Ryan Strother

People Naturally Desire To Worship A God

When the cat is away, the mice will play. This cliche is seen in the last chapters of Judges, and we tend to live according to it when we do not think there is an authority in our lives.  

A great example of this is at the end of the book of Judges (ch.17-21). It begins with Micah and his mother in “The hill country of Ephraim”—not a new location in Judges:

  • It is the place of Joshua’s burial (2:9);
  • Ehud sounded his trumpet there (3:27);
  • Deborah held court there (4:5); and
  • Gideon sent messengers there to call up the men of Ephraim to go against the Midianites (7:24).

Look how different it is by the end of Judges though! The phrase “there was no king in Israel” occurs three times in chapters 17-21 (17:6; 18:1; 21:25). When there is no king, people will do what is right in their own eyes. In other words, they will become their own kings or submit themselves to all kinds of other kings.

We see a natural desire for worship in Micah and his mother, and we share this natural desire.

The short story—Micah had stolen 1,100 pieces of silver from his mother but returned it to her. Her response:  “. . . I dedicate the silver to the LORD from my hand for my son, to make a carved image and a metal image. . .” (Judges 17:3, ESV)

Do you see anything in her response that doesn’t make sense? This shows how far off the Israelites had come in their thinking and beliefs–Micah’s mother would dedicate the silver to the Lord IN ORDER FOR it to be made into a carved image and a metal image. The 2nd commandment directly forbids this: “You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.” (Exodus 20:4, ESV)

But Micah wasn’t done there:

  • v.5- he sets up a shrine, which is essentially is “the house of God.” This is an abomination because there was only one house of God at that time and it was in Shiloh, which is even noted in Judges 18:31.
  • v.5- he sets up his son as a private priest. First, priests are to be public, not just for one person. Second, is his son even qualified?
  • v.7-13. Maybe Micah did realize the qualification part of this, even though he didn’t care, because he finds a Levite and asks him to be his priest.

Levites were the priestly class of Israelites, so Micah got that right. But God was not Micah’s authority, and his confusion is revealed in Judges 17:13: “Then Micah said, ‘Now I know that the LORD will prosper me, because I have a Levite as priest.’”

Not only did Micah’s mother dedicate the silver to the Lord to be used to make idols, but Micah presumed upon God’s blessing of his ungodly decision to create a place of worship outside of Shiloh with carved images and idols.

They naturally desired a god: something to rule over them, look up to, and try to please. People today share the same natural desire to worship by setting up their own places of worship and idols (whether physically or mentally).

Why would people do this? Let me offer two reasons:

  1. All people are made in the image of God (Gen 1:27), meaning at least that people have a soul and are able to have a personal relationship with God. In other words, every person is created to glorify and worship God, and when they don’t worship God, that longing to worship is still there. Instead of worshipping who they were created to worship, though, people will create all kinds of idols and other pursuits to fill that void that can only be satisfied in God.
  2. The law of God is written on people’s hearts. “For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them” (Romans 2:14–15, ESV). Because people are made in the image of God, we naturally have the law of God written on our hearts. There is a general sense of right from wrong in every person, though sin can so horribly cauterize the ability to discern the difference. As John Piper said, people “. . . have enough knowledge of the moral law of God in their hearts by virtue of being created in God’s image so that their consciences are conflicted: sometimes approving, sometimes disapproving.” So, people are naturally pursuing morality, and that will lead to some kind of religion in their life.

Are you naturally desiring the One True God, or is your natural desire to worship misdirected?

 

Photo by Pablo Heimplatz on Unsplash

 

Five To Focus 43. The Joy in Being Justified

Find joy in knowing what it means to be justified by God. Scriptures quoted in this episode:  Romans 8:33-34, Matthew 4:17, and 2 Corinthians 5:21.

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Why I Am Working On the SCBgO Podcast

There were months of planning and now we are 3 episodes into the SCBgO Podcast. The leadership of the State Convention of Baptists in Ohio (SCBO) approved the idea, episode guests have been so gracious in recording, and I hope people will listen, learn, and enjoy!

The idea came because I believe we need to celebrate what the Lord is doing around our state. As I have served the convention in an elected position the last year and a half, I have heard more testimonies of amazing ministry across Ohio.

Church members can often feel disconnected from the activity of their state convention, but we have the technological means to solve that problem. That’s exactly why the SCBgO Podcast exists: to motivate you to be active in Mission Ohio.  

Even more specifically, here’s why I am working on the SCBgO podcast:

  • To inform listeners of what is happening around the SCBO. Some might not know that First Baptist Church in Vandalia changed their name to First Light Church (listen to episode 1), or that individual churches can call the IMB directly and partner with missionaries around the world (listen to episode 2). Some of our church members might not know what the H2O network of churches is, and that H2O Columbus sent out 19 people to the University of Indiana to start a new church (listen to episode 3). When people know about this activity, they can praise God for it and pray for those leading it!
  • To inspire listeners with practical ideas they might be able to use. There might be a church leader who is wondering how to go multi-campus, or a church member who really desires their church to be more active in global missions. Maybe hearing something on these episodes will inspire them to take the next step. The conversations in these episodes are intended to be practical and the show notes include helpful resources from which our listeners can benefit.
  • To motivate listeners to be committed to Mission Ohio. I hope that someone would hear what is going on and would be encouraged that they are not alone. There are 750+ churches in the SCBO who are fighting the good fight of taking the gospel to our neighbors and beyond. Feeling disconnected can lead to feeling lonely, but we need every one of our churches active in the mission of reaching Ohio. There are plenty of people in Ohio who have not been saved by Jesus. We have work to do, and maybe someone will be motivated by these episodes to keep going!

 

Who is knocking it out of the park in a certain area of ministry that I need to interview for an episode?

Five To Focus 42. Overcoming the Fear of Speaking Out For Christ

Be encouraged! God’s Word is authoritative for our lives, and the Holy Spirit will help you know what to say in the moment.

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Five To Focus 41. Practicing Praying Scripture- Psalm 144.1

Ryan walks through Psalm 144:1 to show how you can pray through Scripture. This based on Dr. Don Whitney’s book Praying the Bible.

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Our View of God is Diminished When We Choose To Sin

Samson exemplifies this principle. Judges 16 records the popular encounter between Samson and Delilah. The main point of that chapter is Samson’s flirting with presumptuous sin, and any one of us are like Samson in the way that we set our affections on something ungodly and are blind to any obvious attempts of that thing to lead us astray. Samson finally told Delilah the truth about the secret of his strength after he had tricked her three times.

Here is a simple but profound point that struck me when I noticed it. When Samson told Delilah the truth, he said “…A razor has never come upon my head, for I have been a Nazirite to God from my mother’s womb. If my head is shaved, then my strength will leave me, and I shall become weak and be like any other man” (Judges 16:17). Interestingly, he uses the name Elohim for God there instead of Yahweh, the Divine name.

Elohim certainly can be a reference to Yahweh, but it can also be used to refer to all kinds of gods. Delilah, a polytheistic Philistine, might have thought nothing of what Samson said because that’s how any one of her gods could have been addressed. In fact, the Philistines use Elohim to refer to their gods in this very chapter (four times in verses 23 and 24).

Right before he tells Delilah what it would take for him to break the last stipulation of his Nazarite vow (therefore, sinning against God), he refers to God in a way that couldn’t be well distinguished from any other so-called god. Samson’s view of God diminishes as he chooses to sin.

The same can be true for us. A temptation has risen to the level of being a god to you, and the One True God is nothing more than another option in a world of many gods.

It changes though. Samson has a moment at some point after his capture and imprisonment where he comes back to the realization that Yahweh is God, not himself or anyone or anything else. In verse 28, Samson called out, “O Lord God, please remember me…” Here Samson cried out Yahweh. He knows who the One True God is. He returns to having a proper view of God.

So, the question for you: what is your view of God when you are tempted beyond what you think you can handle? If He is nothing more than another option in a world of options, then you’re sure to rely on yourself and give in to sin. But if you view God properly as holy, righteous, and able to strengthen you in times of need, then you can choose and live in righteousness.

Photo by Elena Taranenko on Unsplash

5 Reasons Why I Prepare A Sermon Manuscript

Higher-impact vocabulary and illustrations.

When you take time to write everything out, you can more carefully craft your words for greater impact than if you get up there with some main ideas from bullet points.

RG Lee, long-time pastor of Bellevue Baptist Church in Memphis, Tennessee, was known as a master orator and wordsmith. For example, his famous “Payday Someday” sermon included the line, “I introduce to you Ahab, the vile human toad who squatted upon the throne of his nation.”

The same goes for illustrations–manuscripting forces you to take time to think through every part of the sermon, even the illustrations. I know some preachers who are skilled at giving illustrations off the cuff, but I tend to think through mine beforehand if they are actually going to help people connect the doctrinal truth to the illustration.

People might better remember those well-crafted lines and thoughtful illustrations, which hopefully leads to better memory of the meaning of the passage being preached.

Reduces the likelihood of Speaking Tics.

I used to create a bulleted outline with main points and then sub-bullets. But when time comes to actually preach, if you haven’t thought through all of your words, then you’re more likely to let out those tics. Mine were uh and right?. Listening to my sermon recordings and manuscripting helped fix that (I’m not perfect but its better!).

Creates smoother transitions between points.

Similar to higher-impact vocabulary, manuscripting makes transitions between main points smoother and easier for the listener to distinguish. I remember listening to sermons growing up and then wondering what did he just preach? Some of that is the listener’s fault, but sometimes it is the preacher’s fault for not giving clear navigation throughout the sermon. Manuscripting forces you to think through the introduction and conclusion to make them effective.

When I was using bulleted lists, I didn’t focus well on the intro or conclusion. I would just sometimes start by saying, we’re looking at Matthew 12:1-6 today so turn there and let’s go. Yikes! Thankfully, far better ways of introducing a sermon exist.

Allows the message to marinate longer to increase effective delivery.

In a normal week, I’ve got the manuscript for Sunday finished by Thursday, which allows for plenty of time to be thinking on it. I don’t memorize manuscripts and just read them, but manuscripting allows it to be pretty well ingrained in my brain by Sunday.

One Sunday morning, I placed my iPad (I use to display my manuscript) down and another church leader placed his stuff on mine. He had a similar looking device and accidentally took my iPad. I didn’t realize that I didn’t have it until I got up to preach and it was too late to get it. But the sermon content had marinated enough by then that I knew where I was going and I trusted the Holy Spirit to do his work.

Ease of Reference for Future Study.

I am able to look back quickly on how I handled a certain verse or when I used that illustration. I nearly treat it like writing a paper in that I usually put citations in my manuscripts so I can see where I got a definition or a quote. It is also nice to be able to pull up a manuscript in short notice to preach if needed. Maybe you’re filling in for somewhere who got sick at the last minute or you’re on a mission trip and the unexpected opportunity comes. You can quickly pull up a manuscript from a previous sermon, review it, and preach away!

 

How have you found manuscripting beneficial?

 

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

Showing Appreciation for Your Friends

“Iron sharpens iron, and one person sharpens another.” (Proverbs 27:17, CSB)

 

Have you ever paused long enough to be thankful for the people in your life? The friends and family members who continue to shape you, encourage you, support you, and teach you. It has been refreshing to me to do this over the last month, and I would encourage you to do the same.

Whether you realize it or not, the people around you sharpen you. Recently I’ve had this thought:  I can’t believe that I get to know him/her. I have been so blessed by seeing how people around me use their abilities and giftedness to serve the Lord and others, and their commitments sharpen me. We might not be in the same line of work, but their character is refreshing and leaves me proud to know them and learn from them.

I am so proud of people around me doing some incredible things: publishing books, leading university bands, motivating people in their organization as a supervisor, single mothers taking on the world, a dad who works hard hours and still serves his wife and young child well–I could just keep going on. They may not realize they are teaching anyone anything as they are accomplishing the world, but their skills, determination, and integrity are sharpening me.

We should be grateful for friends! Here are a few ideas on how you can show appreciation to these people in their lives:

  • Tell them you are grateful. Seems simple, but have you? Tell them face-to-face or send a note somehow.

 

  • Listen well and don’t control the time you are together. It is easy to dominate conversations because we are naturally selfish, but taking time to really listen to others shows them how valuable they are to you.

 

  • Get into their world. Show interest in what they value. Support their hobbies and events and try new activities with them. I would have never climbed Seneca Rock if my friends didn’t invite me; and I would not have learned a lot of valuable lessons through that trip.
  • Be humble. This might be the necessary attitude behind all of these ideas, but if we do not consider others more highly than ourselves (Phil. 2:3), then we might not be in a position to have friends around!

 

 

 

How do you show appreciation for the people around you?   

 

Photo by Matheus Ferrero on Unsplash

Samson Reveals Your Weakness to Save Yourself

Since I grew up in church and “knew all the answers,” I was blinded to the fact that I needed to be saved from my sin. I thought the message of Jesus and the cross was just for others out there who were doing the really bad stuff. Essentially, I thought I could save myself by my knowledge and behavior.

If you are in a similar situation like I was, Samson could be helpful. Samson might be the most popular person in the Bible who was under the Nazarite vow, but it is also thought that Samuel was under the vow (1 Sam. 1:11-28; Hannah specifically mentions not cutting the hair); John the Baptist (Luke 1:15; no wine or strong drink); and the Apostle Paul (Acts 18:18; he cut his hair because he was under a vow-maybe at the end of a Nazarite vow).  Nazarite is a word that derives from a Hebrew word (Nazar) meaning “consecrated or devoted one.”

Let me highlight details from Numbers 6 where we first read about the Nazarite vow:

  • Voluntary vow by Israelite to separate himself to the Lord
  • no wine and strong drink
  • no vinegar made from wine or strong drink
  • no juice of grapes, no grapes (fresh or dried)
  • nothing produced by the grapevine (not even seeds or skins)
  • no razor shall touch the head
  • nowhere near dead bodies
  • for a specific period of time

Three things are unusual concerning Samson’s Nazarite vow:

  • He did not take it voluntarily; it was his lot from the womb (Judg. 13:5, 7).
  • It was not limited in time; it was to last to the day of his death (vv. 5, 7; cf. 1 Sam. 1:11; Luke 1:15 for similar situations).
  • He broke every one of its stipulations: his head was sheared (Judg. 16:17, 19); he associated with the dead (14:6–9; 15:15); and he undoubtedly drank at his wedding feast (14:10–20; see note on 14:10).

Still, God called Samson out for a specific mission. At the end of v.5, we are told that Samson would start to save the Israelites from the Philistines. The cultural situation isn’t anything new to us by now. The Israelites had turned to their own ways and were serving other gods. God gave them into the hand of the Philistines for 40 years. The Philistines would continue to oppose God’s people and the Israelites wouldn’t find relief from them until near the end of King David’s life as you can read about in 2 Samuel 21. There are a few mentions of the Philistines after David, but David was able to break their power.

So, Samson was given great strength to be able to basically single-handedly take care of the Philistines. We know this was God’s strength upon Samson because the strength stopped when Samson’s hair was cut, which was the last part of his vow to be broken.

You can look at this information about Samson and a Nazarite vow and say so what? Here’s what I hope you will see:

The Nazarite vow was a voluntary claim to say I’m going to be holy.

Salvation today is God’s claim to say I’ve made you holy.

Samson is an example of someone who tried to be righteous but failed apart from the power of God–like me before I understood the power of Jesus and salvation.

Jesus Christ did what no Old Testament leader did—He broke the power of sin and death, and now you can be declared righteous and enabled to live a life of holiness if you profess faith in Jesus and trust Him to save you.

Even the strongest man in the Bible wasn’t powerful enough to save himself. If I were you, I wouldn’t try either.

 

Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

Quick August Update

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