Our Persistent Compassionate God.

2 Chronicles 35-36, Philemon 1

The Lord, the God of their fathers, sent persistently to them by his messengers, because he had compassion on his people and on his dwelling place. But they kept mocking the messengers of God, despising his words and scoffing at his prophets, until the wrath of the Lord rose against his people, until there was no remedy. 2 Chronicles 36:15-16 ESV

The days of the kingdom of Judah are quickly coming to an end. In spite of the reigns of kings like Hezekiah and Josiah, the downward spiral of the kingdom continued. The unfaithfulness of the people became increasingly evident. Even the reforms of Josiah would not prevent the inevitable spiritual decline of the people. While Josiah had proven himself to be a good and godly king, he too failed to fully trust God. He had gone out of his way to reestablish the proper worship of God, reinstituting the Passover ceremony. But when he found himself facing a possible threat from the Egyptians, he took matters into his own hands and refused to listen to the words of God. His stubbornness and rebellion results in his own death. From there, things went downhill fast. Josiah was followed by his son Jehoahaz, but his reign would last only three months. He was deposed by the king of Egypt and replaced by his brother, Jehoiakim. He would be defeated by King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon and taken captive. Jehoiachin replaced him as king of Judah, but his reign would last a mere three months and ten days. He too would be taken captive to Babylon by Nebuchadnezzar. Zedekiah, his brother, would replace him as king. But “he stiffened his neck and hardened his heart against turning to the Lord, the God of Israel” (2 Chronicles 36:13 ESV). And all during this time, God had been sending His words of warning and calls to repentance through the prophets. He had repeatedly sent men like Obadiah, Joel, Isaiah, Micah, Nahum, Zephaniah, Habakkuk and Jeremiah. These men had been His ambassadors and spokesmen, delivering His message to the kings and the people of Judah. They warned of things to come. They called the people to repentance. They expressed God's desire to restore them if they would only return to Him. But rather than listen, the people mocked God's prophets, “despising his words” spoken through them. They scoffed at these men, rejecting their messages, “until there was no remedy.”

What does this passage reveal about God?

God persistently, compassionately gave His children opportunities to return to Him. He begged them to repent. He warned them of what was going to happen if they refused to turn from their wickedness. He gave them ample proof of His power and goodness when they did things His way. But they just couldn't seem to trust Him. Even the good kings each eventually ended their reigns on a sour note. They started well, but ended poorly. But God's compassion never failed. Jeremiah the prophet would write of God, “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness” (Lamentations 3:22-23 ESV). When reading these closing chapters of 2 Chronicles, we must remember that they were written to the people of Judah who had just recently returned to the land of promise after having spent 70 years in exile in Babylon. They had been allowed to return to the land, in spite of all they had done for generations. The chronicler had spent chapter after chapter reminding them of their less-than-flattering history as a people. He had made it painfully clear that their fall had been their own fault. But he had also gone out of his way to make sure they understood their return was undeserved. They were back in the land, not because they had done something to deserve it, but because God was merciful, loving and faithful. The chronicler closes his book with a reminder of the most recent events in the history of the people of God. “Now in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled, the Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, so that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom and also put it in writing: ‘Thus says Cyrus king of Persia, “The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth, and he has charged me to build him a house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Whoever is among you of all his people, may the Lord his God be with him. Let him go up”’” (2 Chronicles 36:22-23 ESV. God had done a miracle. He used the king of a pagan nation to return His people to the land. Cyrus would not only decree that the people of Judah return to the land and rebuild the Temple of God, he would fund the entire operation. God made that happen. God was faithful to keep His Word and restore His people to the land He had promised to Abraham all those years ago.

What does this passage reveal about man?

Man is inherently unfaithful. Even those who have enjoyed the blessings of God and been the recipients of His power and presence can find themselves refusing to live in faithful obedience to Him. In spite of His goodness and grace, we tend to return the favor with a stubborn determination to do things our own way. We are rebellious by nature. The prophet Isaiah reminds us, “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:6 ESV). All of us have sinned against God. All of us are guilty of open rebellion against a holy and righteous God. But in spite of us, God provided a plan to redeem us. He sent His own Son to die in our place and satisfy His own just demands that someone pay the penalty due. None of us deserved it. None of us had earned it. It was the gracious, merciful gift of a loving God. Paul reminds us, “but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8 ESV). Like the people of Judah, we must be reminded of God's amazing love and mercy, showered on us in the midst of our disobedience, while we were living as slaves and captives. Jeremiah knew of the compassion of God and he tried to let the people of Judah know that God would never let them go completely. “For the Lord will not cast off forever, but, though he cause grief, he will have compassion according to the abundance of his steadfast love” (Lamentations 3:31-32 ESV). In spite of us, God just keeps loving us.

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

In the story of Philemon and Onesimus, we have a picture of God's amazing love, forgiveness and compassion modeled in a real-life scenario. Paul was writing to Philemon, who was a Christ-following slave owner. No where in the text does Paul speak against slavery. It was a part of the cultural context in which the Christian in his day lived. Paul neither condoned or condemned it. He did not address the moral, ethical or spiritual implications of slavery. But he did encourage his readers to treat those who found themselves living as slaves in a different way. Paul's desire was not to revolutionize or change the institution of slavery, but the hearts of those involved in it. Onesimus, a runaway slave, had become a believer, probably through Paul's ministry. He had been ministering to Paul during his imprisonment in Rome. But Paul knew that Onesimus needed to make things right with Philemon, his master. So he appealed to Philemon to accept Onesimus, not as a guilty, runaway slave deserving of punishment, but “more than a slave, as a beloved brother…both in the flesh and in the Lord” (Philemon 1:16 ESV). Paul infers that the relationship between these two men had been radically changed because of Onesimus' acceptance of Christ as His Savior. While he was technically still a slave, according to the laws of the land, Onesimus was now a brother in Christ. And in reality, Paul, Philemon and Onesimus were all slaves to Christ. They all had a new Master. Paul's appeal to Philemon's compassion was based on the compassion shown to each of them by God through Christ. Elsewhere Paul would write, “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Ephesians 5:1-2 ESV). We are to love as we have been loved. We are to forgive as we have been forgiven. We are to show compassion to the same degree that we have received it from God Himself. What a difference it would make if we were able to live this out in everyday life. What a testimony we would have to the world around us if we could model the compassion, love, mercy and forgiveness of God in our everyday relationships. 

Father, help me to fully grasp the magnitude of Your amazing grace in my life. Show me how to express that kind of grace to all those around me, not just because they deserve it, but because I have been the recipient of it from You. I want to love like You love, forgive like I have been forgiven, and show compassion in the same You have shown it to me. Not based on the other person's merit, but simply because You have called me to do so. Amen

The Kindness of God.

2 Chronicles 33-34, Titus 3

But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, 6 whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior. Titus 3:4-6 ESV

There are those who believe that the God of the Old Testament is somehow a different God than the one portrayed in the New Testament. The Old Testament God appears to be vengeful, angry, bloodthirsty and violent, while the God of the New Testament is a God of love, mercy and grace. But these oversimplified characterizations are too often based on a less-than-thorough understanding of the nature of God as revealed in the Bible. He cannot be relegated to a handful of character traits or given a label based on a few isolated incidences in Scripture. God is multifaceted, not one dimensional, and we see His full character on display throughout the entirety of Scripture. He is holy, righteous, loving, merciful, patient, quick to judge, jealous, gracious, powerful, tender, forgiving, condemning, permissive and controlling – all at the same time. We don't have to wait until the New Testament and the arrival of Jesus on the scene to discover just how loving, gracious and forgiving God can be. We see it on display in the stories of the Old Testament. Manasseh was a wicked king who “did much evil in the sight of the Lord, provoking him to anger” (2 Chronicles 33:6 ESV). In fact, he “led Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem astray, to do more evil than the nations whom the Lord had destroyed before the people of Israel” (2 Chronicles 33:9 ESV). He was so wicked that God eventually allowed him to fall into the hands of Assyrians, who captured him and took him in chains to Babylon. It was there, in the midst of his darkest days, that he saw the magnitude of his sins, and cried out to God. He “humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers. He prayed to him and God was moved by his entreaty and heard his plea and brought him again to Jerusalem into his kingdom” (2 Chronicles 33:13 ESV).

What does this passage reveal about God?

Manasseh had done nothing to deserve God's grace, kindness and forgiveness. But in spite of him, God restored him. God gave Manasseh a second chance. This man who had done everything in his power to replace the worship of God with the worship of false gods, was mercifully delivered by the very God he had forsaken. When Manasseh found himself bound in chains and living as a captive in Babylon, he didn't call out to any of his false gods to save him. He cried out to God. He humbled himself and repented. He placed himself at the mercy of his God, and he found forgiveness and restoration. When Manasseh's grandson, Josiah, became king of Judah, he proved to be a good king, He did “what was right in the eyes of the Lord, and walked in the ways of David his father” (2 Chronicles 34:2 ESV). He removed the idols and altars to the false gods. He cleansed Judah and Jerusalem. He repaired the house of the Lord. And in the midst of the restoration efforts on the Temple, the book of the Law was discovered. When it was read to Josiah and he discovered just how guilty he and the people of Judah were of living in disobedience to God's commands, he responded with mourning and confession. And God responded to Josiah's repentant, humble heart. “Because your heart was tender and you humbled yourself before God when you heard his words against this place and its inhabitants, and you have humbled yourself before me and have torn your clothes and wept before me, I also have heard you” (2 Chronicles 34:27 ESV). God saw. God heard. God responded. Part of what Josiah had heard when the book of the Law was read to him was God's promises of curses if the people did not obey Him. The curses were still going to come, but God was going to spare Josiah from having to live through them. He mercifully told Josiah, “your eyes shall not see all the disaster that I will bring upon this place and it inhabitants” (2 Chronicles 34:28 ESV). God was going to be just and righteous, punishing Judah for its sins. But He was also going to be gracious and forgiving, mercifully sparing Josiah from having to live through the judgment to come.

What does this passage reveal about man?

Even though Josiah was a good king, he was still just as culpable and guilty as everyone else in the nation of Judah. Even he recognized that he was not exempt from the guilt revealed in God's law. They all stood condemned and worthy of God's full judgment and wrath. As a nation, Judah had been unfaithful and disobedient to God's commands. They were corporately condemned to endure God's righteous judgment. And Josiah knew it. He said, “For great is the wrath of the Lord that is poured out on us, because our fathers have not kept the word of the Lord, to do according to all that is written in this book” (2 Chronicles 34:21 ESV). Paul told Titus a very similar thing. He reminded this young man of the corporate culpability of all men as they stand before a holy, righteous, sinless God. “For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another” (Titus 3:3 ESV). In his letter to the Corinthians believers, Paul described in graphic terms those who would not be allowed to share in the kingdom of God. “Those who indulge in sexual sin, or who worship idols, or commit adultery, or are male prostitutes, or practice homosexuality, or are thieves, or greedy people, or drunkards, or are abusive, or cheat people—none of these will inherit the Kingdom of God” (1 Corinthians 6:9-10 NLT). Then he drops the bomb: “Some of you were once like that…” (1 Corinthians 6:11 NLT). But something happened. Paul reminds them, “But you were cleansed; you were made holy; you were made right with God by calling on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Corinthians 6:11 NLT). Paul said a similar thing to Titus. “But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior” (Titus 3:4-6 ESV). Paul makes it perfectly clear that God saved us, not because we deserved it, but because of His goodness and loving kindness. When we humbled ourselves before God, admitting our guilt and placing ourselves at His mercy, He saved us. He cleansed us. He made us holy. He poured out His Spirit on us.

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

No man deserves the mercy of God. No man can earn the favor of God. Like the people of Judah, we all stand before Him as guilty and condemned – “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23 ESV), and “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23 ESV). But the good news is that “the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23 ESV). In His kindness, God has provided a way in which man can escape the judgment to come. We can move from the hopeless state of being guilty as charged to being just, righteous and completely forgiven, with our sins completely pardoned. “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 8:1 ESV). What an amazing, gracious, kind and loving God we worship. He has made it possible for us to enjoy His forgiveness and undeserved mercy. And what should our response be? Paul gives us the answer. “I want you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works” (Titus 3:8 ESV). Because of all that God has done for us, we should long to do all we can for Him, not to earn His favor or wrack up brownie points. But to express our deep gratitude for His undeserved kindness and unmerited love.

Father, Your kindness of beyond comprehension. I was no more deserving of Your grace, mercy and forgiveness than Manasseh or Josiah. At one time I stood before You as guilty and condemned, fully deserving Your righteous judgment. But even in the midst of my guilt, shame, and sin, You saved me. Your expressed Your great love for me by sending Your own Son to die for me. He took my place on the cross and suffered the death I deserved. May I never take that priceless gift for granted. Help me to live in the light of Your incredible love. Give me the strength to live my life as a testimony and tribute to Your mercy and grace. Amen

Faithful, Yet Surrounded.

2 Chronicles 31-32, Titus 2

After all that Hezekiah had so faithfully done, Sennacherib king of Assyria came and invaded Judah. He laid siege to the fortified cities, thinking to conquer them for himself. 2 Chronicles 32:1 NLT

We can sometimes falsely believe that our faithfulness to God somehow inoculates or protects us from trouble. It is easy to assume that if we do what God has called us to do and live as He has called us to live, we will enjoy a trouble-free life. But Hezekiah's life is a great illustration that this philosophy is not only unbiblical, but dangerous. Chapter 31 of 2 Chronicles outlines Hezekiah's efforts to restore the people of Judah to a right relationship with their God. He ordered the destruction of all the pillars and high places where false god had been worshiped throughout both Judah and Israel. He cut down the Asherim poles and destroyed all the altars where idol worship had taken place. And he did this not only in the nation of Judah, but in Israel as well. Then he reestablished proper worship of God by reorganizing the priests and Levites, and reinstituting the tithing system designed to support these men and their families. Hezekiah “did what was good and right and faithful before the Lord his God. And every work he undertook in the service of the house of God and in accordance with the law and the commandments, seeking his God, he did with all his heart, and prospered” (2 Chronicles 31:20-21 ESV). But this extremely positive assessment of Hezekiah and his faithfulness is followed by the somewhat surprising news that “after these things and these acts of faithfulness,” Hezekiah found himself faced with the prospect of being invaded by the Assyrians. At first blush it would seem that his faithfulness got him little more than an extra dose of trouble. So how would he respond? What would his reaction be to the news that his prosperity was suddenly being confronted with adversity?

What does this passage reveal about God?

God had never promised His people that they would be free from trouble. He had not offered them a trial-free existence devoid of conflict. But He had promised to be with them and to fight on their behalf. Even Jesus had told His disciples, “In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33 ESV). Paul told the believers in Rome, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, ‘For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.’ No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:35-39 ESV). A relationship with God does not exempt us from experiencing the difficulties associated with life in this fallen world. There will always be enemies who stand against us. There will always be trials that test our faith and expose the true condition of our hearts and measure the level of our trust in God. It is one thing to remain faithful when everything around us is going well. But when trouble raises its ugly head, we tend to get a much truer barometer of our faith.

What does this passage reveal about man?

Hezekiah did not overreact to his circumstances, but he did act. Rather than stand back and whine about his troubles, he took positive steps to prepare for them. We are told that “he planned with his officers and his might men” (2 Chronicles 32:3 ESV). The chronicler makes it clear that Hezekiah “set to work resolutely and built up…” (2 Chronicles 32:5 ESV). He built. He strengthened. He made. He set. He encouraged. Hezekiah got busy. He told the people, “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or dismayed before the king of Assyria and all the horde that is with him, for there are more with us than with him. With him is an arm of flesh, but with us is the Lord our God, to help us and to fight our battles” (2 Chronicles 32:7-8 ESV). Even when Sennacherib, the king of Assyria, began to taunt Hezekiah and mock God, Hezekiah held his ground. The enemy was attempting to get the people to doubt God's salvation and reject Hezekiah's leadership. But instead of buying into the lies of the enemy, Hezekiah took his situation before the Lord. He had done his part in preparing for the possibility of an invasion, but he knew that God was the key to their ultimate success. And God heard Hezekiah's prayer and answered by sending an angel who struck down 185,000 Assyrians in the middle of the night. We're told that Sennacherib returned home in shame, only to be murdered by his own sons. Hezekiah had been faithful. But the enemies of God are relentless. In this lifetime we will always have to deal with opposition and difficulty. We must always remember that the Lord our God is with us, helping us fight our battles.

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

Life can be difficult. But God has not left us alone. He has provided us with salvation through His Son. He has filled us with power made possible by His Spirit. He has equipped us with His reliable, infallible Word. Paul reminded Titus that “the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works” (Titus 2:11-14 ESV). We are surrounded. We are threatened on all sides by an enemy who mocks our God and taunts us to give up hoping in His ability to save us. We are constantly being encouraged to pursue ungodliness and worldly passions. But God has said that it is possible to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives – even in this present age. Those of us who have placed our faith in Christ as our Savior, must remain faithful even in the face of all the adversities of life. We must wait faithfully for our blessed hope. God is not done yet. He has not finished what He started. Our ultimate hope is not in this world, but in the one to come. But in the meantime, I must not lose sight of the fact that God is purifying for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works– even in the midst of all the trials and troubles of life.

Father, help me keep my focus on You. Don't let me get defeated or deflated by the troubles I encounter in this life. You are with me and You will fight any battles I face for me. But I must be prepared. Like Hezekiah, I must be willing to do my part. Then I need to trust You. Amen

The Need For Godly Leadership.

2 Chronicles 29-30, Titus 1

He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it. Titus 1:9 ESV

Hezekiah was a like a breath of fresh air in the stagnant spiritual environment that had so long plagued Judah. The northern kingdom of Israel had already fallen to the Assyrians and the people had been taken into captivity. Hezekiah's father, Ahaz, had closed down the Temple of God, and led the people of Judah in the worship of false gods. He had built high places for the worship of these false gods all over the land of Judah. But then Hezekiah took the throne, and he proved to be a leader of a different sort. One of his first acts as king was to reopen the Temple. He recommissioned the priests, commanding them to consecrate and cleanse themselves so that they could properly care for and cleanse the Temple. Evidently, since the Temple had been shut down, these men had neglected their duties as the spiritual leaders of Judah. But Hezekiah ordered them to take seriously their God-given responsibility and cleanse the Temple. Then they were able to reinstate the sacrificial system and the worship of God. But one of the most amazing acts of spiritual leadership Hezekiah performed was his call to the remnant left in Israel to return to God. He sent messengers all throughout the land of Israel, begging those who had been left to repent and return. “O people of Israel, return to the Lord, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, that he may turn again to the remnant of you who have escaped from the hand of the kings of Assyria” (2 Chronicles 30:6 ESV). He reminded them that “the Lord your God is gracious and merciful and will not turn away his face from you, if you return to him” (2 Chronicles 30:9 ESV). Hezekiah not only had a heart for God, but a heart for God's people – even those who were living in open rebellion to Him.

What does this passage reveal about God?

As Hezekiah had told the people of Israel, God is gracious and merciful. He is always willing to forgive. Even after all that the people had done to offend Him, God was still willing to forgive them. He was even willing to pardon those who ate the Passover meal even though they did so in an unworthy manner. It seems that many of the people showed up for the Passover having not properly consecrated themselves. They were ritually impure or unclean. But Hezekiah prayed, “May the good Lord pardon everyone who sets his heart to seek God, the Lord, the God of his fathers, even though not according to the sanctuary's rules of cleanness” (2 Chronicles 30:18-19 ESV). And God heard Hezekiah's prayer and graciously pardoned the people. His concern was the condition of their hearts. Their heartfelt desire to return to Him and worship Him was far more important than whether they had kept the letter of the law. God has always been concerned about the condition of the heart. He had made it clear that adherence to rules and rituals without the heart was worthless. Through the prophet, Isaiah, God had accused the people of Israel of going through the motions. “Because this people draw near with their mouth and honor me with their lips, while their hearts are far from me, and their fear of me is a commandment taught by men” (Isaiah 29:13 ESV). Many years later, Jesus Himself would say, “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person. But to eat with unwashed hands does not defile anyone” (Matthew 15:19 ESV). God looks at the heart. He knew the heart of Hezekiah. He could see the hearts of the people. He knew they were sincere and desired to worship Him, even though they may have failed to keep the letter of the law.  

What does this passage reveal about man?

Hezekiah was not just a political and military leader. He was a spiritual leader and he took his role seriously. He knew that the health and future well being of the nation was directly linked to their relationship with God. So he lead the people in returning to God. He called them back to a right relationship with the only one who could save them and protect them. But not everyone was willing to follow Hezekiah's leadership. Many of those living in what was left of the kingdom of Israel refused his invitation to return to the Lord. Even though they had suffered greatly at the hands of the Assyrians and watched as their relatives and friends were taken into captivity, when Hezekiah's messengers arrived inviting them to the Passover, “they laughed them to scorn and mocked them” (2 Chronicles 30:10 ESV). But there were those who did accept Hezekiah's offer and returned to the Lord. Not everything a godly leader does will appear successful. Not everyone will follow. The prophets of God are a perfect illustration of that truth. They faithfully followed the commands of God, telling the people the words of God, but the people would refuse to listen. The people would reject their calls to repent and return. They would ignore their warnings of God's impending punishment. But the prophets remained faithful to their God-given commission. Paul would command Titus to appoint elders in all the towns and villages where churches had been established. And he gave Titus clear criteria concerning the qualifications of these men. They were to be above reproach, not arrogant, quick-tempered, prone to drunkenness, or greedy. Instead, they were to be hospitable, lovers of good, self-controlled, upright, holy and disciplined. But more than anything, these men needed to be able to “give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it” (Titus 1:9 ESV). God's people require godly leaders – men who are not afraid to speak the truth of God, boldly and unapologetically. Hezekiah was that kind of man.

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

The church today is in desperate need of godly leaders. It is filled with complacent and casual Christians who have compromised their faith by growing comfortable with the world. There are many who go through the motions, attending church, even going to Bible studies and other seemingly spiritual activities, but their hearts are far from God. They are ignorant of the truth of God. They remain unrepentant of their sins and their hearts are far from Him. There is a need for godly leaders who will step up and speak out. The people of Judah needed Hezekiah. Had he not lead, the people would have continued to live according the example of Ahaz. Without Hezekiah's leadership, the priests and Levites would have remained unconsecrated and, therefore, unqualified to serve the people. The doors of the Temple would have remained shut and the sacrificial system unavailable. It took a godly leader to turn things around. I pray that I might be that kind of leader. I pray that God will raise up more men and women like Hezekiah in our day. We need leaders who are more committed to the cause of Christ and the call of God than the applause men.

Father, raise up more godly leaders in our day. The church is in an unhealthy state. There are many who claim to be Your people, who “profess to know God, but they deny him by their works” (Titus 1:16 ESV). May You raise up leaders who are unafraid to speak Your truth boldly and call Your people back to You. May our greatest desire be to call the people of God back to a sound faith and a firm commitment to You. Amen

The Consequences of Compromise..

2 Chronicles 27-28, 2 Timothy 4

…preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. 2 Timothy 4:2-4 ESV

When Jotham took over the throne from his father, Uzziah, he was only 25-years old, but he would prove to be a king who “did what was right in the eyes of the Lord” (2 Chronicles 27:1 ESV). He would become a powerful king, “because he ordered his ways before the Lord his God” (2 Chronicles 27:6 ESV). But sadly, he would refuse to enter the Temple of God, perhaps because his father, Uzziah, had been banned from entering it due to his leprosy. And while Jotham appears to have been a good and somewhat godly king, “the people still followed corrupt practices” (2 Chronicles 27:2 ESV). As king, he failed to lead the people well or influence them toward faithfulness to God. He compromised his God-given authority and allowed the sins of the people to go unchecked.

His son, Ahaz, would prove to be an even worse example as king. “He did not do what was right in the eyes of the Lord…but walked in the ways of the kings of Israel” (2 Chronicles 27:1-2 ESV). Ahaz took the sin of compromise to a whole new level, making altars to Baal and even burning his own sons as sacrifices to false gods. And even when God brought punishment on Him for his sins, allowing the Syrians, Israelites, Edomites and Philistines to attack and defeat Judah, Ahaz “became yet more faithless to the Lord” (2 Chronicles 28:22 ESV). Rather than turn back to God, he worshiped the gods of the nations who had defeated him, and locked the doors of the Temple of God.

What does this passage reveal about God?

The kings of Judah found themselves constantly surrounded by enemies. There were always threats to the security of their kingdom. Edomites, Philistines, Moabites, Syrians, Assyrians, and other nations were a constant presence and provided a real-life opportunity for the kings of Judah to either trust God and allow Him to provide protection, or to compromise their convictions and turn to someone or something else for deliverance. God had promised to be there for the people of Judah – if they would remain faithful and worship Him alone. But if they chose to worship other gods, He had vowed to punish them. He had warned the people of Israel that when they entered the Promised Land, they would need to completely eradicate the pagan nations that occupied the land. Otherwise, the people of God would be tempted to compromise their faith by worshiping the gods of their enemies. And that is exactly what happened. When faced with a difficulty, rather than trust God, Ahaz would turn to the Assyrians for help. When defeated by the Syrians, he would worship their gods rather than the one true God, justifying his actions by thinking, “because the gods of the kings of Syria helped them, I will sacrifice to them that they may help me” (2 Chronicles 28:23 ESV). But his actions would prove futile, doing nothing more than provoking God to anger and bringing further judgment on himself. God would not tolerate his compromise. 

What does this passage reveal about man?

Compromise is always a danger for the people of God. We will always find ourselves surrounded and threatened by the enemies of God. That reality should never surprise us. But we need to recognize that our God is greater than our enemies and more powerful than any perceived threat on our existence. Ahaz could have placed his faith in God and allowed Him to provide deliverance in his time of need. He could have trusted God and watched as He miraculously stepped into his circumstances. But it was easier for Ahaz to compromise his convictions and place his faith elsewhere. Paul would warn Timothy that a time was coming when even Christians would compromise their convictions, rejecting sound teaching based on the Word of God, and seeking out teachers who would tell them what they want to hear. These people would go out of their way to find teachers and preachers willing to sell out the Word of God in order to peddle half-truths and outright lies that appealed to the personal passions and sinful desires of the masses. But Paul warned Timothy to “preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete and patience and teaching” (2 Timothy 4:2 ESV). Paul wanted Timothy to stand firm and to fight the good fight, standing strong even while all those around him caved in and compromised their faith out of convenience and self-gratification. Paul wanted Timothy to keep the faith, always remembering that his reward was laid up for him in heaven – a crown of righteousness that would be awarded to him by Christ Himself. But many will fail to remain faithful. Many will give in to the temptation to compromise their faith. But even if we find ourselves standing alone and completely deserted by those who have claimed to be followers of Christ, we must take to heart the words of Paul. “The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed and bring me safely into his heavenly kingdom” (2 Timothy 4:18 ESV).

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

Compromise is always a real possibility in my life. It is so much easier to give in than it is to stand firm. And my compromises can sometimes be very subtle and self-deceiving. I can find myself listening to the messages of this world and allowing them to make sense when, in reality, they stand diametrically opposed to the Word of God. When faced with difficulties, it is so easy to turn to someone or something else other than God. I can find myself placing my hope, faith, trust and confidence in the things of this world. Like Ahaz, I can convince myself that world's ways really do work. But when I start trusting the ways of this world, I am no longer trusting God. I am compromising my convictions and placing my hope in the wrong things. I want to fight the good fight. I want to finish the race. And while there will always be the temptation to sell out and blend in to the world around me, I pray that God will give me the strength to stand firm, keeping my eye on the prize: “the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:14 ESV).

Father, help me remain true to You regardless of whatever trials and troubles may come into my life. Don't allow me to compromise my convictions or place my hope and trust in anything or anyone other than You. I can't remain faithful without Your help. I need Your Holy Spirit's strength to stay the course and to remain faithful to the end. Help me keep my eye on the prize and focused on the reward to come. Amen

The Power of Pride.

2 Chronicles 25-26, 2 Timothy 3

You should know this, Timothy, that in the last days there will be very difficult times. For people will love only themselves and their money. They will be boastful and proud, scoffing at God, disobedient to their parents, and ungrateful. They will consider nothing sacred. They will be unloving and unforgiving; they will slander others and have no self-control. They will be cruel and hate what is good. They will betray their friends, be reckless, be puffed up with pride, and love pleasure rather than God. They will act religious, but they will reject the power that could make them godly. Stay away from people like that! 2 Timothy 3:1-5 NLT

Joash is replaced on the throne of Judah by his 25-year old son, Amaziah. We are told that this young man “did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, yet not with a whole heart” (2 Chronicles 25:2 ESV). He was not entirely devoted to God. Early on in his reign, he hired 100,000 mercenaries from Israel, paying them each 100 talents of silver. But he was warned by a man of God not to follow through with his plan, but to trust God instead. “Why should you supposed that God will cast you down before the enemy? For God has power to help or to cast down” (2 Chronicles 25:8 ESV). Amaziah would listen to the warning and send the 100,000 Israelites away, and he would enjoy a great victory in battle. But God would also allow him to suffer the consequences of his ungodly alliance with Israel, when the mercenaries raided the unprotected cities of Judah while Amaziah was busy fighting the Edomites.

It doesn't take long to see what the chronicler meant when he wrote that Amaziah did not display whole-hearted devotion to God. “After Amaziah came from striking down the Edomites, he brought the gods of the men of Seir and set them up as his gods and worshiped them” (2 Chronicles 25:14 ESV). This young man turned his back on God, and when warned by the man of God, he refused to listen. In his pride and inflated self-worth, he would challenge the Israelites to battle, and ultimately lose, because God stood against him. Sadly, his son, Uzziah, would follow in his footsteps. He would start out well, doing “what was right in the eyes of the Lord,” but he would end poorly, marked by pride, arrogance, and a facade of religious fervor.

What does this passage reveal about God?

Both Amaziah and Uziah were to have been God's royal representatives. The king was to rule on God's behalf, mediating the sovereignty and power of God. He was answerable to God. He was to protect and lead the people on behalf of God and according to His will, not his own. But Amaziah and Uziah both became full of themselves. Their God-given power and authority went to their heads. They overstepped their bounds and determined that they knew better than God. As kings, they had been told by God to obey His law. “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). Keeping God's law would prevent the king's heart from becoming “lifted up above his brothers.” In other words, the Word of God, coupled with a healthy fear of God, would keep the king's ego in check. But virtually every one of the kings of both Judah and Israel would struggle keeping this command of God. Their reigns would be marked by pride, disobedience, unfaithfulness, and the rejection of God. 

What does this passage reveal about man?

Uzziah was blessed by God. He benefited from having a spiritual mentor in the form of Zechariah, who instructed him in the fear of God. And we're toldthat “as long as he sought the Lord, God made him prosper” (2 Chronicles 26:5 ESV). He become strong and powerful. He enjoyed God's help in battle. He amassed a powerful army and his fame spread throughout the land. But then we read these sobering words: “But when he was strong, he grew proud, to his destruction. For he was unfaithful to the Lord his God and entered the temple of the Lord to burn incense on the altar of incense” (2 Chronicles 26:16 ESV). His success went to his head. He began to see himself as the sole source of his own power and prestige. Soon it was not enough for him to be king. Now he wanted to be priest. So he entered the temple of the Lord and attempted to take on the role of the priest by burning incense to God. But like Saul, the first king of Israel, he would learn that this was not God's will. God had established a divine order when it came to his kingdom. The king was to rule on behalf of God, the prophet was to speak on behalf of God, and the priest was to minister on behalf of God. And each was to act as a mediator between God and the covenant people. These three roles provided a kind of checks and balances in God's kingdom. We see repeatedly that when the king would stray, God would send His prophet to warn them and call them back. When the king sinned, he had to offer sacrifices for his sin through the priest of God. He could not do it on his own. But Uzziah decided that he was fully capable of performing both roles. Even when he was confronted by the priests with his open rebellion against God, rather than repent, he became angry. And God struck him with leprosy. His condition would end up separating him from the people of Judah, as he was forced to live in isolation for the rest of his life. But worse than that, he could no longer enter into the Temple of the Lord, separating Him from God and preventing him from being able to have his sins atoned for.

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

Paul warned Timothy that “in the last days there will come times of difficulty” (2 Timothy 3:1 ESV). He told him that, as time progressed, things were going to get progressively worse. These “last days” would be marked by a litany of ungodly characteristics. People will love themselves, money, materialism, and pleasure – all more than they love God. Through their lifestyle, they will actually scoff at God; but will also put on a facade that they are actually religious. They will have the appearance of godliness, but deny the One who could provide the power to make it real in their lives. Paul describes a people who claim to be religious, but who are self-centered and narcissistic. Their world will revolve around themselves and their own desires. They will have all the appearances of godliness, but lack any of the power that should come with it. Uzziah attempted to burn incense in the Temple. Burning incense was a God-ordained activity, but Uzziah was doing it in an ungodly manner. And doing godly things in an ungodly manner will never bring honor from God. He is never pleased with outward attempts at godliness that are not based on obedience to His will and in keeping with His Word. Going through the religious motions means nothing to God. He wants our hearts – our whole hearts. Uzziah's main problem was that he was not whole-hearted in his devotion to God. He loved himself. He loved his power. He loved his influence. He became prideful and his pride would lead to his own destruction. The king was to keep a copy of the Law of God with him at all times, reading it daily and obeying it faithfully. I am to keep God's Word with me at all times. Paul reminds me, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17 ESV). God's Word is the greatest antidote to pride. It reminds us of His power, holiness, and righteousness, but also of His love, mercy, and amazing grace.

Father, self-love is an ever-present reality in my life. I can so easily become infatuated with my own self-worth and take credit for my own successes. But I have to constantly be reminded that You are the source of not only my existence, but of my salvation. I am nothing without You. I can do nothing without You. Please protect me from becoming like those whom Paul describes. I don't want to repeat the mistakes of Amaziah and Uzziah. May I learn to love and serve You whole-heartedly and willingly all the days of my life. Amen

The Power of Influence.

2 Chronicles 23-24, 2 Timothy

So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart. 2 Timothy 2:22 ESV

For six years Joash, the lone surviving son of King Ahaziah, was hidden in the temple of God by Jehoiada the priest. During those six years, Joash was under the influence of Jehoiada and his wife. He would have been raised to love and respect God. He would have been taught the laws and commands of God. He would have been protected not only from the threats of his own grandmother, Athaliah, the queen, but also the evil influences of the world around him. At the age of seven, Joash was presented to the people as their king. Knowing that there was still a possible threat on his life, Jehoiada arranged for a permanent security force to protect the young king. He positioned armed Levites in the temple. He provided the captains of the army of Judah with spears and shields. “And he set all the people as a guard for the king, every man with his weapon in his hand…” (2 Chronicles 23:10 ESV). During the early years of King Joash's reign, his mentor, Jehoiada would have a strong influence over his life. Jehoiada made a covenant between himself and all the people with the king, that they would be the Lord's people. He arranged for the destruction of the house of Baal. He even had Athaliah, the queen, executed. And we're told that “Joash did what was right in the eyes of the Lord all the days of Jehoiada the priest” (2 Chronicles 24:2 ESV). Joash would go on to restore the house of the Lord, the very place where he had found refuse for six years as a young boy. He would reinstate the temple tax and reinstitute the sacrificial system. But then we read, “But Jehoiada grew old and full of days, and died” (2 Chronicles 24:15 ESV). Joash lost his mentor. And it wouldn't take long for him to fall under the influence of others. “Now after the death of Jehoiada the princes of Judah came and paid homage to the king. Then the king listened to them. And they abandoned the house of the Lord, the God of their fathers, and served the Asherim and the idols” (2 Chronicles 24:17 ESV). In practically no time at all, Joash would find himself negatively influenced by his peers and falling away from the godly instruction of his mentor, Jehoiada. And the results would be devastating to both Joash and his kingdom.

What does this passage reveal about God?

God had miraculously provided Jehoiada to protect the life of Joash so that he could become the next king of Judah. He was the only surviving descendant of David who would qualify to sit on the throne of Judah. It was essential that Joash live so that God could keep His covenant promise to David. “And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. Your throne shall be established forever” (2 Samuel 7:16 ESV). It was essential that God orchestrate the preservation of Joash because the ultimate fulfillment of His promise to David was about far more than just an earthly successor to the throne of David. God was going to send His own Son, in human flesh, born into the line of David, to become the ultimate and final King of Israel. When God promised David, “I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever” (2 Samuel 7:12-13 ESV), He was referring both to Solomon, the son of David, and to Jesus, the coming Messiah. So there was far more to God's promise than an earthly king sitting on a throne in Jerusalem. God was talking about the Savior of the world. So God preserved Joash, and one of the ways He did this was by providing this young man with a protector and spiritual mentor. God arranged for Joash's life to be spared and his future to be secured by the influence of one single godly man. Paul would prove to have the same kind of influence on the life of Timothy. He would play a major role in Timothy's spiritual development, providing him with much-needed wisdom and sound counsel that would protect this young man from the evil influences of the world around him. Joash needed Jehoiada in his life. Timothy needed Paul in his life. We all need spiritual mentors and influencers in our lives. And God has a way of providing them all along the way.

What does this passage reveal about man?

We are not meant to live isolated, independent lives. Joash was only as strong as his relationship to his god-given mentor. As long as he listed to Jehoiada, he prospered. But when Jehoiada disappeared off the scene, Joash fell prey to other influences. He sought other counsel. And it would prove to be his undoing. Paul knew that Timothy would be prone to this same problem, so he encouraged and warned him. He told him to find his strength in the grace of God. He reminded Timothy that success in the Christian life required total dependence upon God for all things. He challenged Timothy to see his role as that of a soldier in God's army, and as a good soldier, he needed to be willing to suffer for the cause of Christ. He would have to remain unencumbered by the distractions of life. He would need to make his goal in life to please his commanding officer. And he would need to remain diligent and hardworking. Timothy was young. He was susceptible to wrong influences. He would find himself easily distracted by the cares of this world and the passions of his own sin nature. So Paul told him to “do you best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the world of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15 ESV). Paul's greatest desire for Timothy was his ongoing sanctification. He wanted to see Timothy mature in his faith and grow in his likeness to Christ. He wanted to see Timothy develop an increasing dependence upon God, so that when the day came that Paul was no longer able to be there for Timothy, he would be able to stand firm, strengthened by his own personal relationship with God. Paul wanted Timothy to be a “vessel for honorable use, set apart as holy, useful to the master of the house, ready for every good work” (2 Timothy 2:21 ESV).

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

We all need godly mentors in our lives. But the goal of those mentors should be to point us to greater and greater dependence upon God. It may have been that Jehoiada spent too much time making Joash dependent upon him, when he should have been building Joash's dependence upon God. Paul knew that he had influence over Timothy, but he would use that influence to make Timothy more dependent upon God. He knew that Timothy's future success and ultimate spiritual health was going to be reliant upon his relationship with God. As spiritual mentors, we need to remember that we are always to point those under our care to God. We are to encourage them to “pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace” (2 Timothy 2:22 ESV). We cannot provide those things for them. We can model them. But only God can make them possible. We must make sure that those under our care are students of the Word of God, “rightly handling the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15 ESV). We must go out of our way to ensure that those we mentor understand that their sanctification is God's doing, not ours. We cannot make anyone holy. That is completely up to God. Making anyone dependent upon us is a dangerous mistake to make. But we must always understand that we have incredible influence over certain individuals who God has placed in our lives. We must teach them, encourage them, model Christ-likeness for them, and point them to God for His grace, mercy, love and life-transforming power. 

Father, I want to be a positive influence in the lives of others. I want to point people to You, not me. I want to mentor well and model Christ-likeness effectively. Never let me forget that I have the power to influence others for good or for bad. I want to live in such a way that my life is a constant influence on others, showing them their need for Christ and their total dependence upon You for everything in their lives. Amen

God's Grand, Unstoppable Plan.

2 Chronicles 21-22, 2 Timothy 1

Yet the Lord was not willing to destroy the house of David, because of the covenant that he had made with David, and since he had promised to give a lamp to him and to his sons forever. 2 Chronicles 21:7 ESV

Jehoshaphat died and left the throne to his son, Jehoram. But while Jehoshaphat had been a good king who tried walk in faithful obedience to His God, Jehoram would prove to have inherited little of his father's religious fervor or love for the things of God. And in a way, Jehoshaphat was to blame for this outcome. We're told that Jehoshapat “walked in the earlier ways of his father David. He did not seek the Baals, but sought the God of his father and walked in his commandments, and not according to the practices of Israel” (2 Chronicles 17:3-4 ESV). Back that doesn't mean that Jehoshaphat always made the right decision. In chapter 18, we get some insight into a particular decision that would have long-term ramifications. It simply says, “Now Jehoshaphat had great riches and honor, and he made a marriage alliance with Ahab” (2 Chronicles 18:1 ESV). Sounds innocent enough, until you pick up the story in chapter 21. There we read that Jehoram, Jehoshaphat's son, “walked in the way of the kings of Israel, as the house of Ahab had done” (2 Chronicles 21:6 ESV). Why? What influenced this young man to go down that path when his father had been so faithful to God? The text tells us. “For the daughter of Ahab was his wife. And he did what was evil in the sight of the Lord” (2 Chronicles 21:6 ESV). That marriage alliance had been between Jehoram and King Ahab's daughter, and the evil influence of her family would be devastating. So much so, that when Jehoram died, his son Ahaziah would take his place on the throne of Judah. But Ahaziah's mother, Athaliah, was none other than the daughter of Ahab and Jezebel. So when Ahaziah ends up being eliminated by God for his apostasy, Athaliah kills off all the legal heirs to the throne and crowns herself queen. {Now when Athaliah the mother of Azariah saw that her son was dead, she arose and destroyed all the royal family of the house of Judah” (2 Chronicles 22:10 ESV). What should strike you in reading this account is that in doing this, Athaliah had wiped out any possible heir to the throne of David who might make possible God's promise to place an descendant of David on the throne whose kingdom would last forever.

What does this passage reveal about God?

But God was at work behind the scenes. “But Jehoshabeath, the daughter of the king, took Joash the son of Ahaziah and stole him away from among the king's sons who were about to be put to death, and she put him and his nurse in a bedroom” (2 Chronicles 22:11 ESV). God would use this young girl to spare the life of the only heir to the throne of David. She was the wife of Jehoiada the priest and she and her husband would hide Joash in the house of God for six years while Athaliah reigned in Judah. At this point in the story, there is no Davidic king sitting on the throne of Judah. But all is not lost. God is not done. While things look bleak, God is in complete control of the situation. It is important to remember that the chronicler is writing to Jews who have returned to Judah from their captivity in Babylon, and they also found themselves without a Davidic king on the throne. In fact, they had not king at all. They had to place their faith and hope in the promise of God that one day a descendant of David would once again rule from the city of David. In spite of all the sin and spiritual sickness infecting the people of Israel, God was not done yet. Even during the days of Jehoram, when he allowed himself to be influenced by his wife and ended up doing what was evil in God's sight, we are told,  “Yet the Lord was not willing to destroy the house of David, because of the covenant that he had made with David, and since he had promised to give a lamp to him and to his sons forever” (2 Chronicles 21:7 ESV). God had made a promise and He was going to keep His promise. Paul would later write to Timothy, reminding him, “if we are faithless, he remains faithful— for he cannot deny himself.” (2 Timothy 2:13 ESV). In the books of Numbers we are told, “God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind. Has he said, and will he not do it? Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it?” (Numbers 23:19 ESV). God is a covenant-keeping God who cannot and will not break His promises.

What does this passage reveal about man?

Man cannot thwart the plans and promises of God. While Athaliah thought she was in complete control of the situation, she was painfully unaware of what God was doing behind the scenes. When her son, Ahaziah had been king and had made an alliance with Jehoram, the king of Israel, little did he know that his decision would prove deadly. When God brought judgment against the Jehoram and his house, Ahaziah just happened to be paying a visit. He would end up being executed along with Jehoram. The chronicler makes it clear that this was God's doing. “But it was ordained by God that the downfall of Ahaziah should come about through his going to visit Joram” (2 Chronicles 22:7 ESV). Over and over again we see men trying to derail the plans of God. They attempt to make their own plans and determine their own fate, but they, like so many others, failed to understand that God is sovereign over all. Solomon wrote, “The heart of man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps” (Proverbs 16:9 ESV).

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

The apostle Paul knew full well that his life was completely in the control of God. While Paul had planned his life and was pursuing a career path that included the persecution of those who called themselves Christians, God had another plan. He had ordained that Paul would be his spokesman, taking the good news regarding Jesus Christ to the Gentile world. God Himself said of Paul, “he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel” (Acts 9:15 ESV). And Paul would later remind Timothy, “Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God, who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began” (2 Timothy 1:8-9 ESV). While Paul was writing this letter having just been released from house arrest in Rome, he knew that his life was in the hands of God, and that God was working out a plan that was eternal in nature – from “before the ages began.” Paul had no problem accepting his imprisonment, because he knew that God was in control. He also knew that God was faithful and He was keeping the promise He had made to David. Jesus Christ was the one for whom the Jews had long waited. He was the Messiah, the King of Israel. And Paul knew that God's plan was still not yet complete. “…for I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that he is able to guard until that Day what has been entrusted to me” (2 Timothy 1:12 ESV). “His confidence lay in the person of God. He believed that God is faithful. God would protect something that Paul had placed with God for His protection and preserve that until the day he would see Christ face to face at the Rapture or death” (Dr. Thomas L. Constable, Notes On Timothy, 2007 Edition).

Father, You are faithful and true. You are powerful and fully capable of accomplishing all You have promised. Help me rest in Your unwavering commitment to keep Your Word. You are not done yet. You have promises yet to fulfill. There are aspects of Your plan that have yet to happen. But they will. Because You promised and You never break Your Word. Amen

Stand Firm. Trust God.

2 Chronicles 19-20, 1 Timothy 6

 You will not need to fight in this battle. Stand firm, hold your position, and see the salvation of the Lord on your behalf, O Judah and Jerusalem.’ Do not be afraid and do not be dismayed. Tomorrow go out against them, and the Lord will be with you. 2 Chronicles 20:17 ESV

Life can be difficult. Even for the people of God. Our relationship with Him does not guarantee us a trouble-free life or provide us with a get-out-of-jail-free card. Jesus Himself warned us, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33 ESV). The thing we must constantly remind ourselves of is that God is with us. His power is never diminished. His love for us never fades or fails. His attention is never distracted from us. And He is never caught off guard by anything that may happen to us or around us. The key is whether we will trust Him to deliver us out of our troubles and predicaments. Jehoshaphat, the king of Judah, would learn a valuable lesson on trusting God. When the combined armies of the Moabites, Ammonites and Meunites came against Judah, “Jehoshaphat was afraid and set his face to seek the Lord” (2 Chronicles 20:3 ESV). He assembled the people of Judah, proclaimed a national day of fasting, and prayed to God on their behalf. In his prayer, he echoed the words of Solomon's prayer on the day he dedicated the Temple. “If disaster comes upon us, the sword, judgment, or pestilence, or famine, we will stand before this house and before you—for your name is in this house—and cry out to you in our affliction, and you will hear and save” (2 Chronicles 20:9 ESV). Jehoshaphat took his problem to God, saying, “We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you” (2 Chronicles 20:12 ESV).

What does this passage reveal about God?

And God heard the prayer of Jehoshaphat and responded. “Do not be afraid and do not be dismayed at this great horde, for the battle is not yours but God's” (2 Chronicles 20:15 ESV). It's interesting to note that the first thing God said was to not fear. Fear was the result of focusing on their circumstances. And fear is a natural human reaction. But to stop fearing would require that they focus their attention on God. They had no trouble believing they were in trouble because they could see the size of the army aligned against them. They were going to have to believe that their God was bigger and stronger. God went on to tell them, “You will not need to fight in this battle. Stand firm, hold your position, and see the salvation of the Lord on your behalf, O Judah and Jerusalem. Do not be afraid and do not be dismayed. Tomorrow go out against them, and the Lord will be with you” (2 Chronicles 20:17 ESV). God made it clear – they were going to have to “go out” against their enemy. In other words, they were going to have to face them. But God was going to do the fighting. This situation is very similar to what happened when the people of Israel found themselves at the Red Sea facing the advancing armies of Pharaoh. They had no way of escape. But Moses told them, “Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the Lord, which he will work for you today. For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall never see again. The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to be silent” (Exodus 14:13-14 ESV). They had ringside seats to what would be the greatest show on earth. God would miraculously part the waters of the Red Sea, allowing them to cross over on dry ground; then He would destroy the armies of Egypt by drowning them as they tried to cross over in pursuit. God brought the victory. But the people had to trust God. On the morning that God was to deliver the people of Judah from their enemies, Jehoshaphat encouraged the people, “Believe in the Lord your God, and you will be established; believe his prophets and you will succeed” (2 Chronicles 20:20 ESV).

What does this passage reveal about man?

The Hebrew word translated “believe” means “to be faithful, to trust, to stand firm.” Their belief was going to have to take the form of action. They had to get up and go out. They had to stand firm and face their enemies. They had to focus on the faithfulness, power, and promises of God. And they sang, “Give thanks to the Lord, for his steadfast love endures forever!” (2 Chronicles 20:21 ESV). And it says that when they began to sing and praise God, “the Lord set an ambush against the men of Ammon, Moab, and Mount Seir” (2 Chronicles 20:22 ESV). God caused the enemies of Judah to slaughter themselves! And the people of Judah never had to lift a finger, except to carry off all the spoil. God had done exactly what He said He would do. But the people of God had to place their hope, faith, and trust in Him. They had to go out and anticipate a great victory, regardless of how bleak and desperate the situation looked. The end result was that the people were able to rejoice in the victory God had brought about. Their enemies found cause to fear God. And the nation of Judah enjoyed rest that was provided by God Himself. But all of this came about because they believed God. They heard His words and they stepped out in faith, trusting in the reliability of His promise. They could have run. They could have sought help from another nation. They could have tried to defeat their enemy in their own strength. But God had told them it was His fight. He had simply instructed them to “stand firm, hold your position and see the salvation of the Lord.” The salvation of the Lord comes when we trust in Him to be our Savior. We cannot expect God to deliver us if we turn to something or someone else as our Savior. God is in the delivery business. He wants to deliver His people. He wants to reveal His power and display His salvation on our behalf. But we have to believe in Him. We have to trust Him. We have to stand firm, holding on to His promises, and trusting in His power to accomplish the impossible.

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

Paul told Timothy, “But as for you, O man of God, flee these things. Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called and about which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses” (1 Timothy 6:11-12 ESV). There is a sense in which we are to fight the good fight, but never forget that it is based on faith. We are to pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness and gentleness – because they are all found in God alone. They are Spirit-provided fruit that can't be self-manufactured or duplicated in any other way. Paul told Timothy to “fight the good fight of the faith” because, at the end of the day, this is a faith battle. It is about who and what we will place our trust in. Every day we face a battle that will test our faith. We will be tempted to trust in ourselves or in someone or something else. But we must never forget that this battle is to be fought in faith. Paul reminded the believers in Ephesus of this very point. “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm” (Ephesians 6:10-13 ESV).

Father, help me to stand firm, not based on my own strength, but on Yours. May I learn to trust You more and more with each passing day, not swayed by the difficulty of my circumstances or the size of my enemy. You are greater and more powerful than my biggest problem. I want to learn to stand firm and see the salvation of the Lord. I want to watch You fight my battles. Forgive me for trying to fight them on my own or turning to someone or something else to deliver me when only You can provide salvation. Amen

When the Godly Live Godlessly.

2 Chronicles 17-18, 1 Timothy 5

The sins of some people are conspicuous, going before them to judgment, but the sins of others appear later. So also good works are conspicuous, and even those that are not cannot remain hidden. 1 Timothy 5:24-25 ESV

It doesn't take a seminary degree to understand that every human being struggles with sin. It is apparent all around us. We even see it in our own lives on a regular basis. The godly can do ungodly things. When the godless act in ungodly ways, we shouldn't be shocked or surprised. Paul reminds us that we were once just like them. “You used to live in sin, just like the rest of the world, obeying the devil--the commander of the powers in the unseen world. He is the spirit at work in the hearts of those who refuse to obey God” (Ephesians 2:2 NLT). Those who do not know Christ as their Savior, do not have the capacity for living godly lives. And yet, those of us who have been redeemed through the work of Christ on the cross are still capable of turning our backs on the blessings of God and satisfying our sin nature by making God-less decisions. Jehoshaphat, the King of Judah, is a textbook example of how the godly can do ungodly things. Unlike so many of the kings of Israel and Judah, Jehoshaphat is described as a man whose “heart was courageous in the ways of the Lord” (2 Chronicles 17:6 ESV). We are told that “the Lord was with Jehoshaphat, because he walked in the earlier ways of his father David. He did not seek the Baals, but sought the God of his father and walked in his commandments, and not according to the practices of Israel. Therefore the Lord established the kingdom in his hand” (2 Chronicles 17:3-5 ESV). Jehoshaphat was determined to serve God, even sending his officials all across the land of Judah to teach the Law of God to the people. As a result, he enjoyed God's blessing and a time of peace. He grew in strength and power. But then Jehoshaphat made an ungodly decision. He determined to make an alliance with King Ahab of Israel. Ahab was a godless, wicked king who was the poster boy for apostasy. He and his queen, Jezebel, were a tag team of spiritual rebellion and idolatry. But Jehoshaphat made a marriage alliance with Ahab.

What does this passage reveal about God?

One of the things that God had made perfectly clear to His people was that He expected them to live holy lives, set apart from the ways of the nations that surrounded them. God had given them His law and articulated His commands concerning all aspects of life. Jehoshaphat, of all people, should have known and understood what God's expectations were. He had gone out of his way to ensure that his kingdom reflected his love for God and his desire to live in obedience to God's law. There is little doubt that Jehoshaphat knew about the sins of Ahab and the rampant idolatry of the northern kingdom of Israel. Making an alliance with Ahab would have been no different than making an alliance with the Philistines, something God would have never condoned. The kingdom of Israel was living in open rebellion against God. Ahab is described in highly unflattering terms. “And Ahab the son of Omri did evil in the sight of the Lord, more than all who were before him…Ahab did more to provoke the Lord, the God of Israel, to anger than all the kings of Israel who were before him” (1 Kings 16:30, 33 ESV). God's hand was against Ahab, but He had made Jehoshaphat prosper. God was pleased with Jehoshaphat's obedience and faithfulness. But what would God do when Jehoshaphat proved to be faithful and made an ungodly decision?

What does this passage reveal about man?

Jehoshaphat's decision to make an alliance with Ahab would put him in an awkward position. Any time we determine to cozy up with the world, we will find ourselves facing the temptation to compromise on our convictions. James puts it rather bluntly. “You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God” (James 4:4 ESV). If we want to associate with the ungodly, we will find ourselves tempted to do ungodly things. And Jehoshaphat found that his innocent alliance would soon force him to make a difficult decision. Ahab would ask him to join forces with him against the Syrians. And even when God had given ample warning through His prophet, Micaiah, not to go up against the Syrians, both Ahab and Jehoshaphat would refuse to listen. They would reject the word of the Lord and listen to the lies of the false prophets. And Jehoshaphat, the godly king of Judah, would find himself fighting in a battle God had not sanctioned and surrounded by Syrian soldiers who mistook him for King Ahab. He wasn't where he was supposed to be. His ungodly decision making had gotten him in trouble and he was faced with possible death because he had refused to listen to God. But God did not abandon him. When Jehoshaphat cried out, God heard and He answered. “And Jehoshaphat cried out, and the Lord helped him. God drew them away from him” (2 Chronicles 18:31 ESV). Jehoshaphat's God delivered him in spite of his godless behavior. But the godless King Ahab would be struck by an errant arrow, and slowly die, propped up in his chariot.

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

We all know that we are going to sin. It is the inevitable consequences of having a sin nature. But John reminds us, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9 ESV). When we cry out to God, and confess our need for Him, He answers. He forgives. He cleanses. In his letter to Timothy, Paul warns his young disciple, “Do not…take part in the sins of others; keep yourself pure” (1 Timothy 5:22 ESV). He also tells him, “The sins of some men are conspicuous, going before them to judgment” (1 Timothy 5:24 ESV). Such was the case of Ahab. His sins were many and painfully obvious to anyone with eyes to see. But Paul also says, “the sins of others appear later” (1 Timothy 5:24 ESV). Jehoshaphat's sin was not quite as apparent as Ahab's. His alliance with Ahab didn't appear to be so wrong at first glance. But it would prove to be an ungodly decision that would have dangerous consequences. In chapter five of 1 Timothy, Paul gives his young protegé some invaluable advice concerning the conduct of those within the church. He talks about how to interact with older men and women. He tells him how to care for widows in the church. But he also warns him that there will be those whose “passions draw them away from Christ” (1 Timothy 5:11 ESV). He reports that “some have already strayed after Satan” (1 Timothy 5:15 ESV). And then he tells Timothy, “As for those who persist in sin, rebuke them in the presence of all, so that the rest may stand in fear” (1 Timothy 5:20 ESV). Paul was serious about godlessness among the people of God. He knew it would happen. But he also knew that it must be dealt with seriously and soberly. Sin is a constant reality, even for the believer. So we must be alert and always ready to confront it in the lives of others and confess it when it appears in our own lives. Like Jehoshaphat, when we find ourselves in trouble for having made ungodly decisions, we must cry out to God for help. We must turn to Him in repentance and allow Him to rescue and restore us. 

Father, I know all too well my capacity for making ungodly decisions. I do it far too often. But I thank You for Your faithfulness to me, allowing me to cry out to You when I get myself in trouble. You have never failed to rescue me and restore me to a right relationship with You. Give me a growing desire to do things Your way and an increasing hatred for sin – both in my life and in the life of the body of Christ. Amen

Training for Godliness.

2 Chronicles 15-16, 1 Timothy 4

For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe. 1 Timothy 4:10 ESV

For Paul, godliness was the goal. It was to be the sole objective for the life of the believer. In a world filled with all kinds of distractions, it was essential that Timothy keep his eye on the prize: “the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:14 ESV). Finishing well was important to Paul. It wasn't enough to start strong. Paul wanted to complete the race of life in full stride, giving every last effort for the cause of Christ. He would later write to Timothy, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing” (2 Timothy 4:7-8 ESV). Paul knew that there was more to life than what was visible to the eye. He believed in a hereafter. He knew that the pursuit of godliness would prove to be beneficial “in this present life and also for the life to come” (1 Timothy 4:8 ESV). Peter believed this same truth and also knew that God was the one who provided means by which we could live godly lives. “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire” (2 Peter 1:3-4 ESV). Peter would go on to encourage his readers to pursue a life of godliness, telling them to “make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 1:5-8 ESV).

What does this passage reveal about God?

In some ways, godliness in this life is a dress rehearsal for the life to come. It is to live with God at the center of your life, focusing on Him and relying on Him for all your needs. The prophet, Azariah, told Asa, the king of Israel, “The Lord is with you while you are with him. If you seek him, he will be found by you, but if you forsake him, he will forsake you” (2 Chronicles 15:2 ESV). He went on to remind Asa, “when in their distress they [Israel] turned to the Lord, the God of Israel, and sought him, he was found by them” (2 Chronicles 15:4 ESV). In other words, when they turned to God and relied on Him, He made Himself available to them. He stepped in and provided assistance to them. When they lived godly, God-focused lives, they found themselves experiencing the power and presence of God in their lives. From his own experience, David would write of God, “The Lord is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth. He fulfills the desire of those who fear him; he also hears their cry and saves them” (Psalm 145:18-19 ESV). James would express a similar sentiment when he wrote, “Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.” (James 4:8 ESV). There is a real sense in which we must constantly remind ourselves of our desperate need for and dependence upon God. We will not only face the reality of our own sin nature, but the constant presence of a fallen world that stands diametrically opposed to Him. We will face difficulties, trials, temptations and spiritual warfare in this life. Our very survival is dependent upon God. But we must seek Him. We must rely upon Him. We must put our hope and trust in Him.

What does this passage reveal about man?

Asa would start out well, but finish poorly. Early on in his reign, when faced with the presence of a massive enemy force and threatened with annihilation, he would turn to God for help. “O Lord, there is none like you to help, between the mighty and the weak. Help us, O Lord our God, for we rely on you, and in your name we have come against this multitude. O Lord, you are our God; let not man prevail against you” (2 Chronicles 14:11 ESV). And God answered, providing a great victory and a tangible reminder of the efficacy of trusting Him. Asa would go on to institute a number of religious reform, removing the false gods from the land of Judah, repairing the altar of the Lord, renewing the covenant between God and the people, and even executing those who refused to seek God. But when Asa found himself facing an eminent attack from the northern kingdom of Israel, rather than turning to God he turned to the king of Syria. He paid King Ben-hadad to break his treaty with Israel and side with Judah. And while his plan seemed to work just fine, God had a different perspective. He sent word to Asa saying, “Because you relied on the king of Syria, and did not rely on the Lord your God, the army of the king of Syria has escaped you. Were not the Ethiopians and the Libyans a huge army with very many chariots and horsemen? Yet because you relied on the Lord, he gave them into your hand” (2 Chronicles 16:7-8 ESV). Asa was reminded that the last time he found himself surrounded by a formidable force, he turned to God. But this time, he had turned to Syria. God had given him a great victory over the Ethiopians and Libyans, but rather than remember what God had done, Asa came up with his own plan. God told Asa, “For the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to give strong support to those whose heart is blameless toward him” (2 Chronicles 16:9 ESV). God wanted to provide support to Asa, but it would require that Asa be devoted to and dependent upon God.

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

Paul told Timothy, “train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come” (1 Timothy 4:7-8 ESV). There is a sense in which we must constantly remind ourselves that the God-centered life is the sole objective of this life. We are not to allow ourselves to get off focus and distracted by the cares of this world. Paul would tell Timothy, “Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him” (2 Timothy 2:3-4 ESV). My goal in life should be to please God. One of the key ways I can please God is to live in dependence on Him. When I seek Him, I will find Him. When I rely on Him, He comes through for me. When I seek His will and attempt to live life on His terms, He provides blessings beyond measure. That doesn't mean my life will be trouble-free or without difficulties. I will face trials and temptations. I will encounter enemies along the way. But when I make godliness my goal, I will find “the eyes of the Lord run to and fro through the whole earth, to give strong support to those whose heart is blameless toward him” (2 Chronicles 16:9 ESV).

Father, I want to live a godly life. I want to make You the center of my life, putting my hope, faith, and trust in You. Teach me to seek You with all my heart, soul, mind and strength. You have promised that if I seek You, I will find You. You will give strong support if my heart is blameless toward You. Show me how to make that a reality in my daily life. Amen

The Mystery of Godliness.

2 Chronicles 13-14, 1 Timothy 3

Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of godliness: He was manifested in the flesh, vindicated by the Spirit, seen by angels, proclaimed among the nations, believed on in the world, taken up in glory. 2 Chronicles 12:1 ESV

We have already had more than enough evidence of the sinfulness of man. At one point in human history, things had gotten so bad, that God destroyed everyone on the planet, except Noah and his immediate family. The sad state of affairs that led to this devastating consequence were as follows: “The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Genesis 6:5 ESV). And even after the flood, when mankind was given a second chance, the descendants of Noah ended up in the same sad condition – living in sin and in disobedience to God. So God chose Abram, in order to create a nation with whom He would have a unique and special relationship, dwelling among them and allowing them the privilege of experiencing His presence and living as His chosen people. But even the people of God would find themselves living godless lives more often than not. And yet, along the way there were a few glimpses of goodness and godliness along the way. “Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his generation. Noah walked with God” (Genesis 6:9 ESV). The book of Hebrews describes Abel as a man of righteousness, Enoch as having pleased God, Abraham as obedient to God, and Moses as a man of faith who “considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt” (Hebrews 11:26 ESV). There have been men and women throughout history who have been faithful to God and who have lived their lives, according to the book of Hebrews, “by faith” in the promises of God. Many of these individuals never had the pleasure of seeing the ultimate fulfillment of the promise for which they waited. “These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth” (Hebrews 11:13 ESV). Their faith was in God, the one who made the promise, not the promise itself. They were willing to trust God to fulfill what He had promised to do, because they believed in His character and relied on His faithfulness.

What does this passage reveal about God?

It should amaze us when we read about a man like King Asa. “And Asa did what was good and right in the eyes of the Lord his God. He took away the foreign altars and the high places and broke down the pillars and cut down the Asherim and commanded Judah to seek the Lord, the God of their fathers, and to keep the law and the commandment” (2 Chronicles 14:2-4 ESV). This man was like a breath of fresh air in a stagnant, polluted land. His reign would be marked by peace, and it was the direct result of his faithfulness to God. God was blessing Asa for doing what was good and right. Unlike his predecessors, he removed the idols to false gods. He commanded the people to “seek the Lord, the God of their fathers, and to keep the law and the commandments” (2 Chronicles 14:4 ESV). Asa placed his faith and hope in God, because he knew that he and the people of Israel were totally dependent upon God. “And Asa cried out to the Lord his God, ‘O Lord, there is none like you to help, between the mighty and the weak. Help us, O Lord our God, for we rely on you, and in your name we have come against this multitude. O Lord, you are our God; let not man prevail against you’” (2 Chronicles 14:11 ESV). And we're told that the Lord defeated the Ethiopians before Asa and before Judah, and the Ethiopians fled. God responded to the faithful, dependent call of Asa. He graciously stepped in and rescued the nation of Israel from the threat of possible annihilation at the hands of a much superior enemy. All God was looking for from them was godliness. In other words, He wanted His people to be focused on Him, dependent upon Him, and faithful to Him.

What does this passage reveal about man?

Godliness was not impossible in the days of Noah, Moses, Abraham, Joseph, David, or even Asa. But it was not easy. Only on rare occasions did some of these men enjoy the indwelling presence and power of the Holy Spirit. So much of what they had to do was dependent upon them. The writer of Hebrews makes it clear that they had to live by faith. They had to place their trust and hope in God, based on nothing more than the promises of God. Asa didn't know whether God would save he and the people of Israel, but he knew that God could. So he turned to God. Again, the writer of Hebrews reminds us, “And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets — who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. Women received back their dead by resurrection. Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated — of whom the world was not worthy—wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth” (Hebrews 11:32-38 ESV). These people all placed their faith in God and were able to endure great trials and accomplish great deeds on God's behalf. They key was the object of their faith: God. He was the source of their strength and salvation.

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

In his letter to Timothy, Paul writes of the conduct of the people of God, stressing how believers “ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God” (1 Timothy 3:15 ESV). He writes about offices of elder and deacon, stressing a man selected for either of these roles should be “above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money” (1 Timothy 3:2-3 ESV). They “must be dignified, not double-tongued, not addicted to much wine, not greedy for dishonest gain” (1 Timothy 3:9 ESV). Paul was describing godly conduct within the church, the family of God, the “pillar and buttress of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15 ESV). But then Paul gives the secret to godly conduct. He says, “Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of godliness” (1 Timothy 3:16 ESV). Then he goes on to describe this great mystery. It is the birth, life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ. In other words, it is salvation made possible through faith in Jesus Christ that makes possible the life of godliness. Man cannot achieve true godly behavior apart from Christ. Man's salvation and redemption is made possible solely through the work accomplished by Jesus on the cross. And His sacrificial death and atoning sacrifice was proven worthy and acceptable to God by His resurrection from the dead. God raised Him back to life because His sacrifice had accomplished its objective. Jesus was “vindicated by the Spirit” through the restoration of His life by the power of the Spirit. Angels were the first to see the resurrected Christ at the tomb. Men were given the unique privilege of seeing Him alive after having seen Him die. They proclaimed this great news to anyone and everyone who would listen, saying, “He is risen!” And because He is risen, we have been given the power to live godly lives, through the power of His Spirit living within us. We can conduct our lives in a godly manner because we have been given God's own Spirit. All because of what Jesus Christ accomplished on our behalf. God has done for mankind what we could never have done for ourselves. He has made possible the life of true godliness. And when we live in His power, as the people of God, we become the pillar and buttress of the truth, displaying the love and faithfulness of God to a world that desperately needs to see it.

Father, I cannot live a godly life without Your help. But by Your power, You have given “to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence” (2 Peter 1:3 ESV). Thank You for sending Your Son to not only save me, but to provide the means by which I can live a life that is pleasing to You. Amen

God-less Living Vs Godly Living.

2 Chronicles 11-12, 1 Timothy 2

When the rule of Rehoboam was established and he was strong, he abandoned the law of the Lord, and all Israel with him. – 2 Chronicles 12:1 ESV

After the split of the kingdom, Rehoboam, the son of Solomon, retained two tribes – Judah and Benjamin – as well as control of the city of Jerusalem. And when he made plans to attack Jeroboam and the people of Judah, God told him, “You shall not go up or fight against your relatives. Return every man to his home, for this thing is from me” (2 Chronicles 11:4 ESV). God had brought about the split of the kingdom because of the disobedience and unfaithfulness of Solomon. Because Rehoboam listened to the word of the Lord, he was able to maintain control over the nation of Judah. He even found that those living in the northern kingdom of Israel, who were appalled by Jeroboam's idolatry, soon joined forces with him and “they strengthened the kingdom of Judah, and for three years they made Rehoboam the son of Solomon secure, for they walked for three years in the way of David and Solomon” (2 Chronicles 11:17 ESV). In other words, they remained faithful to God for three years. Then something happened. “When the rule of Rehoboam was established and he was strong, he abandoned the law of the Lord, and all Israel with him” (2 Chronicles 12:1 ESV). As his kingdom became stronger, Rehoboam became increasingly more independent and saw less and less need for God. He let his success go to his head and it had a direct impact on his heart.

What does this passage reveal about God?

So God stepped in. He brought the Egyptians, along with the Libyans, Sukkum and Ethiopians against Jerusalem. And God made it clear to Rehoboam why this was taking place. “You abandoned me, so I have abandoned you to the hand of Shishak” (2 Chronicles 12:5 ESV). As had happened all throughout the period of the judges, God brought “plunderers” against His people in order to teach them a lesson. And this latest threat had the same impact as all those before them. “Then the princes of Israel and the king humbled themselves and said, ‘The Lord is righteous’” (2 Chronicles 12:6 ESV). They acknowledged that what God was doing was just, righteous and right. They deserved it. They were guilty. And when God saw their response, He said, “I will not destroy them, but I will grant them some deliverance, and my wrath shall not be poured out on Jerusalem by the hand of Shishak. Nevertheless, they shall be servants to him, that they may know my service and the service of the kingdoms of the countries” (2 Chronicles 12:7 ESV). The NET Bible translates that last line as, “Yet they will become his subjects, so they can experience how serving me differs from serving the surrounding nations.” They were going to learn the difference between faithfully serving God and having to unwillingly serve a pagan nation. God wanted His people to be godly. He wanted them to live with Him as the focal point of their individual and corporate lives. But because the people of Judah had turned their backs on God and, in essence, become God-less, He allowed them to experience what life could be like without Him. Shishak and the Egyptians ransacked the temple, taking away all the treasure David and Solomon had accrued. Yet, God spared Judah from complete destruction because they humbled themselves before Him, admitting their guilt and His justified actions against them.

What does this passage reveal about man?

It is amazing that God continued to bless Rehoboam in spite of all he had done to forsake Him. “So King Rehoboam grew strong in Jerusalem and reigned” (2 Chronicles 12:13 ESV). He would reign for 17 years in Jerusalem, “the city that the Lord had chosen out of all the tribes of Israel to put his name there” (2 Chronicles 12:13 ESV). And yet, Rehoboam would not learn from his mistakes. He would not respond to God's grace and mercy with godly living. Instead, “he did evil, for he did not set his heart to seek the Lord” (2 Chronicles 12:14 ESV). Like Israel's first king, Saul, and his own father, Solomon, Rehoboam would forsake God. He started out well, but finished poorly. He went from godliness to godlessness. And the amazing thing is that his actions took place even while God was in the midst of blessing him and prospering his kingdom. 

Over in the book of 1 Timothy, Paul encourages his readers to live godly lives. He challenges them to be people of prayer. He instructs them pray for “all people”, including kings and all who are in high places. His goal? “That we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way” (2 Timothy 2:2 ESV). Our prayers are to be focused on asking God to provide a safe and fertile environment in which to live god-focused lives so that we might influence the culture around us. We are to pray for an atmosphere in which we can live for God and share the good news of Jesus Christ with everyone we meet. Paul encourages the men to be prayerful, uncontentious, and not quarrelsome. He tells the women to be modest in their dress, respectable in their appearance, and self-controlled in their behavior. At the heart of Paul's message is the power of and need for prayer in the life of the believer. As Dr. Thomas L. Constable so clearly explains, “Prayer is so important because it invites God into the situation we pray about and it secures His working on behalf of those in need” (Dr. Constable's notes on 1 Timothy, 2007 Edition). Prayer expresses our dependence upon and need for God. It is at the core of godly living. To live a life without prayer is to live a god-less life. It communicates to Him that we have no need for Him in our lives. When Rehoboam and the people humbled themselves before God, they were acknowledging their need for His help and forgiveness.

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

God desires His people to live godly lives – lives that are empowered by His Spirit, obedient to His Word, and dependent upon His help. To forsake God does not require that we completely turn our backs on Him or worship other gods in place of Him. It can simply mean that we have chosen not to depend on Him. We can become self-sufficient, autonomous in our decision making, and convinced that we can somehow live our lives in our own strength and according to our own wisdom. I can't help but keep reflecting on the fact that Solomon had wisdom and knowledge that had been given to him by God. Yet he ended up turning his back on God and worshiping idols made with human hands. Not exactly the wisest decision he could have made. But even godly wisdom is useless if we don't put it into effect. It is useless to us if we choose to disobey it. Godliness is nothing more than God-centeredness – living our lives completely dependent upon Him. It is leading peaceful and quiet lives, godly and dignified in every way. “This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:3-4 ESV). When we live godly lives, made possible through the work of Christ on the cross, we become living testimonies of God's grace and His life transforming power.

Father, I want to live godly. I want my life to reflect my dependence upon You and reveal Your power through me. I want to be a man of prayer, a man who lives to serve, please and obey You in all that I do. Amen

Robbing God of Glory.

2 Chronicles 9-10, 1 Timothy 1

To the King of ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen. – 1 Timothy 1:17 ESV

Solomon had been given his wisdom and knowledge from God. His kingdom had been handed to him on a silver platter by God. He enjoyed immense wealth and unsurpassed peace as a result of God's good graces. Solomon had it all. In fact, he described his situation in great detail in the book of Ecclesiastes. “I made great works. I built houses and planted vineyards for myself. I made myself gardens and parks, and planted in them all kinds of fruit trees. I made myself pools from which to water the forest of growing trees. I bought male and female slaves, and had slaves who were born in my house. I had also great possessions of herds and flocks, more than any who had been before me in Jerusalem. I also gathered for myself silver and gold and the treasure of kings and provinces. I got singers, both men and women, and many concubines, the delight of the sons of man. So I became great and surpassed all who were before me in Jerusalem. Also my wisdom remained with me. And whatever my eyes desired I did not keep from them. I kept my heart from no pleasure, for my heart found pleasure in all my toil, and this was my reward for all my toil” (Ecclesiastes 2:4-10 ESV). It seems that Solomon knew nothing of simplicity. His life was marked by ostentatiousness and overindulgence.

Solomon was not only wise and wealthy, he was famous. His reputation spread throughout the known world and attracted other dignitaries and royalty from other nations, including the Queen of Sheba. And Solomon was not shy about showing off his great wealth and impressing his guests with his wisdom. He seemed to enjoy it. But what is interesting is that the Queen of Sheba ended up worshiping Solomon, not God. She was more impressed with the creation than she was the Creator. She seemed to believe that God was blessed for having made Solomon king over His people. She even gave offerings to Solomon, but not to God. Somewhere along the way, Solomon had lost focus and wrongly assumed that he was the center of the universe, not God. Not once in this account does he attempt to deflect any of the praise, glory and honor given to him to God.

What does this passage reveal about God?

God had made it clear that He was a jealous God. “I am the LORD; that is my name; my glory I give to no other, nor my praise to carved idols” (Isaiah 42:8 ESV). He was not in the habit of sharing His glory with anyone or anything. Man existed for His glory. Creation was a testament to His glory. Solomon's wealth, wisdom, and kingdom, were intended to reflect God's glory. The nation of Israel existed because God had ordained it. Solomon's reign was a direct result of God's will and in keeping with His promise to David. Solomon should have used his great wisdom and wealth as a platform for declaring the glory and the greatness of God. Like his father, David, Solomon should have used his unique station in life as an opportunity to lift up the name and reputation of God. David had written, “I will extol you, my God and King, and bless your name forever and ever. Every day I will bless you and praise your name forever and ever. Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised, and his greatness is unsearchable” (Psalm 145:1-3 ESV). But 2 Chronicles 9 begins with these telling words: “Now when the queen of Sheba heard of the fame of Solomon…” (2 Chronicles 9:1 ESV). She came seeking Solomon, but he could have used the opportunity to introduce her to his God. God would give Solomon ample opportunity to spread the glory of His name among the nations. But it seems that they were more impressed with Solomon than they were with his God. “Thus King Solomon excelled all the kings of the earth in riches and in wisdom. And all the kings of the earth sought the presence of Solomon to hear his wisdom, which God had put into his mind” (2 Chronicles 9:22-23 ESV). Solomon existed for God's glory, but somehow he had turned that truth around. He had become the center of his own universe. 

What does this passage reveal about man?

Because Solomon ended up glorifying himself and worshiping false gods, he would find all his great wealth and wisdom meaningless and unfulfilling. “For of the wise as of the fool there is no enduring remembrance, seeing that in the days to come all will have been long forgotten. How the wise dies just like the fool! So I hated life, because what is done under the sun was grievous to me, for all is vanity and a striving after wind” (Ecclesiastes 2:16-17 ESV). His own self-confessed vanity would lead him to disobey God's commands, surrounding himself with great wealth, so much so that “silver was not considered as anything in the days of Solomon” (2 Chronicles 9:20 ESV). He even made himself a great throne made of ivory and overlaid with gold. He amassed thousands of horses and chariots. In fact, he imported horses from Egypt and all the lands – all in violation of God's commands. “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).

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

Solomon had lost sight of the fact that his fame and fabulous wealth were God's doing, not his own. He existed for God's glory, not his own. As his fame spread, he began to believe his own press releases, somehow thinking himself special. But Solomon's greatness was all a result of God's graciousness and goodness. Solomon's wisdom and wealth were to be a testimony to God's blessing. Had Solomon remained grounded and remembered that he was totally undeserving of all that he had inherited, he would have been able to recognize the unbelievable grace of God in his life. Paul reminds me that I too must never forget just how blessed I am by God. Speaking of his own life, Paul writes, “formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 1:13-14 ESV). He fully understood that God had redeemed him in order that through his life, “Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life” (1 Timothy 1:16 ESV). Paul's life was a testimony to God's amazing grace. And Paul was more than willing to give God all the praise, glory and honor. Like Paul, I must learn to recognize God's greatness and grace in my own life. I am what I am because of Him, not me. I owe all that I have and all that I am to Him. When I lose sight of that fact, I can end up robbing God of glory. I can find myself making much of me, instead of making much of Him. But when I make myself my own god, I will reach the same sad conclusion Solomon did. “This also is vanity and a striving after wind” (Ecclesiastes 2:26 ESV). 

Father, forgive me for the many times I rob You of glory. Forgive me for making it all about me so much of the time. Help me to understand just how much I owe to You. I owe You not only my salvation, but my very existence. Never let me forget that “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change” (James 1:17 ESV). Amen

No One Said It Would Be Easy.

2 Chronicles 7-8, 2 Thessalonians 3

As for you, brothers, do not grow weary in doing good. – 2 Thessalonians 3:13 ESV

God had chosen to dwell among His people. That is the significance of the events recorded in chapter seven as Solomon and the people dedicated the newly completed temple. God even told Solomon, “I have heard your prayer and have chosen this place for myself as a house of sacrifice” (2 Chronicles 7:12 ESV). The temple was going to be a place in which the people of God could come to find forgiveness for their sins and receive cleansing from God so that they might continue to enjoy His presence among them. The people recognized the incredible fact that God had chosen to bless them and grant them the unique privilege of having Him dwell among them. But God's presence was not guaranteed. There were conditions involved. His continued presence among them was going to require certain attitudes and actions on their part. Solomon would enjoy the blessings of God as long as he remained faithful to God. The people would experience the power and presence of God as long as they made Him their sole object of worship and adoration. But it wasn't going to be easy. In the words God spoke to Solomon, He made it perfectly clear what His expectations would be regarding the king and his subjects. He knew there would be times of sin and unfaithfulness. He knew there would be periods of time when He would be forced to punish His people – “When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command the locust to devour the land, or send pestilence among my people” (2 Chronicles 7:13 ESV). And then those times came, God told Solomon exactly what the people were supposed to do. “…if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land” (2 Chronicles 7:14 ESV).

What does this passage reveal about God?

God didn't say, “IF my people sin.” He said “WHEN my people sin.” The existence of the temple and the reality of the sacrificial system was ample evidence that God knew His people would sin. He had provided the means by which they could seek and find forgiveness and restoration. But there was more to the sacrificial system than mere ritual and religious rule keeping. God gave them four requirements for experiencing His forgiveness and healing: First, he required that they humble themselves. They must come to Him with an attitude of humility, not pride. Coming to God requires that we admit our weakness and acknowledge His power. God hates pride. James reminds us, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (James 4:6 ESV). An attitude of humility expresses our understanding of who we are in comparison to God. When we come before Him humbly, we are letting Him know that He is God and we are not. Secondly, God said that if they want to experience His forgiveness and healing, they must come before Him prayerfully. Prayer is an act that expresses dependence. When we pray, we are telling God that we love Him, but also that we need Him. When we pray to God, we are coming to Him with our hands out, having let go of all else we had been clinging to and asking Him to meet our needs. Prayer is a way of expressing our dependence upon and need for God. But then, God told Solomon that they must also seek His face. This expression conveys the idea of seeking to please God. To seek God's face is to desire His favor. When we sin, it is as if we force God to turn His face from us, because God is holy and cannot abide by or tolerate sin in His presence. But when we humbly admit our sins and prayerfully bring them before God in confession, seeking to do what is right in His eyes, He turns His face toward us. We must desperately desire God's favor more than anything else in the world. We must seek to please Him, not just seek His forgiveness. Finally, God told Solomon that there must be change. The people must turn from their wicked ways.” In other words, they must repent. Seeking God's forgiveness for sin must be accompanied by an acknowledgement that our sin was wrong. Repentance is not just a remorse of regret for having gotten got with our hands in the cookie jar. We must admit that what we have done was wrong and turn from it.

What does this passage reveal about man?

IF the people of Israel will do these things, God says, “then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land” (2 Chronicles 7:14 ESV). Humility, prayer, seeking to do what pleases God and turning away from displeases Him brings forgiveness and healing. But God knew that man was predisposed to pride, independence, seeking to please himself and an unwillingness to turn back to God. So He gave them the consequences associated with disobedience and a refusal to humbly, prayerfully repent. “But if you turn aside and forsake my statutes and my commandments that I have set before you, and go and serve other gods and worship them, then I will pluck you up from my land that I have given you, and this house that I have consecrated for my name, I will cast out of my sight, and I will make it a proverb and a byword among all peoples” (2 Chronicles 7:19-20 ESV). Their refusal to come to Him in humility, prayer, seeking His face, and turning from their wickedness, would result in a removal of His favor, the destruction of His temple and their removal from the land He had so graciously given them. And when that day comes and the nations marvel at why this has happened, God gives the reason: “Because they abandoned the Lord, the God of their fathers who brought them out of the land of Egypt, and laid hold on other gods and worshiped them and served them. Therefore he has brought all this disaster on them” (2 Chronicles 7:22 ESV). 

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

As a believer in Jesus Christ, I enjoy forgiveness for my sins – past, present and future. Because of my relationship with Christ, I stand before God as righteous. But I must never take that relationship for granted. John tells me, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9 ESV). There is still a need for me to come to God, humbly seeking His face in prayer, confessing my sins, admitting my need for Him, and willingly turning away from my open rebellion to Him. I cannot arrogantly expect God to bring me healing and forgiveness when I am living in sin and openly disobeying His will for my life. As Paul told the Thessalonian believers, I must not grow weary in doing good. As the New International Version translates that verse, I must “never tire of doing what is right” (2 Thessalonians 3:13 NIV). Living the Christian life is not easy. God never said it would be. Sin will always be a constant reality in my life. Pride will be a constant companion. Seeking independence from God will always be a temptation. Turning from sin will prove difficult to do. But I must not grow weary in doing good. To do good is to seek God's face and desire His favor. I don't do it to earn brownie points and work my way into His good graces. Jesus Christ has already restored me to a right relationship with God once and for all. But as a child of God, I should desire to live for Him and to conduct my life in such a way that it expresses my love and appreciation for Him. Humility, prayer, seeking God, and turning from sin are expressions of my love for Him. Paul's prayer for the Thessalonians is an encouraging reminder to me. “May the Lord direct your hearts to the love of God and to the steadfastness of Christ” (2 Thessalonians 3:5 ESV). I must never forget God's love and Christ's example of faithful, unwavering obedience to His Father. I must not grow weary in doing good.

Father, help me to never lose sight of Your incredible love or Your Son's marvelous example of humility, prayerfulness, obedience and righteousness. He lived His life to please You. May I continually learn to do the same thing. Not to earn Your favor, but to express my gratitude and love. Amen

A Timely Reminder.

2 Chronicles 5-6, 2 Thessalonians 2

O Lord, God of Israel, there is no God like you, in heaven or on earth, keeping covenant and showing steadfast love to your servants who walk before you with all their heart. – 2 Chronicles 6:14 ESV

Most scholars believe the books of 1 and 2 Chronicles are post-exhilic in nature. In other words, they were written some time after the people of Judah had returned from captivity in Babylon and after Jerusalem had been restored and the temple rebuilt. In spite of their rebellion against God, He had miraculously arranged for them to be restored to the land. He had made it possible for them to rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem and reconstruct the temple, both of which had been destroyed by the Babylonians. But things were not like they had been. The city of Jerusalem was a shadow of its former self. The temple was smaller and much less grand than the one Solomon had built. The people were poor, defenseless, with no standing army and no king to lead them. So in recounting this story to his readers, the chronicler is reminding them of their heritage, their nation's former glory, and their unique relationship with God. Solomon's prayer of dedication contains a series of if…then statements, asking God to intervene in certain cases involving the sins of the people and their ultimate repentance.

This entire section would have been a sobering reminder of just how wonderful things had been for the people of God before their sins had led to God's discipline and their deportation. But it would have also reminded them of what was required of them to enjoy God's forgiveness and restoration.

What does this passage reveal about God?

One particular part of Solomon's prayer would have struck a chord with those reading this book in their post-exhilic environment. Solomon had pleaded with God, saying, “If your people Israel are defeated before the enemy because they have sinned against you, and they turn again and acknowledge your name and pray and plead with you in this house, then hear from heaven and forgive the sin of your people Israel and bring them again to the land that you gave to them and to their fathers” (2 Chronicles 6:24-25 ESV). There is no indication that the people of Israel, while in exile in Babylon, had ever really repented of their sins and turned back to God. Yet God had been faithful and returned them to the land – in spite of them. Earlier in his prayer, Solomon had stated, “O Lord, God of Israel, there is no God like you, in heaven or on earth, keeping covenant and showing steadfast love to your servants who walk before you with all their heart” (2 Chronicles 6:14 ESV). But those who were reading this historical narrative after having been returned from exile in Babylon, this was a sobering reminder that God had been faithful even though they had never really repented. God was keeping His promises made to Abraham and David. He would continue to make of Israel a great nation. He would keep His promise to place a descendant of David on the throne of Israel – forever. The real emphasis of this passage seems to be on God's faithfulness and man's inherent unfaithfulness. It recounts God's decision to dwell among the people of Israel, displaying His shekinah glory, in the form of a pillar of cloud, within the Holy of Holies – “the glory of the Lord filled the house of God” (2 Chronicles 5:14 ESV).

What does this passage reveal about man?

The temple and the Ark of the Covenant were symbols of God's abiding presence, but also of His holiness and willingness to forgive the sins of those who rebel against His righteous commands. The temple without the Ark would have been just another building. The Ark without the Mercy Seat, would have been nothing more than a constant reminder of God's Law and man's inability to live up to it. The Ark contained the two tablets of stone on which were written the ten commandments, provided to Moses by God Himself. These tablets represented God's righteous, unwavering expectations regarding man's conduct. But because of man's sin nature, living up to God's righteous requirements was impossible. Which is why God had provided the sacrificial system and the Mercy Seat, which covered the Ark of the Covenant. It was on this Mercy Seat that blood was sprinkled once a year on the Day of Atonement, in order to provide forgiveness for the sins the people had committed that previous year. Solomon knew that he and the people of Israel were nothing without God's presence. But he also knew that they were nothing without God's forgiveness. “…listen to the pleas of your servant and of your people Israel, when they pray toward this place. And listen from heaven your dwelling place, and when you hear, forgive” (2 Chronicles 6:21 ESV). Solomon fully understood that forgiveness was going to be non-negotiable necessity in order for the people of God to retain a right standing before God. Even though Solomon repeatedly said, “If a man sins…”, “If your people are defeated…because they have sinned”, and “when heaven is shut up and there is no rain because they have sinned…”, he knew that these were not potential scenarios, but inevitable ones. They were going to sin and they were going to need God's forgiveness. But forgiveness required repentance. And while the original readers of this book found themselves restored to the land and worshiping once again in the temple, they were going to need to repent if they wanted to enjoy the presence and power of God in their lives.

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

It's interesting to note that while the temple had been restored and the sacrificial system had been reinstated, the Ark of the Covenant was missing. It had likely been destroyed during the fall of Jerusalem. The audience reading this passage in a post-exhilic Jerusalem would have recognized that the Ark of the Covenant was no longer sitting within the Holy of Holies. And without the Ark, there was no Mercy Seat. Without the Mercy Seat, there was not place to atone for the sins of the people. And yet, I am reminded that God has provided mercifully, graciously provided a means of atonement through His own Son, Jesus Christ. Christ was offered as the perfect, once-for-all-time sacrifice for the sins of mankind. “… he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption” (Hebrews 9:11 ESV). Paul goes on to remind us, “And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him” (Hebrews 9:27-28 ESV). In his letter to the Thessalonian believers, Paul warned them of the “coming of the lawless one” – the Antichrist – who in the time of the tribulation, will deceive “those who are perishing, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved” (2 Thessalonians 2:10 ESV). There will be those who believe his lies and suffer condemnation, because they “did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness” (2 Thessalonians 2:12 ESV). But God had made known to me the truth regarding His Son. He has made it clear to me that my salvation is based solely on His Son's work on the cross, not any good works on my part. The Israelites were the undeserving recipients of God's grace and mercy. So am I. God has chosen me, along with all other believers, “as the firstfruits to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth” (2 Thessalonians 2:13 ESV). We are to live in the wonder of His grace, mercy and forgiveness.

Father, nothing we receive from You is deserved, except perhaps, Your loving discipline. But Your grace is always a free gift, provided out of Your abundant love and mercy. Thank You for making it possible for me to be restored to a right relationship with You through the death of Your Son. Thank You for providing mercy and grace, when what I deserved was death. I am reminded that I owe to You a great debt, which I could never repay. But I can give You my worship, praise, love and life. May I live in such a way that the world around me knows I belong to You. Amen

Something Missing.

2 Chronciles 3-4, 2 Thessalonians 1

Then Solomon began to build the house of the Lord in Jerusalem on Mount Moriah, where the Lord had appeared to David his father, at the place that David had appointed, on the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite. – 2 Chronicles 3:1 ESV

Four years into his reign as king, Solomon finally began the building of the long-awaited house of the Lord – the temple. Construction commenced on top of Mount Moriah, at the site of the former threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite, purchased by David for this very purpose. Chapters three and four give us details concerning the construction of various aspects of the temple and its contents. We are given specifics concerning the two massive cherubim that occupied the Most Holy Place. We have descriptions of the altar of bronze, the sea of cast metal, the wash basins, tables golden lampstands and the court of the priests. But there is one thing missing, and it's absence is significant. In spite of all the painstaking planning and meticulous care that went into the construction of the temple, there was one item that would ensure that this structure would be the dwelling place of God and not just another beautiful man-made building. The missing element was the Ark of the Covenant. Solomon had not forgotten about it. He had every intention of bringing the Ark into the temple upon completion of the construction process, and that significant event is covered in chapter five. But it is important to notice that the building alone, adorned with all its gold, silver, bronze, and cypress; filled with all its handcrafted basins, lampstands and tables; would be nothing without Ark. The Ark of the Covenant was a symbol of God's presence. It contained the stone tablets given to Moses and on which were written the Law of God. It was into the Most Holy Place that the High Priest would enter one time per year on the Day of Atonement, “and not without taking blood, which he offers for himself and for the unintentional sins of the people” (Hebrews 9:7 ESV). It was there that the high priest offered sacrificial blood to atone for (cover) the sins of the Israelites as a nation. This offering made propitiation (satisfaction) for their sins for one year. But each year, this same process had to be repeated. It was a sacrifice that had limitations and could never completely satisfy the just demands of a holy God.

What does this passage reveal about God?

The Ark of the Covenant was central to the worship of Yahweh. Without it, the people could not have their sins atoned for. A temple without the ark would be just another building, no matter how beautiful it was. A temple without the presence of God would be nothing more than an expensive warehouse, devoid of power and worthless as a place of worship. The Ark of the Covenant was to be a reminder of God's holiness as revealed in His Law. It was to provide atonement for sin and a means by which to enjoy God's mercy and forgiveness, so that men might experience His ongoing presence. The temple, while built by the hands of ordinary men, could never provide atonement. It could never forgive sin. The Ark was essential to the ongoing health and well-being of the people of God. Men could construct buildings, but only God can forgive sins. Men can build a temple intended as a dwelling place for God, but only God can provide a means by which sinful men can dwell in His holy presence. 

What does this passage reveal about man?

One of the things that is easy to overlook in reading about the beautiful trappings of the temple is that its existence would reveal two aspects regarding God. First, it was a visible reminder of God's presence and power. It would be a constant physical symbol of God's relationship with the people of Israel. But there is a second, sometimes overlooked aspect of the temple that the Israelites would sometimes forget. It was a symbol of God's judgment. Inside the Ark were the tablets of stone on which were written the Law of God – His holy commands outlining the non-negotiable code of conduct for His people. Those laws were to be obeyed. Not to do so would carry dire consequences. To break God's laws would bring God's judgment. Which is why God provided the Mercy Seat. He knew that men would sin. He was fully aware that His people could not keep His holy laws. So He provided a means by which they could have their sins atoned for and His righteous judgment satisfied. The judgment lies at the heart of it all. If there was no pending judgment, there would be no need for mercy or atonement. If there were no sins, there would be no need for forgiveness. The judgment of God is a reality. “…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23 ESV) and “ the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23 ESV). Man stands condemned. He is under the judgment of a holy God and is deserving of His sentence of death. 

“But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved — and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:4-7 ESV). God, in His mercy, provides salvation. But it does not negate His judgment. Paul made it clear to the Thessalonian believers that God's judgment was still a reality. While they were suffering for their faith and enduring abuse at the hands of their non-believing peers, Paul made it clear that their suffering was “evidence of the righteous judgment of God” (2 Thessalonians 1:5 ESV). They were suffering for the present time, but they were not to lose sight of the fact that a day was coming when God would right all wrongs and set straight all injustices. “God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to grant relief to you who are afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus” (2 Thessalonians 1:6-8 ESV). Paul went on to tell them, “They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might” (2 Thessalonians 1:9 ESV).

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

The temple without the Ark was worthless. The people of Israel, without a means of receiving the mercy and forgiveness of God, would find themselves standing under the judgment of God. My life without the atoning work of Jesus Christ would be just as worthless and my fate, just as hopeless. Had the Ark only contained the copies of the Law, but no mercy seat, the people of God would have been under judgment and worthy of death. But God provided a means of atonement. He made possible forgiveness for sins that was undeserved and unmerited. He has done the same thing for me. And when I find myself suffering in this life and enduring difficulties and trials as a follower of Jesus Christ, I must remind myself that my reward is out ahead of me. There is a day coming when Jesus Christ will return and the righteous judgment of God will be fully enacted once and for all, “inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus” (2 Thessalonians 1:8 ESV). How grateful I should be that I will not have to undergo that judgment. How thankful I should be that I will be spared God's wrath and be able to enjoy His grace, mercy, love and forgiveness. May I never take for granted the incredible gift I have received. May I never neglect the reality of God's judgment and the unbelievable gift of His mercy made possible through Jesus Christ.

Father, Your judgment is real and just. Your anger against man is justified. And I know that I was fully deserving of your condemnation and punishment. But You extended to me mercy. You made possible my forgiveness. You did for me what I could have never done for myself. Help me to never forget the reality of Your judgment, so that I never take for granted the wonder of Your grace. Amen

Smart Enough To Know Better.

2 Chronicles 1-2, 1 Thessalonians 5

Give me now wisdom and knowledge to go out and come in before this people, for who can govern this people of yours, which is so great? – 2 Chronicles 1:10 ESV

Solomon was a bright young man. In fact, he was smart enough to know that, when God offered him a chance to ask for anything he wanted, what he really needed were wisdom and knowledge. And God granted both. So Solomon wasn't just book-smart, he was God-ordained, off-the-charts intelligent. But he was going to learn that all the wisdom in the world won't stop you from doing some pretty unintelligent things. It's interesting to note that the chronicler takes special care to follow up the story of Solomon's anointing by God with wisdom and knowledge with a very telling side story. It seems that Solomon had an appetite for fast wheels, precious metals, and, eventually, foreign women. "Solomon gathered together chariots and horsemen. He had 1,400 chariots and 12,000 horsemen, whom he stationed in the chariot cities and with the king in Jerusalem. And the king made silver and gold as common in Jerusalem as stone, and he made cedar as plentiful as the sycamore of the Shephelah” (2 Chronicles 1:14-15 ESV).

So what's the problem? Everything listed here is in direct violation of the will of God. Over in Deuteronomy 17, we read, “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). Solomon failed his first aptitude test. He flunked Obedience 101. And it would prove to be a pattern in his life.

What does this passage reveal about God?

God expected His king to be obedient. He had made it perfectly clear and had commanded that each king was to keep a copy of the Law close at hand at all times. “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 17:19-20 ESV). God's Law was to be a constant companion to the king, guiding him, teaching him to fear God, and helping him to remain faithful to God's will. The wisdom Solomon received from God was not to have replaced or substituted from his knowledge of God's will as revealed in His Law.

What does this passage reveal about man?

Solomon was just a man – a very smart man, but a man nonetheless. Like all men, he suffered with a sin nature that caused him to listen more to his passions than to his God. For Solomon, the trappings of kingship were highly attractive. Chariots and horses, gold and silver, wives and concubines were all symbols of a successful reign in his day and age. Even when Solomon got around to building a house for God, he would be sure and build an even bigger one for himself. Materialism and the trappings of sovereign success were constant temptations to him. In his letter to the Thessalonian believers, Paul writes, “Abstain from every form of evil” (1 Thessalonians 5:22 ESV). it seems odd that he would have to say this to a group of Christ followers, but evidently, this was much-needed information for some of them. They needed some basic instruction in how to live godly lives in the midst of an ungodly world. Paul went on to say, “may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thessalonians 5:23 ESV). He wanted them to know that a faithful walk with God was more important than anything else. Their greatest need was for God to finish His sanctifying, life-transforming work in their lives.

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

God gave Solomon exactly what he had asked for: wisdom and knowledge. But it didn't prevent Solomon from doing something stupid. It would appear that Solomon had not yet taken God's command seriously and made the Law of God a part of his daily reading schedule. Perhaps he thought he could survive off his intelligence. But it could have been a case of Solomon knowing what to do, but simply failing to do it. How often have I been guilty of the same thing? Real wisdom shows up in faithful obedience to the will of God. And because I have the Spirit of God living in me and the Word of God available to me, I should be smart enough to know better than to disobey God.

Father, I want to be faithful. I want my wisdom to be lived out in practical ways that impact the everyday nature of my life. I have no excuse not to live wisely and obediently. May I not overlook Your will in an effort to satisfy my own desires. Amen

Be Strong and Courageous.

2 Chronicles 32

"Be strong and courageous! Don’t be afraid or discouraged because of the king of Assyria or his mighty army, for there is a power far greater on our side! He may have a great army, but they are merely men. We have the Lord our God to help us and to fight our battles for us!' Hezekiah’s words greatly encouraged the people. ­– 2 Chronicles 32:7-8 NLT

They were surrounded by a more powerful enemy who was constantly bombarding them with demoralizing propaganda, attempting to undermine their faith in God and cause them to surrender without a fight. This enemy mocked their God and ridiculed their faith. The people suffered a steady barrage of withering scorn and disheartening news that was weakening their resolve and causing their conviction to crumble. So as their leader, King Hezekiah stepped in and offered them much-needed words of encouragement. He called them to be strong and courageous. But these weren't just empty words or some kind of meaningless pep talk with no basis in reality. They were a reminder of the fact that "there is a power far greater on our side." Hezekiah was trying to get the people to recognize the fact that God was greater than their circumstances. No matter how bad it looked, no matter how dire the circumstances may appear, God was more powerful. The size of Sennacherib's army was a non-factor. The past victories of Assyria were meaningless. The taunts of the enemy were futile. As long as the people of God remembered that Yahweh was in control. Their faith had to remain firm. They had to rest in the fact that their God was big enough to handle any situation. No circumstance was too big for God.

What a timely reminder for us today, when we stand surrounded by the enemy, and bombarded by messages that question our God's very existence. We face circumstances and situations on a daily basis that cause us to doubt and tempt us to turn away from God. The enemy is constantly whispering in our ear that our God is too small. Or He is too busy. Or He doesn't really care. We can begin to think that our situation is too difficult for God to handle. So we either try to solve it ourselves or simply give up. It's interesting to note that the last verse of the preceding chapter states, "In all that he did in the service of the Temple of God and in his efforts to follow God’s laws and commands, Hezekiah sought his God wholeheartedly. As a result, he was very successful" (2 Chronicles 31:21b NLT). And yet, he found himself surrounded by the enemy. He sought God with all his heart and still found himself under siege. He experienced success and the threat of defeat simultaneously. And yet when you and I are seeking the Lord, we seem shocked and surprised if anything unexpected or unwanted comes our way. We question the difficulties of life as if we somehow think we should be immune to them. We wonder why we are under attack when we have been trying so hard to remain faithful to God. But faithfulness to God does not guarantee an absenceof trouble. But it does provide an opportunity for our faith to be tested and God's power to be displayed. Hezekiah was diligently working to fortify the city. He was repairing the broken sections of the walls surrounding Jerusalem. He had increased the production of military weapons. He enlarged his standing army. He took steps to defend himself and his people against the coming enemy. But then he reminded them that their real defense and protection was God Himself. He was their hope. And was their "secret weapon." And God didn't disappoint them. We're told that "the Lord sent an angel who destroyed the Assyrian army with all its commanders and officers. So Sennacherib was forced to return home in disgrace to his own land. And when he entered the temple of his god, some of his own sons killed him there with a sword" (2 Chronicles 32:21 NLT). The walls weren't necessary. The weapons never made it out of their boxes. The defensive fortifications never got tested. God did it all. He provided victory without the Israelites having to lift a finger. They didn't have to do a thing, but watch God work. Their difficulty had become an opportunity to witness the power of God on display. The enemy's presence provided a platform on which God could demonstrate His power. Our difficulties are God's proving ground. He shows up when things are looking down. But we must stand strong and be courageous. We must trust and believe that He is greater than our biggest problem. He is able to save. He is ready, willing and able to deliver. Our problems exist to help us recognize that He exists – to learn that there really is a power far greater on our side.

Father, may I see You in my circumstances today. May I see my problems as Your proving ground and as opportunities to watch You work. Amen


Jumpin' Jehoshaphat!

2 Chronicles 17

They took copies of the Book of the Law of the LORD and traveled around through all the towns of Judah, teaching the people. ­– 2 Chronicles 17:9 NLT

Don't ask me where the phrase, "Jumpin' Jehoshaphat" comes from or what it means. No one really seems to know. But I couldn't help but think about it as I read today's chapter. Nowhere in the story of the life of Jehoshaphat do we see him jump, but we do see him take a leap of faith and decide to follow after God, something most of the kings of Judah and Israel seemed to have a hard time doing. When he became king of Judah, Jehoshaphat did what just about any king would do: he fortified the cities, strengthened his defenses, and prepared an army to protect his nation. But more importantly, he sought the God of David and served Him rather than the false gods of the nations around him. This guy instituted some pretty serious spiritual renewal efforts on behalf of the people of Judah. One of the most intriguing ones was his commissioning ofofficials from his administration to travel around the countryside with a copy of the law and a couple of Levites, teaching the people God's commands as revealed to Moses on Mount Sinai. Here was a king who took the law of God seriously and wanted his people to know it. Obviously, they must have needed a remedial lesson in the law or Jehoshaphat wouldn't have bothered sending out his own officials to make it happen. In teaching them the law, he was enabling the people to know the will of God. If they knew the will of God, they would be less likely to disobey it out of ignorance. So Jehoshaphat not only fortified his kingdom physically, he strengthened it spiritually.

God blessed his efforts. Not only did Jehoshaphat's kingdom grow strong, he grew rich. Even the pagan kings brought gifts to the king of Judah because the people of Judah were faithful to God. What an incredible reminder to us all of the need to make spiritual formation a foundational part of our lives. We will never know the will of God without the written Word of God. We will never know how to live in obedience to God if we never hear from Him. Jehoshaphat knew that a kingdom with military might was useless without the power of God made available through faithful obedience to His Word. We could learn a lot from the life of Jehoshaphat.

Father, without Your Word I am directionless and powerless. Never let me attempt to build my life on anything other than Your Word and Your will revealed in it. Amen