Monday, May 31, 2010

What is shaping your life - Part II

Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life. (Philippians 4:6-7)

In prayer, we have several opportunities to lay things out before God. As we pray, we go through a process of introducing our questions, requests or pleas in such a manner that they get the attention of the one you are bringing them to – God. It is not a casual discussion, in passing, that never brings resolution to those things that are weighing us down. It is an earnest discussion, laying it all out before God, and then letting him help us with the solutions. We bring our:
   Questions – because we need wisdom
   Requests – because we need direction
   Pleas – because we need intervention
Making an earnest request in a humble manner is key to allowing worry and fretting to become a behavior of our past and not of our present.

Let petitions and praises…

In prayer, we offer both. Petitions are a form of earnest request – an entreaty of the heart that asks for some object / thing, privilege or favor, a certain course of action to be taken. It is the process of asking with such intensity that God knows your mental state and seriousness of heartfelt need. This is fervent, passionate prayer. Coupled with the laying out of our petitions, there is to be praise. In praising God, we are acknowledging the expression of value or merit of his character. We are commending him, especially as it applies to glorifying God because of his perfections. Worship him – not because of what he does, but because of who he is. Not just to get what we want, but because he is God.

Let petitions and praises shape our worries into prayers…

Our prayers are “shaped” by our petitions and praises – not by our worries. What we express in earnest request and the process of lifting up the one who can meet those requests is really prayer. Our prayers are purposefully “shaped” – and in turn, they shape us. Prayer stems from worship and is based on the passions of our heart, the knowledge of our need, and the challenges of our present limitations.

Letting God know your concerns…

It is not that he doesn’t already know they exist – he just wants to know how we are seeing them, how they are affecting us, what we plan on doing with them. He is all-knowing, but he values our discussion. He is just like a wise counselor – he allows us to talk, interjecting a word of two here and there, all the while directing the discussion and our thoughts toward what will bring revelation of the answer. Any concern that we have occupies a place in our mind and heart that God wants to occupy – so he wants them expressed and then abandoned.

Before you know it…

The answer to our prayers is often upon us without notice. Sometimes it is because we ceased to look for the answer any longer – we became weary in the battle, in the waiting. We turned our focus to other things and just ceased to lay those needs before him any longer. At other times, the answer may come upon us unnoticed because God moves in ways we did not think possible. We planned or schemed the answer one way – he answers in a completely opposite manner, or by means we would not have ever imagined. Still other times it is because we just could not expect the answer that quickly – God acts to provide the answer even before we even know we have the need.

God’s wholeness…

Prayer is an opportunity to exchange our hurt, defect, or lack of soundness for his wholeness. Hurt or injury suggests a lack of wholeness – he brings health. Impairment suggests an inability to function well – he brings order, clarity, and correct functioning.

Everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down…

In the midst of our worrying and fretting – when we feel the most eroded and agitated – we need the settling power of our God. Fretting and worrying both carried the meaning of agitation, rippling, or eroding. These are action words – they make a lasting effect. God comes in and settles us down. Agitation ceases – we are made quiet and orderly again – because the answer has become fixed or resolved. Maybe not seen, but definitely worked out by his plan.

You probably realize that peace settles…it does not come in a dramatic way. It settles upon us just as dust settles gently from the air surrounding us upon the surfaces of all we possess. Dust is often an unseen thing, until it is “built up” in such quantity that we can now write our name on the surface of the object upon which it has settled. God’s peace comes upon us in just such a manner – little by little, until it is substantial enough for us to see his name written in the peace. It impregnates each facet of our being until there is no more agitation, no more chafing, no more constriction. It brings an adjustment that gives balance once again.

Christ displaces worry at the center of your lives…

Worry captivates our thoughts, directs our actions, and influences the outcomes of our life. It takes over central place in our lives. That is why it is so important to cast those worries (in short order) upon God – so that he can be at the center of our lives.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

What is shaping your life - Part I

Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life. (Philippians 4:6-7)

Life carries with it many things, events, people, and circumstances that entrap us in a great deal of time spent in fretful or worrisome behavior. Paul’s writing to the Philippian believers – a city of Romans located in mountains of what we now know as Greece. Philippi did not have a local church – there was no established synagogue for the believers in that community. They met in the homes of believers near the waterfront. Several of the women of the community “hosted” the church meetings in their home; one of which was Lydia. She was known for her large household and dealings in luxury fabrics of the day. The town was filled with unbelieving soldiers of the region – all of whom despised the believers who had embraced the teachings of Jesus and the Jew alike. In the midst of this type of resistance, Paul found a group of women he commends for opening their homes, supporting his work of spreading the gospel, and creating an opportunity for others to come to know Christ.

Paul was imprisoned in Rome for the charges of disturbing the peace. He is still detained under house arrest and could be in that state for up to two years. He relied on the believers in the churches he had visited and founded to continue to send support for him as he awaited his trial. Those in house arrest were not supported by the local government, but had to provide for their every need. In the trying times of detainment, Paul writes to these believing Philippian men and women - don’t fret or worry. His circumstances could have caused him much despair and challenged the very core of his beliefs – yet he continued on in his passionate pursuit of reaching unbelievers for Christ.

Fretting and worrying carry some similar meanings, but each has a meaning uniquely their own. We will examine their meanings. To fret means:

To cause yourself or another to suffer emotional strain – to stretch to the maximum or to injure by overuse, misuse or excessive pressure – there is a sense of force being exerted from the outside, deeply affecting the emotional center of the inside. The pressure can be so significant that it leads to a constricting feeling or pressure.

To eat or gnaw into – fretful behavior has an effect of eating away at the core of our being. It results in emotional distress that affects the very tissues of our body.

To rub, chafe, agitate, or ripple – this is probably one of the most significant views of fretting that we can take away. It causes a rippling effect – one internalized thought, action, or behavior leads to the next. It is as though a quiet pond of still waters is disturbed by the small stone tossed into its center – causing ripples of water to emit from the center of the disturbance, affecting over and over that which surrounds the core of the disturbance. Fretting carries the potential of affecting over and over, and into areas once undisturbed.

To make by wearing away – eroding force that leaves that which was touched changed forever, never to bear the same image again. Fretfulness erodes at the peace of our soul, tearing at the assurance of our beliefs.

Worry has a similar meaning with just a little different twist:

To choke or strangle – that is what worry does to us – it makes us feel like we cannot breathe, like everything that gives us stability in life is just closing in on us, cutting off our life’s breath.

To harass by tearing, biting, or snapping at the throat – in the animal kingdom, the throat is the place of submission or the place of dominion. Animals who want to show they are dominant over another will often “go for the jugular”, attacking the throat of their victim or the one they want to prove they are superior to. Worry places us in a position of submission to that which is getting all of our attention at that moment.

To touch or disturb something repeatedly – coming back over and over to what should probably be left alone anyway. We have a tendency in life to carry forward thoughts that give us much anxiety, rehearsing them repeatedly. Each time we rehearse the thought, it grows in its intensity and its effect over us is intensified.

To assail with rough or aggressive attack or treatment – the word assail carries the meaning of violent blows or words. Worrisome behavior literally assails our inner strength, peace and assurance. It is an aggressive foe that we need to be continuously on guard against.

To subject to persistent or nagging attention or effort – similar to the behavior of being fretful about something, in worry, we have a thought “nagging” at the core of our thoughts, just present enough to “draw us in” and get us thinking in that negative direction once again. Along with this effect, worry has the ability to afflict us with mental distress or agitation of spirit and body. That continual afflicting process soon erodes us in our inner man.

Paul offers a solution – instead of worrisome or fretful behavior…pray. Plain and simple – pray. Rather than expressing it or implying it in our attitude, act on the alternate to this type of behavior - substitute something in its place – prayer. We often allow worry or fretting to have their “wearing” effect long before we let prayer have its “resting” effect. We choose to dwell on the negative thoughts that are niggling in the back of our minds and they soon consume our attention. Paul offers that we are to turn our worries and frets into prayer – simple discussion with God about that which is consuming our attention. Tomorrow, we will discover what Paul describes as the power of prayer. Until then, let God identify what is at the back of your mind - niggling there. Then, in quiet surrender to his touch, begin to let him into those areas of worry. He has great things in store for you.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Generous in love, huge in mercy - Part III

Soak me in your laundry and I’ll come out clean, scrub me and I’ll have a snow-white life. Tune me in to foot-tapping songs, set these once-broken bones to dancing. Don’t look too close for blemishes, give me a clean bill of health. God, make a fresh start in me, shape a Genesis week from the chaos of my life. Don’t throw me out with the trash, or fail to breathe holiness in me. Bring me back from gray exile, put a fresh wind in my sails! Give me a job teaching rebels your ways so the lost can find their way home. Commute my death sentence, God, my salvation God, and I’ll sing anthems to your life-giving ways. Unbutton my lips, dear God, I’ll let loose with your praise. (Psalm 51:7-15)

David had recognized his sin and its devastation in his life.  He had sought the tremendous mercy of his God to forgive what seemed to him to be unforgivable.  Now, he comes in the sorrow of his heart and asks God for a cleansing from that sin that goes so deep that it clears out all signs that it ever had a hold on him.

Soak me in your laundry – David is fully aware of the deeply hidden nature of his sin – the cry of his heart is to be soaked in such a way that every hidden iota of his sin will be completely removed. To soak is to permeate completely - it implies a penetration so as to soften or fill completely. Something that is soaked is fully affected by that which it is immersed in – it gives itself to that which it is exposed to in the soaking process. David had been soaked in guilt – now he cries to be soaked in grace. Fully and completely saturated. Saturation occurs at the point that we can no longer hold anymore. Guilt and shame had been so consuming in his life – now grace and love would take their place. We cannot fully contain God’s grace and love – it saturates us to the point that we “ooze”.

He calls upon the plural name of God – Elohim. The creative, governing, and absolutely sovereign God – the God of creation. The one who has absolute power and authority – even though he had not allowed him that authority in his life over the last year, he is calling out to him now, re-establishing that authority again. David is asking the God of creation to create again in him all that was lost as a result of his sin – have a “Genesis week” in my heart, God.

It is his hope that God will give him fresh wind for the sails of his life. Sin takes the wind out of our sails - grace puts it back into them. Sin buffets our sails, taking us off course - grace billows our sails, creating a smooth, well-directed course. Sin makes it impossible to raise our sails - grace raises the sail for us. His lips had been silent too long, not he pleads with God to unbutton his lips. Sin and shame placed a tight clamp on our lips. There is no praise for God when sin consumes our inner parts. Joy and praise stem from being “unbuttoned” before God - unbuttoned people are exposed people – people with hearts open, spirits yielded.

Going through the motions doesn’t please you, a flawless performance is nothing to you. I learned God-worship when my pride was shattered. Heart-shattered lives ready for love don’t for a moment escape God’s notice. (Psalm 51:16-17)

He had spent the last year merely going thru the motions – giving the impression that all was well on the inside, all the while living with the misery of his sin. David knew the futility of living with a “mask” – he had masked over his sin long enough. Now, he knew the futility of his cover-up and the extreme blessing of his truthful exposure. He says his pride is shattered. God desires those who will worship him in spirit and in truth - this type of worship comes from a heart that has had its pride shattered. That which is shattered is no longer distinguishable as it was in its original form. Pride has many forms – what form does yours take?

Never escape God’s notice - if we don’t want to ever escape his notice, then we need lives deeply affected by the grace and love of God. We need lives ready to receive the love of God – open to the creative work of our sovereign God. Heart-shattered lives are lives deeply impacted at the core of their being.

David exchanged the penalty he deserved, the shame he embraced, and the despair he felt so deeply – moving from a place of feeling like “trash” to embracing himself as the “treasure” God held so close to his heart. Trash is worth very little or even nothing – it is worth “less”. It is inferior, crumbled, broken, debris. Treasure is something of great worth or value. It is something to be held or kept as precious, cherished and prized above anything else. David knew that at that moment, he was moving from a place of worthlessness to a place of embracing his extreme value to a holy God. We would do well to remember the equation: Repentance = Restored Treasure. Our “worth” is directly decreased by our concealment of our sin. Our “value” is directly increased by the exposure of our sin and our willingness to lay it down.

Repentance is opening the door to a “Genesis week work” in which chaos is brought into right order in our lives. He called upon the God of creation to do a work of bringing order out of the chaos of the past year. We would do well to take David’s lead in crying out to the “Genesis” God - the God who delights in using his creative power to re-create within us the wholeness that only mercy and grace can give.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Generous in love, huge in mercy - Part II

Yesterday, we began to explore the road to repentance that David had been on after his sin with Bathsheba.  It had been a road riddled with days and nights of guilty anguish and shame.  Psalm 51 begins with the pleas of his heart for God to give him grace.  Even in the midst of huge sin, terrible internal termoil and sinful wallowing in his shame, he calls out to his God.  David then reveals something quite amazing – he had been conscious of God all the while, even in the midst of his sin, even in the midst of the cover-up, and certainly in the midst of the growing distance between the God of his heart over the past year. Sin may have entered in, but he never lost his consciousness of God - this drove him nuts because he knew God’s view of what he had done. He had sinned – his rebellion now stood daily between him and God and he knew that he stood opposed to God – he had set himself against God and he felt this pressure.

You’re the one…the words of David echo what his heart had known all along.

You’re the One I’ve violated, and you’ve seen it all, seen the full extent of my evil. You have all the facts before you; whatever you decide about me is fair. I’ve been out of step with you for a long time, in the wrong since before I was born. What you’re after is truth from the inside out. Enter me, then, conceive a new, true life. (Ps. 51;4-6)

David had been so consumed with the cover-up of his sin – so as to keep others from knowing him as a sinner. He had to live with the internal humiliation of his sin – shame is a consuming thing that drives us to conceal what God can only fully deal with once it is out in the open. His potential disgrace was masked over, but not hidden from God.

We need to fully understand the sequence of this unmasking of David’s sin - God sends a friend to David at exactly the right time, in exactly the right manner, with exactly the right message that would goad the heart of David and open him to the work of repentance. Nathan came to David at God’s direction – a prophet of the royal court during the reign of David. God is always compassionate toward the sinner – he will not leave the sinner in their self-condemnation. He knows the agony of internalizing sin and he is faithful to provide the exact “tool” we need to open up to his grace – Nathan was such a tool in the hand of God.

You’re the one - David came to the revelation that he had sinned against a holy God. This was more than the taking of another man’s wife – it was the transgression of the law of God. It was the direct “in your face” violation of the “rules of conduct” God had established for his people. He knew the rules – he knew the consequences of violating those rules. He now stands before God, with Nathan as God’s instrument, being exposed for the violation. You’ve seen it all - we work so hard to conceal our sin - yet the “full extent” of our sin is continually before God.

The full value of it stands between us and God, occupying the growing distance that is created as long as it remains “covered up”. The distance is large enough at the point of our sin, but the growth of that distance is multiplied by each act of deliberate cover-up, purposeful ignorance of the standards of conduct that God requires of his children.

David makes an important observation of what life has been like for him over the past year – he says he has been out of step. Sin’s result is that of “being out of step” with God. For two to dance together, there needs to be harmony of movement – singleness of movement that comes because of repeated exposure to the dance of another. Sin is like “stepping on the toes” of our dance partner or “taking the lead” in the dance. David had moved from being “in step” with God to this place of being so significantly “out of step” because he had taken the lead away from God. What an awesome thing it would be to never be familiar with what it means to lead, but to only know the joy and peace of being led.

What you’re after…truth from the inside out - sincere action, developed character, right speech with no distortion or misrepresentation of who or what we are. David had come to the place of realizing that repentance begins on the inside and affects everything from the inside out. He acknowledged that God needed to “enter” him afresh. Repentance’s full effect is never known until we invite God into our concealed parts. He needs full access – but notice that it is not a forceful entrance. David invites him in – he gives him permission to enter – and that entrance is the hope for a new beginning.

Conceive a new, true life - begin again in me what I have so desperately messed up. Bring about in me a new mind, a new understanding, a new spirit - helping me to understand the life you are creating and to embrace it as it is conceived – taking it into my mind and my heart so that I am deeply affected by it.  Let this be the cry of our hearts today.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Generous in love, huge in mercy - Part I

Generous in love- God, give grace! Huge in mercy – wipe out my bad record. Scrub away my guilt, soak out my sins in your laundry. I know how bad I’ve been; my sins are staring me down. (Psalm 51:1-3)

Today, we begin a look into the greatness of God's love and the unending mercies he bestows.  David had gone astray – his heart had chosen his own way - he had entered into an adulterous relationship with Bathsheba in a moment of passion almost one year prior to writing this Psalm. During that time, he had lived the misery of his sin without knowing the freedom of confession and repentance. We often live in the misery of sin much longer than we have to – because we don’t embrace our sin and allow God’s Spirit to deal with ours.  Over the next several days, we will explore the freedom that comes with confession and repentance.

Nearly one year prior, David had stayed behind while all his men went out to war against Rabbah, a town of the Ammonites. Bathsheba was the wife of Uriah, a warrior in the army of David. David fell into an adulterous relationship with her while Uriah fought at Rabbah and then sought to cover it up by bringing Uriah home ahead of all the other troops. He told him to go home to his wife, but Uriah would not enjoy the privileges of home while his brethren were out in battle. He slept at the gate of the palace instead. David’s attempted cover-up of his sin had failed. Now he had to order Uriah to be sent to the front line, in the line of fire, that he might be killed in the line of duty. It was then, believing his cover up of his sin to be complete, that he took Bathsheba to be his wife. She had already conceived a child as a result of their first encounter, so David was desperate to cover-up his affair. Sin makes us desperate – we often will do things that we did not believe possible in order to save face.

David has wallowed in the grief of his sin for these many months. Now, he would call upon the God he knew – the God he should have known to call on much earlier than this. He calls on the God who is generous in love – the God that he knows to have had a forbearing spirit with both his ancestors and himself in the past.

  • A God who is liberal in his giving.  
  • God who is ample in his outpouring of love.
He calls upon this God he knows so well to give grace – that unmerited favor he did not deserve. It is out of what David understands about the heart of God that he calls upon God. He beckons the God that is huge in mercy – immensely merciful, enormously generous, and exceedingly capable in every area where David had proven himself to be exceedingly incapable. He had an awareness of God’s character because he had the privilege of hearing the Word of God proclaimed in the Temple, he had heard the many stories of a miracle-working, merciful, compassionate God. The God who was compassionate to those in distress, willing to show his compassion that resisted punishing even when justice demanded it. He was calling out to the God who had repeatedly been merciful to an undeserving group of people he had chosen from among the other nations to call as his own. Mercy always refers to those who are undeserving of it – David knew he stood as completely undeserving of this mercy – yet he calls.

Scrub away my guilt - the consciousness of my inadequacy to resist sin and the feelings of blame and condemnation that accompany my sin’s deed – scrub it away. The sin David was referring to was multi-faceted – it began as lust, conceived as adultery, took on full-depth as murder and cover-up. Now he is calling upon the God of love and mercy to cancel it, to completely eliminate it. This sin had gone deep into every crevice of David’s being – it needed the hand of God to fully uncover what had become so totally ingrained in his inner man. He calls upon God to separate him from the impurities of his sin - because they taunted him in the stillness of the day, the quietness of the night hours, and the brightness of the noonday. Guilt taunts us – stares us down, jeers at us, challenges us – all the while mocking us in an insulting manner in every attempt to ridicule us. David longed to be free of this type of continual internal insult to his character – to be free of the challenge of his guilt.

God's response of mercy is all that David hopes for - it is what each of us hope for when we cry out in our anguish of guilt.  What is it that you are crying out to God today to forgive and extend his mercy toward?  He stands ready to forgive - he stands ready for our confession of guilt.  He stands ready to embrace.  Reach out.  He is waiting.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The Mind of Christ

So here's what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don't become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You'll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you. (Rom 12:1-2)

At the point of salvation, we receive the mind of Christ.  Many of us struggle with the thoughts that enter our mind and find a place of entertainment there.  We anticipate that we should not have those thoughts now that we are a Christian, and often find ourselves living under some self-imposed condemnation because we find ourselves entertaining impure thoughts.  Oh, don't get me wrong here - God never wants us to think long on those thoughts of anger, those impressions of bitter gossip, or those lustful enticements.  He wants us to learn to not give them room for "entertainment" in our minds.  How do we get to that point?  It is laid out for us in the scripture we looked at today - it is an a continual renewal of our mind - daily and consistently renewing our thought processes.

Most of the time, we learn the "mind of Christ" in our lives through the process of trial and error.  We come up against a thought or impression, act on it and see where it gets us.  If things turn out well, we say we have found the mind of Christ!  If things don't fair too well, we say we "missed the voice of God"!  Amazing, isn't it?  Let's look a little deeper into knowing the mind of Christ.  God shares not only his will for our lives, but he also shares his mind and his purpose.  I call this the "what", the "how", and the "why" of each and every action.  We can easily discern "what" God wants us to do or "what" response he expects of us.  We see it modeled in the lives of other Christians or read of it on the pages of the Scripture.  When it comes to understanding the "how" or the "why" of our actions, we find that a little more difficult to comprehend.

Understanding the ways (the "how") and purposes of our Lord (the "why") come as we have our mind renewed by the power of the Holy Spirit and the regular intake of the Word of God.  The more that I trust God to regenerate my thoughts by the means of his Word and the Holy Spirit, the more I understand his actions and realize how to allow his actions to supersede my own.  When we are struggling with complete dedication to the will and intentions of the Lord, we will not fully embrace a change of thought life that affects our actions.  When we are fully his, we come to know his will and even understand the "how to" of that will.  When we are fully his, we also understand or appreciate the purpose of his will (the why). 

God never expects blind obedience of us - he asks for us to intelligently appreciate and delight in his will.  That is why he gave each of us a mind - so that we could make choices based on what we interpret to be truth in our lives.  We are given the Holy Spirit and the Word of God to expose truth to us - we are given the ability to incorporate that truth through the grace of God.  The Holy Spirit must be the Lord of our minds - in other words, he must be given the right to direct the thoughts, limiting the influences of certain thoughts, and developing the influence of others.  God is calling us to disciplined thinking - pure thinking will do more than any other activity we engage in since all action is a result of what we think!

It is a dangerous thing to have a passive mind - we are each given the ability to think on our own.  When we allow others to do our thinking - planting ideas and then developing those ideas outside of our testing of those ideas against the Word of God - we are setting ourselves up for being deceived.  It is just as dangerous to get all twitter-pated in self-analysis!  Psalm 139:23 calls for God to search us and know our hearts - God does the searching and exposes the weak areas of heart that need his touch.  When our thinking is truly controlled by the Holy Spirit, we move beyond legalism (just doing things we are told are right to do because we are told they are right).  When we are "legalistic" in our actions, we are just doing things because our conscience accuses us when we do wrong.  When we are "Holy Spirit controlled" in our actions, we are moving to a place where our motives will be uncovered (we get at the "why" of our actions).

Our own conscience can only scratch the surface at keeping us on track with our actions - it is flawed by the sin of our past and the degree of influence it has submitted to through those we consider to be authorities in our lives.  The Holy Spirit can get at the roots of our actions.  In our own perception of our actions, we just see that we have done something wrong.  In the perception of the Holy Spirit, we see the root of the wrong and that can lead us to repentance.  Legal conviction (conscience) brings us to the point of confession, but Holy Spirit conviction brings us to the place of repentance.

God's goal is to develop the best in each of us.  He does that by helping us to know the WHAT, the HOW, and the WHY of every action.  We know these by the action of the Holy Spirit in our lives and the influence of the Word engrafted into our minds.  Let the Holy Spirit be Lord of your mind.  As you do, you will move beyond the WHAT and HOW of your action to the place you understand the WHY.  In so doing, you will be opened to renewal of your mind and transformation of your actions.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Separated Lives

Don't become partners with those who reject God. How can you make a partnership out of right and wrong? That's not partnership; that's war. Is light best friends with dark? Does Christ go strolling with the Devil? Do trust and mistrust hold hands? Who would think of setting up pagan idols in God's holy Temple? But that is exactly what we are, each of us a temple in whom God lives. God himself put it this way: "I'll live in them, move into them; I'll be their God and they'll be my people. So leave the corruption and compromise; leave it for good," says God. "Don't link up with those who will pollute you. I want you all for myself. I'll be a Father to you; you'll be sons and daughters to me." The Word of the Master, God. With promises like this to pull us on, dear friends, let's make a clean break with everything that defiles or distracts us, both within and without. Let's make our entire lives fit and holy temples for the worship of God. (2 Cor. 6:14-7:1)

This is rather a long passage, but I'd like to explore just four simple thoughts with you from this section of Scripture.  The intention of this portion of Corinthians is a call to separation - a call to live in such a way that those around us see the difference God has made in our lives.  What is involved in separation? 

First, this passage points us toward the fact that we cannot team up with unbelievers and still live separated lives.  Fellowship is a term that indicates companionship - becoming a matching member with another.  In other words, it is a place of activity or interest where we experience the same involvements.  When we "pair up" with unbelievers in such a manner, it is not uncommon that the activity that we pursue is not the same as it is when we are paired up in fellowship with other believers.  If we find that our "perfect match" for our interests and experiences is with unbelievers, then we should ask God to begin the work of creating a desire within us for a different "match".  God's desire is not that we DON'T associate with unbelievers, but that we do not embrace their fellowship as our "perfect match" for our life experiences.

Second, Paul describes an attitude of spirit where we become partners with wickedness - we commune with the enemy.  A partner is a partaker in all that is produced.  Paul warns against developing relationships with unbelievers in which deep personal intimacies are shared - where we develop such a dependence on the other for the sharing of these types of intimacies.  Someone who is not in fellowship with God cannot have the same perspective on circumstances as one who is.  When we choose to close ourselves up to deep, intimate fellowship with other believers and open ourselves up to this type of relationship with unbelievers, we are choosing to cooperate or participate in a lifestyle that is not pleasing to God.  We need to recognize that we become like that which we cooperate with the most.

Third, Paul describes a condition in which we experience a lack of harmony when we try to walk both sides of the fence.  In other words, we are trying to live the best of both worlds - fellowship with God and with unbelievers.  Harmony is an agreement of parts - it produces a tranquility between the two.  There is no agreement that can be formed between the way of right living and the choices of the world.  The world's path will never produce peace or tranquility in our inner man - in fact, it will do just the opposite. 

Fourth, it is the writer's intent that we see that Satan and God cannot abide in unity - there is no union between the two that can produce anything of value or worth.  God's ways are not the ways of our flesh.  The working of God's Spirit in our lives points out areas of our lives that are aligned with the world - in turn, God asks that we turn away from that alignment and toward him. 

So, we see that God's warnings are pretty clear about our associations, our pursuits, and our passions.  There is not to be any mixture of the things of the Spirit with the things of this world.  If we allow this type of purification process within us, there are some promises contained in this Scripture that we need to embrace, as well.  God provides a series of five "I will's" in this passage that we might gloss over in a quick survey of the passage.  Here they are:
  1. I will live in you - he will take up residence in us.  This implies a permanence of his presence, not just an occasionally passing through, but an occupation of the one who is following him.  God will exercise his legal right to inhabit what he owns and if he does occupy us, then there is no room for any darkness to coexist.
  2. I will walk among you - not only resident in us, but strolling within.  This implies a leisurely pace in which an owner might stroll his land, looking intently for a profit from his investment.  God looks for the fruit of his Spirit to be produced where he dwells - this is a return on the investment he has made in us.
  3. I will be their God - Elohim (the creative God).  Elohim is the one who possesses absolute power and authority.  He is the God of covenant relationship - we can count on him - his promises are binding.
  4. I will welcome you - accepting us with great pleasure into his presence and into his companionship. 
  5. I will be your Father - as Father, he is at the core of all that originates from our lives.
Some pretty awesome promises, huh?  Our part in this process of separation is to cleanse ourselves from all that defiles our body or soul - to free ourselves from that which pollutes or hinders our growth.  That is why Paul says we cannot have fellowship (deep, intimate relationship) with unbelievers.  There is difficulty separating ourselves from that which hinders our growth in these types of intimate relationships.  As we separate ourselves, we find that it is work to move toward purity.  Don't ever think it will be an easy ride - there are tough choices to be made.  There will be opportunities to embrace a few works of the flesh right alongside the works of the Spirit - but don't do it!  As Paul so aptly describes it - make a clean break of all that defiles!  The end result is that we will be temples "fit" for the indwelling of our God.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Who really knows you? - Part II

For who do you know that really knows you, knows your heart? And even if they did, is there anything they would discover in you that you could take credit for? Isn’t everything you have and everything you are sheer gifts from God? So what’s the point of all this comparing and competing? You already have all you need. You already have more access to God than you can handle. (I Cor. 4:7-8)

Scripture bears witness to the fact that even the most gifted of individuals don’t start out feeling that they possess the gifting or talents they need to accomplish that which is laid out before them. If we just take Moses as an example, we can see this struggle clearly in his original struggle with God when he was called to lead the people of Israel out of Egypt into the Promised Land. He argued with God that he was not a good leader, nor could he speak eloquently enough to inspire them to follow his lead. At first, I even believe that he thought he’d have to single-handedly deliver the people in his own might. He bantered back and forth with God about the insurmountable task of getting Israel out of Egypt. Even after God had miraculously shown himself mighty on behalf of Moses, backing him up with tremendous signs and wonders in the courts of Pharaoh, Moses still needed lots of props from God to go on with God’s purposes for his life.

Isn’t it amazing how much we desire for God to use us, and then when he begins to use us, drawing out from us significant gifts he has placed deep within us, that we draw back in fear and disbelief? The first time I was asked to deliver a message publicly to my Bible College class, I remember losing sleep over the exact words that I thought needed to be shared. I polished that message to the letter, reviewing it for scriptural accuracy, ensuring that each verse was thoroughly outlined and elaborated on. On the morning I was set to deliver that message, I remember my deep emotional struggle with fear as I walked to the podium, opened my Bible and pulled out my neatly written notes. I chuckle now to remember the mannerisms I used in delivering the message. I’d imitated what I’d seen in the delivery style of other preachers and teachers, using hand gestures, and even grabbing the sides of the podium and leaning into the crowd. I’d like to tell you that the outcome was extremely positive, with God coming in to “back me up” with tremendous signs and wonders, but exactly the opposite was true. In fact, I bombed! The message was good enough, but the message seemed to fall on deaf ears (or so I imagined). There was no response to the altar call, no acknowledgement that the message had rung true in the hearts of my hearers. I was so certain just 24 hours prior to that time that God had given me that message for that group, but now wondered if I’d been called to teach or preach at all.

It took God nearly two weeks to bring me back to task again. In those two weeks, I had come to discover that I had a problem relying on him to do what I was not capable of doing in myself. You see, the message was right, the audience was right, the intended result was correct, but the timing was not. I had not been sensitive to the leading of the Spirit and I was in deep emotional conflict because I took it upon myself to do the work of the Spirit. I had delivered a message speaking deeply to the apathy of heart of some of my fellow classmates without the anointing of God’s love, mercy and grace upon that message. I was like Moses, who in seeing the need to deliver the Israelites from their slavery, took up a sword and chose to kill the Egyptian task-master - all in his own ability. If you don’t know the rest of the story, he spent a great deal of time alone on the backside of the desert after that! As you can probably imagine, so did I. When I finally emerged from the “desert” and was given the opportunity to begin to speak publicly again, I was filled with fear.

It took many years for God to change my reliance on self to bring forth a teaching. I was always trying to measure up to others around me – comparing myself to the success of others as a measurement of my own success in teaching. I needed the compliments of my hearers to acknowledge that I had not gone too far or that I was indeed “right on” in my message. I looked for confirmation from them, not God.

It wasn’t until God finally got through my hard coat of self-reliance that I began to see the power of the anointing of God on a message. I was working with the youth group of a local church as one of the youth sponsors. I was approached by the youth pastor to be part of a panel of adults who would be asked candid questions by the youth during an “all-nighter” event at the church. The purpose of the panel discussion was to allow the youth to connect with us, to ask tough questions that they would not have any other venue for asking, and then for us to pour into their lives the “wealth and wisdom” that God had worked into ours. As the microphone came to me, the young girl asked what I thought about premarital sexual relations. All eyes were on me. The youth pastor and his wife were nervously shifting in their seats and I think I even saw him begin to move to the platform to deflect that question. I remember feeling the anointing of God so strongly on me as I began to share. For the next five minutes or so, no one spoke, no one moved; everyone sat quietly listening intently to what God allowed to flow out from me. I am unable to recount all that came forth that evening, but I can tell you this – lives were impacted. I had allowed God to take over and he had come through.

It was exactly as Paul states in this passage we’ve considered today: “Isn’t everything you have and everything you are sheer gifts from God?” The testimony I had to share that night and the ability to do it was directly a result of God’s gifting in my life. Nothing more, nothing less. The testimony you have to share and the ability to share it is simply a direct result of God’s Spirit moving in the core of your inner man. The talents you bring into the workplace, the gifts with which you perform your daily tasks, and the abilities you manifest in accomplishing the acts of service you are engaged in are a direct result of his grace, mercy and love in your lives. Never second-guess God. Never be content relying on what you think you can do yourself. Never limit his flow. He has much more for you than you could possibly imagine. Give God your heart, your mind and your soul – he’ll do the rest.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Who really knows you? - Part I

For who do you know that really knows you, knows your heart? And even if they did, is there anything they would discover in you that you could take credit for? Isn’t everything you have and everything you are sheer gifts from God? So what’s the point of all this comparing and competing? You already have all you need. You already have more access to God than you can handle. (I Cor. 4:7-8)

What a searching question this passage presents to us: “Who really knows our heart?” I imagine that there are those that we’d say come close to really “knowing” us, but do they really? Do they know the intimate workings of our mind, see the inner challenges of daily decisions that we make, or understand the pull of our self-nature in every opportunity for compromise that presents itself to us? Not likely. There are those who we confide in, but even in the deepest of relationships, we don’t always share ourselves completely, with full transparency in every area of our being.

Paul knew the challenges faced by the believer in understanding and appreciating the unique character qualities and talents bestowed in each created being. He knew well the tendencies of human nature to engage in comparing one’s own talents and abilities to those of another. The tendency of our nature is to zero in on some area of performance in the life of another and then to see if we “measure up” to that performance level – in areas that are spiritual, material, physical, or relational.

The concept of “wanting what the Jones’ have” is not a new concept to the 21st century. It has been a challenge for as long as man has walked this earth. Even in the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve were challenged by the fact that they felt God was keeping something from them in forbidding them to partake of the two trees in the Garden. They wanted what they did not possess right now and were willing to pursue it, regardless of the cost.

Paul’s challenge goes a little deeper though. He points out with absolute clarity that everything we have and everything we are is completely a gift of God in our lives. We often claim credit for our accomplishments, focusing attention on our ability or talent, all the while completely missing the fact that God was the creator and bestower of that talent in the first place. Without the gifting God places in our inner man, we would fall short of the ability required to accomplish the very thing we so flippantly take credit for.

I am amazed by the frequency with which I am faced with comments from fellow believers that focus on not having any talents or gifts in their lives. They see others leading worship, directing children’s church programs, dynamically preaching the Word of God, or passionately reaching out to the lives of others and compare their seemingly “insignificant” accomplishments to those they see around them. In turn, they conclude that they are not “gifted” or “talented” because they do not accomplish these same things or walk in the same manner that they have observed in others. Paul knows the futility of this type of comparison and warns us against its destructiveness. He is very clear: “You already have all you need.” Could it be that easy? If Paul’s assertion is correct, then it is really a matter of us not realizing that the unique way we have been created, including the uniqueness of our personality, make up something of significant usefulness in the hands of a mighty God.

Tomorrow, we will look at God's desire to use us.  Until then, see what God will use you to do today!

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Encouragement - we all need more of it!

Encouragement is something we all need more of – we just don’t get enough of it in our daily contacts. In fact, most of us struggle with discouragement on a regular basis, yearning for just one sign or word of encouragement to bolster us along. Encouragement is at the root of our self-worth (what gives us the feeling that we have a strong, personal worth). It is what gives us a sense of dignity and respect. As one of God’s kids, we have a sense of being “grounded” in his unconditional love, and that gives us a sense of encouragement even when our actions, personal character flaws, or lack of success in accomplishments seems to be pulling us down.

That's exactly what Jesus did. He didn't make it easy for himself by avoiding people's troubles, but waded right in and helped out. "I took on the troubles of the troubled," is the way Scripture puts it. Even if it was written in Scripture long ago, you can be sure it's written for us. God wants the combination of his steady, constant calling and warm, personal counsel in Scripture to come to characterize us, keeping us alert for whatever he will do next. May our dependably steady and warmly personal God develop maturity in you so that you get along with each other as well as Jesus gets along with us all. Then we'll be a choir—not our voices only, but our very lives singing in harmony in a stunning anthem to the God and Father of our Master Jesus!  (Romans 15:3-5)

A long time ago, I heard a preacher deliver a sermon that has stuck with me for all these years. The crux of the sermon was this: Your past and present need not continue into your future. Now, don’t get all wigged out on me like you’ve never heard this before – in fact, you have seen this as a theme of every Bible story you have read. The past and present of Job’s horrific life experiences did not need to continue into his future. The past and present of David’s catastrophic shame over his sinful actions did not need to continue into his future. The past and present of Peter’s impetuous failures did not need to continue into his future.  The list could go on and on.

Encouragement is simply hope - hope that not only CAN God do what needs to be done in your life, but that he WILL do it! His love for us is unconditional and absolute – it will not change over time or be meted out in proportion to our behavior. It is steadfast even in the midst of our wavering. He loves us first! We don’t even have to show him we love him first in order to be a beneficiary of his great love – he loves us and draws us – now, I find that encouraging! God is there when we need him – even in the midst of the most difficult times. In fact, he uses those difficulties to draw us closer to his loving heart and to help our love for him to grow deeper.

At times, we are facing tough circumstances – things we label as punishment in our lives. As a child of God, we are not subject to punishment because of our negative behavior. In fact, we are given the opportunity for corrective action – being taught by the Holy Spirit and the truth revealed in the Word in order to correct the behavior and walk away from it in a freedom of spirit. In the circumstances of life, God is about the work of perfecting us through ongoing opportunities for learning of his great love. Even in the times we need to seek him for his great forgiveness, we can be encouraged. He forgives the old and gives the new – we call this an exchanged nature. He forgets the past and focuses on the future – we call this a fresh start.

Regardless where you find yourself today – God’s forgiveness is extended to you. Your part is to see your need for forgiveness and to turn to God to receive it. His part is to extend his grace, embrace us in his tender arms, and then lead us into the path of his love. Be encouraged! God’s love is enough to make the sorrow and shame of the past and the present a thing we need not carry into our future! Embrace his love and enjoy his encouragement.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Continual Building - Part II

On the fourteenth day of the first month, the exiles celebrated the Passover. All the priests and Levites had purified themselves – all, no exceptions. They were all ritually clean. The Levites slaughtered the Passover Lamb for the exiles, their brother priests, and themselves. Then the Israelites who had returned from exile, along with everyone who had removed themselves from the defilements of the nations to join them and seek God, the God of Israel, at the Passover. With great joy they celebrated the Feast of Unleavened Bread for seven days. God had plunged them into a sea of joy; he had changed the mind of the king of Assyria to back them in rebuilding the Temple of God, the God of Israel. (Ezra 6:19-22)

The Temple of God is finally finished.  The people who had returned to Jerusalem would celebrate – and not in some small fashion – they would throw a huge celebration, complete with animal sacrifice, exuberant praise, and all the ritual they could muster. Yet, even though the sacrifices were many, they did not match what had once been offered by Solomon at the completion of the original Temple in Jerusalem. According to the scriptural account of the first dedication of the Temple, Solomon and the entire congregation of Israel sacrificed so many sheep and cattle that no one could keep track of the numbers offered (2 Chr. 5:6). Another account of the sacrifices that continued during that first dedication service revealed that 22,000 bulls and 120,000 sheep were offered (2 Chr. 7:5) - and that was just the bulls and the sheep!

At the first dedication, God honored his people by showing his great favor toward their offerings and praise as he sent lightning from heaven to consume the sacrifices, filling the Temple with his glory. The glory of God was so powerful that the priests could not stand to worship – they fell on their knees, bowed to God, and worshipped thankfully in his presence (2 Chr. 7:1-3).  Wow!  What a service that would be!  Not being able to stand in the presence of our God because his presence was so evident!

They offered the sin offering – twelve male goats – one for each tribe. This consisted of the offering being killed before the altar and its blood being placed on the horns of the altar. The fat of this offering was then burned. The flesh and the skin of the animal were then removed from the Temple, and burned outside. The purpose of the offering was to “cover over” any actions on the part of the people that were done unconsciously. It was not for deliberate rebellion against God. The one making this offering would usually lay his hands on the head of the ram and designate it as a substitution offering.
This celebration we see at the "re-dedication" of the Temple paled in comparison to the first, right down to the glory of God filling the Temple. There is no account here of the glory inhabiting the rebuilt Temple as it had during the time of Solomon. Ten tribes of Israel remained in exile. The two tribes that had returned could only offer sacrifices on their behalf, hoping for the best for their brothers and sisters still in distant lands. They offered the sin offering – twelve he-goats – one for each tribe of Israel. Then they set up the orders of priests who would attend to the work of “running” the Temple on a daily basis. Theirs would be the work of keeping the candles trimmed, oil in the lamps, sacrifices offered. As all seemed to be in order, they now “party” in God’s courts.
Nisan was considered to be the first month of the year for the Jew. It was a time of feasts and celebrations each year. Passover served as a reminder of all that God had done in delivering them from Egypt and would also carry meaning to these exiles upon their return to their homeland. The Feast of Unleavened Bread was a memorial of the very quick exodus from Egypt – they were instructed by God to make bread without leaven, not allowing time for the bread to rise, as their exit was to be quick and without encumbrances.

It is also important to note that all the priests and Levites were involved in this time of celebration – all had made themselves ceremonially clean. Even those who had previously been unable to prove their lineage when leaving their exile were now involved in the worship and celebration of these great feasts. The emphasis shifted from “lineage” to their commitment to their God. Those who would commit to the work were honored to be a participant in the celebration.

Passover was kept in the month of April and began on the fourteenth day of the month. Unleavened Bread began one day into the Passover week. The feasts were always viewed as times of memorial – remembering all God had provided for them. Every male Jew would have been expected to celebrate these feasts – but they would have to make themselves ceremonially clean prior to participating. Each person who came to celebrate the feasts was to come with an offering – no one was to show up empty handed. The offerings would be offered during the seven days that they ate the unleavened bread. They began and ended the feast with a Sabbath – a day of rest. Their focus or attention of spirit and mind was to be on God, not the work they would perform with their hands.

We have a great responsibility to acknowledge the goodness of our God in making provision for us. These men were to “bring as they could manage” – with an emphasis on giving as generously as their God had given to them. The blessings of God in their lives were physical, spiritual, and emotional. The offerings were to reflect the grace of God in bestowing these great gifts. 

We are each "restored" temples - having been restored by the work of the cross and the rebuilding of our character by the work of the skilled craftsman, the Holy Spirit.  As we end our look into this book of Ezra today, let us remember that the enemy of our soul repeatedly resists this rebuilding work.  As the various stages of spiritual renewal take place in our lives, let us offer what we have in our hands - God never asks for more than that.  He looks for us to bring our talents, our abilities, and our willingness to him.  He does the rest.  Some of us think we have nothing to bring in service to our king - indeed, we have more than we imagine.  Open your heart to his work of restoration, your hands to his works of service, and see the tremendous work of his Spirit in your life.  The filling of the Temple with the presence of our God awaits!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Continual Building - Part I

So the leaders of the Jews continued to build, the work went well under the preaching of the prophets Haggai and Zechariah son of Iddo. They completed the rebuilding under orders of the God of Israel and authorization by Cyrus, Darius, and Artaxerxes, kings of Persia. The Temple was completed on the third day of the month Adar in the sixth year of the reign of King Darius. And then the Israelites celebrated – priests, Levites, every last exile, exuberantly celebrated the dedication of the Temple of God. At the dedication of this Temple of God, the sacrificed a hundred bulls, two hundred rams, and four hundred lambs – and, as an Absolution-Offering for all Israel, twelve he-goats, one for each of the twelve tribes of Israel. They placed the priests in their divisions and the Levites in their places for the service of God at Jerusalem- all as written out in the Book of Moses. (Ezra 6:14-18)

The project of rebuilding the temple had begun during the reign of Cyrus, king of Persia, and now continued under his successors, kings Darius and Artaxerxes. Both of these kings continued to show favor to Judah in the rebuilding efforts at Jerusalem. They backed up their support with official decrees, the sending of exiled Jews back into their land, and the provision of materials or finances to support the work.

Haggai and Zechariah were two prophets of Judah. Haggai was one of the Jews that returned to Judah with the company of builders. He was likely born in exile and was around seventy when he began his work of prophesying. His messages were few, but the people did what he directed. It was Haggai that redirected the Jews in their rebuilding effort –they had allowed the Temple to remain unfinished for a period almost eighteen years. They had begun with such enthusiasm, but had settled into the comfort of being back in their own land and had grown complacent in their efforts to finish the work. He challenged them to begin the work of rebuilding the Temple, and focus less of building houses, farms, and places of business. Sometimes, it is not the voice we hear most often that carries the words that will reignite our passion - it may be the voice we hear only once, or infrequently enough that it carries great meaning when it is heard.

Zechariah was of a priestly heritage, but probably born in Babylon. He was also one of the exiles to return to Jerusalem to begin the rebuilding work. He began to prophesy a little after Haggai, focusing on the promise of a restored center of worship for the people of Judah.  His was a voice more frequently heard by the nation, but a voice that gave solid and committed direction in the rebuilding effort.  We need this kind of "voice" in our daily walk - speaking words of challenge that keep us on focus and call us back to task when we begin to waver a little.

Now we come to the place where the Temple was finally finished.  It is the month of Adar – the twelfth month of the Jewish calendar. This equates to what we presently know as late February and early March. A project that should have taken just a few years of diligent work was finally finished after years of wasted time. Ever seem to you like what begins as just a little work in your life - perhaps an area of your character that is just a "little" marred by sin - and before long, you come to a recognition that the "little" work is a huge project with many, many rooms that need "restoration"?  Such was probably the case in Jerusalem - the work did not seem insurmountable when they first determined to come back to Jerusalem.  Over the course of days, weeks, and years, the uncovering of one area of ruin just exposed another.  In time, the "mess" they encountered seemed insurmountable.

When we are faced with insurmountable issues, it is easy to side-step - to get focused on another task that will promise quicker fulfillment.  This is another tactic of the enemy of our lives.  He gets us "off task" and onto something else because he knows the spiritual and emotional strength that will begin to take form in us if God goes about the work of restoration he desires to do.  The enemy "affords" us opportunities to focus on other things - they may even have some spiritual qualities - in order to distract us from what will give us strength of character, defenses against his future attacks.

Never grow weary in well-doing.  This is a quote from scripture that I have always thought referred to my attitude toward my fellow believers - just keep doing well toward them.  But, if we see it in light of what we have just explored about our enemy's tactics, we can see that the enemy of our soul wants nothing more than to distract us from what we have put our hearts and souls into - to get us off task, weary from the intensity of the Lord's work in our lives.  Don't grow weary, my friend.  Don't get distracted.  Stay focused.  Stay on task.  See what the work of "continually building" will produce in your life.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Old Enemies - Part II

Understanding the tactics the enemy of our soul uses to keep us from growing in the grace we have been given in our walk with Christ can keep us from believing his lies and attending to his voice.  As we look at the tactics of the enemy, we can gain some insight into the methods we should use to resist.  By definition, a tactic is the awareness of our every movement, so as to form strategies to make that movement impossible.  The purpose of any enemy's tactics is to quickly dispose of the forces he opposes.  Such is the case with the enemy of our soul - he wants to destroy the grace we have been given, bringing us down into the pit of sin and shame he lures us toward.

The main tactic we saw outlined in yesterday's passage of Scripture from Ezra that their enemy used was sthat of “beating down the morale of the people”. We often think of morale as nothing more than the state of well-being that we enjoy when we have a sense of common purpose or confidence in our circumstances. Morale carries many meanings, but probably one of the most significant meanings we need to see is that of moral principles, teaching, or conduct.

A principle puts us under some obligation in our lives – it defines for us the conduct or behavior we exhibit. The people of God are placed under moral obligation to live according to the standards and teachings he has outlined for the safety of our daily walk - they are outlined for us in the Bible. Our conduct is affected by these standards and teachings – they impact the core of our being; they become the basis of our decisions; they challenge our perspective in every situation.

If the enemy of our soul can beat us down in the area of our moral conduct, causing us to compromise our principled living, then he has nothing to fear by our presence in his midst. Therefore, he is relentless in his efforts to beat us down – to repeatedly strike in the areas of our weakest link. He repeatedly delivers the blows in an effort to dislodge us from our standing in God – seeking to bring fatigue and exhaustion. In a fatigued or exhausted state, he knows our ability to resist his blows are lowered – we become more likely to become confused, sapped of that which gives us purpose, and stalled in our forward progress toward God’s finished work within us. His is not a battle without purpose – his are not the blows that simply graze us. His is a battle of oppressive magnitude that begins with the simplicity of words aptly spoken in times of our greatest exhaustion or struggle.

Never let yourself be duped by the words of the enemy – recognize that they are specifically chosen to counter all that God is doing within your life. They are words of “power” only when we give them “power over us”. They are words he designs to affect our conduct – first by entering into our minds, then by contaminating the moral character of our hearts, and ultimately stalling the moral basis of our conduct.

The enemy is never threatened by our “presence” - he is only threatened by our conduct. A heart that is truly touched by the hand of God is a challenge to the complacency of the enemy. That holy center which God rebuilds within us becomes a significant threat to the morally bankrupt surrounding us. We can expect their resistance – but we do not need to succumb to the power of their words. Keep God’s Word first in your mind and the words of the enemy will not be able to derail the work he is doing deep within your character.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Old Enemies - Part I

Old enemies of Judah and Benjamin heard that the exiles were building The Temple of the GOD of Israel. They came to Zerubbabel and the family heads and said, “We’ll help you build. We worship our God the same as you. We’ve been offering sacrifices to him since Esarhaddon king of Assyria brought us here. Zerubbabel, Jeshua, and the rest of the family heads said to them, “Nothing doing. Building the Temple of our God is not the same thing to you as to us. We alone will build for the GOD of Israel. We’re the ones King Cyrus of Persia commanded to do it.” So these people started beating down the morale of the people of Judah, harassing them as they built. They even hired propagandists to sap their resolve. They kept this up for about fifteen years, throughout the lifetime of Cyrus king of Persia and on into the reign of Darius king of Persia. In fact, in the reign of Xerxes, at the beginning of his reign, they wrote an accusation against those living in Judah and Jerusalem. (Ezra 4:1-7)

It never takes long for the old enemies of our lives to hear about the work of God within our midst. Their response is often one of resistance to the things of God – whether it is out of envy or fear. The enemies of our soul are never content to see our forward progress or to see new foundations of growth built in our lives. Their response to assist us in some way is often nothing more than a smoke screen to entice us into allowing the old way of living into our new way of living – infecting the new with that which is not pure or holy.

The offer is to help with the building. The premise of their offer is that they worship the same God that the Jewish people do – this had become their “custom” since entering the land under the rule of King Esarhaddon. It was not uncommon for the people of that day to just “adopt” the traditions of worship in the land to which they were exiled. The exiled people never really converted to the true heart worship of the God of Israel – theirs was a lip service, a worship of convenience, a religious pursuit of no heart value. Therefore, their offer to assist in the rebuilding was not from a heart moved upon by the passion of seeing God’s name lifted high, nor his people rightly restored into fellowship with their God. These were men and women that served any god of the land – possibly even all the gods of the land. They had no singleness of worship.

The enemy of our soul knows the value of religious pursuit without any change of heart toward the God we serve. He knows that religion binds – relationship frees. The tactics he uses is to dupe us into believing that all worship is the same – that no difference exists between the one true God and the gods of this world. If he is successful in duping us into this mindset, he is safe in the stand he has in our lives. These people did not see the passion of heart that drove the Israelite in their pursuit of this rebuilding work. They did not fully appreciate the purpose with which the Jew sought restoration. They simply acknowledged that the work was good and they wanted to be on the work crews so they could say they “belonged” as part of the work.

We cannot lose sight of the first words of this passage – they were old enemies. Not just people that happened upon this rebuilding effort, but people who had actually stood in opposition to the Israelite nation in the past. Oftentimes, our worst enemies are those that continue to resurface, presenting fresh resistance each time. As the old enemies arise to oppose the work they had begun, the exiles that had returned from Persia may have felt that a simple “turning away” of the offer of help was enough. This may be the response of our hearts when the “old enemies” of our lives come across our paths, holding out enticing offers of assist. We may think we know how to resist them and even think we can dismiss them. Yet, as so often is the case, the enemies of our soul often do not take our first “no” as an answer they will submit to. They continue to oppose us, attempting to weasel their way into our lives again and again.

It is important to note here that the people knew that the rebuilding of the temple was not the same thing to these old enemies as it was to them – they understood the significance of fellowship with their God, the enjoyment of the presence of the God of Israel in their midst. These old enemies could only relate to what they had heard about God – theirs was not a personal, intimate knowledge of God. Often, our old enemy presents what appears to be God-worship on the surface, but is actually something quite short of the intimate fellowship in the presence of God that is available to those who abandon to God with their full heart, soul, and mind.  What tactics is the enemy of your soul using to entice you to allow him into the rebuilding effort of your life?  Tomorrow, we will explore some of the tactics the enemy uses to entice us into believing his intentions are pure.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Not yet finished

Tattanai was governor of the land beyond the Euphrates at this time. Tattenai, Shethar-Bozenai, and their associates came to the Israelites and asked, “Who issued you a permit to rebuild this Temple and restore it to use?” Then we told them the names of the men responsible for this construction work. But God had his eye on the leaders of the Jews, and the work wasn’t stopped until a report could reach Darius and an official reply be returned. (Ezra 5:3-5)

Whenever God’s people begin to do something for God, they become objects of the curiosity of those around them. The leaders were challenged to provide their “building permits” – not so much because the local authorities wanted to ensure safety in the reconstruction work, but because they did not want any organized religion to be at work without the express permission of the governing officials. The records of Israel's past successes would probably have given an accurate description of the capabilities of the nation of Israel when they were all together, moving in a common focus. The concern of local officials may have come from their awareness of the past successful military campaigns waged by Israel’s armies and they may have wanted to ensure that they did not have the ability to gather enough men to form a resistance to the local authorities.

Regardless of the reason for the request to provide proof of their permits to build, Israel assures the local authorities that a search of the records will show that they indeed were acting on the authority of the highest leader of the land. The report to Darius of the work of the Israelites is simply a recap of what the leaders of Israel had provided to them upon asking for the permits. They now seek to verify the permission given to the Israelites to rebuild and to assemble in Jerusalem.

Ezra provided what evidence he had to settle the question of what permission had been given – he explained about the royal treasuries being emptied of the original implements of worship that belonged in the temple of God in Jerusalem. He probably hoped this would stand as sufficient proof that the work was indeed sanctioned by the highest leader of the land. Yet, even with this compelling evidence, Tattenai is not satisfied. He commissions a check of the royal registries to ensure that the work was indeed legally authorized.

Once they were questioned, the Israelites were probably a little concerned that their permission to continue the work would be withdrawn, especially with the change in leadership from Cyrus to Darius as the years had passed since their return to Jerusalem. They exaggerate their work slightly in their response to the local governor when they state that they had been working all these years to complete the project. For some reason, although it is not provided to us in scripture, they lie about their efforts – stating that they had been working when they had indeed ceased the labors for many years, enjoying the freedom of being in their own land again.

After all these years, the temple stood unfinished. If we were to be honest, there are probably projects in our own lives that have been begun with such fervor that now lay unfinished – perhaps even projects that our Lord has commissioned.  Maybe they have become a little too routine for us (like daily Bible study or time in worship).  Maybe we have just lost our motivation because the task just seems to be taking way too long to see it to completion.  It is human nature to be distracted – either because of disinterest, some form of simple defeat, or a sense of opposition to the work being done.

Israel just got a little distracted. Now they were back on course and were making headway with the task they had been commissioned to perform. Getting back on course is often a difficult task – either because of our overwhelming sense of guilt about stopping in the first place, or because the task no longer carries the same degree of enthusiastic commitment that it did when we first began. Regardless of the reason for our procrastination in “beginning again” in the work that God has commissioned in our lives, it is certain that we also face opposition of the enemy of our soul. He wants nothing more than to have the work God commissions to lie in a state of unfinished disarray in our lives.

It is important to remember that each new beginning is not something that occurs out of our own self-inspired motivation. Even the motivation to start again comes from a faithful God who does not want us to falter in our walk. He gives fresh starts over and over again – creating again a deep sense of passion toward the work he has called us to in our lives.  What is God asking you to "begin again" in your life?  Perhaps today is the day of a fresh beginning.  Set your hand to the work that needs to be completed and see what beauty God will bring out of those first steps.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Start Again - Part II

Zechariah was a minor prophet during the time of challenge in much the same manner that Haggai, the minor prophet, was faithful to bring the message he had been given by God. He came alongside Haggai in the deliverance of a similar message of challenge to the Jews in the land, but with a different twist. While Haggai focused on calling the people back to the work of rebuilding, Zechariah delivered the message calling the people back to rightly exalting God in the land of their promise.

The people of Judah and Israel had lost their passion for serving God. In their eyes, their God had been publicly disgraced by mighty armies of conquering kings, his reputation was laid in ruins alongside the ruins of the Temple. Zechariah's message made it clear that this was not the case – God’s reputation was indeed in ruins, not because of the conquering armies of mighty kings, but because of the sinfulness of his chosen people. His challenge to the people: “Come back to me and I’ll come back to you.” (Zechariah 1:2-3)

His was a simple message, but one that can be the hardest to hear for the one whose heart has been hardened by “putting off” the things of God and the pursuit of those things that minister to our self-man. As we look deeper into the message brought by Zechariah, we see the truly telling attitude that can so easily permeate our churches today: “You’re interested in religion, I’m interested in people.” (Zechariah 7:6)

God was making it clear that the Temple was not being rebuilt to simply restore religious worship to the nation, but to provide a means of truly connecting his people to him once again. To the Jew, the Temple was an “animate” connection with God – just as meeting in a house of worship in our local community can be the same to us. It was more than four walls, a roof and a pulpit – it was a symbol of strength, a place of gathering, and a place of refreshing.

Although eighteen years had passed and the hearts of his people had been swayed by the pressures of the forces around them, God had not forgotten his people. The message of hope rings clearly through Zechariah:

GOD-of-the-Angel-Armies will step in and take care of his flock, the people of Judah. He’ll revive their spirits, make them proud to be on God’s side. God will use them in his work of rebuilding, use them as foundations and pillars, use them as tools and instruments, use them to oversee his work. They’ll be a workforce to be proud of, working as one, their heads held high, striding through swamps and mud, courageous and vigorous because GOD is with them, undeterred by the world’s thugs. I’ll put muscle in the people of Judah; I’ll save the people of Joseph. I know their pain and will make them good as new. They’ll get a fresh start, as if nothing had ever happened. And why? Because I am their very own GOD, I’ll do what needs to be done for them. (Zechariah 10:3-7)

God will “step in” – he will revive, he will put to use again, he will unite in purpose and focus those who have drifted into places of complacent idleness. This should be a message of hope to us today. God is not content to let us drift away, focusing our attention on that which promises fulfillment but leaves us lusting for more. He is a jealous God and he hotly pursues those he has chosen. He does not await our independent return – he chases after us, presents the challenge again, and rekindles the fires of our passion toward him. Before restoration can come, revival must begin. There must be a return of our consciousness toward the things of God. We must be brought back to a place of activity – not self-absorbed, meaningless, unfulfilling activity – but that activity which gives our live purpose, directs our focus toward God, and challenges our every step.

The enemy of our soul “loses no time” in providing the opportunity to “shut down” the work of God in our lives. He relishes the opportunity to present defeating messages and the criticism of our abilities. He uses effectual tools to “stop us in our tracks”. It is reassuring to know that God is just as faithful to bring the message of challenge that brings us back and revives our soul. His is a message that stimulates and excites - his is a message of activity. Our enemy’s message is one of inactivity and complacency. Let us become proficient at listening to the message of our God: “Because I am their very own GOD, I’ll do what needs to be done for them.” Our abilities do not matter – our availability to God is all he really looks for. He stands alongside, walks before, and makes a way where no way seems possible – because he is our very own God.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Start Again - Part I

The letter of King Artaxerxes was read to Rehum and Shimshai the secretary and their associates. They lost no time. They went to the Jews in Jerusalem and made them quit work. That put a stop to the work on the Temple of God in Jerusalem. Nothing more was done until the second year of the reign of Darius king of Persia. Meanwhile the prophets Haggai and Zechariah son of Iddo were preaching to the Jews in Judah and Jerusalem in the authority of the God of Israel who ruled them. And so Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel and Jeshua son of Jozadak started again, rebuilding the Temple of God in Jerusalem. The prophets of God were right there helping them. (Ezra 4:24-5:2)

This week, we have explored the idea of rebuilding foundations in our lives.  The Jewish exiles had been given the opportunity of a lifetime - return to their former home, rebuild what had been destroyed in the wars of recent years, and re-establish the foundation of the Temple of God.  They returned, but somehow, their "first response" enthusiasm to the rebuilding effort seemed to have stalled out.

Haggai was a minor prophet of the Old Testament, with a three month mission to the people of Judah focusing on the encouragement to begin again the rebuilding of the Temple of God. The Jewish exiles had returned to the land almost eighteen years prior to Haggai being raised up to bring the message to God’s people – they had begun the reconstruction of the Temple in the second year of their return and then been “shut down” by the enemies of the land. Whenever we cease to do as God plans for us, even in the midst of extreme opposition or insurmountable odds, we can be assured that time will pass, almost unnoticed, allowing for our idleness to become a thing of comfort for us. Yet, God is never content with idle hands, hearts or minds. He always brings the challenge in its season, the ability in its time, and the deliverance from our self-made plans through exactly the messenger he designs.

Haggai’s message was clear: “The people procrastinate. They say this isn’t the right time to rebuild my Temple, the Temple of God.” (Haggai 1:2) How is it that we do such a good job of putting off until tomorrow what we should be doing today? I dare say that this is not an uncommon response of God’s people – caught up in all that “seems” important at the moment, we often miss out on the intended opportunities that God directs across our paths. Procrastination starts as a simple delaying of plans, but rapidly progresses to that which becomes a habitual and purposeful putting off of what needs to be done. It is important to note that the Jews had not been completely idle all this time – they had built nice houses for themselves, while leaving God’s Temple in ruins. (Haggai 1:3-4)

It is important to see the faithfulness of our Lord in continually raising up those who will challenge us in our walk. Haggai brought a simple message of challenge – look at your life, the money you have spent, the things you have been pursuing that do not bring fulfillment – and see where God fits into the plans of your life. He made it quite plain to those who heard his message that God was not a part of their plans – his work in their lives had been stifled by the enemies of the land and the Jewish people were more than ready to pursue other interests that promised fulfillment on a personal level.

The Jewish nation is not alone in that pursuit – we are also guilty of being totally “gung ho” about God’s plans for our lives, then almost as quickly as we venture out into God’s plans, we can be stopped in our tracks and swayed into pursuits that meet our own personal needs. It is important to see that Haggai was a prophet with a simple message, but one that cut to the quick of what the real problem was in the heart of the people. He was used by God to call them again to the work of rebuilding. His message exposed the heart, challenged the soul, and rekindled the passion necessary for the work.

It is often the simple message, delivered in a direct fashion that opens us up to the very thing that we need to respond to in obedience. We may think we need the “burning bush” like Moses experienced, or the booming thunder of a voice from “on high”, but the simple truth is that we most often just need to listen intently to the clarity of the message we are already hearing.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Rebuilding Foundations - Part IV

Israel, the nation called by God Almighty to be his very people, stood in utter ruin. They are captive to an enemy wielding such force that armies fled before them. Ezekial, Jeremiah and Isaiah were raised up as prophets of the day to bring a message of hope to Israel and Judah.  Their message: deliverance was possible. Deliverance came through a heathen, unbelieving king – Cyrus. Cyrus started his rule over in a little area we now know as Iran. He later became a more powerful ruler, overtaking more territory until he became the ultimate ruler of the Persian Empire – taking leadership for all of the Babylonian Empire and Judah. Babylon had at one time held the territory that we now know as Iraq. Cyrus developed such a name for himself that armies fled in his wake. He eventually took the now known lands of Syria, Iran, and Israel.

Cyrus was not a godly king that wanted to give the city of  Jerusalem and the Temple of God back to Judah. He was reported to be a king that worshipped many gods. He wanted to get on the good side of as many gods as possible, so his intention in allowing Judah to return and the temple to be rebuilt was to gain the favor of Judah’s god (one he had heard about as being very good to those who worshipped him).  God uses many instruments to accomplish his purposes – even those with wrong intention and selfish ambition. We cannot become so focused on the character of those God uses, but must remain focused on what God is doing through those he uses as his instruments.  Here is what we find recorded about his intention:

He has assigned me to build him a temple of worship in Jerusalem, Judah. Who among you belongs to his people? God be with you! Go to Jerusalem which is in Judah and build The Temple of God, the God of Israel, Jerusalem’s God. (Ezra 1: 2-3)

The searching question posed by Cyrus in his decree to build is, “Who among you belongs to his people?” Look a little deeper about what is being asked:

Who among you…

God’s people should be so evident in their walk that this question would not be necessary. Service, mercy, love, purity, right living – all should be hallmarks of our walk, making this a question of redundancy. In the midst of those who are strangers to the “true God”, there should be so much evidence of God’s direct influence in our lives that even in the midst of a large company of people, we stand out as unique, divinely touched individuals.

Belongs to his people…

To belong is to be bound by birth, allegiance or dependency. Cyrus was asking a searching question of loyalty, dedication, and commitment. The one who pledges his or her allegiance to God shows their connection to God and his governing influence in their lives in all they say and do. Our very actions should make it unnecessary to ask “who belongs”.

Although this statement contained within the decree of Cyrus to rebuild is challenging, I find the greatest challenge in the final statement:

Those who stay behind, wherever they happen to live, will support them with silver, gold, tools, and pack animals, along with freewill offerings for The Temple of God in Jerusalem. (Ezra 1:4)

This has been a question that has plagued me in my own walk over the years. Why would anyone living in captivity, bound to the rule of a dominating force, want to “stay behind”? Yet it is a fact of even my own walk. God calls, challenges, creates an opportunity – and I wait for a clearer sign, hold out for a more definitive plan, ignore the obvious. Instead of seizing the opportunity placed before me for free living, I choose the pathway of less resistance and “stay”.

In this, I dare to say, I am not alone. We are daily faced with “decrees of release” that we weigh against our current situation and we dare not to budge from our positions of captivity because of a variety of very telling reasons:

• We are filled with all kinds of fear of the unknown – finding it difficult to step out in any kind of trusting obedience to God’s call
• We are content in our misery – finding great company in the midst of others so bound to their present misery and dominated by their present state of discontent
• We are unwilling to move beyond our present circumstances – stubbornly demanding our own way, own timing, own methods over those that are offered
• We are not able to clearly hear what is being offered – because we have been filled with so many conflicting “decrees” that we can no longer separate those that offer us hope from those that hold us in our captivity
• We are willing to let others go ahead of us – almost as if they go ahead to “test the waters”, allowing us time to measure the “risk” associated with their action of obedience

Regardless of the reason for our lack of enthusiastic response to God’s offer to be “free”, we all struggle with the desire to remain in our captivity at times. We yearn for release, and yet tenaciously hold onto our present struggles. In evaluating the rationale behind my own actions to “remain where I am” when God has provided a way of escape, I am challenged by my own stubborn determination to not fully pledge my allegiance to my Lord. I have come to realize that most of the time, our unwillingness to move forward into our freedom is deeply anchored in our lack of allegiance to the one who has so graciously called us out of our pit of bondage!

Judah is offered opportunity for release. Although it may not seem like much to the bystander, Jerusalem was everything to the Jew. This was the center of their worship and their life – the house of their God, the dwelling place of their king, and the center of their business world. There should have been no question about “remaining” – there should have been a hearty “see ya” echoing throughout the land.

Some Judean’s remained while others heartily embraced the opportunity. Some were content to “send their gifts”, while others selflessly dedicated themselves to the purpose of rebuilding. There are always those who are content to be on the sidelines of what God is doing, offering encouragement, funding the cause, yet with hands and hearts sadly unaffected by the work. My prayer is that we not be caught in that company of “watchers” or “senders”, but rather that we would yearn for both our hands and hearts to be affected deeply by the work of our God; that each of us would be so deeply affected by our bondage and captivity that we would want the foundations that represent our freedom to be built quickly, securely, and under the anointed hand of our gracious God.

To fully understand release, we must also understand captivity. To understand freedom, we must understand bondage. Captivity is the state of being held within bounds, under the control of another. Release is the state of being set free from those restraints or servitude; being relieved from all that confines, burdens, or oppresses. Bondage is the state of being in servitude to a controlling person. Freedom is the release from that which previously constrained and a sense of independence in decision or action. For Judah, their release to return to Jerusalem and begin the rebuilding effort was not a total relief from their oppressors or ending of their servitude to Persia. They were simply afforded the opportunity to go about the intended will of Cyrus in a land that had once belonged to them. They were not released from the oversight of his leadership or the demands of his government. They were simply joined to a selfish mission for the personal gain of his reign.

He believed that rebuilding the temple would encourage the God of the Jews to bless the land he had conquered as his own. I cannot help but believe that the people who went about the rebuilding looked at their mission a little differently.  Their mission was to be restored as a people - enjoying the fullness of worship and fellowship with their God that they had once basked in.  If that is where you find yourself today, be confident in this one thing - your determination to say "see ya" to the bondage of your present choices is God's opportunity to establish you on a firm foundation!

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Rebuilding Foundations - Part III

David had been a dynamic leader for the nation of Israel, driving out armies and capturing territory for the nation while he ruled from a throne blessed by a holy God. Under the direction of a faithful God, he had insight into the enemy’s weaknesses, preparing God-directed battle plans that would dethrone even the toughest of kings and secure the richest of all the surrounding lands for the Israelites. This had been the promise of God given through Israel's leaders since their deliverance from Egypt many years before.  Even more importantly, God had intended to build upon the foundation of their deliverance FROM bondage by giving them a new foundation to build UPON.  That new foundation required a new form of worship.  A directing of their hearts, their passions, toward the God whom they served.

King David's passion for God’s right placement in the hearts of the people he was given leadership over led to God's revelation of a vision to establish a center of worship for the nation of Israel in the city of Jerusalem. He received the vision of the temple that would ultimately be erected by his son, Solomon. David was a worshipper.  He worshipped heartily and he worshipped often. His was a heart commended by God because it was passionate in its pursuits, purposeful in its plans and pointed in its focus - he was "founded" on a good foundation.

Foundations of worship so carefully designed by a loving God were central to the daily life of the Israelite. Feasts, seasons, offerings and sacrifices were common themes of the Old Testament stories. Each pointed to the ultimate purpose of God calling a people out of captivity, establishing a method for their redemption, and creating a deep-seated sense of his presence in their midst. All designed that he might have fellowship with them and they might have intimate fellowship with him.

Israel did not maintain those foundations well, though. Foundations are subject to the destructive forces of time, environment, and purposeful upkeep. Neglecting the influence of any of these creates an opportunity for foundations to become dry and brittle, leading to their decay and ultimate collapse.

Israel became complacent in their pursuit of their God. In their complacency, they were easily enticed into the sins of the land, embracing gods of the land who had visible form and tangible existence. They allowed the people of the land to inter-marry into their families, further embracing the culture that God had warned would lead to the destruction of the foundations he had so carefully laid for their protection and safe-keeping. The kings that they had once defeated, the lands they had once occupied, and the riches they had once possessed all began to be influencing forces in their lives. Each taking a toll until one day they found themselves again captive to an enemy greater than their ability to resist.

Such is the plight of the nation during the times of Ezra and Nehemiah – prophets raised up by God to rebuild the foundations of the temple in Jerusalem. In fact, these two men are called to raise up Jerusalem’s crumbling walls and restore the foundation of the city of their God, and then the center of his worship. In order for worship to be restored to its fullest, the foundations had to be rebuilt. In the recorded stories of Ezra and Nehemiah, we find the plight of a nation that had ignored their foundations. Israel had stood as one nation during the reign of King David, but over the course of time and the influence of the nations around them, they had compromised their foundations and divided into two distinct nations – Israel and Judah.

Israel was the kingdom to the North of the land, Judah to the South. The kings of the Northern region embraced the gods of Baal (a false god of the region) and it was not long after the separation of the nation into these two separate “kingdoms” that God raised up Assyria to come against the Northern kingdom of Israel, taking them captive and invading their lands. Assyria was a strong nation, but not as strong as Babylon. One Babylonian king ascended to the throne and began to devastate the nation of Judah, as well. His name was Nebuchadnezzer. It was his armies that burned the temple of God to the ground, taking all the sacred items of worship into their coffers, and capturing scholars of Judah to be held in captivity in their courts. Both the Northern and Southern lands of Israel and Judah were in complete ruin; captive to an enemy they had little hope of ever overcoming.

Their foundations had been destroyed – their lives were in ruin. Hope looked bleak and compromise had taken its toll. Oh, but don’t lose heart. As we continue to explore this story tomorrow, we will see the power of God to use even the least likely instruments in our lives for the very purpose of rebuilding the foundations! See you then!