Truth Matters

1 Samuel   5-6 & John 18

I was a teenager when the movie Raiders of the Lost Ark first hit the theatres.  It instantly became one of my all-time favorite movies.  I love the Indiana Jones character and this particular adventure, searching for the Ark of the Covenant, was especially cool to me because it drew from Biblical themes.  The Ark of the Covenant was a real thing containing real power.  What would happen if it was found and fell into the wrong hands, like the Nazi’s?  It was a great story.  It got pretty intense toward the end when they tried to open the Ark.  Spoiler alert: it doesn’t end well for the Nazi’s.

The Nazi’s in the story should have spent less time plotting the genocide of the Jews and global domination and more time reading their Bibles, because the story of the Ark in 1 Samuel 5-6 should have discouraged them from having anything to do with the Ark. (I know, Raiders of the Lost Ark is fiction- but what happens to the Philistines in today’s reading is True).

One thing we know from reading the Bible is that God doesn’t like to share His glory with idols.  God is the one True God and He alone created everything, gives life, sends rain to produce crops and blesses people with fertility.  God takes it very personally when people build statues for other “so called” gods and give them credit for sending rain or helping babies to be born.

I find the story of the Philistines stealing the Ark of the Covenant and bringing it in the temple of their “god”  Dagon humorous.  Dagon was the main god of the Philistines and they offered sacrifices to Dagon so that they could have fertility- their cattle, and their wives.  They wanted lots of cattle to feed their bellies, and they wanted lots of sons to grow up and serve in the army to fight their enemies.  So they prayed and offered sacrifices to Dagon so that Dagon would make their cows and their wives fertile.

We might excuse the ignorance of the Philistines because maybe they didn’t know any better, maybe no one told them the Truth about the True God.  But God made it quite clear to His chosen people, Israel, that they were to worship and serve God alone.  But they were often tempted to worship other gods.  Several stories in the Old Testament show how God was superior and defeated other “so called” gods.  Elijah called down fire from heaven and defeated the prophets of Baal.  Samson’s last act after he had been captured and blinded was to push down the pillars of the temple to Dagon and kill a bunch of the Philistines.    And here, when the Ark of the Covenant is brought into another temple of Dagon,  The statue of Dagon falls down the first time, then falls down again breaking the idol  into pieces.  The Philistines of that town are afraid so they send the Ark to another town.  There, everybody gets tumors and they end up in a panic.  Everywhere the stolen Ark is taken trouble comes to the Philistines, so finally they bring the Ark back to Israel along with a guilt offering (golden tumors and rats, what a thoughtful gift).

The Philistines had trouble discerning fact from fiction- the true God, YHWH, the God of Israel, vs. Dagon, a statue that was quite brittle when it fell to the ground.

Truth matters.  In today’s reading in John 18, after Jesus is arrested and brought to trial, he appears before Pilate, who is the highest representative of the Roman Empire in the region who ultimately decides all capital cases, who lives and who dies.

Pilate is a politician caught between his boss, Caesar, who has tasked him to keep the Jewish people in line and the Jewish people who can turn on him and cause trouble.  He has to carefully consider the political implications of what he’s being asked to do.  Like many politicians and people in charge, he is more of a pragmatist than anything else.  What is going to work out to my best interests here?  He asks Jesus some questions and Jesus gives an answer that he finds quaint.  Jesus answered: “The reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.” 

Truth?  How naïve.  You might imagine the amusement (or scorn) in Pilate’s response when  he asks Jesus: “What is Truth?” 

If the idea of truth was a quaint notion to a first century Roman politician, it’s become reviled and scorned by 20th and 21st century intellectuals.  We live in a time of Postmodernism.  Absolute truth has been replaced by relativism.  Truth is whatever the people who have the power to control government, the news, the arts and higher education say it is.  Truth is what Facebook, or Twitter, or Google’s “fact checkers” say it is. 

Whether you and I like it or not we are in the midst of a culture war.  It’s the same one that’s been going on since the serpent tempted Eve to question God.  It’s the same one that was going on in the temple of Dagon when the stolen Ark  was brought in, it’s the same one that was going on when the Jewish leaders lied about Jesus and brought him to Rome to be condemned and executed, it’s the one that was going on when Pilate asked, “What is truth?”  It’s going on today in a society where the things we’ve always believed about God and virtue,  right and wrong, and pretty obvious things like basic human biology, are all being questioned and redefined.  Gender isn’t about biology it is a social construct.  If you start introducing facts or science or Truth, you will receive as much scorn as Jesus received from Pilate.  But it is a culture war and Jesus told Pilate  that there are two sides: one side is false and the other is true.  Jesus said that if you are on the side of Truth you listen to Jesus.  Pilate chose his side, and so he did what was politically correct and had Jesus crucified to appease the Jewish people.  The question you and I must ask ourselves is whose side am I on?  Am I on the side of Truth, that listens to the words of Jesus?  Pick a side.

-Jeff Fletcher

Today’s Bible reading can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here 1 Samuel 5-6 and John 18

Loving the God who Loves You

Deuteronomy 13-14

You have been hand-selected to be a highly-valued and cherished child of the Most High and living God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. 

Do you believe that? I mean, do you truly and wholeheartedly accept that this is true?

So many people long to have confirmed that they belong and that they have purpose.

You, my friend in faith, have been confirmed for both! 

As if the verses from today’s reading don’t state it plainly, let’s look elsewhere in the New Testament. According to Ephesians 2:19, You are a member of God’s household.

And in the same chapter, just 9 verses before, it declares that you are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for you to accomplish! 

If you accept your position and your purpose, then you need to start acting like it. 

  • Honor God by worshipping Him alone; avoid and get rid of anything, or anyone, that could lead you astray. (Deuteronomy 13)
  • Honor God by taking care of your body. (Deuteronomy 14:1-21). While this section of the chapter is referring to clean and unclean foods, something that the Israelites had to pay close attention to, we can extend the meaning to modern times and consider what we put into our bodies. 
  • Honor God with your stuff and by being generous to those in need. (Deuteronomy 14:22-29) 

Friend, God loves you more than you can possibly imagine. Love Him back, with all that you are. 

-Bethany Ligon

You can read or listen to today’s Bible passages at BibleGateway here – Deuteronomy 13-14 and Luke 15

Judah Kicked Out of the House

Jeremiah 10-13

Jeremiah 12 7 NIV sgl

We all understand what it is to make a promise.  When you were a little kid did you ever do a “pinky swear” with your friend?  When I was in high school we used to “go steady” with that special guy or girl.  If it was really serious you let her wear your class ring or your letter jacket (my HS girlfriend wore both my class ring and my letter jacket).  To go steady was to make a promise, “I won’t date any other girl but you.”  (note, in the 70’s dating in 7th grade might mean walking her from her locker to class, possibly holding hands publicly, and dancing exclusively with her at the sock hop… I know, times have changed.)  When things got rough, you would “break up”.  There would be tears and drama.  After you broke up, it was understood that you no longer were going steady and were free to walk other girls from their locker or dance at the next sock hop.

Marriage is a more serious commitment.  You make a public promise to God and each other before witnesses to love and be faithful to each other until one of you dies.  That kind of promise is known as a covenant.

The nation of Israel was God’s chosen people.  God entered into a covenant with Abraham and his descendants Isaac and Jacob (who later became Israel).  God promised to be their God, to protect them, to provide them with all that they needed:  productive land to live in, abundant children and animals, and protection from their enemies.  In return, God asked Israel to be faithful only to Him.  To worship only God and to follow God’s teaching, God’s instruction, God’s rules for living in community.  They were not to be unfaithful to God by worshipping false gods or man-made gods known as idols.  God warned Israel that if they were not faithful to their covenant with God, they would suffer serious consequences.  God might withhold rain, send plagues, or even allow their larger and more powerful neighboring countries to attack them and God would not defend them.  It was a covenant, a kind of marriage between God and Israel.  In fact, God referred to Israel as His bride.

The bottom line was clear- if you are faithful to God and to the covenant with God, you will be blessed, if you are unfaithful to God and to the covenant, you will be cursed (punished, not experience the blessings).  Throughout their history, Israel frequently went through periods when they were unfaithful to God and violated the covenant.  God would often punish them in some way, they would repent, which means they would turn away from whatever wrong they were doing and return to God, and then God would once again bless them.  However, as time wore on, Israel’s unfaithfulness grew worse and worse, God’s punishments grew harsher and harsher and Israel grew more calloused and disobedient.  Think of a toddler who absolutely refuses to obey his parents.  Usually, a swift punishment will result in repentance.  But after a long time, they had become rebellious teenagers who no longer repented, or as a better example, an unfaithful wife who continually cheats on her husband and doesn’t even bother to hide it from everyone.  Something had to change.

Several hundred years passed since the days of Abraham and later Moses and even King David.  Israel’s unfaithfulness to their covenant with God had grown more brazen as they worshipped Baal and other idols.  Finally, God had had enough.  God was sending his faithless bride into exile.

The prophet Jeremiah was one of several people God sent to Judah, God’s people who lived in the southern Kingdom, where God’s temple in Jerusalem was and from where God’s anointed King ruled.  God told Jeremiah to warn his people that the time had come for them to face the full measure of punishment for breaking faith with God.

Jeremiah 11:6-12

The Lord said to me, “Proclaim all these words in the towns of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem: ‘Listen to the terms of this covenant and follow them. From the time I brought your ancestors up from Egypt until today, I warned them again and again, saying, “Obey me.” But they did not listen or pay attention; instead, they followed the stubbornness of their evil hearts. So I brought on them all the curses of the covenant I had commanded them to follow but that they did not keep.’”

Then the Lord said to me, “There is a conspiracy among the people of Judah and those who live in Jerusalem. 10 They have returned to the sins of their ancestors, who refused to listen to my words. They have followed other gods to serve them. Both Israel and Judah have broken the covenant I made with their ancestors. 11 Therefore this is what the Lord says: ‘I will bring on them a disaster they cannot escape. Although they cry out to me, I will not listen to them. 12 The towns of Judah and the people of Jerusalem will go and cry out to the gods to whom they burn incense, but they will not help them at all when disaster strikes.

This isn’t just, “I’m taking away your cell phone” or “I’m taking away your car keys for a week until you straighten up.”  This is “I’m kicking you out of the house because you refuse to follow the rules.”  It’s harsh punishment.  It’s called “tough love.”   Even loving parents are sometimes forced to have an “intervention” or in the South we say “come to Jesus meeting”.

To illustrate the point, in chapter 13 God tells Jeremiah to get a linen belt, go bury it near a river, then later go back and retrieve the belt, that by then was ruined, and then show it to the people as a visible illustration of what Israel did.  God joined himself to His people symbolized by the linen belt, it was pure and spotless, and yet his people ruined that covenant by their unfaithfulness.  Now, they must face the consequences.

If you are a Christian, you entered into a covenant with God as well.  It was a new covenant, not based on your birth as a descendant of Abraham, but through faith in God’s son, Jesus Christ.  Water baptism is a visible symbol of that covenant.  When you entered that covenant you promised to worship God alone and follow Jesus Christ and keep his instructions.  Have you stayed faithful to your covenant promise to God through faith in Jesus Christ?  Or have you treated your promises to God like that linen belt that’s ruined and worthless.  The good news is, if you’ve been unfaithful to your promises to God there is still time to repent.  What are you waiting for?  Will you do it today?  Pinky swear?

Pastor Jeff Fletcher

 

Today’s Bible passage, Jeremiah 10-13, can be read or listened to at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Jeremiah+10-13&version=NIV

Tomorrow’s reading will be Jeremiah 14-17 as we continue our journey through the 2020 Chronological Bible Reading Plan