Devotional thoughts (Monday through Thursday mornings) from the pastor of Exeter Presbyterian Church in Exeter, NH // Sunday Worship 10:30am // 73 Winter Street

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Amos 7

God gave Amos three visions of discipline against Israel. The first two, locusts and fire, were overwhelming to the prophet, and he pleaded for the Lord's mercy. “O Lord God, please forgive! How can Jacob stand? He is so small!” The response of the Almighty was favorable to these entreaties. “The Lord relented concerning this: 'It shall not be,' said the Lord.”
The third vision was quite different. Amos saw a “plumb line,” a tool used by a builder to help him make sure that every wall is built straight in order to be more stable for years to come. What was the meaning of this final vision? The Lord was providing a guiding voice for Israel. Amos himself served as a warning to the people in his day. Would they heed the message of the Word of the Lord, or would they all face the devastation of imminent loss and dislocation?
There can be little doubt that Israel's governing authorities were not eager to turn away from sin. One religious leader insisted that it was time for Amos to return home to Judah. The Lord's ambassador was not dwelling among the northern tribes according to his own plan or desire. God had sent him away from his home in order to bring divine oracles to those who did not want to repent. Israel's rejection of Amos would bring great trouble to many families, including that of the false priest who was very sure that the Lord's messenger was the big problem. The entire nation would face a devastating sanction from Jehovah: “Israel shall surely go into exile away from its land.”
Every true prophet of God throughout the history of the Jews raised a heavenly standard for people who were facing danger because of their disobedience. The coming Messiah would be the ultimate “plumb line” of holiness for God's people. More than that, Jesus would also suffer the consequences for the disobedience of the Lord's chosen flock. God was well aware that all of His children were far “too small” to face His anger. Our only hope has always been that the Almighty would provide a way for us to receive His mercy. Centuries before the coming of our Savior, Amos had interceded for God's people when he asked the Lord to “forgive” them. Our cries for pardon have found the best divine reply in the death of Jesus for sinners. In Him we have not only the true Man of perfect obedience, but also the Author of our secure hope to receive eternal life, not through our own keeping of the Law, but through the grace of God that is ours because our debt has been paid.

Prayer from A Book of Prayers

Sovereign Lord, You have displayed to us the serious consequences of the rebellion of men. Even within Your church we could never face the discipline that we rightly deserve as a consequence of our sin. Set Your Son as a plumb line among Your people. He is the standard of all righteousness. Help us to regard Him in all His holy beauty, and to consider the glory of His work as our Substitute. This one great King has given His life for us, and yet He lives. He has brought the Word of truth to us. He was a most unexpected prophet, and His words and actions were the fullest expression of truth ever known among men. Shall we ignore Him, and die as if we were strangers to the covenant of grace? Have mercy, O Lord.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Amos 6

Woe to those who are at ease in Zion.” God is not against His people's enjoyment of the physical blessings that He provides. He wants them to be able to have happiness about all that He Himself considers to be a healthy provision for them. Yet with those joys of life, the Lord also calls us to be “grieved” over the “ruin” of His kingdom.
Leading families in ancient Israel were full of pride concerning their own achievements. They imagined that they were better than all of their neighbors, but they were not rightly evaluating the “day of disaster” that they would face from the Almighty.
The wealthy rulers enjoyed all the benefits of their positions of influence. They had well-furnished homes and plenty of entertainment to fill their days. They drank “bowls” of wine and anointed their bodies with expensive ointments. None of these good gifts would save them from the troubles that would soon take place. Even in the finest palaces, once haughty dignitaries would crouch in fear after the assault of powerful foreign adversaries. Their great houses would be reduced to “fragments.”
The society of the northern tribes was in great moral and spiritual disarray despite their outward prosperity. All of their boasts in wealth would be of no comfort to them when they were overtaken by forces from the east. They would find themselves in the hands of more powerful men who would rule harshly over them. Even more significant than imperial authorities such as the Assyrian kings, God Himself would discipline them according to His own eternal plan.
The church in every era needs to care about those developments that move the heart of God. We cannot safely be governed by our own desires for greatness. We should rejoice as the Lord rejoices and mourn with our great King at those things that grieve the Holy Spirit. This is why Jesus has instructed the church to seek first the Kingdom of God. Only by having the mind of Christ can we live life well during a time and place of significant departure from biblical standards.

Prayer from A Book of Prayers

Our Father, we care about Your church. We will not be at ease in the face of so much lawlessness among Your people. We look for the pleasures of the life to come, and give up on the pride of our hearts and the passing attractions of sin. Grant to us a due regard for the seriousness of disobedience within Your covenant community. Please forgive us, for we have not loved justice and holiness as we should. 

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Amos 5

Israel was in a very dire spiritual condition. “Fallen, no more to rise, is the virgin Israel.” Though there was “none to raise her up,” at the end of Amos we read at the end of Amos of one who would be raised up and would thus bring new life to dead “ruins.” (Amos 9:11) This gave the reader hope that the Lord still had a plan of blessing for His chosen flock.
In the meantime the Israelites would face horrific tragedies. The best course of action for the nation was quite simple. “Seek Me and live.” Yes, “seek good, and not evil.” Yet the nation would not turn toward God. The men and women of the north maintained idolatrous patterns of worship and abusive habits of governance. They continued to “trample on the poor” and to “turn aside the needy” from the place of public justice at the city gate.
How would God discipline them? “In all the streets” everyone would hear the sounds of grieving people “wailing” because of their great losses. They imagined that everything would be turned around immediately in an imminent coming of “the Day of the Lord,” but this was an empty hope. The divine power coming their way would be most unpleasant.
The Lord's covenant people among the northern tribes could not worship their way out of the pain that would soon be theirs. The Lord said, “I hate, I despise your feasts.” The obvious problem with their acts of devotion was that they demonstrated no real inclination to change their ways from pursuing evil. God called them to a better life of true holiness. “Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”
Within a few decades Jehovah would send them “into exile beyond Damascus.” Was all hope of peace lost forever? When would a king of righteousness come? When would God establish a better existence characterized by heavenly goodness? The Almighty would bring life for those who were spiritually dead by raising up His own Son to reign over a new world. The death and resurrection of Jesus was necessary in order to establish a second creation beyond the desperate cries of the afflicted. Jesus Himself would announce that heaven's life-giving streams would flow through His redeemed people. Anyone who would believe in Him, “out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.” (John 7:38)

Prayer from A Book of Prayers

Father God, there is so much sin all around us, among us, and even within us. Why do we seek after idols? Why will we not run to You, O Lord? You put the stars up in the heavens and formed the constellations. You bring water upon the earth, and floods upon the lands according to Your decree. Will we turn aside the needy when they come to us for help? Will we pursue injustice as our fathers did in former days? Do we not recognize that there will be consequences for the iniquity within us? We can only see the Day of the Lord as a day of joy because of what Christ has done for us. Send forth His righteousness among us like a mighty stream, that we might pursue the way of holiness with integrity.

Amos 4

The Lord has an oracle of indictment against the rich women of Israel who “oppress the poor” and “crush the needy.” They were “cows of Bashan” who said to their husbands, “Bring, that we may drink!” God would take them away to exile “with fishhooks.”
The leading ladies of Samaria were typical of the Lord's depraved people. They liked to combine their acts of religion with their rebellion against the Almighty. Though they might seem to be spiritual giants and encouraged others to join them at all the great places of worship, they journeyed to holy cities like “Bethel” and “Gilgal” only to “transgress.” Like so many showy followers of Jehovah throughout the centuries, they wanted everyone to see their “tithes” and their “freewill offerings,” but everything they brought to God was “leavened” with sin. “For so you love to do, O people of Israel.”
The Lord had disciplined them over many years, but to no avail. He sent His afflicting providences that brought trouble upon their crops and their health, “yet you do not return to Me.” What was the Lord to do with those who simply would not repent?
He would send them far away into exile. Their life of pleasure and ease would be over. Those who had heretofore survived difficult times might soon face the end of their days. Up to this moment they had been like “a brand plucked out of the burning,” but now their time of reckoning was surely coming. “Prepare to meet your God, O Israel!”
Who was this Divine Being who would soon judge them? He was the God who “forms the mountains” and “creates the wind.” He knew what was in the heart of a man or a woman even when they deceived themselves so persuasively. He was, and continues to be, the Great I-AM, “the Lord, the God of hosts.” To stand before Him without an atoning sacrifice should be any rational person's greatest fear, but now Jesus has made a way for us to safely call upon God as our beloved Father.
We have been reconciled with the God of eternity through the work of His Son. Rescued from death and hell through the I-AM who lived and died for us, perfect love will surely cast away all our fears (1 John 4:18). “Prepare to meet your God!” Absolutely, but because of Jesus these words express our highest hopes and not our worst terror, for we are sons and daughters of God through Jesus Christ our Lord, and “we will see Him as He is.” (1 John 3:2)

Prayer from A Book of Prayers

Glorious Lord, where is the righteous woman who gives herself completely to Your service? Are all given over to base pleasures and lazy living? Thank You for Your correction of us even through suffering. How could we be so insensitive to Your acts of discipline? We are very slow to return to You. Will it be necessary for You to remove the lampstand of Your church in many lands? You are the Lord of Hosts. You know what is right and good, and You will accomplish Your glorious plan. Save us, O God!

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Amos 3

God had a special relationship with Israel. He called them “the whole family that I brought up out of the land of Egypt.” No other people group had this covenantal connection with the Almighty. What would this fatherly care mean for them in the days of Amos? “You only have I known of all the families of the earth; therefore I will punish you for all your iniquities.”
The Lord's indictment and His sanctions against them did not happen by chance. His fatherly love for His people led Him to take necessary steps, lest they wander away from Him forever. This should not have been a surprise to them. God had already revealed through decades of prophets what He would do if they continued in rebellion.
As the time for the fall of Samaria drew near, Jehovah called upon foreign lands like Ashdod and Egypt to observe the shame of His chosen flock. “They do not know how to do right.” Particularly the rich and powerful among them were inclined toward “violence and robbery.” Because they would not listen to their divine King, God promised to bring “an adversary” into their territory. In just a few years, the Assyrians would “bring down” their “defenses.”
Would this foreign aggression be a small inconvenience? No, the citizens of Samaria would lose almost everything. A suffering family might be able to save “the corner of a couch and part of a bed,” but their lives in the Promised Land would be over for many years. Most Israelites would never return. Even those who had multiple houses and great estates would not be able to defend themselves.
This corrective action of the Lord would have a very central religious component. “I will punish the altars of Bethel” that had been built so many years before in violation of Jehovah's commandments. God would display before the world that He was perfectly serious when He had told Israel, “You shall have no other gods before Me.” (Exodus 20:3)
The people of God in every era must not think of sin too lightly. Transgression brought much trouble upon the Jews of old. In the fullness of time, the Author of Life displayed the penalty that our evil ways necessitated. The perfect Son of God had to die on the cross for us. Only Jesus could save us from our sin. Through His blood He not only wins for us the legal status of righteous sons and daughters, He also sanctifies our deepest trials and secures for us a life of eternal glory.

Prayer from A Book of Prayers

Father, because You have a special plan for Your children, You chastise us for our sins. Nonetheless, You still call us Your family. We thank You for Your discipline. Preserve our lives for Your service, first here, and then above with those who have already gone to be with Your Son. Surely You have reason to correct us, and we should listen carefully to You. Even if only a small remnant survives, not one of Your elect shall be lost. All of our pomp and wealth will perish, but Your people shall live forever.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Amos 2

God spoke to the nation of Moab as well as to His covenant children in both Judah and in Israel through the revelation given to the prophet in Amos 2. Beginning with idolatrous people group to the east, what objection did the Almighty have concerning the Moabites? Authorities in Moab “burned to lime the bones of the king of Edom.” The Edomite rulers were not particularly righteous. They were engaged in buying Israelite slaves and were charged by the Lord with great guilt. In Amos 1:12, we read about what the Lord would rightly do to Edom in His own holy vengeance: “I will send a fire upon” the strong cities of the Edomites. This was the prerogative of the great I-AM, not the right of any man,
Why would God make a point about the way one heathen dictator abused another? The Author of life insisted that His followers recognize what they already knew, that human beings were created by Him and were different from His other creatures. The Lord gave men and women innate dignity that was not to be ignored, even in the treatment of the bodies of enemies at their death. To burn the remains of a person out of disrespect was to act as if they were above them as their ultimate Judge.
Moving beyond the nations that surrounded the Promised Land, what then was the Lord's indictment regarding the best of His own flock, the tribe of Judah? They had the Word of God in a way that Moab and Edom did not, but this made them even more guilty, for they did not obey God's special revelation to them. They followed the lies of their fathers and went “astray” in ungodly paths. How would God discipline them? “I will send a fire upon Judah, and it shall devour the strongholds of Jerusalem.”
Moving on from Judah, Amos spoke God's message to the northern tribes of Israel for the remainder of his book of prophecy. They also deserved the Lord's correction, for they “trample the head of the poor into the dust of the earth.” Even Israel behaved as if men and women were objects for their own use. They combined the religion of their God with their immoral practices. Though they claimed to have God's special affection, they turned against the oracles of the One who had brought them out of slavery. Instead of being merciful to the weak, “they sell the righteous for silver, and the needy for a pair of sandals.” The Lord had sent them ambassadors of His Word, the prophets, and living displays of His holiness, the Nazirites, but they had mistreated even these special servants of their God.
Would they escape the Lord's discipline because they were His chosen ones? No, the Lord loves His elect too much to flatter them in their dangerous wandering. God knows about the sin of the world. He also knows well that the church cannot stand before Him without an atoning Substitute to turn away His wrath. But now a new way of life has appeared for us, “the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ.” (Romans 3:22) Our Redeemer is our only hope.

Prayer from A Book of Prayers

Lord God, there is a hatred of man against man that goes beyond the customary depravity of the sons of Adam. How long will You allow a nation to stand when it is so wickedly vicious, abusing the living and desecrating the remains of the dead? Surely Your people should be far from such a habit of evil. Yet we have so often ignored Your Word, and have become imitators of the world. Our lies have led us astray into sinful patterns of life. Will we sell the righteous for silver, engage in gross immorality, and participate in idolatrous worship? You have done so much for us, delivering us out of the slavery of sin, and allowing us to taste of the good things of the age to come. Will we return to the old way of bondage again? May it never be so! We should not presume to fight against You, for we will surely lose that battle. Have mercy on us, O God, and call us back home again.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Amos 1

In the days of King Uzziah of Judah and King Jeroboam II of Israel, God called Amos, a shepherd from a small village near Bethlehem of Judah, to speak His Word to the nations surrounding Israel. “The Lord roars from Zion.” Yahweh asserted His authority to judge those who had been cruel to His people.
The Syrians had treated the Lord's beloved children like a field that they were free to break up in order to plant whatever they wanted. “They have threshed Gilead with threshing sledges of iron.” The Lord would use the Assyrians from the east to bring great trouble upon Damascus and the other Syrian cities that had exalted themselves over that part of Israel to the east of the Jordan River. The Syrians would be taken into exile.
The Philistines living in Gaza would also face the wrath of the Almighty. They had carried off people from Israel to sell them to the Edomites. The merchants of Tyre had also been engaged in this immoral commerce in violation of the “covenant of brotherhood” that had once existed between Tyre and Israel. The people of Edom were also guilty in this matter. As descendants of Esau, they did not have a brotherly regard for the heritage of Esau's brother Jacob. Now some of the cities of Edom would be destroyed by foreign powers.
The Ammonites had also shown little regard for the human worth of the Lord's family. Like other ancient powers who wanted their victory over an enemy to be complete, “they have ripped open pregnant women,” killing both mother and child. Their aim was that “they might enlarge their border,” but they too would be taken off into exile.
The entrance of sin into the world recorded in Genesis 3 has brought depravity not only to individuals, but also to nations. A naive view of the reasonableness of all the people groups of the world will only lead to danger and disappointment. Despite all of the trials that the elect face in this world of trouble, the Lord's love for His children is real. Those who persecute Israel and the church will find God to be a very dangerous adversary. One day, the Lion of the tribe of Judah will return. He will establish a kingdom beyond evil nations and individual sinners. Even now, Jesus is the Lord of international relations. We must not be deceived by utopian plans of statesmen that are built on false ideas of the goodness of men and nations. Only our King can accomplish His perfect eternal purposes.

Prayer from A Book of Prayers

Lord of Hosts, in the midst of this world of trial and woe, You roar through Your prophets. You had a word for the nations of old like Syria and the Philistines. You hated their oppression and anger. Men have always looked for opportunities to have some selfish benefit at the cost of the weak. Ancient peoples like the Edomites and the Ammonites have been soundly condemned for their brutality and greed. Will we be imitators of them, rather than followers of Your Son? Rescue us from base impulses that would harm us and others, for we are Your people. We have been set apart from the world for a better purpose than the abuse of the helpless.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Joel 3

The conclusion of Joel 2 left the reader in the New Testament era. Joel 3:1 picks up from that point and continues all the way to the end of the age. “In those days … I will gather all the nations and bring them down to the Valley of Jehoshaphat.” This name, “Jehoshaphat,” means “Yahweh has judged.” The Lord declares, “I will enter into judgment.”
Throughout Joel 3 foreign powers like Tyre and Edom are used to indicate the wicked who will be condemned, and Zion and Jerusalem signify God's kingdom people who receive His salvation. The “surrounding nations” are held accountable for their malice against “Judah,” but the Lord's “Jerusalem” shall finally “be holy.”
We know from Joel 2:32 (as quoted in Acts 2 and Romans 10) that people everywhere are being called to the historic Christian affirmation that “Jesus is Lord.” There can be no safe “refuge” for the “multitudes” that will stand before the Almighty except in the redemption accomplished by the Messiah.
The New Testament explanations of Old Testament images and ancient covenant promises shed a bright light upon passages that were once very difficult to understand. While an eternity of blessing is sure to come for the church, others without Jesus will instead be a “desolate wilderness.” When we read that “a fountain shall come forth from the house of the Lord,” we are reminded of what Jesus said to the woman at the well in John 4:14, “The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” Consider also of the words of John 7:37-39 that our Savior spoke to a larger crowd at a festival in Jerusalem: “Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, 'Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.' ” A river of life will flow not from the building that once stood on Mount Zion, but from Spirit-filled people.
Multitudes” who have called upon the Name of the Lord have now received the gift of God's presence in their lives. Many others would prefer to be devoted to the powers of this passing present age (Revelation 17:15), but great numbers of people chosen by God would rather have Him than any other honor that the world can provide.

Prayer from A Book of Prayers

Glorious God, a great age is coming. When Your Son returns to judge, He will surely save us from this evil day. You will bring judgment upon men, will purify Your church, and reveal all of the children of God. We wait for You, O Lord. We turn to You now, trusting You for each moment and believing Your promises regarding eternity. You are the Lord, our God. You shall make Your new Jerusalem perfectly holy. We will eat and drink with perfect peace and joy. Even now You are with Your people, and You will dwell with us forever.