Responding to God
2 Chronicles 29: I have decided to make a covenant with the God of Israel.
Hezekiah announces his intention to make a covenant with God. He sees that the old covenant has been broken and is in need of repair. His “new covenant” is really a reinstatement of the “old covenant.” While the statement suggests that Hezekiah’s taking the initiative here by approaching the Lord with an offer, the fact is that God has patiently waited for a response like this. If Hezekiah sees this whole event as his initiative I guess that’s okay but actually God is, and always is, the “First Mover.” That’s how it is for us too. Like the prodigal, we think to ourselves, “I will arise and go to my Father,” as though it’s all our idea in the first place. And, just like it is in that story we arrive and find that the Father has been patiently waiting for us all along. To “decide to make a covenant” is a good thing, an important decision. However, such a move is only possible by what John Wesley might describe as the “grace that goes before” — God at work making it possible for us to come to that decision in the first place.
Take Away: Do you need to work some things out with God? Guess what? He’s already moving to work things out with you!
2Kings 25: Judah went into exile, orphaned from her land.
Following its defeat by Babylon Zedekiah is made king of the now subjected Judah. However, in spite of all that’s happened, Zedekiah ignores God and then foolishly rebels against Babylon. This is the final step on the road to destruction. King Nebuchadnezzar personally oversees the final defeat of Jerusalem and then orders its total destruction. Anything of value is carried off and the rest is leveled. Even the Temple is destroyed as the city is left desolate, uninhabitable. For this generation it’s all over. Those who survive will live their lives as exiles, with all the wonderful promises of the now-broken Covenant discarded in the pile of rubble that was Jerusalem. History tells us the human reasons for all this: the rise of Babylon, the defeat of Egypt and Assyria, and the physical location of Judah. However, the Bible tells us the spiritual reason: sin. They rejected God and then, after centuries of patience and renewed chances, God rejected them. It isn’t easy, but it is possible to exhaust the patience of a merciful God. This ought to serve as a warning to both individuals and nations.
Take Away: Thank the Lord for his mercy and patience…yes, thank him, but take advantage of them too.
Mistaking God’s patience for a lack of seriousness
2Kings 25: This should have been no surprise — God had said it would happen.
Judah finds itself in the middle, right between two warring world powers. On one side is Egypt and on the other is Babylon. Like some small island out in the Pacific during the Second World War, this small nation is thrust onto the world stage, not because of its military might, but simply because of its location. Upon Josiah’s untimely death the nation struggles for its identity. Sadly, it is Josiah’s reforms that lose favor. Soon, the nation is once again on the road to spiritual and national disaster. Raiding bands begin to assault Judah as the two big players on the world scene fight it out. It’s Babylon that wins. Following the “conquer and relocate” policy of Assyria before them the people of Jerusalem are relocated to a distant land with only the poor left to be ruled by a puppet king. The writer of 2nd Kings tells us that no one should have been surprised. For over 300 years they’ve been warned that God isn’t some kind of lucky charm for them. They mistakenly thought that being the “people of God” meant that, ultimately, they would be safe. They thought that because of Josiah’s reforms they were inoculated against failure. Because of the patience and mercy of God over the years, they downplayed the warnings they were given again and again. Finally though, things happened just as God had said they would. I’m reminded today that God isn’t kidding when he says he’ll judge sin. It’s a dangerous thing to mistake the patience of God with his not being serious in what he says.
Take Away: Don’t mistake the patience of the Lord for a lack of seriousness on his part.
1 Samuel 7: If you are truly serious about coming back to God, clean house…they did it.
A slow but sure movement of God has been taking place for over 20 years. People are more reverent concerning spiritual things and the worship of the Lord God has become more and more common. Now, through the ministry of God’s man, Samuel, they’ve arrived at a crossroads. It’s time for a clean break with the gods of Canaan and to surrender to the true God. They’ve come a long way during these 20 years but it’s now time to close the deal. It’s time to decide. It’s time to commit. Their response is a powerful three-word sentence: “They did it.” Reading these words reminds me of watching the eastern horizon at the dawning of a new day. The sky slowly becomes brighter, a hint of things to come. Then, with dazzling beauty, the sun slips into view, flooding the earth with the light of a new day. In the book of 1 Samuel we can watch the process with spiritual eyes. A childless woman prays and a son is given. The boy hears the Voice of God calling him in the night. The adventures of the Ark of God begin to transform the thinking of the people. Samuel inaugurates his ministry by calling for a decision. “They did it.” A new day dawns for Israel! Spiritual awakenings call for decision and commitment.
Take Away: God moves, but he doesn’t force us to respond.
Putting out a fleece
Judges 6: Let me say one more thing. I want to try another time with the fleece.
Here we are reading about Gideon and his fleece of wool. Actually, Gideon asks for, and receives, three signs from God. First, the angel of the Lord causes a fire to miraculously appear and consume his offering. Second, his fleece of wool gets wet from the dew while everything else stays dry. Third, the situation is reversed and the fleece stays dry while everything else gets wet from the dew. This is interesting reading, but it isn’t a lesson in how we’re supposed to deal with God. We’re to be people of faith, trusting in the Lord and learning to hear his voice. We’re not supposed to be sign-seekers and deal-makers. The star of this story isn’t Gideon, a near heathen who keeps getting signs from God confirming what he’s clearly already been told. The Star is God, who is patient even when Gideon keeps asking him to prove his own words. I’m thankful for a patient God who puts up with my shallowness even as he works to produce in me a more mature relationship with himself. Generally speaking though, I need to just do whatever it is God has made clear to me without “putting out a fleece.”
Take Away: Don’t press God’s patience – just obey in the first place.
The best thing to say to God
Exodus 4: God got angry with Moses.
Later on we’re told that Moses is the most humble man alive and knowing that I tend to cut him some slack when he keeps backing up on God’s call on his life. However, when I see the Lord getting angry in the face of all his objections I realize that humble or not, Moses is treading on thin ice with the Almighty. The Lord is appearing to Moses in a burning bush with the promise that, in spite of the king’s opposition that Moses will lead the people out of Egypt. Moses wants the Lord to give him a Name to use when he goes to the Hebrews and the King. The Lord obliges. Moses wants some kind of sign that will convince Pharaoh that it’s the Almighty he’s dealing with. The Lord gives him not one sign but three. Then Moses adds that he doesn’t want to actually do any of the talking and wants the Lord to name a spokesperson other than himself. At that point, he’s nearly found the end of God’s patience. The Lord promises Moses that he’ll give him the words to say and everything will be okay. When Moses persists in wanting someone else to do his talking for him, he nearly blows the whole deal with God. However, the Lord is merciful and tells Moses he’ll use his brother, Aaron, as spokesman. This, my friend, is a lesson in how not to deal with God. It’s not that exchanges with the Lord shouldn’t be open and honest. However, they should also be reverent and trusting. The best answer to God is just two words, “Yes, Lord.”
Take Away: The only reasonable response to the Almighty is: “yes.”
Jacob’s stairway vision
Genesis 28: God was in this place – truly. And I didn’t even know it.
Jacob – that “heel grasper” has lived down to his name. He, with this help of his mother, fooled his father, Isaac, into granting him the precious blessing that rightfully belonged to his brother. Now, he’s paying for it by having to get out of the country before Esau can get his hands on him. Alone in the night he has an unexpected encounter with God. In spite of his failure and lack of character God graciously renews to Jacob the promise he made to his grandfather, Abraham. Jacob awakes from his dream and says, “God was here, in this place – far from home, when I have done nothing but wrong, and when I am not thinking of him at all – he was here all the time.” Jacob is not only on a long journey in distance, he’s at the first step of a spiritual journey that will take decades. This “heel” has heard from God and while there’s still more wrong than right about him this “stairway vision” marks the beginning of that spiritual journey. The story of Jacob’s spiritual journey is more entertaining than most, but it does remind us of our own stories. I am glad today for God’s grace – his unexpected, unearned, promising, and patient grace.
Take away: Thank God for grace.
When God’s had enough
Revelation 18: The Strong God who judges her has had enough.
The actual God has had enough. It takes a lot to arrive at this place. A lot of God’s grace has to be rejected. A lot of his patience has to be wasted. As we’re reminded by the writer of Hebrews, “It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” All heaven cheers this act of Judgment, not because of vengeance, but because of righteousness. For a righteous, pure, holy God to be who he is, ultimately, the end of all that is unrighteous, impure, and unholy must come. It’s not as though there haven’t been opportunities to turn around. I can say with confidence that there’s been at least 2000 years. At some point the patience of God will be exhausted. I want to be standing on the right side of things when God has “had enough.”
Take Away: For the Lord to be righteous, pure, and holy, sooner or later all that is unrighteous, impure, and unholy must be defeated.
Why it’s taking so long for Jesus to come back
2Peter 3: So what’s happened to the promise of his Coming?
The Apostle tells his readers that as the time for the return of Christ gets closer that people will be more outspoken in their doubt that it will happen. One of their reasons for doubting is that it’s been so long since the promise was made. Common sense, they think, dictates abandoning belief. People will think, “Nothing like that has ever happened since the beginning of time, now so long after the promise, things have continued as they have always been. It’s time to move on and forget about the promise.” Peter gives a three point response to that kind of thinking. First, there’s precedence for God stepping in and changing everything. After all, for eons the universe existed without this planet. Then, God stepped in, bringing about the creation of this very world. Later on, in Noah’s day, God changed everything again by bringing to pass a great flood. Here are two prime examples of God intervening in Creation to do a new thing. Second, time matters a lot more to us than it does to the Eternal One. A thousand years is a lot of time for humanity, but it’s a blink of the eye for the Ancient of Days. Third, God has reason to wait. That reason is that he wants to give more generations opportunity to be redeemed. The Lord wants to save people; all the people he can save. Therefore, he’s patient, taking all the time necessary to get as many in as he can. The Day of Judgment is definitely coming. Jesus will return and that will set the whole End of Time in motion. Meanwhile, we wait with the understanding that God knows exactly what he’s doing and at just the right time Jesus will come back. My job is to get ready, to stay ready, and to help all who will to prepare for that certain upheaval of history.
Take Away: No doubt about it, Jesus is coming back.
Not a warm and fuzzy conclusion
2Corinthians 13: I want to get on with it, and not have to spend time on reprimands.
The final portion of this second letter to the church at Corinth isn’t just a warm, friendly closing. Paul writes with apostolic authority to the church there. He lays it on the line, telling them that he’s soon to make his third trip their city and that he’s already warned them that if habitual sinners don’t clean up their act that in the name of Jesus he’ll clean up the church there. He tells those who’ve been demanding proof that he speaks for the Lord that, unless things improve, they’ll get more proof than they want. This is pretty strong stuff and it’s not just a bluff. Some years earlier, for instance, on the island of Paphos a sorcerer named Elymas opposed Paul’s preaching of the gospel. The Apostle turned to him, and without laying a hand on him struck him blind. When Paul tells those who oppose his gospel at Corinth that if they don’t straighten up they’ll get plenty of reason to believe he speaks with the authority of the Lord he’s not just making a lot of noise. However, that isn’t how Paul wants it to be. His job is to bring people to the Lord so he can make them complete, not to strike people blind or worse. Paul’s approach here reminds me that spiritual things are serious and need to be handled carefully. It’s dangerous to be flip and irreverent. It may seem that people get away with stuff like that, but Paul warns them (and us) that it’s possible to go too far for too long and that to do so has real consequences. At the same time I’m reminded that that’s not what Christian leadership is all about. Paul has shown a great deal of patience in this situation. He’s prayed and pleaded and appealed to them as a father dealing with loved children. He’d much rather help broken people find restoration in Christ and, in fact, the only reason he warns them as he does in this case is that his mission of reconciliation is being threatened by some insiders who oppose this ministry.
Take Away: Be carefully reverent about the things of God.