Monday, December 31, 2012

An Unbeliever's Prayer

Read 2 Kings 13.

Every one of Israel's kings during the divided kingdom period proved to be evil.  So, God "continually" used the Syrians to discipline them for their false worship and wicked behaviors.  Jehoahaz cried out to the LORD for help "and the LORD listened to him." (v.4)

God sent an unnamed person to bring about the deliverance of Israel in answer to the king's prayer.  The people were spared.  They experienced a time of peace.  Everyone went back to their own homes.

But, spiritually, nothing changed with them.  The Asherah was a tree or a pole dedicated to the worship of the sea goddess.  Often, she was deemed a cohort of other mythical gods, including Baal.

Jehoahaz' prayer appears to be like the so-called soldier's foxhole prayer: "God if you will get me out of this, I will do whatever you want."   Then, once the pressure is off, any promises made to the LORD are quickly forgotten.  How easily God is often blamed for the stressing and not given credit for the blessing!

Someone once said, "In bad times people pray.  In good times people play."  God is not an exit door "to be used only in case of an emergency".

It is an incredible reality that the God of heaven desires a personal and constant relationship with each of us.
Jesus said, "Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest."  (John 11:28)

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Generosity gets the job Done

Read 2 Kings 12.

Nearly 175 years had passed since Solomon built the beautiful Temple in Jerusalem.  Understandably, some restorative repairs became needful.  King Joash ordered that the money for the work be taken from the census and freewill offerings collected by the Temple priests.  But after sixteen years that method proved to be insufficient to meet the need.  There were no extra funds for the repairs and therefore no repairs had been done.

So, Joash announced a special project offering that would be kept separate from the regular Temple operation expenses.  A chest made for this purpose was set right next to the altar for these gifts of generosity.  The monies were given directly to the workmen who did the restoration.

The principles here have not changed for the local church today.
1. Tithe monies are to be used to support the various ministries and ministers.
2. Giving is directly linked to worship.
3. Every project in the Bible was accomplished with over and above money, not with tithes.
4. Tithing is a responsibility of a believer in Jesus, prior to and after the Mosaic law was fulfilled.  Giving over and above the ten percent is generosity that is a part of a mature believer's practice.    

In one of the most quoted passages regarding generosity giving to a project, the Apostle Paul wrote:
"Each one must give as he has made up his mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver." (2 Corinthians 9:7)

Saturday, December 29, 2012

What does it mean to be the LORD's people?

Read 2 Kings 11.

When the king in the southern kingdom of Judah died, Athaliah, his wicked mother, seized the throne.  It is hard to imagine someone being so power hungry that they would kill every family member.  But thanks to the merciful act of Jehosheba, Athaliah's grandson was hidden from the slaughter.

After more than six years, God raised up Jehoida, the priest, to implement a plan to overthrow Athaliah and to once again spiritually cleanse the nation.  Joash, though just a boy, was crowned king of Judah with his spiritual mentor making the decisions.

"And Jehoida made a covenant between the LORD and the king and people, that they should be the LORD's people..." (v.17)

What does it mean to be the LORD's people?
It meant that they would live to please and obey God.  It meant that they would get rid of anything that displeased the LORD.  This was a new beginning for the nation.

As we embark on this new year, it is an appropriate time for some self-evaluation before the LORD.  In what ways are we pleasing Him now?  What needs to be added to our daily disciplines?  What needs to be deleted from our lives in order to wholly obey Him?  What commitments do we need to make now in order to be a growing believer in Jesus? 

I am glad to be counted among the LORD's people.

Friday, December 28, 2012

God Keeps His Promises

Read 2 Kings 8-10.

Time and again the scriptures record how God keeps His promises.

To the Shunammite widow we met in chapter 4, God protected her by letting her know in advance that there would be a famine for seven years.  She left the country for that time and the LORD took care of her.  When she returned God gave her favor with the king to restore her house and land.  Even more, he ordered that she be given seven years of produce from the land.

Next, in Syria, God revealed to Elisha that King Ben-hadad would die and Hazael would reign in his place.  It happened, just as He said.

Then, the LORD had to deal with Jehoram, king of Judah.  He was an evil king.  "Yet the LORD was not willing to destroy Judah, for the sake of David his servant, since he promised to give a lamp to him and to his sons forever." (8:19)

Elisha instructed a nameless prophet to anoint Jehu as king of Israel.  His charge was to rid the country of the wickedness and sorceries of Ahab and Jezebel.  God used Jehu to fulfill the promises that were made in 1 Kings 21 by Elijah.  Finally, the murder of the innocent man, Naboth, had been avenged. 

Further, Jehu obeyed the LORD in executing all of Ahab's descendants and all the false prophets in Israel.  In the process of spiritually cleansing the nation he stated, "Know then that there shall fall to the earth nothing of the word of the LORD." (10:10a)

The wheels of God's justice may turn slowly (to us) but they do turn.  God works His justice through kings and nations.  Government overthrows and powers are in His hand.  What God promises He will fulfill.  His word is without error and totally reliable.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Prepare for the windows of heaven to Open

Read 2 Kings 7.

Syria took military action again.  This time they laid siege to Samaria.  Their tactic was simply to starve the city to death.  The plan was working until the king of Israel had had enough and blamed Elisha.  When the captain arrived, whom the king sent to arrest Elisha, Elisha prophesied that all would be well.  There would be plenty of food and provisions for the city within twenty-four hours.

The captain did not believe this word from the LORD.  He scoffed that even if God made "windows in heaven" it would not happen.  Without any assistance from Israel, God confused the Syrian army so that they fled in panic.  They left behind all their food, clothing, valuables and animals.  The city of Samaria had more than they could use.  But unbelief cost the captain his life.

How does God open the windows of heaven?  The LORD is not limited in His ability to meet our needs.  He does not drop money out of the sky.  The resources He wants to give to His people are already here and nearer than we could imagine.  If we can earn it all without dependence on Him or if we feel we deserve it, then we could claim it as our own.  But when we know we did not deserve it and He surprises us with His grace, then He alone gets the credit and the glory.

First, we are to honor God with what He has already provided.  "Bring the full tithes into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house.  And thereby put me to the test, says the LORD of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need."  (Malachi 3:10)

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Do you see God's chariots of fire?

Read 2 Kings 6.

The Syrian king, Ben-hadad, repeatedly sought to attack Israel.  But each time God revealed the plans to Elisha who in turn informed the king of Israel.  Israel could not have had a better source of military intelligence.  It was God's way of protecting the northern kingdom.

Once Ben-hadad discovered the source of the "intelligence leak", he sent his troops to capture Elisha.  They surrounded the city with their chariots, ready to advance.  Surely, Elisha's servant was not the only one to be scared.  But Elisha could see what no one else did.  He saw what God was doing to protect all of them.  He prayed, "O LORD, please open his eyes that he may see" (v.17).  God had encircled Elisha with horses and chariots of fire.  Then, the LORD struck the enemy with blindness so they were unable to move.  Humorously, Elisha led the Syrian army into the capital city of Israel.  Instead of killing them, a feast was provided and the king of Israel sent them back home safely.  Only God.

In times of fear-
1. Pray to see the problem from a spiritual perspective.  What is God doing?  It was not Syria against Elisha but Syria against God. (v.16)

2. Pray that others will see the problem from God's perspective. (v.17)

3. Pray directly for God's power to be displayed. (v.18)

4. Exercise wisdom that will result in peace. (v.23)

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Testing: what are the Results?

Read 2 Kings 5.

Naaman is described as "a great man", "in high favor", and "a mighty man".  He served the king of Syria as an army general.  Further, it was because of Naaman "the LORD had given victory to Syria."  That would seem to indicate that he was a just man, trying to do right, even though he did not know the LORD.  Now the tests begin to unfold in his life.

Test #1.  He had leprosy.  This meant he would live the rest of his life as an outcast and unable to be close to people.  This had to be humiliating for such a national leader.  How would he respond?

Test #2.  In one of his conquests, he had captured a young Jewish girl and given her to his wife as a slave.  The girl remembered that there was a prophet in Israel who could help with this leprosy.  Would this great man listen to the advice of a foreign slave girl?

Test #3.  With papers of passage, he left Syria and rode to the king of Israel in Samaria.  His purpose was totally misunderstood.  King Joram took it as a personal threat and became greatly upset at the prospect of war with Syria.  How would Naaman feel at this point?  Would his hopes be dashed?  Would he have to stand there and be embarrassed before this king?  Would his life be threatened?  As a general, would he begin a battle plan?

Test #4.  God had Elisha intervene.  The mighty general rode up to "the door" with his entourage and thought he would receive some memorable display of prophetic power from Elisha.  But Elisha never even came to the door.  Naaman was immediately offended.  Would he let pride get in the way of what he really needed and wanted?

It is through the tests of life that God endeavors to gain our attention to draw us to Himself.  His first purpose is for us to come to know Him personally.  The tests from then on are directed for our spiritual growth and trust in Him.

Naaman had a physical problem and looked to Elisha for a show of miraculous power.  Instead, what God wanted from Naaman was a demonstration of humble obedience.  When he became willing to obey, then the miracle happened.  The physical results were temporal.  The more important miracle is what took place inside Naaman.  He became spiritually awakened and worshipped the true and living God.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Preparing to be Blessed

Read 2 Kings 4.

Elisha's double portion of Elijah's spirit continues to be on display in this chapter.  It contains three more miracles.

The first opportunity came from a widow of one of the prophets.  With her husband gone and no means of support, she was being foreclosed upon by creditors.  Evidently, she had no property as collateral, so her two sons would be taken as debtor slaves.  Elisha used a tactic often employed by Jesus.  The need appeared obvious but there was more than one way to resolve the issue.  He asked her thoughtful questions.

Some transferable insights for us:
1. Throughout the Old and New Testament, God has ordered special attention and care for widows and orphans.
2. Giving money to the needy is not always the best way to resolve the problem.
3. When there is a desperate need, it is good and right to ask ourselves and others some clarifying questions. 
4. The key question is-"What do you already have"?  Often, the answer is not money but what is readily available to use for a solution beyond the immediate crisis.  It may not seem like much, but with God's blessing it can be enough.
5. Get ready to receive.  This requires an act of faith.  God will not waste His resources.  Why would He bless those who have no capacity to receive it.  The widow prepared to receive the blessing by expanding her capacity.  It was only a bunch of empty pots.  Note: God only gave her what she had prepared to receive.  Once all the pots were full, the blessing stopped. 
6. In two of the miracles in this chapter Elisha gave instructions to "shut the door".  These miracles were not done as a side-show to draw a crowd.  Many times God works in private in order to reward openly.

I want to do the things today that will expand my capacity for God to bless and use me in the future.    

Friday, December 21, 2012

Whom do you turn to?

Read 2 Kings 3.

The king of Moab grew tired of providing enormous amounts of taxation in the form of food and clothing to Israel.  This rebellion demanded a military response.  The kings of Israel, Judah and Edom formed a quick alliance and set out for battle.

Their strategy caused them to march in areas where there was no water.  Only now do they want to inquire of God.  So, they sent for Elisha.  Before Elisha did anything, he pointed out to Jehoshaphat that with all the false prophets in Israel, none of them could help when he needed it.  Meeting even the vast needs of armies and animals with that much water was no problem for God.  "This is a light thing in the sight of the LORD" (verse 18a).  Besides that, the LORD guaranteed their victory.

When the king of Moab realized he could not win, he resorted to a desperate act for help according to his pagan worship.  He sacrificed his own son as an offering to a made-up god.  This was so repulsive that everyone returned home disgusted.

1. God is a person with whom we are to have a personal, intimate relationship. 
2. God is not an insurance policy that is only used when there is a disaster.
3. There is only One in heaven who can truly help us.  All other sources of help will eventually prove to be poor substitutes at best and evil at worst.

As Edward Mote penned, "On Christ the solid Rock I stand.  All other ground is sinking sand."

Monday, December 17, 2012

We need God's Intervention

Read 2 Kings 2.

All the prophets in Judah knew that Elijah's ministry had come to a close.  Elisha would become his successor as Judah's leading spiritual prophet.  Elisha closely followed Elijah as he anticipated the moment of transition.  The two traveled eastward to Bethel to Jericho to the Jordan River.  Crossing the river proved to be no problem.  Elijah just rolled up his outer garment and struck the water.  The two of them walked across on dry ground.  This is the second time this miracle occurred.  The first took place in Joshua 3.  Fifty other prophets of God, watching from a distance, witnessed the miracle.

As the mentor prepared to leave, he asked Elisha, "What shall I do for you"?  Elisha wanted a double portion of Elijah's spirit.  Under the Old Testament law, the firstborn could receive a double portion of the inheritance.  But Elisha did not ask for an inheritance of an estate.  He wanted to continue the ministry of Elisha with a double portion of God's power upon him.

Elijah is one of two men in the Bible who do not have a recorded death.  In Genesis 5:24, Enoch "walked with God and was not for God took him".   Many would also include Moses.  However, there are several verses in the Bible that use the word dead or death concerning him.

The confirmation of God's power upon Elisha was not only in witnessing Elijah ascension into heaven, but in the actions that followed.  It was not personal power but dependence upon the power of God indicating his spiritual leadership to everyone around him.  Those same fifty prophets watched as Elisha also parted the the Jordan River. This marked the third time for this same miracle.

Whenever God is visibly at work, expect the Evil One to also try to counter it or destroy it.  The test came almost immediately.  Young men, not children, treated Elisha with contempt.  This must be interpreted as verbal abuse, making fun of his appearance, but, even more, slandering the work of God and Elisha as a servant of God.
Elisha's question in verse 14 is one for us today.  "Where is the LORD, the God of Elijah?"  This was not asking for God's location.  No.  He anticipated God's intervention!

Saturday, December 15, 2012

The number one block to Hope

Read 2 Kings 1.

People who do not have a personal relationship with the LORD will spiritually search when they have a need.

Ahaziah was an evil king over Israel.  But as he lay dying from an accident he wanted spiritual intervention.  For him, he turned to the made up god called Baal-zebub.  Instead, God sent Elijah.

The lesson is in the process that brought about Elijah actually being allowed by God to go.  The majority of the Jews lives in the northern kingdom of Israel.  They separated from the south, then known as the kingdom of Judah.  The problem was that Jerusalem with the Temple was in the south.  Spiritually, the north had cut themselves off from their true center of worship.  Elijah's message from God in the form of question underscored the issue.

King Ahaziah thought he would display his royal power and authority by sending troops to order Elijah to appear before him.  Underneath the surface of this action was the spiritual battle.  It was not the king against Elijah.  It was the hubris of Ahaziah and his rebellion against the God of heaven.  Unfortunately, the king's pride costs the lives of many men.  Finally, the third captain understood.  With great humility, he pleaded with Elijah for his life and that of his men.

There was no repentance of sin on the part of Ahaziah.  In his hurt, he just wanted help from any spiritual source.  Here the true spiritual help he really needed and the hope he needed for eternity was right in front of him.  "Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall."  Proverbs 16:18

"...'God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.'  Submit yourselves therefore to God." 
James 4:6b-7a

Friday, December 7, 2012

Examining what you Hear

Read 1 Kings 22.

This is a rare account when the king of Israel and the king of Judah sat down peaceably and planned anything together.  The question at hand was whether to go to war against Syria.  All of Ahab's prophets immediately supported the king's desire to go to war.  But Jehoshaphat, king of Judah, was a godly man and realized that something was not right.  They summoned Micaiah.

Micaiah was not like the hired prophets of Ahab at all.  He declared, "As the LORD lives, what the LORD says to me, that I will speak" (v.14).  This true prophet of God revealed the nature of false prophets.  They "entice" (vv.20-22) the hearers who pay them with what they want to hear, not what God's word says.  Therefore, they are lying when they speak (v.22).  The words sound good to the undiscerning, but they are empty concerning what God wants done.  They become socially acceptable and repugnant to the LORD.

As Micaiah was led away to prison for telling the truth, he delivered a prophetic word concerning Ahab.  The certainty of the prophecy was that Ahab would not return from the battle in peace.  Indeed, Ahab died as a result of a so-called random arrow that hit the one person in just the right place to fulfill the prophecy.  This was no coincidence.  God took care of the pouting, evil king and fulfilled the original gruesome prophecy of his death in 1 Kings 21:24.
Just because someone has a religious position or says they know what God wants does not make it so.  There have always been false prophets who do not know the LORD, nor His word, and only go through the motions of their religion.  When the Apostle Paul preached in Berea, the people who heard him even checked his message with God's written word to see if it was truthful.  We should all follow their daily example.

"...they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so." (Acts 17:11)

Thursday, December 6, 2012

When the leader fails to lead, everyone pays a price.

Read 1 Kings 21.

This is the story of a pouting king and the consequences of selfish, evil behaviors.

Underlying principles that Ahab violated:
1. We are to respect the rights of others.
2. We are to respect the heritage of others.
3. We are never to abuse power for personal gain.  That is the definition of extortion.
4. We are to take swift and decisive action when we become aware of wrong doing.

If the person responsible will not take action, someone else will fill that vacuum and the outcome may not be honorable.

Mistakes and sins to avoid committed by Jezebel:
1. She took up another's offense.  She should have reminded her husband that he plenty of food and land already.  She should have been an encourager to him.
2. She took responsibility and authority that were not hers.  There was no crisis for her to usurp authority.  She used the king's power to do evil.
3. She lied and that about an innocent man.
4. She devised an evil scheme and abused the legal system to execute an innocent man.  Those in charge of such judgments became directly and knowingly involved in the corruption.

God sent Elijah to condemn these two for what they did.
1. Ahab "sold" himself to do evil. (v.20)
2. Ahab "made Israel sin." (v.23)
3. Ahab allowed Jezebel to incite him to do evil. (v.25)

Yes, Ahab repented at the news of the impending disasters.  God did not change His mind.  He did delay implementing a part of the judgment.

King David wrote wise words for us today-
"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, December 3, 2012

Where is my Help?

Read 1 Kings 20. 

The king of Syria with an allied force from 32 other kings mustered to conquer Ahab and the northern kingdom of Israel.  When negotiations failed, the two sides readied themselves for battle.

God sent an unnamed prophet to Ahab with this message, "Behold, I will give it into your hand this day, and you shall know that I am the LORD" (v.13b).  Amazingly, after all of Ahab's rebellion and evil, God continued to reveal Himself to Ahab.  After all, these are God's chosen people and He wants them to turn to Him.

Though enormously outnumbered, Israel set themselves toward the enemy.  Meanwhile, on the other side of the battle line, the advisers to Ben-hadad was to fight in the plain of the land.  Why?  "Their gods are gods of the hills and so they are stronger than we" (v.23).  In their pagan way of thinking, they believed that a war could be won by pleasing one made up god over another. 

When the LORD heard this, He sent a prophet to Ahab, "Thus says the LORD, 'Because the Syrians have said, "The LORD is a god of the hills but he in not a god of the valleys," therefore I will give all this great multitude into your hand, and you shall know that I am the LORD" (v.28).  The battle was not Israel against Syria, but Syria against God.  It was all about HIM.  God wants all nations to know who He is and of His power; that included Ahab. 127,000 enemy soldiers died that day from a rout of 7,000 from Israel.  Only God.

They looked the gods of the hills, instead of the God who made the hills.  Many today look to the stars, instead of the God who made the stars.  The Psalmist looked at the hills and asked the life changing question.

Psalm 121:1-2 "I will lift my eyes to the hills.  From where does my help come?  My help comes from the LORD who made heaven and earth."

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Time for a Break

Read 1 Kings 19.

Elijah faced down a king and 450 false prophets.  He saw God answer prayer and use him in one of the great demonstrations of God's power in the Old Testament.  Yet, when the evil Jezebel threatened to kill him he ran in fear.

Why would such a strong prophet of God do this?  And, how would God respond to him?

It appears in verse 4 that Elijah was an exhausted man--physically, mentally, and spiritually.  All he wanted to do was find a safe, quiet place to sit and, perhaps, die.  He did not want to do this anymore.  He wanted out.  Anyone who has experienced burn-out can identify with Elijah at this point.

Notice how the LORD does not rebuke Elijah but very patiently nurses the prophet back to health.
1. He needed sleep.
2. He needed food.
3. He needed more sleep.
4. God sent him on a travel adventure to Horeb.
More than a month and a half went by without God confronting Elijah about anything.

At Horeb, the LORD delivered His message, but watch how He began.  He did not start with a lecture, but a simple question: "What are you doing here?"  God often used this technique.  In the very first confrontation in the Bible, to Adam: "Where are you?"  To Jonah: "Do you do well to be angry...?" and others.  He asked questions, not because He did not know the answer, but because He wanted the person to verbalize their feelings and the problem.  Elijah was afraid, discouraged, and lonely.

Elijah did not need a seminar on loneliness or counseling about discouragement.  Instead, God refreshed the personal relationship and showed again His miraculous power.  But the call from God to get up and get back to work did not come in the loud, powerful displays.  No.  It came in the quiet, whisper of God's voice.

I believe God is speaking...through the scriptures and into our spirits every day.  We need daily times alone with God and listen to what He has to say to us.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Make up your Mind

Read 1 Kings 18.

Three years passed.  The famine in Israel was so great the king had to search the land for grass to feed the animals.  Meanwhile, Jezebel sat at her royal table and fed 450 false prophets of the god Baal.  It was time for God to intervene again.  He sent Elijah to meet with Ahab for a showdown. 

This was not an ego-driven power game between Ahab and Elijah.  Rather, it was a public opportunity for God to display His power and bring Israel to repent of its false worship.  The challenge is in verse 21: "How long will you go limping between two different opinions?  If the LORD is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him."

The Hebrew word translated "limping" in the ESV means "to hop".  It may be used of one who steps as if lame or dances.  The nation claimed by heritage to be the people of God, chosen by Him from the time of Abraham.  Yet, their lives and resources went to worship a made-up god of their choosing and reject any claim the God of heaven made upon them.  Doing both is not possible.  It was time for them to make up their minds.

The confrontation is graphically detailed for us.  The prophets of Baal prepared their sacrifice, danced (ESV="limped", same word as above) around, cried out, and cut themselves in self-punishment for their sin.  But after all that, "there was no voice.  No one answered; no one paid attention" (v.29b).

So many people claim they believe in God, even believe the Bible, yet there is no evidence in the way they think, speak or live.  When trouble comes, tragedy strikes, they cry out but all the stuff they lived for does not help them.

Elijah's prayer was simple: "Answer me, O LORD, answer me, that this people may know that you, O LORD, are God, and that you have turned their hearts back."