Real Places and People and Real God

June 20    1 Chronicles 7,8 and Proverbs 20

Shalom y’all. 😊 I was born and raised in small town Indiana, then lived in Israel for 25 years, now I am back in the States in the South. So, I will add some pictures and thoughts about Israel in each devotional this week to help give you a taste of it over there.  This year I have been reading through the Chronological Bible for my personal Bible reading and really enjoying it. In various ways, reading through the Bible is a great experience even though some parts are slower. 😊 It is interesting to note that the Hebrew Old Testament is arranged in a slightly different order than in English. In my Hebrew/English Bible the Old Testament ends with 1 and 2 Chronicles as a final summary of the Old Testament.

Although 1 Chronicles 7 & 8 are FILLED with Hebrew names and cities, it is amazing how familiar those names are to native Israelis.  Many people are still called those names today, especially religious Jews. AND many of those cities are STILL called that TODAY. At some places, the ancient ruins of the city are beside the modern one, sharing the SAME NAME! Also, amazing that we still have this record of people and places from about 2,800 years ago.  God’s Word has been preserved through all these years and one can still see the numerous same locations in Israel today.  Israel is a wonderful country and testifies of real places and a real God and Messiah Jesus. See the green patch towards the bottom of our picture, that’s ancient Shechem with the modern city built around it. It is listed among the many cities in 1 Chronicles 7 and 8 and is STILL an actual city in Israel today! Some ancient cities are only in ruins, but the name remains the same.

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Over the years, it has been a great benefit to read the book of Proverbs and focus on a certain topic while reading it and marking that topic with a few letters, like shown in picture. So many good nuggets of wisdom to meditate on! Something interesting is that many times a “child” is mentioned it’s often referring to a “youth” in Hebrew. “Even a youth is known by his actions” (Proverbs 20:11) is how it translates into English, same word used for David when he killed Goliath. I encourage you the next time when you read the book of Proverbs to pick a topic that interests you or that you would like more wisdom in and initial each verse that applies.  Sometimes I have even made a list in a notebook of those verses and then meditated on them, and it has really helped me in that area that I needed more wisdom about.  “The hearing ear and the seeing eye, the LORD has made them both.” (Proverbs 20:12)

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~ Stephanie Schlegel

Read or listen to today’s Bible reading at Biblegateway.com: 1 Chronicles 9-10 and Proverbs 21.

How to Discipline

Proverbs 19

My last devotional for this week comes out of Proverbs 19:18. It says, “Discipline your son while there is hope, and do not desire his death.” After doing this for a week now, the first portion of this passage made me immediately think about Amon. Remember him? He was that king of Judah that was murdered by his servants after reigning for only 2 years. He did evil in the sight of Yahweh. His father, Manasseh, also did evil in the sight of Yahweh but eventually repented and renewed his status with God. I had commented to myself on paper, thanking God for repentance – as there’s still time for it. What if you don’t have the time like Amon? What if you don’t even know that repentance is an option? This is why we are commissioned! Find those Josiahs and let them know the good news!

Discipline your son while there is hope, and do not desire his death… Why would any good parent desire their child’s death? My studies this week have also led me to some wisdom, I think, regarding the latter portion of this verse in Proverbs. I don’t think I would have understood the latter part if I hadn’t immersed myself in the word for a week. Words mean something. This is a wise, powerful statement that lets us know we DO desire our children’s death if we don’t take action to discipline them. We’ve got a great commission in our own homes if we are parents.

I have been wanting to do a study on child-rearing for a while now. Since I desire that my children live, I started by looking into discipline as it is demonstrated in the word. I found that my idea of discipline was nothing like what discipline actually meant in the bible.

Look at the Old Testament and how God, through Moses, disciplined the children of Israel in comparison to the New Testament and how God, through Jesus disciplined.

Deuteronomy 11:1-13 (NIV)

11 Love the Lord your God and keep his requirements, his decrees, his laws and his commands always. Remember today that your children were not the ones who saw and experienced the discipline of the Lord your God: his majesty, his mighty hand, his outstretched arm; the signs he performed and the things he did in the heart of Egypt, both to Pharaoh king of Egypt and to his whole country; what he did to the Egyptian army, to its horses and chariots, how he overwhelmed them with the waters of the Red Sea[a] as they were pursuing you, and how the Lord brought lasting ruin on them. It was not your children who saw what he did for you in the wilderness until you arrived at this place, and what he did to Dathan and Abiram, sons of Eliab the Reubenite, when the earth opened its mouth right in the middle of all Israel and swallowed them up with their households, their tents and every living thing that belonged to them. But it was your own eyes that saw all these great things the Lord has done.

Observe therefore all the commands I am giving you today, so that you may have the strength to go in and take over the land that you are crossing the Jordan to possess, and so that you may live long in the land the Lord swore to your ancestors to give to them and their descendants, a land flowing with milk and honey. 10 The land you are entering to take over is not like the land of Egypt, from which you have come, where you planted your seed and irrigated it by foot as in a vegetable garden. 11 But the land you are crossing the Jordan to take possession of is a land of mountains and valleys that drinks rain from heaven. 12 It is a land the Lord your God cares for; the eyes of the Lord your God are continually on it from the beginning of the year to its end.

13 So if you faithfully obey the commands I am giving you today—to love the Lord your God and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul—

Let’s go through this passage carefully. Through Moses, God disciplined the 12 tribes of Israel (the children of Israel). He disciplined them by first showing them his majesty, or who he was (Yahweh God!). Who he was could be recognized by the works he did (e.g., signs, miracles, plagues). He rescued them (from Egypt) and defeated their enemies (Egypt in the red sea). Along their journey to the promised land, he performed miracles to sustain them in the wilderness (e.g., manna, water from a rock). He got rid of the people among them who were insolent and tried to usurp Moses (i.e., Dathan and Abiram; Korah).

He then disciplines the children of Israel by telling them to obey the commandments they were given (i.e., obey the law of Moses) so that they would have strength to enter the promised land. He entices them to obey the law of Moses by describing how wonderful their hope is. In it, they will have long life and it will be well with them. In it, they will have good things (flowing with milk and honey). It is a land they won’t have to tend themselves (like they did in Egypt) to receive the good things in it. The good things will be sustained through heaven. To me, the last verse shows God’s heart. He cares so much about that land that he desires to give to his children.

Now let’s look at the New Testament and the discipline of God through Jesus. He pretty much does the same thing but gives greater honor and authority to Jesus since Jesus literally is the one who rescues the people.  

In the New Testament, Jesus disciplined the 12 disciples by showing them who he was (is) (The Son of God! The Messiah – pretty much described throughout the whole book of John). Who he was (the Messiah) could be recognized by the works he did in their presence. There were some pretty distinctive works he did that pointed to himself as the Messiah (i.e., Isaiah 35:5-6a “Then the eyes of the blind will be opened and the ears of the deaf will be unstopped. Then the lame will leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute will shout for joy.).

It is Jesus himself who rescued them from their enemy (sin and death) by his death on the cross. Once seated at the right hand of God in heaven, it is Jesus who sustains them along their journey to the Kingdom of God (KOG). Post resurrection, it’s up to them (and us) to do these final things to enter into the KOG through Jesus. Jesus is the bread of life and he is the rock of our salvation who provides living water. He chastens us by pruning us along our journey (e.g., If your right hand offends you, cut it off – get rid of the people and things in your life that try to usurp Jesus as Lord of your life because they’ll prevent you from entering the KOG).

Jesus disciplines us by telling us to obey the Law of Christ (i.e., Love God and love people like Jesus loved). We need to obey these commandments so that we will have strength (through the receiving of the holy spirit) to enter the KOG.

The love of Christ compels us to obey by enticing us with the good things in the KOG, our hope. In the KOG, we will live forever with Jesus (and eventually with God himself). God will wipe away every tear from our eye; sin and death will be no more (the incorruptible crown; the crown of life). In it, we will be rewarded with good things, positional rewards based on how we built upon the foundation that was laid for us (built upon Jesus) (the crown of rejoicing; the crown of righteousness). If you’re an elder in your church, you’ll receive a crown of glory!

Once there, we won’t have to labor like we do now to enjoy the KOG. There will be a river of the water of life flowing from the throne of God and from the lamb. In it will be the tree of life on either side of the street with 12 kinds of fruit. The leaves of the tree will be for the healing of the nations. I realize that this may not all be literal. All I really know is that it will be unimaginably good and that God and my Lord Jesus will be there, so I’d like to be there too.

And then for my correlation of the last verse. I can only imagine the joy Jesus must have when he thinks about the coming KOG. It is his reward. He’ll be ruling the whole world from the new Jerusalem. I think this was God’s plan all along, with Jesus in mind as the king of his kingdom before the foundation of the world, to a people whose desire is for them whom they love.        

Going back to the Old Testament passage, we see that not all of the children of Israel were witnesses to God through Moses. Therefore, he instructs them to discipline their children who were not witnesses. An example of discipling for the children of the children of Israel who were not direct witnesses was laid out for us in Deuteronomy 11.  

Similarly, not many of us were direct witnesses to Jesus’ ministry on earth. Therefore, he instructs his disciples to discipline the rest of us who were not direct witnesses. I believe that through the power of the holy spirit however, we too can be called witnesses of Jesus, and are therefore also commissioned to discipline our children and others (the Josiahs). An example of discipling for us is laid out in the new testament, beginning with the gospels.

Can you say amen?

-Juliet Taylor

Today’s Bible reading passages can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – 1 Chronicles 5-6 and Proverbs 19

The mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart

Proverbs 17-18

The book of wisdom says, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruit.” (Proverbs 18:21). I understand this scripture to mean that we have the power to speak words to others unto life or words unto death, so we should choose our words carefully. If we love to talk, we better make sure our speech represents who we are because we become what we speak (eat your words). Our words are death and life to our own bodies.

I keep coming back to the issue of the heart. I know we need to have a heart for God if we desire to be with him and his son in the Kingdom of God. But how do we really know if we have a heart for God? The heart can be seen in the things we do that correspond with Jesus’ commandments (love) that we must do to enter in. Works are fruit but works can be deceiving if the heart behind the works is not motivated by love. Mathew 7:15 – 23 says:

15 “Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves. 16 You will know them by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes nor figs from thistles, are they? 17 So every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. 18 A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 So then, you will know them by their fruits.

21 “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter22 Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ 23 And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.’

The people speaking to Jesus in this passage are shocked that Jesus doesn’t know them. The works mentioned in this passage do outwardly appear to be good fruit. Fruit can look good on the outside but can be rotten on the inside.

It can be difficult to identify bad fruit sometimes. If you really want to know if you’re producing good fruit or not, there is one particular fruit that’s pretty transparent, at least to the people we’re around the most. Our words are a good indication of what’s in our hearts.

Here’s a similar passage from Luke’s perspective in Luke 6:43-47:

43 For there is no good tree which produces bad fruit, nor, on the other hand, a bad tree which produces good fruit. 44 For each tree is known by its own fruit. For men do not gather figs from thorns, nor do they pick grapes from a briar bush. 45 The good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth what is good; and the evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth what is evil; for his mouth speaks from that which fills his heart.

46 “Why do you call Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say? 47 Everyone who comes to Me and hears My words and acts on them, I will show you whom he is like: 

Jesus has a little more to say about the mouth in Mathew 12:30-37:

  30“He who is not with Me is against Me; and he who does not gather with Me scatters.

      31“Therefore I say to you, any sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven people, but blasphemy against the Spirit shall not be forgiven. 32“Whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man, it shall be forgiven him; but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit, it shall not be forgiven him, either in this age or in the age to come.

      33“Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad; for the tree is known by its fruit. 34“You brood of vipers, how can you, being evil, speak what is good? For the mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart35“The good man brings out of his good treasure what is good; and the evil man brings out of his evil treasure what is evil. 36“But I tell you that every careless word that people speak, they shall give an accounting for it in the day of judgment. 37For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.”

James gives us even more clarity about the power of our speech in chapter 3:5-12:

So also the tongue is a small part of the body, and yet it boasts of great things. See how great a forest is set aflame by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, the very world of unrighteousness; the tongue is set among our body’s parts as that which defiles the whole body and sets on fire the course of our life, and is set on fire by hell. For every species of beasts and birds, of reptiles and creatures of the sea, is tamed and has been tamed by the human race. But no one among mankind can tame the tongue; it is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people, who have been made in the likeness of God; 10 from the same mouth come both blessing and cursing. My brothers and sisters, these things should not be this way. 11 Does a spring send out from the same opening both fresh and bitter water12 Can a fig tree, my brothers and sisters, bear olives, or a vine bear figs? Nor can salt water produce fresh.

Are you noticing as I am that some of the scariest, most convicting verses in the bible for a supposed Christian regard our speech? We must tame our tongue. To tame the tongue we must change our hearts.

By examining our own words, we can tell if we have a heart for God or not. I think it’s a really good indication about our destiny too. If you really want to know if you are producing good fruity speech, ask those who are closest to you how they perceive your speech towards them. If they aren’t on the receiving end of your good fruity speech, that’s not good. Be prepared with your response. If you don’t like what you hear, how will you respond? Choose your words wisely.

If you know you will have trouble responding with good fruit, prune your speech! You might find it helpful to practice not saying anything at all. Proverbs is chock-full of verses that tell us that there is wisdom in keeping our mouths closed. Even a silent fool is considered wise if he keeps his mouth shut. We can use that silent time to pray for wisdom and words of life and in the meantime, practice our sacrifice of praise to God, which is the fruit of our lips that give thanks to his name.

-Juliet Taylor

Today’s Bible reading passages can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – 1 Chronicles 3-4 and Proverbs 18

So that you may know…

the exact truth about the things you have been taught.

1 Chronicles 1-6

The very last class of my undergraduate education taught me something I’ve remembered for years. I was finishing up my minor and taking my last sociology class. I made a statement during a class presentation that earned me a grade that pushed me into a new academic rank that I thought was impossible to achieve. The presentation was on being a voice for change in society. “If we want to bring about societal change, we need to make some noise!”

I’m going to sound a tad irreverent here. I used to cringe every time a modern agent of societal change preached “Fact-check!” My disdain from the message grew with each passing day that the seemingly one-sided social sermon that I immersed myself in on an almost daily basis, was made light. The noise was bringing change but to me, it was not warranted change.

At first, noise is all I ever allowed myself to hear from the opposing side’s communication. My mind went straight to the need for taking the stick out of the opposing side’s eye. There may have been a beam in there too.

I had to turn off the noise and get myself immersed in something else because I wasn’t helping the situation. I was supposed to be the light that brought change, not the opposing societal view. Right around this time, I started digging into the various things Jesus was called. In the quiet I reacquainted myself with The Light of the World.   

Through my continued immersion in the word, I did something I had rarely done. I actually took the time to read the genealogies of Jesus, the boring stuff, in the beginning chapters of Mathew and Luke. It dawned on me.

In the quiet, I realized that the words so often skipped over were God’s fact-checks! Through these, he made certain we knew who the Messiah was, the one who would bring about the right change. It was all in there waiting to be discovered. The Messiah is exactly who God said he’d be and exactly who Jesus said he was. There are facts that lead to him in the genealogies, the lineages, the “begats”, the “in the lands of-s”, the “in the times of-s”, through the recordings of kings of kingdoms, in the astronomical signs of the times, etc. All fact-checks leading to Jesus Messiah.

The genealogies of Jesus were written by eyewitnesses of his ministry. I love the beginning of Luke:

“Since many have undertaken to compile an account of the things accomplished among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word, it seemed fitting to me as well, having investigated everything carefully from the beginning, to write it out for you in an orderly sequence, most excellent Theophilus; so that you may know the exact truth about the things you have been taught.” -Luke 1:1-4

I took a little more time today reading through the genealogies recorded in 1 Chronicles chapters 1 – 6. They’re fact-checks. They can help us to be prepared with an answer to anyone who questions our faith.  

Through this experience, I have begun to listen to the opposing side before opposing them completely. I have come to value the opposing side’s pleas for fact-checking. They are right. We need truth. But we need to fact-check society as a whole – all sides.

I’m still a bit put off by the societal noise and social pressures of our time. Although it may be true that making noise may lead to societal change, it may not be what God wants for us. There were times when Jesus spoke softly and times when Jesus rebuked. There were times when Jesus was offensive and there were times when Jesus remained silent. He always did whatever he heard from his father. If I’m going to be the light of the world like Jesus, desiring to cause societal change, I need to hear Jesus and heed his statements. I need to do it his way. His way is often the unpopular way but it is the only way that’s going to bring about change that matters. 

-Juliet Taylor

Today’s Bible reading passages can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – 1 Chronicles 1-2 and Proverbs 17

What do you want to be known for?

2 Kings 23-25; Proverbs 16

Life is fleeting. We’re all passing through this age like the grass of the field. Today we live. God holds tomorrow.

As I’ve finished the last three chapters of the book of 2nd Kings and read another chapter in Proverbs, I’ve thought about our time in this age. This age is short compared to eternity. What we do in it matters.

The lives of the final kings of Judah mattered and were recorded for us all to see. We know what each of those last 5 kings was forever known for. They can be summed up into two basic categories. A good king and evil kings.  

All but one of the last 5 kings of Judah were known for doing evil in the sight of Yahweh. If we included the whole lot of the kings of Judah and Israel to this list, there wouldn’t be a significant pendulum swing in the opposing direction towards Yahweh God.

When we come to the end of our earthly lives, what will we be known for? Will we be known for doing good or evil in the sight of God through Jesus Messiah?

The good kings, like Josiah were known for their hearts and humility, practicing obedience to God’s Law. Good kings did stumble but when they repented, they renewed their status with God.

If we want to be known for doing good in our day and age, similar qualifications apply. Good disciples of Jesus will be known for their hearts and humility, practicing obedience to the Law of Christ (aka producing fruit). 

The whole law can be summed up with one word. Love. Our “goodness” can be measured to the extent that we love as Christ loved. How did he love? He loved his God and served him alone with all of his heart, with all of his soul, with all of his mind, and with all of his strength. He loved his neighbor to the point of death on the cross.

When I come to the end of my life, I want to be known as a good disciple of Jesus Messiah. I want to hear my master say, “Well done, good and faithful servant!” If this is my heart, my life will reflect that.

-Juliet Taylor

Today’s Bible reading passage can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – 2 Kings 23-25 and Proverbs 16

What is it that makes a person choose to follow God?

2 Kings 21-22; Proverbs 15

There seems to be a persistent theme when it comes to the kings of God’s people. There were kings who served Yahweh their God and kings who served false gods. In 2 Kings chapters 21-22, we are told a tale of two kings. The first king, Manasseh, king over Judah, did evil in the sight of Yahweh God.

Wait a minute. Didn’t we just read about a similar situation a few chapters ago? Why does history repeat itself so often? Did the people learn nothing about what it meant to follow God (or not) from their forefathers? Did they not just witness their sister kingdom of Israel being starved and then carried away into captivity because they would not listen? Or was that too far in the past to grasp? Even if their memories faded, the people of the kingdom of Judah were living out a miracle of God through the reign of Hezekiah. His consequence to following God brought his people life. Not just any life, but an abundant and prosperous life. Why wouldn’t future generations mirror his ways and follow after his God? There must be more to it than knowledge of a history of consequences.

So what is it that makes a person (or a people) choose to follow God?

Romans 10:17 says that faith comes through hearing, and hearing by the word of God. The kingdoms of God should have known the words of God. They were God’s chosen people who were given the Law of Moses. Many were taught the word of God through people close to them, such as their parents, priests, and sometimes prophets, and through repeated practice of those laws in their daily lives. God supplied them with everything they needed to do right before him. Yet we see kingdoms rise and kingdoms fall. Some kings chose to serve God, while others chose to serve other gods.

I consider myself privileged to have been brought up in a household that taught me about my God and his son from as early as I can remember. Others in our faith didn’t have this advantage. They had to hear the word from someone perhaps not as close to them later in life or discover God through his word for themselves. These types of people are my favorite people. To have such a passion for truth that they’d seek God diligently despite their lack of a foundation in the word (or despite their lack of a foundation in the one true God) amazes me. Many of these truth seekers are doing so in the face of great persecution. This is praiseworthy.   

Some “good” kings of Israel or Judah appear to have been brought up in the word of God. I believe this type of upbringing was vital to their success as a God follower, even if at times they stumbled. A good upbringing, however, is not always enough.

King Hezekiah was a God follower, an amazing pray-er, and likely a good teacher of the word of God. Yet his son Manasseh chose not to walk in the ways of his father and instead chose to do evil in the sight of God – a lot of evil. It appears that Manasseh was born during the last few years of Hezekiah’s life (the 15 extra years God miraculously granted him). It is possible that he didn’t gain a firm foundation in the word from his father before his death. After all, he was only about 12 years of age when he began his reign as king. However, we all know another 12-year-old that was always about his father’s business, so I can’t give Manasseh too much slack with a father like Hezekiah.He must have heeded his father’s words in some way, as he knew to eventually repent of his evil ways before his God. If Hezekiah had been alive to see it, I’d imagine he’d be overjoyed to see his son repent and follow after the one true God. Thank God for repentance – as there’s time for it. Manasseh’s predecessor and son, Amon, did evil in the sight of God and reigned for only 2 short years. He was actually murdered by his servants. The word doesn’t give us much indication as to why but perhaps some of the people wanted to continue with Manasseh’s later reformed ways.

Finally we come to another “good” king of Judah, Josiah, Amon’s son. Josiah’s reign began when he was only 8 years old. Based on his father’s and the majority of his grandfather’s, evil behavior, I can’t imagine that he was taught much good. Perhaps the people around him experienced a taste of the good life that came at the end of Manasseh’s reign with his repentance and instilled some good practices in Josiah. But I can’t be certain that anything was taught to Josiah regarding the word of God. The high priest of the time actually found the book of the Law some 18 years into Josiah’s reign. I’m guessing that the last one to read or hear it was Hezekiah, almost a century earlier!

When Josiah heard the word of God for the first time in his life, he tore his clothes and he wept because he knew his fathers and his people had forsaken Yahweh God. He felt guilt and knew what his kingdom deserved. He immediately sought Yahweh on behalf of himself and his people. He found a prophetess, Huldah, who spoke to him concerning God’s judgment. We see that the nation of Judah was guilty but because of Josiah’s response to hearing God’s word, they were shown mercy.

It is Josiah’s response to hearing the word of God that answers my former question. What is it that makes a person (or a people) choose to follow God?

It’s their heart and humility before the LORD.

2 Kings 22:18-20

18 But to the king of Judah who sent you to inquire of the Lord, this is what you shall say to him: “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel says: ‘Regarding the words which you have heard, 19 since your heart was tender and you humbled yourself before the Lord when you heard what I spoke against this place and against its inhabitants, that they would become an object of horror and a curse, and you have torn your clothes and wept before Me, I have indeed heard you,’ declares the Lord.” 20 Therefore, behold, I am going to gather you to your fathers, and you will be gathered to your grave in peace, and your eyes will not look at all the devastation that I am going to bring on this place.’” So they brought back word to the king.

Josiah is likened to me as those truth seekers who didn’t have a biblical advantage as part of their upbringing. Josiah goes on to be one of the greatest kings of Judah of all times. It didn’t take him years of study in the ways of God to choose to follow God once he heard his words. All it took was his humble heart.

I am currently discipling my two young boys in an effort to steer their hearts towards God. I want to do everything in my power to raise up children in the ways of the Lord so that when they must choose on their own, they’ll choose him continually, even after a stumble. It can be discouraging to think that despite their advantage, they may still fail. I can’t make them have a heart for God. They have to want him on their own. That the words of our God and his son would be written on their hearts continually is my prayer for them.

It is astounding to me that there are Josiahs out there who’ve never even heard the word of God, but once they do, their hearts will immediately be for him. Oh how I long for a heart like that. Let’s pray for each other’s hearts.

-Juliet Taylor

Today’s Bible reading passages can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – 2 Kings 21-22 and Proverbs 15

The Enemy desires everything we have

2 Kings 19-20; Proverbs 14

In our previous readings, there were examples of two choices that could be made when faced with trouble. One could follow the one true God or follow their own god. Hezekiah was the king of Judah who chose to follow God, and we should too. However, Hezekiah was not exempt from later circumstances with choices to be made. The choice to follow God or not was – and is – ongoing.

At the end of Chapter 18, we see that Hezekiah stumbled. He accepted defeat from the Assyrian army after years of conquering and standing strong with his God. He gave the king of Assyria what belonged to his God (gold from the temple of Yahweh). Even after meeting their demands, it was not enough. The enemy desired everything of Hezekiah and his people. He desired their worship.

The king of Assyria sent armies to Jerusalem and surrounded it. The leader of the army told the people to accept defeat because their God would not deliver them from the king of Assyria. He went on to offer the people great things such as a land full of plentiful good food and drink. It could be theirs if only they would forsake their God.

This time (it was over the course of a few repeated circumstances with the same choice – following God), Hezekiah made the right choice. He prayed. He proclaimed the majesty of his God and asked that all would know that Yahweh alone was God. What a prayer. And then what a response from God! What an outcome! Yahweh heard and delivered.

Yet again, God prospered Hezekiah. While all the cities around him, even the northern kingdom of Israel, had been desolated and the people carried away into exile, God did great things in Jerusalem under King Hezekiah. The great things (good food and drink) that were offered to the people of Judah if they would just forsake their God and follow the king of Assyria became abundant in Jerusalem and a remnant was spared for years when they chose to follow God. Remarkable!

It is clear to me that Yahweh God alone wants our worship. He wants our hearts. When we are faced with a choice to follow him or not, he rewards those who choose him.

The people in Hezekiah’s kingdom were seeing defeat all around them. They knew what taking a stand against the king of Assyria might mean for them. The northern kingdom had starved to the point of eating their own dead children before they accepted defeat (as we read in other places, the king of Israel was told by God to surrender. Instead, he allowed his people to die). For Hezekiah’s people, having the temptation of a land full of food and drink dangling above them would have been hard to resist. Yet they did resist. In the face of temptation, they listened to their king and remained silent.   

I thought about Jesus when I read this passage and how he was led by the spirit to be tempted when he was hungry. The very last thing he was tempted with was being placed on a high mountain (maybe like the Asherah?) and given a choice to have all that he saw from that high place if he only worshipped the devil. Jesus said “Go, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship Yahweh your God, and serve him only.’”

If our Lord Jesus was not exempt from temptation in his time of need, neither should we expect to be. We all have a choice to make. Will we serve God in our times of trouble? Will we serve God when tempted with pleasure or even with our basic needs? Know what Yahweh has done for his people when they choose him. “Have you not heard?” (2 Kings 19:25). In our time, he has supplied every need through our Lord Jesus Christ. Choose him! He has already won. If we follow him, we’ve won too. Pray like Hezekiah. Command the enemy to flee like Jesus. When difficult circumstances arise again, keep choosing God. Tell Satan to Go!

-Juliet Taylor

Today’s Bible reading passages can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – 2 Kings 19-20 and Proverbs 14

Destroy the Asherah

2 Kings 17-18

There seems to be a persistent theme when it comes to the kings of God’s people. There were kings who served Yahweh their God and kings who served false gods. In 2 Kings 17-18, we are told a tale of two kings. The first king, Hoshea, king over Israel in Samaria, did evil in the sight of Yahweh God. During Hoshea’s reign, the king of Assyria came up against him. Instead of relying on Yahweh for help in the time of trouble, Hoshea sought the help of foreign aid and made foreign gods.

He set pillars up and Asherim (wooden symbols of a female deity) on every high hill and under every green tree. He served Idols and worshiped stars. He made the people pass through the fire (sacrificed them to gods) and practiced divination and enchantments.

Over and over again, Yahweh God tells Israel to turn from their evil ways and keep his commandments and statutes, but they would not listen. They became stiff-necked and vain and did what Yahweh God commanded them not to do under Hoshea’s leadership. They put their trust in other gods and did not fear the one true God. The next and last king of Israel did accordingly. As a result, Israel was carried away into exile. God removed them from his sight.

Then there was Hezekiah, king over Judah. He did right in the sight of Yahweh. He removed pillars and cut down the Asherah. He trusted in Yahweh God and clung to him. He kept his commandments. Yahweh was with him and wherever he went he prospered. While all the nations surrounding him were taken into captivity, Hezekiah not only withstood the forces against him, but conquered them because he put his trust in Yahweh God, listened to his commandments, and removed the false gods from his kingdom.

In our times of trouble, will we despise the word of God and serve little self-made gods like Hoshea, or will we destroy the Asherah of our lives and serve the one true God like Hezekiah? We are told by our Lord Jesus that we will have trouble in this life but to take courage because he has overcome the world. In response to trouble, we have two choices to make that can lead to two very different outcomes. We can create and rely on our own Asherah or destroy it and rely on Yahweh God alone through his son Jesus Messiah.

We don’t live in a day and age when most people are physically making objects out of wood to worship or sacrificing their children to other gods. We may however worship and sacrifice to other “gods” that we’ve made priority in our lives over Yahweh God. If we’re not careful, we may find ourselves making our personal lives our priority. We can pursue a self-indulgent lifestyle that involves making ourselves happy, making ourselves financially secure, and making ourselves feel safe. We can sacrifice our time, energy, and focus on all things not God. We’ve got to stop doing this if our desire is to serve the one true God.

Idols can be hidden. There was a time when God ordained the bronze serpent in the wilderness as a symbol of the coming Messiah. It was to be held high for all Israel to look upon and live in the face of death. Yet, we find in 2 Kings that Hezekiah destroys it. Why? Because it had become a symbol of worship beyond what God intended for it to be. What once represented the Messiah who brings life became idol worship.

Have we set up idols of influence in our lives “on every high hill and under every green tree” without even realizing it? Have we become stiff-necked and vain with our priorities and done the very thing God commands us not to do? If we have, there’s hope! Thank God we have repentance and forgiveness through our Lord Jesus Messiah. Identify the Asherah in your life, repent, destroy it, and rely on God. 

-Juliet Taylor

Hello brothers and sisters in Christ! I am thankful for this opportunity to write.  I am a Biblical Unitarian and have been for life (although I didn’t know we had a name until recently). I grew up attending fellowship based off of the teachings of the Way International Ministries. There were some years I spent listening to church online from Living Hope International Ministries, until I found a local church that believed like me. I currently attend Higher Ground Church, now affiliated with The Church of God General Conference. I’ve been with my home church for about 14 years and attend with my husband and two boys. 
We love Yahweh God, his son Jesus Messiah, and long to be with them in the Kingdom of God. Love to all and God Bless! -Juliet

Today’s Bible reading passages can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – 2 Kings 17-18 and Proverbs 13

Lead

The Right Way

2 Kings 15-16


As a child, I was always told to be a leader, not a follower. The importance of leading with wisdom and godliness was engrained in my mind; it was repeatedly being taught by parents, teachers, mentors, and of course, leaders. I’m sure most of us grew up with similar advise. We all know the impact a good leader can have, as well as the impact a bad leader can have. That’s why
if we know what it means to be a good leader, we must take it upon ourselves to be one.


The thing is, most of us do know what it means to be a good leader. We all have it within us to lead as God instructs us to lead, because He gave us this whole enormous book full of leaders to read about and learn from. Jesus Christ was obviously the top dog when it comes to leaders…and everything else, but there are so many others we can look at too, including the not so great leaders.


Throughout the Old Testament, the importance of a strong leader is stressed over and over again. We see these amazing, capable, resilient, faithful leaders bringing God’s people into the light, guiding them in the direction God laid out for them, like Jesus someday would. But we also see weak leaders, lacking in faith and abounding in pride. When leaders like that are in charge, they
normally can be observed dragging their followers down with them. The readings of the past week have been absolutely full of leaders who could not leave behind the sins of their predecessors, which “made Israel to sin.” When you have been blessed with the knowledge of the truth, and you know the commands God has given us, it is your duty to be a leader. It is your duty to point others to God in everything you do, not to continually lead others in sin.

When Israel had weak kings who did evil in the eyes of the LORD, the whole nation was brought down as a result. On the other hand, when Israel had strong kings who did what was right in the eyes of the LORD, the entire nation would be lifted up. You can see when God favored Israel and its king, because He would lead them to victory in battle, and bless them with prosperity. When the king and Israel failed, however, they would often be delivered into the hands of their enemies.


It is clear how much of an impact a leader can have in the Bible, and that hasn’t changed at all today. We are so blessed to have the knowledge of the truth, and to know that we are loved by the Almighty. To have this knowledge, and to have a real relationship with God, we also have to accept our responsibility on this earth to be leaders. Not the kind that will lead others into sin, but the kind of leader God can count on to be a light, just as His son was. The kind of leader that has unwavering faith, because they know who holds the future. The kind of leader that obeys the words of the LORD in every circumstance. The kind of leader that shows the unconditional love of God to each and every one of His children, everyday.


Let it be our prayer that we become the leaders God made us to be, to be a bright light that guides others to Him even in this dark world.

-Isabella Osborn

Today’s Bible reading passages can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – 2 Kings 15-16 and Proverbs 12

It’s Not Enough

To Just Start Out Good

2 Kings 13-14


As we read through these accounts of the kings of Judah and Israel, a divided kingdom, we notice the reoccurring evaluation of how good or bad each king is. The standard by which their goodness/badness is measured is based on their obedience and faith in God. There were definitely a few truly good kings, such as David and Jehoshaphat. However, most kings, we find, were very, very far from perfect, and often ranked quite low. There were also a lot of kings that started off okay, but eventually became just as disappointing as their father before them.


Amaziah, not to be confused with Ahaziah, was one of those kings. In the beginning of chapter 14, it is stated that Amaziah “did what was right in the eyes of the LORD, yet not like David his father. He did in all things as Joash his father had done.” He was a good king in the sense that he adhered closely to the law, but like his father, Joash, his loyalty to God and the law had its limits. Amaziah justly struck down only the assassins who killed his father, and not their whole families- which was a common practice at the time. This was a righteous and honorable thing to do, as it aligned with the instructions from Deuteronomy 24:16. His trust in God also carried him to victory over Edom, killing ten thousand Edomites; a strong display of his ability as a warrior
as well as a king.


But that’s where the righteousness of Amaziah’s reign ended. Just like his father, Joash, he continually allowed the practice of sacrifices and incense offerings on high places, which was a violation of the instructions God gave to offer sacrifices in Jerusalem. Amaziah also made the mistake of bringing back false idols to worship from the defeated Edom, and did not heed a prophet’s warning to stop. This interaction can be found in 2 Chronicles 25:16. And at the end of chapter 14 of 2 Kings, Amaziah fails his kingdom in challenging King Jehoash of Israel, despite Jehoash’s gracious advise to back down. Amaziah let his pride guide his decisions, instead of God, so the army of Judah was defeated, and Jerusalem was plundered. Not to mention Amaziah was also captured, and later conspired against by the people of his own nation.


If Amaziah had simply continued following God’s instructions, he could have had a very long and successful reign over Judah. But that wasn’t the case, and rather than being remembered as one of the good kings, he was remembered as just another almost good, but in the end a failure kind of king. How will you and I be remembered? Are we going to live our whole lives for the glory of God, taking heed of every instruction, obeying every command? Of course none of us
are perfect, but as sons and daughters of God, we have to continually strive to be obedient in all things, and never lose sight of who we were made to be.

-Isabella Osborn

Today’s Bible reading passages can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – 2 Kings 13-14 and Proverbs 11