2 Chronicles 11:5-17

Rehoboam Fortifies Judah

Opening Illustration/Comments

There was an old song by Sam Cooke that was entitled, “What A Wonderful That Would Be!” It’s chorus was “I do know that I love you and if you love me too, what a wonderful world that would be!” That title seems appropriate for this morning’s blog. What A Wonderful World That Would Be. What a wonderful world it would be if there was truly unity in the church. If we loved each other enough to seek unity, what a wonderful world that would be. However, the history of the church provides us evidence that unity is a problem for man. This scripture passage demonstrates that throughout the history of God’s people, we have let pride get in the way of unity. Unity requires that we on all side of an issue submit ourselves to the Lord. We have not always done that as God’s people and in particular as the church that Jesus left behind.

There are those seminal moments in the life of the church, in general, and of local churches, and of individual Christ followers. Throughout the ages, there have been defining moments, for the church, in general, such as October 31, 1517 when Martin Luther nailed his 95 objections as to how corrupt and off course the church had become.

Taking a little explanative detour for those who don’t understand, why the church is made up of so many names nowadays. Since 1517, the original church is Catholic Church with a capital C. But Catholic is the English word derived from the Latin word, catholicus, which means universal. Up until the Reformation Day just noted there was just the universal church, the one church universal. Nobody thought about different factions back in the first century up to the 16th century. There was just the church – the collective body of believers in Jesus Christ. We are still collective, all denominations and flavors on our signs, as the general church now but we are all fractured into Catholics and Protestants (the original church and the all encompassing term, Protestant, for all who are not part of the original or catholic church). Then within Protestantism, we are all kind of fractured up into hundreds of denominations, including United Methodists, Southern Baptists, Presbyterians, Episcopalians, non-demoninational independent churches and so on.

To view the multiplicity of fractures within Christ’s church on earth since the early 16th century from a negative viewpoint is that man is terribly stubborn. While the New Testament repeatedly tells us in its various books that we are to seek unity, we are often very prideful as those in authority in the church. Often, we do not seek unity. We are not willing to give an inch. However, the Bible calls us to seek unity. God desire multiplication from us not division. God would much rather see church planting than church splits. He would rather see the pie get larger than divvying up the existing pie. It seems that the lack of unity within the church in general relates to the fact that one side or the other in these fractures was unwilling to consider the view of the other side. One side or both in these fractures was not willing to take correction from Scripture itself. In these fractures, there has to have been a side or both sides that could not see how their actions or desires were contrary to Scripture. Jesus himself tells us to seek unity in various statements in the Gospel of Matthew. Paul continually hits on the issue of reconciliation and unity within the church in his epistles to the churches he planted and mentored. Therefore, it is incumbent upon us as Christians to set aside our personal preferences and, most of all, our pride so that its not personal. Those on opposing sides should have the humility to seek what Scripture tells us on the doctrinal issues over which we battle. Seeking what the Holy Spirit tells us, not what our pride tells us, and not what cultural appeasement may lead us to do should lead us to the universal and timeless truths that He has led men toward throughout the history of the church. Both side must be willing to humble themselves before the Word of God and the Holy Spirit’s protection of what His Word means in its timeless and universal truth. How unwilling have been as the general church over the centuries?

To view the multiplicity of fractures from a positive viewpoint, often, these fractures have been necessary. Certainly, some of the fractures within Protestantism are not over things that save souls but rather differing takes on certain doctrines that emerge from God’s Word. However, there have been those fundamental doctrinal issues that have caused splits such as the break between Protestants and the original church, the Catholic Church and between the original church and what is now the Eastern Orthodox church. Those splits were about significant doctrinal issues of the church – about the authority of Scripture over leaders of the church, about whether Scripture alone is the authority vs. accumulated non-scriptural traditions and judgments of the church. In the Reformation split that gave birth to Protestantism, it was a necessary split to return the church to Scripture. It had veered off into all kinds of non-scriptural beliefs and practices all in the name of the political expediencies of the leader of the church, the Pope. The Reformation called the original church, the Catholic Church to reform itself and return to solo scriptura – only Scripture. The Reformation called the church to return to it’s true love, the Word of God. The Reformation called the church to return to measuring itself by God’s Word. The Reformation called the church to return to the simple gospel. The Catholic Church refused to reform in prideful arrogance and the split was necessary so that there was an avenue of Christianity that was being true to God’s Word and His Word alone. There comes a point when reconciliation is not possible and it is necessary to stand on Scripture and let the chips fall where they may. When one side is intractable in NOT submitting itself to the Holy Spirit’s guidance and protection of the biblical doctrines coming forth from the Word of God, we must seek to protect the church by splitting with those who would take the church into a direction that is not scriptural and that is in opposition to what the Holy Spirit has led man to understand about God’s Word throughout the history of His Word.

When the current pandemic finally dies out, whenever that may be, the denomination of which I am a part will have to return to the issue that has us at the brink of fracture. The United Methodist Church is grappling with the issue of human sexuality. It has gotten to the point where the denomination is considering fracture into separate denominations over the issue. The question is, is this an issue in which both sides have fully submitted themselves to the guidance of the Holy Spirit on the issue at hand. The Holy Spirit should be the one to whom we are all submitted on both sides. If that were the case, the Holy Spirit would guide all concerned to the universal and timeless truth of the Word of God. The Holy Spirit has led believers to understand His truth about human sexuality for thousands of years. God never changes course and the Holy Spirit has always guided us to His truth. The Holy Spirit is not subject to current or previous cultural norms when divinely inspiring those who wrote His Word and thus His Word is true for all time without cultural bias. Therefore, this is a doctrinal issue about the validity of the Holy Spirit’s protection of His Word and the truth that emerges from its pages. Therefore, we should all submit ourselves to the Holy Spirit’s guidance on this issue, set our pride aside, seek His Will and if we are wrong, admit it and seek reconciliation with one another and forgiveness from God for getting sidetracked from the real business of the church, leading people to the saving grace of Jesus Christ and then deepening their relationship with Him through discipleship.

It is that idea of protecting God’s church by protecting His Word that I thought about this morning when reading this passage, 2 Chronicles 11:5-17. Let’s read through it this morning, together, with that idea in mind:

Scripture Passage

5 Rehoboam remained in Jerusalem and fortified various towns for the defense of Judah. 6 He built up Bethlehem, Etam, Tekoa, 7 Beth-zur, Soco, Adullam, 8 Gath, Mareshah, Ziph, 9 Adoraim, Lachish, Azekah, 10 Zorah, Aijalon, and Hebron. These became the fortified towns of Judah and Benjamin. 11 Rehoboam strengthened their defenses and stationed commanders in them, and he stored supplies of food, olive oil, and wine. 12 He also put shields and spears in these towns as a further safety measure. So only Judah and Benjamin remained under his control.

13 But all the priests and Levites living among the northern tribes of Israel sided with Rehoboam. 14 The Levites even abandoned their pasturelands and property and moved to Judah and Jerusalem, because Jeroboam and his sons would not allow them to serve the Lord as priests. 15 Jeroboam appointed his own priests to serve at the pagan shrines, where they worshiped the goat and calf idols he had made. 16 From all the tribes of Israel, those who sincerely wanted to worship the Lord, the God of Israel, followed the Levites to Jerusalem, where they could offer sacrifices to the Lord, the God of their ancestors. 17 This strengthened the kingdom of Judah, and for three years they supported Rehoboam son of Solomon, for during those years they faithfully followed in the footsteps of David and Solomon..

Passage Analysis

In this passage, we see that, before the nation split, the center of worship was in Jerusalem and people flocked there for the three annual festivals prescribed for the entire nation to celebrate together. During the rest of the year, other worship services and rituals were conducted in the respective lands of each tribe. These services and rituals were officiated by priests and Levites who lived in the 48 Levitical cities scattered throughout Israel (as prescribed by God through Moses). They offered God’s prescribed and ordained Old Testament sacrifices, taught and interpreted God’s Law, and encouraged the people to continue to follow God and to avoid the pagan influences of the Gentiles living among them and of the cultures/nations that surrounded Israel.

After the nation split, Jeroboam, the new king of the now separate northern kingdom, saw these priests as a threat to the stability of his new kingdom, since these priests and Levites were loyal to and took their direction from the elders of the Temple in Jerusalem, the capital previously of the entire nation and still the capital of the now, rival southern kingdom. To insulate his new nation from the influence that may have come from the religious center of Israelite life in Jerusalem, he terminated the existing priests and Levites and instituted priest that would be loyal to Him rather than Jerusalem. As a result, the rightful and hereditary priests and Levites were de facto unemployed and felt ethically compelled to not stand by and watch these false priests and their king lead the people into idolatry. So, they all moved south to the southern kingdom, where at this time, they were still worshiping the one true God.

By their actions, they preserved their integrity and, secondarily, they strengthened the southern kingdom. In the future after this moment, most of the people in the northern kingdom would go along with the evil designs of the northern kings, hoping to benefit or at least have a nice quiet life by cooperating. Sound like anything we might have to make a choice on in the future?

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Life Application

I think the thing that we need to takeaway this morning is that we are to seek unity in the church – whether it be in the local expressions of the church, the local church, or whether it be in the global sense of the church, the collective of all believers in Jesus Christ. We are all to first check our hearts and souls over issues that divide us. We must determine if it is our pride and arrogance that prevents us from seeking unity within the church. We must determine if we have submitted ourselves to the leadership and guidance of the Holy Spirit on an issue dividing us. That soul searching analysis is important because the Holy Spirit should be the one determining our next steps on issues that divide the church, not our personal preferences or our pride. Let us be an humble people and submit ourselves to the Lord and admit when we are wrong. Let us reconcile with one another and seek forgiveness from one another when we have come to blows and let our pride get in the way. Let us seek forgiveness from God when we are wrong about what His Word says. Let us seek forgiveness from God when we have tried to twist His universal and timeless truths so that it meets our personal preferences, meets some political expediency, or makes God’s Word more appealing to culture. Let us submit ourselves to God’s Word and not God’s Word to ourselves. Let us preserve God’s Word inviolate. When we let God’s Word reign over us all, our hearts and souls will be changed when we are wrong and reconciliation can then occur and unity will result. What a wonderful world that would be!

Amen and Amen.

2 Chronicles 11:1-4

Shemaiah’s Prophecy

Opening Illustration/Comments

There was a Church Growth & Revitalization professor of mine that once told us during a lecture that “sometimes, you have to choose who you are going to lose!” That was a pretty profound one-liner. It was an eye-catcher. He went on to say that in churches that often the people themselves are the reason a church is dying not any external factors. He said often there are those in churches who have lost sight of the original vision of a church when it was founded. That vision for all churches regardless of era or regardless of place is quite simple – to deepen the walk of believers with their Master, Jesus Christ, and to drawn non-believers into our midst so that we can share the Good News with them. Ultimately, the two-fold purpose of churches are, in their barest essence, discipleship and evangelism. Many other activities hang off those two pegs of a church but when you boil any of these other activities down to their core – they are can be classified as one or the other. These main two principles are the two-fold purpose of the church – to deepen the well and to broaden the base of those who call the well home.

Sometimes, churches get turned sideways and lose sight of the core of what churches are supposed to be all about, then, division can set in. Why? Because once we lose sight of our main two purposes, church can then become about serving ourselves and what we want and what we think we need. Once we lose sight of our main two purposes, a church can begin to have an inward focus rather than an outward one. Then it becomes about one’s pet preferences jockeying against other pet preferences. When we have an inward focus, these things can cause us to begin fighting with each other instead of facing outward in unity. Sometimes, God has to shake things up in churches when people refuse to seek reconciliation and keep things stirred up. Just as when the northern kingdom split from the southern kingdom because of Rehoboam’s unbiblical and sinister plan to burden the people even further than his father with more and more taxes, there have been instances in churches where the only solution to regain the two fold purpose of the church was for their to be a split. Sure, we as Christ followers are to seek reconciliation and do that through mutually finding out what God’s will is instead of our own, but there are times when we as sinful people just simply refuse to see anything but our own way. Sometimes, we wrap up our personal opinions in the moniker of the will of God and mistake our own self-interests for the will of God. When that happens, often reconciliation cannot be found.

God has a greater purpose, the two-fold purpose, for every church. To deepen and to broaden the pool of believers in Jesus Christ. When we get sidetracked from that through dissension and in-fighting and prideful refusals to seek reconciliation, then sometimes the only answer is to forge a new road. God has allowed splits in the church when there has been refusal to seek reconciliation and mutually find God’s will such as the split off of the Protestant churches from the mothership original church, the Catholic Church (catholic is Latin for universal). Sometimes, as my professor said, “you have to choose who you lose, sometimes!” Sometimes, God has to clean out that which is impeding the church from its two-fold purpose so that it can get back to the work of the church intended by God.

It is that idea of wondering why God allowed this rebellion, this split up of the united Israelite kingdom to stand that I thought about this morning when reading this passage, 2 Chronicles 11:1-4. Let’s read through it this morning, together, with that idea in mind:

Scripture Passage

Chapter 11

1 When Rehoboam arrived at Jerusalem, he mobilized the men of Judah and Benjamin—180,000 select troops—to fight against Israel and to restore the kingdom to himself.

2 But the Lord said to Shemaiah, the man of God, 3 “Say to Rehoboam son of Solomon, king of Judah, and to all the Israelites in Judah and Benjamin: 4 ‘This is what the Lord says: Do not fight against your relatives. Go back home, for what has happened is my doing!’” So they obeyed the message of the Lord and did not fight against Jeroboam.

Passage Analysis

In this passage, we see that Rehoboam’s foolishness divided the kingdom in two and that he was going to try to reunite it by force. We also see that God interceded and allowed the rebellion to take life. It was part of the entire nation’s punishment for beginning to turn away from God (see 1 Kings 11:1). There are several things to take note of here. First, it may have been God’s way of preserving the Davidic royal line from defeat. The two smaller tribes that would become the kingdom of Judah would have been vastly outnumbered by the 10 other tribes that would become the northern kingdom. Though Judah was the largest tribe of Israel and add the smallest in Benjamin, the southern kingdom would have had a good sized fighting force, they would have simply been outnumbered by the collective forces of the 10 other tribes in the north. In allowing the rebellion to stand, God may have preserved David’s line and kept intact His plan for the Messiah to be a descendant of David (see 2 Samuel 7:16).

Although we should always lead with reconciliation where we resolve disputes, sometimes, people are hellbent on creating division. God desires unity and we must seek to work together to resolve our differences such that unity is the result. However, not all attempts at reconciliation will succeed. God, then, at times, will allow a split within a group so that the remaining folks can concentrate of accomplishing God’s will for the group rather than be caught up with inwardly focused struggles that only destroy the witness of God’s people to a community through a local body of believers.

Life Application

I think the thing that we need to takeaway this morning is that we are to seek reconciliation in all conflicts in a loving manner. There should be every attempt made for both sides to come together and have the humility to seek God’s will and not our own. If we are being true to Christ, we will be seeking God’s will instead of our own. However, Satan loves to turn churches sideways with dissension resulting from pride. That way, he distracts us from our main purposes – discipleship and evangelism. There comes a point in our lives, personally and with churches, where one side simply refuses to let go of their own self-interest and seek God’s true will. In those situations, we cannot compromise our biblical beliefs nor the mission of the church. Not all attempts at reconciliation will be successful. Let us all make sure that we have tried to reconcile and that we are not mistaking our own self-will for that of God’s. If we can assure ourselves that we are in alignment with God’s will and with Scripture, then, there are times we have to draw the line in the sand and get back to the business of discipleship and evangelism. Those who refuse to let go of their own self-interest may walk away at this point and that may be OK if we get back to the business of Christ’s church as a result. That’s not to say that the door is closed on that person or that group. We would be remiss as Christians if we did not welcome them back with open arms when they have come around to God’s will. Reconciliation through God’s will is always our aim.

Amen and Amen.

2 Chronicles 9:29-10:19

The Northern Tribes Revolt

Opening Illustration/Comments

Rehoboam reminds me of people that I have run across in my life a few times. There are those who have had people hurt them based on their view of reality. Sometimes, it was simply a perceived hurt and not an actual direct hurt. You know the type. We have all met them and have had to deal with them.  As I was saying, we have all probably had to deal with that person who have had someone to hurt them so they cut that person out of their lives and proceed to try to destroy them or their reputation. Following that line of “reasoning”, anyone that you claim as a friend cannot both be friends with you and friends with that person. Then, there becomes an ever widening circle of people that they exclude from their lives. The logic being well they are friends with Person B and Person B is friends with Person A (the original person that had hurt them). So, then, if you are Person C and you are friends with Person B, then they can’t be friends with you because you are friends with Person C who is friends with Person B who is friends with that dreaded Person A.

Such people we must pray for because, the cancer of cancelling people out of their lives because of real or perceived hurts and then the ever widening circle of excluded people grows and grows. Such people end up excluding everyone from their lives. We all have met these people. They only see the world based on their view of things. Those who are friends for any length of time are those that only confirm or conform to this person’s view of life. It is a shrinking world in which they live because we are all not alike and have our own likes, dislikes, and motivations. To be friends with this kind of person, you gotta to have a copy of “the list” of personas non-gratas in their lives.

How do I know this? It was exactly what I saw my first wife do with her life, all her life. You were either for her or against her and there was conflict with someone all the time. No middle ground. No grace. No realizing that people could be friends with her and a person that she did not like. Only seeing the world from their own view of things. There was an ever-increasing list of people who were on “the list” of personas non-gratas. You either defended her point of view or you were not her friend. There was no ability to see other people’s points of views. My prayer was that in her final lonely years before she died at age 55 that she found peace with others that she had written off over the years. My prayer was that she released “her list” and found some joy.

That was what I immediately thought when reading about Rehoboam. There was no recognition of the fact that we are all individuals with our own motivations, own joys, own sorrows, own burdens, that cause us to see life in a slightly different way from one another. To function properly in this world, we must give each other grace and true forgiveness. It is that idea of solely seeing the world through how it affects you personally with no empathy for others that I thought about this morning when reading this passage, 2 Chronicles 9:29-10:19. Let’s read through it this morning, together, with that idea in mind:

Scripture Passage

29 The rest of the events of Solomon’s reign, from beginning to end, are recorded in The Record of Nathan the Prophet, and The Prophecy of Ahijah from Shiloh, and also in The Visions of Iddo the Seer, concerning Jeroboam son of Nebat. 30 Solomon ruled in Jerusalem over all Israel for forty years. 31 When he died, he was buried in the City of David, named for his father. Then his son Rehoboam became the next king.

Chapter 10

1 Rehoboam went to Shechem, where all Israel had gathered to make him king. 2 When Jeroboam son of Nebat heard of this, he returned from Egypt, for he had fled to Egypt to escape from King Solomon. 3 The leaders of Israel summoned him, and Jeroboam and all Israel went to speak with Rehoboam. 4 “Your father was a hard master,” they said. “Lighten the harsh labor demands and heavy taxes that your father imposed on us. Then we will be your loyal subjects.”

5 Rehoboam replied, “Come back in three days for my answer.” So the people went away.

6 Then King Rehoboam discussed the matter with the older men who had counseled his father, Solomon. “What is your advice?” he asked. “How should I answer these people?”

7 The older counselors replied, “If you are good to these people and do your best to please them and give them a favorable answer, they will always be your loyal subjects.”

8 But Rehoboam rejected the advice of the older men and instead asked the opinion of the young men who had grown up with him and were now his advisers. 9 “What is your advice?” he asked them. “How should I answer these people who want me to lighten the burdens imposed by my father?”

10 The young men replied, “This is what you should tell those complainers who want a lighter burden: ‘My little finger is thicker than my father’s waist! 11 Yes, my father laid heavy burdens on you, but I’m going to make them even heavier! My father beat you with whips, but I will beat you with scorpions!’”

12 Three days later Jeroboam and all the people returned to hear Rehoboam’s decision, just as the king had ordered. 13 But Rehoboam spoke harshly to them, for he rejected the advice of the older counselors 14 and followed the counsel of his younger advisers. He told the people, “My father laid[a] heavy burdens on you, but I’m going to make them even heavier! My father beat you with whips, but I will beat you with scorpions!”

15 So the king paid no attention to the people. This turn of events was the will of God, for it fulfilled the Lord’s message to Jeroboam son of Nebat through the prophet Ahijah from Shiloh.

16 When all Israel realized[b] that the king had refused to listen to them, they responded,

“Down with the dynasty of David!

    We have no interest in the son of Jesse.

Back to your homes, O Israel!

    Look out for your own house, O David!”

So all the people of Israel returned home. 17 But Rehoboam continued to rule over the Israelites who lived in the towns of Judah.

18 King Rehoboam sent Adoniram,[c] who was in charge of forced labor, to restore order, but the people of Israel stoned him to death. When this news reached King Rehoboam, he quickly jumped into his chariot and fled to Jerusalem. 19 And to this day the northern tribes of Israel have refused to be ruled by a descendant of David..

Passage Analysis

In this passage, we see that Rehoboam must have gotten an unbalanced picture of leadership from his father, Solomon. Apparently, Rehoboam saw only the difficulty of leading the nation, not the opportunities. He mentioned only the harsher aspects of Solomon’s rule and he, himself, decided to be very harsh toward the people of the unified nation. He must have known that the nation had grown weary of the heavy tax burdens Solomon had placed on them to fund all of his projects around the country and to ensure his own luxury. However, he did not listen to the advise of the elder statesmen of the nation but rather listened to the young bucks that were part of his own entourage. These were his friends who were naturally going to support whatever the king, their friend (and maybe their friend because he was a royal heir), was saying. They lacked the wisdom to see the bigger picture of what was good for the nation.

Often, we do the same thing as Rehoboam when we seek out confirmation from only those that will confirm or conform to our opinion and views of things. Often, we discard the opinions and advise of others when it is contrary to our own desire. Often, we cut people out of our lives because they don’t seem to validate our own opinions about things. That certainly happened here, Rehoboam was very harsh with those who did not view things in the same way that he did and it ended up costing him half his country.

Life Application

I think the thing that we need to takeaway this morning is that one of the very basic tenets of our faith is that we, ourselves, do not deserve the unmerited gift of grace given to us in the cross by Jesus. We are all sinners who, on our own merits, do not deserve to have been given grace by Jesus. We are career sin criminals who have been given a reprieve from the sentence we deserve (hell) by Jesus taking our punishment for sin. All we have to do is to believe that Jesus is the Son of God and that his death on the cross was God’s way of wiping out the penalty of our sins so that we could be covered in Christ’s righteousness. Equally, we must believe that Jesus rose from the dead to give us hope that there is victory over sin and death. That is the ultimate grace gift. Just believe in Jesus and the career sin criminals that deserve eternal punishment in hell that we are, become right with God.

Why is it that we can not operate that way with each other? Why can’t we empathize with others? Why can’t we give them grace? Hate consumes and only love gives life. Half the time, people don’t even realize that they are on “your list”. That’s when talking things out, even when they are uncomfortable, is the Christian thing to do. We are supposed to seek reconciliation with others not war. We are supposed to seek to clear up misunderstandings rather than hating another person for a perceived slap in our faces. That’s a point the Lord has been driving home to me lately is of Paul’s idea of we must be about “the ministry of reconciliation” as Paul put it in 2 Corinthians 5:18-19. In our churches and in our personal relationships, we should always seek reconciliation rather than war. We should seek grace rather than gossip. We should have those direct “you’ve hurt me and here’s how and why” conversations where we can work through difficulties and get reconciled. Rehoboam only saw his point of view and no one else’s and did not seek to reconcile himself to his nation. He did not seek reconciliation. He was not about making peace. He would have rather lost the whole world than admit that he was wrong. It cost his almost his whole world. Are we like Rehoboam with some people in our lives? Go be reconciled. We are in the ministry of reconciliation. We are peacemakers. We have been given grace. Let us give it to others.

Amen and Amen.

2 Chronicles 9:13-28

Solomon’s Wealth and Splendor

Opening Illustration/Comments

Is God against us being wealthy? In most everything you read in the Bible, wealthy people are often blinded by their possessions or are evil people. So, one might think that the Bible is against us being wealthy. Even in modern society, those who are wealthy are often seen as aloof, remote, uncaring, and insulated from the real problems of real people and do not think of what their business decisions will do to the common man. It is especially acute it seems in this decade in which we are living presently. There is a growing socialist movement in our country where wealth is seen as sinister and where there is a sense of entitlement where we all should have the same wealth as the wealthy. Thus, there is a common consensus almost, it seems, that wealth is either wrong or at least undesirable for society. But, in free economic systems such as in the United States, people keep getting wealthy.

Some are wealthy for certain because of inheritance, but many wealthy folks have become wealthy during their own lifetimes. Take Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon, for example. According to celebanswers.com, Jeff Bezos was not born rich. Bezos’ mother had him when she was seventeen years old and his father Ted was eighteen. The teen pregnancy meant that the two had barely any money to their names. Jeff’s biological father worked at Walmart. His mother was a bank teller and high school student at the beginning of his life. As teenage parents, Jacklyn and Ted did not have much and their marriage quickly fell apart. Ted Jorgensen recalls in this USA Today interview that “”I wasn’t a good father or a good husband.” It was not long after Jeff was born that the two split. When Jeff was four years old, Jackie remarried to Mike Bezos. From his stepdad, Jeff learned of the toughness and grittiness that is needed when you are a poor immigrant and come to America and scratch out a good life through sheer determination. Jeff excelled in school and landed at Princeton, the school from which he graduated in 1986. He held various jobs in the tech start up field and in banking and in investments for the next 8 years, a positive beginning to any career by normal standards. During a cross-country drive from New York to Seattle, he devised the idea for a little company called Amazon. Because of Amazon’s unique nature and its emphasis on delivery speed, it is now the largest online retailer in the world and by 2018, Jeff Bezos had achieved the status of wealthiest man in the world. Amazon began in his garage and he told his family of invested that gave him his start up capital of $200,000 in 1996 that the company would likely fail or go bankrupt within three years. However, for the risks taken by Jeff, leaving his comfortable career and starting a brand new company in his garage, and by family members, they all have been handsomely rewarded for taking those risks.

Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and many others who have brilliant ideas that no one else has thought of and risk everything to begin garage companies are all great stories of people with vision who have been rewarded for it. More often than not, these folks were often just middle class folks who saw a need that could be filled by their idea and bet everything on that. Wealth comes to those who take risks. But, there are many who would condemn these people as wealthy and greedy but yet where were their critics when these guys were eating peanut butter sandwiches as they started up their companies in their garages? Aren’t we all glad that these guys took the risks they took and made the world a more efficient or easier in some way? Wealth was acquired through ingenuity and smart business management.

So, as we have seen, when economies are allowed freedom to operate, people can be inventive and ingenious and will be rewarded by the economy for their efforts. But, yet, there seems to be this disdain once you are rewarded by the economy. The world seems to love the fact that you are creating a company in your garage, but yet when, the idea takes off and the wealth comes, you are made into a sinister person by the culture in which we live today. Does that come from our biblical roots (even though we are no longer a biblically based society)? Does the Bible disdain wealth and any surface reading of the Bible might imply without studying deeper?

It is that idea of whether the Bible condemns the accumulation of wealth that I thought about this morning when reading this passage, 2 Chronicles 9:13-28. Let’s read through it this morning, together, with that idea in mind:

Scripture Passage

13 The weight of gold that came to Solomon in one year was six hundred sixty-six talents of gold, 14 besides that which the traders and merchants brought; and all the kings of Arabia and the governors of the land brought gold and silver to Solomon. 15 King Solomon made two hundred large shields of beaten gold; six hundred shekels of beaten gold went into each large shield. 16 He made three hundred shields of beaten gold; three hundred shekels of gold went into each shield; and the king put them in the House of the Forest of Lebanon. 17 The king also made a great ivory throne, and overlaid it with pure gold. 18 The throne had six steps and a footstool of gold, which were attached to the throne, and on each side of the seat were arm rests and two lions standing beside the arm rests, 19 while twelve lions were standing, one on each end of a step on the six steps. The like of it was never made in any kingdom. 20 All King Solomon’s drinking vessels were of gold, and all the vessels of the House of the Forest of Lebanon were of pure gold; silver was not considered as anything in the days of Solomon. 21 For the king’s ships went to Tarshish with the servants of Huram; once every three years the ships of Tarshish used to come bringing gold, silver, ivory, apes, and peacocks.[a]

22 Thus King Solomon excelled all the kings of the earth in riches and in wisdom. 23 All the kings of the earth sought the presence of Solomon to hear his wisdom, which God had put into his mind. 24 Every one of them brought a present, objects of silver and gold, garments, weaponry, spices, horses, and mules, so much year by year. 25 Solomon had four thousand stalls for horses and chariots, and twelve thousand horses, which he stationed in the chariot cities and with the king in Jerusalem. 26 He ruled over all the kings from the Euphrates to the land of the Philistines, and to the border of Egypt. 27 The king made silver as common in Jerusalem as stone, and cedar as plentiful as the sycamore of the Shephelah. 28 Horses were imported for Solomon from Egypt and from all lands.

Passage Analysis

In this passage, we see that in accumulating chariots, horses, and much gold, he acquired a huge harem (see 1 Kings 11:1-3) and much, much wealth, Solomon became enamored with his own wealth and power. The more luxurious Solomon’s court became and the ambitious civic projects became, the more the people were taxed. Excessive taxation would lead to a brooding unrest in Israelite society toward the end of Solomon’s reign. As the unrest grew, the country became ripe for revolution. As he became more and more blinded by material possessions and wealth, Solomon allowed ungodly influences to enter his court through his intermarriage with wives who worshiped pagan gods. The spiritual decline of Israel that we read of in the books of Kings and the books of Chronicles begins amidst the glory and splendor that was Israel under Solomon.

Life Application

I think the thing that we need to takeaway this morning is that, yes, the Bible does often demonstrate that the wealthy often are blinded by the wealth and fall into sin. However, money or wealth, in and of itself, is not evil. It is only when we allow our wealth take first place in our hearts over God. When we make anything, wealth included (or even the lack of wealth), more important than our relationship with God, then we have fallen into sin.

God does not condemn anyone for having riches. Riches come to people from many sources, but He gives grave warnings to those who seek after them more than they seek after God and trust in them more than in God. His greatest desire is for us to set our hearts on things above and not on things on this earth. This may sound very high and unobtainable, but Paul wrote, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13 NKJV). The secret is knowing Christ as Savior and allowing the Holy Spirit to conform our minds and heart to His (Romans 12:1-2).

Thus, what God expects from us when He allows us to become wealthy through His gift of our unique mind and attributes or that of our forebearers is that we must use our wealth in ways that will glorify God. Does that mean we can’t live a comfortable life? No, God is not against us having nice things either. However, again, when they become our gods instead of Him, He does condemn that. However, if we keep our wealth in the right perspective, by viewing it of God allowing us to be generous to others, generous to our church, to use our wealth to help others who are being prevented from experiencing the full glory and love of God, to use our wealth in ways that will help others be lifted up (and that can be through creating companies that employ people and running those companies in ways that employees know they are loved, cared for, and feel safe). Wealth when kept in the proper perspective can be God-glorifying. Let us remember that all of our skills, intellect, and attributes are God-given. When we use those gifts to be ingenious and come up with a product or service that is needed or wanted, God is not offended if we become wealthy as a result. God will bless our wealth as long as it does not become our god. As long as we praise God for the wealth HE HAS GIVEN US and treat it in the same way as our salvation, an unmerited gift from Him, then we will have our wealth in proper perspective. We will then view it as a way that God has granted us to be able to expand His kingdom.

Amen and Amen.

2 Chronicles 9:1-12

Solomon’s Many Achievements

Opening Illustration/Comments

Have ever ran into one of those personalities that just seems to have it all together? Back in high school or college, it was the guy who was the quarterback of the football team, dated the head cheerleader, was academically gifted as well, and was the student body president. Weren’t you just all kinds of jealous of those guys. You would like to think that there was some way in which you were superior to them, but by the looks of things, you just came up short in comparison in every category. In the normal process of things, you were either an academic or a jock, never both. There was no way to feel superior to this dude.

In the post academic world, there were those employees that were good looking, smart as a whip, dressed perfectly, had perfect hair, and were always on the fast track to stardom within your company. Don’t ya just feel all kinds of jealous of those guys? Then in the pastoral world, there are pastors that seem to have eaten the Bible and can quote chapter and verse on demand. They are good looking. They are pastors at the big churches. They have written books. They lecture and speak at seminars and their sermons are powerfully moving. Even pastors can have the human emotion of “why did this guys get all the looks and all the press and the ability to preach the way he does?”

That was the thing that impressed me about the Queen of Sheba in this passage, she realized pretty quickly that Solomon was smarter and probably more successful by human standards than she was. Instead of being jealous, she became a big fan of Solomon. She could have sulked and acted all jealous like most of us would but she didn’t. She realized that Solomon was superior to her by all human standards, but rather than be green with envy, she pronounced a prayer over him and praised him. That took some real humility. And I admire her for that. She was a queen over a country herself so she was no slouch. Yet, she knew that Solomon was way more talented than she was and she praised God for it instead of being jealous.

It is that idea of having humility enough to realize that God may have talented others in human endeavors than you that I thought about this morning when reading this passage, 2 Chronicles 9:1-12. Let’s read through it this morning, together, with that idea in mind:

Scripture Passage

Chapter 9

1 When the queen of Sheba heard of the fame of Solomon, she came to Jerusalem to test him with hard questions, having a very great retinue and camels bearing spices and very much gold and precious stones. When she came to Solomon, she discussed with him all that was on her mind. 2 Solomon answered all her questions; there was nothing hidden from Solomon that he could not explain to her. 3 When the queen of Sheba had observed the wisdom of Solomon, the house that he had built, 4 the food of his table, the seating of his officials, and the attendance of his servants, and their clothing, his valets, and their clothing, and his burnt offerings[a] that he offered at the house of the Lord, there was no more spirit left in her.

5 So she said to the king, “The report was true that I heard in my own land of your accomplishments and of your wisdom, 6 but I did not believe the[b] reports until I came and my own eyes saw it. Not even half of the greatness of your wisdom had been told to me; you far surpass the report that I had heard. 7 Happy are your people! Happy are these your servants, who continually attend you and hear your wisdom! 8 Blessed be the Lord your God, who has delighted in you and set you on his throne as king for the Lord your God. Because your God loved Israel and would establish them forever, he has made you king over them, that you may execute justice and righteousness.” 9 Then she gave the king one hundred twenty talents of gold, a very great quantity of spices, and precious stones: there were no spices such as those that the queen of Sheba gave to King Solomon.

10 Moreover the servants of Huram and the servants of Solomon who brought gold from Ophir brought algum wood and precious stones. 11 From the algum wood, the king made steps[c] for the house of the Lord and for the king’s house, lyres also and harps for the singers; there never was seen the like of them before in the land of Judah.

12 Meanwhile King Solomon granted the queen of Sheba every desire that she expressed, well beyond what she had brought to the king. Then she returned to her own land, with her servants.

Passage Analysis

In this passage, we see that the Queen of Sheba had heard about Solomon’s wisdom, but was overwhelmed when she saw for herself the fruits of that wisdom. The Queen of Sheba marveled that God must love his people greatly to give them such a king. Israel greatly prospered during Solomon’s reign. It was a witness to God’s blessings over His people and their king. When the queen realized the extent of Solomon’s wisdom, she turned from a competitor to an admirer. She even praised God and prayed for Solomon to continue to be blessed and to rule in justice and righteousness.

Life Application

I think the thing that we need to takeaway this morning is that we must realize that you and I are of great value to God. He made us in His own image. He gave us a unique set of talents and that set of talents together is possessed by no one else. He loves us so very much. He loves us so much that He sent Jesus to be the sacrifice for our sins before we were even a twinkle in our parents’ eyes. He is proud of His creation in you and in me. When we draw our value from God and have that peace that passes all understanding from a real and intimate relationship with God, then, jealousy is less of a need of our soul.

It is so easy to compare ourselves to others and when our focus is in horizontal comparison to others, yes, it may appear by human standards that others have it far better than you in all the human measures of things such as intelligence, notoriety, and skills. However, God has designed each one of us for a specific mission in his universe and no one else can do it but us. Our individual missions and callings from God are unique to us and designed for us only. Sure, some of us are designed by God to reach wide and broad audiences and to be leaders and influencers of vast groups, but that does not make His mission for your life any less important to God.

I know it’s hard to see that and to hear it and to read it. But, God, in his sovereignty, has a special mission for that guy who seems to have it all and is the cat’s meow to a broad group of people. AND AND AND, he has a special mission for you and for me, a guy who changed careers and is pastoring a small church in a small town in a sparsely populated region of South Carolina. I know that I am never going to be a Steven Furtick or one of those megachurch pastors nor am I sure than I wanna be. I am content with the mission he has given me. I have gotten to that place in life and in my relationship with Jesus that I don’t have to be the visible top guy on TV or in popularity. I don’t have to be that guy. And I am not jealous of the guy who is that guy.

I actually am now able to admire the guys who are the leaders in my field of endeavor. I can pray for them. I can learn from them. Just like Sheba did from Solomon. Though she was a queen in her own right, she had the humility to see that Solomon was more talented by human standards than her. Humility comes from knowing that you have value in the sight of God and that He has a unique mission for you where you are right now and in the future. It then doesn’t matter whether you are famous and seem to have it all or not.

Amen and Amen.

2 Chronicles 8:1-18 (Part 2 of 2)

Solomon’s Many Achievements

Opening Illustration/Comments

In the retail word, there is an age old maxim, “there are three things that are important: Location, Location, Location!” For our purposes in this blog for today, let’s change it up a bit. “In Bible study there are three important things: Context, Context, Context!”

Many of us have heard the very definitive and explicit statement, “if the Bible says it, it must be true!” When people say that, what they really mean is that they can drop a finger on any verse in the Bible and they will believe what it says. Such people often misuse the Bible by quoting verses out of context and thus misinterpreting what God is saying to us in a whole passage or whole book of the Bible.

We must remember the Bible is a mirror of humanity at its best and, more often, at its worst. Therefore, the Bible contains descriptions of human behavior at its worst as well as that which is godly. The Old Testament is generally a history of God’s chosen people. In the Old Testament, God uses the history of His people in all their sinful humanness as an eternal mirror for man to peer into. We see ugliness. We see sin. We see ourselves. We see God’s call to holiness and we see man’s failure to be holy as God is holy. We see pride. We see greed. We see murder. We see all those things that our sin nature (beginning at Genesis 3 and all forward after that) makes us see ourselves in the Israelite people. The Old Testament is a testament as to why we need Jesus.

The New Testament also shows us that even after the ministry of Jesus (where God in the flesh walked among us) we still had problems being His church. If everything had been rosy and perfect after Jesus returned to the Father, we would not have had need for any of the apostolic letters. The Bible shows us ourselves in all our ugliness and failure and then compares that to the holiness of God. The Bible is real lives of flawed people held up under a microscope in comparison to God’s holiness. In the real lives of biblical era people, we are to learn of our likeness to them each and every day and how we need Jesus to have hope of reconciliation to a perfect and holy God. That’s why I love the Bible. It’s real and it’s honest and it points us to our desperate need for a Savior in Jesus Christ. We see ourselves in all the imperfections of the characters of the Bible.

However, there are those have not really taken the time to study the Bible but read through it on occasion without deep thought so that we can check it off the checklist can default to such blanket statements as “if the Bible says it, it must be true”. We must remember that sometimes the characters in the Bible say things in their sinfulness that are evil or untrue. For example, In Acts 15:1, newly converted Jewish Pharisees says to the council of Christian elders in Jerusalem that, “Then certain individuals came down from Judea and were teaching the brothers, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.” This verse alone in isolation, under the “if the Bible says it, it must be true” mentality, then there are hoops that we have to jump through to be saved.

However, this verse must be taken in a larger context of late Chapter 14 and all of Chapter 15 of the Book of Acts. In the larger context of these two chapters, there was a raging debate within the young Christian church as to whether non-Jews who had accepted Christ as their Savior should have to become Jewish as part of salvation. What was determined by the Jerusalem elders, through researching books of the prophets in the Old Testament, was the prediction that God fully intended that salvation through the Messiah would come to non-Jews. Thus, the intent of the biblical laws and regulations for the Jewish people were to set them apart as different from all the pagan cultures around them so that the world would be drawn to them and it was to be through them that the Messiah would come. The Jerusalem council thus decided that Gentiles did not have to become Jews first to be saved. The Messiah was to bring salvation to all. Thus, faith alone is what is required of any person to be saved. That’s where we apply “If the Bible says it, it must be true!” It is that larger context of an overarching biblical principle repeated and confirmed throughout Scripture, faith alone brings salvation, nothing else.

All of this extended brings us to the point of whether the Bible condones slavery. We see it right here in this passage that the Bible mentions the great King Solomon conscripting foreigners (making them forced laborers) to do the work of building the Temple and the king’s palace. In isolation, this passage seems to imply that the Bible condones slavery or forced labor. Without seeing that the Bible, particularly the Old Testament, is a mirror to the darkness of our own souls by showing you the sins of our biblical forefathers, we might take these verses as saying that forced labor is OK. What do you think? Is that consistent with what the Bible’s overarching message is?

It is that idea of not reading verses in isolation and remember that the Bible is a mirror to us of our sinfulness through the actions of people in the Bible that I thought about this morning when reading this passage, 2 Chronicles 8:1-18. Let’s read through it this morning, together, with that idea in mind:

Scripture Passage

11 So Solomon finished the Temple of the Lord, as well as the royal palace. He completed everything he had planned to do in the construction of the Temple and the palace. 12 Then one night the Lord appeared to Solomon and said,

“I have heard your prayer and have chosen this Temple as the place for making sacrifices. 13 At times I might shut up the heavens so that no rain falls, or command grasshoppers to devour your crops, or send plagues among you. 14 Then if my people who are called by my name will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sins and restore their land. 15 My eyes will be open and my ears attentive to every prayer made in this place. 16 For I have chosen this Temple and set it apart to be holy—a place where my name will be honored forever. I will always watch over it, for it is dear to my heart.

17 “As for you, if you faithfully follow me as David your father did, obeying all my commands, decrees, and regulations, 18 then I will establish the throne of your dynasty. For I made this covenant with your father, David, when I said, ‘One of your descendants will always rule over Israel.’

19 “But if you or your descendants abandon me and disobey the decrees and commands I have given you, and if you serve and worship other gods, 20 then I will uproot the people from this land that I have given them. I will reject this Temple that I have made holy to honor my name. I will make it an object of mockery and ridicule among the nations. 21 And though this Temple is impressive now, all who pass by will be appalled. They will ask, ‘Why did the Lord do such terrible things to this land and to this Temple?’

22 “And the answer will be, ‘Because his people abandoned the Lord, the God of their ancestors, who brought them out of Egypt, and they worshiped other gods instead and bowed down to them. That is why he has brought all these disasters on them.”

Passage Analysis

In this passage, we see must ask the question, “does the Bible condone slavery or forced labor?” Taking mentions of it isolation without considering the larger picture and story of a book of the Bible and the Bible in whole, one might think that it is true. However, we must consider context always when studying the Bible (note that I said, study, and not just read!). In the context of this particular passage, Solomon was a great builder. And as such, he needed workers whom he secured through the institution of forced labor. This was not an uncommon practice in ancient times. So how should we read it-shall we read it as slavery or as employment? Has Solomon enslaved the masses or provided jobs? We tend to think of slavery as an ultimate evil of sorts, but the fact is that it was an accepted form of labor for thousands of years. Remember, after the Fall of Man in Eden, we have been sinful imperfect creatures and have been cruel and ugly to one another.  Thus, in the context of the larger picture of man being sinful, forced labor and enforced servitude were just a part of life as much as the sun coming up each morning. Our disillusionment with it is only about 300 years old-and only about 150 years old in America.

Given that God knew how sin had wracked us up into being horrible to one another, the Law and the regulations surrounding them as laid out in the first five books of the Bible have very extensive rules about how to treat slaves. Even in the New Testament, there was mention of how to properly treat those who were in servitude to you and about how to ensure that they were treated with dignity. The idea was to humanize and civilize an aspect of economic reality that virtually everyone accepted as a fact of life.

Does this make slavery acceptable in God’s eyes? Should we infer that by reading all of the slave and slavery references in the Bible that the Bible is OK with slavery. That’s where we must remember context. The overarching message of the Bible is that man is sinful and is in need of a Savior. Because of sin, our world is pretty messed up. The Bible does not whitewash how messed up man is. In a world that was wracked by sin and its results being man’s meanness to man, the Bible says all men have access to God through the Messiah. The Bible says that we are ALL created in His image. The Bible says here read in my pages of man’s inhumanity to man and compare it to the holiness of God. In that mirror, we shall see their need for a Savior and our own need for a Savior (since we can see ourselves in its pages). The Bible then calls us to be different as the people of God and seek the holy ways of God in our dealings with Him and with others. That’s the overarching message of the Bible. Many of its characters show us how far away from God we are and why we need the Messiah.

Life Application

I think the thing that we need to takeaway this morning is that we must study the Bible and not just read it. We must remember that we cannot read verses in isolation from their passages. We cannot read passages in isolation for the book in which they appear. We cannot read a book of the Bible in isolation from the role it plays in the overarching story and themes of the Bible as a whole. Understanding the Bible is more than just reading a passage in 10 minutes in the morning before you go to work. It requires thought and meditation on what we have read. Sometimes, it will require us to research what we have read amongst the biblical resources that are available to us. Sometimes, it will and should make us be troubled and think real hard and ask questions of others about what we have read. That’s how we learn. Give me Bible study instead of just Bible reading.

Further, in that line of thinking, help us to understand that the Bible shows us the ugliness of man in comparison to a holy God. Some of the things that characters in the Bible say are to demonstrate how wrong they are in comparison to God’s holiness and the overarching theme of the Bible. In the ugliness of sin of man throughout the Bible, it sure does confirm through their ugliness of our desperate need for a Savior. The fact that slavery is part of the landscape of the biblical era does not mean that the Bible condones it. The Bible is set in real history folks. It is not some fictional story. It is real people living in real historical moments. Because of the sinful nature of man, enslavement became a deeply ingrained part of the fabric of human society. Thus, shows us, in comparison to the overarching theme of the Bible, that it is wrong, but it also shows us in the midst of the ugliness we should treat those who are subject to it with the dignity that they deserve as children of God. Does that make enslavement right in God’s eyes? No. Thus, the Bible is, like I said, a mirror that compares man’s ugly sinfulness to the holiness of God and thereby points us toward Jesus Christ. It is only through faith in Him that we have any hope of rising above our ugly, sin filled nature and become more and more holy like Christ.

Amen and Amen.

2 Chronicles 8:1-18 (Part 1 of 2)

Solomon’s Many Achievements

Opening Illustration/Comments

Does it not seem that there are always areas of our life that are hardest to give up to the Lord? When we accept Christ as our Savior, the Holy Spirit comes into our dark souls and begins the renovation project. Although we are positionally covered in Christ’s righteousness when we have our true salvation moment and submit ourselves to his lordship, we begin a journey at that moment that involves the process called, in theological terms, sanctification. Our souls remain a dark place at the moment of salvation, but we are covered in the purity and light of Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit begins the lifelong work of sanctification at that moment. He begins cleaning the crud of sin off the windows of our soul and begins to let the light of the truth of God begin to shine through. As time progresses, some windows are easier to clean. These are the sins that because of our unique nature as individuals made by God are easier for us to walk away from. That same sin for somebody else might be the hardest to walk away from because their own uniqueness. We have those sins that we can just turn away from very easily. The Holy Spirit attacks those first and begins the process of making us more and more like Christ each day. The Holy Spirit changes us from the inside out one sin habit at a time. As time progresses too, there are those sins that are our weak spots, our sin strongholds, our sin weak spots. For each of us, there are a different combinations of pet sins that we refuse to submit to the rule of the Holy Spirit and we fight against Him coming to those windows and cleaning that crud. We want those sins. We love those sins. We want to continue to participate in those sins.

We see Solomon acting like us in this passage. He wants to play both sides of the fence. He wants to worship God and give God glory in virtually every area of his life except one. He wants to keep his ability to marry and have sex with whomever he wants. His marriage to Pharoah’s daughter was strategic for sure. He assured that his southern borders would be secure from invasion from Egypt through this marriage. That made political and military sense. However, it was a sin in the eyes of God – marrying a person who worship false gods. Solomon would go on to marry all kinds of women because he wanted the freedom to do what he wanted in the area of politics and romance, all wrapped up in sex.

Often sex is the one area that Christians today have a hard time submitting to the lordship of Jesus Christ. It may be the one sin area that they ignore Scripture so that they can follow their fleshly desires just like everybody in the culture is doing. Even though it is one of the clearest prohibitions in Christianity, one would be hard-pressed to find scripture on it. Many would refer to the Ten Commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” Exodus 20:14). But this passage is about having sex with another person’s spouse. Others might turn to the “sex chapter” in Leviticus 18 which lists every kind of perverse act that trashes the gift of sex such as bestiality, incest, threesomes, pornography, and other sexual sins. Let’s go to 1 Corinthians 7:2. It clearly states that sex before marriage is a part of the definition of sexual immorality. In fact, all Bible passages that condemn sexual immorality as being sinful and this includes sex before or outside of marriage!

There are numerous scriptures that declare sex before marriage to be a sin (1 Corinthians 5:1; 6:13, 18; 10:8; 2 Corinthians 12:21; Galatians 5:19; Acts 15:20; Ephesians 5:3; Colossians 3:5; 1 Thessalonians 4:3). Revelation 14:4 assumes that unmarried Christian men who desire to be faithful are not having sex and Hebrews 13:4 considers sex outside of marriage to be immoral. “Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous.” However, studies show that unmarried Christians are having sex prior to or between marriages at a rate that is equal to that of society in general in America. This is just one of those places where we are turning a blind eye to what Scripture says by not studying those passages and rationalizing them away in our minds if we do. Just as with any other forms of sex outside the marriage bed of a man and a woman, you have to do a serious amount of theological gymnastics to say that Scripture approves of it. Otherwise, you simply have to tear those pages out of the Bible and ignore them.

It is that idea of those last sin strongholds that we have and refuse for a long time to submit to the power and lordship of the Holy Spirit that I thought about this morning when reading this passage, 2 Chronicles 7:11-22. Let’s read through it this morning, together, with that idea in mind:

Scripture Passage

11 So Solomon finished the Temple of the Lord, as well as the royal palace. He completed everything he had planned to do in the construction of the Temple and the palace. 12 Then one night the Lord appeared to Solomon and said,

“I have heard your prayer and have chosen this Temple as the place for making sacrifices. 13 At times I might shut up the heavens so that no rain falls, or command grasshoppers to devour your crops, or send plagues among you. 14 Then if my people who are called by my name will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sins and restore their land. 15 My eyes will be open and my ears attentive to every prayer made in this place. 16 For I have chosen this Temple and set it apart to be holy—a place where my name will be honored forever. I will always watch over it, for it is dear to my heart.

17 “As for you, if you faithfully follow me as David your father did, obeying all my commands, decrees, and regulations, 18 then I will establish the throne of your dynasty. For I made this covenant with your father, David, when I said, ‘One of your descendants will always rule over Israel.’

19 “But if you or your descendants abandon me and disobey the decrees and commands I have given you, and if you serve and worship other gods, 20 then I will uproot the people from this land that I have given them. I will reject this Temple that I have made holy to honor my name. I will make it an object of mockery and ridicule among the nations. 21 And though this Temple is impressive now, all who pass by will be appalled. They will ask, ‘Why did the Lord do such terrible things to this land and to this Temple?’

22 “And the answer will be, ‘Because his people abandoned the Lord, the God of their ancestors, who brought them out of Egypt, and they worshiped other gods instead and bowed down to them. That is why he has brought all these disasters on them.”

Passage Analysis

In this passage, we see that Solomon married Pharaoh’s daughter to secure a military alliance with Egypt. He did not let the woman live in David’s palace, however. This fact implies that Solomon knew his pagan marriage would not please God. Solomon married many other women who worshiped false gods, which, of course, was against God’s laws. These women worshiped false gods and were certain to contaminate Israel with their beliefs, because of their position as wives of the king. Eventually, these foreign worship practices would bring about the moral laxity that expanded from sex and politics to other areas of Solomon’s life and contributed to his downfall.

Although Solomon followed God’s instructions for building the Temple and in the managing of the Temple’s operations and in the offering of sacrifices there, he paid no attention to what God said about marrying those who worshipped other gods. His sin in marrying women who worshipped other gods was that it diverted his attention away from the one true God. This drift eventually led Solomon to fail to put God first in other areas of his life as well. No matter how much we obey God in other areas of our life, one unsurrendered area of your life is like a cancer that eventually consume other once obedient areas of our life.

Life Application

I think the thing that we need to takeaway this morning is that we must work with and submit to the Holy Spirit’s leadership in His renovation of our souls. We cannot hide and keep away from His rule certain areas of our life. We must lay ourselves completely bare before the Holy Spirit’s rebuilding of our souls. It’s all or nothing. If we hold back one area of our life from His control, it will affect all areas of our life. We will not experience the full joy of total submission and the blessings that it brings. Coach Swinney, the head football coach at Clemson University, has a saying about what it takes to be a Clemson player. You must be “all-in”. You must be totally committed to excellence to be a part of the Tiger football program – doing whatever it takes to be physically, mentally and spiritually stronger than your opponent. We must be that way when it comes to the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in our lives. We must be “all-in” on the things that He points out to us that are sinful in our lives. He will point out to us where our lives deviate from God’s Word and demand that we bring those areas of life into compliance. We must be willing to submit all of us, even the pet sin areas of our lives, to the rule of the Holy Spirit. It’s all-in time. Are you all-in with the Holy Spirit?

Amen and Amen.

2 Chronicles 7:11-22 (Part 2 of 2)

The Dedication of the Temple

Opening Illustration/Comments

Being on vacation over the past week where we visited our daughter in Indianapolis and then visited with so many friends that we made in our previous church over the weekend while in Moline, IL, it gave me time to reflect. I took a week off from writing of any kind (this blog, my sermons, my dissertation proposal) and just relaxed. Though it was filled with visiting and seeing family and friends, the mind clearing time allowed me to put these thoughts together this morning after I read the passage under study this morning.

Being a first-year pastor in charge has been different and a learning experience for sure. My previous church experiences were as an associate pastor for business affairs in a large church in northwest Illinois and as a volunteer and part-time ministry leader and finance director at a large church in upstate South Carolina. Those previous experiences were a total of 9 years of preparation for where I am at right now. But there are just some things that those experiences just could not prepare me for, though they were invaluable to say the least. There is a huge difference between being a staff pastor or a staff ministry leader and being THE pastor. Here, at Lamar UMC, I am the pastoral staff. I have an administrative assistant but I am the pastoral staff. Nothing can prepare you for that, being the head or solo pastor. It’s just different. In my previous ministry experience, I could always defer to my previous senior pastors when there were decisions that were “above my pay grade”, as the old saying goes. Now, as another old saying goes, “the buck stops here” with me.

When you are a first-year and have had 9 years of previous intense experience in church leadership and you get that first chance to be the lead guy, there is so much that you want to do right away. All the things that you have seen work in previous settings and all the things that you wanted to do that were your dreams that just couldn’t get realized in the mix of the previous settings, you want to do it all. And, you see what’s not working and what could be done in the current setting, and you just want to change the world in your own new little world. As another old saying goes, “Rome was not built in a day!” That was the lesson of this first year. Slow down. Take aim at one thing a year. That’s what I have been reassessing as we begin our second year here at Lamar. That this is a marathon and not a sprint. Sure, there are problems concerning the large drop off between the 55 and over crowd at our church and the 55 and under crowd at our church. This is the problem with many older, established churches everywhere now and is no different here. We must make decisions soon that can determine the health of this church for a generation as to whether the church will be here in 25 or 50 years from now. However, what I have learned in the first year is that I must seek to find just one thing a year that can help us ensure survival of the church. God is abundantly teaching me about patience.

That’s what He has been pouring into me lately just as he taught me in the 9 years of preparation for this stage of my ministry career. Patience. Plowing the field right in front of you. One step at time. Leave the big picture to Him. Pray to Him about the big picture but there is a reason that He is “a lamp unto my feet”. He wants us to see what’s in front of us and concentrate on that. That’s not to say that God has not given me a vision for this church. He has. But what He is teaching me is that for the vision to come to fruition you must do things in a methodical pace and do the things that are urgently important first. Nothing else matters but the urgently important building blocks right now. Everything else comes after that. Plow the field in front of you. And, even if it seems like nothing is happening. It really is happening. We must trust that even when we don’t see immediate results, IT IS happening.

It is that idea of targeting that one thing, that one step that must be taken and trusting God with the rest that I thought about this morning when reading this passage, 2 Chronicles 7:11-22. Let’s read through it this morning, together, with that idea in mind:

Scripture Passage

11 So Solomon finished the Temple of the Lord, as well as the royal palace. He completed everything he had planned to do in the construction of the Temple and the palace. 12 Then one night the Lord appeared to Solomon and said,

“I have heard your prayer and have chosen this Temple as the place for making sacrifices. 13 At times I might shut up the heavens so that no rain falls, or command grasshoppers to devour your crops, or send plagues among you. 14 Then if my people who are called by my name will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sins and restore their land. 15 My eyes will be open and my ears attentive to every prayer made in this place. 16 For I have chosen this Temple and set it apart to be holy—a place where my name will be honored forever. I will always watch over it, for it is dear to my heart.

17 “As for you, if you faithfully follow me as David your father did, obeying all my commands, decrees, and regulations, 18 then I will establish the throne of your dynasty. For I made this covenant with your father, David, when I said, ‘One of your descendants will always rule over Israel.’

19 “But if you or your descendants abandon me and disobey the decrees and commands I have given you, and if you serve and worship other gods, 20 then I will uproot the people from this land that I have given them. I will reject this Temple that I have made holy to honor my name. I will make it an object of mockery and ridicule among the nations. 21 And though this Temple is impressive now, all who pass by will be appalled. They will ask, ‘Why did the Lord do such terrible things to this land and to this Temple?’

22 “And the answer will be, ‘Because his people abandoned the Lord, the God of their ancestors, who brought them out of Egypt, and they worshiped other gods instead and bowed down to them. That is why he has brought all these disasters on them.”

Passage Analysis

In this passage, we see that months, maybe even years, had passed since Solomon’s prayer of dedication (see 2 Chronicles 6). Several building projects had been completed after the Temple (see 2 Chronicles 7:11 and 8:1). Then after all this time, God told Solomon that he had heard his prayer. How often do we look for immediate answers to our prayers, and, when nothing happens, wonder if God has heard us? God does hear our prayers and will provide for us. However, we must trust that the prayer has been heard and that God is working out His plan for us in His timing. God’s timing is not always on the same scale as ours. His sense of timing comes from His eternality and we have a limited sense of time scope in comparison to His. Therefore, we must have patience when we don’t get an immediate answer to our prayers. We must have the same trust that God has got our back just as we have the same trust in our parents when we are young children.

Life Application

I think the thing that we need to takeaway this morning is that God will give us vision, but visions are not accomplished in our timing. They are accomplished in His timing. We must trust Him with the entire vision and trust that He will reveal to us what needs to be revealed. He has taught me that this past first year. Yes, I believe that I was sent here to accomplish His vision for my ministry here. He has taught me that His vision for my ministry here is only part of His vision for this church. It is His church not mine. It is His overall vision for this church. His vision for this church does involve me, yes. That’s why I am here. He has things for me to accomplish here and I pray that I will accomplish those things. But I must trust Him with what He wants to accomplish here. The thing that I have been hearing the loudest from Him is relax and let Him reveal that one thing that He wants accomplished in Year 2. There’s a larger vision for my ministry here that He has given me but what He has been telling me lately is that visions are accomplished by smaller steps that are part of the greater journey. Just as when I do my usual 8.5 miles of walking and jogging in the mornings, it begins when mile 1 and then mile 2. When I am at mile 4, it’s like I am only half done, but you keep walking and jogging and then all of a sudden after another hour you are at 8.5 miles. That’s the deal. Keep plowing. Keep your eyes on the lighted area by “lamp unto my feet” and trust the rest to God. It will happen in His time and at the appropriate time. Trust the lamp unto your feet.

Amen and Amen.

2 Chronicles 7:11-22 (Part 1 of 2)

The Dedication of the Temple

Opening Illustration/Comments

Man, has this passage, particularly vv. 13-14, of this passage gotten a lot of airplay on the Facebook pages of Christ followers over the past few months and rightly so. I am not usually one to quickly jump on the bandwagon of ideas that permeate our Christian subculture, of which I am a part. Sometimes, we have to remember about God’s prophecies of end times, Jesus himself said that we will not know the time and the place of the fulfillment of the end times and that only the Father knows that. But there is certainly ample biblical evidence that God blesses those who obey Him and He withdraws his blessing from those who do not. God will protect those who obey and He will withdraw his protection from those who do not.

The actions of government and of the vast majority of Americans demonstrate that we are sliding down the slope of disregard for obedience to God’s Word. We have become a nation of rising the needs of the one over the needs of the many. By that, I mean that we were once a nation where the good of society was considered paramount and it would override the needs of the individual. Throughout our history until the last 60 or years, the “greater good of society” was always considered superior to the needs of limited subsets of individuals within our society. However, in the last sixty years and particularly within the last 10-15 years, the needs of the individual have become paramount in our society. The needs of the one outweighs the needs of the many. The expression of individual rights have become so treasured in our society that, even if the expression of those individual rights is detrimental to society as a whole, it does not matter. The practice of our individual rights has become a sacred thing in our nation. If I cannot express my rights personally then I am oppressed and I cannot live in full flower of who I am. If I cannot express my rights, I am held back and if I am not allowed to be who I am, it is a violation of the greater ideal of fully expressive cultural idea that this is love when we allow every individual to be who they WANT to be. The reason that this has taken root in our society is that we are me-oriented now rather than God oriented (which orients us toward the good of not only ourselves but of our society as a whole). No longer do we care about anyone but ourselves. It used to be that sure, you could express yourself, but expressing yourself was limited by whether expressing ourselves damaged society as a whole.

We have strayed so far from God in our pursuit of self as god that our society is decaying within just as the northern and southern kingdom did in the Old Testament. It’s like a playbook for what’s going on in our society right now. If you want to see the history of the United States that sounds eerily familiar just read the history of Israel. It was blessed so mightily for a while and then after Solomon, the kingdom became increasingly immoral and began pursuing their own personal, individual desires. We have forgotten about God and His Word much like Israel. God withdrew his blessing from biblical Israel and He will do so with us. We were blessed. He is withdrawing His blessings from us now. Read the playbook in Kings and Chronicles. It’s all right there. What happened to them will happen to us. As the old saying goes, “Those who do not learn from history are destined to repeat it!” We are repeating biblical Israel’s mistakes in pursuit of self actualization, in pursuit of our personal desires as the gods over of our 350 million lives.

It is that idea of withdrawal of blessing that I thought about this morning when reading this passage, 2 Chronicles 7:11-22. Let’s read through it this morning, together, with that idea in mind:

Scripture Passage

11 So Solomon finished the Temple of the Lord, as well as the royal palace. He completed everything he had planned to do in the construction of the Temple and the palace. 12 Then one night the Lord appeared to Solomon and said,

“I have heard your prayer and have chosen this Temple as the place for making sacrifices. 13 At times I might shut up the heavens so that no rain falls, or command grasshoppers to devour your crops, or send plagues among you. 14 Then if my people who are called by my name will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sins and restore their land. 15 My eyes will be open and my ears attentive to every prayer made in this place. 16 For I have chosen this Temple and set it apart to be holy—a place where my name will be honored forever. I will always watch over it, for it is dear to my heart.

17 “As for you, if you faithfully follow me as David your father did, obeying all my commands, decrees, and regulations, 18 then I will establish the throne of your dynasty. For I made this covenant with your father, David, when I said, ‘One of your descendants will always rule over Israel.’

19 “But if you or your descendants abandon me and disobey the decrees and commands I have given you, and if you serve and worship other gods, 20 then I will uproot the people from this land that I have given them. I will reject this Temple that I have made holy to honor my name. I will make it an object of mockery and ridicule among the nations. 21 And though this Temple is impressive now, all who pass by will be appalled. They will ask, ‘Why did the Lord do such terrible things to this land and to this Temple?’

22 “And the answer will be, ‘Because his people abandoned the Lord, the God of their ancestors, who brought them out of Egypt, and they worshiped other gods instead and bowed down to them. That is why he has brought all these disasters on them.”

Passage Analysis

In this passage, we remember from 2 Chronicles 6:37-39 that Solomon asked God to make provision for the people when they sinned. God answers here with four conditions for forgiveness:

  1. We must humble ourselves by admitting that our thoughts and/or actions have been sinful in the eyes of the Lord.
  2. pray to God and ask Him directly to forgive us during our prayers.
  3. seek God continually
  4. turn from the sinful behavior and ask for the Lord to guide you away from its temptations in the future.

True repentance is more than talk. It is fundamental change where the sinful behaviors are no longer desirable to us because (1) we are revolted by the sin and (2) are fully aware of the aftershocks that a sinful behavior has on ourselves, others, and our relationship with God. Whether we sin individually, as a group of people, or as a nation as a whole, following these steps will lead to forgiveness, God will answer our earnest and heartfelt prayers.

God plainly set forth certain conditions for Solomon to meet if wanted the kingdom to continue. If Solomon followed God, he and his descendants would prosper. If Solomon did not, he and the nation would be destroyed. In Deuteronomy 27 and 28, the whole nation heard this outline for continued blessing and protection by God. Sin is deceptively attractive and Solomon eventually turned from God. As a result his son and heir lost most of the kingdom of Israel held by Solomon. Following God brings benefits and rewards (though these may not be in earthly treasures or successes as we might wish they would be). Turning away from God brings suffering punishment and ultimately destruction.

Within 400 years of Solomon building the fabulous Temple to the Lord, it was ransacked. It is difficult for us to imagine that such a great and wise king as Solomon could become corrupted by allowing idols into his life – the symbols of power, prosperity, and sexuality. Even today, these idols lure us into their traps. When we allow anything money, sex, power, a person, self-help gurus, and anything that we allow to take the place of God on the throne of our hearts, we have take the first step toward spiritual decay.

Life Application

I think the thing that we need to takeaway this morning is that we as Christians can no longer sit on the sidelines and bemoan what is happening in our culture. We still have time to turn our country around before God completely withdraws His blessing and protection from our country. We must be willing to do more than sit on the sidelines and wish the game was turning out differently. We need to get in the game. We must be willing to do more than withdraw behind our fences and go up in our ivory towers and cast aspersion on what’s going on down below our ivory towers. We must be willing to come down from our ivory towers and go outside our fences. We must engage in the spiritual battle for the heart and soul of our nation. We must be willing to run for local, state and national offices and begin to change the culture. We must be willing to do more than sit in church on Sunday. We must be out in the street loving on our communities so that people can here different voices than that of Satan that is telling them to do whatever makes them individually feel good. We can’t turn our toward God when the only voice that is speaking to the culture is telling them they don’t need God anymore and that they are their own gods. We must be the voice in the culture. We must be the voice in government. We cannot turn the country around and toward God unless we are outside the walls of our churches. We can no longer be comfortable Christians. We must take the risks that need taking to save our nation. It’s not going to change by itself. It’s not going to change until we get in the game to change it!

Amen and Amen.

2 Chronicles 7:1-10

The Dedication of the Temple

Opening Illustration/Comments

Have you ever thought about salvation? That moment in our lives where it all finally comes together in our mind and in our heart that we are desperate sinners who deserve to be sentenced to hell by a righteous and just God and we fall on our knees before Him and beg for His mercy by accepting Jesus Christ as our Savior. In that moment of salvation, that acceptance is felt not only intellectually but physically, emotionally and spiritually. Some of us, like myself, can point to a specific moment in time when all of that came together in a single, distinctive, distinguishable moment. For others, it is a gradual thing that may take several months or years to become fully complete. Either way, there is a point at which salvation occurs or has been completed. At that moment, we are made holy in the righteousness and purity of Jesus Christ. His perfection and sinlessness allowed Him to be out atoning sacrifice on the cross at Golgotha.

Because God said that this new altar of sacrifice (the cross on which Jesus was crucified) a sacrifice for sin was made. Since Jesus was God in the flesh. He was perfection and purity in a way no other sacrifice had been before Him. Therefore, His sacrifice on the cross was the one that ended the Old Testament sacrificial system. It was finished with His once and for all, final sacrifice. He was the best atoning sacrifice ever so there is no need for any other. All the previous sacrifices in the Old Testament were a likeness of, a pointer to, and practice for, this once and final sacrifice at Golgotha.

So, even though Jesus died on the cross 2,000 or so years ago, the moment at which we look to Jesus as our atoning sacrifice on the cross, we acquire from Him, His purity and His righteousness. He grants us this purity and righteousness as a free gift to us. All we have done is asked Him to save us from our own wretchedness and rebellion against God. It is like a prisoner asking for a stay of execution. We have done nothing that gives us a legal leg-up in the Court of God so we cannot leverage our salvation or do community service (earning our way) to regaining a right standing before the Lord. We are permanently branded by our sins and we cannot go back and fix them and say “here, God, I made it all back to square one”. Once we have sinned one sin, we are done. We are forever tainted by our first sin not to mention the lifetime of daily sins that we commit. Therefore, our salvation and the resulting imputed righteousness acquired from Jesus as a His gift to us is not anything we deserve. It is a glorious gift in that it makes us holy before God because of Jesus, not because of us. When God looks at us after salvation, He sees Jesus’ covering of perfection.

So, only Jesus makes us holy through our acceptance of Him as our Savior and our understanding that He is no mere man but the Son of God who died for our sins, was buried and arose from the dead. That and that alone makes us holy.

It is that idea of “only Jesus” that I thought about this morning when reading this passage, 2 Chronicles 7:1-10. Let’s read through it this morning, together, with that idea in mind:

Scripture Passage

Chapter 7

1 When Solomon finished praying, fire flashed down from heaven and burned up the burnt offerings and sacrifices, and the glorious presence of the Lord filled the Temple. 2 The priests could not enter the Temple of the Lord because the glorious presence of the Lord filled it. 3 When all the people of Israel saw the fire coming down and the glorious presence of the Lord filling the Temple, they fell face down on the ground and worshiped and praised the Lord, saying,

“He is good!

    His faithful love endures forever!”

4 Then the king and all the people offered sacrifices to the Lord. 5 King Solomon offered a sacrifice of 22,000 cattle and 120,000 sheep and goats. And so the king and all the people dedicated the Temple of God. 6 The priests took their assigned positions, and so did the Levites who were singing, “His faithful love endures forever!” They accompanied the singing with music from the instruments King David had made for praising the Lord. Across from the Levites, the priests blew the trumpets, while all Israel stood.

7 Solomon then consecrated the central area of the courtyard in front of the Lord’s Temple. He offered burnt offerings and the fat of peace offerings there, because the bronze altar he had built could not hold all the burnt offerings, grain offerings, and sacrificial fat.

8 For the next seven days Solomon and all Israel celebrated the Festival of Shelters.[a] A large congregation had gathered from as far away as Lebo-hamath in the north and the Brook of Egypt in the south. 9 On the eighth day they had a closing ceremony, for they had celebrated the dedication of the altar for seven days and the Festival of Shelters for seven days. 10 Then at the end of the celebration,[b] Solomon sent the people home. They were all joyful and glad because the Lord had been so good to David and to Solomon and to his people Israel.

Passage Analysis

In this passage, we see that God sent fire from heaven to consume the offering and to begin the fire that was to burn continuously under the altar of burnt offering (see Leviticus 6:8-13) at the newly constructed Temple. This perpetual fire symbolized God’s presence. God also sent fire when the Tabernacle was inaugurated during Israel’s time in the Sinai desert. The sending of God’s presence (via fire) was the real dedication of the Temple in that only God’s purifying power can make something holy.

Life Application

I think the thing that we need to takeaway this morning is that nothing that you or I do makes us holy. We can act holy. We can, as we say in the South, “put on airs” and act as if we are holy but it is a falsehood. Only Jesus makes us holy at the moment that salvation is complete. His holiness is imputed to us like a mattress cover over our souls. He makes our soul holy. It is only then that the Holy Spirit can come into our souls and take up residence. It is through this imputed holiness that the Holy Spirit can begin the lifelong work of sanctification, battling our sinful desires until we are perfected on the day we meet Jesus in heaven. We still sin but through the Holy Spirit he begins a work in us to turn us away from each one of our sin habits until that day we are done here and we are perfect before God in heaven.

Thus, let us remember the humility that should come along with our salvation and should stay with us throughout our post-salvation life here on earth. We are only holy because Jesus’ claim on our lives. Only God is holy and we are certainly not. Our only claim to holiness comes from our association through salvation with Jesus Christ. That makes Him more than just our buddy. That makes him more than just a nice guy. That makes him ESSENTIAL. Why? Because only Jesus can make us holy.

Amen and Amen.