Loved by God
John 16: The Father loves you directly.
Jesus has prayed for his disciples and he’s going to pray for them again. In fact, his great High Priestly prayer is about to begin. Still, he encourages his disciples to “make your requests directly to him” promising that the Father is ready and willing to hear and answer their prayers. The reason for this is because of their relationship with Jesus. Three years earlier they met Jesus. Some were out in the wilderness where John was baptizing; others were in Galilee as they went about their daily activities. They’ve now followed him for three years and during that time they’ve come to believe Jesus is the Son of God. In these final hours before everything changes, Jesus tells his disciples that the Father is quite pleased with them for believing in his Son. They’ve left all to follow him and they’ve loved Jesus and trusted in him and, because of that, their relationship with the Heavenly Father has changed in a wonderful way. From now on, when they pray to the Father, they’re authorized by the Father, himself, to pray in the Name of Jesus. They’ve loved Jesus, and now, the Father loves them all the more for it and they’re about to reap the benefits of being people who please the Father. I’m nothing close to equal to Peter or James or John, but I have this in common with them: I too love, trust, and follow Jesus. Because of that, in spite of my unworthiness and failure to really understand all that it means to me, I have the assurance that the Father “loves me directly.” I’m not sure exactly what that means, but I’ve had just a taste of it and what I’ve tasted is very good.
Take Away: It’s a powerful thing to be a person with whom the Father is pleased.
God of the nations
Amos 9: Am I not involved with all nations?
Amos might as well have been speaking in another language so far as his audience is concerned. Without question, they have the corner of God. Hadn’t Moses been called by God to lead them out of Egyptian slavery? Hadn’t their great King David been chosen by God, himself? They’re the chosen people even if they don’t act like it. The prophet shatters their theology, telling them that God has an interest in all peoples, not just Israel. Even as his gracious hand was seen in the creation of Israel, it could also be seen in the creation of their neighbors: the Philistines and the Arameans. Granted, Amos goes right on to promise that unique blessings the Lord will pour out on Israel when he makes “everything right again for my people Israel.” Still, the point has already been made that God loves all his creation and that he’s working in the lives of all people, accomplishing his purposes. Of course, I want to enthusiastically endorse this message with a big “Amen.” Otherwise, I’m an outsider, blundering along, blindly feeling my way through life. God’s work among the nations may be different than what he was doing with Israel, but it’s just as real. I find it both interesting and encouraging that even in the book of Amos which is quite focused on Israel and Judah that I find this missionary element. Thank God!
Take Away: The Lord has an interest in all peoples
It’s more than a chicken in every pot
Isaiah 55: So will the words that come out of my mouth not come back empty-handed.
As we near national elections we hear a lot from politicians. The common wisdom is that a person will say whatever they need to say to get elected. Hopefully, that isn’t always the case. A nation needs leaders who lead with integrity. Still, it isn’t hard for anyone who’s been paying attention to remember broken promises from vote seekers. Isaiah says that God has things to say and that the Lord doesn’t hesitate to make some promises. God’s message isn’t the common message of the world. After all, his ways are higher than our ways. Not only is his message unique, but his faithfulness to make good on that message is unique too. When God says I’m to live my life his way and that, if I do, I’ll have a better life, well, that’s a word I can take to the bank. The Lord’s at work, building a people worthy of being called his people. Even as rain falling from the sky is instrumental in producing bountiful crops, so does the Word of God produce good lives in those who hear and obey. The message of this scripture is that God isn’t just making so much noise when he says “this is the way I want you to live.” Rather, he’s giving me an approach to life that will produce the rich harvest of God’s blessings.
Take Away: The way of the Lord is the best way.
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.
Don’t waste the blessings of life
2 Chronicles 14: While we have the chance and the land is quiet, let’s build a solid defense system.
Asa’s one of the good guys to lead Judah. He enjoys 10 years of peace in the early part of his reign and he takes full advantage of it. Now only does he clean house, getting rid of the idols, etc. that have crept into his kingdom he also persuades his subjects to join him in fortifying the major cities of Judah. Any nation should be thankful for 10 years of peace. After all, peace is an all too rare national condition. Sorry to say but history proves that the “war to end all wars” is yet to be fought. So even when peace is achieved and we’re tempted to dismantle our defenses and focus on other things, reality calls us to take advantage of the current situation by preparing for whatever comes next. Not only is this true on the national scale, it’s true of our individual lives as well. Life has both good and bad days. When things are going well we need to be careful we don’t foolishly act as though hard times are gone forever. Most certainly they aren’t. On one hand, I want to enjoy the good things that come to me. I want to look toward heaven and say a sincere word of thanks and live as though I really appreciate the blessings that come. On the other hand, I want to be aware that life won’t always be easy. As much as I’m able I want to prepare for the day when it’ll be my turn to experience some of the hardship of life. Asa’s a good king because he doesn’t “waste the peace.” From a personal point of view, I don’t want to “waste the blessings” either.
Take Away: Live wisely.
1 Chronicles 18: Thus David ruled over all of Israel. He ruled well, fair and evenhanded.
David succeeds on all fronts. Here’s a King who prays passionately, fights successfully, and rules justly. All this could have been said about Saul, but when Saul rejected God, God rejected Saul. Now, finally, the promise made to Abraham long ago has come to pass. His descendants possess the Promised Land and his offspring number in the hundreds of thousands. Israel is now more than a family of wanders or even a nation of ex-slaves. Israel is a nation of the people of God led by the man God, himself, has picked to be their king. The story continues with the ups and downs of life and, as well all know, failure is on the horizon. For the time being though, I think I’ll just camp out here and rejoice with the people of this distant day. God keeps his word. He does good things in and for his people. He enjoys blessing our lives. Yes, this is a good place to hang out for a while.
Take Away: When the Lord blesses us we need to take time to enjoy and appreciate those blessings.
Deliverance, protection, provision
Deuteronomy 8: If you start thinking to yourselves, “I did all this. All by myself. I’m rich. It’s all mine!” — well, think again.
The topic is God’s past blessings and his promise of future faithfulness. Their history is memorable: deliverance, protection, provisions. God has been good and that should be clear to them. After all, bread literally fell from heaven every day. But that may be the problem. Many of his listeners had not even been born when the bread started falling. A person in his audience can be 40 years old and every day (except on Saturdays) of his or her life they have gone out to collect manna to eat. These blessed people have never seen it any other way. Had you met one and asked them about their clothing: “Say, how long does a shirt last before it has to be replaced?” The response would have been one of confusion: “What do you mean, ‘last’ — I don’t understand the question.” Why? Because their clothing never needed to be replaced — ever! Is it possible that God can be so good to me that I forget that he’s the Source of the blessing in the first place? Once I forget the Source, the next step is for me to start thinking that I somehow deserve credit for it. Moses says that if I start thinking like that — well, I’d better think again.
Take Away: It’s okay to enjoy the blessing as long as I remember the Source of the blessing.
Numbers 6: This is how you are to bless the People of Israel.
Progress is being made and it’s about time to put the new Tent of Meeting into service. The various sacrifices have been described along with the duties of those who will serve in this portable worship center. God has something he wants the priests to say: “God bless you and keep you, God smile on you and gift you, God look you full in the face and make you prosper.” Note that this isn’t something the priests or even Moses thought up. God wants this to be said because, he says, “I will confirm it by blessing them.” Isn’t it wonderful to be reminded that God desires to bless his people! He wants to keep us, to gift us, and to prosper us. Now, I could spend time here talking about what all this means, especially, in light of all the “health and wealth” teaching around. Instead, though, I’d rather just be reminded here of the good will God has toward us. We don’t hear Moses saying to the priests, “Let’s make it our habit to ask God to bless us.” Instead, here’s God, Himself, saying, “I want to bless you and as a reminder of that, here’s what I want you to say.” Thank you, Lord, for not only your blessings, but for your desire to bless.
Take Away: We are recipients of an abundance of good will from the Lord.
Leviticus 23: Moses posted the calendar for the annual appointed feasts of God which Israel was to celebrate.
From the Exodus on the Lord gives the Israelites instructions for annual special events. Those events focus on both past and present blessings and touch on things like the Passover and on the harvest. God’s people are to remember his past blessings and appreciate the present ones. The feasts include their making offerings but they’re also to celebrate all the Lord’s blessings on them. These feasts connect God’s people to God in their daily lives, reminding them of his provision for them in days gone by and in the current events of their lives as well. This concept is not only good for the Israelites of centuries ago but is beneficial for you and me too. Without such celebrations we tend to get lost in the everyday details of life and lose sight of the big picture of God’s provision for, and connection to, our lives. The specifics of those celebrations might look different for us than it did for them, but it has a similar impact on us. Our celebrations might be a combination of civil and spiritual, like Christmas or New Year’s or Thanksgiving or Mother’s Day. However, they may be quite “Christian specific” like Pentecost or Easter (the real deal, not the bunnies and new clothes version). Those celebrations might even be quite personal, like remembering the date of one’s conversion or God’s deliverance in one’s life from some unwelcome event. It’s good to be reminded that even as we read the rules and regulations of Leviticus we find ourselves being ordered to remember and celebrate God’s goodness to us. It’s in things like this that we find the spice of life.
Take Away: God is good to us and is active in our lives, we need to celebrate that.