William Perkins defined theology as, “The science of living blessedly forever.” He also had this word for pastors as they teach theology: “The ‘demonstration of the Spirit’ becomes a reality when, in preaching, the minister of the Word conducts himself in such a way that everyone—even those who are ignorant of the gospel and are unbelievers—recognize that it is not so much the preacher who is speaking but the Spirit of God in him and by him…. This is what makes his ministry living and powerful.”
“Self-trust is the first secret of success.” —Ralph Waldo Emerson
John Piper identifies five digital dangers and gives us strategies for combating them. I especially thought these insights on pornography were powerful: “More insidious that X-rated videos, we can now not only watch but join the perversity in the privacy of our own den. Interactive porn will allow you to ‘do it’ or make them ‘do it’ virtually. I have never seen it. Nor do I ever intend to. It kills the spirit. It drives God away. It depersonalizes women. It quenches prayer. It blanks out the Bible. It cheapens the soul. It destroys spiritual power. It defiles everything. Resolution: I will never open any app or website for sexual stimulation, nor purchase or download anything pornographic.”
“I could well believe that it is God‘s intention, since we have refused milder remedies, to compel us into unity, by persecution even and hardship. satan is without doubt nothing else than a hammer in the hand of a benevolent and severe God. For all, either willingly or unwillingly, do the will of God: Judas and satan as tools or instruments, John and Peter as sons.” —C.S. Lewis
“The response of Jesus to those guilty of sexual sin is not to condemn nor condone the sin. I see in His example [John 8:10-12] a good pattern: (1) Love first—‘I don’t condemn you’; (2) Speak the truth—‘Sin no more.’” —Kevin Berry. The world has made “love” mean accepting whatever the other person is doing, and “truth” now means agreeing with the other person. With the Holy Spirit’s help, we can speak the truth in love without condemning nor condoning.
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Then the king of Assyria sent his field commander with a large army… (Isaiah 36:2).
The enemies of God’s people always use the same tactics.
(1) Sending an intimidating force that seems overwhelming and invincible.
King Sennacherib didn’t send a small detachment of soldiers, but he sent “a large army” to try to intimidate the people of Judah.
(2) Asking doubt-inducing questions.
The field commander asked questions like…
On what are you basing this confidence of yours?
On whom are you depending?
Do you think Jehovah can save you from this?
(3) Fomenting distrust in God’s wisdom and ability.
Once the seeds of doubt had been sown, the field commander attempted to water those seeds by making accusations like…
Do not let Hezekiah deceive you: God can’t help you with this one!
The gods of other nations didn’t help them, so what makes you think your God will help you?
(4) Offering a compromise.
Then came the offer to give in…
Come now, make a bargain with my master and I’ll give you more riches than you can imagine!
Make peace with me while you have the chance, and I promise you will have a trouble-free life!
All of these tactics attempted to play on the fears of people who felt surrounded and overwhelmed.
But I love to remember that the acrostic of the word F.E.A.R. is False Evidence Appearing Real. The field commander in King Hezekiah’s time, and satan today, use the tactics of fear to try to get us to compromise.
King Hezekiah gave us a great example to follow. When he received the field commander’s letter with all of the threats listed, he “spread it out before the Lord” (Isaiah 37:14)! Isaiah reminded the people not to be afraid of the threats of the enemy, because those threats were actually blasphemy against God. And then God tells Hezekiah quite simply, “I will take care of this!”
And God did indeed take care of it.
Without the armies of Judah ever having to lift a sword or a spear or shield, God broke the power of the enemy and sent them away in shame!
When the enemy seems to be surrounding you today, he will use these same tactics. He will try to overwhelm you, get you to doubt what God has said, try to induce you to distrust God, and then offer you a compromise. All the devil has on his side is false evidence that he attempts to make look real.
So do what King Hezekiah did: Spread out those threats before God. Go to His Word and read again what He has already promised you. Then stand firm in faith. God will take care of your adversary!
Daniel served under multiple kings, even as the regimes changed from Babylonian, to Median, to Persian. He never waiver in his adherence to the Truth that God had spoken. He fearlessly told these world leaders, “The Most High is sovereign over all kingdoms on earth and gives them to anyone He wishes” (Daniel 4:25).
Most leaders forget this the moment they obtain power. Such is the case of the man the Magi met: King Herod the Great. Listen to how William Barclay describes this monarch:
“Herod the Great was always despised by the pure-blooded Jews because he was half an Edomite; and we can see the importance that even Herod attached to these genealogies from the fact that he had the official registers destroyed, so that no one could prove a purer pedigree than his own. …
“He had made himself useful to the Romans in the wars and civil wars of Palestine, and they trusted him. He had been appointed governor in 47 B.C.; in 40 B.C. he had received the title of king. …
“But Herod had one terrible flaw in his character. He was almost insanely suspicious. He had always been suspicious, and the older he became the more suspicious he grew, until, in his old age, he was, as someone said, ‘a murderous old man.’ … He murdered his wife Mariamne and her mother Alexandra. His eldest son, Antipater, and two other sons, Alexander and Aristobulus, were all assassinated by him. Augustus, the Roman Emperor, had said, bitterly, that it was safer to be Herod’s pig than Herod’s son. …
“When he was seventy he knew that he must die. … He gave orders that a collection of the most distinguished citizens of Jerusalem should be arrested on trumped-up charges and imprisoned. And he ordered that the moment he died, they should all be killed. He said grimly that he was well aware that no one would mourn for his death, and that he was determined that some tears should be shed when he died.”
Lord Acton famously said, “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely. …Despotic power is always accompanied by corruption of morality.” This is so obvious in Herod! So we can understand why the city of Jerusalem was disturbed when the Magi arrived! Whether Herod knew the prophecy of the coming Messiah or not, it’s inescapably true that his days and his legacy were numbered (see Isaiah 9:2-7).
When King Herod heard the announcement from the Magi, his reaction was violent. Perhaps Herod lashed out so ferociously because these words of Truth from the Magi reminded him his end was near, his power was not absolute, he had to answer to The Most High who is sovereign over all.
We are no better. Oswald Chambers defines sin as “my claim to my right to myself.” We want absolute sovereignty over ourselves, but Jesus will allow no rival to His throne! He is either King over all or else He is not King at all.
Beware of your own reaction when the Holy Spirit convicts you of a rival to Christ’s throne in your heart. If you lash out like Herod, dismiss it, or try to justify it, that is proof that you needed to hear that word of Truth. Don’t delay: Repent and allow Christ to have His rightful throne.
Jesus came as a Baby and a Savior at his First Advent. He opened the way for us to enter the presence of The Most High God, but it will cost us something to enter. Oswald Chambers tells us:
“Redemption is easy to experience because it cost God everything, and if I am going to be regenerated it is going to cost me something. I have to give up my right to myself. I have deliberately to accept into myself something that will fight for all it is worth, something that will war against the desires of the flesh, and that will ask me to go into identification with the death of Jesus Christ, and these things produce a struggle in me.”
Christ’s Second Advent will be as the conquering King and righteous Judge of all humanity. We have precious little time to tell others the good news. People may react violently like Herod did, but that is simply proof that they needed to hear that Truth.
Listen to the podcast of this post by clicking on the player below, and you can also subscribe on Apple or Spotify.
Have you ever read the children’s book Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day? Poor Alexander, his day just seemed to get worse—nothing was going right. He wakes up with gum in his hair, trips on his skateboard, and drops his favorite sweater in the sink filled with water. Breakfast doesn’t get any better, things go sideways at school, his least-favorite food is served for dinner, his nightlight burns out. And if all that’s not bad enough, the cat decides to sleep with his brother instead of with him.
Can you relate to Alexander?
Doesn’t it seem like when one thing goes wrong, everything goes wrong? And if things go wrong for too many days in a row, it seems like the bad times are lasting forever! All of us have a tendency to exaggerate during the dark days.
A psalmist named Asaph seemed to be having a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day of his own. Listen to some of his words, including the exaggerations of how bad he thought everything was:
Why have You rejected us forever, O God? … Your foes roared in the place where You met us… They said in their hearts, “We will crush them completely!” They burned everyplace where God was worshiped in the land. … How long will the enemy mock you, O God? Will the foe revile Your name forever? Why do You hold back Your hand? (Psalm 74:1, 4, 8, 10, 11)
In the middle of the storm, we tend to not only exaggerate how bad things are but we also seem to lose our bearings and we can even lose sight of God. I think that’s what was happening to Asaph in the first half of his lament. But then we come to the middle verse of this psalm and we notice the beginning of a change in perspective: “But You, O God, are my King from of old; You bring salvation upon the earth” (v. 12).
Aha! In the middle of his terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day, Asaph stopped looking at all the bad things around him and turned his gaze upward. “Look,” he tells himself, “there is God still reigning as the Supreme King!” Asaph begins to recount all that God has done, using the phrase “It was You” who did these miraculous things five times in the next five verses.
In the middle of the storm, Asaph has to remind himself…
God existed before time began
He is still the sovereign ruler in this present moment
He gets the final and decisive word at the end
He never forgets His covenant of love with His people
He defends His cause and His people
His desires can never be thwarted or even delayed a single moment
He is the only One who exists as the Eternal I AM
His love and His power are unmatched and unrivaled anywhere in the universe
He will rise up to save me
My friend, I implore you to remember these words of Asaph. Commit them to your memory now, so that when your terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day happens—when it seems like everything is going to go wrong forever—that you can spot those lying exaggerations, you can turn your gaze upward, and you can find hope in knowing your God not only has all power to save you in the storm, but He has unlimited love that wants to save you through the storm.
Look up, look up, look up and see your God reigning supremely over even the worst terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.
Listen to the podcast of this post by clicking on the player below, and you can also subscribe on Apple or Spotify.
John Maxwell said, “We overestimate what we can do in a day; we underestimate what we can do in a year.” In the case of parents, I think we do the same thing: we lose sight of the big picture when we get bogged down in the details and the pressures of each day. As a result, many times we are unaware of the long-lasting rewards that come from our daily obedience and God’s eternal faithfulness. This was never more true than in the fantastic love story of Ruth + Boaz.
Last week we looked at the history of Pentecost and what took place 50 days after the Passover, we saw a picture in the Old Testament that was fulfilled in the New Testament. The Jews saw this too. In the Hagiographa (Holy Writings), they picked one of the books of the Old Testament to read at each of the annual Jewish feasts, and the Book of Ruth was selected for Pentecost. I think this was because Ruth herself is in essence a “harvest” of God’s blessing. She is the firstfruits of the non-Jewish people whom God has engrafted into His holy family.
The story of Ruth’s coming into God’s family is birthed out of heartache. Elimelech and Naomi live in Bethlehem, which means “house of bread,” but it was a time of famine; Elimelech’s name means “God is King,” but Israel had no king and everyone lived for themselves; Naomi’s name means “pleasant,” but her days were bitter (see Judges 21:25; Ruth 1:1-5).
After Elimelech and his two sons die, Naomi changes her name to Mara (which means bitterness), and yet she hears “that the LORD had come to the aid of His people by providing food for them” (1:6) and she decides to return to Bethlehem. She counsels her daughters-in-law to remain with their families in Moab, but Ruth decides to cling to Naomi.
In the face of utter hopelessness, Ruth could have chosen what was familiar—her family, her homeland, her gods—but instead she chose to cling to Jehovah.
Perhaps when she heard that Jehovah had come to the aid of His people she realized, “I’ve never heard of Chemosh coming to the aid of his people. We sacrifice to him but he doesn’t do anything for us. This Jehovah cares for His people. I will put my faith in Him.”
Ruth’s first step of obedience triggers a whole series of events, starting with one that the writer of this story introduces by saying, “As it turned out, Ruth found herself working in a field belonging to Boaz.”
But this is no accident—God oversees and directs all of the details. All of history is His story. God is in charge of the tiniest of details: even down to directing Ruth to the right barley field. Ruth’s trust in Jehovah, her obedience in following Him, set things in motion that God had planned, just as Paul explained in Romans 8:28.
Moms, at the end of the story of your life, you will look back and see so many as-it-turned-out moments. But that means you are living in an as-it-turned-out moment right now.If you believe God is overseeing the details of your life, then every momentis divinely orchestrated by Jehovah, every moment is strategic, every moment is God-directed. You must remain daily obedient to God.
Don’t underestimate the legacy of God’s provision that is being established every single day that you remain obedient in following Him. Look at the amazing way God used Ruth and Boaz in the family tree of Jesus Christ (Ruth 4:16-22; Matthew 1:1-6).
Moms, your obedience today is preparing your children—and their future generations—for them to experience God’s provision in a coming famine (see Amos 8:11; Psalm 91).
Of course, Ruth can’t give birth to Obed without there being a father, which is why the story is called Ruth + Boaz. On Father’s Day we’ll look at the integrity of Boaz that made this possible too, so please make plans to join me then.
In the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, in order to fulfill the word of the Lord spoken by Jeremiah, the Lord moved the heart of Cyrus… (Ezra 1:1).
Ezra begins as 2 Chronicles ends: with the proclamation of Cyrus allowing the Israelites to return to Jerusalem.
The Babylonians defeated the Assyrians, who were then defeated by the Medes, who were themselves defeated by the Persians under Cyrus II. This was a powerful man who claimed “all the kingdoms of the earth” as his possession. (v. 2).
Yet this conquering king who was called Cyrus the Great had his heart directed by God.
Among the Israelite exiles that returned to Jerusalem were princes, priests, Levites, servants, and common people of every stripe. These exiles were rulers of nothing.
Yet these people also had their hearts moved by God (v. 5)—42,360 of them, to be precise.
The same God who moved the heart of the most powerful king on earth also moved the hearts of common people. God had a plan to fulfill and He knew exactly which hearts to move at the precise time to bring about His purpose. God is sovereignly in control. All of history—including all the people in history—is His story.
The king is not too powerful and the common citizen is not too small to be used by God.
Let me make that statement more personal: All of the “great” people on earth today are not too powerful to be used by God, nor are you too small to be used by Him.
Will you say “yes” when He moves your heart to action?
God’s judgment fell, Sennacherib was assassinated, Judah was delivered, and God was glorified (vv. 21-23).
It is shortsighted of me to say, “But God, I did everything faithfully so this bad thing shouldn’t be happening to me.”
It’s not about me! It never has been. It’s all about God’s glory.
Yes, Hezekiah reaped the benefit of Sennacherib’s defeat, but it wasn’t because God was “paying Hezekiah back” for the good he had done. God was still being glorified when “many brought offerings to Jerusalem for the Lord and valuable gifts for Hezekiah king of Judah. From then on he was highly regarded by all the nations.”
Sennacherib was defeated and Hezekiah was saved for the same reason: God was glorified in doing so!
Whenever you walk through a dark time, you too might be tempted to say, “God, this isn’t fair!” But remember, it’s not about you—it’s about God being glorified. Perhaps God gains greater glory and you gain greater rewards by Him delivering you through an enemy’s attack, not delivering you from the attack. Whatever God is doing, He is doing it for His glory.
“The Bible is the best of all books, for it is the word of God, and teaches us the way to be happy in this world and in the next. Continue therefore to read it, and to regulate your life by its precepts.” —John Jay
“Only a virtuous people are capable of freedom. As nations become corrupt and vicious, they have more need of masters.” —Benjamin Franklin
“While we are zealously performing the duties of good Citizens and Soldiers we certainly ought not to be inattentive to the higher duties of Religion. To the distinguished Character of Patriot, it should be our highest Glory to add the more distinguished Character of Christian.” —George Washington
“In this situation of this assembly, groping as it were in the dark to find political truth, and scarce able to distinguish it when presented to us, how has it happened, sir, that we have not hitherto once thought of humbly applying to the Father of lights, to illuminate our understandings? … I have lived, Sir, a long time; and the longer I live the more convincing Proofs I see of this Truth, That God governs in the Affairs of Men! And if a Sparrow cannot fall to the Ground without His Notice, is it probable than an Empire can rise without His Aid?—We have been assured, Sir, in the Sacred Writings, that ‘except the Lord build the House, they labor in vain that build it.’ I firmly believe this; and I also believe that without His concurring Aid we shall succeed in this political Building no better than the Builders of Babel…. I therefore beg leave to move, That henceforth Prayers, imploring the Assistance of Heaven, and its Blessing on our Deliberations, be held in this Assembly every Morning before we proceed to Business.” —Benjamin Franklin
“And can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of people that these liberties are of the gift of God? That they are not to be violated but with His wrath? Indeed, I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just; that His justice cannot sleep for ever….” —Thomas Jefferson
“The diminution of public virtue is usually attended with that of public happiness, and the public liberty will not long survive the total extinction of morals.” —Samuel Adams
“Neither the wisest constitution nor the wisest laws will secure the liberty and happiness of a people whose manners are universally corrupt.” —Samuel Adams
A mark of a godly leader is one who leads with God’s moral authority.
Samuel had always been a public person: accessible and visible to all. Now he calls all Israel together to challenge them to point out where he may have taken a bribe or used his position to his own advantage. All Israel was silent on this—no one could speak a word against him (v. 4). This gave him the moral authority to speak a hard word to the people.
Samuel reminds Israel that God is sovereign:
God appoints leaders
God overrules evil plans
God fulfills all His purposes
Samuel had to “confront [them] with evidence” (v. 7) that they had not acted like those things were true about God. A prophet frequently has to say, “Here is God’s standard, and here is where you are falling short of His standard.” But a shepherd’s voice quickly adds, “Far be it from me that I should sin against the Lord by failing to pray for you. And I will teach you the way that is good and right” (v. 23).
This prophet-shepherd is attested to by God Himself. God will sometimes thunder His thunder (vv. 17-18), but God will always make sure that none of His servant’s words fall to the ground (3:19). This moral authority is gained by both fearing God and delighting in Him.
Fear of God brings the prophet’s voice forward. Delighting in God brings the shepherd’s voice forward. God’s effective leader needs both voices to lead with moral authority.
This is part 47 in my series on godly leadership. You can check out all of my posts in this series by clicking here.