Monday, August 31, 2009

August 31, 2009

 

Daily Reflection

Disciples of Christ-Visalia

August 31, 2009

Joel 1: 11 Despair, you farmers,
       wail, you vine growers;
       grieve for the wheat and the barley,
       because the harvest of the field is destroyed.

    12 The vine is dried up
       and the fig tree is withered;
       the pomegranate, the palm and the apple tree—
       all the trees of the field—are dried up.
       Surely the people's joy
       is withered away.

Background:

Joel tells the story of a locust plague.  Some folks think that the locust plague is an allegory, a symbol of a great army.  I do not think so.  I think initially that the story was about locusts and as time went people who edited Joel’s writings starting seeing the menacing armies of the north like locusts.   As they edited the texts, the texts had this view point.  We can differ on this interpretation and that is alright, but living in the Valley the notion of hardship for agriculture makes sense.  Living in a large city might give us a different perspective.

Reflection:

I have lived in the Valley for two years now and one of the most shocking scenes for me is the uprooting of an orchard.  From my car it catches me by surprise but on those morning when I run down a road through an orchard the lack of trees shocks my senses.  The greenness of the trees is gone and all that remains is the dirt.  My understanding is that the orchard is intentionally uprooted for many good reasons.  The trees matured and are no longer producing in quality or quantity.  The trees may have become diseased.  They maybe uprooted to put in another crop.  The shock to the system is all that remains.  Across the Valley on the west side there are whole fields and orchards barren due to the lack of water, towns with 40% unemployment and a drought of Biblical proportions, bees dying, bugs destroying the citrus, and on and on..  The loss of an orchard opens the landscape and the sandy light brown dirt shows no life or is filled with choking weeds.  What once bore life now lies fallow.

There is this line out of Joel and I thought about the crops of the Valley.  Apples, palms, vines, pomegranates, they are all within a view miles of the house.  (Maybe not the palms, but there are palm trees in the neighborhood.)

There is also this impending threat about farming in California.  There is a drought.  Milk Prices plummet and herds are sold off to make hamburger.  There is a threat of a foreigner, an outside force that cannot be controlled.  The joy of farming, a way of life, becomes chore not joy.  Of course, when there is prosperity things are easy to enjoy, and when the cycle goes down it is difficult.  People leave the farm were foolish or unlucky.  In the midst of such difficulty, life becomes apocalyptic.  So, a drought, locusts, or an army to the north can shake the confidence of folks who live by the land.  But, one can live in a city and feel the same thing.  It can be Apples and PC’s, homes, oil fields drying up, or a sea once teeming with shrimp now has boat riding high in the water, because they do not bear a load.  For those who are facing their own plague of locusts, a drought in their own life, a time when the sweetness of joy has become ashes Joel has a word.

Questions:

Are you in a drought now?

Do you have an impending Army overlooking you?

Will you trust God’s hesed (steadfast love) to water you and to see you throw the swarm?

 


Friday, August 28, 2009

August 28, 2009

Daily Reflection

Guido Climer

14:1Return, Israel, to the LORD your God.
       Your sins have been your downfall!

    2 Take words with you
       and return to the LORD.
       Say to him:
       "Forgive all our sins
       and receive us graciously,
       that we may offer the fruit of our lips

This begins Hosea’s last chapter.

In recovery there are moments when folks who are part of a group leave.  They leave many times because they either feel they have it together and don’t need a group.  Or, they leave, because they see no other way than to give into the addiction.  There are times when folks leave and then they return.  Within recovery they are welcomed back.  There are many times huge amounts of shame, because the path lead to pain.  Everybody said, “we suggest you keep stepping this way.”  But they could not or would not listen to the suggestions.

 

They are welcomed back with grace that is true, authentic and beautiful, because that person who has left has now said, “I cannot do this alone.”  They are seeking to be whole and be healed.  So a return is a painful and beautiful thing.  Painful because the time away was painful.  Beautiful because the reuniting is filled with grace.  Everybody knows that it could have been them, but by luck, work, and God.

The story of faith is about staying the path, but for many of us it is about coming back to the path of faith.  Our journeys sometimes lead to dark places where we hurt ourselves and others.  Sometimes, we try to hurt God by our actions.  God does not recoil from the pain, but comes to the lowest point to meet us to bring us back.  Hosea is about that.  God calls Israel a whore.  That is strong language.

I love the last line in this verse.

"May we offer the fruit of our lips."

Last night, I heard a story of person who talked about his move to faith.  He had gone far away from God and he met God in the lowest place he could find.  There he was saved.  I understand that.  I came to experience Jesus at that lowest moment.  I savored the fruit of his lips, the good words he shared.

Bill Mallonee sings, 'fruit from his lips,' ( good words)

“That Holy Life should count for something                                Those blessed words be recalled                                          Remember Bill who it is who really loves you.                          To be loved is the best of all”

I am not into creeds, but the Apostles’ creed says,
“Jesus descended into hell.”  That is how far Jesus will go for you.

May you know today this fierce and courageous God who is willing to wade through deep ickiness of your life to say, “You are my people and you are loved”   May you offer to Jesus and the world, 'the fruit of your lips.'

Thursday, August 27, 2009

August 27, 2009

Daily Reflection

Disciples of Christ-Visalia

Hoesa 11: 8 "How can I give you up, Ephraim?
       How can I hand you over, Israel? …..
       …..My heart is changed within me;
       all my compassion is aroused.

    9 I will not carry out my fierce anger,
       nor will I devastate Ephraim again.
       For I am God, and not a human being—
       the Holy One among you.
       I will not come against their cities.

Theologians talk about whether or not God demands payment for sin.  This is conversation is called atonement theory.  Traditionally, Jesus died on the cross for our sins. Why? There had to be a sacrifice.  In the cosmic balance for God to still be God, he had to ask for payment for our sins.  Here is this scripture where God has laid out his accusations against Israel.  Israel is found guilty and should be punished.  Then God says, “How can I?  I am not human, but I am God.”  God breaks that balance.

When we think about justice, do we view justice from the point of view of God or from our own sense of justice?  I will be talking about this, this weekend.  But with the atonement, that divine algebra never really made sense to me.  I sang the songs and the songs were good.  However, as I thought about it…I don’t want Jesus to die for me.  Those sins are mine and nobody should die for what I have done.  I feel a little better about going against the grain of Christian tradition, because of this scripture.  “I am God, not a human being.”  It may make sense that somebody needs to pay the debt, but God owns, creates, and sets the rules if he does not need a sacrifice why does he need Jesus to stand in for me.  I do not want God to die.  I would gladly take the place of Jesus to let Jesus live.  These were thoughts I had as a kid.  They still linger, no theology class really worked through them.  .

Here is this line, God cannot punish.  Why? He loves Israel.  Can God punish me ultimately?  How strong is God’s love for me?  I am not saying that there is not a serious consequence to our sin, but ultimately where is that.  In this story, God would let us off the hook on earth to judge us on the last day.  I don’t think that is what is happening here.   I might be a heretic, but OK.

The whole of Hosea is a love song of a jilted lover.  God moves between rage to compassion.  As I know the stories of Jesus, that heart of God beats to the rhythms of love. What I know of God from Genesis, Hosea, and Jesus is this.  God created me.  God loves me.  God wants the best for me.  He went so far to reach me as to leave the throne of heaven and come to earth as Jesus.  When the world needed to be punished for killing God, Jesus said, “Forgive them they don’t know what they are doing?”  What does God want? He wants those centurions nailing him to the tree. He desperately wants you and me.  He will do anything for that, even if that means breaking the cosmic scales.  For that kind of God who loves that much, I need to give my life to Him.

This idea of steadfast love, Hesed.  Means that God’s love endures forever.  God’s love endures all things.  Does ‘all things’ mean my sin?

Do you believe that God really loves you?

If you do, how will you live that out in your life?

If you don’t, what will prove it to you?  Can I help you experience that steadfast love?

How can you give you life to God who forgives all my sins, even the ones you will not speak out loud to anyone?

Will you give your life to that God who so loves you that He comes to you?


Wednesday, August 26, 2009

August 26, 2009

Daily Reflection

August 26, 2009

Disciples of Christ-Visalia

Hosea 8:14

Israel has forgotten his Maker
       and built palaces;
       Judah has fortified many towns.
       But I will send fire on their cities
       that will consume their fortresses."

In our age of homeland security, talk of border fences, and defense there is this ancient reading.

Israel had built cities that were strongly defended.  Jerusalem was upon a high plateau protected behind strong walls.  God says, “Those fortified cities will not be defensible.”

As I was growing up we kept the front door unlocked.  My dad said, “Why lock the door, if they want they will get in.  If we lock the door, they will bust the door and we will have to buy a new one.”  We invest in a great deal of security in our lives at home, in cars, on-line with our identity, etc.  How many times have you had a virus on your computer?  Have you ever had something stolen from you?  These things happen and there is no way that we can defend ourselves totally and completely; whether it is border protection, TSA at the airport, home, or the computer.  I am not advocating no defense, but what I am sharing is the Biblical principal if you put your faith in a wall…then that wall that is dead is your God.  You can add software, security systems, guns or any other machine.

In Hosea’s time, the folks were putting their faith in the security of their defenses and that belief God would save his people all the time.   They were special.  They were safe and saved by their status and their walls.  They forgot that ‘specialness’ demands obligation of doing the right thing.

It is not walls that protect us or provide salvation.

We who are special in the eyes of God have an obligation to act with justice and have mercy on all.  When we act the Gospel out, Imans in Kenyan help hand out Bibles, witch doctors put up their totems, and enemies become friends.  When we act out the Gospel, we gain trust.  When we act out the Gospel, we have as secure protection as any big wall or mighty fortress.

We are not guaranteed protection anywhere in this world, but we have a choice to live in fear behind walls or to live in fierce love and courageous mercy of Jesus Christ.

How will you live courageously this week?

What the things you protect behind walls of fear?


Tuesday, August 25, 2009

August 25, 2009

Daily Meditation

August 25, 2009

Disciples of Christ-Visalia

Hosea 7:1

whenever I would heal Israel,
       the sins of Ephraim are exposed
       and the crimes of Samaria revealed.
       They practice deceit,
       thieves break into houses,
       bandits rob in the streets;

Reflection

Are you like me, when you think about social issues you say “they.”  So, it is on the Northside of town where the gangs reign.  Gangbangers are THEM.  The liars on Wall Street are THEM.  The people who cheat migrant workers are THEM.  The insane environmentalists are THEM. The prostitutes are THEM.  The addicts are THEM.

Hosea and the role of the prophet send their message, “You Israel.”

So, if I read that right, Hosea says, “You, America” or “You, Visalia”

Gang Bangers rob, steal, run drugs, and have a hand in prostitution.  They ruin our city.  They create violence.  They kill.  They rob.  They do drive by’s.

Hosea says, “You, Israel have thieves.”

The problems on the street are not THEM but US.  Meaning in reality, we own the problem as well.  We are part of the problem.  The THEM is US.   Those problems are ours and we are stained by the sin of them.   We did not hold guns.  We did not sell drugs.  We did not buy them.  How do we own the problem?  I try to push it off on other areas of the world, but Hosea says, “Niel, it is you.”

The only way for me to get out of ownership is to renounce my citizenship.  I am no longer American or Visalian, American, or Human…I cannot do that.  I will not do that.  So, Hosea says,  “You own it.”  To be honest, I don’t want to own it.  I don’t want the responsibility.  It is much easier for it to be their problem.  It is THEM.

How can we own and repair the problems of our society?  Homelessness, drug addiction, gangs, unemployment, cheaters on Wall Street, etc.  THEM is US.  Sorry, but that is the Bible says about it.

Question:

One of the things, I am praying about and have asked a couple of other folks to pray about is a congregation in prison.  What if we started a prison in one of the prisons in the Valley?  What if there was a congregation that worked on breaking down the racial barriers that produce gangs, we are an anti-racist church, pro-reconciliation?  Could we as Christians in Visalia make a dent in the drug problem, the gangs, and transform the Valley?  Would you be willing to pray for such a thing?  If you would, start now.  Then give me a call 559-308-4668.

Do you have something that God has put on your heart?  Will you tell someone about it and ask them to pray with you?


Monday, August 24, 2009

Daily Reflection Aug 24, 2009

Disciples of Christ-Visalia

August 24, 2009

Guido Climer

 Hosea 2:8

Israel, she has not acknowledged that I was the one
       who gave her the grain, the new wine and oil,
       who lavished on her the silver and gold—
       which they used for Baal.

Background:

Hosea is the first of twelve minor prophets.  They are minor not due to their importance, but due to the length of their books.  These 12 prophets starting with Hosea and ending with Malachi are the last twelve books of the Old Testament.  Hosea is called by God to marry a prostitute, because God says Israel is a whore.  God wants to have a holy theatre of sorts to prove his point, so Hosea obliges.    His life will mirror God’s life.  Hosea and Gomer, his wife have a son Hosea calls Jezreel.  This is more holy theatre to remind the people of Israel God will punish them for an action done in the valley of Jezreel.  They have a daughter and she is named ‘Not Loved,’ because God does not love Israel anymore.  Today, we punish awful parenting like that, but this is ancient history.

Reflection:

Then this line, I find the most painful story, Hosea 2:8.  Have you ever given a gift and then somebody use it a way that you find repulsive?  Give a child an heirloom of an old leather bomber jacket from the Korean War and he leaves it a high school dance.  Frustration courses through the body.  A college student graduates and takes his graduation gifts the envelopes stuffed with money and spends it in Vegas.  Is that why the money was given?  Bring a nice cheese as a gift and you find it two weeks later molded on your friend’s counter?  Have you ever received a gift without respect or charity?

It was the last day of classes my senior year.   We had two options that night to go out to the University Pub and drink bad beer as we had all year or we could go to the Texas Rangers’ and watch Nolan Ryan pitch.  We had seen Nolan pitch before and it was awesome.  But this was the last day of classes and it was a time to party!!!  We arrived at a friend’s room and heard the final two outs of Nolan Ryan’s complete game no hitter.  Given the gift of free time, guilt free, we chose to offer to seductive Baal our treasure.  When people talk of Nolan Ryan’s no hitters, I am reminded of my foolishness.

There are moments when I do this all the time.  I choose not to make a phone call, because it might be difficult.  I choose to avoid people out of fear.  I choose what is tangible over the wildness of the unexpected.  I choose to miss opportunities to enjoy life because of the fear of something different, the anxiety of inconvenience, or the security of familiarity.  Do you miss opportunities to enjoy God’s blessings because you take comfort?

Question

How have you wasted the gifts God gave you?

How will you live this week fully embracing opportunities to delight in God’s creation, nature, people, and your life?