Showing posts from July, 2012

Leadership 101

He was no wimp. Nehemiah had been cupbearer to King Artaxerxes (Nehemiah 2:1). To modern minds this makes him a royal waiter but in the context of the times, Nehemiah was the king's wine taster, a task that went far beyond checking the colour and bouquet! Nehemiah tasted the wine to make sure it wasn't poisoned. You have to have some serious nerve to do that job!

Heading out to Jerusalem to rebuild the wall around the city might have seemed a whole lot less dangerous than wine tasting. Nehemiah was not easily frightened.

So when the poor of the country complained about the "fat cats" who were ripping them off (5:12), Nehemiah didn't hesitate to take the risk of offending those of wealth and influence by rebuking them and demanding of them a whole lot more consideration for their fellow countrymen.

As a man of integrity, Nehemiah resisted becoming one of those "fat cats" (5:14-16) "…out of reverence for God." He was there to build a wall not to a…

The Olympic Spirit in Church

In a world focused on individualism, team is vitally important.

It's been interesting to watch these first few days of the Olympics, especially those venues that are both team and individual sports. Men and women who compete against each other individually often must come together to compete as a team in order to defeat their rivals. Somehow they have to put aside that spirit of competition that exists between them in order to work together for the greater good. It sometimes works and then again, it sometimes doesn't. In one team in the women's cycling, one of the team members was unable to put aside her own ambition to support a stronger team member and stepped outside the solidarity of the team. She weakened her own chances and that of her other team members.

I'm taking a broad look at the first four chapters of book of Nehemiah today to understand how individualism and team worked for Nehemiah and for the Jews as they rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem.

In Nehemiah 3 the…

Temporal or "Temple"

Between the events recorded at the end of Chronicles and the beginning of the book of Ezra, a couple of generations have passed. The exile is coming to a close and God is about to return His people to the land He had promised to Abraham.

Ezra records that God put it in the heart of Cyrus, king of Persia, to allow the Jews to return to Jerusalem to rebuild the temple (Ezra 1:1-4). Then he writes: "Then the family heads of Judah and Benjamin, and the priests and Levites—everyone whose heart God had moved—prepared to go and build the house of the Lord in Jerusalem" (1:5, NIV). Just as the Egyptians had once given the Israelites provisions as they were leaving Egypt after their years of slavery in that country, so the Persians gave gifts to help the Jews in their return after their seventy years in captivity (1:6-11).

The prophets of the days were Haggai and Zechariah and it is fascinating to read their books alongside the book of Ezra. Zechariah, of course, contains prophesies t…

Keeping Faith

If it were not for the existence of the two books associated with him, Jeremiah and Lamentations, the prophet Jeremiah would not make a huge impact on the stage of biblical history. He appears briefly in the history of the kings of Judah, but never lingers long. At the end of Chronicles it is recorded: "Jeremiah composed laments for Josiah, and to this day all the men and women singers commemorate Josiah in the laments. These became a tradition in Israel and are written in the Laments" (2 Chronicles 35:25, NIV).

Of course, the reference to these "laments" spurred me to read Lamentations, one of the two books attributed to Jeremiah.

The prophet had lived through the reigns of men like Hezekiah and Josiah. Both these men followed the Lord and did much to restore Judah to her religious roots. Jeremiah also lived through some not so righteous reigns, including those of the last kings of Judah before the kingdom was overrun by the Babylonians and the people taken into c…

Repent, Restore, Rebuild, Rejoice

The synopsis of the life of Hezekiah, king of Judah, given to us in 2 Chronicles 29-32, contains a beautiful progression.

Hezekiah was twenty-five years old when he came to the throne. The first order of business was to restore the temple and its worship. The priests and Levites had to be consecrated, purified, so that they could serve. All that was evil needed to be removed from the sanctuary (29:1-6) because: "Our parents were unfaithful; they did evil in the eyes of the Lord our God and forsook him. They turned their faces away from the Lord's dwelling place and turned their backs on him, They also shut the doors of the portico and put out the lamps. They did not burn incense or present any burnt offerings at the sanctuary to the God of Israel" (29:6, 7, NIV).

The house of God and the worship of God had been neglected and abandoned.

In 2 Chronicles 30, after the priests, Levities, and temple were restored, Hezekiah called the people to come to Jerusalem. This was his m…

Have a Little Whine With That

The focus in the book of 2 Chronicles is the story of God's dealings with Judah, the southern kingdom. But in 2 Chronicles 28 there is an interesting encounter between God's prophet Oded, and the King of Israel.

Judah's king, Ahaz, was not one of that kingdom's bright stars of righteousness. Judah had many good kings, men who followed the Lord, but Ahaz wasn't one of them. So God punished Ahaz and put him, and Judah, under the iron hands of Judah's enemies, including her northern sister, Israel.

But the soldiers of Israel overstepped their bounds and went beyond the mandate that God had given them by merciless slaughter and by taking two hundred thousand captives (28:9, 10). The Lord was not pleased. The prophet's instruction was: "Now listen to me! Send back your fellow Israelites you have taken prisoner, for the Lord's fierce anger rests on you" (28:11, NIV).

Now Pekah, king of Israel, was not a righteous man (2 Kings 15:27, 28) but some of …

Fatal Flaw

How soon we forget.

Uzziah was sixteen when he became king of Judah (2 Chronicles 26:1). At an age when most people think they know everything, the young king was wise enough to know that such a responsibility needed better prepared heads than his. It is written that: "He sought God during the days of Zechariah, who instructed him in the fear of God. As long as he sought the Lord, God gave him success" (26:5, NIV).

And he was successful. He enjoyed a fifty-two year reign. His enemies were defeated. He was wealthy and built up the wealth of the land. He was famous and became powerful.

Then these ominous words: "But after Uzziah became powerful, his pride led to his downfall. He was unfaithful to the Lord his God…" (26:16, NIV). He desecrated the temple by assuming the role of a priest and burning incense on the altar. The priests rebuked him. At that point he should have repented. Instead, Uzziah got angry because of the rebuke. His pride got in the way.

The result?


The Instruction No One Likes to Hear

He wouldn't win any prizes for being the best of Judah's kings, but one incident in Amaziah's story, contains a lesson many people choose to ignore.

Friction between neighbours in the Middle East is nothing new. Amaziah felt that he needed to bolster the number of soldiers he could call on if he was attacked, so he hired a hundred thousand fighting men from Israel (2 Chronicles 25:6).

And got his knuckles rapped for doing it.

God's prophet arrived on the scene and said: "O king, these troops from Israel must not march with you, for the Lord is not with Israel—not with any of the people of Ephraim. Even if you go and fight courageously in battle, God will overthrow you before the enemy, for the Lord has power to help or to overthrow" (25:7, 8, NIV).

The New Testament would call this an "unequal yoke," an instruction given to us in 2 Corinthians 6:14-17 that begins like this: "Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness …

Principles for Real Success

Asa learned to seek God eagerly, be strong in the Lord and not give up (2 Chronicles 14-16). His son, Jehoshaphat, added to those principles. His story is condensed in 2 Chronicles 17 through 21:1.

In Chapter 20, Jehoshaphat is facing a combined army made up of Moabites and Ammonites as well as a few other add-ons (20:1). So he does what is always wise when we are facing challenges in life; he went to the Lord for help.

Principle #1: Admit you can't handle the situation and throw yourself on God's mercy.

"For we have no power to face this vast army that s attacking us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are upon you" (20:12, NIV).

Principle #2: Remember who the battle, and the victory, belongs to.
"Do not be afraid or discouraged because of this vast army. For the battle is not yours, but God's" (20:15, NIV).

And in case we might think that these principles give us permission to stay in our sleeping bags and sleep through the battle while God takes car…

Finishing Well

It's how you finish that counts—or so they say!

I suppose someone could stretch that saying to mean that as long as you manage to repent and "do the right thing" fifteen minutes before you die, you can live the rest of your life any way you please.

But I think there is something deeper to this phrase.

Take the life of Asa, the King of Judah, described for us in 2 Chronicles 14-16. He started out so well: "Asa did what was good and right in the eyes of the Lord his God" (14:2, NIV). He knew where the secret to his success was: "The land is still ours, because we have sought the Lord our God; we sought him and he has given us rest on every side" (14:7, NIV).

When faced with adversity, Asa did not hesitate to seek the Lord. Facing his enemies, he prayed: "Lord, there is no one like you to help the powerless against the mighty. Help us, O Lord our God, for we rely on you, and in your name we have come against this vast army. O Lord, you are our God; do …

Surrounded and Surrendered

Abijah, the King of Judah, is surrounded by troops from Jeroboam's army (2 Chronicles 13).

Superior forces with what looks like an infallible plan.

But, God…

It's amazing what a "But, God…" can mean in a believer's life.

Abijah relied on God, and those superior enemy forces fled and Jeroboam's infallible plan crumbled.

Are you facing what appears to be a superior force bent on destroying you? Does it look like you are boxed in and have no place to go?

You may be surrounded but if you are surrendered to God, He always has a way out for you. Victory is guaranteed for those who rely on Him.

Public Life Begins in Private

The writer of Chronicles takes three chapters to describe the reign of Rehoboam, who succeeded Solomon as king.

He starts out badly. We might think it was a rookie mistake, something a young man without experience might do. But Rehoboam was forty-one when he became king (12:13) so he was no kid when he chose to listen to his buddies instead of the wiseer, older heads who had advised him to be nice to his people if he expected them to serve him.

Rehoboam also ended badly, leading his people into idolatry. Though he humbled himself before the Lord and avoided total destruction, his reign was described this way: "He did evil because he had not set his heart on seeking the Lord" (12:14, NIV).

In the middle of the story there is a bright spot, no doubt a part to which the writer refers when he says: "Indeed, there was some good in Judah" in 2 Chronicles 12:12 (NIV). It seems that things in the northern kingdom of Israel were even worse. Priests who had sworn loyalty to G…

What to do When God Arrives

Every time I read these verses, I wish that I could experience them at least once in my lifetime.

"The trumpeters and singers joined in unison, as with one voice, to give praise and thanks to the Lord. Accompanied by trumpets, cymbals and other instruments, they raised their voices in praise to the Lord and sang: 'He is good; his love endures forever.' Then the temple of the Lord was filled with a cloud, and the priests could not perform their service because of the cloud, for the glory of the Lord filled the temple of God" (2 Chronicles 5:13, 14, NIV).

Have I been in inspiring services? Yes! Have I been reduced to tears because of the worship? Yes! Has the presence of God been so palpable, so obvious, that worship and service came to a halt because of it? I'm sure I would have noticed if I had.

What would be my response?

I hope it would like Isaiah's as described in Isaiah 6 as the sound of the music took on an angelic voice: "And they were calling to one …

Expand Your Horizons

Sometimes tunnel vision ruins my eyesight. I see only my little world and my insignificant "issues." These are times when I need to look beyond myself and broaden my outlook. I can't take a "God-view" of things because I'm not Him, but I can adjust my vision to look TO God, whose view of everything—even my little world—is so much clearer than mine.

First Things First

He did everything except build it himself. David's dream of building a temple for God would not become a reality in his lifetime, but that didn't stop him from doing everything in his power to prepare for it.

Despite what must have been a disappointment for him, David displayed a cheerful submission to the will of God. Perhaps knowing that his son would be the one to finish what he had started brought him consolation.

In his instructions at the end of 1 Chronicles 22, David says this to the leaders who would work alongside Solomon in this project: "Now devote your hearts and soul to seeking the Lord your God. Begin to build…" (22:19, NIV).

David's dream was building this temple. Sometimes we get so caught up with realizing our dreams that they end up replacing God in our lives. David's instructions to the leaders of Israel remind us of a truth that David learned, a truth than prevented him from allowing his dream to drive him to disobedience. He tells the lea…

A Trip Back to the Cross

Seasonal consumers of religion.

At the risk of sounding harsh, a lot of those of us who call ourselves followers of Jesus who are exactly that—seasonal consumers of religion. We come and go when it's convenient and when something piques our interest in the program of the church. We turn up when we can't find anything better to do. We blame the pace of the rest of our lives on our lack of attention to what needs to be THE priority of life. We are religious but we are not very spiritual. We treat Grace cheaply.*

It's a good thing God doesn't operate that way.

I was struck this morning by David's response to God as we see it in 1 Chronicles 21. He did a "no-no" (21:6, 7) and God gave him a choice of punishments—that in itself is significant and shows us the high regard God had for David in spite of his sin. David chose to submit to God's hand as the instrument of punishment (21:13) rather than subject himself to the punishment men would bring on him.

When …

Faith in the Face of the Enemy

"The Lord will do what is good in his sight" —2 Chronicles 19:13, NIV.

I've just begun reading Chip Ingram's book, God: As He Longs For You To See Him. Over the weekend I worked through the chapter on the sovereignty of God and was challenged once more on my own thinking about just how much control God has over my life, over the lives of others, and over the universe.

As I read the story for Joab and Abishai this morning I was reminded of what I had just finished reading in Ingram's book.

Joab and Abishai are David's generals. They are faced with two armies: that of the Ammonites and that of the Arameans. They decide to split their forces, each one waging battle against one of the opposing forces. If Joab needs help, Abishai will come to his rescue, or vice versa.

Joab encourages Abishai to be strong and brave, and remember Who he is fighting for. Then he adds: "The Lord will do what is good in his sight."

It's an odd phrase in a way. We'd…

Gap Men

Two generations passed between Hezekiah and Josiah. They were evil days; fifty-seven years of defying God. Fifty-five of those years belonged to Manasseh. So terrible was his reign that it brought about  this statement from God: "I am going to bring such disaster on Jerusalem and Judah that the ears of everyone who hears of it will tingle" (2 Kings 21:12, NIV).

After more than a half century of godless rule, Josiah came to the throne of Judah. It was written of him: "He did what was right in the eyes of the Lord and walked in all the ways of his father David, not turning aside to the right or to the left" (23:2, NIV).

In the course of Josiah's reforms, the Book of the Law was discovered. When the king heard the law read he was horrified and tore his clothes in mourning at the sin of the nation (22:12) and the grievous offense committed against God.

Huldah, one through whom God spoke in those days, delivered a message to the young king. The judgment of God could …

The Bigger They Are…

On what are you basing this confidence of yours?” (2 Kings 18:19, NIV).

This was the beginning of a message that Sennacherib, King of Assyria, sent to Hezekiah, King of Judah, as the Assyrian army lay siege to Jerusalem.

Israel had been decimated, her people taken into captivity. And now, the Assyrians were threatening to do the same to Judah.

Sennacherib ridiculed Hezekiah. He mocked the God of Judah, comparing Him to the gods of the pagan nations whom Assyria had swept away. It was an ugly situation—and a desperate one.

The question had been a valid one, though the answer Sennacherib got was not the one he expected.  Just where WAS Hezekiah’s confidence going to be placed? Where is ours placed when our world threatens to blow apart. or already has?

2 Kings 19 describes how Hezekiah took the message the King of Assyria had sent and laid it before the Lord. He sent his leadership team to Isaiah, God’s prophet “all wearing sackcloth,” a symbol of mourning.

Do not be afraid of what you hav…

Happy Birthday (I Think)

Here in Canada we just celebrated our 145th year as a nation. Our neighbours to the south are about to celebrate their birthday as a nation. There is cause for celebration in two of the most favoured places on the planet. But for how long?

Israel is coming to the end of its days as a nation. Assyria is about to descend and take her people into exile. We all know why. Even God comes to end of his patience, and though He will not forsake them, even in exile, nor will He continue to tolerate their rebellion.

Judah, the southern kingdom, still has a few years of grace left before she follows her sister into exile. But things don't run smoothly there either. Though Judah had many good kings, some were not. Ahaz, is a classic example of why Judah finally ended up in exile. He is also a frightening parallel to the modern church age.

In 2 Kings 16, Ahaz begins to reign in Judah. But he is one of Judah's kings who doesn't follow the Lord. In fact when Aram and Israel team up to attac…
Expect the unexpected, they say.

As I got to the second half of 2 Kings 13, I read: "Now Elisha was suffering from the illness from which he died" (13:14, NIV).

That surprised me. Elisha, dying of an illness? God's faithful messager who had done countless miracles, going to glory in such a common way? No fiery chariot like Elijah? No sudden transportation like Enoch?

Those who preach a health and prosperity gospel must have a bit of an issue with verses like these.

Hidden sin? Doubtful, considering that even after the prophet died, the very touch of his body worked miracles (13:21).

Sickness takes the bad—and the good.

The second unexpected event was that last encounter between Elisha and the King of Israel. Elisha told Jehoash that he would have victory over Aram and instructed the king to strike the ground with some arrows that the prophet had handed him. The king did as he was told, but only struck the ground three times. Elisha was annoyed. The number of times the …