Give Careful Thought

Haggai 2.11-14
11 “This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘Ask the priests what the law says: 12 If someone carries consecrated meat in the fold of their garment, and that fold touches some bread or stew, some wine, olive oil or other food, does it become consecrated?’”
The priests answered, “No.”
13 Then Haggai said, “If a person defiled by contact with a dead body touches one of these things, does it become defiled?”
“Yes,” the priests replied, “it becomes defiled.”
14 Then Haggai said, “‘So it is with this people and this nation in my sight,’ declares the Lord. ‘Whatever they do and whatever they offer there is defiled.

Reflection: Give Careful Thought
By Erin Newton

Purity laws in the Old Testament are usually the part of the Bible we skip over quickly. The laws can seem arbitrary or absurd to our modern mindset. It can be a confusing mess as you start to sort out the defiling offenses and cleansing rituals.

The Lord asks Haggai to remind the priests of these laws. There are two parts to the question. First, can you take something holy and transmit the consecration to something else? Answer: No. Second, can you touch something unclean and transmit the defiled status to something else? Answer: Yes.

One of the beauties of the Old Testament law was that it kept people in constant consideration of their purity status. The laws, when properly followed and upheld, regulated where a person could go and if they could be socially and religiously active. There were laws to repair damaged relationships or purify oneself from an unclean status. Impurity was often not sinful but refusing to acknowledge that state and living carelessly of the law could lead someone into sin.

After decades in exile under the punishment of God, the tides were turning. The day of blessing was on the horizon. God wanted to ensure that the people took time to consider what led them into exile and guard against going down that path again.

Our tendency is to live in the moment. Careful consideration is not a habit that would describe most people today. We are no longer under the laws of the Old Testament, but we can learn from the warning by Haggai. The Lord intends to bless us and to give us life abundantly (John 10.10). But our lives must still be marked by careful consideration.

The grace of God gives us many freedoms in Christ. However, some “freedoms” can become a blight in our relationships. It is imperative that we consider how different voices, influences, habits, or decisions will affect us. We present our lives as living sacrifices but are we choosing to be in contact with something impure?

The law we still follow is to love God and love our neighbors. Anything that interrupts our love of God or love of neighbors is something that defiles our consecrated lives: envy, hatred, greed, sexual immorality, pride, apathy. Let us take time today to carefully consider if we are allowing impurity to take root in our daily lives.

Divine Hours Prayer: A Reading
Jesus taught us, saying: “So always treat others as you like them to treat you; that is the Law and the Prophets. — Matthew 7.12

Today’s Readings
Haggai 2 (Listen – 3:49)
Mark 13 (Listen – 4:32)

Read more about Emulating Christ’s Love
Proverbs 5.1-6 tells us about the adulteress. She wanders aimlessly. She “gives no thought to the way of life.

Read more about Separateness Not Superiority
The Spirit of Christ is within us and we are his body. We have Christ’s power to touch the unclean and make them clean.

Beyond Second Chances

Scripture Focus: Haggai 1.2-3, 13-14
2 This is what the Lord Almighty says: “These people say, ‘The time has not yet come to rebuild the Lord’s house.’ ” 
3 Then the word of the Lord came through the prophet Haggai: 4 “Is it a time for you yourselves to be living in your paneled houses, while this house remains a ruin?” 

13 Then Haggai, the Lord’s messenger, gave this message of the Lord to the people: “I am with you,” declares the Lord. 14 So the Lord stirred up the spirit of Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and the spirit of Joshua son of Jozadak, the high priest, and the spirit of the whole remnant of the people. They came and began to work on the house of the Lord Almighty, their God

“There is no such thing as a God-forsaken town. There are always second chances…” — Carolyn Arends, “Love is Always There” 

Reflection: Beyond Second Chances
By John Tillman

Haggai spoke to people returning from exile. They are at home, yet homeless, returning to a flattened, burned, destroyed city.

Haggai made an extreme demand. “We are here to rebuild God’s house, the Temple, not your houses. Stop building your houses. Build the Temple first.”  Unlike many other prophetic books, the people Haggai speaks to no longer despise the correction of the prophets. They no longer rebel against the message or call the messengers unpatriotic. They listen and repent. They put off work on their own dwellings and focus on making a place for God to once again dwell with them.

These men and women are the grandchildren of some of those who went into exile. Zerubbabel, mentioned by Haggai, is the grandson of Jehoiachin, one of the last of Judah’s kings. Jehoiachin was taken into exile because of his sin and Jeremiah prophesied that he would have no surviving offspring to sit on David’s throne. Non-canonical Jewish writings imply that Jehoiachin repented before God in captivity. (Jeremiah 22.24-30) God relented on the curse pronounced by Jeremiah. Not only did Jehoiachin have children, but Jehoiachin’s repentance led to the birth of the ultimate “Son of David,” Jesus. It is through Jehoiachin and Zerubbabel’s line that Jesus is born. (Matthew 1.12-17; Luke 3.27-37)

God goes beyond giving second chances.

Scripture is full of second chances, third, fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh chances, and beyond. When Jesus told the disciples that they should forgive those who sinned against them seven times in a day and repented seven times, he wasn’t just speaking hypothetically. He was speaking historically. (Luke 17.3-4) Jesus may have been thinking about his own family history, but he absolutely was telling his followers to model their own forgiveness after God’s.

Haggai’s listeners had been forgiven so much, yet they were again forgetting to put God first. It’s so relatable. Haven’t we all found ourselves blindly pursuing our purposes rather than God’s? Haven’t we all had moments where we realized we were building selfishly?

God’s forgiveness is offered freely and repetitively, so long as there continues to be repentance. It’s not a once-and-done event, but a way of living. Let us remain responsive to calls for repentance from prophets in our day. Let us both offer and receive God-like forgiveness. Let us live in the land, homeless yet at home, forgiving and forgiven. Let us build unselfishly in ways that demonstrate that God dwells with us.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Greeting
You are my God, and I will thank you; you are my God, and I will exalt you. — Psalm 118.28

Today’s Readings

Haggai 1 (Listen – 2:39)
Mark 12 (Listen – 6:10)

Read more about Rumors or Repentance
John called religious people and everyone else to repent, including soldiers, tax collectors, and the poor.

Read more about Come Ye Sinners, Poor and Wretched
Come, ye sinners, poor and wretched
Weak and wounded, sick and sore
Jesus ready stands to save you
Full of pity joined with power

Josiahs Need Zephaniahs

Scripture Focus: Zephaniah 3.1-5
1 Woe to the city of oppressors, 
rebellious and defiled! 
2 She obeys no one, 
she accepts no correction. 
She does not trust in the Lord, 
she does not draw near to her God. 
3 Her officials within her 
are roaring lions; 
her rulers are evening wolves, 
who leave nothing for the morning. 
4 Her prophets are unprincipled; 
they are treacherous people. 
Her priests profane the sanctuary 
and do violence to the law. 
5 The Lord within her is righteous; 
he does no wrong. 
Morning by morning he dispenses his justice, 
and every new day he does not fail, 
yet the unrighteous know no shame. 

Reflection: Josiahs Need Zephaniahs
By John Tillman

Zephaniah ministered during the early reign of child-king Josiah. Zephaniah and Josiah have a common relative. They each trace their heritage back to Hezekiah. 

Zephaniah’s writing condemned the established officials, political bureaucrats, the priesthood, and the prophets. These writings may have influenced Josiah when, eight years into his reign, the 16-year-old began to “seek the God of his father, David.” (2 Chronicles 34.3) 

Josiah had many faithful “fathers” to look back to, including Hezekiah, Uzziah, and Jehosaphat, as well as faithful “uncles” like Zephaniah. However, none were perfect. The biblical narrative highlights this.

The changes Josiah implemented were the most complete and remarkable revival in Judah’s history. Josiah is the last “good” leader Judah has before she falls. His reign was a bright flash of possibility before everything went dark.

We are often tempted to think of “the good old days” with an idealistic glow recalling the past in the best possible light. However, the history of any country, any city, or any individual, is a mixed bag. Nostalgia doesn’t do us any favors.

When Zephaniah called Jerusalem, “the city of oppressors” he wasn’t being overdramatic. Israel went from being oppressed to being liberated, to being oppressors themselves. God warned them from the start that the kings they demanded would become oppressors. (1 Samuel 8.6-19) The kings, beginning with Saul, proved God right, modeling themselves on other nations.

The leaders Zephaniah condemned wanted God to powerfully save them from Assyria. They wanted a revival of the economy and of their military power…they just weren’t willing to have a spiritual revival that required any level of sacrifice or repentance.

If we long to see youth, like Josiah, rise up to lead revival instead of abandoning faith, we need to be like Zephaniah, unafraid to boldly speak of, condemn, and repent of sin. There’s no use skirting the truth about individual, city-wide, or national sins. Sins hidden grow stronger. Sins denied become recurring. Sins defended become systemic. The next generation needs us to model condemning our past sins, confessing them, and being free. Josiahs need Zephaniahs.

We have a common heritage in a greater king than Hezekiah. We trace our righteousness not to ourselves or our past but to Jesus. He is the standard we should point to and the one true king we must teach future generations to serve and model themselves after.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
Purge me from my sin, and I shall be pure; wash me, and I shall be clean indeed. — Psalm 51.8

Today’s Readings
Zephaniah 3 (Listen – 3:38)
Mark 11 (Listen – 3:59)

Read more about He Rejoices Over Us
Zephaniah looks forward with joy to when Israel’s purpose would be fulfilled in God.

Read more about Learning from the Suffering
Many “deconstructors” are spurred into this process by suffering. Some experienced sexual abuse or abuse of power. Many witnessed the defense and covering up of these kinds of abuse.

He Became a Servant

Scripture Focus: Habakkuk 3.2, 13-19
2 Lord, I have heard of your fame; 
I stand in awe of your deeds, Lord. 
Repeat them in our day, 
in our time make them known; 
in wrath remember mercy. 

13 You came out to deliver your people, 
to save your anointed one. 
You crushed the leader of the land of wickedness, 
you stripped him from head to foot. 
14 With his own spear you pierced his head

From John: This reflection on Habakkuk 3 from Advent in 2018 is equally relevant in May of 2022 as it was then.

Reflection: He Became a Servant
By John Tillman

Habakkuk’s psalm longs for the Lord to make himself known as he had in the past. 

The prophet seems to be referencing the Exodus from Egypt, as he depicts God marching out with plagues and pestilence. He recalls God intervening to save Israel from the oncoming armies of Pharaoh. 

Habakkuk trusts that calamity will come on the nation that conquers Judah, but that does not bring him joy. No matter that all seems to be failing around him, his joy will come from God.

What Habakkuk waited for, we have seen in Jesus. God served the enslaved Israelite nation by coming as a mighty warrior, a liberator. Jesus enacted a different kind of Exodus from a different kind of slavery. He attacked sin and death itself, not by becoming a warrior but by becoming a servant.

Jesus also marched out, with his face set like flint toward those he came to save and what he came to do. But instead of bringing with him destruction and plagues, he brought compassion and healing. Instead of girding himself with armor and taking up weaponry, he stripped himself and took up a towel. Instead of slaying the firstborn of Egypt, Jesus, the only begotten son of the Father, offered himself to be slain.

And just like Pharoah rushed into the parted sea with his armies, thinking he had won, Satan must have thought the cross a moment of victory. Instead, it was the instrument of his destruction.

Habakkuk wanted God to make himself known, and he has done so in the person of Jesus. Jesus is our perfect and complete picture of what God is like. He is still among us as one who serves and we are to be like him.

May we serve him well by serving others. Worldly leaders will continue to puff themselves up. Kings will continue to abuse their power. Darkness will continue to wage a futile war against light. But as for us, we will rejoice in the Lord and be joyful in God our Savior.

May the Sovereign Lord be your strength, making your feet like those of a deer, to go on the heights. (Habakkuk 3.18-19; Psalm 18.33)

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
Righteousness shall go before him, and peace shall be a pathway for his feet. — Psalm 85.13

Today’s Readings
Habakkuk 3 (Listen – 2:59)
Mark 8 (Listen – 4:29)

This Weekend’s Readings

Zephaniah 1 (Listen – 3:09), Mark 9 (Listen – 6:16)
Zephaniah 2 (Listen – 2:44), Mark 10 (Listen – 6:42)

Read more about God, Can You Hear Me?
Honest reflection on suffering is how the book of Habakkuk opens. The heart of the prophet cried out to God. Was God deaf to his pain?

Read more about Anointed Servants
Jesus’ 33-year incarnation was a long, elaborate ritual which tore open the curtain of the Temple, allowing us to enter God’s presence.

Woe to Abusers and Victimizers

Scripture Focus: Habakkuk 2.15-17
15 “Woe to him who gives drink to his neighbors, 
pouring it from the wineskin till they are drunk, 
so that he can gaze on their naked bodies! 
16 You will be filled with shame instead of glory. 
Now it is your turn! Drink and let your nakedness be exposed! 
The cup from the Lord’s right hand is coming around to you, 
and disgrace will cover your glory. 
17 The violence you have done to Lebanon will overwhelm you, 
and your destruction of animals will terrify you. 
For you have shed human blood; 
you have destroyed lands and cities and everyone in them.

Reflection: Woe to Abusers and Victimizers
By John Tillman

Habakkuk describes the host of a party who betrays his neighbors by getting them drunk and then taking sexual advantage of them. This story has a chillingly familiar ring. 

The details could be copied from today’s headlines. It is similar to reports of heinous actions exposed during the #MeToo era. The betrayal goes beyond the sexual element. These people were neighbors who trusted their host and accepted drinks poured by his hand. Only afterward did they realize the person they thought was friendly was victimizing them. What seemed like generosity was selfishness and what seemed like hospitality was making them hostages to the host’s lust.

No era has ever been without sexual abuse and sin. However, this description by Habakkuk is metaphorical. The scene he paints is about a larger, worldwide pattern of abuse. The host in this metaphor is Babylon. Nations who allied themselves politically with Babylon bought into the hype of Babylon’s greatness and superiority. They thought they were guests at this party enjoying the wealth and spoils of Babylon’s reign, but actually, they were just victims lured into a trap. They were eventually despoiled and humiliated.

When we sip from the cup of empires, we will be dominated and controlled by them. It’s easy for us to be suckered and find ourselves victims of those who at first seem to be on our side. Whenever and wherever we live there are and will be those who will seek to take advantage of us.

Babylon, like Nineveh, was a city built on bloodshed and humiliation. Habakkuk proclaimed that exactly what was done by Babylon to others would be done to them in return. God will bring justice to victimizers and abusers. All the wickedness they think they have gotten away with will be exposed. They will be the ones naked and exposed and shamed. Let us pray for that day.

Let us pray that all victims, nations, groups, and individuals will see justice fall on their abusers and victimizers. Let us pray that abusers’ defenses and excuses and denials will be stripped from them. Let us pray that all victims would find shelter, acceptance, care, and healing in the arms of the church. 

And finally, let us pray that we will be wise and discerning, not easily falling into the traps set by those who would take sexual, spiritual, or political advantage of us. 

Divine Hours Prayer: The Cry of the Church
O God, come to my assistance! O Lord, make haste to help me!

Today’s Readings
Habakkuk 2 (Listen – 3:20)
Mark 7 (Listen – 4:28)

Read more about Beyond Consent
Our culture has groomed many of us to accept the idea that the “freedom” of unlimited sexual experiences is harmless

Read more about Degrading Each Other
As the #MeToo movement sweeps around the world, Jesus stands with the victims, claiming their pain as his own…