Surveying the devastation, with hope
Lamentations 3: The “worst” is never the worst.
On the surface the words “the ‘worst’ is never the worst” sounds pretty naive. It apparently goes along with “Cheer up, things could be worse” — just a shallow throwaway line that has no traction in a broken life. I have to remind myself of where I am and who it is giving this, seeming trite, advice. I’m standing in the midst of the rubble that was Jerusalem. Decaying bodies are in sight. The man speaking is Jeremiah, the weeping prophet. He’s the one saying, “Hang in there. You think this is the worst situation possible, but something good will rise even out of these ashes.” The prophet knows that his words won’t make sense unless he adds the reason for his surprising optimism. He continues: “Why? Because the Master won’t ever walk out and fail to return. He works severely, he also works tenderly.” The worst isn’t the worst because God doesn’t walk out, never to return; and when he returns, it’s with tender compassion. I may be traveling down an unwelcome road right now. The darkness may seem complete because it appears God has forsaken me for good. Jeremiah reminds me that it’s never that way. Even Jeremiah, who has first-hand seen the “severity” of God, is absolutely convinced of the “tenderness” of God. I need to sit at the feet of this man who can stand in the midst of devastation and declare his trust in the Master’s tender faithfulness. These are deep, and necessary truths; especially in the painful days of life.
Take Away: Trust in the Lord even in the hardest days of life.
A personal Guide through life
Isaiah 42: I’ll be a personal guide to them, directing them through unknown country.
Have you ever been in a situation in which you needed a guide? Some years ago Jackie and I rafted some serious white water and part of the deal was that we, along with some other folks, hired a guide. As I recall, he earned his money, directing us along the way so that we got wet without getting dumped into the raging water. Isaiah pictures for us God’s offer to be our personal guide in life. I don’t think I’m to draw from this that I’m to be a private in the army, marching to the bark of a stern drill sergeant, but I do see the promise of God’s faithfulness to me in the decisions of life. Rather than barking out orders the Lord more often speaks in that oft mentioned “still small voice.” Therefore, his offer of guidance can be refused. Due to the fact that everything in my future can be classified as “unknown country” I thank the Lord for his offer to be my “personal guide.” I have to admit that I still need some work in the listening part of this arrangement.
Take Away: As I cooperate with him, the Lord is faithful to me in the decisions of life.
On the solid Rock I stand
Isaiah 40: God doesn’t come and go. God lasts.
Sooner or later everything fails us. Some failures come on purpose and can be considered betrayal. Others come by accident but are painful none-the-less. Still others come with great reluctance; such as the death of a loved one who promised to be with us always. Sometimes I make something that was never intended to be permanent into a centerpiece in my life. When the time comes for it to be taken away it becomes, spiritually speaking, a surgery rather than a simple letting go. Because of the temporary nature of this life, I must remember the truth of Isaiah’s words here. There’s only one place of absolute firm footing and that’s on the solid rock of God. He’s the only One who never fails. As I take my stand on the rock of his faithfulness everything else falls into its proper place. I can weather betrayal because One vastly greater has not betrayed me. I can survive some thoughtless, accidental failure and I can find hope even in genuine personal disasters because my hope isn’t focused there in the first place. Everything else comes and goes. If I’ve pinned my hopes and dreams on anything or anyone else, I’ll become a sad, broken man. The only stability I really have (and need) is in the Lord.
Take Away: There’s only one place of absolute firm footing and that’s on the solid rock of the Lord.
Trust in God, not in chance
Proverbs 22: Don’t gamble on the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, hocking your house against a lucky chance.
From the middle of Proverbs 22 through most of chapter 24 we’re given a list of thirty wise sayings collected by Solomon. In fact, this is the first of three such collections, the last being some of Solomon’s own gems. Clearly this wise man is not only a source of wisdom but is a collector of it too. The proverb concerning gambling catches my eye today as gambling is everywhere in our culture. Several states have turned to casinos as an answer to financial shortfalls. Also, there are many state sponsored lotteries. It isn’t unusual to be approached by someone selling raffle tickets in support of some worthy cause. (If I think it is truly worthy, I make a donation but decline taking a ticket.) When I turn on the TV I find shows about poker games. It’s clear that our society is awash with gambling. This isn’t how people of faith are supposed to operate. My hope isn’t that by taking a chance I can get hold of the money of other people who have taken the same chance. The life of faith isn’t about getting all I can from anywhere I can. Rather than gambling on my future by guessing the right lotto numbers I can stake my future on the solid rock of God’s faithfulness to me. Jesus said it’s impossible to serve both God and money. In this proverb, I see the wisdom of avoiding the gambling trap.
Take Away: Our hope is in the Lord, not in picking the right lotto numbers.
Playing hide and seek with God
Psalm 139: Your reassuring presence, coming and going.
It’s no surprise that this is a favorite psalm for many of God’s people across the years. It’s a celebration of God’s connection to our lives. The writer doesn’t have any concept of an absentee God who spun the world up to speed and then moved on to other things. He doesn’t think of God as aloof and disinterested. His God is an involved God, deeply connected to his life. The psalmist can see the hand of this involved God when he looks back on the events of his life. He has no doubt that the Lord will continue to be connected to him. David imagines his playing a game of “hide and seek” with God, not that he wants to be hidden from God for a moment, but that he wants to be sure of God’s knowledge of his life no matter where he might be. In this imaginary game, David goes mountain climbing, and then spelunking in the depths. As he arrives at those remote, hidden places it’s no surprise to him that God is already there waiting on him. The psalmist finds that God always finds him in both the extremes of life and the common places as well. This psalm speaks to all of us who love the Lord and don’t want to live for even one moment outside his grace and mercy.
Take Away: Where ever I am, God is there first.
Passing the faith along
Psalm 105: All because he remembered his Covenant.
Psalm 105 is one of those “remembering great things” psalms. The events retold in the song happened hundreds of years in the past. I can imagine the boys in the congregation grinning to one another during the verse about frogs in the bedroom of the king and flies filling the air. That kind of imagery gets a boy’s attention! Something else is happening as that psalm is sung. Even as the boys think about flies and gnats and frogs they learn the story of God’s faithfulness, how he kept his promise and delivered his people from Egyptian slavery. Thus that old story becomes their story. Someday, they’ll be the grow ups leading the worship and it will be their boys getting a kick out of the “frog story.” Thus another generation takes ownership of the story of God. We have the same opportunity. Our children need to know of the faithfulness of God. Stories that seem like the same old stuff to us are brand new to these little ones. We owe it to them to tell it to them with the same conviction and wonder and celebration that it was told to us. As we do that we connect them to the God who keeps his promises no matter what.
Take Away: Tell your children the story of God – tell it to them with conviction, wonder, and celebration – make it their story.
Trust in trial
Psalm 94: God will never walk away from his people.
A friend, who’s in the middle of about five disasters, including a couple of big physical problems of her own, bravely says to me, “I know the Bible says that God won’t let us face more than we can bear.” The unstated side of that is, “I don’t know how much more of this I can take!” In this psalm, a person who trusts in God questions the seeming unending flow of painful events in life. He sees all that’s happening and asks God, “How long will you let this go on?” Then the song writer begins to answer his own question reminding us that surely the “Ear-Maker” hears what’s being said and the “Eye-Maker” sees what’s going on. He states, “God will never walk away from his people.” There are times in life when we’re left with nothing but our trust in God’s love. We believe that he hears our prayers, sees what’s happening, and that he loves us with a never-ending love. At times like that it’s perfectly acceptable for us, on one hand, to proclaim, “I know it’ll be okay because the Lord’s on my side” while, on the other hand to cry out, “Lord, how much longer before you act on my behalf?”
Take Away: It doesn’t offend the Lord when his people cry out to him in painful, dark days.
Heaven will surely be worth it all
Psalm 84: These roads curve up the mountain, and at the last turn — Zion!
The psalmist is thinking about journeying to Jerusalem to worship at the Temple. Oh how the pilgrim looks forward to being in the Temple of God. He can’t help but think of how blest are those whose serve in that place day by day. However, there’s more than even that here. The song writer finds himself thinking about people who are living their lives in the Lord, journeying with him along the dusty roads and through the lonesome valleys of life. Not that there aren’t some blest times along the way because there are some “cool springs” that refresh the weary traveler. Then, there’s one last mountain to climb, one last curve to navigate; and then Zion comes into view. That “lonesome valley” journey is quickly forgotten as beautiful Zion is seen. What a powerful picture he’s painted. Today, I thank God for walking with me on my life journey. I thank him for the blessings of cool springs along the way and for his faithfulness to me even in the lonesome valleys. For me, and for most of us, the blessings far outnumber the trials. But whether or not that is true for you in particular we all have this hope: one of these days we’ll climb that last mountain and round the final curve and our Zion will come into view. As the old gospel song says, “Heaven will surely be worth it all.”
Take Away: We are a people with hope; hope both in this world and in the world to come.
Telling it like it was
Psalm 78: He…commanded our parents to teach it to their children.
Asaph’s longest psalm tells the story of Israel’s failure and God’s faithfulness. In the opening part of the psalm he states that its purpose is to tell their story so that the next generation will learn to trust God. Honestly, from Israel’s point of view this isn’t a very flattering story. Each verse of the song describes a failure of Israel and how God responds with compassion to rescue them from some mess they’ve gotten themselves into. I don’t know about you, but when I’m telling the “next generation” about God I usually skip the “I failed” part and jump straight to the “God helped” part. Maybe that’s a mistake. It might be that I’m unintentionally saving face instead of teaching others to trust God more. Of course, there are things in all our pasts that must be told carefully and at the right time, but there’s likely a time for the telling. If I’m not careful I give the impression that I wised up and decided to give my heart to the Lord. In doing that, I make God into a concerned bystander in my story, wringing his hands, hoping I’ll turn it all around and then pleased that I’ve done so. It really isn’t that way. It’s God who graciously reaches down into the mess I’ve made, bringing redemption. Yes, I have to cooperate with him, but he’s the one who ought to get all the credit. I need to be sure that “my story” is truly “God’s story.” A part of that is my, at the appropriate time and place, honestly admitting my failure. That gives God the glory and also gives hope to that one in the “next generation” who already has some spiritual failures of his or her own.
Take Away: It’s God who graciously reaches down into the mess I’ve made, bringing redemption.
Looking to the Lord in the midst of the storm
Psalm 42: Fix my eyes on God – soon I’ll be praising again.
When Peter walks on the water he does just fine until his attention is drawn away from the Lord and onto the storm. It’s then that he begins to sink. Hundreds of years before that, the sons of Korah write this Psalm dealing with the same issue. As is abundantly clear with the drowning Peter, they don’t suggest that God’s people go about pretending all is well. We’re to admit that we’re down in the dumps and maybe even feeling neglected by God, about to be crushed. The solution they give us is the very same thing we learn from Peter’s unforgettable experience on and then in the water: we’re to fix our eyes on the One who loves us and promises to be with us. Toward the back of our Bibles we find the writer of Hebrews telling us, again, to “fix our eyes on Jesus.” Since we find this truth here in the Psalms, and then see it powerfully illustrated by Peter in the gospels, and then are taught the same truth again in the book of Hebrews you’d think that we’d have such a firm grasp on it that it would be part of our spiritual DNA. However, this lesson has to not only be learned, but then relearned; again and again. I think I forget it because I tend to attempt to be self-sufficient. I want the Lord to be impressed with me, so I try to handle it myself. Or, the problem is that I’m so “now oriented” that I can’t see the bigger picture of God’s faithful provision for me even in the storms of life. Either way, the answer is given here. When I look to the Lord, even in the harshness of life, in the words of Korah’s sons, “soon I’ll be praising again.”
Take Away: If we “fix our eyes” on anyone or anything aside from the Lord we’ll end up being let down and disappointed.