King Ahab

Today’s Reading: 1 Kings 16:29-17:7

Motivational speaker Jim Rohn says we are the average of the five people with whom we spend the most time.  He asserts that surrounding yourself with people that look like you want to look and/or act like you want to act, increases your propensity to become who you want to be.

Our text for today introduces us to King Ahab who, like the seven kings before him, did evil in the sight of the Lord.  In fact, verse 33 tells us King Ahab was the most evil of all the Israeli kings.

He did more to arouse the anger of the Lord, the God of Israel, than any of the other kings of Israel before him (1 Kings 16:33).

Do you know why King Ahab was so evil?  You guessed it, he spent all his time with the wrong people.  King Ahab married Jezebel, a pagan woman.  Not only did she lead King Ahab to worship idols instead of following the ways of the Lord, she also encouraged him to listen only to people who brought him good news and who encouraged him to do whatever he wanted.

God sent the prophet Elijah to advise King Ahab, much like he had sent prophets to counsel the kings before him.  (Remember King David’s friend and trusted advisor Nathan?)  The problem was that King Ahab didn’t want to spend any time with Elijah because Elijah only gave him bad news that he didn’t want to hear.  Ultimately, by refusing to listen to Elijah’s warnings and humble himself before God, King Ahab brought destruction on himself and all his descendants (1 Kings 21:29).

Bad news, or counsel that goes against what we want, is hard to accept.  Sometimes, however, it is just what we need to set our paths straight.  God encourages us to seek advice from wise counselors.  But how do you know if your advisors are wise and their guidance is good?  Wise counsel always aligns with the principles outlined in God’s word, the Bible.

Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm (Proverbs 13:20).

Hosea 2

Today’s Reading: Hosea 2

As a parent, why do you (or did you) punish your kids when they disobey / make choices they know are wrong?  You do it to help them see the error of their ways and turn back to what is right.  You do it because you, as their parent, generally know what is best for them more than they do.  Punishment isn’t enjoyable for either the kid or the parent, but we know it leads to a better result long-term.

B.J. introduced us to Hosea yesterday.  God asked his prophet Hosea to do something completely absurd, something that seemed contrary to God’s design for marriages, when he asked him to marry a prostitute that both God and Hosea knew would be unfaithful.  Part of God’s plan was to use the lives of Hosea and Gomer to illustrate the relationship between the Israelites and God.  The Israelites, like Gomer, had been unfaithful.  They had turned away from God and were worshipping pagan (false) gods.

Hosea chapter 2, our text for today, has two distinct themes – punishment and restoration.  The first half of the chapter outlines how God was going to punish his people for worshipping false Gods.

  • I will make her like a desert, turn her into a parched land, and slay her with thirst (Hosea 2:3).
  • I will not show my love to her children… (Hosea 2:4).
  • Therefore I will block her path with thornbushes; I will wall her in so that she cannot find her way (Hosea 2:6).
  • Therefore I will take away my grain when it ripens, and my new wine when it is ready.  I will take back my wool and my linen, intended to cover her naked body (Hosea 2:9).
  • So now I will expose her lewdness before the eyes of her lovers; no one will take her out of my hands (Hosea 2:10).
  • I will stop all her celebrations: her yearly festivals, her New Moons, her Sabbath days—all her appointed festivals (Hosea 2:11).
  • I will ruin her vines and her fig trees…I will make them a thicket, and wild animals will devour them (Hosea 2:12).

Just like a parent, God’s punishment was purposeful.  It was designed to help the Israelites see the error of their ways and turn back to God.  As their “parent”, God knew what was best for the Israelites more than they knew what was best for themselves.

The second half of Hosea 2 is focused on restoration.  How God would restore his relationship with the Israelites when they turned back to him.  See, despite their unfaithfulness, God was still faithful.  The Israelites turned their back on God, but he refused to give up on them.

Here is the good news.  None of us are perfect.  We all make choices we wish we wouldn’t have made.  And, none of us like punishment.  But our God is the same yesterday, today and forever.  Just like he was faithful to the Israelites, he will be faithful to us.

As you find yourself in negative circumstances, consider whether God might be using challenging times to turn you back to him.  In the end, he knows what is best for us even more than we do.  Will you trust him?

I will show my love to the one I called ‘Not my loved one.’ I will say to those called ‘Not my people,’ ‘You are my people’; and they will say, ‘You are my God’ (Hosea 2:23).

Habakkuk 2

Today’s reading: Habakkuk 2

I’ve told you before that I ask a lot of questions (and often drive my family nuts).  Sometimes my motive is to find out what is going on so I can meet the demands of the situation – due dates, arrival times, transportation needs, etc.  Sometimes it is just because I’m interested in the subject or entertained by the art of the conversation.  But some times I ask questions to gain understanding.  Either additional information is going to help me connect the dots and buy into the story, or it will help me see through the erroneous information so I am able to help resolve the issue.

What we know about God’s prophet Habakkuk was that he too asked a lot of questions.  Habakkuk was a contemporary of Jeremiah.  During this period, God’s people were in conflict with the Babylonians who eventually overtook Jerusalem and exiled God’s people into slavery.  At the time, Habakkuk didn’t know how things were going to turn out and cried out to God for understanding. The short book he authored, the fifth to last book of the Old Testament, is just three chapters long.  The first chapter outlines Habakkuk’s questions for God and the second chapter, our passage for today, records God’s answer.  Habakkuk’s questions to God were a cry for understanding.

Question 1 – How long would would the evil ways of the world prevail?  How long, Lord, must I call for help, but you do not listen?  Or cry out to you, “Violence!” but you do not save (Habakkuk 1:2).

Question 2 – Why are you letting wicked people win?  Why then do you tolerate the treacherous? Why are you silent while the wicked swallow up those more righteous than themselves (Habakkuk 1:13).

When Habakkuk cried out in his time of struggle, God provided a clear answer – wait patiently.  God’s timing sometimes seems slow, but we must remember God hates sin even more than we do.  He will not overlook it.  Eventually, in his time, he will punish the unrighteous.  For the revelation awaits an appointed time; it speaks of the end and will not prove false. Though it linger, wait for it; it will certainly come and will not delay (Habakkuk 2:3).

God wants us to come to him with our questions.  We may not always get the answers we want or expect, but he is sovereign and he will answer.

The Lord is in his holy temple; let all the earth be silent before him (Habakkuk 2:20).

 

Lamentations 1

Today’s reading: Lamentations 1

The prophet Jeremiah wrote 2 books of the Bible on the same subject.  The book of Jeremiah predicts the destruction of Jerusalem and the book of Lamentations is a dirge, or a funeral song, to mourn the once great city.

As God’s prophet, Jeremiah’s job was to warn God’s people of the coming judgment if they didn’t leave their sinful ways and turn back to God.  For forty years he pleaded with the tribe of Judah to take action, but no one listened.  In 586 B.C. Babylon eventually conquered Jerusalem, destroyed the temple and carted God’s people back with them as slaves.

Two key messages I take away from this story:

Unconfessed sin brings God’s judgmentThe wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23a).  Judah’s destruction and exile at the hands of the Babylonians was a result of their sin/immorality/disobedience.  If we do not confess Jesus as Lord and let his sacrifice on the cross pay the price for our sins, we will eventually experience God’s judgment.

God’s promises are true, both good and bad.  God sent Jeremiah to warn his people to turn from their sinful ways or suffer the consequences.  When they rejected Jeremiah and his message, guess what?  God kept his promise and allowed the Babylonians to conquer them, destroy their city, kill many people and take everyone else as slaves.

God isn’t joking around.   When we ignore sin and disregard God’s direction, we invite disaster.  Trusting our own leadership, resources, intelligence and power instead of surrendering to him will bring God’s full judgment upon us.

Fortunately God loves us enough to show us a way out, and loves us enough to give us time to choose it.  The ball is in our court.

 

 

Transparency

Today’s reading:  Psalm 80

How easy is it for people to really get to know you?  I mean, do you naturally share your thoughts/feelings in a way others can see the “real” you?  Like I’ve said before, I’m an introvert at my core.  Different than a lot of introverts, it is easy for me to engage in conversation with others.  I admit, however, that much of this easy conversation is just small talk.  For me to share my true thoughts/feelings with others, I have to trust that they aren’t going to use what I share against me.  Getting to this level of transparency takes an investment of time and energy from both sides.  So, am I easy to get to know?  Probably not, I suspect none of us really are.

As I was reading Psalm 80 in my Life Application Study Bible (Tyndale House Publishers) this week, I came across a section titled Prayer in the Book of Psalms that offered some challenging insights for me.  The Book of Psalms is a collection of song-type prayers (much like the worship songs we sing today).  A key feature of these prayers is true honesty/transparency.  We see the authors expressing their raw thoughts and feelings to God, which is a model for how God wants us to communicate with him.

This is where the challenge came in.  Am I communicating with God in the way he wants or am I only offering small talk?  Am I being completely honest with him or am I only sharing a watered-down version of my feelings because I’m afraid they are outside of his will, I don’t want to spend the time it takes, or I don’t want him to see my true motives?

Three times in Psalm 80 the author asks God to:

Turn us again to yourself, O God. Make your face shine upon us.  Only then we we be saved (Psalm 80: 3, 6 and 19).

If we want God to turn us to himself, we have to be willing to be transparent with him.  We have to spend quality time in deep conversation with him, letting him see our passions, our raw emotions and our true motivations.  This is more time than a prayer around the dinner table and/or praying alongside your child at bedtime.

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).

Resiliency

Today’s reading:  John 14:15-31

Resilient – tending to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change (Mirriam Webster).

Last month I signed up to attend a six week group coaching session on resiliency.  Each session is focused on strategies we can use to increase our capacity and/or help our teams increase their capacity to recover from difficulties.  One of the first things we learned was that emotional regulation is important for resiliency.  While we can’t change and/or run from everything that bothers us, we are more resilient when we are aware of situations that trigger unwanted emotions in us and then employ strategies for regulating them.  For example, recognizing emotions earlier, finding productive ways to let them out, and reframing emotions are all strategies that can help.

As I read John 14 this week, I saw Jesus use some of these same strategies to encourage, or promote resiliency, in his disciples.  Earlier in the chapter (John 14:3), Jesus reminded his disciples that he was going away.  These men, who had given up EVERYTHING to follow Jesus were beside themselves.  To say their emotions were getting the best of them is probably an understatement.  First, Jesus encouraged his disciples to talk about their angst – let their emotions out.

  • Thomas jumped in first and told Jesus they couldn’t follow him because they didn’t know the way to where he was going.  Jesus responded by telling Thomas He was the way, the truth and the life.  Knowing him was all they needed.
  • Philip followed up by telling Jesus that if he would just let them see God, that would be enough the give them confidence/calm their fears/make them resilient.  Jesus responded by telling Philip he had already seen God – “Whoever has seen me has seen the father”.

In verse 15, Jesus started to reframe their emotions.  The disciples wanted Jesus to stay, but he turned the conversation around to help them understand why it was better for them if he went away.  Why?

Because he was sending the Holy Spirit, who would not just be by their side, but actually live inside them…

And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you (John 14:16-17).

How resilient are you?  If you have placed your faith in Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit lives in your heart.  Are you taking advantage of that?  Are you letting him help you?  He will lead you toward resiliency if you ask.

Get to the Point

Today’s reading: 1 John 5

I spent a good part of January finalizing the 2022 Business Plan for my department.  I am a pretty direct person, so working with some not so direct business partners to develop a succinct plan was a bit challenging at times.  My feedback often sounded something like this – in 2 sentences or less tell me what you are trying to achieve and how you are going to measure it.  Get to the point, bottom line it, cut out the weasel words.

Our text for today is 1 John 5.  Check out verse 12:

Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life (1 John 5:12).

It doesn’t get anymore direct than this.  If you’ve accepted Jesus you have eternal life, if you haven’t accepted Jesus you don’t.  That’s it, any questions?

The Apostle John could have stopped there but he doesn’t, as a lot of people then (and now) needed to hear the message a little more gently.  In the remainder of the chapter, John offered a few encouraging words to Christfollowers so they could have confidence in their relationship with God.

  • God hears our prayers.  This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us (1 John 5:14).
  • God protects us from Satan.  We know that anyone born of God does not continue to sin; the One who was born of God keeps them safe, and the evil one cannot harm them (1 John 5:18).
  • God sent Jesus to provide a way for us to know him.  We know also that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true (1 John 5:20).

Nonetheless, don’t let John’s encouraging words in verses 13-21 cloud the main point.  To have eternal life, you need Jesus.  If you haven’t placed your faith in him yet, it isn’t too late.  There is no better time than now!

If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved (Romans 10:9).

How could you say “no”?

Today’s reading:  John 17

The setting for our assigned scripture today is the Last Supper.  Judas had departed the gathering to go get the Roman officials to arrest Jesus.  Meanwhile, Jesus was laying it all on the line, trying to prepare his disciples with everything they need to know.

It is easy for me to read this scripture today and see the full picture, so I’m quick to wonder how the disciples were confused and/or missed how everything fit together.  Then I remember.  In the midst of the events they didn’t have the “benefit of hindsight” that I have as I read this story all these years later.  In addition, the disciples were dealing with real-time emotions.  They were scared, confused, sad and timid all at the same time.  Things were happening so fast they didn’t have the luxury to stop and make sense of it all.

Today, let’s take advantage of our place in history and review Jesus’ powerful message from John 17 as a way to “hide his word in our hearts” so when we are in the midst of emotion – scared, confused, sad, timid – we can rely on him to carry us through.

  • God gave Jesus authority over all people so he could give eternal life (John 17:2).
  • Eternal life comes from knowing the one true God and his son Jesus (John 17:3).
  • Jesus came to earth to glorify God and accomplish God’s plan (John 17:4).
  • Jesus and God are one – all he has is God’s and all God has is his (John 17:10).
  • Jesus was leaving earth and returning to God (John 17:11).
  • The world does not know God, and is against followers of Jesus (John 17:14,25).
  • God’s word is truth (John 17:17).
  • God sent Jesus to the world to love people (John 17:23,26).

Jesus prayed for his followers.  Take note he was clear that his prayer was not for the world, but was specifically for those who believed in him (John 17:6-8, 20):

    • For their protection and safety (John 17:11,12).
    • That they may be “sanctified”, or set apart, by the truth (John 17:17)
    • That God would take them out of the world and protect them from the evil one (John 17:15).
    • For their unity (John 17:21-23)
    • For them to eventually be re-united with him (John 17:24).
  • Today, after meditating on this passage, I share an old song God put on my heart.  The words are convicting.  Knowing all Jesus has given for you, how could you say “no” to him?

Thorns on His head, spear in His side
yet it was a heartache that made Him cry
He gave His life so you would understand
Is there any way you could say “no” to this Man?

If Christ Himself were standing here
Face full of glory and eyes full tears
He’d hold out His arms with His nail-printed hands
Is there any way you could say “no” to this Man?

How could you look in His tear-stained eyes
Knowing it’s you He’s thinking of?
Would you tell Him you’re not ready to give Him your life?
Could you say you don’t think you need His love?

Jesus is here with His arms open wide
You can see Him with your heart
If you’ll stop looking with your eyes
He’s left it up to you, He’s done all that He can
Is there any way you could say “no” to this Man?

(Mickey Cates and Billy Sprague (1984))

 

Connect the dots

Today’s reading:  Luke 7:1-35

I ask a lot of questions.  Sometimes my motive is to find out what is going on so I can meet the demands of the situation – due dates, arrival times, transportation needs, etc.  Other times it is just because I’m interested in the subject or entertained by the art of the conversation.  Occasionally, however, I ask questions because I’m skeptical.  Either additional information is going to help me connect the dots and buy into the story, or it will help me see through the erroneous information and get to the truth.

Even though my motive for asking questions is generally good, my method isn’t always viewed in such a favorable light.  Just ask B.J. or my kids, I sometimes drive them nuts with too much asking.  They’ve learned that headphones over their ears is a deterrent and/or makes it easier for them to ignore me.  So, I just save my questions for later!

Our assigned passage for today opens with questions.  Jesus’ ministry was in its early stages.  His revolutionary teaching and the miracles he was performing were being talked about by everyone.  John the Baptist, who’s life’s mission was to prepare the way for the Messiah, was confused.  The reports he had been receiving about this man named Jesus were incomplete and inconsistent, so John was skeptical.  His response was to ask questions.  Either additional information was going to help him connect the dots and reveal Jesus’ identity as the Messiah or it was going to help him see though the false reports and shut down the impersonator.

When the men came to Jesus, they said, “John the Baptist sent us to you to ask, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else’” (Luke 7:20)?

So he replied to the messengers, “Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor. Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me” (Luke 7:22-23).

Notice Jesus’ response to John’s questions.  He wasn’t annoyed, didn’t ignore him or try to shut him up.  Rather, he welcomed his skepticism and answered in a way only John would understand.  By explaining he had accomplished all the things foretold by the prophet Isaiah, John would conclude Jesus had to be the person for whom he had been waiting.

Jesus knew John had a lot at stake and that his doubts were normal human behavior.  See, even though John had given his whole life to prepare the way for Jesus to come, he didn’t have the whole story.  God didn’t reveal every detail of his plan to John, nor was there 24 hour news media to inform John of Jesus’ every move so he could more easily figure it out himself.  Jesus had to help him connect the dots.

In the same way, God understands our human nature.  He knows we don’t understand the whole story and are naturally skeptical about things.  He welcomes our questions.  Today, will you admit your doubts to God and ask him to guide you in finding answers?  If your motives are pure, I promise he will help you connect the dots and invite you into a trust relationship with him.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart
    and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to him,
    and he will make your paths straight.

Do not be wise in your own eyes;
    fear the Lord and shun evil.
This will bring health to your body
    and nourishment to your bones (Proverbs 3:5-8).

Are You In?

Light coming from book in woman's hands in gesture of giving, offering. Concept of wisdom, religion, reading, imagination.

Today’s reading:  Revelation 19 and 20

Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire (Revelation 20:14-15).

Revelation 20:15 may be the scariest verse in the Bible. It describes the final judgment- the last chance for people to be in or out.  Either your name is written in the book of life and you will spend eternity with God or it is not and you are condemned to spend eternity in hell away from God.  Eternal torment.  This reality should strike fear, a truly distressing emotion, into the heart of anyone who doesn’t have confidence they are in.

If your question today is, “how do I have confidence I am in”, let’s review:

God’s invitation is open to all – Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest (Matthew 11:28).

We all need it – For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23); For the wages of sin is death… (Romans 6:23a). 

We can’t earn it – …but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 6:23b); For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast (Ephesians 2:8-9).

Jesus is the only way – “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).

Jesus paid the price for us – For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16).

We must affirm faith in Jesus to be saved – If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved (Romans 10:9).

Do you still need to put your faith in Jesus Christ?  If you haven’t already, would say this prayer with me today?

God, I confess I am a sinner and deserve the consequences of my sin. But, I believe that Jesus’ death and resurrection made a way for my forgiveness. Today, I am turning from my sin and putting my trust in Jesus and Jesus alone. Thank you Lord for forgiving me.  Thank you for saving me.  Amen.