He (Hezekiah) did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, just as his father David had done. He removed the high places, smashed the sacred stones and cut down the Asherah poles. He broke into pieces the bronze snake Moses had made, for up to that time the Israelites had been burning incense to it.
2 Kings 18:3-4 (NIV)
He (Josiah) did what was right in the eyes of the Lord and followed completely the ways of his father David, not turning aside to the right or to the left.
2 Kings 22:2 (NIV)
In the book of 2 Kings chapter 17, the fall of the northern kingdom (Israel) to Assyria in 722 BC is recorded. Alone and vulnerable, the southern kingdom (Judah) remains intact until its fall to the Babylonians in 586 BC. During this 136-year period, Judah experienced blessing and reform during the reigns of two of her greatest kings, Hezekiah and Josiah, recorded in 2 Kings chapters 18-25. We are reminded that obedient kings have a profound and positive impact on God’s people. These two kings attempted to re-establish righteousness and obedience to God’s commands. Sometimes God just needs to clean house and these two men most certainly did that for Judah. God sent them in the midst of their distress after witnessing the fall of their comrades in the northern kingdom who, after refusing to abandon their sinful ways and pagan worship, were taken away into captivity. This was an opportunity for the people of Judah to get things right before it happened to them as well. Out of God’s love for them He extended this opportunity to be guided on the right path, to cling to Him once more. However, Judah was disobedient in their own right once these two kings had left them and eventually fell into their captives’ hands. That doesn’t take away from the fact that God was trying to reel in their hearts and save them from their own ways. My story tells the same message, as I’m sure yours does too. We need to listen and allow God to remove things from our lives and not go back to pick them up again, only to be carried away by them. Praise God for His redemptive heart towards us. Praise God for His pursuit.
There are multiple voices that can keep us from the destinies Christ has planned for us. Through my journey of rediscovering Christ, I have had to learn which voices to listen to and which not. I’ve also had to learn how to speak to myself and view myself, which I think is equally as important. What the world and others tell us we are is often based on several factors. Two of the biggest are what we’ve done right, and what we’ve done wrong. Some people like to measure us by our past. I know lots of people who have relocated or moved jobs just to start over. That’s because most people I’ve ever met have a really hard time allowing someone to start over after making mistakes (small or big). I find that those people really haven’t grasped the concept of grace, for themselves, or for others. But God brings us encouragement.
“For I will be merciful toward their iniquities, and I will remember their sins no more.””
Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.
Our society is also very success driven. I was raised in an athletic-minded family and academically-driven family. My life was pushed in a way that anything short of an A in a class or a medal at a tournament was not success. I developed an identity based on how good I was at school, sports, relationships, my career, etc…Nowhere in that was the true measure of success found. But God reminds us that our success is tied up in His success and that we have been individually crafted by Him for a purpose He’s prepared for us.
“For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”
In the tech world re-imaging is the process of installing a new operating system on a machine. This process includes wiping, or clearing, the hard drive entirely, and installing a fresh operating system. When the reimage is complete, it is almost like getting a brand new machine. We, as believers, go through this same process. Check out what it says in Titus.
“But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.”
It can be hard at times to believe this. But we are being washed, regenerated, and renewed from within. We are becoming something brand new. We are neither a sum of our mistakes or of our accomplishments. We are heirs of eternal life. We are Christ’s. And because of that, we are a sum of Who He is and what He is making us into.
“For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised. From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.”
2 Corinthians 5:14-17
We are meant to be compelled by love. To be reimaged means we are no longer viewed the same, and by extension, not viewing others the same either. Christ is literally installing a new operating system in us. The new system means we no longer live for ourselves. This process also means we’ve been given a new calling as ambassadors for the gospel.
I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
We all have a story. In that is the story of God’s goodness and grace. We can display the before and after stories. We can live out our faith so even the doubters can see what a changed heart looks like. God is in the business of remaking lives and using broken people. That’s something I find very encouraging. Just listen to some of these names from the Biblical story:
Jonah (ran from God)
Woman at the well (sexual sin)
Each of these people, today, are not looked at by what they did, but by who they became in and through the grace of God. They all serve as powerful stories of repentance, mercy, love, and a passion for the Lord. Everyone loves a redemption story. They are the most compelling. I think that is because we all long for that in our own lives. The good news is, that same thing is extended to all of those Bible heroes is also extended to us. No matter where we meet Him, at a well, a burning bush, the road to Damascus, a car ride to work, or in front of the bathroom mirror. It doesn’t matter. What matters is the response.
“Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”
There is nothing more precious than the surpassing worth of knowing Christ. The very thought that Christ has made you and me His own is overwhelming. It’s time we lay aside our past and keep pressing on toward Christ and His call on our life.
Coming up next week, I will be speaking at a men’s ministry event, and later that week, at our church. Several days ago, I came to the conclusion that I devote so much more time and energy to prayer, study, journaling, and meditation, when I am preparing for something than I do normally. This time around, that realization brought with it a conviction. I tried to shrug it off by telling myself that it makes perfect sense to devote more time during a preparation period. However, I knew deep down that this wasn’t true.
In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction.
2 TImothy 4:1-2 NIV
Paul’s words to Timothy can be applied to every believer. Whether we are speaking in front of an audience, or living our everyday life, we are a kingdom of priests called to witness Christ. To do that, our hearts and minds need to be intuned and prepared. Delivering a message at a church or leading a bible study are important, but not more so than the message our lives speak to our loved ones, friends, neighbors, and coworkers. As I was doing my mental gymnastics a few days ago, I felt the Lord opening me up to this idea. I need to carve out the same kind of time in my day-to-day that I do in preparation for speaking.
The Bible speaks so much on the topics of prayer. More than that, it says how prayer should be a constant. The connection with Christ shouldn’t be seasonal or circumstantial. I had to confess to my wife also that I spend more time in prayer when things aren’t going smoothly. How sad is that? Prayer and contemplating God’s word, are supposed to be ingrained in our lifestyle. Check out these passages.
Pray without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:17)
Be constant in prayer (Romans 12:12)
Pray about everything (Philippians 4:6)
Meditate on the Word day and night (Joshua 1:8)
Fix our eyes and meditate on God’s words (Psalm 119:15)
Delight in God’s words and meditate on it day and night (Psalm 1:2)
I owe Christ more. I owe Him everything. I owe Him all of me. How could I be so inconsistent? How could I be so misguided? Conviction can produce one of two outcomes. I will either learn and grow. Or I will retreat due to guilt. May the latter not be so. If any of you reading this are convicted as I am, join me in trying to draw nearer. Let us pursue a more consistent connection to the Vine. Thank you Jesus for your patience and grace.
It may seem like an odd concept, but we are all marketing something. The way we dress, speak, act, and carry ourselves, are all sending messages to those around us. The question is, what are you advertising? For those bound to Christ, the answer is given to us. God’s purpose for all of us is to be image barrers. That is far more than our physical appearance. It entails a lifestyle. Our entire beings are wrapped up in this. No one did that better the Jesus of Nazareth. He is God in the flesh. The full radiance of God contained in Him. He breathed out the life of God everywhere He went. Once we take on the name of “Christian” we are devoting ourselves to display the life of Christ through our very own. What we wear, how we speak, and our actions should all announce the One our hearts are devoted to. This is just as challenging to me as it is to anyone reading this. There are days I fall flat. In those moments too, we can display humility and experience the grace won for us by Christ.
There are those in my life who have helped me along the way. They are the ones who show me Jesus day in a day out. My hope is, that you too can think of people in your own life who have pointed you towards Jesus by their devotion to Him. So many people have been introduced to Christ through the lives of others. The world is watching. Our family is watching. Our friends and coworkers are watching. We have chosen to be clothed in Christ. Lets wear it well.
You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.
During the Cold War, many Christians in Eastern Europe would memorize entire books of the Bible and then destroy their copies. They had to do that because they would have either been arrested, sent to prison camps, or disappear. There was no room for God in the Soviet Union or their satellite states. To have any God other than those in power was akin to a crime against the state itself. Still, in places like North Korea, China, Vietnam, Iran, Indonesia, and more, the persecution towards believers forces them to absorb as much of God’s word as possible because they can’t risk being caught reading openly. For those of us not living under the tyranny of a radical theocracy or a commnunist system, memorizing scripture can still serve an important role in our journey of faith.
I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.
Psalm 119:11 ESV
Knowing God’s word…I mean really knowing it…helps us in the war against sin. Satan, our flesh, and the cultures of the world are constantly whispering, and often yelling, messages in our ears that lead us into sin. By memorizing scripture, we give ourselves a weapons cache to fire back. Jesus demonstrated this when He allowed Satan to tempt Him in the wilderness. Every temptation was met with God’s word. The only way we can do the same is to know how to distinguish messages that line up with scripture and those that do not. A huge fault I see in so many Christians is an utter lack of biblical knowledge. I’m not referring to seeking a degree in theological studies. I’m talking about a lack of knowing what is said in the Bible. When we don’t know what God says, we’ll believe what those opposed to Biblical principles say.
This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success.
Joshua 1:8 ESV
We can’t live out scripture if we don’t know scripture. Every believer should be a student of their Master. To meditate on scripture is to meditate on the Lord Himself. The more we focus on the story of God the more we know Him. The more we know Him the more we love Him. The more we love Him, the more we live for Him. Just as any relationship thrives on attention and communication, so to does our relationship with the Lord. Our lives of devotion should be a pattern of prayer, reading, and praise.
Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.
Romans 12:2 NIV
Our mind is a battleground. Our mind is also malleable. We have the ability to make it into what we want. And since so much of what we say and do is determined by the mind, why not pour more energy into making it a core of light. From the moment we start absorbing things as a child, negative things creep in. We have to fight for hope. We battle for purity. We war for compassion and generosity. The nature of the fallen mind is to look inward, preserve self, seek comfort, elevate self importance or dwell on self pitty. Our minds need transformed. One of the best ways to do that is through meditation and memorization of scripture. That, in turn, will help us to focus on pure and truthful things. Our eyes will turn outwards towards those around us. Our self importance will diminish, yet at the same time, we will feel more loved and valued than ever before.
If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.
John 15:7 NASB
To abide in Christ is equated to having Christ’s words abiding in us. This isn’t a reference to Christ dwelling in us, it’s a call to know His words. To abide means to obey, stick to, hold to, and follow. When we are so intuned with Christ and His words, then our desires will be His desires for us. The things we ask for in prayer will align with the holy life that Christ is calling us to in the first place.
So whether we live in an area where the Christian faith is heavily restricted or even persecuted, an area where affluence and apathy attempt to shadow the call of piety, or an area where freedom allows us to live out our faith, it is equally important to pursue a rich understanding of God’s word. As followers of Christ, we are called to love Him and to make Him known. We can’t do either if we don’t know Him. No one else has ever loved you more. No one else crafted you. No one else pursues a relationship with you like Jesus does. The greatest gift in this life will be to know Him.
So all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah. They said to him, “You are old, and your sons do not follow your ways; now appoint a king to lead us, such as all the other nations have.”
1 Samuel 8:4-5 (NIV)
But now your (Saul) kingdom will not endure; the Lord has sought out a man (David) after his own heart and appointed him ruler of his people, because you have not kept the Lord’s command.”
1 Samuel 13:14 (NIV) [my emphasis]
As we open up to the book of Psalms and read through the prayers of David we can see what it is like to have a true heart after God. He was the man that God would use to unify and strengthen the nation of Israel. David was by no means a perfect man but his heart was often in the right place. He was humble and repentant before God. Two of the most important characteristics required of a child of God.
Hear me, Lord, and answer me, or I am poor and needy. Guard my life, for I am faithful to you; save your servant who trusts in you. You are my God; have mercy on me, Lord, for I call to you all day long. Bring joy to your servant, Lord, for I put my trust in you. You, Lord, are forgiving and good, abounding in love to all who call to you. Hear my prayer, Lord; listen to my cry for mercy.
Psalm 86:1-6 (NIV)
Towards the end of the time of the Judges, the people had longed for a king and no longer wanted a judge over them. They wanted to be like the nations around them, even though God had called them to be separate. However, the Lord gave them what they wanted. He rose up and anointed Saul. But Saul had a problem with following through completely with what God asked of him. In ways, he served the people before he served God. So God raised up another in his place.
After removing Saul, he made David their king. God testified concerning him: ‘I have found David son of Jesse, a man after my own heart; he will do everything I want him to do.’
Acts 13:22 (NIV)
David was chosen to be the seed of the Messiah of God’s children. The Lord brought the nation together and empowered them over their enemies. God gave them a leader, ultimately, in order to bring the nation back to Himself. God wanted them to recognize Him as their King and Judge. But the people lost sight. Even so, God used people, like the Judges, prophets, and certain kings, as part of His plan of redeeming a wayward people.
It’s incredible to see how God will redirect our lives after we make demands of Him. We, at times, will take a path that we think is best for us. Only an awesome God would allow us free will, knowing full well He can restore us and He can make us new. Just as He did for Israel, God has brought people into all of our lives to help guide us on the right path. Maybe we’ve embraced it, maybe we haven’t. But as the Good Shepherd, the Lord is constantly trying to reach us and lead us in the path of life. He doesn’t abandon us to our own despair. He doesn’t walk away from us even when we walk away from Him. Just as the father of the prodigal son God is waiting with open arms to embrace His wayward children. That is redemptive love.
Celebrate your redemption brothers and sisters. There is no greater gift.
But when the people of Israel cried out to the Lord, the Lord raised up a deliverer for the people of Israel, who saved them…
Judges 3:9 (ESV)
This verse from chapter three appears several times throughout the book of Judges and contains the main idea of the entire book. God’s people rebel, they are given over to what holds them captive, they are in misery and cry out for God’s help, and God is faithful and true to deliver them…again and again. It became very predictable and quite frankly sad. However, it serves as a mirror for our own stories. We have all refused to lay things down, whether it’s a vice or a character flaw. Anyone who has followed Jesus for a long time knows all too well, what it is like to repent for the same thing time and time again. God’s patience endured then, just as it does now.
In the previous book, Joshua had successfully led the people of Israel in capturing the promised land, divided the land, and called them to serve the Lord as he and His family were resolved to do (Joshua 24:15). In Joshua’s last days and especially after his passing, the people of Israel walked away from God. They walked in such a way that the world around them said was good and ended up in misery. They compromised their faith and pursuit of God and traded it in for the corruption of the world.
Throughout the book, God raises up 12 judges to guide the people back to His love, yet they fall away each time one of the judges is gone. God’s loving kindness is so amazing. His patience in our lives is unmistakable and undeserved, yet He remains true to us. It breaks my heart to know the times I have acted like the Israelites in the book of Judges, yet I press forward attempting to surrender my whole heart completely to Him.
Your love, Lord, reaches to the heavens, your faithfulness to the skies. Your righteousness is like the highest mountains, your justice like the great deep. You, Lord, preserve both people and animals. How priceless is your unfailing love, O God! People take refuge in the shadow of your wings. They feast on the abundance of your house; you give them drink from your river of delights. For with you is the fountain of life; in your light we see light.
“Offer right sacrifices, and put your trust in the Lord. There are many who say, “Who will show us some good? Lift up the light of your face upon us, O Lord!” You have put more joy in my heart than they have when their grain and wine abound. In peace I will both lie down and sleep; for you alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety.”
Psalm 4:5-8 ESV
Peace is one of those universally sought-after things. But there is a multitude of ways people try to achieve it. One thing is true, peace is not connected to our circumstances. If it is, then peace will always be elusive.
“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.”
John 14:27 ESV
When Jesus spoke these words, it was on the brink of sending His followers out into a hostile world. Trials and hardships would be a nearly constant companion for them. But in spite of that, Jesus still says they can have peace. He can make that promise because He is the source of that peace. Notice He said that it was His peace that He gave to us. Any reading of the four gospel accounts reveals a life full of circumstances that would not give many of us peace. Jesus was born into poverty, hunted when He was a child, relocated multiple times, lost His father at some point as a child, lived as a wanted man for three years, mocked and ridiculed, abandoned by friends and family, persecuted, beaten, and executed. Even in light of all of that, Jesus (being the Prince of Peace) lived a life at peace and promised that we can have the same.
Our peace is based on Who He is. It’s based on the fact that our life has meaning and purpose. That we are loved and have immense value. We are pursued and fought for. We have grace even though we make mistakes every day. We are accepted in Christ and based on His perfection, not our brokenness. We have peace knowing our trials are temporary and our pain and loss will end one day in the happiest of happily ever afters.
Psalm 4 also says that it is the Lord who puts joy and peace in our hearts. It is in Him, through Him, and because of Him. But sacrifice is required on our part. Romans 12 talks about being a daily living sacrifice. We must lay down our plans for His, our desires for His, our pride for humility, our materialism for a life of service, and our self-centered love for selfless love. There is always sacrifice on the way to peace. He paid the ultimate price, now it’s our turn to surrender selfish ambition for a life spent in bringing joy, life, encouragement, and hope to others. At the end of ourselves, we find peace.
“Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen and called its name Ebenezer; for he said, “Till now the Lord has helped us.””
1 Samuel 7:12 ESV
I’ve been reading a lot lately about God’s deliverance. The entire story of the Bible is a compilation of miraculous occurrences of God’s intervention to rescue and save His creation. He covered Adam and Eve after their sin and fall. He preserves Noah’s family and the animals through the flood. He rescued Lot and his family from wicked Sodom. He preserved Joseph in Egypt. He reached down to save Hagar and her child. He parted the sea for Israel. He tore down the walls if Jericho. He guided David’s stone to take down the giant Goliath. He gave victory to Gideon’s tiny forces against a large enemy. He reached down and struck the army set against Jerusalem in the days of Hezekiah.
“But you, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.”
Psalm 86:15 ESV
These are just a handful of the stories of God’s saving grace. If we take the time to stop and reflect, we will see our own story is also full of stories of God’s deliverance. I know mine is. And like the Prophet Samuel, we should set up a stone of remembrance. However that may look. But the greatest act of deliverance is not symbolized in a stone, but in a cross. Not in a mound of stones, but in one that was rolled away. Every Ebenezer points us to where our hope truly is, but none more so than cross of Christ and His empty tomb.
“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God,”
Ephesians 2:8 ESV
If you’re finding life just a little too heavy right now, like myself, join me in the soul searching experience of remembering and honoring God’s faithfulness. Peace in Christ brothers and sisters.
There are three major movements in scripture that highlight the power meaning of light. One, the creation of the world (Gen 1:1-3). Two, Christ’s incarnation (John 1:1-5). And three, the new Heavens a new Earth being formed (Rev 22:1-5).
Each of these movements were acts of creation to bring about something new. Movement one, the world is made. Movement two, the Word became flesh, which in itself is an act of creation, but also, what Jesus came to do was to create a whole new thing in the Church. The body of Christ is a creation. Those who put their faith in Jesus are called a new creation in 2 Corinthians 5:17. That new creation is not supposed to behave, think, or even feel like the old self, but like the new self. (Ephesians 4:24, Colossians 3:12-14, Romans 6:6) At the end of time God is going to remake all things into a new heaven and a new earth. This act of creation is talked about in Isaiah 65:17, Hebrews 12:26-27, and Revelation 21:1).
Each of these movements had the same centerpiece, which is Jesus. How did God create everything? He spoke it into existence. Colossians 1:15-17 states it was by Jesus, through Jesus, and for Jesus that all things were created. How can this be that Jesus created all things when Genesis 1 doesn’t mention Jesus? Well it does actually. Pair Genesis 1 with John 1. The very words God spoke were Jesus. He is the word, which is also why Jesus can say that all scripture (God’s word) is about Him in John 5:39. In the final creation it will be the Lamb and the Almighty who serve as both the light and the temple. From beginning, middle, to end, we see Jesus at the center of it all.
Each of these movements had the same purpose which is to bring life. Often light and life are interwoven. We need light, plants need light, animals need light. According to healthline, light gives us well needed vitamin D, helps with mental health and focus, and improves our circadian rhythms and sleep patterns. Light is life-giving.
In John 1 Jesus is both the light and the life of men. In Colossians 3:4 Jesus is also referred to as our life. In John 8:12 Jesus is proclaimed as the light of the world. Those who follow Jesus are also called the light of the world. Just as Jesus brings life, we are supposed to be little life-givers ourselves. Our words and actions should inspire and encourage and strengthen the weak and downhearted. We should be serving, loving, sharing, and speaking truth and life to those around us. Where Jesus goes, life goes, therefore where followers of Jesus go, there life should be also. God created life in the beginning, but first had to make light. God created a new life in Jesus, but first the eternal light had to become flesh and enter the world. God will create a new glorious life in the age to come, but first He will become the light and life that shines through it all.