5/13/16 “Contending With God” (Daily Bible Reading: Job 8-10)

“Then Job answered and said: Truly I know it is so, but how can a man be righteous before God? If one wished to contend with Him, he could not answer Him one time out of a thousand. God is wise in heart and mighty in strength. Who has hardened himself against Him and prospered?’” (Job 9:1-4)

James writes, “Indeed we count them blessed who endure. You have heard of the perseverance of Job and seen the end intended by the Lord--that the Lord is very compassionate and merciful” (James 5:11). Job had to persevere through the loss of his possessions, his children, and his health. He also had to endure his friends, who had initially come to comfort him (Job 2:11-13), but were now adding to his misery as they tried in vain to answer why these things had happened to Job.

Job’s friend Bildad, like his friend Eliphaz had earlier done (Job 4:7-9; 5:17), implies Job was suffering because he was being chastened by God for his sins. Bildad says, “Does God subvert judgment? Or does the Almighty pervert justice? If your sons have sinned against Him, He has cast them away for their transgression. If you would earnestly seek God and make your supplication to the Almighty, if you were pure and upright, surely now He would awake for you, and prosper your rightful dwelling place” (Job 8:3-6).

I can only imagine how excruciating it must have been to hear from his “friend” the subtle implication that God killed Job’s sons because of their transgressions. Moreover, it must have been painful for Job to hear his friends suggest God was not awakening to help Job because Job was not “pure and upright”. The problem with Job’s friends is they felt compelled to attempt to answer why all these things had happened to Job. The problem with Job is he began to listen to their line of reasoning and frustrate himself as he questioned why God would chasten him when he had striven to live a righteous and blameless life (Job 9:20-21). God wasn’t chastening Job. These things had happened to him because Satan was trying to turn Job against God (Job 2:4-5; 1:12, 18-19)! Much like when we go through trials today, Job had no way of knowing why he was going through this terrible ordeal.

No wonder Job so often expresses his frustration such as when he says, “My soul loathes my life; I will give free course to my complaint, I will speak in the bitterness of my soul. I will say to God, 'Do not condemn me; show me why You contend with me’” (Job 10:1-2). In his frustration, Job begins to look at God as contending against him, rather than God being there to support him. In his frantic attempt to find the answers about why all this had happened to him Job speaks about having his day in court with God (Job 9:14-19). Job brought a lot of additional misery to himself as he began to view God as his Adversary to be contended against, instead of his Friend who could comfort him!

I learn from this an important lesson: When bad things happen to me, don’t assume it is because of God’s chastening of me for some sin I have committed. Today, when I go through trials I will not assume these things are God’s chastening of me. My trials I face may be for some other reasons which I may never know during my time on this earth. I may have to wait till I get to heaven before I know why I experienced some of the trials I did on this earth. As I go through these challenges, I do not want to view God as my Adversary whom I want to contend with in court. I will strive to view God as my Friend who can comfort, encourage, and strengthen me to face and endure the trials of life!

“I would have lost heart, unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord In the land of the living. Wait on the Lord; be of good courage, and He shall strengthen your heart; Wait, I say, on the Lord!” (Psalm 27:13-14).

5/12/16 “The Patience to Listen” (Daily Bible Reading: Job 4-7)

“Then Eliphaz the Temanite answered and said: If one attempts a word with you, will you become weary? But who can withhold himself from speaking? Surely you have instructed many, and you have strengthened weak hands. Your words have upheld him who was stumbling, and you have strengthened the feeble knees; but now it comes upon you, and you are weary; it touches you, and you are troubled’” (Job 4:1-5).

Eliphaz and his other 2 friends, Bildad and Zophar came to comfort their friend Job in his hour of adversity (Job 2:11). To their astonishment when they come to see Job, they did not even recognize him because the boils that covered him from the sole of his feet to the crown of his head (Job 2:7, 12). Following their arrival, for seven days they simply sit with him not saying a word because they saw that his grief was great (Job 2:13).

However, after listening to Job complain about his misery and how he wished he had never been born (Job 3:2-26), Eliphaz feels compelled to speak up. As the opening verses above indicate, he says he cannot withhold himself from speaking (Job 4:2). He tells Job about a dream he had (Job 4:12-21). In this vision, he hears a voice saying, “Can a mortal be more righteous than God? Can a man be more pure than his Maker?” (Job 4:17).

Eliphaz feels that this dream must be a message from God and that He wants to tell it to Job. The problem is Eliphaz then begins to jump to conclusions and make false assumptions as to why all this is happening to Job. Eliphaz asserts that God must be correcting Job for some sin Job had committed. He states, "Behold, happy is the man whom God corrects; therefore do not despise the chastening of the Almighty. For He bruises, but He binds up; He wounds, but His hands make whole” (Job 5:17-18). It is hard to believe, but Eliphaz concludes Job should feel “happy” about the things which have happened to him, because God is trying to correct Job for the error of his ways. Can you imagine how Job must have felt upon hearing these words from his “friend”?

Moreover, Eliphaz declares that Job will live a long and prosperous life and have more offspring if he will turn from his sin which he believes is the reason Job is suffering so: “You shall also know that your descendants shall be many, and your offspring like the grass of the earth. You shall come to the grave at a full age, as a sheaf of grain ripens in its season” (Job 5:25-26). Eliphaz is absolutely certain in his conclusions to which he has jumped: “Behold, this we have searched out; It is true. Hear it, and know for yourself” (Job 5:27).

As I read these words of Eliphaz I am amazed at how wrong he was. Job had not sinned (Job 1:22; 2:10). God still viewed Job as blameless and upright (Job 2:3). What was happening to Job was a result of Satan afflicting Job, not of God chastening Job! However, before I am too quick to point out Eliphaz’s faults, I need to look at myself. How often do I attempt to suggest that I know the reason things are happening to other people or even to myself? How quick I am to jump to conclusions and assert that I know the answer to the problems in people’s lives before I really even have a proper grasp on the facts. Praise God that he has revealed these words of Eliphaz to us so that we may learn to listen to others and not be quick to jump to conclusions. Today, I will strive to be a better listener and less of a “conclusion jumper”!

“So then, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath” (James 1:19)

5/11/16 “Why Is This Happening to Me?” (Daily Bible Reading: Job 2-3)

“Why is light given to a man whose way is hidden, and whom God has hedged in? For my sighing comes before I eat, and my groanings pour out like water. For the thing I greatly feared has come upon me, and what I dreaded has happened to me. I am not at ease, nor am I quiet; I have no rest, for trouble comes” (Job 3:23-26).

God had allowed Satan to touch all that Job had (Job 1:12). As he did so, Satan took Job’s possessions such as his oxen, donkeys, sheep, and camels. He also killed many of Job’s servants (Job 1:13-17). Satan also took Job’s precious children whom Job had led in worship to God (Job 1:5, 18). By great faith in God, Job bore the tragic news by worshipping God and saying, “The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:20-21).

God now allows Satan to touch Job himself, but not to take Job’s life (Job 2:6). As Satan does so, he afflicts Job with “painful boils from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head” (Job. 2:7). Job is in such misery the only way he can get some relief is to scrapehimself with a potsherd as he sits in the midst of ashes (Job 2:8). His affliction is so bad that when his three friends come to visit him they can’t even recognize him (Job 2:12)! Job’s wife is so discouraged by the loss of her children and what she sees happening to her husband, that her faith is weakened as she says to Job, “Do you still hold fast your integrity? Curse God, and die!” (Job 2:9). Job has even lost the support and encouragement he might have expected to receive from his wife.

As Job somehow tries to cope with what is happening to him, he begins by wishing he was never born: “May the day perish on which I was born, And the night in which it was said, 'A male child is conceived’” (Job 3:3). Again, he adds, “"Why did I not die at birth? Why did I not perish when I came from the womb?” (Job 3:11). He longs for the peace that death can bring: “Why is light given to him who is in misery, and life to the bitter of soul, who long for death, but it does not come, and search for it more than hidden treasures; who rejoice exceedingly, and are glad when they can find the grave?” (Job 3:20-22). As the opening verses above indicate, the thing Job dreaded most has come upon him. He is so miserable he can’t get a moments rest and relief (Job 3:25-26).

I am greatly humbled as I read these verses about Job. His pain and sorrow is incredible. I am thankful that the Scriptures describe in detail his feelings. I believe in His infinite wisdom, God revealed to us these feelings of Job to help us deal with our own pain when we are struggling with our own misery during times of hardship. As Job expresses his pain, God doesn’t jump in and tell him to be quiet. God doesn’t interrupt Job and try to correct Job. God allows Job to express the pain in his heart! Although, as we will learn later in the book of Job, God will correct Job with regard to some things he is thinking and saying, now was not the time to do so. At this time, God knew that Job just needed someone to listen to him. God’s shoulders were big enough to handle Job’s burden.

This assures me that God is big enough to let me describe to Him the mixed feelings I have when I am in misery and struggling with feelings of great despair. It also tells me that God understand me and others who struggle at times with depression. God doesn’t condemn Job for his feelings of sadness and despair. He just listens! Today, I will praise God for his willingness to listen to me when I am struggling with dark feelings and when I question, “Why is this happening to me?”

Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time, casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you” (1 Peter 5:6-7).

5/10/16 “A Bad Day for a Good Man” (Daily Bible Reading: Esther 9-Job 1)

“Then Job arose, tore his robe, and shaved his head; and he fell to the ground and worshiped. And he said: ‘Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked shall I return there. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord’” (Job 1:20-21).

Job was a man who had been greatly blessed by God who had given him a wife, 7 sons, and 3 daughters (Job 1:1-2). He had vast riches and was described as “the greatest of all the people of the East” (Job 1:3). He led his family in worship to God (Job 1:4). Of Job, God said, “…there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, one who fears God and shuns evil” (Job 1:8).

However, in the first chapter of the book of Job we also see Satan coming before God after wandering to and fro the earth seeking whom he may devour (Job 1:6-7; cf. I Peter 5:8). God asks Satan if he has considered Job. Satan accuses Job of only serving God because God has protected him from pain (Job 1:8-11). Initially, God will permit Job to be tested by allowing Satan to harm everything near and dear to Job (e.g. his possessions and his family), but not touch Job himself (Job 1:12). On a later occasion, God will allow Satan to harm Job himself, but not take Job’s life (Job 2:6).

What happens to Job as Satan attacks him was devastating. Initially, Job hears a messenger who tells him the Sabeans have come and destroyed all his oxen, donkeys, and even killed his servants who were with them (Job 1:14-15). Before this report is fully made to him, another messenger comes to him and tells him how “fire of God” fell from heaven and destroyed his sheep and more of his servants (Job 1:16). Again, before all the details of this report are described to him, another servant comes and informs him the Chaldeans have taken all his camels and killed more of his servants (Job 1:17). Finally, before this report is finished, another messenger informs him how a “great wind” came and destroyed the house where all his children were and killed them (Job 1:18-19).

I cannot even imagine the “shock and awe” Job must have felt. He heard four devastating reports one after another. He did not even have a moment to digest the impact of each report before more shattering news was brought to him. It is understandable why he would tear his robe, shave his head and fall to the ground as he heard the news (Job 1:20). But what made Job such a unique man, whom God said “there was none like him” (Job 1:8), was what he did next. The next thing he did was to worship God and say, "Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked shall I return there. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21).

I wish I could be certain that I would react as did Job if I were faced with such a calamity. I pray that I may never have to face what he faced. God does not spare us from having to experience the tragedies of life. Too often we ask the wrong question when faced with tragedy by saying, “Why is God letting this happen to me?” when we should be thinking, “God must think a lot of me to allow Satan to do this to me. How can I seek God’s help to enable me bear this tragedy?” As we will see throughout the book of Job, it was a struggle for Job to bear this tragedy, but his initial response of seeking to worship God was an admirable one for us to follow when faced with heartbreaks in our own lives. Today, I will strive to seek God’s help and strength when I face life’s tragedies.

“In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:6-7).

5/9/16 “A Bad Day for an Evil Man” (Daily Bible Reading: Esther 6-8)

“Then the king said to Haman, ‘Hurry, take the robe and the horse, as you have suggested, and do so for Mordecai the Jew who sits within the king's gate! Leave nothing undone of all that you have spoken.’ So Haman took the robe and the horse, arrayed Mordecai and led him on horseback through the city square, and proclaimed before him, ‘Thus shall it be done to the man whom the king delights to honor!’” (Esther 6:10-11).

Haman had plotted to destroy all of the Jews of Esther’s day because her cousin Mordecai had refused to bow down before him (Esther 3:1-15). Even though it involved risking her life, Esther approached the king to plead for herself and her people. But instead of immediately pleading with the king, Esther invites the king and Haman to a banquet (Esther 5:1-5). During this banquet, Esther invites the two of them to return to another banquet she is giving the next day (Esther 5:6-9).

As he joyfully departs from the banquet, Haman’s joy is turned to rage when he sees Mordecai at the king’s gate (Esther 5:9). He goes home and brags to his friends and his wife about his riches and the power he now holds. However, he tells them that this “avails him nothing so long as I see Mordecai the Jew sitting at the king’s gate” (Esther 5:13). His wife and friends suggest that a gallows be made upon which to hang Mordecai before Haman goes to the banquet Esther is having the next day (Esther 5:14). He follows their suggestion and plans to ask the king to hang Mordecai the next day.

However, an interesting thing happens that night. The king has insomnia and in order to be put to sleep, he has someone read some records of the chronicles to him. It just so happens that the particular record they read has to do with when Mordecai had uncovered an earlier plot by two of the king’s eunuchs to murder the king (Esther 6:1-2, cf. 2:21-23). The king asks, “What honor or dignity has been bestowed on Mordecai for this?” (Esther 6:3). As he finds out that nothing has been done for Mordecai, Haman walks into the court prepared to request that the king hang Mordecai upon the gallows he has just made (Esther 6:4-5).

The king asks Haman, “What shall be done for the man whom the king delights to honor?” Haman, thinking the king must want to honor him, suggests that the king should have one of his princes lead the man through the streets wearing a robe the king has worn, riding on one of the king’s horses, and proclaim “Thus shall be done to the man whom the king delights to honor” (Esther 6:7-9). As the opening verses indicate, the king tells Haman “What a great idea!” and has Haman go and do this for Mordecai (Esther 6:10-11). As he returns to complain to his family and friends about his bad day, Haman is called to the banquet Esther has prepared. During this second banquet, Esther will reveal her identity, plead for herself and her people, and point out the evil which Haman has done. The king then has Haman hung on the gallows he had prepared for Mordecai (Esther 6:12-10).

To say the least, Haman had a bad day! His evil plots had come back on himself. As I read these chapters I am reminded: “The wicked plots against the just, and gnashes at him with his teeth. The Lord laughs at him, for He sees that his day is coming” (Psalm 37:12-13). Haman’s day had come! Today, I will rejoice that I serve a just God who rewards the righteous and punishes the wicked!

“Rest in the Lord, and wait patiently for Him; do not fret because of him who prospers in his way, because of the man who brings wicked schemes to pass. Cease from anger, and forsake wrath; do not fret--it only causes harm. For evildoers shall be cut off; but those who wait on the Lord, they shall inherit the earth” (Psalm 37:7-9).

5/8/16 “Faith to See the Possibilities” (Daily Bible Reading: Esther 2-5)

“…Mordecai told them to answer Esther: ‘Do not think in your heart that you will escape in the king's palace any more than all the other Jews. For if you remain completely silent at this time, relief and deliverance will arise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father's house will perish. Yet who knows whether you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this?’" (Esther 4:13-14).

Esther was a Jew who had become queen over the mighty empire of Persia after she had won the king’s heart during an effort by the Persian King to find one to take the place of Queen Vashti. The king was unaware of Esther’s Jewish ancestry (Esther 2:10). She had been raised by her cousin Mordecai who himself had faithfully served the king of Persia, sat within his gate, and even uncovered a plot on the king’s life (Esther 2:21-23).

However, now the Jewish people were facing extermination because of an evil plot of another of the king’s servants, Haman. Mordecai had refused to bow down to Haman which enraged Haman (Esther 3:1-5). Not only did Haman want to kill Mordecai for this, but he decided to destroy all the Jewish people (Esther 3:6). He persuaded the king and offered to pay the expenses to destroy the Jewish people on the 13th day of the 12th month of that year (Esther 3:7-13). Mordecai and the Jews were distressed when they heard of the fate that awaited them in just 11 months (Esther 3:14-4:3).

Esther inquires of Mordecai for the reason he is so upset (Esther 4:4-7). Mordecai tells her about Haman’s wicked plot against the Jewish people and requested Esther’s help to influence the king to help her people (Esther 4:8-9). However, Esther faces her own challenges. She is not allowed to go into the inner court of the king to make a request unless the king holds out his scepter to her. If she attempts to do this without his holding out his scepter, the penalty she will face is death. Furthermore, she is unsure of where she stands regarding the king’s favor because he has not called upon her in the past 30 days (Esther 4:8-11)!

The opening verses above are Mordecai’s response to Esther. He lets her know that all because she is the queen, she is still a Jew and subject to Haman’s plot. She will not escape. However, through the eye of faith, Mordecai suggests that perhaps this is the reason God, in His Providence, has placed her in the position of queen. As queen she has the opportunity to save her people (Esther 4:13-14). To her credit Esther, after requesting Mordecai to have all the Jews fast and pray on her behalf, musters up the courage to go to the inner court and stand hoping the king will hold out his scepter to her. If he does not, the penalty is death. As it turns out, the king does hold out his scepter to her (Esther 4:15-5:2). After inviting both the king and Haman to a couple of feasts she has prepared, she tells the king about Haman’s plot, and saves her people by the king giving the Jews the opportunity to defend themselves (Esther 5:3-8; 7:1-6; 8:1-17).

As I consider these events in the life of Esther, I ask myself: “Why has God put me in the different roles I have in my life?” For example, I have roles as a father, husband, insurance agent, and a member at my church. Why has God put me in these roles? Esther, was in the role of Queen of Persia, but needed Mordecai to challenge her to consider why God had placed her in this position. Mordecai suggested she was in this role to fulfill a greater purpose which was to save her people. Today, I will look through the eye of faith to see the possibilities of how God can use me in the different roles I have to glorify Him!

“By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples” (John 15:8).

5/7/16 “Do I Rule My Anger or Does My Anger Rule Me?” (Daily Bible Reading: Nehemiah 12-Esther 1)

“On the seventh day, when the heart of the king was merry with wine, he commanded Mehuman, Biztha, Harbona, Bigtha, Abagtha, Zethar, and Carcas, seven eunuchs who served in the presence of King Ahasuerus, to bring Queen Vashti before the king, wearing her royal crown, in order to show her beauty to the people and the officials, for she was beautiful to behold. But Queen Vashti refused to come at the king's command brought by his eunuchs; therefore the king was furious, and his anger burned within him” (Esther 1:10-12).

The book of Esther is a great study in the Providence of God (i.e. how God provides for His people and goes about to accomplish His purposes). It is the story of a young Jewish girl who will become Queen of the Persia and save her people from the evil plots of a wicked man named Haman.

The first chapter of the book speaks of how events transpired causing the need for a new queen for the empire. King Ahasuerus ruled the vast kingdom of the Medes and Persians which stretched from India to Ethiopia (Esther 1:1). During the 3rd year of his reign he throws a huge feast for all his officials (Esther 1:2-8). As the above verses indicate, on the 7th day of this great feast, when he appears to be drunk (i.e. “the heart of the king was merry with wine”, Esther 1:10), the king wants to show off the beauty of his wife, Queen Vashti, to his invited guests. However, there is a problem: The queen refuses to come out and be paraded before these men (Esther 1:10-12a).

How does the king react? He could have reacted by simply saying, “Oh well, I guess I’ll find some other way to entertain my guests”. But instead, he becomes “furious, and his anger burned within him” (Esther 1:12b). Not only does he become angry, but now he seeks advice from his friends, who were also probably drunk, as to what should be done (Esther 1:13-15). His friends make a mountain out of a molehill and say, “Queen Vashti has not only wronged the king, but also all the princes, and all the people who are in all the provinces of King Ahasuerus. For the queen's behavior will become known to all women, so that they will despise their husbands in their eyes…” (Esther 1:16-17). They act like this one event is going to lead to all the wives throughout the entire empire disrespecting their husbands. Their advice is to remove Vashti from being queen and that a new queen should be sought to take her place (Esther 1:19). Because of their own insecurity, they deemed necessary that the king issue a decree throughout the empire that all wives should honor their husbands (Esther 1:20-22). The king follows this advice.

“After these things, when the wrath of King Ahasuerus subsided, he remembered Vashti, what she had done, and what had been decreed against her” (Esther 2:1). Following his feast when the wine wears off, it appears the king comes to his senses. It appears he now misses Vashti and what he had done to her. However, the damage had already been done by his fit of anger. Although a new queen will be sought for him, it will take approximately 4 years before Esther will become his bride (cf. Esther 1:3; 2:16-17). His uncontrolled anger had created a lot of problems for himself!

As I consider the actions of this king, I think about the hurt both to myself and those around me when I fail to keep my anger under control. God’s Word emphasizes the importance of keeping our anger under control: “He who is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city” (Proverbs 16:32) Today, I will seek God’s strength to keep my anger in check!

 “So then, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath; for the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God” (James 1:19-20).  

5/6/16 “Breaking Down the Barriers around Our Hearts” (Daily Bible Reading: Nehemiah 8-11)

“So Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly of men and women and all who could hear with understanding on the first day of the seventh month. Then he read from it in the open square that was in front of the Water Gate from morning until midday, before the men and women and those who could understand; and the ears of all the people were attentive to the Book of the Law” (Nehemiah 8:2-3).

After completing the rebuilding of the walls around Jerusalem (Nehemiah 6:15), Nehemiah leads the children of Israel, over which he governs (Nehemiah 8:9), in an even more important work. God’s people had just erected walls around Jerusalem for its defense and security, but His people needed break down the barriers around their hearts which they had erected over the years in resisting God’s guidance. This was the reason they had went into Babylonian captivity: “Yet for many years You had patience with them, and testified against them by Your Spirit in Your prophets. Yet they would not listen; therefore You gave them into the hand of the peoples of the lands” (Nehemiah 9:30).

Immediately following the tasks of constructing the city walls, Nehemiah turns his attention to the task of addressing the spiritual needs of the children of Israel. The people of Israel are gathered together, a platform of wood is built, and Ezra the scribe stands upon it to read to the people the Word of God (Nehemiah 8:1-4). The leaders and the Levites help the people to understand the Law of God: “So they read distinctly from the book, in the Law of God; and they gave the sense, and helped them to understand the reading” (Nehemiah 8:8). When the people hear God’s Word, they struggle with being grieved because they know that in the past they have not kept it. However, Nehemiah encourages them not to be full of grief over past sins, but rather to be filled with joy considering what the future holds for them if they will walk in God’s ways: “"Go your way, eat the fat, drink the sweet, and send portions to those for whom nothing is prepared; for this day is holy to our Lord. Do not sorrow, for the joy of the Lord is your strength." (Nehemiah 8:10; cf. 8:9, 11).

Great things happen following God’s people hearing the Law of God: (1) They celebrate the Feast of booths (Nehemiah 8:14-18), (2) they confess their sins and the sins of their fathers (Nehemiah 9:1-3), (3) they recall God’s faithfulness in His dealings with His people (Nehemiah 9:4-37), and (4) the leaders lead the people into entering into a covenant to follow God’s Word (Nehemiah 10:1-39). Notice what they say they are going to do: “"And because of all this, we make a sure covenant, and write it; our leaders, our Levites, and our priests seal it" (Nehemiah 9:38). The leaders are going to put their seal on a document indicating their commitment to keep God’s Word!

As I consider the actions of Nehemiah and the people of Israel on this occasion, I ask myself: “Would I be willing to sign a document saying I will follow all of God’s Word?” If you are like me, some parts of God’s Word are easier for me to follow than other parts. Do I find myself erecting barriers against following certain parts of the Law of God because of the challenges I face in trying to follow it? To find true joy, I have to be willing to submit to all of God’s Will for me: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths. Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord and depart from evil” (Proverbs 3:5-7). Today, I rejoice over God’s willingness to guide my steps as I move forward in the journey of life. I will strive to break down any barriers around my heart in resisting His Will for me!

“You are my portion, O Lord; I have said that I would keep Your words. I entreated Your favor with my whole heart; Be merciful to me according to Your word” (Psalm 119:57-58).

5/5/16 “Pray Without Ceasing” (Daily Bible Reading: Nehemiah 5-7)

“For this reason he was hired, that I should be afraid and act that way and sin, so that they might have cause for an evil report, that they might reproach me. My God, remember Tobiah and Sanballat, according to these their works, and the prophetess Noadiah and the rest of the prophets who would have made me afraid. So the wall was finished on the twenty-fifth day of Elul, in fifty-two days” (Nehemiah 6:13-15).

Nehemiah who had served as the King of Persia’s cupbearer had returned to Jerusalem to lead the people in rebuilding the walls around the city (Nehemiah 2:5-11). God’s people there were in great distress because without city walls the city lay defenseless from attacks from the enemies which surrounded them (Nehemiah 1:3). Nehemiah faced many challenges from the enemies of God’s people. His adversaries: (1) had accused him of attempting to rebel against the king (Nehemiah 2:19), (2) ridiculed the Israelites for their efforts (Nehemiah 4:3), (3) threatened to attack them as they worked on rebuilding the wall (Nehemiah 4:7-8), and (4) even plotted to kill Nehemiah himself (Nehemiah 6:1-14).

How was it that Nehemiah had prevailed from all of these threats he faced? He relied on God through the power of prayer! It is interesting to note throughout the book of Nehemiah how Nehemiah took all the challenges he faced to God in prayer. When he hears of the distress his people are under because the walls had been destroyed, Nehemiah prays to God about it (Nehemiah 1:4-11). When the King of Persia asks him what he wanted to request of him, Nehemiah prays to God at that very moment before giving the king his answer (Nehemiah 2:4). When facing the threats of his enemies, Nehemiah calls for God’s help to defeat them: “Hear, O our God, for we are despised; turn their reproach on their own heads, and give them as plunder to a land of captivity” (Nehemiah 4:4; cf. 6:14)! In addition, when his adversaries tried to make him afraid, Nehemiah cried out to God, “Now therefore, O God, strengthen my hands” (Nehemiah 6:9). Regarding all his labors he had done on behalf of his people, Nehemiah asked for God’s favor to be upon him: “Remember me, my God, for good, according to all that I have done for this people” (Nehemiah 5:19).

Because he was such a man of prayer, it is of no surprise we observe Nehemiah, throughout the book, seeing God’s hand at work in his life. After returning to the Promised Land, Nehemiah tells his brethren of how “the hand of my God” had been upon him (Nehemiah 2:18). After confronting his adversaries, he told them: “The God of heaven Himself will prosper us” (Nehemiah 2:20). Regarding the plots of his enemies against him, Nehemiah speaks of how God had “brought their plot to nothing (Nehemiah 4:15). Because of his close prayer life with God, Nehemiah was able to perceive that those who attempted to deceive him were not actually sent to him by God (Nehemiah 6:12).

I find great encouragement regarding the power of prayer when I observe the life of Nehemiah. He is a great example of what it means to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17). As I observe his life, I learn that I can better see God’s hand at work in my own life when I am staying continually connected to God by praying to Him throughout the day. I rejoice that God encourages me to communicate to Him. He encourages me to be persistent in prayer (Luke 18:1-8). Today, I will strive to grow in being more consistent in my prayer life and to “pray without ceasing”!

“As for me, I will call upon God, and the Lord shall save me. Evening and morning and at noon I will pray, and cry aloud, and He shall hear my voice” (Psalm 55:16-17).

5/4/16 “Taking up The Cause God’s People” (Daily Bible Reading: Nehemiah 2-4)

“Then the king said to me, ‘What do you request?’ So I prayed to the God of heaven. And I said to the king, ‘If it pleases the king, and if your servant has found favor in your sight, I ask that you send me to Judah, to the city of my fathers' tombs, that I may rebuild it’” (Nehemiah 2:4-5).

Nehemiah was an Israelite who lived in Persia during the captivity of God’s people. He held a prestigious role in serving as the king’s cupbearer (Nehemiah 1:11). One of his brethren, Hanani, had come from his homeland of Judah and told Nehemiah how things were going in his native land: “The survivors who are left from the captivity in the province are there in great distress and reproach. The wall of Jerusalem is also broken down, and its gates are burned with fire” (Nehemiah 1:2-3). In ancient times, city walls were essential for the defense of the city. Without these walls the people of the city would constantly live in fear of being attacked from their enemies.

How did Nehemiah react when he heard the news? He could have simply said, “I can’t worry about this. I have more important duties to do such as serving the king”. Nehemiah did not react this way, but rather he chose to share in the distresses of his people. “So it was, when I heard these words, that I sat down and wept, and mourned for many days; I was fasting and praying before the God of heaven” (Nehemiah 1:4). As he prays to God, Nehemiah expresses his understanding that these terrible things which have happened to his nation were because of their unfaithfulness to God; yet, he pleads with God to remember His Word concerning how God would bless his people if they would turn back to Him and repent (Nehemiah 1:5-10). He also asks the Lord to give him favor in the sight of the king as Nehemiah brings up the cause of his people before the king (Nehemiah 1:11).

As the opening verses above indicate, Nehemiah makes his request before the king and the king lets him go to Jerusalem and rebuild the walls (Nehemiah 2:1-11). After he arrives in Jerusalem, at night Nehemiah surveys the ruins of the walls of Jerusalem (Nehemiah 2:12-16). Following this, he then encourages his brethren to begin the work: “And I told them of the hand of my God which had been good upon me, and also of the king's words that he had spoken to me. So they said, ‘Let us rise up and build.’ Then they set their hands to this good work (Nehemiah 2:18). The Israelites join together and, in spite of the opposition they faced, they begin to make major progress in completing the walls around Jerusalem: “So we built the wall, and the entire wall was joined together up to half its height, for the people had a mind to work” (Nehemiah 4:6).

This great work was done because one man, Nehemiah, chose to take up the cause of God’s people. He could have said he was too busy with other matters to do so, but he did not. He knew what was happening to God’s people was a cause for which it was worthy for him to fight. Today, most everyone takes up some kind of cause for which to fight. For example, some take up the cause to fight a disease such as cancer, while others take up different political causes like standing up for the rights of unborn babies. These are causes for which it is important to fight. However, as I think about the causes for which I stand, Nehemiah’s actions give pause for me to think: “Are all the causes for which I fight worth the time I invest in them? Today, I will follow Nehemiah’s example and make sure I am taking time to fight for the causes of God and His people by promoting God’s Will, encouraging others, and showing love to God’s people who strive to walk in the paths of righteousness!

“By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us. And we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren” (1 John 3:16).

5/3/16 “There Is Hope in Spite of This” (Daily Bible Reading: Ezra 9-Nehemiah 1)

“And Shechaniah … spoke up and said to Ezra, ‘We have trespassed against our God, and have taken pagan wives from the peoples of the land; yet now there is hope in Israel in spite of this. Now therefore, let us make a covenant with our God to put away all these wives and those who have been born to them, according to the advice of my master and of those who tremble at the commandment of our God; and let it be done according to the law’” (Ezra 10:2-3).

During the time of Ezra, God’s people had accomplished some great things as they returned to Israel following 70 years of Babylonian captivity (cf. Jeremiah 29:10). Under the leadership of Zerubbabel, the children of Israel had rebuilt the temple (Ezra 6:15). As God’s good hand had been upon him, Ezra had led another group of Israelites back to the Promised Land bringing with them many of the articles of the temple which had been previously carried away by the Babylonians (Ezra 7:9-8:36). Ezra had come to do a great work for God: “For Ezra had prepared his heart to seek the Law of the Lord, and to do it, and to teach statutes and ordinances in Israel” (Ezra 7:10).

However, as Ezra is teaching the Law of the Lord, he runs into a problem because God’s people had been living in ways contrary to God’s laws. Ezra describes what happened: “When these things were done, the leaders came to me, saying, ‘The people of Israel and the priests and the Levites have not separated themselves from the peoples of the lands…For they have taken some of their daughters as wives for themselves and their sons, so that the holy seed is mixed with the peoples of those lands. Indeed, the hand of the leaders and rulers has been foremost in this trespass’" (Ezra 9:1-2). God’s people had violated God’s laws by entering into marriages with pagans (Deuteronomy 7:1-4).

Ezra is highly distressed when he hears the news of this: “So when I heard this thing, I tore my garment and my robe, and plucked out some of the hair of my head and beard, and sat down astonished” (Ezra 9:3). Ezra pleads with God on behalf of his people (Ezra 9:5-15). The people weep bitterly about this matter (Ezra 10:1). However, the people were not sure how to solve this problem in which they had gotten themselves. What was the solution?

Then, as the opening verses above indicate, Shechaniah acknowledges the wrong they have done in marrying these pagan wives, but adds “yet now there is hope in Israel in spite of this”. The solution he says was to have the courage to put away these foreign wives and the children born unto them (Ezra 10:2-4). In other words the people needed to repent of what they had done. The only way to repent was to put away these foreign wives. The people follow this advice and put away their foreign wives despite the difficulty in doing so (Ezra 10:5-44).

As I read these verses, I am reminded of the terrible mess I get myself into because of sin. I also learn that repenting of sin is not always easy. In this case it required these people to put away their pagan wives. I can only imagine how difficult this must have been for them to do. However, it was the only way for them to realign their lives with what God’s Word had taught (Deuteronomy 7:1-4). In addition, from these verses I am also reminded that no matter how grave the sin I may have committed, there “is still hope in spite of this” if I am willing to repent and get my life realigned with God’s Word and my relationship with Him restored. Today, I rejoice that God extends to me the hope to have my relationship with him restored when I have gotten myself into a mess by falling into sin!

“For godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation, not to be regretted; but the sorrow of the world produces death” (2 Corinthians 7:10).

5/2/16 “Seeing God’s Good Hand upon Me” (Daily Bible Reading: Ezra 5-8)

“Then I proclaimed a fast there at the river of Ahava, that we might humble ourselves before our God, to seek from Him the right way for us and our little ones and all our possessions. For I was ashamed to request of the king an escort of soldiers and horsemen to help us against the enemy on the road, because we had spoken to the king, saying, ‘The hand of our God is upon all those for good who seek Him, but His power and His wrath are against all those who forsake Him.’ So we fasted and entreated our God for this, and He answered our prayer” (Ezra 8:21-23).

Ezra was a scribe who had lived in Persia during the years of Israel’s captivity. Cyrus, the king of Persia, had allowed some of the Israelites, under the leadership of Zerubbabel the governor and Jeshua the priest, to return to rebuild the temple which had been previously destroyed by the Babylonians (2 Kings 25:8-17). Though their attempts to rebuild the temple had been at times thwarted by the people now living in the land, God’s people eventually succeed in finishing the rebuilding the temple (Ezra 6:15).

During the rebuilding of the temple, Ezra was still living in Persia. Ezra had received the blessing from Artaxerxes, the current king of Persia, to lead another group of Israelites back to the Promised Land and bring with them some of the furnishings from the temple which had been carried away by the Babylonians (Ezra 7:11-26). In addition, Ezra was going back to instruct God’s people in the ways of the Lord: “For Ezra had prepared his heart to seek the Law of the Lord, and to do it, and to teach statutes and ordinances in Israel” (Ezra 7:10).

As the opening verses above indicate, Ezra had not requested any soldiers from the King of Persia to escort the people he was leading back to the land of Israel. He was ashamed to do so because he wanted to show that his faith and trust were in God, not in man. Instead of seeking soldiers, weapons or armor in which to protect themselves from potential enemies, Ezra had the people fast, humble themselves and seek God before they left for their journey (Ezra 8:21, 23). God answered their prayer for protection.

As Ezra describes how God worked on behalf of His people as they were preparing and making this journey, it is very interesting to observe how often Ezra mentions how “the hand of our God was upon us” (Ezra 8:31; cf. 7:9; 8:18, 22). Notice the effect of Ezra’s being able to see God’s hand upon him: “So I was encouraged, as the hand of the Lord my God was upon me” (Ezra 7:28). Through the eye of faith, Ezra saw God acting multiple times on his behalf during this journey and he was greatly encouraged by it.

As I think about these events in the life of Ezra, I consider: “Do I see God’s hand acting upon me and around me as I serve Him?” We are told: “For we walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7). It is important for every child of God to take time to be encouraged by observing how God is answering his or her prayers and how God is acting to work on their behalf. “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:31). Today, I will take time to rejoice and observe how God’s good hand is upon me!

"Because he has set his love upon Me, therefore I will deliver him; I will set him on high, because he has known My name. He shall call upon Me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble; I will deliver him and honor him. With long life I will satisfy him, and show him My salvation” (Psalm 91:14-16).

5/1/16 “Wise As Serpents, Harmless As Doves” (Daily Bible Reading: Ezra 1-4)

“Now when the adversaries of Judah and Benjamin heard that the descendants of the captivity were building the temple of the Lord God of Israel, they came to Zerubbabel and the heads of the fathers' houses, and said to them, ‘Let us build with you, for we seek your God as you do; and we have sacrificed to Him since the days of Esarhaddon king of Assyria, who brought us here.’ But Zerubbabel and Jeshua and the rest of the heads of the fathers' houses of Israel said to them, ‘You may do nothing with us to build a house for our God; but we alone will build to the Lord God of Israel, as King Cyrus the king of Persia has commanded us’” (Ezra 4:1-3).

Following the fall of the kingdom of Judah to the Babylonians, God’s people would remain in captivity for 70 years before they would be allowed to return to the Promised Land (2 Chronicles 36:20-21). During this time period, the kingdom of the Medes and Persians would conquer the Babylonians. In the first year of his reign, Cyrus, the king of Persia, issues a proclamation allowing God’s people to return and rebuild the House of the Lord at Jerusalem (Ezra 1:1-4; Isaiah 44:28).

After Cyrus issues the decree allowing God’s people to return, the children of Israel build an altar and begin offering burnt offering unto God in celebrating God’s allowing them to return (Ezra 3:1-6). They also begin laying the foundation of the temple (Ezra 3:9-13). However, as the opening verses above indicate, now they begin to run into opposition from the people who were living in the land amongst them (Ezra 4:1-5).

These people first ask if they can help the Israelites rebuild the temple for they claim they also sought after God (Ezra 4:1-2). However, the heads of Israel refused their help (Ezra 4:3). Why? The initial rejection by Israel’s leaders of this offer of help from the people of the land may appear to be unkind, but was it? What was the real reason for these people of the land saying they wanted to help God’s people? Was it really because they were seeking after God or was it for some other reason?

It was for another reason. They wanted to hinder God’s people’s efforts. These people, while feigning to show support, were actually looking to undermine the efforts of God’s people. As it turns out, these foes went on to try to discourage the people, hired counselors to frustrate the purposes of God’s people, and eventually succeeded in getting the new king of Persia, Artaxerxes, to temporarily stop the rebuilding of the temple (Ezra 4:4-24). To their credit, Israel’s leaders were wise enough to know what their adversaries were trying to do.

I am not suggesting we should be paranoid and question everyone’s motives. However, when a person acts in a way very contrary to what we would normally expect, we should consider why are they behaving this way? For example, if a man who you don’t know came to you and said, “I would like to take your child to the park for a day of fun” would you just let him? Would you not at least wonder, “Why does he want to do this?” and “Should I be concerned for the welfare of my child?”

God doesn’t want His people to be gullible. There is no commendation for being naïve. Jesus said, “Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves. Therefore be wise as serpents and harmless as doves” (Matthew 10:16). Today, I will seek God’s help as I try to exercise wise discernment in the decisions I make!

“When wisdom enters your heart, and knowledge is pleasant to your soul, discretion will preserve you; Understanding will keep you, to deliver you from the way of evil, from the man who speaks perverse things” (Proverbs 2:10-12).

4/30/16 “Taking My Stand upon the Word of God” (Daily Bible Reading: 2 Chronicles 34-36)

“Then the king stood in his place and made a covenant before the Lord, to follow the Lord, and to keep His commandments and His testimonies and His statutes with all his heart and all his soul, to perform the words of the covenant that were written in this book. And he made all who were present in Jerusalem and Benjamin take a stand. So the inhabitants of Jerusalem did according to the covenant of God, the God of their fathers” (2 Chronicles 34:31-32).

The king mentioned in the opening verses above was King Josiah, ruler of Judah. He was only 8 years old when he became king and he was the last of the godly rulers in Judah (2 Chronicles 34:1-2). He purged Judah and Jerusalem of idolatry and at the age of 26, in the eighteenth year of his reign, he began to once again repair the house of the Lord (2 Chronicles 34:3-13). While repairing the temple, Hilkiah the priest informs the king’s servant Shaphan they had found among the debris in the temple “the Book of the Law of the Lord given by Moses” (2 Chronicles 34:14).

Shaphan reads the book to the king (2 Chronicles 34:15-18). The king is distressed when he hears the Word of God from the book and says, “Go, inquire of the Lord for me, and for those who are left in Israel and Judah, concerning the words of the book that is found; for great is the wrath of the Lord that is poured out on us, because our fathers have not kept the word of the Lord, to do according to all that is written in this book" (2 Chronicles 34:21). Huldah the prophetess tells them God’s wrath will come upon Jerusalem because they had forsaken Him, but adds that because King Josiah’s heart was “tender” and he had “humbled” himself before the Lord, he would not experience God’s judgment upon the kingdom during his lifetime, but he would die in peace (2 Chronicles 34:22-28).

King Josiah then begins to restore his people’s relationship with God. He gathers the people together and has the Book of the Law of the Lord read to them. As the opening verses above describe, the king then takes a stand upon God’s Word to keep God’s commandments and he makes his people take a stand to follow God (2 Chronicles 34:31-32). During this same year, he and his people keep a great Passover feast to the Lord (2 Chronicles 35:1-19). The summary of his great reign reads like this: “Thus Josiah removed all the abominations from all the country that belonged to the children of Israel, and made all who were present in Israel diligently serve the Lord their God. All his days they did not depart from following the Lord God of their fathers” (2 Chronicles 34:33).

During the last years of the kingdom of Judah, God’s prophet’s like Jeremiah had been calling for God’s people to return to following God’s Word. However, the people did not respond favorably: “Thus says the Lord: ‘Stand in the ways and see, and ask for the old paths, where the good way is, and walk in it; Then you will find rest for your souls.’ But they said, 'We will not walk in it.'” (Jeremiah 6:16). King Josiah was a noble exception to this typical reaction of God’s people during these times.

I appreciate Josiah’s noble heart and his desire to stand upon God’s Word. I have been blessed to be a part of a church which does not constantly seek “to try some new thing”, but seeks to follow the example of the 1st century church and the simplicity of their worship and service to God. Today, I rejoice that God has given us His Word to guide us. Like King Josiah I will strive to seek the old paths and take my stand upon God and what His Word teaches!

“For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, ‘The just shall live by faith’" (Romans 1:16-17).

4/29/16 “With Him Is the Arm of Flesh, but with Us Is the Lord Our God” (Daily Bible Reading: 2 Chronicles 31-33)

“Then he set military captains over the people, gathered them together to him in the open square of the city gate, and gave them encouragement, saying, Be strong and courageous; do not be afraid nor dismayed before the king of Assyria, nor before all the multitude that is with him; for there are more with us than with him. With him is an arm of flesh; but with us is the Lord our God, to help us and to fight our battles.’ And the people were strengthened by the words of Hezekiah king of Judah” (2 Chronicles 32:6-8).

King Hezekiah was a great man of faith who led God’s people during very tumultuous times. His father Ahaz had been a wicked king who had encouraged moral decline and whose unfaithfulness to God increased, as events became increasingly distressful for him (2 Chronicles 28:19, 22). But Hezekiah had made a covenant with God to seek His Will and to turn God’s wrath away from Judah (2 Chronicles 29:10). He reopened the temple, sanctified the priest, kept a great Passover feast, and saw that tithes were brought to support the Levites so they could devote themselves to the Law of the Lord (2 Chronicles 29:12-31:21). God’s Word commends him by saying, “Thus Hezekiah did throughout all Judah, and he did what was good and right and true before the Lord his God. And in every work that he began in the service of the house of God, in the law and in the commandment, to seek his God, he did it with all his heart. So he prospered” (2 Chronicles 31:20-21).

Instead of being rewarded and facing years of peace and plenty following these righteous acts, Hezekiah is faced with an additional challenge: “After these deeds of faithfulness, Sennacherib king of Assyria came and entered Judah; he encamped against the fortified cities, thinking to win them over to himself” (2 Chronicles 32:1). Now the powerful king of Assyria is coming and threatening the cities of Judah! Unlike his father Ahaz, who had served the king of Assyria and paid tribute to the Assyrians (2 Kings 16:1-8), Hezekiah trusted in God and refused to serve the king of Assyria (2 Kings 18:7). Sennacherib was now coming to force Hezekiah’s submission to him.

Hezekiah’s reaction is a great example for us to follow. First, he “strengthens himself” (2 Chronicles 32:5). I believe this means he did so by looking up to God in faith (cf. Philippians 4:13). Second, he builds up the cities defenses, equips the people for battle, and stops up the water supply so the Assyrians can enjoy no water when they come up against the land (2 Chronicles 32:2-5). Then he gathers the military captains over the people and gives them encouragement by reminding them that although the king of Assyria may have a powerful army, the Almighty God is on the side of His people: “With him is an arm of flesh; but with us is the Lord our God, to help us and to fight our battles" (2 Chronicles 32:8). The people were strengthened by these words of Hezekiah and God will go on a save His people by sending His angel to destroy the Assyrian army (2 Chronicles 32:21-22).

It is encouraging to me to consider how I can “strengthen myself” by remembering God’s presence with me when I face threats or challenges. Like Hezekiah, when we are faced by an obstacle or an adversary, we need to be keenly aware that “With him is an arm of flesh; but with us is the Lord our God...” (2 Chronicles 32:8). Today, I rejoice that God doesn’t expect me to face the tests of life alone. I don’t need to fear the power that confronts me because I know that God’s power is with me and that His power is greater! God is with me to help me and to fight my battles!

Though I walk in the midst of trouble, You will revive me; You will stretch out Your hand against the wrath of my enemies, and Your right hand will save me” (Psalm 138:7).

4/28/16 “It Is In My Heart to Make a Covenant with the Lord” (Daily Bible Reading: 2 Chronicles 28-30)

“Therefore the wrath of the Lord fell upon Judah and Jerusalem, and He has given them up to trouble, to desolation, and to jeering, as you see with your eyes. For indeed, because of this our fathers have fallen by the sword; and our sons, our daughters, and our wives are in captivity.  Now it is in my heart to make a covenant with the Lord God of Israel, that His fierce wrath may turn away from us” (2 Chronicles 29:8-10).

The above words were spoken by Hezekiah, the king of Judah, to the priests and the Levites which he had gathered together in the beginning of his reign. To better understand the challenges Hezekiah faced one needs to look at what happened during the years prior to his reign. Hezekiah’s father, King Ahaz, had been an evil king who had engaged in idol worship including the offering up of his own children as human sacrifices (2 Chronicles 28:1-4). Because of Ahaz’s wickedness, God’s wrath had been great against the nation of Judah: “For the Lord brought Judah low because of Ahaz king of Israel, for he had encouraged moral decline in Judah and had been continually unfaithful to the Lord” (2 Chronicles 28:19). Instead of responding positively to God’s chastening of him, King Ahaz engaged in even greater rebellion against the Lord even to the point of shutting up the doors to the Temple of the Lord (2 Chronicles 28:22-24).

As Hezekiah begins his reign the first thing he does was to reopen the temple (2 Chronicles 29:1-3). This required the priests and Levites to sanctify themselves and the temple because it had been filled with rubbish during the time of his father (2 Chronicles 29:4-5). In 16 days the priests and Levites sanctify themselves and the temple. Following this sacrifices are offered up seeking God’s forgiveness and the people greatly rejoice (2 Chronicles 29:16-36). Then Hezekiah and the people keep the Passover feast unto the Lord and even invite their wayward brethren from the northern kingdom of Israel to come and join them (2 Chronicles 30:1-31). It was a time of great rejoicing!

Hezekiah was one of the great leaders of God’s people. He came to power when the country was in a mess. His father had led the country down a disastrous path by encouraging the country in moral decline. Because of this, rather than the country enjoying God’s favor and blessing, they were facing God’s wrath and judgment because of their sins. To his credit, as soon as he begins his reign, Hezekiah knew why his country faced the problems they did: They had departed from God. He also knew what the solution was: They needed to return back to God. So from the very first moments of his reign Hezekiah tells the leaders of his country what he proposes to do: “Now it is in my heart to make a covenant with the Lord God of Israel, that His fierce wrath may turn away from us” (2 Chronicles 29:10).  

As I think about these words, it is humbling because we see the direction our own country is heading as our nation’s leaders encourage “moral decline” in our own country (e.g. promoting the homosexual lifestyle, abortion, etc.). We are privileged to have the freedom and right to vote for leaders who will not do this. However, more important than this, is the need for each Christian to follow the example of Hezekiah and strive to “make a covenant with the Lord” and exercise influence upon others by their being able to see our love for the Lord and how we are seeking to honor him by our lives. We may not be able to change the political leadership of our country but we can strive to change the hearts of men one at a time as they observe us and are influence by our godly example!

“Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16).

4/27/16 “The Challenge of Remaining Humble When Experiencing Success” (Daily Bible Reading: 2 Chronicles 25-27)

“But when he was strong his heart was lifted up, to his destruction, for he transgressed against the Lord his God by entering the temple of the Lord to burn incense on the altar of incense. So Azariah the priest went in after him, and with him were eighty priests of the Lord--valiant men. And they withstood King Uzziah, and said to him, ‘It is not for you, Uzziah, to burn incense to the Lord, but for the priests, the sons of Aaron, who are consecrated to burn incense. Get out of the sanctuary, for you have trespassed! You shall have no honor from the Lord God’" (2 Chronicles 26:16-18).

King Uzziah reigned for 52 years over the land of Judah. During most of his reign he was faithful in serving the Lord and in strengthening his kingdom against his enemies. This is the testimony that is given about him: “He sought God in the days of Zechariah, who had understanding in the visions of God; and as long as he sought the Lord, God made him prosper” (2 Chronicles 26:5).

The kingdom of Judah during King Uzziah’s reign grew stronger and stronger. He defeated the Philistines, Arabians, and the Meunites. Other nations such as the Ammonites brought him tribute because they desired to keep peace with him because they feared him. He fortified the lands defenses. Furthermore, he had a powerful army which was finely equipped with weapons and armor. In addition, he had developed the latest technological devices for his army to use which were invented by his skillful men. His fame spread throughout the countries (2 Chronicles 26:6-15). God had “marvelously helped” him till he became strong (2 Chronicles 26:15).

This should have been a time for great rejoicing for God’s showering His blessings upon His people. However, something occurred within King Uzziah’s heart that created a greater problem for him than all the enemies could which surrounded him: “But when he was strong his heart was lifted up, to his destruction, for he transgressed against the Lord his God by entering the temple of the Lord to burn incense on the altar of incense” (2 Chronicles 26:16). Uzziah had gotten “too big for his britches”. He let all the success he had experienced as a result of God’s blessings “go to his head”. He became puffed up and thought he was worthy to burn incense in the Temple. Burning incense in the Temple was a task God had reserved for the priest (2 Chronicles 26:17-18; Exodus 30:7-8). Following this, God struck Uzziah with leprosy and the king was completely cut off from going anywhere near the temple of the Lord because he was a leper till the day off his death (2 Chronicles 26:19-23).

As I read these verses, I think of the challenges I face in keeping humble when God has blessed me with success. It is relatively easy for me to not boast when I am struggling and not enjoying achievements. During these times I constantly look to God to provide my daily bread and long for Him to intervene to help me. I am continually aware of my own weaknesses and my need for God’s strength during such times. However, when I have been blessed with a number of victories, Satan sneaks in and tempts me into thinking the success I enjoy is because of my intellect, my abilities, and my own hard work. When I give into this temptation and allow my heart to be lifted up, God, through His loving care, often chastens me to bring me back to my senses (Hebrews 12:5-6). Today, I will be vigilant to be on guard during my times of triumph. For I realize that although such should be times of rejoicing, I am also aware during such occasions Satan will be trying to tempt me to commit the sin of pride. I will strive to not allow my heart to be lifted up when God blesses me with success!

“Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall. Better to be of a humble spirit with the lowly, than to divide the spoil with the proud” (Proverbs 16:18-19).

4/26/16 “Forgetting God’s Kindness” (Daily Bible Reading: 2 Chronicles 22-24)

“Then the Spirit of God came upon Zechariah the son of Jehoiada the priest, who stood above the people, and said to them, ‘Thus says God: “Why do you transgress the commandments of the Lord, so that you cannot prosper? Because you have forsaken the Lord, He also has forsaken you.”’ So they conspired against him, and at the command of the king they stoned him with stones in the court of the house of the Lord. Thus Joash the king did not remember the kindness which Jehoiada his father had done to him, but killed his son; and as he died, he said, ‘The Lord look on it, and repay!’" (2 Chronicles 24:20-22).

At one time Joash, the king of Judah, had been a great king who followed God. As an infant, he had been rescued by his aunt Jehoshabeath from the murderous hand of his grandmother Athaliah. Jehoshabeath hid Joash from Queen Athaliah for 6 years (2 Chronicles 22:10-12). Joash ascended to the throne when Jehoiada made a covenant with the “captains of the hundreds”, the Levites from throughout the cities of Judah, and the chief fathers of Israel and anointed Joash king of Judah (2 Chronicles 23:1-11). Jehoida provided instruction and guidance to the young king Joash (2 Kings 12:1-2). Along with Jehoida’s support, Joash made much needed repairs to the temple of the Lord (2 Chronicles 24:4-14). The Scriptures note, “Joash did what was right in the sight of the Lord all the days of Jehoiada the priest” (2 Chronicles 24:2).

However, Jehoiada eventually grew old and died (2 Chronicles 24:15). “Now after the death of Jehoiada the leaders of Judah came and bowed down to the king. And the king listened to them. Therefore they left the house of the Lord God of their fathers, and served wooden images and idols; and wrath came upon Judah and Jerusalem because of their trespass” (2 Chronicles 24:17-18). Following Jehoida’s death, King Joash began to depart from the Lord as he listened to the erroneous guidance of the leaders of Judah.

God sent prophets to Joash and the leaders of Judah, but they would not listen to them (2 Chronicles 24:19). Eventually, the Spirit of God came upon Zechariah the son of Jehoiada the priest who said to them, “Thus says God: 'Why do you transgress the commandments of the Lord, so that you cannot prosper? Because you have forsaken the Lord, He also has forsaken you’” (2 Chronicles 24:20). They conspired against him and killed him. Joash had killed the son of the man who had anointed him to be king of Israel. He completely forget the kindness which Jehoiada had done for him (2 Chronicles 24:21-22). Eventually, Joash was killed by his own servants because of the blood of Jehoiada’s son which he had shed. God did repay him (2 Chronicles 24:22, 23-25)!

When I read this account, I stand amazed at how easily Joash had forgot everything that Jehoiada the priest had done for him. I cringe at the thought he would kill the son of the man who had been such a blessing to his own life. However, as I look to myself I recall how easily it is for me to forget all the kindness which God has shown to me. God gave His Son to die for me and my sins (John 3:16). It is that goodness of God which led me to repent of my sins (Romans 2:4). As I consider how easily Joash forget the kindness done to him by Jehoiada, do I find myself easily forgetting all the kindness God has shown to me? Today, I will rejoice in all the kindness that God has shown to me and strive to live my life in such a way as not to forget it!

“Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles! Laud Him, all you peoples! For His merciful kindness is great toward us, And the truth of the Lord endures forever. Praise the Lord!” (Psalm 117:1-2).

4/25/16 “Our Eyes Are Upon You!” (Daily Bible Reading: 2 Chronicles 18-21)

O our God, will You not judge them? For we have no power against this great multitude that is coming against us; nor do we know what to do, but our eyes are upon You" (2 Chronicles 20:12).

The above words were spoken by King Jehoshaphat, king of Judah, as he faced the armies of countries who had allied themselves against him (2 Chronicles 20:1-2). Jehoshaphat had been a righteous king who had sought God, walked in His commandments, and took delight in the ways of the Lord (2 Chronicles 17:3-6). Earlier he had been rebuked for associating himself with Ahab the king of Israel (2 Chronicles 18:1-3; 19:1-2). Following his being rebuked, Jehoshaphat responds with true repentance by continuing to promote righteous reforms in Judah such as setting godly judges and priests over the land to execute the Lord’s judgments (2 Chronicles 19:5-11).

Note what Jehoshaphat did when he first hears of this threat which came upon him from these nations allying themselves against him: “And Jehoshaphat feared, and set himself to seek the Lord, and proclaimed a fast throughout all Judah” (2 Chronicles 20:3). He responds in faith by fearing God and setting himself to seek the Lord. He also rallied the nation of Judah to do the same.

As he gathers the nation together in Jerusalem, he acknowledges God’s power by saying, “O Lord God of our fathers, are You not God in heaven, and do You not rule over all the kingdoms of the nations, and in Your hand is there not power and might, so that no one is able to withstand You?” (2 Chronicles 20:6). Although he himself was the king over the great nation of Judah, Jehoshaphat felt utterly powerless to remedy the present situation in which he found himself. He cries out to God: “O our God, will You not judge them? For we have no power against this great multitude that is coming against us; nor do we know what to do, but our eyes are upon You." (2 Chronicles 20:12).

God answers Jehoshaphat’s plea for help as the Spirit of the Lord comes upon Jahaziel the son of Zechariah who says, “Listen, all you of Judah and you inhabitants of Jerusalem, and you, King Jehoshaphat! Thus says the Lord to you: 'Do not be afraid nor dismayed because of this great multitude, for the battle is not yours, but God's’” (2 Chronicles 20:15). Furthermore, God adds, “You will not need to fight in this battle. Position yourselves, stand still and see the salvation of the Lord, who is with you, O Judah and Jerusalem!' Do not fear or be dismayed; tomorrow go out against them, for the Lord is with you" (2 Chronicles 20:17). The people of Judah did not have to fight this battle. All they needed to do was take their seats and watch as God defeated their enemies by having their enemies turn on each other (2 Chronicles 20:22-24).

As I consider these events in the life of King Jehoshaphat, often I find myself in situations in which I am powerless. Sometimes this is because the obstacle I am facing is too overwhelming for me to handle. At other times, the situation I face involves another person who heart and mind I am powerless to change. During such times, I find encouragement from the example of Jehoshaphat. Like him I need to set myself to “seek the Lord”, acknowledge to Him my powerlessness, and tell Him my “eyes are upon You”. I then need to simply wait and see His answer as He says to me, “Do not be afraid nor dismayed because… the battle is not yours, but God’s”! (2 Chronicles 20:3,12,15). Today, I rejoice that God doesn’t expect me to fight every battle which comes my way, but at times, I simply need to “position myself”, “still and see the salvation of the Lord” (2 Chronicles 20:17)!

“Truly my soul silently waits for God; from Him comes my salvation. He only is my rock and my salvation; He is my defense; I shall not be greatly moved” (Psalm 62:1-2).

4/24/16 “Will God Show Himself Strong to Me?” (Daily Bible Reading: 2 Chronicles 15-17)

“And at that time Hanani the seer came to Asa king of Judah, and said to him: ‘Because you have relied on the king of Syria, and have not relied on the Lord your God, therefore the army of the king of Syria has escaped from your hand. Were the Ethiopians and the Lubim not a huge army with very many chariots and horsemen? Yet, because you relied on the Lord, He delivered them into your hand. For the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to show Himself strong on behalf of those whose heart is loyal to Him...’" (2 Chronicles 16:7-9).

King Asa was the great grandson of King Solomon. The beginning of his reign was marked by a 10 year period of peace during which he showed himself to be godly by removing much of the idol worship that had been conducted in the land of Judah (2 Chronicles 14:1-7). After this period of peace, Zerah the Ethiopian came out to fight against him with an army vastly outnumbering his own. When facing this challenge, King Asa relied on the Lord. “And Asa cried out to the Lord his God, and said, ‘Lord, it is nothing for You to help, whether with many or with those who have no power; help us, O Lord our God, for we rest on You, and in Your name we go against this multitude. O Lord, You are our God; do not let man prevail against You!’" (2 Chronicles 14:11). God struck the Ethiopians and gave Asa and Judah a great victory (2 Chronicles 14:12-13). King Asa had showed great faith in relying on God’s strength to deliver him from the crisis he faced!

Following this great victory, God sends His servant Azariah to King Asa with a message from God: “"Hear me, Asa, and all Judah and Benjamin. The Lord is with you while you are with Him. If you seek Him, He will be found by you; but if you forsake Him, He will forsake you” (2 Chronicles 15:2). Following his receiving this message from God, King Asa continues for many years to faithfully serve God as God strengthens his hands (2 Chronicles 15:8-19).

However, in the 36th year of his reign King Asa faces a challenge as Baasha, the king of Israel, begins to threaten the kingdom of Judah by building the fortified city of Ramah which prevents traffic from flowing in and out of Judah (2 Chronicles 16:1). However, on this occasion how does King Asa react? Does he seek the Lord as his strength as he had done in days before? No! King Asa makes a treaty with Ben-Hadad, the king of Syria requesting him to attack Israel to relieve the pressure facing Judah. After Ben-Hadad receives from King Asa the treasuries of silver and gold from the house of the Lord and the king’s house, he fulfills his part of the treaty by attacking Israel on King Asa’s behalf (2 Chronicles 16:2-6). As the opening verses above indicate, God was very displeased with King Asa for doing this. He sends His prophet Hanani the seer to rebuke King Asa for his failure to rely on God during this crisis (2 Chronicles 16:7-9).

As I think about these events in the life of King Asa, I can’t help but think how often I am tempted to act like King Asa. Multiple times in my life God has delivered me from great trials I have faced. I am thankful and I praise God for this! Yet, often when I face a new trial, instead of trusting in God and remembering how he has carried me in the past, I get so wrapped up with worry about the new trial that I seem to forget how God can strengthen me as I face this new challenge. Instead of relying on God, I find myself trying to solve the challenges of the trial myself or foolishly attempting to get other people to help me solve it. Today, as God’s eyes search “to and fro throughout the whole earth, to show Himself strong on behalf of those who heart is loyal to Him”, I will look to God to show Himself strong to me regarding the challenges I face as I focus on having my heart be loyal to Him!

“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13)