Obedience


2 Kings 11-15 (NLT link) 

Discover His heart: He sees our good deeds but rewards our strong and faithful finish

As somewhat of an overachiever in school, my dismay at discovering an Incomplete for one of my college grades one semester was huge.  How did it happen?  This was unacceptable!  After an investigation, I found that someone, a professor who will remain nameless, had lost my final term paper, leaving my classroom work unfinished, incomplete, undone.   Of course, as dramatic as this was for me, it pales in comparison to, say, Schubert’s The Unfinished Symphony, or Tolkien’s Unfinished Tales.  However, my term paper eventually was recovered, and I received the grade I desired.  And these two gentlemen? Well, let’s just say that they have some work left to do.

Today we read about a number of other men who failed to complete the task they had started, and the repercussions were much more impacting than incomplete grades, symphonies and novels.  The kings of Judah, namely Joash, Amaziah, Uzziah and Jotham, started their reigns on the right track but didn’t finish strong, “Joash did what was pleasing in the Lord’s sight…Yet even so, he did not destroy the pagan shrines, and the people still offered sacrifices and burned incense there.” (12:2-3)  This was said about each of these kings.  Many of them accomplished good things for Israel but did not complete the work that needed to be done as their forefather David had done in removing the occult places of worship and sacrifice.  Why didn’t they finish the job, complete the task, do the deed?

As for Joash, he became king at the ripe age of 7.  The priest, Jehoiada, influenced much of Joash’s early years, including the repairing of the temple.  Perhaps they felt that with the temple once again a beautiful house of worship, the Israelites would soon forget about the pagan shrines, but it didn’t happen.  It would have been wiser destroying the sin rather than ignoring it with the hope that it would just go away.  When we don’t deal with sin, it somehow manages to rear its ugly head somewhere down the line.  Eventually, Joash worshipped at the shrines himself.  Ugh.

Popularity may have been an issue for the kings.  The Israelites loved their pagan shrines and the immoral festivities that took place around them, and certainly any king who destroyed them would suffer drastically in the polls.  However, I would think these kings would have preferred unpopularity over the murder and disease that finally took them. The story could have ended differently for these leaders had they completed their tasks and finished strong.

Rather than accomplishing just a few good things in my life and then falling off the wagon because of sin or seeking popularity instead of godliness, I’m challenged to finish strong for Him.  I want to say with Paul, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, and I have remained faithful.” (2 Timothy 4:7)  No more incompletes for me! 

Moving Forward: May I remain faithful to Him, not only finishing the job but finishing strong! 

Tomorrow @ Psalms 84-86

2 Kings 1-5 (NLT link) 

Discover His heart: With His abundant provision, He blesses our obedience

Being Italian and all, I experience a sense of panic when I’m down to the last of my olive oil.  Olive oil is the start of almost everything I cook and often the finishing touch.  If I ever ran out of it, well…obviously, we would have to eat out!  A poor widow in Israel was down to her last small bottle of olive oil, but that was the least of her problems. 

@ 2 Kings 4
The widow explained to the prophet Elisha, “My husband who served you is dead, and you know how he feared the Lord.  But now a creditor has come, threatening to take my two sons as slaves.” (1)  Thankfully, Elisha was concerned not only with nations and kings, but he was also interested in how he could help her.  Even though much of the nation of Israel was godless and corrupt at the time, God provided for His children who loved Him.  This is a powerful word for us today.

“Tell me, what do you have in the house?”  Enter the bottle of olive oil. “‘Nothing at all, except a flask of olive oil,’ she replied.” (2)  It’s amazing what God can do with nothing at all.  In obedience to Elisha’s instruction, the widow and her sons collected empty jars from their friends and neighbors.  Surely this seemed strange to them, but they borrowed the jars in faith. And the miracle came, not through their understanding of it, but through their obedience to it.  So often our faith fails, but never His faithfulness.

Elisha instructed them to “borrow as many empty jars as they could…then go into the house with your sons and shut the door behind you.”(3)  No doubt the creditors were watching, and the friends and neighbors were curious about what was happening.  Perhaps Elisha shut the door because he wanted to be certain that no one caused them to doubt with questions and criticism that would circumvent this miracle from God.  Likewise, we would do well to protect ourselves from those, well-meaning or not, who would hinder our obedience to Him.  “Pour olive oil from your flask into the jars…So she did as she was told.  Her sons kept bringing jars to her, and she filled one after another.  Soon every container was full to the brim!” (4)  If this miracle doesn’t excite us, we should check our pulse – really!

The increase came in the pouring out, not the hoarding of what she considered nothing at all – a flask of oil.  Regardless of our need, what do we possess?  Perhaps it’s something we consider nothing at all that we can offer to Him in obedience.  In our submission we are saying, “This is yours, Lord, use it, multiply it, and pour it out however you choose.  I don’t need to understand because I know you are faithful.”

However He leads, whether through His whisper or His guidance through open doors, let’s be enthusiastically obedient, full of faith for our needs to be met and then some.  What if the widow had borrowed only 1 or 2 jars?  “Bring me another jar,’ she said to one of her sons.  ‘There aren’t any more,’ he told her.  And then the olive oil stopped flowing.”  I don’t want my faith to stop short of all He wants to provide for me – I want to fill every last jar!

“When she told the man of God what had happened, he said to her, ‘Now sell the olive oil and pay your debts, and you and your sons can live on what is left over.’” (7)  Needs met…and then some!  An old Gary Chapman song comes to mind, “I’m yours, Lord, everything I’ve got.  Everything I am, everything I’m not…”  I want to give it all to God and trust Him to meet my needs…and then some! 

Moving Forward: With His Word thrilling my heart today, I once again pour myself out, everything I am, everything I’m not.  I can’t wait to see what His hand provides. 

Tomorrow @ Psalms 78-80

Leviticus 10-12 (NLT link) 

Discover His heart: He expects us to honor His holiness 

@ Leviticus 10
The sin of Nadab and Abihu – what a way to start the day!  “Aaron’s sons Nadab and Abihu put coals of fire in their incense burners and sprinkled incense over them.  In this way, they disobeyed the Lord by burning before Him the wrong kind of fire [strange fire], different than He had commanded.  So fire blazed forth from the Lord’s presence and burned them up, and they died there before the Lord.” (1-2)  Toast!   We may argue that we are now living in the dispensation of grace, but tell that to Ananias and Sapphira of Acts 5 who lied to the Holy Spirit and fell over dead. I have found God to be gracious, merciful and longsuffering, but I also believe that His holiness deserves our utmost respect and honor, expected especially from those who serve Him.

What caused God to move so swiftly in His response to the offering of Aaron’s sons?  Some have suggested it was multiple misdemeanors resulting in one massive offense to God.  Or perhaps:

1) These newly-ordained priests, anxious to perform their duties, took it upon themselves to offer fire on the altar of burnt offering which was something reserved only for their father to do with their assistance at this point.  We understand their zeal and excitement to serve, don’t we?

2) Then, instead of offering coals from the perpetual Holy fire, they offered coals from another common or ordinary fire.  They showed lack of respect for the fire that God had ignited at the very first burnt offering.  This fire had continued burning from that first offering until 860 years later when Jerusalem fell to Babylon – it was Holy. (See June 19 @ Leviticus 4-6) It’s easy to understand why this ordinary fire would be so strange to God.

3)  Why were these young priests so impulsive and foolish in their behavior?  Some believe they may have been drunk.  After a long day of eating and drinking from the peace and drink offerings, they may have overindulged to the point of dulling their senses – not good.

While these points are somewhat supposition, the scripture following this account helps us to understand that God requires His servants to display His Holiness, not their own. “I will display My holiness through those who come near me.” (3) Also, God insisted on sobriety from His servants so that sins like this one would not be committed, “You and your descendants must never drink wine or any other alcoholic drink before going into the Tabernacle…You must distinguish between what is sacred and what is common.”(9-10)

This story causes me to examine my usefulness to God.  Have I offered strange fire in my service to Him?  If so, what did I do?  I would think anything I do in ministry that glorifies and draws attention to me instead of to Him would be considered strange to Him.   Ministry that results from the latest trends and styles excluding the inspiration of His Holy Spirit would be strange to Him as well.  And I certainly would be wise to avoid being drunk with…anything!  Wine, power, hatred, jealousy to name a few.  These things will only dull my spiritual senses and cause me to sin or make mistakes.

Many privileges come with leadership and ministry, and so do many responsibilities. Jesus said, “When someone has been given much, much will be required in return; and when someone has been entrusted with much, even more will be required.” (Luke 12:48)  Yes, He is grace and mercy to us, but we serve a Holy, Holy God, there is none like Him.  May our ministry, no matter what it is, be obedient, respectful and useful, reflecting His Holiness with our lives. 

Moving Forward: I examine my heart today to be certain that my service honors Him and Him alone.

Tomorrow @ 2 Kings 1-5

1 Kings 14-18 (NLT link)

Discover His heart: He wants us to do what He wants us to do

My 10-year-old granddaughter talks a mile a minute and has me wrapped pretty tightly around her little finger. This adorable little girl is intelligent beyond measure and carries enough charm to bring the world to her feet – all facts that are irrelevant to the point I am making but needing to be shared.  I’m sure you understand.

Our reading today reminded me of something she said when she was just two years old.  If you remember, two is the year of the terrible when our precious, cooing little bundle of joy discovers its own will.  When asked to do something by her mother, our ordinarily compliant little girl responded, “I don’t want to do that!  I want to do what I want to do.”  I had to turn my head away to hide my smile because her mother was doing a little reaping at the moment. But just as the commitment to training helped transform our daughter through her terrible twos into the beautiful Godly woman she is today, her instructions and disciplines are doing the same for her daughter.

Today’s reading is about a nation that did not want to do what God wanted them to do and wanted to do what they wanted to do.  God sent someone along who helped them understand who really was in charge so they would be without excuse when discipline for this attitude came to them.

The nation of Israel was now a divided Kingdom – the ten tribes of the northern Kingdom, ruled by rebel leader Jeroboam and the two tribes of the Southern Kingdom, Judah, ruled by Solomon’s son, Rehoboam.  Neither of the kings served God, and both led the people in worship of other gods.  What a sad state of affairs.

Idolatry is a self-serving form of religion that has the mentality, “If it feels good, do it!” The Israelites chose to leave the restrictions of the law and decided to worship gods that offered no restraint on their physical, social and personal passions.  They wanted the freedom to do as they pleased without fear of punishment, an attitude that sounds very…current.

After years of idol worship, Israel was now led by wicked King Ahab.  Like a good parent, God sent the hand of discipline through the prophet Elijah who declared to Ahab, “As surely as the Lord, the God of Israel lives—the God I serve—there will be no dew or rain during the next few years until I give the word!” (17:1)

1 Kings 18
“So, is it really you, you troublemaker of Israel?” (17) asked Ahab when Elijah returned for a visit after his prophecy of no rain.  Elijah replied, “I have made no trouble for Israel…You and your family are the troublemakers, for you have refused to obey the commands of the Lord and have worshiped the images of Baal instead.” (18) The showdown on Mount Carmel proved that Baal and Asherah were no match for the true and living God, and Ahab’s 850 pagan prophets were useless against Him.  Apparently, Ahab did not know Who he was dealing with, but Elijah knew His God, “O Lord, God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, prove today that you are God in Israel…Immediately the fire of the Lord flashed down from heaven and burned up the young bull, the wood, the stones and the dust.  It even licked up all the water in the trench!” (36,38) I love it when God shows up BIG to defeat the false gods of this world.

These false gods promise freedom from restraint and appeal to our fleshly passions to do what we want to do, but they are no match for the fire of God.  The only requirement is that we submit to His discipline and call on His fire to come down and burn us up entirely with the Fire of Holiness.  He will show up BIG in our lives and bless us with His grace and wisdom to do what He wants us to do.  We will be the men and women of God that He desires us to be! 

Moving Forward: My heart cries, “Burn me up, Lord, with your Holiness that I may stand in your Holy place. 

Tomorrow @ Psalms 72-74

Leviticus 4-6 (NLT link)

Discover His heart: He desires that our lives are a perpetual flame for Him

There’s nothing like sitting around a campfire, reminiscing with friends and family, toasting marshmallows and enjoying the warmth…hair smelling of smoke, the swatting at mosquitoes, listening to ferocious animals in the distance.  OK, let me change this scenario.  There’s nothing like sitting in front of a cozy fireplace, sinking into a comfy sofa and sipping hot chocolate with worship music wafting in the background.  Ahhh…

My husband has completed training in Fireplace Fire Construction 101, and after many years of diligent practice, he’s got it down. Each log is artfully placed to provide the proper airflow, kindling is strategically located to ignite the artfully placed logs, and before you know it, we have a beautiful fire.  I love him for that.  The fire smolders in the fireplace until long after we have dozed off to sleep, but by morning, not even a spark remains.  I can’t imagine the dedication it would take to keep that wood fire going all night long.

Tucked in between the instructions for many offerings to be burned by the Israelites for the atonement of their sins is a paragraph regarding the burnt offering.  Offered once in the morning and again in the evening, the burnt offering was presented by the priests for the atonement of the entire congregation.  The Lord instructed Moses five times in this short paragraph that the fire was to be kept burning at all times. “Remember, the fire must be kept burning on the altar at all times.  It must never go out.” (6:13)

Jews have long believed that the fire never went out from this moment of instruction from God until the Babylonian captivity some 860 years later.  Talk about dedication!  Why was this fire so crucial that God expected this commitment?  In Leviticus 9:24 we learn that the first burnt offering was set on fire by God Himself, causing the entire congregation to fall face down on the ground.  The perpetual flame honored the original fire that came from God and the continual need for atonement or forgiveness for their sins.  It was symbolic of perpetual worship and habitual attention or mindfulness of spiritual things.

Do we remember and honor the original fire that set our lives aflame for God?  That moment when the Holy Spirit’s conviction burned deep within our hearts and the sacrifice of Jesus cleansed us from our sins?  This question causes me to consider what I am doing to keep the fire of God going in my life, a habitual attention or mindfulness of spiritual things rather than the myriad of things that seem to consume my time.  Are the gifts and talents He has given me dedicated entirely as perpetual worship and service to Him?  Have I fanned the flame of these gifts (2 Timothy 1:8) and put another log on the fire, so to speak, to keep it burning?

I pray that I will never be listed with the dying embers of Laodicea in Revelation 3:15-16, “I know all the things you do, that you are neither hot nor cold…I will spit you out of my mouth.”  I want to be hot, a perpetual flame for Him!

Moving Forward: I desire that my life burns hotter for Him today than ever before, dedicated to keeping His flame going. 

Tomorrow @ I Kings 14-18

1 Kings 10-13 (NLT) 

Discover His heart: He grants wisdom for our lives as we follow Him

Sadly, we learn that the wisest man that ever lived wasn’t always all that wise. “Now King Solomon loved many foreign women…The Lord had clearly instructed the people of Israel, ‘You must not marry them, because they will turn your hearts to their gods.’  Yet Solomon insisted on loving them anyway.  He had 700 wives of royal birth and 300 concubines.  And in fact, they did turn his heart away from the Lord.”(11:1-3)  Soon God allowed foreign kings to rise up against Solomon as well as his own people, shortening his reign and his life, ultimately splitting the kingdom.  What was the wisest man in the history of the world thinking?

In response to Solomon’s love for Him, God offered Solomon the moon, but Solomon asked for wisdom instead.  In and of itself, this was wise.  As a young, inexperienced king, he knew he could only survive with God’s help.  As time passed, Solomon’s kingdom was lavished with prosperity and notoriety, so much so that the Queen of Sheba traveled over 1,000 miles to visit him, and in those days that was quite the trip. (10:1-13)  With all this prosperity and unlimited wisdom, Solomon’s reign could have lasted much longer than 40 years, but he had disregarded the if clause in his granted wish.  God said He would give him wisdom and understanding as well as riches and fame for the rest of his life, “…if you follow me and obey my decrees and my commands as your father, David, did, I will give you a long life.”(3:14)

Solomon lost God’s moral direction for his life, the thing that had guided his great wisdom, when he followed his own moral code and worshiped other gods with his many wives.  It seemed wise to Solomon to marry women from neighboring royal families, shoring up his strength in the region, protecting him from foreign invasions.  However, this seemingly altruistic wisdom was contrary to God’s instructions, “You must not marry [foreign women], because they will turn your hearts to their gods.  And in fact, they did turn his heart away from the Lord.”  I’ve often heard repeated the Chinese proverb, “Man is the head of the family, woman the neck that turns the head,” and for Solomon this proved true.

Solomon wrote in Proverbs 14:12 and again in 16:25, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death.” (NIV)  He would know.  Written late in Solomon’s life, Ecclesiastes reveals the regrets and final conclusions of this one-time great king. Great lessons can be learned from Solomon’s life, the good, the bad and the ugly.  God loves and rewards us when we ask for His wisdom to guide our lives, and He loves it, even more, when we follow it. 

Moving Forward: I will follow the dictates of His wisdom today, not those things that just seem wise to me. 

Tomorrow @ Psalms 69-71

Jeremiah 42-46 (NLT) 

Discover His heart: He measures our success by our obedience to Him

Have you ever heard the phrase, “You are about on my last nerve!?”  I think this sentiment would be a fitting assessment of God’s feelings toward Judah at this point in the book of Jeremiah. Approximately 140 years earlier the Northern Kingdom of Israel had fallen to the invading Assyrians because of their unrepentant hearts.  God had sent numerous prophets to warn Judah of a similar outcome if they did not repent of their sins and turn to Him.  Even after Judah’s beloved Jerusalem fell to the Babylonians, the remaining Jews fled to Egypt in disobedience. Right there, last nerve.

The message of God’s last prophet in Judah, Jeremiah, had not been well received.  He was ridiculed, imprisoned, abandoned and finally dragged off to Egypt against his will by the fleeing Jews because his message convicted them of their willful idolatry.  After his move to Egypt, no other events in Jeremiah’s life are recorded in Scripture.  The remaining chapters in the Book of Jeremiah consist of earlier prophecies and events.  Jeremiah traveled a rough road, to say the least.

In Chapter 44, Jeremiah gave his final warning from God to the Judeans living in Egypt, and their response was, “We will not listen to your message from the Lord!  We will do whatever we want.” (44:16-17) Very few scriptures in the Bible so accurately reflect the attitude of many people today. Through media’s subtle message, we have been told that we are our own moral compass, and we can do whatever we want.  Those who must follow God are just not very enlightened.

We unenlightened ones have a formidable task in presenting the gospel at times, but so very few of us have ever faced the ridicule and treatment that Jeremiah faced, not that it couldn’t happen one day.  It just seems like, in light of the story of Jeremiah and what he endured, I could take a few moments to share the incredible love of Jesus with, say, my neighbor…

Many would say Jeremiah was not very successful in his ministry.  He did not turn thousands to the Lord through his eloquent speaking, and the multitudes did not clamor for his healing touch.  In fact, nobody really even liked Jeremiah – I mean, who wants to hang out with someone who is negative and cries all the time!  But then, as we know, God doesn’t measure our success by how well we are liked.

God doesn’t even measure our success by the many sacrifices we have made. “What is more pleasing to the Lord: your burnt offerings and sacrifices or your obedience to his voice? Listen! Obedience is better than sacrifice,” (I Samuel 15:22)  No, Jeremiah was successful because he was obedient to God.  Whether we walk a road like Jeremiah or never experience a bump in the road, we are successful when we do what He wants us to do. 

Moving Forward: I’m challenged by the life of Jeremiah to share God’s message of truth with those around me and walk in obedience to whatever He wants. 

Tomorrow @ Luke 5-6

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