Monday, October 20, 2014

"Learning from the mistakes of the past ..."

Day #297:  Daily Bible Reading Plan - October 21st

Scripture Reading:  II Chronicles 25 - 28 ...

Why do people do it?  The longer I live the more clearly I see the utter foolishness of mankind's rejection of the one true God, which some days leads me to to become so frustrated with people that I long for God to reveal Himself in such a powerful way that people would HAVE to take notice!!  Of course, that would mean Jesus would have to return ... and that would mean that millions upon millions of people would face the same fate that many in our reading today faced:  the swift and awesome judgment of God.  So very often these days I think of mercy.  I think of God's mercy for me and of His desire that I show the same mercy to people that HE has shown to me in Christ.

Reading through the lives of the kings is always a bit depressing.  There are those rare moments when God worked in one of the kings of Judah to accomplish some good, but even then you still see glimpses of the remaining sin of the human heart that insists on doing its own thing and going its own way.  King Joash (Chapter 24) had done many good things while Jehoiada, the priest, was still alive, but when he died, Joash actually had Jehoiada's son stoned to death.  Joash, too, would die in disgrace, and his son, Amaziah would take the throne.

It was said of Amaziah that "he did what was right in the eyes of the LORD, but not wholeheartedly" (25:2).  Isn't that a commentary on so many who "believe in God" today?  Like many of the other kings, Amaziah didn't trust in the Lord, but actually hired soldiers from Israel to help him fight against his enemies.  God wasn't impressed.  He told Amaziah to send them back, but when he did, these soldiers (who had already been paid) attacked some cities in Judah and killed 3,000 people and carried off plunder for themselves (25:13).  Such ungodly activity is "normal" for the sinful nature of men whose hearts are not on serving the LORD, our God.

Yet, what is even more astounding than such behavior is that of King Amaziah.  Having defeated the Edomites, "he brought back the gods of the people of Seir.  He set them up as his own gods, bowed down to them and burned sacrifices to them" (25:14).  God asks him the logical question:  "Why do you consult this people's gods, which could not save their own people from your hand?" (25:15).  Throughout the times of the Kings of Israel and Judah, God sent prophets to call His people to return to Him and to warn of judgment if they didn't.  Rarely did they listen ... and all of this is an illustration for those who are God's people TODAY!

It's so easy to go on about our lives and forget that God speaks to us today through His Word.  The more you read God's Word and know God's character, the more you pray and seek His wisdom and guidance, the more you hear His voice as He directs you through each day.  But how few listen?  Being devoted to God requires shutting out the other "voices" and being devoted to Him.  That's why Paul writes, "Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful" (Colossians 4:2) ... and "Be joyful always, pray continually, and in every circumstance give thanks, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus" (I Thessalonians 5:16-18).

After Amaziah died, his son, Uzziah, became king in Judah.  His was one of the longest reigns - fifty-two years; and we read that "he sought God during the days of Zechariah, who instructed him in the fear of God.  As long as he sought the LORD, God gave him success" (26:5).  People look for a "formula for success" these days ... here it is!  Seek the LORD!!  Pray for wisdom.  Devote yourself to serving God every day.  Live for HIM, rather than yourself.  God was blessing Uzziah and He gave him "fame and fortune" and victory over his enemies.  So what do you think happened then?  "After Uzziah became powerful, his pride led to his downfall.  He was unfaithful to the LORD his God" (26:16).

Pride is itself such a foolish response to success in life.  Anything good that you and I accomplish is done only through the wisdom and strength of God.  Our "boasting" can only be that God is with us and that in His grace He has used us for His glory.  We can accomplish nothing by our own strength and our wisdom is like nothing compared to His!  Uzziah fell to pride like so many before and after him because he took his eyes off of God and looked at himself and his accomplishments.  Never ... never follow that example!  It leads to ruin every single time.  In his foolish pride, Uzziah entered the temple to offer his own sacrifices and God struck him with leprosy ... and that's how he died.

At least his son, Jotham, learned from his mistake.  But the people of Judah continued in their sin and rebellion.  As we read through Kings and Chronicles don't you long to get to the New Testament?!  Don't you long to hear some GOOD NEWS?!!  Yet, even in the Old Testament God offered hope through the words of the prophets for those who drew near to Him.  God always has a remnant, a small group of people in whom He is at work by His Spirit.  Are YOU one of them?  Each of us makes choices each day ... hundreds of them each week.  Where is God in the midst of your choices?  Do you seek Him and follow His revealed will in His Word when you have to make a decision, no matter how large or how small?

Though there were certainly no perfect kings in Judah or Israel, there is a pattern of blessing for obedience and judgment for disobedience that follows both the kings of Judah and the people of Judah. Thank God that He does not always deal with us as our actions deserve.  Jotham's son, Ahaz, became king after him and he turned away from the LORD and worshiped idols.  God used Pekah, king of Israel, to bring His judgment on Ahaz and Judah, and here we see another important lesson:  a lesson on MERCY.

God had used Pekah to judge King Ahaz and Judah, but after he had defeated them, he went further.  He took captive 200,000 of their wives, sons and daughters and many possessions and returned to Samaria (Israel).  Then God sent a prophet to the king of Israel and said, "Aren't you also guilty of sins against the LORD your God?  Now listen to me!  Send back your fellow country-men you have taken as prisoners, for the LORD's fierce anger rests on you" (28:11).  So they took them back, gave them clothes, sandals and food and other things.  A rare picture of mercy to their fellow man ... but isn't this what God desires, above so many other things that we do?

Jesus told the parable of the unmerciful servant (Matthew 18:21-35) and calls us as His disciples to show to others the mercy our Father in heaven has shown to us.  Why is that so hard?  Because we take our eyes off of Jesus, just like the people in the days of the kings took their eyes off of God's love and mercy to them.  We need to continually remember the cross ... what put Jesus on the cross (our sin) and what kept Him there (God's love for us!).  When you and I have an opportunity to show mercy, we need to do so!

King Ahaz was allowed to live, but instead of thanking God for His mercy, "in his time of trouble King Ahaz became even more unfaithful to the LORD.  He offered sacrifices to the gods of Damascus, who had defeated him," and "they were his downfall and the downfall of all Israel" (28:22-23).  Ahaz took the furnishings from the temple, shut the doors and sets up altars to other gods all over Jerusalem.  He built altars throughout Judah and "provoked the LORD, the God of his fathers, to anger" (28:24-25).  And do you know what is even MORE disturbing than that???  People in the visible church doing the very same thing today!

How do they do that?  By approving of sin and by entering into dialogue with those who worship other gods for the sake of "peace and unity" among men.  Never mind that God has told His people to "come out from them and be separate!" (II Corinthians 6:17).  "Do not be yoked together with unbelievers.  For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common?  Or what fellowship can light have with darkness?  What harmony is there between Christ and Belial?  What does a believer have in common with an unbeliever?  What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols?  For WE are the temple of the living God!  As God has said, 'I will live with them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they will be my people" (II Corinthians 6:14-16).

Don't repeat the mistakes of those in the past who ignored God's warnings and offered Him half-hearted devotion!  Seek the LORD, the one true God.  Draw near to Him through faith in Jesus Christ and then LIVE for Him every day.  He has promised to bless those who live by faith.  Through Jesus God gives those who believe access to His throne.  His Spirit lives within us and calls us to imitate the life of Christ and so be light in this world.  Devote yourself to the Lord, your God, remembering the words of the prophet, Micah, "He has showed you, O man, what is good.  And what does the LORD requires of you?  To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God" (Micah 6:8).

"Heavenly Father, You have placed within my heart the desire to please You, to follow Your commands, to be merciful to others as You have been merciful to me.  I confess that in the midst of life I at times struggle to follow Your pattern of grace, love, mercy and forgiveness, desiring rather to pronounce the judgment all of mankind (myself included) deserves.  Fill me with Your patience and balance my zeal for Your glory with Your love for those yet lost and in bondage to sin.  I humble myself in Your presence and thank You for Your grace.  In Jesus' name, Amen"

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