Psalm 50:16-23 – Follow with Both Lips and Life

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But God says to the wicked,
    Why should you recite my commandments?
    Why should you talk about my covenant?
You refuse to let me correct you;
    you reject my commands.
You become the friend of every thief you see,
    and you associate with adulterers.

You are always ready to speak evil;
    you never hesitate to tell lies.
You are ready to accuse your own relatives
    and to find fault with them.
You have done all this, and I have said nothing,
    so you thought that I am like you.
But now I reprimand you
    and make the matter plain to you.

Listen to this, you that ignore me,
    or I will destroy you,
    and there will be no one to save you.
Giving thanks is the sacrifice that honors me,
    and I will surely save all who obey me.
(Good News Translation)

God has something to say to the wicked, that is, those who claim the Lord’s Name, yet fail to honor the divine/human relationship.

One of the things people might oftentimes overlook or misunderstand is that God and humans are not on the same level. Whereas all humanity is equal, and so must be egalitarian in all they do, humans are the creatures and God is the Creator. It isn’t an equitable relationship.

That means our stance as people is to obey the Lord – without question. There’s no room for negotiation. There isn’t any way of leveraging to get the upper hand with God.

Ignorance, or outright disobedience, is manifested through trivializing or picking-and-choosing God’s commands. When a person quotes or cites instructions from the Lord, then completely disregards those divine words and does what they please, there will be a harsh reprimand.

The wicked, those who ignore the covenant relationship with God, tend to talk a good line and then turn around and participate in stealing, adultery, and slander. They glowingly cite the first few commands of the Ten Commandments, then generally flip the middle finger at the rest of the commands – doing whatever the heck they want.

The reason the Lord is so hard in today’s psalm is that the wickedness of humanity believes themselves to be like God. In other words, the people took what was true about themselves and superimposed that on God. This is the dual act of elevating humanity higher than who they are and making themselves like God, while simultaneously minimizing God, making the Lord smaller, to be just like us.

These are just some the mind tricks wicked persons play on themselves to justify their behavior. And God will have none of it. God is not some average household idol. The Lord is to be honored and worshiped as Supreme.

Wherever there is disorder, chaos, systemic evil, and injustice, the root of it is found in disparaging the divine relationship – making God a good ol’ boy who understands things just like you and me.

Wherever you see human life cheapened, taken advantage of, and oppressed, there you will find people and institutions who do not take God as holy, sovereign, and other than them.

Human life is cheapened because talk itself is cheap without the commitment to obey the Lord. So, how might we keep our lips and our life aligned together and working as a committed whole?

  • Be authentic. Embrace being genuine and real. If you’re happy, smile. If you’re sad, don’t. If you say, “yes,” do it. If you need to reinforce good boundaries, say “no,” and don’t do it. What’s more, if you have written statements in your business or organization about diversity, equity, and inclusion, then authentically and actively live into those ideals.

Jesus said, “Let your yes mean yes, and your no mean no. Anything more than this comes from the evil one.” (Matthew 5:37, CEB)

My brothers and sisters, practice your faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ by not favoring one person over another. (James 2:1, GW)

  • Be trustworthy. Charlatans and slicksters try to make instantaneous trust so they can take advantage of another. The godly person realizes trust must be earned – mostly through quietly doing what needs to be done without complaint or bluster. Someone once said, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”

Do what God’s teaching says, don’t just listen and do nothing. When you only sit and listen, you are fooling yourselves. (James 1:22, ERV)

Now that by your obedience to the truth you have purified yourselves and have come to have a sincere love for other believers, love one another earnestly with all your heart. (1 Peter 1:22, GNT)

  • Be obedient. Observe the Lord’s commands. Biblical instructions include both our speech and our behavior.

For the love of God is this, that we obey his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome. (1 John 5:3, NRSV)

Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt, that you may know how you ought to answer each one. (Colossians 4:6, NKJV)

Jesus said, “If any of you want to be my follower, you must stop thinking about yourself and what you want. You must be willing to carry the cross that is given to you for following me. (Matthew 16:24, ERV)

  • Be thankful. Words and actions which hurt and damage cannot be said whenever we are using our tongues to express gratitude. And if we keep our feet happy through dancing our thankfulness, then we will not walk into trouble.

Be cheerful no matter what; pray all the time; thank God no matter what happens. This is the way God wants you who belong to Christ Jesus to live. (1 Thessalonians 5:18, MSG)

And whatever you do or say, do it as a representative of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through him to God the Father. (Colossians 3:17, NLT)

O God, you made us in your own image and redeemed us through Jesus your Son: Look with compassion on the whole human family; take away the arrogance and hatred which infect our hearts; break down the walls that separate us; unite us in bonds of love; and work through our struggle and confusion to accomplish your purposes on earth; that, in your good time, all nations and races may serve you in harmony around your heavenly throne; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

2 Samuel 6:6-12 – Doing the Wrong Thing for the Right Reason Is Still the Wrong Thing

When they came to the threshing floor of Nakon, Uzzah reached out and took hold of the ark of God, because the oxen stumbled. The Lord’s anger burned against Uzzah because of his irreverent act; therefore, God struck him down, and he died there beside the ark of God.

Then David was angry because the Lord’s wrath had broken out against Uzzah, and to this day that place is called Perez Uzzah.

David was afraid of the Lord that day and said, “How can the ark of the Lord ever come to me?” He was not willing to take the ark of the Lord to be with him in the City of David. Instead, he took it to the house of Obed-Edom the Gittite. The ark of the Lord remained in the house of Obed-Edom the Gittite for three months, and the Lord blessed him and his entire household.

Now King David was told, “The Lord has blessed the household of Obed-Edom and everything he has, because of the ark of God.” So, David went to bring up the ark of God from the house of Obed-Edom to the City of David with rejoicing. (New International Version)

“What you think is the right road may lead to death.”

Proverbs 14:12, GNT

The narrator who originally told and wrote this story wanted to communicate something of God to us, as well as our relationship to the Lord. It’s important to understand why God rained on David’s hoedown. At that time in the history of Israel, the Ark of the Covenant was the foremost symbol that God was present with the people. 

Contained within the ark were the tablets of the Ten Commandments (the symbol of God’s Word); the staff of Aaron, the first priest (the symbol of God’s choice); and a pot of manna (the symbol of God’s provision). The ark was a holy object, pointing to a holy God.

The ark of the Lord was built at the time of Moses when all of the ritual laws of God were established. Those laws included details concerning the offerings people were to bring and how to approach God in worship. The latter part of the book of Exodus describes all the prescriptions of how to construct the sacred articles for worship. 

The ark was at the center of it all, representing the presence of God among his people. That was nearly five-hundred years before David. The ark had become a familiar object in the life of Israel, always there, continually being the symbol of God to the people.

We have all likely had the experience of something becoming so familiar to us that we begin to lose sight of how important and valuable it really is. And it is not until we lose it, or something traumatic happens, that we come back to our senses and again take stock of its true significance. 

The Israelites had become lethargic and apathetic toward the worship of God, and it led to some disheartening and tragic circumstances. God’s people need to continually be on guard against the opiate of familiarity dulling our senses to the importance of true worship.

Moving the Ark of the Lord’s Covenant to Jerusalem was one of the first acts David did as the king of Israel and Judah. God was with David and brought him success against his enemies. David enjoyed a close walk with the Lord. Yet, he could still make mistakes. Even though David’s heart was in the right place, he made a huge error which was an affront to God. 

The way in which we treat God, the things of God, and God’s word and worship, are of vital importance and value.

King David had the best of intentions, bringing up the ark to Jerusalem and giving it a prominent place in the center of Jewish life. This was a good thing, a good plan. The problem, however, came in the way the ark was carried from one place to another. The book of Exodus lays out in careful detail how the ark is to be transported. (Exodus 25:10-22; 37:1-9)

Two Levites, Uzzah and Ahio, were charged with taking care of the ark. Only the Levites could handle the ark and all the holy objects of worship that went along with it. Since it was their job, they should have known better than to carry the ark of the Lord on a cart. 

“If you love me, show it by doing what I’ve told you.”

Jesus (John 14:15, MSG)

God had clearly told Moses the ark was to always have two long poles of acacia wood overlaid with gold inserted into four gold rings of the ark. In fact, the ark itself was made of acacia wood and overlaid with gold.  The ark was to always be carried on the shoulders of the Levites with the two poles.

We are not told why Uzzah and Ahio are pulling the ark on a cart with oxen instead of carrying it in the prescribed way. Perhaps it was because the ark was very heavy. It was no cake walk carrying the ark around.  Maybe they decided it would be more expedient and easier to have some much stronger oxen pull the ark on a nice new cart; it would save a lot of energy bringing it over a long distance. 

Actually, when you think about it, this makes a lot of sense. It is quite pragmatic. However, God was not okay with this arrangement. When the oxen stumbled and the ark was in danger of falling off the cart, Uzzah reflexively reached out to steady it.  That was the last act Uzzah ever did on this earth. God put him down for his “irreverent act.”

We must neither decide nor evaluate the worship of God by common sense pragmatism, what we think will work best, or how we feel it ought to be done. Everything in the church is to pay attention to the holiness of God through our obedience. Whenever we avoid the prescriptions of God, however best those intentions might be, is not a good thing and people will get hurt. 

One can never justify an action which goes against God’s Word, just because people are praising God and their hearts are in the right place. It doesn’t necessarily mean what is being done is okay.

David’s first response was anger, then fear. Although he gave his best effort, it resulted in God’s disfavor. Upon reflection, David realized that he perhaps took for granted the ark could be moved any way they wanted to move it. 

Whenever we value efficiency and expediency over obedience and submission to God’s holiness, there will be trouble with God. The great sin of Uzzah, resulting in his death, was that he was managing God. 

We do not take care of God; God takes care of us. God will not bow to us and allow creatures to manage the Creator. The Lord wants pure unadulterated obedient worship from people in the way it is to be done.

Doing the wrong thing for the right reason is still the wrong thing to do. David had to learn that the hard way. Let’s learn from his mistake.

Blessed Lord, who graciously provides us instruction for our good, give us faith to receive your word, understanding to know what it means, and the will to put it into practice, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Amos 9:7-15 – A Promise of Restoration

“Are you Israelites more important to me
    than the Ethiopians?” asks the Lord.
“I brought Israel out of Egypt,
    but I also brought the Philistines from Crete
    and led the Arameans out of Kir.

“I, the Sovereign Lord,
    am watching this sinful nation of Israel.
I will destroy it
    from the face of the earth.
But I will never completely destroy the family of Israel,”
    says the Lord.
“For I will give the command
    and will shake Israel along with the other nations
as grain is shaken in a sieve,
    yet not one true kernel will be lost.
But all the sinners will die by the sword—
    all those who say, ‘Nothing bad will happen to us.’

“In that day I will restore the fallen house of David.
    I will repair its damaged walls.
From the ruins I will rebuild it
    and restore its former glory.
And Israel will possess what is left of Edom
    and all the nations I have called to be mine.”
The Lord has spoken,
    and he will do these things.

“The time will come,” says the Lord,
“when the grain and grapes will grow faster
    than they can be harvested.
Then the terraced vineyards on the hills of Israel
    will drip with sweet wine!
I will bring my exiled people of Israel
    back from distant lands,
and they will rebuild their ruined cities
    and live in them again.
They will plant vineyards and gardens;
    they will eat their crops and drink their wine.
I will firmly plant them there
    in their own land.
They will never again be uprooted
    from the land I have given them,”
    says the Lord your God.
(New Living Translation)

Guilt

Doom and hope, judgment and grace, suffering and glory. These are the movements and rhythms of the Old Testament prophets. The great sin of Israel which warranted divine wrath was not only that they trampled on the poor and needy. On top of it all, they saw nothing wrong with their way of life. 

This profound lack of awareness, rooted in the spiritual blindness of greed, is what led to judgment. It would take the form of having the Assyrian Empire come, seize the land, and take the people away to a place where they would have no chance to oppress others. Sadly, death would come to many.

“The work of restoration cannot begin until a problem is fully faced.”

Dan Allender

The sin of oppressing others and believing there’s nothing wrong with it comes with severe consequences. The people relied too much on their ethnicity. The ancient Israelites wrongly assumed that because they were the people of the covenant, this somehow inoculated them from disaster. Their belief in Jewish exceptionalism was their downfall.

Grace

Yet, all would not be an endless gloom. The Lord will not destroy completely. God’s anger lasts for a moment. However, God’s grace lasts forever. Restoration, renewal, and fruitful times will come because of God’s mercy. 

Yes, God pronounces judgment when it is warranted. But God also makes and keeps promises to people. In our lesson for today, the Lord promises to restore the fortunes of the people through rebuilding ruined cities and letting them inhabit them once again.

God steps in and graciously acts on behalf of all people because that is what God does. We might get the notion in our heads that God executes judgment to teach people a lesson or to make a point. In my line of work, it is common to hear people express the idea they are under divine punishment because of personal illness or hard circumstances. 

God, however, acts independently out of a vast storehouse of righteousness and mercy. The Lord maintains holy decrees while showing grace to the undeserving. The nation of Israel, in the days of the prophet Amos, deserved only judgment, not grace. 

It seems to me God would have been completely justified to never restore or renew a recalcitrant people. Yet, God’s grace overwhelms and swallows human sin. Try as you might to understand grace, you will end up befuddled. That’s because grace is wildly illogical, nonsensical, and unconditionally free. Grace shows radical acceptance where there ought to be only the punishing fire of hell.

Gratitude

The height of grace and the pinnacle of restoring the fortunes of Israel (from a Christian perspective) came through a baby and a humble birth in the small village of Bethlehem. Jesus came to save the people from their sins. God acted by entering humanity with divine free love so that there could be new life and fresh hope. 

So, let grace wash you clean. Allow mercy to renew your life. Receive the gift of gracious forgiveness, merciful love, and divine peace. Look ahead and see there is hope on the horizon. Give thanks for God’s indescribable kindness.

Merciful God, although you are careful to uphold your great holiness, your mercy extends from everlasting to everlasting. May the gospel of grace form all my words and actions so that true righteousness reigns in my life through Jesus, my Lord, in the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Amos 8:1-7 – A Prophet’s Perspective on the Powerful and the Poor

This is what the Almighty Lord showed me: a basket of ripe summer fruit.

He asked, “What do you see, Amos?”

“A basket of ripe summer fruit,” I answered.

Then the Lord said to me, “My people Israel are now ripe. I will no longer overlook what they have done. On that day, the songs of the temple will become loud cries,” declares the Almighty Lord. “There will be dead bodies scattered everywhere. Hush!”

Listen to this, those who trample on the needy
and ruin those who are oppressed in the world.
You say to yourselves,
“When will the New Moon Festival be over
so that we can sell more grain?
When will the day of rest—a holy day, be over
so that we can sell more wheat?
We can shrink the size of the bushel baskets,
increase the cost,
and cheat with dishonest scales.
We can buy the poor with money
and the needy for a pair of sandals.
We can sell the husks mixed in with the wheat.”

The Lord has sworn an oath by Jacob’s pride:
“I will never forget anything that they have done.” (God’s Word Translation)

I’ve been in the church most of my life. I have listened to thousands of sermons, as well as preaching thousands of them myself. I can count on both hands how many times I’ve heard a sermon from one of the twelve minor prophets in the Bible. Although I personally have preached on them more times than that, it still pales in comparison with how many sermons I’ve preached from the New Testament gospels or epistles.

This, I believe, is an indictment on us, especially those with privilege and power. If you add the major prophets, we have sixteen books contained in Holy Scripture calling out powerful and influential people’s oppression of others. To overlook such a girth of text is to stick our fingers in our ears and refuse to listen to God.

Those with power, position, and privilege must continually be vigilant to use such influence for the benefit of all persons – not just themselves or people just like them. The books of the prophets make it quite plain that God cares about justice. God will uphold the needy. The Lord will stand with the oppressed. If we fail to share a divine sense of justice and injustice, there will be hell to pay.

“Extreme poverty anywhere is a threat to human security everywhere.”

Kofi Annan

God is longsuffering. The Lord patiently awaits us to pay attention. Yet, eventually, that patience will run its course. A prophet will be sent to voice God’s concerns. Like a basket of ripe fruit now finally ready to be eaten, so God’s justice is ripe and ready for action.

The prophet Amos delivered a scathing message to the ancient Israelites about their total disregard for the poor and needy in the land. The people in positions of authority and power only looked on the less fortunate as commodities – as pawns to be taken advantage of for the rich merchants. 

Because the wealthy never took the time to listen to the poor, God would not listen to them. Judgment was coming, and it would not go so well for the power brokers of society who only thought of their business and squeezing others for more money.

The bald fact of the matter is that few people rush to have poor folk as their friends. Those in poverty are often overlooked and disregarded. Either they are ignored altogether or are given hand-outs and services without ever having any significant human contact. Even when there is help, it comes from a distance.

In other words, those in authority rarely take the time to listen and get to know the real face of poverty. If there isn’t a photo opportunity, then encounters with the poor are not likely to happen with politicians, or anyone else. After all, so many are busy making money, checking stock portfolios, and considering how to get bigger market shares…. 

Oh, my, perhaps we have an answer as to why there is no revival in the land. God shows such solidarity with the poor that to ignore them is to ignore him.  No matter our financial picture and outlook, every one of us can grace the poor with the gift of time and listening.  For in doing so we might just be listening to the voice of God.

Gracious God, you are found everywhere – both the halls of power, and the back alleys of slums.  As I seek you more and more, may I see the face of Jesus in everyone I encounter, whether rich or poor so that I can share the gift of life with them all.  Amen.