Heaven will surely be worth it all
Psalm 84: These roads curve up the mountain, and at the last turn — Zion!
The psalmist is thinking about journeying to Jerusalem to worship at the Temple. Oh how the pilgrim looks forward to being in the Temple of God. He can’t help but think of how blest are those whose serve in that place day by day. However, there’s more than even that here. The song writer finds himself thinking about people who are living their lives in the Lord, journeying with him along the dusty roads and through the lonesome valleys of life. Not that there aren’t some blest times along the way because there are some “cool springs” that refresh the weary traveler. Then, there’s one last mountain to climb, one last curve to navigate; and then Zion comes into view. That “lonesome valley” journey is quickly forgotten as beautiful Zion is seen. What a powerful picture he’s painted. Today, I thank God for walking with me on my life journey. I thank him for the blessings of cool springs along the way and for his faithfulness to me even in the lonesome valleys. For me, and for most of us, the blessings far outnumber the trials. But whether or not that is true for you in particular we all have this hope: one of these days we’ll climb that last mountain and round the final curve and our Zion will come into view. As the old gospel song says, “Heaven will surely be worth it all.”
Take Away: We are a people with hope; hope both in this world and in the world to come.
Looking back, remaining faithful
Psalm 71: I’ll keep at it until I’m old and gray.
David’s story is one of the “complete” stories of the Bible. We know him as a child and then journey with him through his rich, eventful life to old age. This psalm is written in his later years and the long shadows of this evening portion of his life are evident in his words. The early part of the song is retrospective. David remembers his childhood and God’s blessings. Then, skipping his full life, David asks the Lord to continue blessing him in his senior years. There are no more wars for him to fight, no more giants to be slain, but David is now in a fight that he will not win. Is God only interested in young, energy-filled people? Will David, as his vitality slips away, be put on the shelf and forgotten by not only man, but by God too? David knows that’s not going to happen. Even as an old and grey headed man he enjoys the faithfulness of God. These days he isn’t out taking on the enemies of God in battle, but he has plenty to say. People need to be reminded of the story of God’s goodness and they need to know what it means to really worship. Gray headed or not, David sets out to lift the Lord, showing the way to praise and worship.
Take Away: The way to conclude life is to continue setting an example of trusting and praising the Lord.
How wonderful to be the people of God
Psalm 33: Blessed is the country with God for God; blessed are the people he’s put in his will.
Our Western culture thinks in terms of the individual. The Psalmist, though, has no such view of the world. He sees God as a national God and his nation as a people of God. In that relationship Israel, he says, is especially blessed. Their military wins major battles, not because of their strength, but because God picks them to be his people and is watching over them. His nation depends on that relationship (and later on will take that relationship for granted – leading to their destruction). Still, it’s a dependable relationship that makes Israel a special nation on the face of the earth. I know that people like to use this verse to call America to God, promising that if the nation comes to the Lord that it will be blessed in all kinds of ways. No doubt, the great need of my nation is to come to God. Still, there’s a big difference between being a nation that chooses God and being a nation chosen by God.
Take Away: How blessed to be the people of the Lord!
Is it about what I’m getting out of it?
Job 1: So do you think Job does all that out of the sheer goodness of his heart?
While the audience Satan has with the Almighty is challenging from a theological viewpoint, I think it, and this question in particular, is the absolute key to the whole book. We tend to think that the book of Job focuses in undeserved suffering and how Job responds to it, but even more basic is the issue here. The Lord points out Job’s righteousness to Satan, says that Job is his friend, and is an outstanding servant. Satan, that old accuser, replies that the only reason Job lives right and loves God is for what he gets out of it. Certainly, God has blessed Job, delighting in bringing good things into his life. Is Job a righteous man simply because it’s good business, the smart thing to do, or is he righteous because he loves the Lord and chooses to serve him? What if Job wasn’t getting anything out of his service of God? What if, instead of blessings, curses are brought to his life? Will Job then turn his back on God and curse him? While the issue of undeserved suffering is a basic one I think this issue is even more basic. Why do I serve the Lord? Is it to escape hell and go to heaven? Is it so I won’t be plagued with guilt over my sin? What if all the “perks” are removed? Again, this is about as basic a question as there is.
Take Away: Why do you serve the Lord?
And they all lived happily ever after
Esther 8: For Jews it was all sunshine and laughter.
As I wrap up my devotional reading of the story of Esther I find a “happily ever after” kind of conclusion. The tables have been turned on the enemies of the Jews. Their enemies had expected to exterminate God’s people but the Jews were given permission to fight back and they’ve done so with stunning success. The two most important people in Xerxes’ kingdom are now Jews: Queen Esther and his first adviser, Mordecai. The Jews have become so popular that many are converting to their religion. These are good days indeed. Clearly, this is a mere snapshot of history, but it’s one worth remembering so the Jews create an annual holiday to commemorate these events. I think that’s a pretty smart thing to do. We know that life isn’t always filled with happy endings. The very race of people we’re talking about here has a history of way more than its share of loss and destruction. However, they know that it’s good to remember special days of blessing. Frankly, good and bad constantly mix in our world. Even as we celebrate the birth of our Savior we comfort families who have lost loved ones, we make hospital visits, and we pray that for some very good people that the New Year will be better for them than was the old one. Remembering the good days brings balance and perspective to our lives. That doesn’t mean that we pretend all is well when it’s not, but it does mean that we step back and see the whole picture of our lives rather than focusing only on our problems.
Take Away: Don’t let the problems of life blind you to the blessings of life.
Over the long run
2 Chronicles 17: He was a seeker and follower of the God of his father and was obedient to him.
Jehoshaphat, son of Asa, comes to the throne of Judah and he does a pretty good job, both militarily and spiritually. One thing he does that’s interesting is that he puts together a team to go out and conduct what might be called revival meetings across his country. These men teach the people how they’re to live as a people of God. The king’s approach is successful both at home and, so some extent in the nations surrounding tiny Judah. The peoples of those nations develop a healthy respect for “God’s people” in Judah. Not only are they hesitant to make trouble with these neighbors, but they want to be on the good side of them and their God. Amazingly, the Philistines, their enemies across the centuries, come with gifts for Jehoshaphat. His reign looks like a smaller version of that of his ancestor Solomon. I think it’s neat to be able to sit here in the comfort of my favorite chair literally thousands of years after these events and see how Jehoshapaht’s decision to seek, follow, and obey the Lord impacts his life as the years pass. Even as ripples spread from a stone tossed into a pond so do blessings spread through a life when a person decides to seek, follow, and obey the Lord.
Take Away: The impact of a decision for the Lord reaches farther than we ever imagine.
1 Chronicles 16: God is great — well worth praising!
It’s a world class worship service. A tent has been pitched for the purpose of housing the Ark of the Covenant and that Ark is being brought into Jerusalem for the first time. King David, himself, leads the procession, joyfully dancing before the Lord. The great worship leader, Asaph, leads the choir in singing praises to God. They sing a wonderful song of praise and worship in which they recount the wonders the Lord has performed and declaring “God is great — well worth praising!” They sing of God’s goodness and love and holiness. When the song has ended, the congregation responds with shouts of “Amen” and “Praise God.” What a holy event! Know what, I’m glad that such worship services aren’t just for the pages of the Old Testament. I’m glad that there are times when the people of God go all out in praising him and that at such times the Lord comes close, filling such holy moments with himself. This passage reminds me of awesome worship services I’ve been in. Even more, it creates in me a desire to occupy such holy ground again, real soon!
Take Away: The great worship events of the Bible, along with worship events we’ve experienced personally, provide the inspiration and desire to once again enter into the presence of the Lord.
God taking us seriously
2Kings 22: I’m taking you seriously.
The clock is about to run out on Judah as the nation has drifted farther and farther from God. When the boy-king Josiah comes to power things have eroded to the point that even the priests at the Temple don’t know God’s Word to them. As Josiah grows up he wants to do the right thing even though he’s unsure of what the right thing is. Out of respect for God, he decides to renovate the Temple and it’s while that work is being done that Scripture is found. The message is not a pleasant, comforting one. Instead, its words declare the covenant made between God and Josiah’s ancestors. That covenant contains words of blessing but also states, in graphic terms, what will happen if they break that covenant. As Josiah hears these words the seriousness of the situation dawns upon him. He and his people are clearly candidates for the “curse” part of the covenant. He’s heartbroken and he’s frightened. He sends word to a woman of God asking for her intercession. The message she receives from God is both positive and negative. It’s negative in its confirmation that all the curses of the covenant will come true. Simply put, God will keep his word. It’s positive in that God is taking Josiah’s repentance and commitment to the Almighty seriously. Once again the curse is put on hold. As a result, Josiah will rule in peace throughout his life. Even as the Lord takes Josiah seriously he takes me seriously. That doesn’t mean my saying “I’m sorry” will stop events that are already in motion from happening. It does mean that the Lord’s willing to hear and forgive when I call out to him.
Take Away: God is the God of Second Chances.
1Kings 10: King Solomon was wiser and richer than all the kings of the earth.
Literally, it’s the golden age. Each day dignitaries arrive at Jerusalem, each bringing valuable gifts for Solomon. They all want to experience Solomon, a human wonder of the earth. Israel is poised to be a world power for generations to come and every national leader willingly bows to Solomon’s wisdom knowing that the overflow of his prosperity is beneficial to them too. This may be the finest picture in the Bible of God’s temporal blessings. The Lord does, indeed, know how to shower worldly blessings on people and in this case, his intention is to establish Israel forever in this land promised their ancestor Abraham hundreds of years earlier. You and I know this isn’t going to last. Before the children of Israel ever set foot in the Promised Land Moses described for them the “blessing and the curse.” If they obey the result is, well, what we see in this chapter. If they disobey…sad to say, to see the results we just have to keep reading. I see here God’s desire and intention. He likes blessing us. For the past 2000 years he’s been preparing a place for us that will make Solomon’s Jerusalem look poor in comparison. I understand that not all of God’s blessings are in the health and wealth category, but this chapter of the Bible gives me a glimpse of what he can do, and what he plans to do, if I’ll just cooperate with him.
Take Away: Thank the Lord for his good will, for his grace, and, yes, for his many blessings to us; all undeserved and all humbly appreciated.
1Kings 3: God give me a God-listening heart so I can lead your people well, discerning the difference between good and evil.
Solomon begins his reign with a great worship celebration that pleases the Lord. Because of this, God asks Solomon what he can do for him. His answer is a life changing one. He asks for a “God-listening heart,” or “wisdom.” Since we’re told elsewhere in the Bible that “the beginning of wisdom is the fear of the Lord” describing Solomon’s request as asking for a “God-listening heart” is insightful and reasonable. If wisdom is anything it’s hearing the voice of God, especially in dealing with the gray areas of life. We also see that Solomon’s request for wisdom is a wise one! The Lord likes his request and agrees to grant it, and, in addition, to bless him in every way possible. This is all interconnected. When I base my life on having a “God-listening heart” it opens the way for God to work in my life, blessing me and blessing others through me.
Take Away: Solomon’s request might be a good starting place for us in our walk with the Lord.