Thursday, September 30: Ezra 1- the Supreme Sovereignty of God

Merriam Webster’s Free online dictionary defines sovereignty as:

a : supreme power especially over a body politic

b : freedom from external control : autonomy

c : controlling influence

Free dictionary.com defines it as:

1. Supremacy of authority or rule as exercised by a sovereign or sovereign state.

2. Royal rank, authority, or power.

3. Complete independence and self-government.

One more definition, Merriam Webster online for sovereign:

a : one possessing or held to possess sovereignty

b : one that exercises supreme authority within a limited sphere

 

Cyrus sovereign over Persia and its expansive empire is moved by a greater sovereignty… God’s ultimate and supreme sovereignty. There is no disputing the plain reading of this chapter, God is in control. God’s will moves kings and princes, even those who do not worship God.

Before I venture deeper into this thought, let me say outright, when I use the English word God (capital ‘G’ God) I am referring to the God who reveals Himself in the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments. This God must not be confused with the god of any other religion or belief system. The Old and New Testaments are filled with accounts of other gods over which the Lord God Almighty is sovereign. According to the Bible there is only one true God, creator of all that is seen and unseen, the God of the Old and New Testament Scriptures. His names and character are defined in the scriptures and this God is not to be confused with any other god, whether from ancient or modern times.

Back to my main observation… God, not Cyrus, is ultimately sovereign. God orchestrated the entire scene played out in this chapter. God moves Cyrus (1b: the LORD moved the heart of Cyrus king of Persia to make a proclamation …) and God moved the hearts of returnees to Jerusalem (5 …everyone whose heart God had moved--prepared to go up and build the house of the LORD in Jerusalem). Every player in this chapter is moved by the Lord.

Many thoughts, questions and ideas emerge as I ponder this chapter.  One is this… I would much rather serve and worship the one ultimate God, who is sovereign over all things, than any other.

O, God, may I serve and love You well. In Jesus name, Amen.

 

Wednesday, September 29: 2Peter 3- The Day of the Lord

Peter has an interesting take on the Day of the Lord, the day Jesus returns to judge all things. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare. Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives (10-11).

Peter doesn’t become all raveled up, wondering when the Day with be. Instead, with surety he says it will come and then drives to his point, so be ready by living holy and godly lives. Live as God wants a person to live and you have no fear and no worries on the Day of the Lord, should you be alive.

Holy and godly lives… lives that honor God. Lives that witness to the fact that you follow the Lord and live according to His way. True faith -of any stripe or conviction- impacts living.

Okay then, let’s think about our living.  One big aspect of life is the use of money and resources. God probes a little deeper.  So then how do you and I use the money we receive? Do our bank statements, credit card accounts, investments, etc. reflect faith in Jesus? Is Jesus witnessed to in our expenditures? Conversely, does faith in Jesus cause us to refrain from some expenditures? Is there clear evidence of your faith in Jesus in your use of money and resources???

Our calendar is another life indicator. Would your calendar and use of the 168 hours you have weekly reveal faith in Jesus? Does your PDA offer clear evidence that you are a Christ-follower?

Relationships, family life, work ethic, political views, personal integrity, etc. offer other aspects and lenses through which we can probe our lives to see how our living witnesses to our faith in Jesus.

Go ahead, think about some of these other lenses before you close up your devotions for the day.

O, God, lately in my reading I have been seeing how much faith impacts, or is meant to impact, action. Help me to live in such a way that in big and small, obvious and obscure ways, my life reflects my faith in You. In Jesus’ name., Amen.

 

 

Tuesday, September 28: 2Peter 2- Am I enslaved?

Two thoughts wrestled for my attention. One overarching theme from this chapter seems to be how one’s behavior cannot be separated from one’s ‘faith.’ The false teachers described in this chapter are known as much for their godless living as their heretical teaching.

My second thought, which eventually won control of my devotions today, comes from verse 19. Slavery is an ugly word. It conjures up all kinds of negative, mean, cruel and exploitive images in my thoughts. It is not something I would want to endure and yet Peter suggests that I may unwittingly or voluntarily subject myself to slavery. Verse 19: … they themselves are slaves of depravity--for a man is a slave to whatever has mastered him. It is those last words that grabbed my attention, for a man is a slave to whatever has mastered him.

Thoughts in question-form flooded my head. What have I allowed to master me? Am I mastered by food? By pleasure? By adrenalin-seeking? Am I mastered by laziness? By a foul tongue? By self-centered attitude? Am I mastered by money and riches? By sex? By power? By success? By acclaim or fame? And so the question mushroomed.

The possibility of being mastered by something, doesn’t sit well with me. And yet, the more I contemplate, the more its reality seems possible…

O. God. have I subjected myself to slavery? Have I allowed myself to become fettered to a master other than You? Have I become a debtor to something other than love (Romans 13:8 Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another…).

O, Jesu,s come and break any bonds that ensnare me and set me free to follow and worship You with all my heart and soul and mind and strength.  Come set me free, Jesus.  Only You can redeem me from any slavery that shackles me. In Your name I pray. Amen.

 

Monday, September 27: 2Peter 1- Ineffective and unproductive, NO.

My eyes stuck on verse 8.  It hit me when I first read it and my eyes returned to it after completing the chapter. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Who wants to be ineffective and unproductive?  That was my first thought. I certainly don’t, neither do I know anyone who sets that as their goal.

My thoughts expanded from that center like ripples from a rock tossed in a lake. Ineffective and unproductive at what… Work? Relationships? What? Ineffective and unproductive in my knowledge of my Lord Jesus Christ…. Well, I certainly don’t want that either but it is an interesting thought and one I wouldn’t normally consider.

Unproductive in my knowledge of Jesus? Hmmm… that certainly fires off all kinds of associations in my thoughts. It suggests that I am not bearing fruit (a literal meaning for the word unproductive), that my life is not making a difference for Jesus and His kingdom, that my life and witness is not touching the lives of others. I certainly do not want that and so the circle widens further…

Peter says to keep myself from being ineffective and unproductive, I should make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love (5-7). That’s quite a ‘to-do’ list; far too much to write on this morning but a wonderful opportunity to continue chewing on today.

Before I pray one last thought comes. I notice the opening words of the list, make every effort … this list is not simply some helpful suggestions, they are actions to give my life to today and every day. Now I need to pray…

O, Lord God, it is easy to cut and paste this list, even to contemplate it but living it, that’s a challenge. It will take every effort on my behalf. It will take dedication over the long haul on my behalf. It will take… Lord, please give me the strength to keep on task, to keep applying myself to this instruction. In Jesus’ name and for His sake and the growth of His kingdom, I pray. Amen.

 

 

Saturday, September 25: 1Peter 5- Greet one another.

Most Sundays in most of the churches where I worship there is a time to greet one another. Sometimes it is formal and stylized, in other congregations it is warm and embracing, either way there is an intentional recognition of the importance of greeting fellow worshippers.

I found myself wondering about the weekly greeting ritual. Do we do it only because it is part of the liturgy or is there a sense in me that says it is important to connect, even briefly, with those who worship with me and worship around me?

This brief musing, and where it led in my thinking, was sparked by the final verse of the chapter and the letter. Peter concludes, Greet one another with a kiss of love. Peace to all of you who are in Christ (14).

Peter pens numerous commands in this chapter… be shepherds of the flock (2), be humble yourselves (6), be self-controlled and alert (8), resist (9) and so on until we come to the last, greet one another (14). I don’t normally give ‘greeting one another’ the importance of some of those other commands but there it is staring at me with the same force as the command to ‘be humble’.

It could very well be that greeting others, relating to others and how I treat others is far more important, at least to God, than I generally think…

Tomorrow when we gather for worship let’s put as much heart-felt energy and effort into to our greetings of one another as we do our singing, praying, attending to the word and giving… and let’s see what God does among us.

Lord, help me to hone the worshipping family You have given me. Help me to give my heart and soul to those You have placed around me as fellow travelers on the way of Jesus. In His name I pray.  Amen.

 

Friday, September 24: 1Peter 4- Above all.

Okay, we have chosen to follow Jesus and to bear His name. We are Christians, Christ-followers, we worship in a community… Presbyterian, Lutheran, Baptist, Protestant of some stripe or color, or Roman Catholic or Orthodox or some other brand. We worship in English or German or Hausa or Russian… great, wonderful.  All of that defines who we are and the nuances of what we believe.  But how are we to live as men and women who believe in and follow Jesus as Lord, God and Savior?

Peter provides us with a quick snapshot of life for those who would follow Jesus. Verses 8-11: Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God's grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God. If anyone serves, he should do it with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.

Love, offer hospitality, use your gifts, administer God’s grace in all its forms… your words as if you were speaking for God… serve others with strength. As we do these things, God will be praised through Jesus Christ.

Not the sum total of living for Jesus but a snapshot, a summary.

Go back and walk slowly through the verbs and descriptors. Now think, how can you apply these verbs and descriptors in your life today with the people you will meet?

You see it doesn’t matter what brand of Christ-follower you may be, this snapshot is for all of us.

O, God, help me to live for You today. Help me to love and serve, speak and show hospitality in Your name through Jesus Christ, my Lord. Amen.

 

Thursday, September 23: 1Peter 3- Don't forget the inside.

The theme of persecution for one’s faith didn’t connect with me.  That is not a present issue in my life. However, the word about inner beauty (integrity) did.

The other day a friend stopped by to cut up a tree that had fallen during a storm.  It looked like a great haul of firewood. It was, except for the last 12 or so feet. The bark, the outside, looked normal but as he cut he found that much of the lower section of the tree was rotten. Something was eating away the inside of the tree, where a human eye could not detect but when a storm came it snapped with a loud crash!

Peter suggests to wives, and by way of inference to all of us, to pay attention to our inner lives and not merely dress up our external life with available beauty aids (4, see also see Pr 31:30). That word is appropriate for all of us.

We live in an external, often superficial age… look good, look younger, hide the grey, hid the wrinkles world. Some of us push vanity too far but looking good isn’t bad. The problem is that we do not give equal attention to inner beauty or inner integrity. Life is often about appearances rather than substance. Now that’s a problem. Believe me this issue of looks affects men as well as women in our culture. How many Hollywood hunks and babes live shattered, spoiled, self-centered lives? Peter is suggesting that in many ways we are all tempted to do that.

So how should we live? Towards the end of the chapter Peter suggests a different approach to life. Verse 15-16: But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. Look into your heart and make sure that Jesus is reigning there. Regular cardio exercise is good for keeping your body healthy and fit- every Dr. will tell you so. Likewise, spiritual cardio exercise is good for keeping your inner life healthy and fit.

Set apart… look in side and pay attention to what is motivating you, what is driving you… is it Jesus?

Examine your hope… is your hope the Lord or something else?

Keep a clear conscience… does your life and actions reflect God and God’s ways? Are you obedient to His word and teaching?

God’s whisper to me, “Bill, are you spending time, enough time, keeping your inner self spiritually fit or are you merely attending to your fa├žade? That tree in your yard fell because it was rotting inside…let that be a lesson to you….”

Lord God, help me to live a life of true integrity.  Help me to live for You through and through… In Jesus’ name, Amen.

 

 

Wednesday, September 22: 1Peter 2- What kind of stone is he to you?

Stone can provide a solid foundation or be a pain in the neck. Construction is strongest if the builder can dig through the topsoil to bedrock and build up from the rock. Farmers loath stones and need to remove them from fields before planting. Medium stones near the surface make it hard to plant a field and larger stones buried below the surface can break a plow.

Using the positive and negative aspects of stones, Peter presents Jesus.

Jesus can be the most valuable corner stone of one’s life. Verse 6: For in Scripture it says: "See, I lay a stone in Zion, a chosen and precious cornerstone, and the one who trusts in him will never be put to shame." The cornerstone is the largest, strongest stone of the foundation, the one that bears most of the weight and sets the alignment for the foundation. Jesus can be that for people. By trusting in Jesus, He can give life a sturdy foundation and he can align us to live rightly when plumb to God’s ways. As Peter reminds us, the one [that is everyone and anyone] who trusts in him will never be put to shame.

However for people who do not trust in and follow Jesus, He will be a stumbling stone. Verse 8 Jesus is "A stone that causes men to stumble and a rock that makes them fall." They stumble because they disobey the message…. Imagine the world of horse drawn carts and foot travel. A stone rolled onto the path can break a wheel or force a driver to swerve, which again might break a wheel or require the driver to go off the path to uneven terrain, which can topple the cart. How many of us have rolled an ankle on a loose stone while hiking? I have. That’s Peter’s image. For those who don’t believe in Jesus, their unbelief will cause them to stumble on the day of judgment when they have to face Him and are judged disobedient.

Jesus, the best thing or the final straw…

Jesus, God’s entrance ticket into an eternal relationship with the Father or the judge who will find a person guilty.

Peter’s message is that our connection to and relationship with Jesus will make all the difference.

Is Jesus your foundational cornerstone or a stone of stumbling??? Think about it,

Lord God, I pray that people will seek Jesus to be the cornerstone of their lives… Amen.

 

Monday, September 20: 2Kings 25- No place for God.

My heart stopped a beat when I read verse 9, He set fire to the temple of the LORD, the royal palace and all the houses of Jerusalem. Every important building he burned down. The Holy of Holies was God’s dwelling place on earth… gone, burned to the ground, destroyed. God’s dwelling obliterated!

Obviously, this doesn’t affect God.  It is not as if God is dead. But the impact on God’s people is well devastating. Where do they go to connect with God, to offer sacrifices for sin, to fulfill vows to the Lord? 2 Chronicles 7:14 promises, if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land. The Lord spoke these words at the dedication of the temple. With the temple destroyed where do they turn?

I tried to imagine what it would be like to have the Holy Spirit pulled from my life and the lives of all God’s people… no presence of God, no voice of the Almighty. Likely a bit overstated, that is essentially the punishment God inflicted on His disobedient people. His presence withdrawn for a season.

O, Lord God, I am so thankful that I do not live under the Old Covenant but under the new. I am so thankful that You have promised never to leave us or forsake us. I cannot imagine trying to walk this life without You. I bless and thank You for Jesus, the author and perfector of my faith. Jesus, perfect me that I might grow closer and closer to You, my Lord and my Savior and amazingly, my friend. In Your name I pray. Amen.

 

 

 

Tuesday, September 21: 1Peter 1- God's end game

Peter’s word, like a bullet fired from a gun, bursts forth immediately from the first stroke of his quill. No gentle greeting or light conversation, Peter drives to his point right away. We are chosen by God, graced with an inheritance that cannot spoil, preserved in heaven for us.  In this we can rejoice, even though right now life is tough and griefs come in all kinds of trials. In short, glory ahead, pain and trials in the present. All this for a reason, These have come so that your faith--of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire--may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.

God’s end game is that our faith maybe proved genuine.

That thought caught me off guard. So often my thinking and modern thinking believes what God cares about is that my life is good (American dream good), filled with all kinds of material blessings. I hear this on the radio and in many Christian books. It surrounds us. Peter’s opening culminating in verse 7 suggests that God is more interested in refining my (your, our) faith than giving us a ‘nice’ life this side of eternity. Heaven is our eternal reward. Temporally God is in the business of refining and strengthening our faith so that when Jesus is revealed, our faith will prove itself to be genuine and real…

I have to process this thought more deeply but this radically alters life’s equation…

Do I have some thoughts to chew on today…

Lord God, give me space today to ponder this thought, to think through its connection to life and living. Lord, I love You and I receive from You whatever You choose to hand out. I trust that You have my best in mind; not merely my ‘best’ in this life but my forever best.

Lord, may my life result in praise and glory unto You. In and through Jesus, my Lord, I pray.  Amen.

 

Saturday, September 18: 2Kings 24- Sin has its consequences

It was because of the LORD's anger that all this happened to Jerusalem and Judah, and in the end he thrust them from his presence (20).

Over and over we have read how kings and people did evil in the eyes of the Lord. Nebuchadnezzar was sin’s consequence and God’s judgment for all the years of forsaking God and running after other gods. Sin has consequences this side of eternity and in the next life…

We taught our kids, don’t play with fire you might get burned.

We taught our children, don’t run out into the street you might get hit by a car.

God taught his children, don’t play with sin you will reap consequences and judgment. Today’s chapter shows what happens when people flirt with sin rather than love God.

Today’s reading gives me pause… to think through my life.  How I am living right now?

Lord, I know I sin. Please forgive me.I bury my life in Jesus and thank You for the covering of His blood. Lord, even more so help me deal with those sin-pockets that live on within me, those areas I have not yet surrendered to Jesus.  Help me grow and mature, that I might lay those areas at Jesus’ feet and gain victory by the power of the Spirit.

Lord tomorrow as we worship, renew my life in You; take me to deep places of love, confession & forgiveness, instruction and praise… I pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.

 

Friday, September 17: 2Kings 23- The face of faithfulness and faithlessness

I found myself pondering two opposites as I read this morning. First there was the faithfulness of Josiah. King since he was 8, priests find the Book of the Law during Josiah’s 18th year as king. What does he do? He calls all the leaders of Judah from far and wide.  He reads the book before everyone and then he renews the covenant of the Lord (1-3). You could not script a more faith-filled response to the sudden and unexpected finding of the Book of the Law. For the rest of his 31 years as king, he proceeds to make good on the renewed covenant.  He does this by destroying all the despicable idols, temples, high places, shrines and all the priests and servants of these idols from the temple, from the city of Jerusalem and from throughout all the land, even into the former northern kingdom. It takes 22 verses, most of the chapter, to describe Josiah’s cleansing of Israel. That is faithfulness!

Find God’s word and live it. Discover something new in God’s word and live it… no ‘ifs, and or buts.’ Straightforward, unadulterated faithfulness… what an account, what a man…to be like Josiah!!!

Contrasting Josiah’s faithfulness was the incredible faithlessness of Israel over the years, in part due to the fact that they didn’t have God’s written word. Think of it this way…

For 18 years Josiah apparently thought he was living and governing faithfully to the Lord yet all kinds of idols and false gods were being worshiped at the Temple and throughout the land. Because people were living by ‘corporate memory’, without the corrective of God’s written word, all kinds of idolatry seeded itself among God’s people. Like weeds in an untended garden they eventually took over. Some weeds dated back to Solomon!

Josiah and the people did not know better, they had no standard, no guide, no word! This is what happens when God’s word is lost, ignored or edited by people.

It is sad for me to write this but it seems that a variation of this is happening in many churches in our country and throughout the western world. God’s standard is being edited and ignored and like our OT counterparts, things not of God are creeping in and being called the way of God.

Lord, in humility I ask, may I have the fidelity to Your word that Josiah had.  First may it live in my life and only after personal faithfulness use me as You will to call others to faithfulness to You through obedience to Your written and revealed word. Amen.

 


Thursday, September 16: 2Kings 22-Memory or text.

My memory isn’t perfect, I forget things. I confuse certain aspects of a story. Not long ago I was chatting about an incident in our lives some 25 years ago, talking about a phone call we received from a young girl we knew. I got most of it right but after I was finished my wife reminded me that the girl was 5 not 10 when the story happened.

We forget details, sometimes minor, sometimes major. And I am assuming good intentions here. Sometimes people distort the past on purpose which is why journalists are supposed to have corroborating sources for their stories.

My point is that for every one of us memory is imperfect which is why for important things having a written record is so important…

Flash back to the text we read today. 18 years into Josiah’s reign they find the Book of the Law.  When was the last time anyone in Israel has evaluated the way they were living based on the book? Apparently it had been a loooong time, a very long time. 18 years plus Manasseh’s and Amon’s reign of 57 years suggests at least 75 since the Book of the Law has had any authority in Israel.  This assumes that Hezekiah had the Book of the Law when he was king. A lot of corporate memory loss will happen in 75 years.

How much and how specific would our corporate memory be of WWII if we had no written records? WWII was about 65-70 years ago.

I mused on this when I realized that it had been a minimum of 75 years since Israel’s kings and priests had read God’s word, God’s laws and God’s decrees! Imagine what the practices of the church would be if it had been 75 years since anyone had seen or read the Bible! YIKES!!!

What an interesting way to consider how important God’s word is for us. God’s people across the ages have been called ‘the people of the Book.’ Are we? Do we read it and follow it? Hmmm, let’s pray:

O. God. thank You for inscribing Your word, Your story of salvation and Your laws and decrees in words on paper. Help me to honor, treasure and follow Your word. Lord, without your word, I am operating solely on memory, which in my case isn’t necessarily reliable. Thank You for writing down Your word and giving it to us.

What a gift Your written word is… Amen.

 

PS: Tomorrow we discover what Josiah did when he finally read God’s word… but that is for tomorrow.

 

Wednesday, September 15: 2Kings 21- Bad leaders, personal responsibility.

Manasseh was a vile king, probably the worst in Judah’s history. He did unspeakable things. For example, the comment in verse 6 reads, He sacrificed his own son in the fire… that is a polite way of saying that he sacrificed his sons (yes, human sacrifice) to certain ancient gods for favor or blessing. That’s how low it got for Manasseh personally. And as king he led Judah into sin.

Reading on verses 7-9 tell more of the story. He took the carved Asherah pole he had made and put it in the temple, of which the LORD had said to David and to his son Solomon, "In this temple and in Jerusalem, which I have chosen out of all the tribes of Israel, I will put my Name forever. … if only they will be careful to do everything I commanded them and will keep the whole Law that my servant Moses gave them." But the people did not listen. Manasseh led them astray, so that they did more evil than the nations the LORD had destroyed before the Israelites.

As despicable as Manasseh was, the people followed him. I was struck by the underlined words. God charged the people with sin not simply Manasseh. Why? Because they followed Manasseh and they too forsook the Lord and worships false gods.

Leaders are important, very important, but everyone will stand or fall on for their own faith and faith-driven actions. People had a choice and they chose to follow the king into sin.

Contemplating this suggests two lines of questions:

1)              Who are you and I following… religiously? Who is teaching and leading and exampling the way to God? Are they biblically faithful or are they going another way?

2)              How are you living? Are you living faithfully and honorably before God Almighty?

Leaders are very important.  Following God honoring, God teaching leaders puts us on the right path and feeds us truth for living. But we stand or fall before the Lord by our own faith and the life that results from our faith. Good leader or vile leader… what we believe and how we live as a result matters.

How are you doing?  Are you following Jesus?

Lord Jesus, I believe in You and I pledge to follow You. In You and You alone will I stand on judgment day… Amen.

 

Tuesday, September 14: 2Kings 20- Dealing with our death.

At some point most of us will be forced to deal with the inevitability and reality of death –our death. Unless an accident sweeps us away unexpectedly, the certainty of death will come knocking.

Death is not something I think much about but as the calendars have turned and my years have grown, I have found that thinking about death sneaks into my consciousness at times. A few years ago when a college buddy’s wife died of cancer, wonderings of death invaded my thoughts. When another friend’s wife was killed in a freak auto accident, more thoughts of dying snuck in. Without being morbid, death is a reality.

Hezekiah, one of the most faithful kings in the history of Judah gets ‘a word’ that death looms. In those days Hezekiah became ill and was at the point of death. The prophet Isaiah son of Amoz went to him and said, "This is what the LORD says: Put your house in order, because you are going to die; you will not recover." Hezekiah turned his face to the wall and prayed to the LORD, "Remember, O LORD, how I have walked before you faithfully and with wholehearted devotion and have done what is good in your eyes." And Hezekiah wept bitterly (1-3). And Hezekiah clings to life this side of eternity with tenacious fear.

Honestly I am surprised by Hezekiah’s reaction. There is a part of me that reacted, “That’s not very faithful Hezekiah?!?” Another part of me thought, “Who am I to judge his reaction?” I have never come so close to death.  How can I know how I will react, how anyone –with faith or without- will react?

Side bar musing: I have read this passage at least once every year for 35 years. I don’t ever recall contemplating Hezekiah’s reaction of impending death.  Yet another example of how thoughts of death sneak into my mind as the years roll on.

Back to my main musings… death is a reality. And I believe that through faith in Jesus I will be invited into heaven when death comes. I believe that my future eternity in heaven will far surpass anything life offers this side of eternity. And I believe that until death comes, God has things for me to do to bring Him honor and glory.

So what are your thoughts on death? And do you have certainty of heaven when you die? If you aren’t sure, let me remind you the one sure and certain way to be at peace with your eternal future is to put your faith and trust in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. Think about it and check out Romans 10:9-13, John 1:12, 20:30 and many others).

Lord, as I sit here before You this morning I do not fear death… (I can’t say the same thing about the process of dying). All I ask Lord is that when that time comes for me that You give me grace to die in a manner that exalts You and my God and Father, Lord and Savior, Comforter and Counselor… in Jesus name I pray, Amen.

 

 

Monday, September 13: 2Kings 19- In times of crisis, pray.

 

Two times in this chapter a simple phrase caught my eye. Verse 1: When King Hezekiah heard this, he tore his clothes and put on sackcloth and went into the temple of the LORD. Again in verse14: Hezekiah received the letter from the messengers and read it. Then he went up to the temple of the LORD and spread it out before the LORD.

It was Hezekiah going to the temple that lit up as I read the text. The temple was the place where God dwelled, the place of sacrifice and communion with God. When trouble struck, when a crisis came, Hezekiah went to be with his Lord, Hezekiah prayed!

What a great reminder for me. When stuff happens…Pray! Fortunately as a Christ-follower, I do not have to go to a particular location to be with God. I can pause wherever I am and speak with the Lord… what a gift, what a blessing, what an invitation.

God invites us to turn to Him at any time when we need counsel, when we need to pour our hearts out, when we need help. Hezekiah turned to the Lord and God came through…

I pray the same for you and me…

So what’s your natural reaction to crisis, trouble and need? Hezekiah prayed…

Enough said, let’s pray…

Lord, You are my rock and fortress. I know You are there anytime and every time I need You. I thank You for the relationship we have, thanks to You. And I bless You and praise You for always being available and there for me and everyone who calls on Your name. Thank You, Father, Jesus and Holy Spirit. Thank You. Amen.

 

Saturday, September 11: 2Kings 18- On what are you basing your confidence?

In the middle of this chapter a question jumped out at me. It was a defining moment in the story and it is a question that cut to my heart regarding my life and how I live it. In verse 19 the Assyrian general shouts out to Hezekiah King of Judah, On what are you basing this confidence of yours?

Was Hezekiah going to trust in his wisdom and military strategy or would he trust in the Lord or in something or someone else, like allies? The chapter ends without us finding out how Hezekiah answers that question…

The chapter break provides a dramatic pause for us to wrestle with similar questions:

  • On what are you basing your confidence?
  • On what are you building your life?
  • What saves you in times of trouble?

These questions are worth pondering, they burrow into and expose our life foundation… is it yourself, your wit, your training, your ingenuity, your smarts or street saavy? Is your life foundation your family, friends or loved ones? Is it your wealth? Is it your relationship with the Lord or is it something else still???

I cannot answer this for you nor you for me.

Before you trek off to the rest of your day, spend some time searching deeply into your life. On what is it built?

Lord, it is easy to skirt around tough questions, to answer them shallowly and without real reflection. Today Your word has posed one of those questions. Give me the chutzpa to run to and embrace Your probing…because my answer is crucial. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

 

Friday, September 10: 2Kings 17- Judged and found wanting.

Years of disobedience caught up with the northern kingdom.God had had enough… and judgment came through the Assyrians. For years God kept calling to the northern kingdom, through the prophets, to repent and return to the Lord but Israel kept rejecting God. God’s Grace rejected … judgment descended.

Israel’s example is a reminder.  Judgment will come if we continue rejecting God’s call to repent, God’s call to come home, God’s grace and God’s love.

Lord God, I don’t want to be like the northern kingdom and presume on Your love, even as I reject Your ways. Show me areas in my life in which I need to grow and change. I bow to You, O, Lord, my God, in Jesus’ name. Amen.

 

 

Thursday, September 9: 2Kings 16- Whom do you serve?

One of the players in today’s chapter is Uriah the priest. For many years and the reign of two kings, Judah has been faithful to the Lord. I mention this because it means that faithfulness was the norm prior to this chapter.

Then along comes Ahab, who sees a beautiful altar in Damascus (a kingdom recently defeated by Assyria, I might add) and Ahab instructs Uriah to build a replica in the temple. Then King Ahaz … saw an altar in Damascus and sent to Uriah the priest a sketch of the altar, with detailed plans for its construction. So Uriah the priest built an altar in accordance with all the plans that King Ahaz had sent from Damascus and finished it before King Ahaz returned. … The bronze altar that stood before the LORD he brought from the front of the temple--from between the new altar and the temple of the LORD--and put it on the north side of the new altar. King Ahaz then gave these orders to Uriah the priest: "On the large new altar, offer the morning burnt offering and the evening grain offering, the king's burnt offering and his grain offering, and the burnt offering of all the people of the land, and their grain offering and their drink offering. Sprinkle on the altar all the blood of the burnt offerings and sacrifices. But I will use the bronze altar for seeking guidance." And Uriah the priest did just as King Ahaz had ordered (10-16).

Altars were not simply architectural features, which could be changed out when new designs spring on the market. Altars represented the god to which their sacrifices were offered. Building this new altar was more a statement about worshipping a different god than changing the style of chairs in a sanctuary because the old ones were worn out.

Ahab instructed Uriah to commit idolatry and Uriah complied! The priest caved because it was expedient to do so. Uriah, anointed and called by God, turned his back on the Lord…

1Peter 2:10 reminds us that we are a “royal priesthood.” The Lord’s words flash immediately in my mind, “Do I (we) choose the expedient road rather than the way of the Lord? Will I (we) turn from the Lord when instructed by someone in authority or it is financially beneficial?”

Uriah did… think about it.

Lord, give me the faith to stand with You in every situation, no matter the pressure –overt or subtle- placed upon me. I ask this in the name of the One who endured the cross on my behalf… In Jesus’ name, Amen.

 

Wednesday, September 8: 2Kings 15- March of kings.

I confess reading this chapter, and the march of kings with little added about their lives, didn’t spark much, if anything, as I read early in the morning. I sat and pondered. I looked back through the text. I reviewed a listing of kings and prophets that I constructed years ago to gain an overview of these years… not one significant ‘a-ha’.

So I paused, acknowledged the Lord, my God, and determined to return to this text later in the day. Occasionally my times with God are like this. Dedication on my end to be with the Lord… who am I to question why He seems to be silent this morning?

I examine my life.  Is there something significant blocking the Lord’s voice? Nothing that is immediately apparent.

Maybe the Lord is testing my resolve to be with Him, not to gain anything but simply to BE with Him.I don’t know… His ways are higher than my ways…

I pause again to contemplate and to pray.

I decide to enter the remainder of my day.I will come back to the text later.

Faithfulness in the mundane…??? That is the closing thought that I have. God invites me to be faithful in my time with Him even when nothing in particular seems to come from Him. And so I sit and ponder and pray and think and BE with my God…

Lord, I wish I had heard something from You today. It seems as if you are silent. Be that as it may, I draw myself close to You. You are my joy and crown, my Lord and Savior. You are my God … praise You, Lord God Almighty, praise You.

 

Tuesday, September 7: 2Kings 14- The problem of pride.

Reading the account of Amaziah, Proverbs 16:18 came to mind: Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall.

Amaziah became too impressed with himself after his defeat of Edom and as a result he took a whooping from Israel. Amaziah was a good king, doing right in the eyes of the Lord (3). Unfortunately, he allowed a personal weakness (an area of sin) get in the way of clear thinking.

Warnings fired in my thoughts as I contemplated Amaziah’s example. Warning #1: Just because you are walking in the ways of God does not automatically mean every decision you make is right. We are prone to sin and original sin has damaged us to the core. Therefore we must constantly test all areas of our lives against God’s way, will and wisdom. We cannot take for granted that each and every decision will automatically be right. This side of eternity, sin still has its tentacles in our lives… beware and seek godly counsel.

Warning #2:  One success does not mean we can take on the world. Whatever my area of competence; one success, one victory, one great decision does not mean that we are conquering heroes in that arena. One victory against Edom did not guarantee a victory against Israel, a much stronger opponent. One great deal on Wall Street does not mean the next bigger deal will end as well. Success at one church doesn’t guarantee success at the next. Each decision and movement must be evaluated independently. Tactics differ for each battle, deal, or church. Amaziah reminds me not to get cocky but to do my “due diligence” including, most importantly, checking in with and following the lead of the Lord, rather than rushing ahead on my own.

Unfortunately, the proverb is true: Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall. When we become full of self and stop listening to the Lord and other wise godly council, we teeter on the edge of trouble.  Think about it.

Lord, thanks for this warning from Amaziah’s life. Keep me steady and humble, relying on You for direction, wisdom and leading, each decision along the way of life. Amen.

 

Monday, September 6: 2Kings 13-What faith-legacy am I leaving?

Each day I open the scriptures to see what God is saying. I read the chapter hopefully ingesting all of it into my life. Presently we are reading through Israel’s history and my hope is to gain a big picture view of God’s workings with His people. My desire is to implant the history of God’s people and God’s word into my life.

Secondly, I listen for what God seems to be saying to me as we sit together.

As I watch the history of Israel, and particularly the northern kingdom unfold, I am saddened by the repeated turning from the Lord. How sad it must have been for God to watch those He called into a special relationship repeatedly turn away and seek other gods. I wonder as a parent if I could keep on loving a child who repeatedly ‘spit in my face,’ cursed me and turned away from me. That folks is what idolatry is like to God. I do know if I would have the love and patience the Lord displayed.

As I listened for God’s voice to me personally, I sensed God asking me the question, “What faith-legacy am I leaving my children?” Over and over the kings of the north serve false gods. The sin of Jeroboam was being handed down generation after generation. Again in this chapter that sad reality is lived out two more times…

Jehoahaz son of Jehu became king of Israel in Samaria … did evil in the eyes of the LORD by following the sins of Jeroboam son of Nebat, which he had caused Israel to commit, and he did not turn away from them. (1-2). And eight verse later we read again, Jehoash son of Jehoahaz became king of Israel in Samaria, and he … did evil in the eyes of the LORD and did not turn away from any of the sins of Jeroboam son of Nebat, which he had caused Israel to commit; he continued in them. (10-11).

I don’t know how many times I have read those similar phrases about all the northern kingdom kings. Not one of them served the Lord.  All of them followed the way of Jeroboam. How sad. And this refrain is a nagging reminder to me that if I let particular sins knowingly live in my life, if I say “O, they are no big deal…” then I, too, may be passing on to ‘my seed’ a sin-legacy rather than a faith-legacy. God forbid.

And so, again for the umpteenth time, I sit before the Lord, heart in hand, asking the Lord to search my life to see if and where I have allowed wickedness and sin to live and thrive within me…

Lord, that is my prayer… search me and root out from me sin that I allow and/or encourage in my life.  Lord, I know I fall short daily (hourly).  Yet, I desire to live in a manner that honors You as Lord, Savior, and Redeemer of my life. In and through Jesus, my Savior, I pray… Amen.

 

Saturday, September 4: 2Kings 12- Good people in the wrong job.

I realize that the Bible isn’t a management textbook but today’s reading exposes a classic management blunder… putting good people in the wrong position.

Verses 4-8 Joash said to the priests, "Collect all the money that is brought as sacred offerings to the temple of the LORD--the money collected in the census, the money received from personal vows and the money brought voluntarily to the temple. Let every priest receive the money from one of the treasurers, and let it be used to repair whatever damage is found in the temple." But by the twenty-third year of King Joash the priests still had not repaired the temple. Therefore King Joash summoned Jehoiada the priest and the other priests and asked them, "Why aren't you repairing the damage done to the temple? Take no more money from your treasurers, but hand it over for repairing the temple." The priests agreed ….

The priests are good men.  They are men chosen by God to lead the people of God in worship and to teach and instruct the people but they were not necessarily good project managers or project workers. For many years they oversaw the repair of the Temple and little or no progress was made because they were the wrong people for the job. Their other responsibilities and skill sets didn’t match completing the necessary temple repairs, so the project lingered.

King Joash had the right vision but the wrong implementers. When he finally recognized the issue (remember he began reigning at age 7) and changed the project managers and hired skilled workers, repairs began to happen…

There doesn’t seem to be one squawk from the priests either. My hunch is that they knew they were the wrong men for the job, too.

The NT reminds the church, repeatedly, that God-endowed gifts, not titles or positions or what have you, should determine a person’s function in the body.

Before you move on to the rest of your day, take a few moments and ask yourself, “How has God gifted you? Where might He be calling you to function in His body?” If you have the gifts and the calling but you are not functioning, then some other good person is likely trying to do what you have been gifted and called to do.  It, too, may be working out no better than priests repairing the temple…

Think about it.

Lord, am I doing things outside my arena of gift and calling? Am I not doing things You would have me do within my gifts and calling? Either way the body -Your Body- suffers. Point me to the things I should be doing for You, Your body and Your world. In and for Jesus I pray… Amen.

 

Friday, September 3: 2Kings 11- Many have a role.

Dark days in Judah.  The king dies in battle and chaos breaks out among the royals with unexpected people vying for power. How did the Lord preserve the lineage of David on the throne as He promised?... It was through the efforts of many faith-filled people.

The king’s mother, Athaliah, goes berserk and kills the royal family. In the midst of this upheaval, the king’s sister –heretofore unnamed and unknown- hides the king’s youngest son, Joash, a mere infant, preserving his life. An unnamed faithful nurse cares for Joash for six years as they remain hidden in the temple. Sometimes, many times in my experience, the Lord’s assignments go on for years!

As the infant prince remains hidden, Athaliah rules the land. Then after 6 years, the priest Jehoiada declares it is time.  He summons the guards, reveals the young prince and proceeds with a plan to announce him as king.

For six years the princess, the priest, the nurse and most likely a small tight-lipped cadre of cooks, attendants and servants hid, educated and protected the infant prince, keeping him safe from Athaliah.

For God to fulfill his promise of maintaining a Davidic heir on the throne, many people had to faithfully fulfill their role. Princess Jehosheba had to risk her life for her nephew. The unnamed nurse had to face seclusion for an indefinite time. And we could run through the remainder of the list of faithful agents in this cloak and dagger episode of Judah’s history.

What God showed me is how important each person is for God’s plan to be fulfilled. Some played glamorous roles, most had bit parts, but all kept at it for a considerable length of time… that is how God’s kingdom is built. Faithful people filling their assigned role.

The same remains true to this day. God’s kingdom advances as faithful people fill the assignments God directs to them. Some get full billing, some go unnamed, others don’t even get a mention in the history books but God knows them all and all will be met with the same hug and greetings in eternity, “Well done good and faithful servant… come enter my happiness.”

O, God, give me the strength to do whatever You ask me to do… that I may hear those words upon my promotion from this world into the next. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

 

Thursday, September 2: 2Kings 10-Lingering sin.

Jehu does so much right but he stumbles at one point and it costs him and Israel dearly. Jehu fulfilled the decreed punishment upon Ahab’s family, killing everyone. Jehu rids the land of all the prophets of Baal, a despicable god, a great and faith-filled work. However, he did not turn away from the sins of Jeroboam son of Nebat, which he had caused Israel to commit--the worship of the golden calves at Bethel and Dan (29).

This lingering sin of Jeroboam would be the undoing of Israel. Jehu moved closer to the Lord but never could close the gap and live faithfully. The sin of Jeroboam was so firmly embedded in the life of Israel that it was never dealt with…

Sin can be that pernicious. When we allow particular sins to linger, it is as if they send tap roots so deep in our lives that we never deal with it.  We consider it part of our life. The northern kingdom, according to the historical record, never dealt with the sin of Jeroboam. It became part of the fabric of their lives.

I am not sure that we can deal with lingering sins (sins passed on to us from previous generations) alone. But we are not alone. God has given us the Holy Spirit and part of the Spirit’s work is to uncover and root out pernicious sin. But this is a task with which we must cooperate. The Spirit will not override our will. Instead He invites us to deal with these lingering sins by revealing them to us and aiding us, if we obey, in the surgery necessary to get rid of it.

This is a life-long journey of sanctification… cooperating with God as He shows us the sin which so easily entangles us.

This journey begins with honest self-assessment as we sit with the Holy Spirit and allow God to probe our heart, our motivations and our actions. And it continues through repentance, confession and transformation…

O, God, set Your gaze upon me and search me. Reveal any wickedness in me, then cleanse me with hyssop and I will be clean. Wash me and I will be whiter than snow…

I cannot do this on my own. Only with Your help can I grow to be more and more like Jesus, as long as I live this side of eternity.

I hand my life over to Your gaze and Your sanctifying work… in Jesus’ name, Amen.

 

Wednesday, September 1: 2Kings 9- Judgment will happen.

These are gruesome days in Israel.  Sin is mounting and God’s avenging hand begins to strike the house of Ahab. These events were prophesied by Elijah in 1Kings 19.

My heart cringes as I read this chapter. I am not comfortable with all the bloodshed and brutality.

God’s judgment is not pretty. Sin, rebellion, idolatry are grievous actions against the Lord and justice demands that they be dealt with…

My mind floats from these scenes to ones in the Book of Revelation.  There will come a day when God executes His final judgment and that day will not be pretty either.

The Apostle’s Creed reminds us… “Jesus will come to judge the quick and the dead.” One of the core tenets of scripture is that God will execute His judgment. Today’s reading declares to my heart, “God’s judgment is real and it will happen in His sovereign timing.”

Lord, my heart cringes at the thought of Your judgment.  That could be me… that should be me. At that moment, I saw in a different light what Jesus’ death on the cross means. He received in His body the execution of judgment reserved for me. He took my punishment. O, God, I don’t have words to express my THANK YOU. Were it not for Your grace, I would still be marked as guilty and deserving of Your judgment.

Yet, I have been saved by Your grace.  I have not onlybeen  spared from Your wrath, I have been adopted into Your family and given the birthright of eternity with You when life here on earth ends for me…

All of this and more through faith in Jesus Christ, my Lord. O, O Thank You. O, O praise you… Amen