Today was one of those days where God’s word preached, God’s word written, and what God seems to be saying came together beautifully. I’ve been enjoying using John Piper’s Taste and See devotional, and my meditation this morning was “Take Heed How You Hear”, in which Luke 8:18 is used as a jumping off point to ponder how to prepare to hear preaching. This was a challenging read – but something in it struck a chord, not least because I was heading to my families’ church, where I was Baptised and grew up, but haven’t been a part of for seven years or so. There are some fairly major theological differences between that church and my own, but there is a wonderful love of Jesus and valuing of the Bible, and so it is always interesting and encouraging to be amongst God’s people in a different place. It turned out that Grace Church Guildford are in the middle of a series on Micah, a little Prophetic book in the Old Testament that is probably best known for chapter 6:8, as this theologygram notes:
The sermon was from Micah 3-4:5, where the prophet challenges the leaders of God’s people, Israel, about their attitudes and their leadership of his people. One section particularly resonated with me, seeming to confirm the sense I had that God wanted to say something, with these old words, in a fresh way:
“Hear this, you heads of the house of Jacob
and rulers of the house of Israel,
who detest justice
and make crooked all that is straight,
who build Zion with blood
and Jerusalem with iniquity.
Its heads give judgment for a bribe;
its priests teach for a price;
its prophets practice divination for money;
yet they lean on the Lord and say,
“Is not the Lord in the midst of us?
No disaster shall come upon us.”
Therefore because of you
Zion shall be plowed as a field;
Jerusalem shall become a heap of ruins,
and the mountain of the house a wooded height.“
Micah is speaking to leaders – ‘heads of the house’ – but it is the religious leaders who are particularly in view here. Here are ‘priests’ who ‘teach for a price’, and ‘prophets’ who ‘practice divination for money’. How often do some of our church conferences and models look like that? How often do we stop and wonder at the cost of things, or even consider the contemporary relevance of that confusing incident where Jesus overthrows the tables of the money lenders in the temple courts?
What I think that God was nudging me towards here was actually the justification that these ‘religious-for-hire’ people are using: “yet they lean on the Lord and say, ‘is not the Lord in the midst of us? No disaster shall come upon us“. I wonder if you’ve ever heard that in a church or ministry context. That we shouldn’t challenge something, because ‘God is in it’. Yet here, in God’s trustworthy and true word, God seems to be doing just that. The claim is made that God is in the middle of something. The claim is extended to one where ‘they’ will be free from harm. And the very next sentence is a judgement, from God, of what these ‘religious’ leaders were doing.
Hear what I am trying to say. Sometimes people will use a variation of ‘Is not the Lord in the midst of us?‘ to close down debate, and remove themselves from criticism. This is a bad thing – and God will judge it, if not now, then soon. Perhaps our role as Christians, followers of Jesus and people of God, is to be sensitive to when people say things, or make claims, that might not be entirely true. One of the great lies that the Bible’s teaching is one of the first: “did God really say?“. For those of us who seek to be faithful to the Bible, and pursuing God’s power and presence, I wonder if perhaps another lie we need to be aware of is “is not the Lord in the midst of us?“.
The book of Micah goes on – the early verses of chapter 4 offer a vision of the Kingdom of God that should stir our hearts. With that in mind, I’ll close with one of my favourite quotes from J. R. R. Tolkien, which I think speaks to this idea of careful discernment alongside right excitement over the coming kingdom:
“All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wander are lost;
The old that is strong does not wither,
Deep roots are not reached by the frost.
From the ashes a fire shall be woken,
A light from the shadows shall spring;
Renewed shall be blade that was broken,
The crownless again shall be king.”