Friday, July 3, 2015
How Not To Act In Exile
Psa. 137:2 On the willows there
we hung up our harps.
Psa. 137:3 For there our captors
asked us for songs,
and our tormentors asked for mirth, saying,
“Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”
The children of Israel were living in exile and as they journeyed their captors asked them to sing their songs of Zion. There was no joy in their hearts and they had no desire to perform for those who had taken them into captivity. In public protest they took their harps and hung them on the willow trees. The harps were not hidden away under bushes but hung up for all to see. The had lost their songs. Their joy was gone. But sadly, as they refused to sing for their captors, so they refused to sing to God.
Just yesterday my friend, Kathy Mowry mentioned this scripture as she spoke about the church in exile. I had written a blog post on this this last fall but now I wanted to go back and think about these verses again. We are living in a time in which people are describing the place of the church as being in exile. If this is true, then there are things which we need to learn from the Israelites, both good and bad.
There are those who would say that the church is under attack and that we need to be on defense. But defense is what the Israelites did, and I would argue that we are to be focused on offense. In the midst of cultural change, it is God who remains the same and who should be the focus of all we do. This is not the time to just give up in frustration. It's not a time to stop praising the Lord or to stop going to church. If we do, we will be reacting just as the Israelites, hanging up our harps in protest and hoping someone notices that we're not using them.
The major problem for the Israelites was that they saw playing their harps as performing for their captors. However, their music should never have become a performance for anyone, but should have always been a way of worship before God. In hanging up their harps they were really demonstrating what was happening in their hearts. They made their captivity and the despair they felt all about them and not about God. They were sad to no longer be in Zion. They were sad to be held by the captives. They were miserable!
As my friend Kathy said yesterday, we have found ourselves in "Oz." Nothing looks like "Kansas" anymore. The church finds herself in exile and hungering to go home.
But the exile for the Israelites had been of their own doing.
Had they always been playing their harps and singing to worship God, they would have remained faithful to him. This exile was really to save them as a people. It became a wake-up call to their infidelity. The best thing they could have done was to keep on praising and worshipping God.
The Israelites were to have been an evangelistic people. By hanging up their harps they gave in to their despair. Had they sung, they may have led some of their captors into worshipping God. Their act of hanging up their harps, while couched in the language of despair, actually was selfish. It reflected their personal frustration and also withheld the beauty of the worship of God from those whom it may have transformed.
If we find ourselves in exile, let's grab our harps and keep on singing praises to our God. Our focus should always be on him and never on ourselves or even the circumstances that surround us. God is to be praised. He is lifted to be lifted up and we can serve as an evangelistic voice in a foreign land, and the exile may again become the cure for God's people.
Lord, please help me to sing out my song for you! Amen.
Thursday, July 2, 2015
Jude 24 Now to him who is able to keep you from falling, and to make you stand without blemish in the presence of his glory with rejoicing, 25 to the only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, power, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.
Living as a faithful follower of Jesus Christ has never just been “easy.” In the first century Christ-followers were viewed as radical people. This closing benediction is a reminder and an encouragement for those who are living hard-pressed in ways which are counter-cultural. It is a triumphant response that reminds us that God is still on the throne and empowers us through the Holy Spirit to stand firm in our faith.
This encouragement is for today, for we all come to those moments when we feel hard-pressed. The sources of the pressure may vary greatly but when we stand with God, he empowers us. This happens as we turn our faces toward him, praising and worshiping God on high. He is the only one who is worthy of “glory, majesty, power, and authority.” He has already been at work, will continue to work in and through us and those to come for all eternity. He is our great God and he encourages us today when we are hard-pressed. Let us worship and praise him.
Lord, thank you for your encouragement. Amen.
Wednesday, July 1, 2015
Titus 3:9 But avoid stupid controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels about the law, for they are unprofitable and worthless.
Reflecting Christ is the priority of life and anything that becomes a distraction to that goal is simply that — a distraction. Becoming engaged in debates without considering the outcome is futile. The Lord doesn’t not ask us to labor in vain, but instead to focus our energies on his kingdom work. Chrysostom referred to these stupid controversies as “sowing upon a rock.” In other words, it will ultimately accomplish nothing so why waste your time. Instead, work in soil which will produce; spend your time and energy in places where it will make a difference.
Evidently not too much has changed since the first century. This may discourage us, or maybe it can be an encouragement to us because the admonition to the Christ-follower remains the same. There will always be controversies, quarrels about the law, and disagreements among people. These things don’t change and so why waste time in arguments when we can be actively engaged in kingdom business that is transformational.
The real work of the kingdom is rarely in what we say, but primarily in what we do.
Lord, please help me be engaged in what you are doing in this world today. Amen.
Tuesday, June 30, 2015
Titus 2:1 But as for you, teach what is consistent with sound doctrine. 2 Tell the older men to be temperate, serious, prudent, and sound in faith, in love, and in endurance.
There must be consistency found in sound doctrine, and that consistency is to be found in a person's actions or behaviors. These are pointed out in the second sentence. Sound doctrine is to be revealed in a life of temperance, seriousness, prudence, “sound in faith, in love, and in endurance.” Words are empty if they are not supported by the actions of the preacher.
We may speak about doctrine, argue about doctrine and preach doctrine, but if we do not live doctrine our words will ring hollow.
Much time can be spent weighing in on issues of the day. We can write and speak about our opinions but there is a danger that this will so occupy our time that we forget that we are to be living out our doctrines. Our lives are living testimonies to that which we truly believe.
What does your life reveal about your doctrine? For me this is a sobering thought. If someone were to follow me all day long — watching what I do with my free time, examining what I eat, listening in on what I say and how I do my work — what would they think? Would my life be congruent with that which I preach?
Before I spend time worrying about what others are doing — before I speak or write a word — I need to examine myself. How am I living today? What does God need to work on in me? How do I remain sound in my faith, loving God and neighbor, and enduring through all the difficulties we face?
Doctrine revealed in action. This is the challenge.
Lord, please help me to live into your doctrine. Amen.
Sunday, June 28, 2015
Amos 2:6 Thus says the LORD:
For three transgressions of Israel,
and for four, I will not revoke the punishment;
because they sell the righteous for silver,
and the needy for a pair of sandals—
Amos had already listed the abominable activities of Israel’s neighbors but now he was pronouncing judgment on Israel. The people of God had become just as vile as the people of the world.
In this verse two activities are listed for which Israel must be punished. The righteous are sold for silver, a foreshadowing of Judas’ plot when he sells the Messiah for thirty pieces of silver. The poor and needy are sold off as cheap bribes — as cheap as a simple pair of sandals.
These are the transgressions of God’s people, willing to lose all that God had promised for silver and sandals.
Jesus told us that the law boiled down to loving God and loving neighbor. This is what the Israelites had violated. Selling the righteous for silver, the implication of the selling of Christ reveals a complete disrespect for God. No one who loved Christ would sell him for a few pieces of silver — would they? Or who would be willing to sell the needy for just a pair of sandals, shoes made up of a flat piece of leather with a few straps. Yet the Israelites were guilty of trading and using the poor and needy for the benefit of something relatively cheap.
What would selling the Messiah for a few pieces of silver look like in our context? Maybe it’s more about what we put in the place of the Lord. Maybe our silver is that sporting event that will take much more time and effort than the priority of worshipping God. Maybe our silver is our latest hobby. Maybe our silver is our children or our grandchildren. Our silver is whatever we would be willing to trade for the Messiah. We are quick to condemn Judas and yet, has the trade-off crept into our own lives?
But it’s more than just our love for God which is put to the test, but our love of neighbor. Reading today’s scripture I was drawn to the idea of the sandals and the needy — and the “things” which we purchase at such a reduced cost on the backs of the global poor. I feel convicted to think that my “cheap” sandals may have been made by taking advantage of others. If you begin to explore where our “stuff” comes from you will be troubled in your heart. We are selling the needy for a pair of sandals.
It’s easy to jump on the bandwagon of finger-pointing toward the Israelites. They had certainly not worshipped nor served God in the ways in which he commanded. May this be a challenge to you and to me to keep our eyes on Jesus. To love him with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, and our neighbor as ourselves. And if we are troubled by what we learn — convicted, then may God help us to change our behaviors and reveal our love for him and neighbor in our actions. The silver and the sandals — they’re not worth our souls.
Lord, lead me to your love and to your action. Amen.
Saturday, June 27, 2015
2Kings 13:20 So Elisha died, and they buried him. Now bands of Moabites used to invade the land in the spring of the year. 21 As a man was being buried, a marauding band was seen and the man was thrown into the grave of Elisha; as soon as the man touched the bones of Elisha, he came to life and stood on his feet.
While Elisha was living the Moabites had not attacked but now, probably a couple of years after his death, they went back to their normal practice. Evidently after his death there was no one with his power in the land and the enemy felt that it was safe to go back to their normal practice.
The usual invasions happened in the spring. This was just a common occurrence, that springtime was the time for war and without the presence of the man of God, the enemies went back to their normal activities and the people of God had to endure the usual invasions.
There will constantly be those who are ready to invade and so the point is not really about the invaders — for there will be the “usual” invasions — but about the spiritual state of the believers. While Elisha was alive there had not been any invasions because his God-received power was well known and experienced. The neighboring enemies feared Elisha and therefore respected God because of his spiritual life. Elisha didn’t spend his time worrying about the usual invaders — he spent his time focused on being a man of God!
The challenge is for us to focus on being the people of God that we have been called to become. If we are being attacked by the usual marauders or invaders, it’s probably because we have not kept our eyes on the goal of becoming like Christ. This is our daily calling — to be like him! We are to be his reflection to the world and the closer that we draw to him, the more powerful the reflection. Elisha had drawn so close to the Lord in life that even in death the power revealed through his remains was a foreshadowing of the resurrection power to be experienced through the life of Christ. His life revealed the power and presence of the coming Messiah.
You and I are called to be reflections of the returning Messiah. His kingdom — already and not yet — on this earth is revealed through you and me. The usual invaders will feel powerless when confronted with Christ. We don’t have to spend time worrying about just the usual invasions when we spend our time drawing closer to and participating in life with our Lord.
Lord, draw me close to you. Amen.
Friday, June 26, 2015
Jonah 4:9 But God said to Jonah, “Is it right for you to be angry about the bush?” And he said, “Yes, angry enough to die.” 10 Then the LORD said, “You are concerned about the bush, for which you did not labor and which you did not grow; it came into being in a night and perished in a night. 11 And should I not be concerned about Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also many animals?”
Jonah had preached to the prophesied to the people of Nineveh regarding their destruction. Unfortunately, as far as Jonah was concerned, they repented and then God in his compassion decided not to destroy them. Jonah had been gaining God’s perspective along the way because he had told the Lord that he feared that he would have compassion on the people. Jonah was not concerned about the people but about himself — his own reputation.
God provided a bush to provide comfort for Jonah, but then it was attacked by a worm and it died. Jonah showed more emotion and compassion for the bush that died than he did for all the people of Nineveh. He threw a little tantrum before the Lord and said that he was “angry enough to die” over the bush!
Get a little perspective Jonah! You plead with God over a bush and yet are willing to see more than 120,000 people die all because you want to feel good about yourself.
Sadly, we may find ourselves responded just like Jonah.
We have to keep our perspective as we move through life. There will be moments when we will be discouraged — as if the bush were taken from us. We can be angry about the bush, and yet we must evaluate where it fits in the grand scheme of things. There is a bigger picture which God sees and understands and we are invited into his perspective.
Our focus in life must be on uniting with his perspective. This happens as we get to know the Lord better and become one with his work and movement in the world. The things that may not seem to make sense to us, will make sense from his perspective. Throwing tantrums when we don’t get what we think we want makes no sense. God’s planning, time and perspective are what make sense and he sees the greater need. We are to be partners together with God in his mission in the world.
As we seek God’s face, we gain his perspective. His ways are higher than our ways and therefore we must trust in him and his leading.
Lord, please help me to gain your perspective. Amen.