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.
What does it mean to have a genuine relationship with Christ?
Philippians 3: I gave up all that inferior stuff so I could know Christ personally.
A friend of mine commented that he was preparing to do a certain thing. His intention wasn’t to do something bad but it seemed to me that there was a superior course of action. In an off handed remark I asked, “Have you asked the Lord about it?” His response was, “Oh, the Lord understands.” Later, I found myself thinking about the exchange in view of my own life. How often do I do whatever I want to do with the attitude: “It’s okay, the Lord understands.” Tell you what; I don’t treat my wife that way. When I’m thinking about taking some out of the ordinary action I talk it over with her. Most of the time I could probably go ahead and she would “understand” but the thing is that we have a relationship with one another that includes our respecting each other and valuing one another’s opinions on things. Surely, I should have a similar respectful, intimate relationship with the Lord. There’s a place for prayers along the lines of, “Lord, I’m thinking about doing this, what do you think?” The Apostle says he gave up a lot of stuff that he might have a personal relationship with Jesus. If I want to have a vital, real, living relationship with Jesus one of the things I must give up is having a self-willed, presumptive attitude toward him.
Take Away: Do we treat the Lord as a real person or as some abstract idea?
Paying attention to the big deal of life
Ephesians 5: Observe how Christ loved us.
So what does a thoughtful, genuine Christian life look like? What examples are good ones for me to study and then apply to my life? Paul says the place to start is by looking upward. As a child of God I study his behavior, doing all I can to make true the proverb, “like Father like son.” If I want to see those attributes “with skin on them” I look to Jesus. Whatever I see in Jesus, I attempt to copy into my life. And what do I see? I see extravagant love. Out of love my Lord gives of himself without reservation. He doesn’t use God for his own purposes. Rather, he reflects the loving compassion of the Father in all he does. The Apostle says that I get chances to live like that. Opportunities to love selflessly come my way and I need to make the most of those opportunities. Some folks miss that boat and rather than filling their lives with Christ-like love they let other things dominate their lives. I understand the problem. Everyday a thousand voices cry out to me. Like carnival front men they invite me to try their game. If I’m not careful, I wander off into their diversion. Today, I’m reminded that love is the thing. When all is said and done in my life, the big deal will be love. Have I loved God with all my heart and soul and mind? Have I loved my neighbor as myself? This passage reminds me to “make the most out of every chance I get.”
Take Away: Love is the thing.
Living unreservedly for God
2Corinthians 6: The smallness you feel comes from within you.
These are emotional words from the Apostle. He loves this church. They’re his dear friends. In fact, he considers them to be his children in Christ. At the same time he’s frustrated with the smallness of their lives. The infighting, bickering, competing attitude of theirs not only breaks his heart but it also limits their view of God and what he does in people’s lives. Without reservation Paul has given himself to them and to the Church in general. He’s suffered physically for it but at the same time he’s been blessed beyond description. If the Corinthians feel their religion puts them in a straightjacket it’s their own fault. There’s so much more to being a Christian than trying to be first in line at church potlucks or getting to be the one who sings the special song. Paul calls them to a better way: a passionate life lived joyfully for the Lord. These words speak to church people throughout the ages. Am I going to make church about meetings and rules and authority or am I going to make it about living passionately for the Lord? The first binds and limits me. The second sets me free to live “openly and expansively.”
Take Away: The Christian life isn’t binding – rather, it’s wonderfully freeing.