Chapter 17: The fall of Jerusalem

As I said Sunday, it just wasn’t pretty. The idolatry, greed and power of Judah’s kings, with few exceptions, spun the country into a downward spiral. Under Manasseh, even child sacrifice happened. The poor and widows and orphans were ignored. The result was that God withdrew his blessing and allowed Babylon to completely conquer and destroy Jerusalem and the temple.

All because of one simple commandment: you shall have no other gods before me. Idolatry.

I fear that we don’t really acknowledge that we deal with idolatry today. So, let me sharere something that Timothy Keller wrote in his book, Center Church (p. 70) in which he discusses something Martin Luther wrote as well:

One of the most important biblical and practical ways to help people come to see how they fail to believe the gospel is by instructing them on the nature of idolatry. In his Treatise on Good Works, an exposition of the Ten Commandments, Martin Luther states that the call to “have no other gods before me” and the call to believe in Jesus along for our justification (Rom 3-4) are, in essence, the same thing. To say that we must have no other gods but God and to say we must not try to achieve our salvation without Christ are one and the same: “Now this is the work of the First Commandment, which commands: “Thou shalt have no other gods,” which means: “Since I alone am God, thou shalt place all thy confidence, trust and faith on Me alone, and on no one else.”

Luther’s teaching is this: Anything we look to more than we look to Christ for our sense f acceptability, joy, significance, hope and security is by definition our god – something we adore, serve, and rely on with our whole life and heart. In general, idols can be good things (family, achievement, work and career, romance, talent, etc.—even gospel ministry) that we turn in to ultimate things to give us the significance and joy we need. Then they drive us into the ground because we must have them. A sure sign of the presence of idolatry is inordinate anxiety, anger or discouragement when our idols are thwarted. So if we lose a good think it makes us sad, but if we lose an idol, it devastates us…  

Idolatry, then, is also the root of our other sins and problems.

So if the root of every sin is idolatry, and idolatry is a failure to look to Jesus for our salvation and justification, then the root of every sin is a failure to believe the gospel message that Jesus, and Jesus alone, is our justification, righteousness, and redemption.

Idolatry devastates. The gospel heals. Which do we cling to?

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The Story, Chapter 16: spread your lives before God

One thing King Hezekiah did, when confronted with the might of the Assyrian army, was to take the letter with their demands and spread it before the Lord. Likewise, as I said Sunday, we are to bring our lives, and spread them before the Lord. In other words, all of my life is to be lived under God’s sovereignty: there are no parts of my life that I get to keep back from surrendering to God.

Brigid E. Herman (Creative Prayer, p. 28) captures this thought like this:

When we read the lives of the saints, we are struck by a certain large leisure which went hand in hand with a remarkable effectiveness.

They never hurried;
They did comparatively few things,
And these not necessarily striking or important;
And they troubled very little about their influence.

Yet they always seemed to hit the mark;
Every bit of their life told;
Their simplest actions had a distinction,
An exquisiteness which suggested the artist.

The reason is not far to seek.
Their sainthood lay in their habit of referring the smallest actions to God.

They lived in God; they acted from a pure motive of love towards God.

They were as free from self-regard as from slavery to the good opinions of others. God saw and God rewarded: What else needed they? They possessed God and possessed themselves in God.

Hence the inalienable dignity of these meek, quiet figures that seem to produce such marvelous effects with such humble materials.

These words have always been a challenge to me… Do I do the same? Do we do the same? What do you think?

Blessings this week!
Pastor Gregg

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Chapter 14: Trifling with God…

God has always been exclusively inclusive, seeking to reveal God-self to all through Israel, through Jesus, and now through us, the followers of Jesus who are the church in this day and age. God wants to be with us, with all of us. God unconditionally promises his love to anyone who will turn his/her heart towards Jesus, and cling to Jesus’ life and walk with Jesus in his way. God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – is incredibly patience, loving and accepting, always desiring that we would choose to walk with him.

But there’s one thing that God is not: God is not a God of our own making. God demands that we turn to him and live in him and walk with him exclusively, and on his terms.

This is what gets us in trouble: we forget that God is God, and we are not. This is what got Jeroboam in such deep trouble in 1 Kings 12. God was to be worshipped in the temple, not in altars at Dan and Bethel. Jeroboam wasn’t supposed to make any golden calves for those false altars, but he did, drawing on the images of the pagan gods of the nations around him. Jeroboam wasn’t supposed to create his own festivals, or appoint his own priests to make sacrifices on the altars and celebrate the festivals, but he did.

And all this was labeled sin. It was labeled sin because Jeroboam missed the mark of exclusive devotion to Yahweh.

Our God will not be trifled with. Yet, if we’re honest, don’t we trifle with him, treat him lightly and casually and without a reverent fear-of-the-Lord? When we allow ourselves to bear grudges, when we spend time, energy and money on almost everything but God, when we give God five minutes a day (if that) even as we give the TV or sports or exercise an hour or two or more, when our hearts are hard towards the needy, isn’t that trifling with God, taking God lightly? Isn’t attending worship at our own convenience, when it fits our schedules, as a 3rd or 4th or 5th priority of what to do on a Sunday morning, isn’t that trifling with God? Isn’t fitting Jesus into our lives as we allow, instead of centering our lives on Jesus as he commands, isn’t that trifling with God?

Jeroboam thought he could pick and choose his practices, his terms, his way of relating to and obeying God. God said this was evil in his eyes.

The truth is, we don’t get to pick and choose what God is like and what God expects, or, yes, even demands of us. What God is like is Jesus incarnated, what God expects is that we deny ourselves and take up our cross and follow Jesus.

What do we need to add or subtract from our lives to do meet God’s expectations? What do we need to affirm or challenge in our lives to deny ourselves and take up our crosses and follow Jesus?

Let’s talk! Comments are good… use the comment box and let’s get a conversation going!

Pastor Gregg

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Chapter 13: How did this wise king fail?

Solomon was the king who had it all: untold wealth, power, influence, reputation, women, wisdom that was divinely ordained and given. How then does it end up that the kingdom falls apart on him?

Because he failed to obey God, quite simply. I wonder: how high a priority level do we place on obeying God? On the one hand, we don’t want to go overboard, and be too strict a follower of Christ… I mean, who wants to be one of ‘those people’ who are so heavenly minded that they are no earthly good?! But we don’t want to live as if obeying God was nothing, either… we might get more trouble than we bargained for if we ignore God, right? So we’re left constantly trying to decide, how much, or how little do we need to obey. Truth be told, don’t we often have a mindset that says, ‘what’s the least I can get away with commitment-wise, and still be on good terms with God?’ Isn’t that where we usually live?

Solomon seemed to live there. It almost seems like he thought God wouldn’t care if he didn’t honor God completely, for he began to worship the pagan gods of some of his wives, as well as Yahweh, Israel’s God.  He figured that he could do that with impunity, because at least God was still part of his life; after all, he wasn’t turning his back on God, just including a few more gods in his heart. What was the problem with that? Everything.

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight” (Proverbs 3:5&6). 

Essentially, God wants us to ‘sell out’ to him. To turn towards him, cling to him, and walk with him. Such a commitment seems extreme to us, but why wouldn’t we want to trust in God with all our heart? Look at all he’s done to love us, up to and including offering his Son for our sins? If we are loved with a completely devoted, loyal, faithful love, why wouldn’t we want to love that lover back with a completely devoted, loyal, faithful love?

God doesn’t want a limited response from us, but an unlimited one. He doesn’t want us thinking in terms of how much/little do we have to give God to keep God happy; God wants us to be devoted to him because he is utterly devoted to us!! So, this week, what would it look like if we all ‘sold out’ to God? What would that look like? What do you think?

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Chapter 12: A King Sized Mistake!

As I mentioned on Sunday, one of the difficulties with this passage is that it is so hard to see ourselves in David’s actions. We’re not a king who skips doing our job, we’re not a king who takes another man’s wife, and we’re not a king who kills that man to get the wife! So what does this passage have to do with us??

I made three observations:

(1) like David, there are things we don’t do, that we should do (David failed to honor his responsibilities as king: how do we fail our responsibilities in Micah 6:8 to do justice, love mercy and walk humble with our God?) What are our sins of omission that we need to repent of?

(2) Like David, there are things we do that we shouldn’t do (David takes advantage of his position, David takes his pleasure, and David takes Uriah’s life)… and

(3) Like David, there is something we must do:repent, and say with David, “I have sinned against the Lord.”


Some other thoughts:

  • God clearly judges David, and even though David is forgiven because of his repentance, and his desire for a ‘clean heart’ (Psalm 51), God’s judgment still stands. David’s next years are full of conflict that is brought about because of his actions at this time. Forgiveness doesn’t eliminate consequences, and sometimes the consequences of our sins affect those near and dear to us. How do we cope with that?
  • What do we learn about the holiness and heart of God within this story?
  • I like Oswald Chamber’s comment on the front of the bulletin: “Am I becoming more and more in love with God as a holy God, or with the conception of an amiable being who says, “Oh, well, sin doesn’t matter much.”?” — What do you think about this?
  • If you could ask David at the end of his life some advice about temptation and sin, what do you think he would say?
  • Here is a thought from one of the accessory materials for the Story: If you have a person or two in your life who are mature in faith and who really care about you, consider meeting with them and giving them permission to speak truth into your life at any time. Invite them to share what they see if they see anything that concerns them… and promise you will seek to prayerfully listen to and receive their words, even if those words are difficult. Such folks are often called ‘accountability partners,’ and if there are any particular issues you are really struggling with right now, perhaps you need to seek some out, to share the struggle, and have them pray for you, and regularly ask how you are doing to hold you accountable.

We are all David; we all have sins of commission and omission! May some reflection on these words in God’s story help our stories become more righteous, godly, just, merciful and humble.

What are your thoughts?

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If you are here, then you are interested in joining the discussion about our “Story” texts that we will be reading each week. I’m delighted you that you are interested in reading along!

We will actually start with Chapter 12 in the Story. Over the last couple years, we’ve looked at both Moses’ and David’s stories somewhat extensively, so we pick up the biblical narrative with David when he has become king, which is territory we haven’t covered before. From here we’ll for forward into the story of what happens to Israel over the next couple hundred years, which results in the nation being brought into exile in Babylon, and then a return from exile.

Starting the week of September 17th, I will begin posting some comments and questions about the chapter of the week. Everyone is encouraged to join the discussion and reflect together on God’s Story, and on how our life stories make more sense when seen in relation to the ‘upper story’ of God’s story.

Let’s read along and grow together!

Pastor Gregg

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