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Friday, July 30, 2010

Day 205: Formula for Deliverance, in a nutshell

•Don’t speak to the enemy, just stand and listen.

•Express your grief in the midst of worship in the company of the faithful.

•Listen to God’s prophets, God’s word. Do not be afraid.

•PRAY. Spread out the problem before God. Speak out the attributes of God. Acknowledge the threat you feel is an insult to God. Pray for deliverance.

•Watch God work.

Day 205: Formula for Deliverance

Today's Reading: Isaiah 37-39; Psalm 76

Have you ever been at your wits end?

Have you ever felt surrounded, hemmed in on every side with no where to turn?

Have you ever thought, I’m never going to get out of this mess unless a miracle occurs, and miracles seem in short supply right now!

Imagine that situation.
Go back to that place.
Or perhaps you are in that place right now.
Boss unhappy.
Out of work.
Taxes due.
Bills piled up.
Child sick.
Loved one dying.
Marriage crashing.
Huge mess.
Overwhelming challenge.

Now imagine someone offering you an out.
Someone saying, I’ll take care of everything for you.
Just sign over a little bit to me
And I’ll take away all your problems.

That someone might ask you to just cheat a little.
That someone might ask you to rebel a little.
That someone might ask you to gamble and take a chance, just this once.
That someone might ask you to drown your sorrows, just this once.
That someone might ask you to be unfaithful, just this once.

And in the asking,
That someone will tell you you have no other choice.
You’d be foolish to pass up their deal.
You’re obviously trapped.
They have you pegged.

That someone, might not be a “someone.”
It might be that inner voice of pride
Or fear
Tempting you to take the wide and easy road
Which sooner or later leads you right into the destruction you are facing.

Com' on, says the Tempter, Let’s make a deal.
You give up your freedom
and I’ll give you the comfort you want in this moment.
Sound good?

This past week we have been reading about Hezekiah,
Acclaimed in the Bible as the most righteous king of Israel.
He had brought about revival and renewal.
He had abolished idolatry.
He had turned the kingdom back to the worship and honoring of YHWH.

But because of the sins of his predecessors,
He was under some nasty contracts.
Previous kings, in order to feel safe, had made alliances with Assyria to the north east and Egypt to the south west.
Now, Assyria and Egypt were at battle over the land between their two kingdoms,
The land of Judah and Israel.
Assyria had already wiped out Judah, taking all her cities captive.
Egypt was pressing in on the other side.
Israel was trapped in the middle.

The Assyrian king, Sennacherib, sends a letter via his commander to Hezekiah.
Where is your God now?
He cannot protect you.
Join me and I will protect you.
I will give you all the horses and chariots you need.
Together let us fight against that Cushite, Tirhakah, the king of Egypt.
You cannot stand against him or me.
You have no choice except to choose one of us.
It might as well be me.
I am the kinder of the two.
Allow me to comfort you and fight the battle for you.
All you have to do is give me everything.

Hemmed in.
No rescue in sight.

What would you do?
How long do you wait for God’s deliverance?
How long do you trust God?
At what point, do you cave?
What do you do?

Today, we have the opportunity to witness the wisdom of a righteous man.
Hezekiah acts in a bold and faithful way.
This is what he does.

First of all, Hezekiah does not answer his enemy.
The people (of Israel, upon hearing the taunts of King Sennacherib) remained silent and said nothing in reply, because the king, (Hezekiah), had commanded, "Do not answer him."
Isaiah 36: 21

Hezekiah and his people listen but they do not reply.
This takes great courage and willpower.
When someone is taunting or tempting you,
It is hard not to get caught up in the fray.
It is hard not to get scared.
He stands silent before his enemy.

Hezekiah expresses his grief, goes to the temple and sends for his faithful, godly counselors.
When King Hezekiah heard this, he tore his clothes and put on sackcloth and went into the temple of the LORD. He sent Eliakim the palace administrator, Shebna the secretary, and the leading priests, all wearing sackcloth, to the prophet Isaiah son of Amoz.
Isaiah 37: 1

Hezekiah does not avoid the situation by withdrawing into despair or by drowning it in pleasure, he realizes the gravity of the situation. He tears his clothes, the ultimate expression of sadness, grief and humility. This act is a statement: I am naked; I have nothing; I am empty.

Hezekiah then moves from his despair to the place of worship. He physically goes to the holy place to meet with God. He picks himself up and moves toward the only one who can help him.

Hezekiah shares with his faithful godly counselors. He does not try to handle this on his own. He has cultivated trusted and wise accountability partners with whom he can pray and from whom he can hear God.

Hezekiah listens to God’s prophet.
When King Hezekiah's officials came to Isaiah, Isaiah said to them, "Tell your master, 'This is what the LORD says: Do not be afraid of what you have heard—those words with which the underlings of the king of Assyria have blasphemed me. Listen! I am going to put a spirit in him so that when he hears a certain report, he will return to his own country, and there I will have him cut down with the sword.' "
Isaiah 37: 5-7

God’s messengers always speak against fear. This is what the LORD says: Do not be afraid. Fear not! When we focus on God and put our trust in God for our future, fear vanishes. Trust is an act of the will. It is a movement out of the camp of fear into the camp of God’s sovereignty. Trusting in God puts all things in order.

Praying, “Thy will be done,” is a prayer that catapults us out of fear.

God’s messengers always point to God as the deliverer. As we trust in the LORD and align ourselves with God instead of the tempting enemy, God fights the battle for us.

Hezekiah prays.
Hezekiah received the letter from the messengers and read it. Then he went up to the temple of the LORD and spread it out before the LORD. And Hezekiah prayed to the LORD : "O LORD Almighty, God of Israel, enthroned between the cherubim, you alone are God over all the kingdoms of the earth. You have made heaven and earth. Give ear, O LORD, and hear; open your eyes, O LORD, and see; listen to all the words Sennacherib has sent to insult the living God.
"It is true, O LORD, that the Assyrian kings have laid waste all these peoples and their lands. They have thrown their gods into the fire and destroyed them, for they were not gods but only wood and stone, fashioned by human hands. Now, O LORD our God, deliver us from his hand, so that all kingdoms on earth may know that you alone, O LORD, are God. "
Isaiah 37: 14-20

Hezekiah spreads all His problems out before the LORD. Cant’ you just see him unrolling the scroll on a large table. It is as if he is unrolling all the charges of the enemy in the command center of the most High God. He says, Here it is, God. This is the situation. I will not hold anything back. I offer it all up to you. Look at it with me. Tell me what to do. Here it is, it is yours.

Hezekiah prays a prayer of adoration. Hezekiah names God’s attributes. You are LORD, You are ALMIGHTY (the most powerful one), You alone are God. You are the king of all kings and of all kingdoms. You are the creator of everything. In saying all this,
Hezekiah reminds himself of God’s power
God’s sovereignty and
God’s authority over all authorities of this world, or in heaven above…over every created thing.

Hezekiah acknowledges that a threat against one of God’s own is an insult to God. Temptation, fear, destruction and faithlessness are all the arrows of the powers and principalities of this world. They are the spiritual weapons of our greatest enemy. And though they seem to be aimed at us, they are really challenging God’s authority and sovereignty. Hezekiah once again moves to stand behind the shield of God. “This is your battle,” he says. “Not mine.”

Hezekiah prays for deliverance. Deliver us so that all may know you are God. Our deliverance from all our trials, sorrows and temptations is not just for a moments respite from our own grief and discomfort. It has eternal value in the glory of God. Our deliverance is the witness, the testimony, to God’s identity.

God delivered Israel from the hands of Assyria and Egypt. God did it all.

This passage from Isaiah teaches us how to handle trials. It teaches us how to pray. It mirrors the action of Christ when he faced his greatest trial.

Jesus remained silent before his accusers when he stood before them with a crown of thorns.

Jesus expressed his grief to his Father and sought God’s counsel.

Jesus played the words of the prophets in his mind, speaking them as he hung on the cross.

Jesus prayed. He cried out his situation to his Father. He acknowledged God as God. He realized the sin of the world was an insult to himself and He delivered his people from their greatest enemy, sin and death.

My dear friends, today, as always, we receive the path of righteousness from God’s word.

Let us go into the week and face each day without fear, acknowledging our heavenly Father who is the Almighty Creator of Heaven and Earth, the King of all Kings, the authority above all authority, the one and only God, Our great deliverer.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Day 204: Taunting of the Enemy

Today's Reading: Isaiah 35-36

Hezekiah was a righteous man. He trusted in God.

But his faith was put on the line when he decided to stand up to his great enemy, the King of Assyria.

Sennacherib, the Assyrian king, had attacked every city in Judah and captured them. He was now on his way toward Israel, ready to gobble them up also. He taunted the people of Israel, telling them they had no choice. They could choose between Assyria or Egypt and Assyria would be the easier master.

Assyria's field commander takes center stage and speaks to the people of Israel, hoping to turn them against their righteous king into the hands of comfort and security--and slavery--under Sennacherib.

Do not let Hezekiah deceive you. He cannot deliver you!

Do not let Hezekiah persuade you to trust in the LORD.

Do not listen to Hezekiah. Make peace with me instead.

Do not let Hezekiah mislead you.

Amazingly, the people listened but did not speak. They let their enemy strut in front of them. They did not shake with fear. They did not rise up in protest.

They stood still in silence.

Sometimes the best thing to do is to remain silent and not reply to taunting.

This world throws some hard words at us at times--some huge challenges. We feel the slap on the face, we see the gauntlet being tossed. People want to draw us into a fight, a battle.

Always remember two things:

The battle belongs to the LORD.

Be still and know that God is god.

Day 203: Pitching the tent

Today's Reading: Isaiah 31-34

O LORD, be gracious to us;
we long for you.
Be our strength every morning,
our salvation in time of distress.
Isaiah 33:2

It is hot!

I was thinking about all the young athletes preparing for the fall sports programs, practicing in this heat and I prayed for them.

It is too hot for me to even step outside, much less run or do "up-downs" on the football field.

How wonderful it must feel to get a water break!

LORD, be gracious.

The root of this word comes from the word picture of one pitching a tent after a long wandering in the desert. Graciousness is giving someone a break from the hard trials in the wandering wildernesses of life.

LORD, be gracious.

Give us a break in this heat.

Give us a rest along the journey.

Give us a respite from all the trials around us.

A hostess is gracious. She welcomes you in from the journey, offers you ice cold lemonade and sits you down at her table.

LORD, be gracious.

Today, LORD, offer me that cool cup of water.

Let me know your grace towards me.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Day 202: Drunk priests

Today's Reading: Isaiah 28-30

I trusted you,
Servant of God.

You were the one
Who was supposed to
be wise
show faith
live ethically
act faithfully.

But you
Were scared

Because you chose
but still wore
your robes
your stoles
your pious smile
your pompous pride.

You didn't have joy;
You were drunk.

You didn't have truth;
You were lying

to me
to the church
to yourself
to God.

And I
got caught in your
web of lies.

Your drunken, acetone breath
breathed death
my face.

You murdered
my spirit
in your
drunken glee
left me


Day 201: A hard act of love

Today's Reading: Hosea 8-14

The LORD says,
"Worshiping other gods is like worshiping the wind.
It is like planting worthless seeds."

My daughter was riding in the subway and overheard a conversation, a modern conversation. The group of people was proclaiming their "diversity." One said, "I think the Bible is a good book but its just and only that. It is not sacred at all." Another proclaimed, "Jesus was a good man, perhaps even a wise prophetic voice, but he was not God. There is no god." Yet another jumped in with, "We all just need to find a religion or some sort of spirituality that works for us. They're all the same. There is no one true god or one true path. Jesus, Buddha, Mohammad, Krishna, Confucius...it doesn't matter...bottom line, there is no difference. Worship whomever you want."

In a culture of diversity and tolerance, in a country that lifts up freedom of religion, in a post modern age, these statements are common, not only in subways but in main line churches. Interfaith dialogue and acceptance are the direction our society is going. And many Christian churches and pastors are encouraging it.

It is easy to get swept up in the syncretism. After all, we are a democracy and each citizen has the "right" to chose and worship as each pleases. It is good not to want to kill or destroy an individual or a people group just because they disagree with you.

And so, most of us either join the main stream of thought or keep our mouths closed to avoid conflict or sounding superior. We certainly wouldn't want either.

But today's scripture, in fact, all of the Kings, Chronicles and Prophets challenge this syncretistic malaise. According to the scriptures, God is not for diversity when it comes to worship. God claims over and over and over and over that the LORD, YHWH, the God of Israel, is the one and only god, and that to worship or pray to any other is absolutely useless, a waste of time.

Does this mean if we love God and our neighbor that we at least venture to proclaim to even our best friends, our closest associates, our family members who might be pursuing other religions and gods that they are wasting their time? Would we tell someone we loved they were driving the wrong direction, that the pills they were taking were placebos, that they were investing in a known money pit? Would we dare love someone enough to show them this passage in scripture? Do we dare love God enough to speak up? Do we even believe this or do we set it aside as a ranting and raving of a prophet long ago?

I believe it.

And believe me, it is hard to speak the truth to someone you love who has worshipped another god or who has no god.

It is a hard act of love.

Of neighbor.

And God.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Day 200: A Spirit of Prostitution

Today's Reading: Hosea 1-7

"A spirit of prostitution leads them astray; they are unfaithful to their God." Hosea 4:12

"Their deeds do not permit them to return to their God. A spirit of prostitution is in their heart; they do not acknowledge the Lord." Hosea 5:4

In the book of Hosea, God calls a man into a troubling life of sorrow in order to mirror the heartache of God. Hosea is called by God to marry a known adulterous woman, a prostitute, who no more loves Hosea than Israel regards God.

As the spirit of prostitution is explored in Hosea, we, with our modern assumptions often miss the point. Most of us would agree that very few girls when asked what they want to do when they grow up would say, "I want to be a prostitute; I want to live a life of whoredom."

Prostitution seems to be a lifestyle that is fallen into. A young woman running from problems at home finds herself on the street with no way to live. When left with nothing, what is left to barter?

In the book, Les Miserables, Fantine, a woman who finds herself trying to feed her illegitimate daughter, ends up on the streets after being kicked out of the factory. She sells her hair, she looks for work, and soon realizes the only way she can earn money is to prostitute herself. She has no provider. She has no protector.

In scripture, the Hebrew word for prostitution alludes to a slightly different twist. The word itself, zawnoon, has its roots in a word that implies a desire to be highly fed; to long for more than what one has been given. This use of the word prostitution thus points to a dissatisfaction, a greediness for more than what one has received, a wanton, roving spirit which gluttonously grabs what does not belong to it.

With this understanding, it is easier to determine the "case" God is bringing against Israel. God is saying, "I have given you myself and still you are not satisfied. You chase after that which you think will make you happy, when I know you will never be filled with what you desire."

God is both humiliated and disappointed. But even moreso, God's heart is torn, just as a parent's heart is torn when his or her child makes destructive decisions.

God says, "You want grain? You want wine? You want wool clothing? Well, then, go and find it, for I will now remove from you my gifts. See if you can find out there what you need! I will no longer provide for you."

God understands the heart of the prodigal who thinks something greater is "out there." God gives the wandering heart free reign. God allows the Spirit of Prostitution to lead its victim all the way to the pig sty, for sometimes, it is only in the pig's pen that the realization of one's poverty is realized.

But unlike many who would turn away from a returning ruined soul, God stands waiting, longing, with ring in hand, robe draped over arm and fatted calf bawling.

"Come, let us return to the LORD.
He has torn us to pieces
but he will heal us;
he has injured us
but he will bind up our wounds.
After two days he will revive us;
on the third day he will restore us,
that we may live in his presence.

Let us acknowledge the LORD;
let us press on to acknowledge him.
As surely as the sun rises,
he will appear;
he will come to us like the winter rains,
like the spring rains that water the earth."

I will arise and go to Jesus,
He will embrace me in his arms.
In the arms of my dear Savior,
O, there are ten thousand charms!

Monday, July 19, 2010

Day 199: No "buts" this time

Today's Reading: 2 Kings 18:1-8; 2 Chronicles 29-31; Psalm 48

Hezekiah, whose name means "Jehovah is my strength," is hailed as the greatest king of all time.

He began with spiritual reform. Priest and all Levitical descendants were ordered to consecrate themselves. All pagan and idolatrous icons were thrown into a burning land fill called the Kidron Valley, which later becomes the symbolic place of the final judgment, where only lepers live. The temple was restored; praise, sacrifices and offerings was reinstated. Passover was celebrated.

He then denounces a dependence upon any outside source. He abandons treaties made in fear with Assyria, claiming God and God alone to be the protector and defender of the people.

Then he breaks the "but" cycle. Previous kings began reform but for some reason couldn't follow through with the entire cleansing process. They "did right in the sight of the LORD, but..." they always left one closet of the kingdom in disarray. Hezekiah chops down the Ashera poles and rids the kingdom of all idolatry.

Such a cleansing was so pleasing to God that God re-engaged with the people of Israel.

I wise woman once told me, "It's the 'buts' that kill you."

I think its time for the church and God's people to remove "but" from our language. Our hesistation is killing us. Our incomplete devotion keeps us weak.

Thank you, Hezekiah, for your witness to us in all times and places.

Day 198: Judgment?

Today's Reading: Isaiah 23-27

There is an old question: Which came first, the chicken or the egg?

As I listen to NPR and hear of fisherfolk crying out for justice due to the oil well eruption in the gulf, as global wars continue, as economies falter and unemployment continues, it makes me wonder. Is this the judgment of God?

This might seem like a naive and ridiculous question in our post enlightenment society where we are all very scientific and many dismiss religion as mythical. Most in our age would state they are "spiritual" but would probably say any god as little to do with their lives.

Yet, with a newspaper in one hand and the prophets' voices in the other, one can begin to understand the far right proponants who claim, "God is angry! The end times are near."

Our movie theaters support this apocalyptic theme. It seems our planet is not just at risk, but about to explode with a myriad of irreversible symptoms which will lead to its demise.

How should an educated, modern, justice and mercy pastor interpret all of this? Will our present progressive theologies provide the answers? Or should I turn back to the gloom and doom theologies of previous centuries?

How do I deal with Isaiah?

I wonder if sometimes Isaiah felt the same squeeze. For three years, in his longing to deal with the incongruities of life and the challenge of his age, he ran around naked! What drives a brilliant man to such matters? And how did such a prophet's preaching survive if he was truly crazy?

Or was he right on?

Is God calling us to a wake up call?

O God, our help in ages past,
Our hope for years to come.
Be Thou our guard while life shall last
And our eternal home.

Under the shelter of Thy throne
Thy saints have dwelt secure.
Sufficient is Thine arm alone
And our defense is sure.

Guide me, O Thou, Great Jehovah,
I am indeed a pilgrim
This time and land
And even your Word
Often feels very foreign.
I will trust you.

Songs of praises
I will ever sing to Thee.

Day 197: The God we disregard

Today's Reading: Isaiah 18-22

While reading through the book of Isaiah where God is punishing all the surrounding enemies of God's people, I think to myself, I do not know this God.

Perhaps I have been raised too long in a culture where God is kind and loving and full of compassion. The God who sits back and lets whole nations crumble is hard to read about, much less embrace. The God who throws people into civil war and terror is hard for me to get my mind around.

This makes me ask the question, "Is this my problem or God's?" The obvious answer is that it is my problem. But my gut response is a sadness that I really, truly do not understand God.

"My ways are not your ways
nor are my thoughts your thoughts."

This is what God is saying to me today. It is disconcerting. It feels like what it must be like for a woman one day to wake up beside her husband and not know him.

Lord, show me and teach me.
You are scaring me.
But I trust you...

Friday, July 16, 2010

Day 196: Cavalry God

Today's Reading: Isaiah 13-17

When I was young, I used to watch Westerns on TV with my dad. A common scene was a battle scene when all seemed lost. Ammunitions and supplies were low. Those who could fight were dropping like flies. The war was about to be lost.

And then...in the far distance...you would hear the bugle of the cavalry.

Fresh troops riding on fresh steeds would enter the fray and in moments, the battle that was thought to be lost turns to victory.

Often we find ourselves at our wit's end. We've fought, we've used all our ammo, our emotional supplies are running low.

Isaiah encourages us today to raise our banner on a bare hilltop and shout! Send out the s-o-s! Declare "May Day!"

Isaiah declares God is just around the corner to fight the battle. The battle belongs to the LORD. You are to sit back and watch the LORD pull up on his fresh steed and turn all your losses into victories.

Is it no wonder then, that in the final days, when Christ returns, there will be a trumpet, a bugle of the heavenly cavalry. Then the Prince of Calvary will pull up with all the heavenly hosts on his great white steed and take care of our final enemy, Death, once and for all.

Hallelujah! Come, LORD Jesus, quickly come!

Day 195: Dealing with the "enemy"

Today's Reading: 2 Chronicles 28; 2 Kings 16-17

Sibling rivalry is as old as Cain and Abel. Sometimes it is with our own blood that we fight. Judah and Israel are being attacked by neighboring countries, and yet, they still seem to find time to carry on a civil war.

Today's story, the king of Judah has been defeated by outside forces. Israel sees them weak and decides to jump in and get some of the plunder for themselves. As they sneak out of Dodge with riches and girls, they are met by Oded, the prophet of the LORD.

"How dare you steal from your brother!" proclaims the prophet. Oded, whose name means "restorer," comes in to initiate and intervention for the family of God. He stands like a mother between two defiant sons and says, "Just wait til your Father comes; he's going to be mad. You best restore what you have taken to your brother before he comes with punishment...go on...give it back."

Fortunately, the people of Israel listen and return their brother's goods.

I'm glad we didn't have to sit through a few chapters of "time out" dialogue before the inevitable took place.

Plundering the enemy is a bad thing. God does not like it.

Instead, God says, "Pray for your enemy; feed and clothe them; and while you are at it, pray for them. Your enemy is really your brother and....my dear child, it is often your heart that needs to be changed, not theirs."

Day 194: Naked

Today's Reading: Micah

One day, each of us will face nakedness.

Today, I talked with a friend who is caring for her father as he goes through the process of dying. A once strong man with wit and courage, now lies in his bed, having to be tended by his children who feed him, bathe him and care for his toilet.

We get a glimpse of this humility every time we visit a doctor's office and are handed the open back hospital gown. Though we try to cover up our most vulnerable spots, the gown falls open, revealing our nakedness.

In scripture, nakedness was a created reality without shame until disobedience entered. Once marred by stubbornness and rebellion, nakedness became the very symbol of shame. The poor were shamed by their inability to keep clothed. The repentant or grieved tore their clothing in shame. The harlot was stripped to expose her sin to the world.

Micah tells the people, "You are naked, you are in shame. God sees the intimate places and all is disrobed before him. You cannot cover up the darkness of your hearts."

It is interesting to me that nakedness--the state in which we enter the world and in which we leave the world---is also the state when we can become most intimate with the one we love. And yet, it is something which is reserved for that relationship alone.

For another to strip us, is shameful.

Let us come naked before the one who truly loves us.

And let us make sure we have our spiritual garments in place when we are anywhere else.

Day 193: Light at the end of a tunnel

Today's Reading: 2 Chronicles 27; Isaiah 9-12

When you were young, did you hold your breath as you rode through a tunnel? We did! And man, some of those tunnels were long!

Reading through Kings,Chronicles and their accompanying prophetic counterparts is like going through a long, dark tunnel. It seems the living breath needed to survive is being held back intentionally. Only once in awhile, do we get to sneak a breath of life giving oxygen when some king comes up to "do what was right in the sight of the LORD."

Jotham was such a king. He was a breath of fresh air. He was honorable and was able to regain for Jerusalem, some of its lost treasure stores. During his reign, Isaiah proclaims:
The people walking in darkness
have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of the shadow of death
a light has dawned.

Those of us who are post resurrection Christians cannot hear this verse in the same way the people of Isaiah's era did. We can only hear it as a prophetic announcement of Jesus Christ's incarnation. The gospel of John liberally uses this Old Testament text to point to the incredible "rightness" of Christ as he did all that was "right in the sight of the LORD."

But here is what I am learning from today's passage: anytime anyone walks in the paths of the LORD, light dawns; for it is the path of the LORD that is Christ--the way, the truth and the life. When Jesus proclaims, I am the light of the world, a dark earth greets its Great Light. But then Jesus proclaims, YOU are the light of the world.

The world is traveling in a dark, dark tunnel, holding its breath, hoping for fresh air and light to dawn upon it.

You just might be part of the flashlight squad.

You just might be part of the resuscitation team.

It's what you've been created and saved to be!

Monday, July 12, 2010

Day 192: Comfortable beds

Today's Reading: Amos 6-9

At the end of a long and weary day, there is nothing like a good meal, a good glass of wine, a good book and your own comfortable bed. You sink into these comforts of home and give out an audible sigh of contentment.

Amos reminds us to not get complacent in our comfort. If our "ivory beds" and "bowls of wine" keep us from remembering those in our communities who are suffering, who are exiled from their families, who are foreigners in our midst, we need a wake up call pulling us out of our bed and onto our knees.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Day 191: You're "It"

Today's Reading: Amos 1-5

In the midst of a hot muggy summer, we are slogging through the kings and prophets whose stories seem like a broken record, whose monotonous stories lull us into some heavy duty "dog days" where we just want to curl up and not read any more.

During seasons like this, I remember my children grabbing my hand and pulling me into the outdoors to play tag or better yet, hide and go seek. Of course, before I was even out the door, I was labeled the infamous "It."

While I counted to 10 or 100 depending upon how well hidden they wanted to be or how long I wanted to search, they giggled with delight, prancing off to known "best hides."

Today's reading tells us three times in chapter 5, "Seek!" Seek the Lord. Seek good. Seek the Lord. And in the seeking we are going to find life.

God puts us in the position of "It" and giggles while hiding in sometimes places that are just too hidden. We sometimes decide the call to "seek" is too rigorous, especially on heavy duty "dog days" and walk away from the game before God's hidden wonders are found.

But God grabs our hands and says, "Com' On! Get in the game. Let's have an adventure...and you're It!"

The paradox, though, is this. When we seek God and when we find God, then God proclaims, "You're It!" You're the one to stand up. You're the one to jump in. You're the one to make a difference. You're the one who will change the world. You're the one I'm calling.

You're It.

We don't get to trade places with God and hide.

We never get a turn of hiding from God.

And the better we get at the seeking, the more we get to seek.

We always are It.

It's a funny twist on an old game.

Day 190: Weedy Garden

Today's Reading: Isaiah 5-8

For the last couple days, my hubby has been bent over pulling weeds in the garden. His muscles are sore from man-handling the tiller. Despite his attention to perfect soil preparation, research of prime seed and seedlings and proper planting techniques, the weeds have come, the plants are full of bugs and the yield is not what was hoped.

God had trouble with his vineyard too. Despite perfect husbandry, the vines produced poorly and what was produced was wormy.

I told my hubby, "Just forget about it. We can go to the farmer's market and buy fruits and vegetables at an inexpensive rate. It will be so much less hassle!"

"But it won't be mine," my husband tells me. "I planted this garden. I've touched every seed. I remember every seedling."

And so he spends countless, backbreaking, sweat dripping hours working diligently to redeem his garden from the encroaching weeds.

I would give it all up. I would mow it down. I would burn it to kill off all the weed seeds.

But it is not my garden.

It is his, and he will do anything to regain it.

My husband sounds like my God.

I think of this as I sit in the comfort of air conditioning, looking at my husband in the burning sun, and I am grateful for him and grateful for God.

Day 189: Rebellious children

Today's Reading: Isaiah 1-4

So here's how it goes...

You are pregnant, have morning sickness, swell up, go into labor, have PAIN!, and then welcome the sweetest little one known to humankind.

Then you spend lots of money feeding, doctoring, clothing and buying all the "essentials" for the little tyke. He keeps you up all night, you feed her from your body draining calcium and nutrients from your own stores, you give up your career and your life.

You take pictures, the little one becomes the center of your every moment, you fall helplessly in love and you naturally and voluntarily over commit to this new life.

You pray, you coax, you love, you discipline, you read endless stories, you give cute birthday parties, you change diapers, clean up all sorts of body fluids, and you love every minute of it until...

You get the rolled eyes, the smart mouth, the disobedience, the disdain, the slamming doors and the harsh criticism as the love of your life rebels against you, its life giver.

As we read in Isaiah this morning, this was God's experience with the people of Israel. God has rebellious children.

God---the perfect one, the one who could teach parenting classes,---struggled with parenting also.

I reared children and brought them up,
but they have rebelled against me.

God shares openly with his children. God even invites a reasonable conversation; treats them---us---with adulthood respect, despite our adolescent tendancies.

But God also gives his children a tongue lashing and we wonder if these differences will ever be resolved.

For any of us who have ever gone to bed at night wondering if our children, our beloved ones, will ever find the way, the truth and the life, it is good to know that we are in good company.

God has cried into his pillow at night for his children, too.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Day 188: Confrontation

Today's Reading: 2 Kings 15; 2 Chronicles 26

In the midst of all the assassinations, wars, evils and actions of the kings of Israel and Judah is a very interesting couple of verses which speak volumes about power, pride, confrontation, responses and consequences.

In 2 Chronicles we read these words:

After Uzziah became powerful, his pride led to his downfall. He was unfaithful to the LORD his God, and entered the temple of the LORD to burn incense on the altar of incense. Azariah the priest with eighty other courageous priests of the LORD followed him in. They confronted him and said, "It is not right for you, Uzziah, to burn incense to the LORD. That is for the priests, the descendants of Aaron, who have been consecrated to burn incense. Leave the sanctuary, for you have been unfaithful; and you will not be honored by the LORD God." Uzziah, who had a censer in his hand ready to burn incense, became angry. While he was raging at the priests in their presence before the incense altar in the LORD's temple, leprosy broke out on his forehead.

Power is a very dangerous thing. It seduces us into thinking we have reign over more territory than we actually do. Power encourages us to break boundaries and to try to rule over what does not belong to us.

This is what is called Pride. Pride is not taking responsibility and authority over what is ours to govern. It is when we crash into places which are not ours to invade; when we break boundaries; when we trespass onto ground which does not belong to us.

Amazingly, the ones who did have authority over the temple and priestly duties in this case rose to the occasion and confronted a very powerful force. They stood together in unity and said, "No!"

This is probably one of the hardest concepts for us in modern day culture to grasp. It is even harder for us to take action when it comes to another's power turned into greedy pride. To stand up and confront is hard work.

The most common reason why confrontation is hard and often avoided is the response of the trespasser. Most often when a fence is broken by an aggressive pride, the aggressor when confronted does not humbly apologize and offer to back off from the invaded property. Instead, fueled by anger, the aggressor often becomes more, well, aggressive. More "property" is breached and destroyed, and the one confronting usually has to deal with the fall out.

The consequence in this story is leprosy, a disease which exiled its host. How true this is in reality. Crashing into places out of prideful power kills communities and relationships.

It is true that good fences make good neighbors.

Forgive us our trespassing as we forgive those who trespass into our space.

Lord, give us the courage to stand guard at our gates.

Lord, give us the grace to mend fences.

Day 187: Intestinal Theology

Today's Reading: Jonah

I cannot count the times I've heard, read or preached on Jonah. Often the theme is reluctance to do God's bidding, the persistence of God or the power of repentance. I've even preached on the obedience of God's creatures as opposed to the obedience of God's people.

But today, with a fresh heart and a fresh reading, I saw a new theme in the book of Jonah.

As Jonah was being enveloped in the intestine of the sea and later in the slime and corrosive juices of a fish belly, an amazing trinitarian theology was lifted up in prayer.

From the depths of the grave I called for help,
and you listened to my cry.

I have been banished
from your sight;
yet I will look again
toward your holy temple.

To the roots of the mountains I sank down;
the earth beneath barred me in forever.
But you brought my life up from the pit,
O LORD my God.

The omnipresence, omniscience and omnipotence of God is experienced even and perhaps, more acutely, in the gut wrenching vomit of our lives.

What is it about distress that turns us to God? Or perhaps a better question, why do we need the suffering to get our attention, to focus us so sharply...finally.

Whether we are God's reluctant prophets, God's obedient fish or God's enemies, God's grace seems to be relentless toward us. God rhetorically asks, "Is not every bit of my creation my concern? Should I not have pity? Should I not do all in my power to spare them?"

This incredible Hebrew word which speaks of God's great feeling which goes out toward one who is in trouble is at the essence of how our God is. It speaks to the loving kindness and tender mercy which are inescapable from God's being.

The inner compassion, the intestinal response of God arises from God's essential character.

And, man, is that a grace for us!

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Day 186: Are they not written in the book?

Today's Reading: 2 Kings 14; 2 Chronicles 25

Have you noticed a literary pattern in the scribes of Israel's history?

With the death of each king, the scribes end with the all encompassing phrase: "As for the other events of (so-and-so's) reign, from beginning to end, are they not written in the book of (such and such.)"

This phrase is daunting. Can you imagine being followed around by a scribe all day and having every thing you do and say being written down for all of history to review?

I see this as a very hard thing for our leaders in our country. Every move they make, someone is watching and reporting. Meeting's minutes are recorded; quotes are saved; cameras record every piece of clothing and every twist of the face.

How intimidating!

And yet, we are told in scripture that there is a book which is recording our lives. Spiritual paparazzi are filming and reporting not only our actions and words but our inner most thoughts, to be reviewed by God.

One of the most scary songs I learned as a child was not about a ghost or a goblin, but about this truth. It was the song, "Be Careful."

O be careful little eyes what you see;
O be careful little ears what you hear;
O be careful little hands what you do;
O be careful little feet where you go;
O be careful little mouth what you say;

For the Father up above is looking down in love,
So be careful...

Why was this so scary? Because I believed it and because I knew my own sin.

Thinking that God saw every bit of my life made me realize God's power and God's presence. I felt like Job who said, "Won't you even turn your back one moment so I can go to the bathroom?"

Comprehending the omnipresence of God is scary and humbling. In fact, it is terrifying unless we can hold onto the line in the song which speaks to the Father's character, God's essence--God's Love.

I know God is recording and so I am more careful. There is nothing off the record. And I know I will be judged.

How grateful I am for the LOVE of God through Jesus Christ which says, "The guilty are set free."

Thank you, Jesus, that my name is written in your Book of Life.

Day 185: Close, but no cigar

Today's Reading: 2 Kings 12-13; 2 Chronicles 24

Summer is the season of amusement parks and amusement parks are the proprietors of carnival rides and booths.

In the mid-20th century, fairground stalls offering shooting matches, ring tosses and other games of "skill" gave out cigars as prizes. (Obviously, the only ones who were to be playing these games were men; or perhaps it was believed only men could win at these stalls!)

As contestants would gather to play, the Hawker would stand as advertiser, peddler and judge over the games. As the ring missed the peg or the bullet the bull's eye, he would yell, "Close, but no cigar!"

In our scripture readings throughout the books of the Kings and Chronicles, we see many righteous people getting "close, but no cigar." Time and time again, the kings who are "doing what is right in the sight of the LORD" fall just short of a successful outcome and end up getting very little if any progress from their efforts.

Despite the dream of rebuilding temples or reinstating the worship of God, there is always left the roots of idol worship. Ashera poles are still standing, some cultic places of worship are still attended or a priest from a false god still remains.

It is hard for us to get to the root of our idolatry. We clean up our behaviors, we shine and polish our outward appearances, but somewhere in the heart of our temple, the seeds of idolatry still remain. We are like our sister, Rachel, who steals her household idols from her father's house as she runs off to marry a man of God. We hide them, we protect them, we have trouble giving them up. We sit on them, denying their existence.

Thus, the prayer, "Create in me a clean heart, O God," is such an amazing prayer. It acknowledges, first and foremost, that the heart is dirty. It then acknowledges that a creation needs to take place by the only creator. And it acknowledges that I cannot do this for myself, only God can.

I might get close, but I will never win the cigar. My aims will always be futile. I will always miss the mark. I can't clean my heart. I can't rid the temple of the idols. I can't tear down my Ashera poles.

It takes a work from God. It takes the refining fire of the Holy Spirit. It takes the cleansing blood of Christ.

Day 184: Baal Destruction

Today's Reading: 2 Kings 9-11

Ba-al worship is idolatry.

A god whose name means "life giver" offers a lie which distracts us from the truth.

Ba-al worship is popular.

It is not just some ancient religion. It is the religion we all choose when we get our eyes off the one true God and run after a substitute seeking life.

Ba-al worship is old.

It began in the garden of Eden, when a couple chose forbidden fruit over all the permitted fruit of the garden. It chooses death over life. It chooses falsehood and ease over faithfulness and truth.

Ba-al worship is seductive.

It gives us what we immediately desire and never fulfills what we truly want or need.

Ba-al worship can be destroyed.

It takes the anointed ones to get up and go, to seek out all that is false, to contain it and destroy it. It takes the knocking down of our own false pillars of pride and our own false towers of Babel. It takes a constant vigilance of the watchers in the tower to warn against approaching enemies. It takes the courage and the boldness to say 'no' to the slithering tempter. It takes a firm crushing of the head of the serpent.

Day 183: The humility of obedience

Today's Reading: 2 Kings 5-8

Naaman's story has been a favorite of mine since my days in Sunday School. A great man, a great warrior, a great captain of an army is "struck down" by an incurable disease.

A servant girl who has heard about the prophet summons the courage to speak and hope for healing.

With great regalia, Naaman comes before the king. The king cannot cure him, but sends him to the prophet. Elisha does not even honor this captain with his presence, but through a servant, tells the man to was seven times to receive healing.

Naaman, a commander, is full of pride. Could not the prophet come and speak to me? Could not there be a big show? Could not the rivers I know create the same effect?

Often, what we want from God is shrouded by our own whims and wishes. God says, Go and do this. We protest. We want the course of our salvation to be framed to our pleasing. We think we know best. We think our ideas which milk our pride sound more rational and reasonable.

In this story, it is the servants whose lives depend upon immediate and specific obedience, who are the heroes. They understand that they are in no position to argue with the commander, the master. They share their wisdom with one who has been full of himself.

Naaman finally is enlightened, and with his humility comes obedience. With obedience comes healing.

This commander stands counter to the commander who meets Jesus. The man in charge of a legion of soldiers begs the Holy One of Israel to heal his son. He has no preset plan. In fact, he says, "Just say the word and my son will be healed." This man understands obedience. He says, "I say to my servant, 'Go!' and he goes." Surely the King of the Universe can execute his plans according to his whims.

So God says, "You want to be clean? You want to be forgiven? You want eternal life? Believe in my Son and the work of salvation given freely to you on the cross."

And we argue.


We need to listen to the servants among us who call us to humble obedience.

And by the way, just like Elisha, God will not receive pay for the healing. It is free.

It is grace.

Day 182: The man of God

Today's Reading: 2 Kings 1-4

Throughout the reading today, the phrase "man of God" is used in tandem with the word prophet or the names Elijah and Elisha. The "man of God" has power from God. He speaks with authority; he knows the future; he provides for the widow; he raises the dead; he defeats his enemies; he counsels kings; he takes barley loaves and feeds hundreds of people.

These passages in 2 Kings foreshadow and set the stage for the ministry of another "man of God" who will come on the scene much later--Jesus, the Son of God and the Son of Man.

Jesus' prophetic role is born from the prophets of old. It is no wonder that some thought he was the re-incarnation of Elijah or Elisha.

Right before Elijah is swept up by the chariot, comin' for to carry him home, Elisha has the wisdom to ask for a double portion of Elijah's spirit. As Elisha witnesses the ascension of Elijah into heaven, the transfer of authority and power takes place.

As the disciples stood watching Jesus ascend into heaven, Jesus transfers his authority and power over to them.

As the people of God, Jesus says we have this same power, the power of the prophets, the power of Jesus. Jesus calls us to use that power to go into all the world to make disciples.

I think we forget that this power is available to us today. We down play it as either myth or no longer available to us, but this is false. God has given us authority and power to accomplish the tasks set before us.

Like many who have gone before us, this scares us. We know the seduction of power and we also have seen power abused. We think we are not up to the task and truthfully, without God, we definitely are not.

But we need to have the tenacity and persistence of Elisha. We need to stick to God's words, God's call, God's prophetic word and refuse to leave it.

The men of God--the people of God--have this kind of stick-to-itiveness. They refuse to let go until the blessing is realized. They refuse to leave the widow despite the risk. They refuse to go seeking after other gods for advice. They refuse to give up on God's marvelous adventures.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Day 181: Mocking a brother

Today's Reading: Obadiah; Psalm 82-83

I have been spending the week at a camp with 4th-6th graders. These are children who are full of curiosity, energy and, like sponges, soak up behaviors all around them.

They are also at a stage in life where they very much obsess on fairness, mocking and vengeance if left to their own devices. Phrases like, "Let's get them back for what they did to us!" and "That's not fair!" are common.

They, like us, laugh at another's misfortune at times, especially when the misfortune comes upon someone who is weaker, helpless or outside the group. It is not a lovely attribute, this mocking, this gloating, this derisive laughter.

Often camp counselors and directors have to step in and put an end to this behavior. Once it starts, it is hard for the mocker to self discipline.

Obadiah, the prophet, stands among the people of Israel and says, "Do not laugh over the misfortunes of Judah." Remember that you are related! You come from the same family. This kind of sibling rivalry must stop.

We are all called to be "Obadiahs"--servants of YHWH---ones who recognize the evil mocking tendency in each and everyone of us. That vengeful trait which cuts another down to crawl a bit higher her back. The ones who stand back with whispering lips and chuckling diaphragms while another struggles in the lime light created by our green envy or pride.

We can recognize it in others. Can we catch ourselves in the act and stop immediately? If we can't, we will never be able to fulfill the will of God.

Cain asked, "Am I my brother's keeper?" He thought this was a rhetorical question. He thought the answer was an obvious, "No way!"

God answered just the opposite.

Defend the cause of the weak and fatherless;
maintain the rights of the poor and oppressed.

Rescue the weak and needy;
deliver them from the hand of the wicked.
Obadiah 1:3-4

God answers with a resounding, "Yes!"