Welcome to the Cast Notes blog study! Our prayer is that this on-line resource will help you live a little longer in the material Pastor Joe preached in worship. There will be a blog post each week, a video vignette, and additional ideas for you to pursue to get the most out of our current sermon series. All of this material can be taken and used in a link group format (small group) or for personal study.
As you spend this season in the word of the living God, be reminded that “the word of God is alive and powerful. It is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword, cutting between soul and spirit, between joint and marrow. It exposes our innermost thoughts and desires. Nothing in all of creation is hidden from God. Everything is naked and exposed before his eyes, and he is the one to whom we are accountable” (Hebrews 4:12-13, NLT).
We’re excited that you are taking a step to draw closer to God through his word. You’re life… like the lives of the people we’ll be journeying with in the Bible… might not be the same!
What has been your experience with darkness? Have you ever encountered the reality of evil in a palpable and startling way? These questions, and more like them, hit an area of our experience that we know to be true yet rarely touched on.
Jesus knew all about the power of temptation and the reality of this dark and perverse world. Indeed, he suffered an agonizing death on account of the twisted realities of our hearts. Yet Jesus was without sin. His whole life was lived with one single purpose: loving obedience to His Heavenly Father.
One of the primary ways Jesus lived a life of loving obedience was through His understanding of the scriptures. Jesus knew the Word of God, obeyed the Word of God, and communicated and lived out of the truth of God’s Word.
What does this mean for you and for me? Well… it simply means we too are to live our lives out of the Word of God. I.e. we are to be synced into the Bible. To know the truths and promises God has shared and communicated. Why is this so important? Because we cannot live the life of Jesus without the Word of God (ponder that for a little while). In other words, our hearts are at times so far from God that we cannot see clearly what God would have of us to do/be.
One of the people who cherished the Word of God perhaps more than any other was Martin Luther. Luther had such a reverence for God’s Word that he became the leader in placing the Bible into the language and hands of the common person of his day. Luther believed God’s Word ought to be accessible by both the intelligentsia, as well as, the laborer (and everyone in-between). All people ought to have the capacity to read and take in what God has gifted us with… namely, His Word. As we live in God’s Word, we begin to realize that God’s love and purpose is akin to a mighty fortress… Martin Luther once penned: “A mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing; Our helper He, amid the flood of mortal ills prevailing: For still our ancient foe doth seek to work us woe; His craft and power are great, and, armed with cruel hate, On earth is not his equal. Did we in our own strength confide, our striving would be losing; Were not the right Man on our side, the Man of God’s own choosing: Dost ask who that may be? Christ Jesus, it is He; Lord Saboath, His Name, from age to age the same, And He must win the battle.”
One of the principle ways Christ Jesus wins the battle is through the truth of His Word. So are you synced in? Do you know the Word of God? Do you stand on His promises? If you do… continue! If you’re not… take up and read!
Personal and/or small group questions:
What did Jesus combat the temptations of the devil with (cf. Matthew 4)? What does this mean for you and for me?
How would you describe your experience with God’s Word over the years? Get specific.
Why is living into God’s Word so critical?
Who in your life has been the pinnacle example of someone who has been devoted to God’s Word? How has their life impacted yours?
What would you say is the ultimate expression of what God longs to come out of our lives as we live into His holy Word?
Scripture Memory Verse: “The word of God is alive and powerful.” (Hebrews 4:12a, NLT).
Ezekiel had to speak for God in the worst of times. Now it’s one thing to speak about God when times are good. When the land is abundant and the income and good times are constant. It’s quite another task to speak on behalf of the living God when you’re far from home and you and your people have no idea if you’ll ever see home again. Ezekiel had a tough road to walk.
Israel is in a state of utter ruin and feelings of abandonment are crowding in. Any smiles that used to spread across their faces have long since disappeared. The crow’s feet at the corners of their eyes have left the nest. All is replaced with tears of doubt and confusion. Israel feels the sting of defeat and the heartless beat of despair. Babylon reigns supreme and they are in exile in a foreign land. To make matters worse… the whole depressing reality can only be chalked up to their own sin and wickedness. They’ve got no one to blame but themselves. Sounds like the perfect recipe for walking away from God, doesn’t it? Well, I think that could have easily become the case if it hadn’t been for Ezekiel.
(Take some time to read: Ezekiel chs. 1-7; 36-37)
Ezekiel had to eat God’s words. Ezekiel had to see and hear God’s visions. This isn’t always the case. Nevertheless, when times are really tough sometimes God takes the extra steps to make sure we hear and see His loving purpose that’s still at work. It’s a good reminder to never allow our thoughts about our circumstances to dictate. Even when things look dire God can still be moving heaven and earth to accomplish what needs accomplishing.
Many abandon God in droves when times get tough. Difficulties have always tended to thin the ranks of those who say they are committed to the Lord versus those whose hearts are steadfast in the faith. Ezekiel stood in his faith during dark days. Even if it was more of a propped-up posture, still he stood and allowed his voice to give the ceaseless clarion call that the God of Israel can take even a valley of dry bones and make them live again.
If that kind of message doesn’t bring a smile to your face… then I don’t know what ever will.
Personal and/or small group questions:
What’s your current exile… your present moment Babylon? If it’s the result of your own sin… how does this reality compound the weight of your difficulty?
Do you agree that God can still be at work even when things seem at their darkest? Name a time when you’ve seen this happen.
Why is it important to stand fast in the faith especially in the tough times? How does this enable our trust in God to grow?
In what way is God speaking into your current reality? How do you draw close to Him to hear His words and receive His comfort?
Scripture Memory Verse: “Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy” (James 1:2, NLT).
(if you have some time read: 2 Samuel chs. 11 – 12:25) We hear the same mantras time and time again;
“Live and let live,”
“Not that I have a problem with that,”
“As long as it works for you,”
“You do what you want and I’ll do what I want,”
“I’ll live as I please,”
“This is my life…”
These statements are made whenever we feel the sting of accountability closing in on us. The moment we hear murmuring or unrest in the lives of those around us, we take our stand. It’s a William Wallace cry for freedom. A statement of the self that stands boldly in opposition to any who may be affected by the stand our self is taking…
Now hear me out. I’m not saying there should be a gelatin relational reality where we move fluidly into and out of each other’s lives with an air of judgment. I’m certainly not saying that we call our neighbor out on the mat and expect them to live as we would have them live. No… that may be fine in the context of a dictatorial establishment (fine for the leaders anyway) but not in loving relations where we see one another’s uniqueness as a reason to glorify God. Accountability only makes sense in the context of relationship where I have the relational room to speak into the life of another… You get the point.
With all of these caveats covered I now feel free to speak to the improper use of trying to live in a vacuum. You see, what we choose to do and not do matters. Our actions ripple out. The sins I commit impact the lives of those around me. The sins others commit can have impact in my life as well. This is important to remember because when we choose to live as we please… and to do so in a way that does not honor God or our neighbor… we may kid ourselves into believing that a vacuum exists… but that only lasts until Nathan rings the doorbell. Nathan was prophet of the living God during the years King David reigned in Israel. He was a good prophet. By that I mean that he loved the Lord. What God thought mattered more than the weight of the king’s gold. Nathan was far more concerned with obeying God than giving lip service to the king.
It took this kind of grit to be Nathan and be effective on behalf of God because when the most powerful person in the land, namely King David, decided to buy into the illusion that he could do as he pleased, God wanted Nathan to speak up in opposition. You see, the king’s decision to force himself on an unsuspecting woman… Bathsheba… and further… the cover up of the whole affair that involved getting rid of Bathsheba’s God-honor husband Uriah… bothered the God of all of creation greatly. So Nathan had to take the rather lengthy walk to the throne of the king and confront him with the startling reminder that nothing ever happens in a true vacuum. God is all seeing. God is all knowing. God is just. God is holy. God is loving. Most of all, God cares about the Uriah’s and Bathsheba’s that our sinfulness so easily takes and uses.
When King David was brought back to his senses by Nathan’s rebuke… maybe he spotted the royal Hoover or Oreck sitting in the corner of the royal palace. When he did, he must have concluded that the only true vacuum is the one that cleans the rug.
Personal and/or small group questions:
Why is accountability so critical in our life with God and one another?
Taking ownership of our “stuff” isn’t easy. But why does it matter in the context of repentance?
Do you believe that we live in a vacuum? If so, why? If not, why not?
Where should the Church stand in relationship to sin and accountability in our culture and communities?
How can we best honor God and others in the following areas: money, sex, use of power?
Read Psalm 51. This is the confession of King David after Nathan’s rebuke. What’s this Psalm say about God? What’s it say about people?
Scripture Memory Verse: “Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and make me willing to obey you” (Psalm 51:12, NLT).
Maybe it’s because I have marriage and relationships on the brain… maybe it’s because Tracey and I are immersed in The Marriage Course curriculum for our Wednesday Nite Lite teachings… but when I read of Elijah and Ahab I can’t help but think of the covenant of marriage.
I Kings 16 – II Kings 2 is a detailed and tragic account of how covenant was broken by the people of Israel. Yahweh, the one true God, had established His people and called them to follow Him exclusively. Nevertheless, Israel was easily led astray by the gods of the cultures around them. Elijah confronted and called God’s people to turn from their faithless ways. He reminded them that life with God was an exclusive relationship of covenantal love. Nevertheless, Israel would have nothing to do with it.
King Ahab was one of the pinnacle villains in Israel’s Old Testament history. Think up the most infamous movie villains and it’ll just scratch the surface of the kind of deceptive darkness both Ahab and his wife Jezebel imbibed. They were evil to the core and their hearts were cold to the winsome and convicting words of Elijah. Ahab and Jezebel chased after the fertility gods of their day and were a primary reason why the Israelites strayed in their fidelity to the Lord. The king’s actions were selfish and cruel. Although he was successful when it came to outward things (military victories, expansion of the land, builder of vast cities); Ahab was inherently lacking in the way of covenant faithfulness. Simply put, Ahab believed he could live contrary to the commands and expectations of Yahweh and get away with it.
Well… Ahab did get away with it for some time. Although Elijah was willing to confront Ahab and Jezebel, the king would simply chase him away with threats of imprisonment or death. He treated Elijah like you or I might treat a mosquito. Shooing it away or making a good try at stomping it to death. But Ahab’s covenantal faithlessness eventually did him in. He never thought it would be the case but God’s justice and judgment reached even his kingly self. He died as a result of a wayward arrow shot that caught him between the chinks in his armored mail shirt… yet somehow we know that the arrow was anything but an accident. It was the direct aim from the God of all of creation who had had enough of Ahab’s idolatrous and self-promoting ways. At the end of the day Ahab would have done well to have invited Elijah in… given him a good hearing… and then acted on what Elijah had to say. If Ahab’s heart had been soft and open to the conviction of Almighty God, the end of his life might have looked a lot different.
Although we don’t have kings and queens today or fiery prophets and horse drawn chariots… we still have to answer to the call to be faithful in our covenant with the living God. In Matthew 28 Jesus says, “Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you.” God still expects faithful obedience. God still longs for our covenantal faithfulness. Will we be exclusive in our love relationship with God? If so, how will our exclusive love for the Lord inform how we live each day? Will this change everything? Take heed from the life of Ahab and Jezebel. Let their tragic lives speak into your life and mine so that the rest of our days will be filled with God’s glorious purpose and not the dead end pursuits of selfish and faithless ways.
Personal and/or small group questions:
Spend some time perusing I Kings 16 – II Kings 2.
Although Elijah, Ahab and Jezebel lived in a different culture and age… how might their lives be similar to ours?
Why is the Lord so intent on His people being exclusive in their relationship with Him? How does this inform our life with God?
In what ways is it difficult to maintain covenant faithfulness to the Lord today?
How could the Church (universal) do a better job being faithful to the Lord in our world? If we were faithful, how would this change the world?
How do you tend to react to God’s conviction in your life? Name a recent experience when the Lord challenged a particular course you were taking in your life. Did you respond positively to the Lord’s conviction? Why or why not?
Scripture Memory Verse: “How much longer will you waver, hobbling between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him” (I Kings 18:21, NLT)!
When I think of the word harlot, the first thing that comes to mind is The Scarlet Letter. The embroidered A that Hester Prynne wears in this riveting tale by Nathaniel Hawthorne is a badge of shame for all in Puritan Boston to see. This same image has become a kind of archetype for many as it represents issues of guilt, shame, legalism and repentance.
If there has ever been a people group that could relate to Hester Prynne, it would be the people of Israel. “Playing the harlot,” or, “prostitutes,” are descriptors used by God’s prophets in relationship to the way in which Israel chased after other gods. You can land on these adjectives in most any Old Testament book.
The prophet Gideon had the difficult task of dealing with Israel’s wayward ways. If you’d like to read Gideon’s story, take a look at Judges 6:11 – 8:35. For our purposes in this post, focus in on Judges 8:22-35.
Israel has become a nation inhabiting a specific area of land. The land of promise… i.e. Canaan, is a gift from Yahweh and was an all-important aspect of Israel becoming the very people God intended them to be. In other words, without land you would cease to be a nation. With land and geographical boundaries… you could both be a people and a nation. So Israel has land and they have an identity rooted in the Mosaic Law. What they don’t have… and most definitely long for… is a king.
Given the fact that Gideon is the current prophet and leader of Israel, it makes sense that the nation begins to clamor for him to take the throne. But Gideon has none of it. He says in response to the people’s desire, “I will not rule over you, nor will my son. The Lord will rule over you” (Judges 8:23, NLT)! Sounds good, right? But there’s an inherent problem. Although Gideon takes a stand that Yahweh is the only rightful ruler and king… he doesn’t follow-through and bring closure to this truth. Gideon goes on to say, “However, I do have one request – that each of you give me an earring from the plunder you collected from your fallen enemies” (Judges 8:24, NLT). Gideon takes the offerings (43 pounds worth) and makes an ephod.
An ephod was a couple of things for the people of Israel. We know that it was a precious priestly garment (akin to a vest) and we also know that it was a symbol of different sizes and weights that might have been carried about and/or placed in a sacred place of worship. Perhaps the best item we could relate to on this score today would be the cross. The cross is large enough to hang at the center of a place for worship… and… it can be worn on a necklace around one’s neck… same kind of thing… The problem with Gideon’s request was that although he refrained from becoming a king… he unintentionally opened the door to leading God’s people into a place of spiritual prostitution. “Gideon made a sacred ephod from the gold and put it in Ophrah, his hometown. But soon all the Israelites prostituted themselves by worshiping it, and it became a trap for Gideon and his family” (Judges 8:27, NLT).
The bottom-line is this… we are inherently idolaters. Given enough space and time you and I will naturally set up a god we can control and worship it (i.e. “play the harlot”). God knows this. That’s why in the 10 Commandments the 2nd on the list is, “You must not make for yourself an idol of any kind or an image of anything in the heavens or on the earth or in the sea. You must not bow down to them or worship them, for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God who will not tolerate your affection for any other gods. (Exodus 20:4-5a, NLT).
I like how Frederick Buechner puts it when he says, “As soon as you’ve got a golden god you can shine up and deck out and push around like a doll in a baby carriage, you start thinking God himself is someone you can push around too” (Peculiar Treasures, p. 46). One of the main reasons we commit idolatry is because we want to be in control. We want to dictate who our king is and the manner in which we’ll allow ourselves to be led. We don’t have faith that God can be trusted. We want to take things into our own hands.
Although the account in Judges 8 is short and to-the-point, I doubt it played out that way. I believe the movement into idolatry is always quite subtle and happens over time. We gather our golden trinkets thinking we’re moving closer to God and yet once our hands are in control of spiritual things we begin to gravitate towards a place of worshipping what we have done, made, crafted, organized and set into motion. Simply put, we bow down to ourselves.
Personal and/or small group questions:
Take a moment to read Matthew chapter 4. How does Jesus differ from the people of Israel in Judges chapter 8?
How would you define idolatry?
What’s so awful about idolatry? Why do people tend to bow down to little gods?
Would you agree that idolatry is rooted in a lack of faith that God can be trusted? Flesh this out a little…
What are some of our most poignant idols today? What do people get out of worshiping them?
What idol(s) might you have in your life? Why are they there? What would you need to let God do in your life for them to be removed?
Scripture Memory Verse: “You must worship the Lord your God and serve only him” Matthew 4:10b, NLT)