Those hard words, why must I read them?

wordswag_1505302393846In the revivalist tradition of my youth, I heard many sermons on the coming wrath of God!  Fervent preachers with red faces, sweat on their brow, and a big black Bible on their right hand scared Hell out me, or at least they tried hard to do so. Many of those messages included a great deal more heat than light, aiming to move my heart, it seemed, more than to instruct my mind. Youth revivals, in my recollection, dealt much with ‘lust’ and ‘worldliness’ which was anything to do with fashion, entertainment, and ‘rock and roll.’

I cannot recall a single message about loving the poor, other than to tell me that I should be faithful to try to get them ‘saved.’ Nor can I recall any sermons that challenged me to think about real justice or my attitudes towards those of other races or religions. As a result, in my youth, God was a fearsome Being to me, not a Father who loved me and wanted me to find Him an Advocate for a rich life of purpose. Thankfully, His grace led me to discover that He was more than I had heard about and to know the joy of walking with Him.

Some people think that the ‘minor’ prophets, those preachers whose words are recorded in the short books near the end of the of the Old Testament, are just like the revivalists I heard in my youth. “Jerry, I do not read them because they are so negative.”

I invite you to take a second look. Yes, they can be difficult! Why?
First, their messages are set in a context of history that is largely unknown to most.
Second, they write about judgment and wrath a lot!  For that reason many Christians skip from Isaiah to Matthew in their Bible reading. I was drawn to those preachers recently, opening my Scripture each morning to that obscure place. And, I am discovering, anew, that their messages are spot on for me, in 2017.  Yes, it takes some work to find the treasures in the text, but they are there and the Holy Spirit speaks to me in them.

Micah preached to God’s people in a time of prosperity before the first Assyrian invasion. He warned them about the inevitability of God’s judgment, that their neglect of devotion would have consequence. And what specifically did he challenge?  Pride, oppression of the poor, bribery that corrupted justice, and ritual religion that did not engage them in true worship! Sound like things that plague the Church today to you? Sure does to me.

The people heard Micah’s sermons and told him to stop. “Don’t preach such stuff. Nothing bad will happen to us. Talk like this to the family of Jacob? Does God lose his temper? Is this the way he acts? Isn’t he on the side of good people? Doesn’t he help those who help themselves?”  (Micah 2:6-7, The Message)  He was unafraid, trusting God’s Spirit and responds to the critics – “But as for me, I am filled with power, with the Spirit of the Lord, and with justice and might, to declare to Jacob his transgression, to Israel his sin. Hear this, … who despise justice and distort all that is right.” (Micah 3:8-9, NIV)

In one telling passage, his sermon strikes this note of outrage. “Judges sell verdicts to the highest bidder, priests mass-market their teaching, prophets preach for high fees, All the while posturing and pretending dependence on God: “We’ve got God on our side. He’ll protect us from disaster.” Because of people like you, Zion will be turned back into farmland, Jerusalem end up as a pile of rubble, and instead of the Temple on the mountain, a few scraggly scrub pines.” (Micah 3:11-12, The Message)  Is this God’s view of the Church in 2017?  Sounds familiar to me. “God bless America,” preachers tell their congregations while ignoring the glaring sins of our nation – our greed, our broken ‘justice’ system, our economic inequities, our empty civil religion.

In a passage probably best known we learn that the Lord wants more than our money, more than our sacrifices to appease Him. He desires to know us, to transform our ways. The preacher captures me in these words. “What can we bring to the Lord? What kind of offerings should we give him? Should we bow before God with offerings of yearling calves? Should we offer him thousands of rams and ten thousand rivers of olive oil? Should we sacrifice our firstborn children to pay for our sins? No, O people, the Lord has told you what is good, and this is what he requires of you: to do what is right, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:6-8, NLT)  Christ Jesus calls us to salvation and invites us to live in the power of the Spirit. Our faith is not invisible nor is it without result.  Yes, we too, must allow Him to make us holy, compassionate, and in a daily conversation with our Father.  Amen, Micah!

Finally, some cannot see the whole of his sermon, put off by the dire predictions of destruction.  But, his message was not all thunderous wrath. After calling for change of heart, Micah reminds them repeatedly of God’s grace. “Do not gloat over me, my enemy! Though I have fallen, I will rise. Though I sit in darkness, the Lord will be my light. I watch in hope for the Lord, I wait for God my Savior; my God will hear me.” (Micah 7:7-8, NIV)  “Who is a God like you, who pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of his inheritance? You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy.” (Micah 7:18, NIV) What a beautiful promise.  I will rise!

Here is a word from the Word. “You have been taught the holy Scriptures from childhood, and they have given you the wisdom to receive the salvation that comes by trusting in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:15-17, NLT)

Lord, bless Your Word to us, I pray. Amen.

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