Faithful, cunning or both?

2 Chronicles 17

Sadly, in the promised land, Judah, the southern kingdom is at war with Israel, the northern kingdom. Jehoshaphat takes over the royal reins from his father Asa, but makes a few changes.

(Incidentally, the Bible refers to David as the father of Jehosaphat whereas we understand that his father was Asa and David was one of his forefathers before him.)

The point is made that Jehosaphat was godly like David, unlike his ungodly father Asa.

Jehosaphat came up with the bright idea of sending out special teachers of the law to the countryside – a sort of mobile Sunday- school. This had several ramifications:

  1. Some of the surrounding tribes were so over-awed by the stories of the military successes attribute to Yahweh, the God of the Jews, they decided not to risk war.
  2. Others decided a treaty might be better so they showered Jehosaphat with gifts such that he became rich and even more powerful.
  3. He used his new wealth to fortify his cities and pay an army to protect Jerusalem bringing peace to his kingdom.

Was Jehosaphat just being faithful to God or did he plan these extremely beneficial outcomes? Read on!

Matt 6: 25 – 34

This is not so much medical advice for a person suffering anxiety attacks but more de-stressing for the average Christian just trying to live in what can be a very difficult world. But, caution! It may conceal a very serious sin. The crime of Asa, Jehosaphat’s father, for which Yahweh held him liable, was that he did not trust his God (2 Chronicles 16). He bribed the King of Syria with treasure from God’s temple to become his ally and help him win all of his battles. He did not call upon God. Yes, he was successful in battle but not in God’s eyes! He died from a mysterious disease and the throne passed to his son Jehosaphat. It appears that Jehosaphat did exactly what Mathew is advising. Rather than use his wealth and power to shore up treaties around him like his father Asa had done, he used his resources to promote the law of God across his entire kingdom. He put his faith in God. Very cunning! The end result was the same but it was achieved through blessings that flowed from his godliness.

It’s easy to be like Asa, isn’t it? Identify the problem; come up with a plan; throw all your resources at it; achieve the desired outcome. Reads like a manifesto from an MBA. But it is much more faithful, and sometimes even very cunning to trust God and rely on him. Don’t be anxious, just walk the path that God has laid out before you and wait to see what tomorrow will bring.

God shall arise

How are the Psalms fulfilled in light of Christ?

I think this is a massive question way beyond the scope of a post, but here I try to have a go at reading Psalm 68 through the lens of Christ’s death and resurrection. It helped me see things I wouldn’t have seen before.

 68 God shall arise, his enemies shall be scattered;
    and those who hate him shall flee before him! 

It is very easy to read this as just referring to end of the world, judgement day, revelation kind of things. But in light of the resurrection, I think it brings a new perspective. Particularly the notion ‘God shall arise’. God literally did arise, and in that moment he absolutely conquered all of his enemies. What more could they do? If even death wasn’t enough to stop him? They had no other choice but to flee.

As smoke is driven away, so you shall drive them away;
    as wax melts before fire,
    so the wicked shall perish before God!

Possibly reading too much into this, but it sounds like the psalmist is saying that even after God has arisen, he will drive them away over time. The image of wax melting supports this I think. While God’s enemies have fled before him at the resurrection, they haven’t been totally annihilated. But God promises that just as wax will inevitably melt before a fire, so too will evil eventually be wiped out before him.

But the righteous shall be glad;
    they shall exult before God;
    they shall be jubilant with joy!

The use of ‘But’ might be an acknowledgement of the fact that even though this will take time, the righteous will be glad. Even though evil will be allowed to flee for sometime, there will be joy for God’s people. Even though evil has not completely perished, there is joy on offer for God’s people. Joy in the fact that he has arisen and done what he promised to do.

I think there is joy to be found in this today. Do we find joy in the fact that our God has arisen. That evil flees before him. That one day, despite the nightmares we see through our media, evil will perish? That this is as inevitable as wax melting before a fire?

At this point I realise that doing this for each verse requires a few more words than I have!!! So I’ll leave it to you!

Praying we would continue to grow in our wonder that our God has arisen.

Peter L

 

 

Choose Life

If you’re a fan of Wham in the 1984 then this this image will mean something to you.Those T shirts were everywhere and are still popular today. According to Google  the inspiration for these shirts created by English fashion designer Katharine E. Hamnett might have come from Deuteronomy 30:19

Image result for choose life wham

I cant help thinking though that our 2 readings 2 Chr16, Matt6:19-24 are about choice and indeed part of the life that God offers.

In Chronicles King Asa of Judah starts out really well. “He did what was right and prospered (Chapter 14). There was covenant renewal (Chapter 15) enjoying peace. By Chapter 16 though it starts to go bad. When confronted by an invasion from the Israel he hired foreign Aramean forces using his own and the temple’s wealth. He did this rather than trusting in the Lord and imprisoned the prophet (Hanani) who rebuked him. In his 39th year (of his reign) he was afflicted with a disease, but still steadfastly refused to seek the Lord. He dies 2 years later” (from NIV text notes)

For a large part of his reign king Asa made some great choices in terms of honouring the Lord but sadly did not finish well.

In Matt6: Jesus is speaking to the disciples and the crowd about ” 3 acts of righteousness – giving, praying, fasting” He then goes on to address the issue of money. We are encouraged to store up treasure (spiritual blessings) in heaven (Eph 1:) One is temporary the other eternal. Jesus talked a lot about money and the love humanity seems to have for it.

The mistake we often make is Jesus is not talking about the cash but the desire. You can be not well off at all and have little or no money but still desire and love it. The converse is true too of course……..and everything in between.

In the end it’s about the heart AS IT ALWAYS IS.

Simples really – Look at where your treasure is and there you will find your heart. May we all finish well,  so continue to choose well my friends.

 

 

 

 

But the Lord looks at the heart

Our readings today are 2 Chr 12 and Matt 6:1-4.

2 Chr 12 brings us to the end of three chapters describing Rehoboam’s reign as king. And how does the author sum up 17 years of rule?

And he did evil, for he did not set his heart to seek the Lord (v14)

Rehoboam even get’s a reprieve from being totally destroyed by the Egyptians in verses 6-12 because he and the princes of Israel humbled themselves and acknowledged that “The Lord is righteous”, but at the end of it all his life and reign were summarised as having done evil, because his heart was not set to seek the Lord.

I ask myself how my life would be summarised by the chronicler if it came down to one sentence. Have I set my heart to seek the Lord? What about you?

Matt 6:1-4 talks of reward from God, and of acts done in humility rather than boasting. Is there some sort of divine calculus that says that any good act can only have a set amount of reward, and if you got it from others already, you can’t have any from God? I don’t think God is miserly or stingy; he has no lack of resources; nor does he set a limit on blessing.

Rather, I think God sees behind the action to the motivation. Gifts of generosity done for approval and reputation are motivated by self. Giving to the needy when no one can see is other centred, from a heart that wants to help.

With all the things we could pursue in this life, the approval of others, wealth, pleasure, knowledge, health, perfect appearance, it’s good to remember God’s words to Samuel when he was sent to anoint David as Israel’s king while Saul still reigned…

The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart. –1 Samuel 16:7

Are you ready for the revolution?

Matthew 5: 33-48

Today’s reading takes us further into Jesus’ revolutionary and formative teaching to his disciples. Who are they to be? How are they to behave? What should they value?

Jesus takes the Hebrew Scriptures and applies them to the challenges of living under the oppressive rule of brutal Roman occupying forces and the societal injustices of the Roman Empire. His teaching is the manifesto of a radically alternative Kingdom.

Concerning Oaths

Exodus 20:7 prohibits false oaths made in the name of God. Jesus extends this to all vows, wreathed in what the Message Bible calls “a smoke screen of pious talk…You don’t make your words true by embellishing them with religious lace.”  Use words which promote honesty, integrity and simplicity. Let’s say what we mean to each other. Let’s say what is true for us.

Concerning Retaliation

Exodus 21: 24 restricts revenge for wrongs to a proportionate response. Jesus’ exhorts his disciples to use nonviolent responses to injustice and wrongs. Instead of advocating the extremes of either passivity or aggression, Jesus preaches responses which restore dignity and initiative to those living under oppression and in circumstances of low status and power. Roman forces could commandeer labour, equipment, supplies, transportation and shelter from those who they occupied. Roman soldiers were legally able, for example, to force a Jew to carry a soldier’s pack for one mile of his journey. Jesus’ approach is revolutionary. If an aggressor strikes you, takes your possessions, forces you to take their pack for a mile, take back the initiative in your choice of response. Oppressive actions designed to humiliate and intimidate, are turned into opportunities to disarm aggressors, even shame them. Nothing diminishes the value and dignity of every person, no matter how powerless and oppressed, in the ethics of God’s Kingdom.

Love for Enemies

Leviticus 19:18 commands that we love our neighbours. Jesus expands this outrageously to specifically include our enemies. The love of our Father, which is generous, indiscriminate and merciful, is the love which we are to imitate.

In a world which pulls us daily into a dichotomy of ‘winners’ versus ‘losers,’ ‘bad’ versus ‘good,’ ‘West’ versus ‘Muslims,’ Jesus’ exhortation is unsettling and destabilizing. He invites his disciples and us to step into love and life-giving mercy to all, both good and bad; he invites us into the counter culture of the Kingdom of God.

Live with generosity, love and mercy towards others, the way your heavenly Father lives towards you. This is Jesus’ teaching for us today, and his somewhat scary yet exhilerating invitation to live within his radically alternative Kingdom.

Love Jane

With stringed instruments

Being a musician, the introductory comments prefacing Psalm 67 immediately catch my attention.

To the choirmaster: with stringed instruments. A Psalm. A Song.

What I am looking here are song lyrics, with a long lost melody and instrumentation.

Music is referenced many times throughout the Scriptures. Over 1150 verses in the Bible reference music. The bible is replete with songs which were always accompanied by musical instruments. To see and hear what some of these instruments look and sound like click here.

Having been blessed with enough musical ability to be able play a number of stringed instruments – I wonder how this song would have sounded?

How would Psalm 67 musically have stacked up against some of the classic guitar (stringed instrument) songs that I have grown up listening to – the likes of the Beattles, Pink Floyd, Jimi Hendrix, Nirvana or Led Zepplin to name a few that influenced a generation?

There can be no doubt that even without their original music the Psalms stand unique in their ability to touch generation after generation.

Maybe the structure and repetition of the lyrical themes give us some clue to the musical arrangement!

These are my humble thoughts based on the way our modern worship songs are arranged.

The song begins quietly on a harp or lyre with a request for God to be “gracious to us and bless us and make his face to shine upon us” (show us favour or benevolence). But it is not about us – the focus is elsewhere – these requests a meanly signposts to someone, somewhere else as punctuated by the words “Selah” and “So that” (NIV) – verse 2 and again in verse 7.

At which point the song builds as other instruments join in, leading into the chorus (v3) – May all peoples and nations praise you.

It is hard to imagine that the feel of the song is anything but uplifting and joyous in verses 3 and 4 as it speaks of gladness and joy.

The chorus is repeated in verse 5. Before returning again to the theme of God’s blessing that opened the song – perhaps musically more reflective at this point – again the reason for God’s benevolence is clearly spelt out – so that the peoples of the ends of the earth “will fear him!”

Here is a link to the Sons of Korah’s interpretation of Psalm 67 to further reflect upon.

 

Motives of the Heart

Today’s reading is taken from 2 Chron. 9 & Matt 5:17-26

Under Solomon’s reign Israel reaches its climax in the process of redemption that started in Egypt which is clearly seen especially in the building of the temple. Tall tales of Solomon’s wisdom, wealth and extravagance reached all corners of the world and ‘all the kings of the earth sought audience with Solomon to hear the wisdom God had put in his heart’ (v.23). The people, Solomon and the Queen of Sheba rightly see this as a blessing from God and recognize Him as the Source of this prosperity.

Chapter 9 is pretty much an inventory of what Solomon has accomplished. Two hundred shields of hammered gold, steps made of algumwood and the list goes on. Here, it is important to see God’s promises to Abraham being fulfilled by the establishing of the Davidic dynasty through Solomon. Under the blessing of God Solomon becomes a builder who undertakes several projects which included the Temple, his palace and the Palace of the Forest of Lebanon. However, as Solomon continues to bask in the glory and the success bestowed upon him by God he gradually forgets the big picture. Somewhere along the way Solomon stops building for the glory of God and Israel and starts to build for his own glory and vanity.

In Matthew 5 Jesus makes it abundantly clear that one’s outward expression should be the result of an inward godliness. Without God at the center of our motives, any outward action only goes to feed our own pride and self-exaltation. This is what happened to Solomon. Yes he built a Temple for God – probably his most acclaimed accomplishment, and continued to build to prosper Israel. However thanks to his over-sized harem his heart changes and is no longer set on God.

Solomon’s story is so much our story today. During those joyful seasons when we’re seeing success after success it is so easy to take all the credit and forget the Source of our prosperity. For us seasoned Christians the people around us may not even notice that subtle change in our hearts because, like the Pharisees, our outward faith or ‘religiosity’ may sometimes be what really defines us. But as Jesus puts in Matthew 5 it’s not what you do outwardly that is of the highest importance, but it’s the motive of your heart that counts, the very posture of your heart which needs be to set entirely on desiring Him and Him alone.

Sam, KIC