Where have you been?

It’s been a long time since I (Linda) wrote.  It’s been a crazy busy –but wonderful –school year.  If you had peeked into our lives you would have found me using long lost linguistic skills by teaching English as a Second Language (ESL) to new Canadians several days a week.  I’ve been brushing off my phonetics (sounds of language) and adding in gospel stories in order to train students to impact our community through teaching English.  (There’s also been a curriculum writing course that buried me deep into Scripture as I marked papers).  Either way, it was rich travel, right at home.

And between all of this, we did travel extensively.  Much like the Johnny Cash song, “I’ve been everywhere man…”  In January we flew from our family Christmas gathering on the West Coast to head to Phoenix for a school president’s gathering.  February took us to Florida (that wasn’t hard!) for ABHE accreditation gatherings.  March and April were filled with teaching.  After graduation day, we flew that evening to California to celebrate twice with the two churches we served in California.  Our home was filled with our kids when we returned, and we all had a quick round of stomach flu.  Next came accreditation gatherings at the Museum of the Bible (a great find!) in Washington, D.C.  Tomorrow is Muskoka Bible Conference for Rick to speak, with Dallas on the horizon.

All of this, though it looks amazing has often had a dizzying effect on our bodies, a skipping in-and-out relationship with our students, and a lack of rest for our souls. (Not to mention the garden weeds).  God is gracious . . . as with the seeds planted in an ALPHA group we enjoyed this winter and spring.

stillAll of this has led to a recent personal retreat weekend at a conference entitled “STILL”.  Our health, our relationships, and our spiritual lives depend on finding time to be still and know that He is still God.  We’re benefitting from “Sacred Rest.”[1]

Would you also find time to be led by still waters?” (Psalm 23:2).  Would you pray that all of us would hear His still small voice?  Would you be courageous wherever that voice calls you forward or sits us still?

And if internationals are on your heart – please join me at the ACMI conference this weekend in Toronto.  He’s still at work among the nations, and He is still at work in us.

[1]Saundra Dalton-Smith, M.D., Sacred Rest; Recover your life, Renew your energy, Restore Your Sanity, (New York:  Faith Words, 2017). 

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Prayer Update (June 7, 2019)

Alan Karchmer / Museum of The BibleIt’s been some time since I’ve posted as we’ve been on the road quite a bit in the past month.  I mentioned in an early post about our trip to California.  We recently got back from a trip to Washington DC.  We attended a conference hosted by one of our accrediting associations (ABHE).  The conference was held at the Museum Of The Bible in downtown DC.  Wow!  What an amazing place it is–with 430,000 square feet of exhibits, it’s the third largest museum in the city.  If you can make a trip to see it, I think you’ll be happy you did.

Next week we have some speaking opportunities, so I’m writing to request your prayer support.  I (Rick) have been down with head/chest cold this week that is affecting my voice.  Linda’s not 100% either.  So we would ask you to remember us in prayer for the following.

Pastors’ Conference (June 10-13).  I (Rick) have the privilege of speaking to a group of Fellowship Baptist pastoral leaders at Muskoka Bible Centre near Huntsville, Ontario.  I’ve prepared a series of messages from the book of Ezekiel (“Words to Watchmen”).  I’d welcome your prayer that God would strengthen me both physically and spiritually.  My prayer is that these brothers in Christ would be encouraged and challenged by God’s Word.

ACMI Conference on Ministry to Internationals. On Saturday, June 15, Linda is giving a workshop at a conference in Toronto that focuses on reaching international with the love of Christ.  Her topic is how to use TESOL (Teaching English as a Second Language) for ministry outreach.  Please pray for the impact of this conference and Linda’s workshop.

Thank you for being friends and prayer partners.  We are very aware of our need for God’s grace.

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Tuesdays with Jeremiah (Chapter 52)

52Jeremiah 51 ends with the postscript, “The words of Jeremiah end here.”  Chapter 52 is a is closely modeled after 2 Kings 25.  So it would seem that another author added an adapted version of 2 Kings 25 to conclude the book of Jeremiah with a focus on Israel (not Babylon) and to emphasize how Jeremiah’s prophetic pronouncement had been fulfilled. Chapter 52 covers the same ground as chapter 39 but adds considerable detail regarding the tragic fall of Jerusalem and its aftermath.

The chapter begins with the start of Zedekiah’s eleven-year reign.  Zedekiah, who was a relative of Josiah, was twenty-one when he took the throne.  Verses 2-3 give a summary of his life and reign similar to that found for the kings in the book of Chronicles:  we are told his mother’s name (Hamutal) and God’s assessment of his reign (“he did evil in the eyes of the Lord”).

Once again we see the close juxtaposition of divine decisions and human choices as leading to the same consequences.  Verse 3 states that the destruction of the country and exile of the population was due to the Lord’s anger.  Verse 4 simply states:  “Now Zedekiah rebelled against the king of Babylon.”  From the purely human perspective, Jerusalem’s fall was the result of Zedekiah’s rebellion against Nebuchadnezzar.  However, the deeper reality is that the city and nation fell due to their continued rebellion against God.  Chapter 52 emphasizes the true causational order by mentioning their rebellion against God first.

The narrative of Jerusalem’s capture and destruction focuses on the reason for the fall (1-3), timetable for the fall (4-5, 12), the capture and punishment of the king and officials (6-11; 24-27), the destruction of the city, temple and wall (13-23) and the disbursement of the survivors (27-30).

textThe horrific events in this chapter are told somewhat dispassionately.  All the pillaging, killing, burning and executions are recorded in a straightforward, matter-of-fact way.  Here is another indicator that Jeremiah was not the author of this chapter.  His response to the carnage and destruction was a five-chapter lament—the book of Lamentations.  Jeremiah’s Lamentation gave voice to the human anguish caused by the Babylonian armies.

Chapter 52 serves to confirm the Lord’s word through Jeremiah; the predictions he had announced came true with agonizing accuracy.  He had announced (contra the false prophets) that the city and the temple would be destroyed by fire (38:17).  He had also told Zedekiah that if he did not surrender, he would be captured and handed over to the Babylonians (21:7).  Jeremiah had comforted him with the promise that, though he would see the Babylonian king face to face, he would not be put to the sword but would die a natural death (34:1-6).  Jeremiah had also predicted that some of the city inhabitants who survived the famine and siege would be carried off into exile (24:1-7).

All these prophetic predictions came true in horrific detail.  The city—including the temple and “every important building”—was burned to the ground (52:13).  The king, who tried to escape with some of his military officers, was captured by the Babylonian military (52:9).  Zedekiah did see king Nebuchadnezzar face to face.  He was spared being executed by the Babylonian king.  However, he watched his officers and sons be killed and then had his eyes put out (52:10-11).  As Jeremiah had announced, a small remnant of the people of Jerusalem who lived through the destruction of the city were exiled to Babylon (52:28-29).  These tragic events confirmed the validity of Jeremiah as a prophet who spoke for the Lord Almighty.  Much of the carnage could have been prevented if the king would have obeyed Jeremiah’s counsel to surrender (38:17-18).  The entire disaster could have been averted if the king, officials, and people had not broken covenant with the Lord but had obeyed His word.  All of this was preventable.

Two curious features come at its end of the chapter: the considerable detail related to the twin, bronze pillars (17-23) and the kindness shown to Jehoiachin by the new Babylonian king (31-34).

While the destruction of the temple and city are told in one verse (13), a lengthy section is given to the dismantling and the removal of the twin bronze pillars and the other bronze articles in the temple.  We are reminded of the exact size of the pillars (27 feet high and 18 feet in circumference, four fingers thick) and the ornate designs on them. (One interesting side note is that Jeremiah 52 gives specific detail about the decorative pomegranates on the capitals of the pillars; this information is not found in 2 Kings 25).  Why the extensive discussion on the bronze pillars?  Perhaps the dismantling of the twin pillars (think of the Twin Towers in NYC) was an apt picture of the dismantling of Israel and Judah.  What had once been impressively sturdy and beautiful was now broken and carried into exile.

JehoThe final paragraph in the chapter (both in 2 Kings 25 and in Jeremiah 52) contains a fascinating, but seemingly insignificant, note about the fate of the exiled king Jehoiachin.  We’re told that in the 37th year of his exile (roughly 26 years after the fall of the city), the current Babylonian king (Evil-Merodach—a play on the name Awel-Marduk) released him from prison, “spoke kindly to him and gave him a seat of honour higher than those of the other kings who were with him in Babylon” (32).  For the rest of his life, Jehoiachin is given a regular allowance and allowed to dine “regularly at the king’s table” (33).

Readers are forced to ask why this historical footnote in included as the last word in the book (both of 2 Kings and Jeremiah).  My sense is that this turn of events in Babylon is included to give a glimmer of hope for the future of the nation of Israel.  Like Jehoiachin, the nation had done evil in the eyes of the Lord and suffered as a result.  However, because of His unfailing love, God was not finished with His people.  He would move an “evil”, pagan king to have mercy upon them after the years of their captivity.  They would be released from prison and once again enter a time of favour.  As it was with Jehoiachin, so it would be with Israel.  So the book of Jeremiah, which is filled with so much sadness and suffering, ends on a note of grace and hope.  God is merciful to His miserable people.  God’s promises allow hope to have the final word in the story of His people.

(I hope you’ve found this survey of the book of Jeremiah instructive.  I was powerfully impacted by the book as I studied it and wrote these chapter summaries.  In the future, I may post something similar from my studies in the book of Ezekiel).

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Graduation(s) and a Memorable Trip

gradLinda and I have had the joy of celebrating two graduations in the past two weeks.

First, on Saturday, April 27th, we rejoiced with the 70+ graduates who received certificates, diplomas, and degrees at Heritage College and Seminary.  What a joy to see so many men and women finish this important milestone in their lives.  Now they head out to serve the Lord in large and small communities.  One seminary couple is headed for a pastoral position in High Level, Alberta (700 km north of Edmonton)!

IMG_0665Last Wednesday, May 8th, we were in Toronto to celebrate with our oldest son and his wife (Ryan and Jenny) as Ryan received his Ph.D. from the University of Toronto (Knox College).  Ryan serves as a teaching fellow with the Princeton Christian Fellowship, mentoring and teaching Princeton university students.  Our other two children (Michael and Lindsey) were able to fly in for the big event.

In between the two graduation ceremonies, Linda and I made a quick trip to California.  We were able to reconnect with dear friends from the two churches we served in California.  We also had the chance to visit Biola University (where we met) and visit a ministry training school that prepares missionaries to serve unreached people groups.  We even spent two days at Mt. Hermon, a Christian Conference Center that I often call “my favourite place on the planet.”

We’re happy to be back home in Cambridge and thankful for God’s goodness over these busy weeks of travel and celebrations.

 

 

 

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Tuesdays with Jeremiah (Chapter 51)

51The message of judgment upon Babylon continues from chapter 50 to 51.  Not only do these two chapters make the message to Babylon the longest, single oracle in the book, but the 64 verses in chapter 51 make it the longest chapter.  In other words, God has more than just a few words for the nation of Babylon.  As they have been the human instruments of destruction for Judah and the surrounding nations, so their fall is described in an extensive, epic way.

Throughout the chapter, the Lord claims responsibility for the downfall and destruction of Babylon. He is the one who plans her downfall (12, 29).  He is the One who “stirs up” the Medes and its allies to destroy the destroyer “of the whole earth” (1, 28).  He is the One who is taking vengeance on Babylon.

judgementThe theme of vengeance and vindication run through both chapters.  The Lord takes vengeance on Babylon to repay them (50:15, 28; 51:6, 11, 24, 56); the Lord restores His people to their homeland to vindicate them (52:10, 36).  Those who want to downplay the image of God taking retribution in a fierce, lethal way should steer clear of chapter 51:  “For the Lord is a God of retribution; he will repay in full” (56).

At the same time, this chapter highlights God’s faithfulness to vindicate His covenant people, Israel.  While it certainly appeared that God had forsaken Israel and Judah, bringing judgment and devastation on them, in reality, He had not abandoned them in spite of their sins against Him:  “For Israel and Judah have not been forsaken by their God, the Lord Almighty, though their land is full of guilty before the Holy One of Israel” (5).  After the seventy years of exile, He fulfills His promise to give them a future and hope (29:11) by punishing Babylon and allowing them to return to their own land: “The Lord has vindicated us; come, let us tell in Zion what the Lord our God has done” (10).

The reasons given for God’s vengeance upon Babylon are two-fold.  First, Babylon sinned against the Lord in its treatment of Israel.  While the Lord had used Babylon as His servant to punish His people and other nations (20), Babylon had still sinned (6) by slaying the “inhabitants of Zion” (24, 35, 49) and desecrating God’s temple (11).  Second, Babylon sinned against the Lord by relying on idols (17, 47).  The boasted in Bel (44) rather than acknowledging the Lord as the “Maker of all things” (19) and the true “King whose name is the LORD Almighty” (57).

Here is evidence that God uses sinful nations and peoples to accomplish His divine plans.  At the same time, He holds those same nations and people accountable for their actions when they sin—even while carrying out His purposes.  Babylon had been a “gold cup in the Lord’s hand” (7).  It had been God’s “war club” to “shatter nations” (20).  Now God would “repay in full” the sins Babylon committed while carrying out the Lord’s purposes (56).

Theologically, this helps us understand more about God’s ways in the world.  He moves individuals and nations to fulfill His plans without violating their own decision-making powers in the process.  He had moved Babylon to attack Judah in a way that allowed the actions to be fully owned by the Babylonians.  Nebuchadnezzar was God’s “servant” who carried out God’s purposes; at the same time, Nebuchadnezzar was a proud, sinful king who acted in his own interests.  The armies of Babylon were the Lord’s “war club”, used by God to “shatter” nations, armies, leaders and citizens of all ages (20-23).  At the same time, they were culpable for their war crimes.  So immediately after referring to the Babylonians as His “war club”, the Lord declares He “will repay Babylon and all who live in Babylonia for all the wrong they have done in Zion” (24).  Because the Babylonians were doing their will as they carried out God’s will, they are held accountable for their sinful actions.

The downfall of Babylon is predicted to come in a way that catches the king and his armies off guard.  The Medes who attack are said to “prepare an ambush” (12).  The Babylonians are taken down while feasting and getting drunk; at one moment they “shout with laughter” and then they “sleep forever” (39).  Their king of Babylon has courier after courier come to report the city is being overrun (31).

This prophetic prediction, delivered in the fourth year of Zedekiah’s reign (59), gives an accurate picture of how events would unfold over 80 years later. Belshazzar is partying with his officials, drinking wine out of the “goblets that had been taken from the temple of God in Jerusalem” (see Daniel 5:3) when he sees the writing on the wall.  Daniel deciphers the cryptic message (“mene, mene, tekel, parsin”) which announces  God’s impending judgment on the nation (5:25).  That very night, the invading Medes ambushed the Babylonians and captured the city.  Babylon fell quickly and was eventually reduced to rubble, a city “desolate forever” (26, 43).

This extended, 100-verse oracle against Babylon is not simply a message about the fall of a powerful nation, it is much more than that—it is a declaration of the greatness of God.  In chapters 50-51 we are given a grand vision of the LORD Almighty.  We learn four reasons why He is to be feared, obeyed and trusted.

  1. The Lord alone is God. Jeremiah’s message is a polemic against the false gods of the Babylonians. Bel, Marduk and the other Babylonian idols are a “fraud” (17).  “He who is the Portion of Jacob is not like these, for he is the Maker of all things” (19).
  1. The Lord controls the nations. Babylon’s rise to power and dominance over other nations was the result of God’s plan (7, 20-23).  Its demise was also determined by God (25, 47-48).
  2. The Lord is the just judge. The Lord repays Babylon for their sinful deeds (6).  He holds kings, armies, and nations accountable for their actions.  While judgment doesn’t always come as quickly as some would like, it does come (46-47).
  3. The Lord is faithful to His unfaithful people. In spite of their sins, God remains faithful to His unfaithful people:  “Israel and Judah have not been forsaken by their God” (5).
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Tuesdays with Jeremiah (Chapter 50)

50The pronouncement of God’s judgment on the nations concludes with two chapters about the Babylonians.  The oracles against Babylon are over twice the length of any of the messages directed to other foreign nations (Babylon—100 verses; Moab—47 verses; Egypt—26 verses; Philistia—6 verses; Edom—15 verses; Ammon—6 verses; Kedar/Hazor—6 verses; Syria—5 verses; Elam—5 verses).

The content and basic message of these two chapters (50-51) could have been shortened considerably; much of the material is a variation on the same theme of coming judgment.  However, since Babylon had been the instrument of Judah’s destruction and exile, it is logically and emotionally fitting that God’s judgment on them receives extended attention.  God is answering the imprecatory prayers of his people (Psalm 137).  He is proving again that He is Lord and Judge of all nations.  It will be apparent to all that “The Lord has taken vengeance, vengeance for his temple” (15, 28; see Deuteronomy 32:35; Romans 12:19).

There is no mistaking the truth that God is taking credit for planning (45), commanding (21) and accomplishing the punishing of Babylon (18).  He stirs up the armies of the north to attack (9).  He sets a trap for Babylon that they cannot avoid or escape (24).  The invading armies are part of His “arsenal” and are “weapons of His wrath” (25).  Those who have trouble with the concept of God ordering the Israelites to demolish the Canaanites need to realize that this was not a one-time aberration.  God prompts nations to attack other nations as a way of carrying out His righteous judgment upon them.

BabThe reasons for Babylon’s downfall and destruction are identified throughout the oracle:  Babylon relied on false gods (Bel, Marduk—2; idols–38) and false prophets (36); Babylon rejoiced in the pillaging of God’s inheritance (11), especially the Lord’s temple (28); Babylon had brutally “hammered” the other nations (23); Babylon had become “arrogant“ (31-32).  In short, Babylon had “sinned against the Lord” (14); it had “opposed the Lord” (24) and “defied the Lord, the Holy One of Israel” (29).

While the Babylonians had been chosen by God to carry out His judgment on Israel and the surrounding nations, they fulfilled their assignment in a sinful way.  Their arrogance, excessive brutality, and disregard for God’s temple (a sign of their disrespect for Him) were culpable.  They overstepped and overreached.  Now it was time for God’s payback:  “Repay her for her deeds; do to her as she has done.  For she has defied the Lord, the Holy One of Israel” (29).

The fall of Babylon is described in painful detail.  An “alliance of great nations from the land of the north” (3, 9, 41) will attack Babylon with swords and arrows.  The capture of the city will be surprisingly sudden (“you were caught before you knew it”—24).  Babylon will “surrender” (13) but her walls will still be torn down (13), her armies and population decimated (35-37), the city left desolate and uninhabited (3, 13, 39).    The great king of Babylon will be paralyzed by fear (43) and punished (18).  The destruction will be so complete that Babylon is compared to Sodom and Gomorrah (40).

Daniel 5 (as well as the Greek historian Herodotus) records the events surrounding the fall of the supposedly secure city.  An alliance of the Medes and Persians (the nations from the north) attacked, diverting water from a canal the flowed into the city (a possible allusion to this is found in verse 38).  Their troops entered the city on the dry waterbed and surprised Belshazzar (the frightened king—43; Daniel 5:6, 9) and his officials.  Babylon lost its prominence and ultimately became a desert, fulfilling Jeremiah 50:3:  “No one will live in it; both men and animals will flee away.”  Though Alexander the Great and Saddam Hussein had plans to rebuild it, Babylon remains a wasteland.

Embedded in this prophetic pronouncement against Babylon is a message of hope for the Jewish exiles in Babylon.  They will gain their freedom as Babylon falls to the armies of the north (4).  They will return to their homeland (5) and find rest (34).  Most importantly, they will be restored to a covenant relationship with God (5) and be fully forgiven for their many sins (20).

A closer look at the verses that envision Israel’s future release and restoration adds to our understanding of how God will deal with His unfaithful people.  We learn important details about their return from exile and their restoration to God.

returnReturn from exile.  Jeremiah 29:11 promised a “hope and a future” for the Jewish exiles in Babylon.  They would come to seek the Lord with all their hearts (29:12) and God would gather them “back from captivity” (29:14).  Now in Jeremiah 50 we see that this return is not without upheaval, confusion and danger.  In the chaos surrounding the capture of Babylon, the Jewish exiles are able to escape from the Babylonians who were “refusing to let them go” (33).  The Jews would “go in tears to seek the Lord”—we’re not told if these are tears of joy or distress.  As they flee from Babylon, they head to a homeland they had never seen; consequently, they must “ask the way to Zion” (5).  They must also make the long, dangerous journey back towards Jerusalem.  In short, God’s release and re-gathering of His people was not without significant upheaval.  We must not assume that God’s work in the lives of His people will always be smooth and peaceful.  Put another way, tears and fears do not necessarily mean God is not at work in our lives.

restorationRestoration to God.  The Lord not only promises to bring the exiles back to their homeland. He also promises to bring them back to Himself.  The returning exiles are said to “bind themselves to the Lord in an everlasting covenant” (5).  While this could be a reference to a renewal of the Mosaic covenant, because of the prophecies in Jeremiah 31, I would see this as an allusion to the coming New Covenant (31:31-34).

In His unfailing love, the Lord not only allows His sinning people to return to Him, He also completely blots out their sins:  “In those days, at that time . . . search will be made for Israel’s guilt but there will be none, and for the sins of Judah, but none will be found, for I will forgiven the remnant I spare” (20).  Oh the mercy of God to remove sins “as far as the east is from the west” (Psalm 103:12).  Because of the New Covenant that Jesus inaugurated by His blood, there is full and final forgiveness for those who bind themselves in covenant with God through faith in Christ.  Bless the Lord O my soul!

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Prayer Update Graduation Weekend

HTomorrow begins Graduation Weekend here at Heritage.  There is a great amount of excitement in the air for what’s ahead.

On Friday evening, we will have our annual Grad Banquet.  After a delicious buffet dinner, we will hear from both the college and seminary valedictorians.  A number of awards will be handed out to deserving students.  I (Rick) will give a challenge to the grads about being “well known to Jesus” (2 Corinthians 6:9).  We are trusting the Lord for a rich and memorable evening.

gradOn Saturday morning, we will hold our Graduation Ceremony.  Over 70 grads will walk the stage and receive diplomas or degrees.  Dr. Norm Millar, the lead pastor at Redemption Bible Chapel in London, will be our commencement speaker.  We will worship the Lord and celebrate His grace in helping this year’s graduates complete their diplomas and degrees in preparation for serving Christ with their lives.

After graduation, our Heritage Board of Directors will convene for our quarterly Board Meeting.  In addition to rejoicing over the past year, we have some exciting matters to discuss related to the school’s future.

SERVEIn the following days, a number of our students will be heading out for summer ministries.  One of our worship teams will leave on Saturday afternoon for a week-long tour in Northern Ontario.  Early next week a team of our SERVE students will depart for summer missions in Thailand; another group will fly to serve the Lord in Portugal.  Many other students will be involved in summer internships in local churches and Christian camps.  Others will be headed for summer jobs, earning funds to continue their studies at Heritage in the fall.

I’d ask you to join me in praying that the Lord would be honoured through our Graduation Weekend events.  Also, please pray for the students as they serve the Lord in a variety of places in Canada and around the world.

Thanks for praying!  God has been answering our prayers in wonderful ways.

 

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