Prayer Update March 22

old pathsI’ve recently been reading a book that has proven both convicting and life-giving.  Old Paths, New Power (by Daniel Henderson) gives a call to pastoral leaders to return to the “old paths” of prayer and the Scripture.  The book centers on the apostles’ commitment to devote themselves “to prayer and to the ministry of the word” (Acts 6:4).  I’ve found myself humbled and helped, stirred up in my soul to what Henderson calls “Scripture-fed, Spirit-led, worship-based prayer.”

I appreciated the reminder of how Charles Spurgeon credited his spiritual success as a preacher to the people in his church who regularly prayed for him as he preached.  Henderson quotes Spurgeon’s gratitude for the prayers of others:  “The sinew of the minister’s strength under God is the supplication of his church.  We can do anything and everything if we have a praying people around us” (quoted in Old Paths New Power, 178).

[rayerWhen I served at the Metropolitan Bible Church in Ottawa, I had a group of men who met with me each Sunday to pray.  What a joy it was to be supported by these godly men.  Although I now serve in a different context, I still feel the acute need for the prayers of God’s people.  That’s one of the reasons for this blog–to ask friends to pray for us and the ministry of the school.

Here are several requests I’d ask you to remember this weekend.

  1. On Friday, our Heritage Leadership Team is spending the day in prayer and planning. We continue to sense the Lord is expanding the role of the school in preparing pastors, missionaries and ministry leaders.  Please pray that we would be led by God’s Spirit so that we follow God’s agenda closely and courageously.

2.  On Saturday morning and afternoon, Linda and I are speaking at a Marriage Conference in Simcoe, Ontario.  Please pray that God would use our teaching of His Word to strengthen each couple that comes.

3.  On Sunday, I (Rick) am scheduled to preach at the Chinese Gospel Church in Scarborough.  Again, I would ask you to pray for God’s Spirit to work powerfully through the preaching of His Word to move His people on mission.

THANK YOU for your prayers.  Even though we are not in the same physical location, I count on you as part of our prayer team.  May God strengthen and sustain each of you in this important work.

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Tuesdays with Jeremiah (Chapter 44)

44After the Jewish remnant defiantly disobeys the Lord’s message by leaving the Promised Land and settling in Egypt, the Lord sends another message through Jeremiah to them.  This message along with their response is recorded in some detail in chapter 44.

What surprises me about God’s word to the remnant is not that He expresses fierce anger or warns of impending disaster.  I would expect this given the high-handed rebellion and hardened hearts of the people.  Further, God had already told Jeremiah that the Jews who were not exiled to Babylon would be “poor figs” who would be destroyed by “the sword, famine and plague” (24:8-10).  What surprises me (and moves me to worship) is that God continues to appeal to them to avert disaster by repenting of their sinfulness and returning to Him:  “Why bring such great disaster on yourselves . . . and so leave yourselves without a remnant?” (7).

While God speaks of His “fierce anger”, He continues to evidence a fierce love towards His sinful people.  He relentlessly pursues them for their good.  He repeatedly provides opportunity to repent and receive mercy.  In spite of the fact that they have spurned Him and grieved His heart, His heart still offers them a way back from the brink.  Here is another example of the truth that “God is love” (1 John 4:7-8); it’s also a sobering reminder that His love is not indifferent to disobedience or a firewall against judgment.  God’s love is His unfailing inclination to seek good for people, in spite of their spiteful treatment of Him.

Jeremiah delivers this message to the remnant in Egypt when they have assembled together from “Lower Egypt” and “Upper Egypt” (1).  While we are not told the occasion for this gathering, it may have been to commemorate a Jewish feast or festival; something homesick exiles tend to do when they “long to return” to their homeland (14).  At a gathering of the men (along with some of the women—15), Jeremiah speaks the word of “the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel” (2).

The rest of the chapter details the interchange between Jeremiah and the remnant.  Jeremiah begins by giving God’s reminder of the reason disaster has fallen on Judah and an appeal for the remnant to repent and avoid further destruction (2-14).  The people respond in a sad, but predictable, way.  The men assert they will continue with their idolatry, seeing it as the way to blessing (15-18); the women add that their husbands were aware of their involvement in worshiping the “Queen of Heaven” (19).   Jeremiah counters that disaster came upon Judah not because the people stopped worshipping idols but precisely because they wouldn’t stop (20-23).  Then Jeremiah delivers a second message from the Lord—one that promises the total destruction of the remnant in Egypt, except for a few fugitives (24-28).  This message ends with a “sign” of the certainty of God’s coming punishment—the Pharaoh will be handed over to the Babylonians (29-30).

While the Jews had historically been guilty of spiritual adultery with many different gods (“You, Judah, have as many gods as you have towns—11:13), in this exchange the focus is on one false god:  the “Queen of Heaven” (7:18; 44:17, 18, 19, 25).  The identity of this false goddess is debated; biblical scholars see a reference to a Babylonian or Canaanite god—or an amalgamation of the two.  This goddess had been worshiped in Judea for a time (perhaps under Manasseh) and then stopped (perhaps under Josiah). Both the men (15-18) and the women (18) were convinced their demise was caused by this stoppage (18) and so they had resumed “burning incense . . . making cakes like her image and pouring out drink offerings to her” (19).

Here is evidence that history is not self-interpreting.  The same event (destruction of Jerusalem and Judah) can be attributed to different causes (unfaithfulness to God or unfaithfulness to the Queen of Heaven).  Without God’s revelation to show us reality, we construct our own understandings of life, history, religion, and behaviour.  Our interpretations make sense to us and we become convinced they are true.  Even when challenged, we can hold tenacious (and tragically) to misguided understandings of reality.  This is why we need God’s Word to reveal truth to us.  “Where there is no revelation, people cast off restraint” (Proverbs 29:18).

The remnant’s brazen rejection of God’s Word (the will not listen/obey—16, 23) combined with their resolute determination to continue in idolatry has catastrophic consequences.  They forfeit the most fundamental privilege of the covenant—the privilege of calling upon God’s name.  The Lord withdraws from them the right to “invoke my name or swear, ‘As surely as the Sovereign LORD lives’” (26).  They place themselves in the horrible position of being cut off from God’s favour; instead of having God as their defender, He would now be “watching over them for harm, not for good” (27). As they had “determined” (“set their face”) to go to Egypt, He had “determined” (“set my face”) to bring disaster upon them (11).  As they vowed to worship the Queen of Heaven, so He vowed “(I swear by my great name”) to cut them off from the benefits of the covenant (26).  He would send sword, famine, and plague upon them (the same three judgments He sent upon the Jews in Judah and Jerusalem—21:7, 9). While these judgments would come from God, like all consequences, they were also self-inflicted (“You will destroy yourselves . . . .”—8).

trueThe chapter ends with a showdown (28) and a sign (29-30).  The Lord proclaims that the remnant will “know whose word will stand—mine or theirs” (29).  They have asserted that worshiping the Queen of Heaven will lead to having plenty of feed and suffering “no harm”—17).  The Lord counters that their unrepentant idolatry will cause him to be “watching over them for harm” (27).  Now they would see whose view of reality would prove accurate, whose words would stand true.  Such is always the case whenever we pit our words (and worldview) against God’s Word.  A showdown is set up and God’s Word will prevail.

God gives them a sign as evidence that His word will prove faithful and true:  Pharaoh Hophra, king of Egypt, will be handed over to the Babylonians just as Zedekiah had been (30).  In other words, the Babylonians would bring the sword, famine, and plague to Egypt—the very things the remnant were seeking to escape by going there.  There would be historical verification of God’s authoritative proclamation.

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Prayer Update March 15, 2019

prayerLast week I asked you to pray for us–I (Rick) was down with the flu and Linda was leading a Heritage course for women on writing Bible study curriculum.

I want to thank all of you who prayed for us.  It was discouraging for me (Rick) to have to cancel flying to Winnipeg to speak at a Promise Keepers event.  However, I sensed the Lord’s grace in helping the organizers of the conference enlist a replacement for me.  I heard the good news that the conference went very well.  Praise Him.

Linda had a wonderful weekend leading the course on Bible study curriculum.  She teamed up with Dr. Phyllis Bennett from Western Seminary in Portland, Oregon.  The fourteen women who took the course were enthusiastic about what they learned and how it will benefit their churches and ministries.

I (Rick) have been able to be back in the office this week and have continued to regain strength as the week has gone on. I’m still not 100% but am grateful for the healing God has granted.

As God brings us to your heart and mind, I would ask you to continue to pray for spiritual, physical and emotional strength.  We are aware of our need for God’s empowerment and protection. He is able!

Thank you for your friendship and prayer support.thank

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Tuesdays with Jeremiah (Chapter 43)

43This chapter begins as Jeremiah finishes doing what the Jewish remnant had asked him to do—reporting to them the word from the Lord about where they should go and what they should do (42:3).  The opening verse of chapter 43 emphasizes that Jeremiah told the people “everything the Lord had sent him to tell them” (1).

The response of the people to Jeremiah’s message is emphatic.  They immediately accuse Jeremiah of fabricating the message:  “You are lying! The Lord our God has not sent you to say, ‘You must not go to Egypt to settle there’” (2).

Verse 2 lists the names of two of Jeremiah’s detractors:  Azariah and Johanan.  This is the first mention of Azariah; Johanan has been a key player since Gedaliah was appointed as governor.  Johanan had warned Gedaliah about Ishmael and offered to neutralize him (40:13-15), had led the rescue effort against Ishmael (41:11-15), had been part of the leadership group that asked Jeremiah to seek the Lord’s guidance (42:1-3) and had been one who promised to “act in accordance with everything the Lord your God sends you to tell us” (42:5).  Now Johanan accuses Jeremiah of lying.

lyingThe accusation that Jeremiah is lying is ludicrous.   Jeremiah had a forty-year track record of telling the truth.  His warnings had been vindicated by the recent capture and destruction of Jerusalem.   A host of prophets who contradicted Jeremiah had been proven to be false prophets; they were now disgraced and dead (Hananiah—28:1-17, Ahab and Zedekiah—29:20-23, Shemaiah—29:24-32).  Through it all, Jeremiah had consistently told the truth.  Yet Johanan and the others quickly conclude he is lying to them.

They not only accuse Jeremiah of lying, but they also accuse Baruch of treachery:  “But Baruch son of Neriah is inciting you against us to hand us over to the Babylonians so they may kill us or carry us to Babylon” (3).  They charge Baruch with being a Babylonian spy who wants to see the remnant killed or deported.  Why they come up with this conspiracy theory is not indicated.  Whether they truly believe this is questionable in light of the fact they bring Baruch along to Egypt rather than expel or execute him (6).

Up to this point in the narrative, Johanan had been both insightful and courageous.  He repeatedly took action to preserve the remnant from danger.  But now he joins with “all the arrogant men” to accuse Jeremiah of lying.  The Hebrew word translated “arrogant” (2) has the idea of being willful, proud, presumptuous or insolent; it’s used of those who elevate their thoughts or will above God’s word (Psalm 119:21: Mal. 3:13).  To think our ideas or insights are more reliable than God’s is the height of arrogance and folly.  Here is a sobering reminder that leaders, who have been wise and brave in the past, can become arrogant, allowing their instincts and insights to trump God’s clear word.  Don’t become that guy!

egyptAfter rejecting the validity of Jeremiah’s message from the Lord, we are told that Johanan and the rest of the remnant all “disobeyed the Lord’s command to stay in the land of Judah” (4).  The text doubles up on the idea of disobedience:  “So they entered Egypt in disobedience to the Lord” (7).  The word “disobey” translates the Hebrew phrase “listen to the voice of YHWH.”  Listening to the Lord is precisely what they had promised to do when they first asked Jeremiah to pray for them (42:6—the word “obey” is a translation of the phrase “listen to the voice”).  They had made an oath to listen/obey.  Now they arrogantly break their oath by refusing to listen and disobeying the voice of the Lord.

Johanan and the rest of the remnant place more confidence in their own reason than in God’s revelation.  They assess the situation and conclude the Babylonians will bring violent reprisals on them for the death of Gedaliah. They see Egypt as a safer place to live, a place where they won’t “see war . . . or be hungry for bread” (42:14).  They conclude Baruch wants them destroyed or deported (43:3) and that Jeremiah is lying (43:2).  Some of these conclusions are “reasonable” and others are far-fetched.  But they have become convinced that their assessment of the situation is true and their decision is best.  Their reason trumps God’s revelation (“the voice of the LORD”).

Human reason is a gift from God.  It allows us to assess situations, evaluate options and draw conclusions.  But reason turns to “arrogance” when it overturns God’s clear revelation.  Even when God’s Word seems counter-intuitive to us, we are to listen/obey (Hebrew: שָׁמַע). The Jewish remnant had good reason to trust Jeremiah and “everything the Lord had sent him to tell them” (43:1).  Jeremiah had proven a trustworthy messenger; the unfolding events of recent history had vindicated God’s word through him.  While their reason raised objections to believing God’s word through Jeremiah, it also supported faith.  On one level, biblical faith may seem “unreasonable” but there is still good reason to believe.

Johanan and the “all the army officers” lead the remnant (including Jeremiah and Baruch—6) to the city of Tapanhes, a city on the banks of the Nile River in the northeast corner of Egypt.  After they arrive, Jeremiah is instructed by God to take some large stones and bury them beneath the bricks leading to Pharaoh’s palace (9).  [Archaeologists have found brickwork in the ancient ruins of the city].  Jeremiah explains the meaning of his actions:  God will send his “servant” Nebuchadnezzar to this very place (10).  Nebuchadnezzar will conquer the city, setting up his royal tent over the buried stones.  Those who thought Egypt would prove a safe-haven will be sadly disappointed.  Death, captivity and the sword will find them (11).  God will judge both the false gods of the Egyptians the disobedient people of Judah.

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Special Prayer Request

I’ve not posted in a while, as I (Rick) had been in bed with a fever for most of the last five days.  I was slated to teach several classes today and then fly to Winnipeg tomorrow to speak at a Promise Keepers Conference.  I’ve had to cancel those ministry opportunities.

Linda is just about to leave for Heritage to teach a course on writing Bible study curriculum to a class of 14 women.  This course has been very impactful for us:  we used the principles in it to write a number of Bible Study guides when we served at the Metropolitan Bible Church in Ottawa.  Women who have taken this course have gone on to serve their local churches by writing study guides for their pastor’s sermon series, women’s bible study groups, children’s ministries, and youth groups.

Would you please pray for Linda as she leads this course at Heritage.  I’d also welcome prayers for God’s healing grace in my life and body.

Thank you for praying with us.

 

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Tuesdays with Jeremiah (Chapter 42)

42Chapter 42 continues the story line that began in 40:7 and runs through the end of chapter 43.  Where most of the longer narrative is filled with action and movement (assassination, battle, journey), chapter 42 stands still and records part of a lengthy conversation between the people and Jeremiah (42:1-43:3).  The extensive report of this dialogue is evidence of its watershed importance in the flow of the narrative.

Jeremiah re-enters the story in chapter 42, having not been mentioned since the narrative of Gedaliah’s assassination began (40:7).  While we aren’t explicitly told, it would seem he was among the captives taken by Ishmael and rescued by Johanan.

inquireAfter the rescue, as the Jewish survivors begin to journey south toward Egypt (41:17), Jeremiah is approached by the entire remnant—by Johanan (the military leader) and “all the people from the least to the greatest” (1).  They lament their vulnerable, diminished condition (2) and ask Jeremiah to inquire of the Lord for them.  They want to know “where we should go and what we should do” (3).

There is an interesting and repeated interplay in the pronouns used by the people and Jeremiah when referring to the Lord.  At first, the remnant asks Jeremiah to inquire of the Lord “your” God (2, 3).  Jeremiah agrees, saying he will pray to the Lord “your” God (4).  The people respond with a promise to obey what God says.  Here they refer to God as “the Lord your God” (5) and as “the Lord our God” (twice in verse 6).  Even after the remnant discounts Jeremiah’s message and blatantly disobeys, they still continue to speak of the Lord as “our” God (43:2).  The variation may be due to convention or simply stylistic, but it may be included to foreshadow the people’s vacillating allegiance to God.

Jeremiah promises to pray to the Lord as requested and “keep nothing back” from them when the Lord gives an answer (4).  At this point, the people in the remnant take an oath to fully obey the Lord’s word through Jeremiah.  The text highlights their pledge for full and complete obedience to God’s message: “Whether it is favorable or unfavorable, we will obey the Lord our God  . . . so that it will go well with us” (6).  It seems that they have finally learned their lesson.  After years of disregarding the Lord’s message through Jeremiah, they seem to have realized their folly.  They seem to have come to a place of understanding what Jeremiah had been saying for decades:  disobedience brings discipline and obedience brings blessing.  Sadly, appearances will prove misleading.  Here is a reminder that ardent promises of allegiance to God may sound holy but be hollow.  Words must be backed by actions or they are simply empty words.

When the people ask Jeremiah to petition the Lord for guidance, they are at Geruth Kimham near Bethlehem (41:17).  They have already traveled south from the Gibeon—the place of their rescue (41:12)—and are headed for Egypt (41:17).  The text tells us that the Lord’s answer through Jeremiah doesn’t come for ten days (42:7).  So for ten days, the remnant stays near Bethlehem, even though they are feeling afraid and wanting to flee (10-11).  Jeremiah could sense their fear and tell they were “determined to go to Egypt” (set their faces to go—15, 17).  I imagine some were becoming impatient waiting for Jeremiah to bring back God’s answer; they had already determined what they would do.

Jeremiah eventually brings them the answer from the Lord:  “If you stay in this land, I will build you up and not tear you down; I will plant you and not uproot you” (10).  These words, which echo the language God used to call Jeremiah to ministry (1:10), promise protection and restoration if they will trust in the Lord.  The Lord says, “I will show you compassion so that he [the king of Babylon] will have compassion on you and restore you to your land” (12).  God’s will moves the will of kings so that they do His will (Proverbs 21:1).  The reason the remnant need not fear Nebuchadnezzar is that they belonged to the King of kings.

God tells the remnant that He is “grieved over the disaster I have inflicted on you” (10).  Here is a reminder that God does not set aside His love when He brings judgment.  It’s also a reminder that His love does not preclude His judgment. There is an amazing consistency of character in the heart of God that is seen in His unfailing love and His righteous judgments. He delights in “kindness, justice, and righteousness on the earth” (9:24).

mindJeremiah must have sensed this message about remaining in the land would not be welcome or followed.  He knew they were already headed south—physically and emotionally.  They saw Egypt as a place of safety, far from the sword and famine (16).  Their fear of the Babylonians had not decreased during the ten days of waiting for God’s message to come to them.  So Jeremiah goes on to speak directly to the devastating consequences that will come on the remnant if they disobey God’s word and continue heading towards Egypt.  They will perish in the land they see as a safe haven; the “sword, famine and plague” will bring death to all who go to Egypt.   God’s wrath will be poured out on them as it was on those in Jerusalem who did not obey God’s word to surrender to the Babylonians (18).  They will never see the land of promise again (18).

After giving this grim pronouncement, Jeremiah moves into “preaching mode” and goes after their hearts.  He tells them they made a “fatal mistake” (literally:  erred in your souls) by asking him to seek God’s will when their wills were already made up (19).  They had promised to do whatever the Lord said to them, a promise Jeremiah could tell they did not intend to keep.  Verse 21 seems to indicate that Jeremiah has already seen telltale evidence of their determination to press on toward Egypt.  So once again, Jeremiah has to be the prophet of bad news:  “So now, be sure of this:  You will die by the sword, famine and plague in the place where you want to go to settle” (22).

This chapter is a case study in our tendency to pray with our minds already made up.  We assess the situation from our human perspective and are convinced we know best.  Egypt, we are sure, is the place where we will find the security we’ve been lacking for so long.  We may ask God to give us direction and even pledge to head whichever way he leads us; however, we are already emotionally committed to heading south.  We want his blessing on our plans not His direction for our lives.

 

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Prayer Update February 22, 2019

prayerIt’s Reading Week at Heritage College and Seminary.  Classes are not in session all week, giving students a chance to catch up on studies (and get some rest).

I do have several important prayer requests that I would ask you to remember.

Student Refueling:  The courses at Heritage are rigorous; we push our students to get to know God through a deep study of His Word.  Please pray that students would have grace to persevere and get maximum benefit from their courses.  Ask the Lord to refresh them this week so they will be able to finish the semester well.

Student Recruitment:  We in the midst of receiving new student applications for next fall.  While September may seem like a long way off, this is the time students make decisions about where they will enroll for the coming year.  Ask the Lord to direct many keen students to Heritage.  At this point, we are encouraged by the number of young men and women applying to the College.  Pray for a bumper crop of students to be trained and sent out into God’s harvest field.

Thanks for praying!

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