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Jeroboam's Fear

Thursday, April 18, 2019

 

If there is anything I have learned in life, it is this:  When we are guided by our fears, we bring the thing we fear upon ourselves.  Like a girl in a horror movie, the harder we run from something, the more likely we are to find ourselves face-to-face with it.  This happens all the time, with the insecure boyfriend who drives his girlfriend off by being too clingy, with the secretary who lies because she’s afraid of losing her job but gets fired for lying, and with the older man who is worried about not having enough to retire on, puts his nest egg in a rash investment, and loses it all.  Love of money may be the root of all evil, but fear isn’t far behind.

Over and over again, the Bible bears witness to the destructive irony of fear.  One of the foremost examples of this is the first king of divided Israel, Jeroboam.  In 1 Kings 11:37-38, he receives a promise similar to the one that David received.  God would make Jeroboam king, and if he stayed faithful to God, his descendants would become an enduring line of kings after him.

In 1 Kings 12:20, the first part of the promise is fulfilled.  Jeroboam does indeed become king over Israel.  However, rather than being guided by faith, he chooses instead to be guided by fear. 

We see him make this fateful decision in 1 Kings 12:26-30.  Jeroboam starts worrying that if the people go to Jerusalem to worship, eventually they will go back to the Judahite king Rehoboam and kill Jeroboam.  As a result, Jeroboam sets up alternative worship centers in Dan and Bethel and gives the Israelites two golden calves to be their gods.

On one level, this works.  Jeroboam’s idolatry does ensnare the people.  They faithfully worship at Dan and Bethel until God destroys Israel for her unfaithfulness.  Other than a remnant, the Israelites never worship at Jerusalem again.

However, Jeroboam’s apostasy spells disaster for his house.  In 1 Kings 14:8-11, Ahijah the prophet predicts that because of his sin, his family will be destroyed. In 1 Kings 15:29, this dire prophecy is fulfilled.  If Jeroboam had been faithful, his house would have endured for centuries despite his concerns.  However, because he listened to his fears, his line was destroyed.

Today, the devil frequently attempts to use fear to keep us from serving God.  He wants to scare us into disobedience like he scared Jeroboam.  However, we must remember that God is faithful.  He will keep His promises to us, no matter how unlikely that seems.

Instead, true danger lies in the false security of following our fears.  Whatever it is that we think we have to protect by disobeying God will surely be lost to us.  Whatever sorrow we hope to avoid through sin, we will surely encounter.  When we fear, we shrink back to destruction.  Only by boldly entrusting ourselves to God will we be safe.

Parenting and Deuteronomy 6:5

Friday, April 12, 2019

 

I don’t have a teaching assignment on Sundays this quarter, so I’ve been attending a class on parenting, taught by one of our elders.  Several times, he’s asked the question, “What is the most important thing you can do as a parent?”  I think that’s a great question, and there are several solidly Biblical answers that commend themselves.  Bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.  Pray.  And so forth.

However, about the time we began the Lord’s Supper last Sunday, my brain kicked out a different response (apparently, it takes about 45 minutes to warm up).  Deuteronomy 6:5 is the answer, it decided.  The most important thing you can do as a parent is to love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.

This is hardly an obscure text.  It is part of the Shema, the holiest writing of Judaism.  It is identified by Jesus as the greatest commandment.  I’ve certainly recognized it as the center of Christianity, but it had not occurred to me to regard it as the center of Christian parenting.

However, I think that’s the point that Moses is making in context.  Generally, I’ve read the rest of the Shema (Deuteronomy 6:6-9) as sub-commandments of the first commandment.  You shall teach.  You shall talk.  You shall write.  You shall bind.

I don’t think that’s wrong, exactly, but I don’t think it’s the point.  Instead, I think what Moses is saying is that all of those other things are consequences of the first commandment.  If you love the Lord your God as you should, you will naturally find yourself teaching and talking and writing and binding. 

This certainly aligns with my own experience.  My father talked with me about the Bible constantly.  The last time I ever saw his face, we talked about the Bible.  The last time I ever heard his voice, we talked about the Bible. 

This wasn’t because my dad was intentionally Deuteronomy 6:7-ing as hard as he could.  These conversations continued long after I was a grown man with a household of my own.  Instead, it was simply because he loved the Bible and would talk Bible with anybody who would hold still long enough, especially one of his relatives.  Without much intention to fulfill Deuteronomy 6:7, he did so impressively.  That was who he was.

So too with Deuteronomy 6:9.  When I look around the main room of my home, I see easily half a dozen quotations from the Bible or various hymns.  The most prominent piece of art in the whole house reads, “Love is kind.”  That’s not because my wife deliberately used Deuteronomy 6:9 as her decorating guide.  It’s because she chose decorations that reflect her values, indeed, decorations that reflect her own love for God and His word.

It’s certainly good for parents to think about specific ways that they can become better.  I myself have already had to confront several of my shortcomings as a father, and we’re only two weeks into the quarter!  However, as we think about all of those other things, we shouldn’t forget the one necessary thing.  If we love God with everything we have, everything else about our lives will fall into place.

The Bible and the Poverty Problem

Thursday, April 11, 2019

In 2003, social scientists Isabell Sawhill and Ron Haskins noticed three striking differences between poor people in America and the nonpoor.  First, poor people generally hadn’t completed high school; the nonpoor had.  Second, nonpoor people kept a steady job; poor people didn’t.  Third, nonpoor people got married before having children; poor people had children before getting married.

From their data, Sawhill and Haskins concluded that young Americans who 1) finished high school, 2) got a job, and 3) got married before having children had only a 2 percent chance of falling into poverty.  Since that time, conservatives as varied as Ben Sasse and Ben Shapiro have adopted this solution as their own.

However, the single most elegant means of promoting this program isn’t found in a report from a Washington thinktank or a political candidate’s platform.  Instead, it is found in Scripture.  As Moses observes in Deuteronomy 10:13, the commandments of God are for our good.  The godly path is the wise path, and it generally will lead to a more prosperous life.

Some might have trouble locating “Finish high school,” in the Bible.  My father didn’t.  If he quoted Ecclesiastes 9:10 to me about my schoolwork once, he quoted it a hundred times!   He understood that discipline and hard work were essential not only to education, but everywhere in life.

The others are more obvious.  1 Timothy 5:8 was very much on my mind when I refused to marry my wife until I found a job (much to her annoyance, actually).  I was not about to establish a household until I could provide for it.  Sure, I was providing for it at the rate of $23,500 a year (in 2005), but that was a whole lot better than providing for it at the rate of zero!

Similarly, all Christians are aware of Hebrews 13:4.  Young disciples who honor the marriage bed and shun sexual immorality because of the obvious spiritual dangers will consequently also avoid the less obvious economic dangers.  Single motherhood is usually a one-way ticket to poverty (and a lot of other problems besides), but the great majority of women who don’t sin sexually don’t end up as single mothers.  If the Christian husband will remain committed to his wife, that percentage goes up to about 99.9 percent.

God’s way works.  It doesn’t work because He upends bags of money on you when you pray for riches, Joel Osteen and Creflo Dollar to the contrary.  It works because the Biblical values of self-discipline, hard work, and sexual continence are economically useful values.  Nearly always, people who practice these things will rise. 

What’s more, you don’t have to have read the sociological studies and thought deeply about the long-term consequences of your actions to benefit.  God has already done the thinking for you.  Obey Him, and it will be well with you. 

Of course, all of the above is a “nearly always”.  Just as there are exceptions to nearly every proverb in the book of Proverbs, there are exceptions to this.  There are godly people who find themselves in poverty through circumstances beyond their control, serious health problems being the chief of these.  However, those things are the exception, not the rule, and we should not ignore the rule because of the exceptions.

Sadly, the same forces that have struck at religion in America also have attacked this simple engine for prosperity.  The more people deviate from God’s plan for work and the family, the worse they fare economically too.  The dimensions of this national disaster are becoming clearer with every passing year.

The most potent cure for the disease isn’t found in Washington, but in the word.  If people devote themselves to the teachings of Christ, the problem of poverty will, if not disappear, at least greatly diminish.  Those who refuse to do so have no one to blame but themselves.

Interceding Moses, Interceding Jesus

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

 

It’s rare that I read something online that really makes me stop and think.  This essay, however, is quality work.  It grapples with the question of why God in the Old Testament does things that strike us as evil.  Particularly, why does He nearly annihilate mankind during the flood and almost do the same thing to Israel in Exodus 32 after the Israelites sin with the golden calf?

I thought the author’s analysis of the second question was particularly insightful.  He notes that God does not say to Moses, “My wrath burns hot against them, and I will consume them.”  Instead, He says, “Now therefore let Me alone, that My wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them.” 

Moses, of course, does not let God alone, and after the ensuing conversation, God agrees not to destroy the Israelites.  However, this conversation never would have happened if God had not provoked it by asking Moses not to have it.  Effectively, God is saying, “Moses, talk me out of this.”  Moses’ intercession kindles God’s mercy toward a people that manifestly does not deserve it.

These mysteries are profound, but I think we can go deeper still.  God does not merely say “Let Me alone,” because He wants Moses not to let Him alone.  Instead, God says that because part of God does want it to happen, not merely with respect to the sinful Israelites, but with respect to all sinful people everywhere.  His perfect holiness finds our sin repugnant, unbearable.  It demands that He separate Himself from us.

And yet, as much as God wants us to let Him alone, He wants us not to.  James 4:5 says, “He yearns jealously over the spirit that He has made to dwell in us.”  Our spirits reveal that we are His children, and He can no more abandon us than we could abandon our own children. 

Simultaneously, then, God longs both to reject and to embrace us.  This is not a contradiction in His nature.  Instead, it reflects the contradiction in our natures.  We are created as the children of God, but we behave as the children of wrath.  As He says in Hosea 6:4, “What shall I do with you?” 

His answer is to say, “Let Me alone,” both condemning evil and inviting the intercession from Moses that will tip the scales in favor of mercy.  In this, though, Moses’ intercession is nothing more than a shadow of the intercession of Christ.  If Christ does not intercede, if the holiness of God is not deterred from its course, God’s wrath will burn hot against us and consume us too.

In response, though, Jesus offers far more than Moses did.  Moses recalls to God His covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, but Jesus inaugurates a new covenant.  Moses forestalls the punishment for sin, but Jesus takes it upon Himself.  “Let Me alone,” God says, both to us and about us.  “No,” Jesus replies, and His intercession opens the door to mercy and fellowship for eternity.

A Note on _Unplanned_

Thursday, April 04, 2019

 

This past weekend, the movie Unplanned opened.  It follows the transformation of a woman named Abby Johnson from abortion-clinic worker to pro-life activist.  Suffice it to say that the reaction from the secular left has not been ecstatic.  It received an R rating from the MPAA for its graphic depictions of abortions.  Strange.  I didn’t know a depiction of a medical procedure could be graphic.

Theater owners have refused to run it.  Reviewers have generally ignored it, and those who have seen it have evaluated it on progressive-morality (“Worst.  Movie.  Ever.”) rather than artistic grounds.  Even the movie’s Twitter feed went down on opening night, for reasons that have yet to be adequately explained.

If you will pardon the pun, we’ve seen this movie before.  Back in the day, the sensational Gosnell trial was roundly ignored by the mainstream media.  So too was the film produced about it.  Pro-life Supreme-Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh was treated to the most impressive smear campaign in recent memory, with uncorroborated accusations treated as gospel and fabrications advanced as plausible.

Just ‘cause you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t out to get you.

With a little thought, the reason for this one-sided narrative becomes obvious.  It’s not about the truth of the matter.  In their heart of hearts, everybody knows that abortion is about killing babies, whether or not they will admit it.  Instead, it is about the progressive idol of sexual autonomy, the idea that everybody should get to have all the unrestricted sex they want without consequences.

However, sex as designed by God is a consequential act.  Its most significant consequence is the creation of new life.  Once you have to reckon with those consequences, the idol of sexual autonomy is revealed to have feet of clay.  The only way for progressives to resolve the problem is to make it possible for the consequences to. . . go away.

See?  No harm done!  Continue fornicating!

Unfortunately for them, the pro-choice case started out weak and is getting weaker.  Viability used to be the buzzword for distinguishing between a baby and a clump of cells.  However, as medical technology continues to advance, babies born as early as 21 weeks now have a chance at survival.  The day may come when even an embryo can be nurtured outside the womb.

This reveals what always has been true:  the pro-choice position is based on magical thinking.  What you want something to be—in this case, a fetus—determines what it is.  The wanted fetus is a baby to be defended with an arsenal of medical might; the unwanted fetus is a malignant growth to be scraped out and discarded.  If that’s the argument you have to defend, then, yeah, you’re going to do whatever you can to shut the other side up.

One final thought, though.  The treatment of Unplanned reveals a great deal about the abortion debate, but it also reveals a great deal about the mass-entertainment elite.  They want to stifle Unplanned because they believe that if watched, it will have a powerful effect on the moral convictions of its audience.  They believe that movies are very effective propaganda.

What does that tell us about their goals with the movies that they do produce, that they do promote?  What does it tell us about all the other movies that we watch?

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