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, January 30, 2020

God Does Not Give Up On Us

It isn’t very far into 1 Kings 16 that we are reminded that God, in spite of Israel’s evil kings, does not give up on His people. Even though the people of Israel blindly followed the evil practices of their kings, God did not give up on them. And, Israel’s kings were evil.
(By the way, when I use the name “Israel” in reference to this time in history, I’m referring to the 10 northern tribes that broke away from the unified kingdom. Judah remained separate and actually had a few good kings mixed in with some evil ones.)
So, even though God does not give up and He will keep His promises, He will hold each world leader and each individual accountable to adhering to the Scriptures. The people during this time had to rely on their “learned” leaders, those with access to the Holy Scrolls, for their information. They were slowly indoctrinated into the worship of idols. They were told that various practices were in keeping with what God wanted. They had no idea they were worshiping idols. These extra-Biblical practices and rituals led them to believing they were still worshiping Yahweh God. However, they were as I said above,  reliant upon the leaders to tell them what was what. They did not have access to the Holy Scrolls and even if they did, many would not have been able to read them.
There’s a warning to us in this passage. Yes, our governmental leaders and even our church leaders may slowly incorporate non-Biblical concepts, ideas, policies, practices and rituals into our spiritual lives. God will hold them responsible for those sins. However, before we jump too fast into blaming our leaders, let’s look at ourselves. We do not have the excuse of not having the Sacred Scrolls available for us to read and adhere to. We will be held responsible for knowing and following the Scriptures on an individual basis. We will also be held accountable for not objecting to the misuses of power and prestige and the pulpit. We should not be condemning each other since no one is without fault of disobeying some portion of Scripture, but we should hold our leaders and ourselves accountable to the basics – even just to Ten Commandments.
Let’s review the Ten Commandments. My hope is that we will take a serious and thorough inventory of ourselves as we look at these commandments. How are we doing? How are our leaders doing?
1.     You should have no others gods before Me.
2.     You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath. You shall not bow down to them or worship them.
3.     You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God.
4.     Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.
5.     Honor your father and your mother.
6.     You shall not murder.
7.     You shall not commit adultery.
8.     You shall not steal.
9.     You shall not give false testimony.
10.  You shall not covet your neighbor’s house, wife, servants, or animals.
One last word. You cannot know whether you are following God or human leaders unless you are daily and thoroughly reading and studying His Word. Our leaders, religious or political, can be just as wrong as the evil kings of Israel. (In Acts 17:11 the Bereans were upheld as the example for all of us: “Now these were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so.”)

Thursday, January 23, 2020

What Is Wholeheartedness?

I’m starting with a review of the kings of Judah after the division of the nation following Solomon’s reign. Solomon’s son, Rehoboam reigned (poorly) for a few years. Then Rehoboam’s son, Abijam, “ruled three years in Jerusalem and he committed all the sins his father had committed before him; he was not wholehearted with Adonai his God, as David his forefather had been” (1 Kings 15:2-3, CJB). After Abijam, his son, Asa, ruled in Judah (verses 8-24). It is said of Asa: “But the high places were not removed. Nevertheless, Asa was wholehearted with Adonai throughout his life” (verse 14).
So, if you haven’t guessed by the italicized word, my focus today is on what made Asa wholehearted, while Abijam was not. They both were not perfect. They both behaved poorly and different than God had instructed in His Torah. What was the difference? Why was one deemed wholehearted and one was not?
The answer, I found out from my study, is really quite simple, yet so hard to determine in our culture today. Humans will sin. Abijam sinned by keeping the idol worship in place as his father, Rehoboam, had instituted it in Judah. He encouraged the people to worship gods other than Adonai. He did whatever he could to build himself up, even if that meant worshiping other gods at “high places” other than the Temple in Jerusalem.
Asa also sinned. He failed to remove the “high places” scattered all over Judah. He also failed to turn to Adonai at a time when they were under attack from a neighboring nation. Early in his reign, he did turn to God and God provided a miraculous victory. He, however, failed to recall that incident, and therefore failed to trust God again.
Human failings. Sins. Not going all the way in pursuing God. Yet Scripture says one was wholehearted as David was, and the other was not. Again, what makes a person wholehearted in God’s perspective? Remember, David is also called wholehearted, and yet he committed sexual immorality and murder. I focused on four aspects of what it means to be wholehearted to God.
·      We must refrain from ever worshiping other gods.
·      We must have a fierce and exclusive loyalty to the one true God.
·      We must never be an idolater or give approval of idolatry.
·      We must remain Torah compliant in regards to our worship of God.
Some of those overlap a bit and the last one, remaining Torah compliant, can be a large task. Fortunately, since the day of Christ, we can exercise our wholeheartedness in having a fierce and faithful loyalty to Christ. Trusting Jesus and believing in His humanity and His deity is being wholehearted.
This does present a series of problems with many mainline Christian communities (and even to those who say they are compliant with Scripture to some degree). Are we, like Judah in Asa’s time, mixing pagan worship or manmade traditions with our attempts to worship Adonai? Do we construct our own ideas of who God is and what He’s like? I’m not going to answer those questions. I’m not even going to point out times and places we do behave in that manner. Each of us needs to educate ourselves about what activities we have adapted that began as pagan rituals. We need to study the Scriptures as thoroughly as possible to determine exactly what God has ordained. I want to be seen as wholehearted before the Lord so I will examine my beliefs and actions carefully.

Thursday, January 16, 2020

1 Kings 14: Two Short Ideas

This chapter covers more about the decline of the northern tribes of Ephraim-Israel under Jeroboam’s leadership as the people just followed along. One side note the commentator brought up was about how mankind was made in such a way that they looked to leaders to guide them. The whole book of Judges records the consistent problems Israel had without a designated (God-anointed) leader.
According to the commentator, Judges shows we need a “king.” As a follow up to that idea we have the two books of Kings to show us that not any king will do. We need the Lord’s idea of a king. Kings need to serve the people instead of forcing the people to serve the king’s needs, desires, or coffers. We saw, starting in 1st and 2nd Samuel, that the God-appointed kings struggled to be servants of the people. Other characteristics of the right type of king are justice, love, power, mercy, kindness, and appropriate severity when called for. Are there truly any such good and godly leaders or nations left on earth? I’d say no, but that doesn’t mean we have to go along with what our leaders say. Appropriate opposition, based on Biblical principles, is needed, but let’s not fool ourselves. No matter what changes are made, no single person or nation will live up to God’s standards.
Starting in 1 Kings 14:21, the focus switches from the northern kingdom to the country called Judah, which is still ruled by Solomon’s son, Rehoboam. In verse 22, it says,
Judah did what was evil from ADONAI’s perspective; they made him angry because of their sins, which were worse than any their ancestors had committed.
In other words, they did not fare any better than Ephraim-Israel. Again, poor and ungodly leadership would lead to destruction there as it did in the north. In 2 Chronicles 12:1, 14 there’s further description of Rehoboam:
But in time, after Rechav‘am [Rehoboam] had consolidated his rulership and had become strong, he, and with him all Isra’el, abandoned the Torah of Adonai. . . He did what was evil, because he had not set his heart on seeking Adonai.
A key problem, maybe the most important problem, is that Rehoboam had decided not to follow the Scriptures. His grandfather, David, had this problem also, but David did not abandon (renounce allegiance to God). David did not use his freewill to walk away from God and become eternally separated from God. The wording in 1 Kings 14 is different and indicates that Rehoboam, without much struggle, gave God the heave-ho.
Again, even the people who still followed the true God in Judah, and I’m not sure there were many of them, did not hold Rehoboam accountable. Likely, the people did not know the Torah since the leaders usually were responsible for proclaiming it, and Rehoboam’s “priests” and leaders weren’t doing that. The ritualistic practices of the people were not even seen as wrong. They probably thought they were actually honoring God.
How can we avoid the decline into evil? We are without excuse because we have God’s commands all written out for us. God doesn’t necessarily hold those who have not had the chance to know the “law” accountable for their sins. Romans 4:15 (in the Amplified Bible) says, “ For the Law results in [God’s] wrath [against sin], but where there is no law, there is no violation [of it either].” There are people groups in the world that have not heard the gospel, and there are people who do not understand the Word because they are not yet saved in Christ. I can’t say for sure, but I think God will take that into account when He judges people at the end of time. It’s like a child; until they’ve been told what is bad, to blame them (and punish them) is cruel. But, once explanation has been given, there should be appropriate consequences, and when we come before Jesus on the judgment seat, we will also have consequences for our sins.
The best way to prevent harsh judgment is to know, truly study, God’s Word and obey it. This is the only way any kind of change can happen in our world or leadership.

Thursday, January 9, 2020

God's Word is Not Amendable

There once was a man of God (not named), a prophet, who proclaimed a message to the king of the northern tribes in Ephraim-Israel. Jeroboam had received a calling from the Almighty God to rule the 10 northern tribes (while Solomon’s son, Rehoboam, ruled over Judah in the south) (1 Kings 12). Jeroboam rather quickly violated all the conditions the Lord had given him to ensure his descendants would rule for a long time. God noticed. However, while there’s a point to made there, that’s not where I’m going today.
Today we look at what God sends this certain man of God to do (1 Kings 13). Basically, God gives this man a message for Jeroboam and the false priests he’s appointed. Jeroboam’s violation of God’s conditions and laws would lead to the burning of all the people who honored the false gods (golden calves) that Jeroboam had set upon false altars. The man of God’s message delivered, the destruction of the altars occurs. The rest of the punishment would be realized several years later and is recorded in 2 Kings 23:16.
So the man of God follows God’s command to him to not eat, drink or return along the same path while in the north. He begins to leave, but an old prophet hears about all that happened, and goes after the man of God to fellowship with him. Here’s a caution: there were many people in Scripture called prophets who were not men/women of God. This old prophet was probably a prophet of the false god, Baal. By lying to the man of God, telling him God had given him instructions to bring him back to his house and feed him. The man of God, for whatever reason (there are several interpretations), goes with him and eats and drinks from the food of the people who honored the false gods.
We are told shortly that that was a violation of God’s command to the man of God and the man of God would suffer grave consequences for going against the words of the Lord. The commentator we are using for our study of 1 Kings, tells us about one of his pet peeves – which so happens to be one of mine. There are people, professed believers, who say to others something along the lines of, “I have a word from the Lord for you.” That’s what the old prophet did. And, it was a lie. When God gives a commandment to follow through the reading of Scriptures or during intense times of prayer, we are to keep that command. Often the word others say they have for you contradicts what, up to this point, you’ve felt God was saying to us or doesn’t agree with the specific commands of the Bible.
We are responsible to carry out what God has instructed us, and if He changes it, He will tell us personally – not from someone else. I’m not saying that someone shouldn’t share a passage of Scripture with us, correcting anti-Biblical behavior or thoughts, but great caution must prevail. God, through the Holy Spirit, is fully capable of giving us His Biblically verifiable commands without the help of another person. It may take some searching of the Scriptures and an incredible amount of focused prayer, but He will communicate to us through the Word, not from someone else’s thoughts or feelings.

Thursday, January 2, 2020

Again With the Idols

I know I’ve discussed this topic before, but in 1 Kings 12 it comes up again in a big way. It is the beginning of the demise of Israel as a unified nation. Hence forth in history as recorded in the Scriptures, Israel will be divided as it was before David came on the scene.
It’s tempting to think of that as a long time ago and that Israel as one kingdom lasted for a long time; however, Israel was unified for a mere 80 years. People who were born at the beginning of David’s rule may still have been alive to see the end under David’s grandson, Jeroboam. It had not even been two whole generations.
God divided Israel because of Solomon’s idolatry. We saw that in 1 Kings 11:29-33 as the prophet, Achiyah, explained to Jeroboam the reason for promoting him to king over 10 tribes. God also told Jeroboam that he and his descendants would rule for a long time IF they worshipped and obeyed God’s commands as David had. So after a time, God allowed for the separation between the northern 10 tribes and Judah. This area, to avoid confusion about what “Israel” we are talking about, became known as Ephraim-Israel. Ephraim was the dominant tribe in the north.
Unfortunately, Jeroboam did not do that. He made decisions based on the best way to promote himself, prevent a reunification of Israel by Solomon’s heir (Rehoboam), and to bolster his own power position. He went to an extreme. He established a new religion in the Ephraim-Israel. He built new temples, one in the northern part of his kingdom and one in the southern part. He established new festivals and holidays. He ordained priests that were not descendants of Levi. He made two golden calves just like Aaron had done during the exodus from Egypt. He even went as far as to tell the people that these golden calves had “brought you out of the land of Egypt.” Not God, but a couple of statues!
Before we get too critical of Jeroboam, we have to consider what idols we’ve systematically promoted over our worship of God. They may not be as blatant as gold calves, but they are there. It may be doing whatever it takes for a healthy lifestyle like eating and exercising. We may believe that education is supreme and lifts those who have advance degrees to a higher plane. For some others, it could be trusting other people or submitting to their wishes more than, or instead of, God. Also, politics, sports, and always having to be right misdirect our devotion to the only One who we should be worshipping.
Basically, putting any ideology, idea, behavior, or person before knowing and obeying God’s Word is idolatry. As we enter a new year, let’s evaluate what our focus for life is. Instead of making resolutions, be resolved in your pursuit of God.