Judges, Ruth And The American Church: In The Midst Of The Madness

(I know this is a long article, but I honestly feel that to divide it would not be best. I think it needs to be read as one article. Please, endeavor to persevere!)

I think it’s safe to say that we find ourselves in a time in which America could be characterized by the title of an old movie: “It’s a mad, mad, mad, mad world!” People are crying, “It’s the end of the world.” while others lament, “The end of the church!” Politically, American citizens are divided, and the church fairs no better: Democrats, Republicans, Libertarians, hybrids, traditional churches, home churches, prophetic, signs & wonders, fire& brimstone, love & grace, hybrids. Each group speaks of tolerance and inclusion, but only if you see it their way. Who are enemies? Who are allies? It seems to change from one day to the next. For every ten who see it one way, there are twenty who see it another, and fifty who see it differently still. So, most have resigned themselves to doing what seems right to them and hoping for the best. I’ve got good news; God is at work in the midst of the madness. Allow me to present a “prophetic allegory” (if you will) from the books of Judges & Ruth which I believe will provide insight into our own mad, mad, mad, mad world.

The book of Judges finds God’s people living in the midst of political turmoil and oppression. And spiritually, they were schizophrenic at best. At various times, the people would “repent,” God would send “judges” to deliver them, and there would be seasons of renewal. But inevitably, the people would slide back into doing their own thing. For the most part, it was a tumultuous cycle in which “each man did what was right in his own eyes. And it came complete with levels of craziness that would make Jerry Springer scratch his head.

Gideon was just an ordinary guy that God used to deliver the people from the Midianites. Subsequently, the people of Israel asked Gideon and his family to rule over them. Gideon took gold from the people, made an ephod (a religious garment), and the people actually began to worship it. Don’t we see this today? We see the high profile preachers, worship leaders, the big name evangelist, and we make them into idols. We worship gifts and not the Giver. We fall in love with the “anointing” and not the Anointed. Instead of lifting up Jesus we concentrate on signs & wonders or the prophetic or our traditions or our doctrines or our education. We make idols out of what God does and gives, and cease to worship the God who is. We worship a move of God instead of the God who moves. Signs & wonders will not save us. The prophetic will not keep us. Our traditions and education will betray us. This is idolatry, and it leads us into that same tumultuous cycle that Israel experienced in the book of Judges.

What about Samson? What a perfect picture of anointing gone wild. There was great giftedness, but no holiness. We see it in the church today, gifted people who can preach, sing, administrate, raise money, etc…. They denounce the evils of same-sex marriage as they sit by their computers, watching porn, planning their next adulterous rendezvous. Like Samson (a Nazarite) who defiled himself and his parents by eating honey scooped from the carcass of a dead lion, the people of God are often times eating contaminated honey provided to them by ministers who have defiled themselves. It still tastes good, folks may “get saved,” there may even be instances of the miraculous, but it is not pure and the stench of the flesh permeates it. The flesh can only give birth to flesh, and we, like Samson, reach a point that we don’t even know that the Spirit of the Lord has left the building. Like Samson, so many of us have been called and gifted, but insist on following our own lusts to the point where we end up spiritually blind, bound between two columns, and begging God to please move just one last time.

What of Micah? Micah stole some money from his mom, and upon returning it,  she (now get this) dedicated the money to the Lord so that a carved and metal image could be made. Micah then made an ephod, set up his household gods, made a shrine, and ordained one of his sons to function as a priest. He completely ignored the parameters of worship God had instituted through Moses, and sought to syncretize the worship of God with the god(s) he had created. He didn’t stop there. He found a Levite (Remember, they were to be the priests of God.), bribed him, and got him to participate in his idolatry. Micah said to himself, “Now I know the Lord will bless me because I have a Levite priest.” Micah and his mom were so far gone that they dedicated their idolatry to God. Today, we’re doing the same thing that Micah did. We redefine that which God calls profane, and pronounce it holy. We’re snycretizing pagan practices, new-age philosophies, and the god we’ve created in our own image with the worship of the one true God. All the while praying, “God, bless us.” We have even incorporated our own brand of sorcery into the mix. Who among us has not received the magic christian email that promises blessing if you’ll forward it to at least ten people? Who among us has not been told that if we “click like” on a certain Face Book post, God will send us a miracle? To our shame, we have created an idol that looks and behaves as we do, accepts our definition of righteousness and called it God.

We come to the book of Ruth. This story takes place “in the days when the judges ruled.” We don’t know exactly when, but we do know that it was in the days of the Judges (Ruth 1:1). (It would take up a lot of space to summarize the entire book of Ruth, and I do need to bring this to a close, so I’ll trust you to read it.) For our purposes we’ll skip to the part where Ruth and Boaz finally get together.

“So she went down to the threshing floor that night…After Boaz had finished eating and drinking and was in good spirits, he lay down at the far end of the pile of grain and went to sleep. Then Ruth came quietly, uncovered his feet, and lay down. Around midnight Boaz suddenly woke up and turned over. He was surprised to find a woman lying at his feet! ‘Who are you?’ he asked. ‘I am your servant Ruth,’ she replied. ‘Spread the corner of your covering over me, for you are my family redeemer.’”

Right in the midst of the madness that engulfed Israel during the time of the Judges, when both the political landscape and the people of God were , there was a marriage taking place. A marriage of eternal consequence that would lead to the birth of King David, and eventually Jesus himself! And in our day, right in the midst of our own madness, God is calling forth a remnant, a bride who, like Ruth, has gone to the threshing floor, that place of separation, to meet their husband and Redeemer. She has come softly to lie at the feet of her Lord. She has eyes only for him, and will not love another. Her only glory and hope are in the One she calls Lord. She has endured suffering and loss; she is of no reputation, and even looked upon with scorn by many of  those around her. But in the midst of the mayhem and the madness, she will be wed to the Son of the living God!

Abide in him beloved. Watch and pray.

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Desire

Christian,

After you have confused Christianity with Patriotism  …

After you have forsaken preaching the gospel of Jesus for becoming a minister of the American Dream…

After you have partnered with the world and made unholy alliances which divide you from others in the Body of Christ…

After you have argued, manipulated, and fought to secure your precious rights…

After you have voted…

When it turns out just as you hoped it would and you get everything you want, will you be able to bear it when you see with your eyes what you have truly desired in your heart?

“Delight yourself in the Lord,
and he will give you the desires of your heart.”

God American Style

“Then the People said, “Let us create god in our image, after our likeness.” (Genesis 1:26 USA translation)

When you listen to politicians talk nowadays, it is not uncommon to hear about having faith in God. Candidates are quick to quote the Bible and tell us that we ought to be thankful to our creator for the many blessings we have. Yep, it’s God this and God that. My question is, “What God are you talking about?” See, the funny thing is that in all this talk about God, you never hear anything mentioned about Jesus. Houston, we have a problem.

In the Bible we find that the Father has summed up all things in Christ. God said that the he has laid a Cornerstone on which everything is built- Jesus! We learn from scripture that although in the past, God spoke in many portions and in many ways, in these last days; he has given his final word in Jesus. The Bible tells us that the one who has the Son has the life, and he that does not have the Son, well, does not have the life. I John tells us that if you do not believe in Jesus as the Son of God, you have made God out to be a liar. The Bible teaches us that it is only through Christ that we can have understanding so that we can know the true God. Read the epistles of Paul and count the number of times he uses the phrase, “In Christ.” Over and over again the Bible tells that all things are in Jesus, and if you want to interact with the Father; you come through Christ. What I’m saying is this; there is no true faith in God apart from faith in Jesus. “No one who denies the Son has the Father. Whoever confesses the Son has the Father also.”

It seems that we here in America have created a god in our own image. We have manufactured a god who does not demand that we come to him by faith, through the cross of his Son. No, the god we have created is simply some force for good out there some where who desires that we believe in him/her/it in whatever way we deem appropriate. The god we have created demands only that we love our country, have faith in ourselves, and oh yeah; BELIEVE. Sadly, many who name the name of Jesus have rejected Christ and the offense of the cross opting instead for a generic, one size fits all god that really is no god at all.

Listen Christian, especially southern, bible-belt Christians like me. This is not Grandma Myrtle’s world. Just because someone throws around words like God, faith, and believe doesn’t mean that they are in relationship with God. Even when someone does mention Jesus, you need to ask which Jesus. Is it Jesus, absolute Lord and master, the Word of God made flesh, Messiah who by the blood of his cross atoned for our sins? Any Jesus that does not fit this description is a false Jesus. There is one God and he has revealed himself in the person of Jesus Christ. Let me put it this way; Jesus is God. We can talk about faith all we want, but unless this faith in God is expressed through belief in his Son; we are deceived and merely worshiping a god we have created in our own image.

Discernment & Priorities

Those who know me know that I believe a Christian is to influence his culture by preaching (preach the gospel, use words when necessary) the gospel. I believe that cultures and nations for that matter are transformed through the establishment of the kingdom of God within the lives of people transformed by Jesus, rather than by so called Christian political activism. However, I must say that through the political process, at least the priorities and lack of discernment of many who name the name of Jesus is being revealed.

Some support a candidate merely because he is of their same ethnic/racial orientation. And sadly, there are some who will oppose a candidate because he is not of their race. They have forgotten or perhaps never learned that “in Christ,” there is no Jew, Greek, nor White, or Black. This choosing of a candidate because “He is one of our people,” or rejecting him because he is not reveals a carnal disposition. Let us repent and seek forgiveness and healing. Christian, we are not called to be “strong, proud white men” or “strong, proud black men”; we are the body of Christ and joined together as one new man in Jesus. Will you not just be a “Jesus man”?

Some Christian political activists assert that President Obama is a closet Muslim or perhaps even the antichrist. They fear that he and the left are doing all they can to destroy Christianity and destroy the United States. Strangely, their solution is to join forces with another candidate whose religious beliefs are cultic in their origin. Christian, how much have you studied Mormonism? What would cause a Christian to reject one candidate on the grounds that he is not Christian and bent on destroying the nation, and then choose another candidate who is not Christian and trust him to save the nation? Could it be lack of discernment and misplaced priorities? I shudder at the thought of even deeper implications.

Brothers and sisters, for you, as Christians; the answer is not to be found in a political party or candidate. Our hope is in the Lord. Let us not be like the ancient children of Israel, who when faced with God’s judgment sought after political alliances with the nations, believing they could save themselves and their nation by the arm of the flesh. Instead, let us repent of our idolatry, of murdering our babies, cheating on our wives, spending hours looking at porn on the internet, getting high, etc…   Let us prayerfully search the scriptures, and cry out to the Lord that he may give us his priorities and true spiritual discernment for this hour. Let us wait before him on our knees until he fills our hearts with prayers birthed by his Spirit. Let us deny ourselves and take up our cross. Let us extend Jesus to a lost and dying world.

Talk About…God Music: Golden Calf, Gold Whop Whop Whop

We are exploring what the Bible has to say about the relationship between worship and music. Last time we looked at the first instance recorded in the Bible of God’s people in worship (Exodus 15 The Lord had just parted the Red Sea and the children of Israel had escaped the pursuing Egyptian army). Although there is, to be sure, a lot more that could be said in regards to this passage, we came away with the following observations:

1) Worship (including singing, music, and dancing) is a natural response to salvation.

2) Worship is not a spectator sport.

3) Worship (and the music that accompanies it) is to be 100% God centered.

Now, here we are in Exodus 32. Perhaps a year had gone by (not quite sure of exact time), and we find the Israel camped out at Sinai. They had seen God’s provision over the past year. They had eaten Manna, drank water from the Rock, dined on meat that God rained on them, and defeated Amalek in battle. We find in Exodus 32 that Moses had gone up the mountain to meet with God, leaving the people down below.

“When the people saw how long it was taking Moses to come back down the mountain, they gathered around Aaron. “Come on,” they said, “make us some gods who can lead us. We don’t know what happened to this fellow Moses, who brought us here from the land of Egypt.” (v1)  Aaron makes an golden calf, offers it as a physical representation of God, builds an altar, declares a feast (to the Lord), and the people offer burnt offerings and peace offerings. So, “the people sat down to eat and to drink, and rose up to play”

God informs Moses of what is going on, and as he and Joshua make their way down the mountain, Joshua thinks he hears the sound of war in the camp. However, Moses says, “It is not the sound of the cry of triumph, nor is it the sound of the cry of defeat; but the sound of singing I hear.” Okay, so what can we learn from this account that helps us as we talk about God music?

Keep in mind the same people were involved in this incident (at least a great deal of them were) as in Exodus 15. They still employed the same musical style as when they had previously worshiped God after crossing the Red Sea; however, here they are using their music in an idolatrous way. I think a question should be asked at this point. What makes their singing acceptable as worship in Exodus 15 and idolatrous in Exodus 32? What constitutes God music versus golden calf music? Yeah, you know; it is the object of worship and the disposition of their hearts.

In Exodus 15, the people were singing to God and about God. Their hearts were exalting him as the only true, holy, eternal God. The utilized their music and singing to glorify his name. God had wrought a great deliverance and they celebrated their Deliverer with the musical style that was indigenous to their culture. Around the golden calf, we find a people who had become impatient, setting aside all that God had done for them and crafting for themselves a “right now god” they didn’t have to wait on, a god they could see. They made for themselves a god that would meet their emotional needs of the moment. It doesn’t even appear that they were attempting to cast aside Yahweh, but rather desired to make him who they wanted him to be, and worship him they way they wanted to worship him- same people, same musical style, but idolatrous in its essence.

I don’t even pretend to think we have exhausted everything we could glean from this passage, but let’s stop here. What have we observed from the golden calf incident that helps us in our little study? How about the following: Musical style is not the defining element of authentic worship. The same style of music can be used in both the true, spiritual worship of God, and idolatrous abandon. It is the Object of worship and the disposition of the heart that makes God music.

To be continued…

Snake Handling Not Allowed

No doubt, when you get into the historical books of the Old Testament , and start reading about all the kings of Israel & Judah, trying to keep up with who’s who can be like trying to keep up with the latest champion in the WWE. The names can be confusing, and just when you think you know what’s going on- boom! There’s a new king. Yeah, you really need to take your time wading through the historical books, but it’s definitely worth it! There is so much to learn and apply to our own lives in these portions of scripture. I’d like to focus on one guy in particular for a bit, and see what we can learn from King Hezekiah of Judah.

King Hezekiah (II Kings 18-20; II Chronicles 29-32) is one of the few good kings mentioned during this period. When he came to power the Bible says, “He did what was pleasing in the Lord’s sight, just as his ancestor David had done. He removed the pagan shrines, smashed the sacred pillars, and cut down the Asherah poles.” (II Kings 18: 3,4a) You see, the people of God had abandoned the true worship of the Lord, and had begun to incorporate pagan rituals into their worship of the one true God (Ouch, sounds familiar huh?). They actually began to worship the gods of the surrounding nations, forsaking the religious practices God had commanded Moses to teach them. Every now and then you’ll read in I &II Kings about kings, who would come to power and re-institute true worship, but they wouldn’t go all the way and the people still practiced idolatry. Not so with Hezekiah; he brought about serious reform and great revival followed. There’s one thing that he did towards the beginning of his reign, before temple worship was restored, that really spoke to my heart. “He broke up the bronze serpent that Moses had made, because the people of Israel had been offering sacrifices to it. The bronze serpent was called Nehushtan.” (II Kings18:4b)

Do you remember the snake? Remember back when the children of Israel were traveling in the desert, and God had sent “fiery serpents” among them because of their sin? Moses had a bronze serpent made, lifted it up on a standard, and whoever was bitten by a fiery serpent could look to the bronze serpent and be healed.(Numbers 21) Well, the children of Israel had begun to actually offer sacrifices to the Nehushtan, the first “snake handlers” if you will. The bronze snake had been something God had used to bring healing; it was used in a mighty move of God. Jesus even said, “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up.” (John 3:14) We know that the bronze serpent was a symbol with messianic significance that God had used, but IT WAS NOT TO BE WORSHIPED!

Don’t we do the same thing the children of Israel did with the Nehushtan? We worship a move of God instead of the God who moves. We take things that God uses or has used, and worship them. The gifts and the “moves” of God become our idols. We take the prophetic, signs & wonders, social-justice, Calvinism, Armenianism, all the other “isms” and we worship them. We have even begun to worship worship. And like Hezekiah, the Spirit of God wants to rid us of the bronze snakes in our lives so that we worship God in spirit and in truth, through our great high priest Jesus.

Hezekiah knew that we are not to cling to things, even things  God uses or has used; but, we are to cling to the Lord, following and obeying him. No more “snake handling.” Worship God.