Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Guard the Trust

preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.
2 Timothy 4:2

Guard the Trust
lyrics by Steve Camp

O my dear Timothy, hold on to the faith
Keep your conscience pure and holy
Fight the good fight every day
Don't give in to myths and fables
train yourself for godliness

You've got to... be an example in your youth
You've got to... be faithful to the truth
You've got to... watch your life and doctrine closely
It'll save you and those who hear it too

Guard the trust
You've got to guard the trust
Hold on to the faithful word
this you must
You got to guard the trust
Guard the trust
Through the Spirit Who dwells in you
Guard the trust

O my son Timothy, I charge you in the sight of God
Preach the word when its convenient
Preach the word when it is not
There will come a time when trust is compromised
They'll be teaching for itching ears

But you... be sober in all things
But you... endure hardship for the King
But you... do the work of an evangelist
That is my dying wish

Guard the trust
You've got to guard the trust
Hold on to the faithful word
this you must
You got to guard the trust
Guard the trust
Through the Spirit Who dwells in you
Guard the trust

Monday, January 30, 2012

biblical background & relational discipleship

But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.
2 Timothy 3:14-15

There was a certain spiritual strength that had created in Timothy a vital foundation. Paul appealed to a firm knowledge of the scriptures, something that had been instilled in him as a young boy. The grace of God came early to this boy as he grew up learning the holy scriptures from his mother and grandmother. He was privileged to have a biblical background. It made a huge difference in the way he now lived his adult life in service to his Lord.

Paul's admonishment was to continue on in the very truths he had become familiar with as a child. The implication is that a biblical worldview will last a lifetime. We just keep growing in our knowledge and practice of the truth as it is explained for us in the scriptures. We continue in them. Paul could appeal to a relational strength. Timothy knew who had taught him the Word of God. They were close to his heart (mother and grandmother) and key disciplers and ministry builders (the apostle Paul). So relational discipleship in the objective source of scripture gave Paul the firm facts to point Timothy toward as the young man discipled and developed Christians and church leaders himself.

I firmly believe in the vitality of studying the scriptures as well as the ministry necessity of relational discipleship. The two are the basis of all ministry. The process is how the gospel spreads and the church remains crucial in impacting culture for the glory of God. We must know, love, and live God's Truth. We must learn to love it in the company of other believers whom we love and who love us as Christ loves us. We must see all of that task as our way of loving God and making His glory and grace the message of our lives.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Handling the Word

Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.
2 Timothy 2:15

Lord, I see Your approval
not for my own merit
not for men's applause
Would You assist me with the removal
of the pride I did inherit
and selfish focus because
I need to preach Your Word?

I will step back, out of the way
so You may show Yourself as Lord
and the greatness of Your grace
might pull together all of each day
keep me loving the truth of Your Word
and in its pages seeking Your face
We need to know Your Word.

Empty talk abounds... false teaching
tickling ears of many today
Lord, keep me centered in the pages
so that I can always be reaching
with the gospel to hearts in a way
consistent with truth for all ages
I will live in the Word.

Lord, I give myself to You
so use me as You can
its not at all a waste
Your Word shows me what to do
to reach the heart of man
with confidence and earnest haste
no shame will come in serving You
handling Your awesome Word!

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

follow the pattern

Follow the pattern of the sound words that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. By the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, guard the good deposit entrusted to you.
2 Timothy 1:13-14

For some reason the word "pattern" in this exhortation from Paul to Timothy stands out to me. Paul had a long enough and a deep enough relationship with Timothy to be able to utilize that word in describing to Timothy what he needed to do in ministry. Paul had left a clear pattern, an outline of instruction that Timothy knew he could follow. Perhaps that pattern is given as a reminder in the themes of 2 Timothy. But the reality is that both doctrinally and in ministry practice, there was a pattern that Timothy had been given by Paul that should not be forgotten, but applied in his current situation.

In many ways reaching our world for Christ and committing to seeing it change by building up disciples is the same task that it was when Paul was making it happen in the first century. That is why we must be great Bible students and understand Jesus' life and the doctrine that flows from it in the New Testament principles of discipleship. We should know both the Old and New Testaments so that we can see all that scripture reveals about our world. We ought to pay clear attention to Paul's ecclesiology and the practical instruction he gives in the pastoral epistles in particular so that we too might be able to follow the pattern of sound words when it comes to planting churches and strengthening Christians worldwide.

Following the pattern also has an element of personal commitment and respect for what God has revealed. And Paul's stern invitation to Timothy was to "guard the good deposit entrusted" to him. This is a warm thought. It is also a warning thought. We must see the gospel, the doctrine that flows from it, and the pattern of Christian growth and maturity that grows the Church as a valuable asset worth investing further and protecting carefully at all costs. These days many in ministry will put everything up for reconsideration. The mistake is that in so doing they may sell off the good deposit and then the church is left morally and spiritually powerless and bankrupt. We cannot abandon the gospel because of its harsher implications (like judgment or eternal punishment) just for the sake of acceptance or numerical success. We must guard what we have been given to follow.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

seasoned with salt

Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.
Colossians 4:5-6

Paul assumes that Christians will be engaged with unbelievers. The church naturally interacts with those outside her community. This expectation is what brings the gospel into the world. It is what makes the truth live for all to observe. And the natural fact of this truth is accentuated when Christians conscientiously live it out to those who are outside the church.

The first sense of this is shown in lifestyle. That is why the metaphor of "walk" is used. We will live our lives in relationship with unbelievers. The church does not isolate. We infiltrate. And the call is to walk through our communities with wisdom. Of course the source of that wisdom is Christ and the Word of God. To walk wisely then is to live gracious Christian lives in a winsome way toward (not away from) those outside the faith. We want to engage relationships toward those who need Jesus, intentionally displaying the wisdom of the gospel for them to see.

And when we engage the world in this way, we had better be prepared to talk about Jesus! Our speech is to be gracious. What is more full of grace than than the gospel? At some point and I believe at all points, we should naturally talk about Christ's redeeming love and His transforming work in our lives. It is that wisdom that unbelievers desperately need, even though they may not fully know that they want it. And eventually they need to hear it in order to believe it and be saved.

This is the gospel lifestyle of the Christian. It walks the walk and talks the talk. Not in a trite way, but with the seasoning of the salt of the gospel. That piques the thirst of those who need the water of life. We are promised that if we will live this way in the world, we will have the answers (the gospel as seen and heard naturally in Christians who infiltrate the culture) that every person really needs.

Monday, January 23, 2012

4 reasons to look to Jesus

If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.
Colossians 3:1-4

This passage transitions to the practical sanctification in Colossians. If Christ is indeed my Lord and the head of the church, it follows that His people will live under His direction. And Colossians three describes the way we put to death earthly deeds (Col. 3:5-11) and put on a holy lifestyle instead (Col. 3:12-17). There are four reasons stated to do this.

First, we seek heavenly things BECAUSE OF OUR RESURRECTION. Right now in an identifying spiritual sense we have been raised to new life in Christ. Our baptism pictures this identification with a new life. And it is because of that resurrected life in Christ that we know that Jesus will provide the direction that we need. Resurrection is about new life. We won't find that new life in our old life. We will find it in the author of our new life -- Jesus Christ.

Secondly, we must seek this life IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION. The contrast is between the things on earth, which represent all the sinful and wrong choices we have always made outside of Christ, and things that are "above". The word "above" points us to the resurrected and ascended Christ Who is at the right hand of the Father in heaven.

Thirdly, we REMEMBER OUR EXPIRATION. We have already died in a sense. We must consider ourselves dead to sin but alive in Christ. In order to live in resurrection, we must first die. And that is what we know in this passage. We died... past tense. We died to sinful choices because our life is now hidden in Christ. He reveals that new life in us.

The final thing is to ANTICIPATE OUR PERFECTION. The ultimate realization of our new life in Christ will be known fully when we live with Him in glory. The reason that I will heed His direction is that I know that my life is always headed toward my state of forever being found in Jesus. Nobody gets a pass on death. At some point we will all be with Jesus. And death to sin helps us defeat the worst that physical death may threaten us with. Hope holds that a generation will appear with Him in glory minus physical death. That is the imminent hope of every Christian generation. But that timing is God's to determine. But even death for any Christian in Christ becomes immediate new life with Him and His saints forever.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

growing in Christ

Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.
Colossians 2:6-7

This is a wonderful passage to understand Christian growth and maturity. We received Christ as the Lord, we walk in him, are rooted and built up in Christ, and in that commitment we become established in our faith through the teaching of God's truth and the good news of the gospel message. This is the way each Christian is supposed to mature.

The New Testament is very clear that Christianity is a lifestyle. Christ changes us as we are in relationship with Him. Our acceptance of Him as Lord is more than just acknowledgement of historical fact. For instance, I can believe that John F. Kennedy existed as a historical person although I never met him. I can know he achieved many things. But it does not then follow that I order my life around that fact and find my life transformed by living "in Kennedy". It is completely different with Jesus. Our faith in Him becomes a living faith because He is God and alive in us. We gladly build our lives around that relationship of faith.

The way that Paul helps us understand that relationship in the book of Colossians is found in the theme of the book summed up in two simple yet enormously impacting words: "in Christ". The text of Colossians helps us understand what being in Christ means. This chart from the ESV Study Bible gives us a lot to look at:
1:14 IN WHOM we have redemption
1:16 IN HIM all things were created
1:19 IN HIM all the fulness of God was pleased to dwell
1:22 Reconciled IN HIS BODY of flesh
2:3 IN WHOM are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge
2:6 walk IN HIM
2:7 rooted and built up IN HIM
2:9 IN HIM all the fulness of deity dwells bodily
2:10 you have been filled IN HIM
2:11 you were circumcised IN HIM
2:12 IN HIM you were raised up
2:15 triumphing over them IN HIM
3:20 pleasing IN THE LORD
4:7 fellow servant IN THE LORD
4:17 the ministry that you received IN THE LORD

Analyzing the implications of being "in Christ" is one way of knowing what Christian growth looks like. And when we begin to walk that way, we will live more and more like Jesus in this world!

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

a change of kingdoms

He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.
Colossians 1:13-14

The reality of Christian salvation is found in this powerful, poetic passage. There are four words that I find particularly encouraging in this description. Two of them are verbs, describing God's action in our salvation. The other two are nouns, showing us what we have received in our salvation.

The first action of God is that He delivered us. We were lost in slavery to sin. We were under bondage and unable to free ourselves. And Jesus stormed the "domain of darkness" and cut the chains that sin and Satan had bound us to in that realm. Christ brings deliverance to us. Sin imperils and imprisons us. We are in danger of death and of eternal damnation. But God's great mercy in Christ provided the deliverance. The cross was the means by which Jesus broke the inescapable power of sin over us. We have been delivered by this saving work on the cross. This was the major reason Jesus came to earth.

The second act that He did for us was to transfer us to Christ's kingdom. Salvation is about a permanent change of spiritual location. We were delivered from the grip of a dark lord, and brought into the glorious kingdom of a new King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Our hearts were in bondage to the darkness of the rule of sin. But with the transfer, we are free to serve our new loving, Lord Jesus! That is a GREAT change!

The third word celebrates the result of redemption. We know that we were "bought with a price". Our lives were saved, delivered, and transferred by the blood of Jesus. And only His atoning sacrifice could give us this new life. And knowing that my life cost my King leads me to worship Him in grateful praise!

The final word on the matter is that God has granted us forgiveness in Jesus. God sent His Son on this bold mission to storm sin's powerful prison, not to save good heroic people, but to deliver and save sinners so that He could then pardon them and give them new lives! Imagine that... God's rescue operation was to free and redeem hopeless convicted criminals. Our salvation is a jailbreak. And we are pardoned into full freedom in a new kingdom. If redemption shows us God's mercy, then forgiveness sings of God's grace! Our salvation is an amazing event, not ever to be taken lightly.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

broken walls & a faithful God

And the king of Babylon struck them down and put them to death at Riblah in the land of Hamath. So Judah was taken into exile out of its land.
2 Kings 25:21

An era ends and a new experience begins for the Jewish people. With the second siege of Jerusalem the Babylonian army destroys Judah. The little bit of military strength is wiped out. The defenses of Jerusalem are demolished. The remaining treasures in the temple are ransacked. The temple and all major buildings are burned. The city is left in complete ruin.

The people of Judah are carted off in captive exile to the capital of the empire, the city of Babylon. It is there that the next stage of defining history will face the Jews. They will serve the king of Babylon and remember the Law while in exile. It is during this 70 year time frame that their lives will long for the true blessings of the covenant again. It is the point where all their identity will be bound up in their worship of God. They will have nothing else. God will be their only hope and sustainer.

That the Jews kept any kind of identity during this experience is testament to the saving power of God. Many exiled nations did not. We know that ten of the twelve tribes of Israel that were exiled into Assyria just wound up being absorbed into pagan nations. They disappeared... fading into history. Yet God had a greater work still to do in the world. The Jews of Judah and the tribe of Levi both needed preservation. The kingly line of David would give rise to the Messiah. And so 2 Kings ends with an assurance that Jehoichin's family was provided for out of the royal rations of the Babylonians. He is even mentioned in Chaldean court records. God is working, even in the worst moments of the Jewish nation. He will preserve His people and His covenant with Israel. A remnant will remain that God can renew and revive.

Watching this unfold in the biblical text this way puts the focus on God's glory. He is doing the work. The historical facts are clear. And the fact that there are Jews yet today testifies to God's faithfulness. More than one captivity has befallen them over the centuries, and yet God remains faithful to His sustaining promises! God can be trusted when His Word compels us to believe Him.

Monday, January 16, 2012


And Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came to the city while his servants were besieging it, and Jehoiachin the king of Judah gave himself up to the king of Babylon, himself and his mother and his servants and his officials and his palace officials. The king of Babylon took him prisoner in the eighth year of his reign...
2 Kings 24:11-12

This is the beginning of the end for Judah. The king is taken away to Babylon. Nebuchadnezzar installs a puppet king, Zedekiah, on the throne and the first wave of the exile of the Jews begins with the Babylonians leading away captive all the high ranking officials, people of wealth and influence, and military class of Judah. The land is left with just the poorest of Jewish peasants living in it under Babylonian administration.

The text is clear that this circumstance was not a chance takeover by a random power. God had promised judgment and had foretold a captivity for His people, right down to a description of what valuable national treasures would be ransacked (2 Kings 24:13). The outworking of this came with Nebuchadnezzar's armies. The Babylonians were the means of God's justice. The exile was the curse of the Law enacted upon the disobedience of the people of Judah. Their failure to keep the covenant led to their present horror and pain.

We see the sovereignty of God at work. It was His plan, even in this wartime siege and occupation of Jerusalem, to remind the survivors of His power and His covenant with them. And although the reminder was harsh, it eventually would be effective. Never again would the Jews post exile commit outright visible idolatry as a nation. The captivity would change the spiritual direction of God's people. And it started with the loss of a kingdom. Once they were no longer in control, they could begin to acknowledge God's control over them.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Standing firm for a long time

And the king stood by the pillar and made a covenant before the LORD, to walk after the LORD and to keep his commandments and his testimonies and his statutes with all his heart and all his soul, to perform the words of this covenant that were written in this book. And all the people joined in the covenant.
2 Kings 23:3

This was Judah's last renewal. It would last the lifetime of King Josiah. It is clear that his life was dedicated to obeying the covenant and restoring national obedience to the Law of the Lord. This reform would consume all his energies. And it would be massive in scale.

The text of chapter twenty-three shows the vicious extent of idolatry. It began with clearing the idols out of the city of Jerusalem, starting in the temple of the Lord. It then spread to every town and high place in Judah. It is clear that the pervasive paganism of past kings was everywhere. It took all of Josiah's lifetime to eradicate the influence of idolatry. He destroyed altars and temples. He executed pagan priests. He desecrated pagan holy sites and altars. He did everything in his power to wage war on idolatry.

Josiah also did what no other God-fearing king before him had done. He went so far as to expand his idol-smashing efforts to Samaria. He eradicated the first source of idolatry God's people succumbed to after the break-up of the kingdom. And there was a massive amount of idolatry and influence in Samaria that had been historically longstanding by the time Josiah confronted it. Josiah seriously kept his covenant with God.

One main thought strikes me: to fully obey God may require a lifetime of fortitude and faith. It never stops in this life. We don't get much relief from the work. We have to keep going at it. And the reward comes from God.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

It's OK to feel bad.

When the king heard the words of the Book of the Law, he tore his clothes.
2 Kings 22:11

The repentant heart is moved by godly sorrow, as evidenced by Josiah's actions here. Josiah was the boy king of Judah. He came to the throne at the tender age of eight years old. His heart is strong for the worship of the Lord. He orders repairs to the temple in Jerusalem, and it is during the search through the dusty temple treasuries that the book of the Law (possibly the book of Deuteronomy scroll) is found. God has been so neglected that His Law has been lost, squirreled away in some recess of the temple. And when the Law comes to the light of day and is read to king Josiah, his response is a broken heart over the nation's sins. He immediately recognizes that Judah's failure to keep the covenant placed the nation in jeopardy of God's judgment.

Josiah's response is the proper leadership response to the spiritual state of the nation. Because the king was repentant and sincere in his worship, God spared Judah yet again and promised Josiah he would live long enough to see blessings and not cursings. God would withhold judgment on Josiah's generation. Repentance brought a return to worship which in turn brought merciful restoration to God's people from the hand of the Lord.

The big idea that grabs my attention from this account is the call to repentance. Many times it is OK to feel bad. Godly sorrow is after all, first and foremost, GODLY. The Lord hears and sees us when we are broken over sin. And sometimes that broken state is exactly the right place for us. The Lord is always ready to receive the repentant heart. He never turns such a one away. It is always right to turn from sin, no matter how deeply entrenched we are in the sin, and to turn to God.

The 21st century church is short on repentance. We tend toward smug self satisfaction or emotive narcissism. We don't teach or model being broken over our sin. We rail on the sins of our age instead. And this is one reason why our impact in this generation is fading. May we gain some Josiahs for this generation! And repentance, godly sorrow, brokenness, and mourning over sin starts with my heart. It's OK to feel bad when the result is repentance.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

more evil

But they did not listen, and Manasseh led them astray to do more evil than the nations had done whom the LORD destroyed before the people of Israel.
2 Kings 21:9

Manasseh is the worst of leaders. He did not build on the heritage of faithfulness left by his father Hezekiah. Instead, he was enamored with all the evil idolatry around him. He went so far as to erect idols all throughout the temple of the Lord in Jerusalem (2 Kings 21:4-7). His worship is unspeakably wicked. He offered his own son as a burnt offering sacrifice, bent on being evil in his worship.

God's assessment of Manasseh is not a good one. His final pronouncement was that the king had led Judah to be more pagan than the pagans God had ordered Israel to drive from the Promised Land. Now the Jews were worse than the Canaanites in God's moral assessment. And in one man's leadership all this evil turned out. The king was set against all worship of God and the reality was that this was more than a culture war. This was rejection of God and His covenant with the Jews.

God sent His prophets with a message of judgment. The Lord would bring disaster to Jerusalem in direct response to Judah's rejection of Him and the Law. This was a continuous pattern with the Israelites. The cycle of sin, suffering, supplication, and salvation would end in the exile. And Manasseh's acts were the "last straw" that sealed Judah's fate. God does not say exactly when the judgment would fall, but He is firm in the fact that it will occur.

When God's people have a reputation for evil, God will act to defend His own holiness. And that is exactly what this text is chronicling. The remaining moments of Judah's history will simply be a countdown toward justice. It is the inevitable consequence of the negative elements of the Covenant. God gave His people blessings in obedience, and cursings in their sin. Now, in sinful idolatry, the cursings of the Law will fall on the nation.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

mercy for bitter tears

"Now, O LORD, please remember how I have walked before you in faithfulness and with a whole heart, and have done what is good in your sight." And Hezekiah wept bitterly.
2 Kings 20:3

Hezekiah knew he was dying when he prayed this simple prayer. He did not ask to live, which I think is very interesting. He seems to have accepted the message of Isaiah the prophet that his time had come. He appeals to God's covenant faithfulness and just asks God to remember the kings's own obedience to follow God. The bitter tears would flow because nothing about mortality and death is particularly joyful! But Hezekiah is simply coming to terms with death's reality, and prays his honest prayer.

God intervenes and adds fifteen years to the king's life. Isaiah is sent back to Hezekiah with a message of hope and healing. God graciously confirms the hope with a miraculous sign. The sun's shadow actually recedes back its relentless advance, signifying God's ability to add time to the king's days on the earth. God turns in mercy to a faithful and obedient follower, who is a leader of His people.

This story sets up a theological debate. Obviously. God knew that Hezekiah would live. Why then is the message of death followed with a message of healing? It seems to be that God is drawing out of Hezekiah the faithfulness that is already there. It is a moment for God to have with the king. Hezekiah is not bragging about his testimony before God. He is rehearsing the facts and reviewing his life in the light of having to come to grips with mortality. God made the choice in Hezekiah's case to do the miraculous and to converse with the king about his day of death. And in so showing His power, God kept confirming His relationship with His obedient and loving child.

The highest ruler in the land is subject to God's sovereign purposes. And when that powerful man is obedient and humbly submissive to God's control, the power of God is displayed. God received the glory in Hezekiah's life. And the extra fifteen years he received from the Lord was just more time to spend glorifying the mercies of God. The way in which God turned even bitter tears into a moment of praise for His power is the way God can work in any difficult situation. We just need to be faithful to Him and trust God's plan.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Let God Handle It (Hezekiah's Prayer)

Hezekiah received the letter from the hand of the messengers and read it; and Hezekiah went up to the house of the LORD and spread it before the LORD.
2 Kings 19:14

When a pagan king threatened Jerusalem
a God fearing king did not lose his head
but calmly went to God in prayer
telling God what this pagan king had dared
to defy the God of the Covenant
when trouble came, God's people prayed

An army assembled outside the gate
threatened and mocked while God's people wait
for God to answer Hezekiah's humble prayer
and they cried out in desperation there
God answered their cries, kept Covenant
so that very day, God answered prayer

The world's most powerful fighting strength
is no match for the answer to prayer God makes
because there is unrivaled power in vital prayer
God heard His people, protected them from the snare
when they returned, obeyed His Covenant
they saw the power of God when His people prayed

Hezekiah was king and had money and might
but he trusted God to take care of what was out of his sight
which is why he is great as a man of prayer
and God blessed his rule, rescued and cared
the pagans ran, struck down in a night
God worked to make His people right

When anxious and unsure as to what to do
Lord, help me to remember to turn to You
for the power, strength, and perspective I need
to live this life, trust, and believe
when circumstances don't seem to fit
I know my God can handle it!

Thursday, January 5, 2012

big contrast

He trusted in the LORD, the God of Israel, so that there was none like him among all the kings of Judah after him, nor among those who were before him. For he held fast to the LORD. He did not depart from following him, but kept the commandments that the LORD commanded Moses.
2 Kings 18:5-6

Hezekiah stands out in sharp contrast from most of the other kings of Israel and Judah in the recent recounts of 2 Kings. His is a worship of Yahweh that is fully devoted to following God's Law. Hezekiah has a zero tolerance policy for all idolatry. He cleans house in Judah. He is bound and determined to seriously follow the LORD and to lead the nation in obedience to the Law of Moses.

And as Judah repents and returns with zealous hearts to worship God, Israel falls to Assyrian exile, the polar opposite of faithfulness to the Lord. Hezekiah's spiritual leadership saved a remnant at just the most crucial time. And God would be glorified by keeping covenant in Jerusalem as a faithful few worshiped him, turned from idols, and followed the Mosaic Law.

Hezekiah's leadership reminds me of a very simple principle: It is never too late to start doing what is right. And that truth was literally what saved Judah from the fate of all the rest of the Israelites. God will reward love for Him, obedience to following Him, and faithfulness in worshiping Him. We may not always see it as sharply as we do in this account. But it is clearly always the best thing to trust and obey the Lord and His Word.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

failure in being false

But they would not listen, but were stubborn, as their fathers had been, who did not believe in the LORD their God. They despised his statutes and his covenant that he made with their fathers and the warnings that he gave them. They went after false idols and became false, and they followed the nations that were around them, concerning whom the LORD had commanded them that they should not do like them.
2 Kings 17:14-15

Most of this chapter is commentary. That is a rarity in the historical books of the Old Testament. The reason this long commentary exists is the nature of the content being discussed. Most of God's Covenant people, ten tribes in the northernmost geography of Israel, are taken into captivity in Assyria, never to be seen again. They are just absorbed... blotted out.... gone. That is a significant moment. The book's writer is compelled to explain why this happened.

It happened because God's chosen people refused to keep His covenant with them. They abandoned God in wild pursuit of idolatry, hoping to live the lives of the pagan nations around them. After numerous generations of this pursuit, and after ignoring all of God's loving attempts to convince them to repent by the preaching of His prophets, judgment came to them. And it was fierce, final, and inescapable.

There is part of this commentary that is particularly telling. It is one phrase in verse fifteen that is chilling: "They went after false idols and became false"... That phrase makes me pause, cringing at the implications. They had a worship disorder. They were extremely religious... in all the wrong ways and for the wrong things. Their hearts went after what was false... what was not God... and it was not good. They themselves turned against what was true and good by the very things their hearts craved and worshiped. We will become like what we worship. If we worship what is false we will be false.

I am thinking VERY carefully about what that means. It is a stunning insight into humanity. By that I mean that is is a stunning insight into ME! Elsewhere in scripture we are warned to guard the heart, because out of the heart flows the wellspring of life. When the heart goes false, out of that will eventually come death and loss. That is the warning of Israel's demise --- watch your heart and keep it from what is not from God!

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Really Bad Idea: Syncretistic Religion

And Uriah the priest built the altar; in accordance with all that King Ahaz had sent from Damascus, so Uriah the priest made it, before King Ahaz arrived from Damascus.
2 Kings 16:11

King Ahaz is trying to keep the throne in Judah intact. But he is an idolater. He does not worship the Lord exclusively but seems to hedge his bets by practicing idol worship of every stripe, along with symbolic participation as king in Judah with temple sacrifices to the Lord. But for him, survival is now at stake. The superpower of Assyria has been flexing Middle Eastern muscle. When Syria threatens Judah, Ahaz appeals to Assyrian military might for assistance. He knows it will cost him. He does not care. Damascus is overthrown by Assyria, ending Judah's immediate threat from Syria. Ahaz travels to Damascus to meet and thank his new Assyrian overlords.

While in the capital city of his former (now defeated) oppressors, he is enamored with the imposing altar in the temple of the Syrian god, Hadad. He has to have one. It makes no sense according to the common thought of the day. Since Syria had now been conquered, wouldn't that make Hadad a rather weak deity? Nonetheless, Ahaz sends Uriah the priest at Jerusalem a detailed model of the altar with instructions to build one in the temple of Yahweh. Uriah complies with this order and hastily has it ready by the time the king returns from Damascus.

Ahaz then moves his new altar into position in the temple, bumping Yahweh's altar to an inferior place in the court. Now the temple at Jerusalem is in effect dedicated to the worship of two gods, prominently featuring Hadad, former god of the Syrians, now in Jerusalem for a limited engagement. The king's altar takes precedence over God's altar. Ahaz has not abandoned God entirely, he is instead worshiping God PLUS something else. This is syncretism. And it violates the very first of the Ten Commandments: "You shall have no other gods before me."

The sad part is that the high priest has willingly participated in this awful accommodation. The priests have joined with the king in turning from the exclusive worship of the Lord. And it is ironically a picture of defeat from the very beginning. They have built and dedicated an altar to an already defeated idol in the temple. It just shows the increasing spiritual decline. Syncretistic spirituality is a decline of faith and not an increase, enlightenment, or noble tolerance. And it erodes real worship.