Back at the beginning
Acts 11: As it sank in, they started praising God.
The event at the house of Cornelius sets the table for the next big thing from God. At first the Church in Jerusalem is skeptical. They’ve had trouble from the religious powerbase in Jerusalem before and if word spreads that these followers of Jesus are mixing it up with Gentiles there’s bound to be renewed opposition. However, when Peter tells what happened, especially how the Holy Spirit came to them even as he came to the 120 in the Upper Room those who have been critical of Peter can’t help but praise God. Their Messiah is, indeed, the Savior of the world! Such an eye opening and faith-expanding event has come just in time because even as the Jewish Christians in Jerusalem are beginning to grasp the enormity of what Jesus has accomplished things are happening hundreds of miles north of them in Antioch. The Gospel is being proclaimed and non-Jews are coming to Christ by the hundreds and maybe thousands. Because of what happened at one house in Caesarea and with just one Apostle, Peter, the Church in Jerusalem is ready to respond to the big thing happening in Antioch. From a micro point of view, the event at Cornelius’ house is pretty cool, but not that big a deal. However, God is doing something much bigger, preparing the way for the Good News to spread like wildfire throughout the Mediterranean region. It is fun to be part of the big deal, but it’s pretty neat to be there when the “big deal” was still a relatively “little deal.”
Take Away: What a blessing it is to be in on the ground floor of some great movement of God!
Pleading for showers of blessing
Isaiah 44: I will pour water on the thirsty ground.
Spiritually speaking, most of my life has been lived somewhere in the middle. There have been high points, many of them. For this I’m thankful. Also, there have been low points, though not so many. I’m thankful for that too. Out here in the middle, where I spend most of my time, things can get rather dry; sometimes with my not even realizing what’s happening. I go through my routine, focused on the common things of life and don’t even realize that some of the joy of living in God’s love has dried up. The passage before me isn’t about the spiritual lives of individuals, but a nation of people. Spiritually, they’ve taken things for granted and the result is that they’re as dry and fragile as the fallen leaves of autumn. Isaiah’s word of hope to them is that there’ll be an outpouring of God’s Spirit on their descendants. This isn’t intended to say that they’re doomed to dryness, but to encourage them that something better is coming for them and, even more, for their offspring. While I know this passage isn’t specifically about my “somewhere in the middle” spiritual dryness I do see a truth here that I can take to heart: God wants to have a vibrant, flowing relationship with his people. If I’ll trust him and wait for it, he’ll “pour water” on my heart’s “thirsty ground” when the time is right. That’s worth waiting for. “Mercy drops ’round us are falling, but for the showers we plead.”
Take Away: The Lord wants to have a vibrant, flowing relationship with us.
2 Chronicles 35: The king…solemnly committed himself to the covenant.
When a campfire is fully ablaze, the individual flames are generally unnoticed. However, as the fire burns down to embers, an individual blade of fire may seem to light up the entire campsite for a moment. That’s the feeling I get as I read the story of the waning days of Judah. Most everything’s bad. Kings rise to power and then fall and almost seem to be in a competition to see who can be the most ungodly. However, along the way we meet some courageous men who, almost single handedly, lift the entire nation to their shoulders and craft, at least temporarily, a return to God. Such a man is Josiah. When the word of the Lord is discovered in the Temple he publicly vows to live according to the ancient covenant. He seeks God’s direction and receives it. Because of his desire for God, an entire generation is stopped from the march to destruction that it has been on. As I look at my own society and see the journey we’re on I nearly surrender to despair. We’re so godless, so lost in the darkness of our own making. Still, I’m reminded that even in a dying campfire just one flame can light the night. I pray that the Lord will give such a leader to my generation.
Take Away: Lord, have mercy on us.
The Boy King
2 Chronicles 23: They were to be God’s special people.
Anyone who thinks these “king books” of the Old Testament are dull needs to turn on their imagination and read some of these passages anew. A wicked woman rules Judah and for six years she terrorizes those who seek to serve God. Right under her nose at the Temple a baby boy, the rightful heir to the throne, is being raised in secret. When the boy turns seven the supporters of righteousness decide that they have to act before Queen Athaliah finds out about the child and takes his life. A plot that involves mostly priests and Levites is put into place. There are secret meetings and an ancient cache of weapons dating back to Joash’s great ancestor, David, is prepared for battle. In hopes of attracting as little attention as possible the work schedules at the Temple are manipulated. Armed men secure the Temple grounds and guards escort the boy to the entrance of the Temple where he’s crowned King of Judah. The people cheer their release from oppression. Queen Athaliah hears the commotion and rushes to the Temple shouting “Treason!” Before long she’s dead and the Boy King sits on the throne of Judah. The old priest Jehoiada guides the lad and his subjects in their steps back to God. Worship activities are restored at the Temple and revival sweeps the land. Now, I know that Joash’s story doesn’t end well, but it certainly has an exciting beginning. Our kids know about David and Goliath, maybe we need to tell them about how a seven-year-old boy became the King of Judah.
Take Away: The Lord delights in using unlikely people to do great things.
Crushing the serpent
2Kings 18: He pulverized the ancient bronze serpent that Moses had made.
It’s such a pleasure to meet Hezekiah, king of Judah. After reading the pitiful record of most of the kings of Israel and Judah it’s a breath of fresh air to read, “In God’s opinion he was a good king.” It’s good to know that it’s possible to do that which is pleasing to the Lord and see that the he isn’t setting impossibly high standards just to make us jump a little higher as we try in vain to reach something that’s forever out of reach. Hezekiah proves that God’s standard is within our grasp and that it’s made possible by the help of none other than the Lord, Himself. From the beginning Hezekiah gets off on the right foot. For centuries kings of Judah have tolerated the fertility shrines that the people want. Even when there’s a revival of the Jehovah worship these shrines remain. Not so under Hezekiah. He gets rid of them all. Then we see that he gets rid of something else. Generations earlier, during an infestation of poisonous snakes, the Lord directs Moses to make a bronze snake. That snake becomes their salvation, a symbol of the mercy of God. These days, though, that old bronze snake has become just another idol. People are actually making sacrifices to it! Hezekiah does the unthinkable: he destroys this important historical artifact, grinding it to nothing. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with the old bronze serpent. It’s just a statue with historical significance. It’s their use of it that’s objectionable. Better to destroy a bit of their history and serve God in the here and now. I wonder what the “bronze serpents” are in my nation, in my church, and in my life. Whatever they are, and no matter what value they were in the past, it’s better to “pulverize” them than let them come between God and me.
Take Away: Remember the great movements of the Lord in years gone by but don’t worship them. God is the God of the present.
1 Samuel 7: If you are truly serious about coming back to God, clean house…they did it.
A slow but sure movement of God has been taking place for over 20 years. People are more reverent concerning spiritual things and the worship of the Lord God has become more and more common. Now, through the ministry of God’s man, Samuel, they’ve arrived at a crossroads. It’s time for a clean break with the gods of Canaan and to surrender to the true God. They’ve come a long way during these 20 years but it’s now time to close the deal. It’s time to decide. It’s time to commit. Their response is a powerful three-word sentence: “They did it.” Reading these words reminds me of watching the eastern horizon at the dawning of a new day. The sky slowly becomes brighter, a hint of things to come. Then, with dazzling beauty, the sun slips into view, flooding the earth with the light of a new day. In the book of 1 Samuel we can watch the process with spiritual eyes. A childless woman prays and a son is given. The boy hears the Voice of God calling him in the night. The adventures of the Ark of God begin to transform the thinking of the people. Samuel inaugurates his ministry by calling for a decision. “They did it.” A new day dawns for Israel! Spiritual awakenings call for decision and commitment.
Take Away: God moves, but he doesn’t force us to respond.
Caution, God at work here
1 Samuel 7: Throughout Israel there was a widespread, fearful movement toward God.
The enemies of Israel, the Philistines, have had enough of the Ark of the Covenant. Not only have they had to repair their idol Dagon, things are not going well at all throughout their territory. There’s general sickness and death and they know that it’s related to the captured Chest. They decide to send it back and be rid of it once and for all. It ends up at the town of Beth Shemesh, but not without incident. Some of the locals look inside this holy relic and are struck dead for their irreverence. This causes the fear of the Lord to fall on that place. It also reminds them that God is real and not just the product of old stories. The Ark is moved to Kiriath Jearim, where it remains for 20 years. It’s during that time that people become more and more “God aware.” It’s been a long journey from the dark ages of the book of Judges to this point, but, once again, these people are becoming a people of God. The words, “there was a widespread, fearful movement toward God” are the result of God’s faithfulness to a people who don’t deserve it. Even though they’re far from God, he’s at work and the boy Samuel is part of his plan. When they use the Ark as a good luck charm, and thus lose it, God is working. Even when the men at Beth Shemesh treat the Ark in an inappropriate way and lose their lives, God is working, setting things in motion to change the attitude of the nation. I pray that God is working in my nation too. I pray that he’s doing things in places and in ways that I don’t even see, changing attitudes, preparing the way for a “widespread, fearful movement toward” himself. And, if he can use me in any of that I want to be available to him, a willing partner in his gracious work in my society.
Take Away: The Lord sometimes works in ways unseen by us and only recognized after the fact.
God moves first
1 Samuel 3: This was at a time when the revelation of God was rarely heard or seen.
The negative momentum of the book of Judges reaches beyond its pages to the books of Samuel. Although there are a few positive pictures: Ruth and Boaz and now Hannah, in general, the nature of spiritual life is in terrible condition. There’s a central place of worship, Shiloh, but the way in which things are done there is more discouraging than encouraging. Eli is the priest, assisted by his two sons. Eli is permissive and disconnected. His sons are dishonest and immoral. The fact that the people of Israel have a place of worship and that people are coming to worship there is somewhat positive. The fact that worship is led by the likes of these men tells us that things are still in a pitiful condition. But that’s about to change. The change isn’t coming because key people are deciding to seek and find God. It isn’t coming because someone is pushing the right religious buttons to bring fresh life to a dead worship experience. The reason that the spiritual sun is about to rise is because God is about to move and, in fact, is already moving. God is always the First Mover. He doesn’t respond to what we do. Rather, we respond to what he does. Revival will come to Israel because God’s going to bring it, and then, Samuel and others will respond in obedience.
Take Away: It’s a wonderful thing when the Lord begins to move in new ways in a life, church, or nation.