Burn it down

Isaiah 1:24-31
I am not a “burn it to the ground” kind of preacher. But some have said I am. Actually, I’m a “rip the band-aid off” person who then wants to do what we say God wants us to do. So, I can see how someone might get that confused.

Over the course of my pastoral ministry, I’ve heard a lot of what churches want to do for the glory of God. My greatest struggle has been watching us muddle toward the details of bringing them to life. We debate and argue over fine points. By the time we make a decision, we’ve lost the joyful desire to make anything meaningful happen.

Something else happens with our dreams. We get caught up in what we’re used to doing that we don’t have the bandwidth to pursue any new direction from God. Churches are bad about letting things go. That’s a strange trait for people who believe in the resurrection to have. In an unfortunate move, as the church has struggled, we’ve intensified our grasp on the familiar.

How much of our struggle relates to our desire to keep things as we like them?

The result of this is there’s no room for what needs to happen. We’re too busy, tired or comfortable with what is before us at the moment. This is where some might think I want to erase all we know at church. But I don’t.

Early on, the Lord impressed on me the value of the local church. Through the power of God, to be cliche, we are a force to be reckoned with! I’m just not sure bake sales rattle the gates of hell all that much. We have a hard time getting our own people in the church moved by what we’re doing. How can we expect Hades to worry?

In the first chapter of Isaiah, the prophet comes out ready to burn it all to the ground. Judah and Jerusalem’s bleak future is all but set. Even an ox knows who its owner is. But the people of God continue to burden God with their religious veneer. The people need to repent.

There are stark aspects of Isaiah’s vision. God says, “I will smelt away your dross as with lye and remove all your alloy.” That’s a burning process. But why does God want to do that? Is it mere punishment?

No, it is a restorative promise.

Although God sees what the people have become, let’s give them the benefit of the doubt. Let’s assume they started out wanting to honor God. They didn’t set out to ravage the poor and create injustice. Over time, though, they mixed so much into their faith they couldn’t see what they had become.

Yes, God will judge. But Isaiah’s vision is more than that. “I will restore your judges as at the first,” God says. God’s true motive is restoration and redemption. God’s smelting process is a refining process.

That’s what we miss about what God wants to do in and through us. If God is going to refine us, things might get hot. We will lose things along the way. But we gain God’s restoration. Do we really want to lose that?

Stay blessed…john

Seems right to me

2 Kings 22:1-10
King Josiah was eight years old when his thirty-one-year reign began. According to scripture, he did what was right in the sight of God. The first story we read about him takes place in his eighteenth year as king. It begins when he sent his secretary to ensure funds were available to repair the temple.

You know how it is when you start moving stuff around the house. All kinds of things pop up. Things you forgot you bought reappear. Now you need to figure out if it’s worth keeping.

The thing that popped up in the temple was “the book of the law.” Of course, the law is the law of God. We’re not quite sure what they found; many think it was a portion of the book of Deuteronomy. You can tell how scarce this way by their treatment of it. The high priest found it and read it to the king’s secretary. The secretary thought the king should know about it and went to read it to him.

Both times, notice they didn’t only find the book. They read it aloud. Together.

Our reading today stops when the king hears the book read. The story goes on, of course. But as we’re reading, we can already sense what may happen next. We already know Josiah did what was right in God’s sight. What do you expect him to do when he finds the scripture?

This created a pivotal moment for him and God’s people. What would you do at such a moment? How would you respond to hearing God’s voice in such a dramatic way?

Now, let’s say you’re a king in the Old Testament. Well, King, there’s one of two things scripture will say about you to summarize you and your reign. You either did what was right in the sight of the Lord or you did not. If you’re leading God’s people, what else really matters?

If you happen to be a leader in God’s Church today, that’s not a bad question to consider. Of all the things churches fill their time with, are we actually teaching people how to follow the ways of Jesus? That should be a driving concern for the entire body of Christ. We aren’t meant to be another social club. God gave the world the church to be a living embodiment of Jesus and the love of God. If we aren’t doing what is right in the sight of the Lord, we won’t do that.

And there’s the grand qualifier. Not what is right to us but to God.

Writing about the need for a spiritual reading of the Bible, Eugene Peterson said, “Obedience is the thing, living in active response to the living God. The most important question we ask of this text is not, ‘What does this mean?’ but ‘What can I obey?’

There’s no getting around the call to obedience to God. Without it, we’re building our own kingdoms, our own ministries and our own institution.

As the church, the hard part of this is what seems right to us seems right. I’ve known no one in the church that wanted to do evil through the church. So, how do we know if we’ve wandered or strayed?

Well, begin with what they found in the temple. How much do our church priorities and activities align with what we read together in scripture? Ask the same question when it comes to your personal walk with God. Wherever our priorities and activities don’t fully align with scripture, that’s where you begin to see if it matters more to you or to God.

Stay blessed…john