Monday, April 29, 2013

3 Questions Before Moving Ahead

Read Ezra 4-6.

Whenever action is taken to achieve God's work, expect opposition.  Opposition does not mean that anything is wrong.  Indeed, it may be the very confirmation that it is right.

The pagan neighbors watched as the Jews returned to resettle in Jerusalem and rebuild the Temple.  To stop the work, they tried to infiltrate the work force.  When that plan failed, they began to say and do things to discourage the people and make them afraid.  The enemies even used bribes.  Next, they sent a letter to the new king of Persia with accusations that prompted Artaxerxes to call a halt to the project.  The king acted on partial information and not the whole truth.

God's people had full authority to move forward, yet there is no record of fighting with those who opposed them.  There was no rebellion against the king.  Instead, God used two of His spokesmen to encourage the people to go back to work.  Haggai's message was short, immediate and direct regarding priorities.  Zechariah took a long-range view and encouraged them to finish the work for the coming Messiah.  Zerubbabel acted quickly to restart the project.

The opposition's plan back fired.  Once the next king, Darius the Mede, received all the information, not only did the Jews have permission, but the government was to pay for it.  The king's new decree: "Let the work on this house of God alone."

Again, there will always be people with their own agenda, wanting to do different things, their way, and on their timetable.  Sometimes (not always) Satan energizes opposition to godly leadership.  Many times people with differing ideas oppose godly leaders due to personal pet projects, their own feelings of fear and/or inexperience.

Questions leaders must ask and know the answers before moving ahead:
1. Is this what God wants done?
2. Is this how God wants it done?
3. Is this when God wants it done?

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Getting Back on Track with God

Read Ezra 2-3.

In response to the God-given proclamation of Cyrus, king of Persia, the Jews began to return to the promised land.  Among those leading the people back, two names stand out.  Zerubbabel and Nehemiah provided the spiritual and project leadership the people would need.  Though 70 years had past each family knew their heritage of service to the LORD.

First, they set up the altar.  This place of sacrifice acknowledged sin and the need for a payment to atone for it.  Next, they celebrated their faith according to the Law of Moses.  Then, they presented their freewill offerings to begin the project.

When the foundation of the Temple was laid, there was a formal procession with singers and instruments.  The song was a familiar one, recorded in several places in the Old Testament.  It is a song of praise to God.

"For he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever toward Israel."

1. God is good.  He is good to us, because He is good.  It is His nature.

2. God is love.  This is not an emotion but a commitment by covenant to His people.  Therefore, His love does not change.

3. God is faithful.  The promises He made to Abraham (becoming a great and blessed nation) and to David (regarding the kingdom) are forever just as He said.  Yes, the people may disobey.  Yes, the LORD will step in and discipline His children when needed.  But the character and the Word of God stands sure.

Friday, April 26, 2013

5 Steps to Getting Things Done for God

Read Ezra 1.

For 70 years the Jews had lived in captivity in Babylon.  This was God's response to their ignoring His command to allow the land to rest every 7th year.  Finally, the total number of years they owed to God and the land came to 70 years.  At the end of those days, the Medes and Persians conquered the Babylonians.  Cyrus, king of Persia, now ruled from India to Egypt.  Though he did not live to see it, the Prophet Jeremiah several times foretold that this captivity would last for exactly 70 years.  Before the captivity ever took place Jeremiah wrote: "The LORD has stirred up the spirit of the kings of the Medes, because his purpose concerning Babylon is to destroy it" (Jeremiah 51:11)

God wanted His people back on the land He promised them.  So, He did an amazing work in the heart of this pagan king.  This is one of the most astounding turning points in Jewish history.  There are lessons here for all of us.

1. He acknowledged that what he had came from God.
"The LORD, the God of heaven, has given me all..."  This is the confession of stewardship: that his possessions were a gift from God and that he had an accountability to the Owner for what he did with what he had been given.

2. He announced what God had called him to do.
"and he has charged me to build..."  It was not merely a good idea that Cyrus had.  In fact, it was what God wanted done!  This is the statement of one who knows why they are here at this specific time and place on earth.  Using our resources for God-ordained results is the implementation process of a steward.

3. He communicated to others and encouraged their participation.
"Whoever is among you of all his people, may his God be with him, and let him go..."  When one has a confident passion for a specific calling, they want others to be engaged also.  This is a clear call to action.  

4. He provided his own resources and encouraged others to give willingly.
He led by example.  He did not ask others to do something he was not doing.  He could have paid for the whole project, but that would had robbed the people from having their own investment in what God was doing.  This was not their tithe money they contributed.  This was generosity giving, a freewill offering, as with every project in the Bible.

5. The people responded to God's prompting.
This was not a response to the king, nor to the project need.  God "stirred" their hearts to action.  Every great work of God was accomplished by those whose hearts were open, praying for God's leadership in their decision.

What is God stirring in your heart today?

Sunday, April 21, 2013

A Hope-filled end to a Sad Story

Read 2 Chronicles  36.

Judah experienced a rapid succession of kings and three take-overs.  First, Neco, king of Egypt, came up from the south and brought Judah under his control.  He even dethroned King Jehoahaz and took him back to Egypt as a prisoner.

Next, Nebuchadnezzar, King of the Babylonian empire, came down from the north and forcefully took control of Judah in 605 B.C.  Most of those who were not killed were taken captive back to Babylon.  Among the captives were Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.  Two more times the Babylonians came until the land of Judah was totally conquered in 586 B.C.

Then, the Medes and the Persians conquered Babylonia.  In one of the most astounding passages displaying God's sovereignty, He stirred the heart of the pagan King Cyrus to release the Jews to go back home.  Even more, he charged them to rebuild the Temple and he would pay for it!

What was God doing?
1. He was responding to the evil and blatant disregard for Him and His word.
Each of these kings that followed Josiah not only ignored the LORD and His claims upon them, but they involved themselves in every evil practice.  They willfully refused to acknowledge that it was the LORD who gave them life and opportunity.  This was His land.  They were His people.  They were only allowed to be there as a result of His blessing.
2. In His love, mercy, and patience with them, He sent messenger after messenger to call them back to God.  "The LORD, the God of their fathers, sent persistently to them by his messengers, because he had compassion on his people and on his dwelling place" (v.15).  But instead of listening and embracing what God had made clear to them, they rejected the word of God and even mocked it.
3. He was fulfilling His word with or without them.
In their ignorance of the Scriptures, and/or rebellion against God's commands, they had not rested the land every 7 years as God commanded.  These skipped Sabbath years now totaled 70 years they owed God.  They would not do it, so God did it without them.  He had them taken captive off the land to Babylon for 70 years.  Jeremiah, one of those messengers from the LORD, made this clear to them well in advance (Jeremiah 25:11-12).

Insights for all of us:
1. It is better to listen to God and humbly respond than to suffer the consequences of disobedience.
2. It is better to give God what rightfully belongs to Him than for Him to have to take it from us.
3. It it better to live for the LORD and experience the blessings He desires to bestow upon us.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

The Greatest Celebration in 400 Years!

Read 2 Chronicles 35.

Nothing was spared in celebrating the Passover when King Josiah reigned.

As he grew older, he also grew in his spiritual leadership.  The Temple had been cleansed and repaired.  The Book of the Law had been discovered and there was a renewed commitment to obey it.  Only now could the leadership and the nation properly come before the LORD for a wholehearted celebration.

1. They prepared themselves.
The Levites who taught and served at the Temple were charged again to fulfill their responsibilities.  This meant they were to fulfill their assigned tasks by family and division as prescribed in the Scriptures.  In their case, they could put the Ark back where it belonged.  In order to handle the tremendous amount of people and offering, they must be ready.  There was work to be done!

2. They consecrated themselves.
Without spiritually preparation, they would just be doing a job, instead of a ministry.  The price of serving God is purity!  Ministry is an inside out work.  It begins within the heart of the servant and flows into the lives of others.

3. They worked hard.
Those who taught the people, those who helped with the sacrifices, those who burned the offering, those who boiled the meat, those cleaned up after all the mess, those who sang, those who offered the sacrifices and worshiped-all celebrated together!  Yes, they came for the day of Passover, but the feast lasted a week.

Verse 18 states: "No Passover like it had been kept in Israel since the days of Samuel the prophet."

Worship is not a spectator sport.  Every one should come with their hearts right before the LORD and ready to go to give, work and do their part.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Why does one person experience life-change and another does not?

Read 2 Chronicles 34.

Josiah was only 8 years old when he began his reign over Judah.  At age 16, he began to exercise his faith in the LORD.  By age 20, he was leading his nation in a spiritual cleansing process.  When he became 26, he turned his attention to the repair of the Temple.

This is a great reminder that spiritual maturity has nothing to do with how old a person is.  Paul told Timothy not to let anyone look down on him because he was young.

As the work proceeded, a copy of the Book of the Law was found!  Obviously, the people had not seen, nor heard, the word of God in a long time.  When Shaphan read the scriptures to King Josiah, he became overwhelmed with conviction.  His concern regarding the lack of attention and obedience to God's word was not only for himself but for the people of his kingdom and that of the northern kingdom of Israel.

In order to understand the implications, they sought out the Prophetess Huldah.  She confirmed the king's concerns for the people, yet the judgment would not take place in Josiah's lifetime.  Further, she explained why: "Because your heart was tender and you humbled yourself before God when you heard his words..." (v.27a).  

When one's heart is open to hear what God has to say, it is life-changing!  "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 intents of the heart." (Hebrews 4:12)

The openness, or tenderness, of the heart toward the LORD is what makes the difference in the results.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Gain from the Pain

Read 2 Chronicles 33.

After some 29 years of wonderful and godly leadership from King Hezekiah, his son Manasseh became Judah's next king.  Manasseh systematically reversed every spiritual reform of his father.    He turned from worshiping the LORD to installing every false and evil way.

1. He not only built altars to the Baals but also to the fertility goddess, Asherah.  When people turn to false worship, moral values are soon lost.
2. He built altars to the "host of heaven".  Astrology and worship of the movement of stars and planets has always been condemned by God as evil (Deuteronomy 4:19).  It is a system that  looks to the creation for life guidance rather than the Creator.
3. He led the nation into human sacrifices, including his own sons.
4. He used fortune-telling, omens, sorcery, mediums, and wizards.  These are not amusements for video games, role playing, fantasies of escape, and advice seeking.  They are in fact Satanic and rooted in everything that is against the God of heaven.
5. He even carved an idol and set that up as a god.  A piece of inanimate wood that he fashioned became something to which he bowed and paid homage.

This all resulted in God's anger and judgment.  The Assyrians humiliated him and took him captive.  He lost everything.

"And when he was in distress, he entreated the favor of the LORD his God and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers" (v.12).  God heard his prayer.  "Then Manasseh knew that the LORD was God" (v.13b).  The personal and national restoration began.

It took the pain of loss and distress to turn his heart from going his own way to surrendering to God's way.  Isaiah described this behavior as true of everyone and the reason the Messiah died on the cross.  "All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all." (Isaiah 53:6)

Restoration begins we a person turns from their sin to embrace God's forgiveness.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

When your world is Threatened

Read 2 Chronicles 32.

When our world is threatened we discover the source of our true trust.

The king of Assyria had conquered the northern kingdom of Israel and now thought that Judah would be no problem.  His tactics included marching into the land with his strong army and then terrifying the city with belittling messages.  The messages he sent attacked the foundations of their trust.  Judah trusted in the LORD and in the leadership of King Hezekiah.

Sennacherib's powerful forces had handled all others in their path.  However, his fatal mistake with Judah was to think the God of heaven was just one of many faith options.

When someone states, "We all worship the same God", they make the mistake of Sennacherib.

The tactic did scare the people.  The threat was real.  Hezekiah did two things that all of us should do when our foundations are under attack:
1. He prepared.  There were things he could do.  At the first word of trouble, he took immediate defensive actions.
2. He prayed.  There were things he could not do.  He found his prayer partner and cried out to God for help.

In response, God sent an angel to fight for them.  The Assyrian army experienced supernatural defeat.  Sennacherib was assassinated by his own sons.  Hezekiah's experienced peace and blessings.

"Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the LORD our  God.  They collapse and fall, but we rise and stand upright."  (Psalm 20:7-8)

Thursday, April 11, 2013

What your Giving says about you

Read 2 Chronicles 31.

Someone once said that we are never more like God than when we give.  In one of the most well-known of all Bible verses, John 3:16 begins with the words, "For God so loved the world that He gave..."

King Hezekiah led the nation to restore the worship and celebration of the LORD.  The Temple and those who ministered had been marginalized and ignored for a long time.  But now the Temple had been cleaned up and the ministers were back to work again.  However, in order for their service to be sustained resources were essential.

Hezekiah led the people in giving on multiple levels.   They presented the required sacrifices for worship.  They began tithing of all their income.  They practiced generosity with freewill offerings over and above their tithe.

The result was abundance for God's house and God's servants.  The King and the people prospered as a result.

Too many Christians have never been taught and do not realize that there is a direct connection between a person's spiritual maturity and their financial giving.  Tithing (a tenth) has always been a base standard, before and after the law (Genesis 14, Hebrews 7).  Offerings of generosity are over and above that standard.

It is our responsibility to make sure that both the place where we worship and those who serve us are well provided for.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

The Price of Unity

Read 2 Chronicles 30.

In his continuing efforts to restore the nation spiritually, King Hezekiah organized the first celebration of Passover in long time.  He had a heart for those who lived in the northern kingdom of Israel.  They had alienated themselves from worshiping at the Temple.  Not since the kingdom divided after the reign of Solomon had the nation come together for Passover.

In a kind gesture, he sent out invitations for the northern tribes to come and join in the celebration.  Note that his message was not only to come, but he included a strong exhortation for them to make this a time of repentance and return to the LORD.  "For the LORD your God is gracious and merciful and will not turn away his face from you, if you return to him."

But Israel was so given over to idolatry and false worship that his invitation had no value to them.  Indeed, his offer was ridiculed.  However, that was not true of everyone.  Some did indeed come.  And, even though  a few of the ceremonial details were not exactly followed, Hezekiah stepped in with words of grace.

Unity is a beautiful thing to behold and enjoy.  Jesus prayed for his followers to be one and to love one another.

Spiritual unity is not based upon a call for corporate organization.  It has a personal price.  It means coming in repentance of sin and acceptance of God's plan.  Jesus conducted an interesting conversation with a woman who flinched because of gender, racial and religious differences.  But the real issue was this, "the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him."  (John 4:23)  That personal turning in faith to Jesus opened the door for fellowship, worship, and unity with other believers.


Monday, April 8, 2013

4 Steps to Spiritual Restoration

Read 2 Chronicles 29.

The ungodly Ahaz died and his son, Hezekiah, became the next king of Judah.  The royal lineage of David and the Messiah continued.  Though he was raised by a father who did not obey the LORD, Hezekiah did.  His father had stopped all worship of God and substituted it with objects of his own making.  The new king loved the LORD and used his position to restore the spiritual life of the nation.

The Temple had been misused and, evidently, boarded up for years.  The sacrifices, worship and celebrations prescribed by God were no longer practiced.  The Levites had been marginalized and had not been able to fulfill their responsibilities.  There was much work to be done.

How does one restore a spiritual life that has been corrupted by sin?
1. Internal Consecrating.
There was an intentional work of separating themselves from sin and giving themselves wholly to God.  Purifying their lives and work before the LORD was a sacred responsibility that must come first before they may effectively serve and please God.
2. External Cleansing.
This required the distasteful tasks of cleaning out the filth that lurked behind closed doors.  Ungodly and impure things had been allowed in the Temple and stored there.
3. Sacrificial Giving.
Sacrifices were made as sin offerings for atonement of what had taken place in the past.  Burnt offerings wafted sweet smelling aromas up to God.  Thank offerings were made to celebrate that God had given them a new beginning.  Peace offerings symbolized that reconciliation with God had taken place.
4. Joyful Singing.  
With instruments and voices, the songs of David and Asaph (The Psalms) resounded loudly in praise and worship to the God of heaven.

"Thus the service of the house of the LORD was restored." (v.35b)

For the believer in Jesus, our bodies are the Temple of the Holy Spirit.  "Since we have these promises beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of the body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God." (2 Corinthians 7:1)

Sunday, April 7, 2013

How to get out of the Hole

Read 2 Chronicles 28.

Will Rogers once said, "When you find yourself in a hole, stop digging!"

This would have been helpful advice for King Ahaz.  At twenty years of age, he wanted to run his own life.  For some inexplicable reason, he thought he knew how to run his life and lead his nation better than the God who created him and gave him his position.  He not only forsook the LORD but then made his own gods.  He worshiped and sacrificed to pieces of metal that he had fashioned.

God put increasing pressure upon the king to turn his heart back.  Despite defeat, enormous loss, and humiliation, Ahaz hardened his heart toward the LORD.  "In the time of his distress he became yet more faithless to the LORD" (v.22).  Spiritually, he just kept digging the hole deeper and deeper.  

It is interesting to read that even those in the northern kingdom of Israel, who indeed were far from God themselves, acknowledged their sin and guilt.  Though there is no record of repentance toward the LORD, they at least understood their accountability to Him and treated Judah with kindness and mercy.

God's intent in disciplining us is to call us to stop going our own way and turn back to Him.  He is gracious and merciful to forgive.  As a wonderful father with his children, He wants a relationship with us.

"All these things my hand has made, and so all these things came to be, declares the LORD.  But this is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word." (Isaiah 66:2)

Saturday, April 6, 2013

What it means to be a Focused Follower

Read 2 Chronicles 27.

Jotham proved to be a good king for the southern kingdom of Judah.  His many construction projects enhanced the nation.  His military defeat of the Ammonites added to Judah's power and financial strength.  But at the core of his success and achievements was his spiritual discipline.

"And he did what was right in the eyes of the LORD..." (v.2)
"So, Jotham became mighty, because he ordered his ways before the LORD his God." (v.6)

The word "ordered" in the ESV is "prepared" in the KJV.  In Hebrew, the meaning has to do with determination and being fixed, or focused.  He determined to live his life with a strong sense of accountability to God.  Such living requires moment by moment personal discipline.

There is no discipleship without spiritual discipline.

Being a follower of Christ is more than a one-time decision for salvation.  There is a daily dealing with life and use of the all that God has given to us.

The detail of the personal work that is required is seen in the words of the Apostle Paul:
"take every thought captive to obey Christ".  (2 Corinthians 10:5b)

Thursday, April 4, 2013

It is not how you start that Counts

Read 2 Chronicles 26.

Many runners may begin a race in the lead.  Many leaders rise to the top early in their career.  In the final analysis the only assessment that counts is how one finishes.

King Uzziah began his reign doing all the right things and God blessed him accordingly.  At age 16, he needed a mentor and the LORD provided Zechariah, the prophet, to teach the king the word of God and how to put it into practice.  Early on then, the king made some solid spiritual commitments (v.5).

1. He set himself to seek God.
A person who desires to live for the LORD must discipline themselves each day, throughout the day.  The Christian life is not merely coming to faith in Jesus but cultivate a growing in relationship with Him.  This, as with any relationship, requires time and effort.  Uzziah "set" himself, became determined, to pursue God.

2. He became a student of God's word.
He sought out and received instruction.  Notice that this was not an academic exercise, but the intent of the teaching was to learn "the fear of God."  Who is He?  What has He said?  What are His expectations of me?  How can I show respect for the LORD in my daily thoughts, words, and actions?

And, as long as Uzziah maintained these commitments, the LORD blessed him in every aspect of his life.

The turn in the story is in verse 16.  "But when he was strong, he grew proud, to his destruction."  As a young man, he knew his limitations and willingly acknowledged his dependence on God and others.  But one of the dangers of success and achievement in life is a wrong sense of independence.  Respect and need for people and even God can become dispensable.  Living independently of the LORD is the essence of sin itself!

In Proverbs 30:7-9, Agur wrote: "Two things I ask of you; deny them not to me before I die: Remove far from me falsehood and lying; give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with the food that is needful for me, lest I be full and deny you say, 'Who is the LORD?' or lest I be poor and steal and profane the name of my God."

In order to finish strong in life, the old hymn writer said it best, "I need Thee every hour."

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Half-heartedness has a Price

Read 2 Chronicles 25.

King Amaziah's life may be summed up by the statement in verse 2: "And he did what was right in the eyes of the LORD, yet not with a whole heart."

A half-hearted believer is one who knows better but continues to live in disobedience to God.  Instead of adhering to God's word and remaining faithful, they are swayed by selfish pleasures and the culture around them.  The Apostle James referred to such a person as "double-minded".  "For the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind.  For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways." (James 1:6b-8)

Amaziah did a right thing, followed by a bad decision.  At each key juncture, God, in His faithfulness, sent a prophet with a specific message.  He listened and responded once.  The next time he was so attached to the fantasies he had procured, that he put his faith in them instead of God.  He turned his back on the LORD and suffered the consequences.  Not only did he lose his life, but the people he around him suffered.

"Blessed are those who keep his testimonies, who seek him with their whole heart." (Psalm 119:2)