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

Followers of God.

Numbers 9-10, Luke 20

In the second year, in the second month, on the twentieth day of the month, the cloud lifted from over the tabernacle of the testimony, and the people of Israel set out by stages from the wilderness of Sinai. And the cloud settled down in the wilderness of Paran. – Numbers 10:11-12 ESV

God led His people. From the moment He set them free from captivity in Egypt, He had directed their path. He had gone before them, guiding their every step along the way and providing for their every need. But they had to follow. They couldn't veer to the right or the left. They couldn't go off in another direction. If they did, they would suffer the consequences. God's leadership required faithful followers. It reminds me of the chorus of the classic old hymn, Where He Leads Me I Will Follow. It simply says, "Where He leads me I will follow; I’ll go with Him, with Him, all the way." The people of Israel had spent nearly a year camped at the base of Mount Sinai. During that time, God had given them His law and provided them with the construction plans for the Tabernacle. He had given them the sacrificial system in order to provide a means of atoning for and receiving forgiveness for their sins. There at Mount Sinai they enjoyed God's presence and provision, but Mount Sinai was not their final destination. They were not where God wanted them to be. So "In the second year, in the second month, on the twentieth day of the month, the cloud lifted from over the tabernacle of the testimony, and the people of Israel set out by stages from the wilderness of Sinai. And the cloud settled down in the wilderness of Paran" (Numbers 10:11-12 ESV). God led and the people followed.

What does this passage reveal about God?

God had a purpose behind everything He did. In order to get the people of Israel all the way through the wilderness, He knew it was going to require much more than which direction to go. He could lead them, and they could follow – but they would have to follow according to His terms. Their following would have to include faithful obedience to His righteous rules and divine requirement. They would have to follow obediently. God could have miraculously taken them straight to the Promised Land. He could have eliminated the need for the journey altogether, but instead, He took His time. He gave them rules of conduct. He painstakingly provided them with instructions as to how they were to live as they followed Him. The wilderness wanderings were going to be a time of testing, to see if they would live set-apart lives, faithfully following God's prescribed plan for His people. God didn't just expect the people to follow, but to do so faithfully. In other words, they had to follow according to His terms. They had to keep His laws. They had to celebrate His festivals. They had to keep the Sabbath. They had to regularly sacrifice for their sins. They had to deal with impurity in their midst. Their journey from Mount Sinai to the land of Canaan was to be marked by obedience. God's leading was going to require the people's faithful adherence to His commands.

What does this passage reveal about man?

From our vantage point this side of the cross, it is sometimes easy to look back at the Israelites and wonder how they could have been so slow to realize just how good they had it. They seem slow to comprehend just how blessed they were to have God's actual presence living among them. They got to see incredible miracles and witness amazing acts of provision, such as manna that came from the sky and water that flowed from a rock. They wore sandals and clothes that never wore out. But in spite of all this, they continued to disobey Him by disregarding His commands. The psalmist writes, "How often they rebelled against him in the wilderness, and insulted himin the desert! They again challenged God,and offendedthe Holy One of Israel" (Psalm 78:40-41 ESV). But before we point our fingers in accusation and derision, we need to realize that their story is far too often our story. We find ourselves on a journey. We are walking through this life, headed to another "land" that God has promised to give us. He has chosen us as His own. He has given us the indwelling presence of His Spirit. He leads and directs us. He speaks to us through His Word. He has called us to live lives that reflect our unique standing as His children. He has called us to live holy lives. And yet, we struggle with faithfulness. "As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, 'You shall be holy, for I am holy'” (1 Peter 1:14-16 ESV).

For the Israelites, Mount Sinai held special meaning. It was there that they received God's law. It was there that they were given His plan for the sacrificial system and the hope of atonement for sin. But they were not meant to stay there. They had to move on. They were on their way to somewhere else. For many of us as Christians, we bask in the glory of our salvation story. We camp on that day we placed our faith in Jesus Christ as our personal Savior and remain content to dwell on that special moment as the most significant day of our lives. But we must move on. We must recognize the fact that our salvation is the beginning, not the end. There is life to be lived – in Christ. He is to followed, not just believed in. Jesus told His disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me" (Matthew 16:24 ESV). There is a cost and commitment to following Christ. It is a daily event that requires faithful obedience to His will and His way.

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

Jesus had many followers when He walked this earth. But when things got tough, and they discovered that His journey was going to include suffering and even death, the majority of those who had been following fled. Believing in Christ is easy. Following Him is difficult and sometimes risky. His disciples would learn this. The religious leaders of Jesus' day were thought to be faithful followers of God. But they were repeatedly condemned by Jesus for their hypocrisy and self-righteousness. He compared them to their ancestors who had killed the prophets of God because they didn't want to hear the message of God. These men were followers of God in name only. They lived by their own set of standards. They put on a facade of faithfulness, but were actually blind to the will of God for their lives. Highly knowledgeable of God's Scriptures, they were unable to recognize the Son of God standing in their midst. And they refused to acknowledge Him as their Messiah and Savior.

Following is not easy, especially when we are prone to going our own way. Even after salvation, we are constantly tempted to take our lives into our own hands and determine our own destiny. But God has a plan for our lives. He has a path for each of us to take. We are on a journey from salvation to our ultimate glorification. Heaven is our ultimate home. But we find ourselves wandering through this wilderness called earth. We have been given an inheritance that includes a permanent home in His heavenly Kingdom. But in the meantime, we are living in what Paul Tripp calls "the gospel gap." Our salvation is in our past. Heaven is in our future. And we live in that in-between time where our sanctification takes place. We are in the process of being transformed into the image of Christ as we faithfully follow His example of love, obedience, humility and service. It is on this planet that we are to live out our salvation in tangible, practical ways that emulate the nature of Christ by allowing the indwelling Spirit of God to powerfully flow through us, producing a lifestyle that is radically different than the world around us. Our following of Christ is to result in our reflection of Christ to the world around us. It is as we walk with Him, living in obedience to Him, that we become increasingly more like Him.

All of this reminds me of another great hymn from my past: Footprints of Jesus

Sweetly, Lord, have we heard Thee calling,

Come, follow Me!

And we see where Thy footprints falling

Lead us to Thee.

Footprints of Jesus,

That make the pathway glow;

We will follow the steps of Jesus

Where’er they go.

Though they lead o’er the cold, dark mountains,

Seeking His sheep;

Or along by Siloam’s fountains,

Helping the weak.

If they lead through the temple holy,

Preaching the Word;

Or in homes of the poor and lowly,

Serving the Lord.

Though, dear Lord, in Thy pathway keeping,

We follow Thee;

Through the gloom of that place of weeping,


If Thy way and its sorrows bearing,

We go again,

Up the slope of the hillside, bearing

Our cross of pain.

By and by, through the shining portals,

Turning our feet,

We shall walk, with the glad immortals,

Heav’n’s golden street.

Then, at last, when on high He sees us,

Our journey done,

We will rest where the steps of Jesus

End at His throne.

Father, I want to follow You faithfully. I want to live a life that reflects the character of Christ. I want my walk to match my talk. And it all begins in my heart. I can fake following you, but You know my heart. I can go through the motions, and fool those around me, but You know what is really going on inside of me. Help me to die to self and live for You. I want to daily take up my cross and die to my will and my way, so that I might more faithfully walk according to Your way. Amen

Wrestling With God.

Genesis 31-32, Matthew 16

So Jacob called the name of the place Peniel,saying, “For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life has been delivered.”  – Genesis 32:30 ESV

This is such a fascinating story, filled with equal parts of faith and faithlessness. Throughout the events that occur, we see the faithful hand of God working behind the scenes, orchestrating the path of Jacob, and fulfilling His promises to Abraham. We also see Jacob struggle with taking God at His Word and attempting to take matters into his own hands – just in case God doesn't come through. Jacob acknowledges God's sovereign control over his life, having prospered and protected him all during his time in Paddan-Aram, but he also fears for his life, anticipating a less-than-cheery welcome from his brother Esau. We see the continuing conflict between Jacob and Laban, his uncle. But the real conflict of Jacob's life had always been between he and God.

What does this passage reveal about God?

The obvious lesson is regarding His sovereignty. God is always in control – in all situations – regardless of how they might appear to us at the time. While Jacob's flight to Paddan-Aram was his mother's idea, and one she had to come up with to protect Jacob from the revenge of Esau, God would use this "detour" to accomplish his will for Jacob's life. Even Jacob recognized the hand of God on his life during his time with Laban. He told his wives, "You know that I have served your father with all my strength, yet your father has cheated me and changed my wages ten times. But God did not permit him to harm me" (Genesis 31:6-7 ESV). God miraculously prospered Jacob, in spite of Laban's ongoing attempts to cheat him out of what was rightfully his. Upon receiving news that his brother Esau was on his way with 400 armed men, Jacob prayed , "I am not worthy of the least of all the deeds of steadfast love and all the faithfulness that you have shown to your servant, for with only my staff I crossed this Jordan, and now I have become two camps. Please deliver me from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau, for I fear him, that he may come and attack me, the mothers with the children" (Genesis 32:10-11 ESV). Jacob feared. He lacked faith. And yet, His God had been proved Himself faithful every step of the way. Jacob was having to learn that Laban was not his problem. He was going to have to understand that Esau was not the one he needed to be worrying about. It was God. His real issue was with God, not man. He was going to learn that, while he could trick and deceive men, God was another matter. And while he could strive and work for the things of this world, what he really needed was the blessing of God. And it's interesting to note that as Jacob lined up all his possessions and prepared to hand them over to his brother as a peace offering, the one thing he demanded from the angel with whom he wrestled was a blessing. “Then he said, ‘Let me go, for the day has broken.’ But Jacob said, ‘I will not let you go unless you bless me’” (Genesis 32:26 ESV). And Jacob received his blessing because he "prevailed." This does not mean he beat God. It means that he wrestled with God until he received that for which he was striving. So God told him, "“Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel,for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed” (Genesis 32:28 ESV). His new name was a combination of the Hebrew words for "wrestle" and "God." Jacob had clung to God, demanding He fulfill His covenant promise to him. He knew that his future was in danger without God's help. And God would prove Himself faithful yet again, delivering Jacob from his brother Esau and providing him a place back in the land of promise.

What does this passage reveal about man?

Jacob's entire life had been a wrestling match with God. At every phase of his life, Jacob had been given full notice that the covenant promises of God would be his. At Jacob's birth, God had confirmed to Rebekah that, while Esau was technically the first-born son and heir to the inheritance, "the one shall be stronger than the other, the older shall serve the younger" (Genesis 25:23 ESV). Jacob had cheated his brother out of his birthright. He had tricked his father into giving him the blessing reserved for the firstborn. And yet, he still doubted that God was going to bless him. He lived in fear of Esau's eventual retaliation. He had to constantly battle his own uncle just to make a living. He had watched his two wives bicker and fight, even bartering over their rights to have sexual relations with him. His life was a complicated mess filled with constant conflicts. And yet his real problem was with God. He was delaying the inevitable. At some point he was going to have to go to the mat with God and have it out over whether or not he was going to trust Him. And that is exactly what happened. That fateful night in the land of Seir, after having sent all that he owned and loved ahead of him, the Scriptures tell us, "And Jacob was left alone. And a man wrestled with him until the breaking of the day" (Genesis 32:24 ESV). All he held dear, his wives, children, and all his worldly possessions had been sent ahead as payment to his brother Esau. He was faced with the possible loss of everything, including his life – all that he had worked so hard for all those years. And he was left alone – with God. And they did battle. And Jacob, weary and worn out from the exertion of it all, clinged for dear life, demanding that "the man" bless him. Everything else was meaningless and worthless, but the blessing of God was essential. This would be a turning point in Jacob's life, resulting in a name change, but also a significant change in outlook. Jacob had been a man of the flesh, prone to do things his own way. Israel would become a man of faith, a spiritual man who was learning to trust in and lean on His God for everything.

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

Over in the gospel of Matthew, we have that powerful rebuke that Jesus gives Peter. Jesus has just told the disciples that He is going to have to go to Jerusalem and "suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised" (Matthew 16:21 ESV). Peter responds quickly and adamantly, telling Jesus that this is NOT going to happen. In essence, Peter is telling the Son of God that the will of God is wrong. And Jesus responds, "Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man" (Matthew 16:23 ESV). Oh, how easy it is to become a hindrance to God. That does not mean we can keep God from doing what He intends to do, but we can place ourselves in opposition to His divine will. That is not a place we want to be. That was not the place Jacob needed to be. He was going to have to learn to trust God and take Him at His word. He was going to have to learn to see God's hand at work in his life and trust that what He had done in the past could also be done in the future. That night in his wrestling match with God, Jacob had learned the truth of Jesus' statement found in Matthew 16:26: "For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?" Jacob had become wealthy. He had been blessed materially. But all of that meant little or nothing without the blessing of God in his life. What set Jacob apart was not his net worth or personal portfolio, but his relationship with God Almighty. His uniqueness was based solely on God's divine determination to fulfill His covenant promises to him and through him. And the same is true for me today.

Father, I can see Your hands all over and around my life. I can look back and see Your activity all around me. But then I can look ahead and worry and fret over what I am going to do about future events or circumstances. I try to take matters into my own hands. I scheme and plan. I worry and stress out over what is going to happen. But what I really need to do is wrestle with You. I need to do business with You and strive with You to the point that I walk away wounded, but confident that You will do what You promise to do. You are faithful. I have nothing to fear. Amen.