Who Troubles Israel?

It has all happened before. And, if the Lord awaits His coming, it will all happen again. But it is happening now, the accommodation of God?s church with the agenda of the world. And to those of us resisting the current trend towards compromise with the world, it is unlike any conflict we have faced in our lifetime.
We sound this warning knowing full well that we will be misrepresented and knowing full well that our message will be misconstrued. Distortion of reality is always a defense when vested interests are challenged.
Remember, this tactic was used by Ahab against Elijah. The prophet?s answer serves our purposes well in the current conflict:
“When Ahab saw Elijah, Ahab said to him, ‘Is it you, you troubler of Israel?’ And he answered, ‘I have not troubled Israel, but you have, and your father’s house, because you have abandoned the commandments of the Lord and followed the Baals.'” 1 Kings 18:17-18 (ESV)
Ahab accused Elijah of being a troublemaker in Israel because he would not “get with the program,” as the old saying goes. The prophet would not unite behind Ahab?s evil agenda of false religion.
Elijah, however, countered this misinformation by turning the accusation back on Ahab. The king, not the prophet, was the troubler of Israel. The fault of broken fellowship rests with those who abandon the Lord?s way to follow religion of their own design.

A Chunk of the Rock

Standing as a near timeless sentinel, the Rock of Gibraltar has become a symbol of permanence and stability and therefore an icon of security. People need security and Jesus knew that.

In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus offered to the crowds a source of security far greater than even the apparent timelessness of this enormous monolith rising out of the water. After having outlined the necessity to lay up treasure in heaven and not upon the earth (Matthew 6:19-24) and knowing that such teachings could create fear and insecurity, Jesus empowered the path of truly serving the Master as he taught about the security God provides.

While the lives of pagans may be driven by the worries of laying up treasure upon the earth (“What shall we eat? What shall we drink? With what shall we be clothed?”), the person who strives to lay up treasure in heaven need not have his or her soul weighed down by such wearisome burdens. Jesus promised that the heavenly Father already knows that we need various necessities and that God will provide for our us if we will seek first His kingdom and His righteousness. Matthew 6:32-34 For those whose allegiance and love is directed toward God and not toward the passing phantom promises which emanate from the created world, their Master will supply what is needed.

If security for living life can be portrayed as an unchangeable monolith, then certainly the knowledge that God does not lie and that His promises provide reliable security is the greatest monolith of all. Furthermore, most definitely one significant chunk of this giant rock entails the promise that the LORD will furnish our needs if our hearts? treasure is to seek first his kingdom and his righteousness.

In times of economic uncertainty, where might a person look for security and peace of mind? Different people will look to different sources. Jesus called us to replace the worry that can inhabit our minds with the peace that comes from knowing that God will provide for those who serve Him. Today we might not see where tomorrow’s lunch will come from, but God can open doors and transform opportunities overnight. After all, our God is the Creator.

Faith

What is faith? How does a person exercise faith? How can we have stronger faith?
We shall see that as a mental activity Christian faith is no different from everyday faith. The unbeliever can use ordinary faith, the willingness to believe something, to accept the Gospel message and obtain salvation. The believer can use faith to acquire knowledge of Bible doctrine and to make application of those principles in his daily walk with the Lord.
The Biblical concept of faith is that it amounts to complete confidence in something for which there is no observed confirmation available.
“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For by it the people of old received their commendation. By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible?. And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.” (Hebrews 11:1-3, 6)
Christians accept by faith that the Bible is completely true, believing the Bible is what it claims to be, the Word of God. Through faith, the believer has a basis to receive truth from Scripture with its teachings vital to all aspects of human life.
Faith is the only way for anyone to know and approach God. No one can claim special prestige for having believed the Bible, because the basic truths of Scripture are available to all who will receive them.
Therefore, faith as the means of acquiring God?s truth is perfectly evenhanded and compatible with grace.
The value of faith does not lie in the strength or intensity with which a belief is held. The merit of faith lies, rather, in the idea or object which is believed. Faith is valid only when it has a valid object.
Saving Faith has as its object the Lord Jesus Christ and His substitutionary work on the cross for man’s salvation. ?Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.? (John 3:36) A belief in any way of salvation other than Jesus, however strongly and emotionally held, will prove to have been faith in something worthless and ineffective. ?And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12)
Saving faith looks to the information, assurances, and instructions of the Bible. Faith in God?s revealed word is the only process which will disclose spiritual truth. The believer who is growing spiritually receives constant confirmation that the divine principles upon which he bases his life are wholly legitimate.
The strongest, best established faith grows from Christian edification, that process by which a believer is rooted and built up in his spiritual life. ?Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.? (Col. 2:6-7)
One of the most important results of Christian growth is the progressive increase in the believer’s ability to use faith. This requires the continuous intake of truth from the Word of God. ?So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.? (Romans 10:17) Faith must be exercised daily in all situations, ?for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.? (James 1:3) More than anything, a day by day consideration of the Lord Jesus Christ makes faith comprehensive. “Looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith?? (Hebrews 12:2)
Faith leads us to Jesus, and the more we come to know the Savior, the deeper our faith will grow.

The Written Word of God

God tells us in 2 Timothy 2:15 to “rightly handle the word of truth.” There are some basic guidelines which equip the student of the Bible so as to fulfill the God?s desire that we deal correctly with his Word. God?s word tells us of its divine origin:
“All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.” (2 Tim. 3:16-17)
All true Bible study must begin with this fact. We must begin our study by accepting this truth in faith. Jesus and his apostles teach us to receive Scripture as God?s word ? accurate and dependable in every detail.
Faithful Christians should follow their Lord and his authoritative spokesmen in reverence for the Bible.
Faithful Christians also must pray for wisdom in understanding the Scriptures. God’s Word tells us if we need wisdom to ask for it, because God will give it to us without restraint. (James 1:5) Fervent prayer for correct knowledge and judgment will be answered because it is clearly within God’s will. ?And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us.? (1 John 5:14)
Penitent faith, the desire to turn to God is also vital in forming a correct understanding of God?s truth. Jesus said ?if anyone’s will is to do God’s will, he will know whether the teaching is from God ?? (John 7:17) If Bible study is simply an intellectual pursuit and not a relationship with the living God, then the learning gained will be deficient and distorted.
There is a great knowledge to be obtained from the Bible as we “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.? (2 Pet 3:14-18) We grow in faith as we “hear” God’s Word through the Scriptures (Rom 10:17). God’s Word provides essential guidance because it is His Word which is truth (John 17:17). With knowledge of God?s Word, we can practice the truth in the name of the Lord Jesus (Col 3:16-17) and make it known to a forlorn and failing world.
The Bible is not simply another book. Without it man cannot know the absolute standard of righteousness and the need for grace in his life.
The Bible is established by faith and confirmed by history. The Bible is God?s word and is therefore true, for God neither lies nor does he make mistakes. There are no inconsistencies in Scripture, for God is accurate and truthful. He is not the author of confusion (1 Cor 14:33). The Bible is the product of one ultimate source, the Living God. Rather than looking at one or two passages, we must consider all that the Bible says on any subject. ?The sum of your word is truth,? Psalm 119:160 tells us, ?and every one of your righteous rules endures forever.?
Conflicts pertaining to interpretations of Scripture are a human problem. Sometimes careful study will remove the apparent difficulty. But, some things we will never understand clearly or completely until we see the Lord face to face (1 Cor 13:12).
There are, however, no real contradictions found in God’s Word. Our task is always to walk by faith (Heb 11:6; Col 2:6), trusting God to make things clear in his time.

Where’s the Treasure?

Although many people might nod a glassy-eyed acknowledgment that we need to comply with Jesus’ teaching to lay up treasure in heaven as the self-vindicating rationalization of “yeah, I’m doing some of that” passes through their mind, Jesus’ subsequent teachings can startle lethargy like salt in an open wound. Sitting on a mountainside teaching the crowds, Jesus flayed open our inner workings in such a way which can sting because we know it rings true. Matthew 6:19-24

Since people treasure (love, serve and worship) whatever they believe takes care of them, some people serve the created order and accordingly seek to store up their treasure on earth. For others, their Master is God whom they love and serve. By correctly proclaiming that our heart will be found wherever we place our treasure, Jesus ripped off all of our self-deluding veneer thereby forcing us to confront our deepest motivation, namely, to honestly recognize who or what is our God/god.

But Jesus had not finished; his further analysis and conclusions applied a healing albeit stinging septic stick to an open wound. Although the terminology he used was slightly different, in essence Jesus taught that if someone has the proper focus in life (presumably because he knows where to lay up treasure) his whole life will be enveloped in what is good and valuable. Conversely, if someone’s focus in life is misplaced, his whole life will be off-track and worthless.

Talk about a blunt contrast! Jesus left us no room for taking solace in the misplaced rationalization that at least I’m laying up some treasure in heaven. According to Jesus, the focus is either good or it is bad. To listen to him there is no gray scale on this issue; one is either in light or in darkness.

This stark dichotomy was further solidified when Jesus taught that it is impossible to serve two masters. By denying the possibility to serve both a heavenly and an earthly master, Jesus denied that it is possible for us to hedge our bets by laying up treasure on both earth and in heaven. Either we live with the right focus or we do not. Either we love and serve God or we do not. It is not possible for our hearts to serve God and the created order. It is not possible to lay up treasure both here and in heaven.

The bottom line should be clear. Discipleship is not merely picking up salvation like someone might purchase an insurance policy and then continue to live with the same unhealthy lifestyle habits and misplaced priorities. Discipleship involves a transfer of allegiance, love, worship and treasuring to God and his kingdom. Accordingly, the heart and subsequently the behavior will be changed.

Since our life cannot be sustained through this world alone but rather depends upon living by every word which proceeds forth from God, Jesus’ teachings should lead thoughtful individuals to lay up treasure in heaven.

Why Did This Happen to Me?

Sitting around the ash heap in the wake of disaster and suffering, Job and his friends struggled with a fundamental question which has continued to plague humanity. The question seems inevitable whenever people suffer. “Why did this happen to me?”

Biblically, there are a number of reasons why some people have encountered adversity and even suffering. A few of these reasons include: Satan has used hardship as a tool for tempting people to curse God and sin.(1) Second, God disciplines those whom He loves for their well being.(2) Third, as a result of the rampant sin of the community or of other individuals, the innocent have been hurt.(3)

So how is a person supposed to be able to figure out whether any particular hardship is a result of Satanic efforts to destroy faithfulness or whether God may be disciplining or perhaps this has happened because of some other reason?

It has often been pointed out that in the book of Job, Job and his friends, who are consumed by the “why,” are never given an answer even though the reader is provided the inside scoop! And it is here in God’s refusal to answer their burning question of “why,” the fact that there is an answer but it was not provided to them, and where God led Job that we are directed toward a real answer for encountering our adversity.

As much as we might want to know why, why is not where our focus should be. The truly important questions, which are often eclipsed during times of trial, are: “what is the godly response” and “how are we going to respond?”

Regarding the first question, the answer is the same regardless of why it happened! Whether adversity has come because the evil one has laid a snare for someone’s life, or godly love has been disciplining or perhaps someone was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time, God’s person should always respond in the same manner – draw closer to God, walk in His ways and rely upon His strength! Although we may not know why something has happened to us, we do know what we should do. Accordingly, rather than waste our energy in being consumed by the often unending question of “why,” we ought to focus our attention and energies upon living as dedicated children of God in a hostile world.

Since the answer to “what should we do” is known, the only true question which remains is, “how will we respond?” In fact, does not the real question in the book of Job revolve around whether Job would remain faithful to God even in the face of adversity?(4) The question to be answered is not “why,” but rather what will you do?

1 Job 1:11-12; 2:4-5
2 Hebrews 12:5-11
3 Joshua 7:1-12
4 Job 1:8-12; 2:3-7

Rocks in the Pond

A Typical Pond

Ponds are interesting places. As a young boy growing up in New Jersey, sometimes I would wander down through our small orchard on hot muggy summer days to a wooded area with two small ponds. This was my private place for practicing skipping stones as well as enjoying the effects of a rock slamming down into water.

Undoubtedly you too have watched a perfectly glass smooth surface be destroyed by a single rock making its stupendous splash entry. Then the concentric ripples begin to expand until they strike the shore only to bounce back again. And if you launch a whole chorus of rocks out onto a pond, tranquility is shattered by visual chaos.

Your Life as Your Pond

The next time you are tempted to speak or act in a manner unbecoming of the calling we have received to serve God, remember what a rock does to a pond. Ungodly actions and words are very much like throwing rocks into the pond of your life. Whoever thinks that “this rock will not make any difference” is only foolishly deceiving himself. Although at first a person might not even perceive the consequences, they do follow. The more that a person succumbs to throwing rocks in his or her pond, the choppier, more chaotic and complex he will discover life to become.

To Throw or Not To Throw – That is the Question

Since God is not mocked because a person really does reap what he sows and God’s word points us to the truly good life, why do we encounter such strong urges (temptations) to hurl rocks into our ponds? There are several reasons including the fact that the soul under assault will often focus on some immediate gratification instead of giving thought to the long term effects and how this will affect his service of discipleship.

It is easy to focus upon the promises of such pleasures as: reveling in the thought “they will know that I’m in the know” (gossip), savoring the idea of seeking revenge, saving our own skin by deliberating omitting some of the truth (lying), lustfully contemplating some immoral fantasy, or simply being driven by the promise of what “having more” will mean (greed). When the drive to satisfy such internal desires is strong, it is common for a person to feel “confused” as his or her craving wages war against the knowledge of what is right.(2)

Preserving & Restoring Your Pond

Through Christ, God has made it possible for our lives to be restored so that we can have peace with God and live with a pure conscience. Tranquility can be returned to our souls. There is real hope for lives trapped in the chaos of sin.

However, the cleansing blood of Christ does not erase all of the consequences of our behaviors. Reputations might still be destroyed. Not all human relationships may be restored. Physical ailments might continue to linger. Some of the effects of sin will continue to ricochet.

Although our guiding motivation should be wrapped up in lovingly serving God and not be merely shaped by what we consider to be pragmatic, nevertheless a heart caught in the struggle of temptation can find additional encouragement to pursue godliness by remembering the continuing power ungodly ripples have for disrupting life. Since desires are fueled by thoughts, pondering the future havoc a rock can wreck upon life can assist a contemplative person to remember that God’s ways truly are seeking our best interests while also quieting the evil impulse to throw more rocks in the pond of life.

The next time we are tempted to speak or act in a manner unbecoming of the calling we have received to serve God, remember what a rock does to a pond. Let’s remember the real consequences, both practical and spiritual. Let’s avoid the temporary illusion which fuels the desire and which comes from just focusing on how good we think we will feel.

(1) Galatians 6:7-8; Deuteronomy 10:12-13
(2) James 1:14

A Moral Foundation

?Reversing the moral collapse of the American family,? proclaims the subtitle of William Bennett?s work, The Broken Hearth. This short book attempts to do just that.
Contrasting the current disorder of American family life with a more wholesome past, Bennett highlights the crisis in compelling terms. Chapters dealing with homosexuality and divorce show how strongly these moral issues have undermined the stability of society.
Changing Course
Bennett, however, does not call for despair, but for change. Recovering moral foundations and building on the strength of conviction will recover the blessings of marriage and family that sin and selfishness have eroded.
?If we do our part,? the book concludes, ?there is reason to hope that those blessings may yet again be ours ?- ours to have, ours to hold, ours to bequeath to our children.?
God?s Plan
While writing for a general audience, Bennett is clear in asserting the need for specific application of biblical teaching to cure the social ills plaguing modern culture. He calls on churches, in particular, to join in the dialogue and contend for moral solutions to human problems.
The Lord?s church must rise to this challenge. Speaking out against immorality, we serve as light in a world of darkness.
God?s plan for marriage and family life is clearly detailed in Scripture. Husbands and wives are to be lovingly faithful to each other. Parents are to cherish their children while developing them in Christian faith, and children are to obey their parents.
God?s moral law, clearly taught and faithfully obeyed, provides hope for our future and remedy for the disorder of today’s families.

Life Changes

Time has a way of changing things. It is difficult to keep things the way they are. Children graduate from high school, graduate from college, and get married. A young married couple goes from having no children to having one child to having multiple children. A serious health challenge comes along, and things are never the same.
Joseph went down to Egypt as a slave and became a mighty leader, second only to Pharaoh. After Joseph died, ?a new king arose over Egypt, who did not know Joseph? (Ex. 1:8). The Hebrews, who had known favor during Joseph?s lifetime, became the slaves of Egypt.
Life changes.
Fortunately, there are some things in the Christian life that never change. The Lordship of Jesus Christ never changes. He arose from the dead and is now sitting at the right hand of God. Nothing can change that.
The word of God cannot change. Though heaven and earth pass away, the words of Jesus cannot pass away (Matt. 24:35). Our flesh may wither, but the word that was preached to us will abide forever (1 Pet. 1:24-25).
The character of God never changes. The Hebrew writer reminds us that Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Heb. 13:8). Our God is one who does not lie (Tit. 1:2). Paul proclaimed that nothing can separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Rom. 8:37-39).
Amidst all the joy of new homes, new children, and new lives, let us give thanks for a God who never changes. Amidst the heartache of loss and disease, let us hold fast to the God who will never be moved. Praise be to God!