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Sunday, December 18, 2005

And They Brought the Word of the Lord

At the risk of loosing you before we get started, and becasue the Word of the Lord is perfect and my best ideas are like dung, we will start with a good portion of Holy Scripture, which is something I should do a lot more. Examine your heart in this matter. What is your respnse to the Word of God? We must determine this before we begin to look around at how others respond to His Word. What you're looking for is a biblical response. Do you respond like the Bible either commands, or demonstrates is pleasing to God? After that, with fear and trembling, we can look around and, seeing a brother in error, or idolatry masked as Christianity, then we can say something; indeed, we must say something!

1 all the people assembled as one man in the square before the Water Gate. They told Ezra the scribe to bring out the Book of the Law of Moses, which the LORD had commanded for Israel.
2 So on the first day of the seventh month Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly, which was made up of men and women and all who were able to understand.
3 He read it aloud from daybreak till noon as he faced the square before the Water Gate in the presence of the men, women and others who could understand. And all the people listened attentively to the Book of the Law.
4 Ezra the scribe stood on a high wooden platform built for the occasion. Beside him on his right stood Mattithiah, Shema, Anaiah, Uriah, Hilkiah and Maaseiah; and on his left were Pedaiah, Mishael, Malkijah, Hashum, Hashbaddanah, Zechariah and Meshullam.
5 Ezra opened the book. All the people could see him because he was standing above them; and as he opened it, the people all stood up. 6 Ezra praised the LORD, the great God; and all the people lifted their hands and responded, "Amen! Amen!" Then they bowed down and worshiped the LORD with their faces to the ground. (Nehemiah 8:1-5)

Woe is me, I am undone! I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips:

1 On the twenty-fourth day of the same month, the Israelites gathered together, fasting and wearing sackcloth and having dust on their heads.
2 Those of Israelite descent had separated themselves from all foreigners. They stood in their places and confessed their sins and the wickedness of their fathers. 3 They stood where they were and read from the Book of the Law of the LORD their God for a quarter of the day, and spent another quarter in confession and in worshiping the LORD their God. (Nehemiah 9:1-3)

More to the point:
I considered cutting this down a bit, but it is too good, too pure.

1 Then the king (King Josiah) called together all the elders of Judah and Jerusalem.
2 He went up to the temple of the LORD with the men of Judah, the people of Jerusalem, the priests and the prophets—all the people from the least to the greatest. He read in their hearing all the words of the Book of the Covenant, which had been found in the temple of the LORD.
3 The king stood by the pillar and renewed the covenant in the presence of the LORD -to follow the LORD and keep his commands, regulations and decrees with all his heart and all his soul, thus confirming the words of the covenant written in this book. Then all the people pledged themselves to the covenant.
4 The king ordered Hilkiah the high priest, the priests next in rank and the doorkeepers to remove from the temple of the LORD all the articles made for Baal and Asherah and all the starry hosts. He burned them outside Jerusalem in the fields of the Kidron Valley and took the ashes to Bethel.
5 He did away with the pagan priests appointed by the kings of Judah to burn incense on the high places of the towns of Judah and on those around Jerusalem—those who burned incense to Baal, to the sun and moon, to the constellations and to all the starry hosts.
6 He took the Asherah pole from the temple of the LORD to the Kidron Valley outside Jerusalem and burned it there. He ground it to powder and scattered the dust over the graves of the common people.
7 He also tore down the quarters of the male shrine prostitutes, which were in the temple of the LORD and where women did weaving for Asherah.
8 Josiah brought all the priests from the towns of Judah and desecrated the high places, from Geba to Beersheba, where the priests had burned incense. He broke down the shrines [a] at the gates—at the entrance to the Gate of Joshua, the city governor, which is on the left of the city gate.
9 Although the priests of the high places did not serve at the altar of the LORD in Jerusalem, they ate unleavened bread with their fellow priests.
10 He desecrated Topheth, which was in the Valley of Ben Hinnom, so no one could use it to sacrifice his son or daughter in [b] the fire to Molech.
11 He removed from the entrance to the temple of the LORD the horses that the kings of Judah had dedicated to the sun. They were in the court near the room of an official named Nathan-Melech. Josiah then burned the chariots dedicated to the sun.
12 He pulled down the altars the kings of Judah had erected on the roof near the upper room of Ahaz, and the altars Manasseh had built in the two courts of the temple of the LORD. He removed them from there, smashed them to pieces and threw the rubble into the Kidron Valley.
13 The king also desecrated the high places that were east of Jerusalem on the south of the Hill of Corruption—the ones Solomon king of Israel had built for Ashtoreth the vile goddess of the Sidonians, for Chemosh the vile god of Moab, and for Molech [c] the detestable god of the people of Ammon.
14 Josiah smashed the sacred stones and cut down the Asherah poles and covered the sites with human bones.
15 Even the altar at Bethel, the high place made by Jeroboam son of Nebat, who had caused Israel to sin—even that altar and high place he demolished. He burned the high place and ground it to powder, and burned the Asherah pole also.
16 Then Josiah looked around, and when he saw the tombs that were there on the hillside, he had the bones removed from them and burned on the altar to defile it, in accordance with the word of the LORD proclaimed by the man of God who foretold these things.
17 The king asked, "What is that tombstone I see?" The men of the city said, "It marks the tomb of the man of God who came from Judah and pronounced against the altar of Bethel the very things you have done to it."
18 "Leave it alone," he said. "Don't let anyone disturb his bones." So they spared his bones and those of the prophet who had come from Samaria.
19 Just as he had done at Bethel, Josiah removed and defiled all the shrines at the high places that the kings of Israel had built in the towns of Samaria that had provoked the LORD to anger.
20 Josiah slaughtered all the priests of those high places on the altars and burned human bones on them. Then he went back to Jerusalem.
21 The king gave this order to all the people: "Celebrate the Passover to the LORD your God, as it is written in this Book of the Covenant."
22 Not since the days of the judges who led Israel, nor throughout the days of the kings of Israel and the kings of Judah, had any such Passover been observed.
23 But in the eighteenth year of King Josiah, this Passover was celebrated to the LORD in Jerusalem.
24 Furthermore, Josiah got rid of the mediums and spiritists, the household gods, the idols and all the other detestable things seen in Judah and Jerusalem. This he did to fulfill the requirements of the law written in the book that Hilkiah the priest had discovered in the temple of the LORD.
25 Neither before nor after Josiah was there a king like him who turned to the LORD as he did—with all his heart and with all his soul and with all his strength, in accordance with all the Law of Moses.
26 Nevertheless, the LORD did not turn away from the heat of his fierce anger, which burned against Judah because of all that Manasseh had done to provoke him to anger.
27 So the LORD said, "I will remove Judah also from my presence as I removed Israel, and I will reject Jerusalem, the city I chose, and this temple, about which I said, 'There shall my Name be.'" (II Kings 23:1-27)

In case you're skimming, and want to get to what I'm on about, this is where you should start... and stop. That would be just too pitiful. In case you are here for the word of God, this is where it stops.

In both Nehemiah passages and the II Kings passage, the response to the reading of God's Law was change. Conviction of sin leading to repentance leading to changed behaviour. Oh, to be going along in life thinking you're doing OK, thinking you're doing what you've been taught is right, and to suddenly hear from God's Law that that is so wrong. It would twist our American brains, wouldn't it? It would be like going along thinking that women are most (or only) honorable when they are independent, and self-sufficient, and to be successfully so, a woman is at her best when she is sexually spontaneous, reproductively responsible, and just plain mouthy. Then you read things like Colossians 3, I Peter 2&3, and Titus 2:4&5 which twists your mind and demands a response.

The Word of God is never neutral. It demands a response.

I can imagine a couple of responses:

1) You read that and decide that what you're doing is, if you approach it from a little different angle, you end up in the same place, maybe facing in a different direction. I have heard the Romans mandate against homosexuality "interpreted" as meaning that grown men should not do it with young men or boys and that they shouldn't rape anyone. (See Romans 1:16-32) This response is wrong, unbiblical. It is a twisting of God's word around your behavior, not the twisting of your mind, heart and behaviour around God's word.

2) Upon examining the perfect Word of God, you decide that you understand what it says, and reject it, forthright. "Each man did what was right in his own eyes." You either don't believe it, or don't care. (See Jeremiah 36:8-32) This response is also displeasing to God. We see again and again in Scripture, God judging and punishing persons and people for this rejection of Him and His law. We also have specific commands in Scripture against this response.

3) You fall on your face with a broken heart and throw yourself at the mercy of a righteous and holy Judge. You see those things in your life under a different light and begin chopping great chunks of your former "righteousness" off. You chop off your right hand (quit your job or leave the country club or stop sleeping with your significant other); you pluck out your right eye (cancel cable, stop using the internet, cut up your credit cards); chop off your right leg (quit the track team, trade in that SUV, start riding public transportation) rather than enter hell whole. (Matthew 5:29-30)

What brought this up? What am I on about?

Last Thursday, I went to Planned Parenthood. This is the place where God refines me. This is the purging place of my sin.

Last Thursday, I had to go to the bank before I could get there, and by the time I was there, the large (third Thursday) group of Catholics were grouped on the sidewalk doing their rosary. The friars were conspicuously absent in the biting wind and falling snow. They did not part to let me pass by them on the sidewalk. That was OK. I took my place at the curb and opened my Bible. You know that I struggle with my purpose there, and my activity there. Sometimes I see it with clarity, and sometimes, not.

At one point I noticed a young woman walking northward on the other side of the street. She paused and chided us for being disruptive. She said we should just go home, no one wants to see us, we should leave them in peace. Then she went on mumbling and shaking her head.

The Catholics eventually broke up and as they did so, a mother of about 6 or 7 called to me, thanking me for bringing the Word of God here.

That was really very sweet. She was sincere, but they baffle me! Greater thinkers than I can expound on the error or heresy of the Catholic church, but I can say this: I would never dare to go into battle without the Word of God. I wouldn't dare go there standing on the words or traditions of man...never.

Oh, God, teach me your ways, and establish your truth within me. Let me not stray to the left or to the right and make my feet firm. In Christ Name, Amen.

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