Thursday, November 18, 2010

Day 322: Acts 19, 20 and 21

Jesus I know and Paul I know about, but who are you? (Acts 19:15)

We’ve just come through another election season, in which candidates have courted celebrity endorsements from actors and athletes. The wager is that well-known names dropped on their behalf will offer a bump in the polls.

While Paul was preaching in Ephesus (in present day Turkey), some Jewish exorcists started a little name-dropping of their own. Though they were not believers in Christ, they started including his name in their exorcism litanies, thinking it would improve their success stats. In the name of Jesus, whom Paul preaches, I command you to come out (v. 13).

The seven sons of a Jewish priest invoked the name of Jesus in one exorcism attempt. The spirit in question apparently had first-hand knowledge of Jesus and his power, and had even heard about the Apostle Paul, but he had no intention of releasing his hold on his victim. The man in which he was living attacked the seven men and gave them a sound thrashing before they ran into the street crying like little girls.

The name of Jesus is not a magic formula used to send demons packing or for getting answers to prayer. Jesus is the name above every name, and the name that will one day cause every knee to bow and every tongue to confess that he is Lord to the glory of God the Father (Philippians 2:9-11).

What does the name Jesus mean to you?

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Day 321: Acts 16, 17 and 18

He circumcised him because of all the Jews who lived in that area. (Acts 16:3)

Timothy had a Jew for a mother and a Gentile for a father. Not raised as a Jew, we know his grandmother and mother both shared faith in Christ (2 Timothy 1:5), and their witness no doubt led Timothy to faith as well. Paul ordained him (2 Timothy 1:6) and perhaps had himself received prophecies regarding Timothy’s future ministry (1 Timothy 1:18).

Paul took Timothy with him as his protégé, but thought it best that he first be circumcised. Without circumcision, Timothy’s credibility would be compromised among those Jews to whom they would be ministering because many of them knew Timothy and were aware his father was Greek.

This may be confusing, following so shortly after Paul’s report to the Jerusalem council regarding that very thing. Paul had argued that demanding Gentiles convert to Judaism before being baptized as Christians was wrong. Would not his decision regarding Timothy be incongruent with his arguments in the previous chapter?

Paul once asked, Why should my freedom be judged by another’s conscience? (1 Corinthians 10:29) He qualified his own argument just a few verses later: For I am not seeking my own good, but the good of many, so that they may be saved (v. 33). Paul knew there are more important things than a Christian asserting his own rights, and the gospel is one of them.

What would you do to share Christ with your neighbors?

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Day 320: Acts 13, 14 and 15

We should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God. (Acts 15:19)

Legalism comes from believing that Christ's death on the cross was insufficient to guarantee our salvation. Whatever it might be, there is always something in addition to Christ's shed blood, necessary to pay for our guilt.
In the early church as the church shifted to include the Gentile population, many believing Jews thought Gentiles should be circumcised and obey Jewish law in order to be saved. In other words, they were expected to convert to Judaism first, and only then could they be received as Christians. On one occasion Peter almost bowed to the Judaizers' pressure, but then Paul took him to task and the matter was favorably resolved.
Today we have our own forms of legalism. Legalism may influence our choices of food or beverages; it may dictate that Sunday and only Sunday (or Saturday and only Saturday) is set aside for worship. It may require women to wear long hair and long dresses and men to wear short hair and short dresses... nah! Just seeing if you were paying attention. The point is we put our hope in following a set of rules.
Whatever the recipe of our particular brand of legalism, the security that it brings is false. When we get right down to it, legalism says all that really matters is following the rules better than the next guy.
Your hope is built on nothing less than Jesus plus what?

Day 319: Acts 10, 11 and 12

God does not show favoritism but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right. (Acts 10:34,35)

Here we see the progression from Christianity for Jews only to Gentiles tolerated to Gentiles actively engaged. Before Peter's dream of clean and unclean animals, he would never have considered that non-Jews could be included in the gospel message. Without the dream, he would have rejected those sent by Cornelius, and without Cornelius he would not have understood the dream.
Word of Cornelius's conversion got back to Jerusalem before Peter did, so when he got home he had some 'splainin' to do. After he told the full story, the Jerusalem Christians, who had not appreciated Peter's Gentile connection, were appeased.
Following Stephen's execution but prior to Peter's Caesarea experience, many Christians (Christianity started out largely as a sect of Judaism) had been persecuted by non-Christian Jews and run out of Jerusalem. Naturally, when they arrived in a new city, they would share the message of Christ with their new Jewish friends and as a result many believed in his name.
Only after Peter returned from Caesarea did Christians actively seek ways to deliver the gospel to Gentiles. We read in 11:20 that Christians from Cyprus (in the Mediterranean) and Cyrene (modern day Libya) brought the message of Christ to Antioch (modern day Turkey, just north of the Syrian border) targeting the Gentile population.
Someone brought the gospel to you. To whom will you take it next?

Monday, November 15, 2010

Day 318: Acts 7, 8 and 9

This man is my chosen instrument. (Acts 9:15)

If there was an unlikely candidate to spread the name of Christ throughout the first-century world, it was Paul. Raised a devout Jew, educated in one of the most prestigious rabbinical schools in the world, and recognized as an up-and-comer with the reputation of being a no-nonsense Pharisee, his passion was to destroy the church before it got off the ground.
Yet this was the man God chose to take the message of Christianity to the world.
After earning his degrees (journalism from the University of Missouri and law from Yale), Lee Strobel served as the award-winning legal editor of The Chicago Tribune. His research into the resurrection convinced this avowed atheist to receive Jesus as his forgiver and leader. He is now a NY Times best-selling author of nearly twenty books, espousing the cause of Christ.
From 1985 to 1992, Kirk Cameron starred in ABC's family sitcom Growing Pains. Another atheist, Kirk became a believer in Christ and has since co-founded The Way of the Master (an evangelism training program) and The Firefly Foundation, which among other things provides terminally ill children and their families a free summer camp experience.
Former marine turned lawyer, and the first to be imprisoned for his role in the Nixon administration Watergate break-in, Charles Colson accepted Christ and has devoted his life to his organization Prison Fellowship, which ministers to inmates and their families.
Now, why is it God would never call you into ministry?

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Day 317: Acts 4, 5 and 6

No one else dared join them, even though they were highly regarded by the people. (Acts 5:13)

There is an interesting note regarding the early church in the days following the deaths of Ananias and Sapphira. As you may recall from one of the more disturbing stories in Acts, this couple conspired to defraud the church by selling a piece of property, promising the full purchase price as an offering, but then withholding some of the funds by claiming the property brought less than in reality it did.

As uncomfortable as that story might make us, it had an interesting effect on the group’s standing in the community. The Christians were in the practice of meeting together in Solomon’s Colonnade, part of the temple complex. The 5th chapter contains a pair of almost paradoxical statements. Verse 14 reads: More and more men and women believed in the Lord and were added to their number, while the preceding verse reads: No one else dared to join them, even though they were highly regarded by the people (v. 13).

People who were not willing to walk as Jesus did (1 John 2:6) had enough respect for the Spirit’s power in the church that they would not try and fake their way into the fellowship. In an age where people express their commitment by being baptized one Sunday and then don’t show up for the next six months, we don’t understand that kind of respect.

Do you take seriously the things of God?

Day 316: Acts 1, 2 and 3

Why do you stare at us as if by our own power or godliness we had made this man walk? (Acts 3:12)

For almost four decades beginning in 1961, Saturday afternoon TV viewers enjoyed ABC's Wide World of Sports where audiences were regaled with the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat. We can relate to those feelings, having all experienced both in varying degrees.
One day upon entering the temple for afternoon prayers, Peter and John encountered a crippled man begging for change. Peter told him, I don't have any cash on me, but in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk (v. 6). The man was miraculously healed, whereupon Peter and John's instant celebrity resulted in a clamoring crowd of enthusiastic fans.
Peter quieted the crowd by diverting their praise, and proclaiming that this miracle was God's way of bringing glory to his Son Jesus.
Not that long ago the disciples had experienced the agony of defeat. In the days following Pentecost's thrill of victory, the disciples had many opportunities to make names for themselves, but instead chose to honor the name of Jesus.
How will we respond to victory? Will we take the credit and respond as singer/songwriter Steve Camp once sarcastically wrote? We give God the glory, but we're happy to accept the award. [1] Or will we confess that it's not by our own power or godliness, and cast our crowns before the throne?
Have you taken credit that belongs to Jesus Christ?
[1] I'm sorry I do not have information available regarding the album (ca. 1990), song title or lyrics, but to enjoy what Steve's doing now, read his blog at CampOnThis.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Day 315: John 19, 20 and 21

I am thirsty. (John 19:28)
In his insightful book How to Live Through a Bad Day, Jack Hayford writes that the rigors of the day, the torture and injury, as well as the sun beating down on him would have hastened Christ's dehydration. He was about to utter the most important words ever spoken, but to make sure his throat and mouth could speak clearly, first he needed help. [1]
Hayford reminds us: Jesus' plea for a drink is a reminder that no one is so in control, so spiritual, so self-sufficient, that he can make it through a bad day without people to help him. [2]
For those of us who have been raised to take care of ourselves, there may be nothing more difficult than admitting we need other people. Jesus' lesson to us is that it is not only okay to admit our weakness, but it would be prideful to deny it, and it would rob our brothers and sisters of the blessing they receive from being someone's answer to prayer.
I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me (2 Corinthians 12:9). What does this statement imply for those times we keep our weaknesses a secret?
How do you need help?
[1] Jack Hayford. How to Live Through a Bad Day (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2001).
[2] Ibid., 49.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Day 314: John 16, 17 and 18

My kingdom is not of this world. (John 18:36)

Many in Israel dismissed Jesus because he was not the Messiah they were expecting. The Messiah they anticipated would burst on the scene, repel the Roman occupation and set up his political kingdom on David's throne.
In Matthew 13 Jesus spoke of the kingdom: The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed . . . Though it is the smallest of your seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree (vv. 31,32). Also, The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into a large amount of flour until it worked all through the dough (v. 33).
Many today are still expecting Christ to burst on the scene and set up his kingdom, not realizing that he planted the kingdom 2000 years ago, and it has been growing ever since. It's no wonder that so many have missed it. Consider this paradox: Narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few will find it (Matthew 7:14). And: Before me was a great multitude that no one could count (Revelation 7:9). How does such an inauspicious beginning result in such an incredible outcome?
When we watch the mustard seed and the yeast, it may not be apparent that anything is happening, but God works outside the spotlight to bring about the kingdom's incremental onslaught.
What are you planting for an eternal harvest?

White Flag

Okay... I'm really behind with my blog, and there's something inside me that won't take my own advice. When others get behind in their Bible reading, I counsel them to just start over with today's reading and try to keep up with the daily readings from there. If they get some spare time, they can go back and read the parts they missed, but if they don't it's no big deal. The idea behind my blog 365 Forum and The Bible in 365 reading program is to encourage people to read the Bible every day and to help them read with understanding.

I got behind at the end of the summer, and have struggled to catch up ever since. I surrender. It's not gonna happen.

Today I'm starting with the current reading and jump-starting my blog with Day 314: John 16, 17 and 18. When I have a chance I'll write the blog posts for the days I missed, but probably won't actually post them until next year. Next year I'll be concentrating on introductions to the 66 books of the Bible, so that early in 2012 I can get my book to the printer.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Day 279: Nahum 1, 2 and 3

Everyone who hears the news about you claps his hands at your fall. (Nahum 3:19)
We can date Nahum to sometime after Assyria conquered the Egyptian city of Thebes (663 BC) and before Assyria was itself conquered by Babylon (612 BC). The weakening Assyrian Empire had wreaked havoc for over a hundred years as the most vicious military force ever known.
Not content to conquer, Assyria subdued her enemies by exiling them to the far reaches of the empire so that they could never again rally an army and fight back. Thus in 722 BC, Samaria (the capital of Israel - the northern kingdom) was conquered and its people relocated, never to be heard from again. For the next century, Jerusalem (the capital of Judah - the southern kingdom) lived in fear it would be the next to suffer Assyria's wrath.
Nahum speaks out against the aggressor empire, boldly proclaiming that Assyria would get a taste of its own medicine and that one day soon Nineveh (the empire's capital) would be destroyed. The Lord is good, a refuge in times of trouble. He cares for those who trust in him, but with an overwhelming flood he will make an end of Nineveh (1:7,8).
The prophet concludes by saying that no one will shed a tear for Assyria. No one will mourn for her, and no one will offer her comfort (3:7). Rather, there will be rejoicing at the news of her collapse.
What will people say about you after you're gone?

Monday, October 25, 2010

Day 278: Micah 4, 5, 6 and 7

And he will be their peace. (Micah 5:5)
This verse tells of a promised ruler coming from the town of Bethlehem, and has long been seen by the church as a prophecy of Jesus' birthplace. He will be their peace..., Prince of Peace... (Isaiah 9:6), Peace I leave with you... (John 14:27).
But on one very serious occasion in preparing his disciples for dark days ahead, Jesus had this to say: Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword (Matthew 10:34).
Then he goes back to quote from Micah 7:6 - For I have come to turn "a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daugher-in-law against her mother-in-law - a man's enemies will be the members of his own household" (vv. 35,36).
Could Jesus be telling us we have an inaccurate picture of peace? Are we expecting lambs frolicking among the wildflowers in a sun-drenched pasture? Hugs and kisses, decreasing unemployment, and the Dow above 14,000? Passing around a bottle of Coke and singing in perfect harmony?
Maybe Jesus is saying if we had all that we wouldn't need his peace.
What does peace look like to you? Do you think that's what peace looks like to God?

Day 277: Micah 1, 2 and 3

Woe to those who plan iniquity, to those who plot evil on their beds! At morning's light they carry it out because it is in their power to do it. (Micah 2:1)
30 years before Sir Edmund Hillary conquered Mt. Everest in 1953, another British climber, George Mallory, was asked why he wanted to climb the tallest peak in the world. Because it's there, was his reported answer. Mallory died on his third attempt to reach the summit in 1924.
If Micah had asked the oppressors of the poor in Judah why they behaved as they did, their simple answer would probably have been, Because we can.
No one likes to be the victim of bullying, but if we look hard enough, there's always someone weaker than us. There's always somone upon whom we can vent our anger. Why would we do that? Because we can.
Hopefully that's not our final answer. Micah's famous response to the people of Judah where the strong took advantage of the weak was this: He has shown you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God (6:8). Why? Because we can.
God makes some people strong not so they can abuse the weak, but so they can protect them.
Is there someone who needs your mercy?

Friday, October 22, 2010

Day 276b: Jonah 1, 2, 3 and 4

That is why I was so quick to flee to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity. Now, O Lord, take my life... (Jonah 4:2,3)
Jonah is one of my favorites, more a parable than a prophecy. First he is told by God to preach to Nineveh, capital city of Israel's arch enemy Assyria. Jonah doesn't want to go so he hops a ship heading in the other direction. When a horrendous storm springs up, his natural response should have been: Okay, God; I'll go to Nineveh. But instead? Throw me into the sea. Jonah hated the Assyrians so much, he would rather die than take a chance they could be converted. That's a lot of hate!
You know the story. His shipmates hurled him into sea, and a great fish hurled him back onto dry land. And he reluctantly set course for Nineveh.
Jonah's worst fears are realized when the Ninevites respond to his 8-word sermon with repentance. He launches a tantrum: Let me die! God reminds him that he created the people of Nineveh too, and is of course concerned for their welfare.
It's a message to Israel that God is not just God of the people we like, but the God of everyone. For God so loved the world... (John 3:16).
Is there someone you don't like very much? Don't they deserve to know him too?

Day 276a: Obadiah

You should not look down on your brother in the day of his misfortune. (Obadiah 12)
Obadiah resembles the Oracles Against the Nations found in other prophetic books, but it is focused on only one enemy - the kingdom of Edom. When Judah was being conquered by Nebuchadnezzar and exiled to Babylon, Edom took advantage of its weakness, encroaching upon Judean territory while its harried army was occupied elsewhere, taking cheap shots where it could, and generally making the best of Judah's misfortune. Perhaps Edom's animosity was fueled by memories of Jacob taking advantage of Esau's misfortune many years earlier.
Obadiah warns Edom it is foolish to be prideful over an enemy's destruction, because As you have done, it will be done to you; your deeds will return upon your own head (v. 15).
As quoted by Paul when writing to the Christians in Rome (Romans 12:20): If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat; if he is thirsty, give him water to drink (Proverbs 25:21).
Or as Jesus said: You have heard that it was said, "Love your neighbor and hate your enemy." But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you (Matthew 5:43,44).
How would you want an enemy to treat you if you were down? After all, as we are reminded in the writings of Obadiah, in one sense we're all brothers and sisters.
Is there an antagonist in your story whom you could treat better this week?

Day 275: Amos 7, 8 and 9

"What do you see, Amos?" he asked. "A basket of ripe fruit," I answered. (Amos 8:2)
After Israel's crimes are clearly delineated, God shows Amos a vision of Israel's punishment. First he sees a locust invasion and then fires ravaging the countryside, both of which spell drought and starvation for the kingdom. Twice, Amos intercedes: How can Jacob survive? He is so small! (7:2 and 5) In both cases, God relents.
Then Amos sees a wall built perfectly straight as confirmed by a plumb line. What do you see, Amos? And Amos replies, A plumb line (v. 8). And God explains he is placing a plumb line among the people of Israel, and that no further deviation from true will be tolerated. The first two visions were about God bringing punishment upon Israel. J. Keir Howard asserts that the third vision implies Israel will crumble from within, doomed by its own crookedness. [1]
Then God shows Amos another vision: a basket of ripe fruit. Have you ever noticed apples or pears arriving at the perfect stage of ripeness? We better eat these quick, or they're going to rot. Once fruit is ripe, there's really no way to hold back time - in a day or two they'll have to be thrown out.
God relented from sending the locusts or the fires, but Israel's own internal decay was bringing it down. The wheels were set in motion, with no rescue in sight.
What would God's plumb line show about your life?
[1] J. Keir Howard. "Amos." New International Bible Commentary. rev. ed. Ed.: F. F. Bruce (Grand Rapids, Zondervan, 1999).

Day 274: Amos 4, 5 and 6

Let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream! (Amos 5:24)
Boxer Mohammed Ali is credited with the rope-a-dope: drawing in opponent George Foreman by leaning against the ropes in a protective stance (above), allowing Foreman to hit him repeatedly, effectively tiring himself out. Once the other boxer was worn down, Ali went to work, eventually knocking out Foreman in the eighth round.
After Amos flawlessly executed the maneuver, drawing in his audience for the knockout punch (yesterday), perhaps the people defended themselves by pointing to their extravagant worship. Israel had two centers for worship: Bethel and Gilgal, the homes of its golden calves. Wouldn't that please God twice as much as Judah who had only one... Jerusalem? Didn't her lavish worship cancel out her treatment of the poor and the weak?
God spoke through his prophet: I hate, I despise your religious feasts; I cannot stand your assemblies. Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them. Though you bring choice fellowship offerings, I will have no regard for them. Away with the noise of your songs! I will not listen to the music of your harps (5:20-23).
We learn from Amos that the most beautiful praise is rendered null and void by the absence of justice; that God's favorite worship is the practice of righteousness and compassion; and that love for God is best demonstrated in how we love his children.
How will you worship God this week?

Day 273: Amos 1, 2 and 3

They sell the righteous for silver and the needy for a pair of sandals. (Amos 2:6)
Whereas Hosea prophesied to Israel regarding its spiritual adultery, Amos (a guest from Judah) preaches about Israel's disregard for social justice. He was about as welcome as Billy Graham preaching a crusade in Tehran.
First he starts off with rants against... (the audience gets ready to be offended) ...Aram. Now let me tell you about... (they grit their teeth) ...Philistia. Let me tell you about Tyre (the mood is changing and people are starting to get on board). Let me tell you what I think about Edom and Ammon and Moab. By this time Amens are reverberating through the assembly. This guy can preach! And then the real crowd pleaser: Let me tell you what I really think about Judah! The crowd goes wild! Preach it, my southern brother from another mother!
If he'd left it there, people would be slapping him on the back, buying him drinks, and signing him up for the Israeli lecture circuit at 40K drachmas a speech.
But Amos couldn't let it go. And now let me say a word about Israel. He goes on to regale them with examples of their own oppression of the poor and the weak. He lets them know that the Egyptians and the Philistines could take lessons from them in how to kick people when they're down.
More tomorrow...
Do you treat people like you'd want to be treated?

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Day 272: Joel 1, 2 and 3

Rend your heart and not your garments. (Joel 2:13)
Just after midnight, the day after Christmas 2004, an undersea earthquake hit off the coast of Sumatra in the Indian Ocean. Measuring 9.1 on the Richter Scale, the quake triggered a tsunami wave, which devastated the entire region and killed over 250,000 people.
Joel writes to the people of Judah following another natural disaster. While locust invastions are not unusual in the Middle East, Joel wrote that their grandchildren would be telling their children about this one - the locust storm of the century.
He then springboards from this catastrophe into an almost apocalyptic portrayal of another coming disaster he terms the day of the Lord. In this day an army likened to giant locusts will invade from the north. In other words: If you think that last locust invasion was rough, just wait. Something even worse is on its way.
But then Joel offers a word of hope: Rend your heart and not your garments. Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, and he relents from sending calamity. Who knows? He may turn and have pity... (2:13,14).
Joel says real repentance happens in the heart. The truly repentant don't have to fear the coming day of the Lord, whether that day is a natural disaster, a military invasion, or judgment itself.
Have you offered God the sacrifices of a broken spirit? Or just torn your clothes?

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Day 271: Hosea 11, 12, 13 and 14

My heart is changed within me; all my compassion is aroused. . . . For I am God, and not man. (Hosea 11:8,9)
Some people say God cannot change his mind because that would imply imperfection. Hosea says that sometimes God changes his mind precisely because he is God.
Israel deserved to be punished: My people are determined to turn away from me (v. 7). Whereas Israel, in its obstinance, was determined to turn away from God, God in his compassion was determined to turn toward Israel. How can I give you up, Ephraim? How can I hand you over, Israel? (v. 8)
God invites them: Return, O Israel, to the Lord your God. Your sins have been your downfall! Take words with you and return to the Lord. Say to him: "Forgive all our sins and receive us graciously, that we may offer the fruit of our lips. Assyria cannot save us; we will not mount war-horses. We will never again say 'Our gods' to what our own hands have made, for in you the fatherless find compassion (14:1-3)."
Five hundred years earlier, Moses had written: The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin (Exodus 34:6,7).
When you're in trouble, do you turn to God, or do you turn away from God?

Day 270: Hosea 8, 9 and 10

Now Israel pleads with me, "Help us, for you are our God." But Israel has rejected what is good. (Hosea 8:2)
Hosea warns the people of Israel that, because of their spiritual adultery, Assyria is poised and ready to invade. They cry out to God for his help: Save us! We're your people! But the writer makes it clear their words are incongruent with their actions. About this same time in history, the prophet Isaiah was writing to Israel's sister nation in the south: [The people of Judah] come near to me with their mouth, and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me (Isaiah 29:13).
This passage reminds me of Eddie Haskell from Leave It to Beaver. He was an outwardly polite, smooth talking scoundrel, full of empty compliments: Oh my, Mrs. Cleaver, don't you look lovely today. When the adults weren't around he was a bully always getting Wally and the Beav in trouble. But it didn't take long to see through his shtick. And the best thing was he didn't have a clue that people were on to him.
Likewise Israel wasn't fooling anyone but themselves. Over 700 years later, Jesus would speak these words: Not everyone who says to me, "Lord, Lord," will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven (Matthew 7:21).
When you ask God for help, does he think, "Good and faithful servant," or, "Eddie Haskell"?

Monday, October 18, 2010

Day 269: Hosea 4, 5, 6 and 7

Judah's leaders are like those who move boundary stones. (Hosea 5:10)
While chapters 1-3 tell the story of Hosea and Gomer, chapters 4-14 detail Israel's crimes in the form of lawsuits in which God is the plaintiff. Israel's chief crime? Adultery. Not that wives were cheating on their husbands as in the opening chapters, but that Israel was chasing after foreign gods like an adulteress chases after her lovers.
Sometime after Israel's fall to Assyria in 722 BC, this writing made its way south to Judah where the people saw themselves in Hosea's story and the succeeding lawsuits. Did Hosea write about Judah or were those references added for later readers?
One complaint directed at Judah: Judah's leaders are like those who move boundary stones. Ancient property lines were marked with stones, easy to see but equally easy to move. Do not move an ancient boundary stone set up by your forefathers (Proverbs 22:28). In other words, don't change the rules.
God calls his followers to be faithful. Even in the 21st century we are tempted to follow after other lovers. They may not be named Baal or Molech, but they're just as dangerous and just as wrong. You shall have no other gods before me (Exodus 20:3). This is just as much for us as it was for Israel in the time of Moses... or Hosea.
When they're not convenient, do you try to change the rules?

Day 268: Hosea 1, 2 and 3

Go, show your love to your wife again, though she is loved by another and is an adulteress. (Hosea 3:1)
On the surface, Hosea is the tragic story of a marriage ravaged by infidelity. Hosea's wife Gomer is a prostitute. The tale of the prophet and his wife parallels that of Yahweh and Israel. Yahweh is the husband, Israel is the wife, and Baal is her lover who threatens the marriage. The clear message is that God would be well within his rights to divorce Israel. He has been humiliated enough.
In a tender turn of events, God makes the choice to continue loving his wife. I am going to [romance] her; I will lead her into the desert and speak tenderly to her (2:14). Likewise, even though Deuteronomy alludes to serving an unfaithful wife with a certificate of divorce (24:1), God tells Hosea to once again pursue his bride.
In what must have been a degrading response to his overtures of love, Gomer apparently demanded payment (a measure of barley and fifteen shekels of silver) before going home with her husband (3:2).
Hosea's message is that God loves Israel not because it deserves to be loved, but because that's the way God's love is. It's also a wonderful reminder to us of how faithful is God's love for us.
What if we loved others the way God loves us?

Day 267: Daniel 10, 11 and 12

Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt. (Daniel 12:2)
According to biblical scholar Walter Brueggemann, this is one of only two clear Old Testament references to the resurrection of the dead. The first is Isaiah 26:19 - Your dead will live; their bodies will rise. You who dwell in the dust, wake up and shout for joy. Your dew is like the dew of the morning; the earth will give birth to her dead. He is careful to connect this with Isaiah 25:6-10a.
Daniel, then, is the second. Whereas the Isaiah text focuses on the joy associated with resurrection, Daniel says there are two sides to that coin. Some will be resurrected to everlasting life and some to everlasting contempt.
Brueggemann writes that we are mistaken to limit resurrection to a merely private experience... reward or punishment, or even that of being restored to our loved ones. It's bigger than that. Let Brueggemann speak: If is clear that the affirmation of life-beyond-death that is only at the fringes of the Old Testament is able to speak of resurrection as a function of 'the end' (12:13) that is also the beginning of 'new life.' That is, resurrection is a vehicle for radical, apocalyptic thought that bespeaks fearful endings and amazing beginnings, all of which are wrought by the power of God. [1]
What does the promise of resurrection mean to you?
[1] Walter Brueggemann, An Introduction to the Old Testament. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2003), 358.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Day 266: Daniel 7, 8 and 9

We do not make requests of you because we are righteous, but because of your great mercy. (Daniel 9:18)
In the Christian Bible, the Book of Daniel is placed among the prophets, right between Ezekiel (the last major prophet) and Hosea (the first minor prophet). But in the Hebrew Bible, Daniel takes its place among the Writings, along with Ezra/Nehemiah and Chronicles, the most recent additions to the Jewish canon.
Most critical scholars agree that the events of Daniel are aimed not at those in Babylonian exile, but to Jews experiencing persecution at the hands of Antiochus IV (Epiphanes), a Greek tyrant ruling over Jerusalem in the second century BC. Antiochus had installed his own High Priest, executed many notable Jewish leaders, ordered the worship of Zeus, criminalized possession of the Jewish Scriptures, and slaughtered a pig on the temple altar. Because of Jewish resistance in Jerusalem, Antiochus attacked without mercy. 40,000 Jews were killed in 3 days, with another 40,000 sold into slavery.
Apocalyptic literature (Daniel 7-12, Revelation) is aimed at persecuted peoples, for the purpose of encouraging them to hold on in faith, to let them know that even though troubles may come that God has not forgotten them, and that in the end good triumphs over evil.
We can take comfort that God preserved the Jews during the rage of Antiochus and Christians under Roman domination. Likewise, God wants you to hold on. Things will get better.
What are you enduring? Hold on to God's great mercy.

Day 265: Daniel 4, 5 and 6

May your God, whom you serve continually, rescue you! (Daniel 6:16)
You know the story. The new king Darius divided up his kingdom under three rulers, one of whom was Daniel. Daniel outperformed his counterparts and was slated to receive a promotion, which made his opponents very envious of his success and position. Rather than work harder, they determined to bring Daniel down a notch.
Fast forward to a reluctant king caught by his own words. Darius doesn't want to punish Daniel, his chosen second-in-command, but he also doesn't want to vacillate in front of would-be contenders for the throne looking for any sign of weakness. So Daniel becomes potential Fancy Feast for ferocious felines.
Before the sentence is carried out, Darius whispers a message of regret mixed with a tinge of hope: May your God, whom you serve continually, rescue you! The king knew Daniel's life was consistent. Daniel wasn't one who served God just because God had blessed him. He would not deny God to save his own skin. On the other hand, he wasn't the other kind of man with a milk toast faith who, when things start going bad, would suddenly call out for deliverance to a God whom, when everything was good, he had previously ignored.
Are you more likely to cling to God when life is looking sunny or when it's circling the drain? Or do you - like Daniel - continually and consistently serve the Lord your God?

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Day 264: Daniel 1, 2 and 3

Daniel spoke to him with wisdom and with tact. (Daniel 2:14)
Most biblical scholars affirm that Daniel was written not to the Jews in Babylonian exile, but to their grandchildren living 400 years later being butchered by the Greek tyrant Antiochus Epiphanes. The last six chapters are apocalyptic literature, written to persecuted people during dark times.
During this first encounter between Daniel and Nebuchadnezzar, the King has asked for something totally preposterous. He has demanded that not only must his wise men interpret his dream, but that they interpret it without being told what it is! When no one can comply, the king orders the death of all his advisors, even though some have not yet been tested. When they come to arrest Daniel, instead of panicking, and instead of flying off the handle at the injustice of the situation, the writer says Daniel responded with wisdom and tact.
No matter how unreasonable the request or violent the attack, we don't have to respond with panic or anger - even when our assailant is a monstrous tyrant. In faith, we can choose how to respond, and respond with wisdom and self-control. If a violent response is deemed necessary, let it be a reasoned response, not a knee-jerk reaction. Very few convincing arguments ever came out of a shouting match. Because he kept his head when others were losing theirs, Daniel emerged as the king's most trusted advisor.
When was the last time panicking or losing your temper successfully resolved anything?

Day 263: Ezekiel 46, 47 and 48

I saw water coming out from under the threshold of the temple toward the east. (Ezekiel 47:1)
Ezekiel sees water coming out from under the temple and continuing east to the Dead Sea. At first this river is only ankle deep, but soon it is over Ezekiel's head and more than a mile wide. Water represents life. The presence of God restored to the temple brings life to Judah and eventually to the entire world. The river flows into the Dead Sea and even makes its salt water fresh, bringing life where there was only lifelessness.
Surely this life-giving river was in John's mind when he wrote: Then an angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and from the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations (Revelation 22:1,2).
Just as water brings life to the driest desert, the presence of God brings life to the most desolate heart.
Are you thirsty?

Day 262: Ezekiel 43, 44 and 45

They are to teach my people the difference between the holy and the common and to show them how to distinguish between the unclean and the clean. (Ezekiel 44:23)
Chapter 43 continues narrating Ezekiel's vision and moves on to the prophet witnessing the return of the glory of the Lord to the temple. As we discussed yesterday, if this vision is symbolizing the church as some believe, it's odd that it carefully reiterates the rules and regulations for animal sacrifice.
Chapter 44 specifies that only priests descended from Zadok will be allowed to minister in the new temple. Ralph Alexander explains that Zadok's descendants had remained faithful to their duties in the Lord's temple when all the rest of Israel had gone away from the Lord. [1] Now, in this priestly book dealing with Yahweh's holiness, these faithful priests are called to teach his people the meaning of holy and how to distinguish between the unclean and the clean.
According to Ezekiel, God is coming to their rescue not because of their righteousness, not even for their sakes, but for the sake of his own holiness, that he will be honored among the nations. These people are living the consequences of their parents' sinful behavior, and the Zadokite priests are responsible to make sure they know the difference between right and wrong so, once returned to Judah, they don't have a repeat performance of their parents' doomed behavior.
Does your life show you know the difference between unclean and clean?
[1] Ralph Alexander. "Ezekiel." Zondervan NIV Bible Commentary. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994).

Day 261: Ezekiel 40, 41 and 42

Son of man, look with your eyes and hear with your ears and pay attention to everything I am going to show you. (Ezekiel 40:4)
Fourteen years after Jerusalem's destruction, Ezekiel receives a vision of a rebuilt temple. It is argued this cannot be the temple to be built by the returning exiles because, for one thing, the dimensions don't match. Because of this many have either spiritualized the vision or assigned these plans to an actual physical temple that will be constructed in some millennial age to come.
Yes, yes; very nice. The question that must be addressed, though, is this: What would an exiled people, sitting in a foreign land most need to hear? Would they be more impacted by hearing about some spiritualized temple symbolizing the Christian era, or maybe a temple from a millennial future?... Not that the millennium was big on their minds. Wouldn't a more meaningful revelation focus on a sooner release and repatriation, and a new temple in the foreseeable future?
This is not to say prophecy cannot address issues far in the future, but most of the time a prophetic message connects with the prophet's audience. That's just common sense. To be sure, in this vision Christians have seen the symbolism of Christ purifying his people (the church), but to Ezekiel it encourages his audience that there will again be a temple in Jerusalem, and that they as a people will, in time, be going home.
And what are you waiting for?

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Day 260: Ezekiel 37, 38 and 39

Son of man, can these bones live? (Ezekiel 37:3)
In perhaps the best known portion of Ezekiel, the prophet is shown by the Lord a valley of dry bones. The picture is one of hopelessness and death. The bones are not only dead... they are long dead, bleached by the sun and dried with the passing of time. Son of man, can these bones live?
These dry bones communicate the idea of too late and lost cause. If these people ever did have any hope, even its memory is gone by now. They are long dead, and there is no one left to even mourn for them anymore. Son of man, can these bones live?
Then something happens. There comes a rattling sound as the bones rearticulate themselves into human shape; they are covered with tendons, flesh and skin in a reverse decomposition process, until all they lack is life itself. "Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe into these slain, that they may live." . . . and breath entered them; they came to life and stood up on their feet - a vast army (vv. 9,10).
Ezekiel's audience recognized themselves, an exiled people from a conquered nation, as hopeless as a valley filled with dried bones... except that God who breathes life even into dry bones can breathe life into an exiled nation as well.
Have you given up hope? Do your dry bones need the breath of life?

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Day 259: Ezekiel 34, 35, and 36

You are my flock, the sheep of my pasture. You are my people, and I am your God, says the Sovereign Lord. (NLT, Ezekiel 34:31)
The prophet Ezekiel rebukes the shepherds of Israel. This would include anyone and everyone that God had placed in a position of leadership within the community: kings, priests and false prophets. They have abused their positions and exploited the poor and the weak, while they grew rich and fat.
I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak, but the sleek and the strong I will destroy. I will shepherd the flock with justice (NIV, v. 16).
Those whose responsibility was to care for the sheep have instead cared only for themselves, becoming wealthy at the others' expense. Unlike an earthly shepherd who would breed the strong and butcher the weak, the Good Shepherd will destroy those who have abused others to benefit their own cause.
It is a relief to know that God cares about the weak sheep and the wounded sheep, because sometimes I'm weak and sometimes I'm wounded. Thank God for his promise: I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak.
Do you have wounds the Shepherd can heal?

Monday, October 11, 2010

Day 258: Ezekiel 31, 32 and 33

To them you are nothing more than one who sings love songs with a beautiful voice and plays an instrument well, for they hear your words but do not put them into practice. (Ezekiel 33:32)
Ezekiel was enjoying a season of popularity. He was benefiting from positive word of mouth advertising, maybe even on the way to going viral. His audience was telling others about him: Come and hear the message that has come from the Lord (v. 30).
In spite of his growing celebrity and the exuberance with which he was received, there was no evidence of changed lives among his listeners: [They] sit before you to listen to your words, but they do not put them into practice (v. 31). Ezekiel was a rock star. The people received him with surface enthusiasm, but his message never made the journey from their heads to their hearts.
But God had a somber assignment for the prophet. Give the people the news about Jerusalem's defeat, and let them know Judah will become a wasteland, and make sure they know these are the consequences of their own behavior (vv. 23-29).
God didn't call Ezekiel to be popular. He called him to prophesy. When all this comes true - and it surely will - then they will know that a prophet [and not a rock star] has been among them (v. 33).
Speaking the truth can be difficult. Have you ever pulled a punch to preserve your own popularity?

Friday, October 8, 2010

Day 257: Ezekiel 28, 29 and 30

Your heart became proud on account of your beauty, and you corrupted your wisdom because of your splendor. So I threw you to the earth. (Ezekiel 28:17)
Was the devil ever an angel in heaven? I don't know. What I do know is that the biblical texts used to support this thesis only work when improper interpretive techniques are employed. Ezekiel 28 is one such text. Written against the King of Tyre, it speaks of his beauty, his wealth (through shrewd trade agreements), his tendency toward violence, as well as his pride.
Reading this chapter in the context of popular views of Satan's origins, there are some things that would seem to fit the accuser of souls. This evidence is at best anecdotal. Oracles Against the Nations are found in several prophetic writings including Isaiah and Jeremiah. In Ezekiel, the oracle against Tyre is just one of several. Ammon, Moab, Philistia and even Egypt are targeted. It would be odd to suggest that this oracle against Tyre must be interpreted according to different rules than other oracles, but that's exactly what must occur to find Satan in these verses.
Was the devil ever an angel in heaven? I don't know. What I do know is that this oracle against Tyre illustrates the biblical axiom that prides goes before the fall. This city-state capitalized on Jerusalem's misfortunes to increase its own financial bottom line, but soon found its money couldn't save it.
Is pride an issue in your life?

Day 256: Ezekiel 25, 26 and 27

Because you said, "Aha!" over my sanctuary when it was desecrated and over the land of Israel when it was laid waste and over the people of Judah when they went into exile, therefore I am going to give you to the people of the East as a possession. (Ezekiel 25:3,4)
Chapter 24 ends with the death of Ezekiel's wife, the delight of [his] eyes, which illustrates God's sorrow over the impending death of Jerusalem. Yet Ezekiel is instructed not to mourn outwardly for his wife as a model of how the exiles are to receive the news of Jerusalem's destruction.
Yahweh had allowed, even ordained the fall of Jerusalem to illustrate and preserve his holiness. This in no way diminishes God's love for his people. Between the death of Ezekiel's wife and the messenger bringing the bad news of Jerusalem's fall, the writer has inserted Oracles Against the Nations (chapters 25-32). Even in exile, God is still defending Judah. Neighboring kingdoms Ammon and Moab are singled out because they rejoiced at Judah's misfortune. Edom and Philistia are charged with exacting revenge - kicking Judah when it was down. To utilize another simile, like a protective father, God deals a spanking to these schoolyard bullies.
Even in the midst of Judah's humiliation, God would not desert his bride. God is and always will be our Defender.
Have you ever felt abandoned by God only to discover that he was there all the time, protecting you from harm?

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Day 255: Ezekiel 22, 23 and 24

You became tired of your lovers, but I am going to hand you over to those men you now hate. (Ezekiel 23:28)
The Bible isn't always pretty. In this expanded passage, God likens the capital cities of Samaria (Israel) and Jerusalem (Judah) to sisters who have both engaged in prostitution. Their sin is that they have sold themselves to other nations and those nations' idols, without any regard for their relationship with the Lord God, who rightfully should have been their one and only. God, the wounded husband, announces: You want to chase after your lovers? You can have them. You think this is a Harlequin romance? Just wait until you see the shameful way they treat you! He spotlights the Assyrians (they destroyed Samaria in 722 BC) and the Babylonians (they destroyed Judah in 587/6 BC), painting them as the handsome young men being flirted with by the two shameless sisters.
So, what lesson can we learn from a 6th century BC prophet and two sister/nation prostitutes?
We can choose our actions, but we cannot choose the consequences of those actions. When we grab hold of sin, we should remember that it also grabs hold of us - and it has a strong grip. Just because we're ready to let go of it, doesn't mean it will let go of us.
What sin are you flirting with? Is someone whispering in your ear that a little flirting never hurt anyone? Hmmm, I wonder who that could be... Satan?

Day 254: Ezekiel 19, 20 and 21

Why is it you have despised the rod? (Ezekiel 21:13)
Ezekiel writes of a sword, sharpened and polished, designed to be wielded by the King of Babylon against the nation of Judah. There were those who refused to believe any lasting wrong could come to Jerusalem because of the Davidic promise: Your throne will be established forever (2 Samuel 7:16).
But those who were staking their claims on David's throne being established forever, had forgotten a preceding verse: When he does wrong, I will punish him with the rod of men (v. 14). God had warned David that when Israel got off track, foreign enemies would be the rod of his discipline designed to get its attention, explicitly so it would realize the error of its ways and make things right.
And now, with the nation literally crumbling around them, Ezekiel asks the people, Why didn't you pay attention to God's discipline and submit to his Lordship? Why have you despised the rod?
Has God ever used the rod of correction in your life? Did you learn your lesson?

Day 253: Ezekiel 16, 17 and 18

The righteousness of the righteous man will be credited to him, and the wickedness of the wicked will be charged against him. (Ezekiel 18:20)
It was a commonly held belief that a child was liable for the sins of his father. The fathers eat sour grapes, and the children's teeth are set on edge (18:2). Here, God makes it clear, through his prophet Ezekiel, that a man is responsible for his own choices, but not for the choices of his parents.
He goes through an extensive treatise on a righteous man who makes good choices and his son who makes bad choices and then a grandson who again chooses well. The grandson will not be punished because he had a wicked father, and the wicked son cannot escape judgment by saying, But my father was a respected member of the church! Each individual, each generation has to live with the consequences of its choices.
The prophet goes on to describe a man who turns from his wicked ways to live a good life: None of the offenses he committed will be remembered against him (v. 22). God is not looking for excuses to punish anyone.
The lesson seems to be that our present and not our past determines our destiny. Though we cannot change the past, we certainly do have control over our present. There's always a right choice to make right now.
What's your next right choice?

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Day 252: Ezekiel 13, 14 and 15

When a flimsy wall is built, they cover it with whitewash. (Ezekiel 13:10)
Ezekiel warns his audience to beware of false prophets who declare, This is the word of the Lord when it is not. These men are quick to persuade people: Everything's going to be alright, even when the opposite is true.
They build a flimsy wall of lies and then cover it with whitewash to make it look strong... but it's a facade that won't stand up to real life.
The Apostle Paul writes about speaking the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15). The truth without love isn't the truth; it's just facts. No matter how accurate, without love it's still not the truth.
Ezekiel is writing about men, supposedly speaking on God's behalf, who withhold the truth. He doesn't give us the details of why these false prophets lie. Maybe they are afraid of the kill the messenger syndrome. Perhaps they don't want to throw a wet blanket on the meager hope the people have grasped. It could be that they love the people and just don't want to be the bearer of bad news.
On Day 248 we discussed how Ezekiel wasn't responsible for the reaction to his message; he was only responsible for bringing the message. Sometimes even the truth in love is difficult to hear, but that's the message with which we've been tasked.
Have you ever been told a hard truth that ended up putting you back on the right path?

Monday, October 4, 2010

Day 251: Ezekiel 10, 11 and 12

The days go by and every vision comes to nothing. (Ezekiel 12:22)
Like Isaiah ben Amoz before him, Ezekiel tried to warn the people of Judah about their impending disaster, the penalty for disobedience to the Lord God. But that disaster had not fallen on Judah during the days of Isaiah, and as far as Ezekiel's contemporaries were concerned, it was unlikely to fall in their day either.
We see a parallel with the attitudes of those to whom Jeremiah prophesied. They have lied about the Lord; they said, "He will do nothing! No harm will come to us (Jeremiah 5:12)." They thought God was too uncaring or impotent to intervene.
Others said that in the event Ezekiel's prophecies did come true, nothing would happen for years, maybe generations (12:27). God told Ezekiel to let them know the time was upon them, not years in the future, but very, very soon.
Just because judgment is delayed is no reason to assume judgment has been averted. The payoff - good or bad - for present behaviors may not be realized for years to come, but things have a way of catching up with us.
Think you've pulled a fast one on God? Caught him napping? Probably not. Long term behaviors add up. And so does the reward or the consequence.
What behavior do you need to change before it's too late?

Day 250: Ezekiel 7, 8 and 9

I will not look on them with pity or spare them, but I will bring down on their own heads what they have done. (Ezekiel 9:10)
A few days ago we read these words of Jeremiah: I will discipline you but only with justice (Jeremiah 46:28). In other words, I'm not letting you off the hook, but you can rest assured the punishment will fit the crime.
Here Ezekiel affirms the same message. The consequences of Judah's behavior are finally coming back to haunt them. God doesn't need to devise some totally arbitrary punishment incongruent with their sin. God will allow their own sinfulness - the weight of their own depravity - to come crashing down on their heads. They will reap what they have sown.
While bad things do happen to good people, and sometimes we're blindsided with the harsh realities of life on an unpredictable planet, most of us would probably admit that most of the bad things that happen to us have a seed in our own behaviors. If I don't change the oil in my car, the engine fails. If I don't watch my diet, I gain weight. If I don't do my homework, I get a bad grade. It would be silly to blame God for such consequences... yet we do.
Ezekiel makes it clear that the people of Judah have no one to blame but themselves.
When's the last time you got mad at God for the consequences of your own behavior?

Day 249: Ezekiel 4, 5 and 6

Then in the nations where they have been carried captive, those who escape will remember me. (Ezekiel 6:9)
In reading through Ezekiel, one may be struck by the prophet's odd behavior and language. Such things make it easy to get distracted from the message. Remember that Ezekiel did not witness firsthand the seige of Jerusalem or the city's destruction. He was taken to Babylon along with one of the earlier groups of exiles. Whereas Jeremiah preached to those in Jerusalem enduring the Babylonian attack, Ezekiel ministered to exiles already taken from their home. A unique person with a unique role. Add to this that some biblical scholars have questioned his mental health and we have the makings of a colorful character.
Something that might make Ezekiel's message easier to follow is that the book can be roughly divided into two parts. The first half deals with the destruction and overthrow of Jersusalem (judgment), while the second half deals with the future return of Jerusalem (restoration). In this light, despite the confusing language, the message is congruent with that of Isaiah and Jeremiah. [1]
Already in chapter six, Ezekiel gives a hint of his restoration beyond judgment theme: Those who escape will remember me. Here we have once again an allusion to the promise of Deuteronomy 30:1-10, reiterated so often in subsequent prophetic messages.
I also find it interesting that what historians traditionally refer to as exile Ezekial calls escape.
Can you see through God's discipline to his providential care?
[1] Walter Brueggemann. An Introduction to the Old Testament (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2003).

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Day 248: Ezekiel 1, 2 and 3

They may listen, or they may not, . . . But they will know there has been a prophet among them. (Ezekiel 2:5)
In this passage outlining Ezekiel's call to prophetic ministry, God teaches the prophet-to-be that he is not accountable for the people's response, but he is accountable for the message delivered.
Likewise, the farmer spreads the seed on all kinds of soil, even though most of it will never reach maturity (Luke 8:5-15).
This is not to say that the prophet cannot increase the reception factor, or the farmer the richness of the soil. Two of the biggest factors in how the word is received are prayer and relationship. If the seed (the word) is planted with prayer, and the soil (the heart) is cultivated with relationship, there is a much greater chance of the message accomplishing that for which it is designed - changed lives.
Beside all that, we often forget the work of the Holy Spirit. We apply the word to needy hearts, but the Spirit has already been there, preparing the way. The Spirit continues applying that word in the coming days after we've gone on to something else.
It is my calling to speak prophetically. It is also my duty and privilege to cover the seed with prayer and cultivate the soil with relationship. The Holy Spirit is responsible for the changed lives. One day the proof will be in the harvest.
Are you called to speak prophetically? Or to heed the prophet's message?

Day 247: Lamentations 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5

She did not consider her future. (Lamentations 1:9)
She is Jerusalem. Lamentations is exactly that, a lament written to chronicle the grief over Jerusalem's destruction and her inhabitants exiled to Babylon.
The writer makes it clear that her destruction was directly related to her disobedience and egocentric attitude. Though cautioned time after time about the consequences of such a lifestyle, Judah ignored the warnings and rushed through the darkness denying there was a cliff.
In Eugene Peterson's rendition of Proverbs we read: Don't judge wine by its label, or its bouquet, or its full-bodied flavor. Judge it rather by the hangover it leaves you with, the queasy stomach (The Message, Proverbs 23:31,32).
In other words, we would do good to look further in front of us than our own immediate gratification. A wise person considers the consequences and makes an informed decision.
Have you considered the consequences of your present course of action?

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Day 246: Jeremiah 49, 50, 51 and 52

So Judah went into captivity away from the land. (Jeremiah 52:27)
Jeremiah chapter 52 details the fall and destruction of Jerusalem. What took years to build, the fire and the battering ram took just days to destroy. King Zedekiah had been blinded, his children executed in front of him. The temple priests and gatekeepers were killed. So Judah went into captivity away from the land.
More than 600 years earlier Moses had declared: When you and your children return to the Lord your God and obey him with all your heart and with all your soul . . . then the Lord your God will restore your fortunes and have compassion on you and gather you again from all the nations where he scattered you (Deuteronomy 30:2,3).
Once again we see a glimmer of hope beyond the present fog of despair. The truth is that no matter how lost we might be, no matter how far off track we may have wandered, there is always a way home.
In those days, at that time, declares the Lord, the people of Israel and the people of Judah together will go in tears to seek the Lord their God. They will ask the way to Zion and turn their faces toward it (Jeremiah 50:4,5).
The blessing of exile is that makes us long for home.
Is it time for you to leave your exile and turn your face toward home?

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Day 245: Jeremiah 46, 47 and 48

I will discipline you but only with justice; I will not let you go entirely unpunished. (Jeremiah 46:28)
God was bringing judgment on Egypt. Just as Babylon was a tool in the hands of God to discipline Judah, so would it be wielded to discipline Egypt. But God has assurance for the Jews living in Egypt: Though I completely destroy all the nations among which I scatter you, I will not completely destroy you (v. 28a).
God speaks through Jeremiah: I will discipline you but only with justice. As we said just a couple weeks ago, Rabbi Abraham Heschel teaches that God's anger/punishment is never without a purpose. Its purpose is to change our attitudes and behaviors so that we can live the life God designed us to live. God cannot bless us while we are living in disobedience. His punishment provides a way for him to bless us once again.
I will not let you go entirely unpunished. God has always been clear that there are consequences for bad behavior: He does not leave the guilty unpunished (Exodus 34:7). Yet as Isaiah and Jeremiah make clear, God still loves us even when he has to punish us, and we can be assured there is a future beyond judgment.
How would it affect your attitude toward God's discipline if you really believed it was a tool paving the way for him to bless you once again?

Day 244: Jeremiah 43, 44 and 45

Ever since we stopped burning incense to the Queen of Heaven and pouring out drink offerings to her, we have had nothing. (Jeremiah 44:18)
After Jeremiah was kidnapped and taken to Egypt, he warned the Jews living there about continuing in the disobedience that led to Jerusalem's destruction. The refugees scoffed at him for they saw no connection between behavior and blessing.
The things that are best for us don't usually offer an immediate reward. We exercise for thirty minutes and still aren't buff, so we say, Forget this! We start putting a few bucks a week in savings and at the end of the first week we have... a few bucks. This isn't getting me anywhere. Might as well go out to eat! On the other hand the things that are worst for us don't usually pose an immediate threat. We eat a greasy hamburger without having a heart attack. We spend too much time at the office and our wife and kids still love us.
The fact that the consequences of our choices are cumulative rather than immediate allows us to live in denial. But just because the outcome is delayed doesn't mean it's not coming.
The Jews remembered fondly life in Judah back when they had been worshiping the Queen of Heaven [1]. They totally missed the connection between their previous lifestyle and their present circumstances.
What behaviors would you change if you were thinking long term?
[1] This title probably refers to the Canaanite goddess Ashtoreth.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Day 243: Jeremiah 40, 41 and 42

May the Lord be a true and faithful witness against us if we do not act in accordance with everything the Lord your God sends you to tell us. (Jeremiah 42:5)
It had happened. Nebuchannezzar had broken through the walls of Jerusalem and captured the city. He killed Zedekiah's sons and put out his eyes before marching him off to Babylon. Nebuchadnezzar installed Gedaliah as governor over Judah and the poor people who remained there, but he had been assassinated and his killer had escaped to Ammon.
Fearing reprisal for the death of this Babylonian appointee, a band of people led by Johanan asked Jeremiah for advice. Should they stay? Should they flee to Egypt? With God as our witness we'll do whatever you say. Jeremiah assured them that if they remained in Jerusalem, God would preserve and provide for them.
That wasn't the answer they were looking for. Johanan and his comrades accused Jeremiah of lying to them. God would never say that!
Hey, don't like the prophet's answer? Attack the prophet's character.
Not only did they reject Jeremiah's advice, they forcibly removed him to the city of Taphanhes in Egypt, where they continued to disregard his counsel.
What do you do when you pray and don't get the answer you want?

Day 242: Jeremiah 37, 38 and 39

While your feet were stuck in the mud, they left you. (Jeremiah 38:22)
Zedekiah was the last king of Judah. He was a wishy-washy king who found it difficult to make a decision. In his defense, he was scared of both Babylon's King Nebuchadnezzar and his own advisors. They were telling him to resist the invading army, but Jeremiah was telling him he should surrender. Zedekiah was afraid Jeremiah was right, but he didn't want his advisors thinking he was weak. Too late.
The king's counselors were determined to shut Jeremiah up. Zedekiah spinelessly gave them his permission to throw the prophet into a cistern - empty of water but full of mud. There they left him but, thanks to another flip flop by the king, he was released. Zedekiah once again asked him for advice, but Jeremiah was reticent to speak, considering where his words had already landed him... literally.
Finally, Jeremiah told Zedekiah that if he surrendered he would fare better than if he continued the fight. He said that if the king rejected his counsel, the women of Jerusalem would be taken captive by the Babylonians, and taunt him about being misled and abandoned by his most trusted friends. While your feet were stuck in the mud, they left you.
Jeremiah was dropped in the cistern, but Zedekiah was the one stuck in the mud.
Have you ever been stuck and unable to make a decision?

Day 241: Jeremiah 34, 35 and 36

Whenever Jehudi had read three or four columns of the scroll, the king cut them off with a scribe's knife and threw them into the firepot. (Jeremiah 36:23)
It was a fasting day when many of the faithful would flock to the temple for worship and prayer, yet Jeremiah had been barred from that sacred place. So Jeremiah instructed Baruch, his secretary, to write down his prophecies on a scroll and then read them to the people of Judah who had traveled to Jerusalem for the fast. (This was likely after the first exiles had been transported to Babylon but prior to the taking of the second group. People could still travel and there was probably little if any Babylonian military presence.)
Baruch complied with Jeremiah's instructions, but when palace officials heard him reading from the scroll, they were alarmed, knowing they would have to report these events to the king. Still, being sympathetic to Jeremiah, they sent both Baruch and the prophet into hiding before making their report.
Seated before the fire in his winter quarters, the king demanded the scroll be read in his presence. As three or four columns were read, Jehoiakim took a knife and cut that portion from the scroll and burned it in his firepot. By the time the assistant was finished reading, the entire scroll had been burned to ashes.
How do you respond to Scripture that makes you uncomfortable?