Monday, January 26, 2009

Jeremiah 49:12

If even those who do not deserve to drink the cup must drink it, why should you go unpunished?
Who are the innocents who must drink the cup of God's wrath? Have we, who have "become like God," also become self-appointed agents of God's wrath, pouring out the cup on those who, in our self-serving judgment deserve it, even if in God's holy judgment they do not? One could certainly find evidence enough in human history of this kind of behavior, from Abel down to the gulags and concentration camps and the contemporary holocaust of abortion.

Oh Lord, how we have sinned, taking on the "right" to judge which lives are worth living and which are not. Have mercy on us and open our eyes to what we have done and continue to do, that we might fall our our faces in horror and abject repentance for the devastation we have wrought by seizing from You the judgment that is Yours alone. Turn us from our devastating ways, that you might not have to pour on us the cup which we have poured so recklessly on those who did not deserve it.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Mark 7:6

"These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me."
Where is my heart this morning? In today's news, with the latest about the economy, the housing market, sports, Obama... Is it in my job, with thoughts about what I'll be doing when I get back to work tomorrow? Or in the sports or comics section, looking for a distraction? Where is my heart, and how do I bring it back close to the God who is Lord over my life, whether I attend to that fact or not?

Lord, draw my heart back to you. Let my worship not simply be the repetition of familiar phrases, the delight in intellectual knowledge, the subtle strutting of my abilities before friends who like the same lifestyle I do. Help me to desire You first and to do all things with an eye towards knowing and pleasing You better. Make the words of my lips be the fruit of a heart that is truly close to You, that You might be glorified.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Jeremiah 48:47

Yet I will restore the fortunes of Moab in days to come.
This is a remarkable passage, situated, as it is, at the end of a chapter filled with vivid prophecy of disaster. God has reached the end of his patience with the idolatry, brutality and pride of Moab, and they are to be destroyed in a great cataclysm of war. Yet they will be restored. Evil though they have been, God will not annihilate them completely, but will mercifully restore them as a people.

But what of those who actually endure the warfare and destruction, who flee weeping from their burning cities, who fall to the ruthless sword of the invader - what of them? How can they who are dead benefit from a restoration that happens long years later? Indeed God's justice requires a resurrection, otherwise his promises of restoration are useless to those who hear them. Only in the hope of a resurrection can those who die look to the fulfillment of the great promises that God has made to heal and restore. The promises like these of the Old Testament find their fulfillment in the resurrection of Jesus as the first fruits of all who will rise at the end. Because Jesus rose from the dead, God will restore Moab, and all who are devastated by his judgment on sin.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

John 5:31-47

"If I testify about myself, my testimony is not valid. There is another who testifies in my favor, and I know that his testimony is valid."
Jesus recognizes what we have all at one time or another discovered, namely that we can talk all we want in our own defense and it will not be heard or accepted unless it is supported by the witness of another. In most situations, that witness is the heart of the listening person. If the person to whom I speak is inclined to trust me, my testimony will be valid in their eyes. But we can be deceived in either direction; trusting those who do not deserve trust and refusing to trust those who deserve it, so the fact that we accept a testimony does not make it valid. Jesus, however, had testimony in his favor that went deeper than personal trust. This testimony was found in the prophetic word, as exemplified by Moses and John the Baptist, and in his own works. God spoke of Jesus' coming and his work before he appeared on the scene, and Jesus lived and ministered in a way that showed himself to be the man of whom God was speaking. If our hearts do not assent to this testimony, this speaks not to the weakness of the witness, but the hardness of our hearts. We have failed to trust what is supremely worthy of our trust, and that is no fault but our own.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Colossians 1:15-20

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.
There is so much here. Jesus is so great that the language strains to catch a hint of his glory. But what struck me particularly was what this passage also says about us. We too are created in the image of the invisible God. While Jesus is firstborn, we share the family likeness, marred though it may be by sin. We have not created all things, but we are creators. As head of the church, he is not head of an alien population - a foreign potentate ruling over a subjugated people. His church is made up of people who look like him; who are family. We are redeemable by Christ because we are made in his image. He could not have become incarnated as a frog, but only as a human who shared his likeness. And we, when we are redeemed, shall be made like him, for we shall see him as he is (1 John 3:2). Like the one who spins the universe into life and holds all things together... We have no real idea yet what we will be like in glory, but this passage points us in that direction, even as it points to Jesus.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Psalm 119:41-42

Let your steadfast love come to me, O Lord,
your salvation according to your promise;
then shall I have an answer for him who taunts me,
for I trust in your word.
It is interesting that the Psalmist does not say "I trust in your word, therefore I have an answer for him who taunts me." Trust is necessary, but it alone is not enough; he needs to know God's steadfast love and faithfulness. Trust answers the negative side of our faith; when I trust God, I am not afraid that he will do anything wrong or allow me to be hurt. However trust does not motivate me to positive action; it does not drive me to speak out to others or seek to engage my faith in their lives. That happens when I have seen God in action; his saving power has reached out and touched me and I saw it. Then I speak, indeed I find it hard not to speak. "Did you see what God did? I was desperate and he acted, I was hopeless and he rescued me, I was lost and he found me, dying and he raised me to life." While trusting in God gives me the strength to answer him who taunts me, it is when I have seen God's steadfast love and salvation that I am actually motivated to speak.

But Father, I am blind indeed to your saving acts, which are all around me. You constantly deliver me and bless me and fill me and I do not see or pay no attention. Help me to attend to your never failing love, so that I may be filled with the gratitude you deserve and speak out of the fullness of my heart. May you be glorified in my speech today.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Jeremiah 40:1-4

The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord after Nebuzaradan the captain of the guard had let him go from Ramah, when he took him bound in chains along with all the captives of Jerusalem and Judah who were being exiled to Babylon. The captain of the guard took Jeremiah and said to him, “The Lord your God pronounced this disaster against this place. The Lord has brought it about, and has done as he said. Because you sinned against the Lord and did not obey his voice, this thing has come upon you. Now, behold, I release you today from the chains on your hands. If it seems good to you to come with me to Babylon, come, and I will look after you well, but if it seems wrong to you to come with me to Babylon, do not come. See, the whole land is before you; go wherever you think it good and right to go.
There was the group of prisoners, bound in chains, ravaged by the long terrors of war, guarded by their captors, the Babylonian soldiers. Then one of the leaders of the army recognizes Jeremiah - we're not sure how - singles him out and releases him from his chains. Imagine how conspicuous he must have been, how all eyes must have turned to watch as the military leader unchained Jeremiah, talked with him, and set him free to go where he would. How bitter the people must have felt; "there goes the man who sided with the Babylonians, who betrayed our people, who urged others to defect - traitor! quisling!" And how uncomfortable Jeremiah must have felt - how awkward it must have seemed to be getting favorable attention from the captain of the enemy forces, the man responsible for burning Jerusalem and ravaging its people. Yet it was Jeremiah who was in the right and his message of judgment was God's message, one that had to be said however unpopular it was, and the chains the prisoners wore were their own fault for not listening to the message Jeremiah brought.

Sometimes we're also in a position a little like Jeremiah's. We have an uncomfortable message to bring - against abortion, sexual promiscuity, homosexual behavior, theological error, popular fad, or whatever - and it makes enemies for us even in our own community. And "strangers" come alongside to commend what we say, making us look even less like we belong to our community. Indeed, we don't really belong there any more, at least not the way we'd like to, for we belong to God first, and must speak his message even to our own people, and even if they don't want to hear it. In such a position I too often keep silent for fear of offending my community. God help me to speak - lovingly yes, humbly absolutely, recognizing that I too am a sinner of course - but frankly and clearly nevertheless, because if I keep silent, I may find myself watching my community taken away in chains by the sins they did not reject. There's no assurance they will respond well to my words (they didn't to Jeremiah), but if they fall, let it not be because I could have warned them and didn't.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

John 5:16-23

Jesus calls God "my Father...". Not "our Father," or "the Father," but "my Father." No wonder the Jews tried to kill him. And how intimate the relationship he describes! "I do what I see my Father doing." It's like a kid in his father's workshop, watching his daddy's every move and copying it on his own set of smaller tools. And it's not just a little of what the Father does that Jesus copies, but everything, even raising the dead.

Is Jesus talking here about the last days, when all the dead shall be raised when the Father raises them? Or is it about his miracles? Or does the word "dead" describe all of us, people "dead in our trespasses and sins" (Ephesians 2:8), whom the Father raises constantly as He draws people to Himself? Probably all of them are in Jesus' mind as he speaks, for the Pharisees are as astonished that Jesus eats with tax collectors and sinners as that he raises Lazarus.

And this is where judgment comes in, the judgment that God has given to the Son, for when we reject the work of Jesus, we reject God's work, and we reject God Himself.

Father, help me to see and rejoice in the work that Jesus does in the world, for in doing so I bring praise to You. In Jesus' name, amen.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Psalm 119:1

Blessed are those whose way is blameless,
who walk in the law of the Lord!
The law of the Lord is the blameless way, the road on which it is blessed to walk. No potholes of corruption, no detours into rebellion, no dead-ends of ignorance - God's law safely takes us where we need to go. Those of us who have been lost on bad roads as a result of bad maps know what a joy it is to return blameless path, one that is smooth, well-lit and takes us to our desired destination. God's law is such a path for us if it is God whom we truly desire, and if we desire Him, we will know blessing as we walk in His law.