Monday, July 3, 2017

Some Silver and a Robe

Introduction
            This message was inspired by and adapted from a sermon by Paris Reidhead, “10 Shekels and a Shirt”.  [Click here to hear a recording of Reidhead's original sermon.]  I heard Reidhead's sermon for the first time about 10 years ago and it really left an impact on me.  Reidhead was a missionary to Sudan mid-1900s.  His ministry in Africa led him to re-evaluate his core spiritual values and a rejection of humanistic Christianity.  I will do my best to communicate his ideas to you and I hope they will move you as much as they have me.  I have not always lived up to the ideas Reidhead put forth in his message, but I try and I keep coming back to his Christ-centered philosophy as an important guide for my life.
            This message starts with a rather long Scripture reading, so let me give a bit of background.
  Moses led the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt and Joshua brought them into the Promised Land in Palestine.  The Israelites were to drive out the heathens that lived in the land and worshiped idols.  Unfortunately, the Israelites never completed the job and so the Israelites lived alongside the heathens in many areas and this caused all kinds of trouble.  One problem we find in our story today is that a heathen people called the Amorites would not allow Israelite tribe of Dan to travel to the Tabernacle in Shiloh where they were supposed to worship.
 
Judges 17:1 – 18:1-5, 14-21
17 There was a man named Micah, who lived in the hill country of Ephraim. One day he said to his mother, “I heard you place a curse on the person who stole 1,100 pieces of silver from you. Well, I have the money. I was the one who took it.”

“The Lord bless you for admitting it,” his mother replied. He returned the money to her, and she said, “I now dedicate these silver coins to the Lord. In honor of my son, I will have an image carved and an idol cast.”

So when he returned the money to his mother, she took 200 silver coins and gave them to a silversmith, who made them into an image and an idol. And these were placed in Micah’s house. Micah set up a shrine for the idol, and he made a sacred ephod and some household idols. Then he installed one of his sons as his personal priest.

In those days Israel had no king; all the people did whatever seemed right in their own eyes.

·       Does this seems like it could be a direct description for the times in which we live right here in America?

One day a young Levite, who had been living in Bethlehem in Judah, arrived in that area. He had left Bethlehem in search of another place to live, and as he traveled, he came to the hill country of Ephraim. He happened to stop at Micah’s house as he was traveling through. “Where are you from?” Micah asked him.

He replied, “I am a Levite from Bethlehem in Judah, and I am looking for a place to live.”

10 “Stay here with me,” Micah said, “and you can be a father and priest to me. I will give you ten pieces of silver a year, plus a change of clothes and your food.” 11 The Levite agreed to this, and the young man became like one of Micah’s sons.

12 So Micah installed the Levite as his personal priest, and he lived in Micah’s house. 13 “I know the Lord will bless me now,” Micah said, “because I have a Levite serving as my priest.”

18 Now in those days Israel had no king. And the tribe of Dan was trying to find a place where they could settle, for they had not yet moved into the land assigned to them when the land was divided among the tribes of Israel. So the men of Dan chose from their clans five capable warriors from the towns of Zorah and Eshtaol to scout out a land for them to settle in.

When these warriors arrived in the hill country of Ephraim, they came to Micah’s house and spent the night there. While at Micah’s house, they recognized the young Levite’s accent, so they went over and asked him, “Who brought you here, and what are you doing in this place? Why are you here?” He told them about his agreement with Micah and that he had been hired as Micah’s personal priest.

Then they said, “Ask God whether or not our journey will be successful.”  ….

14 The five men who had scouted out the land around Laish explained to the others, “These buildings contain a sacred ephod, as well as some household idols, a carved image, and a cast idol. What do you think you should do?” 15 Then the five men turned off the road and went over to Micah’s house, where the young Levite lived, and greeted him kindly. 16 As the 600 armed warriors from the tribe of Dan stood at the entrance of the gate, 17 the five scouts entered the shrine and removed the carved image, the sacred ephod, the household idols, and the cast idol. Meanwhile, the priest was standing at the gate with the 600 armed warriors.

18 When the priest saw the men carrying all the sacred objects out of Micah’s shrine, he said, “What are you doing?”

19 “Be quiet and come with us,” they said. “Be a father and priest to all of us. Isn’t it better to be a priest for an entire tribe and clan of Israel than for the household of just one man?”

20 The young priest was quite happy to go with them, so he took along the sacred ephod, the household idols, and the carved image. 21 They turned and started on their way again, placing their children, livestock, and possessions in front of them.

Explain the Passage
            We see how religion served as a useful tool for everyone in this story.  Micah wanted God to bless him and he thought God would because Micah built a chapel--his own personal chapel right there on his own property.  It would be as if you decided it was too much trouble to come to church every week and since your kids had all grown up and move out, you decided to take one of the extra rooms and turn it into your own personal church.  Micah built a chapel and he filled it with some religious items.  And at first he made his son the priest and he was going to pray to the God of Israel, but he also wanted to have all his bases covered so he added some idols to foreign gods as well.  And so he thought he could use religion to make his life better.
            And the Levite in the story also found religion to be a useful tool.  Levites were the one tribe of Israel that weren't allotted a portion of land, but they were to make the living by being priest and serving in the Tabernacle.  But, the Levite in this story didn't much like being one priest in a whole tribe a priests.  He could make a living doing that, but maybe not as much as he'd like and he wan't very important and he thought he could do better elsewhere.  So the Levite was quite happy when he ran into Micah who offered to give him some silver and a robe to be his personal priest; and Micah was happy too because now he had a "real" priest, a Levite, to serve him in his chapel.  SO the Levite got what he wanted and Micah got what he wanted.  You see, religion was a nice tool for them both.
            Then along come some Warriors from Dan who thought religion might be a useful tool for them too.  They were supposed to drive out the heathens and take their land for their own--that's what God instructed them to do--but the Ammorites where too strong (or the warriors from Dan didn't have enough faith) so they decided to pick on an easier target.  And the came to the Levite and asked him for a blessing before they went to war.  And the Levite gladly gave them a blessing and the warriors won the battle.  So they came back, realizing that Micah had a lot of expensive stuff in his chapel, and they decided to steal it and make it their own.  What was Micah gonna do against 600 warriors?
            At first when the Levite sees the men stealing the altar and idols and all the religious objects from the chapel, he's like, "Hey!  What are you doing with that stuff?"  But the warrior so of Dan are like, "Shh!  Be quiet!  Look, here's the thing.  We're taking this stuff and you can't stop us.  But if you help us out, you can come along with us.  We'll pay you twice what Micah pays you.  And isn't it better to be the priest to a whole tribe than just one family?"  And Levite kinda likes that idea.  It's a great job opportunity.  More money. More important.  Micah sort of gets the short end of the stick, but religion is a pretty good tool for the Levite to get what he wants.  It going places!
            The main point of this message is this:  we must decide if God is the point or is He just the means to an end?  Are we going to be like the Levite who served God for some silver and a robe? Are we going to serve humanity in the name of God, rather than serve God?  You see, the Levite used God to get what he wanted and he did quite well.

Humanism
            In order to understand what this all means to us today, we have to understand a little bit of history.  A subtle shift took place around the 1700-1800s in the way people thought about life.  Up to that point, most everyone accepted the existence of God.  Then humanity entered a period known as the "enlightenment" when people looked more to reason and science than faith to answer life's big questions.  Charles Darwin proposed life came to be the way it is by evolution and not a divine creator.  And people began to argue that God was not real or as important and we should focus less on God an more on humanity.  And it wasn't long before humanism became the most prevalent philosophy among educated people.  Humanism is a philosophy that declares the most important thing in life is the happiness of humanity, that the reason for existence is our happiness.
            Well, happiness for humanity doesn't sound so bad, does it?  It probably sounds familiar as we get ready to celebrate the Fourth of July.  What was it our founding fathers declared?  That all men have the right to “Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness…”  Well, our nation was founded in the midst of the Enlightenment and humanism was the philosophy of the day.
            How did humanism affect religious teaching?  Well, the more foreword thinking, liberal professors and theologians of the day began to question if we had put too much emphasis on God and not humanity.  Some, because of science, even began to question if God really existed or if heaven and hell were real places.  Yet, they made their living by religion so they couldn't just send everyone home and tell them not to go to church.  So they reasoned, “We don’t know about God and heaven and hell, but we want to make people’s life happier while they’re alive.  And we believe that religion can help improve things for humanity.  We can get rid of alcoholism and poverty and war; and religion can help people get along and live good, happy lives.”
            Well, another more conservative group of Christians didn't like that and they reacted by saying, "No!  We believe in the fundamentals of Christianity!  We believe in Heaven and Hell!  We believe in God and Jesus Christ his son who died on the cross, was buried in a tomb, and rose from the grave."  And they began insisted people needed to repent and believe in Christ so they could go to heaven when they died.  They said, "This life only last a short time--maybe 70 years if your lucky--but eternity is forever.  And you don't want to spend eternity in Hell.  Don't you want to be happy for eternity in Heaven?  Then you need to believe in Christ!"
            The problem is this:  liberalism and fundamentalism are motivated by humanism.  The liberal wants to make people happy while they're alive.  The fundamentalist wants to make people happy when they're dead.  But both are focused on making people happy!  And this is not real Christianity!
            True Christianity says, “The end of all being is the glory of God.”  Humanism says, “The end of all being is the happiness of man.”  Humanism was born in hell, turning humans into gods (in their own eyes). True Christianity was born in heaven, the glorification of God.  Humanism is a Levite serving Micah for some silver and a robe.  Christianity is a heart that is unworthy yet serving the living God because it is the highest honor in the universe.
            Paris Reidhead said, “Humanism is, I believe, the most deadly and disastrous of all the philosophical stenches that has crept up through the grating over the pit of hell. And it has penetrated so much of our religion. And it is in utter and total contrast with Christianity. And, unfortunately, it is seldom seen.”
            And in our Scripture reading, we see Micah wants to have a little chapel and he wants to have a priest and he wants to have prayer and he wants to have devotion because he says, “I know the Lord will bless me.” And it’s a nice little plan. And along comes the Levite and falls right in with him because he wants something too. He wants some silver and some clothes and to make a nice living and to be important.  And so in order that the Levite can have what he wants and Micah can have what he wants, they sell out God! --------- for 10 pieces of silver and a robe. 
 
Christ was Betrayed
            Can’t you see? This is an absolute betrayal of God! And it is the same betrayal of God that plays out all around us all the time!  My calling into ministry has been to help people grow closer to God, but in 17 years of ministry I find most of the time is people are not much interested in growing closer to God.  If they want a relationship with God it is in order to have prayers answered or to receive a blessing or to have a happy life.  People want God to bless them.  We even sing:  God bless America, but why should He?  So few Americans are in love with God.  They only care about what God can do for them.  And we must repent.  And we should sing America bless God!  America live for God!  If we want God to bless America, if we want God to revive us, then we have to repent and turn back to real Christianity and not religion we practice just to get what we want.
            There are some benevolent people in the world who care about others besides themselves; there are even some willing to make great sacrifices to help others.  But even this too is a form of humanism—working for the happiness of man.  Paris Reidhead realized this as a  missionary.  He wrote:

“I went out there [as a missionary in Africa] motivated by humanism. I had seen pictures of lepers. I had seen pictures of ulcers. I had seen pictures of native funerals and I didn’t want my fellow human beings to suffer in hell eternally after such a miserable existence on earth. But it was there in Africa that God began to tear through the overlay of this humanism. And it was that day in my bedroom with the door locked that I wrestled with God. For here was I coming to grips with the fact that the people that I thought were ignorant and wanted to know how to go heaven and were saying, “Someone come and teach us,” actually didn’t want to take time to talk with me or anybody else. They had no interest in the Bible and no interest in Christ and they loved their sin and wanted to continue in it. And I was to the place at that time where I felt the whole thing was a sham and a mockery and I had been sold a bill of goods. And I wanted to come home.  And there, alone in my bedroom as I faced God honestly with what my heart felt it seemed to me I heard him say, “Yes, will not the judge of all the earth do right? The heathen are lost and they are going to go to hell not because they haven’t heard the gospel. They are going to go to hell because they are sinners who love their sin and because they deserve hell. But I didn’t send you out there for them. I didn’t send you out there for their sakes.” And I heard as clearly as I have ever heard—though it wasn’t with physical voice, but it was the echo of truth of the ages finding its way into an open heart—I heard God say to my heart that day something like this. “I didn’t send you to Africa for the sake of the heathen. I sent you to Africa for my sake. They deserved hell, but I love them. And I endured the agonies of hell for them. I didn’t send you out there for them. I sent you out there for me. Do I not deserve the reward of my sufferings? Don’t I deserve those for whom I died?” And it reversed it all and changed it all and righted it all. And I wasn’t any longer working for Micah and 10 shekels and a shirt, but I was serving the living God. And I was there not for the sake of the heathen, but I was there for the Savior that had endured the agonies of hell for the heathen who didn’t deserve it. But he deserved them because he died for them.”

Byproducts & Prime Products [Slide – Beautiful Sunset]
            Some would say, "What you mean God doesn't want us to be happy?  God doesn't want us to go to Heaven?"  Yes God does want us to be happy and you will be happy and you will go to Heaven if you surrender to God, but as a byproduct and not the prime-product.  Paris Reidhead said, "There is only one reason, one reason for a sinner to repent and that is because Jesus Christ deserves the worship and the adoration and the love and the obedience of his heart, not because he will go to heaven. If the only reason you repented, dear friend, was to keep out of hell all you are is just a Levite serving for 10 shekels and a shirt. That’s all. You are trying to serve God because he will do you good. But a repentant heart is a heart that has seen something of the enormity of the crime of playing god and denying the just and righteous God the worship and obedience that he deserves. Why should a sinner repent? Because God deserves the obedience and love that he has refused to give him, not so that he will go to heaven. If the only reason he repents is so that he will go to heaven, it is nothing but trying to make a deal or a bargain with God. Why should a sinner give up all his sins? Why should he be challenged to do it? Why should he make restitution when he is coming to Christ? Because God deserves the obedience that he demands."

A Call to Repentance
            I think many of us need to repent--and authentic repentance.  Friends, let us not try to make a a deal with God--serving Him for the sake of Heaven or happiness.  No!  Let us instead say, “Lord of All, I repent of my sins and will serve You and only You from this day forward.  I give You the absolute first place in my heart even if I go to Hell at the end of it all, because I’m not trying to make a deal with You.  I realize You ARE Lord and deserve my whole-hearted commitment.”
            Would you make this commitment today?  Would you repent on these true terms?  Then go ahead and speak to your Lord.  Amen.