Chapter-a-Day: 1 Kings 21

sky-2667455_1920 (1).jpg1 Kings 21

With all the evil that Ahab did, when he humbled himself, God still relented from sending judgment on him during his lifetime. What incredible mercy! Like Saul, who was guilty of murder but found grace, there is no depth from which God will not rescue us if we respond to Him with humility.

Our message this weekend from pastor J.D. Greear’s book, Not God Enough, is about how our insecurities reveal that we have not recognized the power of our God. When God called Moses and Moses moaned about how unprepared he was, God didn’t give him a pep talk about the power of positive thinking. He just said that He would be with him. That’s all Moses needed. And God with us is all you and I need to accomplish the impossible dream God has called us to!

I’ve seen this in my own life as God gave me a dream of publishing a story about teenage missionaries which might inspire the next generation to carry the gospel to the world. God granted more than I imagined by blowing up that single novel to a series! Even as I continue to complete this series, He has put a new project on my heart that He tells me will strike at the heart of the racial division in the body of Christ.

Friends, I say with Moses, “Who am I?” Who am I to think that I could write something that would have any  value for the kingdom of God? Who am I to think that I could write something people would even read? Who am I to think that someone would pay to publish my words or to read them?

I know full well that I am not worthy of any of those things — and if I thought for a moment that I was, editing my latest work has disabused me of any such illusion.

But God’s Word says that it isn’t about me, it’s about God. And He is worthy of all things, able to do all things — and His abilities are not limited by my disabilities!

I know. I’ve drifted far afield from Ahab. But the point is that God was not finished with Ahab. While there is yet breath, there is hope. Your limitations due to age, health, poverty, education, or even due to sin or addiction do not define your possibilities. God defines them. He says they are infinite because He is infinite, and He is with you if you will humble yourself and call on the One who says “I am” to all the things you and I are not.

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Chapter-a-Day: 1 Kings 20

delicate-arch-960279_1920.jpg1 Kings 20

This is one of those chapters that challenges our understanding of God. First, God gives victory to Ahab. Yes, that Ahab.

Isn’t he a pagan king who married the wicked Jezebel?

Isn’t he the one who prophets of Baal Elijah recently defeated?

But then, Ahab shows mercy on the king of Aram, makes a treaty with him, and spares his life. I don’t know about you, but I didn’t see that one coming.

And, instead of God being pleased with him sparing a life and making peace, God sends a prophet to tell him that God had determined Ben Hadad should die, and by sparing him, Ahab has forfeited his own life in Ben Hadad’s place.

Timothy Keller has said, “If your God never disagrees with you, you might be worshipping an idealized version of yourself.” The God of the Bible is often unfathomable. We want to fit Him into a neat box and pull Him out like a party trick, but He refuses to play along. He has His own agenda. While we catch glimpses of it in the sacrifice of Christ for our salvation, much of it is simply beyond our understanding.

How humbling!

How frustrating!

Yet a God who is able to fit in our little box is not worthy of worship and is not capable of meeting our deepest needs. Just as Jacob wrestled with God, each of us must wrestle with aspects of God’s design that confound us. At the end of our wrestling, we must come to grips with the fact that God is who He says He is. We must accept His words: “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” (Exodus 33:19 and Romans 9:15)

Yes, this is the biblical equivalent of “because I said so,” and my rebellious heart bristles at the notion that God doesn’t have to explain Himself or His decisions to me.

But the reality is it is incredibly arrogant to believe my finite brain could grasp it if He did explain His infinite plans. Even more so to assume God has any obligation to do so.

Chapter-a-Day: 1 Kings 19

woman-1447067_1920.jpg1 Kings 19

I love Elijah’s response after having defeated all the prophets of Baal and of Asherah. It reminds me of how I react after God has done something amazing and then I’m confronted by a daunting challenge. Instead of recalling the amazing thing that God just did, and trusting that this new challenge is not too big for him, I often run away, curl up under a (metaphorical) bush, and whine about my circumstances.

Does that ever happen to you? You’ve just been to the mountaintop – on a mission trip, retreat, had revival, or some other experience where you saw God do something that left you in awe. Then you’re confronted with a big problem – your car breaks down, your house floods, or you suffer a terrible loss. Suddenly, all the amazing things you saw God do feel a million miles away and this problem looms over you like a giant statue of Baal. An idol. Not one you are worshipping, but one you are giving undue credit to nonetheless. You crane your neck to look up at this monolith that seems impenetrable, immovable, unscalable. You say things like, “I’m the only one left,” when you know very well that God has preserved a remnant. And even more, that God HIMSELF has said He would never leave you or forsake you.

Maybe it’s just me. I love that God asks Elijah twice, “Elijah, what are you doing here?” Elijah repeats his mournful tale verbatim. I can almost hear a little angst creeping into his voice: “Weren’t you listening, God? I just told you: ‘I am the only one left! And now they are trying to kill me, too!’” Of course God was listening. He listens to me, too, even when I whine a little and repeat myself. Even when my eyes get locked on the idol the enemy puts before me instead of on the God who defeats every false god in our lives. And, yes, He not only listens but He speaks. And in my very best, most lucid moments, I listen.

Chapter-a-Day: 1 Kings 18

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1 Kings 18

We pursue so many things that are so much smaller and insignificant than God. Ahab and the people of Israel pursued Baal and Asherah, false gods without a single spark of power. We read the account of Elijah and the prophets of Baal and often view the people of that time as primitive and archaic, but the reality is our culture is no different. We call our false gods by different names, in fact we often conflate them with the One True God. It’s easy to do that if you don’t know much about God.

We say things like, “God helps those who help themselves.” But God’s Word says, “Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” (Hebrews 4:16) It isn’t about us working hard, but about us acknowledging our desperate need.

We say, “God never gives us more than we can take.” But God’s Word says, “And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear.” (1 Corinthians 10:13)

We re-paint God in only one dimension: Love. But when we do so, we ignore that even as God is love (1 John 4:8), God is also holy (Revelation 4:8). We ignore that God chastens those He loves as sons and daughters (Hebrews 12:6), and He will judge all the earth (Revelation 19:11).

Understanding an infinite and infinitely faceted God is beyond our finite minds, so we create analogies to try to capture and convey our understanding. Our analogies fall short and always will, but as long as we understand that, they can be helpful tools to comprehend a single aspect of God. What they can’t be, ever, is a portrait of God!

In what ways have I tried to edit God’s Word to provide me with a god I can understand and relate to? What scripture do I skim over because it’s just too harsh and doesn’t jive with my portrait of a god of love? What moments in my life do I try to reframe so that God’s work in my life fits in to my picture of Him, instead of asking Him to put those moments in context of the work He is doing in me?

Chapter-a-Day: 1 Kings 17

sky-1084433_1920.jpg1 Kings 17

It’s easy to read about the prophet Elijah and think of how unique he was among followers of God. He was used by God to perform many miracles from prophesying drought to raising the widow’s son from the dead. We think of him as special because of the amazing ways that God worked through him.

But that puts our focus on Elijah rather than on the God who performed those miracles.

The same God who kept the widow’s cupboard stocked is the One who supplies our needs. The same God who gave life back to her son is the One who gave His Son so that we might be raised to new life. The same God who emboldened Elijah to confront a thoroughly pagan king is the One who gives us the courage to stand up to injustice.

The miracles were not in Elijah but in the One who was with Elijah. And that is the One who is also with you and me!

We are focused on a year of prayer in our church this year and one of the things we are learning about prayer is that God wants us to come boldly with our prayers. Our small group talked about how we can take our small, value-meal prayers and super-size them! Don’t pray for a good day at work or school, pray for God to use you this day to speak words that draw a friend or co-worker to the gift of eternal life! Don’t pray that your meal would nourish your body, pray that God would empower you to nourish the souls of those you encounter today. Pray that God would take your prayers and blow them up into something only He can do, so that all who see them would be astounded. So that we can proclaim His goodness for His glory!

Chapter-a-Day: 1 Kings 16

mri-2813911_1920.jpg1 Kings 16

These chapters that rehearse the parade of kings who did evil in the sight of God teach us something of critical importance about our proclivity toward sin. It is cumulative.

Like a sweet tooth that is never satisfied, but wants more as soon as the sugar crash hits, sin never fills us up. It begins with little compromises and, left unchecked, grows like a monstrous tumor deforming and destroying any healthy tissue. It may not be visible at first, but it is growing under the surface. Unseen, but still causing damage.

The gospel is that Christ paid the price for all of that sin in order to set us free from it’s deadly effect. We don’t have to clean ourselves up, perform our own surgery to remove it, or promise to do better. He loves us as we are.

But He loves us too much to allow us to keep on suffering, to allow the tumor to grow without intervening. He loves us enough to want what is best for us, even at the cost of His own life.

If that weren’t enough, He gives us the Holy Spirit to be our constant guide. To point out those things that will cause us to stumble. To guide us through shark-infested waters (or chocolate-infested grocery aisles). To show us the way of escape that He has promised in every temptation. He exhorts us to “not quench the Holy Spirit.” (1 Thessalonians 5:19) The Holy Spirit convicts us, teaches us, enables us, empowers us, warns us, guards us, seals us, gives us the words to speak, the strength to stand, and the fruit of the Spirit.

What sins are creeping in to your life? Like tiny cancer cells, invisible to the naked eye, but visible to the Holy Spirit. Pray that God would allow the Holy Spirit to provide the spiritual equivalent of an MRI. And then treat whatever God reveals as seriously and aggressively as you would a cancer diagnosis. It is just as destructive and deadly.

Reject the lie that says the sin revealed by the Holy Spirit makes you unacceptable to God. The cross says you are accepted in the beloved, that God loved you from the foundations of the world. But reject, also, the lie that whispers it is not sin, the cajoling voice telling you it doesn’t matter, the nagging tempter urging you just one more (one more cookie, one more peek, one more dime, one more drink, one more hit, one more lie).

The kings of Israel didn’t have a Savior. They didn’t have the gift of the Holy Spirit. So they spiraled out of control, chasing every imaginable sin in search of something to satisfy. Ignoring the God who had promised in Deuteronomy 28 to bless Israel abundantly, in every way, if they would follow Him.

Chapter-a-Day: 1 Kings 15

clock-1318131_1920.jpg1 Kings 15

This chapter illustrates an important principle and one that is seen many times over the coming chapters as various kings and their reigns are described. Although God had proclaimed what the future of Israel would be — that they would be destroyed and carried off in exile because of their sins — the timing of that fulfillment was impacted as God allowed for the free will of His children.

Kings like King Asa of Judah stilled the countdown as they destroyed the false gods and tried to turn the people back to God. The end result would be the same, but the lives of those kings and the people they reigned during their lifetime were spared, or at least spared from the ultimate judgment of Israel. Their efforts to initiate revival didn’t change the future, but it did change their present.

When we consider prophecy yet unfulfilled, we have the same opportunity. God’s final judgment on Satan and his followers is sure, but the timing is unknown. As long as we have breath, we have the opportunity to turn people back from that judgment. To lead them to the cross, where all of God’s judgment on mankind has been settled already. To show them this sanctuary where “there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 8:1)

“But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called “Today,” so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.” Hebrews 3:13

Chapter-a-Day: 1 Kings 14

human-2829510_1920.jpg1 Kings 14

This is the second example in scripture where it is clearly stated that a child dies as the result of the parent’s sin. That is hard. It’s hard to understand. Even harder to explain. And harder still to recover from.

We have a good and loving God. The death of a child is always difficult to reconcile with that truth. The question that screams through our mind is, “How could God allow this to happen?” Regardless of the circumstances of the death, we have to grapple with the notion that a sovereign God who has the power to speak creation into being, to say, “Lazarus, come forth,” and to calm a storm remained silent.

There’s only one way I’ve found to cope with such a loss. It’s trusting that in God’s sovereignty and omniscience, this was the best possible outcome from an eternal perspective for that child and for me. I’ve seen a lot of articles and books from authors more educated than I am attacking this perspective, suggesting that “‘everything happens for a reason’ is a lie.” I’ve heard famous speakers suggest that God is as blindsided and mournful as we are in tragedy. That’s just not the God I’ve experienced.

My God has given me tiny glimpses of how He works everything together for my (eternal) good and His glory (Romans 8:28-29). He’s taught me that my definition of “good” is way too small and temporal. His definition of good was best defined in Genesis 1 as He created the earth, moon, stars, and all living creatures.

In the loss of our unborn children, He comforted me with “I will go to him, but he will not return to me.” (2 Samuel 12:23) I was reassured by the knowledge that while the children who have survived have made professions of faith which I believe to be genuine, I don’t know whether these unborn children would have done so. What circumstances might have come into their lives and turned them away from God? Their eternity is secure in Christ.

God filled me with compassion for others experiencing loss and opened time in my always-hectic schedule to allow me to minister to them in ways that wouldn’t have occurred or been possible otherwise.

God taught me that I need Him desperately. Every single day. I can’t afford to dabble with things that lead my heart away from Him and I’m too busy to fail to start every day with Him, because it is the only way I can accomplish all that He has set before me.

In these specific tragedies, He taught me that my children are more precious to Him than they are to me. That He is the perfect parent, and He doesn’t expect me to be. That I can’t even protect my child when I literally hold the child inside my body, but He holds them in His hand and lets only those things He chooses slip through His fingers to touch them. That in His great love for them, anything He lets through His fingers are things needful for fashioning their eternity.

But more than any of the glimpses I’ve seen of the good God is able to bring from tragedy is the example of His Son. When I cried out to God that none of the good I could ever imagine coming from such a horrible loss could ever be worth the pain I felt, I was instantly reminded that God said just the opposite when He sent His Son to the cross for me.

God saw the brutal suffering and death of His Son to bring salvation to someone as rebellious as me and thought I was worth it!

When Jesus was told of Lazarus’ illness, He told His disciples, “This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.” But the sickness did end in death. Jesus was glorified by raising Lazarus from death, but this only pictures the reality that none of our illness truly ends in death for those in Christ. “My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” (Psalm 73:26)

Back up from the canyon of loss and see the eternal picture. “You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.” (James 4:14) Our entire lives are only a lightning flash in eternity. “He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.” (Ecclesiastes 3:11)

Chapter-a-Day: 1 Kings 13

news-2094394_1920.png1 Kings 13

This is one of those chapters which leave me with a million questions. If there was a prophet in Bethel, why wasn’t he speaking out against the idolatry there? Why did he purposely seek to deceive and lead astray the man of God? Why did the man of God believe him so easily?  Was the prophet turned back to God in repentance when he realized his lies had led to the man of God’s death? And, as always, what does God want me to learn from this account? “All scripture is God-breathed and profitable for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God[a] may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” 2 Timothy 3:15-17

The first lesson that comes to mind is a cautionary tale about taking someone else’s word for what God has said. While we are given teachers and leaders to shepherd us, we are also warned in 1 John 4:1 “Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.” Today is no different! There are false prophets seeking to profit off of easily-beguiled followers. There are those who follow the enemy and purposely masquerade as servants of God to lead His children astray. But even more, there are well-meaning teachers, preachers, and believers who are led astray by their own interpretations of scripture. God’s Word is inerrant, but our understanding of it is often in error! Consider how often throughout the two centuries since Christ’s resurrection God’s Word has been distorted to support oppression and abuse. If you don’t think that still happens, just turn on the TV on a Sunday morning and you will find both truth-tellers and snake-oil salesmen.

Whether we are sitting under the teaching of a famous preacher with a lifetime testimony that is unblemished, or reading a blog like this of someone with no theological education, who simply reads God’s Word, prays for Him to teach me from it, and shares what I think I’ve learned, we must test the spirits! Please don’t ever take my word for it. Read the scripture that is being referenced. Pray that God would give you understanding both of what you read in His Word and what you are hearing from the preacher/writer. Ask hard questions about whether they are aligned. Consider whether the teaching aligns with the entire counsel of scripture or takes verses out of context. Does the teaching move you to a greater understanding of God’s holiness, sovereignty, love, justice, and most of all, His plan of salvation through Jesus, the Christ.

The man of God had a word directly from the Lord, but he let someone else’s word countermand the Lord’s direction.

“13 Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong. 14 Do everything in love.” 1 Corinthians 16:13-14

Chapter-a-Day: 1 Kings 12

peacock-3080897_1920.jpg1 Kings 12

Who do you go to when you need wise counsel for a difficult situation? Solomon’s son Rehoboam asked for advice from two groups: the elders of Israel who had advised his father and the young men who he had grown up with.

Maybe it’s just my age, but it seems easy to see this as a situation where the more mature advisors offered greater wisdom. Their years of experience taught them that being gracious to someone today earns their loyalty for tomorrow. His young buddies appealed to his pride and ego and recommended an answer almost guaranteed to lead to rebellion.

What are some situations where we might find ourselves led by our pride in a setup for rebellion? I think of times as a parent when I pushed too hard on something that didn’t matter because “it was the principle.” That principle being, “I’m the boss.” While that is true, as a parent we must realize that we don’t want our children to obey only when our eyes are on them out of fear or obligation, but we want their hearts to learn to discern right and wrong, so that they make wise choices when we aren’t around and for many years after our authority over them has evaporated. As a manager, I can also be a victim of my own pride by either allowing someone to manipulate me to their own advantage with flattery or by destroying morale by demanding it’s “my way or the highway” or “suck it up, buttercup.” How much more effective it is to create an environment where employees feel like a team, know that you have their best interests at heart, and desire to give 100% because they care about the mission of your organization!

Make no mistake, Rehoboam was going to choose the foolish counsel. God told Solomon before he died that He would rip eleven of the tribes away from Solomon’s heir. But I can’t help but wonder what might have happened if Rehoboam had consulted God instead of these advisors? What if he had turned the kingdom back toward God, destroyed the false gods his father had built for his wives, and led the nation to repent? It is never too late to turn around as long as the desire to change exists. It reminds me of the song from Casting Crowns, One Step Away. Take a listen. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xrPJZYywTuA