Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Nahum 1:12 (ESV)
[12] Thus says the LORD,
“Though they are at full strength and many,
they will be cut down and pass away.
Though I have afflicted you,
I will afflict you no more.
[13] And now I will break his yoke from off you
and will burst your bonds apart.”
[14] The LORD has given commandment about you:
“No more shall your name be perpetuated;
from the house of your gods I will cut off
the carved image and the metal image.
I will make your grave, for you are vile.”
[15] Behold, upon the mountains, the feet of him
who brings good news,
who publishes peace!
Keep your feasts, O Judah;
fulfill your vows,
for never again shall the worthless pass through you;
he is utterly cut off.

Nahum is written for Judah, but it is written against Ninevah. Ninevah, the Assyrian capital, was given a reprieve 150 years earlier when Jonah preached there and they repented, but it didn’t last. The Assyrians were know for their cruelty. They were an idolatrous, aggressive, and particularly cruel people. Amos 4:2 makes mention of people being led away into captivity by fishhooks. Assyria was known for putting hooks through the jaw of those they captured and forcing them to walk back to Assyria as captives. They were a cruel people.

Why would God send a message through his prophet to Judah telling them that Ninevah will be judged by God? American believers have likely never experienced the kind of cruelty that Israel experienced when they were captured by Assyria, but we have all faced cruelty of one form or another. At some point if often feels like the cruel get away with their cruelty and the righteous continue to suffer. Why would God send this message to Judah? Because he wanted to assure them that God had not forgotten them. He wanted to assure them that Assyria would not get away with it. He would judge Assyria for their cruelty.

We often struggle a bit with the judgments of God. We ask how a God of love can judge like that. The answer is that his judgment is in kind with the wickedness of those he judges. Sin always leaves brokenness in its wake. Sin hurts, maims, and destroys people. God judges people for the brokenness the create in creation, and particularly in the lives of others. His judgement is always just. His judgment is a comfort to believers that the ungodly will not get away with their ungodliness.

Whatever pain you are facing, whatever cruelty, whatever difficulty in life. Now is not forever. God will sort it out. The ungodly will not prosper forever. The Enemy will not reign in perpetuity. There is a judgment day coming. We can trust Him.

Friday, July 27, 2018

Micah 7:1-2, 15-17 (ESV)
[1] Woe is me! For I have become
as when the summer fruit has been gathered,
as when the grapes have been gleaned:
there is no cluster to eat,
no first-ripe fig that my soul desires.
[2] The godly has perished from the earth,
and there is no one upright among mankind;
they all lie in wait for blood,
and each hunts the other with a net.

[15] As in the days when you came out of the land of Egypt,
I will show them marvelous things.
[16] The nations shall see and be ashamed of all their might;
they shall lay their hands on their mouths;
their ears shall be deaf;
[17] they shall lick the dust like a serpent,
like the crawling things of the earth;
they shall come trembling out of their strongholds;
they shall turn in dread to the LORD our God,
and they shall be in fear of you.

When wickedness seemed to have taken over the world and evil appeared to reign, the prophet Micah pointed people back to God’s past faithfulness, and then assured them of God’s future faithfulness. Sometimes all we can see is the pain, the evil, the darkness that surrounds us. Whether it is the wickedness of the world around us, the unfaithfulness of our brothers and sisters in Christ, or the hopelessness of our own life, it is easy to lose hope. In that context Micah reminds the people of God of three truths. First, God will discipline his people. Second, God will restore his people. Third, God will never abandon his people.

God loves us too much to allow us to continue living is easy, self-righteous, comfortable faith. He wants us to understand what it means to live by faith. “My righteous one shall live by faith, and if he shrinks back, my soul has no pleasure in him.” (Heb 10:38). He wants us to keep our eyes fixed on Jesus (see Heb 12:1-2). When we are not walking by faith we tend to fall into apathy, self-sufficiency, and self-focused worship. When we make worship about us we have fallen into idolatry. We begin to redefine God’s Word and God’s standards of holiness to conform to our own desires. Unholiness creeps in and we don’t even recognize it. But God loves us too much to leave us there. “My son, do not despise the Lord’s discipline or be weary of his reproof, for the Lord reproves him whom he loves, as a father the son in whom he delights.“ (Prov 3:11-12).

God not only disciplines those he loves, he also promises restoration. When the world seems dark and hopeless we need to look back to past times of God’s faithfulness, remind ourselves of the faithful nature of God, and trust him. He never leaves us in the dark. His timing might not be our timing. He rarely works in the way we expect him to work. But his discipline is not forever, and there is future hope. Now is not forever. This life is not forever. This world is not forever. God disciplines those he loves. He also restores those he loves. There is light beyond the darkness.

There is not only light beyond the darkness, “Rejoice not over me, O my enemy; when I fall, I shall rise” (Mic 7:8a), but when we walk by faith there is light in the darkness. “When I sit in darkness, the LORD will be a light to me” (Micah 7:8b). When we keep our eyes fixed on Jesus there is light even in the darkest night of the soul. Great joy can be found in the depths of despair. Great faith can be found in the most hopeless of times. Great peace can be experienced in the most anxious situations. As a people of faith and a people of God we are never limited by the experience and conditions around us. Our light is not found in comfort and affluence. It is found in a faithful God who never abandons us in the darkest of times. He is always there.

God loves us too much to not discipline us. God loves us too much to leave us in eternal despair. God loves us too much to abandon us in the darkness. God is faithful. We can trust him in the darkest of days. Look to his past faithfulness, fix your eyes on Jesus, and live in hope. God is faithful.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Micah 6:5-8 (ESV)
[5] O my people, remember what Balak king of Moab devised,
and what Balaam the son of Beor answered him,
and what happened from Shittim to Gilgal,
that you may know the righteous acts of the LORD.”
[6] “With what shall I come before the LORD,
and bow myself before God on high?
Shall I come before him with burnt offerings,
with calves a year old?
[7] Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams,
with ten thousands of rivers of oil?
Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression,
the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?”
[8] He has told you, O man, what is good;
and what does the LORD require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?

The chapter ends with God’s indictment against his people. At the beginning of the chapter he calls creation to witness his faithfulness and their sin. He calls his people to remember his past faithfulness. He then asks the question, “What does God require of his people? His people have broken his covenant with him by bowing before other gods. What will he require to walk rightly with God?

What God requires is not what one would expect from the Law. One would expect sacrifice, but the way in which God asks the question suggests that even the sacrifice of “thousands of rams with ten thousands or rivers of oil” (Mic 6:7) would not satisfy God. One would expect that God would desire sacrifice to set things right, but what God calls his people to is justice, kindness, and humility.

We have a tendency to think of the Bible as God’s rules for life. But God’s revelation was never intended to be a rule book. It is intended to be a revelation of God’s redeeming acts to bring his creation back into right relationship with him. It is a book of relationship, not a book of rules. The rules serve a purpose. They reveal our brokenness. But ultimately God is not looking for religious rule keepers. He is looking for the humility of faith that demonstrates itself in justice and kindness toward others.

Too often we think of our Faith in the context of religion. Even when we say, “God is not interested in religion. He is interested in a personal relationship with us,” we often still live as though he is interested in religion. Following God becomes about that which we are not supposed to do. We don’t… therefore we are okay with God. God does not want a people who are religious rule keepers. He wants a people who walk humbly before him, demonstrating justice and kindness to others. He wants a people who understand grace and show that grace to a broken world. He wants true relationship that transforms a self-focused, religious people into a people of humility, justice and kindness. He wants transformed lives from the inside out, not rule keeping from the outside in. That kind of transformation can only be found in Christ.

Friday, July 20, 2018

Micah 5:2 (ESV)
But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah,
who are too little to be among the clans of Judah,
from you shall come forth for me
one who is to be ruler in Israel,
whose coming forth is from of old,
from ancient days.

In Matthew 2, when the Wise Men were seeking the new king who had been born, the Scribes and Priests quoted the verse above from Micah to indicate where the king was to be born. They knew this prophecy was a reference to the king. What we forget is that this prophecy was made over 700 years before it was fulfilled. 700 years!

God is not in a hurry. He has his own timetable. He does not work according to our timetable, but according to his. When Jesus was informed that Lazarus was sick he stayed two more days before going to his friend (see John 11). When Jesus arrived to find that Lazarus had died Mary responded, “Lord, if you had been here my brother would not have died” (Jn 11:32). She would have had Jesus come earlier. His disciples didn’t want him to go at all. They feared for Jesus’s life. Jesus worked according to his own timetable. He had something bigger in mind than just a healing. He planned a resurrection. Neither Mary and Martha’s fear, nor his disciples’ fear determined his actions.

We get impatient. We pray and we trust, expecting God to work in our way and in our time. Mary and Martha had to wait two days longer than they thought they should. God’s people had to wait over 700 years for the prophecy of the king to be fulfilled. There are different reasons for the delay between the need or the prophecy and the fulfillment, but it is always according to God’s timeline and God’s purpose. We simply need to trust him.

That is why we walk by faith and not by sight (See 2 Cor 5:7). If our prayers were always answered immediately, if our fears were instantly alleviated, if our needs were immediately met we would be walking by sight. We would follow God because like a magic vending machine he doled out our every wish instantly. But walking with God is a matter of faith. It means trusting him in the dark. It means trusting that whatever he is taking us through, we are not alone. It means accepting the truth that God will sustain us even if it means being thrown into a fiery furnace or a lion’s den. We walk by faith and not by sight. We can trust him even when we don’t see that answers we expect in the timeframe we expect. God is not in a hurry. He has his own timetable, and he is faithfully working his purpose. We can trust him.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Micah 4:8-11 (ESV)
[8] And you, O tower of the flock,
hill of the daughter of Zion,
to you shall it come,
the former dominion shall come,
kingship for the daughter of Jerusalem.
[9] Now why do you cry aloud?
Is there no king in you?
Has your counselor perished,
that pain seized you like a woman in labor?
[10] Writhe and groan, O daughter of Zion,
like a woman in labor,
for now you shall go out from the city
and dwell in the open country;
you shall go to Babylon.
There you shall be rescued;
there the LORD will redeem you
from the hand of your enemies.
[11] Now many nations
are assembled against you,
saying, “Let her be defiled,
and let our eyes gaze upon Zion.”

In the first half of this chapter God promised prosperity and peace. Now he is saying that his people will be carried off to Babylon. His point is that Babylon is only temporary. Babylon is a consequence of their covenant breaking lifestyle, but Babylon is not forever. They needed to be reminded that when Jerusalem fell and they were carried off to Babylon that was not the end of the story. There was a future hope and they needed to set their eyes on Zion even when they were living in Babylon.

The same is true for believers today. Babylon is only temporary. There may be crises in your life that are the result of sin. There may be crises in your life that are just the consequence of living in a broken world. Jesus taught that God “makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Mt 5:45). Difficulties in life are sometimes the consequence of sin on our part, but just as often it is the result of living in a sinful, broken world. Crises and difficulties may have nothing to do with us. Just as residents of Jerusalem were carried off to Babylon whether they were the covenant breakers or not, so we live with the consequences of a broken world. Jeremiah was thrown in a well, and then dragged off to Egypt against his wishes even though he was a man of God. Bad things happen to godly people.

Whether the crises in our lives are the direct result of our own sin, or simply the residual effect of living in a fallen world, we need to remember the same truth. Babylon is temporary. The prophet Micah encouraged the people of God, “Let our eyes gaze upon Zion” (Mic 4:11) The author of Hebrews encouraged believers to look “to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith” (Heb 12:2). In the dark times, where do we fix our eyes? We can stay fixed on the problems and difficulties. We can begin to extrapolate to the worst thing that could happen and live in fear. Or, we can fix our eyes on Jesus, knowing that Babylon is only temporary. As believers in Jesus Christ, the best is yet to come.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Micah 3:7-9 (ESV)
[7] the seers shall be disgraced,
and the diviners put to shame;
they shall all cover their lips,
for there is no answer from God.
[8] But as for me, I am filled with power,
with the Spirit of the LORD,
and with justice and might,
to declare to Jacob his transgression
and to Israel his sin.
[9] Hear this, you heads of the house of Jacob
and rulers of the house of Israel,
who detest justice
and make crooked all that is straight,

The prophet Micah challenged the false prophets of his day saying that they would be disgraced because they are not speaking truth. By contrast Micah says that he is “filled with power, with the Spirit of the LORD” (Mic 3:8). Notice what is connected with speaking in the power of the Spirit. Micah’s Spirit directed message is filled with power, justice, and truth. Too often we are willing to settle for one of those, sometimes two. Unfortunately we seldom see all three combined.

The message of God is always connected with power, but not power generated by personal charisma, mood music, and manipulation. The power of God does not need to be “worked up.” The power of God does not need the proper setting. It is said that when Jonathan Edwards preached his sermon Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God people were gripping their seats for fear of sliding into Hell. God moved mightily that night. The interesting thing is that he was not a charismatic speaker and he read his sermon. The other interesting thing is that the sermon never again received that kind of response though he preached it several times after that. In other words, the response was not about the sermon, the preacher, or the presentation. It was about an incredible move of God. When God moves, lives are changed, but it does not need manipulation.

The Spirit’s message was also connected with justice. In the Old Testament justice is always connected to issues of poverty, widows, orphans, and the underprivileged. Too often in American Christianity the assumption is that the poor are poor because they do not want to work. While that is certainly true of some, it is not true of all. The Spirit will never speak with power on the one hand, and use, abuse, or take advantage of the less privileged on the other hand. Too often Prosperity preachers build their own personal wealth off empty promises to the poor and underprivileged. Too often believers will talk negatively about government programs to help the poor, but fail to do anything to help the poor themselves. We are more interested in blame than in helping. I understand that helping is a complicated issue. Handouts without wisdom are not necessarily what is needed. But as believers we do need to prayerfully figure out how to help the needy. The Spirit of the Lord not only moves in power, he also moves his people to compassion and justice.

Finally, the Spirit’s message is connected to truth. He does not manipulate facts to his own ends. He speaks truth. He does not speak to please people. That is what the false prophets did. The Spirit speaks truth, whether people like the truth or not. As believers we tend toward one of two extremes. We either feel justified in being harsh and uncaring because we are “speaking truth,” or we temper the truth because we are people pleasers and don’t want to offend. Somewhere in between there is a place for speaking truth in love. Ephesians 4:15 instructs believers that “speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ.” We forget to combine those two, but the same Spirit who spoke hard truth through Micah spoke these words through Paul. We cannot separate truth from love. Either one without the other is out of balance, and does not come from the Spirit.

Micah’s Spirit directed message was filled with power, justice, and truth. Too often we are willing to settle for one of those, sometimes two. Rarely do we find believers who practice or experience all three together. Where the Spirit of the Lord is truly moving we will see all three, power, justice, and truth, without manipulation. May that be the experience of every believer and each church that claims to follow Jesus.

Monday, July 9, 2018

Micah 2:1-4 (ESV)
[1] Woe to those who devise wickedness
and work evil on their beds!
When the morning dawns, they perform it,
because it is in the power of their hand.
[2] They covet fields and seize them,
and houses, and take them away;
they oppress a man and his house,
a man and his inheritance.
[3] Therefore thus says the LORD:
behold, against this family I am devising disaster,
from which you cannot remove your necks,
and you shall not walk haughtily,
for it will be a time of disaster.
[4] In that day they shall take up a taunt song against you
and moan bitterly,
and say, “We are utterly ruined;
he changes the portion of my people;
how he removes it from me!
To an apostate he allots our fields.”

Micah is warning the People of God that they cannot continue with their selfish, oppressive behavior without facing God’s judgment. They have begun to justify bad behavior, oppressing those less fortunate, and preaching a religion of self-satisfaction and indulgence. Their wealth is assumed to be an indication of God’s pleasure with them. Any word of coming judgment is rejected. “One should not preach such things. Disgrace will not overtake us” (Mic 2:6) they say. Instead they preach abundance and self-indulgence, “wine and strong drink” (Mic 2:11).

Let’s be honest, we read that and wonder how anyone could preach such things. But that is because we read it looking back through history. The truth is that we are often preaching much the same thing. Whether we are talking about a Health and Wealth Gospel, or just a God Wants You to Feel Good Gospel, we are too often more concerned about stroking our ego and and assuaging our guilt than in actually listening to God. We embrace our gods of comfort and ease, while talking about faith.  

Few of us in the wealthy west have learned to walk by faith. Even the poorest of believers in the western hemisphere make most of the world look impoverished. We develop gods of ease, comfort, and self-indulgence and don’t even realize it. I was reminded of this a couple days ago when I had a poor cell phone signal and couldn’t find directions to the closest Walmart. I got frustrated and irritated, and was ready to throw my phone out the window. Really!? I am that dependent on technology that a poor cell signal undermines my sanctification? Wow! How dependent we are on our gods of ease, comfort, and self-indulgence.

The really sad thing is that we too often fail to recognize it, confess it, and let go of those gods. We would rather redefine God as a god of ease and comfort. When things go wrong we blame God. When conflicts occur we are ready to walk away from God’s people. When troubles arise we are ready to walk away from God. Why are we so fickle? Because we have come to serve the gods of ease, comfort, and self-indulgence, not the God of all creation. Father, forgive us. Open our eyes to our lack of faith before it is too late.

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Micah 1:5 (ESV)
[5] All this is for the transgression of Jacob
and for the sins of the house of Israel.
What is the transgression of Jacob?
Is it not Samaria?
And what is the high place of Judah?
Is it not Jerusalem?
[6] Therefore I will make Samaria a heap in the open country,
a place for planting vineyards,
and I will pour down her stones into the valley
and uncover her foundations.
[7] All her carved images shall be beaten to pieces,
all her wages shall be burned with fire,
and all her idols I will lay waste,
for from the fee of a prostitute she gathered them,
and to the fee of a prostitute they shall return.

Judah’s sin was that she had access to God, but chose to bow before idols. As a result of misplaced faith, her wealth would be lost and dissipated. A nation enjoying wealth and safety would be laid waste. On this 2018 Independence Day in the USA I can’t help but wonder if we don’t face a similar fate at some point. We have placed our faith in the god of politics. We have placed our faith in the god of social action. We have placed our faith in the god of science, the god of spirituality (as found anywhere but in Jesus Christ), the god of social and political correctness, the god of sexuality and personal passion, the god of…. You name it, we have made it our source of security, significance, and/or satisfaction.

The good news is that God has warned us if we are willing to listen. God’s warnings are indications of his compassion and love. When a believer talks about sin, Hell, repentance, or obedience it is common these days to call the believer and intolerant hatemonger. But that is far from the truth. Warnings about sin are expressions of love.

Granted, there are some believers who want to make sin the primary focus of their lives. They seek to define every sin and judge every person by their definitions. That is not what God is doing in Micah and it is not what God is calling us as believers to do. That is what Pharisees and Sadducees did. Jesus called them hypocritical, white-washed tombs. In may ways God’s Law had become their god. Their comparisons with others allowed them to feel good about themselves. But, God’s warnings are not there so we can test our righteousness against that of others and feel good about ourselves. God’s warnings are expressions of his love for people.

We forget that. We say we hate sin and love sinners, but in the end we forget to love sinners. Jesus was called a friend of sinners and God is certainly a God who loves sinners. He loved the world to such an extent that he sent his Son to die so that he might offer the free gift of life. God loves sinners. His warnings are expressions of his love.

So how should we respond to scripture passages like Micah? We should recognize God’s warnings as expressions of his love. We should take his warnings to heart, looking at our own lives rather than pointing fingers at others. We should face the reality that even believers have a tendency to adopt others gods. What is it that you depend on for your security, significance, or satisfaction? That is your god. Take Micah’s warning seriously. If this nation of freedom and wealth is one day laid waste, it will not be because “They” failed to heed God’s warnings of love. It will be because “We” failed to heed his warnings. What is your god?

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Proverbs 31:1, 10 (ESV)
[1] The words of King Lemuel. An oracle that his mother taught him:

[10] An excellent wife who can find?
She is far more precious than jewels.

This chapter contains the counsel of a mother and the value of an excellent wife. But there is a theme that runs through the chapter that is different from to those to major themes, but connected.

Proverbs 31:6-9, 19-20 (ESV)
[6] Give strong drink to the one who is perishing,
and wine to those in bitter distress;
[7] let them drink and forget their poverty
and remember their misery no more.
[8] Open your mouth for the mute,
for the rights of all who are destitute.
[9] Open your mouth, judge righteously,
defend the rights of the poor and needy.

[19] She puts her hands to the distaff,
and her hands hold the spindle.
[20] She opens her hand to the poor
and reaches out her hands to the needy.

The theme is selflessness. The mother counsels her son to rule with selflessness and concern for the less privileged. The wife clothes her children, brings honor to her husband, and ministers to the poor. They have learned the value of selflessness. The older I get the more I realize how selfish I am. I want to be served. I don’t want to be bothered. What I am doing is more important that what others need me to do. What I am thinking is more important that what others are thinking. This describes each of us far more that we care to admit. We live as though life is about us. The mother and wife in this chapter understand that is not true.

Why should I help the poor? Because life is not about you. Why should I be concerned about immigrants? Because life is not about you. Why should I be concerned about the unborn? Because life is not about you. Why should I sacrifice for another’s good? Because life is not about you. Why should I serve my wife and children without grumbling? Because life is not about you. Why should I give up my vacation time to do ministry for people I don’t know? Because life is not about you? Why should I …? Because life is not about you.

The counsel of the mother is to be selfless. The model of the excellent wife is selflessness. This chapter might be about the counsel of a wise mother and the virtue of an excellent wife, but it is about far more than that. It is about selflessness. Life is not about me. It is high-time we learn that lesson, stop trying to protect our own safety and security, and learn to serve others, particularly those who are less fortunate than we are. Life is not about me.

Reflections on Psalms 77-78

Psalms 77:7 (ESV) [7] “Will the Lord spurn forever, and never again be favorable?   The first nine verses of this psalm express abso...