“Checkmate”

The game of chess

 Isaiah 36-37 In the 1930’s Al Capone ruled Chicago. He taunted those who did not want to pay him for protection, and if they didn’t, he took note and sent his thugs to “take care of the problem.” Sennacherib was the Capone Hezekiah faced.  His thugs were Rabshakeh and his contingent. They mocked God and repeated “Capone/Sennacherib’s” words: “what is your source of confidence….in whom are you trusting.” Capone thought he could play the game of chess with Hezekiah.  They surmised that Hezekiah would then be shaking in his boots and succumb to their threats as he had done previously. Hezekiah’s advisors Eliakim and Hilkiah indeed returned to Hezekiah with their clothes torn as a sign they were demoralized just as Rabshekah had hoped.

In the last encounter, Hezekiah did not entrust himself to the Lord. We see that this time Hezekiah went up to the temple and laid the letter before the Lord. The prophet Isaiah told Hezekiah that he would put hooks in the jaws of this “Capone” and send him packing back to his home country because Hezekiah sought God’s help.  

God gave Hezekiah three principles that teach us truths about living in a “Capone” world. [Is 37:31]: remain steadfast—Paul said much the same in [1 Cor 15: 58], “be ye steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord.” Secondly, take root where you are and remain firm in your faith; [Col 2:7]. Thirdly bear fruit that proves your repentance; [Matt 3:8.]

Checkmate: God will have the last move. 

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When Tests Come, Trust God

Prayer is the answer

2 Kings 18 Hezekiah lived in a time when Judah had prophets like Isaiah to guide and teach.  Hezekiah was mentored by him nearly all his life, yet Hezekiah had two areas of weakness: fear of men and pride. Hezekiah fell into the trap of fear when Assyria threatened his kingdom. Although the Assyrian king accepted his tribute, like Satan, he upped the ante and Hezekiah prostrated himself before the Lord. That is how Satan works; he will give a little only to take a lot. Beware of Satan’s tactics. He is our arch enemy.

Hezekiah fell ill unto death, and Isaiah tells him God is knocking at his eternal destiny door.  Hezekiah wept before God and reminded God of his faithfulness and he was healed. But, then another enemy, Babylon, comes knocking and Hezekiah is fooled by their gifts and get well wishes. Hezekiah’s heart was proud of his wealth and missed an opportunity to share the power of prayer and God.   The Chronicle writer notes that God left Hezekiah alone to “test what was in his heart.” Pride is one of Satan’s masterful tools.

Hezekiah possessed God’s blessings, and God approved him, but he failed in these two areas and missed the golden opportunities God placed in his path.   

Have we missed them as well?   

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Forged in Fire

Exodus 35 to 37 forged in fire.2ajpgExodus 35-37 When I am tested, I will come forth as gold”

In Egypt, God tested his people in a severe trial of slavery. It was there that the Israelites were trained in skills such as jewelry, woodworking, and weaving. God now would call upon those skills to build His Tabernacle or dwelling place. While the people groaned under the pressure, God was forging His people to excel. He does the same for us today. We may not see or understand but know this truth: God is preparing all of us to do His kingdom work. God blessed these workers and they left Egypt with gifts of gold, silver and precious jewels in abundance, enough to pay their wages of 400+ years.  As the people looked at their abundance they may have wondered why and for what purpose they had gleaned these treasures. When the perfect time came the people’s hearts were overflowing and they willingly gave so much that Moses had to tell them to stop giving!

Fast forward to the NT and we find the admonition to set aside some income for the service of the church. Imagine if today people gave and gave and gave and then had to be told to stop giving! How many missionaries could we send? How many children’s programs could we provide? How blessed our churches would be if this were true.

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Waiting…easy or hard?

Exodus 32 Do you have trouble waiting–especially for God to act, to speak, or “fill in the blank?”

Exodus 32 waiting patiently

Do you become impatient? Do you want to wait, but circumstances take over, and you decide to take matters into your own hands? The Israelites had just said, ‘we will obey.’ Yet when a test came into their lives to wait, their commitment was shallow.  When the people “saw” that Moses still had not returned, they made a decision: Moses’ God wasn’t working on their time table. It won’t be the last time these Israelites have a problem with waiting. They became impatient with Samuel and said you are old and your sons don’t follow, so appoint us a king. King David’s prayer life reveals that he must have had trouble with waiting too, for he wrote three times for God to help him in ‘waiting.’ [Ps 17:14; 37:7, 62:5]

Why do we have a problem with waiting? We misperceive time. The drama of leaving Egypt was still fresh in their minds, and they were anxious to get to the Promised Land, yet God knew that they needed the skill of waiting because time had always been determined for them. Now they were being tested to see if their commitment was real. Sometimes as we wait, we yearn for routine, and we get bored. Without a routine, we get lazy, and we become discontented; we lack a commitment to the cause. Like the Israelites, we do not have perseverance. We think we have the plan all figured out, and we want God to do it ‘now.’ One author put it this way; Waiting reveals the best and the worst in us and also reveals our lack of understanding that God doesn’t work on our time table.

Are you having trouble waiting? Cultivate this skill through prayerful meditation and study.

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What do Balaam, Donkeys, Bluebonnets and the Wilderness have to do with Trials?

bluebonnetsJames 1: Count It All Joy!

Donkeys that talk are out of the ordinary and we giggle at Balaam’s response but oftentimes we act just like him when God is trying to get our attention. We are a stubborn people when we are in a trial just like Balaam. But, James, God’s servant, is not talking about these “in your face” trials but rather the everyday ordinary ones such as a computer that is fried, as I am facing, or a simple water leak as in our bathroom.

As Creator, God has given us a myriad of word pictures so we understand His plan and the way He works in our lives. Sometimes He uses donkeys that talk, bears that scare or sometimes it is the innocent and beautiful wildflowers like the Texas Bluebonnet that grow in the meadow in spring. They cover the farmland, the roadsides, and the yards so that we will stop and ponder their beauty. But, just as we are enjoying them, the heat comes and they wither and pass off not to be seen again until the following spring. That is like the trials we face. Know this whatever He has chosen you can know that it has a purpose to get our attention.

As God’s servant, James wants us to learn how to face and handle trials that we face. Trials teach us about our mindset and how we respond to them just as the bluebonnets. Just as a bluebonnet faces the test of heat, God tests our faith. Peter reminds us that we should not be surprised when life seems to be beautiful and then SMACK!  summer heat arrives in the form of a trial. God uses each trial to reveal how we look to Him, how we are responding or how we are going to weather it. We want it to just go away but God is saying I am teaching you about character building and this is my way of doing that. We say, I just don’t understand it. God is saying then why don’t you ask me for wisdom to understand it? But, like Balaam and the donkey story, in the heat of the trial, we reveal that we are a stubborn people who think we can find our own solutions and our own answers.  Like the wildflower that sprouts in spring with its beauty, at first we face it head on but when the heat comes we fade. We look in God’s mirror and walk away because we don’t like the image we see. However,  if we do choose to look and then respond in humility God’s grace is sufficient and the beauty of the bluebonnet is a reminder that we passed with flying colors. But, sometimes we see and then walk away and don’t respond correctly. It is then that we may have to do, as the Israelites, another lap around the wilderness until we learn how to respond properly.

You can be a Balaam, an Israelite or a Bluebonnet that bursts forth with beauty in spring. It is up to you.

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