Come Back To God!

From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. - 2 Corinthians 5:16-21 ESV

How easy it is to judge others from our limited, human perspective. We are so quick to assess the value or worth of others based on externals. We are even prone to establish someone’s unworthiness or lack of value based on how they look, their ethnic makeup, economic background, educational status or personality profile. In the Old Testament, we have the account of when Samuel the prophet went to the house of Jesse to find a new king to replace Saul. When he set eyes on Jesse’ son, Eliab, Samuel said, “Surely this is the Lord’s anointed!” (1 Samuel 16:7b NLT). But God responded, “Don’t judge by his appearance or height, for I have rejected him. The Lord doesn’t see things the way you see them. People judge by outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:8 NLT).

Because of the life-transforming work of Jesus Christ and the Spirit’s power to give new life to those who were dead in the trespasses and sins, Paul states, “So we have stopped evaluating others from a human point of view. At one time we thought of Christ merely from a human point of view. How differently we know him now!” (2 Corinthians 5:16 NLT). Prior to coming to faith in Christ and recognizing Him as his Savior, Paul saw Him from a purely human perspective. Paul was a Pharisee who viewed Jesus as nothing more than a charlatan, a political revolutionary and threat to the religious status quo. But ever since his encounter with the resurrected Jesus on the road to Damascus, Paul’s view of Jesus had changed radically. And his view of others had changed as well – “anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!” (2 Corinthians 5:17 NLT). Salvation was meant to be life-changing. it wasn’t just a matter of someone switching religious allegiances or choosing another way of pursuing a right relationship with God. What Jesus offered was radical, out-of-the-ordinary life transformation that resulted in a totally new life, a new nature - immediately. Those who placed their faith in Christ were instantly transformed from death to life, from darkness to light, from enemies to friends of God, from condemned to forgiven, from guilty to innocent, from outcasts to members of the family of God. And Paul says, “All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:18 ESV).

It was all God’s doing, not man’s. Salvation is the work of God, from beginning to end. He is the one who reconciles. He is the one who redeems, restores, forgives, justifies, regenerates, and sanctifies. He provides new life. He places His Holy Spirit within us. And He accomplished it all through Christ. God sent His Son to be the payment for the sins of mankind and to be the acceptable sacrifice, whose innocent life was given to satisfy the His just demands and holy wrath against man’s rebellion against Him. “For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them” (2 Corinthians 5:19 NLT). It was through Christ that God had determined to restore His lost creation. It was through Christ that God had ordained a means by which He could satisfy His own righteous judgment against sin while providing a means of showing His love for mankind. 

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. – John 3:16 ESV

But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. – Romans 5:8 NLT

I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. – Galatians 2:20 ESV

This message of God’s love and offer of reconciliation had been given to Paul and his companions. They had become ambassadors of God, sharing the good news of how men and women could be made right with God and restored to a right relationship with Him. “So we are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making his appeal through us. We speak for Christ when we plead, “Come back to God!” (2 Corinthians 5:20 NLT). They viewed themselves as conduits of God’s grace. They were vessels in the hands of God, pouring out His goodness and grace upon all those they encountered, not pre-judging or predetermining who deserved to hear. They simply told of God’s Son; His death, burial and resurrection; His offer or salvation; and the simple, solitary requirement of faith. They shared. God saved. Christ had provided the means. Paul simply shared the message. “For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ” (2 Corinthians 5:21 NLT).

Sharing the gospel is really quite easy. It is simply pleading with people to come back to God. It is a desperate, loving appeal for them to accept the only means by which they can be restored to a right relationship with God – by faith in Jesus Christ. It is not up to us to determine who deserves to hear. It is not up to us to judge who is worthy of receiving the message. It is not our job to predetermine who we would prefer to have as a brother or sister in Christ. We have been given the message of reconciliation. Like Paul, we have been appointed ambassadors by God, with the sole responsibility of spreading the good news of His Son’s death and resurrection to a lost and dying world. God’s offer of salvation is non-discriminatory, and so should our appeal be.



Abounding Grace.

1 Kings 21-22, 2 Corinthians 9

 And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work. – 2 Corinthians 9:8 ESV

God loves to shower His grace and mercy upon His people. He enjoys blessing those who are called by His name and receives no joy in having to discipline us for our sins. The manifold blessings of God are available to those who live according to His ways and are willing to submit to His will. This truth is on display throughout the Old and New Testaments. Those men and women who willingly and obediently lived their lives on God's terms were blessed by God. He placed His hand on their lives and bestowed His favor upon them. This doesn't mean that their lives were always easy or free from trouble. But it does mean that they were able to see and experience His blessings in their lives in spite of the circumstances surrounding them. But those who chose to disobey God and lived according to their own terms found out that God's mercy and grace tended to be in short supply. Rather than His grace, they received His anger and judgment.

What does this passage reveal about God?

Ahab was one of those characters who had chosen to live life on his own terms, rather than God's. He and his wife, Jezebel, were wicked people who influenced the people of Israel to rebel against God, worshiping false gods instead. Their reign was marked by idolatry, murder, corruption and unfaithfulness to God. They were self-serving, selfish and unwilling to live according to God's very clear commands. As a result, they experienced God's judgment. Ahab would lose his kingdom and his life. Jezebel would eventually be taken out by God Himself. Their lifestyle of corruption and narcissism would not be tolerated by God. They could have enjoyed God's presence and power in their lives and His blessings on their kingdom, but God was not going to bless them while they continued to live in rebellion against Him.

What does this passage reveal about man?

There will always be those who are willing to tell us what we want to hear. Ahab had 400 prophets who were more than willing to tell him that battle with the Syrians was a great idea. They weren't interested in telling the truth or about speaking for God, they simply wanted to maintain their position as prophets. So they told the king what he wanted to hear. Micaiah, on the other hand would only speak what God told him to speak. He was unwilling to lie to the king just to protect his own head. His allegiance to God far outweighed any concern he might have had for his own safety or success. Micaiah told Ahab that his prophets were all liars and that their message was not from God. In fact, they had been sent by God to deceive Ahab. Micaiah's determination to speak the truth got him thrown in prison. But God would end up blessing Micaiah and destroying Ahab.

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

God wants to bless us, but He also wants us to be a blessing to others. He wants us to live our lives unselfishly and with our eyes focused on His kingdom and our hearts centered on His desire to use us to bring blessing to those around us. Paul wrote the Corinthian believers, encouraging them to be cheerful givers, providing willingly and sacrificially to those in need in Macedonia. Paul reminded them that “whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully” (2 Corinthians 9:6 ESV). They were to give joyfully and willingly, in obedience to God. Their focus was to be on the needs around them. Their lives were not to be lived selfishly, dwelling on their own lives while ignoring the needs of others. Paul told them that their sacrifice would not go unnoticed by God, because He “is able to make all grace about to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may about in every good work” (2 Corinthians 9:8 ESV). They were to give without reluctance and not out of some sense of compulsion. And if they did, they would be “enriched in every way to be generous in every way” (2 Corinthians 9:11 ESV). God would bless them so that they could continue to be a blessing to others. What a difference in the way the world encourages us to live. In place of selfishness, we are to live lives of selflessness. Rather than focus on ourselves, we are to focus on the needs of those around us. And when we do, God's grace abounds. As the old saying goes, “You can't out-give God.”

Father, I want to experience Your abounding grace in my life more and more, but I know it begins with me living a life of sacrifice and selflessness. Help me get my attention off of myself and on to those around me. Make me a cheerful giver of my time and resources. All for Your glory. Amen

Putting Limits On God's Grace and Greatness.

1 Kings 19-20, 2 Corinthians 8

For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich. – 2 Corinthians 8:9 ESV

A big part of the narrative of the Bible is its focus on the greatness of God. From the creation account found in the opening chapters of Genesis all the way to the image of God's recreation of the world and the redemption of man found in the book of Revelation, we can see His greatness on display. But one of the things we human beings tend to do is limit God. We fail to recognize just how great, gracious and good He truly is. We put limits on His capacity to love and His capability to intervene in the affairs of mankind. In the story recorded in chapters 19-20 of 1 Kings, we see even Elijah, the prophet of God, who had just witnessed an unmistakable display of God's greatness through the defeat of the prophets of Baal. And yet, this man who had displayed such unwavering faith in God suddenly finds himself faced with the wrath of Jezebel, the wicked queen. The next thing we know, Elijah is on the run and wishing he was dead. Two different times Elijah responds to a question from God with the same answer: “I have been very jealous for the Lord, the God of hosts. For the people of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword, and I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away” (1 Kings 19:10 ESV). Elijah was having himself a first-class pity party, whining over his sorry lot in life. But what he was really doing was limiting the power of His God. It seems that Elijah's God was great enough to defeat the prophets of Baal, but He was not match to the revenge-seeking, false-god worshiping wife of the king of Israel.

But Elijah wasn't the only one limiting God's greatness. It seems that the king of Syria had no qualms attaching the nation of Israel, with the help of a 32-nation alliance. He saw his odds as pretty good and his army as greater than the God of the Israelites. But he was wrong. The Israelites won a great victory over the Syrians, with God's help. But then the Syrians decided that the only reason they had lost the batlle was because the “gods” of the Israelites were gods of the hills. Since their defeat had taken place in the hills, it only made sense to attack the Israelites on the plains, where their “gods” would be impotent. But they were wrong.

What does this passage reveal about God?

God is great – all the time. His greatness never diminishes. His power never decreases. His all-encompassing, incomparable strength never changes. It didn't matter if the Syrians fought the Israelites in the hills, the plains, the valleys, the forests or along the shores of the sea, the God of Israel would always prove greater than any god they might worship or any army they might muster. Elijah's God was not only great enough to defeat the prophets of Baal, He was great enough to handle the likes of Jezebel. Contrary to Elijah's assertion, he was NOT the only one left. He was not the only faithful Israelite left in the world. God was still in charge – in spite of Jezebel's threats, Elijah's doubts, the Syrian's faulty logic, and any evidence that might point to the contrary.

What does this passage reveal about man?

The greatness of God is not just a pious-sounding platitude or religious catch-phrase we use to impress one another with our apparent faith. It is a non-debatable reality. But occasionally, we have a hard time believing it. Elijah had been a witness to an extraordinary display of God's power. Fire came out of heaven, consuming “the burnt offering and the wood and the stones and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench” (1 Kings 18:38 ESV). Elijah himself had single-handedly killed the 450 prophets of Baal – all in the power provided by God. He even received supernatural strength to outrun King Ahab and his royal chariot. going on the way from Mount Carmel to Jezreel on foot and in record time. But in spite of all this, Elijah still put limits on God's greatness and grace. While things seemed to have turned out remarkably well that day on the mountain, they evidently didn't turn out quite like Elijah had expected them to. The death threat on his life from the irate queen left him feeling like things were worse than ever. But rather than focus on all the great things God had done through and around him, Elijah put limits on what God could do. A common trait in even the most godly of men.

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

God's greatness goes hand-in-hand with His grace. His power is provides Him with the capacity to extend grace to sinful men. Paul reminds us that it was the death of Jesus Christ, provided for us by God Himself. that made possible our redemption and reconciliation with Him. But it was God's power that made it possible. Yes, Jesus had to die. But had not God's power raised Him from death back to life, the cross would have ended in nothing more than tragedy, and Jesus would have been nothing more than just another human martyr for a worthy cause. But God's incomparable greatness made it possible for Him to provide us with His invaluable grace. And Jesus displayed grace to us by sacrificing not only His life, but His very place at the right hand of God by taking on human flesh and dying a sinner's death on our behalf. Why in the world would I ever doubt God's greatness after all He has done for me? Why would I place any limits on His capacity to great things in and around my life, when He has already done so much on my behalf? Our God is truly great and His grace is greater than all our sins.

Grace, grace, God’s grace, Grace that will pardon and cleanse within; Grace, grace, God’s grace, Grace that is greater than all our sin.

Father, You truly are great. Please forgive me for the many times I doubt Your greatness and put limits on Your power. I have no reason to do so. You have proven Yourself great and gracious time and time again in my life. Amen

Limping Along.

1 Kings 17-18, 2 Corinthians 7

And Elijah came near to all the people and said, “How long will you go limping between two different opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him.” – 1 Kings 11:21 ESV

The story of the history of Israel is filled with images of indecisiveness, unfaithfulness, mixed allegiances, and self-centered motives. In other words, it is the story of mankind. But these were the chosen people of God. They had experienced first-hand the powerful hand of God on their lives, having been miraculously set free from captivity in Egypt, provided for and protected for more than 40 years as they wandered in the wilderness, and eventually, given a land of rich abundance and fruitfulness filled with cities and homes they hadn't built and crops they hadn't planted. God had proven Himself faithful time and time again over the years. He had given them a great king in David. He had made them a powerful nation. He had blessed them with a wise king in Solomon whose reign was marked by a period of peace and plenty. But despite all of God's goodness and blessing, the people of Israel could not remain faithful. They never full rejected God. Instead, they hedged their bets and worshiped other gods as well, ensuring that they had all their bases covered when it came to divine protection and provision. But the gods they worshiped proved to be no gods at all. They were impotent and non-existent. When the prophets of Baal called out to him, he remained silent. He gave no answer. “And they took the bull that was given them, and they prepared it and called upon the name of Baal from morning until noon, saying, O Baal, answer us! But there was no voice, and no one answered. And they limped around the altar that they had made” (1 Kings 18:26 ESV). It's interesting to note that the same verb is used in verse 26 to describe the actions of the prophets of Baal that Elijah uses in verse 21 to describe the people of God – they limped. The actual Hebrew word can mean “to limp, to hop, to jump around.” It is the image of someone on crutches who is unsteady, unstable indecisive, and hesitant in their actions. They were anxious and fearful, unsure if their god was going to come through for them. They lacked conviction and faith. They weren't short on effort or determination, because they even “cut themselves after their custom with swords and lances, until the blood gushed out upon them” (1 Kings 18:28 ESV). But for all their effort and energy, their god remained silent.

What does this passage reveal about God?

But in contrast, we have the God of Elijah. In the period of time leading up to this event, Elijah had been personally cared for by God, having been miraculously fed by ravens. He had seen a poor widow's meager oil and flour multiplied by God in order to keep herself, her son, and himself alive. He had watched as the widow's son became sick and died, but he had trusted God to bring him back to life, and He did. Elijah's God was alive and well. He could hear and He could respond. He was powerful and compassionate. He could be trusted. And we see in Elijah's actions that day on Mount Carmel that he believed in his God. He did not limp along in unbelief. He was not hesitant. He exhibited no doubt or indecisiveness. His actions were clear and his orders, concise. He called and his God responded – in power. “Then the fire of the Lord fell and consumed the burnt offering and the wood and the stone and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench. And when all the people saw it, they fell on their faces and said, ‘The Lord, he is God; the Lord, he is God’” (1 Kings 18:38-39 ESV).

What does this passage reveal about man?

As long as the people continued to share their allegiance between God and a host of false gods, they would continue to limp along, living lives marked by powerlessness, hopelessness, and physical, as well as spiritual drought. Placing their trust in anyone or anything other than God would continue to prove unproductive and, ultimately, destructive. For all their expended effort and religious zeal, the prophets of Baal only ended up doing harm to themselves. Their blind faith in a false god would result in their own deaths. But the people of Israel were like a lame person on two crutches. Their faith was unsteady and their spiritual walk was unstable. They limped about between the one true God and a host of false gods. They staggered between truth and falsehood. But Elijah challenged them to choose. “If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him” (1 Kings 18:21 ESV). But they were indecisive. They were unsure. They had long ago begun to doubt in the power of the one true God. As a result, they had begun seeking out the potential help of any and all gods who might meet their needs or fulfill their desires. If God couldn't or wouldn't come through, perhaps they could find another god who would meet their needs. As is usually the case, they were seeking a god would would accommodate their wishes. They wanted a god of their own making, who would take care of them according to their own standards. But because their gods were powerless and silent, they wavered back and forth between a host of gods, waiting and watching, hoping that one of them would prove to be the god they were looking for.

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

Paul has already reminded us that the people of Israel were the chosen people of God. He had promised to dwell among them. He had promised to walk among them. He had promised to be their Father and treat them as His own children. All they had to do was live like who they were: the children of God. They were to separate themselves from the rest of the world and live distinctively different lives, according to God's standards, not their own. And Paul reminded the Corinthians, that as followers of Christ, they were also to see themselves as holy and distinct, children of God. He pleaded, “beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God” (2 Corinthians 7:1 ESV). In other words, they were to make the pursuit of holiness their primary focus. Rather than waver in indecisiveness, they were to do everything in their power to “make a clean break with everything that defiles or distracts us, both within and without” (The Message). Paul was wanting to see them live with a singular focus: pursuing holiness and Christ-likeness. But far too often, as believers, we can find ourselves limping along, like someone trying to navigate life while leaning on two crutches. We are unsteady and unsure of ourselves. We are placing our hope and leaning our lives on things that can't deliver. We are relying on things that, in the long run, will prove themselves unreliable. Only God can be trusted. Only God can come through for us. Only God can deliver what it is we need. How long will you go limping between two different opinions? If the Lord is God, follow Him.

Father, I want to follow You. I want to lean on You, rely on You, trust in You. I am tired of limping along in indecisiveness. You have proven Yourself faithful and true time and time again in my life. The things of this world have proven themselves unreliable and unworthy of my allegiance. Help me to stop wavering and begin trusting You more. Amen

Unequally Yoked.

1 Kings 15-16, 2 Corinthians 6

Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? What accord has Christ with Belial? Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever? What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God. – 2 Corinthians 6:14-16 ESV

The people of Israel had been set apart by God to be His special possession. Moses had told them, “For you are a people holy to the LORD your God. The LORD your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth” (Deuteronomy 7:6 ESV). He went on to tell them that their choice by God was “because the Lord loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers” (Deuteronomy 7:7 ESV). They had been the recipients of God's undeserved mercy and grace. But God's special favor required that they live faithfully. “You shall therefore be careful to do the commandment and the statutes and the rules that I command you today” (Deuteronomy 7:11 ESV). As long as they obeyed, God would bless. As long as they lived as who they were – God's treasured possession – they would experience God's continued love and abundant blessings. But 1 Kings is a sad reminder of just how poorly God's chosen people lived up to His expectations. Rather than remain set apart and distinct from the nations around them, they slowly compromised their convictions and became increasingly pagan in their practices. A long line of kings for both Israel and Judah reveals a predisposition on the part of God's elect to do “what was evil in the sight of the Lord” (1 Kings 16:34 ESV). The list includes Jeroboam, Rehoboam, Abijam, Asa, Nadab, Basha, Elah, Zimri, Omri, and Ahab. All but one would have a reign marked by unfaithfulness, idolatry, and rampant evil.

What does this passage reveal about God?

But in the midst of this written history of the unfaithfulness of the people of God, we see a glimpse of God's unfailing faithfulness. We read that Abijam inherited the throne of his father Jeroboam in Israel. Abijam is described as a man who “walked in all the sins that his father did before him, and his heart was not wholly true to the Lord his God, as the heart of David his father” (1 Kings 15:3 ESV). But the author quickly reminds us, “Nevertheless, for David's sake the Lord his God gave him a lamp in Jerusalem, setting up his son after him, and establishing Jerusalem, because David did what was right in the eyes of the Lord and did not turn aside from anything that he commanded him all the days of his life, except in the matter of Uriah the Hittite.” (1 Kings 15:4-5 ESV). God continued to keep His hand on the city of Jerusalem out of love for David. God had promised to give David a descendant who would help preserve the Davidic line. He would have a future heir who would rule and reign in Jerusalem as King of Israel. God would keep His promise. He would fulfill what He had committed to do. In spite of the rampant unfaithulness of the people of Israel, God would remain faithful and true. Yes, He would punish them. He would not tolerate their sin and open rebellion against Him, but He also would not completely give up on them. Their sinfulness would not stop His faithfulness. Their adultery and unfaithfulness would not keep Him from showing them continued love, mercy and grace.

What does this passage reveal about man?

Over and over again we read about men whose hearts were not wholly true to the Lord. Unlike David, who “did what was right the eyes of the Lord and did not turn aside from anything he commanded him all the days of his life” (1 Kings 15:5 ESV), these men regularly and repeatedly lived as if God didn't even exist. They worshiped other gods. They mimicked the pagan practices of the nations around them, leading the people of Israel and Judah to forsake God. And their actions provoked God to anger. This doesn't mean that God stopped loving them, but He would not and could not tolerate their blatant rebellion against His commands. He would not put up with their spiritual adultery and unfaithfulness. Their worship of other Gods, in spite of all that God had done for them over the years, was a slap in the face to the One who had chosen them in the first place. Their actions illustrated their lack of respect for and fear of God. Each king did what was right in their own eyes. God had become and afterthought.

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

Over in 2 Corinthians 6, Paul quotes from the Hebrew Scriptures in order to make a point to his Gentile audience. Just as God had chosen the people of Israel as His special possession, believers in Christ are also the recipients of God's special attention. Paul reminds them that they are the temple of the living God. They share the same unique, one-of-a-kind relationship with God that the peoples of Israel and Judah had enjoyed and spurned. Paul writes, “as God said, ‘I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Therefore go out from their midst, and be separate from them, says the Lord’” (2 Corinthians 6:16-17 ESV). God had promised to be a father to the people of Israel. He had promised to treat them like His own sons and daughters. All He asked is that they live separate and set apart lives that reflected their distinctive position as His precious possession. And Paul is reminding the Corinthian believers to do the same. They are not to be “unequally yoked” with unbelievers. Paul uses terms like “partnership,” “fellowship,” “accord” and “portion” to describe the kind of relationship believers are to reject when it comes to the unbelieving world. He is not telling them to have nothing to do with the lost of the world, but to refrain from intimate and closely personal relationships with them. To be unequally yoked is to be in a close relationship with someone else where their actions and conduct end up having a potentially negative influence over your own life. If you were to put two different kinds of animals in a yoke and expect them to pull a load together, the results could be disastrous. Their different sizes, temperaments, and strengths would end up causing them to work against one another. There would be a lack of harmony and unity. When we attempt to unite ourselves with this world, we find that our efforts for God are hampered and hindered. We become easily distracted and forced off course. We are called to be separate. We are called to be distinctively different. We are the temple of the living God. We are his sons and daughters. And our lives should reflect our unique and undeserved position as His precious possession.

Father, we need to live as who we are – Your children. We desperately need to live distinctively and differently. Forgive us for blending in with the world and losing our uniqueness. Forgive us for trying to accomplish Your will as Your children while being unequally yoked with the world. Continue to call us apart. Open our eyes so that we can see the difference between compromise and conviction. Amen

Pleasing God.

1 Kings 13-14, 2 Corinthians 5

So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him. – 2 Corinthians 5:9 ESV

Solomon failed to please God. He lived in disobedience to the will of God, worshiping false gods and making the pursuit of his own personal pleasure and satisfaction his highest priority. His son, Rehoboam, would follow his example, reigning over Judah for 17 years, and failing to please God the entire time. “And Judah did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, and they provoked him to jealousy with their sins that they committed, more than all that their fathers had done” (1 Kings 14:22 ESV). Jeroboam, God's hand-picked king of the northern tribes of Israel, also failed to please God. He developed his own gods, temples, and priesthood. He led the people of Israel into apostasy and encouraged them to disobey God's commands. God said of Jeroboam, “…but you have done evil above all who were before you and have gone and made for yourself other gods and metal images, provoking me to anger, and have cast me behind your back” (1 Kings 14:9 ESV). These men all looked like kings. From the outside, their kingdoms may have looked successful and their reigns may have had all the appearances of power, prestige and earthly success. But they had failed to please God, and as a result, God was forced to deal harshly with them. He split Solomon's vast kingdom in half. He predicted the future fall and eventual deportation of the northern kingdom of Israel. He allowed the Egyptians to attack the city of Jerusalem and ransack the Temple, taking as plunder all the treasures of the house of the Lord that David and Solomon had so painstakingly collected. The history of Israel and Judah will be marked by kings who, for the most part, failed to live lives that were pleasing to God, instead, doing “what was evil in the sight of the Lord” (1 Kings 14:22 ESV).

What does this passage reveal about God?

God requires obedience. His commands were just that – commands, and not suggestions. He expected His laws to be obeyed. When He told the young prophet to go to Jeroboam and speak a word against the king and his false gods, He also told him “You shall neither eat bread nor drink water nor return by the way that you came” (1 Kings 13:9 ESV). But the young man disobeyed. Yes, he was tricked and deceived, but the bottom line is that he failed to obey the word of the Lord and as a result, his actions failed to please the Lord. His own untimely and violent death was the outcome. God takes His word seriously and He expects His people to do the same. God had given Jeroboam the kingdom of Israel to rule over. But He had also told Jeroboam, “And if you will listen to all that I command you, and will walk in my ways, and do what is right in my eyes by keeping my statutes and my commandments, as David my servant did, I will be with you and will build you a sure house, as I built for David, and I will give Israel to you” (1 Kings 11:38 ESV). But Jeroboam, like Solomon and Rehoboam, would fail to live up to God's expectations. He would not walk in God's ways. He would end up doing what was right in his own eyes. His kingdom would last 22 years, but it would be marked by sin and rebellion against God. From all appearances, Jeroboam's reign would have looked successful. Twenty two years would have been quite a long reign for any king during that period of time. But his kingdom would lack God's blessing. His rule would fail to please God. Any success he experienced would have been short-lived and just as short-sighted. Having failed to please God, he would learn first hand what it was like to reign without the pleasure of God.

What does this passage reveal about man?

The apostle Paul made it his aim to live a life that was pleasing to God. He lived with an eternal perspective that focused on something other than the temporal pleasures of this life. He knew that there was life beyond this one. He understood that eternity was real and that, as believers, “we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil” (2 Corinthians 5:10 ESV). There will be an accounting one day for every Christian. We will have to own up for every word spoken and action committed while we lived on this earth. Paul tried to live his life in such a way that he would not have to be ashamed of anything he said or did while “at home in the body” (2 Corinthians 5:6 ESV). He made it his goal to “walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7 ESV). In other words, he lived his life motivated by the as-yet-unseen promises of God. He didn't let the temptations of earthly pleasures or temporary trappings of this world lure him into doing anything that would be displeasing to God. “We make it our aim to please him” (2 Corinthians 5:9 ESV). For Paul, the issue was heart change. He knew that external actions or outward appearances mattered little to God. He looked at the heart. There were those who were influencing the Corinthian believers “who boast about outward appearance and not about what is in the heart” (2 Corinthians 5:12 ESV). These people wanted to appear spiritual, but there hearts were not pleasing to God. They were focused on how they were perceived by men, and failed to worry about whether the condition of their hearts were pleasing to God. They lived for themselves. They focused on the flesh. But Paul reminded them, “…if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Corinthians 5:17 ESV). We have been made right with God. We don't belong to this world anymore. We are eternal creatures with a future reserved for us in God's kingdom. We are to live like citizens of that new kingdom, not this earthly, temporal one.

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

I am to live a life that is pleasing to God. He has given me the Holy Spirit as a down-payment, a sort of guarantee of what is to come in the future. He has placed His Spirit within me and provided me with a source of power that I could never have manufactured on my own. I have the capacity to live in such a way that my life pleases God. The Holy Spirit, using the Word of God, shows me just what that life should look like, and also provides me with the power to pull it off. Paul put it this way: “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20 ESV). I want to make it my aim to please God. I want to live my life on this earth in such a way that my words and actions will be pleasing to Him when I stand at the judgment seat of Christ one day. But I must keep an eternal focus. I must realize that this life is temporary. I must live, not for myself, but for Him who died and was raised for my sake (2 Corinthians 5:15).

Father, I want my life to please You. And I know that when I live in submission to Your Spirit and in obedience to Your Word, my life DOES please You. I am grateful that my obedience is not mandatory for remaining in a right relationship with You. I don't have to obey to be made righteous. That was taken care of by Christ on my behalf. My obedience should be in response to what He has done for me. It should be an outward expression of the Spirit's presence within me. As I submit to His will and obey Your Word, my life will be pleasing to You. Amen

Things Are Not As They Seem.

1 Kings 11-12, 2 Corinthians 4

For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. – 2 Corinthians 4:17-18 ESV

Chapters 11 and 12 of 1 Kings mark a dramatic turning point in the life of Solomon. His troubles don't begin here, but things take a marked turn for the worse in these passages. All along the way, we have been given a glimpse into Solomon's ongoing struggle with unfaithfulness. He loved God, but he also loved fame, prosperity, power and pleasure. In fact, Solomon himself records his mindset at this time in the book of Ecclesiastes.

4 I also tried to find meaning by building huge homes for myself and by planting beautiful vineyards. 5 I made gardens and parks, filling them with all kinds of fruit trees. 6 I built reservoirs to collect the water to irrigate my many flourishing groves. 7 I bought slaves, both men and women, and others were born into my household. I also owned large herds and flocks, more than any of the kings who had lived in Jerusalem before me. 8 I collected great sums of silver and gold, the treasure of many kings and provinces. I hired wonderful singers, both men and women, and had many beautiful concubines. I had everything a man could desire!

9 So I became greater than all who had lived in Jerusalem before me, and my wisdom never failed me. 10 Anything I wanted, I would take. I denied myself no pleasure. I even found great pleasure in hard work, a reward for all my labors. 11 But as I looked at everything I had worked so hard to accomplish, it was all so meaningless—like chasing the wind. There was nothing really worthwhile anywhere. – Ecclesiastes 2:4-11 NLT

Solomon had it all. But he was dissatisfied. And one of his many “loves” ended up turning him away from God. Chapter 11 opens up with the foreboding words, “Now King Solomon loved many foreign women…” (1 Kings 11:1 ESV). What an understatement! Solomon had more than 1,000 wives and concubines. His “love” could be better classified as an obsession. And as a result of his addiction to the opposite sex, Solomon would allow his heart to be turned away from God. He would end up constructing idols and places of worship for his many wives to worship their various false gods. All in disobedience to God's commands. His many earthly “loves” would cause his love for God to grow cold, “…for his heart was not wholly true to the Lord his God” (1 Kings 11:4 ESV).

What does this passage reveal about God?

What Solomon did was evil in God's eyes, and God would not tolerate it, so He split Solomon's kingdom. God would allow Solomon's son, Rehoboam, to keep the tribes of Judah and Benjamin, but the other ten tribes would break away to form the nation of Israel, under the leadership of Jeroboam. Everything that happened as a result of Solomon's unfaithfulness was “brought about by the Lord that he might fulfill his word” (1 Kings 12:15 ESV). God had warned Solomon what would happen if he failed to live in obedience to His commands. He had made it perfectly clear what the consequences of unfaithfulness would be. And yet, God did not fully destroy Solomon or his kingdom. Why? Because God had made a promise to David that one of his descendants would reign from his throne forever. God was going to raise up a future king from the tribe of Judah and so He was going to preserve and protect David's tribe at all costs. In all the bleakness surrounding this story, there is a glimmer of hope and light because of the faithfulness of God. He was not done yet. God had told Jeroboam, “Behold, I am about to tear the kingdom from the hand of Solomon and will give you ten tribes (but he shall have one tribe, for the sake of my servant David and for the sake of Jerusalem, the city that I have chosen out of all the tribes of Israel)” (1 Kings 11:31-32 ESV). In spite of the sins of Solomon, the unfaithfulness and subsequent sins of Jeroboam, God was still in full control of the situation. He was still working His divine plan of redemption, setting the stage for a future time when the one true king would establish His kingdom.

What does this passage reveal about man?

The events recorded in these two chapters of 1 Kings are filled with less-than-flattering portrayals of mankind. We don't come across too well. Solomon had an obvious sexual addiction. He was driven by his own physical appetites and allowed his lusts to control his actions. Rehoboam, his son, rejected the wise counsel of his elders, and chose to listen to the foolish advice of his peers. Jeroboam, literally handed a kingdom by God, quickly revealed his true heart, by setting up his own gods, his own sacred cities, and his own priesthood. He led the ten tribes of Israel into spiritual apostasy right from the start. Over and over again, we see the sinful disposition of man on display. Solomon, the wise, proves to be a fool. Rehoboam, the undeserving heir, reveals that wisdom is not an inherited trait. Jeroboam, the undeserving recipient of a kingdom, shows just how quickly gratefulness can turn to unfaithfulness. But we must remember that these men were simply “vessels of clay,” weak, fragile, ordinary men who, when left to their own devices, quickly revealed just how worthless and sinful they really were. But their unfaithfulness is juxtaposed with God's unwavering faithfulness. Their infidelity is contrasted with God's unfailing love. Without God, all of these men were helpless and hopeless. They were weak and powerless to battle their own sinful dispositions and inclinations. Driven by their own self-centered desires and motivated by their sinful passions, each of them paints a vivid picture of man's moral bankruptcy.

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

But God was far from done. While He would end up punishing Solomon for his sins and split the once-powerful kingdom in two, God was still going to fulfill every promise He had ever made to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, and David. The amazing thing is that God uses “jars of clay” like us to accomplish His will. Paul knew this reality well. He reminded the Corinthians believers, “We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure. This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves” (2 Corinthians 4:7 NLT). Paul knew that he was no better than anyone else. His life was a product of God's incredible mercy and grace. He knew that, left to his own devices, he was fully capable of the same sins as Solomon, Rehoboam, or Jeroboam. But because of what Christ had done in his life, Paul knew that his human weakness was like a canvas on which God was painting a beautiful image revealing His own glory and power. Paul's life was anything but easy. “We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair. We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed. Through suffering, our bodies continue to share in the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be seen in our bodies” (2 Corinthians 4:8-10 NLT). Yes, he was weak. Yes, his circumstances were less-than-ideal. But he understood that God was at work, revealing His power through Paul's own human weakness. Which is why he could respond, “So we do not lose heart” (2 Corinthians 4:16 ESV). Paul knew that his current circumstances were merely a precursor to a future glory that God was going to reveal at some future date. Rather than dwell on the visible, physical realities of his circumstances, Paul chose to focus on the unseen, as yet unfulfilled, promises of God. Solomon, Rehoboam and Jeroboam had no idea what God was doing behind the scenes. Their focus was on “the things that are seen” which “are transient” (2 Corinthians 4:18 ESV). When we love sight of the eternal, we find ourselves focusing all our attention on the temporal. Like Solomon, we can find ourselves seeking all our hope and fulfillment in the things of this world. “Anything I wanted, I would take. I denied myself no pleasure. I even found great pleasure in hard work, a reward for all my labors. But as I looked at everything I had worked so hard to accomplish, it was all so meaningless—like chasing the wind. There was nothing really worthwhile anywhere” (Ecclesiastes 2:10-11 NLT). We are vessels of clay – weak, helpless, fragile, and without value – apart from the redemptive work of Christ in our lives. But it is through our inherent weakness that God has chosen to reveal His surpassing power and glory. It is through our struggles and trials that God wants to prove Himself faithful and strong. Things may appear desperately bad, but things are not always as they seem.

Father, You are always at work. You are always faithful. You are always strong. Help me focus on the reality of Your presence and power, the undeniable fact of my own weakness, and the unwavering promise of Your love for me as proven through the death of Your own Son on my behalf. Thank You that things are never quite they appear to be. May I learn to see You in the circumstances of my life. I want to see Your power through my weakness. Amen

Blind Optimism.

1 Kings 9-10, 2 Corinthians 3

Thus King Solomon excelled all the kings of the earth in riches and in wisdom. And the whole earth sought the presence of Solomon to hear his wisdom, which God had put into his mind. Every one of them brought his present, articles of silver and gold, garments, myrrh, spices, horses, and mules, so much year by year. – 1 Kings 10:23-25 ESV

Solomon was a rock star – an international celebrity who drew admirers from all over the world. He had a reputation that attracted attention and led to increased fame and fortune. He was wealthy, wise, and enjoying the lavish lifestyle of a powerful king. But for all his power and popularity, Solomon was blind to the consequences of his lifestyle. Yes, it appeared as if God's hand was all over him. He seemed to be enjoying the blessing of God. After all, a big part of his reputation was based on his God-given wisdom. The visiting queen of Sheba said of Solomon, “Your wisdom and prosperity surpass the report that I heard” (1 Kings 10:7 ESV). But Solomon had been warned by God that His blessing was conditional, saying, “if you will walk before me, as David your father walked, with integrity of heart and uprightness, doing according to all that I have commanded you, and keeping my statutes and my rules, then I will establish your royal throne over Israel forever, as I promised David your father” (1 Kings 9:4-5 ESV). Notice that God was calling Solomon to live with integrity of heart. That phrase has to do with moral wholeness or completeness. The Hebrew word is tom, and it carries the idea of being fully devoted to God in every area of life, with no compartmentalization. Solomon was to live his entire life before God's all-seeing gaze with nothing hidden or kept secret. He was to live in obedience to all of God's commands. But Solomon was gradually ignoring what God had commanded him to do and wrongly assuming that his great wealth and unbridled success were signs of God's blessings and satisfaction with his life.

What does this passage reveal about God?

God had warned the people of Israel that when He finally gave them a king, he would be required to reign according to God's terms. “Only he must not acquire many horses for himself or cause the people to return to Egypt in order to acquire many horses, since the Lord has said to you, ‘You shall never return that way again.’ And he shall not acquire many wives for himself, lest his heart turn away, nor shall he acquire for himself excessive silver and gold” (Deuteronomy 17:16-17 ESV). It was God's desire that the king of Israel be a man who regular time immersing himself in the law so that he might live according to it. “And when he sits on the throne of his kingdom, he shall write for himself in a book a copy of this law, approved by the Levitical priests. And it shall be with him, and he shall read in it all the days of his life, that he may learn to fear the Lord his God by keeping all the words of this law and these statutes, and doing them,  that his heart may not be lifted up above his brothers, and that he may not turn aside from the commandment, either to the right hand or to the left, so that he may continue long in his kingdom, he and his children, in Israel” (Deuteronomy 17:18-20 ESV). He was to be a man of the Word. He was to live obediently and humbly, not driven by pride and hungry for power. He was to recognize his role as God's representative, ruling on His behalf, and subject to God's divine will.

What does this passage reveal about man?

Solomon was a man, just like any other man, and was subject to the same temptations we all face. He was susceptible to the same sinful tendencies that every great leader encounters. He let his fame, power and fortune go to his head. He was surrounded by great wealth. He was constantly bombarded with flattering words and feigning admirers who told him how smart, successful and gifted he was. “This King Solomon excelled all the kings of the earth in riches and in wisdom. And the whole earth sought the presence of Solomon to hear his wisdom…” (1 Kings 10:23-24 ESV). Solomon was living the dream life, but he didn't realize that his dream was about to become a nightmare; all because of his subtle disobedience. He had compromised. He had rationalized. He had intermarried when he shouldn't have. He had amassed great quantities of gold when God had told him not to. He had bought horses and chariots from Egypt, in direct violation of God's command. He had made an alliance with Egypt, marrying Pharaoh's daughter, also in disobedience to God's will. Solomon grew wealthy beyond belief, personally benefiting from his God-given wisdom and enjoying the fruit of God's favor. But he was blind to his own sin. He was ignorant of his own subtle rebellion against God. Palaces, gold, silver, chariots, horses, ornate thrones, powerful friends, and a growing reputation all blinded the eyes of Solomon, preventing him from recognizing his own disobedience and inevitable downfall. God had told Solomon that if he failed to obey, then God would be forced to end his rule, destroy his kingdom, level the temple, and cut off the people of Israel from the land. While Solomon was enjoying the blessings of God for a season, the time was coming when God would deal with his disobedience in a sobering way. Solomon had wrongly made it all about himself. In spite of his effort to build the temple, he had spent far more time and money building his own kingdom. He had placed himself at the center of his own universe and left God as an afterthought, a convenient resource to be used in times of trouble.

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

The apostle reminds us that our sufficiency is to be found in God. We are never to assume that we bring anything to the table that gives us worth or value. “Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God” (2 Corinthians 3:5 ESV). We live and breath based on the grace of God. We enjoy the promise of eternal life solely because of the grace of God. Solomon lived during the era of the law. He was part of a different dispensation in which obedience to the law was non-negotiable and undeniable. Paul calls it “the ministry of condemnation” (2 Corinthians 3:9 ESV). The law, which was impossible for any man to keep perfectly, ended up condemning all. It was a constant reminder of man's incapacity to live righteously. Yet God was constantly revealing His glory to men in an effort to remind them of His power and to create in them a holy fear. But they lived as if their eyes were veiled. They couldn't see God's glory or recognize His holiness. They were unable to understand that even their obedience was dependent upon God, not their own self-effort. A big part of the giving of the law was to reveal just how holy God really was. His standard was so high that no man could keep it. That insufficiency should have driven them closer and closer to God for help and hope. But they were blind. Paul says, “For to this day, when they read the old covenant that same veil remains unlifted, because only through Christ is it taken away. Yes, to this day whenever Moses is read a veil lies over their hearts. But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed” (2 Corinthians 3:14-16 ESV). Unlike Solomon, I have an “unveiled face.” I am fully capable of seeing and comprehending the glory of the Lord. I am fully cognizant that it is His amazing grace that gives me the capacity to live wholly, completely in obedience to His will. I can't do it in my own strength any more than Solomon could. Without His help, I would be in the same state as Solomon. In fact, too often, I find myself living just as Solomon lived – surrounded by the blessings of God, given access to the wisdom of God, but living as if I was my own god. My eyes have been opened, but it is so easy to live as if I was blind, ignorant of God's grace and still trying to live the godly life in my own strength and self-sufficiency.

Father, I want to constantly remember that my sufficiency is found in You, not me. I want to live with my eyes wide open to the fact that I am incapable of living the Christian life without Your Spirit, Your Word and Your help. My sufficiency is from You. Do not let me fall back into the trap of trying to live this life in my own strength. It is impossible. But You have made my holiness a reality. You have provided for me what I could have never provided for myself. Amen

The Fragrance of Christ.


1 Kings 7-8, 2 Corinthians 2

But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere. – 2 Corinthians 2:14 ESV

The Temple was a magnificent edifice. It would appear that Solomon spared no expense on its construction. He used the finest materials and expert craftsmen to erect this “house” for God. It was filled with exotic woods and covered with gold and precious metals. It would be a testament to God's presence among them and a reminder of God's holiness and glory. But the writer of 1 Kings makes an interesting aside in his description of the temple's construction. He writes, “Solomon was building his own house thirteen years, and he finished his entire house” (1 Kings 7:1 ESV). What is striking is that the last verse of the previous chapter indicated that Solomon had spent just seven years building the temple. So he had taken nearly twice as long to build his own palace complex as he had to build the temple. Two houses had been built and they stand in distinct contrast to one another. While Solomon had finished the basic construction of the temple, it seems that he had yet to complete the interior. It is not until the end of chapter seven that we read, “Thus all the work that King Solomon did on the house of the Lord was finished” (1 Kings 7:51 ESV). And until the temple was complete, inside and out, no worship could take place. And it was not until the Ark of the Covenant was brought into the Holy of Holies that the presence of the Lord filled the temple. Without God's presence, the temple was just another building. Its value was not to be found in its architecture or trappings. Its value was in the abiding presence of God that dwelt above the mercy seat on top of the Ark of the Covenant. But God's presence among them was dependent upon their obedience to Him. As long as they remained set apart to Him, He would remain among them. It was their lives that were to be a testimony to God's abiding presence. His power was to be manifested in their lives. His law was to direct and guide their lives. His abiding presence was tied to their abiding faithfulness.

What does this passage reveal about God?

At the dedication of the temple, Solomon prays a lengthy prayer that is an interesting mixture of divine worship and self-adulation. While he goes out of his way to acknowledge God's holiness, he can't seem to stop promoting his own accomplishments. Over and over again, he refers to the temple as “this house that I have built” (1 Kings 8:27 ESV). It is as if he is reminding God and the people that this magnificent structure was all his doing. It is almost as if he believes that God is somehow obligated to dwell in this house that Solomon has so graciously constructed for Him. But God didn't need a temple in which to live. He hadn't required David or Solomon to construct Him a house. The temple, while an important fixture in the lives of the Israelites, was never intended to become the focal point of their religious lives. God was to be the sole focus of their attention and the object of their worship. In his prayer of dedication, Solomon begs God to hear their prayers and forgive their sins. He uses a variety of likely future scenarios in which the people may find themselves in trouble due to sin, and call out to God for help. Solomon wants to obligate God to hear their cries and answer their prayers, providing forgiveness and deliverance from whatever trouble that is plaguing them.

What does this passage reveal about man?

Solomon knew that his reign was dependent upon God. He fully understood that his future success as king was directly tied to God's abiding presence. He also knew that the people were going to sin against God and live in disobedience to His laws. He even weaved in a reminder to the people to remain true to God. “Let your heart therefore be wholly true to the Lord our God, walking in his statutes and keeping his commandments, as at this day” (1 Kings 8:61 ESV). But Solomon needed to take his own advice. He would prove to be one of the biggest violators of God's commands. You can see in these two chapters his own struggle with pride, self-promotion, affluence, and self-will. While the dedication of the temple was a great occasion and Solomon and the people walked away “joyful and glad of heart for all the goodness the Lord had shown to David his servant and to Israel his people” (1 Kings 8:66 ESV), the real threat to God's abiding presence was going to be their ongoing obedience. It was their lives, lived in obedience to God's commands, that were to be the real testament to God's presence and power among them. As they lived for God, they would be a visible testimony regarding God's reality. Paul seemed to know this better than anyone. His perspective was that his life was a constant advertisement of God's presence. He wrote, “But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal processions, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere” (2 Corinthians 2:14 ESV). Paul's life was a living, breathing billboard for God's divine presence and power. Paul viewed his life as “an aroma of Christ to God” (2 Corinthians 2:15 ESV). Some found Paul's life attractive, desiring to have what had he had. Others were turned off by what they saw, viewing his life as distasteful and repulsive. But his only concern was that his life would be pleasing to God.

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

Solomon built a temple for God. But what God really wanted was a man after His own heart. He desired that Solomon live in obedience to His commands and in keeping with His divine will. But over and over again we will see that Solomon, while wise, still struggled with sin. He made unwise decisions and willingly violated God's commands. It was as if he saw himself above God's laws. He seemed to think that he had God's blessing and that God was somehow obligated to hear his prayers and forgive his sins, all because he had built God a house. But God desires obedience rather than sacrifice. He wants followers who live their lives in order to bring glory to His name. My life's ambition should be to live in such a way that I am an aroma of Christ to God. If I make that my focus, then others will see God in me. Some will be attracted by what they see and desire to know more. Others will be repulsed and find my life offensive to their self-centered sensibilities. But as long as I make it my life's goal to live in obedience to and for the glory of God, I can leave the results up to Him.

Father, I want my life to be a pleasing aroma to You as I live in obedience to Your Word and in submission to Your Spirit. As I model Christ-likeness, I will become a walking testimony to Your power and presence in my life. I am Your temple. Your Spirit dwells in me. May I live my life in such a way that the world will know that You are Lord. Amen

Living Within God's Will.

1 Kings 5-6, 2 Corinthians 1

For our boast is this, the testimony of our conscience, that we behaved in the world with simplicity and godly sincerity, not by earthly wisdom but by the grace of God, and supremely so toward you. – 2 Corinthians 1:12 ESV

Solomon was going to have the unique opportunity to fulfill the lifelong dream of his father, David, and build a temple for God. At one point in his reign, when David had established his kingdom and was living in a palace made of stone, he determined to build a suitable house for God, so that the Ark of the Covenant would no longer have to be housed in a tent. But God denied David the privilege of building the temple. Instead, God reminded David that it was He who had made David great. He had called him, established him and would continue to make his kingdom significant. God would raise up a son who would fulfill David's dream of a temple to house the Ark of the Covenant and become the dwelling place for the presence of God. Now Solomon was going to fulfill that promise. This was all part of God's divine will. And chapters 5 and 6 of 1st Kings go into great detail describing just how Solomon went about fulfilling the will of God regarding the construction of the temple. But God also makes it clear that His main concern regarding Solomon and the people of Israel was their obedience. God had told David, “Would you build me a house to dwell in?  I have not lived in a house since the day I brought up the people of Israel from Egypt to this day, but I have been moving about in a tent for my dwelling.  In all places where I have moved with all the people of Israel, did I speak a word with any of the judges of Israel, whom I commanded to shepherd my people Israel, saying, ‘Why have you not built me a house of cedar?’” (2 Samuel 7:5-7 ESV). God didn't need or demand that David build Him a house. But He would allow a house to be built. On one condition. “Concerning this house that you are building, if you will walk in my statutes and obey my rules and keep all my commandments and walk in them, then I will establish my word with you, which I spoke to David your father. And I will dwell among the children of Israel and will not forsake my people Israel” (1 Kings 6:12-13 ESV).

What does this passage reveal about God?

God's ultimate will for Solomon and the people of Israel was their obedience. The building of a great temple was not going to replace that obligation. While a great deal of detail is given about the intricate design and expensive trappings of gold and exotic woods that went into the construction of the temple, God's real concern was the people live in obedience to His laws. It was their obedience that would set them apart as His people. God knew that the temple would become a symbol of God's presence and would even tempt the people to believe that God was always with them, whether they lived in obedience to His laws or not. This impressive structure would almost become a status symbol, providing them with a false sense of God's presence and blessing. But God made it clear that it was their obedience to His laws that would determine and guarantee His presence among them. In his speech before the Sanhedrin recorded in Acts 7, Stephen reminded them, “…it was Solomon who built a house for hi. Yet the Most High does not dwell in houses made by hands, as the prophet says, ‘Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool. What kind of house will you build me, says the Lord, or what is the place of my rest? Did not my hand make all these things?’” (Acts 7:47-50 ESV). God did not require that Solomon build the temple. But he did require that Solomon live in obedience to His commands.

What does this passage reveal about man?

Stephen went on to tell the Jews of his day, “You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit” (Acts 7:51 ESV). The people of Israel would continue to live in rebellion against God, in spite of having a magnificent building in which they worshiped the presence of God among them. They never seemed to understand that it was their hearts that God wanted. Stephen would die as a result of his scathing words. He would be stoned to death for speaking truth to the people of Israel. Their response to his words revealed the true condition of their hearts. “They were enraged and they ground their teeth at him” ( Acts 7:54 ESV). The amazing thing is that Stephen was doing the will of God and it resulted in his death. He lived obediently to God's will and died as a result. In his second letter to the believers living in Corinth, Paul speaks a great deal about comfort and affliction. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort,  who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4 ESV). Paul knew from first-hand experience what it meant to suffer for Christ. He knew what it meant to endure affliction. But he also knew what it meant to receive comfort from God in the midst of that affliction. Paul's afflictions made him increasingly more dependent upon God. “On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again” (2 Corinthians 1:10 ESV). For Paul, living in obedience to God was the most important thing in his life. The way he lived his life may not have always made sense to those around him. In fact, the Corinthians were accusing him of indecisiveness because he kept saying he was going to come visit them, but then he wouldn't show up. But Paul assured them that he did not make his plans according to the flesh. In other words, he was not the one who was in charge of his life. He depended upon God and viewed any perceived setback or delay as the will of God for his life. His main concern was “that we behaved in the world with simplicity and godly sincerity, not by earthly wisdom but by the grace of God” (2 Corinthians 1:12 ESV).

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

Paul didn't want his life to be marked or characterized by hypocrisy or insincerity. He wanted to live honestly and openly in obedience to God's will for his life. He wanted to live in godly sincerity or purity, motivated by the grace of God, not the wisdom of men. He knew that he was completely dependent upon God's grace, as made available through Jesus' death on the cross and the indwelling presence of God's Spirit. He was incapable of living the godly life without God's supernatural help. Yes, he longed to visit the Corinthian believers again. But he longed more to live in obedience and subjection to the will of God for his life. And that is how God wants me to live. God is less concerned about all my accomplishments for Him, than He is with my obedience to Him. He wants me to live without hypocrisy and in godly sincerity, completely dependent upon Him. Building “temples” for God may impress others, but God is much more concerned with our hearts. He knows that our accomplishments mean nothing if our hearts are far from Him. Obedience and submission to His will are still the object of our existence and the ultimate expression of our love for Him.

Father, You didn't need Solomon or David to build You a house. You don't need me to accomplish great things for You. All You really want is my heart. You desire my obedience and submission to Your will for my life. Help me to live without hypocrisy and in godly sincerity, completely dependent upon You. Amen

Ken Miller Grow Pastor & Minister to Men

Wasted Wisdom.

1 Kings 3-4, 1 Corinthians 16

Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love. – 1 Corinthians 16:13 ESV

Solomon was given the opportunity of a lifetime. God spoke to him in a dream and basically told him that He would grant Solomon one wish. It was as if God was saying, “Name it and you can have it!” But instead of asking for more money, fame, power or military success, Solomon asked for “an understanding mind to govern your people, that I may discern between good and evil, for who is able to govern this your great people” (1 Kings 3:9 ESV). Given the chance to have God grant his one wish, Solomon asked for godly wisdom. And as a result of his request, God also granted Solomon what he had not asked for: “both riches and honor, so that no other king shall compare with you, all your days” (1 Kings 3:13 ESV). While this had been a dream, it had real-life implications. God gave Solomon great wisdom and blessed him with great wealth, incredible success, and a reign marked by peace rather than war. But God's provision of wisdom came with a condition. Solomon was required to live obediently according to God's statutes and commandments. This was going to prove to be a real challenge for the king, in spite of his wisdom. God made Solomon wise, but Solomon was going to have to choose to be obedient.

What does this passage reveal about God?

Chapter three of 1 Kings opens up with the seemingly innocent statement: “Solomon made a marriage alliance with Pharaoh king of Egypt” (1 Kings 3:1 ESV). But this one sentence speaks volumes regarding Solomon and his struggle to remain faithful to God's commands. In Deuteronomy 17:16, God had made it clear that the king of Israel was not to “return to Egypt” and make alliances of any kind with that nation, because God had told the people of Israel, “You shall never return that way again.” Not only that, God had commanded that the king of Israel “shall not acquire many wives for himself, lest his heart turn away, nor shall he acquire for himself excessive silver and gold” (Deuteronomy 17:17 ESV). In Deuteronomy 7:3, God had warned the people of Israel against intermarriage with foreign nations because He knew that these marriage alliances would end up in idolatry and unfaithfulness.

In Deuteronomy 12, God had commanded the people of Israel to destroy all the high places in the land of Canaan, where the pagan nations had worshiped their false gods. God had said, “You shall tear down their altars and dash to pieces their pillars and burn their Asherim with fire. You shall chop down the carved images of their gods and destroy their name out of that place. You shall not worship the Lord your God in that way” (Deuteronomy 12:3-4 ESV). God went on to tell them that they were to seek a solitary place and establish it as their only center of worship. And yet we read, “Solomon loved the Lord, walking in the statutes of David his father, only he sacrificed and made offerings at the high places” (1 Kings 3:3 ESV).

What does this passage reveal about man?

Solomon loved God. He also knew that if he was to rule the people of God successfully, he was going to need the wisdom of God. And while God would grant his wish, and provide Solomon a wise and discerning mind, this did not completely eliminate his tendency to make unwise choices. Wisdom still requires obedience. Knowing what to do and doing it are two different matters. Solomon's wisdom was indisputable. He was world-renowned for his wisdom and displayed it on a regular basis for all to see. The people “stood in awe of the king, because they perceived that the wisdom of God was in him to do justice” (1 Kings 3:28 ESV). But Solomon was going to struggle with obedience. His God-given wisdom was not going to prevent him from making unwise choices and self-destructive decisions. God was clearly blessing Solomon, providing him with incredible wisdom and discernment, as well as peace and prosperity. But Solomon amassed for himself thousands of chariots and horses, in direct violation of Deuteronomy 17:16: “Only he must not acquire many horses for himself.” In the midst of great peace made possible by God, Solomon was building up a might army. The psalmist would later write, “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God” (Psalm 20:7 ESV). It seems that Solomon had a trust problem. It would also appear that he had a pride problem. And it is painfully clear that he struggled with an obedience problem.

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

In the closing paragraphs of his letter to the Corinthian church, Paul writes, “Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong” (1 Corinthians 16:13 ESV). These were people who had placed their faith in Christ, who had received the indwelling presence of the Spirit of God, and who were assured eternal life. But Paul still reminds them to be on the lookout against sin and to remain steadfast in their faith. He knew that they were going to continue to face difficult days ahead, so he told them to stand firm and act like men. He encouraged them to remain strong. And then he added, “Let all that you do be done in love” (1 Corinthians 16:13 ESV). They had been saved. They had the Spirit of God within them. They were assured of future life with God. But in the meantime, they were going to need to live obediently, faithfully, and firmly grounded on the Word of God. They had the wisdom of God residing within them in the form of the Spirit of God, but they were still going to have to obey what He told them to do. They were going to have to live in faithful dependence upon God's Word. We have available to us the wisdom of God in the form of the Spirit of God and the written Word of God. But all the wisdom in the world, if not obeyed, will never do us any good. A Bible that is read, but not applied, will never change us. A Spirit residing within us, but regularly ignored by us, will never transform us. Solomon had received a great gift from God, but it was up to him to avail himself of it. I have been given a great gift from God, but I must choose to be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like a man and be strong.

Father, Your incredible wisdom is available to me every day. I have access to wisdom beyond that of even Solomon. And yet, far too often, I ignore it or simply disobey it. I choose to live based on my own ignorance, driven by selfishness, and motivated by my own sin nature. Help me see the reality of my own condition and turn away from living life on my own terms. I want to apply Your wisdom to every area of my life and live in obedience to Your Word and in submission to Your Spirit. Amen

The Ultimate Victory.

The Ultimate Victory.

1 Kings 1-2, 1 Corinthians 15

The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. – 1 Corinthians 15:56-57 ESV

Ultimately, David had to die. Death is the eventual and unavoidable outcome for all men. David had reigned as king of Israel for 40 years, but that reign had to come to an end. And even as David prepared to pass from the scene, the soap-opera-like atmosphere continued to take place all around him. His son, Adonijah followed the example of his late brother, Absalom, and determined to make himself the next king of Israel. Sin continued to raise its ugly head in the household of David, resulting in an eventual confrontation between David's two sins, Adonijah and Solomon. To prevent Adonijah from splitting the kingdom, David has Solomon anointed his successor and transfers the kingdom over to him. But the influence of sin continues to impact the lives of those who will outlive David. Solomon eventually is forced to have Adonijah executed because he poses a continual threat to his kingdom. Solomon also has Joab, the former commander of David's army, executed for having taken the lives of two innocent men. Shemei, the man who cursed David as he was fleeing Jerusalem after Absalom had taken over his kingdom, is eventually executed for having violated his house arrest. Sin and death continue to rule and reign even after David has disappeared off the scene.

What does this passage reveal about God?

Sin is a constant reality for all of us on this planet. David experienced it. His son Solomon would soon recognize its undeniable influence not only over his kingdom, but his own life. God, who had created mankind to have an intimate, uninterrupted relationship with Himself, knew that sin would continue to cause chaos, confusion and destroy any chance of men having a right relationship with their Creator. But God had a plan. He had a solution to the problem of sin. David was simply a conduit through whom God would eventually bring a descendant who would conquer mankind's greatest enemies: sin and death. David had been a mighty warrior, but he could never defeat the sin in his own life and he was totally incapable of conquering death. His son, Solomon, would be one of the wisest men who ever lived, but he would still find himself susceptible to sin and prone to living in broken fellowship with God. Paul told the Corinthians, “I tell you this, brothers: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable” (1 Corinthians 15:50 ESV). Man, in his natural state, is infected by sin and, therefore, so contaminated that he is unworthy to live in the presence of God. Just as Adonijah could not live as a citizen in Solomon's kingdom, no man can be allowed to live in God's kingdom. Our sin and propensity for insurrection make us unworthy and unacceptable.

What does this passage reveal about man?

David was a man after God's own heart, but he still struggled with sin. He still failed to successfully live up to God's righteous standards. His son, Solomon, was filled with wisdom, but he wasn't smart enough to escape the influence of sin over his life. His disobedience and rebellion would eventually result in God's division of the kingdom. Man's only hope was going to come in the form of regeneration and resurrection. Man had to be completely renewed from within. He required a new nature, not a slightly improved version of the old one. God would have to give man a new heart and place a new spirit within him. God's solution to man's problem was a Savior. He sent His own Son to solve the sin problem by having Him live a sinless life in perfect obedience to the righteous commands of the Law. Jesus did what no man had ever done before – live without sin. His sinlessness made Him an acceptable sacrifice and substitute for man. Someone had to pay for the sins of mankind, and that someone had to be sinless. Jesus met the criteria and He gave His life so that God's righteous judgment might be satisfied. God had to deal justly with the sin and rebellion of men. He couldn't just overlook it or ignore it. Jesus had to die. Paul states it clearly. “…that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared…” (1 Corinthians 15:3-5 ESV). Christ's death was not enough. If all He had done was died, then He would simply have been a martyr. But Jesus died and was given back His life by God the Father. He was restored to life, proving that He was not just another man whose life ended in death. He actually conquered death. He proved that God was more powerful than death itself. Peter said of Jesus, “But God knew what would happen, and his prearranged plan was carried out when Jesus was betrayed. With the help of lawless Gentiles, you nailed him to a cross and killed him. But God released him from the horrors of death and raised him back to life, for death could not keep him in its grip” (Acts 2:23-24 NLT).

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

David's death didn't change anything. The world he left behind was just as screwed up as when he lived in it. His sons would continue to feud and fight over the kingdom he left behind. Sin would still influence and infect daily life. But the death of Jesus accomplished something incredible. It not only provided me with forgiveness of sin and payment for my penalty. It guarantees me eternal life. I no longer need to fear death. Physical death will eventually come to all. But eternal death, or permanent separation from God the Father, is not something I ever need to fear again. Because Jesus was raised again to new life, I will be given new life as well. “Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed,  in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality.  When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: ‘Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?’” (1 Corinthians 15:51-55 ESV). There is a day coming when I will leave this sin-filled world behind. I will leave my sinful nature behind. I will be renewed, regenerated and remade in the likeness of Christ. My sin nature will be done away with. This old body will be replaced with a new, spiritual body that will no longer be susceptible to sin, sickness, or death. “Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:57 ESV).

Father, thank You that I no longer need to fear death. There is a future for me and it is because Your Son has made it possible. I am undeserving of it, but I am grateful for it. Help me live my life on this earth with my focus fixed on the reality of heaven. This life is not all there is. There is more to come and it has been guaranteed by the death, burial and resurrection of Your Son. Amen

A Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.

1 Kings 18-19

What are you doing here, Elijah? ­– 1 Kings 19:9 NLT

Have you ever had one of those moments in life where you feel all alone, under attack, or is nothing is going the way you expected? Oftentimes those kinds of days seem to follow close in the heels of times of victory. You can have experienced a season of spiritual success where God's presence and power was so readily apparent in your life, but then something negative happens and the next thing you know you're going through a period of inexplicable sadness, even depression. You find yourself having a pity party. That's exactly what we find happening to Elijah, the prophet of God.

These two chapters remind me of a story we used to read when our kids were young. It was the book, Alexander and the Terrible Horrible No Good Very Bad Day. It is the story of a young boy who finds nothing in his life going right. Everything is always going wrong. "I went to sleep with gum in my mouth and now there's gum in my hair and when I got out of bed this morning I tripped on the skateboard and by mistake I dropped my sweater in the sink while the water was running and I could tell it was going to be a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day." That is the kind of day Elijah was having. And it all came about right after he experienced an incredible victory over Ahab with the help of the Lord. Elijah had returned to Israel and challenged Ahab and his prophets of Baal to a showdown. It was going to be a dual to the finish between their god Baal, and his God, Yahweh. And it had ended in the defeat of Baal and the execution of the so-called prophets of Baal. God had miraculously answered Elijah's prayer and provided victory. Elijah then prayed for rain to end the drought, and God answered. But when Elijah receives news that Jezebel, the wife of Ahab has threatened to kill him, he panics and runs. He takes off. He becomes afraid and literally runs for his life. He even asks God to kill him. But instead, God miraculously provides for him again, commanding His angels to feed him. Elijah then travels forty days into the wilderness and winds up hiding in a cave. During his time there, God visits him two different times and asks Elijah the simple question, "What are you doing here Elijah?" Elijah responds with a sad tale of all that he has done for God and how he now stands all alone as God's representative in the land. He has a pity party. He wallows in self pity. He forgets all that he has just seen God do – through him!

In spite of Elijah's fear, God visits him at Horeb and reveals Himself to him. God gives him instructions. He lets Elijah know that his job is not done yet. He is not alone. Elijah was disillusioned and disappointed that things had not worked out the way he had expected. Even though he had won the victory against the prophets of Baal and had personally killed 450 of them, Jezebel was still alive and shrines to Baal still existed all over the land. He felt like a failure and seemed to be disappointed that God had not finished the job. But God was not through. He had more that He was going to do – and He had others who were going to play a role in His divine plan for Israel. Elijah's next job was to anoint those whom God was going to use in the next phase of His clean-up project for Israel. The pity party was over. It was time for Elijah to get his focus off of him and back on God. God was far from done. Elijah was a bit player in God's grand redemptive story. He was one character in one act in a much larger play. He had had a bad day. But God was not through. This story was not about Elijah. It was about God and it always has been.

Father, forgive me for allowing my terrible horrible no good very bad days to distract me from what You are doing in and around me. I can so easily fall into having a pity party and think about me and me only. This is all about You and Your plan. I am not the star of this show – You are. This is not about my plan, but Yours. Give me a bigger perspective. Help me to recall and remember what You have done and are doing in, through, and around me. You are at work. You are not done. Amen


"Yahweh Is God!"

1 Kings 17

But Ahab did what was evil in the LORD's sight, even more than any of the kings before him. And as though it were not enough to live like Jeroboam, he married Jezebel, the daughter of King Ethbaal of the Sidonians, and he began to worship Baal. ­– 1 Kings 16:30-31 NLT

Things were bad in Israel and getting worse. A sad succession of kings had led the people of Israel deeper and deeper into apostasy, turning their backs on God and turning to other gods for their hope and help. And just when you think they've reached rock bottom, along comes yet another king who leads them even further down the road of spiritual rebellion. Ahab would prove to be one of the worst kings yet. He and his wife Jezebel made up a tag team that wreaked havoc on the spiritual condition of Israel. They officially replaced the worship of Yahweh with the worship of Baal – the Canaanite fertility god. This was especially distasteful to God because the Canaanites and their god were to have been wiped out when the people took over the Promised Land. Now Ahab was making Baal worship the government-sanctioned religion of his kingdom. This would go on for 14 years before God raised up a spokesman to stand up against King Ahab. Out of nowhere come Elijah the Tishbite. He boldly confronts the king and issues a decree against him that there will be no rain in the kingdom of Israel until he says so. Obviously, Elijah is speaking on behalf of God. God had warned the people repeatedly that if they turn against Him and worship other gods, He would bring drought on the land. "And if, in spite of this, you still disobey me, I will punish you for your sins seven times over. I will break down your arrogant spirit by making the skies above as unyielding as iron and the earth beneath as hard as bronze" (Leviticus 26:18-19 NLT). Now Elijah was reminding Ahab of the consequences of his sin.

What is fascinating in this story is that God chooses to speak through a man whose name just so happens to mean, "Yahweh is God." As soon as Ahab heard the name of this man who had stormed into his palace issuing threats, he would have gotten the irony in it all. Here he was setting up Baal as god and in the door walks a man whose very name reminds him that Yahweh is God. Not only that, the punishment Elijah threatens Ahab with is drought – due to no rain. It just so happens that Baal is the god in charge of RAIN. He was the storm god, the god responsible for fertility and crops.  Now Ahab was going to see just how great his god really was. And Elijah, this obscure and unlikely spokesman for Yahweh was going to find out just how powerful his God was.

After giving Ahab the bad news, Elijah was sent into hiding by God. During this time, God would begin to reveal Himself to Elijah, preparing him for an even greater confrontation with Ahab to come. By the side of the brook Cherith, God shows Elijah his provisional power. He miraculously feeds Elijah using a common raven as his servant. When the brook dries up, God sends Elijah to the home of a Gentile widow who just happens to be a worshiper of Yahweh. This woman, a widow, is already poor but is now suffering even more due to the drought. Yet God show Elijah His inexhaustible power by miraculously multiplying the widow's resources so that she could live through the drought. When the widow's son suddenly dies, Elijah gets to see God's restorative power and the significance of prayer in the life God's children. In death, this boy represents the spiritual condition of Israel. They needed reviving at the hand of God. Only He could restore them to life and rescue them from their spiritual death. Elijah was learning to trust the one who had called him and sent him as His spokesman to Ahab. He would need to trust in the power of God in the days to come. He was going to be facing some difficult situations in the days to come and God was preparing him for battle.

Father, You want to prove Your power in my life each and every day. You want me to know that You can provide, that Your provision is inexhaustible, and that You are in the restoration business. Nothing is too difficult for You. The more I recognize Your power in my life, the more I will learn to trust and lean on You instead of myself. You are greater than all the little god-replacements we set up in our lives. Never let me forget that. Amen


Can It Get Any Worse?

1 Kings 15-16

He followed the example of Jeroboam, continuing the sins of idolatry that Jeroboam had led Israel to commit. Thus, he aroused the anger of the LORD, the God of Israel."­– 1 Kings 16:26 NLT

Rebellion always looks so appealing in the beginning. It tempts us with images of freedom, self-sufficiency, and a life void of all those confining rules. Most people refuse God's offer of salvation because of all that they think they are going to have to give up if they accept it. They don't want to give up their "freedom" and autonomy, so they reject God's offer of grace for a life of independence and self-reliance. But rebellion against God has its price. And nowhere do you see this more clearly than in the history of the people of Israel. Their unfaithfulness to God and refusal to submit to Him as the only true God has led to a civil war and two divided kingdoms. In the north, Israel has continued its downward spiral of idolatry. Each successive king continues in the ways of Jeroboam, leading the people deeper and deeper into their rejection of God. But rather than learn from the mistakes of their predecessor, each king gets progressively worse. Chapter 16 of 1 Kings is full of murder, intrigue, plots, assassinations, suicide, military takeovers, and civil and political unrest. Their rebellion against God has led to anything but freedom. Basha, Elah, Zimri, Omri, and Ahab. Not exactly household names, but their actions would make a lasting impact on the people of Israel. Their reigns were short, but their legacies were long-lasting.

Over and over again we read that they "aroused the anger of the Lord." Why? Because they had rejected God and were making their own gods to worship. They had forsaken all that God had done for them and turned their backs on Him. A big part of their problem was ingratitude. They were ungrateful for God's deliverance, protection, and provision of the very land in which they lived. Their very existence as a nation was completely the result of God's call of Abraham hundreds and hundreds of years earlier. God had chosen to make them His people. He had redeemed them out of slavery in Egypt, guided them across the wilderness and delivered them into the Promised Land. And now they had turned their backs on Him – after all He had done for them. Their self-sufficiency and pride was intolerable. Their ingratitude was unacceptable. God would not allow His people to mock His name. Their rejection of Him would have consequences. Their desire for freedom would prove costly. But lest we look down our noses at the Israelites and judge them harshly for their actions, we need to remember that their story is our story. In many ways, our lives mirror theirs. We too can turn our backs on the very God who chose us, redeemed us, and delivered us into a new life of promise. We can make other gods to replace Him. We can turn our desire for freedom and autonomy into rebellion. It reminds me of the words of Peter:

But you are not like that, for you are a chosen people. You are a kingdom of priests, God's holy nation, his very own possession. This is so you can show others the goodness of God, for he called you out of the darkness into his wonderful light. "Once you were not a people; now you are the people of God. Once you received none of God's mercy; now you have received his mercy." Dear brothers and sisters, you are foreigners and aliens here. So I warn you to keep away from evil desires because they fight against your very souls. Be careful how you live among your unbelieving neighbors. Even if they accuse you of doing wrong, they will see your honorable behavior, and they will believe and give honor to God when he comes to judge the world. – 1 Peter 2:9-12 NLT

We were once not a people, but now we are the people of God. And we are to live like it. We belong to Him. Our lives are to honor and respect Him. We are to live in obedience to Him, so that all those around us can see the difference in our lives and honor the One who makes it all possible. Israel was to be a light to the nations. So are we. Their light had dimmed because of rebellion. What about us?

Father, I am more like the Israelites than I want to admit at times. I can rebel with the worst of them. I can desire my freedom so strongly that I end up turning my back on You. And sometimes I don't even know I've done it. I erect replacements for You in my life and fail to recognize them for what they are – idols. Lord, never let me forget that I am what I am because of You. I was once dead in my sins, then You gave me new life through Your Son. I was a sinner, condemned and unclean, but You restored me, forgave me and cleansed me. Why would I ever turn my back on You? Amen


A Rare Breed.

1 Kings 15

Asa did what was pleasing in the LORD's sight, as his ancestor David had done. ­– 1 Kings 15:11 NLT

One of the saddest, yet most repeated phrases found in the Scriptures is "But he did what was evil in the LORD's sight and followed the example of his father" (1 Kings 15:26 NLT). You see it over and over again in the history of the kings of Israel and Judah. It seems that virtually every king these two nations ever had were unfaithful and worse than the one before them. And only occasionally was the long line of losers broken by someone like King Asa of Israel. And the writer of 1 Kings makes it clear that this was God's doing. "But for David's sake, the LORD his God allowed his dynasty to continue, and he gave Abijam a son to rule after him in Jerusalem. For David had done what was pleasing in the LORD's sight and had obeyed the LORD's commands throughout his life" (1 Kings 15:4-5 NLT). It was because of the faithfulness of David that God would allow an occasional king to rise up who would call the people back to a right relationship with Yahweh. Asa was that kind of a king. He breaks the pattern of apostasy and begins to do what was right in the eyes of God. Asa institutes a series of reforms, including the removal of the male cult prostitutes who "assisted" the men of Judah in their worship of false gods. He also removed the idols set up by his predecessors and took the bold step of removing his own grandmother as queen because she had assisted in the moral decline of Judah by erecting what was probably a highly obscene image or statue for the worship of Asherah.

Asa was swimming against the tide. He was battling a pattern of unfaithfulness and moral apathy that made his reforms especially hard to enact. The people would not have easily or eagerly embraced his reforms. Removing their idols and the myriad replacements for God they had grown used to turning to would have been met with skepticism and resistance. He probably was not popular in a lot of places within Judah. I doubt he had the best of relationships with his grandmother Maacah either. And while his reforms did not result in the complete iradication of idolatry from Judah, "Asa remained faithful to the LORD throughout his life" (1 Kings 15:14 NLT). He provided a 40-year respite from the pattern of moral and spiritual decay that plagued both Israel and Judah. During Asa's reign in Judah, Nadab would come to power in Israel and he "did what was evil in the LORD's sight and followed the example of his father, continuing the sins of idolatry that Jeroboam had led Israel to commit" (1 Kings 15:26 NLT). Nadab would be assassinated by Basha, who would take over the throne of Israel. "But he did what was evil in the LORD's sight and followed the example of Jeroboam, continuing the sins of idolatry that Jeroboam had led Israel to commit" (1 Kings 15:34 NLT). The pattern continues. Good and evil, faithful and unfaithful, righteous and unrighteous. But because God is in control and He has a plan for the people of Israel, He occasionally raises up a man after his own heart – a man who is willing to stand up for God and against the tide of moral and spiritual decay taking place all around him. God is still raising up individuals like that today – even with the church. Men and women who are willing to swim upstream and do the difficult job of calling the people of God back to faithfulness to God. The reality is, we can be just as prone to the erection of God-replacements in our lives as the people of Judah and Israel were. We can end up "worshiping" all kinds of things, turning to them instead of God for our comfort, encouragement, happiness, provision, protection, etc. Instead of trusting God, we can end up trusting a long list of other things that we expect to deliver what only God can. Like Asa, we need to do the hard task of removing the idols from our own lives and encouraging those around us to do the same thing. It won't be popular or pleasant. But the life of faithfulness seldom is. We are called to be salt and light – agents of influence and change in a dark and dying world. Will it be said of us, they did what was pleasing in the sight of God? I hope so.

Father, You are still raising up a faithful few who will stand in the gap and do what is right in Your eyes instead of their own. You are calling out a remnant of faithful followers who will do the right thing, even though it is the hard thing. May I be one of them. May I live my life in such a way that I challenge the status quo and model a life of faithfulness in the midst of the rampant unfaithfulness around me. May I be an Asa in my generation. Amen


Divided Kingdom. Divided Allegiance.

1 Kings 13-14

There was constant war between Rehoboam and Jeroboam. ­– 1 Kings 14:30 NLT

What a sad time in the history of the people of Israel. Gone are the glory days of Solomon. During his days, gold and silver were in abundance. Israel was wealthy, powerful, and influential. They enjoyed an unprecedented period of peace and prosperity. But now the kingdom was divided into north and south. The once powerful tribe of Judah was alone. The other tribes had split off and formed the northern kingdom of Israel. Their leader was Jeroboam, a former servant of Rehoboam, Solomon's son and heir to his throne. But in spite of their differences, the two kingdom shared one thing in common: They were both unfaithful to God. Rehoboam and Jeroboam had followed in Solomon's footsteps, erecting idols to other gods. Jeroboam had gone so far as to establish a completely separate worship system for the people in the northern kingdom. He chose and ordained his own priests and set up his own holy cities. There he erected altars to the gods he had made – two golden calves.

God was not happy. But He wasn't surprised either. He knew this was going to happen – after all, He's God. And because He is God, He had to deal with the divided allegiance of both Judah and Israel. To Jeroboam He said, "I promoted you from the ranks of the common people and made you ruler over my people Israel. I ripped the kingdom away from the family of David and gave it to you. But you have not been like my servant David, who obeyed my commands and followed me with all his heart and always did whatever I wanted him to do. You have done more evil than all who lived before you. You have made other gods and have made me furious with your gold calves. And since you have turned your back on me, I will bring disaster on your dynasty" (1 Kings 14:7-10 NLT). God had chosen Jeroboam and given him all he had. In return, Jeroboam had turned his back on God. He had disobeyed Him and chosen to serve gods of his own choosing. But Rehoboam was no better. "During Rehoboam's reign, the people of Judah did what was evil in the LORD's sight, arousing his anger with their sin, for it was even worse than that of their ancestors. They built pagan shrines and set up sacred pillars and Asherah poles on every high hill and under every green tree. There were even shrine prostitutes throughout the land. The people imitated the detestable practices of the pagan nations the LORD had driven from the land ahead of the Israelites" (1 Kings 14:22-24 NLT).

So God was forced to deal with their disobedience and apostasy. In fact, you see throughout these two chapters, that God is serious about the obedience of His chosen people. Even the young prophet, "the man of God" whom God sent with a word of warning for Jeroboam, suffered death because he refused to obey God completely. It would be easy to look at these two chapters and paint God as a vengeful, angry god who wipes out all those who disagree with Him. But what you have is a picture of the holiness of God in the face of the sinfulness of men. God graciously chooses these men and gives them places of prominence and importance in His kingdom. He makes them a part of His divine plan. In return, He asks for obedience. He reveals His power to them. He makes clear His expectations. The writer of the book of 1st Kings works hard to point out that disobedience brings a curse while obedience brings blessing. The reign of Solomon is described in great detail, pointing out the tremendous blessings of God on the people of God as long as they obeyed Him. But beginning with Solomon we see a pattern of willful rejection of the commands of God. And God is forced to deal with the divided allegiance of His people. He has chosen them, set them apart for His glory, and established them as His own. Their response? They reject Him. They disobey Him. They turn from Him.

And the pattern continues to this day. We love to enjoy the blessings of God. As the people of God, we expect them – even demand them. We pray for, and fully expect to enjoy peace, prosperity, abundance, joy, health, happiness, and a relatively care-free life. And for the most part, we do. But what is our response to the blessings of God? More often than not, it is disobedience. It is divided allegiance. We end up making other gods, replacements for the one true God. We turn to other things for our happiness, fulfillment, satisfaction, encouragement, peace of mind, and protection. We end up worshiping the gods of entertainment, money, materialism, pleasure, politics, career, sex, and even self. And then we are shocked and appalled when God is forced to deal with our unfaithfulness. We don't understand how a loving God can deal so unlovingly just because we have turned our back on Him. But God so often disciplines us because He loves us. Hebrews 12:6 reminds us, "For the Lord disciplines the one he loves and chastises every son he accepts." God wants us to obey Him because He wants to bless us. He wants us to enjoy His best for us. But He cannot tolerate our willful rebellion and rejection of Him. There are consequences for turning our backs on God. He continues to show grace and mercy, but He doesn't turn a blind eye to our rebellion. To do so would make Him less than God. So, "As you endure this divine discipline, remember that God is treating you as his own children. Whoever heard of a child who was never disciplined? If God doesn't discipline you as he does all of his children, it means that you are illegitimate and are not really his children after all. Since we respect our earthly fathers who disciplined us, should we not all the more cheerfully submit to the discipline of our heavenly Father and live forever ? For our earthly fathers disciplined us for a few years, doing the best they knew how. But God's discipline is always right and good for us because it means we will share in his holiness. No discipline is enjoyable while it is happening -- it is painful! But afterward there will be a quiet harvest of right living for those who are trained in this way." (Hebrews 12:7-11 NLT).

Father, help me to realize that my allegiance to You can become so easily divided. I can walk away from You so quickly and pursue gods of my own making. And yet, when I do, I am shocked when I suffer the consequences. I almost demand that You bless me. I want the blessing without the obedience. But that is not the way You work. You demand obedience. You have already blessed me is so many ways. You have chosen me, saved me. redeemed me, and promised me eternal life. In return, you ask that I trust You, obey You, follow You, and remain faithful to You. But I don't want to obey You out of fear or some sense of obligation, but willingly and gratefully, because of all that You have done for me. Amen


Headed In The Wrong Direction.

1 Kings 12

After seeking advice, the king made two golden calves. He said to the people, "It is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem. Here are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt. ­– 1 Kings 12:28 NLT

Solomon is gone. But he has left behind a legacy far more significant than his wisdom, magnificent royal palace and powerful kingdom. His son, Rehoboam, would inherit his throne, but also his love of women and his habit of worshiping the gods of his foreign-born wives. We are told in 1 Kings 11 that while he was still alive, Solomon "followed Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, and Molech the detestable god of the Ammonites. So Solomon did evil in the eyes of the LORD; he did not follow the LORD completely, as David his father had done" (1 Kings 11:5-6 NLT). As a result, God warned Solomon of he consequences of his rebellion. "Since this is your attitude and you have not kept my covenant and my decrees, which I commanded you, I will most certainly tear the kingdom away from you and give it to one of your subordinates" (1 Kings 11:11 NLT). God would choose Jeroboam, one of Solomon's servants, and give him ten of the tribes of Israel. Later the tribe of Simeon would later migrate north and join the northern tribes, leaving Rehoboam with only the tribe of Judah and the city of Jerusalem. Solomon's once powerful kingdom would be no more. And God makes it clear why all this was going to happen: "I will do this because they have forsaken me and worshiped Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, Chemosh the god of the Moabites, and Molech the god of the Ammonites, and have not walked in my ways, nor done what is right in my eyes, nor kept my statutes and laws as David, Solomon's father, did" (1 Kings 11:33 NLT).

In chapter 12 we see all that God had predicted taking place. It is almost painful to watch as Rehoboam, the son of the wisest man who ever lived, effectively destroys all that his father had spent years building. Rehoboam is the consummate expression of the fool lived out in real life. He refuses counsel, is wiser than his elders, and rash in his decision making. His foolish leadership causes the people to rebel, splitting the kingdom in two. Even in the northern kingdom, now led by Jeroboam, they end up walking away from God, worshiping gods of their own making. "After seeking advice, the king made two golden calves. He said to the people, 'It is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem. Here are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.' One he set up in Bethel, and the other in Dan. And this thing became a sin; the people went even as far as Dan to worship the one there" (1 Kings 12:28-30 NLT). A split kingdom with two rulers, both with divided hearts. Somehow they both forgotten all that God had done for them. They had failed to remember that God had made them a people. He had given them this land. He had made them His own. He had set them apart for His use and for His glory. But they had made this story all about them. It was their will in place of His. It was their way rather than His. In their eyes, God was replaceable. They didn't stop worshiping. They just stopped worshiping Him alone. They turned to other gods, rather than to the one true God. They created gods they could control – gods of their own making. And that tendency is alive and well among men today. We are still finding ways to make replacements for God in our lives. We look elsewhere for someone or something to bring us comfort, peace, joy, fulfillment, pleasure, power, confidence, and acceptance. We end up making idols out of just about everything. We worship and adore all kinds of things besides God. And the easiest way to discover what it is we worship is to look at where we spend our time, money, and attention. What do you worry about the most? That is your god. What do you think about the most? That is your god. What do you look to to bring you pleasure? That is your god. Where do you turn when you are in trouble? That is your god. Rehoboam and Jeroboam were both guilty of turning from the one true God to seek after false gods. But their spirit of rebellion didn't die with them. We have inherited their tendencies. We are tempted to do the same thing. But do we recognize it? Will we turn from it? In his book, Counterfeit Gods, Tim Keller defines an idol this way, "It is anything more important to you than God, anything that absorbs your heart and imagination more than God, anything you seek to give you what only God can give." Simple, straightforward and convicting. We could each stand to examine our lives and see what we have placed on the altar of our hearts in place of God.

Father, You alone are God. Forgive me for erecting my own gods in an attempt to meet my own needs and live my own life according to my own terms. Help me to learn from the lessons of Rehoboam and Jeroboam. Open our eyes so that we might see the replacements for You we have allowed to come into our lives. Amen


Obedience and Blessing.

I Kings 9

But if you or your sons indeed turn away from following Me, and do not keep My commandments and My statutes which I have set before you, and go and serve other gods and worship them, then I will cut off Israel from the land which I have given them, and the house which I have consecrated for My name, I will cast out of My sight. So Israel will become a proverb and a byword among all peoples. ­– 1 Kings 9:6-7 NLT

After Solomon dedicated the Temple God appeared to him and renewed His covenant that He had made with David, Solomon's father. "As for you, if you will walk before Me as your father David walked, in integrity of heart and uprightness, doing according to all that I have commanded you and will keep My statutes and My ordinances, then I will establish the throne of your kingdom over Israel forever, just as I promised to your father David, saying, 'You shall not lack a man on the throne of Israel.'" (1 Kings 9:4-5 NLT). God uses a conditional if-then statement. If Solomon walked in integrity or wholeness of heart and with uprightness, obeying all of God's commands, then he could expect certain blessings from God, including a kingdom that would never end. But there is a second part to this covenant. If Solomon or any of his sons failed to hold up their end of the covenant, then God warned that three things would happen. He would remove the people from the very land He had promised. He would remove His presence from the Temple. And He would remove His power and protection from the people of Israel so that rather than being feared by the nations, they would be mocked and ridiculed.

You see this warning used time and time again by the Old Testament prophets as they attempted to warn the people about God's demand for obedience and faithfulness. It did not take long for things to take a turn for the worse in regards to Israel's ability to obey. Solomon himself would end up compromising his faith in Yahweh by allowing his foreign-born wives to keep the idols of other gods in his homes. We see in this chapter a little of Solomon's lack of integrity when he gives King Hiram of Tyre 20 cities in exchange for all the lumber and 9,000 pounds of gold that Hiram had contributed to the building of the Temple and Solomon's palace. King Hiram was not impressed and even named the region Cabul, which means "good for nothing." We see a little of Solomon's conniving side as he rewards King Hiram with worthless land in exchange for his help and generosity. Lack of integrity or wholeness of characters was to be a distinguishing characteristic of the people of Israel. It had been that way since they had left the land of Egypt. It can be seen during the period of the judges. They were a whining, complaining, stubborn and stiff-necked people who constantly proved themselves unfaithful to God – in spite of His ongoing faithfulness. They were constantly turning their backs on God, but He has never turned His back on them. Yes, He has allowed them to suffer defeat, humiliation, even annihilation at the hands of their enemies, but He continues to preserve both the people and the land. He has also kept His promise to preserve the throne of David by sending His own Son as a human baby, born in to the royal lineage of David. Jesus is the king who will one day sit on David's throne, ruling from the city of Jerusalem.

"Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the old heaven and the old earth had disappeared. And the sea was also gone. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven like a beautiful bride prepared for her husband. I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, 'Look, the home of God is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them.  He will remove all of their sorrows, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. For the old world and its evils are gone forever.' And the one sitting on the throne said, 'Look, I am making all things new!' And then he said to me, 'Write this down, for what I tell you is trustworthy and true.' And he also said, 'It is finished! I am the Alpha and the Omega -- the Beginning and the End. To all who are thirsty I will give the springs of the water of life without charge! All who are victorious will inherit all these blessings, and I will be their God, and they will be my children.'" (Revelation 21:1-7 NLT).

Father, Your faithfulness to us is amazing. We have let you down time and time again, just like the people of Israel. But You never give up on us. You have never given up on them. You always keep Your covenant with Your people. And some day Your Son will sit on David's throne and rule from a renewed, revitalized Jerusalem. All things will be made new – including us. We will have new bodies and will worship You free from sin. Father, I can't thank You enough for Your covenant faithfulness. Forgive me for my weak faith, infidelity, and ungratefulness. You deserve my obedience and wholehearted commitment to You. Amen


Hear Our Prayers.

1 Kings 8

May you hear the humble and earnest requests from me and your people Israel when we pray toward this place. Yes, hear us from heaven where you live, and when you hear, forgive. ­– 1 Kings 8:30 NLT

In this recalling of Solomon's dedication of the Temple, we are given a word-for-word account of the prayer Solomon offered up to God on that solemn occasion. We are told that Solomon prayed this prayer with his hands upheld as he kneeled in front of the altar of the Lord. He had just built a magnificent structure, a testimony to the greatness of God. This impressive building was intended to be the house of God – His literal dwelling place. But even Solomon knew that no man could build a building big enough or grand enough to contain the God of the universe. He stated, "Why, even the highest heavens cannot contain you. How much less this Temple I have built!" (1 Kings 8:27 NLT). Solomon's God was bigger than Solomon's Temple. And Solomon knew that his Temple, his kingdom and the people of Israel were hopeless and helpless if God did not continue to fulfill His promises and keep His hand on them. So Solomon prayed. He begged God. And the one word he repeated over and over as he prayed was, "hear." He wanted to know that God was going to listen to the cries of His people. Solomon was wise. He knew human nature. He knew that a Temple alone was not going to make the people of Israel obedient and sin-free. The sacrificial system had yet to produce a perfect people. So he went to God and begged Him to be available during those time when the people sinned, turned their backs on God, or found themselves in desperate circumstances. Solomon leaves nothing to the imagination. He gave God scenario after scenario – countless examples of situations in which the people might find themselves calling out to God for help and mercy. When they were wrongly accused. When they suffered defeat at the hands of their enemies due to sin. When they find themselves in times of drought. When they suffer the effects of a natural disaster or calamity. When foreigners hear of the greatness of God and call out to Him. When they need help during times of war. When they sin and find themselves exiled to a foreign land.

It is almost as if Solomon knew exactly what the people of God were going to do in the years ahead. They would sin. They would find themselves at war. They would encounter diseases and disasters. They would end up in exile. And much of it because of their own sin and stubbornness. So Solomon, knowing the sinful nature of man, begged His God to never stop hearing the repentant prayers of His people.He wanted to know that, whatever happened, God would be there to hear from and respond to the people when they called out to Him. And over in 2 Chronicles we have God's condition for His response: "Then one night the LORD appeared to Solomon and said, 'I have heard your prayer and have chosen this Temple as the place for making sacrifices. At times I might shut up the heavens so that no rain falls, or I might command locusts to devour your crops, or I might send plagues among you. 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 heal their land. I will listen to every prayer made in this place, for I have chosen this Temple and set it apart to be my home forever. My eyes and my heart will always be here. (2 Chronicles 7:12-16 NLT). God wanted prayers mixed with humility, brokenness and repentance. He wanted to know they were sorry for their sin and serious about changing. And God wants the same things today. God still hears. But He wants to hear sincere prayers prayed from sincere hearts. He wants repentance not remorse. God hears, but He also perceives. He knows the difference between a prayer prayed from a broken heart and one prayed to simply to get out of a circumstance of brokenness. God hears. But what kind of prayers does He hear His people praying today?

Father, may we learn to be broken over our own brokenness. We are going to sin. We are going to let You down. We are going to do things that break Your law and Your heart. May we learn to cry out to You in repentance, not remorse. May we long to be forgiven more than we long to be released from whatever pain or difficulty we find ourselves in. Give us the capacity for praying prayers of sincerity. Amen