What a wonderful promise!
2 Chronicles 15: If you look for him he will let himself be found.
The name “Azariah” appears often in the Old Testament, but I think this is the only incident in which we hear from this particular prophet of God. Asa has just won a miraculous battle and is returning home to celebrate his victory when he’s met by this man of God. Azariah has a message from the Lord for Asa. The Lord has good things in mind for Asa and for his kingdom. If Asa will keep his head screwed on straight and keep his eyes on God he’ll be blessed with the unfailing presence of the Lord throughout his reign. Asa takes this message to heart and goes all out for God. He calls his subjects to “seek God…wholeheartedly, holding nothing back.” The result is just what the Lord promised. God shows up bringing peace and prosperity to the kingdom. This is a wonderfully encouraging passage. God wants to bless us and help us and be with us. He promises to make himself available to those who seek him. A family, church, or nation that covenants to seek God wholeheartedly gets God’s attention and receives his blessings. I’m not thinking so much of health and wealth here as I am about spiritual well-being. Still, I think that living in an intimate relationship with God brings blessings that often spill over into our lives in unexpected, pleasant ways. Either way, the promise of God’s presence and his willingness to be “found” ought to excite us and stir us to action.
Take Away: The Lord isn’t playing hide and seek with us. Rather, he makes himself wonderfully available to all who seek him.
Leaving everything to follow
2 Chronicles 11: The Levites left their pastures and properties and moved to Judah and Jerusalem.
His subjects have requested that Rehoboam back off a bit and give them some breathing room but he foolishly promises more of the same. The result is that he loses half his Kingdom. From now on we’ll have twin kingdoms: Israel and Judah. Right off Israel enthrones an evil man who shuts down the worship of Jehovah God. However, not everyone in Israel is on his side and several relocate to Judah, not because they like Rehoboam all that much but because they want to worship the Lord. One group, in particular, is mentioned. Traditionally the Levites have served God, first in the Tabernacle and then at the Temple. Now, the Levites living in the new nation of Israel have a decision to make. Will they abandon their calling or will they abandon their property? Many, we’re told, decide for God. They leave home that they can be true to their calling and serve God in Jerusalem. I’m impressed by their decision as I’m impressed by stories of people who leave home to live in some distant place in response to the call of missions. The most many of us can say about following the Lord is that we’ve been inconvenienced at times. Here’s a group of people who abandoned everything to be faithful to God’s call on their lives. People who make that kind of decision are worthy of our admiration. The Lord’s impressed by it too. As Jesus says in Luke 18, “No one who has left home or wife or brothers or parents or children for the sake of the kingdom of God will fail to receive many times as much in this age and, in the age to come, eternal life.”
Take Away: Thank the Lord for people who are willing to live out their faith even in the face of real personal sacrifice.
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.