Politics as Usual

August 29, 2008 at 4:35 pm | Posted in Uncategorized, Wisdom | Leave a comment

With the political conventions in the news this week and next, especially with the Democratic National Convention here in Denver, I’ve pondered the past few days if these words of Hosea 8 had anything to say to us here in the United States:

“They set up kings without my consent;

they choose princes without my approval.

With their silver and gold they make idols for themselves

to their own destruction.  .  .  .

How long will they be incapable of purity?”

 

 

 

Hosea

August 26, 2008 at 2:48 pm | Posted in Devotional thoughts, God's Love, Theology | Leave a comment

At various times in my life, I’ve heard people make reference to the god of the Old Testament as a god of holiness and wrath in comparison with the god of the New Testament, who is a god of love and mercy, as though there were two different gods.  Apparently the people who make that comparison have never read the scores of times the one God is praised for his love and mercy in Psalms, and apparently they’ve never read Hosea.  In this book, God expresses his incredible love for his people by using the wedding metaphor.  In chapter one God tells Hosea to marry an adulterous woman because the people are guilty of spiritual adultery – going after other gods.  As Hosea tries to love his wayward wife, so God loves his wayward people.  “Go show your love to your wife again, though she is loved by another and is an adulteress.  Love her as the LORD loves the Israelites.” (3:1)

And though this book has numerous references to God’s wrath on unfaithfulness, still his heart of love rings through loud and clear.  Hosea’s child was to be named “Not my people,” because, as God says, “You are not my people, and I am not your God.” (1:8-9) That quote is a reference to the ancient Jewish wedding vows, where a groom would say, “You are my wife and I am your husband.”  But God doesn’t end the story there; he goes on to say, “Where it was said to them, ‘You are not my people,’ they will be called ‘children of the living God.’”  And again in the end of chapter two, he says, “I will say to those called “Not my people,’ ‘You are my people;’ and they will say, ‘You are my God.’”

In that second chapter, where God continually refers to the unfaithfulness and adultery of Israel, he also says he will “allure her”  and “will lead her into the desert and speak tenderly to her.” (2:14)  Then to Israel he says, “I will betroth you to me forever; I will betroth you in righteousness and justice, in love and compassion.  I will betroth you in faithfulness, and you will acknowledge the LORD.” (2:19)  

Finally chapter eleven is a great testament of God’s love.  God pours out his heart with expressions like “How can I give you up?” and “My compassion is aroused.” All of this is the language of love.  God has a great love for his people.  It is expressed in the Old Testament as well as in the New.  Of course, in the New Testament, the picture of that love is fulfilled in God sending his Son to a world that has rejected him, yet a world he so dearly loves.

Olympic Swimming and God’s Love

August 19, 2008 at 1:54 pm | Posted in Devotional thoughts, God's Love, Swimming | Leave a comment

Since we are a family of swimmers, watching the swimming events in the Olympics is a great occasion in our home.  We watch very little TV.  Other than renting a video movie occasionally and my watching a Sunday afternoon sporting event, the television in our house is never on.  But when the Olympics come around all that changes.  We love to watch; the TV is on every night we’re home and we record some events when we’re away.  We even rearrange the furniture to see the TV better.  Of course the swimming events are the highlight for us.  What a joy to watch the American Swimmers take so many medals!  The men’s 4 x 100 free relay was the most exciting event of the week for us; Dara Torres is an inspiration to us older swimmers; and Michael Phelps is simply unbelievable.

However, something caught my attention last week; it was the number of times I heard an announcer say “the greatest ever.”  Twice I heard that “Kitajima is the greatest breastroker ever,” and numerous times I heard someone say, “Michael Phelps is the greatest swimmer ever.”  I began to think about that phrase and wondered, “Are they really?”  I believe we have kept swimming records for the past 120 years or so.  If the Bible dates are literal, then people have been here for 6,000-8,000 years, so we’ve been keeping track of swimming speeds for at most 2% of our history.  Yet we say that these men are the “greatest ever.”  Without taking anything away from what they have accomplished (I stand amazed at it), it seems to me that calling them the greatest ever is both arrogant and short sided.  Maybe in that other 98% of our history there was a cave man who, while escaping from alligators, moved faster in the water than Michael Phelps could even dream.

After pondering this matter one evening, I was struck by the word of Psalm 103 the next morning:  God “knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are but dust.  As for mortals, their days are like grass, they flourish like a flower of the field; the wind blows over it and it is gone, and its place remembers it no more.” (v.14-15) We make such a big deal about someone being the “greatest ever” or the “fastest ever,” but they too will pass on and be forgotten.  These words are sandwiched between expressions of God’s great love.  The very next verse of the poem says “But from everlasting to ever lasting the LORD’s love is with those who fear him.”

Let’s enjoy and celebrate the feats of greatness we see in the Olympics, but let’s remember that in light of eternity they mean nothing.  In comparison, God’s love endures forever. They do it for a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever.” That’s a true gold-medal thought.

 

 

Woe to the Shepherds

August 13, 2008 at 3:27 pm | Posted in Devotional thoughts, It's All About God | Leave a comment

Ezekiel 34.  This chapter has always been a convicting passage for me to read.  As a pastor, I believe I have been given a sacred duty from God, and I want to be faithful to that.  Unfortunately, I see many of my own faults listed here in the condemnation of the shepherds of Israel.  I believe “shepherds” here is used metaphorically of the spiritual leaders.  My title is “Preaching Pastor,” and I think I do my primary duty well.  It is easy for me to do the one thing I get the best feedback from, but there are all these other pastoral duties that I sometimes struggle with: healing the sick, strengthening the weak, bringing back the strays and seeking the lost. (v.4)  The reason given here for the condemnation is exactly my struggle as well: “Woe to you shepherds who only take care of yourselves!” (v.2) and “my shepherds cared for themselves rather than for my flock.” (v.8)  I certainly stand guilty of that one.  So much of my world is about me.

            However, today I saw this chapter in a new light, consistent with the incredible grace of God.  The promise of this chapter is that, in spite of my failings, God is the one who shepherds his people!  Notice the last half of the chapter (beginning in verse 11):  “This is what the Sovereign LORD says, ‘I myself will search for my sheep and look after them.’”  “I will rescue them . . .  I will pasture them . . .  I myself will tend my sheep . . .  I will shepherd the flock.”  No less than 20 times the Sovereign LORD says, “I will do it!”  That is something I can rely on, because in my sinful, selfish ways, I cannot do it right.  I thank God for his amazing grace; it’s all about him!

My Distress and God’s Sovereignty

August 11, 2008 at 11:15 am | Posted in Devotional thoughts, It's All About God | Leave a comment

Psalm 102.  The unknown author of this poem has a God-centered focus.  The poem is described as “The prayer of an afflicted man who has grown weak.”  He describes his situation this way:  “I am in distress;” “I am blighted and withered like grass;” “I groan aloud and am reduced to skin and bones;” “my enemies taunt me;” and “I eat ashes as my food.”  And even though the subject of the first eleven verses is “I” and “me,” there is a sudden change in verse 12: “But you LORD, sit enthroned forever.”  The rest of the poem is all about God: “You will arise and have compassion;” “the kings of the earth will revere your glory;” “the name of the LORD will be declared in Zion.”  Never does this author say, or even imply, that God brought him out of the distress he feels, in fact he testifies that God himself brought that distress to him.  Speaking of God he says, “In the course of my life he broke my strength; he cut short my days.” (v.23)  His only hope is that God’s children will live in his presence (v.28)

It is wonderful when God allows life to be easy by taking away our distress or protecting us from it, and we must praise him when he does.  There are Psalms that take that line with thoughts like “He brought me out of the miry pit.”  But that is not always the case, nor is it what God promises.  But either way, we can be sure that God is in control and that his people have a hope beyond the temporal troubles of this world.  They will live in his presence.  May I have that kind of God-centered attitude when I feel blighted and withered like grass.

This is a poem that makes me think of Bert and her pain.  To see her story click here.

The Incredible Faithfulness of God — part 2

August 6, 2008 at 2:30 pm | Posted in Devotional thoughts, Theology | Leave a comment

In light of the thought I wrote yesterday, I read Ezekiel 20 this morning.  In this chapter, God tells of his promise to bring the people out of Egypt and into the land flowing with milk and honey.  Though they continually turned their backs on him by their detestable practices, idolatry and disobedience, he fulfilled his promise for the sake of his name.  Three times the Sovereign LORD says, “for the sake of my name I did what would keep it from being profaned in the eyes of the nations.” (9, 14, 22)  God would not go back on his promise, in spite of the failure of his people to do their part.  He was faithful anyway, because he is a faithful God.  No wonder the passage ends with these words, “You will know that I am the LORD, when I deal with you for my name’s sake and not according to your evil ways and corrupt practices, house of Israel, declares the Sovereign LORD.” (v.44)  I wonder if Paul had these words in mind when he wrote, “If we disown him, he will also disown us; if we are faithless, he will remain faithful, for he cannot disown himself.” (2 Timothy 2:13)  When I consider my own idoltry and rebellion, I’m sure glad that God is faithful.  Great is his faithfulness!

The Incredible Faithfulness of God

August 5, 2008 at 4:42 pm | Posted in Devotional thoughts, Theology | Leave a comment

          I have been pondering how to conclude “Faith of the Fathers,” my series from Genesis looking at the lives of the patriarchs, and have decided on the incredible faithfulness of God as a theme.  So here is a sneak peek for those who attend.  Abraham was old when the promise of a child came, and he still had to wait 25 years to see it fulfilled.  He was to be the father of a great nation, yet in his 175 years of life, he only saw two grandchildren live into their early teens.  Isaac grew up knowing the promise to his father, yet he was 40 before he got married and 60 before he had children.  Jacob seemed hell-bent on doing life his own way, and yet God found him and brought him into His plan.  He grieved the loss of his son Joseph for over 20 years, yet God was working out his purpose in that as well.  Joseph waited over 20 years to see the fulfilment of his dream from God, 13 of that as a slave and a prisoner.  In every story, God promised and they waited, yet God proved to be faithful.  It is no wonder that the last chapters of Genesis show a great confidence by the aged Jacob and Joseph that God would fulfill his promise to take his people back to their promised land.  Our God is always faithful.  In fact, one of the defining characteristics of God is his eternal faithfulness.

Ezekiel and the Glory of God

August 1, 2008 at 8:34 pm | Posted in Devotional thoughts | 2 Comments

          Ezekiel 1-2.  Ezekiel’s strange description in these chapters was “the heavens opened” and he saw “visions of God.”  Through the rest of his book he refers back to what he saw and calls it “the glory of the LORD.”  I have often tried to imagine the physical appearance of the thing he describes, and I come up with all kinds of weird pictures in my mind.  Today, I just noticed the adjectives and the metaphors he used to describe it, and that gave me a better description than trying to imagine its appearance.  Twice Ezekiel tells us it was “awesome.”  (That is a great word for today’s culture.)  The metaphors are all light/fire related; he describes the glory of God as “flashes of lightning,” “brilliant light,” and “glowing metal.”  It gleamed like “burnished bronze;” it was compared to “burning coals of fire” and “torches;” it “sparkled like crystal;” and it was “radiant.”  That gives a great description of God’s glory, whether I can imagine the physical appearance of his vision or not.  The glory of God is indescribable!  I shouldn’t wonder at Ezekiel’s reaction:  “This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the LORD.  When I saw it, I fell face down, and I heard the voice of one speaking.” (1:28)

            After Ezekiel saw the glory of the LORD, God called him to be a spokesman, a watchman to stand in the gap.  When God called Ezekiel he told him he would be sent to a people who were rebellious, obstinate and stubborn (the first word is repeated often in the short second chapter – at least seven times in various forms!).  Maybe God was telling Ezekiel that the important message was his glory, and Ezekiel was to preach that glory whether they listened or not (another thought repeated in the chapter).  As a preacher of God’s word, my job is to proclaim the glory of the LORD, whether people listen or not.  “How-to” messages have their place, but they must be understood in light of God’s glory, and it is that glory I must proclaim above all else.  Of course, nothing expresses that glory better than the incredible grace of God extended to sinful people.

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