Friday, September 30, 2011

Joel, a call to repentance

The prophet Joel lived in a time when Judah was prosperous and influential....sometime in in the 8th century b.c.  The prosperity had caused Judah to believe that they were in control of their own destiny.  they began to wander away from the God of their youth; the God who had blessed them and brought them up out Egypt.  The result of their wandering was that the same sin that was in the camp of the Israelites that kept them in the wilderness those 40 years became pervasive in Jerusalem and all of Judah.  The golden calves became objects of worship, the Asherah appeared again on the hillsides.  The wealthy began to abuse the poor.  The rich bought justice by buying the judges.  The stranger (alien) in their communities was no longer welcome.  Hospitality was reserved for those that they knew and loved.  The tenets that had marked them as the people of God were being forgotten and the covenant that they had with Jehovah was being ignored.  Joel came to call them to repentance and to remind them that one day The Day of the Lord would be upon them and on that day judgment would be served and those found outside of God's will would rue the day of their birth.

The Day of the Lord is often used in the scripture to speak of end times.....the stuff of Ezekiel, Daniel and Revelation.  Joel speaks of a day when God will grow weary of sin, of a day when God will grow tired of the people ignoring those that he has sent to call them back into right relationship.  The Day of the Lord is to be feared by those who have become enamored of sin and who live their lives in the shadow of the power of money and licentiousness, but the Day of the Lord will be a glorious time for those who have but their trust in the Almighty One, El Shaddai, Emmanuel!

In that day, all things will be restored.  The poor will have much.  The sick will be well.  The outcast will become an insider.  The widow, the orphan will be loved with an extravagant love and those who have served God will have his Spirit poured out upon them. They will dream dreams and prophesy.  They will have visions.  It will be blood and fire and smoke for those caught in their sins; it will be honor and glory for those caught in their service to the KING.

We should consider who it is that we serve.  Who is it that we honor with our lives?  The Day of the Lord will come for us one day; will we see it come and fear for our immortal souls or will we rejoice that our Lord and King has come to redeem us and to take us to our home on high prepared for us by God himself.  Will there be words of condemnation or "enter, though good and faithful servant."

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Hosea, a picture of God's love

The story of Hosea is a love story.....a story that is often played out in life today.....a story of unrequited love.  It is the story of a lover who fails to keep her vows.  It is the story of God's love for us and our betrayal of the greatest love of all.  it is the story of God's faithfulness and of our unfaithfulness.

Hosea is a prophet in Israel in the 7th century before Christ.  Hosea is commanded by God to take a wife and he is told that his wife will be unfaithful to him.  She will bear many children; some of them will be his and some will be fathered by other lovers.  This is certainly grounds for divorce and in the days of the keeping of Mosaic law, it would be grounds for the death of Gomer, his wife.  But Hosea is commanded to love his wife even in the face of her infidelity, just as God loves Israel in the face of her apostasy and refusal to honor the vows that she has made to God.

One of the challenges of reading the minor prophets is to read them in the context of their time and then to relate them to our time.  Israel was falling away from the God who had led them out of bondage, who had enabled them to possess the land of 'milk and honey', who had raised up judges and kings for them, who had miraculously preserved them.  Now as they had grown more prestigous and proud; they began to think more of themselves than they ought.  they began to become possessive of wealth and more desirous of additional wealth.  They began to take advantage of one another.  They began to worship in word but not in deed.  They began to make alliances with nations who did not believe in Jehovah.  They began to come apart morally.  They no longer lived their faith.  They constantly broke the pledge that they had made to God to "be his people".

God asked Hosea to be a human example of what it was to love someone who continuously violated the most intimate promises.  God loved these people with an unending love and in return they violated his love.  What should his response be?  Our human response would be to walk away and never look back, but God is unhuman in his love....he is God and he persists in his love.

How have we denied God's love?  How have we broken covenant?  Have we violated our vow to love God with all our heart, soul and might?  Do we worship false idols?  Do we place our trust in things of this world rather than in eternal things?  Do we worship in the flesh and not in the spirit?  Like Gomer, have we chased after other loves?

There is hope for all those who will turn back to God.  His love is immense and ready to forgive the repentant heart.  No achievement, no honor, no earthly love can compare to the all-encompassing love of an eternal God.  His love knows no end.  Perhaps it is time to renew your covenant, to reaffirm God's rightful place in your heart and in your life.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Daniel, a man for the ages

Reading portions of Daniel takes me back to my days in Sunday school at Strasburg Union church.  Those Sunday school ladies made the Bible come alive as they told us the stories of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego refusing to bow to a false god and being cast into a fiery furnace after telling Nebuchadnezzar that their God could save them from the fire, but even if he did not save them, they would never bow to a false god.  God did save them, but who was that 4th person in the fire?  Was it an angel sent from God to protect them or was it Jesus, as some commentators claim.  I don't know but It is marvelous to think that Jesus walks with us in our most difficult times.

Shadrach, Meshach, Abednego and Daniel were some of Judah's finest young men carried off to exile in Babylon after Nebuchadnezzar first subdued Judah.  The were taken into Nebuchadnezzar's court because of their good character, intelligent acumen and their trustworthiness.  They were among the remnant that Jeremiah predicted God would use to rebuild Israel and the destroyed city of David, Jerusalem.

They were devout Jews, living in a foreign land and yet the prospered because of the righteous quality of their lives.  They were trusted by foreign kings and protected by a Sovereign God.  Even when Daniel discovers that he will be thrown into a den of lion's because he prays to someone other than the king,  his first response is to pray to Jehovah-Jireh and God does provide a way for him.

This book is filled with prophecy.  Some of the prophecy relates to the rise and fall of Israel.  Some relates to the coming King, Jesus Christ.  Some authorities point to Daniel's revelation as the first prediction of the actual date of his coming.  Other prophecies are about end times and parallel John's Revelation.

The book is a great and adventurous read and it is a window into future times.  But even if the mysteries of the prophecy are difficult to understand, it is sufficient to know that God honoring people will always find comfort in the knowledge that our God can save, both now and for eternity. 

Monday, September 19, 2011

Ezekiel, last remarks (for now)

Wow, I am glad to be finished with Jeremiah and Ezekiel.  It would have been a lot easier reading if Judah had listened to the prophets and repented.  There is a lot of judgment in those books, but there is hope as well.  I hope that you found it.  God is always extending an olive branch, asking his people to come home and be forgiven.  Chapter 34 of Ezekiel is just such an article of hope, an offer of peace, a prophecy of joy.

There is a word of warning of the shepherds in the early part of the chapter.  Those of us who have responsibility for the church should take warning.  it is a high calling, a holy calling and we should not take advantage of the people of God.  I am reminded of Pastors and revivalists who have grown wealthy by receiving the offerings of the people and failing to use it for God's purposes.  God is no unseeing, there will be a day when the goats and the sheep are separated forever.

But the promise comes in verse 11, "I myself will search for my sheep and look after them."  Remember when Jesus said, "I am the good shepherd."  You heard it first here in the 34th chapter of Ezekiel.  Is this also a promise to the Jews that God will gather all his children from all the places to which they have been scattered?

On that day when God gathers all of the sheep of his pasture, there will be peace....there will be joy....every mouth will be fed, every baby satisfied.  Every mother and father will watch with pleasure as their children play in safety.  Isaiah said it like this, "the lion will lie down with the lamb."  Justice will pour down like rain and the oppressed will be set free from the oppressor. 

God is speaking of the day when Christ will come to reign.  I don't know when that day will be, but we who are believers should work toward that day.  We should pray for that day to come.  On that day every knee will bow and every tongue confess.  We will make war no more and there will be no more need for the sun, moon and stars for the light of God will illuminate the new heaven and the new earth.

Looking forward to Daniel and the miracles of God's presence with his people in exile.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Ezekiel, part 2

Heading to Colorado this week to be a part of Hannah Vaughan's wedding.  We will be back in the pulpit on Sunday and preaching from Ezekiel chapter 22.

Ezekiel, like Jeremiah is not an easy book to read with its visions and prophecies.  Do not let the images of the visions dissuade you from the message that Ezekiel brings to Judah, the exiles and to us.
Jeremiah and Ezekiel and giving parallel messages.  Jeremiah in Judah and Ezekiel in exile.  Both tell of the coming Day of the Lord when the Angel of Death will visit Judah and Jerusalem.

The government of Judah was corrupt.  The priesthood was corrupt.  Those with power were corrupt.  Usury was being practiced.  The poor were being violated.  Sexual immorality was rampant.  Widows and orphans were being abused.  the alien was being treated as an outcast.  The voice of God was being ignored.  The laws of God were being forgotten.  Idolatry was everywhere.  When God could find none who would honor his way then came the word of the Lord to Ezekiel.

One of God's complaints was that the Sabbath had been part of the covenant between Israel and God.  The Sabbath was a sign between them.  When Sabbath breaking became the rule of the land it was a further insult to the integrity of God.  Do you think Sabbath breaking is a problem in America?

One of the questions that Ezekiel asks of the generation now exiled is "will you be what your father's have been?"  this is crucial to what will happen in 70 years.  Jeremiah has prophesied the return of a remnant.  Will they have learned the lessons that the exile was intended to teach or will the continue in the vile and sinful ways of their fathers?

God reveals that humanity (Judah) is the impurity in the creation and like a jeweler who is purifying the metal (silver or gold) to be used in his new creation, fire will come to separate the dross (impurities) for the more valuable metal.  Repentance and obedience to God are required if we are to avoid the fate of Israel.  Are we covenant keepers?  Are we Sabbath keepers?  Do we honor God's law?  Do we love God and our neighbor?

Many of the questions that Ezekiel poses are still questions that must be answered by modern society.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

The call of Ezekiel

Ezekiel is a contemporary, although younger, to Jeremiah.  Jeremiah spent his life prophesying to a nation in rebellion, namely Judah.  Ezekiel spends his life in exile, having been taken from Jerusalem in 597 by the conquering army of Nebuchadnezzar.  Ezekiel is preparing to become a priest when he is taken and is diverted by God on the banks of the Kebar river perhaps in about 592 b.c. since Ezekiel says that it is the 5th year of the exile for King Jehoiachin.

Ezekiel is living as an exile among the exiles when God sends a vision to him, a vision that many have tried to decipher and I will not.  Suffice it to say, for our purposes, God speaks to Ezekiel out of the vision and Ezekiel, like others before and since, who find themselves in the presence of the most Holy, falls to his face in abject fear.  God is holy and we are not and when sin is confronted by God it will always quake at the prospect of that which could occur.  Righteousness will always win.  ( I am speaking about eternity and not about a specific time in human existence.)

God places his word in the mouth of Ezekiel and Ezekiel experiences the sweetness of that word.  When we are working conversely to the word of God it will not be sweet.  Legions have tried to deny the word of God and they are broken by the effort, but every person who has given themselves over to the wisdom of the Word has found peace that passes all understanding.  Such is a sweetness that cannot fully be explained to someone who has not experienced it.

God tells Ezekiel that he will not serve him as a Priest, rather he will serve as a prophet to the exiled nation of Israel.  Jeremiah prophesies to the failing nation and Ezekiel prophesies to the nation in exile.  There messages are similar in that they both speak of God's anger that has been stirred up by a stiff necked people who had been blessed by God but had refused to love him in return.  Both offer words of hope in the midst of their difficult messages.  Both live extraordinarily difficult lives from a human perspective.

Both Jeremiah and Ezekiel might be labeled failures in the modern world in that not many folks responded to their calls for repentance.  It is important to remember that God will measure us by our faithfulness rather than the world's definition of success.  Ezekiel will be very successful in his faithful pursuit of speaking the word that God gives him.  His visions, his miraculous works, him obedient lifestyle continue to speak to those who seek to honor God by their words, deeds and lifestyle.  Let us pray for eyes to see and ears to hear that we might discern God's message for our lives as we read this wonderful Old Testament Book called Ezekiel.

Monday, September 5, 2011


I will preach from Lamentations next Sunday.  It is a short little book of 5 chapters that was probably written by Jeremiah.  It is, just as the title says, a lament.  Imagine Jeremiah, after 40 years of begging Judah to repent and rely on Jehovah-Jireh, sitting outside of the ancient city of Jerusalem and watching it burn to the ground. The book was probably written after Nebuchadnezzar had returned to lay siege to Jerusalem a 2nd time when the vassal king Zedekiah rebelled against the Babylonian rule.  The rebellion was almost as foolish as the years and years of failing to listen to the prophets who called Israel and Judah back to right relationship with God.  Lamentations describes some of the awfulness of that siege.  Famine was everywhere and cannibalism was practiced.  Death was everywhere and, as Jeremiah describes it, the lucky ones were those who died by the sword rather than the lingering death of deprivation.  The remaining artifacts in the temple were either carried off to Babylonia or destroyed.  The walls of the great city were flattened.  The temple and the city were put to the torch.  Most of the remainder of the Judeans were carried off as prisoners of war.  Only the poorest of the poor were left in the city.

Jeremiah sat outside the city and wept at the destruction, wept at the loss of life, wept at the refusal of God's chosen people to repent and be saved by a God who desired for them to be his people.  Jeremiah wept and mourned and yet declares, "It is because of the Lord's mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not.  They are new every morning; great is thy faithfulness."  The Lord is my portion, saith my soul; therefore will I hope in him."

Life can be difficult and much of the difficulty can easily be traced back to man's failure.  We are trapped by the ramifications of our own sin.  Death and all that causes is the result of the fall.  As we watch humanity repeat the sins of avarice, greed, selfishness and the building of personal idols; can we mourn the loss of innocence and still declare the goodness of God as did Jeremiah?  Can we, too, pronounce to a world that is exiled from its creator that God's mercies are always available, that his compassion is available, that his love is awaiting us, new and fresh every morning?  If you can....then great is your faithfulness and great is the hope that you have and great is the reward that awaits those who trust in him.

Friday, September 2, 2011

some thoughts on Jeremiah

I know that I am way behind on my reading.  Maybe I'll get caught up this weekend and join you next week in Lamentations.  Here are just a few things that jumped out at me in my reading today.

Did you notice in Chapter 25 that Jeremiah prophesies that the exile will last 70 years.  I know that you remember how to tell a real prophet?  If his predictions come true.  In Jeremiah's case, he is the real deal.  After 70 years the first wave of exiles began to return to the devastated Jerusalem.  You can find there story in Ezra and Nehemiah. 

Notice in verse 12, "But when the 70 years are fulfilled, I will punish the king of Babylon and his nation, the land of the Babylonians, for their guilt," declares the Lord, "and will make it desolate forever.  I will bring upon that land all the things I have spoken against it, all that are written in this book and prophesied by Jeremiah against all the nations." The proof of this prophesy is told in the book of Daniel when Cyrus the Great enters Babylon and kills Belshazzar the grandson of Nebuchadnezzar.  I think if interesting to think about the continuing history of this area.  Is the prophecy still in effect?  Modern day Iraq occupies the area that was once known as Babylon.  War and rumor of war have been commonplace for centuries in this area.  Is it still cursed by God?

In chapter 26 Jeremiah is threatened with death because his prophecies are of God's displeasure and the impending judgment that is coming to Judah and her kings.  This simply shows that obedience to God will not necessarily mean blessing in this world.  This world is often ruled by the Prince of Darkness and those who follow in God's way will meet resistance.  Paul was beaten and imprisoned.  Jeremiah was imprisoned, throne in a well and threatened.  Foxe's Book of Martyrs is filled with the stories of Christians who suffered for their faith.  The promise is that God walks with us and sustains us and prepares eternal life for us.  We obey because Love will win and we want to be on the side of the Author and Creator of Love.

Chapter 28 tells the story of Hananiah, a false prophet.  Everyone who says Lord, Lord will not enter into the kingdom of heaven.  Those are the words of Jesus.  Everyone who claims to have a word from the Lord is not speaking the truth.  There have been many who claimed to have a word from God, but in fact were building their own empire.  Some are alive and well in the world today and are leading others in a way that will not lead to heaven.  Measure the words of the prophet and the priest (and the preacher) against the truths that you find in scripture.  Does it measure up?  Chose wisely who you will follow; eternity may be hanging in the balance.

Chapter 29 is one of the most quoted books in the Bible at graduation time.  It is a letter to those who have already been carried into exile.  Work hard, honor the king, seek God, do not listen to lies.  All good advice then and now.  Here is the really good part:  do these things and in just the right time, "I will come to you and fulfill my gracious promise bring you back t this place.  For I know the plans I have for you declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.  Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you.  You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.  I will be found by you."

Today I spent a few minutes with our good friend Olline Young.  She is near the end of life here in this place where we have been exiled (from the garden).  She has done all those things (work, honor, seek) and she is about to reap the fruit of the promise.  God is about to bring her home.  What a marvelous God we serve.  We need to seek him diligently while he can be found.  We need to honor him with our lives that he will not remember our sins and will one day bring us home as well.