Archive for February, 2019

1 Kings 17:1-7 (Part 1 of 2)

Elijah Fed By Ravens

Back in the day when I was in college and for several years after that, I was a huge Bruce Springsteen fan. His edgy, realistic about life lyrics and good ol’ rock and roll music to back up those lyrics just spoke to me at the soul level. The Boss was awesome. His concerts were legendary because the band sounded just as good live as they did in studio and the concerts were three hour long of just plain out fun. I was a Springsteen fan before being a Springsteen fan was cool. But by 1984, the whole world caught on to Springsteen with his landmark album, Born in The USA. And during that time, MTV was just beginning to be a force in the music industry. It was back in those days that MTV actually played music videos 24/7/365. Springsteen was never one of those guys that would use MTV to make an artsy-fartsy video to support a song – like many artists of the time period. His videos where just about the music. It was usually just the band playing the songs in concert.

One of the videos that everybody around my age remembers was the one Springsteen did for one of the #1 singles off the Born in the USA album was the one for the song, Dancing In the Dark. It was a concert video. The single introduced Bruce into the MTV crowd, and made him a mega star, joining the ranks of Michael Jackson, Prince, and Madonna. Even though, Bruce’s career had been going since in 1973. In that video, toward the end of the song, Bruce seems to randomly pick a girl out of the audience’s first row and brings the on stage to dance with him during the fade out of the song. That random girl was Courtney Cox (you know her – she went on to become Monica in the megahit show, Friends). The only thing is that picking Courtney out of the crowd was not random. It was planned as part of the filming of the video. Director Brian DePalma filmed the song over two nights at two different concerts. And he decided to go with an unknown actress (at the time) to play the part of the girl that Springsteen picks out of the audience. It was planned. There was preparation for it by where Courtney was to be in the front of the stage, the point in the song that Springsteen would pick her out, and how they would dance during the fade out portion of the song. What we saw in the video gave the appearance of randomness but there had been planning for that moment on film.

Why do I mention a Springsteen video from 30+ years ago (when MTV actually played music videos all the time)? It is because it relates to our Bible passage for today. Today, we meet Elijah the prophet for the first time. In this passage for today, 1 Kings 17:1-7, Elijah bursts on to the biblical scene for the first time. There is no mention of him in the biblical text before now. He is all of a sudden here in the progression of 1 Kings now a prophet standing before the king of Israel. No mention of him before, but he comes a seminal figure among biblical prophets sent to awaken Israel. It makes you wonder though what was going on with Elijah before this first moment that he walks on to the biblical stage.

It reminds me of my own journey into full-time ministry. It began quietly a decade ago long before I accepted my current position as the director of business services/staff pastor at Calvary Church of The Quad Cities. You could say that it really began 17 years ago when I accepted Christ as my Savior, but it was not until I ran into Pastor Luke Brower while Elena and I were living in Livermore, CA and began attending Livermore Alive Community Church that the call began. A decade ago, Luke challenged me to make Jesus not just my Savior but also my Lord. It was there that we were faithful to our local church. It was there that we did whatever was necessary to help set up for church and break down afterwards (as we held church in the gymnasium of a former elementary school now turned into a community center). It was there that we caught fire for making the Lord ruler over every aspect of our lives. It was there that Luke challenged us to no longer pick and choose what we wanted to submit ourselves to when it came to God’s Word. It was there that we simply began to obey the Lord and humbly do whatever it took to help make our church successful. It was there that the statement, “my church”, really meant something to us.

Then, there were the 7 ½ years that followed at LifeSong Church while we were living in the Lyman/Duncan, SC. Wow! What can we say about our time at LifeSong Church? We learned so much there and grew so much in the Lord. The impact of Lead (& Founding) Pastor Jeff Hickman, Pastor Mike Blackwood, and Pastor Tim Lyda on our spiritual growth is immeasurable. It was there that we learned that we are responsible for our relationship with Jesus Christ, not our pastors. If God leads you to do something for Him, you should prayerfully consider it and if it is of God you should do it. You don’t need to be tapped on the shoulder to do ministry in the name of the church by a pastor. You are as the church motto says, “missionaries where we live, work and play!” We were trained up to be ministers to God’s Word in our everyday life, everywhere we go. It was also there that God saw fit to nudge us into leadership positions within the church. For a while, Elena and I were co-directors of the church’s local outreach programs. Wow, the things we learned together during that process. Later, when the church needed to better formalize its accounting systems, the church looked to me to establish that. What an arduous process that was. It was during that process that I learned that we serve the Lord sometimes in quiet, unseen, unheralded ways.

It was during that process of leadership growth at LifeSong that the call to be a full-time pastor became a burden that I could not shake. It was during that time that every last excuse I had for not going in the ministry had finally been washed away by God. It was during that time at LifeSong that Elena and I began preparing financially for the reduced resources that we knew we would have if the call to full-time ministry ever came. It was during that time too that I went to seminary, a process that challenged and deepened my faith and my commitment to go into full-time ministry. It was during that time that I began teaching series on books of the Bible at LifeSong. It was such a time of growth spiritually.

It was also a time of patience as well. Although God had called me to full-time ministry, no opportunities presented themselves right away. That was a tough time after graduation from seminary and before the first job in full-time ministry came. It was time in which faithfulness was put to the test. It was time where the flesh screamed out “where is it Lord?” or “when are you going to allow me to be in full-time ministry?” That’s when you really have to have faith in what God is leading you to do. That’s when you have to trust in the Lord. That’s when you have to be faithful and do what God has in front of you. That’s the real preparation time – when there is no evidence to support that God has something in store for you. That’s the real trust time – believing in the unseen in full confidence that it will come true in God’s timing. He taught both Elena and me to always be faithful to what the Lord has called us to do and trust Him with the rest of it. There was a purpose in that three years after I graduated from seminary. It was a time of creating patience and trust in us.

So, when we burst on to the scene of full-time ministry at Calvary Church one year ago in February 2018, it was not as if God had yanked us out of the crowd and thrust us into ministry, it was only after years of learning, preparation, faithfulness, and patience. It was part of God’s plan that there be a decade of preparation before you see Pastor Mark and his wife, Elena, before you today and this past year.

That was the thing that I thought of this morning as we read about Elijah the prophet for the first time. It is the first time we read of him in the Bible, but the only way that he gets there, in my opinion, was the unseen and unwritten about preparation for this moment – that may have taken decades or a lifetime to get him ready for the moment where he appears on the biblical stage. Let’s read now about his first appearance in biblical texts:

Chapter 17

1 Now Elijah, who was from Tishbe in Gilead, told King Ahab, “As surely as the Lord, the God of Israel, lives—the God I serve—there will be no dew or rain during the next few years until I give the word!”

2 Then the Lord said to Elijah, 3 “Go to the east and hide by Kerith Brook, near where it enters the Jordan River. 4 Drink from the brook and eat what the ravens bring you, for I have commanded them to bring you food.”

5 So Elijah did as the Lord told him and camped beside Kerith Brook, east of the Jordan. 6 The ravens brought him bread and meat each morning and evening, and he drank from the brook. 7 But after a while the brook dried up, for there was no rainfall anywhere in the land.

In this passage, we see that Elijah is introduced. He was the first in a long line of important prophets sent to Israel and Judah. Israel, the northern kingdom, had no faithful kings throughout its history. Each king was wicked to the point of leading the people toward worshiping pagan gods. Few priests were left from the tribe of Levi (most had fled to Judah), and the priests appointed by Israel’s kings were corrupt and ineffective. With no king or priests to bring God’s Word to the people, God called prophets to try to rescue Israel from its moral and spiritual decline. For the next 300 years, these men and women would play vital roles in both nations, encouraging and challenging the people and their leaders to turn back to God.

Specifically, in this passage, we know from research that those who worshiped Baal believed he was the god who brought rains and bountiful harvests. So, when Elijah walked into the presence of his Baal-worshiping king and told him there would be no rain for several years, Ahab was shocked. Ahab had built a strong military but it would be no help against a drought. He had many priests of Baal but they could not bring rain. Elijah bravely confronted the man who led his people into evil and he told of a power grater than any pagan, man-made god – the Lord God of Israel. When rebellion and heresy were at an all-time high in Israel, God responded not only with words but also with actions. That Elijah was willing to be God’s spokesman demonstrates his growing faith in the Lord. That he stayed faithful to the Lord in a society that was openly rebelling against God is a testament to his faith. That he was so faithful to the Lord that he was called out to be a prophet is a testament to his willing to follow God regardless of what was going on around him.

Elijah bursts onto the scene here but I bet the only reason that God has him here in this text is that he had already proven himself faithful to God over the previous years before he appears here. That’s the thing that I want us to take away this morning. Be faithful to the Lord no matter what is going on around you. Be faithful to the Lord even when you see no earthly reward for it. Be faithful to the Lord because you love Him. Be faithful to the Lord because it’s about Him and not about what even other Christians think. Be faithful to the Lord because He has called you to be a minister right where you are right now. Be faithful to the Lord even when your own pride tells you that you should be doing so much more for the Lord. Trust the Lord with where He has you right now. One of my favorite sayings from my former senior pastor, Jeff Hickman, was “God is preparing us for what He has prepared for us!” That is something that we need to remember as we go about doing the Lord’s work. We must trust Him with what comes after right now. We must be faithful to Him with what He has entrusted to us at this moment and do it with all our heart and trust Him with what comes next. We need to trust Him that what we are going through right now and what we are doing for Him right now is preparation for what He has prepared for us.

That’s what I deduce from Elijah’s appearance on the biblical scene here. It was not some random plucking of a person out of the audience. God had been preparing Elijah for years and years. Elijah had proved himself faithful for years and years. The takeaway – be faithful now, be faithful tomorrow and trust the Lord with what comes after that!

Amen and Amen.

Advertisements

1 Kings 16:29-34

Ahab Begins His Reign in Israel

The church today stands at a crossroads. We no longer have the influence over American society that we once enjoyed. You look back at photos of past generations and so many of the photos are at church functions. In my parents generation and before, the church was the center of community. However, all of that has changed from my generation (I was born right at the end of the Baby Boomer era) forward. The church is seen as a fringe element of society today by the broader American society. There are now a full three generations of families that have not attended church regularly or have not attended church at all. Biblical illiteracy within and without the church is at an all time high. Thus, understanding of basic Christian theology is at an all-time low. Within this context, thousands of church are shuttering their doors each year as past generations die off and there is no new life blood coming in. Meanwhile, there are some churches that are growing through use of modern styles of worship, dropping of denominational affiliations, and trying to be relevant to the society outside its doors.

The issue for the church is whether we make cultural relevancy the priority of making the differences between God’s Word and culture the priority. I am not saying that you have one at the exclusion of the other. Often, the choice is a matter of priorities. The question for churches today is whether we sacrifice the totality of God’s Word in order to get “butts in seats”. Do we water down the message of the Bible or avoid those contentious subjects altogether so that we can get people in our doors? Do we ignore where Scripture is clearly against things that have become acceptable in society over the past few generations. It’s not that the culture thinks things have degraded morally. The culture generally feels that we have evolved beyond the mysticism and prohibitions of the Bible. Through church up against that and we are often seen as old and out of date and not in-step with society. That’s the real perception whether it is warranted or not. When you have generations of families who have never been to church regularly, if at all, who are they going to listen to about the church. Yes, the culture around them. So, the way that many churches have gotten butts in seats is to water down the difficult parts of the Bible that require us to examine our sin nature. The culture wants not to hear that we are all sinners in need of supernatural intervention from God through His Son Jesus Christ. They want to hear that Jesus was just a man. They want to hear that he was a rebel against authority. They want to hear that you can make yourself better through following the teachings of the greatest self-help guru of all, Jesus Christ, the man, the philosopher, the anti-establishment rebel. They want to hear that all roads lead to heaven. They want to hear that everybody is generally good and gets to go to heaven.

They do not want to hear that we cannot shed our sin nature and we need external help from God through the sacrifice of His Son Jesus Christ. They do not want to have grow in a relationship with Jesus Christ. Sanctification requires sometimes a painful maturing process as the Holy Spirit reveals to us our deepest, darkest, and most hidden flaws. They don’t want to hear that God calls us to do difficult things to spread the gospel that we may not want to do.

That’s the crossroads this morning. Do we seek culturally relevancy so that we can simply fill the churches or do we do it the hard way – against the tide. Do we do it one on one with our neighbors as church members rather than relying on our pastors to do it all? Do we love people in uncommon and unusual and sometimes difficult ways just so that the gospel seed can be planted in their lives? Do we challenge our people with God’s Word and let the see the differences between God’s way and the culture’s way? Do we seek the lost not just through special events but through training our people to reach out to the world around them with message of Jesus Christ everyday in their everyday lives? Do we grow our people up to minister to the world around them? Or do we pacify them with a light form of the gospel that tickles their ears but does not change them? Or do we begin the metamorphosis of what was once Christianity into something more reflective of the desires and beliefs of the culture?

That was the thing this morning that I thought of as I read about the introduction of Ahab and Jezebel in 1 Kings 16:29-34. Ahab conformed his own belief system, whatever was left of it by his generation’s arrival on the scene of Israel, to that of his new bride, Jezebel. In order to make her happy, he allowed idolatry to become the norm in Israel. He rationalized away his Jewish past and accepted what the culture had put before him – a beautiful woman who worshiped other gods. That’s the choice the church has today. Do we conform to the culture or do we do the harder thing, change the culture from the inside out? Let’s read about Ahab and Jezebel now:

29 Ahab son of Omri began to rule over Israel in the thirty-eighth year of King Asa’s reign in Judah. He reigned in Samaria twenty-two years. 30 But Ahab son of Omri did what was evil in the Lord’s sight, even more than any of the kings before him. 31 And as though it were not enough to follow the sinful example of Jeroboam, he married Jezebel, the daughter of King Ethbaal of the Sidonians, and he began to bow down in worship of Baal. 32 First Ahab built a temple and an altar for Baal in Samaria. 33 Then he set up an Asherah pole. He did more to provoke the anger of the Lord, the God of Israel, than any of the other kings of Israel before him.

34 It was during his reign that Hiel, a man from Bethel, rebuilt Jericho. When he laid its foundations, it cost him the life of his oldest son, Abiram. And when he completed it and set up its gates, it cost him the life of his youngest son, Segub.[a] This all happened according to the message from the Lord concerning Jericho spoken by Joshua son of Nun.

In this passage, we see the first mention of Jezebel. She was from the Phoenician city of Tyre where her father had been a high priest and eventually king. Jezebel worshiped the god, Baal. In order to please her, Ahab built a temple and an altar for Baal (1 Kings 16:32), thus promoting idolatry and leading the entire nation into sin.

Earlier, we were talking about the church in general and the choice that it has to make? We have to make it too as Christian individuals too. We must choose between the easy road of melding our belief system with that of the culture or staying true to God’s Word even when it calls us to make difficult choices. It’s like the choices we had in the school yard of either joining in with the crowd making fun of a “different” child or standing beside that child and defending him against the jeering crowd.

Father, help us to find churches that will lay out God’s Word in all its beauty and its cutting edges. Help us to find churches that will challenge us to go deeper with Jesus Christ and see Him as the Lord of our lives and not as a self-help philosopher. Help us to find churches that will teach us the full Bible, even the controversial and tough topics in comparison the beliefs of culture. Help us to see that we, individually, need to be ministers of God’s Word every day. Help us to see that God’s Way is not always the easy way or the culturally popular way. Help us to see the difference between pleasing God and seeking His eternal reward rather than seeking temporary acceptance and approval on this side of heaven, a place that is temporal and temporary.

Amen and Amen.

1 Kings 15:23-34

Transition of Kings in Israel and Judah

Back in the day, there was this movie called “Animal House” starring John Belushi and others. After their fraternity, Delta Tau Chi, was disbanded by the university, they decide to wreak havoc on the homecoming parade. One of the ploys was to replace the drum major for the university’s marching band. One of the Delta frat brothers takes over and then leads the band down a side street into a dead end alley and the band blindly follows and marches into a wall.

That was a hilarious scene in the movie. Although it was intended as a sight gag, there is a lot of truth in that scene that we should take note of. The impostor drum major led the band astray because it was part of the Delta plan to disrupt and destroy the homecoming page as one final act of revenge before all of them were expelled from college. The marching band members blindly followed him off the parade route into the alley way that dead-ended against a brick wall of a building. They were simply following their so-called leader. With leadership comes great responsibility whether it is a marching band or it is leading a team, a company, a church, any organization, and, even, our own families.

That is what I thought of this morning as I read through this passage about the transition of kings in Israel and Judah. That idea is that with leadership comes responsibility not to lead people astray. So, lets read this passage, 1 Kings 15:23-34, now:

23 The rest of the events in Asa’s reign—the extent of his power, everything he did, and the names of the cities he built—are recorded in The Book of the History of the Kings of Judah. In his old age his feet became diseased. 24 When Asa died, he was buried with his ancestors in the City of David.

Then Jehoshaphat, Asa’s son, became the next king.

25 Nadab son of Jeroboam began to rule over Israel in the second year of King Asa’s reign in Judah. He reigned in Israel two years. 26 But he did what was evil in the Lord’s sight and followed the example of his father, continuing the sins that Jeroboam had led Israel to commit.

27 Then Baasha son of Ahijah, from the tribe of Issachar, plotted against Nadab and assassinated him while he and the Israelite army were laying siege to the Philistine town of Gibbethon. 28 Baasha killed Nadab in the third year of King Asa’s reign in Judah, and he became the next king of Israel.

29 He immediately slaughtered all the descendants of King Jeroboam, so that not one of the royal family was left, just as the Lord had promised concerning Jeroboam by the prophet Ahijah from Shiloh. 30 This was done because Jeroboam had provoked the anger of the Lord, the God of Israel, by the sins he had committed and the sins he had led Israel to commit.

31 The rest of the events in Nadab’s reign and everything he did are recorded in The Book of the History of the Kings of Israel.

32 There was constant war between King Asa of Judah and King Baasha of Israel. 33 Baasha son of Ahijah began to rule over all Israel in the third year of King Asa’s reign in Judah. Baasha reigned in Tirzah twenty-four years. 34 But he did what was evil in the Lord’s sight and followed the example of Jeroboam, continuing the sins that Jeroboam had led Israel to commit.

In this passage, we see the end of the few decent kings, Asa, that had ruled in either of the kingdoms since the split of the nation into a northern kingdom and a southern kingdom. We see the succession of ungodly kings and even intrigue where a reigning king was murdered and the murderer establishes himself as king. It’s just a big ol’ mess from what I can see here. All the descendants of Jeroboam (who started this whole split of the kingdom into two) were killed because Jeroboam had led Israel into sin. Sin is judged harshly for those who lead others astray into sin. Jesus said it would be better if people had millstones tied around their necks and tossed into the sea (Mark 9:42). If you have taken the responsibility for leading others, remember the consequences of leading them astray.

Father, help us to remember that as leaders, we must remember that our actions and our words are seen and heard by those we lead. Help us to lead in a way that brings glory to you. Help us to lead in a way that brings honor to your name. But please most of all, help us to lead in a way that points people to you and does not lead them astray and away from you. For as with that scene from Animal House, we always hit a brick wall that not only hurts us but hurts the people we lead as well. Help us always to seek your will and obey your commands to us through the Holy Spirit and obey your Holy Word.

Amen and Amen.

1 Kings 15:16-22

War Between Baasha and Asa

Have you ever found yourself in a situation where you do not trust God enough to go to Him in prayer about the solution? We all do that, at times. It is often said that fear is evidence of a lack of trust in God. We find ourselves in situations that cause us fear and we make decisions to get ourselves out of those situations solely based on our limited knowledge without trusting God with the big picture. We see only what’s directly ahead of us and make expedient decisions based on that fact. We should start with God in prayer as to the solutions to our problems and then act as His guidance directs us.

We see that idea in motion in this passage. Asa, who is seen by us as Bible readers as a reformer in a sea of kings of both Jewish kingdoms that strayed far from God, is an example here in this passage of trusting only in his own decision making process and not consulting God first. There is no mention in this passage of Asa going to God in prayer. There is no mention here of God revealing a solution to the problem to Asa. All we read here is about how Asa made a decision to pay off a neighbor king to break his alliance with Baasha, the king of the northern kingdom, Israel. He literally unloads the coffers of the treasury of Judah to pay off the king of Aram. The decision was expedient for the moment. It secured the northern border with Israel and forced Israel to fight battles on its western border with Aram. It was definitely an expedient decision. It gave Judah peace for the moment. However, the treasury took a big hit to gain it. Also, it created an alliance with a pagan nation. There was no thought of seeking God’s solution. God can see the big picture and we cannot. But Asa makes a decision here based on immediate circumstances rather than seeking God’s greater wisdom for the best, God-honoring, long-term solution.

The most common thing in today’s world that we all have some frame of reference to that compares to what Asa did here in this passage is decisions that people sometimes make in their marriages. Just think of marriages that crumble because of adultery. Men and women make decisions about their marriages that satisfy their immediate desires with little thought of the long-term impact of those decisions.

You see people decide that they are not getting what they want out of their marriage because we make marriage about our own selfish desires. Then, we see these same people seek affection from others outside their marriages. They find the affairs as exhilarating as anything they have experienced in their lives. They confuse excitement and passion for love and they end their marriages and start new ones thinking that this feeling is so much better than the mundane, average-ness of their previous marriage. Then real life sets in. Divorce proceedings. Hurt feelings. Anger. Retaliation. Child custody issues. Logistics. Your kids vs. my kids. And just the setting of everyday life in the new marriage. We trade a solution for one set of problems and create a whole new set of problems of divorce and remarriage as a result of an affair. The affair and divorce seem like the greatest thing ever but then who dive into a pool of a whole other set of problems that you have never known before. All because we sought our own solutions to problems without taking them to God and seeking his God-honoring solution to the problem. This is just one common example in today’s world that demonstrate how we make decisions without God.

That’s what I thought of this morning as I read through this passage, 1 Kings 15:16-22, this morning where Asa makes a decision and there is absolutely no mention of going to God in prayer. He just makes a decision that he sees as expedient for the moment, that meets his own immediate desire for peace at any cost. Let’s read it now:

16 There was constant war between King Asa of Judah and King Baasha of Israel. 17 King Baasha of Israel invaded Judah and fortified Ramah in order to prevent anyone from entering or leaving King Asa’s territory in Judah.

18 Asa responded by removing all the silver and gold that was left in the treasuries of the Temple of the Lord and the royal palace. He sent it with some of his officials to Ben-hadad son of Tabrimmon, son of Hezion, the king of Aram, who was ruling in Damascus, along with this message:

19 “Let there be a treaty[a] between you and me like the one between your father and my father. See, I am sending you a gift of silver and gold. Break your treaty with King Baasha of Israel so that he will leave me alone.”

20 Ben-hadad agreed to King Asa’s request and sent the commanders of his army to attack the towns of Israel. They conquered the towns of Ijon, Dan, Abel-beth-maacah, and all Kinnereth, and all the land of Naphtali. 21 As soon as Baasha of Israel heard what was happening, he abandoned his project of fortifying Ramah and withdrew to Tirzah. 22 Then King Asa sent an order throughout Judah, requiring that everyone, without exception, help to carry away the building stones and timbers that Baasha had been using to fortify Ramah. Asa used these materials to fortify the town of Geba in Benjamin and the town of Mizpah.

In this passage, we see that Baasha has become king in the northern kingdom. Baasha had seized the throne from Nadab, who had succeeded his Jeroboam, his father, when he died. Through Baasha, he had eliminated the line of Jeroboam but he did not follow God either. He continued to do things his own way and was constantly at war with Judah. Both Judah and Israel suffered from forgetfulness. Although God had delivered the people of all the tribes of Israel many times, they repeatedly sought help from the pagan nations nearby rather than from God. That Asa sought help from Aram is evidence of a spiritual decline among the tribes of Israel both north and south.

He sought only a human solution to the problem of Baasha incursion into Ramah. God grants us reason to work through problems and figure out solutions but we must first begin with Him. We must pray for wisdom from Him to see what the best solution to the problem is before we begin. We should not trust our selfish desires or just the most expedient solution on our own. God has all wisdom and we have limited foresight. We should go to God with all our problems and allow Him to guide our intellect and reason (that He gave us) to choose the God-honoring solution to the problem.

That’s the takeaway this morning. Whatever we are faced with, we have a choice in our free will that God granted us. We can NOT trust God or we CAN trust God. So many times in life, we failed to trust God and go boldly off in our flesh and make decisions on our own. So many times in life, as a result, we trade off one set of problems for another because we have made decisions without going to God in prayer.

Part of growing in our walk with God is to learn to trust Him in everything, especially proactively. We so often go to God after we have made a mess of things. We go to God after the fact. We go to God to clean up our mess of decisions made without consulting Him. Let us grow up and learn to trust God. Let us grow up and go to Him with all the decisions that we have to make. Let us grow up and learn that He has all wisdom. Let us grow up and go to God first when we have a decision of any kind to make. Let us grow up and go to God up front. Let us seek that which is God-honoring through prayer to Him. Let us seek Him before we make decisions and allow Him to guide us toward that which is best for us and all who we interact with. Let us allow Him to guide us to the best solution not just the most expedient one. Let us allow Him to guide us toward the right decisions even if their require hardship, hard work, pain, suffering, humility, sacrifice, and all those fruits of the spirit that God desires to create in us. Let us allow Him to have control of our everyday decisions and our big decisions. Let us trust His wisdom. Let us trust Him totally.

Amen and Amen.

1 Kings 15:9-15

Asa Rules in Judah

In a recent blog, I had written about the fact that just because you grow up in the shadow of the steeple, so to speak, it does not mean that you will automatically become a Christ follower at any early age. I grew up as a preacher’s kid and often lived in church parsonages that were right next door to the church my dad was serving – in the shadow of the steeple. Being a preacher’s kid does not automatically mean salvation. I traveled a long road to the cross – ultimately not getting there until I was 39 years and 4 months old in December 2001. Being surrounded by the church, being bathed in biblical knowledge and understanding of church, understanding who Jesus was, all of that provides no guarantee that you will accept Christ as your Savior and Lord at an early age.

That is what is amazing when I hear stories of those who have come to Christ as their Savior and Lord when they have had no background at all in the church. I think of a young couple that has become dear to my wife an me over the past year. They both grew up in households that were the product of our times. There was understanding that yeah that’s church over there but it was not part of their family culture. Sundays were just another day for their families to hang out or to go to bars to watch ball games. They were raised outside of any type of church influence. They met each other in high school and had an on again off again relationship for years after that. They ultimately had a child together and lived together. By a miracle of God they began coming to our church and each of them came to know Christ as their Savior and Lord. That began changing their lives. Ultimately, they wanted to become members of the church. However, as part of the process, they were challenged about living together but not being married.

Some people might of gotten angry and left the church over that. However, they took it to heart and realized that in order to do things God’s way, they needed to get married and make that public commitment to one another in matrimony. I had the honor of officiating at that wedding, my first as a pastor. Since they made that commitment to one another, they have grown exponentially in their walk with Jesus Christ. They both now serve at the church in the usher ministry and I just love their passion for the Lord. The influence on how their live their lives and share their faith is having a major impact on each of their families. We now see family members of theirs coming to church with them. They had no background in church, but they are speaking loudly for Christ and how He has changed their lives is a testimony to the fact that we are all ministers of the good news. They are changing generations and they are changing the direction of their entire family. What a testimony!

I thought of this young couple who is bucking the trend of their family and changing the direction of their whole family as a result of their faith in Jesus Christ as their Savior and Lord when I read this passage, 1 Kings 15:9-15, about how Asa was different from generations of his family:

9 Asa began to rule over Judah in the twentieth year of Jeroboam’s reign in Israel. 10 He reigned in Jerusalem forty-one years. His grandmother[a] was Maacah, the granddaughter of Absalom.

11 Asa did what was pleasing in the Lord’s sight, as his ancestor David had done. 12 He banished the male and female shrine prostitutes from the land and got rid of all the idols[b] his ancestors had made. 13 He even deposed his grandmother Maacah from her position as queen mother because she had made an obscene Asherah pole. He cut down her obscene pole and burned it in the Kidron Valley. 14 Although the pagan shrines were not removed, Asa’s heart remained completely faithful to the Lord throughout his life. 15 He brought into the Temple of the Lord the silver and gold and the various items that he and his father had dedicated.

As Asa took the throne, he had incredible family inertia and tradition to overcome. But if he was to follow in the footsteps of David, he had an up-hill road to trudge. The following is a list of his family’s legacy before him:

  • A great-grandfather who was Solomon and had introduced paganism
  • A grandfather who had divided the kingdom and allowed paganism to flourish in the southern kingdom
  • A father who followed Asa’s grandfather’s sinful ways and continued and maintained constant war with the northern kingdom.
  • A grandmother who was a powerful and persistent queen and a strong proponent of paganism.

That is the amazing thing here. Just as the young couple of which I have spoken is changing the generations of their families both behind them and ahead of them without having had a history in the church, we see Asa buck the trend of his family’s generations of operating outside the will of God. Through the miracle of the Holy Spirit, he was different. He bucked the trend of wickedness. He even stood up to his powerful grandmother. He said to the world, as for me and my house, we will worship the one true God.

No matter what your background is and no matter how bad you think it is and no matter how many generations of people in your family have lived lives far from God, there is room for you in God’s family. He does not check your pedigree to be in relationship with Him. You only have to be willing to do things God’s way. We are all sinners in need of grace. We all have fallen short and continue to fall short of the glory of God. But He has enough grace to swallow up the history of your life and the generations of ungodliness before you. His grace will swallow up your past and make you a new creature. People will be drawn to the difference in you and your simple act of trusting Christ as your Savior and Lord can echo through the generations and change the entire direction of an entire family. Don’t be afraid. God will protect you and cause you to be a change agent for the generations. Just one person accepting Christ can have huge ripple effects on families, friends and even enemies. God has grace for you. Come into His grace now. You will be accepted by Christ. He will cover you in His grace and make you a new, changed creature that will speak loudly to the generations.

Amen and Amen.

1 Kings 14:29-15:8 (Part 2 of 2)

Abijam Rules in Judah

The thing that has been plaguing me as I pondered this passage for the second time was why did God put up with the ungodly ways of the Israelite kings of the northern and, particularly, of the southern kingdom? There are two answers to that question that I think are appropriate.

First, let us think about our own children. Do we stop loving them just because they misbehave or break our “house rules” when they are living at home under our roof? Do we stop loving them when they are adults and decide that we have harmed them in some way, even if it’s just a perception that they have? The answer to both of those questions is a “no”. We love our children no matter what. We may not agree with what they are doing or even how they treat us as parents, but we still love them. Sometimes, we have to love them from afar as they work through whatever issues they have with us. But we love them anyway. Sometimes, we have to allow circumstances in their lives to play themselves out because of choices that they have made, but we still love them anyway. I think that is part of what is going on here is that God loves his chosen people, even when they are showing Him great disrespect even after all that He has done for them. God seems to be giving them every chance in the world to repent and change their ways and return unto Him. God is a longsuffering parent to the people of Israel. He loves them without end. He will allow their evil choices to run their course in their lives but He still allows them to exist as a people chosen by Him. He loves them like an earthly parent loves a child. An earthly parent will welcome their child home with open arms even after years of disagreement and disrespect because of the love the parent has for the child. God is like that with ancient Israel.

Second, the idea that comes to mind is the song by Casting Crowns called “Until the Whole World Hears”. God is so wanting all of us to return to Him that He continues to hold back his judgment on mankind. He so desires for us to hear the gospel of Jesus Christ, He will be longsuffering. He wants us to have every opportunity to repent and return unto Him. There will be a time when His patience will run out and we will hear the trumpet sounds of the return of Jesus Christ that will herald the end of all things. However, in the meantime, God so desires that we have every opportunity to repent and worship Him that He will suffer with our disrespect toward Him. That is not to say that He accepts everything that we do. He is angered by our sin and disrespect just as any human parent would be. That is not to say that He will not let our sins have their consequences in our lives. However, it does mean that He will continue to love us even when we are yet sinners. He will give us every opportunity to repent. While we are living and breathing, it is never to late to repent and come unto God through His Son.

With those two things in mind, let us now read 1 Kings 14:29-15:8 once more:

29 The rest of the events in Rehoboam’s reign and everything he did are recorded in The Book of the History of the Kings of Judah. 30 There was constant war between Rehoboam and Jeroboam. 31 When Rehoboam died, he was buried among his ancestors in the City of David. His mother was Naamah, an Ammonite woman. Then his son Abijam became the next king.

Chapter 15

1 Abijam began to rule over Judah in the eighteenth year of Jeroboam’s reign in Israel. 2 He reigned in Jerusalem three years. His mother was Maacah, the granddaughter of Absalom.

3 He committed the same sins as his father before him, and he was not faithful to the Lord his God, as his ancestor David had been. 4 But for David’s sake, the Lord his God allowed his descendants to continue ruling, shining like a lamp, and he gave Abijam a son to rule after him in Jerusalem. 5 For David had done what was pleasing in the Lord’s sight and had obeyed the Lord’s commands throughout his life, except in the affair concerning Uriah the Hittite.

6 There was war between Abijam and Jeroboam throughout Abijam’s reign. 7 The rest of the events in Abijam’s reign and everything he did are recorded in The Book of the History of the Kings of Judah. There was constant war between Abijam and Jeroboam. 8 When Abijam died, he was buried in the City of David. Then his son Asa became the next king.

After reading the passage, it reminds us all that we are no better than Abijam. We are all sinners in God’s eyes. We live in a generation that pulls us away from God and many of us fall prey to the seduction of our culture by the individual choices that we make. The thing that defines us as Christ followers is that we recognize our sinful nature and we understand what God has saved us from through the sacrifice on the cross by His Son and through His Son’s resurrection. We become acutely aware of our sin nature through the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives. The Holy Spirit spends our remaining lifetime rooting out the toughest roots of our sin nature. We are not made perfect until we meet Jesus in heaven when we die. As Christ followers, we recognize our sins (though it takes longer with the sins we find toughest to give up over time) through the supervision of the Holy Spirit and we begin to repent of them and turn away from them as we continue to mature in Christ.

Does God stop loving us as Christ followers when we sin. No. He is a longsuffering parent. Just as a human parent will see their child returning home after a life of hating their parent and run to them and hug them and take them in and love them as if no time had passed. God is waiting for each of us to return unto Him. Is your life a mess? Are you ready to come home? Are you ready for God to run to greet you as you come to Him from the distance? Are you tired of being sick and tired? He is a longsuffering God. He loves you. He is giving you every opportunity to return unto Him. Turn from the mess that your sins have made of your life. Turn from your running from God. Return home to the One who loves you like no other. You have every opportunity. He will accept you with open arms. Please return unto Him while you still have breath in your body.

Amen and Amen.

1 Kings 14:29-15:8 (Part 1 of 2)

Abijam Rules in Judah

Yesterday, we talked about our nation and the lost art of compromise and the elevation of individual rights over and above the needs of society as a whole. When I read today’s passage, 1 Kings 14:29-15:8, it kind of made me sick to my stomach as we see history repeating itself before our very eyes in today’s America. The key thing that I keep coming back to when I read this passage is the theme of civil war between Judah and Israel during this post-Solomon period of the reigns of Jeroboam in the north and Rehoboam and his heir and son, Abijam in the south. The author of this passage makes it clear that there was constant military action between the now separate nations of Israel and Judah both between Jeroboam and Rehoboam and then Jeroboam and Abijam. All this did was to weaken each nation and make each one susceptible to invasion by foreign powers such as Egypt, Assyrian, and Babylon.

The civil war between the north and the south of Israel was about arrogance and pride. There was no art of compromise between the nations. Rehoboam was so arrogant that he did not pay heed to the fact that the entire nation was weary of the building projects and the taxation programs of Solomon in his latter years. He should have given the nation a rest from taxes. But he took the arrogant route of taking the suggestions of lowering taxes as being an affront to him personally. He felt his power being questioned and wanted to prove a point. Likewise, Jeroboam who led the split of the northern kingdom instead of letting his people worship in Jerusalem set up an alternative religion. Each one became entrenched in their positions and were unwilling to compromise for the sake of the nation. Add on top of that, the started internal wars between the two related but now separate nations. These actions used up resources that could have been used to defend the nations from outsiders. It’s like two brothers fighting each other while thieves steal them blind in the background.

That is the place that we find ourselves as a nation at the moment. We are at war within and we are weakened by it. We have lost the art of compromise and elevated individual desires above all else. When we worship the things that we want, we lose the ability to see that crushing our brother is no victory. We simply have become weaker as a nation when that happens and grows the discontent among those who see their ideals slipping away. When we demonize the opposition, it is impossible for us to compromise. When we see our way as the only way, we are at war internally. Bullets are not being fired in this war, but the nation is weakened when we must completely obliterate the opposition, even if its politically and not militarily.

After writing about the similarities between ancient Israel/Judah and the United States, let us now read about there was constant civil war between the two sides of the tribes of Israel:

29 The rest of the events in Rehoboam’s reign and everything he did are recorded in The Book of the History of the Kings of Judah. 30 There was constant war between Rehoboam and Jeroboam. 31 When Rehoboam died, he was buried among his ancestors in the City of David. His mother was Naamah, an Ammonite woman. Then his son Abijam became the next king.

Chapter 15

1 Abijam began to rule over Judah in the eighteenth year of Jeroboam’s reign in Israel. 2 He reigned in Jerusalem three years. His mother was Maacah, the granddaughter of Absalom.

3 He committed the same sins as his father before him, and he was not faithful to the Lord his God, as his ancestor David had been. 4 But for David’s sake, the Lord his God allowed his descendants to continue ruling, shining like a lamp, and he gave Abijam a son to rule after him in Jerusalem. 5 For David had done what was pleasing in the Lord’s sight and had obeyed the Lord’s commands throughout his life, except in the affair concerning Uriah the Hittite.

6 There was war between Abijam and Jeroboam throughout Abijam’s reign. 7 The rest of the events in Abijam’s reign and everything he did are recorded in The Book of the History of the Kings of Judah. There was constant war between Abijam and Jeroboam. 8 When Abijam died, he was buried in the City of David. Then his son Asa became the next king.

After reading the passage, and thinking about our nation as it stands at this integral moment in its history, the rush that came over me is that we must change this from the ground up. The reason that our nation has come to point of impasse is that we are no longer a nation of people that respects one another’s positions as having any validity. And it begins in our homes! We must change in the most basic unit of our society – the home. We have become a nation where what I want is the most important thing and that includes how we interact in our homes. Our divorce rate in America reflects the fact that each of us place our personal desires above those of our spouse and of our children. Everyone must adapt to what we want. No longer are we willing to work through marital problems. No longer are we willing to see our spouse’s rights and needs as equally as valid as ours. If we don’t like it, we just divorce and try on a new spouse.

As a politicians, our leaders should do what is best for the nation as a whole. But our politicians are reflection of us. In our homes, we must begin to make our marriages greater than ourselves. Maybe, we should begin by placing God in charge of choosing our mate rather than our personal fleshly desires. Maybe then, we can have marriages where we recognize the God-given validity of the needs of our spouses. Maybe then, we can have marriages where we really want to honor our spouses. Maybe then, we can love our spouses so much that we want them to thrive. Maybe then, we can have marriages where we both are concerned about meeting the needs of the other spouse. Maybe then, we can have marriages that will survive disagreements because we are both working to do what is best for the marriage as a whole and not just ourselves. Maybe then, we can let our children see that and they will grow up the same way. Maybe then, we will have children who become leaders who will see across the aisle and respect the opposition. Maybe then, we can do what is best for the country rather than our political affiliation. Maybe then, we can become a united nation again!

If we are to change the course of the nation, we must begin in our homes!

Amen and Amen.