Friday, November 30, 2012

God acted. How do you Respond?

Read 1 Kings 17.

Three acts of God with varying different responses.

Even after the death of his son, proving the word of God to be accurate, King Ahab of Israel did not repent of his sin.  But God acted and sent the Prophet Elijah to announce that rain would be withheld for three years.  The drought was devastating to the entire nation.  Everyone suffered.

God instructed Elijah to cross the Jordan River and leave the country.  There God provided for him.  Next, God sent Elijah to Zarephath and have a widow take care of him.

The unnamed widow was destitute.  Due to the drought there were no crops which meant that food had become scarce.  To demand her to feed him seemed cruel.  But God acted to provide for her, her household and Elijah.  There is no recorded response from this widow to what the LORD had done for her...yet.

Then, her son died.  The widow's first reaction was guilt for her sin and that this death was a punishment.  But God acted to bring her son back to life.  Her words appear to reveal that prior to this she only observed what God had to say and what He did for her.  The light went on and faith became personal.  "Now I know that you are a man of God, and that the word of the LORD in your mouth is truth."

Ahab experienced the painful consequences of disobeying God's word and refused to repent.

The widow experienced God's blessings and showed no change.

The widow experienced a spiritual confrontation about her sin and she personally embraced God's word as truth.

God is at work throughout every day of our lives.  The question is: Are we paying attention to what God is doing throughout the day and responding obediently?

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Ignoring God's Word comes with a Price

Read 1 Kings 16.

Once the kingdom divided, there was not one good king in the northern kingdom of Israel.  One right after the other, these leaders did evil and led the people in false worship.  Each time this provoked the LORD to anger.  And, each time that leader came to some tragic end.

With the demise of a king also came the killing of at least all the males in his family who might desire to claim a right to the throne.  Many times total destruction of possessions, property, even cities belonging to the king ensued.  In short, when one person does evil many people suffer the consequences.

Next, Ahab became king of Israel.  He married Jezebel and worshipped the false god Baal.  There is no argument that Jezebel was an awful, sinful woman.  But, concerning Ahab, the scripture states that he "did evil in the sight of the LORD, more than all who were before him" (v.30).  He thought he could do whatever he wanted in total disregard for the God of heaven.

One of his famous projects was to rebuild the ancient city of Jericho.  In Joshua 6, when the walls of Jericho fell and the Israelites conquered that city, Joshua pronounced a prophecy.  "Cursed before the LORD be the man who rises up and rebuilds this city, Jericho.  'At the cost of his firstborn shall he lay its foundation, and at the cost of his youngest son shall he set up its gates'" (Joshua 6:26).  Though more than 600 years had passed, God's word proved true and Ahab's family experienced this painful consequence.

God means what He says.  His word is totally reliable.  Neither His word, nor His character, changes with time or culture.  This provides all the confidence we need to live for Him today.  He is worthy of our trust.

"Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever." (Hebrews 13:8)

"Forever, O LORD, your word is firmly fixed in the heavens.  Your faithfulness endures to all generations;" (Psalm 119:89-90a)

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Watch your Influence

Read 1 Kings 15.

Abijam became king of Judah.  He was the great-grandson of David.  The scriptures are clear that Abijam continued the sinful practices of his father Reoboam and "was not wholly true to the LORD his God" (v.3).  However, notice that God remained faithful to the promises He made to David.

Next, Asa, David's great-great-grandson became king of Judah.  He was a good king and pleased the LORD in his life and in his leadership of the nation.  It required spiritual courage and boldness to cleanse the nation morally, even removing his own mother from her national position.

Meanwhile in the northern kingdom of Israel, the kings that followed Jeroboam aggressively maintained their evil ways. 

There is a huge reminder for all us here.  We never truly know how our decisions and actions directly affect those around us, particularly the generations within our own family.  Our personal spiritual commitments and our moral choices leave a legacy for others to remember us and follow.  The Apostle Paul wrote: "For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself." Romans 14:7

Every interaction with others is a moment of influence.  May all who come behind us find us faithful.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Today is filled with Opportunities

Read 1 Kings 14.

The LORD is good and gracious.  He gives each person opportunities to use the resources He has provided to accomplish His purposes.  Think of those opportunities as tests.  Success or failure depends on doing what God wanted done.  When a person refuses to listen and obey God, He will  eventually intervene to gain their attention. 

Here we are told that it was God who divided the kingdom and set Jeroboam as king over the ten northern tribes.  These steps were meant to discipline "the house of David" and to test Jeroboam.  In spite of the prophet's warning, Jeroboam used this God-given opportunity to pursue his made up religion and lead the people to do evil.  God then intervened.  Feeling totally hopeless, the king sent his wife in disguise to seek God's help.  And, indeed, God had a message waiting.

The very direct message explained the details of Jeroboam's opportunity and failure.  He did what was right in his own eyes, praying to metal images that he had made, "and have cast me behind your back" (v.9).  The prophecy includes the loss of the entire family of Jeroboam, the total destruction of his kingdom, and the capture of the northern tribes by an invading army from the north (Assyria). 

In the southern kingdom of Judah, things were not any better.  Headquartered in Jerusalem, they had Solomon's beautiful Temple, priests and prophets.  Yet, King Rehoboam led the nation to worship false gods "under every green tree" v.23).  So, God intervened.  For them he used Shishak, Pharaoh of Egypt, to take away the nation's treasured possessions.

If we understand who the Owner is and what He wants done, then we will use the opportunities God gives us today to obey and please Him.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Does it matter? Yes it does.

Read 1 Kings 13

We all do not worship the same God.  So, what does the LORD, creator of heaven and earth, think of made-up religion?

Jeroboam, the king of northern ten tribes of Israel, decided to make up his own worship and build his own altars.  This was done to prevent the people from traveling to Jerusalem in the southern kingdom to worship.  He did not have to wait long to discover what God thought his false religion.  God sent an unnamed prophet from Judah to deliver His message.

The king's attempt to stop the prophet resulted in a physical deformity and his altar destroyed.  When Jeroboam saw the power of God, he asked for prayer.  Note that he did not ask for forgiveness of his sin, nor to lead the people in a right way, but only for his hand to be restored.  Jeroboam continued in his sinful religion, seeking to worship God on his own terms (vv.33-34).  This worship on a mountain in Samaria prompted the discussion centuries later with Jesus in John 4.

When God is at work in one life, He is simultaneouly at work in all the lives around that person.  This is not only an account regarding Jeroboam, but this prophet, as well.  The prophet was given strict and specific orders.  He had been given a mission with a message.  The prophet delivered the message but failed to obey the mission.  Who would ever want this on their tombstone: "It is the man of God who disobeyed the word of the LORD" (v.26a)?

Jeroboam thought he could just do something religious and please God.  The prophet thought he could speak the message, pray, and then do whatever he wanted.  Both were tragically wrong.

Jesus said, "But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him." (John 4:23)

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Are you listening?

Read 1 Kings 12.

Now we are told the details of the rift that divided the nation.  The majority of the people had thrown their allegiance to Jeroboam.  However, they sent for Solomon's heir apparent, Rehoboam, who was living in Egypt at the time.  The number one issue that needed change in order to keep the nation together was taxes.  Solomon's tax burden on the people had become unbearable.

Rehoboam had an opportunity before him that needed the wisdom of his father.  He sought counsel from his father's counselors who advised him to lower the taxes and serve the people.  Then, he went to his young foolish friends who told him he should exercise the power of his position and raise taxes.  With that the kingdom divided and Rehoboam prepared for civil war.

As the new northern kingdom settled in, it became apparent that the people would want to travel to the Temple in Jerusalem for worship.  To counter this, Jeroboam made up his own religion.  As a result, most of the nation plunged into false worship away from the LORD.

The surface issue may have been taxes, but the root issue was much deeper.  When one begins to demand their own way and refuse to listen, sin will be the result.

Rehoboam did not listen to wise counsel. (v.8)

Rehoboam did not listen to the people. (v.16)

Rehoboam did finally listen to God. (24)

Jeroboam did not listen to God.  "This thing became a sin" (v.30)

May our hearts be open and pliable as Samuel in 1 Samuel 3:10-"Speak, LORD, for your servant hears."

Friday, November 23, 2012

Warning: Guard your Heart

Read 1 Kings 11.

Up to this point, Solomon sounded almost perfect.  But now we learn just how human he was.

Two weaknesses became evident:
1. The desire for women more than maintaining a faithful relationship with a wife.
2. The desire to please others more than maintaining a faithful relationship with God .

Though his marriages may have been mostly for political expediency, these pagan women turned his heart to worshipping their false gods.  The ones named in this chapter are of the worst sort in terms of immorality and even human sacrifices.

God knew Solomon's weaknesses and, therefore, clearly warned him.  Such a warning was not solely directed at Solomon but based upon Mosaic law (Deuteronomy 17:17).  Ignoring and/or disobeying God's Word is sin and will have dire consequences 100% of the time.  The LORD loves His people too much to allow them to continue in sin.

After years of peace and prosperity, the LORD raised up an adversary.  Allowing adversity is one way God deals with sin in the lives of His people.

Because Solomon had a divided heart for God, he left a divided kingdom.  Jeroboam, a trust leader turned enemy, became the ruling king over the ten northern tribes of Israel.  The two southern tribes, Judah (the largest of the twelve) and Benjamin (the smallest) were ruled by Solomon's son, Rehoboam. 

It is a sad finish for the life of this great king and a warning to all of us.  "Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life." (Proverbs 4:23)

Thursday, November 22, 2012

The purpose of our Blessings from God

Read 1 Kings 10.

This chapter tells of a pinnacle in Solomon's reign.  Everything appeared to be beyond belief.  His ability to understand and apply wisdom to every situation became internationally known and sought.  His riches surpassed anything the world has ever seen.  Indeed, verse 27 states that silver became as common as rocks.

We are provided one vignette of his encounter with world leaders.  The Queen of Sheba came for a visit.  Do not miss what took her breath away and how she responded.  More than the wisdom and wealth was his worship and sacrifice to the LORD (v.5).  Notice that Solomon's riches and power were not oppressive to those in his kingdom.  The Queen took note that everyone around Solomon was blessed.  And, then came her most important pronouncement:

"Blessed be the LORD your God, who has delighted in you and set you on the throne of Israel!  Because the LORD loved Israel forever, he has made you king, that you may execute justice and righteousness." (v.10)

1. She praised God as the source of all these blessings.

2. She realized that the LORD is ultimately in control of national leadership.

3. She understood the main responsibilites of leadership is to make decisions that are just and to do what is right.

God blesses us to be a blessing and to point others to Him.

Psalm 40:3-"He has put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God.  Many will see and fear, and put their trust in the LORD."

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

God has something to Say

Read 1 Kings 9.

The LORD appeared to Solomon again, just as he did before.  What do we learn about God from this passage?

1. God hears and answers prayer. (v. 3a)
Solomon's prayer was for God's glory and worship.  It pleased the LORD to respond positively.

2. God's "eyes and My heart will be there for all time." (v.3b)
The land of Israel, the city of Jerusalem, and the Temple site in particular, have God's special attention.  He has plans for that area today, just as He stated here some 3000 years ago.  Solomon's father, David, wrote in one of his songs, "Pray for the peace of Jerusalem!  May they be secure who love you!" (Psalm 122:6)

3. God holds individuals accountable for their obedience to Him. (vv.4-9)
Even the king served under God's accountability.  This is true whether a person acknowledges the LORD or not.

"Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O LORD, my rock and my redeemer."  (Psalm 19:14)

Monday, November 19, 2012

The Leader prays for his Nation

Read 1 Kings 8:22-66.

What a powerful scene this is!  The Temple was breathtaking.  God displayed His presence and stopped the celebration.  Then, the king of the most powerful nation stood, stretched his hands out toward heaven and publicly prayed.

There is so much in this prayer about Solomon's understanding of who God is and how the LORD works in the lives of people.  Here are just a few of those:
-God keeps His promises.
-God shows steadfast love "to your servants who walk before you with all their heart" (v.23).
-God raises up leaders by Divine appointment.  In Solomon's case it was in accord with the promise made to David.
-God hears our prayers and forgives sin.  Such prayer and forgiveness is repeatedly coupled with the people turning from their sin.
-God knows and responds to individuals according to each one's heart (v.39).
-God knows there is no one who does not sin (v.46).

What is the overriding purpose of this Temple, its dedication, and Solomon's prayer?
"That all the peoples of the earth may know that the LORD is God; there is no other.  Let your heart therefore be wholly true to the LORD our God, walking in his statutes and keeping his commandments, as at this day" (vv.60-61).

Sunday, November 18, 2012

When God stopped the Service

Read 1 Kings 8.

The construction of the Temple and its surrounding areas were completed.  The furnishings had all been put in their position.  However, the most important part, The Holy of Holies, the place for the Ark of the Covenant, remained empty. Solomon and the Levites understood what care was needed to transport the Ark and what this would mean once the priests set it inside the Temple.

As David discovered, death could be the result of failing to follow God's clear instructions.  The Ark was to be moved on poles, carried by the priests.  It contained the two tablets God gave to Moses (the Law).  Then, the visible presence of God, like a cloud, filled the Temple.  The LORD stopped the celebration so they would simply stand in awe of His presence.

The wings of the cherubim spread out over the precious box.  Once a year, the High Priest (and only the High Priest) was allowed in that sacred spot.  Representing the nation, on the Day of Atonement, he would go in and sprinkle sacrificial blood on top of the Ark.  Therefore, when God looked down at the demands of the law, He saw them through the shed blood of the atoning sacrifice.

Hebrews 9:22b-"...and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins."  When Jesus shed His blood on the cross is was the full and final payment for the sin of the world.  "For Christ has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf (Hebrews 9:24)."  "...he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself (Hebrews 9:26b)."

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Priority Alert

Read 1 Kings 6-7.

Solomon began construction on the Temple in the 4th year of his reign.  Most would be surprised to realize the building itself was only 90'x30'x45'.  All the materials were pre-fitted outside of the city so there were no sounds of hammers or axes during the construction.  The place was incredibly ornate with carvings everywhere and many overlaid with gold.  Including the surrounding areas, it required seven years to build.

In 6:11, the LORD spoke directly to Solomon again.  Here God reaffirmed the Davidic Covenant to this second generation king.  Though there were clear expectations of Solomon's behavior to enjoy God's blessings, the covenant was everlasting and would not change.  This understanding is crucial because it directly relates to the Messiah ultimately fulfilling that covenant.

Next, Solomon built his own house.  That project took thirteen years to finish.  This fact in itself is not an indictment against Solomon but a pattern began to develop in this king's life.  While he did a great thing for God, on the other hand he did great or greater things for himself.  As his life unfolded, he became a man with a divided heart for God.

It is not the size or amount of stuff one possesses, great or small, that gives any indication of one's spiritual priorities.  The determination has to do with one's recognition of their stewardship for any and all that God has given to them.  Jesus said in Matthew 6:24, "No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other.  You cannot serve God and money."

The wisest man on earth tried to do both and it often led to behaviors that displeased the LORD.  May the LORD who owns it all and redeemed us from eternal punishment, be our consistent priority!

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Wise people need People

Read 1 Kings 4-5.

These two chapters provide insights into how Solomon applied some of the understanding and wisdom that God gave him.  In brief, "he was wiser than all other men" (4:31).

And, he was wise enough to know that with all his skill and understanding he could not do his job alone.  Solomon chose good and capable people who were organized to accomplish the work of leading the nation.  These trusted leaders took care of responsibilities of spiritual, financial, personal, domestic and foreign affairs.

Then, when it came time to construct the project of his life, he was wise enough to realize he needed a partner.  The Temple would need natural resources from outside Israel.  Solomon turned to his father's friend, Hiram king of Tyre.

Wisdom is displayed-
1. When we realize that we need other people to help us.

2. When we surround ourselves with the right people.

3. When we recognize the need for a special partner for a particular task.

Friday, November 9, 2012

What would you put on a blank check from God?

Read 1 Kings 3.

If God were to offer you a blank check what would you put on it?  God did this with Solomon in verse 5:  "Ask what I shall give you?" 

There are several distinct parts to this chapter.  Each of them contains powerful messages.

As king he began built great projects for the city of Jerusalem.  He established political alliances through marriages (an ancient custom).  He worshipped the LORD.  Yet, he knew something was missing.  God had much more planned for him and his future.  When he was ready to listen, God appeared to him.

1. The first thoughts Solomon expressed concerned his father.
-He knew God loved his father.
-He knew his father walked faithfully with the LORD.
-He knew his father lived to do what was right.
-He knew his father's heart was right with God.
May our children be able to say this about us.

2. The second group of statements concerned his stewardship.
-He acknowledged God's Ownership of all things.  Eight times in verses 7-9 the words "you" and "your"
-His position, the people, even he belonged to the LORD.
-As a steward, his request was to know how to make decisions that would help the people and please the owner.
-His response to this personal encounter with God was to go to the place of worship and present offerings.
May this be our desire everyday: helping people and pleasing God.

3. The test.
-When God gives us something, He expects us to use it to help people and please Him.
-God gave Solomon an understanding heart, or wisdom to discern good from evil.
-His first recorded decision shows that he listened to both sides.  Next he offered a solution that would draw out the truth.  Then, he made a decision.
May we cast our dependence upon God to pass the tests He has for us today.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Words to Live By

Read 1 Kings 2.

Notice David's last words to his son Solomon.  These are words from one generation to the next.

1. Confidence. (v.2)
Being strong under pressure and taking responsibility are signs of emotional and relational maturity.

2. Obedience. (v.3a)
-Fulfilling God's call upon one's life first requires that one knows how God has gifted them and what He wants them to do with their life.
-Living for God requires that one exercise daily discipline of personal time and habits.
-Keeping God's Word requires that one know and understand how to apply the scriptures.

3. Dependence. (v.3b-4)
Only in faithful obedience to God and depending upon Him for the future can one experience all that the LORD has planned for them.
-"that you may prosper."  The Hebrew word used in this verse for "prosper" has to do with acting circumspectly, or wisely.  God's Word has been made available to us for just that use.
-"that the LORD may establish his word."  God had made a covenant with David that one of his descendants would forever rule over Israel as king.  God has made eternal promises to those who place their faith in Him.  Our responsibility is to trust Him and faithfully live for Him.

P.S.  When reading this chapter, I have always paused at verse 19 to imagine this awesome picture.  The king got up from his throne to bow before his mother.  Selah.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Waiting for the Promotion

Read 1 Kings 1.

Whenever there is a leadership vacuum, someone will rush in to fill it.  If leadership transition plans are not made and communicated, someone else will make them and they may not be what was desired.  The process certainly will not be done in the most amicable way.

King David was elderly and faced his final days.  Though his mental faculties seemed in tact, he could no longer physically and publicly display his leadership.  One of his sons, Adonijah (Absalom's younger brother), took this as his opportunity to exalt himself to kingship.

The entire incident is one of self-promotion.  He sent out the invitations to the party.  Even his sacrifices appear to be more food for the gathering than for spiritual worship.  But all along he knew he was wrong.  That is evidenced in whom he did not invite.  Obviously, there was rift between himself and his father, David.  He carefully avoided those closest to the king.

God used Nathan, the prophet, once more in David's life.  With the appeal from Bathsheba and Nathan, Solomon became the new king of Israel.  Adonijah's foolishness turned to embarrassment and a run for his life.  But here we get to see the first bit of Solomon's wisdom in his response.

Often it may be difficult to know when to step in to seize an opportunity and when to stay back and wait to be asked.  The answer lies more in attitude than mere action.  If the attitude is right, taking action does not equate to taking over.  One who is a good and wise servant will realize a need before others, step in and provide what is needed.

"When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with the humble is wisdom." Proverbs 11:2

"Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall." Proverbs 16:18

"For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted." Luke 14:11

"'God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.'  Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you."  1 Peter 5:5-6

Monday, November 5, 2012

A Godly example from an Imperfect Man

Read 2 Samuel 24.

We are not told why the LORD was angry with Israel, nor are we told the reason for the census.  It appears, that because only fighting men were counted that, perhaps, David was looking to boast of his military might.  In any case, there was something here that crossed a serious line in David's relationship with God.  So much so, that God used this to deal with both David and the sin in the nation.  70,000 men died.

David's desire to publicly repent, stay the plague, and worship God led him to Araunah's threshing floor.  Here he wanted to build an altar and make a sacrifice to the LORD.  The humility and generosity of Araunah is worthy of meditation in and of itself.  He offered the king his property and his livelihood for the burnt offering and even the wood for the fire.

David was not a perfect man.  He made moral decisions and leadership decisions that displeased the LORD.  Yet, the scriptures refer to him as "a man after God's own heart" (Acts 13:22).  What made him such a godly man and leader was not perfection, but when he knew he had done wrong he knew how to repent and did so.  It was never a cheap grace that he sought.  Each recorded time the cost was high and painful.

The king refused Araunah's offer with this famous statement in verse 24: "I will not offer burnt offerings to the LORD my God that cost me nothing."  The result was peace with God and for the people.

This was not his systematic worship of giving to the LORD of his tithe.  This was sacrificial giving out of generosity.  Sacrificial giving may be characterized as-
1. "Freewill" offering, as in Exodus 35:5, 22, and 29 when building the Tabernacle.
2. "Over and above", as David stated it in 1 Chronicles 29:3 when building the Temple.
3. "Cheerful", as Paul described such a giver in 2 Corinthians 9:7 when meeting the needs of the poor.

The tithe belongs to the LORD.  There is no decision to make.  Those monies support the on-going ministry.  However, giving generously beyond the ten percent requires me to rethink my plans.  It means that I take money that I intended for one of my uses and sacrifice it for what God wants instead.

Generous giving is a discipline of one who is learning spiritual maturity.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

The Leader every nation needs

Read 2 Samuel 23.

These are the last writings of David in this book.  He heard from the LORD principles concerning leadership.

What does leadership look like if it is just and done in a way that understands there is accountability to God?
1. It is like a new day dawning.  A fresh start with lots of light on every place.
2. It is like the sun shining on a perfect day.  Everyone enjoys it.
3. It is like a good rain that waters everything for growth.

The opposite is true when leadership is unjust and ungodly.  There is darkness and many things taking place unexposed.  It is not a happy time.  Prosperity is stagnated.

David's testimony of his leadership was: "Does not my house stand so with God?"  May that be the testimony of all our nations' leaders.

"Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people."  Proverbs 14:34

Friday, November 2, 2012

How personal is the God of Heaven?

Read 2 Samuel 22.

This is one of the Psalms (songs) not in the book of Psalms.  God had delivered David and he could not help but sing.  He wrote this so others could join in and sing with him about who God is and what He has done.

Notice how personal the LORD is to him in just the opening verses.
-my rock
-my fortress
-my God
-my rock
-in whom I take refuge
-my shield
-the horn of my salvation
-my stronghold
-my refuge
-my savior
-you save me from violence
-I call upon the LORD
-I am saved

The God of heaven is interested and involved in every detail of our lives.  He wants us to run to Him and find safety, deliverance, and comfort.

"The LORD lives, and blessed be my rock, and exalted be my God, the rock of my salvation." (v.47)