“The Cast Image” ( Habakkuk 2: 14, HCSB ) by Carley Evans

“For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord’s glory, as the waters cover the sea.”

“What use is a carved idol after its craftsman carves it? It is only a cast image, a teacher of lies. For the one who crafts its shape trusts in it and makes idols that cannot speak. Woe to him who says to wood: Wake up! or to mute stone: Come alive! Can it teach? Look! It may be plated with gold and silver, yet there is no breath in it at all. But the Lord is in His holy temple; let everyone on earth be silent in His presence.” (Habakkuk 2:18-20)

With the talk of the ‘rapture’ – the supposed taking of one over another at the Lord’s second coming – I rather doubt the Lord is pleased with the attention this has taken from His glory. Some of us have created an idol with no power to save us and followed after it. The cast image is the myriad ideas of the ‘end of time.’ We speculate and call it prophesy. Our idol is a teacher of lies.

Rather than worry over what we are not allowed to know – for no one knows the day of the Lord – we ought to remember “the Lord God comes with strength, and His power establishes His rule. His reward is with Him, and His gifts accompany Him. He protects His flock like a shepherd; He gathers the lambs in His arms and carries them in the fold of His garment. He gently leads those that are nursing. Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand or marked off the heavens with the span of his hand? Who has directed the Spirit of the Lord, or who gave Him His counsel? Who did He consult with? Who gave Him understanding and taught Him the paths of justice? Who taught Him knowledge and showed Him the way of understanding? Who will you compare God with? What likeness will you compare Him to?” (Isaiah 40:10-14,18)

Certainly we ought not to compare God to the feeble cast images that consist only of our ideas of His return.

“Chosen By God” ( 2 Thessalonians 2: 13, HCSB ) by Carley Evans

“God chose you for salvation.” (2 Thessalonians 2:13) “He calls you to this through [the] gospel, so you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (2 Thessalonians 2:14)

“For He chose [you] in Him, before the foundation of the world, to be holy and blameless in His sight. In love He predestined [you] to be adopted through Jesus Christ for Himself.” (Ephesians 1:4-5)

“Where then is boasting? It is excluded. [You] are justified by faith.” (Romans 3:27,28) “Therefore, since [you] are declared righteous by faith, [you] have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Romans 5:1) “Rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.” (Romans 5:2)

“Proclaim God’s Righteousness, His Alone” ( Psalm 71: 20, HCSB ) by Carley Evans

“God, who is like You? You cause me to experience many troubles and misfortunes, but You revive me again. You bring me up again, even from the depths of the earth. You increase my honor and comfort me once again.” (Psalm 71:19-21)

I “endure suffering as discipline. God is dealing with [me] as [a] son. For what son is there that a father does not discipline? But if [I am] without discipline — which all receive — then [I am} an illegitimate child and not a son.” (Hebrews 12:7-8)

But,”You redeem me.” (Psalm 71:23) Therefore, “my mouth tells about Your righteousness and Your salvation all day long, though I cannot sum them up. I come because of the mighty acts of the Lord God; I proclaim Your righteousness, Yours alone.” (Psalm 71:15-16)

I “strengthen [my] tired hands and weakened knees, and make straight paths for [my] feet, so that what is lame may not be dislocated but healed instead.” (Hebrews 12:12-13)

“My lips shout for joy when I sing praise to [God] because [He] redeems me.” (Psalm 71:23)

“You Turn Things Upside Down!” ( Isaiah 29: 16, ESV ) by Carley Evans

“And the Lord says, ‘Because this people draw near with their mouth and honor Me with their lips, while their hearts are far from Me, and their fear of Me is a commandment taught by men, therefore, behold, I again do wonderful things with this people, with wonder upon wonder; and the wisdom of their wise men perishes, and the discernment of their discerning men is hidden.'” (Isaiah 29:13-14)

God says we follow Him with our speech while not with our hearts; we are in awe of Him only because we have been told to be by our spiritual leaders; therefore He is doing “wonderful things, with wonder upon wonder.” He seems amused that we try to “hide deep from the Lord” both our counsel and our deeds; that we pretend He is unable to see or know us.

“You turn things upside down!”

I Am the potter; you are the clay. “Shall the potter be regarded as the clay, that the thing made should say of its maker, ‘He did not make me’; or the thing formed say of Him who formed it, ‘He has no understanding?” (Isaiah 29:16)

Rather than reacting with anger, God says: “In that day the deaf hear the words of a book, and out of their gloom and darkness the eyes of the blind see. The meek obtain fresh joy in the Lord, and the poor among mankind exult in the Holy One of Israel.” (Isaiah 29:18-19) “And those who go astray in spirit come to understanding, and those who murmur accept instruction.” (Isaiah 29:24) No longer are we ashamed and pale faced. Instead, we “sanctify His Name and stand in awe of the God of Israel” (Isaiah 29:23) not because someone in authority tells us we must. Rather, we know we are clay and He is the Master Potter. We trust His hands and His skill. We recognize how we have turned things upside down, and how God uprights.

“Outbreak Against” ( 2 Samuel 6: 8, NIV ) by Carley Evans

David selects thirty-thousand “chosen men” to bring out of Baalah of Judah “the ark of God, which is called by the Name, the name of the Lord Almighty, who is enthroned between the cherubim that are on the ark.” (2 Samuel 6:2)

Two brothers, Uzzah and Ahio are selected to guide the cart pulled by oxen. Ahio is walking in front of the cart; Uzzah is perhaps walking beside the oxen. As the cart crosses the threshing floor, the oxen perhaps stop to eat; but at any rate the oxen stumble so that Uzzah reaches up to steady the ark. Uzzah fails in two aspects — he fails to control the oxen; he irreverently touches “the ark of God” upon which “the Lord Almighty is enthroned” rather than steady the cart. God strikes him down in an outburst of wrath.

David is not only angry “because the Lord’s wrath breaks out against Uzzah;” but he is afraid. Therefore, David decides he can not safely have the ark of the Lord come with him to the city which bears his name. “Instead, he takes it aside to the house of Obed-Edom the Gittite.” (2 Samuel 6:10) Obed-Edom keeps the ark in his home for three months without incident — obviously he and his family respect the boundaries set by God — “and the Lord blesses him and his entire household.” (2 Samuel 6:11)

Now David is no longer afraid. He takes the ark of God to his city “with rejoicing.” (2 Samuel 6:12) He does take greater care, however, sacrificing both “a bull and a fattened calf” (2 Samuel 6:13) before it has gone “six steps.” This time, rather than “chosen men” accompanying the ark, the “entire house of Israel” travels with the ark “with shouts and the sound of trumpets.” (2 Samuel 6:15) God is for all, not for only a few.

Once in the city,”David, wearing a linen ephod, dances before the Lord with all his might.” (2 Samuel 6:14) Michal, daughter of Saul, sees David from her window, and “despises him in her heart.” (2 Samuel 6:16) After David places the ark of God in a pitched tent, sacrifices burnt and fellowship offerings, blesses the people — giving each person “a loaf of bread, a cake of dates, and a cake of raisins” (2 Samuel 6:19); Michal comes to him to criticize him for “distinguishing himself today, disrobing in the sight of the slave girls of his servants as any vulgar fellow would!” (2 Samuel 6:20)

David says, “It was before the Lord. I will celebrate before the Lord. I will become even more undignified than this, and I will be humiliated in my own eyes. But by these slave girls you speak of, I will be held in honor.” (2 Samuel 6:22)

For her hatred and criticism of David,”Michal daughter of Saul has no children to the day of her death.” (2 Samuel 6:23)

So, in this tale of the ark of God, we see both God’s swift wrath and His incredible blessings. We understand the importance of obedience, praise, sacrifice as well as love and respect for others in their worship of God. God is not unfair; He is demanding.

Be perfect, as Your Heavenly Father is perfect. (1 Peter 1:16)

“Out Of Season” ( Mark 11:14, NEB ) by Carley Evans

After leaving Bethany, Jesus sees a fig tree in the distance. He is hungry, so He goes to the tree “to see if He can find anything on it.” (Mark 11:13) He finds only leaves; “for it was not the season for figs.” Then, Jesus curses the tree, “May no one ever again eat fruit from you!” (Mark 11:14)

Jesus expects fruit from the tree even though it is not the proper season for figs. I’ve thought about this many times, usually in passing so as to avoid that nagging suspicion that Jesus is being unfair to the fig tree. Today, I thought about this odd curse again. Why would Jesus expect fruit on a tree during a season in which He should expect to find no fruit?

Jesus expects fruit from His followers. And, there is no season in which we are allowed to remain fruitless. Perhaps we are the fig tree. We may display a lovely canopy of leaves, but Jesus may not find any fruit on our branches. He speaks of the fruitless servant, the one who hides the talent given to him in the ground for fear of his master. The master asks why the servant didn’t at least invest the talent and so earn some sort of return.

We are expected to earn a return on God’s investment in us. Like the fig tree Jesus finds out of season, we are incapable of producing fruit. Unlike the fig tree which does have a season for fruit, we have no fruit producing flowers — our ability to create fruit is entirely dependent upon the gardener, Jesus.

Jesus curses the fig tree because it offers no fruit when God expects it. The fact that it is not the season for figs is actually beside the point. Like the tree out of season, we have no ability to be fruit-bearing; therefore, God has every right to expect a return on His investment. After all, the investment is His, not ours.

“By Trust In God” ( Acts 26: 18, NEB ) by Carley Evans

Paul testifies of God’s message to him. God says to Paul, “I send you to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, from the dominion of Satan to God, so that, by trust in Me, they may obtain forgiveness of sins, and a place with those whom God has made His own.” From the mouth of God, His own Word succinctly states the good news — the gospel.

Notice God creates a place for His own. Notice God calls His own by sending someone — a specifically selected someone — “to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light.” Notice God makes people His own, saying: “By trust in Me, they obtain forgiveness of sins.”

Jesus says, “I Am the vine, and you are the branches. He who dwells in Me, as I dwell in Him, bears much fruit; for apart from Me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5)

Those seven words [in the English translation, anyway] hold the essence of our reliance upon God. “Apart from Me you can do nothing,” says Jesus. “Nothing.” Even our trust in God comes from God, as a gift. The news is good — God saves us of His own free will.

“Being The Very Last” ( 1 Corinthians 11: 19, NIV ) by Carley Evans

Perhaps Paul is not being facetious when he tells the church at Corinth, “No doubt there have to be differences among you to show which of you have God’s approval.” But in his letter, he writes, “In the following directives I have no praise for you.” (1 Corinthians 11:17) Therefore, it is conceivable Paul is pointing out that these men are divisive when they “come together as a church” in order to show themselves as better than one another. The awful, sometimes gut-wrenching and always anxiety producing desire to be recognized as the best of many or at least the better of two is often destructive of all — of the whole body of Christ.

I think of the two disciples, James and John, the sons of Zebedee, who ask Jesus for the privilege of sitting at places of honor when He comes into His kingdom. Rather than being satisfied with their current walk with Him and the promise of being with Him in eternity, they each struggle for more — for that which they are not qualified. For Jesus tells them they know not what they are asking.

The disciples — not only James and John — argue on the road to Capernaum “about who is the greatest.” (Mark 9:34) And Jesus says, “If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all.” (Mark 9:35)

Seeking recognition from others rather than serving others is self-defeating and ultimately destructive. Be at peace with who you are, what God has given to you, and what He asks of you and where He has placed you. Start there at “the very last.”

“Pitfalls” ( 1 Corinthians 8: 3, NEB ) by Carley Evans

“This ‘knowledge’ of yours is utter disaster to the weak, the brother for whom Christ died. In thus sinning against your brothers and wounding their conscience, you sin against Christ,” writes Paul to those in Corinth who ‘have knowledge’ that they have ‘liberty’ to eat foods consecrated to idols. (1 Corinthians 8:11-12) Paul writes, “Be careful that this liberty of yours does not become a pitfall for the weak.” (1 Corinthians 8:10)

Why is it fine for one person to ‘eat foods consecrated to idols’ while being sinful for another? The answer is the level of knowledge. The ‘stronger’ Christian knows that there is no false god; the false god does not exist except in the minds of its worshipers. Therefore the food being consecrated remains food; there is no change in its composition. There is no power in its sacrifice.  The ‘weaker’ Christian has faith, but his knowledge is less. He does not fully understand that the food has no value to the idol; that the idol has no power. Perhaps he has grown up sacrificing to idols. His conscience is pricked when he is “emboldened to eat food consecrated to a heathen deity;” therefore, when he eats, he sins. Paul therefore says, “If food be the downfall of my brother, I will never eat meat any more, for I will not be the cause of my brother’s downfall.” (1 Corinthians 8:13)

To the Romans, Paul writes: “If a man is weak in his faith you must accept him without attempting to settle doubtful matters. For instance, one man will have faith enough to eat all kinds of food, while the weaker man eats only vegetables. The man who eats must not hold in contempt the man who does not, and he who does not eat must not pass judgment on the one who does; for God has accepted him. Who are you to pass judgment on someone else’s servant? Whether he stands or falls is his own Master’s business; and stand he will, because His Master has power to enable him to stand.” (Romans 14:1-4)

And, he says: “As a Christian, nothing is impure in itself; only, if a man considers a particular thing impure, then to him it is impure. If your brother is outraged by what you eat, then your conduct is no longer guided by love. Do not by your eating bring disaster to a man for whom Christ died! What for you is a good thing must not become an occasion for slanderous talk.” (Romans 14:14-16)

Paul tells the stronger and weaker brothers not to argue with one another over “doubtful matters,” not to condemn one another. But, he particularly tells the stronger brother to avoid offending the weaker brother’s conscience, which may lead him to an action which he considers ‘impure’ and perhaps thrust him into sin. “If you have a clear conviction, apply it to yourself in the sight of God. Happy is the man who can make his decision with a clear conscience! But a man who has doubts is guilty if he eats, because his action does not arise from his conviction, and anything which does not arise from conviction [faith] is sin.” (Romans 14:22-23)

“If a man loves, he is acknowledged by God.” (1 Corinthians 8:3)

“Love At Full Strength” ( 1 Peter 4: 8-9, NEB ) by Carley Evans

Peter calls us to “lead an ordered and sober life, given to prayer” because “the end of all things is upon us.” (1 Peter 4:7) Even above this ordered life, however, Peter urges us to “keep [our] love for one another at full strength.” This brotherly love – at its full strength – “cancels innumerable sins.” Perhaps this is partly true because Jesus recognizes our love for Him in how we treat one another.

Paul says, “I will show you the best way of all.” (1 Corinthians 12:31) The best way is love. Paul reminds that “if [we] have no love, [we] are none the better” even if we “have faith strong enough to move mountains.” (1 Corinthians 13:3) Above all else, “love will never come to an end.” (1 Corinthians 13:8) “There is nothing love cannot face; there is no limit to its faith, its hope, and its endurance.” (1 Corinthians 13:7)

Let us love one another.