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1 Chronicles 19:1-19

David Defeats the Ammonites

The Back Story Makes It A Better Story

There is always a backstory and connecting the backstories in the Bible adds to the richness of our understanding of God’s Word. For example, without understanding who the Sadducees and the Pharisees were, what the Sanhedrin was in 1st century Jewish society, understanding the uneasy détente between the Jewish religious/civic leaders and the Roman occupation forces and government, you really can’t grasp the true richness of the story of Jesus’ earthly life and ministry as presented in the four gospels. So, here in this passage for today. The backstory is intriguing because the Bible itself does not fully connect the dots for us and we have to rely not only on it but also upon the Jewish religious/historical writings in the Talmud for additional background.

The first thing that you have to remember here was that, in general, the Israelites and the Ammonites did not like each other. The Ammonites were a Semitic people, closely related to the Israelites. Despite that relationship, they were more often counted enemies than friends. Lot, Abraham’s nephew, was the progenitor of the Ammonites. After Abraham and Lot separated (Genesis 13), Lot settled in the city of Sodom. When God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah because of their wickedness, Lot and his daughters fled to the hill country on the southern end of the Dead Sea. Probably thinking they were the only people left on the earth, Lot’s daughters got him drunk and had incestuous relations with him to produce children (Genesis 19:37-38). The older daughter had a son named Moab (“from father”), and the younger gave birth to Ben-Ammi (“son of my people”). The Ammonites, descendants of Ben-Ammi, were a nomadic people who lived in the territory of modern-day Jordan, and the name of the capital city, Amman, reflects the name of those ancient inhabitants.

Nahash and David were friendly with one another. David had no trouble out of the Ammonites while Nahash was the Ammonite king. Although Nahash was no great friend of Israel, he had shown kindness to David while David was on the run and Saul was king. So, while David and Nahash held their thrones at the same time, there was a time of peace between the Ammonites and the Israelites. Further, Some scholars believe David’s sisters, Abigail and Zeruiah, may have been his half-sisters and that their father was not Jesse but Nahash.

The book of 2 Samuel refers to Abigail as the daughter of Nahash: “Absalom had appointed Amasa over the army in place of Joab. Amasa was the son of a man named Jether, an Israelite who had married Abigail, the daughter of Nahash and sister of Zeruiah the mother of Joab” (2 Samuel 17:25). Nahash was an Ammonite king (1 Samuel 11:1). Speculation suggests that David’s mother had been married to Nahash when she bore the half-sisters and then later became the second wife of Jesse. Further speculation implies that David’s mother was not yet married to Jesse when she became pregnant—that perhaps she was still married to Nahash when she conceived David. These theories could explain why David was not accepted by his family: “I am a foreigner to my own family, a stranger to my own mother’s children” (Psalm 69:8). David was left to tend the flocks when the prophet Samuel invited all of Jesse’s sons to a sacrifice (1 Samuel 16:5). God had told Samuel that He would choose one of the sons to be anointed king, but the family never even considered David as a possibility (1 Samuel 16:11). The theories might also shed some light on Psalm 51:5, “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me” (ESV).

This would explain the fondness that Nahash and David had for one another. They were was a link between them – David’s mom, if you believe the Jewish traditions in the Talmud (which are not considered by Christians to be divinely inspired, but rather human interpretations and historical information that supports the Old Testament record). When you consider though some of David’s comments in the Psalms about his ancestry, one may begin to think that there is some substance to the tradition as written in the Talmud. Since there was this fondness and this link between Nahash and David, then, as a result, David was going to extend the same kindness to Nahash’s son and successor to the Ammonite throne, Hanun. David’s logic was that if he was Nahash’s son, then, that’s good enough for me to continue good relations with the Ammonites.

The Current Story

As often happens with succeeding generations, the importance of events and relationships and so on that were oh so important to the previous generations, become less so for the succeeding generations. For example, we are now 75 years removed from the end of World War II, there are very few remaining heroes and civilians of that era that are still alive today. My granddaughter’s generation will most likely not care a hoot about the sacrifices that were made by our country and the people that were alive at that time. It is so far removed from their frame of reference it is simply not going to be an important event to them. Even the horrors of September 11, 2001 will not be as important to her as they are to me and to my granddaughter’s parents. Now, the pandemic of 2020 will be important to her. It will be examined for many years to come as to what it did to us as a society and so on. She will be interested in that. It’s in her frame of reference.

I think it is the same for Hanun. He did not know the whole backstory as we have presented it here. He had no attachments to David and his mom. He just knew the history of animosity between the two countries. He just knew as a king that you’re not supposed to “trust Greeks bearing gifts” as the old saying goes. That’s what’s going on here. Let’s read the passage, 1 Chronicles 19:1-19, now:

Chapter 19

1 Some time after this, King Nahash of the Ammonites died, and his son Hanun[a] became king. 2 David said, “I am going to show loyalty to Hanun because his father, Nahash, was always loyal to me.” So David sent messengers to express sympathy to Hanun about his father’s death.

But when David’s ambassadors arrived in the land of Ammon, 3 the Ammonite commanders said to Hanun, “Do you really think these men are coming here to honor your father? No! David has sent them to spy out the land so they can come in and conquer it!” 4 So Hanun seized David’s ambassadors and shaved them, cut off their robes at the buttocks, and sent them back to David in shame.

5 When David heard what had happened to the men, he sent messengers to tell them, “Stay at Jericho until your beards grow out, and then come back.” For they felt deep shame because of their appearance.

6 When the people of Ammon realized how seriously they had angered David, Hanun and the Ammonites sent 75,000 pounds[b] of silver to hire chariots and charioteers from Aram-naharaim, Aram-maacah, and Zobah. 7 They also hired 32,000 chariots and secured the support of the king of Maacah and his army. These forces camped at Medeba, where they were joined by the Ammonite troops that Hanun had recruited from his own towns. 8 When David heard about this, he sent Joab and all his warriors to fight them. 9 The Ammonite troops came out and drew up their battle lines at the entrance of the city, while the other kings positioned themselves to fight in the open fields.

10 When Joab saw that he would have to fight on both the front and the rear, he chose some of Israel’s elite troops and placed them under his personal command to fight the Arameans in the fields. 11 He left the rest of the army under the command of his brother Abishai, who was to attack the Ammonites. 12 “If the Arameans are too strong for me, then come over and help me,” Joab told his brother. “And if the Ammonites are too strong for you, I will help you. 13 Be courageous! Let us fight bravely for our people and the cities of our God. May the Lord’s will be done.”

14 When Joab and his troops attacked, the Arameans began to run away. 15 And when the Ammonites saw the Arameans running, they also ran from Abishai and retreated into the city. Then Joab returned to Jerusalem.

16 The Arameans now realized that they were no match for Israel, so they sent messengers and summoned additional Aramean troops from the other side of the Euphrates River.[c] These troops were under the command of Shobach,[d] the commander of Hadadezer’s forces.

17 When David heard what was happening, he mobilized all Israel, crossed the Jordan River, and positioned his troops in battle formation. Then David engaged the Arameans in battle, and they fought against him. 18 But again the Arameans fled from the Israelites. This time David’s forces killed 7,000 charioteers and 40,000 foot soldiers, including Shobach, the commander of their army. 19 When Hadadezer’s allies saw that they had been defeated by Israel, they surrendered to David and became his subjects. After that, the Arameans were no longer willing to help the Ammonites.

Scripture Analysis

In this passage, Hanun misread David’s intentions. He did not know the backstory, I guess, well enough to understand that David’s intentions were pure. Hanun was overly suspicious and brought disaster upon himself. Because of past experiences and a general distrust of others, we can end up questioning the real motives of those around us and second-guess their every move. While we should be “wise as serpents” and discern and study a situation, we must be “peaceful as doves” and not automatically assume others’ actions and motives for them are ill-intended (ref. Matt 10:16).

However, rather than admit his mistake and seek forgiveness and reconciliation, Hanun spent an enormous amount of money and other resources in pridefully covering up his error. His cover-up cost him dearly. It often costs more to cover up an error than to admit it honestly. Rather than compound an error through defensiveness, Hanun teaches us by his actions/errors that we should seek forgiveness and reconciliation as soon as we realize that we have made a mistake.

Takeaway

I think there are two for today. First, everybody’s got a backstory and it effects how we interact with the world around us. Most of the time, we do not consider other people’s backstories. We only see how they are coming at us and see it only as how it affects us. We only see a situation or conflict from our own perspective. Jesus knows our backstories but yet He accepts us and forgives us and makes us His own. We should not just see life from own view. If you are in conflict with someone, try to get to the bottom of why the person is coming at you the way that they are. There’s always more to it than the content of the conflict. There’s a process that has brought about the conflict. We need to love others enough to get to know their backstories so that we know what their triggers are, what’s important to them, what’s painful to them. Then, we can be more of Jesus to them than we are now. Second, from Hanun, we need to learn some humility and be willing to recognize when we are wrong and come out with it. We often make bigger messes of things when we try to cover up our mistakes. How much more will people actually end up respecting us when we admit that we are wrong and stop the flow of events caused by us not admitting it. In both these lessons, it’s about reconciliation. It’s about restoration. That’s what we as Christians are here for – the ministry of reconciliation (2 Cor. 5:18). We are here to do whatever it takes to reconcile people to God. Conflict is of the devil. We must seek reconciliation. When people are reconciled to us, they are more likely to see and hear Jesus than when they are in conflict. Conflict is Satan’s white noise that keeps us from hearing Jesus.

Amen and Amen.

1 Chronicles 16:43-7:15

The Lord’s Covenant Promise to David

At first when I read through this passage, 1 Chronicles 16:43-7:15, I said to myself that there had to be a deeper reason why David did not get to build the Temple for the Lord. All we have in this specific passage is the command not to build. We have to move over to 1 Chronicles 22:7-8 to find out why God did not allow David to build the Temple. There, it says that it is because David was a man of war and that God wanted the Temple to be built by a man of peace. I can see that.

By the time that Solomon was able to start and complete the building of the Temple, Israel was finally in an extended period of peace. Israel was at the height of its regional power under the Davidic/Solomonic reign, particularly in the time of Solomon. Therefore, there would be no distractions to what was the greatest building project of the Israelite nation up to that point. The building of the Temple consumed the focus of the brightest engineers, artisans, project managers, and other elite minds as well as the labor of many, many Israelites and foreign indentured servants. Thus, any war efforts would have drawn away from the project. It would have been one of those trying to do two things at once and, as a result, doing them both poorly. Thus, God wanted to wait for there to be a time when there was a long period of peace for Israel. Thus, in God’s omniscience, He knew that there would be such a time in the reign of Solomon – and thus, Solomon would be a man of peace whereas his father was a man of war.

It also got me to thinking about David’s role in the building of the Temple was important though and maybe more so, though the Temple is often affectionately referred to as Solomon’s Temple. In David’s time, God would not allow Him to build the temple, but God did give David the design through revelation and inspiration. David did two important things without which Solomon would not have been able to pull off such a magnificent construction feat in his own life (given the technology of the day). David, with God’s direction, came up with the design. He then evaluated the design and determined every material needed and the quantities thereof. He determined the lengths, widths, sizes, and such of everything related to the Temple’s construction. He then went about procuring those materials in their various shapes, sizes and forms. He then warehoused these goods in an organized fashion and in such a way that the first materials needed would be nearest the Temple site and so on. He was the very definition of “laying the groundwork” for Solomon’s construction of the Temple.

Isn’t that what we have to do sometimes in life and sometimes particularly as a pastor while serving a church for a period of time. In our situations in life, whether it’s your job in the secular world, or mine in the pastoral world, we may have to be the ones that do David’s job as noted here. Let’s read the passage of 1 Chronicles 16:43-17:15, with that idea in mind:

16:43 Then all the people departed to their homes, and David went home to bless his household.

17:1 Now when David settled in his house, David said to the prophet Nathan, “I am living in a house of cedar, but the ark of the covenant of the Lord is under a tent.” 2 Nathan said to David, “Do all that you have in mind, for God is with you.”

3 But that same night the word of the Lord came to Nathan, saying: 4 Go and tell my servant David: Thus says the Lord: You shall not build me a house to live in. 5 For I have not lived in a house since the day I brought out Israel to this very day, but I have lived in a tent and a tabernacle.[a] 6 Wherever I have moved about among all Israel, did I ever speak a word with any of the judges of Israel, whom I commanded to shepherd my people, saying, Why have you not built me a house of cedar? 7 Now therefore thus you shall say to my servant David: Thus says the Lord of hosts: I took you from the pasture, from following the sheep, to be ruler over my people Israel; 8 and I have been with you wherever you went, and have cut off all your enemies before you; and I will make for you a name, like the name of the great ones of the earth. 9 I will appoint a place for my people Israel, and will plant them, so that they may live in their own place, and be disturbed no more; and evildoers shall wear them down no more, as they did formerly, 10 from the time that I appointed judges over my people Israel; and I will subdue all your enemies.

Moreover I declare to you that the Lord will build you a house. 11 When your days are fulfilled to go to be with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring after you, one of your own sons, and I will establish his kingdom. 12 He shall build a house for me, and I will establish his throne forever. 13 I will be a father to him, and he shall be a son to me. I will not take my steadfast love from him, as I took it from him who was before you, 14 but I will confirm him in my house and in my kingdom forever, and his throne shall be established forever. 15 In accordance with all these words and all this vision, Nathan spoke to David.

In this passage, we see that David felt disturbed that the Ark, the symbol of God’s presence, sat in a tent while he lived in a beautiful palace. David’s desire was right but his timing was wrong. God told David not to build His Temple and David was willing to abide by God’s timing. God says here that He did not really need a temple but He was pleased at David’s desire to honor Him in this way. The thing to grasp here is that with the pressure off of getting the Temple built during his lifetime, David could focus on gathering the finest of the finest materials. And, later, David’s son, Solomon, did not have to worry over procurement, all he had to focus on was the building of the temple. Although Solomon gets the credit for the building of the Temple, it would not have been as easy for Solomon to have built the bright, shiny Temple without the lifetime of David gathering the finest of materials.

Getting back now to the idea I presented before we read the passage. Here, we have seen that God does not immediately give David the reason why he was not being allowed to build the Temple. However, David and Solomon between them performed the entire building process. Design and Procurement was David and Construction Management was Solomon. Solomon received the accolades for the finished product. From historical information that we have available to us in the Bible and outside the Bible, Solomon’s Temple was quite the magnificent structure. It was unrivaled in all of the Middle East. However, David set Solomon up for success.

When you look at your job you have now, you may be laying the groundwork for some future successor to have great success in your position. For example, in my previous career and my last position as finance director for my company, I set the next guy up perfectly for success. When I arrived at that company a decade earlier, the finance group was in total disarray and no one within our two layers of parent companies (all the way up to overall corporate in Japan) did not trust the financial reports or anything financial be reported from our business unit. It took several years to get it all straightened out. It took several more to establish policies and procedures that were consistent and consistently applied such that every financial report of our company became the most trusted in the organization. It took several years too to get all the right personnel in the right positions – the right people in the right seats. By the time I left there to become a full-time pastor over two years ago now, the finance department of our business unit was the most trusted in the entire organization. We even went through an accounting system change and implementation while I was there. We got all the bugs worked out with that and the reporting systems were running smoothly when I left. The next guy who was to come in after me was coming into a well-oiled machine and thus could concentrate on higher issues rather than having to lay the groundwork from the simplest levels to the highest levels like I did. All they gotta do is build upon the foundations that I laid down. The same may well be true for you in your position at your secular job right now. Always leave your job better than you found it. Always set your successor up for greater success than you had. Be the David to Solomon for the next guy who comes in and takes your position at your company after you leave. Leaving it better than you found it and setting the next guy up for success is glorifying to God.

The same is true for me in my current ministry position. It may be my calling at this church to reset the culture from what it is now to an eye toward being a more impactful church in our sphere of influence. It may well be my job here to ready this church for future growth and success for the kingdom of God. All my experience in the secular world and my experiences in leadership and pastoral ministry in larger, modern worship style churches may all be necessary for me to be able to see the amazing potential of this church and so create the culture and lay the groundwork for the future and for the future success of the pastor who follows me here. Always leave the church you serve better than you found it. Always set your successor pastor up for greater success than you had. Be the David to Solomon for the next guy who serves this church. That may be God’s task and assignment for you at this church. Do it to the glory of God!

Amen and Amen.

1 Chronicles 11:1-3 (Part 2 of 2)

David Anointed King

When I read today’s passage, I was reminded of David’s struggles throughout 1 Samuel as he was waiting to be king. He was so faithful to King Saul. Even when he had chances to eliminate Saul when he was defenseless, David did not do it. He did not because God had not given him any indication that eliminating Saul was the appropriate thing to do. So, for 20 years, he either served Saul directly or was a rebel on the run being sought by the king and his forces. It must’ve been tough for David to serve and serve and serve and wonder how long it would take to achieve the dream that God was to give him. Since the Bible is glimpses of history just as any history book, we do not see every minute of every day during these 20 years. We only see the important events of the time period that is the subject of a passage, chapter or book. Thus, I bet that David had some bad days. Even a few of those were recorded during his 20 year struggle. But I bet there were others where he was just like any of us – he probably had pity parties, where he was depressed and whiny about why all this was happening to him. If he breathed breaths of life, David was like us. So, I am certain that there were unrecorded bad days he had with being the anointed king, but he was not the king, but yet he was being pursued like a dog because he was to be the next king. I think I would have some bad days with that! Wouldn’t you?

Even after David became the anointed king of Israel, which was God’s plan, he did not arrive in a heavenly place where all things we lollipops and lifesavers and they all sat around the campfire holding hands and singing songs. David had mighty struggles after he became king. Many of the documented struggles were rooted in his own sinful actions but others were struggles caused by the sins of others. His kingship was just like any of our lives, full of struggles, but yet occasional highlights that made it all worth it. David knew he was in the office that God wanted him to be in as king. So, even when the struggles came (and again some of them were of his own causing), he never quit being king. He sought God fervently and sometimes repentantly when his sins caused the problems. He always kept plugging away. He remained faithful to God throughout his reign as king. Sometimes, I am sure it was a struggle to see that God had him in the office that God wanted him in. I am sure there were days when he just wanted to walk away. But he kept doing as Dory from “Finding Nemo” would say, “just keep swimming, just keeping swimming, just keep swimming.”

David’s struggles before and after becoming king are instructional for us as believers. I know that it is instructional for me. God called me to the ministry as early as 2010/11. Yet, there was seminary from 2011-2014 which provided its own struggles of juggling a full-time secular job as a divisional chief financial director, heavy involvement in leadership at my home church (LifeSong Church, Lyman, SC) and taking a full course load. Then, after graduation, there was the waiting for a full-time position in ministry. It was comparable to David being on the run – he knew he was called to be king but he was on the run and waiting. Then, the first job came in early, early 2018 in Illinois. There were struggles there with the finance director/staff pastor position actual duties vs. the vision I had for the position but there were also great lessons learned about ministering to people in the church regardless of what your official job title is. Then, in mid-2019, it was to here in Lamar.

Here, is where the calling has come to full fruition. I felt and still feel that this is what God called me to, to be a full-time pastor. So, in my mind, everything’s gonna be hunky-dory from here on out, right. We are all going to sit around the campfire and sing campfire songs. But, that’s just not the reality of church, regardless of size, location, etc. As long as congregants are people and preachers are people, there will be struggles. Here, there have been struggles without a doubt. And they each have been discouraging in their own way to me. However, my brother, who has been a pastor since he came out of seminary 30-something years ago, told me so wry advice. He said you are going to have at least three crises per year in church. That’s just the way it is. Some are small. Some are significant. But there’s gonna be at least three a year. It’s how you manage them and respond to them that is the thing. You can’t avoid having conflict as a pastor, it’s just the way it is. It’s all in how you respond. He reminded me of the advice that our dad, a pastor for 55 years, used to give his mentees (the South Carolina United Methodist Church pairs experienced pastors with groups of newer pastors in a mentorship program). That advice was “Don’t quit til next Wednesday!” It was one of those things like “free soft drinks tomorrow” signs that you see at restaurants. Tomorrow never comes. Next Wednesday never comes because when you get to it, it is this Wednesday.

Thus, whatever struggles come in my calling as a pastor and as the pastor of this church, specifically, does not mean that the perception of the calling was wrong or that the calling has soured. It just means that there’s struggle in life. It’s a given. Thus, in the struggles, you learn what you can learn for the future and then throw away any of the stuff that is not in line with having a deeper relationship with God. You keep swimming. Just keep swimming. Just keep swimming.

That’s what I thought of this morning as I read through 1 Chronicles 11:1-3 about the anointing of David as King. After a long struggle in which he was faithful to God, he was finally king. Let’s read this passage with that idea in mind:

Chapter 11

1 Then all Israel gathered together to David at Hebron and said, “See, we are your bone and flesh. 2 For some time now, even while Saul was king, it was you who commanded the army of Israel. The Lord your God said to you: It is you who shall be shepherd of my people Israel, you who shall be ruler over my people Israel.” 3 So all the elders of Israel came to the king at Hebron, and David made a covenant with them at Hebron before the Lord. And they anointed David king over Israel, according to the word of the Lord by Samuel.

In this passage, we see that when David was finally anointed king over all Israel, more than 20 years had passed since Samuel had anointed him (see 1 Samuel 16:1-13). God’s promises are worth waiting for, even when his timetable doesn’t match our expectations. Further, even when He fulfills His promises to us, it does not mean that you will not have conflict and strife. When God plants us in his fulfilled promises, we must understand that there will be struggles even then and we must not see it as that maybe we were wrong about the promise being fulfilled or that the promise has soured somehow. We must be patient for God to fulfill his promises and we must be faithful and keep plugging away even when things don’t seem to be going our way.

Help me, Lord, to continue plugging away at your calling on my life. Help me to see struggle as simply part of the ball game and not be shocked by it. Help me to learn from struggle. Help me to implement any lessons learned for the future. Help me to remain faithful to you in the mountaintop experiences that will come as well and help me to be faithful in the valleys of struggle. Help me to keep swimming, just keep swimming. Just keep swimming.

Amen and Amen.

1 Chronicles 11:1-3 (Part 1 of 2)

David Anointed King

Recently, in a meeting of pastors that I attended, where there was a discussion of just what is going to happen to the United Methodist Church as we battle with the issue of human sexuality, there were two comments about the situation that stuck with me that do not have anything to do with the direct issue that our denomination is considering a split over. One was about that “God will be with us no matter what happens. He is with us now and He will be with us after whatever happens at General Conference” And the other was about the goodness of inclusiveness.

Those two thoughts got me to thinking about the nation of Israel as we read through its history in the Old Testament. First, it is clear from Scripture that God will withdraw His glory and His blessing from His people when they act contrary to His commands (see the Old Testament, Ezekiel Chapter 10). Further, in the New Testament, As the apostle Paul explained, God’s temple is now His Church, the people whom He dwells in through the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 2:19-22; 1 Corinthians 6:19; 2 Corinthians 6:16). And the initial giving of the Spirit to the Church was accompanied by the miraculous signs of wind and fire, reminiscent of the glory of Ezekiel’s vision (see Acts 2). In all these warnings, Ezekiel included, we should recognize that God was not only talking about the ancient destruction He allowed to befall His people. He is also talking about the future—of nations today and of us individually. All of us have a choice before us of whether to be faithful to God or to reject Him. The apostle Paul taught that the greatest mystery of all time is “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27). Jesus Christ living in us through His Spirit is the most wonderful thing a human being can experience in this life. Yet one of the main lessons from Ezekiel is that God will allow us to follow our desires even when those desires are contrary to His design for us. However, that does not mean that He will bless that which is against His will. This was true for Israel, this was true for the first century church, and it is true for us today as a modern-day people of God. I think that is what is meant by God withdrawing from Israel. He withdrew His blessing from the nation of Israel. When they, generation after generation, strayed from His commands, Israel progressively became a weaker and weaker nation to the point that it basically disappeared from existence as an independent nation. Therefore, yes, God is present among us each and every day. He is an omnipresent God. However, He will not bless that which is against His will. At the same time, we worship a God who is quick to forgive and will separate us as far as the east is from the west  from the sins that we turn away from in repentance through Jesus Christ. He dearly wants to bless us and will forgive us of our transgressions but it is evident from Scripture, He will not bless that which is against His commands. God does love us no matter what we do but He will not bless that which is against His will. Therefore, it is my prayer that in our denomination’s struggle that we do nothing less than discerning what God’s will is, and as Ken Nelson recently said, “May our church discern what God’s will is and do that – nothing more, nothing less, and nothing else!”

Second, and related to the first, the debate within the church is about inclusiveness and how good that is. And that certainly is true. We are to love all people from all walks of life. We are to love everyone into the midst of the fellowship of the people of God. However, inclusiveness should not be the only goal that we have as a people of God. Yes, we must reach outside our doors and connect with people from all walks of life. We must love each and every person with whom we come in contact in our lives. We are to be representatives of Jesus Christ and the forgiveness that He offers each and every sinner including ourselves. In that sense, we are to be very inclusive. However, inclusiveness is not the end goal of the Christian faith. It is how we open the doors of the kingdom to those outside it. Once we have included every nation, tribe, and tongue, then, we are to stand aside and let God’s Word in its entirety to do its work through the Holy Spirit. God will certainly bless that. He will not withdraw His blessing from that. Yes, inclusiveness is what we all should be about regardless of denomination. We are called to love all. But that is so that all people can be brought into the presence of God’s Word. That is my prayer for our denomination, that we love all people into our midst and then let God’s Word do its work. My prayer that inclusiveness is not the end goal but rather step one in the process of bringing people into the presence of God’s Word. God will bless that. God will not withdraw His blessing from that.

That’s what I thought of this morning as I read through 1 Chronicles 11:1-3 about the anointing of David as King. After a long struggle in which he was faithful to God, he was finally king. It got me to thinking about the fact that Saul would have continued as king if only He had done God’s will instead of seeking his own. However, he did not and Scripture tells us that God withdraw from Saul, because Saul was not seeking the Lord but rather his own way. Let’s read this passage with that idea in mind:

Chapter 11

1 Then all Israel gathered together to David at Hebron and said, “See, we are your bone and flesh. 2 For some time now, even while Saul was king, it was you who commanded the army of Israel. The Lord your God said to you: It is you who shall be shepherd of my people Israel, you who shall be ruler over my people Israel.” 3 So all the elders of Israel came to the king at Hebron, and David made a covenant with them at Hebron before the Lord. And they anointed David king over Israel, according to the word of the Lord by Samuel.

In this passage, we are reminded that in the book of 2 Samuel, it details the HOW of David coming to power while Chronicles emphasizes that GOD declared David to be the ruler. God was working through the efforts of many people, even through some of former King Saul’s own family. God is still sovereign over history, directing events to accomplish His will. The books of Chronicles demonstrate that no matter what people may do or not do to try to hinder God’s work, God still controls all events and works His will in them.

Regardless of what happens with our denomination, God is sovereign and He will accomplish His will through the actions here on earth. He will remain sovereign regardless. Does that mean He will be with us as an omnipresent God. Yes, it does. Does it mean that He will bless that which is against His will? No, it does not. God will sovereignly choose to bless or not bless those who do His will or not. What that blessing or lack of blessing looks like in the 21st century is not mine to know. But I do know from Scripture that God will not bless that which is not in alignment with His will and His Word. God will sovereignly do that regardless of how well intentioned we may be. If our best intentions are not in alignment with God’s will, He will sovereignly not bless it.

Therefore, I go back to these words when it comes to the decisions facing the United Methodist Church – that we pray, pray, pray, pray that we do that which is in alignment with God’s will for our church – nothing more, nothing less, and nothing else.

Amen and Amen.

2 Kings 9:14-29

Jehu Kills Joram and Ahaziah

One of the things that we hear often from Christians in this day and age is how this nation is not “what it used to be”! The culture seems to be running in the opposite direction from God’s Word. Christians shake their heads as to what happened. Only a certain few churches are growing. Thousands of churches are stagnant even though our nation’s population increases at a rate of 2% per year. Even scarier is the fact that approximately 5,000 churches close their door permanently each year since the beginning of the century. Look around within the walls of most traditional churches and churches are aging and I am not talking about the buildings. What happened? We blame it on the culture. But we, the church, Christians, used to be the dominating influence on the culture in America. What happened?

Plain and simple. We have never had to work for it – making sure that our churches are healthy and growing. Back in the day when we were the dominating influence on the culture, we didn’t have to do anything. Church was just part of everyday life. If you DIDN’T belong to a church of some sort, people though something was wrong with you. We didn’t have to do anything. Pastors and parishioners alike. People were just there when the doors opened. So when the culture began to drift away from a church-dominated culture, we did not and often still do not know what to do but continue to do nothing.

We gotta work for it now. We no longer can say I wish people would come to my church but yet still sit on the church steps and do nothing. We gotta work for it. We can’t wish. We gotta work for it. Otherwise, the culture will continue to drift away from God. Complaints about where the culture is headed cannot be our action plan. We gotta work for it.

That’s what I thought of this morning as I read through this passage about God executing his justice on evil kings. My thought was “what would have happened if these two kings of what was supposed to be godly countries would have influenced their cultures on the road back to God?” Maybe their outcomes would have been different. What if they had been willing to take a lead role in influencing their culture back to God. We will never know because they did nothing and their were the leaders of their countries! That’s what I thought of and how we as Christians can no longer sit by and just expect the culture to come to us. Let’s look at this passage, 2 Kings 9:14-29, with that idea in mind:

14 So Jehu son of Jehoshaphat, son of Nimshi, led a conspiracy against King Joram. (Now Joram had been with the army at Ramoth-gilead, defending Israel against the forces of King Hazael of Aram. 15 But King Joram[a] was wounded in the fighting and returned to Jezreel to recover from his wounds.) So Jehu told the men with him, “If you want me to be king, don’t let anyone leave town and go to Jezreel to report what we have done.”

16 Then Jehu got into a chariot and rode to Jezreel to find King Joram, who was lying there wounded. King Ahaziah of Judah was there, too, for he had gone to visit him. 17 The watchman on the tower of Jezreel saw Jehu and his company approaching, so he shouted to Joram, “I see a company of troops coming!”

“Send out a rider to ask if they are coming in peace,” King Joram ordered.

18 So a horseman went out to meet Jehu and said, “The king wants to know if you are coming in peace.”

Jehu replied, “What do you know about peace? Fall in behind me!”

The watchman called out to the king, “The messenger has met them, but he’s not returning.”

19 So the king sent out a second horseman. He rode up to them and said, “The king wants to know if you come in peace.”

Again Jehu answered, “What do you know about peace? Fall in behind me!”

20 The watchman exclaimed, “The messenger has met them, but he isn’t returning either! It must be Jehu son of Nimshi, for he’s driving like a madman.”

21 “Quick! Get my chariot ready!” King Joram commanded.

Then King Joram of Israel and King Ahaziah of Judah rode out in their chariots to meet Jehu. They met him at the plot of land that had belonged to Naboth of Jezreel. 22 King Joram demanded, “Do you come in peace, Jehu?”

Jehu replied, “How can there be peace as long as the idolatry and witchcraft of your mother, Jezebel, are all around us?”

23 Then King Joram turned the horses around[b] and fled, shouting to King Ahaziah, “Treason, Ahaziah!” 24 But Jehu drew his bow and shot Joram between the shoulders. The arrow pierced his heart, and he sank down dead in his chariot.

25 Jehu said to Bidkar, his officer, “Throw him into the plot of land that belonged to Naboth of Jezreel. Do you remember when you and I were riding along behind his father, Ahab? The Lord pronounced this message against him: 26 ‘I solemnly swear that I will repay him here on this plot of land, says the Lord, for the murder of Naboth and his sons that I saw yesterday.’ So throw him out on Naboth’s property, just as the Lord said.”

27 When King Ahaziah of Judah saw what was happening, he fled along the road to Beth-haggan. Jehu rode after him, shouting, “Shoot him, too!” So they shot Ahaziah[c] in his chariot at the Ascent of Gur, near Ibleam. He was able to go on as far as Megiddo, but he died there. 28 His servants took him by chariot to Jerusalem, where they buried him with his ancestors in the City of David. 29 Ahaziah had become king over Judah in the eleventh year of the reign of Joram son of Ahab.

In this passage, we see that the kings that had been the latest in the line of kings that had participated in the straying of Israel and Judah from the Lord. Each of these kings participated and did not stop their nation’s descent into idolatry and evil. They joined in the wickedness and evil of their predecessors. They suffered the consequences of their evil. What can we learn from this? We, as the people, of God must, at times, stand up against evil rather than go along with it. Our silence can allow evil to flourish and continue and deepen. How far Israel and Judah had fallen because the anointed leaders simply went along! How far Israel and Judah had fallen because the anointed leaders were either just as the wicked as the people they led or they simply went along and didn’t wanna work for it. Either way the result is the same.

That’s the thing that I think we can bring forward to the 21st century from this passage and use as a challenge to us as modern-day Christ followers. Are we willing to work for it to change our culture? We have had it easy for so long in America as Christians. The church was a dominating influence in our culture for so long. We didn’t really have to do anything. Churches just grew. Everyone in the culture circled around a church somewhere. Church was intertwined with culture. That is no longer true.

Now, we must work for it. Are we ready for the struggle? Do we want to impact the culture for Christ and change things? We will have to work for it now.

First, we must see ourselves, not just our pastors, as ministers of reconciliation. We must be unafraid to share what the gospel has done in our lives with those in our lives that do not know Christ. That means we need to step outside our Christian circles and make friends with the unchurched. Their eternity is at stake and they don’t even know it. We each have our circles of influence that go far beyond what our pastors can do alone. We are all a kingdom of priests, as the Apostle Peter tells us, so we must see it as our daily job to seize opportunities to share the gospel. We are provided divine appointments by the Lord each day. Let’s not miss them. It is only through our active sharing of the gospel, each and every one of us, can we expect to influence the culture away from its current path. One person at a time by each one of us.

Second, we must be willing to take public leadership roles so that we can influence public policy. If we are to change the culture, we must be willing to make the sacrifices to lead it in the right direction. Sure, its going to be tough because of laws that prevent us from openly sharing our faith in public positions but there is nothing that says we cannot demonstrate our Christian values in the choices that we make as public leaders.

Third, we must be willing to meet the world where it’s at right now. What worked for churches 60 years ago is no longer relevant to a culture that has changed drastically since then. Our gospel message should not and will not ever change. The Bible is timeless and eternal and its message is true 60 years ago and will be 6000 years from now. However, the methods by which we engage people with the gospel is and should be different in 2019 than it was in 1969 or 1959 or even as short a time a go as 1989. Let us begin to be imaginative about how we engage the culture around us as churches. Let us be willing also to allocate resources based on our willingness to reach the souls of the unsaved. Changing the course of the eternity of the unsaved is what it’s all about.

Are you and I? Are we? Are we ready to roll up our sleeves and work for it? That’s the challenge that comes out of this passage for me. Am I ready to do the hard work to reach unsaved souls and change the culture?

Amen and Amen.

2 Kings 8:16-24 (Part 2 of 2)

Jehoram Reigns in Judah

This week, Elena and I have been staying with my daughter, my son-in-law, and my granddaughter. This week, I have gotten to see all of my granddaughter’s behavior, not just the best of it. We have seen some of her two year old (a month a way from three now) nuclear meltdowns when it comes to behavior. Most of the time, Ralyn is the sweetest, most well-behaved little child you will ever meet. For a child that is less than three years old, she has such good speech and diction, you would think she is a child twice her age. Most of the time, she has wonderful manners. Yes and Yes ma’am and Yes sir. Thank you. Please. All the appropriate social graces for a child. And to listen to her tell stories, it is just so entertaining. She is so expressive. She doesn’t struggle with words because she has such a good vocabulary. Without the struggle for words, she concentrates on voice inflection and hand gestures. It’s just so amazing to have a conversation with her because it is so uncommon to be able to have a real conversation with a child of this age. And, she is so funny sometimes without even realizing it. It’s just a joy to watch her growing up.

However, when you are with a child 24/7, you get to see it all. You get to see the behavior meltdowns too. You get to see what their parents get to see. Friday evening was a particular troublesome evening when it comes to behavior. She was just sassy to everyone. This was the evening of the Great Welch’s Fruit Snack Pack Incident of 2019.

Because Ralyn had not had a nap on Friday, her behavior began deteriorating in the afternoon. Everything was a problem. Everything was a struggle. Sassy-ness was the order of the day. Since we came to visit after our trip to the beach, we brought all our food that we had not eaten up while at the beach. Part of that stash of food was a box of Welch’s fruit snacks. Elena and I love them. Just a quick snack not requiring a large investment of time and preparation. Ralyn loves them too. So, from Wednesday through Friday, Ralyn and her Papa would grab a pack each and sit and eat them together. So, by Friday evening we were down to the last snack pack in the box. Ralyn got it and everything was cool until I offered to open it for her (since she struggles with getting them open). But oh my that’s when the trouble began. She sass-mouthed her Papa saying it’s not yours, it’s mine in the most “terrible two” way possible. Not once but multiple times. That was it for her mom. The snack pack was taken away. Apology was required and when it was not given, a spanking ensued. The crying and pouting ensued. She was made to go to bed right then. And man it all could have been avoided had she just listened to what Papa was going to say – the offer for help, rather than being selfish and disrespectful.

The Great Welch’s Fruit Snack Pack Incident of 2019 with Ralyn was what I thought of this morning as I re-read this passage, 2 Kings 8:16-24, for the second of two times.  Let’s read it together now with an eye toward how selfish desires affect us in our relationship with God:

16 Jehoram son of King Jehoshaphat of Judah began to rule over Judah in the fifth year of the reign of Joram son of Ahab, king of Israel. 17 Jehoram was thirty-two years old when he became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem eight years. 18 But Jehoram followed the example of the kings of Israel and was as wicked as King Ahab, for he had married one of Ahab’s daughters. So Jehoram did what was evil in the Lord’s sight. 19 But the Lord did not want to destroy Judah, for he had promised his servant David that his descendants would continue to rule, shining like a lamp forever.

20 During Jehoram’s reign, the Edomites revolted against Judah and crowned their own king. 21 So Jehoram[a] went with all his chariots to attack the town of Zair.[b] The Edomites surrounded him and his chariot commanders, but he went out at night and attacked them[c] under cover of darkness. But Jehoram’s army deserted him and fled to their homes. 22 So Edom has been independent from Judah to this day. The town of Libnah also revolted about that same time.

23 The rest of the events in Jehoram’s reign and everything he did are recorded in The Book of the History of the Kings of Judah. 24 When Jehoram died, he was buried with his ancestors in the City of David. Then his son Ahaziah became the next king.

In this passage, we see that, during Jehoram’s reign in Judah, a revolt began by the Edomites. The Edomites had been under the control of what was the united kingdom of Israel since the time of David. Under David, the kingdom of Israel expanded to it widest realm of influence that the Jewish kingdom had ever known. It was then maintained and great building projects occurred under David’s son, Solomon. However, because of all the in-fighting among David’s children and grandchildren, the kingdom split in two and each gradually became weaker as the kingdoms descended into disobedience toward the Lord. Here, in this passage, we see that Edom won its independence from Judah. Now, Judah and the northern kingdom of Israel would begin their slow decline into becoming non-influential nations that would ultimately be occupied by a successive larger and more powerful nation/kingdoms – beginning with the Assyrians for the northern kingdom, followed by the Babylonians and Persians for the southern kingdom. That was then followed by the Greeks who occupied both the north and the south under Alexander the Great. That was followed by the kingdoms that developed by the four generals of Alexander after his death. Then, came the long, long occupation under the Romans all the way up to the point that the Jerusalem was destroyed and the Jews were finally dispersed and Israel and Judah were no more after 70AD.

What we see in the beginnings of the decline here was both Israel and Judah became less and less concerned with obeying God and more and more concerned with getting their own way and doing what they wanted. Instead of observing God’s laws (that were intended to preserve the nation and allow them to flourish in the freedom of God’s protection), they began to see these laws as restrictive and they began to go their own way and do their own thing. As a result of selfish desires and behaviors, the kingdom split in two and became weaker. As a result of selfish desires and behaviors, the two nations made deals with other nations that made them weaker and made them susceptible to foreign practices and beliefs that were ungodly. Steadily, steadily, their disobedience and ungodly behavior led to loss of lands and influence and ultimately to occupation and destruction. We see the beginning of this loss of influence here with the revolt and independence of Edom.

Similarly, sudden selfishness led Ralyn down a path of losing her fruit snack pack and instead of repenting of that bad behavior she continued in it. She continued in her bad behavior to the point that she lost her right to stay up with the grown-ups and was forced to go to be early. Without repentance, the rebellion continued and she lost the freedom she enjoyed just a few minutes earlier. Without repentance, she lost all her freedom and had to go to bed as punishment. Her behavior and the behavior of Israel and Judah should be a reminder to us all.

God’s expectations of us are not to hold us back and restrict us. God wants us to obey Him so that we can experience the freedoms that come with obeying Him. His so called rules for our behavior are really intended to prevent us from destroying ourselves. They are there because He loves us and wants to protect us from that which is evil for us and that will destroy us. As children, we see our parents’ rules as restrictive but when we disobey our parents’ rules, we find out that our parents really do have our best interest at heart. We find out that we have more freedom when we obey our parents’ commands. We find our that life is more peaceful and we actually have more freedom. It is the same way with God. When we obey Him, we have more freedom, we have more influence, we seem to be able to handle what life throws at us with less stress and trouble.

Ralyn learned, I hope, from the Great Welch’s Fruit Snack Pack Incident of 2019 that disobedience, though self-satisfying, will lead to loss of freedom. Maybe, she learned that repentance when we have disobeyed can help us reclaim the blessings in which we were operating. Maybe, she learned that the lack of repentance, rebellion, will led us to lose all of our freedom and influence that we once enjoyed under the blessing of God. Maybe, you and I need to learn these things too in our grown-up lives, not just Ralyn in her “terrible two” meltdown during the Great Welch’s Fruit Snack Incident of 2019.

Amen and Amen.

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

The Floating Ax Head

Does God care about the details of life? Does God care about the Cool Whip? How that question ties in to our topic today is coming up. But … We often think of God of being the God of significant events, significant struggles over a period of time, just anything significant. We go to Him in prayer when we are about to go through something big in our lives, when we are in the midst of something big in our lives, and so on. We often treat God as if He is not with us everyday and in everything. We consult Him like we consult a doctor. We go to Him when something major is amiss or just for an occasional checkup. Sometimes, we treat God as the God of the Significant but not of anything insignificant, the mundane, the usual, you know, the everyday. We tend to think that God doesn’t care about the mundane details of our lives. I fall victim to this syndrome as much as anyone else.

I used to make fun (in my mind) of people who would pray to God about everything. You know, those people that pray to God about what to fix for dinner and all sorts of other minor details of life. Then there are people who pray in an amazing level of specificity about things.

I remember when Meghan, my oldest daughter, was little and I was still married to her mom, we were at Lisa’s (my first wife’s) family Thanksgiving dinner. And everyone agreed that Meghan should give the thanksgiving prayer. It went something like this. The family members bowed their heads in expectation. She began her prayer, thanking God for all her friends, naming them one by one. Then he thanked God for Mommy, Daddy, her newborn sister, Taylor, her grandparents, cousins, uncles, and aunts. Then she began to thank God for the food. She gave thanks for the turkey, the dressing, the fruit salad, the cranberry sauce, the pies, the cakes, even the Cool Whip. Then she paused, and everyone waited–and waited. After a long silence, Meghan looked up at me and asked, “If I thank God for the broccoli, won’t He know that I’m lying?” Funny story about the specificity of prayer and kind of illustrates the question that we are wrestling with today. Does God really care about the Cool Whip?

Are you one who prays for everything, every little detail of life like my daughter did in that Thanksgiving prayer? Do you pray for what you should pick off the menu at a restaurant? Does God really care about what we are going to fix for dinner, or what we are going to choose of the menu at a restaurant? Does God really care whether the Clemson Tigers will beat the Alabama Crimson Tide in the national championship game of college football? Does God really care about what clothes you are going to wear today? Does God really care about whether my weed-eater will start on the first pull?

Sure, God gave us free will and He expects us to do our part in life. He gave us intellect to reason and to make wise choices. He gave us memory to understand that if we do x, then, y will be the result. But the answer is yes God does care about every detail of our lives. That’s what I thought about this morning as I read this passage, 2 Kings 6:1-7. It just seemed like one those stuck in the middle passages that give you a little rest between bigger events in the Bible. Sometimes, you know, there’s that first impression that a passage is an interlude, or filler, in between bigger stories in the Bible. That was my first impression when I read this passage today. But I reminded myself there is nothing insignificant in the Bible. Every passage, every story, every storyline, it’s all meaningful. You just have to look for the meaning. That’s when it hit me, this passage illustrates that God IS in the details of everyday life. Let’s read the passage now:

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

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

3 “Please come with us,” someone suggested.

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

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

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

In this passage, we see that the incident of the floating ax head is recorded to show God’s care and provision for those who trust him, even in the insignificant events of everyday life. God is always present.

At the Billy Graham Evangelist Association website, they have a section of the website devoted to questions from visitors to the website. In response to this very question, the response at the website said this:

Why is God concerned not only about the big things but the small things in our lives? One reason is because He loves us. If He didn’t love us, He wouldn’t care what happens to us—and He certainly wouldn’t care about the little details that often preoccupy us or cause us the greatest worry. But He does love us, and we know this because He sent His only Son into the world to purchase our salvation. Jesus said, “even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid” (Matthew 10:30-31).

But we know God is concerned about even the smallest things for another reason: His greatness. Listen: God is so great that even the very smallest detail of the universe is under His control. The most distant galaxy … the littlest seed … even the smallest sub-atomic particle—everything was created by Him, and is under His sovereign control. God is that great! In Christ, the Bible says, “all things were created. … And in him all things hold together” (Colossians 1:16-17).

So, let us be aware of God’s presence in the details of lives. That is a good thing. When we remove God from the shelf and make Him a part of our everyday life, then, intimacy with Him can grow. When He walks with me and He talks with me and tells me that I am His own, like the old hymn said, we can have true intimacy. When we make Him a part of everything, there is recognition that God is real, that we can begin to feel close to Him, that we can feel His presence. When we only recognize Him in the big things of life, we miss out and we often feel disconnected and less intimate with Him. How do you get close to people in your life? You talk to them daily. You interact with them daily. You grow close through daily contact. We should be the same with God.

Because, yes, Meghan, God does care about the Cool Whip!

Amen and Amen.

2 Kings 2:19-25 (Part 1 of 2)

Elisha’s First Miracles

The world in which we live now in the Western world is one of high levels of technology and equally high common knowledge of how to use this vast array of technology in everyday life. We talk to our phones, it responds. We talk to our cars, it responds. We have remote start for our vehicles. We can set our thermostats at home while sitting at work. We watch a delivery man leave a package at our front doors on our computers. We can talk to our remote control to our television and ask it to find a certain type of program or a specific show on the five hundred channels that we have on our cable television subscription. We have subscriptions to media services that will allow us to watch whole seasons of a television show all at one sitting. All of this is of course being watched on at least a 48” screen or more hooked into a wireless sound system that will rival any movie theatre. We have home assistants that can turn on, dim, or turn off the lights on voice command. We can ask our phone questions about things we don’t know and it looks up the answer for us. We live in an amazing time. What we take for granted today as simply part of our the “necessities” of life were things of science fiction dreams only 10 years ago. The pace of technological advancement of inventions that make our life just that much easier to live is staggering.

We are a spoiled people here in the United States. We have so much and we take it for granted as it being “that’s just the way life is supposed to be!” Just think how helpless we all feel when the wi-fi network goes down at home or something goes wrong with the internet or your network infrastructure at work. Everything comes to a screeching halt. We cannot operate without our technology it seems. We no longer no what to do. I remember as late as 1995, most people did not have computers on their desk at work and it was less common for a home to have a desktop computer. Before 1995 when technology exploded, we actually used spreadsheets in accounting – literal spreadsheets, ten-column spreadsheets. Before 1995, major accounting functions and financial reporting was done through main-frame computers that took up whole rooms in the basements of large businesses. The pace of change in technology over the quarter century is equivalent to all the technological advancements in human history prior to that.

Has it made us a better society? I am not sure that it has. Don’t get me wrong, I love technology and am a gadget geek. I stand in awe of the technological advances made just in my lifetime (where my iPhone in 2019 has more computer capacity than the Apollo 11 command module that held land man on the moon back in 1969 – when I was a little kid of 6 and 7 years old that year). I embrace technological advances rather than fear them. However, the question remains, “is our society better for it?” I think that question is really an unfair one because technology no matter how vast and amazing it is, is simply a by-product of man. The real question is…as we have progressed in technology and ease of life, are we a better people because we have time to focus on things that matter?

We have the finest of everything. The best cars. The best homes. Even our poorest people in this country are more wealthy than the 97% of the world’s population. We’ve got it all. We’ve got it made. Does that make us closer to God though? Has the ease of life enabled us to become closer to God? The answer is sadly no. As we gather more and more wealth, it seems that we are as a nation drifting farther and farther from God. The town is beautiful but the water is growing more and more murky.

That’s what I thought of this morning as I read through 2 Kings 2:19-25, this morning. Jericho was this beautiful, successful town but its water was horrid. It is symbolic of how that city was enamored with its own wealth and beauty but in the basic thing of life, its water, it was putrid. It took a miracle of salt to change things. That is us, as Christians today, we are the salt that can change things. Let’s read the passage now:

19 One day the leaders of the town of Jericho visited Elisha. “We have a problem, my lord,” they told him. “This town is located in pleasant surroundings, as you can see. But the water is bad, and the land is unproductive.”

20 Elisha said, “Bring me a new bowl with salt in it.” So they brought it to him. 21 Then he went out to the spring that supplied the town with water and threw the salt into it. And he said, “This is what the Lord says: I have purified this water. It will no longer cause death or infertility.[a]” 22 And the water has remained pure ever since, just as Elisha said.

23 Elisha left Jericho and went up to Bethel. As he was walking along the road, a group of boys from the town began mocking and making fun of him. “Go away, baldy!” they chanted. “Go away, baldy!” 24 Elisha turned around and looked at them, and he cursed them in the name of the Lord. Then two bears came out of the woods and mauled forty-two of them. 25 From there Elisha went to Mount Carmel and finally returned to Samaria.

In this passage, we see that the story is short and simple, yet its truth is profound and far reaching. This was a city controlled by Israel and in which there was a small seminary (a school of the Prophets), but the water of the city was bad and caused unfruitfulness in the land. If you will notice, in 2:19 the men of the city of Jericho reported, “the situation in the city is pleasant.” At first glance things looked prosperous in the city. There were beautiful buildings, trees, gardens, and much activity – but no actual fruitfulness. Literally the Hebrew says, “the land causes barrenness.” This may indicate the water contained mineral deposits which hindered growth or fruitfulness. Things grew, but before they produced fruit, the fruit would drop off or the plants would wither. The men recognized the authenticity of Elisha as a prophet of God who had walked across the Jordan, an evident token of the power of God in his life. So they came to Elisha and requested help for their problem. Elisha then requested a new jar filled with salt, casts it into the spring, and by a miracle of God the water was purified with permanent results. Evidently, the spring to this day is okay. Please note in 2:21, Elisha gives God the credit. It was not Elisha and it was not the salt – it was God. Elisha was only a representative agent of God and the salt a symbol.

Salt was important in man’s history all the way up to the invention of refrigeration. Salt helped prevent decay of meat. It was a preservative. It was and is a flavor giver. It is often a purifying agent. That’s the symbolism for us as Christians in this passage. We must be the change agents in society. Scripture calls us to be like salt on several occasions. We are to be the ones to prevent decay. We cannot as Christians be content to sit on the sidelines and watch society destroy itself. We cannot sit on the sidelines and simply provide sad commentary on the state of the world. We are called to be the salt of the earth – that which prevents its decay. We must be used by God and thrown into the water to create the miracle of clean water. We must be the change agents. We must no longer be sideline sitters. We must get in the game and change the world by sharing the love of Jesus Christ with our neighbors one person at a time. Let us be the salt thrown in the water to create the necessary chemical reactions.

Let us be the salt thrown in the water!

Amen and Amen.

1 Kings 18:1-40 (Part 2 of 3)

The Contest on Mount Carmel

For the last few weeks, we have had a group of friends/couples over to our house that we have grown to love deeply over the past year. These are couples that we have forged some deep connections with because we have been part of significant events in their lives over the past year. In these first three weeks we have gotten together, we have shared our journeys to the cross with one another. Since we were the common bond among these couples that we were bringing together and the other couples did not know each other beyond knowing that we all go to church together, I felt the best way for us to get to know each other was to share our salvation stories with one another as we shared meals and conversation.

What a better way to get to know one another than to share your life story of how to got to the cross, how Jesus saved you, and what life has been like since! We have shed tears together over the last three weeks that we have been together. We have shared laughter. We have seen each person let down the masks that we often put up to the outside world. As a result, the bond that was through getting connected with one another through God’s local church has grown deeper. The couples that did not know each other have forged instant bonds with one another because the honesty required by sharing your road to the cross with another person. The common thread in each salvation story shared among the four couples in these three meetings is a term that probably someone else coined but true nonetheless is “the God-sized hole”.

We all have the “the God-sized hole” in our soul. Some people are lucky and get it filled with the right thing at an early age and I thank God for those people. They don’t have to go through the struggles that most of us do. Many people are not so fortunate. Many, including myself, have lived a large portion of our lives seeking to fill our God-sized hole with other things that do not fit. All the stories shared during our first three meetings of these couples are individual stories and sometimes couple stories of trying to fill our God-sized hole with other gods. In the 21st century, we may not worship Asherah poles or images of Baal like they did in the Old Testament but we are often no different that ancient people. We stray from the one true God to find and fulfill our desires of the flesh and hope that those desires fulfilled will fill the God-sized hole. It may be our jobs. It may be our relationships, even bad ones. We may use drugs or alcohol to attempt to fill the God-sized hole. It may be defining our self-worth through approval of others. It may be defining our self-worth through sexual conquests. It may be trying to fill the hole with money and property. It can be so many things. But as God’s Word tells us in so many ways and so many times, that worshiping something other than God always leads to destruction.

We always come up empty in the God-sized hole when we try to fill it with gods that are man-made. It may not be an elaborate religion such as we see here in this text from the Old Testament but our gods are no less elaborate and man-made and ultimately useless in today’s world. That’s the come thread to all the stories shared so beautifully over the last three meetings is coming up empty in the God-sized hole.

That’s what I thought of this morning when I read 1 Kings 18:1-40 about how the elaborate but false religion of the people of the northern kingdom failed when it counted. It reminded me of the common thread of the salvation stories of many, many people is that when it comes down to it we come up empty when we try to fill our God-sized hole with something other than God:

Chapter 18

1 Later on, in the third year of the drought, the Lord said to Elijah, “Go and present yourself to King Ahab. Tell him that I will soon send rain!” 2 So Elijah went to appear before Ahab.

Meanwhile, the famine had become very severe in Samaria. 3 So Ahab summoned Obadiah, who was in charge of the palace. (Obadiah was a devoted follower of the Lord. 4 Once when Jezebel had tried to kill all the Lord’s prophets, Obadiah had hidden 100 of them in two caves. He put fifty prophets in each cave and supplied them with food and water.) 5 Ahab said to Obadiah, “We must check every spring and valley in the land to see if we can find enough grass to save at least some of my horses and mules.” 6 So they divided the land between them. Ahab went one way by himself, and Obadiah went another way by himself.

7 As Obadiah was walking along, he suddenly saw Elijah coming toward him. Obadiah recognized him at once and bowed low to the ground before him. “Is it really you, my lord Elijah?” he asked.

8 “Yes, it is,” Elijah replied. “Now go and tell your master, ‘Elijah is here.’”

9 “Oh, sir,” Obadiah protested, “what harm have I done to you that you are sending me to my death at the hands of Ahab? 10 For I swear by the Lord your God that the king has searched every nation and kingdom on earth from end to end to find you. And each time he was told, ‘Elijah isn’t here,’ King Ahab forced the king of that nation to swear to the truth of his claim. 11 And now you say, ‘Go and tell your master, “Elijah is here.”’ 12 But as soon as I leave you, the Spirit of the Lord will carry you away to who knows where. When Ahab comes and cannot find you, he will kill me. Yet I have been a true servant of the Lord all my life. 13 Has no one told you, my lord, about the time when Jezebel was trying to kill the Lord’s prophets? I hid 100 of them in two caves and supplied them with food and water. 14 And now you say, ‘Go and tell your master, “Elijah is here.”’ Sir, if I do that, Ahab will certainly kill me.”

15 But Elijah said, “I swear by the Lord Almighty, in whose presence I stand, that I will present myself to Ahab this very day.”

16 So Obadiah went to tell Ahab that Elijah had come, and Ahab went out to meet Elijah. 17 When Ahab saw him, he exclaimed, “So, is it really you, you troublemaker of Israel?”

18 “I have made no trouble for Israel,” Elijah replied. “You and your family are the troublemakers, for you have refused to obey the commands of the Lord and have worshiped the images of Baal instead. 19 Now summon all Israel to join me at Mount Carmel, along with the 450 prophets of Baal and the 400 prophets of Asherah who are supported by Jezebel.[a]”

20 So Ahab summoned all the people of Israel and the prophets to Mount Carmel. 21 Then Elijah stood in front of them and said, “How much longer will you waver, hobbling between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him! But if Baal is God, then follow him!” But the people were completely silent.

22 Then Elijah said to them, “I am the only prophet of the Lord who is left, but Baal has 450 prophets. 23 Now bring two bulls. The prophets of Baal may choose whichever one they wish and cut it into pieces and lay it on the wood of their altar, but without setting fire to it. I will prepare the other bull and lay it on the wood on the altar, but not set fire to it. 24 Then call on the name of your god, and I will call on the name of the Lord. The god who answers by setting fire to the wood is the true God!” And all the people agreed.

25 Then Elijah said to the prophets of Baal, “You go first, for there are many of you. Choose one of the bulls, and prepare it and call on the name of your god. But do not set fire to the wood.”

26 So they prepared one of the bulls and placed it on the altar. Then they called on the name of Baal from morning until noontime, shouting, “O Baal, answer us!” But there was no reply of any kind. Then they danced, hobbling around the altar they had made.

27 About noontime Elijah began mocking them. “You’ll have to shout louder,” he scoffed, “for surely he is a god! Perhaps he is daydreaming, or is relieving himself.[b] Or maybe he is away on a trip, or is asleep and needs to be wakened!”

28 So they shouted louder, and following their normal custom, they cut themselves with knives and swords until the blood gushed out. 29 They raved all afternoon until the time of the evening sacrifice, but still there was no sound, no reply, no response.

30 Then Elijah called to the people, “Come over here!” They all crowded around him as he repaired the altar of the Lord that had been torn down. 31 He took twelve stones, one to represent each of the tribes of Israel,[c] 32 and he used the stones to rebuild the altar in the name of the Lord. Then he dug a trench around the altar large enough to hold about three gallons.[d] 33 He piled wood on the altar, cut the bull into pieces, and laid the pieces on the wood.[e]

Then he said, “Fill four large jars with water, and pour the water over the offering and the wood.”

34 After they had done this, he said, “Do the same thing again!” And when they were finished, he said, “Now do it a third time!” So they did as he said, 35 and the water ran around the altar and even filled the trench.

36 At the usual time for offering the evening sacrifice, Elijah the prophet walked up to the altar and prayed, “O Lord, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob,[f] prove today that you are God in Israel and that I am your servant. Prove that I have done all this at your command. 37 O Lord, answer me! Answer me so these people will know that you, O Lord, are God and that you have brought them back to yourself.”

38 Immediately the fire of the Lord flashed down from heaven and burned up the young bull, the wood, the stones, and the dust. It even licked up all the water in the trench! 39 And when all the people saw it, they fell face down on the ground and cried out, “The Lord—he is God! Yes, the Lord is God!”

40 Then Elijah commanded, “Seize all the prophets of Baal. Don’t let a single one escape!” So the people seized them all, and Elijah took them down to the Kishon Valley and killed them there.

In this passage, we see that, although the prophets of Baal “raved all afternoon” no one answered. Their god was silent because he was not real. Baal was a man-made creation. It may have had all the trappings of something supernatural with trinkets and physical representations of what this “god” looked like, but it was fully unreal. The gods of our day may not have idols in the same sense as ancient man-made religions but they are just as false and dangerous because they cause to depend on something other than God. Power, status, appearance, material possessions, drugs, alcohol, sexual validation, all of these things can become our gods if we devote our lives to pleasing those desires in our lives. However, in times of crisis, and we desperately call out to our gods, they will only be silence. We are all built with a God-sized hole in our soul than only God can fill. Our gods of our mind and flesh can offer no true answers, no guidance and no wisdom.

Whether we believe it or not (and if you do not believe in God that belief does NOT make Him NOT exist), we are born to seek after and worship God. He, the Creator of All Things, designed us to worship Him. He wired us that way, plain and simple. Satan may deceive us into believing that God does not exist or that we have evolved beyond the myth of religion and God. We may pride ourselves in our “evolution” and may even ridicule those who still believe in all that God stuff. However, convincing yourself that God does not exist and that you have evolved beyond “the myth of God” does not make Him stop existing. It does not make Him not exist. God designed us to be worshipful creatures toward Him. However, in Sovereignty as God, He chose to give us free will. He wanted us to worship Him not as robots but rather as free will beings who worship Him from the heart, soul and mind.

In that free will and because of the sin of Adam and Eve that we have inherited through the generations since, we choose to sin and walk away from God. We try to fill the God-sized hole with things that give us pleasure. We worship our own pleasure. We try to fill the God-sized hole with the things that we like and that we begin to worship. We worship money, power, position, drugs, alcohol, sex, and all sorts of pleasure giving activities instead of God. The path that these gods lead us down is one that leads to destruction. Why are we so hard-headed? Why does it take being brought down to our knees by the emptiness of the pursuits of the flesh before we cry out to God? Why is it that we try to fill the God-sized hole in our soul with something other than the one true God? We come up empty in the God-sized hole because our gods do not fit and are not intended to fill the God-sized hole.

Just that hundreds of priest of a false and empty religion came up empty when it came to bringing the rain so, too, do we come up empty when it’s crunch time in our lives and our gods of our own making fail us. Only God can fill the God-sized hole. Only God can bring the rain we cry out for. Only God is real. We are programmed by Him to worship Him and Him alone. Stop trying to seek the gaping hole in your soul with false gods of your own making and come to the Lord. Only He is designed to fully fit the hole in your soul. He will bring the rain which you seek. When you seek after Him you will begin to see the promise that you seek. You will see deliverance from the drought of your life. You will see a cloud coming that brings the promise.

The cloud is coming with promise to fill the hole in your soul. I think Elevation Worship says it best when they penned the song, There is A Cloud, and it goes like this:

Hear the Word, roaring as thunder

With a new, future to tell

For the dry, season is over

There is a cloud, beginning to swell

To the skies, heavy with blessing

Lift your eyes, offer your heart

Jesus Christ, opened the Heavens

Now we receive, the Spirit of God

We receive Your rain

We receive Your rain

Every seed, buried in sorrow

You will call, forth in its time

You are Lord, Lord of the harvest

Calling our hope, now to arise

We receive Your rain

We receive Your rain

We receive Your rain

We receive Your rain

Like a flood; like a flood

We receive Your love

When You come

Like a flood; like a flood

We receive Your love

When You come

Like a flood; like a flood

We receive Your love

When You come

Like a flood; like a flood

We receive Your love!

And with great, anticipation

We await, the Promise to come

Everything, that You have spoken

Will come to pass, let it be done!

We receive Your rain

We receive Your rain

We receive Your rain

We receive Your rain

Amen and Amen.

1 Kings 9:10-14

Solomon’s Agreement with Hiram

Speaking in culinary terms, the colloquial term, “leftovers” brings to mind food that was not chosen at the meal at which it was originally served. It was the food thought to be good enough for a snack or a smaller meal at a later time. It was not the choice meat. It was not the choice vegetable. When one mentions to his/her family that they will be served leftovers at their next meal, it generally brings a lackadaisical response and not closely comparable to the response elicited by a freshly cooked meal. Oh boy! We’re having leftovers for dinner tonight! (infuse statement with sarcasm).

Leftovers do not elicit the idea of what you best is. Leftovers bring to mind the taking of the best already andleaving behind that which is the dregs. In this Christmas season that we are inright now, how often do we give “leftover” gifts to those that we have to givegifts to as opposed to those that we want to give gifts to. You know, those giftsyou HAVE to buy. Those ones that you run into Wal-Mart and pick up a gift cardfor Amazon in the smallest denomination possible. Those obligatory gifts thatyou do not put much thought into. These types of gifts are the ones thatsatisfy the custom but have no heart in them. The kind of gift that when youreceive it you go…well…ok…ummm…thanks. That nephew or niece or that person thatyou rarely see but are required to give a gift to but you have nothing investedreally in their lives. These are the gift card or regifting people on yourlist. It kind of reminds you of the movie, ChristmasVacation, starring Chevy Chase. In that movie, the old lady, AuntBethany, had a penchant for wrapping up presents from things that were aroundher house for Christmas presents for this annual extended family get-togetherat Christmas. As she had grown senile by the time we see her in this movie, shehad actually wrapped up her cat in one of the boxes! LOL! So, you get thepicture of what I am talking about, we have those gifts that we give that wereally don’t invest ourselves in selecting because the person we give the giftto is not a high priority.

That’s what I thought of this morning as I read 1 Kings 9:10-14 – how Solomon just kind of gave Hiram a thoughtless gift, a leftover gift, an oh-here gift, when he should have really invested in an amazing gift for Hiram, his closely allied king in the region. Hiram was insulted by the gift to the point that he turned it into a transaction rather than accepting the gift as a gift. He did not honor Hiram the way he should have. Let’s read what happened:

10 It took Solomon twenty years to build the Lord’s Temple and his own royal palace. At the end of that time, 11 he gave twenty towns in the land of Galilee to King Hiram of Tyre. (Hiram had previously provided all the cedar and cypress timber and gold that Solomon had requested.) 12 But when Hiram came from Tyre to see the towns Solomon had given him, he was not at all pleased with them. 13 “What kind of towns are these, my brother?” he asked. So Hiram called that area Cabul (which means “worthless”), as it is still known today. 14 Nevertheless, Hiram paid Solomon 9,000 pounds of gold.

In this passage, we see that Solomon had built his own house, and God’s house, with all the materials that Hiram had provided, and they had this good relationship — so now it says: “King Solomon gave Hiram 20 cities in the land of Galilee”, evidently as a gift for all he had done for him, and as an expression of good will for the relationship they had. This “gift” from Solomon apparently was insulting to Hiram in exchange for gold that apparently Solomon needed. Apparently, Hiram did not think that these 20 cities were worth 9,000 pounds of gold. Because of the relationship that they had in the past, Hiram was expecting the land and the cities in it to be beautiful, useful land.

However, Solomon gave him the worst of his kingdom. Galilee, as you may remember from the New Testament, is a land from which nothing good ever came out of. The land that Jesus grew up in was a poor area with limited resources which caused people there not to be able to afford good educations, good jobs, and so on. Nothing good every came out of Galilee, as the saying went in the Bible. This kind of disrespect is something that we must think about when it comes to how we treat God when it comes to our gifts to God – our time, our talent, our resources.

So what can we take away from this short passage? What is it that we can apply to our daily lives here in the 21st century as modern Christians? I think it has to do with how we honor God. Do you know the Bible tells us that we can insult God by what we try to give Him? Repeatedly God tells us in His word that there are “gifts” which people try to give to Him which He rejects. In Malachi 1 the people of Israel were bringing their blemished animals and offering them as sacrifices to God instead of bringing their first and best. So God said in Malachi 1:10, “Oh that there were one among you who would shut the gates … I am not pleased with you, says the LORD of hosts, nor will I accept an offering from you.” God told those people, your “gift” of these unwanted animals is an insult to Me. He said in v. 1:8, “Why not offer it to your governor?” You wouldn’t give something like that to him — why would you give it to Me?”

Malachi puts it simply, “In your tithes and contributions (3:8c).” Malachi says, using the robber motif, that the people have been, in effect, stealing from God. As a consequence, the Lord has withheld blessing. Their covenant faithfulness is lacking in comparison to God’s faithfulness. They again were picking and choosing which covenant stipulations to observe. They had withheld their tithes or at least the full extent of them that the Law commanded them to bring to God (Leviticus 27:30, Deuteronomy 12:5-18, Deuteronomy 14:22-29, Numbers 18:21-32). This rebuke is not something isolated to a few individuals. It is a national rebuke when the Scripture says, “the whole nation of you (3:9c).”

Maybe, this rebuke is part of the vicious spiral of degeneration that Malachi observed. With the failure of the people to support the Levitical priesthood as God commanded, it is possible their passion for their job was correspondent to the amount of support that they received. Neither has pleased God. Service to God should not be contingent on the amount of support received for the effort. All parties of Israel are somehow shocked that they have not been blessed. The command was to teach faithful obedience. It was to be an act of trust in the Lord. As Paul says in 2 Corinthians, “Each one must do as he has made up his mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” The requirement of a tenth was a benchmark of obedience. Paul’s message is that of loving willingness rather than ritualistic adherence. His expectation was that believers should give above and beyond as they had means. The message is that one should give liberally not out of compulsion. As Hemphill states, “the giving of tithes and offerings in Scripture cannot be separated from the heart condition of the giver.” 

Malachi calls into question whether the Israelites place God first in their lives since they have a spirit of disobedience. In our passage today, Solomon shows a similar disrespect to Hiram. By contrast, those who give God the best of their wealth, God’s response will be to “open the windows of heaven for you and pour down a blessing for you until there is no more need” (3:10b). Malachi shows that obedience provides blessing. Malachi praises a humble and giving heart. Similarly, the saga of Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5:1-11 deals with this very issue of holding back and giving God what is left over but yet at the same time publicly displaying piety. In this scene from Acts, one understands the biblical imperative that all of our resources come from God not just the tenth that is considered the minimum to return to the Lord. When His people usurp their place and begin keeping what they wish to themselves, it is dishonoring to their loving Father. Further, this lack of obedience calls into question whether His people can be trusted to be His representatives here on earth. If God acts to preserve the integrity of His name to the nations through his representatives here on earth (through the rebukes to His people announced through Malachi or the deaths of hypocrites in Acts), these corrective actions produce increased confidence in the truthfulness of God’s message itself.  What remains after rebuke and repentance is a message that God is primary in His people’s lives. He is not the God of leftovers. As Polaski states, “Those who do not wish to live in covenant with God fail to reverence God. The job of the covenant community is to reverence God and thus to oppose such conduct…in the context of God’s faithful devotion to an unfailing covenant.”

Modern day people of God should worship God fervently with their hearts daily – more than just on the Sundays one finds it convenient to go to church. Modern day believers should display worship of God in their daily lives. One’s service to God should be more than serving the body of the church or the world outside only when it does not interfere with work, or school or our favorite hobbies. Our finances should reflect God. Biblical financial behavior honors God. When one gives God the first fruits of one’s finances, it honors Him. The believer should order his finances in a manner that God get the best meat of one’s finances, not the leftover fat.

Do we respond to Him with leftovers? Are giving God thoughtless gifts in the same way that Solomon gives this gift to Hiram? Or do we respond to him with the best food of our lives, the first check that we write, the “get to serve at church” rather than the “have to serve at church”, the thinking of how does this honor God in everything we do? Those who believe in God want to make His glory known to the world so that others may come unto Him. How does that happen? Lives are lived where everything is done to honor God not oneself. Stop bringing God your leftovers. Honor Him with the best of everything that you do (your time, your talents, your resources). To be uncommonly devoted to the Lord in everything that we do rather than being like the culture is what draws the world unto Him. Put God first in your finances (and every other area of your life) and honor Him with your best gifts! Treat Him like the person you most want to buy a gift for rather than someone your run into Wal-Mart for and get a gift card of the lowest denomination on your way to the party.

Amen and Amen.