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Romans 9:8-14

In Romans 9:8-14 Paul reminds the people of their history. God has been faithful to Israel – not some of the time – but all of the time. He provided a lineage that was blessed by God. “For this is what the promise said: “About this time next year I will return, and Sarah shall have a son.” This seemed to be an impossible feat – after all Abraham and Sarah were both well beyond the age to bear a child. But God spoke, and what He said happened just like it has throughout history. That’s the message here – God is faithful in all ways for always.

Paul continues to educate and remind us of history. “And not only so, but also when Rebekah had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad–in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls–she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” Paul points out that God’s choice was not based on the performance of Jacob or Esau. The choice was made before they were born. God is God and can decide what He wants. This wasn’t based on what they did, but who He is.

So we do not think that God chose Jacob over Esau because He knew their works in advance, Paul points out that it was not of works. Instead, the reason for choosing was found in Him who calls. “As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.” It sounds harsh, but how we connect with God is binary. We are either with Him, or against Him. There is no middle ground. We should regard the love and the hate as regarding His purpose in choosing one to become the heir of the covenant of Abraham. In that regard, God’s preference could rightly be regarded as a display of love towards Jacob and hate towards Esau.

Does that mean God is not just? “What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means!” Paul is clear that God is always just, and it is the choices we make as people that cause us to be at odds with Him. Sin gets in the way of relationship with Him. Our greatest error in considering the choices of God is to think that God chooses for arbitrary reasons, as if He chooses in an “eeny-meeny-miny-moe” way. We may not be able to understand God’s reasons for choosing as He does, and they are reasons He alone knows and answers to, but God’s choices are not random or accidental. He has a plan and a reason for everything that happens in His Creation.

Matthew 7

Matthew 7 has Jesus teaching some powerful truths.  He begins warning us about judging others.  “Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you”.  We need to think twice before judging someone else.  We’re quick to do it because it takes the light off us.  But Jesus goes on to ask “Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye….first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye”.

 

We need to start by looking inward before we lash outward.  Jesus goes on to tell us about the power we have through prayer.  “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find;  knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened”.  Talk about an amazing prayer promise.  Jesus makes it clear that when we ask, seek and knock, it won’t be in vain.  God will hear our request and answer.  He’ll show us what we are looking for.  He’ll show up and let us come to His throne with our requests.  Prayer works.  Always.

That said, Christ also makes it clear that there are some true gates that will make it difficult for us to get into heaven.  In fact, on our own, we aren’t going to make it.  We’ll never be that good as God demands holiness and righteousness and we fall short.  He does give us some guidance for how to live – the golden rule – “whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them”.  Basic truth but so important for us to understand and live by.  But back to the future and our standing before God, Jesus says this: “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few”.

Heaven is an amazing place, but getting in won’t be easy.  We’ll stand before a perfect and holy God and have to give account.  Jesus tells us that we’ll be known by the fruit of our life.  It won’t we what we say – it will be based on how we have lived.  “You will recognize them by their fruits….Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire”.  God will clean house and not let everyone enter.  If our life has not been bearing good fruit, we’ll not gain entry.

The truth Jesus tells us is that “Not everyone who  says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will  enter the kingdom of heaven….many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord….then will I declare to them, ‘I  never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness”.  Our words aren’t going to be our ticket into eternal life with the Father.  What will is how we have lived and addressed the sin problem we have in our life.  We will never be good enough to enter.  It is only by having the blood of Jesus cover our sin that we’ll be able to enter heaven on that judgment day.  Jesus is the only ticket that will work for entry.  Have you received His offer of grace where He went to the cross to cover your sin?  If not, now is the time to make sure you are ready!

Song of Solomon 4

Song of Solomon 4 is the first intimacy between the maiden and her beloved after their wedding procession and ceremony that ended the prior chapter.  Solomon is quite good at expressing his love for his bride.  “Behold, you are beautiful, my love, behold, you are beautiful”!  Simple words, but showing his affection for his bride.  This sets the example for how we out to treat our wives – Paul writes about it in 1 Corinthians – that every wife has affection due her.  Jesus shows that affection to His bride – the church – in the same way.

He goes on to make a list of things that define her beauty:

  • Your eyes are doves behind your veil
  • Your hair is like a flock of goats leaping down the slopes of Gilead
  • Your teeth are like a flock of shorn ewes that have come up from the washing
  • Your lips are like a scarlet thread
  • your mouth is lovely
  • Your cheeks are like halves of a pomegranate behind your veil
  • Your neck is like the tower of David, built in rows of stone
  • Your two breasts are like two fawns, twins of a gazelle, that graze among the lilies
  • Your lips drip nectar
  • honey and milk are under your tongue
  • the fragrance of your garments is like the fragrance of Lebanon
  • Your shoots are an orchard of pomegranates with all choicest fruits

While these are probably not the words you want to use today to describe the beauty of your bride, it certainly gives us an example of almost a dozen different characteristics that Solomon calls out – details that show how tuned in and attentive he was – that would make his bride feel loved.

After he shares the first seven of those traits, he stops and says these words.  “You are altogether beautiful, my love; there is no flaw in you”.  He could have easily summarized the detail of the seven characteristics with this one sentence, which is what many of us might do.  But it would not have been nearly as powerful as the way he shares his adoration for his bride.  He reinforces the individual things he said with this powerful statement that tied it all together and showed her that he was blessed by the whole as well as the parts.  If only we would always look at our spouse through this kind of lens and focus on the things of blessing, not the few that we would like to change.  Solomon doesn’t focus on changing anything – only enjoying the goodness that his bride brings.

The other thing that he says which is so important is “You have captivated my heart”.  He goes beyond describing his bride’s beauty and character and talks about the impact she has on him.  He got beyond the surface and shared the emotion.  He expresses how her love has changed him and how she has completely overwhelmed his heart.  Jesus should captivate our hearts. If we are in a personal relationship with Him, it should not be something we put on the shelf and merely call on when we need something.  He should be everything to us, just like Solomon’s bride was to him.  All consuming, all perfecting, all blessing.  That’s the way we need to live our marriage and our walk with Christ!

Joshua 2

Joshua 2 has the familiar story of Rahab, the prostitute who saved two of Joshua’s men that were sent to Jericho to spy on things.  Remember how Moses sent 12 spies to look at the Promised Land and report back.  10 of those returned and said it was too powerful to ever overtake, but two came back and said that God would give it into their hands.  This time, Joshua only sends two spies.  They arrive and the word gets out that they are in town.  The king sends his men to Rahab’s house to capture them, but “the woman had taken the two men and hidden them….she had brought them up to the roof and hid them with the stalks of flax”.

She successfully diverts the king’s men and has them leave the city to chase the spies all the while hiding them safely on her roof.  She tells the men what they needed to know – what the response of the people would be as God’s people entered the land and approached.  She referred to the way God’s people were viewed and the fear they had toward them.  “And as soon as we heard it, our hearts melted, and there was no spirit left in any man because of you, for the Lord your God, he is God in the heavens above and on the earth beneath”.  They knew God was with them.

She wisely uses her place as a bargaining chip to save her family from destruction when God’s people come to destroy the city.  The spies agree and say “Our life for yours even to death”.  She tells them how to escape and be safe and lets them down with a rope through the window of her home that was built into the wall.  “Go into the hills, or the pursuers will encounter you, and hide there three days until the pursuers have returned”.  They flee and hide and are saved by her wisdom.

The protection was related to Rahab doing this.  “You shall tie this scarlet cord in the window”.  That would be the sign to leave her home and those inside alone.  As long as the cord was hanging in the window and people stayed inside, they would be spared.  The spies return home and “they told him all that had happened to them….Truly the Lord has given all the land into our hands”.  This is the exact same thing Joshua and Caleb had told Moses some 40 years earlier.  God has a plan and they will take the Promised Land to be their own.

Genesis 15

Genesis 15 has God speaking to Abram in a vision.  He tells Abram “Fear not, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great”.  My guess is that Abram is shaking in his boots a bit considering what had just happened.  He had just run down the king who has had control of the area for the last 14 years or so, and while he didn’t really take time to think about what he was doing beyond just responding to the fact that his nephew Lot had been captured, now he is likely reflecting on the event and a bit shaken.

But God comes along side him and reinforces the promise He made to him to become a mighty nation.  Abram has to ask the question: “O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue childless”.  Things weren’t progressing like he might have planned.  To have a mighty nation he needs to have some kids.  And that hasn’t happened, so Abram is a bit distressed.  But God reiterates his promise and says “your very own son will be your heir”.  Not just a son, but God had Abram go outside and look up.  “Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them”.  That seems like a longshot at this point.

But Abram “believed the Lord, and he counted it to him as righteousness”.  Remember that he is getting up there in years, and it just hasn’t been happening.  But Abram chose to believe.  He chose to trust the God who had brought him to this place.  Abram asked for a sign.  “How am I to know that I shall possess it” speaking of the land God had promised to give him.  And God tells him to bring animals to sacrifice, and Abram does and cuts them in half and lays them open on the ground.

After waiting most of the day, as the sun was setting, God caused Abram to fall asleep and reassured him of the plan to make him a great leader of a great nation.  And “when the sun had gone down, and it was dark, behold a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch passed between these pieces”.  God took the offering and received it.  And “on that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram” where God promised to give Abram’s offspring the land from the river of Egypt to the Euphrates.  Two big promises to Abram which God reveals and then reinforces as sure and true.

Ezra 5

Ezra 5 has two prophets, Haggai and Zechariah, speaking truth to the remnant that has returned to Jerusalem.  Both of these prophets have books in scripture where their prophecy will be uncovered more in depth as we study it.  But these men of God encouraged the people to get on with the task of building the temple.  Both challenged the excuses of the day, and pressed the leaders and people to keep on task.  Zerubbabel “arose and began to rebuild the house of God”.  He got going.

But beyond just speaking God’s truth, scripture tells us that “the prophets of God were with them, supporting them”.  Haggai and Zechariah didn’t just speak God’s truth, they were among the people and the leaders encouraging and supporting them.  That is a sign of good leadership, when those who are at the front are also in the trenches to be part of the effort.  But it wasn’t without resistance.  Tattenai, who was a governor of an area nearby, challenges the people again about building the temple.

He asks these questions:

  1. Who gave you a decree to build this house and to finish this structure?
  2. What are the names of the men who are building this building?”

There is fear from those in the area that the city will be rebuilt and the Jews would once again become a strong nation, after many years in exile after the utter destruction of their city.  The leadership in Jerusalem “did not stop” and kept on task.  But the opposition send an official letter to the new king, Darius, filled with lies and accusations.

The opposition claims that the effort here is unauthorized and should be stopped.  So an official letter of request is sent to Darius to see if the story the leaders of Jerusalem were giving were true.  They asked Darius to “let search be made in the royal archives” to see what the historical authorization was for the work being done.  But the work continues, and progress on the temple is being made.  The opposition was hoping that the decree of Cyrus would not be found, and that once again, the work would be stopped.

Jeremiah 49

Jeremiah 49 has the prophet speaking truth about the Ammorites, the people of Edom, folks in Damascus and those in Elam.  The results are going to be pretty much the same for all  – God is not happy and is going to destroy them.  Sin certainly gets in the way and turns blessing into destruction.  God tells all of these places their pending fate.  It varies by place, but the end result is the same.  God is going to clean up things. He is going to wipe out those who have chose to follow their own interests and ignore Him.

Jeremiah boils it down to this: they “trusted in her treasures, saying, ‘Who will come against me”.  We as humans can certainly get a false sense of security when we depend on self.  We build up our own treasures and create our own little kingdoms and believe that we are large and in charge.  We are not, in any way shape or form, in charge of anything.  In fact we are absolutely dependent on God alone.  But we create a false sense that no one will come to destroy us because we’ve had some success and believe we can do it alone.

We have a very real enemy who is out to kill, steal and destroy us.  And he often does that by getting us to believe in self over God.  He convinces us that we can do it alone. We don’t really need God after all.  The truth is that is a lie.  There is none like God.  There is no way we can stand and take control of our own patch.  But we buy into that lie.  We allow power, possession and position to get the best of us, and we push God off the throne of our lives and put self in His place.  And then it goes bad, really bad, just like we see here.  God isn’t amused.

The reality is that God alone sits on the throne.  “I will appoint over her whomever I choose. For who is like me? Who will summon me? What shepherd can stand before me”?  No one is like Him.  No one can summon Him – He summons us.  No one can stand before Him with any authority.  We can only come to Him on our knees pleading for His grace and mercy.  God alone is God.  Have you got Him where He belongs in your life?  Is He on the throne, or are you creating a situation where He will have to come and clean things up?  Much better we do it ourselves and put Him where He belongs keeping self out of the way!

Habakkuk 3

Habakkuk 3 is a prayer from the prophet after spending the first two chapters asking God questions, and getting His responses.  Now we see that Habakkuk has some understanding of God.  “O Lord, do I fear”.  He has been given a glimpse of God’s justice and wrath, and has a healthy fear of the Creator.  His prayer begins with a cry to God for revival.  “In the midst of the years, revive it….make it known….remember mercy”.  Revival is the work of God.  It isn’t an achievement of man.  God is the author, man’s role is to cry out and plead for God to bring it to pass.

Revival is all about what God is up to.  It is His work around us.  There are some key questions we should ask ourselves though based on the reality that God is going to measure us.  “He stood and measured the earth; he looked and shook the nations”.  We will stand before Him and give account.  We need to consider His ways and see if we line up.  “His were the everlasting ways”.  God’s ways don’t change.  He is the same yesterday, today and forever.  His requirements and justice won’t change.  So here are three areas to check about our life to see if we line up:

  1. Check your conduct – does your walk glorify the LORD as it should? How about your private conduct, which only the LORD sees?
  2. Check your conversation – is your speech profane or impure? Do you talk about Jesus with others?
  3. Check your communion – are you living a growing, abiding life with Jesus?

Habakkuk reviews God and His power.  God is in complete control.  “The sun and moon stood still in their place”.  Sounds like something that happened for Joshua back in his book the tenth chapter.  The lesson here is that we need to recognize the God of Creation and all that He has done.  We need to know His power.  And we need to praise God as a result.  Why?

  1. Because it gives appropriate honor and glory to God
  2. Because declares God’s specific works
  3. Because it teaches and reminds us of who God is and what He has done
  4. Because it places man in proper perspective under God
  5. Because it builds confidence in the power and works of God

Habakkuk ends the chapter waiting on God’s plan to come to pass.  “Yet I will quietly wait for the day of trouble to come upon people who invade us”.  He knows the enemy is coming.  But He waits in confidence.  “I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation”.  Even though Habakkuk knows difficult days are ahead, he rejoices in God.  He takes peace in God’s unchanging and loving nature.  He claims God’s strength and power when he concludes with “God, the Lord, is my strength; he makes my feet like the deer’s; he makes me tread on my high places”.  Habakkuk knows that God would set his steps firmly on the ground that would not allow him to slip or fall.  We can trust God.  He never fails us!

Jeremiah 40

Jeremiah 40 has the prophet “bound in chains” under the captain of the guard.  And now, he is going to be set free.  He’s been locked up and the captain of the guard is now letting him go, and gives him several options.  One of those was to stay with this guy who’s been holding him, and return with him to Babylon where Jeremiah would be able to live and be cared for.  Obviously the captain has seen God’s power in Jeremiah’s life to want to take him along with him as a free man after this captivity.

But it is Jeremiah’s choice.  “The captain of the guard gave him an allowance of food and a present, and let him go”.  And Jeremiah decides to return to his people, or the remnant of them that are left, and live with them.  You’d have to think twice about it wouldn’t you.  After all, their stubborn refusal to obey God and live the way they were commanded is what God Jeremiah locked up in the first place.  But obviously his love is for his people, and God is not done yet with his work among them.

So he returns and begins to share God’s truth with those that remain.  And soon “all the Judeans returned from all the places to which they had been driven and came to the land of Judah”.  They had been scattered all over being driven from their homes by the enemy, but now that the battle is over and they can return, they flock back.  And they do as Jeremiah had told them as “they gathered wine and summer fruits in great abundance”.  Remember that their homes and city have been destroyed and they have to start again to build a future.

The chapter ends with an apparent threat against Gedaliah, who was appointed governor over the people.  Seems that one of leaders felt that another enemy king was going to try and kill the governor, and seeks permission to go and strike down the assassin before he can strike.  But Gedaliah doesn’t believe it, and says “you shall not do this thing, for you are speaking falsely of Ishmael”.  We’ll see who has the right information in the next chapters, but it is important to realize that there is a very real enemy who is certainly out to destroy.  We must keep our guard up and be alert!

2 Chronicles 23

2 Chronicles 23 has Jehoida the priest coming out from hiding with Joash who had been staying with them the past six years in hiding.  Jehoida puts together a covenant with the commanders and leaders and gathered the Levites and brought them to Jerusalem.  And they made a covenant together to put Joash on the throne.  Jehoida manages the plan and assigns people to their post.  He creates a plan to protect the young king knowing that there will be resistance from the old queen who had tried to kill all the sons in the lineage some years earlier.

Was Jehoida an effective leader?  Scripture tells us “the Levites and all Judah did according to all that Jehoiada the priest commanded”.  He was very effective and had a well-designed plan that brought the people together behind the king.  And when all things were in place, “they brought out the king’s son and put the crown on him and gave him the testimony. And they proclaimed him king”.    Jehoida didn’t rush things, he waited until everything was in place according to his plan.

Of course, the expected response came.  “Athaliah tore her clothes and cried, “Treason! Treason”!  She wasn’t about to give up her throne easily.  But Jehoida has planned for this and he instructs his commanders to capture her, and remove her from the house of the Lord before putting her to death.  So they carried her out and killed her.  Not a pretty sight, but one that moved the people from a period of evil and separation from God, to restoration and walking once again with God.

Jehoiada made a covenant between himself and all the people and the king that they should be the Lord’s people….all the people went to the house of Baal and tore it down”.  Not only did they begin walking with God, but they rid themselves of the evil that had plagued them for several generations.  They were once again walking with God.  They killed the priest of Baal and burned all the things that were related.  And then came the true blessing: “all the people of the land rejoiced, and the city was quiet after Athaliah had been put to death with the sword”.  They were back in tune with God and received His blessing on their lives once again!

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