Renovating the Temple

2 Kings 12-13 and 2 Chronicles 24

2 Chronicles 24 13 NIV sgl

 

A century after Solomon, both the people of Israel and the Temple had become a metaphor for one another. Both had grown to be a shadow of their former glory. The borders of Israel were shrinking along with the people inside.  Many had moved from serving the One True God to idol worship, and the holy relics inside the temple had been refashioned for use in Baal worship. No one seemingly cared, and it showed.  Enter Joash.  Made king at only the age of seven, yet he showed wisdom beyond his years.  Even if you’re a king, you haven’t truly found your ego at such a young age, which was much suffered by his predecessors.  In fact, psychologically speaking, your sense of right and wrong is never more attune and concrete than at this time in your life.  Just the king Israel needed at this moment. Joash is considered a “good” king because he did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, including temporarily restoring the Temple and the precious things inside – not the holy relics -the people of Israel.

 

In Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis discusses a similar metaphor in our transition to become more like Christ. He compares our old-self to a shack, and the new man/woman to a castle.  I would dare say, with Lewis most likely agreeing, that God’s first move is not to take a bulldozer and knock our shanty to the ground.  When we hear Paul assert  “I no longer live, but Christ lives in me,” he is not implying such a thing either. Isn’t there some salvageable part that God made if he stitched me in my mother’s womb with a purpose? I believe the context of Paul’s words are more directed at building with a Christ-centered motivation, instead of using the law as we see fit (yesterday’s devotion – read Galatians 2 for context). Everything we do, from tying shoes to tithing, must go through a process of being purposed for God.

 

This means every wall must be inspected for integrity.  Every space designed with the intentions of the Father using it.  Yes, the sin, the junk, the addiction, the clutter, must go; however, when we do this, there are pieces – traits, relationships, gifts – that might be salvageable.  The “bones” might be good in a spot or too, but God simply isn’t looking to paint the walls and hang a few pictures.  He is using the most select pieces, making elaborate extensions, and has a detailed blueprint for more than we could possibly ever imagine. It is an extreme home makeover that begins with bringing Christ on the job-site. The home becomes more unrecognizable, yet with each phase, it is moving towards how it was intended to be.  There is a shadow, a glimpse, of what stood there before, but there is much that has been changed, added, removed, all having the mark of their Maker.

 

Construction – quality, enduring, sizable construction – takes time.  Joash did not restore Solomon’s temple overnight.  Your renovation from a shack to a castle will take God and you a lifetime to complete, and it will require a day-in-day-out dedication to get there. Most beautifully, alongside our metaphor is a literal Kingdom with Christ at the center.   This hard work is not without a promise.  We truly are looking ahead for a city whose architect and builder is God (Hebrews 11:10).  I desperately hope we see each other there.

 

Thank you so much for letting me be a part of your week.

Aaron Winner

Today’s Bible passage can be read or listened to at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=2+Kings+12-13%2C+2+Chronicles+24&version=NIV

Tomorrow’s reading will be 2 Kings 14 and 2 Chronicles 25 as we continue the 2020 Chronological Bible Reading Plan

Use Caution, Christian

2 Kings 9-11

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Be forewarned, today’s reading gets a little gory. Jehu is charged with wiping out the festering family of Ahab across Israel, and he does his job handily, even going above the call of duty.  He not only kills the children of Ahab, but also anyone who serves them.  One of Ahab’s most notorious endeavors was introducing Baal-worship to Israel, most famously remembered in the battle at Mount Carmel. Jehu doesn’t simply knock down the altars built to Baal, he goes as far as setting a trap to ambush every last Baal worshipper in Israel.  God is pleased with Jehu for fulfilling the prophecies of Elijah, yet the line of Jehu, according to Hosea, is cursed for the massacre (Hosea 1:4).  How could God be upset with someone for doing his bidding?  Or for even doing more than what was required of him/her? We should always be careful when we are in a position of authority, entering social circles, or making a public declaration of God’s will that we are people above reproach and we are closely sticking to God’s script. Too often, Christians live out the most convenient version of their faith, editing or elaborating to their own tastes.  If we are not seeking God fully, especially during the most critical times, we could make curseable, long-term missteps similar to the failings of Jehu.

 

A Proud Heart

 

“Yet Jehu was not careful to keep the law of the Lord, the God of Israel, with all his heart.” – 2 Kings 10:31

 

Jehu was crowned King.  That was kind of a big deal. This gave him the right to do pretty much anything he wanted to do politically, although not the permission to do so in the eyes of the Lord.  It was most likely arrogance that caused him to stumble, to think he could carry out the specific sovereign will of God, yet not keep the moral will of God for his life.  No matter what position we assume, we are never above God’s calling for our life, and we are to remain humble, obedient, and as a servant.  Everything we have or will ever be belongs to God.  Do not get caught up in the title, or the big thing that God has called you to do.  Pride does indeed come before the fall, and just as what was intended for evil, God can use for good, what was intended for His glory, can becomes the shoplifted source of our own.

 

A Sly Mind

 

“But Jehu was acting deceptively in order to destroy the servants of Baal.” – 2 Kings 10:19b

 

Jehu acts if he is ready to hand Israel over to Baal worship only to bait and destroy those who came out. While God certainly has no problem with Jehu ending Baal worship, God does take issues with the lie, and most concerningly, these deaths were not justified in the eyes of the Lord as they were called a “massacre” in later scriptures.  Jehu used God as an excuse to rid himself of any political opposition that remained.  When we think the end justifies the means, we live in a very dangerous territory.  We lack principle or order; chaos and anarchy reign.  Anything goes. We are essentially saying we know more than God, that the fruition of a thing cannot happen by following His law for our life (there’s a reason!).  A simple measurement we can use – if we have to lie to get there, it’s not a God thing.  Additionally, if our primary motive is for personal gain, we need to stop and deliberate with God because our mind has become infected with the intentions of our heart.

 

A Blind Eye

 

“So Jehu destroyed Baal worship in Israel. However, he did not turn away from the sins of Jeroboam son of Nebat, which he had caused Israel to commit—the worship of the golden calves at Bethel and Dan.” – 2 Kings 10:28,29

 

Jehu extinguished one specific area of sin while allowing another area, either by omission or encouragement, to continue. Idol worship was still happening in Israel, just the kind that was okay with Jehu. Christians are often guilty of making the same mistakes.  We condemn homosexuality, yet remain silent as we watch couple friends divorce in the church.  We are quick to call for the end of abortion, but don’t lift a finger to help a needy mother or harbor hate in our hearts, also known as murder according to Jesus. Christians will turn their back on someone who has been imprisoned for a crime, but allow all kinds of things on their screens because it is “entertainment”. Now, I am stereotyping, lumping every Christian into a single pot, but this, too often, is the criticism of those on the outside of our faith.  We are hypocrites, specifically the type that are turning a blind eye out of convenience or to afford our own brand of vices, not the more generic kind we all are as sinners.  Either remain silent or call it all out. Don’t turn a blind eye to any sin, especially if it lives inside you.

 

Examine your heart.  Inspect your mind and motive.  Watch with both eyes open.  Be vigilant in these self-inspections to remain faithful to God.

Aaron Winner

Today’s Bible reading can be read or listened to at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=2+Kings+9-11&version=NIV

Tomorrow’s reading will be 2 Kings 12-13 and 2 Chronicles 24 as we continue on the 2020 Chronological Bible Reading Plan

One Hand Washes the Other

2 Kings 5-8

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Over the course of the past few months, it would not be presumptuous to say that many of us have amended our handwashing technique; however, we have most likely been using one hand to wash the other for quite some time (hopefully with warm water and soap, too).  It is a mutually beneficial relationship, which makes both hands equally clean, each part repaying the debt to the other. This has become a beautiful analogy for many who do favors in expectation of a return. No matter how you say it, “one hand washes the other” or “you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours” (which you will definitely need to wash your hands if you scratch someone’s back), going out of our way and doing the right thing can be advantageous to a relationship, a caching of IOUs, or marking our debt paid. Handwashing itself is definitely a biblical, Levitical principle, but is this tit-for-tat the way God works?  Should we expect a return when we have lived out the moral will of God? Should we be cleanly rewarded because we have taken a risk on someone else’s mess?

 

Today’s reading challenges us to think differently about the expectations of doing a good deed.  Naaman is healed of leprosy by the instructions ordained through Elisha.  Naaman was indeed searching for a cure, but as the many who came up to Jesus looking for healing, he had a curiosity about the God of Israel.  Overwhelmed by the healing, he asked Elisha if there is anything He can do in return? For a moment, think of your hospital bill if you were healed of a flesh-eating disease that could ultimately take your life, much less the deep appreciation you might have for your new quality of life.  Both would be truly astronomical.  Elisha could have asked for enormous amounts of wealth, power or favor in Syria, or even asked for a vow of protection from an enemy captain.  He wanted part of no such thing.  His whole purpose in helping is so that men, specifically Naaman, would know and confess “…Now I know that there is no God in all the world except in Israel…” – 2 King 5:15.  If we needed any further confirmation of this truth, Elisha’s servant is struck with leprosy after turning back to essentially say Elisha had changed his mind and would be happy to take a few things in return (2 Kings 5:26,27).

 

The Gospel of Jesus Christ is not a message of hand washing hand.  It is a message of hands washing feet. We are to be servants of God, and in turn, servants of those He loves, people.  We do not do these things because we can earn our spot in the Kingdom of God, or buy our way into his favor (Rom 6:23).  Our debt is so enormous, we could never repay it.  We become the beneficiaries of this gift when we humbly accept the healing instructions God offers us; that we would be made clean by the waters of baptism and know and live that there is no other god in our life, except the living, one true God of Israel.  When we act as God, meaning, when we act as an agent of His attributes (love, kindness, patience, truth, faithfulness, forgiveness, grace) we are not offering something that is from us.  We are offering God.  God’s terms have already been agreed upon; we do not have any additional conditions to bring to the table.  We are not owed, nor should we expect a return on such an investment we make with our life or provisions. God is the rewarder. Every good and perfect thing flows down from the Father (James 1:17).  Ultimately, we should not ever extend our hands out to expect a reward from God or anyone else. As we serve the Lord in whatever capacity he has called us to, we should extend our hands upward to give Him the praise because He is rewarding us in a literally astronomical way that will reshape the structures of heaven and earth.  We may lose all we have or be thought of as fools as we try to serve like Jesus, but we can truly never settle the score, or wash the hand of God, and that is an awesome, powerful, wonderful thing.

Aaron Winner

Today’s Bible passage can be read or listened to at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=2+Kings+5-8&version=NIV

Tomorrow’s reading will be 2 Kings 9-11 as we continue the 2020 Chronological Bible Reading Plan

Portion Sizes

2 Kings 1-4

Let me inherit a double portion of your spirit

On our occasional visits to Disney World, I often think about the cruel irony of Walt never laying eyes on his biggest dream.  He died just five years before the Magic Kingdom opened, just as they were breaking ground. While Disney was charismatic, passionate, creative, and a visionary, he surrounded himself with an entourage of like-minded people, so consequently, his dream did not die with him. By mentoring and empowering those who worked for him, he allowed their passion, creativity, and vision to fuse with his own, to accomplish even greater things than even he could imagine.  In some manner of speaking, each one of the people around him each received the spirit of Disney, yet retained their own spirit, allowing them to benefit from both. This legacy has been passed down over and over again, and Disney has become one of the most innovative companies in film, television, and travel.  Using a conversion that translates 1966 dollars to 2020, The Walt Disney Company is worth a hundredfold more today than it was 54 years ago, maybe even more than Walt, the greatest of the imagineers, could have ever dreamed.

 

While the opening today sounds like one of the final chapters of a leadership book, it is akin, albeit less significantly and definitely imperfectly, to the promises of Elijah and Jesus.  Both not only spent a great deal of their time speaking with God, prophesying, and doing miracles, but both these men made specific investments in the people around them for God’s message to increase.  Jesus surrounded himself with the disciples, and Elijah’s legacy is specific to Elisha.  There is no doubt that these men’s examples made a profound impact on those who spent the most time with them (and yes, the example of Jesus is reverberating, impacting us today, but that’s the direction we’re heading).  The momentum of Elijah or Jesus did not stop when they were taken to heaven.  In fact, Elisha, and Peter, often thought of as the disciple Jesus was closest to, were recipients of faith-induced natural phenomena (2 Kings 3:17 ; Acts16:26).  Additionally, both Peter and Elisha raised people from the dead (2 Kings 4:32-35; Acts 9::32-43). Years of watching, listening, and serving led to specific callings for each of these men to do bigger, bolder things than demonstrated by their predecessors (with exception to the propitiation of Christ).  In fact, both Elijah and Jesus prophesied this to be so (2 Kings 2:10; John 14:12-14)

 

This begs the question: who are we bringing along on our faith journey?  If we are effectively sharing the Gospel message, is there not someone who is receiving an exponential portion of whatever our faith has to offer?  How can we extend our finite time on earth to impact the infinite time we will inherit in the kingdom of God? It may be as simple as sharing our faith with our family.  As my children grow, I am alarmingly realizing the majority of their modeling and information is from my wife and me.  Our ultimate goal is that their faith far exceeds our own, yet if we do not show the devotion, love, and belief we have, they will never receive even a single portion of it, much less build upon the faith we have.  It could be we have served in ministry or occupation where we are now becoming the experienced one (this is also known as “old”).  It is time to take someone under our wing, share our testimony and calling.  By allowing someone to watch, listen, and serve, they can learn from our successes and failures without having to bear the consequences or responsibilities, ultimately placing them in a more successful position when they are on their own, long after our influence has left for one reason or another. Their trajectory is steeper, and at some point will outpace us.

 

Ultimately, we should be intentional about sharing our faith, vision (God-given), and resources (also, God-given) with our families or small circle of influence. Our greatest calling may be to prepare the way (Eli, Mordecai, and John the Baptist) for someone who will do more than we could possibly imagine because God will use them to exponentially grow his kingdom.  Let’s make some significant investments. Let’s sow and tend the seeds. Let’s watch as God makes the return thirty, sixty, or even a hundredfold because the world is starving for His message. Let us pray and work to serve up bigger portions than ever.

Aaron Winner

Today’s Bible passage can be read or listened to at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=2+Kings+1-4&version=NIV

Tomorrow’s reading will be 2 Kings 5-8 as we continue on the 2020 Chronological Bible Reading Plan

The Opposite of God

Obadiah and Psalm 82 & 83

Obadiah 15 NIV sgl

In yesterday’s devotion, one of four bullet points focused on making God the judge. In today’s reading, there are calls from Obadiah and the Psalmist(s) for justice to come from on high.  To be clear, we are not appointing God to a position He doesn’t already command, and we aren’t necessarily persuading Him to intervene.  When we implore God to judge, we are inviting Him to rule in our favor by having a life-contrast or dichotomy that would allow Him to easily see we are for Him.  We are the wheat. We are the sheep. Whether he intervenes today or not, ultimately, “Come” will be the words of invitation we will hear from our King inviting us to dwell with God in love and in eternity.  Conversely, we are all declared guilty for the first death, but we can be condemned to a second and permanent death if we are not found covered by the innocent blood of Jesus Christ.  Those who remain are against Him. The chaff. The goats. “Depart” will be the words of condemnation to those who made themselves a stranger.  There is no invitation.  There is no love.  There is no eternity. God’s ruling is truly sovereign. There is no room for shades of gray.

 

Although the following isn’t a joy-filling thought to charge the beginning of your day, we need to be reminded there is a place opposite of God.  Sometimes those who dwell there actively and openly oppose Him (Obadiah 1:3). In fact, there are people in this world who would love nothing more than to imprison Christians, outlaw prayer, burn down churches, and try to expunge the name of Jesus Christ from existence.  Sadly, this happens quite a bit across the world today, and I dare say, at an ever-increasing pace in the United States. However, we must also remember, open defiance and apathetic faith are equally punishable in the eyes of God: women and men who prioritize their lives by accumulating wealth, try to make a name for themselves, acquire dizzying intellects, repeatedly give into vices, forget to take care of those who are hungry, thirsty, or imprisoned, or many other acts not listed here that do not center solely around God (Psalm 82:3,34, Matt 25:44,45). Apathy, complaisance, half-heartedness, and postponement can place us in imminent condemnation of God as plainly as open defiance.

 

To not share the name of Jesus Christ is to annul his message. To not lift up the church is to tear it down.  To not empower the weak is to place them in the hands of those who would do them harm.  Where is the contrast in your life?  Are you living for the finite or existing for the eternal? Are you with Him or against Him?  Yes, there is a place opposite of God, but let us pray that God uses these words we read today to convict us, bringing us closer to His calling as good and faithful servants.

Aaron Winner

Today’s Bible passage can be read or listened to at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Obadiah+1%2C+Psalm+82%2C83&version=NIV

Tomorrow’s reading will be 2 Kings 1-4 as we continue our journey through the 2020 Chronological Bible Reading Plan

Keep Your Eye on the Ball

2 Chronicles 19-23

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If you have been to any youth ballfield, the mantra of even the most uninformed coach or parent to his/her child in most all situations is “keep your eye on the ball.”  Whether it is baseball, soccer, football, tennis, or basketball, knowing where the ball is at any given point in a game is the greatest predictor of success and will result in the highest probability of a favorable outcome.  In order to strike, kick, tackle, return, or rebound, you have to know where the ball is.  It seems simple enough; yet, anyone who plays any number of the ball-including sports at any level suffers from the occasional mishap that begins with losing sight of the most important object to the game.  Why?  We get scared.  We’re thinking about our next move.  We get caught up in the emotion.  Or it might simply get lost in the lights.

 

“If calamity comes upon us, whether the sword of judgment, or plague or famine, we will stand in your presence before this temple that bears your Name and will cry out to you in our distress, and you will hear us and save us…We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you.” –   1 Chronicles 20:9,11b

 

In today’s reading, Jehoshaphat gives us an example of what it looks like to keep our eyes in the most important place.  Not all of us play sports, and if we do, we most certainly may not play them well (present company included), but we all have a part to play in the will of God.  Without your eyes on the Father, you might still have a bit of fun, but there is no purpose in the participation of it all.  You are simply existing, a benchwarmer staring off into the distance, oblivious to the wonderful plan that God has for your life.  Yet, keeping our gaze affixed to Him isn’t exactly as easy as it sounds.  Even the most professional ballplayers have blunders. Here are a few reminders of how to readjust our focus, to make sure it is in the right place, no matter what “level” we are playing at:

 

To keep your eyes on God, let Him take away the worry.

 

There is a ton of uncertainty in the air right now.  Disease, political unrest, economies, natural disaster, not to mention all of the “typical” fears we have about things like acceptance and loss.  Jehoshaphat had a vast army approaching, yet he remembered that God had promised Israel and Judah the land they possessed. Remind yourself of the simple yet immense promises of God – He will never leave you, nor forsake you (Hebrews 13:5), We know all things work together for those who love the Lord (Romans 8:28), Do not fear, for I am with you always (Isaiah 40:1; Matt 28:20). The promises purge us of the pressure to take the entire crushing yoke upon ourselves and hand it over to God.  In exchange He will give us peace in the restless situations (John 14:27).

 

To keep your eyes on God, remember He has planned the present.

 

One of the greatest defensive failings in baseball is thinking about throwing the ball before you have ever fielded it.  Time and time again, the baseball zips “through the wickets” or is fumbled as it is being removed from the glove and falls flatly to the ground.  Jehoshaphat could have spent his time sending messengers to form alliances.  He could have armed the remaining men, women, and children to increase the size of his army. He could have sent out terms of surrender to try to salvage the lives of his people.  He didn’t do any of this.  He kept the most important thing as the most important thing; his gaze never faltered. He didn’t “throw the ball” before He fielded God’s response (as we saw yesterday).  Don’t forget to serve God now because there is a bigger, better plan you have made to serve Him down the road.  He is the God of tomorrow, but before then, the God of today.  Seek first the Kingdom of God. Don’t worry about tomorrow, for it will take care of itself (Matthew 6:33,34). He may call us to things that inconvenience, disrupt, or even abort the plans we have made down the road, but when those days come, or if they don’t, He has planned those days too.

 

To keep your eyes on God, make him the judge.

 

One of the most frustrating things is a competitor who doesn’t play fairly or feeling we are the victim of unjust treatment.  What’s even more frustrating is an umpire or referee who fails to see it or worse, lets it persist.  Our God doesn’t turn a blind eye to us; He sees the struggle.  He isn’t deaf; He hears the petition.  When we want to take matters into our own hands, be reminded that you too are a trespasser but also an unfair recipient of favored treatment. This more than anything, should make us compassionate and ready to forgive others.  We will be called to be God’s facilitator of forgiveness many times more than we will be judicator of justice.  Jehoshaphat made the appeal, but was also seemingly ready for whatever answer came his way. We must trust God, let Him be the judge, and maybe the hardest thing, be ready, like Jesus, to be dealt injustice, yet still forgive for the sake of the Gospel and our message.

 

To keep your eyes on God, eliminate the distractions.

 

The lights can be blinding.  The hecklers can be loud.  The teams’ morale can be affecting you. Even seemingly good things like family and church can provide an incorrect context of focus if not filtered through the lens of their role in God.  When we work, provide, heal, love, carry on, feed, protest, or serve, constantly remind yourself you are doing it all for the Lord.  Take a lesson from Jehoshaphat’s army; worship God while you are in the battle (1 Chronicles 20:22).  It would be challenging to give into your pride when you sing “Oh Spirit come make us humble…” It would be tough to look at inappropriate material when you sing “We turn our eyes from evil things…” It would be difficult to spend Sunday morning after Sunday morning with your family at the ballfield while singing “Oh Lord, we cast down our idols.” Filling our mouth with praise, worship, and prayer prevents anything else from slipping out.  The same could be said of our eyes, ears, hands, and most importantly, minds.  Engage God with everything you have, and you will be ready and attuned to His movement no matter where on the field He takes you.

 

“You will not have to fight this battle. Take up your positions; stand firm and see the deliverance the Lord will give you, Judah and Jerusalem. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged. Go out to face them tomorrow, and the Lord will be with you.” – 2 Chronicles 20:17

Aaron Winner

Today’s Bible passage can be read or listened to at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=2+Chronicles+19-23&version=NIV

Tomorrow’s reading will be the short book of the “minor” prophet Obadiah and Psalm 82-83 as we continue keeping our eye on the Father through our 2020 Chronological Bible Reading Plan

Beware of the Buttkissers

1 Kings 22 & 2 Chronicles 18

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Yes, I know, a bit of a sensational title. In fact, I can hear my mom reaching for the Irish Spring to place in my mouth because “butt” is not a church word. Please give me grace just a few sentences longer as I am someone who spends a great deal of time at school with 11 and 12-year olds. I often use a bit of high-brow potty humor for the connection and to make sure that I have your attention.  From here on out, I promise <crossing heart> I will use yes-men, suck-ups, sycophants, or something similar, but we’ll both know that I truly mean <in a whisper> “the ones who kiss b-u-t-t.”

Scattered throughout the last couple of weeks, we have read about the life of King Ahab. Today we will finish off Ahab [spoilers ahead] in more ways than one.  Ahab has grown unhappy that a previously Israeli owned-city, Ramoth Gilead, is now occupied by the Syrian (Aram) people, the very nation that was given over to him by God (1 Kings 20).  No doubt that Ahab’s misintentioned mercy to the Syrian nation (Again 1 Kings 20) has become less than advantageous, contemptuous, or is now, simply biting him in the…rear.  Ahab forms an alliance with Judah’s king, Jehoshaphat, who says he will fight with Ahab to take back Ramoth Gilead if he consults the LORD first.  Ahab thinks, “No problem; I have plenty of prophets.”. Enter the yes-men.

‘So the king of Israel brought together the prophets—about four hundred men—and asked them, “Shall I go to war against Ramoth Gilead, or shall I refrain?”  “Go,” they answered, “for the Lord will give it into the king’s hand.” – 1 Kings 22:6

Jehoshaphat isn’t convinced by the mass of soothsaying suck-ups for a simple reason: they do not mention God, YHWH, which prompts his head-scratching statement “Is there no longer a prophet of the LORD here whom we can inquire of?” “But didn’t the prophets say ‘the Lord will give <Ramoth Gilead> into the king’s hand?’” You may have heard it before, but it is worth reminding, that not all “lords” are equal in most English translations of the Old Testament.  L-o-r-d means master, which is often used for God, but L-O-R-D is the indisputable proper name of God, the Father, YHWH.  The sycophantic seers have not consulted with the Almighty, but have most likely consulted one another, telling the king whatever they think he wanted to hear.    Ahab confesses there is still ONE prophet of the LORD, Micaiah, but he doesn’t like to use him because he doesn’t like to kiss-up like the others. In fact, Ahab’s reluctance shows that he most likely already knew the truth. Micaiah lives up to his reputation, delivering a Word from the LORD that was unfavorable to what Ahab had already set upon his heart to do.

Is Ahab’s folly not our own? As I read about his fatal flaw, I can feel my own groan, lurch, and tumult described by Paul in Romans 7:15-20, between what I have intentioned in my heart and what the LORD wants of me.  What makes it worse is the body of booty smoochers ready to tell me that fulfilling my desires are what will ultimately make me happy.  In 2020, it doesn’t take much searching to find 400 people that agree with you.  Just because a crowd has formed in agreement with you, it doesn’t mean they (or you) know what’s best.  There are well-established organizations, conferences, websites, movements, forums, etc. that have opposing views to God’s desire for your life.  No matter how convincing the mob, there is only one way to get the truth: The Word of the LORD.  Yet the fact of the matter is as I wrestle with my desire, my pride, and my sin, I’d rather hear comforting, confirming, justifying lies from hundreds than hear a truth from a single person that would convict me and cause me to change. This would mean that the problem doesn’t externally exist in the world I live in, but within me, which is the hardest thing to hear (and the reason why we don’t invite challenging scriptures or a truth-telling Christian friend to the party, i.e. Micaiah)

“The word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.” – Hebrew 4:12

There is great advice in the word of Jehoshaphat, “First seek the counsel of the LORD.”  Before taking any course of action, no matter how great or small, let me stop consulting my social circle of “yes people” and search the Word of the LORD for discernment.  Almost always, our only reluctance is because we already know the answer that is buried not-so-deep within our heart. Let’s pray that God will bring his convicting truth to our aspirations and challenge us to listen to His voice only as He guides us to His way.

 

Aaron Winner

 

Today’s Bible passage can be read or listened to at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=1+Kings+22%2C+2+Chronicles+18&version=NIV

Tomorrow’s reading will be 2 Chronicles 19-23 as we continue the 2020 Chronological Bible Reading Plan

Same

2 Peter 2 21

For many of you, you have safely arrived at your post-FUEL destination.  If you didn’t or haven’t ever attend FUEL, chances are that you too, at some point this week, pulled into a familiar drive after a long day of school, work, a different camp, a workout, or a much needed break. You picked up food from the same spot you always do.  Enjoyed the same TV program you always watch. Laid on your bed in the same position as you scrolled through the same apps on your phone. Greeted by the same problems that you had hoped would find a way to disappear while you were gone. No matter how different we want to become, in just a matter of hours, days, or weeks, if the same things fill your life, or if they don’t have a new or confirmed purpose, it will not be long until you find yourself back to the same old, same old.

Wake up! STOP BEING THE SAME!  For the change to take hold that you have heard about, read about, thought about, or talked about, you have to IMMEDIATELY begin the transition from the old to something new because if you remain complacent, if you remain idle, if you remain THE SAME, you will continue to get THE SAME results.  Peter states it better than I ever could about those who are stirred by the Gospel message – its beautiful story, unexplainable joy, and its all-consuming hope – and then let the wake come to rest.

“If they have escaped the corruption of the world by knowing our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and are again entangled in it and overcome, they are worse off at the end than they were at the beginning. It would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than to have known it and then to turn their backs on the sacred command that was passed on to them. Of them the proverbs are true: “A dog returns to its vomit,” and, “A sow that is washed returns to her wallowing in the mud.” – 2 Peter 2:21,22

Stop wallowing in the mud.  Stop returning to the vomit.  Start moving NOW and it is more likely that you will continue to move.  It’s straight up science – Newton’s First Law of Motion – An object at rest tends to stay at rest, but an object in motion tends to stay in motion.  This is also sometimes called the Law of Inertia, literally meaning “in”-not, “ert”- doing/being, “ia” – the state of – the state of not doing or being anything.  This means in the vacuum of space, a planet will continue on the same orbit, light will find its way across the universe, and an asteroid will continue on the same crash course unless acted upon by an opposing, stronger force.  Thank God he is working on us; that he is the opposing, ALMIGHTY force.

Put your b-u-t-t in gear.  If it means not finishing these last few sentences, so be it.  Stop wasting your time reading my words on how not to waste your time. Change your presets on your radio.  Set some boundaries. Apologize. Delete your bookmarks and browsing history. Give away or throw away the junk.  Grab your Bible. Call someone to pick you up for church. Set a date to be baptized. Host a Bible study. Invest in someone else.  Tell your testimony. God has provided the resistance, so don’t postpone change. It won’t happen if you delay, and you’ll be worse-off than ever before. An object at rest tends to stay at rest.  If there ever was a day not to do the same thing, it is today. Let today be different.

-Aaron Winner

Departure

2 Timothy 4 8

Simon Peter asked him, “Lord, where are you going?” Jesus replied, “Where I am going, you cannot follow now, but you will follow later.”  Peter asked, “Lord, why can’t I follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.” – John 13:36-37

“It’s time to go!” says a voice calling from the driver’s seat indicating you might be left behind if you don’t leave now.  A friend or a family member receives your last look, a last hug, a last “see you later”, and maybe a tear or two.  It never gets any easier to say goodbye to people we love, yet such is the nature of life.  To move in the direction of God, often means to experience seasons of friends and family being at varying distances. I would imagine it was difficult for Jesus to say goodbye to his friends like Lazarus, his mother, Mary, and the eleven remaining apostles whom He spent a great deal of time with on this earth. But He was called to be somewhere else, to mediate between us and God (1 Tim 2:5) and to prepare us for a time when He can be with us all who love Him and keep His will.

In Revelation 19, we are given a picture of the marriage supper of the Lamb.  This is an event where the church will be reunited to celebrate with Christ – altogether, simultaneously, fulfilling the promise in Hebrews that no one would be left out but “God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.” – Hebrews 11:40 – Not only will we be reunited with our loved ones from our present, but also those who departed from us along the way, that fell asleep in Christ (1 Thes 4:14). We have been told this, so we don’t give up.   We fight the good fight .  We have the endurance to be different.

“For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith:” 2 Timothy 4: 7,8

“If you keep My commandments, you will remain in My love, just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and remain in His love. I have told you these things so that My joy may be in you and your joy may be complete.”  John 15:11

But for most of us, and potentially all of us reading this blog, today is not our last day of breath, but a day we leave behind someone we love, either through proximity or heaven forbid, through physical death.  So how can we make sure we don’t forget about this promise to be reunited with the ones we love?

1. Seek His word in your life. First, this means reading your Bible.  It is not an instrument to be used solely on Sundays and Wednesdays and at church camp.  We are told that the word of God in the scripture is alive and actively ready to convict and confirm on thoughts, motives, and actions (Hebrews 4:2).  You are called to live out every day for Christ, so this means the Word of God must be present.  Reading and subscribing to this blog is a great start, but so is a Bible reading plan, or verse of the day bookmarks.  Also, spending time in prayer is a way to monitor your spiritual life and receive direction and confirmation from God.  As we seek to become more spiritually mature, we begin to thank God for a lot more, recognizing the blessings in our life that change the way we pray for the things we desire.  We can pray for God’s will, or in His will, as we wait because we recognize that we are already truly blessed.  This is a discipline, an exercise program.  If you have been a spiritual couch potato, don’t expect to run a Bible marathon or become a prayer warrior overnight.  Even introducing the smallest of these disciplines will begin to make a dramatic difference into your spiritual health.

2. Find a ministry. Do the ministry.  When we become idle, when we don’t have anything to do, that is when sin gets a jump on us (Proverbs 16:27-29).  We consume junk on screens, we find people to talk about, and we become open to other forms of ungodly entertainment.  The devil can be just as busy binge-watching Netflix (that should step on some toes) or scrolling through social media (and the ones I missed the first time) as it is in those who are actively seeking out ways to do evil in this world.  This quote by Edmund Burke addressed to another statesman rings true in the Christian life too, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”  It is time to find and actively participate in a ministry.  To move from the milk to the meat.  To not simply believe but to act.  Don’t know where to start?  Look at the list provided by Jesus in Matthew 25 as he separates the sheep and the goats.  Ministry is truly a win-win. When you are busy fulfilling the Word of God, there is simply less time to get caught up in the stuff that doesn’t matter.

3. Be a part of the church. We are not called to do the above mentioned things solely in isolation.  When we put our faith and trust in Jesus Christ, we become part of a greater entity: the church.  It is not simply a building, in fact, it has nothing to do with the structure you meet in at all.  The church is full of people who are trying to do the same as you: live better for Christ.  There is a small caveat.  Like you, they are not perfect yet.  However, everyone in the church has their own unique gifting, function, and strengths.  You don’t have to do this alone.  So what if they don’t have the style of music you want at the church.  So what if there isn’t a large group of people your age in the church.  So what if your friends and family live far away from your church.  Inside your community of believers you still have a function, can be held and hold people accountable, and find ways to strengthen and edify one another for the purpose in which you’re called. It is also important to understand the church is connected beyond the group you meet with on Sundays.  Your friends at camp, your bestie from college, a group of people at a break table or lunch table can talk about and worship God together.  Find a way to connect with other believers, and you will be further shored up against evil.

4. Let the grace of God do the rest. Often times when we come back from a fulfilling spiritual experience, we are immediately presented with our greatest challenges.  The trajectory up of spiritual life will not be a perfect, upward-moving diagonal line.  Inevitably, we will always find a spiritual low after a spiritual high. Don’t let the waves of doubt and defeat toss you and capsize the great life, truth, and hope you have.  You will mess up.  You will know the good you should do and not do it sometimes (Rom 7:15-20).  You may go several days without reading your Bible, become stagnant in your ministry,  or remove yourself from the church because you feel guilty you have committed an unforgivable sin.  Don’t give up. Let God take control and understand that He gives grace to all generously.  This is a free gift, so don’t waste your time “feeling bad” or “not worthy.”  Take heart. Get back up. Seek God. Renew your commitment to His commandments because each day is a new day.  Do everything not to depart from God, and He too, will do everything it takes to ensure you will never have to depart from Him or the ones you love that have fulfilled the same call, together united at the marriage supper of the Lamb.

-Aaron Winner

Peculiar

Phil 2 15.png
If someone were to describe your behavior as “peculiar”, you would most likely not take it as a compliment.  Peculiar’s origin as a word stems from particular, singling out an item or idea from the rest, but over time the definition, and more importantly, the connotation has shifted.  To be peculiar is not simply to be different, but to be strange, funny, odd, specifically to a way we act or think seemingly with rational or reasonable explanation behind the behavior.  Peculiar could be someone who wears different styles, colors, and heights of socks simultaneously (me), or someone who doesn’t like the food on their plate to touch (my wife), or someone who would turn down all the wealth of this world to serve the will of God (Jesus, Matt 4).

There is truly something odd about the Christian life.  We are constantly denying our instinct in order to fulfill our call.  Many times Jesus uses radical, hyperbolic language to teach the most important disciplines of the strange Christian life.  These words are meant to shock, encourage whispers, and dramatically shift the way we act and think.  Those who want complacent faith? To have miracles without the mindset? To have salvation without giving up their reputation or station?  They walked and will continue to walk away.  They don’t want to be perceived as peculiar, and more accurately, don’t want to be forever changed – a holy-first mindset.

In keeping with today’s theme, here is a shortlist of six of the most odd and convicting teachings of Jesus.  If you’re not different or weird because you do these things, then you are doing them wrong.  As you devote time to reading this list, use this as an opportunity for a gut check – are you only a listless spectator watching and critiquing without any action or any sacrifice or are you actively working on becoming a sold-out slave to the Savior’s summoning?

1. You must be baptized for forgiveness and to receive the Spirit – Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” – John 3:3 – Jesus has an eye-opening conversation with Nicodemus about the way God uses this symbolic gesture that had become a part of Jewish religious culture.  John the Baptist, like others before him, uses immersion in water as a means of symbolically cleansing us from our sins, but Jesus sets the example (Matt 3) that this also symbolizes a changing of our mindset.  The death and burial of our old self, and the rebirth of someone who is ready to receive the Spirit, the dwelling of God’s power in us.  There are theological nuances that we will leave to the scholars to debate, but this symbolic act is clearly exampled and talked about by Jesus, and practiced and talked about some more by his disciples.  This is the beginning.  If you haven’t been baptized, but you see the compelling case for Christ in your life, now is the time.  This symbol marks the launching point, not the precipice to our walk in Him.

2. You must be willing to live and die for Christ – “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”  Matt 16:24,25 – Obviously the apostles saw something happen that dramatically shifted the trajectory of their lives forever.  After the resurrection of Jesus, they were accused of moving His body to perpetuate the story that He had risen.  But would every single one of these men be ready and willing to travel so far and literally give up their lives for Christ? While a single man might die to protect a lie, I find it very hard to believe a whole group of men would do so. All of them, save John who was exiled, were put to death, each one receiving their punishment, not simply for their beliefs, but for their pursuit of evangelism and sharing the good news.  They each daily sacrificed their life, and even used their death, as testimony of the life-altering Gospel message.

3. You must live out communion  – “For My flesh is real food, and My blood is real drink. Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood remains in Me, and I in him. Just as the living Father sent Me and I live because of the Father, so also the one who feeds on Me will live because of me“ – John 6:56 – Here we have another physical gesture that is symbolic of Christian life.  While it is not too difficult to eat a piece of bread or crackers, or knock back a cup of wine or grape juice, the conviction of these symbols is terrifying – we must always remember that we are striving to be one with Christ.  Anything we put in our body, use our body for (i.e. sex, 1 Cor 6:18), or anything that happens between our two ears, has to be reconciled by or repented to Christ for Him to remain in us.  This means the act of communion, whether done formally or figurative as a daily discipline, should be convicting and purging us from the things that tear us away from Christ.

4. You must find joy in persecution and dejection – “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.” Matthew 5:11 – Our natural instinct when we are attacked is to strike back.  If you hit me, I will return the blow.  If you hurl insults at me, I will use my wit and tongue to put you in your place.  Even when we gratify ourselves with revenge, there is no joy in it.  In Acts 5, Peter and the apostles receive a verbal and physical lashings.  What is their response?  Jubilation.  They found great joy in suffering for Christ because it meant they were becoming more like Him, and they were living out the Great Commission.  We should be ready and willing to be challenged, made fun of, and even receive physical abuse because we have taken a stand for Christ.  When we take a stand and our joy grows, but so does our testimony and resolve (James 1:2,3), compelling others to seek out the reason for our peculiar perseverance.

5. You must be willing to count anything as loss – “If your hand or your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life maimed or crippled than to have two hands or two feet and be thrown into eternal fire.” – Matthew 18:8 – The example Jesus uses is a challenge to control our carnal nature using figurative language. If someone had the resolve to literally cut off the hand or foot, they definitely have a resolve to control other behaviors in the life.  But are we willing to literally cut out other things?  Are you willing to give up comfort? Opportunities? Sports? Friends? Family members?  Would you be willing to be thought of as dumb, ignorant, a fool, and even pitied?  Would you be willing to part with all of your money, all of your possessions, and all of your time?  It is better to lose your identity in this world or  to have no home, than to be thrown alongside your pride and identity in the fire.  It is better to throw away a coveted scholarship than for you to be thrown alongside your degree to be thrown in the fire. It is better to find new friends and family, or even have no friends and family, than to be thrown alongside them in the fire.  Now each of these things are placed in the proper perspective; pride, a degree, friends, family can all be great God-filled things, just like hands and feet, but if they are moving you away from Christ, they are not beneficial.  We have to remove them.

6. You can’t stop loving others. Ever. – “Love your neighbor as yourself.” – Matthew 22:39 – It would be so much easier if Jesus never said this.  The most radical, the most challenging, the hardest-lived statement is in these five words.  Loving God is truly easy – He deserves honor and praise, He loved us first, and He has established things in past, present, and future for us that are greater than we can ever imagine.  I would even dare say I am loving God more than myself on my greatest days of faith (which is not nearly enough).  But loving my neighbor. C’mon.  What have they done to deserve my love?  My neighbor could bash my faith on social media.  My neighbor could be making such poor choices with their money.  My neighbor could be abusing their family.  My neighbor could be lying to me, stealing from me, and badmouthing me all over town. My neighbor could physically spit in my face, beat me to the point of death, and hang me on a cross.  And that’s when we realize, we are Christ’s neighbor.  He have power to change our lives forever by living out the love of God.  He was so purposeful in His love in God that He saved us all from eternal separation.  By doing this, He has given us the power to peculiarly love people we don’t know, but even more so, people we know well.  We have the same opportunity as Christ.  We can do everything possible to love our neighbor into conviction and submission that comes from seeing, hearing, and feeling the Gospel message coming from God through us.  Yes, this is the most peculiar of all, but as strange, odd and weird as it is, it’s the most beautiful, the most attractive, and the most fulfilling thing we could ever do on behalf of our Father in heaven who so much loves His peculiar people.

-Aaron Winner