Tag Archives: Israel

Rejoice! He Ransomed Captive Israel!

I’ve been listening to the new Jeremy Camp Christmas Album, Christmas: God with Us, in my car this past week. He does one of my all time favorite Christmas songs: O Come O Come Emmanuel. Of course he does an awesome rendition. My son was with me in the car the other day when it was playing and he said, “I love the way he sings ‘Israel.'”

On a side note, my son and I were on our way to a Winter Orchestra Concert at his high school when he said this. I wasn’t thrilled about going because I didn’t expect any Christmas music at all. I was pleasantly surprised to find that I enjoyed the whole show and they played some good old traditional Christmas songs, like Silent Night and God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen, as well as two songs from my favorite Charlie Brown Christmas (which I still need to watch this year). The reason was that the orchestra students were told to form small ensembles and to choose whatever they wanted to play. It was such a blessing to see so many of the kids choose some of my favorite Christmas songs.

Anyway, I thought I would share with you Jeremy Camp’s rendition of O Come O Come Emmanuel to get you in the Christmas spirit if you aren’t already. Enjoy, and Merry Christmas!

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What Are We Without God?

I’m still working my way through Ezekiel. It’s a tough book to get through, even though I know that after all the dire prophecies against Israel and the surrounding nations, Ezekiel eventually tells of the future restoration of Israel. But there certainly are a lot of dire prophecies.

As I was reading the other night I came to this passage describing the sins of Israel that led to God’s prophecy of punishment to come:

Every leader in Israel who lives within your walls is bent on murder. Fathers and mothers are treated with contempt. Foreigners are forced to pay for protection. Orphans and widows are wronged and oppressed among you. You despise my holy things and violate my Sabbath days of rest. People accuse others falsely and send them to their death. You are filled with idol worshipers and people who do obscene things. Men sleep with their fathers’ wives and have intercourse with women who are menstruating. Within your walls live men who commit adultery with their neighbors’ wives, who defile their daughters-in-law, or who rape their own sisters. There are hired murderers, loan racketeers, and extortioners everywhere. They never even think of me and my commands, says the Sovereign Lord. Ezekiel 22:6-12 (NLT).

As I read this it occurred to me that mankind hasn’t changed much. The behaviors enumerated in this passage can be found in our news today, or they have become so accepted that they don’t even make the news – unless the person engaging in such behavior is a celebrity. The final verse of this passage gets to the cause of this terrible behavior: it is that many people never even think of God or His commands.

In the New Testament, Paul warns that such behavior will increase “in the last days.”

You should know this, Timothy, that in the last days there will be very difficult times. For people will love only themselves and their money. They will be boastful and proud, scoffing at God, disobedient to their parents, and ungrateful. They will consider nothing sacred. They will be unloving and unforgiving; they will slander others and have no self-control. They will be cruel and hate what is good. They will betray their friends, be reckless, be puffed up with pride, and love pleasure rather than God. 2 Timothy 3:1-4 (NLT).

Thankfully, because of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, the Lord no longer judges people according to their nation, as He did the Israelites. In the Old Testament accounts, even the few righteous who remained in Israel suffered exile along with the wicked. But now each person is responsible for their own decision of whether they will think of God and His commands, or will instead scoff at Him and go their own way. Each person must decide whether they will become what mankind always becomes without God – boastful, proud, unloving and unforgiving, lovers of pleasure rather than God – or will instead choose to follow Christ and seek the indwelling of His Holy Spirit to guide them.

I choose to follow Christ. How about you?

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Psalm 78 – Teaching Our Descendants

 Okay, so this is going to sound kind of strange, but here is how I decided what Psalm to post today. As I was driving back from the frame shop with my son, we passed a number 78 bus. The number 78 just jumped out at me and I decided right then that I was going to post this Psalm, having no idea exactly what it said.

But once I read the Psalm, I realized it fit perfectly with something I’ve been thinking about lately. I’ve been thinking about how important it is for us to teach our children about the grace that comes only from Jesus. We have to teach them that loving God and loving others is the most important thing in this life.

I’ve only posted the first stanza of this Psalm. If you want to read all of Psalm 78, click here.

Psalm 78

A maskil of Asaph.

 1 My people, hear my teaching;
   listen to the words of my mouth.
2 I will open my mouth with a parable;
   I will utter hidden things, things from of old—
3 things we have heard and known,
   things our ancestors have told us.
4 We will not hide them from their descendants;
   we will tell the next generation
the praiseworthy deeds of the LORD,
   his power, and the wonders he has done.
5 He decreed statutes for Jacob
   and established the law in Israel,
which he commanded our ancestors
   to teach their children,
6 so the next generation would know them,
   even the children yet to be born,
   and they in turn would tell their children.
7 Then they would put their trust in God
   and would not forget his deeds
   but would keep his commands.
8 They would not be like their ancestors—
   a stubborn and rebellious generation,
whose hearts were not loyal to God,
   whose spirits were not faithful to him.

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Focus on the Inside

This morning one of my fellow bloggers posted a comment with a question about this quote from Friedrich Nietzsche: “The Christian resolution to find the world ugly and bad has made the world ugly and bad.” She asked, “Are the Christians the only ones who see the ‘ugly and bad’ side of the world?” I posted an answer to her question in a reply comment, but the more I thought about it I realized this was a question that was worthy of a regular blog post.

The question brought up memories of reading Nietzsche in college. I never like his writing. Something else he wrote is that God did not create man, man created God. He was definitely an atheist, and though I didn’t realize why at the time, his writing always made me feel uneasy. I couldn’t avoid reading it  because I was a political science major and it was required. But no one could make me like it.

I disagree with the quote my friend found. There is no Christian resolution to find the world ugly and bad, but rather Christians are resolved to find God holy, good, and merciful. As Christians, we do recognize the sinful nature of mankind, but that is not what makes mankind sinful – or “ugly and bad.” Consider this, if I see the grass as green, that is not what makes it green, even if someone else does not see what color it is at all. There is evil and ugliness in the world. The fact that I and generations of Christians have seen it isn’t what brought it into existence.

I also don’t think Christians are the only ones who see the evil in the world. Even Nietzsche could see that there was something ugly and bad in the world. But Christians are often (though not always) the ones who can see the evil in our own hearts. Non-believers can easily point to others and see their evil and blame the ugly and bad in the world on them. This is essentially what Nietzsche has done in this quote. He saw external ugliness and blamed it on Christians, but never saw the evil in his own heart.

We have no control to change others and are often powerless to do anything about the evil and ugliness outside ourselves. But we can do something about the evil within; we can invite the Holy Spirit to help us overcome the ugly and bad in our own hearts. That is the Christian resolution – to rely on God to help us overcome our own evil.

“God knows people’s hearts.” Acts 15:8a. Only God knows how we have grappled with our own sinful desires and turned to Him for redemption. The prophet Samuel learned this when he thought one of Jesse’s older, taller, stronger sons would be anointed King of Israel.

But the Lord said to Samuel, “Don’t judge by his appearance or height, for I have rejected him. The Lord doesn’t see things the way you see them. People judge by outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” 1 Samuel 16:7.

God had David, the youngest and smallest of Jesse’s sons in mind to be king. He saw David as a man after His own heart. Acts 13:22. Though David was not perfect, he consistently saw his own sinfulness and repented. He was able to look within his own heart and see the evil and ugliness therein; he grappled with his sinful desires and turned to God for redemption.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to grasp Nietzsche’s view and blame evil on everyone else. Rather, I want to be like David and confess the ugliness in my own heart, casting my lot on God for redemption and healing. If every person grasped the Christian resolution to not “worry about a speck in my friend’s eye when I have a log in my own” (Matthew 7:3) and sought the power and wisdom of the Holy Spirit to overcome my own sinful nature, then imagine what a wonderful place the world would be.

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How Much Does God Love Us?

As part of my Bible-in-a-year schedule I’ve been going through the Old Testament again. As I read, I am reminded of the relationship between God and the nation of Israel. One thing that has occurred to me is that Israel in the Old Testament as an archetype of the present day believer. The whole story of Israel’s relationship with God has several important characteristics:

  • Israel becomes God’s own people and they follow God beginning with Abraham and his descendants
  • God watches over Israel by providing for them in Egypt when famine comes to their land
  • Israel is rescued by God and delivered from Egypt after the Egyptians enslave them
  • Israel turns away from God and worships a golden calf of their own making when they feel lost and don’t know what happened to Moses
  • God chastises them through Moses and they repent and return to God
  • Israel complains about their lot in the desert and say they were better off in Egypt
  • God provide them with food and water in the desert, but because of their grumbling their time in the desert is longer
  • God finally brings them into the promised land and they have an abundant life where they worship God
  • Israel enjoys prosperity and wealth in the land the Lord gave to them
  • Israel, under the rule of various kings, strays from God and begins to worship the pagan gods of the nations around them
  • God becomes angry and punishes them with defeat by their enemies and eventually exile from the promised land
  • Israel returns to the worship of the One True God and God brings them back from exile and restores them to the land they were promised

It is a  recurring theme of Israel straying from God in both good times and bad, then God would chastise and punish them, but then they would repent and He would save them. Through it all, Israel never ceased to be His people. He never ceased to love Israel. The prophet Hosea recorded the word of the Lord regarding His anger towards unfaithful Israel and His undying love for her:

Hosea 2

 13 I will punish her for all those times
      when she burned incense to her images of Baal,
   when she put on her earrings and jewels
      and went out to look for her lovers
   but forgot all about me,”
      says the Lord.

The Lord’s Love for Unfaithful Israel

 14 “But then I will win her back once again.
      I will lead her into the desert
      and speak tenderly to her there.
 15 I will return her vineyards to her
      and transform the Valley of Trouble into a gateway of hope.
   She will give herself to me there,
      as she did long ago when she was young,
      when I freed her from her captivity in Egypt.
16 “In that day,” declares the LORD,
       “you will call me ‘my husband';
       you will no longer call me ‘my master. ‘
17 I will remove the names of the Baals from her lips;
       no longer will their names be invoked.

  23 I will plant her for myself in the land;
       I will show my love to the one I called ‘Not my loved one. ‘
       I will say to those called ‘Not my people, ‘ ‘You are my people';
       and they will say, ‘You are my God.’ “

So how is this like the present day believer? There is a point in the life of each believer when we first accept Christ as our Lord and Savior. But as time goes on, we forget the initial joy we had when God saved us from the state we were in. We might encounter trouble and complain that God is not there for us. We turn away from God and seek our own answers, our own gods to worship such as power or money. Then God will somehow show us the error of our ways as those other gods truly fail us and we repent and are restored in our relationship with Him.

At other times, we may be prosperous and living a life that is going better than we ever imagined. We may forget God’s hand in our prosperity and pride may cause us to turn from God and worship our own abilities and strength. But because He loves us and is more concerned about our relationship with Him and our eternal destiny, God may not allow the prosperity to last as a means to bring us back to Him.

For some believers, this may happen several times throughout our lives as we, like Israel, forget what God has done for us and how much He loves us.

But once sealed with the Holy Spirit we will remain God’s chosen ones, we will remain His beloved people. As Paul wrote to the church at Ephesus:

And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory. Ephesians 1:13-14.

Just as He did with Israel in the Old Testament, God will do whatever it takes to bring us back to Him because He loves us even when we are unfaithful, because “if we are faithless, he will remain faithful, for he cannot disown himself.” 2 Timothy 2:13. He has given us His Holy Spirit to teach us and convict us of sin so that we will return to Him when we stray. Israel had only the law to keep them in line with God’s will, but we have the Holy Spirit and the power of His grace to keep us safe and in His will.

Do you know how much God loves you? Do you continue to worship and love Him only in good times and bad? Do you hear His Holy Spirit say to you “you are My people” and will you always respond “You are my God”?

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Genealogy Reveals Importance of Family

I’ve come to the point in my Bible-in-a-year schedule where I am reading 1 Chronicles, and after a brief break of a few Psalms, I will be reading 2 Chronicles. If I was reading the King James Version, this is where I would find all those “begats” everyone skims over. Since I am reading the New Living Translation, instead of “begat” is says “was the father of.” There is still the tendency to skim.

The thought crossed my mind today that I could get caught up in my reading schedule if I just skimmed both books of Chronicles instead of reading each name, most of which I cannot even pronounce. But I’m trying very hard not to do that. I am hoping that by reading it more carefully and thoughtfully I will get more out of it than I would be skimming.

As I’ve been reading, I’ve wondered what is the  purpose of all this genealogy in these two books. It’s not like anyone reading now knows who even a fraction of these people are. But it occurred to me that when they were first written, people did recognize the names and the family relationships. Chronicling the genealogy starting with descendants of Adam would have lent a great deal of credibility to the writing and to other works by the same author.

Genealogy can be very interesting if it is your own family. My sister has spent a lot of time researching our family genealogy, and I have had the benefit of that by her sending me our family tree with ancestors back to the 1500s coming from Finland. Starting with what she had done, I’ve added a few names by researching census and other historical records. When I was in New York recently, I did a little research at Ellis Island to see if any of our ancestors immigrated through there.

Several times in 1 Chronicles, the writer makes reference to the genealogical records, and says that “a search was made in the records.” 1 Chronicles 26:31. Just as my sister, and to a much lesser extent I, have searched various genealogical records to recreate our family tree, the writer of Chronicles made a search of contemporaneous records of family histories.

Maybe the most important thing about 1 and 2 Chronicles is the sense of family history that it imparts. Thinking like that makes it much easier to read each name rather than skim. After all, I wouldn’t skim in reading my own family history, so I shouldn’t skim in reading the family history of Israel either.

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Is Servant Leadership an Oxymoron?

Are you in a leadership position? Do you administer a ministry in your church? Do you manage a group of employees for your job? Do you have kids that you are called to lead and train? If you think about it, most people are in a leadership position of some sort, whether it be large or small. We may not all be CEOs of multi-billion dollar corporations, but most of us are in charge of directing someone else at one time or another.

The Bible provides some great insight for effective leadership. Last night I was reading the story of when King Rehoboam, the son of Solomon, became king of all Israel after Solomon’s death. The people came to King Rehoboam complaining of the heavy burden King Solomon had put on them and asking that he lessen their burden, saying they would always be loyal if he did. Before he answered the people, King Rehoboam sought the advice of his father’s wise elder advisors.

They replied, “If today you will be a servant to these people and serve them and give them a favorable answer, they will always be your servants.” 1 Kings 12:7.

King Rehoboam also sought advice from his younger advisors.

The young men who had grown up with him replied, “Tell these people who have said to you, ‘Your father put a heavy yoke on us, but make our yoke lighter’ -tell them, ‘My little finger is thicker than my father’s waist.  My father laid on you a heavy yoke; I will make it even heavier. My father scourged you with whips; I will scourge you with scorpions.’ ” 1 Kings 12:10-11.

Ultimately, King Rehoboam took the advice of his young friends and did not heed the advise of the wise elders. The result was that the people revolted and he lost all of the kingdom of Israel except Judah. After King David had served the people of Israel so well for so long, “only the tribe of Judah remained loyal to the house of David” after King Rehoboam took the throne. 1 Kings 12:20b.

Servant leadership is a hard concept to grasp. As one in power, it is easy to be filled with the pride of leadership and seek to succeed on the backs of those one leads. This is often seen in industry and business in our society, as CEOs get rich while the pay and benefits afforded to the workers is slashed.

But servant leadership is exactly what Jesus modeled. Although He was God incarnate and clearly their superior, Jesus became the disciples’ servant when He washed their feet at the last supper before His death. See John 13:1-17. Even after His resurrection, Jesus continued to be a servant leader to the disciples. As they hauled in a miraculous catch of fish, He was on the shore building a fire and cooking them breakfast. See John 21:1-14. It seems that the disciples should have been making breakfast for their risen Lord, but Jesus was the kind of servant leader who turned such thoughts on their heads.

When He knew that the disciples had been arguing about who was the greatest, Jesus said something to them that has always intrigued me:

They came to Capernaum. When he was in the house, he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the road?” But they kept quiet because on the way they had argued about who was the greatest.

 Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, “If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all.”

He took a little child and had him stand among them. Taking him in his arms, he said to them, “Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me.” Mark 9:33-37.

To be first, you must be the very last! Not just towards the end of the line, but the very last. You must put others, including children who you teach and lead, ahead of you. This can be a particularly difficult concept to put into practice with kids. My son has complained several times over the years that adults who are supposed to be his teachers or youth leaders at church don’t listen to him or take him seriously. These adults have failed to grasp the concept of servant leadership when it comes to the kids who cross their path on a regular basis.

In the various capacities in which I lead others, both adults and kids, I try to keep this principle of servant leadership in mind. Being a servant leader serves both to encourage others to follow and to allow them to succeed in the endeavor you are asking them to embark on. I don’t always succeed in putting this principle into practice, but because of my servant leader Jesus I am improving in my efforts to do so.

Think about those you lead, and be creative in making that list. Then think about how you have treated them. Have you acted as a servant leader to them, or have you, like Rehoboam, made their burden heavier just because you have the power to do so? If the Creator of all things can humble Himself to be a servant so that He might be a better leader, perhaps His example is worth following.

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