The Facade of Worship

Scripture Focus: 2 Kings 16:8, 10
8 And Ahaz took the silver and gold found in the temple of the Lord and in the treasuries of the royal palace and sent it as a gift to the king of Assyria…10 Then King Ahaz went to Damascus to meet Tiglath-Pileser king of Assyria. He saw an altar in Damascus and sent to Uriah the priest a sketch of the altar, with detailed plans for its construction.

Reflection: The Facade of Worship
By Erin Newton

You can’t have your cake and eat it too. The old idiom means “to have all the benefits of a situation when, in fact, having one thing means that you cannot have the other.” I want good grades without studying. I stay up late watching movies but hope to feel well-rested in the morning. I want companionship but never invest in others.  Unfortunately, I fall into this trap in small, mostly insignificant ways. There are some, however, who have gone too far.

Ahaz became king of Judah and quickly made an alliance with the Assyrians. With threats surrounding Judah, Ahaz welcomed the influence of other powers. He earnestly sought their approval by robbing the Temple and handing over the riches. He lingered with the Assyrians and was enthralled by the temples for foreign gods.

Judah already had a temple for worship. The divinely ordained Temple in Jerusalem was blessed with God’s continual presence. But Ahaz was obsessed with Assyrian power and prestige so much so that he was willing to try to hold both worlds in one hand. He kept the Temple in Jerusalem and commissioned another Assyrian-style altar to be built. He kept the divinely ordained rituals but transferred those to his new altar.

Ahaz attempted to retain the façade of worshipping God while adopting the ways of the world. He was either weak or wicked but in either case, he failed to see that worshipping God is incompatible with other worldviews. He could not have God and other deities too.  

Not everything conflicts with faith. I can be a vegetarian Christian or a pro-life Democrat or an old-earth conservative. Our faith does not stand at odds with everything. There is, however, a difference in building two houses of worship. My profession to love Jesus cannot stand alongside the desire to give my whole heart to a cause, a party, or a person.

Jesus warned that no one was able to serve two masters. “Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other.” (Matthew 6.24) Ahaz despised God by continuing to rob the Temple and sacrificing his own children. What pursuits consume our thoughts? What platforms are we willing to sacrifice for that compete with the sole worship of God? Some things must be secondary in life; God must be primary. 

Divine Hours Prayer: A Reading
Concerning the commandments, Jesus taught us, saying: “This is the first: Listen Israel, the Lord our God is the One, only Lord, and you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. The second is this: You must love your neighbor as yourself. There is no commandment greater then these.” — Mark 12.29-31

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
2 Kings 16 (Listen – 3:46)
Titus 2 (Listen – 2:01)

Read more about Muscle Memory
Fearful and uncertain, he looked for answers. Just as he was raised, he avoided God and looked to the idols.

Read more about Solomon’s Cheating Heart
What “Temple” have you built with the time and resources of your life?
Who is that Temple dedicated to?

Ordinary Measure of Faithfulness

Scripture Focus: 2 Kings 8.2
2 The woman proceeded to do as the man of God said. She and her family went away and stayed in the land of the Philistines seven years.

Reflection: Ordinary Measure of Faithfulness
By Erin Newton

Almost 100 years ago, Amy Carmichael dreamed of moving to Japan to be a missionary. However, God led her somewhere unplanned, India, to do unexpected work, running an orphanage. Much of her days were spent tending to the children and discipling other women. At a time when the most epic events of modern history were occurring, she was in India quietly doing the unassuming work of God.  

The Shunammite woman is a tale of the slow, quiet, and ordinary walk of faithfulness. She started with hospitality. She offered a meal to Elisha and quickly became a reliable and trustworthy resource for the prophet. When tragedy fell upon her house, she immediately sought God’s prophet. Her character was shockingly different from the leaders of Israel and Judah.

When Elisha told her that a famine was coming to the land, she believed and followed his advice, leaving her home and country for seven years. Because of her faith, she was saved from the ravages of the famine which devastated the people, leaving them in unthinkable desperation. She listened, believed, and obeyed what Elisha told her. Upon her return, she was a shining example of the blessing of humble faithfulness.

We never learn her name. Her story is not painted in cathedrals or put into comic books. She is not sought out by the prophet because of her charisma or popularity. She is esteemed for her hospitality and faith. The miracle of her son’s resurrection is set against her unwavering confidence in the power of God through the prophet. We know nothing of her seven years away. But her reward at the end of those years is worth more than many of the inhabitants who refused to believe and whose stories have become warnings.

Let us not be deceived into thinking excitement is proportional to godliness. Sensationalism is not the measure of faithfulness. Walking with God is doing ordinary things day in and day out. In Amy’s time in India, she struggled with some of the volunteers arguing with each other. She felt the Lord call her to write a series of reflections about the ordinary measure of faithfulness.

If by doing some work which the undiscerning consider ‘not spiritual work’ I can best help others, and I inwardly rebel, thinking it is the spiritual for which I crave, when in truth it is the interesting and exciting, then I know nothing of Calvary love. — Amy Carmichael

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
Protect my life and deliver me; let me know be put to shame, for I have trusted in you. — Psalm 25.19

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
2 Kings 8 (Listen – 5:18)
1 Timothy 5 (Listen – 3:22)

Read more about God is Faithful, not Indebted
God proves more faithful than Job’s friends, and as he came to Job, he also comes to us.

Read more about Christ, Our Undeserved Friend
Unfailing faith to stand in grace
And steps to finish out this race.
Christ, he our undeserved friend,
Is with me yet, until the end.

Muscle Memory

Scripture Focus: 2 Kings 1.16
He told the king, “This is what the Lord says: Is it because there is no God in Israel for you to consult that you have sent messengers to consult Baal-Zebub, the god of Ekron?

Reflection: Muscle Memory
By Erin Newton

Anything we do repeatedly becomes muscle memory. Without thinking our body moves out of habit. We learn new skills intentionally or subconsciously through our environment. For many, our upbringing shapes how we react: good and bad.

Ahab had died and his son Ahaziah took the throne. He was no better than his father and was listed among the evil kings of Israel. He was a product of his environment, raised by parents who delighted in persecuting others. But now, Ahaziah was critically injured. Fearful and uncertain, he looked for answers. Just as he was raised, he avoided God and looked to the idols.

God warned Elijah of the king’s sin. The prophet condemned Ahaziah for looking for hope outside of God. With the king’s life in the balance, death was proclaimed. The prophecy was fulfilled. Ahaziah adopted the sinful behavior of his father and suffered the same tragic death.

For generations, the kings had increasingly turned aside from following God. The habit of seeking one of many foreign idols had become instinctive. Each new king was further desensitized to wickedness. The call of the prophet was to speak truth to deaf ears trusting someday one would finally hear.

Our spirit has “muscle memory” of sorts. Our heart is shaped and trained by our thoughts and actions each day. If the heart is daily practicing hate, gossip, jealousy, rage, divisiveness, or lust, that will become the natural impulse. Professional golfers to hobby knitters all know the importance of practicing the right way of doing something. In the same way, our hearts must be trained to seek God.

Breaking away from old habits can be extremely difficult. Christians are told to be devoted to prayer, encourage one another, continue meeting together, and study the Scriptures. Each of these are daily routines that build spiritual habits. The spiritual disciples keep the heart sensitive to wickedness and open ears to hear the truth.

How can you incorporate new practices in your life that will develop a heart for following God? The commute to work can include moments of prayer. The wait before a doctor’s appointment can be used to read a few verses. The silence of the shower can be an oasis of meditating on truth. Little by little, we discipline our hearts and minds toward godliness, or we create habits that work to destroy our lives.

“…train yourself to be godly.” (1 Timothy 4.7b)

Divine Hours Prayer: The Request for Presence
Test me, O Lord, and try me; examine my heart and mind. — Psalm 26.2

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
2 Kings 1 (Listen – 3:13)
2 Thessalonians 1 (Listen – 1:52)

Read more about Milk of the Word, A Precedent to Growth
Even the simplest of disciplines, church attendance, has been in decline since 1959. We can’t, therefore, blame millennials for it.

Read more about For Sustainable Cultivation
Oh, God, planter of the first garden, cultivator of all creation,
We ask you to teach us to cultivate our hearts.

“Trivial” Sin

Scripture Focus: 1 Kings 16.30-31
30 Ahab son of Omri did more evil in the eyes of the Lord than any of those before him. 31 He not only considered it trivial to commit the sins of Jeroboam son of Nebat, but he also married Jezebel daughter of Ethbaal king of the Sidonians, and began to serve Baal and worship him.

Reflection: “Trivial” Sin
By Erin Newton

“I wish there was a way to know you’re in the good old days before you’ve actually left them.” This was a funny line from Andy Bernard in the sitcom, The Office. But the essence is true; hindsight is 20/20. Good days are taken for granted and evil days are brushed off apathetically. We go through life without pausing to consider what is happening.

The previous chapters of Kings show the increasing wickedness of each successive king in Judah and Israel. Later comparison reveals a greater number of wicked kings in the northern kingdom (Israel) versus the southern kingdom (Judah). However, sin is not a comparative business. Both kingdoms were plagued with bad leaders. The story reaches a crescendo with Ahab, king over the northern kingdom.

Ahab is notorious for promoting the worship of Baal and Asherah. These two deities were the common gods of Canaan. Seasons were thought to be determined by Baal’s battles with competing gods. Asherah was known as the fertility goddess. Self-mutilation, temple prostitution, examining animal entrails were examples of rituals done in the name of worshipping these gods. For Ahab, these were “trivial” and the people accepted it without a second thought. 

The reign of Ahab brought a resurgence of other voices in the history of Israel: Prophets. These courageous people stood up against the evil of their day to speak truth and call for repentance. Speaking against injustice and corruption is isolating and difficult. Those who spoke against leaders were constantly threatened. The price of speaking truth was often their own life.

One-third of the Old Testament books are prophetic. You might assume these voices were popular and common. On the contrary, prophets were rejected and few. Each story is a testimony of the cost of truth in a chaotic world.

Jesus also warned, “They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the one who sent me” (John 15.21).  Following Christ echoes the lives of prophets. Abusive leaders infect our world while brave voices are intimidated or attacked. Do we join the population or the prophets? To join the population, we abandon God and do whatever seems right in our own eyes. To join the prophets, we abandon comfort for the sake of truth. “What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?” (Mark 8.36).

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
Be still, then, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations; I will be exalted in the earth. — Psalm 46.11 

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
1 Kings 16 (Listen – 5:31)
Colossians 3 (Listen – 3:09)

Read more about Kingdoms Breaking Bad
Ahijah says, “I have … bad news,” but we also bear the Good News. The gospel we prophesy is that tragedy can be reversed.

Read more about Gods of Ruin and Ridicule
We must decide every day whom we will serve. The gods of this world bring ruin and ridicule.

Gods of Ruin and Ridicule

Scripture Focus: 1 Kings 9.6-7
6 “But if you or your descendants turn away from me and do not observe the commands and decrees I have given you and go off to serve other gods and worship them, 7 then I will cut off Israel from the land I have given them and will reject this temple I have consecrated for my Name. Israel will then become a byword and an object of ridicule among all peoples.

Reflection: Gods of Ruin and Ridicule
By Erin Newton

I don’t think humanity was made to live in perpetual uncertainty. The looming threat of another worldwide crisis hinders decision-making. Fearful, we let impulse govern our life. But these impulses lead us into pain. When threats feel imminent, determining our choices beforehand can save us from unintended disaster.

After Solomon succeeded in building a temple, God encouraged the people to decide ahead of time to stay committed to him. The Temple was now filled with the constant presence of God and he promised to hear their prayers. Peace, prosperity, and joy were all benefits from the covenant relationship. Israel’s future was bright just as long as they continued in obedience and devoted worship to God alone.

I always wondered how the Israelites could abandon God so easily and fall into idolatry. However, it is evident that Israel was not operating in a vacuum. Israel was actively involved with other people: trade, marriage, travel, etc. In the ancient world, proper religious practices were thought to ensure good harvests and fruitful wombs. In the face of adversity, trials, or suffering, seeking the favor of a god was the natural impulse.

Israel’s greatest temptation was deciding to whom they would pray. If the people around them were prospering, would they look to Baal? If their wombs were empty, would they burn incense to the image of Asherah? Foreign religious practices gave people a sense of control over life, a way to manipulate a god into action.

Our greatest temptation today is to worship the false gods of power, wealth, pleasure, and narcissism. If our friends appear happier than ourselves, do we embrace the impulses of instant pleasure? If others act in ways that we dislike, do we trade mercy for power and subdue the world around us? When our impulses take control, we attempt to bend circumstances to our will.

Like the word given to the Israelites, Jesus said, “If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.” (John 15.6-7) We must decide every day whom we will serve. The gods of this world bring ruin and ridicule. However, if we abide in Christ, we enjoy the benefit of God’s presence. 

Divine Hours Prayer: The Greeting
In you, O Lord, have I taken refuge; let me never be put to shame; deliver me in your righteousness. — Psalm 31.1

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
1 Kings 9 (Listen – 4:16)
Ephesians 6 (Listen – 3:17)

Read more about Captivity, Exile, and Exodus
They rejected God and set up their own gods and a government filled with oppression and mistreatment of the poor and outcasts.

Read more about The Sojourn of Sanctification
Those indoctrinated in the false gods of Egypt would teach all nations, showing them what the one, true God is like.