Idolatry, Old Testament, Sin, Sunday School

The Benefit of Israel’s Experience ~ Sunday School Lesson ~ 8-31-14

Benefit of Israel's Experience

These are my notes from my ladies’ Sunday School class this morning. I’ll be posting the notes from my class here each week. Click here for last week’s lesson.

Through the Bible in 2014 ~ Week 35 ~ Aug. 24-30
Jeremiah 51-52, Lamentations, Ezekiel 1-15
The Benefit of Israel’s Experience

For weeks now, we have watched Israel and Judah sink farther and farther into idolatry and other sin, and now they are facing God’s wrath for it. It’s easy to look back thousands of years later and think this is an ancient story that has no bearing on us today. But Israel was God’s people, like we are. They were prone to sin, like we are. Among the many things we can draw out of Israel’s story is that we as God’s people don’t want to go down the same road to sin that they did. What can we learn from what they did wrong, and how do we keep from becoming like them?

Ezekiel 14

It’s a slow fade (Exodus 14-17,32)
That’s the title of a Casting Crowns song. Another line of the song says, “People never crumble in a day,” and that is certainly true. In the same way that someone doesn’t just wake up one morning and decide to have an affair, Israel didn’t just wake up one morning with Asherah poles in their back yards and prostitutes in the temple. We’re in about 593 BC here in Ezekiel. The exodus occurred around 1445 BC, with the golden calf incident occurring not too long after that. Give or take, we’re talking about 800ish years that Israel has been involved with idolatry. This depth of depravity didn’t happen overnight.

But even back in Exodus, there were “smaller” sins leading up to idol worship: they didn’t trust God, and they weren’t satisfied with God. They coveted fleshly security. At the Red Sea, they doubted God and wailed and moaned that they were going to die. They didn’t trust God for water or bread. And, finally, they grew impatient and distrustful that God would ever bring Moses down from Mt. Sinai. All of that culminated in the making and worshiping of the golden calf.

What can we learn? (2 Timothy 2:22, 2 Corinthians 10:5, Matthew 5:27-30)
There is no such thing as a little sin, because little sins always lead to bigger sins. Ever watch the Animal Planet show, Fatal Attractions? It was all about these various crazy people who adopted baby tigers, chimps, bears, etc. into their homes and then were shocked when these animals grew up and ripped their faces off (sometimes literally).

That’s what a “little” sin will do to you. It starts off looking cute and cuddly and harmless and then you embrace it and nurture it and think you’ve got a handle on it, and it grows up to rip your face off or kill you.

“Small” sins have to be dealt with swiftly and decisively. We must immediately turn from them and ask God’s forgiveness. We can’t play around with them even a little bit. That’s why the Bible tells us to “flee” (2 Tim) from sin and to take even our thoughts captive to obey Christ (2 Cor.). Hey, poke out your eye or cut off your hand if you have to, is what Jesus said (Matt.).

Lip service is a lie
The elders in 14:1 were not genuinely seeking to worship or obey God. It had been a long time, if ever, since they had done that. They were making a pretense to make it look to the people of Judah like they were actually following God and that God was pleased with them. And God answered that fake inquiry with real judgment.

What can we learn? (Isaiah 29:13-14)
Merely going through the motions doesn’t cut it. Putting your body in church once a week, reciting memorized prayers, giving offerings out of habit, mindlessly singing the hymns does nothing to make you godly. In fact it can help lull you into thinking you’re good with God and have nothing to worry about with regard to falling into sin.

Isaiah said about the Israelites:

“…this people draw[s] near with their mouth and honor[s] me with their lips, while their hearts are far from me…” (Is.)

and look what happened to them.

The same can be true of us. We must ask the Lord to hold us close and help us cling to Him. We must daily run to God’s word and prayer, humble ourselves and remember our dependence on Him. We must celebrate the gospel every day, remembering the price Christ paid for our sin, His love for us, and our love for Him.

Repentance is always the answer
Even at the brink of destruction, God’s message to Israel (14:6) is repent. He had brought all these calamities upon them to bring about their repentance. But the people and their leaders would have none of it.

What can we learn?
We’re going to sin. There’s just no way around it. But when we do, the answer is always to turn to Christ in repentance. One of the verses we have talked about so many times in this class is 1 John 1:9:

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

While the idolatry the Israelites committed was a grave sin, what was even worse was that they refused to repent.

Sometimes, the cheese stands alone (Genesis 6:8, Daniel 6:4, Job 1:8)
Noah, Daniel, and Job- what do we remember about these guys? Each of them stood for righteousness surrounded by a sinful culture, and they all stood alone or nearly so. Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord (Gen.). Daniel was “faithful, and no error or fault was found in him.” (Dan.) God Himself said Job was “a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil” (Job)

And yet, God said that even if these three men had been present at Ezekiel’s time, their righteousness would have saved only themselves, no matter how hard they prayed or preached, because Israel refused to repent.

What can we learn?
Daniel, Job, and Noah were not righteous in and of themselves. They didn’t find favor with God because they were good deed doers, but because they believed God, walked in repentance, and were faithful to Him– some of the things we’ve already discussed today.
It seems simplistic to say that the lesson here is “Be like Daniel, Job, and Noah, not like the Israelites,” but sometimes it really is that simple. We must be faithful to God like they were even when no one else around us is.

I’ll take you back
If you could boil it down to one sentence, what would you say was God’s end goal in hitting Israel so hard? Check out verses 10-11:

And they shall bear their punishment—the punishment of the prophet and the punishment of the inquirer shall be alike— that the house of Israel may no more go astray from me, nor defile themselves anymore with all their transgressions, but that they may be my people and I may be their God, declares the Lord God.”

No matter how far they had strayed or what they had done, God still loved His people and wanted them back. His desire was never to destroy them but to reconcile them to Himself.

What can we learn? (Luke 15:11-32)
As the parable of the prodigal son so beautifully demonstrates, we may fall into all kinds of horrible sin, but when we come to God broken and sorrowful over that sin, He wraps His arms around us in love and welcomes us back. That’s what He wanted to do for Israel, and that’s what He wants to do for us. That’s the reason Jesus came. The reason for the cross. The reason for the empty tomb.

For some purpose, known only to Himself, God loves us and wants us back.

Politics, Prayer

Not Gonna Bow: 5 Reasons Prayer in School Isn’t the Magic Bullet Christians Think It Is

Prayer In School

“We need to put prayer back in school!” It’s a well worn mantra that many Christians have been shouting from pulpits, in PTA meetings, and now on social media since the early 1960s when it was outlawed. No, we don’t need to put prayer back in public schools, and I think if Christians who think that the United States would revert to some idyllic 1950’s utopia by reinstituting classroom prayer would give it five minutes of serious thought, they would run as far as they could from the idea of prayer in public schools.

Now, just so there are no misunderstandings, when I say “prayer in public schools,” I’m not talking about things like a child saying the blessing over his own lunch, or a group of kids who want to pray together during free time, or an after school club that wants to include prayer. Those are all voluntary, private things that should, by all means, be allowed. When I say “prayer in public schools,” I’m talking about a teacher or a student or someone over the loudspeaker leading the entire class in prayer during class time. And we definitely do not want that. Why?

1. What’s good for the Christian goose is good for the Muslim/Mormon/Atheist gander.
There is no way in the current cultural climate –none whatsoever- that any court in this land will reinstitute Christian prayer, and only Christian prayer, in the classroom. And even if some well meaning judge did manange to do so, his decision would be overturned faster than you could say “amen.” You want prayer in the public school classroom? You might get Christian prayer, but you’re also going to get Muslim prayer, Mormon prayer, atheist prayer, Hindu prayer, Satanist prayer, and any other sect that comes along and wants to do prayer in the classroom. Do you really want your six year old faced with the choice of participating in a Satanic prayer or trying to get permission to abstain? Neither do I.

2. Why is it so important that we have prayer in schools?
Assuming you don’t work at a church or ministry, does your workplace gather all the employees at the beginning of the day and start with prayer? No? Has that been deeply detrimental to you personally or to your workplace? No? Then why is it so important that schools have prayer?

3. Post hoc ergo propter hoc.
This nifty little Latin phrase means “after this, therefore, because of this.” It refers to the faulty reasoning people sometimes use by assuming that because two events occurred near the same time or seem to be related, one of them must have caused the other.

Time and time again, I have heard Christians bemoan the moral state of this country and wail, “It all started when they took prayer out of schools!”

Post hoc ergo poppycock.

If the moral state of this country was so perfect before 1962, then how in the world did prayer ever get taken out of schools in the first place? No, things started going downhill in this country long before prayer was removed from schools. It was as a result of that moral decay that prayer was taken out of schools.

Saying that the removal of prayer from public schools created the mess our country is in today would be like someone sixty years from now saying, “When the Supreme Court legalized gay marriage nationwide, that’s when things started going bad for America.”

Because things are just so morally peachy right now.

4. It isn’t biblical.
It is not the job of a secular governmental institutition or employee to monitor or lead our children in prayer, and no one could make the case from God’s word that it is. Scripture tells us that leading in prayer is the job of Christian parents and the church.

Neither would it be biblical for the sake of unsaved children in your child’s class that you’re hoping will somehow get saved by someone leading a prayer every morning. That’s not how people get saved. If you’re concerned about lost children, teach your child how to share the gospel. Befriend the children’s parents and share the gospel with the parents yourself. It’s free, it can be done immediately, without waiting for court decisions (that won’t be coming anyway) and it’s biblical.

5. It’s hypocritical.
It is often Christians who exclaim the loudest, and rightly so, that the government should back off and stop trying to control, regulate, and meddle in every square inch of our lives. Yet with regard to prayer in schools, Christians talk out of the other side of their mouths and practically beg the government to insinuate itself into an issue it has no business touching. (Not to mention that the government does such a bang up job of handling things like this.)

Will those very Christians complain if the government reinstitutes prayer and then tries to regulate it just like they do everything else? And what about depending on the government for a handout of prayer when we are the ones who should be doing the work of teaching prayer and sharing the gospel? Isn’t that a sort of prayer “welfare” system?
Putting prayer back in public schools would be a nightmare of false religions and government regulations.

We don’t need prayer in schools. We need prayer in homes and in churches. We need people sharing the gospel with their friends, fellow students, neighbors, and co-workers. We need Christians to be the salt and light Jesus called us to be in the world we actually live in rather than pining away for an imaginary ideal that will never come to fruition.

Easter, Faith, Throwback Thursday

Throwback Thursday ~ Jesus Wept

Another new feature this week is Throwback Thursday. On Facebook, Throwback Thursday means posting old, nostalgic pictures. Here on the blog, I’ll be digging into the archives and re-sharing some older articles.

Originally published April 18, 2011:

Jesus Wept

It was hardly a day for tears.

It was a day that should have been the high point of His ministry.

As soon as He was approaching, near the descent of the Mount of Olives, the whole crowd of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the miracles which they had seen,  shouting:
         “BLESSED IS THE KING WHO COMES IN THE NAME OF THE LORD; Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!”

After three years of hard work and harder prayer, miracles, and countless hours of teaching, the people were finally getting it.  They recognized that Jesus was the Messiah.  His people were giving Him the praise He was due.

Or were they?

When He approached Jerusalem, He saw the city and wept over it,

What’s this?  This isn’t part of the Palm Sunday pageant.  In every Bible, commentary, and Sunday School lesson, this scene is called “The Triumphal Entry”.  Why is Jesus over there crying?  What’s that He’s saying?

“If you had known in this day, even you, the things which make for peace! But now they have been hidden from your eyes.
 “For the days will come upon you when your enemies will throw up a barricade against you, and surround you and hem you in on every side,
 and they will level you to the ground and your children within you, and they will not leave in you one stone upon another, because you did not recognize the time of your visitation.”

Once again, Jesus sees through the outer display of behavior and lays the heart of the people bare.

They’re praising Him because He multiplied bread and fish.

Because He healed diseases.

Because they think their Messiah has come to set them free from Roman oppression.

They don’t get it after all.  And that’s why He’s weeping.

They don’t get that Jesus didn’t come to give us stuff.  They don’t get that the bondage of sin is far worse than enslavement to Rome.  They don’t get that taking up a cross and following Jesus will get them something far sweeter and deeper and more satisfying than all the miracles and riches and healings in the world.  It will get them Jesus.  And that’s what He wants to give them.

And as I watch my Savior’s heart break over His people so many years ago, I wonder– is He still weeping today?

Every Sunday, we, Jesus’ people, offer Him loud Hosannas.  We lift our palms in celebration of His goodness and blessings.  We sing out His praise.  We kneel before Him.

But is He weeping?

Does He see through our outward behavior to a heart that just wants worldly trinkets from Him?  Does He see a church that draws near to Him with its lips but whose heart is far from Him (Isaiah 29:13)?  A stiff-necked people who deigns to physically bow the knee but not crucify the will?

Are we the new Jerusalem?

Scriptures taken from Luke 19:37-44

Wednesday's Word

Wednesday’s Word ~ Habakkuk 2

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I’ve got a new feature for you: Wednesday’s Word. Each Wednesday, I’ll be featuring a Scripture meme, plus–since it’s important to read Scripture in context– the chapter the verse is found in. If you have a lovely picture (which you own the rights to) that you’d like to see featured as a Scripture meme on Wednesday’s Word, please e-mail it to me at MichelleLesley1@yahoo.com. I’d love to share it (and credit you, of course).

Habakkuk 2

1 I will take my stand at my watchpost
    and station myself on the tower,
and look out to see what he will say to me,
    and what I will answer concerning my complaint.

And the Lord answered me:

“Write the vision;
    make it plain on tablets,
    so he may run who reads it.
For still the vision awaits its appointed time;
    it hastens to the end—it will not lie.
If it seems slow, wait for it;
    it will surely come; it will not delay.

“Behold, his soul is puffed up; it is not upright within him,
    but the righteous shall live by his faith.

“Moreover, wine is a traitor,
    an arrogant man who is never at rest.
His greed is as wide as Sheol;
    like death he has never enough.
He gathers for himself all nations
    and collects as his own all peoples.”

Shall not all these take up their taunt against him, with scoffing and riddles for him, and say,

“Woe to him who heaps up what is not his own—
    for how long?—
    and loads himself with pledges!”
Will not your debtors suddenly arise,
    and those awake who will make you tremble?
    Then you will be spoil for them.
Because you have plundered many nations,
    all the remnant of the peoples shall plunder you,
for the blood of man and violence to the earth,
    to cities and all who dwell in them.

“Woe to him who gets evil gain for his house,
    to set his nest on high,
    to be safe from the reach of harm!
10 You have devised shame for your house
    by cutting off many peoples;
    you have forfeited your life.
11 For the stone will cry out from the wall,
    and the beam from the woodwork respond.

12 “Woe to him who builds a town with blood
    and founds a city on iniquity!
13 Behold, is it not from the Lord of hosts
    that peoples labor merely for fire,
    and nations weary themselves for nothing?
14 For the earth will be filled
    with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord
    as the waters cover the sea.

15 “Woe to him who makes his neighbors drink—
    you pour out your wrath and make them drunk,
    in order to gaze at their nakedness!
16 You will have your fill of shame instead of glory.
    Drink, yourself, and show your uncircumcision!
The cup in the Lord‘s right hand
    will come around to you,
    and utter shame will come upon your glory!
17 The violence done to Lebanon will overwhelm you,
    as will the destruction of the beasts that terrified them,
for the blood of man and violence to the earth,
    to cities and all who dwell in them.

18 “What profit is an idol
    when its maker has shaped it,
    a metal image, a teacher of lies?
For its maker trusts in his own creation
    when he makes speechless idols!
19 Woe to him who says to a wooden thing, Awake;
    to a silent stone, Arise!
Can this teach?
Behold, it is overlaid with gold and silver,
    and there is no breath at all in it.
20 But the Lord is in his holy temple;
    let all the earth keep silence before him.”

The Holy Bible, English Standard Version Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.

Missions

Ice Bucket Missions Challenge

Have you taken the ice bucket challenge? If so, I’m calling you out!

I’m challenging all my readers who have participated in the ice bucket challenge to make a matching donation to the missions organization of your choice. Need some suggestions? Some of my favorites are:

International Mission Board (Southern Baptist Convention)

Gospel for Asia

Trans World Radio

The Gideons International

Wycliffe Bible Translators

Don’t forget to share this around to challenge your church, your friends, and your small group to give to missions!