Caution: big issues in play
Job 8: Does God mess up?
We’re still at the beginning of the debate that makes up the most of the book of Job but the battle lines are already drawn. Job doesn’t really disagree with what his friends believe; he just sees himself as an innocent victim of some cosmic mistake. Bildad’s comment that “God doesn’t mess up” is at the heart of all this. Job and his friends believe that when a person has something bad happen to them that it’s because they’re being punished by God. Bildad doesn’t need any other evidence of Job’s children’s sin than the fact that they all died in a tornado. Since he can’t imagine a horrible thing like that “just happening” it has to be that God did it. And, if God did it, he did it for a reason. After all, everyone knows God doesn’t make mistakes. As I’ve said, the purpose of this book to answer the question, “Will a man serve God for nothing?” However, there are other issues in play and the majority of the book is taken up with those issues. This is one of the big ones: how does the reality of bad things happening to good people fit a theology of a wise, loving, and all knowing God?
Take Away: One result of reading this book of the Bible is that the reader has to think about big issues.
And they all lived happily ever after
Esther 8: For Jews it was all sunshine and laughter.
As I wrap up my devotional reading of the story of Esther I find a “happily ever after” kind of conclusion. The tables have been turned on the enemies of the Jews. Their enemies had expected to exterminate God’s people but the Jews were given permission to fight back and they’ve done so with stunning success. The two most important people in Xerxes’ kingdom are now Jews: Queen Esther and his first adviser, Mordecai. The Jews have become so popular that many are converting to their religion. These are good days indeed. Clearly, this is a mere snapshot of history, but it’s one worth remembering so the Jews create an annual holiday to commemorate these events. I think that’s a pretty smart thing to do. We know that life isn’t always filled with happy endings. The very race of people we’re talking about here has a history of way more than its share of loss and destruction. However, they know that it’s good to remember special days of blessing. Frankly, good and bad constantly mix in our world. Even as we celebrate the birth of our Savior we comfort families who have lost loved ones, we make hospital visits, and we pray that for some very good people that the New Year will be better for them than was the old one. Remembering the good days brings balance and perspective to our lives. That doesn’t mean that we pretend all is well when it’s not, but it does mean that we step back and see the whole picture of our lives rather than focusing only on our problems.
Take Away: Don’t let the problems of life blind you to the blessings of life.
The only real security
Joel 3: God is a safe hiding place.
When the prophet describes God as a “safe hiding place” he isn’t talking about hiding from the natural disaster that’s struck the land. He’s moved forward in his sermon and is thinking about how the world as we know it will come to an end. He pictures a great final battle when God’s Judgment will fall over the earth. Joel says the forces of evil will come to do battle against the forces of God and that the Almighty will respond in full force, shaking the earth and sky in one unforgettable blow that will spell the end of all opposition to his Kingdom. Lest his own people fear that day, the Lord promises to, himself, be a “safe hiding place” for all who trust in him. We’re told that the end result of all this will be that “God has moved into Zion for good.” The fact is that natural disasters will come and go as the pages of history are turned. Most of the time, I’m merely a concerned spectator, watching from the sidelines. Some of the time, I can involve myself in some relief effort. Once in a while, maybe only once in a lifetime, I will find myself unhappily at the epicenter of it all. This passage reminds me that an event much greater than any of that is out there on the horizon of history. On that day everything’s going to come crashing down as Good and evil clash in a Creation-shaking battle. There’ll be no storm shelter secure enough and no place remote enough to protect me from it all. My only hope of safety is in God. As I live my life in him, I not only find strength for the unwelcome ordinary trials and tribulations of life, but shelter against this, the biggest storm of all.
Take Away: My only hope of safety is in the Lord.
Don’t sweat the little stuff
Jeremiah 12: What’s going to happen when troubles break loose?
The whole question is: “If you can’t keep your wits during times of calm, what’s going to happen when troubles break loose like the Jordan in flood?” God’s question to Jeremiah is attention getting. My first response is that “calm” is a relative term. At almost any time I can find something unsettling to think about. Just watching the evening news provides me plenty of “troublesome” thought ammunition. Frankly, of course, I don’t have to reach that far. Like everyone else I always have something going on: family concerns, finances, and health spring to mind. Again, calm is a relative term because much of this is just part of living. No one has confused my neighborhood with the Garden of Eden and the same can be said of yours. So, I must learn to take life in stride. I’m not saying that life is always easy. For everyone there are times of “flooding Jordan” that knock the props out of everything in our lives. Even in that, though, the Lord isn’t giving me the permission to fall apart. Through Jeremiah he tells me to stop making big deals out of little deals in my life; to learn to trust him in those common problems and then, when the “biggie” comes, to apply what I’ve learned about trust even as the flood waters really are sweeping through my life. I know, I know, it’s easier said than done. Then again, that’s why I have to practice keeping my wits about me in the little stuff first.
Take Away: As we learn to trust the Lord with the little things of life we lay the foundation for trusting him with the big ones when they come.
Running off to Egypt
Isaiah 30: Quit hounding us with The Holy of Israel.
As the small nation of Israel realizes just how precarious their place is on the world stage they seek an alliance with a world power, turning to Egypt to be their protector. Meanwhile, God’s prophets keep pounding away at them, calling on them to trust God and live the way he wants them to live. Their desire to find a protector among the nations seems reasonable, but they have a higher calling. However, Israel won’t listen. Those who speak for God are called irrelevant and impractical. To them, religion has its place but not when there are “real” enemies with which to deal. Their response to Isaiah is, “leave us alone while we deal with these practical issues and quit hounding us with God-talk.” Since I believe God is very much involved in every aspect of my life; that he directs me and walks with me every day and in every situation, passages like this are of only historical value to me — right? You know the answer. When something goes wrong, when someone says or does the wrong thing to me, when I have a problem, my first response is to head for Egypt for reinforcements. My actions say, “Don’t bother me with God-talk right now — I’ve got a ‘real’ problem to solve. Once that’s taken care of I’ll see you in church next Sunday.” I know it’s possible to over-state things here because I believe God gave me a brain and he expects me to use it. His plan for my life isn’t for me to sit idly by and wait for him to come to my rescue all the time. Still, the reminder here is that the Lord wants to be connected to my life and he wants me to see all I do as a part of my walk with him; not just the so-called “religious” stuff.
Take Away: The Lord calls us to live in a real relationship with him – every day, in every situation.