A chip off the old block, almost
2Kings 14: He lived the way God wanted and did the right thing. But he didn’t come up to the standards of his ancestor David.
When Joash is assassinated his son, Amaziah, becomes king of Judah. This young man picks up where his father left off: doing the right thing and honoring God. Because of that, he goes down in history as one of the good kings of Judah. This man rules for 29 years and, over all, does what is pleasing in God’s sight. Still, I can’t get past the statement that “he didn’t come up to the standards of David.” In other words, Amaziah does “okay” and receives a passing grade from the Lord, yet he could have been much more. You might say that David earns an “A” while Amaziah earns a “C+.” It’s too bad when a person has great potential yet, while things aren’t a complete disaster, never quite measures up. Do you know what really bothers me here? I’m not as concerned about Amaziah’s lukewarm reviews as I am of my own! Can it be said of me, “Well, he did the right thing, but he never measured up to his full potential.” I don’t want to live a lukewarm life.
Take Away: Oh Lord, set me on fire for you.
Little deals are sometimes big deals
2Kings 13: The king struck the ground three times and then quit.
The old prophet Elisha is nearing the end of life. Unlike his mentor, Elijah, he’ll not depart this world in a whirlwind. Instead, he’ll die from old age and illness. However, before he goes, he has good news for Jehoash, king of Israel. The king is instructed to fire an arrow in the direction of his enemies. Then Elisha instructs him to strike the ground with the remaining arrows. Obviously, this is supposed to be an action related to their struggle with Aram but the king only strikes the ground a few times and stops. Elisha tells him that what he does isn’t good enough and that his minimum cooperation is symbolic of the few times he’ll defeat Aram. Had he responded with enthusiasm and commitment things could have been different but his token response will result in only a token defeat of Aram. The wise man of Ecclesiastes says, “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might” (Eccl. 9:10). Had Jehoash been ordered to actually go into battle he would have, no doubt, done it with “all his might” but since this was merely symbolic he just gave a token effort. With that, Elisha and, apparently God, is displeased. So as I read this story I’m reminded that things that appear to me to be a “little deal” are sometimes a “big deal” in God’s eyes.
Take Away: If the Lord says “do it” then do whatever it is with everything you’ve got.
Sitting on a barbwire fence
1Kings 18: How long are you going to sit on the fence?
No doubt, Elijah has everyone’s attention. The drought and resultant famine has seen to that. Now he calls for a meeting and a confrontation. Their divided loyalties have created a pitiful situation. Historically, they’ve worshipped Jehovah, but for generations now worship of Baal has grown like a cancer in their number. Now, it appears that Jehovah worship is going to be only seen in the history books as they align themselves with Baal. Yet, somehow, they’re having a hard time committing themselves to Baal. The recent drought has caused some doubts. Why couldn’t this fertility god answer their prayers for the rain necessary for them to grow crops? The result of their doubt is that they’re terrible followers of Jehovah God and not very good followers of Baal either. Elijah says it is time for a decision to follow the God who answers prayer, who has power in this world. Our nation has more in common with these ancient Jews than we might think. We too are on the fence. We sing “God bless America” and put “In God we trust” on our currency. We open sessions of Congress and the Supreme Court in prayer. At the same time, we ignore God’s Law and seek to isolate him from secular society. We tip our hat to God but really want to serve, not Baal, but ourselves, and in so doing, adopt a religion of materialism, secular humanism, and pleasure. Will God send an “Elijah” to challenge our nation? Does the Church even want that to happen?
Take Away: It’s rather unreasonable to sing “God bless America” while at the same time attempting to isolate him from all but a few corners of our lives.
Outsiders and insiders
2 Samuel 15: Where my master is, that’s where I’ll be — whether it means life or death.
Absalom has patiently prepared to betray his father, King David, and he decides the time has come to act. With the skill of a big business publicist he orchestrates things to make it appear that the public and the leaders of Israel have made him king. Earlier, David could have easily stopped all this. In fact, he could have kept Absalom in exile in the first place. Instead, David has believed the best in Absalom and turned a blind eye to his scheming. When word of the power grab reaches David he immediately retreats, believing that Absalom has the upper hand. It’s as he flees Jerusalem that we hear the pledge Ittai makes to David. Ittai is from the city of Gath, which means he’s a Philistine. Apparently, he’s deserted his native land to follow David. When David sees him he tells him to go home to Gath, but Ittai will have none of it. He’s committed to David and pledges to follow him even to death. This warrior’s words to David shine in the darkness of an otherwise bleak day. In a spiritual view of things, I am a Philistine, an outsider in the family of God. Like Ittai, the King, himself, has made me welcome. And like Ittai, I cast my lot with my King, all the way, life or death.
Take Away: What an honor it is for an outsider to be invited to the inside by none other than the King, himself.
Ruth 1: Where you go, I go; and where you live, I’ll live. Your people are my people, your God is my god.
A family of refugees moves into her neighborhood and over time she falls in love with and marries one of the sons. Her in-laws often surprise Ruth. Their ways are different than hers. Most unique is their religion. They have but one God and they tell many stories of his deliverance of their people and his love for them. Their laws are just and intended to protect the weak. Even as Ruth is becoming a part of this family, the family begins coming apart. First, her father-in-law dies. Then her brother-in-law passes away and soon after that her own husband dies. In time, her broken-hearted mother-in-law declares that she’s releasing the wives of her two deceased sons. The young women can marry again and start life anew. As for her, it’s time she returns home. How sad: she left her homeland with a husband and two fine sons. Now she’ll return alone. Ruth is having none of this. In Naomi she has not only a mother-in-law but also a friend. Beyond that, going back to her old life, now that she’s had had a glimpse of something better, is unthinkable. So we come to her beautiful statement of commitment. She will cast her lot with Naomi. She will be her friend and she will make Naomi’s values and Naomi’s God her own. I wonder if my life, even in the face of heartache, has the potential to cause anyone to say, “I will serve and love the God you serve and love.”
Take Away: There’s something attractive about a God-centered life.
Come on guys, be a real man
Joshua 24: As for me and my family, we’ll worship God.
Here’s the most famous thing Joshua says and what a glorious declaration it is. He’s come to a decision and now he’s making a firm commitment to abide by that decision. While Joshua can’t control what others do Joshua knows what he and his family are going to do: they’re going to worship God. I know some might squirm a bit at Joshua’s including his family in his declaration of intent. Our Western culture says, “But Joshua, everyone has to make their own decision — you can’t just unilaterally speak for your family.” The fact of the matter is that, in his culture, he can do just that. He’s the leader of his family, and his worship of God isn’t built around a 21st century reading of John 3:16 anyway. In fact, while I know this concept can be abused, most families need the man of the house to stand up and say, “We’ll worship God.” Fathers and husbands need to show some leadership. Men need to make a commitment and to take action. I doubt that there are many wives who would be offended if their husband showed some of the manly leadership Joshua shows here. “Alright family, I’ve come to a decision: we’re going to worship God.”
Take Away: A man’s influence over his family is powerful.
Renewal of vows
Deuteronomy 26: You’ve renewed your vows today that God is your God…today God has reaffirmed that you are dearly held treasure.
As a pastor I’ve officiated at several renewals of marriage vows ceremonies. In some cases it’s a landmark wedding anniversary, like the 50th. In others, couples just feel that they want to publicly reaffirm their commitment to one another. A renewal of wedding vows doesn’t make a couple any more married; it’s just a way to celebrate what already exists. That’s the feeling I get from this passage. God’s people renew their vows to God and he responds by reaffirming that he loves and treasures them. This also works on a personal level. It makes sense that I find occasions to restate my vows to the Lord — and what a blessing it is when he responds, telling me that he, too, treasures our relationship.
Take Away: It’s a good idea for believers to sometimes restate their vows to the Lord.
What an offer
Exodus 19: Everything God says, we will do.
The miracle at the Red Sea has provided a deliverance that will be remembered forever. However, what’s about to happen is intended to form these newly freed slaves into a people of God. They’re camped at the foot of Sinai and the Lord is stating his plan for them. If they’ll listen obediently to his words they’ll be a unique people on the face of the earth: a kingdom of priests who enjoy the blessings of the Almighty. The elders of Israel immediately respond that “everything God says, we will do.” I know that I’m standing at the beginning of what will be a long, failure-filled journey. They won’t even break camp at Sinai before there’s a massive spiritual failure. Still, if I stop looking ahead and simply consider this exchange, I’m impressed by what I see. First, The Lord’s making the wonderful, amazing promise of connecting their lives to his. They don’t deserve it but in an amazing act of grace the offer is made. Second, they say “yes.” Again, I know that many failures are coming, but in this time and place, when God offers them this unlikely partnership, they respond with just the right answer. In spite of the fact that I know things aren’t going to always work out as they should I also remember here that had they said, “No” the story would end here and now. In saying “yes” to God they open the door to an unprecedented relationship with him. To some extent, all human beings receive this same offer from the Lord. We can respond that we’re not worthy or that it’s too hard or that we’re likely to fail. Know what? He already knows all that. Still, the offer is there. When the Lord calls my name, I can respond no better than these ancient Israelites did: “Everything God says, we will do.”
Take Away: I can’t do better than saying the “big yes” to the Lord.
Come out, come out, wherever you are
Genesis 3: God called to the Man: “Where are you?”
I’m created for fellowship with God. Somehow, in ways beyond my comprehension, God desires a relationship with me. God, you see, is all about relationships. In the Creation he seeks relationships so much that he creates beings with free will. Only such creatures can genuinely connect with him. In the Garden Adam and Eve enjoy the fellowship with God, functioning as they’re created to function. When they sin, they break that fellowship and distance themselves from God. What will he do? Will he press the “reset” button on Creation and give it another try? No, instead, we see the Almighty’s commitment to us. According to the Apostle Paul, that commitment was made before the first act of Creation. Adam and Eve don’t have to sin. They’re created to live forever and to enjoy constant fellowship with their Maker. However, before the very first “Let there be light” words are spoken the Lord has considered the possibly that if he makes beings with free will that that they might just reject him. What will he do if that happens? Out in pre-creation eternity the Lord decided that, no matter what happens, he’ll remain committed to his Creation. Before the first moment of time, he has a plan to “seek and to save that which was lost.” When we hear him calling “Where are you?” we’re witnessing the very first step in that plan to restore the broken relationship that now exists between God and humanity. It’s the first step, and in the distant future, we see a cross.
Take away: God wants more than obedience from me…more, he wants to be in a relationship with me.
God’s people doing what God’s people do
Revelation 13: Meanwhile, God’s holy people passionately and faithfully stand their ground.
As I struggle my way through symbolism that has challenged Bible scholars across the centuries it’s nice to find some firm footing, if for just a moment. I can’t identify the Beast or the Beast’s puppet or solve the 666 riddle. Since John writes to specific congregations in a specific place and time I don’t buy into any interpretation that can only be grasped 2000 years in the future, so the 666 reference, in particular has to make sense historically, but again, I’m not the go to guy for this kind of stuff. What I do like is the momentary firm footing of “Meanwhile, God’s holy people passionately and faithfully stand their ground.” Their situation doesn’t sound very good. There’s some kind of leopard-bear-lion Beast dominating the whole world. This Beast hates the Church and intends to destroy it. Life is hard under this persecution (is it Rome or some future event or both?) and it appears that the Church will be crushed. God’s people, though, stand firm. In spite of prison and the sword their passion for Christ empowers them. In the face of this crisis of (literally) Biblical proportions they “stand their ground.” That’s exactly what God’s people do. It’s not that we travel easy roads, smelling roses all the way. Sometimes we take some hits that are anything but easy. We don’t like it and we do all we can to avoid it, but in the end, whatever comes we passionately and faithfully stand for God. Even as I have a hard time getting the rest of this passage into focus, my view of this truth is 20/20.
Take Away: The Lord’s people have staying power even in impossible situations.