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November 14th, 2016

Greater

If our greatest hopes or fears are tied to an election, we need a word from God. 

2 Kings 1:1-4; 1 John 4:1-6

 

How I voted

To say the least, it’s been an interesting week in America. For months, Americans have been trying to discern who would be the greater President, or at least who would not be the greater disaster. Now that the election is over, some Americans have greater hope, some Americans have greater fear, and some Americans have greater uncertainty.

If you’ve been here the last few months, you know that I was one of the many Americans who agonized over these two particular choices for President. When it came to decision time, I could not in good conscience vote for either major party candidate. Then, as I watched the returns Tuesday night, my first response was greater hope because it looked like Hillary Clinton wouldn’t win. That quickly changed to greater angst because it looked like Donald Trump would. I woke up about 4 AM, saw that Trump had crossed the magic 270 electoral votes, and got down on my knees to pray for him, as well as for Clinton and their families.

Yesterday’s Hickory Daily Record included an article suggesting some families will have a hard time at Thanksgiving and Christmas this year because their political loyalties are so divided and so deep. In the body of Christ, we have a loyalty that is greater and must not allow politics to divide us. If our greatest hopes or fears are tied to an election, we need a word from God.

Lord of the Flies

For the past several months, we have been studying the life of the Old Testament prophet Elijah. Jesus’ brother James said, “Elijah was a man just like us,” and yet his prayers were “powerful and effective” (James 5:16-18). Elijah left a legacy of both spiritual greatness and human frailty.

Most of Elijah’s ministry happened during the 22-year reign of a king in the northern kingdom of Israel named Ahab. The Bible says, “There was never a man like Ahab, who sold himself to do evil in the eyes of the LORD, urged on by Jezebel his wife” (1 Kings 21:25). This summary statement came after Jezebel had an innocent man assassinated over a vineyard the king coveted. Ahab had no direct involvement in the murder, but he immediately took possession of it. Elijah was sent by God to confront Ahab in that vineyard, declaring that his entire family would be cut off. In a surprising and wonderful twist to the story, Ahab humbled himself before the LORD and God said he would delay the end of his dynasty. Soon thereafter Ahab died in battle.

Any change in regime brings renewed hope for a better day. But if we thought Ahab’s son would be greater, we are disappointed. The book of 1 Kings ends like this –

Ahaziah son of Ahab became king of Israel in Samaria…. He did evil in the eyes of the LORD, because he walked in the ways of his father and mother…. He served and worshiped Baal and provoked the LORD, the God of Israel, to anger, just as his father had done.

We know he’s not going to be greater than Ahab, except maybe in sin. Not much is told about Ahaziah’s reign. We learn in 2 Kings 1:1 that Moab, a nation to the east of the Dead Sea that had apparently come under the control of Israel, rebelled. In verse 2 we are told that Ahaziah had suffered a life-threatening injury when he fell several stories either through a window or from a balcony in the palace because the railing or screen had failed. Perhaps he had a head injury, or maybe he was paralyzed in some way.

He wants to know if he will live. We’d like to know the future as well – perhaps for ourselves, or maybe for our children, or even for the nation.

We have seen that there are still people in Israel, including prophets, who retain and honor Yahweh – not only Israel’s God but the one true God. Ahaziah, schooled as he has been in his father’s and mother’s false gods, does not turn to Yahweh. His mother Jezebel is still living (see 2 Kings 9), but he doesn’t turn to her Baals either.

Instead, Ahaziah sends messengers to consult Baal-Zebub of Ekron. Maybe you’ve heard that name. Baal-Zebub means “Lord of the Flies,” and this chapter is the only place in the Bible the name appears. But over the centuries, both in Judaism and even to today, the word Baal-Zebub or some variant, or “Lord of the Flies,” has become known even in the culture to represent Satan or some evil, personal force.

Ekron is located in what we now call the Gaza Strip, a coastal piece of land that Israel didn’t conquer in the time of Joshua. The people were then known as Philistines, and today known as Palestinians. Conflict has raged through the centuries.

Elijah has been out of the story since the incident in Naboth’s vineyard. This is his modus operendi all the way through his life. It’s one reason he’s “just like us,” or certainly “just like me.” He doesn’t like conflict. He’s an uber-introvert who prefers solitude and only confronts the evil in his day when God explicitly directs him. Even then, he shows up for a brief moment and then disappears again, sometimes for years.

God tells Elijah to intercept Ahaziah’s messengers and send them back to the king with this message: “Is it because there is no God is Israel that you are consulting the Lord of the Flies? Because you did this, you will not recover. You will die!”

The messengers return to the king more quickly than he expected, and they deliver the words Elijah had spoken. “Who said that to you?” the king asks, and they describe the man as “the lord of hair” wearing a leather belt. Because of the physical description and the message, Ahaziah knows he is dealing with his father’s nemesis.

So the king sends 50 men and a captain, figuring they are enough to retrieve Elijah from his hilltop retreat. Instead, they are obliterated with fire from heaven like the sacrifice on Mount Carmel. Ahaziah sends another group of 50. The same thing happens.

The third captain sent by Ahaziah either fears God or Elijah. He pleads for his life, and the angel of the LORD says to Elijah, “Go down with him; do not be afraid of him” (15). Here again, Elijah was “just like us.” You might think he’s stoic, a rock who loves warfare, spiritual or otherwise. But he needs assurance from God to calm his fears.

Elijah delivers the message to Ahaziah, and he dies.

Greater

So what are the lessons from Elijah and Ahaziah? First, when you crave to know the future, realize that you are committing the root human sin – trying to be God. Every human invention designed to give you knowledge that belongs only to God, and yes, I’m talking about occult practices, Ouija boards, fortune tellers, palm readers, 8-balls, whatever – if they represent trying to find out about what’s to come or trying to connect with the spirit world – they are of the devil and can destroy you. The Bible has many gray areas, but occult practice is not one of them. Like Ahaziah, we want a god who is tangible and visible and who is at our beck and call for our curiosities and manipulation. God says, “Is there no God in Israel?” Are you willing to trust the invisible but faithful God?

Second, never put your hope in human leaders. That has nothing to do with whether they are successful or unsuccessful, aligned with your political views or opposed to them. You can be glad Donald Trump won or think it’s the worst thing that ever happened to America, and my job is not to convince you otherwise. My job is to remind you that no man or woman can turn a nation around.

Third, listen to what John says in our New Testament lesson today: “Greater is the one in you than the one who is in the world.”

Fyodor

For this theme I want to turn to our guest today, Fyodor Lupanciuc. He is a pastor in Moldova, and if you were here two weeks ago, we had the opportunity to meet him via video interview. He had planned to be with us that Sunday, but an issue with his visa delayed his visit. In that interview he told us he grew up in Moldova under Communism, a republic of the Soviet Union. He even served in the Soviet army for two years.

After the mighty Soviet Union collapsed, Fyodor picked up a Gideon New Testament and read it three times. He met the One who is greater than all political systems and leaders – Jesus Christ. He currently shepherds the fastest-growing church in Moldova. What differentiates the congregation from others is the young people – he reaches them with contemporary music and messages.

Fyodor’s planned sermon two weeks ago was titled “Fearless,” and it was based on 1 John 4. I thought that message might have a good connection to this story about Elijah and Ahaziah. Fyodor, welcome to Corinth!

(Fyodor Lupanciuc)

This is the first time I get to explore Corinth Church and Hickory. In many ways it was a life changing experience. I got to meet many great people here and I assure you that they impact my life and the way a see a lot of things.

Bob Thompson has done an incredible job to plan my time here and he became a real friend. I also want to thank Cori Thompson for our friendship and for introducing me to so many great people in Hickory.

I wanted to leave you a short message which has a link to Bob’s message. You might think we don’t have false prophets today but we really do and we have much more of them than in the first century.

What do all those prophets have in common? First, they are not from God. Second, they do not acknowledge that Jesus came from God.

Why do you think the false prophets are so dangerous? Because they want to make us fearful. Fearful of what? Of our future. What was the biggest feeling before the election, and probably after the election as well? Fear. A fear of the future. A fear of your life. A fear for the future of your children. A fear for your economy, terrorist attacks, crisis. As a result, almost everyone in the world is fearful.

Who has the interest to keep people fearful? Satan. His most powerful weapon is the lie. The result of his lie is fear. When someone is fearful, you get the control over him. He wants to keep control on us. All the dictatorial governments spread fear. They want to control people. The communist mentality is to keep people fearful so they obey.

True Christianity is dangerous because Jesus is making people free. And Satan wants to make true Christians fearful. Ahaziah had fear and he sent to ask a false god if he was going to be healed. Elijah was afraid to be killed and ran far from his people to save his life, instead of preaching and bringing people back to God.

When we fearful, we are weak. When we are weak, we are not courageous. When we are not courageous, we don’t speak about Jesus who came from God to save the world.

You know that if you get in to the conversation about God with anybody, you might have a great conversation. But when you come to the point to say that Jesus is the only way to God, the war starts.

The antichrist spirit wants us to shut down because in the name of Jesus is power. In the name of Jesus is life. In the name of Jesus is future. Because when Jesus comes to your life, there is no more reason to fear. Because when you put your faith in Jesus, you will not believe anymore in the false prophets.

What you should do? First, test the spirits. How? If they speak antichrist and against Jesus’ teaching. If what you hear is raising the fear in you to preach the Gospel or gives you more courage to speak about Jesus.

Consider this story from Uzbekistan in Central Asia. A woman who had come to Christ received a New Testament and was threatened because of her conversion. She took her New Testament to the greenhouse and dug a hole in the cucumber bed to bury the New Testament in the dirt. The next day the cucumber plants in the green house were wilting. She thought it might have something to do with the New Testament, so she dug it up. The next day all the cucumbers were healthy again.

A couple of days later her Muslim son came to her and said his chickens were dying. Usually in this situation all the chickens die within a couple of days. She told her son to take that New Testament to the chicken house and pray to the God of that Bible in the name of Jesus. The next day the chickens had stopped dying. So he became a believer in Jesus.

The enemy wants us to hide Jesus. He wants us to shut down. He wants us to be afraid and not speak about Jesus. He knows that in the name of Jesus is power, is life, is future, is change.

What will help you to cast the fear out and preach the Gospel? Love. John writes, “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear.” You have no reason to fear if you love. If you really love God and if you really love people, there are no reasons to fear of future.

You will build this future. There are two things you should do to build a great future:

  1. Don’t believe all the news,
  2. Do what Jesus did in love.

 

God himself encourages you and says, “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” (Jeremiah 29:11).

 

 

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