Helping God be God
Psalm 73: I nearly missed it…I was looking the other way, looking up to the people.
Asaph is one of David’s choir directors and the writer of eleven of the psalms. The Bible also mentions the “sons of Asaph.” These are probably people who are disciples of this talented worship leader. Asaph and David are kindred spirits and the themes of their psalms are similar. In this song Asaph declares the goodness of God and talks about how the Lord patiently led him even when he was “totally ignorant” of what was going on. It’s the opening part of this psalm, though, that gets my attention today. He declares the goodness of God but then confesses that he nearly missed seeing that goodness. Why? He was too busy looking at people to see God. Asaph’s attention was drawn to the seeming success of others, then, as he considered their success he saw that some were wicked people and he began to question God as to how it could be that wicked people enjoy such success. The truth is that I can fail to see God because I’m enamored with the success of others. I can also fail to see him because I am too busy telling him what I think he should do. In trying to help God out I place myself in danger of losing sight of him altogether. I need to remember who God is and that he can handle the inconsistencies of life. My main job is to keep my eyes on him and live in obedience to him. It’s not my job to point out things I think he may have overlooked.
Take Away: Always remember that the Lord can handle the seeming inconsistencies of life – we can leave such things in his hands and keep our eyes on him.
Hard to pronounce names
Nehemiah 10: The sealed document bore these signatures.
The Book of God has been read and a song of invitation has been given. Now, the civil, religious, and family leaders line up to put their names on the dotted line. Once they finish, the people join in a binding oath to obey the Laws of God. It’s these signers who draw my attention today. I doubt they ever imagined that almost 2500 years later I’d be sitting here looking at their names: Mica, Bigvai, Hasshub; an entire page of names that mean only one thing to me: these are people who committed themselves to obey God. I don’t know what Adin or Beninu did for a living and I don’t know what became of their family tree. Hariph and Nebai might have built big businesses or designed impressive architecture but 2000+ years later that’s all lost to me. It’s their relationship to God that still resonates across the centuries. If the Lord tarries for 2500 more years I will, no doubt, be forgotten too and that’s okay. I’ll add my name to the only list that really matters and join these remembered people as a committed follower of the Lord.
Take Away: In the long run it’s your relationship to the Lord that matters the most.
One chapter lives
2 Chronicles 27: Jotham’s strength was rooted in his steady and determined life of obedience to God.
Jotham comes to power before he ascends to the throne. His father Uzziah’s affliction keeps him from running the government and Jotham rules in his father’s place. After seven years of this arrangement, upon the death of Uzziah, Jotham ascends to the throne. He gets high marks in both the 2nd Kings and 2nd Chronicles accounts of his reign. However, both accounts are rather brief. Jotham does some significant construction and has a couple of major military campaigns. The bottom line of his life is that his “strength was rooted in his steady and determined life of obedience to God.” If a person’s life is to be summed up in one sentence, that’s a pretty good sentence to hear. Words like “strength,” “steady,” determined,” and “obedience of God” leave us wanting to hear more about this good man. One nice thing about the account of Jotham’s life is that there’s no “but…” after the epitaph I’m considering today. I wonder what words will be used to someday describe my life? Unlike Jotham I’ll never be a famous person or a national leader. By the grace of God, though, “steadiness, determination, and obedience of God” is within my grasp. Even people who live “one chapter lives” can make that chapter count for something worthwhile.
Take Away: A life lived for the Lord is a life well lived.
Go ahead…wait! Stop!
1 Chronicles 17: Nathan told David, “Whatever is on your heart, go and do it; God is with you.”
It sounds so right. David’s throne is established and now the Ark resides in Jerusalem. When David tells the man of God that he wants to build a Temple of worship Nathan never hesitates to place his stamp of approval on the project. After all, David is God’s man and who could ever deny God’s man the privilege of building a great house of worship. That night though, God speaks to Nathan. The message is quite a positive one for David. The Lord’s pleased with David and the greatest leader in the history of the world will be one of his descendants. But David isn’t to build a Temple. The prophet is a good man who returns to David the next day to relay this message from God. The “no Temple” thing is brushed aside as David focuses in thanksgiving on the promises he’s just received. Still, I can’t help but think about Nathan at this point. When he tells David to go for it I think his heart’s in the right place. To him, this is a slam dunk that doesn’t even require prayer. He’s probably the most surprised person in the world when he hears this word from the Lord. Really, I don’t think Nathan does anything wrong in this story. His reaction to David’s suggestion has the earmarks of a good man who delights in God being honored and served. Still, his reaction to the message of the Lord is even better. Think of it: he’s already set sail on this Temple project. In fact, he’s granted permission in the Name of the Lord for it to proceed. Then, with just one word from the Lord he pivots one hundred eighty degrees and goes straight to David with the correction. This incident doesn’t cause me to fear having opinions and reaching conclusions based on the facts as I know them. It does, though, teach me not to hold too tightly to those conclusions. Even as a dedicated Christian, I often reach the wrong conclusions. Nathan’s story is a good lesson in how I’m to respond when I realize that has, once again, happened.
Take Away: For godly people to have godly opinions is a good thing, but even such people and such opinions are subject to God, himself.
The boy-king gets an A+
2Kings 23: The world would never again see a king like Josiah.
When Josiah becomes boy-king of Judah the Temple is not only a place for sacrifices to Jehovah God, but is used for worship of Baal, Ashtoreth, and other pagan gods as well. The country is filled with shrines and altars, some dating back for centuries. Near Jerusalem stands an iron furnace that is used for child sacrifices. Clearly, the spiritual condition of Judah was pitiful, as the commandments of God have been ignored for generations. Josiah’s discovery of the Law of God shocks him to action. What he does isn’t some cosmetic religious reform. This is all out transformation. Josiah uses the Book as an instruction manual on how to live and worship. He follows it to a letter. For instance, the Book of the Covenant describes observing the Passover, something that hasn’t been done for centuries. Josiah reads the Book and follows the directions, reestablishing this observance. The result is that God is pleased with him, giving him an “A+.” Because of his faithfulness an entire generation is changed. Today, Josiah inspires us to take God seriously and to swim against the tide of popular culture. Josiah’s story gives us hope of transforming our society.
Take Away: When the Lord is given a chance, wonderful, life-changing things happen.
When the church isn’t at church
2Kings 17: They don’t really worship God.
After defeating and exiling Israel the king of Assyria relocates other people from under his rule to the now empty land. At first, these settlers ignore Jehovah God, but it becomes apparent that the Almighty is not going to allow that. A priest is brought back to teach them how to worship God. However, they only add worshiping the God of the exiled people to their list of gods to worship. In fact, we’re told, they don’t really worship God at all. How do we know that? The writer proves his point by saying that they don’t take seriously what God says about how to live and what to believe. Apparently, just doing the right things in a worship service isn’t sufficient so far as God is concerned. He’s just as interested in how people live, how they relate to one another, and what they really believe as he is with whether or not they can put on a proper worship service. What I do outside of church is just as important to God as what I do inside the church.
Take Away: Worship is defined as much by what I do outside the church as what I do inside it.
Making it harder than it really is
2Kings 5: If the prophet had asked you to do something hard and heroic, wouldn’t you have done it?
It’s one of our favorite stories from 2 Kings. Naaman is the General of the Army of Aram, a nation that has a long and contentious relationship with Israel. He’s a brave and capable warrior who’s well respected in his homeland. Yet there’s one terrible affliction that not only haunts him, but is probably killing him. Naaman has leprosy. When he hears that there’s a man of God in Israel who heals people of this terrible disease he travels there, prepared to pay handsomely to be cured. To his dismay, Elisha doesn’t even meet him in person, but instead sends a mere servant with what sounds like a silly command: take seven baths in the muddy Jordan to be healed. Furious and humiliated, he turns on his heel to leave, but an old family servant gives the great general the best advice of his life. If Elisha had told him to do some great thing (for instance, pay a king’s ransom) to be healed, he’s prepared to do that. Why not, then, do some simple thing like, “take a bath and be clean.” Naaman listens and the result is a miracle of God and a happy ending to the story. I think I need to pay careful attention to Naaman’s story in my dealings with God. I’m ready to do the great thing like following some demanding course of action or making some big sacrifice as I follow the Lord. While stuff like this is sometimes a part of being a disciple more often than not it’s much less spectacular. “If you want to be my disciple follow me,” the Lord says. I respond, “You’ve got it Lord – I’ll serve you to the ends of the earth, I’ll make great sacrifices for you, I’ll be an example of total surrender to God.” The Lord says, “Tell you what, if I want you to do that stuff, I’ll tell you. For now, how about just walking with me?”
Take Away: What little thing is the Lord calling you to do today?
Thumbs up for Jehoshaphat
1Kings 22: No detours, no dead ends — pleasing God with his life.
We first meet Jehoshaphat when he insists that a prophet of God be called in when a decision to go to war is being made. That alone speaks well of this King of Judah. Now we find his short biography in the closing paragraphs of 1 Kings. His father was King Asa who also receives high marks and now we are told that Jehoshaphat is a “chip off the old block.” He seeks to please God in all his life and he refuses to drift off the road the Lord laid out for him. When Jehoshaphat insists to Ahab that the Lord be consulted before he’ll commit to war, he’s simply making decisions in the way he always makes decisions. When I read that Jehoshaphat pleased God because he was single minded in obeying the Lord and when I see the example of this in the meeting with Ahab I’m challenged to listen carefully to, and obey fully, the guidance the Lord gives me in my life.
Take Away: Generally speaking, what a person does when the chips are down is a continuation of what they’re in the habit of doing in the first place.
Sitting on a barbwire fence
1Kings 18: How long are you going to sit on the fence?
No doubt, Elijah has everyone’s attention. The drought and resultant famine has seen to that. Now he calls for a meeting and a confrontation. Their divided loyalties have created a pitiful situation. Historically, they’ve worshipped Jehovah, but for generations now worship of Baal has grown like a cancer in their number. Now, it appears that Jehovah worship is going to be only seen in the history books as they align themselves with Baal. Yet, somehow, they’re having a hard time committing themselves to Baal. The recent drought has caused some doubts. Why couldn’t this fertility god answer their prayers for the rain necessary for them to grow crops? The result of their doubt is that they’re terrible followers of Jehovah God and not very good followers of Baal either. Elijah says it is time for a decision to follow the God who answers prayer, who has power in this world. Our nation has more in common with these ancient Jews than we might think. We too are on the fence. We sing “God bless America” and put “In God we trust” on our currency. We open sessions of Congress and the Supreme Court in prayer. At the same time, we ignore God’s Law and seek to isolate him from secular society. We tip our hat to God but really want to serve, not Baal, but ourselves, and in so doing, adopt a religion of materialism, secular humanism, and pleasure. Will God send an “Elijah” to challenge our nation? Does the Church even want that to happen?
Take Away: It’s rather unreasonable to sing “God bless America” while at the same time attempting to isolate him from all but a few corners of our lives.
The heart of the matter
1Kings 15: His heart was in the right place, in tune with God.
Both Israel and Judah are traveling down the same miserable road of spiritual failure. Jeroboam, the first king of Israel, messes up “royally” and God tells him he’s going to toss him out like the garbage. Rehoboam, son of wise Solomon and grandson of faithful David, also fails. He follows Jeroboam in selling out to the worship of the idol Asherah. Meanwhile the precious Temple is raided by Egyptian forces and much of its wealth carried off even as Judah and Israel make war with one another. After Rehoboam’s son, Abijah, rules for just three years, his grandson, Asa, comes to the throne. Finally there’s some good news. Asa picks up where his ancestor David left off some 60 years earlier. He isn’t quite the man David was, but he’s like David where it matters most: “his heart is in the right place.” As we learned way back when we saw David being anointed as king, God looks on the heart. Today, my relationship with the Lord isn’t performance based. I certainly want to be pleasing to the Lord in all I do, but that isn’t the bottom line. More than proper performance, God wants, in me, a heart that’s right. My prayer is for a heart that’s in tune with God.
Take Away: I want to always do the right thing, but even more, I want to always be the right person in the eyes of the Lord.