ThanksLiving: 365 Days of Gratitude. One of the things about heaven that is likely to surprise us will be the people who actually made it there. That is because no one is beyond God’s reach. We might write people off as unredeemable, but God never ...

 

Far From God, But Not Beyond His Reach

ThanksLiving: 365 Days of Gratitude

One of the things about heaven that is likely to surprise us will be the people who actually made it there. That is because no one is beyond God’s reach. We might write people off as unredeemable, but God never does. And he will go to great lengths to bring them home to himself. History is filled with testimonies of prodigal children who found grace when they finally came home to the Father. So never give up on people. God never does.

Going Deep // Focus: 2 Kings 21:1-6

Manasseh was twelve years old when he became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem fifty-five years…He did what was evil in the Lord’s sight, following the detestable practices of the pagan nations that the Lord had driven from the land ahead of the Israelites. He rebuilt the pagan shrines his father, Hezekiah, had destroyed. He constructed altars for Baal and set up an Asherah pole, just as King Ahab of Israel had done. He also bowed before all the powers of the heavens and worshiped them. He built pagan altars in the Temple of the Lord, the place where the Lord had said, “My name will remain in Jerusalem forever.” He built these altars for all the powers of the heavens in both courtyards of the Lord’s Temple. Manasseh also sacrificed his own son in the fire. He practiced sorcery and divination, and he consulted with mediums and psychics. He did much that was evil in the Lord’s sight, arousing his anger.

Your first response to the text I have selected for this devotional is likely to be one of incredulity. Maybe you are thinking, “Dude, you need to get better inspirational material!” Well, I agree, except this is about all I have to work with from 2 Kings 21. Manasseh was a very bad, no good, rotten man, and he reigned as king in Judah longer than any of the other kings. For fifty-five really awful years, God endured this insufferable king; a half-century of the same evil leadership guiding the nation to new depths of sin.

Truly, this man was Hitler, Stalin and Idi Amin wrapped into one. Now in today’s world, we often invoke those awful people to demean the leadership of someone with whom we disagree, but the impact is always lost because that leader is nowhere near the awful, evil person with whom we compare them. We simply don’t like them, or we vehemently disagree with their policies, so we call them the worst name possible. But in Manasseh’s case, the comparison is appropriate. There is a line in the description of his reign that reveals the darkness of Jerusalem under this king:

Manasseh also murdered many innocent people until Jerusalem was filled from one end to the other with innocent blood. (2 Kings 21:16)

Needless to say, God was none too happy with this king: “He did evil in the Lord’s sight,” (2 Kings 21:2) … “He did much that was evil in the Lord’s sight, arousing his anger,” 2 Kings 21: 6) … “Then the Lord said through his servants the prophets: ‘King Manasseh of Judah has done many detestable things. He is even more wicked than the Amorites.’” (2 Kings 21:10-11) God was so disgusted with Manasseh that he would wipe the entire nation of Judah away, including even the remnant that he always preserved for himself:

So this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: “I will bring such disaster on Jerusalem and Judah that the ears of those who hear about it will tingle with horror. I will judge Jerusalem by the same standard I used for Samaria and the same measure I used for the family of Ahab. I will wipe away the people of Jerusalem as one wipes a dish and turns it upside down. Then I will reject even the remnant of my own people who are left, and I will hand them over as plunder for their enemies. For they have done great evil in my sight and have angered me ever since their ancestors came out of Egypt.” (2 Kings 21:12-15)

This isn’t getting any better, is it? I still haven’t found a way to turn a corner into a more uplifting look at 2 Kings 21. And I am not going to turn that corner; there isn’t one. But you get the picture: Manasseh was as bad as they come. If anyone could be beyond the reach of God’s mercy, grace and love, it was this man.

Or was he? You have to go to another part of the Bible to find this, but the story has a redeeming end to it. In 2 Chronicles 33:10-20, we find that under severe judgment, evil Manasseh finally turned to God. God allowed the Assyrians to attack Jerusalem, and they took the king captive. They humiliated him by putting a hook in his nose and literally dragging him into captivity. It was there in a dark, dank Babylonian prison of despair that we are told,

In his distress Manasseh sought the favor of the Lord his God and humbled himself greatly before the God of his ancestors. (2 Chronicles 33:12)

And the Lord took pity on him. He even restored Manasseh to the throne in Jerusalem—which would have been an exceedingly rare thing for a captive king to be returned to his throne in the ancient world. But God did it for the repentant monarch. And in the final few years of his life, Manasseh did his best to restore all that he had done wrong in the Lord’s sight. He ended well. There were probably those who never forgave him for the evil he had inflicted upon Judah, and there were those who probably thought his conversion was a sham, but the Lord knew. And the evil king finished with a flurry as a good man in God’s sight.

The truth is, no one is beyond God’s reach. You and I might write people off, but God doesn’t. And he will go to extreme lengths to bring them home to himself. History is filled with testimonials of prodigal children who found grace when they finally came to their senses and came home to the Father.

I suspect that one of the things that will surprise us in heaven will be the unlikely people who made it there. So never give up on people. God never does.

Going Deeper With God: Think of a person who is unlikely to ever surrender to God’s rule—the worst dirty, rotten sinner you know. Now pray for that one. Your prayer might just be the final straw that breaks his resistance to the love and mercy of Almighty God.

Mercy for the sinner, help in the hardest place, everything for nothing, that is grace!

—C.C. BEATTY

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Be Careful: God May Just Give You What You Want

ThanksLiving: 365 Days of Gratitude

It’s possible that God might give us what we crave, but to our own peril. Since our hearts are desperately wicked, on our best day (Jer. 17:9), we must be careful with what we want. God has promised to grant the desires of the heart to those who delight in him, but even still, our hearts remain flawed. That’s why it’s vital that we saturate our supplication from beginning to end with this plea, “Nevertheless, not my will, but yours be done.” Perhaps we should learn to pray as Francis Asbury, “My God, keep me through the water and fire, and let me rather die than live to sin against thee!”

Going Deep // Focus: 2 Kings 20:1-6

About that time Hezekiah became deathly ill, and the prophet Isaiah son of Amoz went to visit him. He gave the king this message: “This is what the Lord says: Set your affairs in order, for you are going to die. You will not recover from this illness.” When Hezekiah heard this, he turned his face to the wall and prayed to the Lord, “Remember, O Lord, how I have always been faithful to you and have served you single-mindedly, always doing what pleases you.” Then he broke down and wept bitterly. But before Isaiah had left the middle courtyard, this message came to him from the Lord: “Go back to Hezekiah, the leader of my people. Tell him, ‘This is what the Lord, the God of your ancestor David, says: I have heard your prayer and seen your tears. I will heal you, and three days from now you will get out of bed and go to the Temple of the Lord. I will add fifteen years to your life, and I will rescue you and this city from the king of Assyria. I will defend this city for my own honor and for the sake of my servant David.’”

Can we negotiate with God? If you are in a surrendered relationship with him, he does sometimes afford you the space to ask him for something different than what he has stated. Case in point: Hezekiah’s terminal illness. This godly king contracted a horrible boil when he was thirty-nine-years old and still in the prime of his life. The prophet Isaiah came to him with a direct message from the Lord that he would not recover. He needed to get his affairs in order and prepare to die.

But Hezekiah turned his face to the wall and began to cry out to God. He reasoned with the Lord that he had been a faithful king, that he had done much good for Judah, and that God should therefore spare his life. And amazingly, the king prevailed with God, who then granted him fifteen more years of life. Hezekiah stayed the hand of God. Now we don’t know for sure if this was just a test of faith for the king, that is, if God was waiting to see if he would appeal the Lord’s generosity by asking this huge request, or if his passionate supplication in this moment literally moved God’s heart in that moment. Did Hezekiah negotiate with God and get a better deal? Well, it kind of looks like it, doesn’t it?

Why was the Lord going to allow the king to die at such a young age? Perhaps God knew that at thirty-nine, Hezekiah was at the zenith of his godly career, and that serious pitfalls would exist for the king down the road if he lived any longer. The Lord, who lives outside of time, saw around the bend to a time where Hezekiah would become prideful in his accomplishments, and disobedient in his walk with the Lord, and make decisions that would hurt the nation in the long run. Maybe for those reasons, God’s plan was to allow Hezekiah to die early rather than live to fifty-four, the age at which he ultimately passed away. It could be that in God’s sovereignty, he was going to spare Hezekiah the pain of not finishing well.

2 Chronicles 32 preserves additional information about Hezekiah’s reign for us, and it proves the point. You see, that is exactly what happened in those extra fifteen years. The king became prideful in his accomplishments, careless in his stewardship of the temple and palace treasures, and a bit unconcerned with what would happen to the nation after he died. Consider the narrative from 2 Chronicles 32:25-26, after the Lord had graciously extended his life:

But Hezekiah’s heart was proud and he did not respond to the kindness shown to him; therefore the Lord’s wrath was on him and on Judah and Jerusalem. Hezekiah repented of the pride of his heart, as did the people of Jerusalem; therefore the Lord’s wrath did not come upon them during the days of Hezekiah.

One of the things that Hezekiah’s pride led him to do was show the Babylonian governmental entourage all the treasures of the temple and the palace—something that made a lasting impression on an empire that would soon raze Jerusalem and carry off those very treasures. We are told that God actually exposed Hezekiah to a test to see if he would brag to these enemy representatives about how great he had become. (2 Chronicles 32:31) When Isaiah rebuked the king for exposing this information to the Babylonians, he seemed to take a “whatever” stance toward the coming judgment that God would bring upon Judah through the Babylonians after Hezekiah had died:

“The word of the Lord you have spoken is good,” for Hezekiah thought, “Will there not be peace and security in my lifetime.”

Yes, it is possible that God might give us what we crave, but to our own peril. Since our hearts are deceitfully wicked, on our best day (Jeremiah 17:9), we must therefore be very careful with our wishes. God has promised to grant the desires of the heart to those who delight in him, but even still, our hearts remain flawed. That is why it is incredibly important that we begin, end, and saturate throughout our supplication this prayer, “Nevertheless, not my will, but yours be done.”

Yes, we must be sober-minded about all that we desire, for God may just give us what we request!

Going Deeper With God: When you pray today, ask the Lord to cleanse your desires. As him to destroy in you that which could destroy you, or the people you love. And make sure you begin, end and saturate everything in between with, “God, you kingdom come; your will be done.”

My God, keep me through the water and fire, and let me rather die than live to sin against thee!

—FRANCIS ASBURY

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Tell It To Jesus

ThanksLiving: 365 Days of Gratitude

When we find ourselves like Hezekiah—standing before a Big Hairy Audacious Giant of a problem—our best response is to do what he did: He went to God in prayer. He took the threatening message from the King of Assyria and literally spread it out before the Lord. It’s not like God didn’t already know, but Hezekiah showed him the letter anyway. And the best part of this story? God heard…and God saw…and God acted…and a great testimony was made!

Going Deep // Focus: 2 Kings 19:14-16, 20, 35-37

After Hezekiah received the threatening letter from the King of Assyira, he went to the Lord’s Temple and spread it out before the Lord, and prayed. And Hezekiah prayed to the Lord: “Lord, the God of Israel, enthroned between the cherubim, you alone are God over all the kingdoms of the earth. You have made heaven and earth. Give ear, Lord, and hear; open your eyes, Lord, and see; listen to the words Sennacherib has sent to ridicule the living God…Isaiah sent this message to Hezekiah, “God has heard your prayer.” …That night the angel of the Lord went out and put to death a hundred and eighty-five thousand in the Assyrian camp. When the people got up the next morning—there were all the dead bodies! So Sennacherib king of Assyria broke camp and withdrew. He returned to Nineveh and stayed there. One day, while he was worshiping in the temple of his god Nisrok, his sons killed him with the sword.

Do you have any BHAG’s in your life? You know, Big Hairy Audacious Giants!

God does some of his best work in our lives when we are facing BHAG’s. That was true for David when he faced Goliath of Gath, and it was true when King Hezekiah was facing King Sennacherib of Assyria. Goliath was an intimidating and imposing warrior and Assyria was an intimidating and imposing army. Both were giant problems standing between Israel and God’s will. In both cases. God helped his people to defeat these BHAG’s in stunning fashion. And we are still talking about these amazing victories today.

BHAG’s are the raw materials of great testimonies! God does his finest work when we are facing our giants, when our backs are against the wall and we have nowhere to turn. Perhaps the reason that he allows us to get into these impossible situations in the first place is for the simple reason that he will receive all the glory and praise when the deliverance comes. There will be times in our lives where neither our brainpower nor our brawn, neither our bank account nor our buddies will be of any help. The only rescue we will experience will come from the Lord, and it will be perfectly clear that he alone is responsible. We never like to find ourselves in those kinds of situations, but those are the kinds of stories of which great testimonies are made.

When we find ourselves like Hezekiah—standing before an Big Hairy Audacious Giant of a problem—our best response is to do what he did: He went to God in prayer. He took the nasty message from the King of Assyria and literally spread it out before the Lord. It’s not like the Lord didn’t already know, but Hezekiah showed God the letter anyway. He poured out his complaint before the Lord in an honest and humble way. And here’s the awesome part of this story:

God heard…and God saw…and God acted…and a great testimony was made!

What about you? Are you up the creek without a paddle? Do you have nowhere else to turn? Do you have an overwhelming enemy breathing threats against you? Are you facing a Big Hairy Audacious Giant right now?

Do what Hezekiah did: Tell it to Jesus!

Edmund S. Lorenz composed a hymn back in the late 1800’s that I would recommend you meditate on if you’re facing a BHAG. Allow the words to sink into your spirit. You will be encouraged:

Are you weary, are you heavy hearted?
Tell it to Jesus, tell it to Jesus.
Are you grieving over joys departed?
Tell it to Jesus alone.
Do the tears flow down your cheeks unbidden?
Tell it to Jesus, tell it to Jesus.
Have you sins that to men’s eyes are hidden?
Tell it to Jesus alone.
Do you fear the gathering clouds of sorrow?
Tell it to Jesus, tell it to Jesus.
Are you anxious what shall be tomorrow?
Tell it to Jesus alone.
Are you troubled at the thought of dying?
Tell it to Jesus, tell it to Jesus.
For Christ’s coming kingdom are you sighing?
Tell it to Jesus alone
Tell it to Jesus, tell it to Jesus,
He is a Friend that’s well known.
You’ve no other such a friend or brother,
Tell it to Jesus alone.

You can never go wrong doing what Hezekiah did: tell it to the Lord!

Going Deeper With God: Here is an idea: write down on paper what you are up against. Then lay the paper on the floor before the Lord, get on your knees, or face, and read it to him. Do what the song says, “Tell it to Jesus”. Then wait for him to complete your testimony!

God always gives His best to those who leave the choice with him.

—JIM ELLIOT

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Don’t Talk To The Intimidator

ThanksLiving: 365 Days of Gratitude

Intimidation—that is one of the chief strategies of your Enemy, the devil, to weaken your spiritual resolve and diminish your dependence upon the sufficiency of your God. He has used that bluster against God’s people from the beginning of time, and you will not be an exception. Sooner of later, Satan will throw the book of spiritual intimidation at you, hoping to steer you away from full surrender to God to full surrender to him. When that happens, don’t carry on a conversation with the Intimidator, talk to God.

Going Deep // Focus: 2 Kings 18:33-36

The Assyrian king’s chief of staff said, “Don’t listen to Hezekiah when he tries to mislead you by saying, ‘The Lord will rescue us!’ Have the gods of any other nations ever saved their people from the king of Assyria? What happened to the gods of Hamath and Arpad? And what about the gods of Sepharvaim, Hena, and Ivvah? Did any god rescue Samaria from my power? What god of any nation has ever been able to save its people from my power? So what makes you think that the Lord can rescue Jerusalem from me?” But the people were silent and did not utter a word because Hezekiah had commanded them, “Do not answer him.”

Intimidation—that is one of the chief strategies of your Enemy, the devil, to weaken your spiritual resolve and diminish your dependence upon the sufficiency of your God. He has used that bluster against God’s people from the beginning of time, and you will not be an exception. Sooner of later, Satan will throw the book of spiritual intimidation at you, hoping to steer you away from full surrender to God to full surrender to him.

That is exactly what he did with the citizens of Jerusalem. Through the commander-in-chief of the greatest army in the world of that day, the Assyrians, threats were loudly and publically proclaimed as they laid siege to Jerusalem. As a matter of fact, their intimidations and threats weren’t just bluster, the Assyrian army could actually back it up. All one had to do was look as the devastation they had caused to the north as Israel lay in ruins. What they were saying was true.

But that is beside the point. You see, they were not in charge; God was. They may have been the greatest military in the world, and they may have been riding a winning streak of one victory after another, but they failed to realize that they were only successful by God’s permission. He had the Assyrians on a leash, and they had mistaken slack in that leash for permission to go wherever they chose and do whatever they wanted. Not true. And God was about to yank their chain.

Do you know that is true of your life as well? Your circumstances, as dark as they may be, are not free to wreak whatever havoc they desire on you. They are on a leash, and while there may be slack in the leash for now, God can yank it back whenever he choses. One day, sooner or later, he will, and when he does, you will be okay, because you have put your trust in him.

So don’t talk to your intimidator. He, or she, or whatever that may be for you, will never back down simply because you talk back. Give him credit, Satan is persistent: just because he will ultimately lose, and he has no doubts that he will, has never led him to just give up and go away. Don’t give him the time of day, for you will only give away your confidence in God if you engage in a dialogue. Though he is no longer king, follow Hezekiah’s order: don’t utter a word.

Rather, take it to Jesus. Pour out your complaint to him. Dump your fears in his lap. Cast your cares upon him, for he cares for you. (1 Peter 1:7). Give God your worries and let him worry about it (by the way, he never worries). Present your needs and concerns to God through prayer. Do that, because the act of supplication is actually renewing your confidence in the sufficiency of God.

When you do that, here is what happens—every time. It happens not just because I say so, but because God says so: “The peace of God, which transcends human understanding, will guard your heart and your mind in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:7) God will command his peace to protect you while he is taking care of the threat against your security.

That happened for Hezekiah; it will happen for you, too. That is God’s promise!

Going Deeper With God: Write out a list of the things you worry over. Then spread the list out before God and go over it with him in prayer. After you have done that, offer thanksgiving for everything on your list. Now walk away from it and don’t pick it up again. (You may need to have someone else retrieve it and cast it into the trash.) Try that, and see what God will do through your act of trust.

The great tragedy of life is not unanswered prayer, but unoffered prayer.

—F. B. MEYER

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The Fall of Israel – The Reason Why

ThanksLiving: 365 Days of Gratitude

What God’s Word says of Israel’s destruction may be something that we should consider when pain and hardship come into our lives. Just because we no longer like to assign the law of cause-effect to behavior doesn’t mean that God’s law is suddenly inoperable in the modern age. The writer of 2 Kings was not shy about saying “this happened to them because of that.” On a personal level, it may just be wisdom to consider the possibility with contrite hearts and corrective steps.

Going Deep // Focus: 2 Kings 17:7-9,18

This disaster came upon the people of Israel because they worshiped other gods. They sinned against the Lord their God, who had brought them safely out of Egypt and had rescued them from the power of Pharaoh, the king of Egypt. They had followed the practices of the pagan nations the Lord had driven from the land ahead of them, as well as the practices the kings of Israel had introduced. The people of Israel had also secretly done many things that were not pleasing to the Lord their God. … Because the Lord was very angry with Israel, he swept them away from his presence. Only the tribe of Judah remained in the land.

Assigning responsibility to God for the hardships that befall us is a practice that has fallen on hard times in modern generations. We think it poor form to blame God for bad things that happen in the world. If a highly visible Christian takes to the media to proclaim that the latest hurricane is God’s punishment, or that an earthquake came because of sin, or devastating flooding can be traced back to a region rejecting God, the intelligent world goes nuts. And I tend to agree.

But not too many generations ago, the folks kind of believed that. If the crops failed, the people repented of their sin. If sickness ravaged the community, they believed that fasting and prayer would reveal the reason for this divine displeasure. When bad things happened, people assumed they were bad and God was simply punishing their waywardness.

Now I am not promoting that we return to that approach. I don’t think we need to blame God for every bad thing that befalls the earth. God is not responsible for evil; the devil is. Yet sin—stubborn, un-repented, in-your-face sin among God’s holy people—will cause the blessing and protection of God to lift from our lives. So, then, are hurricanes and earthquakes and floods God’s judgment against the sinful world? I don’t know; that’s a few steps above my pay-grade. But I kind of doubt it. For sure, there will be devastating judgment some day leveled against the unbelieving world, but I think God is holding off on that until the end.

But when it comes to Christians, what we do know is that the Lord disciplines those he loves in order to bring them back to full devotion to him. The writer of Hebrews calls us to “endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children.” (Hebrews 12:7) In order to redeem our souls, break us of sinful patterns, and reposition us to a zone of bless-ability, God will allow pain to get our attention. C.S. Lewis’ profound observation in his book, The Problem of Pain, is worth noting:

We can rest contentedly in our sins and in our stupidities, and everyone who has watched gluttons shoveling down the most exquisite foods as if they did not know what they were eating, will admit that we can ignore even pleasure. But pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our consciences, but shouts in our pains. It is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.

My point in all of this simply is a call to consider that what God’s Word says of Israel may be something that we should consider when pain and hardship befalls our lives. Just because we don’t like to assign a cause-effect consequence to behavior doesn’t mean that God’s law is suddenly inoperable in the modern age. The writer of 2 Kings was not shy about saying “this happened to them because of that.” Israel fell, the northern nation met its end, and the reason why is very clear: they stubbornly persistented in flagrant sin.

On a personal level, it may just be wisdom to consider the possibility of a cause-effect consequence when hardship happens in your life, with a contrite heart and corrective steps. I would not suggest that you go around proclaiming this for the sinful world at large, or even for people that you know. Unless they have invited your opinions, it is best to keep them to yourself. But on a personal level, give it some thought.

It may not be the case that you are under the Lord’s discipline, but then again, the writer of Hebrews said, “Endure hardship as discipline.”

Going Deeper With God: Are you going through a time of hardship. Consider it as the Lord’s loving discipline. He is treating you as his child. And just remember, discipline for his children is not for judgment, it is for correction and restoration.

Pain is not good in itself. What is good in any painful experience is, for the sufferer, his submission to the will of God, and, for the spectators, the compassion aroused and the acts of mercy to which it leads.

—C.S. LEWIS

  

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