Archive for August, 2019

2 Kings 16:19-17:6

Israel Falls to Assyria

Does God actually curse people? If we look back at Deuteronomy 28:15-37, the people of God, ancient Israel, were warned of curses. Is God really that way? Does he curse people? If we look more closely at how God states things in the Bible, curses are not necessarily an unprovoked spite by the Lord toward a human or a group of humans. If you read the Bible carefully, curses are more akin to the withdrawal of blessing and protection to those who had been previously experiencing his blessing. This discussion does not address the issue of why bad things happen to good people. That’s an issue for later discussion about trusting in God’s sovereignty. However, here, in this case, we are talking about a nation that, plain and simple, thumbed its nose up at God. And, we see God withdraw his blessing and favor from that nation.

That is what happened with the people of the northern kingdom here. They were cursed by God because they had wandered away from God. They had accepted pagan religious practices and incorporated them into their own worship. So far had they fallen from God, their kings tried to align themselves with other kings to preserve their way of life. Instead of repenting of their sins and seeking renewed favor from the Lord through His forgiveness, they relied on their own political savvy (or so they thought) to preserve themselves. Basically, they were worshiping themselves instead of God. They had fashioned God into who they wanted Him to be, not who He really is. God withdrew his blessing from the northern people and thus left them unprotected by his care. Thus, they became weak and easily conquered by Assyria.

That’s the question we must ask ourselves today. Are we incorporating practices of the world around us so as to appease the culture in which we find ourselves? Are we effectively rewriting God’s Word just so we do not have to deal with the parts that we do not like or that are not popular within the culture in which we operate? That’s where the northern kingdom of Israel found itself. There was an old cigarette commercial back in the day (back when cigarette ads were allowed on television) for Tareyton cigarettes that tried to promote loyalty to their brand. It’s slogan was “I would rather fight than switch!” and each person featured in the ads would have a painted-on black eye. It was a catchy and memorable ad campaign. However, for the nation of the northern kingdom of Israel, the slogan could be reversed, “I would rather switch than fight!”

Instead of doing the tougher thing, which was to obey God and to deny their own sinful desires, they gave in to the practices of the cultures around them. It was easier. It was more sensual. It gave validation to their fleshly desires and made them feel OK about pursuing what was clearly against God’s commands in His Word. It was easier to fit in than stand out. It was easier to give in that stand on God’s Word. It was easier to seek favor with man than it is to seek favor from God. Then, they wondered why God withdrew His blessing from their nation.

Let’s read 2 Kings 16:19-17:6 now to see the final end of the northern kingdom of Israel, to see the withdrawal of God’s protection and care.

19 The rest of the events in Ahaz’s reign and everything he did are recorded in The Book of the History of the Kings of Judah. 20 When Ahaz died, he was buried with his ancestors in the City of David. Then his son Hezekiah became the next king.

Chapter 17

1 Hoshea son of Elah began to rule over Israel in the twelfth year of King Ahaz’s reign in Judah. He reigned in Samaria nine years. 2 He did what was evil in the Lord’s sight, but not to the same extent as the kings of Israel who ruled before him.

3 King Shalmaneser of Assyria attacked King Hoshea, so Hoshea was forced to pay heavy tribute to Assyria. 4 But Hoshea stopped paying the annual tribute and conspired against the king of Assyria by asking King So of Egypt[a] to help him shake free of Assyria’s power. When the king of Assyria discovered this treachery, he seized Hoshea and put him in prison.

Samaria Falls to Assyria

5 Then the king of Assyria invaded the entire land, and for three years he besieged the city of Samaria. 6 Finally, in the ninth year of King Hoshea’s reign, Samaria fell, and the people of Israel were exiled to Assyria. They were settled in colonies in Halah, along the banks of the Habor River in Gozan, and in the cities of the Medes.

In this passage, we see the continuing demands for tribute by Assyria which of course was draining the resources of Israel. Because of the heavy toll that the tribute was exacting on Israel, Hoshea decided to do something about it. We see that instead of seeking God, Hoshea tried to align itself with another foreign king. This time it was King So of Egypt. This was not only foolish but also against God’s commands. To destroy this alliance, Assyria attacked and besieged Samaria for three years. This invasion was Assyria’s third and final invasion of Israel. The first wave was just a warning to Israel – to avoid further attack, Israel had to pay off Assyria and give promises not to rebel against Assyria.

The people should have learned their lesson and returned to God. When they didn’t, God withdrew his favor and allowed the events to play out as they did. The second invasion saw the Assyrians take off people at the northern border of the kingdom and resettled them elsewhere in the kingdom. However, the people still did not realize that they were the source of their own trouble and the cause of God’s withdrawal of blessing and protection. Thus, Assyria invaded a third and final time, destroying Israel completely (Samaria the capital falls into Assyrian hands in 722 BC) and carrying away most of the northern kingdom’s people and resettling Israel with Assyrians.

God was doing what He had said He would do (see Deuteronomy 28:15-37). He had given Israel ample warning. They knew what would come, but they still ignored God. Israel was now no better than any of the pagan nations that it had conquered in the Promised Land in the days of Joshua. The nation had turned sour and rejected its original purpose – to honor God and be a light to the world.

What is it that we can learn from this passage that we can use today in the 21st century? I think that it is clear that God’s Word is eternal and timeless and it is His Truth that never changes. It is tempting for us, just as it was for ancient Israel, to adjust God’s Word here and there to make accommodations for the culture in which we live. It is tempting for us to hide those parts of God’s Word away in storage that are offensive to the culture in which we live and now operate. It is tempting for us to ignore God’s Word in certain areas and even re-interpret them so that we fit in better with the culture in which we operate. It is tempting to reverse course on thousands of years of Christian interpretation of God’s Word and say that for thousands of years that’s not what God really meant just so we can not cause friction with the current beliefs of culture. However, that does not change the fact that the Holy Spirit has led Christians for thousands of years to interpret the Bible in the manner that we have for those thousands of years. It does not change the fact that God’s truth is timeless and eternal and will never change and He is the one that has established that truth and guided believers over the millennia to understand those exact truths.

The lesson then is before us. Stand on God’s truth as understood by His people for thousands and thousands of years or become like ancient Israel and simply fashion a religion of our own making because it just makes things easier. It’s easier to the easy thing than it is to do the hard thing. Ancient Israel suffered the withdrawal of blessing from God (i.e., withdrawal of blessing = curse) and the nation was no more in the end. The lesson for us as Christ followers today is that we must obey God even when its not popular and even when its not easy and even when it is the not the culturally popular thing to do.

Lord, give us the strength to resist turning from you and embracing that which is not of you. Lord, give us the strength to see your truths as expressed in your Word as eternal and timeless and unchanging. Lord, help to resist the temptation to rewrite the Bible to make it easier for the world around us. Lord, help to be strong and be faithful to you so that you will not withdraw your blessing from us.

Amen and Amen.

2 Kings 16:10-18

Ahaz Changes the Temple

Changing to suit someone else. Changing to fit in. Changing to get along in the culture in which we operate. That’s what we see in this passage. Changing who you are just to suit another is what we see in this passage. It so reminds me of the life that I used to live. And this passage is a challenge to us today as the Christian church.

For me, I was a people pleaser. I was a chameleon. Growing up as a Methodist preacher’s kid, we moved a lot as I was growing up. So, in that process of moving so often, I became adept at fitting in. My brother, on the other hand, marched to his own drummer and stood out like a sore thumb. As for me, I was a blender. I mixed in. I wanted to be part of the crowd. Over the years, I learned the best way not to stick out was to fit in. Along the way, I forgot who I was. I allowed others to determine who I was and how I felt about myself. When you do that, you are in for a rollercoaster of a life. Through two marriages where I made pleasing and appeasing each wife the main aim of life, I was tossed about by the wind just trying to make sure we got along. When you don’t know who you are, you begin to feel that your own feelings are not valid because they have no anchor. You live by what others think of you. You live for their approval. You have to change yourself to make sure you fit the mold of who others want you to be. It was not until I accepted Christ as my Savior at age 39 that I began to realize that I truly had value on my own. I began to realize that my value was not determined by others. I began to realize that I needed to seek God’s approval and not man’s. Sure, we want others to like us but if that is the anchor to our lives and not God then we are making idols out of human beings. I know that is what I did. I do not blame anyone but myself for that. I just so wanted to fit in, to be loved physically and emotionally, to feel approved that I gave away the power over my life to others. When we make approval of others the guiding light of our lives, we allow others to be become our gods and not the One and Only True God.

That is what I thought about today when I read about King Ahaz’s attempts to curry favor with the Assyrian empire’s king. He changed everything that Judah had stood for just to win favor of a pagan king. He was willing to completely change the Temple of God to curry favor with man. It reminded me of myself before Christ and for some time afterwards as I was beginning to mature in Christ. It reminded me also of the challenge that faces the American church in the 21st century. Let’s read about King Ahaz now in 2 Kings 16:10-18 now:

10 King Ahaz then went to Damascus to meet with King Tiglath-pileser of Assyria. While he was there, he took special note of the altar. Then he sent a model of the altar to Uriah the priest, along with its design in full detail. 11 Uriah followed the king’s instructions and built an altar just like it, and it was ready before the king returned from Damascus. 12 When the king returned, he inspected the altar and made offerings on it. 13 He presented a burnt offering and a grain offering, he poured out a liquid offering, and he sprinkled the blood of peace offerings on the altar.

14 Then King Ahaz removed the old bronze altar from its place in front of the Lord’s Temple, between the entrance and the new altar, and placed it on the north side of the new altar. 15 He told Uriah the priest, “Use the new altar[a] for the morning sacrifices of burnt offering, the evening grain offering, the king’s burnt offering and grain offering, and the burnt offerings of all the people, as well as their grain offerings and liquid offerings. Sprinkle the blood from all the burnt offerings and sacrifices on the new altar. The bronze altar will be for my personal use only.” 16 Uriah the priest did just as King Ahaz commanded him.

17 Then the king removed the side panels and basins from the portable water carts. He also removed the great bronze basin called the Sea from the backs of the bronze oxen and placed it on the stone pavement. 18 In deference to the king of Assyria, he also removed the canopy that had been constructed inside the palace for use on the Sabbath day,[b] as well as the king’s outer entrance to the Temple of the Lord.

In this passage, we see that King Ahaz copied pagan religious customs, changed the Temple services, and used the Temple altar for his personal benefit. In so doing, he demonstrated a callous disregard for God’s Word. We condemn Ahaz for his actions, but we act the same way if we try to mold God’s message to fit our personal preferences, our to suit the culture around us. King Ahaz was trying to curry the favor of a foreign king so he changed the entire worship system of Judah, a system that was God-ordained and God-directed.

The biggest challenge to me by the Holy Spirit after I accepted Christ as my Savior was to stop seeking validation through the women in my life. I had lived so much of my life trying to gain acceptance that I confused acceptance with love. I thought they were one and the same. And I was willing to do anything to maintain acceptance. That is also the Holy Spirit’s challenge to us as the 21st century church. Do we bend ourselves like King Ahaz to make everything about the church more acceptable to the culture around us just so we can fit in and feel accepted. Do we altar the temple, so to speak, to suit the needs the culture that we are so desperately trying to win the favor of?

Or do we march to our own drummer – the only drummer who really matters in the end – God? Do we change what two millenia of believers have come to understand the God’s Word to mean just to suit current trends in the culture? Do we change what God’s Word has eternally meant and what He guided believers over the centuries to understand just because of a change in the prevailing cultural norms that exist in the world now? Do we abandon what we have come to understand about the Bible through the guidance of the Holy Spirit? The reason that the theological beliefs of the Christian church have developed over two millenia is not because of man himself defining them. Rather, it is because the Holy Spirit has ensured that the meaning of Scripture has not changed to each generation of believers. The beliefs of Christianity have had consistency through the ages because of Holy Spirit guidance and direction.

Where do you find your value – in others? How did that work out for you? I know for me that it did not end well. King Ahaz was trying to win favor of a pagan king so much that he changed the very basis of who Judea was. For Ahaz and the future of ancient Israel, it did not end well either. Let the church today remember its first love, God, and live for His approval.

Amen and Amen.

2 Kings 16:1-9 (Part 2 of 2)

Ahaz Begins His Reign in Judah

Yesterday, we saw how far from God King Ahaz was such that he willingly sacrificed his own baby boy to an idol. He was the leader of what was once a nation of people truly favored by God. How far Israel and Judah have fallen since the days of David. Today, as we write about this passage, we look beyond the king himself to the general state of the nations of Israel and Judah. Again, we see in this passage a king that would rather bankrupt his country to maintain his throne than stand and fight. Earlier we saw how Israel’s king had empty his treasuries as tribute to the Assyrians to try to preserve his kingdom. However, in the end, the Assyrian king conquered the kingdom anyway. What did the Judean king think? That it would be different this time? For him?

There is an old saying that “the definition of insanity is doing the same old things over and over again expecting different results.” There is another saying too that says, “those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” That’s what I see here in this passage. The king of Judea is repeating the same actions as the king of Israel but expecting different results. He did not learn from the history of the situation in the northern kingdom.

That got me to thinking about how similar to these actions we are today. For those who do not believe in Jesus Christ as their Savior are repeating the actions of history but are expecting different results. As our nation drifts away from God, we do not see what happened to Israel and Judah. Our nation has been shown great favor over the past 300 years. To grow from a fledgling colony in the wilderness of a barely inhabited continent to a world power within less than 300 years is an amazing fact and shows the favor of God upon our nation. Generally, our nation was one that placed God in the center of the public square. God was spoken of freely and made part of our public discourse.

However, in the last half of the 20th century and even more so in this century, we developed a greater sense that it was us that made our nation great and not God. It is very similar to the track of the history of the once unified nation of ancient Israel. As we gained our place on the world stage as the big boy on the block so did our sense of self-reliance. As we gained in material wealth, we also pushed God out of the way and begin worshiping ourselves just as Israel had done. Just as Israel and Judah became obsessed with their own pleasure-seeking so too has our nation become preoccupied with ourselves and our comfort. As Israel and Judah would do anything, make any deal, to maintain their peaceful enjoyment of their own pleasures, our nation seems to be losing its way as the leader in the world. We are more concerned with individual self-expression that we are with doing what is right for our nation as a whole and doing what is right in the sight of God. There is an old song by Don Henley from the 1980’s that is as prophetic as it was a funky tune called, “All She Wants to Do is Dance!”

That was the song that came to mind this morning when I thought about this passage. How Israel and Judah were more concerned about their self-pleasure than they were about preserving their nation. How Israel and Judah were so wrapped up in their idolatrous lifestyle that they could not see that these invading nations were a warning from God to return unto Him. They simply wanted to continue to dance at whatever the cost because all she wants to do is dance.

Let’s read the passage, 2 Kings 16:1-9, now with that idea in mind:

Chapter 16

1 In the seventeenth year of Pekah son of Remaliah, King Ahaz son of Jotham of Judah began to reign. 2 Ahaz was twenty years old when he began to reign; he reigned sixteen years in Jerusalem. He did not do what was right in the sight of the Lord his God, as his ancestor David had done, 3 but he walked in the way of the kings of Israel. He even made his son pass through fire, according to the abominable practices of the nations whom the Lord drove out before the people of Israel. 4 He sacrificed and made offerings on the high places, on the hills, and under every green tree.

5 Then King Rezin of Aram and King Pekah son of Remaliah of Israel came up to wage war on Jerusalem; they besieged Ahaz but could not conquer him. 6 At that time the king of Edom[a] recovered Elath for Edom,[b] and drove the Judeans from Elath; and the Edomites came to Elath, where they live to this day. 7 Ahaz sent messengers to King Tiglath-pileser of Assyria, saying, “I am your servant and your son. Come up, and rescue me from the hand of the king of Aram and from the hand of the king of Israel, who are attacking me.” 8 Ahaz also took the silver and gold found in the house of the Lord and in the treasures of the king’s house, and sent a present to the king of Assyria. 9 The king of Assyria listened to him; the king of Assyria marched up against Damascus, and took it, carrying its people captive to Kir; then he killed Rezin.

In this passage, we see that both the northern kingdom of Israel and the kingdom of Aram were both under Assyrian control. They joined forces against Judah hoping to force the southern kingdom to join their revolt against Assyria. However, Ahaz decided to throw his fortunes, metaphorically and literally, at the feet of the Assyrian king, thwarting the plans of the kings of Israel and Aram. It came at great cost though. Judah was now a vassal kingdom under the control of Assyria. He took the treasury of the Temple and the palace to satisfy the king of Assyria. Rather than lead a national revival of repentance return to God, the king decided to make a deal with the Assyrian king that had already proven to his fellow Israelites that he will only keep his word for a time and only if it is to his advantage.

The takeaway from today is that we must learn from Israel and Judah so that we do not repeat its mistakes. Our nation has drifted from God and many of the things that we worship as being OK today that are against God’s timeless and ageless Word will come to haunt us as a nation someday. The favor shown us will be withdrawn. Will we realize it and return to God or will we continue down the same road as Israel and Judah? Will we return to God or will we be more concerned with “all she wants to do is dance!”

Amen and Amen.

2 Kings 16:1-9 (Part 1 of 2)

Ahaz Begins His Reign in Judah

If we lived in a nation where babies were offered up in fires as sacrifices to pagan gods, what would our response be? That is what was happening in Israel and Judah during the time of 2 Kings. So prevalent was the practice, even King Ahaz of Judah offered up his own child in such a practice. We condemn it as we read it. Consciously choosing to throw your baby into a fire is an unthinkable act today.

For me, when I held my first child, though I was scared to death, at age 22 almost 23, I fell in love with the kind of love that you can only know when you have a child. I thought that I could not love another child as much as I loved our first child, but when my second daughter was born 5 ½ years later, I found a completely new love that I didn’t know I had the capacity for. When I felt each child kick in their mother’s womb, I was amazed at this miracle that is the conception and gestation of a child. Each of my girls (including, now, my stepdaughter of almost 10 years) are my heartbeat. I would take a bullet for each of them if it meant that they could continue to live. Then, there is my little granddaughter, now 3 years old. What a joy she is and how she has her grandpa simply wrapped around her finger! These children and grandchildren. These young ladies. What I would not do to save the lives of these girls. That’s where I just cringe when I read about Ahaz sacrificing his own child to a god. I just don’t understand how anyone such as the king in this passage could just throw an innocent baby into a fire to appease an idol.

We are all made in God’s image and He knows us intimately even before we are born:

13 For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. 14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. 15 My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth. 16 Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.

If God values our unformed bodies and already has our days ordained before birth, it is certain that He values the life of an innocent child after birth. Who is this king to decide for the child whether he or she gets to live or not? It did not take long after either of my children’s births for me to quickly not be able to see my life without them. Same with my stepdaughter. Same with my granddaughter. How quickly our children become essential parts of our lives. How can this king not give his child a chance to become an essential, irreplaceable part of his life? Sacrificing your child in a fire to an idol is essentially making this king his own god. He was deciding whether his own child lived or died. Is that not the prerogative of our God and not man?

That’s the heart wrenching thing that I thought of this morning. How could a parent of a baby throw their own child into a fire as a sacrifice to an idol? It made my think of my own children, stepchild and granddaughter. I would rather die myself in their place than have them suffer a death such as this. As we think of that idea, let’s read the passage, 2 Kings 16:1-9, now:

Chapter 16

1 In the seventeenth year of Pekah son of Remaliah, King Ahaz son of Jotham of Judah began to reign. 2 Ahaz was twenty years old when he began to reign; he reigned sixteen years in Jerusalem. He did not do what was right in the sight of the Lord his God, as his ancestor David had done, 3 but he walked in the way of the kings of Israel. He even made his son pass through fire, according to the abominable practices of the nations whom the Lord drove out before the people of Israel. 4 He sacrificed and made offerings on the high places, on the hills, and under every green tree.

5 Then King Rezin of Aram and King Pekah son of Remaliah of Israel came up to wage war on Jerusalem; they besieged Ahaz but could not conquer him. 6 At that time the king of Edom[a] recovered Elath for Edom,[b] and drove the Judeans from Elath; and the Edomites came to Elath, where they live to this day. 7 Ahaz sent messengers to King Tiglath-pileser of Assyria, saying, “I am your servant and your son. Come up, and rescue me from the hand of the king of Aram and from the hand of the king of Israel, who are attacking me.” 8 Ahaz also took the silver and gold found in the house of the Lord and in the treasures of the king’s house, and sent a present to the king of Assyria. 9 The king of Assyria listened to him; the king of Assyria marched up against Damascus, and took it, carrying its people captive to Kir; then he killed Rezin.

In this passage, the most disturbing thing that we see is that King Ahaz offered up his own son as a sacrifice in a fire to a pagan god. Imagine the monstrous evil of a religion that offers young children as sacrifices. God allowed the nation to be conquered in response to Ahaz’s evil practices. May we take heed of this passage in the 21st century and realize that all life is valuable to the Lord God.

Whether a person is a grown-up, or a baby, born or unborn. Whether a person is red, yellow, black, or white. Whether a person is young or old, God places value on our lives. We are made in His image. He knows us before we are even born. He is the one that knits us together through the miracle of conception and gestation. Even that moment of conception is a flat out miracle of God. That a sperm and an egg create life can be scientifically described and all that and we get that (after all science is simply us beginning to understand the details of the universe that God created), but the way that conception creates a pattern of cell multiplication that turns into a baby over 9 months is a “why” that we still don’t fully understand. That moment of conception begins the process of life. From that point forward, whether we are red, yellow, black or white, young or old, rich or poor, young or old, we have value in the sight of God.

Let us give glory to God for life. Let us give glory to God for the way that He knits us together in our mother’s wombs. Let us give glory to God for how little babies in our arms miraculous make us fall in love with them for life. Let us give glory to God for our kids who grow up to have our grandkids and how we find love we never knew we had in us for each new life that God gives us in our children and their children.

Amen and Amen.

2 Kings 15:32-38

Jotham Rules in Judah

At my home church, the place where I finally starting growing up spiritually and the place where my call to full-time ministry was cultivated, LifeSong Church in Lyman, SC, we were very active in doing things for our community. We would do things like rent out the local waterpark for an evening and let the entire community come swim and play for free. We would giveaway groceries door to door in various neighborhoods in our community. We had a day where we offered free services such haircuts, free auto maintenance, and other free services in the professions of people of our church. We had a day where we cleaned up the yards of elderly people in the Lyman-Duncan-Wellford communities. We had a day where we gave our free water bottles to people on hot summer days. We had a free professionally done fireworks show on a holiday weekend at our local high school stadium. Certainly, though, the centerpiece of all our outreach work was our annual Thanksgiving Meal Giveaway.

Where some churches would invite the less fortunate to their campuses for a prepared Thanksgiving meal, LifeSong did it a little differently. The church would buy upwards to 500 frozen turkeys from a regional grocery store chain to start the process off. Then, the church members would buy a specified list of fixings to go with each turkey. By the day of the event, we would have 500 turkeys and 500 bags of canned and dry goods – the makings for a complete Thanksgiving Day meal. Our idea was to allow each family who came to our giveaway to be able to take the meals home and be able to have a family Thanksgiving at home (and not some mass dinner on folding tables at some strange public place).

On the day of the event, we would have families lined up in our parking lot starting at 5am or so before we opened our doors at 8am. Once the doors were opened, we would register people (so we could contact them later with information about attending our church) and then they would proceed into our worship center’s auditorium, where we would have tables set up for them to sit down in groups of about 50 at a time. We had hospitality teams that would serve them coffee and snacks and a team of people to “work the room” (i.e., sit down and talk the people at each circular table). While they would sit there, our pastoral staff would take turns sharing the gospel with them and our worship team would play and sing contemporary Christian songs to them and so on. As they were sitting there, groups of 10 would be called to move to the next station just outside of the auditorium where we had a team of people that would pray for them. As a group of 10 moved out of the auditorium, another group of 10 would be called into the auditorium from those waiting in line. After a group of 10 was finished at the prayer tables, they would be free to move to the next station where they could select coats for themselves and/or their family. These coats were donated by our church members. After selecting coats, they went to the next station where they picked up a bag of dry and canned goods for their Thanksgiving meals. Once done there, they would proceed outside to the final station (which was a refrigerated truck where the turkeys were being dispensed). Once they got their turkey, we had a person for our outdoor hospitality team escort them back to their vehicles.

At the end of the day, we typically served up all 500 meals and usually had to run to the store and pick up 5-10 turkeys or so to serve everyone that came to our doors. It was always a great day for our church. Our people typically got more out of the day than the people that we had served. It was a day of teamwork. It was always a day of spiritual awakening for our people. It was a day in which we felt like we made a small dent in the despair that many people face in this world. It also reminded us that (1) most of us were extremely blessed and (2) how close we all are from being in that same situation. Those were great benefits of the day for our people and certainly moved each one who participated to be more active in our church with their time, talents, and resources.

The thing, though, that our senior pastor constantly reminded us, as the leaders of these outreach events, was that what we are doing – any government agency can do it. What sets us apart is we do it as an opportunity to share the good news of Jesus Christ with the world around us. If we don’t do that, we are just another humanitarian helps agency. If we do not get to know the folks we are helping, we are just another helps agency. If we do not genuinely love them (and not just doing such events to make ourselves feel good), then we are just another helps agency. If we do not share the gospel of Jesus Christ with them, then we are just another helps agency.

That’s the idea that came to mind this morning as I did my morning Bible reading here as I progress through 2 Kings. In this passage, 2 Kings 15:32-28, we see one of the few kings of Israel and Judah that the Bible says that he did what was right in the Lord’s eyes. Jothan was a good king but he fell short spiritually. He did not put God first in His life even though he was a good man. He allowed the idol worship to continue in the country just as the previous kings had, both the evil and the good ones. They did not want to rock the boat. They did not want to stick their neck out when it came to spiritual matters. Apparently, such things were just not important enough to Jothan. It was not a hill to die on for Jothan, like so many kings before him. Is it not that way with us, we do the all the right things but yet we do not place God as the first and foremost in our lives? We often forget, even as Christians (and I preach to myself here as well), that our primary purpose for being here on this planet on this side of eternity is to project, present, and live the gospel out in front of a watching world. That’s what I thought of this morning. With that in mind, let’s read about Jothan now:

32 In the second year of King Pekah son of Remaliah of Israel, King Jotham son of Uzziah of Judah began to reign. 33 He was twenty-five years old when he began to reign and reigned sixteen years in Jerusalem. His mother’s name was Jerusha daughter of Zadok. 34 He did what was right in the sight of the Lord, just as his father Uzziah had done. 35 Nevertheless the high places were not removed; the people still sacrificed and made offerings on the high places. He built the upper gate of the house of the Lord. 36 Now the rest of the acts of Jotham, and all that he did, are they not written in the Book of the Annals of the Kings of Judah? 37 In those days the Lord began to send King Rezin of Aram and Pekah son of Remaliah against Judah. 38 Jotham slept with his ancestors, and was buried with his ancestors in the city of David, his ancestor; his son Ahaz succeeded him.

In this passage, we learn a little bit about Jothan who followed his father on the throne of the southern kingdom, Judah. Much good can be said of his reign as king of Judah, but he failed in a most important area: He didn’t destroy the pagan shrines. Like Jotham, we may live basically good lives but yet miss the most important thing – fully obeying the Lord. A lifetime of doing good deeds is not enough if we make the crucial mistake of not following God with all of our hearts. A true follower of God put Him first in all areas of life. Likewise, as the collective local bodies of Christ we call the church, if we do good deeds out in our communities but yet do not share the gospel with those for whom we are doing the good deeds, we are offering nothing that government agencies cannot offer. We must personally as Christ followers and corporately as his church place God as the centerpiece of our lives. Anything less and we are just “doing the right things”.

We must see helping others as giving glory to God. We must see helping others as our act of thanksgiving for what He has done and continues to do in our lives. We see helping others as our opportunities to show them the same love we have been shown by our Savior. We see helping others as our opportunities to tell others of the mercy shown us by a forgiving and merciful God. We see helping others as our opportunity to tell them about how they too can enjoy God’s mercy. We must see everything as an opportunity to give glory to God.

We must make giving glory to God a hill to die on. If only that could have been said of Jothan here in 2 Kings. May THAT be said of you and me – that God was first and foremost in our lives in everything we do.

Amen and Amen.

2 Kings 15:23-31

Pekahiah, Pekah and Hoshea Rule in Israel

Weak borders. Decaying morality. Self-absorbed with their own pleasure. Political infighting. What country does that sound like? Oh you thought it was the United States in the current day, but I was talking about the northern kingdom of Israel in biblical times. But, yeah, it does sound like the United States in the current day, doesn’t it?

Why is that nations that have been prosperous end up decaying themselves from within. It has happened repeatedly throughout history. Just look at the Roman Empire. It was the greatest empire that has ever been known to man. However, the empire became a victim to its own success. They stopped expanding the empire and became obsessed with their own pleasures and material wealth. So much so that they began to build borders around the empire with which they had become satisfied. Instead of remaining strong and advancing the empire, they became satisfied and stop growing and expanding.

The next thing that happened that since there was no longer any new revenues coming into the empire from newly captured lands, tax revenue flattened out but yet Romans began consuming themselves with their own pleasures and demanded more and more from their existing conquered lands. The tax burden became ever and ever greater. The social fabric of the Roman empire became such that they had forgotten how hard it was to build the empire originally. They became consumed with the opulence of the empire and thought that it was almost a birthright – that this wealth was something that they deserved rather than having been earned by the hard work of centuries of Romans before them. It’s kind of like Americans and their homes today. When you watch shows on HGTV and see what people consider must-haves and what they complain about a house NOT having, it makes you chuckle a bit. They will throw out a house from their search if it does not meet their 2019 sensibilities. The things that we consider must-haves in our homes today were extreme luxuries just 50 years ago. When you look at homes built in 2019 compared to 1969 or even 1979, what we consider must-haves were way out there luxuries back in the day. Could we today survive in 1969 when houses mainly were built without central air conditioning?

It was that idea of how self absorption can make a nation weak and how that might relate to us as churchgoing Christians in the 21st century as I read of these three final kings of the northern kingdom of Israel in 2 Kings 15:23-31. Let’s read it now:

23 In the fiftieth year of King Azariah of Judah, Pekahiah son of Menahem began to reign over Israel in Samaria; he reigned two years. 24 He did what was evil in the sight of the Lord; he did not turn away from the sins of Jeroboam son of Nebat, which he caused Israel to sin. 25 Pekah son of Remaliah, his captain, conspired against him with fifty of the Gileadites, and attacked him in Samaria, in the citadel of the palace along with Argob and Arieh; he killed him, and reigned in place of him. 26 Now the rest of the deeds of Pekahiah, and all that he did, are written in the Book of the Annals of the Kings of Israel.

27 In the fifty-second year of King Azariah of Judah, Pekah son of Remaliah began to reign over Israel in Samaria; he reigned twenty years. 28 He did what was evil in the sight of the Lord; he did not depart from the sins of Jeroboam son of Nebat, which he caused Israel to sin.

29 In the days of King Pekah of Israel, King Tiglath-pileser of Assyria came and captured Ijon, Abel-beth-maacah, Janoah, Kedesh, Hazor, Gilead, and Galilee, all the land of Naphtali; and he carried the people captive to Assyria.

30 Then Hoshea son of Elah made a conspiracy against Pekah son of Remaliah, attacked him, and killed him; he reigned in place of him, in the twentieth year of Jotham son of Uzziah. 31 Now the rest of the acts of Pekah, and all that he did, are written in the Book of the Annals of the Kings of Israel.

In this passage, we see the beginning of the end of the northern kingdom as an independent state. Hoshea was the last of the kings to rule over Israel as an independent nation. The nation had been so consumed with its own political intrigue and self-seeking that it became almost unaware of the changing world around it. Assyrian was becoming a military power in the region. However, Israel was so consumed with itself that it did not concern itself with protecting its borders. With all the factions and strife internally, Israel became weak militarily and could not organize itself as a nation to defend itself. The same has been true of all nations who were once strong. The same fate has occurred with many a world power over man’s history. Infighting and internal strife politically and a nation of people who become obsessed with their own pleasures always leads to a world power to decaying from within – just look at the Roman Empire, once the strongest of all empires in history, fell because it became weak from within.

It also made me think of how the church in America has stagnated for the most part and why it does not grow (with certain rare exceptions). Have we become like the Roman Empire? Have we become like the northern kingdom of Israel? Have we become satisfied with the way things are so that we begin building borders around ourselves rather than continuing to expand the kingdom? Are we more interested in what goes on inside rather than what’s going on outside? That’s the question we must ask ourselves. I liken it to those famous words of John F. Kennedy, “Ask not what your country can do for you, but, rather, what you can do for your country?”

Let us be a people that are more consumed with expanding the kingdom that we are with the must-have that we want in our dream house. Let us be a people that are willing to sacrifice our must-haves to make sure that people are hearing the gospel and the kingdom is expanding. Let us be a people who want people to know Jesus and will sacrifice to make sure it happens.

Amen and Amen.

2 Kings 15:16-22

Menahem Rules in Israel

The thing that this passage reminds me of is how a person who severely addicted to drugs will do almost anything to maintain their supply of drugs and then pat themselves on the back for having done it. They will lie, cheat and steal to maintain their supply line. They will deplete their own resources without thought to the future or what it will do their family’s financial status. That’s kind of what I see here from King Menahem.

He essentially begins draining the wealth of the country, both the nation’s treasury and the wealth of the people themselves. All of it was done to maintain Israel’s independence for Assyria. However, with each financial resource being sent to Ninevah, Israel became weaker. In order to maintain their freedom to seek self-pleasure, Israel began giving away the farm, as the old saying goes. We are often that way with our own lives. We are often so addicted to certain sins that we will do anything to preserve our right to enjoy our self-pleasure and self-destruction. In our personal lives, we often see when we are addicted to a line of action, a sin pattern. Every unrepentant sin requires that we pay tribute to it. It costs us money, time, and resources to maintain. When our leaders become consumed by sin, it not only hurts them but hurts our nation as a whole.

 It reminds you of the Watergate scandal of Richard Nixon when he was President. The last two years of his presidency was consumed with the scandal. There was no time to do what was necessary to govern the nation and to move it forward. The country was in a two year fog where nothing happened. The presidency was spent trying to cover up wrongdoing to the point that they did not have time for much else. Our country suffered for it and became weaker. Even after the presidency of Nixon came crashing down, the country suffered for years after that, throughout the remainder of the 70’s. That self-seeking of a leader to maintain his power still affects us today as a society. They say the 70’s were the me-generation and it began at the top with a rogue president. We cannot condemn Nixon too much. A leader is often a reflection of the temperature of the nation they represent. I often find it funny that we, as a people, often complain about the “bums in Washington”, but we are a representative republic. Those bums in Washington only get there because we elect them and often re-elect them repeatedly. They make promises that we like to hear and then we vote for them. And vote for them again.

That’s what I thought of this morning is that our nation is not too unlike the people of the northern kingdom and its kings. I bet the king was simply a reflection of the people’s desires to maintain their desire to do what they wanted, to seek self-pleasure, to maintain their addiction to the sins that they desired to follow. They were willing to do anything and pay anything to allow themselves to continue seeking their own pleasure. They were willing to sell the farm, so to speak, to do just that. We see it here in this passage of 2 Kings 15:16-22. Let’s read it now:

16 At that time Menahem sacked Tiphsah, all who were in it and its territory from Tirzah on; because they did not open it to him, he sacked it. He ripped open all the pregnant women in it.

Menahem Reigns over Israel

17 In the thirty-ninth year of King Azariah of Judah, Menahem son of Gadi began to reign over Israel; he reigned ten years in Samaria. 18 He did what was evil in the sight of the Lord; he did not depart all his days from any of the sins of Jeroboam son of Nebat, which he caused Israel to sin. 19 King Pul of Assyria came against the land; Menahem gave Pul a thousand talents of silver, so that he might help him confirm his hold on the royal power. 20 Menahem exacted the money from Israel, that is, from all the wealthy, fifty shekels of silver from each one, to give to the king of Assyria. So the king of Assyria turned back, and did not stay there in the land. 21 Now the rest of the deeds of Menahem, and all that he did, are they not written in the Book of the Annals of the Kings of Israel? 22 Menahem slept with his ancestors, and his son Pekahiah succeeded him.

In this passage, we see that Menahem, like the kings before him, led his people into sin. What a horrible epitaph for a leader! Further, as we see here, the slow decline into a conquered nation begins. When King Tiglath-pileser took the throne of Assyria, the Assyrian Empire was becoming a world power and the nations of Aram, Israel and Judah were in decline. This passage is the first mention of Assyria in 2 Kings. Tiglath’s invasion occurred in 743 BC. The result of the invasion was that Israel became a subservient nation and Menahem was forced to pay monetary tribute to Assyria. This invasion was the first of three invasions of Israel by Assyria (see 2 Kings 15:29 and 17:6 for the other two).

The ironic thing here was that I bet that King Menahem probably patted himself on the back for what he did. He maintained the independence of Israel from Assyria but he had to start bankrupting the country to do it. It is so very much like a drug addict that will bankrupt his family to maintain his drug supply but yet continues to pat himself on the back for having maintained his supply. A drug addict will progressively lose all that he has to maintain his supply. A drug addict can go from living in a fine home to living under a bridge but yet only see that he has maintained his drug supply. The nation of Israel is doing the same thing here. They are starting to lose their fine house and begin the slow crawl to being a conquered nation where ultimately the people a dragged off by the Assyrians and dispersed around the kingdom to serve their Assyrian overlords – the equivalent in our analogy of a drug addict losing his home and living under a bridge.

The lesson for us as Christians then would be to examine our own lives to see what we are working overtime on to maintain rather than seeking the Lord? What are those things that we are “selling the farm” to maintain rather than seeking the Lord?

Amen and Amen.