Don’t just fall in love with being in love
Song of Songs 2: Don’t excite love, don’t stir it up, until the time is ripe — and you’re ready.
The woman, who co-stars in the opera, is speaking to her “sisters in Jerusalem” and she has some good advice for them. She tells them to wait for the right time and for the right person to be sent into their lives before falling in love. Sometimes young women are more in love with the idea of being in love than they are actually in love. They get emotionally involved with someone who has a very different agenda than they do and the result is, at best, disappointment and a feeling of having been used and cheapened. Song of Songs is a celebration of human love and sexuality — and the two are very much linked. The woman who is loved by the King says, “The real thing is worth waiting for — don’t sell out too soon.” Young women across the ages have faced the temptation to do otherwise but to do so is to accept a cheap imitation that won’t last. In Song of Songs, the opera about love, we’re told: “wait, you’ll be glad you did!”
Take Away: The real thing is worth waiting for — don’t sell out too soon.
Friends and family
Ecclesiastes 4: A three-stranded rope isn’t easily snapped.
There’s power in relationships. I’ve heard it said that some people are “married to their jobs.” That is, their work is the most important thing in their life and because of that the most important relationship in their life has suffered. The writer reminds those with type “A” personalities that relationships are what make life worth living. A person who gives everything up to climb the cooperate ladder is chasing after smoke, wasting their life. Accomplishments are worthwhile only when there’s someone with whom to share them. Also, family and friends help us get up again after life has knocked us down. There’s more to life than work, position, and financial rewards. In fact, these potential blessings can become a curse if they dominate our lives. Our most valuable possessions are our relationships. The greatest mistake a person can make is to neglect and lose the real “gold” of life for some job or due to an unhealthy devotion to the ladder of success.
Take Away: Our most valuable possessions are our relationships
Questions and the Answer
Job 41: I’m in charge of all this — I run the universe!
The response of the Almighty to Job centers on who God is, what God does, and what God knows. I’m reminded of the opening words of Genesis in which we’re not given a rationale for God’s existence but, instead, the story of God’s action in creating all things. Now, after Job has demanded an audience with God in which he could straighten things out, God speaks, not to explain things to Job but to declare himself to him. Surely the One who runs the universe is not subject to us! We see here that God isn’t especially interested in our having answers to all of life’s questions. He is interested though, in our knowing him. Job’s encounter with God is centered on all the mysteries of creation. Job needs to not only have a better understanding of God, but he needs a clearer understanding of himself and his relationship to the Lord. Of course, the same is true of us. As I better understand who God is and who I am, I realize that my questions aren’t as important as I first thought.
Take Away: I’ll never have all the answers anyway, but I can trust God to be the answer to the deepest needs of my life.
One of God’s friends
Job 1: Have you noticed my friend Job?
I’ll leave the discussion about how all this fits together theologically to others (although I will add that I have the deepest respect and appreciation for scholars who take on such issues) and stay in the devotional mode. The question asked by the Lord resonates with me. “My friend Job” is an awesome phrase to hear the Lord utter. This is the Almighty, the Creator of the Universe who’s talking. He’s speaking of a man; flesh and blood with human frailties and failings. But that man is a friend of God and God is a friend to him. When I consider the fact that this story is told long before Jesus, God Incarnate, walks this earth I’m blown away. We don’t know the identity of the writer of this book of the Bible, but he or she has an understanding of God and his relationship with us that ought to thrill us. It ought to challenge us too. Today, I have more reason than ever to aspire to and achieve friendship with God. I can not only be a servant of the Lord who worships him in his holiness, I can be his friend too. What a wonderful possibility!
Take Away: It’s an amazing privilege to be invited to be a friend with our Creator.
The extended scepter
Esther 5: He was pleased to see her, the king extended the gold scepter in his hand.
The first great hurdle for Esther is getting an audience with King Xerxes. It sounds crazy to us, but in that kingdom Xerxes is treated like a god. Even his own queen can come into his presence only when summoned. If she or anyone else breaks that rule they can be put to death. However, the king, himself, can grant a sort of “instant reprieve” if he wants to simply by extending his scepter to the uninvited person. Xerxes is just a man, and, apparently, a rather insecure one at that, but that’s how it is in his kingdom. Esther tells Mordecai that she hasn’t been summoned by the king for more than a month, and, in light of what happened to the previous queen when she didn’t come when summoned, Esther is taking a real risk here. However, it’s a necessary one. If Xerxes is unworthy of such deference, there is a King who is King of kings who is worthy of all that and more. However, his relationship to me is so much better than that of Xerxes to his subjects. In fact, I have a standing invitation to come into his Presence any time. This King extended the scepter to me and everyone else long ago, declaring his throne room open for all who will come.
Take Away: We have a standing invitation to enter the throne room, let’s take advantage of it.
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.