Back in January I shared this message to Carnoustie Community Church on Psalm 33. I hope you enjoy it as we see God the Artist, Planner & Rescuer.
This post is a summary of my message on Week 14 of The Story. Today we are looking at the events immediately after the death of Solomon. From now on it will be a steady downward path towards apostasy, spiritual decline, military defeat and eventual exile to a foreign land. This is not a happy story – the glory days stand behind us now. Hope you enjoyed them!
In a referendum the people are given a choice – they answer yes or no to a specific question. In our passage today, we see the reverse, the people come to the new king with a specific question that requires a yes or no answer. Will he say yes and ease their labour conditions, or say no? He decides to phone some friends, in fact two groups of counsellors. But he chooses the wrong advice – the old and wise heads urge caution and prudence, the young guns advise boldness, dominance and ruthlessness. Clearly the people had been dissatisfied with their forced labour under Solomon but had been reluctant to challenge the status quo. Rehoboam goes for bravado over brotherly kindness and machoism over mercy. And what would you know, there just happens to be an enterprising young man ready (Jeroboam) to mobilise the resistance. The mighty Kingdom of Israel is split over a single decision on employment terms and conditions.
All this was from the Lord – 1 Kings 12.15 states it clearly, Rehoboam’s pride and arrogance are the means whereby God brings his previously declared judgement upon Solomon. Jeroboam loses no time in establishing himself as a rival king in the northern tribes – fortifying cities, creating a counterfeit worship system and installing his own priesthood, so the people don’t need to go to Jerusalem. But he also opens the door for all the other idols around them.
While God had purposed that Jeroboam be the means of splitting the kingdom in two, he had not wanted them to worship other gods. From now on Israel would edge steadily towards spiritual disaster. As king after king continued and deepened the sinful practices and habits.
We almost always think of warnings as being negative things, but warnings can be wonderful. The fire alarm that wakes you up in the middle of the night and saves your life will seem a wonderful invention when you are stood outside in the dark. The flashing light on your dashboard warning you of your fuel filter is boring, but if you don’t have it you can end up losing power on the motorway. Warnings can be wonderful things when they are genuinely aimed at protecting us from harm.
Throughout this period in Israel’s history we see God actively and intimately involved in the key events. We see in these passages is a God who passionately cares about his people, and the decisions they make, the people they hurt and the desires they hold, especially those that they put above him. Unfortunately it is a story of repeated rejection of God (all references are to 1 Kings):
In the midst of all the warnings, the judgements, the destruction of the kingdom, there is a jewel. Living for God in those times must have been very tough…everything that you had enjoyed about being the people of God was being dismantled. What hope is there? 1 Chronicles 11.13-17 – these five verses give us a ray of hope that the light has not been totally extinguished. The Levites see what is happening and turn their backs on the land that was rightfully there’s and leave for Judah.
They were rejected by Jeroboam and in some ways you might say they had no choice. But in 16 we read about the people, the faithful remnant who had set their heart on seeking the Lord, they also left their homeland and came to Judah and strengthened it and supported Rehoboam as God’s anointed king. It is a spiritual exodus from unfaithful Israel to faithful Judah.
In all the darkness of these days God had not left himself without a witness. These had not bowed the knee to Jeroboam, or his false religions. Their love for God cost them their homes and land, they left all for the sake of their God. So a remnant remained – and this will be the case throughout the rest of Israel’s history. The faithful few who sought the Lord and swam against the prevailing spiritual decay and backsliding.
Finally a few words on what this means for us today, how do we understand what is going on here?
Each warning was sent in love – to restrain an evil intention or rebellious act. But each warning went unheeded. The key thing is that they are written for our encouragement Paul says in Romans 15.4: “For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.”
A key text is 1 Corinthians 10.1-13: all received the blessings, but not all were pleasing to God. God was making a point with the Old Testament events, an example for all time, that we might learn and not repeat the lessons of history. So what are we to learn? God wants our hearts! At the heart of what He desires, is His desire for our hearts.
Have you ever watched a sailing boat tack across a lake to try and sail upwind? One minute it is heading towards its destination, the next it is heading in what seems like the opposite direction. If you didn’t know anything about sailing you might question the sailor at the rudder, but all the while the boat is slowly making its way upwind and upriver. So it is with this passage, it is like a moral maze that we find ourselves in with this passage. The question we need to ask is, what is God doing in these verses? Is he for Israel or against them? Why is he so strict with his own people?
The answer, I believe lies in 3 deep truths…firstly the impartiality of God, secondly the divine, righteous jealousy of God, and thirdly the progressive, deepening, revelation of God seen in scripture.
- God shows no partiality – he is a holy God and a loving father who knows what is best for us and does not want us to be satisfied with lesser loves – whatever they may be. His love drives him to intervene, sometimes requesting, sometimes allowing, sometimes restraining and sometimes judging. We must have a holy fear – of ourselves and our weakness, fear of God and his righteousness, fear of starting well, but not finishing the race. Do our lives please God?
- God is jealous for our love – we almost always view jealousy as a bad thing. But in its pure form, striped right back to its essentials jealousy can be beautiful thing. It says: “I know what is the best thing for you, and it is me, not anybody, or anything else, but me”.
- God has established a covenant of grace with us not a covenant of works; not of obedience, but faith, a righteousness apart from the law. We stand on a foundation of unconditional love. Our experience of this love in our daily life is conditional upon our obedience. The covenant of law is not good for sinners, Rehoboam, Jeroboam, Solomon, the Man of God – all discovered this the hard way. The covenant of grace is the only refuge for the sinful person.
This is the referendum choice we all face – do you believe that I am the Son of God? This is the complete obedience to every warning, the blameless lamb of God, who is yet rejected for us. This is the king who has rescued a remnant, do you know you are one of his children today?
I recently did an all-age service at church, for both the adults and kids, from week 10 of The Story. I used 7 words to spell out the message, the kids opened up envelopes and had to figure out what each word was – this is a summary of my message:
Many people are fascinated by the SAS – no I don’t mean the Special Air Service, but they are pretty exciting, neither do I mean Suarez and Sturridge – Liverpool’s goal machine last season…no I am talking about Samuel and Saul. These two are two of the biggest characters in this period of the Old Testament. Their lives are intertwined and their different personalities and spiritual devotion provide the light and shade of the books of Samuel and Kings.
One word to summarise Samuel? Devotion – learnt from his mother, he was 100% committed to his God. One word for Saul? Impulsive – evidence throughout his life he made pragmatic decisions on the spur of the moment that often got him into trouble. The immovable Samuel and the impulsive Saul…they had some memorable meetings! Samuel is driven by faithfulness and loyalty, Saul by fear and jealousy. Open the envelope, break the seal…
Let’s look at Samuel first, or Sam as we have called him here. Samuel was the son of Hannah – a son of prayer and promise. Samuel grew up at the feet of the priests in the temple of God. From his earliest days he learnt the ways of God – he even heard God speak directly to him. Remember what happened? He thought it was Eli, three time he went to Eli, until eventually the old man realised God was speaking to him. As he grew up God guided him and protected his words, so that he was respected by all as a prophet and priest for the nation – to provide spiritual leadership to the nation.
But as Sam grew older it became clear that things were not right in Israel. This chosen nation that had been taken out of Egypt and planted in the promised land was withering. The people were tired of being told what to do by the judges, they wanted someone more impressive to lead them than old Sam, whose sons were not of the same character as him. They looked around and saw the other nations had something they thought they did not – a king. God had been their king, leading them into battle, fighting for them, protecting them, and Samuel was their priest and prophet. Now they were rejecting God as their king and so they asked Samuel to give them a king like the rest of the tribes. This made Samuel very sad, but it was really God their king they were rejecting.
So God let the people break the kingly bond between them and him – he warned them what a king would require of them and how a king would trade their best land and sons and daughters…but they still wanted him. The sign of a king was the anointing oil poured over his head, this signified the blessing of God being poured out onto the person and the setting aside of their life for a special purpose. It was Samuel’s job to anoint the new king. God tells Sam to anoint the person he points to – someone who would look like the other kings around them.
Head and shoulders above the rest, Saul was an impressive young man. Although initially shy and reluctant, Saul finds his boldness when one of the cities is threatened. So, a promising start for the new king. But as is often the case power goes to our heads and things quickly fall apart and under pressure Saul makes some bad impulsive decisions. But worse than that, not just bad decisions, but sinful decisions. Decisions that reveal where his heart really lies – and show that selfishness and pride lie at the heart of this man. Saul was impressive on the outside but weak inside…he obeyed as long as it was comfortable.
On two occasions Saul disobeys God – first in offering an unauthorised sacrifice when he got fed up waiting for Samuel to come and offer them before his battle with the Philistines. And then by keeping alive the King of the Amalekites and the best cattle and sheep when God had ordered it all to be destroyed. In the first incident Saul oversteps his rightful authority to encroach on Samuel’s Territory – driven by the fear of man, rather than the fear of God. In the second he allows his pride to decide what bits of God’s law he should obey. He sets his own will above that of God, and he pays the price.
Here Saul is a picture of all of mankind – doing what we think is right, editing out the bits of God’s law we don’t find convenient, obeying him as long as we don’t look foolish in front of people. This king cannot help us, because he is just like us.
Finally Sam confronts Saul and tells him that God has rejected him as king – that he cannot continue under the blessing of God and his sons will not continue the monarchy. In his haste Saul grabs Samuel’s coat and as Sam turns away he tears it – this is what God has done to his anointing – torn it up! You see Saul had been torn between the fear of man and the fear of God, he had been torn between convenience and obedience…and had made the wrong choice each time. His heart was torn between the love of the world and the love of God, now his kingly reign on this world was torn away by God.
So the kingdom is taken away from Saul – not right then, he still remained king for many years, desperately holding onto his throne against the young upstart called David, who we will meet next week. And Saul is very sad by how popular David becomes – jealousy and hatred overwhelm Saul in his later years. He lived from a place of fear…fear of losing his position, of being exposed and replaced, the seed of destruction had been sown and time was running out. Saul would eventually run out of options and desperately seek Sam out even after he had died, and find that the end was nigh. More than that his beloved Jonathan would also die with him and the kingly line be extinguished.
So for us the consequences of our sin take time to appear, right back in the garden Adam and Eve were told they would die if they disobeyed, but they ate and nothing happened…immediately. But the egg timer had started to pour and their death was certain.
7. RETURN (of the king)
What would God do? The people had rejected God as their king and Saul had failed God. He would find a king who would be someone with his character, a man after God’s own heart. But even this king would fail. Ultimately He would take back that kingly role to himself, one day…one day another king would come, one who would honour God above all else, who would not fear the disapproval of man, or the suffering of obedience.
God would unite the role of prophet, priest and king in one person, one man. The king would arrive in Israel while they were sleeping and he would return the union between God and his people. He would rescue and redeem them, not through war as Saul did, but through sacrificing himself. King Jesus, the true king, never flinching, never wavering, never compromising.
You see not only did the Israelites reject God as their king, we too rejected God as our rightful king. We by nature rebelled against his rule over our hearts and said…”we will not have this man to rule over us”. If you are a Christian this morning you have bowed the knee willingly to this king, and pledged allegiance to him. We have given him our hearts, lives, everything we have, and found that he is a king we can trust, a king we can exalt and worship. Will you worship him today? Will you let him restore what has been torn and remove the sin in our hearts?
Our church is going through The Story we are at week 6 and I was tasked with covering the Wandering chapter for the kids and adults this morning…here is the kids talk. We played the short “Teens” video clip for week 6 first for the whole church.
“This week we are learning about the wilderness wanderings…when I was little my Dad used to have a board game that we played on a Sunday called Wilderness Wandering. It was a game that moved you through the different events that happened in the wilderness as the Israelites journey from Egypt to Canaan. In fact I have found a picture of the board game and also a picture of us all playing it…my Dad didn’t have his moustache back then! You ask them about it after the service (maybe it wasn’t exactly like this!).
What are your favourite board games? Monopoly, kids of Carcasson, junior Cluedo? One of the best loved is Snakes & Ladders – what happens when at bottom of ladder? What happens when land on a snake? Go back to where you started from that’s what. How long does it take to get back to where you were?
The Israelites had been prisoners for years and been miraculously delivered from Egypt. Now they are on the edge of the promised land, but instead of going up a ladder they go down a snake. They take another 40 years to get back to where they were. Then they finally make it through. The ones who went in were just kids when they stood there the first time.
One day God will bring you to a decision point just like the Israelites on the edge of the promised land – he wants to know what is in our hearts, do we trust and love him, but only when times are easy? When we are in the desert we find out whether we are willing to follow him. Whether kids or adults what we decide determines whether we go on with God, or go backwards. One thing you never get in snakes and ladders is a snake and a ladder on the same square – but that was the challenge for the 12 spies. Only Joshua and Caleb trusted God, 10 spies went down the snake. You can trust God no matter what.”
This has been a crazy week…if there was ever a time when my message impacted my life and my life spoke into my message this is it.
My faith has been severely tested and yet I have been blessed because of the free gift that God has given me. And he offers it to each of us. If you don’t have faith, can I encourage you to listen to this message? It’s just 34 minutes of your life…what harm could it do? God gave me the blessing of Psalm 46 for this time and I share it with you as a gift. For those at Carnoustie Community Church on Sunday thank you for a special day.
So, the fourth message in my series of Characteristics of A Genuine Faith: #4 “Indestructible Faith” from Psalm 46. You can download the mp3 file here.
A Call to Cultural Re-engagement Part 5.
If you have been following my previous posts on cultural re-engagement, I expect there is one question that is at the forefront of your minds and that is: “it’s all very well saying that the church should affirm, then connect, then challenge, but most of the time church leaders don’t have the luxury of the time required to build engagement before needing to challenge. What do you do then?”
Those of us who work or live amongst those outside the reach of the church do, on the whole, have the time required (if we choose to use it) to develop meaningful, real relationships that are the foundation for cultural engagement. Those who are in positions of leadership in the church often do not. They are required to stand for truth at the risk of being misunderstood, misrepresented and misinterpreted. Their’s is the prophetic call to the nation to turn back to the living God, to hear what he says to a lost generation and warn them of the consequences of their rebellion. Can these two approaches be reconciled? Should they be reconciled? Importantly, is one more faithful to biblical principles than the other?
I have come across many theories that seek to provide a universal approach to cultural engagement for the church. One of the most famous theorists is Richard Niebuhr, who outlined the following categories in his 1951 book Christ and Culture. In it he proposed five models for understanding our approach to culture:
- “Christ against Culture. For the exclusive Christian, history is the story of a rising church or Christian culture and a dying pagan civilization.
- Christ of Culture. For the cultural Christian, history is the story of the Spirit’s encounter with nature.
- Christ above Culture. For the synthesist, history is a period of preparation under law, reason, gospel, and church for an ultimate communion of the soul with God.
- Christ and Culture in Paradox. For the dualist, history is the time of struggle between faith and unbelief, a period between the giving of the promise of life and its fulfillment.
- Christ Transforming Culture. For the conversionist, history is the story of God’s mighty deeds and humanity’s response to them (Source: Wikipedia)”
There are other ways of categorising the approaches but they can be broadly put into one or more of these categories. Church leaders are taking their churches down one or two of these approaches, depending on their denominational roots, church tradition and individual perspective. My question to the church is this – “is it possible that God would have different (biblical) roles for his leaders and his people?”
Could God have purposed that there would be some individual Christians who would stand against the culture as a prophetic voice? Could God have purposed that others would be so immersed in society that their work would transform their town, community or nation? Of course he could. A clear example of this is seen in Jeremiah’s letter to the exiles in Jeremiah 29.1-7. In this passage Jeremiah, a prophet of God, is in defeated Israel writing to those who had been taken captive to Babylon.
As the tearful prophet sits down to write on this piece of parchment his manifesto to the people of Israel in foreign lands, here is the perfect opportunity to call the people to rise up against the unbelieving, sinful country they were living in and call them to account for their pagan living. Is that what Jeremiah does? No, instead, under the inspiration of God, he commands them to settle in their country, build, plant, prosper, seek its welfare and work for the good of the land they are living in. Here is God telling his punished people to work for the good of their culture – to cultural engagement in Babylon.
And yet, only a few short chapters later Jeremiah (in chapter 50.1-5) strikes up this judgement of Babylon, again at the command of God. Here is the prophet pronouncing judgement and standing against the culture and land of Babylon. So we see that it is not either / or, but rather both/ and. We need to stop trying to shoehorn everyone into one, or only two ways of approaching culture as if God only ever worked through one means.
We need to recognise that God can, has and will raise up leaders like Joseph (to lead culture), Daniel (to transform culture) Noah (to stand against culture). George Muller, William Wilberforce and Dietrich Bonhoeffer, respectively, are modern day examples. Today we, equally, need those who will speak a clear voice of biblical truth against our godless culture, we also need those who will get stuck in to working alongside our society to make it a genuinely better place. And we need to recognise the importance, value and God-honouring vocation of all these callings.
What strikes me is that God commanded the Israelites in Babylon to work for the welfare of the city, even while there was a coming judgement against the city. Amazingly, Jeremiah was the means of providing both the mandate to renew the city, and the message leading to the razing of the city. God cannot be put in a nice easy category, his purposes are too diverse, his means too manifold. All we can ask is “what would you have me do Lord, with this small life that I give to you wholeheartedly?” Obedience is of utmost importance, for few of these people, when they set out on their journey could have ever imagined how God was going to use them.
Finally, this passage in Jeremiah 29 is just before that famous verse where God says “I know the plans I have for you…” which we love to apply to ourselves. But before we do that we must remember the primary application of these verses is to the exiled Israelites, struggling to know the will of God in a foreign land. Not knowing whether to acclimatise or resist, to fight it or fit in. Remember this – God’s plans to bless us are for an alien people in a hostile land, working for the good of this land. Why? Because God has called us to it and promised to be with us and bless us. This is my call to people and prophet alike – fulfil your unique role in this desperate land before it is too late. What are we waiting for?
Yesterday I spoke at my home church, Central Baptist Church, Dundee in my series of Postcards from the Prophets on Elijah at Mount Horeb from 1 Kings 19 titled “Running on Empty”. In it I sought to outline Elijah’s external persecution and internal despair along with his encounter with the whispering God. Through it all I sought to understand what Elijah’s experience can teach us in our trials and challenges in the UK today.
The slides are available here and sermon online here or to download here. During the service I also read out an article I wrote last year called “We need the tears of the prophets for a broken nation” – available here.
I recently spoke at my church on the next in my series on Elijah. This time Elijah is facing the prophets of Baal, King Ahab and the people of Israel at the top of Mount Carmel. Its a classic passage from Israel’s history and I focussed on 1) A guilty silence (ie the people who refused to respond to Eljah’s challenge for faithfulness), 2) An impotent enemy (the prophets of Baal who couldn’t get their God to show up) and finally 3) The testifying God. On this final point I spoke about how God used the method of fire from heaven to testify to his presence throughout Israel’s history, but challenged us to whether we allowed God to change his methods? I gave a brief apologetic to explain how the UK has no place for supernatural events and why believing in miracles such as these is so hard for people today. I explained how Francis Schaeffer sought to understand and explain these changes back in 1968 in his book The God Who Is There, and what that means for us today. I finished by looking at 1 Timothy 2.5+6 as Jesus is presented here as God’s final testimony – better than fire from heaven, for as God’s character is revealed so his testimony is refined. The sermon is available here as a download, or online here, and slides here.
Using the slides (here) ask the children “Who can guess what animal is this is?” That’s right its a donkey, who knows of donkeys in the bible? Do you remember Balaam’s Donkey? Well, Balaam’s donkey was in trouble – just like the donkey in this picture.
Balaam was a kind of prophet who was going to say bad things about God’s people and God sent an angel to stop him. As he was riding on his donkey, the donkey saw the angel standing ready to kill Balaam and moved away. This happened three times unil finally Balaam had had enough and started beating the donkey for being so stubborn. God opened the donkey’s mouth to ask if he normally behaved in this way? When Balaam admitted that he did not, the donkey explained about the angel. Then God opened Balaam’s eyes to see the angel and he realised the donkey had saved him. So, the Lord opened the donkey’s mouth and also Balaam’s eyes.
This reminded me of the passage in Acts when God opened Lydia’s heart (Acts 16.14) and I thought about how this is a picture of what it means to be a Christian.
- Firstly God opens our eyes so that we can see ourselves are we truly are and not as we think we are, we can also see Jesus as he is – in his majesty and power.
- Secondly, God opens our hearts so that we love him and love the things that he loves and hate the things that he hates.
- Thirdly, God opens our mouths so that we can praise and thank him and tell other people what he has done for us.
“Has God opened your eyes, your heart and your mouth?” I asked the children – lets ask God to do just that if he hasn’t already.