A King and A Tyrant

2 Kings 20-21

2 Kings 21 9 NIV sgl

These two short chapters make me very glad for the American political system. Before I talk about what makes our system so good, I need to talk about the system in place in the passage that we read. Chapter 20 marks the end of the reign of a good king, Hezekiah, who accomplished many good deeds in the name of God. He was an iconoclast, one who destroys religious images (as an aside, archaeological evidence confirms the iconoclasm of Hezekiah’s age, very cool). He also increased the size of the Judahite kingdom and made it into a power on par with that of the Assyrians and Babylonians. Of course, all of this was made possible by the God who went before them in battle. Of all the kings of Judah, Hezekiah can be counted among the best, and under the guidance of a king such as he, a monarchy isn’t such a bad deal.

But when your good king is replaced by a 12-year-old tyrant, things aren’t so good. Manasseh reversed all the progress that Hezekiah made toward ridding Israel of idols and images of foreign gods. Manasseh turned away from God and brought Judah down with him. This is the power of a king. If he is good, then he can accomplish great things! But if he is evil, then he can accomplish even worse things. Somehow, Manasseh survived for fifty-five years as the king of Judah. Being a murderous beast of a man can certainly turn people away from the idea of overthrowing you. Luckily for the people of Judah, his son Amon was a bit more of a weakling, giving his advisors the opportunity to assassinate him.

This is the problem with monarchies. Everyone loves a prosperous generation under a king who does good, but if you are unfortunate enough to have a bad king (and there were a lot of them in Judah and Israel’s history), then the only way to get back on the right track is to murder the guy. Luckily for the Judahites, the next in line to the throne was an 8-year-old boy who ended up becoming arguably the greatest king of Judah. I wish I could talk more about how impressive Josiah is, but our passage cuts off just before his reign begins.

To summarize: a good king is great, but a bad king can only end in bloodshed, in the form of his people’s lives or his own. God knew this when he told Samuel that establishing a kingship was a bad idea. But God let the people have what they wanted. John Locke, a 17th century political philosopher whose thoughts helped lay the groundwork for the American system, knew this and argued against it in his treatises. The American system is designed to move slow, to never be controlled by one person long enough to do lasting damage. In America, you don’t have to wait a generation just to see political reform. Maybe if you are terribly concerned with nominal tax rates and zoning laws, then you can be frustrated with the snail’s pace at which the American political system moves, but the great advantage that we have in America is the lack of despotism and regicide. This alone gives you great reason to be happy to be alive in 2020 and not in the 8th century B.C. Let us thank God that the founders of this country were men of God who believed that each person is endowed with the spark of the Divine which is the source of our authority over our own lives, thus freeing us from the whims of tyrants like Manasseh.

Nathaniel Johnson

 

Today’s Bible passage can be read or listened to at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=2+Kings+20-21&version=NIV

Tomorrow’s Bible reading will be 32-33 as we continue the 2020 Chronological Bible Reading Plan

A Cheerful Heart in Difficult Times?

Proverbs 13-15

Proverbs 15 15 NIV sgl

Disease, murder, rioting, losing your job.  There is a lot happening in our country right now that weighs on the heart.  Those are a few things that are affecting the whole country, but don’t forget about loved ones dying, car accidents, fights, floods, financial strife, break-ups, and a whole host of other bad things that happen to people every day.  How can we possibly stay happy when so many lousy things are happening in our lives?

Proverbs 15:15 says that a miserable heart means a miserable life, but a cheerful heart fills the day with song.  You might think that the verse is only stating the obvious; if I feel sad, I am going to live a sad life, and if I feel happy, I am going to live a cheerful life.  However, this is a proverb meant to teach us, and it is trying to tell us that we have a choice as to how our heart feels.  You get to choose if you have a miserable heart or a happy heart.  You still might be thinking, dude, how in the world do you expect me to choose to be happy when my mother just died, or my best friend was just diagnosed with cancer?  That is some heavy stuff for a person to deal with, especially when it involves someone you love so dearly.

I was having a bad day some time ago because of something happening with someone I love, and then it hit me.  God loves this person even more than I do so I wonder what His day is like?  Then it hit me some more.  God knows and loves every person in the world and there are many millions of them dealing with bad stuff every day.  I was down in the dumps because of the one person in my life, so God must have been super-duper down in the dumps because of all the people He loves so dearly that were suffering in some way.  However, I knew that couldn’t be true.  I just don’t picture God moping around up in heaven.

So how does He keep a cheerful heart?  I know, I know, He’s God so He can do anything, and we don’t begin to have the capabilities He has.  Though, I think there are two main reasons He is not overcome with sadness and these are reasons we can also be happy when bad things happen.  First, He focuses on all the good things that are happening.  His heart is made glad when He sees someone feed the poor, go to church for the first time, be baptized, or when someone praises Him for all that He is.  In the same way, we can also choose to focus on the good things in life.  Second, He knows what is coming, a Kingdom on earth where there is no more pain and suffering.  There is not one bad thing that can happen to you that can take away your chance to be in the Kingdom if you have made the choice to accept the gift of eternal life.  That reward FAR outweighs anything that can happen during this very short lifetime.  All that bad stuff becomes quite insignificant when you realize it has no effect on your salvation.

Will you be sad if your mother dies?  Of course, but it is your choice if you want to mope around for months or years and continually dwell on her death.  Or you can appreciate the great memories you had with your mother and focus on what is good in your world.  Hopefully, you can also look forward to seeing her again in the Kingdom after she gets done with her long nap.  Those twenty or fifty years without her in this life may seem like forever, but that amount of time is insignificant when you consider you will get to spend infinity years with her in the future.

You may be thinking, what if my mother was not a Christian and will not be in the Kingdom?  There is more sadness when that hope for her is gone.  It seems like we will be sad when we reach the Kingdom and some of our loved ones are not there with us, but we know that there will be no sadness in the Kingdom.  How can that be?  My guess is that we will understand that justice needed to occur, and we will be ok with the punishment they received because they deserved it.

Bad things are going to happen to you and those you love, but you have a choice to be happy or not.  Don’t dwell on what makes you sad, think about what makes you happy.  Moreover, don’t let the bad parts of life rob you of the joy you can feel knowing that Jesus will soon return to establish the Kingdom for us for an eternity.

Rick McClain

 

Today’s Bible reading can be read or listened to at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Proverbs+13-15&version=NIV

Tomorrow’s reading will be Proverbs 16-18 as we begin a week of devotions with Stephanie Fletcher on our 2020 Chronological Bible Reading Plan

A Word for the Fools

Proverbs 8

Proverbs 8 35 NIV

This chapter is very poetic and filled with a personification of wisdom.  It is used to draw people in and make the writing more personal, and to have greater impact.  I think this is a way of showing how important Godly wisdom is, and how important it should be to each of us.  The idea that wisdom is calling out at the entrance of the city so that we can each hear “her” is an interesting idea.  Obviously, wisdom is a virtue that we should aspire to, not a being.  However, it is so important, and so beneficial to each of us, something that God desires each of us to have, it is as if wisdom is crying out to us, and we need to listen.

If wisdom is something that we aspire to, why do we need this chapter showing all the strengths of wisdom?  Why do we need to hear wisdom calling out to us?  Why do we need to be told again to heed instruction?  This has already been stated multiple times in the first 7 chapters of proverbs.

Verses 4 and 5 say:

To you, O men, I call,
And my voice is to the sons of men.
“O naive ones, understand prudence;
And, O fools, understand wisdom.

Maybe this isn’t for all of us.  We are all “men” (or people) and sons (or children) of men, but verse 5 specifically talks to naïve ones and fools?  So, maybe this is just for people who aren’t getting it yet.  But, maybe if we are thinking it is just for the naïve or fools, we are being naïve and foolish.

Verses 7 and 8 say:

“For my mouth will utter truth;
And wickedness is an abomination to my lips.
“All the utterances of my mouth are in righteousness;
There is nothing crooked or perverted in them.

When I look at this, I have to admit that not everything I say is done in righteousness.  I say things out of anger at times.  I say things at times when I should jut keep my mouth shut.  So, I still need help with wisdom.

I can read through this chapter and point out things in nearly every verse that shows how important wisdom is.  We obviously need to be reminded of this often, based on how often it is written about.  I encourage you to read through this and pick out each of these items.   The end of the chapter summarizes why we should do this:

“Now therefore, O sons, listen to me,
For blessed are they who keep my ways.
33 “Heed instruction and be wise,
And do not neglect it.
34 “Blessed is the man who listens to me,
Watching daily at my gates,
Waiting at my doorposts.
35 “For he who finds me finds life
And obtains favor from the Lord.
36 “But he who sins against me injures himself;
All those who hate me love death.”

Wisdom comes from God and will only be gained when following God.  This will lead to eternal life.  If we turn away from wisdom, we are turning away from God, and that leads to death.

Andrew Hamilton

Freedom

James 4

James 4 7

Have you ever read or watched a news feed of any kind and thought to yourself, “Wow, why is the world such a messed-up place?” Odds are you have had these thoughts or said this not just once but many, many times! Unfortunately; we live in a world that is covered in disgrace, selfishness, and unkindness. These things become evident as we look at the world around us and wonder at just how far some have fallen. When we ask how the world got this way it is not a new question and it does not require a new answer. It is an answer that James wrote about a long time ago on a continent far far away (sorry, back on target).

In James 4:1 he asks the question, “What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you?” Why are you fighting all the time?!? When he wrote this it wasn’t in the time of instant communication that we have today. He couldn’t use snapchat, private messenger, or even email. Because it would take weeks or even months for responses to go back and forth, he asks the question and immediately supplies the answer. Isn’t it the pleasures that wage war in your members? Have you ever thought of your pleasures as waging war within yourself? If not just think how much you long for the latest and greatest, even when what you already have works just fine. Even more when you go to replace something that is broken.

My phone broke  about a month ago (completely stopped working) and I was faced with the question do I replace it with a new model, attempt to repair the old one, or get a refurbished replacement of the currently broken phone at a fraction of the cost of a newer model. There is a part of me that has always been fascinated with the newest electronics and the new features (after all – I want my phone to be the best, right?). As I was weighing my options I continued to see the latest models waging war against my budget. I reasoned with myself, “It will get updates longer if I get the newer phone, it will have better features.” The fact of the matter is my phone that had just died served me quite well for nearly three years, I know all of its settings and have cases, chargers, and screen protectors that I have already purchased sitting at home. I also get all of these benefits for a quarter to a third of the price. After attempting to have the old phone repaired I finally received the refurbed phone and am quite happy with my decision. All of that to say that I am quite familiar with my desires waging war within me.

He says you lust and envy and it leads you to strife and disagreements, even to murder. He then goes on to say that the only reason you don’t have is that you don’t ask. Jesus said if you seek you will find, we merely have to ask. In verse three we find that just because we ask does not mean we will instantly have the desires of our hearts. If I ask with self-serving motives I will not receive, but if I am needing wisdom to better serve God it will be granted. If I focus my desires and friendship on the world and its pleasures I show myself to be serving stuff, NOT God.

In verses 6 and 7 we find that God gives grace to the humble and we are to submit to Him and His desires because of His mercy and grace. James then says the devil will flee from us if we resist him. That is a magnificent piece of information if you have ever felt tempted to serve your own desires instead of God’s desires!

Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded. James 4:8

Do NOT let yourself fall into the trappings of this world that say you can be a slave to the latest and greatest and still serve God, we can have but one master. Do not be double-minded, only serve the things of God. Philippians 2:3, 4 tell us to treat others as if they are a higher priority to us than ourselves, and verse 5 tells us to have the attitude that was in Christ. It is amazing how much this spirit can set us free from the struggles this world consistently brings about. After all, 2 Corinthians 3:17 says, “where the spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.”

James also warns us of the arrogance that comes from assuming we know what is going to happen. He reminds us that our lives are in the hands of God. What better place is there to rest?

Let’s rest in His hands and find the freedom that only He can provide!

-Bill Dunn