Day of the Lord

By Chuck Griffin

Before we launch into today’s verses from Zephaniah, let’s acquire a little background on his situation.

The prophet spoke about 630 years before the birth of Jesus Christ, during a time of religious indifference, social injustice and economic greed.

This also was an important time of transition for the Kingdom of Judah, which was moving from King Amon, who had been assassinated, to King Josiah, a boy king. A little later in Josiah’s reign, the Book of the Law would be rediscovered. Essentially, the people were about to re-learn who they were, and Josiah, for a time, would restore them to religious righteousness.

Zephaniah was a contemporary of the Prophet Jeremiah. It very well may be that what Zephaniah said helped lay the groundwork for the transition back toward holiness.

Let’s hear some of what he had to say, recorded in Zephaniah 1:7-18:

Stand in silence in the presence of the Sovereign Lord,
    for the awesome day of the Lord’s judgment is near.
The Lord has prepared his people for a great slaughter
    and has chosen their executioners.
“On that day of judgment,”
    says the Lord,
“I will punish the leaders and princes of Judah
    and all those following pagan customs.
Yes, I will punish those who participate in pagan worship ceremonies,
    and those who fill their masters’ houses with violence and deceit.

“On that day,” says the Lord,
    “a cry of alarm will come from the Fish Gate
and echo throughout the New Quarter of the city.
    And a great crash will sound from the hills.
Wail in sorrow, all you who live in the market area,
    for all the merchants and traders will be destroyed.

“I will search with lanterns in Jerusalem’s darkest corners
    to punish those who sit complacent in their sins.
They think the Lord will do nothing to them,
    either good or bad.
So their property will be plundered,
    their homes will be ransacked.
They will build new homes
    but never live in them.
They will plant vineyards
    but never drink wine from them.

“That terrible day of the Lord is near.
    Swiftly it comes—
a day of bitter tears,
    a day when even strong men will cry out.
It will be a day when the Lord’s anger is poured out—
    a day of terrible distress and anguish,
a day of ruin and desolation,
    a day of darkness and gloom,
a day of clouds and blackness,
     a day of trumpet calls and battle cries.
Down go the walled cities
    and the strongest battlements!

 “Because you have sinned against the Lord,
    I will make you grope around like the blind.
Your blood will be poured into the dust,
    and your bodies will lie rotting on the ground."

Your silver and gold will not save you
    on that day of the Lord’s anger.
For the whole land will be devoured
    by the fire of his jealousy.
He will make a terrifying end
    of all the people on earth.

It’s hard to miss the sound of irrevocable finality in this concept of the “Day of the Lord.” Zephaniah may seem obscure to us, but the Day of the Lord is a common biblical theme, its images at times playing out in not-completely-final ways, giving us little preludes of what we are told is to come.

Jesus spoke in similar apocalyptic tones. Mark 13 is a good example.

Not everyone lives as if they will ever see such a day, including many who consider themselves God’s followers. In church circles, it is not unusual to hear people express a longing for the positive aspect of such a day, the visible return and rule of Jesus Christ. People ask, “Why does he take so long?”

And yet, judgment for both the living and the dead will accompany Christ’s return. I suspect many will examine their lives and cry out, “We needed more time!”

Christians live in the midst of a people much like Zephaniah’s, and we have to be careful not to fall in with them. It’s easy to think of examples of religious indifference, social injustice and economic greed all around us.

Our prayer should be that we’re moving into a similar time of transition, a rediscovery of what God has revealed to us and an awakening in our culture to how that truth impacts all of us.

Thanks be to God that he works in this world with an offer of overwhelming love and forgiveness, received through the simple belief that Christ died on the cross for our sins.

In return, all we are asked to do is to present the world with this tremendous opportunity to escape from what ultimately will be destroyed on the Day of the Lord.

Lord, show each of us what to do as part of a great turning back to you. Amen.

Let Justice Roll Down

Amos 5

By Chuck Griffin

The wisdom in Amos, much of which is about justice, has helped me to better understand tithing and other offerings, including our offerings of time.

Amos is famous for one verse in particular. The prophet says in chapter 5 that God no longer wants what the Jews would have considered “traditional worship,” music and animal sacrifices. Instead, he says, “Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream” (Amos 5:24).

In other words, the mark of a people truly in love with God is that justice is done in mighty and wonderful ways in their community. From that, we are left to ask, “What is justice?”

Scripture gives us a rich, clear answer. In fact, the answer is at the very core of Jesus’ message in the New Testament.

Just as Amos talks about a coming time of judgment, Jesus talks about judgment, too, and he tells us in Matthew 25 that our fate at the judgment will depend on whether we’ve brought justice into the world.

For Jesus, justice is a straightforward thing. It happens when those who have resources help those who aren’t so fortunate. The hungry need food, the thirsty need drink, strangers need welcoming, the poor need clothing, the sick need care, and the prisoners need visiting.

Help them, he says, and it is as if you did it for Jesus.

That brings me to tithes and offerings. Too often, we’re so caught up in operating budgets and building needs that we forget the primary reason we exist as a church. We are to inject God’s justice into a broken world.

Buildings are important and lights are important, but they’re just the basics, functioning as tools the church can use. Here’s a tough question every church needs to face: Have we failed to bring justice to those who need it simply because we lack resources?

To do a noteworthy job in bringing real justice to the world, it takes more money and time than most American Christians seem willing to give. Yes, the coming of Christ did away with legalism in giving. But frankly, the coming of Christ—the coming of “Kingdom of God” justice—calls us to do even more than our tithing Jewish forebears were ever required to do.

The next time the offering plate goes by, or a call for ministry volunteers goes out, remember that you’re being given the opportunity to participate in the greatest event in history, the remaking of the world by God.

Lord, reveal to us the best way to spend our time and money on behalf of your kingdom and in thanks for eternal life. Amen.

The Heart of Justice

Psalm 72:1-5 (NLT)
A psalm of Solomon.
Give your love of justice to the king, O God,
    and righteousness to the king’s son.
Help him judge your people in the right way;
    let the poor always be treated fairly.
May the mountains yield prosperity for all,
    and may the hills be fruitful.
Help him to defend the poor,
    to rescue the children of the needy,
    and to crush their oppressors.
May they fear you as long as the sun shines,
    as long as the moon remains in the sky.
    Yes, forever!

By Chuck Griffin

Justice was a byword for 2021, and it will continue to be an important concept for this year, as it has been for thousands of years.

When the above psalm was written, kings and princes were lifelong arbiters of justice, which is bound tightly to other concepts like equality and fairness. In modern times in a democracy, we still vest certain people—presidents, governors and judges, for example—with a similar power. The major difference between ancient kingdoms and modern democracies is that directly or indirectly, the citizenry can now revoke that power in nonviolent ways if it is abused.

Justice has its constants, however, regardless of the era. Psalm 72 points out an important one, a truth spanning thousands of years. Justice has a source. Justice springs forth from the very nature of God. His will defines what is just and unjust, and it also is part of God’s will that justice be done.

Be it a king, prince, governor or judge, it has always been the prayer of godly people that the justice-givers root their task in a studied understanding of who God is.

God seeks to make people free. As Christians should understand, Christ went to the cross to give us freedom from the sins that bound us as they caused us to treat each other unjustly. Accordingly, those charged with providing justice in this world need to ask if they are making the people around them more free.

God asks that we live now as a people who believe he will provide a full and complete kind of justice one day. Right will be declared right, and wrong will be declared wrong, but at the same time, tremendous mercy and grace will be available for those who took time to seek the forgiveness made possible by Jesus’ sacrifice.

It should be our hope that today’s justice-givers incorporate appropriate measures of grace in their decisions, while remembering that victims of injustice crave restoration and renewal.

It’s a tough job. I admire those who take it on; I also pray they humbly keep in mind their roles as temporary conduits of what flows eternally from our maker.

Dear Lord, may justice be done in 2022, and may those charged with its provision be blessed by your guidance. Amen.

The Simple Approach

Micah 6:6-8 (NRSV)

“With what shall I come before the Lord,
    and bow myself before God on high?
Shall I come before him with burnt offerings,
    with calves a year old?
Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams,
    with ten thousands of rivers of oil?
Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression,
    the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?”
He has told you, O mortal, what is good;
    and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
    and to walk humbly with your God?

By Chuck Griffin

I just returned to work after taking a couple of weeks’ vacation, something I highly recommend. “Duh,” some of you might be saying, but you would be surprised how hard it is for a lot of pastors to make the decision to take a vacation, or even an appropriate amount of time off during the week.

If for no other reason, it is important that we take that time so we maintain perspective. And so often, it seems that perspective is largely a matter of remembering what is important, and then focusing on what is important by employing the “KISS” principle—Keep It Simple, Stupid.

My first Monday back at work was a good example of how my vocation, like a lot of jobs, can become a series of unexpected, frustrating exercises. I’ll not go into a lot of detail, but when I got home, I invoked the memory of an old ’80s commercial when I said to my wife, “I’m not a lawyer, but I apparently play one at church. I’m also not an IT guy, a psychologist, a human resources director or a financial planner, but I play those at church, too.” I did manage to teach a Bible study on Monday.

Vacation is good because it allows us to get our heads out of the swirl of the extraneous for a while and remember who we truly are. As children of God, we always will have distractions, but our service to God has to be a priority.

Micah reminds us that serving God doesn’t have to become an overly elaborate or painfully ritualized activity. Mainly, it’s about getting our hearts right. Countering injustice, showing kindness, and humbly remembering who we are in relation to God are God-honoring ways to live.

I’ll try to remember that as the work week progresses.

Lord, whatever we are doing, please let us find ways to make what we do about you and your plan of salvation. Amen.

God in Art: Justice

The painting below, Raphael’s “Death of Ananias,” depicts a moment when God’s justice fell upon a husband who was part of a deceptive couple in the early church. (The wife receives her portion soon after.) The story is found in Acts 4:32-5:11. Does the story and its depiction shock you? Why might we be shocked that God’s justice could be so swift?

Lord, we thank you for the mercy and grace you continually shower upon us. We know that without Jesus Christ, your justice would be swift, righteous and terrible. Amen.

Justice Is a Holy Word

This Sunday’s sermon at Holston View United Methodist Church, “Justice in the Gate,” will explore Amos 5:6-15. If you cannot be with us in the sanctuary Sunday, you are welcome to join us online at 11 a.m., or view a recording later.

Today’s focus text: Matthew 5:38-42 (NRSV)

“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you.”


By Chuck Griffin

“Justice” fits into all sorts of slogans: Justice is blind. Justice will prevail. No justice, no peace.

Here’s what I and a lot of other Bible-focused people might add. Justice is about relationships; perfect justice requires holy relationships. From a Christian perspective, God’s justice is constantly trying to expand its influence in our sin-wracked societies as we better learn to relate to one another as children of God.

Thousands of years ago, “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” was a radical expansion of justice. Before that concept developed, only the rich and powerful had anything resembling justice. The weak and poor just lost a lot of teeth and eyes. What sounds like Old Testament vitriol to us now was in fact an attempt to guarantee everyone would be treated the same.

Sure, there often was a gap between intent and implementation, and we still see unequal applications of justice today. Dear Lord in heaven, did I even need to say that after these last few years? We harden our hearts against one another because of race or economic status, and we fail to offer a holy relationship to someone we think of as “other.”

And by the way, no, I did not just offer a wholesale restatement of the progressive left’s justice message. We are all guilty as we peer at each other from our various vantage points in the public square. When it comes to ensuring justice for all, most of us remain in the stage where we shout across the pavement, “You go first.”

Jesus’ difficult-to-accept description of kingdom justice is largely about deciding to go first, and it is hard to embrace because he asserts that change can happen when a victim begins the process. The great hope is that when people turn the other cheek, give the litigious more than they sought, and freely help beggars and borrowers, they trigger life-changing responses from these recipients of unexpected grace.

I know, I know. It’s so hard to follow Jesus’ teachings consistently. These recipients of grace often take advantage of the giver. They don’t seem to change, and we find ourselves constantly compromising when it comes to reaching out to really difficult people.

Let’s remember that it took centuries for most of humanity to be able to agree that “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” sounds primitive—that there might be a better way. It may be a little longer before Christ’s vision of justice fully prevails. I suspect Christ will have to return to make his work complete.

That doesn’t mean we stop striving for justice now, though, establishing new, holy relationships wherever we can.

Lord, where we see injustice, give us the words and actions you would use if standing in our place, and then fill us with your courage. Amen.