Monday, October 31, 2011

REFLECTIONS ON EXODUS 32 AND DEUTERONOMY 9 (Part 5)

God Reveals His view of the People (Part 2)

As Moses is on Mt. Sinai in the presence of God, the Israelites recruited Aaron to make for them a golden calf to “go before” them. They then “offered burnt offerings, and brought peace offerings; and the people sat down to eat and to drink, and rose up to play.” As God was aware of this behavior, He reported to Moses His perspective of the people. He first stated that, “…your people, whom you brought up from the land of Egypt, have corrupted themselves.” In Deuteronomy 9:12 God is recorded as saying, “…your people whom you brought out of Egypt have acted corruptly.”

I would, in this entry, like to refer to the second of two points of interest from this passage. This point relates to the statement, “…your people…have corrupted themselves.” The question is sometimes asked, “Do people sin because they are sinners or are they sinners because they sin?” In an attempt to avoid the entanglements of probing this issue in all of its technicalities (as if I actually could), I would like to state, in a simple and straightforward manner, that we establish our own moral character as individuals and, strangely enough (little understood in our age, as a nation (a corporate people). In this passage, as God had been laboring to prepare the people of Israel for a significant purpose in redemptive history, God observes that their choice to quickly violate the commandments delivered to them has spoiled them. They have proven to be unfit for the task for which He has been preparing them. Their choice to pursue idolatry was the watershed moment of proof. Though the church has been great at doing theological gymnastics to explain away such God / man interaction because of preconceived views of God and man it is significant to note that the text indicates that God had certain hopes that were, at that moment, dashed. They willingly, decisively corrupted themselves. Later in the continued history of this people God will state, What more was there to do for My vineyard that I have not done in it? Why, when I expected it to produce good grapes did it produce worthless ones?” (Isaiah 5:4, NASB) To those of our current age we must sound the warning of Hebrews 2:1-3, “For this reason we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it. For if the word spoken through angels proved unalterable, and every transgression and disobedience received a just recompense, how shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation?”

NOTE: The pictures I could have used to inspire concern about whether we, as a nation, have corrupted ourselves, are much more shocking then the one I chose. (click at your own risk)

Friday, October 28, 2011

UNDERSTAND AND KNOW

Thus says the Lord, ‘Let not a wise man boast of his wisdom, and let not the mighty man boast of his might, let not a rich man boast of his riches; but let him who boasts boast of this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the Lord who exercises lovingkindness, justice, and righteousness on earth; for I delight in these things,’ declares the Lord.” (Jeremiah 9:23-24, NASB)

What we have above is one of many Biblical statements that is jammed full of valuable insights. As a starting point for gleaning truth from this passage I would like to consider the phrase, “he understands and knows Me.”

Someone (who, I cannot recall) once said that we will generally find God in the radical middle. I have found that people too often swing in extremes. I use the word “radical” here to mean, “Pertaining to the root or origin; original” as opposed to a common usage indicating “outrageous” or “extreme.” In reference to religious movements we can swing from a fundamentalist perspective which emphasizes agreeing with information to a charismatic perspective which emphasizes experience. God is not accurately represented in either extreme but will be found in a perfect and beautiful balance that corrects and blends the extremes. This is likely why many are turned away from God when looking at such extremes.

The passage above reveals that God wants us to understand and know Him. The usage of two different words is significant. “Understand” would encourage a circumspect, intellectual, academic pondering of truth that allows one to construct an accurate view of God. “Know” would imply a relational, experiential dimension of knowledge. God is not looking for an either / or arrangement as much as a both / and arrangement. Some religious movements gather information and pass it along but shy away from (if not fear) actual encounter with the Living God, while others seek after experience but nearly refuse to engage their minds in any form of serious intellectual activity. Then there are those religious circles that do neither; stay away from them. When we manage to find a healthy balance in reference to understanding and knowing, we will more effectively approach that place where we will truly encounter and become equipped to please and to represent the Eternal, Personal, Creator Who is supreme and yet present, transcendent and immanent. We are not to remain little children who are tossed back and forth between extremes, but we are to grow up “until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God.”

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

REFLECTIONS ON EXODUS 32 AND DEUTERONOMY 9 (Part 4)

God Reveals His View of the People (Part One)

As Moses is on Mt. Sinai in the presence of God, the Israelites recruited Aaron to make for them a golden calf to “go before” them. They then “offered burnt offerings, and brought peace offerings; and the people sat down to eat and to drink, and rose up to play.” As God was aware of this behavior, He reported to Moses His perspective of the people. He first stated that, “…your people, whom you brought up from the land of Egypt, have corrupted themselves.” In Deuteronomy 9:12 God is recorded as saying, “…your people whom you brought out of Egypt have acted corruptly.”

I would like to refer to two points of interest. The first point I will deal with in this entry and the next point in the upcoming entry. The first is that God does not refer to the people, as they engage in this behavior, as His people. They are “your people whom you brought up.” It is appropriate to take recognize how “sin in the camp” affects God and our relationship with Him, both, individually and corporately. Later, in the history of the nation of Israel, God speaks through the Prophet Isaiah to say, “…your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden His face from you, so that He does not hear.” (Isaiah 59:2, NASB) I have heard people attempt to justify the practice of sin in our current age by referring to this as “the age of grace.” Man has always, in some measure, to some degree, on some level, been recipients of God’s grace, but this is not to be understood as a justification for sin. Titus 2:11-15 reads, “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men, instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus; who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds. These things speak and exhort and reprove with all authority. Let no one disregard you.”

God is calling to Himself “a people for His own possession,” a people who deny ungodliness and worldly desire and who live sensibly, righteously and godly. To be His people, we must purpose and pursue a life reflective of the truth and purity of the principles of His kingdom. I am amazed at the number of people who assume that God must accept (in fact He’s pathetically longing for) whatever scrap we toss Him. We’ve turned the love of God into a weakness because we know neither God nor love.

“For it is time for judgment to begin with the household of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God? And if it is with difficulty that the righteous is saved, what will become of the godless man and the sinner? Therefore, let those also who suffer according to the will of God entrust their souls to a faithful Creator in doing what is right.” (1 Peter 4:17-19, NASB)

Saturday, October 15, 2011

HOW MANY MEN ARE BOLD ENOUGH TO BE GENUINE FOLLOWERS OF CHRIST?

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It was Wednesday morning as twenty-five or thirty men came streaming into the second floor “chapel” of the county prison. Along with the throng of inmates was a young man who had been attending classes for a number of months. He purposely used his hefty, semi-muscular physique for its intimidation factor. This young man had likely done, as well as experienced, significant damage. Over the months, we had established a decent rapport that involved verbal exchanges that ranged from humorous to aggressive. One day, in apparent resignation, he raised his hand during class in order to say, “I’ve come the conclusion that I am just naturally disobedient.” I looked at him with, likely, a bit of perplexed disappointment verging on annoyance before I said, “I don’t care.” This was, quite obviously, not the response he, nor the other students, anticipated. I continued, “Think about it this way. Every time you’re disobedient to something, you’re obedient to something else. What you’re really telling me is that you're being obedient to the impulses of your flesh. You’re being obedient to the principles of the kingdom of darkness and selfishness, to Satan. So, while you’re being obedient to this, you're also being disobedient to God and His kingdom of light and righteousness. So, you’re into disobedience? Just switch who you’re being obedient to and who you’re being disobedient to. You see, it doesn’t take a man to live according to the impulses of his flesh. Animals do this. But, it does take a man to stand up for justice and righteousness. If you like a good fight, try being disobedient to Satan. Try fighting for truth and morality and against deception and immorality.”

Is this why Jesus, quite clearly, warned His disciples of the hatred and persecution that was to come their way as devoted followers? There is a battle raging. The only question is, “What side are we fighting for, what kingdom are we advancing?” Paul stated, “And indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” (2 Timothy 3:12)

Often, I have opportunity to tell the men in the prison class I offer, “A real man is not one who can drink the most, fornicate the most, lie and steal the most. A true man is one who can stand up for truth in the midst of lies and deception, fight for righteousness and justice in the midst of corruption, who can defend the defenseless against the abusive immorality of a society full of selfishness, greed and darkened minds.”

Where are our men, men with chests? C. S. Lewis wrote, “We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honor and are shocked to find traitors in our midst.” Many are held up in prison and many held up in a false, passive concept of love. I often look at my prison class and see potential leaders robbed of their impact by directing their strength in the wrong direction. I often look at congregations gathered in churches and see men robbed of their impact for truth, righteousness and justice in a perverse world due to a wrong, passive, wimpy concept of love.

William Booth, founder of the Salvation Army, is credited with the following two quotations:
"Our war is to fight devils, lies, fleshly indulgence, hardship, disappointment, and everything that sets itself against God and His kingdom and living a holy life. We must stand up to defend the powerless. Make your stand against that which persecutes, puts down and perverts. We must fight to help people; to make them believe victory is possible – that God can, that God is able. You must never give up! You never get what you really want in God without loss, suffering and resistance. The best things cost the most. Little of real warfare is the actual battle. Do your homework. Laziness will make you afraid. You cannot be useful, significant and successful without uninteresting, out of sight work, and plenty of it."

"While women weep, as they do now, I'll fight; while little children go hungry, as they do now, I'll fight; while men go to prison, in and out, in and out, as they do now, I'll fight; while there is a drunkard left, while there is a poor lost girl upon the streets, while there remains one dark soul without the light of God, I'll fight-I'll fight to the very end!"

Who will stand up for me against evildoers? Who will take his stand for me against those who do wickedness?” (Psalm 94:16)

Friday, October 14, 2011

REFLECTIONS ON EXODUS 32 AND DEUTERONOMY 9 (Part 3)

THE ABSENCE OF GODLY LEADERSHIP (Part Three) – People Sacrifice to / for Their Idol’s

As Moses, under the guidance of God, led the people out of Egypt and into the wilderness (a very, very difficult place to be), he then entered the presence of God on Mount Sinai, resulting in his absence from the people for forty days and nights. In the absence of his godly leadership we’ve seen the people establish an idol as a supposed solution to the void of his leadership (vs.1) and we’ve seen that they assigned to this idol accomplishments that ultimately belonged to the hand of God (vs.4). Verse 6 reads, “So the next day they rose early and offered burnt offerings, and brought peace offerings; and the people sat down to eat and to drink, and rose up to play.” With just a minor amount of reflection, we can quickly and easily see that people will sacrifice to and for their idols. If your idol is money, you will sacrifice for it. You will evaluate the use of your time and energy, you will compromise your moral character, you will sacrifice relationships for the sake of financial gain. This is true regardless of what one’s idol takes on. It might be one’s reputation, success or “happiness.” It might be sports, food or sex. It might be religious in nature, anti-religious in nature or non-religious in nature. It might be drugs (legal or illegal) and/or alcohol. It might be humanitarian aid or Christian ministry. Idols come in all forms and will always exact sacrifice from their worshippers. Satan knows this very well. Jesus understood this also. “…the devil took Him to a very high mountain, and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world, and their glory; and he said to Him, ‘All these things will I give You, if You fall down and worship me.’ Then Jesus said to him, ‘Begone, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and serve Him only.’’” (Matthew 4:8-10, NASB) Jesus also taught that a man cannot serve two masters. Are you serving and sacrificing to a useless, deadly idol or are you serving, honoring, worshipping, loving and, yes, sacrificing, to and for the Living God?

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

REFLECTIONS ON EXODUS 32 AND DEUTERONOMY 9 (Part 2)

“Now when the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people assembled about Aaron, and said to him, ‘Come, make us a god who will go before us; as for this Moses, the man who brought us up from the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.’ And Aaron said to them, ‘Tear off the gold rings which are in the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me.’ Then all the people tore off the gold rings which were in their ears, and brought them to Aaron. And he took this from their hand, and fashioned it with a graving tool, and made it into a molten calf; and they said, “This is your god, O Israel, who brought you up from the land of Egypt.’ Now when Aaron saw this, he built an altar before it; and Aaron made a proclamation and said, ‘Tomorrow shall be a feast to the Lord.’ So the next day they rose early and offered burnt offerings, and brought peace offerings; and the people sat down to eat and to drink, and rose up to play. Then the Lord spoke to Moses, ‘Go down at once, for your people, whom you brought up from the land of Egypt, have corrupted themselves. ‘They have quickly turned aside from the way which I commanded them. They have made for themselves a molten calf, and have worshiped it, and have sacrificed to it, and said, ‘This is your god, O Israel, who brought you up from the land of Egypt!’’ And the Lord said to Moses, ‘I have seen this people, and behold, they are an obstinate people. Now then let Me alone, that My anger may burn against them, and that I may destroy them; and I will make of you a great nation.’” (Exodus 32:1-10, NASB)

THE ABSENCE OF GODLY LEADERSHIP (Part Two) – Our Idol’s Steal the Glory of the Lord

In this account, the people of Israel, recently delivered from bondage in the land of Egypt, make a request of Aaron in the absence of the godly leadership of Moses who is spending time on Mount Sinai in the presence of God. The request is that he make them a god who will go before them. Aaron gathered their gold jewelry and skillfully crafted a calf of gold. In presenting this wonderfully crafted manmade god to the people he declares, “This is your god, O Israel, who brought you up from the land of Egypt.” In our last reflection upon this passage, we stated that in the absence of godly leadership, people establish for themselves an idol. Now we see that our idols steal the glory of the Lord!! It would seem beyond ludicrous to ascribe to a calf recently crafted from the melted gold jewelry the feat of delivering the people from bondage in the land of Egypt, but that’s exactly the proclamation being made. How often do we look to our idols of money, man, fame, sex, drugs, alcohol, material possessions, relationships, music, etc., etc., etc. for that which they cannot deliver and ascribe to them that for which they never provided? Do your idols blind you to the reality of the provisions that can only be made by the Living God?

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

REFLECTIONS ON EXODUS 32 AND DEUTERONOMY 9 (Part 1)

“Now when the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people assembled about Aaron, and said to him, ‘Come, make us a god who will go before us; as for this Moses, the man who brought us up from the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.’ And Aaron said to them, ‘Tear off the gold rings which are in the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me.’ Then all the people tore off the gold rings which were in their ears, and brought them to Aaron. And he took this from their hand, and fashioned it with a graving tool, and made it into a molten calf; and they said, “This is your god, O Israel, who brought you up from the land of Egypt.’ Now when Aaron saw this, he built an altar before it; and Aaron made a proclamation and said, ‘Tomorrow shall be a feast to the Lord.’ So the next day they rose early and offered burnt offerings, and brought peace offerings; and the people sat down to eat and to drink, and rose up to play. Then the Lord spoke to Moses, ‘Go down at once, for your people, whom you brought up from the land of Egypt, have corrupted themselves. ‘They have quickly turned aside from the way which I commanded them. They have made for themselves a molten calf, and have worshiped it, and have sacrificed to it, and said, ‘This is your god, O Israel, who brought you up from the land of Egypt!’’ And the Lord said to Moses, ‘I have seen this people, and behold, they are an obstinate people. Now then let Me alone, that My anger may burn against them, and that I may destroy them; and I will make of you a great nation.’” (Exodus 32:1-10, NASB)

 THE ABSENCE OF GODLY LEADERSHIP (Part One) – The People Establish an Idol

In this account, Moses, who had been commissioned by God to lead the Israelites out of Egypt, had been on Mount Sinai for forty days and nights (Dt.9:9). During this time, the massive throng of people (numbered in the millions) he had led into the wilderness became distraught. In the absence of this one powerful, godly leader, the people approached Aaron, making a request. “Make us a god who will go before us.” Void of godly influence and leadership the people revert to a cultural practice characteristic of the place from which God was providing deliverance. They will make a god who will get them out of this jam. Instead of looking to the God who had called and empowered Moses, they look to an idol fashioned by human imagination and skill. It’s nearly inconceivable that there was not another individual or group of individuals who would oppose this pursuit. It’s even more disturbing to see the response of the “leader” to whom they appeal as he quickly assents. This, however, is not uncommon in our age as people often allow someone to “lead” if they take them where they want to go and let them do what they want to do. What idols do we follow in the absence of godly leadership?