Monday, July 31, 2017

Contrition in the Controversy

Micah 10

What was God looking for as a reaction from His people? If we can discover this we can apply it to our own situation here some 2,800 years later, I think. Well, when God comes in public and righteous anger directly at us what does He want? Contrition.

'Contrition' is defined by the dictionary as 'sorrow for and detestation of sin with a true purpose of amendment.' In that sense, I could have titled this 'Repentance in the Controversy.' Follow me through a few verses of Bible study today; I think it will help you.

I will bear the indignation of the Lord, because I have sinned against him, until he plead my cause, and execute judgment for me: he will bring me forth to the light, and I shall behold his righteousness. (Micah 7.9) 

This passage, in my opinion, is speaking of Israel's ultimate restoration from and vengeance on her enemies. But until that time comes, Israel's attitude must be one of sorrowful contrition, willing to bear whatever punishment the Lord chooses to dish out – even if that punishment comes from the very enemies that she will someday permanently triumph over. Around Micah 7.9 is indicated in context sorrow for her sin, acceptance of the justice of the consequences, patience in enduring her consequences, and faith in the ultimate triumph of God's plan.

Micah 7.7 ¶ Therefore I will look unto the LORD; I will wait for the God of my salvation: my God will hear me. <patience/faith>
8 Rejoice not against me, O mine enemy: when I fall, I shall arise; when I sit in darkness, the LORD shall be a light unto me. <faith>
9 I will bear the indignation of the LORD, because I have sinned against him, until he plead my cause, and execute judgment for me: he will bring me forth to the light, and I shall behold his righteousness. <sorrow/contrition/patience/faith>
10 Then she that is mine enemy shall see it, and shame shall cover her which said unto me, Where is the LORD thy God? mine eyes shall behold her: now shall she be trodden down as the mire of the streets. <faith during the consequences>
11 In the day that thy walls are to be built, in that day shall the decree be far removed.
12 In that day also he shall come even to thee from Assyria, and from the fortified cities, and from the fortress even to the river, and from sea to sea, and from mountain to mountain. <faith during the consequences>
13 Notwithstanding the land shall be desolate because of them that dwell therein, for the fruit of their doings. <contrition/acceptance of the consequences>

We see this same contrition called for repeatedly throughout Scripture when God has a controversy with someone.

Take Cain, for example. And Cain said unto the Lord, My punishment is greater than I can bear. (Genesis 4.13) In other words, Cain said, 'God, You aren't being fair to me. This punishment is not right or just.' The truth is God is always just and Cain needed to accept that, to embrace God's working in his life.

Take Esau, for another example. For ye know how that afterward, when he would have inherited the blessing, he was rejected: for he found no place of repentance, though he sought it carefully with tears. (Hebrews 12.17) He sorrowed for what he had lost, but not for what he had done. The proof is that he did not change. He never knuckled under, so to speak, and allowed that God was right in what God allowed and did in his life.

On the positive side, we note the wonderful example of the church at Corinth. Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit Paul chewed them up one side and down the other. What was their response? Acceptance. Godly sorrow. Repentance. Change. Zeal in the change.

II Corinthians 7. 8 For though I made you sorry with a letter, I do not repent, though I did repent: for I perceive that the same epistle hath made you sorry, though it were but for a season.
9 Now I rejoice, not that ye were made sorry, but that ye sorrowed to repentance: for ye were made sorry after a godly manner, that ye might receive damage by us in nothing.
10 For godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of: but the sorrow of the world worketh death.
11 For behold this selfsame thing, that ye sorrowed after a godly sort, what carefulness it wrought in you, yea, what clearing of yourselves, yea, what indignation, yea, what fear, yea, what vehement desire, yea, what zeal, yea, what revenge! In all things ye have approved yourselves to be clear in this matter.

David is another wonderful example of contrition. He accepted that he was wrong and God was right. And David said unto Nathan, I have sinned against the Lord. (II Samuel 12.13) He sorrowed deeply in a godly way, and came back to the Lord in his heart as well as his actions.

Ps 51. 3 For I acknowledge my transgressions: and my sin is ever before me.

16 For thou desirest not sacrifice; else would I give it: thou delightest not in burnt offering.
17 The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.
18 Do good in thy good pleasure unto Zion: build thou the walls of Jerusalem.
19 Then shalt thou be pleased with the sacrifices of righteousness, with burnt offering and whole burnt offering: then shall they offer bullocks upon thine altar.

Peter, who cursed and swore and rejected His Messiah, came in contrition to full repentance. Peter remembered the word of the Jesus, which said unto him, Before the cock crow, thou shalt deny me thrice. And he went out, and wept bitterly. (Matthew 26.75) How do we know his bitter weeping was more spiritual than Esau's? The rest of Peter's long life of service for Christ tells us.
Saint Peter Repentant, Francisco de Goya, 1825

How did God, through Micah, direct Israel to respond to His work in her life? With contrition and repentance. He called on them to accept their guilt, to be sorry for their crimes, to patiently endure whatever He chose to put them through as a result, and then to change.

…and I suspect that is the same requirement He makes of us.

You know what God is looking for in your life? Contrition.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Three Cures for the Controversy

Micah 9

Correction requires a corrector but what did this corrector, Micah, give as the cure to Israel's sinful condition? In today's post let us look at three in particular.

The first cure is a recognition that God cannot be bought off.

Micah 6.6 Wherewith shall I come before the LORD, and bow myself before the high God? shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves of a year old?
7 Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, or with ten thousands of rivers of oil? shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?

The statement 'every man has his price' is found on over 67,000 web pages. It is a fallacious notion driven by men who themselves have a price, or by men who have experience dealing with men who have a price. Such people seek to get out of trouble, in some form or fashion, by buying their way out.

Agnus Dei, Francisco de Zurbaran, 1640
Centuries before our text God instructed Israel to offer Him numerous sacrifices but contrary to accepted notions of theology that sacrificial system was never about buying God off. It was about continually pointing people toward the ultimate solution to their sin, the suffering Lamb of God. Thus, to bring the symbol (a sacrifice) without an underlying understanding of and belief in that which it symbolized (Jesus) appeased God not at all. God has always been after our heart; He has always been looking for faith.

Not only were sacrifices insufficient to buy God off so was the offer of your own child to the service of the Lord in the Temple. Exodus 13 says that the first-born child or beast belonged to God – for His use. Later this individual service from every family was changed to the Levitical system, but a man was still responsible to buy back, to redeem his eldest from Temple use. But even if you allowed your oldest child to enter Temple service it would not alleviate your personal transgressions. You cannot give God a substitute for what He demands. God insists on specific obedience and you cannot buy Him off with anything else. Just ask Cain.

The second cure I find in Micah is that wondrous verse found in chapter six. He hath showed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?

To do justly is defined by the dictionary as 'to conform.' In the original language it carries the connotation of a legal term. It is similar in aspect to 'controversy' (which relates to a lawsuit) in which a judgment is legally passed and to which it is being adhered. God had a controversy with Israel. He had taken them to court. The judge would, of course, rule in His favor for He was acting in accordance with the Law and Israel was not. Thus, when Israel adjusted her actions to conform with the judge's bench ruling God's reasons for His great controversy with them would be over.

Next, Micah instructs us to love mercy.

So often, in the few areas in which you and I actually conform to God's Law, we look with scorn on those who do not. Yet we ourselves are so prone to wrong in other areas, and thus God is busy exercising His mercy just as much toward us as He is toward those we belittle. We must ourselves do justly – abide by the Judge's ruling – and at the same time extend mercy to those around us who are still struggling with sin against God.

Additionally, Micah tells us to walk humbly.

Perhaps the greatest negative example of this in Scripture is the Pharisees. They gave themselves to study and learn and apply the Law to the nth degree, yet in the resulting pride they missed the entire point. Their actions were correct in the extreme but their heart was faulty to the same extreme. We must absolutely do justly with mercy and humility or else our own heart will be wrong in the midst of our very conformity.

Humility is the prerequisite for the proper exercise of any spiritual activity. Name a spiritual grace. Can it be exercised in pride? Well, it can be but doing so accomplishes nothing actually spiritual in me. To walk through life's journey accompanied by constant humility is absolutely essential to the performance of every scriptural activity.

The third cure we find in Micah is broad, but accurate; we must eliminate sin from our lives. This was and is the ultimate cure to any controversy God has with us. It is a total cure, a complete cure, a permanent cure. So how was such a cure effected in Micah's day? The same way it is in our day: through the coming of Jesus Christ.

Micah 5.1 Now gather thyself in troops, O daughter of troops: he hath laid siege against us: they shall smite the judge of Israel with a rod upon the cheek.
2 But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting.

Jesus always has been and always will be the hope of Israel. In the original language His name means 'saviour', literally, 'Jehovah is salvation.' And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins. (Matthew 1.21) Jesus would save them from the penalty of their sin – hell. Jesus would save them from the power of sin – their old nature. Jesus would thus save them from both sin's condemnation and its curse.

I am currently writing my third book, tentatively entitled, 'Freed From Sin', a phrase we find in Romans 6. Sanctification is both done and being done. God is in the business of making us holy, of forming us into the sinless image of Jesus Christ. And while this applies most personally in our dispensation it also applies to national Israel. Jesus, it was prophesied, shall save his people from their sins. Has He done this yet? In a theological sense, yes, it is finished. In a practical sense, no, it is not yet finished. Israel is not yet formed into the image of Christ. But it will be. When you ask? At His Second Coming.

To us, as Gentile Christians, or to speak with more theological accuracy, as the Church, the Second Coming is almost viewed as the end of everything. However, to the Jews it is the beginning. It is the beginning of them finally becoming the people God intended for them to be all along.

We refer to this time, in our parlance, as the Millennium. Micah much to it as the ultimate cure for the controversy riling the relationship between God and His people. In fact, Micah spends almost one quarter of his book discussing God's ultimate redemption of and restoration of Israel under her Messiah, which, we know, takes place at the Second Coming of Christ as He ushers in the Millennium.

If you are so inclined, take a glance through these and you will see it quite plainly.

Micah 2.12 I will surely assemble, O Jacob, all of thee; I will surely gather the remnant of Israel; I will put them together as the sheep of Bozrah, as the flock in the midst of their fold: they shall make great noise by reason of the multitude of men.
13 The breaker is come up before them: they have broken up, and have passed through the gate, and are gone out by it: and their king shall pass before them, and the LORD on the head of them.
Micah 4.1 But in the last days it shall come to pass, that the mountain of the house of the LORD shall be established in the top of the mountains, and it shall be exalted above the hills; and people shall flow unto it.
2 And many nations shall come, and say, Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, and to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths: for the law shall go forth of Zion, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.
3 And he shall judge among many people, and rebuke strong nations afar off; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks: nation shall not lift up a sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.
4 But they shall sit every man under his vine and under his fig tree; and none shall make them afraid: for the mouth of the LORD of hosts hath spoken it.
5 For all people will walk every one in the name of his god, and we will walk in the name of the LORD our God for ever and ever.
6 In that day, saith the LORD, will I assemble her that halteth, and I will gather her that is driven out, and her that I have afflicted;
7 And I will make her that halted a remnant, and her that was cast far off a strong nation: and the LORD shall reign over them in mount Zion from henceforth, even for ever.
8 ¶ And thou, O tower of the flock, the strong hold of the daughter of Zion, unto thee shall it come, even the first dominion; the kingdom shall come to the daughter of Jerusalem.

Micah 4.11–13
11 Now also many nations are gathered against thee, That say, Let her be defiled, and let our eye look upon Zion.
12 But they know not the thoughts of the LORD, Neither understand they his counsel: For he shall gather them as the sheaves into the floor.
13 Arise and thresh, O daughter of Zion: For I will make thine horn iron, and I will make thy hoofs brass: And thou shalt beat in pieces many people: And I will consecrate their gain unto the LORD, And their substance unto the Lord of the whole earth.

Micah 5.3–15
3 Therefore will he give them up, Until the time that she which travaileth hath brought forth: Then the remnant of his brethren shall return unto the children of Israel.
4 And he shall stand and feed in the strength of the LORD, In the majesty of the name of the LORD his God; And they shall abide: For now shall he be great unto the ends of the earth.
5 And this man shall be the peace, When the Assyrian shall come into our land: And when he shall tread in our palaces, Then shall we raise against him seven shepherds, And eight principal men.
6 And they shall waste the land of Assyria with the sword, And the land of Nimrod in the entrances thereof: Thus shall he deliver us from the Assyrian, When he cometh into our land, And when he treadeth within our borders.
7 And the remnant of Jacob shall be in the midst of many people As a dew from the LORD, As the showers upon the grass, That tarrieth not for man, Nor waiteth for the sons of men.
8 And the remnant of Jacob shall be among the Gentiles in the midst of many people As a lion among the beasts of the forest, As a young lion among the flocks of sheep: Who, if he go through, both treadeth down, and teareth in pieces, And none can deliver.
9 Thine hand shall be lifted up upon thine adversaries, And all thine enemies shall be cut off.
10 And it shall come to pass in that day, saith the LORD, That I will cut off thy horses out of the midst of thee, And I will destroy thy chariots:
11 And I will cut off the cities of thy land, And throw down all thy strong holds:
12 And I will cut off witchcrafts out of thine hand; And thou shalt have no more soothsayers:
13 Thy graven images also will I cut off, And thy standing images out of the midst of thee; And thou shalt no more worship the work of thine hands.
14 And I will pluck up thy groves out of the midst of thee: So will I destroy thy cities.
15 And I will execute vengeance in anger and fury upon the heathen, Such as they have not heard.

With respect, I do not care who you are, I do not care where you live, I do not care when you live. Your problem and my problem is the same – sin. Judgment for that sin is coming. And the solution is the same as it has ever been, both personal and corporate. The cure is Christ. We must tell men of Him. We must, with everything we have and in the power of the Spirit, yield ourselves until He is formed in us.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Four Steps to Correcting the Controversy

Micah 8

For several months, we have examined the Lord's controversy with His people as revealed in Micah. Surely Micah has brought, not just a message of Israel's poor condition, but the means to cure that condition. He did, and I think as you will see we may glean some application to our own day and time in this as well.

What was required to cure Israel's controversy with the Lord? A bold, Spirit-filled preacher. But truly I am full of power by the spirit of the Lord, and of judgment, and of might, to declare unto Jacob his transgression, and to Israel his sin. (Micah 3.8) This was not arrogance. This was a divinely inspired statement by God of Micah's vital role in making it possible for Israel to come back to her God.

Micah lived in a generation much like our own, indeed like every human generation. We do not like to be told that we are wrong. We do not like to be wrong because it messes with our peace of mind. Humanity rejects living the unreconciled life. What I am doing is thus right, and if what I am doing now I used to think was wrong I change how I think about it.

Very few people live lives they think are wrong. Many, nay, most people live lives full of wrong but very few will admit it. They must find and have found a way to justify that wrong, to rationalize it as being no longer wrong but rather right. We do not like our own conscience or mind accusing us of living or being wrong so we either change to be right or change our concept of right. Statements such as, 'I have forgiven myself,' or, 'I have learned to accept myself,' or, 'Well, I have grown since then' are all indicators of this internal process of self-justification.

Not only is our peace of mind wrapped up in this concept of our own righteousness so is our pride as well. Thus – because humanity rejects living the unreconciled life and is filled with pride – humanity largely rejects those who constantly inform them of their own error.
Compounding this error is our still present hunger for something mystical, something spiritual so long as it does not bring conviction. This is why Paul says people will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears. (II Timothy 4.3) Micah said the same thing essentially. If a man walking in the spirit and falsehood do lie, saying, I will prophesy unto thee of wine and of strong drink; he shall even be the prophet of this people. (Micah 2.11)

Because of this constant human failing there is great pressure on preachers of every generation to avoid controversial subjects, to avoid confronting people with their error. Men who preach and teach things that primarily make others feel good about themselves heap up plaudits, praises, and crowds, while the men who preach and teach the opposite often find themselves living a misunderstood, lonely, criticized existence. Take a walk through the Old Testament prophets and this is exactly what you will find. Not coincidentally, you will find the same thing true amongst modern-day prophets, the genuine men of God who vigorously denounce sin and resist the spirit of the age.

Jesus Himself knew just a bit about individual and corporate rejection of His message against sin. For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved. (John 3.20)

Let me illustrate this with jewelry. If a diamond ring is flawed the easiest solution is to say
it is not flawed, and to run with a crowd of other people who say it is not flawed. Further, if I can find a gemologist to tell me it is not flawed I feel even better. How do I begin to solve this problem? I need someone who is bold enough and firm enough to tell me emphatically and without apology that it is flawed. To mix metaphors, we need someone, anyone, even a little child to loudly pipe up that the emperor indeed has no clothes.

This boldness in a preacher is necessary, but it is not in and of itself enough. People who boldly tell you your error are often ignored, laughed at, derided, and avoided. Think of the last guy you saw wearing a sandwich board sign that said, 'The end is near!' He was bold but he was not accomplishing much.

In order for boldness in delivering God's message to be effective it must be delivered in the power of the Holy Spirit. And when he is come, he will reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment. (John 16.8) When I preach it is not my volume, my logic, my emotion, or the force of my personality that convicts men; it is the Holy Spirit. Yes, He uses boldness as a tool in so doing, but it is still done in, with, and through Him.

These thoughts lead me to four simple applications for us today.

First, embrace conviction. Seek it. When the Lord graciously brings it do not bristle, do not seek to justify yourself. Draw it deep into yourself, learn from it, and thank God that He is at work in your life.

Second, do not fence your preacher in. If you do not understand something he preaches, by all means, go and ask him to explain it. If you do not think he has adequately made his case from Scripture, and it is important, then respectfully tell him so. But do not quarrel with him. Do not quarrel with him externally around other people; do not quarrel with him internally, in the privacy of your own mind, simply because a particular sermon made you feel badly. If he makes you feel badly on occasion the thing to do is to check your actions and thinking against Scripture, but do not quarrel with the preacher.

People produce great errors in themselves when they put their preachers into a box. Do not demand that he avoid certain topics. Do not complain that his delivery is too loud or too soft, that it is too humorous or too boring, that it is too short or too long. Keep him free to roam where the Lord leads him.

As well, beware the preacher that never tells you something you do not like. If he is always pleasing, always encouraging, always comforting, always uplifting, always fascinating you with new things there is danger there. Often, he should step on your toes. Every once in a while, he should skin your hide or else he is not doing his job. And if he fails at his job you and he will both be the poorer for it.

In line with this, third, recognize the primacy of preaching. This is how God has chosen to work in and on men. (I Corinthians 1.21) Preaching must always and ever have the central place in the church service.

Lastly, pray for God to send our world more bold, Spirit-filled preachers. Ezekiel said it this way:

Ezekiel 22.23 And the word of the LORD came unto me, saying,
24 Son of man, say unto her, Thou art the land that is not cleansed, nor rained upon in the day of indignation.
25 There is a conspiracy of her prophets in the midst thereof, like a roaring lion ravening the prey; they have devoured souls; they have taken the treasure and precious things; they have made her many widows in the midst thereof.
26 Her priests have violated my law, and have profaned mine holy things: they have put no difference between the holy and profane, neither have they shewed difference between the unclean and the clean, and have hid their eyes from my sabbaths, and I am profaned among them.
27 Her princes in the midst thereof are like wolves ravening the prey, to shed blood, and to destroy souls, to get dishonest gain.
28 And her prophets have daubed them with untempered morter, seeing vanity, and divining lies unto them, saying, Thus saith the Lord GOD, when the LORD hath not spoken.
29 The people of the land have used oppression, and exercised robbery, and have vexed the poor and needy: yea, they have oppressed the stranger wrongfully.
30 And I sought for a man among them, that should make up the hedge, and stand in the gap before me for the land, that I should not destroy it: but I found none.
31 Therefore have I poured out mine indignation upon them; I have consumed them with the fire of my wrath: their own way have I recompensed upon their heads, saith the Lord GOD.

When we are in the weeds, personally or corporately, and God raises up one of His men to tell us as much, if we will listen, we are well on our way to correcting the problem.

Do not bristle at this; embrace it.

Monday, July 10, 2017

The Five Consequences of the Controversy

Micah 7

You and I know enough about God to know that if we continuously violate His Law, reject His offer of mercy, and refuse to repent there will be consequences. Understanding this it should not surprise us, then, to discover that of the 105 verses in Micah nearly one third of them deal directly what those consequences will be. In today's post, we are not going to look at all thirty of those but we will examine the primary ones.

The first consequence of disobeying God Micah tells us is perplexity. The best of them is as a brier: the most upright is sharper than a thorn hedge: the day of thy watchmen and thy visitation cometh; now shall be their perplexity. (Micah 7.4)

The idea of this term 'perplexity' is revealed somewhat in the verse itself. It means to be confused by an interwoven complex situation. Think of someone bringing you a tangled-up ball of yarn and asking you to unravel it all. How did it get into such a state? How can it be fixed? Where do you even start?

When sin begins it does so nice and easy. In fact, many people sin precisely because it is the choice of least resistance. As sin progresses, however, it inevitably involves deceit, and with deceit comes perplexity.

Some years ago, I read a biography of the man who popularized the term 'rock and roll.' He was a northeastern Ohio DJ in the 1950s and is now a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio. As his life unfolds in those pages his increasing attachment to alcohol and adultery combined with constant schemes to enrich himself complicate his life tremendously. His family relationships become an intricate puzzle he cannot solve. His financial structure becomes a convoluted mess. His career swerves back and forth, bouncing between the margins of huge success and miserable failure. In the end, he lost everything he had in the Payola scandal, and drank himself to death at the age of forty-three. Life had grown too perplexing for him to handle, and that perplexity was a direct result of sin.

The second consequence we see in Micah is ill health. Therefore also I will make thee sick in smiting thee, in making thee desolate because of thy sins. (Micah 6.13)

In the New Testament, our Saviour makes it crystal clear that physical defects or frailty are not always a consequence of sin. But just because sickness is not always a result of sin does not mean that it never is. Ill health is often the naturally produced consequence of sinful choices. Read enough biographies of rock and roll artists and this becomes painfully clear. For that matter, just reach out to the lost world in ministry, especially to those in the second half of life and you will see it just as plainly. Additionally, ill health can on occasion be not just a consequence, but a direct judgment from God as well. (Numbers 12.10)

The third consequence of the controversy was financial trouble.
Micah 6.14 Thou shalt eat, but not be satisfied; and thy casting down shall be in the midst of thee; and thou shalt take hold, but shalt not deliver; and that which thou deliverest will I give up to the sword.
15 Thou shalt sow, but thou shalt not reap; thou shalt tread the olives, but thou shalt not anoint thee with oil; and sweet wine, but shalt not drink wine.

Again, as with health trouble, financial difficulties are not always a direct indication of sin in a person's life, but they certainly can be. Sin is often expensive, often addicting, and often financially irresponsible at the very least. String the commission of sin over a couple of decades, sometimes even less, and the resulting financial pressure can be quite severe. Not only that, but sometimes God directly places a curse on your finances as a result of disobedience. Ye have sown much, and bring in little; ye eat, but ye have not enough; ye drink, but ye are not filled with drink; ye clothe you, but there is none warm; and he that earneth wages earneth wages to put it into a bag with holes. (Haggai 1.6)

The fourth consequence is in my mind worse than the first three put together. It is this awful fact: the absence of the presence of God.

Micah 3.4 Then shall they cry unto the LORD, but he will not hear them: he will even hide his face from them at that time, as they have behaved themselves ill in their doings.
6 Therefore night shall be unto you, that ye shall not have a vision; and it shall be dark unto you, that ye shall not divine; and the sun shall go down over the prophets, and the day shall be dark over them.
7 Then shall the seers be ashamed, and the diviners confounded: yea, they shall all cover their lips; for there is no answer of God.

God is omni-present. Additionally, He loves us immeasurably and longs for us to be with Him. For Him to make Himself absent in our lives takes a conscience choice on His part to be silent, and on our part to give Him cause to be silent. We make that choice when we choose to sin. If I regard iniquity in my heart the Lord will not hear me. (Psalm 66.18) There may not be a sadder verse in all the Bible than that one.

This great silence, however, is not limited to His refusal to listen to us when we cultivate sin. It can rise to the level of a refusal to speak to us, to admonish us. I am convinced that the lack of Holy Spirit conviction in a person's life is in and of itself a great judgment from God. Behold, the days come, saith the Lord God, that I will send a famine in the land, not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord. (Amos 8.11)

I think we see this societally in many Muslim countries, for example. They hate God and have set themselves against Him. Consequently, He removes almost all of the mercy toward them that is a genuine sense of Himself and His Son, Jesus Christ. The corresponding absence of belief on a national level is in and of itself a judgment from God. And this can certainly be applied on an individually personal level as well.

The fifth consequence of we find in Micah is national disaster.

Micah 1.6 Therefore I will make Samaria as an heap of the field, and as plantings of a vineyard: and I will pour down the stones thereof into the valley, and I will discover the foundations thereof.
7 And all the graven images thereof shall be beaten to pieces, and all the hires thereof shall be burned with the fire, and all the idols thereof will I lay desolate: for she gathered it of the hire of an harlot, and they shall return to the hire of an harlot.
8 ¶ Therefore I will wail and howl, I will go stripped and naked: I will make a wailing like the dragons, and mourning as the owls.
9 For her wound is incurable; for it is come unto Judah; he is come unto the gate of my people, even to Jerusalem.

One of the great themes in Scripture is God's never-ending quest to call out a people for Himself. He sought this in Adam's children, in Seth's children, in Noah's children, in Abraham's children, and in Jacob's children. At one point, He even offered to Moses the opportunity to birth his own nation to be God's chosen people. This fact is one of the primary reasons I am a dispensationalist – God is not done with Israel yet, He is not finished working with His people.

In this age, the New Testament age, so to speak, the church is His people. But in the ages to come it will be Israel. It was Israel. It is now the Church. It will be Israel again. Consequently, God repeatedly deals with Israel as an entity or a people all through the Old Testament, into the Gospels, through the Epistles, culminating in Revelation. This must be so for as we saw last time while the leaders bear an extra level of responsibility everybody bears some. There must, then, be a corporate consequence not just an individual consequence.

In Israel's case, this national disaster took the form of captivity.

Micah 4.9 Now why dost thou cry out aloud? is there no king in thee? is thy counsellor perished? for pangs have taken thee as a woman in travail.
10 Be in pain, and labour to bring forth, O daughter of Zion, like a woman in travail: for now shalt thou go forth out of the city, and thou shalt dwell in the field, and thou shalt go even to Babylon; there shalt thou be delivered; there the LORD shall redeem thee from the hand of thine enemies.

Freedom is the result of obedience. I will walk at liberty: for I seek thy precepts. (Psalm 119.45) I attended Hyles-Anderson College, graduating in 1995. During those years if I accumulated too many demerits in a semester I was campused, which simply meant I was not allowed off campus for any purpose that was not work related or ministry related. Nor was I allowed to date my girlfriend. This lasted for three weeks. Why? Well, I accumulated demerits because I broke rules and when I did so the result was a loss of freedom.

This is true individually. We all know entirely too many people who are bound by addiction, chained by links forged in the furnace of rebellion and deceit.

It is also true nationally. When a people abandon their moral integrity the only thing that disciplines them, or restrains them is fear. Consequently, the government must get bigger and bigger, growing ever more intrusive in order to instill that fear. As morality decreases government grows and as government grows freedom disappears. Some of you who are died in the wool big-government types might want to go back and re-read those last couple of sentences. So should some of you libertarians. The problem in the United States is not big government. Big government is the result of the problem. The problem is a metastasizing abandonment of corporate public morality.

This is why so many of our more enlightened English and American forefathers have explicitly linked society's freedom to a church-going, Bible-reading people. Without morality, you cannot have freedom. You end up with no liberty, in captivity, enslaved personally to sin or nationally to a tyrannical government.

Dr. Bob Jones, Sr.
When you stir up a controversy with God there is always a consequence. As Bob Jones, Sr. said years ago, 'Sin will take you further than you want to go; it will cost you more than you want to pay; it will keep you longer than you want to stay.'

This is true of you and me. It is true of my marriage and my family. It is true of the church I lead. It is true of the larger religious movement in which I participate. It is also true of the city in which I labor, and the state that surrounds it. It is true as well of our country and of our world. We cannot mess with God, refuse to get right when He extends His hand in mercy, and expect to get away with it. Period.

There will be consequences.

Monday, July 3, 2017

Blame’s Four Applications

Micah 6

Welcome to our walk through the little-known book of Micah. The basic thrust of the book is that God is upset with His people, Israel, as a result of their sin, and so He sends Micah to preach to them of warning and judgment.

Last time we examined who bore the responsibility for Israel's sinful condition and arrived at three answers – every Jew corporately, bad Jews individually, but especially Israel's political and religious leadership. Having carefully apportioned the blame, let us take a few moments today to draw some applications for us in 21st century American Christianity.

First, we are all of us somewhat responsible for the spiritual condition of our city and nation.

Naturally, we would prefer to pretend this is not true, yet the case for corporate blame is laid out clearly in Scripture and we cannot avoid it. Conversely, when we stop trying to shift the blame onto the really (we think) guilty people around us, and accept the portion of the liability that is our due it adjusts our behavior. It forces us to begin to take seriously our responsibility to exercise as much influence for right as we possibly can.

I am responsible to live right. I am responsible to teach those within my influence to live right and to influence others to live right. I am responsible for praying for the greater spiritual needs of our country, rather than isolating myself and caring about only what I can see in my immediate vicinity. I am responsible to confess the sins of my nation. I must needs exercise my right and duty to vote in view of Proverbs 14.34. I must be willing to become engaged with the problems in my community. I cannot bury my head in the sand and say, 'Well, I just don't pay much attention to the news. I have no interest in politics.' I had better take an interest; I am partially responsible for it whether I like it or not.

Second, let me counsel those of you who are younger, those of you who are itching for your chance at the tiller, those of you want to lead - don't desire the trappings of leadership, rather desire the responsibility of it.

In my formative years of ministry preparation, I positively itched to lead a church of my own. I wanted to tell other people what to do. I wanted an office. I could see my name on the sign out front, and the respect that comes with the position of pastor. I dreamed of the day when overflowing crowds would come to hear me preach.

Twenty years ago, this summer that dream became a reality. Curiously enough, while the intervening two decades have not diminished my desire for ministry they have radically altered my perspective on it. Things are re-arranged. Now I find myself simply wanting to serve my people. I want to prepare them to face tomorrow. I want to strengthen their faith and their walk with God. I want to help them raise their children to love and serve God. I want to teach them the good and the right way. I want to influence as many people as I can to believe and practice scriptural truth. I want to edify those around me in the faith, and I want to advance the kingdom of God. Most of all, I want my life to be a platform from which God displays Himself.

What kept me awake at night twenty years ago was my dreams of ministerial success. What keeps me awake now is my fear for the sheep on the fringes of my flock who like to wander away from the Shepherd, a passionate desire for my children to grow up to love and serve God, and my concern for the increasingly carnal direction of the American Christianity I love. I used to dream of opportunity; now I eat, sleep, and breathe responsibility. I would have been well advised to have entertained more of this latter perspective in my former days.

Third, as a leader, if I don't like what I see in my group then I had better look in the mirror. I set the agenda and the pace. I possess the bully pulpit, so to speak. The flaws I so casually dismiss in myself are much harder to dismiss when they show up as wider gaps in the organization for which I am responsible. The princes, prophets, and priests in Israel – her leadership – were directly assigned the blame for the bad condition in which God found her. Why? Because that political and spiritual leadership had caused, provoked, or allowed that bad condition to flourish. As a leader, I must understand the short answer to the question, 'Who's fault is it?' is almost always, 'Mine.'

Fourth, as followers, it is absolutely critical that we ensure our leaders are true to God's Word.

When I watch pastors routinely butcher scriptural context, display a towering ego, or embrace a carnal approach to ministry I wonder why no one in the church stands up and says, 'Hey! Hold on a cotton-picking minute here. This isn't right.'

Perhaps the follower doesn't know any better, but for a long time Christian that's a lousy excuse. Maturity involves a depth of understanding of Biblical doctrine and practice that can discern error.

Perhaps the follower doesn't care. If that's the case the church is in sad shape indeed. Apathy never produces sound Christianity.

Perhaps the follower saw something concerning but did not wish to risk their position, their power, or their reputation. Such is nothing but a lack of faith in the God who alone determines our opportunities and advancement.

Perhaps the follower was hoodwinked by the personality of the leader. Yet even here there is responsibility for Scripture is clear that I am to follow my church's leadership based upon their doctrinal adherence to Scripture combined with a life that genuinely lives it out. I cannot plead the force of a persuasive personality as an excuse. I'm not supposed to follow personality, but rather righteousness.

Who is responsible for the condition of my church, my city, and my country? I am. Those directly involved in doing good and evil are. And the leadership is.

…which means I've simply got to stop waiting for someone else to do something. I'm responsible. It's my job. I must act.