Thursday, September 6, 2018

A Character Study - King Asa

King Asa was so enraged with God’s message that he put the prophet Hanani in prison. He became arrogant and brutally oppressed some of the people he ruled over. – Slide 12

I love character studies - looking deeper than the physical description of what makes a person visually recognizable.  Digging deeper into what defines their character and how that determines their choices and decisions is much more interesting and revealing.
And when the character studies are bible characters we have the advantage of God's opinion which far surpasses even the most perceptive analysis by any human being even though they knew the character personally.

There is a reason we have a record of the lives of many Bible characters.  We may judge them favorably or otherwise, but always we can hold them up as a mirror to our own life and learn from what we are told about their failures and/or successes.  Taking a look at what God praised and what God judged as 'evil' can be very enlightening in looking at weaknesses we commonly share, but too often are blind to recognizing them in ourselves.  Being willing to learn from others'  experiences, saves us  the pain and consequences of missing the mark in our own life.

One Bible character that I have looked at recently is Asa - one of the kings of Judea.  I find him especially interesting in how he reveals a character flaw that I think tempts most of us ... and, hopefully, looking at his life will insulate us from following his example.

Asa was born in a time when God's people indulged in following the customs of the heathen nations around them, borrowing their gods and justifying gross immorality.    In the name of 'worship' everything was justified including orgies at the temples of the false gods they embraced, rejecting God and His commandments.

A quick look at Asa's family tree, to understand where he came from.

His grandfather was Rehoboam, who was Solomon's son and successor.

Rehoboam was a weak man, who followed his father's 'end-of-life' bad example. He has one 'good thing' reported about him in II Chron. 11:23 that  he was wise in dealing with his sons. Recognizing that being indulged in a lazy, affluent, unrestrained  life-style, as he had been, was not the best upbringing and so he made sure that his sons were given responsibilities and duties to preform. In other areas of his life he displayed his instability and weakness of character and God's opinion of him is ... "he did evil, because he fixed not his heart to seek the Lord." (II Chron. 12:14)

A huge influence in Rehoboam's life was his favorite wife, Maachah - who was the daughter of Absolum. Rehoboam was content to let her rule the Court.  She was 'evil' in that she leaned toward all the revolting practices of idolatry. (I Kings 15:13) She built altars to strange gods and to Asherah for her worship ceremonies, which Rehoboam did nothing to deter, even openly supporting her.

Rehoboam and Maachah had a son named Abijah, who - no surprise considering his parents - followed in his father's example and did nothing to encourage people to turn back to worship the God of Israel. All the evil involved with worshiping false gods, continued through his reign and his mother Maachah  real ruling influence in the court was not hindered.  She focused the people's worship on the degradation and moral evil  of the religious ceremonies held at the sacred groves and temples that she delighted in.

Abijah had a son named Asa - the focus of our study- who became King of Judah when his father Abijah died.
Considering his family heritage and the dominance of evil in and around him, it would be expected that Asa was strongly influenced to follow in that same direction.
But he didn't !
We are not told what influenced him toward the good.  Perhaps he was a sensitive boy who hated the wickedness connected with the prevalent  idol worship. Perhaps it was something randomly simple, a godly nurse that he had in his childhood?   Or something he read or heard of the God that had called Israel His people?  We don't know ...  but we do know that Asa in his growing up years made choices and decisions that molded his character toward godliness.
He was only twenty years old when he became king, but he showed wisdom that belied his youth.
He determined that his reign would be marked by an adherence to the 'old faith' and a  rejection of the idolatry and heathenism practiced by the three preceding kings.

He removed from the kingdom every trace of heathenism - as much as he possibly could, destroying the places of idol worship and removing the images and idols.
To be able to do this he had to first deal with his grandmother, Maachah. who still had influence and presence in the court.  He degraded her position and deprived her of all authority that she had exercised for so long, through both her husband's and son's reign. But no more - not on his watch !
God gave Asa a period of 10 years of peace during which he 'cleansed' the land of evil and focused on re-establishing a godly reign.

Then, came the day when an enemy army threatened his kingdom -   a huge Ethiopian army under the command of Egypt, Asa gathered his comparatively small army to meet his enemy..II Chron. 14:11 tells us that he prayed to God asking for His help and victory, a lovely prayer in which he acknowledges God's strength to help, and his declaration is of trust and reliance on his God ! It needed to be a God-work since only with God fighting for him could he possibly have won the battle.
After an amazing victory, he was  surely elated and relieved ! 
On his way home he was confirmed by God who sent  a prophet of God  to him with a message. The message was that he and his people were under God's favour and would continue to be as long as they continued to be faithful servants... to not be lax in their efforts but to be strong and determined !

That must really have encouraged Asa, since his desire was to serve God with all his heart , and to have God's praise publicly proclaimed must have been heady stuff.  Under his influence all of his kingdom loudly confirmed their intent to 'seek the Lord God of their fathers with all their heart and with all their soul.' (II Chron. 15:13)

When the northern kingdom saw what was happening in Judah, many came over to join them.
The king of Israel, Baasha, of course, was hardly pleased that 'his' people were defecting to the kingdom of Judah. He determined to put up a huge fortress (or wall?) at his southern border that would block the entrance into Judea and put a stop to the emigration from Israel to Judea. Baasha proceeded to fortify this position.
Asa realized that the enemy must be dislodged - they could not possibly tolerate having a hostile force in Judea, it was a threat to Jerusalem.
Asa knew that he had to do something but did not trust his own ability or the strength of his own army to defeat and remove the enemy at his border.

Something happened.
Asa to this point had 'done was right in the eyes of the Lord'  and the Lord had even sent a prophet to confirm to him that God was pleased with him.
He had 'prayed' about a previous battle,  and the Lord had answered and given him a resounding victory ... but now he seemed to forget that.  Instead of again calling on God's help, he sought the help of the Syrian king Banhadad, the most powerful monarch in the region.  He purchased his friendship with gifts of treasure from the temple.

Asa was again successful in battle, with Benhadad's help, and he tore down the wall that Baasha had erected.
On his triumphant return home, he was again met by a prophet of God, with another message.  But this one was not as favorable as the first.
The prophet, Hanani,  rebuked him for his lack of faith in calling Benhadad to his aid, instead of trusting God.  God told him he had done 'foolishly'.  (II Chron. 16:9)

He lost his temper with Hanani, who had effectively destroyed his pride in how easily and well he had gained the victory, without losing a single drop of Jewish blood.
But God saw a turning of Asa's heart - away from trust in Him to trust in the arm of man. Asa felt his success justified his actions.  His reaction is recorded in II Chron. 16:10)  He was angry!
He had Hanani arrested and thrown into prison.
About this same time Asa also "oppressed some of the people" (II Chron. 16:10)

And again, we are told in the end of his life he was 'diseased in his feet' and once again he did foolishly in seeking the help of physicians instead of asking help from God.
An interesting side-detail.  The meaning of the name Asa is 'physician' . At the end of his life he proved where his trust lay.

And yet. he was given the positive epitaph  that he 'did right in the eyes of the Lord, as did David his father"  and 'his heart was perfect all his days" ( II Chron. 15:17)  and it is said about his son Jehoshaphat, that "he walked in all the way Asa his father, he turned not aside from it, doing that which was right in the sigh of the Lord."( I Kings 22:43)

Asa died in the 42nd year of his reign - he was about 60 years old.

I think the lesson Asa would teach us today is how easy it is as we grow in successes to begin to trust in ourselves and our own ability instead of trusting wholly on God.

While no fault is found in Asa's deeds and his rule over Judea, it is sad that fault had to be found in his heart.  How sad that suddenly it seemed to him that there was no need to bother God when human resources were readily available to him.

If we are honest, are we not the same? 
Like, Asa, do we love to hear the praise and compliments and affirming messages, but then reject any message that doesn't sit well with us?  A message that is critical rather than positive?   If Asa had accepted the criticism it would have had good results in his life, would it not?  Sometimes we can learn more beneficial truths from criticism than from praise -- although, of course, the praise is always welcome!
Do we not call for God's help only if  we can't figure out something on our own?
The most precious thing we can offer God, in fact, the only thing He does not have if we don't give it to Him, is our trust in Him.  And scripture tells us that to God our faith is indeed precious. (I Peter 1:7)  God brings circumstances and trials into our life to test us ... how much will we trust God?  How solid is our faith in trusting Him to guide us in all our ways? 
We can trust God too little, but we can never trust Him too much !

Let Asa's life-story inspire us to not fall into the 'self-reliance' trap that moves our faith from being God-focused to man-focused or self-focused.

Sunday, August 5, 2018

"Don't do this ... Don't do that !"

Mother Scolding Child Image
The above image is copied  from a very old vintage catalog. Even in black and white the body language speaks loud and clear  !  

 The mother struck a match to light the candles on her festive dining room table.
She looked up to see the gleam in her 5 year old son whose wide-eyed attention was focused on what she was doing.  Replacing the match box in the cabinet drawer, she looked up to note the intensity of his gaze  riveted on the drawer as she pushed it closed. Knowing her son, she easily discerned his intent .
Wanting him to focus on the 'right' things, she said , "Bobby, there is a lovely set of trains in your toy box. Play with them, or, Call your little friend next door and ask him to play in the pool with you."

As experienced parents, we shake our head at her lack of 'mother-wisdom'.    Bobby heard not a word about the 'good commandments'  his mother gave him - his mind and will was focused on those matches and the fun he could have playing with them.
We easily guess the end of that story !

I often hear people complain about God's commandments.  "Why are they all so negative ?  'Don't do this, don't do that'."
God, being a wise parent who fully understands His children, knew that the human race was more inclined toward disobedience than toward obedience.  So He  gave His commandments from the perspective of our fleshly weakness.
We do wrong before we do right;
We sin before we seek righteousness;
We indulge the fleshly desires before we exercise ourselves in godliness.
We are selfishly inclined before we learn to consider others before ourselves.

How easily God could have thought - and rightly so - that man was sinful in all his ways, and whatever bed man made for himself he could just lie in it. 
No, we do not serve that kind of God.
God loved / loves every person  and desires the best for him.  So while He desires that we do right, He understands that first we will tempted to do  the 'wrong', so God gave us a list of 'wrongs' to avoid.
We try to hide our sin from others, and oft from God Himself, but if you read through His Ten Commandments, you will see that God knows exactly where our heart inclinations lie. He knows  the temptations that we so easily give in to. He understands the weakness of our flesh.

It is tempting to read through the commandments and soothe our consciences by judging ourselves not guilty -- especially of the 'do not murder' one.   But Jesus puts His finger on that one and points out that every murder is birthed in feelings of hatred.  And if we hate, we have already murdered in our heart. 
I recently gently chided a friend when she expressed her hatred for someone in her life.  She stopped for a moment, considering my admonition, and then replied, "Okay, I don't hate them, I just can't stand them."    We may smile - but wait -- are any of us really innocent?  Do we not all at some point or another just 'relabel' our emotions / feelings , even actions, and then declare ourselves innocent of disobeying God's commandment?

I find it so comforting - so freeing -  that I don't have to be afraid that God will find our what I am really like.  He already knows and loves me anyway.  That sets me free to rush into His presence where I will find the grace to grow more like Him.  Being in His presence turns me away from the sin 'that so easily besets us' and I desire much rather to  pursue goodness and righteousness.

 In Jesus' words ... "There is no other commandment greater than these ... Love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and mind and strength .....  and love your neighbor as yourself." Mark12:30,31
Love covers and fulfills every commandment God gave ...  the do's and the don'ts.
 If  we whole-heartedly love God and love each other  ... then there will be no cause for stumbling in us. (I John 2:10)

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Gift ? or Gag Gift?

Two identical gift bags. One contains a useful gift, the other a gag gift.

I have never met anyone who does not get excited over a free gift or a good deal!
We are happy to be able to buy what we want or need, but if we can get a bargain we are over the top excited and eager to tell someone!

Why is it such a universal trait to be excited about a good deal? 

I believe it is written in our DNA make-up.  God has pre-programmed us with certain 'helps' to make it easier for us to live a fulfilling and productive life - to live in the way He created us to live. Even something as simple as appetite, a love of food !  God didn't want us to forget to eat and starve to death.

That we place a  high value on things we get free or at a bargain is another example of those helpful tendencies God put in all of us. 
 So that we would be able to value the free gift of salvation! Salvation - a gift so valuable that not  one of us could  begin to pay for it, not even if we worked for an eternity.

Like all of God's gifts to us, our love for freebies or bargains can be an asset or it can be our downfall. 

I needed thread for my embroidery machine and I found a wonderful 'bargain' on Amazon.  I was able to order forty spools of good quality thread for $34.00 including shipping.   Had I bought the same amount of thread at my local fabric store it would have cost me close to $400.00.  Of course, I'm thrilled with my bargain.

My granddaughter's friend , a single mom, is struggling to make ends meet.  She met a nice young man on line and thought he was a gentleman and trustworthy.  He was a business man and gave her a glowing report of his success.   He made her a tempting offer.  He promised if she gave him a few thousand dollars he could in a matter of a couple of weeks double or triple it.  She borrowed the money to give him, and ....  yes, he took the money and was gone.  The 'gift' was not as free as it looked, nor was it a bargain.  Instead of making her life easier, it became harder.

A friend of mine, who recently lost her husband, told me of her granddaughter who had gone to see a medium.  The medium, who had never met girl,  looked at her and immediately put her hand over her heart and said ... "Ohh .. you have had a loss! and purple amethyst is important to you."  - the birthstone of her grandfather. And she went on to tell her her grandfather was fine and was very happy where he was.
The sympathy felt so sincere ,  the message so comforting ...   BUT was it a free gift?  or was a gag gift - a trick gift. How could she know?

Often gifts and gags look equally tempting and appealing.  How do we tell the difference? Sometimes experience or common sense will enable us to make a wise choice ... but other times, how do we know which ones to accept and which ones to turn away from ?

We need someone who knows what is in the 'bag' before we open it.
 And, thankfully,  we have Someone who does, don't we?

We have a God who sent His Spirit to dwell within us,  who guides us through the maze of life choices. A God who gives us the wisdom we need to see beyond the 'pretty wrapping' of any 'free gift' offer. A God who knows what is good and what will cause us harm. Do we sometimes turn His voice off , and then, too late realize we made a mistake?

We also  have God's Word that is our handbook of instruction - how we are to live in a confusing world and make sense of it.  God's Word will keep us on the straight path and keep our eyes and ears open to discern the enemy's temptations and recognize his lies.
Keeping our focus on the Lord, and His word in our hearts and minds, will keep us from opening 'gag-gift' bags and will keep us in the blessings of His abundantly good 'gifts'.

Monday, July 9, 2018

A Thai Cave Parable

There is an ongoing captivating news story that has held the the world's attention for the last two weeks.

In Thailand, twelve boys and their coach were trapped in the depths of a cave, one-half mile from the surface and a mile and a half from the cave entrance.
Though it was monsoon season and the coach knew that cave conditions could suddenly change, he chose to listen to a contrary opinion, a weather report that did not call for heavy rain, and he decided it was safe to take the boys caving -  a post-game outing.
Anticipating the fun of a short day-adventure, the boys entered the many-tunneled cave. That day the unexpected happened, a sudden downpour and a flash flood quickly flowed into the cave blocking the only exit from the cave.
They were trapped  with no way of escape . Being familiar with the cave, they used the light from flashlights - whose batteries would soon die, leaving them in total darkness -  to find a shelf where they were high enough to stay dry.
The world outside watched the desperate attempts, of many volunteers, to find them, hoping against hope to find them alive.  Finally,  on the tenth day of intense searching, two English divers located them.
Incredible relief and joyful cheers reverberated around the world !
 But their ordeal was not yet over. Getting them out was not an easy task. One solution under consideration was that the boys would have to wait up to four months until the rainy season was over and the water receded enough for them to be able to escape safely.  Thankfully, another way of escape was found to bring the boys out in days, rather then months. The boys were taught the skills they needed to learn, and taught how to wear the gear to allow them to breathe underwater as scuba divers guided them out. At this time of writing,  four boys and their coach are still in the cave awaiting their turn.

I tuned in daily, watching, prayerfully hoping the boys would be found and rejoiced when they were all thirteen shown to  be alive.
As I followed the story,  I realized that it portrayed a parable of our spiritual earthly life.

Adam and Eve knew God's warning, but they chose to listen to a contrary voice and their fall caused a tsunami of sin that blocked man's relationship with God.  The people of the world sat in darkness, on an earthly shelf that allowed a measure of protection, but they longed to be rescued, to be taken out of the darkness.

I can hardly imagine the boys relief and joy when they realized that FINALLY they had been found - their fading hope now a reality.  When they saw the light of their rescuers, it must have been the most welcome sight !
So too, finally, when hope was dim,  our Saviour came , and the Light shone in the darkness of this world.

   “The people who sat in darkness saw a great light, and upon those who sat in the region and shadow of death Light has dawned.”  

Joy unspeakable filled the hearts of God's people.  The world was watching and the news of the miracle spread quickly.

Though there was great rejoicing that the boys were found, their situation was still a dangerous one - they were still trapped in the cave.
So also we - even though we are found, even though we are saved  - we are still trapped in our earth-cave and we are oft confronted with danger and persecution and trials.
We will have to wait until, finally, death opens the tunnel that will allow us to escape this earth  - and into the heavenly life we look forward to.

But consider ...   once the boys were found, though they were still in the cave,  everything changed. Light shone in the darkness - they could SEE !   Doctors came  to evaluate their medical needs, food was brought in to restore their strength and renew their starving bodies. Blankets were brought in to warm them.  They were no longer alone, whatever they needed was brought to them and they were able to communicate with those from the outside.
So also with us.  Though Jesus came to set us free, we remain here on earth.
But everything has changed.  We are no longer alone, Jesus has promised to never leave us or forsake us Everything we need He will provide.  We no longer sit in darkness - we can SEE !
We are being watched by those outside the kingdom … “a cloud of witnesses”  who are cheering us on.  Our relationship with God is restored and we can communicate with Him in loving relationship.

The boys needed to learn new skills -- otherwise they would not be able to be brought out. They needed to learn to swim and scuba dive and mentally prepare so they would not panic when they became disoriented in murky water. They needed to become familiar with the equipment that they needed to wear.  They needed to trust their guides.
We too need to learn new skills if we are to persevere through the challenges of this earthly life.
We must learn to renew our mind, to embrace a  new way of living.
We need to learn to follow, even  in difficult life situations where we cannot see through the murky doubts that assail us.  .
We need to learn to trust even when we are afraid.
We need to put on the armor of God so that we will be equipped and be found strong  when death opens the tunnel,  ready for Jesus to lift us from this earthly life into His glorious Presence, where there is no pain or suffering or death  - but joy and pleasure for ever and ever !