March 6, 2018- Housecleaning- 2 Chronicles 29:1-11, 30-31, 35-36, Matthew 12:43-45

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Hezekiah began to reign when he was twenty-five years old; he reigned twenty-nine years in Jerusalem. His mother’s name was Abijah daughter of Zechariah.  He did what was right in the sight of the Lord, just as his ancestor David had done.

In the first year of his reign, in the first month, he opened the doors of the house of the Lord and repaired them.  He brought in the priests and the Levites and assembled them in the square on the east.  He said to them, “Listen to me, Levites! Sanctify yourselves, and sanctify the house of the Lord, the God of your ancestors, and carry out the filth from the holy place. For our ancestors have been unfaithful and have done what was evil in the sight of the Lord our God; they have forsaken him, and have turned away their faces from the dwelling of the Lord, and turned their backs. They also shut the doors of the vestibule and put out the lamps, and have not offered incense or made burnt offerings in the holy place to the God of Israel.  Therefore the wrath of the Lord came upon Judah and Jerusalem, and he has made them an object of horror, of astonishment, and of hissing, as you see with your own eyes. Our fathers have fallen by the sword and our sons and our daughters and our wives are in captivity for this.  Now it is in my heart to make a covenant with the Lord, the God of Israel, so that his fierce anger may turn away from us.  My sons, do not now be negligent, for the Lord has chosen you to stand in his presence to minister to him, and to be his ministers and make offerings to him.”

King Hezekiah and the officials commanded the Levites to sing praises to the Lord with the words of David and of the seer Asaph. They sang praises with gladness, and they bowed down and worshiped.

Then Hezekiah said, “You have now consecrated yourselves to the Lord; come near, bring sacrifices and thank offerings to the house of the Lord.” The assembly brought sacrifices and thank offerings; and all who were of a willing heart brought burnt offerings.

Besides the great number of burnt offerings there was the fat of the offerings of well-being, and there were the drink offerings for the burnt offerings. Thus the service of the house of the Lord was restored. And Hezekiah and all the people rejoiced because of what God had done for the people; for the thing had come about suddenly. 2 Chronicles 29:1-11, 30-31, 35-36 (NIV)

(Jesus said): When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it wanders through waterless regions looking for a resting place, but it finds none. Then it says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ When it comes, it finds it empty, swept, and put in order. Then it goes and brings along seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and live there; and the last state of that person is worse than the first. So will it be also with this evil generation.” Matthew 12:43:45 (NIV)

Housecleaning is a necessary evil for most of us. Most people do not enjoy the process of cleaning, especially when it entails scrubbing grungy, dirty, sticky things that are caked with grease and grime, and throwing away useless clutter and trash.  Cleaning is work. Most people do enjoy being in clean and wholesome surroundings even though we might not like the process of getting to that clean state.

Hezekiah was one of the “good Kings” of Judah. He listened to God’s call to clean up his kingdom- to get rid of the idolatry, to clean up the temple and get rid of all the nasty practices and filth that the kings before him had tolerated and in some cases encouraged.  Hezekiah was also entrusted- and empowered- by God to restore the practice of regular worship to the kingdom of Judah.

There are some important things that we learn about spiritual housecleaning in these passages. The first thing that we learn is that spiritual housecleaning- becoming more like Jesus- or sanctification– is something God wants for us, and He is the one who empowers us and calls us to do it.

The first thing that the priests do in the passage from 2 Chronicles is to carry out the filth. Before we can get our space back to a clean and wholesome environment, we have to take out the trash.  To clean the kitchen one must scrape the dishes, wash the dishes, clean the counters, sweep and mop the floor, and throw away the scraps.  We don’t prepare a fresh meal amidst the trash and leftovers of the last meal. Otherwise fresh food might get contaminated by something that was spoiled.

When we clean up the kitchen, we don’t clean it up to just look at it and enjoy its cleanliness. We clean up the kitchen so that we can prepare healthy and tasty meals, and so that we can serve and nourish our families and friends. We have to clean up often too, because no sooner than we clean things up, they get dirty again.  It’s part of life.  Cleanliness requires maintenance.

God wanted the people of Judah to clean up their act- not just to look pretty- but so that they would be free to serve Him and each other. God gives them- and us- the ability to come close to and serve Him. It is a joy and a privilege to serve God, rather than a duty or a burden.

This is why Jesus tells us that while repenting (turning away from sinful thoughts and actions) and cleaning up our act is good and necessary, once we have repented and gotten ourselves clean, it is also necessary for us to embrace the purpose God intends for us. Otherwise, given human nature, we will fall back into our old bad habits, and worse. Becoming more like Jesus is a journey, and it is a process.  As God’s church, during the season of Lent we engage in repentance- a good spiritual spring cleaning as it were.  We don’t repent and ask Jesus to “clean us up” to look pretty.  We do this intentionally so that we can more fully embrace and engage ourselves in following Jesus and being God’s people.

Many of us probably heard the expression, “Idle hands are the Devil’s workshop,” from our mothers and/or grandmothers. If we don’t occupy ourselves with good and wholesome things, we will find not-so-wholesome things with which to occupy ourselves. Children are great examples of this principle.  When children are not occupied with a purposeful task, the odds are that they will find their ways into mischief.  We are all subject to finding mischief!

Service is the spiritual discipline of doing good things in the world by serving others.  We begin our spiritual housecleaning by asking the Holy Spirit to clear our minds and hearts of the crud- bringing ourselves to Jesus in repentance. We continue our sanctification (letting Jesus conform our hearts and minds to His will) by letting God show us how we can serve Him and others by keeping our minds and bodies occupied with good and wholesome thoughts and deeds.

God gives us His great and free gift of salvation in Jesus. He gives us the gifts of repentance and forgiveness. He also gives us the heart to serve others and to live according to His purpose for us. How can we serve God today?

August 16, 2017 – Wooden Idols and Other Gods Who Cannot Save – Isaiah 45:20-25, Daniel 4:28-33

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Assemble yourselves and come together, draw near, you survivors of the nations! They have no knowledge—those who carry about their wooden idols, and keep on praying to a god that cannot save. Declare and present your case; let them take counsel together! Who told this long ago? Who declared it of old? Was it not I, the Lord? There is no other god besides me, a righteous God and a Savior;  there is no one besides me.

Turn to me and be saved, all the ends of the earth! For I am God, and there is no other. By myself I have sworn, from my mouth has gone forth in righteousness a word that shall not return: “To me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear.”

Only in the Lord, it shall be said of me, are righteousness and strength; all who were incensed against him shall come to him and be ashamed. In the Lord all the offspring of Israel shall triumph and glory.

Isaiah 45:20-25 (NRSV)

 

In Western culture a wooden, man-made idol is seldom seen as having any other power other than that of an aesthetic appeal. We can appreciate the craftsmanship and the artwork involved in the manufacture of such idols, but generally we don’t regard such things as being divine or deserving of worship.

Our idolatries are much more subtle and perhaps more insidious. The first commandment of God is “You shall have no other gods before me.” (Exodus 20:3)  That sounds easy enough until we are put on the spot.

Who (or what) do we run to in times of trouble? Who (or what) do we rely upon for our provision?

Do we think money will buy our way out of problems? How many times have we thought, “If only I had enough money I wouldn’t have to worry about this or that problem?”

Do we think our own intelligence or our connections with other people will see us through trials?

It has been said that the root of all sin (sin being anything that goes against God’s will) is pride- trusting in our way instead of looking for God’s way. There is another old expression that states, “Pride goes before a fall.”

Nebuchadnezzar was a powerful king of Babylon who had convinced himself that he was omnipotent (all powerful) and in control of everything.  God had different ideas, and found it necessary to let Nebuchadnezzar know who was really in charge:

All this came upon King Nebuchadnezzar. At the end of twelve months he was walking on the roof of the royal palace of Babylon, and the king said, “Is this not magnificent Babylon, which I have built as a royal capital by my mighty power and for my glorious majesty?” While the words were still in the king’s mouth, a voice came from heaven: “O King Nebuchadnezzar, to you it is declared: The kingdom has departed from you!  You shall be driven away from human society, and your dwelling shall be with the animals of the field. You shall be made to eat grass like oxen, and seven times shall pass over you, until you have learned that the Most High has sovereignty over the kingdom of mortals and gives it to whom he will.” Immediately the sentence was fulfilled against Nebuchadnezzar. He was driven away from human society, ate grass like oxen, and his body was bathed with the dew of heaven, until his hair grew as long as eagles’ feathers and his nails became like birds’ claws. – Daniel 4:28-33 (NRSV)

 As much as we would like to believe the idolatry of Western society at times, especially the myth that each of us is “captain of our own souls,” in truth, God is the one in control.  It took Nebuchadnezzar a rather harsh lesson to understand the sovereignty of God, but ultimately he got the message.

When that period was over, I, Nebuchadnezzar, lifted my eyes to heaven, and my reason returned to me.

I blessed the Most High, and praised and honored the one who lives forever. For his sovereignty is an everlasting sovereignty, and his kingdom endures from generation to generation. All the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and he does what he wills with the host of heaven and the inhabitants of the earth. There is no one who can stay his hand or say to him, “What are you doing?”

At that time my reason returned to me; and my majesty and splendor were restored to me for the glory of my kingdom. My counselors and my lords sought me out, I was re-established over my kingdom, and still more greatness was added to me. Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and extol and honor the King of heaven, for all his works are truth, and his ways are justice; and he is able to bring low those who walk in pride. Daniel 4:34-37 (NRSV)

Intelligence, financial resources, friends in high places, and even political power are not necessarily bad things. However, everything we are and everything we have are gifts from God.  God expects us to put the gifts He has given us to good use, however, when we value the gift in higher esteem than the Giver, we lose our foundation and perspective.  When we put God first, He brings the rest of our lives into balance.

Are we putting our trust in the One True God?