Archive for September, 2019

2 Kings 21:1-18

Manasseh Reigns in Judah

I think the thing that strikes me about this morning’s passage is that of missed opportunity. King Hezekiah was one of the few God-honoring kings in the history of the southern kingdom after its split with the northern kingdom. He was a good guy. He sought after God in much the same manner as David. However, it did not last long. The question that you have to raise after reading about his son, Manasseh, is “How could this happen?” If we can find fault with Hezekiah, it would have to be his apparent failure to raise his son in the ways of the Lord.

That got me to thinking about the youth ministry at our church and about us as Christian fathers in this day and age. We have about a dozen kids in our youth ministry since we have rebooted it this Fall. It is my first experience as a full-time pastor in leading and teaching to youth specifically. I feel like a big kid myself even though I am 57, but I wonder if they see my inner teenage boy or if they just see some old guy trying to talk to them. Yesterday, I got more engagement from them than I had in the first three weeks of ministering to them combined. So, I am hopeful that maybe they are beginning to accept me…maybe. I know when I was their age that I didn’t really want to sit around and talk about things beyond the surface. However, I do have one teenage girl, Sydney, who along with her boyfriend, Gage, a football player at the high school are heavily influential on the rest of the group. Sydney has a depth of soul to her that many of the others do not. She is usually the first one to respond to questions and seems eager to want to discuss spiritual things (but not in a teacher’s pet kind of way). Rather, she just seems natural in her discussion of spiritual matters. It seemed yesterday she was able to influence the others in the group, especially Gage and his friends to engage a little more. I pray that Sydney will be the key to the door of the rest of the group. Maybe, like with anything else in church, there is that key person that a preacher needs to fire up any ministry of a church. The experts say that you need that person of interest and influence that can bring people along with them. I hope that I have found that person in our youth group.

By Sunday evening, I am usually just really emotionally, physically and spiritually spent from the day’s church services, particularly preaching. My dad always told me that preaching will just wear you out. I thought he was kidding all these years but it is true. Preaching just completely drains you. By the time I get home from church on Sundays, I am just wore slap out. Then, I have to get my game face on again for our Sunday night youth time from 5:30-7:00pm. Right in the middle of that time, I have deliver a mini-message and lead a discussion with the kids. When I head over to the church, I wonder if they are going to even connect with what I have to say. I wonder if it is worth to try. I wonder whether that, even though I feel like a 15 year old on the inside, they will just see a 57-year old fart that they are just required to listen to. I wonder if it’s going to make any difference at all. I wonder if they will see that I am tired beyond belief by Sunday evening. I wonder does it matter.

However, there is something to be said here for doing the trying. There is something to be said for planting seeds. It is that potential for crating a bud in a seed that makes me gather my tired body, soul and heart on Sunday evenings because this is that important. This generation of kids are immersed in a culture that wants to pull them away from the things of God. The seeds must be planted and there must be that one person, that person of interest, that creates the bud in the whole group. So we keep watering, we keep trying because we need not just produce godly parents but we must produce godly teens so that there will be a next generation of our church. That’s what I thought of this morning as I read about Manasseh and how his father apparently failed in passing on his love of God to his son.

Chapter 21

1 Manasseh was twelve years old when he became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem fifty-five years. His mother was Hephzibah. 2 He did what was evil in the Lord’s sight, following the detestable practices of the pagan nations that the Lord had driven from the land ahead of the Israelites. 3 He rebuilt the pagan shrines his father, Hezekiah, had destroyed. He constructed altars for Baal and set up an Asherah pole, just as King Ahab of Israel had done. He also bowed before all the powers of the heavens and worshiped them.

4 He built pagan altars in the Temple of the Lord, the place where the Lord had said, “My name will remain in Jerusalem forever.” 5 He built these altars for all the powers of the heavens in both courtyards of the Lord’s Temple. 6 Manasseh also sacrificed his own son in the fire.[a] He practiced sorcery and divination, and he consulted with mediums and psychics. He did much that was evil in the Lord’s sight, arousing his anger.

7 Manasseh even made a carved image of Asherah and set it up in the Temple, the very place where the Lord had told David and his son Solomon: “My name will be honored forever in this Temple and in Jerusalem—the city I have chosen from among all the tribes of Israel. 8 If the Israelites will be careful to obey my commands—all the laws my servant Moses gave them—I will not send them into exile from this land that I gave their ancestors.” 9 But the people refused to listen, and Manasseh led them to do even more evil than the pagan nations that the Lord had destroyed when the people of Israel entered the land.

10 Then the Lord said through his servants the prophets: 11 “King Manasseh of Judah has done many detestable things. He is even more wicked than the Amorites, who lived in this land before Israel. He has caused the people of Judah to sin with his idols.[b] 12 So this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: I will bring such disaster on Jerusalem and Judah that the ears of those who hear about it will tingle with horror. 13 I will judge Jerusalem by the same standard I used for Samaria and the same measure[c] I used for the family of Ahab. I will wipe away the people of Jerusalem as one wipes a dish and turns it upside down. 14 Then I will reject even the remnant of my own people who are left, and I will hand them over as plunder for their enemies. 15 For they have done great evil in my sight and have angered me ever since their ancestors came out of Egypt.”

16 Manasseh also murdered many innocent people until Jerusalem was filled from one end to the other with innocent blood. This was in addition to the sin that he caused the people of Judah to commit, leading them to do evil in the Lord’s sight.

17 The rest of the events in Manasseh’s reign and everything he did, including the sins he committed, are recorded in The Book of the History of the Kings of Judah. 18 When Manasseh died, he was buried in the palace garden, the garden of Uzza. Then his son Amon became the next king.

In this passage, we see that Hezekiah’s son was completely the opposite of his father. Manasseh was an evil king who seemed to be seeking after evil rather than seeking after God, like his dad. This passage reminds us of the fact that we may have deep spiritual roots ourselves and maybe after God’s own heart ourselves but if we do not spend time investing in growing up our kids in the ways of the Lord, they will depart from it very easily. We cannot be afraid to share our faith with our kids. We cannot be afraid to have those real conversations about faith. We cannot say “Well we can do that later!” We must start when they are young and not let up when they are teenagers, especially when they are teenagers. They may seem disinterested. They may seem like they don’t care. They may seem like they would rather be anywhere else but listening to you. However, it’s about planting seeds. It’s about keeping hunting until there is that moment when things connect and doors and hearts are opened. We cannot give up the fight.

That’s the thing that I see on Sunday evenings when I am tired and wonder if it is all worth it or not when it comes to our youth. Yes, it’s worth it and Manasseh is all the reminder that I need that you keep planting. You keep watering. You keep going into the field and plowing. And maybe a bud will come up with one young person who is influential in the group that becomes the start of the plant growing. Pray for that. That this one young teen that seems so willing to speak of spiritual things can be the bud that we need to connect with the rest of the group and then we see a plant grew from it. The Bible says that we must lead them in the ways of the Lord and they will not depart from it when they are older. It’s that important. It is that critical. This is the next generation of our church. We get up from our Sunday afternoon nap and we go and we plant and we water.

Amen and Amen.

2 Kings 20:12-21

Envoys from Babylon

There is no doubt that Hezekiah was a good and faithful king. There is no doubt that he was a faithful follower of God. He did things the right way. But here, when I read through this passage the first time, I thought to myself (before I read any of the footnotes in my Bible), why are you doing this dude. You are showing your future conquerors the keys to the kingdom. Why would you do that? Then I read through the footnotes. It appears that this was all vanity and pride. Sometimes, we as followers of God who have been blessed can become vain and prideful in the ways that God has blessed us. That got me to thinking about how it can work both ways. Sometimes, when we see how God has blessed others, we can become jealous of their blessings. Both situations are problematic for us as Christ followers.

There have been times in the past when I have been with very successful people who are Christ followers who have been mightily blessed by God in material possessions. Not that this situation is a bad thing. The real deal for us as Christians is what we do with the possessions that God has seen fit to allow us to have and accumulate. But there have been times in my life where I have been exposed to people that have been mightily blessed by God. They have been shrewd and wise with money and have been able to have the good life, as we would define it on this side of eternity. They have nice things – home, things inside their homes, nice cars, successful business(es), money in the bank, second home at the beach or mountains, they just seem to have the world by the tail. And to top it off, some that I have been exposed to are some of the most mature Christians that you will ever meet and are generous to a fault. All in all, I have met people like this that are simply some of the best Christians that you will ever meet. These are the people that, you know, you just wanna be like when and if you ever grow up (LOL!)!

What this can breed even among us as their Christian friends is a jealousy of what God has blessed them with. Certainly, these hyper-blessed folks have their own struggles in life. Of that I am sure, but sometimes you just wish that God would bless you in the same way that they have been blessed. You wish that you could be generous the way that they are generous. You examine their lives and you wish that you could be like them – pray like them, be at ease sharing the gospel like them, be able to do missional things like them. It can be maddening if you let it get to you. What’s wrong with me? Why has God not blessed me in the way that God has blessed them? Then, you are where Satan wants you. Jealousy is the flip side of the coin of pride. Jealousy takes us away from what God has planned for us. That’s what I thought of this morning when I read this passage, 2 Kings 20:12-21. Let’s read the passage now:

12 Soon after this, Merodach-baladan[a] son of Baladan, king of Babylon, sent Hezekiah his best wishes and a gift, for he had heard that Hezekiah had been very sick. 13 Hezekiah received the Babylonian envoys and showed them everything in his treasure-houses—the silver, the gold, the spices, and the aromatic oils. He also took them to see his armory and showed them everything in his royal treasuries! There was nothing in his palace or kingdom that Hezekiah did not show them.

14 Then Isaiah the prophet went to King Hezekiah and asked him, “What did those men want? Where were they from?”

Hezekiah replied, “They came from the distant land of Babylon.”

15 “What did they see in your palace?” Isaiah asked.

“They saw everything,” Hezekiah replied. “I showed them everything I own—all my royal treasuries.”

16 Then Isaiah said to Hezekiah, “Listen to this message from the Lord: 17 The time is coming when everything in your palace—all the treasures stored up by your ancestors until now—will be carried off to Babylon. Nothing will be left, says the Lord. 18 Some of your very own sons will be taken away into exile. They will become eunuchs who will serve in the palace of Babylon’s king.”

19 Then Hezekiah said to Isaiah, “This message you have given me from the Lord is good.” For the king was thinking, “At least there will be peace and security during my lifetime.”

20 The rest of the events in Hezekiah’s reign, including the extent of his power and how he built a pool and dug a tunnel[b] to bring water into the city, are recorded in The Book of the History of the Kings of Judah. 21 Hezekiah died, and his son Manasseh became the next king.

In this passage, we see that Hezekiah had been a good and faithful king, but when Isaiah asked him what he had shown the messengers from Babylon. He replied, “I showed them every thing I own – all my royal treasures.” Rather than give credit to God for all his blessings, he tried to impress the foreigners. When God helps us, we must not use his blessings to impress others. A testimony of victory can quickly degenerate into vanity and self-congratulations. Conversely, we can degenerate into jealousy and covetousness when we allow ourselves to draw comparisons between how God has blessed someone in comparison to us. God has a plan for each of us that is unique to us alone. We cannot compare ourselves to others’ blessings and we should never be proud in comparison to others in how God has allowed us to have earthly blessings on this side of eternity.

God does have a unique plan for each one of us as Christ followers. We cannot compare ourselves to others. When we do that we are using our self-defined, prideful (jealousy inducing) measures that only apply from a human, temporal perspective rather than trusting in God’s eternal view. You don’t have to be rich in material possessions to be blessed by God. The widow’s generosity of two mites was far greater than those who gave much more but less of what they had overall in God’s eyes. To be able to find joy no matter what the outward signs of blessing are is what Paul was talking about when he talked about being content whether he had much or little. That’s why Paul could sing in prison. He was doing what God called him to do. Sometimes that means that we will have very little in our earthly journey. There will be no outward signs of blessing. It is a matter of whether you are advancing God’s kingdom. When a true Christian does that, there is great joy whether I have a mansion on a hill and drive a Mercedes or whether I drive a 12 year old SUV and live in a borrowed house. The contentment that I have at finally being a full-time pastor far outweighs whether I have material blessings or not. Finding joy is about being in alignment with God’s will for your OWN life not somebody else’s life. God has a unique calling for you and for me. Don’t let some other Christian’s earthly blessings blind you to your own uniqueness in God’s plan. Don’t let jealousy steal your Christian joy of doing what God called you to do and to be that is unique for you.

Amen and Amen.

2 Kings 20:1-11

Hezekiah’s Sickness and Recovery

Have you ever felt like you’ve been what you consider to be completely faithful to God, followed what you believed He had led you to do, but things turned out not to be what you had expected? That is how I had begun to feel about six months ago. I had followed God’s call to full-time ministry. I had worked my tail off going to seminary and had worked long and hard at our church in Lyman, SC as a lay leader in the church there. I had finished my education. Had worked for several years as the co-director of outreach programs and then as the director of finance for the church all while working full-time in my secular job as a corporate controller for a division of an international electronic components manufacturer/distributor. Finally, the opportunity came to go into full-time ministry. I was offered a position as the associate pastor for business services at a large church in northwestern Illinois. It was what I had worked for, dreamed of, prayed about for about seven years.

However, as time progressed, though the relationships with church members that we had built were wonderful and ones we will never forget, the job itself became increasingly more difficult. The unique ways in which this church had built its ways of doing things were foreign to me and difficult to grasp. One the one hand, who could argue with the financial success and the numerical success of the church. It was a church that had significant success in both areas. However, leadership styles and procedural styles were way different than I had experienced in a long, long time. The change from being in the corporate accrual basis of accounting to this church’s cash basis of accounting was a new thing for me. Even at my church in Lyman, we had ran the books on an accrual basis rather than a cash basis. The switch from one method of accounting that I had been a part of in the corporate world for 30 years to the normal non-profit organization cash basis of accounting was a difficult transition. Second, for a decade, I had worked in a situation in previous job where my boss was on the other side of the country from me. Thus, I was pretty much my own day-to-day boss for a decade. Here, I was working in a situation where I had a very hands-on boss who was right there in the same building with me. His hands-on, in the details style was a difficult transition as well. Further, I had expectations that maybe were unrealistic about how I would be used in ministry. I had seen it in my mind that I would not JUST be the church finance guy but rather someone who would be groomed into a more pastoral role.

With all these factors in place, it was a difficult year-and-a-half emotionally, spiritually and even physically. Yet, at the same time, outside of the work environment, we made some lifetime friends there that we are still heavily in contact with even now four months after leaving for my current assignment in Lamar. So, it was completely bittersweet when we left. During the time there in Illinois, it became increasingly difficult for me to see why I left the corporate world and followed the call to full-time ministry and I fell into a spiritual struggle. Things simply did not turn out professionally the way that I wanted them to turn out. I prayed and prayed and prayed and prayed some more. However, nothing seemed to change. It was the strangest time of my life. We ministered to people in ways that we never had before on a personal level, outside my role as it played out in the workplace. We developed friendships that are now forever friendships. We helped people. We developed lasting friendships because of it. We learned that ministry is not always what your job is. It is what you do as a Christ follower. I will never forget some of the close friends we made there. However, the vocational part of my life there was just a spiritual struggle.

Prayer does change things though. Even if it takes months (and some times years in some instances), it does change things. It changes us to a dependence on God. The struggles spiritually were meant for a reason. The struggles in the job were to introduce me to struggles in ministry. Sometimes, it is the job itself and relationships will be great though. Sometimes, its going to be relationships that are struggles but the job is great. Sometimes both will be struggles. There is always going to be struggle in ministry. But prayer gets you through it. Prayer develops our dependency on the Lord. Prayer takes you from “I can do it” to “Lord, help me to do it!”

The difficulty of the transition to full-time ministry in my first appointment as a full-time pastor was what I thought of this morning when I read about Hezekiah’s illness. He had done everything the right way. He had followed God’s guidance in his life. However, he was suddenly struck with additional adversity, a deathly illness. It was only through earnest and soul-felt and submissive prayer to the Lord that he was able to get through it. That’s the power of true prayer. That was what I thought of this morning when I read this passage, 2 Kings 20:1-11. Let’s read it now:

20 About that time Hezekiah became deathly ill, and the prophet Isaiah son of Amoz went to visit him. He gave the king this message: “This is what the Lord says: Set your affairs in order, for you are going to die. You will not recover from this illness.”

2 When Hezekiah heard this, he turned his face to the wall and prayed to the Lord, 3 “Remember, O Lord, how I have always been faithful to you and have served you single-mindedly, always doing what pleases you.” Then he broke down and wept bitterly.

4 But before Isaiah had left the middle courtyard,[a] this message came to him from the Lord: 5 “Go back to Hezekiah, the leader of my people. Tell him, ‘This is what the Lord, the God of your ancestor David, says: I have heard your prayer and seen your tears. I will heal you, and three days from now you will get out of bed and go to the Temple of the Lord. 6 I will add fifteen years to your life, and I will rescue you and this city from the king of Assyria. I will defend this city for my own honor and for the sake of my servant David.’”

7 Then Isaiah said, “Make an ointment from figs.” So Hezekiah’s servants spread the ointment over the boil, and Hezekiah recovered!

8 Meanwhile, Hezekiah had said to Isaiah, “What sign will the Lord give to prove that he will heal me and that I will go to the Temple of the Lord three days from now?”

9 Isaiah replied, “This is the sign from the Lord to prove that he will do as he promised. Would you like the shadow on the sundial to go forward ten steps or backward ten steps?[b]”

10 “The shadow always moves forward,” Hezekiah replied, “so that would be easy. Make it go ten steps backward instead.” 11 So Isaiah the prophet asked the Lord to do this, and he caused the shadow to move ten steps backward on the sundial[c] of Ahaz!

In this passage, we see that over an approximately 100-year period of Judah’s history (732-640 BC), Hezekiah was a faithful king. But because we are faithful does not mean that we are excluded from misery or dark times in our lives. Hezekiah had been faithful to the Lord and sought after Him in everything that He did as man and as a king. However, all of these things did not exempt him from life-threatening illness. These are often our times of tested faith. It is those times that we have done everything the Lord has asked of us or called us to do and then we run into difficult times. That’s a true test of faith. We often think that we should be rewarded in this life for having done it all the right way and done exactly what God called us to do without question. It is in these times that we learn the most about the depth of our faith in God. Of course, we all want to be in alignment with God’s will for our lives, but typically we like to think of the results of those steps of alignment to bring us to a mountaintop experience where the sun is shining on our face and a gentle breeze is blowing in our face. And, yes, there will be those times where following God’s will for our lives will bring us to a place of great peace, contentment, joy and just a period of awesomeness in our lives. On the other hand, there will be times where following God’s will for our lives will lead us into storm after storm and a period of complete and utter struggle just to try to see what God is trying to accomplish in us and through us.

The following of God’s call on my life to be a full-time minister led me to my first appointment – as an associate pastor in a large church. My expectation was that it was the culmination of 8 or more years of preparing for that moment. My thought was that it would be smooth sailing. I was doing what God called me to do. It was, in my mind, to be a mountaintop experience. In my mind, it was to be my sweet spot. It was to combine my past history as a corporate accountant with my calling to be a minister of God’s gospel. What could be better, right? The sweet spot! However, the reality was that God was leading me into a storm to test my faithfulness. He was leading me to find that ministry is tough. He was leading me to find that ministry is more than titles. He was leading me to find that prayer really does matter.

So often, particularly us that are men, we think of prayer as an add-on, something that you are just supposed to do as Christians. We pray publicly and we say all the right buzz words that make us sound like a cool Christian in touch with God. So often, we just don’t take prayer seriously. What God led me to find in Illinois was that prayer is about being intimate with God. It’s about being real with God. It’s about being submitted to Him. It’s about learning to trust Him with your very life. There were days during my time in Illinois that I honestly wasn’t sure if I was going to make it in ministry or not. Those days where you wake up and wonder what the heck am I doing. It was in this time that I really came to understand the power of prayer. It was in that time that I just learned to trust Him like a kid walking down a dark street holding his daddy’s hand. As a little kid, you hear every peep and sound and think it’s a monster or a wild animal or some evil spirit but you know that you have your daddy’s hand. And THAT’S all that matters. It is by holding God’s hand like a scared little kid and trusting that Daddy God, Abba Father, was going to get me through it – whatever that may look like. Prayer got me to that place.

And it was through prayer that I learned that we did have real ministry there in Illinois. It may not have been fully through the titled job but it was definitely through the relationships with people that we came to have. And that’s the thing that will carry us forward in ministry here at Lamar. Sure, I have the title of pastor. I am the guy that everybody looks to in our church. But the thing that Illinois did for me is that the fact that I am the guy is not really all that important to me. Sure, I am getting to do in the fullest sense what I believe God has called me to do. But, at the same time, Illinois gave me things that will sustain me in ministry. It gave me humility to see that I am not “all that”. It gave me a view on ministry where I am just glad to be ministering and have this awe about what God has given me. That experience in Illinois also gave me the experience to know that ministry is more about the relationships that you build and how you invest in people’s lives than it is about preaching and teaching (although those are important). Getting into people’s lives in a genuine way is half of ministry.

We will have mighty spiritual struggles in life as ministers. You will have mighty struggles in your life regardless of whether you are a minister or not. We all will have struggles even when we are fully aligned with God’s will and we have followed exactly to the letter His calling on our lives. That’s when we learn the sweetest and most eternal lessons about prayer. It is then our faith is tested. It is then that when we think we should be on the mountaintop but rather find ourselves in a valley is when we find that we must draw close to God. We must hold our Abba Father’s hand down the dark alley way and just trust that He knows what He is doing. And, seeing as how He is the Creator of the Universe and is the Eternal Wise Father, we might just better do that – trust Him. How do we do that? Actually have an intimate prayer life with the Father. Real prayer. Not just stock words said in the right order. But real prayer. Real intimacy with the Father.

Amen and Amen.

2 Kings 18:13-19:37

The Assyrian Threat to Judah

There is an old saying that God is always on time. He’s never too early and He’s never too late. He gives us what we need right when we need it. I fully believe that God gives us what we need when we need it. I also believe that He is more inclined to hear the prayers of those who recognize Him daily through prayer and through their daily attitude toward Him. In my last blog, I talked about how there was a spike in church attendance for the first month after the 09/11 attacks but that things went back to normal after that. Many treat God as a fire extinguisher God. They run get Him when the house is on fire but any other time, He is as ignored by Him as the fire extinguisher that you pass in the hallway at work each day.

But for those that make God a priority in their lives everyday and not just when times seem hopeless, I think God is more inclined to hear their prayers and supplications. When we make God a priority in our lives through daily prayer, ongoing conversations with Him during the day, and just a posture of being lovingly submitted to God, He sees that and responds to us. I am not saying that God does not love us when we are not attentive to Him. I am not saying that God does not relentlessly pursue those who are far from Him (just think of the fact that God came into the Garden immediately after Adam & Eve disobeyed Him – He pursued them immediately). God is relentless in His efforts to bring us unto Him. However, I do think He has a special place in His heart for those who earnestly pursue Him daily. When we have a real, ongoing relationship with Him through prayer and just daily intimacy with Him, He has His ear inclined readily to us.

It is like a father with one child who has nothing to do with him at all except when they need something and another child who has a daily, ongoing relationship with him. He loves both children equally. They are his children and that’s all they have to do to receive his love – be his child. However, the one who has an ongoing relationship with the father will more readily receive help from the father than the child who has nothing to do with him. It is simply human nature to be more inclined to help those who have an actual ongoing relationship with us than those who do not. The father in this situation would love nothing more than for the self-alienated child to return to relationship with him. There would be shouts of joy when and if that happened instead of the internal heartache and sadness that the father feels for being ignored by this child.

It is like that with God. He aches for us to have an intimate ongoing relationship with Him. He desires that and wants that. It is really up to us to go to Him and say Abba Father, I have strayed away from you and long for an intimate relationship with you my heavenly Daddy. He will incline His ear to us. When we have intimacy with God, He does grant us favor in a sense that He does not when we ignore Him except in times of need.

That was the thought that came to mind this morning when I read this rather extended passage, 2 Kings 18:13-19:37. That thought of how Hezekiah had an actual ongoing relationship with the Lord whereas previous kings of Israel and Judah had not. He had a real relationship with God and God showed Him favor in a time of need. How often do we ignore God until it is panic time? And does God show favor to those who have a real, ongoing, daily, intimate relationship with Him? Those were thoughts that came to mind today. Let’s read the passage now:

13 In the fourteenth year of King Hezekiah’s reign,[a] King Sennacherib of Assyria came to attack the fortified towns of Judah and conquered them. 14 King Hezekiah sent this message to the king of Assyria at Lachish: “I have done wrong. I will pay whatever tribute money you demand if you will only withdraw.” The king of Assyria then demanded a settlement of more than eleven tons of silver and one ton of gold.[b] 15 To gather this amount, King Hezekiah used all the silver stored in the Temple of the Lord and in the palace treasury. 16 Hezekiah even stripped the gold from the doors of the Lord’s Temple and from the doorposts he had overlaid with gold, and he gave it all to the Assyrian king.

17 Nevertheless, the king of Assyria sent his commander in chief, his field commander, and his chief of staff[c] from Lachish with a huge army to confront King Hezekiah in Jerusalem. The Assyrians took up a position beside the aqueduct that feeds water into the upper pool, near the road leading to the field where cloth is washed.[d] 18 They summoned King Hezekiah, but the king sent these officials to meet with them: Eliakim son of Hilkiah, the palace administrator; Shebna the court secretary; and Joah son of Asaph, the royal historian.

Chapter 19

1 Then the Assyrian king’s chief of staff told them to give this message to Hezekiah:

“This is what the great king of Assyria says: What are you trusting in that makes you so confident? 20 Do you think that mere words can substitute for military skill and strength? Who are you counting on, that you have rebelled against me? 21 On Egypt? If you lean on Egypt, it will be like a reed that splinters beneath your weight and pierces your hand. Pharaoh, the king of Egypt, is completely unreliable!

22 “But perhaps you will say to me, ‘We are trusting in the Lord our God!’ But isn’t he the one who was insulted by Hezekiah? Didn’t Hezekiah tear down his shrines and altars and make everyone in Judah and Jerusalem worship only at the altar here in Jerusalem?

23 “I’ll tell you what! Strike a bargain with my master, the king of Assyria. I will give you 2,000 horses if you can find that many men to ride on them! 24 With your tiny army, how can you think of challenging even the weakest contingent of my master’s troops, even with the help of Egypt’s chariots and charioteers? 25 What’s more, do you think we have invaded your land without the Lord’s direction? The Lord himself told us, ‘Attack this land and destroy it!’”

26 Then Eliakim son of Hilkiah, Shebna, and Joah said to the Assyrian chief of staff, “Please speak to us in Aramaic, for we understand it well. Don’t speak in Hebrew,[e] for the people on the wall will hear.”

27 But Sennacherib’s chief of staff replied, “Do you think my master sent this message only to you and your master? He wants all the people to hear it, for when we put this city under siege, they will suffer along with you. They will be so hungry and thirsty that they will eat their own dung and drink their own urine.”

28 Then the chief of staff stood and shouted in Hebrew to the people on the wall, “Listen to this message from the great king of Assyria! 29 This is what the king says: Don’t let Hezekiah deceive you. He will never be able to rescue you from my power. 30 Don’t let him fool you into trusting in the Lord by saying, ‘The Lord will surely rescue us. This city will never fall into the hands of the Assyrian king!’

31 “Don’t listen to Hezekiah! These are the terms the king of Assyria is offering: Make peace with me—open the gates and come out. Then each of you can continue eating from your own grapevine and fig tree and drinking from your own well. 32 Then I will arrange to take you to another land like this one—a land of grain and new wine, bread and vineyards, olive groves and honey. Choose life instead of death!

“Don’t listen to Hezekiah when he tries to mislead you by saying, ‘The Lord will rescue us!’ 33 Have the gods of any other nations ever saved their people from the king of Assyria? 34 What happened to the gods of Hamath and Arpad? And what about the gods of Sepharvaim, Hena, and Ivvah? Did any god rescue Samaria from my power? 35 What god of any nation has ever been able to save its people from my power? So what makes you think that the Lord can rescue Jerusalem from me?”

36 But the people were silent and did not utter a word because Hezekiah had commanded them, “Do not answer him.”

37 Then Eliakim son of Hilkiah, the palace administrator; Shebna the court secretary; and Joah son of Asaph, the royal historian, went back to Hezekiah. They tore their clothes in despair, and they went in to see the king and told him what the Assyrian chief of staff had said.

Hezekiah Seeks the Lord’s Help

19 When King Hezekiah heard their report, he tore his clothes and put on burlap and went into the Temple of the Lord. 2 And he sent Eliakim the palace administrator, Shebna the court secretary, and the leading priests, all dressed in burlap, to the prophet Isaiah son of Amoz. 3 They told him, “This is what King Hezekiah says: Today is a day of trouble, insults, and disgrace. It is like when a child is ready to be born, but the mother has no strength to deliver the baby. 4 But perhaps the Lord your God has heard the Assyrian chief of staff,[f] sent by the king to defy the living God, and will punish him for his words. Oh, pray for those of us who are left!”

5 After King Hezekiah’s officials delivered the king’s message to Isaiah, 6 the prophet replied, “Say to your master, ‘This is what the Lord says: Do not be disturbed by this blasphemous speech against me from the Assyrian king’s messengers. 7 Listen! I myself will move against him,[g] and the king will receive a message that he is needed at home. So he will return to his land, where I will have him killed with a sword.’”

8 Meanwhile, the Assyrian chief of staff left Jerusalem and went to consult the king of Assyria, who had left Lachish and was attacking Libnah.

9 Soon afterward King Sennacherib received word that King Tirhakah of Ethiopia[h] was leading an army to fight against him. Before leaving to meet the attack, he sent messengers back to Hezekiah in Jerusalem with this message:

10 “This message is for King Hezekiah of Judah. Don’t let your God, in whom you trust, deceive you with promises that Jerusalem will not be captured by the king of Assyria. 11 You know perfectly well what the kings of Assyria have done wherever they have gone. They have completely destroyed everyone who stood in their way! Why should you be any different? 12 Have the gods of other nations rescued them—such nations as Gozan, Haran, Rezeph, and the people of Eden who were in Tel-assar? My predecessors destroyed them all! 13 What happened to the king of Hamath and the king of Arpad? What happened to the kings of Sepharvaim, Hena, and Ivvah?”

14 After Hezekiah received the letter from the messengers and read it, he went up to the Lord’s Temple and spread it out before the Lord. 15 And Hezekiah prayed this prayer before the Lord: “O Lord, God of Israel, you are enthroned between the mighty cherubim! You alone are God of all the kingdoms of the earth. You alone created the heavens and the earth. 16 Bend down, O Lord, and listen! Open your eyes, O Lord, and see! Listen to Sennacherib’s words of defiance against the living God.

17 “It is true, Lord, that the kings of Assyria have destroyed all these nations. 18 And they have thrown the gods of these nations into the fire and burned them. But of course the Assyrians could destroy them! They were not gods at all—only idols of wood and stone shaped by human hands. 19 Now, O Lord our God, rescue us from his power; then all the kingdoms of the earth will know that you alone, O Lord, are God.”

Isaiah Predicts Judah’s Deliverance

20 Then Isaiah son of Amoz sent this message to Hezekiah: “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: I have heard your prayer about King Sennacherib of Assyria. 21 And the Lord has spoken this word against him:

“The virgin daughter of Zion

    despises you and laughs at you.

The daughter of Jerusalem

    shakes her head in derision as you flee.

22

“Whom have you been defying and ridiculing?

    Against whom did you raise your voice?

At whom did you look with such haughty eyes?

    It was the Holy One of Israel!

23

By your messengers you have defied the Lord.

    You have said, ‘With my many chariots

I have conquered the highest mountains—

    yes, the remotest peaks of Lebanon.

I have cut down its tallest cedars

    and its finest cypress trees.

I have reached its farthest corners

    and explored its deepest forests.

24

I have dug wells in many foreign lands

    and refreshed myself with their water.

With the sole of my foot

    I stopped up all the rivers of Egypt!’

25

“But have you not heard?

    I decided this long ago.

Long ago I planned it,

    and now I am making it happen.

I planned for you to crush fortified cities

    into heaps of rubble.

26

That is why their people have so little power

    and are so frightened and confused.

They are as weak as grass,

    as easily trampled as tender green shoots.

They are like grass sprouting on a housetop,

    scorched before it can grow lush and tall.

27

“But I know you well—

    where you stay

and when you come and go.

    I know the way you have raged against me.

28

And because of your raging against me

    and your arrogance, which I have heard for myself,

I will put my hook in your nose

    and my bit in your mouth.

I will make you return

    by the same road on which you came.”

29 Then Isaiah said to Hezekiah, “Here is the proof that what I say is true:

“This year you will eat only what grows up by itself,

    and next year you will eat what springs up from that.

But in the third year you will plant crops and harvest them;

    you will tend vineyards and eat their fruit.

30

And you who are left in Judah,

    who have escaped the ravages of the siege,

will put roots down in your own soil

    and will grow up and flourish.

31

For a remnant of my people will spread out from Jerusalem,

    a group of survivors from Mount Zion.

The passionate commitment of the Lord of Heaven’s Armies[i]

    will make this happen!

32 “And this is what the Lord says about the king of Assyria:

“His armies will not enter Jerusalem.

    They will not even shoot an arrow at it.

They will not march outside its gates with their shields

    nor build banks of earth against its walls.

33

The king will return to his own country

    by the same road on which he came.

He will not enter this city,

    says the Lord.

34

For my own honor and for the sake of my servant David,

    I will defend this city and protect it.”

35 That night the angel of the Lord went out to the Assyrian camp and killed 185,000 Assyrian soldiers. When the surviving Assyrians[j] woke up the next morning, they found corpses everywhere. 36 Then King Sennacherib of Assyria broke camp and returned to his own land. He went home to his capital of Nineveh and stayed there.

37 One day while he was worshiping in the temple of his god Nisroch, his sons[k] Adrammelech and Sharezer killed him with their swords. They then escaped to the land of Ararat, and another son, Esarhaddon, became the next king of Assyria.

In this passage, we see that this event occurred in 701 BC, four years after Sennacherib had become the Assyrian king. Sennacherib was the son of Sargon II, the king who had deported the people of the northern kingdom of Israel into captivity. To keep Assyrian from attacking, the southern kingdom of Judah paid tribute to the Assyrian king annually. However, when Sennacherib become king, Hezekiah stopped paying this money, hoping that Assyria would ignore him. When Sennacherib and his army retaliated, Hezekiah realized his mistake and paid the money (2 Kings 18:14), but Sennacherib attacked anyway (2 Kings 18:19 and following). Sending the high officials but not coming himself, the Assyrian king was sending a message that Judah was insignificant in the face of Assyrian. The message that these high officials brought was intended to instill fear and awe in the people of Judah and discourage them.

Realizing that the situation was hopeless, Hezekiah went to the Temple and prayed. God answered Hezekiah’s prayer. Prayer should be our first response to any crisis. Although Hezekiah came boldly to God, he did not take God for granted or approach him flippantly. Instead, he acknowledged God’s sovereignty and Judah’s total dependence on Him. Hezekiah’s prayer provides a good model for us. We should not be afraid to approach God with our prayers, but we must come to Him with respect for who He is and what He can do. We must come to God each day in total dependence and not just some add-on activity that we put no stock in. We must see ourselves as a child of God totally dependent on His guidance and protection.

Is God your fire extinguisher God whom you go to only when the house is on fire? Or do you have a daily intimate relationship with Him. Do you pray earnestly in a submitted kind of way? Do you talk to Him throughout the day even when not praying outright? Do you seek His will and not treat Him like a vending machine when you are in a hurry? Is God the center of your life or is He simply the key to the door to a safe place you are trying to find in the dark when you are about to be attacked by the bad guy in a horror film? Who is God to you? Is He your Abba Father or is He the Fire Extinguisher God?

Amen and Amen.

2 Kings 18:1-12 (Part 2 of 2)

Hezekiah Reigns in Judah

Recently, we all paused to remember the events of September 11, 2001, a day that is seared into our collective American memory if you are over say 25-30 years old. Children in school today from kindergarten to 12th grade were not even born year and many of our nation that are 18-25 years old were just not old enough at the time to remember that day. However, for the rest of us, it was a day that rests in our memory like a file easily retrieved in a computer. We knew exactly where we were and what we were doing when we first learned of the attacks. We remember turning on the news to see the North Tower of the World Trade Center already in flames. We watched in horror as, while we were watching, we saw another place come into frame and plow into the South Tower and explode in a huge fireball. Then we here of plane crashing into the Pentagon. Finally, we hear of a plane crashing in the farmland of Shanksville, PA which is only 30 minutes by air from Washington, DC. Mothers all over America leave their jobs or homes and go to schools across the country and retrieve their kids from school so that they know they are safe and are with them. Most bosses around the country just sent their workers home on this day because there was just no way that anybody was doing any work on this day, September 11, 2001.

After the events of 09/11/01, there was a sudden spike in church attendance as Americans grappled with the sinister nature of what had happened to New York and Washington. As often happens in days of national tragedy, we find comfort and resolve in the house of the Lord. In some cases, it leads to a permanent change in a person’s life. This has been particularly true for survivors of the actual tragedies such as those who survived the attacks and the collapse of the World Trade Center buildings. They either found Jesus Christ as their Savior as a result of being spared from certain death in those buildings or their belief in Jesus was deepened greatly by having been spared. In the general public, for about a month after 09/11, church attendance spiked as our confidence in our way of life and the fact that we never had been really attacked on our own soil by a foreign nation or foreign group since the early 1800’s. We felt shaken. We felt afraid. We sought solace in the one thing that has always been there in our country from the beginning – the church.

Further, during the months immediately after the 09/11 attacks, our nation was so united. American flags were seen everywhere. People would shout, “USA, USA, USA!” at public gatherings. We were all united behind President Bush to seek out and destroy those who had done the dastardly deeds of 09/11. The unity was heartwarming and would bring tears to your eyes. Tears came for the victims of 09/11 (all 2,977 of them) and their families. Tears came for the joy that we were still alive and still a country that was more united than ever. We had tears because they had not defeated us. We had tears because we were the United States of America. Sadly, too, as with church, it was not long until we degenerated into our usual factiousness and divisiveness. But I will always remember those sweet few months after 09/11 when our country was completed united…for once.

National tragedy can change the course of nations and its people for the better permanently or it can simply be a blip in time. It seems that 09/11 was simply that, a blip in time, for our country. It was that thought of those precious moments in our country where we were united and were actually one nation under God for a few months in 2001. That’s how I see the reign of Hezekiah in 2 Kings. It was that thought that came to mind when I read 2 Kings 18:1-12 for the second and last time this morning before we move on to the next passage:

Chapter 18

1 In the third year of King Hoshea son of Elah of Israel, Hezekiah son of King Ahaz of Judah began to reign. 2 He was twenty-five years old when he began to reign; he reigned twenty-nine years in Jerusalem. His mother’s name was Abi daughter of Zechariah. 3 He did what was right in the sight of the Lord just as his ancestor David had done. 4 He removed the high places, broke down the pillars, and cut down the sacred pole.[a] He broke in pieces the bronze serpent that Moses had made, for until those days the people of Israel had made offerings to it; it was called Nehushtan. 5 He trusted in the Lord the God of Israel; so that there was no one like him among all the kings of Judah after him, or among those who were before him. 6 For he held fast to the Lord; he did not depart from following him but kept the commandments that the Lord commanded Moses. 7 The Lord was with him; wherever he went, he prospered. He rebelled against the king of Assyria and would not serve him. 8 He attacked the Philistines as far as Gaza and its territory, from watchtower to fortified city.

9 In the fourth year of King Hezekiah, which was the seventh year of King Hoshea son of Elah of Israel, King Shalmaneser of Assyria came up against Samaria, besieged it, 10 and at the end of three years, took it. In the sixth year of Hezekiah, which was the ninth year of King Hoshea of Israel, Samaria was taken. 11 The king of Assyria carried the Israelites away to Assyria, settled them in Halah, on the Habor, the river of Gozan, and in the cities of the Medes, 12 because they did not obey the voice of the Lord their God but transgressed his covenant—all that Moses the servant of the Lord had commanded; they neither listened nor obeyed.

In this passage, we see that that Hezekiah was in stark contrast to all the kings of Judah that had come before him. Hezekiah followed God more closely and sincerely than any other king of Judah or Israel. Judah was sandwiched between two world powers, Assyria and Egypt. Both wanted to control Judah and Israel because they lay at a vital crossroads of all ancient Near East trade. The nation that controlled Judah would have a military and economic advantage over its rivals. It is in the world that Hezekiah reigned in a Jewish kingdom that was a shell of its former glory under David and Solomon. Did the impending threats from foreign kingdoms and the sense of a lack of control drive Hezekiah to seek the Lord? Whatever the cause, Hezekiah placed his faith in God’s strength and obeyed God’s commands in spite of the obstacles and dangers that, from a purely human standpoint, looked overwhelming.

The takeaway for us this morning is that sometimes events in our personal lives can draw us closer to Jesus Christ because we are searching for meaning or trying to make sense of what seems senseless. It is in these times that we learn that we are not in control of our lives. It is these times that we learn that we need Jesus. It is in these times that we learn the most as children of God. When times are easy, it is so easy to drift back into thinking that we are in control of our lives and we try to put God in the back seat. However, He is the Creator of the Universe. He created us. It is He who gave us breath. It is then He on whom we depend for the very air that we breath. Hezekiah may have learned this through being in the vice grip between two world powers and realized that he was powerless without God to be able to anything about it. However, he did learn the lesson and lived his life to please God and seek to please the Lord in everything He did.

Are you suffering through a deep, dark valley right now? Does there seem like there is no answer to your problems? Reach out to your Lord, Jesus Christ. Maybe through events and circumstances that have been allowed to pass your way, that you are now ready to hear what Jesus has to say. Sit and listen. He is ready for you to come home, prodigal son.

Amen and Amen.

2 Kings 18:1-12 (Part 1 of 2)

Hezekiah Reigns in Judah

When I read this passage this morning, I picked up on the fact that something that was once a symbol of deliverance was destroyed by King Hezekiah. You know how sometimes you read through a passage and run through a sentence and they start the next and then your brain goes, “Whoa! Hold on a minute! Go back! That previous sentence rings a bell!” That’s what happened when I read v. 4. King Hezekiah smashed into pieces the bronze serpent that Moses had made. What was once a symbol of God’s deliverance had become an idol to which offerings were made. It got me to thinking about how we are in the church in some cases.

We know that in other religions like Buddhism in central and southern Asia and Japan, Hinduism in southern Asia (mainly the Indian subcontinent) there are physical idols that are visual displays for people to worship. In the Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity and Islam), one would think that there are no idols, particularly in Christianity. In these religions, there is but one God. Judaism and Islam worship a unitarian God while Christians worship God expressing himself in a trinitarian state. And it is true that each of Abrahamic religions will clearly state that they do not worship idols as do the eastern religions and they go on to state that they do not worship any artistic representations of God.

However, in Judaism and Islam, you will find that there are sacred places that are held in such high regard that they could be considered idols. The Western Wall of the former Temple in Jerusalem is considered such a sacred place that locally it is place to pray while facing. Sporadically around the world, Jews make pilgrimages just to pray at the wall at some point in their lives. In Islam, the Kab’ah is a place that all Muslims must visit in their lifetime as part of their pillars of faith. If they don’t visit personally during their lifetime because of health issues, they must find someone who will visit Mecca (where the Kab’ah is located) for them. All prayers each day, you must face toward Mecca and the Kab’ah while doing so. The tomb of Muhammed in Medina is a place that is held in great veneration and is considered a privilege to go there and if you are able to visit there, it is said that Allah will grant you forgiveness just by visiting the grave of the prophet. Are these things, idolatry? You decide.

Are we immune in Christianity? The answer is sadly no. The original church, the universal Christian church, the catholic church with a small c, when we were all united simply under the name of Christ insisted upon not making idols of anything. It was not until the Christian church became an institutionalized part of society in the 3rd century when it became the official religion of the Roman Empire that we begin to see the drift toward building grand buildings with icons to be revered. During the Middle Ages we see shrines built at places believed to be the exact locations of important events in Jesus life and so on such as the tomb where Jesus was laid prior to His resurrection and His birthplace. With the Protestant Reformation, we see Christianity regain many of its pure roots without all the ornate excess that had become the universal church had drifted toward prior to it. However, as the Protestant Movement has aged over the last 500 years since it began in 1517, we see that we Protestants can do the same thing. We may not venerate icons or statues but we have our unique venerations at the local church level. We may not do it a global level like the Catholics and the Eastern Orthodox faiths but at the local church level, we too can have our THINGS that we hold in high regard. It can be a building itself where we hold it in such high regard that we don’t want anybody to use it. It can be any of a number of objects, things, that are held in a similar level of reverence.

After reading about how an object that was a simple symbol of God’s deliverance to the people of Israel during the Exodus from Egypt had become an object of reverence and worship, it reminded me of the fact that we can do the same thing in modern times. we can hold things, objects, and customs in such high regard that they can cause friction within our midst. We can split churches over things, objects and customs. It was that thought that came to mind when I read 2 Kings 18:1-12 this morning:

Chapter 18

1 In the third year of King Hoshea son of Elah of Israel, Hezekiah son of King Ahaz of Judah began to reign. 2 He was twenty-five years old when he began to reign; he reigned twenty-nine years in Jerusalem. His mother’s name was Abi daughter of Zechariah. 3 He did what was right in the sight of the Lord just as his ancestor David had done. 4 He removed the high places, broke down the pillars, and cut down the sacred pole.[a] He broke in pieces the bronze serpent that Moses had made, for until those days the people of Israel had made offerings to it; it was called Nehushtan. 5 He trusted in the Lord the God of Israel; so that there was no one like him among all the kings of Judah after him, or among those who were before him. 6 For he held fast to the Lord; he did not depart from following him but kept the commandments that the Lord commanded Moses. 7 The Lord was with him; wherever he went, he prospered. He rebelled against the king of Assyria and would not serve him. 8 He attacked the Philistines as far as Gaza and its territory, from watchtower to fortified city.

9 In the fourth year of King Hezekiah, which was the seventh year of King Hoshea son of Elah of Israel, King Shalmaneser of Assyria came up against Samaria, besieged it, 10 and at the end of three years, took it. In the sixth year of Hezekiah, which was the ninth year of King Hoshea of Israel, Samaria was taken. 11 The king of Assyria carried the Israelites away to Assyria, settled them in Halah, on the Habor, the river of Gozan, and in the cities of the Medes, 12 because they did not obey the voice of the Lord their God but transgressed his covenant—all that Moses the servant of the Lord had commanded; they neither listened nor obeyed.

In this passage, we see that the bronze serpent had been made to cure the Israelites of the bite of poisonous snakes in Numbers 21:4-9. It had demonstrated God’s presence and power and had reminded the people of his mercy and forgiveness. However, it had become an object of worship instead of a reminder of whom to worship. As a result, Hezekiah was forced to destroy it. We must be careful that aids to our worship don’t become objects of worship or, at least, extreme reverence, themselves. Most physical reminders, objects, things, customs were not made, given, donated or built to become things held in high esteem and reverence, but were given to glorify the one we are to worship, God!

It is in the nature of man to have symbols of their love and devotion to God. There is nothing wrong with memorializing our love for Jesus Christ. Memorials and objects from the past should be visual reminders of what God has done for us in years, centuries, millennia past. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that. In this passage, the reminder of God’s deliverance of his people from the night of the snakes while in the wilderness in and of itself is not sinful. In and of itself it should have been a reminder of just how great God is and how faithful He had been to the people of Israel. However, it became an object of worship itself for the people. They began worshiping a thing, an object instead of God. That transformation from a reminder of God’s greatness to an object of worship in and of itself is sinful.

It is no less different to us today in thinking that places or things have powers of absolution such as visiting a holy site in Israel. Yes, it is awe inspiring to visit what Christians have marked since the Middle Ages as the birthplace and the burial tomb of Jesus Christ. Though we are not completely certain that these are the exact places, they have been made holy by our belief that these are those places. However, to think that these places grant forgiveness in some way just by visiting them is not correct. Maybe that’s why the early Christians never marked these places for posterity so that we would not become so wrapped up in them that we made it part of our faith to visit such places (as is the practice is Islam with the visit to the Kab’ah during one’s lifetime). Similarly, in the Protestant branch of the Christian faith, we must be careful not to make our church facilities and objects within them and even our methodology for worship as “sacred cows”, so to speak, that cannot be touched, changed, rearranged and so on.

This passage is a stark reminder to us all that we should not get so attached to things or to ways of doing things that we forget that it is God we worship and not our church buildings, not our worship style, not the objects for worship lovingly donated by past generations. All of these things could burn down tomorrow and we would still be the church. The first century church did not have sanctuaries. The first century church did not have fellowship halls. They met from house to house. They knew that they were gathered together wherever that might be to worship God. What made them a church was their relationships with one another, their willingness to evangelize the world, and their love of Jesus Christ. They had no objects of worship to aid them. They simply worshiped Jesus Christ.

Help us oh Lord to remember that church is about worshiping You and everything else is secondary. Help us to remember that if all of our usual visual reminders of being a church such as buildings and the objects within them and the traditions that go along with them all burned down and disappeared tomorrow, we would still be the church because it is You that we have come together in what is called your church. Your church is not buildings. Your church is not our worship objects and aids. Your church is not the methods we use to worship you. Your church is the people gathered together in a single place to worship you. Help us to remember that we would still be your church even if we had no buildings, no objects, no methods. Just us together worshiping You.

Amen and Amen.

2 Kings 17:24-41

Foreigners Settle in Israel

Back in the day, when I was in high school in the late 70’s-early 80’s, one of the biggest bands around was Fleetwood Mac. One of their biggest hits of that era was “You Can Go Your Own Way”. It is that title which is from the chorus of that song that I thought of this morning as I read through this passage. You can go your own way. That’s what we do when we do not know or even want to know the Lord Jesus Christ as our Savior. We go our own way. Reading this passage this morning reminds me of our nation as we stand here almost one-fifth of the way through the 21st century. It in particular reminds me of myself prior to my own salvation in December 2001. In those days prior to meeting the true Christ as my Savior, I had molded a belief system around the Jesus Christ that I imagined in my mind. I molded a Jesus Christ that was suitable to me.

I believed that Jesus existed and that he was a real person. But I did not believe in Him as the Son of God, God in the flesh, a part of the three expressions of the Godhead. I thought of Jesus as this anti-establishment rebel who spoke of loving your neighbor and killing people with kindness. I believed in a Jesus that would call out hypocrisy where he saw it. I believed in a Jesus that was a great philosopher. I believed in a Jesus who was against the established bigotries of the day and any day. Because of his outspokenness against the status quo of the day, it got him in trouble with the establishment and living in the age that he did, it got him killed. I had a hard time believing in the whole resurrection thing, the whole miracles thing. I just thought of him as this anti-establishment rebel rabbi. To me, he was so much cooler than the church version of Jesus. Because I created my own version of Jesus, I made him OK with my lifestyle. Jesus and me had a deal with any of my favorite sins because of all the things that I had been through in my life. I deserved my little sin outlets and Jesus was granting me a dispensation of sorts for them. That way I did not have to repent of any sins that I found suitable to me.

It was not until December 2001 that I truly understood that Jesus was the Son of God and not just some hippie anti-establishment rabbi. I finally began to get what the Bible was saying about Him. God’s Word is foolishness to those who are perishing and do not even know it. It was foolishness to me until the Holy Spirit did his work in my heart. He made me realize that I am a sinner no matter how I justify my sins. That I sin every moment of every day and that Jesus in His perfection as the Son of God died willingly to pay the penalty for my sins. The Holy Spirit made me see that there are no deals. That God doesn’t just accept anything that I do because He just wants me to be happy. Because of the Fall of Man, we are all decayed with sin. Because of the Fall, we cannot stop ourselves from sinning and we will never be able to do enough good to offset our sins. We are like a glass of water that has a drop of ink dropped into it. It forever changes the water and you cannot “un-ink” the water no matter how hard you try. We are permanently stained. We cannot change it back to clear water, ever! Yet, we think we are OK because we rationalize away our sins because we “are basically a good person”. We pride ourselves in the good we think we do. But it doesn’t change the drops of ink that we put in our water every day. There is no way to “un-ink” our water. Our first sin condemns us to hell plain and simple. Nothing can offset it. No matter how much we do that is good. It does not change the permanent alteration of our soul created by our first sin. We are condemned to hell by our first sin. Add to that the fact that we commit sins each and every day that add to the prosecutorial evidence against us as habitual sinners, we have no hope in front of God in the absence of a Savior.

However, many of us want to see ourselves as in control of who we are and want to continue to live in the manner in which we desire. We begin to negotiate away certain things that the Bible says are sins so that we can continue to dabble in those sins. We develop grand arguments as to why our particular sins that we have no desire to repent of are actually not sins at all. We rationalize away that what God called sin thousands of years ago was for that time. We thus tear out pages of the Bible in essence because we say they are no longer valid to us today so that we can continue to sin in the ways that we want to sin. We rationalize away that God just wants us to be happy so that we can continue to sin. That was me. This is many of us. We mold Jesus into what we want we want Him to be so that we can continue to be the sinners we want to be and call it goodness and call it OK in the sight of God. That was me. This is us. It was this thought that came to mind this morning as I read this passage, 2 Kings 17:24-41, this morning. Let’s read it now:

24 The king of Assyria brought people from Babylon, Cuthah, Avva, Hamath, and Sepharvaim, and placed them in the cities of Samaria in place of the people of Israel; they took possession of Samaria, and settled in its cities. 25 When they first settled there, they did not worship the Lord; therefore the Lord sent lions among them, which killed some of them. 26 So the king of Assyria was told, “The nations that you have carried away and placed in the cities of Samaria do not know the law of the god of the land; therefore he has sent lions among them; they are killing them, because they do not know the law of the god of the land.” 27 Then the king of Assyria commanded, “Send there one of the priests whom you carried away from there; let him[a] go and live there, and teach them the law of the god of the land.” 28 So one of the priests whom they had carried away from Samaria came and lived in Bethel; he taught them how they should worship the Lord.

29 But every nation still made gods of its own and put them in the shrines of the high places that the people of Samaria had made, every nation in the cities in which they lived; 30 the people of Babylon made Succoth-benoth, the people of Cuth made Nergal, the people of Hamath made Ashima; 31 the Avvites made Nibhaz and Tartak; the Sepharvites burned their children in the fire to Adrammelech and Anammelech, the gods of Sepharvaim. 32 They also worshiped the Lord and appointed from among themselves all sorts of people as priests of the high places, who sacrificed for them in the shrines of the high places. 33 So they worshiped the Lord but also served their own gods, after the manner of the nations from among whom they had been carried away. 34 To this day they continue to practice their former customs.

They do not worship the Lord and they do not follow the statutes or the ordinances or the law or the commandment that the Lord commanded the children of Jacob, whom he named Israel. 35 The Lord had made a covenant with them and commanded them, “You shall not worship other gods or bow yourselves to them or serve them or sacrifice to them, 36 but you shall worship the Lord, who brought you out of the land of Egypt with great power and with an outstretched arm; you shall bow yourselves to him, and to him you shall sacrifice. 37 The statutes and the ordinances and the law and the commandment that he wrote for you, you shall always be careful to observe. You shall not worship other gods; 38 you shall not forget the covenant that I have made with you. You shall not worship other gods, 39 but you shall worship the Lord your God; he will deliver you out of the hand of all your enemies.” 40 They would not listen, however, but they continued to practice their former custom.

41 So these nations worshiped the Lord, but also served their carved images; to this day their children and their children’s children continue to do as their ancestors did.

In this passage, we see that the new settlers in Israel worshiped God without giving up their pagan customs. They worshiped God to appease Him rather than to please Him, treating him as a good luck charm or just another idol to add to their collection. A similar attitude can be found today. Many of us claim to believe in God while refusing to give up attitudes and actions that God denounces. God cannot be added to the values that we already have. He must come first and His Word must shape all our actions and attitudes.

The bottom line is that it is only through the hardness of heart, even as Christians, that we sometimes ignore the sins in our lives and sometimes even call them good things, even when God’s Word says it is sin and that is certainly the case with us before salvation. We want so bad for our favorite sins to be not sins that we fashion God’s Word into what we want it to be. We make deals with God in our minds. We are like the ancient Israelites that fashioned a religion that was not of God but they thought it was and called it that in their minds. Are we doing that today? Are you and I ignoring God’s Word just so we can continue in a path that we want to walk? Are we fashioning a Jesus like I fashioned before salvation? Are we making God what we want Him to be? Changing what God’s Word means to us doesn’t change its original meaning, its timeless meaning, its eternal meaning, just so we can “un-ink” our water from its sin stain.

Help us, Lord, to understand your Word stands eternally and means the same thing today as it did when it was originally written down. Help us to understand your Word as you intended it to be understood and not fashion it into some, changed version to suit our desires in the present day. Help us not to fashion you into what we want to be so that we don’t have to deal with who we are really are in front of you. Help us to see who we are – condemned sinners in desperate need of a Savior.

Amen and Amen.