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.

Heroic: 2 Kings 15:32-16:19

This current story begins Jotham as a young king. He did not quite do everything that would have made the community great, He still encouraged doing things well. He sounds like many leaders today, he might not be great in any popular sense, but at the end of the day, the country was still intact and the worship of God was still standing. There was relative peace. It’s a great start of a story, but the story does not end there. After Jotham dies, His son takes over the country, but he does not live like his father.

Ahaz, Jotham’s son, was the next king and was described as evil. He allowed many pagan things to be prominent in the country. As the story moves forward, it becomes apparent that Ahaz does not fully trust God to rescue. In the moment of disaster, he began an alliance with Assyria which would shape Israelite culture.  Assyria comes to its rescue, but not without a price. The Assyrian King meets with Ahaz and in the process Ahaz gets guidance on how to run the religion.  By the end of the chapter, Ahaz has made the religion of Israel to look like the religion of Assyria. It seems strange enough that this King decided to allow these changes to the religion. Most people have a hard time with these kind of changes and would prefer for the status quo to be upheld in matters that do not matter, like the color of the carpet or a minor detail in the structure of a temple. What Ahaz did was not that menial. Ahaz began making Israel’s religion into the image of the Assyrian religion, which was dangerous, since Assyria was not taking the same path God had laid out for the world.

A look at ancient history shows us that Assyrian culture was violent, oppressive, and based on utilizing force for influence. Their religion helped support that justification of violence utilized for control. Ahaz’s transformation of the religion was not simply being progressive change of the practices of faith, but changing it into something that God was trying to avoid. If you compare the Law of God in the first five books of the Bible and the religious/political law of Assyria, you begin to see that violence was much more prevalent in this culture. God was always trying to make a better world for everyone. Assyria was trying to make a world that fit them. It’s not bad to make changes in a religion, but when your religion is based on faith, hope and love, and you start to tear that away from the canvas, you begin to endanger the very essence of what God created.

The question that raises for us is are we willing to give up what we stand for in order to survive. Now before we begin any conversation about fighting for the survival of Christianity, let me begin by saying that we are to reflect a savior whose defense against His oppressors was dying by their hands. There may be times to struggle in a physical sense against something or someone, but we cannot let it eradicate our call to love our enemies and bring hope to everyone. The core of our faith is King YHWH loving us and allowing us to be apart of His grand scheme. Are we doing that with those around us? Are we being inclusive hope? Are we helping people realize their potential in Jesus? Are we willing to carry that kind of  work when it endangers us and the ones we love? That is what faith means in Christianity. It means being passionate well into the painful storms of life and knowing that one day all of this traveling on the path God laid out for us will lead to place of glory, honor, and peace.

Heroic: 2 Kings 15:1-31

When we talk about life as people of faith, one question that will come up is how can we trust those who lead us. It’s a natural question for us since we have heard so many stories of pastors taking of This story today shows a list of leaders of Israel were not following God and ended up misleading the people of God. The crazy part of this story is that these were expected to lead to the people to a good place and were supposed to be chosen by God to lead. However, they took them down a path that many leaders do. They made the people fit their own plans and dreams instead of the path that God had made for them. It shows that leaders lead from what is inside them. It’s amazing that we tend to do things from our true values. When we live as heroes, we will be endowed on some level with a form of leadership, but as we do, we must keep the connection with who made us heroic in the first place.

If you look at the history of humanity, we are very inclined to express what we believe. We create our own stories from what is deep in our desires and we try to fit others around that mold. If you do not have a good path laid out for you and you are a leader, you could very easily take people down a path that does not create a good future. If you look at the era mentioned in the story, it is an era of prophets, and one thing they are very quick to point out is when kings and countries are going down a destructive path. We see that it has not changed that people lose sight of what is good when they just focus on being a leader. Most people have a leader inside them, but a good leader puts people before his own interest.

It takes a certain kind of connection to bring out the good in a body of faith. It takes being connected to the source of love, peace, and perspective outside of the self. Many leaders that have arisen have put so much hope in the fame and glory that came with leadership that they lost sight of what kind of hero God has made us to be. It takes hearing from the Spirit of God which will always lead us to love, joy, self-sacrifice, and anything that creates a better world.

And all of this brings a really good question into the conversation…

What are we connected to?

Are we connected to fame, power, money, influence? What drives us in the end will define the decisions that we make. That is not just true for individuals. It’s true for communities. Bodies of local believers can take on their own persona which includes a system of values. Just walk into any church and you will see that to be true (Ever worn a t-shirt of a rock band into a traditional rural church?) No one is perfect and everyone gives into these value systems on some level, but its good to be aware of that reality. How we travel on the road affects every other person. The best way to counter the negative effects of selfish leadership or even the community spirit that can exclude other, we should be aware of the path that God has set for every individual in order to define community. The Spirit of God is the compass for our journey. Before Christ was glorified, he promised us a presence with us. This all means we all have access to the transformation away from selfishness and greed which can ruin the world. We have been enabled to choose love, faith, and joy. We can live better lives in light of the acts of God. The only question is will we choose to realize it.

July 4th (America and the Church)

I wanted to post on this again, since today is the Fourth of July. I struggle with the idea that America is the nation of God. It doesn’t seems to make much sense to me. I have been looking at references to the Kingdom of God/Heaven in the New Testament and there are a few things that stand in the way of calling this nation the Nation of God.

1) America wasn’t around during the time that the Scriptures were written. If Jesus was representing the Kingdom of God, Heaven (which is defined as the place where God dwells), and America had not been born, then it would have to mean that there these two are not parallels. The events leading to America started much later in world history. Jesus also was speaking to the only political entity to ever be given such a title, which was Israel. The title has changed, since Israel is not necessarily the nation of God. That title has fallen to the Church, which has opened the membership to everyone across nations, kinships, races, etc. God has merely allowed America to gain much, but the frightening question is why He has done so.

2) The Kingdom in the times referred to in the Bible is ruled by God. There is nothing in the founding documents, or in current American law that gives God the ruling of President of the USA (God can actually only be totalitarian since His rule is conditioned on the complete obedience of those under him).

3) The Prophets, Jesus, and the writers of the letters continually mention or reference the kingdom coming. If the Church has fulfilled the messianic hope of the new kingdom, then it must follow that America can fall in line and recognize our commissioning by God (my apologies to the Republican platform). Although I am American, I must say that when it come to representing either this country or the nation of God, I choose God.

This is not a post of rebellion, but of perspective. I do not condone anyone seeking to use God as an excuse to defy what is not evil in itself. God has told us that governments are meant to promote order and peace (though they fail, and that is the exception) in Romans 13. Although it is assuming the correct actions of the governing, it still stands as a testament against fulfilling your selfish desire for anarchy or pointless liberation.

In Revelation 21:24, John shows us that God is not about destroying the nations, but having them follow him (and that would mean one world government ordained by God, to the ones who think one world government is evil). Also in 22:1-7 states that the end times are a time of healing the nations, which means that we should be about healing the nation with what we have to offer. If a nation is being heavily taxed, lets offer advice of mercy. When it is oppressing, let’s bring words of challenge. When the people are violent against their rulers, let’s offer creative consequences that teach and do not kill. And remember…

The Church, not America, is the Nation of God,

and the Church will see vindication and glory, not America.

So go out and live what the Gospel teaches to the world. I hope we see many great things in these end times (which, to clarify, has been the last 2000 years, give or take).

Grace and Peace.

Heroic: 2 Kings 14:23-29

One of the strangest passages that probably is the hardest for Christians to by is this one. Jeroboam II, an evil king, is used by God to rescue Israel. He takes back territory for Israel because God notices their suffering and is willing to use this king to rescue His people. It’s so strange to be in the service

Most people would be taken back by this idea. A person who is in defiance is the one that God uses. It seems so strange that the God who is supremely holy would make use of someone who would go against that. Why would he use someone so opposed to Him? This seems to contradict the notion of God we are used to. God is supposed to use believers for the purposes of the kingdom, but this passage teaches us that God will uses even the worst people to leverage things for good.

The truth is that God uses whomever fits for His purposes. Jesus said that the rain falls on the righteous and the unrighteous. Which is always unnerving. We all feel safe with a God that will simply bless those who try to get His favor, but a God who is willing to use someone not on His side is either a God with mental issues or a God of severe grace. What we have learned through all of History is that God is about grace. He will do anything to get people in on His plans. If you are trying to be a hero in the Christian sense, you have to understand that God wants inclusion and directing people towards Jesus. If we can swallow our pride of righteousness, we will begin to see that God can will use us to reach everyone, even the worst people. The question is are we willing to do what God is willing to do.

Heroic: 2 Kings 14:1-22

When a movement gains momentum, it becomes susceptible to mistakes, corruption, and even ill placed zealous acts. Enter Amaziah, a king was not a completely evil King. He followed some key points of the law, which included limiting himself on putting people to death, something many other Kings would not have done. He was a pretty good as far as most kings go, especially considering some of the other kings that

However, when it came to the pesky Northern Kingdom of Israel, he was a little greedy and cocky. He went to attack the northern kingdom of Israel. King Jehoash must have known something that Amaziah did not because he asked Amaziah not to attack or he would be defeated. Amaziah refused to listen and was defeated and carted off as a prisoner. Have you ever seen leaders like that? They are not known as bad people. They even get most things in their lives right. They love their families, follow all the church rules, and maybe are even memorized most of the Bible. However, when it comes to being leaders, they tend to veer of the path of faith, hope, and love. They tend to attack people in disagreement and coerce others into doing things their way. In the end, what happens is they end up inadvertently destroying the things they love. Amazaiah lost his throne for a period of time and had to watch part of Jerusalem’s infrastructure get torn down. This is not what Amaziah wanted to be remembered for. He wanted to be the great warrior who got Israel back under the rule of Jerusalem. He was willing to do whatever it took to get that, even go to war.

In the end, Amaziah is killed because of his misplaced zeal and His son is crowned King. The son Uzziah has to rebuild the parts of the city that were destroyed in the conflict between Amaziah and Jehoash. That the worst part about these kind of conflicts, the younger generation has to come in and pick up the pieces. The history of the Christian Church is a prime example. In our history, we have been known to burn people who said things that were a little off the beaten path of orthodoxy and even made war with kingdoms who were not of the same persuasion as we were. There are many non-Christian people who look at this history and are convinced that religion is bad for humanity due to the many evil things that it has done. Though we could talk all day about how imperfect people are responsible for making God’s Church look bad, those people only see the evil done and are convinced that it is bad news to be in a community of faith. There are many other examples of this, but the theme is the same. Those who came before carve the path for the future, whether good or bad.

Despite the zealous intentions by some, a little pride can blind us to God’s will and leave those who come after us to pick up the pieces. It can make it not only hard for those who come after us to have faith, it also make it hard for them to have faith at all. We have to ask what kind of future we will be creating for our community of faith. Are we going to make it hard for people to live by faith or are we going to be a catalyst for faith.

Heroic: 2 Kings 13:14-25

Have you ever been in the middle of a terrible situation? Have you ever been part of a huge movement that had too many problems? In this story Israel is in the middle of panic as a country attacks them and raiders from other countries keep coming into Israel. It’s not one of Israel’s brightest historical moments. King Jehoash experienced a series of emotions that some of us are all to familiar with: uncertainty, disaster, then panic. One of the prevalent themes of the Scripture is that God is present and acting for us in these moments. We may not see it, but God is always on the verge of doing something profound within our moments of doubt.

King Jehoash was scared for Israel. So he goes to see Elisha, who is at his final moments of life. After a series of seemingly pointless tests, Elisha goes on to tell Jehoash what is going to happen in a nut shell. However, he points out that a little more action on the King’s part would have allowed for him to have a stronger victory. As that story goes on, Elisha’s dies and his proclamation is upheld. It has to be one of the strangest moments for Jehoash. In the midst of tension and doubt about if God will be acting on his behalf. Even the proclamation made by Elisha made it seem that there would be some victory and then trouble, perhaps even death. At the end of the passage God still protected Israel despite the proclamation. His love for Israel wins out. He wanted to bless them and not destroy them. (There is even a resurrection story wedged in here, but we’ll avoid details about that story here.) I’m sure Jehoash still had some questions about God, as most people seem to in this story, but God was still there while he questioned and panicked.

It’s peculiar for most Christians to think about this being Elisha’s last recorded act as a prophet. This was a moment when people were doubting God and disobeying Him. Being part of God’s mission means acting in faith, but faith has always been messy. Faith deals with the unknowable and the unseen, so its easy to doubt and not God seriously. In the midst of faith, we might see some moments of struggle or even oppression that lead either to thinking God is apathetic towards us or does not exist at all. It’s at this kind of moment that God is still be faithful. He has promised to rescue His people regardless of the people who mislead it or make it something wretched. He is always in the act of rescue despite the doubts that His people have. He even is in the business of saving those outside the realm of His Kingdom through Christ. This God does not care if you are completely aware of Him or fully certain about His plan, He will act to save you and benefit you anyways.

In the end, the King gets back the land for his people due to God being with them. Heroic faith can sometimes be weathering the storm in hopes of the better future. That is the nature of hope. The one thing that can bring you through doubt is hope. It does not mean that you will not doubt. That is going to happen regardless of whether you hope or not. What does matter is the hope that God will do something for us. He will not leave us hanging. He will rescue in the end.

Heroic: 2 Kings 12:20-13:13

In our culture, one of the prominent arguments is that science and religion do not mix. In both the science community and the Church, we can find examples of people who are completely dismissive of the opposite side, like Richard Dawkins or Ken Ham. When we think of science and faith, our culture has trained us to think that you are either a full rationalist who thinks everything can be simply explained or a person of faith who ignores science. Our story picks up in the middle of an entire book that shows the interaction of God followers and everyone else. We have seen people outside of the faith and inside the faith. What is amazing is that the scenario of human knowledge verses faith was in some way present. Most people had theories about divine entities causing this or that thing to happen. In the Hebrew circles, God was supposed to be the only cause of everything.

In the beginning of this story, Jehoahaz takes over and does everything connected to what was wrong with Israel. Long story short, God does not stop foreigners from attacking. After much pleading from Jehoahaz, God intervenes. However, Jehoahaz keeps on doing what he was doing. Nothing really changes. Even after his country barely makes it out of the fog of war, which was a miracle in itself. When he died, Jehoash takes over and does the same thing as Jehoahaz. No word of wisdom about the greatness of God over every other divine entity ever spoken of. Without the details of this story, one would assume that Israel just got lucky. Elsewhere in this book, even mighty warriors of other pagan nations were experiencing God and noticing that the Hebrew people had something pretty special. The Hebrew people, however, were having a tough time recognizing this.

The crazy reality about religion is that complacency is an every present danger. People who do not expect God are expected to see something else when God acts. People who know God should see God when He acts. What usually happens though is that a noticeable amount of non-believers begin to see that they can’t explain things away and find that the most reasonable assumption is that their has to be a higher power at work. Christians on the other hand can have a tendency to assume God is not working when He really is. Christians tend to focus more on blessings that they could receive and can miss who is the center of our faith. God provisions and blessings do not guarantee that we are in track with His plans. God is always prompting us to join Him in his mission and will always be giving us the tools and resources to do the great, heroic acts that he has for us to do. However, our decisions do still need to happen. Walking with God is not just about what he does for us, but how we respond to Him also. And when we respond to Him, we begin to notice His faithfulness. We begin to realize that our science and religion categories really do not match the true reality, which is that God has a story for us. We begin to see faith as a completely new lifestyle. Seeing that we do not have to be defined by the categories handed to us by other people, but that God has created a single category for humanity. It encompasses all of life and leads to hope and love.

If we are going to be heroes, we have to grab onto faith. Faith does not actually include being academically sure or religiously blind. Faith is about trust. So many times in the Bible has told stories of faith that have nothing to do with certainties or blind zeal. They had do with obedience, trust, knowing that on some level God was their and was about to enact something amazing. It took faith for Abraham to become the father of a nation, for Peter to lead the Church. Even Jesus practiced faith that His Father would raise Him from the dead. The irony is that the ones who were considered zealous for God or even intellectually superior killed Him. What God has for us in a journey of faith will bring more good in the end. It will lead us to share in the resurrection of Jesus into the Kingdom which is to come.

Heroic: 2 Kings 12:1-19

One of the touchiest subjects with people is their money. Believe me, I work at a bank. Whenever you tell people that they are going to lose their money or that they have to give away their money, they take a defensive stance and try to protect their assets. For many reasons, money is one of the hardest things to let go of. It requires faith and trust that God truly does provide things and can rescue. In this story, Joash was made king at a very young age and was practically raised by the priest named Jehoida. Joash had developed a keen sense that God was worthy of worship and had given them a unique opportunity to participate in God’s work.

To set the context, the Temple needed funds. The way it sounds, it was getting a little run down. To modernize the situation, imagine being at a church with no A/C, no microphones. To make it worse, imagine the congregation averaging 500 attenders and only one outhouse instead of a bathroom with plumbing. It was getting outdated, rundown, and uncomfortable. Some things had to change. What makes it worse is that the funds were going to the workers only. No funds for repairs and updates at all.

It’s at this moment, Joash orders funds for the temple which should have been collected for that purpose anyways. Joash seemed shocked that there is something wrong when people have an opportunity to take part in something that God could do. This was the place where God shared community with His people, the place where people found hope, rescue, and joy. Everyone who had the opportunity to take part in God’s great plan was being avoided. Of course, there had been famine and problems with war and destruction. So the Temple still went unprepared. Joash then confront Jehoida. Where was the man who raised Joash to join with God’s plans to experience the heroism that God leads us too.

Joash finally convinces Jehoida to set funds aside. Sometimes it takes a little push from from someone who has understood that to be a part of God’s plan is the best way to see beauty, hope, and love come out in the world. Looking at God’s track record, we see that his main goal is to create moments of hope and love. The Temple was the center of that for the people of Israel.

The great thing about Joash is that he showed everyone the value of using our resources for what the kingdom needs and not just ourselves. In our faith, we have to find those things that promote faith, hope, creativity, and heroism. We have an opportunity to help people maximize their faith by showing them that God’s plan is to change the world for the better. We have been invited to take part in a mission to change the world. The question is will we allow ourselves to join in? Will we lead others in that directions? Are we up for God’s invitations of adventures in faith?

Heroic: 2 Kings 11:1-21

Have you ever met those people who are always able to take risks? One question that always gets asked about these people is how they are able to take these risk without getting hurt or being scared of retaliation. The truth is that most of the time, the risks taken by these people actually include fear and pain. Risking to see God move take bravery and a willingness to take fear and pain. We never escape the trial by fire experience, but what we can be escaped is futility. The efforts that are risky for heroes of faith always need to be couple with the thought that God will take the effort to its ultimate end, victory for what is good.

The old king, Ahaziah, was originally killed by Jehu. Immediately, the matriarch of the family, Athaliah, does what she can to protect the lineage of the the family while ensuring that their belief system . However, with all the paganism that was expected by the mother, this meant destroying any potential reform. Everyone was folding to Jehu’s reform and Athaliah was having none of it. So she killed off her family and took over. It’s a pretty gruesome thought that she did this, but it should not be surprising. Many people take extreme measures in order to preserve the legacy they create. Many people who embed themselves in churches are secretly trying to create their power circles with no regard to God’s will. It’s a hard thing for a church to rise out of this reality and it takes might heroes to team together to take the Church into the reality that God has for her.

Jehosheba was the first to act in hope. Her protecting Jehoram was planting a seed of change and revolution that would bring the people of God towards God. Had Athaliah learned of her plans, she would have been killed along with the baby. Sometimes individuals are the ones that begin a movement. It takes bravery to take actions that will create future change and will eventually create a challenge. The risk can be so great that not one individual will try to take action for a very long time. The fear is that they may punished with shame or even ostracized from the community.

Another thing is that it’s astounding how much time it takes to see the changes take place. Six years later, waiting to proclaim the proper king, probably seemed like a lifetime of waiting. Why they waited so long to make Joash king is not certain, probably waiting to learn who to trust and who to hide from. They probably were also building a base of loyalty much greater than Athaliah’s. Though it may seem sneaky to build up a coup and would be a call to shame, it is actually more respectful to the way God created human freedom. People are able to make the choice about who or what to follow. When we reach the New Testament, conversation based on convincing others was the primary way of bringing people to the way of God. It was also the primary way of correcting others in the faith. This is one of the greater risks of being a hero of faith, letting the other person make the decision of faith. It would make sense to counter the other power center and force people to follow what you believe, but what God wants is for those who follow His way to want and love to follow Him, which takes someone buying into His plans and not just going through the motions of fake faith.

This entire story goes beyond being about one hero of faith and moves to being about a community of heroes surrounding their leader. It is important for a community to be supportive of each other and to move towards changes and challenges that produce growth towards God. The one thing that brings Athaliah to the end of her rope is the fact that the entire community stated through their actions that they were ready to take God’s plans over human plans. There is also a bit of irony that could present itself when we gather together under God’s plans, the one who is not following God’s plans may act as if the other side is not following God. In this setting the one who is working against the movement of God is the one screaming that everyone else is disobeying God. They are actually more worried about treason against their own will more than they’re concerned about God’s will. It can make it confusing for most and it takes much reflection, prayer, and maybe even study to see what would have for the situation.

It takes many risks and much time to produce good change that moves people towards greatness and heroic acts of faith. Faith is brave and realizes danger, but is worth risk and creates adventures that lead to stories to last for generations. The questions is what will we follow? Are we busy looking for religion, traditions, and rules, or are we more worried about aligning our character and virtues with the path Jesus laid out for us. What is worth it is the path of Jesus. It will lead to greatness in love and create the best relationships.