When Digging a Hole Is Better Than Building an Altar

Then Jacob came safely to the city of Shechem, which is in the land of Canaan, when he came from Padan Aram; and he pitched his tent before the city. And he bought the parcel of land, where he had pitched his tent, from the children of Hamor, Shechem’s father, for one hundred pieces of money. Then he erected an altar there and called it El Elohe Israel. (Genesis 33:18-20, N.K.J.V.)

The first piece of real estate that Jacob ever legally owned in the land of Canaan was the plot of land he purchased near the city of Shechem. He paid 100 pieces of money for it, which was a sizable amount of money for that day. As evidence of how important the plot was to Jacob, he immediately built a permanent altar there.

While all this sounds fine on the surface, there was an underlying problem with Jacob’s encampment at Shechem. That problem was, there were some false gods (graven images, little idols) within the ranks of the camp. In particular, Jacob’s favorite wife Rachel had stolen her father Laban’s household gods and carried them with her from Laban’s home in Padan Aram to Shechem in Canaan (Genesis 31:19; 30-35). Perhaps other people in the camp had false gods as well. So, even as Jacob built his altar at Shechem, his camp was marked by idolatry.

Perhaps it shouldn’t have been so surprising, then, when Jacob’s entire family became involved in a grievous incident at Shechem. Dinah, Jacob’s lone daughter, got raped by one of the land’s young nobles, whose name was actually Shechem, and that kick-started a gruesome sequence of events that played out as follows (Genesis 34:1-3):

  • Shechem and his father Hamor went to Jacob and his sons in an attempt to get them to agree to let Shechem marry Dinah (34:4-12).
  • Jacob’s sons deceitfully agreed to allow not only the marriage but also full intermarrying between the two races of people, but only on the condition that Shechem, Hamor, and all the other men of the city of Shechem submit to circumcision (34:13-17).
  • Hamor and Shechem used the promise of potential financial gain from the alliance to convince the other males of the city to agree to be circumcised (34:18-24).
  • Three days after the men had all been circumcised, when they were all still in a great deal of pain, Simeon and Levi — Dinah’s two full-fledged brothers — went into the city and murdered Shechem, Hamor, and all the other males (34:25-26).
  • Following the massacre, the rest of Jacob’s sons went into the city, completely plundered it, and took the women and children as captives (34:27-29).

In the wake of these events, God appeared to Jacob and instructed him to move to Bethel and build another altar there (Genesis 35:1). Bethel was located some 30 miles south of Shechem and was the place where God had once appeared to Jacob (Genesis 28:10-22). But Jacob did something important before he loaded up camp and headed toward Bethel. Do you know what it was? He collected all the false gods from his household and buried them under a certain tree in Shechem (Genesis 35:2-4).

The teaching from this story is that religion without repentance doesn’t amount to much. At Shechem, Jacob was religious enough to build an altar and name it “El Elohe Israel,” which means “God, the God of Israel.” However, his attempt at worship was severely marred by the fact that he had false gods in his camp. Only when he rounded up those false gods and buried them did the full favor and protection of God come to rest upon him (Genesis 35:5-15):

So they gave Jacob all the foreign gods they had and the rings in their ears, and Jacob buried them under the oak at Shechem. (Genesis 35:4, N.I.V.)

We should keep this story in mind the next time we find ourselves disappointed that our prayers, Bible study, and church-attendance aren’t producing more of the blessing of God upon our lives. Could it be that our attempts at “religion” are to a large degree being negated by some type of idolatry? Could it be that rather than build an altar, what we really need to do is dig a hole in which to bury our idols?

An idol has been defined as being some type of noun to which you give time, money, and energy that rightly belong to the true and living God. In these modern days, an idol can be a person, a job, an organization, a pursuit, a type of entertainment, or a source of pleasure. Basically, it’s anything or anyone that you place in God’s slot. Metaphorically speaking, Christian, every idol that you have in your life needs to get buried in a hole and left behind as you move on at God’s bidding. These “burials” on your part are the only way to keep your “altars” in full working order, and they are the only way that you can truly live the victorious Christian life.

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“Christian Verses” Podcast: Isaiah 43:19

Let me ask you a serious question, and please don’t be so quick to answer. Think long and hard about your answer, and be completely honest. The question is: “If God told you that He wanted to do a truly new thing in your life, how would you feel about that?” Would the idea excite you? Would it scare you? Would you say, “Yes Lord, when can we start?” Or would you say, “Wait a minute, Lord, I’m going to need to know what this thing is before I sign off on it”? Do you long for change in your life? Or do you like your life just the way it is?

In the new podcast, Malcolm and I build a discussion around God’s promise to do a “new thing” in Israel and how He sometimes does “new things” in our lives. To hear the podcast, just click on the link below:

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When God Makes You a Troublemaker

Then it happened, when Ahab saw Elijah, that Ahab said to him, “Is that you, O troubler of Israel?” (1 Kings 18:17, N.K.J.V.)

Ahab was the king of Israel, which was the name the Jewish northern kingdom took for itself while the southern kingdom called itself Judah. Ahab reigned for 22 years as king of the northern kingdom after succeeding his father, Omri, who had reigned over it for 12 years (1 Kings 16:21-29). Ahab was a wicked king who married a Phoenecian princess named Jezebel for purely political purposes (1 Kings 16:30-31).

Upon becoming queen, Jezebel brought her fanatical worship of the false god Baal to the northern kingdom. Ahab soon joined her in her religion and threw his full support behind it by having a Baal temple, complete with an altar, built in Samaria, the northern kingdom’s capital (1 Kings 16:32). He also had a wooden shrine built to honor Ashera, the false goddess who was thought to be Baal’s female consort (1 Kings 16:33). Ahab and Jezebel employed no less than 450 prophets to lead their citizens in the worship of Baal (1 Kings 18:19), and ultimately Jezebel even had the land’s true prophets of the Lord massacred (1 Kings 18:4).

Ahab and Jezebel’s actions set the stage for the prophet Elijah. One day Elijah showed up unannounced at Ahab’s palace and said to him, “As the Lord God of Israel lives, before whom I stand, there shall not be dew nor rain these years, except at my word” (1 Kings 17:1, N.K.J.V.). Then Elijah left Ahab’s presence and wouldn’t be seen again for more than three full years. As soon as Elijah left, Ahab must have thought to himself, “Who was that nut? How did he even get in here?” The funny thing was, though, there was no dew on the grass the next morning, the morning after that, the morning after that, etc. And it didn’t rain, either. Days passed. Weeks passed. Months passed. Years passed. But not even a single drop of rain ever fell. By the time three-and-a-half years had passed, it still hadn’t rained a drop (James 5:17).

It was at this point that God told Elijah to pay Ahab a second visit (1 Kings 18:1). By now Ahab’s kingdom was deep in the throes of the severe drought (1 Kings 18:2). As Elijah was making his way there, he happened to meet up with Obadiah, a godly man who was what we might call the manager of Ahab’s royal palace (1 Kings 18:3-15). Obadiah arranged a meeting between Elijah and Ahab, and Ahab went to the meeting place (1 Kings 18:16). Upon seeing Elijah, Ahab uttered the words of our text verse: “Is that you, O troubler of Israel?”

I’ve taken the time to provide all this background information for the quote because I want you to understand that Ahab, not Elijah, was the actual troubler of Israel. He was the one, along with his wife Jezebel, who had brought Baal worship to Israel. He was the one who had built a temple to Baal. He was the one who had allowed Jezebel to slay God’s true prophets. And yet, in his mind, Elijah was the problem.

In God’s work, it is typical for the one who delivers God’s message of rebuke or condemnation to get labeled as the one who causes the trouble. Rather than accept the delivered message in the spirit in which it is given and repent of the sins, the person who receives it typically continues in his or her sin and goes gunning for the messenger. As evidence of this, there soon came a time when Jezebel put a “hit order” on Elijah. As further evidence of it, consider these other scriptural examples from the Old Testament:

  • The prophet Micaiah was imprisoned upon the orders of the same Ahab after delivering another message that Ahab didn’t like (1 Kings 22:1-28).
  • A seer named Hanani was imprisoned for delivering a message that Asa, the king of Judah, didn’t like (2 Chronicles 16:7-10).
  • A prophet named Zechariah (not the writer of the Bible’s book of Zechariah) was stoned to death for delivering a message that Joash, the king of Judah, didn’t like (2 Chronicles 24:20-21).
  • The prophet Elisha had his life threatened by Jehoriam, the king of Israel, because he thought of Elisha as being the spokesperson for the God who had allowed the Syrian army to lay siege to Samaria and create desperate conditions within the city (2 Kings 6:24-31).
  • The prophet Jeremiah spent virtually his entire ministry being persecuted and living under the threat of either arrest or death for preaching and prophesying things the people of Judah didn’t like (Jeremiah 11:18-23; 18:18-23; 20:1-18; 26:24; 37:11-21; 38-1-13).
  • The prophet Uriah verified and proclaimed the prophecies of Jeremiah and was put to death by Jehoiakim, the king of Judah, because of it (Jeremiah 26:20-23).
  • The prophet Amos was insulted by Amaziah, the priest of the northern kingdom’s city of Bethel, who told him to, “Go back home and do your prophesying there” (Amos 7:12-13).

Moving into the New Testament, the well-established pattern continues. Since I provided seven examples from the Old Testament, here are seven from the New Testament:

  • John the Baptist was imprisoned and eventually beheaded for delivering a message that Herod Antipas and his wife Herodias didn’t like (Matthew 14:3-12).
  • Jesus was crucified by the Romans at the request of the Jewish religious authorities.
  • All the apostles were arrested and beaten for preaching Jesus and healing in His name (Acts 5:17-40).
  • Stephen was stoned to death for delivering a message the Jewish Sanhedrin didn’t like (Acts 7:1-60).
  • Herod Agrippa I killed the apostle James and arrested the apostle Peter with the intent to kill him as well (Acts 12:1-4).
  • The apostle Paul was stoned and left for dead in Lystra for preaching Jesus and healing in His name (Acts 14:8-20).
  • Paul and Silas were jailed and whipped in Philippi for preaching Jesus and casting out a demon in His name (Acts 16:16-24).

As you can see, the Bible leaves no doubt as to the reaction the person who delivers God’s message, a message that cuts against the grain of those in authority, can expect. At best, those in authority will reject the message and ridicule the messenger. At worst, they will reject the message and seek to imprison or in the most extreme cases kill the messenger. This, Christian, is the territory you can expect when God makes you a troublemaker in His service. The good news, though, is that such perilous assignments carry with them incredible eternal rewards, rewards that you just can’t earn through more pleasant types of service. And I’ll offer Jesus’ own words concerning those rewards as the close to this post. They read as follows:

Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Matthew 5:11-12, N.K.J.V.)

Posted in God's Work, Ministry, Persecution, Preaching, Prophecy, Reward, Service | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Scared Yet?

Some people say the Coronavirus is a pandemic of potentially biblical proportions and if I don’t practice social distancing I’m putting myself and others at risk for nothing less than death. These people are also quick to point out that even as we are seeing a decline in the rate of cases and deaths here in America, there will almost certainly be a new outbreak of the virus during the fall. Even more than that, they say there’s a high chance the virus will mutate at some point and start the entire ordeal all over again.

On the other hand, some people say the Coronavirus is nothing much more than the seasonal flu and that the powers-that-be are nefariously using it as a tool to control the masses. These people say the past couple of months have all been just a trial run for a larger event that is to come, one that will allow the powers-that-be to control the masses in an even greater way. To hear these folks tell it, it’s all part of taking away our civil liberties and ushering in a one-world-government.

Some people say that if Donald Trump gets reelected this coming November, it will signal the end of the American way of life as we know it. These people say the damage that Trump will do during a second term as President will be so great that America will never recover from it. If I believe them, a vote for Trump this November will be a vote for not only my own demise but also the demise of my country.

On the other hand, some people say that if Joe Biden gets elected this coming November, it will signal the end of the American way of life as we know it. These people say the damage that Biden will do as President will be so great that America will never recover from it. If I believe them, a vote for Biden this November will be a vote for not only my own demise but also the demise of my country.

In the midst of all this fear-inducing hyperbole, last week the United States Department of Defense officially released three video clips that show navy pilots, during training flights, engaging unidentified flying objects (a.k.a. “ufos”) in the skies above military bases. One of the clips was from 2004 and the other two were from 2015, and all three had previously been circulated on the internet in an unauthorized way. For some reason, though, Pentagon officials decided that now was the time for them to officially release the footage and admit that the clips are real and that they show aerial phenomena that remains “unidentified.” Apparently, we didn’t have enough to worry about with the coronavirus. It’s as if the Department of Defense was saying, “You think the Coronavirus is scary? Here’s what you really have to worry about!”

And did you hear about the Asian giant hornets, known as “murder hornets,” that have now been seen in the United States for the first time? That comforting little bit of news came out last week, too. These are two-inch long insects that have killed as many as 50 people in Japan in a given year. And if causing human deaths isn’t bad enough, these invasive creatures might also devastate the populations of honeybees in the United States because they prey upon honeybees. According to the experts, these hornets actually decapitate the honeybees. Yikes! My son asked me if there was anything in the Bible about hornets. I said, “Yes, God promised to send hornets ahead of the Israelites to drive the inhabitants of Canaan from that land” (Exodus 23:28). Of course, applying that story to the United States today doesn’t produce a happy ending for us.

I’ve always been a big fan of horror movies, but it seems to me that the scariest thing on t.v. these days is the nightly news. The Coronavirus? Politics? UFOs? Murder hornets? It makes you wonder what else the year 2020 and the media might have in store for us. I sure am glad that I know Jesus Christ in a saving way and have the deep-settled inner peace that comes with that relationship.

I’m also glad that I have a working knowledge of Bible prophecy. Because of that knowledge, I don’t walk around scared to death of what the future holds. I know what it holds: events that will make anything the news is giving us now seem like “the good ole’ days.” I’m happy to report, however, that I also know that whether I leave this world by way of the prophesied Rapture or by way of death, Jesus is in charge of both trips. In that I take great comfort. But how would I be feeling these days if I didn’t know Jesus as my Savior? Well, I guess I’d have my basement turned into a bomb shelter and I’d be fixating upon every tidbit of doom-and-gloom news that I could find. I’d be watching the skies. I’d be stocking up on honey. And I’d own a really thick bee suit, too.

Posted in Christ's Second Coming, Christ's Return, Current Events, Fear, Politics, Trusting In God, Worry | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

What Does God Do With the Christian’s Sins?

I recently ran across a little piece, entitled What Does God Do With My Sins?,  that was written to help the Christian feel thoroughly confident in his or her assurance of salvation. I liked the piece so much that I thought I’d share it as a blog post. In the interest of providing full accreditation, let me mention that I cut the piece out of The Sword the Lord newspaper with the original source for it being The Biblical Witness. Ready? Here we go (all references from the N.K.J.V.):

What does God do with my sins? He lays them on His Son, Jesus Christ.

All we like sheep have gone astray; We have turned every one, to his own way; And the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all. (Isaiah 53:6)

What does God do with my sins? He forgives them.

In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace. (Ephesians 1:7)

What does God do with my sins? He cleanses them all away by the blood of Christ.

But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin. (1 John 1:7)

What does God do with my sins? He blots them out as a thick cloud.

I have blotted out, like a thick cloud, your transgressions, And like a cloud, your sins. Return to Me, for I have redeemed you. (Isaiah 44:22)

What does God do with my sins? He remembers them no more.

…then He adds, “Their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more.” (Hebrews 10:17)

What does God do with my sins? He will not reckon them against us.

Blessed is the man to whom the Lord shall not impute sin. (Romans 4:8)

What does God do with my sins? He blots out the proof of them, nailing that proof to the cross of Jesus.

And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses, having wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us. And He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross. (Colossians 2:13-14)

Okay, that is where the original piece stopped, after having listed those seven answers to the question of what God does with the Christian’s sins. As I went through the list, though, I thought about a few more Biblical answers. So, I’ll add in three more of my own to bring the number up to ten. Here we go:

What does God do with my sins? He purges them.

…who being the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person, and upholding all things by the word of His power, when He had by Himself purged our sins, sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high…(Hebrews 1:3)

What does God do with my sins? He makes them as white as snow and wool.

“Come now, and let us reason together,” Says the Lord, “Though your sins are like scarlet, They shall be as white as snow; Though they are red like crimson, They shall be as wool.”

What does God do with my sins? He removes them as far as the east is from the west.

As far as the east is from the west, So far has He removed our transgressions from us.

Posted in Christ's Death, Comfort, Eternal Security, Forgiveness, God's Love, God's Mercy, Grace, Guilt, Salvation | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Carrying Water

The Civil War’s Battle of Fredericksburg, Virginia, was primarily fought on December 13, 1862. Approximately 200,000 soldiers fought in the battle, as Union General Ambrose Burnside commanded his 120,000 troops in a two-pronged attacked against Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s 80,000 troops. Lee’s troops were able to turn back both prongs of the attack, but the Union army and the Confederate army each suffered casualties in the thousands.

One field in particular, which was marked by a long stone wall, had hundreds of Union soldiers who were either dead or wounded lying in it. The carnage was the result of 2,000 Confederate soldiers holding their positions behind the wall and firing into the Union soldiers as they attempted to advance toward it. To make the horrific scene even worse, the Union soldiers who were wounded spent the rest of the day and the entirety of the night crying out for water their fellow comrades couldn’t bring them for fear of being shot themselves.

The cries were so mournful and so persistent that they broke the heart of a nineteen-year-old Confederate sergeant named Richard Kirkland. The next day, December 14, Kirkland went to his field General, Joe Kershaw, and said, “General, I can’t stand this any longer! All day and all night I have heard those poor people calling for water. I’ve come to ask permission to go and give them some.”

General Kershaw admired the young sergeant’s compassion for the enemy, but he couldn’t help but worry about what the Union soldiers on the other side of the field would do if they saw a Confederate soldier moving toward their wounded. Kershaw said, “Sergeant, don’t you know that you would get a bullet through your head the moment you stepped over the wall?” “Yes, sir,” Kirkland answered, “but if you will let me, I am willing to try it.” Finally, with one last comment on Kirkland’s noble motives and a request that God would protect the young sergeant, Kershaw agreed to the request.

From the second-story window of his command post, Kershaw watched as Kirkland, carrying several canteens of water, jumped over the wall and headed out into the battlefield. To Kershaw’s amazement, the Union soldiers didn’t fire upon Kirkland even as he arrived at the first wounded Union soldier. Kirkland carefully lifted the soldier’s head, gave him a drink of water, and then adjusted the soldier’s coat for warmth before moving on to the next of the wounded.

It soon became evident to the Union army what Kirkland was doing, and they allowed him to roam the battlefield freely. By the time his job was completed, Kirkland had made several trips back across the wall to get more water to give to the wounded soldiers. His incredible act of compassion will always stand as one of the greatest acts of compassion ever offered in the midst of warfare.

Russell Dennis, Jr., the President of Heritage Baptist College in Franklin, Indiana, has said the following concerning Richard Kirkland’s deed:

As soldiers in the army of the Lord, we see so much need and suffering. If we listen, we can often hear their cries. Like the woman at the well, they seek for water — that Water of Life found only in Jesus Christ our Lord. When we take courage like Richard Kirkland and say, “I can’t stand this!” we can begin to be led by the Holy Spirit to reach a thirsty world.

So, Christian, how about you? Have you jumped over any walls lately to minister to someone who needed your help? If you haven’t, maybe it’s time you did. The wounded are lying here, there, and everywhere all around this world. As Jesus said to His chosen twelve in that same story about the woman at the well, “…Behold, I say to you, lift up your eyes and look at the fields, for they are already white for harvest!” Those wounded all need Jesus, the Water of Life. Will you step out from behind your protective wall and take Him to them?

Posted in Courage, Discipleship, Doing Good, Evangelism, God's Work, Mercy, Ministry, Salvation, The Gospel | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Christian Verses” Podcast: Judges 21:25

This week’s podcast is centered around Judges 21:25, which says: “In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” This business of people doing what seems right to them has been a problem for a long time and continues to be one today. In the podcast, Malcolm and I discuss not only how the problem applied to ancient Israel but also how it applies to these modern times. Basically, it always comes down to one thing: a lack of submission to the Lord. To hear the podcast, just click on the link below:

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