The Grand Sweep

As a church we are reading through the entire Bible in 2018 using "The Grand Sweep" by J. Ellsworth Kalas as our daily reading guide.  ("The Grand Sweep" can be purchased from online bookstores.)  In addition, CUMC staff will be posting thoughts regarding some of the day's readings.  See below for the last five posts.  Follow CUMC on Facebook to access older posts or see new ones immediately as they are posted.

Scripture Reading: Zephaniah 1-3

The three chapters of this book, named after the prophet who wrote it, Zephaniah, are both a warning and an encouragement. It is easy to read this book and take it only as a warning. Chapter one is brutally honest that the Day of Lord, a day of judgment and vengeance from the Lord Himself, is coming over the whole earth. The language here is incredibly descriptive and repetitious...that day will be one of wrath, distress, anguish, trouble, ruin, darkness, gloom, clouds, blackness, trumpet calls and battle cries. The Lord will consume the earth, the prophet says, in the FIRE of His jealousy. Jealousy is a powerful emotion, and many a brutal crime has been committed against people in the name of jealousy. But the Lord's jealousy is pure...His love and intentions for us are always pure...full of hope, joy, peace and glory. He will not share His world, His people and His plans with evil or any other god fashioned by human hands. For those who refuse Him and His unfailing love, there will be a high price to pay.  

These prophecies, like so many other prophecies in the Bible, are fulfilled in more than one way. They speak of a day that is coming at the end of time, but also of a day that is coming sooner than later. Zephaniah writes during the administration of King Josiah, who was one of the most powerful reformers in the entire history of God's people. He effectively erases from the land idol worship, the pagan shrines and even demolishes the golden calves put in place by Jeroboam at the beginning of the divided kingdom. BUT...the leaders of Judah were still corrupt and with so much widespread idolatry the people's hearts were still bent away from obeying the Lord and worshiping Him alone. Even Josiah's reforms would not spare Judah from destruction at the hand of the Babylonians. That day, which came in 586 BC, would be like the last day...a day of slaughter, darkness, destruction and pain. It would be a day like the northern kingdom had experienced, only 140 years later for those in the southern kingdom. Why is it that we don't learn from other people's mistakes, and believe that what happened to them won't happen to us?

Zephaniah is a book of warning...a litany of hard hitting messages meant to shock sinners and drive them to repentance. Unfortunately, his words fell on deaf ears. BUT...for those who were listening...even to people like US...there is the message of encouragement that ONE DAY God is going to reverse the effects of judgment and restore His people. God will always have a remnant...a group of people who will never follow other gods for serve anyone but Him alone... who have responded to His jealously with hearts that are open to His love and grace. Knowing His steadfast love and faithfulness, that remnant will always persevere through hard times and be able to look past the judgment that is coming with an anticipation of salvation and hope.  

Zephaniah says, "On that day they will say to Jerusalem, “Do not fear, Zion; do not let your hands hang limp. 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.” “I will remove from you all who mourn over the loss of your appointed festivals, which is a burden and reproach for you. At that time I will deal with all who oppressed you. I will rescue the lame; I will gather the exiles. I will give them praise and honor in every land where they have suffered shame. At that time I will gather you; at that time I will bring you home. I will give you honor and praise among all the peoples of the earth when I restore your fortunes before your very eyes,” says the Lord." No matter what is to come, there is always encouragement, hope, restoration and confidence for those who look to the Lord God Almighty and serve Him only!

Scripture Reading: Nahum 1-3, Psalm 120

There are servants in the annals of God's kingdom that we will never know their name or much about them. And, there are servants in God's kingdom whose names are known, but little else. Such is the case with Nahum, a man whose name means "comfort". He was from a city (1:1) named Elkosh, but we don't know where that city was although most have suggested various locations in Judah. Nahum was a prophet from Judah whose ministry was to prophesy against the cruelty and terrorism of the Assyrian empire and its capital city, Nineveh. It is interesting to look at the timeline of his ministry. About a hundred years before Nahum prophesied, one of our favorite prophets, Jonah, went to Nineveh and was received well in his message of repentance. FOR A TIME, somewhere between the years of 763 and 722 , the Assyrians turned from their sin and enjoyed God's mercy. But it didn't take them long for them to return to their wicked ways. In 722 BC the Assyrians sacked the northern kingdom's capital city of Samaria and deported those Israelites to Nineveh and to the land of Assyria. Nahum prophesies about 100 years after that event, before the city of Nineveh fell to the Babylonians in the year 612 BC.  

As a prophet, Nahum knows the God's memory is long and wide. He does not forget the suffering of His people, even when that suffering has been brought upon them by their own foolish actions. What grace and mercy! Like a parent who punishes their child and watches them weep under their own guilt and what is taken away from them, and then goes and weeps for the pain of their child, our God is much the same.  

There must come an end to the Assyrians, because as Nahum states in 3:19, "Nothing can heal you; your wound is fatal. All who hear the news about you clap their hands at your fall, for who has not felt your endless cruelty?" The Ninevites believed no one could touch them, even though they themselves had brought down great cities who said the same, like the city of Thebes in Egypt, in 663 BC. How foolish we are when we assume that we will are above sin, failure and tragedy like those we see around us! Some of us like to say, "There, but for the grace of God, go I", an old expression that attempts to say that if it weren't for God's grace, we could be in some of the same hurting places as others we know. But what if we find ourselves in those places anyway? Will we still find ourselves looking to the grace of God, who Micah praised yesterday as the God who does "not stay angry forever, but delight(s) to show mercy...who will "again have compassion on us" and will "tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea." (Micah 7: 18c, 19).  

There is a very certain destruction coming to Assyria, and sadly, it is a destruction that could have been avoided if they had continued to head the words of Jonah. In the midst of these words of sure judgment for those who ruthlessly slaughter great numbers of people and deport those not killed by the sword, there are words of comfort...comfort for God's own people. It would be a comfort not just in seeing the Assyrians punished, but in the fact that God defends His people...He upholds justice always for those who have been hurt, oppressed or suffered violence...and, He has a kingdom that is coming soon which will be filled with perfect peace. Come, Lord Jesus, with that kingdom of perfect peace.

Scripture Reading: Jonah 1-4

What can I say about the book of Jonah? We are all so familiar with the story. It’s the theme of many Sunday School Curriculum and VBS’s. But is it more than just a children’s story? 

God tells Jonah to go to Nineveh and preach repentance, but he doesn’t want to go. Nineveh was the capital city of Assyria and the people were known for their cruelty and brutality. To put it into modern terms that we might understand today it’d be like going to a terrorist cell in the Middle East and saying, “God loves you and wants to forgive you.” It’s a nice thought but how difficult would that be, on a day like today when we remember the events of 9/11 to be willing to preach love, repentance and forgiveness? Jesus tells us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute you (Matt 5:44) but this is so much easier said than done. The part I like about this is that Jesus is not bringing up a new concept. God has been telling His people to love their enemies and pray for those who persecute them for a long time. Jonah is just one example of this in the Old Testament. Its not just a cute story about being stuck in a whale for three days just to be spat up on the shore, although many scholars like to point out the foreshadowing of Jesus being in the tomb for three days before His resurrection. The story of Jonah tells us the hard message that no one is beyond God’s grace. The Gospel message, the Good News, is that God loves and can forgive even the vilest offenders from terrorists to murderers, Assyrians to Babylonias, Nazis to Ku Klux Klan, to you and me. All that’s needed is repentance and someone to tell them about this Good News. 

Who is it that God is asking you to invite to church or even the coming Revival? Is it that neighbor you have an ongoing feud with? Is it the homeless person on our church campus? Is it that family you see at Walmart that you just shake your head at? Who is it that you don’t want to ask to come to church but you know they are the ones who probably need it most? I pray that God will give each of us the grace and courage to step out of our comfort zone and invite someone that needs to hear the Good News to come to our Revival. Jonah didn't want to do it, but when he did, God worked through him to make amazing things happen. The whole city of Nineveh repented and believed! Imagine what can happen if we trust God and let Him use us to accomplish His purposes..

Scripture Reading: Amos 7-9, Obadiah

Amos now turns, as most prophets do, to visions that that Lord is showing him about Israel's future. The visions are horrific...he sees locusts consuming all of Israel's crops so mass starvation will take place, and he sees a fire that dries up the seas and devour the land in an inferno. Amos cries out to the Lord, and God relents from bringing these events to pass- a sure and certain sign that God calls us to be bold in our prayers for mercy and grace when truly, everything around us deserves judgment. Next (7:10-17) Amos shows his boldness in confronting Amaziah, the high priest, who orders Amos to stop preaching and prophesying because people are sick of hearing Amos' words of judgment. But Amos again uses exceptional boldness in telling Amaziah that King Jeroboam II's house and lineage would meet a brutal end(die by the sword) and that exile would come. He also used great boldness in telling Amaziah himself that his wife, children and lands would be taken, abused and exiled because he himself promoted worship at the pagan shrines in Bethel, where God's people worshiped the golden calves set up by Jeroboam 1(1 Kings 12:28-33).  

You can't help but marvel at Amos' boldness. To speak against the King and his high priest was inviting certain death, and that is incredible enough. But to challenge God's warranted judgment was another matter in itself. But, it shows us that when dealing with people or speaking to God, we should always cry out for justice and speak truth as far was we know in our hearts. We are never perfect in this, for we know so little about what is really happening in people's hearts. But God, who is rich in mercy, allows us to challenge Him (see Genesis 18) and sometimes grants us the privilege of seeing Him pour out an undeserved mercy on those who live in sin. But God also calls us to speak out truth and judge people's lives based on their actions and the "fruit" of those actions (see Mt. 7:15-20). The fruit (Amos 8) of Israel is wickedness, idolatry and rebellion, and destruction is coming. A famine, unlike one for food, is coming in which people will hunger and thirst for the Words of God, but they will find none coming from the false prophets of Israel and Judah, and they will find none in the land in which they will be exiled. But even though Israel will be destroyed and the people scattered in exile to foreign lands (9:1-10), a restoration will come. In a very "un-Amos" like fashion, the prophet suddenly gives some of the most tender and wonderful promises of restoration in the whole Bible(9:11-15), showing that God's heart is always to restore His people even after He has disciplined them. The broken places will be rebuilt, the harvest will be so plentiful that workers will still be gathering in the harvest when it is time to plant again, and never again will the Israelites be taken from their land or uprooted again. A promise to claim in the worst of times to come, indeed!

A word about Obadiah...These 21 verses speak of one subject: God's anger and judgment over the nation of Edom, a nation that took its name from Jacob's brother, Esau. They lived southeast of Israel, below the Dead Sea. 

Why was God so angry with Edom? They were guilty of gross cruelty against God's people. When Judah was conquered by Babylon, the Edomites not only stood by, but they looted Jerusalem, and helped the Babylonians to capture the fleeing citizens of Judah and hand them over to their enemies. They were arrogant, boastful and filled with a seething sense of revenge that went all the way back to the feud between Jacob and Esau. Obadiah sees this from afar...100-200 years before it even occurs...a vision of what will come to pass when God executes his judgment on those who mean to harm His people.  

The prophets Amos and Obadiah remind us that God is a God of justice, but also mercy...a God who has a long memory, and will bring justice for His people and those who mean to bring them harm.

Scripture Reading: Amos 1-3, Psalm 119:121-144

Truly, the kingdom of God is made up of many kinds of servants...prophets, priests, pastors, teachers, matter what kind of title, we think of those who are called into some kind of life-long vocation in ministry to further the kingdom of God. And yet, we meet in these first 3 chapters of the book that bears his name a man who was just a layperson...a tender of sheep and a dresser of sycamore-fig trees. Farmers and shepherds aren't usually in the Bible called to be prophets and proclaim the Word of the Lord and the Good News of His salvation. But King David, and the shepherds in the fields on the night Jesus was born would tell us otherwise!  

In any case, Amos was a man who, in his agrarian life, heard the call of the Lord and was given a vision of what was going to happen to the nation of Israel. Prophesying during the years of 760 BC-750 BC, Amos' ministry went forth during King Jeroboam II's reign in Israel, an evil king who promoted idol worship but was at the same time politically powerful and helped Israel to prosper in his reign of 41 years. Amos sees the downfall of many kingdoms.

As he prophesies, he comes against Israel's neighbors (Damascus, Gaza, Tyre, Edom, Ammon and Moab). Their sins are obvious...they were brutal at one point or another in the past to God's people Israel or to one of their neighbors, and the cruelty they inflicted on others will now be visited upon them. The literary tool, "for three sins..even for four" that Amos uses is one that brings home the truth that these nations had sinned again and again. No nation can continue to sin, not even the USA, and not receive justice and judgment at the hands of a righteous God! Even Israel and Judah are guilty of sin...of forgetting the law of the Lord, of worshiping idols (2:4), of exploiting the poor and selling them as slaves, of engaging in perverse sexual sins, and for talking illegal collateral for loans (see 2:6-8). Their sins are both personal and social...against their own bodies (sexual) and against the lives and property of others. But the foundation of their sin is their turning away from the God who loves them, who brought them up out of Egypt(2:10) and who chose them of all the families of the earth to be His own(3:2), Because they have been given so much privilege and blessing from God Himself, their sins and disobedience is that much more in need of punishment and discipline. God has revealed this to His prophets, and He will do it. An enemy is coming who will overrun the land(3:11) and will destroy many, tear down their false idols and do away with their extravagant lives(3:14-15) Amos is not uncertain in his words and he means for Israel and Judah to know they will not escape, any more than the other nations around them, for the sins they have committed. Destruction is coming, but, as we heard Joel cry out this week as well, God is still a God of mercy and compassion to those who repent. He called all to "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. Who knows? He may turn and relent and leave behind a blessing—grain offerings and drink offerings for the Lord your God." May we all remember God's desire to show mercy, and keep our hearts pure before Him in worship and faithfulness to His Word.