Symbol Series: Beginnings


We follow a very old faith. For over two thousand years we have seen many eras of meaning, symbol, and significance. These eras have paved the way for later movements. Despite the desire to completely abandon the old ways and pursue a completely new way of Christian, what remains a reality is that we have to learn from what has become the past in order to wisely approach the future. In the Christian faith, we have two millenniums to work with. We can learn from our predecessors what the ethos of our faith is and the direction our faith should go.

The focus for this series is certain symbols of the early church, within the first two hundred years. Christians began as a minority religion that was shunned by the majority in society. They were not liked and sometimes had lies spread about them by Jews and Gentiles alike. That led to much of their communication outside of gathering times to drawn symbols. These symbols indicated the presence of a Christian community that would meet in that location as well as communicated a core of what a disciple of Jesus was. They would draw their identities which would include themes such as community, evangelism, hope, resurrection, and the person of Jesus Christ, the son of God.

The value of these symbols for us is the reminder that we have had a mission for the last two thousand years. The Spirit of God has been informing us of our narrative. We are part of this same story and are part of this community that finds its identity in Christ. So everything that Jesus did or commanded us to do was put into a picture that everyone could understand. That is something we still are supposed to do today. Our presence needs to be communicated. We can use symbol to describe our purpose and to remind each other that we are part of a movement to change the world. We are the spearhead movement of the kingdom that will break down the walls that have been built by the world.

As we move from message to message, we will explore some symbols and the unique messages they communicated with the believers. We will also dive into their message for us today. Are we following Jesus like the early church was trying to do? Are we try to at least head in His direction.

(Series inspired by and some content taken from Early Christianity: In Their Own Words, by Eberhard Arnold.)

Out of Reach


Have you had a dream where you were trying to reach something but you could never reach it. It would always be just at your fingertips and out of reach. That feeling is very frustrating and is tiring. It leaves you tired in the morning and cranky until you get your first cup of coffee down. That feeling, if you recall the dream, sticks with you. That thing you can never reach. It can even hit you in the most spiritual contexts. Most of religion has a way trying to reach something and attain something. But what humanity has not been able to see is quite impossible to reach. How do you connect with a great reality that you cannot see and cannot explain fully?

People always try to reach God, or something out there that is real that would explain life and give meaning. That is why all throughout history we have seen religions try their hardest to reach out to the unknown and benefit from. If you look at the Old Testament, every other religion seems to be reaching out to with all the rules rituals and rules to get to God and be blessed by His presence. The only problem is that it has been just out of our reach. The moment we feel as if we are being blessed, moments turn for the worst. If we follow these efforts, we find ourselves in those nightmares where we cannot seem reach what we want to reach.

Ever since the fall, we have been stuck in a sick cycle of reaching out to God, but not being able to fully reach Him. But the great thing about God has always been reaching out to us. Even right after the fall, He was calling humanity to let Him change their lives for the better. One story that shows us the difference between being religious and letting God chase us. The story is of Elijah and the prophets of Baal on top of the mountain facing off. They were there to see who could summon their God to answer. The prophets of Baal commit to rituals of yelling louder and louder and then end up cutting themselves in order to get their god to answer them and give them what they need. They are never successful. Elijah, however, knows that God is present enough to just hear him as he prays for an answer. He gets a very powerful answer.

The great thing about the God who answered is that he was reaching out. He always reaches out. If He was not reaching out to us, we would have to yell and come up ways to grab His attention and hopefully getting Him to do things for us. But our God has come to us and can here us. He wants to be close to us in our history. And we don’t have to reach far. We do not even have to reach. He has already put His hand into our lives and is constantly calling us to a better purpose. That is what should amaze us, that a God that humanity rebelled against has decided to chase us and change our lives for good.

People trying to reach God creates two things, people frustrated at not feeling the spirit or people confident that they have completely experienced God with no need for more. Those are things God is out to stop. He wants us to be confident that His Spirit is here with us and that He is taking us on a journey. This is not an arbitrary journey that He is making us travel for His own amusement or to make us jump through the hoops to please Him. He really wants us to have a purpose towards greatness to create faith, hope, and love. He wants us to be the people He created us to be. What will we be? Are we going to keep reaching out to the things we will never reach? Or will we let God reach out to us and transform us and the world around us to be beautiful?

Heroic: 2 Kings 24-25


There are times when our communities can forget what we stand for and fall into something that we cannot get ourselves out of. The thing we fall into is that we try to become our own rulers instead following God’s will, something that we have been attempting for thousands upon thousands of years. That story always turns out with someone getting hurt or oppressed throughout Scripture. We have this tendency for trying to take over what God has given us. All through our history, we have been trying to take over God’s throne. This story repeats itself in over and over again and shows up in these two passages for today. The kings of Israel wanted to take control over the world and make it what they wanted to be. They wanted to fit in with the rest of the world. The only problem was that this was a world of of violence, oppression, and greed, much like todays world.

It is in this world that trouble is born. If we participate a world that is dog eat dog, we will try to be the top dog. We always tend to forget that at some point there will be a bigger dog ready to eat us. It’s a known fact that if we are alive long enough in the world, there will be someone else bigger and better than us. That reality makes this world end up in a cycle of having its own system turn on itself. The kings who did the oppressing in this story were attacked and oppressed by a bigger power called Babylon. The story ends up being a tug of war for power until Babylon finally places its own people in power and says we are not going to let a small country threaten our thirst for power again. Israel ends up having its land stolen from under her, just like she took it from the weak in her own community. It’s the ultimate ironic twist. People so good at taking from other end up having things taken away in the same way.

Does this not make us raise questions? If this system is going to continue to cannabalize itself, then why keep it? Is there a better system out there that would promote life for everyone instead of taking life from people? By the end of these two chapters, we see God begin to intervene for the people of Israel. As the last king of Israel is imprisoned by Babylon, one of the rulers sees him positively and begins to give him bigger and better things. This intervention stands in stark contrast of what Israel’s king did. The king, who came out of a reality of taking, is being subjected to reality of generosity and peace. God is trying to grab his attention and say that peace and love is supposed to overtake destruction and greed. The story ends with this. It’s the rhetorical ending asking if God’s people will take back what they were meant to be, a light for the nations.

What in our communities of faith is stopping us from being heroes of faith? Are we taking life from people? Do we offer peace, hope, and love? Not just spiritual talk, but real and tangible items of hope. Do we feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and care for the orphans? Do we seek the betterment of the weak people in our society? To make it more applicable, do we try to take away what could be given to those in need? Some people would rather fight others with no second thought that those people could be ministered to. They look at taking care of those who have little as a sign of weakness. Even some Christians will say this. When you look back to the first century Christians, we see that we come from a people who would originally care selflessly for people and be a voice against violence. Today there are many believers who are standing between God and the world and are turning their back on what God has for them and the world. How long until some of the same things are done to us? Are we safe from being on the other end? There is no guarantee that we would not be the person in need. In the moment of need we become acutely aware of how being deprived of the necessities of life makes life hard and miserable. If we could only know what it means to need Jesus and need some hope, we could understand the command from Jesus to do for others what we would want done for us.

This is a call to thought. What does it mean to follow a Prince of Peace and to take seriously that he has come to bring life to the fullest? God is calling us towards a new reality. We have too long been chasing a reality of greed. We have for too long chased a reality that is not based on faith in Jesus, but is faith in our own ability to get what we need. We should put away those efforts and pursue the reality of heaven, where there will be no one dying, no lack of what we need, and no reason to mourn our present state. If the Church took up this reality, people would begin to wonder at us. People drop the world and come to Jesus, but we have to follow that calling. God has invited, but will we respond. That is where this story ended, but the question has hung in the air ever since the Fall.

Heroic: 2 Kings 23:1-37


Being a facilitator of change usually takes epically heroic nerves. Changing things that are ingrained into the culture of a people is near impossible.  Josiah, after hearing God’s will for the community, decided to change everything around him. Everyone was comfortable with the status quo of their religious tendencies were not even thinking change was a necessity. But God revealed to Josiah that the way things were were not the way they should have been. So he called him towards the tough road of change.

Josiah’s change starts with the symbols. When you try to enact something that brings people closer to God, you are always bound to face resistance at some point. So many things in church communities are symbolic, from what they sing to what they do. Even how things are done have symbolic value. When these values start to hurt the mission of God to humanity, most communities are severely invested in the value. Whether written or unwritten, the expectation towards the practice is assumed and when people do not move in that direction, they are labeled as enemies either of the leaders of the community or worse enemies of God. The passage does not say this, but there probably was someone saying that Josiah was destroying their traditional values. Josiah, knowing God revealed this mission to Him, was undeterred. The change had to happen. The good of the world depended on it.

Josiah’s change never included disrespect of those who came before Him that were chasing what God had for them. One of the easiest things to do when changing things is to disregard other Godly people or not learn from those who came before you. We have so many people we can learn from who were game changers of faith. Without those people, the movement of Christianity would not be here. It would just be a dying mass of people who were not experiencing anything important from God. It is these people who made faith what it is today and we owe it to them to keep looking for the things that need to change. We should always remember those people and remind others of them. It is with gratitude that we look back to these people.

Another aspect of Josiah’s change was that it did not guarantee success. Josiah never saw an Israel of economic success or in a time of peace. One of the things we have to accept as heroes is that tragedy is possible. By tragedy, I mean that we might never see the fruits of our work. What makes Israel’s situation more dire is that the next king brought back the bad things that existed before. Have you ever seen a community like that? These are people led by this desire to keep certain trends, rules, or traditions with no regard to how they affect people. Even in getting the traditions back, they will burn anyone who stands in their way. It’s amazing what we will do when we allow religion to over turn our God given mandate to love others. We will raise a banner with holy written on it while trampling over others. This is the reality we live in, a world battling back and forth between God’s will and human demise.

The reality raises the question is changing the world worth it? It’s a good, pragmatic question. If we are practical about this, there is not a guarantee that we will see our return on investment here. We might have to let posterity experience that. But the answer is still yes, it is worth it. You can’t see that by asking the practical questions. You have to ask the experiential questions. The only way to do that is to be the change for good in others. Have you ever given money to poor or been there for someone in need? In the end, those experiences might be unforgettable for some. We have the potential to change a life for good. We can’t do that if we are focused on tradition and ritual. We can only do that when we are focused on people. Traditions and rituals have to at least be peripheral matters. People seeing Jesus and experiencing blessing must always be our main mission.

One last thing, change needs to be about people seeing and experiencing Jesus. Change for change’s sake is just as bad as resisting change no matter how necessary it is. God changes the world for the benefit of the world. It’s time we begun the changes we need and did them for the right reasons. If we keep people in mind and follow God into this, we can trust that this is worth the work and disappointment, because in the end, lives are changed in an unforgettable way for the better.

 

Heroic: 2 Kings 22:1-18


Ever discovered a little peace of God’s heart and been so surprised at it’s direction? Every time I sense a new thing revealed by God, I am always surprised at where He is going or what I have been missing this whole time. God is always and has always had a plan and a path that He is carving. He also is continually inviting people to carve that path and help other people find this path.

King Josiah had one of these moments. Josiah understood that he was supposed to honor God and did everything he could to do just that. He even went as far as to remodel the temple. During the renovation, someone discovered that there was an old scroll that had not been read in ages. This ended up being the scroll of the covenant between God and Israel. After Josiah heard what was written in the scroll, he went into panic thinking that God could destroy them at any moment. He orders the leaders of the temple to speak to God for Israel.

This is the moment the story accelerates quickly. The leaders, since they just discovered the scroll, went to a prophet. This woman gave instructions from God to all the men concerning God’s mercy. What makes the story interesting is that it was not the finding of the scroll or following some ritual that made God show mercy. What God responded to was the humility and repentance of Josiaj. Josiah knew that God was over Him. Any indication that he was rebelling against God devastated him. The direction that Israel was going and the direction they were supposed to be going was not in sync.

Many churches end up at these crossroads and are faced with a decision. Will they keep the status quo rituals, even if God is heading in a direction that will call them to abandon those things? Or will they be so in tune with God’s direction that they will embrace the surprise of God’s plans with humility, patience, and perseverance? It’s a question that even the Israelites struggle with. They loved the way they did things. It made them feel safe and in control.

But God never asked what was safe for us. He actually asks for us to risk everything for Him.

He never asked for us to control everything. He asks us to follow him into the way of the suffering servant.

God’s plan always involves reaching out to rescue and serve, even to those who do not get Him. He wants us to carve that path and remind each other that servanthood defines the Kingdom. God is adamant through Jesus that all believers serve and love. That is a core if the DNA of faith. Jesus in Philippians showed us that servanthood and submission is what leads us towards true victory. The cross with the servant hanging on is mysterious because that ends up with the empty tomb.

God’s plans may surprise, but they will win. Not by force or by oppression, but through serving God and serving others. That is a plan worth following and worth seeing win.

Heroic: 2 Kings 21:1-26


When movements gain age, they can tend to lose perspective on what defines them or the stories that have made them. Christians can experience the same exact thing. Early Church history can prove this. Not even 500 years after the death of Jesus, people were already killing each other for mere heresy. Christians, named after the god who defined things with peace, love, and mercy, were out finding enemies and killing them. And it was not even outside of the faith, but with their own line of brothers of the faith. Movements need continuous reminders of what started them. Countries need constant reminders of their founding fathers and documents to define them and Christians need the same concerning God and the Bible. Without it, we tend to find other things to define us, like power, fame, money, etc. In the end, if we stray from our founding experience in Church history and even our own personal experiences, we grab for the same things that we were saved from.

After Hezekiah passed away, his son, Manasseh, became King. After all of the experiences of Hezekiah, which Manasseh had to have experienced on some level. Despite the experiences of Israel, which included rescue from certain defeat by the Assyrians, Israel followed Manasseh into the pagan worship that Hezekiah did away with. This is always the story that repeats itself. The pattern is that they experience a God of amazing love and profound saving experiences and they turn to other thing in hopes that they will bring them a life of peace and meaning. By this time, God has done many things to show that He is better than the other gods. He has shown that he is the one who is always the source of everything good, beautiful, and creative. The common assumption that has not changed to this day is that if it is safe and is adopted by everyone else, then it must be the thing to go for. No risk and conformity are in high demand because nothing is lost. What that leads to is people not wanting to follow a God who calls them to risk. Not even the religion of Christianity is completely on board sometimes and will find ways to twist the gospel and theology to look less risky and conforms to a pattern that popular culture will approve of at least a majority of the time. Even if we disagree with others, the way we do it fits with the status quo. We say that it’s us versus them and that we could never show love to the other people. In the end we end up trying to do things just as we have always done them instead retaking our faith and learning that new way to be human.

The pattern does not stop with Manasseh, it continues on to the next king, Amon. Eventually, these kings die and another king named Josiah takes over, which leads to a better situation, but for the time being we must focus on how devastating losing our core narrative is. We cannot deny that Jesus changed everything. Even many non-Christians admit that His existence shifted history. Even His followers, who kept connected to the narrative that Jesus created shook the Roman Empire and the rest of the known world. Think about the story of Acts and how many people were probably healed. Think of the national and ethnic lines crossed to bring different people into what was an almost impossible community. Think of the many people who society forgot and were remembered by these heroes of faith, all because people took the story of Jesus and lived it in their world.

2000 years later and we have seen many ups and downs and have seen ourselves stray from the story and then come back to it. The question is where is your community of faith now? Is it heading in the direction of the story of Jesus or has it abandoned that story to find a more comfortable story? We are called as a people to lead the world and each other towards the story that God has made for us. This story is about creating a beautiful reality. The risk is still there as it has been for thousands of years. The fallen kingdom is filled with violence, greed, and misery. We combat that with the story of Jesus. We give our lives for others and live in a community fighting to bring good to the world. God has never stopped calling us to that. Our choice is simpler that most would have you think, choose to live the story we need to be saved from or, like Hezekiah, we can decide to shake the world and find our God given story again.

Heroic: 2 Kings 20:1-20


One thing that heroes of faith always have practiced is the relationship with the God who has pursued them. This relationship leads to things that most people would miss when just pursuing religious ritual or status quo. Having a relationship with the God of heaven means learning what he sounds like and how His character affects the world. These kind of relationships are something  that are experienced by staying closely in contact with the one whom you’re connecting with. Hezekiah got to see this kind of relationship with God from prayer.

One of the things that some people expect to have happen is an automatic connection to God just because they read a prayer, but most of the time we need the communication with God. When we we connect with God in prayer or reflection we begin to know God’s voice and begin to recognize what his voice will direct us towards. But it takes connection. It’s not that God is not talking and reaching out to us, what is really happening is that when we do not communicate is that we do not hear what God is saying and do not see what He is doing. It is pretty much a practice of the phrase, “ignorance is bliss.” The problem with the ignorance is that it is an ignorance that is chosen and is applied towards God. This is the story of the people of Israel over and over again. They know of God, but when it comes to it they did not practice the awareness of His presence. It was taken for granted, which meant that this project of faith was doomed to failure if the people did not switch their focus back to God.

Before one begins to say “Lets bring our country back to God,” I want to take us a different direction which Scriptures are more inclined to. When we look at this story, Hezekiah and Isaiah are promoted as faithful examples for us to look up to. The reason why they are examples is because of their connection to God. Note that it is not their commitment to Israel as a nation that makes them good. Many other Kings were invested in the survival and prosperity of this small country. It does not take a holy man to have national pride. What does define them is that they wanted direct connection to the God who saved them and were responding to Him by communicating with Him and reflecting on what he revealed to them. It’s very easy to make a building, institution, or even a nation the defining mark of what it looks like to be in relationship with God, but the Bible is very clear that relationship is directly between God and humanity and that God actually has His own nation and does not need a human one.

What we can say is that lets bring each other back to God. God desires us to be close to Him and to hear what He is telling us. All of the human race is able to experience this closeness and can see what he has no matter where they are from or how they originally define themselves. When God overtakes us, we are adopted into His family and become apart of His country. When Hezekiah has things revealed to Him, it almost seems like He is expecting God to reveal something to Him. His relationship and his spiritual awareness of God’s voice is so practiced that it seems like the one thing he is absolutely certain of is that God will speak, whether it be comforting or challenging. He experiences both in this passage.

One thing that always comes with things this connection is responsibility of response. When we receive good news from a friend or a friend tells us something important, we usually respond because of the relationship. God is the same way. Hezekiah receives great news that God is extending his life which definitely led to celebration and the foretelling of Babylonian invasion led to deep reflection and sorrow for his people. When we come close to God we learn to hear Him when he gives us good news along with possible bad news. The nature of a good relationship will lead us to respond to God and to the humanity that God loves.  But this responsibility comes with being part of a large movement to save the world. We have been given an opportunity to change the world together. All it takes is responding to a God who reaches out in love to heal the word. Communicating with God opens the doors of possibility and opportunity to experiencing what God has for us.

Will we allow God to speak to us and give us a chance to join the movement to heal the world? Will we open our ears to hear God’s plans? We will join into the plans he has?

Heroic: 2 Kings 19:1-37


Enacting change that shakes a certain ethos of a community can be difficult. Change is never easy. When we talk about change, the very subject leads most people to think that they will lose something valuable or that they will be forgotten as the change progresses. Others tend to love the dysfunction of the status quo and will do anything to keep it because they are reaping a temporary benefit from it. And there are also times that forces, spiritual and physical, will surround us and attack us. Change for the good is always being opposed by someone somewhere. But if we are able to stand within the confidence that God is doing something important in the world and for us, we will someday see God make His dream for humans come true.

This is the moment where we return to Hezekiah’s story. Israel is surrounded. Hezekiah is at the brink of losing His mind because of Jerusalem being seized by the most powerful military of His day. This was a military in which Israel stood no chance against. In the middle of this, God uses Isaiah to let the king know that there is something bigger happening here. When it is all said and done, the good will win. Violence will lose to peace. Love will triumph of oppression. Those who know they are powerful will find out that they are actually weak. What makes this story even more amazing is that God himself says that he is going to take care of things and make Assyria run for the hills.

This goes back and forth and we can be certain that the Hezekiah went from despair to faith over and over again. Note that the word is faith and not confidence or certainty. Hezekiah was far from certainty the whole time. There was no rational being that could even remotely fantasize that Israel was going to make it out of this. The story shows us how joining God’s movement will take moments where our fate is balanced between tragedy and success with most of the evidence saying we will have a tragic ending.

What makes this story simply astounding is that the act of God takes time to happen, but when it does happen, it is overnight results. The invincible army of the nation whose god had conquered all other gods and was ready to take the title of God over all gods home was reduced to barely the population of a small village by the God of the small and not so impressive Israel. The god of Assyria had lost to the God of Israel. It’s no small wonder that after all the taunting about how great his god was, the King of Assyria left the camp immediately and went straight back to his palace. Not long after that, he was killed by his owns sons, showing that his god was not protecting him.

As Christians we are not supposed to simply put people in separate categories of us and them, but the reality is that people who are not following seeking good, which comes from God, are in another category based on what they are pursuing. And have you ever noticed that people tend to take on the virtues of the group they are part of? If you hang out with athletes, you will likely try a sport. If you hang out with entrepreneurs, you will likely try to create a new line of business. If you hang out with artists, you likely try to make an work of art (and maybe complain about everyone else selling out). You take on the character of your investments. It’s not necessarily bad. For groups to move forward they have to accept at least a few main goals to chase together. Even some of the greatest movements were formed from groups accepting a common goal. These groups, however, can be either good or bad for humanity. They can choose to end violence, stop hunger, and create things that make people want to do good themselves, but they can also kill millions of people in concentration camps, steal money from weaker people, or do things that cause everyone else want to give up helping each other. Either way, we will reflect the group that we join, or we can change our settings.

What made Assyria bad was that their entire culture wanted power and control and they would stop at nothing to get it. It led them to do terrible things when they conquered other countries, but it also led their King’s own sons to kill him while he was worshipping their god. This god supposedly supported violence and when no one challenged the assumption towards violence, even the royal family was not safe.

Israel was different. Their God was one who wanted to take all of humanity out of violence, oppression, and fear and propel them towards love, peace, and joy. This meant that this people who were brought out of a culture based on violent assumptions were always interacting with figures like Hezekiah who would be led by God to change things for the better. And Hezekiah had to put much work into being a catalyst for change while trying to keep trusting God. Once again, he was not certain, but he had faith. And this God, who brought up this people to change the world, saved them in the end. And note that the ones he lead are not going out and taking over everybody and wiping out whole cities. They are actually praying to God to help them.

There are a few things to pull from this post. First, change takes work, but if it is change that God enacts, then it is worth pursuing because it makes the world better. Also, the values of your group or tribe are very powerful and can shape you if you do not choose to shape the values. Choose carefully which group you try to identify with and be someone who seeks to contribute to the group by allowing God work through your voice. Be open and warm to everyone, including those who want to make the world a terrible place. But always remember that we identify with Jesus who gave his life so that others could have their life made fuller in Him. And finally, remember Hezekiah’s story. It will try your faith to shift a community back to what God created it to be, but that is faith. It’s not when you have the sun shining on your face and the cool breeze hitting you that you learn what faith is. It is when you are in caves of doubt and feel like curling into a fetal position that you learn what faith in an unseen God is. It’s remembering that there is a promise of something better and moving towards it. Heroes are alway remembered for the changes they make in their story and the faith they have in the change they are enacting.

So how is it that you can enact a change in your community? Maybe there is some form of oppression or some assumption that is biblical bad for humanity. Maybe there is a lack of passion for Kingdom and Mission. Either way, once we see what God wants, we have a choice to ignore it or jump into it. We can take a safe status quo if we want, but jumping into God’s plans, though risky, can produce a beautiful movement if we only respond to the good wishes God has for us.

Heroic: 2 Kings 18:1-37


When a people stray away from the core of who they are, it becomes a major endeavor to bring them back to what they need to be. We have witnessed a people who, after their first few kings, repeatedly strayed away from who they were called to be. They looked at God and looked at the world that resisted God and decided that despite all that God had done it was better to look like the world.  It seems strange to us when reading the story that these people would turn away from God. God had done great things and many people who were living had seen some great things. But before we think that it is weird, how many times have you looked at someone who was good to you and said something terrible to them or did something hurtful for them. For some it is their friend and for others it is a family member. We have all made mistakes and acted out of selfishness toward those who have loved us dearly. Most of you have also thought of a moment by now that that has happened between you and God. It’s not that far from us to be like the Israelites. This happens to entire communities in that they lose sight of the goodness of God and they take their own path. They begin to think that they are the source of their own heroism and they are not. Within this reality, however, we have inklings of hope in dark chasms. People or small groups of people that stand up for the reality that God is the source of their lives and actions. God and everything that fits into God’s character is what these people struggle to remind us of.

Hezekiah sat in this position. He came into leadership of a nation and that nation had strayed far from the way of life God had directed them towards. This nation had continually taken to idol worship and using force for power. The weak were being taken advantage of and worship began to include rituals that did not fit what God had created people for. Hezekiah finally said that it was enough. He was going to bring the country back to the way God had instructed for them. Although being leader helped, it must be noted that this was a setting where assassination and coup’s would frequently happen. Hezekiah was changing where changing things so drastically would cause anger not only in the common man’s eyes but the powerful tribal leaders of the area.

To make matters worse, an empire called Assyria was on the war path to rule the known world. Assyria was a very violent culture and when they conquered people, you could bet that people would die in ways that most people would not do their worst enemies. Assyria was not following God and had followed their own religion. Such a violent culture which had no interest in a religion that declared that God was King would be another obstacle for Hezekiah. Hezekiah get into a struggle with Assyria with no way to win. It’s at that moment that Hezekiah has to be strong and courageous. This chapter ends with a taunted Israel and a dire situation with no way out.

The question that this chapter leaves us with is if following God is worth the trouble. What happens when we fight off everything that is wrong in order to bring good into this world? Can we stand in the face of adversity? Will God truly be faithful like He has been to His people before? The response to these questions is in the next chapter, but what is important is that if we see that our community of faith has strayed away from what God wants from us, how far will we go to change things to look more like what God has designed our faith be? We have to ask these questions within our community and answer the questions honestly.

In Chapter 19 we will discuss what God’s faithfulness looks like, but today, let’s keep looking towards our own faithfulness in response to God’s past faithfulness. It will take such bravery in some of our communities since some have deeply ingrained senses of resisting God. If we are brave, though, we will see something amazing happen. But we will have to wait to see that, just like the story is having us wait.

Heroic: 17:1-42


Have you ever had that thought that if there was a God that never gave up that you would follow Him? Or maybe at least if there was a story that proved that. This story produces an interesting moment for you. All throughout this book we have been experiencing a people struggling with experiencing a God who was chasing them and doing everything possible to bring them towards living with faith. The problem was that they had no desire to live with faith in this God. They wanted a God that looked more like them. They wanted a God in their own image.

One of the major themes that hits this verse hard is the fact that when humans want to vindicate a way of life contrary to faith, hope, and love, they will invent a god that looks just like that. If we want violence, we create a violent God. If we want greed, we create a greedy God. Whatever gives us the vindication to be whatever we want to be, we can find a way to vindicate it. These days it looks very different because we worship differently. Most of the things we worship is power, money, fame, influence, etc. we love those things and anything that endangers them is subject to being called evil and outlawed.

The thing about God is that he endangers all that we hold dear that would be bad for us. The love of these things will kill and destroy us and all those around us. God’s intent is for life and love. He will stop at nothing to weed out the things that are bad for us. He is the doctor with the scalpel. He is doing the work that brings us pain but life in the end. What the Israelites at this time failed to realize is that they needed this God to bring life, yet they were turning to the things that would harm them in the end.

A parent gets this when their kid goes after the burner or the Benadryl. No matter how many times we tell them no, they keep going back to it. The kid wants to go towards the thing that will hurt them, but the parent keeps stopping them. We have a tendency towards getting what we want. What we tend to miss is that we are made for serving and being for other and for reliance on God. The universe that God designed is one that thrives when we serve each other and one that implodes and dies when we fight for our own selfishness. It started with the fall of man in Genesis and has been like that ever since.

The crazy thing is that God does not give up on us. Even though we keep proving that we are bent on self destruction and defiance He still keeps giving us ways out. This God never gives up and does everything possible to draw into the life he has for us. He has such unconditional love that there is nothing that dampens His love for us. The question becomes how do we respond to this kind of God. A God that loves beyond outright betrayal and destruction of the life He gives is very unpredictable and we have reason to fear that He comes to us to cut away what is bad for us. It could be painful, but it brings life.

What do we choose…a blissful existence with certain, self-imposed death or a moment of losing what we want to gain life? I think life would be the best option.