It is a well-known fact that apathy destroys whole countries. Wealth lulls people into a state of complacency that avoids conflict at all costs. Government seizes the opportunity to gain power. Oppression always follows. “Hard times create tough people. Tough people create good times. Good times create soft people. Soft people create hard times” (loosely paraphrased from Those Who Remain by Michael Hopf).
Faith is not immune. Hebrews 2.1-4 strongly warns us against apathetic faith. What happens when we lose interest in our awesome spiritual freedom? We put distance between ourselves and God. This isn’t without consequences.
“How will we escape if we disregard our salvation?” (2.3). We won’t! Apathy is scary because the consequences arrive in plain sight and at a slow pace. We can easily see them coming, but choose to ignore them for a few more moments of complacent bliss. Once consequences arrive, they’re miserable on multiple levels.
So, how do we get rid of apathy? Hebrews 2.5ff gives some hypes:
We’re in Charge of the World to Come (5)
God Is Invested in Us (6)
Jesus Is in Charge Now (7-8)
Jesus Rescued Us (8-10)
Jesus Sees Us As Family (11-16)
Jesus Goes to Bat for Us (17-18)
Finally: “How much more severely do you think someone deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified them, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace?” (10.29).
Elijah is known as one of the greatest prophets. We’re introduced to him in 1 Kings 17 and God is preparing him to accomplish great things. As God leads him he begins to grow in faith while following His lead. Ahab wears the crown after his father Omri, but he is significantly more wicked. In fact, he’s more wicked than all before him. It’s fitting that during such a terrible time someone like Elijah makes his appearance.
There’s an interesting event that takes place while the prophet shelters by a brook that God had led him to. Ravens fly in with bread and meat to keep him sustained. The raven was an unclean animal, yet God is helping Elijah grow in several ways during this period. He’s leading, and Elijah follows in faith. He could not deny that God sent him the ravens, yet it went against his upbringing. Even so, he still ate.
One lesson we can pull from this account is that God can use the unclean for His purposes. God can use the evil people and nations to accomplish His will. An unfaithful Christian can share the gospel and a sinful man can make good and godly decisions, all the while remaining unclean. That’s a humbling lesson. We can act faithful, but we can remain filthy. We don’t want that! It’s my prayer that today we can make a fresh commitment to be faithful to God in all things. He can lead us through even the darkest times, if we have the faith to follow.
Judges 12 details a civil war between Ephraim and the Gileadites of Manasseh. God used Jephthah and the Gileadites to humble Ephraim. The haughty Ephraimites felt they could bully Jephthah and the Gileadites as they had previously bullied Gideon (Judges 8). Jephthah and his men ended up slaying 42,000 Ephraimites. One of the keys to the Gileadites’ lopsided victory was seizing the fords over the Jordan River. And when fleeing Ephraimites tried to cross, they were asked for a “password.” The password was “shibboleth.” Various commentators have offered different definitions for the word, but its meaning is not necessary to understand the text. Here is what we need to know: The Ephraimites could not pronounce the word “shibboleth,” as the Gileadites. Thus, they replied, “sibboleth.” Having been betrayed by their dialect, the Gileadites then slew the Ephraimites.
Wordsmiths know that, beyond its Biblical source, shibboleth has come to mean any word or practice separating one group from another. Christians should have shibboleths, correct? They are called upon to transform themselves from the world rather than conform to it (Romans 12.1-2). However, while perusing several online dictionaries, I noted that they also tended to look upon a shibboleth unfavorably, calling it an “old-fashioned” or “outdated” idea still clung to by some. In the example sentences provided by those aforementioned dictionaries, shibboleths seem connected with “conservative-thinking” people. So, evidently, “progressives” must not be hampered by them. Frankly, it is hard to keep up with the self-righteousness of progressives. Their mores change so swiftly that sometimes they snare even themselves when a past tweet or video surfaces. It reminds me of the foolish man building his house upon the sand (Matthew 7.26-27).
God is aware of the mindset that mocks established standards. Jeremiah records God’s words: “Stand by the ways and see and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is, and walk in it; and you will find rest for your souls.” (6.16) Not unlike those living today, Jeremiah’s contemporaries replied, “We will not walk in it.” (ibid.) To borrow modern parlance, those in ancient Judah found the old paths “shibboleth.” But who gives such persons the right to esteem something as antiquated? Honestly, it seems like it is the “right” of the squeakiest wheel, those with the largest echo chamber. Those of us with our shibboleths abandoned the arena of popular culture, education, and media. Hence, we can only blame ourselves for allowing the castigation of truth as incompatible with temporary society.
But lest we forget, the victors from the source material had their shibboleth while the defeated had their sibboleth. As someone has said in summation of the book of Revelation, the message is that in the end, God wins. That is applicable here as well. God brings victory to those with the shibboleth, not sibboleth. No, it is not a superior concept because it is older. We can find new ways to do something that is “old.” (e.g., We may use new mediums to teach the “old Jerusalem Gospel.”) The shibboleth is what was given by God in His inspired word. Sibboleths reflect the precepts of men (cf. Matthew 15.8-9). We must not drop even one consonant sound (cf. Deuteronomy 4.2; 12.32; Proverbs 30.6; Revelation 22.18).
When I eventually cross the Jordan River ford, I want to find life, not death. Don’t you agree? To safely cross, an obedient life is our “password.”
Our family used to hike a lot when we lived in Colorado. There were many hikes that I went on that were straight up miserable. Ive always been the chunky kid, but the worst part about this was that Iwas surrounded by a healthy and very active family.. This meant that on every hike I was the one in the back feeling like I was about to pass away. Hiking was never really something I was the best at. There are several times I remember thinking, “I’m not going to make it.”
We used to hike a trail called “Moffit Tunnel” It was an 11 mile hike that ended with a summit path that gained 3000 feet of elevation in under half a mile. As you can imagine the path was practically vertical, and filled with rocks, mud, snow, and sadness.
When I think of “a hard path” this is what comes to my mind. In Matthew 7:13-14, Jesus describes the way to salvation as a path that isn’t for the faint hearted; it’s for the dedicated Christian that is determined to reach eternal life. There’s no denying that the Christian life can be tough. It is filled with persecution, especially for those who aren’t as fortunate to have the freedoms we enjoy in America. The Christian life is tough because we will face persecution, but we are more likely to face rejection in our society today for standing up for some very unpopular teachings. If we are devoted to teaching and standing with God’s Word this means we must defend God’s view on homosexuality, marriage, divorce, and remarriage, baptism, sin, hell, and many more divisive topics. If we are devoted to walking the difficult path we must remain faithful in the rejection, hatred and persecution we will face.
But the rejection and hate from the world isn’t the only thing hard about this path.
As Christians we are commanded to put ourselves to death. Matt. 10:37-39 say, “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”
Walking the difficult path means we have put ourselves to death. In doing so we are saying we love Christ more than our parents, our children and ourselves. In order to walk the difficult path we must be willing to take up our cross and follow Jesus. The cross is an instrument of death. The cross we pick up is the instrument of death that we have used to crucify ourselves on. Once we have taken up our cross we have made the decision to love Christ over anyone and everyone. We no longer serve ourselves because we have died to Christ.
When we choose to walk the difficult path we are no longer living without purpose. We have a goal, a meaning for our lives. God uses us to spread His saving word to others. We have purpose in everything we do. We are here to encourage each other, to save souls, and to glorify God. One of humanity’s most asked question, “Why am I here?,”is answered by God. How we serve God will ultimately change someone else’s eternal destiny. We are given the true words of life that are able to save our most valuable possession, our souls. We also experience the blessing of having confidence in death. Death is scary. Why are so many scared of death? It’s the unknown, the end of our existence as we have known it. As Christians, when we choose to walk the difficult path, we are given the promise that when we face death we can be confident in knowing our soul is in the hands of almighty God. We know what is coming, and we can find hope in this.
On at least two different occasions, Jesus said, “Go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice’” (Matthew 9.13; Matthew 12.7). It’s quoted from Hosea 6.6, but in multiple other passages God tells us that He prefers obedience over going through the motions of worship (Isaiah 1.11ff; Amos 5.21; Micah 6; Mark 7).
This is NOT saying that worship is less important than obedience, since obedience causes us to worship. It does show God’s attitude toward those who claim to follow Him, but whose actions say otherwise. Listen to the force behind His words in Amos 5.21, “I hate, I despise your feasts, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies.” Israel had adopted some religious and social misconduct.
Do our actions cause God to wince at our worship? Israel was God’s chosen nation, but when they neglected to show mercy, justice, compassion, or faithfulness, God rejected their worship and sent them into captivity. So what kind of worship does God love? Obedience, mercy, pursuing good, showing compassion to those less powerful, integrity, justice, and being morally pure (Amos 5.11ff).
There is a rite of passage dreaded by aging music fans; It is the day that your favorite music, your youth’s music, becomes relegated to a niche station on platforms like satellite radio. Fortunately, music providers have found more creative ways of marketing such specialty stations than slapping the “classic” or “oldies” label upon it. Instead, you are now a member of an exclusive club of people with exquisite musical taste. Yes, I am such a club member, and I listened to “my station” while running errands. The unofficial theme of my present love life began playing on the radio: “Everything You Want.” As one who finds illustrations in practically everything, I started drawing religious parallels. However, before you can understand those parallels, I first need to fill you in about the song.
“Everything You Want” was released by the alternative rock band Vertical Horizon in 1999 and became a hit in July of 2000. It became Billboard’s Most Played Single of 2000. Matt Scannell, the songwriter, explained that an ex-girlfriend inspired the song. She looked for love and acceptance everywhere but the person who loved her the most. Obviously, as a listener unaware of the backstory, I interpreted the song differently. I thought of those times when a member of the fairer sex made an offhanded comment about wanting to meet someone “just like” me. (I seem to live in a place called “the friend zone.”) I wished to reply, “Why do you want ‘just like’ when the original is available?” Unrequited love can be frustrating, as it has been for me, or sad, as with the songwriter.
Would it surprise you to know God experienced unrequited love too? God compared Himself to the husband of two faithless women, Oholah and Oholibah (Ezekiel 23.1ff). Elsewhere, Solomon admitted his spiritual infidelity in the book of Ecclesiastes. Solomon looked for happiness and contentment in EVERYTHING but what ultimately mattered. After his vain pursuit of such things, Solomon says, “The conclusion, when all has been heard, is: fear God and keep His commandments, because this applies to every person.” (Ecclesiastes 12.13 NASB1995) The famous baseball player-turned-preacher, Billy Sunday, once summed up such people as Oholah, Oholibah, and Solomon. They have only enough religion to make them miserable. Sunday added, “If there is not joy in religion, you have got a leak in your religion.” Indeed. The problem lies not with the Bridegroom but the bride. Yes, if there is no love for Him, or our love has faded, the fault lies in us.
How do we show our love for the Bridegroom? He says we show our love by keeping His commandments (John 14.15). Is it that simple? Yes, obedience springs from the mindset of putting God and His kingdom first (Matthew 6.33). We stray when we look for fulfillment elsewhere. And for the one yet to put on Christ in baptism (Galatians 3.27), the preference is for another whom he or she believes can bring similar joy: “The love of God enamors me, but the world gives me pleasure without requiring ‘burdensome’ commandment-keeping.” Jesus assures us that His yoke is not a burden (Matthew 11.28-30). As Saul discovered on the road to Damascus, we only hurt ourselves when we fight against that yoke. Jesus told Saul that he was kicking against the sharpened sticks (i.e., goads) used to pen cattle (Acts 26.14). Thus, I urge you, whether you have left your first love like Ephesus (Revelation 2.4) or have not confessed your love for the Savior, that you don’t ignore the Greatest Love you have ever known or can ever know (John 3.16).
It may seem odd to close devotional thoughts out with secular lyrics, but I will do so anyway. I pray that you do not find a relevant metaphor for your relationship with Jesus Christ in these lyrics. He loves you. Don’t make His an unrequited love:
“He’s everything you want He’s everything you need He’s everything inside of you That you wish you could be He says all the right things At exactly the right time But he means nothing to you And you don’t know why.”
We get an interesting glimpse into the life of the early church in Acts 2.44-47. While it is not practical for us to live in that same way, there is one principle that we should examine. The early church spent a great deal of time together outside of their worship on the first day of the week. Acts 2.46 says, “And day by day, they were devoted to the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all of the people.” What’s going on here? The members of the church dedicated time every day to growing in their relationships with one another. To them, “church” was so much more than just showing up for worship every time the doors were open. It was the Monday through Saturday relationships that fortified their faith. What was the result of this dedication? “And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved” (Acts 2.47). Are we likely to live for a faith we have not invested in? Are we likely to stand up under trials if we do not have a sense of community in the church? Are we likely to resist temptation without strong ties in God’s family? The early church faced trials we could never understand, yet they remained faithful because of their strong relationships and resulting faith. The early church relied on constant contact with one another to help them build their faith. Nothing builds a Christian’s faith more than being around a group of people who want the same thing (to live like Christ), genuinely care for one another, and share a common goal (heaven).
They are mentioned throughout the Old Testament, pagan shrines Israel and Judah put up typically to worship idols. Moses warns about them as early as Leviticus (26:30) and Numbers (22:41). This was the unrighteous practice of the Canaanites (Numbers 33:52), but it was adopted early and often by God’s people. Solomon appears to be the first king to lead the people into this, part of the evil influence of his pagan wives (1 Kings 11:7).It would become one of the reasons the northern kingdom is destroyed and the southern kingdom is taken into captivity (Psalm 78:58). It seems that this was one of the harder vices for God’s people to remove, even when times were at a relatively spiritual high. During the righteous reigns of Joash (2 Kings 12:3), Amaziah (2 Kings 14:4), Uzziah (2 Kings 15:4), Jotham (2 Kings 15:35), and others, this was an exception to their righteous rule.Occasionally, a king was thorough enough to remove these (2 Chronicles 14:3), but soon they were rebuilt and the people went right back to using them.Calvin explains that it was through these high places“that the service of God would be perverted and contaminated, unless they were regulated in every part of it by the Divine Word” (Commentary on the Book of Psalms, Vol. 3, Logos).
God had a place to be worshipped and a way to be worshipped. The high place was a concession or accommodation that became a stumbling block to the people’s spiritual health. The temptation arose through it to change the object of worship and to see the high place as a convenient substitute for the tabernacle and the temple. But, the worst of all religious practices ultimately occurred there (Jeremiah 19:5). Only in Josiah’s reign, just a few decades before Babylonian Captivity, were they finally destroyed (2 Kings 23:4-20).
Is it possible for me to construct my own high place, a shrine or altar to something that becomes a hindrance to serving God faithfully? It might be a vice, a habit, or a secret sin, something I retreat to as an indulgence or allow myself to participate in. It might be an attitude, disposition, or character trait that is the exception to my spiritual rule. It might be an unhealthy relationship or person I allow to unduly sway me. I might say, “It’s just this one thing or area of my life. What’s the big deal?”
Maybe that’s how the Israelites looked at the high places. But, nothing can be allowed to occupy mental and spiritual space that belongs only to God. I cannot rationale or compartmentalize something as my self-made exception to God’s rule. Sin grows and expands when it is not dealt with and rooted out. I must regularly examine myself (2 Corinthians 13:5) to make sure only Christ is seated upon the throne of my heart. Jesus challenges me, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind” (Matthew 22:37, emphasis mine). I must be vigilant to take that challenge most seriously!
Life has dramatically changed for us on a daily basis. Whether it be liberties that have been restricted or routines that have been disrupted, we have experienced significant upheaval. Some of it has been dramatically better, as for many we have been given a slower pace that has produced much more time with family and projects done together that we will always treasure. There is vast potential for much better marriage and family habits to come from this experience, as well as a reshuffling of priorities on the other side of this quarantine.
Of course, for many this will be remembered as a season of trial. We are hearing of members of the church who have contracted and even died with this deadly virus. Church families around the nation have members who are part of the at least ten percent of those who have lost their jobs or been laid off. How many parents, grandparents, and other loved ones are in nursing homes, assisted living facilities, hospitals, and residences where we cannot have physical contact with them for their safety’s sake? As devastating as anything, though, is the dreadful disruption to “church life” because we cannot assemble together for church services, fellowship activities, devotionals, seminars and workshops, and the like. There will be permanent, far-reaching impacts physically, economically, and socially, but what about spiritually?
Guard Against Social Disconnection
For the time being, we are more or less forced into social distancing. Hopefully, this can be modified soon and ultimately return to pre-virus levels. It will be important to return to the physical dimension of contact with each other provided uniquely through our assemblies. My prayer is that we will treasure fellowship like never before. We will zealously obey the command to consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds through our assemblies (Heb. 10:24-25), being “devoted to one another in brotherly love” and to “give preference to one another in honor” (Rom. 12:10) between our scheduled services (Acts 2:46). Don’t let the devil use this to form a permanent social wedge between you and the church.
Guard Against Stress And Anxiety
There are no psychological studies to measure the effects of mass isolation and sheltering in place on a scale like this has caused. No doubt, the more functional and stable the home environment and the more emotional support available to a person, the better he or she will fare. How many cut off from their normal routines are also constantly feeding themselves a steady diet of the news, which none can rightly classify as edifying? Conspiracy theories aside, there are the stressors like the ones mentioned above. Fears can eclipse faith and worry can lead to weakness. This trial is an excellent opportunity to build trust (Psa. 37:3-6), endurance (Jas. 1:3), righteousness (Heb. 12:11), hope (Job 13:15), and more.
Guard Against Spiritual Doldrums And Self-Absorption
This has tested our time management skills. Having more time on our hands does not automatically translate into “making the most of the opportunity” (Col. 4:5). Will we have done more binge-watching or Bible reading through this? Will we have tended more to self-care or finding ways to serve (phone calls, texts, emails, cards, etc., to spiritual family and others we might influence and encourage)? Will we have focused more on how this has impacted us or how we can impact others?
The good news is that, for all of us, this is a story whose last chapters have not been written. Each day is an opportunity for spiritual growth and improvement. None of us would have wished something like this to happen, but each of us chooses what we will make of it. Let’s remain vigilant. Certainly, Satan would like to take advantage of us (2 Cor. 2:11), and he could use our current circumstances to dislodge us from faithfulness. Yet, Scripture promises something that we can count on: “Submit therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you” (Jas. 4:7-8a). May that be the end result for us all!