The favorite Psalm
Psalm 23: God, my shepherd!
Some portions of the Bible are like the peaks of a great mountain range. It’s all awesome, but there are passages that take our breath away. There are the beatitudes and the Lord’s Prayer; in fact, the whole Sermon on the Mount. Then there’s John 3:16 and 1 Corinthians 13. Also, there’s the great Hymn of Creation of the opening pages of our Bibles. And there’s the 23rd Psalm. Here we find such beauty and such comfort and encouragement that we return again and again, especially in times of pain or fear or grief. I’m reminded today that David wrote it as God, the Holy Spirit, carried him along. The words are those of an experienced shepherd. The concepts are inspired by the Lord. This favorite Psalm is, then, the result of a cooperative effort between God and man. This mountain peak Psalm is not simply a product of David’s creativity and it’s not the result of the Lord acting unilaterally as he did in Creation (in other words it isn’t a result of “God said ‘let there be a Psalm’ and there was a Psalm!”). As surprising as it is, the Almighty forms a partnership with a man and the result is Psalm 23. In this I see not only how God desires to work in this world, but also the great potential in such a partnership. As I cooperate with God in my life he works with me to bring about wonderful results. What happens may not be exquisite poetry like Psalm 23, but it will be something of value to the Lord and to me.
Take Away: It’s an unlikely and wonderful partnership – the Lord working with, in, and through human beings.
Can’t we all just get along?
Philippians 4: I urge Euodia and Syntyche to iron out their differences and make up.
Everything we know about Euodia and Syntyche is found in this passage; there’s not much. Two women have some differences, about what, we don’t know. These women have partnered with Paul in proclaiming the Good News. They’re faithful laborers in the vineyard of the Lord and their names are in the book of life. Paul urges a third party to get involved, helping them work through their differences. That’s about it. Paul doesn’t take sides and he declares both of these women as “okay” in both his eyes and in the eyes of the Lord. So, what do we have here? First, there’s the reminder that even the best of God’s people can sometimes fail to get along. God’s people, even the saved and sanctified ones, don’t always agree and sometimes their disagreements can be intense. Second, when we do disagree we’re to do all we can to work through it. That doesn’t necessarily mean that one person yields to the other, although it may mean exactly that. At some point, two Christians need to say, “We’ve got to work through this, otherwise, we’ll be diminished for it and Christ’s kingdom will suffer.” Third, sometimes it takes a third party, a mutual friend, respected by both to get the ball rolling. To tell the truth, I wouldn’t want to be Syzgus here. His name means “yokefellow,” thus, “co-worker.” What man wants to get between two women who need to “iron out their differences and make up”? The answer is: the kind of man who’s a real friend of, and is respected by, both women. Paul gives this good man the assignment of bringing these two together to work things out, not because their salvation’s in jeopardy, but because the journey is better together than it is apart, and, because when we’re real “yokefellows” we can accomplish more for God.
Take Away: If there’s an unresolved issue between you and a fellow Christian, don’t pass “go” and “don’t collect $200” until you’ve gone to them and worked it out.
A lesson on obedience
Jeremiah 35: The descendants…carried out to the letter what their ancestor commanded.
I don’t know why it is that Recab’s son Jonadab ordered his family to become something like monks, but he did. He told them to never live in permanent buildings and to drink no wine. For generations his descendants have followed his orders. Now, with the Babylonian army in the area, the Recabite community has moved into Jerusalem for safety. The Lord gives Jeremiah an unusual order; he’s to meet with the Recabites and offer them some wine to drink. As expected they refuse to drink it, politely explaining that their ancestor forbade it and through the many years since they’ve followed his orders. The Lord points out to Jeremiah that he has before him a group of people who are carefully following the commands of a mere human being, yet the nation as a whole is steadfastly refusing to follow the commands of God Almighty. It’s clear that this passage really has nothing to do with whether or not we drink wine or even whether or not we pay attention to the directions left to us by our ancestors. Obviously, we have some clear instructions in both the Old and New Testaments to pay attention to the orders of some people. For instance, children are to obey their parents and citizens are to obey those in authority over them. However the lesson here for Jeremiah and for us is that, if it’s reasonable for us to cooperate with mere human beings who have authority over us, it’s even more reasonable for us to cooperate with what God is doing in our lives.
Take Away: The only reasonable thing is to cooperate with the Lord as he works in our lives.
In the hands of the Master Workman
Jeremiah 18: In the same way that this potter works his clay, I work on you.
People who have no idea that this illustration of how God works in lives comes from the book of Jeremiah are well aware of this parable. The picture of the potter sculpting the clay and then remaking it is as clear a parable as we’ll ever see. It’s not that the potter doesn’t know what he’s doing or that he becomes distracted and messes up. The problem is that something in the clay resists and the result isn’t satisfactory to the craftsman. However, as long as the clay is pliable in the master’s hands it can be remade into something just as beautiful and usable as the first version would have been. It’s somewhat sobering to read on. The point Jeremiah’s making is that, while the Potter is capable of salvaging the situation, the clay continues to resist. The prophet says his people say, “What’s the point? We’ll live just the way we’ve always lived.” God can handle their failure and rebellion. He can remake them, bringing something good out of even this hopeless situation. Sadly though, they won’t let him. Today, I don’t have to be a perfect person to be sculpted by the Master’s hand. However, I do have to be willing for that to happen. I don’t come to God and say, “I’ve done a pretty good job on my life so far, how about you doing the finishing touches?” Instead, I say, “Here’s my life, the good and bad of it. I place myself in your hands knowing you can remake me in a way that will be good.” God save us from thinking our lives can’t be made new by his hand.
Take Away: God is the God of Second Chances.