Jehoshaphat son of Asa became king of Judah in the fourth year of Ahab king of Israel. Jehoshaphat was thirty-five years old when he became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem twenty-five years. His mother’s name was Azubah daughter of Shilhi. In everything he followed the ways of his father Asa and did not stray from them; he did what was right in the eyes of the Lord. The high places, however, were not removed, and the people continued to offer sacrifices and burn incense there.  I Kings 22:41-43

The road of sanctification is paved with repentance. As the Lord reveals our sin to us, we confess it, apologize for it, accept forgiveness at the cross of Christ, and commit to moving on in life without that sin.  And then the Lord shows us the next obstacle in our road.  Over time, we may even begin to notice some changes.  We can look back (with some embarrassment perhaps) at some things we used to do or say or think and praise God that we are no longer there.  We may even notice an improvement in our spirit.  We may be more patient, more generous, or more deferential to others.

But there may still be that one thing, that one thing we know we do that we know ought not.  In some people it is a terrible secret, like drug or pornography addiction.  In some of us it may be the pride we try so hard to hide or the greed or jealousy that we have to fight down every day.  Many of us, at one time or another, have had a high place.

The “high places” in Old Testament writings were literally high places – mountaintops or mounds – but they had a unique function.  If you wanted to worship the Lord, you went to the temple in Jerusalem.  If you wanted to worship someone else, you went to a high place.  That was where you could make your offering or burn incense to a pagan god.

Our high places are less literal, but just as real.  Many of us worship that one thing we are holding back from the work of the Lord in our lives.  We may have thought about walking away from it, but our love for it has been proven by our commitment to it.  While the Lord lovingly forgave and released us from all our other sins, the high place remains.

Our text for today is 3 simple verses in a long series of chapters recounting the history of the kings of Israel and Judah.  Jehoshaphat’s reign of 25 years is summarized in those 3 short verses.  He was a devout servant of the Lord, but the high places were not removed.  Jehoshaphat was not alone.  Many kings failed to remove the high places.  But it wasn’t impossible. Kings like Hezekiah tore them down.  (See 2 Kings 18.)

Let’s take Jehoshaphat as a cautionary tale, my friends.  Let not our story be like his – devout, but blemished with a love for things other than the Lord.  Let’s tear down our high places and dedicate ourselves exclusively to Christ and His Kingdom.

When John, who was in prison, heard about the deeds of the Messiah, he sent his disciples to ask him, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?”  Jesus replied, “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor.  Matthew 11:2-5

I don’t think I have ever been financially “poor”, from a global perspective.  Even as a boy I was able to earn over $1.90 per day (a common test for poverty).  I suspect few if any of the people who read this devotional will fit that category.

But that doesn’t mean poor people are in short supply.  Over ten percent of the world’s population lives in that state.  Yet to many of us they are invisible.  Perhaps it is because half of them live in Sub-Saharan Africa.  That’s probably not it.  Let’s just agree that if any of us wanted to meet some poor people, we have more than enough opportunities.

In our text for today, Christ describes the evidence for His fulfilling messianic promises.  The signs of His being the Messiah were needs being met – need for health and wholeness, need for life, and need for good news.  Notice that Jesus doesn’t say that He is bringing poor people money or food, although that clearly sometimes happened.  What poor people needed was more than the assets of this world.  They needed hope, to be cared for, to be loved.  They needed the good news of Christ.

We know Jesus preached to and taught all different kinds of people, from Pharisees to fishermen, but the audience that showed He was the Messiah was the underclass of His day and ours, the poor.  Why would that not be true for us today, as His people?  If we do all manner of good work in the name of Christ, but don’t bring the good news to the poor, are we ministers of that same Christ?  If we claim to be His followers, let us not forsake His most critical work.

The Divinity of Listening

Away from me, all you who do evil,

for the Lord has heard my weeping.

The Lord has heard my cry for mercy;

the Lord accepts my prayer.  Psalms 6:8-9

We have more ways to communicate than at any time in history.  My friend, Dr. King, has over a dozen “message” apps on his phone and I am sure that is just scratching the surface.  With the proliferation of digital media and global connectivity, we can talk with anyone we “like”, anywhere in the world.

Yet for all those connections, I have noticed a distinct failure of communication.  The young people with whom I work are full of experiences and feelings and anxieties that they desperately need to process, but they have no one with whom to “share” them.  A person who will simply listen quietly can capture the attention of almost anyone.

It is not just young people, either.  Professional people find themselves in ever-shrinking silos where everyone with whom they work is so focused on productivity and efficiency that there is little time to “chat” and little sense of being “friends”.

If you read the book of Psalms, you will find a recurring theme.  The Psalmist is praying, crying out, talking to the Lord.  The Lord, however, is the one who hears.  Our God is not like us.  He is not always trying to get his point across.  He is not always desperate to get something off his chest.  He is not forever in need of being understood.  He has the patience to listen.  He has the grace to help those who need to pour out their words and hurts and passions.

We can be like Him.  We can be ones who listen.  We can enter the ministry of listening, with patience, and responding, with grace.  It doesn’t take a lot of training.  It just takes a willingness to let someone else do the talking for a while.  It requires us to put ourselves on the back burner for a time.

You will never lack for people to whom you can listen.  Everyone needs a chance to be heard, young people and old, men and women.  May the Lord bless you in this work, my friends.  It is in more demand now than I have seen in my young life.

Unafraid to Give

His pleasure is not in the strength of the horse,

    nor his delight in the legs of the warrior;

the Lord delights in those who fear him,

    who put their hope in his unfailing love. Psalm 147:10-11

Last Tuesday was an unusual day for me.  I was invited to a reception at the US Ambassador’s residence to celebrate US-Lithuanian educational exchanges.  There were some American scholars there but also some Lithuanian families who had hosted US students.

After the Ambassador made a short speech and all the awards had been distributed, the mother in one of the Lithuanian host families asked to speak.  She told the Ambassador that she was very pleased to be there and never expected to be invited to such an august event.  And then she presented the Ambassador with a gift, a loaf of bread she had made just that morning.  The Ambassador received it graciously, unwrapped the towel in which it was wrapped to admire it and noted, “There’s nothing like Lithuanian bread!”

Of course, the US Ambassador, with all the resources of the federal government at her disposal, could have bought her own bread.  She could have bought bread from wherever she wanted and had it flown in for her.  She didn’t need that bread but she was genuinely pleased to receive it from her new Lithuanian friend.  Is that not a picture of how the Lord receives our service to Him?  Our God is never in need but always delighted to receive the humble gifts we bring as a token of the affection we hold for Him.

But more importantly for us, the woman who made the bread knew the Ambassador was not in need of bread.  She knew the gift was not really about the bread at all.  It was about giving her personal time and attention to this new relationship.  (If you have ever made bread, you know what it can take!)  When she gave that bread, she gave a part of herself, not knowing exactly how it would be received but trusting the Ambassador to receive it in the spirit it was offered.

That is a picture of us, my friends, at our better moments.  How many times do we hold back from giving our true selves to the Lord because we are fearful He would not be delighted in what we offer, and not be delighted in us?  In that withholding we retard the relationship we might otherwise build with Him.  If we bring Him our humble selves, we will certainly be welcomed, appreciated, rejoiced over, and loved.