Tuesdays with Jeremiah (Chapter 2)

chatper 2In Jeremiah 2 we start to get the picture of the spiritual condition of the nation. It’s not a pretty picture at all. Themes that will be traced and developed throughout the book are introduced here:  Israel’s infidelity to the LORD, Israel’s trust in foreign powers (Egypt, Assyria) and foreign gods, Israel’s barrenness and brokenness (politically, economically), Israel’s self-righteousness (questioning God’s indictment of their spiritual apostasy and claiming innocence) and Israel’s future judgment.

Jeremiah speaks God’s message to the nation in a way that highlights, repeats and explains God’s amazement and anger at what has been happening.  The nation (starting with its leaders—2:8, 26) has forsaken its early devotion to Him (2:1), exchanged their Glory for worthless idols (2:11), proclaimed their innocence  in spite of their overt, obvious defection (2:35).

The chapter brims with emotion and provocative, colourful imagery:  Israel as a devoted bride (2:1), Israel as a rebellious servant (2:20),  Israel as stained and dirty by their sin (2:22),  Israel as a wild donkey in heat (2:24),  Israel as a disgraced thief caught red-handed (2:26),  Israel as a seasoned prostitute (2:33).

The basic message of chapter 2 is the indictment that Judah (all Israel)—without  any cause and in spite of God’s faithful goodness—has committed spiritual adultery. They have forsaken their devotion to Him and run into the arms of others (other nations and other gods).  brokenThey have done what no other nation has done—switched their spiritual loyalties (2:10-11).  The folly of this suicidal switch is that Israel has traded the “spring of living waters” for “broken cisterns” (2:13) and foreign rivers (2:18).

Twice, the Lord rebukes them for failing to ask, “Where is the Lord?”  The fathers did not ask this question (2:6), nor did the priests (2:8).  The question (“Where is the Lord?”) in this context is not meant to convey a sense of doubt and disbelief about God’s presence or reality. Rather, in both verses, it is meant to express a desire to seek the Lord and find His will and ways.  The parallel line in verse 8 reads, “Those who deal with the law did not know me.”  The connotation of the question would thus be, “Where does the Lord stand on this matter?” Faithful believers should always be thinking and asking, “Where is God on this matter?  What’s His will?  What’s His word to us?”

There are two ways to ask the question, “Where is the Lord?” It can be asked as an expression of doubt (Micah 7:10) or as an expression of faith (Jeremiah 2:6, 8). It can be a taunt, a statement of ridicule and disbelief.  Or it can be a call to seek God, to discover where He stands on an issue or situation. God wants us to be seeking His presence and will, asking “Where is the Lord?” on every issue we face.  As Psalm 105:4 says, “Look to the Lord and His strength.  Seek His face always.”

aweWhy has Judah made such a foolish and devastating spiritual choice?  A root cause of their rebellion is that they “have no awe of me, declares the Lord, the LORD Almighty” (2:19).  The Hebrew word for “awe” speaks of terror or dread.  This response of holy fear is fitting for those who encounter “the LORD Almighty” (the God of armies).  As we seek and see God in His awesome majesty and power, we should be moved to “awe” by His authority and greatness.

The story line of chapter 2 is that of the nation’s descent from devotion to desertion.  Their initial devotion—pictured as a bride’s love for her groom (2:1-2; 32)—dies away. This tragic shift of affection and allegiance happens in spite of God’s goodness to His people; He led them through deserts and darkness (2:6) and gave them a fertile land rich with produce (2:7). He protected them from their adversaries (2:3).  They had it so good.  Yet, against all logic, contrary to all cultural patterns (2:10), they exchanged their Glory for worthless idols (2:11).  God summarizes their twin evils:  “My people have committed two sins; they have forsaken me, the spring of living water and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water” (2:13).

This stunning defection was not simply a grassroots movement; the top leaders of the nation (kings, officials, priests and prophets—2:8, 26) led the way into darkness.  They became enamored with other gods and engaged in alliances with other nations (Egypt and Assyria—2:18, 36).  They went from being a devoted bride to becoming a spiritual prostitute (2:33).

To make matters worse, they claim innocence.  Caught red handed and disgraced as a thief (2:26), they deny their guilty actions. They protest, saying, “I am not defiled; I have not run after the Baals” (2:23); “I am innocent; he is not angry with me” (2:35). They also continue to call on God to get them out of trouble:  “Come and save us!” (2:27).

The tone of the chapter is one of shocked, stunned disbelief. How could God’s people be so foolish and fickle?  How could they turn their backs (2:27) on the One who loved them? How could they run after such poor substitutes? How could they become spiritually disloyal when the nations around them remained loyal to their false gods?  How could this defection have been so widespread—kings, priests, prophets and people? prone 2

There is a tale here of something tragically wrong in the hearts of God’s people. “Prone to wander, Lord I feel it; prone to leave the God I love.” There is something twisted, sick and suicidal in us as humans.  Something that can only be changed by a change of heart—exactly what is promised in the New Covenant (Jeremiah 31:31-34).

Posted in Jeremiah, Life Lessons, Ministry Matters | Leave a comment

Abiding + Asking = Abounding

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been spending time digging into John 15 in preparation for a series of messages I am scheduled to give at the National Conference for the Associated Gospel Churches of Canada.

VineIn this wonderful passage, Jesus makes an amazing promise:  “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.  By this is my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples” (15:7-8).

This is not a promise catered to our selfish desires (see James 4:2-3). It is conditioned upon abiding in Christ’s words, asking to bear fruit, and seeking the Father’s glory.

MullerWhile studying John 15, I’ve been re-reading the biography of a man who took this promise seriously:  George Muller.  For decades, Muller relentlessly asked the Lord to provide for the needs of the orphans he served and the ministry he led (Scriptural Knowledge Institution).  Muller’s primary motive was to bring glory to God through the provisions He received.  God answered in amazing ways.

On Wednesday at our faculty and staff prayer meeting, I spoke about Muller’s example as we prayed for the needs of Heritage College and Seminary.  We asked the Lord to use our current graduates and to send us more stellar students.  We prayed that He would provide for the financial needs of the school and enable us to completely eliminate the school’s debt.

debtLater that afternoon, a man dropped off a cheque for $100,000 dollars toward debt demolition. (This brings us down to about $550,000!).  We continue to pray that we will be able to pay off the remainder of our mortgage on October 1st (our mortgage anniversary date—when we can make a balloon payment without penalty).

May God help each of us to believe Jesus’ words and follow the example of  George Muller.  May we live a life abiding in Christ’s word, asking in Christ’s name and abounding in Christ’s fruit.

Posted in Heritage, Life Lessons, Prayer | Leave a comment

Tuesdays With Jeremiah (Chapter 1)

chapter 1[Last Tuesday, I introduced a new series of posts I’m calling “Tuesdays with Jeremiah” (with a nod to Tuesdays with Morrie).  Each Tuesday I hope to post summary reflections on a chapter in Jeremiah’s book.  Today, chapter 1.]

Jeremiah was from a priestly family (1:1) but called to be a prophet for God (1:5). God’s call on Jeremiah’s life preceded his birth and was communicated to him while he was still a “child” (young, inexperienced).

His ministry spanned the reign of five Judean kings (Josiah, Jehoahaz, Jehoiakim, Jehoiachin and Zedekiah), a span of 40 years, beginning during the last quarter of the 7th century BC.

Jeremiah was likely born and raised during the reigns of wicked kings Manasseh and Amon. His ministry begins when Josiah is starting to institute reforms in Judah. Jeremiah’s ministry coincided well with Josiah’s attempt to bring spiritual reformation to the nation—a reformation that evidently was more surface than substance for many in the land.

The callJeremiah’s call to ministry (1:5) emphasizes God’s work in creating him (“Before I formed you in the womb”) and selecting him for his life work (“before you were born I set you apart”). Jeremiah echoes the words of David in Psalm 139 regarding God as personally involved in his creation (Psalm139: 13-16) and anticipates the words of Paul who speaks of having been set apart by God from his mother’s womb (Galatians 1:15). God was intimately involved in Jeremiah’s life from it’s beginning, forming, selecting, preparing him to be “a prophet to the nations” (1:5).

God’s sovereign work in Jeremiah’s life included his creation in the womb. This implies that God’s work in us begins before our birth; our lives, in God’s eyes, begin before we are born. God selected the womb Jeremiah would be born in, and the parents who would conceive him. The implications of this are far-reaching: God selected the parents Jeremiah would have, the home he would grow up in. As Jeremiah grew up in the house of a priest (1:1), God placed Jeremiah in a family where he would become very familiar with the roles and responsibilities (and failings) of the priesthood. All this would help prepare Jeremiah to speak to the religious leaders of the nation.

Jeremiah’s ministry is foreshadowed in the call he receives from God in 1:9: “I appoint you over nations and kingdoms to uproot and tear down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant.” Of the six terms used to describe his ministry, the first four are “destructive” and the last two (1/3 of the total) are “constructive.” His would be a ministry heavy on confrontation but leading to consolation.

After calling him to be a prophet and promising to be with him when others oppose him, the Lord reaches out and touches Jeremiah’s mouth. He says, “Now I have put my words in your mouth” (1:9). Whereas the Lord had an angel touch Isaiah’s lips with a burning coal to cleanse his mouth, the Lord Himself touches Jeremiah’s mouth to fill it with His words.

God’s spokesmen don’t get to choose their message. God chooses it and they are to deliver it faithfully, even when that message is one people don’t want to hear because it’s painfully confrontive. God still expects his preachers to speak His words, even when those words are not popular or pleasing to all who hear them; 2 Timothy 4:2 calls Timothy (and all preachers) to “correct, rebuke and encourage”, a phrase that tilts the thrust of preaching towards the confrontational side of things.

use meLike Moses, Jeremiah is hesitant to embrace this calling; he feels young and intimidated. But as in Moses’ case, God doesn’t accept his excuses as valid, promising to be with him and to protect him. God selects his spokesmen knowing full well their inadequacies and inabilities; his presence and power are more than enough compensation for their shortcomings.

The opening two visions given to initiate Jeremiah into his role as prophet (almond tree and boiling pot) picture his dominant message as being one of impending judgment (1:11-17). These visions also test whether he is able to “see” God’s vision and reflect it accurately (“What do you see, Jeremiah?”).

The almond tree may be a reminder of Aaron’s rod, an almond branch that budded (Numbers 17:8). God is watching over his word, in the sense of insuring that it comes to pass (buds to life). Since the Hebrew word for almond tree is similar to the Hebrew word for “watching”, the Lord may be doing a play on words—perhaps training Jeremiah in how prophetic visions are to be understood.

The boiling pot tilted away from the north pictures the northern kings and armies who will come and attack Jerusalem (1:13-16). The Lord says that this message of impending attack is judgment for Judah’s “wickedness in forsaking me in burning incense to other gods and in worshiping what their hands have made” (1:16).  A warning of coming judgment will be a big part of Jeremiah’s message to the nation. This message will not only be unpopular, it will set him apart as a traitor in the eyes of many.

Jeremiah is told to brace himself and to boldly declare the words God gives him to say (1:17). He is not to be intimidated or terrified, or God will allow him to be terrified. God promises to make him a “fortified city”—a picture of protection. But also a picture of a besieged city (as Jerusalem would soon be); the people of Judah (including the kings and priests) would attack him. God promises to be with Jeremiah and to rescue him (1:18-19).

Posted in Jeremiah, Ministry Matters | Leave a comment

Excellent Preaching Book; Great Price

Ramesh BookIn our preaching courses at Heritage, one of the books we often use as a textbook is Dr. Ramesh Richard’s excellent work, Preaching Expository Sermons.

I’ve known Ramesh since my days at Dallas Seminary.  He was one of my professors and has become a dear friend.  Linda and I have traveled with Ramesh to Tanzania where I heard him teach the material in this book to a group of pastors and ministry leaders.

What I like about Ramesh’s book is that it provides clear, concise and understandable instruction on how to develop biblically rich sermons.  Ramesh guides the reader through a seven-step process for sermon preparation, offering many practical suggestions and illustrative charts. In addition, the book includes a number of informative and inspirational appendixes on important aspects of biblical preaching (my favourite is the article on the role of the Holy Spirit in biblical preaching).

Preparing Expository Sermons is ideal for beginning preachers, lay preachers without formal training, or any pastor who is looking for a refresher course in expository sermon preparation.

Here’s some good news.  During the month of May, you can get the Kindle edition of the book from Amazon for under $2.00.

If you are looking for a good resource in the area of preaching, Preparing Expository Sermons is a great place to start!

Posted in Heritage, preaching | Leave a comment

Tuesdays with Jeremiah

TuesdaysOver twenty years ago, Mitch Albom’s book, Tuesdays with Morrie, was published.  The book, which became a New York Times Best-Seller, was based on conversations Mitch had with a professor from his university days–Morrie Schwartz.  After hearing that Schwartz had been diagnosed with ALS, Albom made an effort to spend time with his former professor and glean wisdom from him.  They met over the course of fourteen Tuesdays.  The book is based on those conversations.

Several years ago, I spent a year, not with a professor but with a prophet–the Old Testament prophet Jeremiah.  Each morning I read from Jeremiah’s book seeking to gain God’s wisdom through His inspired words.  Since there are 52 chapters in the book, I devoted one week to each chapter, writing down my summary of the chapter and key insights gained during the week.

JeremiahThough I had read the book of Jeremiah before, I had never spent time studying it or reflecting on its message. Far from being just a historical record of the past, I was deeply moved by the storyline and central message of the book.  More than that, Jeremiah helped me to gain a deeper knowledge of God and His will for His people.

Prompted by the encouragement of my wife, I hope to publish (on this blog) what I learned from my year with Jeremiah.  Each week (on Tuesday), I plan to post insights from one chapter of Jeremiah’s book.  I’d encourage you not only to read my summary reflections, but to read the chapter in Jeremiah on which they are based.  Let’s spend Tuesdays with Jeremiah.

Here’s a 7 minute summary of the book you will find helpful!

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Living Letters

living lettersWe had a joy-filled Graduation Celebration last weekend at Heritage.  It was a wonderful culmination to an incredible year.

On Friday evening, at our Grad Banquet, we commissioned Heritage grads to be “living letters”.  The theme was taken from Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 3:2-3.

You yourselves are our letter of recommendation, written on our hearts, to be known and read by all.  And you show that you are a letter from Christ delivered by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.

I told the graduates that Paul saw the Christians in Corinth as living letters (“written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God”).  Following Paul’s lead, I addressed our graduates and highlighted three applicational lessons for them:

  1. You are living letters addressed to the world (“to be known and read by all”).
  2. You are living letters written by Christ (“a letter from Christ”).
  3. You are living letters delivered by Heritage (“delivered by us”).

IMG_2361We gave each graduate some customized stationary and a Heritage pen as a reminder of the “letter” theme.  Each grad was asked to take a sheet of stationary and write down the place where they were going to serve Christ after graduation.  Those who were not sure where they will end up wrote “wherever Christ sends me.”  We concluded the evening by praying God would make these graduates faithful and fruitful “living letters” for the rest of their lives.

On Saturday, at our Graduation Ceremony, we had the joy of awarding certificates and degrees to these graduating students.  This year, between the college and seminary, we conferred almost 70 diplomas and degrees.

Now that the 2018 graduates have been “postmarked” and mailed out, we catch our breath and get ready for spring courses–both Linda and I are involved in teaching a spring class.

Please join us in thanking God for what He has done in the lives of these students and what He will do in the coming days.

(By the way, Dr. Fowler–who had emergency gall bladder surgery less than a week before graduation–was able to give the commencement address as planned.  Praise the Lord!)

 

Posted in Heritage, Ministry Matters, Personal | Leave a comment

Graduation Weekend

Grad redThere’s a joyful, expectant feeling on the Heritage campus as we head into Graduation Weekend. Friday evening is our grad banquet where we commission this year’s graduates. Saturday morning is the Graduation Ceremony where we confer certificates and degrees on the graduates.

I just finished reading through the names of the 2018 graduating class—69 men and women. I’ve come to know many of these students during their time at Heritage. I am excited to see what God will do through their lives as they take what they’ve learned at Heritage and use it to serve others.

stanOur commencement speaker this year is Dr. Stan Fowler. Dr. Fowler has been a mainstay on the seminary faculty for decades. Those who’ve had Stan as a professor speak of his great knowledge of God’s Word and his gracious attitude towards God’s people. Stan coined the phrase “scholars in service of the church” to describe the faculty at Heritage. He exemplifies that description. While Stan is officially retiring from full-time service at the school, I’m grateful he will be teaching several courses next year at Heritage.

Would you join me in praying that God’s good favour would be upon the events of our Graduation weekend?

Pray that students will be challenged at our grad banquet as we commission them to be “living letters” from Christ to the world (more about this in next week’s post).

Pray that the Graduation Ceremony would honour the Lord Jesus and celebrate the achievements of our 2018 graduates.

Pray for Dr. Fowler as he gives the commencement address. Stan had emergency gall bladder surgery last Sunday but is still planning to speak at commencement. Ask God to give him strength and health to be able to address the 2018 graduates.

Pray that each graduate would serve Christ and His Church wherever He sends them.

Posted in Heritage, Ministry Matters | Leave a comment