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.
(Don’t) Make yourself at home
Judges 3: But the People of Israel made themselves at home among the Canaanites.
It’s their first test and they fail it. They’ve failed to remove the pagan people from the land and now their test is to live near them but not become one of them. They miserably fail. Before long their young people are getting married to Canaanites and the perverted worship practices of those people is being accepted by them. Simply put, they feel right at home with these heathen. In his anger, God turns his back on them and soon everything falls apart. How at home am I in my society? Jesus loved sinners. He ate with them and genuinely liked them. But he never became one of them. On one hand there’s the example of the Israelites who feel so at home with the Canaanites that they adopt their ways. On the other hand we have Jesus who loves people and fellowships with them, but in doing so, invites them to be the ones who are changed. God help me to love the lost without making myself “at home” with them in the manner of these Israelites.
Take Away: Is the Church changing the culture or is the culture changing the Church?
Intimacy with God
Deuteronomy 4: What other great nation has gods that are intimate with them the way God, our God, is with us?
I’m tempted to focus on “national gods” here. In this distant day each nation has its own gods and it’s unthinkable for anyone to imagine a nation kicking out its gods to worship those of another nation. I’m pretty sure a case could be made that we still have “national gods.” In the instance of my country those gods are named “Materialism” and “Pleasure.” However, instead of pursuing that line of thought (come to think of it, I guess I already did!) I’ll focus on what it’s like to worship the true God. Humans don’t make this God out of some precious metal. Rather, this God makes human beings out of the dust of the ground. This God makes no demand of those who serve him that he doesn’t first make of himself. For instance, before he calls people to love him he first loves them. In fact, this God always acts first, moving in grace-full ways in the lives of people. And, as Moses says, this God seeks intimacy with his Creation. Moses wants his congregation to realize how blessed they are. Of all the nations of the earth, they have the God who willingly involves himself at every level of their lives. Today, this Almighty Being invites me to experience that same level of intimacy, that personal day-to-day relationship with him.
Take Away: What a privilege it is for the creature to have intimate fellowship with the Creator.
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.
It’s a local call
Exodus 29: I’ll move in and live with the Israelites. I’ll be their God. They’ll realize that I am their God….
Moses, their leader, is on the mountaintop, both physically and spiritually, in conference with God Almighty who’s giving him all kinds of instructions. The Lord intends to make the people of Israel a unique nation on the face of the earth. Right now the Lord is in the process of setting everything in motion. In the midst of the detailed plans for the Tabernacle and it’s furnishings I hear an earth shaking promise from God. He says, “I’ll move in and live…I’ll be their God…they’ll realize that….” This concept is both humbling and thrilling. The Lord isn’t going to sit up on Mount Sinai, distant and unapproachable. Instead, he’s moving in with them. Some years ago a joke was going around about churches having a “golden telephone” providing direct access to the Lord. The punch line depended on where the joke teller lived. Of course, for me, Texas was the featured state. Using the golden telephone in Texas is much cheaper because calling heaven is local call from Texas. In this passage in Exodus we find that the Lord intends that it be a “local call” when his people call his name. He’s moving in and has no desire to be beyond our reach. It’s humbling to think that God Almighty would take such interest in mere human beings. However, it’s also thrilling to consider that he wants to move into my neighborhood and be an active participant in my everyday life. For Moses, this is all about the Tabernacle and worship there. For me it is all about Jesus coming and then sending his Holy Spirit to “move in and live” in my heart. “Oh Lord, come on in, you’re welcome here.”
Take Away: The Lord is as near as my next thought directed to him.
Living as one of God’s people
Exodus 22: Don’t be stingy as your wine vats fill up. Dedicate your firstborn sons to me.
If anyone thinks the Law given at Mount Sinai is all about the Ten Commandments or at least is filled with regulations concerning their religion they need to spend some time in the second half of the Book of Exodus. The regulations stated here are a mulligan stew of civil, personal, and religious rules and regulations. The Lord’s just as interested in telling them how to settle a property dispute as he is in telling them how to conduct a worship service. For instance, he tells them that as they prosper in the land he’s giving them that they’re to live generous lives. Then, in the very next sentence he tells them that they’re to dedicate their firstborn sons to him. For these people, there’s to be no difference between their “religious” lives and their “secular” lives. Instead, they’re to live their “whole lives” under the authority of God. Refraining from eating the meat of some dead animal they find in the field and making sacrifices only to the Lord God are both filed under the heading of “be holy.” A lesson for me in all this is that my life as a whole is to be lived under the authority of the Lord. I’m to live a generous, honest, compassionate life. Not only am I to dedicate my children to the Lord, but, as my “wine vats fill up” I’m to be a generous person, sharing the blessing the Lord has given me. The two, secular and religious, are really just one, living as one of God’s people.
Take Away: My entire life is to be lived as a person of God.
The Ten Commandments
Exodus 20: I am God, your God.
And so it begins. This God who spoke to Moses through the burning bush, this God who brought the plagues to Egypt in securing their freedom, this God who delivered them at the Red Sea now describes how they’re to live. He didn’t bring them up out of Egypt so they could do their own thing, living as they pleased. The Lord God brought them out of slavery to be his own people. Their relationship to their God is going to be very different than the Egyptians relationship with their gods. The very first thing their Redeemer does is state Ten Commandments to them. These Commandments are just as focused on how a man treats his neighbor as how a man relates to his God. In this new relationship with the Almighty they’ll treat the Lord with absolute reverence, but they’ll also treat one another with respect, honesty, and fairness. One doesn’t have to be Jewish or Christian to recognize the brilliance of the Ten Commandments. In just a few words the foundation is laid for a God-fearing and just society. To this day there’s no finer expression of how society can function at its best. This gift from God to his people is every bit as impressive as was his parting the Red Sea for them.
Take Away: We can find no better set of rules for living than what we find in the Ten Commandments.
Exodus 1: He killed the Egyptian and buried him in the sand.
Moses is thought of as the grandson of the king, but he’s raised by the woman who’s secretly his own mother. On one hand, he’s an Egyptian and a member of the ruling class at that. On the other hand, he’s a Hebrew, condemned at birth, a member of a nation of slaves. Sooner or later he has to decide who he is. That day comes, even though his expression of solidarity with God’s people is quite flawed. First, he kills an Egyptian who mistreats a fellow Hebrew. He then tries to be a peacemaker between two Hebrews who are having a fight. There’s no question in his mind or in the mind of Pharaoh which side he’s on and soon Moses finds himself fleeing for his life. I’ve heard some sermons about how Moses should have waited for God to call him to be the liberator of his people and that, had he done that, it would have saved him four decades of leading sheep. For all I know, those sermons are right on. Still, I’m taken today with the need to decide early on which side one is on. Moses is likely mistaken when he kills the Egyptian, but his decision to cast his lot with a nation of slaves rather than be a member of the Egyptian royal household is courageous and ought to be appreciated by all who read the story. I’m glad that early on in my life the Lord spoke to my heart and that, right then, I decided to say “yes” to him without over thinking what such a response might mean. Today, I won’t give Moses a “thumbs up” on what he did but I’ll certainly give him credit for why he did it.
Take Away: Sooner or later we need to decide what side we’re on…and the sooner the better.
Pastor to people
2John: My dear congregation, I, your pastor, love you in very truth.
Compared to some books of the Bible, 2John isn’t much of a “book.” It’s more of an “email.” It’s just a few lines, written as a quick placeholder for a congregation by their pastor. He’ll fill in the material in person. He greets them by declaring his love for them. I can’t help but think, as I read this opening line, that’s it’s a beautiful thing when a pastor loves his or her congregation “in very truth.” Because of that love-based relationship John starts his note to them by encouraging them, telling them how happy he is with them. Anyone who thinks the pastor’s job is to “tell it like it is” and “set people straight” needs to spend some time here. John tells his church how much he loves them and how pleased he is with their faithfulness to Christ’s command that his followers love one another. It’s only after doing that that he moves on to warning them about some false teachers who are taking advantage of gullible Christians. He has more to say to them, but until he can be with them personally, he thinks this little “email” will do. The brevity of this letter speaks volumes about the friendly, loving relationship between this pastor and his congregation. I can’t help but think that sometimes saying less is saying more.
Take Away: Pastors need to love and appreciate the churches under their charge. Churches, on the other hand, need to love and appreciate pastors who lovingly care for them.
Good for what ails you
1John 3: For God is greater than our worried hearts.
John moves to his favorite topic: love. Frankly, he sees love as a cure-all, good for what ails us. Are we at odds with our brothers and sisters? Love will fix it. Are we struggling in understanding God’s purpose for us and in grasping what Jesus has done for us? The key is love. When we see countless wrongs in the world and wonder what should be done about them John says the key component in our response is, you guessed it: love. The test of love proves or disproves our relationship to this God who is love. As his love is allowed into my life — as it’s allowed to influence how I feel about, well, everything, its then that I know I’m where God wants me. For many of us our greatest challenge is loving self. I, more than anyone else, know my faults and failures. It may be that I’ve been verbally abused and have come to believe that what was said to me and about me is true. Possibly, deep in my psyche is the belief that if anyone really knew me they’d see so many flaws that they’d never love me. John tells me that that’s simply untrue. The One who knows me best, who “knows more about us than we do ourselves” loves me with a powerful, sacrificial love. He thinks I’m worth loving, worth dying for. As I accept his love for me, and his evaluation of me my relationship with myself changes. Once again, even as I struggle with my own self-esteem, the answer is love.
Take Away: Love is the greatest.