Friday, January 19, 2018

Lightweights In the Wind

Friday, January 19, 2018
Let all that I am wait quietly before God, for my hope is in him.  He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress where I will not be shaken.  My victory and honor come from God alone.  He is my refuge, a rock where no enemy can reach me.  O my people, trust in him at all times.  Pour out your heart to him, for God is our refuge.  
-        Interlude   -
Common people are as worthless as a puff of wind, and the powerful are not what they appear to be.  If you weigh them on the scales, together they are lighter than a breath of air.  Psalm 62:5-9(NLT)
King David’s use of the term common people is not a slur, just a reference to the average, everyday person.  On the other hand, the powerful are not what they appear to be means just what it says; they’re false, illusory, deceptive, and misleading.  When they appear benevolent they’re actually self-promoting.  When they’re bragging about powerful accomplishments, they’re actually hollow and bankrupt.

The irony, in case anyone missed it…David was the most powerful man in the universe when he wrote that; he could speak from absolutely first-hand experience.

David said that together the common person and the powerful person add-up to the weight of a feather on the scale.  Another translation puts it this way:

Man as such is smoke, woman as such, a mirage.  Put them together, they’re nothing;
    two times nothing is nothing. The Message©

My – oh – my; that could sure take the wind out of your sails, couldn’t it?

And that is David’s whole point, exactly.  Some of our wind needs to go! 

And, as previously noted, David was powerful in the extreme – he’d even been a murderer, liar, adulterer, and conspirator, acting as if he was powerful enough to sin with impunity.  He had broken all ten of the commandments…yet no person on earth would dare confront him; until God put exactly that on Nathan the prophet's to-do list. 

Yet David wasn’t always a power-brokering mover and shaker.  He was once a shepherd, one of the lowliest of occupations.  So he spoke from personal experience, knowing that the position you occupy on earth is tenuous at best, and a trap at worst.

And so the shepherd-boy/king says he waits quietly before God; mouth closed!

And so the shepherd-boy/king says he hopes only in God; assets in proper perspective!

And so the shepherd-boy/king says he lays aside victories and honor; they’re God’s anyway!

And so the shepherd-boy/king says he (and we) should run to God; there’s no other help or resting place that will mean anything.

For You Today

Do you place all the weight of your life (like that feather in the wind) in trust of God?

Or is there anything else you trust more?

You chew on that as you hit the Rocky Road…have a blessed day!

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[1] Title Image: Pixabay.com

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Shattered Beyond All Hope of Repair

Thursday, January 18, 2018
This is what the Lord said to me: “Go and buy a clay jar.  Then ask some of the leaders of the people and of the priests to follow you.  Go out through the Gate of Broken Pots to the garbage dump in the valley of Ben-Hinnom, and give them this message.  Say to them, ‘Listen to this message from the Lord, you kings of Judah and citizens of Jerusalem!  This is what the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, the God of Israel, says:  I will bring a terrible disaster on this place, and the ears of those who hear about it will ring!  “‘For Israel has forsaken me and turned this valley into a place of wickedness.  The people burn incense to foreign gods—idols never before acknowledged by this generation, by their ancestors, or by the kings of Judah.  And they have filled this place with the blood of innocent children.  They have built pagan shrines to Baal, and there they burn their sons as sacrifices to Baal.  I have never commanded such a horrible deed; it never even crossed my mind to command such a thing!  So beware, for the time is coming, says the Lord, when this garbage dump will no longer be called Topheth or the valley of Ben-Hinnom, but the Valley of Slaughter.  “‘For I will upset the careful plans of Judah and Jerusalem.  I will allow the people to be slaughtered by invading armies, and I will leave their dead bodies as food for the vultures and wild animals.  I will reduce Jerusalem to ruins, making it a monument to their stupidity.  All who pass by will be astonished and will gasp at the destruction they see there.  I will see to it that your enemies lay siege to the city until all the food is gone.  Then those trapped inside will eat their own sons and daughters and friends.  They will be driven to utter despair.’  “As these men watch you, Jeremiah, smash the jar you brought.  Then say to them, ‘This is what the Lord of Heaven’s Armies says:  As this jar lies shattered, so I will shatter the people of Judah and Jerusalem beyond all hope of repair.  They will bury the bodies here in Topheth, the garbage dump, until there is no more room for them.  This is what I will do to this place and its people, says the Lord.  I will cause this city to become defiled like Topheth.  Yes, all the houses in Jerusalem, including the palace of Judah’s kings, will become like Topheth—all the houses where you burned incense on the rooftops to your star gods, and where liquid offerings were poured out to your idols.’”  Then Jeremiah returned from Topheth, the garbage dump where he had delivered this message, and he stopped in front of the Temple of the Lord. He said to the people there, “This is what the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, the God of Israel, says:  ‘I will bring disaster upon this city and its surrounding towns as I promised, because you have stubbornly refused to listen to me.’”  Jeremiah 19:1-15(NLT)
There are some parts of Scripture which, beyond setting the context, need very little comment; Jeremiah preached a very clear sermon that day.  When a nation stubbornly digs its heels in the sand, refusing to follow God, all hope for that nation is empty.

Jerusalem had entered the no-hope zone.  The shattering nations of the North were gathering on the horizon and God’s people were still offering incense to statues and burning their children on the town garbage heap.  Having become a world power because the hand of God had strengthened them against all enemies, Jerusalem was about to be broken to pieces like so many discarded clay pots.  And, despite the reality that was threatening utter destruction, they were as proud as an emperor wearing an invisible suit of clothes to the parade.

America:  superpower, a nation under ONE God?
          ·       Our diversity of conflicting faiths says not
          ·       Our aborted babies strewn on the law books proclaim otherwise
          ·       Our obsession with sex laughs at terms like adultery
          ·       Our preoccupation and love of money and power are hardly Godly

This list is only the tip of a sordid, shameful iceberg. 

We need to take a lesson from Jeremiah! 

For You Today

Many who call themselves Christian stand quickly to reverence the flag, which is simply due respect for one’s homeland.  However, in the larger picture, it is getting more difficult for a committed disciple of Jesus Christ to honor a nation that lives like the Jerusalem of old – shattered pots on the garbage heap. 

So, where does your bedrock loyalty fall? 

You chew on that as you hit the Rocky Road…have a blessed day!

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[1] Title Image: Pixabay.com

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Hagar's Legacy

Wednesday, January 17, 2018
The angel of the Lord found Hagar beside a spring of water in the wilderness, along the road to Shur.  The angel said to her, “Hagar, Sarai’s servant, where have you come from, and where are you going?”  “I’m running away from my mistress, Sarai,” she replied.  The angel of the Lord said to her, “Return to your mistress, and submit to her authority.”  Then he added, “I will give you more descendants than you can count.”  And the angel also said, “You are now pregnant and will give birth to a son.  You are to name him Ishmael (which means ‘God hears’), for the Lord has heard your cry of distress.  This son of yours will be a wild man, as untamed as a wild donkey!  He will raise his fist against everyone, and everyone will be against him.  Yes, he will live in open hostility against all his relatives.”  Thereafter, Hagar used another name to refer to the Lord, who had spoken to her.  She said, “You are the God who sees me.”  She also said, “Have I truly seen the One who sees me?”  So that well was named Beer-lahai-roi (which means “well of the Living One who sees me”).  It can still be found between Kadesh and Bered.  
Genesis 16:7-14(NLT)
It’s foreign to our 21st century Western culture, but being barren drove Sarai to have her husband Abraham take another wife, Hagar, Sarai’s slave/servant , and perhaps gain an heir to the family. 

Once pregnant, the slave girl became a thorn in Sarai’s pride.  She flaunted the treasure in her womb and it was just too much for Sarai, so she proceeded to work on driving a wedge between Hagar, Abraham and herself.  It worked, and Hagar was sent packing into the desert.  The Angel of the Lord found Hagar and in the ensuing conversation told Hagar her son, would be a wild man, untamed, and always ready to fight! 

The legacy of the union between Sarai’s servant girl, Hagar, and Sarai’s husband, Abraham is not much different than the rest of humanity:  anger, defiance, rebellion and violence against one another.  It’s hard to lay all the blame on Hagar’s back; after all, she was just continuing a family tradition that got started by humanity’s parents at that special tree in Eden. 

Hagar didn’t help with the problem much; neither did Sarai and Abraham.  Hagar shares one trait in common with her ancestor Adam, that peculiar bent towards denial.  If you noticed, the Angel of the Lord asked her from where she came, and to where she was headed.  Although she gives a factual answer (running away), it belies the greater truth of her beginnings.  Hagar had a pivotal role in this drama.  She had gotten a bad deal, something she hadn’t asked for; she had also acted with disdain and anger. 

It’s a subtle point, but the angel told her to name her child Ishmael, meaning God hears.  She did that, but notice she referred to the Lord as the one who sees me.  This seemingly diminutive perspective shift on Hagar’s part is like a 1° change in course as a ship starts out from San Francisco on a voyage to Tokyo.  If you’re off target just a smidge North it won’t make much of a difference passing the Golden Gate Bridge, but by the time you’ve gone 5,600 miles to Japan you won’t be in Tokyo, you’ll be 100 miles North in Iwaki. 

The point here is that humans have had a hard time staying on course in our relationships, both with God and each other.  It has to do with the beast within.  The legacy of Hagar’s wild, fighting, untamable son, Ishmael is constant strife, distrust, anger and war.

That’s quite a legacy!

For You Today

Hagar ran away from her problems to no particular place.  Hagar’s descendants wander still, and carry on the family tradition of Ishmael as they cannot abide peacefully with anyone.  By comparison, another Son came as the Prince of Peace.  Jesus ran TO our problems, and He has a place prepared for us that He’s been working on for quite some time…in perfect peace.  Which legacy will you prolong this day?

You chew on that as you hit the Rocky Road…have a blessed day!

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[1] Title Image: Pixabay.com

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Honoring God...Honestly

Tuesday, January 16, 2018
But there was a certain man named Ananias who, with his wife, Sapphira, sold some property.  He brought part of the money to the apostles, claiming it was the full amount.  With his wife’s consent, he kept the rest.  Then Peter said, “Ananias, why have you let Satan fill your heart?  You lied to the Holy Spirit, and you kept some of the money for yourself.  The property was yours to sell or not sell, as you wished.  And after selling it, the money was also yours to give away.  How could you do a thing like this?  You weren’t lying to us but to God!”  As soon as Ananias heard these words, he fell to the floor and died.  Everyone who heard about it was terrified.  Then some young men got up, wrapped him in a sheet, and took him out and buried him.  About three hours later his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. Peter asked her, “Was this the price you and your husband received for your land?”  “Yes,” she replied, “that was the price.”  And Peter said, “How could the two of you even think of conspiring to test the Spirit of the Lord like this?  The young men who buried your husband are just outside the door, and they will carry you out, too.”  Instantly, she fell to the floor and died.  When the young men came in and saw that she was dead, they carried her out and buried her beside her husband.  Great fear gripped the entire church and everyone else who heard what had happened.  Acts 5:1-11(NLT)
This is one of the most chilling passages in Scripture.  Frankly, when it shows up in the Lectionary cycle I tend to want to skip over it.  I’d almost rather preach on Leviticus or any other passage that isn’t so controversial.

Think of the premise and how many ways this account of the early church can be misunderstood, misapplied, or cause an argument.  The whole scope of the intents of the human heart and character of humankind are on display. 

Ananias and his wife owned property and wanted to sell it.  As professing members of the early church they knew there was an expectation they would contribute to the needs of others from that sale.  They conspired to have their cake (people’s approval when they brought some of the money to the offering plate), but they wanted to eat the cake too!  So they decided to lie about the full price, and kept some back.

At this point some in our culture would be quick to point-out that it was their money; they could do with it what they wanted.  And, to an extent, this is true; the Apostle Peter even said as much.  The point was they were attempting to build themselves up in the sight of people while lying to God.  Peter said that also, confronting Ananias about Satan filling his heart with lies.  A side point would be that, as believers, disciples of Jesus Christ, no money is ours; it is all His, and we are stewards.

Others might point to the harsh outcome for the couple…well, geez…it was only a little bit they held back.  Why did God have to kill themAnd what about forgivenessIsn’t this about the God who forgives us?  The reality here is not about the size of Ananias’ and his wife’s lying.  After all, how much juggling of the books does there have to be before you’re an embezzler?  The issue is about honoring God…honestly.  You cannot honor God with a lie!

For You Today

Think for a moment about the football player on TV scoring a touchdown, and he then takes a knee, points to heaven, and gives God the glory.  We watch the hitter make the sign of the cross when the ball sails over the fence.  We see the witness place his hand on a Bible and solemnly swear…so help me God

You and I cannot possibly know what is in the hearts of others when we observe an outward witness of giving God the credit, or offering.  However, we do know what’s in our own hearts at such times.  And those are the times, and ours is the heart we must judge.  Are we truly giving God the glory, or are we tempted to bask just a little in the warmth of that praise?

You chew on that as you hit the Rocky Road…have a blessed day!

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[1] Title Image: Pixabay.com

Monday, January 15, 2018

Coronation Among the Donkeys

Monday, January 15, 2018
When they reached the edge of town, Samuel told Saul to send his servant on ahead.  After the servant was gone, Samuel said, “Stay here, for I have received a special message for you from God.”  Then Samuel took a flask of olive oil and poured it over Saul’s head.  He kissed Saul and said, “I am doing this because the Lord has appointed you to be the ruler over Israel, his special possession.  When you leave me today, you will see two men beside Rachel’s tomb at Zelzah, on the border of Benjamin.  They will tell you that the donkeys have been found and that your father has stopped worrying about them and is now worried about you.  He is asking, ‘Have you seen my son?’  “When you get to the oak of Tabor, you will see three men coming toward you who are on their way to worship God at Bethel.  One will be bringing three young goats, another will have three loaves of bread, and the third will be carrying a wineskin full of wine.  They will greet you and offer you two of the loaves, which you are to accept.  “When you arrive at Gibeah of God, where the garrison of the Philistines is located, you will meet a band of prophets coming down from the place of worship.  They will be playing a harp, a tambourine, a flute, and a lyre, and they will be prophesying.  At that time the Spirit of the Lord will come powerfully upon you, and you will prophesy with them.  You will be changed into a different person.  After these signs take place, do what must be done, for God is with you.  
1 Samuel 9:27-10:7(NLT)
If you rewind a little in this story Saul is wandering the countryside looking for lost donkeys.  His father had sent him and his brothers to scour the land for the wandering beasts.  In the midst of the most mundane of everyday tasks, God’s prophet, Samuel shows up to crown a donkey-hunting nobody king in Israel; go figure!  To confirm what’s happening the prophet tells young Saul he will meet two men at a specific tomb who will tell him to come home because the donkeys are found and his father is now worried about his son.  In addition, he’ll meet three other men herding goats, carrying wine and bread, which they would offer to him.  And in addition to that, he would meet a band of preaching prophets, striking up the band music while they’re preaching…and Saul would join in prophesying loudly!  And just for good measure Samuel even names the instruments of this symphonic orchestra of preachers!  If you fast forward in this chapter you find it all came true.
What does it all mean?  There are several valuable lessons here; lessons beyond learning there are actually preachers who can do music (but in my case that would be a miracle)!  Just the sheer mathematics of Samuel’s prophesy are staggering.  He named a dozen or so participants, including what they would do and say.  He named animals, food, musical instruments, and places where all this would happen.  That it would all follow that script allows for only two possibilities – Samuel had set it up as an intricate ruse to convince Saul, or it was truly a miraculous vision giving insight into what would happen that day.  And, by the way, if you’re tempted towards that ruse thing – what do you do with the documented reality that later Saul actually became king in a land that had never had one before?  The astounding odds stack up to the moon on that one!  Faith with solid proof to back it up is the first lesson.  The second lesson I take away is that the mundane or even distasteful things we all do, like hunting for donkeys when we’d rather be fishing or playing third base for the Yankees, are not too far off God’s beaten path. 
I have learned to look for God in the most everyday kind of places.  One of the places God wanted to use me was about thirty years ago at a wedding for Bridezilla.  They were strangers to me, not church members.  She and her fiancĂ© were only marginally acquainted with matters of faith.  They had seen our chapel and it was the perfect setting.  I require six sessions of pre-marital counselling, and she couldn’t understand why, but dutifully showed up and grunted through the times.  The wedding went off well, but the road to get there was rocky and less than gracious.  I got the distinct feeling when they drove away that day after the reception that she was so glad to see me in the rearview mirror, I’d never see them again.
Fast forward 10 years – I had moved 60 miles away and was not expecting any calls that Sunday before church.  When I picked up the phone it was Bridezilla:  hello, pastor Brownworth?  She sounded so different, but my suspicions were accurate – she had never wanted to see my face again.  She told me that those times in counselling when I said you can’t have a Christian home without two Christians humbly submitted to God, and serving Him, had annoyed her back before the wedding, and stuck in her craw…but eventually found its way into her heart.  She and her husband were being baptized that day, and she wanted to say thank you for being a faithful pastor. 

For You Today

Are you hunting donkeys…or waiting on God?
You chew on that as you hit the Rocky Road…have a blessed day!

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[1] Title Image: Pixabay.com

Friday, January 12, 2018

Forgetting to Remember - Part 2

Friday, January 12, 2018
Then the Lord raised up judges to rescue the Israelites from their attackers.  Yet Israel did not listen to the judges but prostituted themselves by worshiping other gods.  How quickly they turned away from the path of their ancestors, who had walked in obedience to the Lord’s commands.  Whenever the Lord raised up a judge over Israel, he was with that judge and rescued the people from their enemies throughout the judge’s lifetime.  For the Lord took pity on his people, who were burdened by oppression and suffering.  But when the judge died, the people returned to their corrupt ways, behaving worse than those who had lived before them.  They went after other gods, serving and worshiping them.  And they refused to give up their evil practices and stubborn ways.  So the Lord burned with anger against Israel.  He said, “Because these people have violated my covenant, which I made with their ancestors, and have ignored my commands, I will no longer drive out the nations that Joshua left unconquered when he died.  I did this to test Israel—to see whether or not they would follow the ways of the Lord as their ancestors did.”  That is why the Lord left those nations in place.  He did not quickly drive them out or allow Joshua to conquer them all.  
Judges 2:16-23(NLT)
A ten year old boy checked out the Baptist churches and was really impressed when he saw, for the first time, a baptism by immersion.  He was greatly interested in it, and the next morning proceeded to baptize the family’s three cats in the bathtub.   The kitten bore it very well, and so did the young cat, but the old family cat was a rebel; it struggled with the boy, clawed and scratched at him, and finally got away.  With considerable effort he caught it again and proceeded with the ceremony. 
But she acted worse than ever, tore at him, spit, and scratched his hands and face.  This was not going as well as the worship service down at the Baptist Church.  Finally, after barely getting her fur splattered with water, the budding evangelist let go of the ornery old cat.  As she ran away he hollered in disgust:  "Fine…BE a Methodist." 
Every time I read God’s account of the human family (us) in Scripture (and it is US even though we try to distance ourselves and say it was THEM)…I have that baptizing a cat image…stubborn, stubborn, and stubborn! 
But the verse that really grabs me in this particular passage is:
But when the judge died, the people returned to their corrupt ways, behaving worse than those who had lived before them.  They went after other gods, serving and worshiping them.  And they refused to give up their evil practices and stubborn ways.  Judges 2:19(NLT)
Every time God put a leader in front of the people, a leader that had the sense to point God’s people to the one true God, they followed.  But when that leader passed off the scene they went back to being stubborn and evil. 
The writer of Proverbs had a commentary on this kind of behavior:
As a dog returns to its vomit, so a fool repeats his foolishness.  Proverbs 26:11(NLT)
It’s hard to miss the message in this; when we refuse to let go of our stubborn ways, we refuse to actually BE God’s children, no matter how much we may SAY we belong to Him.

For You Today

It would be a good practice to look back regularly…like every day…over all the ways God has rescued and blessed you.  And then go live like a blessed child of God.
You chew on that as you hit the Rocky Road…have a blessed day!

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[1] Title Image: Pixabay.com

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Forgetting to Remember

Thursday, January 11, 2018
After Joshua sent the people away, each of the tribes left to take possession of the land allotted to them.  And the Israelites served the Lord throughout the lifetime of Joshua and the leaders who outlived him—those who had seen all the great things the Lord had done for Israel.  Joshua son of Nun, the servant of the Lord, died at the age of 110.  They buried him in the land he had been allocated, at Timnath-serah in the hill country of Ephraim, north of Mount Gaash.  After that generation died, another generation grew up who did not acknowledge the Lord or remember the mighty things he had done for Israel.  The Israelites did evil in the Lord’s sight and served the images of Baal.  They abandoned the Lord, the God of their ancestors, who had brought them out of Egypt.  They went after other gods, worshiping the gods of the people around them.  And they angered the Lord.  They abandoned the Lord to serve Baal and the images of Ashtoreth.  This made the Lord burn with anger against Israel, so he handed them over to raiders who stole their possessions.  He turned them over to their enemies all around, and they were no longer able to resist them.  Every time Israel went out to battle, the Lord fought against them, causing them to be defeated, just as he had warned.  And the people were in great distress.  Judges 2:6-15(NLT)
Joshua was picked by God to be the successor to Moses.  In many ways Joshua’s faith shined much brighter, more definite than his mentor.  After a long campaign to win the Promised Land Joshua died.  The leadership of judges followed in the life of Israel, but the next generation lost sight of all they’d learned about the importance of serving God.
If you’re into reading biographies of great leaders you always notice that even the greatest leaders only have a transitory effect; the next generation will make its mistakes because they forget to remember the mistakes of the previous generation.  And forgetting to remember was costly in the life of the young nation in the Promised Land.  It is so with every culture.
In the current day world of political reality-TV drama, every day brings a new revelation of accusation, expose’, and embarrassment; in the next news cycle heads begin to roll.  A campaign manager, advisor, special assistant, or acquaintance is fired, trashed or otherwise humiliated.  Careers end and jail sentences begin for the losers.  Top dogs fight hard to stay on top.
Perhaps it is the mellowing time brings, or just the yellowing of history’s pages against the harsh images of a very different-paced world, but current day politics seems to have suffered the loss of the Joshua effect.  Today’s leaders are not like those of another era. 
For instance I read (and re-read) Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Team of Rivals last year.  It’s the account of Abraham Lincoln’s rise to the presidency.  What created the title was the overwhelming genius of Lincoln choosing his main political rivals to be his cabinet.  This was a leader who knew it was senseless to waste the great gifts that were possessed by leaders just for the sake of his ego; he put aside the me and elevated the we.
The current generation could take a lesson from that.

For You Today

It’s a good decision to recognize that other people aren’t our enemies; we do a pretty good job of being our own worst enemy when we fear others rather than follow God.  Today resolve to be a Joshua!
You chew on that as you hit the Rocky Road…have a blessed day!

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[1] Title Image: Pixabay.com