Romans 10: Grand prossessions of people telling all the good things of God!
Paul quotes the prophet Isaiah all through this passage. In his day, Isaiah extolled the value of messengers who went from place to place proclaiming the message of hope to their generation. That, he says, is a beautiful thing. Paul is sorry that the people of Israel of his day aren’t the “message-proclaimers.” They’ve had every opportunity to play that role but instead insist on doing things their own way. They’re the losers in that. Now, I read this scenario and think about my own generation. Like the messengers of Isaiah’s day, the Church has Good News. We should be happily “telling all the good things of God.” All too often though, like the people of Israel of Paul’s day, we’ve retreated to our church buildings and busied ourselves with committees and programs, hanging our shingle outside inviting those want to know more to come on in. Beyond that, we’ve divided up into different camps, drawing lines and building walls. We’d rather argue over finer points of the Bible than go next door to offer a cup of cold water in Jesus’ name. Isaiah reminds us that it’s a beautiful thing when God’s people take the Good News to those who need it so desperately. Paul, though, reminds us that it’s possible for those with the Good News to fumble and fail. Does this kind of thinking alarm us? It should.
Take Away: Who do I know who needs the Good News?
Just one of the shepherds
Amos 1: The Message of Amos, one of the shepherds of Tekoa.
Aside from the few words of introduction found in the opening of his writings, we know nothing of Amos. He isn’t a member of the royal family or priesthood and he doesn’t have any famous relatives. He describes himself as “one of the shepherds” of an unimportant town. Amos numbers himself with the poor and unprivileged people of his society. That standing flavors his entire ministry. When he speaks of poor people being mistreated he does so as one who has experienced that mistreatment. In about 40 years Israel will fall, rejected by God and defeated by her enemies. One of the reasons for that fall is that God’s people have separated themselves from the compassion of God to their poor. The book of Amos is an important book for people of all periods of history because, as Jesus said, “the poor you will always have among you.” How does God expect a prosperous nation to treat its poor? How does he expect we who live in comfortable, secure homes to treat those in our community who live in want? Finally, what if we fail at this point? Amos gives us a first-hand response to these questions.
Take Away: As a people of the Lord we can never separate ourselves from his compassion on the poor.
Hosea 10: Sow righteousness, reap love.
The prophet says things aren’t going to work out for Israel. Generations earlier, when the Lord delivered them from Egyptian slavery, he had plans for them. They were going to be a force for righteousness on earth. The Lord likens them to a strong farm animal that’s hitched up to the plow and can powerfully prepare the ground for planting. This isn’t a put down. In this culture any farmer who has such an animal is proud of it and cares for it. The Lord says he saw such potential in that nation of slaves. These people could change the earth for good as they spread righteousness everywhere. Again, though, it isn’t going to work out. Instead of planting righteousness and love, they spread wickedness, evil, and lies. Not only do they fail to live up to their promise, they also have the audacity to work against God’s purpose rather than for it. I’m reminded today that the Lord is well aware of my potential. He knows what’s likely beyond me and he knows what I can do if I put my mind to it. Of course, I never want to be guilty of taking God’s gifts and using them to work against him but I don’t even want to disappoint him. I may not have the capability to change the world but surely I can help sow a little righteousness in the lives of those around me.
Take Away: The Lord knows what we can do in the work of his kingdom – and he expects us to do it by his grace.
Accepting fault, doing something about it
Ezekiel 18: The soul that sins is the soul that dies.
A common saying in Ezekiel’s day is that “the parents ate green apples and the children got a stomachache.” That saying describes the current plight of the people of Judah. Their nation has been defeated and many have been exiled far from home. They blame it all on their parents and consider themselves to be victims of the failure of others. Ezekiel says that isn’t so. While it’s true that their ancestors failed God, the current generation has plenty of failure of its own. Ezekiel wants them to understand that when a wicked person turns from his or her wicked ways that God is gracious and rich in forgiveness. God, he tells them, doesn’t hold a grudge. On the other hand, if a righteous person abandons that righteousness he or she stands guilty before God. Past righteousness doesn’t make a person immune from current failure and judgment. The bottom line is that the Lord will “judge each of you according to the way you live.” The spiritual principle here is that it’s our current relationship with God that really matters. Ezekiel’s advice is still good today. He says since it’s “right now” that counts, those who are living apart from God and blaming their parents (or someone else) for it need to “turn around…make a clean break” and “live!”
Take Away: It’s our current relationship with the Lord that really matters.
Dare to discipline
Proverbs 13: A refusal to correct is a refusal to love.
I love being around my grandkids. There’s nothing better than spending time with these little ones. However, believe it or not, even my own precious grandchildren aren’t always perfect! I’m sure they come closer to perfect than any grandchildren who’ve ever lived, but still, there are a few little things that have to be kept in check. That’s what their dad and mom, along with maybe a little help from their grandparents, are supposed to do. Parents need to provide loving discipline to their children. I’m not trying to debate the value of a particular type of discipline here, but as I read the words “a refusal to correct is a refusal to love” I’m taken by the common sense truth being stated. Parents who love don’t just throw up their hands and let the kids do “whatever.” Loving parents step up to the plate even when they’re worn out from the day. Even then, they expend the energy to take their children in hand, insisting that they behave themselves within the limits of their capability. The disciplining part of parenting isn’t the fun part, but it’s one of the loving parts. As the wise man says, “love your children by disciplining them.”
Take Away: Children are a gift of the Lord, but that gift does come with responsibilities attached.
Springtime always comes
1 Chronicles 20: That spring, the time when kings usually go off to war….
It’s a rather off handed statement, said as though it’s a truism that every reader will accept without a further thought. It’s springtime and the king is off to war. From here, we move forward to a few accounts of the victories won by David and his army, including more battles with big guys similar to Goliath. Apparently, the writer thinks that we’ll all agree that there’s a time for national leaders to lead their nations into war. David lives in an imperfect day in which some nations are belligerent against other nations. If he relaxes, enjoying the success the Lord has given him, the enemies of Israel will move to wipe them off the face of the map. Therefore, when the weather is right, David’s army gears up for war, knowing that if they don’t they’ll be erased by those who wish them dead. That’s a long time ago and the world has changed, right? You know that aside from the fact that armies no longer wait till spring to do battle that the world remains a dangerous place. I know I can’t take a passing phrase from 1 Chronicles to develop a philosophy of international relationships, but I do think that this is an example of a national leader doing what’s necessary to keep his nation safe and secure. As a people of God we hate war; especially the pain and suffering it brings to the innocent. It would be better if “springtime” never came, but we know it will and because of that we regrettably conclude that a primary responsibility of national leaders is to prepare for war and, while all that is possible to avoid war, to respond when necessary.
Take Away: We need to pray for our national leaders.
Weight of leadership
1Kings 15: He was openly evil before God, walking in the footsteps of Jeroboam, who both sinned and made Israel sin.
The writer of the books of the Kings gives us only snapshots of the parade of kings of both Judah and Israel. Sometimes there’s just one highlight (or “lowlight”) mentioned. Over in Israel, Jeroboam dies and his son Nadab comes to power. Nadab lasts for just two years before he’s assassinated and replaced by Baasha. Baasha knows that God rejected Jeroboam and his family because of Jeroboam’s sin but that doesn’t stop him from following the same road to ruin. He rules Israel for 24 years but his legacy is his spiritual failure and his leading of Israel farther away from God. We aren’t surprised when we see God rejecting him and sending word that he’s going to reduce Baasha and his regime to cinders. While I’m a firm believer in free will, I see that God holds Baasha responsible for the sin of all Israel. Leadership has privileges but it also comes with a hefty helping of responsibility. God expects leaders to not only be righteous themselves, but to influence those who follow them to greater righteousness as well. That’s true of pastors and churches, but, as I see here, it’s true for national leaders and their subjects too.
Take Away: Leaders who forget the responsibility side of their position are walking the road to failure.
Inherited blessings and personal decisions
Deuteronomy 5: GOD didn’t just make this covenant with our parents; he made it also with us, with all of us who are alive right now.
Some things are generational. That is, they’re passed along from parents to their children. Some of the promises of God are like that. Such promises are made to a people, a nation. Because of that it could be said that the children inherit the promise from their parents. Some generational issues are not exactly the property of the children in the way those big promises are, but because of human nature, they almost seem to be. Parents have an influence on their children. If that influence is godly the result is very likely a positive one. On the other hand, if that influence is negative, it’s very possible that things will begin to unravel more and more with each passing generation. However, it doesn’t need to be that way. The reason is that God remains active from one age to the next. Moses tells his listeners that the relationship God had with their parents, a relationship that was broken by their disobedience, is now offered to them. They won’t say, “We’re God’s people because our parents were God’s people.” Instead, they’ll be his people because God has called them and they’ve responded to that invitation. It’s a wonderful thing when parents pass their faith along to their children. It is even better when the children actively respond making that relationship to God their very own.
Take Away: A person who had godly parents is blessed, indeed. Still, that person has the responsibility of claiming that blessing – that relationship- as their very own.
Be quiet and eat your manna
Numbers 11: I’ll take some of the Spirit that is on you and place it on them.
There’s a problem with the manna. It still tastes fine and supplies, apparently, the recommended daily dietary needs. However, manna for breakfast, lunch, and supper seven days a week is boring. In Egypt they had meat, cucumbers and melons, onions and garlic. In the wilderness they have manna, manna, and more manna. In their dietary frustration they complain to God’s, man, Moses and for him this is the breaking moment. He’s angry with the people and he’s angry with God. In fact, he declares, if this is the way it has to be he would just as soon be dead. Moses has been burning the candle at both ends and now the fire has met in the middle. People, like Moses, who have performed admirably through the most difficult circumstances, hit the wall and suddenly some minor problem causes them to crash. Know what? I think it’s Moses’ own fault. His father-in-law, Jethro, told him he couldn’t do it all alone back in Exodus 18 and a plan was set up at that time. After that Moses spent time on the mountain with God, the terrible golden calf incident and some other things happened. I don’t know this for sure, but it looks like the plan Jethro suggested has dropped by the way and Moses is back to being “the guy” for everything. If this is true the result is predictable: Moses finds himself drowning in responsibility. Leaders need to remember that no matter how skillfully they organize things in the beginning and no matter how high the quality of leadership that’s brought on board, that they must continue to hold the plan in shape. Otherwise, things will unravel, and, over time everything will once again be propped up against them.
Take Away: Skillful leadership includes recognizing, training, and empowering others. It also includes the providing of constant maintenance.