Haggai 1: Do it just for me. Honor me.
I was out doing some errands this week and dropped by the church for a minute. No one was there but me but when I went into the sanctuary, almost without thinking, I removed my hat. At that point I smiled to myself that no one would know whether or not I removed my hat in reverence and I wondered if the Lord even cared. I’ve seen church guys working in the building who went in and out of the sanctuary without a thought about it and, frankly, I’m okay with that. Still, there’s something about being in that place where we worship the Lord that makes it special to me and I want my actions there, even on a Monday when no one else is around, to reflect that reality. Through his prophet the Lord calls for the people of that day to pick up the task of rebuilding the Temple. Practically speaking, they can worship the Lord anywhere. As Jesus put it in John 4:24: “God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth.” Still, there’s value in setting aside sacred space. Haggai tells them that God feels honored when people make a special effort to provide a place of worship. While I understand that the Temple has a unique role in the life of the people of Israel I still think there’s a connection between it and the place where I worship. We should seriously think about the fact that the Lord didn’t say, through Haggai, “You can worship me anywhere, just do it with all your heart” but, instead said, “Rebuild the Temple; do it just for me. Honor me.”
Take Away: There’s value in setting aside sacred space.
Daniel 6: God…closed the mouths of the lions.
Daniel’s political enemies might have conspired to have him thrown into the den of lions but they couldn’t control the lions, themselves. God sends an angel to do that and his man survives unscathed his night with the big cats. The king is relieved. After all, it was his gullible foolishness that caused all of this in the first place. He’s ready to acknowledge the power and authority of Daniel’s God. Darius then turns his attention to the conspirators and their families. He has them all thrown into the lion’s den. God’s angel has already departed and they come to a horrible end. As I read this I’m reminded that Daniel represents God in a wicked and heartless regime. Nebuchadnezzar, it seems, had a genuine change of heart. Darius, on the other hand, has been impressed and humbled by Daniel’s God and from now on he will treat Daniel’s God with respect. In other words, Darius’ experience was not nearly as personal as was Nebuchadnezzar’s. Daniel prospers under Darius and then under Cyrus. Apparently, neither of these two become worshipers of the Lord but they respect Daniel and his God. We Christians have something to learn here. If possible, we want people to become believers; to join us in worship of the only one worthy of worship. However, we may not always see that happen. In some cases the best we will see is that others will decide we and our faith have earned their respect. Hopefully, that will be a first step to something more for them, but that decision is out of our hands.
Take Away: Live in such a way as to influence people for the Lord – if nothing else, to earn their respect and to cause them to respect the one we worship.
Talking about God
Isaiah 46: Can you picture me without reducing me?
The topic is handmade idols. God challenges his people to consider their tendency to create idols, not only of pagan gods, but those intended to “assist” them in worship of him, the true God. He tells them that when they whittle an idol of him they insult him, and diminish him in their sight. Now, I haven’t been making any idols, of Nebo or Baal or even of God Almighty, so I’m safe from breaking this commandment on the first level. However, I might come up short here in some other ways. It might be that in trying to understand God that I shrink him down so I can get my mind around him. Or, I might enjoy a good discussion on theology and forget that the One I am talking about is part of the conversation. If I do that, I may come off as less respectful of him than I should. To some extent, even in my finest hour, I struggle to comprehend God. I don’t want to add disrespect or irreverence to my own human limitations.
Take Away: We’re wise to be careful and respectful in how to talk about the Almighty.
God’s people need to go easy on one another
1 Samuel 26: God forbid that I should lay a finger on God’s anointed.
Saul can’t seem to help himself. David has already spared his life once, at the cave in En Gedi, but when he receives word that David is at Hakilah Hill he gathers 3000 of his best soldiers and goes out to get him. David’s sentries spot this large unit as they enter the area and he and his men track their every movement. Saul sets up camp as night falls. Once more David decides on dramatic action to prove to Saul that he’s not a threat to his kingdom. Accompanied by brave Abishai, David slips into the camp and takes the spear from beside where Saul is sleeping. Abishai sees this as the opportunity to pin Saul to the ground with his own spear, but David refuses, saying he won’t lay a finger on God’s anointed. David believes that God put Saul in office and, even though Saul is a shadow of the man he was then, God will deal with removing him from office. So what do I learn from this? As a pastor, I’m tempted to talk about pastor/congregation relationships. However, I think it goes beyond that. To a great extent all of God’s people are his “anointed.” God has chosen each of us to be his very own. I’d better be careful that my words don’t wound one of God’s people. He considers each of us to be his own and anoints us with his presence. I don’t have to always like what you say or do, but I’d better treat you with the respect due to God’s servants. Otherwise, I risk following Abishai’s route rather than David’s.
Take Away: The Lord is quite interested in how his people treat one another.
All in the family
Numbers 12: God overheard their talk.
On the surface it’s a family squabble. Moses’ brother and sister, Miriam and Aaron, don’t like his wife. This isn’t especially earthshaking. There are many in-laws who don’t get along. In this case, though, Moses’ brother and sister go public with their family dispute, apparently undermining his leadership by pointing out that Moses is married to a non-Israelite. It’s here that we find this chilling sentence: “God overheard their talk.” Actually, this passage usually brings a smile to my face. The statement that Moses is the most humble man on the face of the earth is quite funny when we think of the tradition that Moses is the author of Numbers. Supposedly we have him describing himself here as the most humble man on earth! In spite of the smile, however, this is quite a serious passage. God doesn’t like it when people undermine the leadership he’s put in place. The issue here isn’t about disagreeing with leaders, questioning some decision they’ve made. Instead, it’s about undermining God-given authority. In this case, God doesn’t like what he hears and acts to shore up his chosen leader’s status by diminishing theirs. Surely there are times when church leaders need correction but if they need to be taken down a peg or two, we’d better be careful about our place in it.
Take Away: A God called leader remains human and prone to error but he or she also deserves respect as one set apart by the Lord.
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 Egyptian’s 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.