2 Chronicles 34:20-33 – Renew Your Faith

He [King Josiah] gave these orders to Hilkiah, Ahikam son of Shaphan, Abdon son of Micah, Shaphan the secretary and Asaiah the king’s attendant:“Go and inquire of the Lord for me and for the remnant in Israel and Judah about what is written in this book that has been found. Great is the Lord’s anger that is poured out on us because those who have gone before us have not kept the word of the Lord; they have not acted in accordance with all that is written in this book.”

Hilkiah and those the king had sent with him went to speak to the prophet Huldah, who was the wife of Shallum son of Tokhath, the son of Hasrah, keeper of the wardrobe. She lived in Jerusalem, in the New Quarter.

She said to them, “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: Tell the man who sent you to me, ‘This is what the Lord says: I am going to bring disaster on this place and its people—all the curses written in the book that has been read in the presence of the king of Judah. Because they have forsaken me and burned incense to other gods and aroused my anger by all that their hands have made, my anger will be poured out on this place and will not be quenched.’ 

Tell the king of Judah, who sent you to inquire of the Lord, ‘This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says concerning the words you heard: Because your heart was responsive and you humbled yourself before God when you heard what he spoke against this place and its people, and because you humbled yourself before me and tore your robes and wept in my presence, I have heard you, declares the Lord. Now I will gather you to your ancestors, and you will be buried in peace. Your eyes will not see all the disaster I am going to bring on this place and on those who live here.’”

So, they took her answer back to the king.

Then the king called together all the elders of Judah and Jerusalem. He went up to the temple of the Lord with the people of Judah, the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the priests and the Levites—all the people from the least to the greatest. He read in their hearing all the words of the Book of the Covenant, which had been found in the temple of the Lord. The king stood by his pillar and renewed the covenant in the presence of the Lord—to follow the Lord and keep his commands, statutes and decrees with all his heart and all his soul, and to obey the words of the covenant written in this book.

Then he had everyone in Jerusalem and Benjamin pledge themselves to it; the people of Jerusalem did this in accordance with the covenant of God, the God of their ancestors.

Josiah removed all the detestable idols from all the territory belonging to the Israelites, and he had all who were present in Israel serve the Lord their God. As long as he lived, they did not fail to follow the Lord, the God of their ancestors. (New International Version)

Sadness transformed to joy is a beautiful thing. However, joy that turns into an “Uh, oh!” is an altogether different thing.

Today’s Old Testament lesson has both sadness and joy, at the same time. God’s temple was undergoing repairs. And the Book of the Law was found. It’s sad that the Law was even lost, at all. Somewhere along the line a king, a priest, some people, they all just plain forgot about God’s Word to them. 

Yet, what’s joyful is that King Josiah had God’s Word read to him. He and his officials responded with promising to be faithful to what they heard, and to carefully follow God and God’s instructions for them as God’s people. What’s more, Josiah asked the Israelites to make that same promise.

It’s likely that you are reading this because you are a person committed to listening to God’s Word. Also, it’s likely you don’t need to go on an archaeological dig inside your own house, just to find an old dusty Bible to read. 

Maybe, however, you need to take the next step, like Josiah of old, to not only listen and obey yourself, but to ask and invite others to make the same promise.

You and I know that straightforward Bible reading often does not take place within the homes and even the churches of many confessing believers in Jesus. So, take the next step. Invite others to read with you. Ask fellow Christians to read Scripture, make observations about it, apply it to their lives, and base prayers upon it. 

Ask them to make the same promise that you have made to God: To listen to God’s Word, and then, do what it says.

This is how renewal happens.

Patient God, you continue to wait for people to read your Word and obey it. May I not simply attend to your laws in isolation from others, but freely ask others to make the same promise I have: To obey Jesus Christ, my Lord, by living and loving like him, in the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

2 Chronicles 34:1-7 – Getting Rid of Idolatry

Russian Orthodox icon of Judah’s King Josiah (640-609 B.C.E.)

Josiah was eight years old when he became king of Judah, and he ruled thirty-one years from Jerusalem. He followed the example of his ancestor David and always obeyed the Lord.

When Josiah was only sixteen years old he began worshiping God, just as his ancestor David had done. Then, four years later, he decided to destroy the local shrines in Judah and Jerusalem, as well as the sacred poles for worshiping the goddess Asherah and the idols of foreign gods.He watched as the altars for the worship of the god Baal were torn down, and as the nearby incense altars were smashed. The Asherah poles, the idols, and the stone images were also smashed, and the pieces were scattered over the graves of their worshipers. Josiah then had the bones of the pagan priests burned on the altars.

And so, Josiah got rid of the worship of foreign gods in Judah and Jerusalem. He did the same things in the towns and ruined villages in the territories of West Manasseh, Ephraim, and Simeon, as far as the border of Naphtali. Everywhere in the northern kingdom of Israel, Josiah tore down pagan altars and Asherah poles; he crushed idols to dust and smashed incense altars.

Then Josiah went back to Jerusalem. (Contemporary English Version)

Josiah started out as a boy king. Evidently, he had some good training because by the time he became a teenager, Josiah was raring and ready to exercise his kingship in the best sense of leadership. 

After generations of kings before him who followed other gods and gave the stiff-arm to the Lord, as well as to justice and righteousness, Josiah committed himself fully to Israel’s one true God.  And, as a twenty-year old king, he showed the real muster of his reign.

Josiah took responsibility and initiative to do what was right in the eyes of God – no matter the consequences. 

King Josiah continually performed the dual action of worshiping God and aggressively taking active steps to rid the kingdom of all the ubiquitous false gods. 

The king did much more than simply stick his toe in the water to test what the response might be to removing a high place of Baal worship or an Asherah pole. Instead, Josiah jumped right in and put his entire kingship on the line. 

All of the power brokers who were dealing in false gods could not have been happy about this turn of events in Judah. But any kind of pushback did nothing to prevent Josiah from doing what was right in the eyes of the Lord by thoroughly eradicating idol worship.

“Let us all be the leaders we wish we had.”

Simon Sinek

Josiah had a clear sense of purpose. That sense of vocational direction ordered his kingly steps. It led him to do the things he did. Josiah was determined and devoted to leading the people back to God. 

This desire and determination for spiritual revival directed toward the worship of the Lord is not limited to the ancient world. God is still in the kingdom business of bringing all creation under a divine and benevolent rule. 

Therefore, there still remains an abiding purpose to lead others, caught in a web of unhealthy routines and habits of living through idolatrous practices, back to the one true God. 

Like the ancients before us, there is still a need to exercise courage and confidence in following the Lord by making disciples who will worship God with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength. 

So, reconnecting with our overarching purpose in life is imperative for taking bold steps of faith in this idolatrous world which worships at the altar of exorbitant eating, shopping, and drinking.

It is no wonder the current zeitgeist of so many of our communities is full of anxiety, discouragement, and anger. There is no justice in the public square. Competing voices, other than the merciful words and ways of Jesus, drown the divine regulations for living a good life of integrity, wholeness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit.

It is almost as if the collective efforts of idolatrous people have surgically removed the spiritual spine of society. We are now bereft of genuine support, spineless and unable to move toward a life of truth, justice, and a courageous concern for the common good of all persons.

King Josiah shows us a better way. We must radically remove all that is toxic and damaging to our souls. We need a clear purpose in life, to go hard after God and rediscover how the Divine fits into all of life and gives us meaning.

Any old fool can complain about how bad things are in the world. But the one determined to make a difference amidst all the surrounding crud and helps to make things better – that is the wise person who is in touch with their own spirit, who is able to see the spiritual within others.

So, how then will you live?

May your living be in a healthy spiritual groove of loving God and loving neighbor so that worshiping the banal becomes a thing of the past.

Holy God, you are the Sovereign of the universe. Expose the things in my life that I might be trusting in, other than you. Wean me away from evil and bend my heart and mind to truth, justice, and goodness. Help me to be aggressive in my Christian walk so that I steadfastly follow Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit, leading others to faith along the way. Amen.

Romans 12:1-8 – On Being Worshipers and Servants

Brothers and sisters, in view of all we have just shared about God’s compassion, I encourage you to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, dedicated to God and pleasing to him. This kind of worship is appropriate for you. Don’t become like the people of this world. Instead, change the way you think. Then you will always be able to determine what God really wants—what is good, pleasing, and perfect.

Because of the kindness that God has shown me, I ask you not to think of yourselves more highly than you should. Instead, your thoughts should lead you to use good judgment based on what God has given each of you as believers. Our bodies have many parts, but these parts don’t all do the same thing. In the same way, even though we are many individuals, Christ makes us one body and individuals who are connected to each other. God in his kindness gave each of us different gifts. If your gift is speaking what God has revealed, make sure what you say agrees with the Christian faith. If your gift is serving, then devote yourself to serving. If it is teaching, devote yourself to teaching. If it is encouraging others, devote yourself to giving encouragement. If it is sharing, be generous. If it is leadership, lead enthusiastically. If it is helping people in need, help them cheerfully. (God’s Word)

China and Clay

Every person is important. Everyone is needed. Each individual is to offer their entire lives to God through worship and using their spiritual gifts. Every believer is to be active in building up others. 

When I was growing up, we had a fine China set that my parents kept in a beautiful China cabinet.  The set and the cabinet are old and were a prominent part of our house. However, we almost never used it. I can only remember once or twice that my Mom got the China out to use.

God is not looking for fine China believers who sit unused in a cabinet church. Instead, the Lord is looking for rough-and-tumble clay pots—the kind that can be used every day. God wants ordinary table-wear that can be handled in a crash-and-bang world.

Followers of Jesus Christ are to be like a working kitchen, where well-worn pots are filled again and again to dispense their life-giving contents to a thirsty world; and, where common plates and cups are used again and again to provide a hungry population with the Bread of Life.

Jews and Gentiles

Within the ancient Roman Church were both Jews and Gentiles – two groups vastly different from each other.  They tended to keep to themselves and only operate within their familiar and comfortable circles of friends and relatives.  But the Apostle Paul wanted them united through using their spiritual gifts for the benefit of the entire congregation, and not only within their respective groups.

We are to give ourselves in service to one another because of God’s mercy in Christ. Since God has saved us from our guilt and shame, we are to have a grateful response of worship that is dedicated to serving everyone. 

Worship and Service

The word “worship” in today’s New Testament lesson is where we get the word “liturgy.” That is, Paul’s vision for the church was to have daily liturgical rhythms of spiritual worship, not just on Sunday when we might pull out the fine China and try to impress people.

Paul did not guilt people into serving. Rather, he straightforwardly exhorts all Christians to appropriately respond to God’s grace by offering their lives in sacrificial service as a form of gratitude to God. For this response, our mental faculties must be renewed through saturation in Scripture. It is here we discern our spiritual gifts, know what God wants us to do with those gifts, and use them effectively in the church and the world. 

Grace and Gifts

Grace is given to every believer in Jesus, not just a select few. We all have different gifts and are graced with abilities for the benefit of other, without exception. When everyone collectively exercises their spiritual gifts, then there is clarity in knowing the will of God.

All Christians must share and work together by utilizing God’s grace, instead of getting burned-out because others are not serving. Grumbling about what others are not doing begs the question of whether we are over-functioning, or not.

It could be that we have succumbed to the danger the Apostle Paul warned us about: thinking so highly of ourselves that we believe our gifts are superior to others, so we need to maintain our control and hegemony in the group. This is a terribly misguided notion. 

Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.

1 Peter 4:10-11, NIV

We belong to one another. Therefore, one major way of giving to God is through offering ourselves to each other with equity and without favoritism. We must not separate Christ from his church. To say that we need God, but do not need the church is to really say that we do not need God because the two are inseparable. Nowhere in Holy Scripture do we find individual Christians doing their own thing, isolated from a committed group of people, the church.

When Jesus called people to follow him in service to God and a world in need, some gave him excuses that they were busy and had other pressing matters to attend to before they could follow him. Jesus simply left them and told them they were not fit for the kingdom of God. (Luke 9:57-62)

When people were pre-occupied with building wealth, or gaining power, or jockeying for influence, Jesus told them to stop it, exercise some faith, and seek first the kingdom of God.  Build your treasure in heaven, Jesus said, because it will be permanent; and, not on earth where it is temporary. (Matthew 6:19-34)

Spiritual Gifts and Abilities

We are graced by God with abilities which God fully expects us to use. “Cheap grace” is merely embracing Christ as a personal Savior but not welcoming him as the Lord in whom we must sacrificially give our lives to service in the church and the world. Spiritual health and vitality cannot exist apart from every person using God’s given grace to contribute to the functioning of the Body of Christ. 

The list of spiritual gifts Paul provided is not exhaustive but represents a combination of speaking and serving gifts necessary to bless humanity. Paul exhorted the church not to restrain people’s service but let them go at using their spiritual gifts, full bore:

  • Speak what God has revealed. Prophets do not foretell the future. Rather, they have “inspired speech” from God that addresses what God’s people are to do in consideration of Scripture. 
  • Serving. Servants give themselves to all types of hands-on service. 
  • Teaching. Teachers instruct the faithful in all the revealed will of God. 
  • Encouraging others. Encouragers both speak and serve, coming alongside others and helping them to do something with both verbal coaching and tangible help. 
  • Sharing. Givers live a simple life so they can give generously and contribute to the needs of others. 
  • Leadership. Leaders get out in front and show the way in obtaining the will of God. 
  • Helping people in need. Helpers show mercy by seeing down-and-out hurting people and being a conduit of God’s grace to them.

There is no one person who possesses all these gifts. That’s why everyone must work together to have a spiritually healthy community. A spiritually toxic community is the inevitable result of only a few people using their giftedness.

To avoid relational toxicity, and embrace communal harmony, our minds need transformation through renewing practices of godly sacrifice, regular worship, pursuing unity, and becoming aware of our spiritual gifts.

Here’s three ways we can discover our gifts:

  1. Pay attention.  Every spiritual gift reflects God’s grace and character, and so, you will find joy and satisfaction in expressing it. Your spiritual gift will be a place of deep spiritual formation and growth in your life, as God uses it both to powerfully connect you spiritually and to expose areas of your soul that need forgiveness and redemption. 
  2. Try. Give it a whirl. Volunteer. Connect with a service or ministry or try doing what you feel might be something God wants you to do. Gifts are primarily discovered from others observing and affirming your gift and not so much by going through a research process. The encouragers among us will be happy to affirm the gifts of others.
  3. Develop. All spiritual gifts need growth, cultivation, and development. Paul told his young protégé, Timothy, to fan into flame the gift of God. (2 Timothy 1:6)

We will find our greatest delight in life through engaging in worship of God and service to others. That leads to a spiritually healthy Christian community that loves God, loves one another, and loves the world.

God of grace, stir up the spiritual gifts of your people. May the gifts your Holy Spirit has decided to give us be activated and used for your glory and the edification of others. May you grant peace and joy in churches everywhere so that no one will be jealous or covetous about anyone else’s gifts. May these gifts grow and develop in love so that the fruit of the Spirit will be truly manifested. May you receive all praise honor and glory through Jesus Christ, our Lord.  Amen.

Isaiah 61:1-7 – Better Days Ahead

The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
    because the Lord has anointed me
    to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
    to proclaim freedom for the captives
    and release from darkness for the prisoners,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor
    and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,
    and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
    instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
    instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
    instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
    a planting of the Lord
    for the display of his splendor.

They will rebuild the ancient ruins
    and restore the places long devastated;
they will renew the ruined cities
    that have been devastated for generations.
Strangers will shepherd your flocks;
    foreigners will work your fields and vineyards.
And you will be called priests of the Lord,
    you will be named ministers of our God.
You will feed on the wealth of nations,
    and in their riches you will boast.

Instead of your shame
    you will receive a double portion,
and instead of disgrace
    you will rejoice in your inheritance.
And so you will inherit a double portion in your land,
    and everlasting joy will be yours. (New International Version)

The message of better days ahead was a breath of fresh air to a beaten down people.

Just today I was speaking with an intensive care nurse who said, “It’s one thing to have a hard day, or know a few weeks will be difficult. It’s altogether another thing when it seems there’s no end to the hard deaths we experience.” Whenever things have gone sideways for so long, we find our lives needing restoration and renewal.

That was the situation for the ancient Israelites. They needed deliverance from their awful predicament. They longed for healing, freedom, and comfort from their grief. After centuries of a downward spiral into disobedience and going their own way, the people found themselves bereft of resources.

After you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, the one who called you into his eternal glory in Christ Jesus, will himself restore, empower, strengthen, and establish you.

1 Peter 5:10, CEB

The people needed the year of the Lord’s favor – the year of Jubilee. The Jubilee was supposed to occur every fiftieth year of Israel’s existence in the Promised Land. For forty-nine years there were individuals and families who either incurred debt, indentured themselves into servitude for survival, landed in prison, or ended up laboring in the fields they once owned.

According to the Law, after the forty-nine years, on the fiftieth year, the debts were erased, slaves were freed, fields allowed to rest, and the land restored back to its original owners. God’s deliverance is meant to be not only spiritual, but also very tangible and real.

Salvation is not just otherworldly – it’s also a transformation of the world we inhabit in the here and now.

The need for good news presupposes there’s been some bad news happening. The Lord deliberately gives attention to the oppressed, the brokenhearted, the captives, the prisoners, those who mourn, and the faint of heart. God is concerned for the lowly and the weak. 

It’s significant to note that Israel found themselves in such need not necessarily because they were always victims of adverse situations, but also because they failed to obey the stipulations of their covenant with God. 

We have no actual evidence the Israelites even practiced the Jubilee. After entering the Promised Land, by the time fifty years came down the pike, they had slid so far down the spiritual drain, it was completely off their radar to practice a Jubilee.

It seems no one had any intention of forgiving debts, freeing their indentured servants, giving back the land to original owners, or providing the land itself with a Sabbath rest. 

To not practice the Jubilee was to rob people of their land and practice injustice. But God loves justice and hates robbery. God pays attention to those who are not receiving very real and tangible needs for their lives. So, God speaks words of hope and deliverance for those in circumstances beyond their ability to cope.

The first few verses of today’s Old Testament lesson were the words Jesus read in the synagogue when he began his earthly ministry. Christianity observes that Jesus Christ is the ultimate fulfillment of this promise for deliverance and provision. He came to establish a Jubilee celebration that would never end.

It might be easy for some folks to overlook these verses as pertaining to them. After all, they are blessed, both materially and spiritually. They can always identify people who are in much more need than they are. But we must recognize that the maladies of our hearts are very real. There are specific conditions in our lives that leave us, not just them,in bondage and in need of restoration, renewal, and revitalization, just like the Israelites of old. 

We must name those maladies which are stuffed away in a closet of our heart, such as: the love of things and money; severed relationships; old grudges; hidden addictions; domestic violence; denial of depression; secret affairs; cutting; fear; anger; greed; and hatred. Outward smiles and small talk may hide the truth from others, but they do nothing to hide from a God for whom everything is laid bare.

It’s okay to be a glowstick, sometimes we need to break before we shine.

The good news is not just something for someone else who has “obvious” needs. The gospel must touch our lives and bring us freedom so that we can pass on that very real good news to the legion of social ills that make our world sick. 

There are people all around us who need spiritual, emotional, and material help. Yet, we will not have eyes to see them, or have hearts to help, if we are stuffing our burdens so deep within that we are blind to others.

On the other hand, we may too easily read today’s lesson in a manner it was not meant to be heard, as if we are more in need than we actually are, hearing it something like this: The Spirit of consumer choices is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to preach good news to the middle-class. He has sent me to bind up the half-hearted, to proclaim more options for the limited, and release from Black Friday for the buyers, to proclaim the year of the Cyber-Monday. 

Perhaps we may not be so crass as to say that out loud, but we might have the tendency to misinterpret Bible passages so as to avoid our own great poverty of heart.

Whichever lens we tend to look at Isaiah’s prophecy, when we become experts at ignoring our needs and emotions, we fail to see the year of Jubilee. The stark reality is that no matter who we are, we need a biblical Jubilee.

Many people are either one paycheck, one prodigal kid, one mental health diagnosis, one serious illness, one drink, one affair, or one bad decision away from being the people we typically identify as in need – the ones that bad things happen to – the ones we do not want as next door neighbors.

We may not yet be vulnerable enough to admit our situation. So, we keep practicing the denial of our spiritual poverty. But everyone knows what a broken heart is. Everybody has a bondage they don’t want to admit. All people need renewal and restoration.

If we believe that tomorrow will be better, we can bear a hardship today.

How, then, shall we live?

Turn from the things which cause us poverty and bondage and turn toward delighting in the Lord your God. Rejoice, because God will make a sprout come up. God will cause us to grow. God will rebuild our ruined souls. God will restore the places of our lives that have been devastated. God will even renew the places that haven’t seen renewal for generations. It begins with you and me allowing the justice of God to work within us.

God can neither bring comfort to those who don’t mourn, nor turn grief into joy unless there is an acknowledgment of a dire situation. If we want to be an oak of righteousness, then there must be a confession of despair and an allowance of God’s justice through Jesus Christ to work its way in us.

Let us envision Jesus coming into our lives and replacing a tattered hat of grief with a crown of beauty. Picture the Lord placing on us a garment of praise to replace those stinky clothes of grumbling. Allow your life to display the grace of God in Christ, since we have been profoundly touched by the justice of God.

Lord Jesus, Carpenter and King, be merciful to the multitudes who today bear the indignities of injustice everywhere. Raise up leaders in every land dedicated to your righteous standards of order, equity, and justice. Grant to us the grace to fulfill our vocation of being loyal to kingdom ethics. Sharpen our intellects to pierce the pettiness of prejudice; to perceive the beauty of human fellowship. Guide our minds to a meaningful understanding of the problems of the poor, the oppressed, the unemployed, and the needy. Incline our hearts toward them, as is your heart, O Lord. May we hunger and thirst after justice always and do it in the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.