Really Bad News And Really, Really Good News

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My cousin Dick Brogden wrote in his book Missionary God, Missionary Bible, “Since good news must often indeed rectify bad news, the gospel message is both warning and invitation.” This is so appropriate when reading the prophet Zephaniah: He wanted to share some really, really good news, but first, he must make us confront the really bad news. 

Zephaniah prophesied near the end of Judah’s decline toward exile. He saw the great revival in King Josiah’s day, and then watched his fellow Israelites once again turn their backs on God. If Jeremiah spoke to faithless Israelites, and Habakkuk spoke to faithful Israelites, then Zephaniah spoke to fake Israelites—those who appeared to be religious, but whose hearts were not actually devoted to God. 

This whole book looks backward in history and forward to soon-to-be-fulfilled prophecy. Most of the time when God speaks, He is asking us to look forward to what is unavoidably coming. Zephaniah then takes God’s words as a call for us to apply them to our lives today. 

In the first chapter, God’s forward-look is a warning of the judgment that most assuredly is coming. Built into His warning are two backward looks to the law of Deuteronomy (vv. 13 and 15 look back to Deuteronomy 28:29-30). 

Zephaniah uses this warning as a wake-up call for us, telling us to “seek the Lord” and “seek righteousness, seek humility” before the day of God’s judgment comes (2:1-3). 

The fact that God’s judgment would fall on godless people shouldn’t surprise anyone (2:4-15), but when Zephaniah says, “Woe to the city of oppressors” (3:1), he’s talking to the people of Judah! Zephaniah addresses his warning to the fake Israelites, the hypocritical people—those claiming God’s name but not God’s nature. 

The apostle Paul sounds a similar warning to New Testament Christians: 

Now these things occurred as examples to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did. Do not be idolaters, as some of them were; as it is written: ‘The people sat down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in revelry.’ We should not commit sexual immorality, as some of them did—and in one day twenty-three thousand of them died. We should not test Christ, as some of them did—and were killed by snakes. And do not grumble, as some of them did—and were killed by the destroying angel. These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the culmination of the ages has come. So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! (1 Corinthians 10:6-14) 

The really bad news is ALL of us have sinned and we have ALL fallen short of God’s righteous standard. As a result, ALL of us would stand guilty before God on Judgment Day. 

But the really, really good news is that Jesus allowed our penalty to fall on Him instead! So if we put our faith in Jesus, God’s judgment will be appeased in Christ instead of on us! 

Christians, then, take the name of Jesus Christ, but we need to make sure we also take His nature.  Fake—hypocritical—Christians are those who are “Christian” in name only. 

I like the way Eugene Peterson paraphrased part of the 1 Corinthians passage above—These are all warning markers—danger!—in our history books, written down so that we don’t repeat their mistakes. Our positions in the story are parallel—they at the beginning, we at the end—and we are just as capable of messing it up as they were. Don’t be so naive and self-confident. You’re not exempt. You could fall flat on your face as easily as anyone else. Forget about self-confidence; it’s useless. Cultivate God-confidence. (The Message) 

As we read those words, “So if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall,” I’d like to suggest four action steps:

  1. Hear the Word of God to YOU—not your neighbor—but you personally. 
  2. After you hear the Word, examine yourself to see if you are truly living in God’s nature and not just using His name. 
  3. Respond like King Josiah did when he heard God’s Word: He made a public commitment “to follow the Lord and keep His commands, statutes and decrees with ALL his heart and ALL his soul” (2 Kings 23:3). 
  4. Stay diligent—Hebrews 2:1 tells us, “We must pay the most careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away.” 

Don’t delay—the Day of the Lord is closer today than it’s ever been before! Pay attention to the really bad news that Judgment Day is coming, but then make certain you are standing in the nature of Jesus Christ on that day so that God’s judgment will pass over you. 

If you’ve missed any of the messages in our series looking at the major lessons in the minor prophets, you can find the full list of messages by clicking here. 

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The Lingering Effects Of Poor Leadership

Surely these things happened to Judah according to the Lord’s command… (2 Kings 24:3). 

I am intrigued by the succession of the last kings of Judah just before Jerusalem falls in 586 BC. The leadership authority has been completely undermined by the downward spiral of sin in the previous leaders. As a result, the kings of Judah are now just an “empty suit,” with someone else exerting the real influence.

King Josiah was the last God-fearing king Judah had. After Josiah died, “the people of the land” made Jehoahaz king of Judah. He only reigned three months. 

After Jehoahaz died, “Pharaoh Neco made Eliakim son of Josiah king” after Egypt subdued Judah. Pharaoh changed his name to Jehoiakim, took all of Judah’s treasures, and imposed a tribute on Judah, forcing Jehoiakim to tax all the citizens. 

Later on, Jehoiakim became a vassal king of Nebuchadnezzar. After Jehoiakim died, his son Jehoiachin only reigned as king for three months before he was deposed by Nebuchadnezzar. 

Nebuchadnezzar then “made Mattaniah” king. He also imposed tribute and changed the king’s name to Zedekiah. 

King Zedekiah rebelled and was executed, after which Nebuchadnezzar “appointed Gedaliah as governor.” Gedaliah was assassinated shortly thereafter, completing the collapse of Judah and sending the people into exile in Babylon for the next 70 years. 

[Check out all of the biblical references for these sad events by clicking here]

Oh, what misery for the people of Judah for this last 20-year span under these final kings! The consequences of the leaders’ continual rebellion against God brought such uncertainty and heartache for the citizens. 

A mark of a godless leader is the wake of misery that follows him for generations afterward. 

Lord God, help me to see that my actions today have consequences for tomorrow. I want to leave an empowering, God-honoring legacy for the next generations, but this can only happen as I remain obedient to You! 

This is part 51 in my series on godly leadership. You can check out all of my posts in this series by clicking here

Stand Up For God’s Word

…Josiah read in their hearing all the words of the book of the covenant… (2 Kings 23:2).

The leader must go first.
The leader must go big.
The leader must be visible.
The leader must be consistent.

This is the only way to affect real change.

Josiah did this extremely well. In fact, he did it better than any other king!

Josiah called all the people together and read “in their hearing” God’s word. Then he made it his own and took a public stand to confirm it (v. 3). Josiah went first, and “then all the people pledged themselves to the covenant.” 

The rest of Josiah’s reign is punctuated by telltale phrases like:

  • in accordance with the Word of the Lord
  • as it is written in this book of the covenant
  • fulfilled the requirements of the law

Here’s one of the most amazing things to me: Josiah’s wholehearted obedience to God ends up fulfilling perfectly a 300-year-old prophecy that God gave through a prophet of Judah (v. 16; 1 Kings 13:1-3).

A mark of a godly leader is his public alignment with God’s Word.

When the leader goes public and then wholeheartedly follows through on his commitment to God, others will follow his lead. May all of us be that kind of pacesetting leader. 

This is part 51 in my series on godly leadership. You can check out all of my posts in this series by clicking here. 

13 Introspective Questions From “Longing For A Changed World”

As Ralph Lehman made his case for Christian to (re)establish a prayer focus for revival in his book Longing For A Changed World, he asked several penetrating questions. Here are a few of them for you to consider.

“[Josiah’s revival] was one revival that began with the leaders of government. Are we praying for our leaders?”

“Our government has entered many areas that were once considered to be the Church’s sphere of ministry. How can we lead our churches back into these areas?”

“Have you considered that you are grieving the Spirit when you deprive Him of conversing with God by choosing not to pray?”

“As men of prayer, should we not strive to be like the great prayer warriors of the Bible?”

“Tertullian, a church father who lived in the Roman Empire around 200 A.D., stated that the Roman emperor and his armies benefited greatly from the prayers of the Christians who interceded on their behalf. Can we present the same argument to our political leaders today?”

“What would we be willing to leave or to set aside for the sake of more time in prayer, seeking the Kingdom and righteousness of God?”

“Do we seek the Lord of revival, or merely desire His blessings?”

“If we do not enjoy God’s presence, through His Word and prayer, we are missing the true blessing God intends for us—the blessing of Himself. If we will not seek the presence of God day by day, how can we expect Him to go with us in our daily lives?”

“If God was willing to take the Israelites into the Promised Land without His presence [Exodus 33:3-4], what does this say to the proponents of the ‘health and wealth’ gospel?”

“Even though we have been blessed immeasurably by living here in the United States, do our hearts long for God’s rule to be acknowledged in our land? Do we yearn to abide in His presence? Or are we idle in our contentment with the milk and honey?”

“Sometimes, our areas of giftedness become spheres where we fail to ask God for strength. Have you considered your strengths may be the very areas that satan exploits?”

“Are we praying for revival, are we also praying that we would conduct ourselves in such a way that the world would take notice, even if this meant for us to suffer?”

“Is the God of today’s church big enough to surprise us?”

You can check out some other quotes from Longing For A Changed World by clicking here, and my full book review is available here.

Do You Read The Bible Or Does The Bible Read You?

I’ve been studying the lives of the kings of Judah. The last God-fearing king before the fall of Jerusalem was a man named Josiah. He became king as an 8-year-old and really began looking for God as a teenager. Apparently, during all of this time, the book of the Law (the first five books of our current Bible) was hidden away and forgotten. As Josiah started seeking God, he gave orders that the temple in Jerusalem be repaired. During the clean-up work, the workers rediscovered the book of the Law and brought it to the palace. They began to read the Law to Josiah

When the king heard the words of the Law, he tore his robes.

Tearing of the robes is a sign of deep mourning. The words of Scripture cut Josiah like a dagger to the heart because he knew he and his people weren’t living according to God’s standards. He started telling everyone the Scriptural standards that they needed to honor, and had the words of the Law read aloud for everyone to hear. Then in the presence of everyone, Josiah reaffirmed his commitment to be a man who lived by the words of God’s Word.

This got me thinking:

  • Do I have an emotional response when I read the Bible? Or is it just a mental exercise? Or worse yet, just a meaningless daily habit?
  • Am I truly sorry when I read in the Bible where I’ve fallen short of what God desires? Or do I make excuses?
  • Do I ask the Holy Spirit to help me live out what I’ve read in the Word? Or do I convince myself that those parts don’t pertain to me?
  • Do I share with others what’s been revealed to me? Or do I keep it to myself?
  • Am I willing to be accountable to others about the changes I need to make? Or am I trying to be a lone ranger saint?

Do I just read the Bible? Or do I allow the Bible to read me?

Take It Up A Notch

King Josiah is widely regarded as one of the greatest reformers of Judah. He led a revival in Israel that led to the people cleaning out their idols and worshipping God in ways that hadn’t been seen since the time of King David.

This whole revival started with a Book. Not just any book, but the Book of the Law (the Bible).

When the king heard what was written in the book, God’s Revelation, he ripped his robes in dismay. And then he called for Hilkiah the priest, Ahikam son of Shaphan, Acbor son of Micaiah, Shaphan the royal secretary, and Asaiah the king’s personal aide. He ordered them all: “Go and pray to God for me and for this people—for all Judah! Find out what we must do in response to what is written in this Book that has just been found! God’s anger must be burning furiously against us—our ancestors haven’t obeyed a thing written in this book, followed none of the instructions directed to us.”

Josiah’s leadership was already stellar. The Bible describes Josiah this way: “He did what was right in the eyes of the Lord.” But 18 years into his reign as king, the Scriptures were rediscovered and his leadership went up a notch.

Reading the Scripture and living by the Scripture makes a good life a better life!

At the end of Josiah’s life, something is recorded about him that isn’t mentioned about any other king:

The prophet Jeremiah composed funeral songs for Josiah, and to this day choirs still sing these sad songs about his death. These songs of sorrow have become a tradition and are recorded in The Book of Laments.

Do you want to take your life up a notch? Get into God’s Word and let it get into you and change the way you think and live.

Consequences

It was a beautiful sunny evening. All of my work was done, Betsy was home from school, our cooler was packed, and we were off to the park. We were all looking forward to spend this lovely evening grilling some hotdogs, splashing in the water, enjoying the breeze off the lake, and just spending time as a family.

But like an unexpected rear-end collision, all our plans for a fun evening were smashed in a single moment. As we were carrying our cooler and towels and toys toward the picnic tables, a couple of my kids acted up… they broke some of our family no-no’s.

Their actions took less than two seconds. It was just between two of them. But the entire family was affected. We turned around and headed home. No hotdogs on the open grill, no beach time, no after-dinner walk on the trails.

Two made a mistake, but all suffered because actions have consequences.

Isaac Newton said for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. We often think of this when, for instance, in a game of billiards the cue ball hits another ball. The energy from the cue ball is transferred to the other ball, moving it in the direction it was struck. Sometimes we might be tempted to believe that the only two balls affected were the cue ball and the ball that was struck. But that is not correct. Since those two balls have now been moved to another position on the table, their new positions now affected the entire table—the entire game is now different because of action and reaction.

There are consequences for our actions. And almost always those consequences are felt by someone other than the one who acted. Sometimes the consequences are pleasant and sometimes they are painful or even disastrous.

In Old Testament history, we see good consequences. King David was a righteous man, one who loved God and obeyed God’s commands. About 300 years later King Hezekiah sat on the same throne of Israel. When the Assyrian army was headed toward Jerusalem, Hezekiah prayed and asked for God’s help. God responded, “I promise that the king of Assyria won’t get into Jerusalem, or shoot an arrow into the city, or even surround it and prepare to attack. … I will protect it for Myself and for My servant David.

And we see bad consequences. There was a wicked king of Judah named Manasseh. He is not only one of Judah’s longest-reigning kings, but he is also widely regarded as Judah’s most wicked king. Yet in his lifetime, his kingdom seemed to prosper. And even though his grandson Josiah turned away from evil and turned toward God like no other king ever had done before, just four years after his death Jerusalem fell. King Jehoiachin was defeated and all of Judah was carried off into exile by Nebuchadnezzar as a consequence of Manasseh’s sinful behavior.

Our kids that acted up wrote notes of apology which they read to the family (as we ate our hotdogs at home) and we all forgave them. And we had a nice evening playing around the house. But the evening still had the tinge of regret for what could have been.

Our choices today will have consequences tomorrow. Our actions always affect more than just ourselves—they affect everyone close to us. The people in Hezekiah’s day were grateful for the blessed consequences of David’s right choices. The people in Jehoiachin’s day were grieved for the disastrous consequences of Manasseh’s wrong choices.

What about you? What will your descendants feel about the consequences they are experiencing because of your choices today? It’s up to you, and it’s for them, so live right today.

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