No guarantee of success
Isaiah 6: …they won’t have a clue about what is going on…so they won’t turn around and be made whole….
Isaiah’s commission is powerful and associated with a vision of God’s holiness. The prophet is personally transformed by the grace of God and he’s ready to “go” for the Lord. However, the next thing the Lord tells Isaiah must be very difficult to swallow. In spite of his being a man with “lips touched with a coal from off the altar” his ministry won’t bear fruit. I know it takes commitment to step forward and say “send me” but how much more to go on this mission with the promise of failure. The Lord says that the people Isaiah goes to minister to will not respond. Why the Lord tells Isaiah this is a mystery to me. Why not just send him on without telling him of the failure to come? I have no answer. However, I do see one important thing here: I belong to the Lord and I have to leave the results of my ministry in his hands. For Isaiah the important thing is “going” — being faithful. That’s how it is for all of us who serve him.
Take Away: We’re called to obedient faithfulness. The results we leave in the hands of the Lord.
Good theology from Johnny Cash
Ecclesiastes 10: Dead flies in perfume make it stink, and a little foolishness decomposes much wisdom.
The “dead flies” line always struck me as funny, especially when I first read it as a teen. At that time I didn’t take time to try to understand the meaning of it so I just smiled and moved on. A person can say and do a lot of wise things in their life, but one blunder can pretty much ruin it all. I’ve seen that happen with presidents and pastors; with CEO’s and secretaries. When my son got his first driver’s license I commented to him that many drivers only make one mistake in their lives, and it’s their last. Car wrecks can be unforgiving. It’s true of other life situations too. A man can be a good husband and father for 30 years and then get involved with someone for a brief fling that ruins all those years of faithfulness. While I’m a big believer in second chances and grace I also know that a few “dead flies” can ruin a lot of godly living. Johnny Cash wasn’t singing a hymn when he sang, “I keep a close watch on this heart of mine…because you’re mine I walk the line” but his words do apply in that sense. I don’t want a few “dead flies” to ruin a lifetime of faithfulness.
Take Away: Watch out for “dead flies” in your life.
Friends and family
Proverbs 17: Friends love through all kinds of weather, and families stick together in all kinds of trouble.
I’ve lived long enough to know that “all kinds of trouble” comes to every life. Sooner or later its each person’s turn to face disappointment and be let down by people and circumstances or be betrayed by their own humanity. At such times it becomes easier to see what and who matters the most to us. I’m thankful today for family of both the “blood line” and the “relationship” variety. There’s power in positive relationships. Even when we’re at the end of ourselves, we can draw strength from those dear ones who stand with us. I’m reminded today that, first, I need to appreciate precious friends and family and not take them for granted even though they love me enough that I could probably get away with it. Also, I remember that I’m privileged to be such a friend to some. It’s an honor, but it’s also a responsibility that I must take seriously no matter what the “weather.”
Take Away: Thank the Lord for friends and family and, thank the Lord for the privilege of being friend and family to others.
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.
Now who’s on the spot?
Job 38: I have some questions for you.
Job’s insisted that his ordeal is the result of some cosmic mistake and that if only he could get an audience with God he’d straighten things out. If nothing else, God would at least explain to Job what it is he’s done to deserve these horrible things. Now Job’s getting what he asked for. The Lord has shown up. The thing is God isn’t defensive in the least and he isn’t especially interested in explaining things to Job. Through these tragic events Job has held in there. He’s remained faithful to the Lord, refusing to “curse God and die” even when he’s no longer being blessed in his faithfulness and righteousness. However, that doesn’t mean that Job is 100% correct in what he thinks about all this. Several times he’s said things that are wrong. When God shows up he first concentrates on these things. He says to Job, not “I have some answers for you” but, instead, “I have some questions for you.” Then, God begins to remind Job of Who He is and who Job is. This is a humbling experience but Job will never get a handle on many of the questions he’s asked without this. That’s how it is for us too. We sing, “What a friend we have in Jesus” and that’s a wonderful truth. Still, it has to be balanced against who God is. His awesome power in Creation, his holiness, and his nature in general must humble us even when we’re struggling with issues in life. When God begins to move in Job’s life again, his first move is to bring Job back to these truths.
Take Away: Remembering who God is is the first step to understanding many of the questions of life.
Serving God for nothing
Job 30: What did I do to deserve this?
Job’s final reply to his friends is his longest speech. He doesn’t summarize so much as restate all he has already said. He’s cried out to God for justice, but can’t get an answer. He’s lived a just life, avoiding immorality, falsehood, dishonesty, and pride. He’s treated people with respect and honesty, caring for the poor and the stranger. Now, in the midst of the trial, all he’s wanted is an audience with God, an audience which has not been granted. Job, like his friends, believes that bad things only happen to bad people. He maintains that he’s lived a life pleasing to God, yet bad things are happening. If he could only sit down with God and work all this out! Were that to happen, he’s sure this mess could be straightened out. Among all the other losses Job has suffered is the loss of his comfortable understanding of God and life. However, even with that taken away (and maybe this is the last thing to go) Job continues serving God. And he does so, yes, for nothing! At this point, Satan’s accusation from the opening paragraphs of this story is proven false. In spite of the suggestion otherwise, a man will love and serve God even when he’s getting nothing out of it; even when it seems God, himself, is breaking the rules; even when all else is taken away. If the book of Job ended with chapter 31, the point of the whole story is made.
Take Away: Yes, it’s possible for a person to love the Lord and trust the Lord even when there appears to be no tangible gain in it.
Job one, Satan nothing
Job 1: God gives, God takes. God’s name be ever blessed.
As round one of Job’s trials concludes we find Job a heartbroken man. Everything’s gone, including his children. Job’s in shock and deep mourning. In this midst of his pain, he falls to the ground — and worships! The test is to see if a man will serve God “for nothing” and, as this round of testing ends, we find Job still worshiping God! His worship doesn’t consist of his shrugging off all that has happened. After all, the pain is real. His actions declare the depth of his pain yet his words carry a philosophic tone. Job declares, “I entered with world with nothing and that’s how I’ll leave.” Does Job serve God for nothing? Job’s answer is “God gives, God takes. God’s name be ever blessed.”
Take Away: Job trusts in the Lord even when everything falls apart. Does that describe us?
Taking it to the next level
Job 2: A human would do anything to save his life.
Everything of value has been taken from Job in one breathtaking, horrible day, yet Job continues in his relationship with God. Now the adversary suggests that the reason for this is that Job is still playing the game of serving God because he’s still getting something out of it; that is, his very life. The stakes are incredibly high. It’s been proven that Job isn’t serving God because he gets wealth and possessions out of it. Satan suggests that Job’s hanging in there because he gets out of it life itself. The Lord doesn’t hand his servant completely over to this accuser, but he does grant permission for Job to be afflicted physically. What Satan does to Job is intended to be “a fate worse than death.” This is all intended to answer the fundamental question of this book of the Bible: “Does Job serve God for nothing?” Will Job continue in faithfulness when he’s getting nothing out of it? Will he serve God when all the blessings are turned to curses and his very life is a living death? The remainder of this book answers this question.
Take Away: All else can be stripped away but nothing can rob us of our faith.
Just doing the right thing
Esther 2: Now there was a Jew who lived in the palace complex in Susa. His name was Mordecai.
The second character we meet in the book of Esther is Mordecai the son of Jair. Mordecai is a “Jew of the Jews.” He comes from the family tree of Benjamin and in this story he’s spoken of in only positive ways. He’s compassionate in taking his niece in and raising her after she’s orphaned. Clearly, he has a godly influence on her as this story shows. Mordecai doesn’t want the spotlight but he’s reluctantly brought into it by the unexpected circumstances that are revealed in the book of Esther. He stands up to the powerful Haman and shows himself to be a loyal subject to Xerxes. Mordecai is one of those people who quietly goes about living for God for many years, and then, at just the right time is used by God in some very specific, positive way. Mordecai does the right thing when the spotlight of history is turned upon him because he’s been doing the right thing all along.
Take Away: Do the right thing in the everyday events of life and it will be easier to do the right thing when the pressure is on.
Nehemiah 9: In your great compassion you heard and helped them again.
One result of the reading and study of God’s Word is a powerful reconnection by the returned exiles to their history. Nehemiah 9 is made up mostly of a song written to tell this story. In it, God’s grace and mercy is highlighted. The Lord is good to them, from Abram of Ur to the day when they occupied the Promised Land. However, there’s great spiritual failure as their ancestors reject God and his Law. There’s a lot of repentance in this song, but there’s also great hope. God is still their God and they rely on him to deliver them from their enemies and re-establish them in this place that was promised to Abraham so long ago. This song is not only a song of history but is a hymn of invitation as well. As it ends, the heads of the families are challenged to come forward to sign a binding pledge. From this moment forward they’ll be a faithful people of God. They’re sure of God’s grace, now they commit themselves to that grace. It’s a powerful moment. Without it, the story of Nehemiah is just about rebuilding a wall. With it, we have a story about God rebuilding a people.
Take Away: Thank the Lord for his patient, merciful, transforming grace.