October 31, 2011 § Leave a comment
Right beliefs and right actions cannot be separated. Worship and mission belong together, and the one is not possible without the other. That is at the heart of the prophet Amos’ sharp tirade against the false confidence of Israel in Amos 5:18-24. He found their worship practices to be hollow and announces that God would have none of it (5:22). The problem was not Israel’s worship practices per se, but divorcing those practices from matters of justice and righteousness in their dealings with especially the marginalized and poor in their communities. It is the agenda of all the prophets. Just to name two examples: Isaiah complains about Sabbath observances that are disconnected from care for the needy (Isaiah 58); Micah reminds us that God’s requirements are to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God (Micah 6:8). And, of course, for Jesus justice and mercy deserve special attention as the “weightier matters of the Law” (Matthew 23:23). You and I probably just came out of worship services less than 24 hours ago. What difference will that make in the lives of the marginalized in our towns and neighborhoods?
October 27, 2011 § Leave a comment
In 1 Thessalonians 2:9-13, Paul’s great concern is to maintain the relationship he has forged with his readers by reminding them about the time he spent with them in the past. To this end, he gave them concrete examples as proofs that demonstrate he and his companions came as God’s emissaries and were not seeking their own glory (2:4). In doing so, he focuses on his integrity in his relationship to them. But he also shifts the focus to them by encouraging them to live their own lives of integrity in relationship with God. He calls this integrity “a life worthy of God” (2:12). If God is a trustworthy God, then our response should be likewise. Living a life worthy of God can obviously mean many things, but in the next verse there is a clear connection with how the Word of God is received. He says, “when you received the word of God that you heard from us, you accepted it not as a human word but as what it really is, God’s word, which is also at work in you believers” (2:13). No integrity is possible without allowing the Word of God to transform your life as the true Word of God through the power of the Holy Spirit.
October 26, 2011 § Leave a comment
Psalm 43 is the third part of a larger unit that includes Psalm 42. Psalm 42-43 includes an identical refrain repeated three times: “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my help and my God” (Psalm 42:3; 42:11; and 43:5). Rolf Jacobson writes the following about Psalm 43: “This psalm is a song for those moments when one doesn’t feel like singing. It is a poem of faith for those cold nights when one doesn’t feel the flames of faith flickering too warmly in one’s soul. It is a psalm for those times when one feels separate from God.” This experience of separation from God is already evident in Psalm 42 (see verses 1-2). And it leads to the question posed to God, “why have you cast me off?” (43:2). Many Christians think it is not appropriate to acknowledge such feelings or to question God in such a manner. And yet, writes Jacobson, “Such questions aimed at God are not the sign of a weak faith or an absent faith. Rather, such questions are typical of the tenacious faith of the psalmists. Indeed, such challenges to God should be understood as one of the characteristic marks of true biblical faith.” It is during such a process of wrestling with God that true hope emerges, namely a hope that gives up on relying on anything within the self, but rather find hope outside of the self in the only One that is trustworthy in situations like this. Hope in God is approaching our day with a vision firmly focused on God’s ability to show up in the midst of any circumstances this day can deliver.
October 25, 2011 § 1 Comment
Jesus’ critique of the Pharisees in Matthew 23:1-12 is not against their intentions to God per se. They have all the good intentions of living faithfully in obedience to God’s law. The two significant problems Jesus have with them are related to (1) their lack of practicing what they preach to other people (23:2-4); and (2) their motivation in doing the God’s law as a way to gain favor and honor from other (23:5-7). In this sense, we can all identify with the Pharisees. Jesus’ critiques are meant for us as well. We are struggling with the discrepancies in our life of faith. We know one thing, but constantly doing another. Behind the facade of our good intentions are our inabilities to live up to the standards of the Law. And therefore, we all are vulnerable on this issue of hypocrisy – “do as I say, but don’t do as I do”. We live in a culture where we are constantly measured up against the standards of others around us, and therefore, we have mastered the art of impressing others for the sake of gaining their acceptance and approval. But deep down, all of us also know that we need Jesus. Not only to critique us, but to offer His grace that surpasses all of our inabilities, hypocrisies, discrepancies, and above all, disobedience.
October 24, 2011 § Leave a comment
Prophets are awkward. Micah is no exception. He was called “to declare to Jacob his transgression, to Israel his sin” (Micah 3:8). For many, filled with the Holy Spirit means something exotic, but for this prophet, it implied the exposure of a people’s inability to care for others with true justice. Micah speaks against the lack of concern for the poor among the rulers of the day, but he also criticizes the preachers and false prophets who are all too willing to say whatever people want to hear. The problem is that those who have the power to make things happen, such as the rulers, priests and judges of Micah’s time, wield their power unjustly. In our time, many may disagree (depending on your political ideals) on where the primary responsibility lies for social and economic justice and what the proper strategies should be, but the concern itself is not optional – at least not for those who read and believe the Bible. Churches and individual Christians also have the responsibility and power to do something about justice and care for the poor in our own neighborhoods and communities. What are you and I going to do about that today?
October 20, 2011 § Leave a comment
The Book of Psalms starts in a fascinating way. It is as if the key to unlocking the depth of all 150 poems and songs in this book is given right at the beginning. “Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of the sinners or sit in the seat of the mockers. But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night” (Psalm 1:1-2). The hymnal of ancient Israel opens with a poem about lifestyle. The goal of worship is a changed life. The alternatives for every single person is quite clear: do you walk in the counsel of the wicked or do you delight in the law of the Lord? Of course, it is easy to think that at least I’m not deliberately choosing for the counsel of the wicked. The problem though is that the wicked seduce us with its wisdom in very subtle ways. As someone once wrote, “The devil doesn’t jump out in a red suit, breathing fire, and wielding a blazing pitchfork. No, the devil dresses up like an angel of light, promising you the moon.” Neither is it as easy as it sounds to delight in the law. We live in a society that says, “Don’t break the law”, but to actually delight in God’s law is to love a disciplined lifestyle in which I continuously learn to focus on God as first priority in my life. Which choice will you and I really make today?
October 18, 2011 § Leave a comment
Our understanding of the Christian faith may sometimes be accurate in terms of what it is we believe, but the more important question is always whether our understanding is adequate. Is it adequate in the sense of getting us to the core of what our faith truly means? For example, the knowledge of the Pharisees in their Q&A sessions with Jesus was not inaccurate, it was simply inadequate. The Pharisees understood the law very well, but Jesus’ answer to their question (22:34-40) takes them to the heart of the issue. You can obey the law and still miss what it truly means, namely to love God and love you neighbor. It is even more evident when Jesus turns the tables on them by asking them a question (22:41-46). “What do you think about the Christ?”, Jesus asks. Their answer is not wrong. He is the son of David. But of course, their answer is completely inadequate. They fail to recognize that this son of David is in fact the Lord. What do you and I think about the Christ. Do we reduce or even distort who Christ is by filtering Him trough our own self-interest? Or will we allow Him to be Lord, the One who cannot be boxed in by our agendas, but who will always rule in God’s kingdom of love?