Deuteronomy 13: You are to follow only God…hold on to him for dear life!
Moses says that sometimes other gods look attractive and actually seem to deliver the goods. When that happens we’re tempted to abandon the Lord God and follow the latest trend of society. In fact, Moses says, God allows that to happen to test our love for him. If I’d rather have the latest fad I can have it — but it will be my loss. As a sports fan, I’ve learned that, even though the names of the players change, the game remains the same. With this passage in mind, I’m reminded that, while the latest gods are not the deities of Egypt or Canaan, the game is the same. My loyalty to the Lord God is tested by the lure of the gods of my culture. They seem to deliver the goods, and millions follow these gods named “Pleasure,” “Affluence,” “Success,” “Power,” and “Entertainment,” telling me how wonderful it is. As one of God’s people I must remain ever alert to the subtle influence of that which erodes my loyalty to the one true God. I must “hold on to him for dear life!”
Take Away: Only as we keep our focus on the Lord are we absolutely safe from being swayed by the false gods of our society.
Turning the page
Exodus 1: A new king came to power in Egypt who didn’t know Joseph.
Joseph lives to be 110 years old and when he dies he’s honored as a great hero in Egypt. Not only did he save Egypt from the impact of a horrible famine but in so doing, he consolidated the power of Pharaoh. His family settles within the borders of Egypt in the land of Goshen and they prosper too, especially in number. Less than 100 made the journey to Egypt, but now they number in the thousands. I’ve turned the page from Genesis to Exodus and traveled through time — over 300 years. Things are so different that it takes me awhile to get my bearings. The descendants of Jacob, also known as Israel, now nearly outnumber the Egyptians and they, who came freely to Egypt, are now enslaved there. No one’s talking about Joseph and the miracles associated with his life – his story is forgotten. The dramatic change of fortunes for the people of Israel serves as a reminder that things do, indeed, change. It’s true for political figures who can watch their popularity go from high to low or for investors who can watch the value of their investments nose dive or for us individually who can see an overnight change of status. As I begin reading Exodus I’m reminded of this. However, I’m also reminded of something else. The main figure in the story is unchanged. God is still at work here. In my life the Lord is my firm foundation. “All other ground is sinking sand.”
Take Away: Life has plenty of ups and downs, some more dramatic than others, however, in the face of all the uncertainty the Lord remains our firm foundation.
The challenge of living in the level ground days
Malachi 1: Worship of God is no longer a priority.
Anyone who’s gone through significant weight loss will tell you that the hard part of a diet isn’t the “cut-back-on-the-calories” weight loss phase. Instead, it’s the maintenance phase. At that time, the individual moves from trying to lose weight to living a healthy lifestyle that doesn’t result in regaining the weight that was lost. The problem is that there are constant temptations to give in a little here and a little there. Once one starts down that road the end result is a return to the former state of things. The people Malachi speaks to are at a cross roads. They’re secure and comfortable. The work of rebuilding the Temple was finished by their parents and grandparents. Now, it falls on them to live a spiritually healthy lifestyle as an every day people of God. Frankly, they aren’t doing a very good job of it. When they bring an animal to offer to the Lord, they’ve fallen into the habit of bringing one that they don’t want anyway. Worship, in general, is drifting to a lower and lower priority in their lives. They aren’t back at the stage of their idol-worshiping, baby-sacrificing ancestors, but, without even recognizing it, they’re gradually drifting away from God. It doesn’t take a big effort to connect the dots from this to my own life. I don’t hope a crisis will come to my life to remind me of my priorities, but, here on the level ground of life, I want to live a healthy, day-to-day spiritual lifestyle.
Take Away: Living for the Lord on the common days of life has challenges of its own.
The whole truth and nothing but the truth
Proverbs 12: Truth lasts.
I gave a computer away. It was the first computer I ever built from the ground up, buying the components and putting it all together. That was six years earlier. That machine served me well, running 24 hours a day for several years. After I replaced it with new laptop the old machine was just taking up valuable space. A friend needed a computer for checking email and the like, so I passed the computer on to him. When I put that computer into service I knew that someday it would be replaced, but I admit I was somewhat unprepared for the seeming shortness of its value to me. Some things just don’t last. The proverbs writer reminds me today that, while that’s true, some things do last and one of those things is “truth.” In other words, if something was “so” 2000 years ago it’s still “so” today. I’m not talking about various truisms here; clearly some things thought to be truth in the past are proven wrong in the long run. However, in the case of genuine truth, well, it lasts. For instance, when Jesus says he’s the Way to God that’s an absolute truth. That fact can never get old and it can never be improved upon. I know that some folks think that such a claim is narrow minded. However, by its very nature truth is somewhat exclusive. Today, then, I remember that some things simply don’t last so I’m wise to not put the full weight of my trust on them. I also remember that the eternal truths of God do last. Jesus said it this way, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.” (Matthew 24:35)
Take Away: We can depend on the Lord’s truths.
Highs and lows and in-betweens
Psalm 30: I can’t keep quiet about you.
It’ll come as a surprise to no one, but I confess that I’m no David. He lives larger than life. I have the idea he’s more passionate over his breakfast each morning than I am over the biggest events in my life. When David’s up, he’s really up, filled with joy and praises and song. That’s not me. The top of his roller coaster ride is far above mine! I confess that I sometimes envy those “Davids” in my life, so full of life and passion. On the other hand, when David is down, he’s really down! He doesn’t stop at being somewhat discouraged, instead, he feels absolutely abandoned. He isn’t just frustrated; instead, he’s filled with despair. The bottom of the roller coaster ride for people with the “David personality” is far below mine and when I see them down there in so much pain I confess that I feel a little superior, or at least a bit glad that I’m not like that. The neat thing is that God made both of us and he sees something of himself in each of us. I have a long way to go, but in my personality, and in others who are wired like me, there’s just a hint of God as the “solid Rock,” our “firm foundation.” Then, when I am around a “David” I see something of God’s passion and zest. Of course in God we see it all without the flaws that are associated with the human versions, then in Jesus we see humanity perfected, just as God intended in the first place. It occurs to me that one purpose of the Psalms is to let people like me hitch a ride with people like David. I won’t make it to the top with him and I won’t have to ride with him to the bottom, but I might be stretched just a little. That’s a good thing.
Take Away: There’s something of the Lord in every positive personality type.
Just doing the right thing
Esther 2: Now there was a Jew who lived in the palace complex in Susa. His name was Mordecai.
The second character we meet in the book of Esther is Mordecai the son of Jair. Mordecai is a “Jew of the Jews.” He comes from the family tree of Benjamin and in this story he’s spoken of in only positive ways. He’s compassionate in taking his niece in and raising her after she’s orphaned. Clearly, he has a godly influence on her as this story shows. Mordecai doesn’t want the spotlight but he’s reluctantly brought into it by the unexpected circumstances that are revealed in the book of Esther. He stands up to the powerful Haman and shows himself to be a loyal subject to Xerxes. Mordecai is one of those people who quietly goes about living for God for many years, and then, at just the right time is used by God in some very specific, positive way. Mordecai does the right thing when the spotlight of history is turned upon him because he’s been doing the right thing all along.
Take Away: Do the right thing in the everyday events of life and it will be easier to do the right thing when the pressure is on.
One chapter lives
2 Chronicles 27: Jotham’s strength was rooted in his steady and determined life of obedience to God.
Jotham comes to power before he ascends to the throne. His father Uzziah’s affliction keeps him from running the government and Jotham rules in his father’s place. After seven years of this arrangement, upon the death of Uzziah, Jotham ascends to the throne. He gets high marks in both the 2nd Kings and 2nd Chronicles accounts of his reign. However, both accounts are rather brief. Jotham does some significant construction and has a couple of major military campaigns. The bottom line of his life is that his “strength was rooted in his steady and determined life of obedience to God.” If a person’s life is to be summed up in one sentence, that’s a pretty good sentence to hear. Words like “strength,” “steady,” determined,” and “obedience of God” leave us wanting to hear more about this good man. One nice thing about the account of Jotham’s life is that there’s no “but…” after the epitaph I’m considering today. I wonder what words will be used to someday describe my life? Unlike Jotham I’ll never be a famous person or a national leader. By the grace of God, though, “steadiness, determination, and obedience of God” is within my grasp. Even people who live “one chapter lives” can make that chapter count for something worthwhile.
Take Away: A life lived for the Lord is a life well lived.
Nothing special, just life
2Kings 15: He was king for fifty-two years in Jerusalem.
The stories of the twin kingdoms are told in parallel but they’re very different stories. Judah is rather stable with kings generally ranked as “good with some failures” while kings of Israel receive failing marks. Because of that, God blesses Judah with consistency of leadership that’s lacking in Israel. In fact, Israel’s throne at this time has the feel of a revolving door. There are numerous assassinations and one fellow, Shallum, only manages to hold the throne for a month. Meanwhile, Azariah and his son Jotham, rule Judah for 68 years. Judah isn’t perfect, but there’s a spiritual, God-connected element that’s missing from Israel and during this period of their histories one place we see it is in the stories of their kings. While intrigue and subterfuge make for the best stories, I think most citizens will say that peace, security, and prosperity make for the best lives. Israel might be more often talked about in the region but Judah’s the better place to call home. Thank God for the blessing of living, more often than not, a life that doesn’t make the headlines.
Take Away: We tend to take common, day to day life for granted; but we shouldn’t.