Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Josiah and the United States

Perhaps it is a “stretch” to compare Judah and its ruler King Josiah to the United States and President Reagan, but, I must confess, that is one of the first thoughts to cross my mind when I was reviewing the life of this great king. The story of Josiah may be found in 2 Kings 22-23 and 2 Chronicles 34-35.

The Northern Kingdom of Israel had fallen to the Assyrians in 722 B.C. and, a few years later, threatened Judah. At that time, Hezekiah reigned as king. The Scripture notes “And he did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, according to all that David his father had done” (2 Kings 18:3). Sennacherib led the Assyrians towards Judah and was threatening to take Jerusalem. Hezekiah prayed and requested the prophet Isaiah’s counsel on the matter. Isaiah responded that Sennacherib would not take the city. Sure enough, that night an angel of the Lord killed 185,000 Assyrians and Sennarcherib plus his army returned to Nineveh.

Hezekiah, a devoted follower of the Lord, though, was followed by his son Manasseh, one of the most evil kings in the history of Judah. He ruled for fifty-five years and idolatry was very much the story of the nation. Manasseh’s son, Amon, took over the throne after his father’s death and the Scripture says “he abandoned the Lord, the God of his fathers, and did not walk in the way of the Lord” (2 Kings 21:22). His servants assassinated him and his son, Josiah, was appointed king at the age of 8.

Josiah began to seek the Lord at an early age (2 Chronicles 34:3) and, in the 18th year of his reign, the Book of the Law was discovered in the Temple. Immediately, Josiah instituted reforms in the land of Judah. 2 Chronicles 34 paints the picture:

Then the king sent and gathered together all the elders of Judah and Jerusalem. And the king went up to the house of the Lord, with all the men of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem and the priests and the Levites, all the people both great and small. And he read in their hearing all the words of the Book of the Covenant that had been found in the house of the Lord. And the king stood in his place and made a covenant before the Lord, to walk after the Lord and to keep his commandments and his testimonies and his statutes, with all his heart and all his soul, to perform the words of the covenant that were written in this book. Then he made all who were present in Jerusalem and in Benjamin stand to it. And the inhabitants of Jerusalem did according to the covenant of God, the God of their fathers. And Josiah took away all the abominations from all the territory that belonged to the people of Israel and made all who were present in Israel serve the Lord their God. All his days they did not turn away from following the Lord, the God of their fathers. (2 Chronicles 34:29-33)

Josiah would be killed in battle just 13 years later. Judah immediately fell back into sin and, twenty-two years after Josiah’s death, Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonians destroyed the city of Jerusalem and took Judah as its prisoner.

Obviously, the revival under King Josiah was an outward revival. Did the King truly trust the Lord and follow Him? Yes, the Scripture indicates Josiah was sincere in his commitment to God. But the people were not as sincere and their return to sin following Josiah’s death clearly reveals the terrible truth: Josiah’s revival was an outward revival to them. Nothing changed in their heart.

Look at the text I just quoted. Note these two phrases: “Then he (Josiah) MADE all who were present … stand to it.” “All HIS days THEY did not turn…”. Judah experienced a national revival under King Josiah but, regrettably, they did not experience a true spiritual revival in their hearts. They remained far from God.

Every time I read this story, my mind quickly recalls the events of the 1980s. The United States had suffered greatly during the prior decade. We experienced the sin of Watergate and the resignation of a Vice President and a President. The war in Vietnam finally ended but not without significant human losses and civil unrest in the states. We elected a Washington outsider as President and soon discovered that was a mistake. Hostages were taken overseas and gasoline prices went up. And to epitomize the spiritual depravity of our nation at the time, the Supreme Court called the act of abortion constitutional. The United States gave its blessing to the killing of its own unborn. We needed a revival.

Then President Ronald Reagan appeared. Quickly, the outlook of Americans changed. Americans were proud again to be Americans. The Soviet nation clearly was on the downward path. The economy drastically improved for most citizens. There seemed to be a religious revival in our country during the 80s.

Our scenario sounds much like Judah. Reeling after Manasseh and Amon, the nation needed a Josiah and there he was. Reeling after the miseries of the 1970s, the nation needed a Reagan and there he was.

Unfortunately, the scenario after Reagan is much like the situation in Judah after Josiah. The revival under Josiah quickly waned because it had no spiritual roots. The revival in our country has waned as well because it had no spiritual roots. The evidence of this truth is the outward boasting of sinful acts you see in our country today: abortion, sodomy, “gay” marriage, boasting terrorists, business theft and so on.

We need a revival in our nation. We need a revival which will shatter the bondage of sin we see on all fronts. But such a revival must be a spiritual revival sent by our Lord and not simply a “national revival” from a politician or a political party. We need God to move in the hearts of His people bringing repentance and a renewal of their lives to His service. We need God, through His Spirit, to regenerate the hearts of many Americans who are without Christ resulting in their conversion to the Lord and their justification before God. Only when God brings about a true spiritual revival in America will we see an America which, once again, shines among the nations of the world.

Let us pray for our nation and for God to bring great, spiritual revival to the hearts of all Americans.

Even so, come quickly Lord Jesus!

Monday, October 27, 2008

Christ in You

Thank goodness, the 2008 election is almost here and, therefore, almost over! Politicians have been running for office more than 18 months and I, personally, am tired of the whole affair. My understanding of the position of each Presidential candidate is stated elsewhere in my blogs so I need not repeat those. I have done what I can to convince others of the dangers of voting for various candidates and my concerns for our nation. My positions have been expressed in the blogs, verbally, and, possibly, in a local newspaper. All I can do from this point forward is to pray and to vote.

But I want to clearly state that I have absolutely NO HOPE that any of the Presidential candidates can rescue our nation from its road to destruction. Elsewhere, I have used the analogy of a locomotive racing down the hill toward oblivion. If we elect John McCain, he will try to put on the brakes to our runaway train and, possibly, slow it down just a bit. If we elect Barack Obama, he will throw the train into full speed forward and the end will approach much more rapidly. Yet neither candidate can stop our nation’s destruction and, even more importantly, turn it around and put it on the right path. There’s only one person who can do that: Jesus Christ.

Paul wrote to the Colossians the following phrase in chapter 1, verse 27: “Christ in you, the hope of glory.” The hope for any soul to ever be right with God is found only in the Lord Jesus Christ. Only He can take a life on the path to eternal darkness and turn it to the path of light. Only He can take a depraved sinner and declare him (and, ultimately, make him) to be perfectly righteous before God. Only Christ can accomplish the radical change each of us needs in our life so that we may be right before our Creator.

The same is true of any nation. God has ordained the government we have (Romans 13) but doesn’t promise it will exist forever. God’s intention is not that we rely on our government but that we rely on Him. God does not intend we place our hope in any man (including any politician) but that we place our hope in Christ. Our nation needs a spiritual revival, not a political one. We have lost our nation’s spiritual moorings.

So, after much research, analysis, and prayer, I will pull the lever for John McCain and Sarah Palin next Tuesday. But, no matter whether Senator McCain or Senator Obama is declared to be the President elect on November 5th, my hope for my personal salvation and for our nation’s future will remain firmly on my Lord and Savior,
Jesus Christ.

May He be glorified even next Tuesday!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Began to Teach

My Bible reading yesterday brought me to John chapter 7 and Jesus’ encounter with the Jews (i.e., Jewish leaders) during the Feast of Tabernacles in Jerusalem. Early in the narrative, Jesus does not openly appear during the Feast and, by verse 11, the Jewish leaders are looking for Him. The following two verses grabbed my attention:

“When the festival was already half over, Jesus went up into the temple complex and began to teach. Then the Jews were amazed and said, ‘How does He know the Scriptures, since He hasn’t been trained?’” (vv. 14-15, Holman Christian Standard Bible)

Some observations I made as I read this text included:

(1) Jesus acts based on His schedule, not man’s. The Feast of Tabernacles lasted from the 15th to the 21st day of the Jewish month of Tishri (roughly our October) and the Jewish leaders were looking for the Lord. But Jesus refused to follow their desires and remained hidden until the middle of the festival. When the time was right, He appeared. Jesus always acts based on His schedule for He is the sovereign God.

(2) Jesus taught. Yes, at times Jesus healed, at times He helped others with physical needs and so should we. But over and over again in the Gospels, you see the focus of the Lord’s earthly ministry was one of preaching and teaching. He proclaimed to man their spiritual need and God’s spiritual provision, namely, eternal life through the Son. Teaching and preaching the Word of God is still a critical necessity in the 21st century because men, women, and children need to know how serious their spiritual condition is and how wonderful the grace of God’s provision is.

(3) Jesus taught the Scriptures. The Jewish leaders confirmed this fact with their response in verse 15. Jesus spoke the true Word of God. When we preach and teach our message is to be the Word of God and not our opinion. We don’t simply teach what we know others want to hear. Jesus could have done that when He taught in the Temple. He knew what the Jewish leaders believed and He knew He could earn their friendship and assistance by teaching what they taught. But Jesus was not in the Temple that day to earn friendships and popularity with the religious leaders. He was there to teach the Word of God no matter how it affected His listeners. Likewise, we are to teach and preach the Scriptures even if we know some who hear it will be offended.

(4) Jesus taught in such a way as to keep the attention of His audience. While this is not outwardly said in this text, I believe the implication is there. It would seem if Jesus’ teaching did not grab the attention of His audience, the response of the Jewish leaders would have been to ignore Him altogether. Who cares if He knows the Scriptures and teaches them if no one listens to Him. The amazement of the religious leaders at the grasp of Scripture Jesus has implies the listeners that day were, indeed, listening.

(5) The Jews were amazed. As I understand the text, the Jews were not amazed at what He said. They recognized He knew the Scriptures. What amazed them was Jesus had such knowledge of the Scriptures yet had no formal rabbinical training. They had attended such schools and were recognized as scholars. Yet here is one proclaiming the Scriptures without such training. How remarkable is that! Perhaps we should be a little more cautious when our pulpit committees reject individuals simply based on the degrees they have received according to their resumes.

Don’t you wonder what the Lord taught that day? The Scriptures are silent on that so we can only speculate. Could it be He used the festival to explain the passages in the Pentateuch which described the protection God gave His people during their wanderings in the wilderness? Such teaching, of course, would also remind the people of Israel’s sin of disbelief at Kadesh-Barnea which resulted in the 40 years of wandering. Such sin demanded a sacrifice and He would be the perfect, complete sacrifice. Perhaps He used the festival, which marked the completion of the harvest, as an opportunity to teach about the fields which were white unto harvest with souls. Or maybe He used the festival to teach how the peace and prosperity seen in the Feast of Tabernacles foreshadows the peace and prosperity which will come with the Lord’s reign on earth.

May the Lord guide me when I teach and preach in such a way that my message is only the Word of God and that the Holy Spirit would grab the attention of my audience and drive that message straight to the heart!

Friday, October 3, 2008

Economic Crisis

The United States House of Representatives approved a "bail out" bill today ending a fierce debate in our nation's captial over the past two weeks. I use the word "ending" quite loosely for the economic problems of our country are far from over. Personally, I was against such a "bail out" and had asked my representatives to oppose it. Nevertheless, both houses of Congress have approved the bill. No matter who is elected the next President, they will inherit quite a mess.

I briefly chatted with a work associate this week. He has been looking forward to retiring in a couple of years. Like most of us, his retirement package has been hammered hard by the activity on Wall Street these past two weeks. He told me he had cashed out his stock, taking quite a loss in the process. But he feared the entire economy was about to crash and decided to get what he could on the deal. Since I am no economic expert, I have left my investments alone. I'm certain that was probably not very wise but I decided just to ride this out.

My family is not wealthy despite the good salary I make. Raising my children and trying to provide for my family without being a complete Scrooge consumes lots of my funds. Also, contributing to the work of our local church as well as various missionary ventures requires significant investments. So, I have never considered retiring from working until the Lord makes it impossible for me to work. I am not complaining, just stating the facts. Accumulating money for retirement has never been a priority in my life. We are not wealthy and likely never will be.

So, in the midst of such turmoil as we have seen this month, it is easy to get caught up in the world's view of the situation and panic about our future. At times like these, we need to return to God's Word. Listen to Paul's Word in 1 Timothy 6.

Perverse disputings of men of corrupt minds, and destitute of the truth, supposing that gain is godliness: from such withdraw thyself. But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and raiment let us be therewith content. But they that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows. But thou, O man of God, flee these things; and follow after righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, meekness. (1 Timothy 6:5-11)

Being rich is not necessary evil. Loving one's riches and living for them is.

Let us be satisfied with what the Lord has given us and make certain our number one goal in life is to glorify Him.