Exodus 16: Who are we in all this? You haven’t been complaining to us – you’ve been complaining to God!
It’s been two and a half months since the Red Sea parted and they passed through on dry ground. Two and a half months since they saw their enemies drown in the sea and since they celebrated their liberation. Now they’re out in the wilderness. It’s a difficult adjustment for the Israelites. No more comforts of home as they transition to becoming a nomadic culture. Change comes hard. As they long for the meat and bread they ate in Egypt God graciously responds through Moses and Aaron that he will provide for them. These leaders relay God’s message but they also include a word of warning concerning their complaining. This journey is not in their hands. Abraham has been dead for centuries, but they have yet to learn what he learned: the just shall live by faith. The problem with complaining is that it places us outside the life of faith. The God of the Red Sea is the God of the wilderness. He’s also the God of my everyday life. He expects me to place my faith in him in the days of miraculous victory and in the days of the wilderness as well.
Take Away: Complaining and faith are incompatible.
Not a warm and fuzzy conclusion
2Corinthians 13: I want to get on with it, and not have to spend time on reprimands.
The final portion of this second letter to the church at Corinth isn’t just a warm, friendly closing. Paul writes with apostolic authority to the church there. He lays it on the line, telling them that he’s soon to make his third trip their city and that he’s already warned them that if habitual sinners don’t clean up their act that in the name of Jesus he’ll clean up the church there. He tells those who’ve been demanding proof that he speaks for the Lord that, unless things improve, they’ll get more proof than they want. This is pretty strong stuff and it’s not just a bluff. Some years earlier, for instance, on the island of Paphos a sorcerer named Elymas opposed Paul’s preaching of the gospel. The Apostle turned to him, and without laying a hand on him struck him blind. When Paul tells those who oppose his gospel at Corinth that if they don’t straighten up they’ll get plenty of reason to believe he speaks with the authority of the Lord he’s not just making a lot of noise. However, that isn’t how Paul wants it to be. His job is to bring people to the Lord so he can make them complete, not to strike people blind or worse. Paul’s approach here reminds me that spiritual things are serious and need to be handled carefully. It’s dangerous to be flip and irreverent. It may seem that people get away with stuff like that, but Paul warns them (and us) that it’s possible to go too far for too long and that to do so has real consequences. At the same time I’m reminded that that’s not what Christian leadership is all about. Paul has shown a great deal of patience in this situation. He’s prayed and pleaded and appealed to them as a father dealing with loved children. He’d much rather help broken people find restoration in Christ and, in fact, the only reason he warns them as he does in this case is that his mission of reconciliation is being threatened by some insiders who oppose this ministry.
Take Away: Be carefully reverent about the things of God.
The measure of my religion
Micah 2: Don’t preach such stuff.
The prophet preaches a message of destruction. Judah, he says, will be “wounded with no healing in sight.” Of course, this kind of preaching isn’t welcome. Some preachers proclaim another “gospel.” They say “nothing bad will happen to us” because God is “on the side of good people.” Micah finds this laughable. These very people mistreat the poor, ignoring God’s command to show compassion on them. They might know how to have a rousing worship service but their day to day lives have nothing God-like in them. Passages like this might be from the depths of the Old Testament and addressed to people who lived 2700 years ago but they ought to get our attention. Think of it, God isn’t impressed with our church services. He doesn’t care much about whether I raise my hands and shut my eyes and sing praise to him…well, at least he doesn’t care unless I go out the door and treat people with a love and compassion that reflects his concern for them. I know that it’s possible for me to sell out to a “social religion” and forget that God wants to have a personal relationship with me. However, it’s just as possible for me to think my religion is all about “God and me” while forgetting it’s just as much about “me and thee.”
Take Away: How we relate to one another is just as important to the Lord as how we relate to him.
The perfect man for the job
Jonah 3: In forty days Nineveh will be smashed!
Jonah’s message focuses on judgment. After all, he’s preaching to the enemies of Israel. I imagine old Jonah preached some “hell, fire, and brimstone” sermons that would rival that of American preacher Jonathan Edwards’ famous “Sinners in the hands of an angry God” sermon. Jonah, in fact, preaches this sermon of condemnation and destruction in a spirit of victory and joy. Jonah tells them God’s going to get them and his attitude is that he can hardly wait for that to happen. I think it’s that attitude rather than what he says that creates a “scared straight” result to his ministry. Here’s one of their sworn enemies boldly working his way through their city joyfully proclaiming that God’s about to destroy them all. Jonah does such a good job of preaching his sermon that it has an undesired (for him) result: people listen! I can’t help but find it interesting that Jonah’s the perfect man for this job, not because he shares God’s compassion on this wicked city, but because he doesn’t.
Take Away: The Lord has a way of picking the perfect (if unlikely) people for doing his work.
The lion’s roar
Amos 3: The lion has roared – who isn’t frightened?
Amos is a shepherd and his message is filled with illusions to his livelihood. He talks about birds and cattle and snakes, of shepherds and their unending battle to protect their flock against the predators. Some things, he says, are as plain as the nose on your face and it doesn’t take a genius to recognize them. If one hears a lion growling in pleasure, for instance, you know that it’s killed its prey. This stuff, he explains, is just how it is. Then Amos makes his application. When people rebel against God the Lord will act to remedy the situation. It doesn’t take a degree in theology to know that God won’t put up with sin forever. As a prophet of God, Amos is responsible for speaking God’s message. His sermons aren’t made up fiction or the rants of someone who’s stuck in the past. When you hear a lion roaring nearby the sane reaction is to be frightened. When God’s prophet says God is tired of his people living in rebellion it’s time to straighten up. If the roar of a lion gets our attention, how much more should words of warning from the spokesmen of God.
Take Away: It doesn’t take a degree in theology to understand that when people rebel against God the Lord will act to remedy the situation.
Taking too much for granted
Jeremiah 1: The Message of Jeremiah son of Hilkiah…this is what the Lord said.
Jeremiah lives in a time of international upheaval that rivals anything we see in history. His nation is caught in the middle of it all. They’re small players caught between giants and have only one hope of survival: the supernatural. Only God can save them from the disaster that’s marching relentlessly through history toward them. The problem is that his people take God for granted. After all, God gave their forefathers that land saying it was theirs forever. They’ve concluded that they don’t have to do anything to remain under the protection of God. In fact, they don’t even have to live God’s way. Jeremiah is given the task of telling them that they have it all wrong and that God can never be taken for granted. This message isn’t preached just once, but repeatedly and in various forms. Sadly, we know that his message is rejected and Jerusalem falls in 587 B.C. Since I live in days of unrest and amazing change, and since my nation seems to take a lot for granted, I’m going to read Jeremiah as not only a historical figure, but as a man who just might have something to say to my society too.
Take Away: The Lord must never be taken for granted.
Speaking the truth in humility
Isaiah 65: There are still plenty of good apples left.
Even as Isaiah reports that the Lord’s running out of patience with the stubborn resistance of many, he reminds us that God’s very aware of those who live obedient, faithful lives. The nation of Israel is about to go through a culling. Many will face the wrath of God but others will be preserved by his grace. Frankly, from the devotional side of things I’m not sure what to do with passages like this. Am I to be somewhat frightened and spend a few moments doing a personal spiritual inventory? Am I to take on Isaiah’s role and start warning those “sinners” that the clock on God’s mercy is running out? I guess the answer is somewhere in the middle. I never arrive at the place where I’m above consideration of my own spiritual condition. Just a quick of reading the gospels reminds me that it’s spiritual pride that’s the downfall of the religious people of Jesus’ day. On the other hand, if I’m going to be effective in both warning and inviting the “outsiders” to come to the Lord I must do so in a sense of humility. Otherwise, I’ll drive them away from both myself and their Savior.
Take Away: Always deal with lost people with a strong sense of personal humility.
I’d rather do it myself
Isaiah 30: Your salvation requires you to turn back to me and stop your silly efforts to save yourselves.
The salvation being spoken of in this passage isn’t “getting religion.” Instead, it’s salvation from an enemy that’s threatening to destroy them. Their effort to save themselves includes preparing for war and forming an alliance with a powerful nation that they might defend themselves. Still, there’s a spiritual element here. Their nation’s existence has always been improbable, a seeming fluke of history. Their ancestors were slaves who never had a chance of calling any land their own. Had it not been for God Almighty acting on their behalf they would have, by now, been one of thousands of forgotten people groups, a mere footnote in history. To forget just who they are how they came to be is a recipe for disaster. However, that’s exactly what they’ve done. They’ve removed from their lives the One who gave them existence in the first place. Now, when everything starts coming apart they’re looking for a “reasonable” solution; a solution that excludes God. Through Isaiah the God they’ve ignored tells them that they have only one chance and that chance is in him. What’s true of nations is also true of individuals. I owe my very life to him. The next breath I take is a gift of the God who has loved me and patiently worked in my life. To turn my back on him and fool myself into thinking I can handle life on my own will result in disaster. In Isaiah’s words: my “strength will come from settling down in complete dependence” on the Lord. There’s plenty of hope here, but also there’s plenty of warning.
Take Away: The Lord is our hope – our only hope.