Beware the Flammable Frauds

September 24, 2014 at 12:33 pm | Posted in Amos, The Fives | 1 Comment
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The people of the “House of Israel” thought they had worked out a viable system. Historically, they had been called the people of Yahweh, the One True God, the God of holiness Who hated sin. But they also really liked to indulge in the practices of their pagan neighbors and their many “gods.” So, they took sort of a “best of both worlds” approach, and attempted to worship idols and the true God at the same time.

God’s prophet, Amos, tried to warn them that the real God was coming to deal with them concerning their abominable syncretism.

For thus saith the Lord unto the house of Israel, Seek ye me, and ye shall live: But seek not Bethel, nor enter into Gilgal, and pass not to Beersheba: for Gilgal shall surely go into captivity, and Bethel shall come to nought.

Amos 5:4-5

Bethel, Gilgal, and Beersheba were places where the people could find altars set up to golden bulls and other false idols representing little fake gods. The Lord was giving them one last chance. They could turn to Him and repent… or they could behave irrationally. What does an irrational person do when he’s confronted with the threat of judgment from a powerful God? He seeks refuge in other, kinder, gentler gods. In those days, the fake gods were images or statues that were built, graven, carried around, and spoken to (although the images themselves were silent and couldn’t talk back). This still goes on today. A person mired in sin gets confronted with the Truth, and, instead of repenting and trusting the mercy of the Savior, he looks for relief in the form of alcohol, drugs, sinful sexual behavior, hobbies, entertainment, luxury purchases, or fine dining. These are just a few of the Gilgals, Bethels, and Beershebas of our day.

Amos was very clear about the consequences of this:

Seek the Lord, and ye shall live; lest he break out like fire in the house of Joseph, and devour it, and there be none to quench it in Bethel.

Amos 5:6

Trying to escape the consuming wrath of the Creator by hiding in or among His creation is like trying to dodge a forest fire by crawling into a papier-mâché tent.

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If you have fallen into the sin of idolatry, seek refuge from the wrath of the Savior in the Savior Himself. He is merciful to the repentant.

Beware Fragrant Fingers

April 23, 2014 at 4:15 pm | Posted in The Fives | Leave a comment
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The bridegroom in Song of Solomon Chapter 5 comes to his bride’s home at night. He desires a visit, but she is already sleeping. Hearing him at the door, she is reluctant to get up. She has already washed her feet and got undressed for bed. Suddenly though, at the sound or sight of his hand by the hole of the door, she has a change of heart and gets up to greet him.

I rose up to open to my beloved; and my hands dropped with myrrh, and my fingers with sweet smelling myrrh, upon the handles of the lock.

Song of Solomon 5:5

Sadly, she had waited too long. He was gone by the time she got to the door. Some commentators think that the smell of myrrh (an expensive perfume in Bible times) had been left there by the bridegroom as a token of his visit – sort of a calling card – and that when the bride touched the lock to slide back the bolt, she got the myrrh on her hands. It seems more likely, though, that the myrrh which dropped from her hands and fingers onto the handles of the lock was the result of her own preparations as she tarried in opening the door to her beloved.

If you are a Christian (part of the “bride” of Christ), has there been a time when Christ the Lord (your “Bridegroom”) knocked on the door of your heart or conscience in order to call you to some holy service, only to find you so slow to respond that the opportunity was past before you made up your mind?

When Jesus presents us with an opportunity to do His bidding our common sense might be tempted to do an analysis of the situation and decide that our hands are too dirty with sin to respond right away. “My hands reek of iniquity,” we think. “I must anoint them with the sweet-smelling scent of my own righteousness before I can attempt to do His will.” This can prove to be a costly mistake.

While it is true that only those with clean hands and a pure heart can ascend to the hill of the Lord, it is also true that “doubting” is one of the things that prevents us from lifting up our hands to His service. There is no amount of myrrh or self-righteousness that can make our hands acceptable to the Lord. Only His shed blood can do that, and once we are regenerated and justified by His grace through faith, we receive His imputed righteousness as a free gift. This means we must never delay – night or day, regardless of the condition of our body or our conscience – to respond to His knock of opportunity.

Beware the Forestalled Feast

March 7, 2014 at 5:11 pm | Posted in The Fives | 1 Comment
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They say that the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach. However, in the days when Esther was queen of Persia, it appears that the way to change a man’s mind was to throw a party.

Then the king said, Cause Haman to make haste, that he may do as Esther hath said. So the king and Haman came to the banquet that Esther had prepared.

Esther 5:5

Esther needed an audience with King Ahasuerus and she needed his trusted lieutenant, Haman, to be there, but she needed this audience to be in private, and she needed it to be well-timed. Both of these needs were met by the providence of God, and Esther was successful in being used to rescue the Jewish people that Haman wanted to exterminate.

From the Jewish and Christian point of view, Esther’s daring and wisdom are heroic. Likewise, the king’s decision to grant the request turns out to have been the right choice (even if it was motivated by the anticipation of attending a “banquet of wine” (v. 6). But what – if anything – can we learn from Haman’s folly? He went forth from this privileged audience with the king swollen with pride and primed to be easily offended by anyone who wouldn’t honor him. May the Lord grant us the grace to do the opposite.

When you experience a delay – even in something to which you are greatly looking forward – take the occasion to reconsider. Seek the face of the Lord and seek out His will in His Word. If what we are anxious to partake of is fraught with sin, a forced delay may be our last chance for repentance and rescue.

Beware Familial Fidelity

February 19, 2014 at 1:16 pm | Posted in The Fives | 2 Comments
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The Israelites who came back from Babylon to Jerusalem to try to repair their city and rebuild their homes experienced extreme hardship. Not only was their work attacked by outsiders, but, in some cases, they were even preyed upon by their own people. Between trying to buy food during a famine, paying their taxes, and the great expenditures they were contributing to the rebuilding process, some of them were having to mortgage their crops, their land, and even their children!

Yet now our flesh is as the flesh of our brethren, our children as their children: and, lo, we bring into bondage our sons and our daughters to be servants, and some of our daughters are brought unto bondage already: neither is it in our power to redeem them; for other men have our lands and vineyards.

Nehemiah 5:5

Nehemiah, their faithful servant leader, was very angry when he heard about this, and rightly so. It was a classic example of the “us four and no more” mentality that – if we are not careful – will invade our Christian homes even today. I am not saying that we should not provide for our household or our blood relatives. A father who disregards his own family’s welfare is said to be worse than an infidel (I Timothy 5:8). What I am saying, though, is that Christian families who are blessed with resources ought to be quick and eager to provide for the needs of other Christian families that might be struggling. And we should never, under any circumstances, seek to take unfair advantage of, or profit from, another Christian’s struggles. Family loyalty can be a wonderful thing, but let us remember that we are, first and foremost, children of the family of God.

Beware Falling Formations

November 18, 2013 at 3:31 pm | Posted in The Fives | 1 Comment
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In ancient times mountains were both landmarks and symbols of religious significance. Because of their majesty and immensity they were thought of as timeless. As monuments which extended toward the heavens, they were thought of as potential meeting-places between God and man. In fact, God did meet with Moses the Law-giver on Mount Sinai, and the people cowered in fear when they saw it smoking.

That incident was later used as imagery in the song of Deborah and Barak after the defeat of Jabin, the king of Canaan.

The mountains melted from before the LORD, even that Sinai from before the LORD God of Israel.

Judges 5:5

This is a good reminder to us when we think about the power and danger that may be exhibited when the Lord takes action. For some of us, it is easy to look at the “mountains” in our lives: our jobs, our families, our friends, our government, our intelligence, and our health, and to believe that these things will always be there for us – as constant as a mountain range on the horizon. However, there is nothing in our lives that will stand before the power of the Lord if He decides to move against it.

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Those who live at the foot of great mountains know the danger of rockslides, and those who worship at the feet of the Almighty God need to remember to reverence Him constantly.

Beware the Fatigue of Failure

June 28, 2013 at 10:24 am | Posted in Luke, The Fives | 6 Comments
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And Simon answering said unto him, Master, we have toiled all the night, and have taken nothing: nevertheless at thy word I will let down the net.

Luke 5:5

Simon Peter had a fishing boat. Jesus was speaking to a large crowd which was pressing in upon Him as He preached on the shore of Lake Gennesaret, so He climbed into Peter’s boat, finished His sermon, and commanded Peter to launch out into the deep. Once this was done, Jesus further instructed Peter and his fellow fishermen to let their net down and catch some fish.

Seems simple enough, doesn’t it? But Peter had an objection. He had been using this method of fishing all night long, and hadn’t caught a thing. It is not possible for us to know Peter’s exact tone of voice when he said, “We have toiled all night.” Maybe it was just an explanation of what happened. Maybe it was said with a touch of humor at being told to do again what he had just finished doing repeatedly with no success. I suspect, though, that there was at least a touch of exasperation in Peter’s voice. I would imagine that when he followed up with, “nevertheless…” he did so with a sigh of resignation, not really believing that the exercise would be anything other than pointless.

There was a time (albeit a very brief time) in human history when manual physical labor was neither exhausting nor frustrating. When Adam was given a garden to tend and keep in Eden, sin had not yet entered into the world. It was only after Adam disobeyed God that God placed a curse upon the world and mankind, so that now our labor has become “toil:” something unpleasant, difficult, and often unproductive.

And unto Adam he said, Because thou hast hearkened unto the voice of thy wife, and hast eaten of the tree, of which I commanded thee, saying, Thou shalt not eat of it: cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life; Thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee; and thou shalt eat the herb of the field; In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.

Genesis 3:17-19

Working hard in a fallen world can still be rewarding, in a sense. Even the fatigue brought on by long tough physical labor carries with it a certain peace, and sometimes a feeling of accomplishment. But, if you’ve ever worked really hard at something, only to experience failure over and over again, you know that your mental state can really play havoc with your physical state. How is it that, when I was younger, I could play baseball in the middle of July from sun-up to sundown and still be full enough of energy to fight off bed time until the wee hours? But the following week, a mere four hours of painting the eaves of the house left me spent, drained, and irritable for the rest of the day? Physical activity is tiring, but somehow successful or fun activity seems way less tiring than physical activity ending in failure.

I suspect that this is what Peter was expressing in Luke 5:5. If he had spent all night catching fish instead of fruitlessly lowering and raising empty nets, he would have been a little more eager to do as Jesus asked. However, the “nevertheless” which Peter speaks forth without any further urging is a good reminder to us to heed the words of Christ even when they may not be to our liking at the moment. “Toil” is not our preferred word for describing the work of our Lord, but neither is it an excuse for goldbricking. The Christian life ought to be a life of service, and service can make us weary, but, thankfully, we serve a kind and loving Master, and our spiritual labors, unlike our physical labors, will never be in vain.

And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not.

Galatians 6:9

But thanks [be] to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord.

I Corinthians 15:57-58

Beware Foolish Functions

June 7, 2013 at 12:11 pm | Posted in Selected Psalms, The Fives | 3 Comments
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We tend to think of foolishness as childishness or silliness: frivolous behavior that does not meet the standard of wisdom, but is ultimately harmless. I used to have a middle school teacher who would lightheartedly admonish the students whispering in the back of the classroom to “stop actin’ a fool!” God, however, takes a much more serious view of foolishness.

The foolish shall not stand in thy sight: thou hatest all workers of iniquity.

Psalm 5:5

We must all seem extremely foolish to God when it comes to our intellectual capacities. After all, God is infinitely wise and omniscient, and there are times when we can barely remember where we put our keys! Here, though, as David the Psalmist prays to the Lord about his (and His) enemies, he is talking about a whole different level of folly.

You may note that the foolish men whom God will not allow to stand in His sight are sandwiched in the middle of verses that talk about God’s complete lack of pleasure in, and hatred for, the wicked, evil, and abhorrent.

You and I need to remember God’s passionate intolerance of sinful foolishness, and we need to especially remember it the next time we are tempted to gauge the seriousness of our sin by how silly, frivolous, or inconsequential it might seem to our biased minds. The Holy Spirit through David groups the “foolish” with those who “work” iniquity. Certainly God is judging us by our hearts, but our actions – those things in which we delight to participate – seem to be the best indicators of exactly what our hearts are embracing. Christians stand before God justified by the blood of Jesus, not by our works, but the application of that blood to our lives is supposed to result in holy living and sanctified functioning.


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