Chapter-a-Day 2 Kings 16

But the old bronze Altar that signaled the presence of God he displaced from its central place and pushed it off to the side of his new altar.2 Kings 16:14 (MSG)

We live in the culture of the "new and improved." We don't build things to last. We build things to be disposed and replaced with the "new and improved." My grandparents had the same television for twenty years. The "new and improved" HD television I bought seven years ago was out of date in less than five. Before we even have a chance to get used to our iPod or cell phone, there is a new "generation" to displace it. Even the government gives people [borrowed] cash for clunkers so that we will dispose of the old car and buy the new.

Certainly, there is nothing inherently wrong with new things. Even Jesus said he came to make all things new. I simply wonder how much of our dispose and displace culture creeps into the living out of my faith. The things of God are ancient. The things of God are eternal. They don't rust and wear out. And yet, I'm conditioned by my culture to distrust, displace and dispose of the old. I'm conditioned to yearn for something new and improved and trust that it is better, stronger, faster, quicker, more efficient, and more enviromentally friendly.

How easy is it for me to feel that faith of my fathers is old and outdated when I haven't even scratched the surface of its depth and truth?

I don't want to displace God from the central place in my life. I don't want to push Him off to the side. Instead of falling into the unconscious trap of dismissing the ancient things of God simply because they seem old, I prefer to spend my early morning hours digging in and plumbing their depths. Interestingly enough, I find that they are faithfully "new every morning."

Chapter-a-Day 2 Kings 15

I80 western nebraska. Shallum son of Jabesh became king in the thirty-ninth year of Azariah king of Judah. He was king in Samaria for only a month. 2 Kings 15:13 (MSG)

Bear with me today, as my impressions from the chapter are more wholistic instead of being linked to a particular verse.

I've had a case of the blues for the past couple of weeks. Life feels a bit stagnant at the moment. It's sort of like driving through western Nebraska. You know that you are moving down the road, but you wouldn't know it from looking out the window. The view isn't changing. This has been a very long, very cold, very snowy winter. I feel a bit snowbound. I'm tired of gloomy, snowy days and long, dark nights. The days all seem the same. I feel like hope blew away in one of the three-storms-a-week blizzards a while back. [I'll stop whining now]

At the same time, I feel a whirlwind in the lives around me. A friend with an exciting new job. Another friend shocked to be released from his job. Yet another friend and his family struggling through the whirlwind of activity and emotion which accompanies the journey's home stretch. Surgeries, pregnancies, illness, divorces, changes, and moves. I watch them all from my computer screen inside Vander Well Manor. [Did I mention I was going to stop whining?]

I was struck, as I read today's chapter, of the contrast between Judah's experience and Israel's experience during this section of the historical timeline. Uzziah becomes king in Judah and rules for an impressive 52 years. Israel, on the other hand, becomes a revolving door of leadership. There is no clear royal line. It appears that, if you had the gonads to pull off an assassination, anyone had a shot at the throne. Of course, your reign might be as brief as Shallum because there were plenty of guys with gonads lining up in the queue to take their shot and off you.

One nation with a long, steady, even monotonous experience while next door there is a flurry of chaos and change. It reminds me today that there is a time for everything; a season for every purpose under heaven.

God, be near my friends who journey on a much different road than mine right now. Be near me on my own long, flat path as the experience that feels so different, and a bit lonely. Amen.

Creative Commons photo courtesy of Flickr and gjs

Chapter-a-Day 2 Kings 14

Picking a fight. Amaziah wouldn't take No for an answer. So Jehoash king of Israel gave in and agreed to a battle between him and Amaziah king of Judah. They met at Beth Shemesh, a town of Judah.

 Judah was thoroughly beaten by Israel—all their soldiers ran home in defeat. 2 Kings 14:11-12 (MSG)

As the youngest of four children, I learned a certain life lesson early: don't be gettin' the big head and don't be pickin' fights, especially with people (or siblings) bigger than you. It's simply not a good idea.

Another life lesson I picked up regrettably late in life: if you are feeling so driven to do something that you won't take no for an answer, then stop. Take a deep breath. Think about it. Ask yourself why. Get help. Obsession is generally a sign that, as Shakespeare put it, "something is rotten in the state of Denmark."

Amaziah's two victories had him feeling all manly and over confident. Driven by pride, or greed, or lust he picked one fight too many. He ended in captivity, the walls of his city in ruins, his treasures looted. What a great word picture of what happens when we allow ourselves to be driven and obsessed by our pride and flesh. We become captive to sin, our lives reduced to ruin.

God, grant me the wisdom to learn from Amaziah's example. May darkness and hatred be my only conquest. Be, O God, the only treasure my heart truly desires. Set me free from captivity to my self-centered obsessions that I might be captivated only by your Holy Spirit. Amen.

Creative Commons photo courtesy of Flickr and richteabiscuit

Chapter-a-Day 2 Kings 13

It's a wonderful day. The children of Israel were again able to live at peace in their own homes. But it didn't make any difference: They didn't change their lives, didn't turn away from the Jeroboam-sins that now characterized Israel, including the sex-and-religion shrines of Asherah still flourishing in Samaria.2 Kings 13:5b-6 (MSG)

Last week I quietly celebrated my 16,000th birthday. I was 16,000 days old last Thursday. That's a lot of days. I've been contemplating what I have to show for them. When I get to heaven and all that is worthless is burned away, how many days will be revealed to have made any difference?

How sad that God delivered the children of Israel to live in peace, but it didn't make any difference. Their days were spent in peace, but there hearts remained stagnant.

I want my days to make a difference. I may never be a difference maker on a grand scale like Superman, which is okay. I don't think I'd do well in a cape, and would look especially bad in tights. I pray that I can at least make a difference like George Bailey. Perhaps I can quietly make a subtle difference in those my life touches day-by-day.

Have a great day.

Creative Commons photo courtesy of Flick and mueredecine

Chapter-a-Day 2 Kings 12

But by the twenty-third year of Joash's rule, the priests hadn't done one thing—The Temple was as dilapidated as ever. 2 Kings 12:6 (MSG)

Renovations, upkeep, and maintenance aren't fun. Whether it's my body, my house, or my car, there seem plenty of better things to do with my time, energy, and money. The priests of Joash's day worshipped every day in a crumbling temple. The need confronted them daily. They had even been told to allocate resources to renovation. But, they did nothing.

It wasn't until the King held the high-priest accountable that changes were made to the financial allocations, and the work began.

We all need accountability. I would not have read a Chapter-a-Day for the past seven years unless I knew my friend Kevin was out there, reading the same chapter and expecting a phone call or waiting to add his comments to the post. If Kev had not raised the alarm and the need to be more faithful in reading God's message, we would not have embarked on this journey.

Today, I'm contemplating my need for accountability in other areas of my life.

Chapter-a-Day 2 Kings 11

It profits nothing to gain the whole world, but lose your soul. Jehoiada the priest ordered the military officers, "Drag [Athaliah] outside and kill anyone who tries to follow her!" (The priest had said, "Don't kill her inside The Temple of God.") So they dragged her out to the palace's horse corral; there they killed her. 2 Kings 11:15-16 (MSG)

The pursuit of worldly power and domination is a bloody affair, and those who embark on that path discover it a toll-roll. The price is your soul; the destination a dead-end.

Creative Commons photo courtesy of Flickr and andyinnyc

Chapter-a-Day 2 Kings 10

Parallel paths. Even then, though, Jehu wasn't careful to walk in God's ways and honor the God of Israel from an undivided heart. He didn't turn back from the sins of Jeroboam son of Nebat, who led Israel into a life of sin. 2 Kings 10:31 (MSG)

There is a difference between believing God and following God. Acknowledging is not the same as submitting. Walking a personal path that parallel's God's for a stretch is not the same as walking God's path.

Jehu was not a God follower. He acknowledged God just as far as it would serve his own purpose. He was on the throne, the extensive family of Ahab was wiped out, the Baal cult that had been such a powerful adversary had been eliminated to ensure the security of his reign. God had served Jehu well. In the end, the opposite was not true.

Is God serving my purpose(s), or am I serving God's purpose(s)?

Creative Commons courtesy of Flickr and yewenyi

Chapter-a-Day 2 Kings 9

Jehu looked up at the window and called, "Is there anybody up there on my side?" Two or three palace eunuchs looked out.

He ordered, "Throw her down!" They threw her out the window. Her blood spattered the wall and the horses, and Jehu trampled her under his horse's hooves2 Kings 9:32-33 (MSG)

Jezebel was a piece of work, and it's no wonder that 21 centuries later her name is synonymous with a wicked, conniving woman. Today's chapter, the story of her demise, reads like a Hollywood script. Having controlled the nation through her weak husband, then each of two dutiful sons, her political power has finally waned. The handwriting is on the wall.

The balance of power has shifted and she cannot rely on the strength of men to protect her, so she grasps at her last remaining line of defense: her sexuality. God's message does not record her age, but I picture Jezebel an old woman, aged beyond her years by her hard living and sexual promiscuity. She puts on her sexiest make-up and outfit like the tragic Norma Desmond getting ready for Mr. Demille's close-up in Sunset Boulevard. Her intense sexuality and well-honed seductive charms have manipulated men her entire life, so she deludes herself into thinking it will work again. This time, however, she stands at the window looking the part of the fool. Her make-up is clown-like. Her charms powerless.

The newly appointed King, Jehu, merely has to call up to Jezebel's servants. Her evil ways have turned even her closest servants against her, waiting merely for the right moment to turn on her. Jezebel's long, hard ride at the pinnacle of regional power was suddenly over. Her family killed or murdered, she finds herself utterly alone to face righteous anger.

Those who live hard, fall hard. It's not just in Hollywood movies. The story of Jezebel is revisited every day in our lives and in lives around us. What a good reminder that the life choices we make today will have consequences further down the journey.

Chapter-a-Day 2 Kings 8

The eye is the lamp of the body. Elisha then stared hard at Hazael, reading his heart. Hazael felt exposed and dropped his eyes. Then the Holy Man wept. 2 Kings 8:11 (MSG)

Our eyes can be very revealing. When I was a child, my parents definitely had "the look." Their eyes could penetrate and see all sorts of things – especially when I had done something wrong and I knew it. As a father, I look into my daughters' eyes and can see deception, joy, honesty, fear, hurt, guilt, anger, shame, or depression.

It isn't just a parent-child thing, either. I looked into my friends eyes this past weekend and saw intense sadness. Last night I gazed into my wife's eyes and saw deep grief, and love that was deeper still.

"Your eye is a lamp, lighting up your whole body. If you live wide-eyed in wonder and belief, your body fills up with light. If you live squinty-eyed in greed and distrust, your body is a dank cellar. Keep your eyes open, your lamp burning, so you don't get musty and murky. Keep your life as well-lighted as your best-lighted room." – Luke 11:33-34 (MSG)

If I look into your eyes, what will I see?

Creative Commons photo courtesy of Flickr and impactmatt

Chapter-a-Day 2 Kings 7

Muchado1lr It happened that four lepers were sitting just outside the city gate. They said to one another, "What are we doing sitting here at death's door? If we enter the famine-struck city we'll die; if we stay here we'll die. So let's take our chances in the camp of Aram and throw ourselves on their mercy. If they receive us we'll live, if they kill us we'll die. We've got nothing to lose."  2 Kings 7:3-4 (MSG)

My wife and I are theatre people, and we have a love for the works of Shakespeare. We've been in productions of his works and have seen them produced in various settings. One of the things that makes the famous Bard's plays so timeless is the way he grasps the human condition and turns very common themes into both comedic and tragic plots and characters.

One of the themes we have noticed in Shakespeare's works is the way the archetype character of "the fool" ends up being the one who sees things to which the strongest heroes are blind. In Shakespeare's world, the fool often speaks with the greatest wisdom.

I have seen a similar theme throughout God's message. God delights in using the weakest, smallest, least important people to do great things. In today's chapter, it was four lepers who lived in the no man's land between the city wall (which they could not enter because of their disease) and the seiging Aramean army who surrounded the town. The lepers, in their desperation, had wisdom to see their only hope and grasp at it. They were rewarded with provision of the choicest plunder. Had the king or his guards discovered the empty Aramean camp themselves, the poor lepers would have been lucky to get some of the left-over scraps tossed to them from the city wall.

God delights in using the least important, weakest, most unlikely characters to do His will. Perhaps, like the lepers, it is because they have the least to lose in worldly standing.

Note to those reading this post Facebook: please forgive the spacing and formatting problems that occur in the auto-import from the original blog post.