Contending with Evil Altars

2 Chronicles 15:16-18 (NIV)16 King Asa also deposed his grandmother Maakah from her position as queen mother, because she had made a repulsive image for the worship of Asherah. Asa cut it down, broke it up and burned it in the Kidron Valley. 17 Although he did not remove the high places from Israel, Asa’s heart was fully committed to the Lord all his life. 18 He brought into the temple of God the silver and gold and the articles that he and his father had dedicated.

An altar is a place where people make sacrifices to a deity. The first mention of the altar in the Bible is when Noah builds one after the flood in order to offer sacrifices to God (Gen. 8:20). God instructed Moses to build an altar, as part of the tabernacle, to burn incense for the Lord (Exod.  30:1). The priests were tasked to burn incense on the altar every morning. In the New Testament believers are exhorted to offer their bodies as living sacrifices to God.  Therefore, for Christian believers, altars may be the spaces where we live out and the activities we do in the name of Christ to honor God. This may include prayer and worship gatherings or even our day-to-day work as long as it is done to honor Christ. Altars concretize and energize our worship of God.

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However, even in the biblical times, altars were not the preserve for the worshipers of the One true God. Other nations also erected altars to sacrifice to their gods. Sadly, time and again the people of Israel were lured to worship the foreign gods on the pagan altars. This of course displeased God and He likens it to spiritual prostitution.

Evil altars, then, are spaces and activities where the name of the Lord is dishonored and evil is glorified. As believers, we are called to contend with evil altars. But we also need to realize that we contend with evil forces and not human beings. We don’t kill “non-believers” or disown our children when they refuse to follow Christ. We content against spiritual altars by speaking and living by the truth of God’s Word and praying against them in the name of Jesus Christ.

FOOD FOR THOUGHT

What radical steps of obedience do you fell led to take as a follower of Jesus Christ?

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Missions: a Call to Worship

1 Chronicles 16:23-27 (NIV)  Sing to the LORD, all the earth; proclaim his salvation day after day.  24 Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous deeds among all peoples.  25 For great is the LORD and most worthy of praise; he is to be feared above all gods.  26 For all the gods of the nations are idols, but the LORD made the heavens.  27 Splendor and majesty are before him; strength and joy in his dwelling place.

In the passage above, King David, assisted by Asaph, calls upon the people to worship the God who created the universe. He deserves to be worshiped because He alone is God. All the other gods are idols. They are false gods. God called Israel that they would proclaim the greatness of His name to the other nations. Israel’s faith was neither meant to be private nor exclusive. God’s intention was that through Israel’s obedience and devotion to His ways, other nations would come to the knowledge of His love, justice and holiness.  This too is our mission as the church of Jesus Christ. We are called to declare the name of the One true and living God through our words and actions.

For some Christians worship and missions are two important but unrelated activities of the church. We tend to limit worship what is done when believers are gathered and missions to what believers do when they are scattered in the world. I think there is some truth to that but there is still more. Worship and missions are interconnected. The One true living God is the object of both worship and missions. None of them is a mere human endeavor. One leads to the other. Worship is both the fuel and goal of missions. John Piper famously said that, “Missions exists because worship doesn’t.” As such, missions is a call for the people who are estranged from God to return and worship Him.

A call to worship

When Moses encountered God in the burning Bush, God sent him to go back to Egypt. His mission was to “Go to Pharaoh and say to him, ‘This is what the Lord says: Let my people go, so that they may worship me” (Exodus 8:1). God’s desire is that all people get to worship Him. We were created to worship God, but Satan also competes for our worship. People turn away from God when they fail or refuse to worship Him alone. So, when we worship we are declaring to the enemy, Satan, that only the Lord is God who is worthy of our worship. And when we witness, we are calling people to return and worship the One true and living God.

Food for Thought:

How can you, as part of your church community, be engaged in declaring the praises of the One true God among those who do not believe in Him? 

The Shepherd’s Heart

 2 Corinthians 12:14-18

Now I am ready to visit you for the third time, and I will not be a burden to you, because what I want is not your possessions but you. After all, children should not have to save up for their parents, but parents for their children. So I will very gladly spend for you everything I have and expend myself as well. If I love you more, will you love me less? Be that as it may, I have not been a burden to you. Yet, crafty fellow that I am, I caught you by trickery! Did I exploit you through any of the men I sent to you? I urged Titus to go to you and I sent our brother with him. Titus did not exploit you, did he? Did we not walk in the same footsteps by the same Spirit?

 

One of the widely used Biblical metaphors for spiritual leadership is that of a shepherd. Ezekiel talks about good and bad shepherds—referring to Israel’s kings and religious leaders. David is described as a shepherd of the people of Israel; Jesus described himself as a “good shepherd” and charged Apostle John to “feed my sheep.” Apostle Paul exhorted the Elders in Ephesus to “be shepherds of God’s flock.” Apostle Peter calls Jesus the “chief shepherd.”

In these analogies, there are underlying qualities of a spiritual leader. For instance,
shepherds provide for the sheep. They are supposed to ensure that people under their leadership are fed on the Word of God. The Word of God provides spiritual nourishment and the basis for discerning God’s will for one’s life. Just as a parent wants the children to appreciate healthy food over junk food, the pastor’s role is to train the believers to discern truth from error based on God’s Word.

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Leaders should also have genuine interest in the welfare of their people. The parable of the lost sheep reveals the heart of the Shepherd who risks everything, including His own life to bring the wayward sheep back to the fold. The pastor has an unenviable responsibility of rebuking and disciplining believers who do not live according to God’s Word. But at the same time pastors should also comfort and restore those who have been bruised by the consequences of sin. All spiritual leaders are under-shepherds who should emulate the Master-Shepherd who laid down His life for the sheep.

The Shepherd’s Heart

Acts 20:28-31 (NIV)  Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood. I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them. So be on your guard! Remember that for three years I never stopped warning each of you night and day with tears.

 

One of the widely used Biblical metaphors for spiritual leadership is that of a shepherd. Ezekiel talks about good and bad shepherds—referring to Israel’s kings and religious leaders. David is described as a shepherd of the people of Israel; Jesus described himself as a “good shepherd.” He also charged Apostle John to “feed my sheep.” Apostle Paul exhorted the Elders in Ephesus to “be shepherds of God’s flock.” And Apostle Peter calls Jesus the “chief shepherd.”

In all these analogies, there are underlying qualities of a spiritual leader. For instance
shepherds provide for the sheep. They are supposed to ensure that people under their leadership are fed on the Word of God. The Word of God provides spiritual nourishment and the basis for discerning God’s will for one’s life. Just as a parent wants the children to appreciate healthy food over junk food, the pastor’s role is to train the believer to discern truth from error based on God’s Word.

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Leaders should also have genuine interest in the welfare of their people. The parable of the lost sheep reveals the heart of the Shepherd who risks everything, including His own life to bring the wayward sheep back to the fold. The pastor has an unenviable responsibility of rebuking and disciplining believers who do not live according to God’s Word. But at the same time pastors should also comfort and restore those who have been bruised by the consequences of sin. All spiritual leaders are under-shepherds that emulate the Master-Shepherd who laid down His life for the sheep.

Our Humanness and God’s Purposes

1 Kings 19:1-4 (NIV)   Now Ahab told Jezebel everything Elijah had done and how he had killed all the prophets with the sword.  2 So Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah to say, “May the gods deal with me, be it ever so severely, if by this time tomorrow I do not make your life like that of one of them.”  3 Elijah was afraid and ran for his life. When he came to Beersheba in Judah, he left his servant there,  4 while he himself went a day’s journey into the desert. He came to a broom tree, sat down under it and prayed that he might die. “I have had enough, LORD,” he said. “Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.”

Fleeing for dear Life

After a powerful demonstration of God’s power (by fire), defeat of Baal’s prophets, and the end of three and a half years of a dry spell which had been pronounced by him (chapter 18), Elijah now faces a death threat from Jezebel, King Ahab’s wife. Jezebel’s reputation for being a nasty and deadly queen is unmatched. Not wanting to take chances, Elijah flees for his life.

1 Kings 19:5-6 Then he lay down under the tree and fell asleep. All at once an angel touched him and said, “Get up and eat.” He looked around, and there by his head was a cake of bread baked over hot coals, and a jar of water. He ate and drank and then lay down again.

This story reveals Elijah’s humanness. He is a fiery prophet, powerfully used of God but he is also human. It is easy to underestimate our humanness, especially when God is powerfully using us. Elijah’s life is threatened precisely because he is doing God’s will. This story also reveals God’s concern and care for his servants (vv. 5-8). Elijah was tired; he need to rest. He was hungry; he needed to eat—a lot of food. God provided all that he needed (vv. 5-9).When we find ourselves tired, discouraged and depressed, God is right there to help us. His grace is available for the weak, and tired and desperate.

Serving God and being in His will does not necessarily insulate us from life’s challenges and threats. Yet God cares for us even in the most difficult experiences.

A Gentle Whisper of God

1 Kings 19:11-12 The LORD said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the LORD, for the LORD is about to pass by.” Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper.

At mount Horeb, Elijah has many things to complain about: Israel’s worship and religious systems are dead. There has been severe persecution and killing of God’s prophets. Elijah feels alone, rejected and perhaps suicidal. Here is a stark contrast between the Elijah at Mount Carmel: confident, bold, in charge (chapter 18); and the one at Mount Horeb: distraught, unsure, and desperate (vv. 10, 14).

Elijah encounters God, not in the spectacular phenomena of powerful wind, earthquake and fire, but in “a gentle whisper” (v. 12). The God of Mt. Carmel who answers by fire is the same God of Mt. Horeb who answers in a gentle whisper. God works in and through ordinary people like Elijah (and you and me for that matter) to accomplish His purposes (cf. James 5:17-18).

The Transition

1 Kings 19:15-16  The LORD said to him, “Go back the way you came, and go to the Desert of Damascus. When you get there, anoint Hazael king over Aram.  Also, anoint Jehu son of Nimshi king over Israel, and anoint Elisha son of Shaphat from Abel Meholah to succeed you as prophet.

Elijah has been faithful to God; it is now time for a transition. He is to anoint other kings— Hazael and Jehu, and his successor—Elisha. Elijah also needs to know that he is not alone. There are “seven thousand in Israel– all whose knees have not bowed down to Baal and all whose mouths have not kissed him” (v. 18). One of the strategies that the enemy uses to discourage us is to make us feel and believe that we are alone; that our experiences are unique and no one really understands us. The truth is that you are not alone. When you feel abandoned ask God to lead you to people who can be of encouragement to you.

Have you ever realized that God’s purposes are bigger than you; than your accomplishments or even your failures? As His servants, we are not in charge; He is.

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The Centrality of Worship

In the beginning…

God is Holy and demands that the people He created worship Him. Simply put, we were created to worship the One living God. When God created mankind, Adam and Eve, he put them in the Garden of Eden “to work it and take care of it” (Genesis 2:15). This was their act of worship. There was neither temple nor altar in the Garden of Eden because the fellowship between God and people was unbroken. But because of sin, mankind could no longer have direct fellowship with God. As a result altars, temples, sacrifices and priests became necessary. You see, the heart of worship is obedience. We cannot worship God on our terms. God has set the terms and conditions for those who worship Him. To worship God is to acknowledge Him for who He is and what He does.

Let my people go, so that they may worship me (Exodus 10:3).

The encounters between Moses and Pharaoh in the book of Exodus highlight the centrality of worship. God’s purpose is delivering the children of Israel from Egypt was “that they may worship [Him]” (Exodus 9:13). “Who is the LORD, that I should obey him and let Israel go” Pharaoh asked Moses (Exodus 5:2). Pharaoh’s response to Moses signifies how the devil’s primary mission is to stop or distract us from worshiping God. So, in this sense, worship is spiritual warfare.

I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple (Revelation 21:22 22).

Jesus Christ reiterated the centrality of worship when He told the Samaritan woman that the Father seeks for worshipers who worship Him “in spirit and truth” (John 4:23-24). In the Book of Revelation, the worship ideal is restored. There will be no temple in the new earth and new heaven because God’s presence will be with His people (Revelation 21:22). This is the ultimate goal of life—the sommum bonum; to find pleasure in the presence of God. May we all strive to make worship the center of our lives.

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The Portrait of a Spiritual Leader (V)

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Focus 

When word came to Sanballat, Tobiah, Geshem the Arab and the rest of our enemies that I had rebuilt the wall and not a gap was left in it– though up to that time I had not set the doors in the gates–Sanballat and Geshem sent me this message: “Come, let us meet together in one of the villages on the plain of Ono.” But they were scheming to harm me; so I sent messengers to them with this reply: “I am carrying on a great project and cannot go down. Why should the work stop while I leave it and go down to you?” Four times they sent me the same message, and each time I gave them the same answer. Nehemiah 6:1-4 (NIV)

One of the qualities any leader must have is focus—not being distracted from one’s calling, vision and mission. Nehemiah is an example of a leader who was focused and intentional about his assignment. He refused to be distracted by his enemies. Every day we are faced with a challenge to stay focused on what God has called us to do. Let me share some of the distractions we can encounter.

Good things/programs

This is the easiest to distract us from our mission. Life sometimes offers us  many good things. Some of these things or programs may be even more attractive and appealing than our primary commitments. They may offer better positions, opportunities, or remuneration than the ministry God has called us for. It takes immense discipline and intentionality to keep focused when such situations arise.

The enemy

Satan is diabolically opposed to God’s purposes. He distracts us by making us focus on the challenges at hand than the big picture of our mission. The enemy can use diverse strategies to make us fail in our mission. In 1 Thessalonians 2:18, Apostle Paul clearly says that several times Satan hindered him from going to certain places to preach the Gospel. The encouragement we have is that with Lord’s help we can overcome Satan.

Life challenges

Life is a journey, and so it has its ups and downs. There are times when every leader has to deal with a crisis—whether it is a loss of a loved one, an illness, financial challenge, or a divorce. These challenges can threaten our commitment to our mission. What keeps us going is the assurance that God is with us even in the fire that we might be going through.

Past victories or failures

The hangover of yesterday’s victory or the guilt of past failures can derail us from our calling. The Lord Jesus taught us to pray that “Give us today our daily bread.” (Matthew 6:11). Yesterday’s victories cannot guarantee today’s success. Similarly, you might have failed yesterday but that’s not a reason for you to give up. Every leader needs fresh spiritual nourishment and strength for the tasks and commitments of each day. God’s mercies are new every morning. Like Apostle Paul says we need to forget what is behind and strain toward what is ahead (Philippians 3:13).

Keep your Focused on the Goal.
Like an athlete, leaders need to be stubbornly focused on their mission. Our lives must be wholly committed to the mission God has given us. Like Apostle Paul, we need to say “I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:14). Like Nehemiah, when we encounter the challenges that would distract us, we should be able to say: “I am carrying on a great project and cannot go down” (Neh. 6:3).