The call to follow has not changed

It is a shame when we separate out the “God of the Old Testament” from the “God of the New Testament,” like they’re two differing beings, or two different acts of a show or something.

The call to follow hasn’t changed. What God calls out to Israel is, in essence, what Jesus calls out to any who follow him. It is a road of obedience. It is a call to die to self. It is about the King’s agenda, not our own.

Lord, help us follow!

12 And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God ask of you but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in obedience to him, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, 13 and to observe the Lord’s commands and decrees that I am giving you today for your own good? (Deut. 10:12-13)

Ah, the joys of teaching the Old Testament!

I am not the Old Testament scholar by a long shot, but I thoroughly enjoy teaching the Old Testament to college freshmen. In my setting I teach to students in a Christian college, many of whom probably grew up in church. Yet… they don’t know the Old Testament.

Where I have the most fun (besides Song of Songs) is Judges. It’s perverse, I know. But for me it beats any Quentin Tarantino movie by a long shot.

Judges 19 is the kicker. If I haven’t seen them freak out over Ehud stabbing the Jabba the Hutt character, or get a little queasy over Jephthah and his weird vow that cost him the life of his own daughter, the story of the Levite carving up the concubine usually does the trick.

The biggest question I get: “Why is this in the Bible?”

My biggest question back: “Why do we IGNORE this stuff?”

My answer is this: “We like our Jesus meek and mild. When Jesus mean and wild shows up, we get turned off.”

There are other answers to explore, and I know I’ll get them on Facebook as soon as I hit “post” on this blog. No problem.

I just want to register my absolute pleasure at teaching the Old Testament.

Does God’s Word WORK?

Reading Nehemiah 8, I am struck by the reaction of the people when they actually heard the Book of the Law taught to them.

They wept. They were sorry. Something struck them in such a way they knew they had lived in disobedience and they wanted to get it right… and it grieved them.

There is still a place of conviction. We don’t like to think of it, but we need it. We need to be faced with the high call of God and realize we haven’t exactly gone there… and it needs to grieve us. It needs to tear our heart up.

Then, we can respond. Then, we can more clearly hear the word of the Lord. We can be truly ready to follow him.

It’s the work of the word and the Spirit. Not us.

But, as the church, we must bring people TO the word and the Spirit. Don’t back off. Don’t apologize. Bring people to a place where the word is clear and who God is becomes so magnificent, a response is needed.

God help us if we try to “explain away” one more text! Let us bring our own lives to submission to the word and let the Spirit do the work!

I don’t need a response to my preaching. I long for a response to the living word of God being given!

Early Thoughts on Ezra

We are reading through Ezra and Nehemiah this week as we journey through the Old Testament Historical Books this summer in our church.

Early thoughts on Ezra: that whole “intermarriage” thing should be a fun discussion.

Praying for an Increase in Capacity for the Kingdom of God

2 Chron. 29:18-19

I have been challenged to pray for an INCREASE in capacity for the Kingdom of God. I am asking for my own life to be expanded so I can be more effective in my leadership as a pastor. There are so many things the Lord has given me in dreams for what is ahead, I know I need a greater capacity.

As I was praying, this thought dropped into my heart: To find immediate increase, just get the junk out of the room you already have.

Ouch.

That was Israel as well. When Hezekiah led the nation in reform, the first thing he did was clean out what was already there.

To increase my capacity in the kingdom of God, I can clean out the junk and be AMAZED at the room I will find!

Burn the Plows

There are those moments. Times when something stirs in your heart. Windows of time when you know there is a decision to be made.

But the question is too stark. It’s not a gradual question. It’s a hard question.

“Are you all in, or not?”

Something like that.

Those moments come. They come when God is ready, and he honestly knows we are ready. But we can so easily hesitate.

The stuff of life. Obligations. Desires. We are just plain soft. Comfortable.

Will we stretch? Will we respond?

Elisha was minding his own business, literally. He was in the family business, so he was plowing the field. His response to Elijah demonstrates he had been thinking about this, or something had already been stirring. But the moment came. Here was Elijah. The mantle was given. What would be the response?

Elisha goes and kisses his parents good bye. And he kills the oxen and burns the plows. He is lighting a torch to his part of the business. Literally. He will not go back. The call came. He responded so thoroughly he wasn’t going to go back. His sacrifice showed his gratefulness to God, and his commitment.

We feel a stirring. Then, the Spirit speaks.

Do we negotiate? Do we ignore it?

Or do we burn our plows?

Elijah

Of all the stories and sermons I remember from growing up, and being a young preacher, the stories of Elijah are the most captivating to me. His life is fascinating and there are just a dozen great sermons (and titles) I think of when I read through the stories of Elijah.

I’m fairly sure this guy would be on meds in our current culture. Or locked up. Today his personality would be full of “mental issues.” I am always interested to know if anyone has done a psychological evaluation on Elijah as an article. I think it would be interesting.

Some thoughts on sermons and message titles along the way on Elijah:

— Elijah walks into Ahab’s court and predicts no rain: “Hit and run prophet.”

— He goes to the widow of Zarephath for provision: “There’s a Miracle in Your House.”

— The confrontation with the prophets of Baal at Mt. Carmel: “Where is your god?”

— Running like a scared little girl from Jezebel.

— The journey to Horeb and hearing the voice of God.

These are great stories. Elijah demonstrates personality issues, to be sure, but there is the radical trust in God’s provision, the ability to hear the voice of God and act on it, and the downright honesty he carries with God all the time. When he is up, he is WAY up. And when he is down… he lets God know…

We can learn from Elijah’s radical dependency on God. We can learn from his boldness. We can learn from his ability to listen and discern. He gives us great lessons that need to be lived out today.

The gods of war

2 Samuel

When David came into power, the kingdom was not united. He ruled in Hebron first, then power was consolidated.

It wasn’t consolidated through negotiation alone. It was war. It was civil war.

Part of the distaste for the “Old Testament God” is our own distaste for war.

I’m not a true pacifist, but I sympathize with those who articulate their position very well. But pacifism isn’t a hard reality even in our world. We can look with starry eyes at our own world and think we’re diminishing wars, so we look with a bit of disdain at the Old Testament and say, “Well, the God of the Old Testament is just too violent.”

And yet… the 20th Century gave us two world wars played out by major players of “developed” countries. The beginning of the 21st Century hasn’t fared much better. We are still a world torn up by war.

We can have a distaste for war and work like crazy for peace… and we should. Yet, we have the reality of war. It was part of the Old Testament world. It is part of our world. And God has not changed. Those are the realities we need to deal with in our theology.