The Issue: How a person looks on the outside determines his or her value and worth and how we treat them.
We have our criteria, what makes a person look trustworthy and attractive. We also have our list of features and/or attire that diminishes trust and attractiveness. Let’s just think through a few things that we use to determine the worth of a person:
What would you add to the list, I’m sure there is more to consider but I want to close with a thought from the Old Testament story of the selection of King David. God has this great line in the story, see if you can find it!
1 Samuel 16: 6 When they arrived, Samuel took one look at Eliab and thought, “Surely this is the Lord’s anointed!” 7 But the Lord said to Samuel, “Don’t judge by his appearance or height, for I have rejected him. The Lord doesn’t see things the way you see them. People judge by outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” 8 Then Jesse told his son Abinadab to step forward and walk in front of Samuel. But Samuel said, “This is not the one the Lord has chosen.” 9 Next Jesse summoned Shimea, but Samuel said, “Neither is this the one the Lord has chosen.” 10 In the same way all seven of Jesse’s sons were presented to Samuel. But Samuel said to Jesse, “The Lord has not chosen any of these.” 11 Then Samuel asked, “Are these all the sons you have?” “There is still the youngest,” Jesse replied. “But he’s out in the fields watching the sheep and goats.” “Send for him at once,” Samuel said. “We will not sit down to eat until he arrives.” 12 So Jesse sent for him. He was dark and handsome, with beautiful eyes. And the Lord said, “This is the one; anoint him.” 13 So as David stood there among his brothers, Samuel took the flask of olive oil he had brought and anointed David with the oil. And the Spirit of the Lord came powerfully upon David from that day on. Then Samuel returned to Ramah.
I wonder what might be our approach to folks, if we could look past the outward appearance and see the heart. Maybe broken…Maybe mended…Perhaps pure…Perhaps not so pure. It is interesting to me that God chose and man described as dark, handsome, with beautiful eyes…but it was David’s heart that God really selected. When we learn to look past appearance, it is the heart that allows us to “humanize” each other and truly say, “I select you,” in a conversation, a look, or a relationship. Let’s re-humanize the world!
For our faith ancestors, Psalm 126 was traditionally known as a “Psalm of Ascent,” which meant that it was sung by travelers as they made their way to the Temple. Of particular interest is the understanding that this is not a Psalm of David, but one that was probably written during the return to Jerusalem around the time of Ezra and Nehemiah. However, one caution would be to hinder the usefulness of the Psalm by tying it too tightly to its historical circumstances. While historical context is enlightening, God’s people are always in need of salvation and the Lord’s strength to restore us from our chaos and terrible choices.
126:1 When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion,
we were like those who dream.
2 Then our mouth was filled with laughter,
and our tongue with shouts of joy;
then they said among the nations,
“The Lord has done great things for them.”
3 The Lord has done great things for us;
we are glad.
4 Restore our fortunes, O Lord,
like streams in the Negeb!
5 Those who sow in tears
shall reap with shouts of joy!
6 He who goes out weeping,
bearing the seed for sowing,
shall come home with shouts of joy,
bringing his sheaves with him.
A Note about the Streams of Negeb (or Negev in the NIV) - These streams are well-known for being dry and being dry often. However, these stream beds can suddenly be rushing floods when the seasonal rains arrive. So, we can see the imagery here of a lack of hope suddenly turning into the arrival of life-giving deliverance.
The point of this Psalm is that we as God’s people live by both memory and hope. During this Christmas time, we remember the story of Jesus’ birth and what his coming means for us. We reflect on the cross and the resurrection as we take the Lord’s Supper. We hear the teachings of Jesus proclaimed and lived out as we interpret the Scriptures. We try to become like him as we live in the community of the church. And yet, through the tears, sorrow, and hard times—we hope. We hope that Christ is coming again, and our memory of what Jesus has done compels our belief in what He will do! Like the memory of Jesus burst on the scene unexpectedly and without warning, so we prepare ourselves for the hope of Jesus’ coming that will complete all things. Within these boundaries, we are a glad and joyful people!
In Matthew 5, Jesus speaks from a mountain telling the people who have gathered there, “Blessed are…” Some contemporary translate that to mean, “Joyful are those” in that same text. However, if you read those “Beatitudes” you will find that the attributes mentioned by the Lord Jesus are not the usual list of “a few of my favorite things.” Well, some of the questions that we so often must come to terms with is why is the Lord God praiseworthy? How do we know God? When can we see God? I believe Jesus, in his Sermon on the Mount, is encouraging and reassuring a group of people gathered there while also challenging and condemning a group of people not present on the mountain, but present in the socio-religious landscape of everyone assembled there.
So, Jesus clarifies who gets to see God, participate in God’s work, and understands the real reasons to praise God. God has a long history of taking care of the broken, healing the sick, and being a helper in the time of need. Of course, if we never consider ourselves broken, sick, or in need—then there isn’t much need for God. The horrifying prospect here is not just that, but also that there isn’t produced in our lives the JOY of the Lord.
Let me focus us on Psalm 146:5-10 and notice the first line, “But joyful are those who have the God of Israel as their helper…”
5 But joyful are those who have the God of Israel as their helper,
whose hope is in the Lord their God.
6 He made heaven and earth,
the sea, and everything in them.
He keeps every promise forever.
7 He gives justice to the oppressed
and food to the hungry.
The Lord frees the prisoners.
8 The Lord opens the eyes of the blind.
The Lord lifts up those who are weighed down.
The Lord loves the godly.
9 The Lord protects the foreigners among us.
He cares for the orphans and widows,
but he frustrates the plans of the wicked.
10 The Lord will reign forever.
He will be your God, O Jerusalem, throughout the generations.
Praise the Lord!
Here in Psalm 146, the reasons to praise the Lord are abundant. Praise the Lord for creating sky, earth, and sea, and all that is in them and for keeping promises without ceasing (verse 6). Praise the Lord, too, for giving justice to the oppressed, food to the hungry, freedom to the imprisoned, and sight to the blind, not to mention a few other items, such as protecting strangers and supporting widows and orphans (verses 7-8). There’s a lot of praiseworthiness here. Simply put, the psalm gives credit where credit is due.
Of course, the flip side is also quietly present, “But miserable are those who do not have help from the God of Israel…” Flip the psalm and hear the list of those who might not witness the help of God and I wonder this—What fills our time and energy? Are we busy seeking those things that make us strong and powerful and whole and secure? Are we crying out to God for HELP!
Can we claim that the source of our JOY most certainly is the response to our deepest longings? May the Joy of the Lord be your strength, may God be the deepest longing of our hearts, minds, and souls.
It is hard to believe that a baby being born might actually save the world. I mean, where was Satan when the baby was vulnerable and helpless, when he squirmed in the arms of that pre-teen mom of his? What happened to the evil kings and the lords that saw him as a threat? Surely Hell noticed…I mean, if we have the boldness to still claim there is one. Perhaps because I grew up knowing the story, I forget how bizarre it is…how hard it is to not believe, but to live out on a daily basis.
There are so many other, more tangible things for me to hope for and thank God about…for example the fact that I live in the most powerful nation in the world, the beacon of freedom and liberty. I have a job, a family, a group of friends, a house, a car, and I could keep listing. And therein lies the rub of this story I’m living, in the midst of my comfort I am supposed to long for something greater, purer, and better than what I have.
I am convinced the Bible wasn’t written to me. I know this because it was written to people who lived a long time ago and their names, stories, and dreams are found in the pages I read. And they, unlike me, often longed for a better life free of war, famine, hunger, and pain. Sure those things exist in our contemporary world, but I have to search for them because they are not at my door (well, at least on in this moment).
But, eventually, the things I like so much about this life I live and this story that is me will change…something will happen that is unexpected and perhaps even tragic. That may be where you find yourself right now as I write this. Often, and you can read it to be certain, but often the Bible doesn’t allow us long to wallow in the reality of our vulnerability and weakness before it shows us a vision of God’s Kingdom…the place we hope to call home. This is the case in Isaiah 34, in which war is being described and then without hesitation we get this in chapter 35:
1 Even the wilderness and desert will be glad in those days.
The wasteland will rejoice and blossom with spring crocuses.
2 Yes, there will be an abundance of flowers
and singing and joy!
The deserts will become as green as the mountains of Lebanon,
as lovely as Mount Carmel or the plain of Sharon.
There the Lord will display his glory,
the splendor of our God.
3 With this news, strengthen those who have tired hands,
and encourage those who have weak knees.
4 Say to those with fearful hearts,
“Be strong, and do not fear,
for your God is coming to destroy your enemies.
He is coming to save you.”
I would advise you to read the whole chapter, because it is all good! You see, there is a day coming when “the Lord will display his glory, the splendor of our God.” This will reconstitute our existence and recreate our world. It isn’t a government that was the signal of this change, it wasn’t a family, or a house, or car, or money…the signal of God’s Kingdom was a baby, wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger. Satan was bound by Him, evil was defeated by Him, kings and lords were limited by Him, and Hell only does what Jesus says to do! For those who need it, there is always hope to be found in the Bible, especially in the darkest most dreary times. Live hope today!
Just before this chapter, God declares punishment on the people: “the tallest trees will be cut down and the lofty will be brought low.” The trees, the people -- both will be clean cut off. And then God provides this visionary promise through the prophet:
1 There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse,
and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit.
2 And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him,
the Spirit of wisdom and understanding,
the Spirit of counsel and might,
the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.
3 And his delight shall be in the fear of the Lord.
He shall not judge by what his eyes see,
or decide disputes by what his ears hear,
4 but with righteousness he shall judge the poor,
and decide with equity for the meek of the earth;
and he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth,
and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked.
5 Righteousness shall be the belt of his waist,
and faithfulness the belt of his loins.
6 The wolf shall dwell with the lamb,
and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat,
and the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together;
and a little child shall lead them.
7 The cow and the bear shall graze;
their young shall lie down together;
and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
8 The nursing child shall play over the hole of the cobra,
and the weaned child shall put his hand on the adder's den.
9 They shall not hurt or destroy
in all my holy mountain;
for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord
as the waters cover the sea.
10 In that day the root of Jesse, who shall stand as a signal for the peoples—of him shall the nations inquire, and his resting place shall be glorious.
Who could imagine anything growing as they sat on the stump of utter despair? It was the leftover of God’s punishment. There was no life in this place. I’ve sat there myself, perhaps you have, too. You may be there now -- at that place where hope is hard to find, where loss and despair have desensitized your heart.
But God’s word comes to sit with us. This word will not ask us to spring up and celebrate. The prophet’s vision is surprising, but small. The nation would never rise again as it was. The shoot would not become a mighty cedar. The shoot that was growing would be different from what the people expected.
Faith doesn’t look only at what has been, wishing to return things to the past glory of something that is long past. Faith strains to see the “fragile sign” in the present that points us to the future. A future full of hope is what awaits for those who develop the eyes of faith. Yet, whether our eyes struggle to see what God is doing with the old stump or whether we are fully in tune with God’s work, God’s word sits with us at the place where it finds us. We can sit on the stump counting the rings, remembering the past…God’s word sits with us. So, today—right now—God’s word is with you in mourning and in joy, in pain and in celebration, and the work of God surrounds us as God continues to LOVE you, us, this world—the handiwork of creation.
I want to share thoughts, insights, and scriptures that lead us in the direction of Christ.