Running out of wood can be a good thing
Proverbs 26: When you run out of wood, the fire goes out; when the gossip ends, the quarrel dies down.
As a pastor I have a pretty strong influence on what happens at church. There is, I suppose, always the chance that someone will attempt to take control of a church service but that’s unlikely. I have the main say concerning the order of worship and, of course, what is said in the sermon. However, what happens “out there” during the week is out of my control. Because of that, all the efforts on Sunday to create a loving, supportive family of God can be derailed if that same crowd spends the week fanning the flames of division. Knowing this is humbling to me and it reminds me that I’m not nearly as influential in my own church as I think I am. However, it also reminds me that my greatest resource is not my leadership ability. Instead, my greatest Resource is the One I serve. It’s my desire that the Lord will help me to love people even when they’re behaving in ways that cause pain. I want to personally set an example of how a sanctified Christian conducts himself, to help people who tend to gossip understand that there’s an underlying spiritual issue, and to pray that the Lord will exhaust their supply of “wood” sooner and not later that the church might be united in love for Christ and one another.
Take Away: Some issues will simply die out and go away if we stop fanning the flames.
A longing look back
Job 30: How I long for the good old days.
Job’s longest speech comes after his three friends have had their say. His comments range from direct replies to their statements to his view of the world and the inequities he sees in it. A portion of these thoughts are focused on how things have changed for him. There was a time, he remembers, when he was wonderfully blessed by the Lord, and, he says, “Everything was going my way.” Job handled these blessings well. Instead of it all going to his head, he became a friend to those who were going through loss or who needed help along the way. Those were good days, but remembering them isn’t a source of comfort to Job. Instead, the memories add to his pain as he realizes he’s lost more than wealth and health. As I read Job’s story I note that loss comes in a wide variety of forms. Job is unique because he lost it all at once, but it’s painful to have even a small portion stripped away. That includes loss of influence, which often comes with the passing of years. Those who have given their lives in full time ministry aren’t exempt from this. The day comes when our ideas are no longer sought after and younger voices dominate the conversation about what God is doing “now.” Like Job, it’s natural to “long for the good old days.”
Take Away: As time passes so does our influence. It’s possible to graciously accept that and to simply go on, trusting the Lord with that which is beyond our influence.
The God of Elijah
2Kings2: Now where is the God of Elijah?
I’ve had the privilege of knowing some spiritual giants in my lifetime. These people walked close to God and, like a motor boat crossing a calm lake, leave a broad, expanding wake that influences people far beyond their experience and even their lifetimes. They’ve influenced me. If not for them I wouldn’t be the man I am today. In fact, it would be easy for me to just focus on them and let them be my example and inspiration. If I do that that I’ll be a better person. However, as potentially positive as that might be, I’d be mistaken to do it. Elisha has known a great man, a man overflowing with the power of God. Now, though, that man is gone. Elijah’s disciples want to form a search party to try to find their master. Elisha, though, doesn’t seek Elijah. Instead, he seeks the God of Elijah. He knows that every good thing about Elijah was because of the God he served. He knows that the great need of his life isn’t more of Elijah. Instead, it’s more of the God of Elijah. Today, I thank God for those spiritual giants of my life. Their influence isn’t taken for granted. However, it’s not them that I need as I pursue spiritual excellence. No, it’s not them; it’s the God they served.
Take Away: Seek, not an “Elijah” but, rather, the God of Elijah.
Live long and prosper
Deuteronomy 4: Obediently live by his rules and commands which I’m giving you today so that you’ll live well and your children after you.
So how does it work? Is it that God has given me these rules and regulations and will pay me back with blessings if I keep them? I don’t think so. God doesn’t lay down arbitrary rules just for the purpose of keeping me in line and he doesn’t treat me like a little child who’s rewarded with a stick of candy if I’m good. His purposes for me are filled with grace and mercy. If God says, “Don’t” I can be sure that it’s for my benefit and not his. My Creator, who knows me better than I know myself says, “When I created you I hardwired some very specific things about you. If you want your life to function at its best, here’s how you’re to live.” Following these guidelines doesn’t mean life will be trouble free (after all, there’s that ugly business of the fall in the opening pages of my Bible) but it does mean that I’ll live the best, most satisfying and fulfilled life possible. Not only that, but by living according to God’s plan, I’ll be teaching my children the best way to live. The result will be that my kids will be more likely to adopt my approach to living in a relationship with God and their lives will also be better lived.
Take Away: When I live God’s way, not only is my life better, but I also influence my children to live for God, resulting in their lives also being better.
The distant reach of failure
Deuteronomy 1: Don’t be terrified of them, God, your God, is leading the way; he’s fighting for you.
The “you” in this passage isn’t the members of the present congregation. It’s their parents. However, Moses is speaking to them as a nation of people, seen as one with the previous generation. This doesn’t sit well with my Western mindset. We Westerners are individualists who like to think we make our own decisions apart from others. In this case it was 40 years earlier that Moses had said these words and “they” refused to hear, refused to have faith, and refused to obey. The penalty was 40 years in the wilderness — an experience all those in the congregation hearing this sermon did share, at least to some extent. Soon it will be their turn to hear, believe, and obey. Moses is preparing them for it by reminding them of their already shared failure in their parents. Still, God is the God of Second Chances. Soon they will stand on the banks of the river. To a great extent they will have the opportunity to erase the failure of those who went before them. While I’m no expert on “generational curses” (or “generational blessings” for that matter) I’m reminded that my failure or faithfulness reaches far beyond my individual life.
Take Away: It’s unlikely anyone ever sees the full extent of their influence, be it for good or for evil.
Numbers 27: Give us an inheritance among our father’s relatives.
In preparation for entry into the Promised Land a census has been taken and the method for division of the land is made public. A group of sisters, all daughters of the late Zelophehad appear before Moses to seek justice. The division of land is by families and it’s sons who are to inherit from their fathers. These women explain that their father died without any sons and because of that his descendants are being left out of the plans for property ownership in Canaan. Moses takes the issue to the Lord and the Lord agrees. The plan is rewritten to take into account men who die with no sons to inherit their property. This is a historical decision that elevates the status of women in Israel. I find the circumstances quite interesting. What would have happened had these women not come forward with their petition? My guess is that their unique situation would have been overlooked. As individuals, they would have been okay because when they married they would have shared in their husband’s inheritance. Because of their bold request, though, the Lord listened, agreed, and responded. This then, becomes an example of prayer having a direct influence on the Lord. He willingly listens to us and allows us to have influence in what he does in this world. Had they not stepped forward things would have been okay; but because they did, things happened as they desired. To think that the Almighty welcomes my petitions, considers them, and is willing to respond to them amazes me. This is quite a powerful lesson to find buried here between the report of the census and more instructions concerning burnt offerings in the book of Numbers!
Take Away: As surprising as it is, the Lord welcomes my petitions and is willing to consider them and to grant them.
There’s nothing leisurely about the little letter of Jude. In fact, you might call this an “emergency letter.” Jude has received disturbing news concerning happenings in an unnamed church. Events there are unfolding that could result in their turning away from the faith. He quickly reminds them of just how dangerous this is, listing one event after another from the Old Testament about spiritual failure and its consequences. Jude is just a short no-chapter book but if one takes time to follow all the references, the book expands considerably. The bottom line, though, is that they’ve allowed teachers into their number who aren’t teaching the Gospel. The result is that a cancer has begun to grow in the church that, if left unchecked, will have disastrous effects of biblical proportions concerning their salvation. Jude gives them a plan of action and urges them to act immediately. They’re to focus on the “most holy faith” and to pray “in the Holy Spirit” and to stay “right at the center of God’s love” and keep their “arms open and outstretched” to receive the mercy of Jesus in their lives. As they deal with those who are already wavering in the faith they’re to tread lightly and as they deal with those who are outside the church, the sinners, they’re to take it easy on them while standing firm against their sin. Jude has already told them what to do about the false teachers who have infiltrated their church: they’re to “fight with everything” they have “for the faith entrusted” to them. As I read this “two-page book” I’m reminded to be careful about who I allow to influence my spiritual life. Not everyone who claims to speak for Christ does so. At the same time I’m reminded not to get too worked up over this kind of stuff. Jude says: “Relax, everything’s going to be all right.” As I focus on the basics of love and prayer and the like, things will work out just fine for me.
Take Away: It’s a challenge for Christians to major on the majors and to minor on the minors and to tell one from the other.
2Timothy 1: What a rich faith it is, handed down from your grandmother Lois to your mother Eunice, and now to you.
Paul writes to his young friend Timothy from prison. He wishes he was free, able to travel, preaching the gospel, visiting friends he’s made through the years. How he misses Timothy. Despite the difference in their ages, they’re “joined at the hip” in ministry. Not only are these two men united in ministry, but Paul knows Timothy’s family and values the steady faithfulness of both his grandmother and mother. Now, Timothy has taken up the life of faith he first learned from these two women. How proud they must be of their son and grandson! I understand that as beings with free will that each person must make his or her own decision about spiritual things. However, I also know that having a godly heritage gives a young person a head start in spiritual matters. In fact, Timothy’s testimony could be mine. Today, I thank God for a faithful mother and grandmother who nurtured me in the faith. Both of these who influenced me for the Lord are now in heaven. Perhaps there’s someone who helped you to come to know the Lord early in life. If so, thank God for them. If possible, it might be a good idea to tell them how much you appreciate their godly influence on your life.
Take Away: Thank the Lord for those who have touched your life in Jesus’ Name – and if possible thank them too!
Standing alone if necessary
Zephaniah 2: Seek God, all you quietly disciplined people.
The nation the prophet addresses is filled with sinful, guilty people. However, there’s another, much smaller group. Zephaniah knows that there’s a minority that has humbled themselves before the Lord. They’ve been meek when chastised by God and have quietly accepted his discipline. They’ve been an oasis of justice in an unjust land. Now, Zephaniah says, the Lord is about to bring an end to all the rebellion. God’s man advises those who have swam against the tide to focus their attention on the Lord and center their lives on doing the right thing even if they’re alone in doing it. In this day, I can’t force everyone to do the right thing but that doesn’t stop me from righteous living. I want to influence everyone I can for Christ, but whether or not I’m successful in that, I can commit myself to walk in the ways of the Lord. Zephaniah is certain that the “Day of God’s anger” is coming but he’s also convinced that there is a way of living that prepares us for that sure day.
Take Away: As Joshua of old says: “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”
Ezekiel 22: I looked for someone to…stand in the gap to protect this land.
The Lord’s on the lookout for people who’ll take a stand for righteousness. The reason he seeks such people is not so churches can build nicer buildings or even so that more people will attend their services. God knows it’s “repent or perish.” When a nation stubbornly disregards righteousness and persists in following a God-ignoring road that nation is in serious jeopardy. We’re not talking about such a nation getting a slap on the wrist for being “bad.” This is a life and death situation. The Lord says that when he sees a nation on this road he desperately seeks people who’ll stand up for what’s right. He doesn’t want to destroy that nation. Instead, he wants to redeem it and make its people into a people his very own. With that in mind, he looks everywhere for some key person in some key situation who’ll declare their loyalty to him and his ways. In Ezekiel’s day that person is never found. I may not be able to influence nations for righteousness, but maybe I can influence someone. With that in mind I step into the gap to stand for God even as I pray that that “big player” will step up to stand in the gap for my nation.
Take Away: “Here I am, send me.”