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. 

WEEK 26, 2018 – Reading through God’s Word to know Him in Person

Right v. Wrong…  Consequences…  Fools?..  Parents…  Dreams

DAY ONE – Proverbs 9-12  Prose is my typical manner of writing, but today I propose to develop a list of words that unpack the meaning of the Proverbs of Solomon. His pithy sayings are basically antithetical–that is, the meaning of one word is amplified when set against the meaning of its opposite. For example, ‘righteous’ and ‘wicked’ appear again and again, until one might suppose there are only two kinds of persons in the world–the righteous… and the wicked. That is a gross oversimplification, but it is essentially true. If you keep Proverbs 4:23 in mind, “Guard your heart with all diligence, for out of it flow the wellsprings of life,” then we know intuitively that ‘righteous’ and ‘wicked’ are describing the inner condition of a man, not just his behavior. So, resorting to the thesaurus, here is my list; and by the way, how do the words listed MAKE YOU FEEL? That is, what feelings attach to the words as you read them, and WHY?

RIGHTEOUS Virtuous Good Just Fair Moral Pure Ethical
  Upright Honorable Honest Equitable Law Abiding Clean Blameless
               
WICKED Bad Guilty Evil False Unfair Corrupt Indecent
  Improper Immoral Unjust Dishonest Unscrupulous Sinful Unethical
  Insincere Unprincipled          

Which words would you hope to use to describe yourself? Which would you not like to use to describe yourself? Interestingly most of us have an innate sense of the kind of person we wish to be… and the kind of persons we wish our children will be. But our broken world system reveals that something is fundamentally wrong, that whatever we are doing to promote the good is not always working. There is plenty of goodness in evidence, but the spotlight is more and more turning to the bad, the evil, that is among us; and some days we feel vulnerable, that it’s too close to home.  So before we turn the page, let’s ask one more question… What do we think Jesus meant when He said, Luke 6:31, 36  “As you would like people to do to you, do exactly so to them. 36  “Therefore be merciful, even as your Father is also merciful. I can be responsible for only my actions, so let me live as if the world’s welfare depends on me.

DAY TWO – Proverbs 13-16

When my nephew was about two, he watched my daughter throw a tantrum or two. One day when he didn’t get his way, he threw himself on the floor, kicking and screaming. My sister-in-law found it extremely amusing, because he couldn’t quite pull it off. Something inside of him just wasn’t wired for tantrums! We are all OBSERVERS in life, but we are not all the same. King Solomon was given the ability to observe many kinds of human behavior and explain predictable outcomes. His proverbs are a kind of collected wisdom which can be used either as a primer for growing up or as a reminder to grownup people that life has consequences. We live in community, and the life of the community depends on the behaviors of its participants. If it’s a family, both parents and children can change the atmosphere and the fortunes of the family–good or bad. If it is a larger community, even one person can upset the normal flow of life. The point is, life has consequences… oh, did I already say that?

None of us ever knows all that goes on within another person, even if that person is our spouse or child. But God has seen it all. As Creator of all things, He has witnessed the best and worst of every one of us and still loves us. Since it is difficult to catalogue all of Solomon’s writings, we can OBSERVE that God gave the king the wisdom to forecast the eventual result of human behavior, positive and negative. That’s what these proverbs are about. In some ways they are common sense–common in that life has rules and boundaries we all must share; and sense in that some things make more sense than others. Becoming familiar with these proverbs arms us with a preventive mechanism which may help us and our community avert some outcomes none of us wants to see. By memorizing the Ten Commandments and learning some proverbs, at least our conscience is awake and active to help us do the right things. And the Lord knows we need all the help we can get!

DAY THREE – Proverbs  17-20

It seems harsh to say that somebody is a fool. Foolish, yes… but a fool? Where do we draw the line? When does a person go beyond foolish to be judged a fool?

1) When he refuses instruction. Every wise person learns the boundaries of behavior which allow all of us to live in an orderly society.

2) When he continually disrespects his parents and other authority figures. Longevity in any society requires order; but when order breaks down, fools are at their best!

3) When he can no longer be corrected–that is, when every corrective tool has been applied to no avail; the child, whether juvenile or grownup, continues his disrespectful and evil ways.

4) When he finally says in his heart, “There is no God.” Since “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,” the person who has ceased utterly to believe in God has lost all sense of true personhood and has begun to take excessive charge of his own life without regard for others. An orderly society doesn’t have in place the mechanisms to deal with fools, for normal measures are not persuasive to a fool. He will continue his destructive ways–we call that folly–until they take him out. The problem is that he often takes innocent others with him.

When God is no longer the foundation stone of social awareness, then society begins unraveling until at last it implodes upon itself. We saw just that in the communist revolution of the twentieth century. At one point communism dominated a third of the world’s inhabitants; but because its social order was based on a man-centered worldview in which God didn’t exist or was not relevant, it lasted as a world power only about seventy years! The destructive tendencies of that order which brought it down, however, are still around and are at work–it’s called evil, wickedness. We do well to look to ourselves, to bring God back into the picture, to seek God-based wisdom and instruction; and to guard against allowing fools to take over the social order. These proverbs are good because they are wise. Wisdom is good because it leads to order and longevity. Order is good because it allows every person to flourish while we are growing and learning. God is good because He gave us order, wisdom, longevity and instruction. Will we figure this out again while we have time? If we don’t… then we are a nation of fools. Time to pray and get wisdom.

DAY FOUR – Proverbs 20-24

If we are parents, our job is never done. Growing old is supposed to be accompanied by a wisdom that attaches to age and experience, and our children and grandchildren will always need to follow in our light; assuming, of course, that we are a lighthouse! “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; and the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.” So says the Wise King. It is a sad fact that Solomon himself, in his old age, was unable to hold the torch of wisdom aloft in his personal life. He had violated so many of his own proverbs that his heart was drawn away by his many pagan wives, whose spiritual influence watered down his devotion to Yahweh God–but not before he enriched the world with the gift of wisdom the Lord gave him. His example warns us to continue growing and learning the ways of God, never turning our back on the deceptions of the world system. As we come toward the end of the Proverbs, we are reminded that this is all a HEART ISSUE and cannot be processed with only our minds. Even if I memorize a thousand proverbs, I still need to humble myself every day and ASK God for His timely help. I need also to CULTIVATE a thankful heart and attitude of gratitude. The generations that follow us will always find a slippery slope in the world system, but they will eventually appreciate that we have become a foundation stone to which they can attach a lifeline to keep them from getting too far away from God.

Proverbs 24:30-34  I walked by the field of a lazy person, the vineyard of one with no common sense. 31  I saw that it was overgrown with nettles. It was covered with weeds, and its walls were broken down. 32  Then, as I looked and thought about it, I learned this lesson: 33  A little extra sleep, a little more slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest— 34  then poverty will pounce on you like a bandit; scarcity will attack you like an armed robber. Have we, the older generation, become spiritually lazy? Have we pulled back into what is called ‘retirement’ to leave the world in the hands of those still needing that guiding light? If so, God’s people may discover that we are spiritually impoverished, that we no longer have the spiritual resources to express the kingdom of God to our children and their children. My plea today is that we elders will stay in the fray and pass our wisdom along; that our light will continue to shine brightly as a beacon in the stormy atmosphere of our present world. I pray that we will use our energy and the accumulated wisdom of our years to model God’s kingdom and to pray mightily for the ones coming behind us. If we are still breathing, God can still use us.

DAY FIVE – 1 Kings 5-6, 2 Chronicles 2-3

Dreams come alive. King David dreamed of building Yahweh God a house in Jerusalem, something befitting God’s majesty and royalty. The task however, went to his son Solomon, who excelled in wisdom and understanding. This massive project commandeered the forces of two nations and took seven years to build. When we consider its dimensions, the quarried stones, the imported cedar and cypress and the immense amount of gold overlay with precious stones set in various places, we are describing a true wonder of the world. Visiting Solomon’s temple would have been an “ooh” and “aah” experience! Would God live there? We know now that the Creator God of heavens and earth doesn’t live in temples made with human hands. But we also know now that this God of ours, Yahweh by name, did put His Presence in the house that Solomon built. When the place was dedicated with a plethora of sacrifices and offerings, God’s spirit filled the house. But back to our story. The sheer numbers of human beings set to the work is overwhelming. An aerial view of the project would have had you believing that a colony of ants were laboring below! Why so much fuss, such grand opulence, such breathtaking beauty should there be in Solomon’s house built for the Lord? Is it possible that, in our world of man-made skyscrapers, palaces and yes, beauty of all kinds, we have lost the sense of majesty and glory?

Most of our population used to live in small towns and rural landscapes; but now most of us live in cities and clusters that obscure the original creation. At one time we lived at a slower pace with time to contemplate life and watch it unfold. But now we are totally consumed by the urgency and the speed of everything happening around us, and we have less and less time to really contemplate anything. Explosions of technology keep us breathless as we endlessly check our smartphones and pray that we won’t miss a ‘hi’ or even a ‘wave’ from one of our friends or family. News from around the world informs but doesn’t educate us. Background ‘noise’ from competing views of life, politics, religion and even sexuality threaten to dismantle our sense of peace and order. Where are we headed? Is it possible to dream anymore? Is there time to carefully build a life, contemplate eternity, find answers to the great questions we have all pondered? Building the temple took Solomon seven years and utilized the labor of over one hundred fifty thousand men; and for what? God’s temple, God’s house–a resting place for Yahweh, the Most High and Almighty God. How much time and interest are we investing personally to create a place for the Lord to live today? Understanding that He lives within the human heart–our inner life–must necessarily engage us to dream of that beautiful house not made with hands but crafted in our spirit with all the consecration and devotion to God that we can imagine. Let’s slow down a minute and worship; contemplate and give thanks; pray and do life by offering Him the best of our self!

WEEK 25, 2018 – God wants a relationship with us… the Bible is His pathway.

THIS WEEK:  Except… A Mind Transformed… The Greatest Story Ever Told… Growing Up… Future of Civilization

DAY ONE – 1 Kings 3-4, 2 Chronicles 1, Psalm 72

This fascinating story of King Solomon–his dream sent from God, his request, the amazing results–is marred by only one small word: ‘except.’ No king or world leader, before or after, can claim the wisdom, knowledge and renown of Solomon, whose fame drew leaders from all over the world to come sit at his feet and wonder at his amazing faculties. The wealth, influence and abundance in Israel has sometimes been called her ‘Golden Age.’ It’s quite remarkable and has no equal in ancient history. It’s all so wonderful… except. We might even suppose that Israel with Solomon was God’s masterpiece paraded for all the world to see… except. Why does there always have to seemingly be an exception? Why can’t all the goodness and blessing just continue? For that answer, we consult Moses’ warnings to Israel regarding kings, hundreds of years before: Deuteronomy 17:14-20  When you have come to the land which Yahweh your God gives you, and possess it, and dwell in it, and say, “I will set a king over me, like all the nations that are around me;” 15  you shall surely set him king over yourselves, whom Yahweh your God chooses. You shall set as king over you one from among your brothers. You may not put a foreigner over you, who is not your brother. 16  Only he shall not multiply horses to himself, nor cause the people to return to Egypt, to the end that he may multiply horses; because Yahweh has said to you, “You shall not go back that way again.” 17  He shall not multiply wives to himself, that his heart not turn away. He shall not greatly multiply to himself silver and gold. 18  It shall be, when he sits on the throne of his kingdom, that he shall write himself a copy of this law in a book, out of that which is before the priests the Levites. 19  It shall be with him, and he shall read from it all the days of his life; that he may learn to fear Yahweh his God, to keep all the words of this law and these statutes, to do them; 20  that his heart not be lifted up above his brothers, and that he not turn away from the commandment, to the right hand, or to the left; to the end that he may prolong his days in his kingdom, he and his children, in the middle of Israel. 

And so, Solomon was distinguished by the Lord as the greatest king who lived, who went down in history with unusual acclaim, and who might be considered exemplary… except. 1) Except he took multiple foreign wives who turned his heart to idolatry. 2) Except he multiplied silver and gold in abundance. 3) Except he built garrisons and staffed them with thousands of horses and soldiers. 4) Except he went back to Egypt to buy horses. 5) Except… and we could go on. Can we not see that, while God blesses and keeps us, supplies and prospers us, we ourselves are the problem when we succumb to the ways of the world? Romans 12:2  Don’t be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what is the good, well-pleasing, and perfect will of God. Even the wisest and most highly acclaimed king of Israel, under God’s protection, made mistakes and demonstrated fatal flaws that eventually diminished God’s great work. 1 Kings 3:3  Solomon loved Yahweh, walking in the statutes of David his father; except that he sacrificed and burned incense in the high places. Except… it is because of ‘except’ that everyone of us needs the grace of God and His salvation. In our broken world, no amount of excellence or exceptionalism exempts us from our need to be repentant and humbled before the Lord. In fact, pardon me a moment as I lift up my soul to Him, to thank Him, to praise Him, and to ask that He help me… today.

DAY TWO – Psalm 119:89-176

Perhaps you noticed that this song is laid out in paragraphs, each one headed by a successive letter from the Hebrew alphabet. Of course we are reading the Bible as it has been chronologically arranged. I might suggest that some time you would enjoy a journey through this psalm by reading a paragraph a day for twenty-two days. We are told that habits are formed by repeating an action for three weeks, so I can certainly conclude that this psalm is intended to suggest lifestyle more than action. Our western mindset is to ‘do’ things in a performance manner. This psalm, however, suggests incorporating the underlying message into our daily routines by a process of transforming our mind. Imagine then, reading and meditating and processing each paragraph, day after day, until the total message begins to resonate in our unconscious behavior; in other words, it becomes PART OF ME. What is that message? Your Word, Yahweh, is settled in heaven; I LOVE your Word–laws, commandments, statutes, ordinances, testimonies. Without them I lose my way. Without them the wicked are emboldened and culture diminishes. With them my path is illuminated and my heart is instructed in the right ways. With them I find protection and safety that keeps me on a straight and right path.

King Solomon was encouraged by his father to do what Moses instructed: get your own copy of God’s Laws (His words) and keep it close to you; read it daily; meditate on it. Make it part of your daily lifestyle. Evidently he didn’t do that; and that oversight allowed him to drift–not run but drift away, from following the Lord God closely. It really cost him the kingdom, for his son Rehoboam, whom we shall soon meet, took a wrong turn and split the kingdom for hundreds of years. Reformation is not the key; TRANSFORMATION is the key, and that comes as we make God’s words part of us every day.

DAY THREE – Song of Solomon 1-8, Psalm 45

The Greatest Story Ever Told is a love story. Among all the creatures fashioned by Creator, only one is given the gift of love. Living beings of all species breathe, feel and procreate. They instinctively live out their useful life as part of God’s earthly provision. Some become domesticated and are capable of forming bonds and attachments with humans. Their service, loyalty and proximity endear them to us so that we are enriched by their presence. But the gift of love is reserved only for human beings–God’s masterpiece of creation. Originally in the garden of Eden, the first man and woman–Adam and Eve–lived in divine relationship with Creator God, Yahweh. Given dominion over all the animals, they were earth’s first steward/managers. And they did it well. But they found a unique love in the Creator that they shared with each other, a love that surpassed all other relationships in the created world. That gift of love brought joy and fullness to the human experience then, and still does now. The highest expression of love is reciprocity–loving and being loved. So God loved the world–His creation. He loved it so much that when sin marred its perfection, He continued to love as He laid His plans to save the world and restore its divine order.

his ‘Song’ of Solomon, son of David and Israel’s third king, is a love song, plainly and simply. It is a story of married love between two people who have discovered the incredible fullness of loving and being loved. The openly sexual overtones of the poem lift love’s expression to the highest pinnacle of fulfillment, described in beautiful metaphors and spice-laden surroundings. While daily life goes on, the yearnings of love draw these two back together again and again, to revel in each other and create amazement in the observers–in this case the daughters of Jerusalem. Can this poem have other meanings? Well, the Apostle Paul in the New Testament likens married love to that of Christ and His church, His ‘loved ones.’ So what is our takeaway from this unique writing? 1) God’s love is the highest and deepest expression of all love. 2) We are given the gift of love to give away and to receive from another. 3) Married love is between a man and a woman in deepest respect and devotion. 4) Human love can be marred by sin and cheapened by sexual union outside of a permanent commitment. 5) Love will consummate in the eventual ‘homecoming’ in which Christ gathers all of His ‘loved ones’ to be with Him in His permanent home. Love is the yearning in all of us which finds its ultimate fulfillment only in God Himself, for GOD IS love.

DAY FOUR – Proverbs 1-4

What would be the wise thing to do? This is a great question; and so King Solomon, to whom God gave superlative wisdom to be shared with the world, wrote the Proverbs, addressing them first to his son–“My son…” Now in my 70’s, I can only wish that I had the kind of wisdom in my 20’s that I have now! That is essentially the priority of fathers and mothers, to impart life wisdom to their children, to hopefully start them in a right direction for the rest of their life. There are some basic tenets in these first chapters that need to be almost memorized in childhood if we are to avoid the most obvious pitfalls (and pratfalls!). 1) Get wisdom… get understanding! 2) Learn to fear God, to have respect and devotion, to get to know Him. 3) Listen to your parents. 4) Hang around with the right people. 5) Avoid, stay away from the wrong people, who are out to get what they want, even if it hurts others. 6) Learn to spot a fool! 7) Become personally responsible for your actions. Don’t blame other people for your problems.

The ‘how’ of these sayings is called ‘growing up.’ It’s what we’ve all had to do, by necessity. The world doesn’t suffer well grownup children, who can’t figure out who they are, what they want to do, or why they should take responsibility for their life. These first chapters should be read to them over and over again during their primary and secondary years. Let’s face it, wisdom is difficult to accumulate in our modern world, with so many philosophies and worldviews crowding the landscape. I can’t help but revert to the first words of the Bible–“In the beginning God…” This must be the beginning for all of us–God. Not just any god, but God, the Creator, the Savior. For want of God, a person will have a difficult time getting wisdom and understanding. What is the great yearning in all of us? To be loved, to be noticed, to be cared for? And so our beginning must be in God, who has loved, noticed and cared for us. Our heart must be engaged, for it is the wellspring of our whole life. Let us begin from childhood to cry out to God, to long for Him, to welcome Him, to seek His wisdom for life. Proverbs 3:5-6  Trust in Yahweh with all your heart, and don’t lean on your own understanding. 6  In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight. 

DAY FIVE – Proverbs 5-8

To believe that we all start out good and can only get better given the right education, social atmosphere and economic opportunity is to close our eyes to generations of evidence to the contrary. The man with superlative wisdom knew better. He wrote copious instructions to his ‘son,’ his ‘children.’ He laid it out plainly and simply–immoral sex and imprudent use of money will take you straight to hell–at least you’ll think so! It reminds me of Foghorn Leghorn, the cartoon character, who was always trying to teach his little ‘chicken’ son… “I say boy, listen up… pay attention, son!” What is so amazing about these chapters is that they are a bold call for wisdom and prudence–not a bunch of someone’s ideas, but a wisdom based on the laws and commandments of God, given hundreds of years before Solomon lived, through Moses. In other words, wisdom is embodied in an objective instruction given to us humans by God Himself. We observe it to our wellbeing; we ignore it to our peril. The decline of our national culture can be traced back to the middle of 20th century when our ‘wise’ legislators and judges decided that church and state must be separate; therefore the Bible and other semblances of religion MUST be eradicated from all public education and other institutions. Within the decade that followed, the Ten Commandments no longer a visible influence, it seemed rather easy for the Supreme Court to rewrite the law that legalized abortion on demand by claiming a woman’s ‘constitutional’ right to privacy. This surely was a defining moment in our cultural evolution. Even a casual reading through Solomon’s Proverbs will call attention to the various forms of wickedness that have invaded western culture in the last half century!

As we read Psalms and Proverbs, one thing stands out clearly: We don’t really break God’s laws; they break US… eventually! To get wisdom; to follow wise instruction; to guard one’s heart against the evil; to inquire of and to seek after God… these are the path to Life. Our children don’t know this; how can they, unless we teach them? If the ‘village’ loses sight of God, the child is left out in the cold. And so Wisdom continues to cry out in the streets, seeking the prudent man, the wise woman, anyone who will observe godly counsel. The future of western civilization, fragile as it is, may well depend on who will stop… look… and listen.

Week 24, 2018 – Want to know God better? Read His Word with us this year!

A weaned child… Templates… Highest praise… What goes around… Tension is normal…

DAY ONE – Psalms 131, 138, 139, 143, 144, 145

The depth of King David’s relationship with Yahweh God lights up these psalms. No wonder he was called by God ‘a man after my own heart.’ David seems to have clear vision of  and ‘righteousness,’ and ‘wickedness’ what we would call right and wrong. And though we can point to a few wicked things David did, we would still refer to him as a righteous man; why is that? Because God revealed Himself to David throughout his lifetime in significant situations that resulted in life or death. The result of REVELATION was DEVOTION. Over time David came to KNOW GOD in character and attributes. WHO is God? WHAT is He like? HOW does He deal with humankind? Track with David through his songwriting and you will see what He saw, or should I say WHOM he saw. So deeply devoted was David to the Lord that he described his contentment ‘like a weaned child with his mother.’ Can we describe our contentment in those terms? Do we, as David, praise the Lord for all the world to see? Do we, as David, really believe that God searches us and knows us? That He understands us because He made us? That He is truly leading us through life, in the good and bad times? That His thoughts toward us cannot be numbered–we are that important to Him? These are not emotional outbursts from David; they are settled convictions within his inner person that provide foundational centeredness and strength. God really IS who He says; He really DOES what He says; so says David, again and again. So whether David was in the palace or on the field of war, his unbroken fellowship with God sustained him and continued to grow within him. We might say, then, that having been broken, humbled and repentant, David arrived at a settled place of relationship with the Sovereign Creator God.

You are hearing my heart as well. Pursuing God for the last seventy years or so, I am finally coming to terms with what it means to live as a human being in a broken, fallen world that is seemingly in endless struggle with God. Perhaps the greatest revelation in my spirit is that God has, and always has had, a loving plan to save the world. That He would include me is the height of grace and mercy. That He would promise to guide me through my journey here, protecting and providing, doing what I could NEVER do, saving and delivering me, only adds to my devotion to Him. David has become a trusted ally, a friend and coach, my encourager to trust God all the time, and so to serve Him. That’s why I repeatedly return to the Psalms and give my voice a clear expression of thanksgiving and praise!

DAY TWO – 1 Chronicles 27-29, Psalm 68

I love templates. A template is a working piece or model of anything from which many of the same item may be produced. Having read these chapters, we have seen a template of good government. David has produced a template, and now he is showing the template to his entire cabinet and staff–all the leaders of government. Not only that, but David says clearly that his template was given him by the Spirit of the Lord, along with the plans for the temple to be built in Jerusalem. We have a saying, “No need to reinvent the wheel.” In coming generations, the kings of Judah and Israel would be compared with David–those who walked in the ways of David their father and those who did not. And Israel’s fortunes would rise and fall accordingly. Solomon, who was already anointed king in David’s place, stood before his famous father to hear the charge… 1 Chronicles 28:9-10  You, Solomon my son, know the God of your father, and serve him with a perfect heart and with a willing mind; for Yahweh searches all hearts, and understands all the imaginations of the thoughts. If you seek him, he will be found by you; but if you forsake him, he will cast you off forever. 10  Take heed now; for Yahweh has chosen you to build a house for the sanctuary. Be strong, and do it.” 1 Chronicles 29:1  David the king said to all the assembly, “Solomon my son, whom alone God has chosen, is yet young and tender, and the work is great; for the palace is not for man, but for Yahweh God. So Solomon ascended the throne and sat in the place of David, blessed by God and exalted as royalty as never before.

What we see in David’s administration is the way heaven is run. Jesus came from heaven. He is God the Son and Son of God. When He taught us to pray He said, “Pray… Our Father in heaven… your kingdom come, your will be done, as in heaven, so on earth.” Heaven provided David a template by the Holy Spirit. From this template we get an idea of how things should look. Our world doesn’t look like that. Does your church? Does your family? Is God the Sovereign of our life, our Supreme Commander? Do we pray as Jesus taught us, and then do we look for heaven on earth? Since we are coming closer to heaven than ever before, may we study heaven’s template and order our lives accordingly.

DAY THREE – Psalms 111 – 118

A continuous note sounds in these psalms — Praise Yahweh! Again and again they herald Yahweh as the Sovereign and Great God who revealed Himself, first to Adam and Eve at original creation; then to Abram (Abraham); then to Moses, and on and on. The True God (Yahweh by name) is self-existing–without beginning or end; Sovereign–the Most High God, Creator of heavens and earth; Gracious–involving Himself lovingly in the affairs of mankind from the beginning. Israel’s history simply doesn’t exist without Yahweh; He is seen calling Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, entering into covenant with them, and preserving and building the race through them. Yahweh God is present at every intersection of human development, observing and directing human affairs according to His loving plans to save the world. He responds to Israel’s pitiful plight of slavery by reaching down into Egypt and defeating the pagan gods of the Egyptians while leading Israel to freedom and a hopeful future. He marches through history with Israel until such time as His Son Jesus Christ can be born into this world and bring heaven to earth. Jesus is Yah-Shua (God our Savior), fulfilling and completing God’s loving plan to save the world. Praise Yahweh!

According to these psalms Yahweh is good–intrinsically good. He is not good because He does good works; He does good works because He is good! And because He is good, He can be trusted; so we are exhorted to trust in the Lord (Yahweh). We are instructed to praise Him. We are encouraged to give thanks to Him. These songwriters are echoing the news from antiquity that will save the world–the Good News that God is Good. What part of that do we not understand? And if God is good, He must punish and destroy the evil that, without intervention, will ultimately destroy mankind. The evil that shows itself both in the cosmic world and in mankind’s behavior is openly hostile to our Good God and must be totally eradicated as part of God’s loving plan to save the world. We must conclude that our salvation is predicated on the victory over evil that began when Jesus Christ (Yah-shua) was raised out of death by His Father God, Yahweh. And it will continue until Jesus reigns as Lord of lords and King of kings. Praise Yahweh… and praise Yah-shua! For You are good, and your lovingkindness endures forever.

DAY FOUR – 1 Kings 1-2, Psalms 37, 71, 94

Adonijah was David’s son, Absalom’s brother. Even while David was still breathing, Adonijah decided to make himself king, hopeful that he could garner enough support to take over. It caused quite a stir but didn’t last long. When news reached David of what was going on, he quickly had Solomon brought forth, anointed, and placed on the throne to fulfill the Lord’s purposes. Then David died, and it was time to settle accounts with those whose hearts had been given over to evil–Joab, Adonijah, Shimei, and others who had defied God and the king. Solomon wisely extended mercy in such a way that final judgment would come at their own hands. Wickedness is a part of this world. It always seeks to dominate or destroy the good folks of the land, while seeking to aggrandize itself. It seems to feed on the lust for power and control. We see it, God sees it. We cannot always do anything about it. But this is what the Lord says for us to do…

  1. Trust in Yahweh and do good.
  2. Commit your way to Yahweh.
  3. Delight yourself in Yahweh.
  4. Rest in Yahweh and wait patiently for Him.

And then we are told what Yahweh does to the evil, even if it takes what seems to us like a very long time. It’s not a very long time when we realize that the Lord lives in the eternities–that’s a very long time! The four “do this” referenced above have kept me occupied most of my life, again and again, as I calm my spirit and find every way possible to Trust, Commit, Delight and Rest! It’s not once. It’s not a ‘thing.’ It’s a lifestyle, the shifting of attitudes, the building of faith, the accumulating of God’s words from the Bible into my nature. I give you thanks, O God, along with my praises, for your goodness. Let me become as you are, through Jesus our Savior. Amen.

DAY FIVE – Psalm 119:1-88

Tension–that’s the word that occurs to me as I read this first half of the longest chapter in the Bible. It’s all about the laws, commandments, testimonies and ordinances of Yahweh God. They are given to us for instruction, comfort, hope and enlightenment. They are meant to lead us, to influence us, to help us in relationship with God while we live in our broken world. This psalm is written by someone who wants to believe, to obey, to walk with God, to be helped along his way. And yet… yet there is tension, that feeling of being stretched. We can hear it, sense it in the very way it’s expressed; over and over again the writer asks for help. Is this unlike what we read from Paul the Apostle? Romans 7:14-25  For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am fleshly, sold under sin. 15  For I don’t know what I am doing. For I don’t practice what I desire to do; but what I hate, that I do. 16  But if what I don’t desire, that I do, I consent to the law that it is good. 17  So now it is no more I that do it, but sin which dwells in me. 18  For I know that in me, that is, in my flesh, dwells no good thing. For desire is present with me, but I don’t find it doing that which is good. 19  For the good which I desire, I don’t do; but the evil which I don’t desire, that I practice. 20  But if what I don’t desire, that I do, it is no more I that do it, but sin which dwells in me. 21  I find then the law, that, to me, while I desire to do good, evil is present. 22  For I delight in God’s law after the inward man, 23  but I see a different law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity under the law of sin which is in my members. 24  What a wretched man I am! Who will deliver me out of the body of this death? 25  I thank God through Jesus Christ, our Lord! So then with the mind, I myself serve God’s law, but with the flesh, the sin’s law. 

And so it goes: tension, conflict, righteous desire, and the reality of what it actually is like to live godly in our world. Godly doesn’t mean I get it all right. Godly doesn’t mean that I grow into perfection; but neither does it mean that I give in to the pressure of the world and give up on righteousness. No, godly means that inwardly I desire to love and serve God more than anything else. It also means that I throw the weight of dependence upon God to work His ways and His will within my heart. Finally it means that I trust Him fully to implement in me a righteousness that comes from his heart to mine. Yes, I value the Words of God and embrace them fully as His expression of love and salvation, but then I give myself unreservedly to His gracious working in my life, accepting the tension as normal. While He is saving me, I myself am also working out my salvation with fear and trembling. This is no easy road; it is a lifetime of living and trusting our Lord to accomplish all He desires to do in us.

Week 23, 2018 – Knowing the Bible, knowing God better, or BOTH?

A broken covenant… A time for integrity… Who cares how many there are… Giving myself to prayer… Dangerous course of revisionism…

DAY ONE – 2 Samuel 19-21, Psalms 5, 38, 42

Absalom’s death precipitated unmitigated grief and mourning as David wept with abject despondency over the loss of his son. Joab warned that his demoralized troops, who had fought bravely, would desert if David did not lead the victory celebration. That being done, the king’s return toward Jerusalem brought out all of his enemies who had supposed that he would be overthrown. Suddenly they were all smiles and so-o-o-o happy that the king survived and was returning to the throne! The political climate was so highly charged, with all factions weighing their options and future plans. But the right massaging and intervention from the right people, began to restore order. A short-lived rebellion by Sheba was quelled through the actions of a wise woman, sparing a city from further bloodshed. As Jerusalem began to settle down and people returned to their ‘normal’ lives, suddenly a famine appeared in the land. When David inquired he learned that God was displeased that Saul, David’s predecessor, had ignored a covenant struck during Joshua’s time and had attempted to wipe out the Gibeonites. Trying frantically to find a remedy, David honored the request of the Gibeonites, and the famine was broken.

If we are learning anything from these real stories of real people, it is that integrity is powerful and covenants are made to be kept. Consequences chase us down the way when we lose integrity and violate covenants. In a world that was originally wired by God to support truth and integrity, all kinds of mischief–and sometimes outright evil– erupts when we violate the basic principles of our created purpose.   Galatians 6:7-9  Don’t be deceived. God is not mocked, for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap. 8  For he who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption. But he who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. 9  Let’s not be weary in doing good, for we will reap in due season, if we don’t give up.  Isaiah 57:15  For thus says the high and lofty One who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: “I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also who is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite. 

DAY TWO – 2 Samuel 22-23, Psalm 57

Calling himself the sweet psalmist of Israel, King David penned his last words: 2 Samuel 23:1-5  Now these are the last words of David. David the son of Jesse says, the man who was raised on high says, the anointed of the God of Jacob, the sweet psalmist of Israel: 2  “Yahweh’s Spirit spoke by me. His word was on my tongue. 3  The God of Israel said, the Rock of Israel spoke to me, ‘One who rules over men righteously, who rules in the fear of God, 4  shall be as the light of the morning, when the sun rises, a morning without clouds, when the tender grass springs out of the earth, through clear shining after rain.’ 5  Isn’t my house so with God? Yet he has made with me an everlasting covenant, ordered in all things, and sure, for it is all my salvation, and all my desire, although he doesn’t make it grow. Would that these words could be posted and read in the halls of government and in corporate offices across the land. Goodness, righteousness, integrity are attributes of God and are learned by men who seek relationship with Him. Wickedness and treachery are opposite traits and are picked up from our fallen, broken world of mankind. Always pursuing His plan to save the world, Yahweh God reaches to every one of us with mercy and love, hoping for a positive response to arise from within us. Government and culture represent the collective response to God from a people or nation and are closely related to those who rule in high places. When good people lead, good people follow. So David’s kingdom continued to grow, and prosperity and blessing followed as neighboring nations laid down their arms and submitted to God’s righteous expressions through David’s rule. Our world will never be a perfect place, and we will never achieve personal perfection so long as we live here. But God will continue to be merciful and gracious to those who seek Him and humble ourselves before Him. And as we continue our journey through the Bible, we will soon enough meet God’s perfect answer to every human conundrum.

DAY THREE – 2 Samuel 24, 1 Chronicles 21-22, Psalm 30

The ‘look-back’ is a powerful tool. In today’s story David recalls a dark moment in the history of his administration as king of Israel. One version of the story says that God’s anger was released as motivation for David to do another census in the country. The other version says that Satan stood against David and urged the action. Regardless, it turned out as a wicked act. David made the decision against the advice of his generals and advisers. He prevailed! The census was taken. What is so wrong in that? I can figure only that God had made promise to Abraham that his descendants would be as the ‘stars of the heavens’ and ‘sands of the sea’–in other words, too numerous to count. Who cares how many there are? God doesn’t deal in numbers. He does His best work through whatever groups of people are trusting Him and obeying His guiding orders. David’s actions were reprehensible and brought a swift response from Yahweh, which David himself had to choose. Unable to do so, David cried out to be left at the mercy of God, who always proved generous and merciful. A brief plague wiped out 70,000 Israelis before God showed David how to atone for the nation. It cost him big time. It humbled him greatly. It provoked him to long for the Lord’s presence in a new way, close to home. That’s when he decided anew to build God a house in Jerusalem. And that’s when Gad, David’s seer/prophet, brought him another personal message from Yahweh. His administration coming to a close due to David’s age, the king called his son Solomon and gave him careful instructions about being king over Israel in David’s place. His biggest accomplishment would be to build God a house. David had been preparing for a long time, stockpiling all kinds of building materials and precious metals for the project. Hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of gold, silver and other, were stored in the treasury for the huge undertaking. David was the warrior/musician/king. His son Solomon would be a man of rest, endued with incredible wisdom and wit, able to solve deep problems and find wise solutions.

The Bible is the most honest and forthright collection of writings ever assembled to present God’s story to us all. Among other revelations, we learn that each and every one of us is endowed by God to represent a facet of His character and power to our generation. No single person has it all. The people of God, as a collective, demonstrate His grace, mercy and involvement in our time and culture. To reject or resist the Lord is to resist our very self, our highest and best nature; for God has written His own image into our DNA. To that end, let us pray and praise our way forward, working with God’s Spirit to reveal His glory to our generation.

DAY FOUR – Psalms 108, 109

If we live long enough, every one of us is likely to feel deeply that God has somehow stopped taking notice of us, is no longer hearing our prayers, is hard to find. Even though we know better, the overwhelming circumstances that have accumulated or lingered over our life take a toll on our emotions and sometimes even our health. Then, out of our deep feelings of dismay or even despair we give vent to things we would never think or say in better times. These psalms could be OUR voice crying out to God. David went so far as to imprecate against wicked people who seemed to do evil for the sake of doing evil! Not caring for God or anyone else, the wicked often callously continue on their way, thinking only of their own enrichment, though it be at the expense of others around them. We don’t know exactly whether David was wishing a curse upon them or predicting that their own life would return to them as a curse. Surely we have occasionally been so angry at a wicked person that we could wish calamity upon him. In spite of all this, David says, “But I give myself to prayer” (109:4). Surely prayer is the crossroad at which I change direction. Giving myself to prayer will always lead to giving myself to God. And when I give myself to God in the midst of disturbing and discouraging circumstances, I am always reminded of His faithfulness and righteousness. God sees my situation but is not part of it. He feels my pain but is above it. He regards me but is still the Sovereign Creator of His universe and my life! When I give myself to prayer my eyesight clears; my heart revives; my thinking shifts; my understanding improves. David was a man of prayer; he was a great king. His detractors, his enemies, his adversaries wore themselves out plotting against him; but whether it was an individual or a neighboring king, that person always discovered God standing between himself and David. Let the wicked be. Don’t wrack yourself or twist in agony over them. Their own evil strategies are the platform from which they will fall into oblivion!

Here is our righteous strategy: Psalm 109:30-31  But I will give repeated thanks to the LORD, praising Him to everyone.  31  For He stands beside the needy, ready to save them from those who condemn them.

DAY FIVE – 1 Chronicles 23-26

When God is the foundation stone of government, He is also part of an orderly transition. Just so, when it came time for David to make his son Solomon king, he gathered together the Levites and priests along with all the leaders of Israel. It appears the government couldn’t be run without God! There were thirty-eight thousand Levites, numbered by family and assigned by lot to their various functions, all of which focused around the house of God, the tabernacle. What was once a theocracy–rule by God–at least maintained the semblance of God’s influence in government. Israel’s ‘golden age’ had come, and Solomon was to be the Lord’s choice to oversee it. So we have, once again, genealogies of the Levites all the way back to Moses and Aaron, original leaders of Israel from Sinai onward. Do we think it might be interesting to catalogue the spiritual genealogy of America? Would we be able to discover the spiritual roots of our nation–times when God’s Name and Presence presided over our development as a people? And what events or forces would we discover along the way that dramatically reduced God’s influence and caused the drift into secular humanism? At which intersections would we able to say that America turned away from the Lord and pursued a dangerous course of revisionism?

We shall soon visit Israel’s repeated forays into idolatry and apostasy, into which God had to repeatedly intervene with punishment and/or discipline. Remember, it has ALWAYS–from Adam going forward–been God’s loving plan to save the world. He has succeeded at every step by His OWN wisdom and power, by His OWN mercy and grace! Our Lord continues to initiate salvation and covenant throughout the nations in spite of man’s objections! Don’t we long for God to rule again? Isn’t heaven for us THE logical choice, and wouldn’t we love to see more heaven on earth? Have we a plan for ‘how’ we will live until our broken, fallen world gives way to God’s glorious plan to save it? Proverbs 14:34  Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a disgrace to any people. As we grow in our relationship with the God of the Bible, may we increasingly discover how each of us fits into His plan to save the world.