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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The Presence of God

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Exodus 33:14-15 (NIV) The LORD replied, “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.”  Then Moses said to him, “If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here.

The motif of the presence of God is pervasive in the scriptures. Although God is everywhere, He chooses to localize his manifest presence among His people. Before the Fall, God dealt directly with His people. There were no intermediaries such as priests, altars, sacrifices or a temple. In the Garden of Eden, God came to Adam and Eve in the “cool of the day” (Gen. 3:8).

During the time of the exodus, God instructed Moses to make the Ark of the Covenant—a gold-coated wooden box where the two tablets of the Ten Commandments were kept (Exodus 25:10ff). The covenant Box was always kept in the holiest section of the sanctuary and its access was limited to a few prescribed priests.  It signified the presence of God in the midst of His people.

In the New Covenant, Jesus is the Immanuel—God in our midst. Even when Jesus returned to heaven, He sent us the Holy Spirit who dwells in the life of every believer. Again, although God is omnipresent, He manifests His presence among His people.

When Christ returns, we the believers shall be with Him in the New City. Apostle John saw a vision of the New Jerusalem. What is remarkable in John’s vision is that there is no “temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple” (Rev. 21:22). Indeed as someone has put it, “all of life—and, principally, the gospel life—is about being in God’s relational presence.”  We all should long to be in God’s presence both now and in the life to come.

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 “What” of Worship

1 Chronicles 16:8-11 (NIV)

Give praise to the Lord, proclaim his name;
make known among the nations what he has done.
Sing to him, sing praise to him;
tell of all his wonderful acts.
10 Glory in his holy name;
let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice.
11 Look to the Lord and his strength;
seek his face always.

Delight…

If you were asked to define what worship is, what would you say? Would you define it in emotional terms by how you feel about God? Would you approach it academically by avoiding the emotional and subjective undertones?  Warren Wiersbe defines worship as “the believer’s response of all that they are—mind, emotions, will, body—to what God is and says and does.” The Word of God commands us to love Him with all of our heart, soul, strength and mind (Luke 10:27). Worship is all about delighting in all that God is and does.

Reverence…

Worship is reverential by nature because we acknowledge that the One we worship is greater than everything else—and He is therefore worthy to be loved, feared and obeyed. The other reason why true worship must be characterized by awe is that although God has revealed Himself to us, we can never fully comprehend Him. The more we draw closer to Him the more we desire to know more about Him.

Witness…

Worship also involves telling of God’s greatness and His deeds to the nations; to those who are still estranged from Him. When we truly worship God we radiate His glory to the world. The Bible says we are “we are to God the pleasing aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing.”  For some the aroma will be life-giving while for others it will be repugnant.  Although we cannot control the results of our Christian witness, our responsibility is to make the greatness of our God known.

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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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What are You Chasing?

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1 Timothy 6:11-12 (NIV) But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses.

Many of us would agree that life is busy. We spend most of it chasing after so many things. Someone will tell you that “I am chasing this deal”, “this job”, or even “this person.”  People chase after money or material things (which the Bible calls greed). Others chase after pleasure (sex, orgies), otherwise called lust. Others are busy chasing after power and fame is all its forms.

Paul’s charge to Timothy is, therefore, a wakeup call for all of us. The passage uses a couple of strong verbs that are worth noting. Let’s have a look at them:

Flee

To “flee” means to run away.  It is more than simply saying “avoid, turn way, or walk away from.” What are we supposed to flee from? Verses 3-10 give us an idea of what Timothy is being warned against.  We are to flee from false spirituality. And here are some of the features of false spirituality:

  • It is inconsistent with the teachings of Jesus Christ and it does not promote godliness (righteousness) (verse 3)
  • It promotes controversies (verse 4).
  • It focuses on the material/worldly things. They make you want more of this world. False spirituality makes us feel comfortable living in this world (verses 4-10).

But Christian discipleship and formation is radical. It calls for serious discipline, especially in this generation that does not take sin seriously. The modern spiritualties give Christian disciplines lip service. They promote religious experiences that are void of Godliness. But whole hearted followers of Jesus Christ are to free from what the rest of the world is pursuing.

Pursue

This is another strong verb. To “pursue” means to chase, follow, or persistently seek. We are called to pursue Christian virtues of righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness. One of the spiritual pitfalls of today is that we do not take spiritual disciplines seriously. Authentic Christian experience is a dynamic cooperation with God. God is fully involved in your formation. But you are also fully responsible for your Christian formation. We “work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose” (1 Timothy 6:2:12-13 – NIV).

Fight

The Christian experience is warfare, only that the fight is “a good fight.” It is a fight of faith. It is a spiritual fight. We fight against whatever would hinder us from being what God wants us to be. We have to fight to pray, we have to fight in order to live by the truth, and we have to fight to act kindly in a cruel world. The good news is that it is a fight we are sure of winning because we are not fighting in our own power but by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Take Hold

Lastly, the last verb is “take hold.” It means to grasp; to seize; to capture. We are to “Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses.” Our salvation is eternally secure but that is not a license for reckless living. Having a comprehensive motor insurance cover for your vehicle is not a license for reckless driving. We guard our salvation, not because we fear losing it but because it is precious.

A Solemn Charge

1 Timothy 6:13-16. In the sight of God, who gives life to everything, and of Christ Jesus, who while testifying before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, I charge you to keep this command without spot or blame until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, which God will bring about in his own time—God, the blessed and only Ruler, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone is immortal and who lives in unapproachable light, whom no one has seen or can see. To him be honor and might forever. Amen.

These are not just nice word that Paul is saying to Timothy; this is a solemn charge to Timothy and all of us. How seriously do you take your life, calling and ministry? God takes you and your calling seriously. Is what you are chasing worth your life? As someone put it, “Is what you are living for worth dying for?”