Ahh, Justice!

(written by Vickie)

The Word for today: Joel 2:18-3:21

mark this: Joel 3:16 —

The LORD also will roar from Zion,
And utter His voice from Jerusalem;
The heavens will shake;
But the LORD will be a shelter for His people,
And the strength of the children of Israel.

Walking around us everyday are people with collections of broken relationships hanging around their necks. You and I probably have some of our own. It’s one of the inherent risks of living on this planet–we hurt people and they hurt us. We’re all part of that unending circle of “hurting people – hurting people.”

The weight of the broken necklace can seem tolerable in comparison to the expense of repair. It’s hard work and risky. Attempts at mending broken relationships very often end in “settling” for a cease fire.

Once in while though, it all comes together; hurts exposed, apologies given, amends made, forgiveness overflowing. It’s a whole new relationship, but stonger and with the potential to go deeper. Full reconciliation; all is well. The relationship has life.

Here in Joel, God shows us how it’s done. Consequences, repentance, forgiveness and restoration are all right here. God’s way of restoration.

God takes it farther than we can as human beings. The LORD shows up as Judge: “The LORD executes righteousness and justice for all who are oppressed” (Ps.103:6).

His justice is perfect. It’s justice that doesn’t plea down the offense, turn a blind eye, or diminish the penalty. Because Our God is righteous he requires justice.

We need it too. We know in our souls that in order for God’s reconciliation though the blood of Jesus to be effective, full justice is required. The cup that Christ drank at the cross had to contain all our iniquity–to the brim. Jesus had to pay it all.

As judge, God also proves Himself the true champion of the oppressed and innocent. His outrage at those who harm and oppress will not be held back forever. Joel’s prophesy promises a Day of Judgement. What a relief for those of us who have been denied justice. There is a day coming when God promises to set things right.

At the end of Joel, the heading in my NKJV says, “God Blesses His People.”  From locusts to blessing in three chapters. Fear is replaced with confidence, hunger with fullness, uncertainty with safety, death with life, because..

The LORD also will roar from Zion,
And utter His voice from Jerusalem;
The heavens will shake;
But the LORD will be a shelter for His people,
And the strength of the children of Israel.

Ahh, Justice.

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Sometimes it takes locusts

(written by Vickie)

The Word for today:
Joel 1:1- 2:17

mark this: Joel 2:13 —
“So rend your heart and not your garments;
Return to the Lord your God,
For He is gracious and merciful,
Slow to anger, and of great kindness;
He relents from doing harm.”

Locusts are associated with judgement- BIBLICAL JUDGEMENT. The devastations of locust swarms are not something most people have experienced. Yet, as we read through the first chapter of Joel, the account of the destruction strikes a chord with most of us.

We know these emotions and we’re familiar with these descriptions of calamity. Wasted, ruined, whithered, dried-up and failed describe the landscape after the locusts have passed through. Mourning, shame and despair describe the landscape of the suffering soul. In 1:12, Joel explains that, “joy has withered away.”

Ever had locusts in your life? What did they look like? Health problems, losses from natural disaster, fire, theft, prodigal children, broken relationships?

I thought so- me too.

So we whisper the question, deep in our souls, “Is God punishing me?”

God uses His prophet to deliver a reality check. Joel gives a sermon about reconciliation with a very powerful object lesson. There is no doubt, all the Israelites know it- God’s not going to put up with their idolatry any longer. God’s releases a little taste of the “wages of their sin” for one reason: He wants them back. His fierce love does whatever is necessary to have them come back and sometimes it takes locusts.

Sometimes I wish I had a bearded prophet to deliver my reality check.

But God has not left us alone in our day. We have the Holy Spirit and the Church. Jesus has provided everything we need for life and godliness. In the middle of our personal locust swarm, we may know for sure that it’s because we have a sin to deal with, or that we are under God’s watchful eye in a refining fire. Sometimes though, we just don’t know.

In all of these cases, we rely on the goodness of God and the blood of Jesus to cover our sin. God gives all things a good purpose- our “turning to Him with all our hearts.”

Repentance is beautiful.

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Mamas, don’t let your babies grow up to be prophets

The Word for today:
Jonah 3, 4

Q. How can Jonah be a prophet if he never predicted the future?
A. A prophet predicted the future to establish his validity as God’s spokesman.  At some point, Jonah–and all the Old Testament prophets–had to predict the future in order to prove to the people that he was truly God’s prophet.

This proving process is described in Deuteronomy 18:20-22. Once his validity was established in this way, then he started prophesying.
Prophesying has little to do with predicting the future. It has everything to do with telling the unvarnished truth. The prophetic voice speaks God’s eternal truth to a given generation. The prophetic voice reveals our sin and folly and hypocrisy, and warns of their consequences.

Unwilling to face the truth, we shoot the messenger.  The Biblical prophets were almost all killed. The Bible’s greatest prophet–who not only spoke the truth but is the Truth (1)–was put to death on a cross, because his very life was an indictment of mankind’s heart of darkness.

The prophet’s cry of “Repent” is the cry of a man who so loves his generation that he will face hatred, rejection, and even death to turn hearts back to God.  The cry of “Repent” comes straight from the heart of God, who so loved the world that he cried “Repent” all the way to the cross.

It just may be that the man behind that uncompromising and condemnatory voice loves your life more than his own. We don’t kill our prophets today in the USA, but many a talented man has given up being held in esteem by the world in order to be held in esteem by God.  Many present-day prophets teach or preach for a pittance in nondescript churches on forgotten corners somewhere.  They are dead to the world and the world is dead to them (2).  No prophet will ever be elected senator or president, or chosen “Man of the Year” in our grand republic.

Be warned that not every teacher or preacher who can spout Bible verses and turn a phrase is a prophet.  Many of the most “successful” authors and pulpiteers are no more than profiteer$.

As mentioned above, the Old Testament prophets had to prove their validity before presuming to speak God’s word. That’s because the Bible was not yet complete. It was being formed as they spoke and wrote!

Now that we have the complete Bible, the test of the prophet is his adherence to scripture: Does he/she speak God’s whole Word, balancing God’s grace and his judgment?  Is his/her emphasis on Christ crucified (3)–the cost and remedy of sin.

Listen to the voice of the prophets as you read them. Some day, if you are brave enough and true enough, God might hand-pick you and put you on a forgotten corner somewhere to howl “Repent” into the wasteland.

But I wouldn’t let Mom in on your career aspirations just yet.  She so very much has her heart set on a lawyer.

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(1) see John 14:6; (2) Galatians 6:14/GNT; (3) 1 Corinthians 1:23, 2:2

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a fish story?

The Word for today:
Jonah 1, 2

Q. You can’t be serious. No one could be in the belly of a whale for three days and live to tell about it…
A. It does sound like a fish story — like the time (did I already tell you this one?) I caught a 62-inch musky just outside of Alexandria Bay in late October of ’85…

Jonah might sound fishy, except for one thing: The most earnest man–the straightest shooter who ever lived– faced down an audience who were not interested in hearing about sin, sacrifice, and redemption, but were there to see a miracle. He told them the only miracle they’d get was the sign of the prophet Jonah:
“An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign; but no sign shall be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the whale, so will the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. The men of Nineveh will arise at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and behold, something greater than Jonah is here.” (Matthew 12:39-41)

Jonah is a test-case for the believer. Like the virgin birth, if the story of Jonah can be explained away, spiritualized, allegorized, or dismissed, then the entirety of Scripture, including the trustworthiness of the Messiah, can be dismissed. If Scripture can be dismissed, then our faith is without foundation. (Cf. Rom 10:17.)

Therefore, Jonah is a target for the unbelieving world. Those who aim to cast aspersions on scripture cast towards Jonah first. But the big fish is still happily swimming, while his detractors keep getting caught in their own nets.

Q. How can a person stay alive inside a great big fish for three days?
A. Who said he stayed alive?
A miracle either way, but we’ll go with Jesus’ take on Jonah– that Jonah died inside the fish and was resurrected; thus Jesus referred to the “sign of Jonah” as the miracle of resurrection. Most Biblical commentators teach that Jonah was alive inside the fish for three days. They are wrong, of course (!!), but it’s a miracle any way you fillet it. (Sorry, I couldn’t resist!)

Q. What’s the big deal about Jonah? Isn’t he one of the minor prophets?
A. “A minor prophet.” Minor?? Jonah, given only two pages in your Bible to work with…
and using only a boat, a fish, a gourd, the east wind, and the Assyrian city of Nineveh, was able to put forth the great principles of the New Testament:

1. Jonah is one of the clearest proclamations in the Old Testament of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

2. The Book of Jonah teaches that salvation is not by works, but by faith which leads to repentance: Salvation is of the LORD. (2:9)

3. God will not cast us aside for faithlessness.
God told Jonah to go to Nineveh…and Jonah caught a boat going in the opposite direction!

4. God is gracious:
Then the word of the LORD came to Jonah the second time (3:1).
He is the God of the 2nd chance, the 3rd chance, the 4th, the 443rd…

5. God’s grace cannot be stopped.
Jonah knew that the Word of God which he was told to proclaim would save the Ninevites. Jonah didn’t want them saved. But Jonah was going to be the witness for God in Nineveh, whether he liked it or not.

6. God is the God of the Gentiles. (See Romans 3:29.)

God never called any of his prophets minor. That is an artificial, man-made designation that holds no water!

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Had enough ‘WHOOSH’ lately?

house on rock

The Word for today:
Matthew 7:13-29

I went to church as a kid, but I didn’t understand much. They seemed to do their darnedest to hide the light under a bushel basket. Between “Ave Maria” and “Kyrie Eleison” and “Adeste Fideles,” I didn’t have a clue.  But during those summers, I went to a YMCA summer camp — Camp Kenan — where I learned “Michael Rowed the Boat Ashore;” “The Church in the Wildwood;” “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot;” “How Great Thou Art;” “Jacob’s Ladder;” and “The Wise Man Built His House Upon the Rock”–

The wise man built his house upon the rock,
The wise man built his house upon the rock,
The wise man built his house upon the rock,
And the rains came tumblin’ down.

Oh yes, the rains came down and the floods came up,
The rains came down and the floods came up,
The rains came down and the floods came up,
And the house on the rock stood firm.

But…

The crazy man built his house upon the sand,
The crazy man built his house upon the sand,
The crazy man built his house upon the sand,
And the rains came tumblin’ down.

Oh yes, the rains came down and the floods came up,
The rains came down and the floods came up,
The rains came down and the floods came up,
And the house on the sand went WHOOSH!

I learned that song when I was seven. It was wacky and funny and at the end when the house blows away, we always yelled “WHOOSH” with all our might!

I loved Camp Kenan, and my brother and I continued to go there every summer. When I was about twelve, in the camp chapel–a small clearing overlooking the lake, covered by the boughs of vaulting trees–I heard Goose Gray, the renowned story-teller, recite the Sermon on the Mount. Goose, in his prime, could take the bushel basket off the candle. We were spellbound. To our surprise and delight, in the final sentences of the Sermon on the Mount, we heard familiar phrases:

“Every one then who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house upon the rock;
and the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat upon that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock.
And every one who hears these words of mine and does not act on them will be like a foolish man who built his house upon the sand;
and the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell; and great was the fall of it.
And when Jesus finished these words, the crowds were astonished at his teaching,
for he taught them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes.”

We all looked to each other, mouthing out–“That’s from ‘The Crazy Man’ song!”

Soon thereafter, sooner than I knew, ensued 30 years of wandering. I do not know when I entered that wilderness. I didn’t even know I’d been in a wilderness, until the day when…

a seed–a story told by the King, entrusted to a story-teller bearing His image, planted in subterranean strata during forgotten lakeshore summers–pushed its way, in a season of its own choosing, towards the Light whence it derived.

It was then that I decided to rebuild my life according to the Scriptures.

I can’t speak with the commanding authority of Jesus Christ, nor can I recite with the mellifluous cadences of Goose Gray in his younger day.  But I can craft an essay that will leave you with the words Jesus left with the people on the mountainside–along with a question that His Word begs:

Every one then who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man.
And every one who hears these words of mine and does not act on them will be like a foolish man.

Had enough ‘WHOOSH’ lately?

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Scripture cited: Matthew 7:24-29

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