Incline Our Hearts to You, O Lord – The Bible in Lent: Day 11

Today we enter into Week 3 of The Bible in Lent, we’ve already reached the end of David’s united Kingdom of Israel and see the country torn apart because of the persistent sin of the people.  The book of Kings has quickly made it clear: the kings of Israel and Judea were a mess. Some were simply foolish and stupid but others were egregiously evil. No matter where they fell on the spectrum there were very few heroes among the kings.  The role of the prophet becomes much more prominent in these books. We see Elijah and then Elisha coming to call the people to repentance and to true worship.  But over and over again, we see the pattern of kings whose hearts are not wholly devoted to the Lord. Like the kingdom of Israel, their hearts are divided between serving the Lord and consolidating power, worshiping God and appeasing the nations around them, carrying out justice and pursuing their own exploits.  The message rings clearly again in Kings as it did in Samuel, God desires leaders who devout their hearts to Him.  Over and over again, the standard of measurement used against the king was whether their hearts were devoted completely the to Lord. But the Israelites were a people whose hearts were fickle and quickly led astray.   Lesser things take their hearts captive and divided their affections.  We see remnants of hearts standing firm on the promises God made to their ancestors in many of the prophets and in some of the people of Israel but mostly, we see wickedness and those who remain faithful growing weary from their work.  In Elijah, Elisha, and other unnamed prophets, we see those who are standing, refusing to bow to the gods around them and calling for the people to return to the Lord.  Even when the people head their warnings, it is usually only a temporary return to righteousness before relapsing again into sin and idolatry.  In Solomon’s prayer of dedication for the Temple, we see the hope for the ending of this cycle: The Lord our God be with us, as he was with our fathers; may he not leave us or forsake us; that he may incline our hearts to him, to walk in all his ways, and to keep his commandments, his statutes, and his ordinances, which he commanded our fathers. – 1st Kings 8:57-58, RSVCE Our…

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Am I Offering a Costly Sacrifice or a Convenient Sacrifice? – The Bible in Lent: Day 10

And just like that, 10 days into The Bible in Lent we’ve come to the end of David’s reign. While there are many highs and certainly some lows in David’s reign, I want to focus in today on the very end of the 2nd Book of Samuel.  A plague has fallen upon the people and the prophet at the time, Gad, instructs David to go to the threshing floor of Arau′nah the Jeb′usite to offer sacrifices to God.  When David arrives, he tells Arau′nah that he wants to buy the threshing floor, build an altar, and sacrifice to God. But Arau′nah quickly tells David that he doesn’t need to buy it, he can simply accept it and the animals for the sacrifice as a gift. But David will not accept the gift and replies, “No, but I will buy it of you for a price; I will not offer burnt offerings to the Lord my God which cost me nothing” (2nd Samuel 24:24).  David’s response makes me wonder, what I am offering the Lord that costs me? Am I offering up things to the Lord that are convenient and easy or do I offer up something of value?  There are so many New Testament passages that came to mind as I read this. The rich young ruler who Jesus told to sell all he had on behalf of the poor (Mark 10), the exhortation to care for the least of these (Matthew 25), and the call in Hebrews 12 to offer ourselves up as living sacrifices.  Am I offering myself up as a living sacrifice today or just the parts that are convenient to me?  Lent is a unique season in the call to penance through prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. Am I offering up things that are costly or things that I wanted to do apart from this season/any spiritual benefit?  Is God my priority or my afterthought?  If David had accepted the gift, his priority would have been financial, the sacrifice wouldn’t have matter because it wouldn’t have affected his life. As we’ve seen over and over again throughout Scripture, God wants our hearts.  David shows here that he is willing to give his heart to God. That’s where his treasure truly lies.  As we finish up reading 2nd Samuel and move into 1st Kings today, where we see Solomon build a splendid temple for the Lord, we need…

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The Corrupting Power of Sin – The Bible in Lent: Day 9 

Today, as we work through The Bible of Lent Bible Reading Plan, we’ve come to some familiar passages. I’ve written before about Hannah’s prayer at Shiloh and even with declining biblical literacy culturally, there are still few very people who haven’t heard of David slaying the giant Goliath with his pebbles and slingshot. Unlike some of the other books thus far in The Bible in Lent, I’ve read through 1st Samuel before now. I remembered Saul as being mostly the antagonist of the book – disobeying the Lord, attempting to kill David despite David’s mercy, and consulting with a witch to perform a seance. But my memory had glossed over Saul’s humble origins.  Saul’s beginnings do not indicate the man he will become before his death. When we first meet Saul, the Bible tells us he is a handsome young man and a man of wealth (9:1-2). Yet, when Samuel chooses Saul by lot as their king, the people find Saul hiding among the baggage.  Despite his initial hesitation, the people rally around Saul when he calls on them to defend their fellow Israelites. When the people want to kill those who opposed him, he shows himself to be a man of peace and mercy, not vengeance.  Yet, that so quickly that changes, and he is sealed in my mind as a man with a paranoia for being unseated and an irrational desire to kill the man who was favored by the Lord and had done nothing but bless him.  Saul changed dramatically throughout 1st Samuel. Just a few years after being anointed king, he disobeyed the Lord for fear of the people (15: 24). In an attempt to cover up his sin, he told Samuel they would sacrifice the animals they were told to destroy as an offering to the Lord.  The rest of 1 Samuel tells the stories of Saul frantically trying to maintain authority apart from the Lord. It was a stark warning to me of how seriously we must battle sin.  “Sin is couching at the door; its desire is for you, but you must master it.” – Genesis 4:7, RSVCE   Saul went from a man who was hiding to avoid being named king to a king who spent years hunting one of his most loyal and fierce warriors because of his pride.  How quick and easy it is to lose ourselves when we stray…

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3 Truths to Remember When Reading Through Hard Parts of the Bible – The Bible in Lent: Day 8

Elephant in the room, the last few days of The Bible in Lent have been hard for me. The commands of God, the conduct of His people – there have been several passages I’ve wanted to turn away from and pretend aren’t in the Bible.  I don’t understand why God called out Israel and provided for their atonement, but not the nations around them.  The battle cries in Joshua and Judges that repeatedly tell the Israelites to slay not only the warriors they are fighting against but the women and children deeply confuse me. This seems a far cry from the mercy and grace that we love to sing about on Sunday mornings.  Questions about some of these passages have popped up in my heart over the years. Others I’ve only just discovered reading the Bible in the last week. My gut instinct is to usually minimize them and stuff the questions down deep in my chest.  A few times, I’ve had to stomach to ask others, “Why did God not just allow, but tell them to do that?”  Occasionally, there’s been an answer about the people of Israel needing to be holy or others being too sinful but no answer has ever satisfied the question – why?  And I don’t have a magic bullet answer for you today. But I do have a few truths to comfort me when I read these passages:  1. All People are Without Excuse  For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. Ever since the creation of the world his invisible nature, namely, his eternal power and deity, has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse; for although they knew God they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking and their senseless minds were darkened. – Romans 1:19-21, RSVCE Again, I don’t have a full understanding of what this passage means, but it does give me comfort to know that God is made plain to all people. Whether or not they choose to accept Him, I have comfort in that He does not abandon people in ignorance and believe that there is something deeper at work here than the idea that people are dying and going to hell without having an opportunity to respond to…

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Know Where the Victory Lies – The Bible in Lent: Day 7

Over and over again, Joshua is told, “Be strong and courageous.”  Moses tells it to him and when he blessed and commissions him as the new leader of the people.  The Lord Himself reminds Joshua again before he sets out to conquer the land the Lord has given the Israelites. Four times in the first chapter of Joshua, the Lord tells him, “Be strong and of good courage.” God knew the armies that Joshua was going to be facing. He also knew the fickleness of the people that Joshua led.  As a leader, I’m sure Joshua’s tendencies were to feel overwhelmed, to rely on his logic, and to seek strength through military skill.  But God reminds Joshua over and over again that this is not the posture he is to take when leading the people – he is to lead them with an understanding that they will win because the Lord will go with them.  Have I not commanded you? Be strong and of good courage; be not frightened, neither be dismayed; for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go. – Joshua 1:9, RSV-CE  The battle is the Lord’s.  And Joshua’s call, to find his confidence in the Lord’s faithfulness, is still a lesson to all of us.  While my call isn’t a call to battle against nations, I am still prone to rely on my own strength, wit, and skill to overcome the obstacles in my path.  When I reach a mountain, how often do I first start making my own plans before trusting in God’s provision? How often do I lament the climb ahead without first planting myself in the surety of His provision to lead me through whatever path He has called me to travel?  There is a fine line between utilizing my God-given skills and trusting in them.  Joshua showed military savvy. He sent spies and made battle plans. But he did so with his courage rooted in God, not the plans he had made. God has given us each gifts and skills to develop. He has called us each to specific work and often, He gifts us according to the work He has called us to.  But God never abandons us or leaves us to rely on our own strength. Each and every battle is the Lord’s and our call is to find courage and confidence in His ability to work through…

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