musings of a saint and sinner

Saturday, July 22, 2006

are we facing judgment?

Jeremiah 5:15-17—“‘O Israel, I will bring a distant nation against you,’ says the LORD. ‘It is a mighty nation, an ancient nation, a people whose language you do not know, whose speech you cannot understand. Their weapons are deadly; their warriors are mighty. They will eat your harvests and your children’s bread, your flocks of sheep and your herds of cattle. Yes, they will eat your grapes and figs. And they will destroy your fortified cities, which you think are so safe” (NLT, emphasis mine).

Jeremiah 6:24-25--“We have heard reports about the enemy, and we are weak with fright. Fear and pain have gripped us, like that of a woman about to give birth. Don’t go out to the fields! Don’t travel the roads! The enemy is everywhere, and they are ready to kill. We are terrorized at every turn.”

I found an excerpt from Crossings Newsletter ( on the first anniversary of 9/11 particularly relevant. The writer says, "But if God does bless America, then He can do the opposite....[E]ven though the [9/11] attack is not proof of God's disfavor against the USA, we would be guilty of the broadest obtuseness and biblical ignorance if we did not at least ask ourselves whether God may have specific cause to be against us." To that, I say, Amen! I think that in our culture, we are all to quick to think that God is only behind the nice things that happen, like romances and kittens. But from time to time, God may be out to terrify us. God may be out to destroy us in order to save us.

In Jeremiah 7:3-15, the people of Judah say that they think they will be safe from judgment because they have the Temple in their midst. Do we think the same thing about our luxury, our democratic system, our social programs, our strong military? Are we trusting in those and forgetting about justice, mercy, and walking humbly with our God?

And so, when hard times come (and hopefully even before!), we must--we must--at least ask the question: is God trying to get through to me? To my nation? What sin might He be asking us to turn away from? The question will be most helpful when we ask it of ourselves first, instead of pointing the finger at "all the wicked people" who are causing the judgment. The best prophets (in my opinion) were the ones who confessed their own sin first.

fear vs. faith

Walter Brueggemann writes about Isaiah’s challenges to trust God in the midst of situations of risk. We live in a time today when national security is one of the top things on people’s minds. We fear Islamic extremists, terror to our troops in Iraq, North Korean missiles. If we think too long and hard about any of these threats, we can easily start shaking in our boots, just as King Ahaz did when he faced similar threats (Isaiah 7). History (of a nation or of an individual) teaches us that we people do dumb, shortsighted things when we are afraid. For Israel, this was seeking foolish alliances with other world powers, like Assyria (2 Kings 16:7-8). Brueggemann writes, “[F]oreign policy must begin at a different point, namely, reliance on Yahweh [the LORD].” But what does that look like? In Isaiah 37, King Hezekiah faces intimidation from a foreign power, just as Ahaz did, but his response is totally different. He is afraid, but he takes that fear to the LORD. Because he starts with God, his decisions are wise and careful. They are informed by faith instead of fear.

Foreign policy isn’t the only area in which we need to resist fear and turn to faith, however. In Isaiah 38, we see King Hezekiah face a deathly illness and respond again with prayer. Today, we face many things that leave us shaking in our boots, ready to reach out to anything to trust in but God. A father with cancer. Unemployment. A car breaking down. Wondering if you are making any difference at work. Wondering if you will be single forever. Wondering if you will always struggle to make ends meet. We are tempted to buckle under the pressure and trust in someone or something else, other than God. Settling for an ungodly dating relationship. The faithless fear that we will not survive the death of a loved one. Anger that gives us the illusion of control. Unwise financial investments. And so on. We need to be challenged to trust in God alone--with no substitutes. Trusting in God does not mean that we will always escape hard times, but it does mean that God will always be with us “even in the valley of the shadow of death.” We trust God that that whatever He sends our way, He will enable us to deal with. And He will use it all for our good and His glory (Romans 8:28).

the world torn apart

It has been a tough run in our world these days. Nuclear dangers in North Korea. Fierce fighting in the Middle East. Recently, I have been convicted that we human beings would far rather fight that sit down and listen to each other. (I was convicted because I realize how quick I am to fight!) During VBS this week, one of my 6th grade students said something that I thought was awfully insightful, "The whole world is like a little brother and sister, fighting back and forth." Isn't that true? Have we ever grown up? I guess sin stunts our growth. But what it comes down to is what James wrote in his New Testament letter: "What is causing the quarrels and fights among you? Isn't it the whole army of evil desires at war within you? You want what you don't have, so you scheme and kill to get it. You are jealous for what others have, and you can't possess it, so you fight and quarrel to take it away from them. And yet the reason you don't have what you want is that you don't ask God for it. And even when you do ask, you don't get it because your whole motive is wrong – you want only what will give you pleasure" (4:1-3, NLT)

Our entire world would be a whole lot better off if people gave each other the benefit of the doubt, and listened--really heard--what the other was saying. And yet, I know that this was the purpose of the United Nations...and it hasn't succeeded too well. The UN seems stymied in buearcracy and ineffectiveness. What was to be a mass of nations, gathered together with the goal of world piece is all too often a mass of confusion and nothingness.

If the UN--our best hope for peace in this world--has failed, where will we turn? There is only one place to turn and that is to the One who make all things new. It may not be on our time frame, but we sinful human beings should realize in times such as these that our best efforts at peace have failed. Our best efforts at making ourselves safe through astronomical spending on a military have failed. Our best efforts at spreading democracy around the world so often fail. America is a great country, one that I am unutterably proud to be a part of, but it will never bring new life to dead people. People (such as us!) who are dead in sin and self-interest. People who are thirsty for power and corruption. People who care nothing for their neighbor. People--dictators--who rule over and crush their nation. Only Christ can bring resurrection from this morass of death. We hope for what we do not yet see, believing that it will come, in God's time. Without Him, we have no hope at all.

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