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God has brought judgement on his people. Now, because they have shown a repentant heart and a believing life, he will restore them.

“In those days, yes, at that very time when I put life back together again for Judah and Jerusalem, I’ll assemble all the godless nations. I’ll lead them down into Judgment Valley and put them all on trial, and judge them one and all  because of their treatment of my own people Israel. They scattered my people all over the pagan world and grabbed my land for themselves. They threw dice for my people and used them for barter. They would trade a boy for a whore, sell a girl for a bottle of wine when they wanted a drink. Joel 3:1-3 (The Message)

The relationship between the people of God and the land, in the Old Testament, is essential to the story. The land is blessed when the people are in a right relationship with God. Judgement comes on the people and they are separated from the land. The God of the Bible is, however,  jealous for his people and wants them restored to a right relationship. When they repent from their godlessness he is quick to act on their behalf. Although he allows the nations surrounding his people to dominate them in order to bring them back into dependance on him, when they do repent God is quick to turn his anger on their enemies.

What we see here is that God is jealous over those who turn to him. He wants the best for us, and so, he does not let our enemies have the upper hand if we are faithful. When we are oppressed by feelings of inadequacy, self hatred, fear, loathing, or self-doubt, we can find, in a consistency of repentance and faith, healing and deliverance from our enemies. By trusting in Jesus we are led into the truth about ourselves, that we are loved with and evelasting love by a jealous God and he will never let us go or let us down.

In the struggle against my enemies, Lord, let me depend on you. Let my heart be repentant and my life believing so that I can be healed, delivered, and set free. Amen.


What is the benefit of a repentant and believing heart?

 At that, God went into action to get his land back.  He took pity on his people. God answered and spoke to his people, “Look, listen—I’m sending a gift: Grain and wine and olive oil. The fast is over—eat your fill! I won’t expose you any longer to contempt among the pagans. I’ll head off the final enemy coming out of the north and dump them in a wasteland. Half of them will end up in the Dead Sea, the other half in the Mediterranean. There they’ll rot, a stench to high heaven. The bigger the enemy, the stronger the stench!” Joel 2:17-18 (The Message)

The enemies we face in our daily lives may not be a locust army, or an invasion force. We may not struggle with natural disaster on our door step, hunger, homelessness, or hopelessness. We may be quite settled, secure, and safe in our surroundings. Everyone has stuff they are afraid of or fighting. No one can claim to have a hassle or issue free life. These may seem like little enemies to some but when they are on your door step and you don’t know what to do with them they are big to you. The thing about a repentant and believing heart is that we don’t have to sort these things out. If we let anything or anyone control our lives except the living God then we are small and helpless in the face of many of lives enemies. If we try to run away, escape into distraction or denial, our enemies are still there, controlling and imprisoning us. If we live with a repentant and believing heart then we have a bigger friend to sort out those bullying enemies. We have a big and almighty God who won’ t let us be overwhelmed and who has power over everything in heaven and on earth. No need to worry and ‘the bigger the enemy, the stronger the stench.’

God, repentant and afraid I come to you. Assure me of the freedom I have in you from all my enemies. Show me their defeat because I trust in you. Amen.

 To help those who are away return to God what must people of faith do?

Blow the ram’s horn trumpet in Zion! Declare a day of repentance, a holy fast day. Call a public meeting. Get everyone there. Consecrate the congregation.
Make sure the elders come,  but bring in the children, too, even the nursing babies, even men and women on their honeymoon— interrupt them and get them there. Between Sanctuary entrance and altar, let the priests, God’s servants, weep tears of repentance. Let them intercede: “Have mercy, God, on your people! Don’t abandon your heritage to contempt. Don’t let the pagans take over and rule them and sneer, ‘And so where is this God of theirs?'” Joel 2:15-17 (The Message)

It is fascinating to me, as I try to come to the text without my religious goggles on, how different God’s priorities are to the Christian church. God calls his people to take a lead, to call a holy day of fasting, to call all men, women, and children into the sanctuary. He does not exclude people or put a hierarchy of importance in place. God calls all the people into his presence. It is the ‘priests’ that are to weep tears of repentance though. Those who have believed they have the answers and deliver spiritual guidance to the people. It is they that God calls to call out to him not to abandon his inheritance. 

If spiritual people are to be leaders of people then there is the need to lead by example. Too much, argument of who is right and who is wrong serves little purpose. That God says to those who seek to follow him closely to weep tears of repentance should be a solomn lesson. It is not that those who have returned to God are to have an ‘I’m alright’ attitude but to lead the way in a life of repentance and faith. ‘Pagans’ may taunt believers with the question of God’s whereabouts if we are not a people of repentance and faith. The whereabouts of God will be obvious if we are solidly seeking him through a life of repentance and faith.

Lord, let my life be the example to others that they may follow. May repentance and faith be my constant companions in the journey of life. May the example I set be one that iis compelling to all that I meet. Amen.

With God, however, it is rarely ever too late.

But there’s also this, it’s not too late—  God’s personal Message!—
“Come back to me and really mean it!  Come fasting and weeping, sorry for your sins!” Change your life, not just your clothes.  Come back to God, your God. And here’s why: God is kind and merciful.  He takes a deep breath, puts up with a lot, this most patient God, extravagant in love, always ready to cancel catastrophe. Who knows? Maybe he’ll do it now,  maybe he’ll turn around and show pity. Maybe, when all’s said and done, there’ll be blessings full and robust for your God! Joel 2:12-13 (The Message)

God gets some bad press, the God of the Bible is the soft target to blame for many wrongs. If we take a closer look, however, we see that much wrong is the result of our inhumanity, greed, and violence. The God who is kind and merciful never calls us to act in these ways. In fact, he hates it, and the judgement of our sins is directed at such godless ways. God wants us to come back to his ways, practice the values and meaning for life that he makes plain is the better way for all his creation. Until we do that, until we change our ways, the judgement of God remains a certainty. That we may see a different way with God depends fully on whether or not we will do so. What it takes is to whole heartedly, and without reserving the right to do it our way any longer, seek his ways.  The writer of the letter to the Hebrews put it this way, ‘It’s impossible to please God apart from faith. And why? Because anyone who wants to approach God must believe both that he exists and that he cares enough to respond to those who seek him.’ Hebrews 11:6 (The Message)

Kind and merciful God, today I look to change my ways so that the judgement that you hold back may change. If I can do it then anyone can do it so help me today to live the right way whole heartedly and without reserve. Amen.

It isn’t popular to portray the God of Jesus as the God of judgement, we cannot escape the facts though:

The invaders charge. They climb barricades. Nothing stops them.
Each soldier does what he’s told, so disciplined, so determined.
They don’t get in each other’s way. Each one knows his job and does it.
Undaunted and fearless, unswerving, unstoppable. They storm the city,  swarm its defenses, loot the houses, breaking down doors, smashing windows. They arrive like an earthquake, sweep through like a tornado.
Sun and moon turn out their lights, stars black out.
God himself bellows in thunder as he commands his forces.
Look at the size of that army! And the strength of those who obey him!
God’s Judgment Day—great and terrible. Who can possibly survive this? Joel 2:7-11 (The Message)

We may shy away from such imagery in the Bible but here it is. The invading army is carrying out the orders of its commander in chief. We see the devastation that accompanies them and have to question, with the Prophet, ‘Who can possibly survive this?’

For those who seek to follow Jesus the action of God in the physical world as he carries out his judgement may be the same. There is nothing to say that people of faith are not caught up in the same dramatic events in history that everyone else is. The difference comes when we see the commander of the invading army. Is he our commander too? Are his actions just in our eyes and are we willing to see beyond the devastation caused in the physical world to the promise he holds. No one who trusts in Jesus Christ has to fear judgement. Anyone who holds to the way of faith in him can rely on the amazing saving grace of God. The book of Revelation says, ‘ I saw another Angel soaring in Middle-Heaven. He had an Eternal Message to preach to all who were still on earth, every nation and tribe, every tongue and people. He preached in a loud voice, “Fear God and give him glory! His hour of judgment has come! Worship the Maker of Heaven and earth, salt sea and fresh water!” Revelation 14:6 (The Message)

While God may act in fearful ways, we are called to worship him eternally. Although he may judge the world in ways we do not fully understand, from it he will bring about his salvation.

Almighty God, although I may fear the works of your hand that I do not fully understand, I will trust in you and worship you with heart, soul, mind, and strength as long as I live. Amen.

If we have never been in a war zone, thank God, we can’t imagine the horror.

The locust army seems all horses—  galloping horses, an army of horses. It sounds like thunder leaping on mountain ridges or like the roar of wildfire through grass and brush, or like an invincible army shouting for blood, ready to fight, straining at the bit. At the sight of this army, the people panic, faces white with terror. Joel 2:4-5 (The Message)

The full extent of crisis that affects our lives in the West can be seen in the news. When it rains heavily we may be victims of poor flood protection, when the planes are unable to fly we may be caught up in the trouble of finding another way home from our holidays. Other people in the developing world, the people in, Iraq, Afghanistan, and the developing nations of South America, Asia, and Africa for instance, have had more war and natural disasters to deal with than we can imagine. People live each day displaced, hungry, and helpless because of wars and intolerant and ineffectual regiems. We can’t even imagine the horror of their daily lives, thank God.

The imagery, used by Joel, of the locust’s being like a rampaging army is not by accident. The horror they bring is utter devestation to life and limb. People will die with no hope of salvation, and that is why they ‘panic’ and their ‘faces’ are ‘white with terror.’ They haven’t prepared for this, they have treated God’s creation with contempt and now the consequences are on them like an invicible army. They are powerless in the face of overwhelming circumstances.

What are we going to do to be prepared for a similar judgement of God today? We may think it hopeless and we are too small, our voice too insignificant against the innevitable and invincible consequence of human neglect. I would say that to follow a conscience that cares and is concerned for all things in Creation is a Christian spiritual imperative. Prayer plays an essential part but prayer should always lead us to action, and positive, if understated, action in favour of the call of God to care for all in Creation.

May our consciences guide us in the way of generosity toward others and care for Creation. Let our lives reflect the right way of living against the flow of disregard and lack of concern, compassion, or care. Amen.

If an emergency of global proportions  is approaching what does God want the Christian to do?

Blow the ram’s horn trumpet in Zion! Trumpet the alarm on my holy mountain! Shake the country up! God’s Judgment’s on its way—the Day’s almost here! A black day! A Doomsday! Clouds with no silver lining!
Like dawn light moving over the mountains, a huge army is coming. There’s never been anything like it and never will be again. Wildfire burns everything before this army and fire licks up everything in its wake. Before it arrives, the country is like the Garden of Eden.  When it leaves, it is Death Valley. Nothing escapes unscathed. Joel 2:1-3 (The Message)

The rams horn was the means, in the days of Temple worship, to call the faithful to prayer. It was also the means of sounding the alarm if disaster was near. Before the days of mass global communications the church bell was used in the same manner. The call to prayer and the warning about an emergency are not linked by chance. When there is a disaster looming Christians are called to fervant prayer and to warn those around of the impending crisis. When the economic recession hit our country one of the first voices to be heard in Parliament was that of Ian Paisley. While he may not have been the most credible voice, because of his background in the troubles in Ireland, he was the most Christian in his response. He said that it would be a suitable response of Parliament to turn to God in prayer. I agreed with him in this although few of those occupying the benches in Westminster did.

Whether those who hear us respond with prayer, or reject our warning, in these days of global crisis and approaching judgement, it is the call of God to the Christian to seek him with fervant prayer and to warn all to be ready.

Almighty God, let my spiritual life speak to others of a prayerful life and may the gracious way I speak of my faith lead others to be fully prepared to meet you. Amen.

There is nothing quite like a natural disaster for there to be talk of God.

To you, O LORD, I call, for fire has devoured the open pastures and flames have burned up all the trees of the field.  Even the wild animals pant for you; the streams of water have dried up and fire has devoured the open pastures. Joel 1:19-20 (The Message)

Anyone who has seen the Billy Connoly film, ‘The Man who sued God’ will know the irony of the term ‘Act of God’ in the insurance world. Here we do have an act of God, Joel tells us in verse 15, ‘… the Strong God has arrived.’ This action, unlike the natural disaster in the film, is an act of God. God is judging the world through fire and there are a couple of options for our response. We can call on God as we see his judgement to have mercy; we can hide away, hoping not to be caught out in the open pasture; or we can shake our fist at the heavens in defiance of the Almighty. What is undeniable, however, is that the judgement of God, when it comes, will not come without reason and will come quickly.

The first response, to call on God to have mercy, is the one to adopt now. When judgement comes it will be too late but if we take the attitude for prayer that God is merciful and desires only good then we will continue to see his forbearance. The Bible says, in the book of Psalms, ‘As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God.’ Psalm 42:1 (The NIV translation) Thirsting after God’s mercy and forgiveness now leads the way to mercy triumphing over judgement. Seeking God while he may be found is the way to quench our spirirtual thirst.

I seek you, Lord, as a thirsty deer, as a needy soul. As you judge this world let mercy triumph over judgement and let your righteousness flow like a never ending stream. Refresh us, Lord, that we may see streams of living water flowing in a thirsty land and your forebearance continue with blessing. Amen.

A Volcanic errupting has sadly inconvenienced many people’s flight plans this week and created chaos. It makes me wonder if we are approaching a time when we see the effects of people’s abuse of the world and their rejection of its maker?

What a day! Doomsday!  God’s Judgment Day has come. The Strong God has arrived. This is serious business. Food is just a memory at our tables, as are joy and singing from God’s Sanctuary. The seeds in the field are dead, barns deserted, Grain silos abandoned. Who needs them? The crops have failed!
The farm animals groan—oh, how they groan! The cattle mill around.
There’s nothing for them to eat. Not even the sheep find anything. Joel 1:15-18 (The Message)

In the West we have got so used to having everything instantly. When we want it, and we can afford it, almost anythin is at our finger tips. The prophet Joel highlights the day when all we have taken for granted is exhausted and even sustaining life is a daily challenge.

It isn’t pleasant to think about the consequences of our abuse of the world’s resources and it’s consequences. We have got so used to working everything out for ourselves, and patching up creation to continue to serve our needs that, such a doomsday scenario, is only seen in block buster movies with the next generation CGI. It is not a work of fiction to God though and he calls us to be conscious of the well-being of his world. He does not want us take the path of least resistance but to hold back the day when we can no longer delay the innevitable. The Bible tells us that God will step in at the very last moment but he will not do so gladly.

If we are spiritual people we will recognize that we are in a spiritual war that has a physical. Paul, one of Jesus’ apostles, says in his letter the the church in Rome, ‘For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.  For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.’ Romans 1:15-18 (The NIV translation)

I want to glorify you today Lord, in the care I have for the world around me. I want my heart to be glad and full of the light of seeing your power and divine presence in creation and to worship you in how I live each day. Amen.

A ‘priesthood’ of all believers is at the centre of the practical edge of my Christian faith, in this respect Joel speaks to all believing people:

And also you priests,  put on your robes and join the outcry.
You who lead people in worship, lead them in lament.
Spend the night dressed in gunnysacks, you servants of my God. Nothing’s going on in the place of worship, no offerings, no prayers—nothing.
Declare a holy fast, call a special meeting, get the leaders together, Round up everyone in the country. Get them into God’s Sanctuary for serious prayer to God. Joel 1:13-14 (The Message)

The prophet calls on the believer to take a lead. Not simply to lead other believers, but to take a lead in their community that is blighted by famine and drought. Often the first thing that suffers under a change in a nations material well-being is their faith in God. When people suffer there is an outcry, but when the people cry out, if there is a voice that speaks God sense that will be turned to prayer. Instead of people directing their anger towards God in blame, if the balance of a real and radical Christian voice is in the thick of it, then the anger is turned to prayer. It seems to me that, despite the rising anger and opposition toward the Christian gospel in our society, if the God sense of a real and radical Christian voice speaks of the peace and providence of God, we will see a better society. If Christians join in the discourse of today’s world with actions and words of peace and providence, then the famine and drought of the Word of God we see in our nation will be fed and watered by our faith.

Almighty God, make my actions and my words speak God sense today. May I have the courage and the faith to join in with the angry voices as a voice of peace and providence. Let the actions I take bring spiritual food and water to bless those I meet. Amen.

April 2010
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