Monday, September 21, 2015

How do people change?



Zephaniah 1:1–3:20, Acts 19:1–41, Job 27:1–23, Isaiah 55:10–11

What does it take to change the way people behave? Children might respond to threats. Adults might listen to truth, or be influenced by logic. Sometimes nothing works.

In the OT, the people of God often drifted toward idolatry. Sometimes threats had an effect, but godly leadership was also important. One of the prophets gave this message from the Lord: “I will stretch out my hand against Judah and against all the inhabitants of Jerusalem; and I will cut off from this place the remnant of Baal and the name of the idolatrous priests along with the priests, those who bow down on the roofs to the host of the heavens, those who bow down and swear to the Lord and yet swear by Milcom, those who have turned back from following the Lord, who do not seek the Lord or inquire of him.” (Zephaniah 1:4–6)

Milcom was the national god of the Ammonites, one of those foreign idols whose worship in Israel was given sanction by Solomon. The name means king or one who reigns. The sanctuaries dedicated to Milcom were just outside Jerusalem and later dismantled by Josiah.

Today, an idol is anything that reigns in my heart instead of God. It will have a different title than ‘Milcom’ yet Zephaniah’s words give good reason to watch letting anything but God rule my life.

In Job’s story, his ‘friends’ bombarded him with false accusations. Job didn’t understand what God was doing, but didn’t appreciate what they were doing. They were also without understanding.

Job said, “As God lives, who has taken away my right, and the Almighty, who has made my soul bitter, as long as my breath is in me, and the spirit of God is in my nostrils, my lips will not speak falsehood, and my tongue will not utter deceit. Far be it from me to say that you are right; till I die I will not put away my integrity from me. I hold fast my righteousness and will not let it go; my heart does not reproach me for any of my days.” (Job 27:1–6)

Job held on to what he did know. It didn’t change the actions of his ‘friends’ but it kept him in the will of God. This is a good principle for me too. I cannot always know what God is doing in my life, nor in the lives of others, but I can hold fast to what I do know and let truth govern what I do. What we believe changes our lives.

In the NT reading, the makers of idols were gathered in a mob. The spread of Christianity was a threat to their livelihood and they were upset . . .

“Now some cried out one thing, some another, for the assembly was in confusion, and most of them did not know why they had come together. Some of the crowd prompted Alexander, whom the Jews had put forward. And Alexander, motioning with his hand, wanted to make a defense to the crowd. But when they recognized that he was a Jew, for about two hours they all cried out with one voice, ‘Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!’
“And when the town clerk had quieted the crowd, he said, ‘Men of Ephesus, who is there who does not know that the city of the Ephesians is temple keeper of the great Artemis, and of the sacred stone that fell from the sky? Seeing then that these things cannot be denied, you ought to be quiet and do nothing rash. For you have brought these men here who are neither sacrilegious nor blasphemers of our goddess. If therefore Demetrius and the craftsmen with him have a complaint against anyone, the courts are open, and there are proconsuls. Let them bring charges against one another. But if you seek anything further, it shall be settled in the regular assembly. For we really are in danger of being charged with rioting today, since there is no cause that we can give to justify this commotion.’ And when he had said these things, he dismissed the assembly.” (Acts 19:32–41)

In this case, a logical argument settled an angry mob and defused a dangerous situation. Sometimes logic has a stronger effect than a threat in changing what people are doing.

As I read these passages, one from Isaiah came to mind: “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.” (Isaiah 55:10–11)

I am both warned and encouraged by these words too. They show that whether the words are spoken, written, on an overhead, or read from a tablet, if God is the source of the message, then it will have the effect that God wants it to have. His Word changes lives.


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