A 90 Day Challenge

What controls you?

When I’m honest with myself, some days it’s my Netflix queue. Some days, my to-do list at work. I imagine some people might say video games or food or that red ping alert from Facebook.

I tell you what, though, I want to be controlled by God’s Spirit. And I know that one of the ways I make myself available to God is by reading Scripture. So one of the things I want to do this summer is to read through the whole Bible in 90 days.

Wait, seriously? The whole thing? I just thought that out loud on the interwebs? It sounds hard. But maybe it isn’t. Maybe I’m just psyching myself out. I bet it can be done.

Why do this?

Because we are we what we eat, right? Did your mom tell you this, too? Twice in the Bible, somebody (it’s the prophet Ezekiel and disciple John) is told to literally eat a scroll that has God’s word on it. In both cases, it’s about internalizing God’s Word, making it a very part of your being. While we might not eat pages for breakfast, we feed our souls on this stuff. And something that has been outside of us becomes the substance of who we are. That’s pretty wild when I think about it.

Another reason is because Scripture is a weapon against sin. When Jesus is tempted in the desert, he comes back at Satan with words from Deuteronomy. One of the psalmists writes, “I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.” Scripture helps us make good decisions. When we’re confronted with temptation, Scripture gives us the power to say “no.” It changes us and makes us more holy people. I don’t know about you, but I really need that.

How do we do this?

The first word is “intentional.” We have to have a plan. So here’s a reading schedule I’ve found. I’m actually using the YouVersion app on my iPhone for this. If you have access to this app, just look for the 90 day reading plan. And then I’ve picked out a translation that has audio available and that way I can listen to it. If you prefer reading, I recommend a translation like the New Living Translation or The Message that’s easily readable for long passages.

The second part of being intentional is naming what I have to cut out of my life. I’ve learned in life that I can’t do everything, so to add something substantial, something else falls by the wayside. And if I don’t intentionally figure this out beforehand, I’ll end up dropping something from my life that I didn’t want to drop.

So, for me, I anticipate this might take 45 minutes. I typically sift through blog posts pertaining to pop culture news and fantasy baseball tips at the end of my day, and it usually takes that amount of time. For the summer, I’ll replace that (as much as I enjoy it) with God’s Word at the end of my day.

Lastly, I need a regular rhythm, so naming a place and time every day. Since I plan to end my day with it, I’ll take my regular bed time, rewind the clock back about 45 minutes, and that’s when I’m doing it. I’ll set an alarm, if I need to.

We’ll see if this works. Who knows… I may just find myself more easily lead by God’s Spirit. I have a hunch I’ll be different at the end of this. I have hunch I may experience God in a new way. What do you think? Who’s with me?

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This is the stuff that God creates with

1 Kings 15

Creation. Fall. Creation. Fall.

All of these things have happened before and all of them are happening again.

I really think the first 14 chapters of 1 Kings are all setup, and here we enter a regular rhythm, and we begin to see the fallout. It’s like the first half was winding up a top and now we’re watching it spin. And what we’re seeing is the same thing we’ve been seeing in the biblical story.

The major plot points of Kings so far have been Solomon building the temple and the kingdom splitting a part. It’s like Kings’ own version of Creation and Fall. In the building of the temple we see God’s dream realized (partially) of living among humanity. In the division of the kingdom, we see humanity’s exercise of free will and the devastating consequences of bad decisions.

At this point in the story, we enter a regular rhythm of briefly summarizing each king of Judah or Israel. Each one is held up to either David or Jeroboam. David represents a good king, faithful to God. And Jeroboam represents an evil king, unfaithful to God.

The increasingly poor decisions of Solomon, Rehoboam, and Jeroboam have brought the situation that the people God chose to be a light to the nations are at war with one another. This is a bad, bad thing. But still God doesn’t give on this people. That’s an important thing to get out of Kings. It’s what’s so flabbergasting about the first chapter of Matthew’s story about Jesus. It’s just a list of names, but Kings shows us that it’s so much more than names. Right there in the thick of Jesus’ great-great-grandfathers:

and Solomon the father of Rehoboam, and Rehoboam the father of Abijah [Abijam], and Abijah the father of Asaph [Asa]

Even amidst these idolatrous kings and weak leaders, God is at work, laying the foundation for the ultimate king of Israel, the king of all creation—Jesus.

You can read more about kings Abijam and Asa in 2 Chronicles 13–16.

 

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Things go from bad to really, really bad

1 Kings 13

The Old Testament is full of weird stories, and Kings particularly so. So what in the world is this story today about? Why is this is in the Bible, and what in the world could it possibly have to do with us?

Let’s recap. First, let’s break it the chapter into some more manageable pieces.

First, in verses 1–10 we see a “man of God” who goes from Judah to Bethel. He judges the pagan shrine. Okay, pretty normal by Biblical standards. Only after that does it get weird.

Second, in verses 11–19, a prophet hears about it and invites the man of God to share a meal, lying to him, saying that God said is okay.

Third, in verses 20–25, the man of God gets killed by a lion while traveling on the road.

And last, in verses 26–32, the old prophet finds the dead man of God, buries him, and says that everything he said would come true about the altar in Bethel.

So what should we get out of this passage? Let’s start with something we shouldn’t take away from it: Don’t trust what other people say about God, and only pay attention to what you feel in your heart. I don’t think that’s it. That’s a pretty modern, individualized way of reading an ancient Eastern story.

In the big picture, here we’re introduced to two groups of people that will have big roles in the story as we continues: Prophets and false prophets. We’ve met Nathan, who functioned like an advisor in David’s royal court. But this guy is a bit different. In the prophets, we find the God’s perspective on the situation.

And for the first time, we have a character called a prophet who is untrustworthy. The text straight-up says he lies. False prophets may have a genuine appearance, but they’re simply using religion for their own selfish ends.

The books of Kings echo some of the tragic themes of Judges. Here it’s the messes that human sin causes. The spiral of spiritual anarchy is already getting so bad that prophets are using and abusing one another.

Ultimately, this way of worshipping that Jeroboam has set up is a very bad thing.

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The beginning of the end

1 Kings 11:1-25

The books of Kings are a tragedy, like a Shakespearean tragedy. I think that’s a helpful framework to keep in mind.

Merriam-Webster defines tragedy like this:

a serious drama typically describing a conflict between the protagonist and a superior force (as destiny) and having a sorrowful or disastrous conclusion that elicits pity or terror

Within the books, there is not a happy ending. This is a serious drama. The protagonist is the people of Israel. The superior force is God. And spoiler alert, there is a disastrous conclusion when the temple is destroyed and the people taken to exile. The end. (For now.)

This is the beginning of the end for the nation. This is where things begin to unravel.

Solomon himself is a tragic figure. God has given him extensive wealth and wisdom. He has a established a kingdom. He has lived in peace. But neither his wealth nor his wisdom are his salvation. There are limits to Solomon’s wise decisions. Despite his epic wisdom, Solomon makes some poor choices.

Notice the sequence of events in these paragraphs. Solomon first disobeys an explicit command of God, not to marry foreign women. And it’s not like he accidentally forget once or twice. He disobeys repeatedly. 700 times!

And it’s this disobedience that opens the floodgates to idolatry—worshipping cheap imitation gods that are not the Creator God.

Solomon was given a choice by God. That choice was faithfulness or unfaithfulness. And because he choose poorly, bad things crept not only into his life, but also the kingdom. Here we meet two adversaries to Solomon’s rule. Tomorrow we’ll meet a third, and the most destructive one, the one who will fracture the nation. This is an example of the corrosive quality of human sin.

Bad things happen in the world. And the Bible offers various solutions as to why. The book of Job, for instance, shows us that God has the final word over suffering. In Kings, we’re shown (with echoes to the story of Adam and Eve in Genesis 3) that human misery is a direct result of disobedience, of making poor choices, of poorly stewarding free will.

Question: Where have you seen or experienced poor choices leading to miserable outcomes?

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Leaving a wake behind

1 Kings 10

Sit at the shore of the lake. See the skiers, the waverunners. See every boat. And behind every boat is a wake. A ripple trailing behind, bobbing everything else on the water behind it until it laps in waves on the shoreline at your feet.

This story today sparks all kinds of curiosity. Who is this lady? Where is she coming from? How did she hear about Solomon? What did she hear? Why is this even in the Bible?

Did you know that Solomon gets mentioned twice by Jesus in the gospels? Yeah, twice. Once when Jesus is talking about how we shouldn’t worry because God makes the lilies of the field look even better than Solomon, despite all his wealth. (It’s in both Matthew and Luke.)

The second time is this story about the Queen of Sheba. (Again, it’s Matthew and Luke who mention this.) Jesus is lambasting the scribes and Pharisees. For Jesus, even a foreign ruler from the “ends of the earth” (and a woman, at that) could recognize Solomon as God’s Anointed One, the king of God’s people, and worship God because of it. The irony is these Jewish religious leaders can’t recognize Jesus as God’s new Anointed One.

Something special is happening in this story of Solomon and the queen. Solomon has become such a person that his character and quality of life reflect the character of God. If a picture is worth a thousand words, then Solomon is a picture that reflects the majesty of glory of God to others. His reputation communicates God’s reputation.

I hope that I can be that kind of person that causes others to notice the goodness of God. All of us leave a wake behind.

Question: What kind of “wake” do you leave behind you today?

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Is God really unconditional?

1 Kings 9

Here’s a thing about Kings.

God isn’t that big a character.

Well, he is. Really. However, he rarely shows up and speaks for himself. We mostly see stories about people and hear about their relationship with God. Whether they followed God or not. But God rarely shows up.

But here in chapter 9 he does. For the second time in the story. And I’m pretty sure for the last time. We’ll get prophets like Elijah and Elisha in a little bit.

So, I think this should clue us into something. This is probably really important. Really, really important. If God shows up and speaks, without any kind of mediation, we might should stop in our tracks (like Moses-burning-bush-whoa kind of pay attention) and consider what’s going on. This probably gives us clue about what the whole story of Kings is all about.

We’re given a little bit of setup background detail: The temple is finished. This God’s second conversation with Solomon. And a pair of words jump out to me like a neon sign. And they show up twice. You see them?

If… then…

Grammar nerds, like me, call this a conditional statement. It illustrates a cause-and-effect relationship. Two statements, and one is true only when the other is true. Life is full of conditional statements.

If you change your oil every 3,000 miles, your car will last a long time. If you don’t, your engine will eventually explode.

If you study, you’ll ace the test. If you don’t, you’ll probably get a bad grade.

If you shower and practice good personal hygiene, people will find you attractive. If you don’t, the practice of friend-making will be a challenge.

That God presents Solomon with a conditional statement like this tells us two things.

#1. God is in charge. Solomon may be an ancient near eastern king at the top of his game, but God is the one ruling the cosmos. It’s Solomon who owes loyalty to God, certainly not God who owes any favors to Solomon. Solomon might need reminding of this.

#2. Solomon has a choice to make. He has a free will. God has led him to a fork-in-the-road. If he and the people choose loyalty to God, good stuff will happen. And if they don’t, bad stuff. Lots of echoes to Deuteronomy 28 here. Now, in their favor, they have the example of David to look to. While David may have made a mess of his life (and if you forgot just how messy, review the book of 2 Samuel), but one thing about David—he always remained faithful to God.

God’s love for us may be unconditional, but his blessings and favor depend upon our obedience and faithfulness to him.

Question: What do you think loyalty to God like this looks like today? Or not look like?

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Finishing is the hardest part

1 Kings 6:14–7:12

Building stuff takes time. A lot of time. A lot of other stuff, too, like money and sweat.

And hope and anticipation.

I know some of this because I took 2 years renovating this space. And I vividly remember, while sweeping debris, and sweeping more debris, and taking another load to the dumpster, and sweeping more debris, thinking, “This will never be finished.

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I live in a city with roads that are constantly under construction. It has a way of forming the way you think about the city, and certainly shaping the way you get around the city.

And suddenly, one day the roadblocks are gone. And something brand new is there that wasn’t there before. The waiting is over.

In today’s passage, we read the nitty-gritty details of Solomon’s building projects, most notably the temple and the royal palace. A home for the earthly king, and one for the supreme king of the universe. We begin with the statement: So Solomon built the house and finished it. For you builders and creators, you know that finishing is the hardest part. The Sagrada Familia in Barcelona was started in 1882. It’s still not finished.

Makes me think about all the people that wielded hammers and tools to make it happen. How many people gave up their livelihoods, and even lives, to see these projects completed? How many people later say to their children, “I helped make that. Your grandpa helped make that.

The sanctuary of First United Methodist Church in Tulsa has an incredible story. In was constructed during the Great Depression, and individuals sacrificed family heirlooms, wedding bands, even mortgages to see it finished. It’s not the only church building in America with such a story. But it’s these stories that give identity to congregations long after they happen.

And so it is with Solomon’s temple, too. In all these building projects, Solomon gives an identity to the people as he advances the culture of Jerusalem and Israel.

And so it is with Jesus as he builds the Church.

Question: Have you ever been part of a project that made you feel like you were part of a larger community?

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