Thursday, May 27, 2010

A Warning: 1 Kings 11:1-8

Read 1 Kings 11:1-8

I just recently posted a devotional on a really neat passage (1 Kings 8), in which Solomon prays a beautiful and passionate prayer to the Lord at the dedication of the Temple. I hate to be debbie downer, but it's only fair to tell Solomon's entire story. Solomon started off well, but he unfortunately ended lousy. Most people know the stories of Solomon asking God for wisdom, judging his people wisely, building the Temple, and writing Song of Songs and Ecclesiastes. However, what many don't know, is that the king who was at one time the wisest man in the world ultimately ended up falling away from God completely. Let's study what happened to Solomon and try to learn something from his mistakes.

As you probably know, when God chose the Israelites to be His people, He gave them many laws and commandments to follow. The purpose of these laws was to set them apart from the other nations as a pure and holy nation belonging to Him alone. One of the commands He gave to His people was that they could not intermarry with foreigners. This may sound harsh to some people. What if you fall in love with someone from a foreign country? Why would God want to separate people that love each other? Here's the thing. God is all-knowing. He knows us better than we know ourselves, and He alone knows the future. His laws are a protection for us, because He knows what harmful consequences will come from disobeying Him. The Lord knew that joining together in marriage to a pagan would not end well, and it certainly didn't for Solomon.

Despite the fact that Solomon was fully aware of the laws, he chose to marry a foreigner...and not just one foreigner. Solomon took a head-spinning total of 700 wives and 300 concubines. That's 1,000 women in his harem! So we see that Solomon didn't just take one foreign wife, but he took 1,000 wives/concubines. Marriage was designed by God in the garden of Eden between 1 woman and 1 man. Anything other than this is a perversion of God's original plan, and it will end with serious consequences. In this case, the very worst that could happen to Solomon did. Because he neglected God's command not to intermarry with foreigners and took 1,000 women into his palace, he was led astray. The man who had once been so close to God actually turned to idol worship. He left the God who had blessed Him beyond comprehension with all of the wisdom and riches in the world, and he began to make sacrifices to the idols his foreign wives worshipped.

What a depressing ending to such a promising individual! Though this is a sad story, it offers us an important lesson. First of all, no one is immune from temptation to sin, so we must guard against it diligently. We see in 1 Kings 10:23 that, "King Solomon became greater than all the kings of the earth in riches and in wisdom." However, though Solomon had everything going for him, he still gave into sin's temptation. He neglected God's commands and warnings, surely thinking that nothing bad would come of it. He was so wrong. His arrogance is apparent in the way he flagrantly disregarded God's law and got for himself 1,000 wives. This is so over-the-top and ridiculous, and it clearly shows his pride. Perhaps he thought that because he was king, he could make his own rules. The statement, "pride comes before the fall" is so true. Those who arrogantly do whatever they want and think there will be no consequences are very foolish.

Are you puffed up with pride like Solomon? Do you live by your own rules, disobeying God's law and foolishly thinking nothing will come of it? Remember that "God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble" (James 4:6). Take the story of Solomon's downfall as a sober warning. Take God's law seriously and follow Him wholeheartedly, because those who don't will surely fall.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Are you a Complainer??

Read Philippians 2:14; Exodus 15:22-17:7

No one likes to be around a whiner. Perhaps this is the best way to cure a complainer...let them be around someone who whines and grumbles for a while. When they see how irritating and unattractive it is, they won't want to complain anymore! We all probably struggle with complaining to some degree, myself included. This lesson is just as convicting to me as it is to all of you, so you're not alone! Philippians 2:14 says, "Do everything without complaining or arguing." How are you doing in this area? Let's look in the book of Exodus and study a group who did their fair share of whining, and see what we can learn from their mistakes.

At this point in the text (15:22), the Israelites have just been delivered from slavery in Egypt. The have seen the Lord's miraculous power through the 10 plagues and the parting of the Red Sea. They have responded with a song of praise to the Lord in 15:1-18, thanking Him for all the wonders He has done. It seems like people who had just witnessed God's miracles and deliverance would follow Him joyfully from that day forward. However, the Israelites' thankful and worshipful attitude didn't last long. As they headed into the wilderness, it only took 3 days for them to start complaining. 3 days...3 days until the wonder and amazement of God's miracles and deliverance wore off!

In Exodus 5:24 we see the reason for their first complaint against the Lord. They began to grumble and complain, because the water was bitter. In response to this, the Lord provides for them, making the waters around them sweet. Did this miracle satisfy their grumbling? Unfortunately, it did not. In 16:3, they begin to grumble that they are hungry, even going so far as saying that they would have been better off back in Egypt as slaves! As a response to this, God produces another miracle to provide for their needs. He literally rains down bread from heaven every morning, and rains down quail every evening. I wish I could have seen that! However, that miracle didn't stop their grumbling either. In 17:2-3, we see the people complaining again that they are thirsty. This passage reads just like a broken record! The Lord hears their grumbling and provides for their need once again.

It's easy to judge the Israelites from our point of view. When you read this passage, their behavior seems ridiculous. How could they have such little faith in God? Why did they have such a hard time believing that God would take care of their needs, especially after all the miracles He had showed them? How can they complain after all that God has done for them? They've just been freed from slavery, yet they still grumble against the one who delivered them! How could they be that short-sighted?

I think we're all a lot more like the Israelites than we'd like to admit. When I think about my own life, I know that I have been guilty of the same faithless grumbling that the Israelites did. I complain about our financial situation, even though I can honestly say that I have never had a need remain unmet. God has never failed to provide for me, yet I still panic every time I read our bank statement. Like the Israelites, I am quick to forget all He has done for me! I complain about Lee's health, when I know full well that things could be so much worse. When I see people who are disabled, disfigured, or cancerous, I am convicted of my grumbling when our situation is not nearly as painful as those others experience. I complain about our tiny apartment, but when I see the homeless, I'm reminded that I really have nothing to grumble about...I have a roof over my head, which is more than many around the world can say. Yes, I'm a lot like the Israelites, and maybe you are as well. Take a moment to reflect. What do you complain and grumble about? Is your situation really as bad as you make it out to be? What do you need to thank God for today?

Monday, May 17, 2010

Hold Fast: Hebrews 10:23

Read Hebrews 10:23, "Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for He who promised is faithful."

I once heard a powerful story in a sermon that really had an impact on me. The story takes place on a battlefield. As the battle is raging, the soldiers are bombarded and must run to safety in a trench. One man doesn't make it to the trenches. He is shot down and lies in the middle of the field gasping for his last breath. His best friend sees him lying there dying, and he tells his commander that he is going out to get him. His commander is adamant and tells the soldier that he absolutely cannot go out into the hostile area under any circumstances. His friend is already dying, and if he goes out to get him, he will surely die too. It is not worth it. Ignoring his commander's warning, the soldier runs out into the unprotected field and drags his friend back to safety. By the time they reach the trenches, his friend is dead, and he has received a fatal gunshot wound himself. When his commander sees what the soldier did, he is absolutely livid. "I told you not to go out into the hostile area! Your friend is dead, and now you're dying as well! It wasn't worth it!" the commander screamed. "Yes, it was worth it," replied the soldier, "because of what my best friend said to me when I arrived." "What could he possibly have said that would make this worth it?" yelled the commander. "When I got there," replied the dying soldier, "my best friend simply said, 'I knew you'd come.'"

What a powerful story that illustrates Hebrews 10:23 so well. In the story, the dying soldier held to the hope that his best friend would come for him. He had faith that his friend wouldn't leave him alone. He didn't waver in that belief as he laid there suffering alone, simply telling his friend, "I knew you'd come." Why did he have that much hope in his friend? Simply because his friend was faithful. He was someone that was trustworthy and wouldn't ever let him down. Do you have as much hope in your Savior as the soldier had in his friend? When you are struggling, do you place your faith in God, knowing in your heart that all you have to do is wait patiently for Him to show up?

Hebrews 10:23 has been one of my favorite verses since high school. In this verse, we are urged to "hold unswervingly to the hope that we profess." The Greek word that the NIV translates as "hold unswervingly" means, "to hold fast, keep secure, keep firm possession of" ( Isn't this a powerful image? If we claim to be Christians, we have declared that our hope is in Christ. Therefore, we are to hold fast to that hope, no matter what. The NAS translates this as, "hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering." We see in Hebrews 11:1 that faith is being "sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see." As believers, we shouldn't let circumstances cause our faith to waver. Our hope should be firmly rooted in Christ. When the storms come, we are to take hold of our hope, because a faith that wavers is no faith at all. I think James describes this well in James 1:6 and 8 when he says, "the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind [...] being a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways." Are you like a wave tossed back and forth by the wind, or do you hold unswervingly to the hope you profess??

The author of Hebrews also tells us in this verse the reason why we should hold fast to our hope...because "He who promised is faithful." God is the only one in the world who is constantly faithful 100% of the time. Faithfulness is part of His character. He is constant and never changes ("I the Lord, do not change," Malachi 3:6). We can hold fast to our hope without doubting, because we are able to rest in the truth that He is faithful. He holds to all of His promises all of the time. So when He says, for example, "I will never leave you or forsake you," you can be completely confident that He will hold to that promise (Deut 31:6)!

What circumstances in your life are hindering you from holding unswervingly to your hope in Christ? Sickness? Financial trouble? A broken relationship? A difficult decision? Trials? The uncertainty of the future? Whatever you are experiencing right now that is causing you to doubt, I encourage you to remember the faithfulness of God. You may not feel like He's there with you right now, but I assure you that He is. This lesson is just as much for myself as it is for any of you. Since we've been married, Lee and I have faced many hardships, especially with his health, schoolwork, and our finances. Though these trials often lead me to worry and discouragement, I must remember the faithfulness of our Savior, and put my hope in Him~

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

A Beautiful Prayer of Dedication: 1 Kings 8

Read 1 Kings 8

I love this passage! 1 Kings 8 describes the dedication of the Temple which Solomon built for the Lord. As you might remember, building a Temple for the Lord was originally David's idea. However, because David was a man of war/bloodshed, the Lord did not want him to be the one to build His house. Instead, He chose David's son, Solomon, to build the Temple. After 7 years of building this elaborate and exquisite place of worship, Solomon then assembles the people of Israel, publicly dedicating the Temple to God and voicing a beautiful prayer to the Lord. The prayer is one of praise and thanksgiving as well as supplication (humbly asking for something). Here are a few things about the passage that stand out to me:

v.10-11: The glory of the Lord filled the Temple in the form of a cloud that was so great, the priests weren't even able to perform their duties! What a magnificent sight that must have been!

v.22/54: As Solomon prayed, he was on his knees with his hands spread out toward heaven. I love this humble yet worshipful position Solomon assumes. Believe it or not, the posture we take when we pray can really make a difference in our prayers.

v.23: Solomon proclaims there is no one like our God! His faithfulness and lovingkindness have no comparison.

v. 27: Even though Solomon went to all this trouble and expense to build the Lord the most beautiful and costly Temple money could by, he admits that it can't begin to contain the Lord. He humbly states that the highest heavens couldn't even contain the Lord, much less this dwelling place he has built for God.

v. 30, 34, 36, 39, 49, 50: He repeats the same theme throughout the prayer: hear and forgive. He is asking the Lord to respond with forgiveness to the cries of repentance that will be voiced in this Temple and to hear the requests the Israelites send to Him.

v. 41-43: Though the temple has been built for the Israelites, Solomon has compassion on the foreigners and asks God to listen to prayers that they offer up as well. Solomon knows that the news of the greatness of God will spread and that many will come to the Temple to learn about His great name. Solomon asks God to answer the foreigners' prayers so that they will know Him and fear Him just like the Israelites do.

v. 56: Solomon is asking for all of these things from God (for Him to hear their prayers and answer them, for Him to forgive their sins, etc), because this is what God has always done. God is faithful, and His character is unchanging, and "not one word has failed of all His good promise." Don't you love the fact that we serve a God who is constant and true to His promises?

v.58: This verse would be a great verse to pray for yourself. He asks that God would "incline our hearts to Himself, to walk in all His ways and to keep His commandments and His statutes and ordinances." Why not pray that God would incline your heart to Him, so that you would follow Him always? What a great prayer!

v. 48, 61: Solomon stresses a wholehearted devotion to God. We are not to have one foot in the church and one foot in the world, changing how we act when we are around certain people. God wants total obedience to Him 100% of the time, not someone who sways back and forth with no solid commitment to the Lord. Our hearts should be for Him alone.

v. 66: This was one joyful prayer meeting! After days of worshiping God, the people went home full of joy, encouragement, and excitement. Don't you just love that high you get after an amazing time of worshiping the Lord? I know I do!

This is a great moment for King Solomon, showing his love and passion for God as he erects this beautiful Temple in His honor. Unfortunately, his love for God fades later on in life. Next time we'll look at his downfall and see what we can learn from it. For now, I encourage you to meditate on this beautiful passage of prayer and to worship the Lord wholeheartedly, as Solomon did all those years ago~

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Lamentations 3:41-66 (part 2)

Read Lamentations 3:41-66
*Make sure you read my previous post before you read this one, so it will make more sense!

Ready to finish up our study on Lamentations 3? Get ready for some more amazing verses to meditate on as we dig into this amazing passage of God's Word!

Just like the previous section we studied, this passage has 2 parts to it. The first part in verses 41-47 is a call from Jeremiah to the Israelites to repent of their sins. Their sinfulness caused their suffering. They are ultimately responsible for what has happened to them. Their suffering is great, and Jeremiah describes their misery in the next few verses. God's anger has been poured out on them, many have been slain, and they have been made mere refuse (trash) (43, 45). They've experienced panic, pitfall, devastation, and destruction (47).

I love what Charles Swindoll has to say about the horrible destruction described in Lamentations: "It is a mute reminder that sin, in spite of all its allurement and excitement, carries with it heavy weights of sorrow, grief, misery, barrenness, and pain. It is the other side of the 'eat, drink, and be merry' coin" (The Lamentations of Jeremiah, Introduction). Lamentations serves as a wake-up call to believers everywhere. Sin has horrible consequences. It may be enjoyable for a season, but it will ultimately be judged. The small amount of pleasure you experience from it will be nothing in comparison to the pain that will occur afterward.

In the beginning of the next section, we see Jeremiah's utter sorrow, as he states, "my eyes pour down unceasingly, without stopping" (49). His pain and grief over the destruction of Jerusalem is great, but what a comfort it is to be able to cry out to God and give all of that over to Him! We see Jeremiah's moving and heartfelt prayer to God in verses 55-66, as he calls out to God from His lowest point (55). God responded to Jeremiah's cry by drawing near to him and saying, "Do not fear!" (57). How comforting! The Lord offers Jeremiah redemption in the midst of his misery (58). Jeremiah is also comforted by the fact that God has seen every single thing that has happened to him (59-63). He is confident that because God has seen his oppression, he will judge his enemies for their sinfulness, just as Israel was judged for their sinfulness.

I love Jeremiah's prayer in this passage. He goes to God in all his brokenness and despair, knowing that there is no where else to go. Only the Lord can offer healing and redemption and make things right again. Isn't it a comfort and a relief that we can go to God in prayer? I feel that oftentimes we see prayer as an obligation or duty for Christians, but it's actually a tremendous joy and comfort. I am reminded of this every time I see my non-Christian friends struggling. When they're going through a tough time or need help, they'll post on Facebook things like, "send good vibes my way," or "send me positive energy." I was flipping through the channels the other day and caught part of a movie. In the scene, a little boy was concerned about a struggling older man, and he asked his mother what he could do to help him. His mother said, "close your eyes, and send good thoughts to him...then the next time you see him he'll be happy." What?!?! Sending good vibes/thoughts/energy to someone doesn't mean anything at all. It's something people who don't know the Lord say to make themselves feel better when they're struggling...though it doesn't make them feel better at all, because it's complete baloney! What a comfort to know that when we're struggling, we can cry out to God, and He hears us! Prayer is a joy and a privilege...not a burden or duty.

Questions for reflection: Do you need to repent of any sins? What do you need to cry out to God about? Do you ever feel that you need to clean your act up before going to God? Is it comforting to see Jeremiah crying out to God in the midst of his misery and despair?

Hope Amidst Affliction: Lamentations 3:1-40

Read Lamentations 3:1-40

Have you ever read Lamentations? It's one of the more obscure books of the Old Testament, written by the prophet Jeremiah. This book consists of 5 laments, written like funeral hymns, which are Jeremiah's reflections on the sad state of Israel. Because of Israel's sin, God had given them over to their enemies, the Babylonians. The Babylonians had completely destroyed Jerusalem, leaving it a desolate place of mourning. How would you feel if Islamic terrorists completely destroyed Houston, burning down buildings, plundering the city, taking prisoners captive, etc? If you put yourself in Jeremiah's position, the situation was very bleak. Lamentations 3:1-40 describes Jeremiah's utter despair, as well as his renewed hope in God.

In 3:1-18, Jeremiah is describing his current state and the state of the Israelites as a whole: a state of total misery. The suffering the Israelites are experiencing is described as a result of God's wrath on their sin (1). Bitterness, hardship, and darkness characterize their nation's present situation after the siege of Jerusalem (5-6). Jeremiah feels that his prayers have been shut out and that he has no hope (8, 18). He feels like a target, a complete laughingstock, and one who cowers in the dust (12, 14, 16). Pretty depressing, right? You may have never felt as low as Jeremiah did in this passage, but I'm sure you've experienced affliction. I'm sure you've felt at times that God was shutting you out, that all you could feel was hardship and suffering. Maybe you've felt hopeless.

The good news is that this passage doesn't end at verse 18! In verses 19-40 we see Jeremiah's hope and faith in God restored. As he is at the end of his rope, he remembers something incredible that brings him hope again (20). Though he feels abandoned, he remembers the truth...that God's lovingkindnesses never cease, that His compassions never fail, and that they are new every morning (22-23). Though Israel had been unfaithful to God, God's faithfulness remains great (23). Jeremiah remembers that God is good to those who wait for Him and seek after Him for salvation (25-26). These truths about God's character completely change this passage from one of utter despair to one of incredible encouragement and hope.

We read in verses 31-32 that God doesn't cause affliction forever. His affliction is only temporary. When that suffering leads us to repentance, the affliction turns to lovingkindness and compassion. Verse 33 tells us that God doesn't enjoy punishing us. He isn't up in heaven just waiting for a chance to pour out His wrath on us. He must judge sin, but He is waiting to forgive and restore us as soon as we repent! We also see in verses 37-38, that God is completely sovereign over everything, and nothing happens outside His control. It was the Babylonians who ravaged Jerusalem, but God ultimately was responsible for bringing about the judgment of Israel. Jeremiah states that they can't complain about that judgment, because it was a result of their own sins (39). This section ends with verse 40 teaching us what the ultimate result of this affliction should be for the Israelites. It should lead them to examine their hearts before God, repent of their sins, and turn back to Him.

Pretty heavy stuff, right? There is so much packed into this incredible passage of Scripture, and we'll cover even more in the next post on verses 41-66. For now, let me ask you 2 questions. Do you need a reminder that God's lovingkindness and compassions never fail? Lamentations 3:22-23 would be a great passage for you to memorize! Do you need to repent before the Lord for sins you have committed? Take Jeremiah's advice in verse 40, and ask God to examine your heart and turn to Him in repentance!

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Lessons from Narnia: Part 4

"'Is--is he a man?' asked Lucy.

'Aslan a man!' said Mr. Beaver sternly. 'Certainly not. I tell you he is the King of the wood and the son of the great Emperor-beyond-the-Sea. Don't you know who is the King of Beasts? Aslan is a lion--the Lion, the great Lion.'

'Ooh!' said Susan, 'I'd thought he was a man. Is he--quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a Lion.'

'That you will, dearie, and no mistake,' said Mrs. Beaver; 'if there's anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking they're either braver than most or else just silly.'

'Then he isn't safe?' said Lucy.

'Safe?' said Mr. Beaver; 'don't you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? 'Course he isn't safe. But he's good. He's the King, I tell you."

From The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, by C.S. Lewis, p. 86

This passage is probably my all-time favorite in all of the Narnia books. I love this description of Aslan. As you probably know by now, the character of Aslan in the Narnia books is written as a representation of Christ. I think we need to get away from these pictures we have in our head of Jesus (thanks to well-intentioned illustrators) of a frail, weak-looking man with flowing brown hair, who is usually playing with children or holding a lamb. Yes, Jesus loves children, and yes, He is gentle, humble, and meek. However, He is also God! His strength, power and might are unrestrained and can't be contained.

When you ask non-Christians what they think about Jesus, many of them will say that He's a nice guy who was kind to the poor. Yes, He showed kindness and compassion, and that's a huge part of His character. But Jesus also drove people out of the temple with a whip, and said things like: "You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell?" and "Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men's bones and everything unclean" (Matt. 23:33, 27). Are these things that a nice dude would do? Jesus is more than just a nice guy! He is powerful almighty God in the flesh, who hates evil and will condemn all who reject Him.

Does it surprise you that Lewis speaks of Aslan as not being safe? Do you think that the Lord is safe? When you get to heaven and finally get to see Jesus face to face, will you casually give him a high five, or will your knees by knocking as that passage describes? In Mark 9 and Matthew 17, we see the story of Jesus being transfigured on the mountain, transformed into dazzling white light. The disciples who are with Him are terrified! Mark tells us in Mark 4:41, that after the disciples saw Jesus calm the storm, they were also terrified. When humans encounter the deity, their initial response is fear. Probably the best example of this in Scripture is Isaiah 6, when Isaiah encounters the train of God's robe and is completely undone.

So I would definitely say that the Lord isn't "safe," just like a lion isn't safe. When we encounter God's presence, we are reminded of how small and weak we are, and how powerful, big and holy God is. However, the fear we experience from beholding His splendor and greatness is different than the kind of fear we would experience from seeing a rattlesnake, for example. The difference is that we can completely trust the Lord, because we know His character. Like the passage says, He may not be safe, but He is completely good. He is perfect in righteousness and justice, and we can be completely at peace in His presence, because we know that He is a good God who loves us. Do you see the difference?

Praise God today for His majesty and unrestrained power. Rather than approaching Him irreverently, approach Him as if you were entering into His throne room, trembling because He is God, but confident because He is good.