Perhaps, he was speaking sarcastically, making fun of the messages from the prophets by showing that they were only telling the king what he wanted to hear. Somehow his tone of voice let everyone know he was mocking the pagan prophets. When confronted, he predicted that the king would die and the battle would be lost. Although Ahab repented temporarily, he still maintained the system of false prophets. Micaiah was confident and bold in this meeting to the point of sarcasm. He was confident in what the Lord had told him even to the point of being imprisoned. Although sarcasm probably was not a wise choice here and we probably should choose not to be, we should have the confidence in God’s Word that stand against the tide of public opinion when those situations are forced upon us.

That’s the takeaway today. We must be bold in holding on to our beliefs in this coming age in which we are moving forward in. As you can see from the society in which we live, we are moving farther and farther from God. Things that were shockingly unacceptable as against God’s Word just a half century ago are now considered things to be celebrated. Our culture celebrates that which is in opposition to biblical principles. We must be certain of what we believe in this coming age. Everything that we believe as Christ followers will come under challenge. We cannot any longer simply know what we believe but we must know why we believe it. Our beliefs will be challenged in greater and greater ways as we move forward in our culture’s history. We need to be as bold as Micaiah in our confidence in God’s Word. We must be willing to be the outcast kid at school. We must be OK with being considered social outcasts. The pressure is going to get greater and greater to go along just to get along with the culture. If you think high school was tough, the future is only going to get tougher for those who profess their faith in Jesus Christ as the Son of God and as the only way to the Father.

Are you willing to be the equivalent of the socially awkward kid back in school? Do you and I have his or her bravery? Are you and I willing to have that same bravery and confidence as Micaiah did here in this passage? Are you and I so in love with Jesus Christ that we are willing to go prison for it? Even if it is not prison, are you and I willing to give up our comforts for it? The pagan priests of the northern kingdom went along to get along. Micaiah was so confident in his belief in God and what God asked him to do that he went to prison for it. Do you and I have that kind of confidence and boldness in God to be willing to stand out from the crowd where it is really going to cost us something?

Let us pray that we do, you and I, as the days slip away where we can be comfortable Christians. The days of comfortable Christianity are slipping away and we must be prepared for it to cost us something in the future. Are you ready for that? Am I ready for that?

Amen and Amen.

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1 Kings 21:1-29 (Part 4 of 4)

Naboth’s Vineyard

Sometimes as Christians in today’s world, we wonder if we are living in the end times. From a Christian perspective, it seems that the world is running in the opposite direction of God. At times, it seems as if our world is not just running away from God but is shaking its fist at God in complete rebellion. We wonder if the day is coming when God says, “enough is enough!” and just ends it all with the return of Jesus. We have lived a sheltered life for centuries in the Western world when Christian values were the dominant framing of our culture. Although Christians elsewhere outside what we call the Western world have continually suffered persecution for as long as Christianity has been around, we are at the beginnings of that same road in the West now. No longer is Christianity the prevailing moral backdrop for world in which we live. And it scares us. In my last blog from last week (Part 3 of this series on 1 Kings 21:1-29), we talked about the day coming that we will have to make choices as to stand on our biblical worldview or join in with the prevailing culture – the former will cause suffering and the latter choice will allow us to continue to live our current lifestyle without danger. Today, we will look at why is that God has not just decided to just chuck it all and put an end to things.

That is a question that we must ask ourselves as Christians, particularly as American Christians,  why is it that God is allowing the slide away from Him to continue. Western culture was once the culture that carried the Christian banner to the world but now even our culture is sliding away from God. Once the culture that was on fire to send missionaries around the world is now considered a mission field itself. Once the culture that gave us missionaries such as William Carey and others who gave their lives, literally, in service to the Lord on the mission fields of foreign lands is now the culture that needs missionaries. Why is that the Lord tarries? Why does he not come now?

I imagine that Elijah and other God-fearing people in the northern kingdom were wondering the same thing. The northern kingdom was no longer worshiping God. Under the influence of Ahab and Jezebel, the northern kingdom’s slide away from God picked up enormous speed from what had already begun under the northern kingdom’s previous rulers. Under these two royals, things got drastically worse. And there were few people speaking out. The rank and file population of the northern kingdom just went along with whatever the royals did. Elijah was the only public voice against the tide of idolatry and evil that was pervading the kingdom. I am sure there were those though that were believers in God that were still there in the northern kingdom that were wondering what the heck was going on, what happened to what was once a God-fearing nation for the most part. Now, they were seeing whole generations of people coming up that knew nothing of God but only idol worship. It was a dark time for any God-fearing believers in the northern kingdom.

That idea of why the Lord just hasn’t called it quits and sent Jesus back was what struck me this morning as I read this passage for a fourth time. You would think that God has had enough but this passage shows us something about God. Let’s read the passage/chapter look, in particular, at how God deals with Ahab:

21 Now there was a man named Naboth, from Jezreel, who owned a vineyard in Jezreel beside the palace of King Ahab of Samaria. 2 One day Ahab said to Naboth, “Since your vineyard is so convenient to my palace, I would like to buy it to use as a vegetable garden. I will give you a better vineyard in exchange, or if you prefer, I will pay you for it.”

3 But Naboth replied, “The Lord forbid that I should give you the inheritance that was passed down by my ancestors.”

4 So Ahab went home angry and sullen because of Naboth’s answer. The king went to bed with his face to the wall and refused to eat!

5 “What’s the matter?” his wife Jezebel asked him. “What’s made you so upset that you’re not eating?”

6 “I asked Naboth to sell me his vineyard or trade it, but he refused!” Ahab told her.

7 “Are you the king of Israel or not?” Jezebel demanded. “Get up and eat something, and don’t worry about it. I’ll get you Naboth’s vineyard!”

8 So she wrote letters in Ahab’s name, sealed them with his seal, and sent them to the elders and other leaders of the town where Naboth lived. 9 In her letters she commanded: “Call the citizens together for a time of fasting, and give Naboth a place of honor. 10 And then seat two scoundrels across from him who will accuse him of cursing God and the king. Then take him out and stone him to death.”

11 So the elders and other town leaders followed the instructions Jezebel had written in the letters. 12 They called for a fast and put Naboth at a prominent place before the people. 13 Then the two scoundrels came and sat down across from him. And they accused Naboth before all the people, saying, “He cursed God and the king.” So he was dragged outside the town and stoned to death. 14 The town leaders then sent word to Jezebel, “Naboth has been stoned to death.”

15 When Jezebel heard the news, she said to Ahab, “You know the vineyard Naboth wouldn’t sell you? Well, you can have it now! He’s dead!” 16 So Ahab immediately went down to the vineyard of Naboth to claim it.

17 But the Lord said to Elijah,[a] 18 “Go down to meet King Ahab of Israel, who rules in Samaria. He will be at Naboth’s vineyard in Jezreel, claiming it for himself. 19 Give him this message: ‘This is what the Lord says: Wasn’t it enough that you killed Naboth? Must you rob him, too? Because you have done this, dogs will lick your blood at the very place where they licked the blood of Naboth!’”

20 “So, my enemy, you have found me!” Ahab exclaimed to Elijah.

“Yes,” Elijah answered, “I have come because you have sold yourself to what is evil in the Lord’s sight. 21 So now the Lord says,[b] ‘I will bring disaster on you and consume you. I will destroy every one of your male descendants, slave and free alike, anywhere in Israel! 22 I am going to destroy your family as I did the family of Jeroboam son of Nebat and the family of Baasha son of Ahijah, for you have made me very angry and have led Israel into sin.’

23 “And regarding Jezebel, the Lord says, ‘Dogs will eat Jezebel’s body at the plot of land in Jezreel.[c]’

24 “The members of Ahab’s family who die in the city will be eaten by dogs, and those who die in the field will be eaten by vultures.”

25 (No one else so completely sold himself to what was evil in the Lord’s sight as Ahab did under the influence of his wife Jezebel. 26 His worst outrage was worshiping idols[d] just as the Amorites had done—the people whom the Lord had driven out from the land ahead of the Israelites.)

27 But when Ahab heard this message, he tore his clothing, dressed in burlap, and fasted. He even slept in burlap and went about in deep mourning.

28 Then another message from the Lord came to Elijah: 29 “Do you see how Ahab has humbled himself before me? Because he has done this, I will not do what I promised during his lifetime. It will happen to his sons; I will destroy his dynasty.”

In today’s look at this chapter, the thing that we should notice is that God lessened his punishment of Ahab because of repentance. Repentance only came though when Elijah shared God’s Word with Ahab. Who knows if his repentance was real or not, but God was patient in this situation because Ahab responded with what seems to be wholehearted remorse and repentance over what he had allowed to happen as king. The striking thing here is God’s patience. He could have just destroyed Ahab, but He was giving Ahab every chance in the world to change his ways and return to God.

That’s the thing that connects to today’s world is that God does not desire to condemn anyone to hell. He wants the entire world to come to Him in repentance through Jesus Christ alone. He wants that each one of us will spent eternity in heaven with Him. He wants that more than anything. He does not want us to go to hell. That could be why He is waiting to end all things. There is a song by Casting Crowns that comes to mind…Until the Whole Word Hears.

God desires that we all repent and come to Him – every last one of us of the world’s now 7 billion people. He wants us to see Him, love Him and worship Him – in eternity. He will not tarry forever but He is giving every opportunity imaginable for the whole world to come to Him.

What does that mean to us? We have work to do as Christ followers. We each have spheres of influence that we have just scratched the surface of when it comes to sharing the gospel. There should be an urgency in each one of us to share the gospel with a world sliding away from God. We also, sure, need missionaries in foreign lands to create spheres of influence in which the gospel can be shared. But everyday you and me must begin to exert our gospel muscles in our own spheres of influence. We are the gospel messengers in those spheres. Each of us has a sphere of influence. See it as your mission field and become unashamed to share the gospel within it. God is patiently waiting for all to come to Him and we must do our part…until the whole world hears.

Amen and Amen.

1 Kings 21:1-29 (Part 3 of 4)

Naboth’s Vineyard

The thing that you think of when you read this passage from the point of view of Naboth is the question, “why do bad things happen to good people?” Here is a dude minding his own business, literally. He is minding his vineyard, a vineyard that had been in his family for generations as a gift from God. When the Israelites conquered the Promised Land, God directed the division of the land between the twelve tribes and among each family within each tribe. So, the land that Naboth was tending was inherited directly from God, not any king, and it had been in his family for generations. God had strict laws about each family land in the Promised Land, He said “The land must not be sold permanently” (Leviticus 25:23); and “No inheritance in Israel is to pass from one tribe to another, for every Israelite shall keep the tribal inheritance of their ancestors” (Numbers 36:7).

So, here’s this dude, tending the family wine business as his forefathers had done for generations. He was just going about his daily duties. Doing his duty for his family. Working hard. Providing for his family through working the land that God had given him through his father and his father’s father and his father’s father’s father and so on. He apparently was a godly man because he knew God’s Word when Ahab approached him about selling his property. He stood his ground because there was a higher law, God’s Word, than what the king represented. Next thing you know, Ahab is pouting and Jezebel wants to prove the power of the royals and Naboth is dead. This is an ugly episode in the Bible. A good man cut down in his prime for no other reason than greed and to prove power. This is the ultimate in government intervention into the life of an ordinary man trying to obey God and take care of his family.

It kind of reminds of the current state of affairs in our culture today. We as Christians must realize that the days of difficulty for us as believers is coming slowly toward us just as a lava in Hawaii from an active volcano flows inevitably, inexorably toward the sea consuming everything in its path. The times they are a changin’ as the old song goes. No longer are Christian values the dominant values of the culture in which we live. No longer are the biblical values that we believe in the prevailing values of the culture. Slowly but inexorably the lava flow of the values of me-centered humanism are making their way over the ground and consuming our nation. As we move forward from this time, we will see it become less and less easy to be a Christian. It was once an advantage to be a Christ follower in our culture. But now it is may slightly less than neutral. However, as we are beginning to see in our culture, it is slowly becoming a disadvantage to be a Christ follower. Sadly, as the Bible predicts, it is only going to get worse from here. Gone will be the days that holding to your Christian values is easy or at least neutral in its impact on our lives. Gone will be the days when being a Christian causes you to lose nothing by holding on to God’s Word and living it out in the culture in which we live.

That day will come for sure when we will have to make a Naboth choice. What’s a Naboth choice? The day will come when we have very real situations where we have to stand on God’s Word and it cost us dearly or give in to the culture just so we can preserve our two bedroom, two bath homes, our two brand new cars, our toys, our lifestyle to which we have grown accustomed. We are still in a time right now where being a Christian is not a huge advantage in the culture but at least it doesn’t cost us anything in the culture in which we live. We can still operate just as everyone else does in America. We can tend to our lives without much interruption. Sure, we are seeing things that we don’t like in the culture. Things are becoming more and more normal in our culture that were once considered shockingly against God’s will. But, yet, at present, being a Christian in Western culture is still pretty comfortable. We are free to continue going about our lives and our beliefs without much interruption other than occasional ridicule from the beliefs of the dominant culture now. Most of us do not experience any actual persecution other than ridicule.

That’s the chord that struck me when viewing this passage from the perspective of Naboth. Here’s Naboth, a God-fearing family man, just going about his business (like we American Christians do each day) and then he is thrust into a situation where he has to stand on God’s Word or go along with the culture. On the one hand, if he stands on God’s Word, he will suffer greatly. On the other hand, if he goes along with the culture, he will have disobeyed God’s Word but yet he will remain comfortable and be able to continue providing for his family. It may look different from before if he compromises his obedience but he will survive and maybe even thrive to a greater extent. There is a day coming where these choices will be very, very real for us as American Christians? It’s coming like a slow lava flow from an active volcano. Let’s read the passage/chapter and see what happens to Naboth:

21 Now there was a man named Naboth, from Jezreel, who owned a vineyard in Jezreel beside the palace of King Ahab of Samaria. 2 One day Ahab said to Naboth, “Since your vineyard is so convenient to my palace, I would like to buy it to use as a vegetable garden. I will give you a better vineyard in exchange, or if you prefer, I will pay you for it.”

3 But Naboth replied, “The Lord forbid that I should give you the inheritance that was passed down by my ancestors.”

4 So Ahab went home angry and sullen because of Naboth’s answer. The king went to bed with his face to the wall and refused to eat!

5 “What’s the matter?” his wife Jezebel asked him. “What’s made you so upset that you’re not eating?”

6 “I asked Naboth to sell me his vineyard or trade it, but he refused!” Ahab told her.

7 “Are you the king of Israel or not?” Jezebel demanded. “Get up and eat something, and don’t worry about it. I’ll get you Naboth’s vineyard!”

8 So she wrote letters in Ahab’s name, sealed them with his seal, and sent them to the elders and other leaders of the town where Naboth lived. 9 In her letters she commanded: “Call the citizens together for a time of fasting, and give Naboth a place of honor. 10 And then seat two scoundrels across from him who will accuse him of cursing God and the king. Then take him out and stone him to death.”

11 So the elders and other town leaders followed the instructions Jezebel had written in the letters. 12 They called for a fast and put Naboth at a prominent place before the people. 13 Then the two scoundrels came and sat down across from him. And they accused Naboth before all the people, saying, “He cursed God and the king.” So he was dragged outside the town and stoned to death. 14 The town leaders then sent word to Jezebel, “Naboth has been stoned to death.”

15 When Jezebel heard the news, she said to Ahab, “You know the vineyard Naboth wouldn’t sell you? Well, you can have it now! He’s dead!” 16 So Ahab immediately went down to the vineyard of Naboth to claim it.

17 But the Lord said to Elijah,[a] 18 “Go down to meet King Ahab of Israel, who rules in Samaria. He will be at Naboth’s vineyard in Jezreel, claiming it for himself. 19 Give him this message: ‘This is what the Lord says: Wasn’t it enough that you killed Naboth? Must you rob him, too? Because you have done this, dogs will lick your blood at the very place where they licked the blood of Naboth!’”

20 “So, my enemy, you have found me!” Ahab exclaimed to Elijah.

“Yes,” Elijah answered, “I have come because you have sold yourself to what is evil in the Lord’s sight. 21 So now the Lord says,[b] ‘I will bring disaster on you and consume you. I will destroy every one of your male descendants, slave and free alike, anywhere in Israel! 22 I am going to destroy your family as I did the family of Jeroboam son of Nebat and the family of Baasha son of Ahijah, for you have made me very angry and have led Israel into sin.’

23 “And regarding Jezebel, the Lord says, ‘Dogs will eat Jezebel’s body at the plot of land in Jezreel.[c]’

24 “The members of Ahab’s family who die in the city will be eaten by dogs, and those who die in the field will be eaten by vultures.”

25 (No one else so completely sold himself to what was evil in the Lord’s sight as Ahab did under the influence of his wife Jezebel. 26 His worst outrage was worshiping idols[d] just as the Amorites had done—the people whom the Lord had driven out from the land ahead of the Israelites.)

27 But when Ahab heard this message, he tore his clothing, dressed in burlap, and fasted. He even slept in burlap and went about in deep mourning.

28 Then another message from the Lord came to Elijah: 29 “Do you see how Ahab has humbled himself before me? Because he has done this, I will not do what I promised during his lifetime. It will happen to his sons; I will destroy his dynasty.”

In today’s look at this chapter, we see that Naboth does not give in to the culture (as represented by the evil king Ahab). We see that he could have very easily given in to the culture and accepted and went along and survived and maybe even become more wealthy as a result of his compromise. The king may have given him an even more productive vineyard and he would have survived. However, he stood on God’s Word and he paid for it dearly through Jezebel’s evil spirit and her evil plans. He was killed for a piece of land for a vegetable garden. He was killed for a good salad. He was killed to impose the desires of the culture to have the easy way over standing on God’s Word. That’s the striking thing here for us. We are now entering an age where standing on our biblical beliefs will cost us like Naboth. It may not cost us our life (but that day is coming too) but we will have choices of compromising God’s Word and our belief in it just to survive and get along. Do we remain quiet and just go along or do we take the consequences of not compromising our belief in God’s Word?

For followers of Jesus, however, the picture is even more sobering. The Bible actually promises us persecution and suffering for our faith. The world is in rebellion against God. It hates God, and when he came as a man in the person of Jesus Christ, the world responded by murdering him. Jesus promised us that the world would treat us the way it treated him(John 15:20, ESV).

The first followers of Jesus consistently experienced suffering for the sake of Jesus, in Jerusalem (Acts 8:1), Galatia (Gal. 3:4), Philippi (Phil. 1:29), Thessalonica (1 Thess. 2:14), and Asia Minor (1 Peter 4:12), along with the recipients of the letter to the Hebrews (Heb. 10:32). Paul went through horrible suffering (2 Cor. 11:23–29), as did the other apostles (Acts 5–8). Paul was quite explicit in saying this was to be expected by everyone who follows Jesus (2 Tim. 3:12, ESV). In the Bible, suffering and opposition are a normal part of the normal Christian life.

The comfortable experience of Christians in the West has actually been an anomaly in this regard. Because of the Christian heritage of Western civilization, combined with democratic freedoms and historic rule of law, Western Christians have largely been left alone for their faith. Even today, as Western nations become increasingly post-Christian (and even anti-Christian), the opposition experienced by most Christians goes little beyond mockery. However, there are signs that this protected status may be changing. If it continues to do so, it will simply put Western Christians in the same boat as their brothers and sisters all over the world.

Today, in many non-Western cultures of the world, being a follower of Jesus means, at best, losing your job and being rejected by your family. At worst, it can mean imprisonment, beating, and even death. These things are being experienced all over the world right now by our brothers and sisters in Jesus. Our day is coming like the lava flowing toward us. We cannot stop the flow of the lava. It’s coming straight for us. What will you do when it comes time to put your faith, my faith, our faith on the line. Will you be willing to make the choice that Naboth made? He refused the culture’s demand and he was killed for it.

Are you and I ready for that day? Man, this is a tough question. I am asking that deep question of myself as much as I ask it of you. What will you and I do if we are faced with a situation where our belief in Jesus Christ brings us to the point of a real, life altering consequence. What if we get to the point that it is beyond mockery? What if it is beyond ridicule? Those things we can survive but still enjoy our “American dream” lifestyle as a Christian. What will you do? What will I do when it comes down to being a Christian really costing us something – our family, our job, our freedom, or even our life? What will you and I do on that day? Will we make the Naboth choice? Or will we compromise and take the new vineyard, so to speak?

Are you? Am I going to be a Naboth? I am not suggesting that we go out looking for fights to get ourselves into suffering in a real sense, but I am saying that there is a day coming and it is coming to us like a lava flow. There will come a day when it finds us both individually and collectively as Christ followers. The lava flow is coming. As followers of Jesus, we do not rejoice in suffering nor do we look forward to it or even seek it out because we enjoy pain, but because Jesus is so worthy in our eyes and hearts that we delight in being identified with him. All suffering is temporary. It isn’t worth comparing with the glory that awaits us (2 Cor. 4:16). In that place of glory, all pain and suffering will be gone forever (Rev. 21:4). Let us remember, like Naboth, that riches here on earth are meaningless in comparison to the riches that await in glory when we arrive and hear the words we all long to hear “Well done, my good and faithful servant” and we join the holy chorus praising our Savior all the day long.

Amen and Amen.

1 Kings 21:1-29 (Part 2 of 4)

Naboth’s Vineyard

During the past several weeks, our life group has been studying the book of Ephesians from the point of view that it is the church where we connect together with one another to grow in Christ, to seek unity in Christ, to work together to sharpen each other toward greater spiritual maturity and likeness in Christ, to gain greater understanding of Scripture so that we are stronger as a church, to work together to serve others so that Christ is glorified, and to truly begin to become a family of believers through prayer for one another and for our church. Paul desired the church to be a collection of vastly different people that find unity in our love for Jesus Christ. That was the wild thing about running across this chapter, 1 Kings 21, this week as we are in the midst of this study in our life group. What a contrast you will find between what Paul seeks in Ephesians and the character of Jezebel in this passage.  

The church is to be different from the world around it just by the nature of what we are there for. We are gathered together to love each other and to love God. In that love of God we submit our desires to what is best for giving Jesus Christ glory both within our walls and out in the world. The culture around is all about me-me-me, but the church is to be a bunch of me’s submitted to the authority of Jesus Christ. However, because Satan cannot stand what happens when a church becomes powerfully submitted to Christ, he will send his best attacks on those churches that are beginning to gain momentum through their unity in and submission to Jesus Christ. He best weapon is the spirit of divisiveness. The most famous biblical character that has this spirit of divisiveness was Jezebel. Today, we are reading in a passage that shows her spirit most clearly.

In my last post, we were talking about pouting children and compared that to Ahab, the king of the northern kingdom of Israel. Today, we are going to look at Jezebel. Because of the dominant influence of Christianity over the Western world over the centuries, characters from the Bible and their traits became part of the culture and everyday common conversation. Jezebel is one of those characters from the Bible that does not come off so good. To have a “Jezebel spirit” is not a flattering thing to say about someone else. Though such a description is often associated with women (since Jezebel was a woman), having a “Jezebel spirit” can be a description for a person of either sex. Though it is not commonplace, now, to give that moniker to someone in the culture at large because of the growing marginalization of Christians in our culture and the resulting biblical illiteracy in our culture, we still find that description sometimes given to people within the church. What is a Jezebel spirit in the church?

One trait is her obsessive passion for domineering and controlling others, especially in the spiritual realm. When she became queen, she began a relentless campaign to rid Israel of all evidences of Yahweh worship. She ordered the extermination of all the prophets of the Lord (1 Kings 18:4, 13) and replaced their altars with those of Baal. Her strongest enemy was Elijah, who demanded a contest on Mount Carmel between the powers of Israel’s God and the powers of Jezebel and the priests of Baal (1 Kings 18). Of course, God won, but despite hearing of the miraculous powers of the Lord, Jezebel refused to repent and swore on her gods that she would pursue Elijah relentlessly and take his life. Her stubborn refusal to see and submit to the power of the living God would lead her to a hideous end (2 Kings 9:29–37).

The second incident, seen in our passage today, involves a righteous man named Naboth who refused to sell to Ahab land adjoining the palace, rightly declaring that to sell his inheritance would be against the Lord’s command (1 Kings 21:3; Leviticus 25:23). While Ahab sulked and fumed on his bed, Jezebel taunted and ridiculed him for his weakness, then proceeded to have the innocent Naboth framed and stoned to death. Naboth’s sons were also stoned to death, so there would be no heirs, and the land would revert to the possession of the king. Such a single-minded determination to have one’s way, no matter who is destroyed in the process, is a characteristic of the Jezebel spirit.

The sad thing is that Jezebel, though she died a horrible death long ago in Old Testament times, she still lives on today because her type of personality, her spirit, lives on today and finds its way into our churches. That’s what I thought of this morning as I read through this chapter, 1 Kings 21, for a second time. Let’s read the passage/chapter and see the Jezebel spirit in action:

21 Now there was a man named Naboth, from Jezreel, who owned a vineyard in Jezreel beside the palace of King Ahab of Samaria. 2 One day Ahab said to Naboth, “Since your vineyard is so convenient to my palace, I would like to buy it to use as a vegetable garden. I will give you a better vineyard in exchange, or if you prefer, I will pay you for it.”

3 But Naboth replied, “The Lord forbid that I should give you the inheritance that was passed down by my ancestors.”

4 So Ahab went home angry and sullen because of Naboth’s answer. The king went to bed with his face to the wall and refused to eat!

5 “What’s the matter?” his wife Jezebel asked him. “What’s made you so upset that you’re not eating?”

6 “I asked Naboth to sell me his vineyard or trade it, but he refused!” Ahab told her.

7 “Are you the king of Israel or not?” Jezebel demanded. “Get up and eat something, and don’t worry about it. I’ll get you Naboth’s vineyard!”

8 So she wrote letters in Ahab’s name, sealed them with his seal, and sent them to the elders and other leaders of the town where Naboth lived. 9 In her letters she commanded: “Call the citizens together for a time of fasting, and give Naboth a place of honor. 10 And then seat two scoundrels across from him who will accuse him of cursing God and the king. Then take him out and stone him to death.”

11 So the elders and other town leaders followed the instructions Jezebel had written in the letters. 12 They called for a fast and put Naboth at a prominent place before the people. 13 Then the two scoundrels came and sat down across from him. And they accused Naboth before all the people, saying, “He cursed God and the king.” So he was dragged outside the town and stoned to death. 14 The town leaders then sent word to Jezebel, “Naboth has been stoned to death.”

15 When Jezebel heard the news, she said to Ahab, “You know the vineyard Naboth wouldn’t sell you? Well, you can have it now! He’s dead!” 16 So Ahab immediately went down to the vineyard of Naboth to claim it.

17 But the Lord said to Elijah,[a] 18 “Go down to meet King Ahab of Israel, who rules in Samaria. He will be at Naboth’s vineyard in Jezreel, claiming it for himself. 19 Give him this message: ‘This is what the Lord says: Wasn’t it enough that you killed Naboth? Must you rob him, too? Because you have done this, dogs will lick your blood at the very place where they licked the blood of Naboth!’”

20 “So, my enemy, you have found me!” Ahab exclaimed to Elijah.

“Yes,” Elijah answered, “I have come because you have sold yourself to what is evil in the Lord’s sight. 21 So now the Lord says,[b] ‘I will bring disaster on you and consume you. I will destroy every one of your male descendants, slave and free alike, anywhere in Israel! 22 I am going to destroy your family as I did the family of Jeroboam son of Nebat and the family of Baasha son of Ahijah, for you have made me very angry and have led Israel into sin.’

23 “And regarding Jezebel, the Lord says, ‘Dogs will eat Jezebel’s body at the plot of land in Jezreel.[c]’

24 “The members of Ahab’s family who die in the city will be eaten by dogs, and those who die in the field will be eaten by vultures.”

25 (No one else so completely sold himself to what was evil in the Lord’s sight as Ahab did under the influence of his wife Jezebel. 26 His worst outrage was worshiping idols[d] just as the Amorites had done—the people whom the Lord had driven out from the land ahead of the Israelites.)

27 But when Ahab heard this message, he tore his clothing, dressed in burlap, and fasted. He even slept in burlap and went about in deep mourning.

28 Then another message from the Lord came to Elijah: 29 “Do you see how Ahab has humbled himself before me? Because he has done this, I will not do what I promised during his lifetime. It will happen to his sons; I will destroy his dynasty.”

In today’s look at this chapter, we must learn about the Jezebel spirit because it is alive and well in the 21st century church. As pastors and leaders of the church, we must be discerning about this kind of spirit invading our churches. As the Apostle Paul tells us in Ephesians, the goal of the church is for us to be united in Christ. God desires that we be unified in pursuing Christ. Does this mean that we do not have disagreements in church? Of course not! Since we all are limited and flawed human beings and lack the omniscience and omnipresence of God, we are all always going to come at issues in the church from different directions. God wanted us all to be different so that there would be a full range of talents and resources within the church. However, in our differences, we must submit to the authority of Christ over each one of us. Thus, we may have differences and may even argue over issues but we must always remember and ask ourselves, do these arguments cause us to get to a place where God is glorified.

When we have that as our goal, we will be able to work toward solutions that are best for demonstrating God’s glory. That means we may have to give way to God’s way and set aside our personal desires and preferences. That means that we must look at situations through a God lens rather our own lenses. Is my desire here in line with that which brings God glory? Is my fellow church member’s position one that brings God glory? When we have to challenge each other in church, are we burning bridges with a scorched earth policy or are we eyeing restoration and working toward unity? Do I want to destroy a person or a church initiative because of my own preferences rather than look at what the church is doing from a perspective of “does it give God glory?” We must analyze everything we do and what others do from a perspective of that question. Another question and way to phrase that would be “does it make disciples?” or “does it draw people unto Christ in a deeper way?”

The biggest weapon we have against the Jezebel spirit in the church is remembering what we are here for. We are here for two reasons. One is to give God glory through everything that we do. The second is to make disciples of Jesus Christ. So, even when we disagree with each other, the aim is to move to a solution that gives God glory and deepens our individual and collective relationships with Christ.

Let us continue to make Satan angry through our unity, a unity that comes from our submitting our own personal desires to that which gives God glory and deepens relationships with Christ. Jezebel, be gone. You are not welcome around here.

Amen and Amen.

1 Kings 21:1-29 (Part 1 of 4)

Naboth’s Vineyard

Although there are many upsides, one of the downsides about being a preacher’s kid is that you often become the subject of sermon illustrations during your dad’s sermons. I suffered through that many a time growing up – my behavior or misbehavior becoming a way for dad to illustrate the point he was trying to make in his sermon. So, today, my oldest daughter, now 33 years old, almost 34, and a wife and a mother will get the same treatment I used to often get from my dad. She will be the subject of a blog illustration. Sorry, Meghan!

One of the things that my first wife and I did right with our children when they were little was to teach to eat what was put in front of them at the dinner table. I know many parents today who take a shortcut on this issue and prepare multiple meals for dinner – one for mom and dad, and whatever each child wants to eat. One of my stalwart parenting tips is that “discipline starts at the dinner table!” When we give in to what our kids want at the dinner table, we give them the idea that they can expand that power to other areas of life – and they do. You have to start at the dinner table. As soon as kids are able to eat normal food, you do not come at them with any preconceived ideas about what they will like and not like. You prepare one meal. They eat it. That’s it. That’s the rule. It’s not to be mean to your child but it is to teach them lessons about life. When they are required to eat what you eat not only is it easier on mom but it is also a way to start disciplining a child about life. They must learn that they cannot whine their way out of things. They must learn that special exceptions will not always be made in life for them. They must learn that sometimes in life you have to do things that you don’t want to do and you just get through them. That’s just the way life is. If you can’t teach that to a child at the dinner table, how are you going to teach it to them anywhere else?

So, over the years, my girls (Meghan, my oldest, and Taylor, my youngest) learned to eat what was on the dinner menu for the evening. No special meals made just for them. Whatever my first wife, Lisa, cooked is what they would eat. Plain and simple. Over the years, they learned to enjoy a multitude of foods. We did not have to worry about what other people were fixing when they had us over for dinner. We did not have to worry about what foods a restaurant had on their menu that would fit into a spoiled child’s limited menu. They would eat just about anything that adults would eat. It all started when they were young and it all started at the dinner table. We may have screwed them up in many other ways in life as parents but at least we did that one thing right!

That’s not to say that there were not battles. There were. One battle in particular comes to mind. It was before Taylor, my youngest daughter, was born. Meghan was an only child for about 5 ½ years before that. So, this incident had to have happened when Meghan was about 3 years old, 4 years old at the most. One evening we were having dinner on a Saturday evening, I think it was. Lisa, my first wife, was a really good cook. She could whip up just about anything and she was good at it. This particular evening, the main dish was roast beef. Lisa could cook a mean roast! Tender and tasty, back before crock pots and slow cookers and instant crocks. I could wipe out one of her roasts by myself (in those days I could eat as much as I wanted as often as I wanted and NOT gain weight! LOL!). I don’t know what the problem was that night. Maybe, it was that Meghan was just having a bad day. Kids can have ‘em just like you and me. She usually like to eat her mom’s roast beef. Maybe, she had filled up on candy over at her grandmother Jane’s house earlier in the day. Who knows! Meghan was typically a well-behaved child with a cheerful disposition. All and all, she was an easy child to raise. So often she was mature beyond her years as she was growing up. But there were some meltdown moments of course. There were moments she acted her age and we are about to explore one of those.

That night, she ate everything else ok and without complaint. But she did not touch her serving of roast on her plate. Two small slices of roast. She asked if she could be excused and being the “discipline begins at the dinner table” dad, I said no. I told her she had to eat the meat on her plate. Well, within minutes she was crying because I would not let her leave the table. If you know how close Meghan and I are, you would know that her crying, especially as a little girl, just would make my heart ache, literally. But trying to instill discipline, you have to get beyond that. I stood my ground and asked her why she was crying? She had the meat was too big for her to eat! Well, for me, that’s a solvable problem. I proceeded to cut each slice of meat into smaller halves. Problem solved, right? She could eat the smaller pieces. That solves the problem, right?

Wrong. She begins to cry even harder. You know those kid cries where they take a deep breath and then you know all hell is about to be unleashed – the loud, uncontrollable sobbing that leads to snot coming out of their nose and all that! I try to calm her down. I try to reason with her by saying, “what’s wrong? I cut the two big pieces into to smaller halves so it would be easier to eat!” In between sobs, she then exclaims, “Now..(sniffle, sniffle)…now…(more sniffles)…I have FOUR pieces of meat to eat…(loud crying ensues)!” I had to choke back the belly laugh that was roaring through my soul and keep a straight face and be the “discipline begins at the dinner table” dad. She finally ate those FOUR pieces, but it was a monumental struggle that night. Meghan was tired. I was tired. But the point was made.

That’s what I thought of this afternoon as I read through this chapter, 1 Kings 21. I thought of Meghan trying to get her way at the dinner table that night, how I stood my ground, and how she reacted to it. She was pouting and crying because she did not get her way. She did not want any part of eating the meat that night. She wanted to get down from the dinner table and go do what she wanted to do. Why does this matter? What does it have to do with 1 Kings 21? Let’s read the passage/chapter and see how Ahab reacts to not getting what he wanted:

21 Now there was a man named Naboth, from Jezreel, who owned a vineyard in Jezreel beside the palace of King Ahab of Samaria. 2 One day Ahab said to Naboth, “Since your vineyard is so convenient to my palace, I would like to buy it to use as a vegetable garden. I will give you a better vineyard in exchange, or if you prefer, I will pay you for it.”

3 But Naboth replied, “The Lord forbid that I should give you the inheritance that was passed down by my ancestors.”

4 So Ahab went home angry and sullen because of Naboth’s answer. The king went to bed with his face to the wall and refused to eat!

5 “What’s the matter?” his wife Jezebel asked him. “What’s made you so upset that you’re not eating?”

6 “I asked Naboth to sell me his vineyard or trade it, but he refused!” Ahab told her.

7 “Are you the king of Israel or not?” Jezebel demanded. “Get up and eat something, and don’t worry about it. I’ll get you Naboth’s vineyard!”

8 So she wrote letters in Ahab’s name, sealed them with his seal, and sent them to the elders and other leaders of the town where Naboth lived. 9 In her letters she commanded: “Call the citizens together for a time of fasting, and give Naboth a place of honor. 10 And then seat two scoundrels across from him who will accuse him of cursing God and the king. Then take him out and stone him to death.”

11 So the elders and other town leaders followed the instructions Jezebel had written in the letters. 12 They called for a fast and put Naboth at a prominent place before the people. 13 Then the two scoundrels came and sat down across from him. And they accused Naboth before all the people, saying, “He cursed God and the king.” So he was dragged outside the town and stoned to death. 14 The town leaders then sent word to Jezebel, “Naboth has been stoned to death.”

15 When Jezebel heard the news, she said to Ahab, “You know the vineyard Naboth wouldn’t sell you? Well, you can have it now! He’s dead!” 16 So Ahab immediately went down to the vineyard of Naboth to claim it.

17 But the Lord said to Elijah,[a] 18 “Go down to meet King Ahab of Israel, who rules in Samaria. He will be at Naboth’s vineyard in Jezreel, claiming it for himself. 19 Give him this message: ‘This is what the Lord says: Wasn’t it enough that you killed Naboth? Must you rob him, too? Because you have done this, dogs will lick your blood at the very place where they licked the blood of Naboth!’”

20 “So, my enemy, you have found me!” Ahab exclaimed to Elijah.

“Yes,” Elijah answered, “I have come because you have sold yourself to what is evil in the Lord’s sight. 21 So now the Lord says,[b] ‘I will bring disaster on you and consume you. I will destroy every one of your male descendants, slave and free alike, anywhere in Israel! 22 I am going to destroy your family as I did the family of Jeroboam son of Nebat and the family of Baasha son of Ahijah, for you have made me very angry and have led Israel into sin.’

23 “And regarding Jezebel, the Lord says, ‘Dogs will eat Jezebel’s body at the plot of land in Jezreel.[c]’

24 “The members of Ahab’s family who die in the city will be eaten by dogs, and those who die in the field will be eaten by vultures.”

25 (No one else so completely sold himself to what was evil in the Lord’s sight as Ahab did under the influence of his wife Jezebel. 26 His worst outrage was worshiping idols[d] just as the Amorites had done—the people whom the Lord had driven out from the land ahead of the Israelites.)

27 But when Ahab heard this message, he tore his clothing, dressed in burlap, and fasted. He even slept in burlap and went about in deep mourning.

28 Then another message from the Lord came to Elijah: 29 “Do you see how Ahab has humbled himself before me? Because he has done this, I will not do what I promised during his lifetime. It will happen to his sons; I will destroy his dynasty.”

In today’s look at this chapter, we are looking at Ahab and his childish reaction to not getting his way. If you remember earlier, in 1 Kings 20:42, Ahab was a pouty man. He liked getting his way and did not like it at all when he did not. Similarly, here in 1 Kings 21, he had a spoiled rotten child’s reaction. He wanted the vineyard and had the equivalent of a temper tantrum when he did not get what he wanted.

Naboth wanted to uphold God’s law. The people of Israel since the conquest of Canaan had recognized that God granted each tribe and each family their land, not any earthly king. So, this rebuke of the offer was not just some stubbornness but exercising his right of refusal granted to him by God. Most ancient civilizations held that all land within a kingdom belonged ultimately to the king and he simply allowed his subjects to hold it and use it. However, for God’s People Israel, land ownership came to them from God not some king. Kings of Israel and Judah were limited by the King of Kings.

How like Ahab are we today? We want things our way. In order to get what we want, we want to ignore the truth of God. We want to ignore the boundaries that God sets out in His Word for how we are to live in relation to Him and in relation to others. We want what we want and we want to circumvent God to get it. We ignore God’s sovereignty over us. We decide what we want and how we want to get it. In order to get what we want, we claim that we have evolved beyond God. We no longer need Him and all His rules. We have a right to pursue what we want. We are me-centered little children who want to ignore their parents’ authority over them and just go after what they want.

Just as any good parent has rules for their children, so it is with God. We do not have rules for our kids simply to have rules or to torture them in some way. We have rules for them because we know what is best for them. We have rules for them for their own good. Left to their own devices, our children will hurt themselves, get into serious trouble, and sometimes even their lack of discipline can even lead to their death. We don’t have rules for our kids because we hate them. We have rules for them because we LOVE them. We don’t want them to grow up and go out into the world unready and get run over and swallowed up by the world. We want them to be well-adjusted and able to survive the cruel world when they are out of our nests. God loves us just like we as parents love our kids.

He does not hold us back from anything because He wants to torture us. He simply wants us to obey Him because He is God, the ultimate Parent, who knows what is best for us and what will destroy us. So, the first takeaway from this passage is that we should obey God’s Word. He has set forth in His Word how we should be in relationship with Him and how we should be in relationship with each other. When we depart from his standards as set in the Bible, we descend into habitual sin. When we depart from His Word, we begin to be selfish and make ourselves our own gods. When we depart from His Word, we no longer care about one another and are only out for what we can get for ourselves. When we depart from His Word, we want to set the standards for our own behavior and pout when we don’t get our way.

When we go down that road, it leads to ruin. When we go down that road, we will find that we will end up in a bigger mess on our hands than if we had just simply followed God’s Word. Our troubles grow deeper and wider and more numerous. We will find like Meghan that we’ve got FOUR pieces of meat to deal with and not just two.

Amen and Amen.

1 Kings 20:1-34

Ben-Hadad Attacks Samaria

We live in a culture that may give some type of mental assent to the fact that there is or was a force of some kind that created the universe. Instead of calling it God, we now call it “the universe”. The “universe” brought this set of actions, events, and people together. We no longer want to give it a name. We no longer want to call God, God! We want to depersonalize God and make Him into this impersonal force of the universe. May be force be with you. Without a personal God, without a God who is a person with knowledge, direction, and purpose, we can make life on our own terms. We call it the universe. We call it fate. The common theme of it all is that we are wresting power away from God and giving it to ourselves.

The reason that God calls Himself “I AM” is that He exists. He is a being. He has existence. He is independent. He is self-aware. Whereas we, as limited humans, must describe ourselves with an adjective after we say “I am”. God is simply “I AM”. He is complete. He is that which from all things are created that require adjectives to describe them. God is so complete that He is simply “I AM”. He is the source of all our “I am’s” It is from this “I AM” that all things flow. He is the source of all things. In other words, nobody gave Him his beginning (as our parents do for us at conception). Nobody and no power brought Him into existence or shaped His personality. He had no beginning. He pre-exists our reality, our set of events that we call history and reality. And so there is no force or influence that shaped Him. He is the being that shapes all beings that follow. He created us. He created reality. Thus, without this real I AM, there is no reality. By saying that He is “I AM” He is not only saying that He is the basis for all things, the Creator from which all OUR “I am’s” flow, He is also saying that he is personal. He is a being. He thinks. He acts. He determines. He reasons. He has plans based on His reasoning. He has emotions. He loves. He feels. It blows your mind when you think of the implications of God calling Himself “I AM”. He is not today’s cultural notion of some force of an impersonal nature of just “some thing” or “some force” out there.

Taking away God’s “I AM” nature allows us to think of God intellectually for a moment but leaves us to the rest of our lives to ourselves. When we have some force out there that is impersonal and does not react to us, we take power unto ourselves for the control of our souls. Depersonalizing God is the first step to making ourselves our own gods. We control our fate. With God as impersonal, the Bible becomes fiction and a nice story but not as the imprint of a personal “I AM” kind of God. When we go down that road, we take Him out of our daily lives. When we make Him impersonal, we can then define what it takes to be good enough to make it to that post-death nirvana that we create for ourselves. We can begin to do what we want when we make God a thing out there that is not personal, not “I AM”. That’s the only way that we can pursue what we want without concerning ourselves with a personal God who knows us personally. We must depersonalize Him. Then, we can rationalize away that we are OK because we make up the rules as we go along. When we depersonalize God as “the universe” or “fate”, we can define truth for ourselves. We can spin our own actions because there is no personal God to whom we have to account.

Sorry for blathering on this morning about this “I AM” thing. But when you really think about the implications of God calling Himself “I AM” it is huge. So for our culture to go the places that it has gone in the last half century, we must take away God’s “I AM” and make Him this deistic entity that may be out there but really has little if anything to do with the world today. When we believe he is a hands-off backdrop or force out there, we can then proceed to define truth and reality for ourselves. We are not new at this. We have been doing it as humans since the beginning of human reality in the Garden of Eden.

The reason that I thought of this idea of depersonalizing the “I AM” nature of God is that is how we rationalize away the truth of the Bible and spin it into our own truth and our own reality was that is what I see in Ahab this morning. He seems to give some mental assent to God. However, as to how it applies to his daily life, he acts as if he is his own god. He literally ignores the evidence of God’s providence over his life in these two battles. With these thoughts in mind, let’s read this chapter, 1 Kings 20:

Chapter 20

1 About that time King Ben-hadad of Aram mobilized his army, supported by the chariots and horses of thirty-two allied kings. They went to besiege Samaria, the capital of Israel, and launched attacks against it. 2 Ben-hadad sent messengers into the city to relay this message to King Ahab of Israel: “This is what Ben-hadad says: 3 ‘Your silver and gold are mine, and so are your wives and the best of your children!’”

4 “All right, my lord the king,” Israel’s king replied. “All that I have is yours!”

5 Soon Ben-hadad’s messengers returned again and said, “This is what Ben-hadad says: ‘I have already demanded that you give me your silver, gold, wives, and children. 6 But about this time tomorrow I will send my officials to search your palace and the homes of your officials. They will take away everything you consider valuable!’”

7 Then Ahab summoned all the elders of the land and said to them, “Look how this man is stirring up trouble! I already agreed with his demand that I give him my wives and children and silver and gold.”

8 “Don’t give in to any more demands,” all the elders and the people advised.

9 So Ahab told the messengers from Ben-hadad, “Say this to my lord the king: ‘I will give you everything you asked for the first time, but I cannot accept this last demand of yours.’” So the messengers returned to Ben-hadad with that response.

10 Then Ben-hadad sent this message to Ahab: “May the gods strike me and even kill me if there remains enough dust from Samaria to provide even a handful for each of my soldiers.”

11 The king of Israel sent back this answer: “A warrior putting on his sword for battle should not boast like a warrior who has already won.”

12 Ahab’s reply reached Ben-hadad and the other kings as they were drinking in their tents.[a] “Prepare to attack!” Ben-hadad commanded his officers. So they prepared to attack the city.

Ahab’s Victory over Ben-Hadad

13 Then a certain prophet came to see King Ahab of Israel and told him, “This is what the Lord says: Do you see all these enemy forces? Today I will hand them all over to you. Then you will know that I am the Lord.”

14 Ahab asked, “How will he do it?”

And the prophet replied, “This is what the Lord says: The troops of the provincial commanders will do it.”

“Should we attack first?” Ahab asked.

“Yes,” the prophet answered.

15 So Ahab mustered the troops of the 232 provincial commanders. Then he called out the rest of the army of Israel, some 7,000 men. 16 About noontime, as Ben-hadad and the thirty-two allied kings were still in their tents drinking themselves into a stupor, 17 the troops of the provincial commanders marched out of the city as the first contingent.

As they approached, Ben-hadad’s scouts reported to him, “Some troops are coming from Samaria.”

18 “Take them alive,” Ben-hadad commanded, “whether they have come for peace or for war.”

19 But Ahab’s provincial commanders and the entire army had now come out to fight. 20 Each Israelite soldier killed his Aramean opponent, and suddenly the entire Aramean army panicked and fled. The Israelites chased them, but King Ben-hadad and a few of his charioteers escaped on horses. 21 However, the king of Israel destroyed the other horses and chariots and slaughtered the Arameans.

22 Afterward the prophet said to King Ahab, “Get ready for another attack. Begin making plans now, for the king of Aram will come back next spring.[b]”

23 After their defeat, Ben-hadad’s officers said to him, “The Israelite gods are gods of the hills; that is why they won. But we can beat them easily on the plains. 24 Only this time replace the kings with field commanders! 25 Recruit another army like the one you lost. Give us the same number of horses, chariots, and men, and we will fight against them on the plains. There’s no doubt that we will beat them.” So King Ben-hadad did as they suggested.

26 The following spring he called up the Aramean army and marched out against Israel, this time at Aphek. 27 Israel then mustered its army, set up supply lines, and marched out for battle. But the Israelite army looked like two little flocks of goats in comparison to the vast Aramean forces that filled the countryside!

28 Then the man of God went to the king of Israel and said, “This is what the Lord says: The Arameans have said, ‘The Lord is a god of the hills and not of the plains.’ So I will defeat this vast army for you. Then you will know that I am the Lord.”

29 The two armies camped opposite each other for seven days, and on the seventh day the battle began. The Israelites killed 100,000 Aramean foot soldiers in one day. 30 The rest fled into the town of Aphek, but the wall fell on them and killed another 27,000. Ben-hadad fled into the town and hid in a secret room.

31 Ben-hadad’s officers said to him, “Sir, we have heard that the kings of Israel are merciful. So let’s humble ourselves by wearing burlap around our waists and putting ropes on our heads, and surrender to the king of Israel. Then perhaps he will let you live.”

32 So they put on burlap and ropes, and they went to the king of Israel and begged, “Your servant Ben-hadad says, ‘Please let me live!’”

The king of Israel responded, “Is he still alive? He is my brother!”

33 The men took this as a good sign and quickly picked up on his words. “Yes,” they said, “your brother Ben-hadad!”

“Go and get him,” the king of Israel told them. And when Ben-hadad arrived, Ahab invited him up into his chariot.

34 Ben-hadad told him, “I will give back the towns my father took from your father, and you may establish places of trade in Damascus, as my father did in Samaria.”

Then Ahab said, “I will release you under these conditions.” So they made a new treaty, and Ben-hadad was set free.

35 Meanwhile, the Lord instructed one of the group of prophets to say to another man, “Hit me!” But the man refused to hit the prophet. 36 Then the prophet told him, “Because you have not obeyed the voice of the Lord, a lion will kill you as soon as you leave me.” And when he had gone, a lion did attack and kill him.

37 Then the prophet turned to another man and said, “Hit me!” So he struck the prophet and wounded him.

38 The prophet placed a bandage over his eyes to disguise himself and then waited beside the road for the king. 39 As the king passed by, the prophet called out to him, “Sir, I was in the thick of battle, and suddenly a man brought me a prisoner. He said, ‘Guard this man; if for any reason he gets away, you will either die or pay a fine of seventy-five pounds[c] of silver!’ 40 But while I was busy doing something else, the prisoner disappeared!”

“Well, it’s your own fault,” the king replied. “You have brought the judgment on yourself.”

41 Then the prophet quickly pulled the bandage from his eyes, and the king of Israel recognized him as one of the prophets. 42 The prophet said to him, “This is what the Lord says: Because you have spared the man I said must be destroyed,[d] now you must die in his place, and your people will die instead of his people.” 43 So the king of Israel went home to Samaria angry and sullen.

In this passage/chapter, we see that God defeated the Aramean army for Ahab so that Ahab would know that God alone is Lord. Despite two great victories in this passage, Ahab continued to live without God. In this passage, we also see that since the days of Joshua Israel’s soldiers had the reputation of being superior fighters in the hills but ineffective in the open plains and valleys because they did not use chariots in battle. Horse-drawn chariots were useless in hilly terrain and dense forests but could easily run down great numbers of soldiers in the plains. What Ben-Hadad’s advisors did not understand was that God, not the chariots, that made the difference battle.

In the end of this passage, it is difficult to understand why Ahab let Ben-Hadad go, especially after all the trouble for Israel he had caused. God helped Ahab destroy the Aramean army to prove to Ahab and to Aram that He alone was God. But Ahab failed to destroy the king, his great enemy. It seems that pride may have been the cause. Ahab enjoyed the ego-stroking that Ben-Hadad was loading upon him and Ahab liked the idea of having a living, breathing, vanquished king being subservient to him for the foreseeable future. God had judged that Ben-Hadad suffer the fate of defeated kings of this era. Thus, Ahab should have killed him. He would have been an instrument of God’s justice against the wicked king of Aram. It was then that the prophet told Ahab that he would be the one to suffer death because he failed to carry out God’s justice against Ben-Hadad.

Ahab’s actions here demonstrate that he does not recognize God as the source of his victory. Just as our culture today no longer recognizes God as a personal God. We have depersonalized Him. We have taken away His “I AM” so that we can live as we wish to live because there is no active “I AM” out there to define truth for us that is separate from us. God is a hands off God to our culture today. We are left to ourselves to define this thing for ourselves, according to our culture.

However, as with Ahab, acting as if God is not personal does not end His “I AM” nature. Each of us will have to account to this personal God. Each of us on our own merit will fail miserably in that accounting before the great “I AM”. Before this personal God, we will learn that it is He that defines truth. Before this personal God, we will be held to His definition and not ours.

But thank God he is an “I AM” God. Because He is personal and loves and feels and thinks and determines and reasons and has plans, He sent His only Son to save us from ourselves. He sent His Son to atone for our disrespect for Him. He sent His Son to atone for our depersonalizing Him. He sent His Son to atone for us taking away His “I AM” and making ourselves our own gods. I am thankful for a personal “I AM” God, because if He was not personal, He would not have given me Jesus as my Savior. Let us be eternally grateful that God is an “I AM” personal God who knows you, knows me, knows everything about everything that we do, say, think, and act out. I am thankful for a personal God that has love for me personally and gave His Son for my sins.

Amen and Amen.

1 Kings 19:19-21

The Call of Elisha

Today’s passage, 1 Kings 19:19-21, reminds me of this journey that I am on now in full-time ministry. I accepted Christ as my Savior when I was 39 years old, a late bloomer compared to some, particularly when you consider that I was born into a preacher’s household. Regardless, though, there came a time when I had to make a choice rather than just talk about going into full-time ministry.

In my previous job, it was safe and secure. I had that job for 10 years. I was the chief financial guy for the buy/resale division of a global telecommunications and electronics company. Our division bought all the electronic goods manufactured by our foreign sister companies that were not manufactured here by our US group. We then resold all those goods here in the US market. It was a great job. Fujikura really took good care of us financially. We weren’t wealthy but we weren’t hurting at all. We were able to be generous to our church, our family and our friends. It was a time of great blessing that has played its part in helping secure our financial future.

During that time, we also began living more simply and were able to pay off debts except for our mortgage and some of my oldest daughter’s school loans. So we downsized our financial desires and were ready if the call to be in full-time ministry ever came. After finishing seminary, that’s when God decided that He was going to teach us patience. It was three years after finishing North Greenville University that the first offer for full-time ministry came. It was during that time that, I think, God was testing us to see if we would continue to live simply and to continue to serve at our local church where we had been in leadership and worked on staff as part-time volunteers and I for a while as a part-time paid employee. But yet all the while, I had my job at Fujikura that was blessing us in a mighty way financially. Although we were serving our church in so many ways on so many days, it still was not the full source of our income or the full focus of our vocation. We had the best of both worlds at that point. We had the comfort provided by a secular job and part-time fulfillment from serving the Lord whenever and wherever we could.

We talked about our desire to be in full-time ministry. We even talked over the three years after graduation from North Greenville about how I was frustrated that the call had not come. Finally, in December 2017, we began interviewing with Calvary Church here in the Quad Cities. After the third interview (an onsite weekend set of interviews here in the QC), the offer came. We then had to decide. The decision of a lifetime. Are we going to move from talking about full-time ministry to actually living it? Are we going to go and live in the Midwest when our family is back in the South (including our adorable granddaughter, Ralyn)? Are we going to begin living on about 40% of what we were making as income at my job at Fujikura? Are we going to really do this?

That was what I thought about this morning as I read 1 Kings 19:19-21 this morning about the commissioning of Elisha by Elijah. From these short three verses, we can surmise that Elisha had it going on financially. He may not have been a super wealthy farmer but he wasn’t doing too bad at all (in those days the more oxen you had to plow, the bigger your farm, the more money you made, the more oxen you could buy…you get the picture). He had a secure life if he had that many oxen and a big enough farm that required twelve teams of oxen to plow the fields. Not too shabby of a life, I imagine. He was doing alright. As the old song from the 80’s went, “my future’s so bright I gotta wear shades!” could have been his favorite song.

Additionally, from the way he reacts to Elijah, he must have been a man of faith. He does not turn down Elijah so there must be a deep well of thanksgiving to God in Elisha for the blessing of life he had been given. So, maybe, there had been thoughts already in Elisha’s heart (prompted by God) about “what if…” What if I was in full-time service to the Lord like that Elijah guy I have been hearing about?

Maybe, that was going on in his heart before this “God intersection” of his life and that of Elijah? As we have discussed before, the Bible does not record every minute of every day of the lives of biblical characters (including Jesus). As John says in John 21:25, “Jesus also did many other things. If they were all written down, I suppose the whole world could not contain the books that would be written.” The same would be true for other biblical characters, we see their highlight and lowlight moments but we do not see all the moments. So, to me, the calling of Elisha is one of those highlights but I bet God had already been working in the heart of Elisha before that moment that made him ready for that moment.

Having said all that, Elisha comes to that decision moment. Are you going to do this? Or are you going to stay or are you going to go? It’s that rubber meets the road moment. What are you going to do? That’s the thought that ran through my head as I read this passage – how Elisha had that moment of where any talk that was going on within him was over and it was decision time and how that is similar to my own life. Let’s read the passage together now:

19 So Elijah went and found Elisha son of Shaphat plowing a field. There were twelve teams of oxen in the field, and Elisha was plowing with the twelfth team. Elijah went over to him and threw his cloak across his shoulders and then walked away. 20 Elisha left the oxen standing there, ran after Elijah, and said to him, “First let me go and kiss my father and mother good-bye, and then I will go with you!”

Elijah replied, “Go on back, but think about what I have done to you.”

21 So Elisha returned to his oxen and slaughtered them. He used the wood from the plow to build a fire to roast their flesh. He passed around the meat to the townspeople, and they all ate. Then he went with Elijah as his assistant.

In this passage, we must understand that the cloak was the most important piece of clothing a person owned in the ancient Middle East. It was used as protection against the weather, as bedding, as a way to make a place to sit more comfortable, and as luggage. It could be given as a pledge for a debt. It could be torn into pieces to demonstrate grief. Needless to say, in that day and age, it was an important symbolic gesture. The moment of Elisha’s “anointing” happens not with a pouring of oil, but rather with the throwing of Elijah’s cloak. The precise cultural resonances of Elijah’s mantle-toss are lost to us today. It is unclear whether this was a recognized symbol of apprenticeship, a common custom among prophets, or a gesture unique to Elijah himself. In any case, Elisha seems to understand the significance of the move.

When Elisha slaughters the oxen that had previously provided his livelihood, he makes a powerful statement of vocational commitment. There is no going back to his former way of life. Elisha must be prompted to make this move, cued by Elijah: “Go back, for what have I done to you?” This statement may be a rhetorical rebuke, but it may also be a question for which Elisha, at least for himself, must provide a real answer. What claim does this call make on his life? What ties must he leave behind?

By killing his oxen, Elisha made a strong statement to follow Elijah. Without the oxen, he could return to his life as a wealthy farmer. It was decision time. He made it clear that he was going to go full-time into service to the Lord with Elijah. No turning back. He did not have any clue what his future with Elijah was going to hold. But he made the commitment to move into full-time ministry. He made sure that he could not come back to farming on breaks during “the Elijah tour”. He made sure that he did not have anything to come back to. The farm was done and he left it behind to others in his family I assume. It would no longer be his. He had no fallback. This was it. Full-time service to the Lord with Elijah.

I can identify with Elisha. We had a decision to make. It was this time last year – all the way to February 17, 2018, we could back out. But we did not. God had been working in our hearts for a long time to be in full-time ministry. So we walked away from our comfortable life in Upstate South Carolina. We sold the house. I quit my job at Fujikura. We had a day of sad and heartfelt tears as we walked away from our leadership positions at our previous church – big crocodile tears. We left our families behind. And we moved 850 miles away here to the Quad Cities. Like Elisha, we were going into this thing full on or not all. Elisha made sure that he could not fall back to his old farming life. We too have no home to return to in South Carolina. It was sold and another family lives there. My old job, someone else has it. LifeSong leadership, they have found others to fill our spots, I imagine, in that church’s leadership structure. Our families miss us but have adjusted to the distance between us. We are full-on in service to the Lord now. No turning back. No turning back.

The synchronicity of this scene in Elisha’s life with what Elena and I have been through in the same manner reminds me of the Christian song that has been around for a long, long time. It’s even in some traditional church hymn books. It has been done as well by numerous Christian contemporary musical artists over the years as well. It is often a song sung by children on children’s worship Sundays much to the delight of parents. Simply stated, it’s a timeless classic in the Christian world. Here are the lyrics:

I have decided to follow Jesus;

I have decided to follow Jesus;

I have decided to follow Jesus;

No turning back, no turning back.

Tho’ none go with me, I still will follow,

Tho’ none go with me I still will follow,

Tho’ none go with me, I still will follow;

No turning back, no turning back.

I have decided to follow Jesus;

I have decided to follow Jesus;

I have decided to follow Jesus;

No turning back, no turning back.

My cross I’ll carry, till I see Jesus;

My cross I’ll carry till I see Jesus,

My cross I’ll carry till I see Jesus;

No turning back, No turning back.

The world behind me, the cross before me,

The world behind me, the cross before me;

The world behind me, the cross before me;

No turning back, no turning back.

I have decided to follow Jesus;

I have decided to follow Jesus;

I have decided to follow Jesus;

No turning back, no turning back.

Many times in life we have those decision moments. To go full-on with God or to stay in the comfort zone. It does not have to be a choice to go into full-time ministry. It can be as to whether you are really going to follow Jesus or follow the world. We are living in a time in history now where being a Christian is no longer the default. In fact, Christians are being marginalized in our society by a growing secular and me-centered set of beliefs. The day is coming where we will have to choose between going along with the crowd (the more comfortable route) or standing firm in God’s Word no matter the cost (the least comfortable route).

Are you in? Are you all-in? Now is the time to decide? Now!

Amen and Amen.