Thursday, December 29, 2011

evaluation time

And he did what was right in the eyes of the LORD, according to all that his father Uzziah had done.
2 Kings 15:34

There is this ceaseless litany summarizing the long list of kings here in 2 Kings 15. The actions of each king are set off either with "he did what was evil in the eyes of the LORD" or "He did what was right in the eyes of the LORD". Each king is held to a greater, higher standard by which his activity is evaluated.

A pattern emerges. None of the northern kings in Samaria do what is right. And they are characterized by short reigns (several less than a year, one for only one month) and lots of trouble unsettles their kingdom. There is a string of conspiracies. The kings fall by murder and overthrow by usurpers. There are inside pressures placed upon the throne from with Israel's borders. And there are great outside pressures. By the time Pekah reigns in Israel, Assyria has carved out lots of territory and taken the northernmost portions of Israel captive to Assyria. What is left is barely more than a vassal state.

Meanwhile, back in Judah, an opposite pattern is in play. A series of righteous kings leads the nation in worship of God. And they enjoy relatively long rules. God is honoring the Jerusalem throne even as Samaria declines in power and prestige. But by the time of Jotham's reign, outside pressures are threatening David's throne as well. Northern kingdom weakness has created a highway for invasion straight to Jerusalem. And southern threats from Edom and Moab continue. Syria and Assyria made incursions into Judah's territory. Even though Judah has a string of righteous rulers, the damage has already been done and the stage is now set for all of God's people to be led into God's judgment. It is just a matter of timing.

Seeing these patterns so dramatically makes me appreciate Paul's New Testament perspective on Old Testament history: "these things were written for our instruction." By observing this history and seeing God act in it, I get perspective on how God interacts with humanity. And that serves as a gauge for checking out my own habits and willingness to live as God says. I want to do what is "right in the eyes of the LORD".

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The cost of self-driven agendas

But Amaziah would not listen. So Jehoash king of Israel went up, and he and Amaziah king of Judah faced one another in battle at Beth-shemesh, which belongs to Judah. And Judah was defeated by Israel, and every man fled to his home.
2 Kings 14:11-12

This is a brutal civil war. Generations after Israel has split into two kingdoms, at a time when no outside threat was around to intimidate either Israel or Judah, this gruesome fight breaks out. God's people go at one another. Both Amaziah king of Judah and Jehoash king of Israel have experienced military victories that allowed them to recapture territories from historic enemies. Those enemies are now preoccupied with the new threat from Assyria.

Cocky and over confident, both Jewish kings are feeling the tensions of the split kingdom. The civil war starts with a "diplomatic" suggestion by Judah to Israel. The offer is rejected and Amaziah storms down to Jerusalem for all out war. The city wall is torn down for a substantial section. The temple is ransacked and Amaziah is humiliated. It is really sad to see God's chosen people reduced to hatred and infighting.

After this battle, the northern kingdom of Israel emerges as the military power. Judah limps along as a religious and cultural vanguard. It is clear that lines have been drawn and everybody now knows their place. The sad thing was that all of this was a direct result of the abandonment of the covenant by the Jewish people. The Law was meant to bring peace and civil prosperity, But death and offense was what came when God's Law was ignored.

There are always great costs to be paid when we choose to direct our own lives. Idolatry is costly and painful. And the horror of this civil war pictures the painful tragedy that comes in the wake of our sinful choices.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

God is under no obligation to be merciful.

Then Jehoahaz sought the favor of the LORD, and the LORD listened to him, for he saw the oppression of Israel, how the king of Syria oppressed them.
2 Kings 13:4

God intervened when by terms of the covenant, He did not have to do so. The king of Israel, Jehoahaz, was not a righteous man. The text says that he did evil in the sight of the Lord (2 Kings 13:2). Yet when the Syrian army constantly harassed and attacked Israel, God saw the foreign oppression. When Jehoahaz turned to God in prayer, God answered his requests and turned back the Syrian aggression. The text is not specific as to who Israel's "savior" was (many scholars believe the growing Assyrian threat to the north diverted Syria's resources from Israel), but God did answer a prayer that He was not obligated to respond to in any way.

The reality is that God is gracious and merciful. And He will show His love in ways we do not understand. In the case of Jehoahaz, God brought deliverance from a military power, not because the king was righteous, but because God Himself was gracious. He did it out of His own nature. God always acts out of His own nature. No one tells God what to do or makes Him act any certain way. So when grace comes forward, we are seeing God as He truly is.

I am thankful that God is gracious to sinners. I would not be here if He wasn't that way. And I am so very moved by His mercies shown to me. If not for the redemptive work of Christ for me, I would be no better than a wicked king myself.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Changing the world by worshiping God

And Jehoash did what was right in the eyes of the LORD all his days, because Jehoiada the priest instructed him.
2 Kings 12:2

Jehoash had a long reign (40 years) of relative prosperity. The text credits his obedience to God as being instrumental to his great rulership in Judah. He had a close relationship with the priests and the worship of Yahweh in the temple. His chief accomplishment centered around repairs being made to what was a broken and run down temple.

When the priests did not seem to be making significant timely progress on the repairs, Jehoash expedited the process by royal edict and intervention. He devoted the largest administrative efforts of his regime to the task and created a mechanism so that the royal treasurer had oversight of the gifts received at the temple. The royal treasury then paid for supplies and skilled labor to repair the temple. It was a long and expensive process, but the king invested himself in it as an act of lifelong worship. Yahweh's worship could only be restored in a temple restored to His honor!

For Jehoash, commitment to God was literally shown in his life's investment. He devoted the administration of his kingdom to the rebuilding of the house of worship for God. All the funds that could be were devoted to this project. It defined his life. We can learn a lot from a man who devoted his life to the worship of God by administering a government in such a way that God was the defining mark and focus of his administration. Worship is what we were made for. It is what we do, no matter our vocation.

When we devote all our resources and energies to the glory of God, we are blessed and God is worshiped. And great things can come from that. Lives can be restored. The world can be changed.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Prophecy ain't always pretty.

Joram said, "Make ready." And they made ready his chariot. Then Joram king of Israel and Ahaziah king of Judah set out, each in his chariot, and went to meet Jehu, and met him at the property of Naboth the Jezreelite.
2 Kings 9:21

The spectacular end of Ahab's dynasty begins with God sending a prophet to anoint a new king in Israel. God's choice is a ruthless, high energy general named Jehu. As soon as he is anointed, he launches a conspiracy to removed Joram and the queen mother, Jezebel. And he is familiar enough with the prophecies of their demise to keep them in mind as he boldly rides out to take over the throne.

He meets both Joram, the Israeli king, and Ahaziah, the Judean king, at the prophetic juncture of the vineyard of Naboth. Here was the place that figured in the prophecies. Joram's father, Ahab, had stolen this land and Jezebel had Nabath murdered through treachery so that it could be ceded to the king. The irony was that this is where it all ended for them. Joram's bloody body was tossed there in fulfillment of the Word of the Lord.

After fatally wounding the king of Judah, Jehu drives his fast chariot on to the Samaritan palace where a painted Jezebel tries to entice him. He has no such desire and instead appeals to the palace eunuchs to toss her out the palace tower window. They do so, and her bloodied, broken corpse is consumed by wild dogs, just as had been prophetically announced.

Prophecy is not always pretty, but it does always point to the sovereign control and power of God. He is in control. He will be heeded. His Word will not fail. We can always trust that fact.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

benefits of heeding God's Word

And when the king asked the woman, she told him. So the king appointed an official for her, saying, "Restore all that was hers, together with all the produce of the fields from the day that she left the land until now."
2 Kings 8:6

When you read the interplay between the kings and the prophets, you are struck by the way the kings had an adversarial relationship with the men God was using to speak His Word. Most of the kings only listened to the prophets when it was convenient. And this is particularly true of Elisha's ministry. Yet God went out of His way to show that those who honored the prophets would be honored by Him.

The outstanding example is the unnamed Shunammite woman. We know some facts about her. She and her husband were wealthy (2 Kings 4:8). They owned fields and were substantial farmers in their home town. At one point she was childless and God blessed her with a son out of gratitude for her family's care of Elisha. God even restored her dead son to her after she sought out Elisha's help.

Elisha warned this Shunammite woman of a severe famine. She left her livelihood and land holdings in Israel for Philistia while the seven year famine ravaged the land. By precedent, her home and fields ceded to royal control. She must have been a widow at this point. Her husband does not come to the king, and Gehazi's story centers exclusively on her.

So moved was the king of Israel by her story that he did the unthinkable. He deeded all her land holdings back to her (woman did not get to own property in that culture) AND he generously gave her a portion of stored food from the royal storehouses equal to seven years of crop production on the land. God's grace came upon her again by her obedience to the Word of the Lord through the prophet. It was as if she had never left her home.

The simple truth is that God rewards obedience to His Word. And the benefits are often more than we can imagine. That is a principle worth emulating from the woman who listened when kings would not!

Monday, December 19, 2011

famine relief

Then the people went out and plundered the camp of the Syrians. So a seah of fine flour was sold for a shekel, and two seahs of barley for a shekel, according to the word of the LORD.
2 Kings 7:16

God saved Samaria from total collapse at the hands of Syria. The king of Israel was impotent to save his people against the siege that was starving his capital city. But God was still the God of Israel, and even though no one called out to Him, He easily turned the Syrian army away from the attack. And He did it in such a way that dramatic results were coming, just as Elisha the prophet had foretold.

The siege of Samaria had been going on a long time... long enough that the food supplies within the city gates were dwindling. The results were highly inflated prices on basic necessities. And it had gotten so bad that some of the residents of Samaria had resorted to cannibalism to stay alive (2 Kings 6:24-31). But a dramatic moment would change all of that overnight. God was going to intervene for all to clearly see.

In the middle of the night the Syrian army flees in panic as they hear the sound of chariots, horses, and an approaching army. They assume that the king of Israel has hired mercenaries and they abandon their camp in panic, leaving behind all food and valuables. It was enough stuff to completely resupply the starved city, just as Elisha had said. God miraculously saved His people, just with a mere delusion to an army.

God's gracious deliverance is always worth considering. I see this and realize that the Old Testament is full of examples of God's gracious, unmerited favor to people. He brings glory to Himself by being gracious to us. He fed Samaria again after wartime siege and His method was to just introduce the sound of war. He showed Himself a powerful savior to a disobedient people. That is the grace that God shows sinners. And He does so even more powerfully in the grace shown us in Christ Jesus today!

Friday, December 16, 2011

Overwhelming Force

He said, "Do not be afraid, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them."
2 Kings 6:16

Outnumbered? Outmanned? Outgunned?
Now when God is for me
I may not always see
what God has for me
but He has His unseen army
and He will certainly protect me

Unsure? Uncertain? Unprepared?
God will make a way
He can save the day
and in Him power is at play
to bring me confidence today
that carries strength into the fray

Dejected? Demoted? Defeated?
I probably tried to control
what only God can know
and if I would humbly go
in repentant trust and show
faith in Him, God will restore

Afraid? Alone? Awaiting?
God has more in His hand
than I can command
and healing confidence can
come to back to this land
when I let God do what I can't

Thursday, December 15, 2011

the attention of the world

Then he returned to the man of God, he and all his company, and he came and stood before him. And he said, "Behold, I know that there is no God in all the earth but in Israel; so accept now a present from your servant."
2 Kings 5:15

The story of the healing of Naaman, the commander of the Syrian army, is classic Sunday School fare for kids. I remember hearing it often as a child growing up in church. Some of the more difficult problems were glossed over: the threat of Syrian war, the captivity of a Jewish girl in forced servitude, or the gruesome effects of leprosy. But for the most part, I remember the details of a miracle... Naaman is cleansed of leprosy after seven washings in the Jordan river.

The interesting part of the story comes when you contemplate the reality of a Gentile warrior coming to a lowly Hebrew prophet, and finding healing from the God of Israel. It is the Abrahamic Covenant at work, even when God's people were acting more like heathen people than the Gentiles themselves were... at least the Syrians. The nations of the earth are being blessed by the God of Israel, in direct fulfillment of the covenant made with Abraham.

Naaman's response is confessional. He is ready to devote his life to the worship of Yahweh. He had despised Israel to the point of disdain at the thought of washing in the muddy Jordan. But now he was hauling home Israeli soil to build a mud brick altar on which he planned to sacrifice exclusively to Israel's God. He has converted. And it is at this point that we again are reminded that even in the Old Testament, God desired that the nations come to Him. He wants the world to know His grace and glory!

If God could use one prophet and a dirty river to do His work of reaching the world, imagine what He wants to do through His church! It is time to stop pursuing a selfish enriching agenda like Gehazi did and instead point to the glory of God like Elisha. From there, the world can see God and we can be agents of His glory. Christians should be proclaimers of God's glory in the gospel to all the earth.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

prayer and power

When Elisha came into the house, he saw the child lying dead on his bed. So he went in and shut the door behind the two of them and prayed to the LORD.
2 Kings 4:32-33

When looking at the miraculous ministry that followed Elisha, it might be tempting to see the accounts as magnifying the man. But the text is clear that God is at work in Elisha. He is nothing without God's work in him. He relies on God showing Him what to do, how to do it, praying for God to work.

This situation was particularly poignant. Elisha stayed in the Shunemmite home regularly. The woman convinces her husband to build a room just for the prophet's use when he visits. He is like a member of the family. In gratitude, Elisha asks her if there is anything she needs. When he is aware she has no son, God reveals to the prophet that she will bear a son. True to God's Word, she is blessed with a son the next year. But in childhood one day, the boy is stricken with a headache and dies in her arms. She sets his body on Elisha's bed, and journeys to Carmel to see the prophet.

Elisha returns with her and it is here that God does another miracle for this generous family. Elisha prays to God to restore the life of the child. Elisha's constant intercession eventually leads to a resurrection. The child is restored through the faithful prayer of a faithful servant for another faithful servant. Again, it might be easy to miss Elisha's prayer. It was not that the prophet alone resuscitated the boy. It was the power of God at work through prayer that made the miraculous happen in that home.

If we want to see God at work in our lives, we must pray. That is the biblical example and admonition. Even Jesus made it a point to pray to the Father. We cannot serve God and NOT live lives of communication with Him. God works in our hearts and in our circumstances as we surrender to Him in prayer.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Miracles... a big thing... and a little thing

This is a light thing in the sight of the LORD. He will also give the Moabites into your hand...
2 Kings 3:18

Miracles are big things for us, small matters for God. That is the whole point of the miraculous. God has no problem interrupting the order of the created universe to accomplish His purposes. After all, the creation of the universe was an effort that just took His Word and Will to accomplish. He spoke the countless galaxies into being. He can interrupt the water cycle of a Middle Eastern stream... no problem.

But interruptions by God are a big deal to us for a couple of reasons: 1) They challenge our perceptions and experiences. When we read about them in the Bible, they counteract our knowledge and experience. This forces us to consider God as "beyond" our realm of knowledge. 2) They force us to see God's power. Yes, His power is displayed in the design of creation, but when the miraculous is considered and cannot be explained away, we are left rethinking our tendency towards simple naturalism as an explanation for everything. This means that there is more than just the universe that we can observe.

I am grateful that miracles are a light thing for God. It assures my faith and my trust in Him. And I am OK with miracles being a "big" thing for me. It forces me to rely on God to provide direction, instruction, and wisdom in my life.

Monday, December 12, 2011

The faithfulness of the prophet

And he took up the cloak of Elijah that had fallen from him and went back and stood on the bank of the Jordan.
2 Kings 2:13

Elisha's ministry begins right in the very footsteps of his master, Elijah. He is persistent in following his mentor even to his end. It has been revealed to him and confirmed that his master would be taken from him on that day. I think Elisha believes that to mean that Elijah would die. That is why he persisted in staying near to the old prophet. And God does reward that faithfulness.

In order to cross the Jordan river, Elijah strikes the water with his cloak. God parts the river for the two prophets to cross. It is on the other side of that event that the chariots and horses of fire then separate the two prophets. Elijah is taken away into heaven in a whirlwind as Elisha watches in amazement. The old prophet's cloak comes fluttering down. Elisha scoops up the symbol of his master's ministry and then uses it to part the river again to cross back over and assume a prophetic ministry of twice the impact of Elijah.

This was a moment of sheer terror, trust, and confirmation. We want a flannelgraph version of Elijah boarding a golden chariot with hot rod flames painted on the sides. But that is not the picture of the text. The fiery horses and chariots split up Elijah and Elisha. I think they were driven by angelic messengers representing the military might of God's army. A chariot was the pinnacle of military technology in Elisha's day. It evoked fear. Modern terms might make us think of a Raptor fighter jet. And after this fearful confusion, a tornado sucks Elijah right off the ground. Elisha watches as the old prophet is torn from the ground and swirled up into the heavens. It was an amazing way to be taken body and soul from this world.

Elisha would for the rest of his days be reminded of this moment. Every morning when he put on the cloak of Elijah, he would have this encounter with God at hand. He had torn up his own clothes after this event in grief over Elijah's departure. All that he had after this was the continuing prophetic ministry in the clothes of the prophet who came before him.

The focus is on obedience and on the power of God at work in obedient servants. Elijah was promised the gift and protection of God in his prophetic ministry. And he promised Elisha twice that sort of experience if he stayed with him to the end. God rewarded and used His servants, the prophets, to bring great glory to Himself through their faithfulness to Him... even when the nation of Israel was living in unfaithful days.

Friday, December 9, 2011

The Word Spoken

So he died according to the word of the LORD that Elijah had spoken. Jehoram became king in his place in the second year of Jehoram the son of Jehoshaphat, king of Judah, because Ahaziah had no son.
2 Kings 1:17

God used men
to spread His word
way back when
His people Israel all lived
in the Promised Land.

Unusual men
who did as God said
lived for Him
and carried messages
throughout that land.

Prophets and sages
spoke only God's message
and now recorded in pages
we can read the story
of faith through the ages.

Prophets spoke His word
and the message resounded
to all those who heard
God's power was known
and worship came to the Lord.

Decisions were made
people ignored or obeyed
the Word of God stayed
before them even when pagan
infatuation led them astray

God still used men
-- hairy cloaked prophets --
and these unusual men
were givers of truth
in Israel's land.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

He is not safe.

The LORD roars from Zion, and utters his voice from Jerusalem, and the heavens and the earth quake. But the LORD is a refuge to his people, a stronghold to the people of Israel.
Joel 3:16

I read this passage this morning and I am struck by the power of God in His purpose for His people. We want a theology that controls God. But He is not leashed by humanity. God is not under our control. He shakes the heaven and the earth with just the sound of His voice! He is an awe-inspiring God.

C.S. Lewis captured this part of God in the Christ-figure of the Narnia books, Aslan the Lion. In a scene from "The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe", the children are introduced to the reality of Aslan in the home of Mr. Beaver:

"Ooh!" said Susan, "I'd thought he was a man. Is he--quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion."

"That you will, dearie, and no mistake," said Mrs. Beaver, "if there's anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they're either braver than most or else silly."

"Then he isn't safe?" said Lucy.

"Safe?" said Mr. Beaver. "Don't you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? 'Course he isn't safe. But he's good. He's the King, I tell you."

And God cannot be tamed by our thoughts of Him. He is not safe. But God is good. And that alone helps us understand His love as well as His expectations of us. The God Who roars from Zion is also a refuge and fortress of His people. I am more than a little nervous everyday with that truth. And I think it is right where God can use me.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

repentance and the character of God

"Yet even now," declares the LORD, "return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; and rend your hearts and not your garments." Return to the LORD your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and he relents over disaster.
Joel 2:12-13

As we have seen already in the first chapter of the prophet Joel, an awful natural catastrophe had come to Israel. A famine in the wake of drought and a disastrous locust swarm had left the country desolate. It served as a picture of what God's future judgment upon humanity would look like in the Day of the Lord. And the Lord uses the moment to pull Israel close and offer a chance for repentance. That is the appeal being made in this passage. It is worth breaking down and thinking through.

First, it is good to know that NOW is always the time to return to God. There is no bad time to come to God in this life. God declared to Israel that even in the wake of His discipline, they would find mercy with Him if they would just return to Him. God's heart is to always honor the return of the repentant sinner. And that is what he is saying to His people with this passionate plea. "Even now" He would take them back into His grace.

It is also important that actions will accompany a repentant heart. They flow out of a commitment to return to God. In this case, God saw His people fasting, weeping, and mourning with broken hearts over sin. That was the way to show that the genuine repentance was serious. Their hearts were split by a godly sorrow over sin. This was more than the pain of a national tragedy. This was true brokenness over sin and its consequences. And it led them to return to the LORD.

Finally, repentance helps us see God in new relational ways. The text reminds us that God is gracious and merciful. He is not miserly with His love and forgiveness. He is a merciful God Who will bless the lives of sinners who come to Him and beg for His mercy, acknowledging their weakness and His greatness. He is not slow to be gracious. However, He is slow to anger. He does not want to define His relationship with humanity by wrath and judgment of our sin. He wants to forgive us. He wants us to know His steadfast, abiding love. And repentance is our path to finding that real love!

The final note to look at comes with the unique experience that follows repentance. A repentant people sometimes experiences the good purposes of God instead of the judgment that their sins truly deserved. God revealed this in the story of Jonah and the city of Ninevah. And He is the same God to repentant sinners today. His will may be to respond to our repentance by relenting of judgment and showering us with grace. That is a great thing about God!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

God in disasters

To you, O LORD, I call. For fire has devoured the pastures of the wilderness, and flame has burned all the trees of the field.
Joel 1:19

These words were written after a devastating plague of locusts swept through Israel. It appears that what followed was drought, famine, and wildfires in the wake of the agricultural loss. Joel calls upon the nation to lament and mourn. But he also uses the thoughts brought on by the present tragedy to focus the attention of Israel upon two very crucial theological truths: 1) the vital need for repentant prayer brought on by these events. The nation MUST turn to God in times of extreme loss. 2) The opportunity to consider God's greater judgment. Any tragedy is a chance to shudder at the potential calamity coming in the final judgment known as the Day of the Lord (Joel 1:15).

Here is why this is important. A disaster is something that is usually caused by circumstances outside of human control. That is what makes it a disaster. Disasters are the result of a natural event (an earthquake, a storm, a flood, a locust swarm) that we cannot manipulate or escape. We cannot even foretell them accurately. And the widespread destruction leads to a tragedy on a massive scale. Disasters point to the helplessness inherent in our humanity. They force us to accept our limitations and our spiritual and physical need. Large scale disasters bring us to spiritual openness. And that is one hope that can bring triumph from loss and tragedy. It is a good thing in terms of human understanding to need the help and mercies of God. We can neglect Him when our lives seem to be the product of our own industry. But when we realize that they aren't, profound theology rises to the forefront of our hearts.

When we have nowhere to turn but to God, it is there we understand that our sense of being "in control" was only there by His mercy and provision. And when God restores us, we may never see our lives quite the same way after tragedy. This is why it was not cruel of Joel to use the occasion of the plague, drought, and fire to preach about God's future judgment coming upon the entire world. It helped to increase perspective.

Difficulties are often God's way of increasing our periphery to include Him. We get a kind of tunnel vision when we make our daily lives solely about human culture and modern thinking. But when God is always there, known to be superintending and guiding us as we live in the world He made for use to use for His glory, it makes nothing mundane and everything important (even losses) for His purposes, glory, and goodness to us.

Monday, December 5, 2011

The relationship between saving faith and good works

The saying is trustworthy, and I want you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works. These things are excellent and profitable for people.
Titus 3:8

The "trustworthy saying" that Paul is referring to is his explanation of the gospel in Titus 3:4-7. The gospel is rooted in God's goodness and lovingkindness towards us. God saved us, and not any of our own actions, so that it is clearly a work of His mercy and the renewing work of the Holy Spirit. It came about all because of the work of Jesus for us so that we are justified by Christ's grace and given an eternal hope. We can put our trust in this truth.

Where the text goes next with the product of saving faith is vital to understand. Believing in Christ is not where faith ends. Saving faith is a living faith. It does something. Paul was so convinced of this that he told Titus to insist on these actions among the believers in Crete. Good works are typical for the church. We believe in God, and that is of inestimable personal value. But we also must devote ourselves to good works. We have to be very deliberate to do good in our world. We must pay attention both to what we believe AND to what we do. That phrasing tells me that if I am not careful, my default setting might be just to be content to believe in Christ and do very little with that faith.

Paul has shown that Christians are a people in whom a very visible lifestyle of good works must live (Titus 1:16; 2:14; 3:1). This command is the final point in that continuing argument that has woven itself throughout the short book of Titus. Faith is borne out in what we do. We bring the gospel message to the world by proclaiming it in WORD and DEED. Paul never expecting that the two concepts be separated.

There are results to such Christian living. The words used here to describe it indicate that good works flow from saving faith and that spiritual reality is both excellent and profitable. They are seen by society as good and are helpful to the world at large. At Christmas time the media will occasionally tell such a story. And the reality is that the Christian commitment to good works ought to ALWAYS impact the world. If the saving life in Christ truly changes us, we ought to in obedience to God, be changing our world in many excellent, profitable, and God-glorifying ways!

Thursday, December 1, 2011

The reputation of a minister

Show yourself in all respects to be a model of good works, and in your teaching show integrity, dignity, and sound speech that cannot be condemned, so that an opponent may be put to shame, having nothing evil to say about us.
Titus 2:7-8

These were Paul's words directly to Titus. They are instructive on the kind of character and commitments that anyone serving in ministry should endeavor to emulate. This is the reputation I should seek as I serve Christ and His church. It is worth picking these commands apart to analyze their application.

The very first verb is one of demonstration: "show yourself..." This is a command to be visibly reputable. It means that any minister should have an open life... one that can be known. Any servant of Christ is ready to be analyzed for the character of the Lord. And Paul makes that openness and observability a command to Titus. Live so people will see in all respects that you are Christ's slave. They are going to watch you and scrutinize you anyway... let them be impressed with Jesus!

The emphasis on observability goes on to point out the durability of good works. A servant of Jesus is someone whose good life is a model for others to follow. This creates a platform for discipleship. The minister of Christ is a model of good works. The church cannot go wrong if they do the things that he is doing. That is the command given to Titus. Be an example that the church can follow and thus follow Christ. Don't just be an open book... be a really worthy, really good read!

But example must include sound teaching. And Paul makes it clear that the hard work of gospel ministry includes good teaching, not just good works. The two go hand-in-hand. There are three elements that mark good teaching. The first is integrity. It is an integrity in both personal character (think of the money-hungry, greedy modern televangelist as the antithesis of this) and in faithfulness to the truth of scripture. Along with integrity comes dignity. Teaching is respectful, because dealing with God is not a flippant occupation. Any minister of the gospel carries a stronger responsibility and is a bigger representative than any international ambassador ever could be. We are not nightclub entertainers and late show comedians. The final phrase to describe teaching is "sound speech", which is defined as that which "cannot be condemned"". Our very teaching must be of the finest reputation, even with the world.

The result of exemplary living and sound teaching is that the reputation of the church in the world is stellar. We are a shining light, a city on a hill, and the salt of the earth. And when we balance these, the world should not be able to say anything evil against us.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

What makes a group of believers a local church?

This testimony is true. Therefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith, not devoting themselves to Jewish myths and the commands of people who turn away from the truth.
Titus 1:13-14

Paul left Titus on the island nation of Crete to bring order and final form and functionality to the bands of believers there. He left him to establish local churches. This was a big task. And in the first chapter of this epistle we see two clear challenges: leadership development and doctrinal clarity.

The believers were suffering from a deficiency in biblical eldership. Titus was instructed to go town to town, and where there were believers, biblical elders were to be appointed as qualified men were trained. I find it interesting that the phrase is "appoint elders in every town", and not "in every church". There is subtle clue here. These groups of believers needed to be organized into churches. Elders were crucial to that process. I might go so far as to say that you do not have a functioning local church until there is elder qualified leadership appointed within it.

The elders could assist Titus in the second task of clearing up the doctrinal controversies raging across the island. Judaizers had gotten involved with the bands of new Christians. They were mixing law and grace. They were confusing the believers with commands of legalism and Jewish mythology. It sounds like these Gentiles were getting trapped in some sort of weird kabbalistic teaching that was starting to dominate the Christian community. Titus, along with qualified men who would organize churches under elder shepherding, would have to take the problem on boldly!

Paul does not mince words. The method for shutting down doctrinal madness is clear: "rebuke them sharply". The goal is orthodoxy: "that they may be sound in faith". Good biblical rebuke on false teaching has the goal of restoring the purity of the gospel. These Christians had unwittingly swallowed the lies. They lacked discerning shepherds to guide them. Paul knew the key to churches getting established in Crete was strong elder leadership coupled with doctrinal clarity and rebuke of heretical teaching.

The beauty of the plain understanding of the New Testament is that the same pattern works today. The gospel reaches the world through local churches with strong loving shepherding elders, and a strong gospel conviction that clearly proclaims and lives out biblical doctrine and practice.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

simpler disciple-making

What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me-practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.
Philippians 4:9

This is a pattern for discipleship. And it isn't program driven. It is built around personal observation and engagement. Paul was confident that the Philippian church was the kind of body of believers that could be close enough to him to get close enough to Christ. For Paul, discipleship was all about the relationship. And making disciples meant living an exemplary life -- a life that could be followed.

I have been officially a "discipleship pastor" for nearly a decade and a half now. And in that period of time I have had a lot of "programs" pushed at me. They have been varied and almost always they have been built around curriculum, culture, or Christian celebrity. Here is what I mean... Christian publishing houses spend tons of money developing curriculum and then they market the stuffings out of it. Really. We are talking mailings, phone campaigns, personal representatives visiting churches... you name it. They make incessant dazzling claims and special offers. They tie it to endorsements and bulk rate pricing. It is a product, and I am not completely sure that curriculum alone makes followers of Jesus.

A second contemporary trend is to piggyback on Christian culture. This is the most superficial problem to hit the church in my lifetime. We have our own Christian sub-culture these days that apes secular culture, complete with special T-shirts and hip rock bands. And I have seen these things upheld as the answer for building believers, particularly teenagers. I think that this is a HUGE mistake. I think it results in superficial excitement and not legitimate and thoughtful faith. What happens when the bands leave town, and your family is still a mess when you get home? This is why we now have "Christian" vampire novels copying the "Twilight" series. Somebody should just stop the insanity! It is embarrassing Jesus!

A third disturbing distraction to true discipleship is the cult of celebrity in the American church. Evangelicals are masters of this. We have always been so, right from the Great Awakening. Today it looks like this: a big name pastor or a parachurch leader launches a new 40 day program for churches. It has to be 40 days, because God did that a lot in the Bible. It does not matter what the 40 days is about. It could be 40 days of dental hygiene. The evangelical church will buy the stuff. It gets packaged and marketed. And when I dig into it, I find it is nothing like the simple discipleship strategy of Paul. But because it comes from the monolithic Christian culture, many of my parishioners expect me as a pastor to get behind it. I usually do not. And that creates a conflict that should not have to be there.

Paul could say what he said to the Philippian church because he had invested substantial time and personal ministry with the people there. They knew him. He had nothing to sell. He had simply foolishly given away his life to them. Not a great marketing strategy. And they could do as he did and be following Jesus. That is the disciple-making philosophy, curriculum, culture, and practice that I subscribe to. And I don't need much else beyond the Word of God, the Spirit of God, working in the people of God to see God use that to reach the world for His glory!

Monday, November 28, 2011

Maturity is not my goal.

Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you.
Philippians 3:13-15

Maturity alone is not the goal of Christian living. Paul made it clear that maturity has a goal. It is the realistic expectation of all of our living. Mature Christians don't get to stop running the race. Instead, they lean forward and press onward toward the highest goal. The "one thing" Paul did was to keep at the prize of being with God in Christ. Mature believers live with the glory of the presence of God always in their vision.

Paul called on mature Christians to share his view. He made it clear that the more we grow in Christ, the greater our longing is to be with Christ. He assumed that thinking about our goals in the light of our lives being filled up with desiring God and His glory would be a measure of our maturity. And I agree.

But this thinking has practical ramifications. It is not just about a "happy in heaven" mentality. In fact, Paul makes it clear that those who have their eyes on this prize will seek to live out God's glory right here and right now within the church and the world. It is on this goal that the book turns to practical matters.

A life that is consumed with thinking about eternity with Christ will affect unity in the church (Philippians 4:2-3). That life will exchange daily anxiety for faithful prayer and true peace (Philippians 4:4-7). That life will think about and practice righteous living (Philippians 4:8-9). There are real, noticeable and life-changing differences in the maturing Christian who wants to live for the glory of God.

I have a lot of growing up still to do. I am going to think about this goal of Paul's. It is not that I don't want maturity. It is just that I am tempted to define it in purely human terms and in qualities that I can define in ways that make myself look good. I think of it wrongly, solely in terms of my knowledge of bible doctrine, or in my commitment to some program of activity prescribed by a church or a ministry. But my maturity should be consumed with the glory of God on display in my life among the nations so that others may see God and come to faith in Christ. It never stops running toward that rewarding experience.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Obedience: key to holy living

Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.
Philippians 2:12-13

Obedience is a key component, a necessary element of our practical sanctification. We cannot live holy Christian lives if we will not obey God and His Word as He directs us in it. Paul knew the Philippian church. He had been with that church from its earliest moments. And he knew it was a church that obeyed the truth. He encourages them to stay at the work of holiness.

And holy living is work. God enables us to do it. But we must work at it. It is not easy work. But it is also not impossible. God has given us the scriptures to tell us what holy living looks like. He has filled us with His Holy Spirit to enable us to do the things that He asks of us. Holiness is not just a possibility; it is an actuality. It is expected of us. It defines us. Christians are distinct and different. We live out the new redemption we have in Christ.

So there is this element of sanctification that falls on each Christian's shoulders. It is not a salvific working FOR salvation. It is a visible working OUT of the salvation we already have in Christ. And it is right to expect that Christians would live differently from non-Christians. Paul assumed so. He instructed believers to be that kind of Christ-follower in this world. The expectation should always be there for us to worship God by working out our salvation with healthy respect, in obedience to God's Word, by the enabling of His Holy Spirit, as God helps us to obey and follow Him.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The tension between now and eternity

For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account.
Philippians 1:21-24

Paul is not suicidal in this wistful expression. He is passionately worshipful... confident in his hope and love for Christ. He was equally torn between his love for the Lord and his love for the people of the Lord. At its root this longing is a tension between worship and discipleship. Both were attractive options for the apostle. His heart's cry was to be caught up in the beauty of eternity with his Lord. His life's passion was making Jesus known in the world through His church. This was really a tight squeeze for him to admit to feeling.

And I notice that there is a lot from Paul's passion that challenges me. Paul was an interesting person with powerful drives. He had a passion for eternity. He longed for the presence of his Lord. He was ready to leave this world for the presence of Christ and he realized that being with Christ forever is ultimately the will of God for all Christians. But he also had a passion for community with God's people while in this life. He saw the work of building up believers in the church as necessary, even a form of worship. It was necessary to encourage the community of believers so that the church could experience its eternals joys with Jesus. And though eternity with Christ "felt" like the more pleasant personal option, community with the followers of Christ was necessary for the sake of the gospel and the world. Paul was willing to keep serving because there was great joy in the ministry done with that eternal perspective in view. Jesus was at the finish line either way!

This presents questions for me that direct me toward thinking about my main motivators in life. Am I truly moved by a passionate vision of eternity with my Lord? Does that excite me? Do I really live like death is always the personally better option? Christians have hearts with a longing. It is knowing that we are aliens far from our home. We were made for a better country. We are looking for a city whose builder is God. And this world, at its very best, is far from the joy we will know in the presence of Jesus forever!

Am I really living for the joy of service in the community of Christ? Do I dread the ups and downs of living within a little society of sanctified sinners who are still being redeemed? There is a joy that comes in the "necessary" experience of serving Christ with my fellow believers in the church. But it comes through the co-laboring, the endurance, the confrontation of wrong in myself and others, the commitment to the rightness of God's truth as the gospel changes us, and the mutual passion we are following in following Jesus. It is only a taste of heaven and it leaves our hearts wanting more together... yearning to be together with Jesus. And while I am in this world it is essential that I be there... living my live in and with the followers of Jesus... loving a sometimes unlovely church... living for my Lord.

Monday, November 21, 2011

a lucky shot?

But a certain man drew his bow at random and struck the king of Israel between the scale armor and the breastplate. Therefore he said to the driver of his chariot, "Turn around and carry me out of the battle, for I am wounded."
1 Kings 22:34

The demise of the wicked king Ahab was prophesied by God. At least twice God let him know that he would end his reign in misery. Ahab took every precaution in the Syrian war to save his life. But he wound up being deluded into going into battle. In a rare alliance with Judah, Ahab convinced king Jehoshaphat of Judah to ride into battle dressed in royal attire. Meanwhile, Ahab "disguised" himself in some fashion. Ahab's ruse was meant to draw the attack to Jehoshaphat. But God had other plans.

Ahab was still a high-profile target. He fought from a chariot with a driver. That made him at least an officer level target for the enemy to concentrate fire upon. Even then, the text makes it clear that God was using this battle in His own way to end Ahab's rule in Israel. No Syrian could officially take credit. The seemingly random, "lucky" shot of an unnamed archer was all God needed. The arrow struck in the one open space in Ahab's armor, wounding the king in a vital area and opening up a bleeding wound. The king bled to death in his chariot as he fled from battle. He could not hide from his fate.

The final note of prophetic irony comes when they clean the king's blood from the chariot at the pool of Samaria. There the dogs lick up the blood of Ahab the wicked king just as Elijah had prophesied (1 Kings 21:19). The rule of an evil king comes to a wicked end in the way that God had spoken that it would. It was the word of the Lord working to speak again to His people... even stray arrows will follow His command.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Bad Reputations Last Long

(There was none who sold himself to do what was evil in the sight of the LORD like Ahab, whom Jezebel his wife incited. He acted very abominably in going after idols, as the Amorites had done, whom the LORD cast out before the people of Israel.)
1 Kings 21:25-26

This parenthetical commentary on the moral character of king Ahab is telling. It is not the kind of life story we would want God to write of us. Ahab was a bad guy. He was not the kind of king God envisioned to lead His people. There are several indictments against his reputation and character in this short commentary.

First and foremost, Ahab was unique in his evil idolatry. There was no one else like him in terms of his turning his back on God. He had a penchant and lust for idols. And he followed that lust in defiance of a very straight-forward and vivid prophetic ministry. God kept speaking to Ahab through Elijah and other prophets. And Ahab just kept at his idolatrous worship. He was manic in his pursuit of idolatry.

Ahab's idolatry had some strong self-interest behind it. The text says he "sold himself to do evil". He felt like he got personal gain from his rampant neglect of God. He was evil with a profit motive behind it. In that sense, it is clear that this commentary sees Ahab as something of a spiritual prostitute. That is not a pleasant picture to have of the leader of God's people.

He was also easily influenced by his evil wife Jezebel. The entire text of 1 Kings 21 relays the account of Jezebel's conspiracy that illicitly gained Naboth's vineyard for her husband. She killed a righteous man in cold blood, using the technicalities of the covenant God made with Israel to design Naboth's demise. And Ahab was happy with the results that his wife got for him.

The nail in the coffin for Ahab was his outright pagan reputation. He was as idolatrous as the Amorite people that God eradicated in the Promised Land. Israel had become as despicable in their culture as the Canaanites had been in God's sight. The reputation of pagan idolatry now was the practice in Israel. Evil marked the society, thanks to Ahab and Jezebel and their corrupting influences.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

God of Second Chances: a prayer for mercy

And behold, a prophet came near to Ahab king of Israel and said, "Thus says the LORD, Have you seen all this great multitude? Behold, I will give it into your hand this day, and you shall know that I am the LORD."
1 Kings 20:13

You love to give second chances
You are the reason why
people live, the world turns
there is life in Christ even when we die.

You always seem to give a second chance
even to the rebel heart
and when You glorify Your great name
it often is with a second fresh start.

You care for those who get second chances
that's why grace fills human history
and when repentance responds to Your mercy
You write Your love into our fallen story.

You gave an idolatrous king a second chance
so that he might know You are the LORD
You saved a nation that deserved Your justice
and verified Your power in Your holy word.

O God of gracious, wild, undeserved second chances
be merciful to us yet again this day
we have turned to idols, but in Your mercy
would You forgive us and take our guilt away?

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

a prophetic funk

Yet I will leave seven thousand in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him.
1 Kings 19:18

Elijah was in a ministry funk. He had the prophet's blues. Jezebel had issued a death warrant for him (1 Kings 19:2). The response of Elijah was to run away into the wilderness. There, in the thin shade of a broom tree, he despaired of his own life (1 Kings 19:4). He did not want to be killed by Jezebel, but he didn't want to live in his current situation either. This was a fitful, irrational depression impossible to explain from the power of Elijah's past.

God ministered to Elijah. Angels came to him and fed him twice under that tree. Elijah slept there and had nothing to fear. He was literally under God's care and protection. Then God sent him on a journey to Horeb. There, in the wild of the mountain, God gave an intimate confirmation of His call upon the prophet. First, a fierce, rock-rending gale force wind, then an earthquake, and finally a fire came through Elijah's cave on that mountain. And God was in none of the dramatic demonstrations. But the low whisper of God's voice was so intense that it compelled Elijah to cover his face with his cloak and come to the mouth of the cave and talk with his God (1 Kings 19:9-13).

In conversation with God, Elijah states twice that he believes he alone is left as servant of the Lord in Israel (1 Kings 19:10, 14). But God sets Elijah to work with a new understanding. He is far from alone. God has seven thousand people in Israel who have not given in to idolatry. Elijah might have felt alone, but he was not alone. And no more would he be a solo prophet. he would anoint Elisha to be a prophet with him and beyond him. By so doing, God corrected the depressed, selfish thinking of Elijah, giving him new ministry, and re-energizing him for the work to which God called him.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The God Who answers with fire

"Answer me, O LORD, answer me, that this people may know that you, O LORD, are God, and that you have turned their hearts back." Then the fire of the LORD fell and consumed the burnt offering and the wood and the stones and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench.
1 Kings 18:37-38

Elijah confronted the false prophets of Baal at Mount Carmel. His trust in God led him to arrange a little contest. The priests and prophets of Baal were invited to prepare a bull for sacrifice. Then they could call upon Baal to consume that sacrifice with fire. Elijah would do the same with God, and then the sacrifice that was accepted and consumed would prove the veracity of the prophet(s) offering the sacrifice.

Baal's worshippers hastily agreed. After all, Baal was popular and they were many. They worshiped a god of fertility who had a reputation for yearly blessing the land with crops in response to sexual rites in his worship. They prepared their altar and their sacrifice. They cried out to Baal for hours on end. They danced around their altar. Eventually they practiced ritual self mutilation in homage to Baal. But there was no answer. Elijah mocked their idolatry, and when they finally gave up in pagan exhaustion, he set to work in faith.

Elijah builds his altar and prepares wood for a fire. He places the sacrificial bull on the altar. He instructs those with him to dig a trench around the altar. They then drench the entire altar and sacrifice with precious water (they are in a drought) until it is so soaked that water fills the trench around it. Only in that impossible condition does Elijah confidently and quietly call upon the LORD. And God answers with a consuming fire.

The response of the people was an immediate awe and acknowledgement of the God Who answers with fire. Elijah moves forward to lead this crowd to capture the priests and prophets of the pagan gods. They were led down to Kishon where they were all executed for their treacherous idolatry. God has spoken and in one day proven the impotency of idolatry and the efficacy of prayer and worship offered to Him.

The reality is that the God Who answers with fire is still involved in winning hearts to Himself for His glory. The impotency of any system of thought or human derived false worship that sets itself against Him will be demonstrated dramatically. And it is not like I have to make that happen. God can defend His own reputation. I just have to be willing to let Him show Himself in me as I confidently follow Christ.

Friday, November 11, 2011

confrontation contrasts

Now Elijah the Tishbite, of Tishbe in Gilead, said to Ahab, "As the LORD, the God of Israel, lives, before whom I stand, there shall be neither dew nor rain these years, except by my word."
1 Kings 17:1

One of the fascinating facts of the history of the Jewish people is that it is not just about political actions, wars, kings, or accomplishments in culture. The unique history of Israel is full of theological majesty through the revelation of the Word of God. And at this point in the biblical text there is an explosion of prophetic activity among the Jews. The reasons are simple. God will not be pushed aside, and a unique covenant with Israel meant that they would hear clearly and powerfully from Him, whether they wanted to or not!

And there is an interplay in the last few chapters of 1 Kings that is fascinating for the reader to pick up on. I have to admit that it is one of my favorite sections of the Old Testament. It pits God against idol, king against prophet, the power of the Word of God against the power of error, and the veracity of God's prophets against the agents of idolatry and evil.

Elijah is just a fun character to study. He is bold and assertive, yet totally dependent upon God for the simplest of life's necessities. He is aggressive to Ahab, yet later he is fearful of Jezebel. He mocks the vain worship of the priests of Baal, yet mopes at his own seeming ineffectiveness. He is used by God to poke at a king's foolish agenda of idolatry while being just a frontier nobody himself. God uses a willing prophet from "nowheresville" to confront and control the outcomes of the most powerful and selfish people in the land.

Elijah is effective as God's prophet because he is obedient to God. Ahab is an impotent king because he is disobedient to the Law of God. Elijah's worship of God leads to power and protection for him. Ahab's worship of Baal (a fertility god supposed to bring the yearly rains) is incompetent, ineffective and powerless. God is making a contrast. And the absurd boldness of it makes me chuckle.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

The exotic call of spiritual decline

And Ahab the son of Omri did evil in the sight of the LORD, more than all who were before him. And as if it had been a light thing for him to walk in the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, he took for his wife Jezebel the daughter of Ethbaal king of the Sidonians, and went and served Baal and worshiped him.
1 Kings 16:30-31

Ahab is the most morally destitute of all of Israel's kings to this point in her history. He set himself up to be as much like the pagan nations as possible. He did two things that enabled his evil. First, he married a Canaanite woman and made her queen. And the name of Jezebel still echoes in our day as synonymous with wickedness, temptation, and perversion of the good. With his Canaanite bride came the most insidious of the Canaanite idols. Baal worship now plagued the northern kingdom of Israel and would continue for generations.

Ahab and Jezebel would force a new social order of Baal worship upon the people. And it had an impact. Archeologists still dig up Baal figurines in what was Jewish territory in Ahab's time. The problem was ubiquitous. The worship of this false god became an obsession in Israel. And it all began with Ahab. Here is a lesson in the power of social pressure.

Ahab made an alliance with the Canaanites in Sidon by marrying Jezebel. And Sidonian culture, particularly its false religion, flooded Israel with idolatry and immorality. This was the agenda that Jezebel brought with her to the queen's throne. The text will pick up in this book to show just how ambitiously the royal couple embraced the worship of Baal and enforced it on Israel. In one generation's time, the worship of God was being stamped out, not by pure aggression, but by wild acceptance of the exotic and new.

By application today, that warning still rings in the air. We can always be tempted to exchange the old truth for a new lie. Heresy and doctrinal deviation often begin with the lurid call of the exotic. And if we are not careful to measure the new with the standard of scriptural truth, we will quickly lose out. For me, the standard is always to gauge ALL teaching by the clear commitment to the particulars of the gospel. That will protect us from error and all kinds of evil.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011


And Asa did what was right in the eyes of the LORD, as David his father had done.
1 Kings 15:11

Righteousness is refreshing. Reading through the accounts of the kings of Israel and Judah can be tedious. Mostly because it is a litany of disobedience and unrighteous acts. But when you come across the righteous actions of a good king... it is like a cool refreshing breeze on a really hot day! That's the feeling I get reading about Asa, king of Judah.

The summary statement is that God saw Asa as a king who did what was right. The text gives five quick reasons for his righteousness. FIrst, "He put away the male cult prostitutes out of the land" (1 Kings 15:12a), thus stopping the sexual fertility worship perversions practices in Canaanite idolatry. Secondly, he "removed all the idols that his fathers had made" (1 Kings 15:12b). I take this to mean he eradicated every temple shrine erected by previous kings to a foreign god. Thirdly, "He also removed Maacah his mother from being queen mother" (1 Kings 15:13a). The rationale for this was her commitment to Asherah worship. Fourthly, "Asa cut down her image (Asherah) and burned it", thus publicly going against family idolatry and committing to the worship of God (1 Kings 15:13b). The final evidence offered is something only God could know: "the heart of Asa was wholly true to the LORD all his days" (1 Kings 15:14b).

Asa's reforms were controversial and sweeping and still incomplete (he left high places untouched as explained in 1 Kings 15:14a). But he would not let the worship of God fall into complete loss. His heart worshipped Yahweh fully. And for his love for the Lord and actions of worship by combatting idolatry, he is commended by God. Sometimes trusting God in hard times and standing for the truth in an age of falsehood leads to a lifetime of smashing idols.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

idolatry's root is selfishness

For they also built for themselves high places and pillars and Asherim on every high hill and under every green tree
1 Kings 14:23

Judah was left as the Israeli tribe holding the temple ground and David's throne in Jerusalem. But they did not treasure and worship God any longer. Very quickly the people of Judah slipped into rampant idolatry. It was epidemic among the Israelites. And the book of Kings and Chronicles record the ups and downs of what was a spiritual roller coaster ride for the children of Israel.

I do want to comment on something that I noticed as striking in this description of idolatry under Rehoboam. It is clear that idolatry is a selfish exercise. It is not motivated by worship. It is motivated to please self. What they built to worship they built for themselves. It find that to be fascinating and applicable to my own experience. Any abandonment of God or any false worship or anything else other than God is an attempt at satisfaction of self. At its root, idolatry is an attempt to put my desires, my goals, my wants, above the will of a God Who will not allow other gods before Him. God desires worship and devotion. He demands it. He deserves it. Idolatry lets human beings temporarily seem to direct their lives (at least in the appeal of idol worship) according to their own wants and desires.

With that in mind, I can see lots of application to how the idolatry of Israel and Judah as instructive to my times, even to my own heart. I am not tempted to cast a Baal in bronze. But I am continuously tempted to get only what I want out of my life. I am tempted to build "idols" for myself. It is accepted as normal, even in evangelical sub-culture where we claim God is directing us. Our main culture legitimizes idols. We call a big one "The American Dream" -- often the most devious and deceptively demonic because it lulls us into a selfish trance of materialism and spiritual apathy. And very soon a son of this idol, Materialism, will rear up and appeal to us to storm the stores on Black Friday to "get what they want" or... what we want.

Another idol might be "Rights". Funny how when we talk about them, we often say, "I have the right to..." Asserting and demanding my rights is often just another selfish worship of something other than God. John Calvin was quite brilliant when he declared the human heart to be an idol-making factory. The factories are still running at full production, even in a dying world economy.

Monday, November 7, 2011

deadly serious choices

After this thing Jeroboam did not turn from his evil way, but made priests for the high places again from among all the people. Any who would, he ordained to be priests of the high places. And this thing became sin to the house of Jeroboam, so as to cut it off and to destroy it from the face of the earth.
1 Kings 13:33-34

God used a young prophet to get the attention of Jeroboam in Samaria. Israel split from Judah, but Jeroboam did not want even religious unity with Judah. His solution was to establish "high places" or centers of sacrifice within the Northern Kingdom, thus sealing Israel off from Judah. God confronted the king on this practice. These quickly became idolatrous.

The young prophet (given no name in this passage) had been instructed to travel to Samaria, confront the king, and then to return home by a different route than he travelled to get there, not breaking a fast until his return home. God powerfully confirmed the message of the prophet. When Jeroboam reaches out to seize the young man, his hand is suddenly "dried up" and useless. When he begs the prophet to pray to God, he does so, and Jeroboam is miraculously restored. Then the prophet begins his journey home.

On the way home, another prophet (also anonymous) hears what has occurred. He meets up with the young man, lies to him with a false vision to convince the young prophet to come to his house for a meal. The young man breaks his fast, and then back on the road, is killed by a lion as judgment by God. His death becomes an illustration to the truth of God's prophecy and the seriousness of obedience to God's command.

The sad truth to this whole episode was that Jeroboam did not heed the warning given to him by God... just like the young prophet. He set up a competing system of false worship that deceived most of the tribes of Israel. He grieved God by "returning back" to what God had clearly warned him not to do. And just like the young prophet, his lack of careful thought about this did not change his guilt. He would bear the judgment for his sin.

I believe the best thing we can take away from this sort of episode is a true fear of the painful consequences of sinful actions and choices... even ones we make unwittingly. Both Jeroboam and the young prophet made personal choices that broke God's specific will and did not seek God in their decisions. Jeroboam's choice was knowingly made. He would deceive Israel. The young prophet's choice was unwittingly and unthoughtfully made. He was deceived like Israel would be under Jeroboam's religious system. Both men are now vivid historical examples of what consequences God will bring to our disobedience. They show us the seriousness with which we should live with the results of sin.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Disunity (an alliterative journey of break up and breakdown)

'Thus says the LORD, You shall not go up or fight against your relatives the people of Israel. Every man return to his home, for this thing is from me.'" So they listened to the word of the LORD and went home again, according to the word of the LORD.
1 Kings 12:24

divided people
disagreeing over
duty to king
distressed by labor
done with mandatory service
David's throne no longer in control

determined to mutiny
destined to split apart
divided into Israel and Judah
doing what each tribe wanted
denying allegiance... ten tribes go north
destroying the unity of God's people
David's throne still in Jerusalem

dwindled army of Judah
drawn into battle array
determined to recover by might
downed by God's Word
devoted to the prophet
drops their resolve to fight
David's throne now powerless

diminished testimony
divided loyalties
devilish false worship
diversionary tactics of leaders
diluted potential to influence the world
destruction of brotherhood
David's throne still to be regained to this day

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

a bad finish

He had 700 wives, princesses, and 300 concubines. And his wives turned away his heart. For when Solomon was old his wives turned away his heart after other gods, and his heart was not wholly true to the LORD his God, as was the heart of David his father.
1 Kings 11:3-4

Solomon had been blessed so much, but finished so poorly. He knew better than to turn from God, but his heart was corrupted. His fleshly lifestyle got the better of him in the end. The text lets us know that Solomon was what we might call today a sex addict. He loved the adoration of women and really, he worshiped sex. He collected foreign women to his harem like some men collect rare works of art. His passion revolved around the thousand women who now had his heart.

And when these foreign wives requested that Solomon let them worship their false gods, he joined in, building temples to at least four other foreign gods in and around the capital city (1 Kings 11:5-8). There were now more opportunities to deny God than to worship God in Jerusalem. Solomon was being pulled away from God by the fixation with collecting wives.

God confronted Solomon and very directly warned him that the kingdom would be taken from him because of this idolatry (1 Kings 11:9-13). The sad thing is that there was no response of repentance on the part of Solomon. When David, Solomon's father, had been confronted about his sexual sin, he repented quickly, publicly, and with earnest sorrow. The text gives us no indication that Solomon was moved by God's warnings. He just did not care about anything else any more.

The final part of Solomon's reign was marked by conflict with God and with other nations. Edom, Syria, and Egypt began to harass the nation of Israel. There would be no peace while Solomon abandoned the LORD. And this did not move Solomon in the least. His sin had turned his heart from God. His sin had hardened his heart to God and even to what he was suffering as a result of that sin.

It is sad to see someone finish bad! And it is instructive. The older I get, the less I can trust my natural inclinations. The battle with sin intensifies. I am capable of wickedness and selfishness at any moment. And to finish in them is a great loss. It is only by aligning my passions in pursuit of God's will for me as His Word reveals it that I will trust enough to finish this life well.

Monday, October 31, 2011

The world streaming to Israel

Thus King Solomon excelled all the kings of the earth in riches and in wisdom. And the whole earth sought the presence of Solomon to hear his wisdom, which God had put into his mind.
1 Kings 10:23-24

One of the blessings of the covenant was that God said the world would flock to Israel to hear from Him. Under the reign and fame of Solomon, that is exactly what occurred. The world sought audience with Solomon to hear wisdom and see the wealth of Israel. It was quite an unusual time in the history of Israel.

In many ways this period of time during the rule of Solomon is a picture of what God wanted His nation to always be. And it will find its true fulfillment in the millennial reign of Jesus. The mission of Israel in worship of Yahweh was to be a light to the Gentiles. And for most of their history they struggled to do so. Somehow, through the providence of God, things came together in such a way under Solomon that the nation got it right. And when they did, God blessed them and the world took notice of Israel and the God that they worshiped. Even the Arabs came to learn from Solomon, under the leadership of the Arabian queen of Sheba.

So in this short passage we have the vision of Israel's central position as the people of Yahweh meant to attract the world to the worship of the one true God. And in this passage we see unprecedented blessing coming to Israel as they worshiped God, willing to open their lives for the world to come and see. This is an outstanding, clear proof that God has always loved the world.

Friday, October 28, 2011

one person's obedience impacts others

And as for you, if you will walk before me, as David your father walked, with integrity of heart and uprightness, doing according to all that I have commanded you, and keeping my statutes and my rules, then I will establish your royal throne over Israel forever, as I promised David your father, saying, 'You shall not lack a man on the throne of Israel.'
1 Kings 9:4-5

This is a repetition of the Davidic covenant to Solomon, but this time God gives Solomon certain consequences to consider if he or his descendants disregard the Law of God. God makes it clear that the king is not exempt from the requirements of the covenants God has made with the nation. The king stands as the first representative to obey and follow the Law, worshiping God in obedience to His commands.

God does not exempt anyone from obedience to Him. Solomon is told this early in his reign. Even though he has accomplished so much in worship of the Lord, God knew his heart. There were already little cracks in his character coming through. The extraordinary wealth he had achieved left him pursing more... to the point that the chapter goes at length to show this effort. He had also put money above relationship with an important ally of Israel. His construction of an elaborate palace showed his tendency toward materialism. His marriage to the daughter of Pharaoh was starting to open him up to spiritual compromise.

So God is graciously reminding Solomon to stay true to Him. The kingdom would count on it. The risks were high in obeying God. In some ways they always are. It affects more than just any one person's choice.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

a serious worship leader

"Blessed be the LORD who has given rest to his people Israel, according to all that he promised. Not one word has failed of all his good promise, which he spoke by Moses his servant."
1 Kings 8:56

Any worship leader worth anything ought to take his cues from the celebration of praise that Solomon led at the dedication of the first temple. All of 1 Kings 8 maps out an impressive order of worship. And Solomon leads it masterfully. It all begins with the processional that brought the ark of the covenant out of the old tabernacle and into the new temple. The king, along with all the elders in Israel, led the line of people who followed the ark to the temple. During this procession, numerous sacrifices were made. And God's glory came and overflowed the temple after the ark was set in the holy of holies (1 Kings 8:10-11).

Then Solomon sets a short history of the worship of Yahweh in place. He blesses God, he blesses the nation, he recounts the covenant that the Lord made with his father, David. And in this short opening praise, the focus is clearly on the faithfulness of God.

As Solomon stands in the courtyard before the altar of the Lord, he leads the nation in a magnificent and instructive prayer. He focuses on the faithfulness of God and remarkably, most of the prayer is a plea for God to remain faithful even though Israel does not remain faithful. Solomon knows God can't be limited to one spot in the temple. The temple did not contain all of God within it (1 Kings 8:27). But it was a place where Israel could focus on God.

Then Solomon spends the bulk of his prayer acknowledging the need that sinners have for the justice and mercy of God. God would have to settle lies from the truth in human relationships (1 Kings 8:31-32). God would grant renewal after defeated Israel repented of sin (1 Kings 8:33-34). God would respond to sin-induced catastrophe (i Kings 8:35-36) and forgive a repentant nation. The temple would be a place where Israel acknowledged sin. God would hear their repentance in heaven and act (1 Kings 8:37-40). This cycle of forgiveness would affect gentiles within the borders of Israel (1 Kings 8:41-45).

The complete cycle of confession and forgiveness was the focus of all that was done in worship at the temple (1 Kings 8:46-53). Then Solomon ended with a benediction that reinforced this (1 Kings 8:54-61). Lest anyone doubt his conviction, a massive kingly gift of sacrifices (1 Kings 8:62-66) was begun that must have taken months, if not years to complete. Solomon was serious in what he said, prayed, and did in worship of God.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

New beginnings and hard work

Thus all the work that King Solomon did on the house of the LORD was finished. And Solomon brought in the things that David his father had dedicated, the silver, the gold, and the vessels, and stored them in the treasuries of the house of the LORD.
1 Kings 7:51

This was the moment that became the spiritual high point of Solomon's reign in Jerusalem. The temple of the Lord is complete, furnished, and temple worship is about to begin. It has been a project Solomon has work towards for a long time. It was a passion that his father, David, also had. And now the work of two generations has come to a completion.

With every completion is also a new beginning. In the case of the temple project, the new beginning was a house of worship for the Lord in Jerusalem. The past had been symbolized in a tent of worship, testament to Israel's wilderness past. Now, with the temple complete, a certain established commitment to the worship of God and obedience to His Law is confirmed. This is the new beginning. The temple period of Israel's history begins.

With each new beginning come new challenges. The large temple complex with Solomon's palace adjacent to it would require constant attention. God was worshiped day and night and levitical duties kept priests and Levites at the temple complex around the clock. It said a lot that the king built his own house so close to God's temple. It meant that Solomon was a close worshiper. Yet, with that came heightened security and new concerns. All the treasures of Israel's throne were stored at the palace and in the temple vaults. This was like Fort Knox with an altar.

The administrative challenges of such a set up would require the kind of wisdom and manpower that Solomon could provide. Between the priests, Levities, soldiers, and king's household, a lot of coordination had to take place behind the scenes. And the effort was to promote Israel's big identity as a nation: the worship of Yahweh in His temple. With new beginnings come a balance of joy, hard work, worship, planning, and commitment -- all for the glory of God.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The Temple Project

And in the eleventh year, in the month of Bul, which is the eighth month, the house was finished in all its parts, and according to all its specifications. He was seven years in building it.
1 Kings 6:38

For seven years the wealth of a nation
and the labor of thousands
poured forth in worship.
Stone, mortar, planks of cedar
were shaped into a dwelling
for the glory of God.

And the wisest king directed the situation
as the wood cut, stone set by hands
were his stewardship.
Walls, ceilings, floors, center altar
were placed into the building
for the glory of God.

After seven years an achieved vision
created a place where crowds countless
would worship the Lord.
Offerings, sacrifice, oblations, and vows
all given meaning at this place
for the glory of God.

And the achievement of a chosen nation
was to point to a visible standing reference
that showed the Lord.
With each gift, each slain beast, worship now
was the central focus to showcase
the glory of God.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Building a temple for God with my life

Solomon takes on the dream of his father, David. He will build the magnificent temple where the God of Israel will be worshiped in Jerusalem. He realizes that he is doing so at the prophetic word of God and in the providential timing of God. Solomon has been set upon the throne and unprecedented peace and prosperity have come to Israel just for this project. God is leading him in one of the defining tasks of his reign: the original temple in Jerusalem.

This was Solomon's great act of worship and obedience. He was a flawed leader, a king whose brilliant genius was marred by his moral ambiguity and sensual appetites. But at least at this stage of his rule, his genius was met with equal measures of obedience and love for the Lord. He used every political and persuasive power at his disposal in pursuit of the temple construction.

I draw a very simple application. God is worthy of my investment of time and resources in making His name great in my life. I don't have the wealth or the clout of Solomon to use, but I do have all that God HAS given me. It is enough to magnify God greatly. Am I seriously doing this? Am I building a temple for the worship of God in that way that I am living my life? God did not ask me to be Solomon. But He is still the great God He has always been and I am compelled to make that truth known so that others can rejoice and worship the Lord with me.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

The attraction of wisdom

And people of all nations came to hear the wisdom of Solomon, and from all the kings of the earth, who had heard of his wisdom.
1 Kings 4:34

When God blessed Solomon, He blessed all of Israel and the world. Ultimately the reign of Solomon would have affect to the gentiles far beyond the borders of Israel. The nation of Israel was attractive to the world. And the main attraction was the wisdom generously granted to Solomon by God.

In no other time in Israel's history had such unprecedented renown come to the nation. The world flocked to Jerusalem to hear what Solomon had to say. Such was the fame of the kingdom. It is a picture of what Israel's future yet will be. And it was a fulfillment of all that God had promised Israel could be if they kept His Law. And all of this was centered around the wisdom of God.

Solomon's wisdom was listened to then, and much of it is available to us today. The Book of Proverbs consists of the collected sayings of King Solomon (along with a few other wise guys in Israel) and represents a wealth of spiritual, moral, and practical wisdom that is as useful today as when they sayings were first assembled together. Ecclesiastes exists as a source of philosophical discovery and worldview wisdom that hits all the major necessary components of any organized philosophical construction. And it too is as timely as ever. The Song of Solomon extols the beauty and wisdom of marital love, providing ancient insight into sexuality that has not changed in thousands of years. Solomon's wisdom still speaks, and through the Bible the world can still flock to hear it.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

humility --> worship --> wisdom --> blessing

Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, that I may discern between good and evil, for who is able to govern this your great people?
1 Kings 3:9

This was Solomon's moment of really extraordinary spiritual perception. God came to him very early in the initial days of his kingship after Solomon had spent a day celebrating, worshipping, and sacrificing to God. The Lord offered to Solomon anything that he asked of Him. But lest we think that God was offering to be Solomon's personal genie in the lamp, remember, God was testing the character of the young king. Solomon pleased the Lord greatly with his request.

The young king asked God to supply him with the kind of wise mind that would be beyond his years. He wanted to understand just how to govern God's people. Notice that in his request, Solomon never asks to exalt himself or even lays claim to being "over" the nation. Israel is God's people and Solomon mentions that twice in his request. Solomon needs wisdom from God in order to effectively govern God's great people. It was this controlling humility that opened a window into Solomon's heart. God was very pleased with what He saw there. In fact, the reason God answered this request was that it came out of worship and not self-motivation.

Solomon's primary concern was over the moral leadership of the nation. He wanted understanding so that he could discern between good and evil. That was an insight few leaders think of today. It is all about profit or success or growth at all costs. Seldom does leadership make its mark by the outstanding example of moral uprightness. That is sad, really. God would bless Solomon, even in later days of dubious morality, because in these beginning days he was consumed with really doing what pleased God as Israel's king.

So there is a lot to understand here. Foremost is that humility in worship helps us see God as He is and ourselves as we are. It was humble worship that led Solomon to ask for the right thing that pleased God. That worship led to wisdom. And God went over and above Solomon's original request. Because he had asked so well for what was so right, God also blessed him with great success and wealth. So humility led to worship. Worship led to wisdom. Wisdom led to blessing. That is a chain of events worth noting and hoping for in my own life.

- Posted on an original iPad.
prepare your minds for action...
1 Peter 1:13

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

character & covenant form leadership

"I am about to go the way of all the earth. Be strong, and show yourself a man, and keep the charge of the LORD your God, walking in his ways and keeping his statutes, his commandments, his rules, and his testimonies, as it is written in the Law of Moses, that you may prosper in all that you do and wherever you turn, that the LORD may establish his word that he spoke concerning me, saying, 'If your sons pay close attention to their way, to walk before me in faithfulness with all their heart and with all their soul, you shall not lack a man on the throne of Israel.'
1 Kings 2:2-4

In David's final charge to his son (now king), Solomon, he emphasizes that the first royal duty is faithfulness to God. Everything else flows from relationship with and obedience to God. And the measure of this in Israel was in the Word of God as revealed in the Law of Moses. If Solomon would be faithful to keep what was written there, leadership would flow from the commitment and character thus exhibited.

David is appealing really to two covenants. The first one is the one that all of Israel had with God as His unique people. And the document of that covenant was the Law of Moses. The nation would prosper as they were led by the king to be faithful to God through the Law.

The second covenant was the one God made with David, promising a ruler in His line forever on the throne of Israel. This was a covenant with no document, unilaterally held in the promise of God. It did insist that David's descendants lead, and David believed God when He made this promise to the line of David.

What would bring success would be an unwavering commitment to obedience to God and faithfulness to His Word. The first requirement of real leadership is character. And the kind of character forged in the heart by knowing and following God's Word is irreplaceable. It is the kind of character that builds a life for eternity. And that is what David knew, believed, and trusted right to his very last breath.

- Posted on an original iPad.
prepare your minds for action...
1 Peter 1:13