Archive for the ‘12-2 Kings’ Category

2 Kings 14:28-29

The End of Jeroboam II’s Reign in Israel

Show me your checkbook and I will show you what you worship. It is an old saying that packs a punch. I think too we should add the sentence, show me your calendar and I will show you what you worship. Between these two phrases, it pretty much sums it up. Whatever our spending priorities are and whatever our time priorities are go a long way toward showing what we worship.

If our finances show that we spend a lot of money on certain things, trinkets, toys, activities, and then give God what’s leftover. Who is it or what is it that we worship? If we purchase houses and cars and jet skis and vacations and other toys that demand so much of our income that we can’t work giving to the Lord into our budget, what is it that we worship. If we are so strapped financially that we cannot assist a friend or even a stranger in need and rationalize it away by saying that the government will help them, what is it that we are worshiping? If a college or pro football team is a determiner as to whether you attend church on Sunday morning, what is it that you worship? If your child’s sports activities prevent you from going to church regularly or participating in weeknight bible study or small group, what is it that we worship? If we cannot spend time with a friend who needs us to listen because we are always on the go, what is it that we are worshiping? If we would love to volunteer for a good cause but we cannot work it into our schedule. What is it that we are worshiping?

That’s the culture that Jeroboam II created in the northern kingdom. Sure, the kingdom did better economically and from a national security standpoint than any other time after Solomon’s reign, but the society had lost its soul. All it cared about was material gain and whoever has the best toys is the winner. That society that he created is the society that we live in now in the grand pursuit of The American Dream. Whomever has the most toys in the end wins. We are seeking things instead of God. We pursue activities that are intended to fulfill us rather than honoring God in how we spend our time. I am not saying that God does not want us to have toys and does not want us to have fun in our lives. He wants us to have a well-balanced life and He is not against us having nice things. However, when we push Him out of the way and make pursuit of things our god, then, it becomes idolatry. We worship what we place greatest importance on.

With that in my mind, we now read of Jeroboam II’s death. It is clear that the period of his reign was unremarkable from a spiritual standpoint. As we have seen, when there is nothing glorifying to God, the author of 2 Kings defers to the secular Jewish history book of the time, The Book of the History of the Kings of Israel and quickly moves onto the next king. There is a lesson for that in and of itself. Let’s read the passage, 2 Kings 14:28-29, now:

28 The rest of the events in the reign of Jeroboam II and everything he did—including the extent of his power, his wars, and how he recovered for Israel both Damascus and Hamath, which had belonged to Judah[a]—are recorded in The Book of the History of the Kings of Israel. 29 When Jeroboam II died, he was buried in Samaria[b] with the kings of Israel. Then his son Zechariah became the next king.

In this passage, we see Jeroboam II’s death. We know more from other OT books about him that we do from the chronology of kings in 2 Kings. We understand from the books of Hosea and Amos, that Jeroboam II had no devotion to God, yet under his warlike policies and skillful administration, Israel enjoyed a renaissance of sorts for a while in its power and material prosperity. It was the best period for the northern kingdom from an economic sense and from a national security standpoint since the days of Solomon. The prophets Amos and Hosea tell us, however, what was really happening within the kingdom. Jeroboam’s policies ran roughshod over the rights of the poor and oppressed. As a result, the rich became richer and the poor became poorer. The people became self-centered relying more on their own sense of self-reliance (power, security, possessions) than on God. The poor were so oppressed that it was hard for them to believe God noticed their plight.

Material prosperity is not always an indication of God blessing. It can also be a result of self-centeredness. If you are experiencing prosperity, remember that God holds us accountable for how we attain and how we use our wealth. Everything we have really belongs to Him. We must always put God first in our financial thought patterns. We should honor Him first. Give Him our first and best of our resources before satisfying our personal desires. Even in meeting our personal desires, we should ask the question as to whether we are honoring God in how we spend our money after having given to God. Will this be the legacy that we leave?

What are we going to be remembered for? Are we going to be remembered for the toys that we gathered while we were here on earth and the time we spent on gathering them? Are we going to be remembered for the time we spent on selfish desires? Will we be like the long line of kings of Israel and Judah where there was nothing spiritually remarkable to report? How will we be remembered?

May our legacy be one where there are people that are left behind after our death that know Jesus Christ because we were there. May our legacy be one where there are people that see their intersection with our lives as the pivotal moment in their lives where everything changed. That moment where they met Jesus through our witness and everything changed. May our legacy be one that people looked to us for godly advice. May our legacy be one that people knew that God came first in our time and came first in our finances. May our legacy be one where there will be something spiritually remarkable to report.

Amen and Amen.

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2 Kings 14:15-27

Jeroboam II in Israel & Amaziah in Judah

Reading about this seemingly unending spiral downward of the holiness of the people of Israel and Judah and how they thought they were doing what was right in their own eyes while the decline continued has been completely depressing at times. Has it not? With the advantage of being this far into the future from the events depicted in 2 Kings, it is like, for us, watching a car wreck about to happen and there is nothing you can do about it.

From the height of Israel’s power under David and Solomon to the split kingdoms with all their infighting, the decline is noticeable to us as readers. And it’s not over yet. It will ultimately continue when the northern kingdom is conquered and swallowed up by the Assyrian empire (with its capital in Ninevah). That is followed by the conquering of the southern kingdom by the Babylonian empire (with its capital in Babylon and what is now modern-day Iraq and Jordan). The Parthians (previously limited to what is now northern Saudi Arabia and all of Iran) then conquered the Babylonians. The Parthians allowed the Judeans to return to Judah during the time of Nehemiah.

However, they were still under Parthian rule. The next thing that happens is Alexander the Great conquers all of the Middle East (deposing the empires of Assyria and the Parthians). After the death of Alexander the Great, his vast empire was split into four kingdoms by his four top generals. So the Greek rule of the Middle East continued for quite a while. Next up was the Roman Empire that ruled the Middle East. They took over the Middle East when the Greeks were defeated at Corinth (yeah that Corinth from 1 & 2 Corinthians) in 146 BC. Judea and Israel (Israel becomes named Samaria) then soon after become tightly under Roman rule with them installing the local kings that they wanted and then have a Roman governor in the region. Israel and Judah rebel against Roman rule and there is always unrest there as they chaff under another foreign occupying force. That’s the historical timeline that brings us the world of Israel and Judah at the time Jesus was born, lived, preached, and was crucified in approximately 33-36AD.

Just as Jesus predicted, the ultimate end to Judah and Israel began with the Jewish revolt in 66AD. That revolt lasted far longer than Rome wanted it to and they ultimately had enough and crushed what was Judah/Israel in 70AD with the destruction of the Temple that Jesus predicted. After that, what we know of ancient Israel and Judah is no more. The Israelites that were not killed in the revolt of 66-70AD were dispersed throughout the Roman Empire and never allowed to return to their ancestral homelands after that.

That is what happened to the kingdoms of Israel and Judah. The decline is happening right here before our eyes in all the pettiness since the death of Solomon, all of the evil, all the idol worship, all the doing of what was right in their own eyes. These are the things that I thought about when I read this passage is how Israel and Judah got so consumed with themselves and their desires that they forgot about God. It is a warning to us all as we watch this steady decline of Israel and Judah through the pages of Bible. Let’s read the passage, 2 Kings 14:15-27, now:

15 Now the rest of the acts that Jehoash did, his might, and how he fought with King Amaziah of Judah, are they not written in the Book of the Annals of the Kings of Israel? 16 Jehoash slept with his ancestors, and was buried in Samaria with the kings of Israel; then his son Jeroboam succeeded him.

17 King Amaziah son of Joash of Judah lived fifteen years after the death of King Jehoash son of Jehoahaz of Israel. 18 Now the rest of the deeds of Amaziah, are they not written in the Book of the Annals of the Kings of Judah? 19 They made a conspiracy against him in Jerusalem, and he fled to Lachish. But they sent after him to Lachish, and killed him there. 20 They brought him on horses; he was buried in Jerusalem with his ancestors in the city of David. 21 All the people of Judah took Azariah, who was sixteen years old, and made him king to succeed his father Amaziah. 22 He rebuilt Elath and restored it to Judah, after King Amaziah[a] slept with his ancestors.

23 In the fifteenth year of King Amaziah son of Joash of Judah, King Jeroboam son of Joash of Israel began to reign in Samaria; he reigned forty-one years. 24 He did what was evil in the sight of the Lord; he did not depart from all the sins of Jeroboam son of Nebat, which he caused Israel to sin. 25 He restored the border of Israel from Lebo-hamath as far as the Sea of the Arabah, according to the word of the Lord, the God of Israel, which he spoke by his servant Jonah son of Amittai, the prophet, who was from Gath-hepher. 26 For the Lord saw that the distress of Israel was very bitter; there was no one left, bond or free, and no one to help Israel. 27 But the Lord had not said that he would blot out the name of Israel from under heaven, so he saved them by the hand of Jeroboam son of Joash.

In this passage, we see that during this period, many prophets – such as Hosea, Amos, Jonah, Micah and Isaiah – began collecting their prophecies and writing them down under the Holy Spirit’s supervision. They continued to preach about the worldwide significance of God’s work as they looked forward to the future spiritual Kingdom of God. God would use Israel’s moral and spiritual decline to prepare the way for coming of the Messiah. Because the kingdom and military power of the combined northern and southern kingdoms of Israel and Judah would be stripped away, many people would be ready to hear the Good News that Jesus would bring. If only they would listen.

Here, we see how far the kingdoms have fallen from the height of its regional power under David and Solomon. There was no limit to what Israel could do under David and Solomon. If you remember, under David and Solomon, foreign kings paid visits and made alliances with Israel. All things were going pretty doggone good for the kingdom. However, sinful selfishness led to a split in the kingdom and to idolatry and to disobedience to God’s Word and to moral decline and to, ultimately, as we shall see in the rest of the Bible a slow painful decline of these two kingdoms into nothingness and unimportance on the world stage. They are simply satellite, puppet kingdoms of their occupying overlords from Assyria, Babylon, Parthia, Greece and Rome. Then the various variations of the Arabic/Islamic kingdoms ruled what was Israel and Judah until the Post-World War II push to re-establish the Jewish state that we know today.

That’s what I thought about today is the long history of occupation of the Holy Land by other empires that is about to happen and it was because of the moral decay and the internal pettiness of Israel and Judah right here in 2 Kings. There is a warning to us in the United States here. I see so much of us as a nation in biblical Israel and Judah. We have advanced as a nation so quickly when you compare our history to those of other nations. It is because God blesses nations that follow Him. Sure, America was never perfect and still isn’t but in general over the first three centuries since we landed on the east coast of North America, we have been mightily blessed. By the time the 20th century rolled around the United States though a young country was a major player on the world stage. By the end of World War II, we are the big kid on the block. However, here in the 21st century, you see a nation very similar to Israel and Judah of the biblical era – chasing after what pleases us and disregarding God when his commands get in the way of us pleasing ourselves.

Let us pray that there will be a spiritual awakening in America. Let us pray that there will be a revival of belief in what the Bible teaches us. Let us pray that our self-seeking will be replaced with God-seeking. Let us pray that we do not continue down the path that is so very much like that of biblical Israel and Judah. Let us pray for a return to God.

Amen and Amen.

2 Kings 14:1-14

Amaziah Rules in Judah

One of the dangers early in an appointment in a Methodist church is the “honeymoon period” of being the new pastor. Usually, from what I understand from other pastors, those first few months are often a time when things happen fast, when anything you try is received positively, and there is often growth because of the breath of fresh air that a new pastor inevitably brings – new perspectives, new ways of thinking, just being different from the previous pastor. It is easy to think, as the new pastor, that this is the way it’s always going to be and that anything you touch is gold. That’s the place, the phase of the ministry here at Lamar that I find myself in right now. I am the new pastor. I am the breath of fresh air. Everyone is excited and energized.

The thing that I must remember as I pass through this honeymoon period is that it really is not about me. The growth that we are experiencing in attendance, the energy that is now present among the faithful of our church is not because of me. I am a rookie pastor. I am no expert at this. Yes, I have plenty of experience from my business career that can help me. Yes, I have plenty of background with large churches that can help provide a different view that is helpful to this church. But, it’s not about me. The danger is that it can be easy in the flesh that you can think that it is – about me.

One of the things that I said to the leadership of this church at our first “meet and greet” back in May was that “if we keep our eyes on Jesus, I think we will be OK.” That’s the thing. Anything that I accomplish here, any growth that comes, any energy that comes, any success for the kingdom that comes is because God ordained it to happen. Any success that comes will be because it is pleasing to Him. Any success not based on what is pleasing to God is simply not sustainable. Any success based on bringing glory to ourselves is simply not sustainable. Any success that is personal kingdom building is not sustainable.

We as a church and I as its pastor must always keep our eye on Jesus. When we take our eyes off Jesus we will be like Peter who could walk on water when he kept his eyes on Jesus but sank when he did not. Thus, everything we do, everything that I do as pastor, must be measured by whether it brings glory to Jesus or not. When it brings glory to ourselves, rather than Jesus, then we will fail like Peter did.

That’s what I thought of this morning when I read through this passage, 2 Kings 14:1-14. In it, King Amaziah became proud of his own accomplishment. He thought he “was all that and a bag of chips”, as the old saying goes. He thought he was more powerful than he really was. Because of the wars that the southern kingdom had been fighting, the strength of their army was reduced. Further, the northern kingdom was simply bigger, had more people to raise an army from, so Judah picking a fight with their cousins to the north was simply not wise. Add to that, the depleted nature of the Judean army made this easy pickings for the northern kingdom. With all that in mind, let’s read the passage now:

14 In the second year of King Joash son of Joahaz of Israel, King Amaziah son of Joash of Judah, began to reign. 2 He was twenty-five years old when he began to reign, and he reigned twenty-nine years in Jerusalem. His mother’s name was Jehoaddin of Jerusalem. 3 He did what was right in the sight of the Lord, yet not like his ancestor David; in all things he did as his father Joash had done. 4 But the high places were not removed; the people still sacrificed and made offerings on the high places. 5 As soon as the royal power was firmly in his hand he killed his servants who had murdered his father the king. 6 But he did not put to death the children of the murderers; according to what is written in the book of the law of Moses, where the Lord commanded, “The parents shall not be put to death for the children, or the children be put to death for the parents; but all shall be put to death for their own sins.”

7 He killed ten thousand Edomites in the Valley of Salt and took Sela by storm; he called it Jokthe-el, which is its name to this day.

8 Then Amaziah sent messengers to King Jehoash son of Jehoahaz, son of Jehu, of Israel, saying, “Come, let us look one another in the face.” 9 King Jehoash of Israel sent word to King Amaziah of Judah, “A thornbush on Lebanon sent to a cedar on Lebanon, saying, ‘Give your daughter to my son for a wife’; but a wild animal of Lebanon passed by and trampled down the thornbush. 10 You have indeed defeated Edom, and your heart has lifted you up. Be content with your glory, and stay at home; for why should you provoke trouble so that you fall, you and Judah with you?”

11 But Amaziah would not listen. So King Jehoash of Israel went up; he and King Amaziah of Judah faced one another in battle at Beth-shemesh, which belongs to Judah. 12 Judah was defeated by Israel; everyone fled home. 13 King Jehoash of Israel captured King Amaziah of Judah son of Jehoash, son of Ahaziah, at Beth-shemesh; he came to Jerusalem, and broke down the wall of Jerusalem from the Ephraim Gate to the Corner Gate, a distance of four hundred cubits. 14 He seized all the gold and silver, and all the vessels that were found in the house of the Lord and in the treasuries of the king’s house, as well as hostages; then he returned to Samaria.

In this passage, we see that this parable compares Judah to a small thistle. King Amaziah had become proud after defeating the Edomites. Here, in this passage, he was trying to pick a fight with the northern kingdom because he was sure that his army was stronger. Jehoash tried to warn Amaziah not to attack by comparing his army to a cedar tree and Judah’s army to a small thistle. Amaziah had overrated his strength. His ambition was greater than his ability. He didn’t listen to Jehoash and was soundly defeated.

Pride in his capabilities blinded the Judean king. Pride made him think that everything he touched was golden and that he would have victory over a larger force. There is a lesson for me in this passage when it comes to ministry. We must always measure our steps by whether what we are doing gives glory to God or to ourselves. We must give God the glory for any success He allows us to have. We must not measure our success in human terms lest we become proud and it becomes all about us. When it becomes all about us, we will fail. Anything that we do in ministry must be viewed from the lens of (1) whether it draws people unto Jesus Christ or (2) once drawn to Him, whether it deepens their relationship with Jesus or not. Otherwise, church becomes about us and what makes us happy and makes us look good. Otherwise, we begin to like pride seep in and think that it’s because we “are all that and a bag of chips!”

Father, help me to remember that you are the one that orchestrated me coming to this place. Help me to remember that you are the one that has specific things to be accomplished here during my ministry here. Help me to remember that together, me and my congregation, can do great things for the kingdom in this community but it will not be because of us but rather because God ordained it to be so. The only way that I, as a pastor, and we, as a congregation, will be successful, by God’s standards, is to keep our eyes on Him. We must measure everything we do by whether it brings expansion in width or in depth to His kingdom. We cannot see any growth as because of us and how cool we are or how attractive our church is. We must always be submitted to the Lord enough to see that it is because God ordained it to happen – we are just doing His bidding and the He is allowing us to do so. Let it not be about me or about us. Let us always keep our eyes on Jesus.

Amen and Amen.

2 Kings 13:12-25

Elisha’s Final Prophecy

Yesterday, I preached my fourth sermon in a five-sermon series called “God’s Greatest Misfits”. Yesterday’s sermons was on the Apostle Peter. In that sermon, we saw the struggles of Peter to become the man of God that Jesus wanted him to be, that Jesus knew Peter could be. Before the day of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit was poured out by Jesus onto the disciples, Peter was constantly take two steps forward and one step back. During Jesus’ time on earth, He was constantly having to rebuke Peter and correct him. It was almost as if Peter was keeping one foot in the world and one foot in God’s kingdom. Until the day of Pentecost and then Jesus’ ascension, Peter was not fully 100% submitted to the Lord. He was prideful and saw things from earthly perspective so many times.

I guess that is why Peter is my buddy among the disciples. He was is own worst enemy all the way up until the Day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit was poured out like streams of fire. Peter fought full submission all the way up until that moment. Peter reminds me of myself. Even after accepting Christ as my Savior in 2001, it was not until about 2009/10 when I ran into a pastor at the church we were attending at that time out in California that I truly starting “growing up” in Christ. Prior to that time, I was picking and choosing what I wanted to follow from the Bible. I had crafted my own set of beliefs because, ya know, God and I had a deal on a few things. Further, my God was a new kind of God where some that stuff that He says in the Bible just doesn’t really apply anymore and especially to me. I was halfheartedly following the Lord for a while. I was blinding myself that God was one of the boxes in my life. I would pull out my God/Christianity box and play with the toys inside that box when I wanted to and then, when it did not suit the moment, I would put that box back on the shelf. I compartmentalized my relationship with God. It was not a fully integrated part of my life. It was not the operating system of my life. It was simply an ancillary software program that I fired up and executed when it was necessary or when I felt like playing with that particular software. It was not what ran my computer’s basic functions. It was not my daily, day-to-day operating system.

I was like Peter in a lot of ways. He was right there with Jesus day to day for three years but He did not grow up in His relationship with Jesus until He fully submitted to the power of the Holy Spirit. I was a Christ follower from 2001 but did not really begin maturing in Christ until 2009/10 when my pastor in California confronted me about the half-hearted way I was following Jesus. It was not until then that I began more fully submitting to the power of the Holy Spirit in my life.

That’s what I thought of this morning as I read through this passage, 2 Kings 13:12-25. I thought of how Joash half-heartedly followed the instructions of Elisha in this passage and it cost him complete victory in his war against the king of Aram. It seemed as though, he was simply going through the motions of following the instructions of God, as expressed through Elisha. That’s when it struck me about how Peter was trying to maintain his fleshly attributes while Jesus was on earth but yet be a disciple at the same time. It struck me that the first 8 or so years after my salvation I was like Peter and I was like Joash in this passage. Let’s read it now:

12 Now the rest of the acts of Joash, and all that he did, as well as the might with which he fought against King Amaziah of Judah, are they not written in the Book of the Annals of the Kings of Israel? 13 So Joash slept with his ancestors, and Jeroboam sat upon his throne; Joash was buried in Samaria with the kings of Israel.

14 Now when Elisha had fallen sick with the illness of which he was to die, King Joash of Israel went down to him, and wept before him, crying, “My father, my father! The chariots of Israel and its horsemen!” 15 Elisha said to him, “Take a bow and arrows”; so he took a bow and arrows. 16 Then he said to the king of Israel, “Draw the bow”; and he drew it. Elisha laid his hands on the king’s hands. 17 Then he said, “Open the window eastward”; and he opened it. Elisha said, “Shoot”; and he shot. Then he said, “The Lord’s arrow of victory, the arrow of victory over Aram! For you shall fight the Arameans in Aphek until you have made an end of them.” 18 He continued, “Take the arrows”; and he took them. He said to the king of Israel, “Strike the ground with them”; he struck three times, and stopped. 19 Then the man of God was angry with him, and said, “You should have struck five or six times; then you would have struck down Aram until you had made an end of it, but now you will strike down Aram only three times.”

20 So Elisha died, and they buried him. Now bands of Moabites used to invade the land in the spring of the year. 21 As a man was being buried, a marauding band was seen and the man was thrown into the grave of Elisha; as soon as the man touched the bones of Elisha, he came to life and stood on his feet.

22 Now King Hazael of Aram oppressed Israel all the days of Jehoahaz. 23 But the Lord was gracious to them and had compassion on them; he turned toward them, because of his covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and would not destroy them; nor has he banished them from his presence until now.

24 When King Hazael of Aram died, his son Ben-hadad succeeded him. 25 Then Jehoash son of Jehoahaz took again from Ben-hadad son of Hazael the towns that he had taken from his father Jehoahaz in war. Three times Joash defeated him and recovered the towns of Israel.

In this passage, we see that when Jehoash was told to strike the ground with the arrows, he did so only halfheartedly. As a result, Elisha told the king that his victory over Aram would not be complete. Receiving the full benefits of God’s plan for our lives requires us to receive and obey God’s commands fully. If we do not follow God’s complete instructions, we should not be surprised that our usefulness to God is limited. As long as we try to preserve certain areas of our life to ourselves, our following of God’s instructions is going to be less than full-hearted. God expects us to fully obey Him. It is only when we fully submit every area of life to Him that we are made fully useful to His kingdom.

Are you holding back? Are you picking and choosing what parts of the Bible you wish to obey? Do you see it as some constant negotiation with God about what you can and cannot get away with? Do want to more fully commit to Jesus but it seems too much trouble? Our usefulness to the Lord comes when we stand before Him and give our entire lives over to him. No more half-hearted attempts to follow Him. No more negotiations (as if we have equal stature for negotiation with our Creator and the Creator of All Things). Just standing before Him and saying here it is. Take it all. Mold me. Change me from the inside out. Change me so that I see it as a privilege to obey Your commands and not a burden. Help us all to grow more in Christ.  Help us, oh Lord, to be full-on, all-in, totally committed Christ follower like Peter became after Pentecost. Help us, oh Lord, to be less and less like the half-hearted, pick and choose kind of Christians that we all can be, like Joash, like Peter, like me.

Amen and Amen.

2 Kings 13:1-11

Jehoahaz and Jehoash Rules in Israel

One of the things that is often true of us when we are non-believers and to a certain extent true even as believers. That thing is that we turn to God in times of trouble and then we forget about Him when the troubles have passed. How many times have you done that? How many times have I done that? Even after we have accepted Christ as our Savior but we have not yet fully matured in our faith.

One way we as Christians often express this failing is in our prayer life. I know that when I was experiencing a very difficult time during my last pastoral position, my prayer life was on fire. I was praying constantly for their to be relief to what I found to be a very difficult situation. In my last position, the dreams that I had for my associate pastor position and the reality of the position were different things. Further, learning the difference between this church’s accounting system and administrative procedures was so completely different from what I had been used to for the previous decade. As well, in my previous job for a decade, my boss was on one coast and I was on the other. In that job because of geography and because of the carousel of presidents that we had during my 10 years there, I was pretty much my own boss. Further, when I arrived at that job in 2008, everything was in disarray. I had to re-establish or institute systems and processes. I was free there to set the systems and processes. I could set the course. Add to that, during that time, I was also the unpaid financial director for the church we attended in Lyman, SC, and the situation was similar. In fact, I was the one who developed their financial reporting systems from scratch. So, in each situation, I was the guy who set the standards, set the pace. If I though it, I could do it.

However, in my first full-time position as a pastor at my last church, I came into an already fully developed administrative and accounting system. And, my boss was right there on-site with me. All of these things were complete changes for me. My boss, the founding and senior pastor, was heavily involved in the day to day details so adjusting to all these things was very difficult. Understanding the systems and procedures and adjusting to a style of management that was different from my last decade of experience both at my secular job and my volunteer position at my church in Lyman and then the reality of the church vs. my dreams for the job, lead to a time of spiritual upheaval and uncertainty. It was a difficult time emotionally and spiritually. I had always been the star and now I was learning humility. It was a tough but necessary learning experience. Looking back at it, it was a dose of reality. In my decade at Fujikura America, Inc. as the controller there, I had a unique situation that was not really what most situations are like.

My time at Calvary was in part to teach me to learn to better submit to authority both on earth and to the authority of God. I also had to learn that in most situations you are going to inherit already existing systems that have worked for years. You are going to be more directly involved with your supervisor in most cases. All that was hard to learn on the administrative side of things. Additionally, my job as associate pastor for business affairs did not turn out the way that I thought it would. I had dreams of it being a more pastoral position to help me develop my pastoral skills such as preaching and teaching. It just didn’t turn out that way. I don’t blame the previous church for that. I had my own dreams for what was going to happen without understanding the reality of what the church could offer me in that position. And God sent me there to learn so many things about ministry that were necessary for where I am today.

It was a necessary dose of humility in learning to be faithful in the field that God has you farming at the moment. The constant thing that God pounded into my heart during that time was to plow the field in front of you and to trust him with the rest. We are to be faithful in whatever and wherever God sends us. We must till the soil underneath our feet and trust him with what the next plot of land is going to look like. We are to farm the land that we have been given. From that, I learned that ministry is where you are at right now, not where you want to be, or what you think it should be. God has you planted right where He wants for the time period that He wants and you just plow the dirt that He has assigned to you. You can find joy in that if you give control over to Him. That was the purpose and the learning experience. It was humbling and it was difficult spiritually and emotionally.

Boy, did I pray up a blue streak during that time. Arguing with God. Learning from God. Submitting to God. Being patient as God was working His plan. I prayed all the time, non-stop. Then, when I learned of my new appointment here at Lamar, I began to slack up on prayer. The learning experience was over at Calvary those last 8 weeks there. Things eased up. It was cruising time. The long and winding road was straightening out.

That’s the thing that struck me this morning as I read this passage, 2 Kings 13:1-11. In this passage, you see a king who runs to God when things get tough but then goes back to his normal ways when things ease off. This passage reminded me of my personal prayer experiences in the past. Draw close to God, pray a lot when times are hard, but slack off when things ease up. Let’s read the passage now:

Chapter 13

1 In the twenty-third year of King Joash son of Ahaziah of Judah, Jehoahaz son of Jehu began to reign over Israel in Samaria; he reigned seventeen years. 2 He did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, and followed the sins of Jeroboam son of Nebat, which he caused Israel to sin; he did not depart from them. 3 The anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel, so that he gave them repeatedly into the hand of King Hazael of Aram, then into the hand of Ben-hadad son of Hazael. 4 But Jehoahaz entreated the Lord, and the Lord heeded him; for he saw the oppression of Israel, how the king of Aram oppressed them. 5 Therefore the Lord gave Israel a savior, so that they escaped from the hand of the Arameans; and the people of Israel lived in their homes as formerly. 6 Nevertheless they did not depart from the sins of the house of Jeroboam, which he caused Israel to sin, but walked[a] in them; the sacred pole[b] also remained in Samaria. 7 So Jehoahaz was left with an army of not more than fifty horsemen, ten chariots and ten thousand footmen; for the king of Aram had destroyed them and made them like the dust at threshing. 8 Now the rest of the acts of Jehoahaz and all that he did, including his might, are they not written in the Book of the Annals of the Kings of Israel? 9 So Jehoahaz slept with his ancestors, and they buried him in Samaria; then his son Joash succeeded him. 10 In the thirty-seventh year of King Joash of Judah, Jehoash son of Jehoahaz began to reign over Israel in Samaria; he reigned sixteen years. 11 He also did what was evil in the sight of the Lord; he did not depart from all the sins of Jeroboam son of Nebat, which he caused Israel to sin, but he walked in them.

In this passage, we see that the Lord heard Jehoahaz’s prayer for help. God delayed judgment on Israel when they turned to him, but they did not sustain their dependence on God for long. Although Israel had periodic breaks in their idol worship, they rarely showed genuine faith. Often, the people of Israel sought God to take away their sufferings. God exists only to serve their wants. The moment they are gratified, they drop God. The moment Israel was delivered from their oppression, they returned to their old ways – from verse 5 to verse 6. The contrast here is stark. We have a compassionate God responding to His ungrateful people. We have a faithful God, coming to rescue His faithless people.

That idea of how my prayer life is intense at times of trouble but slacks up when the trouble is over is what came to mind today. It was another of God’s reminders of how I must continue to mature as a Christ follower. It was something that God really convicted me hard about during the five week sabbatical we had between leaving our assignment in Illinois and arriving at our new assignment in South Carolina and continues to do.

That lesson was that prayer is a constant thing regardless of the temperature of your life. We don’t just pray when things are rough or perceived as rough by us. We should be praying just as hard when we are on the mountaintops as we are in the valleys. That hit me hard in the gut of my soul. I was treating God as though He were my God of last defense. I would go to Him when I had trouble but take my life back from Him when hard times eased off. When God slaps you with the truth and you know you have no excuse or defense, you fall on your knees at His mirror.

For so many of us, we draw close to God when times are hard but yank control back from God when times get better. We should be praying to God in times of thanksgiving as much as we pray to Him in times of trouble and tribulation. We should see Him as God of every moment and not just the God of the troubled ones. We should praise Him in prayer on the mountaintops as much as we petition Him for relief in times of trouble.

He has blessed me with my new situation here in Lamar. I am blessed beyond what I deserve in this new assignment. I must pray to Him in thanksgiving for it each and every day. However, none of it would have been possible without the sharpening and honing experience of my previous assignment. I pray now in thanksgiving for that tough time in my soul. The daily and constant prayer to God molds us into seeing that even God has a plan in our toughest of times. The daily and constant prayer to God even in the God times helps us see that even the good times come from Him – they are not of our doing. Each mountaintop is part of His plan. Each valley is part of His plan. We must pray constantly regardless of the elevation of our spiritual landscape – high mountain or low valley.

Amen and Amen.

2 Kings 12:17-21

The End of Joash’s Reign in Judah

One of the great challenges that I am facing in my new church is the re-development and growth of my new church’s youth ministry. I received some great advice yesterday from my former senior pastor at my previous church in Illinois. Before he gave the great advice, he did say that youth ministries go in cycles. He said he has seen the youth ministry at the church he founded almost 25 years ago go through about six cycles of being strong, falling off and then being strong again. So, his first advice was to realize that may be what is happening right now – a down cycle. However, given that, he said when rebuilding a youth ministry, you must never be about numbers. He said that when he first started Calvary Church that his youth ministry was purely about the numbers. He was able to grow it to almost 400 youth at one point and it was like the second largest youth ministry in the country at that time. He said that sadly though it was about bringing kids in and being somehow proud of how many kids that they had on campus on Sunday night. And it was not about developing and discipling the kids. That it was about the show and not the substance. He said youth ministry can so easily be about the fun and not about discipleship.

When it is that way, you must sustain the show and anything showy is not sustainable. It becomes about topping what you have previously done and that is simply not sustainable. What he said that he learned from that experience and subsequent cycles over the past 25 years is that you must disciple the kids. You must develop a solid core and develop the youth ministry slowly. That solid core beginning is ever so important because it is that core group, those kids that you find that are on fire for God (and their whole life shows it) that you build a ministry upon. They are the ones that God has given you to grow your youth ministry. Sure, you want to make youth ministry fun and attractional, but you want to build a solid core of youth that “get it”. He said that you must build that solid core on a solid foundation of biblical teaching and teach the Bible in ways that connect to their everyday lives. Without that solid core built on a solid foundation, youth ministry is like a leaf in the wind. It gets blown by whatever the latest attractional strategies are, gets blown by which church is doing the latest cool things, and ultimately is not about teaching kids how to live life according to God’s will. He said he would rather a youth ministry that is built slowly on a solid foundation that some flashy, fad-driven, attractional style any day – and that is a hard lesson that he has learned over 25 years.

That is the thing that, with God’s help, that I must do with the youth ministry here at my new church – build it solidly on a firm foundation of biblical teaching. Yes, we must engage the community to reclaim kids that have walked away and to introduce our ministry to kids that have never been in our midst before, but it should never come at the cost of sound biblical teaching. Fads, allowing cliques to develop, just doing things because they seem cool or what the latest thing may be is not what we need to do. We must begin with and end with the Bible. Sure, we will need to package the message in ways that are relevant to kids today but the package is not the message. What the intent always should be is to develop young men and women who have a solid faith of their own that can deal with a faith-hostile world when they leave our midst.

That’s the thing that I thought of this morning as I read through 2 Kings 12:17-21. It is the story of the end of Joash’s reign as king of Judah. His faith was not his own. He followed God as long as the priest Jehoiada was around. As soon as Jehoiada died, Joash followed the beliefs of whomever was surrounding him. We must raise kids in our churches that have their own faith and not simply a reflection of the environment of the church. Let’s read this passage now and see how Joash apparently did not have his own real faith and that it was simply a product of being under the supervision of the priest Jehoiada:

17 About this time King Hazael of Aram went to war against Gath and captured it. Then he turned to attack Jerusalem. 18 King Joash collected all the sacred objects that Jehoshaphat, Jehoram, and Ahaziah, the previous kings of Judah, had dedicated, along with what he himself had dedicated. He sent them all to Hazael, along with all the gold in the treasuries of the Lord’s Temple and the royal palace. So Hazael called off his attack on Jerusalem.

19 The rest of the events in Joash’s reign and everything he did are recorded in The Book of the History of the Kings of Judah.

20 Joash’s officers plotted against him and assassinated him at Beth-millo on the road to Silla. 21 The assassins were Jozacar[a] son of Shimeath and Jehozabad son of Shomer—both trusted advisers. Joash was buried with his ancestors in the City of David. Then his son Amaziah became the next king.

In this passage, we see, if you read 2 Chronicles 24:17-26 along with this passage, the reasons for the officers’ plot against Joash. Joash had begun to worship idols, had killed the prophet Zechariah, and had been conquered by the Arameans. When Joash turned away from God, his life began to unravel. The officers did not kill him because he had turned from God, they killed him because his kingdom had gone out of control. Though God saved his life and provided all that he needed to reign, and to have a good and godly reign, through the instructions that He has given through Jehoiada. Joash has chosen to reject God and not to follow His ways. His unbelief led him to this end. It wasn’t an end God has in mind; it was an end he has chosen. Joash failed to treasure the privileges God has given him. He did not know God personally. He has no personal faith in God. All we read about is the faith of Jehoiada. All the good that happened, happens only because Jehoiada was around. The moment Jehoiada was removed from the scene, Joash was swayed by whoever filled that gap.

Reading this passage along with my conversation yesterday with my former boss, my former senior pastor at Calvary Church, is one of those things that I call God’s synchronicity. That’s when God gives me the same message from multiple different sources – something I read, something someone said to me, all within a very close time period. That’s when you then OK God, I get it. I get what you are trying to say to me. I am not the sharpest tool in the shed but even I can get it sometimes when you synchronize the same message through multiple sources.

That message is that, with God’s strength and supervision, I must re-develop our youth ministry on a solid core of biblical teaching. I must build it on that first and attractional strategies second. I must be willing to lose kids that who would rather have a good time that hear God’s Word so that I can concentrate on that solid core of kids that want to be challenged by God’s Word. I must not shy away from the realities of God’s Word as it applies to our kids’ lives. I must not allow having fun activities that attract a bunch of kids to overrule the teaching of God’s Word. We must build slowly and solidly. Yes, we must do things to attract kids for sure. Yes, we must do those fun things that allow our young people to invite their friends that are not in church. But it should never be the overriding thing about youth ministry. It is our, it is my responsibility to ensure that our youth are made ready with their own faith.

They must leave our midst and go into the world with a solid faith. They must leave our midst with a faith they can defend. They must leave our midst with a deep and abiding relationship with Jesus Christ. They must leave our midst with a faith that allows them to be convicted by the Holy Spirit to be able to withstand the challenges to their faith that inevitable come against them in young adulthood. We want to have young people who do not fall away at the slightest wind of the culture. We must send them out grounded in God’s Word.

Amen and Amen.

2 Kings 12:1-16 (Part 3 of 3)

Joash Repairs the Temple

As many of you who have followed my blog for any length of time already know, I spent a large part of my working life in corporate finance and corporate internal auditing. Since 2011, I have been working often bi-vocationally at church. When we were last living in South Carolina, I was responsible for establishing the financial systems of the church we attended at that time. I was responsible for preparing and issuing the monthly financial statements, dealing with the banks and so on. Deeply, deeply involved with the financial operations of that church. It was not until the beginning of 2018 when we moved to Illinois that I began working full-time in ministry. Even then, I was an associate pastor for business affairs. So even my first full-time ministerial position, I was responsible for the financial and administrative side of the church’s operations. So, for all my life I have been either been the financial guy or the guy checking on the financial guy. For the last decade before I went into full-time ministry, my last secular job was that of being the chief financial guy for my division of the company I worked for. Closing the books every month for 10 years there, closing the books for 7 years at the church we attended while working at that company, then another year and a half of closing the books each month at my first full-time ministry position while we were at our church in Illinois. To say that I have a heightened sense of financial understanding compared to most pastors would be an accurate statement.

However, in my new position, here at Lamar United Methodist Church, as the one and only pastor at the church, I am no longer responsible for the financial operations of my church. I am no longer “the keeper of the books!” In some ways I am relieved. After over 30 years in the corporate finance world and almost a decade of managing church finances, I was ready for a change where I was not the “numbers guy”. It has been nice for the last couple of months NOT having to deal with month-end closings and such. Yes, I will still have board meetings (at United Methodist Church local churches that board is called the Administrative Council) to attend and will have to be up to snuff on how the church’s money has been spent. I will have to understand how the spending relates to the accomplishment of ministry goals. But for once in my professional career, I am not the one who posts transactions, compiles financial statements, reconciles bank accounts and so on. Even though I am not responsible for the details of the financial operations of my church, it is me that sets the tone for the financial transparency of our church. Since I am the pastor of this church, I must be the one who sets the tone for the church in so many areas and this is one of them – the church’s finances.

That’s the idea that came to mind as I read through this passage for a last time before I move on to the next passage. It is that idea that as leaders of the church, we must always strive to be wise with the funds with which we are entrusted and yet achieve ministry goals at the same time. Let’s read 2 Kings 12:1-16 once more now with that idea in mind:

Chapter 12

1 [a]Joash[b] began to rule over Judah in the seventh year of King Jehu’s reign in Israel. He reigned in Jerusalem forty years. His mother was Zibiah from Beersheba. 2 All his life Joash did what was pleasing in the Lord’s sight because Jehoiada the priest instructed him. 3 Yet even so, he did not destroy the pagan shrines, and the people still offered sacrifices and burned incense there.

4 One day King Joash said to the priests, “Collect all the money brought as a sacred offering to the Lord’s Temple, whether it is a regular assessment, a payment of vows, or a voluntary gift. 5 Let the priests take some of that money to pay for whatever repairs are needed at the Temple.”

6 But by the twenty-third year of Joash’s reign, the priests still had not repaired the Temple. 7 So King Joash called for Jehoiada and the other priests and asked them, “Why haven’t you repaired the Temple? Don’t use any more money for your own needs. From now on, it must all be spent on Temple repairs.” 8 So the priests agreed not to accept any more money from the people, and they also agreed to let others take responsibility for repairing the Temple.

9 Then Jehoiada the priest bored a hole in the lid of a large chest and set it on the right-hand side of the altar at the entrance of the Temple of the Lord. The priests guarding the entrance put all of the people’s contributions into the chest. 10 Whenever the chest became full, the court secretary and the high priest counted the money that had been brought to the Lord’s Temple and put it into bags. 11 Then they gave the money to the construction supervisors, who used it to pay the people working on the Lord’s Temple—the carpenters, the builders, 12 the masons, and the stonecutters. They also used the money to buy the timber and the finished stone needed for repairing the Lord’s Temple, and they paid any other expenses related to the Temple’s restoration.

13 The money brought to the Temple was not used for making silver bowls, lamp snuffers, basins, trumpets, or other articles of gold or silver for the Temple of the Lord. 14 It was paid to the workmen, who used it for the Temple repairs. 15 No accounting of this money was required from the construction supervisors, because they were honest and trustworthy men. 16 However, the money that was contributed for guilt offerings and sin offerings was not brought into the Lord’s Temple. It was given to the priests for their own use.

In this passage, for today’s blog, we see that there is quite a contrast between the construction supervisors, who needed no accounting for their use of the funds that had been raised, and the priests, who could not be trusted to handle their funds well enough to set some aside for the Temple (see 2 Kings 12:7-8). As trained men of God, the Levites should have been responsible and concerned. After all, the Temple was their life’s work. This passage is a reminder that as leaders of the church we are entrusted with managing the funds given to the glory of the Lord by the members of our church. We must always be wise in our use of these funds, be transparent with everyone about how we have used these funds, and always seek to maximize the amount of real ministry done with each dollar given.

We must always be wise with the funds with which we are entrusted. We must not spend money without a good reason for doing so. However, we should not automatically come at an issue of spending money with the idea that the answer is going to be no. We should be willing to listen to every idea for how to spend our church’s money and not just automatically shut it down because we want to build up our bank balances. At the same time, we must measure our spending by whether it meets a ministry goal or not. If it is out of line with the specific mission that God has given this local expression of his universal church, then, it may not be wise to spend it. Just as businesses have specific products or specific services, so too does God give each church its own specific niche, its own specific mission. The pastor must understand the gifts and talents of his local church and focus its energies in those directions where the church is empassioned and where it is talented. The ministry goals of a church should reflect the collective God-given giftedness and talents of its collective people. A saying that I have often used in other contexts about churches that we have been at is that God brought us here at this time, at this place, with these people, to accomplish His goals for this time, this place, and through these people. Thus, we should focus our energies and finances toward those ministry goals that God has given us the talents and the passions to achieve.

We should always be transparent about the funds that we receive and spend. That is why it is important for churches to have more than just a checkbook. We should have a financial accounting system in place such that financial statements can be generated on demand at any time. In that way, we can provide any member or any other interested party such as banks or other third parties a full accounting of the church’s income by source and expenses by category. There should be no shroud of secrecy concerning a church’s finances. We should always be open and willing to share the financial position of the church with anyone with whom we come in contact. In that manner, there is trust built with our people and with our community as to where the money goes and for what purposes.

Finally, as much as we can we must maximize as much as possible the amount of ministry done with each dollar given. Sure there are some realities of church life. You have an employee or multiple employees that take care of the day to day operations and guide the ministries of the church. That is just a fact of church life. Another fact of church life is that you have to have a location to house those employees and a place to hold worship services and other activities and events of the church. That’s a given. And we must budget for and spend money on those things. However, we must never get ahead of ourselves in this regard. We must not add to staff until it is absolutely necessary. We must not add fixed costs such as buildings and their mortgages and maintenance until there is no other way to do ministry. We must spend as much of each dollar as we can on the ministries of the church – particularly those that achieve the two main goals of a church. Those are (1) to deepen relationships with Jesus Christ for those are already part of the church’s body and (2) to draw people unto the church such that they can encounter the gospel message and then for them to accept Jesus Christ as their Savior. These two things, discipleship and evangelism, should be the primary ideas behind every dollar spent at church regardless of the name of the ministry underneath the church’s umbrella.

May we be that kind of the church. May I be that kind of pastor that focuses our church on these things. May we together make an impact in our community for the kingdom of God.

Amen and Amen.