Frolic Like Well-Fed Calves! A Surprising Image From the Midst of Destruction

An Unusual Message From the Messenger

“I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come,” says the Lord Almighty… “Surely the day is coming; it will burn like a furnace. All the arrogant and every evildoer will be stubble, and the day that is coming will set them on fire,” says the Lord Almighty. “Not a root or a branch will be left to them. But for you who revere my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its rays. And you will go out and frolic like well-fed calves.” (Malachi 3:1; 4:1-2, NIV; Day 40 of working through the Bible)

frolic

Malachi foresaw a messenger who prepared the way of the Lord, and he saw the Lord standing in the temple as the messenger of the covenant. Knowing “the rest of the story”, we know this was fulfilled by John the Baptist preparing the way and Jesus coming to earth to fulfill the covenant and to initiate a new one.

An Attitude That’s in Short Supply


Malachi also saw the day of the Lord coming like a furnace, burning away wood, hay and stubble, destroying “the arrogant and the evildoer”. He says it will leave only those who revere the name of the Lord. Hmmm… Revere means to honor, to treat with deep respect. What do you revere? For what do you have reverence? Reverence is in pretty short supply these days. Finding reverence in private takes concentration and work, and finding it in public settings is extremely uncommon. (Maybe people think that being reverent will make things too dull, and take all the fun out of life…)

Malachi says that an arrogant society, focused on selfish rights and every possible petty slight does not revere much except itself. In the day of the Lord, the proud and selfish will be in for a rude awakening, caught in the light and energy of God in such a way that all of the self-consumed will BE consumed.

The Surprising Result of Reverence

Those who revere God, however, will find healing in His light, and will see the dawn of a new day. They will “frolic like well-fed calves”. This is yet another surprising image springing out of the pages of judgment. Have you ever seen calves frolic? They hop, they bounce, and they gambol, full of random joy that can’t be contained. They are so excited they can’t stand still, and their playful attitude is contagious. True reverence doesn’t make things dull. It brings JOY! So you have two assignments today: Revere God. Frolic!

The Dance of Reverence

Have you ever watched the frolic of calves,
Who bounce with joy, and not by halves?
Who gambol and race at the merest chance,
Expressing delight in an awkward dance?
Have you ever seen the things they do?
Have you ever felt like frolicking, too?
Malachi said that's the way
God's children will frolic, dance and play--
When the sun of righteousness starts to blaze,
And the Kingdom of Heaven spreads its rays
As the world abounds with astounding praise.
May you worship and frolic for all of your days...

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Zephaniah says That You are the Delight of the Almighty God! Believe It!

There is a song your Creator is singing, and it is not the dirge of judgment or the chant of condemnation, it is the Lullaby of Delight. Often we are so focused on God’s righteousness and authority that we tend to forget His love. Zephaniah reflects on those attributes and reminds us that God is not limited to who we sometimes think He is…

Zephaniah

“The Lord your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves. He will take great delight in you; in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing.” (Zephaniah 3:17, NIV) Sometimes is it really nice to stop explaining the Bible or analyzing it just to bask for a while in one of its surprising images. Sometimes the emotional resonance outweighs the scholarly reflection.

A Warrior’s Love Song?

Look at this picture of the Lord in Zephaniah. God (the LORD, the Mighty Warrior) is WITH me, he takes great DELIGHT in me, and he REJOICES over me with singing. The Almighty God of the Universe is not just infinitely powerful, He is infinitely loving. In the middle of a book in which Zephaniah predicts death and destruction, he also offers us a depiction of delight.

The Lord is pictured here as singing over us, and the image is maternal and compassionate. While God is described as a mighty warrior, he is also at once loving and kind. Like a nesting bird protecting its fledglings, like a young mother singing a lullaby to her infant, the Lord holds us with tender love. He is not the God of vengeance who merely wants to rebuke us; He is the loving God who takes great delight in us.

His delight added the final touches to his creation, made perfectly to be our home until sin corrupted it. He delighted in walking with Adam in the garden. His delight brought the Ark to dry land; it was found in the bulrushes of the Nile and in the courts of the Temple in Jerusalem. God’s delight sang to us in the Psalms, and invited us into conjugal bliss in Solomon’s Song. It called to us in the prophets and spoke lovingly to us across centuries before technology or media existed. The Lord’s delight in you was demonstrated on the cross with a stubborn love that would not let you go. The Rabbi who spoke of love and meekness became a mighty warrior who did not quit until his work was finished. Zephaniah says that the mighty warrior sings a lullaby over you.

Are You Feeling What Zephaniah Felt?

This verse has been put into a praise song that says, “Quiet me with your holy love and rejoice over me with singing.” When is the last time your prayer to God simply asked Him to sing over you? When have you listened? Can you hear it, amidst the bustle of every day, the loving voice of a singing God? He bathes you in the light of a new day; he caresses you with gentle breezes… Bask in that for a moment. Climb up into God’s lap and sit for a spell. Can you feel surrounded and protected by His presence? Do you feel His smile lighting the room because you are there?

At the close of your day, do you sense Him drawing near? Listen to his song as it comforts you and surrounds you with joyful affection. Can you hear it, full of love and affirmation? Can you fall asleep each night secure in the Father’s lullaby? Would your life change if you saw yourself as God sees you? What if you saw yourself as delightful and loveable? According to Zephaniah, you are. God takes DELIGHT in you! Next time you look in the mirror, try to see yourself the way God sees you; then smile back at God’s precious child and rejoice!

Lullaby of Love

I created you to love, to have you love Me back,
Allowing you a will, a heart– a voice!
My righteous love provided you whatever you might lack,
While Good and Evil offered you a choice…

I remember walking in the garden hand in hand,
Enjoying perfect love before the Fall;
Sin distorted everything, and Justice now commands
That Judgment be applied to one and all.

Though the world has fallen, and the garden has grown wild,
And pangs of consequence expand the night,
You will always be my joy, my treasure, and my child,
And in you I will always take Delight.

If you listen closely, you will hear amidst the noise,
A Father’s song of love is breaking through,
Calling you to leave your worldly, temporary toys!
Listen: I am singing over you.

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Amazed By the Grandeur of the Universe? What if it Had a Creator?

I was standing outside looking at the stars the other night, and it hit me again that the universe is utterly amazing. I hope I am never so jaded that I fail to be amazed by the world around me. Looking up at the infinite expanse of space, I wondered: is God the Creator of all of this, or just a figment of our imagination? Is it all made by God, or is God all made up? Is there a God who really does things?

The Bible contends that God exists, and that He is active in our universe. “Look at the nations and watch—and be utterly amazed. For I am going to do something in your days that you would not believe, even if you were told.” (Habakkuk 1:5, NIV) This sentence is something that has confounded skeptics and caused debates. Does God do amazing things?

Is God really even out there? Believers say He is. The academic intellectual doubts it. Atheists scoff at the notion. What do you think? Have you ever seen God work, or felt His presence?

Amazed or Not?

Has God really ever done anything in our midst that we would not believe, even if we were told? It is easy to look the world around us and fail to see God. He doesn’t appear on command, and you can’t detect Him with your senses. On the one hand, there are those who say that the only acceptable evidence is purely empirical, based on what we can observe and analyze.

Just apply the scientific method to all that we see, and to our existence: according to science, we came from random explosions in an expanding universe that somehow interacted to synthesize amino proteins which came together to form DNA. It’s all explainable using quantum physics and scientific analysis; you just have to allow enough time for that random process to work and evolve.

amazed

On the other hand, believers say God created the universe with a design and a plan.

On the one hand, you can try to talk to God, but you’ll receive no direct answer, and hear no vocal response. On the other hand, people speak and listen to God with surety every day.

On the one hand, we live in a world where there is cause and effect, and the things that happen can all be explained; on the other hand, people see the hand of God at work. On one hand, technology is altering the way we get information, and people are living in tweets and sound bites, gravitating away from reflection and contemplation. Culture resides in the here and now, not the dusty past… On the other hand, God revealed himself through the Word, and put his wisdom and his story into a book that has to be explored and meditated upon.

Seems kinda backward of God, doesn’t it? Shouldn’t he have waited to come when He could have made the news? Wouldn’t technology have provided a better communications base than the Bible? The intellectuals of this world shoot holes in faith, and many people could say they have not really seen God. Yet Habakkuk claims that God will do something utterly amazing, which “you would not believe, even if you were told.”

“I Wouldn’t Believe it if You Told Me”

You know what? Habakkuk’s prophecy came true. God did just that. He sent his Son to earth as a fragile infant. Jesus of Nazareth said things no one had ever said, and lived as no one else had ever lived. His love and humility astounded his followers and confounded the wise. He went to the cross, in the utterly amazing story of redemption. Habakkuk was right. God did something “in your days” that no one saw coming, even though they had been told about it… It changed the nations, reshaped history, and fulfilled prophecy from thousands of years before.

God not only made everything, but God showed up. He gave us his Word, and He gave us his Son. You’ve now been told; whether you believe it or not, and whether you choose to be amazed by it is totally up to you. (By the way, if you believe it, make sure you tell somebody else about it today! They might be amazed, too!)

The Amazing God

Habakkuk said that God would do some things among the nations
Which would be quite historical, and cause some big sensations.
He said that folks would look upon God’s work and be amazed,
Yet there some who still observe and really are not fazed.
They say that God is not at work, and they can’t really see
That God has ever been at work to alter history…
They might just note that calendars are dated from the birth
Of a baby from Judea who changed everything on earth.
Read his teaching, analyze his life, and then observe
That he came not to rule the world, but to ransom it, and serve.
Habakkuk said we’d be amazed at all that God could do:
Who knew that in a baby, his prediction would come true?
I’ve been amazed by Jesus; tell me, scientist, have you?

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Destruction Draws All of Us Like Moths to a Flame

It seems like we humans can’t avoid destruction: is it that God is really mean, or that sin is just really deadly? As we go through life doing what we want, we keep giving in to temptation, being drawn into sin like a moth to a flame…

destruction moths

“The Lord is good, a refuge in times of trouble. He cares for those who trust in him…” (Nahum 1:7, NIV) Nahum is mainly full of dire predictions about Nineveh’s coming destruction. Apparently the sweeping repentance that happened as a result of Jonah’s preaching there (Jonah 3:10) didn’t last forever.

The More Things Change, the More They Stay the Same

Jonah went to Nineveh around 760 BC, and 100 years later they were back to their adulterous, idolatrous, wicked ways. (Nahum calls her a wanton, lustful harlot, and decries her carved images and temple idols; they have forgotten their sackcloth and ashes, and fallen back into the corrupt pagan practices that had been their downfall just two generations ago…).
Nineveh was spared once before, but returned to sin like a moth to the flame. They probably didn’t want to at first, but they probably couldn’t help themselves. Even though Nahum says “the Lord is slow to anger” in 1:3, He had finally reached the end of His patience with this cruel pagan city, and Nahum says His justice was going to fall upon them like a consuming fire (3:15) or an overflowing flood. (1:8)

And yet, in the midst of this ultimate prediction of destruction, there is a reminder that God cares for those who trust him. There is an affirmation that God is good. And there is the promise that he is a refuge in times of trouble. Nahum is preaching about the coming destruction, and within his sermon there is also the promise of refuge to “those who trust in him”.

The Equation That Never Changes

I get the feeling that even now at the eleventh hour, even as the wheels of justice are being set in motion to grind Nineveh to dust, there is an extended offer of hope. God is amazingly consistent like that, and there is a simple equation that holds true about God’s character that never changes: When we turn arrogance towards the Lord, we will always encounter a righteous judge; when we turn repentance towards the Lord, we will always find a comforting refuge. Nahum’s prediction of judgment is inexorable, but so is God’s promise of goodness and grace. The variable in this equation is us.

The Variable in the Equation

Is it just that God is cruel, and loves to hate the sinner?
Does he hate mankind so much that He must be the winner?
Or could it be that God is loving, offering us His grace,
And calling us to refuge from the midst of our disgrace?
Sin is deadly, and it offers nothing but destruction,
And yet God offers grace if we will follow His instruction:
Here’s a simple way to see if you are on His path,
And this is always true no matter how you do the math:
If we choose rebellious sin, then judgment’s sure to fall;
But if we all repent, then God will offer grace to all.
The God of love and light cannot abide malignant sin,
But offers you His grace and love, no matter where you’ve been.
Question God if you desire: debate, discuss, and cuss–
But He remains the same. The only variable is US.

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Micah Had a Hopeless Case; But His Advocate Encouraged Him to Rise, and Shine!

Most folks would say that we are living in dark times, and if you just listen to the nightly news you will be moved to feel both uncertainty and anxiety. The stress of dealing with a pandemic affects not only how we live but how we react to how we have to live. Depression casts its shadow over normally happy lives, and shadows prevail over sunshine… If you are living in darkness, Micah says you have an advocate, and that you will again be able to rise and shine.

“But as for me, I watch in hope for the Lord, I wait for God my Savior; my God will hear me. Do not gloat over me, my enemy! Though I have fallen, I will rise. Though I sit in darkness, the Lord will be my light. Because I have sinned against him, I will bear the Lord’s wrath, until he pleads my case and upholds my cause. He will bring me out into the light; I will see his righteousness.” (Micah 7:7-9, NIV).

Micah

Micah predicted the destruction of Jerusalem, at a time when Jerusalem seemed to have recovered some of their spiritual equilibrium under Hezekiah. After years of darkness under evil rulers, it seemed that God’s glory over Israel was about to shine again in perpetuity. Yet Micah preached that the opposite was going to happen. I’m sure he was criticized and ridiculed, and there were times when it must have seemed as if he was swimming against the current, standing alone in a culture that felt somewhat holy and successful.

How Should We Deal With Difficulty and Stress?

He says two things that are instructive. 1) He says “I wait for God my Savior”. How many times do I get impatient with God? We are the instant gratification generation, and often try to move far ahead of God’s timing or our own preparedness. Abram waited 25 YEARS for God to fulfill his promise of a son. Moses spent 40 years in Pharaoh’s court, and then 40 YEARS as a fugitive before God called him to lead Israel out of slavery. After his conversion, Paul spent at least three YEARS in the desert being prepared for his mission. Over and over the Bible illustrates that God’s timing often requires patience.

2) Micah sees God’s judgment as one hundred per cent just; he acknowledges God not only as his righteous judge, but also as his advocate. He places his fate entirely in God’s hands. Micah allows the light of God to shine into the darkest parts of his heart. It stands to reason that Micah has to tell his defense attorney everything, and he has to confess to all of his crimes. That might be especially awkward when your advocate is also your judge. In God’s courtroom, however, it is the best move to make.

Confession is not only good for the soul, it is the key to staying right with God. David committed terrible sins, but stayed intimate with God because of his contrite confession. Micah has confidence that he has an advocate in God because he confessed. According to John, it is the same with us: “if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just, to forgive us our sin, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” And, “if any man sin, he has an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the righteous.” (1 John 1:9, 2:1). You want to hope in the Lord? Confess. Rise after you have fallen? Confess. Live in the light? Confess. Receive defense from the best advocate ever? You got it. Take a minute this morning to confess humbly before your God. Then watch. Hope. Rise. Shine!

Micah’s Advocate

Micah lived in misery, without a hope in sight,
And yet he said with confidence, “The Lord will be my light!”
Micah stood before the court whose judgment he must face,
And yet he said “Lord I confess. Please, Father, plead my case.”
So when you stand before the bench, like me and all the rest,
Make sure you have a lawyer who will plead your cause the best;
In this case you will have the greatest chance if you’ve confessed.
Even though there may be darkness covering your eyes,
Confess, and let God plead your case, and see His light, and Rise.

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
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Whining Isn’t What You Expect From a Prophet, But Somehow This Sounds Familiar

Remember being in VBS and listening to the story about Jonah and the whale? (Well the Bible says “great fish”, but the key thing is he was swallowed. That DOES recall a Seinfeld episode where George pretended to be a marine biologist and said he walked right up to the big fish! Jerry corrected him: “Mammal.” George, engrossed in telling his story about being a marine biologist: “Whatever.”) You probably recall that Jonah was ultimately successful in preaching mission to Nineveh, but then he kinda spoiled the whole love thing by whining about it to God. There are several lessons about whining imbedded in Jonah, and I’m pretty sure they weren’t covered extensively in Vacation Bible School…

More Than a VBS Story

At any rate, Jonah is one of the more famous prophets, probably because of the whole “made for VBS” fish story, but his story is really deeper than just being eaten by a whale. He really should be famous because ran from and disagreed with God’s will, and then couldn’t stop whining about it. Unfortunately, this whole whining thing still pops up in the church from time to time… In Jonah’s case, he was party to a downright miracle, and he was unhappy about it. Is there anything we can learn from him today?

“Then God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God relented from the disaster that He had said He would bring upon them, and He did not do it… But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he became angry. So he prayed to the Lord, and said, “Ah, Lord, was not this what I said when I was still in my country? Therefore I fled previously to Tarshish; for I know that You are a gracious and merciful God, slow to anger and abundant in loving-kindness, One who relents from doing harm. Therefore now, O Lord, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live!” (Jonah 3:10; 4:1-3, NKJV).

whining prophet

The Problem With Jonah

Jonah was not a very cooperative prophet. First, he ran in the opposite direction of where God wanted him to go. (Thank goodness we’ve never done that!) He only finally went to Nineveh kicking and screaming, objecting to the possibility that God might spare them. (Apparently he knew better than the Lord did, so he was just going to go his own way, thank you. Have you ever run from a ministry opportunity because it didn’t fit in with YOUR plans?) And second, when God spared Nineveh, Jonah went off and pouted. He set a new record for whining among great men of God. Even when good happened, he had the wrong attitude about the right thing.

On one hand, Jonah could be compared to some pastors today: they are motivated by ego more than by God; they have their own agenda, not the Lord’s; and they are driven by culture instead of God’s word. But, wait! If you agreed with the comments about some of those Pastors, then read through Jonah again…BECAUSE:

Looking at this text, Jonah would also fit in well with some of today’s churchgoers: he knows more than the leadership; if he doesn’t like what they are doing he’ll go somewhere else; if the church doesn’t do what they want, then the whining starts: they will go off and sulk; and they’ll gripe and complain every step of the way. (Ha, you were nodding your head when I was talking about preachers, but now you’re saying, “Wait just a dang minute! He’s quit preaching and gone to meddling!”) Sometimes, it’s probably best to 1) listen to God, 2) just roll up our sleeves and be open to the ministry God wants us to do, and 3) serve.

The Whining Prophet

Jonah rebelled. He wasn't quite
Aligned with God: He ran from sight!
So he was caught in a fish's bite
And stayed in its belly a couple of nights.
When Jesus calls, don't be uptight;
Don't worry about who's wrong or right,
Just serve Lord with all your might!
Humility is God's delight:
It doesn't honor Him when we fight.
Remember these words in capital type:
THE HOLY SPIRIT DOESN'T GRIPE!

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
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Look in the Mirror. If You See a Judge There, Maybe It’s time for a New Look

Jesus must have been pretty familiar with Obadiah, since many of his statements about being judgmental resonate pretty strongly with this short prophetic word. One of the things Obadiah said could be paraphrased like this: Take a hard look in the Mirror: if you see a judge looking back at you, consider this…

look

“The day of the Lord is near for all nations. As you have done, it will be done to you; your deeds will return upon your own head.” (Obadiah v 15, NIV). Reading through the Minor Prophets is not for the timid. This verse certainly connects with Amos and his dire warnings about the Day of the Lord. If you look through these prophetic books, there are plenty of references to God as a Holy and Righteous Judge.

At the same time, it is interesting to note that this theme resonates in Scripture: Galatians 6:7 says “Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap.” Matthew 7:2 says, “For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you.” While the Bible is not real big on karma (See: eastern religions, legalism, causality, and ‘tit for tat’), it is pretty consistent about consequences. And there is the nagging suspicion I have that Jesus meant what he said—that I will be judged, somehow, some way, with the same intolerant standards that I have used to dismiss others.

I have heard a lot of Christians say, “well, of course, God won’t judge ME, because I am covered by grace.” And yes, I believe we are ultimately and irrevocably covered by grace. But I also think that I will stand before God among the great and small (way back there in the “small” section), and I will be humbled by how I lived; that I will be ashamed of what I did (and didn’t do); and that I will see how short-sighted and ignorant my judgments were. Things will look differently to me then than they do now. I will feel the weight of my own selfishness and pettiness, and my sins will be evident before God. (And maybe everybody!)

Yes, I am confident that I will look at my Savior and behold the majesty of God’s grace, and yes I am confident in my salvation. But we Christians tend to see the cross as our escape, and see judgment as an “either-or” situation. Both Jesus and Paul said that followers of Christ would not experience condemnation; I’m not sure either one said we would not experience judgment.

Perhaps, with a whole eternity available for God to work in us and on us, there could be a “both-and” possibility in which ALL of these verses are true… I’m probably treading on thin theological ice to suggest such a thing, but we know that 1) all men will stand before God in judgment, (Hebrews 9:27; Revelation 20:12) and that 2) believers will face their own specific judgment before the Bema seat (I Corinthians 3).

Nowhere are we told that believers are exempt from or immune to judgment, yet I know I often live as if I can make all the mistakes I want, or be as mediocre as I please and it doesn’t hurt anything. OR, I subtly (or blatantly) pronounce judgment on others, particularly if they are liberal or conservative, divorced, or gay, or tattooed, or different from me. Perhaps you do the same thing? If so, read Matthew 7:1-2 again. It says what Obadiah says. In any case, it would probably improve our behavior if all of us Christians lived as if we would indeed reap what we sow, and be judged exactly the way we have judged others. If I read my Bible correctly, we will be.

Here Comes the Judge!

Judging is an easy thing; we do it every day.
As Christians, we judge “sinners” for the things they do and say.
We can call out public sins, or stuff that no one sees,
Sounding in our righteousness like modern Pharisees.
Jesus knew the evil and the wickedness of men,
But said he only came to save us, rather than condemn.
“Judge not, that ye be not judged” is something that he said,
While Obadiah said your deeds will fall upon your head!
So please be careful how you judge, and what you say and do,
Since every judgment that you make will also cover you.
Jesus made a statement: from its terms he never budged;
Remember that he said, “Judge not, let you yourselves be judged.”

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
To buy my book, Beggar’s Bread, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Devotions-Ordinary-Guy/dp/1535457392/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-1&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread
For the Kindle Edition, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Bo-Jackson-ebook/dp/B01K5Z0NLA/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-2&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread

Locusts of Sin Bring Destruction to Everything they Touch

I remember seeing an old movie about some settlers on the prairie who were attacked by a swarm of locusts. The insects literally darkened the sky like a cloud and brought darkness and fear everywhere they went. These clouds of millions of bugs literally consumed all of the crops in their path. These kinds of swarms of Locusts came sweeping through Biblical lands from time to time, eating crops, consuming future food supplies and leaving devastation in their wake…

locusts

Why Judgment?

Here in the 30th book of the Bible, Joel compares the judgment day of the Lord to such an event, a time of fear and devastation. “The day of the Lord is great; it is dreadful. Who can endure it? “Even now,” declares the Lord, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning.” Rend your heart and not your garments. Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, and he relents from sending calamity…Do not be afraid, land of Judah; be glad and rejoice. Surely the Lord has done great things! “I will repay you for the years the locusts have eaten…“ (Joel 2:11-13; 21; 25, NIV)

Since you and I have probably never been swarmed over by millions of locusts, it’s instructive for us to consider what does indeed bring destruction into our lives, and what causes pain, loss, and devastation. It’s also what connects us irrevocably to God’s judgment. which the Minor Prophets are so good at pointing out. We live in a fallen, broken world, and we are subject to the Lord’s judgment because of sin. Our self-will and disobedience bring the locusts destruction into our lives even though (as Joel points out) our Father’s desire is to be gracious and compassionate.

The “Minor” prophets delivered messages that warned about the impending Day of the Lord, a day of judgment and calamity brought about by the unfaithfulness of Israel. God’s intent to allow judgment to fall on Israel is a major theme in the Minor Prophets. Israel is warned that if they keep following little gods, they will indeed encounter justice at the hands of the Living God.

There is, however another theme that stands out like a beautiful flower growing alone on a rough mountain ledge: restoration. God sends the warnings repeatedly to call Israel back to Himself. We have the benefit of hindsight, and yes, Israel left God; they experienced the total devastation akin to locusts eating all of their crops. At the risk of trivializing calamity,  the warnings God gave are actually more significant than the real tragedies that befell Israel.

Truth and Consequences

God’s consistent message was: Sin has consequences, and if you choose to live in sin, you will experience devastation and death. Stay with me, and you’ll be safe and protected. Return to me in genuine, heart-felt repentance, and you will know nothing but grace and compassion. If you don’t choose the locusts of sin, you’ll have my blessing instead!
Two thoughts occur to me here: we all have a tendency to “rend our garments but not our hearts.” First, acting like a Christian for others to see is not the same thing as being yielded and sold out to God. (I know this from years of experience). Remember that He looks upon our hearts, not just our outward behavior.

Second, when we turn to our Father with genuine humility, God will restore us. In Old Testament times, people who felt compelled to repent made a public display of it, tearing their clothes and laying prostrate on the street. Joel tells us to turn to the Lord, to rend our hearts and not just our garments. He says that God intends to make us whole, and to rebuild what our sinful choices have torn down, what the locusts of sin have destroyed. (I also claim this is true, based on years of experience.)

After all that Job went through, after all of the devastation and loss, when he turned back to God, his life was restored. Job 42:10 says “After Job had prayed for his friends, the Lord restored his fortunes and gave him twice as much as he had before.” His repentance resulted in restoration and revival. It didn’t undo all of the damage that had been done, but it did give Job restoration and a fresh start. So, rend your heart instead of your garments! If you are acting like a Christian but harboring locusts, clean house!

After Locusts, Restoration

Farmers labored every day to earn a living from their fields,
Applying muscle, toil and sweat to try to get the greatest yields.
And then the cloud appeared– you couldn’t even do the math–
As locusts by the millions brought destruction in their path.
They ate the crops, the flowers, and they even ate the grass;
They only thought of selfish appetite when they would pass.
Well, sin is just like that. It only thinks of selfish things,
And doesn’t even care about the destruction that it brings;
It comes into your life and can destroy your peace of mind,
Without regard to all the pain and death it leaves behind…
God said, “Turn to me with all your heart, and not for show–
And I will give you grace, and let compassion overflow.”
If sin has hurt and knocked you down, don’t think that you are beaten
For God says he’ll repay you for the lost years that were eaten!
If you can turn away from sin, and simply trust the Lord,
You may just be surprised to see the things that He restored.

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
To buy my book, Beggar’s Bread, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Devotions-Ordinary-Guy/dp/1535457392/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-1&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread
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Sow Seed Any Old Way You Want: But if you Sow wisely, You will Reap Well…

Have you ever sown seeds and watched them grow? I remember the bean we put into a jar in kindergarten. It was so cool to sow it properly and watch it come to life!! Well, think about what it means to Sow and Reap: Consider both the process and the outcome.

sow

“Sow for yourselves righteousness; Reap in mercy; Break up your fallow ground, For it is time to seek the Lord, Till He comes and rains righteousness on you.” (Hosea 10:12, NKJV) What a full verse this is! The Bible often uses farming terms, which makes a lot of sense since it was written in agrarian societies and it speaks so often about growth. Hosea preached using this farming analogy, which says a great deal in a short verse. First, he says that we should “sow for ourselves righteousness”. Think about what it means to sow seeds. You have to begin with the end in mind. You need to have the right seeds and you also need the right environment, with appropriate conditions and surroundings. Good fruit won’t come from just any kind of dirt, you need to prepare the soil.

sow seeds

Hosea says that you must break up the fallow ground. You can’t just toss seeds out on hard, packed earth and expect results. You must break through the dry crust and till the soil to expose the richer dirt beneath.

Our spiritual growth is a lot like that. You can’t grow healthy crops without disrupting the status quo and breaking through the crust of our assumptions. Sometimes we grow a crust of sin, hardening our hearts against God’s character or standards; and sometimes we put on the stifling armor of self-righteousness, smugly judging others while hunkered down in our bunker of holiness…

Hosea is talking here about God’s righteousness, and he says that if we sow in righteousness, we will reap in mercy. I think this applies in two ways. If we find righteousness through repentance and faith in Christ, we will receive mercy. God always responds to repentance with mercy. Always. When is the last time you turned a repentant heart to the Lord? If it’s been awhile since you have humbled yourself before God, what is there that keeps you from being broken before him today?

Second, those who have found such righteousness will themselves be merciful. I think we often grasp salvation as something wonderful God has done for US, and that is certainly true; but I think the more important thing is that salvation is something God does THROUGH us. “Sow in righteousness, reap in MERCY”. We are given God’s righteousness not for our OWN benefit, but in order to extend mercy. As the recipients of mercy, we should be merciful. Have you been forgiven? Forgive.

Sow Well and Reap Well

Think of how this world would be if there were no forgiving:
Life without forgiveness almost wouldn’t be worth living.
God’s amazing mercy makes us whole, when given TO us;
And His forgiveness, sown in righteousness, will then renew us;
But then His mercy, as intended, is extended THROUGH us.
Sow in righteousness, but here’s a scripture you can keep:
Mercy is the only crop that righteousness should reap.

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
To buy my book, Beggar’s Bread, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Devotions-Ordinary-Guy/dp/1535457392/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-1&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread
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Surprised by a Suffering Servant: The Man Who was Nailed Down to be Lifted Up

In 7 BC, Jerusalem lived under the oppression of an occupying army, so it stands to reason when they read the Scriptures, they looked for a Messiah who would overthrow the hated Romans and reestablish God’s kingdom. Based on their circumstances, it absolutely makes sense that they were focused on a Messiah who would deliver them. However, there were several prophecies that pointed to a suffering servant, a Messiah completely different than they expected…

Here’s one of them: “See, my servant will act wisely; he will be raised and lifted up and highly exalted. Just as there were many who were appalled at him—his appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any human being and his form marred beyond human likeness—so he will sprinkle many nations, and kings will shut their mouths because of him. For what they were not told, they will see, and what they have not heard, they will understand.” (Isaiah 52:13-15, NIV)

Isaiah’s prophecy about the Messiah being a suffering servant probably didn’t make much sense to devout Jews in Jesus’ day. Chafing under Roman rule, they were undoubtedly looking for a Deliverer along the lines of King David, a dynamic and attractive ruler with a godly heart and a warrior spirit. The notion that the Coming One might be disfigured and appalling to many would have been unthinkable. And the idea that He might be lifted up in crucifixion rather than in earthly glorification would have been shocking and offensive. Yet Isaiah said the Messiah would be disfigured and “marred beyond human likeness”. He foretold that the Messiah would be more like a suffering servant than a conquering King.

suffering servant

In Isaiah 53 he said: “He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. 3 He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem. 4 Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted. 5 But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.”

Isaiah’s vivid language pointed directly to the cross, just as Jesus did in John 12:31 when he said, “And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me.” John clarified what Jesus meant in the next verse: “This he said, signifying what death he should die.” When Jesus spoke of being lifted up, he wasn’t talking about being a celebrity, he was talking about being nailed to a cross…

Matthew says, right after Jesus revealed his true purpose to his followers, that “From that time forth Jesus began to show to his disciples how he must go unto Jerusalem, and suffer many things of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised again the third day.” (Matthew 16:21, NKJV) Jesus did not scheme with his disciples about politics; he acted like their servant and told them about his suffering. They didn’t want to hear of it, and they certainly didn’t think of Isaiah 52.

But Isaiah’s prophecy was well-known to Jesus, and it provided a foreshadowing of his mission and his purpose. Jesus remembered Isaiah’s words and wanted to make sure we all understood what he meant by being lifted up. That’s why he quoted Psalm 22:1 from the cross, in order to call attention to its graphic description of the Messiah being lifted up in the agony of crucifixion. He wanted us to get it, to understand that He knew what his mission was and what his sacrifice would accomplish. He came to earth, not to be a slick-talking sovereign but to be a suffering servant.

According to Isaiah, it would touch “many nations”, sprinkling them with protective sacrifice for sin. The Messianic mission will ultimately silence both critics and kings, because they will see and understand that, to Jesus, being exalted meant something different than it means to earthly monarchs; that he’s not famous because he was good-looking, or celebrated because he was superior; He is exalted because he came as a suffering servant rather than as King, and he gave himself as a sacrifice when he didn’t have to–just so you can see what you were not told, and understand what you had not heard. Don’t override God’s revelation with your own assumptions and expectations. Look. Listen. See. Understand.

Messiah. Lord. Almighty King. Deliverer. Ya’ll, but here’s the thing,
He didn’t come for earthly gain, or to Jerusalem to reign;
He came from way out in the sticks; he didn’t enter politics.
Instead, he served, and took the cup. He said, “I will be lifted up”,
But not the way a Caesar would be; Jesus offered hope that could be
Freely offered from the cross. What others may have seen as loss,
He used to come to earth and bring a different kind of earthly king.
Some men dreamt of victory in toppling mighty Rome;
Jesus came from glory just to bring his children home.

 

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
To buy my book, Beggar’s Bread, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Devotions-Ordinary-Guy/dp/1535457392/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-1&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread