Meaningless things

IMG_5655Ecclesiastes 1:2  “Meaningless!  Meaningless!”says the Teacher.  “Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless.” (NIV)

Read: Ecclesiastes Chapters 1 and 2  The book of Ecclesiastes is thought to have been written by King Solomon and when you see verse one of Chapter one it seems to bear that thought out…as we also know that Solomon prayed for wisdom from God.  When I first read these two chapters I thought, “Well, how depressing can you get?  Solomon must have really been having a bad time of it when he wrote this.”  Then as I thought of it more there is a lot of truth in this.  We do all live and we all die..no matter how we live our lives…either foolishly, miserably, happily, contentedly, in anger, or in love…we all have a limited life span, and a physical death to look forward to in the end.  For some of us, the end comes sooner, and some much later, but we all have that ending to this physical life.

IMG_0996Also, it is true that we are generally forgotten once everyone who knew us is also dead.  We become just a name on an ancestral chart, or if you are one of those people who actually change the lives of a lot of other people your name may appear in a history book to torment students for many generations to come as to who you are and what you did…when you think of it that is pretty funny.  Names like Marie Curie, Sister Teresa, Jonas Salk…then there are other names that are more infamous…Stalin, Hitler, Mussolini we only wish we could forget those last three…unfortunately if we forget them, then we may not learn the lesson about humanity’s cruelty to humanity that we should remember and be aware of so we can guard against it and others who may appear who are like them.  So, as the writer of Ecclesiastes says, is it all meaningless?  Well it might seem to be if you leave out the most important thing in life….your Creator, God!

The thing is that in 1:15 Solomon tells us that 15 What is crooked cannot be straightened; what is lacking cannot be counted.”  Now, if we are looking at our ability to straighten things and count what is not there, then this is absolutely true.  However, God can see what is not there in a person, and also has the power to straighten up crooked things.  Only the power of God can do that.  God sees the potential in a person that is not readily visible to others.

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Ecclesiastes 1:18 18 For with much wisdom comes much sorrow;
the more knowledge, the more grief.

Ecclesiastes 1:18 also gives us a bit of truth…as we age we generally can look back and see what we did wrong, and then when we see a young person making the same mistake and cannot influence them with the wisdom we have acquired it does cause sorrow to us.  However, it is good if we can remember that we got through our unwise state and in many ways we are still unwise in our thoughts and actions.  Yet we can take comfort in knowing that God is also working on that youngster’s path in life, as he does on ours. We need to turn our griefs over to God and let him help us through them.  Jeremiah 29:11 For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.

 

Ecclesiastes 1 New International Version (NIV)

Everything Is Meaningless

The words of the Teacher,[a] son of David, king in Jerusalem:

“Meaningless! Meaningless!”
    says the Teacher.
“Utterly meaningless!
    Everything is meaningless.”

What do people gain from all their labors
    at which they toil under the sun?
Generations come and generations go,
    but the earth remains forever.
The sun rises and the sun sets,
    and hurries back to where it rises.
The wind blows to the south
    and turns to the north;
round and round it goes,
    ever returning on its course.
All streams flow into the sea,
    yet the sea is never full.
To the place the streams come from,
    there they return again.
All things are wearisome,
    more than one can say.
The eye never has enough of seeing,
    nor the ear its fill of hearing.
What has been will be again,
    what has been done will be done again;
    there is nothing new under the sun.
10 Is there anything of which one can say,
    “Look! This is something new”?
It was here already, long ago;
    it was here before our time.
11 No one remembers the former generations,
    and even those yet to come
will not be remembered
    by those who follow them.

Wisdom Is Meaningless

12 I, the Teacher, was king over Israel in Jerusalem. 13 I applied my mind to study and to explore by wisdom all that is done under the heavens. What a heavy burden God has laid on mankind! 14 I have seen all the things that are done under the sun; all of them are meaningless, a chasing after the wind.

15 What is crooked cannot be straightened;
    what is lacking cannot be counted.

16 I said to myself, “Look, I have increased in wisdom more than anyone who has ruled over Jerusalem before me; I have experienced much of wisdom and knowledge.” 17 Then I applied myself to the understanding of wisdom, and also of madness and folly, but I learned that this, too, is a chasing after the wind.

18 For with much wisdom comes much sorrow;
    the more knowledge, the more grief.

Footnotes:

  1. Ecclesiastes 1:1Or the leader of the assembly; also in verses 2 and 12

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In Ecclesiastes 2 Solomon starts talking about how meaningless Pleasure and work are in life.  He tells us that he thinks that laughter is madness and what does pleasure accomplish?

Well, as far as I am concerned…I think that Solomon may have forgotten that God invented laughter and pleasure and work.  God knows that laughter is good for us and wants us to have pleasure in the things in life, and have meaning in our work.

After all, God gave Adam a job right away in the Garden of Eden…he was told to name the animals, and care for the Garden.

Genesis 2:15  The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.

Genesis 2:20 So the man gave names to all the livestock, the birds in the sky and all the wild animals. But for Adam no suitable helper was found.

God tells us to have some rest and worship on the Sabbath Day…so God knows that rest is important to the renewing of ourselves to continue the work he has given us.

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The thing is that Solomon tells us a few things about his pursuit of pleasure and work and it is pretty plain that he was not including God in his pursuit of pleasure or in his work.  That is why he came to the conclusion that it was all meaningless.

When we get down to the end of Ecclesiastes 2 we find that Solomon ended up with this very same conclusion…if you do everything in service to God, then God rewards that service with a sense of satisfaction in life.

Not so, for the person who is not serving God…they continue to run through life like a rat on an exercise wheel…until life runs out on them.

Solomon’s thoughts in 2:24-26 may be hard for some to accept, especially if they are running away from God.  It just comes down to one thing…either a person can have a fulfilling and meaningful life with God….or they can choose to run their own life…without God..which means that there is no more life after life…all that person has is the here and now and whatever satisfaction they can find in it.

Personally, I am happy that I have chosen not to live life without the inclusion of the Almighty God, my creator….because this means that not only do I have an after life to faithfully look forward to, but I can also share in God’s joy here on earth by doing the work he has given me to do.  I have assurance that there is meaning to life!

I am hoping and praying that all of you have that assurance also…that is how we all share in God’s joy…the joy of a sinner saved, and the joy of fellowship with God and with fellow believers.

Ecclesiastes 2:24-26

24 A person can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in their own toil. This too, I see, is from the hand of God, 25 for without him, who can eat or find enjoyment? 26 To the person who pleases him, God gives wisdom, knowledge and happiness, but to the sinner he gives the task of gathering and storing up wealth to hand it over to the one who pleases God. This too is meaningless, a chasing after the wind.

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Ecclesiastes 2 New International Version (NIV)

Pleasures Are Meaningless

I said to myself, “Come now, I will test you with pleasure to find out what is good.” But that also proved to be meaningless. “Laughter,” I said, “is madness. And what does pleasure accomplish?” I tried cheering myself with wine, and embracing folly—my mind still guiding me with wisdom. I wanted to see what was good for people to do under the heavens during the few days of their lives.

I undertook great projects: I built houses for myself and planted vineyards. I made gardens and parks and planted all kinds of fruit trees in them. I made reservoirs to water groves of flourishing trees. I bought male and female slaves and had other slaves who were born in my house. I also owned more herds and flocks than anyone in Jerusalem before me. I amassed silver and gold for myself, and the treasure of kings and provinces. I acquired male and female singers, and a harem[a] as well—the delights of a man’s heart.I became greater by far than anyone in Jerusalem before me. In all this my wisdom stayed with me.

10 I denied myself nothing my eyes desired;
    I refused my heart no pleasure.
My heart took delight in all my labor,
    and this was the reward for all my toil.
11 Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done
    and what I had toiled to achieve,
everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind;
    nothing was gained under the sun.

Wisdom and Folly Are Meaningless

12 Then I turned my thoughts to consider wisdom,
    and also madness and folly.
What more can the king’s successor do
    than what has already been done?
13 I saw that wisdom is better than folly,
    just as light is better than darkness.
14 The wise have eyes in their heads,
    while the fool walks in the darkness;
but I came to realize
    that the same fate overtakes them both.

15 Then I said to myself,

“The fate of the fool will overtake me also.
    What then do I gain by being wise?”
I said to myself,
    “This too is meaningless.”
16 For the wise, like the fool, will not be long remembered;
    the days have already come when both have been forgotten.
Like the fool, the wise too must die!

Toil Is Meaningless

17 So I hated life, because the work that is done under the sun was grievous to me. All of it is meaningless, a chasing after the wind. 18 I hated all the things I had toiled for under the sun, because I must leave them to the one who comes after me. 19 And who knows whether that person will be wise or foolish? Yet they will have control over all the fruit of my toil into which I have poured my effort and skill under the sun. This too is meaningless.20 So my heart began to despair over all my toilsome labor under the sun. 21 For a person may labor with wisdom, knowledge and skill, and then they must leave all they own to another who has not toiled for it. This too is meaningless and a great misfortune. 22 What do people get for all the toil and anxious striving with which they labor under the sun? 23 All their days their work is grief and pain; even at night their minds do not rest. This too is meaningless.

24 A person can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in their own toil. This too, I see, is from the hand of God, 25 for without him, who can eat or find enjoyment? 26 To the person who pleases him, God gives wisdom, knowledge and happiness, but to the sinner he gives the task of gathering and storing up wealth to hand it over to the one who pleases God. This too is meaningless, a chasing after the wind.

Footnotes:

  1. Ecclesiastes 2:8 The meaning of the Hebrew for this phrase is uncertain.
New International Version (NIV)Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Seven Things God Detests

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Proverbs 6: 16-19 There are six things the Lord hates, seven that are detestable to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked schemes, feet that are quick to rush into evil, a false witness who pours out lies and a man who stirs up dissension among brothers.

Read: Genesis Chapter 39  This is the story of Potiphar’s wicked wife who pretty much did all of these things which God detests.  Although she did not shed Joseph’s blood she did cause him to go to prison, which could have resulted in the shedding of his blood for sure…yet, he was innocent of all the things she had charged him with.  She is not a person of good character.  Despite her actions, and the harm 13 “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.  Joseph being imprisoned…Joseph did not sin.  He did not say, “Well, whatever, everyone in the world is against me, so I might as well be the person that they have decided that I am!”  He did not engage in a self-pity party.  He decided to stick with God and just make the best of his circumstances.  In the end, his attitude of doing his best despite his circumstances turned out very well for him.  God blessed him for his determination to follow the Lord’s will with his character.

Now, although this is not a popular view in the eyes of the world…let’s consider Potiphar’s wife for a moment…she did all of these bad things.  The Bible clearly tells us that God hates these things….so can it be inferred that God hated Potiphar’s wife?  Absolutely not, God has a hatred of the things that she did, but not of the person of Potiphar’s wife.  She was still a person who was a well loved creation of God.

Most of us, as we go through life,  meet at least one or two people who have done the things that God hates.  It may even be ourselves at one time or another who have done these things…though we like to think not.

Yet look at these things one by one:

captionshesgotbettedaviseyes1.) Haughty eyes….this is someone who thinks too much of themselves, they think they are above others, and that the same tules don’t apply to them as to the “other folk”…that is the sin of PRIDE!  I believe that it can be said that we all at some point in our lives suffer from this sin.  If you have ever judged another person in a condemning way, then you have been prideful. That may seem harsh, but think about it…God did not make you the judge…Jesus Christ is the judge….

Matthew 25:31-46

31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory and all his angels are with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 The people of every nation will be gathered in front of him. He will separate them as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right but the goats on his left.

34 “Then the king will say to those on his right, ‘Come, my Father has blessed you! Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world. 35 I was hungry, and you gave me something to eat. I was thirsty, and you gave me something to drink. I was a stranger, and you took me into your home. 36 I needed clothes, and you gave me something to wear. I was sick, and you took care of me. I was in prison, and you visited me.’

37 “Then the people who have God’s approval will reply to him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you or see you thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you as a stranger and take you into our homes or see you in need of clothes and give you something to wear? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’

40 “The king will answer them, ‘I can guarantee this truth: Whatever you did for one of my brothers or sisters, no matter how unimportant they seemed, you did for me.’

41 “Then the king will say to those on his left, ‘Get away from me! God has cursed you! Go into everlasting fire that was prepared for the devil and his angels! 42 I was hungry, and you gave me nothing to eat. I was thirsty, and you gave me nothing to drink. 43 I was a stranger, and you didn’t take me into your homes. I needed clothes, and you didn’t give me anything to wear. I was sick and in prison, and you didn’t take care of me.’

44 “They, too, will ask, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or as a stranger or in need of clothes or sick or in prison and didn’t help you?’

45 “He will answer them, ‘I can guarantee this truth: Whatever you failed to do for one of my brothers or sisters, no matter how unimportant they seemed, you failed to do for me.’

46 “These people will go away into eternal punishment, but those with God’s approval will go into eternal life.”

GOD’S WORD Translation (GW)Copyright © 1995 by God’s Word to the Nations. Used by permission of Baker Publishing Group

snake_tongue2.) Lying Tongue…well we don’t need an explanation of this do we?  We have all done this….told a lie when the truth would do…sometimes, the lie is as simple as answering, “NOT ME!” when asked if you know who did something. (This particular answer is prevalent in all households with children…in fact, I was once cleaning one of my customer’s houses and one of the children had written it on the wall…I thought, “Oh, so “Not Me” lives here too!”)

3.) hands that shed innocent blood….now it is hoped that we are not guilty of this for sure…though..if it were applied to the blood of an innocent animal instead of a person..it would probably be more than likely that again a vast majority of us would be guilty.  After all, if you drive a vehicle then at some point you are going to probably hit one of those “Kamekaze Squirrels” (or some other animal) that runs out in front of you when they are already across the street…they turn back and go and run under your car’s wheels!

I do not know if God would apply that thought to animals, and I will leave it up to you to decide it.  I, personally, feel mighty upset when I know an animal is killed, though it doesn’t stop me from eating meat.  Scripturally, there is a basis for the idea of the animal’s blood being innocent blood as the sacrificial system of Judaism used animals to represent atoning sacrifice.  Though it was also understood that animal blood did not actually clean away anyone’s sin…it was a representation of the act of how bad sin was to God that blood had to be shed to atone for it. It was also a means to see to the feeding of the priests and their families.  Anyway, I will leave that to each person to decide whether this applies to the blood of animals or only humans.

4.)  A heart that devises wicked schemes…Wow! This is another doozy!  Have you ever decided to do something that you knew was wrong?  Well, here it is…a simple version of the heart that devises wicked schemes.  A wicked scheme is a plot to do something wrong…either to yourself or to someone else….it is a plotting out of a sin before hand.  For instance:  You decide that you want to go into an adult book store after work.  There you have it….you are at work, and you have decided to go and do something later that God would not approve of your doing!  That is a simple example of devising a wicked scheme!  In the world’s eyes there is nothing wrong with that action, but as a Christian you have to look at things from God’s perspective, and he tells us to avoid sexual immorality.  Our culture is full of it….and it is very popular…the television shows are full of all of these issues.

public-domain-images-free-stock-photos-shoes-walking-feet-grey-gravel-1000x6665.)  Feet that are quick to rush into evil… This is talking about a person who hears an idea that is to do something wrong, but jumps right into doing it anyway…not taking time to consider how that wrong will affect themselves or those around them.

It could be as simple as deciding to temporarily “borrow” something that is not yours without asking first even with the intention to return it.

There are many ways to be “quick to rush into evil” but the main thing is that we need to be alert to what God considers to be evil..even things that seem at first to not be evil can become so at times.  Gossip is a prime example of a way to be quick to rush into evil.

Gossip…is a very common weakness…a person or group of people can start discussing someone in what seems and has the intention to be a caring manner and it end up being a gossip festival instead.  Whenever, it goes from how is someone doing? into “he said,” “she said,” or “they said” or “I heard”…then it pays to be alert this may be turning into a gossip festival…instead of a caring conversation….gossip harms people because it is not the truth…it is a bunch of speculation…yet many times people don’t give it a thought and rush right into it instead of stopping and thinking first.

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6.)  A False Witness – who pours out lies….Well, when I picture a person who does this…it is a very untrustworthy person.  After all, a person who lies once is hard enough to deal with, but picture how hard it is to deal with a person who lies so easily that the lies just run out of their mouth like water in a river.  This is a person who not only lies, but they lie in order to ruin someone’s character….they are uncaring about other people altogether. The thing is that one lie leads to another in order to cover up the first lie…after a while it is hard to keep up with all the lies that have been told.  At some point, the lie used to protect oneself can end up being a lie that hurts another person.

Have you ever worked for a company and had the managers tell you to  “tell this person or that person…that I am not here right now!”  whenever a person they didn’t wish to take time to speak with would call.  Now, I am sorry, but no matter how you look at it, this is telling someone to lie and that is not right behavior for a Christian at all.  We are not to lead others into sin.  The thing is when you look at this particular lie…it is an easy one to do…many people don’t think about it….it rolls right off the tongue as it seems harmless, doesn’t it?  Funny thing is that this kind of a lie can be altogether avoided and the situation taken care of very kindly by telling the person on the phone, “I’m sorry, that person isn’t available right now.  May I take a message?”  See, there is an absolutely truthful way to handle the same situation that doesn’t require anyone to do something that God hates.  There are always very truthful ways to handle things that people might lie about, and not even make the person feel bad.

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I once heard someone suggest that it is hard to tell a friend that their dress is very ugly when they are of the opinion that it is because they don’t wish to hurt their feelings.  The thing is a person either likes an outfit, or they don’t.  You can always say that you are sure it will look good in the right setting, or that you don’t think it is quite their style.  Again, no lie needed, right?  You can be truthful without being as blunt as a rock with people.  The thing is to be considerate of other folks and make sure you protect their character and feelings as much as possible without lying.  That is just a way of loving someone.

Notice, that God mentions lying as two of the seven things that he doesn’t like?!!  That is because God is a God of Truth…so of course he hates lies of any kind!

IMG_45817.)  A man who stirs up dissension among his brothers…(now this applies to women who stir it up amongst their sisters also)…Dissension is discontent, and disharmony, disunity, and disagreement…God does not like people who sow those seeds amongst others.  This is another situation you see quite often.  There is another way to say this…one bad apple ruins the barrel.  This is to say that you can have a group of people who are really in unity and they are working together with a common goal and a common loving spirit and in comes one person who doesn’t like something or someone.

Let’s use a clear example:  You have a club and they all have a common goal…to enjoy a certain activity together.  Each year you get people in the club who volunteer to be the officers.  One year you get a person who volunteers for one of the offices, and really seems very nice, and helpful and then one day they blow a gasket in the middle of a club activity.  What happened was that they had overloaded themselves, but didn’t gracefully know a way to back out of all they had volunteered to do and it was too much for them.  So after blowing a gasket and quitting in a very public way that person goes home and then sends out email, or gets on the phone and starts calling all the other members to bad mouth everyone else that they were working with in their club….pretty soon…everyone in the club is very upset…especially those who have been unfairly bad mouthed…then a lot of the club members quit…others have hard feelings…it takes years for that club to recover.

The person who blew a gasket was not causing dissension up until they started calling and emailing the other members and bad mouthing others…then they were stirring up dissension.  They were actively, purposefully, working at making others to be discontented within a group.

A person who goes about stirring up dissension is like a poison to a group of people.  It is an active wrecking of the peace which God is wanting us to have with each other.

There are certainly times when we disagree with each other, but there are correct ways to handle that situation.  Going behind a person’s back that you are in disagreement with and talking badly about them is not the correct way to deal with that.

Proverbs 16:28

28 A perverse person stirs up conflict,
    and a gossip separates close friends.

Matthew 5:23-24 (NIV)

23 “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, 24 leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.

The thing about making peace with someone is that you cannot do that behind their back…the only way to make peace with a person is in front of their face and talking to them.

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To see how God promises to care for you when you have a right attitude, an attitude and behavior that glorifies him….read Matthew 5:1-16

Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them.

He said:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
    for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
    for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
    for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
    for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful,
    for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart,
    for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
    for they will be called children of God.
10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
    for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

11 “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.13 “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.

14 “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.

Now, if we are to be the light of the world, then we cannot do things that are done in darkness….otherwise, the light goes out!  All these things that God hates…they are things of darkness that are not done on the up and up with a good attitude…they are all done with the attitude of pride and hatred…not with humbleness and love of our fellow man.  Yet at any one time, we have all been guilty of at least some of these actions…haven’t we?!!  God still loves us, even then.  Just as he loved Potiphar’s wife, yet hated her actions.  So what can we do when we are guilty of these things?

Well, the answer is listed for us in the Bible, over and over…”repent and turn back toward God.”

Acts 3:19 19 Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord,

What’s Your Identity?

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John 1:12  Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—

What are you basing your identity on?

Note:   Many of the ideas in this entry can be attributed to a sermon I heard preached by my Pastor last Sunday….I take notes, and so from the notes I’ve written this blog entry and added some thoughts, explanations and examples of my own.  Sometimes, I tell him that I am going to use what I heard him preach on in my blog.  I really enjoy Pastor Jerry’s sermons, and learn a lot from him.  I hope you will enjoy this glimpse also.

Read Matthew 23:1-12  

23 Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples: “The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. So you must be careful to do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach. They tie up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them.

“Everything they do is done for people to see: They make their phylacteries[a] wide and the tassels on their garments long; they love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues; they love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces and to be called ‘Rabbi’ by others.

“But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have one Teacher, and you are all brothers.And do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and he is in heaven.10 Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one Instructor, the Messiah. 11 The greatest among you will be your servant. 12 For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.

Footnotes:

  1. Matthew 23:5That is, boxes containing Scripture verses, worn on forehead and arm

New International Version (NIV)Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

 

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Jesus is pretty clear that his disciples should not be doing things that glorify themselves.  Funny thing is that he tells them to be careful to do what the Pharisees and the teachers of the law say to do, but not to actually do the same things they themselves do.

We all know folks who do this, and at any time we are all guilty of being “hypocrites” or “actors”.  Sometimes, it is unintentional, we simply get new information or change our minds about something that we felt/believed deeply in the past.  Jesus is not talking about the unintentional hypocrisy that happens in those cases.  For example, We have all used the phrase:  “I would never do……(fill in the blank)” and then we have proceeded to condemn someone else for doing that very thing….a few years go by and maybe we have done the thing we said we would never do.  Perhaps…we would “never stay out after midnight because nothing good comes of that….” then we find that we have a job which requires us to stay out after midnight.  This is a very mild example, but this kind of hypocrisy happens all the time.  The problem comes with the self-righteousness that comes along with those kinds of statements. The unloving and condemning/judgmental attitude that comes with the hypocrisy.

That is the very thing that Jesus was warning his disciples against…the “do what I say,  but not what I do” attitude that the Pharisees and the Scribes were filled with.  They were largely filled with their own righteousness, and filled with the need for gratification and glorification by mankind.  They were not focused on serving God, but they were serving themselves in the pretense of “doing it all for God.”

A very unfunny joke I heard last Sunday goes like this: Hypocrites in the church?  No, our church is not full of hypocrites….it is a long way from being full yet.

Yet this unfunny joke does describe many churches and the view of many people about Christian churches and the people who go to them.

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This is a beautiful church I saw while traveling…I really enjoy looking at churches…people put their best into building them to honor God…we should also put our best into building ourselves to honor God.

Another way of saying this is said by Paul the Apostle in  Titus 1:16  

16 They claim to know God, but by their actions they deny him. They are detestable, disobedient and unfit for doing anything good.

So Jesus realized that people want to be known as something – he knew that this is a need that people have..so he laid out clear instructions to his disciples about this..because if you are known for something then you can be known for the wrong thing….even something harmless can become harmful if it goes to your head.  The Old Testament is full of people who let their own ego take over and it ended up causing harm to themselves and others.  The thing is that some of those people such as King Saul and King David, were actually people who believed in God and attempted to follow God, but because of their self centered nature they failed to be obedient to God…they made the choice to glorify themselves instead of being true to God.

In God’s eyes we are called to be loving servants to others, instead of lifting ourselves up, we should be lowering ourselves down.

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These are reputed to be the “bones of St. Mark”.  I find there is some irony in  that Mark would probably not appreciate the luxurious gold plated place where his bones have been placed…St. Mark’s basilica in Venice, Italy.  Though the place is beautiful to behold for sure.

Even though Jesus was God in the flesh, he emptied himself out and became obedient to the death.

So back to the question at hand…How do you identify yourself?

-by relationship? -by Education? – by position? -by skills? -by bank balance? -by residence?

The truth is that we spend a lot of time trying to figure out who we are in relation to others – “What do they think of me?”  We all do this to some extent.  Everyone gets a vote in who we are – even strangers – we give them smiles and politeness…or scowl at them if we are having a bad day…even the driver in the next lane forms an opinion of who we are to them….”I saw that really rude driver when I was coming home…”

People through out our lives will sometimes give us nicknames…some are very nice and some are really rude.  I remember that an office I worked in had a woman with really gigantic hair…so she (rudely) became known as “the hair lady”…we have almost all of us come across a person or two known as the “snob or the grouch”…then there are more affectionate nicknames such as “shorty, or cuteness, or pet names we call our kids or spouses.”  Nicknames also can come as short versions of your real name:  Vicky (Victoria), Lexis (Alexis or Alexandra).  Sometimes, nicknames can reveal something about us that we don’t wish to have the world know…such as “stinky”  (some unthinking Mom who said that at the wrong moment and the kid was tagged with it for life!)   I know that when we were going to have our first child I had a sequence of names that I really liked and it was a very nice boy’s name…however, my husband was more on the ball than I was…he said, “No we cannot name him that, if it is a boy, because the initials form the word “GAS”…that kid would be teased unmercifully for life!”  I was shocked to hear the initials. (You are laughing now for sure, but this is a true tale!)

Every day we come to this path choice and our choice is determined by our core longings…do we reveal the false self, the small self or the true self?

Core Longings (Dr. Robert B. Shaw) – Belonging, Purpose, Love, Understanding, Significance and Security.

If we don’t have our core longings satisfied, then we can get into trouble by searching for  ways to have these longings be satisfied.  This leads to creating a “false self.”

There is also the “small self” identity which comes from living below your privilege, living without prayer, living with false humility.

We, who are believers, need to understand that in order to continue to become mature in Christ and stay on the mark as Christians…we need to understand that God is the only “legitimate” source for the satisfaction of our core longings.

We should never get our identity from something that can be taken away from us!

Have you ever met someone who spent their lives so wrapped up in their job that they did nothing else…then they retired..or lost the job..that person is usually very lost emotionally.  They just don’t know what to do with themselves…it is like they lost their entire identity when they lost the job.  The same thing can happen if you use your relationship to identify yourself…what happens if your only identity is “Mom” or “Dad” and the kids do what you have raised them to do…grow up and move out and get independent…again…you can become very depressed… it is hard to see this happen to a person from the outside too. It is hard to help them.  It is hard to redefine yourself.

Here are some things to remember:

Ephesians 2:10  For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

(This tells us that God has a plan for our lives, the plan was prepared before we were created!)

Ephesians 1:5 he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will–

(This tells us that part of God’s plan was for us to be adopted into his family through Jesus Christ…that it is his pleasure and his will that we be added to his family of children.)

1Thessalonians 1:4-5  4 Brothers who are beloved by God, we know that He has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power, in the Holy Spirit, and with great conviction—just as you know we lived among you for your sake.

(This tells us that God loves us and chose us, and he chose people to share the gospel with us, and that the Holy Spirit acts in accordance with the gospel to draw us to God.)

Philippians 4:19-20  19 And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus.  20 To our God and Father be glory for ever and ever. Amen. (NIV)

 

So again…I ask…who are you?  Where do you get your identity from?

I am hoping that your answer will be that you are a “child of God”…that is the best and most valid identity any of us can have…and it cannot be taken away from us by anyone or anything…not even by death!

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Jesus – The Servant

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Isaiah 42:1- 4 Here is my servant whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom I delight; I will put my Spirit on him and he will bring justice to the nations.  He will not shout or cry out, or raise his voice in the streets.  A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out.  In faithfulness he will bring forth justice; he will not falter or be discouraged til he establishes justice on earth.  In his law the islands will put their hope. (Matthew 12:18-21 is the new testament version of Isaiah’s prophecy.)

Read  Matthew 18:1-5, John 13:1-17, John 3:1-7

Matthew 18:1-5 At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who, then, is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”

He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them. And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.

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John 13:1-7  It was just before the Passover Festival. Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.

The evening meal was in progress, and the devil had already prompted Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, to betray Jesus. Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.

He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”

Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.”

“No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.”

Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.”

“Then, Lord,” Simon Peter replied, “not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!”

10 Jesus answered, “Those who have had a bath need only to wash their feet; their whole body is clean. And you are clean, though not every one of you.” 11 For he knew who was going to betray him, and that was why he said not every one was clean.

12 When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. 13 “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. 14 Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. 15 I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. 16 Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. 17 Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.

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John 3:1-7  Now there was a Pharisee, a man named Nicodemus who was a member of the Jewish ruling council. He came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.”

Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.[a]

“How can someone be born when they are old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!”

Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit[b] gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You[c] must be born again.’

(Bible Verses are from Biblegateway.com) NIV

 Think about what you have just read.  Jesus describes greatness, and how to be clean.  Soap and water are not really what Jesus is talking about.  He is not just washing their feet because they have mud on their feet; though that is part of the hospitality of the culture of his time.  It is a symbolic washing of the feet, meant to show how being washed by Jesus makes you truly clean on the inside and out.  You are forgiven if you have been washed by Jesus.  We use baptism as a symbol to show that we have accepted Jesus into our hearts, and been washed by Jesus.  In John 3, Jesus talks to Nicodemus about being born again.  It is important to understand that being born of water is your original birth from your mother, and that being born again is to be born of the spirit of God, which only comes from acceptance of Jesus.

In the culture of Jesus’ time when a person entered a house as a guest their feet were dusty and dirty.  After all, the footwear was a type of sandal and the roads filled with dust.  It was the custom to have someone there (usually a servant) to wash the guest’s feet.  Most folks back then did not sit at a table in a chair, but reclined next to a low table and ate in that manner.  This being so, the person’s feet were a lot closer to the table than we experience from sitting in a chair.  Just like us, most people back then didn’t like having dirt in close proximity to their food!  It was just plain good hospitality to wash the feet of the guests.

Jesus was showing his disciples that there is no shame in being a servant, and that there is no job that in the service of others is too lowly.  He was showing the disciples that if there is a job which will help people in a loving way, then it should be done with a loving spirit.  We are not to think too highly of ourselves that we would ignore the needs of others!

I am The Alpha and the Omega…

IMG_0089Revelations: 22:13  I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, The Beginning and the End

Read Genesis Chapter 1, and Revelation Chapter 22.  This is about both the beginning and the end of Man’s life on Earth as we know it.  God was there to create us, and as Chapter 22 in Revelations states He will be there to separate those who are to get into the Holy city of God, and those who don’t. 

The Alpha and the Omega…The First and the Last, The Beginning and the End…Those are very strong images.  They are images of an everlasting, timelessness that we as humans cannot really grasp.  Just like trying to grasp the mathematical number pi…3.1416 onward to infinity.  It is simply beyond my grasp to understand.  I sit and think to myself back when I first heard of such a number that I wonder who came up with it and how they discovered it and how they know that it is infinite.  Obviously, God would be the inventor of that number as well as all others as he is the creator of all things.  He simply revealed it to us humans as it became something that a few of us could almost grasp.  Funny thing is that mathematical pi has been known to have been in use in some form since the time of the Babylonians around 4000 B.C.  You might say that it is one of the remnants of the great Babylonian empire, though their number was a bit inaccurate.  Now for any who are reading this who don’t know what pi is…it is the relationship between the circumference of a circle (that is if you walked around the circle), and the diameter (if you walked across the circle).  I know it is used in formulas for this purpose, but don’t entirely understand it, not being a mathematician.  However, back to the topic at hand…

God, who is infinite (like walking around a circle..no beginning and no end) took a lot of trouble to present himself to us in a very linear, straight forward way.  He sent his son, Jesus Christ, to actually show us who God is in the flesh. Jesus has a whole lot of names listed in the Bible, both in the Old Testament and in the New Testament.

God knew that we were not capable of understanding all of who he is, so he decided to come and meet each and every one of us where we are on this earth.  Now, as with all meetings, you can make a friend of the one whom you meet with…or you can reject that friendship by either making an enemy, or by simply ignoring the hand of friendship.

When we read about what God created in Genesis chapter one…it is an awesome thing….he “spoke” the world into existence.  Most of us are really impressed that we can speak into a gps and tell it to plot a route, right?!!  The gps is already in existence and is programmed for  this purpose…God spoke the world into existence from absolutely nothing…We are told in Genesis 1 that The earth was formless and void, and there was darkness…

A God who can speak the world into existence from nothing can most certainly handle my problems, right?!!  God tells us that he will be there from beginning to end…to me that is a comforting statement.  Why?  Well, that is because I love God and I know that God loves me and the he considers me to be very precious to him.  God considers us all to be his very precious creations.  It is just that some people chose to accept God’s invitation to have a close and very personal relationship with him and others don’t.

When you choose to have a close relationship with God everything does not suddenly become perfect and rosy in your life.  Just look at the lives of the Disciples if you don’t understand what I am saying.  You are probably saying, “why not?”

Well, that is the thing, although we are precious to God, so are other people.  Once you have God’s saving grace, he wants to use you to glorify him by bringing other people into close relationship with him also.  Sometimes the process of being used by God for this purpose can be painful and hard to bear…sometimes you don’t even know when or how God is using you.  That is where faith comes in, you just follow God and know that he is with you where ever you go….from beginning to end….he has a purpose for everyone.  Our main purpose is to glorify God, and we are to love people first and foremost even when they are next to impossible to love.  I am sure we all have met some folks who are like that!

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Just fill in the blank here….”I cannot love them because they are…or they did…”

Just remember that God is the Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the End…he is there for your beginning and end and he is also there for their beginning and end…he knows exactly what it takes to love each and every one of us.

Matthew 5:44-46  

44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that?

 

He knows how to help us to love the folks who are unlovable…and we are all in some ways hard to love at different times in our lives.  The thing that I have found over the years is that if you can look at things from the other person’s perspective and try to understand why they are acting they way they are acting, then you are well on your way to being able to love them with the love of Christ.

Most of us have met people and thought…”I can never be friends with them…they are so….” (fill in the blank)…then something happens that is unforeseen and we find that we have a common interest, or that we actually believe something in the same way and suddenly we are best friends with that person.  I have learned that you can never write off a person because at first they are not someone you instantly bond with.  Each person has their own unique characteristics and gifts, and their own unique backgrounds and life experiences…their own pains and pleasures in life which make up who they are.

God knows all of it….the Bible says that God knew us before we were in the womb, though the verse is talking to Jeremiah, God knows all of us the same way.

Jeremiah 1:5 – “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.” NIV

If you read Revelation Chapter 22 then you see that God is expecting something from us all…it says he will reward each according to what they have done…this is not talking about how much money you have given, or how hard you have worked at work, or how many fund raisers you have done for your church…this is talking about how much you have loved others and how many people have come to know God because of your actions and your words.  Teaching people about who God is must be done with both words and actions…it must be an intentional act…to love that person enough to want them to truly understand the love of Christ.

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Revelation 22 reminds us that people can be lost…because their focus is on themselves and their own pleasures and not on God.  This is a tragedy that God would like to avoid happening.

I read this verse in 2 Peter 3:9-12 about the type of people we should be as we wait for the Day of the Lord to come….we are to be conducting ourselves with godliness and holiness as we anticipate and “hasten” the day of the Lord.   

We are to “hasten” the day of the Lord by loving others and helping them to come to know who God is through knowledge and relationship with Jesus Christ.

As Peter tells us in verse 9, The Day of the Lord has not yet come because God does not wish anyone to be lost.  It isn’t because God doesn’t see the bad things that are happening, it’s because he wants to save as many as will turn to him.  God’s servants (that would be us) are those who can impact others to turn them toward God…that is what it means to hasten the coming Day of the Lord, or to move the Kingdom of God forward.

1Corinthians 1:18  18 For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

God’s Good Works are Completed

female-easter-tiger-swallow-tail-butterflyPhilippians 1:1-6 Paul and Timothy servants of Christ Jesus to all the saints in Christ Jesus at Philippi together with the overseers and deacons grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  I thank my God every time I remember you and all my prayers for all of you.  I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.

Read Luke 8:2, Matthew 27:56-61,Luke 24:1-10 in this order, they are about Mary Magdalene.  As you can see from the verses God began a good work in her and it continued.

Luke 8:2  and also some women who had been cured of evil spirits and diseases: Mary (called Magdalene) from whom seven demons had come out. (NIV)

Matthew 27:56-61 (ESV)

56 among whom were Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James and Joseph and the mother of the sons of Zebedee. 57 When it was evening, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who also was a disciple of Jesus. 58 He went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Then Pilate ordered it to be given to him. 59 And Joseph took the body and wrapped it in a clean linen shroud 60 and laid it in his own new tomb, which he had cut in the rock. And he rolled a great stone to the entrance of the tomb and went away. 61 Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were there, sitting opposite the tomb.

Luke 24:1-10 (NIV)

24 On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them. In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: ‘The Son of Man must be delivered over to the hands of sinners, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.’ Then they remembered his words.

When they came back from the tomb, they told all these things to the Eleven and to all the others. 10 It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the others with them who told this to the apostles.

Sometimes it is hard for us to see when God is doing a good work in someone.  This is especially true if we are a person who has been hurt by other people.  The tendency is to remain skeptical about changes in other people until they are proven.  Recently in this regard I was asked by someone when I said that I was still observing a person for change, “when will you know they have changed?  How can you be sure?”  Well, I personally had figured out a goal that when I observe it I would know that particular person had truly changed.  The Bible tells us to be wary of being deceived.  We are told to put on the full armor of God among the armor of God is the belt of truth.  (Ephesians 6:14)

The only way to be sure a person has changed, is to have this belt of truth on and observe.  The thing is the belt of truth can also protect us from deceiving ourselves in thinking that a person in whom God has completed a good work has not changed at all.  We can deceive ourselves by refusing to see that change.  Then that becomes a form of pride, as it causes us to believe that we are superior to that person in some way, and this is also a disobedience of the 2nd great commandment that Jesus gave us…to love your neighbor as you love yourself.  Titus 3 Reminds us that we are only saved through the mercy of God and the sacrifice of Jesus Christ…so there is no need for any of us to get a big head about our salvation.  The fact is that most of the good work that God has done in us is still continuing to be done.  There was a t-shirt slogan that came out when I was a kid…”Wait!  God isn’t done with me yet!”  Some of God’s good works are immediately evident, and some take more time to come to fruition…so don’t write off a “good work in progress” as a “good work gone bad”.

Titus 3:3-6 At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior,

Honest Prayer

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Psalm 99:5 Exalt the Lord our God and worship at his footstool; he is holy.

Read Matthew 23 

A Warning Against Hypocrisy

Matthew Chapter 23 Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples: “The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. So you must be careful to do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach. They tie up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them. 

“Everything they do is done for people to see: They make their phylacteries[a] wide and the tassels on their garments long; they love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues; they love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces and to be called ‘Rabbi’ by others.

“But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have one Teacher, and you are all brothers.And do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and he is in heaven.10 Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one Instructor, the Messiah. 11 The greatest among you will be your servant. 12 For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.

Seven Woes on the Teachers of the Law and the Pharisees

13 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to. [14] [b]

15 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when you have succeeded, you make them twice as much a child of hell as you are.

16 “Woe to you, blind guides! You say, ‘If anyone swears by the temple, it means nothing; but anyone who swears by the gold of the temple is bound by that oath.’ 17 You blind fools! Which is greater: the gold, or the temple that makes the gold sacred? 18 You also say, ‘If anyone swears by the altar, it means nothing; but anyone who swears by the gift on the altar is bound by that oath.’ 19 You blind men! Which is greater: the gift, or the altar that makes the gift sacred? 20 Therefore, anyone who swears by the altar swears by it and by everything on it. 21 And anyone who swears by the temple swears by it and by the one who dwells in it.22 And anyone who swears by heaven swears by God’s throne and by the one who sits on it.

23 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. 24 You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.

25 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. 26 Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean.

27 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. 28 In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.

29 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You build tombs for the prophets and decorate the graves of the righteous. 30 And you say, ‘If we had lived in the days of our ancestors, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ 31 So you testify against yourselves that you are the descendants of those who murdered the prophets. 32 Go ahead, then, and complete what your ancestors started!

33 “You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell?34 Therefore I am sending you prophets and sages and teachers. Some of them you will kill and crucify; others you will flog in your synagogues and pursue from town to town. 35 And so upon you will come all the righteous blood that has been shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah son of Berekiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar. 36 Truly I tell you, all this will come on this generation.

37 “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing. 38 Look, your house is left to you desolate. 39 For I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’[c]

Footnotes:

  1. Matthew 23:5 That is, boxes containing Scripture verses, worn on forehead and arm
  2. Matthew 23:14 Some manuscripts include here words similar to Mark 12:40 and Luke 20:47.
  3. Matthew 23:39 Psalm 118:26

(From Bible Gateway.com… the NIV)

 

In Matthew 23 we find that Jesus is very condemning of the actions of the teachers of the law and the Pharisees.  He tells his Disciples to learn from them by following what they say because they know the law well..(they are sitting in the seat of Moses).  However, Jesus warns his Disciples not to act the way these men act.  These particular Pharisees and teachers of the law whom Jesus was talking about (Jesus and Paul the Apostle were both Pharisees by the way)  were men who failed in their responsibility to God.  They were supposed to be teaching the people about who God was, that he was a God of Justice, Mercy and Faithfulness.  

Instead they were teaching people the letter of the law, but not the Spirit of the Law.  The Spirit of the Law is supposed to bring you closer to God.  Following the Spirit of the Law also brings you closer to your fellow man.  Just look at the characteristics of God given by Jesus, Justice, Mercy and Faithfulness.  If we use those characteristics in dealing with each other we also draw closer to each other in love.  It is nearly impossible to understand Justice, Mercy or Faithfulness without having love involved also.  I am not talking romantic love here, but the love of your fellow humans..compassion.  I mean who doesn’t want to be around and spend time with someone who is compassionate and gentle, merciful and forgiving, and fair?  That is God and those are God’s character traits…we are told to be like that to each other.

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(Now there are some people who want to judge God and say that God is not always fair…but for those people ask yourself…are you really qualified to judge God?…if you are…then doesn’t that mean that you are taking on the position of God?  Just think about that a bit…it is a hard thing to wrap your mind around…but either Jesus is the Lord of your life….or he’s not..if he’s not, then that means you are trying to be the Lord of your own life…that never actually works out well. -Just refer back to the story of Adam and Eve and see how it worked out for them)

Jesus wanted his Disciples to follow both the letter and the spirit.  He wanted his Disciples to know that the law was not just something to be talked about and taught to others.  It was to be followed by his Disciples too.

The Pharisees were telling everyone else to follow the law, and making it so hard on the average Jew that they were having trouble following them all! However, they, the Pharisees themselves, were not following all of the laws that they were putting upon others.  They were sinning themselves, the sins of pride, and self indulgence, and hypocrisy.  Yet they were busy bodies who were constantly telling other people how they should live, and criticizing what others do.

Jesus tells them that they are all shine, and no substance…they look nice on the outside, but the inside is rotten.  (I think we have probably all met people like this.)  I really love the phrase used about the white washed tomb filled with the bones of rotting corpses (unclean things)…slight paraphrase there, but the meaning is very clear.

The Pharisees in question were clearly hypocrites (aka actors) they were putting on a constant show of “whoo, my poop don’t stink because I am so very Godly..it wouldn’t dare stink….I always look and smell like roses!”  That is what is meant when Jesus says talks about their garments and phylacteries….he is saying that they are making them larger and longer to make them seem like they are more important to them and make themselves seem more holy.  Kind of like if you see someone who is carrying around a Bible and quoting scripture  all the time, but then you hear them tell a whopping lie to someone.  That would probably be the equivalent situation in our time.

If you think about it there are a lot of people who are running all over telling everyone how Christian they are, but then they just don’t act like they know God at all when dealing in their day to day life.  They are just giving God the nod of their head on Sunday and the rest of the week doing whatever they want.  In other words they are not taking God seriously, are they?

Jesus gets on them about the importance they place on the gold in the temple instead of the sacredness of temple itself, and why the temple is sacred.  Now that happens a lot even now.  People put more emphasis on the building they are worshipping in than they do God whom the building is for, or God’s people who are in the building.  That is a sad situation for sure….if a person takes their focus off of God for a second or two, then it is easy to end up with your focus on the wrong thing.  People get panicky whenever they are trying to hold onto something that they perceive that they may lose….at times like that it is easy to get side tracked from God.

This idea of “swearing on the gold in the temple” has carried over into more modern days, and is still around now.  Back in the time of Martin Luther the monk (not Martin Luther King Jr.) the church sold “penance” to people.  Martin Luther did not agree with this and was verbal about it. The church allowed people to buy forgiveness and many rich men took advantage of this to use their money to get away with doing whatever they wanted. 

Today, there are still many Christians who have wealth and believe that as long as they tithe enough money or spend enough on charities they are excused from their actions. 

Jesus did not agree with this and he condemned people who where praying or acting holy  for the sake of pretending to be Holy, while having the education about God to know that this is wrong. They are ignoring what they know in pursuit of themselves and their own glorification on earth. 

Jesus states that these Pharisees are greatly damned for their actions. In other words, the more they know, the more they are expected to represent God to the people, so the greater their damnation when they misuse what they know for their own gain.   It is really important to be honest in your dealings with God and with others. 

Keep in mind that God knows what you think and what you are doing, what your real motivations are.  The only person you are fooling with your behavior is yourself.  The Pharisees fooled themselves.

Prayer in Action

golden-wheat-field-1354390133xga2Samuel 24:24 No, I insist on paying for it. I will not sacrifice to the Lord my God burnt offerings that cost me nothing….

Read 2Samuel 24  and 1Chronicles 21 This is the story of David taking a Census of his men against God’s wishes and the penalty of doing so.  This chapter is a good story to demonstrate that when you pray, you must listen to God’s answer, and that sometimes, there is some action you must take for the answer to take place.  Note:  There is confusion in these two verses, but when you realize that in 2Samuel God is angry against Israel then you can see that what is described in 1Chronicles 21 as Satan inciting David to take a census and in 2Sam 24 as God inciting David to go and take a census is simply two ways of saying that God is sovereign and everything that happens is at his control/command…God does have control of Satan also and when God’s wrath burned against the people of Israel he used Satan to tempt David to sin by taking a census of his people.  David always had the option to not yield to temptation, which also would have lessened God’s wrath.  However he chose to go ahead and sin.  Then he had to pray to God for forgiveness to lessen God’s wrath.  God gave him a task to do to show his sincerity of repentance.  Let me be clear…the task is not what gained him the forgiveness…it was simply a demonstration of his sincerity and an obedience to God.  God does not “need” us to do anything, but does sometimes require us to do things…not for the sake of repentance (beyond accepting Christ), but for our own sake so that we can “feel” (for lack of a better word, though faith is a decision that you make, not a feeling that you have) that we have repented or that we have connected closely with God and rebuilt our faith in God.  Everything that God does or asks us to do has one goal….to bring us closer to him…to help us understand him better, and to bring others closer to him and to help them understand him better through us.  God does these things out of his extreme love for us.  After all, he is God why else would he bother with us, if he didn’t love us?!!

For example:  There is a story (not in the Bible) of a man who was living in a place where a flood was coming.  He was warned by the news, but he told his friends and neighbors who were packing up their cars to evacuate that he was going to wait for God to answer his prayer.  He was praying about it and that God would make everything all right.  After a while, the police came by and told him that he must evacuate that the water was rising quickly and he was losing time.  He assured the police that he was praying and that God would take care of the situation.  (I know that sometimes the police will force an evacuation…but this is an illustration.)   More time went by and the water had risen to the point where the man was having to go to his upstairs room.  Someone came by with a boat and offered to let him join them in the boat and get him safely away.  The man answered that he was waiting on the Lord that the Lord would rescue him as he had been praying about this situation.  The man in the boat left.  A couple hours later the man was forced to move up to his roof.  A helicopter came by, and dropped a rope for him, and told him to climb up.  The man repeated that he had been praying and was waiting on the Lord to answer him.  He refused to climb up.  You can probably guess the fate of the man, right?!!  He drowned.  Then he is standing in front of the Lord, and he asked, “Lord, I prayed to you and you did not answer me.  Why not?  Why didn’t you listen to me?”

The Lord responded to the man, “Son, my child…I did answer you, when you first prayed, I sent you the news that there was a need to leave because it was dangerous for you there.  Then when you did not leave, I sent you some police officers to make certain that you saw the authority in the order to leave.  You still did not listen.  So as things became more dangerous and perilous for you, I tried to rescue you once more in the form of a man with a boat, but you refused to get into the boat.  Finally, I sent some other rescuers with a helicopter and they practically begged you to cling to the ladder and be flown out of there.  Son, I made four attempts to show you my answer and provide for your safety, but you were so stubborn that you were only looking for the answer that you wanted.  You were not really looking for the answer I was providing.  I love you and it saddens me that you valued your home more than your life and more than your relationship with me.  That is why you perished.”

Sometimes, we just don’t recognize the answer that God is giving to us.  We are either too stubborn (in wanting our own way) to recognize it, or our prayer life and our relationship with God is taking a back seat to other “idols” in our life.  An idol can be anything in a person’s life which interferes with your relationship with God.  In the illustration above, the idol of the man’s life seems to be his home.

The illustration is an extreme example of someone who the Bible would describe as “stiff necked”.  Think for a minute about what it means to be stiff necked.  I have had a stiff neck at times, and it makes it really hard to look around.  A stiff necked person in spiritual terms is someone who refuses to turn back from their own agenda, and follow God.  There are many times that the people of Israel were called a “stiff necked people”.  Set in their own ways, and unable or unwilling to see the truth that God reveals for them.  Now a days we would call that person stubborn and unyielding.

Think about yourself…is there a time that you have been too stiff necked about what you wanted?  That you haven’t been able or willing to understand that God has answered your prayer perhaps because the prayer’s answer was not what you wanted it to be?  I know that I have had times in my life like that.  Then there may have been times when you take an action to make something turn out the way you wanted it…ask yourself..how did that turn out for you?  I know that for myself the answer would be that it usually didn’t turn out too well.  In the Bible it also didn’t turn out well when God promised something, and then told them to wait upon him….there are many examples of that…King Saul, Abraham and Sarah just to name a couple of examples.

Genesis 16:1-2 Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, had borne him no children. But she had an Egyptian slave named Hagar; so she said to Abram, “The Lord has kept me from having children. Go, sleep with my slave; perhaps I can build a family through her.”

In the case of Sarai/Sarah she came to regret her decision because it caused her to have trouble in her home and she suffered from jealousy and her slave, Hagar, started looking down upon Sarah.  Sarah tried to rush the God, instead of waiting on him.

This is in contrast to David, who was told to go and make an offering to God.  David had to buy the threshing floor where he was told to make the offering.  How great the temptation must have been to accept the place for free when it was offered.  However, David sets an example to us…if we are going to make an offering to God it should be something that belongs to us, or costs us in some way.

Sometimes we simply need to do something in order for a request to be fulfilled.  If you are looking for a new home, or a new job, and you pray for God to help you with that…you cannot expect the Lord to magically beam you to the new job or the new home, right?  You still have to go out and look for that new home or new job.  God will guide you to the place that will fulfill the desires of your heart.  He actually knows better than we do what the desires of our heart really are in life.

Psalm 37:4  Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart.

The key thing about this verse is that you need to delight yourself in the Lord first….that way your desires will line up with the Lord’s wishes for your life and happiness.

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God is the Great Comforter

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Christ Church Cemetery Philadelphia, PA

 

Psalm 35:13-28 Yet when they were ill, I put on sackcloth, and humbled myself with fasting. When my prayers returned to me unanswered, I went about mourning as though for my friend or brother, I bowed my head in grief as though weeping for my mother…

Read 2 Samuel 1:17-27 David laments or mourns the deaths of Saul and Jonathon, basically telling God that he thinks there should be no rain, no crops, not even dew.  That this would be justified.  David is basically in this and in some of the Psalms airing out his grief over something he felt shouldn’t have happened at all, or at least not in the way it did happen.  The injustices of the world. 

Sometimes bad things happen to good people due to other people’s sinful actions, or in the case of Saul due to his own sinful actions.  David loved Jonathon like a brother, and loved Saul too, although Saul’s actions were those of a madman in later years, due to his separation from God through his sin.  God is with us always, especially when we are grieving.  So when I say that Saul was separated from God by his sin, it was his inability to reach out and ask for forgiveness which was separating him.

Another thing to consider is that even while Saul was worrying about his throne, and he went to the witch of Endor (not to be confused with the place in the movie “Star Wars”) to call Samuel back from the grave…it wasn’t to reunite himself with God.  It was so that he could have his throne back.  Saul was not asking for forgiveness.  It seems that Saul was just trying to get God’s endorsement back so that he could continue to be King.  

I am sure that God would have taken Saul’s heart back, and forgiven him if he had asked, but even when God forgives us there are consequences to our actions which have to be dealt with.   Saul had mislead and misrepresented God to others while he was in a place of authority over those people.  God takes that seriously.  Instead of asking for forgiveness he continued to try to manipulate and force the situation.  He didn’t bow his head to God and humbly say, “Your Will Be Done, Lord, in this matter and any other!” No, Saul kept his pride.  The Bible tells us that God hates pride…not the kind of pride that goes with a sense of accomplishment where you have met a goal and you feel satisfaction from it.  The kind of pride where you forget that God is the one who gave you the talents and skills to accomplish that goal, and you start getting full of yourself.  God hates that kind of pride.  That kind of pride causes all kinds of problems.

Any way, back to Saul…his pride caused him nothing but grief.  It also caused others great grief as well.  His pride quite literally cost his sons their inheritance, and their lives.

His pride also caused David all manner of pain and suffering too. Matthew 5:4  Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. God is the great comforter, even though he will not erase our grief, he will comfort us and make it more bearable.  It is hard to pray when you are grieving, but that much more important to do, as you need comfort the most. 

Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that all grief/suffering is due to someone’s sin. Though in a manner of speaking it is…the Garden of Eden was a perfect place, and there was no sin in it, until Satan the Serpent tempted Eve and Adam to sin.  At that point the earth was cursed.   It is hard to imagine the earth being cursed, but if we understand that this is why we have pain and suffering, and thorns, and bugs, and poisonous things in the world, natural disasters and such…then even though there are so many beautiful things on this earth one can also recognize the curse.  Genesis 3:17 To Adam he said, “Because you listened to your wife and ate fruit from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat from it,’ “Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat food from it all the days of your life.

The main thing is to not get caught up in blaming someone for your grief!  That is a worldly thing to do.  The world is always looking to answer “why” something has happened, and looking to blame someone.  One of the most often asked questions is, “why me?  why did this happen to me?” The more realistic thought is, “Why not me?  It has to happen to someone, right? This kind of thing happens all the time, who is to say it can’t happen to me?!!”   Once you have faced your grief with that kind of questioning instead of looking for someone to blame then you can start to realize that God is there for you to lean on…he is there to comfort you and help you to get through the grief.  Especially when it is the kind of grief where you get up in the morning and are praying, “God, please just help me to get through this day…that is all I can deal with…and I can’t really deal with even this day, so please just help me to get through this day…”

If you are a Christian, then you should start to see this grief/suffering experience as a “Job” experience.  If you read the story of Job in the Bible in the Book of Job, then you see this man who was very Godly and went to a lot of effort to make sure that his children even were kept from sin.  He made sacrifices on their behalf.  Job lost his whole family, and all of his wealth, and his health, yet he never cursed God.  He kept his faith throughout.  Job didn’t do anything wrong..nothing to “deserve” what was happening to him.

It is heartless to say that someone deserves what is happening to them.  God does not want us to have this attitude toward people….God sometimes has the attitude of someone who is giving discipline to his children, but he is never joyful at their need for discipline or their suffering!  God wants us to be compassionate and loving even to the worst offenders…those whom we see as the worst of the worst….even them!  God loves them too! A person can never be too bad to come back to God’s arms and have salvation…the Bible is full of people that the average person would think was beyond redemption.  Yet those people were redeemed! As Paul says in his letter in 1Timothy 1:15  This is a trustworthy saying, worthy of full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the worst.  

So when I say grief/suffering is a “Job” experience, what I mean is that you are a Christian going through one of the hardest experiences of your life…you have a decision to make…either go through the experience holding on to your Christianity, your faith, your very personal relationship with God and be like Job…

OR The other option is to throw it all away and go through it with God next to you, but separated from you by your lack of faith in him.  Your lack of faith in the goodness and mercifulness of God.  In that case, what you are essentially doing, is curling up in a ball and shutting God out while wallowing in your misery.

There is a difference between wallowing (which we all do to some extent) and humbling ourselves before God and asking him for relief and comfort.  We are miserable, and God gave us emotions to help us express ourselves to him and to each other.

Psalm 145:9 The LORD is good to all; he has compassion on all he has made.  We can trust in God to help us in times of misery and trouble and grief and suffering.  There is simply no comfort as great as the comfort that God offers to us.   We simply have to put our focus on him and keep it there and God is compassionate to help us through all trouble.

Psalm 34:17 When the righteous cry for help, the LORD hears and delivers them out of all their troubles.

The most important thing for us to remember when dealing with things that happen around us that seem unfair or unexplainable is that God is a God of Justice.  Justice not the way the world gives it, but real and true justice…and God is also a God of love…not as the world loves, but real and true love that transcends our understanding.  After all, he sacrificed his son for us.   God is trustworthy in all things as we are told in Proverbs 3:5-6 Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him,  and he will make straight your paths.

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Hezekiah’s Distress and Comfort

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This is a tunnel to the pool of Siloam that Hezekiah had built so that the city of Jerusalem could withstand a siege.  Amazingly, people can still go and walk through this tunnel today!

2Kings 19:34 I will defend this city and save it, for my sake and the sake of David my servant.

Read 2Kings 18:17, 33, 19:1, 14-19 King Sennacherib of Assyria threatens Jerusalem and says that he has an army and that it isn’t good to trust in God because no other city’s god helped them resist his onslaught, that they should surrender, Hezekiah, King of Judah, receives message and tears his clothes and put on sackcloth, and prayed and God told him not worry.  Then Hezekiah received the threat in writing, and took it to the Temple where God was residing and laid it out before God and prayed humbly for protection.

Read 2Kings 19:32-37 God tells Hezekiah that he hears him, and that he is not to worry about the King of Assyria, that no arrow would be shot, no shields will come against the city, that there would be no entrance into the city, and no siege either, that the King of Assyria would go back the way he came, and be killed in his own land.

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A bit of background on Hezekiah and what was going on around him during this time.  Hezekiah was 25 years old when he became King, and he was the son of King Ahaz who did a lot of idol worship.  King Ahaz was not someone after God’s own heart at all.  He is not to be confused with King Ahab who was the one mixed up with Jezebel.  King Ahab was a King of the Northern Kingdom of Israel after the split of the Kingdom of Israel into the two Kingdoms: Northern Kingdom of Israel, and the Southern Kingdom which included Judah and Benjamin.  King Ahab was even worse than King Ahaz, but I will get into that another time.  Anyway, apparently, Hezekiah whose mother was Abijah (daughter of Zechariah the prophet) must have been taught very well about the Lord from his mother and his Grandfather, as he was considered to be “good King Hezekiah”.

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I once did a study with some teenagers on the books of 1st and 2nd Kings and 1st and 2nd Chronicles, by way of making a list of the Kings of Israel and Judah and writing beside the names either the word “good king” or “bad king”  it was really interesting.  There were definitely in both cases far more bad than good.  Those that were “good” had one common trait…they all followed the Lord.  Now being Christians we would expect to define a good leader that way, but this is the Bible telling us that they were either “good or bad” not us deciding it for ourselves.

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Well that was just a short aside for you…now back to Hezekiah.

Hezekiah is talked about at length in both 2Kings starting in chapter 18, and 2Chronicles starting in chapter 29 in the case that you really want to know more about him on your own. The Book of Isaiah chapters 36-39 also speak of Hezekiah.

I really like Hezekiah, and knowing how he really full relied on God when he had an insurmountable problem really helped me to realize just how “big” the God of Hezekiah (who is also my own God) really is.  The Kingdom of Judah was already a vassal of the Assyrian Empire when Hezekiah took the throne.  Well, Hezekiah decided that he was not going to have his Kingdom pay tithes to Assyria anymore, he tore down the asherah poles and removed all the idols from the high places.  He also broke Moses bronze staff of a snake into pieces because people had been worshipping it.  He did all of this pretty much right away when he became King.

In the fourteenth year of the reign of Hezekiah the Assyrians attacked some of the fortified cities of Judah.   Hezekiah attempted to make peace and get them to back off by paying the Assyrian’s off (or in essence paying the fees that they were expecting from Judah whom they still considered their vassal).  Sennecherib of Assyria took the gold, but then didn’t back off.  He was on the war path, literally.  King Sennecherib sent some messengers to Judah to tell not only Hezekiah, but all the common people also that he was coming to take their city by siege and that they shouldn’t bother to trust their God because after all, the gods of all the other kingdoms and cities around them hadn’t been able to stop Sennecherib.  Sennecherib said that if Hezekiah said that God could help them that he was a liar.

Now in all fairness, Sennecherib really had a reason to think this was true.  He had his own god, but it was a man-made god of wood and stone.   Hezekiah believed in the one true God, and believed in his power to save.  All of Hezekiah’s people did not answer Sennecherib’s messengers because they trusted their leader when he told them not to answer.  They trusted that Hezekiah had God on his side, and that everything would be all right.  Hezekiah led his people with God constantly in his mind.

This is really evident from Hezekiah’s reaction to Sennecherib.  He took the message that was given to him by his men and took it to the temple.  I can just see him in great distress, wearing sackcloth and ashes on his head, and literally laying out the papers in front of God in the temple and saying to God, “What are you going to do about this, Lord?  I have paid Sennecherib, but he isn’t backing off.  This guy says that you are not great enough to hold him off.  That’s insulting.  But Lord, I trust you.  You are the most powerful God.  Tell me what you want me to do about this situation…I am absolutely helpless.  I have done what I can do, but we really need your help now.”

The prophet Isaiah sends word to Hezekiah that God says, “Don’t worry about a thing.  You won’t even have to fire an arrow off, but Sennecherib will go on back home and he will be killed in his own temple by his family members.” (This is paraphrased, of course!)

So the next morning we are told that when Hezekiah got up the Angel of the Lord had hit Sennecherib’s army very hard, it had killed off 185,000 men in one night, and Sennecherib had broken camp and run home.  Later we read that Sennecherib was killed by his sons while worshipping in the temple of his god.

Now, I call Hezekiah’s God a God of power.  He is a big God!  A God who can handle a problem of that magnitude can certainly handle any problems I encounter in my life, right?!!  That is really something to lean upon for all of us as we walk our Christian walk in relationship with God.

Hezekiah’s faith and his method of praying to God…he literally laid his problem down on paper (scrolls I’m sure) and then spoke to God about it.  Now he could have just gone in there without the problem in writing, but he took the problem in the form that it arrived and took it straight to God.  He didn’t wait or hesitate.  The scrolls gave him something to focus his prayer on, but it wasn’t necessary.  Hezekiah treated God like someone he was close to, didn’t he?!!  He humbled himself so we know that Hezekiah recognize God’s sovereignty over him, but he still felt comfortable going right to God and figuratively, sitting down on the steps next to God’s throne as a child would next to their parent when asking for help. 

James 1:2-8 says  2Count it all joy, my brothers,when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways. (ESV)

King Hezekiah did ask in complete faith and expectation that God would take care of his problem.  We can approach God humbly with our problems.  This is what God wants us to do, take our problems directly to him as soon as we know that we have a problem.  That is the best time and it is the best way to grow our faith through answered prayer.  We have to ask for help, or we often won’t recognize who is giving us our help and may give the credit to someone other than God.  God loves us and loves to help us with our problems.  So approach his throne with confidence!

Hebrews 4:16 Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.

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Hezekiah spread it out before the Lord.