Friday, October 31, 2014

3 character qualities needed when telling the Truth

Read Jeremiah 38.

The message was simple enough.  "Surrender and you will live.  If you try to fight with your own resources, you will fail and the city will be burned."

The king's officials rejected Jeremiah's words and accused him of treason.  With the king's permission, they lowered the prophet in a muddy bottomed cistern and left him there to die.  Sometimes you say exactly what God wants said, do exactly what God wants done, and suffer for it.

It was an Ethiopian official who realized  that Jeremiah would starve to death and called the punishment evil.  The king was not a leader but seemingly gave into anyone, except God.  He granted the Ethiopian his request to pull Jeremiah out of the pit and then wanted to hear the prophet's message for himself. The king knew Jeremiah would tell him the truth.

Through it all Jeremiah demonstrated a mature and godly character.
1. Honesty.
He could have embellished or withheld the truth of God's word.  He could have made the message more palatable, perhaps by saying this is just his opinion about what God said, his view, or his tradition.  He could have left out the unpopular parts.  One of the great problems in Christianity is not communicating the whole counsel of God.  It is much more acceptable to speak of love than the awful, specific, Biblical consequences of disobeying God.

2. Submission.
This attitude begins with the absolute confidence that God is in control.  With that in place, it is He who has the ultimate authority.  Suffering will indeed take place when doing the right thing.  "Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted." (2 Timothy 3:12)  The test is to surrender to the Holy Spirit's control and trust Him for the outcome.  Our hope is not in this life.  Existence here is temporary.  The committed believer always has an eye toward heaven and eternal life.

3. Discretion.
Jeremiah told the truth but he did not tell everyone everything he knew.  Discerning the timing and the amount of truth to share requires great wisdom.  Some do not want to hear the truth and trying force feed them will produce a disastrous result.  Some like the king, publicly will say one thing but inside they really do want to hear what God has said.  It is a life-changing event when an open heart connects with the truth of God's word.

Monday, October 27, 2014

God has spoken. Now what?

Read Jeremiah 37.

The destruction of Judah took place in several waves of conquest by the Babylonians.  Despite consistent warnings, no one "listened to the words of the LORD spoken through Jeremiah the prophet." (v.2)

For a while, the pressure subsided as the Egyptian army came up from the south to try to help Judah.  But that did not last long as Babylon's army repelled the Egyptians and returned to the siege of Jerusalem.

Though he refused to heed God's word, Zedekiah wanted Jeremiah to pray for him and the nation (v.4).  God answered Jeremiah's prayer on their behalf, but it was certainly not the answer Zedekiah selfishly wanted.  The Babylonians would return and burn the city of Jerusalem.

Later, King Zedekiah spoke directly to Jeremiah in verse 17 and asked, "Is there any word from the LORD?"  Again, the answer was not one for which the king had hoped.  God's judgment was sure.

What hypocrisy!  What duplicity!  And, how common for natural human thinking!

On one hand, people will say things like, "I do not believe God's word and will not obey Him."

Then, on the other hand, they will say, "I want God to answer my prayers."

Such thinking reveals a self-centered, unyielding, sinful heart that wants the God of the universe to obey them.

God delights in answering the prayers of those who come to Him in humility, with a pure heart, and willing to obey His word.

"And without faith it is impossible to please him for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him." (Hebrews 11:6)

"For the eyes of the LORD run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to give strong support to those whose heart is blameless toward him" (2 Chronicles 16:9a)  

Saturday, October 25, 2014

The indispensable 4-step process to genuine Life-change

Read Jeremiah 36.

How a person responds to the word of God does not change God's word.

This chapter provides some details about the writing of the Scriptures.
God spoke to Jeremiah (v.2).  Jeremiah dictated what God said to Baruch, who wrote God's word on a scroll (v.4).  When certain officials heard what God said, they were afraid of the consequences presented (v.15).  They knew immediate action was required.  However, when King Jehoiakim heard the same message, he cut the scroll into pieces and burned them (vv.23-24).  He had no fear of God nor the consequences.

There is a consistent process throughout the Bible and to this day of letting others know God's truth.
1. Presenting what God has said.
The number one reason liberal churches are dying is that they have forsaken the teaching of the Scriptures for culturally acceptable speeches.  The number one reason people are not mature in their faith is they do not know and have not been taught what God has said.  The Scriptures are the inerrant and infallible word of God and it will not change.  "The sum of your word is truth, and every one of your righteous rules endures forever." (Psalm 119:160). Without the foundation and focus being on the Bible, there is an absence of truth to the message.

2. Hearing what God has said.
In order for the Scriptures to have any affect on a life, the person must be listening with an open heart.  We need to be like Samuel who said, "Speak, LORD, for your servant hears."  When a person humbly hears God's word, life-change is about to happen.

3. Turning from sin to obedience of what God said.
What spurs a person to respond in obedience is great respect for who God is and the fear of the consequences if they do not.  Selfish, sinful, pride closes one's heart and causes them to believe the lie that they can take it or leave it.

4. Experiencing God's forgiveness.
As explained in verses 3 and 7, the judgment is coming.  The only sane alternative is for people to acknowledge they have been going in the wrong spiritual direction, "plea for mercy," and receive God's forgiveness.

The Apostle Paul explained the same process in reverse order in Romans 10:13-14.
"For 'everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.'  How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed?  And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard?  And how are they to hear without someone preaching?"

Friday, October 24, 2014

A time to say No

Read Jeremiah 35.

There are times when we are to say "no" to somethings in order to say "yes" to something far better.

The first principle of wisdom in the book of Proverbs is to fear the LORD (Proverbs 1:7).  That is just the beginning of all knowledge and wisdom; the starting line.  The second principle of wisdom is to listen to the instruction of one's parents (Proverbs 1:8).  That should sustain a person through life.  Unfortunately, the people of Judah showed no signs of wisdom.  They chose to ignore God and the instructions of their fathers.

To illustrate that message, God told Jeremiah to invite the family of Rechab to the Temple for a meeting.  There they were offered wine to drink, but they refused.  With clarity, the Rechabites reviewed some family commitments about their lifestyle.  They would not break those commitments even for the prophet.

It was a test and the family passed.  God wanted to use their demonstration of obedience to their father's word as a contrast to Judah's disobedience of His word.  "...they have obeyed their father's command, I have spoken to your persistently, but you have not listened to me." (v.14b)   Then, God pronounced judgment on Judah, but rewarded the family of Rechab.

Obedience is not optional.  Faithfulness to our commitments to God is required.  There is loss and reward at stake.  "For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what the has done in the body, whether good or evil." (2 Corinthians 5:10)

Thursday, October 23, 2014

God does not Forget

Read Jeremiah 34.

As the Babylonian siege was taking place, God had a word for King Zedekiah.  Though the king would try to escape (v.3), he would be captured and taken to Babylon.  There, he would be treated respectfully and die peacefully.

The captivity lasted 70 years because the Jews had failed to observe the Sabbath rest of the land every seventh year.  So, God collected on what the people refused to give Him.  During the siege another evidence of sinful disobedience arose.  If a fellow Hebrew went into debt to another and became their slave, it was only to last six years.  In the seventh year, the debt was to be forgiven and the enslaved Hebrew set free (Deuteronomy 15:12-18).  This command from God had been ignored also.

Quickly, the citizens of Jerusalem gathered at the Temple and made a formal covenant with God to set their Hebrew slaves free.  This involved dividing a calf in two and walking between the pieces.  It was a serious promise.  The animal in essence served as a symbol of their vow.  They would keep their commitment or die like this animal.  It was not long until the people reneged on their promise and re-enslaved those same fellow citizens.

What happened?

Verse 21 indicates that the Babylonians withdrew from the siege for a time.  History tells us that the Egyptians began an attack and Nebuchadnezzar's army had leave to squelch the distraction.  With the pressure off, the people returned to their sin.  However, the army of Babylon came back (v.22).

Who has not prayed at one time or another, "Lord, if you will get me out of this, I will....."  And, as soon as the pressure is off, people tend to forget what they promised God.  Or, a man and a woman stand before God, family, and witnesses to vow "until death" but when a pressure or distraction comes along, they quickly forget their promises.  However, God does not forget.  "Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O LORD, you know it altogether.

The fact that God does not forget is good for us.
1. It holds us accountable to fulfill our promises.
2. It proves that God is ever faithful to keep His promises to us.
"The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness." (Lamentations 3:22-23)

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

4 promises of good News

Read Jeremiah 33.

With all the bad news regarding the destruction of Jerusalem and the people who would die, the LORD now gave Jeremiah a clearer vision of hope.  His offer to Jeremiah in verse 3 was "just ask Me."

God made four direct promises concerning the future of His people.
1. "I will bring it to health and healing." (v.6)
The city experienced judgments of war, famine and disease.  But there will come a day when Jerusalem and this land will be a place of "prosperity and security."

2. "I will restore the fortunes of Judah and the fortunes of Israel." (v.7)
During the invasion and the siege, houses and buildings were destroyed.  But there will come a day when the nation will be one and all will be rebuilt.

3. "I will cleanse them from all the guilt of their sin." (v.8)
It was their rebellion against God, choosing to live they way they wanted, and worshiping other things that caused this judgment.  But there will come a day of forgiveness when the people will turn back to the LORD.  Then, He "will have mercy on them" (v.26b)

Some restoration took place in the resettlement of the land at the end of the 70-year captivity.  However, the ultimate result promised by God will be something the world has yet to see.  Jerusalem will be a "joy, a praise and a glory before all the nations of the earth" (v.9).

Why?  Because of all the good things God has done for the Jews.

When will this happen?  That future time is marked by the prophetic phrases in verses 14 and 15, "Behold, the days are coming..." and "in those days..."

4. "I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David." (v.15)
As a direct descendant in the royal lineage of David (Matthew 1:1), King Jesus will reign in Jerusalem.

What will characterize Messiah's rule?  "He will execute justice and righteousness in the land.  In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will dwell securely." (v.16)

Need some good news?  God has so much more to reveal to us about Himself and His plans.  They are written down in His word.  A heart that is open to Him will respond to His offer: "Call to me and I will answer you, and will tell you great and hidden things you have not known." (v.3)

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

How difficult is your Circumstance?

Read Jeremiah 32.

Who buys real estate when the nation is about to be completely taken over by a foreign power?  But that is exactly what God asked Jeremiah to do.

The prophet was imprisoned for speaking the truth of God's word.  King Zedekiah only wanted to hear happy-talk about success.  He considered the message from the LORD to be equivalent to treason.  Never mind the Babylonian army had Jerusalem under full siege at the time.  Jeremiah was confused about the request God made of him to purchase land .  Yet, he was fully obedient, even though it made no sense.  He asked his assistant, Baruch, to put away the deed so that years later there would proof of ownership.

This bewilderment prompted his prayer.  In it he acknowledged that the LORD created all things and, therefore, is free to do as He wishes.  Since God has that kind of power, "nothing is too hard for you" (v.17).  He continued by acknowledging God's love and His justice.  It is at the end, in verse 25, where he expressed his confusion as to what God was doing and why.

The LORD responded by saying that now His judgment would fall on Judah.  The purchase of the land was to be sign regarding the future.  God will bring all the Jews back to the land.  With the impending loss of everything, restoration seemed to be an impossible happening, except it was God who said it.  In the third portion of the chapter, the LORD continued to lay out His plan for Israel's future.

If God can call into existence the heavens and earth out of nothing, if He can raise one nation and put down another in His own timing, what can God do in our daily circumstances of life?  The LORD responded to Jeremiah, "Is anything too hard for me?" (v.27)

Monday, October 20, 2014

God's new promise is available Now

Read Jeremiah 31.

There are several metaphors used to describe God's the relationship with His people.
1. As a Father (v.9)
He disciplined them because of their disobedience.  But like a faithful parent, He did this in order to better prepared them as a nation for their future.  Nothing would change the fact of His commitment to them.
"I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you." (v.3)
"There is hope for your future." (v.17)

2. As a Shepherd (v.10)
Because they belonged to Him, God promised to gather them as His flock.  He will care for them, feed them and protect them.

3. As a Redeemer (v.11)
His deliverance of them from the hands of the enemy is compared to paying a ransom.  The basis of the turn in their experience with God depended upon their repentance.  With grief and shame, their hearts cried out for God's mercy and forgiveness. (vv.18-20)  He would restore them to their land and bless them.

But there is much more ahead for Israel.  Three times we read, "Behold, the days are coming."  Here, God makes a future promise of a new covenant with Israel.  The results of this covenant for the Jews in verses 33-34 will be:
-God's law will be within them, on their hearts
-They will all know the LORD
-Their sins will be forgiven and remembered no more
This obviously is a prophecy that remains unfulfilled in Israel.  However, as "the time of the Gentiles" came and were grafted into God's plan of redemption, all may enjoy the benefits of the new covenant (Romans 9-11).

At His last supper with His disciples, Jesus took the cup and said, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood.  Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me."  Forgiveness of sin is available to all who turn to Him for mercy.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

6 evidences of unfulfilled Prophecy

Read Jeremiah 30.

God revealed His plans and told Jeremiah to write down the words for future generations to read and to know.

The prophecy certainly includes the return from the captivity in Babylon, but a careful reading reveals much more.  There is an inclusion of the "incurable" wound (v.12) that prompted the exile and then the restoration to health and healing (v.16).  There is mention of a restoration to the land and then the final phrase of the chapter which reads, "In the latter days you will understand this."  Both are true.  Look at the evidences of unfulfilled prophecy here.

1. The prophecy includes both Israel and Judah.  (v.3)
The northern kingdom of Israel had been scattered by the Assyrians and were not a part of the Babylonian captivity.  This looks forward to a united kingdom of Israel.

2. There is mention of a coming "time of distress for Jacob." (v.5-7)
 That day will be unprecedented.  Elsewhere this fits into the other mentions in the Bible regarding the Great Tribulation.

3. They shall not only serve God in that day but also "David their king." (v,9)
No king has reigned over a united kingdom of Israel since the death of Solomon.  The Messiah will one day sit on the throne of David in Jerusalem as "King of kings and Lord of lords".

4. It will be a time of God's judgment against all nations. (v.11)
Yes, Assyria fell.  Babylonia fell.  But there is a future day coming when Jesus will rule all nations "with a rod of iron." (Revelation 19:15)

5. The king's palace shall be rebuilt. (v.18)
The Temple was rebuilt a couple of times in history and will be built once more.  However, this is a reference to the palace for a king to reign over the nation.

6. The kingdom of Israel will be the people of God. (22)
Under Messiah's rule,  all Israel will be saved and serve the LORD.  (Romans 11:26-27)

The good news is that those of us who have committed our lives to Jesus will rule and reign with Him.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Bloom where you are Planted

Read Jeremiah 29.

This is a fascinating and encouraging letter from Jeremiah to those who had been taken in exile to Babylon.  First, the false prophets had preached that this would not happen at all.  Next, the false prophets changed their message and began saying that it was temporary and would only last two years.  But all along God had spoken through Jeremiah that this would be a 70-year exile; one year for each of the Sabbath years they had failed to obey.

Those living Babylon needed to hear again that they would be there for the rest of their lives.  They were encouraged to settle into their new home, but not be assimilated into Babylonian culture.  In Psalm 137:4, they were discouraged and asked, "How shall we sing the LORD's song in a foreign land?"  They had lost everything.  What were they supposed to do now?

Here is God's encouragement to them.  I believe the same encouragement is ours as believers today.  1 Peter 2:11 refers to believers in Jesus as "sojourners and exiles" who live on earth, waiting for the joy of our final home.
1. "Multiply there." (v.6b)
They needed to recognize that though this was temporary as a people, for now it was home.  They were to carry on life as they would have done in Judah; marry, raise a family and celebrate these things.

2. "Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you." (v.7a)
They were not there by accident.  God put them in that city for a purpose.  They were on a mission.  Here were the people who claimed to know the one true God, living in a pagan culture.  They were to demonstrate the difference the LORD made in their lives.  It was to be shown by their good works and how they behaved.  Of all people, they were to be the best of citizens.

The Apostle Peter wrote a similar encouragement to Christians living in the Roman Empire.  "Be subject for the Lord's sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good.  for this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people." (1 Peter 2:13-15)

3. "Pray to the LORD on its behalf." (v.7b)
Rather than living in rebellion and speaking badly about the pagan culture, these exiles were to pray for their city.  How many Christians even know the names of their city leaders, let alone pray for them?

"First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.  This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth." (1 Timothy 2:1-4)

4. In the plan of God, this was temporary. (v.11)
He had "a future and a hope" in store for them.  In 70 years, the LORD would return them to their land and restore their nation.  Our hope today is not in this temporary life.  "For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen.  For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal." (2 Corinthians 4:17-18)

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Are you listening to the Truth?

Read Jeremiah 28.

Just because someone claims to speak for God or uses the words "God told me" does not mean it is true.

Don't we all wish the pacifists were correct?  We could just live peaceably with everyone and talk all our enemies into being at peace all others.

Don't we all wish the prosperity preachers were correct?  We could just enjoy our abundance and live pleasurably.

While many prefer to live in their fantasies and support those who tell them what they want to hear, God's word is ignored to their detriment.

Hananiah claimed to be speaking for God but his message contradicted what Jeremiah preached.  Hananiah said that Babylon's power would be broken in two years and Judah would be restored.  God had made it clear that the captivity would last 70 years.  Jeremiah reminded Hananiah of Deuteronomy 18:22, "When a prophet speaks in the name of the LORD, if the word does not come to pass or come true, that is a word that the LORD has not spoken; the prophet has spoken presumptuously.  You need not be afraid of him."

The proof of whether the prophet is a liar or telling the truth, of course, is in the fulfillment of what was prophesied.  At God's instruction, Jeremiah informed Hananiah that because of his made-up message pretending to represent the LORD, he would die that year.  And, it was so.

Jesus said, "On that day many will say to me, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?'  And then will I declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from me, your workers of lawlessness." (Matthew 7:22-23)

We must always check a preacher's message against the teaching of the whole of the Bible.  So many are led astray by a single verse or concept lifted out of its context.  Maturity in Christ means to know the Bible and, therefore, know the truth.  "So that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning by craftiness in deceitful schemes." (Ephesians 4:14)

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

The yoke is on You

Read Jeremiah 27.

According to Babylonian historical records, it was in the summer of 593 B.C. when a group of countries discussed a rebellion against Nebuchadnezzar.  The leaders of Edom, Moab, Ammon, Tyre, and Sidon met with the king of Judah in Jerusalem.  What this political convention failed to realize was the reason why the Babylonians invaded and who was really in control.

The cause was due to Judah's refusal to repent of their sin.  Further, it was God who raised up Nebuchadnezzar to implement His judgment against this region of nations.  With that spiritual perspective, this meeting proved to be truly a rebellion against the LORD Himself.  So, God sent Jeremiah to tell them.

In dramatic fashion, He ordered Jeremiah to dress up for the occasion.  He strapped a yoke to his neck, like an ox controlled by the rein of its owner.  The message was simple.  God had given Nebuchadnezzar the reins.  If these leaders refused to serve the Babylonian king, then God would have to use stronger measures of punishment against them-sword, famine, pestilence.  The safe decision, the wise thing to do, would be to surrender completely to the yoke of Nebuchadnezzar as discipline from the LORD.  It would be to their benefit to do so.

Feeding the rebellion were false prophets.  They encouraged the people not to listen to God's word and to respond with self-determination and independence.

Do not miss the basis of the message from God in verse 5.
1. God is the Creator of all things.
By His own power, He made the earth and all that is upon it.  The earth did not happen by accident.  Genesis 1 describes His process of separately creating light, air, plants, animals and humans.  He spoke them into existence: "And God said...and it was so."  These things belong to Him as His property.  The false prophets preach the survival of the fittest, "we got here by ourselves," and other messages in rebellion against the exact words of God to their own peril.

2. God is the Controller of all things.  
He gives His property for a time "to whomever it seems right to me."  Nations are allowed to live on God's real estate for a period of time.  Leaders are allowed to be in power for only a number of years, "until the time of his own land comes.  Then many nations and great kings shall make him their slave." (v.7)  There came a time when the great Babylonian Empire fell to the hands of the Medes and Persians.  It is the LORD Himself who claims to sovereignly decide such things according to His own will and purpose.

This message is a good personal reminder.  We are not here by some biological accident.  Our lives have a God-given purpose.  The safe, wise, and personally beneficial response is to yield ourselves to what God has for us to be and to do.  Jesus said, "Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly n heart, and you will find rest for your souls." (Matthew 11:29)

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Is it the messenger or the message?

Read Jeremiah 26.

These chapters are not in chronological order.  They appear to be grouped for emphasis.  The message is certainly not a new one, but we are given details not previously disclosed.

God gave Jeremiah very specific instructions for the sermon, including the exact place to deliver it.  Because of the anticipated reaction, the LORD encouraged Jeremiah with "do not hold back a word."  Obediently, the prophet went to the Temple and preached just as God had instructed him.  To call the religious leaders of the day and the gathered worshipers to repent or else brought an immediate response.  But it was not a favorable one.

When the leaders heard him pronounce impending judgment against Jerusalem and the destruction of the Temple, they accused him of being a false prophet worthy of death.  So, they brought charges against him before Judah's judicial leaders to hear the case.  Their decided that Jeremiah was not guilty of a capital offense.  Indeed, they sited two other cases as precedent.  One of the elders even quoted the prophet Micah (Micah 3:12) from 70 year before in the days of Hezekiah.

Important insights can be found in Jeremiah's defense. It was based upon three crucial pillars that must be true of anyone who claims to be speaking on God's behalf.
1. The source of the message. (v.12)
"The LORD sent me to prophesy."  "Thus says the LORD" (v.4).  It was not Jeremiah's word but God's.  The test of any message today is to open the Bible and see it for yourself.  Personality preaching, cultural messages, and affirmation soliloquies are signs of false prophets.  Even though they hold a Bible in their hands while speaking does not mean their message conforms to the truth of Scripture.  It is not difficult for the hearer to confirm with chapter and verse.  Even when the Apostle Paul spoke, the listeners in Berea checked to be sure it was the truth.  "Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so." (Acts 17:11)

2. The choice of the message. (v.13)
The leaders heard what they wanted to hear and responded defensively.  God's word brought conviction of their guilt.  But, instead of hearing the hope of deliverance that was offered, they pridefully chose to attack the preacher.  Had they been worshiping and serving the LORD at the Temple with a humility, their hearts would have been soft and immediately they would have desired what God wanted.  Preaching hope without confronting God's judgment on sin  is a sign of the false prophet.  Both are always presented side by side in the Scriptures.  "Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him." (John 3:36)

3. The heart of the messenger. (v.14)
How could Jeremiah be so submissive in the face of these false accusations?  The answer is that he was innocent and his heart was pure.  If he had delivered his own message, if he had preached with insincere motives, if his life did not support the veracity of what he said, then he should have been condemned as a false prophet.  But with the grace, courage, and strength God gave to him, he stood.  "For in truth the LORD sent me to you to speak all theses words in your ears."

God, help us all to represent You like this today.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Time to Collect

Read Jeremiah 25.

For twenty-three years, Jeremiah faithfully delivered the messages God gave him.  He was not the only one.  The LORD sent other prophets to warn Judah, as well (v.4).  But as persistently as the preachers preached the people refused to listen and turn back to God.  Therefore, the time had come for the judgment to fall.

Amazingly, God called Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon, "my servant" (v.8).  From our human vantage point it is not possible to be certain of all we see taking place in the world.  However, throughout history the LORD has used even the vilest nations to enact His will on unrepentant peoples.  In Romans 13, the Apostle Paul very clearly made the case for respecting governmental authorities and why we should do so.  He wrote when Nero was in power saying, "Let every person be subject to the governing authorities.  For there is no authority except from God and those that exist have been instituted by God....For he is the servant of God, and  avenger who carries out God's wrath on the wrongdoer." (Romans 13:1-4)

Such a perspective is as hard for us to envision today, as it had to be for the believers living in Rome in the first century.

Nevertheless, the Babylonians will destroy the kingdom of Judah and take many of its people captive back to Babylon for seventy years.  Why seventy?  The Levitical law stated that every seventh year that Israel occupied the land, they were to take a Sabbatical year off and give the agricultural fields a rest (Leviticus 25:3-5).  It was part of their stewardship of God's property.  In their selfish greed and rebellion, the people chose to ignore God's word.  It was time for God to collect on what they had failed to give Him.  The LORD performed a forced rest of the land for those years all at one time.  "Until the land had enjoyed its Sabbaths.  All the days that it lay desolate it kept Sabbath, to fulfill seventy years." (2 Chronicles 36:20-21)

The first lesson of stewardship is that God owns it all (Psalm 24:1).  Failing to obey God's word in the use of our time, energies and income is not an option.  We are to joyfully give to God in worship what He expects of us.  He, then, multiplies our offerings to be much more than if we had tried to hoard them.  If not, one day, He will collect what is rightfully His.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

The Good and the Bad

Read Jeremiah 24.

The Babylonians came against Judah, just as God had said they would.  The complete takeover of the land, and Jerusalem in particular, occurred with increasing pressure over a period of years.  In the first wave, Nebuchadnezzar took the king at that time, Jeconiah, and some top leaders in government and commerce as his prize captives.  Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego would have been in this selected group.

Those who were not taken captive thought they had escaped punishment and were now in the clear.    But what they failed to realize was that their fear had been misplaced.  It was not the Babylonians they were to fear but God.  Those taken to Babylon were treated quite well for the most part.  Those left behind were going to face the justice of God.

To communicate this in vivid terms, God gave Jeremiah a comparative message of figs.  Good figs and bad figs.  According to the law, the first-fruits of the harvest, the best of the crop, were to be presented to God.  After the harvest the leftovers were not fit to eat.  He quickly related it to the Babylonian captivity.

1. Good Figs. (vv.4-7)
The Temple was in Jerusalem and that meant the captives may have thought that they were separated from the worship and presence of God.  Eight times the LORD used the word "I" in explaining His personal involvement with those who had been taken.  Instead of this being an indicator that they did something wrong, God called them good.  He promised to keep His eye on them for good.  He promised to bring them back, build them up, plant them in the land, and give them a heart for Him.  Since the exile last 70 years, not all of this prophecy was fulfilled in the return then.  New Testament passages, such as Romans 11:26-27, clearly tell that more is coming when Messiah reigns on earth.

2. Bad Figs. (vv.8-10)
Those remaining in Jerusalem were to experience punishment, as promised.  Five times the LORD used the word "I" to let them know that He would personally mete out His judgment on their sin and rebellion against Him.

Not all bad things that happen to us is because we did something wrong.  For those of us who fear the LORD and live for Him, we can trust that He acts on purpose and that He is working His plan in us.
"And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.  For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son..." (Romans 8:28-29a)

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

6 marks of a faithful Pastor

Read Jeremiah 23.

Jesus' harshest words were those that condemned the religious leaders of His day, because they were ungodly men, pretending to represent God.  In this chapter, Jeremiah delivers a like message to the false prophets, ungodly priests, and derelict shepherds of Judah.  God described their  personal lives as evil-doers, adulterers, and liars.  As a result, the people, like sheep without care and leadership, were needy and scattered.

What should they have been doing instead to prove themselves faithful shepherds of God's people?
1. The people need to be gathered. (v.3a)
Having a suitable place to assemble is a primary need of sheep and the responsibility of the shepherd.  This is a New Testament priority for those claim to be followers of Jesus.  "And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near." (Hebrews 10:24-25)

2. The people need to be fruitful and multiply. (v.3b)
Without new births, the flock will eventually die off.  Something is wrong when sheep do not reproduce.  The faithful shepherd oversees and manages the health of the flock so that reproduction takes place.  Followers of Jesus are commanded to "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations..." (Matthew 28:19)

3. The people need care. (v.4a)
Little lambs need special attention until they are mature enough to take care of themselves for the most part.  On the journey, injuries happen.  The kind shepherd pays attention to what is needed.  For the church those who minister do so as the hands of Jesus.  Jesus announced that He fulfilled this prophecy: "The Spirit of the LORD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me to bring good news to the poor and bind up the brokenhearted." (Isaiah 61:1)

4. The people need to their fears allayed.  (v.4b)
Few animals are more skittish than sheep.  They are incapable of protecting themselves.  It is the shepherd's job to protect them from attack and harm.  The faithful shepherd was prepared with a rod to fight off wolves.  If anything were to cause trouble for the sheep they would have to go through the shepherd to get to them.  Jesus said, "I am the door of the sheep."  "The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep."  (John 10:7 and 11)

5. The people need individual attention. (v.4c)
A large, gathered flock is often a healthy sign.  But the good shepherd does not only sees the multitude, he sees individuals.  There is no substitute for this personal relationship.  "Know well the condition of your flocks, and give attention to your herds, for riches do  not last forever."  (Proverbs 27:23-24a)  Jesus said, "I am the good shepherd.  I know my own and my own knows me." (John 10:13b)

6. The people need to hear the word of God. (v.22)
This was the root issue.  These phony prophets and priests claimed to be speaking for God.  In fact, they were making up their own messages (vv.16 and 26) and merely quoting each other (v.30).  The result of these false, feel-good messages meant the people did not turn from their sin and their lives were not changed (v.22).  "Let him who has my word speak my word faithfully" (v.28b)

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

The hyperlink between belief and Behavior

Read Jeremiah 22.

This is a  series of messages addressed to the next generation in the royal family.  Each of them violated their promise to obey the LORD and rule as a godly leader for the nation.  But their character proved to be corrupt.  Instead of serving the people, they became oppressors and took unjust gain from the people.  As a result, they and the kingdom of Judah paid an awful price.

God's leadership requirements of government include justice and insuring the rights of the poor and needy (vv.15-16).  And, then God asked the question that reveals one's spiritual condition: "Is not this to know me?"  In other words, if you truly have a personal relationship with the living God, your behavior will show it.
Those who say the Christian life is not one of do's and don'ts are simply incorrect.  True, we are saved by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8-9).  However, in the Old and New Testaments God holds those who claim to know Him to high standards of behavior.

"He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?" (Micah 6:8)

"If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person's religion is worthless.  Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit the orphans and widows in their affliction and to keep oneself unstained from the world." (James 1:26-27)

As the chorus from a previous generation sang:
"If you are saved and you know it, then your life will surely show it."

Monday, October 6, 2014

A choice between life and Death

Read Jeremiah 21,

There is a time gap of over 15 years between chapters 20 and 21.  The narrative jumps over the reign of several kings to the time of Zedekiah, the last of Judah's 20 kings.  The Babylonian army had laid siege to the city of Jerusalem (v.4) and the king wished to know God's will.  Though years had passed and the prophesy was unfolding, the king still held out hope that maybe God would intervene on their behalf.  So, he sent two of his trusted men to inquire of Jeremiah.  Note: this Pashhur is not the same man mentioned in chapter 20.

God had not changed His plans to punish Judah for their rebellion and sin.  In a step by step series of declarations, the LORD relayed through Jeremiah what was about to take place.  
1. "I will turn back the weapons of war that are in your hands." (v.4a)
Zedekiah prepared his people to fight against the enemy and try to save Jerusalem.  It was a foolish notion to think that they could overcome the world's most powerful army.  God told them that their weapons would be used against them.

2. "I will bring them together in the midst of the city." (v.4b)
God will cause the Babylonians to breach the walls of Jerusalem and assemble the enemy right in the heart of the city.

3. "I myself will fight against you." (v.5)
The Babylonians were only pawns in the Hand of God to perform all that He wanted done.

4. "I will strike down the inhabitants of this city." (v.6)
The LORD sent a disease among the people that killed many even before the fighting began.

5. "I will give Zedekiah...into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar." (v.7)
As prophesied several times previously, all the people would experience one of four things.  They would either die by disease, sword, or famine or they would be taken captive back to Babylon.

6. "I set before you the way of life and the way of death." (v.8-9)
They had a choice.  By surrendering and going into captivity they would live.  If they chose to stay and fight, they would die.

7. "I have set my face against this city for harm." (v.10)
The day of judgment for their years of sin had come.  This was not the good news for which Zedekiah hoped.

In the same way, God offers to all a choice between the way of eternal life through Jesus or face the certainty of eternal punishment.  Like Zedekiah, many will try to put off the decision and hope for a last minute reprieve.  But God's plans will not be changed.  We need to respond in surrender to Him now and live.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Does God's word control Us?

Read Jeremiah 20.

Jeremiah had delivered the message just as the LORD had instructed him.  The reaction was swift and painful.  The chief officer of the Temple, a priest named Pashhur, judged Jeremiah as inciting the people and had him beaten with 40 lashes (Deuteronomy 25:2-3). Then, he placed Jeremiah in stocks so the people could mock the prophet as he suffered.

But Jeremiah changed neither his mind nor his message.  Instead, he called Pashhur "Terror on Every Side" to emphasize what was going to happen to this priest, Jerusalem, and Judah.  Then, Jeremiah named the enemy who will bring the terror upon them.  In a prophetic word, this is the first mention of Babylon in the book and he used it four times (vv.4-6).

Hurting physically and emotionally from this experience, Jeremiah cried out to God with unusual transparency.  He faithfully preached God's word and suffering within a inch of his life became his reward.  It felt as though the LORD had "deceived" him.  He thought about not speaking on God's behalf any longer.  He wanted to quit.  But the word of God was like a raging fire within him.  He could not hold it in.  God would be victorious but eternity was at stake for the people (v.11).

Notice the seesaw of his emotions.  When he remember God's perspective he could "Sing to the LORD; and praise the LORD!"  But when he took his eyes off the LORD and looked at his circumstances, he just wanted to die (vv.13-18).

The Apostle Paul also suffered repeatedly as he spread the good news of Jesus throughout the Roman Empire.  Why would a man keep doing this?  He explained: "For the love of God controls (constrains, arrests, seizes) us."  "Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us.  We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God." (2 Corinthians 5:14, 20)

May the good news of Jesus so burn within us today that we must share it with others.  Their eternity is at stake.

Friday, October 3, 2014

A message from the city Dump

Read Jeremiah 19.

God instructed Jeremiah to call a meeting of Judah's national and spiritual leaders.  They met in the Valley of Hinnom or Topheth.  It was the city dump and it provided the perfect stage for the message God wanted the leaders to hear.

Topheth means fireplace or oven.  It was here that a cult of the Canaanites practiced the worst kind of demonic worship.  They literally burned their children in sacrifice to a made-up god.  Some of the people in Judah had joined in as well (vv.5-6).

How could a parent do such a thing to their innocent children?  How could these leaders look the other way and allow this abomination in their land?  The LORD declared to Jeremiah in 16:9, "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?"

Once a person rejects God and His word, then they have opened the door to every and any kind of sin.

Jeremiah was further told to take along a pottery jar as a visual aid.  Dashing the jar to pieces illustrated the message.  God would break the nation; their plans, hopes and dreams.  The spiritual condition of Judah had reach a point where it could not be repaired.

How a person responds to what God has said determines their future here and where they will spend eternity.  Disaster or deliverance is at stake.  The God of heaven desires to look upon us with loving acceptance.  What then does He require?

"But this is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word." (Isaiah 66:2b)

Thursday, October 2, 2014

A visit with the Potter

Read Jeremiah 18.

God told Jeremiah to go to the potter's house and there he would receive a message.

1. Jeremiah's Observation. (vv.3-4)
The first thing he noticed was the potter at work.  The vessel of clay he fashioned was flawed.  The flaw turned out to be severe enough for the potter to collapse the clay and refashion it "as it seemed good to the potter".

2. God's Declaration. (vv.5-11)
God declared that He is the potter of Israel.  Israel is the clay.  Like the potter, God is not idle.  He is at work shaping the nation.  As Sovereign Owner, it His right and responsibility to fashion and refashion the nation as He sees fit.  "You are in my hand" (v.6).  The LORD saw the flaw of evil in them and has declared that the nation will be collapsed in order to be reshaped.  They are still His and He will use them but not in their present condition.  His offer to relent is not a change of mind on God's part but an invitation for the people to change and repent of their sin.

3. The People's Condition. (v.12)
"But they say, 'That is n vain!  We will follow our own plans, and will every one act according to the stubbornness of his evil heart.'"  It truly is an insane response.  Clay has no power in itself.  It is totally dependent on the potter.  For the clay to question or resist the potter is what is vain.  On a different subject, the Apostle Paul used the same analogy in Romans 9.  "But who are you, O man, to answer back to God?  Will what is molded say to its molder, 'Why have you made me like this?'" (Romans 9:20)

The best thing living clay can do is to be totally submissive to the One who is shaping their life.  Adelaide A. Pollard wrote:
"Have Thine own way, Lord!  Have Thine own way!
Thou are the Potter; I am the clay.
Mold me and make me after Thy will,
While I am waiting, yielded and still.

Have Thine own way, Lord!  Have Thine own way!
Hold o'er my being absolute sway!
Fill with Thy Spirit till all shall see
Christ only, always, living in me!