We Did It Now!

Ezekiel 20:39-44 (NRSV)

By John Grimm

Is God giving permission to Israel to do whatever the people want?  No, He is not doing that.  God has grown tired of Israel’s idolatry.  He is declining to have their offering to idols associated with his holy name.  It can make us wonder why God might become like this with us. 

God’s name is holy.  That is how God will act toward his people, in holiness.  We will know God is acting in this way with us.  We will recognize that we have polluted ourselves.  When God restores us to himself through Jesus Christ, we will know our sins and how holy God is.  It is our loathful practices which have separated us from God.

The sooner we admit our polluted ways and loathe them, the better for us.  For then we can realize God is bringing us out of our pollution to live in his holy name.  Are we ready serve God and be holy as God is holy?

Lord God, we have done shameful things.  We have polluted ourselves.  Because you are holy, we turn to you.  Lift us up from our ways and show us how to serve you in this land.  We need your mercy.  In the name of Jesus Christ, we pray.  Amen.

Empty Space

By Chuck Griffin

In this season of Lent, the word “repent” comes up on a regular basis. Repentance requires more commitment than we may realize.

In the third chapter of Luke, we see how crowds of people responded to John the Baptist’s call to repent and prepare the way for Jesus’ coming. But when they showed up to be baptized, he called them a “brood of vipers.”

Clearly, there’s a little more to repentance than just showing up. As we read on in Luke, we see more clearly what the hairy, locust-chomping prophet was expecting: a true change of heart, the kind of transformation that results in a change of behavior.

The crowd asked, “What then should we do?”

John the Baptist’s answer was simple. If you’ve got plenty, and the poor around you have none, share! Stop being so greedy. He must have sensed there were a few folks in the crowd who planned to keep their extra cloaks and food despite being baptized.

If you have a job, particularly one where you have power over others, then perform your duties honestly, he went on. The soldiers and tax collectors whom he addressed directly were notorious for abusing their power to commit theft and extortion. Again, he must have seen the desire for sinful gain still glimmering in their eyes.

These were just examples. His main point was, you cannot say “I repent” but then go on with your old, sinful ways. “Repent” means that you regret your past actions and put them aside. Without true repentance, all the water in the Jordan River won’t help you.

Salvation is simple. All you have to do is believe that Jesus’ death on the cross is sufficient to pay for your sins. True belief by its very nature requires a repentant heart, however. If you don’t think the concept of sin, and in particular, your individual sins, are a problem, how can you take seriously the need for the cross?

Think of it this way: Ongoing sin fills up places in you where God needs to be. True repentance creates empty spaces, allowing God to rush in.

Anyone in church knows that we still have much to repent. Sadly, even the really obvious sins—murderous anger, adultery, theft, deception—go on among Christians, within what we call the body of Christ.

And then there’s the more subtle stuff—gossip, slander, greed and refusals to forgive, just to name a few—that can do as much damage long-term as murder can do short-term.

Yes there’s always plenty of repentance needed, even among those who have submitted to the water and taken on the name of Christ. I won’t go so far as to call us a “brood of vipers,” but I wonder if John the Baptist might.

Fortunately, we worship a patient, loving God, one who will grant us the power to change, if only we repent and ask for God’s help.

Lord, as we open ourselves to you, search us and show us what needs to be surrendered. Amen.

From There

Philippians 3:17-20

By John Grimm

“I am not good enough to be in heaven.” 

Did that sound humble?  For that is the truth.  Admitting that I need a savior to come from heaven is a humbling statement.  It is to admit that I have been an enemy of Jesus, an enemy of God! When we turn from our belly (which has become our god), and escape our shame (which we used to brag about), we also turn to heaven (before, our minds were focused on what is below our feet). 

Turning to heaven is to turn where Jesus Christ is located now.  We humble ourselves because we were not focused on his glory.  Now that we have turned to heaven, we see that Jesus transforms us!  As we continue to look to Jesus, he works so that we match up to his glorious body.  Jesus does this work in us.

Jesus came the first time to die for our sins.  Jesus will come the second time on this planet so that we may be fitted to live with him for all time.  Between Jesus’ first and second arrivals on Earth, we decide.  We choose either to humble ourselves or to not humble ourselves.  The apostle Paul and numerous other Christians have given us examples to live.  What will be our decision?

Father Almighty, we are getting to the point in which we know we need a savior.  We are sinners.  As we find healthy Christians in our midst, may we see how to stop living as enemies of the cross.  Prepare us for Jesus’ second arrival on earth.  Allow Jesus to use his power so we may match up with his glorious body when he returns.  In the name of Jesus Christ, we pray.  Amen.

Starting Point

By Chuck Griffin

Yesterday was Ash Wednesday, the beginning of our season of Lent. If you attended a traditional Ash Wednesday service, you may have had the opportunity to recite Psalm 51, which is clearly a psalm of repentance.

Whatever you might be planning to do during Lent to draw closer to God, repentance is the place to begin. Through repentance, we open ourselves to God. Through repentance, we relieve ourselves of all sorts of burdens.

So, here is our prayer for today:

Psalm 51 (ESV)

To the choirmaster. A Psalm of David, when Nathan the prophet went to him, after he had gone in to Bathsheba.

Have mercy on me, O God,
    according to your steadfast love;
according to your abundant mercy
    blot out my transgressions.
Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,
    and cleanse me from my sin!

For I know my transgressions,
    and my sin is ever before me.
Against you, you only, have I sinned
    and done what is evil in your sight,
so that you may be justified in your words
    and blameless in your judgment.
Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity,
    and in sin did my mother conceive me.
Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being,
    and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart.

Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;
    wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
Let me hear joy and gladness;
    let the bones that you have broken rejoice.
Hide your face from my sins,
    and blot out all my iniquities.
Create in me a clean heart, O God,
    and renew a right spirit within me.
Cast me not away from your presence,
    and take not your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
    and uphold me with a willing spirit.

Then I will teach transgressors your ways,
    and sinners will return to you.
Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God,
    O God of my salvation,
    and my tongue will sing aloud of your righteousness.
O Lord, open my lips,
    and my mouth will declare your praise.
For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it;
    you will not be pleased with a burnt offering.
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
    a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.

Do good to Zion in your good pleasure;
    build up the walls of Jerusalem;
then will you delight in right sacrifices,
    in burnt offerings and whole burnt offerings;
    then bulls will be offered on your altar.

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.

A Dwelling Place for Life

Psalm 90

By John Grimm

We see much of God in this psalm.  He is our dwelling place; is everlasting; can have anger; has wrath; has compassion; has steadfast love. He has glorious power and has favor.  We see how we start with him, then we aggravate him, and then we plead for his blessing upon us.  What an ebb and flow we go through!

We find ourselves away from God in this life because of our sin and iniquity.  We find ourselves near God in this life because of his compassion.  Maybe in our lives, we will stay closer to the Lord our God.  It is better to know the favor of the Lord our God than it is to know his wrath.

One line of thought through this psalm is trouble.  We have toil and trouble, and we have seen evil.  Yes, living our lives brings more than enough concern about toil, trouble and evil.  When we are not the cause of toil, trouble and evil, staying close to the Lord can be easier for us to do.  However, when we are the cause of our own toil, trouble and evil, we realize we are the ones who have separated ourselves from God.  It sure would be nice to live our 70 or 80 years close to God.  This choice is ours.  As the Lord turns to us, then we learn to turn to God. 

This Advent of 2021 sounds like a suitable time to turn to the Lord.  Will we accept the favor of God, or we will continue to feel his wrath?  It looks like that if the Lord is our dwelling place, toil, trouble and evil do not keep us from knowing the favor of the Lord our God.

God, we have turned from you.  Your wrath is justified against us.  We need you to get through this life.  As we live in you, let us know your steadfast love.  In the name of Jesus, we pray.  Amen.

A Josiah Moment

2 Kings 22:11-20 (NLT)

By Chuck Griffin

It’s always a shock to discover we’ve strayed from the Lord’s plan.

In today’s Bible passage, we hear how a young, good king, King Josiah, was introduced to the basics of how his people were supposed to be living, via a rediscovered Book of the Law. A proper understanding of how God was to be worshiped had been lost during the reign of prior evil kings, men who allowed paganism to creep into the land.

When Josiah realized how far his flock had strayed from their very reason to exist, he grieved so powerfully that he tore his clothes. Disaster loomed large. Fortunately, there still were priests and prophets in the land, and the king learned that God’s just response to the rampant unholiness would be delayed until Josiah’s righteous reign had ended.

We live under an expanded, improved version of the plan, of course. Strict adherence to the law was the closest the Israelites could come to establishing a relationship with God. We live in the time after Jesus Christ, knowing that his willingness to die in our place for our sins now makes that relationship possible. All we have to do is believe, allowing God’s Spirit to go to work in our lives.

And yet, we stray.

In many ways, we can be like those ancient children of God, called to serve and worship but distracted to the point of forgetting who God is. One generation fails to adequately tell great truths to the next generation. The shiny things of the world and the worries of the world begin to dominate our thinking.

God’s call on us is powerful, though. It breaks through, and we can have a Josiah moment, grieving for ourselves individually and the people around us collectively. Dawning awareness of how wonderful it is to be in communion with God is an exciting and wonderful experience to have.

I have experienced such a moment in a big way in my life, and I continue to experience similar little moments as I exist with one foot in a time-bound world and the other in eternity. Let’s grieve over what we lose when we take our eyes off God, but let’s rejoice at how God offers to restore us when we lock our eyes on the throne once again.

Lord, help us to keep our eyes eternally fixed on you, and with your guidance and strength, may our lives be conformed to your will. Amen.

Whoredom and Whole Hearts

Jeremiah 3:6-14 (NRSV)

The Lord said to me in the days of King Josiah: Have you seen what she did, that faithless one, Israel, how she went up on every high hill and under every green tree, and played the whore there? And I thought, “After she has done all this she will return to me”; but she did not return, and her false sister Judah saw it. She saw that for all the adulteries of that faithless one, Israel, I had sent her away with a decree of divorce; yet her false sister Judah did not fear, but she too went and played the whore. Because she took her whoredom so lightly, she polluted the land, committing adultery with stone and tree. Yet for all this her false sister Judah did not return to me with her whole heart, but only in pretense, says the Lord.


By John Grimm

The Bible does get our attention.  The title for this devotion comes from this passage.  Yet, as we read the title over and over, we are offended.  We have not acted like Israel or Judah.  We say we have not used stone and tree to make idols to worship other gods. 

Judah (the Southern Kingdom, which included Jerusalem) saw the faithless ways of Israel (the Northern Kingdom).  Israel was carried away by the Assyrians in 726 B.C.  Around 586 B.C., Judah was going to be carried away by the Babylonians.  Why was Judah going to be carried away, deported from the land of Judah?  Because it was only in pretense, in name only, that Judah returned to the Lord.

God has been calling repeatedly to America since Sept. 11, 2001.  We can return to the Lord.  Returning to the Lord cannot be done only with words, in name only.  Our faithfulness to God must overwhelm our lives so our actions show we love God with our whole hearts.  Our faithfulness to God can be seen in how we love our neighbors as ourselves.

Judging from all the evidence in America today, we have not returned to the Lord God with our whole hearts.  We may still be in our whoredom.

Holy Spirit, thank you for being patient with America.  Your patience allows us to return with our whole hearts to the Lord.  We hear about Jesus Christ and believe he is a good teacher.  Yet, when we believe Jesus is the Son of God come in the flesh, we find the beginning of salvation.  Work in us so that we see and live in the faithfulness of God, the salvation God offers us. We ask that our faithfulness to God be demonstrated by our whole hearts.  May the name of Jesus Christ be found in us before it is too late.  Amen.

For My Welfare?

Isaiah 38:10-20

By John Grimm

For my welfare?  We think we know what is best for ourselves.  We plan, we maneuver, and we make connections so that we can have the best life possible.  Then troubles come our way and we are at a loss.  Getting through the troubles strains us.

We then ask ourselves, is the trouble because of my own sins?  Are we the ones who caused our own souls to be bitter?  Or is the truth that someone else caused our misfortune and our problems?  Is it not that since we live godly lives, we can escape such bitterness?

When we know that we have caused our own bitterness, then we repent of our ways.  We confess our sin to God and he restores us.  We may even eventually see that God had been protecting us, despite our willful rebellion against him.  As soon as we recognize the good God was keeping us for, we thank him that he did not allow us to be punished for all time because of our rebellion. 

When we do not know the source of the bitterness in our life, we should keep turning to God.  It is through Jesus that we find salvation, even in the midst of bitterness.  It is during these times that we catch a glimpse of how much evil that God has kept from us.  Yes, going through the bitterness was for our welfare!

It is by living through bitterness brought on by our own sin or someone else’s sin that we can praise God!  Then we get to be in the sanctuary with other believers to sing and praise God for his work in our lives.  What a witness we have when those around us know of the bitterness of our souls and they get to hear us praise God.  Maybe it is during this pandemic that the bitterness of our souls is for our welfare.  It seems like a good time to praise God for getting us through these days.  What better way to shrug off bitterness than to be in the house of the Lord, thanking God for our deliverance?

God, we know who and what has caused bitterness in our souls.  It was not you.  We allowed that bitterness to grow.  Yet, you are using the state of our souls so that we may see how you are working to deliver us.  As we become content in your faithfulness, may we see the bitterness washing away and hear chords of praise coming from our lungs.  It is in Jesus’ name that we thank you for making a way for our welfare even when we could not grasp what was happening.  Amen.  And Amen!