Thursday, January 31, 2013

The Key to Success in life has not changed

Read 1 Chronicles 18.

Just because a person is right with God, prays to God, and is blessed by God does not mean that they are exempt from the battles of life.

Coming out of chapter 17 where David enjoyed a wonderful encounter with the LORD, multiple wars break out.  However, in each case we read "And the LORD gave victory to David wherever he went."

When a person's ways please the LORD everyone around them benefits.  The battles were not fought nor won by David alone.  Thousands of others were involved.  The proof of one's true motives are often revealed when the battle is over.  Notice how David behaved afterwards.  "So David reigned over all Israel, and he administered justice and equity to all his people."  He was a blessing to others as God had blessed him.

It is a reminder of the LORD's instructions to Joshua.
"This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it.  For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success."  (Joshua 1:8-9)

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

5 Insights when God says No

Read 1 Chronicles 17.

This is a pivotal chapter in the scriptures.  David wanted to do a great thing for God.  Instead, God wanted to do an eternal thing for David.

It bothered King David that he lived in a palace and God was worshiped in a tent.  The Tabernacle was a portable tent established during the days of Moses 500 years prior to this.  The LORD was pleased with David's intentions and the plans for a permanent Temple would come later.  Instead, God established an unconditional covenant with David and his descendants forever.  Notice all the "I will" statements and there are no "if" conditions.

-The LORD will make David's name great.
-The LORD will establish His people in the land.
-The LORD will make David's family the royal family for Israel.
-The LORD will insure that David has perpetual descendants.
-The LORD will establish David's throne forever.
This is a key reason for the genealogy in Matthew 1.  It proves that Jesus was born in the direct lineage of David and has a right to this throne.  When Jesus returns, it will be to rule as King and not just of Israel.  He will rule the nations as King of kings and LORD of lords. See Revelation 19:11-17.

Insights for us all from this episode in David's life.
1. God can use our discontent or frustration to start us down a path of action.
2. There was nothing wrong with David's desires.  But he was not the person and this was not the time for that desire to be fulfilled.
3. The initial, well-meaning affirmations of a close friend are not necessarily confirmations of what God wants done.
4. God does have plans for our lives and futures.  He chooses not to reveal those plans in advance so that we will walk by faith and learn to dependently trust Him.
5. When God says "no" to our desires, He is saying "yes" to something incredibly greater that we may not be able to see for a while.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

A Song of Worship

Read 1 Chronicles 16.

With the Ark in place, it was time to worship and sing praises to God.  This is one of many Psalms (songs) in  the Bible a part from the Book of Psalms.

I am indebted to Eugene Merrill for his comments on this chapter as he demonstrates that this song appears to be a compilation of other songs from David.
1 Chronicles 16               Psalms
16:8-22                           105:1-15
16:23-33                         96:1b-13a
16:34-36                         106:1b-c, 47-48

How does one praise and thank the LORD of heaven?  Surely, we would leave something out.  Our praise and thanksgiving at times seem so inadequate-limited by words, human thought, and memory.

This song contains praise for what God has done in the past.  He is the Creator (v.26).  There are other objects of worship but all of them are man made idols.  He alone is to be held in awe (v.25).  He sovereignly chose this nation, made an everlasting covenant with them, and protected them. Worship of the LORD is to include an offering (v.29).  Worship declares who God is.  He is holy and to be feared (v.29b-30).

"Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever!" (v.34)

Saturday, January 26, 2013

The God of the second Chance

Read 1 Chronicles 15.

David learned his lesson from the error in chapter 13.  According to the Mosaic Law only the Levites were to carry the Ark of the Covenant.  The king called together hundreds of spiritual leaders and asked them to consecrate themselves before the LORD and prepare to return the Ark to Jerusalem.

It is no small detail that David explained in verse 13 what went wrong previously that cost Uzzah his life.  "Because you did not carry it the first time, the LORD our God broke out against us, because we did not seek him according to this rule."

The parade and great national celebration was on again!  The bands played.  The choirs sang.  The people danced.  Thousands cheered.

He has often been called the God of the second chance.  The LORD did not change the plans, He only changed those involved so they would put His word into practice.

Because of the forgiveness we have in Jesus, "He is   faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (1 John 1:9).  And, then, the LORD puts us right back on the path to do what we were supposed to do in the first place.  That is grace.

Friday, January 25, 2013

For those that need a breakthrough

Read 1 Chronicles 14.

The very nature of leadership involves facing challenges and tests.  As soon as the Philistines heard that David was now the king, they went to battle.  The Philistines still relied on their man-made gods for guidance.    
David, on the other hand, had complete faith in the LORD.

Each time he was challenged, David went to in prayer and waited for an answer.  And, each time the LORD was obeyed, the nation experienced victory.

The first battle in this chapter took place at Baal-perazim which mean "Lord of breaking through."  As David said, "God has broken through my enemies by my hand, like a bursting flood" (v.11).  In their quick retreat, the Philistines left all their gods behind.  David made sure they were all burned to ashes.

Some may choose to ignore the power of God.
Some may not believe in the power of God.
Some may resist the power of God.
But when God acts, it comes like an over-powering flood of water that bursts through all defenses of mankind.

Everyone needs a breakthrough at key times in their lives.  Our God is the "Lord of breaking through".

Thursday, January 24, 2013

The Key ingredient to throwing a party

Read 1 Chronicles 13.

The Ark of the Covenant had been captured by the Philistines in a battle with King Saul.  Now, King David organized a national celebration of unity that would include the return of the Ark to Jerusalem.  That beautiful gold covered box contained the tablets of law given to Moses, Aaron's rod that budded, and a jar of manna.  Over it were two Cherubs with their wings spread.  Here once a year the high priest would sprinkle the sacrificial blood for atonement for sin.  Evidently, this had not been done for a quite a while during Saul's reign.

While returning the Ark was a noble and right decision, they immediately failed to obey the Mosaic Laws concerning how to transport the Ark.  They thought they were doing a good thing by constructing a brand new cart for it.  That is what the Philistines had done in sending it back across the border.  But the law is clear in Exodus 25:13-14 that the Ark was to be carried by the Levites on poles that went through the rings built into the sides of the Ark.

What a sight this must have been!  The parade of instruments playing and people dancing, led by the king himself.  But all of a sudden a man was killed and the procession stopped.  David instantly became angry at God.  They entrusted the Ark to a local farmer, Obed-edom, for the next three months.  The walk home must have been a sad and confusing time for everyone.

David got over his anger when he understood what he did wrong (1 Chronicles 15:13) and confessed this.

God is not impressed with just a lot of nice, human activity even for a good cause.  The standard for life is not if it feels right to us.  He wants obedience to His word above all.  Failure to do so is costly.

Know what God has said in His word.
Embrace what God has said.
Do what God has said.
Then the let the celebration begin!

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The Key to a unified and joyful People

Read 1 Chronicles 12.

In addition to the select group of mighty men surrounding and serving David, many others were needed to unify the nation.  Governing Israel required a strong military force to protect the people.  They were always under threat by surrounding nations.  In that regard nothing has changed.

Tribe by tribe came forward announcing their allegiance to the new king.  These volunteers were first-rate soldiers with great and varying skills.

Those from the tribe of Gad were leaders, "officers of the army".  They possessed amazing fighting prowess: "the least was a match for a hundred men and the greatest for a thousand" (v.14).  Those from Issachar served using their wisdom in battle strategy: "men who had understanding of the times, to know what Israel ought to do" (v.32).  From Zebulun came "50,000 seasoned troops" with one singular purpose-" to help David" (v.33)

This overwhelming show of strength not only showed a readiness to respond to any threat but  insured peace.  It resulted in unity of the nation in this transition of power from Saul to David.  And, "there was joy in Israel" (v.40).

Involvement in any organization builds a sense of ownership and responsibility.  That sense of ownership leads to support.  When people are supportive but not involved, they will one day switch allegiance to another organization.  If the leader wants to increase support, they must involve the people within the organization in ways that are meaningful to them, using their gifts, skills and experience.

That is a great description of a healthy, vibrant church.  We were never saved to sit.  We are gifted by the Holy Spirit to serve.

Monday, January 21, 2013

A Leader cannot do it Alone

Read 1 Chronicles 11.

David, though anointed to be king years before, was finally inaugurated as king of Israel.  His charge from the LORD included serving as a shepherd of the people and a prince over the people.  David's experience growing up as a shepherd and his years of national leadership had prepared him well.  But as he made Jerusalem his home (called the city of David) the new king's greatest asset was "the LORD of hosts was with him" (v.9).

Every leader understands he cannot do his job alone.  People with varying skills, personalities, backgrounds,  and abilities are required for any healthy organization.  God provided David with a position, but He also surrounded David some "mighty men".

What made them "mighty"?

As one reads through the list, the might of these men was more than just their physical and military prowess.

1. They were seasoned survivors, proven over-comers, battle tested.
2. They were blessed by God with success. v.14
3.. They were attentive to needs. v.17
4. They were loyal, even at the cost of their lives. v.18
5. They were initiators, taking action to meet needs.

Every local church needs such a group of "mighty" people to surround their pastor for the protection, welfare, and growth of the congregation.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Ignoring God is Costly

Read 1 Chronicles 9:35-10.

The end of chapter nine details the family lineage of Saul, Israel's first king.  Chapter ten fast-forwards straight to Saul's death.  Saul's reign is recorded in 1 Kings and that book ends with his death.

This war against the Philistines proved costly.  Jonathan also was killed.

However, God had rejected Saul as king years before and, therefore, none of his family would follow him to the throne.

Verses 13-14 clearly state the reason for God's rejection.
-His breach of faith
-He did not keep the command of the LORD
-He consulted a medium for guidance
-He did not seek the LORD for guidance
Watch the wording in verse 14-"Therefore, the LORD put him to death..."

Ultimately, it was not the war, nor his suicide attempt, that cost his life.  His failure to turn to God and live obediently for God spelled the end.  There is no other source of hope in the universe than placing one's faith in our Creator, our Savior, and our Sustainer.

David, though not perfect, had a whole-heart for God and served as king for the rest of this book.

How is your heart toward God?

Saturday, January 19, 2013

God is in the Details

Read 1 Chronicles 1-9:34.

As there are four gospels providing perspectives of the life of Christ, so 1 and 2 Kings along with 1 and 2 Chronicles record some of the same highlights of history from different vantage points.  Often, the book of Chronicles (originally one book) is skipped over as redundant.  However, the focus of 1 and 2  Chronicles was written from a priestly viewpoint, with a decided focus on the kingdom of Judah, Jerusalem and the Temple.

The first 9 chapters trace the family tree of Israel from Adam to the return after the seventy years of captivity in Babylon.  Granted, it is not a section of scripture one would chose to read aloud to a group (though I have been in one that did).  As a documentation of Israel's heritage, it is priceless.

Along the way, we are occasionally given a nugget of personal comment.
1:19 "Peleg (for in his days the earth was divided)".  Traditionally, this has been taken to refer to the dividing of people into language groups after the tower of Babel (Genesis 11).
4:9-10 "Jabez was more honorable than his brothers"  His prayer, detailed here, was answered by God.
5:1-2 Reuben, the oldest son of Jacob, lost his birthright to Joseph's descendants due to his sin.
5:22 Pointedly, we are told that this "war was of God."
6:31-ff King David established the music ministry of worship, including a singer named Heman.

There is a reassuring theme that the LORD is a personal God.  He knows our name.  He sees us up close.  He hears us when we call.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Time for Accountability

2 Kings 24-25.

Because of the horrific, evil reign of Manasseh in chapter 21, God pronounced judgment against Judah.  The southern kingdom lived under the thumb of the Assyrian Empire for some time but Jerusalem had been spared for the most part.  Meanwhile, the Babylonians (Chaldeans) conquered the Assyrians.  Now, the Babylonians ruled, basically from India to Africa.

Jerusalem would no longer be spared.  In what turned out to be a two-step process, the Babylonians laid siege to the city, took the people captive, and escorted them back to Babylon for integration and retraining.  Among them were prophets and other leaders such as Zephaniah (25:18), Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.  Only the poorest and unskilled were allowed to remain in the land.  Most all the valuables in the Temple were removed and carried off.

In the second attack, the Babylonians burned every significant structure in Jerusalem, including the Temple and the king's palace.  The walls of Jerusalem were broken down.

The opening of the book of Daniel describes the sophisticated approach of the Babylonians to retrain and groom Jewish leaders.  However, during the seventy years of exile, the scriptures record the strong faith of the Jewish leaders, their influence at strategic times, and the mourning of the loss of their land.  They even sang about it.

"By the waters of Babylon, there we sat down and wept, when we remembered Zion.  On the willows there we hung up our lyres.  For there our captors required of us songs, and our tormentors, mirth, saying, 'Sing us one of the songs of Zion!'  How shall we sing the LORD's song in a foreign land?  If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget its skill!  Let my tongue stick to the roof of my mouth, if I do not remember you, if I do not set Jerusalem above my highest joy!"  Psalm 137:1-6

It is a sad ending to these two books that record the history of the kings.  The reminder to all of us is the seriousness of obedience to God.  No one who lived life to please God ever regretted it.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

A Public Promise that Changed a Nation

Read 2 Kings 23.

Imagine!  The king called for a national gathering so he could read the word of God to the people.  Next, Josiah made a public promise before the LORD to live for Him and obey His word "with all his heart and all his soul" (v.3).  Then, all the people joined King Josiah in that covenant.

This was followed by putting the word of God into practice.  They rid the country of all the trappings of the many false worship systems.  They cleansed the nation of the immoral and despicable practices done under the guise of religion.  There was no more tolerance of things that directly violated the word of God.

Because of the spiritual nonsense, the nation had not celebrated a Passover for many, many years.  But King Josiah reestablished the prescribed celebrations and true worship of God.

It is noteworthy that this did not change God's pronouncement of national judgment because of all the sin in the past.  The Babylonians were gaining strength to conquer Assyria and then take Judah captive.  Josiah was killed by Pharaoh Neco of Egypt.

Josiah left a wonderful epitaph: "Before him there was no king like him, who turned to the LORD with all his heart and with all his soul and with all his might, according to all the Law of Moses, nor did any like him arise after him" (v.25).

We all decide each day how our lives will be spiritually evaluated.  I have joined Josiah in this covenant.  How about you?

Monday, January 7, 2013

God's Word is Powerful

Read 2 Kings 22.

After years of abuse and misuse of the Temple in Jerusalem by the previous two kings, Josiah ordered repairs and renovations to be done.  As the workmen tore into the job, the High Priest discovered a copy of "the Book of the Law"; probably the first five book of the Old Testament.  It was taken to the King Josiah who asked that it be read to him.

Apparently, it had been years since anyone had heard the word of God.  As the king listened, he realized how the nation had forsaken God and how far the nation had moved from all that God expected of them.  He also realized that judgment for their disobedience would come.  He literally tore his clothes in anguish and sought godly counsel as to what to do.

It is interesting that with all the other notable prophets in Jerusalem at the time, such as Jeremiah, that they sought out a woman with a prophetic gift named Huldah.  She confirmed that "disaster" would come upon the land of Judah because of all the years of false worship.  However, to Josiah God stated that it would not happen in his lifetime "because your heart was penitent and you humbled yourself before the LORD when you heard..." (v.19).  Josiah was promised peace and protection from the judgment of God.

Reading, hearing, memorizing, meditating, applying and obeying the scriptures produces life-changing results. The Bible is not a book of history, unattached from 21st century life.  Indeed, it is the key to life now and eternal life.

"For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart." Hebrews 4:12

"This book of the law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it.  For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success." Joshua 1:8

Sunday, January 6, 2013

The High Cost of False Worship

Read 2 Kings 21.

Just because the father is a godly man and pleases the LORD does not guarantee that his children will be.  Even with the best upbringing each person must come to faith in God as an individual.  We see that graphically played out here.  Hezekiah was the best king of Judah, while his son Manasseh was the worst.

Manasseh's evil amounts to a long list of paganism and satanically inspired behaviors meant to destroy the nation's faith in the LORD.  In verse 2, the scripture calls them "despicable practices".
-worshiped in the high places, instead of the Temple in Jerusalem
-erected altars to Baal for sacrifices to appease this made up god
-made an Asherah, a carved pole to worship a cult goddess, and set it up in the Temple
-worshiped and served the "host of heaven"-literally a multitude in the heavens.  Often this refers to angelic beings, but this was astral worship of the stars and their movements as if they had some magical power or control over life.  Today, this is called astrology.
-he built altars for sacrifice to the "host of heaven" right in the Temple courts
-he sacrificed his own son in an altar fire
-he used fortune-telling
-he depended on omens
-he dealt with mediums
-he turned to wizards
-shed innocent blood throughout Jerusalem
The next king, Amon, Manasseh's son, continued all these sinful practices.

These things are not forms of harmless entertainment or fanciful practices to be tolerated.  Repeatedly they are called "evil" and stirred the anger of the LORD.  God affirmed the prophecy of Isaiah, spoken in chapter 20, that He will bring "disaster" upon Judah and Jerusalem to cleanse the nation spiritually.  He described it as one who washes out a dish and turns it upside down to dry over time.

This is an unmistakable warning to anyone involved in these false attempts at spiritualism.  Disaster will come.  It is also a clear call to turn to the true and living God, Maker of heaven and earth, who invites us to have a personal relationship with Him through faith in Jesus.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Discipline your Reflexes

Read 2 Kings 20.

King Hezekiah of Judah became deathly ill.  The only clue concerning his malady is the mention in verse 7 of a boil.  One could imagine a possible infection had spread that threatened his life.  God sent the prophet Isaiah with a message.  This time it was not with the comforting words of "fear not" but the confirmation that the king would die.

How would this godly man respond to such devastating news?  He did what he had always done.  He took it to the LORD in prayer.  Facing his own mortality, he talked to God with honesty and transparency about his life in verse 3.
1. He lived life by being faithful to the LORD.
2. He lived life with a whole heart for the LORD.
3. He lived life by doing those things that pleased the LORD.

This was not bragging, nor did God need reminding.  Hezekiah could certainly have been saying, "After all I have done to please You and now this happens"!  Godly?  Yes, but human.  He "wept bitterly."

Isaiah had not even left the building when God turned him around with a caveat to the message.  God added fifteen years to the king's life.  Note that the healing had two key parts: 1. Spiritual: this was an answer to prayer.  2. Medicinal: Isaiah prescribed a treatment plan.  The confirmation on the steps is the third time in the Old Testament where God used darkness and/or daylight in a miraculous manner.

Do not miss the prophecy by Isaiah to Hezekiah in verses 16-18 that one day the Babylonians will come and take Judah into captivity.

How we respond to news that catches us off guard is usually a reflex action.  We all have reflexes based upon our personalities and personal disciplines, or lack thereof.  There is no discipleship without the practice of spiritual disciplines.  The disciplines train our reflexes so our responses will help us to react to real life with the full integrity of our faith.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Why does God answer prayer?

Read 2 Kings 19.

Just because one lives a godly life does not give them a pass from evil, threats, hardships and losses.  Hezekiah's best attempt to appease the king of Assyria only proved to increase the pressure.  Hezekiah turned to the LORD in prayer and sent for counsel from the prophet Isaiah.

The message delivered to Isaiah included "distress", "rebuke", "disgrace", "no strength" and the Assyrians "mock the living God".  In short, Hezekiah and his leaders had reached the end of themselves; they could not go on.  They asked the prophet to pray for them.  Isaiah's first response was "Do not be afraid."  Then, the prophetic message came that God would cause Sennacherib to hear a rumor that will cause him to return home where he will die.

But more defiance came from the Assyrians and then the letter arrived.  Hezekiah went into "the house of the LORD and spread it out before the LORD."  His prayer was for God to see and hear what was being said.  Without God's intervention, "we are destroyed." (v.18)

Isaiah's prayer and prophecy took place just as predicted.  God protected Jerusalem and saved this godly king with his people.  Why?  Two reasons are given in v.34:
1. "For my own sake".  First and foremost, God acts to protect the honor of His name and His plans.  Life is not about us, but about how we bring glory to Him.  When some finite human speaks against the living God, He sees, He hears, and He will act in His own time.

2. "For the sake of my servant David."  King David had been dead for a few hundred years but God made a covenant regarding the royal line of David and the people of Israel.  God does not renege on His commitments, nor does He change His mind.  He does, however, work to change the hearts and lives of people to draw them to Himself.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

One man committed to One God.

Read 2 Kings 18.

Hezekiah proved  to be the best king of Judah since the nation divided.
1. "He trusted in the LORD." (v.5)  He was committed.
2. "He held fast to the LORD." (v.6a)  He was faithful to that commitment.
3. "He did not depart from following the LORD." (v.6b)  He lived a focused lifestyle.
4. He "kept the commandments that the LORD commanded Moses." (v.6c)  He put the commitment into practice.

Hezekiah aggressively led the nation accordingly.  He cleansed the nation of all false worship and the evil practices that went with them.  The result was that God prospered him.  History records that he probably lost some political friends over this, Egypt for example.  He confidently rebelled against the advancing oppression of the Assyrian empire.  He victoriously stood up against the local enemy of the Philistines.   

In response, the Assyrians marched against Judah.  Hezekiah apologized for his rebellion and paid them them in gold hoping they would withdraw.  But the Assyrians did not and instead sought to force Judah to surrender.

Sennacherib sent his top aides to negotiate Judah's surrender.  Their strategy was to belittle them.
Their key question in verse 19 is one every person must answer: "On what do you rest this trust of yours?"
Hezekiah's answer: "We trust in the LORD our God."

The Assyrians thought this was a stalling tactic while Hezekiah devised some worthless battle plan.  The mistake of unbelievers is to think the God of heaven is just one of many faith options.  That trust in the LORD is some kind of human coping mechanism with one's head in the sand.  However, repeatedly the Bible declares that the LORD is the One and only true God.  There are no others and certainly no human is a match to oppose the Creator.

Hezekiah prayed in the next chapter: "So, now, O LORD our God, save us, please, from his hand, that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that you, O LORD, are God alone." (19:19)

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

God is not silent and does not sleep.

Read 2 Kings 14-17.

Back and forth the scriptures record the succession of kings in Judah and then Israel.  There were no good kings in the north and an occasional good king in the south.  Meanwhile, God's chosen people languished spiritually in an environment of false worship, including at times sacrificing their own children (16:3) to appease a mythical god.  After defeating Syria, King Ahaz of Judah even tried to outdo the worship of the LORD in the Temple by building his own altar and re-purposing the furnishings dedicated to God.  We read of one assassination after another for political gain.

What was God doing in response?

1. He sent prophets to preach and warn the people of their sin and the impending invasion.  But they did not listen. (17:7-18)

2. He sent Jonah (mentioned in 14:25) to Nineveh, the capital of Assyria, to deliver His message.  Everyone there repented! (Jonah 3)   With this change in the Assyrians, God could use them to discipline His people in the north. (17:21-23)

3. He was preparing the Assyrian empire to conquer Israel and assimilate the people.  He would also use them to control Judah as a tributary of their empire. (17:24)

4. He had the king of Assyria send some of the captured priests back to Israel to teach the inhabitants of the land how to live according to the word of God.  Amazing! (17:25-28)

The land remained in a mix of spiritual truth and myth.  But this did not change God, His Word, His covenant promises, or His expectations of their lives.

5. He continued His faithful call to them to respond so He could show His power on their behalf.
"But you shall fear the LORD your God, and he will deliver you out of the hand of all your enemies." (17:39)