Saturday, September 11, 2021

Minute Meditations: Lamentations 3

Lamentations is certainly not the most cheerful book in the Bible and with good reason. The Jews are experiencing some of the worst trials of their history. Jerusalem and the Temple have been destroyed. Most of the people have been carried off into exile. Those left behind are in deep mourning and near despair. Yet they must express this sorrow somehow, and the poetry of this book helps them do so.

In chapter 3, the writer (perhaps the prophet Jeremiah) groans under affliction. His enemies have worn him down. He walks in darkness, desolate and terrified and broken. All around him are poverty and exhaustion. He feels like he is a target. Something in the shadows is just waiting to ambush him. He has no peace, no dignity, apparently no future.

Yet this writer does have hope. “The favors of the Lord are not exhausted, His mercies are not spent,” he proclaims. Indeed, God renews His mercies every morning. He remains faithful. The writer is silence and still before God, waiting for Him, seeking Him. The writer accepts what God allows him to suffer, knowing that God has His reasons and His own perfect timing. God may punish (and indeed people deserve that punishment), but He also takes pity. He will raise up His people once again. He will console them and draw them to Himself in love, showering down an abundance of mercy.

Saturday, September 4, 2021

Minute Meditations: Daniel 6

We all know and love the story of Daniel in the lions' den, but perhaps it is just a little bit too familiar, and perhaps we miss the full significance of it.

Daniel is one of the top guys in in the Babylonian court. He is the king's right-hand man, so to speak, and this means that other people are really, really jealous of him. Therefore, several of them get together and plot Daniel's downfall. It isn't even that they think they will take his place; they just don't want him to have his place! How typically human that is.

So these fellows get the king to sign a document ordering everyone to worship no one but the king himself for thirty days. If anyone worships or prays to another god during that time, the penalty is a quick trip to the lions' den. The conspirators know that Daniel is a Jew and that there is no way he will ever worship the king or stop worshiping and praying to God. They think they have him.

For a while, it seems that Daniel is indeed in hot water. The conspirators find him praying to God (they are watching for him to do this), and they run straight to tattle to the king. The king, of course, doesn't want to throw Daniel in the lions' den. He likes Daniel, and he relies on him as his top adviser, but he quickly discovers that he is bound by his own decree. With great regret, he throws Daniel to the lions, hoping that Daniel's God will save him.

God does save Daniel. An angel comes and clamps the lions' mouths closed so that Daniel spends the night in peace and doesn't get eaten. The surprised and grateful king lets his adviser out the next morning and throws the conspirators to the lions instead. Since no angel comes to save them, they are devoured at once.

Daniel has taught us some important lessons here. We worship God, period, only God. We do not worship what the world calls us to worship, be that money or fame or possessions or science or government or “experts” or anything else. We worship God, and we pray to Him and trust in Him to care for us. This is what Daniel does. Imagine how frightened he is as he faces those lions, yet he knows that if God wants him to come out alive, he will. If not, then God has something better in store for him. We would do well to remember that, too.

Saturday, August 28, 2021

Minute Meditations: Genesis 18

Hebrews 13:2 reminds us, “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.” This is exactly what happens to Abraham in Genesis 18. Abraham is sitting out the heat of the day in front of his tent when he sees three men nearby. He doesn't hesitate for a moment. He jumps up and invites them to wash their feet and rest while he prepares a meal.

Abraham has no idea who these three men really are. They could be saints or thieves, but he makes no judgment. Rather, he sees them as three tired travelers who need the rest and refreshment that he can provide, and he is quick to set himself at their service, no matter who they are.

Abraham moves quickly, telling Sarah to bake some cakes and ordering a servant to prepare a calf. When the meal is ready, he does not share it with them. Rather he assumes the role of a servant, standing near the men to make sure they have everything they need while they enjoy the food.

Are these three men angels? The three Persons of the Blessed Trinity? Angels representing the three Persons of the Blessed Trinity? We don't know, and neither does Abraham, but he provides the very best for then. In turn, they bring him the very best of news. By this time next year, God will have fulfilled His promise to Abraham. Abraham and Sarah will have a baby boy. Now there's a fine reward for a little bit of hospitality!

Saturday, August 21, 2021

Minute Meditations: Ruth 1

Ruth was a Moabite woman. She was a descendent of Lot's son, Moab (Lot was the nephew of Abraham who got into some trouble in Sodom and Gomorrah), but Moab's descendents did not worship the God of Abraham. They were pagans who worshiped a god by the name of Chemosh (and probably other gods as well).

Ruth, however, married into an Israelite family when she took as her husband Mahlon, one of the sons of Elimelech and Naomi who had come to Moab to escape a famine. Many people would have considered Mahlon's marriage to Ruth to be unwise at best and perhaps even sinful. Israelites were often warned against marrying pagan women, for their wives could draw them away from the worship of the one true God and into pagan rites.

Ruth had not been married very long, though, when she became a widow. Mahlon's brother, Chilion, also died, leaving Orpah, another Moabite, as his widow. The brothers' father passed on as well. Naomi, Ruth, and Orpah were left on their own.

Naomi told her daughters-in-law to return to their people. She would not bind them to herself. They were young, and there was still a chance for them to marry again and have children. Orpah went, but Ruth would not. In the short time she had spent with her new family, Ruth had found love and truth. Ruth was already devoted to her mother-in-law, and she refused to leave Naomi to fend for herself. Instead, she would take the Israelites as her own people, and she would accept God as her own God.

The two women traveled back to Bethlehem, the family's home town, where although she didn't know it, Ruth was about to embark on a new adventure that would one day make her the direct ancestor of Jesus Christ, God Incarnate.

Saturday, August 14, 2021

Minute Meditations: Micah 6

At the beginning of Micah 6, God is bringing a lawsuit against his people. He asks the mountains to hear His case as He contends with Israel. God asks His people, “What have I done to you?” God wants to know how He has ever wearied them. The answers here, of course, are that God has done everything good for His people. He has cared for them and nourished them in every way. He has never wearied them. Rather He has supported them. When they have become weary, it has been firmly their own fault because they have not obeyed God and followed His plan for their prosperity.

God then goes on to remind His people exactly what He has done for them. He brought them out of slavery in Egypt and settled them in their own land. He protected them the whole way. He let them see His “saving acts” so that they could know Him. Yet they have failed to know Him.

The prophet then places words in the mouths of the people of Israel as they wonder how they can please God. They ask if they should bring thousands of burnt offerings and tens of thousands of libations of oil. They wonder if they should even sacrifice their firstborn sons to try to atone for their sins. These ideas show how little the people know about God. They have become completely blind. God has told them so many times what He wants, yet they still say crazy things like this.

The prophet is quick to correct the people. He reminds them that God has indeed revealed what He wants. He wants them to do justice, to act rightly toward Him and toward each other according to His moral law. What's more, He wants them to love kindness. In other words, they are to go beyond strict justice and show mercy, just as God does. Finally, God wants them to walk humbly beside Him. He wants them to remain in His presence always and to make their lives a journey of intimate companionship with Him.

Saturday, August 7, 2021

Minute Meditations: Amos 7

Amos never intended to be a prophet. In fact, it was probably the last thing he ever thought he would do. He was, after all, a shepherd and a dresser of sycamore trees in the southern kingdom of Judah. His life was simple and probably relatively peaceful. But then God called him.

And Amos responded with a “yes” to God’s call, as difficult as that probably was for him. He went to the northern kingdom of Israel to preach against the people’s sins and to warn them that if they continued to break their covenant with God, horrible things would happen to them.

Amos had no prophetic training, and he was not a member of the guild of prophets. What’s more, he delivered an unpopular message. The people didn’t want to hear about things like sins and covenant curses. They didn’t want Amos to interrupt their routines or poke their consciences. Through their priest Amaziah, therefore, they told Amos to go away.

But Amos doesn’t go away. He continued the mission that God had given him. He may not particularly have liked it. He probably often wished that he could go home to his sheep and his trees. But he found courage in God and in His will, and he kept right on speaking the truth even though people hated him for it.

Saturday, July 31, 2021

Minute Meditations: Exodus 4

Moses is standing in the presence of God, Who is speaking to him out of the burning bush that is not consumed by the divine fire. He has heard God pronounce the Divine Name. He has seen his own staff turn into a snake and back into a staff. He has witnessed God change his hand to the hand of a leper and back again. God has told Moses that he is to go to the Pharaoh and speak as God's representative that God may bring the people of Israel out of Egypt and settle them in the Promised Land.

After all this, Moses stands there before God and whines that he isn't a good speaker. He is far from eloquent, he tells God, in fact he is “slow of speech and slow of tongue.” God assures Moses that He can handle the problem. After all, God is the One Who makes the deaf hear and the blind see and the dumb talk. He can take care of Moses. We would think that Moses would be comforted and strengthened by God's assurances and by the miracles he has just seen.

But the next words out of Moses mouth are “O my Lord, please send someone else!” Isn't that so very human? Moses is scared and insecure. He doesn't want to step out of his comfort zone. He doesn't want this mission. He can do without the honor. He just wants to be left alone to hide.

If God had been incarnate at that moment, He probably would have rolled His eyes and shaken His head at Moses. But He doesn't give up on Moses. Instead, He eliminates Moses' last excuse. Moses' brother, Aaron, speaks fluently and well, and when God tells Moses what to say, Moses will, in turn, tell Aaron. Aaron will serve as the mouthpiece. Moses is out of excuses, and he sets out on his mission.