The boy-king gets an A+
2Kings 23: The world would never again see a king like Josiah.
When Josiah becomes boy-king of Judah the Temple is not only a place for sacrifices to Jehovah God, but is used for worship of Baal, Ashtoreth, and other pagan gods as well. The country is filled with shrines and altars, some dating back for centuries. Near Jerusalem stands an iron furnace that is used for child sacrifices. Clearly, the spiritual condition of Judah was pitiful, as the commandments of God have been ignored for generations. Josiah’s discovery of the Law of God shocks him to action. What he does isn’t some cosmetic religious reform. This is all out transformation. Josiah uses the Book as an instruction manual on how to live and worship. He follows it to a letter. For instance, the Book of the Covenant describes observing the Passover, something that hasn’t been done for centuries. Josiah reads the Book and follows the directions, reestablishing this observance. The result is that God is pleased with him, giving him an “A+.” Because of his faithfulness an entire generation is changed. Today, Josiah inspires us to take God seriously and to swim against the tide of popular culture. Josiah’s story gives us hope of transforming our society.
Take Away: When the Lord is given a chance, wonderful, life-changing things happen.
2Kings 13: It didn’t make any difference: They didn’t change their lives.
Jehoahaz takes his father’s place on the throne if Israel but there’s no religious reform. Instead, he continues down the path of God-ignoring idol worship. As happened during the time of the Judges, God allows the enemies of Israel to come in and dominate them. For years the people are miserable in this sorry state of affairs. Finally, Jehoahaz humbly comes to God confessing his sins and the sins of the people. In his mercy, God answers, raising up a warrior who drives the invaders out. Of course, this results in a great revival of Jehovah worship. At least it should have. Without missing a beat they continue their idol worship with hardly a tip of the hat to God. Once again, I see here the mercy and patience of God. No question, he wants to care for us and to bless our lives. Also, there’s the truth that mere human freedom is not the ultimate need of man. Don’t get me wrong, I believe in freedom and thank God for it. However, the greatest need of humanity is not for liberty. Rather, the need is for changed hearts. Otherwise, everything else is just window dressing.
Take Away: Everything else comes up short when compared to the transformation the Lord brings to lives.
My kind of people
1 Samuel 22: All who were down on their luck came around – losers and vagrants and misfits…David became their leader.
As David hides out at the Cave of Adullam people begin coming to him. These aren’t influential, comfortable people. Rather, these are those who have nothing left to lose. Seeing that David has been kicked out they identify with him and become his followers. Hundreds of years later another man will be unfairly mistreated and abused. He’ll be kicked out by the respectable people who are in power. He too will draw “losers and vagrants and misfits” to himself. In him they’ll find acceptance, transformation, and purpose. And, thousands of years later I can report to you that I am one of those “losers” who has come to Jesus. Those who come to David, the original four hundred, become so devoted to him that they will follow him anywhere. That’s how I feel about my Lord too.
Take Away: Jesus invites all those who are weary and burdened to come to him.
1 Samuel 10: Saul among the prophets! Who would have guessed?!
The young man Saul is not a leader and he isn’t especially known for his spirituality. On this day, after his meeting with Samuel, Saul is headed home when he encounters a group of prophets on their way to worship. Before he knows it, Saul falls in with them, and then to everyone’s surprise he joins them in their religious expression. This is an unlikely event and word of it spreads throughout his family and friends. People are surprised at “Saul among the prophets.” After he becomes king a saying based on this incident becomes common. Anytime a person is surprised at something they shake their heads in wonder and say, “Saul among the prophets! Who would have guessed!” I’ve seen God do some surprising things in people’s lives. When I was a kid I knew a man who had been the town drunk. He was wonderfully converted and became the Sunday School Superintendent in the church where I grew up. “Saul among the prophets! Who would have guessed!” Another man, who was raised in the church, got away from God. His mother never stopped praying for him, but for years he seemed distant. One night he came to revival and responded to the invitation. A few years later he was a terrific youth leader in the church. “Saul among the prophets!” I love it when God does stuff like that and look forward to more “Saul among the prophets!” events in the days to come.
Take Away: The Lord does wonderfully surprising things in the lives of those who cooperate with his purposes for them.
1 Samuel 10: The Spirit of God will come on you…and you’ll be transformed. You’ll be a new person.
Beyond Saul’s natural advantages is the stated intention of God Almighty to make him into one of the heroes of the Bible. This big man is humble and practical and will be used by God in wonderful ways. What Saul lacks, his shyness and his inexperience as a spiritual leader, is recognized by the Lord so right off the Lord goes to work there. Samuel says that before the day is out Saul will be transformed into a man who openly worships God, one who can be numbered among the prophets. Failure is coming to Saul, but not because God just tossed him into the water to sink or swim. The same God who chooses him also enables him for the task. That’s still true today. What the Lord calls me to be enables me to be. There’s clearly more to be said about that, but this is a truth that’s made real in the lives of all that hear God’s call.
Take Away: Those the Lord calls he also equips.
(Don’t) Make yourself at home
Judges 3: But the People of Israel made themselves at home among the Canaanites.
It’s their first test and they fail it. They’ve failed to remove the pagan people from the land and now their test is to live near them but not become one of them. They miserably fail. Before long their young people are getting married to Canaanites and the perverted worship practices of those people is being accepted by them. Simply put, they feel right at home with these heathen. In his anger, God turns his back on them and soon everything falls apart. How at home am I in my society? Jesus loved sinners. He ate with them and genuinely liked them. But he never became one of them. On one hand there’s the example of the Israelites who feel so at home with the Canaanites that they adopt their ways. On the other hand we have Jesus who loves people and fellowships with them, but in doing so, invites them to be the ones who are changed. God help me to love the lost without making myself “at home” with them in the manner of these Israelites.
Take Away: Is the Church changing the culture or is the culture changing the Church?
Deuteronomy 30: God will cut away the thick calluses on your heart…freeing you to love God with your whole heart and soul and live, really live.
Moses doesn’t have to see into the future to know what’s coming. After all, he’s led them for decades. When he describes the blessing and the curse that’s set before them, he speaks with authority about what will happen. They’ll rebel against God and travel the road of the curse. However, before Moses ever led this nation he followed God. Through the years he’s gotten to know the Almighty in ways that no other person of his generation has. Even as Moses speaks with authority about failure, he speaks with equal authority about the grace of God. This man of God is sure of this: when they turn back to God the Lord will be waiting to restore them. Clearly, though, there’s more than restoration here. There’s also transformation. The ultimate fulfillment of this promise will come with the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost. God, the Holy Spirit, will come to “cut away” that which handicaps people from fully loving the Lord. In that work of grace, his people will be set free to love God with their whole being. That’s the way to really live.
Take Away: The Lord not only delivers people from the slavery of sin. He also transforms them, changing them as deep as their very hearts.
Exodus 13: The Pillar of Cloud by day and the Pillar of Fire by night never left the people.
The journey begins. Freed from bondage they’re now on the way to the Promised Land. This is the land God promised to their ancestor, Abraham. Moses is their leader yet God provides even more direct guidance. He guides them with a daytime cloud and a nighttime fire in the sky. When the pillar moves, they move. When it stands still, they stand still. What could be easier? Honestly, I kind of envy them, don’t you? Who could ask for a more clear way to know God’s plan. Still, as I think about it, I realize that many years later Jesus promises a “pillar” of his own. One of his last words of instruction to his disciples contains the promise of the Holy Spirit who will be their Guide. Instead of scanning the horizon to follow a pillar of cloud (have you ever wondered how that worked on a rainy day or during a nighttime thunderstorm?) the disciples will have an Inner Guide directing their lives. And it won’t be a case of God dragging them along in directions they don’t want to go either (remember, even with the pillars, there are an abundance of spiritual failures coming). This Guide, promised by Jesus, transforms hearts — changing his followers at the heart level. He not only guides; he also enables us to follow. It isn’t a pillar of fire but it is a wonderful way to be led by the Lord.
Take Away: The Holy Spirit is our “pillar of fire.”
God is all about results
Exodus 6: I will rescue you…I will redeem you…I’ll be a God to you.
After centuries of slavery and under increasing oppression the descents of Abraham are ready for some action from God. Their hope is likely quite modest. Maybe the Lord’s going to engineer a little bit less of a workload from their Egyptian taskmasters for them, or maybe there’ll be an improvement in living conditions. The thing is that they have the attention of the Almighty now and he has his own agenda that includes such big ticket items as “rescue,” “redemption,” and making them “his very own.” When God delivers people he does it in a big way. This is no patch up job so that they can somehow hobble on. Big things, things they can’t even imagine, are going to happen. That’s how it is when he saves us. I come to him, lost in my sins. My prayer is a modest one, like: “Lord, I just want to feel better” or “Just help me make it through this situation and I’ll be okay.” He says, “I will rescue you…I will redeem you…I’ll be a God to you.” The result is more wonderful than I ever imagined.
Take Away: When the Lord does something there are no half-measures about it.
That’s just the way I am
Genesis 25: The children tumbled and kicked inside her.
If there has ever been a set of fraternal twins it’s Jacob and Esau. These boys don’t look anything alike and their personalities are clearly different one from one another. It’s no surprise that their mother Rebekah knows something’s wrong. And no wonder: her body is a sort of war zone! Her babies don’t get along and they’re yet to see the light of day! Their story is, to say the least, a thought provoking one. Here are two babies being born to the same parents, sharing a womb, and sibling rivalry is already full blown. We’ve all said, at one time or another, “That’s just the way I am.” Most often that’s an excuse for failing to practice self-discipline in some area. However, I’m reminded in this passage that there’s truth to that statement. We aren’t born as blank slates ready to be shaped by the events of our lives. Some stuff about us is hard wired from the start. In this case, Jacob and his brother are hard wired for conflict. Their parents, who will play favorites with their sons, won’t help matters any. So what, if anything, can be done about the undesirable tendencies with which we’re born? To some extent, parents can teach their children self-discipline and thus help them learn to deal with their natural dispositions. I’m glad, though, to report that there’s a greater remedy. As we read this story we see God at work, especially in Jacob’s life. As God’s grace unfolds, we see a man who’s changed as only God can change him.
Take away: God can do for us that which we could never do for ourselves.