God Is NEVER Lost

I love reading the Old Testament. The events that are captured in the Hebrew Bible are amazing displays of God’s faithfulness, his compassion, his righteousness, and his justice. I am preparing a for a Bible studying in 1 Samuel 4-7. In this passage, the army of Israel is in conflict with the Philistine army. In the first battle, the Israelites lose. They ask themselves what went wrong, and they determine that they need to bring the Ark of the Covenant to the battle field.

It makes sense, the would have remembered the stories of God’s power as the Ark went before their ancestors into the Jordan River, and the water stopped. As Joshua led the army throughout the promised land they had many victories as the LORD fought for them. Now they are facing a powerful enemy, the Philistines, they should get the Ark.

When they Ark arrives in the camp, it was brought by Eli’s sons Hophni and Phineas. They were leading priests, serving under their elderly father’s authority. There is a problem though, Hophni and Phineas are corrupt, they are abusing the people, and Eli knew about it, and warned them, but he didn’t stop them. He may have even benefitted from their wickedness. It’s not a good scene for Eli’s family. A prophet came to Eli and told him that his sons would die on the same day, and that he would die as well. Every day after that message the clock was ticking for Eli’s family.

But the Army believes that now that the Ark is with them they are guaranteed a victory. But that’s not how the story unfolds. The army of Israel was treating the Ark (the symbol of the Lord’s presence among them) as a good luck charm or some kind of totem that they can control. The Philistines hear the Israelites getting excited for the battle, and they determine to fight even harder. So when the battle begins, the Philistines tear apart the army of Israel. Hophni and Phineas die, and the Ark is captured and carried off by the Philistines. When Eli hears all of this, he falls out of his chair and breaks his neck and dies.

It seems like this would be the end of the people of Israel. The Glory of God, symbolized in the Ark, has been taken away. They thought surely, God is lost. But GOD IS NEVER LOST.

As you continue the story the Philistines, think that the Ark is just like any idol, and so they place it in the temple of their god Dagon. But Every day, the statue of Dagon falls over, and one day the hands are broken and the neck is broken. Then the people in the city experience an infestation of rats, and the people begin to have tumors (some people think it may have been hemorrhoids). The God if Israel is causing these troubles for the philistines. And so they try to send it away.

The people thought God was lost, but God was not lost. He was not defeated. And even as they were grieving their losses, God was continuing to fight the Philistines. God is never lost.

Over the past several years, I have heard many people mourning the loss of godly character in our nation. And I agree that there have been radical changes in our country. It doesn’t take long to see things that show that people have chosen to live for themselves and to reject biblical principles. In reading these passages in 1 Samuel, I think it’s important to remember that God’s judgement started in the home of the religious leaders, then it affected the nation. While America is not Israel, and the church is not the priestly community from the Hebrew Scriptures, there are principles that we can learn from.

The scandals in the church in America may be serving as a wake up call to the community of faith. Are we going to continue to live in ways that do not glorify the LORD? Are we going to be more shaped by the worldly culture around us or by the way of Jesus? Are we willing to let go of power and prestige so that we can pick up faithfulness?

But I read passages like this in the Bible and I find comfort. The people thought God was lost, but God was not lost. God is NEVER lost. He is always working.

Chronological Bible Reading Podcast Week 24

This year Pastor Kate and I have been recording weekly podcasts to give an overview of the passages for our Bible reading plan. You can join in with the reading plan in the Creekside App.

You can access this week’s installment here.

You can keep up week to week in the Creekside App.

Subscribe to the Podcast here: Apple Podcasts | Spotify

Parks and Conversation S05.E14

My Friend Jeremy and I make this podcast. We enjoy talking about Parks and Recreation, and others stuff too. This week we ask a very important question: Where are the best donuts? Send us an email parksandconversation@gmail.com.

PARKS AND RECREATION — “Leslie and Ben” Episode 513 — Pictured: (l-r) Adam Scott as Ben Wyatt, Amy Poehler as Leslie Knope (Tyler Golden/NBC)

This week’s episode is called “Leslie and Ben.” This is the wedding of the century planned and executed in just a couple of hours. It’s a sweet episode.

https://share.fireside.fm/episode/DSoIGJOo+7s0eVjV5

Thanks for listening. If you like it, be sure to subscribe in your podcast app of choice. Reviews are also helpful.

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When the World is on Fire

Photo by Matt Palmer on Unsplash

You have probably noticed that things in our world are going . . . not great.

  • War in Ukraine
  • Global inflation
  • Political unrest
  • Violence in schools and neighborhood throughout our country
  • Racial tension
  • and every day there seems to be more

All of this is overwhelming.

With all of this going on we also have people who are serving as arsonist trying to stoke the flames because it makes them feel powerful and important. I think there’s a reason we have come to call the quick positions that people make “hot takes.” People want to keep the fires burning so they can be seen. When the world is full of darkness, the fires may give us a sense of power, control, significance.

But at the end of every fire is ash and destruction.

So how can we live differently when the world is on fire?

I have been wrestling with some fire imagery in the Bible. I am in no way trying to create a comprehensive list, but there are a few things that I have been thinking about.

The Apostle Peter talks about the refining power of fire:

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.

 The New International Version (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011), 1 Pe 1:3–7.

Peter’s audience was enduring hardship and persecution. But God was sustaining them by his mercy. This is a wonderful promise. God sustains us in a world on fire. These early believers were holding on to their faith in the goodness of God and his promised inheritance. They were being transformed through their trials as they learned to depend on Jesus. As they held on their faith was proved genuine.

Every year my wife chooses a theme word. A couple of years ago she chose “genuine.” She wanted her faith to be genuine, she wanted her relationships to be genuine, she wanted her words to be genuine. This was not an easy thing to do, and there were tests to her commitment to that theme. But the Lord Jesus sustained her, and she is (and was) the most genuine person I Know. Fire has a way of removing the filler and the false things in our lives. There are things that need to be removed.

When the world is on fire, are there things that you are willing to let go of? Fire seasons should remind us to hold on to the essentials, and lean into our faith in Jesus.

Another passage that I have been drawn to lately is from 1 Corinthians. I am grieved by the celebrity culture in our world, and I’m grieved by the celebrity culture in the church. When reading the New Testament I am reminded that this is not new. Paul addresses this as different factions are developing around leaders. It doesn’t seem like this is something that any of the leaders wanted, but humanity has a knack for idol making. Paul reminds the Corinthians that the works of every Christian leader, and probably every Christian, will be judged by fire.

11 For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12 If anyone builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, 13 their work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each person’s work. 14 If what has been built survives, the builder will receive a reward. 15 If it is burned up, the builder will suffer loss but yet will be saved—even though only as one escaping through the flames.

The New International Version (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011), 1 Co 3:11–15.

 When the world is on fire, we should evaluate what we are building and the quality of our materials. If we are trying to build on anything other than the foundation of the Gospel of Jesus, we will fail. If we are building with things that may be quick and look impressive, are they really going to last the fire season?

Let’s keep pursing the things that are going to last, and build with those things that have proven to be true. It may not be exciting, it may not get a ton of attention from social media, but we are not building our lives and our ministry for likes from strangers on the internet. We are building our lives on the gospel of Jesus so that when we run our race he will say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

I have one more passage that I have been thinking about. The theme of exile has weighed heavy on my heart and mind lately. In the Old Testament we read that the people of Israel were in exile for decades. First the Assyrians came and took the northern tribes out of the land, then the Babylonians conquered the southern kingdom, and then the Persians and the Medes defeated the Babylonians. Empires came and went. But the people of God were transformed through the exile.

There is one story in particular. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. These three young men were taken from their homes, and placed into a kind a academic service for the Emperor. They were gifted students and the empire was willing to exploit them in an effort to strengthen the kingdom. During this time the King made a massive idol of himself. It was his advisors idea, and because leaders are egomaniacs it seemed like a good idea to him. The advisors were looking for a way to get rid of these young men so they came up with a plan to trap Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. When the music plays, everyone was supposed to worship the idol, whoever didn’t would be executed.

Our three young men were faithful to the LORD and their enemies knew they would refuse to bow down. So they music play, Shacrach, Meshach, and Abednego, didn’t bow, they were arrested, and they were brought before the king. The plan of execution was to throw them into a furnace that was so hot it would kill the people who opened the hatch. The king was trapped in his own laws and so he has to throw these three men in the fire. Nebuchadnezzar interrogates them and their reply is wonderful.

16 Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to him, “King Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. 17 If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand. 18 But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.” 

 The New International Version (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011), Da 3:16–18.

They trusted the God would save them. But even if God didn’t save them they were still going to refuse to bow down.

When the world is on fire, don’t bow to our cultural idols. So much of the fires in our world are started with a spark of idolatry. Money, power, status, sexuality, these are all idols in our age. None of these idols are worth submitting to. Can we live differently? Can we live set apart lives? Don’t bow down.

So the the men are thrown in the furnace and everyone is sure they will die, however:

King Nebuchadnezzar leaped to his feet in amazement and asked his advisers, “Weren’t there three men that we tied up and threw into the fire?” 

They replied, “Certainly, Your Majesty.” 

25 He said, “Look! I see four men walking around in the fire, unbound and unharmed, and the fourth looks like a son of the gods.” 

26 Nebuchadnezzar then approached the opening of the blazing furnace and shouted, “Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, servants of the Most High God, come out! Come here!” 

So Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego came out of the fire, 27 and the satraps, prefects, governors and royal advisers crowded around them. They saw that the fire had not harmed their bodies, nor was a hair of their heads singed; their robes were not scorched, and there was no smell of fire on them. 

28 Then Nebuchadnezzar said, “Praise be to the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, who has sent his angel and rescued his servants! They trusted in him and defied the king’s command and were willing to give up their lives rather than serve or worship any god except their own God.

 The New International Version (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011), Da 3:24–28.

God saved them. Nebuchadnezzar recognized the Lord’s hand at work, and calls this rescuer an angel. Christian tradition often says that this fourth man is an Old Testament appearance of Christ. Whether this is an angel, or the Son of God, doesn’t change the fact that God is a rescuer.

When the world is on fire we can’t look to culture, leaders, idols, or whatever to save us. We need to have confidence that the Lord can save his people. Following Jesus today is risky, but that is why we call it faith. We need to trust in the Lord above all else.

The world is on fire all around us, but I know this:

God is not done. And after the fire, there is possibility for something new and vibrant to take root.

Photo by Lawrence Sawyer / Getty Images – https://www.sunset.com/home-garden/flowers-plants/how-plants-rebound-after-summer-fall-fires

Rolling Stone 500 Greatest Albums: 496 Shakira – Dónde Estan Los Ladrones?

I would imagine I am not the only American music fan who didn’t know Shakira existed until her single “Whenever, Whenever” was on repeat on every music station in 2001. Whenever, Whenever was the lead single for Shakira’s English language album Laundry Service, which was her 5th studio album. I didn’t know of any of her music before that single.

Listening to Dónde Están Los Ladrones, Shakira’s 4th album, is an interesting experience. Because the album is in Spanish, I don’t really know what she’s singing about. So instead of focusing on the lyrics, I am listening to the musicianship and production. This album was released in 1998. There are some element of the production that sound very 1990’s. Which I always find interesting. The Guitar tones, the mix, I can just tell this is a 90s album. And that’s not meant to be a bad thing. I love the 90s.

Also, listening to Shakira’s vocals, there is no doubt that this woman can sing! She has a very interesting voice, that could be compared to Alanis Morissette. I’m not the only person to make that comparison, but when you can’t understand the words, your brain grabs on to similarities where it can.

This album is full of songs that genuinely made me happy as I listened through. There are clear evidences of American pop-music influences, but there are some instrumentation choices that are coming from her Colombian roots. I wish there would have been a bit more Colombian roots.

Also, The title track rocks! This would be a great concert song, and I can imagine when the Chorus hits, the crowd would go nuts.

Rolling Stone 500 Greatest Albums #497 – The Indestructible Beat of Soweto Volume One

This compilation album is full of heart. I really enjoyed the different voices and instrumentation choices. Because this album is not in English I don’t know what they were saying. However, that doesn’t keep one from enjoying the music. This Album was originally released in 1985. Several of the artists have been featured with popular American acts. This was fun as I was listening and I recognized the vocals of Ladysmith Black Mambazo. I love their beautiful harmonies.

I love listening to different languages. These foreign language albums stir up a desire to travel again. I am eager for our world to get COVID-19 under control so we can travel freely again. Someday.