Archive for the ‘11-1 Kings’ Category

1 Chronicles 11:20-47 (Part 2 of 2)

David’s Thirty Mighty Men

Benaiah is probably one of the most obscure characters in the Bible but he provides us with some food to munch on as Christ followers on two levels. In my last blog, I talked about men of courage in times of trouble. Benaiah also teaches that point as well. Second, he teaches us that courage is realizing that trying to avoid conflict just so we can arrive safely at death is no way to live.

Over the last 8 ½ months as the solo pastor of a smaller church and over the last two years in full-time vocational ministry, I have wondered why I followed the call to full-time ministry. Even as the solo pastor of a smaller church, the task can be overwhelming at times. There are so many things that go into being the pastor of a smaller and long-established church.

First, there is the constancy of being the leader of the church that were not present in my secular career as a corporate accountant. In the world of corporate finance and corporate internal auditing, as I have explained before, there were cycles to that life each month. In my early career, I was an internal auditor and there were two weeks out of town where we worked 70-90 hours per week getting the fieldwork of an internal audit done and then back home for two weeks to get the audit report done and to cool down from the intensity of the workload of the out of town two weeks. In the world of corporate financial management, there was month-end closing week where you would put in 80 hours or so in a week to mange the month-end closings, quarter-end closings, and year-end closings. Then, there was two weeks of doing reconciliations and reports about what happened last month and so on. And then the final week of the month was time to take a breath before the whole process started up again. Here, now, as the pastor, the only pastor, at this church, there is a constancy of the job. There is no down week or weeks to catch your breath. You have to be planning 6 months ahead. You have to be writing sermons every week. You have to have meetings with ministry leaders and with full committees. You have to plan the worship service each week. You have to visit the sick. You have to visit members on a regular basis. I was telling someone the other day, as you stand at the rear of the church as everyone is exiting after the service, you have everyone telling you whether they liked the sermon or not. And for a brief moment, you have a feeling of accomplishment for the week at hand. As the last person exits the church, you then realize, the process now starts over again, immediately.

The weight of it all can be overwhelming at times and you wonder why you left your cyclical secular job to begin with. Then, there is the up and down nature of ministry. You have joy over something happening in one ministry of the church but that is offset by disappointment in another area of ministry. You can have agreement with one leader and disagreement with another. Sometimes all these things happen in the same day. It’s all just a very different animal from the cyclical nature of my prior career.

That’s not to say that I do not enjoy what I am doing, I certainly do. I really don’t feel like I am working though I am working harder I think than I have since my internal audit days. When you are working at what God has called you to do, it doesn’t seem as much like work as my other work from my previous career. The rises and the falls and the constancy of this pastoral thing is just more of a toll because I am putting all of my heart and soul into be a pastor. It would have been easier just to stay in my safe, well-understood, predictable, cyclical secular job as a corporate controller but sometimes in life you must jump in the pit with the lion when God calls you to do so.

Let’s read this passage now with particular attention to the part of the passage about Benaiah:

20 Now Abishai,[a] the brother of Joab, was chief of the Thirty.[b] With his spear he fought against three hundred and killed them, and won a name beside the Three. 21 He was the most renowned[c] of the Thirty,[d] and became their commander; but he did not attain to the Three.

22 Benaiah son of Jehoiada was a valiant man[e] of Kabzeel, a doer of great deeds; he struck down two sons of[f] Ariel of Moab. He also went down and killed a lion in a pit on a day when snow had fallen. 23 And he killed an Egyptian, a man of great stature, five cubits tall. The Egyptian had in his hand a spear like a weaver’s beam; but Benaiah went against him with a staff, snatched the spear out of the Egyptian’s hand, and killed him with his own spear. 24 Such were the things Benaiah son of Jehoiada did, and he won a name beside the three warriors. 25 He was renowned among the Thirty, but he did not attain to the Three. And David put him in charge of his bodyguard.

26 The warriors of the armies were Asahel brother of Joab, Elhanan son of Dodo of Bethlehem, 27 Shammoth of Harod,[g] Helez the Pelonite, 28 Ira son of Ikkesh of Tekoa, Abiezer of Anathoth, 29 Sibbecai the Hushathite, Ilai the Ahohite, 30 Maharai of Netophah, Heled son of Baanah of Netophah, 31 Ithai son of Ribai of Gibeah of the Benjaminites, Benaiah of Pirathon, 32 Hurai of the wadis of Gaash, Abiel the Arbathite, 33 Azmaveth of Baharum, Eliahba of Shaalbon, 34 Hashem[h] the Gizonite, Jonathan son of Shagee the Hararite, 35 Ahiam son of Sachar the Hararite, Eliphal son of Ur, 36 Hepher the Mecherathite, Ahijah the Pelonite, 37 Hezro of Carmel, Naarai son of Ezbai, 38 Joel the brother of Nathan, Mibhar son of Hagri, 39 Zelek the Ammonite, Naharai of Beeroth, the armor-bearer of Joab son of Zeruiah, 40 Ira the Ithrite, Gareb the Ithrite, 41 Uriah the Hittite, Zabad son of Ahlai, 42 Adina son of Shiza the Reubenite, a leader of the Reubenites, and thirty with him, 43 Hanan son of Maacah, and Joshaphat the Mithnite, 44 Uzzia the Ashterathite, Shama and Jeiel sons of Hotham the Aroerite, 45 Jediael son of Shimri, and his brother Joha the Tizite, 46 Eliel the Mahavite, and Jeribai and Joshaviah sons of Elnaam, and Ithmah the Moabite, 47 Eliel, and Obed, and Jaasiel the Mezobaite.

In this passage, we see that Benaiah chased a lion down into a pit. Then, despite the snow and slippery ground, he caught the lion and killed it. You will look back longingly on risks not taken, opportunities not seized, and dreams not pursued. Stop running away from what scares you most and start chasing the God-ordained opportunities that cross your path. This act one of the most obscure yet courageous acts recorded in Scripture, a blessed and audacious act that left no regrets.

What if I had stayed in my cushy, pleasantly-more-than-adequately-compensated position, where I was the man in charge of the finance team for my division of the company I had worked for a decade. I could still be there right now if I had not resigned. The job was good for me and my wife and securing our financial future. What if I had stayed? Since 2011, the Lord had been calling me to ministry and we spent the next 7 years preparing for it. What if I had ignored the call? I would certainly be in a more predictable and safe job where the conflicts were farther apart and the job was easier because that’s what I had been working in for 3 decades since college graduation. It would have been safe. But I would have had regrets. I know it. If I had not followed the call, I would not have jumped in the pit. I would not be fighting the lion of a new career. I would not either have known the satisfaction that I get for that moment at the end of the service and the last person has left the sanctuary. That’s the sweet spot every week. That brief moment.

That brief moment is a feeling of utter peace and satisfaction of having done what God called me to do for another week. That brief moment where I can sit for a moment in the pit after having killed the lion for another week. That brief moment where my soul is at rest in knowing that regardless of what anyone else thinks I have done my duty as the Lord has laid it out to me. That brief moment I get my greatest satisfaction of my life. Another week complete. Another week I have served the Lord in the way that He has called me to do it.

Then, it starts all over again. Another pit. Another lion. Another week to serve the Lord. And….

Amen and Amen.

2 Kings 7:12-20 (Part 3 of 3)

Israel Plunders the Camp

Wow, its been since last Tuesday (8 days ago) since I have had a chance to sit down and do my personal Bible study (which I share with you almost daily, normally). There has been a lot of driving over the past eight days (except for yesterday when I did not leave my daughter’s house not even once). As of right now, I think Elena and I both have put about 1,200 miles on our cars. First, there was the trip from Rock Island, IL to Huntersville, NC (one of the northern suburbs of Charlotte) to visit for a few days with Elena’s brother and sister in-law (Paco & Abbie). That was 880 miles and took us from Wednesday morning to Thursday afternoon (with an overnight stop in Florence, KY). Next up for me, on Friday was a 105 mile drive from Huntersville down to the SC United Methodist Center (the central office for the United Methodist Church in South Carolina) for the first day of pastoral training. After a full day there, it was a 97 mile drive from the UMC Center to the Shops at Greenridge in Greenville, SC to meet my daughter to pick up the keys to our storage units in Florence, SC. Then, back up the road from Greenville to Huntersville, NC, another 101 miles in my car.

Next up on Saturday, both Elena and I were on the road on separate road trips. Elena had to go meet our movers (who pick up all our goods from our house in Rock Island) who were delivering our stuff to the storage units that we have rented in Florence, SC (to hold there until we move into the parsonage in Lamar, SC on June 26th). That was a 258 mile round trip for her that day. For me, it was back to Columbia, SC and the UMC Center for the final day of all the pastoral training for my licensure. That was another 210 miles round trip for me. Sunday, we went to church at one of the Elevation Church campuses in the Charlotte area (the one at Lake Norman). After hanging out with Paco & Abble at their community pool for the afternoon, it was back on the road for us. This time, we headed off to my daughter’s house in Liberty, SC (just west of Greenville, SC). From Huntersville, that’s another 126 miles on the cars. Monday was Memorial Day so there was a lot of running to the grocery store and such, but at least no extended driving. Finally, yesterday, we had a day to “veg out”.

The previous week was grueling. Something you had to get through. It’s kind of like when you have to have a colonoscopy. You know it’s coming. You know you have to have it. You don’t look forward to it. And while you are in the middle of it…well, it’s a pain in the…well…you know where! This move was necessary for us to get to the next phase of our ministry life in God’s calling. The destination, the church to which we have been assigned, is exciting as it will mark the beginning of what Elena and I have been preparing for now for over 8 years. We look so forward to the new mission field and the challenges that surely will await there. However, before we get there, we gotta do a lot of driving. I mean a lot, lot, lot of driving. I mean I really don’t care much for my car right now. We have become too familiar! As the old saying goes, “familiarity breeds contempt!” Did I say we had a lot of driving and still more to go between now and June 26th?

I guess you are wondering by now, what in the world our travels have to do with today’s passage? Well, let’s talk about that. In the midst of all the driving, it reminded me that sometimes that we have to experience difficult things to get to the blessings that God has in store for us. Just as the people of the city of Samaria were going through rough times during the siege so too have we experienced the gauntlet of driving long distances and depending on the kindness of friends and family for a few weeks. But the blessing lies out there. We must have faith in God that He will get us there. The Samarians rushed out into the camp after long hard days. They then experienced God’s great blessing of supplies and food. So much so that that the prices of goods dropped dramatically from just the day before.

For us the drive down, the staying in other people’s homes, more driving, more driving, but the blessing is now just outside of the city gates for us, metaphorically speaking. That’s what I thought of this morning as I read through 2 Kings 7:12-20 for a third time this morning before we move on to the next passage. I thought about how we must remain faithful to the Lord when in the midst of hard times. Let’s read the passage now:

12 The king got out of bed in the middle of the night and told his officers, “I know what has happened. The Arameans know we are starving, so they have left their camp and have hidden in the fields. They are expecting us to leave the city, and then they will take us alive and capture the city.”

13 One of his officers replied, “We had better send out scouts to check into this. Let them take five of the remaining horses. If something happens to them, it will be no worse than if they stay here and die with the rest of us.”

14 So two chariots with horses were prepared, and the king sent scouts to see what had happened to the Aramean army. 15 They went all the way to the Jordan River, following a trail of clothing and equipment that the Arameans had thrown away in their mad rush to escape. The scouts returned and told the king about it. 16 Then the people of Samaria rushed out and plundered the Aramean camp. So it was true that six quarts of choice flour were sold that day for one piece of silver, and twelve quarts of barley grain were sold for one piece of silver, just as the Lord had promised. 17 The king appointed his officer to control the traffic at the gate, but he was knocked down and trampled to death as the people rushed out.

So everything happened exactly as the man of God had predicted when the king came to his house. 18 The man of God had said to the king, “By this time tomorrow in the markets of Samaria, six quarts of choice flour will cost one piece of silver, and twelve quarts of barley grain will cost one piece of silver.”

19 The king’s officer had replied, “That couldn’t happen even if the Lord opened the windows of heaven!” And the man of God had said, “You will see it happen with your own eyes, but you won’t be able to eat any of it!” 20 And so it was, for the people trampled him to death at the gate!

In this passage, we see in vv. 16-18, how the Samarians received a blessing from God that drew an end to the siege by the Arameans. Once the armies were gone, the people rushed out of the city to receive their blessing. Food aplenty. Supplies aplenty. That is what is striking here. The king’s guard had given up hope and was in such disbelief that he did not get to participate in the end of the siege and the receipt of the blessing. But those who held out hope, rushed out in their blessing after days and weeks in the hardest of times.

For us, Elena and me, we stand just inside the city gates as they open. We have been through years of training. We have learned a lot, usually most from our mistakes. It took eight years to get to this point. God called us both, pastor and pastor’s wife, to full-time ministry. We have learned so much from the leaders before us when at LifeSong Church and at Calvary Church of The Quad Cities. The road has been long. Just as was the move to Illinois and now our move back to South Carolina. That which we have been called to is before us. We feel so honored to have this opportunity. The past 8 years have been about breaking us down and God building us into His servants. We still have much to learn about being the lead pastor of a church and being the lead pastor’s wife. But we are about to run outside the city gates into what God has prepared for us, what God has been leading us toward, what all the hard work and hard times of the past 8 years have been about. Let us now step outside the city gates.

Hang in there if you are in training, if you are going through a long road of preparation where there seems no end, if you are experiencing tough times. Remain faithful to the Lord. Don’t become discouraged. The gates will open when God is ready for them to open. We must trust in Him. Stand ready to run out of the city gates … when He says you are ready. In the meantime, keep the faith. Keep plowing. Keep being faithful.

2 Kings 6:1-7 (Part 2 of 2)

The Floating Ax Head

Last night at Calvary Church, we had our quarterly membership introduction meeting. We hold this meeting for any of the new people that have been coming to church at Calvary to have an opportunity to see what membership means at Calvary. People that come usually have been coming to Calvary for a few weeks to a few months and are beginning to see Calvary has their home church. In this meeting, we have a meal together and then we introduce the staff and then our senior pastor reviews the history of the church, the mission and vision of the church, and then review the Christian values that we hold dear. Last night we had 35 new prospective members. After the meeting is over, the Senior Pastor then takes them on a tour of our 60,000 square foot facility. Over the next two weeks, we, as the pastors of the church will meet with each member or member couple and have one-on-one conversations with them about their own specific situation and how that applies to them being a part of the body at Calvary.

With 35 people for a meal and a meeting, there is of course quite a bit of logistics that go along with the meeting, not the least of which is cleaning up afterwards. As Pastor Tim, our senior and founding pastor, is taking the group on the tour of the building, the rest of the Calvary team (including the staff pastors) all pitch in to clean up the meeting room, take things back to the Calvary Café kitchen, and so on. As we were cleaning up, I came back into the meeting room to grab one of the carts on which we had the soft drinks and ice. I noticed one person from the prospective member group who was still in the meeting room, sitting there by herself (her husband I guess had gone on the group tour). I had noticed during the meeting that she had an ice pack that she had been holding against her neck during the whole meeting. So, now she was just sitting there, looking as if she did not feel all that well. It sparked my interest so I asked her what was wrong. Sure, I was supposed to be helping clean up, but here right in front of me was a ministry opportunity with a prospective member.

I asked her what was wrong because it was obvious that she did not feel good. I told her that I had observed during our meal/meeting that she was holding an ice pack to her neck so I knew that she did not feel good. She then proceeded to explain that she had a migraine headache. She said that she used to get them frequently when they lived in Texas but this was the first one that had fallen on her since they moved to The Quad Cities and that it was a doozy. She said that she had debated as to whether she would even come tonight or not. She said though that she wanted to be here so that she and her husband could experience the meeting together. At that moment, I had a choice. The easy thing to do would have been to say the old Christian line, “Well, I will be praying for you!” and then go on about the busy-ness of cleaning up the meeting room. We say that to people all the time. We say, “I’ll be praying for you!” The phrase indicates that you will do it later, but not right now.

One of the things that the Lord has impressed upon during my time here at Calvary is NOT to wait til later to pray for someone. Instead of saying “I’ll be praying for you!”, do it right then and there! Because the thing that I have found, at least for me, is when you say, “I’ll be praying for you!” it is most likely that you won’t do it later. You’ll forget. If you are like me, life happens and then you forget to pray for that person. What God has impressed upon me while we have been here is when these opportunities arise, stop and pray. Stop and minister to that person. So, the Holy Spirit prompted me to pray for this lady right there about her health issue. I followed His leading and asked her if I could pray for. I did. Then, thanked me with a heartfelt thank you and we talked about migraines some more.

I told her that I had experience with them, not personally but with my first wife. She used to have them occasionally and she would be supersensitive to light and sound and she would often be so stricken by them that it would make her literally sick to her stomach and would be throwing up often during these episodes. She said she could relate. I told her that I was proud of her for soldiering through and coming to the meeting. The whole sequence is what pastoral care is all about. Demonstrating to the faithful that you love and care about them. I am glad that I stopped what I was doing and ministered to this woman. It created a feeling in her that even in this big church that we notice the little things and that we will take time to pray for you in the midst of the busy-ness of church. The whole sequence reminds me why I became a pastor – the pastoral care of the flock, recognizing their needs, and letting the Holy Spirit use me to minister to them. It would have been easier to say, “I’ll pray for you” and move on but in that moment ministry to an individual was the more important thing.

That’s the thing that struck me this morning as I read through this passage, 2 Kings 6:1-7 for a second time – how Elisha took a moment out of his time to minister to one of his students. Sure, Elisha was a big important prophet and probably had other things to do that day, but he stopped and helped one of the faithful. Let’s read the passage now:

6 One day the group of prophets came to Elisha and told him, “As you can see, this place where we meet with you is too small. 2 Let’s go down to the Jordan River, where there are plenty of logs. There we can build a new place for us to meet.”

“All right,” he told them, “go ahead.”

3 “Please come with us,” someone suggested.

“I will,” he said. 4 So he went with them.

When they arrived at the Jordan, they began cutting down trees. 5 But as one of them was cutting a tree, his ax head fell into the river. “Oh, sir!” he cried. “It was a borrowed ax!”

6 “Where did it fall?” the man of God asked. When he showed him the place, Elisha cut a stick and threw it into the water at that spot. Then the ax head floated to the surface. 7 “Grab it,” Elisha said. And the man reached out and grabbed it.

In this passage, we see that, placed in the Bible between the healing of an Aramean and the deliverance of Israel’s army, this miracle shows that Elisha’s personal contact with his students in the group of prophets. Although he had the respect of kings, Elisha never forgot to care for the faithful. It is a reminder to us that we should never let the importance of your work crowd out your concern for human need.

Whether you are a pastor or not, this passage reminds us to that ministry takes intention. It usually doesn’t fit into the flow of our lives. How often do we miss ministry opportunities because we are busy? How often do we let our responsibilities get in the way of ministering to people? We don’t have time and so we miss divinely designed appointments for us to minister to people. I know that we have to get work done whether you are a pastor or a plumber, a minister or a mechanic, a preacher or a teacher, no matter what your profession is, we gotta get stuff done. But we should never let our work, even as pastors managing the activities of your church, become so important to us that we miss our divine appointments to minister to people, to minister to their needs, to let them know that we care, to let them know that we love them. Let us remember that when we take time to minister to people that it lets them know that they are important. Let us remember that when we take time to minister to people that it may be that God has designed this moment specifically so that He can speak to that person by what the Holy Spirit puts on your heart to say. Let us remember that this moment in time may be that intersection of God and that person that begins to change everything. Let us be people, that when the Holy Spirit prompts us to stop and minister to someone, we stop and do it. It may be a game changer without you ever even knowing that it was. Instead of “I’ll be praying for you…” let us be a people who say, “Let’s pray about that right now…”

Amen and Amen.

1 Kings 22:51-53

Ahaziah Begins His Reign in Israel

Today, we finish out the book of 1 Kings. We have camped out here for 191 days and watched Israel descend into unrepentant idolatry and into a divided nation from its height of unity and power under the king that was “a man after God’s own heart”, David. We end here with Ahaziah assuming the throne of the northern kingdom while Jehoshaphat continues as the king of the southern kingdom. My what a strange trip it has been. So, today in our passage that concludes the book of 1 Kings, we see that with the rise of Ahaziah to the throne there is no change. He is the son of Ahab and Jezebel, the most wicked king and queen in the history of Israel. So what did we expect? That he would be different from his mom and dad?

That question was what struck me this morning. What do you expect of your kids if you are not following God yourself? It made me think of my oldest daughter and it made me think of my dear friends here in Illinois, Matt and Maria. And, it made me think of the question, what are you passing on to your children? They are watching not just as little children, such as with Matt and Maria’s child, but also as grown children, as with my own oldest child. No matter how long you have been a parent and even if your kids are grown and out of the house, they are still watching us and still imitating us. Though they may not claim that they are imitating us, they do. How can they not? A parent is the greatest influence and predictor of how a child will turn out as anything. We stack the deck on how our kids are going to turn out as adults by the life that they view growing up. We like to think that it doesn’t matter how we act around our kids but it DOES matter. They are watching, imitating, recording, and ingraining behaviors based on the environment of their home.

My first thought was of Matt and Maria. These two young kids (they are in their twenties) that Elena and I have met here in Illinois are kind of surrogate children for us. We love these two people like proud parents love their grown kids. Matt and Maria both come from non-church backgrounds and lived life far from God as they will tell you. Something was always missing to them in their lives and they tried to fill it with other things, as we all do before we come to the cross. The course of their lives was going to be much like the lives of generations in their families. However, somehow and some way God drew them unto Himself. One of the factors that changed everything was when they had a child together. Then, they began going to Calvary Church and decided to follow Jesus. Everything has changed for them. They are a mighty influence on their families. Family members are beginning to come to church now and the ripples of their decision will echo in eternity. But the biggest ripple of all will be in their own household. They are living it out in front of their young daughter. Imagine, with this child being raised in a home where Jesus is front and center and all the heartache and mistakes and bad decisions she may be able to avoid just because of her mom and dad. They are watching. Matt and Maria, thinking of them, just swells my heart with paternal-like pride. I am proud to see them raising their child in the ways of the Lord at such a young age themselves. I am so glad that they did not wait to come to Jesus as late in life as I did. Looking forward to the day when Matt calls me beaming with pride because his daughter accepted Jesus as Her personal Lord and Savior. The ripples will continue from there. The kids, they are watching.

My second thought was of my oldest daughter, Meghan. She was born when I was 23 years old and such a young and dumb guy I was. When you think back to how really ignorant we are as parents when we are in our 20’s it helps you realize that there is indeed a God. He gives us the ability to begin to know and understand this whole parent thing pretty quickly. And He watches over our kids as we blunder through and learn more and more about parenting. My regrets about parenting my children are a mile-wide and a mile-long. Much of it has to do with not coming to know Jesus as my Savior and Lord until I was 39 years old. It was after my salvation that my daughter came to know Jesus as her Savior as well. And as I bumbled through and continue to bumble through growing as a Christ follower, I have seen my daughter mature in Christ also. She doesn’t talk much about spiritual things being a busy mom and school teacher. But there are occasions when I read her words or hear her speak (when we speak of spiritual matters), when I know this sweet girl gets it. She has a depth of soul that makes me know that understands her relationship with Jesus Christ and how He is active in our daily lives. Sure, I have so many regrets of all the mistakes that I made in raising her, but knowing that she is secure in Jesus’ hands makes up for all that. Knowing that she has a heart for Jesus makes believe that she has been watching me these last 17 years since my salvation and particularly the last 11 years where I have grown so much in Christ myself. No matter how old our kids get, they still watch us. They still imitate us. They still follow our lead – even sometimes when they would not admit that they are.

That’s what I thought of this morning as I was reading this final passage of 1 Kings (1 Kings 22:51-53) – about how Ahab’s son, Ahaziah, was following the pattern set down by his parents. That thought of that we as parents create the spiritual environment in which our kids grow up in and they are watching and imitating and following us. Let’s read the passage now:

51 Ahaziah son of Ahab began to rule over Israel in the seventeenth year of King Jehoshaphat’s reign in Judah. He reigned in Samaria two years. 52 But he did what was evil in the Lord’s sight, following the example of his father and mother and the example of Jeroboam son of Nebat, who had led Israel to sin. 53 He served Baal and worshiped him, provoking the anger of the Lord, the God of Israel, just as his father had done.

In this, the final, passage of 1 Kings, we see that 1 Kings begins a nation unified under David, the most devout king in Israel’s history. The book ends with a divided kingdom and the death of the king of the northern kingdom, Ahab, the most wicked of all the kings of Israel. What happened? The people forgot to acknowledge God as their ultimate leader. They appointed human leaders who ignored God. They conformed themselves to the lifestyles of these leaders. Occasional wrongdoing turned into a way of life. Their blatant wickedness could be met only with judgement from God, who allowed enemy nations to arise, harass, and defeat Israel and Judah in wars as punishment for unrepentant lifestyles of sin.

The takeaway this morning is for us as parents is just this – no matter how old our kids get, they are watching us. Matt and Maria still have a young child. They can make a huge difference in whether their child comes to Jesus or not and whether she comes to Jesus at an early age or not. The impact of Matt and Maria being Christ followers will have ripple effects for generations. Their child is watching. Their child is imitating. Their child will follow their lead. May she grow up in Jesus and never depart from it. It is the same with my adult, oldest daughter. She is a Christ follower because she was watching me. Even now as the parent of three adult daughters, I know they are watching and I want my actions to be Christ-like so that they can see that consistency. I also want them watching me when I do commit sins that grieve God and see my admit my mistakes, and turn from them. They are watching. I pray too that my oldest daughter and her husband remember that that my granddaughter is watching, imitating, and following their lead. I pray that my daughter and her husband will raise their child in the ways of the Lord so that she will never depart from it. My prayer for Ralyn is that she never has to go down any of the roads of heartache that come from unrepentantly sinful living. It only brings heartache and destruction. I simply do not want her to have to ride the rides that I have ridden. May she grow up in a home where Jesus is front and center. So that she can watch. So that she can imitate. So that she can follow. So that she can be a Christ follower.

Amen and Amen.

1 Kings 22:41-50

Summary of Jehoshaphat’s Reign

There are some situations in life that you are just not going to be successful no matter how good your intentions are. That’s when you really find out how dedicated you are to your cause.

One of my favorite times of year is the first weekend of the NCAA basketball tournament. As opposed to the college football world where only four teams make the playoffs, the NCAA basketball tournament invites 68 teams to its championship process. There are 32 automatic qualifiers (conference champions) in the field and the remaining 36 bids are given to the most deserving teams that did not win their conference championship. Most of the at-large bids go to the big name schools that did not win their conference. There are some at-large bids that go to teams from non-major conferences but it is fairly rare. The non-major conferences mainly get their bids to the NCAA tournament by winning their conference championship. It is usually all or nothing for those conferences. They must win their conference to get in. But the beauty of the first weekend of the tournament is that you get pairings of teams from major conferences against teams from non-major conferences that would normally NOT play each other. Thus, the first weekend of the tournament is always interesting to see how these small schools from non-major conferences can compete against the bigger schools with bigger brand names and their huge fan bases.

One of those little schools that we saw this past weekend was a small school from Spartanburg, SC. Wofford College is a small school from the Upstate region of South Carolina that is supported mainly by the South Carolina Conference of the United Methodist Church. It has less than 2,000 students. It is a school with high academic standards and is tough to get into. Yet, over the past two decades under Coach Mike Young, the school has become pretty successful in basketball. They perennially are a power to be reckoned with in the Southern Conference, the non-major school athletic conference in which they are a member. They have been to the NCAA tournament 5 times in school history and most of those appearances have come in the last decade. Until this year, they had not won a NCAA tournament game but they were always a tough out. They play great defense. They have this really fluid offense that is always, always moving. And, they have, since Mike Young has been coach, always had at least two guys on the team that can shoot three pointers with precision. That makes them a tough out for any team. Most years they have fault valiantly in the first round games but would lose by 5 or 6 points each tournament first round game they appeared in. However, this year was different. They had what was probably the best team in Wofford’s basketball history. They finished the season with an overall 30-6 record and swept through the Southern Conference schedule with a perfect record and then won their conference tournament.

They came into this year’s tournament with at #7 seed and were nationally ranked. So, they were given some respect this year as being as good as some of the middle of the pack teams from major conferences. Their first game of this year’s tournament was against Seton Hall – a major team from a major conference, The Big East. They were no match for Wofford by the end of the game as Wofford pulled away to win by 16 points. Then came the round 2 game. This game was against perennial national championship contender, Kentucky. Kentucky has won 8 national titles, more titles than any other school except UCLA. They are what they call “a blue blood” program. They get all the best recruits, have the best facilities, have a national drawing power for TV ratings, they are just always good and just always have awesome players. Wofford hung with them though and gave their best but ultimately lost by 6 points. Quite an accomplishment but not good enough. They just ran up against a team that was ultimately bigger, faster, stronger, and more talented. Wofford can walk away with their head held high that they took a blue-blood program from a major school from a major conference to wire. Ultimately, though, they lost. They did not win. In that sense, it would seem a failure. However, Wofford proved that at least this year’s team can compete with any school at the major level and make them work really hard for their victory. But sometimes, you are just outmatched and you lose.

That’s what I thought about this morning as I read the passage, 1 Kings 22:41-50, and how Jehoshaphat was a good king but ultimately he was unable to stamp out the worship of idols in his country of Judah. He tried his best but he failed. Let’s read about it now:

41 Jehoshaphat son of Asa began to rule over Judah in the fourth year of King Ahab’s reign in Israel. 42 Jehoshaphat was thirty-five years old when he became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem twenty-five years. His mother was Azubah, the daughter of Shilhi.

43 Jehoshaphat was a good king, following the example of his father, Asa. He did what was pleasing in the Lord’s sight. [a]During his reign, however, he failed to remove all the pagan shrines, and the people still offered sacrifices and burned incense there. 44 Jehoshaphat also made peace with the king of Israel.

45 The rest of the events in Jehoshaphat’s reign, the extent of his power, and the wars he waged are recorded in The Book of the History of the Kings of Judah. 46 He banished from the land the rest of the male and female shrine prostitutes, who still continued their practices from the days of his father, Asa.

47 (There was no king in Edom at that time, only a deputy.)

48 Jehoshaphat also built a fleet of trading ships[b] to sail to Ophir for gold. But the ships never set sail, for they met with disaster in their home port of Ezion-geber. 49 At one time Ahaziah son of Ahab had proposed to Jehoshaphat, “Let my men sail with your men in the ships.” But Jehoshaphat refused the request.

50 When Jehoshaphat died, he was buried with his ancestors in the City of David. Then his son Jehoram became the next king.

In this passage, we see that, just like his ancestors, Solomon and Asa, Jehoshaphat followed God, but he did not remove the pagan shrines in the hill country. It was against God’s laws to worship idols (see Numbers 33:52). At first, Jehoshaphat attempted to remove them (see 2 Chronicles 17:6). However, the shrines were so popular with the people that this effort proved difficult and ultimately futile. In spite of his many contributions to the spiritual and moral health of Judah, he did not succeed in eradicating the hill shrines.

What is the takeaway today for us as Christ followers? I think it is that there are going to be times in life that no matter how hard you try that there are times that we are going to be defeated. We may be unable to change the culture around us. We may get overrun by the culture’s unbiblical values. We may get ridiculed. We may get marginalized. We may even lose friends, jobs, and may even be killed for the standing against the tide of culture. Do we stop trying? That’s the takeaway. The takeaway is no, we keep trying. We keep honoring God. We keep living out our biblical values. Many Christ followers the world over would rather die for Christ than give into demands that they renounce their faith. Christians the world over are suffering in the face of certain defeat. Just look at recent events in Nigeria where thousands of Christians have been slaughtered for no other reason than that they are Christians. Did they renounce they faith in the face of death. No. They kept pushing the ball up the court and kept going up against the bigger, faster, stronger and better equipped team.

That’s the takeaway. We keep the faith. We share the gospel. We live out the Christian life and our Christian values even when it costs us something. We live it out even when we face certain loss. We live it out because Jesus did the same for us. He suffered on the cross for us. The least we can do for Him is to stay true to His name even when we are facing certain defeat. Even when being a Christian is inconvenient. Even when being a Christian is uncool. Even when being a Christian is going to cost us something. Even when being a Christian means that we are facing certain defeat.

Amen and Amen.

1 Kings 22:29-40 (Part 2 of 2)

The Death of Ahab

In a passage about a seemingly random arrow finding its target, it may seem strange to talk a modern-day humanism, but bear with me a bit. You will see the connection as we walk through this.

There are no coincidences in God’s scheme of things. We live in a world that believes less and less in God and more and more in themselves as their own gods. In the grand scheme of things, those who do not believe in God believe that the world a series of random events caused by our own actions. As seven billion people in the world pursuing their own self-interest actions and reactions are created that guide the course of human events. In this system of belief, everything is random. There is no external, high-level plan. Thus, life itself is random. We control ourselves but we are awash in a sea of the actions and reactions of the other 6,999,999,999 people in the world. This is the world of humanism. The humanistic worldview grants us our own power and removes an external higher power, a Supreme Being. The humanistic worldview makes us our own gods. We define what is right for ourselves because there is no higher moral authority external to ourselves. It seems very appealing to the modern mind. Making ourselves our own gods gives us control and allows us to define what is right for us alone. With no higher moral authority than ourselves lets us define our own moral code to what suits us best.

The downside to it all though is that life becomes completely random. We are just molecules bouncing off each other in our own little universes. To gain control of our lives and make ourselves gods, the world is then a chaotic mix of your world bouncing off 7 billion other little universes. All bouncing off each other in some chaotic, non-ordered, random world. In order gain control of our lives through eliminating God, we invite a chaotic worldview. There is no other way around it. If there is no God with His external authority, moral definition, and control of events, then, by default, the world, the universe is a random place. There is no control of it all. This worldview gains control of our lives for ourselves but loses a sense of order, reason and purpose to existence.

Even the universe itself becomes random. It simply began at some point. A spontaneous random beginning. It, the universe, just decided to spontaneously combust and begin without instigation. Everything that happened after that is a collection of random events, actions and reaction, cause and effect. In this worldview, the universe governs itself without external control. Everything after this beginning for no reason at all with no instigation is a collection of random events that generated the universe in all its great complexity where our planet, Earth, became a place where all the conditions were randomly right for life to form and develop into what we know today. There is no purpose in how Earth became the perfect combination of circumstances to support human life as we know and has been able to sustain life to the level of development we now have obtained at this point in human existence.

The humanistic worldview of randomness with no external higher power is ultimately depressing when you really sit down and think about it.  That idea of humanism where the world is completely random is what I thought of this morning as I focused on Ahab in this passage, 1 Kings 22:29-40. Let us read the passage now and simply look at it a humanistic worldview perspective.

29 So King Ahab of Israel and King Jehoshaphat of Judah led their armies against Ramoth-gilead. 30 The king of Israel said to Jehoshaphat, “As we go into battle, I will disguise myself so no one will recognize me, but you wear your royal robes.” So the king of Israel disguised himself, and they went into battle.

31 Meanwhile, the king of Aram had issued these orders to his thirty-two chariot commanders: “Attack only the king of Israel. Don’t bother with anyone else!” 32 So when the Aramean chariot commanders saw Jehoshaphat in his royal robes, they went after him. “There is the king of Israel!” they shouted. But when Jehoshaphat called out, 33 the chariot commanders realized he was not the king of Israel, and they stopped chasing him.

34 An Aramean soldier, however, randomly shot an arrow at the Israelite troops and hit the king of Israel between the joints of his armor. “Turn the horses[a] and get me out of here!” Ahab groaned to the driver of his chariot. “I’m badly wounded!”

35 The battle raged all that day, and the king remained propped up in his chariot facing the Arameans. The blood from his wound ran down to the floor of his chariot, and as evening arrived he died. 36 Just as the sun was setting, the cry ran through his troops: “We’re done for! Run for your lives!”

37 So the king died, and his body was taken to Samaria and buried there. 38 Then his chariot was washed beside the pool of Samaria, and dogs came and licked his blood at the place where the prostitutes bathed,[b] just as the Lord had promised.

39 The rest of the events in Ahab’s reign and everything he did, including the story of the ivory palace and the towns he built, are recorded in The Book of the History of the Kings of Israel. 40 So Ahab died, and his son Ahaziah became the next king.

In this passage, we see that that Ahab was killed by a random arrow shot almost without thought by a passing soldier. Why did he shoot the arrow? No one else did it. Why wasn’t there a command for all the archers to fire an arrow into the crowd of Israelite soldiers as they were passing by. Why just one random arrow? Why just one arrow that found its mark in Ahab’s body and not anyone else’s. Oh the humanist will tell you that it was, in fact, a random act of the independent thinking of the soldier combined with Ahab just being at the wrong place at the wrong time. That’s what got me to thinking about the worldview of humanism and how it is so depressing in its randomness.

Without God everything is indeed random. Like I said earlier, even the beginning of the universe is completely random. There was no cause for it. The universe just began and the randomness of existence follows from it. Even in our explanation of the origins of the universe, we have randomly assigned ways to age when all these things happened to give us a sense of perspective in what, without God, is a random world. However, to me as a Christ follower, there is a God and there is a purpose to everything including the beginning of the universe.

The humanist pride their view of evolution as the universe governing itself through immutable laws of cause and effect but yet the beginning of the universe was a random thing with no cause. For the Christ follower, God was the cause for the origin of the universe. God spoke it into existence. God is the instigator of it all. He is a relational God and thus created the universe so that He could interact with it and give it purpose and meaning. He is the original cause to all the causes and effects of the universe that have followed. It was God who orchestrated Earth being the perfect set of circumstance for human life to exist and thrive. He purposefully created man not in some random set of circumstances upon a planet that randomly was in the right place for life to exist. He purposefully gave us intelligence so that we could indeed develop and thrive in ways that other animals on this planet have been unable to do.

It was part of his plan for man. He created us to have free will so that we would not worship as mindless robots. The risk that He took with giving us a free will was that we could choose to turn away from and oh we have over the centuries to the point now that many humans do not believe that He exists. The pain and suffering of this world is a result of our own decisions to seek ourselves and worship what we want also known as sin. Ahab was a humanist. His actions were humanistic. He sought what He wanted as if there was no God. His death in that worldview is that it was a random act in a world of little gods pursuing their own self-interests.

However, there is a God. Nothing is random. Even at the beginning of what we know as temporal time and space, God was there. He created time, space, and matter. He, the intelligent, non-created, pre-existing God spoke forth the universe. He was the instigator of it all. He is the original cause to the universe’s immutable laws of cause and effect. He ordered the universe and still does. It’s not random that Earth became a hotspot for the creation of life and of human life. There is nothing random to it all. God rules it all and orders it all and interacts with it all.

That gives me comfort in knowing that in everything even the complex little planet that we live on, God is there. When you think of the complexity of the universe, the complexity of Earth itself, the complexity of just the part of the world that your home sits on (think of all the stuff that is going on in just the yard on which your house sits), it blows your mind. To me, without God, none of this would have happened or would be going on. So, starting with the beginning of the universe, God is in control of it all. From that, it naturally follows that has a purpose in everything and in every event.

Ahab, in our passage, died not in some random event and some chance thing that happened. It was justice for evil. It was justice for worshiping himself instead of God. It was justice not some random event. In Ahab’s death, we can actually find strength in our faith – that there is a God, that there is a God that is external, independent, and interactive with the world He created, that there is a God who knows the heart of every man, that there is a God that hears our cries.

It’s weird to think that the seemingly random death of an evil king is evidence for faith in a God who created all things and who cares about His creation, but it is. God orchestrated the justice for Ahab. If God can do that, then, He is a God who cares. If God can do that, He is God that interacts with His creation. If God can do that, He is a God that controls events so as to influence us toward Him. If God can do that, then, He is also a God that wants us to be in relationship with Him. If God can do that, then, He DID INDEED send His Son to us to reconcile us to Him. If He can do that, then, He loves us enough to sacrifice His Son as a way to atone for all our individual sins and each of us has plenty. If He did that, then, He really does care about me, personally. He hears my prayers. He hears my cries. He sees those who love Him and seek after Him and those who do not. There is nothing random in the universe and there is nothing random in my life.

God has a plan for the universe and He has a plan for my life. He has a plan for your life. There is nothing random to it at all. All of the actions and reactions of our lives is part of God’s plan to draw us unto Him. Then, once we accept Christ as our Savior, everything that happens after that is part of His plan to deepen our love and dependence on Him. Even the tough things we go through in life is part of His plan for our lives. Even the sadness and pain and suffering that we each have in our lives is part of His grand plan for our lives – to draw us into to full-on dependence, worship and relationship with Him. Nothing is random. Everything is useful in His purposes for our lives. Romans 8:28 sums it up best where it says, “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.”

So when you are suffering through what seems like random arrow to your life, remember that God is indeed in control. He wants you to recognize it and seek Him for the first time or, if you already are saved, He wants you to have a deeper relationship with Him. It is His desire and His purpose to draw you closer and deeper to Him. Nothing is random. Everything has a purpose in God’s plan for you.

Trust that. Live in that. Have hope in that. He knows you, personally. He wants you to come to Him. He wants you to realize your purpose in Him. He created the universe. He created you. You are His creation. He loves you. There is purpose in everything.

Amen and Amen.

1 Kings 22:29-40 (Part 1 of 2)

The Death of Ahab

Today is my wedding anniversary, March 21st. Elena and I were married on this date nine years ago when we were living in Livermore, CA. We both came at our relationship from failed marriages and were very skiddish about getting married again. It took a challenge, through counseling, from our pastor when we were living in California “to do things God’s way.” It was what we needed to hear. We were afraid that we were going to repeat the same mistakes of the past if we were to get married again. If we did not get married, we could just give up and walk away at any time. But our pastor challenged us on what we believed about God. We found each other through God’s providence and we needed to trust him with our marriage. We needed to center our marriage under the authority of God rather than looking at it from our own perspectives. Even though we had been married before, God, he said, could redeem us and make us new as a couple. He could make our marriage better than our previous marriages if we put Him first in it. He said God can redeem scrapped metal and make it into a work of art. He said that we are never too far gone for God not to be reach down and make something beautiful out of the junk.

He was right. We had junk. We had scrap metal. But what God has done in us and through us since we decided to do marriage His way has been nothing short of a miracle. To say to either one of us, nine years ago, that we would be serving God full-time we would have said “that’s a nice thought” but then we would have started laughing. I bet nine years ago, neither one of us would have thought that we would have packed up our bags and moved halfway back across the country to serve the Lord. We moved from California back to South Carolina at the end of the Summer 2010 after we had gotten married. We had it made in South Carolina. Great job. Good money. Wonderful church. Close to family (my family in the Greenville, SC area and Elena’s in the Charlotte, NC). Life was good. Then came the call to full-time ministry. Years of preparation and waiting followed. Then we moved to Illinois in the winter of last year. Looking back at the quilt of history of my life and stitch in Elena’s life to that, we would have laughed at you if more than a decade ago when we first met if you had said that you would find yourselves in Illinois serving the Lord full-time. It is the beautiful art that God can make from scrap metal. Two broken people with broken pasts who cried out to God and God has redeemed our lives, given us a great marriage, and hope for the future no matter what comes our way. We are not perfect by any means. However, we know that we are sinners operating under the wonderful mercy and grace of God. God does listen when we cry out to Him. He wants us to come to Him. He is a loving and merciful Father who redeems.

That redeeming nature of God who hears our cries even when we are in the midst of trouble (that often we create for ourselves) is what I thought of this morning as I focused on Jehoshaphat in this passage, 1 Kings 22:29-40. Let us read the passage now and simply look at it from Jehoshaphat’s perspective. We will look at Ahab in my next blog.

29 So King Ahab of Israel and King Jehoshaphat of Judah led their armies against Ramoth-gilead. 30 The king of Israel said to Jehoshaphat, “As we go into battle, I will disguise myself so no one will recognize me, but you wear your royal robes.” So the king of Israel disguised himself, and they went into battle.

31 Meanwhile, the king of Aram had issued these orders to his thirty-two chariot commanders: “Attack only the king of Israel. Don’t bother with anyone else!” 32 So when the Aramean chariot commanders saw Jehoshaphat in his royal robes, they went after him. “There is the king of Israel!” they shouted. But when Jehoshaphat called out, 33 the chariot commanders realized he was not the king of Israel, and they stopped chasing him.

34 An Aramean soldier, however, randomly shot an arrow at the Israelite troops and hit the king of Israel between the joints of his armor. “Turn the horses[a] and get me out of here!” Ahab groaned to the driver of his chariot. “I’m badly wounded!”

35 The battle raged all that day, and the king remained propped up in his chariot facing the Arameans. The blood from his wound ran down to the floor of his chariot, and as evening arrived he died. 36 Just as the sun was setting, the cry ran through his troops: “We’re done for! Run for your lives!”

37 So the king died, and his body was taken to Samaria and buried there. 38 Then his chariot was washed beside the pool of Samaria, and dogs came and licked his blood at the place where the prostitutes bathed,[b] just as the Lord had promised.

39 The rest of the events in Ahab’s reign and everything he did, including the story of the ivory palace and the towns he built, are recorded in The Book of the History of the Kings of Israel. 40 So Ahab died, and his son Ahaziah became the next king.

In this passage, we see that Jehoshaphat’s troubles began when he joined forces with evil King Ahab. Almost at once, he found himself the target of for soldiers who mistakenly identified him as Ahab. He could have accepted this fate because he deserved it, but instead he cried out to God, who miraculously saved him. When we are mired in sin and its consequences, we may be tempted to give up and just these consequences crush us because we think that this is simply our fate. While we may deserve what comes to us, that is all the more reason to cry out to God for urgent help. No matter what we have done and no matter how much Satan says that we do not deserve any help from God, He never stops loving us. He is a merciful father who is always ready for us to come home to Him.

Are you broken beyond repair? Are you scrap metal? Are you ready for the junk heap? Cry out to God. He will listen to your cries. Sure, consequences of the things we have done in our past will not be erased when we cry out to God, but He will redeem us when we seek Him. He will take our mess and turn it into our message. He will make you worthwhile and usable in His Kingdom. Just as Elena and I are passionate about teaching couples “to do things God’s way” because of what we have seen God do in our marriage, you can be passionate about how God redeemed you from your mess. He can make you passionate about reaching people that are going down the same road that you once were before God redeemed you. That’s your ministry. Cry out to God to redeem you. He will make you useful to His Kingdom. He will redeem you. He will make you a work of art from the scrap metal that you think you are right now. God can make you new!

Amen and Amen.