Week 33, 2018 – We are reading through the whole chronological Bible…wow!

Prophets, priests and kings…nations rise and fall before God Almighty…the great test continues to this day.

DAY ONE – Micah 1-4

Another day, another prophet? Not so. God’s special messengers were carefully chosen and appointed to their tasks by Yahweh God Himself. They became part of national life, woven into the fabric of society like special thread that stood out because of their message and their nature. These men were not extraordinary but did stand fearlessly before their listeners to expose those attitudes and behaviors that were in defiance of God. They condemned all forms of idolatry and evil, especially implied permissions that tolerated oppression of widows and the poor. Exploitation and greed were especially targeted in their outcries. We MUST once again give deep consideration to God Himself as He struggles with Jerusalem and Samaria, capital cities of the divided Jewish kingdom, seeking to preserve a righteous remnant through which THE KING OF THE WORLD would eventually come. Every effort to keep His people true to their calling and exalted position among the nations was met with basic human resistance and rebellion. Yet scattered among the peoples of Ephraim (Israel) and Judah were always those of good heart and simple faith, those who trusted Yahweh and were true to their God-given religion as practiced by their fathers.

God in heaven, what can you do that you have not already done? How can you persuade us to swallow our own human pride and admit that we live in constant danger of corruption? How can we be made to see that the past, present and future are always before you, that your plans will be carried out fully, with or without us? What can we demand of You without being petty or petulant, like spoiled children? Instead of stoning our prophets, may we truly humble ourselves and RETURN to You with gratitude and thanksgiving. May we acknowledge who You are and the gifts You have freely given us. Matthew 6:9-13  Pray like this: ‘Our Father in heaven, may your name be kept holy. 10 Let your Kingdom come. Let your will be done, as in heaven, so on earth. 11 Give us today our daily bread. 12 Forgive us our debts, as we also forgive our debtors. 13 Bring us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one. For yours is the Kingdom, the power, and the glory forever. Amen.’

DAY TWO – Micah 4

Locked into time, we humans endure the fact that we cannot see the future. We can read about the future, we can speculate, even predict our ideas of the future, but we cannot SEE IT. For us the future always has an element of mystery and intrigue. No wonder then, that we have difficulty connecting the present with what lies ahead. Even if we imagine a future and then work to create it, the unknown is always present. For instance, at the infamous tower of Babel, when God looked down on the works of men, He saw that their evil plans would succeed if He did nothing, so the next morning the humans discovered they were speaking a number of different languages and could no longer communicate with each other; so they dispersed and their work ceased. God KNOWS the future, SEES the future and even CREATES the future so that His wonderful plans for humankind will succeed. We know this to be true because the Bible often predicts the future and then hundreds of years later records the events as they unfold. It then continues to demonstrate the continuity from past, to present, to future.  Micah 4:1-2  But in the last days it shall come to pass, that the mountain of the house of the LORD shall be established in the top of the mountains, and it shall be exalted above the hills; and people shall flow unto it. 2 And many nations shall come, and say, Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, and to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths: for the law shall go forth out of Zion, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem (KJV). So when Micah says that, we can ‘take it to the bank’!

Tens of thousands of books have been written, reporting, parsing, dissecting and explaining the history of humans and nations that have walked the face of the earth for a season. The only SURE words have come from the Bible, God’s sacred revelation to mankind. Not only do they accurately predict, they accurately report human history. We do well then, to mark THIS prediction that a day is coming when God will rule the whole earth from Jerusalem, and that international relations and government will issue forth from there. Wars will have ceased, giving way to international peace. Isaiah’s prediction will be true that Jesus Christ, the resurrected God/Man, will be totally and irrevocably in charge of earth’s affairs until God’s plan to save the world is finished! If you have a problem with that, then you have a problem. We should believe what we have NOT seen, if indeed God’s Word has spoken it. That is called FAITH, and mankind desperately needs THAT kind of faith in our day.

DAY THREE – Micah 5-7

Understanding a story requires knowing the characters. In our current story there is the prophet, the people and the Lord. We must also catch the story line, which, in this case, involves the peoples’ relationship to Yahweh, and the prophet’s message concerning that relationship. Then we have the prophet himself, trying to accurately give the message while also trying to understand it. What complicates the story is the timeline. The prophet is talking to the people about their present behavior and the dire consequences that will result. But almost without taking a breath he introduces another character and another time, apparently in the future. Then he takes up his current narrative at last to finish the story. Micah 5:2  But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, Being small among the clans of Judah, Out of you one will come forth to me that is to be ruler in Israel; Whose goings forth are from of old, from everlasting. This is a declaration of a yet unnamed Ruler who will be born in Bethlehem in the future and serve Yahweh God as ruler of His people. While dealing with our present issues, God always has His eye on the future of things, which things He sees clearly, as if they were right now. To cast even more mystery, this ruler to be born has existed from the everlasting past! Such it is with the Lord. At this point, perhaps we should BECOME VERY ALERT to the real truth about God–HE WAS, HE IS, AND HE WILL BE. Not so with us. We came into being at a particular time and place. We are, so long as we live. And as far as we understand, when we pass we are no more, at least in earthly terms. While we live we are loved and regarded by the Lord Himself, who is eternal and self-existent, and we have a responsibility to Him.  Micah 6:6-8  How shall I come before Yahweh, And bow myself before the exalted God? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, With calves a year old? 7 Will Yahweh be pleased with thousands of rams? With tens of thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my disobedience? The fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? 8 HE HAS SHOWN YOU, O man, what is good. What does Yahweh require of you, but to act justly, To love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?  It sounds so simple… doesn’t it?

DAY FOUR – 2 Kings 16-17, 2 Chronicles 28

The day of reckoning comes, but the unprepared say, “I reckon I didn’t see it coming!” In my opinion Ahaz, King of Judah, comes as close to being an idiot as any of Judah’s kings. His egregious behavior against God was unmatched by the kings before him. The trip to Damascus, the military losses, appeals to Syria and Assyria, erecting a foreign altar at the temple in Jerusalem, sacrificing and burning incense to every pagan god imaginable, and finally shutting up the Lord’s temple and forcing the people to worship all over the place, precipitated his untimely death. Israel invaded Judah, killed 120 thousand soldiers, and captured 200 thousand women and children! Thankfully there was a man of God in Samaria who warned them to return the captives to their homes, for the sins of Samaria were piled high before the Lord and disaster was imminent. In fact, Tiglath-Pileser of Assyria besieged Samaria for three years and overthrew the government. Those left in Israel were exported to cities all over the Assyrian kingdom, never to return. In their place Assyrians of all stripes were sent to populate the now empty cities of Israel. The DAY OF RECKONING had arrived. Israel would not return to their homeland. This was the beginning of the ten northern tribes becoming scattered among the other nations of the world and the reason why ‘Jews’ are found in communities around the globe.  2 Kings 17:7-9  All this took place because the Israelites had sinned against the Lord their God, who had brought them up out of Egypt from under the power of Pharaoh king of Egypt. They worshiped other gods 8 and followed the practices of the nations the Lord had driven out before them, as well as the practices that the kings of Israel had introduced. 9 The Israelites secretly did things against the Lord their God that were not right. NIV

What should we learn from Israel’s and Judah’s experiences? What parallels, if any, can we see in our time and culture? What do you think is going to happen as we go forward? What could we be doing that might make a difference? By now, what are we understanding about Yahweh God and the nature of judgments against the nations?

DAY FIVE – Isaiah 13-17

The mighty cities of the ancient world, including Babylon and Nineveh, were referred to as “The Gates of the Gods.” Yet Isaiah took up a lament against them, hundreds of years in advance of their destruction, to dispel any myths about the prowess of kings and rulers when compared with the Almighty God. The kings of Babylon and Assyria were powerful, creative men who trampled nations and held entire populations hostage to their imperialism. Yet as our prophet has stated in cryptic detail, their rise and fall were mere incidents in the hands of Yahweh God. And as always, the true God, the Lord of heaven’s armies, weighed the mightiest nations against little Israel, the people of His choosing, because of His covenants with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. The Jews are perhaps the most misunderstood people of all time, and traditionally the most despised among the nations; and therefore a true riddle in the world of governments and politics. Their place in history is entwined in God’s plans to save the world and have a new heavens and earth without evil. To that end, Israel was selected to be a carrier of a Divine Seed which would result in a King and Deliverer the likes of which the world had not seen. In earlier chapters this prophet Isaiah spoke of such a person and would again as we continue our reading. We all wish our world could be at peace, could end violence and wars, and could have a future and a hope. For such we must wait until God’s timetable is complete. But while we wait we need the encouragement of another prophet whom we will read soon.  Jeremiah 29:11  For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope. (NLT) Those words were spoken to Israel, and as goes Israel, so goes the world.

We do well to see our world in the hands of Almighty God, to humble ourselves before Him, and to ask for His salvation. No other means of salvation offers a future and a hope as that of the Creator of Heaven and Earth, who is presently working His plan and will finish what He has started. We do well to pray to Him always, imploring His grace and mercy over our family and community.

Week 32, 2018 – Homesick for heaven yet? Keep reading God’s Word!

Sepsis throughout, or total healing? Sometimes it becomes an either / or, with nothing in between. 

DAY ONE – Hosea 6-9

“Come…” dad’s hand is extended to his little girl who is crying over the fresh boo-boo on her knee. “Come on, let me have a look; there now… it’s not so bad… see?” And as she curls on his lap he holds her in comforting arms until the crisis has passed. Years have gone by, and she is no longer a little girl; she is a young adult, and she has been gone for a long time, and she is in deep trouble, having mixed into her life destructive companions and lifestyle. Now she stands looking at her dad as he tries to cover his pained expression with the love he feels in his heart. “Come…” he says. Only this time her ‘boo-boo’ won’t be healed in a few minutes; there is a road ahead. “Come…” says Hosea.

Hosea 6:1-2  “Come, and let us return to Yahweh; For he has torn us to pieces, And he will heal us; He has injured us, And he will bind up our wounds. 2 After two days he will revive us. On the third day he will raise us up, And we will live before him. We don’t know why a child goes prodigal, but the self-destruction is predictable. We can only wait to see if our invitations and pleadings will make a difference. Though we send repeated warnings about what lies ahead if there is not a turning, we cannot make it happen. Yahweh could not, either. Israel was a wandering child; Judah strayed as well, and Yahweh God sent invitations, warnings and pleadings. The entire nation was at risk, and the danger was real; would wandering Israel return? Or would she choose to lose her identity among the nations, cast out of her own land? Would this end God’s grand design to save the world, or would there be another way? Centuries later another voice would be heard, and it would have a familiar ring…

Matthew 11:28-30  “Come to me, all you who labor and are heavily burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart; and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Father God, we come to you, we return to you, we learn from you. Our own way has proved vain and empty. Heal us, restore us as a nation, that we may live before you. Thank you.

DAY TWO – Hosea 10-14

Parents struggling with a prodigal have to face the most anguished of decisions: do I keep the door open with more pleadings, invitations and support? Or do I cut off my own flesh until there is willingness to return under our family covering? The prodigal holds the key but may find himself unable to take the first step toward restoration. Israel (Ephraim) was the prodigal, and Yahweh God was the parent. God’s angst is heard in chapter 11–“I loved you when you were a child… I brought you up out of Egypt… I taught you to walk… I drew you with gentle cords… O, Israel, how can I give you up?” The Father’s grief and suffering are clearly understood by any parent who has had a prodigal in his life. When does God surrender the child to his own inclinations? When does He pull the plug? When does He initiate the restoration process? Will Israel return, or MUST I allow him to go into an extended time of captivity and scattering? O, Israel, won’t you return? Just return, and we can work this out, but you must divorce your pagan lovers and put away your foreign gods. Our family cannot coexist with them. O, Israel, what will it be?

History writes the continuing story. From our vantage point we pretty well know what happened. But… LOOK HARD at the Father in Heaven, LISTEN to His pleadings, His promises, His HEART! What does it tell us… about His love, His forgiveness, His grace and mercy? And what does it tell us about the process of consequences and judgments? From our readings of Hosea, can you discover HOW and WHY the Father dealt with Israel as He did? What do you think our life lesson is as we finish these messages from the  pleading prophet?

DAY THREE – Isaiah 1-4

Modern dragsters go over 300 miles per hour in 1000 feet in just under four seconds! That is spooky fast. The prophet Isaiah, contemporary with Hosea, came out swinging and with no lost words. God’s message: My children are rebellious. And from there he paints the dismal picture of a nation that has become septic on their own sins. If it were medical it would be called sepsis–“Systemic infection by pathogenic microorganisms, especially bacteria, that have invaded the bloodstream, usually from a local source. Sepsis is characterized by fever, increased number of white blood cells, increased heart rate, and other signs of widespread infection.” Sepsis of the soul–that’s what Yahweh God must have diagnosed as the problem with especially Israel, and also Judah. The sins of corruption had invaded Israel and touched every area of life, from religion to justice and even social life. It was a no-holds-barred match between Yahweh and a corrupted people. It was so systemic that the entire nation was at risk. As with all the prophets, Isaiah was only a messenger, disadvantaged by the scope of his understanding. While Yahweh God saw the larger picture with both ends spread before his vision, the prophet had to deal with the immediate and the unknowable future. So he pounded away at the symptoms of spiritual disease, calling for radical change of behavior and return to the ways of God as revealed in His plan from the days of Moses and onward. But would it do any good? In the advanced stages of sepsis the patient may succumb even after massive and repeated doses of the strongest antibiotics. Would Israel survive? Could God do anything at this point? It’s fascinating that pronouncements of even the most dreaded judgments were almost always tempered with visions of a blessed future; would it be so for Israel? Isaiah spoke of a ‘remnant.’ Would God leave a remnant if His rebellious nation had to be removed? Would there be future blessings for a destroyed people? The prophet’s work continued through the administrations of four successive kings. The years rolled on; the problems mounted. God’s patience became threadbare.

How should we react to the messages of the prophets? What parallels might we draw from the descriptions of their times? What ‘symptoms’ can we see that might be systemic? What options are open for us? How might we respond to God?

DAY FOUR – Isaiah 5-8

Yahweh is a great story-teller, as was His Son Yeshua. Israel is a vineyard, and God is a vineyard maker and grower. After a lot of time and energy invested in the vineyard, it produces wild grapes, not fit for consumption. So, says Isaiah, you judge, Israel; and you, Judah, what should be done with this vineyard? What would be OUR answer to that question? How would you answer God about His vineyard? Should it be saved, destroyed… or what? Before you answer, make sure you read Isaiah’s vision of God in chapter 6. I have been reading that story my whole life and I have trembled under its weight of glory. Who can answer Yahweh once His glory is seen and His words are heard? Nations are nothing… kings are weighed on His scales… armies are flies to be swatted. Yet the kings and nations rise up proud and angry to aggrandize themselves and take what they want. Syria and Israel arise together against Judah, intending to increase their own holdings and take more spoil. No matter that Yahweh holds their destiny in His hands. A whistle is heard, and Assyria prepares to amass against smaller nations and carry out God’s plan for judgment. A time is set; the countdown has started. Woe to those who transgress God’s plans, who call good evil and evil good; who set themselves against the Almighty. The clock is ticking.

At what point does mankind reject and ignore the Creator and His plan? How does the world fall prey to such evil and hardly take notice that God even exists, let alone that He is sovereign over all the comings and goings of the nations? With each new day, hope springs anew; but it must be a hope rooted in eternity. There must be a moral and spiritual foundation on which everything is built, or else it is just more of the same old thing! Israel and Judah turned their back on God and lost sight of His plan to save the world of mankind through them. Only grace and mercy marked out a remnant that would endure until the coming of Messiah. God always has the last word. What part of “love the Lord your God with all your heart, your soul, your mind and your strength” do we lose sight of? And why? What if WE are now our Beloved’s vineyard? How are our grapes this season?

DAY FIVE – Isaiah 9-12

There is a distinct turning in these chapters, a compressing of history into a short span that includes days that are beyond even our own. For instance, Isaiah tells of a Child who is to be born–a Son–on whose shoulders the government will be established. His Name? “Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of His government and peace there will be no end.” NO END. So right in the middle of threats of destruction is inserted this glorious promise of future blessings for the peoples of God. And that future stretches beyond our lifetimes and those yet to come. It connects to another piece of the story–“a rod from the stem of Jesse, and a Branch shall grow out of his roots.” He is just like God… actually He IS God. And He ushers in the day of God for earth and all of mankind. In THAT day a calm has engulfed the whole world that allows man and beast to dwell together in peace. And in that day the remnants of Judah and Ephraim (Israel) are regathered from the four corners of the earth wherein they have been scattered by Yahweh God. From this we understand that God DOES have a plan to save the world; and it encompasses the ages of human endeavor, ALL of which have failed to bring a lasting peace and salvation to earth’s inhabitants. While peace and safety have eluded mankind throughout the millennia of his existence, leaving the world weary and ravaged, God causes a bright hope to shine into the future.

Isaiah 12   In that day you will say, “I will give thanks to you, Yahweh; for though you were angry with me, your anger has turned away and you comfort me. 2 Behold, God is my salvation. I will trust, and will not be afraid; for Yah, Yahweh, is my strength and song; and he has become my salvation.” 3 Therefore with joy you will draw water out of the wells of salvation. 4 In that day you will say, “Give thanks to Yahweh! Call on his name. Declare his doings among the peoples. Proclaim that his name is exalted! 5 Sing to Yahweh, for he has done excellent things! Let this be known in all the earth! 6 Cry aloud and shout, you inhabitant of Zion; for the Holy One of Israel is great in the midst of you!”

Our Discussion Group has resumed on Wednesday evenings at First Assembly, Chico, 6:30 p.m. Room E1. First time? Join us, U R welcome!

Week 31, 2018.. Our march through God’s word continues this week!

God spoke through many prophets for centuries to keep His people on track. What do these messages mean to us today?

DAY ONE – 2 Kings 14-15, 2 Chronicles 25-27

Kings came and kings went in Israel and Judah. They are not the principal figures in these stories, even though they play a major role. Yahweh God is always the foremost player in the lives of the divided kingdoms. Kings are rated as to their performance by how they kept the laws of God and how closely they walked in the ways of their forefathers. Jeroboam son of Nebat first led Israel into sinful idolatry with the two golden calves he set up to be Israel’s gods. David was the father of all the kings, a man after God’s own heart who became the default example of how kings should act. So one king and then another lived, ruled and died; they were expendable, and yet each one left his mark on the two nations respectively. God was always in charge. He was always determining the fortunes of the kings and their families as they went forward. And His words always prevailed over the future of the two nations. So we are able to look back and study the lives and outcomes of the kings of Israel and Judah as guides to how we should conduct politics and what place we should give the Lord in national matters.

Have we learned anything so far? Do the examples of the kings teach us anything about modern politics, about social justice, about national ethics and values? Who are the historical leaders we venerate? Which of our national fathers’ examples are held up to the public spotlight and given a respected place in our history? Are they names only, or do we gain wisdom from them? With barely two hundred fifty years of national government, where are we headed? What would Old Testament prophets say about us? What are our current prophets saying? Can we… will we learn from history? What do you think?

DAY TWO – Jonah 1-4

We have already described this period in divided Israel as that of the kings. But now we are thrust into the world of the prophets who arose and fulfilled God’s call to the nations, for that is what they did. Impelled by God’s Words in their spirit they brought their messages to the peoples as well as their kings, declaring whatever they were given. Jonah, by his own admission, was a Hebrew–a Jew. Yahweh God, Creator of all mankind, gave him a one-sentence message for Nineveh, the great capital of Assyria, expressing God’s pity for this city of more than one hundred thousand souls. “In forty days Nineveh will be overthrown!” It took three days for him to walk from one edge of the city to the other. During this time these pagan worshippers of false gods were stunned into realization that their gods were powerless before Yahweh God, and they fell into a state of national repentance, covering themselves with sackcloth and languishing in ashes. Merciful God was deeply impressed and relented of the judgment that had been determined on Nineveh. Now ecstatic with joy, Jonah celebrated and… wait… NOT! He did not celebrate; rather he was morose and felt like a failure. For now his prophetic word would not come true. His message would fail. Jonah thought He knew God, that God would do what He said, that He would destroy these pagans and give them what they deserved, for Assyria was the great oppressor of Israel. Instead, they were spared to live another day. How well do we know God? Confronted by Yahweh’s mercy, Jonah responded with “I knew it… I knew I would fail,” Jonah 4:2-3 for I knew that you are a gracious God, and merciful, slow to anger, and abundant in loving kindness, and you repent of the evil. 3 Therefore now, Yahweh, take, I beg you, my life from me; for it is better for me to die than to live.” (WEB)

Should our Lord Jesus come already? Should the nations be judged for their lawlessness and rebellion? Should evil perish? Is it time now for the restoration of all things? We are hardly competent to make that call. We may know God, but we don’t know what God knows! 2 Peter 3:9  The Lord is not slow concerning his promise, as some count slowness; but is patient with us, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance. (WEB) That’s why Nineveh was spared for a time. That’s why today is still a time of salvation, a time for compassion and intercessory prayers. That’s why our hearts should be broken for our world of violence and evil. And that’s why, though we rejoice in the saving grace of the Lord in heaven, we nonetheless plead in mercy for awakenings among the nations and turning from wickedness to God. To know Yahweh God is to discover His heart, His lovingkindness toward all peoples.

DAY THREE – Amos 1-5

Time to flip the coin… to see God’s other side. His love is obvious; kindness flows from His generous nature. He goes out of His way to persuade mankind to seek and serve Him… for our own good, no less! What does He get from all this? Grief. Like a father whose prodigal child has fled the nest, our Father God must carry the grief until his loved one has decided to return. The Creator God, maker of heavens and earth… all wise… all powerful… filled with grace and mercy… by His own sovereign will must wait until we humans decide to seek and serve Him. He waits with hope and love, sending every possible encouragement and reminder to us. Only when hope is lost and love is spurned does He permit justice to be carried out so that harmony will return to the universe. God’s plan to save the world, to return the creation to its original perfection and goodness, empowers every law and every action. Nothing is haphazard, random or capricious. It is intentional, ordered and wise. Only if we BEGIN with this premise will we understand the call of the prophet, the voice of the man of God. Who was Amos but a sheepherder? He had no vested interest in the message he proclaimed; yet he spoke definitely and clearly regarding eight different nations, ending with Judah and Israel. And his pronouncements on the first six nations was for their treatment of the people of God. Judah and Israel He treated as family–recounting their history and leading to their present destruction. Only a grief-stricken heart can speak to combined Israel as God does. Judgment is never a priority… it is a necessity! It’s at the end of a long road from which there seems to be no way back. But still the invitation remains: “Return to Me.”

So love’s other side–God’s other side–turns out to be justice. In order for the creation to be pristine once again, for the righteous to enjoy the gift of something like a restored Eden–let’s call that heaven, justice MUST fall against the ungodly and unrighteous to cleanse and purge creation of the evil that everyone knows is at work. In the END, creation will be as it was at the BEGINNING. That’s what the prophet proclaimed without understanding his own message. He said that wrong would be made right, God is vindicated, and salvation is open to the seeker… the returner. Let’s not stone the prophet; he is only a messenger; let’s thank him for leaving his job for a while to speak God’s love… and justice, to all of us!

DAY FOUR – Amos 6-9

What happens when we lose touch with heaven; when we become so enthralled with the tangible and visible that we lose our sense of the intangible and invisible? Describing Israel’s lifestyle, Amos nailed down the reality of a people who had forgotten God and heaven, choosing rather to luxuriate in their self-gotten spoils of earth. No matter that they trampled the rights of others; no matter that their gains were others’ losses. Religious apostasy ruined Israel’s chance of a future with Yahweh God and hope of continuing better days. They would be scattered among the nations, displaced from their God-given homes, and left to survive until the centuries leading to the end times. Even Judah was implicated, falling under the evil that was to come. But God put it into the prophet’s heart to stand up for Jacob (Judah) with intercession and pleadings that would soften the blows and delay outcomes. The king of Israel accosted Amos with demands that he take his prophesies elsewhere, that his voice no longer be heard in the capital city. When we lose sight of heaven, we certainly don’t want to be reminded that there is a God who might be totally aware of everything. And we definitely don’t want to be reminded that a day of reckoning lies before us. Amos reminded the king that his anger was misplaced–“Who am I?” was his comeback. “I’m only a sheepherder, as was my father before me. If you have a problem, it is not with me but with the Lord God.”

Does any of this sound familiar? Do we see any of these conditions being replicated within our own culture? How far can any people go to remove reminders of heaven; to silence voices from heaven? Can society get rid of God? What does it take to move the people of God back on center with heaven in full view? Do we who profess God as our center fill our lives with the tangible and visible as well? Or can we, moved by the times and circumstances, energized by the Spirit of God, challenge ourselves to seek the intangible and invisible–“seek first God’s government and righteousness,” knowing full well that there is an end to this earth as we know it? Must we wait until opportunities are lost to realign with heaven and seek the God of heaven to show Himself mighty again, in our behalf? Israel lost out. Judah escaped for a time by the skin of her teeth. God’s plan to save the world moved forward, but many who at first were chosen and included in the plan, lost their place and their future. Heaven help us!

DAY FIVE – Hosea 1-5

Most writers save the reveal until the last chapter of the book, but Hosea was moved by the Spirit to state the problem, the plot and the reveal all in the first chapter! And to illustrate the book he was instructed to marry a prostitute, who gave him three children whose names corresponded to the fortunes of Judah and Israel.

  • Jezreel = an end to the kingdom of Israel in the Valley of Jezreel.
  • Lo-Ruhamah = means a withdrawal of mercy from the house of Israel.
  • Lo-Ammi = you are not my people and I am not your God.

Immediately the prophet speaks of a people as numerous as the sand of the sea, once again called the people of God, and once again united with all of Israel under one Head. Wow! That was just the first chapter. So how do we get from here to there? God often appears to have a rod of correction in one hand and a kid glove in the other. Most parenting is like that, and most parents dream of children growing to adulthood as contributing participants in their generation. The Heavenly Father is like that. He plans for the day when all of His children will regather as a redeemed family and go forward with powerful and productive lives. In the meantime He has to deal with a posterity in rebellion, given over to idolatry with many pagan gods referred to as ‘lovers.’ As always, the aberrant lifestyle creates confusion, darkening memories of home and family, love and devotion. So went Hosea’s marriage to a prostitute whose behavior brought separation and grief more than once. But he found her and brought her home, reminiscent of God’s gracious love and redemption in Israel and Judah. He was even willing to pay for her release from her ways.

What do we learn from Hosea the man? What do we learn about God in his dealings with the prophet? Could any of us do what Hosea was asked to do? He was asked not just to give a message, but to BECOME the message! What message are you communicating through your life? If someone was asked to write down what he learns by who you are, what would it be? The life of the prophet was not wine and roses, but RUBBER ON THE ROAD of life! May we be alert to the messages the Lord is sending our way right now through the people we know and live with.

Week 30, 2018 – We open our hearts to God’s Word as we read thru the Bible..

This week we are assured of God’s faithfulness to His own promises, even if He has to work miracles to keep His word!

DAY ONE – 2 Kings 1-4

A season of Miracles. Israel lived in a spirit of poverty. Things were getting desperate when King Ahaziah had an accident and sent servants to inquire of Baal-Zebub, god of Ekron, to see if he would recover. God’s prophet Elijah interrupted their trip with a stern rebuke, followed by a miracle of fire. But it was time for Elijah to go to heaven. Into this malaise came Elisha, the young prophet who had picked up Elijah’s mantle and became his successor. His fame was immediate, for he crossed the Jordan River on dry ground, using the mantle. And at Jericho he healed the water supply with salt! So he returned to Samaria to live. Miracles multiplied, garnering the attention of the kings of both Israel and Judah, who turned to the prophet for help. A valley of ditches filled with water without any rain. A small jar of oil became a fountain of oil which filled pot after borrowed pot until there was enough oil to sell and live off the proceeds. A woman whose husband was old became pregnant. Her beloved son died in her arms but was brought back to life. A few barley loaves of bread were used to feed a large gathering of men, and there was some left over! Such was the life of Elisha. He spoke God’s words and received miracles to validate God’s authority in the land. Israel’s fortunes plummeted to the extent that idolatry ruled over the hearts of the people. The prophets did what they could as God’s Spirit used them.

Things can get tough; life can become difficult when God is no longer in charge of a nation’s outlook and activities. As it was in Israel, so is it now across our land. Rife with division, our culture staggers through another day as God’s people wonder, “Where is the God of Elijah?”  It’s a good question. A season of miracles would be a good way to reestablish the authority of God’s words in the land. Intercession IS intervention. Would you invest a few minutes every day asking for Divine intervention? Would you risk being identified with those who actually BELIEVE that God is real, that HIS WORD is the TRUTH? Would you go on record if asked by the opposition that you are now and forever a person of FAITH in God? And will you talk about the miracles you know about, even if they didn’t happen to you? Stand, people of God; and having done all, remain standing!

DAY TWO – 2 Kings 5:1 – 8:15

If we focus only on the miracles we miss the big picture. These chapters are filled with miraculous events of Elisha’s prophetic life, from the healing of Naaman the Syrian’s leprosy to the prophecy over the successor king of Syria. Exciting and awe-inspiring, they could be read over and over as we wish to high heaven we were seeing the same things in our day. But lurking in the background is the REAL story of Israel’s apostasy from Yahweh God and their perpetually hard life resulting from their rebellion. From the siege of Samaria to Elisha’s visit to the Syrian king life rolls on, God apparently nowhere around. Branded by Elisha as the ‘son of a murderer,’ the king of Israel is constantly at odds with the prophet, at one point even seeking his life. And then there was the famine–seven years of famine in the land. Israel was so destitute that Elisha encouraged the woman who provided him a special roadside chamber and whose son was raised from the dead, to find another place to live for the time. From these stories we can extract powerful and potent lessons: 1) God is always at work on His plan to save the world. 2) God is never at a loss no matter what people and their kings do. 3) The Lord always features the miracles to keep the spotlight focused on eternal matters. 4) We must always know that Yahweh God is INVOLVED in the national affairs of His people and the nations around them.

Because we cannot always ‘see’ the Lord at work, we may be tempted to believe that life DOES just go on and on, with technology and growing intelligence leading the way. Generations come and generations go. The young get old and the old die. The newborn enter the world and the process starts over again. Until what… when? Jesus’ disciples asked Him the same question–Matthew 24:3  As he sat on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will these things be? What is the sign of your coming, and of the end of the age?”

(WEB) The rest of chapter 24 explains that there is a definite END, and it has visible signs to be noted and properly interpreted. While we don’t know the exact time of these events, we are nevertheless WARNED to always be ready for them. God’s plan WILL SAVE the world–that is, the world of the FAITHFUL, the followers of Christ Jesus. His plan will also condemn the world–that is, the world of the scoffers and unbelievers. We do have a choice in the matter–not a choice of what God does… only of what we do. Miracles are exciting, but they are no substitute for obedience to the eternal Word of God Who was born into this world to save us.

DAY THREE – 2 Kings 8:16-29, 2 Chronicles 21:1 – 22:6

Although this reading is somewhat abbreviated, it places a magnifying glass over the behavior of these kings, revealing the detailed evil in which they lived and which they practiced. Jehoram was the king of Judah for only eight years. The lens reveals that his marriage to Ahab’s (king of Israel) daughter was a significant factor in his idolatry, bringing Judah under condemnation. His fortunes were extremely negative. That’s bad… but look what is said of him: 2 Chronicles 21:18-20  After all this, the Lord struck Jehoram with the severe intestinal disease. 19 The disease grew worse and worse, and at the end of two years it caused his bowels to come out, and he died in agony. His people did not build a great funeral fire to honor him as they had done for his ancestors. 20 Jehoram was thirty-two years old when he became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem eight years. No one was sorry when he died. They buried him in the City of David, but not in the royal cemetery. (New Living Translation) NO ONE WAS SORRY WHEN HE DIED. The nation uttered a collective sigh of relief! Now perhaps they could move on to something more promising. But do we have any idea how long it takes to bring about a shift in culture and overcome habits set in place by bad leaders? Inertia is the tendency for an object to keep moving in the direction it is traveling. The only thing that will halt that motion or alter that direction is force. And the only force strong enough to bring the kind of correction often needed is the POWER OF GOD.

The God we are getting to know more profoundly through Israel’s history is the Creator God, Yahweh, maker of heaven and earth and Originator of the Plan to Save the World! He is also known now to us as ‘Father in Heaven,’ so revealed by His Son Yeshua (Jesus) in the implementing of His wonderful plan. To Him we must continually make our appeal. Earlier He said in the days of King Solomon: 2 Chronicles 7:14-15  Then if my people who are called by my name will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sins and restore their land. (New Living Translation)  This is the only way to bring God’s power to bear on the inertia of government and culture. If we want heaven in our land, we must make a continuous appeal to heaven. If we want the Lord to help us, we must continually ask for His help. It’s called PRAYER, and this is the time!

DAY FOUR – 2 Kings 9-11, 2 Chronicles 22:7 – 23:21

I remember hearing the late Billy Graham comment on the death rate that is frequently cited as a statistic. He said, in essence, “The death rate always remains the same; it doesn’t rise and it doesn’t fall. War, murder, sickness and all the other causes of death don’t affect it. The ratio has always been the same: one to one.” As the scripture has so crisply stated, “It is appointed unto man once to die; and after this, judgment.” A lot of people died in our reading today. Their deaths, and the reasons for them, were clearly stated by Yahweh God. It was due to kings, their families and followers who abandoned Yahweh and worshipped and served the Baal-gods, pagan deities who deceived and ruled over the goyim (Hebrew for Gentiles). God’s prophets declared that they, their households and followers would perish. So our reading describes the demise of the kings of both Israel and Judah for their personal and national sins. If it seems so autocratic, so unfeeling, so… so… well, just ask yourself: If I had a plan to save the world, what would I do to see that the Plan was successful? How would I deal with open rebellion and personal refusal to carry out my instructions designed so that people would be saved eternally? How often would I plead with the lawbreakers to change their ways so that my lovingkindness supporting my Plan could be extended to them and their families? And at last, when all that failed, what would I do? Is death better now or later? If eternal life has been offered and rejected, when is the best time to die? Yahweh’s problem was that He needed a remnant of people to carry the righteous bloodline until a Messiah (Savior, Deliverer) could be born into the world and finally finish the Plan. Therefore He purged the ones responsible for self-destructive practices that undermined His loving Plan. How many lives would become involved? How many generations would it take? How much grace and mercy would have to be extended, and for how long? The world is still waiting for the final answer.

Our response must be simple at this point… Deuteronomy 6:1-5  Now this is the commandment, the statutes, and the ordinances, which Yahweh your God commanded to teach you, that you might do them in the land where you go over to possess it; 2 that you might fear Yahweh your God, to keep all his statutes and his commandments, which I command you, you, and your son, and your son’s son, all the days of your life; and that your days may be prolonged. 3 Hear therefore, Israel, and observe to do it; that it may be well with you, and that you may increase mightily, as Yahweh, the God of your fathers, has promised to you, in a land flowing with milk and honey. 4 Hear, Israel: Yahweh is our God; Yahweh is one: 5 and you shall love Yahweh your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. If God’s great Plan depends on me, how will it turn out?

DAY FIVE – 2 Kings 12-13, 2 Chronicles 24

It’s very easy to see only the negative when we read the stories of the kings. But there were some very bright spots and some good people along the way. Jehoash (Joash) was only seven years old when he became king of Judah, but because of his mentor Jehoiada the priest, he did some really good things. He served Yahweh God, mostly. He saw to it that the house of the Lord was repaired to its original condition, as much as possible. During that process some honest men of good reputation, builders and masons, took all the money given into their care and gave back labor of equal value. It’s difficult to determine how widespread idol worship became, but ‘the people’ continued to burn incense on the high places (shrines to false gods). Only after Jehoiada died did Jehoash turn his back on God. Things went downhill then. And it was during this period that the prophet Elisha became sick and died; but not before bringing a hopeful message to Joash, King of Israel. As a result Israel rebuffed repeated advances of Syria when they attacked. And should we fail to NOTE that a dead man revived when he was tossed into the tomb where the bones of Elisha lay? I’d say that God was still somewhere nearby!

Trying to understand the Lord’s interaction with these two wayward nations is a little easier if we consider WHY He did as He did: 2 Kings 13:22-23  King Hazael of Aram had oppressed Israel during the entire reign of King Jehoahaz. 23 But the Lord was gracious and merciful to the people of Israel, and they were not totally destroyed. He pitied them because of his covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. And to this day he still has not completely destroyed them or banished them from his presence. (NLT)  One of God’s character traits is FAITHFUL; He remains loyal to His own promises made to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the ancient fathers of Israel. The Lord has never abandoned His promises to Israel, nor will He ever, until all of His plans to save the world are complete. FAITHFUL GOD… thank you for remembering your promises to us as well.

Week 29, 2018 – You’ve joined our journey through the Bible to know God better!

These are the hot, hazy days of summer! Find a cool drink and a quiet place to read God’s Word and this week’s INSIGHTS…

DAY ONE – 1 Kings 15:25-16:34, 2 Chronicles 17

It’s time to take note of another class of men who dotted the landscape with the kings–these were the prophets. Old Testament prophets were unique in that they served one particular function, which was to announce God’s message to Israel or Judah. Some appeared only once or twice, others spoke again and again to the kings and the people. Their message was typically to condemn idolatry and to call the nation back to worship of Yahweh God. We must always keep in mind that God loves the world He created; and He continually works His plan to save the world. Idolatry is the worship of false gods–demon gods–who take advantage of sinful ways in mankind. Little gods are gods, in a sense; but they are part of a world under judgment, a world that is self-destructive, and a world that threatens to implode within itself at any time. Yahweh God, Creator and only wise God, has all power and authority which He uses to protect and guide those who seek Him and follow Him. It is He who gave us the Bible so that we could discover His person, His will and His ways, which lead to eternal life. Satan, the false god, usurper god, utilizes demonic personalities to spread rebellion toward Yahweh and to captivate the souls of mankind into a false sense of power and security while living in sin and rebellion. The prophets risked life and limb to proclaim their messages and represent the will of God. They were true biblical heroes!

Note the quick succession of kings in Israel during the days of Asa, King of Judah. Israel was in shambles almost from the day that Jeroboam made the gold calves and persuaded the people to worship these false gods. By removing the priests and Levites, he left the people on their own to craft their own religion after abandoning Yahweh God. Man’s ideas of religion always come up short, for we cannot find a way to deliver ourselves or solve the sin problem. Without the True God to lead us, we eventually and permanently succumb to the destruction that lives in spiritual darkness. So God lovingly sent the prophets and waited for any and all who would seek Him and follow Him. We have already met a few of them, sometimes referred to simply as a man of God. We will follow Israel and Judah all the way to their respective captivities and the loss of their homelands. Only then will we begin to see God’s permanent solution for sin and rebellion; and then we will meet the greatest Prophet and King who ever lived on planet earth!

DAY TWO – 1 Kings 17-19

1 Kings 18:29  When midday was past, they prophesied until the time of the evening offering; but there was no voice, no answer, and nobody paid attention. Extreme times call for extreme measures, and Israel was in full emergency mode. The prophet Elijah had appeared to King Ahab to declare Yahweh’s word to him that not another drop of rain would fall until Elijah said so! So severe was the drought that Elijah himself had to depend on a miracle from God to survive the lack of water and food. When the whole nation was finally desperate, it was time for God to act. Is Yahweh God of Israel, or is Baal god of Israel? After so many years of idolatrous religion, the people were no longer sure and could not be persuaded by argument. The showdown occurred on Mt. Carmel, overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. The rules were simple. Baal’s prophets–450 in all–were to sacrifice a bull on an altar on which wood had been placed but no fire. Then Elijah would duplicate their efforts on his own altar. The God who answered BY FIRE was the true God. All morning Baal’s prophets cried out to their god to send fire, but nothing happened. Taunted by Elijah, the upped their game, dancing around, slashing themselves with knives and lances and became a bloody mess… all for nothing. “…there was no voice, no answer, and nobody paid attention.” Evening came… Elijah’s turn… God’s turn. Drenching his sacrifice, altar, stones, wood; and filling the trench around it with barrels of water, Elijah called on Yahweh, the true God, the Creator, the Deliverer, the Savior! Then FIRE FELL OUT OF HEAVEN and consumed everything–sacrifice, wood, stones of the altar, water in the trench, everything! When the people saw it, they knew… they knew that Yahweh was God of Israel, that Baal was a sham/imposter. The revival of Yahweh worship was restored in Israel. Elijah’s work was almost done… now where is Elisha?

Yes, we have diversity in our nation; yes, we have tolerance; and yes, arguments are waged every day about God and religion. But still the culture sinks into deeper malaise as lives are expended in mass killings, cities declare bankruptcy, the homeless wander our streets and councils meet endlessly to find answers, to prop up our way of life, to hope the government will DO SOMETHING. Meanwhile God is either marginalized or rejected altogether by a growing segment of our population. The new secularism threatens to tear our nation in half, while our universities pump out generations of socially alert but spiritually dead youth. Are we there yet? Are we desperate enough? Are we ready to hear the “word of the Lord”? You know, there are prophets in the land, sent by God to us. Perhaps if we get still for a little while, we will hear His voice.

DAY THREE – 1 Kings 20-21

King Ahab was a piece of work! Emotionally unstable and given to impulse, he seemed to be easily manipulated by his foreign wife Jezebel, the not-so-secret power behind the throne. He found himself in a heap of trouble when Benhadad of Syria gathered thirty-two kings and their forces to go up against Samaria in Israel. Yahweh God used this occasion to remind Ahab once again that He is Lord over all Israel. Not once but twice did God deliver Ahab from Benhadad. Not once but twice did God send a prophet to speak to the king to assure deliverance. Then when Ahab failed to finish what the Lord had started, allowing Benhadad to escape, a prophet came a third time to pronounce judgment. Ahab went home sullen and displeased. Sometime later he pouted again when Naboth, a good man, would not surrender his family property to the king to pleasure him. Jezebel had Naboth killed so that her husband could possess the property. Even then Yahweh God demonstrated His patience and mercy toward Ahab when the king humbled himself after sinning so egregiously. Ahab dodged a bullet… for a while! We should always note our Lord’s mercy even when a person’s behavior is found to be reprehensible. Remember, James 2:13 “Mercy triumphs over judgment.”

What are we to do when our own government seems at times to be our enemy? Government overreach touches many, often the work of misapplied regulations, stubborn bureaucrats and misguided judges.  Romans 13:1  Let every soul be in subjection to the higher authorities, for there is no authority except from God, and those who exist are ordained by God. Difficult as it may be, we don’t always get good government. There’s an old saying that we get the government we deserve, especially when we are the ones voting for our representatives! It helps to remember that we serve the Lord, not the government; so our response is to pray for those who have rule over us, to ask God for better representatives, to humble ourselves under His Almighty hand. The Kingdom of Heaven operates within every type of government, even when tyranny reigns. Then let our prayer be today, “Father, your kingdom come, your will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.” Occasionally we will be called upon to extend mercy to our tormentors. So let us go and be good and productive citizens!

DAY FOUR – 1 Kings 22, 2 Chronicles 18-19

When the tires on the car begin to show uneven wear, it’s time to get the wheels aligned. Imagine then, the kings of Judah and Israel–Jehoshaphat and Ahab–aligning with each other and forming a military liaison. Perhaps we see nothing wrong with that, but God saw something else. He saw in this liaison two nations that could never walk together so long as idolatry ruled over Israel. Jehoshaphat was attempting to follow in the ways of his father Asa–not perfectly, but there was some good in his opposition to the worship of idols; whereas Ahab was sold out to pagan practices and rebellion toward Yahweh God. A prophet would one day ask this rhetorical question: “Can two walk together except they be agreed?” Can we align with a life that is going in an opposite direction without coming into great conflict? These two kings formed an alliance of alignment that was doomed from the start. The prophets of Israel bolstered Ahab’s liaison; but Yahweh’s prophet Micaiah began to reveal another truth–a lying spirit was at work that would soon expose the evil of the alignment of these two kings. When they, with their armies, went up against the enemy, a wayward arrow found its way between the joints of Ahab’s armor and fatally wounded him. Israel foundered, and Jehoshaphat picked up the pieces and went home. With the prophet’s help, he accepted God’s rebuke and renewed his efforts to restore Yahweh’s name and worship throughout Judah. His realignment extended God’s favor and his kingdom. What a lesson!

Liaisons and alignments–if our ride in life is rough or pulling to one side, perhaps we should ask the Lord to show us where adjustments need to be made. Though they were kings, neither Jehoshaphat nor Ahab was confident until they heard what Yahweh had to say. God’s eternal Word and his prophetic voice are reliable indicators of His irrevocable will for us. We do well to hold every alliance, every relationship, every liaison up to the light of His revealed will as found in His Word. We will then be safely and properly aligned for our continuing journey.

DAY FIVE – 2 Chronicles 20

The Valley of Blessing–an unconventional war. Sometime later a vast army marched against Judah and Jerusalem, making camp near the Dead Sea. There is nothing like an imminent attack to rearrange our priorities! Jehoshaphat turned to Yahweh God to seek Him. He sent to all Judah, asking the people to fast and pray. When a great assembly gathered in Jerusalem in the new courtyard of the temple, Jehoshaphat stood up to pray: 2 Chronicles 20:6-12 “O Lord, God of our ancestors, you alone are the God who is in heaven. You are ruler of all the kingdoms of the earth. You are powerful and mighty; no one can stand against you! 7 O our God, did you not drive out those who lived in this land when your people Israel arrived? And did you not give this land forever to the descendants of your friend Abraham? 8 Your people settled here and built this Temple to honor your name. 9 They said, ‘Whenever we are faced with any calamity such as war, plague, or famine, we can come to stand in your presence before this Temple where your name is honored. We can cry out to you to save us, and you will hear us and rescue us.’ 10 “And now see what the armies of Ammon, Moab, and Mount Seir are doing. You would not let our ancestors invade those nations when Israel left Egypt, so they went around them and did not destroy them. 11 Now see how they reward us! For they have come to throw us out of your land, which you gave us as an inheritance. 12 O our God, won’t you stop them? We are powerless against this mighty army that is about to attack us. We do not know what to do, but we are looking to you for help.” (NLT) You read the rest of the chapter; you know what happened. This is the first time a nation ever won a war without fighting, by simply standing still while the singers worshipped God. The name of the place was immediately called “The Valley of Blessing.” They blessed Yahweh God with their praise; and He blessed them with victory and great spoils. This wasn’t strategy; it was victory–God’s victory. Jehoshaphat simply obeyed the instructions he received from Yahweh.

What did the king do, and what did he know, to make such a difference? 1) He immediately turned to God, if even out of fear. 2) He remembered Abraham and the history of his own people. 3) He reminded the Lord of Solomon’s great prayer at the dedication of the temple. 4) He admitted that he simply didn’t know what to do. Yes, if we can get over ourselves and finally admit that we’re out of options; and if we can trust the Lord as we pray and position ourselves before Him, we may indeed be ready for a great miracle. Our breaking point may be God’s beginning point. Sooner or later every one of us faces the ‘no-options’ challenge. What can we learn from Jehoshaphat?

 

Week 28, 2018 – Are you getting to know God better through His Word?

The good heart… Keep it simple… Listen to your elders?.. Paganized!.. The split that destroyed a nation

DAY ONE – Ecclesiastes 7-12

‘Heart healthy’ is a term used in our day when discussing food and exercise. But the Preacher says “the heart is made better by a sad countenance.” What does he mean? “The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning…”  And perhaps we remember reading this proverb recently: “Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of correction drives it far from him.” As so much of our effort is given to ENJOYING life and AVOIDING suffering, the Preacher’s message won’t be so popular. Yet his quest to discover and understand life left him facing the unavoidable: Suffering and evil come to all, as well as health and happiness. And after studying the whole panoply, he tried to make sense of it. “All this I have seen, and applied my heart to every work that is done under the sun…” Again he said, “For I considered all this in my heart, so that I could declare it all…” While everyone wants to be happy all the time; and while some consider that it is our divine right to be happy, that God wants us happy, the Preacher rejected that argument as a result of all his considerations of life. Most of us don’t engage our heart during the good times; we go merrily along enjoying our fortune. On the other hand, suffering interrupts all of our plans long enough for us to engage our heart and so ponder our existence. We involuntarily take account of things when evil is at our doorstep. The Preacher understood enough to know that good and evil remain a mystery to most of us, that we are mostly not in control of those forces, and that wisdom may certainly enlighten us when we have to deal with the good and the bad. How to live then? How to behave? How to understand the seasons of our life? How to get along with others? How to respond to government? There must be some sense to it all. And there is…

“I surely know that it will be well with those who fear God, who fear before Him.” “Go eat your bread with joy, and drink your wine with a merry heart; for God has already accepted your works.” “Remember now your Creator in the days of your youth, before the difficult days come…” “Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is man’s all.” The Preacher reached these conclusions and shared his wisdom with us ONLY AFTER applying his heart over many years to the study of all that was happening around him. So “guard your heart with all diligence, for out of it flow the issues of life.” Give God your whole heart and trust Him with your whole life!

DAY TWO -1 Kings 10-11, 2 Chronicles 9, Proverbs 30-31

In our story we are approaching the end of an era–Solomon has risen to the apex of his kingship in a blaze of glory as witnessed in the Queen of Sheba’s visit. She attests to his fame but insists the half of it was not fully told. And with the years of Solomon’s reign, now there is more gold, more horses, more wives, until he is surfeited beyond imagination. And then the downfall begins, because the king has loved many women, among them foreign wives who finally persuade him to accommodate their false gods with shrines, sacrifices and other compromises. His heart has been turned away from Yahweh God as he fills the land with demonic practices. Meanwhile antagonists have arisen in neighboring nations, and even in Solomon’s own household. His highly-positioned servant Jeroboam is raising a conspiracy, fueled by the word of a man of God who met him and promised that he would rule over ten tribes of Israel in a divided kingdom. Yes, a great schism is just ahead, and Solomon doesn’t see it coming. Soon Israel will stagger like a drunken sailor, and the world they know will not be the same again.

May we, dear readers, be forewarned as was Solomon. Twice Yahweh spoke to the king to assure God’s Presence, wisdom, abundance and good fortune. And twice God counseled him as to his walk and life before God. And now it is all in jeopardy. Add in the final two chapters of Proverbs, and note the SIMPLICITY of life described in them. Though we don’t know much about the two men who wrote them, their observations and counsel make much sense. And that brings us full circle. Since God created us, He wrote into our being the logic and rightness of living in relationship with Him. Unfortunately sin and error are in our world, and we are fairly easily tempted to fall in love with things we see that take our heart away from the God we cannot see. Life is a continual quest to find God, become properly related to Him and follow Him to the Eternal Kingdom. Heaven must help us, because the power of our acquisitions and experiences here on earth are always pulling us away from heaven. As we are now ready to leave behind the ‘Books of Wisdom’ in our Bible reading, may we move forward with their words calling to us, instructing us, correcting us? “Guard your heart with all diligence, for out of it are the issues of life.”

DAY THREE – 1 Kings 12, 2 Chronicles 10

What we are about to see is a major shift. Solomon’s son Rehoboam, age 41, arose to the throne after the death of his father. All Israel made an appeal to him to lighten the burden Solomon had put on them through arduous labor. Receiving three days to respond, Rehoboam asked his father’s counselors how to answer the people. Then he asked the same of his new counselors, men who grew up with him. When the people’s representatives appeared again three days later, Rehoboam spoke roughly to them and declared himself more severe than his father. Israel turned in abandonment from Judah and was separated forever. They proceeded to call Jeroboam, Solomon’s former servant, to be their king. So there was Judah, with Benjamin; and then there was Israel, the ten northern tribes, with a new government and king. The division remained in place for centuries, bringing conflict and tension for both entities. And both Judah and Israel departed from Yahweh to serve foreign demonic deities, storing up for themselves the coming wrath of God. (A question to ponder: why does idolatry stir up God’s anger and wrath?)

As we contemplate the succession of kings that emerge after David and Solomon, only one man’s name will go down in perpetuity–David. God will refer to him forever after as “my servant” David. He really served God, all the days of his life, but not without sin. We all remember the heinous crime he committed, but God’s mercy covered his act and supported his posterity until a Messiah could be born. And all the kings after David will be compared with him by Yahweh God Himself. It will be said of them that they did or did not walk in the ways of their father David. Even the Messiah will be called the ‘son of David.’ Having now seen the glorious kingdom of Solomon and the dubious beginning of Rehoboam, what describes our thoughts and feelings about Israel’s future? If you said tentative, or apprehensive, you may be on target.

DAY FOUR – 1 Kings 13-14, 2 Chronicles 11-12

Jeroboam so paganized the religious life of Israel, the question must be asked, Why? God gave him his assignment and ten of the twelve tribes. God averted a war with Judah and gave Jeroboam a clean start. Why would he jeopardize all of that? A simple answer… fear. Jeroboam knew Israel’s religious habits; knew that they went up to Jerusalem annually to offer their sacrifices; knew how deeply embedded their traditions were. And he was afraid that those memories would eventually endear them to the old ways so that they turned on him and rejoined Judah. He couldn’t let that happen. So he made two gold calves, declared them to be Israel’s gods who brought them out of Egypt, and set them up at opposite ends of the territory to be worshipped. Then he ran the Levites and priests out of their homes and properties and appointed anyone who wanted to be a priest to offer sacrifices. He set up shrines at high places for all kinds of weird religious rites, so that Israel would develop a new identity. Jeroboam galvanized Israel into that new identity so that they were no longer loyal to Yahweh, even though their memories and God’s pleas would haunt them in years to come. Like an adopted child, they would go forward always wondering why they were separate from Judah, why they were no longer part of their original family. Fear is a terrible master. How many decisions are made, how many paths taken, out of fear? And what are we afraid of? Mostly the unknown. Whenever our confidence in the Lord God is shaken, whenever our devotion to Him lags, the unknown looms before us and drives us to protect ourselves. We scramble for more security or demand that the government take care of us. Fear overcomes rationality. Fear lurks in the background, guiding us away from God in whom we trust, toward tangible and material things we can touch. We may, like the adopted child who knows there was another set of parents, know that there was something before fear, but we lose touch with it. Jeroboam was afraid, and because of it he sealed Israel’s future under judgment, and set precedents that could not be revoked.

For a completely different set of reasons, Rehoboam led Judah into idolatry and opened the door for real oppression. Shishak of Egypt invaded and dominated Judah. Here is God’s response: 2 Chronicles 12:7-8  “Since the people have humbled themselves, I will not completely destroy them and will soon give them some relief. I will not use Shishak to pour out My anger on Jerusalem. 8  But they will become his subjects, so they will know the difference between serving Me and serving earthly rulers.” We serve God out of love and devotion; we serve earthly rulers out of fear!

DAY FIVE – 1 Kings 15:1-24, 2 Chronicles 14-16

Our reading becomes a bit tricky at this point because we are following two kingdoms now–Judah and Israel–instead of one. Two kings  whose reigns overlap with others are always in view as we study their ways and exploits. With Rehoboam out of the picture, his son Abijah takes the throne but for only three years. Jeroboam is still smarting in Israel for fear that Israel will revert and join Judah again as a single kingdom. So he fights any and everybody in sight to hang on to his kingdom. Abijah’s one great deed occurred when he had to face down Israel’s  army, twice the size of his. Reciting the history of the divided kingdom, proclaiming Yahweh’s favor on Judah–its capital city of Jerusalem housing the Lord’s temple with all her priests and Levites. Jeroboam was not to be dissuaded however, so God struck Jeroboam and all the army of Israel so severely that they never recovered strength in the days of Abijah. Soon after, Jeroboam died, as did Abijah. Asa was somewhat of a reformer, for he brought a revival of worship to Judah by crushing idolatry throughout the land. God blessed him with victories and rest, but as he grew older he failed to trust the Lord at a crucial time and lost God’s favor. We are going to be reading these kinds of accounts all the way through the Kings and Chronicles, so let us try to grasp the patterns and take note of Yahweh’s interactions with the kings over His troubled lands.

Week 27, 2018 – Know the Bible, or Know God? YES… we are reading thru the Word

Our marathon reading session is almost half completed… pause, get a drink, and let’s head off to the finish!

DAY ONE – 1 Kings 7-8, 2 Chronicles 4-6, Psalm 11

Creator God has always had a plan to save the world. As we read through the Bible, we are getting to know Him as He wants to be known. King David found a unique relationship with Yahweh God which he expressed fully in the songs he wrote so prolifically. Solomon his son, succeeding him in the throne as King of Israel, received as a gift from God a wise and understanding heart to solve problems and reveal mysteries. Now he has completed a project his father initiated to build a house for God in which to dwell among His people. After King Saul, David’s predecessor, fell in battle, the Ark of God was stolen by the Philistines. A few months later they sent it back, but it rested in the house of Obed-Edom for some time. David finally, after a failed first effort, retrieved the Ark and brought it to the City of David, in Jerusalem. There it was placed in the tent David had established as a house of worship and praise. And it remained there until the new temple was finished. So after many years the time has finally come–time for the Ark of God representing His Presence to find a permanent resting place. A great assembly is called. The elders and priests begin the procession, the Ark on their shoulders, and make their way to the new temple. It is a magnificent edifice, nothing like it anywhere. The Ark is carried into the Holy of Holies and placed beneath the sheltering wings of the gold cherubim. And then… then the Presence of the Lord fills the house, and the priests who were busily carrying out their duties are stunned by the weight of God’s glory and Presence. They can’t stand up. Everything gets still as they try to comprehend what they are experiencing. King Solomon goes before the people on a great bronze platform standing outside in the temple court and gets on his knees before Yahweh God and begins to pray. His prayer is like no other–filled with praise, honor, humility, petition, thanksgiving. Solomon looks down the years and calls out to God over the past, the present and the future. When he is finished, he blesses the people and declares a festival that lasts throughout the land for two weeks! Israel’s Golden Age has arrived–they have rest on every side, abundance in the land, good government, and a bright future. Solomon’s declaration seals it… Not a single word of God’s good promises to Israel through Moses and Joshua have failed. The Lord has done all He said He would do. Now God will wait to see if His people will do all that they said they would do. Repeatedly the elders of Israel told their leaders over the years to find out what God wanted, and they would do whatever the Lord said. And repeatedly they went back on their word. “God, forgive!” cried Solomon in his great prayer. And God did forgive. Now the temple is built; the land has rest. What will happen next?

DAY TWO – 2 Chronicles 7, Psalms 134, 136

Fire came down out of heaven! That was God’s answer to Solomon’s prayer. Everybody saw it. It burned up the sacrifice on the altar; it covered the temple. The glory (splendor, weight, majesty) of Yahweh God filled the temple, and the priests could not enter. The physical manifestation of God’s Presence was overwhelming. The people got down on the pavement and put their faces to the ground in humility and worship to God. Their response? “For He is good, and His mercy endures forever!” Worshipping saint, can we for one minute pause and contemplate this astonishing scene? Now… say with me, “Father God in heaven, You are good, and Your mercy endures forever!” I want to start today with that, fresh in my spirit and mind.

That night–I love the way God takes the initiative–that very night the Lord appeared a second time to Solomon. Remember… remember when he first became king and was very young? God appeared to him and asked what he wanted. That’s when Solomon asked for wisdom to rule over such a great people. Pleased with the young king, God gave him not only a gift of wisdom but added wealth, prestige and honor. And now Yahweh is reminding Solomon where all of this splendor and might he enjoys comes from. And he renews the warning that it is ALL directly related to Solomon’s willingness and determination to walk in God’s ways and honor His commandments and instructions. That’s it, isn’t it? Willingness… determination… If you will, says the Lord, then I will. Remember, God always steps in first. He appeared to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. He appeared to Moses. He appeared to David. And He visited Solomon twice. Why? Because from original creation, our God has a plan to save the world. It is His by right of creation. And He stakes a second claim by right of salvation. God saved Israel from destruction in Egypt. He chose that nation to bear His Name and make it known to the world of nations. That plan, which becomes obvious as we read the eternal Word of God, is in place right now, and we are asked to live within its boundaries and enjoy its wonderful provisions. Only, it is contingent on our rejection of idolatry. Whichever idols in our world hold our fancy and divert our attention from God are a threat to both us and our witness of Him to the nations. THE LORD IS GOOD, AND HIS MERCY ENDURES FOREVER. I will never doubt that. I will always, however, doubt my ability to live up to His mercy without His divine help. So here we are again today, seeking His face and asking His help for us, our families, our friends and yes, our world. God is serious about the boundaries, and I am serious about seeking Him today for added grace to live within them. Praise Yahweh, for He is good, and His mercy endures forever!

DAY THREE – 1 Kings 9, 2 Chronicles 8, Proverbs 25-26

What do you give to the man who has everything? Ask Solomon. Describing his exploits, our text reveals: 2 Chronicles 8:5-6  Also he built Beth Horon the upper and Beth Horon the lower, fortified cities, with walls, gates, and bars; and Baalath, and all the storage cities that Solomon had, and all the cities for his chariots, the cities for his horsemen, and all that Solomon desired to build for his pleasure in Jerusalem, in Lebanon, and in all the land of his dominion. Kings typically went to war to satisfy their need to conquer, but Israel was at rest all around; there were no wars to be fought. So Solomon instead kept building houses and cities, finally capping it off with ships that went out to Ophir and returned with four hundred twenty talents of gold. He did have everything he could possibly want.  So what was Solomon’s life purpose? His father David was sometimes called the Shepherd King, and the sweet psalmist. He led Israel and established worship as a lifestyle. Solomon’s task as given by God was to acquire wisdom  and pass it along to future generations. How was he to acquire this wisdom? He said, Proverbs 25:2  It is the glory of God to conceal a thing, but the glory of kings is to search out a matter. He had to LIVE. He had to experience life, to dissect it, to try to understand it. As we have read through his proverbs, he had much to say about fools, and much to say about wisdom. Solomon wrote the primer on how to live–things to practice, much to avoid. Wouldn’t it make sense for our generations to carefully study his words, learn his wisdom, use it to craft a life with which we can be satisfied? Must we repeat those common mistakes and sins that have injured and destroyed countless souls before us? Cannot we live in such a fashion as to create peace and prosperity for ourselves and others? That’s not for me to say except to myself. Every one of us has to answer that question for one’s self. Whatever it is we want out of life, whatever we feel our purpose to be, there is a way, said Solomon, that seems right to a man, but it ends in death. LIFE IS NOT EASY. “Father God, help me today to search for you, find you, and follow you. Grant me wisdom from the things I experience. I am reading through your living Words in order that I may know you better. Lead me in the way I should go, for I trust you with my life; I believe what you have said; and I learn from my folly. Father, hear our prayer today and add grace to our life!”

DAY FOUR – Proverbs 27-29

Ethics: 1) A set of principles of right conduct. 2) A theory or a system of moral values. Community: 1) A group of people living in the same locality and under the same government. The district or locality in which such a group lives. 2) A group of people having common interests.  3) Similarity or identity. Sharing, participation, and fellowship: a sense of community. 4) Society as a whole; the public.

It must seem a given when we look around us that community exists. What is not so apparent, at least any more, is what holds the community together. Observing the two words listed above, in order for any community to function at a high level, ethics must be in place and must be recognized as a common standard. By definition, ‘principles of right conduct;’ as well as ‘moral values.’ And “therein lies the rub,” as we can well surmise. Whose principles, whose theory, we might ask, do we recognize as the standard? Without getting too philosophical (I prefer to be practical), one might suppose that we go back to the beginning to find the answer. “In the beginning God…” Suppose we use that as a basis for ethics, values, and community. “In the beginning God created…” Biblical history records that the first man and woman obviously were the first community. Their togetherness was a natural expression of who God is. And since their world was pristine, unmarred by sin or transgression, their principles and values could easily be understood as coming forth from God’s own personhood. Only when sin entered their universe did it become necessary to define a ‘set of principles of right conduct,’ or ‘a theory or a system of moral values.’ How do we know that? Well, their firstborn son, Cain, rose up in the heat of his anger and killed his brother, Abel. The first man ever born on the earth was a murderer! That makes pretty clear that we have to LEARN HOW TO LIVE TOGETHER.

These proverbs guide our thinking regarding values and ethics. They were written by a man the Bible says was gifted by God to observe life and offer wise words for living together. And necessarily they hark back to God–our Creator. May we not then suppose that a workable system of ethics and values INCLUDES GOD? If we do, then we shall necessarily revert to God’s Word to find our value system; and we shall do well to teach it to our children and grandchildren. Anything else is a threat to community and society. Is that what we are seeing now–the ‘anything else’? By leaving God out of the equation, have our newly defined ethics and values imperiled the very foundations of community? Maybe we should go back to the beginning.

DAY FIVE – Ecclesiastes 1-6

How is THAT working out for you? It takes courage and honesty to ask that question, because things don’t always work out well. And then we must decide if we wish to pursue the same course or make corrections that might lead to a better outcome. THE PREACHER–that’s what ‘Ecclesiastes’ means–asked that question often. “How is this working out for me?” The Preacher was King Solomon, gifted by God with unusual insight and wisdom. He tried just about everything there was to try… because he could! Most of us, due either to time constraints or limited resources, experience a rather repetitive life; but not King Solomon. Blessed by God with both time and resources, he enjoyed wide-ranging experiences of industry, pleasure, acquisitions, relationships, entertainment, government, and on and on. But he didn’t just DO those things. He paused every now and then to ask himself, How is this working out for me? And he came to this astonishing conclusion–it isn’t. I’ve tried everything imaginable, and it isn’t working! He called it ‘vanity,’ or emptiness, and compared his experiences to a wind that blew through and was gone. How is that possible? He could do or have anything his heart desired; and in the end, after getting what he liked, didn’t like what he got! That IS astonishing to those of us who live most of the time with some restraints. So what is the ‘Preacher’ trying to tell us? Perhaps one of the things he wants us to know is that life IS restricted; we don’t always get to have or do what we want. Perhaps another is that IT’S OKAY, because things may be much more inviting in our fantasies and dreams than they are in real life. Finally, he must want us to know that nothing lasts forever, and once we have experienced a thing, it turns out to have only temporary meaning for us.

So what is it that gives our life meaning, regardless whether it is limited or expansive? According to the Preacher, that something… or rather Someone, is God. Living life apart from God has a tremendous downside. At the end, there is nothing left, and even if we have amassed a fortune, it is left to others; we can’t enjoy it! On the other hand, living life in God’s Presence–that is, with full recognition of Him as Creator and Life-giver, is to find meaning in the most humble circumstances and restricted places. To learn that Yahweh God made us, loves us and has plans for our life puts us out in front of the pack. To love Him back, serve and trust Him, puts us leap years into a future filled with promise and possibility. Maybe we should listen to the Preacher.

Our Wednesday evening discussion group resumes August 1. Like to join us? We meet in Room E1 at First Assembly, 1137 Arbutus Ave., Chico, 6:30 p.m.