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Just do it
Deuteronomy 23: If you don’t make a vow in the first place, there’s no sin. If you say you’re going to do something, do it.
Reading through the middle part of Deuteronomy causes me to feel like I’m back in Leviticus with all of its rules and regulations. Still, there are some gems to be found along the way. When talking about vows, the words of Moses feel a bit more like one is reading in the books of Wisdom than the Law. Here, I’m reminded that it’s easier to make promises than it is to keep them. I’ve heard young people make big claims about what they’re going to do. One said she was going to be a lawyer and another said he was going to enter the ministry. They had big plans and I believe they were sincere about them. However, they first had to work through the smaller details like getting out of bed and going to class each day. I understand that Moses is talking about vows made to God here but I see that to great extent even vows made to God are first vows a person makes to oneself. “This is worth doing, and I’m going to do it.” That works whether I’m talking about doing something for the Lord, or pursing some life goal, or living in harmony with those around me. The council here isn’t against making promises. Instead, it’s about making promises worth keeping and then keeping them.
Take Away: Don’t avoid making promises, just be sure the promises are worth keeping.
Our secret weapon
Mark 13: When the time comes, say what’s on your heart – the Holy Spirit will make his witness in and through you.
Big, devastating changes are coming. Their beloved Temple, for instance, will be a pile of ruins. Godly people will be abused, dragged into court. When the pressure’s on and their enemies have the upper hand the followers of Jesus are to remember these words and turn to the Lord for strength and wisdom to triumph even in the darkest of days. Specifically, when they stand accused in court they shall do so in confidence. They’ll have an inner Resource. They’ll find themselves saying things they haven’t thought of and with a power they never imagined. That Resource, Jesus says, is the Holy Spirit. In the decades to come generations of martyrs rise up, each proving the words of Jesus. When things are the darkest, God’s people stand firmly victorious empowered by the Holy Spirit. I believe the Holy Spirit is still at work in the world today. Beyond that, I believe he’s at work in me. I think I tend to worry too much about what I’m supposed to say and do in difficult situations. I forget this promise and think it’s all up to me and I fear I’ll blow it. Surely, those Christians proved this promise to be about a literal enabling of the Holy Spirit for God’s people, especially when they’re under the gun. I need to be more aware of this promise and of the practical Resource of the Holy Spirit, especially when I need immediate, crisis-level help.
Take Away: The help of the Holy Spirit is more real and immediate than most of us realize.
Playing “let’s make a deal” with God
Jeremiah 34: The army of the king of Babylon has pulled back…but not for long.
One of the many acts of rebellion against God committed by Judah is that of making slaves of their fellow countrymen. God forbade this from the very beginning of their existence as a nation, even as they came up out of Egyptian slavery. Indentured servitude, yes – slavery, no. With things falling apart as Babylon’s army’s about to take the city of Jerusalem King Zedekiah frees all the salves. It appears that he’s playing “let’s make a deal” with God. In fact, the Lord seems to agree to the deal. Nebuchadnezzar withdraws his army and for the time being Jerusalem is spared. At this point Zedekiah does a stupid thing. He reneges on freeing the slaves. Those who have been set free are put back into slavery. The result is quite predictable. Once again Jeremiah comes forward with a message from the Lord. He says God’s going to set Zedekiah free in the same way: free to face war and destruction; to face the wrath of God expressed through a foreign king. Nebuchadnezzar will return to Jerusalem to finish what he started. I don’t think it’s ever wise to make deals with God. Sometimes, I think God sees us as we see a child who promises to keep his room clean the rest of his life if we let him stay up to watch a favorite TV show. We know the child can’t keep his side of the deal. In general, though, God expects us to keep our word. Zedekiah should have stayed with his move to make things right. In failing to do so, he became, not only a law-breaker once again, but a liar too.
Take Away: The Lord expects us to keep our word.
It’s more than a chicken in every pot
Isaiah 55: So will the words that come out of my mouth not come back empty-handed.
As we near national elections we hear a lot from politicians. The common wisdom is that a person will say whatever they need to say to get elected. Hopefully, that isn’t always the case. A nation needs leaders who lead with integrity. Still, it isn’t hard for anyone who’s been paying attention to remember broken promises from vote seekers. Isaiah says that God has things to say and that the Lord doesn’t hesitate to make some promises. God’s message isn’t the common message of the world. After all, his ways are higher than our ways. Not only is his message unique, but his faithfulness to make good on that message is unique too. When God says I’m to live my life his way and that, if I do, I’ll have a better life, well, that’s a word I can take to the bank. The Lord’s at work, building a people worthy of being called his people. Even as rain falling from the sky is instrumental in producing bountiful crops, so does the Word of God produce good lives in those who hear and obey. The message of this scripture is that God isn’t just making so much noise when he says “this is the way I want you to live.” Rather, he’s giving me an approach to life that will produce the rich harvest of God’s blessings.
Take Away: The way of the Lord is the best way.
Just the facts
Isaiah 36: Be reasonable. Face the facts.
There’s nothing theoretical about the threat Sennacherib of Assyria and his great army is to Jerusalem. They can crush that city as they have crushed many others. The king sends a spokesman with his terms of surrender and he minces no words in telling them what will come if they don’t give in. He offers them a choice: be starved and then destroyed, or surrender and be relocated to a distant land under the rule of Assyria. The king’s man, Rabshekah, isn’t much of a diplomat. He’s convinced that these pitiful people are in his hands and that either through defeat or surrender his army will win the day. He says to them, “Be reasonable…face the facts…” pointing out that they couldn’t mount an opposing army even if they were given horses and chariots with which to fight. Those words strike terror in the hearts of all who hear them. In that terror all of God’s promises are forgotten and they’re ready to do the “reasonable” thing and abandon their faith. I am, I think, a reasonable person and generally do a good job of learning the facts and acting on what I’ve learned. However, there’s a whole set of “facts” that can only be seen with the eyes of faith. Rabshekah’s facts ignore the fact that these are the people of God and that God has something to say about what happens to them. In the decisions I make I must remember that I’ve surrendered my life to the Lord and, even though some facts aren’t apparent to me, they’re clear to him. When I’ve done my spreadsheet of pluses and minuses, I must remember that there’s a dimension beyond my view and that dimension is every bit as real as the facts and figures I might collect. If I’m going to be truly reasonable, I must carefully listen to the Lord. That’s the only way I can really keep my facts straight.
Take Away: Even though some facts aren’t apparent to me, they’re clear to the Lord.
Guilt free living
Isaiah 33: Best of all, they’ll all live guilt-free.
Jerusalem is conquered, now condemned by Assyria to bow and scrape to those in control of their holy city. Isaiah promises that things won’t remain as they are. As the citizens turn back to the Lord, the Lord will turn back to them. The day is coming when the Assyrian tax collector will be gone and their new masters’ foreign language will no longer be heard in the streets of Jerusalem. It won’t be King Sennacherib who’ll be in charge, instead, Isaiah promises it will be “God who makes all the decisions here” and it’ll be God who’ll be king. Isaiah adds, describing his people, “Best of all, they’ll all live guilt-free.” This is such a wonderful promise. You see, the people hearing these words are really guilty. It’s their abandonment of God that brought this calamity on them in the first place. The good news is that the only One who can forgive them is willing to do so. It’s a great thing when God removes the “foreign kings” from our lives and forgives us our sins. One lady told me that when she confessed her sins and received Christ into her life that she “felt lighter.” In other words, having the sin burden lifted from her was just as real as if a 40 pound backpack had been lifted from her shoulders. Only God can make that kind of difference in a life or in a nation. The Good News is that he wants to do just that.
Take Away: How wonderful to realize that the only one who can forgive us our sins is willing to do just that.
2 Samuel 9: Mephibosheth lived in Jerusalem, taking all his meals at the king’s table.
David remembers his friend Jonathan. He and David stood together in the dark days years earlier. At that time they made promises to one another and David hasn’t forgotten those promises. When David learns that Jonathan has a surviving son he seeks him out. Mephibosheth is lame and has had no contact with David, yet David treats him with respect and kindness. Mephibosheth, obviously, has done nothing to earn anything from David. In fact, as the grandson of Saul, he might still have a claim on the throne in the eyes of some people. Most kings of that era would make it their first order of business to wipe out all his predecessor’s heirs to the throne. David, though, does the very opposite. He returns all Saul’s wealth to Mephibosheth and then gives him an honored place in his own household. David’s action here reminds me of the unmerited favor the King has shown to me. Like Mephibosheth, I’ve done nothing to make myself worthy of this great kindness. And, as David reached out to Mephibosheth because of Jonathan, so has the Lord reached out to me because of Jesus.
Take Away: All the people of the Lord are recipients of the unmerited favor of God – unworthy, but made welcome in his household.
Grasping at straws
Judges 17: Stay here with me. Be my father and priest.
Things go from bad to worse as I progress through the book of Judges. The lofty mountain top encounter with God through his servant Moses of centuries before is forgotten as is Joshua’s declaration of faithfulness to God. The light of the promise made by their ancestors at the Red Sea and then at the Jordan River is nearly extinguished. Judges is a downhill book. There are occasional heroes but they become fewer and fewer. The heroes we do find become more and more flawed. Here’s the story of Micah and his hired Levite priest. In this spiritual night, there’s a hunger for God, but it’s so broken and disfigured that we hardly recognize it. Using God to get wealthy or for the purpose of fortune telling is the order of the day. The tribes that were so united under Joshua and Moses are now fragmented politically and greatly influenced by the pagans of the land. The tug of war over who gets the priest is a pitiful reminder of the result of spiritual emptiness. In spite of the uniqueness of this story, I think it’s being lived out in my own culture. People who think they’re beyond needing God grasp at anything that promises to satisfy their emptiness. As I see the pitiful people of this distant day fighting over the Levite priest, I’m reminded that our message of “God with us” is the one the world desperately needs today.
Take Away: There’s a hunger in our lives that can only be filled by the Lord.