Friday, September 30, 2011

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, September 29, 2011

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 massive 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 invasions are not unusual in the Middle East, Joel wrote that their grandchildren would be telling their grandchildren 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 the 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 sacrifice of a broken spirit? Or just torn your clothes?

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

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 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?

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

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. (NLT, 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, September 26, 2011

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 wherein God is the plaintiff. Israel's chief crime? Adultery. Not that wives were cheating on 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?

Sunday, September 25, 2011

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 God's faithfulness.

What if we loved others the way God loves us?

Saturday, September 24, 2011

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 says 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: It 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.

Friday, September 23, 2011

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 Hebrew canon.

This creative narration of events involving Daniel is aimed at Jews experiencing persecution under the harsh rule 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. Forty thousand Jews were killed in three days, with another forty thousand 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 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 age 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.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

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 has blessed him. He would not deny God to save his own skin. On the contrary, 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?

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Day 264: Daniel 1, 2 and 3

Daniel spoke to him with wisdom and tact. (Daniel 2:14)

Most critical 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 asks for something totally preposterous. He demands 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?

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

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 the 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).

Just as water brings life to the driest desert, the presence of God brings life to the most desolate heart.

Are you thirsty?

Monday, September 19, 2011

Day 262: Ezekiel 43, 44 and 45

They are to teach my people the difference between the holy and the common and show them how to distinguish between the unclean and 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 of 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 sake, 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 illustrate godly righteousness? ...the difference between unclean and clean.

[1] Ralph Alexander. "Ezekiel." Zondervan NIV Bible Commentary. Eds. Kenneth Barker and John Kohlenberger III (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1984).

Sunday, September 18, 2011

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 the 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?

Saturday, September 17, 2011

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 full 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 bone communicate the idea of too late and lost cause. If these people ever did have any hope, even its memory is gone now. They are long dead, and there is no one left even to mourn their passing. 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?

Friday, September 16, 2011

Day 259: Ezekiel 34, 35 and 36

You my sheep, the sheep of my pasture, are people, and I am your God, declares the Sovereign Lord. (Ezekiel 34:31)

The prophet Ezekiel rebukes the shepherds of Israel. This would include anyone and everyone whom God had placed in a position of leadership within the community: kings, priests and prophets. They have abused their authority 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 (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?

Thursday, September 15, 2011

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. The prophet was benefiting from positive word of mouth advertizing, and on his 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?

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

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 that 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 must be interpreted according to different rules than other oracles, but that's exactly what must occur in order 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 pride 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?

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

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?

Monday, September 12, 2011

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 B.C.) and the Babylonians (they destroyed Jerusalem in 587 B.C.), painting them as handsome young men being flirted with by the two shameless sisters.

So, what lesson can we learn from a 6th century B.C. 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?

Sunday, September 11, 2011

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 promised David that when Israel got off track, foreign enemies would be the rod of his discipline designed to get the nation's 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 a rod of correction in your life? Did you learn your lesson?

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Day 253: Ezekiel 16, 17 and 18

The righteousness of the righteous man will be credited to him, and the wickedness of the wicked man 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 (v. 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 his 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 own 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 has 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 is always a right choice to make right now.

What's your next right choice?

The prophet goes on to describe a man who turns from his wicked ways to live a good life: None of the offenses he has committed will be remembered against him

Friday, September 9, 2011

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 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. But covering up the truth, even to spare someone's feelings, can be dangerous.

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 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 to speak God's truth. 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 getting you back on the right track?

Thursday, September 8, 2011

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 tries to warn the people of Judah of 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 are concerned, it's 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 ever come to us" (Jeremiah 5:12). They thought God was too uncaring or impotent to intervene.

Others say that in the event Ezekiel's prophecies do come true, nothing will happen for years, maybe generations (12:27). God tells Ezekiel to let them know the time is almost 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?

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

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 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 earn 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?

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

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 siege 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 or Jerusalem (judgment), while the second half deals with the future return of Israel (restoration). In this light, despite the confusing language, the message is congruent with that of Isaiah and Jeremiah.

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, Ezekiel calls escape.

Can you see through God's discipline to his providential care?

Monday, September 5, 2011

Day 248: Ezekiel 1, 2 and 3

They may listen, or they may not . . . But they will know that a prophet has been 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 responsible for the message delivered.

Likewise the farmer spreads 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.

Besides 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 privilege and duty 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?

Sunday, September 4, 2011

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 Judah's fall 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 current course of action?

Saturday, September 3, 2011

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. It was done... Or was it?

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 times, 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 it makes us long for home.

Is it time for you to leave your exile and turn your face toward home?

Friday, September 2, 2011

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 there: 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 let the guilty go unpunished (Exodus 34:7). Yet as Isaiah and now 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?

Thursday, September 1, 2011

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 Jeremiah 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 dinner! 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 work 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.