Tried in the Court of Public Opinion

“The worthless men brought a charge against Naboth in the presence of the people, saying, ‘Naboth cursed God and the king.’ So they took him outside the city and stoned him to death with stones” (1 Kings 21:13, ESV)

The long-awaited report has been filed with the Attorney General. Unless you have avoided all media for the past two years, you have heard that President Trump has been tried in the court of public opinion for collusion with the Russians to rig the 2016 election by the Mueller Investigation. The official verdict of the investigation is that neither he nor any of his team worked with the Russians to undermine our elective process. Stated positively — he won the election fair and square, and is the rightfully installed POTUS.

The tactic that was used to try to unseat Mr. Trump was right out of Scripture. It had been tried about 850 years before the common era (BCE). The king of Israel was Ahab and his wife was Jezebel. Ahab approached a man named Naboth to purchase his vineyard, but Naboth refused because Naboth was determined to preserve the family property/inheritance that had been established by the God of Israel after Joshua conquered the land of Canaan. This frustrated Ahab, so Jezebel took matters in her own hands and convened a special public event at which a couple of “worthless men” falsely accused Naboth of “[cursing] God and the king.” The public outrage led to Naboth’s execution.

The attempt to engage public opinion to condemn an innocent man (in this case, a man duly elected to public office) employed virtually every media outlet in America for the past two years. But it failed — so far. Mr. Mueller included the statement in his report that although there was no evidence of collusion, it did not exonerate Mr. Trump. Just as Naboth was guilty without<span class=”Apple-converted-space”>  </span>any corroborating evidence, it appears that Mr. Trump will continue to be tried outside our courts until he is destroyed. One of the principal principles of American jurisprudence is that a person is innocent until proven guilty. Mr. Mueller spent (reportedly) in excess of $25,000,000 over a two year period to establish a violation of the law, could not find one, yet declares that Mr. Trump is not exonerated. This statement is in violation of the American legal system and in violation of the the normal definition of “exonerated.” Mr. Trump has every right to feel like Naboth.

The Scripture doesn’t speak about Naboth’s family in this story, so we can only speculate (but with great sympathy). After being blind-sided by false accusations against their family member, they lost him and their property to the elite and powerful people of their day. (And the desire to retain power has been behind the Mueller Investigation from the beginning.) Mr. Trump’s family likely will celebrate a major victory, but the “not exonerated” line (however irrational it is) will signal to them that they will still have to endure more attacks upon their family. In reality, this family is experiencing the pressure of the larger war of our culture over the ascendancy of a conservative, if not a Christian, worldview versus a liberal one.

Happily for God-fearing people, the story did not end with Ahab rejoicing over his spoils of victory. While he gloated over the property he acquired by deceit and slander, he was met by the prophet Elijah who informed him that the God of Israel that created this world, that will execute true justice, Who provided the very air he breathed and food he ate, by Whose will Ahab retained a position of power in his world, had seen what Jezebel had done for Ahab’s benefit. There would be judgment.

Happily for those who perpetrated the crime, the Lord commends Ahab’s sincere repentance. In His judgment, He remembered mercy. And those in our day that have slandered and deceived to manipulate their political will can find that same mercy if they also will repent.

Take Hold of Instruction

Take hold of instruction; do not let go. Guard her for she is your life (Prov 4:13)

Being instructed is hard. It rubs against our pride by forcing us to admit that there is something lacking in us. Everything in our society tells us that we are complete and adequate in ourselves, just as we are. There is nothing in us that requires instruction, at least not morally; men are basically good in themselves. If there is a flaw, society will take care of that through its Department of Corrections. The emphasis in public education upon “self-esteem” undermines real instruction. No longer does a student have to master a certain body of material; he is given passing marks so that he will feel good about himself. As a result of this unBiblical philosophy, larger numbers of our society are having to be “corrected.”

But Solomon’s words to us – if they are followed – actually help us live satisfying lives, because they keep us humble. We don’t think “more highly of ourselves than we ought to think” (Rom 12:3). We recognize in these words that there is real life…satisfying life…fulfilling life…abundant life, not a pretense of life like we see in the characters on TV and the movies. That’s why Solomon tells us to “guard her.”

Primarily Solomon has the informal instruction of a parent to his child in mind, but it is not outside the meaning here to think of formal instruction. Some professions expect a certain amount of “Continuing Education” or “Professional Development” of their members. My own course in seminary is stretching me to read things that I might otherwise have set aside. In some cases I have read books that I had not known existed, books confirming certain convictions in me but which I had no idea had been put into print. The confirming of those convictions has been a great encouragement to me, in some cases delivering me from an “Elijah Syndrome,” the feeling of being all alone in my ministry.

I’m glad I “[took] hold of instruction.”

Testing Our Faith

At that time the LORD said to Joshua, “Make flint knives and circumcise the Israelites again.” So Joshua made flint knives and circumcised the Israelites at Gibeath Haaraloth (Josh 5:2-3).

This is one of the places in the Biblical narrative where geography plays an important role in understanding what is happening in this passage.

Joshua has taken over for Moses in leading Israel. To confirm this God parted the Jordan River at flood stage so that Israel could to cross into the land. This would imitate the great miracle He did in the leadership of Moses – the crossing of the Red Sea – and remind the people that Joshua was indeed God’s choice to succeed Moses. After the nation crossed, the river returned to its natural state.

The place that Israel crossed and camped was not far from the place where the Jordan River feeds into the Dead Sea. Geographically, this is the lowest point in elevation on the face of the earth. Within about 5 miles, and, more importantly, within sight was the fortified city of Jericho. Joshua, Israel’s military commander under Moses and now the political leader, was looking up at the city, with no place of escape behind him – not the place a military commander would seek to launch an attack from. It was at this point that God tells Joshua to circumcise his army, effectively disabling his army for 2-3 days. Had the king of Jericho tried, he could have launched an attack just then and destroyed completely the army that was threatening him. He, of course, didn’t know this but it didn’t make it any less significant that Joshua was risking the safety of his nation by immobilizing is army.

Why didn’t God have them do this before they crossed the Jordan? Why did He wait until the River had returned to flood stage? It was simply and solely because He wanted to test the faith of His leader. Joshua passed.

There are times when God tells His people to do what is totally against the dictates of human reason, but to do it at His command and in dependence upon Him. Tithing is such a command. In an age when there is such financial pressure on families, He still calls upon us to give a tithe (see Matt 23:23 and Luke 11:42). The idea is not that we deplete our resources; it that we honor the One who owns it all. And this often goes counter to accepted practice in our society.

A related area is that God promises us that if we seek first His kingdom, all our material needs will be cared for. So, should a Christian mom take a job and put her kids in day care or should she stay at home and instill the values in them that she believes? Should a teen take a part-time job that will require him/her to work on Sunday?

There are other apparently irrational things that God calls us to do that we should do in obedience, just like Joshua (e.g., consider Isaiah 40:31). If we are fully devoted to Him, He will test our faith.

The Anchor

Blessed is the one who reads the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear it and take to heart what is written in it, because the time is near (Rev 1:3).

Theologians and Bible teachers have debated for centuries what “this prophecy” refers to. Does John promise blessing for reading the twenty-two chapters of the Book of Revelation or is the blessing for those who read the whole of the Scripture? We won’t resolve this debate in this blog, but we will testify to the blessing that reading either this book or the whole of the Scripture brings.

For more than 30 years I have been committed to reading the Bible, cover to cover, each year. It started with merely reading five minutes a day. My reasoning went something like this, “If God created me and has a purpose for my life, should I not set apart – at a minimum – five minutes each day to listen to Him?” Certainly He deserves much more than a mere five minutes, but since I could not predict how my life would go and what demands would be placed upon it over the course of time, I vowed only to this small amount. Still, that vow has kept me in the Scripture daily – usually for more than five minutes. On the rare occasion when I have failed, I have been conscious that the Holy Spirit has awakened me – sometimes from a very deep sleep – and has prompted me to fulfill my vow.

This vow to read the Word has created stability in my life like nothing else could. It has comforted me in trying times; it has reminded me of the Source of every blessing when times have been good, keeping me from thinking too highly of myself. When the world around me has been uncertain, whether due to politics, economics or personal loss, the Word has brought assurance that it will remain and that He is my refuge.

This vow has also brought real direction to me over the years. It has been – in the words of David – “a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (Ps. 119:105). There have been many times when my daily reading schedule has brought me to a passage of Scripture that was clear direction for that moment, if not that day. Most of these have not been profound, out-of-body experiences, but the quiet confidence that I had heard from God.

Whether you regularly read all sixty-six books or just the last one, John’s promise is true – you will be blessed. Nothing can be an anchor to our lives like reading this Book.

The Trust Fund

How great is your goodness, which you have stored up for those who fear you, which you bestow in the sight of men on those who take refuge in you (Ps 31:19).

Unanswered prayer is the grief of many Christians today. There are usually no answers to the questions of “Why does He delay to answer me? Doesn’t He see how much I am suffering?”

As one who has wrestled with these questions many times, I have taken great comfort in Psalm 31:19. It seems that the Lord has a “savings account” of His goodness toward me that I will one day be able to cash in. Perhaps a better illustration would be a “trust fund,” because it is an account that cannot be drawn from whenever I would like. Someone else determines when I will receive it.

To access this “trust fund” of God’s goodness to me I must exercise the same kind of faith that a child with a financial trust fund would exercise. It is only a matter of time before I will receive my store of God’s blessing. I must trust that the Word of the One that is managing this fund is true. The only difference is that the time for me is uncertain while the child will know when his inheritance will be given to him.

While I am waiting for the display of His goodness the verse tells me the two things I must continue to do: fear Him and take refuge in Him. These are not passive, but active verbs. “Fear” carries the idea of seeking Him wholeheartedly, rather than in just a perfunctory way. “Taking refuge in Him” is an admission of our own weakness and inadequacy.

Some believe that this verse suggests that the display of God’s goodness to us will be apparent to all at the Judgment, but my opinion is that the phrase, “in the sight of men,” is that it will be here on earth, not just at a later time. David had earlier stated, “I am still confident of this: I will see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living” (Ps 27:13).

The Lord has His goodness in store for those who trust Him. We don’t always understand why He tells us that we must wait, and it sometimes distresses us when people around us are looking for external evidence of His reality, but He has His purposes, and those purposes are perfect.

Spirit of God, descend upon my heart. Wean it from earth, through all its pulses move;
Stoop to my weakness mighty as Thou art, And make me love Thee as I ought to love.
Teach me to feel that Thou art always nigh; Teach me the struggles of the soul to bear:
To check the rising doubt, the rebel sigh, Teach me the patience of unanswered prayer.

(George Croly, 1780-1860)

The Unseen World

In fact, no one can enter a strong man’s house and carry off his possessions unless he first ties up the strong man. Then he can rob his house (Mark 3:27).

Though most of us don’t understand much of it, the Bible makes it clear that there is an unseen world around us that somehow influences this world. This is Jesus’ subject in this passage of Scripture in Mark 3.

The New Testament suggests a cosmology of angelic beings that exercise their power over various entities within our world. There seems to be a distinction in Paul’s mind between the various angelic beings that he describes in Colossians 1:16, “thrones or powers or rulers or authorities.” What exactly the various beings influence is unclear, but there is ample evidence to suggest that some of these beings influence individuals (for good or for bad) and some influence nations or perhaps, ethnic groups. In a vision the prophet Daniel describes one of these angelic beings as “the prince of Persia” (10:13), suggesting that his influence was over that whole nation or people.

When Jesus was speaking in Mark 3, it appears that He was referring to this unseen cosmology because it was in the context of a discussion about Satan’s influence in this world. Satan is described as “the god of this world” in 2 Cor. 4:4, and the metaphor is changed to a house in Mark 3. But in both pictures Satan and his angelic majesties are in view and the reference to “the strong man” that must be bound is a reference to Satan or one of his demons. Jesus (and His body, the Church) are seeking to “carry off his possessions,” the people that are still under his dominion.

The exact meaning of this statement, then, hinges on what it means to “bind the strong man.” Not only, it would appear, does the unseen world have influence over ours, but we in this world can exert some influence over that world as well, probably through prayer, fasting and other spiritual disciplines. In my opinion these disciplines are the means by which we become partners with Him in the work of the kingdom.

I suggest that one of the ways we are to “bind the strong man” is by prayer for the people groups that are still unreached in our world. Satan is the one who has “blinded the minds of the unbelieving” (see again 2 Cor. 4:4). By “binding” him, then, we would release these people from the blindness so that they can see Christ and turn to Him.

The Bible is clear in Matthew 24:14 that Jesus will return when the last person is reached with the Gospel. By binding Satan through prayer, we are partnering with Him in the great cause of world evangelization, and hastening His return.

Their Hearts Burned

They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?” Luke 24:32

On the evening of the Resurrection of Jesus, as the word was beginning to circulate that something had happened to the body of Jesus, two men were walking along a road toward the town of Emmaus when they were joined by a stranger. It was Jesus, but they couldn’t recognize Him.

They were amazed that this Man seemed to not know the news that Jesus had been crucified, much less that He was reported to have been seen alive again. So Jesus explained to the men all that the Scriptures had to say about Himself “beginning with Moses and the Prophets” (Luke 24:27). Later, after He became known to them, they realized how His discourse had affected them.

The hearts of these men “burned” within them because they were searching for the Truth, and the Truth was being revealed to them. They didn’t have a flippant, fatalistic attitude that found expression in a phrase like “Oh well, it must not have been God’s will!” They were earnestly trying to make sense of the things that had happened and to see these events within the grander scheme of God’s redemptive plan. They were looking to know Truth. They would find it within the revelation of Scripture, explained by the One who embodied the Truth. What a privilege was theirs that makes many of us envious!

Having known Christ in this culture for the past 35 years, I confess that I am cynical about how many people today are really searching for Truth. Many SAY they are, but the cares and comforts of this life are usually more important. It is unusual – but supremely joyful – these days to find a brother or sister whose greatest concern is simply to know Jesus and His Truth.

But though I tend to be cynical today, I am confident that this tribe will increase in the next few years (if Jesus tarries). As the prosperity of our Western culture wanes, as people become disillusioned with the emptiness of materialism, there will be a hunger for the Word again in the hearts of men, because, as Augustine said, “Our hearts are restless until they find their rest in Thee.” Solomon’s statement in Ecclesiastes that God has placed “eternity in our hearts” implies that the things of this world will never truly satisfy. It may take some time for us to try “everything,” but once we do, the hunger in us for eternal Truth will burn. The junk food spiritual diet many today live on just won’t satisfy.

Motives

Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait till the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of men’s hearts. At that time each will receive his praise from God (1 Cor 4:5).

In a performance driven world, most of us are used to being judged on the basis of our work. Business managers are concerned over the “bottom line”; salesmen, on the amount they sell; teachers, on the progress of their students; and factory workers, on the amount they produce. But Paul notes here that our judgment before God will be on the basis of our motives, not our works. The “why” of what we do is more important to God than the “what” or “how much” of what we do. Two men were standing in the Temple one day praying – they were both doing the same thing – but one man was boasting in his prayers while the other man was humbling himself. Jesus said that the humble man was the one who was justified, not the braggart.

Many people serve in the Church in an attempt to impress God with their service or sacrifice, but He is not impressed. They haven’t sacrificed anything compared to Him. Other people think that their service should be enough to overcome any negatives that they have done – they are trying to earn His favor. Again, He is not impressed because nothing we do is enough to pay the penalty owed to an infinitely holy God.

But when we “Love the Lord [our] God with all our heart…soul…mind…and strength” we do for Him out of a motive of gratitude, not obligation. When a spouse prepares meals (or any of the plethora of duties within a marriage) for his/her partner, it is not usually done out of a sense of duty or obligation, but a joyful service to the one he/she loves. So it should be with service to the God that created, redeemed and sustained us.

When we fail our spouse in some way, the wounds he/she feels are not assuaged by gifts or sacrifices, they are healed to genuine repentance. It is no different with God. He is not interested in our self-abasement or sacrifice – He is interested in real repentance, in our broken and contrite hearts (Ps 51:17).

Lord, make my motive always one where Your reputation is more important than my own. Deliver me from trying to make my service somehow to be about me instead of You. Forgive any times I have tried to impress You with my sacrifices or my dedication. I give You permission to expose the real motive of my heart in any service I render. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.