Archive for the ‘12-2 Kings’ Category

2 Kings 23:1-20

Josiah’s Religious Reforms

When you watch television here lately, you see how much the world has changed just from a decade ago much less 20, 30, 40 or 50 years ago. As a person who was born at the tail-end of the Baby Boomer generation and the beginning of Generation X, I can remember when there were only the “over the air” networks of ABC, CBS, and NBC and then as an early teenager the addition of FOX network. In those days, televisions were not flat panel, they were pieces of furniture that were often the centerpiece to a den, living room or great room. There were no remotes to TVs in those days other than being a human one when your dad would tell you to get up and change the channel for him. In those days, television stations signed off sometime between midnight and 1am typically. It was not until I was in college that the explosion of 24 hour television and the plethora of cable television networks began. Sure, there are aspects of this increased access to entertainment that I love such as the invention of multiple sports only networks where every college football game at the Division 1 level is televised somewhere on the dial.

However, here in the last decade and even the last five years, the level of things that are allowed for broadcast is so “anything goes” that gives me pause. Certainly, before meeting Christ as my Savior, I lived life on the edge of morality so it’s not like I am a prude or anything. But the things that are broadcast on television these days would make even pre-salvation me blush in embarrassment. There is an advertisement for a show on MTV that runs on other networks that shock me called “Ex on The Beach” that celebrate just plain out, full-on hedonism. It is celebrated. Whose having sex with who and parties where anything goes is the norm in that show. Girls making out with girls and guys screwing around the girls they are supposed to be with. It’s just a celebration of what I imagine the worst parts of what Corinth might have looked like in the days where Paul established the first church there with all its pagan shrine prostitutes and so on. Then there are commercials for products that have nothing to do with medications for those living “alternative lifestyles” such as just normal every day products that seem to celebrate those alternative lifestyles. This, I guess, is done so as to garner support for their business through these subtle affirmations. Although alternative lifestyle participants comprise less than 5% of the total population of our country, watching television today might convince that half or more of our country is living alternative lifestyles.

Christians find these things distasteful and wrong, but we seem powerless to change anything. Is it that we are powerless or we are just not yet willing to get in the fight? Are we not willing to get in the fight as long as we live comfortably? Are we just keeping quiet as long as it does not affect our nice manicured lawns, our two story modern homes, our three cars, our vacations at the beach? Are we disgusted by it in words only as long as we can comfortably live our lives, pay our bills, go on vacation twice a year, have weekend getaways, retire in gated communities? Are we Christians and espouse Christian values as long as it does not make us stand out for ridicule or persecution of any kind? We bemoan the state of our country in 2019 but are we really willing to do anything about it?

That was the same question that James asked Christians in his New Testament letter to the church in Jerusalem. Are you willing to actually get out there and help people and put your faith in Christ into action to change the world in which you live? That’s the thing that I thought of this morning when I read this passage about Josiah. What a guy he was? When he discovered what was written in God’s Word, he did something about the difference between the Judah he lived in vs. the Judah that God had called them to be. He changed his world because he was brave enough to put his faith into action. With this idea of putting our faith into action, let’s read this passage, 2 Kings 23:1-20, now:

Chapter 23

1 Then the king summoned all the elders of Judah and Jerusalem. 2 And the king went up to the Temple of the Lord with all the people of Judah and Jerusalem, along with the priests and the prophets—all the people from the least to the greatest. There the king read to them the entire Book of the Covenant that had been found in the Lord’s Temple. 3 The king took his place of authority beside the pillar and renewed the covenant in the Lord’s presence. He pledged to obey the Lord by keeping all his commands, laws, and decrees with all his heart and soul. In this way, he confirmed all the terms of the covenant that were written in the scroll, and all the people pledged themselves to the covenant.

4 Then the king instructed Hilkiah the high priest and the priests of the second rank and the Temple gatekeepers to remove from the Lord’s Temple all the articles that were used to worship Baal, Asherah, and all the powers of the heavens. The king had all these things burned outside Jerusalem on the terraces of the Kidron Valley, and he carried the ashes away to Bethel. 5 He did away with the idolatrous priests, who had been appointed by the previous kings of Judah, for they had offered sacrifices at the pagan shrines throughout Judah and even in the vicinity of Jerusalem. They had also offered sacrifices to Baal, and to the sun, the moon, the constellations, and to all the powers of the heavens. 6 The king removed the Asherah pole from the Lord’s Temple and took it outside Jerusalem to the Kidron Valley, where he burned it. Then he ground the ashes of the pole to dust and threw the dust over the graves of the people. 7 He also tore down the living quarters of the male and female shrine prostitutes that were inside the Temple of the Lord, where the women wove coverings for the Asherah pole.

8 Josiah brought to Jerusalem all the priests who were living in other towns of Judah. He also defiled the pagan shrines, where they had offered sacrifices—all the way from Geba to Beersheba. He destroyed the shrines at the entrance to the gate of Joshua, the governor of Jerusalem. This gate was located to the left of the city gate as one enters the city. 9 The priests who had served at the pagan shrines were not allowed to serve at[a] the Lord’s altar in Jerusalem, but they were allowed to eat unleavened bread with the other priests.

10 Then the king defiled the altar of Topheth in the valley of Ben-Hinnom, so no one could ever again use it to sacrifice a son or daughter in the fire[b] as an offering to Molech. 11 He removed from the entrance of the Lord’s Temple the horse statues that the former kings of Judah had dedicated to the sun. They were near the quarters of Nathan-melech the eunuch, an officer of the court.[c] The king also burned the chariots dedicated to the sun.

12 Josiah tore down the altars that the kings of Judah had built on the palace roof above the upper room of Ahaz. The king destroyed the altars that Manasseh had built in the two courtyards of the Lord’s Temple. He smashed them to bits[d] and scattered the pieces in the Kidron Valley. 13 The king also desecrated the pagan shrines east of Jerusalem, to the south of the Mount of Corruption, where King Solomon of Israel had built shrines for Ashtoreth, the detestable goddess of the Sidonians; and for Chemosh, the detestable god of the Moabites; and for Molech,[e] the vile god of the Ammonites. 14 He smashed the sacred pillars and cut down the Asherah poles. Then he desecrated these places by scattering human bones over them.

15 The king also tore down the altar at Bethel—the pagan shrine that Jeroboam son of Nebat had made when he caused Israel to sin. He burned down the shrine and ground it to dust, and he burned the Asherah pole. 16 Then Josiah turned around and noticed several tombs in the side of the hill. He ordered that the bones be brought out, and he burned them on the altar at Bethel to desecrate it. (This happened just as the Lord had promised through the man of God when Jeroboam stood beside the altar at the festival.)

Then Josiah turned and looked up at the tomb of the man of God[f] who had predicted these things. 17 “What is that monument over there?” Josiah asked.

And the people of the town told him, “It is the tomb of the man of God who came from Judah and predicted the very things that you have just done to the altar at Bethel!”

18 Josiah replied, “Leave it alone. Don’t disturb his bones.” So they did not burn his bones or those of the old prophet from Samaria.

19 Then Josiah demolished all the buildings at the pagan shrines in the towns of Samaria, just as he had done at Bethel. They had been built by the various kings of Israel and had made the Lord[g] very angry. 20 He executed the priests of the pagan shrines on their own altars, and he burned human bones on the altars to desecrate them. Finally, he returned to Jerusalem.

Here in this passage, we see that when Josiah realized the terrible state of Judah’s religious life, he something about it. It is not enough to say we believe what is right. We must respond with action doing what faith requires. This what James was emphasizing when he wrote, “Can’t you see that faith without good deeds is useless?” (James 2:20). In context of this passage, it means that we must do more than stand by and say “the world is going to hell in a handbasket” and withdraw into our cocoon of like-minded Christians. We must be willing to make the personal sacrifices necessary to change the world in which we live. We must be willing to suffer ridicule and persecution beyond our safe world of Christian friends.

In this passage, we are challenged to be proactive, to be change agents in the world in which we live. We often complain about the fact that we live in a world that is far from the Bible, but that is the end of it for most of us. We want the world to have more Christ-like values but as long as it doesn’t encroach on our cozy lifestyle. In order to change our culture and turn it back toward Christ, we are the ones that are going to have to signal change. We are the ones that need to run for public office. We are the ones that need to stand up for our right to pursue God in the public square. We are the ones that have to influence others toward Christ. It is not going to magically happen. We have to be radical in sharing the gospel and the full truth of it with the world around us. If you and I are quiet and seat in our recliners and do not interact with the unchurched outside our homes and churches, we are going to continue to get what we get. There is that old saying that “insanity is doing the same thing over and over again but expecting different results.” We cannot continue to hibernate ourselves in our own little Christian circles and complain about the nature of the world in which we now live and expect different results in the world in which we live. We must be out in the world. We must decide that our Christianity is worth the extra effort. We can no longer sit in comfort Christianity and expect the world to change. We must be the change agents.

Oh Father in heaven, help us to awaken from our Christian slumber. Help us to awaken from our comfortable Christianity and truly be the hands and feet on Christ. Help us to be uncomfortable in our Christianity. Help us to be willing to be uncomfortable and stretch ourselves beyond what we think we can do for you Lord. Help us then to rely on you to give us the strength to change our world just as Josiah did his.

Amen and Amen.

2 Kings 22:1-20 (Part 2 of 2)

Josiah Discovers God’s Law

“God helps those who help themselves.” “This, too, shall pass.” “God wants you to be happy.” “If you work hard enough, you’ll be successful.” “Just follow your heart and believe, and you can do anything.” These are 5 sayings that many people believe, including many mature Christians, come from the Bible. These are innocuous sayings that people often believe are biblical and many use them when they want to sound spiritual in certain situations. They are often fallback quotes for us when we don’t know what else to say in a particular situation. However, they are not biblical. In these cases, they are comforting statements that are not intended to make some grand political statement or social statement. They are just comforting words of non-biblical origin.

However, the scary thing in our world today is that we often make the Bible say what we want it to say. The harmless sayings above are made between friends in situations in life where comfort is needed. But the situations that I am talking about now is when we try to make God’s Word fit our own political and social agenda. In today’s world, even at the organized Protestant denomination level and with the Catholic Church, you often wonder if they remember what the Word of God says. There is such an interest in remaining relevant to the culture in which we now operate that we may well be straying from God’s Word. The Bible warns about trying to fit in with the culture around us when it says:

f you’re feeling tempted to conform and pursue a path that isn’t compatible with the one that God wants you to take, these 10 Bible verses can help bring you back on track.

Proverbs 14:12 – There is a way that appears to be right, but in the end it leads to death.

2 John 1:9 – Anyone who runs ahead and does not continue in the teaching of Christ does not have God; whoever continues in the teaching has both the Father and the Son.

Luke 6:26 – Woe to you when everyone speaks well of you, for that is how their ancestors treated the false prophets.

James 4:4 – You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world means enmity against God? Therefore, anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God.

John 15:18-19 – If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you.

1 Corinthians 15:33 – Do not be misled: “Bad company corrupts good character.”

Proverbs 5:20-21 – Walk with the wise and become wise, for a companion of fools suffers harm.

Psalm – 118:8-9 – It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in humans. It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in princes.

Matthew 7:13-14 – Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.

The need for relevancy can lead us to avoid things in the Bible that are controversial or antithetical to the culture’s current whims. The need for acceptance by the culture may lead us to re-interpret Bible passages away from the God-inspired truth that the authors were intending for their original audience. The need to be liked by the culture will lead us to change what has been a universally accepted truth that God intended and the Holy Spirit has protected through the centuries. When cultural acceptance and relevancy become primary and abiding in what God’s Word actually says becomes secondary, are we still the church? Can we claim to stand on the shoulders of martyrs through the centuries that have died for the truth of God’s Word in the face of a culture’s insistence on living in the opposite way when we are trying so hard to rewrite God’s Word to be acceptable to the culture? We cannot claim to be the same church as the first century church if cultural relevancy has become more important than the truth of God’s Word. When I think of all of those through the centuries and even those in foreign countries today that would rather die for the truth of the Bible AS IS than comply with the culture, I celebrate their brazen boldness against the tide of culture. I hope that I will have that same boldness when and if the time comes for me to choose between cultural relevancy and the truth of God’s Word.

That is what I thought of this morning. Josiah thought he was a good man and was doing what God would want him to do. Yet, he really did not know God’s Word. It had become a forgotten thing in Israel. Even people that were not participating in the idolatry and were trying to seek after the one true God, they did not themselves really know the Bible. That got me to thinking about our situation today where many churches are saying they know the Bible and are interpreting it in ways that are completely different from the commonly accepted truths of the Bible that have been developed by Christian theologians over 2,000 years. We think we know the Bible but we are changing what it means to fit the culture in which we now operate. Knowing what we think we know is in the Bible but it’s not, apply current cultural sensibilities to the timeless truths of the Bible and avoiding the truths of the Bible are all dangerous to the church and to God’s people. We must know our Bibles, plain and simple, so that we can defend her, so that we can die for her, and so that we can preserve the church as God intended it to be. With that in mind, let’s read 2 Kings 22:1-20 now for the second of two devotionals:

22 Josiah was eight years old when he became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem thirty-one years. His mother was Jedidah, the daughter of Adaiah from Bozkath. 2 He did what was pleasing in the Lord’s sight and followed the example of his ancestor David. He did not turn away from doing what was right.

3 In the eighteenth year of his reign, King Josiah sent Shaphan son of Azaliah and grandson of Meshullam, the court secretary, to the Temple of the Lord. He told him, 4 “Go to Hilkiah the high priest and have him count the money the gatekeepers have collected from the people at the Lord’s Temple. 5 Entrust this money to the men assigned to supervise the restoration of the Lord’s Temple. Then they can use it to pay workers to repair the Temple. 6 They will need to hire carpenters, builders, and masons. Also have them buy the timber and the finished stone needed to repair the Temple. 7 But don’t require the construction supervisors to keep account of the money they receive, for they are honest and trustworthy men.”

8 Hilkiah the high priest said to Shaphan the court secretary, “I have found the Book of the Law in the Lord’s Temple!” Then Hilkiah gave the scroll to Shaphan, and he read it.

9 Shaphan went to the king and reported, “Your officials have turned over the money collected at the Temple of the Lord to the workers and supervisors at the Temple.” 10 Shaphan also told the king, “Hilkiah the priest has given me a scroll.” So Shaphan read it to the king.

11 When the king heard what was written in the Book of the Law, he tore his clothes in despair. 12 Then he gave these orders to Hilkiah the priest, Ahikam son of Shaphan, Acbor son of Micaiah, Shaphan the court secretary, and Asaiah the king’s personal adviser: 13 “Go to the Temple and speak to the Lord for me and for the people and for all Judah. Inquire about the words written in this scroll that has been found. For the Lord’s great anger is burning against us because our ancestors have not obeyed the words in this scroll. We have not been doing everything it says we must do.”

14 So Hilkiah the priest, Ahikam, Acbor, Shaphan, and Asaiah went to the New Quarter[a] of Jerusalem to consult with the prophet Huldah. She was the wife of Shallum son of Tikvah, son of Harhas, the keeper of the Temple wardrobe.

15 She said to them, “The Lord, the God of Israel, has spoken! Go back and tell the man who sent you, 16 ‘This is what the Lord says: I am going to bring disaster on this city[b] and its people. All the words written in the scroll that the king of Judah has read will come true. 17 For my people have abandoned me and offered sacrifices to pagan gods, and I am very angry with them for everything they have done. My anger will burn against this place, and it will not be quenched.’

18 “But go to the king of Judah who sent you to seek the Lord and tell him: ‘This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says concerning the message you have just heard: 19 You were sorry and humbled yourself before the Lord when you heard what I said against this city and its people—that this land would be cursed and become desolate. You tore your clothing in despair and wept before me in repentance. And I have indeed heard you, says the Lord. 20 So I will not send the promised disaster until after you have died and been buried in peace. You will not see the disaster I am going to bring on this city.’”

So they took her message back to the king.

In this passage, we see that when Josiah heard the law, he tore his clothes in despair. He immediately instituted reforms. With just one reading of God’s law, he changed the course of a nation. Today, many people own Bibles, but few are affected by the truths found in God’s Word. The Word of God should cause us, like Josiah, to take action to immediately bring our lives into harmony with God’s will as expressed in His timeless Word.

It is particularly important in this day and age for us to know and understand God’s Word and not just take for granted that we know its contents and the meaning of books, chapters, passages and verses contained therein. It is important for us to understand author and the original audience for the book of the bible in question. It is important to understand the cultural and historical context in which a book was written. We must then understand what the author was trying to say to that audience in that day. That truth then is the truth that is timeless that we must analyze for its application to our lives. We cannot and should not come at the Bible with our 21st century sensibilities and impose those on what the author is trying to say to an audience in the first century AD (or a BC audience in case of the Old Testament). We must come at it from the other direction. Understand what the author was saying to that audience (him not having the advantage of knowing what comes next for the next 20 centuries) and that is the truth that we must come to. That is the truth that God wants us to know and bring forward to today and apply it to our lives.

Oh Lord, help us to know your Word by studying it daily and not just reading through without thinking and meditating on it. Oh Lord, help us to know your truth in your Word even if it cuts us to the quick. Oh Lord, help us to know your Word so that we can defend it. Help us to see the general tenor of your Word so that when something comes at us that sounds good but is not of you that we will recognize it as not of you. Help us to be more interested in living by your Word than being culturally relevant. Help us to be different but loving to the world around us. Help us to attract people unto the Real You by us being different from the culture. Help us to be more interested in abiding in your truth than abiding in the false glow of cultural acceptance.

Amen and Amen.

2 Kings 22:1-20 (Part 1 of 2)

Josiah Discovers God’s Law

In 20 days, my dad will have passed on to the glory of heaven one year ago. It does not seem like it. It seems like just yesterday on a Monday, I was sitting in a staff meeting at Calvary Church of the Quad Cities in Moline, IL. I got a text message from my stepmother that my dad had just passed away and that we needed to come back to South Carolina as soon as possible. I remember it well. I remember being frustrated about having to worry about little details at work before Elena and I could run home, pack our bags ever so quickly, and make the long drive from Rock Island, IL to Anderson, SC. Today’s passage reminded me of my dad and there’s a reason why.

My dad according to the stories I remember from my paternal grandparents, affectionately labeled by us as Pop and Granny, was certain of what he wanted to do with his life from an early age. Pop would tell me that my dad as early as age 12 would tell anyone that he wanted to be a preacher when he grew up. Although my dad, according to stories I had heard from people who grew up with him, was no choir boy running around the farm preaching to the tractors and animals like you might think, he was certain of what he wanted to be, early. He was otherwise a typical teenage boy. Into girls and cars. Driving fast was his thing growing up. Back in those days with fewer cars on the road in the South, you could have racing duels with your buddies on back roads and not worry about cars coming your way in your lane. He was a popular kid at his high school, as exemplified by his being among the senior superlatives (most likely to succeed was his superlative). His nickname though was “Preacher”. Apparently, he was not shy, as he was progressing through school, about what he wanted to be in adulthood.

By age 18, he was training to be a pastor in the local Methodist church there in Honea Path, SC that his family attended. By age 21 in 1960, he had his first appointment as a pastor in the South Carolina Annual Conference of the Methodist Church (it was not the United Methodist Church yet – not until 1968). He was serving a charge of three churches (Zion, Elim, and Newman Swamp Methodist Churches) right here in the same town where I am now serving my first appointment in the South Carolina Conference of the United Methodist Church (UMC). Although I am not serving at the same churches as my dad in his first appointment, I am serving in the same town. The full circle-ness of that fact is not lost on me.

But that’s not the thing that made me think of dad this morning. It is about legacy. It is my dad’s legacy of wanting to be a preacher from childhood that has profoundly affected our family. Although I took a long and winding road to full-time ministry (with many bumps, bruises and heartaches along the way), the legacy of my dad and his impact on our family is complete. Both my brother and I are ministers in the South Carolina Conference of the UMC. My brother has been doing this since graduating college back in 1982 so he was not too dissimilar to my dad in knowing what he wanted to do from an early age. Add to that my uncle Doug was a Methodist minister here in South Carolina until his death a couple of years ago. This is my dad’s legacy. He knew what he wanted from an early age. He was called to ministry by God at an early age. His legacy is sweeping in its effect on our family. His legacy is generational.

That is what I thought of this morning when I thought of the impact of Josiah. I thought of my dad and his generational impact on our family. What would have happened if he had gotten discouraged at an early age from wanting to follow the call? What if he had not been encouraged to seek out the call by my grandparents, his parents? What if his call had not been nurtured by godly men? What if his call had not been respected by his high school buddies? What if he had not married a woman who was willing to follow him anywhere? I might have been a third-generation farmer in Honea Path, SC had not his call been encouraged. With that in mind, let’s read 2 Kings 22:1-20 now for the first of two devotionals:

22 Josiah was eight years old when he became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem thirty-one years. His mother was Jedidah, the daughter of Adaiah from Bozkath. 2 He did what was pleasing in the Lord’s sight and followed the example of his ancestor David. He did not turn away from doing what was right.

3 In the eighteenth year of his reign, King Josiah sent Shaphan son of Azaliah and grandson of Meshullam, the court secretary, to the Temple of the Lord. He told him, 4 “Go to Hilkiah the high priest and have him count the money the gatekeepers have collected from the people at the Lord’s Temple. 5 Entrust this money to the men assigned to supervise the restoration of the Lord’s Temple. Then they can use it to pay workers to repair the Temple. 6 They will need to hire carpenters, builders, and masons. Also have them buy the timber and the finished stone needed to repair the Temple. 7 But don’t require the construction supervisors to keep account of the money they receive, for they are honest and trustworthy men.”

8 Hilkiah the high priest said to Shaphan the court secretary, “I have found the Book of the Law in the Lord’s Temple!” Then Hilkiah gave the scroll to Shaphan, and he read it.

9 Shaphan went to the king and reported, “Your officials have turned over the money collected at the Temple of the Lord to the workers and supervisors at the Temple.” 10 Shaphan also told the king, “Hilkiah the priest has given me a scroll.” So Shaphan read it to the king.

11 When the king heard what was written in the Book of the Law, he tore his clothes in despair. 12 Then he gave these orders to Hilkiah the priest, Ahikam son of Shaphan, Acbor son of Micaiah, Shaphan the court secretary, and Asaiah the king’s personal adviser: 13 “Go to the Temple and speak to the Lord for me and for the people and for all Judah. Inquire about the words written in this scroll that has been found. For the Lord’s great anger is burning against us because our ancestors have not obeyed the words in this scroll. We have not been doing everything it says we must do.”

14 So Hilkiah the priest, Ahikam, Acbor, Shaphan, and Asaiah went to the New Quarter[a] of Jerusalem to consult with the prophet Huldah. She was the wife of Shallum son of Tikvah, son of Harhas, the keeper of the Temple wardrobe.

15 She said to them, “The Lord, the God of Israel, has spoken! Go back and tell the man who sent you, 16 ‘This is what the Lord says: I am going to bring disaster on this city[b] and its people. All the words written in the scroll that the king of Judah has read will come true. 17 For my people have abandoned me and offered sacrifices to pagan gods, and I am very angry with them for everything they have done. My anger will burn against this place, and it will not be quenched.’

18 “But go to the king of Judah who sent you to seek the Lord and tell him: ‘This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says concerning the message you have just heard: 19 You were sorry and humbled yourself before the Lord when you heard what I said against this city and its people—that this land would be cursed and become desolate. You tore your clothing in despair and wept before me in repentance. And I have indeed heard you, says the Lord. 20 So I will not send the promised disaster until after you have died and been buried in peace. You will not see the disaster I am going to bring on this city.’”

So they took her message back to the king.

In this passage’s beginning verses, we see that it is rare to find a Judean king who obeyed God completely. Josiah was such a king and he was only 8 years old when he began to reign. For 18 years, Josiah reigned obediently. Then, when we was 26, he began reforms based on God’s laws. Children are the future leaders of our churches and our world. A person’s major work for may have to wait until adulthood, but no one is ever too young to take God seriously and obey Him. Josiah’s early years set the stage for his later task of reforming Judah. God can use you, regardless of your age. In Josiah’s day, boys were considered men at age 12. By 16, Josiah understood the responsibility of his office. Even at this young age, he showed greater wisdom than many of the older kings who came before him because he had decided to seek the Lord and His wisdom. Don’t let your age hinder you from serving God.

Who knows what the legacy of your family will be? If you are young right now and feeling called by God, please follow it. I fought against it for almost a lifetime. I feel that I was called to full-time ministry probably as early as after college graduation, but I struggled against it. I fought it hard. I was Jonah running in the opposite direction for most of my life. I surrounded myself with people that would not encourage or do the things necessary to encourage my call. I wanted to live like I wanted to live and pursue worldly things. But I wonder now what could have been if I had been like my dad – pursuing the call from the time the first call from God came into his heart. What would my ministry look like now if I had been in it all these 36 years since college graduation. I cannot cry over that though. What matters is what I have done since I followed the call from 2011 forward through all the plans and training and learning that led to my first full-time ministry job in Illinois almost two years ago now. It matters what I do now in my first appointment as THE pastor, no longer an associate pastor. It matters what I will do with God’s call from this point forward.

That’s the thing that’s important to pass on. If you are young and God’s call comes to your heart, follow it. Remember that God will provide a way for you if you follow His call. Even if it seems improbable or impossible now, follow it. Just think of the legacy that could begin with you for your family. My dad is smiling in heaven today knowing that he did well. He ran the race set before him. He followed the call. He impacted the generations of our family by following his call at an early age. That’s his legacy. Maybe, you can start a legacy in your family of generations of preachers. You are young right now but you can impact generations of people by following God’s call on your life.

Amen and Amen.

2 Kings 21:19-26

Amon Rules in Judah

Proverbs 22:6 reads like this, ““Train up a child in the way he should go, and [or even] when he is old he will not depart from it.” At first glance this sounds like a wonderful promise to parents—exactly what every God-fearing parent would love to have as a promise from the Creator of marriage and family. Naturally, Christian parents possess an unquenchable hope that their children will remain with the faith in which they are reared. Or, if their child departs for a while, the parents cling to the belief that the child will return. But is Proverbs 22:6 a guarantee from God to parents that their children will stay in the church? Unfortunately, it isn’t. But don’t many modern commentators, counselors and public speakers explain this verse as a guarantee? Yes, they do. But, regrettably, this is a misunderstanding.

Promises of God include numerous benefits for obeying His way of life. But they do not include a guarantee to parents that children reared faithfully will keep the faith as adults. Fundamental to Christian understanding is the knowledge that God has given every person the freedom to choose whether he will submit himself to God’s way of life. “Submit” is the correct word, for this choice includes recognizing God as one’s sovereign and looking to Him as the authority to define right from wrong. Although we are innately wired by God, whether we are believers or not, to know the difference between right and wrong, it is our free will choice as to whether we will choose to follow God’s way, the right way.

As parents, we cannot ask God for a guarantee of the godly life of our children or that their salvation is guaranteed if we raise them in a godly home because of each person’s God-given free will. However, does this mean as parents that we are off the hook about trying to raise our kids in the ways of the Lord? It doesn’t matter any way, right? They are going to end up making their own choices, anyway, right?

That’s the conundrum that I thought of this morning. We see how Manasseh, though he was raised in a godly home by his dad, Hezekiah, turned out to be one of the most evil kings of Judah’s history. Then, we see that the evil continues in Manasseh’s son, Amon. On the one hand, if you raise ‘em right, they can still turn out evil. If you don’t raise ‘em right they will turn out evil for sure. Seems like a losing battle. That thought plagued me this morning. Let’s read this passage, 2 Kings 21:19-26, with that depressing thought in mind:

19 Amon was twenty-two years old when he became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem two years. His mother was Meshullemeth, the daughter of Haruz from Jotbah. 20 He did what was evil in the Lord’s sight, just as his father, Manasseh, had done. 21 He followed the example of his father, worshiping the same idols his father had worshiped. 22 He abandoned the Lord, the God of his ancestors, and he refused to follow the Lord’s ways.

23 Then Amon’s own officials conspired against him and assassinated him in his palace. 24 But the people of the land killed all those who had conspired against King Amon, and they made his son Josiah the next king.

25 The rest of the events in Amon’s reign and what he did are recorded in The Book of the History of the Kings of Judah. 26 He was buried in his tomb in the garden of Uzza. Then his son Josiah became the next king.

In this passage, we see that there is no guarantee that raising a child in the ways of the Lord will ensure that they follow the Lord as we saw in the previous passage. Manasseh was raised by a righteous father, but he fell into idolatry and evil just like the culture in which he lived. However, it is a guarantee that if you raise your child not in the ways of the Lord, they will most certainly follow the evil ways in which they are immersed in their family and cultural setting.

What is the point of raising our kids in the ways of the Lord if there is like this 50/50 chance that they are going to follow the Lord. Isn’t Proverbs 22:6 a guarantee? Why then did Manasseh revert to the normal evil ways of kings as well as his son Amon? Notice that the verse is not saying if you train a child in the Christian faith or even the Old Testament faith, that he will not depart from it when he is older.

 It says that as you train a child how he is to behave and what he is to do, that is what he will stick with later in life.  This proverb is a general statement about the importance of raising our children properly because that is what they will retain later in life. The admonition of Proverbs is that early training of the child helps to set his path as an adult. Of course, this is all the more reason for us to train our children in the truths of the Christian faith and pray that the Lord works in their lives so that they will be dedicated to Christ.

The word “train” is חָנַךְ

[chanak /khaw·nak/]

The “AV translates as “dedicate” four times, and “train up” once. 1 to train, dedicate, inaugurate. 1A (Qal). 1A1 to train, train up. 1A2 to dedicate.”1  So, we can see that we are to dedicate our children to truth and to train them, not force them, in the ways of the Lord. However, there is no guarantee that our children will “remain” Christians in their adulthood. They are their own individuals with different personality traits, life experiences, and influences from others (Proverbs 1:8-19). We cannot control them. We cannot force them to be Christians. But, we can influence them greatly. As Christians, we should raise our children in a godly way, not exasperating them, but instead live the Christian life with them, teaching them the truths of who Jesus is. But as I already said, there is no guarantee that our actions will automatically result in our children maintaining their Christian faith throughout their lives.

That is the best that we can do. That is the best that we MUST do. The alternative is an absolute guarantee if we give up the fight and compartmentalize our Christian faith away from our house. If we leave our homes out of our faith because nobody sees us there and live fully secularly there, that’s what our kids will grow up in and will adopt as their own lifestyle. We must make Jesus Christ the king of our homes. We must make Jesus the king of every aspect of our lives. If our kids see us living a Christ-filled life, they will be more apt to adopt the Christ-like lifestyle themselves and will more readily accept Christ as their Savior and Lord at an earlier age. The alternative is that if they are not exposed to the ways of the Lord in their home, there is a 100% guarantee that they will depart from the faith in their youth and will struggle to find him in adulthood, if ever.

Even if there is a possibility that they will turn away from the Lord even if you raise them right, in the ways of the Lord, we must take that bet. Because the alternative is a guarantee of a life of far from God and all the pain and heartache that this causes is what you are up against. Are you ready for the fight? It is a fight we must fight. We don’t just fight the fights that we can win. We fight the fights that need fighting!

Amen and Amen.

2 Kings 21:1-18

Manasseh Reigns in Judah

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

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

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

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

Chapter 21

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amen and Amen.

2 Kings 20:12-21

Envoys from Babylon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amen and Amen.

2 Kings 20:1-11

Hezekiah’s Sickness and Recovery

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amen and Amen.