What is it?

Looking through my journals and email, I found out that I was wishing for a lot of good things to happen. I claimed to be “hoping,” but I did not/could not be confident the desired outcome would happen. That is not what hope is about. Hope is more than wishing. [Want to know more? Click here.]

Thursday, December 19, 2019

Division of Israel

1 Kings 11 could be entitled, “The Four Reasons for Division of Israel” (Tom Bradford). I will briefly discuss those reasons and then relate it the church (and myself) in this era.
First, Solomon displayed outrageous behavior toward the people. He was taxing them heavily and forcing them into labor for his projects. Second, the Lord God raised up adversaries against Israel after a somewhat long period of time of protection from the surrounding nations. Also, some of the opposition would come from within Israel itself. One such Israelite God used (and the third reason for the division of Israel) was Jeroboam. Jeroboam’s ambition for power was used by God to split the nation. Fourth, Solomon’s idolatry against God was in direct conflict with the principles God had given Solomon to retain the kingdom.
There are a list of commands for the leaders of Israel laid out in Deuteronomy 17:16-17:
However, he is not to acquire many horses for himself or have the people return to Egypt to obtain more horses, inasmuch as Adonai told you never to go back that way again. Likewise, he is not to acquire many wives for himself, so that his heart will not turn away; and he is not to acquire excessive quantities of silver and gold (CJB).
In reading through 1 Kings 11, it is easy to see just how directly Solomon violated these commands. Solomon had many horses, which he got from Egypt (1 Kings 10:26-29). He had a political alliance with Egypt (having married a daughter of Pharaoh) (verse 1). 1 Kings tells us that Solomon had 700 wives and 300 concubines (verse 3). Also in violation, Solomon had acquired storehouses of every kind of valuable metal and gems. Finally, Solomon worshiped the gods of his wives and pulled away from the God of Israel (verses 4-8).
It’s all right there. The commands God had given. Written out for all eternity. Yet, Solomon failed to follow them. He deserved God’s punishment.
Whoa! Before we get too judgmental, consider our own actions. How many things are clearly stated in the Bible as commands that we are not following? For instance, Ephesians 4:29 says, “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen” (NIV). Can we say we keep this command all the time? Are we even consciously aware of it in the moment of disagreements? Do our words only build others up and meet their needs?
Another example: “Don’t owe anything to anyone, except your outstanding debt to continually love one another, for the one who learns to love has fulfilled every requirement of the law” (Romans 13:8, TPT). I know that try as we do, we have debt to others – and not just the debt of love. We even borrow from our own various bank accounts and have to repay to bring the balances back to where they should be. Rarely, if ever, do these debts show love.
My summary, for me, is that I also fail to keep God’s commands. I’m no better than Solomon. What can make us different are Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection that have paid the penalty for our disobedience. Solomon did not have that and the penalty for his actions ended up in the division of the nation of Israel and many years of struggle since then.

Thursday, December 12, 2019

Break from 1 Kings

The semester was almost over. The halls were decked out in green, red, silver, and gold. Every doorway was shimmering from the decorations. Snowflakes and angels swung from the ceiling. There was laughter and merriment everywhere. It seemed something marvelous was filling the air.
I was not feeling it. Yeah, yeah, another Christmas. I rarely got what I asked for. It meant going to church extra times whether the snow was creating a white-out or not. Others seemed happy and excited. I just couldn’t get into it. Once upon a time, in the deepest recesses of my memory, I anticipated Christmas (and the break from school), like everyone else. Not anymore.
I prepared little gifts and hid them in the mailbox or dorm room of the person to whom I had been assigned the role of Secret Santa. And, it was nice to get little gifts or notes everyday from my Secret Santa, but I wasn’t expecting much.
I will never forget that time in my life.
My Secret Santa included little rectangular white cards in each day’s surprise. There were words on them. I remember eventually figuring out that the words were from the Bible (so many women on my floor believed that stuff). Yet, I read them. Day after day for a week, the cards built the story of Christmas. One of the last cards I got said,
But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people.”  Luke 2:10
I remember thinking I could use some “great joy.”
The next day, the card read,
for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” Luke 2:11
Something struck me! TODAY. For today, that day, whichever day I wanted, a Savior – Christ the Lord – could be born for me. I pondered that a few days. Another, different woman on my floor, who had been willing to hang around with me all semester cornered me a few days later. She talked about why I felt so inept at pleasing God. She talked about how Christmas is all about the way to be pleasing to God, Jesus. I didn’t make any instant decisions, but I had a lot to ponder.
When I tell my faith journey story, I usually focus on the love, patience, kindness, and words of the second woman. Someone recently pointed out to a small group I had just shared my story with, that God used a seemingly benign college dorm activity to prepare my heart for Him. The activity was something rooted in the traditional celebration of Christmas – Santa! God intertwined the traditions and the truth of Christmas to call me to Him and into right relationship with the real meaning of Christmas. That’s a miracle. That shows that God is in control of everything.

Thursday, December 5, 2019

Inner Changes or Outward Appearances

“She arrived in Jerusalem accompanied by a very great retinue, including camels bearing spices and gold in great abundance, and precious stones” (1 Kings 10:2). This is, of course, talking about the Queen of Sheba (some theologians believe she should be identified as the Queen of Saba). She came to quiz Solomon with difficult questions. Her purpose was to verify that everything she was hearing about Solomon and Israel was true.
But there was more to it than mere curiosity. She was checking out whether Solomon was worthy of a trading alliance of some type. She was also trying to get an accurate idea of Israel’s God. What impressed her was Solomon’s wisdom AND his wealth (the palace he had built, the food at his table, the way he managed his officials, their clothing). She was indeed impressed. In verses 6-8, this is recorded:
She said to the king, “The report I heard in my own country about your achievements and your wisdom is true. But I did not believe these things until I came and saw with my own eyes. Indeed, not even half was told me; in wisdom and wealth you have far exceeded the report I heard. How happy your people must be! How happy your officials, who continually stand before you and hear your wisdom!
Following this, the Queen appears to recognize Israel’s God as the Lord God (Adonai). Verse 9 tells us she said, “Blessed be Adonai your God, who took pleasure in you to put you on the throne of Israel. Because of Adonai’s eternal love for Israel, he has made you king, to administer judgment and justice fairly.” The question is whether or not she truly believed in God. Remember what true belief is as explained in my November 21st blog article. It involves action, changes in behavior. It’s not enough to recognize God as the supreme God. Believing means our whole lives change because of our understanding of God and His character.
What impressed the Queen? Wisdom, intellect, and wealth. She was basing her whole opinion of God on how wealthy and wise Solomon was. That was basing her belief in God on outward appearances. In her mind, Solomon and Israel were as affluent as they were because of their God. She evaluated the spiritual condition of Solomon and Israel on outward intellectualism and material wealth, not the deep down inner faith of true followers of God.
I see a warning for us. There are many who proclaim they are in tune with God and are, obviously, doing His will because of the material wealth and reputation they have. Are we mesmerized by a leader’s wealth or charisma? Do we believe everything they say because it looks like God has blessed them? That’s exactly what the Queen of Saba was doing. The caution goes further. Are we convincing ourselves that because we have knowledge of an all-powerful God, we are granted eternal life? The Queen of Saba returned to her land not having changed anything in her life. She was returning to worship the moon god. She was returning without applying any of the Law to her or her countrymen’s lives. There was no change in her life from the encounter, the experience.
I am concerned about many who have had an experience at a church service or some other moment of great emotion, but there are no changes in their life. They return to the same behaviors, the same ways of thinking, and the ways of the rest of the world. True salvation comes from believing and acting on the truths of Scripture, yet so many, after their “mountaintop” experience, never look deep into the Scriptures to learn what needs to be changed in their lives. My heart aches for those people, many of whom I notice may be attending my church and churches all around the world. Consider whether you have significantly changed your behaviors, your values, and your thoughts and pursue the God of the Scriptures that changes lives.