He was young and rich. Possibly handsome, but we weren’t given that information. He was a ruler. But who knows what he ruled. He was most likely a member of the Sanhedrin, which was a tribunal, a Supreme Court of sorts in the land of Israel. All he did was ask a simple question of the Incarnate God, Jesus Christ. This young man asked what he had to do to have eternal life. And Jesus responded with a seemingly effortless response.
Once a religious leader asked Jesus this question: “Good Teacher, what should I do to inherit eternal life?” “Why do you call me good?” Jesus asked him. “Only God is truly good. But to answer your question, you know the commandments: ‘You must not commit adultery. You must not murder. You must not steal. You must not testify falsely. Honor your father and mother.’ ” Luke 18:18-20
The instructions Jesus gave him were simple. He’d been observing those commands his entire life. After all. He was a devout Jew. Whew. He thought. If that’s all I need to do, then life is a breeze. I’ve got it from here. But Jesus continued on letting the man know there was one thing left to do.
The man replied, “I’ve obeyed all these commandments since I was young.” When Jesus heard his answer, he said, “There is still one thing you haven’t done. Sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” Luke 18:21-22
This nameless young man was accustomed to putting others on trial for various reasons. And yet, by asking a simple question, he found himself in a trial where he had to define his heart’s intent. It was very unexpected for him. And the command was too much to ask. That’s what he thought.
So he walked away. The young man, who had a promising future as a member of the Sanhedrin, walked away from the free gift of eternal life. Oh. He realized it wasn’t so free after all. He would have to give up his material possessions. His wealth must be given to the poor. And he realized down deep in his heart that his possessions were more precious to him than anything else. His heart’s desires were put on full display in front of the only One who could save him from his sins. He walked away. He said no and refused the offer of an eternal lifetime.
But when the man heard this he became very sad, for he was very rich. Luke 18:23
Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. Point out anything in me that offends you, and lead me along the path of everlasting life. Psalms 139:23-24
Sometimes we don’t know what’s in our hearts until Jesus commands us to act or speak in a way that isn’t easy for us. When we refuse to obey the promptings of the Holy Spirit, our heart issues are revealed. Oh. Perhaps not publicly. But our stubbornness and refusal to bow to God’s leading says it all. And that could be only in a one-on-one setting between myself and God. Or yourself and God. But not submitting to God lets us know that we have placed our will above God’s. In case we didn’t already know it, disobedience to God puts us in our place. Spiritually, of course. Because our private acts of disobedience may only be known to God and ourselves. It may never become public knowledge. It doesn’t have to become public in order for it to be sin in God’s eyes. Private sins are just as eternally incriminating as public sins.
Following Jesus may require us to give up something we really want to hold onto. It could be a career. Or a relationship. Or a vocabulary. Or an attitude. Or selfishness. It could be an addiction. Or stubbornness. It could be an unforgiving spirit. It could be a twenty-year old grudge. It could be a lifestyle. Or an identity. What we’re required to give up in order to be more like Jesus Christ is for our own good. It will draw us closer to the One who created us. And as believers, our one true goal is to be like Christ. We are his image bearers, after all. And as ones who have had their sins forgiven and erased from God’s memory, we are now called children of God.
Our life is no longer our own once we pledge to serve God. Oh. Some say it’s a sacrifice. But Jesus sacrificed his physical life so we could have eternal life. Perhaps the one thing we lack is loving God more than loving ourselves. What’s a little sacrifice on our part if it provides us freedom in Christ? Who are we to think that our lives on earth are of more importance than our eternal life with God? We have much to learn. And it may too late by the time we learn that lesson.
Let’s act now and repent of our sins while there is still time. God knows our hearts and our motives. He will forgive if we repent.
God spoke through Malachi to the people of Israel. He reminds them of his never ending love. And they say. Really?? How have you loved us? Most likely, the people are remembering the many, many years of hardship they have faced. Wars. Defeat. Famine. Loss. Taken exile to a foreign country by an enemy king. What they seemed to have selectively forgotten is that these troubles of were their own doing. Their ancestors had walked away from following God’s commands. They did as they pleased. They stopped obeying God. And this current generation was acting exactly like their ancestors. Disobedient to God.
As God reminded them of their sins, they responded with questions they wanted answered. Their hearts had been hardened to the truth, so God answered their questions and reminded them of how they were dishonoring him.
How have you loved us? In a mocking tone, they asked if God really loved them. In a moment of desperation, someone spoke the quiet words out loud. They didn’t see proof of God’s love, because all they saw was their lives in chaos. After years of being held captive in a foreign country, their families had been allowed to return home. Although they had been living in their ancestry homeland for many years, they were back to their old tricks. Doing their own thing. Giving less than their best to God. And he was calling them out on it. They didn’t feel loved by the One who loved them more than anyone ever could. God reminded them that they were his chosen people. He chose the Jewish nation over all other nations who were at his disposal. He loved them with an undying love. They didn’t feel secure in his love, because they had abandoned him.
How have we ever shown contempt for your name? Actions speak louder than words. It’s true. Israel’s priests were treating God with contempt, and they didn’t even realize it. They didn’t realize they were offending God by giving imperfect offerings to him. They did their work out of duty, not authentic allegiance to God. God knows the difference, in case anyone has forgotten. They weren’t giving of their best when only the best was acceptable. They were just going through the motions and expecting God’s blessings.
How have we defiled the sacrifices? The Israelites knew that when they brought their sacrifices to the temple, they were to bring their best offering. Not second best. Not blemished offerings. Perhaps they had forgotten or just chose to overlook this important fact, but God wanted their full allegiance and obedience. When they brought their sacrifices, God required spotless lambs without blemish. They were to bring the best of their livestock, but they were bringing animals unfit for sacrifice to an Almighty God.
God saw their acts of self righteousness and called them out for it. You’re not giving of your best to me, but yet you want my best. You want my blessings and my mercy and my grace, and yet you halfheartedly bring your sacrifices to me. God reminded them that their earthly rulers wouldn’t accept blemished offerings, so why should he. Yet they begged him for mercy as they brought crippled, stolen and sick animals to sacrifice. Why do they expect God to show them any mercy when they bring tarnished offerings?
How have we wearied you? The Israelites had a warped sense of right and wrong. They lived as though those who did evil were good in God’s eyes. They believed that God approved of wrongdoing. Oh. How self righteous they were. Trying to twist truth for lies. Trying to rewrite definitions of good and evil. And they tried God’s patience with this way of thinking and living. He was tired of the games they were playing.
How can we return when we have never gone away? God reminded the Israelites that they were the ones who had left him. He had not left them. Yet they thought they hadn’t walked away from him. How could they think that? Their years of exile and hardship happened because they disobeyed God. And they didn’t know how to return to him. They thought they had never left him. Unbelievable. Their hearts were so evil that they didn’t know right from wrong. God called them to repentance, and they didn’t believe they needed to repent.
When did we ever cheat you? The Israelites were robbing God, and they didn’t even realize it. They were stealing right from under his nose by withholding their tithes and offerings. And they thought nothing of it. They were required by Jewish law to give their first and best gifts to support the priests in their work. The Levite priests didn’t own land, so they had no way to provide food for their families. The other tribes were to provide out of their abundance for the priests, and yet they weren’t. They were holding back what rightfully belonged to God, and they didn’t even think twice about it.
What have we said against you? The Israelites would speak against God, and once again they weren’t aware they were doing it. How could they be so blind? Their hearts had turned so far from God that they no longer knew when they were sinning against him. They said it was useless to serve God. But they still wanted his favor. They were unwilling to humble themselves in service to God. They had forgotten that the reward for serving God was far greater than the cost. So they chose their own way, and God was calling them on it.
The Lord of Heaven’s Armies says, “The day of judgment is coming, burning like a furnace. On that day the arrogant and the wicked will be burned up like straw. They will be consumed—roots, branches, and all. But for you who fear my name, the Sun of Righteousness will rise with healing in his wings. And you will go free, leaping with joy like calves let out to pasture. Malachi 4:1-2
The Israelites had most likely been back home for one hundred years after their seventy years of exile in Babylon. One hundred years of sliding back into their old ways of disobeying God. Oh. People. How easy it is to forget God’s love when you’re focused only on yourselves. On self love. How easy it is to forget God’s goodness when you think being good is good enough. How easy it is to block out God’s voice when we hear him speaking words we don’t want to hear. To shrug off the touch of God’s nudge when he’s moving us in a direction we don’t want to go.
And then God offered mercy to those who feared him and honored his name.
God had shown the Israelites in so many different ways how wide and deep his love was for them. But they forgot. They forgot all the miracles and rescues and provision and forgiveness he had given to them each time they turned away and then crawled back in repentance. They had once again turned their heads and their hearts to their own leanings. And they weren’t leaning toward God. They were once again leaning in direct opposition to God’s commands. God never stopped loving them or showing proof of his love. They just weren’t looking for it, so over time they were blinded and their hearts were hardened against God.
And what they forgot was brought to their attention by God. Oh. He never misses a thing. He called them out on their bad behavior.
The Lord of Heaven’s Armies says to the priests: “A son honors his father, and a servant respects his master. If I am your father and master, where are the honor and respect I deserve? You have shown contempt for my name! “But you ask, ‘How have we ever shown contempt for your name?’ Malachi 1:6
Time and time again, the Jewish people expected good things from God, yet they’re not obeying him. Again. They’re giving of themselves halfheartedly. John writes in Revelation3:15-16 that you either hot or cold. If you’re lukewarm, God will reject you. God requires our best. When we give him only half of our allegiance, it’s basically no allegiance. When we write our own rules and live our own lives, and do our own thing without regard for God’s will and God’s commands, we’re disobeying him. We’re saying our ways are better than God’s ways.
The Israelites lived their lives as if they were better than God. They did what they wanted. They gave the sacrifices they wanted to give, not what God required. They did things their way not God’s way, because God’s way demanded too much of them. For many years later, the Jewish nation was still doing this to God. They were still giving their half best, or even less than half. And their lives were miserable.
I know all the things you do, that you are neither hot nor cold. I wish that you were one or the other! But since you are like lukewarm water, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth! Revelation 3:15-16
Here we are today doing the same thing. We say we love God, yet we live in ways that dishonor his name. Without a second thought, we live for ourselves. We’re not loyal to God. But we expect all his mercy and grace when we’re in desperate need of a miracle. We’ve left God behind. And we wonder why our world is in such a state of disarray. We wonder why groups are working to destroy nations with high inflation, food shortages, unnecessary wars, and manmade disasters. We don’t even consider that we act spitefully against God. We don’t realize that we have wearied God to the point of exhaustion. We don’t understand that God’s patience won’t last forever. The clock is ticking, and Jesus will return whether we’re ready or not. Whether we believe or not. There is a price to pay for our selfishness and pride.
We’ve forsaken God. We’ve run as far from God’s love as we can get. But yet. He still loves us. When we ask how God can love us when we’re going through intense suffering, we’ve forgotten that he’s right there with us in that suffering. We forget that he knows all about our pain. We don’t understand that we’ve robbed God. When we fail to give him our tithes and offerings. When we offer him less than our best. When we ignore the needs of others, we are ignoring God’s commands.
We expect God to treat us well. To treat us as if we are his prized possession. And we are just that to him. We are his prized possession. We just don’t act like it. Yet we continue to do what pleases ourselves instead of what pleases God. We prize ourselves more than we prize God.
Those who have accepted him as Lord and Savior of their life are children of God. Only children of God will have eternal life with him. It’s not too late to turn to God in repentance. It’s not too late to ask forgiveness of our sins. To fall on our knees and bow in submission to God Almighty. Let’s not wait another day. While it is still today, there is time for repentance. Shall we pray.
Heavenly Father, we’ve fallen so far from your grace by our selfish acts. We’ve ignored your tender loving kindness far too long, yet we demand that you treat us well. We think only of ourselves in this life and not in our eternal life. As we bow in humble repentance, we ask you will hear our prayer. Forgive us of our sins. Shower us with your continual love as we seek to serve you first. Help us to cast aside our sinful ways and serve you only, as you are the only God. Heal our hurts and restore us to your good graces. Remove our arrogance and fill us with humility that only seeks your favor, and not the favor of others. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.
As I was reading Jeremiah 26-29, I read that the prophet Jeremiah had a message from the Lord for the people of Israel. And this message was that if they repent and return to God’s ways, he will revoke the punishments he has planned for them. And when Jeremiah shared that message with those in charge, they didn’t like the message. Jeremiah confronted the evil of the day, and they wanted to kill him. He had to defend himself against an angry mob. Some of the leaders agreed that he shouldn’t be killed. Then when someone else prophesied the same message, he was killed. But a courageous man named Ahikam stood up for Jeremiah, and Jeremiah’s life was spared.
Nevertheless, Ahikam son of Shaphan stood up for Jeremiah and persuaded the court not to turn him over to the mob to be killed. Jeremiah 26:24
Now there was another prophet named Hananiah who also shared a message he said was from God. Only the message was a bit different. This message said that once the Israelites were exiled to Babylon, they and all of the items removed from the temple would be returned to Jerusalem in two years. And that was in stark contrast to God’s message to Jeremiah that they would be held captive by the Babylonians for 70 years. And yet Hananiah said it would only be two years. Of course, the people wanted to believe Hananiah because a two year exile was much different from 70 years.
Jeremiah continued to tell the Israelites of God’s warnings and plans to punish them for ignoring him and turning their backs on his commands on how they were to live their lives. They disobeyed God and bowed down to idols. They worshipped the creation instead of the Creator. When Hananiah had given his message that their punishment would only be two years, Jeremiah told him that he had shared a great message. I hope you’re right. Jeremiah said. But the only way we know that if the message is from God is if it comes true, because all of God’s promises and prophecies come true.
This story reminds me of a story in the New Testament. A man named Stephen was sharing the gospel, the good news that Jesus Christ was the actual promised Messiah, the Son of God. Many people didn’t believe it and were hunting anyone who shared or believed this type of message. They would hunt them down, imprison or kill them. And when Stephen had the courage to speak up and share his testimony, the crowd went crazy. They grabbed him and took him outside the city gates. There they stoned him to death. As they were stoning him, a man standing by the wayside was holding the coats of the people throwing stones. He stood by silently watching these people kill Stephen. And as Stephen knelt on the ground being pummeled by stones, he looked up into heaven and said, Father forgive them. Don’t hold them guilty for this. He begged. Even in his final moments of life, he was still asking God to forgive these people of the damage they were doing by killing Christians. He didn’t want them held responsible.
And this man holding the coats of those who were stoning Stephen was just as guilty as any one of the stone throwers. He could have stopped them. He could have stopped the people from throwing stones. He could have stopped this death penalty verdict that was handed out so easily. He could have spoken up. But he didn’t speak a word. He agreed that Stephen should be killed.
People didn’t like what Stephen was saying. They totally disagreed with him, because he was preaching a new way. He was preaching that the Promised Messiah had come to earth already. And these other Jews did not believe it. So they were hunting him and others who believed that same message. They were hunting them down and Saul stood there in silence, approving this act of violence against an innocent man. And that day Stephen faced his eternity and found himself in heaven with Jesus Christ. His suffering was no more.
We know that Saul approved of the killing of Stephen. Saul was trained in the Jewish tradition by a sought after rabbi named Gamaliel. Saul observed the Jewish traditions. He could quote the Torah. But he hadn’t accepted the message that Jesus was the promised Messiah. He fought the truth when the truth was staring him in the face.
Saul was one of the witnesses, and he agreed completely with the killing of Stephen. A great wave of persecution began that day, sweeping over the church in Jerusalem; and all the believers except the apostles were scattered through the regions of Judea and Samaria. Acts of the Apostles 8:1
Now in the Old Testament, Ahikam stopped the killing of Jeremiah the prophet. Ahikam, the protector of the prophet, came from a strong family line. His father was a prominent scribe, who also led the restoration of the temple. This family was well respected in their time. So it was right that this son stood up for the prophet, Jeremiah. And when he spoke, the people listened. Jeremiah’s life was saved.
We read in the New Testament of what happened to Saul when he approved the killing of an innocent man. We also know that Jesus spoke to him and called him to preach that Jesus was the Son of God. And Saul’s life was changed. He recognized that he was chasing innocent people. He was going after the wrong crowd, imprisoning them. He had a change of heart. He became one of the hunted instead of the hunter, because his message of forgiveness and redemption was powerful. He had first-hand experience of what a changed life was like when Jesus saves you from your sins. He lived forgiven and he shared the message that forgiveness and salvation were available for everyone. Saul realized that he had been wrong. He had been standing for the wrong message.
Be on guard. Stand firm in the faith. Be courageous. Be strong. And do everything with love. 1 Corinthians 16:13-14
Who do you identify with?
So today, we also have a choice. Are we going to be like Stephen and Jeremiah who speak the truth? Are we going to stand up for biblical truth, for justice, and for right. When those who disagree with us want to cause physical harm, financial ruin, or job loss, are we still willing to stand? Or will we silently stand to the side?
Are we willing to stand as Jeremiah and Stephen did, or will we take the easy way out? Will we go with the crowd and stand by silently approving the harm of innocent people. People who are determined to be courageous in a fight for truth. We need to seriously consider how we’re going how we live our lives. What we’re standing for and what we’re standing against.
Truth seems to be a rare commodity these days. Something else that’s hard to find is those who will support truth tellers. Why is it so hard to stand for truth these days? Oh. We’ve never faced persecution and threats for speaking the truth, but the tide has turned. We may become the hunted. Are we prepared?
Will we stand with Ahikam for those who speak biblical truth or will we remain silent as Saul and overlook the persecution of believers? We have a choice. Will we find our voice before it’s too late?
Just so you know, Satan wants to bring God’s followers down. We too could be hunted and threatened. Are we willing to accept that? Oh, we say it’s not happening to us because we live in America. That doesn’t mean it won’t ever happen. It is happening in America today to people who stand against biblical truths. They are sued and repeatedly taken to court for daring to stand for their beliefs. Their faith has not wavered. Is my faith that strong? Am I that courageous? We need to stand true and strong to our beliefs. God help us.
A final word: Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on all of God’s armor so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies of the devil. For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places. Ephesians 6:10-12
Saul and his crew were on their way to Damascus. After all, he had received written permission from the high priest authorizing him to hunt and arrest anyone who believed the message of Jesus Christ. As he traveled down the road in midday, a light brighter than the sun shone all around him. He was instantly blinded. Suddenly, he heard a voice from heaven. Jesus, the Son of God, asked Saul why he was persecuting him.
Saul was not searching for Jesus when Jesus called his name. He was searching for those who believed in Jesus. Oh. Saul knew what he was doing. He was persecuting those who believed that Jesus, the promised Messiah had come to earth to deliver his people from their sins. And Saul didn’t believe that. He was stuck in the traditional Jewish beliefs and traditions. He didn’t believe the prophecy about God’s Son had actually been fulfilled. So when Jesus called his name, Saul asked who was calling. And he then realized this Jesus was the one he had been denying.
Saul, Saul. Why do you persecute me?
Every believer that Saul persecuted was taking the place of Jesus Christ. For all intents and purposes, Saul was persecuting Jesus Christ everywhere he went. When he arrested and imprisoned those who accepted the Good News of Jesus’ birth, death and resurrection, he was arresting and imprisoning Jesus himself. With every capture and arrest Saul made, he thought he was honoring God. He thought he was following God’s will. But instead, he was persecuting God’s son. He was fighting God, not obeying him. How could he have gotten it so wrong?
What Saul didn’t realize was that he couldn’t hold back the Son of God from doing the work he was commissioned to do. Sure. The Son of God had returned to heaven, but his followers on earth were now doing his work. And nothing Saul could do could stop what God had started.
I used to believe that I ought to do everything I could to oppose the very name of Jesus the Nazarene. Indeed, I did just that in Jerusalem. Authorized by the leading priests, I caused many believers there to be sent to prison. And I cast my vote against them when they were condemned to death. Many times I had them punished in the synagogues to get them to curse Jesus. I was so violently opposed to them that I even chased them down in foreign cities. Acts 26:9-11
Saul was a learned man of his times. He had studied under the well respected Jewish scholar, Gamaliel. Saul knew the Scriptures. He was determined to punish anyone who dared to believe differently from the traditions. And yet, God had to bring him to his knees and blind him before he was willing to admit the truth that Jesus was the Son of God, born and died for every last one of Saul’s many sins.
To read the full story of Saul’s conversion, read Acts 9 and Acts 26.
Let the message about Christ, in all its richness, fill your lives. Colossians 3:16
Soul, soul. Why do you persecute me?
What if my name was in front of that sentence. Why do I persecute God? Why do I challenge him and run from his ways? Why don’t I automatically fall on my knees and worship him in adoration? Why don’t I automatically choose to obey God? I who know the Scripture and have been taught from an early age to love and honor God. Why am I so careless with my faith?
Do we not do the same as Saul did? Every time we act selfishly and sinfully, we are acting against God. When we reject Christ and his will for our lives, we’re persecuting him. Do we even realize what we’re doing? Do we take God’s knock on the door of our hearts seriously and open up to him?
What will God have to resort to to bring us to our knees in humble acknowledgment and repentance? Why do we run from him? Why do we think our ways are higher than his ways? We who’ve been taught the Bible know the truth, yet we deny what we’ve been taught. We ignore the Scripture teaching us how to live an authentic Christian life. We do our own thing. We don’t look for God’s guidance. We become complacent. It’s all about us, we think. Not about God.
I know all the things you do, that you are neither hot nor cold. I wish that you were one or the other! But since you are like lukewarm water, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth! Revelation 3:15-16
Anytime we sin, we’re nailing Jesus to the cross all over again. Our decision to deny Jesus and please ourselves puts him right back on that cross. Each time we disobey, the weight of our sins becomes heavier for Jesus to bear as he hung on that cross, causing him more pain and suffering. If we continue to run from God and disobey him when he’s calling our name, we’re persecuting him. Is that what we want?
For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard. Romans 3:23
If we are the body of Christ, let’s wear the name in humility. We must consciously hear and obey God’s words. Let’s act on the promptings of the Holy Spirit and live in obedience. let’s listen well and listen thoroughly when God calls our name. Let’s not be surprised when God calls our name to follow and obey him. Let’s follow willingly.
My ears have been clogged for six weeks. My hearing has been greatly diminished. We’ve activated the closed caption setting on our tv. The volume on the radio and phone are set at full blast. When I talk on the phone, I set it to speaker and then hold it close to my ear and still have trouble hearing. The problem is simple. I just can’t hear. And it’s all due to a virus that has run rampant across the globe for the past two and a half years. I wonder if this is permanent or a temporary setback.
I called the doctor and was told there was a few weeks’ wait to to see him. So I waited. Wondering the whole time if this wait would cause permanent damage. I wasn’t sure what to expect at the visit. Was it a simple procedure to restore my hearing? Or would permanent devices need to be ordered and attached to my ears? One never knows. Especially as the aging process seems to be advancing at breakneck speed.
I’m working harder to listen, but I still can’t hear. I want to know what someone is saying to me. I want to hear the music or the news. I want to carry on conversations and not only hear a few words. I want to hear. Because I want to know what’s happening around me. I want to be prepared for what life brings. But I can’t be prepared if I can’t hear. When I’m alone in the house, I want to know if a door opens. I want to know if someone enters my home. I don’t want to live in confusion or fear. So I find I must listen well. I must intentionally and actively listen to every word that’s being said.
The day arrived for my doctor’s appointment. It seems the global virus caused fluid buildup in my ears, which shifted the wax. This caused my hearing to be diminished. Once the wax was removed, my hearing was restored in one ear. We’re working to reduce the fluid in the other ear.
I feel like a new woman. I can hear. I had to turn the volume down on every device I own. The phone. The laptop. The tv. I turned off the closed captions. I’m grateful for a simple solution to a deafening problem. Now I’m beginning to wonder why everything sounds so loud.
During these few weeks without full hearing, I learned to appreciate the sound of barking dogs. Lawn mowers. Door bells. Soft voices. Loud voices. Automobiles. I didn’t realize how much I took for granted the simple yet complex act of hearing.
Everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. Matthew 7:24
The Israelites were God’s chosen people. He had told them that for many, many years. So they knew that God’s favor was a very real thing, because they had experienced it over and over again. And then they got cocky. They became more sure of themselves than they were of God. They become successful and wealthy. They became strong and fearless. They had everything they needed, so why did they need God? They began worshipping false gods. Offering sacrifices to idols. They began disobeying God’s commands. They were living their lives on their own terms.
Oh sure. God was patient. Very patient. We all know how it is when a parent patiently watches their child make bad decisions with the hopes that they will learn a lesson and turn their lives around. So God waited. And waited. And then when he saw that their stubborn hearts were so turned against him, he turned against them. It was time for Israel to pay the piper.
Israel was no longer listening to God. They weren’t following his commands. They had blocked out the voice of God. But God wasn’t finished. He allowed difficult times to fall on his chosen people, with the hopes that they would turn back to him. But they didn’t. They continued to follow their own path.
“Go ahead and offer sacrifices to the idols at Bethel. Keep on disobeying at Gilgal. Offer sacrifices each morning, and bring your tithes every three days. Present your bread made with yeast as an offering of thanksgiving. Then give your extra voluntary offerings so you can brag about it everywhere! This is the kind of thing you Israelites love to do,” says the Sovereign Lord . “I brought hunger to every city and famine to every town. But still you would not return to me,” says the Lord . “I kept the rain from falling when your crops needed it the most. I sent rain on one town but withheld it from another. Rain fell on one field, while another field withered away. People staggered from town to town looking for water, but there was never enough. But still you would not return to me,” says the Lord . “I struck your farms and vineyards with blight and mildew. Locusts devoured all your fig and olive trees. But still you would not return to me,” says the Lord . “I sent plagues on you like the plagues I sent on Egypt long ago. I killed your young men in war and led all your horses away. The stench of death filled the air! But still you would not return to me,” says the Lord . “I destroyed some of your cities, as I destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah. Those of you who survived were like charred sticks pulled from a fire. But still you would not return to me,” says the Lord . Amos 4:4-11
“The time is surely coming,” says the Sovereign Lord , “when I will send a famine on the land— not a famine of bread or water but of hearing the words of the Lord . Amos 8:11
Have we, like Israel, moved into a famine of hearing the words of the Lord? Has our hearing been diminished by the loud noise of distractions and sin? Have we forgotten how to listen to God? Has God stopped speaking to us because we’ve stopped listening? Has our hearing hardened to the voice of God?
I would dare to say that now is not the time to harden our hearts to God’s message of truth. It’s time to obey him and strengthen our relationship with him. We must act now to please God in all we do and say. Because judgment day is coming. We just don’t know the day or the hour. We must be ready. We can regain our hearing. We can once again tune into the voice of God. While there is still time, we must turn to God and obey him with all our hearts.
The doctor gave me one small piece of advice. Don’t use q-tips. They will push the wax down deep into the ear. And over time, we will experience diminished hearing. We need similar advice today when we can no longer hear God’s voice. Are we allowing other things in our lives to deafen us to hearing God? Are we intentionally or unintentionally harming our ability to know when God is speaking to us? It’s time to remove the wax from our ears so our famine of hearing the words of the Lord will be restored.
He was the commander of the king’s army. The king had great admiration for him. He was, after all, the king’s right hand man. He had the king’s ear. And his trust. He had secured great victories against their enemies. But this man suffered from leprosy.
One of this man’s conquests was raiding the land of Israel with his army. And with this mighty victory, they brought home prisoners of war. This great leader placed a young girl in his home who served his wife. She was a servant. A slave. One of the spoils of war. But what he didn’t know was that she had great faith in the God of her ancestors. And when she saw him suffering from this incurable disease, she told his wife that he could be made whole if only he paid a visit to the prophet Elisha in Israel.
So Namaan took a trip to Israel to find out about the healing that was spoken of by this lowly foreign slave. He eventually made his way to the home of the prophet where he was told to go dip himself in the muddy Jordan River seven times. He was insulted and said no. But the army officers with him convinced him that if he was told to do something great he would. So why not try it. And when he came out of the water on that seventh dip, his skin was cleansed of the deadly disease. Namaan had been healed.
He now believed in the God of his stolen slave girl. He now believed that the foreign gods he had been bowing to were worthless. He must now only bow to the God who created the universe.
So he made a trip back to pay respects to Elisha. He wanted to honor his new found faith and offer gifts to the one who had a hand in his healing. He felt indebted to the giver of new life. But there was a problem.
Namaan worked for the government. He spent time with the king on a daily basis. There was no way he could escape his responsibilities as he served the king. And the king bowed down every day to a false god. Namaan was expected to do the same. And now that his allegiance had turned from a false god to the One True God, he knew that in his heart he couldn’t bow to the king’s idol. He must only bow to his Creator. But how could he do that when he was expected to honor the king’s wishes? How was he to show that his faith was now in his Heavenly Father while bowing to a manmade object? How is it possible to do both? And he knew that would be a problem.
He had to keep his faith a secret in order to keep his job. Could he do it? By keeping quiet about his faith, would he lose his faith? Speaking openly about his newfound trust in God Almighty could prove the downfall of his career. Was he willing to risk it all for his faith? Could he be a light in the darkness that surrounded him?
Then Naaman said, “All right, but please allow me to load two of my mules with earth from this place, and I will take it back home with me. From now on I will never again offer burnt offerings or sacrifices to any other god except the Lord . However, may the Lord pardon me in this one thing: When my master the king goes into the temple of the god Rimmon to worship there and leans on my arm, may the Lord pardon me when I bow, too.” “Go in peace,” Elisha said. So Naaman started home again. 2 Kings 5:17-19
Read 2 Kings 5:1-27 to read Namaan’s story.
I have given them your word. And the world hates them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. I’m not asking you to take them out of the world, but to keep them safe from the evil one. John 17:14-15
Christians today are having to make a choice of whether to speak up at their workplace about the cultural lies being forced on them. They don’t know if it could cost them their job or not. Some choose to fly under the radar and not make waves. Because really. If they aren’t being forced to state their pronouns or wave a pride flag, why speak up. I don’t know the right or wrong choice. I’ve not be placed in that situation. I haven’t been mandated to do anything. But what I believe is that this issue must be between each person and God. With much prayer and even fasting, God will make it clear to each of us how we should live and work in a world surrounded by those who are against God. And therefore, they are against us.
We must be concerned about what God thinks of our presence in a world full of sin. Oh. We can’t escape this world and remain alive. So while we’re still breathing and moving about on this planet, our desires must be centered on pleasing God while surrounded by the enemy. No. It’s not an easy task. No one said it would be. We can read of many examples in the Bible of great people who failed miserably. Some of them got up and dusted themselves off pledging their faithfulness to God Almighty. Others wallowed in their sins and never repented. I pray that we will be like the former and not the latter.
We know that we must live in this world as it is today. It’s our responsibility as believers to be in the world but not of the world. We must live in a way that honors God and his message of truth, hope and salvation. We must live for the eternity that awaits us in light of the forgiveness of our sins and our commitment to serving God and only God.
Consider those who live in distant lands where living their faith openly is in defiance of their government. They go about their work and live quiet lives. Yet they meet in secret with fellow believers and they hide their Bibles in out of the way places. Oh. They know full well what they’re facing if discovered. And yet they’re willing to practice their faith in private. They perform their work, even if it is back breaking and hard labor. They don’t give up their faith because their lives are hard. Their faith thrives in spite of their very difficult circumstances. In spite of being quiet in their workplace, their faith is firm. Can we do the same?
I’m a follower. Of people. I follow people on social media. I’m not a stalker. I just like to see what is happening in their lives. I follow one who is into fitness. One who is a follower of Jesus Christ. Another is a cook who is now feeding four young children trying to be an influencer of moms with young kids. Another is an influencer who uses her clout to inspire others to purchase products that she has endorsed. Still another speaks biblical truth to the current cultural lies. They’re from all walks of life. And I see a glimpse into their lives on almost a daily basis. It’s fascinating.
The person who is into fitness just opened a micro gym. She is now able to offer one-on-one fitness lessons to anyone willing to pay her price. Oh. She takes her fitness very seriously. If you look at her photos, you can see the results of discipline and sacrifice. So. If she can become fit at her age, then she believes anyone else can do the same.
The Jesus follower recently had a new book published. It appears to be all the rage for her fan base. She’s introduced a study with videos that people can use to dig deeper into this latest book of hers. She shows beautiful photos of her family and home life for the world to see. But deep down, I wonder if she’s in agreement with her country’s leadership. She lives in another North American country that has been hit hard with mandates and tyranny. Oh. She never says a word about it on social media. And perhaps that’s best. But she shares how to live a solid Christian life in an unchristian world.
The young mom I follow intrigues me. She’s had four kids in four years. The last two are identical twins. Her brand started as a cooking blog, where she created plant-based recipes. Oh. I’ve never tried any of her recipes. I just watch from the screen. And now she’s expanded to cookbooks for child eaters of any age. She’s also partnered with financial institutions and cleaning product companies, all in the name of expansion for her growing list of followers. I follow to see the cute photos of her kids. No. I don’t agree with all of her political and cultural leanings, but I don’t have to.
Then there’s the influencer who earns a living strictly on endorsing products that she uses. She creates product and gift guides so others can buy the items she suggests. And then she makes money off of each purchase. And she earns lots of money. She has seven employees who help her in this business. Is this really a job?
The one who speaks biblical truths to the cultural lies does so in a very public way. She’s on social media defending truth and cutting through the lies. She walks closely with the Lord. She shares biblical truth as if it’s her job. And it is her job. She has taken to the task in a bold fashion and is not backing down. She is a faithful warrior fighting a battle that few believers are willing to fight. She says she isn’t an influencer, but her message influences masses.
Direct my footsteps according to your word; let no sin rule over me. Psalms 119:133
And then there’s the ultimate One I follow. Oh. He isn’t on social media. He seems to have no social standing at all in this world. But yet, he’s everywhere. His impact is of a spiritual nature. And it’s clear when his plan is being followed. Or not. It’s noticeable when his selfless, sacrificial gift to all mankind is being rejected. We see that rejection every day. We just call it by a different name.
This One I follow is the Creator of the universe. He’s the lover of my soul. He’s the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. His only and only Son came to earth as a babe. He gave his life on the cross so that I could have eternal life with him. Why wouldn’t I follow him? Why wouldn’t everyone follow him? But so many don’t. And others only follow halfheartedly. And he gave his all for each of us.
So. As I follow the Leader of my life, I too must give him my all. No shirking. Following the leader requires constant obedience. No turning to the left or to the right. Just following the one who is guiding my every step. Sounds simple enough. Until my selfish nature gets in the way. Until I want what I want and my want doesn’t match the One I say I’m following. Oh. Then life gets sticky. I either bow to his way or I bow out of his will. Either decision is life changing. If I choose to bow to his way, then I feel the peace of submission and obedience. I draw closer to him and have a deeper desire to always obey. But if I choose to bow out of his will, then I am claiming that I know best for my life. I’m saying his plan isn’t good enough for me. I know what I’m doing. Oh. What a tangled web we can weave if we don’t stay fully surrendered to him.
Since He has placed me in this world at this appointed time, I must use my gifts and talents to honor him. As his follower, I must walk the path he has laid out for me. Oh. There will be moments the path looks too steep and treacherous. It may be rocky or full of potholes. Or it may be newly paved. Regardless of the condition of the road, I must keep plodding forward. One step at a time. Because he is walking with me each step of the way.
As I follow the Giver of Life, I must be willing to lay down my life for him as he sacrificed his for me. I must obey his leading at all costs. Oh. The price may be high. No one ever knows until it’s time. But for this time, I am called to live humbly, justly and obediently.
We must be faithful to what He asks us to do, to what He asks us to believe, and to how He instructs us to live.
The Israelites lived a life of rituals. It was their lot in life. Mainly because God had commanded a life of physical and spiritual purity. There were many laws and customs that the Israelites were required to follow. Some were for keeping physically clean, most likely for health reasons. Other laws were for spiritual purposes. After all, the Promised Messiah had not been delivered to the earth, so they had no Savior. Their sins were forgiven by offering animal sacrifices.
And sometimes, it was easy to sin and just offer a sacrifice without being truly sorry for the wrong that was committed. Just kill a cow and your sin will be forgiven. That was the thought in some people’s minds. But God saw their hearts. He knew they weren’t truly sorry. And he called them out on it.
He reminded them that he owns all the cattle on a thousand hills. He owns every bird on the mountains. So he doesn’t really need their sacrifices. He doesn’t let them know when he’s hungry, because he’s not human. He doesn’t need food to sustain himself. He needs their obedience and allegiance. He wants their sacrifice to be thankfulness. Their thankfulness emphasizes what God has done for them, not what they’ve done for God.
I have no complaint about your sacrifices or the burnt offerings you constantly offer. But I do not need the bulls from your barns or the goats from your pens. For all the animals of the forest are mine, and I own the cattle on a thousand hills. I know every bird on the mountains, and all the animals of the field are mine. Do I eat the meat of bulls? Do I drink the blood of goats? If I were hungry, I would not tell you, for all the world is mine and everything in it. Make thankfulness your sacrifice to God, and keep the vows you made to the Most High. Psalms 50:8-14
And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him. Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect. Romans 12:1-2
Oh. How that still stings today. God sees our hearts. He knows our bent toward sinning. He sees the rituals that we cling to so we can call ourselves Christian. Sure. We go to church. We give our tithe. We volunteer to serve in church ministries.
But the question is. Are we offering our “rituals” with a pure heart? When we walk through the church doors on Sunday, are we there out of love and thankfulness? Are we there to worship God and stand in His presence? Are we there to fellowship with other believers? Or is it just a habit that we haven’t yet broken? Is it only a social gathering? When we tithe, is it because the bill is set to autopay without a second thought? Or do we give sacrificially because of our desire to help spread the gospel? Are we giving a gift of thanksgiving for God’s provision? When was the last time we asked ourselves if we were giving cheerfully or just out of duty? When we accept the cup and bread of communion, is it an act of reverence and honoring of Jesus’ broken body? Or is it a ritual we’ve come to expect on Sunday? Is it an impersonal act we perform without considering the sacrifice of God’s only Son on the cross for our sins? Do we perjure ourselves by presenting our unclean selves as holy before a God who knows our hearts?
If we’ve lost the joy of being a Christian, how can we turn our hearts around? How can we fall in love with giving our tithe and not feel like it’s a drain on our finances? How can we reclaim the deep burning desire to be in church worshipping with fellow believers every Sunday? What will it take to get excited about serving God in the church again? How do we reclaim the joy and thankfulness we experienced as new believers?
Perhaps it time to stop and renew our relationship with God. Perhaps our fire has burned out, because we’re not putting God first. If God cares so much about the animals, he cares much more about we who are made in his image. God does not need anything from us. He accepts our offerings. And our service. And our worship. He commands we honor him. But rituals won’t satisfy him. He wants our hearts. He wants our confession. He wants our obedience. Our allegiance. Our trust. He wants our full surrender to his will. He wants our sacrifice of thanksgiving.
Does he have it?
Therefore, change your hearts and stop being stubborn. Deuteronomy 10:16
It was his first year on the job as king of Israel, and it was unremarkable. Oh. It wasn’t a job he asked for. It was one his fellow countrymen had been asking for. They wanted a king. So God gave them a king. And when Samuel warned them that their desire for a king was sinful, they said they didn’t care. They wanted to be like every other nation around them.
This king, Saul, was chosen by God. And Saul failed early on in his reign. He failed because he was not a man after God’s own heart. He was after his own selfish ways. Never mind God. Saul would do what Saul wanted. And pay the consequences later, if need be.
And during his second year in power, he received a horrible performance review. Samuel told him that because of his disobedience to God, he would lose the kingdom. Saul’s early sin of offering a sacrifice that only the priest should make cost him his kingship. Oh. He remained in power, but none of his sons would inherit the throne. It would go to another.
And so the downhill decline started. So early in his reign, Saul saw his kingdom and legacy faltering. He was not a man of God. It didn’t have to be this way. But Saul made poor decisions early on in his reign that began a downward slide of continued disobedience to God’s commands. Saul led the nation of Israel poorly, and it showed. His monarchy would come to a screeching halt after his lifetime. It would not be carried down to the next generation. And he knew it.
I wonder how often Saul relived that day Samuel anointed him in private to be king of Israel. Didn’t he walk away a new man? God had given him a new heart. Once afraid, he was filled with boldness and bravery. He was now a statesman appointed to lead a nation. Oh. Saul did some good things. He won some battles. He rescued people from their enemies. He even prophesied. He was humble as he began his reign. But oh. How the tide turned.
Over the course of his reign, Saul’s sins were many. He was impatient, foolish and jealous. He attempted murder. He was vengeful. He consulted with a witch and disobediently offered sacrifices. When Samuel helped him guide the nation, things went well. Once Samuel stepped aside to let Saul lead the country on his own, Saul appeared to be awkward and weak. When left to his own devices, he made poor decisions.
Saul had a bent for disobeying the God who had chosen him as the first king of Israel. God rejected Saul, because he saw that Saul’s heart was set against him. Saul was self-centered and proud. He told himself he was being self sufficient when he took matters into his own hands, instead of waiting for Samuel to arrive and perform his priestly duties. Saul acted as his own priest. Because. Why not? He was king. He could do everything the priest could do. But that act of rebellion didn’t go down well with Samuel or with God. Saul thought he didn’t need God to instruct him. If only he obeyed God, his reign would have been a powerful statement of God’s grace. Instead, it was a powerful statement of how powerful men can be broken by sin and disobedience.
The human heart is the most deceitful of all things, and desperately wicked. Who really knows how bad it is? Jeremiah 17:9
I wonder if King Saul ever stopped to examine his life and his decisions. Did he ever feel guilty about turning his back on God? Was he ever regretful for the many attempts to kill David? Did he realize he didn’t have to lose the kingdom to David? If only he had obeyed God, his family would have remained in power. But Saul was bent on having his way in his own way.
We never know how our lives will be impacted by responding wrongly to God’s will in our lives. Do we stop to think about how one decision can turn our lives in a totally different path with our disobedience? Or do we just go merrily about our business without a care? Disobedience doesn’t come out of nowhere. It starts in the heart. A turning of desires from pleasing God to pleasing self. It may start small. With just a glance. Or a thought. And it builds from there. Until one day, the desire to please God is a far distant thought.
Disobedience becomes easier the more often it happens. The conscience eases. The guilty twinges subside. Until disobedience becomes a lifestyle of comfort and selfishness. Our self sufficient attitude becomes an act of defiance to an all-sovereign God of the universe. And not a thought is given to pleasing God. Disobedience grieves the heart of God. Nothing about it pleases him.
It doesn’t have to be this way. We know that. Hearts can change. Hearts can be turned back toward God. Hearts can still be convicted if they are open to hearing God’s truth. Repentance can happen. Forgiveness is open to everyone who calls on the name of the Lord. Those who seek forgiveness will be saved. God is working in hearts and lives today. But we must seek him while he may still be found.
According to 1 Samuel 12:14-15, blessings await those who obey the commands of the Lord, while troubles are in store for those who disobey. Choose you this day whom you will serve.
I think of the times when I’ve started a new job. I don’t know whether the experience will be good or bad. I don’t know if I’ll be successful or a complete failure. I have no idea if my boss will be considerate or a control freak. Will I make friends? Will I like the job, or will I live to regret my decision? Will I stand up for my faith, or will I be silent? Only time will tell.
As I walked in the door on the first day of my new job, I wondered what my new co-workers would be like. Would we get along? Would I build strong relationships with them? What would we talk about? What would they teach me? Would they learn anything from me? Would this be a good experience? Only time will tell.
We all have times when we get a fresh start. We start a new job. We move across the country or to a new neighborhood. We go away to college. We begin a new relationship. And with each new start, we will have new experiences. New conversations. New opportunities. New learnings. New blessings. New temptations. New memories. And we must make a decision about how we will approach each new situation. Will we live in obedience to God? Or will we choose to disobey?
The people of Israel were getting ready to move into the land that had been promised to them forty years earlier. Oh. It was promised to their parents, but they didn’t live to see it after they had disobeyed God. Their punishment was that they would die before reaching the promised land. Now it was to be awarded to their children. And it was time to move in.
Moses gave the Israelites a long list of instructions to live by once they were in their new land. He warned them of the trouble they would face if these new laws were broken. He also spoke of the benefits they would experience if they obeyed the laws. God would bless them and multiply their nation if they were faithful to him.
But in his message, Moses warned the people that they would disobey God. He told them that they would turn their backs on God and follow their own ways. He warned of the trouble they would face when this happened. God had also commanded them to destroy all the towns and all the people in them. This was because the people they were displacing were evil. And God didn’t want his people to be tempted to turn from him by living with people who dishonored God.
You must be holy because I, the Lord your God, am holy. Leviticus 19:2
God was commanding the people of Israel to live holy lives. They must be blameless, because the people they’re about to displace are not holy people. They must be prepared for that. And they were to avoid all the pagan practices that they were going to encounter. They were not to imitate the detestable customs of the people living in those places.
As followers of Christ living in a post-Christian culture today, we must be blameless. We must avoid the pagan practices of those we encounter each day. We are not to imitate evil customs. We are to avoid anything that God hates. God calls us to be in the world but not of it. We must live above the evils that surround us. We must stand for truth and not tolerate the lies that are being told. We must not bow down to any other gods.
When we’re starting fresh, we will come face to face with many new situations. Some will be great opportunities, and others will be temptations to disobey God. We always have a choice. In the middle of the warning to the Israelites, Moses commanded the people to be blameless before the Lord. Just as the Israelites were to be blameless, we too are called to be blameless.
When you enter the land the Lord your God is giving you, be very careful not to imitate the detestable customs of the nations living there. For example, never sacrifice your son or daughter as a burnt offering. And do not let your people practice fortune-telling, or use sorcery, or interpret omens, or engage in witchcraft, or cast spells, or function as mediums or psychics, or call forth the spirits of the dead. Anyone who does these things is detestable to the Lord . It is because the other nations have done these detestable things that the Lord your God will drive them out ahead of you. But you must be blameless before the Lord your God. The nations you are about to displace consult sorcerers and fortune-tellers, but the Lord your God forbids you to do such things. Deuteronomy 18:9-14