Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Justice and the Mission of God

Justice and the Mission of God

Dear Friends,

The most complete perspective of justice in the Bible is presented in Amos 5. A humble goat herder with no credentials as a prophet seemed an unlikely candidate to confront wealthy Israelites about their sins of social injustice, but God chose Amos for the task. This was a time of national prosperity, and many owned fine homes and productive farmlands. God had always intended that His blessings be shared among all of His people, but now, the rich were shamelessly taking advantage of the poor. They took bribes, imposed unfair taxes, and took away what rightly belonged to the weak (vv. 11,12). God was angry and offended, so He sent Amos to warn the people and remind them about what really matters to Him.

Two Hebrew words that appear many times in the Old Testament are often linked together to refer to justice. These words, mishpat and tsedeq, are used in the same sentence twice in this chapter (vv. 7,24). Mishpat, also used in verse 15, is translated each time as “justice.” It is used around 400 times in the Bible, and is even one of God’s names, Elohay Mishpat, or God of Justice (Is 30:18). This means that it is within the Lord’s nature and purposes to choose justice. Mishpat is tied into the Hebraic legal code, and means that the law of justice is both extended and applied evenly to everyone. Amos knew that people who are the most at risk and unprotected needed to be defended by God’s loving justice, while offenders should all be punished fairly.

Tsedeq, translated righteousness in Amos 5, is connected to mishpat, but it means uprightness, doing what is right, or finding a way to make it right. It is used in reference to justice over 60 times in the Bible. Verses 7 and 24 are examples of the poetic tool of connecting parallel phrases for emphasis. Amos spoke about “Those who turn justice (mishpat) into wormwood (a bitter plant) and throw righteousness (tsedeq) to the ground” (v. 7). The two words are used together again in verse 24: “But let justice (mishpat) flow like water, and righteousness (tsedeq), like an unfailing stream.” Amos grieved that so many people were disobeying God and disrespecting others. He called their injustice evil and told them that only if they repented and sought goodness, would they live (v. 14).

Amos also pointed out that all the while that the Israelites were living unjustly they continued to observe their religious ceremonies. God used strong words to describe how unacceptable their hypocrisy was to Him. He said that He hates, despises, will not accept, and has no regard for their religious rituals and that it was all just noise to Him (vv. 21-23). The sacrifice He really wants from His people is the sacrifice that comes from a regular lifestyle of practicing justice. Justice is not simply an add-on, a social program, or a missions activity. It is a reflection of God’s character that is indispensable to God’s mission on earth.

Warmest regards,

Linda Bergquist
Church Starting Strategist,
California Southern Baptist Convention

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Monday, August 20, 2012

The Hidden Life of Prayer

Now Elijah, who was from Tishbe in Gilead, told King Ahab, “As surely as the Lord, the God of Israel, lives—the God whom I worship and serve—there will be no dew or rain during the next few years unless I give the word!” ~ 1 Kings 17:1

Dear Friends,

The Old Testament prophet Elijah was a man just like us.  Yet his prayer life probably differed drastically from ours.  His prayers worked, whereas our prayer lives need an awful lot of help. When did Elijah learn to have such power in his prayer life?  Where did he go to pray?  What did he do?  Hidden within this man was a vital life of prayer.

The prophet was born at Tishbe.  It appears that he had godly parents; they named him after their God. Elijah was one of the many Old Testament names for God, and it meant “creator God.”  Prayer was no doubt a regular part of Elijah’s life when he was growing up.  Most people in Tishbe were shepherds, so maybe—like David the psalmist—he learned to pray prayers while in the shepherd’s fields.

That gives me encouragement.  As a young mom, I struggled with being home with my young children all day.  I wanted to be out where the action was.  I had been used to being in the midst of all the excitement of youth work.  Now, three children later, my worldview had shrunk to the confines of the four walls of our small home, and I felt useless and unimportant.

Then I realized I could use this season of my life to develop my prayer life.  I lived in Tishbe!  And from there I could travel anywhere in the world.  Nothing could stop me from visiting my continent, and country, any town, village, or hamlet on the face of the whole wide world, and I could make a difference for God.  All I needed to do was get down on my knees and get to work.  After all, Elijah changed the course of history from an obscure corner of his world.

My life changed.  I began to thank the Lord for this season of my life.  I quit feeling sorry for myself and bought a map.  It was during this season that I began to discover the conditions of prayer.  I knew that the Bible told us to pray according to the will of God.  And I understood that the will of God was revealed in the Word of God.  So it was obvious that I needed to know God’s will through reading Scriptures.  I began to search for and write down the will of God every time I found it in the passage I was reading.  I learned that those who had never heard the gospel needed someone to tell them.  I read, “How can they hear without someone preaching to them?” (Rom. 10:14).  So I began to pray about that, and as I prayed, I started to wonder how I could be the answer to my own prayer.

I believe this is what happened to Elijah.  Look back at 1 Kings 17:1. How did Elijah get from Tishbe to Jezreel, where the king was?  While keeping his sheep in Tishbe, I’m sure he prayed about the sinful condition of the nation.  And God showed him how he could be part of the answer: Elijah, himself, could go to Jezreel and speak up where it counted!

I think back to my own life and ministry.  And I can now see that my life in Liverpool was my preparation for my life in Lancaster.  I think of my life in Lancaster, and I see that it was preparation for my life in Milwaukee.  And I think back on my life in Milwaukee and see that this was preparation for my life in the greater environs of the world where I have been privileged to serve.  Each season of life is important and leads to the next.  God’s will must be learned each step of the way through the diligent study and application of the Word of God.

So how is this aspect of your hidden life?  Are you diligent in searching the Scriptures in order to discern the direction your life must take?  Or are you chaffing at life in Tishbe and planning to escape the boredom of small town living?  Why don’t you pray about it?  God may well leave us at Tishbe until we have learned solitude.

Once I stopped feeling sorry for myself and began to learn what to do with this forced solitude, I was well on the way to the next stage of my ministry.  Tishbe can be a rural home setting, a sickbed, a life of singleness, widowhood, or a period of depression!  Tishbe needs to be recognized, and Tishbe needs to be embraced and enjoyed before we are useful in our next location. 


Jill Briscoe
Executive Editor
Just Between Us Magazine  

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

God Has Made You Able

Dear Friends,

“Get yourself ready!” God said to Jeremiah.  “Stand up and say to them whatever I command you.  Do not be terrified by them, or I will terrify you before them” (Jer. 1:7).

The King James Version of the Bible begins this verse with words, “Gird up thy loins,” a phrase that means to tie up a long flowering robe in order to run without encumbrance.  Another way of putting it is, “Get up and get dressed” (NLT). God was saying, “Dress yourselves with clothes I have prepared for you so you can run freely to do my will.”

I have been impressed with the way modern parents encourage their young children to choose which clothes to wear each day.  As early as four or five, young children think about the activities of the day and learn which clothes are appropriate for each activity.  The parents give them freedom to choose.

God gives us that freedom, too.  We need to dress ourselves suitably for the work of the Lord.  We need to choose “clothing” that will not hinder us in getting the job done.  There is a tough job ahead for God’s soldiers, and we need to learn to dress our souls appropriately for battle.

God warned Jeremiah that he would have many enemies.  Being forewarned was being forearmed.  God would make him a tower of strength and help him to overcome all of his inadequacies.  He was not to lose his nerve.  In fact, God knew better than Jeremiah did that Jeremiah could fulfill his calling because God had made him ideal for the job.  Knowing in advance what He would ask him to do, God had made him able to do it.

God believed in Jeremiah; God knew he could do it.  To have someone believe in you is all the empowering it takes for you to move mountains.  To have God believe you can do it should be all you need to face the foe.  To know I am a part of the plan, to be empowered by the Spirit, and to be assured of His presence can help me get up, get dressed, and go out and tell the world whatever God tells me to say.

Jeremiah would need special clothing because his ministry would be both destructive and constructive.  The emphasis was, however, to be on the destructive side.  “See, today I appoint you over the nations and kingdoms to uproot and tear down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant” (Jer. 1:10).  God also told Jeremiah that those who heard his message would not appreciate it.

Many of us have the idea that God would not call us to a difficult task—only to a glorious one.  I would prefer to “build up and plant” in people’s lives rather than “tear down and destroy.”  I would hope He would fill my mouth with comforting words, not confronting words.  But sometimes we are given unpleasant messages to deliver, and that takes extra grace and enabling.  The battle often begins when we must point out sin or tell someone an unpalatable truth.

It is hard to be obedient to your appointed task, isn’t it?  Jeremiah was to experience unbelievable reactions to his unsought words of spiritual advice, but he faithfully stuck with his tough assignments to the end.

Twice God tells Jeremiah, “I am with you and will rescue you” (Jer. 1:8).  As you read this man’s story, you may be tempted to wonder about that.  Did anyone ever accept his hard sayings?  Didn’t the prophet get hunted like an animal and tortured nearly to death?  Yes, he did.  God doesn’t promise to always save you externally, but He always promises to save you internally—to give you faith for fear, peace in your problems, serenity in the storm, and faith enough to finish.  He will never leave you nor forsake you, no matter how difficult the task.  He who has appointed and anointed will assist you with the power to finish.  

In His Love,

Jill Briscoe
Executive Editor
Just Between Us Magazine