Ministry that is Messy

The following message is taken from 1 Kings 16:25-33 and introduces the life and ministry setting of one of the greatest Old Testament prophets, Elijah. It was given on September 8, 2013.

I trust that you have had a good summer. I certainly did. Many of you knew that I was on sabbatical, a wonderful opportunity afforded to me by the Board of Ministries. While away, I worked on my D.Min. dissertation, which pertains to Christian Education. I also took the opportunity to visit some of our neighboring churches in the area, particularly those that are contemporary in their worship style. I discovered some new things. Some things I liked; other things I did not. It was a great learning experience.

I also spent significant time with my immediate family. I am pleased to report, we all still love each other. No other living arrangements at the time. Today, I want to touch on the aspect of family and the role of its leadership. I’m a firm believer that men are called to be the pastor of their homes, caring for the spiritual needs of their wives and children. I recently read of an incident reputed to have taken place in the late 19th Century that underscores the vital importance of both honesty and consistency in the home.

It seems that a father had two sons who had become attached to a stray dog that wandered onto their farm. They saw an advertisement in the local paper about a lost dog that fit the description to a tee. The dog was coal black except for a few white hairs at the end of his tail. Not wishing to disappoint his sons, the father carefully separated the white hairs on its tail and pulled them out. When the rightful owner heard about the dog, he went to the farm to take him home. It was quickly obvious that the dog recognized the man as its master. But when the man wanted to leave with the dog, the father said, “Didn’t your ad say that your dog had white hairs on his tail?” Finding none, the man was forced to leave without his dog. Some years later, the father wrote of the event saying, “I kept the dog, but lost my boys.” Those boys became notorious outlaws – Frank and Jesse James. Never underestimate the power of influence, especially in the home. We can learn the same lesson in the last few verses of 1 Kings 16, as we consider the line of Israel’s kings. From this we learn that…

OUR WORLD HAS ALWAYS BEEN SPIRITUALLY MESSY.

Jeroboam ruled Israel from 931-910 B.C. and was Israel’s first king after the split. He did evil by setting up high places, alternative sites for worship instead of urging the people to go to the temple in Jerusalem. M.S. Seale tells us that Jeroboam: “…also set up two golden calves, as symbols of fertility, which were part and parcel of Canaanite Baal worship.” He was the first among a long line of evil kings.

About 25 years later followed Omri, who was worse. We do not know much about Omri, except that he had a poor reputation. He was a man lacking integrity. 1 Kings 16:25 tells us: “And Omri did evil in the sight of the LORD, and acted more wickedly than all who were before him. 26 For he walked in all the way of Jeroboam the son of Nebat and in his sins which he made Israel sin, provoking the LORD God of Israel with their idols.” If this was not enough, he did not know how to be a good father. We are not told how many children he had, but one stands out from the rest. You have heard of him- his name was Ahab.

As bad of a leader that Omri was, Ahab was even worse. That is something noteworthy of sin, is that it is very difficult, even impossible for it to remain stagnate. Sin, if left unrepentant, will grow more extensive and worse as time goes on. Verse 30 says: “Ahab son of Omri did more evil in the eyes of the LORD than any of those before him. 31 He not only considered it trivial to commit the sins of Jeroboam son of Nebat, but he also married Jezebel daughter of Ethbaal king of the Sidonians, and began to serve Baal and worship him. 32 He set up an altar for Baal in the temple of Baal that he built in Samaria. 33 Ahab also made an Asherah pole and did more to provoke the LORD, the God of Israel, to anger than did all the kings of Israel before him.” The word for provoke is the Hebrew s[;K’ (kaas) which means to be vexed or angry. Something of special notice is that Ahab made the Asherah pole, a wooden symbol of a female deity, a sign of further entrenchment of the religion of the Canaanites.

Ahab’s reign lasted for 22 years, from 874 to 853 B.C. 1Kings 16:31 tells us that the marriage of Omri’s son to Ethbaal’s daughter may have been arranged by Omri for diplomatic reasons. Jezebel’s presence gave official support in Israel to the worship of Baal. This moral and spiritual decline eventually led to their captivities. The northern kingdom was taken into captivity by Assyria in 722 B.C.; the southern was taken into slavery by the Babylonians in 586 B.C. We are told that the acts of Omri and Ahab provoked God. Notice that the Scripture does not read that God looked the other way; that God understood; that Omri and Ahab were just dysfunctional. No, their actions provoked God. Why so? Because that is what the sin of idolatry does- it provokes God. It has been said that idolatry is the displacing of God; we are guilty of idolatry any time we take something and put it in the place of God. If God be the greatest good, if He holds the place of our Creator and Father, then it is only appropriate that He occupy the place of preeminence in our lives. He is greater than all and we are to love Him with our whole heart, mind and strength.

Today, there are many examples of idols, depending on the person. For some, it is money. For others it could be their career. And then there are activities or a hobby. It could be things that we think we could not live without, like the Internet, or a relationship. For others, it may be a substance, like alcohol. For the Old Testament Jew, as well as the Christian, nothing was to take the place of God. Our lives respond to God’s grace in worship. Anything short of that worship is idolatry.

Why does idolatry provoke God to anger? Because it is taking the glory that is due Him and giving it to another, to a material thing or a foreign god. Notice what God said after He had delivered them from slavery and the rule of the most powerful nation in the world. Exodus 20:2: “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. 3 “You shall have no other gods before me. 4 “You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. 5 You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, 6 but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.”

This time of year, many spend hours watching football. You should know that I love football. I played and both of my boys are playing this fall. I like to watch a good football game just as much as the next guy. Nevertheless, I realize that football cannot occupy the place in my life that is reserved for God alone. I ran across an interesting quote from Chris Norman, the former standout Linebacker for Michigan State, who recently gave up a career in the NFL to pursue God’s true calling in his life. He told John Piper: “Football is a game that is filled with passion, intensity, and effort. Football is a safe haven that can propel character development in the lives of young men. And football is a gift from God that has been graciously given for millions upon millions of people to enjoy. But while football is very good, it can never become a god.” God will never occupy second place.

What are the idols in your life? Is there anything that you could be paying too much attention to? Is there something more important than your relationship with God? Do not run the course of Jeroboam, Omri and Ahab. Rather, be the exception, rather than the rule.

DESPITE THE MESSINESS, GOD CALLS US TO GLORIFY HIM.

It is in this environment of waywardness and idolatry that God called a man by the name of Elijah. Elijah was an interesting figure of the Old Testament. He was from the town of Thishbe, in the area of Gilead. (Show map) Significance is that Israel was divided into two kingdoms: The north (which kept the name Israel) and the south, commonly known as Judah.

Elijah ministered in a time when the people of God were moving away from their Creator King. It is sometime after David and Solomon, who ministered around the time of 1,000 years before Christ. The life of Elijah spans from 1 Kings chapter 17 to 2 Kings 2, a span of four chapters. Elijah was a prophet, a spokesperson of God during the time of Ahab’s reign in Israel. He spoke the word of the Lord to a godless culture.
Elijah’s name means: “Yahweh is God.” Yahweh is God’s covenant making name, taken from the burning bush incident with Moses in Exodus 3:14: “God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I AM has sent me to you.’ This is my name forever, the name by which I am to be remembered from generation to generation.” And so we are reminded that Elijah’s name means: Yahweh is God and there is no other. This name was particularly unique given the idolatry present in Israel at the time and the worship of Baal by its leadership. The moral and spiritual state of Israel during the 8th century B.C. is not altogether different than our country today.

In the New Testament, Jesus spoke of His own exclusivity in telling the disciples of His departure. Philip asked: “How do we know the way?” Jesus said in John 14:6: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” After the resurrection, in the early days of the church, the apostles became convinced that Jesus was the unique Messiah, come from God, who is our Savior. Acts 4:12 states: “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.”

Yet, we live in this pluralistic world and America becomes more and more the merging of different cultures. While living in Lansdale, we had Muslim neighbors from Bangladesh, with whom I was on friendly terms. My nephew recently decided to pursue Buddhism. You and I live in a land where you are free to worship anything in any way you want, as long as you do not hurt another in the process. Nevertheless, that does not make these religious systems synonymous with truth. All roads do not lead to the same place. The cross was God’s way of reaching out to us. Whereas Abraham’s son Isaac was spared, Paul tells us of a great contrast in Romans 8:32: “He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all– how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” What do you say of Jesus’ sacrifice? Is He optional? How can we respond to Christ’s love with indifference? All of the Old Testament points to Jesus and His great sacrifice for us. This is why He said in Luke 24, as He appeared to His followers on the road to Emmaus: “’How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?’ 27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.”

How do we react to other religions? Well, we love our neighbor as ourselves. We understand that one’s religion is a sacred aspect of their lives. We don’t demean it, yet we do not affirm it either. We love the Hindu, the Buddhist and the Muslim, but we do not agree with their theology. Rather, the most loving thing to do is to point them to the One who has died so that forgiveness could be a reality.

Stuart Murray notes that we are approaching, if not already arrived in a culture that is post-Christendom, where the Christian faith and those who adhere to it go from the center to the margins, from the majority to the minority, from settlers to sojourners. In this scenario, Christians are aliens, exiles and pilgrims in a culture where we no longer feel at home (Murray, Post Christendom, 20).

God is looking for more Elijah’s today. By that I mean that He is on the lookout for those who are loyal; those who are willing to go against the grain of our culture, and be sold out to Him. Are you that person? Will you be willing to destroy the idols in your life to follow Christ? Until we realize that we are helpless without Him, only then can He do a work in us and use us. We are a lot like the foolish sheep. In the Highlands of Scotland, a sheep would often wander off into the rocks and get into places that they couldn’t get out of. The grass on these mountains was sweet, and the sheep would jump down ten or twelve feet to nibble on it — and then they couldn’t jump back up again. They might be there for days, until they have eaten all the grass. Then the shepherd would hear them bleating in distress.

The shepherd waited until each animal was so faint it couldn’t not stand. Then he would rope it up and pull it out of the jaws of death. Why didn’t the shepherd rescue the sheep when it first was trapped? Because they are so very foolish they would dash right over the precipice and be killed! Such is the way of humanity too! We often don’t go to God till we have no friends and have lost everything. Jesus said: “Apart from Me, you can do nothing.”

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